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I am so fortunate & grateful to have been interviewed by, my friend, the multi-talented Ya’cub Shabazz of Sankofa Studios for giving me an opportunity to share my story on his inspirational podcast.
I hope you will learn a bit more about my experience during benzodiazepine withdrawal as well as my artistic process — and then click over to check out Ya’cub’s website, his podcast series, & his educational series.
Before I write another word, I want to say thank you.
I could not have made it thru this year without the support from my family, friends, and devoted clients. Without festivals in 2020, it was especially challenging to do business. Nearly all of my sales were to repeat customers — and that truly means the world to me. Thank you for thinking of me this year, for thinking of small businesses, for shopping local. I am truly grateful to each & every one of you. I am wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas & a Happy Healthy New Year.
• • •
LOOKING BACK AT 2020
This past year has been very difficult for everyone. Personally, I’ve felt off-center for most of 2020. Ideologically, I’ve vacillated between thinking humans need to fight this pandemic with everything we’ve got and believing that the planet is sick and tired of us and doing its best to purge itself of us. (I still lean toward the latter.) As a person who was profoundly injured by a pharmaceutical product that was (up until recently) generally considered “safe,” I am ambivalent about this vaccine that has been developed in WarpSpeed. I’ve watched our government unravel under a deeply flawed leader, and I have ached with the realization that 50% of our country embraces his racist vitriol. I’ve leaned into terribly uncomfortable situations and tried to hold oppositional worldviews in the same headspace.
Sometimes I’ve done this well; other times, I’ve failed miserably.
I HAD PLANS, Y’ALL.
At the end of 2019, I was feeling confident & optimistic & planned to acquire new gallery space, participate in more festivals/shows, to network with more people professionally and socially, maybe even allow myself to date again.
I THOUGHT 2020 WAS GOING TO BRING CLARITY.
Unfortunately, the pandemic did not allow me to achieve many of the goals that I set for myself at the end of December last year.
However, I pivoted quickly & created new intellectual & professional challenges for myself.
SO WHAT DID I DO?
Like everyone else, I took my life online.
I TOOK MY MEMOIR WRITING CLASSES ONLINE.
I bought a monthly membership to ZOOM. Being able to continue with the women in my Intro Memoir Writing & my Advanced Memoir Writing Classes provided me with some sense of normalcy. Tuesdays & Thursdays became anchor days, and I looked forward to checking in with everyone, hearing about how everyone was handling the big (and not always pleasant) changes in their lives.
I TOOK MY ART CLASSES ONLINE.
After two failed attempts, I created a functional overhead camera setup and I started teaching art classes online, too.
When I ran out of acrylic paint in early April, I started playing with watercolors, showing up every day for nearly three months to paint LIVE on Facebook. As it turned out, a bunch of people joined me to paint in real time every day — and LOTS of people tuned into to watch at their leisure because they found watching me paint relaxing and entertaining. I ran monthly contests, sending free prints to people who created art that moved me the most.
I rounded out 2020 teaching two individual art classes each day & offering group classes once a month. I learned how to create successful Facebook Events, and I plan to do more of this in 2021.
This year, in addition to selling my work via my website, I started selling my work LIVE via Facebook and ZOOM. Much gratitude there to my friend Tricia Campbell for helping me to facilitate a successful holiday season. I was surprised by how much actually sold, especially before Black Friday. I will definitely do more of this in 2021, for Valentine’s Day…and I have a super cool, very fun idea percolating! More on that in 2021.
I PLUGGED IN TO COMMUNITY.
Once I figured out that things were going to be okay for me financially, I worked on creating some kind of social life for myself.
In April 2020, when we were all locked down, I set up a Facebook Group for people from my high school. We had several meetings where a bunch of us checked in & caught up. My friend Kim Colby Luber and I co-hosted an interactive game for members of my high school graduating class of 1985 to play together; we played a few other games, and then a few other members from the class took over, which I appreciated. The group is still there, and I know that if necessary, it wouldn’t take much to resurrect activity there.
I feebly attended a few online exercise groups and checked in with a local divorce group via ZOOM even less frequently. After spending five hours a day teaching online, it didn’t feel great to sit in front of a screen for very long, but I did my best.
I TOOK CARE OF MY PHYSICAL HEALTH
I ate well.
I slept well.
And I scheduled that stupid knee surgery that I’d been postponing. At six weeks out, I’m walking two miles a day before it starts to ache a bit. Hopefully, it’ll be even better in another two months.
I TOOK CARE OF MY MENTAL HEALTH
In the ideal world, I process challenging things by sitting close to someone, talking things out face-to-face, and hugging it out. COVID has forced me to manage my own sadness.
I learned how to do this during benzo withdrawaland my subsequent divorce, so it SUCKED to have to move into what feels like solitary confinement yet again. I’d only just acquired a few people to whom I can turn when I am struggling. Suddenly, COVID made it so those people would no longer let me in.
I am eternally grateful to my father and a few close friends in different time zones who allowed me to call or text them whenever I needed to do so.
I LET SOME THINGS GO
I’d hoped to play my drums more.
It didn’t happen.
I hoped to complete my memoir in 2020.
It didn’t happen.
I just didn’t have the mental energy to work on something so emotional with everything being so dang emotional all day long.
Also, I spent too much of 2020 hoping that a certain person would come around and care about me the way I cared for him. After chasing him for way too long, I’ve finally realized he’s not my person. When someone cares about you and your feelings, they want to see you. They want to talk to you. They don’t ghost you; they don’t make you a last priority. This has been a painful realization – and I’ve learned that sometimes people’s actions do not always align with their words, and I need to pay attention both. (You’d think I’d know this by now, but I seem to be in the “slow class” when it comes to healthy relationships.) At least I see this clearly now, and I will exercise more caution before allowing myself to get attached to the wrong person in the future.
MY YEAR IN NUMBERS
Each year, I like to reflect on different areas of my life. Most of these things are subjective, but I also like to look at the numbers, too. After all, numbers don’t lie. Blue reflects numbers that were up from last year; Red represents numbers that were down from last year.
8,667 – combined followers on all social media outlets
1,587 – people on my mailing list
384 – unique pieces of artwork sold this year
160 – unique client sales
30 –people I spoke with who are healing from an iatrogenic brain injury
2 – number of shows/festivals in which I participated*
(PS: I didn’t really participate, but my work was represented. Much gratitude to Stephanie Rober Sheedy for bringing my work to Naples, New York; to Lauren Hirsch for showing my work during her holiday pop-up shows at Lauren Hirsch Custom Framing & Original Art in Naples, New York; and to Erika Sorbello for carrying my work at her amazing Gallery Salon in Rochester, New York.
1 – speaking engagement via ZOOM
0 – number of first dates I went on
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
I’m not sure.
But that’ll be the topic of my first post in 2020.
I definitely need to do some hard thinking on how I want my life to look and feel moving forward. Changes definitely need to be made, so the questions are:
What kinds of things can I change realistically, given that COVID restrictions will continue for some time and the future is uncertain?
Also, how can I continue to thrive personally & professionally in this extremely challenging climate & culture.
I am curious to know how y’all are doing. What has worked for you this year? What has gone to shit? Please share your thoughts here or on Facebook or via DM. It helps me to read your words, and — if you post publicly — chances, are your words will help someone else, too.
PS: Artwork in this post is still available. Please inquire if you are interested in purchasing.
If you purchased something from me in 2020, you’ve been automatically entered to win a surprise art-filled package chock-full of good stuff.
I thought it would be hilariously fun to award a second surprise art-filled package to the verylastperson to place an order via my website during 2020 — which is to say at or before 11:59:59 PM EST on December 31, 2020.
If you haven’t yet made a purchase this year or you’d like an additional entry to win, do either or both of these things to enter:
POST a pic of your fave RASJ piece on social media page & TAG me.
TAG two friends in the comment section of THIS POST!
For TEN extra entries, attend my last FINAL ZOOM tonight at 7pm EST!
*Giveaway closes at midnight EST on December 31, 2020. Winners will be announced on January 1, 2021. Open to United States residents only. This giveaway is in no way sponsored, endorsed, or administrated by or associated with Facebook or Instagram. It’s just me, wanting to start 2021 off in a positive way!
We were outside, standing at wooden easels that were taller than we were.
“Your tree is really good,” I said, pointing at her paper. She’d managed to draw a maple with yellow leaves that actually looked like leaves. There was even a squirrel inside a knotty bough.
Mary came over to consider my canvas. “Your tree doesn’t look real,” she said, “but I like it anyway.”
A lifelong friendship was forged.
Over the years, we performed in school plays together, stayed after school for roller-skating parties, attended carnivals and festivals and fairs. We loved singing in music class with Mr. Metz, and we were in the same reading group all the way through fifth grade. In middle school, we served numerous detentions together and rode the same late bus home; and while our closest friendship circles did not always overlap, we always remained devoted to each other.
Fun fact: Mary was my first kiss.
(And no it wasn’t like that.)
We were practicing for a boy we liked, so we helped each other ‘prepare,’ each of us offering extensive feedback on the other person’s technique.
We trusted each other and were honest with each other about everything.
Mary and I remained in touch long after we graduated from high school. We celebrated the births of each of our children, and when Facebook came around, she and I were among the first to sign on. We loved sharing stories and, later, photographs.
We went through difficult times together. Her divorce. Then mine. Loss. Injuries. Illnesses. We loved each other through it all and remained loyal to each other.
When Mary told me she was moving to North Carolina, I was devastated. Knowing she was just seventy miles down the Thruway was of of great comfort to me and, during her last few years in Syracuse, whenever I was visiting for an extended period of time, we would meet up, even briefly, for coffee and connection.
We would reminisce about the ’70s and ’80s, about how, whenever I stayed overnight at her house, we stayed up late, pressing our noses against the glass of her bedroom window, which overlooked the giant screen at the DeWitt Drive-In.
We had no business watching those movies, but we did. And we made up entire conversations about what we imagined the characters were saying.
To this day, I can’t watch Jaws without hearing Mary’s take on the voice of the shark.
“I’m biting off your leg!” she’d announce. “Chomp chomp chomp!”
Then we’d scream and remind each other that the severed limb drifting to the bottom of the ocean was just a special effect.
“It isn’t real,” she’d say. “It’s not real.”
Today, though, the scary thing is real.
And I hate it.
I don’t have any wise words.
I could rant about how COVID-19 isn’t a hoax.
That it took my friend, the sweetest, most loving and good person I have ever known.
In each of her roles — as wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, grandma — Mary was extraordinary. She was straight and she was gay and then she was straight again. She was an artist and a teacher and a friend and a Christian. She was the most inclusive, least judgmental person I have ever known.
Her love was big, and it knew no sexes or shades. She wasn’t about this side or that side.
Mary lived passionately and with great integrity every single day — which isn’t easy in a world where people judge you for being even the tiniest bit weird.
When she and Jerry were cleaning out their house before their move to North Carolina, Mary came to see me at my parents’ house. We laughed about how we used to dress up in matching white nightgowns and sing into our hairbrushes.
“I’m giving you all this crap,” she said, depositing four enormous bags of supplies into the trunk of my car.
“What am I supposed to do with all of this?” I asked her as I sifted through bags of ribbons and buttons and tissue paper.
“I don’t know,” she laughed. “But I know you’ll make something beautiful out of it.”
I’ll try, Mare. I’ll try.
But, honestly, I feel like someone just told me they have discontinued phthalo blue — and you know a painting isn’t worth a damn thing without a little phthalo in it.
It took many years from me to heal my brain after withdrawing too quickly from clonazepam, a powerful anti-anxiety drug.
How I wished there was someone I could see and talk to who had been through the experience!
I promised that if I ever got to the other side of this injury that I would do something to give back to those who are still struggling.
To that end, I am joining forces with Reverend Heather Elizabeth of Bye Bye Benzos, and the two of us will be co-facilitating a one-hour ZOOM call to talk about our stories as well as information about some of the modalities that helped us — and continue to help us — as we move through complicated trauma.
Participants may join with or without video at 11AM EST, but we must be able to see your real name. (People with “nicknames” will not be allowed into the call.)
Heather and I will join the meeting at 11:11AM EST.
The ZOOM call is 100% free, and there will be an opportunity for Q & A.
If you are interested in joining us, please go to Rasjacobson Art, LIKE my page & click GOING or INTERESTED and you will receive the link & the password on the morning of the event.
In the meantime, you can hear more about my story HERE and HERE & hear Heather’s story here HERE.
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?