Old Protestors Never Die, Just Cause

The finished poster

The finished poster

Prowling around in my archives and hunting for a photo of Los Angeles theater marquees I took a few years back, I unearthed this piece of memory: the National Lawyers Guild poster I did in 2009.

This story actually began when I got a call from a friend,  “Would I be interested in talking to the NLG about doing an image for the poster for their annual meeting in Seattle?”  I had to stop and think about it. What was the National Lawyers Guild anyway? I do poster art regularly but I did not know what they did, who they were, and about their work across a sea of causes and cases. They were involved to their eyeballs in representing the people who were arrested in the melee that became the “Battle of Seattle.”

The NLG is serious business, and although I am fairly well known as an artist here in my corner of the Pacific Northwest, my work has been cursed with the rubric “whimsical”, so was I really a good choice for this?  On a meltingly hot July day, fortified with a pitcher of iced tea and a fan, I met with the guys from the Evergreen Law group to try to get a handle on what they wanted from me.  I wound up promising to think about it and to put some sketches together and I did my research.

Even a tee shirt. Capitalism at its best.

Even a tee shirt. Capitalism at its best.

On November 30, 1999, thousands of people disrupted and ultimately shut down the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle. The crowd was mostly peaceful with a few idiot anarchists mixed in. The Seattle police assumed the worst and responded to the mass of protesters by firing tear gas and rubber bullets point blank into the crowd. Hundreds were arrested, many were sickened by the gas and others were hurt in the melee.

The protest was organized by the Direct Action Network who decided to shut down what they considered the most undemocratic institution on the planet, the WTO, aka World Trade Organization. The WTO ostensibly negotiates and aids countries in making trade easier between member nations, but in point of fact much of what they do is heavily skewed to making rich nations richer and poor nations poorer. They have fallen off a wagon that was supposedly oriented towards development-friendly outcomes in all participating countries towards a ‘market access’ direction. Poorer countries, especially those in the third world,  are being pressured to open up their agricultural, industrial and service sector leading to exploitation by the bigger WTO fish.

This scenario electrified organizers who truly believed a peaceful demonstration could send a message around the world. They began by marching out 7:00 a.m., setting up blockades around the city. Word spread and before too long a lot of people in Seattle spontaneously joined the demonstration. Linking arms and keeping delegates out of the meeting. They were amazed that they were actually shutting it down with people who had never demonstrated for anything previously.

A wood cut version of the art that became a shirt.

A wood cut version of the art that became a shirt.

The Seattle police under shaky leadership panicked, put on full riot gear and showed up in force. By 10:00 a.m. they had opened fire with chemical weapons, tear gas, concussion grenades and brought in armored vehicles to fight unarmed citizens. The people didn’t give in, shutting the meeting site down until after dark. That same day, there were corollary actions across the globe. The longshoremen  shut down every port up and down the entire West Coast.

I had seen the slanted news footage of “looters” and “rioters”, the media loves a good rampage and played it to the hilt. Slowly, the truth came out, the police were brutal that day, and it was completely unnecessary in the face of what should have been a non violent protest.

I thought a lot about the genesis of a political image. Was I a conscripted hack, a tool for the left? The answer was a solid no. I grew up in the late 60’s and my history is closely intertwined with Vietnam protests, the struggle for racial equality and women’s rights. The words that galvanized my own life? My parents saying to me, “We can’t pay for your college, we have to send your brother because he’ll marry and need to support a family. You can just get married and stay home, it would be a waste.” It may feel like a small drama in a domestic teapot, but that was when I understood how pervasive and complacent American attitudes were towards women, minorities and non-wars like Vietnam.

That was 1966 and I never did get over being angry about it. I finally finished college and like a lot of women in America, I graduated in my 30’s as a single parent, with a long history of kicking up dust along the way. I’m not sure how much has really changed since then. We are still complacent and still about 85% sheep looking for that magic shepherd who won’t morph into a wolf and eat us. The important thing seemed then and seems now to keep trying, to leave the herd, to find my inner moral compass and follow it.

So I looked at NLG on the web, I looked at photos, I talked to friends, and read up on the “Battle in Seattle”.  I thought about what this image should say. I thought about it a lot. I thought about the accidental warriors and those who set out to change things, those people who cannot and will not give up. nlg art

The result was a whole wastebasket full of discarded muddled mixed up drawings. I really didn’t think I could do it. I knew what I wanted to say but I couldn’t seem to say it. I was so far out of my bright, fun, snarky wheelhouse that it was miserable. It felt like I was drawing wearing boxing gloves and a blindfold. It seems simple, but this is the hardest drawing I’ve ever done. I had to scrape it out of someplace inside that was buried and collecting dust, and when it came, it came whole in one quick sitting, like someone else was guiding my hand and holding my pencil.

The simple graphite on paper image is homage to the great artist and Polish worker for social justice, Kathe Kollwitz, who created searing personal images of oppressed people in the early 20th century. The couple in my drawing is drawn as Kollwitz might have portrayed them, androgynous because I wanted the viewer to bring their own story to what happened in Seattle. For me, this is everyman and everywoman who fought back and stayed in touch with their internal compasses along the way.

Art is not always easy. Its not always pretty, and it wears so many faces they are uncountable. Painting is words made with pictures and you experience the best stuff viscerally. It might be Kathe Kollwitz who almost makes me cry or it might be Helvi Smith, whose ridiculous Pink Fifi Poodle painting made me laugh out loud at her perfect catching of the essence of poodle.

Snarky Fifi cracks me up!

Snarky Fifi cracks me up!

I’m glad I had a chance to reach past my limits, yep. I am.

The Red Lunchbox


November 8, 2006 was the day our lives would start to change again. I drove back to the Centre for Neuroskills from the Sheraton hotel in Bakersfield, about a 20 minute drive, and I remember feeling the craziest sense of panic. I wanted to see Terry but I wanted to run away too. My hands were shaking and I felt like throwing up when I got to the apartment complex.

The apartments are gated  to keep the residents safe, you have to push a buzzer and tell them who you are to be allowed on the grounds. A disembodied female voice identified me and a loud buzz send the gate whirring and clanking open. I pulled slowly in and parked my rental car in the carport. In a normal apartment building it would have been full of cars. Here it was empty except for me and two stacks of chairs, the kind you see in cafeterias. I wondered idly why two stacks of blue chairs were sitting in a carport?  I turned off the key and just sat for a minute; breathing and getting myself to the point where I could smile and talk and make sense.

I rang the doorbell of Terry’s apartment and the door opened on a noisy non-verbal patient and helpers bustling around the living room and kitchen.”Come in, come in! We’re getting ready to go and Terry is waiting for you.” I was pulled easily into the morning bustle of getting ready to go to the center for a day’s work. Terry was dressed and standing in the kitchen, shoulders hunched and looking bewildered, the first day in a long road back had just begun.

This is the piece I wrote after that morning.IMG_0406

Red Lunchbox/TBI 2

They gave you a red lunchbox,
your name printed on it
in bold magic marker.
You knew it was a lunchbox
but not what it was for.
“Let’s make a sandwich”,
I said in my fake-cheery voice,
because I would not cry and I would not
share my sadness with you
like a drive in movie
where emotions are ten feet tall.
The butter knives were locked up
and I had to request one
like it was King Arthur’s mayonnaise sword.
47 minutes of careful direction:
walk to the refrigerator
choose bread
take out two slices
lay them on the counter
choose mayonnaise
can you open the jar?
Choose lunchmeat
it’s in that package.
You constructed your sandwich slowly
you were building the Taj Mahal of sandwiches
for your red lunchbox.
I left you there getting help with your coat,
your first day of therapy still ahead
I sat in the rental car and cried
for both of us and wondered who would help you with your sandwich tomorrow.

TBI: We Arrive at the Centre for Neuroskills

Does Anyone Really Know What Time it is?

Does Anyone Really Know What Time it is?

 Bakersfield, November 7, 2006

Terry didn’t sleep well and got up early, 4:30 a.m., he thinks he’s going fishing again. I’ve learned to just say, “Your friends will pick you up later, right now we have to fill-in-the-blank”, and we move on.  He’s Captain Froot Loop today and not connecting to reality well. I’m glad we are on the way to the Centre, finally, some help.

We got to the Centre for Neuro Skills around ten in the morning. Map Quest got me right to the place and I drove right past it–twice. Its an unprepossessing building in an unprepossessing area, the centre has a strip malls and a big shopping center as its nearest neighbors. After we parked and went inside the ‘vibe’ changed radically. As we got there a boatload, okay a van load, of clients were delivered from their apartments to the Centre to get their therapy day started. I was  struck by the positive energy radiating from all the staff. Everyone who comes in gets a cheery greeting by name from the receptionist, the therapists and the workers. I feel so grateful for Terry’s physical health. The people who got off that bus were tragic in so many ways, many in walkers or wheelchairs or with other really obvious disabilities and I cannot see them making it all the way back.

We got a tour of the facility and within an hour Terry had been pulled away for his first therapy appointment. He was already on the charts/schedules before we got there. Apparently the first week or so he will be intensely scrutinized and viewed and examined and conclusions will be made as to what his needs are. They will be presenting a monster-sized report to the insurance company with their findings so time is of the essence.

After an hour or so in the waiting room watching other families and clients and wondering what we were all thinking, I was escorted back to meet Terry’s therapist. He showed me something called key chaining that Terry was doing.  It was hilarious and appalling all at once. I was sitting next to Terry in the office when J.M. asked Terry to repeat after him, “The sky is blue, the ground is brown, I am wearing a hat, this is my wife.” Then he asked Terry who was next to him and Terry answered promptly, “My hat.” So, I am in good company with Oliver Sacks and his book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.

Walking down endless circular corridors, I noticed that there are polka dot stickers on all the walls. I asked about them. It’s a test, and patients/clients have to work through finding their way using the dots. How long until Terry can even see a dot on the wall?

After we finished at the center today we went to the apartments dragging Terry’s giant suitcase with all his clothes and family photos and the things that make up a life. The apartments are in a really nice area of Bakersfield, gated and about ten miles away from the offices. The Centre believes that to reintegrate to the real world clients/patients need to learn to closely mimic the way the world works. This means buying their own food each week, learning to cook their meals, going on outings, doing their own laundry and as much as possible living like a normal person–all completely supervised and set in levels. Once a skill set is mastered they go to the next one until they are able to leave to live in the ‘real’ world or can go no further. The permanent residents who will never completely recover have a nice set of apartments of their own and caregivers based on their needs. I so hope that Terry can make it back to a better reality with us. It makes me lose my breath to think of him living here forever in the care of others.are you lost

The apartments are spacious, mid 70s in design, well kept and landscaped and nice. Terry is in a ground floor unit where he has his own bedroom and two roommates who share the general living quarters. I did his grocery shopping for him to get him started and put his food away on his own shelf in the refrigerator. They give the clients a set allowance for money and for outings each week. Anything like clothing and haircuts are out of the funds I left for him. He has help 24 hours a day  to relearn the skills he’s missing and they all seemed very cheerful and smart.

I learned a lot that I want to share but I’m just too  tired to put all the philosophy and such like out there and gnaw on it. I think Terry will get much better, I’m comfortable and pleased with the place he is in and so grateful we found them. I think he has far more damage than we first thought and that he won’t ever make it all the way back–but he’ll get really a lot better with time. So, I’m ending this day on a hopeful note. Tomorrow I go back to see him for the morning and in the afternoon  I say good bye and head to L.A. He kissed me good night tonight and settled in to his bed and seemed to be doing well. We’ll just have to wait and see at this point.

Good night Moon. Please make sure he can’t find a screwdriver and escape….

Hope is the thing with feathers.

Hope is the thing with feathers.

Coming Back to Earth: TBI and Re-entry

Are you there?

Are you there?

November 2006, Bakersfield, California

We had a really nice day Sunday, it was crisp and clear and we drove out to Calico, which is a state-park-recreated-ghost-town-low-key-theme park kind of thing. It was fun and this weekend was their Christmas celebration. Santa was wandering around in a black cowboy hat–why not a white one? Doesn’t he watch old movies? The black hats are the BAD guys and the WHITE hats are the good guys. There was lots of live music all over town and we just slowly strolled around and poked our noses in here and there and had a good time. I did notice the quality of stuff for sale was appallingly low, I’m such a gift shop snob….

Since Terry woke me yesterday at 4:30 a.m. and we were on the road by 7:00 it was no surprise to be headed home by lunchtime. Unfortunately we hit holiday traffic. There is, so help me, ONE traffic light outside of Barstow at a 4-way intersection that leads to San Bernardino, Bakersfield, Barstow and the Mojave desert. The traffic was backed up 10 miles at a minimum. It took three hours to go 39 miles. Stop, roll forward as long as the green light was on, stop, etc.

Terry in Calico

Terry in Calico

Needless to say it was somewhat stressful on Terry and he didn’t sleep well last night. We had our usual sundowners episode in which he intended to go sleep in the car so he wouldn’t have to put up with “a bossy woman” (me). At the time he was dressed in a long sleeved flannel shirt his underwear and tennis shoes and clutching two blankets. I did manage to convince him to stay in and he managed to finally sleep but today he is having a Captain Froot Loop day.

We got to the Centre for Neuro Skills today around ten in the morning. Map Quest got me right there and I drove right past it–twice. Unprepossessing building in an unprepossessing area, the centre has strip malls and a big mall as its nearest neighbors. Once you get inside the door of the place the ‘vibe’ changes radically.

As we arrived, a boatload, okay a van load, of clients were delivered from their apartments to the Centre to get their therapy day started. I was much struck by the positive energy. Every patient who comes in gets a cheery greeting by name from the receptionist, the therapists and the workers.

We got a tour of the facility and within an hour Terry was pulled away for his first therapy appointment. He was already on the charts/schedules before we got there. Apparently the first week or so he will be intensely scrutinized and viewed and examined and conclusions will be made as to what his needs are. They will be presenting a monster-sized report to the insurance company with their findings so time is of the essence. I  feel so grateful for Terry’s physical health. The people who got off that bus were tragic in so many ways, many in walkers or wheelchairs or with other really obvious disabilities and I cannot see them making it all the way back in some cases.

I was so tired  that I lost the car keys this morning and then I found them right where they belonged. duh… and then I thought I lost my folio with all of Terry’s stuff in it—like his birth certificate–and the power of attorney–it turned up thank heavens, but it scared me seriously. I know I need rest and I hope I can find it now that at least for a while my problems are on someone else’s shoulders.

It seems very odd to be here in this room  tonight without Terry. I am so used to having him right next to me 24/7 and jumping at every sound that I find this very strange. I think I’ll have to decompress for awhile. After we finished at the center today we went to the apartments the Centre owns to check Terry in and meet his suite mates. They are in a really nice area of Bakersfield, gated and about ten miles away. The Centre believes that to reintegrate to the real world clients/patients need to closely mimic the way the world works. This means buying their own food each week at the grocery store, cooking their meals, going on outings, doing their laundry, and as much as possible living like a normal person–all completely and carefully supervised until they are able to graduate to the next level after proving that they have mastered specific tasks. The apartments are spacious  and Terry has his own room and two roommates in this three bedroom unit.

I did his grocery shopping for him to get him started.  They give the clients a set allowance for money and for outings each week. Anything like clothing and haircuts are out of the funds I left for him. He has help 24 hours a day that each  focus on different skills to help him relearn all the things he’s missing and they all seemed very cheerful and smart.
I learned a lot that I want to share but tonight I’m just too darned tired to put all the philosophy and such like out here and gnaw on it. I think he will get much better, I’m comfortable and pleased with the place he is in and so grateful we found them. I think he has far more damage than we first thought and that he won’t ever make it all the way back–but he’ll get really a lot better with time. So, I’m ending this day on a hopeful note.

Tomorrow I go back to see him for the morning and in the afternoon  I say good bye and head to L.A. He kissed me good night tonight and settled in to his bed and seemed to be doing well. We’ll just have to wait and see at this point. He doesn’t understand why he is in prison but the windows are barred and the whole place is gated. I am going to sleep now, for the first time in months without listening with one ear for him to get up and try to leave. Good night moon.

The Only Way Out is Through the Door: Strange Days in the Land of TBI

Calico Door

Calico Door

location: Bakersfield Hilton
mood:     cranky   date: November 26, 2006

We made it to Bakersfield with everyone intact. Terry didn’t escape and I didn’t kill him.

We drove through the night and the guys, bless their firefighter hearts, pulled the monster motor home into a gas station in Bakersfield and filled it up. About $150.00 of gas cash from my pocket later, they dropped us at the car rental place at the Bakersfield airport and turned for home. I love them for being so generous, you can’t pay back that kind of caring. I got the car rented, loaded Terry and our luggage into it and headed for the hotel. I have schools in Bakersfield so I at least know my way around. Its nice to see the sunshine again and I’d like to think it makes Terry happy too.

Terry and friends outside the motorhome

Terry and friends outside the motorhome

We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant which was not memorable except that Terry dribbled salsa down his front and in spite of my sotto voce command of, “Don’t do that!” He ate the hot salsa with a spoon like soup. Note to self: find the tums and tell him they are dessert.

Terry, the sad prisoner

Terry, the sad prisoner

I am so glad there is only one more day before Terry goes to the center tomorrow. I would like to stick him in a wicker basket  on their porch with a note on his chest and drive off into the sunset, but instead I’ll be there, the dutiful wonderful wife at his side supporting him. And yes, I still am that but I’m tired, frustrated, sick of him and want this whole nightmare to be over. I feel so sad for him sometimes, he really is pitiful now in a lot of ways. This strong man is wandering around the hotel room hunched over without a shirt on, he looks like a little old 80 year with a saggy body because he’s lost so much weight.

In our room he is very agitated because he is sure we need to burn our clothes as part of the hotel fire protection. Thank God there are no matches. He pulls a case off a pillow because he needs a fusible link and we are off to the races. He demands the keys and tells me he is going to sleep in the car because I am such a bitch. Just what I need, my naked husband with the hotel coverlet wrapped around him running through the lobby. Perfect.

At this point, I finally call Shayne on his cell phone and make him talk to his father. Shayne can usually get him in off the ledge because Shayne is never with him for more than an hour and they are still at the “I love you, Dad, you are my hero phase.” Gag. I’m at the shut the fuck up and sit down phase. Poor Terry. Most of the time I cope just fine and things are as okay as they can be in this insane anteroom to hell.

He goes to bed starting at about 6:00 and comes out every five minutes to see if the t.v. is turned up too high or I’m still up or whatever. Of course I’m up. I’m still working until after midnight most nights at home. Terry throws his clothes on the floor and changes four or five times a day. I’m doing excess laundry, dishes, whatever it takes to keep the world running. No one is helping anymore. After the drama the grind sets in and friends fade. When I get my nerve up I call and ask for an hour here and there to go shopping for groceries.  We  had a ‘housekeeper’ for two days. What a mistake that was! She was supposed to watch Terry but was totally unable to relate to him in any way and mostly she smoked outside and sulked inside.  I called the agency and said to not send her back. It’s easier to do it myself.

I’m so glad we finally have at least a ray of hope. A window of chance to get him some help that I cannot provide. What are the parameters? If I baby him and put up with him will he just stall and stay in this terrible place? If I push him, when is it too much for both of us? I just don’t know, and I don’t think anyone does who is an unexpected caregiver.

After Terry talks to Shayne, Tor calls. He’s 14 and this is scary. He doesn’t know where Shayne and Heather are and it is getting dark.  He’s there and I’m here, helpless and mad.  Poor kid, one more lousy Terry thing for him to cope with. They were supposed to be at the house hours ago to stay there for the week I would be gone, so far no sign of them. I finally run them down and they say they are doing laundry.

Another hour passes, another call from Tor, home alone in the dark in in Olympia.

I finally get a call on my cell phone while sitting on the floor in front of the hotel room door to keep Terry from escaping naked to run through the corridors. “We can’t come, Heather has allergies to your cat.” I don’t even get mad, I just hang up. I will have time to be angry and never forgive them later. I  simply called my friend Faye, my go-to girl. She is in her pajamas but she jumps right in her car and comes over to spend the night, now that’s a friend. My son Corey who works two hours away from Olympia,  has promised to stay at my house with two dogs, two cats and one kid for the rest of the week. His poor wife and kids will be sacrificing him to the gods of TBI for the duration.

Calico Cowboys and Indians, California tourist town fun

Calico Cowboys and Indians, California tourist town fun

I am in my own one ring circus with Terry again. It’s 6:01 on Sunday morning. Terry decided he had to get up at 5:05–started to get up at 4:14. I want to kill him. He slept like a log from about 8:00 on due to the Trazodone I stuffed into him. It makes him giggle weirdly and he’s off balance but he sleeps. I’m glad Robin posts the ‘tidier’ emails about Terry because if only my posts were read this whole thing would look demented instead of just the demented moments that I seem to need to catch.

Its the day after after our amusement park ride that lasted 24 hours in the RV. I hate sitting sideways and I hate not being able to see out. It was like being in a big, rattling, banging, noisy, box with steamed up windows. Terry was miserable and sure we were kidnapping him and taking him somewhere evil. Keep in mind, the motorhome was generously loaned to us and that the drivers were two fire fighters who are his old friends. He just knew the cops were looking for us. He wouldn’t lay down in the bedroom because it was an unsecured area. So we had to bounce along most of the night in the living room sitting up. It was like being in a silverware drawer full of silverware in a non stop earthquake. Bang bang rattle rattle thump thump and Terry sulking.

We stopped in Oregon for dinner near Roseberg and he was surprised to see his parents in the parking lot. He had only had it explained every day for weeks. He was obviously having a very foggy day….but I’m glad his mom got to see him.

Going for a ride, stuck in traffic on a sunny day makes me happy.

Going for a ride, stuck in traffic on a sunny day makes me happy.

He seems a little more sane today now that he is awake and dressed. We are going to try to drive up to Calico, a touristy ghost town that he loves. I cannot sit in a hotel room with him for 24 hours or one of us will not survive. He loves adventures so I hope this will be fun and wear him out before bed time. Tomorrow is the big day he checks into the Centre for Neuroskills for God knows how long.

I will be driving on into LA and stay from Wednesday to Friday  to meet with the boss who hired me months ago and has put up with my crazy non-working schedule and paid me anyway. I am looking forward to getting at least part of my life back. I am dreading saying good-bye to Terry, it will be a relief and a rending. I  think I will cope by going out to dinner and getting  fairly drunk one night. It’s a start.

Bakersfield Begins


Nowhere Stairs, Somewhere in Washington

Nowhere Stairs,
Somewhere in Washington

TBI 4: To Bakersfield With Love

Like a silverware drawer in an earthquake
this old motor home rattles with every hole,
trundling down highway 101 as if we were stuck inside a fat man running
slow, but we’ll get there. Trying to nap on the trampoline in the back room
counting the daylight between me and the sheets, sleeping with only one eye.

My prisoner thinks if it’s Tuesday this must be Pakistan,
or is it Germany today? He harvests words like a satellite lost in space,
picking up occasional beeps, giving them back
in random sentences that make me cock my head
like a confused dog. His brain refuses to tell him the war is over
or how to make a sandwich or the meaning of aphasia,
what we have here is a breakdown in communication.

My life inside out is just a pocket full of memory crumbs,
I  lay a trail south and hold hope like a birthday candle
lighting the way for two fire fighters, his friends in a previous edition
take turns driving through the night, to deliver him like a UPS package
shipped safely to Bakersfield in one of those big brown trucks.

He decides to run away at a rest stop somewhere outside Shasta,
puts on his shoes and coat, quietly opens the back door
I wake and catch his hand, “It’s so cold outside baby, wait
and leave in the morning.” Defeated, huddling in his jacket
he never takes off his baseball cap. Slouching in the ratty captain’s chairs
bolted to the floor of our cage we wait for morning to come for him.

I feel like a freight train clacking down the concrete,
bump ba dump bump ba dump into central California and the end of the road.
Today is November 27th and time’s dead star collapses inward
becoming a new map that leads to April when I will see him again.
I feel like my grandma’s quilt, the one she made for a five-year-old me
from scraps of clothes we loved or hated, tied at the corners
with red yarn and washed so much it has holes now like me and him.

I want to leave, I think too much. I’m past the prayers and the bargains
God. I’m working on acceptance and escape. No one told me
escape is the stage of grief that carries guilt like a stone in its greasy backpack,
Bakersfield and the Facility are waiting surrounded by fields of grapes.

I will hand him over my burden, my love, my focus
will change like a reindeer molting, I’ll lose winter fur and grow antlers
to fight insurance companies. I’ll be listening at the door with a glass of wine
in my hand, waiting for April to call, hoping he wrote down my number.

Push and Pull

Push and Pull

More than a Cup

My mysterious cup

My mysterious cup

Un souvenir lointain, the French phrase for a distant memory seems to fit perfectly around this little cup, a souvenir in the American sense, from another time and place.  I find that thrift shop fragments of other times are almost Proustian to me, remembrances of things past triggering a cascade of not-my memories. I must have been a cat in another life because I find myself endlessly curious about such things in this one.

I am the Sherlock Holmes of broken china and porcelain orphans, and I want to know more. How did this cup from Bethlehem, New Hampshire wind up in Lacey, Washington over a hundred years later? Where did the saucer go? I know where the chip came from because I banged it into a metal rabbit on my desk and sadly, gave its first nick since manufacture in Germany a long time ago.

The cup is a demitasse, almost certainly a souvenir and not one of a set to be used for sipping after dinner coffee. It was made specifically for American trade as the mark on the bottom is in English. Made in Germany could indicate one of two things–it’s a prestige item and the “made in” was a selling point, German porcelain to the nouveau riche Americans would be appealing as all get out. Or, it was made after 1914 when the McKinley Tariff was revised from just country name to the added “made in” on imported items.

Manufacture after 1914 seems unlikely for several reasons. World War I launched on July 28, 1914, and made an unholy mess of Europe–including Germany for several years. I considered  the style of the decoration too.  Very Victorian, a black and white engraving of a tree lined street with no automobiles on it would seem to place it earlier in time. The bottom of the cup tells the truth of the tale: “Copyrighted by Charles Pollock, Boston”.  More research turned up a well-known Yankee photographer, the ubiquitous Charles Pollock. Pollock seems to have had his work everywhere in the 1870s to the early 1900s, he even had a photography shop selling stereopticon equipment and photographs in Boston.

With Mister Pollock's compliments

With Mister Pollock’s compliments

My little cup was new most likely in Bethlehem’s halcyon days, 1870 to about 1910. It turns out this little town in the White Mountains was a bit late to the party, missing incorporation by losing their paperwork before the Revolutionary War, but they did manage to become a town by 1798.. No one knows where the name came from, but Bethlehem it became and still is, with their final claim to fame being the ability to cancel stamps at Christmas with a Bethlehem postmark.

In the 1870s the trains came, as many as seven a day, bringing tourist trade from the sooty cities of the east to the clean air of the mountains. The Bethlehem  entrepreneurs who discovered this mountain paradise first were not exactly slow to respond. Thirty resort hotels came into being in short order to serve these vacationers; and a whole of lot of wealthy folks including PT Barnum and the Woolworth family built lavish summer “cottages” to get away to for the weekends.

In 1887 the wealthy folks came up with the idea of a “coaching parade” and decorated horses and coaches to the max for the contest. A few cost as much as five grand to kit out according to my reading. Barnum is said to have remarked it was, “the second greatest show on earth.” The parade lasted almost forty years before dying away with the advent of the automobile, which also killed off the town as a major destination. No one had to take a train anymore, cars could get you further and go places trains couldn’t.  The town was rediscovered as a summer destination for Jewish folks with hay fever in the 1920s or so. Yes, that’s what the literature says, and I can actually picture my Jewish grandma using that as an excuse to get away for a few weeks of R&R.

The engraving

The engraving

So what exactly is on this cup anyway? Hunting around for historical reference to match I discovered a wonderful old post card on line, and identified it as the Highland Hotel.

The Highland in its heyday

The Highland in its heyday

Here is a description of  the hotel at its beginning: HIGHLAND HOUSE, J.H. Clark, on Main Street at the west end,
accomodates eighty guests. This house possessed spacious apartments
with closets, open fire-places and baths, hot and cold water on every
floor, electric bells, and other modern improvements, and has a fine
lawn tennis and croquet grounds. Good livery in connection.

And hilariously enough, the back of the postcard:Postcard BackI really want to know what buttons were not in the tub….

I am now happy to put this little cup on the shelf in my studio where I can see it and admire it and wonder who bought it, a gift? a souvenir? What was their life like? Why did they choose this cup over all other souvenirs.  Things I cannot know but I know enough to make me content.

And the postscript to this story made me laugh out loud with delight. The Highland Inn, circa 1983, is now a hotel in Bethlehem, NH which caters to women only. It is one of top lesbian destinations for vacation in the country according to Planet Pink.  Life goes on.


Danny and Mr Tolkien


The Quest, fulfilled.

Once upon a time, the June I turned 19, I moved clear across the United States from my Southern California roots to Alabama and then Kentucky to be with my helicopter flight school attending husband. For us and the other young couples in the air cav, time together would be measured in months, before they all shipped out. We lived in the present, there was no future that we could see from where we were standing.

I didn’t mind being away from home. I was more fascinated than lonely and I didn’t complain when my pilot husband was off for days training to go to Vietnam and fly, he loved helicopters and the army. For me, there was too much to experience, see, do and understand in this new alien place. I was an Air Force brat and the military lonely lifestyle was something that was second nature in my family.

My chariot of choice in my explorations was a black and yellow, brand new 1967 Barracuda convertible with a huge engine and straight pipes. Gas was 25 cents a gallon and that car let me explore old towns, old cemeteries, and all the history I could find within a day’s drive. I hated the muggy weather, the daily rain and the snakes, but still…. driving down a tree lined street with houses looking like Tara on either side made up for a lot.

In November, we moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, assigned to the 101st Airborne. The winter actually came in Kentucky, with snow, ice and cold. I bought boots and a black furry coat with a hood and even a pair of long johns. Because it was too cold to explore for the California Kid, I discovered the base library and changed my literary life forever.

I was hunting through the shelves and found a book called ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R. Tolkien. The end papers were maps and it looked like a giant fairy tale. I checked it out and devoured it. I discovered there were four books making up the cycle, and the Hobbit was just the beginning.  I trekked back to the library and the only one on the shelf was the second book. I read it anyway. I went back and this time I found the last book and read that. In weeks of waiting, I never found the first book and I remember being so frustrated because there were such gaps in the story. There were no bookstores close enough to either buy or order the book and time was moving on. My husband was shipped out and I was shipped home, back to California.

Danny took this photo of me in 1969

I was 18 when I got married, right out of high school and in a haze of doomed romance. I married someone I really didn’t like and I knew it. I even tried to get out of it, but my mother had already paid for the wedding and I was going to go through it dead or alive according to her. The best thing about that marriage was finally escaping my mother’s claws and her influence. She went on to completely destroy my brother’s life and my sister’s, but my trajectory was up and out and I never looked back. I left the pilot, I couldn’t do it anymore. He returned in one piece and went on to remarry and have a good life in Oregon.

Art car, Sausalito, 2005

I had my life back and the summer I was 20, I went on a long camping trip, again in that Barracuda, up the California coast with my friend Danny. Danny’s fiancee Brenda had just dumped him, becoming unengaged after a full year, and running off with a guy who was wanted for punching a cop in Dallas. Hey, it was the 60s and we were young and full of angst and hope and upheaval. I was half in love with him, he was still half in love with her, it was the stuff of bad novels and it made for a memorable trip which included skinny dipping in the Russian River, exploring Big Sur and every inch of highway 1 before it was a heavily traveled tourist trap.

Hippie Harbor, 2007, Sausalito still has its soul

San Francisco was heaven and Sausalito was even better. In 1968, Sausalito was a sleepy, hippie, fishing town. It is now big money but there are still patches of that vibe and I love going back and finding it to this day. Sausalito also had an amazing bookstore and in that store I found on 9/23/68 all FOUR volumes of the Lord of the Rings plus the Hobbit. I will never forget that store, that moment, or that day. Danny bought those four paperbacks for me and as our budget was small, it was an enormous gift. The books were the Ballantine Books authorized editions, each one was 95 cents.

Art Car, Sausalito, with a message for me

That was the cherry on the top of the trip for me. We spent a few more days exploring and camping and resisting returning, but jobs were calling us home and funds were getting low. We made it to Eureka, California before we turned around to drive almost straight through 12 hours to Redlands and home. The real world came back with a crash and life went on for us, but those weeks out of time were magic. It was the start of our relationship and we wound up with marrying and having three amazing sons.

Sausalito mailbox

Our marriage didn’t last forever because I am very bad at the art of marriage, we even tried twice. We made it through the bad parts and our friendship was close and it was forever.  I thought someday we’d wind up rocking on a porch and arguing about politics.

Dan Snow, taken in Palm Springs, 1968

Dan died on April 9, 2002, after a recurrence non-Hodgkins lymphoma surrounded by his sons and his wife, Dorothy, the real love of his life.  I’m glad they found each other in time because if anyone deserved to be loved, it was Danny. I still miss him and when I look at my boys, I see their dad so clearly. Corey looks most like him and the resemblance is startling as Corey gets older. Joel moves most like him, he has his father’s physical gestures and joy in living. Josh is the passionate one, Danny could argue all night long and drill you into the ground when he cared, Josh can do the same thing and does.

As for me, I’m the one who remembers him as a young man, the twenty-four old with the longest eyelashes I ever saw and as much curiousity as I had about what was around the next corner. We had fun, we really did, and the best years of our lives were spent together. For a very long time, I religiously read all four of the Tolkien books every September, the anniversary of fulfilling my quest to read the last book, and perhaps to remember a magic moment in my life when everything was as perfect as it ever gets.

The books are now getting tattered and fragile and yellowed, they have obviously been loved, and one had a fishbowl break in its vicinity years ago, but it was saved and dried out.The Fellowship of the Ring had a corner land in a coffee cup, but that too passed, and nowadays my quest for the fourth book filled, they are on my shelf of best loved books and most cherished memories of There and Back Again.


Saint Paddy’s Pie

When I was a kid one of my favorite things on the planet was that dopey Bing Crosby song that goes, “Who threw the overalls in Mrs Murphy’s chowder, nobody spoke so he shouted all the louder, its an Irish trick that’s true, and I can lick the mick that threw, the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowwww-derrr!” I  hated chowder and clams but I loved what my mom called, “Mrs. Murphy’s Potatoes.” Translation: twice baked potatoes stuffed with crab, cheddar cheese, and onions. Along with butter, garlic, salt and pepper and milk.

One of my other favorite things was Shepherd’s Pie, the old standby made with mashed potatoes, ground beef, onions, gravy and vegies and of course, cheese. Two recipes I am happy to share if I hear requests for them. My chef son touts his version made with ground lamb and parnsips in place of mashed potatoes, exotic no?

The ingredients, and dig the beautiful vintage Tupperware vegie steamer. Coolest toy. Ever.

Last night I wanted Mrs Murphy’s taters, but I was too lazy to put on going-to-the-store clothes to procure potatoes. Those clothes being   something besides a paint splattered tee shirt and equally paint splattered sweat pants so I poked around in the pantry and came up with the brilliant idea of Mrs Murphy’s Pie, a cross bred tasty treat. Today is Saint Patrick’s day so the nomenclature fits like a cheap tiara on a prom queen. Perfect, but don’t look too close…

To make this lovely tasty dish you will need:

A 13X9″ baking pan or something somewhere close in size. Smaller pan, deeper pie, its all good.

An onion minced fairly fine

About 2 tsps of garlic powder, adjust the level to your own garlic love

About 1.5 tsp of salt. If you cook some bacon and toss it in for fun, lighten up on the salt.

Pepper to taste

3 packages of those great Idahoan mashed potato mixes, inexpensive and easy. (Substitute 6-8 cups of any other mashed potatoes made according to package directions.)

2 cans of crab. I used Trader Joes, the size of large tuna cans.

1 stick of butter, more or less, again, ask yourself how much do I love this butter? Room temperature or melted.

2 eggs

Some milk, 1/2 cup or so

1 package of cheese shredded or about 2 cups ground up by you.

Asparagus, you could substute peas too. Cook the asparagus tips and mid sections, to medium done, not mushy.

Grease/spray grease the bottom of the pan and spread two cups/one package of the potatoes made according to the package on the the bottom of the pan. This is your ‘bottom crust’

In a large bowl, mix up another package of mashed potatoes, (drain and rinse the crab) toss in the crab, asparagus chopped small, garlic, onions (minced) and about 3/4 package of cheese along with the butter. Crack the eggs over the top and mix the whole mess together. If it’s quite thick put in up to 1/2 cup milk.Salt and pepper to taste, use a light hand here.

Dumped in a bowl and stirred up good, what good be easier?

Put this layer on top of the layer you already put in, it doesn’t matter if they mix a bit. Spread it with a spatula. Mix up and spread the last layer of potatoes over the top. Spread the last of the cheese over all and pop in a 425 oven for about 30 minutes. It should brown up and the cheese will get all nice and melted. If it is isn’t as brown as you like, slide in the broiler for a few minutes.

Slice into squares and serve with a green salad. This was so easy to make. I think it may become one of those pantry fall backs, where you always have some ingredients handy and toss in everything else that you find.

The finished product, easy-peasy and sooo good!

I’d love to hear your ideas for other versions too.


The Boyscouts and I Tackle the Art Question

Is graffiti art? There’s a whole other discussion. Graffiti bees on an Olympia bridge.

I was recently privileged to be asked to talk to a pack of boys, okay, a small troop of Webelos on their way to becoming Boy Scouts. The last thing they had to accomplish was to talk to an artist and complete an art segment in their ‘road map’ to scouthood. I found it interesting that art wound up last on the list, but I’m grateful to the Boy Scouts for including it all. The meeting was at a local Catholic church, upstairs in a small room. I dragged my clothes basket of art up the stairs and found six fresh-faced boys and two parents seated around a table, all chattering and working on a word puzzle. They looked quite interested at my covered clothes basket, with good reason more interested in the basket than  me, the lady artist, old enough to be their grandmother. They were amazingly engaged and polite and reminded me so much of my own son’s scouting days at the Lutheran Church. Ever notice Scouting is always at a church?

Knowing I would be talking to the boys and their age, I actually sat down and thought for quite some time about What is Art? It’s one of the universal questions in society, like Why Am I Here? –and just about as easy to answer. The good thing about the art question is that there are actually some fairly good answers, consensus if you will, in our society, here and now, about what art is.

When does a photograph become art? Can a flower be art?

1. At is on purpose. It must be consciously created. It cannot be just a beautiful flower or a beautiful mountain, although artists are inspired to include those things in their art. It doesn’t have to be beautiful to everyone, or anyone, but it often is. It can make you think, it can make you angry. It is made on purpose by the artist to convey meaning. It is not accidental, again the flower is beautiful, but its beauty is both accidental and incidental. Nature created it because that is what nature does, we see it and judge it beautiful because that’s what we do. Art is conscious. It is made with intention.

2. Art must be original. An artist can even take apart something and reform it into something entirely new. Witness the artists who show their work at the wonderful Matter Gallery in Olympia, me included. That work is all upcycled and repurposed. It was all something else, a piece on the wall used to be a sail on a ship, or bicycle parts, a sculpture might have been screws and washers. One of my pieces was a birdcage and now its a birdcage that is a metaphor for a way of looking at life.

Winged Victory, standing now in the Louvre

3. Art is intended to convey meaning. We may not understand the language or even like it, but the artist is telling you his/her thoughts, beliefs, feelings or attitudes towards something or about something. Think about how much public art we love or hate, are bronze statues of generals on horses art? I’m not sure, but for me they are simply memorials. The Winged Victory of Samothrace standing in the Louvre, is definitely art. In its time, it may been a memorial, that’s a thought worthy of more discussion for me. What was the original intention?

4. Art must be recognized by society as art. It doesn’t have to be good or appreciated but it must be recognized as art. Two ends of the spectrum come to mind here. All the rotten paintings I have seen of Mt Rainier or even worse, bad ocean scenes, is one end of unappreciated and Robert Mapplethorpe’s inciendiary male nude photographs were at one time (for many in America) the other. Mapplethorpe stood the world on its ear in his time although now he is recognized as a 20th master of the photograph. Often great art pushes boundaries and makes people very uncomfortable, especially when it is in a shared space. Public art, there’s another discussion!

Incredible tramp art shrine, from folkartisans.com, for sale on their site.

Which brings up a whole other set of things: when does a photograph become art? I may need to chew on that a few days and do some reading up to refine my thoughts.

5. Art is not craft, but art is crafted, and craft can become art. Tramp art for example. Its heyday was the Civil War through the 1930s, and it was not art for the most part when it was made/created, but definitely a craft using whatever was at hand by some very clever hands. Today, it is sought after and has transcended craft to become art.

I construct both art and craft, and for me the difference is very clear. The boxes hidden under the tablecloth I showed the Boys to their delight, were art. I consciously intended to tell a story of Lost Childhoods. Thinking of the icons of my life, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Sam, the Grim Reaper, King Neptune, and so many more, I wanted to tell the story of what their childhood’s were.  They were definitely crafted but their intention was to tell a story.

Father Time’s Lost Childhood, a constructed piece from my series Lost Childhoods

When I create a garden ornament with an old salt shaker  or a piece of tin, my intention is to bring pleasure and joy to the new owner. They are one of a kind pieces, but they don’t tell a story, they fill a function and are definitely not art. The same is true for those who make work in multiples and sell it. The first piece may indeed be art, but the multiples become craft, fine artisanal craft but they cease to be art because they are not original.

Metal garden art made from a ceiling tin

The Webelos and I had a lively discussion and they loved the two pieces I brought, especially the more macabre ‘Grim Reaper’. In the end, I felt like I took away more than I gave because of the thought process involved. Ihope they retain a scrap of the discussion as they grow up and it gives them an ha  moment some day. I’m still having ah ha’s around here after this experience, what more could I ask for?