Favorite Video Of Last Week: “Raised Without Gender”

A 10 year old showed me this video last week.  It was really great to see how schools of the future may eventually evolve to adopt a philosophy of not inculcating gender norms and gender roles on young 4 and 5 year olds. Maybe in about 50 years, most schools will just be like this. The family in it is really great. My favorite part is when the parent is sort of accused of inculcating their views of gender and forcing them on their children. The parent replies, Yes I am doing that. So does every other parent. I’m just not doing it the way many others do, but I’m doing the same thing all parents do. So true.

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Blog For Mental Health 2015

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2015 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

This is the link to the official site for Blog for Mental Health 2015, and I congratulate them on the beautiful image that I was allowed to put in my side bar! I don’t know who drew it but I will try to find out:
http://blogformentalhealth.com/2015/01/30/blog-for-mental-health-2015/

I am very excited to join this cause. I think I can say that my blog is dedicated to educating people about mental health and well-being and calling out society on stigma and stereotypes that are untrue and damaging, as well as being committed to sharing the stories of others who suffer from any mental issues, disorders and people’s courageous roads to recovery through linking to other sites, re blogging great blog posts by people suffering and overcoming on the front lines and by telling my stories about my work as an art therapist, and showing the healing power of art through my journey as an artist myself and others’ finding hope and healing in the arts.

In my blog, “Musings of an Art Therapist/Artist”, I have featured stories abut mental health as well as what I said above, and the impact of art therapy and the creative arts on mental health and well being.

Like almost everybody else, I have personal experience with mental health and mental illness, and I am very aware of how dangerous untreated mental illness can be, having gone to a few terrible funerals of loved ones who died in the front lines/trenches. Luckily, I have witnessed a lot of wonderful transformations on the road to recovery, both of family members, friends and my own patients. Every day I witness huge miracles of survival, strength, resilience and recovery. I see people become healed through caring for their creative spirit as well as their mental and physical body. The work I do I conceive of as spiritual experiences. Or perhaps human experiences with spiritual beings. (Deepak Chopra: “We are not humans having spiritual experiences; we are spiritual beings having human experiences”) I am very humbled and honored in my work as an art therapist to be invited to be a witness and sometimes guide on people’s personal journeys of recovery.

As a therapists, I owe a debt of gratitude to the 12 Step Recovery Program, which has been a beacon of hope and support to many of my patients. I am grateful that I have been able to convince some of my patients to try out this program, attend a meeting, find spiritual connection with others going through similar struggles. It is often a struggle to encourage someone to go to a meeting week after week, but when the person does finally go and finds this miracle of community and mental health, it is wonderful to witness. The 12 Step Meetings of any kind, whether OA (Overeaters Anonymous), AA, Alanon, DA (Debtors Anonymous), or any of the other types of meetings, provide so much support and connection for people who feel isolated and alone on their journey towards well being. If mental health can be seen as a flower with many petals, art therapy is one of the petals, 12 Step can be another if useful, medication management coupled with a caring psychiatrist can be another one, yoga is often one of the petals, mindfulness meditation another, exercise another, making art, music, and other creative arts on your own is another, acupuncture, Reiki and/or other alternative therapies another petal, maybe this image helps one to see that it takes a whole flower or a “village” for mental health to continue to improve and be maintained. “Self-care” is so important to mental health and well being. For myself, this means making art daily, no matter whether it be 20 minutes or several hours, including making art with and alongside my patients; it also means doing my own yoga practice 4-5 days a week for at least half an hour a day, and a few other things. I say this to demonstrate that all of us need some kind of self-care. Quality time with loved ones is of course another form of daily self-care for me and many others.

I am happy to participate in this wonderful “Blog for Mental Health” experience!

Movie: “Back From the Edge” – Borderline Personality Disorder

I just recently watched this video on Youtube. I highly recommend it to everyone: other clinicians who work with BPD or who want to learn more about it, people with BPD, people with loved ones with BPD, and those who know nothing about it.

The good news is that there is finally scientific evidence that Borderline Personality Disorder is actually a biological even hereditary illness not that different from diabetes or bipolar disorder. Those suffering from it are relieved to find out what is “wrong” with them and that it is not their fault that they suffer so much, that there is a name for and description of what they struggle with and they are not alone with it. I am especially glad to see them cover the whole issue of diagnosis and show how people who find out they have BPD are so relieved and also feel that they are understood and that they now know what is going on with them and because it can be explained very precisely and all their “symptoms” are mentioned and described in a way that they resonate with the whole diagnosis, there is great hope for them to recover fully and lead happier, more satisfying lives and have better relationships and hope for love with others.

I think this is a great example of the usefulness of diagnosis and the DSM 5 (the diagnostic tool for people in the mental health and substance disease field). It argues against people’s beliefs that some diagnoses are not good and make a person feel worse or sentenced or that having BPD and being told you have it means you are “one of those crazy sick people”. It also helps people encountering BPD in themselves and others have more patience and understanding of the terrible self harm behaviors and very extreme amount of suicidal thoughts, wishes and attempts.

In terms of treatment and hopes for recovery, the movie shows how people benefit greatly from the most documented and researched treatment: DBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, founded and invented by Dr. Marsha Linehan. There is also brief discussion of other treatments, especially psychodynamic, however, they leave out a newer treatment called “Mentalization”, maybe because it wasn’t well known when the movie was made. I still don’t understand much about Mentalization, except that it was founded by a psychoanalyst but is not psychoanalysis. I believe it focuses on cognition and accessing the reasoning part of the brain to get the patient out of the amygdala, which is the “fight or flight” response; people with BPD have different brain chemistry from people with “normal” brains. The reason they are so highly reactive, sensitive and emotional in response to interactions with others that other people do not react to or receive as hostile and dangerous is that their brains are wired differently and thus, while ill, people with BPD spend a lot more time trapped in the amygdala. With mentalization, I believe there is some emphasis on learning about responses of other people to the patient’s behavior or reactions and learning to look more neutrally at interactions with others.

Anyway the basic principles of DBT therapy are explained and patients describe how it helped them to learn to self regulate and decrease their extreme symptoms. The movie is not an exhaustive description of DBT as it empasizes the experiences of people with BPD, before effective treatment and after as well as their family’s experiences before and after.

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

Probably Last Post Before Vacation! Should Be About Vacation!

What to say about vacation this year that I did not already cover about a year ago?

I am following my new rule about taking at least 14 days off. I will be away from the afternoon of Friday, July 12 through the afternoon of Monday, July 29, which turns out to be actually 17 days if you count the two half days at beginning and end as one day, so I am pleasantly surprised as I thought this year I could only miss two weeks of work. Essentially I will miss the two weeks and maybe a few more hours total.

Why care about missing days? For one, Money! Money, as I have blogged about it before, is quite important, especially when planning a vacation. First of all, I don’t get paid vacation days or sick days, so every day off is a day I am not making any money. In addition, vacations always cost money. This year, like last year, there are no expensive plane flights, just car rental and gas costs. Staying in a friend’s cabin upstate means no extra hotel costs, so it is a pretty low budget great vacation. Those of you that enjoy camping and being outdoors in the middle of nowhere would appreciate my choice of going again to the Froggy Pond Cabin in upstate NY near Cuba, NY which is close to the bigger town of Olean, NY. Another reason to care about days I will be on vacation is really just that I discovered the hard way that one week is not enough for me. It takes me a while to get used to being away from the noisy energetic city and adjust to the relative peaceful, calm and silent aspects of the woods. Then coming back involves transitioning back to civilization, so usually there is a visit at the end to old friends in Ithaca, which is a small town but not in the woods in the middle of nowhere!

Some of the great things about taking this same vacation for the third (I think it’s three, might be more) year in a row is that I get the same benefits at a low cost: being in nature, away from the city, for the most part away from the internet though I check emails from time to time, but it’s really a vacation from the annoying distractions of TV and internet, then the frogs again. Going there in end of July is a perfect time to hear the frogs wonderful chorus, especially at night! Plenty of time for art making out doors and making art on vacation is different from making art in NYC. This year wanting to pack light, I will not bring a ton of materials but will have the fun of shopping at JoAnne’s, which is really fun, as usually I get things from there online. There is a Joannes in Staten Island but I have no idea how to get there. Plus shopping on vacation is more fun anyway. There are cool dollar stores with odd kinds of things and surprises, plus JoAnnes which has a lot of crafts materials, and once in a while some random shopping mall has cool outlets to check out. There is also some planting to do, so going and buying soil and flowers and stuff like that is fun and different.

Each year we try to think of new things to do. Last year we went to a drive in movie, which I think was the first one I’ve ever been to! So we will do that again. Maybe some berry picking and hiking. For me always there is reading as I love reading but seldom have time to really read a whole book. This year I am being strict with myself, no books related to my work, so I will bring some kind of book of poetry, one or two graphic novels and maybe a memoir…

Ok. I’m off to a movie, so I will actually post again before vacation! as I haven’t finished with my thoughts on vacation…

Silver Linings Playbook; From A- to B-/C+ in Less than a Week!

ok. I had a terrible day today, so it feels like the perfect time to have fun writing this post because I saw Silver Linings Playbook for the second time the other day and I was blown away — by how much worse it was on a second viewing! I almost felt scammed or literally “played” that I had such a “manic” experience loving it after a first viewing.

Basically for me, the big test of a movie is, does it stand up to being seen a second and then a third and then maybe even a fourth or fifth time? Doesn’t matter how soon you see it again. As I said in my last post, that is why I love films like “Bringing Up Baby” and more modern ones like “Spotless Mind”; every time I see them, I find something else to love about them and get great enjoyment out of seeing scenes I could practically play over in my head between viewings, such as the dog and dinosaur bone garden digging scene in “Bringing Up Baby.” In fact when I realized how much lower Silver Linings sank on the second viewing I remembered that I talked a lot about Bringing Up Baby in my glowing post; and I realized it was because the elements I liked about Silver Linings reminded me of that classic and maybe reminded me too much of how great that movie was! A really good movie like the “Spotless Mind” one doesn’t remind you so quickly of other movies because there are really great cool things in it to enjoy that seem totally unique to the movie even if it is a familiar “genre”.

So what took the silver linings out of “Silver Linings”? Just about everything except the characters of Tiffany and the father played by DeNiro. The fact that on second viewing the main character Pat did not seem like a real person and those other “supporting” characters were more interesting did not help it. Other complaints that can be quickly listed off: too many montages (I challenge you to watch it again and count how many long montages there are and how much time they take up in between real scenes)– unless you’re watching a cool music video, you do not want to be aware of having a montage much less five or more of them in a movie. OK. I guess my other criticisms do not fit into a short list. Let’s take the most important one, the portrayal of bipolar disorder:
On a second viewing I was shocked I did not notice this important thing the first time: Pat’s big episode was “triggered” by a violent situation which is terrible for many reasons. One, I have worked with many people with serious bipolar disorder and others with family members and close friends with bipolar and never in all the years of hearing all the stories of these people has any of them been described as involving violence, much less two episodes with violence in them (the scene where he almost kills the history teacher and the scene in which he hits his mom and his dad gets violent). This gives the general public a very strange idea about mania and bipolar psychosis and from viewing the film if you did not know about it, you would associate violence with manic episodes. In addition, as I confirmed by talking to a married straight guy about the film, most men in Pat’s situation might have done the same thing upon coming home to their wedding song playing and their wife in the shower having sex with the history teacher, without having any mental illness issue whatsoever, so it confuses the issue to have this event be the major event that results in Pat’s hospitalization. Plus if you watch the movie carefully, you hear that the lawyer obviously used mental illness to get him into the hospital for 8 months instead of put in jail, which puts the reality of him having it in question as it is referred to as “undiagnosed bipolar”. The icing on the cake is the scene where he ends up getting violent with his mom and then realizing he needs to take his medication. None of this fits any of the accounts I have heard of others’ manic episodes. The most common thread is the transition from mania to psychosis involving religious delusions and all kinds of intense meaningful LSD like spiritual experiences as well as grandiose delusions (ie. “I was convinced I had to fly to LA to the big premier of my brilliant movie, or, “I really thought I was god” “I thought I had found the cure to cancer and was about to receive the Nobel Peace Prize,” etc.) Sometimes if a relationship has just ended or some kind of intense love feelings are involved but not receprocated in reality the person while manic is convinced someone or several people are in love with him or her who in reality are not.

Anyway, that is a big problem with the movie on second viewing that makes me change my opinion of the TV show “Homeland”. I was a bit hard on it in my last review of this movie. I still think the ECT was strange and not well explained and that I would like to see the character have a session with a psychiatrist or therapist and also know what meds she takes, however at least her episodes are more realistically portrayed. We see that she is not in reality but we see how subtle it is that her reality is becoming out of wack, which is really well done on that show in that her job is already an inherently stressful and crazy paranoid making job and her obsession with the other character makes sense.

So “Silver LInings” still gets my approval for an ok portrayal of therapy and for the character taking the right medications. Probably the best scene in the movie that reflects the stigma of all kinds of mental illness is when he points out to his family and the others in the scene that maybe he and the other two “crazy” characters in the movie see things and understand things in a way that the others do not; I think that is true. If there is a silver lining to having a serious mental illness, it is that you experience life in a way that others do not and have a unique sensitivity towards others. The way seeing impaired people report that they their sense of hearing is very good…

So, lesson learned: watch out for getting too seduced by a movie that already has a lot of hype. Watch it at least two times before writing a big “I love it” blog post!!! We therapists sometimes get it wrong, that is for sure!

Big News: Goodbye to Studio 307 on My Tenth Anniversary!

I have not posted in here recently until tonight when I added some photos to the last post on Altered Books. Anyway, the reason is that on Wed., Feb. 7, about a week and a few days ago, with just three weeks left of February which is of course, a very short month, I got stunned with the news that my landlord of 20 years was not going to renew my lease on Studio 307, where I make my art and work as an art therapist/psychotherapist, Reiki practitioner. Since I started in that studio on March 1, 2003, I have renewed my lease annually in February. As usual, I was not thinking about the lease renewal, as I am used to getting a notice under the door telling me to go to the management office across the st. and renew my lease. So I am not being “evicted”; I am simply not given the opportunity to renew my lease after 20 years of renting studios in that building. I started in 1993 with my first NYC art studio (not my first studio, which was actually in Paris, France, a tiny studio at the top floor of a building), on the fifth floor in Room 503. In 1998, I moved to the fourth floor to a slightly bigger studio in 408. I don’t recall if there was a window in there. So I stayed in 408 until I moved down to 307, my current studio, which is the biggest studio I have ever had. It’s about 346 square feet, but feels larger as the ceilings are so high. I have to take photos of the ceilings in there as I have been taking my “last” photos of the studio in the past few weeks and I will post some at the end of this post.

This was shocking and awful news for me, to be quite honest. Over these twenty years I have seen many people come and go. I have had several different kinds of neighbors next door in 308. I have been friendly with about 5 other people on the floor. The current people I know on the third floor and in the building were also shocked by the news, as I have been a great tenant. This is a commercial building but I have seen all kinds of people rent from there, not just visual artists. I knew one musician and have had quite loud neighbors. I have always been known as quiet,except for when there are several loud children in the studio, usually on the weekends. And I know an artist on the floor who regularly brings his two young daughters to the studio. There are lots of children who come to the building. There are no pets allowed but I have seen people bring their dogs there, and on 2 occasions in my ten years in 307, I had patients bring very tiny dogs during their sessions…

Anyway, I was certainly in no way ready to move out. My practice is in fact in process of growing by the month, and I am getting ready to start my art therapy group that I have discussed in this blog, but I am postponing beginning the group until I am in my new studio.

By the end of the day after hearing this news, I had spoken to quite a few people and looked online right away for studios in the neighborhood and elsewhere. I quickly found that most of the studios are listed on Craigslist, although I looked all over the place and also contacted my connections in the neighborhood. I also got a real estate lawyer to look at my current lease and advise me. As I thought, I found out that week from her that the landlord can do whatever he wants and is not required to renew my lease at any time or give the reason why the lease will not be renewed. So I have to get all my paintings and other stuff out of my studio by 4:45 on Feb. 28, 2013. At present I have exactly 12 days left of having the studio. While looking at other spaces, I worked on figuring out how to make sure I get my large two months deposit back. All these practical matters have to be attended to as I at the same time inform my family, friends and patients and supervisees that I am leaving the studio, and most of all, get used to the idea myself.

This is a big loss for me. I have become extremely attached to this studio which is far more than just a “work space”. In another post, perhaps I will look back upon all that has happened over the ten years of being in this studio. Suffice it to say that I have shed many a tear over this big “termination”. There is nothing like being forced to move out of your space that has been your heart and soul for so many years and that has seen so much creativity of myself and countless others, adults and children, family members, many friends, colleagues, patients and supervisees. Since June of 2008 I have facilitated supervision groups in the studio that are based on art making as a major form of processing clinical work. I could go on and on about what this studio means to me, but I will continue reminiscing in another post.

The good news is that I have a new studio around the corner on Franklin St. I have not yet signed the lease, but I expect to give my deposit tomorrow and sign the lease next week. I will have to paint the walls in the new studio, as they are a dark red and blue, but it’s an opportunity to “make it my own”. I’m thinking of painting one of the walls gold, as I love gold walls, and the new studio is significantly smaller by about maybe 90 square feet or so but even more so because the ceiling is very low, so it will seem far smaller than my current one. So I must embrace the intimacy of the new space while still figuring out how to continue to have groups of 3-6 members in there, which I am determined to do.

I was going to wait to sign a lease to give the news to the people who come to my studio, especially my patients and supervisees, but I realized there is not much time left, so by mid Tuesday, I started telling people and continued through my last patient on Friday at 7pm.

More to say about the wonderful support of everyone who has walked into the studio this week as well as the many friends and family members who have been talking to me all week about this big transition.

Today marked my first day starting the big job of packing and going through the big painting racks which need to be taken apart and have so much on them as they go up to the very high ceiling. I found much old discarded art work of various people to throw out as well as other random things. Starting the process makes me realize what a big job this is going to be, even though I have good help on it. I am going to have a goodbye party and sale of art work next Saturday, so I hope to get rid of a lot of old art. Unfortunately I have a lot of very large paintings from the 1990’s to get rid of.

In addition there is the gigantic mandala, 7 feet in diameter, on the wall that my patients face, which I have to figure out how to dismantle and get out of the studio. It was that art piece, probably the biggest thing I have ever made, that symbolized for me how “married” I was to the studio. It was as though unconsciously as I created it many years ago, maybe around 2004 and 2005, that I was saying with it, I am staying here forever, as this mandala cannot fit out the door!

Never had I imagined that my leaving this studio would be not of my own free will. I am still shocked, stunned…

While many people have said how sad this is, others have commented on it being an opportunity to start anew. Alas, both are true. As Nietzsche said, “What does not kill you makes you stronger.”…

Goodbye 368 Broadway and goodbye Studio 307. Apparently I will be able to continue on without you, but I will always miss you…

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“I thought that love would last forever. I was wrong.”

I feel I have to post something about today’s tragic events. My heart goes out to the parents and families whose little children are now dead, lost to them forever. There are no words for this tragedy, and no amount of words can bring back a dead 4, 5 or 6 year old. The empty hole of grief and loss will accompany a parent for the rest of his/her life, and for sure right now life itself is absolutely unbearable…

I picked up my own lovely 5 year old from school with a heavy heart, knowing that those parents have been robbed of this simple reuniting ritual, and robbed of their little child. I know there are no words, but poets sometimes know what to say to express the unbearable for the rest of us. I turn to the Auden poem I posted this week in relation to a discussion of death and funeral rituals. Here are the parts that pertain to today, written in April 1936:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffins, let the mourners come…

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong…

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

This poem has come to me often at different times of death and loss. “For nothing now can come to any good.” True hard words. What kind of world do we live in that such unspeakable acts can happen? Even before today, I have been asking myself this over the last several weeks. I admit part of this came from TV. I randomly watched several episodes of Oliver Stone’s Showtime tv documentary about the untold history of the united states, filled with footage of World War 2 and then a lot about the first atom bomb. I reflected a lot about these scenes and words. How human history is a long unending story of wars and killings and destruction. Hearing the narrative string together everything did not help to make any sense of this awful part of human nature. Even though we are not in World War 3, there is enough senseless killing and other unspeakable acts happening all over the world, in hot spots like the mid east, but also everywhere else, all the time, constantly, and today in Newtown, Connecticut.

There is no period in history that is not filled with the blood of innocents, no ethnicity or culture that is free of such evil. Whether in wars, each worse than the other, no matter where, or in “peaceful” nations such as ours, although we never seem to be free of killing our own and others somewhere usually far away: Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, etc. I doubt there is ANY time in our nation’s history that is not like this.

I remember as a quite young child reading the Diary of Ann Frank and getting obsessed with her story and the tragedy and strangeness of her dying and her diary somehow surviving. A kind of triumph that her beautiful voice is there to be heard for the next generations; it is only through reading and other arts such as painting and music, that we are reminded that wonder still exists and some piece of goodness in some small place is shining through the constant darkness. For me, though my own preferred way of self expression is nonverbal painting, drawing and collage, I often turn to words and books for something, because of the paradox of the unspeakable and the miracle of words coming together in a simple poem or young girl’s diary that manage to express some hope for humankind…Or actually just put in words the horror of the endlessly destructive part of humanity we can’t seem to escape from, the very real hopelessness and unending emotional pain and suffering that is life in this world…

Over the summer a dear friend gave my daughter a wonderful children’s chapter book called “The BFG”, by Roald Dahl. Whatever age you are, read it soon! Suffice it to say without a long description of this great tale, there is a very instructive scene in which little Sophie, our heroine, is talking serious philosophy, ie. the strange awfulness of the nature of “human beans” with the Big Friendly Giant. I would like to end this post with that dialogue:

Sophie is lamenting the other bad giants’ endless killing and eating of humans when the BFG in his broken English reminds her,
“Human Beans is killing each other much quicker than the giants is doing it.”
“But they don’t eat each other,” Sophie said.
“Giants isn’t eating each other either,” the BFG said. “Nor is giants killing each other. Giants is not very lovely, but they is not killing each other. Nor is crockadowndillies killing other crockadowndillies. Nor is pussy-cats killing pussy cats.”
“They kill mice,”” Sophie said.
“Ah, but they is not killing their own kind,” the BFG said. “Human beans is the only animal that is killing their own kind.”…
A few paragraphs down, he continues to bring home the real part of the argument, for maybe some animals kill each other for food or some other reason, but not on a large scale and not constantly and not in such inhumane ways and not for no good reason whatsoever. We really are the ones who do that, each generation figuring out more awful massive ways to wipe out large amounts of other humans to today when we could just wipe ourselves out altogether and the whole planet with us…

He continues,
“They is shooting guns and going up in aeroplanes to drop their bombs on each other’s heads every week. Human beans is always killing other human beans.”…
Then a little later he clinches the argument with,
“The human beans is making rules to suit themselves,”  the BFG went on. “But the rules they is making do not suit the little piggy-wiggies. Am I right or left?.”
“Right,” Sophie said…
The BFG, pages 78-79.