Wednesday Wonders: The Miracle of Wounded Art

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Over ten years ago, I took a class on adult psychology in a small classroom on Pill Hill in Seattle. The professor stood in front of us in a button up shirt with slacks that blended into the dark background of the room behind. As he described his experience of a wrenching divorce, he said he did not try to push through his feeling of pain. That did not work for him. Instead, he suggested that it worked better to fully feel emotions.

He used this story to illustrate a psychological principal that I no longer remember. I don’t even remember his name.

But I do remember seeing his pain.

We students saw his heart bleed although he said the divorce happened years before.

I don’t think he had yet found a way to heal. Even if I had been able to say something to him, he might not have received it from the ESL teacher in the back of the room.

But if could speak to him now, I would tell him to try art. 

Get out your paper and glue for a collage, crack open an old instrument case, write a poem, or take photos of falling down buildings in your neighborhood, I would say. I have no idea why it works or if science will back me up. I only know it works as well as any psychological treatment I known or tried on myself.

In a TED Talk by Angélica Dass, I listened to her tell of the searing comments and prejudices she has endured because of her skin color.

Then I watched her speak of the project she created to help herself manage this pain. Even as she described the way she photographed the people from around the world, I noticed her shoulders ease and her voice warm to the telling.

Maybe that psychology professor already knows about this trick of art and how it lets you fully feel without smashing you to bits under the weight of being human. 

Perhaps he even knows what a gift that art can become to others.

I hope so.

The beauty of Dass’s work cuts through so much of what we use to separate us. I don’t pretend to know why gifts to humanity need to spring from nearly unbearable pain like prejudice and divorce. I only know that they often do and that the art soothes the sufferer when she throws herself into the making.

I also know when someone pulls some once of goodness out of their wounds, everyone touched by the art is the better for it. 

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Did I mention baking? I made these in response to having a crown and root canal this week. They helped. Art with chocolate has to be the best of all.

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A Three Percent Chance of Cancer

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I first read the statistics when my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Heck. I first heard of pancreatic cancer when Dad was diagnosed. In 2011 I read that the average person has a 3 percent chance of developing this form of cancer, and it is almost never caught early enough to successfully treat. Patients have a 5 percent survival rate for 5 years. My dad did not beat those odds and died 4 months after his diagnosis.

Since then, I’ve known five other people to die of this specific disease: a close friend from my church, two high school friends’ parents, a former boyfriend’s mother and an illustrator I met through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I suspect I am noticing the cancer more because my father had the disease, but I can’t help thinking that’s an awful lot of people to make up 3 percent of the population. It makes me wonder if I’m overdoing the odds somehow or if this is what 3 percent looks like as it relates to my one life and the people I know. I’d need to talk to a statistician to figure if I’m ‘above average.’ I think I won’t. I think I’ll just plug away and hope not to see that diagnosis again anytime soon. It’s getting old like that song by Milli Vanilli my one time roommate played over and over in our UW dorm room.

I know what my dad would say about this post. He’d say it’s ‘pretty good’ but what does it mean? What I am trying to say we should do about pancreatic cancer?

I don’t know. Maybe it means I should join the Purple Stride Puget Sound, or maybe I should be working harder to spread the news about a fantastic new test developed by a vibrant young man who also lost someone he loved to pancreatic cancer:

This test, by the way, supposedly also identifies ovarian and lung cancer, two other forms that are knocking out my friends and loved ones.

Maybe this is what I am saying I should do. Or maybe I am saying I don’t know what to do about pancreatic or any other kind of cancer. Maybe (I would say to Dad if he could read this), I am saying that it makes me sad, this mortality business. Maybe.