Thursday, May 7, 2015

Open studio! Friday May 8

I'm flying high!
So, I reached the end of the heavy-metal round of chemo, and am celebrating by throwing open the doors to the studio for the second Open Studios of the year at Brazee Street Studios.

Yes, I may be a bit wobbly, and more than a bit bald, and bruised. BUT the weather is fabulous, there are some new greeting cards in the studio, plus copies of "Harper Ever After", the Charley and Edie Harper book I penned the essay for, for sale ($5 off the list price), and the studio is freshly painted, and cleaned (thanks to the loving Mr. P and  The Kid).

On top of all that, a cool exhibit is opening in the C-Link Gallery, and there will be lots more happening throughout the Brazee campus from glass blowing demos to ballroom dancing (not kidding).

Look for me on the first floor, right across from the gallery!

Note: image above is from a recent find: Vol. 3 of the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana or Universal Dictionary of Knowledge, London, 1845.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

How can this be? Light where dark was expected

This is the moment in chemo that I call the dark night of the soul. When the steroids that have been propping me up in the days immediately following treatment, stop working, and the chemicals take a nasty turn.

But, something surprising has happened, instead of curling up into and a ball, and retreating into myself (in short: throwing an internal pity party with me as the solo guest), I'm filled with light, and joy.

It is not an epiphany. At least I don't think so. No. It's the accumulated impact of hundreds of small, but genuinely heartfelt, things during the past four months.

It is Joe and Pat Moellers dropping off a ginormous vase of daffodils from their garden yesterday afternoon ... the shasta daisies from Pat Frey still abloom on the dining room table, along with the vivid yellow tulips from Mr. P that smell like honey … and the vivid bouquet of mixed flowers atop the mantle from Carol and Jon Falk ...

It is the snail mail cards and notes, many handmade, others bought because they were handmade, that arrive almost daily ... the card signed by the staff of the Friends of the Library shop (where my greeting cards are a teensy part of their business), the graceful card and "courage" bookmark made by calligrapher Maryanne Burke …

It is the bag of inspirational books that Peg Rhein dropped off, along with a few additions to the collage stash … the goofy care packages from Betsa Marsh of snarky books whose pages hide "Downtown Abbey" quotes, funny news clips, and Monopoly money (the latter is a whole other post) … the "mix-Nano" from Michael Roberts that drowns out the worst moments …

It is kielbasa from Buffalo via John Byczkowski, who holds out the hope that I will be able to taste it sooner or later … the warm pot of chicken chili that Julie Engebrecht dropped off that came complete with an array of garnishes (fresh cilantro, corn chips, grated cheese) and dessert from the Bonbonerie … the lunches at Jo-Beth's cafe on two of my "good days" with Carol Kerr, and Betsa Marsh ...

It is the tiny crystal angels sent by my baby sister, Helen, and the socks to wear to chemo that say "fuck this shit" … the cards sent by my sister-in-law Ann Caswell in my older brother Rick's stead (he's recovering from his own health problems) … the surprise call from my baby brother, Matthew …

It is the e-mails from my Aunt Marlene and my friend Shirley Tenhover when they have not received an update in a while … the news about what's happening in everyone else's life that helps me stay in touch, and to think beyond myself … the offers of rides, the visits in the chemo suite by Leslie Daly and Kathy Holwadel, the brief "art field trips" with painter Lisa Molyneux ...

Yeah, this is starting to sound schmaltzy, like "a few of my favorite things." Yet there is one more thing to mention …

One of the many deer images I'm collecting.
From Animate Creation: Vol. 2 (1885).

It is the healing image of a deer grazing among white aspens, surrounded by the herd; an image given to me months ago by Mary Hargrove and her spirit guides.

Those who know me well, know that I'm not exactly a "healing image" kind of person. I went along with it during the first round of chemo/radiation in 2009/10 as a favor to my friend Betsa. "Can't hurt," I told myself after much cajoling to pick an image.

Back then, I settled on the moon. During the darkest times, I imagined walking along a beach under a moonlit sky, waves gently lapping my bare feet, a slight chill in the air. It was soothing, yet something was missing …

I was alone.

Not that everyone wasn't supporting me in the way they are now; they were, maybe even more so, because the Stage 4 diagnosis was so sudden, and alarming. No, it was me. I was determined not to be defined by cancer, not to be needy, not to be hurting, not to be afraid ... in short, not to appear weak.

Part of that lingers, but it has been surpassed by the knowledge that the more you give, that the more you open up, the more you get. So, my thoughts have turned to the good things in life, and that's where they will stay, as I graze among the aspens in the clear light of a spring afternoon … surrounded by my herd.

Friday, April 10, 2015

I will be closed for tonight's Open Studios at Brazee
but please pop by to see the other studios

I try not to miss a single Open Studios event at Brazee Street Studios
especially not the opening one of the season, but must pass this time.
 There will be lots happening tonight, so please drop in to see
 the other artists' studios; live glass blowing demos;
 "WORD IMAGE OBJECT," the new exhibit in the gallery
 by Miami University Department of Art students.

See you in May! Come chemo or high water ...   

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Right thing, wrong time? Maybe, maybe not ...

Sometimes, the right thing happens at the wrong time.

Last summer, I received an e-mail from Brett Harper, the son of the late Edie and Charley Harper, asking me if I would be interested in writing the main essay for a book about his parents' early work as artists.

Flattering? You bet. Was I interested? No.

A few days before the message hit my in box, I'd decided it was time to stop up writing about other people's art, and to focus on my own art. I'd already quit writing for an online arts zine, and for a local monthly.

But, hmmm, a book? It would be a one-shot deal. It would pay the studio rent for a nice chunk of time, freeing me up to work on collage series I kept putting off. And it would be about artists whose work I enjoy.

So, I said yes. The publisher, Pomegranate Press, was fantastic to work with. I had complete access to the Harper archives, including the letters that Charley wrote to Edie during World War II, which Harper archivist Chip Doyle had finished scanning just before my deadline. There were plenty of surprises along the way, and although I don't find writing to be easy I love the research and ended up having - dare I say it? - fun!

Topping off this dream job: the editing process was painless; a few questions and tweaks, and that was it.

Fast forward to now, the week of Harper Ever After's official release. A huge feature about the book appears on the cover of the Sunday Cincinnati Enquirer's A&E section. Books start landing in stores. PR begins. Where am I? Here's where we come to the second part of "right thing, wrong time."

I am lying in bed for days on end. My stomach is churning. My fingers and toes are numb. My nose won't stop bleeding, and my eyes are so watery there are times that reading is impossible. I can't taste much of anything, but eat because I know I have to. My hair is gone. My bones ache. Waves of nausea run over me. Cold sores blanket the inside of my mouth.

In short: chemo. My Stage Four breast cancer, which my incredible oncologist has kept at bay for a little more than five years, is active again. We discover this by accident. Complaints about pain in my right hip, which I am convinced is not from cancer, lead to a PET scan.

I was right; no cancer in my right hip (it's later diagnosed as bursitis). It's in my left hip, left femur, left ribs, and spine.

Well, damn. Cody (that would be Dr. Robert Cody) swings into action. My regular maintenance chemo, which is really more "bio" than "chemo," gets ramped up with two more drugs. One is Taxotere, a drug that whomped my butt during my first high-level chemo adventure in 2009.

Ugh. Do NOT want it. What was it I said, maybe yelled, after the initial chemo was ending? Oh, yeah, "I will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, EVER do this again."

But the past four years have been so incredible ... the start of a new career, and business; The Kid's graduation from college (which I was certain I would not live to see), then, her Master's Degree; Mr. P's continuing love, humor, and pending retirement; amazing times with friends and family.

I bite the bullet.

Three months have passed. There are two more treatments to go. It takes longer to bounce back each time, and I start withdrawing from the world and into myself.  Then, I pull myself back out again. Not by myself but with plenty of help from family and friends. True friends come through at times like this, ignoring my inclination to hide.

In early May scans will determine whether this has worked (fingers crossed). Those will be followed by a quick operation in June (a problem caused by the chemo).

By July, I'll be raring to go. Actually, I'm raring to go now, and do have windows of feeling relatively okay. Usually a few days before the next treatment. But even then, it's been impossible to work on collages. So, I've focused on the greeting cards.

As for my 15 minutes of fame, via Edie and Charley? Even if I'm not gadding about shooting selfies of me with book displays, fielding interview questions, or massaging a sore wrist from book signings, I've come to realize that maybe this isn't such a wrong time. Opening the front door the other day, and seeing the box of books on my front porch was the perfect pick me up. I still can't stop smiling.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Porkopolis St. Pat's

Cincinnati picked up the nickname "Porkopolis" back in the 19th century when this river city was a center of the pork packing industry. The name stuck, even long after the last pig ran through our streets. Pigs also have been a long-time symbol of abundance and prosperity. So, after spotting this trio of delightful St. Patrick's Day postcards in the archive (the physical archive, not the electronic one), I just had to share them; all were published by London's Raphael Tuck and Sons in its St. Patrick's Day Post Cards series No. 106.
The writing's on the front of the postcard,
because it was published
when addresses only were allowed
on the back, a convention
that was about to change.
It's postmarked March 17, 1907
from Philadelphia, PA, and was sent
to Mrs. E. Lapp, Wyoming, DE. 

Postmarked March 16, 1908, but
the city name has faded. It was sent to
Mr. Edward Bruner, Holton, IN.

Postmarked Cincinnati, March 17, 1909,
 and sent to Miss Georgie Martin,
3308 Gilbert Ave., City.