Donations of hope?

I paint. I have always painted, it seems. It’s like writing. You feel a need to do it and given the chance, you do. Not everything I paint is a masterpiece. Not even close. I wish I’d paid more attention at art school but I was having fun growing up back then and a lot went by the wayside. However, I’ve grown to realize that it’s not how well you do something but that you pour your heart and soul into what you do.

Our art association does not jury its shows. We give everyone who loves to paint a chance to exhibit work four times a year and no one ever says you can’t do this or show that. The public buys what they like. We paint our hearts out and enjoy it immensely…all 80 of us. (See http://www.stcatharinesart.com for more.)

Ginko and friends

Just today I gave three pieces to the local hospital for their mental health ward. Apparently the walls were bare. I thought about it. How many hospitals would put art in a mental health ward? Not many. It wasn’t too long ago that the mental health ward was thought of as just a place for crazies. Why would they want art? Our perception of a mental health ward is likely one of the movies. Unless we’ve been a patient or visitor in one, we have no idea what it’s like. How dismal it must be for people trying to cope with mental illnesses or overwhelming life situations to be surrounded by nothing but bare, likely institutional green, walls.

Spring and All it Brings

The call went out about six weeks ago for art on canvas, no glass, and our art association and other associations around the Niagara Peninsula overwhelmed them with donations. What isn’t used in the mental health ward will be spread around the hospital. Those who donated framed watercolors under glass will likely see their work in waiting areas and offices. The foundation gives a tax receipt for the estimated value of your work as well and that’s an added bonus. Another plus is that we are building a huge new hospital that should be ready by 2013. It’s right down the road from me and I can see the five construction cranes every time I leave the house to run an errand. The artwork will all be relocated to the new site when it is ready but in the meantime let’s hope it lightens some heavy souls.

On the River

I received a letter in return for my donations today and there was a quotation on it that hit a note…

“Art is not a part of life, it is not an addition to life, it is the essence of those pieces of us that make us fulfilled. That gives us hope.” Hasan Davis

Daily thoughts

Some things flit through my mind and others stick…sometimes for days..sometimes forever.

Last night I watched a movie called A Short Stay in Switzerland starring Julie Walters as a physician suffering, and I mean suffering, from a disease that was eventually going to see her unable to speak, swallow, feed herself, walk and, in general, function.  Her husband had died of the same thing and she knew full well what was ahead.  She decided to leave England and travel to Switzerland where she could end her life without being labeled a criminal. Her three children were told and supported her although it wasn’t easy being told by your mother that she wanted to die. They went with her to Switzerland and it was heartbreaking to see what they went through. She did the deed and it was over.

The emotional relief I felt when she was finally at rest, when her jaw dropped and you knew it was over, was just incredible for me.  I’ve long thought about this and often wondered if I’d have the intestinal fortitude to kill myself if I got to the point where my CMT life simply wasn’t worth living. And worst of all, if I had a life full of constant pain that couldn’t be relieved without being in a drugged haze. The pain I have had for the last 20 years is bad enough.  I can’t imagine it worse but then I couldn’t imagine back then living with what I have already lived with for so long. The human spirit is an amazing thing.

I think the most difficult part of the movie was when she was saying goodbye to Flora, her beautiful cat.  That just did me in.  Animals don’t understand that you are going away for good. They just love. People understand and they love. Perhaps it was because my 15-year-old deaf/blind poodle was lying on a foot stool under the television that I felt so emotional about this scene. I know his days are numbered.

It takes tremendous courage to kill yourself, it takes tremendous courage to live on with the stresses of progressive deterioration. Either way, I think it should be our choice unfetted by laws or politics. We need to know we have the option of ending it when it simply becomes too much for an intelligent, brave, optimistic soul to go on.

If you get a chance to see the movie, don’t pass it up.

Speaking of stress, I had an e-mail yesterday from someone with CMT whose family is under a great deal of stress due to a conflict with a neighbor. He was asking if stress can make your CMT worse and have there been any research articles printed on it.  I’ve been out of the CMT research loop for about eight years. But, he can search Medline for journal articles and any good university library can get them for him.

When I was in the loop and publishing the CMT Newsletter the question of stress came up often.  We who have CMT know that stress can really do a number on our body.  It only makes sense that if we have a compromised nervous system anything that unduly stresses that system will see a decrease in our ability to function.

When I asked the physicians who worked with me about stress they could only say that because they couldn’t, or didn’t have the opportunity to, measure the person’s level of function before the stressor, they couldn’t say definitively that the stress had made them worse.  I think they were being asked because someone was proposing a lawsuit. We know if we’re being affected by the stressors around us. Trying to prove it is something else.

I remember a young woman with CMT who went blind after an automobile accident and from what everyone could figure out, it was from the stress. A seemingly simple fall resulting from catching your toe on a crack in a cement sidewalk can see you truly stressed for days. It changes your entire body composure, your homeostasis. That’s why we can easily fall again… everything is out of whack from the first fall.

Fighting with a neighbor is one of those situations that makes you feel helpless. It concerns your home: the place you are supposed to be able to retreat to for rest and healing. Unfortunately, the person you are fighting with is there, in the house next door, day after day. The problem needs to be resolved. The continual stress can be devastating.

I painted outside for three hours today. During those three hours I didn’t feel the heat, had very little pain and only looked at my watch when I heard the school bus pull up next door to left my neighbour’s daughter out at her driveway.  It was some kind of heaven: water splashing over the rocks in the pond, the boat-tailed grackles gnawing and crackling in the cedars, the seeds from my Shademaster locust dropping like heavy flies on my drawing table. The bright colored pigments dropping off my brush give me more than food. Watching the pigment disperse over the water-laden paper is like watching feathers grow. The entire process lights up my brain and makes me feel alive.  I have to paint more.

I promise I’ll make these shorter.   It’s easy to go long; tough to be succinct. I have to get tougher on myself for your sake.  Thanks for being there.