A Note of Thanks

To those of you who reached out to me with expressions of support and concern after my “Ashes” post, you have my deepest gratitude. I’m incredibly touched by your kindness! You’ve been kinder to me than my family has been these past couple of years. So again, thank you – for the recommendations of Keranique and other products for hair loss, for sharing your own personal ordeals with family strife, and for assuring me that I don’t deserve to be taken for granted by people who are supposed to love me. These communications really, really help. During difficult times we all seek sources of strength wherever we can find them. My friends, my blog readers, my church, and my art modeling work make for a fine support system. Oh and Jessie the cat! She’s done her share by bringing me smiles and purrs on a daily basis 🙂

I’m getting out of town for the day on Saturday for a much needed change of atmosphere. But I’ll see you all right back here very soon. I wish you all grace and peace …

My portrait in red chalk by Livia Mosanu, created at the New York Academy of Art, summer 2017:

Ashes

Emotional pain is an insidious thing. Unlike a sprained ankle or a toothache, it burrows into nebulous recesses of the psyche and ‘hides’, until it finds ways to lash out from its dark chambers. Sudden, out-of-nowhere crying fits. Teeth grinding during sleep. Snapping at someone who didn’t deserve it. Still, you carry on, go to work, do grocery shopping, and try to maintain normalcy. What else can you do? Its not the flu which you know will pass eventually after days of bed rest. It’s the state of your life.

Six weeks ago when I sat down in a chair at the salon, my longtime colorist Gil ran his hands through my hair like he always does before he begins my treatment and said, “Do you know you have a bald spot here?”. Whaaattt?? With a large handheld mirror he showed it to me: a big round patch with nothing but the bare skin of my scalp where hair was supposed to be. Because of its location and my long hair, I hadn’t noticed it before. This was not common female-pattern hair loss. This was hair coming out in a concentrated clump. The hell!?? Jump ahead a few weeks and I’ve seen two doctors, a dermatologist, and had two blood tests, fully expecting to discover that I have a thyroid condition or an autoimmune disease or a vitamin deficiency or something – anything – that would explain this. The results? Nothing. There’s nothing physically or medically wrong with me. At one point I sat down a park bench, cell phone to my ear and sobbing a little, and asked the dermatologist what then she thought is causing my hair to fall out. She said, “It has to be stress”. Called the other doctor and asked him the same question. Answer? “It’s stress”.
“Will it grow back?”.
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“What can I do to stop it?”
“Nothing.”

As if to purposely fuck with me for having seen doctors and had blood tests, my hair loss has accelerated over the past couple of weeks. Huge clumps coming out in the shower. In my hand. On my pillow in the morning. It’s only getting worse.

Two torturous years of family strife will not stop taking their toll on me apparently. The destructive, selfish actions of Chris Hajian, my vain, manipulative brother, have created this hellscape. He has stolen my mother from me with his bullying and brainwashing, made everyone suffer because of his stupid “mid-life crisis”, and walked out on his wife and child. Ever since my father died, my brother (the remaining MAN, of course) has held all the power in the family and he wields it like a weapon. Because that’s what angry, failed men do. Sure Chris Hajian used to be nice guy, way back when. But now he’s just an arrogant, preening douchebag.

After a pivotal, traumatizing event, I decided to stand up for myself once and for all. My mother and my brother were treating me in a way that could only be described as abusive, and I refused to put up with it any longer. I couldn’t for my own sanity and well-being. I expressed my feelings to them, repeatedly. But I was nothing more than voice in the wilderness. Rather than make adjustments in their behavior, and resolve to treat me with love and respect, my mother and brother have done nothing about it. That’s how little I’m valued in my family. It’s a profoundly painful, hurtful realization. I have no family anymore, and I’ve already been replaced. This is the thanks I get for being a devoted, supportive daughter; Mom chooses her self-centered, spoiled son in the end. A son who sees her only as his stooge. So yeah, this is seriously painful. Lost the mother I loved so much .. and now losing my hair 😥

It’s Music Monday, and Tom Petty passed away last week. His distinctly American brand of rock and roll gave us so many great songs. Here’s one of my favorites. Thanks for reading, friends …

Happy 10th Birthday Museworthy!!

:slides down banister … throws confetti … lands a cartwheel … flashes jazz hands:

Just making an entrance worthy of a blogging milestone, my friends! So here we are, at the decade mark. Woo hoo! That late night when I launched this blog, ten years ago to the day, feels so far away. It’s getting harder to recall the days when I didn’t have this blog! And that’s ok.

Museworthy is just one of countless blogs on the web. I’m sometimes asked how one achieves longevity and builds a steady readership without advertising, without ‘clickbait’ sensationalism, and without high profile popularity. My answers? Well, it’s simple really. Provide original content, communicate in an authentic voice, interact in the comments, and keep the navel-gazing to a minimum. Also, a nude pic from time to time doesn’t hurt either 😆

Speaking of nude pics, we continue our annual tradition with a photo by Fred Hatt of yours truly. Fred and I had a really good session this time, much better than last year when I was a disgruntled pain in the ass. We decided on this pic which exemplifies art model posing – the work I love devotedly, which saved my life back in 2006 when I was so lost, and inspired me to start writing a blog in the first place. Here we can see some of that ‘negative space’ artists like so much, with triangle shapes, a leaning torso, lots of visible anatomy. Fred; beautiful lighting and great collaboration. Thank you, friend.

I must, as always, express my immense gratitude to all of you, for finding just a bit of time in your week to visit Museworthy. Blogging is fairly pointless if no one is reading! Words can’t describe how meaningful it is that longtime readers have stayed with me for the long haul. You guys rock! I’m also very appreciative that new subscribers have come on board. Welcome! To each and every one of you, whether you visit for art, music, tales of the city, or a spot of writing, I am humbled by your presence here. The modest ‘success’ of this intimate little blog makes me feel honored, astonished, and joyful. Big thanks also to WordPress for providing a first rate platform for bloggers.

We’re going ‘old school’ with our music selection this year, and with female voices for a change; early Pointer Sisters from 1973. The ladies from Oakland, California with fabulous harmonies and a funky R&B sound. That’s Anita Pointer killing it on lead vocals, backed up by Bonnie, Ruth, and June. The song, “Yes We Can Can”, was their first hit single and delivers a timely positive message.

See you soon, everyone! Love and blessings …

Your muse,
Claudia
xoxo

Riding the Train

So I turned 49 years old on Saturday, and though I didn’t make a big deal out of the occasion it was still a perfectly fine day sprinkled with reflection and reverie. Jessie the cat brought me a present: a dead cicada she carried around in her mouth for 10 minutes before she deposited it on the driveway, batted it around a few times, and then sauntered off. Thanks Jessie! Just what I always wanted 😆

Turner Classic Movies unintentionally gave me a birthday present as well, by airing “All About Eve” for its primetime feature. One of the most delicious screenplays ever to come out of Hollywood, it’s all theater people “throwing shade” at each other as the kids today would call it. It’s Bette Davis in all her audacious, mouthy, chain-smoking glory, dressed in gorgeous Edith Head gowns, uttering phrases like “Maaax, you sly puss”. My favorite is toward the end, when she says to the conniving climber Eve Harrington, “Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be.”  Savage.

We haven’t had a Music Monday on this blog in quite some time so I will remedy that right now. Our video is the magnificent Eva Cassidy singing a stirring rendition of “People Get Ready”, a gospel-inspired song written by the legendary Curtis Mayfield. It became a hit single by The Impressions in 1965 and has been covered by many notable artists since then, among them Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and Rod Stewart. It is widely considered one of the greatest songs of all time, and for good reason. But I promise you, you have never heard a version of this song as affecting as this. Eva Cassidy was one of the most remarkably gifted vocalists we’ve ever had. When she died in 1996 from melanoma, at the tragically young age of 33, the world lost an enormous talent.

The song also has personal significance for me, because I boarded that “train” a few years ago. Striving every day to stay aboard has strengthened me to perceive my life – my purpose here on earth – with more clarity, more courage, and more devotion. I’ve included the lyrics below. See you soon, friends!

 

People get ready
There’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels a hummin’
You don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord
Yeah yeah yeah

People get ready
For the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers from
Coast to coast
Faith is the key
Open the doors and board them
There’s room for all
Among the loved and lost

Now there ain’t no room
For the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind
Just to save his own
Have pity on those
Whose chances are thinner
Cause there’s no hiding place
From the Kingdom’s throne

Ohh people get ready
There’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels a hummin’
Don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord

Bison and Bucket Lists

Over the long break at a modeling job recently, some artists were chatting about their summer plans. Travel, naturally, was the main subject with one person talking about heading up to Maine for a relaxing couple of weeks, others hoping to go to Europe for painting sojourns in Italy and elsewhere. One of the artists mentioned that she was likely going to visit one of the National Parks with her husband, which particularly struck a chord with me. With the exception of a Hajian family vacation in 1973, which included a visit to the Grand Canyon that I can barely remember given that I was five years old, I’ve never set foot in any of America’s National Parks. State parks sure. But no Nationals. Not Yellowstone, not Yosemite, not the Everglades, none of them. And it kind of disappoints me.

When I think about the magnificent North American landscapes – their wildlife, rivers and hot springs, deserts and lakes and coniferous forests, flora and fauna and waterfalls, wolves and otters and eagles – I feel like an American who is missing out on “America’s Best Idea” as PBS called it. I really want to see bison. I do! I’m somewhat obsessed with bison. Why, you wonder? Well, why not? They are the largest land mammal in North America. They are herbivores who will charge your ass at 30 mph if you threaten them. They are the tough, enduring symbol of the American West. They have outlasted adversity at every turn. Bison have been slaughtered by Indians and ranchers alike. Bison bounced back from the brink of extinction in the late 1800s. Bison survived the Ice Age. They are sturdy, stubborn badasses who just don’t give a fuck. This is their continent, we just live on it. Also, their babies are incredibly cute.

American Bison photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

The explorers Lewis and Clark wrote in their journals that enormous herds of bison “darkened the whole plains”. And in 1871, U.S. Soldier George Anderson wrote in a letter that it took a full six days for his men to pass through one herd of what seemed to be “millions” of bison in Kansas.

The Bison Trail by Charles M. Russell, 1908:

Although it can be an interesting, and at times revealing, exercise in exploring personal aspirations, compiling a “bucket list” isn’t something I’ve given much thought to. But to the limited extent that I have, going to Yellowstone National Park and seeing the bison would definitely be on my bucket list. Maybe the time has come for some of us who are middle-aged to start contemplating bucket list goals after so many years spent in a carpe diem style existence. I’ve never been much of a long term goal planner. Nor do I possess a go-getter, ambitious nature. I just don’t have that driven, ‘make things happen’ personality. But hey I can still assemble a bucket list! I think all the summer travel talk at that art class triggered something in me …. regrets over the places I’ve never been, and the things I’ve never seen or experienced.

But imagine a bucket list that allowed for time travel! Now THAT would be tremendous, because we could involve scenarios with individuals who are now dead. For me, that would include being a back-up dancer for Prince, getting bombed on gin & tonics at a bar in Paris with F. Scott Fitzgerald, seeing Charlie Parker perform at Birdland, and modeling for Raphael. Hell yes to all of those.

So here we go … my bucket list. One of these might actually happen and is sort of in the works. Another one was supposed to happen several years ago but never materialized. The others, well, let’s just put them in the “never’ category … for now 😉
1) Go to Burning Man
2) Get up on stage and tell a story at The Moth StorySLAM
3) Visit the Holy Land
4) Open a no-kill animal shelter
5) Snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef
6) Yellowstone + bison
7) Learn to play Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #23
8) Help build a home with Habitat for Humanity

So what’s on your bucket list?

Saints of the Streets

“Lost people matter to God, and so they must matter to us.”
– Keith Wright

Have you ever prayed with a stranger? On the streets of New York City and surrounding Metro area, a committed group of humble servants are doing it every single week. Through mobile outreach, these urban missionaries work tirelessly in the field, putting themselves squarely among  those in need; the destitute, the unlucky, the vulnerable.

I first volunteered with NYC Relief on their “Don’t Walk By” outreach, and the experience has stayed with me in ways I can’t describe in mere words. This past December, I volunteered with them again, this time on the Relief Bus. It was, I believe, the coldest day of our winter; a Friday morning with temperatures in the 20s that felt like the teens. But freezing temperatures can’t, and never will, hinder the work of this incredible organization of people. If anything, the bone-chilling air that day seemed to redouble our efforts in distributing fresh hot soup, bread, fruit, hot chocolate, and friendly conversation at 125th street in East Harlem.

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In addition to food and beverages, Relief Bus volunteers provide clothing and hygiene kits upon request, while staffers and team leaders sit down one-on-one to arrange referrals and guidance for job training, shelter, addiction treatment, and medical care. The Relief Bus mission is – and I can’t stress this enough – a profoundly hospitable, welcoming, and personal one, as volunteers do much more than simply hand cups of soup to hungry people. It is, first and foremost, about engagement and interaction. We learn their names and they learn ours. We set up folding chairs and tables on the sidewalks so folks can sit and socialize, and the volunteers alternate between serving from the bus kitchen and joining folks in their meal; chatting, conversing, laughing, listening, telling stories, sharing memories, asking questions, or just sitting across from them with bread and soup in quiet companionship, if that is preferred.

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For me, the most transformative part of Relief service has been the prayer. Nobody who volunteers has to participate in this aspect, as individuals of all faiths, or no faith, serve with the Relief Bus and are not expected to do anything with which they are uncomfortable. But for those of us who do pray with Relief Bus visitors, the act of supplicating to God on their behalf enriches the spirit in untold ways. When a person enters the bus to collect a hygiene kit or item of clothing, we volunteers are there to greet them and ask if they would like to receive prayer. Some say “no, that’s fine. I’m good, thank you”. The majority say yes. What do poverty-stricken folks request for prayer? You’d be astonished at the breadth and depth and thoughtfulness of their appeals: “to get my children back” … “to find affordable housing” … “for the healing of our country and for everyone to love each other” … “treatment for my addiction” … “relief from my arthritis” … “for my grandmother in Puerto Rico who has Alzheimer’s” … “to be reunited with my family who have given up on me” … “for those suffering people in Syria and those poor children being bombed” … “for the end of bigotry” … “for my brother doing 25 to life in Attica” … “for all homeless people everywhere” … “to know my son again, he lives in Texas and we haven’t spoken in five years” … “to get a job because I’m able and willing to work” … “for the strength to break my bad habits” … “I’d like Psalm 23 please, if that’s ok?” .. and, in a few beautiful instances, requests of “can I pray for you? Can I pray for all of you on the Relief Bus who come here every week to serve us?” Of course you can pray for us. Of course. And they do.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.”
Psalm 23

The NYC Relief mission is not the stuff of wild-eyed ‘fire and brimstone’ preachers who terrorize people with judgment and condemnation. It is none of the heresies and idolatry being passed off as Christianity these days. This is love and mercy, kindness and compassion. This is the Gospel. This is the understanding that God is about restoration, renewal, hope, and comfort. This is letting people who feel forgotten know that they are not forgotten.

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A class of first graders in Elizabeth, New Jersey gathered hygiene kits, packaged them in individually designed bags they created, and donated them to the Relief Bus. Wonderful colors! You can see a photo of these smiling angels on this Instagram page.

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On my last two experiences volunteering with the Relief Bus, I had the great privilege to serve side-by-side with extraordinary volunteers of a church group from Indiana. They are in town as part of their Christian mission and their grace, warmth, good cheer, and work ethic were an absolute inspiration to me. Magnificent people. Their personal stories, like so many stories that define us Christians, were ones of a calling, of salvation, of redemption, stories that bring forth the kind of humility that enables true servants to feel deep empathy and relate to brokenness, fear, and imperfection in our fellow man and woman. Because sanctimony has no place in service. So to the volunteers who came all the way from Grace Church in Noblesville, it was a tremendous honor. Thank you. And I hope to see you all again!

One of my favorite photos from the NYC Relief Instagram page is this one, as it perfectly captures the volunteering experience with this outreach organization. It makes me teary eyed every time I look at it. But I recommend viewing the entire Instagram and its excellent photos and comments, or you can watch this terrific video on YouTube.

Thank you all for reading. I appreciate it 🙂

Connecting the Dots

The month of July, now coming to an end, heaped a load of emotional turmoil upon me. I suppose, in a cruel joke sort of way, it’s fitting that it occurred in the month of my birthday. A week ago, I turned 48 years old, and though I would have much preferred to celebrate it downing margaritas and dancing til dawn, I spent most of it sloshing around in the morass. I wish it was possible to drown the monsters, to forcefully hold their heads underwater and bring an end, once for all, to the ogres of loneliness, regret, and self-doubt. But they are, I fear, undrownable.

As I glumly took a walk in the park on my birthday – that hot, sticky day, July 22nd, having been day one of the New York City heat wave – a turn of phrase that had impacted me once before poked its way again into my consciousness when I strolled past the softball fields: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward”. That is Steve Jobs, from his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. As someone who tends to beat herself up about past decisions and questionable choices, I am astonished at Jobs’ remarkable ability to spin all the events of his life, including the failures, the ugly battles, and humiliations, into mere spokes on the wheel of a larger, fulfilling destiny. I’m astonished because it is an art I have not mastered. Not even close. I mean, this is a man who declares that, in hindsight, dropping out of college was one of his best decisions … to a class of recent college graduates! Who else but Steve Jobs could get away with that? This was also a man who, in 2005 when he delivered this address, was much closer to death than he knew.

My art modeling work is done for the rest of the summer, except for a weekly portrait class on Long Island through August. But in the weeks leading up now, New York’s art community graciously sent me off into my hiatus with much needed expressions of appreciation for what I do. It was wonderful. After every July gig came an enthusiastic verbal validation of my modeling. Where did this come from? From the ladies at the 92nd St Y to the diverse group of sketchers at Battery Park and even to the high schoolers in the pre-college summer art program at FIT, I was treated to the most generous words; “You are so fun to draw!”, “Your poses are beautiful!”, “You’re the best model I’ve ever seen!”, “It’s been a pleasure working with you”. Now, I’m not entirely convinced that I’m deserving of such praise, especially given my dejected mood of late, but gosh am I ever grateful. And it offset the emotional turmoil I alluded to at the start of this post. I could not have needed those complimentary words more than I did this past month. Like a gallon of water for a thirsty soul.

I’ve blogged more than a few times about the profound value art modeling holds for me, most recently in this post from May. So I think I may have actualized at least one of Steve Jobs’ commencement speech themes; allowing your inner voice to lead you to your passion and “find what you love”. Passions are, truly, what propel us through our lives, push us through adversity, and imbue us with a sense of purpose. The purpose for most of us, unlike Steve Jobs, may not be grand or revolutionary or trailblazing, but it’s purpose all the same. Obviously we can’t all possess the creative vision and business acumen of Apple’s co-founder, but we can all answer inspiration’s call.

I still have to work on the “connecting the dots” bit however. When I reflect backwards, as Steve Jobs proclaimed, I can’t see it in the collected experiences of my own life. The dots just aren’t connecting. Yes I made ONE good decision ten years ago which introduced me to a passion that had been dwelling inside me. But all the rest? I can’t piece it together like a triumphant puzzle the way Jobs did, no matter how hard I try. Maybe, someday, it will all make sense to me. But not now.

Sketch of me .. still reaching, still actively standing, still stepping forward … by Giovanni Lipari:

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