This past week I have been working on this painting for the bedroom. Tonight I caught my cat Lily doing her best odalisque beside it so I snapped these shots of them together.
This new work, which is the second of a new and on-going tribute series, was inspired by my love of blues, jazz, folk and gospel music. I so admire these artists, whose throaty and gutsy homage to heartbreak and survival are soundtrack to my own creative process.
features (clockwise from top) Koko Taylor, Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Lena Horne, Billie Holliday, Nina Simone, Marie Knight, Ella Fizgerald, Bessie Smith. (click on image to see print)
Click on the image to see it in my shop on Etsy. 🙂
This piece incorporates lace with acrylic paint, opalescent pigment powder and gloss medium to produce its textural and tactile aspects. Check out other views of it on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/96746237/cottage-chic-decor-floral-abstract?ref=shop_home_active
This original mixed media textured piece was given to a friend as a thank you gift recently, but I’ve made prints of it now! Here is a link to see it on Etsy. 🙂 https://www.etsy.com/listing/153525298/peach-purple-maroon-lavender-floral
Cover Design by Fat Daddy’s Farm
Front: “Adieu Maman” by Jemila Modesti – Oil
Back: “Broken Chain” by Grace Benedict – Mixed media
The plain truth is, you do not have to be the parent of a lost child to appreciate the shared stories in Joy, Interrupted: An Anthology on Motherhood and Loss ISBN 9780985235604, a new collection of works edited by Melissa Miles McCarter of Fat Daddy Press. The seeds of separation are sown at conception; our first loud and audible breath nothing short of a full-throated attempt at explaining the shock of lost connection. The acknowledgement of that tiny knot in our lower abdomen all that is necessary as frame of reference.
Aside from the candid honesty and epiphany found in these poems, prose and illustrative works, the thing that I most admire about Joy, Interrupted is its inclusion of voices from a landscape of backgrounds and personal histories. Missing from this anthology is the mindset that insists on a resume and a list of publications as validation for the act of putting words to human experience. Each work stands on its own merit in terms of articulation and expression. While some of these pieces read like masterworks, others provide the raw insights and vulnerabilities found upon pages from a day in the life of a grief survivor.
The common thread running throughout is the expression of a need to connect and find temporary shelter in shared experience.
In the words of its editor, herself the parent of an infant lost to SIDS: “In reading about other dimensions of loss, I saw new opportunities for coping, for making meaning out of pain and for healing. I watched as the contributors processed (or didn’t process) their grief and it helped me see that my own space between grief and joy was wider than I had imagined, with me moving closer and closer to the other side of joy. The contributors to this anthology helped me, as Shakespeare wrote, “give sorrow words.”
From Joy, Interrupted, various authors and excerpts:
She, lying on the couch, shrouded
by an army surplus blanket, never spoke and stared
directly ahead at the nocturnal painting
of Christ Watching over the City of Jerusalem.
Nauseated by the smell of sweat and cod liver oil,
I relished digging my jagged nails into the jellied flesh
of her freckled upper arm, pinching her and telling her
she was faking because she didn’t want to divide fractions
or help her mother dry the dishes. She never flinched. Did I learn
she had been struck by lightning or did I make it up?
Now all I can think is “Christmas is a time of miracles”
as I listen to the hiss whir of the baby’s ventilator.
Already pneumonia has scarred his lungs
and now they babble about tracheotomies,
laser shavings, and Amoxicillin.
A lightning strike might take him home.
— from Struck by Lightning, Liz Dolan (24)
Marc twitches his nose and his bushy mustache lurches—
the most “him” thing left. That, and the lift of creases in his forehead.
And the small pursing of his chapped lips. His throat clears
and coughs still hold his sound, too.
Thomas has hiccups. “People were looking for Scream
this weekend at the box office,” says TV. Why do we want
to scare ourselves when life already provides the horror?
And more of Lindsay Lohan’s ongoing drama of jail and rehab.
This is news we care about. Not my stepfather dying of cancer,
unknown by most. Even I like celebrity news—flipping back
on my iPhone from Perez Hilton to TMZ. I crave
the nonsense; the non-scream.
–from “Celebrity News,” Sheila Hageman (25)
A little girl smiles at me from the photo – a smile as bright and carefree as a summer day. Her hair is brown and long, just like the woman’s. I can almost hear this radiant little girl with an infectious smile giggling joyful delight, secure in her mother’s love as she relishes each day’s adventure. But the agony of the woman standing before me explodes in my brain, cruelly silencing the little girl’s laughter. The distance from the photo to this street corner – and the painful loss that brought her here – is beyond all measure.
Somehow I know, even before I read the words. I know the message. I know the pain and agony. I know the fear and desperation. The sign reads “Have you seen this child?” Suddenly, a lump in my throat makes it hard to swallow and tears sting the corners of my eyes, running down my cheeks. I can’t stop myself from being pulled into a flood of emotions. For a fleeting moment I see my own children, my daughters. The cardboard mirror exposes my worst fear as a mother. It has been said that to lose a child is to lose a piece of yourself.
I believe that the bond between a mother and her children is primal, instinctive, and even intuitive. My girls are the very heart and soul of my being. There isn’t anything within my power that I wouldn’t do for them or to protect them. I would fight for them to the end. If they were hurting, I would comfort them as long as they needed. And if they were lost, I would never rest until they were found.
–from “The Sign,” Rebecca Manning (30)
Fragments lure her–
water snake head
shiny link chain
tender pink sole
damselfly wing . . .
The child, bands of sunburn
down her peeling back,
the scars of cigarettes
on the reticulated spine,
notes the quiet
in the earth,
and half recalls
the rules, rude and sly.
But Lilia and Marie
have fled the pond,
clambering from the
ooze, shrieking gaily,
eluding phantasmal foes.
Just one arrives
too late in the game
and shrugs: no wonder,
where rift and wrack
of cloud in coming night
glow, lurid as arsonist’s fire.
–from “Dandelion Child,” Carol Alexander (32-33)
Today is May 29, 2013, two and a half years into a life-changing course of treatment called “Dialectical Behavioral Therapy,” a program designed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, herself a survivor of the mental healthcare system, a system still operating under the insidious influence of a puritanical and damning western society.
And for folks who fit into the category of having been born with such an intense kind of wiring, it’s oftentimes a lonely road. “If you are overtly emotional and suicidal, then you must not be praying hard enough or trying hard enough to change” they tell us as if that kind of judgement would make a body feel any less alienated and strange.
For me, it’s been a chorus for years inside the walls of my brain. Over and over to the point where that tired old tune becomes the default of all thinking, the root that strangles and rambles through every nerve and neuron. The soundtrack of my life until the day I was moved to the top of a waiting list to receive this new therapy, one born of Dr. Linehan’s own struggle and study of traditional academics and Eastern spirituality. I know I owe my life to this treatment. I also owe it to the doctors and team of specialists it has taken to help me move towards wellness.
It is for them I am writing this, but also for the countless numbers of other borderlines, who must not only deal with symptoms of their illness, but also each the stigma of being categorized as someone whose personality is disordered, someone incapable of having a stable relationship, gainful employment and the list goes on and on ad nauseam, dismissed and discarded mostly by a world that would rather categorize us as manipulative as lead us to relief from the awfulness of states created by brain chemistry.
Your cries for help go unanswered. Your desperate and imperfect attempts at connection falling into a grand canyon to echo as reminders of your utter unlovableness. You are told to pull yourself up by your broken bootstraps and buck up. To grow a thicker skin and endure it like the rest of us.
Don’t call if you in the hospital. Don’t tell us if you are buying the supplies to do yourself in. We cannot bear the burden of your suffering.
We have had our fill of this illness. And we are just letting go of you and letting God.
But that was then. Now, with the right kind of help, there lies hope and healing. Help that includes validation and radical acceptance, non-judgement, inclusion, caring, compassion and kindness.
Imagine it. The universal message of every single spiritual path in existence, the core beliefs sans the politics and hatred, beliefs that unite and empower us as individuals but also as members of the human community.
So now instead of letting my illness rule my life, I am letting the love do the work. I am letting myself share that love. And surprisingly, the suicide attempts and the romanticism of those attempts are over. The stashing of pills and sharp objects, the dream of death and the sweet relief I always believed it would bring. In a life of mostly nightmares, I am beginning to dream something different. I am learning to save my life by embracing the moment and being present for whatever is born of that moment.
Last night I dreamed I was looking at this enormous glowing harvest moon taking up half the sky and upon closer observation, I could see that it wasn’t really the moon, just a projection of a map of the solar system, one that I had fed to the imagined overhead projector in my upstairs bedroom, the bedroom I had at eight, three years into the realization that I was so different I wanted to die. The bedroom where the nightmares began. The ones where I watched as the demons crawled up the blinds in flames, their pitchforks and sickles aimed in my general direction, the fake angels hovering about my bed and shaking their forked fingers at me in my sleep.
But last night, I made a new memory of what dreams can do.
The moon in the sky had my first name on it, but only because I had inked that name on the map of the universe. Without the conscious recognition it takes to find the words to describe such an experience, I had already landed, taken my first small steps towards infinity and planted my tattered flag .
Hi, Everyone. I am back after falling off the radar for a spell. Just going to share this new listing for Etsy and say that I’m muddying up the canvas again. Lots of other new work to post too. Love, Tess
“Crystal Ball,” photocollage by Tess Farnham”