Writing 101: Day Four: Serially Lost, My Twist: Combine With National Poetry Month

Today’s Prompt: Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.

What’s important is reflecting on this experience and what it meant for you — how it felt, why it happened, and what changed because of it.

Today’s twist: Make today’s post the first in a three-post series.

Since it is National Poetry Month, I will focus on poems about loss, and quote poems I have found helpful for me that ring true, as well as one or two I’ve written myself.

Between the fall of 2013 and last June 2014, I had some pretty awful losses, and wrote poems about them. I will feature them in this post and then some of the poems by famous poets that I find help the mourning. The other two posts in the series can focus on something more uplifting, maybe still on the subject of loss, but not death…

Kasa where are you
You’re gone
Nowhere.
You ain’t in your grave.
You’re not part of the sun.
I got no religion,
No heaven.
I got nothing.
Not even your voice on a phone…
One year almost:
You don’t even show up in my dreams
My soul is burning, kicked, beat up
Forever
From missing you
And crying
Tears that get no bandaid.

Sort of a poem:
Things were beautiful every day;
we were happy, we played.
No one knew of the sorrow to come.
We were on the monkey bars in rain or sun.
We painted lily pads together.
You shared your love of soft furry animals.

Then one day from nowhere,
we found out you were gone.
You became a brief moment of sunshine,
a physical girl so real, who jumped and played,
a piece of rainbows
such as every 6 year old is mostly made of,
a tall girl in a cupcake shirt
with a big smile and particular eyes
with flecks of this color and that,
eyes that refused to be checked off
in a box marked “blue” or “green” or “hazel”
because they were all of these and none.

How could you be so much here among us,
shining and bright,
a smile to melt the coldest heart,
and suddenly cold yourself,
no longer alive.

Your beautiful soul is gone.
They say you are a star in the sky.
But that won’t do.
We can’t play with you
when you are so far away.
Really you are gone forever,
maybe in the place
where the ones who haven’t even existed yet are,
maybe in another place,
the ground, the earth, gone forever.
What good is it for you to be in our hearts
when we want you back?
what good is it?
It is not good. It will never be so.

A short one:
You left me alone
When you were supposed to stay
I will scream and cry about you anyway.

This one was written about someone else:

The needle beckons.
Once you’ve succumbed,
Are you immortal
Or part of the walking dead?
The sad crowd of beautiful minds
Lost and wandering the earth.
Nothing can pin you down
Sleeping through your own glory
Will the needle take you away forever?
Will you wake up a final time
And join us out of your stupor?
We are lost without you
And losing you to your pain killer.
The sleeping beauties down here
Don’t always wake up.

Last one I wrote a while back:
I can’t comprehend
You are gone.
That you existed so much,
An abundance of existence
The lions and tigers, the giraffes
Most of all the cats
Were all your animals
You
Disappeared
on a Wednesday.

There is no forever in life
But infinitely forever you
Chose to disappear.

You are nowhere anymore
But I look for you everywhere.
Sand falls through my hands
Like memories of you that
Exist no more except in my head.
One day I will be dead too.
But I will never ever see you again.
As much as you were here,
You are completely gone
And I will never know
Why.
My hands sift the sand.

Here are a few written by poets I admire.
There is the famous one called Funeral Blues, that I’ve quoted on other posts, so I won’t quote the whole thing. It starts with “Stop all the clocks” and ends with “For nothing now can come to any good.” I first heard it in the movie, Four Weddings and Funeral.
http://allpoetry.com/Funeral-Blues

Here is a more uplifting one by Mary Oliver:

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world

Ending with Rumi:

At the twilight, a moon appeared in the sky;
Then it landed on earth to look at me.
Like a hawk stealing a bird at the time of prey;
That moon stole me and rushed back into the sky.
I looked at myself, I did not see me anymore;
For in that moon, my body turned as fine as soul.
The nine spheres disappeared in that moon;
The ship of my existence drowned in that sea

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Blogging 101: Kindness is Magic Movie Serum, Transformations, Transformers and Transformees

Blogging 101: Assignment 1, Stream of consciousness writing about anything for 20 minutes.

I did mine yesterday during a long car ride and timed it; it turned out I was writing for 51 minutes in my journal, so now I’m transcribing it to post it. Warning! It will be over twice as long… Some frustrations: not remembering character’s full names, so I will look them up before posting, and not being able to discuss a bunch of the movies I mentioned, especially: Tootsie, St. Vincent, Birdman, Barefoot, Bringing up Baby, Philadelphia Story Being John Malcovich, Stranger Than Fiction (2006), and going into detail about the transformations in them, but it would be a way too long post!

My topic: Kindness is Magic Movie Serum, Transformations, Transformers and Transformees:
Most movies that move people involve transformation of course. Even though that’s obvious, I’m very interested in the mechanics of it, as I’ve been watching a bunch of different kinds of movies, both in theaters and on DVD or Netflix or other at home movie venues.

Here’s a list not in any order of recent ones I’ve seen: Cinderella 2015 made with people not animated, Home 2015 animated 3D in theaters, then movies at home: Groundhog Day (3rd or 4th viewing), The Anderson Tapes (from the 70’s?), Gone Girl 2014, Birdman 2014, Tootsie (1982), St. Vincent 2014, Barefoot (2014).

In most of these movies, which are a mixture of genres: romance, children’s fairy tale romance, children’s adventure movie sci-fi save the world, crime thriller, romantic comedies and for Birdman – independent style not sure the genre- drama? But it’s a “second chance/mid-life rebirth” type movie or falls into the category of movies like one of my fave classics, All About Eve, actually very similar. Bette Davis is the Birdman character; she is not changing genres like he is from blockbuster superhero to serious stage actor as an “old” actor”, but competing with her so-called admirer crafty younger actor who resembles the Edward Norton guy – very similar issues involved actually. Then St. Vincent- not sure the genre, drama with bad to good style plot- the guy Vincent starts out “bad” and is revealed to have always had good qualities, but also transforms in the present into a “gooder” person, a bit like the guy Jay in Barefoot, who has just come out of jail and is viewed as a total mess up failure, especially by his family. In St. Vincent, the boy Oliver is the Transformer, and in Barefoot it’s the girl/woman Daisy whom he finds on the psych ward who is an “idiot savant” type. I love Bill Murray and I’ve seen him in a bunch of movies with this kind of transformation, you have Scrooged, Ground Hog Day and St. Vincent all similar transformations. He’s even in Tootsie but not playing the main person, Dustin Hoffman’s Guy/Woman, Michael/Dorothy Michaels.

So my intense interest in transformation in these movies is the way there is the main character, usually has to be “likeable” despite being self-centered, uncaring, an “asshole” etc. like Vincent, Phil in Groundhog, Michael in Tootsie, and just how the person gets transformed by another key character and/or device that transforms him/her, what I call the “Transformer”. The word “trans” means cross over so the whole word means to cross over from one form to another. Many of these movies play with physical transformation versus spiritual, or outside appearance versus what’s inside/soul. Tootsie and Cinderella are the most obvious ones. In Tootsie, what is so fascinating is that Michael invents Dorothy and then he himself as the better part of him, in the form of the invented woman actor Dorothy Michaels is the Transformer. Unusual where the Transformee is transformed by a Self inside him of his own making; in addition, as Dorothy he transforms many of the characters in the film…

Crossing over involves a kind of metaphorical bridge- the plot device that the character goes through. In many movies the Transformer character is usually “heroic” in some way and can stand for some idea, like Cinderella in this version stands for goodness and courage. She is transformed spiritually or “inside” at the beginning of the movie through loss- a common transforming device –death-, the loss of her mother. Her mother passes the transformation message to Cinderella: “Be kind and have courage.” The girl Ella loses her mom and eventually also her dad and is changed into Cinderella, given a new name by the evil stepsisters and turned into a maid/servant by the evil stepmother.

Whether in tattered clothes or magically fancy princess clothes on the outside which have an expiration time, midnight, – Cinderella remains the same on the inside. Ironically, in this version the fairy godmother turns from homeless old woman to fancy fairy lady and uses her magic to create the changed dress, coach and footmen horses, – lots of dazzling outer transformations which do nothing to the inside sweet courageousness of C. She meets the prince, who is the Tranformee in this film (it’s the opposite of the usual movie focused on the Transformee, here most focus and scenes involve C. the transformer and luckily, hardly any involve the prince.)

The meeting in the forest, their first meeting, is where C’s Transformer power passes the message to the prince, and when he receives it like a truth serum he becomes transformed, not from bad to good but from ordinary and oblivious/unaware, uninteresting to awakened and aware. C’s power on him is to get him to see the world around him completely differently and to become awakened, much the same as what the young woman Daisy in Barefoot does to Jay through the movie device of a mixed up “road trip” (many road trip movies use the idea of going on a long journey in the physical realm crossing into a journey in the metaphorical realm). The rest of the film involves the usual drama with the fairy godmother, The Fancy Big Ball, the glass shoe and magic stuff, but for me the moment of magic –prince out hunting encounters girl on horseback saving the deer and shooting her truth arrow into him such that he spares the deer’s life at her request and calls off the hunt. That was where the movie’s main interest sort of ended for me.

Often Transformer characters are very sensitive and have an awareness or even communion with animals that ordinary people do not. Cinderella reminds me of Derek in Ricky Gervais’ TV show Derek, as both pass the message of “kindness is magic” and both love animals and have a special relationship with them. So I confess I loved the moment C locks eyes with the handsome deer (more majestic and dazzling than the silly looking prince, maybe the big male deer symbolizes whom the prince turns into) as well as her relationship with the mice who are her only friends. While this movie didn’t thrill me, it made me think, and I liked the focus being mainly on C. portrayed as a real person, slightly elevated in kindness, also an outcast/outsider/loner, seen by her step family as stupid, foolish, unworthy and not even a girl, and less focus on the prince. The way C. gets transformed is that her faith in life/hope is challenged when she loses her father and gets kind of abducted controlled by the stepmother and sisters, and she has a moment of not believing and stopping hoping for anything to get better for her, then is restruck with faith- a common transformation of a transformer good person character.

Like in Groundhog Day the character Rita, she doesn’t change much as a person but even she has preconceptions that Phil is shallow, selfish and egocentric. Throughout the movie, she gets thrown from one side to the other, seeing him that way and being surprised by something unknown about him, and in “falling” for him she does transform her view of him, but she is mainly the Inspiration/Muse of his big transformation.

The device that transforms Phil is the Supernatural, the plot of the movie. Every day he wakes up is Feb. 2, Groundhog Day until he is fully transformed by the end of the movie into the man he could be and turns into it through living the same day over, maybe 100 times or more, so that by the end of the movie, his goodness and caring for other people which is caused by his “awakening” actually lead to his focus shifting from getting the muse- Rita, whom he is in love with, to falling for the town he is stuck in and all the people in it. It’s great that he keeps waking up but it takes a lot of literal wakings up to really “wake up”!!!

There is a lot of interesting metaphorical stuff in his repetition of the day, he is literally reborn as he dies many times and wakes up back in the inn at 6am Feb. 2. I’m areal sucker for this film, I rewatched it a few months ago after years, so that time I hardly remembered the details and that viewing of the movie did have a kind of magic transformation on me, the viewer. I really love these types of awakenings movies; even the C movie (I’m super sick of that fairly tale I am so annoyed by it,) but still, it cast a spell on me.

Groundhog Day, like Cinderella, actually gave me a dose of wakening/inspiration serum to become a better person. Yesterday I saw it a third time a few weeks after the other time. Again I had an “aha” moment where I made a conscious decision work on being present and mindful more in my life, to try to be the kind of person Phil has become at the end. After seeing Cinderella I felt the same, so the movie itself can be not so great/mediocre and still shoot the arrow of, wake up in your life, look around you and be aware and wake. Of course it’s better if the movie is really good. So now I’m testing out this recent viewing of Groundhog Day to see how long this “spell” may work on me. It’s on my list of favorite “romantic comedies”; up they’re with Happy Accidents – also involving supernatural, Bringing up Baby, and The Philadelphia story, Being John Malkovich and Stranger Than Fiction. Groundhog Day crosses from romantic comedy to supernatural comedy like Stranger than Fiction. There are more old movies that I love, but that’s what I remember without looking on the Internet while writing this.

Groundhog Day’s spell on me – its’ the next day of my life, but I’m still in a heightened sate of consciousness induced by it. I love the idea that lera to really be present and awake and mindful of the here and now, you really do repeat the same day over and over. The movie is saying that life itself is like that. Ordinary daily life can by transformed by one’s own consciousness. Every day we wake up with a new chance to live in that simple magic of the moment, and when that happens it sometimes does seem like animals can talk…

Poetry Assignment: Fog, Elegy, Metaphor

Untitled

“The fog comes on little cat feet”
is one of my favorite lines.

For you, the fog was a tiger.

You left on Sept. 18, 2013
It’s a foggy death you chose.
You knew you wanted to die.

I have a fantasy of fog:
That I am walking towards the water
in a thick fog
and you emerge.

You say words, explain, convince…
Death was not a fog for you
and all the others who chose it.
It was a sharp knife to cut the pain.

I see you all together.
The suicides under the sea
that we cannot see.

I beat my head on the fog
No comfort.
You can’t hit fog, you can’t swallow fog.
Death swallowed you up that day.
I wait for it to spit you out
So I can see you again as you once were.

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

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

Burial Rituals

I have been periodically blogging about interesting cultural rituals some of us are less likely to be familiar with. The idea behind it besides learning cool, weird and interesting and often wonderful things that people from other cultures do and observe, is the idea that it is important to learn more about other humans and what they do to promote more tolerance, acceptance, respect and interest in others’ ways of observing the rituals we all tend to partake in, such as birth, death, coming of age, different important ages, marriage and other love partnership type rituals.

I posted a bit about some interesting types of funerals. Here is a link to some ways of burying the dead that you may or may not be familiar with. Besides cremation and burial in a coffin in the cemetery, there are many other ways of dealing with the physical aspect of death — the physical body of the dead loved one… I looked at this website, and frankly didn’t find enough new information, however it does provide alternate solutions during different time frames of human existence…

http://www.health24.com/Lifestyle/Man/Your-life/8-weird-burial-customs-20130326

Here is another website post about different burial rituals. Be forewarned that the blogger/writer of this post tries to inject some humor into it, which I’m not sure about…These were a little more interesting, and I was quite shocked by the idea of the ring (last one on the post) but it made me think I’d like my remains to be turned into a diamond ring. It also describes in more detail how some people in India do elaborate rituals around cremating the body…

http://simplymulticultural.com/2012/11/funeral-rituals-around-the-world/

Not only dead bodies are buried, but the opposite of death, the birth– placenta burial rituals are common around the world. Often they involve doing some kind of cleansing of the placenta and burying it in a special place or with certain things. In one culture it is the father who does it. Here is a description of placenta burial rituals around the world, told in a rather neutral fashion, which I tend to prefer:

http://www.birthtoearth.com/FAQs/Placenta+Traditions.html

Endings and Beginnings, Dealing with Change!

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”

-Joseph Campbell

I saw this quotation on Facebook and thought it was perfect for my current state of transition/transformation. I have spent the last week in a deep state of “termination” or loss of my old studio, which I made art in and spent time with others and their psyche’s and others making art for the past ten years in the building of which I had occupied 3 studios in in the past 20 years, the second third and fourth studios of my life as an artist, and of my native New York city. In this same week, I also signed the lease for my new studio, my fifth, which is luckily around the corner from my old studio, so I am not leaving this neighborhood that I have been in for the last 20 years of my life! And it represents 20 of I guess 22 years or so of my being a professional artist…

Ok, so I guess I am repeating myself as I looked at my last post of more than ten days ago, so I will try to post new info in this post!

First of all, Great News about my new studio! It is not the one I described in the last post. In a strange moment of synchronicity, just as I was on the subway reading about one of my favorite artists and her small collages and getting myself excited for a “small and intimate” new studio and imagining how I would make it very different from my old one, I got off the subway and the guy who showed the spaces had contacted me to tell me I still had the option of taking the big one I wanted in the first place, Studio 205! When he first showed me the spaces on Franklin Street, the best space was an interested space with two rooms and a lot of storage space. The wall was only half built in the second room, and he told me the owner was deciding whether to build up the wall and make that the space, in which case, I could afford it (a little more expensive than my current one but well worth it for the high ceilings I am used to and the novelty of having two rooms!), or he would knock down the wall and make a much bigger space way out of my price range. So I spent 3 days waiting nervously to find out the verdict and finally was told he was going to make the big space, so I reserved the other one. Suddenly now I got to have the one I wanted! I was very excited, as the move would be more exciting and at least I would be going a step up from my old beloved studio. This space is a little bigger but a weird shape. Anyway the ceilings are at least pretty high and I won’t have to paint over a dark color, though I will need to paint the walls eventually. Also, as they had to build the wall, I would need to do 2 moves. One was last Sunday and it went from morning until about 1 am with some great movers, friend of a friend of mine. It took forever for them to take out my 2 big flat files and all the rest of my stuff, and as they were loading the truck I was still rushing to wrap up paintings from the now destroyed painting racks. As I used to long ago make very big paintings, I had a lot of those to wrap as well as many medium to small size canvases I had totally forgotten about. Even with everything I threw out, we filled the truck up and I had to get a very large storage space which we filled up completely. Then we went back to my studio and packed about 15 boxes in the truck to take to my home. So by the time I was giving the movers a late meal at my house it was about 1am! And there still was lots of other stuff in my studio that needed to be dealt with over the week up until the last day, Thursday, Feb. 28!

I “surrendered” my studio 307 at about 3:30pm on Thursday. Luckily I did not have to paint the floor or walls and the inspection resulted in a promise (with a signed document) that I would get my entire deposit (a hefty sum of money that would come in handy for paying for two moves…) back!

That same day my new studio wall was up and I had my desk and some wood and other items stored there. I had signed the lease by then and gotten my keys, so I now had my new address, Studio 205 at 59 Franklin St. The new studio has a cool looking column in it as well as a closet and other random kinds of storage. I went there today with a bunch of boxes, a table to use until the next move and some folding chairs. I tried to mop the floor which was dusty, and it was strangely still just as dirty looking afterwards, but hey, this is an art studio and my old floor was very nicely covered in paint and ink spills! I set up the table and opened boxes of art supplies of all kinds, some client art work, and my special box of my tea boiler and my cups and many kinds of tea, so I’m ready for action starting tomorrow morning. I am excited to make something in there before my first 9am patient as I want to make sure I make something before anyone else does, just because… And I will bring my sage as I did not have time or remember today to sage the place.

Speaking of sage, I saged my old studio two times at least. One on the last day, in order to purify the space and remove all my personal energy and the collective creative energy and psychic energy that had accumulated in there over the last ten years. Even though I felt kicked in the face by not being able to choose to renew that lease, I felt a responsibility to leave in a dignified manner and to “clear” the space for the next people. Now I need to purify and sage my new space!

I took many kinds of photos of the old and new studios over the past week, and it’s quite striking how quickly it went from what it was to an empty space…

Tomorrow I will take photos of my temporary set up for this week and then next Sunday after the move the studio will be transformed again…

These are the words of Hannelore Baron, one of my favorite artists, who made very tiny intimate things, words that I identified with: (strangely my own artistic journey went from making very large oil canvases to smaller and smaller things with mixed media on all kinds of surfaces, and I repeatedly arrive at an intimate scale where I am also most comfortable:

“I don’t relate to large things. I don’t like anything large; large things sort of dwarf me… and I don’t like anything that makes me small now…” Hannelore Baron

At the same time, I do love large things and large spaces, but I don’t like the emphasis in our society on “Bigness” somehow being better. Looking up to tall people, big buildings, large art work, etc. There is plenty of beauty in the smallest tiniest spark of color…

To be continued… This will be a transition week, and it almost makes sense that my move is going in phases, as a way for me to cope with all the change better and also have that time to end one chapter and begin a new one…

Note: I will try to post more photos soon. It’s not working!

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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Chinese “Funeral” Paper

To continue where I left off with my “multicultural rituals” series, I will now travel to China. It turns out from my hunting around on the internet, that the Chinese have a very complicated series of rituals. This website has a very long exhaustive description to read (http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_chinaway/2004-03/03/content_46092.htm), so I will just point out a few interesting points, although the whole long process is fascinating, and it is much longer than traditional “Western” funerals, actually 49 days, with the first 7 days being most important. I point this out in particular because I like the idea. In the West, mourning is often not given enough time, and there is something to be said for having an extended time to be mourning, so that you really experience how life is not back to normal for quite a while. This feels much more respectful of the dead and the loved ones of the dead. The Irish come the closest to understanding that a funeral and wake need a lot of time and many kinds of rituals.

Some interesting superstitions or beliefs: The Chines cover up mirrors so that the reflection of the coffin cannot be seen or it will mean you will have a death in your family shortly.

Funeral papers, called “Joss Paper” are burned, and it seems the kind of paper used depends on who has died: “Joss paper and prayer money (to provide the deceased with sufficient income in the afterlife) are burned continuously throughout the wake.”

I actually first heard of the funeral papers when one of my supervisees, who loved using my orange and gold and grey and silver special paper from the Chinese “Pearl River Mart” in Soho, told me that actually the paper was funeral paper. I was reminded of the paper today while showing it to someone and remembered that I had not ever researched it or checked to see what was done with funeral papers. And many people have been drawn to that paper from a vast array of choices in my paper drawer. Here is a detail of a small collage painting on board that I made a few years ago, in which I used a lot of this “Funeral Paper”. Most of the orange in it is from the orange background and the metallic colors are from both color papers. As I painted on top of it, you see it after it has been manipulated, but the colors are the same. The piece for me has some kind of funeral evocations as it reminds me of the Twin Towers..

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There are many interesting aspects of the many rituals described on the above website. Here is another involving paper as well, called “holy paper”:

“When the prayer ceremonies are over, the wailing of the mourners reaches a crescendo and the coffin is nailed shut (this process represents the separation of the dead from the living). Then yellow and white “holy” paper is pasted on the coffin to protect the body from malignant spirits. During the sealing of the coffin all present must turn away since watching a coffin being sealed is considered very unlucky. The coffin is then carried away from the house using a piece of wood tied over the coffin, with the head of the deceased facing forward. It is believed that blessings from the deceased are bestowed upon the pallbearer, so there are usually many volunteers.”