25,24,23, 30x30--Counting Down!

I got busy over the weekend with an art therapy project for Wellness Within. They are a wonderful organization in Roseville, CA that works with cancer patients, survivors, their families and caregivers. It's a new job for me and I wanted to do my best for the workshop, so I put the 30x30 on the backburner for that time and let it simmer. In order to catch up and cover the three days, I laid out the ground papers and worked on all three simultaneously. It was fun and gave me some ideas about how to expand aspects of this series into larger pieces.

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Day #15, 30x30, Talk about blessings!

Attachment-1(5) I'm straying again from my theme of Botanical Dreams, for good reason. This morning our family traveled to one of our favorite beaches to explore. I stopped in front of the crashing waves and offered a short prayer for the day: for protection, for grace and for generosity and walked off towards the lava rocks.

I stopped to put on my Keens, knowing the danger of lava cuts. As I bent to pull on my sandal, a man appeared and began to warn us of the 40 foot waves. My mind took in the information, but as it did, a huge wave flipped me over and dragged me out. There was nothing I could do, but shout for help.

My sister and the gentleman had to wait for the water to go out before they could reach down and pull me to safety. My next thought was for my daughter and her boyfriend who had gone on ahead. I asked the man, who appeared ocean savvy, to go with my husband and find them. Which they did.

But the story wasn't over. My leg was fairly cut up from the lava and my husband also scraped his foot, trying to help. We stopped at a local store for band-aids and Neosporin. My sister, who was still in shock from the incident (as was I) ran in without her wallet. When she got to the cash register, she discovered she'd forgotten her wallet. Another protector emerged in the Australian woman behind her in line, who simply said; "I'll get it." Amy promised to pay it forward.

After two such incidents of grace what can one do but be thankful?

 

Deep in the Valley of Drawing

Lines, shapes and angles Nature, as people are fond of saying, abhors a vacuum. Now that I no longer have to go to a certain place at the same time every morning, when an opportunity to take a course in "art practice" with Cat Bennett arose, I jumped in. Well, jumped after some encouragement from my friend Beth Rommel.

I've had an on and off relationship with drawing--mostly off. I came to art through the medium of textiles and in art school, recognized the need to learn how to draw. I took classes in figure drawing as well as landscape, but mostly with the feeling of forced march to them. I never understand the simple desire to pick up a pencil and render the world in front of me.

Although it might seem self-evident from years of art therapy that drawing by any means is a form of self-expression, I haven't always practicing internally what I preached. Until. Until.

I've yearned to bring my loves of yoga practice and art together and with that in mind, have signed up for a yoga teacher's training course at my favorite yoga studio, Kaya Yoga.

After taking that step, I began to listen more attentively to the prompts that teachers were giving us. When Kia recently spoke about each pose as a series of patterns, my ears perked up. Hmm, how could I translate that into drawing?

All lines and angles

What if drawing is as transitory as moving into and out of downward dog? Once you've done your series of poses for a class, and felt great or sore afterwards, or simply experienced them, you go off and encounter the rest of the day; the poses having evaporated in the moment. Could I do that with drawing? Just engage and then let go?

With trepidation and some resistance, I began my class "Making Art a Practice". Sure, I confess, I ripped out some of the studies I didn't like, but honestly, once I began to "lean in" as Sheryl Sandburg so pragmatically puts it, the practice began to be fun. I'm stretching my "tolerance for ambiguity" muscle and it definitely relates to yoga.

Two shapes and some lines

It is clear that around any edge my pencil turns, a drawing may collapse, just like I often do in Tree pose. (I love it when my teacher suggests we can be a shrub if we want.) So here I go. I move with my pencil, often ending up in the wrong place and needing to correct my direction. Yet at times, my pencil and I flow with ease. I look forward to the journey ahead and to wherever it takes me.

Pretty Wonderful!

Shift 15, ©2015, 12' x 24, I recently retired from my university job as an art therapist. I decided to do this on my 60th birthday as a great gift to myself. I loved many aspects of the work but years of witnessing trauma, illness and death had taken their toll. Despite all the self-care I engaged in, I found myself prey to a variety of ailments which grew worse over time.

I love art therapy; that desire to heal is an innate part of my personality, but the balance is going to shift. Now, I'm spending most of my days in the studio making art. Occasionally,  I'll still facilitate art therapy groups, in particular the Young Adult Bereavement Art Group, which I helped to initiate.

Friends ask me how retirement is going and I answer--fabulous! I find myself as busy as ever, without having to commute and I get to devote the time I need to the craft and business side of art, as well as to the craft of art therapy.

One of the surprising joys of this transition is the ability to take time for things as simple as washing dishes. What used to be a drag after 10 hours away from home, now feels like playing with bubbles in warm water when I need a break.

In a few weeks, I'll take part in an exhibition curated by Sara Post at the Davis Art Center. Titled "Material Worlds," the exhibit looks at the materials that go into artists' work and the ways in which these materials combine with ideas to bring art into being. An enticing notion, I'm excited to see what will emerge. I'll be showing three different works, which take the botanical monoprints cut into trapezoids, rectangles and squares and piece them together, quilt like, on a hardboard panel.

Although I didn't anticipate it, perhaps the piecing together of these papers is a metaphor for taking my life into my hands and  reshaping it. So far it's working and my ailments are melting away.

Turning Point 6.0

Possibilities aplenty in the box of collage papers I woke up this morning with these lyrics in my head:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone. / I can see all the obstacles in my way. / Gone are the clouds that  had me blind. / It's gonna be a bright (bright)/ bright (bright) sunshiny day. Jimmy Cliff

For someone who, as my husband says, never seemed to pay much attention to rock lyrics, they have an uncanny way of popping up at telling times. I'm a day short of retirement from my long time job as art therapist at UC Davis Children's Hospital.

It's a graduation, a transition I'm making as I round the corner of my 60th year, while year 5776 of the Jewish calendar approaches and school all around the country begins again.

That's how I see it. As I end this chapter of living as art therapist/artist, I'm beginning again. I'm shifting the balance over to artist/art therapist. My collage box is full, my materials are all ready to go and I've got shows lined up through May. Hooray!

Collage boxes waiting expectantly...

But I can't imagine not practicing art therapy; intending to use my skills to help others heal themselves. I'll continue working with people, older ones this time and not primarily children.

I'm thinking about palliative care. I'm considering hospice and thinking about people who are struggling with or have survived cancer. I can't imagine not witnessing the profound delight in someone's eyes or hearing the enthusiasm in their voice as they discover they have the power to convey something powerful; a profound emotion with their own hands...which brings me to the lyrics of Ben Harper's gorgeous song: With My Own Two Hands. Have a listen and let me know what you think. Music starts at 1:26

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmE72KEzPPk&w=560&h=315]

Positive Art Therapy Interview

Janet Macleod from Positive Art Therapy recently interviewed me, asking about my role as an art therapist. I enjoyed thinking about her questions and taking the time to answer them. After 14 years of practice, they gave me pause. I'm including the interview here as a record of my thoughts at this point in my career. IMG_1347Q: What motivated you to become an arts therapist?

I knew that I wanted to use art as a form of healing when I graduated from college but I didn’t become aware of art therapy as a field of study until my forties.  By then, I was a professional artist and a mother. I’d had occasions to use art as a healing tool with my own children and in the studio art classes I taught. I was interested not so much in the technical aspect of art but rather what made someone draw and what those drawings might mean. I wanted to help people solve life problems with art and I needed formal training to do this. In a moment of serendipity, a lime green flyer arrived in the mail, advertising the Post Master’s  Art Therapy Certificate program at UC Berkeley. Kismet!

Q: Where did you train? What is your most memorial experience while training – good or bad?

Prayer Flags, ©2009, 24" x 24," Cloth, paper and acrylics on panel

I have an MFA in sculpture and textiles from California Collage of the Arts, so the UC Berkeley postmaster’s certificate program was a great fit. During my internship, one of my most memorable events occurred while I was facilitating a children’s bereavement art group. I was fortunate enough to be hired as a student—and that meant I was learning on the job. I had heard my art therapy teachers’ horror stories about paint and clay splashed rooms, but I did not know much about containment, timing or allowing clients to maintain their defenses.  One evening, I asked a group of teens to write a letter to their deceased. That evening was the first of a ten session group and after the exercise, one of the group members left the room and punched a hole through the wall! It was a powerful way of learning containment, timing and allowing clients to maintain their defenses.

Q: Who has most inspired you or influenced your work as an arts therapist?

When I began my internship (here at UC Davis Children’s Hospital), my supervisor, Johanna Russell was a great source of information and inspiration. I was full of art therapy theories but Johanna had been practicing for 10 years and knew the lay of the land. She also understood my perceived need for control in an uncontrollable environment. Over and over, she reminded me to “go with the flow,” words which have helped me to understand that even if I am organized, my materials at hand, ready to do an intervention, the patient might be anywhere other than where I expect them to be; at a procedure, playing foosball or heading to the cafeteria for a bite to eat. And that has to be ok.

Mending Walls 4, ©2012, 8" x 8," watercolor and text on panel

Q:   Are you employed as an arts therapist?

I work as a pediatric art therapist for UC Davis Children’s Hospital in Sacramento, CA.

Q:      What populations do you predominantly work with?

Our Children’s Hospital contains the neonatal intensive care unit, the pediatrics unit and the pediatric intensive care unit. I work with children and their parents on all of those floors, but primarily on pediatrics. I also facilitate an art therapy bereavement group at UC Davis Hospice; designed by myself and Don Lewis, LCSW of UC Davis Hospice. The group is collaboration between the UC Davis Children’s Hospital and UC Davis Hospice.

Q:  Where or who you really like to work with?

Hands down, our daily Art Therapy Group on the pediatric floor. I’ve been doing it for close to 14 years now and I love coming up with new ideas, new projects, new ways to interest children and families in art making. Kids come pulling IV poles, in wheelchairs or even carried by a parent. The group is huge source for normalization and socialization. Most people are surprised and delighted to find art in the midst of the hospital setting. Facilitating the Young Adult Bereavement Art Group is a close second. These young adults come from every imaginable background with every possible kind of loss. The ability to hold the group and see the changes in group members over the 8 week span is heartbreaking, heartwarming and inspiring.

Q:       Do you practice your own art? If so what and who has influenced you?

Arbor Vitae, ©2011, 8" x 8," Paper, leaf and watercolor on panel

Absolutely. I spend as much time as I can in my studio. I’m influenced by so many artists, but my current favorites are Giorgio Morandi, Pierre Bonnard, Milton Avery, and many Northern California artists. I’m also in love with the 18th century French still life painter, Jean-Siméon Chardin.

Q:       What other interests do you enjoy when you are not working?

I’m passionate about art making, I love to practice yoga and I enjoy getting out and walking—whether it’s in our town or out on a trail. One of my favorite soothing activities is diving into a good book.

Q:     What has been your biggest challenge while training or working as an arts therapist?

Bo Tree 1, ©2014, 8" x 10," Monoprint on panel

UC Davis Medical Center is a university hospital committed to learning as part of the healing process. Residents, interns and student nurses come to the hospital to learn. As an art therapist, learning as much as one can about the different diagnoses is of immense benefit to working with patients. I think of each illness or trauma as a kind of narrative, a story. The more I know about any particular narrative, the better I can assess each child’s circumstances. Considering the personality of the child, the family system and the illness becomes a puzzle to solve. When I can put my fingers on just the right art intervention, the results are worth the challenge of learning all of the medical terminology.

Q:      What keeps you motivated?

There are many moments of joy and wonder. The presence of art in our setting is like magic. Children lying prone sit up and begin painting. A teen that has hidden under the blanket pokes her head out and starts to paint a watercolor. The knowledge that I’ve been created a pocket of goodness and delight during a time of illness or injury makes me very happy. I also draw tremendous strength from making art and from my family and friends.

Q:    What is on your “wish list” either for yourself as an arts therapist or for the profession?

November Shift, ©2014, 39" x 38," Monoprint on paper

I have been active in the area of grief and loss since I began practicing art therapy, both in the hospital and in hospice. My biggest wish is that our Pediatric Palliative Care program will be able to grow by helping people to understand what palliative care really is. It is not a death sentence, but a way of caring for children with a chronic illness. Palliative care begins with the diagnosis, and addresses  the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual effects of the disease on the child. A pediatric palliative care program provides that child and their family with the resources they need not only to cope, but to live a rich and fulfilling life whether that life is foreshortened or, they are able to live out a full lifespan.

Q:       What strength do you have that has been most valuable to you as an arts therapist?

I’m able to act quickly on a referral, drawing on my intuition and improvisational skills to come up with a directive that targets the specific needs of the child.

unexpected moments, small miracles

IMG_1325During the winter holidays, our pediatric unit is festooned to the nines in greenery, glittering balls and ornaments. Stately trees decked with stuffed animals and toys grace each alcove on the floor. In my early days here at the hospital, there was always some acknowledgement of Hanukkah too; a garland of dreidels or decorations made of cobalt blue and white. This week marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the 8 day Jewish festival of lights and it's been a long time since I've seen any blue, white and gold decorations on our floor. By the first day of Hanukkah, I was growing weary of Santa visits and a pervasive sense of Christmas as the ruling paradigm. I didn't think I could do anything about it;  I just observed my irritation.

But later that day, one of the nurses came up to me saying: "A surgeon just called me and asked me if the Art Lady could come up with some kind of Hanukkah decorations. The surgeon is Jewish, it's her birthday and every time she comes on our unit and sees only Christmas decorations, she's sad."

Was the doctor reading my mind? I decided to make some decorations STAT in Art Group, although I was a mite concerned about parents becoming upset when their little girl or boy set to cutting out Stars of David or dreidels.

And that's when the tiny miracle happened. That afternoon, most of the children were confined to their rooms on isolation, but one family staying close to the playroom rolled in. I explained that we were making a paper chain with stars for Hanukkah. They became very excited, sat down at the table and the dad asked me "Do you know why they use that dark blue for one of the Hanukkah colors?"

He explained that the cobalt blue was inspired by a kind of dye that was used in ancient Israel. I was impressed, especially when he told me that scientists were still trying to figure out the origins of that dye.

A wonderful hour of linking one paper ring to another followed, with stories and memories exchanged. More people came in and they too, got excited. When we finished, we had a 30 foot-long chain dripping with brilliant yellow stars and blue rings.

I gathered the collection of stars and rings in my arms and carefully placed them in the nurse manager's office. When I arrived the next morning, I wondered whether they would still be sitting there or hanging in the entry way. I entered, turned around and saw them, signaling in their unique way, the miracle of the season.

The world has, for far too long, traded upon exclusivity instead of inclusion and it seems to me, that at this time of year, is there any better time to honor our traditions? Everyone's traditions.

When Is a Dog Just a Dog?

Collage made by UC Davis student volunteer Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting a South Korean Art Therapy professor, Sunghee An, at our hospital. Part of the Art Therapy Department at Hanyang Cyber University, Sunghee was curious to see our art therapy program at UC Davis Children's Hospital in action.

I was delighted when, on the morning of our meeting, I walked into the pavilion and found her waiting; collected and ready to get down to details over tea.

What I realized right away, is that when someone visits our hospital, I'm representing not only what I do--but what everyone else does as well--and how I've created my art therapy practice within that institution. When you have been in a position for a number of years, as I have, you set rules for yourself and abide by them. Sometimes, you forget why you do what you do.

Sunghee's questions allowed me to develop a narrative, which as I told the story of our program and explained why I was the only art therapist, I rediscovered many of the reasons why I set up my practice the way I did. I was happy to find that I still approve of my past decisions and that they continue to make sense, some twelve years later.

I took Sunghee on a floor by floor tour of the Children's Hospital: the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and its very tiny inhabitants, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where we discovered a lively paper doll painting sibling session and, back to our regular pediatrics floor, where we stopped in at a toddler's room to spend some time painting.

Over lunch, we discussed the psychoanalytic approach versus a more resilience oriented one.

Collage created by UC Davis student volunteer

While many of our patients have experienced trauma as a result of an accident or disease, we allow patients to guide their choices about art and music. This doesn't always foster in-depth conversations about their feelings. In fact quite the opposite. Because of the double rooms and porousness of the playroom, children often choose to engage in art activities as a means of "just being normal" or "having fun."

What happens while they are doing it, contained within the bounds of a session or an art group, is where change happens.

During Art Group that day, the children created collages of animals, primarily dogs and horses (we'd just had a fantastic donation of dog and horse images). One of the children, about 8 years old, glued several images of dogs onto her mat board and began to paint around it with black.

The color black can sometimes raise concern about a school age child and the two of us wondered privately if something deeper might be going on. I casually asked if this young person had any pets. The answer was "five, but three ran away."

"Who are these dogs?" I asked. "Rex and Toto," he answered and I began to fill in the blanks. The child also covered the back of the card with an image of a schnauzer. When asked about this animal, it turned out to be one of the runaways, who had given birth to a litter prior to running away. One of the pups had died.

In a child who otherwise was hospitalized for a minor condition, I decided to believe that in this case, the dog was just a dog. And yet it wasn't.

The confluence of events that led me to provide images of a variety of dogs and the child appearing on this day, when presented with these images, allowed him to grieve the loss of some beloved friends. Without intense introspection, amongst crawling toddlers,  babies drooling and iv poles beeping, this young guy was able to express the deep currents of his heart.

Collage created by UC Davis student volunteer

Finding Renewal, or, "Self Care 101"

My tools for self-care Self-care. The word sounds a bit stiff, as if someone who liked the meaning of the two words separately, put them together and ended up with less than when they began.

Many times, this essential, bottom line topic is trivialized and minimized so that we keep it at a distance. Frequently, at a healthcare conference, it is the last topic of the day. You are filled to the brim with useful information and ideas, you’re ready to call it a day, and with a scant half hour to go, the moderator gets up to speak on self-care.

The advice is boiled down, then offered up like overcooked vegetables: Remember to breathe. Eat well. Sleep. Rest-- and of course, exercise. All good advice, but how many of us are listening?

We need to be more resourceful in how we look at self-care. It is, in fact, a form of treatment. Vital word: as in therapy, remedy, cure, to care for. Rather than leaving it to chance and the final scraps of the day, I propose that we look at caring for ourselves as if we were a patient or client under our own care. We need to assess ourselves as carefully as we would that patient.

I like to remember quotations I learned in college. One that stands out is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “This above all… To thine own self be true.”

I understand Shakespeare's words to mean, in this context, that each of us finds unique ways of getting whatever we need to redeem ourselves. Those ways are going to be different for each person, just as the course of treatment for the same disease can be different for each patient enduring it.

As I thought about it, I realized there were at least two levels of need for self-care—immediate response to a potentially overwhelming crisis and those activities that we can pursue in abundance, say when on vacation.

http://thegraphicsfairy.com/wp-content/uploads/blogger/_CarNcodpCMA/S4hvBDhKiWI/AAAAAAAAGZI/AYcdZRkQOgs/s1600/teacupgfairy003c.jpg

One of my tried and true "emergency" treatments is to resuscitate myself with a cup of tea. Taking those few minutes allows my thoughts to settle and often, I regain the clarity and energy I need to meet the next wave of challenges.

If each person reading this blog wrote down all the things they do to care for themselves when they do have time, the list might be very long: making art, running, yoga, getting together with friends, reading, rock climbing, going to a movie, listening to music, swimming, dancing, hiking, hitting the beach, etc.

There may also be an intermediate level of self-care. We want to create ways to sustain ourselves while at, or after work, --an ongoing renewal-- when we don’t have the opportunity to travel to our favorite get away or sanctuary for a few days.

IMG_2872

Recently, I presented a workshop on self-care to our Child Life Specialists Network of Sacramento, in which I shared many of these ideas with them.

Afterwards, I introduced and led them through a SoulCollage® workshop; a wonderful and pretty quick route to renewal. We looked right into the heart of the matter: “What sustains me? What nourishes me?”

The results were astonishing. Many participant's artwork revealed aspects of themselves not readily seen. Many uncovered feelings that may have lain hidden, unexplored or simply forgotten.

One of the most surprising results was my own collage. Initially I thought it must have come from my silly side, the side that remembers the theme music from Captain Kangaroo, or spontaneously makes up nonsensical songs. What I realized the next day though, was that in fact, the dancers in their rabbit costumes extolled the power of partnership as a means to self-care. For those introverts among us, we sometimes forget that a powerful form of renewal is to share the company of others.

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Art Therapy Alliance's 30 Day Art Therapy Facebook Hop Starts June 1

Gretchen Miller of Art Therapy Alliance has come up with a creative way to promote connection between art therapists nationally and internationally. For the next 30 days, beginning June 1st, you can hop from one Art Therapist's Facebook page to another, crossing international borders and gathering inspirations, all without the aid of a passport! My own Facebook page, Hannah Klaus Hunter-Artist, will be featured on June 3rd. To find out more, Gretchen's description of the event below:

Art Therapy Alliance’s 30 Day Art Therapy Facebook Hop Starts June 1

Beginning June 1st, I will be hosting a 30 Day Art Therapy Facebook Hop through the Art Therapy Alliance’s community page. Each day of the month will feature a different art therapy Facebook Page I’ve selected from all over the world!

30 Day Art Therapy Facebook Hop | Art Therapy Alliance My hope is that this month long collaborative effort will increase the visibility of art therapy across Facebook. Not only is this a fun way to use social media to promote art therapy, but more importantly, an awesome opportunity to support & celebrate the work of art therapists and strengthen our Facebook community dedicated to this field!

Pages chosen for this Art Therapy Hop are all administered by art therapists or art therapy students with an interest in sharing their own work, program, art expression, or ideas and content they are passionate about and inspired by.

To join in on the hop, just head to Hop Headquarters on Facebook everyday in June to learn more about and get inspired by the page being featured. And don’t forget to “like” their page if you want to stay connected to future updates!

30 Day Art Therapy Facebook Hop | Art Therapy Alliance

 You can also follow this 30 Day Art Therapy Hop on Pinterest and Twitter!

Enjoy & Happy Hopping!

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Are you an art therapist or art therapy student with your own art therapy related Facebook Page?  I would love to learn more about it and share it with the Art Therapy Alliance community during this month!  E-mail me at info@arttherapyalliance.org with your link and a brief description before June 30 for consideration!

30 Day Art Therapy Facebook Hop | Art Therapy Alliance

The Yoga of the Hospital

"What's new?" One of our pediatric doctors asked me recently. "What is new?" I asked myself, flipping through my mental rolodex for an answer. What came out surprised me. "I've decided to see the hospital as an ashram," I replied. I told her about going to see the "Yoga*" exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

Change Your Buddha, ©2010

Her reply: "We should turn the whole hospital into an ashram." Although this particular doctor comes from India, her answer took me by surprise, but not for long.

Ashram is a Sanskrit word and it describes a place where people go to study the many practices of yoga, particularly meditation and selfless service. It is a place people go who seek inner peace.

Both of us are interested in and passionate about palliative care, and I knew of her recent work using hypnotic techniques for pain control. She has a deep and healing presence--but ashram?

My Home, ©2002, acrylic, caran d'ache on paper

As I spoke, I remembered a moment from my museum visit. We were touring the exhibit with a docent who was explaining a particular yoga posture when spontaneously, another woman with long gray braids bent down on the floor and demonstrated the pose.

When the docent moved on to the next image, an image of the 7 chakras, or energy centers, the same woman offered to describe the various centers to us. When she reached the top chakra, the Sahasrara, (said to connect us to a higher source of awareness), she teared up, a kind of spontaneous expression of her love for yoga.

Watching her brought up memories of my own years of practicing yoga and the benefits which I've experienced.

The Book of Truth and Roses, ©2010

I remembered this as I explained my view of the hospital as ashram to the doctor: seeing our environment as a learning place--and not just medical learning, but one in which I take on the personal challenges that arise during the day, looking at them not as a thorns in my side, but as opportunities to gain understanding, learn something that I may have been stumbling over for years.

I joked that sometimes it didn't seem as if I were there to help the patients...and the doctor finished my sentence: "you're here to learn about your self."

I don't expect that many people share this view, but I was touched in that moment, surrounded by beeping IV poles, flashing lights and overheard pages, that someone would stop to share a moment of peace. Peace. Patients. Patience.

photo-3

 

*Entitled "Yoga," the artworks featured in the exhibition date from the 2nd to the 20th centuries. Images ranging from benevolent deities and gurus to Tantric goddesses and sinister yogis reveal how yoga practices—and perceptions of them—have transformed over time and across cultures.

 

 

In the Midst of Spring

Oak and Clove, detail,©2014, 7.5' x 9.5," Monoprint I look out the door of my studio: the redbud is in bloom and small oak saplings are popping up everywhere after our recent rains. I welcome these drops from the heavens.

My challenge is to bring the energy of spring into the hospital.

After admiring the redbud, it's off to work where I'm met with a referral that seems to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from my earlier musings: Help a family with enough children to fill a school classroom to mourn the imminent passing of a beloved family member.

I have just half an hour to come up with an intervention and enough materials to carry it out. I try to remain calm inside and talk out ideas with the palliative care social worker. Each plan has it's drawbacks but finally, we come up with one that might work. She leaves to go back to the family. I assemble the art materials.

When I arrive at the waiting room, the television is on, a laptop game is in session, a baby is crying. Where do I find an entry point?

Go straight to the heart I tell myself. I ask the children to tell me their names, their ages. They're a bit defensive, trying to keep up the barrier--I'm a stranger on their turf.

I tell them why I'm there and that we're going to make something together, something that they can keep for the rest of their lives to remember their family member.

Just to make sure they have an understanding of what is happening in that room across the hall, I ask: "do you know why your relative is here?" Hands shoot up and slowly we zero in on the answers. Like water that swirls slowly around the drain and suddenly forms a vortex, their understanding takes hold.

Both the children and their parents tear up. We talk about the tears; like rain they clean us out.

I pass paper and ink pads and markers and stickers and ribbons--even a hole punch. All of the kids make a print of their hand and draw on the paper; flowers bloom on the page, purple stick people hold hands and hearts. Some of them write messages. Then one by one, they visit their relative to add that person's print to the paper.

Its a sacred and scary thing, this printing. The children hold back at first, but once I help them put their hand on top of the hand that reaches out, they relax into it. The atmosphere builds until the last children are hugging and kissing and giving messages and the grownups want to make their own hand prints.

I'm always surprised that it's the simplest of actions which mean the most at the end of life: one hand on top of another, words whispered into an ear or scribbled across the top of the page.

 

 

 

6 Degrees of Creativity Rides Again

Artist Trading Cards made during 6 Degrees of Creativity In the summer of 2012, I had the pleasure of participating as an instructor in a workshop/project called "6 Degrees of Creativity 2."  Sponsored by the Art Therapy Alliance,  Six Degrees of Creativity is an on-line art workshop and community and included six different workshops, each offered by a different instructor from the art therapy community.

6 Degrees of Creativity unites concepts of social networking, connecting, collaboration, art-making, and creativity into an engaged global community of artists exploring transformation and using art for good.

My workshop, Still Point in a Changing World: Creating a Mindful Studio Practice was a wonderful means to bring awareness of the area of studio practice and I loved connecting with so many art loving people located all over the world.

Recently, Gretchen Miller, the creator of 6 Degrees, told me that  6 Degrees of Creativity will be offered again as a 10 month (wow) on-line workshop running from March 2014-December 2014 and all 6 workshops will be taught by Gretchen herself.

With such delicious sounding titles as: Everyday Creativity,  The Creative Deed Project and Creative Goodness, It's in the Cards, the workshops sound like a great way to charge up your batteries during the depths of midwinter or take time during a summer break to indulge in studio madness.

As a wonderful bonus, she told me that I could invite a guest to take the workshop, free of charge. I thought of many ways that could happen, but landed on you, my blog readers as the most enjoyable way of participating. Soooo...If you would like a chance to take 6 Degrees of Creativity, meet a bunch of extremely creative people and find inspiration and imagination for your art, drop a comment in the comments section. Let me know what you'd enjoy about taking 6 Degrees and I'll put all the names in my hat at the end of the week and select one. On Saturday, I'll let you know who the lucky workshop participant will be.

However--if you'd like go straight to registration, pass go, and collect many incredible ideas, you can register by clicking here.

My One Word

"Start," ©2014, 2.5" x 3.5", Collage and monoprint There's a New Year's practice that I've often read about on various blogs: choosing one word to guide one's actions for the coming year.

I'd forgotten about it though, until I read Alyson Stanfield's post this morning entitled "Clarity."

I skimmed the article and while walking down the halls of the hospital where I work, I began to internally audition my own lettered candidates.

I tried out various words; self confident, aware, determined, acceptance, safe, secure, peaceful.

I noticed different body sensations. Safe and secure felt contracting (although they are not necessarily so). Self confident felt a bit too other-oriented and acceptance--well, I spend a lot of time with that already!

I checked back with Alyson's post and came across this line: Your word of the year should inspire and motivate you. It provides focus without limiting you.

That provided the 'Goldilocks' moment and the 'just right' word popped into my mind: FAITH.

Faith covers it all. Faith in my self, faith in my art making, faith in my practice of art therapy. Also faith in my ability to be present as I encounter the uncharted territory of 2014.

How about you? Do you have a word or intention or new practice you're beginning? I'd love to hear about it.

Postscript: Many thank to Gretchen Miller. The word "START" in the collage comes from one of her revo'lution pieces, which she shared as a PDF for readers of her blog, Creativity in Motion.

Looking at the World from Back to Front

"Cloth is rich with metaphors for the body and healthcare. The very act of stitching can be experienced as wounding the cloth or mending it- a stab or a suture. These metaphors are part of what makes fibres so rich to work with - they can hold all that complexity and contradiction and make it whole." -Alison Fox, Art Therapist, Artist and Nurse with the Inuit in Northern Canada

Threads 1, front side, ©2013, cloth and watercolor

Recently, I began to work on a series of small quilted fabric pieces. Pulling together odds and ends; old cloth napkins printed with zoo animals, pieces of rusted fabric (courtesy of Lisa Mitchell and Jennifer Libby Fay) and snippets of fabric whose original purpose was long forgotten, I created a palette ranging from creamy whites to deep siennas.

I was trying to find a way to describe the series; a response to my art therapy work with very young patients at our hospital, who come to us suffering from abuse or neglect. I didn't want to sound maudlin or theatrical, so Alison's quote was a poignant means of expressing my point.

In the visual work, I want to express the "forgotteness," or hidden side I imagine in many of the children we treat at the hospital. They arrive to receive our care and for complicated reasons, some reasonable, others not, their parents are not at the bedside. Looking anxious, a nurse carries a child into the playroom, where she hopes our staff and volunteers can offer relief--to cuddle, to play with, to divert.

I found myself musing on the romantic notions of childhood; ideas we have about innocence, playfulness and early life as a time distinct from the complicated world of adulthood. For the purpose of this fabric series, I decided that a more realistic image of childhood would inhabit the front side of my pieces.

Threads 1, back, ©2013, cloth and watercolor

I also wanted the hidden side of the pieces to be compelling in its own way. I remember an Aikido teacher once talking about the back sides of our body. She noted, we spend so much time concentrating on the appearance of our front that we forget how often people see of us from behind. I wanted my "backs" to tell stories about the part of childhood we don't romanticize, yet when met with awareness and love, is replete with its own kind of wonder.

I don't mean to say that abuse is beautiful. Rather, that when one has the courage to face it, even a person's woundedness becomes part of what we love about them. Those words: "stab wound or suture." Each step we take toward these kids becomes a suture.  Whenever we find an opportunity to hold them, love them, speak to them, sing to them, remember them; those actions become the sutures which begin to heal their wounds.

Is it Failure or Seasons of the Creative Process?

Recently there have been a number of blog posts, books and articles on the subject of failure. One such thread began with a question by artist Lisa Call who asked Artbiz coach, Alyson Stanfield:

Something Touched Me, ©2003, 11" x 14," Acrylic, collage, colored pencil on paper

“Is failure in your art practice something to be embraced, managed, or forgotten?”

Alyson answered in a follow up post, saying “The only failure is not trying your best.”

Lisa responded with a blog post, Failure Sucks. What happens, she asks, when despite all your best efforts (and perhaps skillful denials), you just get derailed?

"...In my opinion, the interesting part of the failure question: what do you do in between?"

All this talk about failure got me thinking. To a certain extent there are are flops that are best treated by brushing the dirt off your pants and getting back on the proverbial horse.

But often, things just die on the vine. Where does that fit into a culture obsessed with saving time; one that chops time into smaller and smaller bits, allowing us to leap from act to act and achievement to achievement without respecting the time it takes to pass through the stages of the creative process.

We forget to think about the seasons of the earth. There is no way to immediately replace a failed crop of wheat or corn, almonds or oranges. Farmers have to clear their fields, let the soil regenerate and wait for the next planting season.

When a tree drops it's leaves, it doesn't immediately sprout new ones, yet the buds are already in place for when the right time comes. Spring, summer, fall and winter; birth and rebirth, growth, harvest and hibernation.

The creative process is no different. There is incubation, growth and fruition of an idea. And when it doesn't work, sigh, the process needs to begin again. And you wait while an idea, the wave, builds. The time it takes to mature; that's the mystery; the awe inspiring and at the same time totally frustrating part, because we don't know how long it will take or what will result.

Lisa asked what do we do in between? Even though the idea may not have hit the shore, I think we can be skillful. We can cultivate a mindset, a state of mind that invites the ideas in.

The October, 2013, Atlantic article, Losing is the New Winning notes “Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them?” asks the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, in which she argues that a willingness to court failure can be a precursor to growth.

I'm curious. How do you face failure--or do you call it that? What do you do when something you've worked on for some time crashes to the ground?

A Map to Morning

Altered Map of San Francisco: My Favorite Places

It's mid morning, and I'm in the copy room of our hospital, appreciating the sweetness of my short days while they last. Beginning in September, I'll be going full-time. The knowledge that my half days in the studio are coming to an end is poignant.

Normally, I'm there in the afternoon, and it occurs to me that I should call the playroom supervisor, Margaret* and ask if she'd like me to hold an art group. Most days, the music therapist does a group in the morning, and afternoons are mine, but she's on vacation for the month.

I push the button on my cell phone badge and call Margaret. She's busy, so I call a Child Life Specialist who thinks not, but better check with Margaret who calls back soon after. Margaret is moving quickly while we talk, getting ready for a visit from our university bug museum--yes bugs! Bugs are big here on Peds. "Yes," she says, "I didn't think so, but I was trying to trace a dragonfly for the kids to color in, but I'm needed in 43."  The room number, code for whatever patient is presently staying there.

I've got 5 minutes to consider what to do instead of my usual hour. (Normally  I arrive in my office, check email, study that day's census and charts. In the back of my mind, I'm wondering, "WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO TODAY???" I've got to keep it fresh, both for myself and the patients.

Today, I grab a stack of old maps that I brought from home. We're going to create treasure maps--choose an imaginary destination, draw a path to get there and then crumple and age the paper with plenty of brown watercolor.

It's slow in the playroom and I have time to cut the maps to drawing paper size while I explain the project to an intern Sara* who's holding a lovely baby. Sara loves it. and actually draws out a map to get the feel of the project.  The baby reaches for the edge of the paper, an early map eater.

The kids arrive slowly  and I'm able to explain the project to them. One, confined to her wheelchair, draws swirls of circles on her map, her mind a tangle from infection. I don't think many of the kids have seen maps before, and they're a bit puzzled, so I reference Johnny Depp and Pirates of the Caribbean.

The room is filling and within its confines, there are two in wheel chairs, as well as one boy who's recently recovered from a stroke and needs his paper held down. The baby is unhappy, so I offer to take him and I put on a CD that I think is Caribbean Playground, but turns out to be Taylor Swift.  I gently rock the baby while I hold another girl's paper down for her.

And suddenly, like the swirls on the paper, the room and the group are at capacity. Several kids need individual attention; they get agitated by too much stimulation. It's just myself and the intern for both the group and the rest of the playroom.

A one year old is running around, the swirler begins to hurl crayons. The baby, who has incomplete intestines has a colostomy bag that feels like it's leaking on me. A young boy and his mother are happily working on a map together. She tells me that she used to live in San Francisco and the section of the map she's drawing on is exactly where she lived.

Oh my. Such sweetness and chaos all tied up in one moment. We've tried to calling the nurse for the baby, but she must be busy. Fortunately, several kids complete their project and "oh," another intern comes in. I unplug the baby's IV, try to maneuver the pole with its attachments and the baby out of the playroom.

As I go down the hall, I run into Margaret who helps me to the baby's room. I set the baby carefully down in the crib side wise so he doesn't feel like he's being trapped in the crib. He smiles and his legs kick free. I'm a little wet, but it was just the diaper.

"Welcome to mornings." she says.

*The names of the real people have been changed to preserve anonymity.

Returns, Reunions

"On the One Hand," ©2013, 16.5' x 14.5," cotton fabric, thread I've been stirring an idea around in my head.

Recently, I was offered a real, bonafide, 100% full time art therapy job at the hospital where I work. I would be doing essentially the same job I'm doing now but because of the extra time, I would be able to extend my services to the PICU and NICU, which so far, I serve infrequently.

Knowing that this offer would not likely occur again in my life time, I jumped.

I'd heard it was a possibility, but knowing that the coffers of the University of California aren't exactly flush, it just seemed like a wonderful dream. I also knew that if indeed it happened, it would herald a radical change to my art making practices.

At present, I've been able to spend several morning hours working in my studio, before I hit the road to work. I'm used  to considering, imagining, formulating and then sewing, making collage...creating. With the new job hours starting in September, my morning art routine will be reduced to an hour. I'll have weekends to work out too.

So back to this idea. Many years ago, when my children were young, I worked on several series which were an outgrowth of my meditation practice. I loved the idea that I'd gotten from Japanese American artist, Mayumi Oda, of beginning each day with a mandala.

One of the series was just that, a daily mandala. Another consisted of 5x7 inch wooden panels which depicted the phase of the moon as it intersected my menstrual cycle. Yet another became a series of alchemical flasks, each one holding the ingredients of life that were moving and transforming inside of me.

Guardian, ©2004, 11" x 14," colored pencil, acrylic and collage on paper

While I've been skeptical of the concept of self care in the therapeutic profession, as I look forward to a longer work day, I'm seeing it in a new light.

I want to return to the idea of practicing art as a form of meditation, using my hour as a time to make small repairs, adjustments to the soul, so to speak, that will keep me on my way. As the days grow subtly shorter, even here in the midst of summer, I'm looking forward to my own not-so-subtle changes, eager to see what the fall colors will bring.

Socks and STEPS

Oscar in the climbing hydrangea. We have a new program that we are rolling out at Children's Hospital.

STEPS, Supportive Therapies and Enhanced Palliative Care Services,  is a pediatric palliative care program which provides medical, mental health and spiritual services with a goal of helping a child to be as comfortable as possible throughout the full course of her treatment.

At present, we are introducing the program into the pediatric intensive care unit of our hospital.  I'm happy to say that art therapy is an integral part of the STEPS program.

I'm thrilled because I've long wanted to be able to participate in this continuum that begins with diagnosis and continues throughout the course of an illness.

Recently, I've had occasion to watch parents stand in front of their infant's cribs, hesitant to touch their babies, with all the tubes protruding from their tiny bodies. Helping parents to hold their child, no matter what the prognosis, is a challenge.

Art Therapy is about solving these kinds of challenges using creative activities which facilitate awareness and build confidence. What project might help parents to gather the self-assurance required to learn delicate skills, necessary to care for their babies?

In the right hands, the humble sock monkey* can become a powerful vehicle for boosting self confidence. I took up the challenge and created my own example, Oscar. As he emerged under my fingers, I was surprised by how his personality took shape and suddenly, there he was smiling back at me.

I found that cutting, stitching, stuffing and sewing require patience, coordination, imagination and a sense of humor. So I took Oscar and trialed my sock monkey experiment with some parents of young patients.

As I watched the parents sew, some of them stitching for the first time, it was a bit like watching a child take baby steps.  Knots didn't hold, thread slipped out of the needle (multiple times!), but the parents were able to pick up again, laugh at their mistakes and sew on.

Laughing at our mistakes and persisting are some of the skills we employ as parents (those of you who are parents know, there is no shortage of opportunities to make mistakes!) Sock monkeys help parents to experience new skills and their own creativity in a relaxed, yet authentic way.

One of the founders of STEPS, Dr. Theresa Murdock-Vlautin, said that the goal of STEPS is to "enhance care in body and spirit, coordinating resources to provide support, hope, healing and wellness." I look forward to watching the program unfold and the love and wisdom which will grow in the families and in our team as a result.

*For more information about sock monkeys, check out Art Therapist, Gretchen Miller's informative posts on sock monkeys here. For an excellent how-to video, you can look at Art Therapist Kat Thorsen's video here. Many thanks to both Gretchen and Kat for their inspiration and  incredible service projects with sock monkeys.