When the reality of life is too much, as human beings we have our imagination, our made-up, make-believe worlds to help us navigate the unimaginable. For artists and creatives, I can only think that we are somehow super-charged with imaginations – for the best, and for the worst. This week, I found out I’m facing 18 weeks of chemotherapy. That’s scarier than any Stephen King novel yet. What frightens me most is not the random invading cancer cells that MIGHT be in my body, but the side effects of the poison that the wicked witch is about to unleash. I will not recount the details so that you, dear reader, might be spared the nightmares that have plagued us all week. Far worse than the flying monkeys of Baum’s imagination, things like neuropathy are unimaginable for me. How can I think of the possible nerve damage to extremities – hands, feet, well-trained artist’s fingers and hands. @#$%
I’ve been searching for one good reason – just one good thing about chemotherapy to get me through this, and it was through an idea that Grace The Good Witch had this week, and a fancy red pair of running shoes I spotted yesterday.
Grace said to me, “Mommy, I know what we can do – let’s just pretend that you have a fever for a long time.”
Brilliant. I can go with that. “It’s just a fever.”….but the “let’s just pretend” is even better. Why didn’t I think of that? Let’s just pretend…and this nightmare too shall pass.
Only the fear or more horrible side effects can get me into the dentist’s chair, and there I was yesterday. Tense….I imagined being on North Beach in Haida Gwaii while the scraping and scratching went on. After awhile, it turned into the sounds of crashing waves, seabirds and the wind whispering in the seagrass behind me. Ta da….done.
Feeling like maybe this whole, “Calgon, Take Me Away” approach might be actually working, I stopped in at my friend’s shoe store. A pair of red leather running shoes just jumped off the shelf, onto my feet and remained there. Oh dear….I really am leaving Kansas on a cyclone.
Yesterday was sad for me. I had an exhibition of some paintings opening at the Kaay Centre, Haida Museum in Haida Gwaii and I so wanted to be there with my friends and fellow artists. Wicked Witch Tests kept me from them. However, once the ruby slippers were on my feet, it seemed that suddenly I was with everyone if I just clicked my heels together. Following the yellowbrick road, I went into the Kitchen Store….and there on the shelf, a red wand in the form of a compact kitchen latte frother jumped RIGHT into my hand. AHA!….this shall be useful to create those magic concoctions to keep me healthy and protect me as I venture into the Witches’ Castle! My friend Birgit, the Good Witch of Kitchen Store also found a special concoctor guaranteed to make me smile as I brew the herbs and tinctures to battle the evil chemo sickies. (stay with me…..)
A little further along the yellow brick road, I happened upon Josey, The Benevolent Witch of Bookery and there I found what I was looking for – food for the mind, the Great Oz Ernest Hemingway bookery themselves to carry spells of imagination of the great seas and wars.
That night, as my good friends gathered in Haida Gwaii to launch the show from our Gwaii Haanas trip, I felt the love across the sea, the mountains and the rivers. Tucked into my bed, ruby slippers by my side, my Cowardly Lion lovingly read “The Old Man And The Sea”. I clicked my heels, drifted off after Chapter One and found myself in Haida Gwaii.
Today, I face the nuclear MUGA. No worries. Got my wand, my rubies and Ernest.
And here is my dear artist friend, Darrell Oike reading from the message and poem I sent on the wind…
“Cancer has a way of turning your life upside down, although those of you that know me well, know that it’s picked the wrong person to haggle with. Death…or the threat of it, is all that is keeping me from you today. I did a bit of retail therapy after an appointment and picked up some “ruby shoes” this morning. I’m wearing them now. I wish, like Dorothy, that they’d transport me out of Kansas and into this room, this Oz…this…….. Haida Gwaii.
My time in Haida Gwaii and Gwaii Haanas National Park was sacred and special. From the time I arrived there, I knew that I needed to bring my family to see this incredible place and know it’s people, it’s flow and it’s lifestyle. That will happen soon.
While the land, the sea, the flora and the fauna all play largely in the mind when one encounters such abundance and diversity, I’ve come to ponder our place, our integration and our responsibility as human beings to change how we are – to rebalance – in order to maintain the synergy with all that is around us. The ancestors and those that came before us knew this. We have just to deeply listen to ourselves, the land and the sea to find the good way again. This is the way of the artist.
No artist worth their salt can engage in deep research and subject matter from a distance. They must be immersed, involved and see themselves as part of the work, the place and the spirit. Anything less is just clinical observation – which as science, has it’s place, but in art….requires the immersion of the soul, the heart and the emotion.
With an eye to the objective – the representational, but with a paintbrush filled with movement, spiritual guidance and immersion, I seek to create new works that describe three aspects of Gwaii Haanas – the real, (the touchable), the spiritual and most importantly the supernatural – the space in between where I most often find myself. I seek to integrate myself and my family members in those works in order to explore responsibility and identity within the context of those three worlds that I feel and see in Gwaii Haanas and all of Haida Gwaii. At home in my studio there now sit no less than ten monumental works in progress integrating the figure, the landscape and the sea of Gwaii Haanas and Haida Gwaii.
It is with love that my family and I wish to thank those that guided me safely through this wondrous place. A huge thank you to Parks Canada, Christine and Terry for championing such an important program, Heather for taking it outwards to the public beyond and to the Haida Museum Board Members, Nathalie, Jenn and Jennifer who so skillfully engaged us as a family. This partnership is important. It needs to continue to welcome those of us who come from afar in a touchable, tangible experience.
I want to thank Tana Hooper and Clint Kendrick and their families for welcoming us with arms open, keeping us safe, fishing me out from the Pacific Ocean and teaching us so very much in such a short period of time. Both of these dedicated Parks Canada employees should be commended for their passion, their professionalism, guidance and passion around this program. They have both continued to be sources of information and research as I begin a larger body of work.
A special thank you to Benita Saunders for her incredible hospitality while I was here. It is an honour to have stayed with you and I am forever grateful. I felt welcomed and loved and well cared for by this entire island community before I even stepped foot off the fairy. Haa’wa.
To Fanny and to you Darrell, as you now read these words, I am proud to call you brother and sister. I am in awe of your insight as artists and human beings and I am forever in your debt for your teachings. I know we will work together again soon…..(I’m writing the grant….ha ha!)”
In closing, I’ll leave you with a poem in the languages I know…
Oki Niksokowa. Is dee daniko, Iniskimaki, itan Makoyitsikin ikimopii Siksika
All My Relations – I am Iniskimaki, Sacred Buffalo Stone Woman, adopted daughter of Elder Tom Crane Bear, Wolfshoe of the Siksika Nation.
Greens and yellows as I have never seen
Roll, envelope and hold me
Life….and death….so close together
Waters, clear and dancing
Dangerous, abundant, changelings
Roll, envelope and hold me
Death….and life….so close together
Trees, Twisting, Spiritful and Overpowering
Wide, Wet, tall, growing on each other as if starving…or making love
Roll, envelope and hold me
Death…and life…so close together
Life…death….the space between.
Roll, envelope and hold me
This is my Gwaii Haanas.
Haa’wa Iksookapi Thank you