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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The Altered Book: A Great Project for In Session Art Therapy

When I was in graduate school for art therapy, I had never heard of an altered book or seen one, and certainly it did not come up in my “Materials” class. We did not get assigned any kind of Altered Book in any class, whereas now I am hearing from grad students that in some class or other, one of their assignments involves an altered book, which is usually assigned to do outside of class.

I think my first experience of an altered book may have been at the Outsider Art Fair. I distinctly remember going to this Fair years ago when it was always in the lovely Puck Building, which is still there, located on Lafayette near Houston St. in Soho, downtown NYC. In fact years before that, I had some of my graduate art therapy classes in the Puck Building and we organized the student art show on one of the floors of this building. It is certainly a beautiful building. The last time I was there for an art event was the comic book graphic novel fair a few years ago when I met one of my favorite graphic novel authors/artists, Lynda Barry. It must have been back in 2008 when she had just published this beautiful book about her art making process, called “What It Is”. Anyway I think I saw an altered book years before that encounter in the same building. It was made by a female outsider artist and I remember the book being very thick and beautiful and having a lot of glue on all the pages. It was very inspiring and I wish I could remember the artist and find a photo of it.

I made my first “altered book” years before that without knowing it was an “altered book”. It was not quite what we tend to think of these days when thinking of Altered Books. I took all the pages out of this strange pretty bad dramatic novel I did not read and altered the cover completely to the point where it was not recognizable as having been a book. I put a lot of plaster of paris on it and then mod podged tissue paper collage. Then I somehow found part of a cardboard box and attached the book to it so the top opened up as the cover. I think I used the pages to rip up and glue inside the box. I will take a photo of it. Strangely it was a gift for a close friend, but she was a close enough friend that she told me she found the box to be too disturbing to use or look at, so I took it to my studio, where it has been more appreciated! It inspired one person to make something like it with me, and she ended up taking a dislike to the project and left it with me when she left town after we went through her art that she had done in art therapy with me. I still have that rejeccted box in my studio as well. (It inspires me to write a whole post about “ugly” and “rejected” art work and how it is therapeutic in art therapy!)

More recently, a few years ago I stumbled on an online class about altered books, and in fact I have now taken 3 online classes about it, each class covering different aspects of the art making process involved in altering books. I have been making them with patients for a while now, and by making, I really mean inviting patients to try it out and see if they like it. The first part of the process involves the explanation of what it involves, which is, basically, you choose a book and then you can start anywhere in the book or with the cover or back cover and start picking art materials to use on the book. The first steps also often involve ripping out pages from the book, either to use in the book or to throw out. It is usually good to do this at the beginning as a way to give yourself permission to “alter” the book. We all have pretty fixed notions about the sacredness of books, which I think still exists despite the internet, reading on tablets and other devices, or perhaps, the tablets have made books seem even more precious. Jumping in to starting an altered book project requires a certain amount of adventurousness, ability to tolerate anxiety about the unkonwn and anxiety about trespassing a boundary and destroying something in some way in order to create something completely new. It also involves changing ones mind in framing the idea of that book, from something to be read and kept intact, to an object just like any other “found object” to transform and make your own through your own creative expression.

There are many different aspects to altered books as part of the art therapy session that are quite fascinating, so this post will only touch on the first part, the beginning. Once invited the interested patient will next be introduced to the random assortment of books I have to choose from and pick something that speaks to them to alter. Usually Hardback books are more inviting as it is easier to treat the cover like a canvas, but lately I have seen a few people pick soft cover books, becasue I have a few that are an interesting size, kind of square and with a lot of photos, and a cover that is more sturdy than the usual paperback. So far, nobody has decided to go home and pick out one of their own books. Part of this I think is the therapeutic value of taking a book that’s in my studio already taking up space as a book waiting to be chosen, so the process of accepting this odd art project is made easier as you are not “ruining” one of your own books. And I really have a strange random assortment of everything from dictionaries/thesauruses to cookbooks to spiritual meditation type books. Included is a thick hard back Italian novel and some other random novels as well as several books with pictures about fashion or the styles of certain decades. I have a travel guide. I had a guide for artists about materials and how to use them.

This aspect of rejection of the project that began when I made my own rejected “too intense” book box and then an “ugly” book box with a patient is a part of the altered book project. I have had a few people pick out a book and start altering it and then by the next session ask to shelve the project until “I’m in the mood for it. It’s too daunting right now.” The Altered Book will either be seen as a great container that is continually inviting or sometimes it represents being overwhelmed and unable to make any decisions about what to do, resulting in the project getting “shelved”. One of my patients started a first session very excited about all the varied materials I had, wanting to jump right into art therapy and got going very creatively with some book that she even worked on for the first few sessions. At some point I think she started cutting pieces out of the book to create a kind of box within the book, maybe even using an exacto knife. Then in the next session she declared she no longer wanted to work on it, was not in that “headspace” anymore and went to other forms of art making. She made great use of art therapy but never went back to the book until we were terminating and she fondly remembered it as her introduction to me and our work and I think decided to take it with her. The book project just functioned as a jumping in point.

Why do some people get excited to do an altered book in the first one or two sessions of trying it out and then run away from it, shelve it, reject it? Maybe when this happens it is because I, the art therapist, am actually more excited about it than the patient and have high expectations for it being a great kind of project for long term therapy. Perhaps for some people, there is too much commitment too early and they are not really ready for it.

The other interesting thing about doing Altered Books is when people do get invested in them and go back to them every session. Lately that has been happening, probably because a few people in my supervision group randomly chose to work on altered books without my prompting them. Two people have left the group with unfinished books they have taken with them. One person brought her own book to the group to alter with materials from the studio. So that energy of the altered book I really believe was “percolating” for a while in the studio. I had another rejected altered book started about a year ago in one session and then put aside. For a while I was not really focusing on altered books in the studio, just taking these classes and thinking once in a while about it, and learning more ways to approach the Altered Book.

At this moment, my studio feels filled with Altered Books! Like anything that grows in a garden on its own, it feels like this altered book contagion has just sprung up naturally. Just this week I introduced the altered book as an option to 2 patients who got excited about it, chose their books and jumped right in using different media. Last week I had started my own altered book project in the supervision group I facilitate, thinking that now that I have so many patients working on them, I want to do one at the same time. So I chose a book that is a guide to artist’s materials for artists. It was very exciting to imagine taking this book that divides up all the materials and methods and painstakingly describes how to achieve certain effects, and how to “properly” use the different materials and media and rip up the pages and paint on it and collage ripped pieces on to the pages to start the process of making it into a book I hope will be hard to guess exactly what it was even called or to have a vague sense when looking through my book that there are a lot of pictures of how to make art and art materials terms but nothing much else kept from the original book. Synchronicity abounds in doing altered books. For me it came when I opened the book and realized it had belonged to the friend who rejected my first book box project and returned the gift to me. Of course I ripped her name out of the book first.

Anyway, at this moment there are at least 8 altered book projects that have been just begun or are in the mid stages of alteration. If I actually count how many patients have started altered books recently, excluding the person from last year who has not expressed interest in going back to the project, it would be 7, so my guess was not far from wrong, as I am the 8th and then there are one or two people in supervision doing them.

The next post would raise the question: What helps a person stay with an altered book project and continue working on it regularly? and What is it about Altered Books that some people become “blocked” or lose interest after jumping in excitedly.

The one thing true of everyone is that the beginning, that first session of being invited to make one, choosing the book and jumping into it or onto the cover and starting right away to alter it is universally exciting and stimulating. I have only seen people be intrigued and excited when they begin this process. Some express having a weird feeling about “destroying” a book but when encouraged get past that feeling. The fascinating part of the Altered Book is after the initial excitement and embarking on this without a doubt long-term project, there is a moment of remaining with it and committing to it further through getting inside the book and getting going with paint, collage, mixed media, ripping out pages and getting one’s hands dirty. It seems to require about 3-4 sessions at least to determine if one is going to get “turned off” of the project and too overwhelmed, or further jumping in and committing more and more to it. Those who find it to be a kind of safe container stay with it. Leaving it with me in the studio is a big part of that process. I will hold on to their book until they come back to it, so they don’t have to see it for a week. It is very different to work on a long term art project whether it is because the work is very large and will take a long time to finish no matter what or the project by its very nature requires time invested. It is hard to work on a lot of pages at once, especially if you are using any kind of paint or ink. Anyway, leaving the book with me allows the creator to take a break from it and not have to look at it in between sessions. This seems to help the project to become a safe container and holding environment. Even with my own altered book, I decided to try out at first just working on it during the supervision group and leaving it alone, so I also take a week off from it, in order to further get into the experience of my patients and supervisees doing this kind of project…

To be continued…

Here are some photos from my own altered book which I have worked on in different situations, first started it in the supervision group I facilitate, then worked on it alongside several patients who are doing altered books as well as in my studio the other day when I added a kind if nest into the book…

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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.”

Money and Therapy; A Very Confusing Topic

I just wrote a long draft for this post, and it disappeared, so I am very frustrated. I will try a shortened version of what I had in mind.

I started by describing a lot of potential scenarios (in private practice as opposed to clinics or training institutes or agencies) for therapists and patients to raise questions such as the following:
1. What is it about the exchange of money for therapy that directly affects the therapy?
2. With insurance companies often paying the bulk of your therapists fee, does your copay to your therapist hold any meaning for you or your therapist?
3. Is there such a thing as too low or too high a fee?
4. What does it mean for the therapy for a patient to be paying a very low fee over a long period if time due to real financial hardship?
5. Is the therapy compromised or changed when an outside party such as a parent or friend pays for all the therapy?
6. What is it like as a therapist to be mistakenly seen as very wealthy by your patients due to some misconceptions about therapists in private practice and their incomes?
7. What is it like for a therapist to have a patient who makes over twice the therapist’s income?
8. Is it wrong for a therapist to let a patient who has money problems and is paying a low fee get very far back in payments to the therapist and owe months of therapy? Who should bring up the topic?
9. Is there something strange about this scenario: therapist goes to a supervision group and pays a monthly fee 30$ more than the fee s/he charges her own supervises in the supervision group she runs.
10. What makes most therapists say no to bi-weekly (2 times per month) instead of weekly sessions and what makes a few therapists accept this scenario as well as a low fee due to the patients’ financial hardship?

In the world of many therapists the whole topic of the fee and sliding scale and how to handle the negotiations of it is hotly debated. Some say if you don’t pay attention to the fee and how it is paid you are avoiding a lot of important issues. Others have a philosophy of really using the sliding scale fee and accommodating people other therapists would never work with. I confess I fall in the category of those, the ones who lower their fee to accommodate patients with little money and at times I accept a patient coming only twice a month. In most cases it is a patient who has been coming weekly for a long time but not always. There are other reasons I have accepted this type of patient besides money issues though I agree with most therapists’ opinion that much more can be accomplished with the regularity and structure of weekly sessions. I also would never run a supervision group that did not meet weekly as I think the group process works with weekly meetings and consistency and keeps the group functioning for support as well as clinical issues.

Many years ago I read in the New York Times magazine a profile of a British therapist. I don’t remember his name or why the article was on him but I do remember him saying, ” I strongly believe that therapy should not cost more than (don’t remember the amount but it was equivalent to about $80 which these days might be around $120 as this was written around ten years ago)…” anyway I was really struck by his point. He actually thought there was a limit to a decent fair fee for his services despite his education, training and experience. Sort of like saying an ice cream cone from a truck shouldn’t cost more than 3$. This was and is very unusual in our profession to actually say that it’s indecent to charge more than a typical amount such as $100-$120 per session as your highest rate. Putting a limit on the value of therapy. Most therapist’s focus much more on the difficult issue of, can this particular patient afford to pay my highest fee and if not what can they afford. On the patient’s side, I have seen people say I don’t want to pay you less than such and such as I don’t want you to feel disrespected so this is what I could afford to pay you.

I admit I had a conversation with someone about couples therapy and how insurance companies often pay too little for it. Yes, some therapists charge more for couples than individuals. The reasoning is that couples therapy is much more difficult to do, which I think is definitely true. In addition, most couples don’t stay in therapy that long with some exceptions. While it is not unusual to have a patient in therapy for five years or more, the average couple dies not remain in therapy that long. I could diverge into a discussion of couples therapy but that is for another post. I will add that it’s not unusual for a couple to go to a couples therapist and end up with one partner continuing with the therapist individually and thus stopping their couples sessions. It is one way people kind of accidentally find a therapist they like for individual…

Back to money. The idea of going to someone’s office to share intimate details of your life and expose your self in various verbal and nonverbal ways is hard for some people to wrap their head around. Usually the boundaries of not knowing much about your therapist helps with this scenario and makes the whole money transaction make more sense to most patients. I am going to a doctor of the mental, emotional and spiritual body so of course I am paying as I would for a doctor of the “physical” body. This is how I would explain the process to a curious and puzzled Martian.

People may notice they are sometimes treating their therapist like their mother (transference) but it helps to have the distance and strangeness of the personal information mostly flowing one way, from the patient to the therapist.

I admit or confess to sometimes wracking up a large bill with a patient who is on a low fee and having a very hard time confronting the patient about it. It certainly would be easier if the patient brought up the topic. Confronting someone who has a job they work hard at and are paid little for who has loyally stayed my patient when s/he could have found someone in network on their limited health plan and now owes me for quite a few months if therapy is not easy. I also have a patient who left therapy suddenly owing me about $300. She has paid off most of it but still owes enough that I need to chase after her every once in a while.

The majority of my patients not using their insurance pay me some fee lower than my regular fee and pay it on time.

The one insurance company I am in network with pays me a little more than half my regular fee. What does this mean? Probably that the insurance company undervalues my work in a much more insulting way than any patient is capable of doing. It says with your license, level of training and experience we agree to pay you almost half your fee. If course experience usually doesn’t mean much to the insurance companies nor do they raise your fee according to inflation and cost if living.

Raising your fee is another big topic which a lot of therapist’s struggle with.

Money and therapy: big topic to be continued in the next post!