Communion Of Dreams

Getting fixed.
January 28, 2009, 11:38 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Art, Bipolar, Book Conservation, Depression, Health, Survival, Travel

“Say, while you’re here, maybe you can take a look at this piece of artwork I have. It was given to me by the artist, a friend, but it seems to be coming away from the frame.”

This is part of the price of having owned an art gallery and having done framing. Friends and family ask these questions. But it could be worse – I could be a doctor.

“Sure, be glad to.”

* * * * * * *

Email from a friend, following my post about depression:

I hope you’ve turned the corner on the inertia and are getting back into it. Got meds?

My reply:

Lets see – yeah, a couple of different ones for my bp.  For the depression?  Nope – the state of treatment there is still less than a crap shoot, in terms of finding something that works.  And since I am not paralyzed by it, and know how to work my way out of it over time, I’d rather spend the time doing that than mucking around with random chemicals on a “try this for six weeks” basis.

* * * * * * *

I sat in the recliner, just enjoying the picture created by the fair-sized window on the wall across from me.  All I could see were trees – no sky, no landscape beyond – just trees.

But what trees!

Coastal redwoods.  And only three or four of them.  About 25 feet outside the window, so I was only getting a partial view, mostly of that rough, somewhat shabby but oversized bark.  With a couple of horizontal branches to make the composition more interesting visually.

“Nice view out this window.”

“Yeah, we sited the house to do that.”

My wife designed this house.  It was good to be staying there.

* * * * * * *

On the flight out I sat and thought.  For a long time.  Listening to music, eyes closed.  The Southwest jet was only about 2/3 full, so my wife and I had plenty of room in our three-seat row.  I could just relax, spread out a bit, and think.

I don’t do that often enough.  Usually, I am reading, blogging, watching something, having conversation.  Or I am working – whether at my conservation bench, or playing house elf, or doing something else.  But I seldom sit and just think.

Or listen to music.  I got out of the habit while caring for Martha Sr.  It was difficult to do, since so often I had to be listening to the baby monitor we used to make sure she was OK.

I used to really enjoy listening to music.  Just listening, thinking.

* * * * * * *

“See, it’s pulled away from the frame.”

I looked at the piece.  We’d hung it off an open door so that I could examine it easily while it was suspended.  Abstract, large pieces of torn paper, colored in pastel tones of blues and greens and beiges.  The pieces had been heavily gessoed then painted with a thinned-down acrylic.  To add some surface effects, the mounted pieces of paper were rolled and folded such that they created a high relief of some five or six inches.  All this tied onto the base sheet (also gessoed and painted), which was adhered to a piece of foamcore.  This was then mounted by construction adhesive to a strong boxed-“H” wooden frame which you couldn’t see from the front.  The whole effect was pretty good, if you like abstract art.  Overall, the piece was about 3′ wide by 5′ tall.

“Yeah, I see what you mean.  The top part has curled away from the frame, peeling away.”

“You can do whatever you need to.  I’ve got some Gorilla Glue – maybe that’s strong enough.  Or, if you want to screw the piece back onto the frame, I can get some paint to blend in and mask the screws.  Whatever you think it needs.”

I looked at the piece again, hanging there.  Pulled a bit, knocked off a chunk of the bead of adhesive.  “Let me think about it.”

* * * * * * *

They tell you to expect it to take a year to recover.  You don’t believe them.

But they’re right.

Oh, that doesn’t relieve you of the duty to try and get your shit together more quickly.  To try and get past the soul-aching exhaustion that comes with having fought the good fight for so very, very long.  You have to do that.  It is absolutely necessary.

But it isn’t sufficient.  It will still take a year.  Or longer.

* * * * * * *

I sat in the chair, looking out the window.  I had changed my position ever so slightly – now, on the extreme right, I could see about half of the large birdfeeder.  We had filled it and hoisted it up that morning.  Now maybe a dozen Steller’s Jays were mobbing, taking turns at the feeder, flicking in and out of my picture.

If you know Bluejays, you know these guys.  Smart.  Stubborn.  Survivors.

Sometimes, being a little stubborn is what’s needed.  Stubborn in a smart way.  While several of their number kept some larger crows away, the others would eat.  Then they’d swap.  Smart.

* * * * * * *

“We’ll get what we need when we’re out.  Is there an art supply store in Ft. Bragg?”

“Yeah, Racine’s.  Downtown.”  My sister-in-law looked at me, a little quizzical. “I’ll be happy to talk with the artist and get some paints and do the touch-up, if you just want to remount the piece with screws or something.  There’s no reason you have to try and match what she used.”

“I won’t need any paints.  Nor any screws.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Well, the problem isn’t the adhesive.  The problem is the lamination.”


“See,” I pointed at the back of the piece.  “There’s just this piece of foamcore.  There’s nothing to balance the force of the paper mounted to the other side.  Rather than trying to force the whole thing back, which will probably result in snapping the foamcore backing, we’re going to dismount it entirely.  Then I will put a layer of stiff cloth on the back, using an adhesive similar to the gesso on the front.  I want to go to the art supply store, since they’ll either have the PVA I want, or I can get some gesso and use that.”

“Will that work?”

“Yup.  It’s a basic process from book conservation, just applied on a larger scale than I usually do it.  Same thing as getting the balance right on the cover of a book – cloth on the outside, paper on the inside.  It stops the bookboard from warping.”

* * * * * * *

It’s been a year.  Or it will have been next week, when I’m on the east coast.

On the day I’ll meet my co-author for the care-giving book, as it happens.  Talk about serendipity.

Nothing magical about that.  But anniversaries have meaning.

* * * * * * *

I can’t quite explain how it changed.  But somewhere along the way out to California I found something.  Whether it was in the music, or the thinking, or just the quiet place in my head that resulted from an enforced relaxation for several hours, it was there.


Not the stubbornness which saw me through the long years of care-giving.  That was different.  Defiance in the face of the disease ravaging Martha Sr.

No, this was less about simple survival, and more about . . . well, joy, I guess.

I wasn’t swept away with feelings of overwhelming happiness or anything.  But there was a sense that joy could once again be mine.  Not just satisfaction in work.  Not just enjoyment of life.  But joy in being able to create.  Maybe not yet.  But the possibility was there for the future.

A smart kind of stubbornness.

* * * * * * *

We turned the dining room table into a workbench.  I laid down newspapers, then we positioned large jars to support the artwork from the front without damaging the high-relief rolls and folds of paper.  I needed access to the back of the piece, and this was the only way to do it.

First, I cut away the frame.  Some of the facing of the foamcore came off with the frame, but not much.  Then I removed all the remaining old adhesive from both the foamcore and the frame itself.  I set the frame aside.

Then I mixed up the straight PVA I’d found at the art supply store with water, 50-50.  Set that aside.

I took the piece of light cotton duckcloth I’d gotten, and cut it into three strips, each about 2′ tall and as wide as the foamcore.  I laid out more newspaper on the floor.  I laid a strip of cloth on the newspaper.  And using a 4″ plastic putty knife, I poured/spread the PVA across the cloth.  It was necessary for it to be completely saturated, the fibers completely relaxed.  I waited for a minute for this to happen.  Then I picked up the cloth by one edge, and took it to the table.  I draped it across the foamcore, and spread it out smoothly, making sure to have good adhesion.

I repeated the process with the other two strips of cloth, overlapping them a few inches.

“Now we wait,” I told my SIL.

“For what?”

“For it to dry overnight.  If the cloth shrinks the right amount as the PVA dries, it will cause a balancing force to the gessoed paper on the other side, and the foamcore will flatten out.  If it is not enough, another application of PVA in the morning will help get the balance right.  If it is too much, I can spray it with water and let the adhesive relax.  It’s just a matter of finding the right balance.”

She looked at the contraption sitting on the table.  She said nothing, but it was clear she was skeptical.

* * * * * * *

I had been waiting around for something to happen.

Well, no, I had been trying to figure out how to force something to happen.  And being very depressed that I couldn’t do it.

I was being stupid stubborn.  Forcing myself to work.  To write.  To try and find some happiness in this or that.

It was, perhaps, a necessary stage.  Just to show myself that I had the stubbornness I needed, even if it was applied ineptly.

But there was a better path.  A smarter path.  Just relax, and start walking.

* * * * * * *

I poured myself a cup of coffee, walked over to the table.

The foamcore was almost perfectly flat.  A slight rise on one corner where the cloth was stronger than the minimal amount of paper on the other side, but that would flatten out just fine.

I sipped my coffee, glanced out the window.  From that vantage point I could see the whole bird feeder.  There were crows there now, arguing with one another.

Sometimes you just need to understand your way out of problems.

Jim Downey

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment


This past week, I pulled together all the disparate and incomplete answers I needed to complete a chore for a client, and it came together almost like a symphony; the end result was very satisfying, and made a lot of the “hurry up and wait” frustration that was building up — on a similar but much smaller scale than the same type of frustrations resulting from putting our lives on hold while caring for Mumsie — worthwhile.

Everything was working out and coming together, partially attributable to stubborn perseverance in the face of adversity and partially due to an almost perverse dedication to ensuring that the job was done right, in the right time and to the right degree.

It all began humming along nicely, and I felt a freedom that had been a long time coming…like coming up for air and getting a look around after being submerged for a long time.

I hear you. Understanding the way out of a problem, almost like the first step of a twelve-step (or ten-step) recovery program, the “first you have to admit you have a problem” step.

Comment by GreyHawk

“Understanding is a three-edged sword.”

Yeah, it’s one of my steps, though I’d put it further along than the first one. I usually have to struggle and rage for a while before understanding comes.

Looking forward to meeting you guys next week.

Jim D.

Comment by James Downey

I agree with you about meds. For too many things they are more of a panacea than a cure, and let people think they are fixing a problem when they are just hiding it. Knowing how to get through stuff, and that you will, probably takes the same time and effort, and is likely more effective in the long run.

Besides, you could get into drug interactions, and those are nasty. Stick to the drugs you need to take for your health, and avoid the others.

Someone once asked me if I was doing anything to deal with stress. I think she meant some calming-down pill or other, or regular applications of alcohol. I cheerily advised yes: I suck peppermints, like long morning swims, and occasionally do bubblegum (in the privacy of my office) if I am really under pressure. “What about a glass of wine?” she asked. No, I replied, it does bad things to the bubblegum.

Comment by ML

[…] is from almost the end of the book, an excerpt from a blog entry originally posted in late January, 2009: They tell you to expect it to take a year to recover. You don’t believe […]

Pingback by Or longer. | Her Final Year

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: