Enough is Enough

Self-Preservation. Paper mosaic collage, 4 x 6″.

I recently was waiting at the sheriff’s station. In front of me was a sign directing people to something serious sounding, having to do with civil cases. It was written in Comic Sans. All caps Comic Sans. I wish I’d had my camera. But since I’d had to go through a metal detector to get there, I figured it likely wasn’t a camera-friendly place, alas.

And why would I be visiting the sheriff? Family stuff. Not my immediate family, thank God, but those from whom I am immediately descended. Little did I know when I started making a book of a bed with sharks swimming around it how apropos it would be.

It’s such a cliché, the artist with an insane past. Most folks couldn’t make this sort of thing up, but, friends, I’m being harassed. By my own parents. For my health and sanity, I’ve been intentionally estranged from them for about 20 years. Psychological, medical and law enforcement people have all concurred that this is a most sensible and excellent idea.

Nothing says Christmas better than a blog comment describing your dead brother in the box he was cremated in. Thank God for the spam button. Apparently, they’d been monitoring this blog. And after I disclosed my recent diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, they decided to use the comment function to get in touch.

Almost 12 years ago my brother Eric died at age 30. He was autistic and lived with them. After he was diagnosed with a terminal liver tumor, our father screamed at him “What are we going to do when we lose the money we get to keep you!” Eric confided to me that he thought they only wanted him alive for the money he brought in. For most of Eric’s life, our father thought it was hilarious to follow him around the house, grabbing his head and shaking it. “It’s so light!” he would announce. “There’s nothing in there!”

My parents tried to prevent me from having contact with Eric, in some twisted attempt to use him as a tool to get to me, and punishment for my perceived sins. Returned to Sender

They believed that hurting him and me both was appropriate. My mother told anyone who’d listen that I’d stopped writing to him and didn’t call him after he became ill. She returned his mail to sender, when she felt like it, and they screened all calls and grabbed the phone away if it was me on the line.

One extended family member didn’t believe me when I said my brother couldn’t call me and I couldn’t get a call to him. “That’s crazy! I’ll go over there, give him my cell phone and we’ll call you!” He told me to sit by the phone. It never rang. My father said he couldn’t allow that. It would upset my mother too much if she knew my brother was talking to me.

But what my parents don’t understand is that most people, at heart, are kind. There were people who let me know when Eric was in the hospital, so I could call after hours. At one point Eric was sent north from Central California to Stanford for a few days. At the time, I knew someone who worked at that medical center. I flew down there, and the friend arranged it so I could come see him after visiting hours. Eric told me our father had raved at him in the car on the way up, angry over having to drive him a few hours to the medical center and having to stay overnight in a motel. Totally in character. Eric and I got to see each other, say our goodbyes and make our peace. And our parents, up until this post, were happy thinking that they’d managed to prevent that.

This recent attempt to harass me through my blog to cause me more pain because I was just diagnosed with M.S. was the final straw. Most people grow out of bullying by the end of high school. There are ways of dealing with this sort of thing.

So here you go, Mom and Dad. I am old enough at this point, and have the friends, expert professional help and resources to keep you from harming me.

Now, back to working on my current book.

My Fantastical Imagination

Purposeful studio chaos.

I threatened to someone that I would post a picture of my work table. Now I’m getting around to it.

Along with it, some background. It’s been an interesting time. I have a show coming up next year, and need to be productive in the studio. I also have been dealing with health matters that make that difficult. I used to spend a lot of time cutting paper and creating intricate collages. Over the last decade or so, it became impossible to continue doing that.

Getting a diagnosis has been a long struggle. One neurologist years ago told me that my problem was that I was an artist. He informed me that the same “fantastical imagination” that allowed me to create my artwork would lead me to have “a fantastical interpretation of my bodily sensations.” This neurologist also, by way of emphasizing how funny and crazy we artistic types are, told me that one of his patients was the musician and painter Don Van Vliet, popularly known as Captain Beefheart, who, incidentally, lived in my small town and died just a few days ago at the local hospital. To emphasize his point, the neurologist, while laughing, impersonated Don’s distinctive Multiple Sclerosis-related movement difficulties with what I’m sure he thought was a comic flourish. I didn’t know Don, but had heard that he had a reputation for fiercely defending his privacy. We wild and funny artistic types.

I was also told that I’d caused my painful problems myself through my artwork (too much fine hand motion, even though I had other symptoms that clearly had nothing to do with my arm pain). I am now careful to avoid mentioning art to medical people, lest it bias my care.

I could spend several web pages detailing cruelties from doctors and others. A friend once laughed at me and made it clear she thought I was a contemptible hypochondriac. Others haven’t said it to my face, but I suspect they’ve thought it.

This past week has been bittersweet. I finally found a decent specialist out of town. I now have a name to put to this (it’s basically M.S.). It’s degenerative, but the decline won’t be all that quick. But I can shelve any fantasies I might’ve still been harboring that things will get better.

I recently started a new medication that has helped with some of the more distressingly mind-numbing symptoms. A few days after starting it, I had a sudden urge to pull out some of my old collage things, including a little 4 x 6″ picture I hadn’t worked on in almost 6 years. The picture above is my chaotic worktable when I had it out. It was wonderful to be immersed in my old work again. My recent trip put a damper on my stamina, but I’m hoping to get back to it. I’ve also been working on some book-related projects (pictures to come).

I’m always torn over how much I should post about medical things. There is a sense that one should maintain one’s privacy, and other people’s medical problems are boring. On the other hand, I don’t like that vague feeling of stigma. Being ill or having a disease isn’t a source of shame. I’ve also long been using my experiences with the medical establishment as creative fodder. I can’t pretend this aspect of my life doesn’t exist.

Product of creative fodder?
(As I wrote out those last few lines there was a sudden massive flash of lightning and a thunderclap outside the window. A sign?)

Daily Planners

My Daily Planner

I did a stupid thing last month. I discovered that if one takes life-sustaining meds, it’s a bad thing to forget a dose. A really bad thing. This little oversight, and then my trip south, put me out of commission worse than usual for a while. I guess I should’ve paid more attention to my own bookmark design from a few years ago. Alas.

I’d been planning to contribute something for an exhibition next month at Eureka Books that our local book arts guild is having. I was going to make something appropriately sellable and commercially pleasing, like my miniature cat ABC book. But it just wasn’t in me. So I finished My Daily Planner instead. It fit my mood better.

PS: I wrote earlier about how I waxed the papers to make the cover material for the little books.

Life from a Pill Bottle

I feel as if I am returning back to the land of the living. My original intention for this blog had been to focus on paper and book art to the exclusion of more mundane personal stuff, but I’ve been finding that hard to do. There is just too much overlap between what goes on with me and what I wind up doing (or not doing) in my work space.

Actually, when I set this thing up, I hadn’t planned to let anyone even know that I was doing it. I’d thought I’d just create a little anonymous spot on the web where I could motivate myself by writing about projects I was thinking about and about miscellaneous paper-related discoveries I’d made online. If anyone actually stumbled upon it and kept reading, swell. But I wasn’t aiming to share my life. Unbloggerly of me, I know, but that was my thinking.


Then, a funny thing happened. When I was doing the bookmarks recently, I had to put my info on the back of them. And, to my surprise, I found myself putting this blog address on the back. I’ve been using the Paper Chipmunk name as the imprint for my book work. I guess I’m embracing my inner chipmunk. And sharing my life…


In spite of a show coming up soon with the book arts guild I belong to, I haven’t been able to do much of anything for months. My health matters have been getting worse and worse. Not to sound melodramatic, but I’d reached the point where I was seriously pondering “my affairs.” As in knowing deep down the time had come to damn well get them in order, however one is supposed to tidy up such things. But I felt too unwell to even do much of that. The scariest part was nobody could really offer much of an opinion what was wrong. Some major endocrine stuff, among other things, was happening, but of a sort that should be controlled by taking artificial replacements from pill bottles. However, it didn’t seem to be working very well. And doctors’ patience runs out when answers don’t come easily. I felt like I was slowly dying, quite literally. My MD was probably hoping I’d be sucked up by aliens on my way home, never to reappear.


Then an amazing thing happened. My pharmacy was going to switch my hormone replacement with another generic brand. I have allergies to some ingredients in pills, and this new one had some questionable things in it. So, feeling annoyed that I was now going to have to pay a lot more for my meds, I grudgingly went on the name brand version of my rather common drug, hydrocortisone. Within half a day of switching brands, I felt better than I’d felt in a long time. People I hardly know have been stopping me to tell me how much better I look. Even the constant pain I live with, something that’s not supposed to be related, became a bit more controllable. The change has been remarkable.


I’m sharing my rather personal medical saga as a sort of public service. If your medication doesn’t seem to be properly controlling your problem as well as you think it should be, it might be the brand of your pills. This is actually not the first outrageous generic medication incident my family has suffered from. I’m discovering it’s a common occurrence. The ever-expanding generic drug industry seems to be largely a racket.


However, in celebration of feeling alive again, and in honor of pills, I have made a bottle of a pharmaceutical I am calling Codex. Why read when you can take your books in pill form? Each capsule contains a miniature perfect bound book. If things remain controlled, over the next year I plan to make an edition of 5 bottles of Codex. Or, rather, Paper Chipmunk Press will be issuing bottles of Codex…
As an aside, I digitally designed several of the miniature book covers. Although I knew they were going to be shrunk down too small to be legible, I had great fun coming up with faux titles. A few: Iatrogenic Horror: a Novel; Arts and Crafts for Phlebotomists; Doctors Kill… I think you get the idea.

Pro Re Nata (I Was Warned)

I’ve posted links to other people’s books on Flickr. Today I thought I’d add something of my own. I don’t have many photos of my book and other non-cut paper work on the web. Some things I need to photograph, but others I’ve simply parted with before making a record of them. At the moment I’ve been feeling desperate to get back into the studio to do some work, but I’ve been so unwell and exhausted that it’s almost impossible for me to do anything. It’s frustrating.

I’ve made books for many years, largely in the background to other things, mostly to be given as gifts. I’d always thought of them as not my “real work,” whatever that is. But then I began making books and objects as, partly, a way of dealing with the frustrations of living with chronic health issues. It was a way, sometimes, of making laughter out of pain. Book art just seemed like a perfect medium, for me, for such explorations.

This is my tribute to my medications and to the words of wisdom printed graphically on the sides of the bottles. Be warned.