Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Keeping Our Selves Warm

Multiple Passages, ©2010, H. Hunter, Multimedia
At this time of the year in most parts of our country, the task is to stay warm, but even more that that, to keep our souls warm. As it becomes darker and colder outside, it's easy to find ourselves in similar inner spaces.

Instead, I'm seeking to turn up my inner heat and discover more of what lies within. With that in mind and my early morning warm-up shower behind me, I wanted to share a few things that have warmed my soul lately...

Multiple Passages was created in memory of a vibrant young woman with whom I worked; she was Fijian, by way of India and she had a spark in her soul that could heat up any room she found herself in during her time at our hospital.

In particular, I appreciated her fierce love of Bob Marley and the Jamaican flag which decorated her room. One day near the end of her life, I entered to find her choosing just the right shade of magenta that she and her nurse planned to dye her hair that weekend. Although she died a year and a few months ago, her presence continues to permeate my work.

Grandma Caroline, ©2006 H. Hunter, SoulCollage®
This morning, in honor of Thanksgiving, I decided to excavate my bedside reading collection. In the pile, I found a sheaf of typewritten letters from my grandmother Caroline. She died at the age of 33 in 1938, years before I was born. I happened to turn to a letter I hadn't yet read, dated a few weeks before the Thanksgiving of 1937. At that time, she was for the most part, confined to her bed with the cancer that took her life. In this letter, she shares with her sister Leah her delight and humor over a Friday night Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath) dinner:

Friday night we had such dandy broiled white bass for supper how I wished you could share it with broccoli with drawn butter and lemon sauce. As if that were'nt enough fish in came Maurice with a jar of Gafilta fish. Of course I raved and raved about it, but it was so white and flat tasting. Maurice said see it was made with frozen haddock and you could'nt tell the difference. But I did'nt say so but just raved about it. Your really need fresh fish to make a jelly like stock to cook the balls in. You can't tamper with that good old fashioned gafilta recipe. (The underlinings are all hers.)

I love her exuberance and her kindness. And, while I have never liked gefilte fish, her excitement over good food helps me understand my own global enthusiasm for food and I am grateful that she lives on in me through our shared devotion to food, words and family.

Last, but not least, to see a video clip from an interview NBC Today show host, Matt Lauer did at St. Jude's Hospital this Monday, click here

You know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What You Bring Forth

What You Bring Forth, ©1999, H. Hunter, Mixed Media
"Honey, why is it that your memory is so good about unpleasant topics?" my husband asked me this morning. He was speaking about our upcoming biweekly housecleaning, but I think that my habit could be an occupational hazard, the cost of doing business so to speak.

This week however, began with a very pleasant ending, the last meeting of our 8 week Young Adult Bereavement Art Group. I've come to love the kids in the group. Although I stop short of wanting to adopt them all, in the process of following their stories I came to care for them immensely.

My co-facilitator and I sat at the table with group members as they worked on their last project; a memory box. He had inherited a file cabinet filled with wooden boxes similar to a cigar box and they seemed to suggest the perfect container for memories. I was thinking of the traditional art therapy "inside/outside box" where you can put the feelings you share with others on the outside of the box and the feelings you hold close to yourself on the inside. I also thought the boxes could become altars, or, simply a decorated box in which they could place objects reminding them of their loved ones.

Of course the kids surprised me with their own ideas-blew me out of the water in fact. As I sat there observing them, an idea occurred to me: I could take my i-phone and shoot process pictures. I had all their consent forms and if I shot below their faces I could capture some of the magic that was taking place in front of me.

I made my rounds about the table and and saw a confluence of images that I could not have anticipated. One young woman had written "wash away 2010" Another had a found a picture of a heart formed by the thumbs and forefingers of two hands coming together (try that yourself!). Yet another person had glued the traditional "corners" used to hold photographs in an album, back in the days when you would glue these tiny corners in an album and hope that you'd done it right so you could easily slip in the photograph.

I wondered whether this young man would be adding any of his photographs that he'd found of his mother. This would be progress indeed because several weeks before he told us he had them in a box, but could not look at them.

As our time together ended, we went around the table, each sharing a word that expressed our feeling of the moment. I heard words like "blessed",  "understood" and "comforted"--and when they left, they asked us about the reunion in the spring. Unthinkable that two years ago at this time, we were putting together figures and ideas, hoping to get a grant. Today, I am immensely grateful for these young people who have shared their lives with us and for the support of our hospital and hospice, the UC Davis Children's Hospital and the UC Davis Hospice.

Friday, November 5, 2010

ATx á la carte speaks to this heart

A Flock of Hands
What happens when you put hundreds of art therapists together in a convention center? I found out when the American Art Therapy Association convened their annual meeting this week in Sacramento. I'd been wondering what it would be like to enter a space filled with people who believe that making images and guiding others in the creation of images is a sacred, healing and deeply passionate practice.

One among the flock of hands
Riding up an escalator, I discovered a flock of hands covering vast areas of the lobby. Winding my way through, I found this one, whose message channeled the words of a 12th century saint, Julian of Norwich:"And all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

Filled with anticipation, I landed in a room in which several therapists were discussing grief and loss, my sphere of interest.

Elizabeth Stone, an art therapist who lives in France, works with cancer patients. Her presentation told the poignant story of a mother who had died of cancer and her daughter, who was grieving the loss of her mother. While showing us a series of images of both the mother and the daughter's artwork, she described the healing of wounds that reached back through 3 generations.
Art That Speaks, An Exhibition of Art Therapy in Oncology

Following her talk, another panelist noted: "You broke all the right rules." (Elizabeth had made several unconventional decisions in her treatment.)

Breaking the rules became my own theme for the conference. When I'm engaging in art therapy,  I often find myself of two minds. One part of me is working from the "rules;" the theories and philosophies one studies in school. By the book, as it were.  At the same time, the intuitive part of me is receiving ideas and images of what to do next in the session. Over the years, I've learned to weigh what I call my right and left brain options and then go with my gut. Some part of me knows then to trust my heart over the rules and understands that it is more important to nurture the relationship, whatever that is at the moment, than to stick by the book. Nevertheless, I've always been a bit embarrassed about advertising this because I work in an academic institution.

But today I let go of my qualms. A well known art therapist, Linda Chapman, got up and gave a talk on neurobiology in the clinical setting. After explaining the way that the brain receives and processes information, she told us about the case of a violent young man she had as a client. She described her process of "receiving images" as she worked with this teen. During the sessions, she found herself doing a number of unconventional things, including playing peek-a-boo with him. (Part of her developmental repairative work.) Many were amazed and stunned and I walked out of the session feeling validated for my sometimes out of the ordinary approach.

Break the Rules, 9" x 12," ©2010, Hannah Hunter
It's easy to get overloaded with all the "clini-speak" and I was. Fortunately, for we art therapists at a conference, there's a solution: an entire part of an exhibition hall devoted to art making. I headed down there and made this collage.

This week, I heard the first verse of a poem by Galway Kinnell, which speaks of this necessity:

St Francis and the Sow
The bud
stands for all things,
even those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing...