In memory of my artist friend Dan Sekellick

Dan Sekellick - Oceanic at Sunset (Star Island)

Today I’m mourning the death of my friend and fellow artist Dan Sekellick. In recent months, our Unitarian Universalist congregation has lost seven older long-term members in close succession, but Dan’s death hits closest to home.

A retired architect, Dan was dodgy about his age, but he was on the far side of seventy – I know because several years ago he told me he was eligible to ski free at Gore Mountain. Skiing was one of his many passions. He loved gardening, and normally during this dreary run of rainy March days his studio would already have been full of seed flats for his summer vegetable garden. In recent years he began writing poetry to accompany his paintings. He was a volunteer extraordinaire, helping to stock streams with fish each spring and to renovate and launch the Sand Lake Arts Center. 

Even as his health was failing in recent years, Dan had an extraordinary joie de vivre. I’ll always remember the enthusiasm with which he described the latest developments in his garden in spring, the skiing pointers he gave me at Jiminy Peak, and especially the ride he gave me back from Jiminy one early spring day in his vintage Chrysler convertible – with the top down, despite my initial protests. He was right – the windshield gave plenty of protection, and the ride through the Berkshire foothills was beautiful though breezy.

Dan Sekellick - Jazz Band

Most of all, Dan loved painting. On the website Art-N-Soul, Inc., where a few of his many paintings are displayed, he had this to say about his art:

My working method is an extension of my architectural design training. It often begins with some vague ideas of what I want to happen and it’s mixed with the influences of the works of other artists that I admire, along with my own personality and life experiences. I believe that artists are essentially self-replicating creatures, whatever their art form, and I don’t believe that I’m any exception. I refine my ideas, sometimes making fresh starts in new directions or just plugging along until I get it “right”, even if it takes years, as it sometimes does . . .

Thank you for viewing my work. I think that it helps to bring closure to a process that begins as vague idea or an inspiration or some other mysterious genesis, moves along with a lot of hard work and sometimes disappointment and then, hopefully makes a meaningful connection with another person. Now that’s the real reward in all of this.

What a wonderful description of the creative process, as true for writing as it is for painting. Dan, you’ll be missed by many, but your memory and your paintings live on. Yesterday, leaving the Sunday service at which our minister announced your death, I noticed how beautiful your abstract seascape looked hanging on the wall of our sanctuary, complete with the little seagull sculpture you’d perched whimsically on top.

Happiness is the right drug – or so I said in church yesterday

James Ensor

I was Sunday service leader for our Unitarian Universalist congregation yesterday. The sermon topic was “Psychology of Happiness,” and since I’ve lived relatively happily with bipolar disorder for many years now, it’s a subject on which I consider myself an expert.

Here was the Reverend Sam Trumbore’s preview of the service as it appeared in our church newsletter: “Psychologists often focus on the pathologies of the mind. Much of the work of psychology and pschologists deals with mental problems and how to address them effectively. New research has taken a different tack, studying healthy minds and what factors encourage good mental health. Barbara Fredrickson is one such researcher who studies the psychology of happiness.”

Great topic. Here’s how I approached it in my opening words. In the following passage, my lines are in green, my husband’s in magenta:

As a novelist, I love writing dialogue, and happiness is a subject close to my heart, so I jumped at the chance to be service leader today. Here’s a little dialogue I whipped up last night – I’d like to invite my husband up here to help me out. 

(Julie sings to the tune of “Happiness is a warm gun” from the Beatles’ White Album)

Happiness is the right drug, Happiness is the right drug. When I feel the pills start working . . .

Hey wait a minute! What drug are we talking about? What are you doing, advocating drug use on a Sunday morning at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany?

I’m talking legal drugs, prescription drugs. For some people, they’re the only way to conquer serious depression and achieve happiness.

Prescription drugs – yeah, right. That’s what killed Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson. Legal or not, drugs are bad news. Anyone can achieve happiness, if they work hard enough at it. I’ll bet that’s what Sam’s sermon is going to be about.

Who does Sam think he is, talking about happiness? He’s a Buddhist! Don’t they believe all life is suffering? But come to think of it, I’ve talked about happiness with Sam before, when I was so depressed I was practically suicidal. He believes it’s all in your mind.

Well, duh – of course it is! We all have the potential to achieve true happiness. Cognitive psychologists have all kinds of techniques anyone can use to feel better.

I know, I’ve read the books. David Burns, Martin Seligman -

Wait a minute – David Byrne? Wasn’t he the leader of the Talking Heads? His songs are full of gloom and doom. Remember Psycho Killer?

Not THAT David Byrne. This one’s Burns, with an S. He wrote Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Marty Seligman’s another one – he was on public TV just last week, and I get his newsletters online. He wrote Learned Optimism. He believes we all have a set point for happiness. Just as our weight tends to stay around a certain set point, so does our degree of optimism or pessimism. But with training and experience, we can change our own set points for the better -

Seems like you know a lot about all this cognitive stuff. So why are you pushing pills instead?

Because I believe happiness and unhappiness are biochemical to a large extent. Not everybody needs medication to be happy, but some of us do. Of course, a lot depends on our life experiences, too, and the choices we make.

So it’s the old nature versus nurture debate all over again?

Good point! But the two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive. They work well in combination, too. In fact, we could all learn to -

Julie, maybe you’ve said enough for now. After all, this is Sam’s sermon, not yours. Maybe I shouldn’t say it up here in front of the whole congregation, but you can be kind of a show-off.

I know, I admit it. I love being the center of attention – it’s one of the things that makes me HAPPY!

We got a gratifying round of applaluse for our performance, but more importantly, we put across an important message. We all have our own ways of overcoming depression and finding happiness. There are lots of paths to joy – the trick is finding which combination works best for you.

Personally, even though my current medication regimen is minimal, I probably couldn’t live happily without it. How about you? I’d love to hear your comments.

BSP, or Blatant Self-Promotion. Why should it be a no-no?

“I’m going to become a world-famous author through my mastery of the Internet.”

That was my response yesterday when our minister at the First Unitarian Universalist Society  passed around the mike and asked us what goals we could set for ourselves over the summer. We were observing our annual “Flower Communion,” in which we bring flowers from our gardens to share. Reverend Sam Trumbore had segued seamlessly from imagery of flowers and buds to the theme of what might be budding in our own lives and ready to burst into bloom.  

Chihuly florabunda rose

Chihuly florabunda rose

These were not the roses I brought. I do have a Chihuly rose bush blooming in my garden, and the blooms are absolutely breathtaking, but I was too selfish to share them. I brought some crimson Blaze climbing roses instead, more than adequate for the occasion. 

This blog isn’t about roses, though. It’s about my grandiose statement of world domination. Had I gone over the top? Am I escalating into a manic episode? Grandiosity is a common symptom of mania, as I and others with a bipolar diagnosis know full well. But I wasn’t being manic – just realistic, or almost, though it may take more than one summer to attain my dreams.

 

Why do we authors find it so distasteful to brag? Especially we women authors? Blatant self-promotion (BSP for short) is frowned upon on many Internet sites, and it’s said to be a turn-off when authors promote their work too openly at panels and signings. Yet why be so ashamed? I believe it’s ingrained in our upbringing, drummed into us from an early age, especially if we’re of AARP age or above. But how will anyone find out about our books if we’re too reticent to brag a little?

Blaze of Glory climbing rose

Blaze of Glory climbing rose

FUUSA‘s book club met last night, and we were talking about selections for the fall. One man suggested the group choose my book Eldercide, which I’ll be relaunching in September as Evening Falls Early. Another man seconded the motion, pointing out that perhaps copies of Eldercide will become valuable collectors’ items once it’s no longer available under that name. Both men were present at the morning service, so I guess my boastful declaration didn’t turn them off. Would the group have selected the book if I’d been silent when they handed the mic around? I’ll never know.

The Chihuly rose is a recently introduced florabunda, named for the famous glass artisan Dale Chihuly. It survived my northeastern Zone 5 winter in fine form, and I heartily recommend it. The blaze rose shown here is “Blaze of Glory,” a Jackson & Perkins introduction from 2005. My own blaze climbing rose is the more traditional crimson version, and it’s really taking off this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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