This story is about how I knew Fred Karboski was THE ONE. We had been dating about a year and one of our favorite things to do was to go out to a baseball game. You could go and sit in left field, it was gorgeous, it was cheap. We had made this plan to go to a game after I had finished my internship interview. So, I am working on my art portfolio to show this guy and I am on the third floor of the dorm and it was one of those really hot late Aprils, really hot. I was working at my desk and my head was killing me and I wondered what was wrong. I had a little drippy nose and I was burning hot so I thought I must be coming down with a cold or allergies.
I finished the portfolio and went to the interview and I still felt really sick and I thought, “Wow, these allergies are really bad.” After the interview, I called Fred all excited to go to the Indians game and the plan was after the game we were going to meet a bunch of his fraternity brothers for dinner. We are at the Indians game and the longer I sat there the more my head hurt and the more my eye hurt and the more my face hurt. I tell Fred, “I don’t feel so good can we go?”
This is Fred, “But we are winning! Can we just stay another inning?” I say okay and sit back down and I am holding my head. Fred would be cheering, “Yay we are winning!” and then he would look down at me and say, “Are you okay, honey?” and I would tell him I was fine but are we almost done? The ninth inning comes and we are so far ahead so he says, “Yes, I guess we could go.”
He takes me back to the dorm and the whole night I was getting sicker and sicker. In the morning, I look into the mirror and my right eye is swollen shut and black and blue. I call Fred up and I say,
“I need to go to the hospital. I don’t know what happened but my eye is swollen shut.” I am crying and he says, “I will be there to get you. I will come and get you.”
“Okay” I say. I look awful, I feel awful. Fred takes me to the University Hospital Emergency Room because that is where the college med center was. I am in there and they take me in, and I fill out paperwork and he stays with me but when they take me to the exam room he can’t come because we aren’t related, he is just my boyfriend. So, they take him into a different room to talk to him.
I have a very high fever but they keep trying to get me to tell them that Fred had beat me. I said, “You see my boyfriend, he is one of the sweetest guys you would ever meet and besides if he tried to hit me I would knock him down!” I come to find out that they were interviewing him about what had happened too.
After I had an MRI I was getting a little slap happy what with the fever, the pain and the waiting for hours but Fred stayed with me the whole time. Come to find out I had a severe sinus infection and needed to have it drained. I looked up at Fred and said, “Will you stay with me?” and he said, “Sure”
Fred, who was thinking of becoming a nurse, was like, “This is so cool!” when he was able to watch the whole procedure. In fact, he enjoyed the whole thing. He was rubbing my back and encouraging me as the sinus started to drain.
I asked him to call my parents because I was going to be admitted to the hospital. He did and told them what was going on and then he met them at my dorm and brought them over to the hospital. He made sure that they were fine and he stayed for a while.
The next day Fred was there first thing in the morning to check on me, asking questions. But it was when he called my parents for me and brought them to me and stayed with me through all the gross and disgusting procedures that is when I knew, “He is the one, he is the one I am going to marry.”
I met my best friend in preschool. My teacher, Mrs. Olp, was so much fun, she would play the guitar and we would sing. I had the morning class and we had four different sections at four different tables. Every day you had a different station. One day you would go to station one and the next day you would go to station two and each station was a play station where you would learn different things. At each table, you would have a helper and they would talk to you and help you with the different colors and the alphabet.
One day a new girl came and her name was Molly. At first, I just ignored her, she was a new person and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I usually didn’t talk to anyone, I just mainly played with the toys. One day we were both at the dress up station. Our favorite thing to do was to play house or Christmas. I don’t know why.
One morning I was dressing up as a reindeer because we wanted to play Santa coming down the chimney and Molly was dressing up as Santa. She came over to me and said, “You are my reindeer!” and I said, “I am your reindeer?” and she says, “Yeah, I am Santa and you are my reindeer and we are going to go down the chimney.” We had this little fake chimney we had set up with little fake blocks that we had stolen from another station.
It was supposed to be the night before Christmas and everyone was pretending to be asleep because Santa was coming soon and we needed to be asleep. Molly got this rope and tied it around my waist and said, “Now you are my reindeer, Go Go Go.”
After that we would play together at all the different stations until one day she was moved to the afternoon class. I had no one to be friends with and I kept wondering, “Where did Molly go?” Molly kept talking to her parents and telling them that she wanted to go back to the morning class because that is where her friends were. “That is where Maria is, she is one of my best friends,” she would say. So, they moved her back to the morning class and we were together again in preschool and we have been best friends ever since.
I am going to talk about my dad tonight. His name is Bishop Martin and he is the love of my life as far as a man goes. I have always loved him but we didn’t really get close until about twelve years ago. I was mad at him for my mother leaving and then I found out that it was not that way at all. They had an agreement but I blamed it on him. I felt bad about it.
He was born in 1935 and he has a total of seven children. I am the next to the youngest and I consider myself to be the black sheep of the family because he made me leave the house at 18. He didn’t make anyone else do that. I sort of started building walls up against my dad when my mom left when I was 14.
When my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer I did this really big self-examination. He came to me first to talk about his cancer and I was shocked. He told me he was getting treated and it was free. And it was free at first since it was a new medicine. It started working and the medicine shrunk the cancer but then they told him that he would have to pay for it.
He came to me and told me that he wasn’t going to get the treatment anymore because he couldn’t afford it. It was like a thousand dollars each time. I cried and I said, “Well, I will pay for it, we can all pitch in and pay for it.” And he said, “No I don’t want you to.” At that time, my kids were still at home. He just refused. He said he did not want to live out his days in diapers.
The miraculous thing about it, in 2009 he just started believing in God and this is exactly what he told me, he got close to God and started going back to church again. He started eating better and wasn’t taking any medicine. He was also diabetic. He would go and get a test and they would tell him Mr. Martin your cancer is shrinking miraculously. He is now 82 years old.
I dream of getting married again, you know, and I told him he couldn’t die until he walked me down the aisle. Now we talk every day and it is an emotional thing because when I was growing up he really didn’t give hugs. He took us out to the park and places way more than mom ever did but like the hugs and stuff I can’t recall any of that.
We hug now. He calls me every day and I call him every day and it is great. All those feelings that I had that were negative towards him were not real. I should have never been thinking of that. What I learned was you should always get the roots of a story before you get a bad feeling or decide to not like something about a person. We have the best relationship now and I am glad he is 82.
The title of this is Language and Languages because I have loved languages for as long as I can remember, in fact even further back from when I can remember. I was born in France and my first language was French. I did not speak a word of English until we arrived in England when I was just past three years old. I didn’t understand English so I got dropped into the local nursery school, with Nanny Snell, and no French was spoken there. I remember her as being very scary. That is where I learned English and never another word of French was spoken in our house.
When I was seven years old and in elementary school we started learning French and I was completely in heaven. The things that I loved then and that I have always loved when learning a new language were learning the conjugations and vocabulary. Everything sorting itself out like a jigsaw puzzle which I also love. French lessons just flowed for me – I had a feeling of this is right and this is not right. So, I studied French for ten years, all the way through finishing high school. I did Latin for ten years at school too. I could only do two languages at a time but somehow at some point when I was in high school I also got to do some German and some classical Greek and a bit of Italian. Whenever anyone offered me a chance to learn another language I was always, “Yes, I will do it.’
After majoring in Russian studies in University I spent time working in France and became fluent once again. Then when I was close to forty I picked up a bible for the first time in ages and the first thing I think is, ”HMMM, I wonder what it says in the original?” That is what came to me. So, a few years go by and I eventually end up in seminary when I was forty-five. I was going to do two years of a master’s degree, I didn’t even really know what a master’s degree was, but it seemed like a good idea. I would get to learn Greek and Hebrew and sort out a bit of theology and then I thought I would go back to work.
As it happened I spent ten years in seminary and grad school. I was completely hooked. In seminary, I did Greek. They would cram the whole of your first year of language into six weeks. So, you were completely immersed in it. I did biblical Greek. It was great, it was a blast. I hadn’t studied a language for over twenty years and I was completely overjoyed with it. But I will say that learning Greek didn’t make a large difference in the way I saw the New Testament.
Then came the second summer and Hebrew studies. The first day of Hebrew we came to class having learned the alphabet. That was a pre-requirement. The teacher flashes up on the board a photo copy of the Hebrew bible and had us read it. And we read it and he had us sound out the part of the story of the binding of Isaac. We sounded it out, “Take your son. Your only son. The one you love. Isaac.” It took us about ten minutes to sound this out and by the end of it I was crying. I mean, you can read that and people do all the time and you just gloss over it. But when you read it that slow – I saw the enormity of it and that God said it in four different ways so that there could be no doubt in Abraham’s mind who God was talking about.
That was day one. By day two the entire seminary knew that Liz Gilson was studying Hebrew. I was just so excited that I was sharing with everyone I met. Because I was completely, completely in love with it and every single day in class the teacher would have us translate something or show us something or talk about a particular word that had been mistranslated over the centuries and it just blew me out of the water. From that time to this I have never seen the Old Testament the same way.
So, here is a copy of a page of my Hebrew bible. It is Psalm 121 and it happens – I have just been reading it again this week – there is one word that appears six times in that psalm. But only in the Hebrew. In English, it doesn’t. The word in Hebrew is “shamar” it means to protect, to care for, to guard, to keep in safety. I had always been told that the reason the Old Testament was so boring was because those old Hebrews just didn’t have a large vocabulary. What I discovered was that Hebrew is an incredibly rich language and that the Old Testament is full of plays on words and fun things with language and the juxtaposition of chapters and verses and passages and even books is completely intentional. I had never seen it before. And to this day, if they want someone to read at church, I always say, “Please let me read the Old Testament.” Because I can hear and be reminded of what is happening in the Hebrew.
I always wanted to be an artist. I always was an artist to tell you the truth. My earliest memories before kindergarten was growing up in San Jose, California and the neighbor kid who lived a few houses up from me. I would be at his house hanging out and we always drew and painted together. I remember they had standard poodles and he had match box cars and you know how they would give those poodles those fake fancy haircuts? We would pretend they were roads and we would drive the little matchbox cars on the roads.
His name was Matthew and we painted side by side all through kindergarten and I worked on painting every single day with an odd seriousness. And if you look in my studio right now you will see that there is a space and a table and a chair and an easel for someone to come and paint with me. And I always have this space for someone to come and paint with me and it has just been that way for my whole life.
I went to Catholic schools and I didn’t really get a lot of art but I learned to work really hard. One time, though when I was in seventh grade somebody said, “Do you want to do art?” I said, “Yeah!” So, they told me to go upstairs to room so in so and I was, “All right.”
So, I go up there to do some art. What it was was a bunch of construction paper and you know how teachers put these letters up on their bulletin boards? I was supposed to trace them off and cut out the letters. So, I decided I was going to make my own letters. I was going wild on this, man, thinking these are great! This is like, “What do you want straight letters for? I am going to give you some letters!”
I made up my whole alphabet, and I am cutting them out and everything and my friend, Theresa, who is still my friend to this day, goes, “Jane, you are going to get in trouble.” And I am like, “What for?”
Theresa says, “You are not supposed to do that. Look here is the pattern, you trace the pattern and you cut them out.” I knew it but that sucks! I was making my own. Then this nun comes around and she is checking everyone’s work and she comes up to me and she goes, “These are great! These are wonderful!” and she loved my letters. That was great. So, I look at my friend Theresa, like “MMMMHMM… “and I just kept making them.
As I went on in school I heard all the time that you couldn’t make a living doing art. Oddly I would hear it from people who loved me dearly but not my parents, they never said I couldn’t be an artist, they never discouraged me or anything. I remember my senior year in high school was when I took my first art class. I got a lot of encouragement for being a really good artist but I never really did see it. I was always kind of like hot shit with the art.
I was determined to make it. I paid my own way through school. I was on my own the minute I got that high school diploma. I ran away from home many times when I was younger and I stayed away for months at a time. I stayed away for seven months once and I didn’t miss a day of school. Well, I did, what am I saying? I used to get to the end of the week and if I hadn’t missed a day I would take Fridays off. I did that. The point is that I got my high school diploma because I knew I had to have it. I knew I was going to do something with my life. I knew it.
I was sitting in my studio one day. I have notebooks where I draw but I mostly just write my thoughts and I am writing my thoughts down and it hit me, “Look at how far you have come with this art.” I have come from my early childhood until now and I have never stopped. I remember just writing this in a book and I wrote this: ‘Jane the universe has made a space for you. Step into it.’ It was like my higher self was writing to my lower self. And I said, “Okay!"
From then on, I notice every now and then that there is a parting and the Universe has made a space for me. And if I don’t step into it, it closes back up. And I never let it close back up. I see this opening for other people. I see the opportunity for them to advance in a certain way and they don’t take it because of fear of some sort and I think, “Huh, maybe it is a priority thing but I wouldn’t have missed that.” But I will step into it and I will own it. It is mine because the Universe gave it to me. It parted and it is just a spot for me to step into. And every single time that happens I won’t miss it.
How do you recognize it? It is just there. People say it is hard work. I don’t know why I have worked so hard, it is just something I had to do. Now I need three hundred more years for what I feel I can put out. This is the quickening now. That I can really put it out. I can do it, I will do it and I am going to do it.
I am Jane Filer and Jane Filer is this thing, this thing. It is not me. It is an entity all its own that the Universe formed but it wanted life and it plugged into me and I gave it life. It has got everything it needs to stand on its own two feet long after I leave this planet. I am making the highest quality art that I have in my being to make and I know that the deeper I go into myself the more I can find and the deeper I go into that new depth, that new instinctive insight, that blithering genius that every single person on this planet has in them if you are willing to go there. Which is scary. And I feel scared and I say to myself, “Jane, don’t you dare be afraid of your power. Do it, Do it.”
And you know what this does? It causes inspiration and what does inspiration do but make the human race better. To go into positive good places. We’ve got a lot in us that is beautiful and it is good and it perpetuates itself. It is really cool.
Once upon a time I used to live in the Brooks Mountain Range near the Gates of Artic National Park in Alaska. It is some good ways inside the Arctic Circle and one of northern most parts of the world. It is a land unto itself. It is the definition of wildness and wilderness. I stepped out of the van and I felt I was in the wild and that is what I wanted.
This journey started when I graduated from Warren Wilson College in May of 2009 and decided that I really wanted to see some wilderness. I had this deep, deep craving for wilderness. I don’t know where it came from. Maybe it came from working for so many years with cultivated land and farming and I just wanted to experience the opposite end, the wild natural way the land is when humans don’t intervene. I wanted to believe that there was still land left in this world that was untouched by humans. I felt like I could find this way up north.
So, I went on line and I said, “Hmmmm what can I do up there?” So, I typed in some google searches, Work Extreme Alaska; Rural Alaska; Artic Alaska, and I came up with a company that basically operates a small tourist industry in the heart of the Gates of the Artic in a place called Coldfoot, Alaska. The company has two purposes. The first is wilderness tourism, where people can come up and safely enter the wilderness and then leave in a day. It is also has a 24-hour diner and a truck stop called Coldfoot to service the trucks that run from Fairbanks to the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay. A four-hundred-mile trip.
The diner and tire shop are right on the ice road, about two hundred miles along the Dalton Highway. From October through March this road is completely covered in ice, solid blocks of ice. The trucks have special tires, special chains and well trained drivers. It is very, very dangerous to drive on in the winter but in the summer, it is gravel.
Coldfoot is where I lived and worked for about nine months. I became their first female tire mechanic. I got the job because I had a lot of farming and mechanical experience, working on and driving tractors and heavy equipment. I had originally applied for a job being waitress in the diner but when they interviewed me they said, “We actually have a different job in mind for you, we want you to our first ever female tire mechanic, a maintenance technician.”
I said, “What does a maintenance technician do?” They said, “Well, when the truck drivers come through and they need a tire change on their big eighteen-wheeler rig, you would be the one to change the tire. You also will drive the equipment around the compound, take care of the garbage, lawns and outdoor maintence.
I was like, “Sweet, this sounds like an outdoor job and I don’t want to be a waitress.” I would have done just about anything to get me up there. I lived in a three-season tent. It was like a canvas army tent with a wooden platform and inside there was a cot. I lived there from May through early November and I left right before Thanksgiving. It was cold by then
So, I became the first female tire mechanic and I have these pictures of me where you can barely see my head next to the truck. There is this huge truck and I have these jacks and I have jacked up the truck and I am under it and it is all full of oil and it is so heavy. I am under there thinking, “Wow, I am really glad my mom can’t see me right now. She would have a heart attack!”
I was able to spend all my free time out in the wilderness. I quickly found a hiking buddy named Sarah. You have to have a hiking buddy because up in the wilderness there is no one anywhere, no one will hear your call, scream, nothing. You are completely one hundred percent dependent on yourself when you go out there. It is just smart, if someone gets hurt or lost that other person can go for help. You just need some other person there to help you navigate the wilderness.
There are no hiking trails so the only way you can hike is to buy a topographical map of a region you want to hike in. This map is an up close, detailed map of the rivers, the elevation changes, the names of the different mountains, rock faces. A lot of the gold mines are on the map and it is the only way to get around. There is one road which runs through the mountain range and as soon as you get off that road you need this map to bushwhack your way through and figure out where you want to go. Hiking was however you wanted it to be, you just stepped off the road and it was wide open.
My hiking buddy and I hiked up a mountain which took us three days to reach the top. We each liked to be alone so we were perfect hiking buddies. At the top of the mountain we immediately dispersed to different parts of the mountain top to take it all in by ourselves.
Once there I was standing in the clouds and I could see these incredible expanses of clouds and past that were mountain ranges and past that there were more mountain ranges and past that there was sky and then there was nothing. No human made form, no human made sound, no human made anything. It was just me and my friend Sarah, the sky, the clouds, the mountains.
This wide-open wilderness was the most amazing part and it has stayed with me from the moment I experienced it and it stays with me daily. There is just this incredible feeling of insignificance. Really you are so small and so tiny, just a tiny breath of wind which is so fleeting in this vast, vast landscape that runs and works in its own tunes and rhythm. You realize that you have no purpose there other than to watch and see and observe. If you were to get snuffed out just like that, the wildness would just keep on going and no one would know the difference. It was a really incredible feeling to feel so small.
It sounds like a depressing thought but it isn’t at all. It is an exhilarating and a freeing feeling to not have to be important or have to do something important in your life. Instead, to make my life meaningful and important to me is enough. I felt so swallowed up by creation, I felt like I touched God.
Debra Wuliger, figurative artist working with color, texture and pattern to celebrate life.
Image silhouetted with story. Ready for hanging.