Sunday, November 30, 2008

Neuroplasticity - The Brain Changes!

I’m spending more time reading about neuroplasticity. I am just wrapping up “The Brain that Changes Itself,” by Norman Doidge, M.D. and Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D.’s book, “The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog.” Both of these doctors’ books report new knowledge of the brain’s insults and its astonishing ability to recover. These are cutting edge discoveries.

Many of us suffer losses and trauma in our lives. Some are quite severe. Our brains, our neural networks, record these events. Physical changes take place in the brain as we learn. Neurons grow and connect. We make sense of our traumas however we can. Over time our protections, understanding, behaviors, and experiences lay down even more neuronal paths. Things change. Not always for the better. Sometimes we become sensitized. We may learn unhealthy habits (addictions) to help us cope with painful memories. Some of us have brain systems that become "stuck" – such as in anxiety disorders or other OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders) – where we are compelled to organize, straighten, or check incessantly. There is help available. Although a neural connection can’t be erased, new learning can take place that can work around the existing impairment. Sometimes we need help to create new learning to help us recover.

Art is uniquely suited to addressing areas of entrenched pain or dysfunction. At times art making may work similarly to free association in psychoanalysis. You may start by drawing a recurring dream and begin to describe the picture and discover more about what your dream is telling you. Art can be a safe way of processing preverbal trauma. Maybe your image is just color, line and shape. Maybe it’s a lump of clay that represents how Depression has you feeling cold and lifeless. Maybe it’s a decorative box that holds your secrets. Or a book you bind together yourself with pages you can open and close, show or keep private.

The metaphors and meanings are as individual as you are. As you spend time with your art making you will be engaging in new learning. This is a good, good thing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rag Doll and Professional Identity

Just back from the AATA Conference. That’s the American Art Therapy Association’s annual gathering to learn and share. This year it was in Cleveland. It’s expensive financially, in time, and trouble. It’s inconvenient, always coming just before Thanksgiving. It’s an enormous hassle. This year it was a bit easier because we could drive. And I learned so much. Okay, I know, a rag doll doesn’t seem like much. But it’s not just that I learned how to make a rag doll. This doll is practically a fetish, a voodoo creation. It is inspirited, I might say. Inspiration. Breathe in.
The doll was made with INTENTION. [The intention has to do with my professional identity.] Okay, so how does a rag doll evoke or invoke identity? Oh I don’t know HOW, but it does. I find myself thinking about my professional identity as I wonder about the color choices. They’re not colors I normally like. They are plain. They clash. I wonder about the sparkly bits. I had “sparkle envy” at the table where I worked and the person across from me generously gave me a piece of her sparkly fabric. I quickly placed a seashell on her waistband as I raced to finish the piece and remembered wampum as I did. Shell was used for money, called wampum, by some Native American tribes in New England. I will add the face later. Or maybe I won’t.
Here is a craft (you should have seen the materials flying!) that can make a huge mess. I was anxious as I tried to figure out how to assemble the doll. I have never been a fan of dolls and couldn’t understand why I signed up for this workshop – and paid extra – to learn how to make it. I felt frustration. I didn’t get it about how to connect the figure to my professional identity or anything else.
Yet, now that it is done it carries a quiet energy. It embodies competence, knowledge that I have my sparkly bits, regardless of how much it may show to others, and my value is firmly fixed. I’m wild about my doll.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Students' Choices

I heard something on the radio about students gathering around the University of Michigan campus on the night following the presidential election. You’ve got to hear this.
After I heard this bit on the radio today I started thinking about what we all were doing when we were college age. “We” being my cohort that came of age in the late 60’s and early 70’s. But really, we were so appalled by what was happening in Washington that we dropped out. Rather than fight the establishment we just quit. For one thing, it was the easy road. We thought that living an alternative lifestyle would revolutionize the future by example. Oh boy, were we ever wrong. For myself, it never occurred to me that actually JOINING the establishment might make the country a better, safer place. Those in power were, after all, corrupt and mean spirited. Governing was dirty work. I never could understand that old Byrds song, “I Wanna Grow Up to be a Politician.” Dude, that’s the last thing I’d ever want to be.
But my point is that because so many of us dropped out and did not participate in what seemed like a rigged race and a corrupt system, we allowed the vacuum to develop at the top. Nature abhors a vacuum, but lunatics apparently love it. They jumped right in and hijacked reason and integrity. The bad news continued until this day.
I was so cynical and hurt from all the years of disappointment in our elected officials (many of them, not all of them) that I dared not even get my hopes up for victory this year. And yet I am so relieved and happy about the election. I feel like that frozen, frightened place inside can soften and reawaken.
Obama referred to himself as a “mutt” today (in reference to the future White House puppy) and it got me thinking, too. I believe Barack Obama’s very existence is about bringing disparate things into a cohesive whole.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Right Now

I’m watching the sky go gold as the sun slips just out of sight. What a pretty day this one is. I know it will be dark, rainy and colder tomorrow. I know. I know. How am I ever going to get through the dark time of year? When it’s dark I don’t want to go out. I would rather lock myself in my room and read under the blanket. I lean strongly toward hibernation. But I digress. Today is glorious. Clear and warm (still nearly 70 on Nov. 6!) I find the leaves stunning. They glow as if they are lit from within. In another couple of weeks they will all be on the ground, but now they remain half suspended, tumbling red, gold, amber, purple flecks through the blue air. I could be in a twisting kaleidoscope.

Ann Arbor does a cool thing. The city comes and collects leaves for compost. You don’t even have to bag them. Just rake them into the street and twice in the fall the trucks comes by. A bulldozer pushes the leaves into a great pile and another truck collects them, followed by a street sweeper. Whatever I don’t use for my own compost piles (I have 2 going, plus gardens to enrich), and whatever has not been mulched with the lawnmower to feed the grass, gets raked into the street. It’s a wonderful event. Next spring we can buy finished compost for our gardens, either by the bushel or truckload.

Right now the sunset I’m watching is viewed through the lace skeleton of the bare trees across the street to the south. The tree outside the west window is still half full. Stopping to write about it has caused me to notice both trees more clearly. Drawing or painting it will anchor the moment in even better. It’s about mindfulness. Noticing that today is gorgeous even though tomorrow is predicted to be cold and rainy.
Let us celebrate our moment of joy. We have a new president-elect! And let us not fear the future. Regardless of the predicted hard times ahead, it’s beautiful now.