October 28, 2012

Goethe Twice Cooked

During my protracted illness, there were two other things besides my drawing that kept me distracted from unpleasant symptoms: reading and watching videos. When my symptoms weren’t screaming at me, I was even able to tackle more complicated literature and used my disabled time at home to read some classics. I read My Antonia, first. Then I vaguely recall the Eugene O’Neil plays. The classic Russian novel, Oblamov, got me through the cruel winter. And Ann of Green Gables - the entire series made the 2012 spring of incessant muscle wrenching nerve firing survivable. When my concentration and attention span was quite poor, I read Tales from a Chinese Studio, since each tale was a page or less in length. And the wood-cut illustrations to the Tales, were small gems.

This autumn I am reading Goethe’s Faust. I still recall some of my German so it is fun to go back and forth from the German and English. I was quite taken by a scene in Faust that took place in the home of a witch. The scene described two Meerkatzen, or long-tailed monkeys, taking care of a bubbling cauldron of witch’s brew. It so happened that in one of my sketch books from my travels in Europe I had drawn two monkeys. I remember that they weren’t done from life but were from a detail in a much larger painting. I always loved the life in the margins of greater works.

Taking this sketch of monkeys, I fleshed them out a bit and gave them a new coat of fur. I added a cauldron and a background both gleaned from Chinese bronzes. And voila - they now illustrate a scene from Goethe’s Faust. I post it in celebration of Halloween week.

October 26, 2012


It is difficult to know where to begin to blog again after leaving off for over a year. It was not my intention to stop so abruptly. But something cruel and terrible happened to my health that virtually left me an invalid for a year. I am still recovering and am still disabled and mostly homebound but have regained enough strength in my arms to type at the computer again and enough stamina to work for a few hours in the morning and a few hours again late in the evening if I’m lucky. It started with a virus, then a bad reaction to an antibiotic. Add to that the stress of an orthopaedic injury, loss of a large contract, and my husband leaving to teach for a year in Norway and I do believe it was the perfect storm for major illness. It became a systemic respiratory, neuromuscular, gastro-intestinal nightmare that has still left me with muscles that jump and move about on their own, sick attacks that can last for hours, seizure-like episodes that are just about daily, and very very weak. The worst part about being severely ill has been the long, painful, fight for a diagnosis. I’ve been in medical limbo for the last year, subjected to hundreds of tests that all come back negative. Actually some come back positive but in those cases I’m always told that they don’t count. There was a tentative diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as Chronic Fatigue Dysfunction Syndrome or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. But the doctor who made the initial diagnosis has since retracted so I continue to be in medical limbo. But because his nurse helped me find information and advocacy for the disorder, at least he pointed me in the right direction. From time to time, I’ll tell a little more about the tale. But for today I would like to offer a sampling of two rays of hope that helped sustain me, even through the darkest hours of pain and loneliness. The first ray of hope was my art. Even at my worst, I found that I could prop up my weak arms by folding my quaking legs and putting my elbows into the cleft below my knee. I could hold a small sketch book and draw. The drawing began in February of this year and I have been at it ever since. The second ray of hope was the help I received from friends, neighbors, and concerned doctors. I would like to thank all of them. Without their help I don’t know how I would have survived. I thank my sister for sending me care packages from New Jersey and for being a sounding board even when I sounded dreadful. My neighbors took me in a few times a week so I wouldn’t be alone. My dear friend Julia Wolfe took care of me at her home for long weekends even as the weeks and months rolled by and my progress was so very slow. I am especially grateful to Dr. Jenrette at MUSC who made arrangements for me to expeditiously see a good orthopaedist and thereby helped me avoid orthopaedic surgery that would have been a disaster considering my condition. It was one huge weight lifted when I was so seriously sick with other problems. I’m also grateful to Dr. Francis Goldstein, who did in-hospital tests to rule out anything that would be likely to kill me outright and in so-doing, saved me a huge amount of time, money, and worry. My poor beleaguered doctors here in Orangeburg did whatever they could to relieve my pain and unpleasant symptoms. Dr. Brener in Charleston was also extremely thorough. Although I haven’t been exactly “fixed,” I would have to say that a brave and honest effort was made on my behalf. Duke medical university center was quite thorough as well and I may still return there for some follow up. The last place I would not have been able to get to without the help of my husband, who took time away from a prestigious Fulbright appointment in Norway to come home for a few weeks in the winter. He is home permanently now and it makes all the difference. And a special thanks to Lee Malerich for helping with doctor's appointments, yard work and paperwork. And thanks to everyone else who dropped by to help and for support. On the art scene, being housebound, I turned to the only available materials for inspiration: my old sketch books and my own imagination. I listened to music and books on tape as I drew. I developed a kinship with Frieda Kahlo while listening to her biography- especially when I listened to the author’s discovery of page after page of Frieda Kahlo’s notebooks being filled with patterns. I, too, became obsessed with drawing patterns - it took my mind off of the pain and seemed to calm down the over firing of nerves. The drawing featured below, however, is one of my less patterned ones and is called “Adrift.” It is a reinterpreted detail from Delacroix’s Raft of the Medusa. Or was it Gericault? I’m too fatigued to look it up now. I only know that it expresses well the feeling of drifting over the last fourteen months - drifting away from an old life and not knowing what this new world will bring. Last fall, while I was spiraling downwards, I still managed to do small paintings. Again, relying on items that were at arm’s length, I started painting a collection of old toys from the 1960's. To the left is my rendition of a vintage troll doll.