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Saturday, May 28

the price is right-maybe

I've been thinking a lot about value these days. How one measures it, decides it, defends it. I wrestle with the simplest part of that equation every year at this time as I ready my work for the first big show of the year. What is my work worth? Is it worth the most I can get for it? Is it worth more than I charge? Less?

A dear friend and talented artist has been telling me for years that I undervalue my work. My prices make her nuts. We discuss it, but the bottom line is that I can tell at what price point my sales tank and so I don't go over that. Yes, a one-of-a-kind hand bound book has a perceived value higher than what I charge, but what good is that when nobody will give me what it is worth? You can't pay the mortgage with perceived value.

And this is a business, after all, not just a creative exercise.

I had occasion to ponder this anew when I got a detailed bill from the hospital that treated me for cancer. I had chemo twice a month for 6 months. Just one of the drugs in my "cocktail" cost over $10,000.00 Twice a month. For 6 months. 10 grand. It boggles me. It looks like the average cost of my twice a month visit was in excess of $17,000. Each time.

As i put the bill down I couldn't help but have a fleeting thought about my own value. Did I really deserve this? Was I worth the quarter million bucks plus this disease will end up costing my insurance company? Am I worth more because I have insurance? What about all the Americans who have no insurance? Do they have a different value?

I think I am valuable to the people who love me, but let's face it. The rest of the world world will not notice if I fade away. Tons of money was spent on my behalf anyway. I guess my sticker price was higher than I imagined.

Perceived value.

Tuesday, May 10

beginning again in silence

There is a strange silence in my Mother's house now that she has passed away. It is quieter than when she was just out having dinner with a friend, quieter than when she was in the hospital. It's as if the house itself has stopped breathing, stopped waiting for her to settle into her TV chair and light a menthol. The heart of the home has stopped.

And there is a new quiet in my head. After months of chemotherapy and then the eye surgery/blindness thing and months and months of arranging my life around Doctors, they have all said "see you in September", you're doing great. Just like that. The silence is deafening.

So I sort of sit here wondering what to do next. No tag-teaming with my brother to make sure someone is with Mom as much as possible. No need to rearrange my work schedule to accommodate the days when I carted chemo around in a fanny pack. No circled dates in my calendar book for treatments/tests/exams. Just quiet days and nights, waiting for me to fill them.

I don't quite know how to do this. I don't know what to do with weeks of free time. Hell, I can't decide what to do with 8 hours of free time. Oh, I know what I need to do. I need to plant myself in the studio and get busy. I have so many shows this year, such a great opportunity to actually make a decent profit. And I do go up there. I sit at my table by the window and watch the traffic on the avenue and the pigeons on the roof next door and I think about Mom. Stuff gets done, but I find myself staring into space and thinking, remembering, reflecting. That may be a good thing. So much to process from the last few months.

It's sort of a sanctuary up there with my piles of papers and pots of glue and bins of colorful cord. It is comforting chaos, where the true me lives and where I will slowly, over the course of this Summer, come to terms with the past year, make peace with it. In my own time, in my own space.


Wednesday, May 4

how do you measure a day?

It was long. It started early with a 6am call from my brother. He had been called to the rehab facility where Mom had been trying to get strong enough to learn to walk on her new hip. They said we should get there right away. He said he would check out the situation and call me. We had been called this way before and Mom would recover by the time we got there. But this time, he said that we were at the end and we dressed quickly to meet him and his wife there.

We sat beside her bed, a row of her children in hospital chairs, watching her breathe, willing her to be comfortable, wondering what to expect. She slept on, her brow furrowed a bit as if she was concentrating.

And then I had to go. My own fate awaited across town. This date, May 4th, had hovered in front of me for a month. I could not see past it or around it to any of the days that would follow. It was the day that my oncologist would tell me the results of my scan. He would tell me if I still had cancer or not and what that would mean to me. And so we left Mom's bedside and kept the appointment, my stomach in knots for all sorts of reasons now.

First came a woman who wanted to know if they could use my blood for research. Of course. Signed papers. Would they ask that of a terminal patient, I wondered? Was this a good sign? And then, finally, my NP, Karen, came in and asked how I was and I said nervous and she said I needn't be. The scan was good. We chatted about what was found and she checked me over and we laughed over silly things and she said how happy she was that things were good. And then my Doctor came in and told me that he considered me to be in remission.

And I could breathe again.

But under all the relief and joy was the grief of knowing what waited a few miles away and so back to Mom we went. When we got to the room my brother said he thought she was hearing us and so I bent close to her ear and told her "Mom, I just went to the Doctor. I don't have cancer any more. I think I'm going to be fine". And she tried to speak and she moved her head back and forth and she heard me. I know she did.

And a few hours later she was gone.

How do you measure a day? In teardrops and laughter. In pain and joy. In loss and gain. In hope and acceptance.

In a few days we will resume our normal lives, missing Mom always, but getting on with life.

And May 4th will always be a day I'll remember. The day Mom's life ended and I got mine back.

How will I ever measure this day?