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 …

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?

Life in Detail

Friday morning. I walk down tree-lined blocks in my neighborhood toward the train station. Have to catch the 8:14 to Manhattan. Suddenly, from overhead, that distinct harsh screech of a red-tailed hawk; “keeeee-aarr!!”. I look up and there he is. Circling effortlessly above the Duane Reade and Queens rooftops. Good morning you beautiful wild raptor. Seeing me off to work, are you? 🙂

25 minutes later, Penn Station, morning rush hour. A woman begins to struggle getting her stroller with a toddler up the stairs to the C subway platform. I bend down and pick up the front. Together she and I make easy work carrying the stroller for the ascent. “Gracias”, she says to me. “Muchas gracias”.

Downtown, 15 minutes before drawing session starts. At the overpriced hipster coffee shop, a pleasant exchange with the barista about the deliciousness of almond milk. He tells me to “have a great day!”.

At Minerva’s studio, I’m introduced to a man from Naples. A math professor who enjoys drawing in his spare time. He pronounces my name “CLOU – dia”.

Morning session, long pose. Afternoon session, gestures and short poses. I’m the model for both. Bang my shin. Can’t find my favorite hair clip. Feeling flexible. And creative. Finished at 4:00. Man who had been drawing comes over to me, presses a $10 bill into my palm. “Oh gosh, thank you so much!” I say. “No, thank YOU” he replies. “Great poses”. A rare modeling tip.

C train back uptown. Muscly hardhat guy gives up his seat for an elderly lady. My Blackberry beeps out a text message; a modeling gig inquiry for January. Group of tourists consulting a NYC subway map.

Penn Station again. Rush hour again. Homeless trumpeter is playing a plaintive “Silent Night”. His horn reverberates throughout the Eight Avenue concourse. I drop some singles in his instrument case. He nods at me without moving the trumpet mouthpiece from his lips.

Back on the railroad, track 21, the 4:46 back to Queens. Seat at the window. Man, mid-thirties, dark complexion, sits next to me. Takes out a leather bound Bible. Reads Corinthians for the entire ride. I put in my iPod earbuds. Scroll for music. Schubert’s piano Impromptus. Sit back. Finish my box of raisins.

Home in Queens. Jessie the cat rubs lovingly against my legs. Purring … “rrrrrr”. The ball of fur missed me. Can of salmon for her. Glass of wine for me. Day of blessings. Day of grace. Day of reminders, reinforcements, interactions, and taking nothing for granted.

From that day, my one minute gesture poses sketched by Bob Palevitz … in detail:

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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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The Healing Hawk

The big blizzard of 2016 has finally melted away into the pavements and parks of New York City. Yesterday’s rains made efficient work of washing away the last remnants. The January storm really was a doozy. One for the record books. I had two modeling jobs cancelled and, instead, got more upper body workout from one afternoon of snow shoveling than I get all year 😛

But friends, I haven’t been feeling well lately, and I just wanted to let you know. I haven’t been blogging as frequently, or as joyfully, as I normally do. I apologize. You find yourself sliding helplessly into a hole, trying to process various forms of disillusionment, isolation, and frustration with both family and friends, and then the prospect of pulling yourself out of the hole feels like scaling a 500 foot wall … without a rope. At least I’ve managed to pull myself out of bed and get to my modeling jobs, where I’m trying my best to pose with some modicum of enthusiasm and vigor.

The “Snowpocalypse” did provide a magical moment of awe that is still bringing me a sense of peace and comfort when I recall the sight. The day after the storm (which is always a beautiful day, have you noticed?) I decided to take a walk around my neighborhood. It was bright, all brightness: bright white blanket of thick snow, bright clear blue sky, bright light reflecting everywhere. When a storm system passes away after doing its damage, it’s like everything opens up, stretches its limbs, and affirms its existence in the aftermath – we’re still here, we’re alive, we survived! – the trees, the houses, and of course the people, the people who can finally emerge after hunkering down indoors for  36 hours. Now it’s people shoveling snow, neighbors chatting and commiserating next to their buried cars, teenage boys zipping down the streets on snow buggies, groups of bundled up children toting sleds to the park. It was near that very park around the corner from my house that some wild movement at the top of a pine tree caught my eye. I looked up and it was a red-tailed hawk, knocking batches of snow off the branches as it landed down to perch. The sight of that handsome hawk made me so happy, and I stopped in my tracks to observe and enjoy him. He hung out for a minute or two surveying the area and then took off, spreading his impressive wings, revealing his markings, and flied away slowly, confidently, gliding over our park in northeastern Queens, like he was king of the kingdom.

It probably sounds corny and cliched, but experiences with nature, however brief, can truly do wonders for one’s state of mind. It has quite the restorative effect. Why do you think that is? Maybe because they are creatures completely removed from the worries and anxieties we humans deal with? I feel like that’s part of it. I envy animals and wildlife because they don’t give a damn about any of the shit we stress over. They function in harmony with nature’s patterns and rhythms and their innate God-given purposes. Their lives are all about survival and simplicity and existing in their “space”. No traces of discontent, no traces of inadequacy or complications, no personal standards that can’t be met or impossible quests for “fulfillment”. Two weeks later, I can still see, in the vividness of my memory, the form and physique of that hawk against the bright blue sky of that Sunday afternoon. I can still see those batches of fresh powdery snow tumbling down to the ground from that high pine tree branch when the hawk landed. And I can still see that same branch bounce up and down, like a diving board, the moment the hawk pushed off to take flight …

Goshawk Hunting by Bruno Liljefors:

GoshawkHunting

Wildlife sightings are always welcome here on Museworthy. If you’ve experienced any cool critters or special nature moments this winter season, please share in the comments 🙂

The Blogger is Here

Dear friends, I am so terribly sorry for my missing-in-action behavior with the blog lately. I don’t know what ‘s wrong with me these days 😦 I guess a confluence of worries, anxieties, writer’s block, laziness, missing someone, still keeping my fingers crossed about an opportunity I hope works out, and now an ear ailment that’s affecting my hearing. I had to model yesterday with this constant loud whooshing and whirring in my ear and it was not exactly pleasant. When my timer went off I couldn’t even hear it! Okay that’s enough. :orders self to stop complaining:

I’m doing my best to snap out of this funk. Well, actually I’m not doing my best but I’ll get on it! After I sit for a portrait pose tonight I have a few days off and I’ll try to get my shit together. Plus I have Jessie the cat to cheer me up, and she does a fine job of that, my little roly-poly angel 🙂

Girl with Dove, 1914, Henri Lebasque:

Lebasque-GirlwithDove