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Not too long ago, I went on a long walk with a stranger.
He was someone new, and I was excited to get to know him, so I asked a lot of questions.
He told me about his parents. His friends. How he fell off his path. His recovery. He cried, and I hugged him.
For a time we walked in silence and, after a while, I asked him one more question.
“Is there anything you’d like to know about me?”
He looked at me with confusion. He was so baffled by the question he actually stopped walking.
“Not really,” he said.
That was our first and last walk.
• • •
This interaction was shocking for me because, as most of you know, I’m a connector.
I find other people endlessly fascinating, and I ask a lot of questions when I’m interested in someone or something.
But I like to have an exchange.
And I’m *really* missing the exchange these days.
I hunger for intimate conversation, and I miss sitting across from and looking into another person’s eyes.
One of the ways that I share myself is by sharing my art, and the lack of festivals this year has been really tough.
Since COVID started, I’ve been making art in isolation.
To show you who I am.
So you can tell me who you are.
So we can have that exchange.
Sometimes the lack of exchange feels a little like when that guy — that stranger — had nothing to ask me.
To me, that response felt a lot like: ‘I don’t care about you.’
I am truly having to dig deep to mind that gap and ignore that stupid, stupid voice.
‘Cuz I *know* folks care about me, whether or not they buy my artwork.
• • •
If you are so inclined, please check out my latest offerings on my website. I’ve got new magnets, and I’m offering gift cards this year, including some cool bundles for the upcoming holidays — and I’m going to make some cute ornaments, too. So stay tuned!
PS: MyZOOM ART CLASSES are going well, so if you’d like a private class or you’d prefer to work in a group, drop me a line or leave a comment & I’ll send you the details. I’d love to connect with you in this way.
• • •
What are you doing to stay mentally strong during these confusing times?
I’ve finally uploaded a whole bunch of new artwork to my website.
If you click on my new category, WATERCOLOR ART, you’ll see pieces I’ve created since March 6, 2020.
Since we’ve all been physically-distanced from each other.
For those of you who have been with me since 2014, you know I’ve moved through different stages with this art stuff.
First there were hearts.
The the critters showed up.
Then the girlies were born.
And now my artwork is changing again.
There is an emphasis on lines and movement and connection.
Because I am sooooo missing connection!
As always, if you are looking for a special gift, please check out my website because now — in addition to magnets & prints & masonite tiles & original acrylic work — I am also offering affordable original watercolors.
And when you click over, you’ll notice that I have included the story of how each piece was created!
As you probably know, all festivals in New York State have been cancelled thru the end of July due to COVID-19, and I assume more cancellations will follow.
One thing I knew before COVID-19 that has become even more obvious during this weird time is that I really miss having daily contact with people in real life.
To cope with the isolation, I started painting LIVE on Facebook.
Having people watch & comment while I paint has been a lifeline for me, and so many people started following along with my lessons that I decided to offer individual & group online painting classes via ZOOM, which have been surprisingly enjoyable!
I’ve developed an eight session curriculum which includes:
BASIC COLOR STUDY (1 session)
BASIC FACES (1 session)
WHIMSICAL CRITTER (1 session)
WHIMSICAL HUMAN (2 sessions)
SQUIGGLE PAINTING (2 sessions)
COMBINING PAINTING WITH LETTERING (1 session)
And, once we get thru those lessons, we can continue to create together or you can go off-roading yourself!
Soooooooo if you are interested in:
• gifting a class to someone
• scheduling a class for yourself
• scheduling a ZOOM party/group gathering
— all you have to do is respond to this post and we’ll figure something out.
(And, no, you don’t have to commit to all eight sessions. You can just try one and decide from there.)
Most classes are 1-hour, but I also offer ZOOM parties!
Email me for pricing & a recommended supply list.
This masterpiece was created by 6-year, Gavin, from Houston, Texas. PS: Those gray things are anteaters. Duh!
Finally, my WEBSITE is stocked, so click over to see if there’s anything you’d like to purchase.
And for free intermittent lessons FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOK.
Thank you so much for your continued support!
I’m so very grateful to each and every one of you!
From the moment lifestyle restrictions were deemed necessary in an attempt to “flatten” the infection curve associated with the COVID-19 virus, many people began reporting experiencing dystopian dreams.
I have suffered from nightmares for decades, and it is not unusual for me to awake in the middle of the night terrified.
I’m sharing a most recent dystopian nightmare here to maintain a record of what I’ve been dreaming about, and also as a way to encourage others to share their own scary dreams so that we can process them together.
In my dream:
I’m on the way to the Home Depot, to pick up a few small items — some wood trim and a big box of air filters for my furnace.
The parking lot is completely full, so I follow a red truck all the way to the back where there is one empty spot adjacent to a big, open field.
I mean to park alongside the field on the pavement, but I accidentally hit the gas and end up rolling onto the field.
But the field isn’t a field.
It’s a muddy bog — and my car immediately begins to sink.
In a moment, cold, heavy mud pours in from atop my open sunroof, burying me.
It’s dark and I can’t move or breathe.
I think of my parents and my son — and realize no one will even find me, lost in the bottom of this muddy bog.
• • •
I wake, gasping for air, and unintentionally call out the name of someone who used to hold me when I had nightmares.
But he’s not here.
Where I used to turn to a partner for emotional support, now that I alive alone, I’ve had to learn strategies to calm myself after a night terror.
So I wrap my arms around myself and allow myself to feel the feelings: the fear, the sadness, the surrender, and finally the gratitude.
I am alive.
I am safe.
I’m doing the best I can do.
While many people believe dreams are meaningless, I know dreams are powerful medicine, evidence of the night mind trying to make sense of what the conscious mind cannot understand during the waking hours.
There is so much confusion right now.
So much change and so few answers.
So many conspiracy theories and so much cognitive dissonance
We’re being told this is our “new normal” and learning how to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
What kinds of weird dreams are YOU having during this pandemic?
POST-PUBLICATION NOTE: WordPress automatically changed the title of my piece to “Things Pro-Choice Proponents Should Never Assume,” — which feels creepy to me. I have manually gone in and changed the title back. I hope you will will read to the end for the larger purpose of this piece.
The beauty of our country is that we have the right to agree to disagree. We can resolve things through voting and debate, but some topics strike such a tender chord with people, it is sometimes difficult to have any dialogue at all.
When I was in college and graduate school in the late 1980s – early 1990s, I believed that every educated person was Pro-Choice.
It seemed obvious.
I didn’t recognize it at the time, but this assumption was actually built into the course syllabus.
Folks with higher degrees were The Smart People.
And Smart People were, of course, Pro-Choice.
Pro-Lifers were religious zealots.
In 1991, I landed my first job teaching 3rd grade English as a Second Language. I worked with a teacher whom I adored. Kathy was smart, generous, kind, and warmhearted. She treated every child equally. She arranged the desks in neighborhoods and talked about community responsibilities. She bedazzled her bulletin boards and spent a lot of time doing little things she believed mattered to her students.
And her students loved her.
In the spring of 1992, as the debate over Roe v. Wade heated up, an event was planned in front of Buffalo’s GYN/Women Services. My friends and I agreed it was our obligation to ensure that women were able to make their appointments free from harassment from the notorious rabble-rousers who were coming to town. After all, GYN/Women Services provided prenatal care and regular obstetrics appointments for its many patients. It was not a killing field. It was a medical office that mainly provided routine office procedures like breast exams and pap smears in addition to providing legal abortions.
I went to the rally with two friends.
It was pandemonium.
People screamed at each other from both sides of the street. On both sides of the issue. I didn’t like the things the Pro-Choice people were chanting: things like “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” and offensive rhymes which dragged religion into the issue. My friends and I didn’t have a problem with anyone’s religious practices, and we didn’t want to be associated with all that noise. So we wandered across the street to CVS and bought some electrical tape.
And we taped our mouths shut.
Truth is, we had been just as offended by what people on “our” side of the street were chanting as we were by the 7-foot images of partially formed fetuses that the folks on the Pro-Life side were holding.
And we wanted to separate ourselves from the rhetoric.
It would have been nice to have had an opportunity to express that. But no one asked for our story.
Reporters and photographers were busy looking for one cool image.
And their camera lenses landed on us.
When our picture was published in LIFE magazine, I brought a copy to school to show Kathy, my teacher-friend. I wanted to talk to her about the caption which read “Women tape their mouths shut to represent The Silent Majority who favor safe, legal abortion” — and how that didn’t quite capture the whole story.
I wanted to tell her about how proud I was for standing up for my views, but how — at the end of the day — when the news vans with their giant satellite dishes had driven away, I felt a little like a pawn in someone else’s chess game. How it had occurred to me everyone had an agenda and we, women, had been pitted one against the other by religious leaders and politicians, by media spokespeople who encouraged participants from both sides of the street to shout louder when their cameras were rolling.
Kathy looked at me coolly and said:
“I guess we were on different sides of the street that day.”
Honestly, it was the first time I realized that intelligent people — really intelligent people — could be on the “other” side of the issue.
Kathy and I worked side by side for the rest of the year, but our interactions were different. I learned so much from her: how to treat children with dignity, how to walk the fine line between friend and disciplinarian, how to integrate non-native speakers of English into the larger class: so many things. One afternoon, I tried for the umpteenth time to discuss the the topic with her. I so wanted to make things right.
“Let’s just agree to disagree,” she said.
I never realized an issue could be so divisive that it could destroy a friendship.
But it did.
Kathy taught me to keep politics and religion out of the workplace.
To be silent about “personal” matters.
But the personal is always political, and thirty years later, we are seeing what happens when people stay silent.
I still believe women must continue to have the right to make their own decisions regarding anything that impacts their bodies. I still believe that abortion must remain a safe and legal procedure for women who find themselves having to make difficult, life-altering decisions.
And I also realize that many other people still believe something 100% different.
Which is annoying.
And this is what happens in a democracy.
It is, however, possible to be vocal & respectful when expressing oneself with regard to a controversial topic.
If nothing else, Kathy taught me there are many legitimate sides to every issue. It is essential we understand that in acknowledging the opposing sides of the argument, we are not weakening our own stance.
Unfortunately, I believe that we are in for many more dark days ahead as for as the political situation in our country. That being said, we can only control ourselves, and while *certain leaders* may be normalizing disrespectful behavior and uninformed rhetoric, it behooves us to sift through the rhetoric of our politicians and remember to be civilized with each other.
Ever lose a friend as a result of political or religious differences? Which, if any, of your core beliefs have changed over the last 20 years?
As many of you know, I was profoundly injured by long-term benzodiazepine use. In 2014, while disabled and mostly homebound, I began writing about my experience with benzodiazepine withdrawal in my online blog.
Five years later, Kraig Rieger found my blog.
Suffering from hundreds of horrifying symptoms, he read that I’d healed and reached out to me via email for support. Though we live thousands of miles apart in completely different time zones, we’ve been communicating for close to a year, and it brings me great joy to share this interview I did with him about the CD he has managed to produce despite the fact that he is, in fact, very sick.
GET WELL chronicles the horrors associated with a syndrome that is not recognized by most medical professionals. Like so many of us who have been harmed, Kraig hopes to raise awareness about the dangers associated with medications commonly prescribed by physicians.
RASJ: What were you like pre-benzos? What were your interests?
KR: Most of the interests that I had pre-benzos have stayed the same. I’ve always enjoyed NBA basketball, pro wrestling, reading, different genres of rock music, exercising, movies, etc. I played sports in high school, including basketball and soccer, and I have continued to follow basketball throughout my life. The hard thing about life pre-benzo and life now is I find it much harder to connect with hobbies and interests and mustering the energy to care about things can be difficult at times. I sort of have to force myself to care about things. One of the most difficult things for me is my interest in going to concerts has completely disappeared. I always think about buying tickets, and then I worry about how I’m going to feel on that particular day and decide it’s not worth it.
RASJ: What brought you to benzos in the first place?
KR: About ten years ago, I had some sleep-related issues that were a result of anxiety because of a job I took after college. Initially, the medication helped, and then it didn’t.
RASJ: How did you end up deciding to go off the drugs? How was it handled?
KR: I was off and on benzos for many years, and I quit taking them cold-turkey several times not knowing you aren’t supposed to do that. At one point, after I abruptly stopped taking them, I became terribly depressed. I started having crying spells and feeling like I was genuinely losing my mind. Looking back now, I would do things very differently.
RASJ: What is your life like now? What are your greatest challenges as you move thru this weird healing?
KR: It’s been about two years since I quit taking the medication. I still struggle with inexplicable anger when forced to confront any stress and oftentimes for no discernible reason; I also have bouts of severe depression for no apparent reason. I have burning sensations in random places on my body, most noticeably my face and my calves, and my vision is blurry. Anhedonia – the absence of joy — is another tough symptom I’ve had the entire time. I bought a new guitar during this recovery, and my wife was like: “You’re not even excited.” The lack of joy and happiness has been the hardest thing to cope with on top of other tough mental symptoms.
RASJ: What motivated you to create this CD?
KR: I tend to gravitate to a guitar regardless of feeling good or bad, so I just started working on songs regardless of feeling bad. It took me about a year after quitting the medication to even have a tiny spark of desire to compose anything new. While going thru this process, people tend to become completely consumed by terrible, dark thoughts, and I figured it would be a good chance to write a concept album all about the same subject. Overall, playing guitar and writing songs has been a good distraction throughout the misery.
RASJ: Which songs do you connect with most deeply?
KR: I wrote “Walks” in about a day. It’s a really simple song, but the bridge has a pretty interesting chord progression that is fun to play. The opening line references taking walks outside, which I’ve done throughout this process to ground myself and feel some semblance of normality.
“Seasons” is one of my favorite songs on the album. I almost didn’t record it because we had nine songs done at that point. I like how my voice sounds on this track, and the song details how long the process of feeling better can take as you pass through season after season, year after year, not feeling well.
“Mirrors” is the first song that I wrote for the album. It details how devastating an invisible illness can be. I look at myself in the mirror, and the bizarre thing is that I don’t look like anything is wrong with me at all. On the outside, I even look pretty healthy physically. It’s amazing how appearances can be so deceiving.
RASJ: What else do you want people to know about this CD?
KR: The most interesting part of recording this album is I worked on it with Nate Smith, another person currently going through benzo withdrawal himself, someone I met on a forum. I would send Nate the recording with rhythm guitar, vocals, and sometimes bass, and he would finish the songs by adding drums, vocal harmonies, and other instruments. He made the songs sound really good. I would send him the bare bones stuff thinking ‘these songs aren’t very good,’ and then he would return them to me, transformed. It’s been a cool collaboration.
RASJ: Tell me about the awesome cover art.
KR: A friend of mine from high school designed the cover art which depicts a man standing in front of a mirrored medicine cabinet. The viewer understands that this man is exhausted and his reflection reveals the face of a skeleton. The cabinet is filled with empty bottles, and the man knows that nothing can really save him from the misery. That’s what we were going for. Mundi’s work can be found on Instagram @mundi.art.
And if you search Come Back K! on iTunes, you can buy the entire CD there.
Thank you for letting me share a little of your story here, Kraig. I’m incredibly proud of you for finding a way to transform your horrifying experience into something beautiful and relatable. I hope you find yourself on the other side of this injury very soon. Trust me when I say that healing is possible. It just takes a very long time.
Feel free to contact me if you’d like to share your Benzo Warrior story on my page.
TAKE AN ONLINE CLASS. Nora Tay Gelb and I painted together for 38 weeks, and I completed every lesson — except the last 4, which I plan to complete while I am on vacation.
COMPLETE MY KITCHEN RENO. Chuck Hajec transformed my kitchen into a functional and inviting space.
PAINT LIVE MONTHLY. Made it 10 out of 12 months.
PLAN A WARM WEATHER VACATION • Last year, Christmas was miserable for me. I was cold and by myself without anyone with whom to celebrate. As a result, I decided I didn’t want to ever be in that emotional space again, so I researched and figured out where I might want to go during Holiday Season 2019 — and I worked the entire year to make this a reality. At the time of this publication, I am enjoying the sun and will have numerous visitors during the month I’m in Florida — and I know I’m going to meet a lot of people while I’m down there, too.
DATE/MEET NEW PEOPLE. I’m a homebody by nature, and I don’t like going out late or meeting at bars or clubs — but in 2019 I said YES to events, invitations and networking opportunities. I took dance classes and starting singing regularly at an Open Mic in Canandaigua and joined an all women’s barbershop group. In 2019, I decided not date and “dinner” with people instead. That feels better for me on a thousand levels. Do I still wish I had a boyfriend? Hell yeah! I miss the companionship and the intimacy…but I’m not going to settle until the right person comes into my orbit and makes me a priority.
WALK EVERY DAY. I mostly managed to do this…and I even did a month-long gym membership at the end of 2019 – just to see how I liked it — and I plan to rejoin when I return to Rochester in 2020.
HOST FOUR SISTAH SUPPERS. I hosted 3 and the Annual De-Gift/Regift Potluck Gathering will take place in February 2020.
GET A KITTEN. I decided against the kitten thing. I like having my freedom and having the ability to pick up and go at a moment’s notice. Also, a lot of my clients are either afraid of cats or allergic to them, so this is not a good business plan until I secure new gallery space.
LOOKING AHEAD at 2020
In 2020, my word is CLARITY.
‘Cuz 20/20 is all about seeing things clearly.
In 2020, I will continue to pay attention to my personal, financial, spiritual & emotional wellness and…
SECURE NEW GALLERY SPACE: I have an application in at The Hungerford, and I’m hoping that to secure a great space for myself in 2020.
IMPROVE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS: I’d like to show my gratitude to the people who I care about regularly and have a better relationship with my son. (I’d like to find an awesome boyfriend, too.)
COMPLETE FIRST DRAFT OF MEMOIR: Because finished is better than perfect.
For those of you who live in Western, New York, below is a list of my last festivals of 2019.
If you can’t make it to any of these events in real life, I can also take credit card orders via my secure website.
NOTE: Order by December 7, 2019 to ensure receipt in time for the holidays.
November 22-24, 2019 • HOLIDAY BAZAAR
Rochester Museum & Science Center• 657 East Avenue, Rochester
Friday -11/22 • 5pm-9pm
Saturday – 11/23 & Sunday 11/24 • 10am-4pm
• • •
November 30, 2019 • TINY TRUNK SHOW JUBILEE
Sylvan Starlight Creations • 50 State Street, Building C, Pittsford, NY
• • •
December 7, 2019 • HANDMADE HOLIDAY IN THE SOUTH WEDGE
St. Boniface Church • 330 Gregory St, Rochester, NY
• • •
I’ll be in Florida in January 2020, and I’m so excited to have the opportunity to show some of my work at Gallery 2924 in St. Pete! During ArtWalk Night, galleries & studios on Central Avenue extend their hours into the evening. Special events include exhibition openings, live demonstrations, meet-the-artist evenings, charity events and special sales. The Central Avenue Trolley, Looper Trolley & a special art trolley connect many of the galleries. Free and open to all. I’ll have a selection of snacks and I’d LOVE to see local peeps (including any and all my snowbird friends) who are inclined to stop by!
January 11, 2020 • SECOND SATURDAY ARTWALK
Gallery 2924 • 2924 Central Avenue • St. Petersburg, FLORIDA!
Can’t make it to any of these venues in person? No problem! Check out my website and use a credit card to make a secure payment.