Thursday, September 23, 2010

Toothbrush Rugs: Grocery bags as an art form- my waiting room rug & Creativity is the best medicine

I started this rug in January as a rug to work on while in the waiting room at doctors' offices and while waiting for scans. Mind you, I always have a rug with me at such events, but often it is what ever rug I'm working on, and the rugs I had started before fibro were too complicated in their planning for what I was able to deal with.

 So this one is very simple- its to be an abstract flower. The center is all yellow, the rest alternating white and yellow. Such an easy scheme I could pull off even in deepest fibrofog / agony, and as you can see, I have. At 20" it would be close to done were I to stick to my 24 - 26 inch standard, but plastic bag rugs I often make larger. I'll keep working on it until I'm sick of it. Yeh, nothing deeper that that. Really, that's often the reason I decide to finish a rug off. These are a pleasant past time. When they stop pleasing me, I move on to another one.

This craft is inherently "green" as even the needle is recycled, but I especially love the "beautiful recycling" aspect of making rugs from grocery bags. We all go through so many, and even when we take them to the store to be recycled, lots of fossil fuels have to be expended to reuse them. Not so when made into a rug. The environmental impact is zero, since I do these during "down time."

So each colored section above = one half bag. I've never calculated how many it takes to make a rug, but you can imagine it takes a vast quantity.

Shopping bags are ideal, they have the right strength and surface. My mother has made them from bread bags and newspaper bags, but these stretch out more easily and have stickier surfaces so aren't as easy to work with.

I take a bag, fold it in half, and cut it. I don't cut slits, I use one handle of the bag for one end, and punch a hole with my needle for the other. So in this you see I remain true to my prime directive that these rugs are to be fun, relaxing, easy. Sure, you could cut up the bag other ways, but this takes the least time and effort so its what I do.

Handicrafts most certainly do count as "art therapy" as much as painting or photography. They are creative, a means of expression, something on which to focus other than suffering. I take a very "holistic" view of art therapy, not a narrowly defined one that it must somehow directly relate to expressing or processing your suffering. My view is... sometimes the best way to process suffering is to take a break from it. We who live this life are supersaturated in suffering. I hardly think its necessary that everything we do revolve around it... and indeed, there is immense benefit in finding what we are able to do in spite of, regardless of, the pain and limitations under which we live. (Yes, actually have had this argument... more than once, sadly.)

Indeed, I'm sometimes reticent to depict my art- be it photography or the rugs or videos- as art therapy because that makes them relate to fibro... when really, they are what frees me from fibro, frees me to be me. I can't chop wood or ride the bongo board or very often even drive because of fibro, but these are things which give me joy and are of my essence which I can still do. I

So why do I always post these as "the art of suffering?" Because I want to encourage other people who are disabled and pain ridden to find themselves through art and creativity because for all the wonders of modern medical science- doctors and pills cannot make you you, they can-at best- make it possible for you to be you.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The birthday I wasn't supposed to have

Yesterday was my 43rd birthday, and in some ways, it was the best birthday I've ever had.
Not because we had a blowout party. We didn't, just a nice cook out where I grilled my favorite foods.
Nor because of the presents (just one from my wife, mother, mentor, and mother-in-law)
but because... I wasn't expected to have it at all.

Many times during the course of this shredding of the boundary between the sane and the insane, the probable and improbable, the earthly and hellish, the grim reaper's shadow fell upon me. Indeed, almost from the start, there was a palpable fear that my broken bone and brutal pain presaged the presence of something dire and terminal such as cancer or a brain tumor.

The fear grew and grew with each test the doctors ordered which seemed to confirm it.

It reached its horrible apex on what we call "the day of death." A scan showed something which we were told indicated stage 4 (the last, terminal, essentially untreatable) cancer.

I'd held off speaking of that horrible day in public because any words I could give it seemed so insufficient. I was lying there counting my remaining minutes, wondering how I could spend as much of them with Tess as possible while also earnestly desiring to shield her from the agonies to come as much as possible.

The next day came a reprieve... a new scan, a new interpretation.

Even after the death sentence was revoked, the fear that something almost as bad was present remained. I had still broken the strongest bone in the body for no apparent reason. I still had excruciating pain without apparent cause.

And of course, the tests continued. All told, I spent close to a day in various machines having every inch, every cell, of my body scanned and rescanned.

It wasn't until the Fibro diagnosis came just in time for our 15th anniversary that the grim reaper's specter finally left us.

That wasn't too long ago, and the time of fear and uncertainty had been- if anything- more agonizing than the pain.

So when I awoke yesterday, it was indeed the most joyous birthday of my life.

About the picture:
I used FotoSketcher (win & mac) to convert one of the photos a dear friend shot for this blog post. The mode used was watercolor. I adjusted the settings to produce a picture which simultaneously had fewer sharp details yet conveyed the over all setting in a very vivid way.

The other thing I was after was to dampen the color intensity.

The net effect I wanted was to convey to you how my mind's eye sees the time there. (I was on a morphine pump after all.)

You on Multiply can see the original below.

You rug folk - yes, I did work rugs, and even tried to teach people how to make them (yes, even on the "Day of Death" since I've always wanted to be remembered for three things: My steadfast love for my wife, parents, and friends, my visual arts, and my rugs.)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

If hell is a fraction as bad as Fibro, then I DRASTICALLY undersold it in my sermons!

To understand this dark humor, you need to know/remember that I was once a preacher.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Word Picture: Psalm 107 - Oh Give Thanks to the Lord for He Is Good

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I finally got these uploaded to using their uploader - its been a long time in coming, but wow, was it worth it! The upload was easy, drag and drop, and when it was done, they generated the html code for ALL EIGHTEEN images! This is media hosting made easy... I'm hooked!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Toothbrush rugs: Cleaning without washing, for large rugs or ones which can't be washed

While cotton poly fabrics, plastic, and hosiery rugs can usually be washed, dried gently, and left to hang, some rugs can't.
  • Rugs which are too large to wash
  • Rugs which are too old or loosely stitched to hold up to a washing machine
  • Rugs with leather or vinyl in them, as this beauty.
Since most people outside of certain select circles and antiquarian religious groups don't have a carpet beater, there's still a good way to clean these rugs.

A vacuum cleaner works well enough on rugs which aren't old or delicate, but it'd better have a pretty strong motor and good brush to get all the dirt and grit and hair out of the crevasses and creases of these handcrafted masterpieces.

An easier way is to put the rug into the dryer on low heat or air fluff setting for about 10 minutes.

You might have to vacuum out the dryer, but that is a lot easier than vacuuming the rug!

PS- I do have a new rug video to post!

A dear friend came up to help me out while my wife Tess was in the hospital recently. It needs a bit of post production work before I can post it, and I've not been able to look at a monitor long enough to finish that.

He also helped me figure out how I can shoot more effective videos by myself, so as you have thoughts about new videos you'd like to see or old ones you'd like to see with lighting better than that of a cheesy "Blair Witch Project" copycat video, let me know, and I'll get to them as time and my health allow.

I was just cleaning our anniversary rug to have it on my wife's return, I used the technique described above, and I decided to post it while the thoughts were in my mind.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Storm clouds swallowing up Indianapolis this morning

This was all hand held... under exposed 2 stops... stopped as it started raining.
Been trying to find places that take weather vids to upload it to... got the Weather Chnl's "weather out your window" one, but want to find others.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My first Fibro photo, and on coming out of the "medical closet" on this- the scariest thing I've ever done!

I wrote this for my fibro blogs:
  • - A "mirror" of the one below, created because I wanted a presence on blogger, as many other fibro sufferers blog there.
  • - my "personal journey" blog
  • - Displays the art I do as therapy, and encourages others to do likewise
With this and most such posts though, I will be cross posting here to multiply (and by extension to FaceBook.) is my "root" blog, and will remain so.

However as I've done with the Word Pictures and toothbrush rugs, I find it worth while to have blogs more narrowly focused so people with an interest in these matters can find worthwhile material without having to sift through the eclectic range of things which interest me.

First, the art

This image is the first one I created for the project.And here is the original
First off, I love taking pictures of things in shadow (not just myself) because its visually compelling and has nice symbolism to it.The concept of the shadow is a powerful one.In Jungian pyschology, the shadow is the part of our "self" (id, psychae, what ever) which is hidden, repressed, not integrated into the whole.Scripture talks of this world itself as a shadow, as in 1st Corinthians 13:12, the verse which lent its name to my "Word Pictures" project. A compelling image I did with this verse is here.The top image was created from the original by running it through one of PhotoFiltre's engraving filters.The result is exactly what I was after, for it conveys quite vividly how the pain and related aspects of fibro distort reality, darken and warp the suffer's experience of it.Yet you'll notice the gold bits. No matter how thick the fog or overwhelming the pain, there is yet good to be had and embraced. This is a good practice for anyone, but for someone living with a chronic disease/syndrome, its essential.My 2nd eldest brother would appreciate that black and gold are also the colors of his alma mater- Purdue. Don't think that was in my mind when I created it, but its a fun thought.So this image depicts what is for me the most oppressive and distressing aspect of fibromyalgia- "fibro fog."I can't say that working with photography clears the fog... rather it renders it irrelevant. For some reason, no matter how thick the fog, how heavy the pain, I am always able to tap into my dynamic creativity.I become lost in the project, and in this, I find my greatest relief.Besides showing how I cope with and transcend Fibromyalgia, it is my hope that these blogs have the following effects:
  • They encourage others to likewise tap into their core, embrace and express it
  • They give expression to the experience of chronic suffering more effectively than words are able to.

Now why it was scary

It was a difficult decision... coming out of the medical closet about this.The two reasons above are very compelling ones. It has always been my way that when life dumps a load of manure, I compost it and grow flowers from it. This has not changed with the onset of fibromyalgia, only the means available to me to do so.I'm not easily scared either...
  • When I did my chaplaincy residency, I was the resident for the Trauma and E.R., and relished the opportunity to be in situations most people would give anything to have nothing to do with.
  • When we lived in Chicago, I embraced the city
  • When the opportunity came to preach my father's funeral sermon, I was honored to take the task upon myself.
Things don't scare me, what scares me are more existential concepts- injustice, xenophobia, hatred, and the like.Yet... anyone who has been needy or suffering knows the pain which comes when people turn away from them in their time of need precisely because they are needy.As a Christian, when this happens I find myself thinking that in this I share something in common with Christ, of whom it was prophesiedIsaiah 53:3 (English Standard Version)He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.That doesn't make it fun or pleasant, nor something I wished for myself.I never woke up and said, "Why should my wife have all the fun! I want to have an incurable complex and ruthlessly painful condition too!"(You see, my wife is disabled with migraines, has been for half a decade.)A Psalm of lament describes this experience most vividly.Psalm 22: 6But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. (ESV)When we lived in Chicago, I conducted an informal ministry to the street volk, of whom this is even more true. I saw people not even bother to step over them... they literally walked ON them.I was honored to receive permission from many to share a bit of their life and story online. A lot of it is pretty raw and graphic, this is one of the few fit for a family audience:
I'm sure anyone who's ever been in a time of need and found friends fleeing fast as their feet can carry them understands.Here is an artistic project I did with photos with this fellow, whom I miss and for whom I pray ever day.
But this is more than a collection of symptoms, a medical term, this is an opportunity...
  • to speak words of comfort to others who are suffering,
  • and to use the skills with words and the visual arts to give voice to our experiences.
I hope it does at least one of these for you.

Questions, comments?

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