July 20, 2009

Does Making Art Help You Deal With Illness?

For me, there has always been a strong dividing line between art for therapy sake and art with a capitol A.  The difference is an audience.

I gushed my cancer story into 12 journals during treatment.  Scribbling in a notebook was great for getting cancer angst out of my system.  But hammering out these rants was a quite different process, and created a different product, than crafting the manuscript for my book Everything Changes.  One had an audience, the other did not.

Recovering from surgery, two summers ago, I was doing a choreographic residency.  Blasting Led Zeppelin and stomping around the studio with my stiff, post-surgery neck helped me accept my incurable cancer.  But improvising in the studio was a very different act than choreographing the ballet-opera that became the final performance of my residency.

At times being an artist with cancer is a mind f***.   The cons: I want to write and choreograph about something other than my disease, but cancer so often enters my work even when I don’t want it to.  I also hate when people assume that my cancer was a great artistic opportunity.  I was a damn creative person before my cancer and didn’t need this diagnosis to provide content for my work.  Nor do I want an audience to feel cornered into empathizing with my experience of being ill.

But there are also pros: A life in the arts prepared me for how to live very frugally – helpful when you are young with a pre-existing condition.  I’m a really expressive person – quite useful when you are trying to communicate with doctors, and friends, and family about your needs.  And, I have a job that is fulfilling and provides a major distraction from thinking about cancer.  Well…. except for the fact that I keep writing so much about cancer.

I yearn for an art project, craft, or a hobby that is totally unrelated to health.  Some days I wish I knew how to knit.  But I fear that if I did I’d just end up knitting hats for chemo patients.  After treatment, I took a class in techniques for transferring photographs onto fabric.  I have never done anything at all with this artistic skill.  What a remarkable, relaxing relief.

Do you have any crafts that distract you from your cancer?  Is your profession related to cancer, illness, health care?  If so, how do you find balance?  Do you enjoy seeing or hearing music or artwork made by artists with illness, or is it not relevant to you?

Listen tonight to the Stupid Cancer Show when I interview artists and cancer patients Seth Eisen and Christina Falise.

For more about my life in the studio with cancer, read my book Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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April 09, 2009

Catch Me in Pittsburgh and More…


A few years ago I met a Hodgkin’s patient in his art studio in a semi-vacant floor of a university lecture hall. He made sculptures: incredible little models of buildings and sleek sound and light pieces. Rick Gribenas’ mind was intricate too – he excelled at looking at cancer from unusual perspectives that went against the grain in thoughtful and subtle ways. His quotes about survival, statistics, and the labor of cancer are studded throughout my book. Also check out his eloquent words about cancer and the war analogy.

On the Pittsburgh leg of my book tour, I will be attending and speaking at an event in honor of Rick Gribenas . To my recent shock, I learned that Rick died less than a month ago. This benefit originally intended to support his medical bills will now be a celebration of his life and donations will go directly to his wife Charissa to help with medical and funeral costs.

It is easy for us in the cancer community to celebrate life, but how do we celebrate someone after they have died? I think we shy away from this a bit, as it is hard to be reminded of our own mortality when we are in the think of cancer ourselves. I believe we need to challenge ourselves to think beyond our own circumstances and to support the families of young cancer patients who are coping with loss. I hope you’ll join me in doing this and have a hell of a lot of fun while we are at it!

Saturday, April 11

6 pm going late
Modern Formations Gallery
4919 Penn Ave., Garfield
Music ranging from acoustic indie-pop to melodic punk
Donation $5 to $15 to benefit his family

Have you been close to a young adult cancer patient who has died? What was it like for you? How did their other friends, family, and colleagues respond to their death? If you live near Pittsburgh, can I count on seeing you on Saturday night?

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