Friday, December 1, 2017

Rescue Trombone and More

Rescue Trombone

This holiday season, Broken & Woken gives you the gift of Kali Evans's drawings. Kali is another of Extreme Kids's amazing crew of artists.  It was difficult choosing which of her pieces to put first, but I figure that we can all use a rescue trombone.  Enjoy!  


Llama, Dalai Lama, Milo in his Dalai Lama T-Shirt, Llama Doll in Bed

Pigs in Cars

Paul from the Beatles

The Walking Dead 2 on Bubble Gum Kids TV

Early Drawing

Recent Comic Strip

Assorted Missing Flyers

 A bio of the artist, by her mother:  My daughter Kali is a fearless, joyful, outgoing kid. She’s also 10 years old and autistic. From the moment she could use a pencil (which was later than most kids), Kali would draw constantly. She started out by making patterns of scribbled “blobs.” Within a few months, these shapes evolved into drawings of insects, pirates, her favorite moments from Yo Gabba Gabba, and animals. By the time she turned 5, Kali would go through a composition book a week, and would literally draw herself to sleep: some mornings, I would find her asleep in bed with a pen in her hand and ink on her cheeks. 

These days, Kali still loves to draw animals and mythical creatures, and has expanded her range to include different formats and media. She makes comic books about tv shows on Alaksey, her personal network; designs fictional “missing animal” fliers; and loves watching animal face painting tutorials on YouTube and practicing on herself. Art helped Kali communicate with the world, and is now an essential part of her spirit.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Silas's Art

November's post celebrates the images of one of Extreme Kids & Crew's talented artists, only seven years old and already capturing the energy, beauty and mayhem of our world.  The commentary and bio below are by his mother, Vanessa Connelly.

Hate Cannot ..... Only Love Can Do That

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Subway Study

Subway Study

Subway Study

New York City


The World

Silas is seven years old, autistic, and a proud Extreme Kid. He is also one of the sweetest, funniest kids you'll ever meet. Well, anyway, I think so. I'm his mom.

A few years ago, we got a copy of Jill Mullen's book Drawing Autism, which features painting, collage, and drawings by people on the spectrum. Silas was really intrigued by all the pictures, so we spent lots of time paging through the book and looking at them. His favorite pieces were very bright and detailed, with lots of patterns, movement, and emotion.

Silas had already begun to show an interest in drawing, but it has since become his favorite activity. During school breaks, he can easily draw for three or four hours at a time. No matter how busy we are, he makes time every day for at least a few drawings.

Silas's art tends to focus on his favorite books, movies and television shows. Scholastic characters, geography and New York City are also favorite themes. He particularly likes capturing specific scenes over and over again. His subway series has been ongoing for a few years now. He first started drawing subways after watching the "Rhapsody in Blue" segment in Fantasia 2000. Whenever he adds to the series, he likes to listen to the Gershwin piece while drawing quickly and deliberately.

He was very excited when I asked him if he was interested in contributing work to this month's Broken and Woken. He is proud of his art--and so are we.

The artist at work

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Best Beauty Treatment Ever

A note from the author, Eliza Factor: Parallax Press just published Strange Beauty, a memoir about growing up with my son Felix, and how he deepened my understanding of language, community, violence, religion, and much more--but not beauty!  In spite of the title, the chapter about beauty did not fit into the narrative.  So here it is.  Some of you may have read an earlier version years ago—this one is better!  May it release you as Felix has released me.  

Detail from Modigliani's Gypsy Woman with Baby
Back when I was twenty or so, in love with painting, I would wander around lower Manhattan in a haze of turpentine and linseed oil, transported by the visual world. The beauty of people struck me most deeply: the arrangement of three newspaper readers on a bench, the faraway gaze of a tired man on the No. 1 Uptown, the loose folds of a panhandler’s shawl. Kandinsky was my favorite artist, but it was Modigliani who most influenced my street raptures. I had first come across his work in high school, and mistaken his portraits for the sorts of stylized faces I drew in the marginalia of my notebooks, imaginary figures that popped into being with the curve of a pencil. Then I spent my senior year of high school in France, and there on the sidewalk were men and women who could have stepped right off his canvases. He had been painting the people he saw, and doing it so well, that his understanding of his subjects’ beauty had seeped into me, seventy years later, in another country.

The people I saw as I walked to school or work or went uptown to see friends did not look like Modigliani’s French, they looked like New Yorkers, in all their variety and magnificence. I feasted on them. Those noses! Those eyelids! Those jawlines! Even a vein could be beautiful, the purple hue of a seashell, climbing delicate and rootlike up the softness of thigh or flush of cheek. Everyone was beautiful. I would argue about this with my boyfriend, who walked the same streets, yet more often saw wattle, drabness, suppurating wounds. He thought that saying everyone was beautiful devalued the idea of beauty. I thought that his lopping off great swaths of beauty was the devaluation. Beauty wasn’t uniform. It coursed out of some and dripped out of others, and took on different guises over the run of a life. There was the beauty of children who called forth adults to protect and nourish them, the stirring sexual beauty of teenagers and young adults who carried this on but complicated it with the desire for conquest, the beauty of the middle aged and old, which was not so mouthwatering but nevertheless powerful and moving. There was the beauty of the fat and the thin, the beauty of the thoughtful and the exuberant, the beauty of the purple eye-shadowed drag queen and the Amish lady at the farmer’s market selling her cheeses. There was also the beauty that pop culture, and my boyfriend, so adored: that of sexy young women. Over the course of my life, I’ve had two friends whose looks had such a conquering capacity that walking a New York City block in their company was to feel the desire not of one or two, but of a multitude upon you, as if even apartment dwellers watering their plants in the windows were stopping mid-pour to check out what was happening on the sidewalk below. That sort of beauty was a glorious thing, and well worth celebrating, but I knew that it was not the only kind.

Jump forward to my early thirties. Primping for a party, I put on a slinky black dress and spent some time in front of the mirror, arranging my hair and trying out lipsticks. When I was done, Jason, my newish boyfriend, looked me over and said, “Oooh, you got all pretty.” He meant it as a compliment, but I was furious. What?! You don’t think I’m pretty in writing clothes and pencils sticking out of my hair? See if I have daughters with you! Later, when we got married (we now have two daughters), he earned my complete forgiveness when I had the chicken pox. On day two of the disease, he came home from the drugstore with a bottle of Caladryl, which he dabbed over my boil-ridden butt, back, and eyelids. I could barely stand to look at my skin, I found it so repulsive, but he was gentle and unafraid. As he came to my blistered face, he smiled and said, “your eyes are still beautiful.”

I was pregnant with our first child at the time. I recovered my health, but my pregnancy became complicated. The following months centered around unnerving visits to neonatal specialists who would frown into the sonogram and say things like, it will probably be OK, the asymmetries are in the range of normal. Oh, the great relief of Felix’s birth! He was a beautiful baby. Perfectly gorgeous. Jason and I spent hours admiring him, a pastime we dubbed Felix TV. How delightful he was, lying on his baby quilt, arms akimbo, big eyes shining. We never tired of pointing out the becoming chubbiness of his thighs, the curve of his mouth. This is par for the course with most new parents. According to evolutionary biology, mammals are conditioned to find their offspring cute. Birds, too, I would say, judging from the care they give to their fledglings.

Because we were first-time parents, and because of Felix’s pleasing looks, we didn’t realize that he was floppier than most other babies until he was four or five months old. At that point, our doctor referred us to a cadre of specialists and advised us to get Felix physical therapy through the federal program known as Early Intervention. The dozens of doctors and evaluators we saw in the course of getting Felix approved for this program likewise found Felix attractive. The first sentence in most of his medical reports usually included the word “cute” or “adorable.” Jason liked to joke that Felix’s cuteness had been scientifically proven.

As the strangeness of our son’s body grew more obvious, I began to see how very lucky we were that Felix’s beauty was apparent to so many. At seven months, Felix couldn’t hold a rattle, roll over, sit. If you propped him into an upright position, his head would drop over sideways, as if there were no bones in his neck. Though his slump made some passersby anxious, others were attracted by his smooth skin, his plump cheeks, the fetching gleam in his green eyes. His beauty served as a gateway. I treasured it. Provided that it lasted, I trusted that it would serve to cushion the social struggles sure to figure in his future. When I mentioned this to Fred, Felix’s physical therapist, he told me about a job he’d had treating children at a large disability center whose main clientele were poor families who couldn’t place their children anywhere else. Fred’s eyes clouded up and his voice strained when he talked about this place. Most of the children there were neglected. Those who weren’t had the sort of symmetrical and radiant faces you might see in an advertisement for Corn Flakes. They might have been loud and obnoxious, but they were seen. Fred was particularly moved by a girl who could speak but whose face, touched with paralysis, was oddly contoured. She would light up, Fred said, when he came to say hi. He had the feeling she spent the rest of the day alone.

Not long after the benefits of Felix’s looks dawned on me, I became aware of the benefits of my own.
Felix, 2017
Up until Jason relieved me of my financial woes, I’d supported myself as a waitress. You rarely get hired as a waitress in the swankier parts of Manhattan unless you strike the boss as pretty. And though Jason and I met at a jujitsu tournament, it was not my left hook that got his attention, but my legs, in striped purple leggings, at the dance party afterwards. My appearance was not the only thing responsible for my husband and my livelihood, but it certainly played a role. Well, duh. Any reader of beauty magazines will tell you that looks are important. But I doubt that I would have realized how this applied to me without Felix. Even as a young woman, high on turpentine, reeling at the beauty of almost every New Yorker that caught my eye, I hadn’t thought of myself as beautiful. In my circles, you are not supposed to say, or even to think, “behold! I am beautiful!” To think such a thing is considered foolish, conceited, even deluded. Your friends and family tell you you’re beautiful. You pshaw their complements and linger on what you consider to be your ungainliness. This meant in early adolescence I was mortally ashamed of the thickness of my ankles. Then there was my nose, which had the shape of a ski jump and a tendency to turn new potato red under the slightest of provocations. Then pimples, fatty thighs, dull hair, and so on. I could always find a sampling of the sort of blemishes the beauty industry preys on, or creates, so as to sell $800 wrinkle creams, nose jobs, liposuctions. I had thought I was too smart to be swayed by this sort of thing. Not so.

When Felix was sixteen months old, an MRI of his brain revealed the reason behind his floppiness: lesions in his white matter. The doctors couldn’t tell us exactly how the loss of white matter would affect his development, only that it would, and that we should expect him to be “moderately to severely” disabled throughout his life. For the next year or two, I couldn’t say the word “disabled” without choking up. But it was the idea that got me choked up, not Felix, the flesh-and-blood child scooting around the house on his walker. Felix wasn’t scared or sad. He was eager, adamant, adaptive, ingenious. For each avenue that was blocked to him, he figured out alternatives. He might not be able to converse in English, but he was a master of body language. He might not have the balance to walk independently, but he could lift himself up onto the bars of his walker and swing like a gymnast, gleefully racking our nerves with his self-taught moves. I began to see that his disabilities were just things he couldn’t do. I had things that I couldn’t do, too.

Indeed, the more I thought about it, the more I came to understand that we’re all disabled, whether we are aware of it or not. This might seem like a negative viewpoint, but I have found it liberating. As I have an inordinately difficult time finding my keys or remembering names, so my neighbor can’t seem to stop chattering, so that columnist can’t seem to wrap his mind around complexity. So what? That’s who that writer is at the moment, that’s who my neighbor is, that’s who I am. We’ve all got our disabilities. We’ve got our version of cool walker tricks, too.

Breaking the boundaries of beauty took me a little longer. I think it began when a friend gave me Two Whole Cakes, a book by Lesley Kinzel, which I mistakenly took for a guide to eating healthily, as there was some copy about loving your body on the cover. I was so happy when I opened it and found not a diet book but a funny, smart, heartbreaking, blistering, buoyant memoir/manifesto from the trenches of the fat acceptance movement. What an eye opener! I hadn’t even known there was a fat acceptance movement. I had known, of course, that fat people had a hard time of it, and had come to consider fatness a sort of disability. But I had not grasped the day-to-day shunning and snideness that fatness entailed, which sounded worse than anything I’d experienced with Felix. As Kinzel pointed out, our culture expects fat people to be dieting continuously, whether or not dieting works; if they so much as decide to have a treat, say an ice cream cone on a summer day, they are rebuked by strangers. Why? Why should anyone care about how much someone they don’t even know weighs?

I suspect that nasty or repulsed reactions to fat people are not so different from the nervous waves of pity that Felix can plow up when he enters a place where people do not know him. Nobody wants to be fat, nobody wants to be disabled, so seeing the fat or the visibly disabled is a reminder that you don’t always get what you want. People like Felix and Leslie Kinzel stir up fear within us: fear of what we cannot control, fear of the stuff we’re trying to hide within us, fear of being ejected from the group, fear of nature having its way, of inevitable decay. If we can get outside of this fear, so much lifts. The fat person is not a horrifying blot on humanity, but a girl with sparkling eyes and cool earrings. My son is not a tragedy, but a kid who listens to too much Cold Play. So how do we this? How do we become comfortable with that which is deemed abnormal, when often it’s not abnormal at all, often it’s just life, and beautiful life at that. How do we turn beauty from an oppressive force into something more inclusive and celebratory?

Seventeen years ago, the photographer Rick Guidotti left a high-profile career in the fashion industry to start Positive Exposure, a nonprofit arts project that uses photography and film to redefine the general public’s understanding of beauty. He started on this path when, on a break from a fashion shoot, he wandered by a bus stop and saw a young girl with the remarkable pale skin and white hair of an albino. He was struck by her beauty. When he went home to find out more about her condition, he found that the photographs used to illustrate albinism were off-putting and dehumanizing. He wondered what would happen if the girl from the bus stop got the same photographic treatment as his supermodels. So he started taking pictures of people with albinism, dwarfism, genetic mutations and disabilities with the enthusiasm and appreciation usually accorded to the tall, thin, symmetrical and young. His images are gorgeous. Leafing through his photographs, you may wonder what the fuss is all about. Why are these people outcast? That is the genius of his project. When you take fear and otherness out of the equation, when you don’t allow them into your lens, you see people who are attractive and compelling. Rick told me that many who had admired his book of portraits, Change The Way You See, See The Way You Change, had applauded him for “capturing the inner beauty” of his subjects. He finds the comment ridiculous. He is not an x-ray technician. He is a photographer. He takes pictures of the exterior.

Meeting Rick made me wonder what had happened to that expansive understanding of beauty I had so enjoyed when I was painting. Had too much exposure to mainstream culture curdled it? Had it been my own shift from the visual arts to writing? Walking to pick up my daughters from school, I wondered if I could get it back and began studying the faces of the people I saw on Fulton Mall, imagining that I had a paintbrush in my hand. It worked. I was right back to my twenty-year-old self, gorging on dimples, laugh lines, artful piles of Nefertiti hair. Try it. Next time you’re on a crowded street, don’t look at the advertisements, blown up and trying to get your attention. Feast your eyes instead on the features of the people nearby. Imagine them enlarged, lit up, smiling down from the billboard above you. Why? Because it’s transformative, it feels good, and it’s free. Beauty is manna. If we let it, it can connect us and feed us and ignite us.

It can also serve as a tool of resistance. Consider the fiddler in Louise Erdich’s novel A Plague of Doves. Shamengwa’s arm was twisted and disfigured in a childhood accident, but he retained full range of motion in his hand. When playing the fiddle, he pins his gnarled arm in position with a white silk scarf, not “just any old rag,” and uses that hand to work the strings while the other works the bow. He is known for the power of his music, but his looks aren’t bad either. Here, a middle-aged judge admires him:

Few men know how to become old. Shamengwa did… I thought I’d like to grow old in the way he was doing it—with a certain style. Other than his arm, he was an extremely well-made old person. Anyone could see that he had been handsome, and he still cut a graceful figure, slim and medium tall. His fine head was covered with a startling white mane of thick hair, which he was proud of and every few weeks had carefully trimmed and styled…
He was fine-looking, yes, but there were other things about him. Shamengwa was a man of refinement who practiced clean habits. He prepared himself carefully to meet life every day. Ojibwa language in several dialects is spoken on our reservation, along with Cree, and Michif—a mixture of all three. Owehzhee is one of the words used for the way men get themselves up—neaten, scrub, pluck stray hairs, brush each tooth, make precise parts in our hair, and, these days, press a sharp crease down the front of our blue jeans—in order to show that although the government has tried in every way possible to destroy our manhood, we are undefeatable. Owehzhee. We still look good and know it.

Owehzhee reminds me of Ehzoyhee, a word that Felix coined some years ago. Felix cannot explain what his words mean, but his eyes sparkled and his tone lifted when he said Ehzoyhee. Perhaps it meant something similar to Owehzhee. We still look good and we know it. Knowledge is the key. Once Felix made me aware of my looks, I took to wearing nicer clothes than I had before. I remember in particular a green polka-dot button-down shirt from Boden. Who cared if there were blobs of baby gook smeared on the shoulder? It was a beautiful shirt, it looked great on me, and this strengthened me as I wheeled an unusual child around the supermarket, stocking up on baby formula and applesauce.

Nancy Mitchell, my grandmother
These days, with a misogynist in the White House, we need to gird against beauty being used as an oppressive force and claim or reclaim it for ourselves. So find and honor your beauty. Granted, it is not always easy to see or admit or claim. When I started writing this, and tried bluntly saying, “I am beautiful,” to my reflection, my mind churned up one of the popular girls from my high school, raising a contoured eyebrow and laughing in derision. Ha! You? Look again. Then I realized that she was a gatekeeper, deploying her idea of beauty to keep me down. I also realized that this poor girl’s idea of beauty had surely oppressed her as much as it oppressed me. Now I can say it. I am beautiful. It’s a handy statement as it frees me from the angst I see my friends going through as hair grays and wrinkles sprout. I don’t mind looking old. I find my mother beautiful, my aunts beautiful—and my grandmother, my goodness! Ten dollar haircuts and a little ridge of Cover Girl powder caught in a wrinkle, and no one outshone her.

I admit there are times when I sag midway through toothbrushing and think, ugh, what a pallid mishmash I am, and the shade of the popular girl from high school returns. But I’m figuring out ways to smite her. One is particularly enjoyable: I imagine myself as a flamenco singer, and not just any flamenco singer, but a woman I saw some twenty years ago at N, a tiny bar in Soho. She had iron grey hair, a short, stout body and lines like half-moons under her eyes. She looked like someone I might have seen on the bus, scowling and knitting, but as she stood under the spotlight and inhaled, the room became still. Her chest expanded and her eyes shone and she became a pillar of beauty and sorrow, strength and sensuality. Flamenco was developed by the Gypsies, Jews and Moors who took flight to the hills of AndalucĂ­a, when they were persecuted by the Spanish monarchy. It grew out of determination to survive and thrive in the face of imperial repression. It is not surprising that this is the form I turn to when I am feeling oppressed. I clap my hands and pound my heels with rhythmic devastation. I imagine myself that beautiful woman of the iron grey hair. The gatekeeper disappears.

Annette Duzant-Tasch, whose selfies stun me with their beauty

We all are beautiful. That is what Felix taught me--what I knew when I was a child, but had forgotten. So appreciate your beauty as you are right now, not as you were ten years ago or want to be in the future. Treasure your looks and the looks of your neighbors. Rear back in skepticism at enforced uniformity. When you can see beauty all around you, and shining from you, you will feel lighter and freer. It is a liberation we all can attain. You don’t need a Felix. You don’t have to call your Congressperson (though you should, for other things). You just have to open your eyes. As to those who would rank and order beauty, divide and deny it, turn it into an exclusive club: Resist them. Clap your hands and stomp your feet and sing them into dust.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Am I Disabled?

by Wendy Caster
My friends keep telling me I should go on disability. Granted, I’ve been sick and largely unable to work for over a year, but am I disabled?
When I look at that sentence, I feel like laughing at myself. After all, isn’t “sick and largely unable to work” the definition of disabled? But it’s not that simple.
Backstory: I was diagnosed with a mean uterine cancer in April of 2016. The usual next steps followed—surgery, chemo, radiation—but they were particularly aggressive versions of each step. Just as you fight fire with fire, you fight mean with mean. As of this writing, I am cancer-free, but the treatment beat the shit out of me. I have lymphedema of my left leg, so it is swollen and heavy and uncomfortable. I am wearing a series of Velcro wraps, hip to toes, which make the leg heavier and uncomfortable-er. I have anemia, which may be getting better, but I’m still tired. I have insomnia, so it’s difficult to tell if my lethargy is caused by the anemia or lack of good sleep. I may or may not be bleeding internally. (A capsule endoscopy should clarify that, but I’m experiencing some health insurance challenges, so I’m not sure when that will happen.) The area of my left hip and then down my leg often hurts. When it does hurt, it’s bad enough to make walking difficult or even impossible. It doesn’t seem to be related to the lymphedema. Sometimes it feels like it might be sciatica, but then sometimes its quality and location change.
Most importantly, I have lost the ability to maintain focus. Last year I had to return a freelance project undone, which was humiliating, even though the client was lovely about it.
I have good days, but I haven’t had enough in a row to commit to a job or even a short-term project. I’ve missed many social events, given up theater tickets, and so on. My world has gotten smaller.
So, am I disabled?
As I’ve gone through this process over the past months, I’ve come to see that it’s a two-level question. (1) Am I unable to make a living? (2) Am I willing to accept the label of being a disabled person?
The answer to the first question is pretty clear. I cannot make a living. The answer to the second question is trickier, but it’s important. And it reminds me of my coming-out process.
When I came out as gay in 1977, embracing a label was more than a personal decision. It was deeply political. It would affect how people viewed me. It would eventually lose me a job. It would occasionally put me in danger. But--and this is an important but--choosing to accept that label helped me change the world. Over the next decades, many people would improve their view of homosexuality and homosexuals merely because they knew me. My openness was a cure for bigotry and misperceptions. Multiply me by the millions of other openly gay people, and you have same-sex marriage, gays in the military, and other significant political advances. I was and am only one drop in the ocean that advanced gay rights, but I’m proud to be that drop.
During my coming-out process, I had to let go of my own misperceptions to learn what it really meant to be gay. Right now, I’m working on my disability-related misperceptions.
These misperceptions are more emotional than factual. I wonder, am I disabled enough? (Would my embracing the label be disrespectful to people in wheelchairs?) I wonder, will I be a different person if I’m disabled?
Years ago I worked on Mainstream: The Magazine for the Able Disabled. The managing editor often spoke of people’s reluctance to accept the word disabled. He would talk about people he knew who used hearing aids, who walked with a cane, who missed work due to various illnesses, but who would never use that word about themselves. Why did it matter to him? Because the disability community had (and has) insufficient political rights, resources, and protections, because it was (and is) misunderstood, because it needed (and needs) an ocean of support to make necessary progress.
Hey, that sounds like the whole gay thing, no?
The more I think about this, and I think about this a lot, I realize that there’s a whole ‘nother factor in operation here: my father. (See, it’s not always about the mother.) When I was a kid, I was only sick when my father said I was sick. I could feel terrible, but if he didn’t believe me or if he thought I wasn’t sick enough or if he was just in a bad mood, off to school I was sent. I internalized this to a ridiculous extent (I mean, that was decades ago), and I’m still not quite able to judge my own level of illness. Or disability.
My friends are right. I can’t work, I cancel appointments, I frequently feel pretty rotten. In a real, official sense, I am disabled. So here I am, 40 years later, coming out again.
After I wrote all those words above, I sent an email to my oncologist that ended with, “In order for me to apply for disability, I would need a letter saying that I'm too sick to work and/or I have a diagnosis with a less-than-positive prognosis. Would you be able to write such a letter for me?” She wrote back, “I absolutely support your need to go on disability.” And I went into an immediate depression.
My main tool for dealing with the past 15 months has been denial. When I’m not actively feeling bad or doing something health-related, I don’t focus on my situation (or, at least I didn’t until the disability thing came up). Even though I am a researching sort of a person, I didn’t do much research. It just upset me. And even though I completely believe in support groups, I didn’t go to one. I didn’t want to spend that time totally focused on my health, or lack thereof. But my doctor’s note fucked with my denial. “Oh shit,” I thought, “I’m disabled!” And I felt incredibly bad and sad. That’s the power of words. I was no sicker than I was before I read the email. I was in no more pain. I was no more disabled. But the words hit me hard. Luckily, the sadness didn’t last too long.
I guess this is a process. The coming out continues.

Wendy Caster is an award-winning writer. She lives in New York City.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Grandfather and Grandson: A Tale of Two Disabilities

by Melissa Morgenlander

Every year, my family visited my parents at their home in Sarasota, Florida. We all liked to spend time in the pool. My daughter, Fiona, had a special bond with my mother, and they always ended up somewhere giggling together. My husband, Michael, and I enjoyed the warm-weather escape from New York City, relaxing with something to read. And my son, Quentin, usually spent the majority of his time quickly flipping through channels on the TV. 

This is a coping method for him. Quentin has autism and ADHD, and flipping channels was a way for him to deal with the fact that we were not in our regular routine. He always has a hard time when we travel somewhere that disrupts his routines and takes him out of his usual surroundings, including visits to my parents’ home. I think Quentin wanted to see the station logos at the bottom of the screen as each channel was changed. He loved the repetition, and seeing the logos brought him a relative calm: They were the same one we have on our cable system back home. 

While it took me a while to understand Quentin and his behaviors, my father merely grumbled. He always thought Quentin was simply misbehaving. He didn’t understand the coping part. Yet if we took the remote away or tried to prevent Quentin from channel switching, he’d have a meltdown. He would kick and scream and start to destroy things. So, I’d give him the remote and let him be. My father disliked this, and our disagreements about parenting always made the trip difficult. 

My father never really tried to understand Quentin. He disapproved of every strange thing he did – and believe me, Quentin did some pretty strange stuff. Quentin licked things like glass panels or coins, touched (and nearly broke) every fragile item in their home, and liked to jump into pools, even when fully clothed. My father once told me I was spoiling him by giving in to his tantrums. 

The funny thing is, my father also had a disability. His left arm was deformed – curved into a crook. His left leg muscles made him walk funny. He was born with physical deformities in the 1930’s, when no one labelled them with a diagnosis or condition; they were what they were. Through the modern-day powers of the internet, I learned that my father likely had Erb’s palsy, but we just called it “Dad’s handicap.” There was no physical therapy or medical help for this kind of condition when Dad was a boy; his mother simply did what she could to help him. 

My father grew up unable to play with the other boys in the ballparks and playgrounds of Brooklyn. He became skilled, though, at flirting with the girls who watched the games with him on the sidelines. Still, he needed help throughout his life. He needed help cutting his food, even as an adult. He couldn’t tie his shoes, so he wore loafers. And while he loved chemistry in high school, his teacher told him he couldn’t become a chemist without two good hands. So he followed his second-favorite passion: statistics. 

When I was growing up, we never talked about his arm, but not because Dad was ashamed of himself. There was simply nothing to say. He could hug me with one good arm. What else mattered? Occasionally, he’d say he felt bad he couldn’t play catch with us like other fathers, but that never made me feel like I was missing anything. 
Quentin was born in 2007, also in Brooklyn, along with his neurotypical twin, Fiona. Just as my grandmother had to learn how to adapt for my father, so I have had to learn to adapt for Quentin. 

Like my father, Quentin has difficulty playing ball or on the playground with other kids. We got stares or complaints if Quentin took someone’s toy away or did something to upset another child. I was lucky to have found Extreme Kids & Crew before he got too big to cause too much trouble. I loved coming to Extreme Kids because I could celebrate both of my children without stares or judgment. I could compare notes on therapies and schools with other parents. I wonder, sometimes, if my grandmother ever felt as lonely as I did.

My parents came to visit just as Extreme Kids was beginning to take shape. I was eager to show them this community I’d found. They sat on folding chairs and watched the kids play. I remember my father eyeing one boy who had severe physical disabilities. I knew my Dad was thinking of his own disabilities; I could see it in his eyes. Later, he said to me, “I wish I had a place like this when I was a kid.” I wish he had, too. 

Last summer, my father died at the age of 85. In retirement, he spent half the year in the Berkshires in Massachusetts and the other half in Sarasota. In both places, he pursued his favorite hobbies: bridge and going to the theater. He and my mother traveled the world and visited his many friends. He was having a fantastic retirement -- the kind we would all hope for. He had come a long way from being that kid who couldn’t play ball or become a chemist. 

The last time my kids saw my Dad, we were in Sarasota during spring break. He took me aside the day we landed and quietly said, “I really want to try to connect to Quentin. How can I do that?” 

The question choked me up a bit. For all his years of lacking sympathy, my father was finally opening up and accepting Quentin for who he is. I told him to sit quietly next to Quentin and engage him in his own world: If he’s watching TV, watch with him. If he’s reading a book, read with him. Comment and point like he does. 

My father tried. It wasn’t the biggest connection by any means, but Quentin sat with him for a bit. Dad watched as Quentin flipped channels. He sat close and occasionally remarked on a logo. This image is imprinted on my brain. This simple act of trying to interact with Quentin on his level, to forge a difficult relationship: this is the greatest gift he ever gave me.  This simple act showed acceptance and love. 

We are not all alike. We come together at spaces like Extreme Kids & Crew to celebrate  our differences, no matter what. It’s hard. The differences might be difficult to get past, but we must try. Just because my father had a disability didn’t mean he immediately understood my son’s. But his attempt at acceptance and understanding – after a long period of not wanting to try – is exemplary.

Dr. Melissa Morgenlander is a children's media curriculum designer, researcher, and writer. She works with a variety of educational television shows, apps, and after-school programs. She also writes about the intersection of autism and media and technology on her blog, the iQ Journals.  Learn more about Melissa’s professional experiences from her website.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Project Ability

Daniel Mui - Gravity
Gravity, by Daniel Mui

Many of you won’t have heard of Project Ability (est. 1984). We are a Glasgow, Scotland-based visual arts organization creating opportunities for people with disabilities and people with mental health issues, ages 5 to 80+, to express themselves and achieve artistic excellence.  Our Create program engages with 5- to 28-year-olds in a range of creative activities including visual arts, film and new media. We offer printmaking, painting, drawing, ceramics, textiles and more in our studios.
Jack Hynes - Untitled
Untitled, by Jack
All activities are fully inclusive. The professional artists who deliver the program are highly experienced in working with young people with a wide range of support needs.  Project Ability has a gallery two floors down from the studios, where we put on up to 12 exhibitions a year. Several more exhibitions are held in Glasgow, other parts of the U.K. and beyond.  Often parents will stay for workshops, helping their children alongside the artists and tutors. The tutors are all trained artists, and all have extensive experience working with young people with additional-support needs. The environment during our workshops is one of joy and creativity. It can get quite loud, so we have areas that are quieter for those artists who prefer to stay away from all the noise.

Gabriel and his mother, working together
 “Art is not for one ‘individual’. It is for everyone," says Cameron, one of our artists. "Anybody can do it. It’s all about pushing yourself – going over the so-called ‘boundaries’ and exploring your inner capabilities.” 
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Line T2 On West Highland Way, by Cameron Black
"It's been too much fun hanging out with these kids and seeing their ideas come to life," volunteer Seamus Killick wrote about his experiences in the workshops. "It kind of reminds me why I got so into this art stuff back in school - it's a chance to share your private world with others. To become an explorer not only in your own imagination but to pick other people’s brains too. The to-and-fro of idle chit chat is wonderful brain food for me, especially the frankness of children which can be hilarious."
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We typically offer a ratio of one artist to four young people. Creating a fully inclusive environment is important to us, and siblings and friends are welcome to attend our classes. Our in-house program is delivered from our fully accessible and specially equipped Trongate 103 workshops and from our outreach program at venues nationwide. 

Without the tutors’ expertise the workshops wouldn’t be as successful as they are. We are proud to have an amazing team of professional artists working with us. They share their creativity with the young people and help to increase the confidence and skills of each of our young participants. 

"Our young artists are always willing to embrace new artistic challenges and are excited about trying out all of the materials that our studios offer too," according to one tutor, Tracy. "As tutors, we learn a lot from how our young artists approach their art making too, with their lack of inhibition and freedom, come some incredible results.

Dominic Hemphill-Whyte - Untitled 2
Untitled, by Dominique

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Untitled, by Greg

Work in Progress, by Lauren

Obi working on "Car and Birds"

We have some young artists that have complex support needs, and Project Ability is one of the few places where they can come and express themselves. Some of our projects are designed specifically with those artists in mind.

Create Workshop 4
Guy working with a super long brush on this large scale painting
The finished work from one such program, ‘Found Impressions’went on to be exhibited in two galleries, including ours. Artists Guy and Gabriel have been with us for quite a while now. Their parents always join in the workshops, and our Saturdays wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable without them. 

Young Talent Exhibition
Collage mixed media piece in progress by Aidan

IMG_7492Every summer our gallery puts on a ‘Young Talent’ exhibit. This year's is on July 8. Every young person that works with us is encouraged to submit a piece. 

Young Talent is now in its 8th year and has become a highlight of the calendar.  A reception is held at the start of the exhibition for all our young artists, their families and support workers. Children run around proudly showing off their masterpieces to friends and strangers alike. For the most part, the young people really love to see their work on display, and you can feel the happiness and excitement buzzing around the space. 
Young Talent is one of my favorite shows of the year.  It covers so many styles and mediums. With dozens of artists, the show covers a lot of ground. There's no set theme because we don’t want any barriers to participation. 

Create Workshop 8
Super Pink Abstract
Young Talent 2017 promises to be as varied as the ages and interests of the artists. There are plenty of TV- and movie-themed works, including the Smurfs, Dr Strange, The Simpsons, Adventure Time, Godzilla, R2D2, Pocahontas and the Muppets!

Owen Scullion - Godzilla (2)
Godzilla, by Owen

Ruth - Pikachu
Pikachu, by Ruth
Not all our artists want to exhibit their creations. Some choose to take their works home to hang on a bedroom wall or give away as a gift. Others may not want anyone to see their work and find a secret space where it will be safe and unseen. Some lose interest in the work once it's finished. Anything goes. Whatever the children make is theirs, and if they sell it they get a commission of 50%-60%. Project Ability keeps the rest. 

Being able to help encourage and empower others to enhance their quality of life through the act of making art and being creative is what Project Ability is all about. 

Ross Agnew - Untitled
Untitled, by Ross

Please visit our website and/or follow us on Facebook and Instagram if you’d like to learn more about the work we do!

Text by Heather Lander, Exhibitions Coordinator at Project Ability