I wasn’t going to talk more about my surgery but since all I’ve been doing since my last post is either having surgery (thankfully a VERY small percentage of the time!) or recovering from it. I guess that’s pretty much all I’ve got for this overdue post.

Instead of telling you all the gory stuff though I want to talk about expectations. As I mentioned in my last post, there was a chance I could awaken from my surgery pain-free. I didn’t really expect that to happen but you know, in a way, I sort of hoped it would. Well, it didn’t. I am now getting used to what kind of pain remains and how to deal with that.

There’s still a lot of numbness and pain in my right wrist and pinky – clearly an ulnar nerve something-or-other. That’s annoying, and I suspect it’s one of the things that may not go away. This is kind of a bummer. It hurts a lot, and makes strange things that require applying pressure difficult, like opening doors.

However, once I got over being sad about that, I began to realize that my hands were steady. I’m looking at them right now and they are not shaking one bit. If you ever saw me drinking a cup of coffee before, you’d know I needed two hands to hold it steady and that I always appeared to have tremors.The unsteadiness was a big factor in what led me to quit drawing and embroidering — I’ve always been a skilled freehander, and I just couldn’t get the lines to come out right. I am happy to report that, like riding a bike, apparently that’s something I can just pick back up again.

queen drawingYou guys, I CAN DRAW AGAIN!

I don’t even know if I realized how much I missed it. I think I just got so used to not doing it that I sort of forgot I once called myself a capital-A Artist.

I kind of gave up on being an artist and actually I think I wasn’t really cut out for it anyway, at least not on a professional level. So that’s ok. AndI might never be “perfectly” healed or have 100% of my hand control back ever again, but I’ve been given back something I sort of assumed I just had to give up forever. Something I thought I was just going to have to get used to never doing again. I can pick up a pencil and I can draw again and it feels incredible. I can definitely live with that.



many roads to follow

At 4:45 tomorrow morning my mother and I are going to get in a cab to Rush University Medical Center, where I’m going to be probably given a cotton gown and an IV and after that, will wake up several hours later having had two discs between the vertebrae in my cervical spine fused. Here’s the wikipedia article if you want to know all about the procedure. The short version is: two of my discs are pressing on the nerve that goes to my right arm, it hurts a lot, and supposedly this will help.

Without getting overly whiny about it, chronic pain sucks. If you’ve had it you understand, and if you haven’t, you don’t. Maybe more annoying and hard to deal with than the pain, though, is the weakness. Having always been a pretty strong person, I found myself unable to open jars, carry heavy things, sometimes on bad days I couldn’t eat with a fork. I’ve always been a klutz but I knew something was really wrong when I would just suddenly drop a cup of coffee because my hand just quit working. I certainly could no longer do all of the fine hand embroidery and printmaking I had once spent most of my spare time doing. I had to learn pretty quickly how to ask to for help, and I hated it.

I knew I was going to have to make a career change. I had been working in special collections library conservation. When you are holding a one-of-a-kind medieval manuscript in your hand and you’re expected to touch up the paint on it using a fine-haired brush and a microscope, there’s no room for unsteady fingers. While I perused my options, I took the settlement money obtained from the accident which caused these problems in the first place and helped to start a contemporary craft fair in Bloomington, Indiana.

While this ended up showing me that I’m not cut out to be a businessperson, it did show me that there are other things in the world that I love and am good at besides conservation. I discovered a passion for event planning, working with artists, coordinating people, and marketing. I could no longer make art, but I could contribute to the art world in other ways that made me feel useful. I returned to school for a degree in public management.

I am now working in product data management, which may seem – and is – a far cry from either conservation or arts programming. But actually I find that it’s work that is deeply satisfying, and allows me to contribute to all of the areas I love in a positive way. On the one hand, I have the means to financially contribute to organizations that I believe in and support artists whose work I care about. On the other, I have information and database management skills that enable me to assist nonprofits and artists with the tasks that they don’t typically enjoy but which they need to make their enterprises work.

It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but I really like my life now, and I never would have known or pursued any of it if one day in June of 2008 I hadn’t been hit by a van driven by a distracted mother making a left turn. It would be nice if I could have gotten here without all of the pain and struggling, but then again, maybe there’s no way around that. Maybe most importantly, I feel a lot more confident now that I can handle just about anything that comes my way.

After this surgery, it’s hard to say but it’s completely possible I could make a full recovery. I could be able to do all those things I used to do again. I won’t go back to my old life, but I will hopefully get back to making more art. I have read from other accounts of this surgery that it’s entirely possible I could wake up and feel normal – in other words, not wake up in pain for the first time in nearly 6 years. What will that be like? I really cannot even imagine.

What I do know is, even though it’s been difficult, I’m a better person for having gone through this experience. I have more empathy, more compassion for my fellow man, and I have made a lot of discoveries about myself that I never would have had I not had to completely turn my life around. I was lucky that something worse didn’t happen, something completely irreversible. I’m terrified of the journey that will begin with that cab ride tomorrow morning, but also very much excited to find what lies at the end of it. I’m excited to get the person I was and the person I am back together again.

Weekly Daily: Young Chicagoan

While traveling to get a piece of some of the best pizza in Chicago the other day, I noticed this little gem of a terrazzo entryway in what is now one of those multi-function income tax preparer / fax service / money changer places located at 2715 N. Milwaukee, on the east side of Milwaukee Ave. just south of Spaulding.


This lovely little guy is located along Milwaukee Avenue just south of Diversey, on the east side of the street.

Terrazzo doesn’t seem to be used as much for exterior entryways these days, probably for lots of reasons including but not limited to the damaging effects of Chicago weather, but there are still plenty of examples around town and even in the same neighborhood (Logan Square). Terrazzo is created by grinding up quartz, glass, granite and other rocky bits and combining that mixture with a binder so that it’s pourable. Metal strips are used to create the outlines of the design and then the cement mixture is poured in and around, in contrasting colors, to create the design. Here’s a pretty sweet video if you want to watch some terrazzo magic happening.

I haven’t had much luck finding out anything about the Young Chicagoan shop except that folks remember shopping there for young women’s clothing in the 1960s and 70s and that it was owned by 2 sisters. It was likely not related in any way to the Marshall Field’s “Young Chicagoan” line of young men’s clothing. Logan Square used to be home to several department stores including Goldblatt’s, Woolworth’s, and Klaus’s. There’s a good blog post about Woolworth’s with a photo of its current incarnation as a Foot Locker in Logan Square over here.

Maybe now’s the time for crowdsourcing: if there is anyone out there that used to frequent or knows more about Young Chicagoan, get in touch!

Collaborative intentions

Two very important and somewhat-related things happened that led me to create yet another blog.

1. I somehow managed to lock myself out of my old one.

2. I was challenged by a couple of very good friends to make a blog post a week, or face consequences.

Although I’ve never been a person to take criticism too hard, and have exhibited my artwork on numerous occasions to the general public, writing feels a lot harder to put out there. I suppose because there’s no hiding behind the possibility that someone is misinterpreting the work or just doesn’t “get” my style. If another human doesn’t understand my writing, it’s because I didn’t communicate effectively. There’s more of a responsibility to the audience, more of a need to actually communicate to be understood as opposed to simply throwing ideas out and seeing if they stick.

This notion of the underlying communication inherent in artistic and collaborative acts is something I come back to again and again in every aspect of my life. For example, I think about it a lot in relation to card games. One of my favorite things about card games is how so many different games can be played with the same tools, and that if the folks involved have a general sense of how cards work generally (four suits, in order by number, face cards high) by communicating about the mechanics of the rules a group of people can pretty easily play a wide variety of different games with one another.

It feels vague to me to say that that is the underlying theme of this blog, but in a general sense it’s true. I’m working at the game of being understood and of understanding, and now I’m committed to doing it for at least a month. Perhaps even scarier, other people are committed to reading it.