Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fending Off The Blows : ART as a Shield

One thing blogging does, at least to me, is gives me WAAAY to much time to psychoanalyze myself. Counting the cob-webs in the corners of the ceilings of my living room, or trying to predict which direction the air from the furnace will will blow the dust-bunny across the floor, do little to dispel much of what rattles around in my head.


Among the 'things-to-do-while-you-await-the-inevitable' is to go through the boxes of stuff that we have carried around that define who we are, where we came from, who we are connected to and what is important to us. For me, I have boxes of photographs, negatives, slides. All these images 'ground' me to various times and places I have experienced.

For me, it is weird that while I sometimes forget where I put my car keys, I can identify almost to the day when and where I took a photograph from. Believe it or not, I was always a pretty shy guy growing up, at least from my perspective, but I had one skill that allowed me to reach past my shyness and to become 'part' of what was going on - Photography and Art. Once I discovered that my camera skills could open doors and take me places that my lack of good looks, lack of a cool car or lack of money could never take me, it changed me. The same goes for art - the discovery that I could take stuff and make things that would impress people was amazing.

So, as I was tossing through a box of prints the other day it hit me, that since those days of High School, I had been using my artistic skills as a 'social-shield' - a way to forge through the things that scared me so  I could get closer to the 'action' of life. If you asked people I knew 'back in the day' I'd be willing to bet that they would tell you that I almost always had my camera with me, or was almost always drawing something. Funny how these things follow us through our lives.

Putting on my self-analyzing Psychologist Hat, I can see that perhaps I was lucky, in that my social / personal addictions were less damaging than other behaviors I could have picked up on in those days - drugs, alcohol, etc. I just guess that I discovered I could get comfortable behind a camera, or in front of an easel, and let those things deflect my inability to do the more exciting things I wanted to. For instance, I never became a football start, though I LOVE football. I never made a game winning layup on a basketball court, or set a state record in a cross country race, but, I did CAPTURE those moments and got to live through them all the same.

I think that deep in side all of us artist types is the real, physical, psychological NEED to be a bit of a show-offs. I know that the public sometimes thinks that most artists are 'reclusive' and spend their life in solo suffering, in dingy studios, drinking away their inner demons, or shooting up drugs to get to their artistic space -- this may be true for some, but deep down, I think all of us artists just want to be ACCEPTED through our work, not necessarily FOR our work, if that makes any sense.

If I had to identify one moment that I felt really comfortable behind this 'artistic shield' was back in high school, when I worked for our school magazine and city newspaper. I don't know if it still exists, but back when I was walking the halls with my camera, there was a huge carpeted wall that acted like a huge bulletin board, where the school would display all the newspaper articles (and photographs) of students that appeared throughout the year about our school and its activities. The cool thing for me was seeing my byline "Truth Photo by Scott Lightfoot", or "Genesis Photo by Scott Lightfoot" in tiny type under many of the pictures. I guess it was kind of an ego boost to see more and more clippings appear during the year, filling the wall.

Since my high school had over 1000 students, it was STILL possible for me to hide a bit behind my camera, since I did not know everyone, anyhow, so I still had some sense of protective anonymity offered by the fact that MY picture never appeared anywhere - I have never been one to like having my photo taken. So, being shielded like this allowed me to go practically anywhere and every where to be involved more deeply in activities than others could only imagine.

This trend continued through college and on into the early phases of my professional life. My early working  years were spent as a news photographer - a logical, if not immediate extension of what I was building towards in high school. I worked this industry and felt the same sense of 'protective-shielded-access' to he worlds I was allowed to enter, see, photograph and live. I must admit, it is often a good feeling knowing that I can go into a situation, capture images, tell a story and then, walk away - least physically.

There were, as you can imagine some events and stories that were difficult to photograph, or to not get involved in because I was there to 'record' and not to 'interfere' as a journalist, I never became quite so cold or calloused that pain, suffering and death stopped affecting me - yet again, my camera was there to protect me - at a deeper level. I could photograph, print, edit, write and submit stories, then, unlike those who actually LIVED those moments. I could tuck them away in a box and move on to the next. Maybe my weird ability to remember my photographs when ever I see them is some kind of penance for my hiding behind the camera? I don't know.

Now, as I sit flipping through old photos and slide, I think of my current situation, and how in many new - and somewhat troubling - ways my Artwork is beginning to do the same thing for me now as photography did for so many years. I can create images that mean something to me, convey a message to others and let me 'escape' or 'hide' from feelings, emotions and issues that threaten to drive me over the edge. My Art has become my new Shield.

Alright. I am sick. I may have a short window in which to live. But, I am not dead. I am not incapacitated. I am however, stuck. I am not allowed to do 'traditional-work'. I am saddled with the fact that I must accept Disability Hand-Outs from the government. I must allow my great group of friends to help me - because they WANT to - not because I feel worthy of their assistance. It has also been hard for me to put down the 'shield' and extend my hand and say, "Yes, I DO need your help."

So to counter the dismal picture that life has painted for me, I pick up the shield (palette!) and have decided to get to work creating Art. Over the past few months since my diagnosis (and with the economic and physical help of many friends) I have turned half of my garage into a studio where I can now replace traditional work-time, with Art-work time. If I said, I spend a full 40 hours a week out there cranking out masterpieces that belong in the MOMA, that would be a lie...but, the new shield exists.

I use the Artistic Shield in many ways. When I return from a meeting with doctors where more bad news is given, or a possibly painful plan is laid out in front of me, I retreat to the studio. I crank up the stereo: sometimes annoying the neighbors with old Zeppelin tunes, or mellow out our end of the block with a late night offering of Reggae music - all played loudly - as I work on what ever art pieces I have going at the moment.

Sometimes, my Art Shield helps me deal with more personal issues between my wife or kids as they struggle to figure out their place in all this mess that I am putting them through. I retreat to the Shield - now it is time for the White Stripes, or the Clash...and I don't care that the neighbors are looking out the window to see the weird white-guy dancing in his studio, painting and doing air-guitar! This is MY SPACE, my safety zone, my place to try to get a grip, or in many cases, to just let go of all of the garbage in my head and  just create.

Most recently there has been a shift in how I use my artistic shield. Now instead of just protecting me from the realities I am forced to deal with, it is allowing me to be strong, to use the pattern on it's face to represent me as a person who is fighting a battle, who uses the shield not so much to hide behind but to inspire others to do the same, to find a way to push-back at all the crap, and find SOMETHING that drives you to keep fighting.

I still  use my shield to protect me from the toughest blows, but as I fight, I realize that I can use it to push back the demons, and the bombs thrown at me to reveal a man BEHIND it that is fighting to stay on his feet, to protect  himself and to be able to return to his family and friends as a whole man, and maybe a better man for having won this battle. SO, I continue to fight, continue to create and continue to use the shield to protect and reveal that ours is a battle worth to be fough.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Silent Windows on the Inner Voice

Look, we are all mortal, human, finite beings. None of us get to live forever. None of us have the vision to know when our end will come. Not even those, like me, who are fighting cancer. Sure, doctors and such can dish out percentages, time lengths, etc., yet we all know - or can find - people who beat the odds and 'make-it' to a different end than was originally predicted.

Just as none of us can be assured of the final days, none of us knows what will keep us going along the way. For most of us dealing with cancer, it begins with 'treatement'. This general word encompasses many different elements designed to get us disease free and to return us to 'normal-lives' - family, work, bills, homes, friends etc. In tandem with medical treatment we have all also read or heard of a plethora of other 'cures', 'assistive diets', 'homeopathic therapies', 'alternative therapies' etc. While some are interesting and seem like they couldn't hurt, others are purely 'wacko' even to the simplest of observers. So, in  my case, why ART?

Good question.

I guess I should lay out where my 'faith' in recovery lies before I delve into how I 'think' art plays into my own therapeutic approach to getting healthy. First, I trust in modern medicine. I trust that we live in a time when the odds of proper diagnosis, treatment and therapy protocols mesh properly to attack what is wrong inside my body are generally in my favor, and that, again, for the most part people in this country don't get to put 'Dr.' in front of their name unless they know what they are doing.

Second, this last couple of years has taught me more than anything else that my network of friends and family give me hope, give me support and give me the DESIRE to do what ever is necessary, to ENDURE what must come, to RISE UP above what is expected so that I can be around to see my kids grow up, graduate, fall in love, get married, have a passel of grandkids, etc., etc. you get the picture.

Finally, faith in God. This may trouble some people that I did not put this at the top of my list. But, being honest with myself, I must admit, I have never been one to believe whole-heartedly in the 'presence' of God in my life. I have not been one to spend a whole lot of time in 'prayer', I have just never seen the point, or seen the results... maybe it is the shallowness of my faith that has led to this. I DO recognize the importance that others put in higher powers and fully respect and appreciate all those prayers that have been sent my way, and want to believe that somehow in the great cosmic scheme of things, that it does make a difference somewhere along the line. It is just very hard for me to see.

So, that brings me to Art. As I have mentioned in other posts, my work in art began when I was young, flourished for a while in high school, before being pushed aside as 'crazy' as I pursued more 'valuable' studies in college. Following college, I fell into the 'normal' patterns expected in our society; work, marriage, family, etc. -- yet all along the way Art was like a distant ship on the horizon, one that would drift closer and then drift away, always out of reach, always tempting me to 'jump' ship and leave the regular world behind. Then the irony of my current situation comes to the forefront.

Being sick with a life-threatening disease has put me into this marginalized, limbo-like, existence, where I am like some kind of wraith... I exist in the 'regular world', yet I drift in and out of 'treatment world' and in between there is, for lack of a better term, 'worry world'. This worry world is where I live most of my days, and why I try to fill it with something I enjoy, ART.

Thanks to the way our employment system works, 'worry world' is that place where the sick live while waiting to either improve and return to 'regular world', or to worsen and die and move on to 'the after life' what ever the hell that is. So, since we can't work in 'worry world', is it any wonder that so many patients living this existence have a tendency to wigg-out and do all kinds of seemingly crazy, outlandish, selfish and strange things? It does not surprise me at all any more how many families fall apart during 'treatment time' how many people -- looking at their situation, simply give up and say, 'screw it' and, thinking they are doing everyone a favor by ending things.

Now, if I were to sit here and say that none of these thoughts had not passed through my mind, I would be lying, plain and simple, they have - and yes, up to and including the big 'S'. Then something happens (maybe this is the divine providence I refuse to acknowledge) I get a phone call or a visit, or a Facebook message or a text that reminds me why I am here and why I need to FOCUS on doing what ever I can to stay here as long as possible....

Back to the ART.

I am no Picasso, no Pollock, no Dali, or O'keeffe.  I am just Scott Lightfoot - a guy with a bit of talent with a pencil, some sharpies, a camera and a budding interest in painting and other media. I have not been 'discovered', 'gallerized', 'published' or made a fortune selling my work.. But I can tell you this. Making art - however it is received, makes me happy. It DOES keep me going. The simple knowledge that I have unfinished pieces in the studio and others swirling around in my head waiting to be birthed onto a canvas or a page, keeps me from withering up and dying.

I also now, thanks to the urging of friends and family have Georgia to take care of too. Georgia is my 'studio-cat' and as a kitten requires lots of contact to keep her happy. So, instead of wallowing in self-guilt and depression like many mornings - laying around wasting the day, I now must get up, get myself going and get out to the studio and greet the kitten every morning... Doing this allows me to, well forces me to, face the day, examine my progress and put a plan together for each day. So, as much as I didn't WANT the cat, she is part of my healing process too...

I'd like to say that I a good enough artist that paintings are flying off the walls and I replaced my past income with sales of my art, but that too would be an egotistical exaggeration. Now, I have sold SOME pieces in the past year, which has been wonderful. Many of them I have sold to people who are aware of my situation and I am glad that my artwork can grace their world and maybe make a wall in an office or home a little less bare and maybe a little more interesting.

So, why keep doing this art stuff anyway? Why? What do I get out of it? How does it help my family in this time of need? Well, I'll tell you this. If I am alive, I am learning. I am becoming a better artist. I am becoming a happier (though it might not be evident to those closest to me at times) person. My work IS becoming more well know and I AM contributing a bit to the overall economic picture of our home.

But, more than this, I see my growing collection of artwork as a legacy -- something, finally, to be able to leave behind to my kids to appreciate when my time comes (hopefully a long time from now!). Reading some biographies of the more famous artists, I discovered that Rembrandt completed something like 650 paintings in his career, Picasso somewhere over 20,000 pieces... I have a goal currently that is combining my treatment and outlook with my art, it is called the 'Up To 1825' challenge. I have challenged myself to do something 'artistic' each day and to document it along the way. Each day I plan on either making to completion one piece of art, or to make progress on a larger piece each day. So that after 5 years (the current 'survivability' estimate) for my condition I will have made one piece of art for each day - 1825 days. I am sure that each day's effort will not be a master piece - as I am sure that not all of Picasso's 20,000 pieces were either - I hpe that this goal will keep me going through what ever ordeals come in the future when I begin this latest round of treatments.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Desperation And the Creative Fire

As I was sitting in my newly completed studio, drinking coffee, cuddling Georgia the Studio Cat, and looking a the array of art on my 'gallery wall', and the pieces in progress on the 'work-wall' it struck me odd that it has taken the prospect of death by cancer to bring out my desire to not only make art, but to make a LIVING at art, and that bugs me.

Why is it that we live in a world where artistic creativity is seen as an oddity, a strange passion that is to be pushed down, put off and avoided like some kind of disease?

PERSON: "What do you do for a living?"
ARTIST: "I'm an Artist."
PERSON: "Really? <dramatic pause, trying to come up with something 'nice' to say> "Who do you work FOR?"
ARTIST: <pause to hold back the laughter> "Well, I work for my self."
PERSON: "Wow. That must be nice. How much money do  you make?"
ARTIST: <pause... 'Not THIS question again!> "Enough."
PERSON: "Oh, really?" <accompanied by the 'yeah. right' expression>

In past posts on unemployment, and on the 'forced-down-time' caused by surgical or treatment recovery, I have discussed the idea that when our 'work-life' is yanked away from us it leaves a huge void that we have a difficulty figuring out how to 'fill'. I have run into that again, this time in the form of a new treatment schedule that is causing me to apply for disability.

For some people the sudden prospect of no job is seen as some kind of 'freedom'. Trust me, it is not. I think the problem is that modern humans are just not socially and culturally wired to be free. I feel that in many instances this is beaten out of us from the time we enter our school-years, where our lives and activities are directed and tunneled away from creative pursuits and into those activities which allow us to eventually find our 'proper-place' in the workforce.

Unfortunately, art-as-a-career, is such a small part of the overall 'economic' sector it is almost considered aberrant behavior, akin to someone who needs help, who has lost touch, or needs special treatment to become more normals. This is sad, just sad is all I can say.

So, why have I turned to art? Why now? What do I hope to gain? Well, let's look at the basics. Due to my ongoing battle with cancer, and my recent lay-off from a good job, I am now unemployed, and in this market it is tough enough to get a job -(I have applied to over 100 jobs again, with only a couple interviews - and I haven't even MENTIONED that I have cancer. Therefore, in this regard I am stuck.

One challenge in all this is that what ever end-game I face - short term death from cancer complications, or long term remission and survival, makes it almost impossible to plan for more than the immediacy of the present. We used to joke about living 'day-to-day' or 'paycheck-to-paycheck' it was a joke because we knew unconsciously that there WOULD be a FUTURE, a time 'later' in which we would joke about our past miseries as we sipped Mai-Tai's on the deck of our yachts.... Enter reality. Life is short.

In essence, THAT I guess is the biggest message of all. I don't really care if you love motorcycles, cooking, engineering, surgery, theatre, music, dance, writing or art. It is cliche, I know, but none of us are guaranteed ANY tomorrows.

I'm 49, and will be very, very happy to continue adding one year at a time, one day at a time, and I have realized that I want to spend as much time doing what I really enjoy, living in the world of art. But, I am also a realist. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of artists are not 'trust-fund-babies' nor do we have a rich spouse who provides for our needs as we do our 'crazy art stuff', the majority of us are (or want to be) hard working, dedicated creators of objects that enhance the world in which we live. The form or media in which we work doesn't really matter as much as having the chance to do what we love.

Possibly because the creative types ARE wired a bit differently we are not seen as 'working-people'. What the public sees is the finished product, not the WORK it takes to get there. The lay public doesn't 'see' the 100 or so hours that may have gone into a painting, or the late nights spent watching kilns heat up so that a sculpture can be 'born', or the weeks of rehearsal that goes into a play, or a ballet, or a concert. But, when the SEE the final product, they certainly do enjoy it!

If you want to discover the passion behind an artists work, go to a studio or gallery and meet one. Sit down and talk with them, you will soon discover that for the majority of them, they are forced by the way our economy and culture are structure to sequester their 'creative-time' into a hand-ful of hours a week and yet they STILL find time to create things of, imagine, just imagine if the energy they have, and the things they create would be given the same level of importance in our society as a refrigerator, or a car, or any other of the millions of widgety-items that we use on a daily basis.

As you talk with your new artist friend, ask them this one question. "What would you be able to make if you could do your art as a full time job?" I'd bet the cost of your lunch that you will see, if you look close, the starry-eyed-possibility of that nirvana-istic existence, where the artists world was filled with the OPPORTUNITY to create, to make and to sell their work. You will see it in their eyes, they will probably take a deep breath -- the breath that they have taken many times before, the breath that when they exhale, you see them 'return' to the world of 'reality' where the possibility of that life simply doesn't exist... that is the problem as I see it. The dream is STILL there, but the path to get there has been erased completely, or at least marginalized into the realm of 'crazy'.

Well, my situation has been forced on me in many ways, and I have begun to recognize that maybe the true blessing behind my medical suffering is that now, I, at least have the OPPORTUNITY to make the leap from the traditional 'world-of-work' to the non-traditional 'world-of-art'. I know that it will take work, that it will take time and effort to do what needs to be done to see this through. I also know that as I stand, coffee cup in hand, looking at the growing stock of new art that has not existed before in front of me, I can say that there is a glimmer of happiness in my future.

The hole created by things beyond my control, is slowly being filled up with art. It's all I can do to just keep going and keep creating...

Not knowing how long I have makes each moment of creative opportunity that much more important, and each effort that much more rewarding. I know it sounds cliche, but there it is.... on to 1825 and beyond.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Up To 1825 : Living UP to beating the Odds

Hello, and welcome to the wild mixed up world of a cancer patient, an artist, a husband, a father, a teacher, and a friend. THIS blog is created to give you a window into how I (the patient) plan to defeat this newest cancer threat through the energy provided by allowing Art to infuse my life, like a good brandy on a cold winter day.

It has taken me a long time to realize that, while I am certainly no Picasso, that the creation of art - in whateever media I am using at the time, is one of the things that I believe keeps my 'life-force' alive and well, and allows me to battle what comes my way.

I want to separate this blog - stylistically at least - from my others. My other blogs, deal with my cancer experience (, and a third one that deals with the complex world of being unemployed in this shaky economy ( So if  you have nothing better to do, and want more of the 'back-story' as it were, you can check those blogs to see what I have been up to the past several years.


Back to this new blog. Why am I doing it? What the heck does 'Up To 1825' mean anyhow? Well, fill up your mug and here we go.

As fate would have it my 'second battle' with cancer has now turned to a third - my original colon cancer has metastasized to my liver and lung and so, I am facing more challenges. Without boring you again (those who know me will be glad of this, I am sure!) I have been given a prognosis of 5 year survival of 30%... That is I have a 1 in 3 chance of seeing my 53rd birthday.

When you get information like that, of course there will be sobbing and worrying and confusion. But, the fighter in me refuses to see the window closing but rather, that it is 'stuck' 1/3 of the way open and I need to figure out what to do to get through it.

In order for this to happen, many things have to align properly and most of them are ones beyond my control. The doctors will come  up with a treatment plan. The nurses and techs will deliver the latest chemo-concoction design to kill the microscopic invaders that are trying to kill me. From the medical perspective, all I can do is show up, take my medicine and let them watch and wait, monitoring my tolerance of the medicine, and periodically checking the progress of it's effectiveness - all things that are really out of control.

The next thing I cannot control is the 'outside world'. Perceptions of what it means to have cancer are complicated, in more ways and from more interpersonal relationship angles than I ever knew existed. As a patient I cannot control these. One good example is very, very relevant to people in this shaky economy.  Until the fall I had a job for over a year that was going well. During my employment my second cancer was discovered. I let the employer know what was happen, and to their credit they were very supportive. Though the could not pay me for the 3 months I needed off for surgery and recovery, they did hold my job for me. Even when I returned to work, the allowed me to alter my schedule to get my monthly chemo treatments. Everything seemed to be going fine. I had healed up and was handling the work, learning, doing well and then one day came the call, "Scott, can I see  you in my office?"

Well, to summarize (more details in my unemployment blog if you want to read them), I was laid off, due to 'lack of busniess'. Now to be fair to my employer, this COULD be a very legitemant reason, but way deep down in the back of my head - again owing to the penny pinching nature of the economy - I can't help but think that maybe, just maybe the fact that I had cost the company close to $500,000 in medical insurance cost that it may have been 'suggested' to find a way to get me off the payroll to save money.... Again, I don't like to BELIEVE in conspiracy theories, but I don't ignore their possibilities.

 Jump ahead a few months, after more tests and doctor visits and here I am, being told that there are possibly hard-core limits to my future that I should gear up for. Well, I say, 'Fuck That!' I plan on being around a lot longer than 5 years, and here is MY PLAN on how to do it... through the creation, distribution, discussion and expression of ART, as a way to supplement the medical treatments I will be undergoing, and to share my LIFE experience, not just my experience as a CANCER patient with people in such a way that maybe their lives will be made a bit better, contain a few more smiles, a few more hugs, a few more good meals and of course a HUGE amount of ART to beautify their worlds, no matter how long I am here.

Thus, 'Up To 1825' : The Project

If you have  not figured by now, 1825 is the number of days in 5  years, and while many people in my situation start the clock in reverse -- counting down to the grave -- I intend to count UP to victory over this disease. A big part of the personal artistic discipline I am creating for myself is to create one new piece of art (or work on an existing piece) every day. I now (through the help of many great friends) have a functional studio space at home where I can work when ever I want to. Thanks to the Doctors putting me on disability, and my employer laying me off, I also have all the TIME I never had before to undertake such an endeavor. SO here I go. One drawing, each day until 5 years passes - at which time i wold hope that the practice is so well ingrained that it will just continue.

Hopefully, along the way, some people will be encouraged, uplifted or just made to smile a bit more - no matter what they are going through, by the simple act of choosing, buying and enjoying art in all of its many forms....

It begins...