Tuesday, January 30, 2007

paper hearts

So I'm making these hearts. They're papier mache, bristol board and acrylic paint. They fit right in my clumsy hands, it feels good to crush newspaper because I can. I made a mini studio on my coffee table, I paint them with both hands on my couch where I am happy as a caterpillar.

Friday, January 26, 2007


I'm overdue on the hand update. I've been working, therapy-ing, and digging out of the piles of chaos the accident left. Lots was left undone. My studio was abandoned and turned into a dumping ground of half finished projects. Last week there was no change in my finger and the beginning of talk of another surgery. We doubled efforts to get it moving.

Meanwhile the few social gatherings I go to continue to inevitably turn up someone else with a recent hand injury. It's apparently a common body part to hurt, only now people tell me about theirs because mine is so obvious. They are always as excited as me to find another bum hand, trade medical details and gross out uninitiated bystanders. The cult of the broken paw is elite and merciless.

Last night at a Tony Baloney's open studio I met a guy whose pinky knuckle got shattered by his steering wheel in a minor car accident. A surgery, metal plate, scar tissue removal and 2 years later it works but he says it's now arthritic. I fret upon hearing this.

And I found another broken hand blogger, musician Robert Rich, who spent a year working diligently to heal tendons and break scar tissue. He writes philosophically about the strangeness of clipping the nail of a finger you can't feel, and the mystery of clumsy scar tissue that hurts rather then helps in its over eagerness to heal. He's remarkably candid and without self-pity for someone who chances to loose his flute and piano playing ability. And he manages to make beautiful music anyway.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Ode to Broken Things

Things get broken
at home
like they were pushed
by an invisible, deliberate smasher.
It's not my hands
or yours
It wasn't the girls
with their hard fingernails
or the motion of the planet.
It wasn't anything or anybody
It wasn't the wind
It wasn't the orange-colored noontime
Or night over the earth
It wasn't even the nose or the elbow
Or the hips getting bigger
or the ankle
or the air.
The plate broke, the lamp fell
All the flower pots tumbled over
one by one. That pot
which overflowed with scarlet
in the middle of October,
it got tired from all the violets
and another empty one
rolled round and round and round
all through winter
until it was only the powder
of a flowerpot,
a broken memory, shining dust.

And that clock
whose sound
the voice of our lives,
the secret
thread of our weeks,
which released
one by one, so many hours
for honey and silence
for so many births and jobs,
that clock also
and its delicate blue guts
among the broken glass
its wide heart

Life goes on grinding up
glass, wearing out clothes
making fragments
breaking down
and what lasts through time
is like an island on a ship in the sea,
surrounded by dangerous fragility
by merciless waters and threats.

Let's put all our treasures together
-- the clocks, plates, cups cracked by the cold --
into a sack and carry them
to the sea
and let our possessions sink
into one alarming breaker
that sounds like a river.
May whatever breaks
be reconstructed by the sea
with the long labor of its tides.
So many useless things
which nobody broke
but which got broken anyway.

- Pablo Neruda

Friday, January 19, 2007


Though I know it is pointless to ask "why" about anything, it's one of those things that creeps up on you when you're not paying attention.

Sometimes I'm sure this whole affair is no big deal, just a thing that happened. Other times it feels like punishment, bad karma. But most often it feels like a riddle, and that my hand won't get right until I figure out the answer, and that I'm too dense to get it.

My stuck finger hasn't improved much. But I finally looked at the first xrays today, thanks to Lisa, and though it was upsetting and I got nauseous, I did not pass out. That's a big deal on my record.

I drew what I can remember seeing. The finger bone broke off and pushed back on the joint, damaging that too. It was a mess. Now it's all the scar tissue on the tendons from the fall and the surgery that's keeping it from moving.

Other then those involved with my recovery, I'm having a hard time talking at all, except to my hand. Since the accident I've noticed that it feels like it has its own soul, maybe because it doesn't feel like my hand the way my hand used to feel a part of me. So I talk to it and do a lot of apologizing. And I feel like maybe that's not as weird as it may sound after continuing to read Clarissa's writing about hands...

...those parts of our bodies that are like two small human beings in and of themselves. In olden times the fingers were likened to legs and arms and the wrist joint to the head. Those beings can dance, they can sing. I once clapped candence with A great flamenco guitarist. In flamenco the palms of the hands speak, they make sounds that are words, like "Faster, oh beautiful one, soar now, be deeper, ah, feel me, feel this music, feel this and this and this." The hands are beings in their own right.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

handless maiden

Clarissa Pinkola Estes retells folk tales in Jungian psychological terms. She regards all characters and events as the stories of the development of a soul.

To her the Handless Maiden is a descent of the conscious into the underworld of the subconscious brought on by difficulty and loss. It's a transformation, a "rite of endurance", a toughening of tender spirits, and the loss of hands is specific and important to the story.

We can understand the removal of psychic hands in much the same way the symbol was understood by the ancients. In Asia the celestial ax was used to cut one away from the unillumined self. This motif of cutting as initiation is central to our story....the hands of the ego must be sundered... in order to take us away from all seductions of meaningless things within our reach, whatever it is that we can hold on to in order not to grow. If it is so that the hands must go for a while, then so be it. Let them go.

In this metaphor of cutting off the hands, we see that something will come of it. In the underworld whenever a thing is not able to live, it is taken down and cut apart to be used in another way. This woman of the story is not old, not sick, yet she must be dismantled for she cannot be the way she has been anymore. Forces are waiting for her to help her heal.

But cutting off her hands, the father deepens the descent, hastens the
disolutio, the difficult loss of all one's dearest values, which means everything, the loss of vantage point, the loss of horizon lines, the loss of one's bearings about what one believes and for what reason.

With the cutting off of the hands, the importance of the rest of the psychic body and its attributes is emphasized...for the deep and dismembered woman is going to do her work. And as gruesome as it may seem at first, this new version of her body is going to help.

-Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Piano

I've been reading The Bone People which Karl got for me because it's about "an artist estranged from her art" and because there are beautiful drawings of hands on the cover.

It takes place in New Zealand, and there's a boy of mysterious origins who doesn't talk and no one knows why. This reminded me of the movie The Piano, which I had forgotten about in my search for stories of injured hands.

It was the first art house movie I saw in college. I was totally taken in by its grey moodiness and images like a piano left alone on a beach. In the final scenes Sam Neill chops off the finger of Holly Hunter, his mute, piano playing, mail-order wife, for cheating on him. Then she almost drowns when her foot is caught in a rope attached to her sinking piano. I'd never seen anything that was at once so horrible and beautiful at the same time. It was confusing and disturbing, but I loved that feeling. Even though I could barely watch it. A lot of people left the theater. I wanted to but couldn't.

But then, she does not drown. She escapes, and in the end she is dry and serene, at a piano with a silver finger replacing her lost one, which clicks softly every now and then as she slowly plays the keys. It was an unforgettable moment, and I was extremely sad for the people who had left.

I only realize now that The Piano is a retelling of The Handless Maiden, one of my all time favorite folk tales, used in Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes who I saw speak around the same time. Why I never noticed that before I can't think, and how I came to take an injury that mirrors this makes me suspicious.

I couldn't find a still of that scene, so I drew it as best I could remember.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

digitus impudicus

O the plight of the middle finger. Considered the indecent finger in the western world for thousands of years, and by habit of being the longest digit, is more prone to injury then the others.

By chance last night at Karl's electrician school graduation dinner I sat next to a carpenter named Jim who specializes in dome construction. He was bit by a dog on November 27 and has a nice suture scar on the same middle knuckle of his right hand as me. He's also right handed and having trouble getting it working again. But we were two peas in a pod commiserating on our oddly common misfortunes. Though I'm still shy of socializing, I can't get enough of the community of the maimed, especially fellow hand injury sufferers.

I found reference to an organization called the IFPWMF, the International Foundation for People Without Middle Fingers on ooze.com that I thought to apply for temporary membership in... but too bad, I think it may be a hoax.

Liz Dubois
sent this autobiographical account of the famous illustrator Holly Hobbie:

The year I had Jocelyn we were living in a rented farmhouse. Behind the house a meandering stream flowed through picture-perfect pastures.... One February at noontime I noticed a small animal making slow progress through the snow toward the house. It was a gorgeous little muskrat. The poor thing is starving, I thought. I believed it was desperately venturing toward the house for food. I grabbed a package of crackers and a jar of peanut butter and went to the rescue. We seemed to look each other in the eyes. "You poor beautiful little thing." I held out the peanut butter on a cracker. The muskrat leapt three feet straight out of the snow and struck before I knew it. Puzzling red spots appeared in the snow at my feet. Then I looked at my left hand. I was still holding the cracker between thumb and index finger, but my middle finger was hanging from a thread, severed at the first joint. I am left-handed. They managed to save the finger, but the joint no longer worked, and my finger was permanently bent out of shape. So much for feeding poor helpless creatures in the snow.

Anyway from time to time, I considered the miserable fate of the kolinsky (an asian mink) who has supplied me with a lifetime of wonderful paintbrushes. From a fanciful angle, it seems to me, the muskrat that day struck back at one artist on behalf of his fellow beast.

letter eight

Every once in a while an old friend you've regrettably lost touch with finds your pleading blog and suggests a book to read. And sometimes you happen to have that book buried in a pile, dig it up, and open to a random page to find something perfectly drafted in answer to your particular situation at that moment. It was written 102 years ago to someone else, but it's what you were wishing to hear.

We...are not prisoners. No traps or snare are set about us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us. We are set down in life as in the element to which we best correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we hold still we are, through happy mimicry, scarcely to be distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened...if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out your life any agitation, any pain, any melancholy, since you really do not know what these states are working upon you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question whence all this may be coming and whither it is bound? Since you know that you are in the midst of transitions and wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything morbid in your process, just remember that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself of foreign matter; so one must just help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and break out with it, for that is progress. In you... so much is now happening; you must be patient as a sick man and confident as a convalescent; for perhaps you are both. And more: you are the doctor too, who has to watch over himself. But there are in every illness many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait. And this it is that you, insofar as you are your own doctor, must now above all do.

Do not observe yourself too much. Do not draw too hasty conslusions from what happens to you; let it simply happen to you. Otherwise you will too easily look with reproach (that is, morally) upon your past, which naturally has its share in all that you are now meeting....One must be so careful with names anyway; it is so often on the
name of a misdeed that a life goes to pieces, not the nameless and personal action itself, which was perhaps a perfectly definite necessity of that life and would have been absorbed by it without effort. And the expenditure of energy seems to you so great only because you overvalue victory; it is not the victory that is the "great thing" you think you have done, although you are right in your feeling; the great thing is that there was already something there which you could put in the place of that delusion, something true and real. Without this even your victory would have been but a moral reaction, without wide significance, but thus it has become a segment of your life. Your life...of which I think with so many wishes. Do you remember how that life yearned out of its childhood for the "great"? I see that it is now going on beyond the great to long for greater. For this reason it will not cease to be difficult, but for this reason too it will not cease to grow.

Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life has much difficulty and sadness.... were it otherwise he would never have been able to find these words."

-Rainer Maria Rilke to Franz Xaver Kappus, from Letters to a Young Poet

Thank you, John Nez!

Macy's hand turkey thanks to Eliza B.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

hand: 1-11-07

I'm back in a cast. A tiny tiny finger cast. It's to straighten out that obstinate joint, while I work on moving the other obstinate joint. It hurts, and I'm avoiding water again, just when I decided papier mache was the way to go to fulfill my creative urges.

But I won't be deterred. I taped a sandwich bag to my hand leaving my thumb and pointer finger free. It works fine. I make fiery hearts and hands, what else?

mixed laterality

The more I read about this, the more I am gratefully discovering that I am. I've met others who've broken their dominant hand who could barely function. But I'll probably continue using my left hand for some tasks like the mouse even after I'm healed, because it's easy and can relieve my over-stressed right hand quite a lot.

I found this:

Accident prone adults meander through life, with things exploding, catching fire or falling apart around them. Life is not easy, as they have to waste hours searching for misplaced objects. If anything can possibly go wrong, it does. As for reaching point B from point A, don’t even think about it — an inherently poor sense of direction makes even familiar roads a confusing maze. This condition affects 20% of the adult population. Unfortunately, they were not diagnosed as children when they were — to the consternation of parents and teachers — bumping into things and falling down. Their bodies are invariably speckled with scars and sutures and show evidence of healed fractures. Life for these children is difficult. Career choices are affected, with professions like driving, piloting a plane or working in a museum remaining unrealistic dreams. These ‘‘clumsy clods’’ are actually individuals with sinstral confusion, mixed laterality, cross dominance, mixed dominance or cross laterality. In short, unlike the majority, they do not have a dominant hemisphere which determines laterality or handedness. This dominance does not extend to handedness alone. There is also a dominant eye, ear, and leg, on the same side of the body. Usually, when the left hemisphere is dominant, the person is right-handed and vice versa. People with mixed laterality are exceptions to this rule. They may alternate hands when writing and legs when kicking. They subconsciously rely first on one side and then the other to perform complex tasks.

It goes on to say how the mixed lateral can't take quick directional commands, use the leg opposite their dominant hand for kicking and crossing, don't respond well to anxiety, and are usually artistic. This is me! Though I wouldn't say it's as dire as everything always going wrong.

The upside is that they can apparently balance themselves with yoga, and are exceptionally good with table tennis.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

future echoes


The clouds are just as I

would paint them if I
did not have frozen hands.

Wind in the corner of
my eyes no more.

I travel to the broken clouds with my
grandmother's brain.

Evidence of accidents.

Today things and people won't
talk to me.
But this is what I asked for.

This would be just another dull record of my day and not creepy at all were it not the last thing I wrote in my sketchbook before the accident. Well, the grandmother's brain part is creepy in either case. That was the mri negatives I felt compelled to take home from my mom even though they freak me out.

dream #1

Monday, January 08, 2007

hand: 1-8-07

Since the splint was banished last Wednesday I've started using the hand and being fiercer with therapy. It's fantastic to not feel so fragile anymore. At last I can put on a bra by myself. I can carry some things. My body is balancing better for not always keeping my hand protectively close. The downside is that with the middle finger still obstinately sticking out, it looks obscene whatever I do, and it's prone to getting hit with things, which hurts like mad.

There's more improvement in the broken middle metacarpophalangeal joint, but the proximal and distal interphalangeals of that finger are still stubbornly refusing to move. There's all kinds of new feelings going on in unexpected places, the palm, the back of the hand, the wrist. The shedding has stopped, now the skin is super sensitive and raw.

I can grip and pick up light weight objects like a jar, but not small objects like coins. Opening lids is a major hassle, and holding a pencil is not at all effective.

Today it's 7 weeks since the accident. All but the middle finger can now touch the palm (sometimes). My drumming exercise has come a long way.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


My bones are back together, but the tendons in my fingers and hand are still stuck in scar tissue from the surgery and the fall. I'm working all the time to break them out and thinking about Mo'a's question "Why do these blessings have to come in such a painful way?" Since I got the ok last week to ditch the splint and start using my hand, it hurts more then ever. Physically the healing is more painful then getting injured.

It seems like a fact of nature that growing things comes with discomfort, the birthing of offspring, the pruning of plants, the building of callouses on fiddle fretting fingers, the tearing of muscle to make stronger skating legs. Getting punched, bruised, and slammed in derby showed me how resilient my body is and made me walk braver through other places where I needed it.

And knowing this pain comes from getting better, it's infinitely easier to take. It's funny how that works. It makes me look at all kinds of pain, even the less understandable kinds, in a different way.

Petula, my sensitive tiger dog, displays compassion.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

mano sinistra

My mum says I wrote with both hands before I broke my left wrist in kindergarten. Then I became a righty. This time has been a shining moment for my overshadowed left hand, which has performed honorably in picking up the slack of my right. There's not too much it can't do.

Drawing with my left has been more fun then drawing has been in a while. There's a bigger element of surprise in what might come out on paper. And as it's gotten steadier I'm beginning to recognize my regular righty style coming out, which makes me realize my art does come more from the head then the hand.

And though typing is still a chore, I've figured out how to take pictures with my right hand while my left is 100% proficient with a mouse. So I entertain myself with Photoshop.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

the patient of saints

I'm the kind of person you have to trick or ambush to get into any kind of medical facility, but everyone at the Center for Orthopaedics is so terrific that it's actually quite pleasant. Maybe I'll even lose a phobia or two.

Dr. Mark Altman, hand surgeon, a genius, and so extrordinarily calm and assuring. The only doctor who's succeeded in putting me at ease which is a miracle. And he does brilliant work. He is awesome.

Lisa Cyr, occupational therapist, hand therapist. The first day I saw her right after they'd pulled out my pins her kindness, patience and optimism kept me from passing out. Another miracle. Therapy appointments are something I look forward to because of her. And she's got my hand starting to work again.

Margaret Carl, nurse and stage manager, who hooked me up with these hand fixers, went out of her way to be with me at every doctor visit, and has been my mentor and supporter even at the same time as running our Christmas show. She's been a savior for Karl and me and our theater company for a long time, and is the one who brought me into Puppetsweat and the Quarry, which are other great stories for another time. Margaret is the ultimate miracle worker.

Mike, my therapy partner, a right handed young artist and tree cutter, who damaged his right hand falling out of a tree with a chainsaw a week or so before my accident. His amazing light hearted spirit, humor and encouragement has been an inspiration.

I am a very, very lucky bird.

Monday, January 01, 2007

change of direction

Before roller derby interrupted, I was working at reversing my figure skating spin. In ice skating you can do your jumps and spins clockwise or counterclockwise. Counterclockwise is as common as right handedness, but either way you do both in the same direction.

I developed split direction early on, I jumped counterclockwise and spinned clockwise. A major flaw. A few years ago I set on teaching myself the other direction. It's not easy to switch. It made me nauseous a lot and my spins would travel 10 or 15 feet. I read about the clockwise-turning whirling dervishes so I tried pretending to be a dervish and imagined myself as the axis of the universe. It became the best sort of meditation and an enjoyable daily ritual of sorts. After 2 years I finally got a pretty good counterclockwise spin going, a dozen times better then my clockwise ever was.