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
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.
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
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
To live content with
To seek elegance rather
To be worthy, not
respectable and wealthy, not rich.