Friday, May 11, 2012

Relearning Painting: What Chemo Brain Does

Art from B.C.~~before chemo. Cranked out a series of these.

This is not my usual tongue-in-cheek post but a bit more serious and hopefully you'll read along. Not boring, a little more observational. I promise I will make it up with one of my off the wall posts....join me now...this is my life at the moment.
I write about returning to painting after chemo and the challenges it presents, but mostly, how I have observed what was going on and stepped into the role of  "documenting" as opposed to frustrated artist.
First off, "chemo brain" is real and differs for each person. I experienced driving home from the grocery and trying to remember what road to take, concluding that I would have to take a route I have not driven for YEARS. That was NOT a Hallmark the motherboard was working fine, but the RAM was seriously messed up. I knew that. I accepted it.
I just did not think it would have an affect on painting, or art. I've done this all my life, and I felt it was so deeply ingrained into my being that nothing could be lost. It was me and I was it and the chemo would just make me a little more out in left field. I had managed with the side effects of neuropathy in both fingers and toes (pain, and nominal feeling/control), had learned to hold things with what I called my *Super-Monkey-Grip* and so I surely could do the same with paint brushes.
I could slop gesso. Good.
I could use tools in place of trying to hold small objects with my fingers. Good.
I could manage abstract backgrounds for assemblage. Good.
And then I sat down to try and recreate a style of work I had done over and over.
And the brain chose not to be present.

This is what I'm trying to recreate......BUT.....
This is pretty much what the brain sees, and is NOT CO-OPERATING one bit.

It was the oddest feeling I'd had through EVERYTHING; here I was looking at my own art, and trying to figure out HOW DID I MAKE THIS???
There were two options; one being to quit and find something else to do (not an option, really)  ~~OR~~  distance myself from the confusion and look at the piece as if someone else had made it and I was trying to copy it.
I am guessing only that I was engaging the left brain now, and the right brain would have it's say later.
I mentally dissected what I *thought* would work, starting with the basics of pulling paints and gel mediums. I studied and studied, noting each wash of color and what was underneath. I began to slowly remember a few of the colors I used, but the rest were pure guessing.
Then came the issue of painting the background. I had done this all by rote without a thought previously, and now I was not even sure which BRUSH it was I normally used. Breathe deep...let the hand wander.
*It* picked the right one, and began laying down paint as I had before, but the sensation was one of being someone else watching that hand work. It took some adjusting to accept that THIS was going to be the norm for a while. This was painting after chemo; suck it up and watch away.
Honestly, it is fascinating in a bizarre way. I am aware of the thought that goes into the work, and also how the body actually has it's own memory. I just start work and let things happen.
Bit by bit, I begin to remember all the tools of the trade. I may not be sure how I used them, but I know they are important, and keep them close visually. That seems to get the neurons firing right.
I am really understanding on a different level why art therapy works so well.
As I was able, during treatment, I began my daily journaling again, faithfully, three pages longhand, sometimes five, to keep the skill of writing active and force my fingers to move, to make words, to grip the pen. 
Typing however, is still a hilarious mish-mash. The dyslexia that was a blip on the radar screen before is now an incoming 747, on a continual crash course with the keyboard. Thank heaven's for FireFox's built in spell check!
I accept this.
No fighting, just observing, making notes.
Because it is better to be HERE, facing these interesting challenges, than the other option......

And finally, some success~~the new piece at about the halfway stage; more ability to remember now and push forward.

Never take for granted what you do without thinking.
But seeing it through new eyes, well, it's pretty impressive!
Now I have to go see what my hands can get into.....



kj said...

Aww Anne......

I love the new piece. What rounded depth it has, just like you.

The bridge from knowing to doing, finding to retrieval is a pretty exquisite process, isn't it? When it misfires I call it muddle headed. I don't claim to know the effects of chemo, but i am nodding my head reading your descriptions. I've begun to type some similar but wrong words when I write and I'm always WTF?!

I am excited to see your new art. Already it's great.

Your old way will return. Meanwhile, enjoy the fuzz, honey


Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

It has been interesting KJ, just sitting and observing how parts of the brain won't play and how you have to do like on a computer---figure a *go-around* to get to what you want.
It also seems like once I have broken the barrier, it is pretty much down and doesn't return, or if it does, it's not nearly as bad.
Of course, being bullheaded, nothing is going to STOP ME, so the brain just needs to say *I GIVE!* right now and save us all some time...LOL!


Mary Helen-Art Saves Lives said...

Please give yourself time to heal...bit by bit the brain has a way of adapting. After my last procedure typing...finding the correct words...scope and sequence is so difficult for me. Know you are loved...different now from the experience but still YOU!!! Peace, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey Mary Helen,

believe me, I am, but you know me....the *shark* in me; if I'm not moving I'll croak! LOL!
It has been, I hate to admit, FASCINATING to see how this all works. I wish I would have written everything down as it happened because it is a peak into the brain that we normally don't get a chance to see.
Others might find it frustrating, but I just take it in stride and know that most will return, although the typing/writing (as opposed to writing by hand in the journal~~different VOICE!) is probably here to stay...LOL!
Gotta learn to LOVE it!


Manon Doyle said...

I think things will come together, Anne, at their own pace. Doing things differently's really good when you think about it. It takes you on a new journey that you didn't quite expect but *hey*..... new journeys are exciting!!

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

They are Manon. I think it makes me really appreciate how I did things, and that different POV is good!
And yes, we are the Queens of New Journeys, are we not? ;-)
(I think I just need Otie-man to jump on my head a few times; that should kick everything into full gear..hahahaha!)
Wearing my skelly earrings~~


Cameron said...

I never thought of that before....yes, I imagine all tissue would be effected by the chemo....

What a challenge...and yet, almost a rediscovery of your passions again...
I'm certain your innate talent will take over soon enough...and you'll be flinging paint with abandon very quickly :)

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey Cameron,

Believe me, the paint it flinging...LOL! I may not know where or why, but the more I work with it, the easier it is to *remember* and associate things.
It has been fun to see it from outside....can't think of a better way to put it. :-)


yoborobo said...

It's times like these that make it a very good thing to be as stubborn as an ox. :)) What a long, strange trip you've been on, Anne! I'm just happy (as I am sure you are) that you have a paint brush on autopilot and you're headed for a new adventure. A more pleasant one. :)) xox!

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey Pam,

I'm telling you, there is a lot to be said for the level of *stubborn* I have achieved... :-D
(it's in a whole nutha zone...)
Heck, I'm enjoying the ride, even though I forget half of it...hahahahaha!


Jo Murray said...

A very disconcerting position to be in Anne. Ten points for finding a way through. You will soon find all your old skills, just keep plugging away.

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey Jo,

It was a surprise, to say the least, but I think the more I work, the easier it will be.
I keep studying work I have done as I walk by...thinking, "Yep, did that, and that...."
All is well! ;-)


Doris said...

It's wonderful to hear so much optimism in the face of adversity. So glad you're a fighter! On the other hand sometimes I feel that if I walk away from actively creating, I won't get back to the same wavelength to continue with the same style stroke, to complete the work undertaken. And that's without chemo brain.

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Doris, even before I felt like you!
But sometimes I would just have to take a break, leave a vague note on what I was doing and let my mind, gardening, whatever.
And then when I would least expect it, wham! The solution would be there and I could go back and finish.
I guess that's why now it's just an enjoyable challenge to see how things WORK.
I am a puzzle solver...give me something to chew over, and I'll figure it out! :-)


Cathy Bueti said...

Anne, I know all too well of what you speak! I also had the neuropathy in hands and feet. Sometimes I felt as though flames would shoot right out of my feet if I stood on them too long!

Yes, the chemo brain is very real and as you say differs with each person. Even 10 years later for me I still notice that my memory is not that great, and my ability to concentrate is not up to par like it was years ago. All this was worse right after my treatments and over time for me it did improve.

I am glad you were able to push through the frustration to create those lovely hearts!!

As you said, we don't want the other option! ;)

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey Cathy,

I guess I did not think about you with the neuropathy (due to our different, *ahem*, VISITORS!) but I will say after riding the John Deere mowing, my hands are beet red. And numb. Otherwise, they have calmed down a lot--the feet are better but still are cranky. Probably from too many high heels--payback time!
Thankfully, I don't have to use them for art...hahaha!
And there ARE no other options! Right??? :-)


Laura said...

I so enjoyed reading about your process and working through it. It's through experience, strength and Hope that helps others, not that you may be trying to but it is just be sharing where you are NOW!

thank you Honey,

Sunshineshelle said...

Amazing because it's fresh eyes you are approaching/recreating this art with - that plus your innate skills & you chose the perfect subject - hearts, you have so much love & strength to reclaim whatever pathways that chemo buggered & I sense those firing neurons are going to make new tracks to accomodate all your creative pursuits!

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey Laura,

Thanks~~I wondered whether to put this post up; I know a lot of folks are sensitive to the mention of the word *cancer* or *chemo*, but it was just digging away at me, and I was actually able to write it it was to BE. :-)
Plugging away, here in Anne~Land!


Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey 'Shelle!

Good to *see* you here! And thanks for the wise words; I feel like this time of having to analyze everything will be very useful in the long run. That I will see my work differently.
And hearts, well, I do love my hearts! :-)
Kicking the chemo and cancer HARD! Breaking out the Doc Martens! YEAH!


Robbie said...

As always, Anne, you have given us another insight into real life!! I've never realized this about chemo and now feel rather guilty that my mother may have experienced this but I never knew! Thank you for sharing with us your personal, and I mean personal experience(s)!! It may make us all a bit more compassionate!

Glenn Stenson said...

Just get your hands dirty and have some fun!

Linda Moran said...

Wow. You continue to amaze me with your resilience. I am glad you feel comfortable enough to share the journey with us. I think of you every day, even though I don't comment much. I'm glad to see the healing power of art therapy at work. Chemo brain - BE GONE! It will happen, and you will create even more beautiful artwork.

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey Robbie,

Your mom may have experienced something totally different--that seems to be the *norm* with this. I have talked with friends who have other symptoms, short term memory loss/muddling seems to be most common. But I would venture a guess that each drug produces a bit of it's own *signature* and maybe she didn't have these symptoms.
I only had the one real *brain-vacation*....the rest of the time it's been like menopause on steroids! LOL! ;-D


Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey Glenn,

It's 7:34 a.m. and my hands are already DIRTY.
I would say today will be FUN!!! ;-D


Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey Linda,

I share it because I am hoping that it gives a little insight to what happens and how to think around it; not to get all wound up, but look at what is going on calmly. Then my typical, well, I can figure out a way around THIS! ;-)
Glad to talk about it---it is interesting in how it works.
I wonder, in the long run, if my art will take a different turn from this?
Kind of exciting!


Jan said...

Interesting post, I hadn't realized this sort of thing might happen. I !know you will persevere and get on with it, kick that memory into gear! It looks as though you are retrieving your abilities quite well, if that photo is any evidence.
I often hold your life up as an example (a warning?ha ha) as I tootle around here. Slow down, don't take the steps two at a time, look around and notice things, be grateful for my wonderful life, my good friends such as you.

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Well Jan, believe me, I hadn't either! ;-) But things are perking, and I know it is a passing phase of healing....
Yeah, my life is a full card of *Things to NOT do to your body*!!!
Hang it where you can see it daily...hahaha!
Was thinking of you as I did my journal this a.m.
Good friends are the gems of life. They always shine bright.


BumbleVee said...

lost it..... not the plot... my comment..haahhah... moved my fingers too quickly over this darn wireless mouse and poof...gone! arrghhh..

I had a pretty good comment going too...about never really being privvy to all the info we need about treatments etc...or how to cope ... or what to do to get back to our previous lives.... it's a whole new ballgame really. My sister found the same thing with a brain injury after a took her years to try to get back to almost normal...... of bumbling around on her own to find ways to cope......I think she did an amazing job..... as I think you are doing an amazing job.... good for you Anne..

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Doncha love when the comment goes? (and it is ALWAYS a good one...always)
My Dr. was good about telling me what to expect, but you know, I think every single person experiences a different level of confusion or memory loss.
The brain is still a great enigma; I am lucky to have always thought *around* to get from point A to B in an unconventional manner. Brains rewire differently too after any trauma, and as with your sister, it takes time but will happen in most cases.
So I'm just watching the ride as I go along! The view is pretty darned GOOD!


studio lolo said...

Wow Anne, I never thought the brain would be affected, but why the hell not? I heard from KJ that you did this post and I knew I would get to read it on a day off. meanwhile I was telling a co-worker, a two different kinds of cancer survivor who had a lot of chemo, about a post I was going to be reading of yours. She understood completely when I said "chemo brain!" She said she really struggles with short term memory.

Life is fragile, eh? But look at you conquering yet another challenge. You SO rock!! And I know it will all come back to you, and who knows, in the process you may come up with a whole new style! But please keep retrieving the old one too.

You go girlfriend!

Now, back to cleaning my studio ;P


Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey Lolo,

I guess I just think of short term being a lot SHORTER! LOL! But when I look at when I first did these hearts, my gosh, that was before I broke the hip in 2009, so evidently that amount of time is *short term*.
It is interesting, all frustrations aside, when asking others how it has affected them; parts are the same, some are totally different. From what I've gleaned, I am DARNED LUCKY. (or I didn't have a whole lot to work with in the beginning....LOL!)
I think my studio cleaning was the BIGGER CHALLENGE!!! HA!
Good luck with yours too my dear!


Palma said...

I LOVE your work and despite your difficulties and road blocks your work in still very much ANNE! I admire your courage and I admire you. You have a beautiful spirit and that will never leave you :)

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Thanks Palma!

It's good to *see* it through someone else's eyes, that it is still *me*~~that's what I'm working for.
Most of my work is built on series of color washes and gels, so getting that back in the brain is all I need to get going again! :-)
Grazie on the kind words!


Alexandra said...

Anne, what a great, powerful post to help encourage but also remind us of how fragile life is. And you know, your art/painting reminds me of a similar change I've seen in my own since daddy died 8 months ago. Your paintings are beautiful MORE...Something so different, beautiful and precious. YOU inspire ME every single day. My life is better because you're in it. :)

Love you LOTS!!!

PS On another note, when you have time, can you please update the link to my Hope To Dream on your sidebar? It's

Thank you!! xo

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey Alex,

You know, I do think that things that have a large impact on us will affect our art, one way or the other. I was writing about that this morning; comparing my *manual* skills which have remained pretty much the same to the more *artist* skills which felt the pinch.
But everything is getting back to working conditions, and it is interesting to try and figure it all out.
Also, interesting to hear from others what they have gone through and how the "Art On The Other Side" has proven better, brighter, different....
Glad I can be of inspiration, or SOMETHING in that order...LOL!!!


Caio Fern said...

some sucess... you are great... and such an inspiration.
it is really good to know it all and see you coming back to what you are and more !!!
and your smile still fills my heart ;D

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

Hey Caio,

It's all bit by bit. I am in no hurry (well, yes I am but that doesn't help! LOL!)
I think once the brain gets in gear, I will be too busy to get everything done.
Many ideas. I need to write them down.
It's like another door is slowly opening. Can't wait to see what is on the other side!


marianne said...

interesting post, anne. i had no idea about chemo brain- you've explained it quite well- and i think you're adapting to it well too. love the direction of the new piece, be curious to see what new things you discover in trying to recreate previous work. glad you're back at it!

Robin said...

What an instructive one who had not undergone chemotherapy can really quite understand....but you have conveyed it well.

You were and ALWAYS will be an artist whose work is flavoured with passion, strength and beauty.
Nothing remains the same - and you wouldn't want it to....LIFE is a forward journey...and you, dear *FBBBFF*, have many, many new adventures to explore.... I can already feel the power emanating from this new work.....keep us posted.

Love, Love,

♥ Robin ♥

Susan Sager Brown said...

Thank you for this brave post Anne. I Can't wait to see more of your art, created by whatever part of the brain or heart you are able to use!xoS

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