Jun 132015
 

Doctor Learning EmpathyThe last time I posted, months ago, I’d been feeling optimistic about the latest doctor I was seeing at UCSF. He’d seemed interested and respectful, unlike some of the others. But then his tests came back without an obvious explanation for my abnormal brain MRIs and corresponding increasing debility.

He quickly became disinterested and dismissive. I’ll spare you the details. But it was depressing.

Not long after that awful, demoralizing appointment, I found a little cloth doll at a craft store. My immediate thought was, of course, “Voodoo doll!”

Then, the last time my friend Shirl and I were at our favorite supply shop, Dollhouses, Trains and More in Novato, I found a cute little stethoscope. It fit my voodoo doll perfectly.

One of the things the dismissive doc dismissed was the pain I described that feels like burning pins on the bottoms of my feet. Some days I can barely stand to wear socks. Or, come to think of it, even barely stand. He said it didn’t mean anything.

Empathy is an important quality in a doctor, wouldn’t you agree?

Teaching a Doctor Empathy

However, in spite of the “experts” at UCSF, I might now actually have a diagnosis.

Sort of.

I visited a dear friend last week. She mentioned she’d recently found an amusing 70s-style tarot deck among her late husband’s things. She was delighted to know that I like tarot cards. “Pull a few!” she suggested.

And this is what I got:

A Diagnosis

Hey, I said as I turned over the second card, “Those are nightshades! That’s really funny. I can’t eat those. I’m allergic to nightshades.” We looked up the card in the the guidebook that came with the deck. It helpfully explained that people who follow a macrobiotic diet believe these are basically poison, but most people can eat them just fine. (Except for Ellen!, we laughed.)

After that was a card that said, “What’s Happening?”

Then the final card said “I come from a different planet.” Hmmm…. The guidebook explained that my memories were erased at birth, so I don’t remember. But I’m actually a space alien.

I figure it’s as good an explanation as any. Don’t you agree?

Nov 092014
 

Scrapbook cover

My friend Shirl is an ephemera magnet. I don’t know where she finds what she does! We’re talking seriously good ephemera. And she’s also extremely generous, much to my good fortune.

She recently gifted me with a scrapbook from the 1880s. The binding has completely come apart and the spine covering is gone, which, for me, is a large part of its attraction.

Victorian scrapbook spine

Its spine was formed by layers of paper that were folded, accordion-like, to form guards. The folios were inserted into the valleys. It was all sewn together over tapes.

There is only one folio still (barely) attached. It’s a bit hard to make out in the photo, but, if you look carefully, you can see that it had been sewn into the valley.

Spine sewing

There is also a single fabric endband still attached.

Endband

Dang, I just love looking at old deconstructed bindings.

The actual content is marvelous too. It’s a fairly typical Victorian scrapbook filled with advertising cards and whatnot. I plan to photograph or scan some of it later.

Advertising cards in scrapbook

Sweet 16

Advertising ephemera

And, by coincidence, I also recently acquired another Victorian-era treasure. A Webster’s dictionary from 1859! It was being sold in two pieces with a few pages missing, which made it affordable. Aside from that, the pages themselves are in good shape.

dictionary

1859!

In the front there is a section of illustrations (some of which I am later planning to photograph more properly). As you can see in the photo below, some of the “birds” are a bit… interesting… to our modern eyes. (The “fishes” are similarly a bit surreal  — apparently, for example, seals were considered a type of fish.)

The Birds

All the latest in science is here too:

Phrenology

And some botany:

Poppy

Among other things, I was surprised to discover that as relatively recently as 1859, the word “weird” still solely meant something to do with witchcraft.

Weird

It has a handy usage guide too.See Insanity

I also have been enjoying Webster’s essay detailing why, for instance, he has taken the “u” out of words like “colour.” “That Johnson,” you can almost imagine Webster sighing and shaking his head as he wrote.

We took the u out of colour

 

Ground Squirrel

The Paper Ground Squirrel somehow doesn’t have quite the same ring…

Note: if you want a close-up look of any of these, click on the photo. It will take you to another page where it won’t look any bigger. However, if you click on it again from the other page, it will then display a larger version. Sorry for the inconvenience of having to click twice. It’s the native WordPress way, apparently.

Oct 122014
 

An ongoing project.

As many of you know, I grumble about medical people. I’ve seen more than my share of crummy quacks.

But my internist for the last 15 years was an exception. My suffering, both physical and mental, would have been so much greater if not for him.

He died last month, and I’ve been raw with grief.

Prior to finding him in the late 90s, I’d gone through a succession of lazy judgmental doctors. I was an artist and did not hold a conventional 9-5 job. I tend to come across as a little batty to medical people. I’d been getting sicker and sicker. One doctor told me all of my gastrointestinal problems were evidence that I didn’t cope well with stress and needed to be on Prozac (it later turned out I had celiac disease). Another told me I was like “a Victorian lady.” A bit too delicate and hypochondriacal.

At the time, my throat was swollen halfway shut all of the time. I’d gone to a local allergist who’d told me it could be any one of “hundreds of things.” It was pointless to try to figure it out. But if I started having trouble breathing, I should go to the ER. And that was all he could offer me. The doctor who’d made the Victorian lady comment prescribed a heavy-duty antihistamine that I later discovered was most often meant as a sedative.

I was telling some of this to the woman who cut my hair back then. She told me she liked her doctor. He took people seriously. He’d come up here recently from LA and was now chief of staff at the local hospital. He’d help. I was skeptical. But I was also desperate. I made an appointment, expecting to, yet again, get the brushoff and be told I needed Prozac. I remember telling a friend the night before that I was about to try a new doctor. “Whatever you do,” she urged, “don’t tell this one anything about your background! You know what they’re like…” I agreed that, indeed, feigned normality was my only hope of getting unbiased care. I’d try my best.

This new doctor’s reaction to my symptoms was “Oh my God! You’ve got a serious problem! Dangerous! We need to get to the bottom of this.” He assured me he would find out what was causing the swelling and the other sick-making stuff. In the meantime, he got me on some non-sedating meds and insisted I start carrying an anaphylaxis kit, just in case.

I walked out almost in a daze. A doctor who was taking me seriously? This didn’t happen. He discovered that I was allergic to milk, something that I almost found hard to believe. I also had other food allergies. Once my allergies were discovered, the alarming swelling and the chronic eczema I’d had for years vanished.

I later saw the chief of Allergy and Immunology at a major teaching hospital. She told me I was deluded. I could not possibly have those food allergies. She would know. She ordered me to consume milk for the health of my bones. She was so adamant that I doubted my own sanity. That night I ate ice cream. And swelled up and got rather sick.

I reported this later to my internist. He narrowed his eyes with disapproval. “Nothing…  from…  the… udder… of… a… cow,” he slowly hissed while shaking a finger at me. “You really listened to that woman?!”

Around this time, I began to develop indescribable pain through my right, dominant arm and hand. It was incapacitating. As an artist, this was a career-killer. The pain spread to my other side. Other inflammatory problems blossomed. Life was not good. But I was far more fortunate than most, especially around here, in similar situations. I had a doctor who genuinely believed in easing suffering. He tried and suggested practically everything, made referrals and tried different combinations of medications. If he couldn’t cure it, he was at least going to do everything he could to keep me as functional as possible.

My internist had enormous physical challenges of his own and knew what it was like to suffer from a patient’s perspective. He was an extraordinarily empathic doctor.

Over time, he became as much a friend as my doctor. He came to my art shows and I went to his spoken word/music performances. We used to talk so much about other things — politics, usually — that I’d ask, laughing, if he’d mind if I interjected with a medical question. This, in the age of 8-minute doctor visits.

He gave me most of the pharma packaging I use for arts and crafts. Leaving an appointment, I’d sometimes feel mildly self-conscious clutching a bag full of pharma industry sales paraphernalia.

He liked to encourage artists.

He once gave me one of his own antibiotic pills from a recent hospitalization. He explained that the single pill was worth $200. I painted it gold and placed it on velvet inside a pill bottle cap. I presented it back to him at my next appointment along with a miniaturized bound copy of the annual financial report of the pharma that had produced it.

The $200 Pill

We had an unusual doctor-patient relationship.

It’s not that I agreed with everything he did or suggested. I still smile when I think of one time when we were having a shouting match because I’d disagreed with one of his recommendations. As our argument escalated, his nurse — long accustomed to his conversational style — cheerfully strolled in and, over our bickering, announced she’d forgotten to take my blood pressure. She then proceeded to do just that, smiling, as we continued to shout at each other.

The memorial gathering for Dr. David Gans was this weekend. There were so many mourners, the room overflowed to standing-room only.

True to his spirit, there was a giveaway table in back loaded with gifts for the assembled.

Everyone was invited to help themselves to the pharmaceutical industry trinkets that had been collected from his office. (For those of you not in the U.S., you probably can’t believe most of this stuff.) Tears turned to smiles as people walked off with pharma-branded mugs, clocks, toothbrush holders, mini golf clubs, toys, cup dispensers, paperweights…

Staring at the table, my husband Victor whispered in my ear, “better get some bags from the car.”

I pictured Dr. Gans laughing.

New tool holder

Mar 182011
 
Home is in that orange-shaded portion of California.
http://www.crew.org/science/pgaall.html

Days before the terrible earthquake in Japan, I’d had a conversation with a friend about the massive subduction quake that we are overdue for here in our part of the world. He’d taken a class from a famous geologist who specializes in earthquakes. He talked about how it will be around 9 on the Richter and how the shaking will go on for minutes, not seconds as in most earthquakes. The tsunami it will unleash will wipe out some of the lower-lying towns almost instantaneously. We will be cut off from the outside world for weeks afterward due to damaged highways and bridges, likely with no power and maybe no water. I expressed my desire to be long gone when this event occurs. The thought is too horrific to contemplate, even as we live every day with the knowledge that it could very well happen here at any time in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. And then…

When I moved to Humboldt County in the late 80s, I became friends with a woman who had two girls, the younger being 2 at the time. We were in the same anthropology class that required spending a chunk of the semester at the zoo watching the primates for a term project. I remember us meeting there. My friend spread out a blanket and we worked while the “baby” napped, then we took her around the zoo to look at the animals when we were done. While still a student I wound up living just behind them. We became good friends and kept in touch over the years. The toddler at the zoo is now a married university graduate. She’s incredibly smart, creative and quirky in all the best ways. And bilingual too.

Kyoto

She is currently living with her husband in northern Japan, working with a cultural exchange program. After the earthquake, there were a couple of tense days here in California as we waited for news. Even her friends in Japan started posting notes on Facebook, wondering if she was ok. She doesn’t live right on the coast, but isn’t that far from the epicenter. She’d mentioned visiting Sendai before. It was, to put it mildly, an unnerving experience.

At last, she was able to get a line out–she and her husband were ok!

I’ve been to Japan once, many years ago to Kyoto. I arrived not sure what I’d think of the place, and left enthralled. Thinking about what’s happening in that country now is painful.

Before the quake, I’d planned to briefly mention Japan in my next post. I have a link to something there that relates to a current project. Next time…

Jan 312011
 
© Natalie DiCostanzo

My local long-time friend Natalie is a fantastic ceramic artist. We recently had a discussion about kiln gods. Since I’m not a ceramicist, I wasn’t familiar with them. They are, it turns out, pieces that are made to be placed on the kiln as a sort of good luck offering for the firing. She’d recently made some talisman pieces based on this idea.

The other day on an impulsive whim, I walked into the Arcata Artisans Cooperative Gallery where she has her work and bought one that caught my eye. I figured a talisman to appease the arts gods might be just the thing I was needing.

Minutes later on my way back to the car, I stopped in at Northtown Books just down the street. As soon as I got through the door, they placed an order for a bunch of greeting cards of my old collages. The order covered the cost of my talisman.

I like this talisman idea.

I also like our independent bookstores. Humboldt folks take note: if you want something quickly, consider getting it locally. I recently placed a special order from Northtown in the early Saturday evening of a long holiday weekend. It arrived by Tuesday. This, in an isolated place where even “overnight” delivery often takes two nights. I don’t know how they do it. Plus, they are really nice people.

And if you happen to pop into Northtown in Arcata, or Eureka Books in Eureka (who, I should add, can also order things for you) my talisman suggests you check out the greeting cards, especially the ones with the mosaic collages on them, like this one here. . .
paper mosaic collage image

You’re Here  © Ellen Golla

Jan 232011
 
Nearing completion.

How ironic that I started this book/object before the situation I mentioned in my last post. Next time I get the urge to portray sharks circling something, I will take note.

Before I go further, I want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, my legitimate readers and friends for their support and encouragement. I’ve been deeply moved by the kind comments, messages and emails that I’ve received since I last posted. It’s been a bright spot during an otherwise dark time, and has meant a lot to me. Thank you.

Lovely washi.

On a happier note, I have a book project to share. I’ve finally been able to get back in the studio a bit, and have been on a Japanese paper binge. If you dip pieces of it into paste (in this case, rice starch paste) and remove the excess, you can form the  paper into almost anything. Leave it on waxed paper to dry, and you can have, for instance, miniature billowing drapes.

And what’s especially lovely is that it is non-toxic. I wouldn’t want to dip my bare hands in acrylic medium or PVA, but rice starch and distilled water? I feel like a kindergartner with something really cool and slimy.

Sticky slime! Dip into the paste, then run the paper
through fingers to remove the excess. Then shape.
After drying.
Curtains!
Arranging.
Be Careful What You Take to Bed With You.
Jun 222010
 

A good friend recently went to Wales and England for a visit. The Lambeth Palace Library was on her itinerary. This is the historic library and record office of the Archbishops of Canterbury and is the principal repository of Church of England historical documents. It’s one of the earliest public libraries in England. It was founded in 1610.

They are currently having an exhibition of rare manuscripts and documents in celebration of the library’s 400th anniversary. It sounded like a stroll in paradise for book lovers.

Today I got an unexpected box in the mail. Nestled inside among all sorts of wonderful books and ephemera from the UK was a shrink-wrapped copy of the lushly illustrated Lambeth Palace Library Exhibition catalogue. Oh my!

Thanks K!

This is a spread from Petrus Apianus’s Cosmographia from 1529, which shows a movable volvelle that could be used to tell the time in any latitude.
Feb 282010
 
My friend Robin Robin died on Friday. He’d been ill, but stable. This came as quite a shock.
Robin was an incredible commercial and portrait photographer with a career that included long stints in Los Angeles and Paris. We met after I’d had a bad experience with another local commercial photographer. Finding someone who really knew how to take professional quality larger format transparencies of artwork in this rural place was difficult. The transparencies were a necessity so I could get images of my paper mosaic collages reproduced. My work also has a glossy sheen to it that makes it difficult to photograph. I hired Robin to retake all of the 4 x 5s of my collage artwork. He did a stellar job of it. His wife Stephanie was his constant companion in the studio, as well as elsewhere, and we hit it off in a big way.

Without Robin’s quality transparencies, I likely could not have kept my work with the Bridgeman Art Library. When I had my last solo show, Robin showed up, tripod in hand, to get pictures of the gallery. It was Stephanie who, indirectly, led me to get involved with the book arts world. They both have had a huge impact on my life here. They have also simply been good friends.

A few years ago, Robin had an idea for a photography show at the local museum (if you click the link, scroll down to February). He wanted to do portraits of local artists. He wanted me to be one of them. The day of the shoot, he had Stephanie sit near me as he took the photos. As I’m sure he knew we would, we got each other in hysterics laughing (I remember I was telling her about my fantasy plastic lawn ornament, a mating turkey decoy — don’t ask how we wound up there). As soon as I started gasping with laughter, he started snapping. Dang him. Then I learned further details about the show. He was planning to make the portraits wall-sized. “Robin,” I nearly screamed, “you didn’t tell me you wanted to be f’ing Chuck Close!” Grudgingly, I had to admit they were the best pictures I’d ever seen of myself. Robin let me have copies of the proofs to use for promo purposes and whatnot.

One day a few years ago I was fishing some locally grown carrots out of a bag. I pulled out a multi-legged mutant that was so funny my husband and I were nearly writhing in tears at the sight of it. I wanted a picture. Then I remembered we’d be seeing Robin and Stephanie the next day. Robin could get a better snapshot of it than I could.

I should’ve known better. Robin took it to his studio and did a set of portraits, even rubbing it with oil to give it a nice sheen. To this day I can’t look at a carrot without thinking of Robin’s photos. I joked with him that he could even make a carrot look sexy, but it wasn’t far from the truth. He was amazing with a camera. And he was the sort of person one would feel lucky to have for a friend. He’s going to be terribly missed.

Feb 192010
 

I never used to understand the appeal of making paper. Rip up a sheet of paper, put it in a blender and make… a sheet of paper! How exciting. I stuck to found and purchased papers and left the wet stuff to other folks.

Then one day a long while back I got curious. I made a primitive mould and deckle with some screen, tore up some old junk mail, shoved the pieces in a blender with some water…and made some surprisingly cool-looking papers. I was hooked.

I eventually got a pour-style mould and some dried sheets of different kinds of pulps from Carriage House Paper. I discovered the thrill of experimenting with various (and sometimes strange) inclusions and the joy of running one’s fingers through a vat of cool proto-paper slush.

On the other hand, it can be a tiring process. I went for a long time without doing it. Then recently my friend Michele wanted to start making paper. I loaned her some books, which was all well and good, but what she most wanted, please, was a demo of that pour mould. And so I pulled out the old papermaking paraphernalia.

We got some especially interesting results with a mix of blue jean and sisal pulps, which I’d been rehydrating since the day before. Michele is a hoot. She’s a former mathematician, and at one point in the process she expressed out loud her desire to have a math book to deface–this paper would sure be improved with some equations! Said I, gazing at my pile of university library discards, “Would physics do?”

The results are still drying under clamps and boards. I can’t wait.

Dec 052009
 

A beloved friend passed away last month. He’d been ill. It wasn’t a surprise. But still very sad. He’d been a BIG person…in every way. Big personality, big physical presence. Before he’d become too sick, he’d also been a gunsmith. Imagine a very large, loud-voiced (often spewing loud expletives) guy working away in the gun shop. I used to delight in sending him birthday cards each year that were childlike, such as one with a crayon stick-figure drawing of him holding a pistol and saying “Bang! Bang!” We were opposites, but we’d always had a lot of affection for each other.

One birthday, my juvenile “card” offering was a Matchbox car that I’d glued a trailing banner onto, with the words to Happy Birthday written out. The tiny banner was rolled up and tied to the roof, to be untied and unrolled for reading. I was told later that one of his young grandsons was enthralled with the car and  wanted to play with it every time he visited. The little guy was gently told it wasn’t really a toy, so he should only just look at it. (My, did I feel mean!)

Recently, I needed some kind of birthday cards for a set of twins, children of another friend, who were turning 7. I decided to make a couple of the banner cars. I found matching Matchbox cars and customized them for each boy. They were well received.

Come springtime when his own birthday rolls around, I have a suspicion that my friend’s grandson will be getting his very own happy birthday car just like the one his bampa had. And it will come with explicit instructions that he should be allowed to do whatever he darn well pleases with it (although I’m sure his bampa wouldn’t have said “darn”). This is part of my unofficial campaign to plant subliminal thoughts in my friends’ children that art can be fun. It doesn’t have to be serious. Silly is good, no matter what size you are.