Death and Facebook: A New Type of Supportive Therapeutic Community

I wrote an original post on this topic a few months ago and then decided it was problematic and needed to be reworked.

The purpose of that post and this new post is to show how Facebook can have an unusual, unique, therapeutic and healing aspect to it…

Besides all the “mundane” aspects of “status” posts on Facebook that many people complain about, (which, by the way, I actually don’t mind at all as I enjoy seeing photos of someone’s dinner or their kid doing something amusing), and other non serious or silly parts of the Facebook process, and also the professional aspect of Facebook, there is something quite new and interesting about Facebook in terms of its relationship to death. To begin with, I am a person who really enjoys Facebook and social media both personally and professionally, as those who follow this blog would know from my posts… So, I find lots of aspects of Facebook to be therapeutic, especially Facebook groups involving something creative or support groups…

I’m sure as long as Facebook has existed, there has been space on it for posts about death, whether the death of a celebrity or of an actual Facebook “friend”. I am curious to know how long Facebook has been a place for death announcements and mourning groups, and if activity of this sort has increased in the last few years or with growth of users…

So I just found an interesting article about this whole topic. I am not sure if I am adding anything new by writing this post, but perhaps writing from the perspective of a therapist, I can make this post different.
Here is the link to it, from Mashable.com, which I will quote from on here.
http://mashable.com/2013/02/13/facebook-after-death/
It’s entitled “How 1 billion People Are With Death and Facebook”, a title I might have changed to “With Death Through Facebook.”

The first aspect of this topic is the less personal: the concept of communal mourning of the largest scope, i.e. what happens on Facebook when a well-known person has died? One result involves regular people posting statuses and commenting on their feelings about this person dying, what this person has meant to them personally or what kind of a loss to the country or planet this death signifies. This seems to have been a common phenomenon since the advent of Facebook, as people often post links to interesting articles or info about celebrities, not just their death. I have observed it since joining Facebook around 2008. You hear about the death of a well known person in any aspect of life: the arts, politics, a religious figure, famous scientist, journalists, TV personalities, celebrities of all kinds, and notice your Facebook friends posting musings about this person, how s/he affected him or her personally, quotes from the person, references to articles or videos, etc. So with a very public death, Facebook serves as a place for people to comment on the famous person and his/her effect on their life, and also a place for easy access to a large variety of information about this person’s life and death. This is a significant aspect of Facebook and deaths of celebrities, that you can find all kinds of links to other websites/publications to access more information very quickly. I think people have not fully appreciated this aspect of Facebook. It also occurs on the anniversary of a celebrity’s death.

Since I first wrote this post, the big one has been the terrible tragedy of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s recent death. Another person whose relatively recent death resulted in a flurry of posts was Lou Reed. These are two good examples, as the kind of posts about their deaths is very different. Most of the ones about the recent death of Hoffman have been about how tragic it was and about heroin addiction and overdose, and what it means for a high profile very much loved and admired actor to die in such a terrible manner. There was shock at first about how he relapsed after so many years of recovery and then shock at the depth of his addiction and what was found in the apt. He died in, etc. Lou Reed’s death was fascinating for other reasons, as the loss of this public figure was elevated to the loss of an icon, which means he represented more than the sum of his creative acts and life on earth, but is a point of reference for a whole decade and generation and symbolized something more important than just his music and art — i.e. the era of Andy Warhol; with him, people are mourning not just a person and celebrating not just his music and talent, but something even bigger, how he fits into our culture as an icon, what he represents and represented in a much larger way than just his life and work… Facebook serves as a unique way for the intersection of the very personal emotional aspects of death and the phenomenon of the philosophical and cultural “legacy” left by someone that important to our “zeitgeist”… It also is a space then for nostalgia about the other loss, the loss of that time period and its particulars, such as the social, political and artistic realm of that particular “era”.

The other aspect of Facebook and death is the personal one, and there are different kinds of uses of Facebook in this category of loss. This can involve a dead persona who was active on Facebook or it could involve a Facebook friend’s using Facebook to mourn someone who was not on Facebook at all. One personal aspect of Facebook and death involving the mourner and not the dead person is the phenomenon of the anniversary of a death. Recently a Facebook friend posted a lot of photos of her father and family on the anniversary of her father’s death. It seemed likely her father was not a member of Facebook, but the important thing is that she was able to share with her friends some great photos and memories and also be able to share the loss on the anniversary in a way that people were not able to do before the existence of Facebook. It is also true for dead animal companions, the posting of photos on the anniversary of their death. I have seen a great eulogy written for a dead animal companion on Facebook, as well as people starting a Facebook “Page” or “group” about their animal.

One very odd aspect of death and Facebook is the actual discovery of someone’s death through Facebook, as we are used to finding this news out on the “news” itself, not second hand from a Facebook friend or Page. I think I have found out about celebrity’s deaths on Facebook itself, waking up to this news while looking on Facebook, before even reading or looking up news sites, where I would be likely to first see the news of someone’s death. On a personal level, the news of a peer’s or other connection’s death is sometimes first encountered on Facebook. Although it may seem too shocking to learn of your friend or family member’s death on Facebook, it serves as an immediate way to find out more information, both about the death itself and about arrangements for funeral and/or memorial service, and to be able to immediately communicate with others who share in this loss. I emphasize this aspect as it reveals an immediate therapeutic aspect of Facebook and death of a loved one. Through other’s posts on that deceased person’s own private page or through statuses of other mourners, there is instantly opportunity for dialogue and not being and feeling ALONE with the loss. One of the most healing aspects of the mourning process involves the ability to dialogue and communicate with others who share in this loss. There is much to be said for being able to share memories and nonverbal aspects of the person, such as photos, videos and songs, which Facbook allows immediate access for in a way that no other “social media” or other process can provide.

The Facebook personal page of the deceased and the Facebook Memorial Group or Page of the deceased: both are important as vehicles for communal mourning but in different ways. The article above describes the option people have of removing a dead person’s “Facebook profile” and presence or having the option of keeping it on Facebook for some very interesting reasons. Here are the options described verbatim from the Mashable article:

“• The profile remains untouched, unaccessed, unreported and therefore open to everyday wall posts, photo tags, status mentions and Facebook ads. In other words, business as usual.
• A family member or close friend may choose to report a death to Facebook. Upon receipt of proof of death, such as a death certificate or local obituary, Facebook will switch the dead user’s timeline to a “memorial page.”
• A close family member may petition Facebook to deactivate a dead user’s account.
• Users may gain access to a dead user’s profile in one of two ways: either through knowledge of the dead user’s password, a practice against Facebook’s terms of service, or through a court subpoena. However, per Facebook’s privacy policy and strict state law, courts rarely grant outside access to said social data. More on that later.
Facebook’s official policy for handling user deaths is the memorial page. In 2009, the social network began switching dead users’ profiles to memorial statuses, should the deceased user’s friends or family request the change.”

Interestingly, a lot of people do not choose to request a change in the dead Facebook User’s Profile from active to a Memorial Page. Not as a way to deny that the person is dead, but as a place to find actual real memories of posts that the dead person had written or posted. This can be especially meaningful to mourners if their dead loved one was very active on Facebook and also those who were not just active, but really used it as a direct form of self-expression. In addition, not mentioned in Mashable’s article, there are the Facebook Groups the dead person may have started and managed as well as any Public Facebook Pages this person may have maintained. A Facebook group has a number of privacy levels and kinds of access, but the point is that people who were actively involved in a Facebook Group with the diseased can continue posting particular posts relegated to that topic and to dialogue with the select people chosen by that dead person to be in that group. It’s like having 3 or more portals to mourning communally on Facebook. You can go directly to the dead person’s private Facebook page and look at old posts or new posts from other mourners. The interesting aspect of it being Facebook is that I have seen people address their post or comments to the lost love d one directly, which is a healing way to be able to “talk” to that person and get out what’s inside that you wished to have said or want to say. The other portal is the Facebook Group or Public Page of the dead person if they had a group they managed. Last of all is the possibility to create a special Memorial Page or Group for the loved one, whether or not s/he was a member of Facebook.

The Facebook Memorial Group is a very therapeutic and interesting phenomenon. It allows for a kind of constant memorial to occur and for people who cannot attend events like funerals/memorials who live far away to participate actively in the sharing of memories, feelings, and thoughts… Another great aspect of having a special Memorial Group for the dead person is that it can be created immediately to serve as a place to express shock and just feelings or other immediate things right away even before the formal ritual of a funeral/wake/service/memorial. It is also informational, a way to easily share info about such events so people can know quickly and make their plans in order to attend the particular event planned. In order to create a memorial group as opposed to a “Page” (which is more public), someone has to take the e initiative to be the one to create it, which just involves giving the group a name and picking the level of privacy of which there are three: Open, Closed, and Secret. If it’s open anyone who logs into Facebook can see everything about the group and who the members are. If it’s closed, it’s accessible in some ways, but only members of the group can view the “posts.” If it is Secret, there are further limits to access that make it much more private. For a fuller description, see this chart Facebook provides regarding groups of any kind:
https://www.facebook.com/help/220336891328465

Another important aspect of the Facebook Memorial Group is that it continues for no limit of time and people can be invited or ask to join at any point in time after the group was created. At various points in the years following the death, there are certain times when more people actively go to the group for solace and support, such as anniversary of the death or birthday of the lost loved one and other significant dates that people share as markers, such as a particular holiday the loved one especially loved etc.

In addition, this is also a way to be able to see the diseased and even hear his or her voice as people can post photos, videos and recordings. I think this aspect of it is really important as it can be very healing as part of the mourning process.

The other aspect of the phenomenon of the Memorial Group as well as the deceased continued presence through their profile and old posts and /or groups they participated in or managed, is that there is automatic allowance for the idea of mooning as having no expiration date. I think in a society where we are expected to “get over it” too quickly, this aspect of Facebook is very empowering for mourners who may not be able to “get over it” perhaps ever really, and are not required to completely…
This idea of loss is very beautifully expressed in the following quotation I found and actually posted on some memorial pages I am a member of:

Time does not heal, it makes a half-stitched scar
That can be broken and again you feel Grief as total as in its first hour.
-Elizabeth Jennings

The “New” Fairy Tale: “Brave” and “Frozen”, Finally “Feminist”!

A quick post on Disney’s newest princesses.

The movie “Brave” is the older movie that came out in 2012, awhile “Frozen” is on a long run currently still in theaters and has become a big hit with both boys and girls. In both these movies, I was excited to notice that the relationships that are revealed as most important and the ones connected to the main “conflict” of the story, are between the main female characters, mother and daughter in “Brave” and sisters in “Frozen”. Both movies focus on relational conflicts between the two female characters, with the male characters in supporting roles or pushed very much to the side of the action…

One unfortunate part is that in each one you have the stereotypes of the archetypal females, such as “the ice queen”, the “cold” type of woman who doesn’t seem to have “needs”, the very rigid and insensitive mother in “Brave” and the distant rejecting older sister in “Frozen”. The young girl in “Brave” is actually a well fleshed out character with contradictions, but the young girl in “Frozen” is a little too flat, portrayed as “naïve”…. Unfortunately, I ultimately prefer the earlier movie “Brave” because the main character is much more appealing and “full”.

When I saw “Brave”, I was very excited to finally see a princess movie about a princess not wanting to get married. The main driving force of the plot is Princess Merida’s wanting to escape her mother’s rigid enforcement of her getting married and getting married when she the queen wants. The movie turns the princess meets prince and lives happily ever after on its head in many ways. Merida is the antithesis of the typical Disney princess; her hair is neither blond nor black; it is red and wild. She loves archery and horse back riding. She is smart, adventurous, independent, unique, and, well, brave! Her mother is not dead and not an evil stepmother, but nonetheless not very open-minded. Her father is not dead either, but like most of the males in the movie, he is portrayed as rather impotent and does not “do” anything to help his daughter, as his wife is the one in charge. He also is missing one of his legs due to his fight with a bear. All of the “suitors” are also portrayed as rather helpless and hapless. Merida is the best archer and they are also portrayed as rather unintelligent and slow. Even Merida’s little brothers are not very developed; they mostly want to eat sweets. Even though, these are castrating portrayals of males, it seems ok that Disney does this, as forever, we have been subjected to portrayals of females as weak, innocent, and needing a man to complete their identity.

The main conflict in “Brave” is between mother and daughter, who want different things. The mother does not listen to her daughter’s plea to be left alone and not forced to marry, so Merida ends up turning her into a bear. By the end of the movie, the daughter and mother have both changed, grown and evolved; they now appreciate each other and have become closer. The mother “lets down her hair” and opens up, and the daughter, having saved her mother and got her back to being human, mends “the bond” between them. Instead of the movie ending with a wedding, it ends with the mother and daughter riding off on horseback together, with their hair getting swept and swirled by the wind, both having learned a valuable lesson and become closer in the process.

Hair is a big thing in fairy tales and movies based on them, which is why I focused on it in describing “Brave”. The color and kind of hair, the hairdo, all of it is meaningful. In “Brave”, the mother tries to “tame” her daughter’s red locks but they return to their natural state of wildness and the mother’s hair goes from being tightly controlled and “perfect” to loosening up. In the movie “Tangled”, the most recent portrayal of Rapunzel, I noticed that the wicked person looks like a Polish woman with very dark curly hair, and I think some grey streaks, which struck a cord as it looked like my own hair is currently. Of course, the whole fairy tale Rapunzel is centered on her long hair and a whole blog post could be written about that. Anyway, in “Frozen”, hair is again metaphorical and symbolic. Anna, the narrator and main character, has a white streak in her red brown hair from when her older sister almost “froze” her as a young child. Later on in the movie, her hair turns completely white when her sister has frozen part of her heart. Her hair turns back to its regular color at the end of the movie when the conflict between the sisters is resolved.

“Frozen” is also fascinatingly different from typical princess material in so many ways. It makes fun of the main stereotype of most fairy tales, the idea of “true love” being between a prince and princess and that they fall in love at “first sight”, without knowing anything about each other, that they “complete each other’s sentences and complete each other”. The real “true love” in the movie is that between Anna and her older sister Elsa. Elsa does not know how to control her power to “freeze” things, and at first sees it only as dangerous when she gets scared by what she does to her sister. Her keeping alone and distant from her younger sister is done out of love and fear that she might destroy her with her power. The movie is seen from the point of view of the younger vibrant silly, exciting extrovert Anna who does not understand why her sister has always pushed her away, kept her out, left her alone, rejected and been “cold” to her. Elsa by nature stays alone and avoids people, supposedly due to her powers keeping her literally at arms length from everyone. One thing I noticed in reflecting on this relationship was that the whole event of Anna meeting her “suitor” on her sister’s coronation day and believing she had “fallen in love with him” and deciding to marry him really had nothing to do with her actually falling in love with this man or believing she was infatuated with him. The whole impetus to trust this man came from her I think finally going outside the castle and still feeling rejected by her sister. Her act of coming to her sister with this “fait accompli” and introducing him was more about her relationship with Elsa than any desire to marry anybody. She was essentially saying, “You won’t pay attention to me or let me in or be close to me, so I will go find the first man that is nice to me, spend the evening with him and then tell you that I’m going to marry him because if you really care about me at all you will actually tell me you don’t want me to marry him and ALSO be close to me again in the way that I want you to be.” The fake closeness she has with this stranger is more warmth she has experienced since her sister “dumped” her long ago, so of course she is very open to being with anyone who acts loving toward her. Even her interaction with the other guy, the one she meets when looking for her sister seems related to her sister. He is similar to the cold aloof Elsa in that he is a loner, content to do his work with his deer and not interested in interactions with other humans. He is not very friendly either. Perhaps she is drawn to him not only because he knows how to get around in the cold but because he reminds her of Elsa!

Another funny aspect of this movie is the way it portrays the older sister and younger sister relationship; the older sister stops playing with the younger sister and rejects her. She knows things the younger one does not know or understand. She wants to be left alone, while the younger sister craves her attention, is puzzled by the rejection and saddened by the change from playing together to being left to play by herself. How many sisters have experienced this? Of course there are other kinds of relationships between sisters, but the movie portrays one of the main kinds of older versus younger sister dynamics, where the older sister later comes to see that the younger sister is not as naive and ignorant as she once was; the younger sister has “grown up” and the dynamic shifts in adulthood to a different kind of appreciation of each other’s qualities.

Anyway, there is more to be said about these movies and their attempts to turn the stereotypical princess story on its head, but I must say, I am very pleased to see these mainstream Disney princess movies take on more complex and interesting themes, conflicts and plots, shifting from the unrealistic “true love” marriage tale to some more complicated focus on the family dynamic between two females, mother and daughter and sisters, older and younger and reveal two courageous characters who are fighters in every sense of the word… I wish I could have seen these movies when I was around 5 or 6 and thought marriage and having kids was awful!

Valentine’s Day Post: Be Your Own Valentine!

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I used to have a very jaded view of Valentine’s day as a marketing ploy for chocolate, flowers, stuffed animals with hearts and other stuff, as well as this idea of high expectations and not a great day for single people, of which there are many in NYC.

Even when not single, I thought this holiday was tacky and so mainstream boring; every day challenge is to be loving and celebrate love and give gifts that are not expected. However, since having a child age 3 and up, my point of view has totally changed. I see how the day can be fun and a celebration of love not between romantic partners, but for family, friends and the idea of inclusion in terms of school age kids’ making valentines for everyone in their class, especially age 4 to at least 8 or 9, when gender is not so important and children are excited to make valentines for their friends and family. Of course being an artist and art therapist, I have used the day as an occasion for making art with my child and patients. 

The idea of making your own valentine came from my child when she was 4 or 5. We were cutting out little hearts to decorate for each person in her class. The first one she made she liked so much she asked if it could be for herself. “I like this too much; I want it to be mine!” she said, excitedly. How cool was that. From the same person who said, “of course you have to love yourself,” when we were talking about who we loved the most. What a great idea, while making valentines for others and focusing on who you love, to make one also for yourself. I think she ended up keeping two of her own. We always make one for the teacher and she makes me one and I make her something extra special each year. All home made with art supplies.

This year was no different. Valentine’s Day happened to fall on a Friday, one of my busiest days in my practice. I went to work thinking, I want to make valentines’ cards with my patients and invite and challenge them to make themselves a card. I had a few phone sessions which worked out well for this directive too.

The main idea is to make yourself a Valentine’s Day card and in so doing , remind yourself to love yourself. WIth each patient who did this, I asked them if they would be comfortable for me to make them a card. Nobody refused! For adults this was definitely more oriented toward female clients, or it might have been that everyone I did this directive with was comfortable already with making art in the session, so they happened to all be women.

Anyway, for the people who came in person, I had lots of materials out all day, including: colored cardstock paper for the card, sharpies colored and metallic, decorative paper, foam heart shapes and other shapes, jewels, rhinestones and lots of fun stickers… I had fun in the session making each patient their card, and discovered a new kind of card — the triple decker card. I had cut a small peice of colored paper for a card and realized it needed to be bigger, so I added another card and glued it on top. Sort of like a stacked cake. 

This directive is a simple example of how great art therapy can be for helping people appreciate and accept themselves as they are right now, not who they have been or want to be. Also, accepting a card from me seems to be a sort of connection to their own therapy process and their appreciation of their work on liking themselves in art therapy. The card from the art therapist functions on many levels; as a “transitional object”, as a concrete object to represent the therapeutic relationship, as an indication of the trust that has built in the relationship with the therapist, and as a positive kind of statement about being in therapy and feeling good about it.

Making Valentine’s cards all day long from 8am until 8pm was definitely a fun and different way to spend Valentine’s day. I think throughout the day about 6 of the 8 sessions I had involved making Valentine’s. With the phone sessions, there was a fun part of the process involving knowing what we were making and having a surprise email afterwards, emailing back and forth photos of our cards and knowing that the patient would be getting their card next week.

I also made a Valentine for my colleague during our peer supervision and she made herself a birthday card. At the end of the day, I realized I had not had time to make a card for myself! As an art therapist I am a firm believer in doing the art you ask your patients to do always, so I knew I would be making one for myself. Yesterday while drawing with my daughter, we ended up making Valentine’s for each other; I had already given her two on Valentine’s, but as I started my own one, she asked for it, so I had to make a whole new one for myself. I had fun doing it, especially enjoying writing the phrase: “Happy Valentine’s Day to Me”, with the idea that anyone can look at my image of my valentine and say it to him/herself!

I am happy to be less jaded as I age, and a convert to all things childlike: hearts, rainbows, glitter, beads, Valentine’s Day, stencils, coloring pages, mosaics, all of which I had much disdain for when in art therapy school. Thankfully, I now know better and have a much more broad view of art making and art therapy.

Happy Valentine’s to me and to you and your Self! Make yourself a Love card as a reminder to love yourself every day…

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Photos: Top, my own card to myself, Sharpie on collaged paper cut out heart
First on bottom: Triple decker pieced together card for a patient, mixed media on cardstock
Second on bottom: detail of above
Third and fourth: other valentine’s cards made by me for patients
Fifth and Sixth: front and back of a card I made for my daughter
Last photo: Part of a Valentine made for a patient

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death and Legos

On Feb.2, 2014, (James Joyce’s Birthday), Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an overdose. On that same day in the United States, about 99 other people also died of drug overdose.

This week in my practice, I had quite a few intense sessions with people, the kind of sessions that feel like they are of an existential matter, or an existential crisis. Talking people from the ledge, not necessarily people about to end their life immediately or go overdose, but people questioning their own life and its possible meaninglessness, feeling a lot of self loathing and worthlessness, or destroying their creative spirit with judgments, comparisons and criticisms. In about 9 sessions yesterday, I think Philip Hoffman’s death came up somehow in about 8 out of them and the morning before also in another session. What does his death represent besides a reminder of the deadliness of drug addiction and polysubstance and heroin abuse? It’s about recovery and finding yourself at a crossroads in your life, your shadow is beckoning you to eternal emotional pain and despair and a small shred of hope, a light in the distance, is still also there calling you away from the darkness. It’s about the work in most therapy, the goal being for the person to come to like him or herself more and hate him or herself less…

Some of these sessions went to a very blunt place where I pointed out, we all have what I see as 3 choices when faced with existential angst and self destructive thoughts about life being meaningless or ourselves being failures, worthless, whatever we make is not good, and being told positive things about ourselves makes us feel worse instead of better. So your choice is to end it now and be done with the endless suffering — what the BUddhists refer to as suffering due to addiction, attachment and delusion. The other is to kill yourself off symbolically and destroy your creative spirit and continue living the life of a deadened person; this choice involves giving up on yourself but continuing to appear to be alive but to be dead inside. Many have made this choice, a kind of circle of hell on earth, an acceptance of depression as part of everyday life. The other choice is the hardest for people who have been to the darkest part of their psyche and lived through it: the choice to awaken and emerge from the traps of addiction, delusion and attachment. All humans are at times addicted, deluded or attached. People wake up everyday and live through the day in such a state of mind. Addiction is not just to substances or gambling, sex, love, shopping, food or work, money, success, approval, anger, etc.

Delusion is not limited to humans wandering around in psychotic states. We are in delusion quite often in everyday life, when we do not observe what is really going on and enter a kind of state of ignorance.
“In the Mahayana tradition, two levels of ignorance (avidya) are identified. Dzigar Kongtrul explains:
There are two levels of ignorance: ignorance of the absolute, or the essential nature of phenomena, and the ignorance that prevents us from taking an accurate reading of the relative world. These two kinds of ignorance are like two kinds of thread: When they are tightly woven together, they are not easy to identify, yet they make up the fabric of delusion.
As a result of the first type of ignorance, we lack wisdom. Lacking an understanding of our true nature, we perceive that which is illusory and spacious to be solid and real. The second type of ignorance is the inability to clearly understand the laws of karma and interdependence, which then results in an inaccurate relationship to the world.” From Wikipedia

Carl Jung referred to this type of ignorance in terms of “attitudes”. When a person does not see clearly what is real, they take on an attitude or attach a kind of power to something that then renders it not real and the person continues to see it that way. We see this all the time with various kinds of simple realities. Your “boss” at work becomes more than a “boss”. A boss is someone who has the role of directing people who work for him or her and defining the tasks and roles of the people who work for him or her, but for many they attach more power to their boss and their boss becomes too powerful or their parent instead of simply their boss. We do this with all kinds of things. As an artist I have done this with a gallery or exhibition. My work gets rejected and for a while I live in a delusional state of mind in which this particular gallery and the “juror” who picked the work to go in the show and the work that was not admitted to the show become more than what they really are. I give them some kind of power to decide that I am a “bad artist”, “not good enough”, a “failure”. The gallery is one of probably millions and it is simply a place that payed someone to look through images of work submitted by artists and decide which to put in a particular show that would take place for about 30 days. When I let go of my delusions and attachments to this delusional idea of the gallery and juror of the show, I see the reality, and go back to doing what an artist does whether s/he gets in a show or not, creates art on a daily basis.

In reality, the gallery’s juror did not want any of ten images I emailed them to be in some show of theirs. I know these are ten of countless pieces I will continue to make. When I am not attached to my work being seen or to this gallery’s show, or even to a particular art work being good or bad or craving attention for my work or addicted to approval from the outside, I can be a relatively happy being who engages in the creative process for the sake of the process and my happiness is derived from the engagement with the materials and the process not with any product or result of a product. Because I have survived many of these rejections, each time I am quicker to be able to return to reality. Reality is always much simpler than the delusional or attached or addicted version of reality. In reality a glass of wine or a new dress is a material thing to enjoy but it does not have more power than that. Having a book published or a painting in a show or an award for a movie is a part of reality but cannot define a person. Exhibit A: Philip Seymour Hoffman, human who, given 46 years on earth, achieved a level of success, reknown, acclaim and material riches, as well as a family, and promise of more opportunities to hone his craft, gain more reknown and more enjoyment from his creativity as well as further fame and money, perhaps the joy of watching his children grow, that few ever come close to, he, who with all of thi,s was not able to escape the suffering that addiction brings to all who succomb.

Bringing us back to the choices and the therapeutic session sometimes taking on the conversation of existential dilemmas nobody escapes. Challenge is: can you wake up tomorrow and show up for life whatever it brings and be awake, not living in the past or some fantasy of the future moment? If you can do that, you will escape your own attachments to some definition of who you are, who you are supposed to be, who you expect yourself to be, your addictions to anything that seems like it will fill an empty hole, your delusions about your own reality and the people and other beings you encounter throughout your day. It’s an invitation to let go of your beliefs, your assumptions, your cravings, your attachments to outcomes and goals. As Marsha Linehan wrote: “The fundamental nature of reality is change and process rather than content or structure.” I found this quote, wrote it in my journal and shared it with about 4 patients in the course of my day, as I need to constantly remind myself of this truth; armed with this one small bit of wisdom about reality, you may save yourself from the terrible fate of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the 99 other unknowns who died on Feb.2, 2014 in the USA of the same cause… as well as the countless people walking the earth, who have no awareness of their own suffering in the form of addiction, delusion or attachment…

The philosophy of playing legos, contributed by a five year old, to be explored in another post.

The Birthday Self-Portrait: My Birthday Post, 2/1/2014

A long time ago, I was looking through a book of some artist’s work that I admired, it might have been Adolf Gottlieb, but I’m not sure, I’ve tried to figure out for sure which artist this was, but I never succeeded. Anyway, I read that he whoever he was, had an annual habit of making a birthday self-portrait every year for his birthday. I thought this was a really great and fun idea. I started doing it, but now I can’t remember how many years ago it was. I’m pretty sure I did a “Shoe Portrait” self-portrait the year I was making my series of Shoe Portraits. I can’t remember what shoes I picked to paint but I remember making a weird doll and sticking it in the painting. I think I cut the canvas and somehow put the doll in. Must have been about ten years ago in 2004 maybe. Anyway, every year after that I’ve done a birthday self-portrait, usually inspired by whatever kind of art I happened to be making at the time. I know last year I did a doll with a small tiny “clock” in her, from a watch ring I had. I made the doll from scratch. I will find a photo to post of it. The year before, 2012, I’m not sure what I did. I have two of them in my house from recent years, but I’m kind of annoyed at myself that I didn’t pay attention to what I did and document it better, since it was a fun kind of annual ritual and a fun creative gift for myself on my birthday. Usually I start them about a week before. This year for the first time, I made something I didn’t like and then changed the project completely. I started with a collage with a lot of cut out and ripped images, beads, an old drawing and other stuff and put it up on my studio wall. The next day or two after, I decided I didn’t want to finish it and that I didn’t think it was a real self-portrait, so I decided it would make sense to make an altered book, as I have been making them all year and very obsessed with them, as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows. I ended up cutting up that first collage and putting some of it in the book.

So I chose a book I had already worked on, a little children’s book with each page split in to two halves, originally the book was for matching the top image with the bottom, so it was fun to play with the format. I had already done a lot in the book and decided it had enough in it to build on and that it already had the feeling of a self-portrait, so I started altering it more, ripping out stuff and adding in stuff over the last week. I put s a few photos of myself in it and ended up using one on the cover as today I decided the cover didn’t seem right, so I ripped off an image of a person with a mask and put a photo of myself on it with the other images. I continued working on it today, which sometimes happens, that I end up finishing the self-portrait on my birthday, but I usually get it done by the day before. Of course as this is an altered book, I still don’t feel satisfied that it is finished, but it definitely feels right as my self-portrait for 2014 and reflects some of the past year’s experiences, both losses and rebirths.
I will post a few photos of the project…

As a blog post on my art therapy blog, this is a more personal post than usual, but I will end the verbal part by saying I recommend it as an art therapy project for doing with an adolescent or adult patient for their birthday. You can invite them to bring in a recent or old photo or several and then ask them what kind of medium they want to use. Anything can constitute a birthday self-portrait. A box with the photos incorporated into it, an altered book of course, a drawing or painting or collage on paper or canvas. Other interpretations of the self-portrait for those who only think of a painting of their own face and might feel discouraged and not interested in that, there are so many ways to make a self-portrait and it doesn’t have to have a picture or drawing of your face in it at all. Make a doll or a birthday pillow. A clay bowl to put flower petals in. A box that you can add small notes about what you want for yourself for the coming year into. Knit a birthday scarf. Buy a journal/sketchbook and decorate the cover and start your journal on your birthday. Have your patient make him or herself a birthday card. I have done this often and made a card for my patient while s/he made a card for him/herself. Making a card for yourself whether for your own birthday or for any other day is always a good art therapy activity. I usually give my patient a list of affirmations to choose to copy on the inside of the card or that could inspire you to make your own affirmations and write them inside your card to yourself. Collages with tiny mirrors are a fun twist on the self-portrait. I have one in my altered book. I encourage my patients to get themselves a special birthday present, whether an object or something like a massage, so doing a self-portrait can be an added way to feel special about marking for yourself your own arrival on this planet. It is helpful especially for depressed patients and people who claim to not like their birthday. I don’t always feel super excited for my birthday lately, so I understand when people want to forget about it or make it a day they don’t do anything special, but in art therapy this can be an opportunity to take better care of yourself and reclaim your birthday as a special day, which it is after all. Doing something special for yourself to mark the day you arrived here and that you are still here, no matter how you are feeling, can be very healing and self affirming. It’s kind of like the concept of “The Artist’s Date” from the book, “The Artist’s Way”. As a young 4 year old child once told me, “You have to love yourself of course.” and “You are your own best friend.”

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Photos: from top
First Photo: page from book showing the split page format
Second Photo: page from book top matching bottom
Third Photo:Inside front cover. QUote says: “How many are silenced because in order to get to their art they would have to scream.” -Ann Clarke
Fourth Photo: Current cover of book with photo and plastic doll in model magic
Fifth Photo: older version of front cover
Sixth Photo: Inside page of back cover
Seventh Photo: Image of doll, last year’s self-portrait