Everyone knows someone who is prone to losing stuff. They are forever misplacing their keys, phone, wallet, purse, whatever. I always know exactly where those things are. I am one of those people prone to losing the big stuff in life. The most interesting thing I ever lost was my high school. Yup. Not an easy thing to do when you live in the same neighbourhood in the same house since you are a toddler. You’d pretty much figure that I’d know where everything is located and could find my way around blindfolded. I’ll never forget the day I lost the school. I did eventually find it but it took me most of the day.
As a severe agoraphobic, there was no way to get me out of the house without some form of sedation. It started when I was very young. Forcing an agoraphobic child to walk to school and then spend the day surrounded by hundreds of other people in a large building, with recesses outside, is indescribably traumatic. I was forever asking permission to go to the bathroom so I could give myself “time outs” in the small bathroom stalls where I could be alone for a few minutes, relax, breathe, and try to pull myself together. Often have a good cry. Try my damnedest to get the shaking under control so people wouldn’t notice. When I was ten years old my family doctor prescribed sedatives for me at my mother’s insistence because she was exhausted by the constant struggle to force me to go to school at least three days a week, sometimes four. I simply couldn’t cope. I had constant hellacious migraines and emotional breakdowns that I couldn’t control and was only able to sleep every other night. My life was a living hell. The introduction to sedatives provided initial relief, but it’s an old, old, old story that they were the beginning of a different kind of hell for me, one that would damn near kill me. And that’s how I lost my high school.
I was fifteen years old, in grade ten, and my grades weren’t very good. I remember thinking, “That’s enough! I’m NOT stupid! If I do everything I’m supposed to do and get A’s on all my work from now on I can be Valedictorian by the time I finish. I’m sick and tired of feeling like a loser. From now on I’m going to do everything right!” And with that determination I dressed myself in my finest clothes, put on my makeup with the greatest of care, and put on my dress heeled shoes to make myself look as business-like and as serious as possible. I was on a mission, I’m telling you. I wasn’t fooling around. I was going to school that day to become the best student they had ever seen. I would win every award and earn every accolade. But first…I needed to calm my badly shaking hands and knees. A few pills and a few chugs of whatever dad had in his liquor cabinet and I was on my way!
By the time I got to the busy main road which was a straight line all the way to the school I realized I was weaving so badly that people were staring. Uh oh. Thinking I’d ‘straighten up’ by the time I got to school, I decided make my way via the quiet back neighbourhood roads and cut through a small forest park, a route I hadn’t taken in a long time. Not only didn’t I ‘straighten up’, I went downhill, became hopelessly confused and lost in the same neighbourhood streets I’d played all of my life. I might as well have been blindfolded. I did straighten up by the time I found the high school but only because it took me a few hours. I had blisters all over my feet from the high heels I was wearing when I walked into the Principal’s office and told him I wanted to quit. He took a good look at me, as he had many times in the two years I’d been there, and agreed it just might be a good idea for me to leave and come back to try again at a later date. How sad is that? I left my house that morning with the full intention of becoming Valedictorian and by the time I got to school I realized I was such an abominable mess I might as well just drop out of high school. And no one argued the point.
However…I’m really good at finding stuff too. Great stuff. And great people. I found Robyn Emmons, a fellow agoraphobic. All my life I thought I was just plain crazy and loathed myself for my weakness. I didn’t know I had a disorder called agoraphobia until I met Robyn. De-personalizing the issue changed my life. Treating the agoraphobia gave me back the World. I could go anywhere I wanted and do anything I wanted. I had my Freedom. And so it was time to finish all the things I’d left undone. The biggest one for me was graduating high school. And that’s where I found some other utterly outstanding human beings. One of whom I just lost. Donna Carpenter. She was one of my teachers from the adult high school I attended from the ages of 28 to 30 where I graduated with honours in all my classes, and I do mean full cap and gown graduation, not an equivalency. Of this I am very proud. But I am profoundly more proud to have known Ms. Donna Carpenter.
I stood in awe of her self-assuredness, her self-confidence, her competency. I knew that I was in the presence of a woman who knew her own worth and was at home in the world. I wanted that. When you find someone who has or is what you want, stay with them, spend as much time with them as you can. Learn how they came to be who they are. I spent a great deal more time at the school than was required of me and spending time around Donna was very much a part of that reason. I was too poor to be able to take the bus every day so I walked the forty-five minutes each way. By the time I graduated two years later I had fabulous legs!
What did Donna actually teach me? Too much to list here. I will say that she taught me to believe in my talent as a writer. Whether anyone else thinks I can write the way I have always wanted to or not, I do, and that is enough. She introduced me to the simple pleasure of stuffed grape leaves. Donna was a world traveller and fell in love with stuffed grape leaves in Greece. She has also been to Japan and Venezuela and…forgive me…I forget where else. Many wonderful places. Donna loved Life and living. After the life of fear I led I wanted to be like that, in love with the world, with exploring. When I was a very small child, before my first agoraphobic attack that closed the door to Life for me, I dreamed of working for National Geographic, travelling to remote places and recording the experience for other people so everyone would know what was in the world, missing out on nothing.
It’s another story for another day, but while I was in the adult high school I met a man who was to become my lifetime mate. He happened to be a wilderness canoeist. There are quite a few stories of this agoraphobic being introduced to the true Canadian wilderness.
Raise your hand if you never thought you’d grow up to be like your mother. Raise your other hand if it’s too late. Stomp your feet if that’s both good and bad news. Yeah. Me too. I feel the ground a-shaking, ladies. I’m not going to get into whether it’s good news or bad here. Just some random thoughts and observations. I’ve decided to view the m(other) ‘trip’ as more fascinating than frightening.
Mom’s on my mind a lot right now because it’s Dead Mother Month. I can never remember the actual date of her passing because I wasn’t there when she died so she gets the whole month for remembrance. I was away when she passed and I couldn’t be reached. They tried, pretty darn hard actually. I was in the remote wilderness of Algonquin Park sittin’ on a rock somewheres. My family contacted the park authorities who attempted to track our whereabouts so they could send someone into the Interior of the park to go and get me and tell me my mother was on her death bed in the hospital. Park Rangers have done such a thing before, however, we hadn’t submitted an itinerary because it was so late in the year when we went in that the booth at the entry point was already closed for the season. Later, after the funeral, my dad told me that my mother, surrounded by family, my father and siblings, kept asking for me specifically: “Where’s my Stephie? I want to see Stephie.” Thanks Dad. I could have seriously lived without knowing that. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.
Mom died just after Thanksgiving. As I said, I was away. When I got home there were three messages on the phone. All from my father. The first one said that mom had another heart attack and was in the hospital. The second one said that she wasn’t going to make it this time. The third one left the details of the funeral arrangements. You know that saying, “I felt like someone pulled the rug out from under my feet”? When I heard the third message I literally dropped the phone on the ground and was on my way to following it when my parnter caught me and held me up. I felt as though someone had pulled the entire earth from under my feet. I gasped and said, “My mother is no longer on this earth with me!” Sounds dramatic as hell, doesn’t it? Sounds like that to me too. I didn’t think the words. They just came out of my mouth. Out of my heart. My awareness. We were separated, my mother and I, we couldn’t be together anymore for many reasons, but until then she was still “there”. I could and did occasionally call her and talk to her. Rarely, but I did. I loved her, but I couldn’t be with her.
I got the phone message just in time for us to rush out, buy black clothes and shoes, and show up for the viewing. I was in shock. So no, the actual date didn’t register. I didn’t think to look at the calendar. Time had stopped for me anyway. Time lost all meaning. I was living in a brand new world. A new Time was beginning. The old calendar was suddenly irrelevant. That was 15 years ago. Every October since then has been “my mother’s month”. Whether I invite her or not, she comes to live with me, to walk through my dreams, to sit up with me during many, many sleepless nights and go over old memories, but most of the time during those long nights she spends her time pointing out to me all the ways I have become like her. She brings my awareness to the ways I sit like her, hold my hands like her, read the books she would have liked, eat food she would have liked, spend my time the way she would have, laugh at the things she would have found funny. She points to my face in the mirror and shows me how my face is beginning to be shaped like hers here and there as hers did at a certain age. She reminds me how her body ached in the same places mine does now. How badly her hips began to hurt if she sat on the soft couch, just the way mine are starting to. How her knee ached if she didn’t put her feet up, like mine does now. She watches the way I fold my hand and rest my face on it and says, “Look…do you see me?
Like my mother, when I don’t have the energy to do the big things on the To Do list I fiddle around doing a bunch of small tasks that make it seem as though I’ve been busy and productive. I do it so I don’t get angry with myself for not being able to do more. I realize now she did it for the same reasons, but she was defensive about it, in the extreme. In the end, all she ever did was piddly shit. Busy work. From a very young age most of the housecleaning was foisted onto me. She did the laundry and the cleaning. I folded the laundry and put it away. She sorted it and put it in the washer and dryer, and much of the time I was called upon to put it in the dryer too. She cooked and served the meals. I cleaned up afterward. She ironed. She sewed sometimes. She baked some. Otherwise, she read and she rested and visited her friend across the street. She didn’t have any hobbies. Somehow, she fooled us into thinking she was “busy” and had “earned” her rests.
I’m all grown up now and I am my mother. Enough so that I understand she really was tired. She had disabilities that weren’t properly treated. I have them and unlike my mother I was willing to say, “I should be able to do more than this at my age. What in the HELL is wrong with me???” and beg for answers and treatment. I tried to hide it, make up excuses, the same way people who can’t read manage to get by, because that’s what I was taught, the example I was shown, and it damned near killed me. I was sick. I wasn’t just “tired”. The exhaustion was a symptom of some very serious disabilities, plural, and I should be ashes by now. We’re talkin’ a long time gone.
Part of the reason I’m still here is because my mother’s life deserves a hearing. She deserves not to be forgotten. More importantly, she deserves to be remembered for the way she was and the way she lived. She deserves to have someone stand up for her now and say “She got screwed. They failed her. They let her fall down and stay down. They made excuses for why she was the way she was instead of fighting to make sure she got help. They were spineless. They didn’t love her enough to fight for her. They took the easy way out for themselves and she had to die to get peace.” I’m not okay with that. She was smart. Wicked smart. Formally educated and perpetually self-educating. Politically interested, bold, and passionate. And for something like 40 years she did nothing every day but laundry, cook, read, and sleep. On Fridays she played cards with friends. The end. Untreated and/or mistreated Chronic fatigue and Bipolar Disorder and Agoraphobia made it impossible for her to manage anything more. A fucking waste and a shame. But not her shame, make no mistake about that. She believed it was her shame to carry. She was ceaselessly ashamed and enraged by her Fate in regards to those things that limited her that she did not understand, and because she did not understand them or their source or physiology, she blamed herself and named it “personal weakness” and “character defect”. I know. She told me. She didn’t believe she could be “fixed”. She gave up on herself. I couldn’t do anything about that. I tried. In the end, I left. I didn’t leave my mother; I left my mother’s rage.
There is no anger in these October visits. Nor sadness. That’s the kind of crap that only foolish mortals drag around with them. There’s some comfort in finding her in myself now in the softer, kinder ways, the benign mannerisms. It is nice to know for certain that she would have a great laugh at so much of what I would be telling her right now. I swear I hear her chuckling sometimes. She did have a sense of humour. I was her confessor. Her confidante. I didn’t know that until after she died when I heard my father and siblings say so often “I didn’t know ‘this’” or “she never said a word about ‘that’” when referring to things mom talked to me about endlessly in detail and depth. She always told me when she was scared or in pain. She is my confidante now. She lived through this constant exhaustion and bouts of depression that make you crawl around the house on your hands and knees looking for a lost give-a-damn so you can get up and do something that matters. She would be the first to offer me heartfelt empathy. The kind of sincere empathy that would be a balm to my soul, maybe even be that give-a-damn to get me off my knees and moving forward in a meaningful way when I need it. To know that I was in chronic pain would break her heart. It did when I was young and had constant migraines. I can still feel her big, strong warm hands massaging my shoulders and scalp. I close my eyes and feel them now. If there’s a heaven, then that is what it feels like when I’m suffering: my mother’s hands when she’s able to show me compassion.
When I talk openly about disabilities, both visible and invisible, what it is like to live with them, how it feels, the impact it has on my daily life, both large and small, I am not complaining, I am campaigning. Believe it. I am campaigning for Disability Awareness, for the persons who live with them now and the ones who are gone but should never be forgotten. The ones who were undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and most especially for those who were mistreated and maltreated. May it end now and never happen again. I am campaigning for Remembrance of family members whose Truths were kept secret “for the sake of the family”, or for that old fashioned and twisted notion – oh please – that “we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead”. To bury the Truth with the dead is to deny they ever existed. There is no greater disrespect than that. As long as I’m alive so my mother will be too, in all that I know of and remember of her wonderfulness and human failings and feelings and love and terror, and I don’t care who that pisses off. When Monkey Hill Creative Arts gives the proceeds to the Creative Arts Spirit Centre, it is to honour and remember my mother, and my daughter, and myself, and everyone like us and to say, “We’re here. And there’s a LOT of us. We are not anomalies. And we shall not be ignored or forgotten, nor shall we go away. We will not be satisfied to be locked away in homes to spend forty years doing laundry, making meals, and waiting to die.”
By the way…do you know what “Home” is? Home is that place where you are welcomed and respected by all, and protected from all others. Never forget that. Welcome to Monkey Hill Creative Arts.
If you don’t mind I’m going to take a minute more to go downstairs to get a bowl of Pralines & Cream ice cream for breakfast. I earned it. I wasn’t going down til the sun came up or this website was alive and breathing. It’s still dark out, though the birds are making some noise, but I hear the sweet breath of life here at Monkey Hill Creative Arts online. I’m an artist, not a techie, so there appears to have been one hell of a struggle between the forces of good, evil, and ever’thing in between at this table. This here was my long dark night of the soul.
Why the rush? My Canadian counterparts won’t be looking this way. It’s our Thanksgiving weekend. Two reasons: I have friends and clients worldwide; and it was long past time to come Home. Being an artist can be a lonely life, and being a disabled artist supremely lonely. My greatest joy as a gallery owner was connecting personally with the patrons and the artists I represented. I miss that interaction. The virtual world is certainly not the same but Twitter has proven how much people crave interaction and that they are willing to connect in whatever ways they can.
I will be finding ways to make Monkey Hill Creative Arts as communication friendly as possible.
‘Kay…gimme a minute to get my hands sticky with some of that ice cream and I’ll think of something else to share.
My mother and I weren’t what you would consider traditional BFF’s. A more apt term would be “enmeshed”. But just as BFF’s suggests a relationship that was all light and love and support, enmeshed makes it sound as if it was nothing but a re-enactment of Mommy Dearest. Undeniably, she made one hell of a Joan Crawford at times. But it had nothing to do with ambition or jealousy. She was doing her damnedest to cope with anxiety and illness that completely overwhelmed her at times. There is a point to leading with this admission. At Monkey Hill Creative Arts we assert that “every one of us has more possibilities than limitations”, and my mother was no exception. She failed greatly as a mother, but she also succeeded greatly as a mother, just not in the Hallmark greeting card sentiment sense.
My mother showed me what it is like to struggle with invisible disabilities and the impact they have on those around them. She also taught me that to be disabled doesn’t mean a person is disabled in every way. She was a very smart woman who gave me the coping skills and strategies that have seen me through some of the hardest times of my life that would have sunk me otherwise, made my life even richer during the easier times, and are seeing me trough yet again now that my physical health has declined greatly and every day is a true challenge.
The most surprising impact she’s had on my life is how she has affected my art. I almost don’t know where to begin. Alright then…I’m going to begin with a disclaimer of sorts. 15 years ago this October I buried my mother. At the very end of her life we dared to speak of our lifetime of secrets, of cruel actions, finally…acknowledgment, forgiveness was asked for and granted, and we were graced with the closure so few ever know. All that was left was peace, understanding, and love. I miss her still. That said, I don’t believe it matters now how my mother ultimately influences my art today, simply that if I had had any other mother than the one I had I would not be who I am today or expressing what I do how I do it. She mattered. She made a difference.
Beginning with the small things, my mother was born in 1930, and surely she was influenced by the Depression Era way of life. She saved every bit of string, every elastic that off of bundles of the broccoli from the store, every twist tie, plastic and paper bag – folded to precision, cleaned, folded, and saved every viable piece of tin foil, reused paper towels, boxes of every sort, and jars. When children today want to have a Craft Day, their parents take them to the Craft Store; I went to the kitchen drawers. The supplies were endless. She handed me a paper plate or some paper or a piece of saved cardboard, most often she unfolded one of the big paper bags the groceries came in then, a bottle of school glue, and whatever bits of string, twist ties, etc. I chose from the drawer, and I was in heaven. Collage heaven. I loved the art of design and I still do. I am in thrall with texture. When I was old enough she would let me paint the textured collage with a little paint set. Guess what? It is basically the same thing I do today.
The materials I use today are still natural and found materials. I still get a thrill from discovering new ways to manipulate the common things we might see or handle every day without really noticing the texture and details. My mother would be proud: I have a six drawer dresser with a paper drawer, a paint drawer, a drawer for string and textiles, an adhesive and stains drawer, sandpaper and tissue drawer, and a drawer to hold my cd’s, sketchbooks and drawing paper. I have another three drawer dresser equally well sorted for the bits and pieces I collect to use in my art with one drawer assigned specifically for my tools. I am as meticulous as my mother was in keeping everything in its place so I know where everything is and never have to waste time hunting for anything.
Beyond the basic foundation of my art, the love of texture, order, and balance, there is the expression. Some of my art is considered dark, some of it sad, some expressing frustration. For so much of my life I was not permitted to express myself unless it was to express gratitude or pleasure. Unhappiness and anger was unacceptable. Punishable. That is a reality for countless others. My mother, too, felt she was not allowed to reveal her demons. I saw what it did to her. I have seen what it does to other people. In the beginning, I used art to speak for me. It was selfish. I have matured and come to understand that art speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves. Today, when I create a piece of art that purposely expression emotion, I think in terms of Universal Truths, of the human condition, not merely my own state at the time, but that does not mean it does not include me because I am one of many.
Art is a celebration of life. Uncountable artists world-wide revel day and night in every sound, colour, texture, and movement and combination therein, most never earning more than pittance, not just for their own enjoyment and curiosity, but for the purpose of making art that brings awareness to society the joys of life, life imitated in that art, that would otherwise go unnoticed. Art celebrates all of life, not just the pretty happy things, otherwise the only colours we see reflected in it would be yellow and gold, everyone would be singing Happy Birthday all the time and The Blues wouldn’t exist. In the true artist tradition, no facet of the living experience is treated like a shame or a dirty secret.
The last time I saw my mother alive was shortly before her death at my high school graduation. I was 28 years old. Obviously it was an adult high school. I dropped out of high school when I was 15 because I was sick and needed help. My disabilities were as yet undiagnosed and because I didn’t seek treatment would remain untreated for several hellish years. At 28, I graduated with honours across the board, an award for achieving excellence in the face of adversity, and a financial award to pay for my all my needs apart from tuition for my first year of university. My mother was weeping as she held me and said to me words that broke my heart: I am prouder of you for this than I was of your brother for graduating from university summa cum laude because I know what you had to go through to get here. I’ve worried about you all of your life, but now I know that you will always be okay. You’ve done the one thing that I know I will never be able to do as long as I live; you got over yourself.
Maybe you have to know a lot more of my mother’s back story – and mine – to appreciate the profundity of those words. As for the “you got over yourself”, I can at least clarify that a little better. What she meant, in particular, is that I became able to admit openly to anyone my failures, my fears, my mistakes, my flaws, to live and work at my own pace, to ask for and accept help, to say no, to say yes to opportunity, to risk, and to fail without falling apart. Essentially, she was saying that I no longer let fear rule my life. She was telling me that she was going to die never knowing that freedom. My god, my god, how that broke my heart. No one of us should ever have to die to know peace. Not every invisible disability is properly or successfully treated and stabilized, and that was my mother’s sad reality.
When I looked down at the peaceful face of my mother in her coffin, the only time I have ever seen her truly at peace, I vowed her fate would not be mine. My own invisible disability, the same as my mother’s, was still meting out a goodly measure of emotional and mental torment, but I had also gained a healthy measure of freedom and love in my life encouraging me to fight on, to hope for better days and better health. I would not give up trying and seeking more successful treatment. Peace would come and go, but I hung on to the fact that it always returned. The worst for me was yet to come after the death of my daughter, but surprisingly, the greatest peace I have ever known eventually came some years after through the diligent care of my truly excellent and devoted doctor.
My mother and I are inextricably connected forever, through genetics, as we all are, but in my case I mean in illnesses shared, an in habits, in my art, by love, through an abiding love of literature I got from her which brings me endless pleasure, as well as an understanding and compassion for suffering, which perhaps is the hardest earned but most profoundly useful gift of all.
Tonight I became consciously aware of the fact that I have seen my reflection in dark windows infinitely more often than I have in mirrors over all my years. Don’t call me a “Night Owl” though. I am nothing like an owl. As a former long-time wilderness canoeist I’m familiar with that predator’s awesome abilities; I share none of them. I am night blind, my vision is terrible, my depth perception and coordination worse, and I cannot imagine killing small animals. The beaver, another nocturnal animal, is much closer to kin. Though I’m not as industrious, perhaps, I am definitely nocturnal, I adore the water, love to play with sticks, and am forever ‘building’ something.
I was born with a severe sleep disorder, one of the main symptoms being chronic insomnia. Through my windows I’ve come to know the routes and routines of all the cats and coons in the area. I also know which neighbours have “special” newspapers delivered daily at 4:30am. One morning I swear I’m going to sneak out to look and see what newspapers they are. Financial Times? Globe and Mail? What? What in the world could be so special that you would pay someone to drive around at 4:30am to bring it to you?
I wondered what the outcome would be if I intercepted the delivery driver at the end of the neighbour’s driveway one morning to ask him how much he would charge to bring me a coffee from the Tim Horton’s just up the road when he passes this way every day? Or maybe something really nice like a macchiato as a treat after a long night of writing, research, and art making? Hey…he might find it funny. Why not? It could be the beginning of an interesting relationship and an enjoyable routine.
Isn’t it amazing that consciousness, simple awareness, like creativity, is limitless? Boundless? It continues to expand as long as we care. That’s the way it works. All we have to do is care, to pay attention. For nearly 46 years I have spent countless nights looking out of windows and seeing my reflection but only just now becoming consciously aware of how often I have seen myself that way, then making the further comparison between windows and mirrors.
Dusting off my easel and beginning to sort out my work materials I worried that during my long, loooong hiatus my creative abilities and vision had deteriorated as much, or more, than my physical state. What if my creativity shrunk? Atrophied from lack of use?
But that’s not possible. Like I said: Creativity is like awareness, and just as awareness and creativity are boundless, once we become aware we cannot become un-aware; likewise, once we discover our creativity we can never become un-creative.
Placing a partially finished canvas on the easel, a work in progress halted when it became too painful to continue at the time, I discover I have the same problem I’ve always had: so many creative ideas come to me, I see so many options, I cannot easily decide which one I would most like to adapt to the specific piece of work in front of me.
Now I remember what is the most difficult thing for any artist to do: One thing at a time.
I could hit “edit” and with the click of a button wipe out those old posts to hide how long it has been since I’ve been active on this blog…or at the art table. Or anywhere for that matter. However, the juxtaposition of the description of my physical state, abilities, and activities 3 yrs ago with what life is like for me today is a story unto itself. More so, it is a large part of what Monkey Hill is all about: “Every one of us has more possibilities than limitations.” It is important that, as greatly as my physical state has deteriorated, I can prove that is still true.
You’ve heard the phrase, “Old age isn’t for sissies”? When I was not that much younger, old age was 86…not 46. Now that I’m 46 I’m trying my damndest not to be a sissy. I’m far too young to be this “old”. Too many body parts are failing to cooperate with my intentions and needs, though I’m grateful none have fallen off yet. I’m exhausted and in pain all the time. And I mean pain. I used to think I was in pain, years ago, but now I understand that I was just aching. There’s a reason the phrase is “aches and pains”…because the two are not the same things, not by a wide margin. Osteoporosis, arthritis, bone spurs, rotator cuff tendonitis, and herniated discs have me crying daily for my mommy, and she passed away years ago. I’ll tell you two things that go together even WORSE than toothpaste and orange juice (and I know you didn’t think anything could be worse)…epileptic seizures and herniated discs. Yup. You can’t heal if you mix those two. So I find out the hardest way. My injuries are constantly aggravated or re-injured, hence, something that usually heals in several weeks has kept me largely immobile for going on a couple of years with no light at the end of the tunnel.
This is the juxtaposition I was referring to. In 2012 I was sitting up all night working furiously on an entire art exhibition, readying a gallery for an opening night, with joy! I recall moving the furniture and art displays around “just so”. Spending delicious hours playing the hostess-with-the mostest after hanging a whole gallery full of art to my satisfaction. Now I can barely raise my arms to wash my hair. I can’t vacuum the rug or pick up a basket of laundry or a bag of groceries. I can manage to get out for only as long as it takes for a dose of pain medication to wear off, which depends on whether someone drives me somewhere and how much walking or standing is involved, and at most it’s 3 hrs on a good day. I keep wondering, “Where is that woman who paddled 50km of river and double portaged a 13km trail in one day after breaking camp in the morning and then set up a new camp that night, gathered firewood, and sat around eating dinner, laughing and reminiscing under the Northern Lights?” Yeah…I want her back. All I have left of her now are her memories and the little stones she brought back from those trips sitting in my kitchen garden. And a great hat. A really great hat that has travelled hundreds of kilometres of some seriously wild terrain that now sits on the head of a woman who don’t live so wild no more.
Monkey Hill Creative Arts is owned and funded by Dorian Hill, founded in memory of our daughter, who’s nickname was “Monkey”. For 15yrs she made everyone around her laugh until they cried and left us all one hell of a lot wiser and more compassionate. For someone who was supposed to be severely disabled, those are some seriously profound abilities. She couldn’t tie her own shoes, but her astoundingly keen intuition would have humbled a zen master. Monkey taught us we are not our bodies; never to judge people by how gracefully they move, or can’t. We are all innately graced and blessed in some way. Look. See. Appreciate. Learn.
Note: I appreciate brevity…I’m just not good at it. If you’re still reading, thanks. I write like I talk and I’ve never had a conversation as short as an email.
Forcing my hand. The reason for the post title comes from an email notifying me that the web host provider had taken the liberty of renewing the webspace and domain name for another year charging the cost to the credit card on file. This was new. Every year for 15 yrs since I’d first registered the space and bought the domain (worthworks.com) until I sold it to Dorian Hill to use for his business, Monkey Hill, this provider sent an invoice first giving me (now just the web facilitator) the option of declining to continue the service. But…nope. Not this year.
Monkey Hill Create Arts closed its brick-and-mortar business and became an online business intended to sell donated art with the intent to forward the proceeds to charities supporting artists with invisible disabilities in the honour, memory, spirit, and lessons learned from our daughter. I was to be the main provider of that donated art, but I haven’t been able to work in years, and my prognosis is not looking any better, so we intended to decline the services when the invoice came. However, the invoice came “paid in full”. Crap! Simply saying “No thanks. Your services are no longer required” was my coward’s way out, you see. Now, as the facilitator, the contact person, I had to contact the provider and say the words: I quit. I give up. I’m done. I can’t. I can’t do it. I can’t do anything anymore.
Back to the wall…I couldn’t do it. Creativity itself is optimism. And every one of us has more possibilities than limitations.
When I get the website program working, and a few more art pieces put together, the new website URL is monkeyhill.biz. Time for a fresh start. I’m not who I used to be. I never will be again. I need to admit it and accept it. Do what I can with what I have and let it be enough. Until the site is up and running, join me here on WordPress, and I’ll keep you updated on Twitter and Facebook as well. There’s more to life and living than just the .biz to keep us entertained and connected, on many levels.
I love to get up in time to see the sun rise. That, apparently, is around noon these days, is it???
Sometime around 7:30ish last night I lay down on the bed to relieve my aching body so I could rise again and continue the work preparing for the Art Crawl this Friday (tomorrow!). Well now. Was I ever surprised when I opened my eyes and it was past 2 am! I was about to turn out the light and roll over when the next day’s schedule ran through my mind and I realized that if I didn’t get the brochured put together that night I wouldn’t have any other chance before the Art Crawl. Out! Out of bed! I did the mental calculations and thought, “Yeah…enough sleep…I won’t keel over…probably not.”
Time passes quickly when you’re busy concentrating ( and cursing quietly, fa la la la la). Around 5am I went to make myself a cup of coffee and reached for the decaf like I always do when it’s dark out, then glanced at the clock and thought, “What the hell? As if I’m snuggling back under the covers any time soon.”
There’s a lot to do between now and Friday, much, much more between now and the first week of the New Year changing Monkey Hill Creative Arts from a brick-and-mortar gallery to a fully functioning online enterprise, and I’m getting it all done a bit too slowly for my liking because I’m somewhat scattered from being stressed and tired, but I do dearly love Monkey Hill and what it is all about. It is a sincere privilege to be doing this. I am honoured by the people this initiative has brought into my life and the respect it brings to “Monkey’s” memory.
Yesterday, someone else working with artists with developmental disabilities told me I’d ‘made her day’, that I was ‘a Godsend to her’ just knowing that she was not alone in her work, that someone else “truly understood” and was trying to carry the message and to help. She didn’t care how successful our initiative was yet; she didn’t even ask. To me, it was like being given $100,000 to keep going.
I was thinking of that woman when I dragged myself out of bed at 2 am to work the rest of the night through to finish the informative brochures to hand out at the art gallery during the Art Crawl this Friday, December 14th.
Stephanie Kirsten Hansen http://www.worthworks.com
You know what is the best website building program in the WORLD?!!! The one I USED to have! (argh) I lost it when I crashed my computer way back. *sigh* The program was the original Macromedia MX so I bought the brand new Adobe CS5. Oh wow. I’ve been struggling to learn this one for…months. It is winning over me. I’m an English major. It don’t speak English!!!!!!! Not English as I know it, darlings.
The Monkey Hill Creative Arts website will be the main workhorse for the business now that the brick-and-mortar gallery is closing (and believe me, it is breaking my heart to close the door! *sniff*) Although I will be busy in my work with The Tiger Group, Monkey Hill is as much at the centre of my life and soul as our daughter was and we’re just picking up steam with the initiative.
I spoke to the wonderful director of the Creative Spirit Art Centre in Toronto today – what an angel! She is very excited to join up with Monkey Hill to promote their decades-long running initiative. Ellen has been running this Centre for 20 yrs at least and, now turning 70, she is worried about who and how the initiative will keep going when she can’t. Not thinking one whit about what is her own due! Oh no…just about making sure the work goes on. I love this woman. She *is* the Creative Spirit, I don’t doubt.
Usually these few days before an Art Crawl on James St. (which is this Friday evening) my mind is filled with getting all details taken care of…the food table, the wine, everyone’s business cards, last minute extra hung offerings hung (which means shifting existing art displays!), windows and floors washed, napkins, plates, all those things available…but I realized this is my last chance to hand out all kinds of flyers and cards to the crowds to keep them in contact with Monkey Hill when we move out of the physical eye of the public. AGH! PANIC! Suddenly, I thought the time I had to ‘renovate’ the website was moved up FAST.
Unfortunately, my mind only works just so fast. And the lines of communication. I don’t do anything without the feedback of others. It may seem so to some people, but I am not a lone voice speaking for all persons with invisible and developmental disabilities. Not at all. And so the website will have to be a placemarker for now of what is to come. It will be set up to let people know what will be filled in with the art and voices of others, as well as my own. Other artists with invisible and developmental disabililites will show their art, their faces, and relate their own thoughts and feelings about their art, and if they wish, about their lives with their particular limitations and strengths and possiblities.
I was getting myself wound up into a perfect tizzy and my body was in agony over the increasingly elaborate plans for my last big Art Crawl. I came to my senses an admitted that I’m not the very best at everything and people who will only respect me if I *am* perfect aren’t the people I really need around…none of us need that. So the food table will consist of yummy cheeses and crackers (some of the favourite Danish cheeses from my youth, as I am Danish), and chocolate covered maraschino cherries (in memory of my Gramma, I used to get a box of them for Christmas every year for years after she passed away when I was a little girl, to soothe my aching heart), some nice wine for the guests, and some yummy hot drinks for the cold night. Simple, comforting, friendly…the way I like my life to be, the way I like to treat people, the way I want to be remembered.
And since it’s easier for me to build a flyer in two days than a website, I will put onto a bunch of flyers everything the new website will entail and encourage people to look for the launch and list their names and email addresses so I can get in touch with them. Look at that…almost like I’m giving myself a break and living within my own limits. Learnin’, learnin’, learnin’…
I’ll be in touch…thanks for sticking with us.
Oh…and I am going back to using my maiden name in my art with The Tiger Group, but keeping the Kirsten (my mother loved that name, and so do I)
In the time monkey Hill Creative Arts has been operating at 243 James St. North, Hamilton we have enjoyed great success thanks to the participating artists and patrons who have embraced the intiative to enhance awareness of invisible and intellectual disabilities through the visual arts. We had a rental agreement until January 2013 only, unfortunately. Cynthia Hill, my dearest friend, the building owner, will be taking over the gallery space again as of January 1st and I wish her the best. We thank her very much for this most enjoyable time in the gallery.
December will be our last show in a brick-and-mortar gallery, though be assured the initiative will continue online at our website www.worthworks.com and we sincerely hope we have your continued and growing interest and support. The December Show will be our most spectacular to date! CALLIE ARCHER, DEB DICKER, L’ARCHE HAMILTON, KEITH GREEN, STEPHANIE KIRSTEN HANSEN (HILL) (myself), will offer a colourful, thought-provoking exhibit absolutely filling the gallery to capacity.
The show will run from December 1st to December 30th to cover the entire Holiday Season. Opening hours will be from NOON FRIDAYS, SATURDAYS, and SUNDAYS until 6pm. We will be open FRIDAY EVEININGS as well.
I will not be leaving James North! In January I will take over Directorship of The Tiger Group’s 2nd Gallery just a few doors down from Monkey Hill @ 275 James St. North. I was invited into The Tiger Group and am now an Associate member of The Tiger Group. I am looking forward to exploring working with a group, though it will be a shock to my system after running my own art business for so very many years as a ‘lone wolf’ artist and being ‘chief cook and bottle washer’ of two art galleries, first the Worth Works Studio promoting the work of artists with disabilities only, and then Monkey Hill Creative Arts, our daughter’s legacy. Already I am enjoying collaborating the collaboration and finding we have so much to share with each other. I think this is going to be a very positive, and hopefully, a long-lasting venture.
BUT FIRST! Monkey Hill has a FANTASTIC show to share with YOU! Don’t wait for The Art Crawl to come out and enjoy to the show. We will likely be changing up the art to replace what is sold in the first couple of weeks of December so DO come back for the Art Crawl. THE ART BUS is a great way to go! Check out THE PEARL COMPANY website for that delightfully inexpensive and fun tour that winds up at the end of the evening at The Tiger Group’s main gallery at 335 Barton Street with wine, treats, and of course, the stunningly talented art of my colleagues.
Stephanie Kirsten Hansen (Hill) email@example.com
MONKEY HILL CREATIVE ARTS NOVEMBER 2012
The song says it can be sad to see October go, but not if you’re me. Not this year. First, October laid me out flat with a terrible head and chest cold, like most of Hamilton, and then it sent me scrambling non-stop to catch-up. Yes, the cold blue skies were beautiful, but….ohhhh. November was a welcome sight!
The November Art Crawl was wonderful! I met an abundance of interesting and friendly people, as always. I’m delighted to be back in the gallery business. I’ve missed the crowds more than anything else. Besides promoting the work of my fellow artists, Monkey Hill promotes the awareness of invisible and intellectual disabilities, but there are so many gallery-goers with their own unique awareness and experiences of varied life circumstances shared openly that I’m not sure if we’re doing more giving or receiving, but whatever the case, with each week we’re open we have more and more to pass on to others through Monkey Hill. What a gift.
After being in the business of art for 20 years I have become accustomed to parting with my work with ease, but every now and again there is a piece that I give me some pang to relinquish. One of the pieces sold this crawl was one of those pieces special to me. Happily, it was purchased by a gentleman who seemed to truly appreciate all aspects of “Mixed State” beyond merely the aesthetic value.
A “mixed state”, a mental condition part of bipolar disorder, is a state wherein a person experiences mixed feelings of both mania or hypomania and deep depression. Those of us thus afflicted merely refer to it as Hell. Those living with us thus afflicted refer to it similarly. After showing this piece once before, briefly, and describing what a “mixed state” is, 99% self-identified as ‘occasionally bipolar’ and unanimously voted to rename Monday “Mixed State Day”.
Now that Monkey Hill has ‘found its feet’, I’m enjoying a more balanced schedule between my artwork and gallery management. *big exhale* Right now I’m having a good time planning a regular weekend afternoon poetry and author/book reading series beginning in January.
For views of some of the art currently showing at Monkey Hill check out are main website at www.worthworks.com
And don’t forget! Monkey Hill rents gallery space to artist for $100 / 6ft of space, no commission, hung salon style, so you’ll hang lots of art in that space. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 905-929-8380 if interested. Booking now for January onward.
Monkey Hill Creative Arts
243 James St. North