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Phantom Photo: The Yellow T6

While getting a manicure, I engaged in friendly conversation with the woman at the adjacent station. She mentioned the current month’s InStyle magazine, featuring Diane Keaton.

Later that day while shopping at Publix, I grabbed a copy as I passed through the checkout lane.

How do you explain that, as I perused the brand-new magazine, a photograph fell out of the pages – an older photograph – of a yellow North American T6 airplane?

Where did this photo come from? It was just nestled within the pages of a fashion magazine.

Yellow North American T6 Trainer Aircraft

This plane was flown as a trainer in WWII. In this image, it appears to be parked as a static display, perhaps at a museum?

I’ve searched – but I cannot explain anything about it.

But that is what I’ve come to love about it – the mystery. This little scene happened about four years ago, and I still keep the picture in my studio. If you know anything about this plane, or the photo, I’d love to hear about it! – Julie

When Creativity Visits, Part Deux

Classic literature is my favorite genre to read; My current pick is Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Mike took an interest in the title, but he’s not an avid book reader. We decided to watch a movie version, which we both enjoyed. But it got me thinking…

Jules Verne wrote that book in 1870, in French, and an English version followed in 1872. Amazing, an idea, a tale, that Verne articulated nearly 150 years ago is still reaching people – and will continue on for how many years beyond? This idea got me thinking about ideas, and creativity, and their reach.

I’ve always imagined creativity like a mystical bird,
flitting around, landing on curiously open minds
like bright flowers…

I’m amazed that we appreciate art imagined hundreds, possibly thousands of years ago – or, even that when we use a device, such as a telephone, that was imagined so long ago, we are interpreting an idea, a manifestation of creative energy. I’ve always imagined creativity as an energy in the form of a mystical butterfly or bird, flitting around, landing on curiously open minds like bright flowers. An idea may come but it won’t necessarily stick, or it may change. Some fester and die. But I like to think of the world as full of this creative energy, flowing all the time.

I think an artist’s greatest hope is that their work engages someone, touches them in some way. Even if that moment is simply to evoke the briefest happiness — like a tactile sense of appreciation, that hope is enough to finish what was started. Painting is no doubt a selfish reward, for all the intricate joys it produces. But back to Jules Verne, or Edison or anyone that receives and engages their creative muscle – you never know who that act will reach. It may not come in your lifetime. How many artists suffered penniless humiliation only to be lauded long after they’ve passed?

It’s an endless curiosity to never know, to not particularly care, who that energy reaches, but rather that it reaches someone. Create for the sake of creation, to fulfill the quest of the mystical bird, bounding through the universe.

Once in a Lifetime

Stella Mae. This is our twelfth summer and I am grateful for her, every single day.

She was at an adoption day at PetSmart. Amid a corral of frolicking puppies, she lay aloof, by herself. As I approached the perimeter, she stood and calmly walked to meet me. She sat in front of me and looked up to me with her soft eyes. DONE! I’ve said and will always say she is a ‘once in a lifetime’ kind of friend.

Here we are in the studio, taking a bothie (not a selfie, cuz that’s just of yourself). ❤

No judgement on the lack of housekeeping in my studio…
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Ed

His Name Was Ed

The first time I went to Omaha, Nebraska, it was October of 1994. It has since become like a second home, it bears that sort of feeling.

But that first time, I was there because I was in liver failure. I was twelve years-old and my parents had exhausted options in our home state of Florida.

This was an era before Internet; fax machines were the hot technology. The information and support available to patients and families was limited. Being as we were so far from home, we stayed in a sort of group home offered as a patient resource. It was a converted Victorian-era home called “The Potter House”, where families from out-of-state could stay more affordably than a hotel for extended visits. We were in room six, on the second floor. Our room had a lovely sitting area, a sunroom of sorts, that was ideal for reading. It overlooked the quiet neighborhood about two miles west of downtown, which is now known as the Blackstone area.

Every act of kindness creates a ripple with no end

I was being evaluated as a candidate for a liver transplant. This process can be lengthy, requiring all sorts of tests before learning whether one will “qualify”, for lack of a better term, for the national waiting list. And, once a person is listed, there is no guarantee that they will receive the organ they need. Life on the waiting list is precarious, but that’s another story for a different day.

The idea of a liver transplant was terrifying, as in the early nineties, it was still kind of a new thing. There was a support group and some books available, but I was unclear about what my future would entail, should I receive a new liver. Would I be able to attend school or play sports? I was at that time very sick and home/wheelchair bound, so all my hope was to be a “normal” kid again.

Then I met a man named Ed. To this day I don’t know his full name or really any details about him. I just remember coming downstairs to breakfast, gathering in the communal kitchen; I watched Ed lace up his shoes and sprint out the door, going for a run.

Ed had very recently undergone a liver transplant. And he was out for a run. I was fascinated.

“What advice can you give me?” I implored, incredulous, to this man that was a picture of health.

He smiled and considered my question. He replied: “it’s gonna be hard, it’s gonna hurt, but you gotta push through it.”

I was floored. In that moment he became a sort of enigma, embodiment of a muse.

Nearly 25 years have passed and I have thought of Ed’s advice every day. It was simple advice, but he represented the very torch of hope to me.

In many instances, his advice has gotten me through the day.

I don’t know what became of Ed, but I am still here. His advice helped me navigate and recover from two liver transplants, one on April 16, 1995 and another on August 5, 2011. His advice taught me how to be a good patient, because that in itself is a difficult prospect at times.

Ed will never know what he did for me that day. It’s amazing that we can touch another person’s life without ever knowing it.

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A Bit of Treasure

A wonderful act to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I so very admired my great aunt; her name was Gizella. To my family and I, she is known as Aunt Giz.

She was the epitome of chic, which is the perfect balance of humbleness and sophistication. One of my earliest memories is feeling enchanted by this marvelous woman. She conversed with me not as a little child, but as a lady, and as such, she made me feel valued and grown-up – which, to a little girl, is everything! She was so genuine; Her generous affection was pure, radiant and sincere, but her dislike for something was not unknown either. I admired that about her: such an honesty of being.

I think many people feel as I do, about relatives and friends passed on: I didn’t get to know her as well as I’d have liked to. Much I know about her was, very sadly, gained after her passing.

Aunt Giz

When she passed, my family was tasked with the “final arrangements”, which included the dismantling of her life – in literal terms. What to do with the books she read, the silverware and tableware from which she ate her food, the blankets that warmed her? Sad and stressful, the undertaking altered my perspective of life, particularly about its details. We would call to one another, from room to room: “what do you think should be done with this (insert object)?” (The things we picked through were sorted into roughly three categories: toss, sell, donate.) It was an uncomfortable feeling, crossing into someone’s personal space and deciding how to dispatch their things. After a few days at this task, a sort of numbness came over me and, most of it, was a job to be done. Closing her estate took a long time, but that is another story for another day.

Amid the chaos, there were a few little treasures that begged me to keep. I have three pieces here in my studio space with me.

Photo Album

One is a thick, heavy photo album, brimming with an era of photographs of Aunt Giz and her beloved husband, my Great Uncle Eugene (known to all as “Gene”). It is an intimate portrait, a delightful pictorial story of her life from about 1965 to 1980. They are in love with one another, it is evident. They lived in an incredible home in Malaga, Spain, sparkling Mediterranean on the horizon. There they entertained with fabulous style among numbers of friend; lovely people with smiling faces, of whom I cannot name.

Aunt Giz with Happy the dog and Marta, a 1966 VW Camper Van
Aunt Giz with Happy and Marta the 1966 VW camper van

I wonder if, after my time has passed, someone will look at my photos and feel the kind of radiance and love that I do for Aunt Giz? That, in my opinion, is a testament of a life well-lived.

The second item is another photo. This one is 8 x 10”, black and white, and we believe it to have been taken by Andre Kertesz; he was a close friend. That is an interesting detail to a photo buff —  Here, it is the subject of the photo I love. Gene is seated, looking at a pamphlet of some sort; my Aunt Giz stands just a little behind him, leaning against the wall, looking at him in evident adoration. It’s a beautiful moment; I consider it art.

A moment, a lifetime: Aunt Giz and Uncle Gene

The third item is a page of handwritten prose; I don’t know to whom to credit for the thoughtful and serene discourse. I have it tacked to a corkboard that hangs above a bookshelf; now and then I seek a few moments’ comfort, as I hope you will too.

In closing, I affirm that this is one of those articles about “the best things aren’t things”. The belongings I speak of aren’t of monetary substance, but they conjure the invaluable memories of an Aunt I cherished in life — and even more afterward, in her legacy, that alludes to the colorful, astute woman that will always be representative of Aunt Giz.

Goal

To live content with small means.

To seek elegance rather than fashion

To be worthy, not respectable and wealthy, not rich.

To study hard

Think quietly

Talk gently

Act frankly.

To listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages

With open heart.

To bear all cheerfully;

Do all bravely

Await occasions, hurry never.

In a word, let the spirit be unbidden

And unconscious grow up through the common.

This is to be my symphony.

The Wall

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In February 2018, my friend Darren reached out to me regarding a project at Orlando Regional Medical Center. Darren is the recipient of a kidney & pancreas, and I am a liver recipient. (I have a chronic condition known as Budd Chiari Syndrome, for which there is no cure. Because of this condition, I received my first liver transplant April 16, 1995. Unfortunately, I needed a second transplant on August 5, 2011, due to recurrence of BCS.) Darren and I have worked together on a number of organ donation-related causes, and this one sounded especially interesting.

Still living in Tampa at the time, I traveled to Orlando Regional Medical Center. Darren introduced me to Debbie Alexander; Debbie brought together a small group of hospital staff with the hopes to find suitable artwork for a wall that had been allocated for a project.

The project is called “Wall of Heroes” and was designed by a caring physician named Jeff Sadowsky. Dr. Sadowsky believed something needed to be done to honor organ donors and their families. He explained that when someone passes, and they choose to donate, their families leave the hospital with their grief and a plastic bag containing their loved one’s belongings. They return to their lives within the community without distinction – but they are heroes, their loved ones are heroes, and they deserve recognition.

Dr. Sadowsky chose to act, founding the organization GR8 to DON8 in 2009. Merging his love of fitness to the cause, he formed the GR8toDON8 8k Run for Organ Donation. Contributions from the GR8toDON8 8k Run were allocated for a second passion project of Dr. Sadowsky’s: The Wall of Heroes. Dr. Sadowsky thought families and loved ones should have a place to go in which they could honor and memorialize their hero. A wall within Orlando Regional Medical Center was designated for the memorial.

Currently the Associate Director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Orlando Regional Medical Center, he was initially impacted by the power of donation during his early years in training, where he often saw very ill patients in need of transplantation.

One organ donor can save up to eight lives (hence the 8K Run for Organ Donation) while tissue donation can improve the quality of life for dozens more. Last year, nearly 31,000 lives were saved due to the generosity of organ donors. Today, more than 120,000 children and adults await that precious gift. Hundreds of thousands more patiently wait for the gift of tissue donation.

Dr. Sadowsky’s vision for the wall was a piece of artwork that would somehow convey gratitude and honor for organ donors. Darren and I brainstormed on an interactive project that educates the public about the importance of organ donation and will hopefully inspire individuals to choose life and register to become a donor (if they have not already). Meanwhile, Dr. Sadowsky and the collective group of Team Orlando assigned the concept of the ripple effect. How would we create – and fulfill – the vision of these caring people?

The blank wall

As a liver recipient, the mission to honor donors resonated deeply. I sketched a few designs but the painting that was ultimately selected came together quickly. I named the painting “the Odyssey” in honor of my beloved physician, Dr. Michael F. Sorrell, after something he said many years ago.

The Odyssey. The droplet signifies the act of donation, which triggers the ripples to begin moving. Like water, emotion runs deep, with each ripple representing the different aspects of the donation and transplantation process.

Dr. Sorrell is now retired, but in 1994, he saved my life. I was an eleven-year-old child with an undiagnosed disease. I went from being a healthy kid to deathly ill and spent a year bouncing through countless doctors and tests, to no avail. My parents had heard of Dr. Sorrell, and although he did not typically deal with pediatrics, agreed to see me. My family traveled to Omaha, Nebraska to meet him, and I was finally diagnosed with Budd Chiari Syndrome. Due to the advanced state of my disease, I learned that I would need a liver transplant to survive. I’ve always appreciated Dr. Sorrell’s kind but matter-of-fact way of speaking, and he described the transplant experience as an “odyssey”. In all the years that have passed, I’ve yet to find a better term. This odyssey begins as a patient, hoping you’ll qualify to be listed, despite that your opportunity at life means tragedy for another. Then the call comes that the transplant team located a match: you’re simultaneously so many emotions that it leaves one breathless. It’s an experience in extremes.

My painting is a simple design: a cascade of ripples that are created by a single water droplet, comprised of a bold but limited palette of blues against a bright white background. The water droplet represents the action of an organ donation, and the ripples are all the lives positively impacted. Some ripples will be organ or tissue transplant recipients, some represent organ donors. There are eight definitive ripples that represent the eight transplantable organs.

Darren and I contacted an organization called Intermedia Touch to take the second part of our idea to fruition. We wanted to fulfill the message of the project through means of a digital and interactive product. This piece is especially unique in that while it resembles static artwork from a distance, it is live and interactive on a 70” monitor. The painting was animated so that the water droplet falls, causing the eight ripples to move. As viewers approach, they’ll notice the soft sound of water moving. Users can touch any one of the eight ripples to learn about organ or tissue donation, to dispel the common myths and misconceptions about donation and transplantation, to register to become a donor, or to register for the GR8 to DON8 race. The piece honors donors by allowing families to recognize their loved ones in the Heroes gallery, where they may share up to five photos as well as video. It is a place where families can honor their loved one and by sharing their story, hopefully pass on a message of hope to others.

The project went live January 7th at Orlando Regional Medical Center. It will be officially revealed in April for Donate Life month.

The painting remains in constant motion

Meanwhile, I have been trying to put The Odyssey into words:

The Odyssey.

IV’s embedded: in your hands, the tender flesh at the crook of your inner arm, in your neck, a port in your chest.. they go on.

 Labwork at 4am, or some timeframe like that; the phlebotomist going in before you can fully wake, lights suddenly on, elastic tourniquet snapping around your arm, searching for and hopefully finding an irritable vein.

Transplant Team arrives, you get bad news. They leave in a flock-like formation, white coats, sympathetic smiles and heads nodding. An hour later, the door bursts open, a uniformed aide whips a wheelchair into your small room. They usher you out of bed, filing your attached IV cart in sequence with the awaiting chair. They wheel you and your IV down the hallway, into an elevator, and into a freezing cold, darkened room. A tech awaits with an ultrasound, CT or MRI, or some machine. You cooperate as they direct, the test is performed, and you come and go. An aide rolls you back to your hospital room. As you ride through the crowded hallways you notice that most people do not look at you, or make eye contact, with a person in a wheelchair.

You take a moment to recognize your own slim, jaundiced face in the mirror of your hospital room bathroom.

The hospital at night, quiet finally falls, the pace slackens. You try to sleep.

But the worst.

Beyond any physical pain or anything a patient endures;

Is watching others watch you.

Seeing the effect it has taken on the people you care about, that care for you. You identify sorrow, grief, deep worry, bone-deep fear.

There are no plans for the future. A baby shower for a baby you hope to live to meet; an engagement party for your best friend — and she asks you to be a bridesmaid. I think to myself, I hope I am still alive to see my best friend on her wedding day.

And then the call comes, perhaps the most significant in your lifetime: we found a liver, it’s a perfect match for you. In disbelief — As the news washes over you, you realize with your heavy, heavy heart that another family has arrived at their darkest hour. It is a surreal feeling; you are being given a chance.

Despite the heartbreak and pain, something miraculous is taking place. So many people come together, no matter the hour of day, they rise to the occasion, they are at their best. An orchestra plays beautiful music.

You wake on the other side. You have crossed over.

A new kind of fight begins: The journey to recovery: who knows what life will become? Will life be like it was before all the illness and pain?

It will be better; Each day, you strive for that. It’s difficult, there are setbacks, but there is the victory that you are on the other side and you can look forward to things again. There are lots and lots of small victories, like the first day in months that you can sit properly at a table and enjoy a simple meal with your family. There are the first stairs you ascend, wobbly and quite weak but determined.

Is He okay? I made a pact, took a vow, that I am going to be the Guardian of this new liver, and I’m going to LIVE!

So many put their hearts into saving your life, so go LIVE your life, gratefully humble. ion(e){retur

Follow Your Heart?

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For the past three years I have worked as a writer for a dating website, writing profiles for men and women across every walk of life. It is one of the more unique ways I have used writing as a means, and I enjoy the work.

As most would expect, the variety of people is interesting, although the things we seek in love seem to be universally similar: respect, authenticity and honesty. Most say that followtraveling tops their list of interests, followed with food and friends. Having written for all kinds of personalities, I see their uniqueness – but I don’t think we’re so different when it comes to our emotional being. We are all afraid of getting caught up in some crazy, painful situation and being made to feel like a fool.
Singles always say, “I don’t want to get hurt”. Ponder for a moment: what we’re really saying is that we don’t deal well with discomfort. Comfort is a luxury, but we treat it as a necessary commodity. The way I see it, the moment a person sets foot in the dating arena, they’re accepting the risk. Perhaps they’ll hold back emotionally or maintain the most superficial of contact. Having nursed a broken heart a time or two myself, I can certainly understand why we conspicuously avoid the myriad of awful emotions tied up in that.

Moving in a slightly different direction, consider: not every relationship is meant to be forever. Many people come and go — there are many whose absence leaves longing but others (hopefully very few) to whom we say, “good riddance”! I’m a fan of the author Elizabeth Gilbert, and one of my favorite sayings about matters of the heart is hers: “a soulmate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention, so you can change your life.” Soulmates, I think, come in various forms, ranging from friendships to those of the romantic persuasion. We often (inadvertently, I believe) gain much of own growth from those around us, friends and lovers alike. Every relationship in life suffers an inevitable fate of some imperfection. However, from such elasticity, we grow.
Passion leads us into situations and circumstances of great possibility, for richer or for poorer. We laud and admire those that are great risk-taskers, anyone from characters in books and film or even political leaders and artists. In closing, I would always encourage any one to take the risk. I’ve always believed in love, and I mean that about the love we have inside ourselves for others – not the other way around. I imagine that love resembles a lighthouse, emitting a giant, powerful sweep of brilliance. By keeping that light to ourselves, we never know what we could be shining it upon.