Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A gentle man.

Art offers the possibility to see and learn things in a way that is intrinsically personal. 
Being an artist can be both terrifying and liberating. Art is subjective- it's pretty scary to allow people to see my inner most thoughts. But my thoughts-mostly sub-conscious are what bubble up and out onto the canvas or through to my computer monitor. I am happiest when I am making art. Sometimes it can be frustrating but for me it is almost always very meditative and soothing, which is interesting because my work is almost always rooted in a childhood memory. The seeds of my own perception were planted very early on in childhood, rooted in words and phrases fed from doctors as they assessed my body and mind, discussed my quiet and nasal voice, my "waddling gait", and my"waisted appearance".
I grew up looking at myself under a microscope. The result is that my work usually ends up with at least a suggestion of bones, veins, blood or flesh. And oddities-crooked things and odd blobs. My work doesn't scream of these things (that scream has long since been muted) but it is exactly because of that suppression that even my cityscapes look vaguely organic.
It's not abnormal to live in semi-seclusion for months at a time while I work on a specific theme. Perhaps that is why the need to show  my work is so important. Maybe it's only natural to emerge from a long period of working in solitude that makes me needy for peoples responses to my work. Reaction, comprehension, head nodding means that I have gotten through to people, or that maybe in some way they see my work the way that I want them to see me.The feeling of restrained anticipation, the need for external feedback can be overwhelming...

My arts and disabilities group held its first annual general meeting in June, 2011. It went well (I think). We had fresh faces at the table which was encouraging. It had always been challenging to get people to take the time to listen to the reasons why we existed and why we needed support in our careers as artists. We wanted recognition like any other minority group. I don't think that people realize just how many artists with disabilities exist. It's actually rather ironic that I am a visual artist. An invisible visual artist. So, how does that work exactly?
Unfortunately most people-even people in the Arts are unaware that there are people with disabilities working as artists-emerging, established and or professional. We are not painting or dancing or acting because it's therapeutic (although it is). We're doing it because it's what drives us.

Getting back to the AGM, it had been a physically and mentally challenging period for us, and the week or two leading up to the meeting was gruelling. The late nights were stretching me to my limits. I wasn't the only one working that hard, but it didn't make it easier for me knowing that other people were tired.
On the day of the meeting I watched YouTube video's of Roberts Book of Rules. I hadn't heard of this handy little book of how and when to say "yay" or "nay" or to ask if anyone was willing to move a motion and then ask for someone to second it. The rules were so archaic as to reduce their value to something that Monty Python would have performed in a skit. The manner of speaking was so unnatural that I had to write notes to myself on my copy of the agenda. I once again felt like I was encumbered by rules without a lot of real life value. In the end I had to give up preparing for the meeting and just go.
One of our members sat beside me at the meeting. She would whisper for me to "move on" and tell me when to say the correct word or phrase that Robert had deemed correct.
Her prodding, while probably intended to be helpful  bordered on harassment. It had been a trying month or so dealing with her. She had been working a lot for us for the last few months, maybe even more than me. But she was a person without any disabilities that I am aware of. Her one child was already grown up. She and her husband lived in a very nice area and she had a job that allowed her to work with us during her work hours as well as her personal hours. It was her choice to do that but it didn't make her easier to deal with. She had strong ideas of how things should work and while her motivation was without question the desire to help us find a strong foothold to maintain our group, she had developed tunnel vision and was hell-bent on going in a direction that wasn't entirely the direction that the board wanted to take but somehow we all knew that we wouldn't be able to dissuade her. At a meeting where we had a two hour deadline she snapped repeatedly at me. I finally snapped back. I apologized to her hoping that she would recognize her own behavior and keep herself in check. Instead she told me how she had been working long, late hours on this project since the previous week and that she was sleep deprived. The insinuation, at least my interpretation was that she felt she had put in more than anyone could possibly comprehend and was therefore allowed to be a bitch that day. Why bother telling her that I had put all of my time into it as well? She would never have understood anyway. Our relationship was becoming toxic. However, here we were, at our very first AGM. It was time to just let it go. Of course I had buckled under the requests and smooth complements of our board to agree to be the Chairperson for the following year...a month earlier I could have been heard on a number of occasions telling friends that I couldn't do it anymore. That I wasn't suited for it. That I had not made art in almost a year and a half because my energies were consumed almost entirely by the need to keep our board going- aside from my other responsibilities and issues-family, volunteering at the kids school, medical appointments and the almost constant pain that I had begun to experience over the past few years...
As our meeting came to an end one of our members expressed something that I hadn't thought to put on our agenda. She had flowers for one of our board members who was unable to attend- he was recovering from surgery. She expressed regret that he wasn't with us to witness our first AGM, she said that we missed him and felt his absence. It was all true. His wife, who was the founder of our small dynasty was in attendance that day. She graciously took the bouquet and sentiments home to her husband. I felt like an idiot for not thinking of having done that myself. I had only thought to do the perfunctory "regrets". I had thought of compassion in general terms while writing my opening remarks the night before, I struggled to capture why we needed to grow as group and as a support network. But I was thinking in broad brushstrokes and had missed an important detail, one of our own was sick and missing out on a day that we could finally celebrate how much we had already accomplished.
The meeting was adjourned.
The next day I had a meeting scheduled with our founder and former board member. When she called that morning I knew immediately that something was wrong. My alarm bells went off before she even said that she would be unable to meet with me later in that day (or maybe it was the following day, who knows, it's all a blur now). Terrified to hear why she couldn't come but needing to know what was causing her to sound so guarded I pushed anyway. What was wrong?! What had happened?! Please tell me.
Her husband, our lovely friend and our behind the scenes willing helper had died in the night.
I think that everything began to fall apart with the passing of this one person who was by far the kindest and least likely person in our group to insinuate his ego into any decision. I felt like I had lost a father, and a trustworthy friend with whom I had always felt comfortable working alone with or while my children were nearby. I trusted him implicitly. He was just Him.
His service was held the following week- I felt selfish shedding so many tears when he had a wife, a son, and other friends and family who had known him and loved him longer than I had. There were so many people who would feel his loss much more than I would. He was a gentleman. A gentle man. He was a wonderful husband and from what I understand he was a wonderful father. His son, a young man in his twenties looks so much like him that it was a bit confusing to be mourning someone who seemed to be standing in the same church room with us, his facial expression set with the same calm Buddhist demeanor as his father. Who knows what went on behind the faces of father and son but I'm pretty sure that their kind expression ran deep.
Despite his death, life continued for the rest of us although it wasn't the same.


  1. I'm sorry to hear of your friend's death.

    Congrats on pulling off your first AGM...they're stressful to put together at the best of the times. And there's a person like the woman you were working with on every handled her perfectly. :)

  2. Thank you. I'm all grown up but just beginning to learn to assert healthy boundaries for myself Even so, the fact is that I was overwhelmed as the chairperson and yet I allowed myself to be swayed into a second year in that position. The only reason I became liberated from that responsibility was because I moved half way across Canada before the end of our summer break.
    As for my friend, his gentle nature will always remind me to appreciate the quiet strength that I have probably overlooked in the past when I thought that I didn't have time to slow down and just listen...