Once upon a time, a long time ago I had three children. I still have them. My middle son had heart surgery. He was four at the time and after wards his behavior went, “Wow” very explosive. There were a lot of melt downs and he just couldn’t bounce back. The preschool gave us all sorts of problems about keeping him there. We refer to it as the year from hell.
I remember a counselor trying to tell us that there was something wrong with him and that my son wasn’t in the right place. That the school couldn’t help him. They wouldn’t tell me what it was, it was all very confusing. It was awful. I kept arguing with them so that what they said wouldn’t be true. It was interesting, on my way here I was listening to NPR and they were doing a bit on the paradox of information and how people can dig in despite evidence when you challenge something that is really important to them. They will double down. That is what was happening to me. I was getting information from people about my son that I really didn’t want to be true.
So, I was really buying into making excuses and avoiding the situation. It was just getting worse and he wasn’t doing any better. I remember very vividly a moment when I just saw, the way other people saw my son and the blinders came off. I had to accept something was really wrong with him. It didn’t change anything about the circumstances but that acceptance helped us move out of that stale place.
Things then started to get better, just from that place of acceptance. He had autism and he didn’t have the resilience to recover well after his surgery. The surgery uncovered something that was already there. The acceptance started us on a journey and it goes on to this day.
I play the beat box flute and this story started by my looking on the LEAF website and seeing that Bootsy Collins was headlining in Asheville and holding a workshop there. I figured it would be a good idea to go and learn some stuff off of him and the Rubber Band at the workshop. I thought it would help along with the production of what I am trying to do on my album.
I went to the workshop and spent the days sitting in each one of the sessions. At the end Bootsy had a time when we could interview him and ask questions. I went up to him and told him that if he wanted any funky flute on his album I did something called the Beat Box Flute. This caught his attention so I gave him my business card when I gave him a handshake. He looked at it and didn’t really know what to think. When I told him about the Beat Box flute he was intrigued. After the questions, there was a time for taking pictures. Everyone was getting in line and I decided to put my flute together and get a good picture of me posing with Bootsy.
When I got up there I asked if I could pose with my flute and he said, “Absolutely” I also asked him if I could play and show him what I’ve got and he said, “Yes.” So, I laid down a funky beat and there was this guy taking pictures and the backup vocalist was going crazy for it and Bootsy Collins was blown away and called Patti, his wife, to come on over with a video camera. The next thing I know he asked me if I was coming to his show the next day. I told him, “Absolutely.” He asked me if I had his contact information and he gave me his card. He wanted to make sure I had it before I left.
The next day came along and I got right up in the front close to the stage and waited for the show to start. When Bootsy came on he recognized me as the flute man and asked me if I had brought my flute. I held up my back pack showing him that I had it. He said, “In a little bit we are going to have to get funky!”
Thirty minutes or so pass by and he begins to talk about how James Brown picked him up off the streets at a time when he needed it. The next thing I know he tells me to come up on stage. I hop the fence and get up on stage and start jamming out with the Rubber Band and Bootsy. There was about twenty thousand people in the crowd and it was a feeling like nothing else I had ever had. It is kind of hard to explain. First you have butterflies and then you realize you do it or you don’t and if you are going to do it you might as well do it right. The crowd seemed to like it a lot. It was unbelievable.
I have had a wonderful summer so far. I am a teacher so I have had the summer off and I decided not to use air conditioning. I know this would sound abhorrent to most people. I have kept it off until recently when it turned really, really hot. I have loved it. I have heard the birds and the insects and the tree frogs. I have used my fans to feel the breeze. I am so aware of the outdoors and indoors and I have felt completely connected.\
I started to realize that loving all the sounds of the cicadas and tree frogs and katydids goes back to my childhood. I grew up on a little farm in Virginia and we didn’t have air conditioning. I was really pretty much a feral child, spending time in the woods and swamps. This contentedness also happens when I ride my town bike. I get this feeling of freedom and timelessness that escapes me when I am in my everyday working world all nice and tidied away with the air conditioning on.
Which, by the way, is most definitely on today since it is like 99 degrees outside. But it was fun while it lasted.
Once upon a time I graduated from college and I wanted to get out of town so I drove to Portland, Oregon with my dad. I wanted to go far, far away because I had had such a rough last semester at school. I just felt it was time to leave and go away.
We listened to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy on the way over. That was really awesome because we are both really into fantasy. We went to Los Vegas. We both gave ourselves fifty dollars and I actually came out with seventy dollars and he came out with nothing. That was sweet and I love Los Vegas because I won.
We mainly just drove to Portland. I didn’t have an apartment until mid-way into the road trip. I called places when we were on the road and I found a really small one bedroom apartment. I lived on a futon. I only stayed there two months. The Vegan Tiki bar where I found a job just didn’t work out. I was like, “I eat meat.” I just didn’t find my crowd in Portland.
Then I went to Penland, North Carolina. I felt really lonely in Portland and I wanted a community. My mom had gone to Penland and she loved it. She had taken me there to visit. It wasn’t what I expected. It is great but I think I was still recovering from the hard time in college and in Portland. I was just moving really quickly to try and get over things. But I did make a big print and it is hanging on the wall here at the Visual Art Exchange.
I do prints sometimes. The print is something good that came out of all of this. I think I make my art mainly when I am not happy. I don’t make art when I am happy. I was talking to my dad about this, “I haven’t been making much art but I have been happy.” “That is understandable,” he said. And he told me something that his mom or grandmother had said about never wanting a son to be a poet because they are very sad.
“Yeah,” I said, “It is kind of a nice sacrifice. It is nice to have art to go back to when I do get upset.”
Now I am working in a pottery studio outside of Asheville. I am trying to live in Asheville. Since I have graduated I haven’t stopped moving. Hopefully, Asheville will be the last stop until grad school because I would love to have a home for a bit.
Way back in the late 1960’s in the summers after my seventh and my eighth grade school years, I went to the most wonderful camp. It was in Canada on Manitoulin Island. It was called camp Adanac, which is Canada spelled backwards. I spent eight weeks on this island in the middle of Lake Huron and I was in a cabin with seven other kids and a counselor. It was a wonderful camp in a beautiful place with lots of great kids to hang out with.
I had become aware that every year they issued an award to a select number of campers called the Objiwong Award for an outstanding camper. Now me, with the low self-esteem I had back then, I thought I didn’t have a chance because, well, I just didn’t win these kinds of things. So, I go along my way not thinking much about it and as the summer progressed it came time to award the Objiwong to the winners. It was done in the middle of the night.
I went to bed one night and I am in my sleeping bag sound asleep and I am abruptly woken up by counselors who put a pillow case over my head and tell me to come with them. Now I heard that they came in the middle of the night to get you and my immediate thought was, “Oh my God, I won. I am one of the winners!” But I wasn’t sure of this pillow case over the face. I wanted to know where I was going but we were not permitted to know that.
They take us out of the cabin and I hear some other counselors and kids and we are all being herded together. So, with our guide, one by one we walked along the camp road. We came into a part of the camp road where the lake was coming up to the road. They made us get on our hands and knees and crawl through the water. We got up and they continued to move us along and then they took us through brush and made us walk through it. This was paying our dues like a fraternity hazing, but very mild.
After a long walk, they took us to a fire. I had no idea where we were. They had us line up in front of this fire and took our pillow cases off. There we were and there were long sticks with toilet paper wrapped around it, made into torches. The camp adults were standing there and the counselors were all there and I could see who the other kids were. And then we received a solemn speech from Mr. Roberts who told us how important this occasion was and how significant to have been selected for this award.
We then were led back to our cabins with the pillow cases over our heads to get our sleeping bags. Then we were led into the woods where we spent the night with just our bags and our pillow case to contemplate receiving this award. The pillow case was to cover us because there were many mosquitoes. My guide leads me on and on through thickets of brush and I am just wondering where I am and where I am going. We stop and the counselor said, “I want you to count to a hundred. Once you have counted to one hundred you can take the hood off. And you are going to stay here overnight and we will come and get you in the morning.”
I was like, “Oh My!” I was so excited and a little nervous about being in the woods all by myself. I was a kid and the bugs didn’t bother me so I got into sleeping bag, covered myself up with the pillow case and went to sleep. The next morning, they came and got me and I was sworn to silence. I was not allowed to talk until after lunch that afternoon. If we did we would lose our award.
On the way back to my cabin I am walking by myself and my brother James, who was there with me, was sitting on his cabin steps. And he asked me questions and I silently gestured that I couldn’t talk. He gets it immediately, “Oh, you won the Objiwong Award!” And then he does everything within his power to get me to talk. I prevailed through much frustration and amusement on his part. He could not get me to talk.
I get back to my cabin and all my cabin mates were asking where I had gone and what had happened to me. I gestured to them that I couldn’t talk. So, I remained silent through lunch and when lunch was over I was able to talk again. That night at our camp fire, in front of the whole camp, we were presented to the whole camp as the Objiwong Award winners of 1969. It was one of the greatest experiences of my early life.
Sam Wichman; Durham, North Carolina
A couple of years ago I had tons of anxiety. I just couldn’t do anything. Having my mom on the front porch and me inside, I couldn’t handle it. The fears were so irrational. The main one I can really remember would be my parents dying, or leaving me. Now I realize that it could happen but it is a one and a million chance. I couldn’t go to school for ages. I was terrified. I would ask to leave the classroom every five minutes. Dealing with my anxiety was like climbing a giant mountain. I went up and down then started to level out. I still have to go that much more.
After a while my mom said to me, “We could try this” and it was a psychologist I was like “Yes, anything that could help.” I went there and I was so happy because it helped so much. He talked sense. He introduced a thing called points.
There would be little rewards after you earn so many points, like go out for ice cream after 25 points. Things that might earn me points would be like being in my room while my mom was out on the back porch reading for 25 minutes would be like 10 points. As it grew easier for me we would lower the points to maybe more like seven and then to five then to three. Or we would up the point ratio, 50 points to go get ice cream instead of 25.
If I remember correctly, the highest points were 500. This earned me Sam is the Boss Day, within reason. They learned that pretty quickly after the first time. Within reason meant that we could go to like a fun park and or go out for dinner, maybe go out for ice cream. Now, we don’t do that anymore which is sad. But it worked, I loved it, I felt so much better. I could let my mom go on five block walks and I could just be home. I got quite a bit better at school but there was still that bit to go.
After a year my mom came up to me and said, “Sweetie, we have something else for you to try.” And that was going to a pharmacist and see about getting stress relief medicine. I still take that and that helped so much. But there was still more.
Now it is like a year or two later. My mom comes up to me again and says, “Honey, I have something else for you to try. I think this might be the last thing.” I said, “Well, what is it?” She said it is another type of medicine. It was a homeopathic remedy. Many people don’t believe in it but I personally do.
We went to see the doctor and we must have sat in there two hours just talking about what was wrong. Everything you can imagine we talked about. Eventually, he prescribed me with this treatment and he said, “Before I let you have this I want you to read what this remedy does.” So, I open this BIG book, it is gigantic. He flips to a page and reads off of it. It sounds just exactly like me. Nervous all the time, stressed, likes word and letter games, has trouble with reading, often has dyslexia. It said, and this was the thing which really pushed it over the top, doesn’t usually like chocolate. I was amazed, “That is me, that is exactly me!”
He says, “Okay, we can try it.” He gives me a little bottle and then I am out the door, it was hot in there. My mom stays to say good bye, I swear parents take forever to say good bye. They don’t know what a good bye is: “See you soon, Bye.” They take like half an hour to say that!
At any rate, he said to my mom, some people have amazing taste buds and they can taste what is in the remedy. It is like 98% water. I take it as soon as I get in the car. Three drops on the tongue like a baby bird. I make this horrible face, it tastes just like alcohol. By now we are out the driveway and we can’t turn back around and tell him. So, my mom emails him and says Sam says the remedy tastes like alcohol.
He responds, “That is really funny. That is what everyone who takes this remedy says it taste like if they don’t say it just tastes like water.” I have gotten more used to it, but I still don’t like it that much but if it helps me with my anxiety it is worth it. Now I am down the mountain so far with just a little left to go.
Of course, the anxiety will never go away. I am still scared of major field trips and by major, I mean like going bowling or starting school and of course just nightmares. But that is just really just amazing to me that three drops every three days made that much of a difference. And now I can go to camps and enjoy them. Every time I drive past this man’s house, his name is Hart, I always thank him from the bottom of my heart that he was able to make it so that I could enjoy summer camps.
Debra Wuliger, figurative artist working with color, texture and pattern to celebrate life.
Image silhouetted with story. Ready for hanging.