Tag Archives: stigma

A mother’s diary

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I spent some time going through a book called “Diary Drawings” with my daughter Jennifer on Monday. The work by artist/author Bobby Baker (with daughter Dora Whittuck), subtitled “Mental illness and me,” won the 2011 Mind Book of the Year Award. It was first published in London in 2010, and it’s been impossible to find in local brick and mortar book shops — so Jennifer and James made the trek to ASU’s Hayden Library to find a copy for me.

The photograph of Baker adjacent to Marina Warner’s “Chronicle of a Life Repaired” (which introduces readers to Baker and her work) shows the artist standing with feet planted in a pair of casserole dishes. She’s wearing a skirt made of carrots, a top made of meat and potatoes and headgear made of three leafy greens. Before there was Gaga, there was Baker.

Warner writes that “BB’s audiences have always known that she has had excruciating troubles”– citing several of Baker’s works. A film called “Spitting Mad” and performance pieces like “Drawing on a Mother’s Experience,” “Take a Peek!” and “Box Story.” “Diary Drawings” follows Baker’s journey through borderline personality disorder.

Some elements get more ink than others in the collection of works culled for “Diary Drawings.” Blood. Flowing tears. Food. Confinement. Other people. And coffee mugs. My favorites feature a torso bearing a triangle-shaped wound, a woman watching discarded thoughts move down a conveyer belt, a group therapy session awash in muddy colors and the first pink blossom on a delicate tree. Jennifer took a liking to “Day 8″ — because its flow of tears “looks like a veil.”

The book concludes with a pair of profound reflections — one by Baker, and another by her daughter. Baker’s “For the Record” discusses her own artistic inklings, the effect of mental illness on her family, the subject of art as therapy and reflections on the prejudice still plaguing those living with mental illness.

Dora Whittuck’s “Telling & Keeping Quiet” notes that “one of the most debilitating aspects of so-called mental illness is the embarrassment and fear it generates in others.” Dora and her brother Charlie were “scarcely more than children” when Baker’s diary drawings were born.

“Diary Drawings” is a window into the worlds of art, family and mental illness. It’ll inspire you to consider how your own life might look in drawings (and maybe even encourage you to start your own diary drawings), and to be more supportive of friends and family who face mental illness each day.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to explore Baker’s drawings online (you can also order the book online), here to experience “Bobby Baker’s Daily Life” and here to enjoy photography by Andrew Whittuck (photographer for “Diary Drawings”). Click here to learn more about SAMHSA’s “Caring for Every Child’s Mental Health” campaign (May 9 is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day).

Coming up: Art meets Mother’s Day

Get “Reel”

Perhaps "Reel Mind" is an idea whose time has come here in Arizona

Mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They’ve done the math, noting that 60 million Americans are affected. Yet mental illness gets a lot less attention than other health issues.

Depression is to autism what pancreatic cancer is to breast cancer in terms of media coverage. They’re all devastating, but society focuses too often on a few conditions to the exclusion of others. It’s a painful reality for families whose loved ones live with the equivalent of medical minorities. So I’m always eager to spread the word about lesser tackled topics.

There’s an affiliate of Mental Health America in Rochester, New York that’s working with other organizations to raise awareness of diverse mental health issues next week through something called “Reel Mind.” It’s a “theatre and film series about mental illness,” now in its fourth season. Originally a film festival, this year’s “Reel Mind” has been expanded to include an art exhibit and theater performance.

Series selections are designed to “address the social stigma of mental illness and offer the message that recovery is possible.” Each is followed by a discussion with experts in the mental health field. Series co-director Ruth Cowing says their Q & A sessions are well attended. “With this, almost everyone stays in their seat.”

“A lot of people come with their own stories or struggles of family members and hope to find information,” says Cowing. This year’s offerings cover schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and autism. The “Reel Mind” film series takes place May 8 through June 26. Perhaps those in Arizona who can’t attend will consider creating something similar for families in the Southwest.

“The Reel Mind” series opens with a documentary titled “Crazy Art,” which “tells the story of three talented artists with schizophrenia as they search for identity, acceptance and recovery.” The “study in hope” also tackles a bit of art history, considering how artists like Van Gogh created brilliant works while in the throws of psychiatric symptoms. The screening will be accompanied by an art show called “Metamorphosis” curated by the Creative Wellness Center.

A “Reel Mind” fundraiser taking place May 18 includes a Blackfriars Theatre production of “Grey Gardens,” a musical that considers the lives of two well-connected socialites who become East Hampton’s most notorious recluses. “Grey Gardens” features book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie. I remember listening to the music many years ago after my daughter Lizabeth checked the CD out from our local library.

“Reel Mind” presents “Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter,” an Oscar-nominated documentary about “the various stages of a mother’s Alzheimer’s disease and the evolution of a daughter’s response to the illness,” on May 22. The film’s been described as “a life-affirming exploration of family relations, aging, change, the meaning of memory and love.”

A film titled “The Boy Inside: A Journey Into Autism” will be screened June 12 as part of this year’s “Reel Mind.” Filmmaker Marianne Kaplan followed a year in the life of her 12-year-old son Adam, who has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome — capturing his desperate attempts to fit in amidst “bullies, insensitive classmates and parents with at-times frayed nerves.”

This year’s “Reel Mind” series concludes with a screening of “Search for Sanity” plus a preview of “Echo of the Past.” The first is a 1954 TV special filmed inside the Hudson River State Hospital, while the latter is a work in progress focusing on the former Rochester State Hospital. Together they reflect “shifting attitudes towards mental illness” during the “mass deinstitutionalization of the first half of the 20th century.”

Too few community supports were in place at the time, leading to large numbers of people with mental illness facing homelessness, unemployment, criminalization and other outcomes we should no longer tolerate. When series like “Reel Mind” help us increase and improve supports for people living with all types of brain disorders, they do us all a great service. Every brain is important, and every person matters.

– Lynn

Note: Explore the works and words of Vincent Van Gogh at the “Van Gogh Alive” exhibit through June 17 at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix

Coming up: Sinews, saguaro and starlight

Seasons of change

Home Free, Cheyne - Sanctuary Art Center

With just a week before next Sunday’s CBS broadcast of the 2011 Tony Awards®, I’ve got a serious case of Tony fever. How kind of the Metropolitan Men’s Chorus to open Friday night’s benefit performance of “At the End of the Day…” with the song “Seasons of Love” from the Tony Award®-winning musical “Rent.” Also “Not While I’m Around” from “Sweeney Todd,” another Tony Award® winner, and two other selections.

I loved the fact that chorus members donned street clothes instead of traditional choir garb. Think red check flannel and Hawaiian print shirts. Khakis and flip-flops. And that they sang surrounded by set pieces resembling old aluminum siding spray painted with brightly-colored graffiti.

Open Heart, 2004, Gary - Sanctuary Art Center

“At the End of the Day…” — presented by QSpeak Theatre (of Phoenix Theatre) in collaboration with Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix — is “a play based on true stories and experiences of LGBTQ and homeless youth living in the Phoenix Valley.”

The play was “written in collaboration with program participants of START and GreenHouse Project programs at Tumbelweed Center for Youth Development, and youth participants at 1n10 and Y.E.P.” The one night benefit performance was directed by A. Beck, who describes it as the outgrowth of work with more than fifty youth during the course of nearly a year.

My daughter Lizabeth participated in several QSpeak projects (including “At the End of the Day…”) while attending high school at Arizona School for the Arts. Tomorrow afternoon, June 5, we’ll be seeing “Like Everyone Else” — developed by Xanthia Walker’s “Theatre for Social Change” class at ASA in partnership with Phoenix Theatre and the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center.” Both works feature snippets of stories meant to convey youth experiences in their own voices.

The 12-member cast did an exceptional job conveying the hopes and fears of LGBTQ youth struggling with homelessness and all that can entail — poverty, hunger, unwanted sexual encounters and more. Plus the issues that plague all teens and young adults, from self-identity to choice of values.

Choose, 2006, Ashley - Sanctuary Art Center

The work sheds light on complexities of societal supports for people experiencing homelessness. Bed shortages. Inadequate training for professionals. Budget cuts. And the tendency of too many to say they want to help the homeless without taking a single step to actually do so.

One message in particular stood out. These youth and young adults don’t want to be stereotyped or stigmatized. They’re people. Period. Yet portions of the dialogue revealed stereotypes some homeless youth hold against peers with mental health disorders, described in the work as “crazy,” “mental” or “psycho.”

Some aspects of life on the streets, including encounters with law enforcement, were deliberately excluded from the piece. The depiction of a youth who feels forced into prostitution by the need to pay rent was done with real artistry, but the sheer number of encounters “shadowed” through a piece of hanging cloth made this scene feel almost gratuitious to some in the audience.

At times, comments by cast and creative team during the post-show talk back were needed to elucidate points conveyed somewhat vaguely during the show. The fact that churches and temples, even those offering free food and clothing, feel unsafe to youth who grew up feeling judged by religious family and friends. And the aversion to accepting help that comes with strings attached. Think sermon first, meal later.

Coffee Shop, 2004, Scott - Sanctuary Art Center

If you missed the performance of “At the End of the Day…” but want to learn more about helping LGBTQ and/or homeless youth, click here to visit the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix. And stay tuned for future “theater for social change” fare from Phoenix Theatre and its many community partners.

– Lynn

Note: Additional information on programs and policies related to homelessness is available from the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness.

Coming up: Valley stages featuring Tony Award®-winning works

All artwork from the Sanctuary Art Center in Seattle at www.sanctuaryartcenter.org

Follow the film

Intrigued by Google art commemorating the April 16, 1889 birthday of Charlie Chaplin, I decided to learn a bit more about the man I know only as a comedic talent from black and white film days. I was still in my teens when Chaplin died on Christmas Day of 1977, and I’ve seen very little of his work.

One of the first articles I found had a scholarly bent, exploring in greater detail than most the mental illness that plagued Chaplin’s mother for most of her life — and the likely impact of her illness, supposedly related somehow to the ravages of syphillis, on his life and career.

I was particularly struck by references to the “Cane Hill Lunatic Asylum” and the “Lambert Hospital Register of Lunatics.” No one wishes to be on such “lists” or to see their mother battle the dual inhumanity of illness and inhumane treatment.

Chaplin’s father died when Chaplin was just 1o years old. By 14, Chaplin had his first legit acting gig — and he went on to earn awards and accolades for his film work.

Chaplin worked as a performer and film producer, but also wrote several books and scripts. Chaplin, who played violin and cello, was a composer as well.

You can learn more about Charlie Chaplin, his family and his career by visiting www.charliechaplin.com.

But if contemporary cinema is more your style, you’ll also want to check out www.thefilmbarphx.com – the website for a 21 + film and wine/beer venue located in “Roosevelt Row.”

I first learned of the Film Bar from Denise Kronsteiner with Scottsdale Community College, my contact for all things wonderful at SCC — including “The Many Faces of Hate” film series they present with the Anti-Defamation League.

Kronsteiner alerted me to a screening for the film “Afghanistan: Between Light and Darkness,” directed by Penelope Price, founding director of the film school at SCC – which led me to an organization called PARSA and their program titled “Children of Afghanistan.”

I’ve learned some pretty fascinating things just following these films. Check out current and upcoming fare at the Film Bar — including “Idiots and Angels,” “Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story” and “Eat the Sun” — and you just might feel the same way.

– Lynn

Note: Click here for details about the April 27 film being presented in “The Many Faces of Hate” series from SCC and the ADL.

Coming up: Parents meet prose, If you build it…

Ode to laundry lint?

Laundry is an everyday occurence at our house — but sometimes it feels elevated to its own sort of fine art. When I pulled a thick, long strip of espresso-colored lint from a dryer screen recently, I was struck by the rich color and texture — wondering what it might become if given life outside a trash bin.

Ode to Green by Scottsdale artist Jill Friedberg

Alas — I hadn’t yet discovered Scottsdale artist Jill Friedberg. I imagined my husband finding me saving yet another object for it’s artistic potential. Thankfully, he has yet to uncover the rough-textured putty grey egg carton I recently set aside for a school art project — or other recent additions to my stash.

I recalled the lint, which seemed to me a thing of beauty, after chatting Friday afternoon with Friedberg. I learned of her work from Cynthia Henry with the Arizona Department of Health Services, who noted that the three of us have all served at one time or another on a committee charged with reducing stigma against those living with mental illness.

As we spoke by phone, Friedberg rattled off a list of materials she’s enjoyed working with of late, including laundry lint. I felt a sense of wonder where I’d once felt only shame. Turns out that themes of beauty, shame and wonder are integral to many of her works — which include photography, sculpture, painting and more.

Wall Sculpture I by Jill Friedberg

Friedberg shared early in our conversation that she’s been making art since very early in life. I recalled a clay sculpture once crafted by my now 19-year-old daughter Jennifer. She was two at the time. I remember being struck by its sophistication — which called to mind memories of visits to some of Europe’s great art museums in Italy, Paris and London.

Jennifer has been creating art from just about everything she encounters practically from the womb. She’s an artist through and through — though I don’t think she’s necessarily connected yet with that essential part of her being. She dances around it, but has yet to embrace herself as artist and creator. Instead, she studies cultural anthropology — perhaps just another facet of the same jewel.

My own mother saw something similar in me as a child, and created plenty of spaces and places for playing with diverse ideas and materials. Perhaps she once wondered why I chose the study of religion and philosophy over art, a query I’m not sure I can answer except to posit that playing with thought and language might be its own form of artistic expression.

Dancing Within by Jill Friedberg

Friedberg says her mom pretty much gave her the run of the kitchen as a child. It was there that Friedberg’s earliest art was born — crafted of eager little fingers exploring gobs of multi-colored frosting. Even today, Friedberg quips that “frosting is paint.” So do all those cupcake boutiques popping up of late really signal a deeper yearning for creativity?

I got to wondering about all sorts of things after talking with Friedberg — the best tribute, perhaps, to her ability to create, inspire and foster genuine wonderment with fellow travelers. I remembered how we used to encourage Jennifer during her own early childhood explorations of food as art media. “You’re a food artist,” we often marveled.

It had never occured to me that there might be others out there who appreciate the fine art of lint and frosting. I’m hoping to meet Friedberg before too long, for we have many things in common — including an interest in art of the Holocaust and a belief in the absolute necessity of arts in a robust education.

I’ll share more about Friedberg and her work in a future post. In the meantime, make some time Saturday night to get to know her yourself. She’s one of 22 Arizona artists whose work is featured at an exhibit that runs through March 27 at the Herberger Theater Center Art Gallery in downtown Phoenix.

Wall Sculpture II by Jill Friedberg

She’ll be there Sat, Jan 8, from 5:30-7pm for the opening reception of “Sacred Places.” The exhibit includes two of her works, titled “Ode to Green” and “Dancing Within.” You also can enjoy Friedberg’s artwork at her local studio — or get a taste right now by clicking here to visit her website.

But after connecting with this amazing woman, mother and artist, I’ve no doubt that the best way to enjoy her work is right alongside her. The reception is free, the setting is lovely and the company will be grand.

– Lynn

Note: Watch for a future post sharing more about Friedberg’s current projects and work in the community.

Coming up: From preschool tap lessons to dancing in a Broadway show, Tips for students heading out for this season’s round of B.F.A. program auditions

Photos courtesy of Jill Friedberg