My mother died on 1 June 2018. The heart attack she had didn’t kill her, in fact she bounced back from it, save for one thing—she lost her appetite.
Mom went off food completely. Nothing tasted good. She found the process of chewing annoying. The hospital tried to get her to eat, but no luck. They moved her to a rehab home where the problem persisted, no food. We moved her to a nursing facility in the hope that a private room with soft lighting and a big TV would relax her and inspire her taste buds, but still not a morsel passed her lips.
I was kept informed of the situation as it got progressively worse, so on day forty-five of no food, I flew to Illinois. We thought, and rightly so, that a ninety-year-old woman who stopped eating for forty-five days could not last much longer; after all, Mom was small to begin with.
My first day back in Illinois, I went to the nursing home and sat with her in the TV lounge. Even though she looked very frail, she was alert. “How about me getting you something to eat, say some fries from McDonald’s (her favorite junk food)?” “I’m not hungry today,” she said, then went quiet. I was sitting next to her when she touched my arm, and, pointing at a blank wall, said, “Who’s that guy there?” I played along: “I don’t know, but he looks familiar.” “That’s one of your father’s drinking buddies . . . I know him,” she said. Then she was quiet again, the hallucination was gone.
The lack of food was causing hallucinations as her body began to eat itself. Mom was bringing from the past, something absent, into the present. As the days went by, apparitions came and went. She withdrew into herself, yet we noticed her eyes darting around the room, fixing on some point in space; who or what she was seeing was anyone’s guess. She lasted sixty-eight days before she finally died, sixty-eight days with nothing but water.
We dream and make real what is mere thought. We write and our words become form. By thinking of what is not there, we bring it to life; the trick is to recognize it for what it is, and not what we demand it to be.
As I get older I find myself thinking more about the past. The people, events, the places we have lived—they all seem so clear, yet these thoughts can only change the next time around; this we can rely on, nothing stays the same.
For those who have read any of these archives, you may recall we have written that the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA) was incorporated in 1975. This much is fact, considering it’s written over and over again in newsletters published by the UMVA, but where the idea germinated in the first place is another question. Where indeed?
There are those who remember those first meetings happening in a church, while others believe those initial discussions were held at Charles Stanley’s, but I remember differently, as we all do.
In 1974, I distinctly remember sitting with a group of artists at a weekly life drawing session held above the Brunswick Craft Center. Afterwards a group of us retired to Bill’s Restaurant, a local watering hole in Brunswick, ME. They served pitchers of mediocre beer and bad pizza. It was here over Formica tables, I think (no, I’m sure), that the idea to form a union took place. It was at Bill’s that Charles Stanley proclaimed: “We must form a union of artists!” Everyone agreed this was a great idea. Those present (myself included) were David Brooks, Pat Owen, Charles Stanley, Mark Nelson, Kathy Bradford, and Bob Solotaire (the only dissenter). Bob’s opinion was that artists are individuals and to join a group would corrupt that belief. This is what I remember (I’m fairly sure) as the birth of the UMVA. Then again, I close my eyes and I can smell Bill’s pizza and almost see those of us around the table. Closing my eyes I will it to be, and bring it from some long absence into a fleeting presence, but I cannot vouch for its accuracy.
I don’t recall the name of the poet who once said that when someone dies all their thoughts die with them. Everything they ever said, all the words they spoke, gone. Maybe this is true, or maybe the thoughts and words someone once spoke still float about somewhere. Maybe this is all that the artist unknowingly does, just harvests these absent thoughts and breathes into them a new life. An Indigenous American proverb from the Hopi goes like this: “All dreams spin from the same web.” It is up to us, with a little luck, to catch them and make them as honest as we can before they are lost forever. Or are they?
Image at top: UMVA Newsletter banner, December 1975.