Words & Music in the Tunnel

KatieLatteDeckToday is the beginning of a hard journey for me. It’s an annual journey, begun on July 20 for the past 10 years, and it began with the shocking news in 2007 that our beloved daughter Katie was going to die. It was the end of treating the cancer and hoping for remission, and the beginning of hospice care, and the hard work of acceptance. As Paulo Coelho writes in The Alchemist, “Once you get into the desert, there’s no going back…And when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.” On July 20, we had no choice but to move forward, all the while wanting nothing more than to go back – back to the days before Katie’s diagnosis in October of 2006 – but that way was no longer available to us. We were taking the road which no one wants to take.

Supporting her as she prepared for her death, and preparing myself, was the hardest work I’ve ever been asked to do as a mother. It was harder than the hardships in the hospital, supporting her while she suffered the ravages of chemotherapy. It was even harder than waiting through her 18-hour surgery (and that was truly terrifying). This was harder than anything else, because we didn’t want the outcome – we wanted to fight against it – but to fight, at this point, meant to invite further suffering for Katie, and we were not willing to do that. So we had to begin to let go, to stop fighting, to abandon our hope that she would survive, and begin to hope and work for a peaceful, pain-free, fearless death, held in love.

I see this day each year as the beginning of a journey into a dark tunnel. I emerge from the tunnel into the light after August 16, but from now until that day, I am working silently to not re-live the trauma of those painful days…days of letting go, holding Katie’s grief with open arms, feeling my own pain, witnessing the devastating advancement of the disease as it robbed her of the use of her legs, and saying all that needs to be said, as well as “goodbye,” as lovingly and graciously as possible. It’s impossible to ignore these memories, but I try not to allow them to paralyze me.

For some, the anniversaries are no worse than any other day surviving the death of someone we love. For me, the anniversaries are seared into my being as signposts, as tatoos. It’s been 10 years since she learned that she was going to die, and we learned it with her. Ten years since the dear people at Seattle Children’s Hospital, who had done all that they could for her (and us) had to face us, and impart the knowledge that there was no more to do to save this precious person whom they had come to love. My heart goes out to all of them today.

My heart is also with our family and community, who rallied around us as soon as they heard the news. We were held and supported through these days in ways too numerous to recount here (it’s all in my book, Because of Katie).

I’m moving slowly right now, and it’s a necessary adjustment – to bear the weight of these days, like a heavy backpack. Painting is going in fits and starts, but it brings solace. Exercise helps to prevent stagnation. Summer sunlight reminds me it isn’t all darkness, but a chiaroscuro life we live.

In watching the movie, “The Way” a second time, I heard Alanis Morissette’s song, “Thank U” anew, taking in the lyrics as if I had never heard them before. I’ve been listing to it (and painting to it) on repeat, and am offering it to you as gift, as prayer.

Inspiration from Nature

I work as a facilitator for the Strolls for Well-Being program at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. It’s a job I love, and feel privileged to do. The program is meaningful to me on a personal level, as it was a part of my healing of artistic block. I participated in the pilot program back in 2014, and worked alongside of the founder, Ruth McCaffrey, after she and Sally Schauman brought it to the Bloedel Reserve from the Morikami Garden in Florida. 

It’s always a joy, because I get to companion people who are engaging in self-care through immersion in nature. I witness growing awareness, healing and peace as participants simply stroll in nature with intention.

I was working Friday and Saturday, and as usual, came away joyful and grateful. These photos give you a small taste of the beauty of the place. You can see why it continues to inspire me as an artist, and offers peace to visitors. I hope you’ll treat yourself to a visit the Reserve – and consider signing up for the Strolls for Well-Being! The next 10-week session begins in September.

Redbubble is having another sale today; you can save 20% by using the code SHARKMANIA at checkout.

30% off at Redbubble today

A sampling of my Redbubble greeting cards, on display at Savage Plants’ gift shop

Redbubble is a site where artists can offer products created from their original work. It’s a great way to share designs in a variety of formats – and at affordable prices. One of the things I love about it is the fact that they handle the manufacturing, billing and shipping, leaving me free to spend more time creating! Another big “plus” is their frequent sales; for example, today, they are offering a 30% discount on T-shirts. If you’re looking for a piece of wearable art for summer weather, follow this link to https://www.redbubble.com/people/karengberger to find a style and design you love, and use the coupon THIRTYOFF at checkout to save 30%!

Where it all began

There are many components to my artistic life, and many paths that came together to allow me to embark on this journey in my 50s. Undoubtedly, I’ll be writing about these threads in the future, but today, I want to show you where it began. Anniv 029It began with these two – my parents – who married at the ages of 19 (Ellie) and 25 (Phil). They had practically no worldly goods when they started out together. They demonstrated their values by purchasing property on Bainbridge Island, and building a cabin on it with their own two pairs of hands, before they ever owned a house. Family time was a priority, and family time spent by the sea was the ultimate. And they provided art supplies, even when I was a just toddler.

 

They valued beauty, though they didn’t preach this. I don’t recall them introducing us to classical music or the art museum – my mother’s parents did this – but I do recall them reading to us, playing with us, and encouraging any artistic pursuit we chose. As we grew, they provided for music lessons and art lessons; they praised and supported our efforts in these areas. My sister, brother and I took private art lessons when I was in elementary school, and then I went on to take private painting lessons during junior high. My parents took some painting lessons, as well.

In the summer of my junior year of high school, I was offered three opportunities to travel overseas. My parents encouraged me to take the trip they felt was best: with People-to-People, where I first experienced the Louvre in Paris, and saw Michelangelo’s work in Florence. I remember being in the presence of his “David,” up close, and feeling its impact on a visceral level.

Though it was summertime, back in 1976 it was still possible to encounter these works of art in a personal way; no one was taking “selfies,” or clamoring in chattering clusters around the masterpieces. There was a feeling of reverence and peace in the museums, and the magnetism of certain works was palpable. I recall feeling as if I was alone in some of these encounters, they were so powerful.

When I decided to major in Fine Art in college, my parents were supportive. When this motivated me to transfer from Pomona College to Principia, though they disagreed with the decision to move, they continued to support me – and to pay for my education. When I told them I wanted to spend a term studying art in England, they were thrilled. On that trip, I had many transformative experiences as a person and as an artist. I did not make huge technical progress, nor did I feel particularly affirmed in my abilities, but aesthetically, I was deeply filled and moved by all that I saw and experienced. The landscape, the people, the accommodations, the daily practice of art, the history of the country and the museums we visited all combined in an unforgettable, enriching whole.

 

I will always remember the moment I encountered Rodin’s sculpture “The Kiss” in larger-than-life-sized white marble at the Tate Gallery in London. I felt what the French would call a “coup de foudre” – a thunderbolt, or stroke of lightning. Having studied art history for a year at Pomona, I had come to love this piece, but was familiar with it only through a black-and-white photo. Turning a corner in the Tate, and coming face-to-face with this white-hot lovers’ embrace was an experience of power and passion that I had not known existed through the medium of sculpture.

With my parents’ generous support, I graduated with academic honors and a degree in Fine Art. Unfortunately, I suffered from artist’s block for many years after enduring the criticism which is part of a formal art education. Being unable to support myself as an artist, I worked in the field of finance, earning the necessary licenses to sell stocks, bonds and insurance. This paid the bills, but it did not feed my soul, or invite the creative expression I craved.

2015-09-27 10.18.57When I decided to return to art more than 30 years later by enrolling in a workshop with Flora Bowley in Oregon, my parents were again completely enthused and supportive. This is where decades of artist’s block was released, and the joy of painting returned to me. I owe my parents a huge debt of gratitude, from the beginning of my artistic journey to the present moment, and beyond.

The Gallery at Savage PlantsΒ 

I’m fortunate to have a beautiful two-room gallery at the gardener’s paradise known as Savage Plants & Landscape in Kingston, WA. If you haven’t been to Savage Plants, this is the season to plan a trip! 

They have lovely plants, of course, but they also have garden art and sculpture, as well as a gift shop filled with treasures.

You’ll find something to please the senses, whether it’s indoors or outside. And stop into my gallery while you’re there! I’ve just added new paintings. We’re open Monday-Friday from 9AM-5 PM, and Saturday-Sunday from 10AM-5PM.