Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It Is What It Is

St. Eugene de Mazenod
Patron Saint of Dysfunctional Families
mixed media shrine

Last year I told my husband that if we were rich we could leave the country during the holiday season and escape to some place where they've never heard of Christmas. Christmas has been kicking my ass for years. About ten years ago I decided that enough was enough, and every year since then I have been letting go more and more of all of the deadline induced anxiety and guilt induced panic. I've been examining all of the weird capitalist driven hype surrounding the (not even his actual) birthday of Jesus Christ, the most socialist, egalitarian, non-materialistic holy person to ever walk the earth. I've deconstructed the crazy messages foisted on us by our unrelenting capitalist economy, like that a sweater bought at the Gap for Christmas is somehow much better than that same sweater all of the other 364 days of the year, and that the actual Spirit, the Real Meaning of Christmas can in fact be purchased, wrapped, and imparted to the recipient in the form of that sweater from the Gap! They will actually experience a warm, happy glow and hear tinkling bells, and they will love you for it. Yeah, I've been actively deprogramming myself, and I've been trying to figure out how to celebrate Christmas in a way that is meaningful to me. I've been very frank with myself about being realistic with my time and resources. And that is all great. Year by year I've been letting go more and more. But there is something I struggle with every year, and that is not how I do Christmas, it is with whom I do Christmas. Which is what this blog is really about.

detail of St. Eugene de Mazenod shrine

I suspect that the average person feels really, really bad at Christmas. Because the perception is that everyone else's family is having a Christmas card picture perfect jolly old heart warming time of it from November until January. Everyone except us, that is, with our alcoholics, weirdo recluses, co-dependents, martyrs, people prone to angry outbursts, the dead who we miss terribly, and those who choose to be estranged. Somehow it seems so important that on this one day everybody be who they are not, and this big Christmas expectation can condense and intensify our feelings of sadness, loss and disappointment about what is lacking in our family relationships into crisis proportions. I also suspect that the reason for all of the crazy doing, spending, and rushing around is that it serves as a huge distraction from how bad we feel. Because, let me tell you, the less crazy Christmas doing I do, the more painful feelings I have to get through about my family relationships.

"Old Great-Grandad Booze"
detail of St. Eugene de Mazenod shrine

That being said, a step back and a look at the big picture is in order. I believe that each person was purposely put upon the earth for one, or some, or all of these reasons: to teach, to learn, and to witness. I believe that I could not possibly be the person I am without my family: all that is good, all that is bad, and everything else has made me grow. I am discovering that when I stay rooted in what is I am not derailed by sadness over what is not. It has been a hard lesson to learn—forty years in the making—that I have been spending the holidays with the idea of who I want my family to be as opposed to who they are. I love them and accept them in sickness and in health, in absence and in presence, in grumpiness and in shame inducing nagging all of the other 364 days of the year in varying degrees of compassion (on a 0-10 scale). Yet on Christmas I expect some facsimile family. They don't exist. And they always disappoint me. Not like my real family, from whom I know exactly what to expect and who are consistently themselves, December 25th or no. And so I must own, that they were not screwing up my Christmases, I was. Thank God I am finally getting a handle on why Christmas kicks my ass. And so my plan this year for serenity, sanity, and hopefully enjoyment is as follows:

1. I will practice this wisdom from the Dalai Lama: " I am open to the guidance of synchronicity, and do not let expectations hinder my path."

2. I will remember these wise words from St. Milarepa, himself the child of a dysfunctional family: "I have understood this body of mine to be the product of ignorance, composed of flesh and blood and lit up by the perceptive power of consciousness. To those fortunate ones who long for emancipation it may be the great vessel by which they may procure Freedom. But to the unfortunates who only sin, it may be the guide to lower and miserable states of existence. This our life is the boundary mark whence one may take an upward or downward path. Our present time is a most precious time, wherein each of us must decide, in one way or other, for lasting good or lasting ill." (emphasis mine)

3. I will pray. A lot. Especially to St. Eugene de Mazenod, the patron saint of dysfunctional families. I will ask him to look over us and to help me detach with love.

4. I will talk my husband's ear off, and the ears of my other trusted friends, so that I can stay centered, see the big picture, and not be ruled by my feelings.

St. Milarepa
mixed media shrine

I think I can reasonably expect to survive.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Art Show- Opening November 27th!

My husband and I are having an art show! We will be hanging a lot of new work, and the gallery is also full of wonderful work by other area artists and crafters! I hope you can stop in and support a great independent local business!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

St. Valentine, Patron Saint of Lovers

St. Valentine, Patron Saint of Lovers
mixed media shrine

I have been watching the struggle for marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples with my heart in my mouth. Every time a marriage equality law is passed I rejoice, every time that law is struck down I am deeply sickened. For one group of people to enjoy a basic human right, and then for that same group to very self righteously work to DENY another group of people enjoyment of that right is so small minded. So puny of heart, so limited of spirit. So scary.

Because people who allow themselves to exist in a small minded state of being are the cause of the world's suffering. They might be perpetrating violence. They might be buying into some ugly rhetoric. They might be standing by cheering while their neighbor is dragged into the street and shot. They might be lobbying elected officials to violate the constitutional and human rights of their fellow citizens. Persecution takes place the world over. Persecution is universally recognized as WRONG unless a person is really and truly some huge asshole (the word asshole here symbolizing a spiritual void which is really, really ass). For example: the persecution of the Palestinian people by the Israelies, the persecution of Jewish people by Christians, the persecution of black people by white people, of Southern Sudanese people by Northern Sudanese people, of Native American people by white people, of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. by white people. How about women, children, and people who are poor who are exploited and/or denied justice by fundamentalist religions or rapacious capitalism (Marshall Islands, Tom Delay, sweatshop slavery-Google it)? How about political persecution? The list could go on and on. All heinous examples of one group of people who have some power or advantage being total assholes to somebody else. The denial of equal rights for gay people is no different. There is no justified reason to deny gay people equality. There never is any rational reason for this sort of miserable human failing. There is only fear, ignorance, hatred of one's self turned outward, and greed.

And if I hear the phrase "defense of marriage" ever again as a rallying cry to rob gay people of their right to marriage, I'm going to throw up in my mouth. Seriously. Because that is the most specious argument I have EVER heard. A fifty percent divorce rate would seem to indicate that straight people haven't been doing such a hot job with their God given right to wed, don't even mention the statistics on marital infidelity. Domestic violence, substance abuse, co-dependency, failure to rectify family dysfunction and lack of self knowledge are all killers of straight marriages. Gay people? Not so much.

I will end with this beautiful passage from the Bible, first Corinthians, chapter 13. It reminds us that love is the way in which God intends us to exist. That love is expressed through our way of being, our intentions, words, and actions. It also makes very clear what love is NOT:
"If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

I believe that to deny gay people the right to wed is to work against love. I believe that to work against love is to work against God.


Monday, November 9, 2009

St. Dymphna the Protector

St. Dymphna the Protector
Gouache on paper 6" X 7.25"

I made this painting to thank St. Dymphna, and to honor her works in the lives those of us who ask for her help. I was moved to make this painting because of the following incident:

There is a person whom I am deeply concerned for. Being a recovering co-dependent, I have learned that worry is wasted energy, but that prayer is pro-active. There was a particular day several months ago when my sadness and concern felt so pointed that I prayed very intensely and with great focus.

I asked St. Dymphna to keep this individual in her care, to help them see their path, and to bless them with peace and joy. I asked her to help them see that their being is a beautiful miracle, and to not let them be overcome by despair. From nowhere, the scent of flowers wafted over me.

I glanced around me. It was not just the lovely smell of roses, it was the movement in the air, that it came from a direction, as though from a presence, that got my attention. It was not bloom time, the windows were closed, there was nothing near me-flowers, candles, incense- that would cause this scent. No one was home but my baby daughter (asleep on my lap), my dog (asleep at my feet) and I. I wasn't wearing perfume, and I have to use plain soap, but I sniffed my clothes just in case. Nope, not my clothes. I breathed in again. The scent was so present, yet so inexplicable. Then I knew: I was receiving a message, my prayer had been heard. Things like this just never happen to me, and I felt deeply grateful and very blessed. In making this painting I hope to share with others the peace and comfort I felt that day.

I surrounded the figures with oak leaves and branches, to symbolize the strength we need to overcome our wounds. St. Dymphna is guarding the person's light, making sure it is not blown out by the storm that surrounds them. The words around the border are St. Dymphna's message: " Heal. Live. Remember you are loved. Remember to take care of yourself."

The truth is, that I need these words, and I need St. Dymphna's help, just as much as my friend does. To love and care about a person with an unresolved mental health issue is a practice in faith, in turning it over to my higher power and letting go of fear every day.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Saint of Compassion

This shrine of His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, was a collaboration between myself and my beloved husband, Marcus. He painted the figure, and I really love how he captured the Dalai Lama's beautiful smile. I lined this simple shrine with a nubbly woven pink silk and painted the halo with the Buddhist symbol for world peace, lotus flowers, and my favorite quote from my favorite living saint - "My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness."

Marcus and I have been talking about compassion in relation to the debate over President Obama's health care reform proposals. I am struck especially by two arguments that seem particularly wrong headed and, if followed to their logical conclusion, inhuman.

The first is: "it costs too much." Now I ask you, what should we be spending our collective monies on? What is more valuable, more priceless, than good health? Ask any person who has had their life curtailed by a chronic condition or any parent who helplessly watches their child suffer. Ask a terminally ill person with goals, dreams, and people they want to stick around for. Ask them what good health is worth. Good health is the basis for living the lives we want to live and we should be putting our money into ensuring that everyone's health needs are met. As a matter of fact, along with good food and shelter for everyone I can't think of a more important thing to spend our tax dollars on. I hear "my children will be paying for this!" Yeah? So will mine. And I'm glad they will be paying for something so worthwhile. I find this argument especially ironic in the face of the two wars the United States is currently involved in, needless wars that cost billions of dollars and the lives and health of countless people. We will be paying for that mess for a generations. And yet people argue that good health care for everyone is too expensive? Even worse, that good health care for everyone isn't worth the expense?

The second argument I have been hearing is the worry that "illegal" immigrants will benefit from public option health care. I say, I wish they would. Because a person in need is a person in need, regardless of, well, of anything. A person in need of medical care being denied for any reason at all is a cruel and terrible thing. It goes against the basic tenant of all major religions, and of anyone who is a decent human being: compassion. And compassion in practice is the care of the sick, the poor, and anyone unable to help themselves.

I leave you with these quotes on the subject of compassion from the Dalai Lama himself:

"Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival."

"I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion, and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed."

"As human beings we all want to be happy and free from misery… we have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace. The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness."

If the Dalai Lama's wisdom were to enter the United States Senate we would have a completely reformed health care system and a public option in a heart beat.


Monday, September 21, 2009

St. Anthony of Padua, again

St Anthony of Padua Comes By Boat
9x11 Acrylic on Paper, 2009

St. Anthony Of Padua is the patron saint of lost things, whether it is a person, or faith, or an object. Loss is experienced in many different ways, and the most powerful losses involve the people we love, either through death, estrangement, or disappearance. Loss can also occur because of the passage of time, erosion, and change. We ourselves can become lost if we are overcome with feelings of sadness over loss or regret, or are unable to let go of the past.

I have found a certain weirdness in being forty, and I think that it may explain why some people go off of the deep end and experience a mid-life crisis, because it's pretty freaky and sad. A sort of looking backwards has been happening, an assessment of my life so far, and all of the people I've known and events that have occurred. I think that the weirdness comes from having spent, at forty, just as much time as an adult as I had as a child. The frame of reference through which I perceived the world, my memories, and my interactions has shifted. The finality of certain changes has come into very sharp focus. The past is a lot more distant. Primary relationships have changed as I have matured. I see people a lot differently than I used to. I am detaching from old notions of myself, they fall behind like discarded paper dolls. Mostly all of this is good, it's just...different.

During a period when these feelings were particularly sharp I happened to come across the photographs of Eugene Richards and Kevin Bauman.
Their photographic portraits of abandoned houses on the prairie of North Dakota and the city of Detroit, Michigan resonated with how I was feeling. Every one of these photographs is a picture of loss. You can imagine the people and the lives that were lived in these places, but you will never know them. No one is coming back, ever. The dramatic landscape of the North Dakota photographs underscores a human absence so profound it is a presence, in and of itself. These homes are a black hole of peoples' hopes, loves, losses and disappointments, condensed, wrapped in questions, turned in on itself under a vast sky. The abandoned homes in Detroit are especially painful to look at, signaling the vanishing of whole neighborhoods and a community way of life. I could relate to them on a personal level, and they really helped me to gain some perspective and inspired me to examine St. Anthony and the nature of loss in a different way. "Saint Anthony of Padua Comes By Boat" is one painting so far in this exploration.

The person peering into the window is not able to let go of the past. Perhaps she really misses someone. Maybe she longs to recapture a happier time. Maybe she is haunted by questions about what happened here. She is so caught up that she does not see the beauty all around her, nor does she understand that her loss is part of the wholeness of the universe and that change is the only constant in life. Help is coming, though—Saint Anthony is out on the ocean, heading for the shore, carrying his light so that he can find her.
The sapling, growing from the ruin and decay, looks as though it is signaling to him across the distance. This new growth is hope, and the good that can come from change, if she allows herself to see it.

The hope and growth we can find because of loss was put into words beautifully by Roberta Hiday , who wrote to me about "St. Anthony of Padua at the Guard Rail" :

St Anthony of Padua at the Guard Rail
9x11 Acrylic on Paper, 2008

"my spiritual journey has brought me from catholicism, to evangelicalism to the episcopalian church - where i am now. i enjoy living in the mystery. i'm in my late 50's so i have a sense of the value of just going for it! in my eyes your saint anthony is a happy, round monk wearing a brown robe - he looks approachable, and the way he is holding the light as he looks over the abyss is hopeful to me.

i live on the olympic peninsula...i drive on a road like the one in your picture and the trees look like the ones that line our 2 lane roads - so i indentify with it....loss comes in so many forms - my mom focused on items like keys, bills, money, etc. your painting helped me to see st. anthony in a new light - as one who can assist in the looking for lost relationships, & for people who have lost their ways, or for those who have lost their drive (pun intended), or their sense of hope....

as a spiritual director i know my clients will appreciate this painting as a metaphor of their "journey"....they have stopped on the road of life to look for what they have lost.......and as a spiritual director i see myself as st. anthony in the picture - looking into the darkness of people's stories...helping them to make peace with their shadow side and shining light on it...."

Roberta's words remind me of my favorite lyric by Ani DiFranco-

up up up up up up points the
spire of the steeple
but god's work isn't done by god
it's done by people


I think that St. Anthony is working in mysterious ways and that he keeps coming up for a reason. I'm so glad that he is there when I need him.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Saint Agatha and Health Care

St. Agatha Mixed Media Shrine

St. Agatha is the patron saint of nurses and bakers, and is invoked against fire and diseases of the breast. She is also the patron saint of people who have or have survived breast cancer. I have her on my mind a lot lately as the debate over health care reform in the United States rages on. A really good friend of mine was just diagnosed with a malignant lump in her breast. One of my first thoughts was, "Shit. I hope her insurance company doesn't try to screw her out of her coverage."

The fact that that there are wealthy companies lobbying elected officials (who are supposed to be looking out for our best interests) has filled me with cynicism. I have, quite frankly, a complete lack of faith in the honesty of our senators and congress people, and in a system of government that has allowed this state of affairs to even exist. We are at the mercy of the health insurance companies who employ practices like rescission, purposefully cutting sick people off from their insurance and denying them health care, often at the time they need it the most. Why? To save money. In June the LA Times covered a congressional hearing on the practice or rescission. Rep. Bart Stupak said, "...some insurance companies use a technicality to justify breaking its promise, at a time when most patients are too weak to fight back."

Act 3 of Episode 386 of This American Life is dedicated to rescission. One of the most heartbreaking stories comes from a woman who was denied coverage at a time when she needed an immediate double mastectomy to combat the aggressive cancer growing inside of her. Blue Cross notified her the Friday before she was to have her surgery that her chart had been red flagged due to an unrelated past dermatologist visit. The insurance company insinuated that she had hidden her past visit from them. Her dermatologist assured them that the skin condition was unrelated to her cancer and pleaded with Blue Cross to allow her to have her surgery, but they denied her. Why? They did this all to save some money. Sadly stories like her are all to common in our country.

We are being terrorized by big business piracy and many elected officials are being bought and sold. Their greed has wormed its way into our relationships with our doctors, has turned our most personal situations into a corporate balance sheet, has violated our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and has given strangers the decision over whether we live, die, or face financial ruin.

Access to quality health care for everyone should be first amongst our priorities, along with food and shelter. Isn't human life too precious to put a price tag on? Do we really want to live in a society where who lives and who dies is based on what is in your bank account?

The United States finally has a president who speaks frankly about the problems our country faces. I would have preferred to see universal health care on the table, but I am pleased that the president is even willing to undertake the arduous process of taking steps to keep the health insurance industry honest.
"I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year."
– President Barack Obama, February 24, 2009

I am deeply disgusted by the partisan bickering and reactionary carrying on over the president's proposed changes. Shame on any elected official who is not supporting reform and regulation of the health insurance industry. This is a humanitarian issue, this has to do with compassion, ultimately. This is a class issue as well. The rich—politician and CEO alike—are jockeying desperately to protect their financial interests, employing scare tactics and lies. In the meantime there are sick people waiting, their conditions are worsening, people are dying, because of the greed and self interest of these few-all of whom can afford quality health care.

Check out act 3 of this episode of This American Life, about the health care industry's practice of rescission:

Michael Moore's Sicko website:


President Obama's Health Care web page:


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Saint Martin de Porres-Equality, Justice,Peace

St. Martin de Porres-Justice, Equality,Peace
gouache 5.5 X 5.5

St. Martin de Porres was well loved for his kindness and seemingly endless compassion towards the poor, homeless and sick of Lima, Peru. He is the patron saint of social justice and African-American people. Because St. Martin's mom was African and his dad was a Spanish nobleman ( a creep who abandoned his family), he is also the patron saint of bi-racial people.

As anyone with two eyes and a working brain can see, if you aren't white in America, a rich white guy even more so, then you really need someone to have your back, and St. Martin is your man. Because race isn't the issue in our country, racism is the issue, and until all the racist jerks out there decide to take responsibility for themselves everyone of color needs some special protection from above. Amen.

This particular St. Martin de Porres reflects activism, social justice and African-Americans in American history. Each of the symbols surrounding St. Martin de Porres represents an important person or event. I made this painting for my daughter, because she loves to point at everything and have us tell her what it is. It's a good way to start teaching her about history, literature, and social justice. The symbols stand for as follows:

Rose=Rosa Parks
Bridge=Ruby Bridges
Crown=Martin Luther King
Staff=Harriet Tubman
Wheat=Phillis Wheatley
Panther=the Black Panther Party, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Assata Shakur, etc.
X=Malcolm X
3 Onion Flowers=James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Shwerner. The onion is a symbol of eternity, and the word derives from the Latin “unio”, meaning one or unity.

Monday, July 6, 2009

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi gouache on paper 7"X9.5"

St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the environment. Known, and much loved for his wisdom and gentleness, he wrote the beautiful "Canticle of Brother Sun," a poem/prayer thanking God for all aspects of the natural world that He created.

During the process of making this painting I re-read the canticle several times and tried to choose a quote to express the particular aspect of St. Francis I was contemplating. Nothing was just right, and I couldn't move forward and complete the piece without it. Oddly enough the thing that brought my intentions into sharp focus was an act of hatred.

My wonderful husband, the artist Marcus Kwame Anderson, had run out on a late night trip to the store to get medicine for a sick friend who was staying with us. He stopped for gas, and on his way in to pay a woman gave him a dirty look and slammed the door on him. We live in the predominately white suburb of Clifton Park in upstate New York. My husband's long dreadlocks and brown skin frequently draw stares and at times openly hostile behavior from people who have allowed themselves to be backwards and ignorant. When he came home and told me about the incident my initial reaction was a deep, angry disgust. Though I know my husband can take care of himself, I still wanted to smack that nasty lady's face off. I fantasized about shaking her by the collar until her tiny little pea head flopped back and forth, yelling in her face, "get a clue, use your brain, read a book, and stop living like a complete asshole!" I wanted to confront her in such a swift and violent manner she would immediately be ashamed at being caught and called out for her terrible behavior. I wanted to hurl bolts of lightening at her and reduce her to a little pile of ash.

It was still on my mind the next day as I sat down to paint. I grimly tried to choose a quote but of course it just wasn't working out. Fortunately, the Dalai Llama came to my mind. Then Jesus. I reminded myself that their way would be one of detachment, compassion and prayer. I thought of how horrible it would be to actually be that lady, someone so sick, so messed up, so morally backwards and so spiritually out of touch that she would treat another person, a total stranger, my incredibly kind and compassionate husband no less, in such a way. What a terrible way to live. So I prayed for her. I asked God to help her be a better, happier, non-toxic human being, for her sake and for the sake of others. Then I prayed for my husband, that God protect him from racist shitheads, and that God help those same shitheads to take responsibility for healing themselves instead of lashing out at others. I really got a lot of peace from that. Feeling centered, I re-read the Canticle. "Happy those who endure in peace." I got that feeling of rightness in my gut. Up until that point I had been searching for St. Francis and using the painting to bring him into focus for myself. Now I felt how large and far-reaching his message is, and everything came together.

When we are at peace with ourselves we can live in peace with others, with compassion towards our fellow creatures, and in harmony with our planet.The quote also reminded me that achieving peace means standing back from all of the artificial constructs of modern American society that are harming us physically and spiritually: the illusion that the borders between countries indicate a difference in our humanity, animal testing, agri-business, pollution, a capitalist system that resembles piracy more and more every day, a culture based on consumerism, a social and economic structure that promotes exclusion and division instead of unity, a focus on material things over the well being of our souls, and a general ignorance of the fact that the way we are in the world, how we choose to walk through this life, is immeasurably more important than what we own, where we live, and what we drive. I don't think this means we should let unacceptable behavior slide. I think it means we should confront it with a response that ultimately promotes peace, even if I have to get up in someones face to do it. I really hope I can channel the teachings of St. Francis, the Dalai Lama, and Jesus when the occasion arises. I really do.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

St. Dymphna and the Lights of Gheel

St. Dymphna and the Lights of Gheel
watercolor 3.5 X 5.25

I know an incredible woman. She is the survivor of childhood incest, suicide attempts, abusive relationships, addiction and severe depression. She has, thank God, had the strength to not only survive but to thrive, to recover, and to heal. I make all of my St. Dymphna paintings and shrines with her in my mind, not in appearance, but in feeling and experience. This painting shows St. Dymphna as a very young girl, surrounded by a dangerous storm and blown by a powerful wind. Her hands are so thin and small, almost too small to keep her light from going out, almost too small to save her, but she is praying, going inward, asking for serenity. The lights of Gheel are behind her, a safe haven, a place where she can find help and protection. She just has to see it, to cross the distance without giving up hope.

I feel so blessed to know my friend, to witness the miracle that is her beautiful self. She has helped me to heal from my own problems. Every time I see her I am filled with wonder and gratitude at her strength, that she is here, and that she perseveres with such grace. Amen.


I recently came across a wonderful blog. I myself do not have a mental illness, but some people who are very dear to me do. I grew up, as most people do, without a real understanding of mental illness. Our society does not meet confounding behavior with compassion, but with outrage, derision and scorn. I feel that this blog really sheds a lot of insight and will be helpful to everyone in gaining understanding of ourselves and others:


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

St. Monica, Patron Saint of Mothers

Saint Monica Prays For Her Teenager

Mother's Day is this coming Sunday. I have been turning over the nature of being a mother in my mind for a few years now, puzzling over the dichotomy that exists in the parent/child relationship: namely that the beautiful, sweet, loving little person is going to get older and start scowling at you and tell you they hate you and want to go live with their dad. I don't know how I didn't expect this. Rookie mistake. Because looking back at my relationship with my own mom shouldn't I have known? I distinctly remember a dream I had when my son was only a baby. I remembered it because it disturbed me so at the time. In this dream he walked into the room, grown into a twelve year old, sullen, angry, unresponsive. I felt like I didn't even know him. In the dream I am taken aback, shocked: how had I allowed this to come to pass? When I woke up, shaken, I vowed never, never would I let this happen.

Fast forward several years. Generally being a mom made me feel like I won the Lottery, but as my son got older there were days that it felt more like a minimum wage job at McDonald's. I remembered that dream. I began to suspect that despite my best efforts, it really wasn't all up to me. He wanted to go live with his dad. A very good therapist told me to let him. He also told me to stop treating my son like a little boy. Oh, God. Just kill me why don't you? I phoned my sister, experienced mother of seven, and asked her if her children growing up made her sad. She gently reminded me that the whole point is that they grow up. She said that being their mom through their infancy and childhood is a special, fleeting gift we get, but that the goal is to help them become good people. Good grown-up people. Lightbulb. Okay, that makes sense. But I still felt such grief, such a loss. I had another dream. My son walks in the room. He is himself at two-joyful, twinkly eyed, smiling at me. I am overwhelmed with happiness and sadness at the same time. "Oh my God. I miss you so much!" I tell him. I wake up crying.

At this point my son is fourteen. He lives with his dad. He is upset that I remarried and does not come and visit his baby sister. He doesn't call, doesn't want me involved in his life. There are other issues in the mix that cause me to worry about him. That is what is true right now. It is also true that he is beautiful, smart and strong, that he is on his life journey and right where he is supposed to be, that I love him just as much as I ever did and am really happy that I am his mom. I am also really happy that he is growing up. That is exactly what he is supposed to be doing.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

St. Dymphna

St. Dymphna watercolor on paper

St. Dymphna is the patron saint of people who have mental health problems, their families and loved ones, and people who are mental health care givers
. She is also the patron saint of people who are the survivors of incest. There is a very special place that came about because of her where people with mental health are treated with the dignity, respect, and opportunity to heal that they deserve. To read more about the village of Gheel, Belgium and St. Dymphna's connection with this special community,
click here:

I was inspired to post about St. Dymphna because I just finished reading The Lives They Left Behind by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny, with photographs by Lisa Rinzler. It is a truly sobering account of individuals incarcerated in the New York State mental health system sparked by the discovery of hundreds of suitcases filled with peoples personal belongings in an attic at Willard when the giant institution was shut down. The book focuses on the lives of ten suitcase owners whom the authors researched, finding out as much as they could about who they actually were, and their personal histories. One thing I like about this book is that by it's nature it highlights the fact that each human being is valuable, interesting, and important. That for the few things you can discover about a person there is much that is unknowable and will remain a mystery, but never the less exists. It is an important reminder on a planet where so many, many people dwell together, and where we assume so much about each other without really knowing each other or valuing each others existence. Another thing I like about this book are the questions the authors ask about each person, the questions that should have been asked if these people were actually being offered anything theraputic, which they were not. I like that the authors draw the connection between trauma and it's effect on mental health and the importance of addressing the trauma to help people heal, as opposed to assuming that they are simply defective and that there is no connection between life events and our mental state.

St. Dymphna mixed media shrine, collaboration with Marcus Kwame Anderson

Sadly, the authors see a great deal still lacking in what the mental health system and modern psychiatry have to offer people in need. That people are further traumatized by what should, instead, be helping them is scary and sickening and makes me afraid for some people who are very dear to me. There is a need for the benefits of a community like Gheel to be considered and put into practice in the rest of the world so that no one is further victimized by ignorance and prejudice.

There is also an on-line exhibit connected with the book:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

St. Margaret of Castello

Saint Margaret of Castello, patron saint of children with disabilities, shown here as a fairy God-mother protecting and appreciating a small child who was born differently abled.

There is a news item on NPR today about some horrifying abuse occurring at a state institution in Texas:

Morning Edition, March 18, 2009 · At a state institution for people with mental retardation in Texas, six staff members have been charged with taking part in staging what have been called human cockfights, using residents with mental retardation. The accusations have raised questions about how workers trained and hired to care for some of the most vulnerable people in society could instead treat them with cruelty. Read the rest of this article:

My older brother, Wally, was diagnosed with autism when he was around 2 years old. The doctor recommended that my parents place him in an institution where he could get "professional" help, and focus their attention on my sister and I- the two "normal" children. This was in the late sixties, and a lot of parents were still choosing to institutionalize their children who had disabilities. My mom and dad decided that Wally would remain at home, and so he has until this very day. Even so I was exposed to the horrors of institutions at a very young age: Wally's day school, Wildwood, for a time was located at O.D.Heck Developmental Center. Being the youngest I went there with my mom to bring Wally to and from school and for meetings. I remember being horrified and frightened for my brother when we were shown a closet where kids having tantrums were put. We had a book with photographs of Willowbrook. I looked at it once as a child and I was just sick over it. The thing that haunted me the most was a made for TV movie- it may have been "Sonshine"- about a family like ours. The parents checked out an institution and the dad took a detour from the approved tour and found rooms full of children tied to chairs, just sitting neglected, because they were like my brother. I grew up fearing that if something happened to my parents my brother would end up in one of these horrible places. How are institutions different really from concentration camps, where a person is incarcerated and robbed of their human rights because they were born "different" and somehow unjustly deemed unacceptable by those in power?

Make no mistake-people who are "normal" cause pain and suffering for people with "disabilities", more than their actual "disability" ever has! I would love to see a class action lawsuit come out of this horror in Texas, along with criminal charges of course, and an amendment to the constitution to protect people with disabilities from the kind of "help" these prisons are offering!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

St. Anthony of Padua

St Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost things: objects, obviously but also people, relationships, and faith, the kind of losses that can really kick your ass. It took me until a couple of years ago to fully realise that loss is a part of the human condition, that when we show up here it's part of the deal and that I'd be a lot better off if I could accept it. I was able to discover this very important piece of information because I was in grief counseling. I was in grief counseling because my brother has ALS and because our Gramma Sara died suddenly and unexpectedly. Unlike my beloved grandfathers and great- grandmothers she was not ill or in decline and I had no reason to expect that I would not see her later that day or the next as planned.

This St Anthony of Padua shrine is about losing my Gramma Sara. When I was sketching out ideas for a St. Anthony piece the memory of cleaning out Gramma's house kept coming back to me. Gramma had lived in that house for over fifty years. My dad and uncle grew up there. We had the luxury of waiting six months before having to touch anything. At first it was strange, but then exciting as all sorts of interesting things were unearthed from drawers, closets and cupboards: love letters to my Grampa, photographs, vacation souvenirs from long ago, the pinking shears my dad loved cutting paper with as a child. And then, it was empty. I think it was the sight of Gramma's closet that really hurt, that really felt...final. All of the familiar clothes that she inhabited, her shoes, her lady-like pocket books, were gone, dispersed amongst us or donated to the women's shelter. The shoe rack- where I had stashed the box of chocolates she begged me to hide on her so she wouldn't eat them when I was six- gone. I got my sweet tooth from Gramma Sara. So the emptied closet was what I used to communicate that feeling of loss in this shrine.

back of shrine: drawing of Gramma

I treated the top of the shrine like it was the top of Gramma's dresser, which was a place of great interest for me as a child. I used the space to tell the story of what happened and also evoke that which is particular to her: the dresser scarf, her pincushion, the drawing which came from a photograph of Gramma on my Uncle John's First Communion day, her earring. The pincushion became the holder for the painting, or retablo, of Gramma's soul leaving the hospital, where she passed away. The toy ambulance tells how she went to the hospital, that it was sudden, an emergency from which she could not recover.

The small painting itself shows St. Anthony of Padua finding Gramma- because he finds what is "lost"- and guiding her to Heaven. I painted this for my own comfort, because I wanted to believe that Gramma continued on in her journey, her soul evolving and growing, healing, free from worry and knowing peace. Word has it, though,that she and Grampa John are still at the house, where my youngest cousin and his family are now living. I'm not sure wether to worry about this or not: are they stuck, or simply choosing to stay by the family they were so devoted to in life, in the home they made over fifty years ago?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's All About the Story

I have been making art since childhood. Then, as now, I have an internal dialouge with myself, contemplating the nature of the subject at hand,telling myself a story.

This is the St. Claire of Assisi/Rabbi Harold Kushner shrine. St. Claire is also known as "the Illuminator", and she is the patron saint of television. She is known for transmitting some extremely powerful and effective prayer. Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote the following:

"If prayer worked the way many people think it does, no one would ever die, because no prayer is ever offered more sincerely than the prayer for life, for health and recovery from illness, for ourselves and for those we love.

People who pray for miracles usually don’t get miracles, any more than children who pray for bicycles, good grades, or boyfriends get them as a result of praying. But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of what they have lost, very often find their prayers answered. They discover that they have more strength, more courage than they ever knew themselves to have."

The reason I made this shrine is because my brother has ALS, and it is dedicated to people who have chronic or terminal illnesses, their families and caregivers. The words on the TV set say "Pray for Courage". The word painted inside of the shoe is "hope". It is difficult to see it in the photograph, but there is a rose growing out of the TV antenna. On the back of the shrine is Rabbi Harold Kushner's quote and a prayer bank- a slot to deposit written prayers.

This is the story I was telling myself as I was making this shrine: First, it must take place is Los Angeles, because the little house was inspired by the films of David Lynch. An older lady who looks a lot like my Granmma Sara comes home from the hospital. She always looks nice when she goes out- purse, skirt, hair just so. It is late, and she has been there all day. As a matter of fact she has been there every day for the last week or more. Her husband is terribly sick and no one knows what is wrong with him. She has spoken with every specialist, she has waited on all of the test results. Her stomach has been clenching and unclenching.
She has been walking around on hope all week. She doesn't want to lose him. Today she and her husband were told that he has an incurable illness that will claim his life. She goes into the living room and kicks off her shoes, something she never does, she always puts her shoes away in the bedroom closet. The shoe lands under the TV and she doesn't care. She was walking around on hope, but the worst has happened. Now she has to go to sleep alone in their bed. Now she has to imagine life without him. Now she has to anticipate the terrible pain of loss. At this point I just want to help this lady who reminds me of my Gramma Sara so badly. I don't want her to be crushed by hopelessness. The mermaid sits on the TV where she has been for the last fifty years, probably a wedding gift. She has been dusted every week, not a chip on her. She is sweet, but no help really. So I put Rabbi Harold and St. Claire in the room to look over the lady, so she won't be so alone. I need to know that someone has this lady's back, or I won't sleep. She's going to need their help.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Little Pick-Me-Up : $5 and $10 dollar print sale!

5.25"x 4.25"

Saint Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes or difficult situations, and I think that the world at large could use his help right now. There are a lot of people who are being adversely affected by the economy, and there are many more people who have never, even in the "good" times, known financial security. I work for a private, not- for- profit human services agency. I see good people struggling every day to provide for their families on less than ten dollars an hour. If we are lucky and the state budget allows there may be a 1 or 2 % increase on occasion, but these cost of living adjustments don't cover the actual cost of living and no one ever gets a raise just because they are a great employee who does a wonderful job, yet we have so many people who are caring and dedicated employees . In honor of these people and the valuable work that they do, and everyone who is out of work, under-employed, or working for minimum wage, I am offering Saint Jude prints for 5 dollars every day so that everyone who wants one can have one.

I always base my St. Judes on my brother Wally because he has turned a lifetime of difficult circumstances- autism, epilepsy, ALS- into a beautiful life full of meaning and love for his fellow human beings. Jesus told St. Jude that whoever loves Him, He will find them and make his home with them, which is why I like to show him in or with a house.

In addition, I am offering both of my new Saint Monica (the patron saint of mothers) prints for 10 dollars each until June 30th, so that everyone who wants to can buy their mom, wife, partner, grandma, or any other fabulous mom they know a lovely Mother's Day gift!

6 X 8.50

This painting is about how hopeful we are, as parents, that everything will go well for our children, but how little control we actually have over what will be. We have to accept that and still do our very best for our children. St. Monica is shown here praying for the well being of her unborn child, serene and centered despite her precarious surroundings. In her halo is my favorite quote from St. Monica -"Nothing is far from God."

This particular St. Monica was inspired by my mother-in-law, who is incredibly cute and pretty and who nurtures all living things, be they children, animals or plants. �

5"X 6"

This St. Monica painting celebrates being the mother of an infant and the impulse to want to surround them with all that is soft, sweet, and happy for the short time in their life that you can. She was inspired by my baby daughter and my mom, the wonderful woman who supported and encouraged me as an artist from the time I was small.

All three of the original paintings were done in gouache . The prints are printed on archival paper with archival inks. To purchase a print please go to www.jennysdresserdrawer.com/Shop

I wish you peace,