AND TAKE THIS, CANCER!

Life is so weird.  Grand pianos from the sky can be just missing your head, and most of us wouldn’t notice.  And then there is some universal equalizer in life that smooths down the bad parts if we can simply see it, coming to us at the same time.

With Kathryn, I would have thought the message would have been received with more clarity.  It took three car accidents within months, falling down the back steps on ice, all events happening on the left side of her body, to get her to notice that something else was going on there.  And it wasn’t pregnancy.

Although the cyst was as big as a baby, the surgery was certainly not the same.  Then there was the colon cancer part.  This is where the universe presents problems, and then solutions.  Kathryn’s friend, me, has sooooo done this colon cancer thing.  Here I can help.  Colon cancer was the pivotal event in our family (my parents and three girls), and then important in my life, but not the most.

She is going to lose some body parts, for sure.  Here is another place where the universe provides:  I stitched a womb in a new series of embroideries, and gave it to her two years ago.  If she wants one, she has it.  Kathryn is my same age, and those parts mean nothing to me, but they do to some.

frankly my dear

The cancer lingo is different now then when I had colon cancer.  The last woman who did my mammogram called those years of the mid-nineties the “dark ages” of cancer (for my dad, dying in the ’70s, it must have been the Paleolithic).   Looking up what docs now call “frank” cancer, meaning that they are sure cancer is present, I would say, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”.  And keep thinking that while you do everything medical.  Brain shift in whatever age one finds oneself is required.  Feed yourself the correct narrative.

And find symbols.  Like the stitched womb, for a start.  Kathryn will find her own.

hammered aluminumCollecting hammered aluminum objects during my chemotherapy and long after, they shielded and comforted.  Also had two pairs of purple suede penny loafers during that time; wore them every day and wore them out too, but they stomped over cancer cells.

loafer

Do you know the first life affirming thing she did from the hospital bed?  She bought a sweet little house!  She has it down.

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MS ROSEBUD CAME TO CALL

Ms Rosebud, our church friend was on Facebook just when I was finishing a post.  Since she was on the site when my link came up, she knew we were home.  We live a mile from each other, and she is so impressive with her social connections on the web.

Her daughter lives next door to her but the husband answered the phone.  “I am going to see LEE and the URN for the CATS” she reported to him so they would know where she was.  What?  It made no sense.  When she had to repeat the message to her daughter, two of the three main words were beyond understanding  (Lee always sounds like “me”.  “Who is me”?,  people would say on the other end of the phone).

She got her message across and rode over.  We walked around the acreage, slowly.  She is 82.  “I see your tree-pees, your blue bottles, and there are your new kittens (all talked about on the blog)!  I wish you had known that Ms Modele had kittens just a while ago!” “You are supposed to put that stuff on Facebook”, I said, having had found out the fact about the kittens from Ms Modele herself just days ago.

Ms Modele is my oldest and for a long time, only local girlfriend.  She is 96, and for a while last year she had us all scared, but she is great now.  Her friend Barbara drove her out here the other brilliant day.  We sat outside and talked.  We met 27 years ago when she took a class I offered at the arts center.  Daughter Brady was an infant then, stayed on a blanket in the middle of the room as we all made quilts.

When Garrett said he wanted to go to church, it was Modele’s church we chose.  Because of her.  Modele and Barbara came by after they had gone picking pears.  They gave us some.  There is a tree near here, somebody owns that land, but for sure I do not know who.  A long bamboo cane is left in the tree for all who come by to knock down some pears.  You put it back, and it is there for the next guy.  These pears taste like something you never found in a can.  They are huge and irregular, and do not last long.

But I digress.  We finally made it out to the urn in the barn, still on the workbench, ready to be shipped.  “It looks just like it did on Facebook”, Ms Rosebud said.  We talked about the woman who commissioned it, who is also from around here.  And then cancer.  We agreed:  everybody has a cancer chapter in their lives.  Up to you how you deal with it.  Making an urn for yourself is one tool.

We showed her the outdoor shower, on the bedroom side of the house towards where our preacher lives.  You can’t really see his house; we are protected.  So is he.  Ms. Rosebud said about our old farmhouse then, “We used to work in the field across from where this house used to be, where the pine trees are now.  Back when you moved the house to here, I could not imagine what in the world happened to this house”!  “How did you find out about the house?”, I said.  “Modele told me”, she said.  Modele had an uncle who lived in this house for a time, and Ms. Rosebud knew others.  I met one couple after the house was just moved.  They were in their nineties, and their daughter brought them here.  Good thing we only moved it three miles.  It belongs in this community, named Pine Hill.

1-rosebud's bottle tree

Ms Rosebud is interested in all the creative stuff we do around here.  I was thrilled when she told me that she found some blue beer bottles and started her own bottle tree.

If you want to read about the urn and the cats, click on the words below,  A TALE OF TWO KITTIES.

A COMMISSION

A friend lost two kitties this year.  Glenn and I are making a spirit house for them to live in now,  something that will also function as a piece of art.  By the time you read this,  she also will have two more kittens.  Classic cat-woman.

1-hole

I watched her grow up as part of a family of three strong women.  Her mother was my framer and has been my friend for years.  Then the whole group went to the Northwest.  Way under 40, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been beating the piss out of it for two years.  And standing up to politicians who want to balance their budgets on the backs of the unlucky.  She does not go quietly.

1-one side

But she is not going anywhere (except back to work, brava!).   Not now.  What is remarkably healthy about this woman is that she is taking control where there can be little,  when in your cancer chapter.  This house will be for her as well, in the future.  To a  person who has been in dialog with cancer herself,  this is a fine idea.  Apply everything related to creativity and creation during your cancer interlude.  It can work wonders.  Creating anything is the exact opposite of being in decline.

1-play

She has been going through old pictures and little stuff for me to include on the surface of the house, and also inside it.  Wonky doors and windows will be defined by the people in the pictures.   Reminders of the beach of South Carolina will be imbedded in the walls.  I have found amazing little artifacts at flea markets to include, as if the universe was chucking them out to me.

1-for nikki

Stay tuned.

CANCER, HE SAID

My doc asked me what patients thought about when they had a pain, knowing that he would solicit the answer from me.  What?, I said when we were in the examining room.  My mind froze trying to think of any answer.  Focusing on my running injury which was why I was there;  I did not get the game.

Cancer, he said.  Anybody with your history would think of that first.  I did not.  I wanted to run again and not be dealing with sciatica, which was what I thought was my problem.  How long ago was your cancer, anyway?
18 years ago.  Oh, I did not realize it was that long ago.  Of course, a return could happen after that interval of time, but….ok then.  Never mind.

I was looking for a referral to a sports doctor.  He obviously was looking for something else.  We did x-rays.  We looked at them in the hallway.  Most of my patients have not the good reason you do for your back pain.  Look at these vertebrae.  The bottom two were out of line about an inch.  It was rather dramatic.

I always knew my back was of a bad design.  I am not supposed to do this, but you should see a chiropractor.

I had seen one 26 years ago.  In the office, he provided me with a technique to deal with my back up to now.  He put blocks under my hips while I lay on my stomach, and I was a quick study.  I put a pillow under my hips for sleep for the next 26 years.  It worked until now.

I was trying to be smart.  We pay two thirds of our base income for health insurance and it does not allow for chiropractors.  Why do these docs occupy such a questionable part of the medical world?  Why aren’t their offices built of pink marble like everyone else’s?  It could be because they don’t have a strong lobby in Washington.  That would be a good thing.

I am not sure I can trust.  Remembering vividly my first visit,  there were two old scales, the kind from the fifties or sixties, placed side to side.  You know the ones with the bump up in the middle and the magnification of the number of pounds that you were?  And they had little black ribbed mats glued on the surface?  He had me step one foot on each scale.  Yep.  Your body is all screwed up.  Why does a device like this make me doubt?  FYI, the two scales are still there in the office.  He did not use them on me this time.  They are now probably part of  his collection of antique devices.

He took x-rays too.  They looked like the others, except he did my neck as well.  Are you sure that you don’t have any neck pain?  Look at these deposits of bone where there should be none.  No, but I have a strong will.  I believe you do, he said.

Just patch me up so I can run, please.

I had metastatic colon cancer in the early nineties.  I should not be alive.  Most who have had this problem are not.  My dad is not.  He died at 47, and I have the gene for colon cancer.  As I proceeded through my cancer years, there was one primal scream that came from deep within:  I am not doing this.

And I did not.  My will prevailed after four operations.  It was very simple.  I would not entertain the idea of having cancer, and took great pains to always think of it in the past tense.  I had other techniques as well.  Having found two pairs of beautiful dark lavender suede loafers, I wore these cancer cell stomping shoes until they wore out.  My art at the time was all about claiming and then exorcizing cancer.

So I have not run for six weeks, trying to be smart, and not trying the chiropractor.  I have attended two high school cross country meets where students with lithe bodies, streaming hair and red faces crossed the finish line in droves, boys and girls.  It was hard to take.

The day after the last meet, three days ago, and still in pain, I ran.  Did my entire four miles, and also picked up 34 cans.  Strange pains were shooting around, and I knew that this was because I was favoring my left side and carrying 34 cans in a grocery bag.  But I did it.

And I did it yesterday and today.  The pain is not like it was.  Should have depended upon my will first off.  That’s my best characteristic, not trying to be “smart” about anything.  Being smart feels foreign.

HOW LONG IS THE CONVERSATION

Before your work of art tells you what it is about?  And is it really “work” if the artist keeps rejecting and rejecting ideas?  What about that work day when all you have to show for your time is eight ideas that were no good?

I may be finally growing up.  Or maybe old old habits take a long time to break.  I would think the most successful of persons would be the ones who observe what they are doing, and if not the best idea, never do it again.  Go on.  Examine something else.  To hell with what once worked at one time.  I wonder if business people are able to let go quicker than visual artists.

In my former medium, embroidery on pieced fabrics, intense labor was required as the symbols on the picture plane were all hand stitched.  I would start with a line drawing, and start stitching, but the theme of the work always changed as the stitching got further and further along.  We were having a conversation, my work and myself.

What you see here is satin stitch and seed stitches on patterned fabric and everything about this takes a lot of time.  This is a detail from a larger piece called “Speculate”.

This entire piece is about nine by nine inches and involves comparing prickly pear “leaves” with my truncated lung after about one third had been removed because of a metastasis of colon cancer.

What I am creating now could not be more different, although the longer I work on this stuff, the more in common it has with the stitched work.  The new work reflects an entire side of life that was never addressed in the stitched work. A side that was often tried WITH the stitched work, but never successfully.

I have just sold the first of these pieces.  It is scary to put yourself  “out there” with an unfamiliar medium.  What does feel comfortable about it however are the objects being used in these “reliefs”, and the process of creating them, with my years of teaching design students about the never ending dance of shifting compositions.  I am finding the camera on my cell phone very helpful with this.

I have always wanted to work in a series, as well.  Never could with stitching.  The intervals working on a piece were so long, everything was inward looking, fine-tuned to get that one idea to stand.  Now, where there is more thinking and less labor, series can emerge, which brings about the question?  What is worth more, labor or ideas?

PROGRESS AND JUSTIFICATION

Creating things is my driving life force.  The urge dominates things that have to be done, and even other things that are appealing ways to spend time.  The older I get, the more this is true.  That is what is wonderful about blogging.  If other venues are not working correctly for one reason or another, a post with pictures and explanations can always be created.  Blogging is a wonderful tool to take the angst away of not creating.

This is an urge that has been constant for me. It heals me when broken.  It justifies my existence (and that is really not normal thinking).   I don’t talk much about my textile art with which 30 years or more was spent.  I made images with stitches.  Very, very anal.  I was stitching the energy of my life into those works, and received some notoriety from them.

Each one of those pieces was as much work as this deck, but smaller, more sensitive, and not as easily seen.

With the two images above, not only was I stitching my life away, I was helping to heal myself from metastatic colon cancer, which is deep in my history, and occurred a long time ago.  Topics for these works were like a storyboard developing alongside my life.  My children, my marriage, my cancer, all took their turns.

This stitched work was started in undergraduate school, and satisfied me for a great while.  It was noteworthy, and better than current work, but small.  Americans don’t like “small”.

My new work, big and made of found objects and discarded objects satisfies the kind of “trash sensibility” that I like to see in the objects around me.  I often tried to incorporate the “trash” Lee into the “stitched” Lee.  It never worked.

Business lunch guests just left.  When showing my range of work, I miss the fact that the stitched work is no more.  I doubt myself.  But maybe it is time to let the “trash”  Lee get more exercise.