Object Dar't

November 27, 2013

The Art of Latkes....

For two weeks, I have been racking my brain what to get Tom and Reva for a Chanukah gift. With every store that I hit, I just couldn’t find anything that seemed appropriate. Tom and Reva are rare people so you can’t just buy them a Snuggie and expect that it would do the relationship justice. These are the kind of people who deserve nothing but the most astounding of gifts. And for good reason.
Two years ago, I fled my home as a result of a domestic violence incident in the midst of what has been a horrific divorce. Tom and Reva took me AND my three children into their fold. Not only did we live with them for almost an entire year, but they immediately (and instinctively) took on the role of grandparents for my children. They also took on the role of Mom, Dad, friend, protector, adviser and cheerleader for me; all at a time when the 4 of us were at our most vulnerable and frankly - messy. And they barely knew us. It has turned out, bar none, to be the most profound experience of what human beings can truly be to each other. Together, we forged ourselves into the whole and loving family that I’d intended when I gave birth to my first child. And it is the sole responsibility of Tom and Reva because without them, we would not be as we are now.
For those of you who don’t know Tom and Reva, let me introduce you.
Aren't they beautiful?
Reva is a computer professional with a brain that’s sharper than a razor. Even at 60 something, she on top of her game. But that’s such a teeny part of her. She is a breathtaking tapestry; earthy, utterly kind but doesn’t take any bunk, so deeply thoughtful about the human condition and what others are experiencing, so willing to see the positives in others, celebratory of life and thoughtful of death, fully accepting of others, a whiz with money, an AMAZING mother and a tireless volunteer for whatever she believes in. For 2 years, she has volunteered her time and energy to bringing a fiber optic network to Western Mass through Wired West. That fight probably has several more years to it even. And yet, not once was she ever too busy to nurse my internal wounds or spend time with my kids or whip up a wonderful dinner for all of us. She truly humbles me and I mean this from the bottom of my toes – I hope someday I am just like her.   
Tom is a fellow artist – his art is photography. He has the tender soul and unusual world-eye-view that all artists possess. He is a little slip of a teddy bear that wears the funniest hats, the boldest/brightest shirts and a habit of shuffling around in his slippers like a little kid. He has in his life been a pacifist, a conscientious objector who has admittedly spent time in the “pokey”, a stay-at-home Dad, a teacher of sorts and a lumber yard worker. And like Reva, he is a tireless volunteer for the things he believes in. He is a man who will without a moment’s hesitation or question, give you the shirt off his back. And he is absolutely my partner in crime. If you pick up a banana and answer it like a phone then tell him, “it’s for you!”, he is the only person I know who will take the call and have an entire (and FUNNY!) conversation with the imaginary person on the other line. But my favorite thing about him is his dancing. You can’t help but be in awe then. He completely diverts from any “standard operating procedure” and dances with a wild abandon that I’ve never seen before. So much so that you can’t even tell if he’s on beat! But it doesn’t matter one lick because that beautiful child within him refuses to be contained when music is present. And all you can do is watch, riveted and smiling from the inside out. It’s a joy to behold another human being so happy, so free. It goes right to your core.
The dancing man!
So you can see why no ordinary present would do for Chanukah. My solution; this post is my present. My Chanukah present to you Tom and Reva is that the whole world should know what utterly amazing human beings you are. That you be celebrated loudly. I have no clue at all how I got so lucky but there isn’t a moment that I draw breath that I don’t give great thanks for the two of you. You took an almost broken woman and her 3 hurting cubs and not only turned them into happy, healed people but you gave them the gift of a FAMILY. You are in fact the reason I believe in good people.
ALL my love now and forever….now let's eat some of your yummy latkes!  

My Chanukah gift to readers is simple: I hope you too stumble upon people like Tom and Reva. I hope you find good, loving strangers who catch you when you stumble or fall because these are the people who will add to your life - not subtract. Happy Chanukah!

November 25, 2013

The Art of Banking

My Dad passed away a couple years ago. My Dad was an epic man; 6 feet tall, thick bones, massive hands that could crush and a aura that could bring a room to a halt. He was unbelievably smart yet uneducated, painfully sensitive yet withdrawn and possessed a set of ethics that I’ve yet to see rivaled in another human being. He wanted to be so many things but kept himself in his own words as "just a grease monkey." The quick synopsis; he grew up in a horrifically abusive home in the slums of Worcester under a single Mother who delivered regular beatings (with a cast iron skillet) and indignities that would have killed an ordinary soul. Somehow, he managed not only to survive it all but survive relatively sane. The result, however, was a man with emotional scar tissue so deep and thick that it was impenetrable. He was emotionally unavailable to any human being including his wife and daughter.

La Muerta (for my Dad), Copyright Denyse Dar 2011

When he passed though, something became painfully clear to me. My Dad didn’t want to ever hurt anyone but he also saw the world as an awful place that you needed to protect yourself from in order to survive. If I had a nickel for every time that man tried to coax me into toughening up and not being so “naive”, I’d be FILTHY rich! His strategy was to stay in neutral and slip under the radar. Mind your business, keep your chin tucked to your chest and be ready to swing if cornered. As a result, his life ended in nothingness. We had a memorial for him. It was painful because no one remembered him. The people who came, came to support my children and I. But it was clear, he’d literally made no contribution or impression upon the world around him. No one missed him and it was just a case of “oh that’s too bad.” So that wonderful, pained man shrank himself into such a small ball that he left this world with nothing more than a tiny “poof.”  
Untitled, Copyright Denyse Dar 2011
What an awful ending for a human being; to have been so insignificant as to not even be noticed when you are gone. It’s painful to be his child and have that as his legacy. Especially knowing the rare greatness that existed in my Dad. But I learned in my father’s death that we each get out of life exactly what we put in. Maybe that’s akin to the concept of karma – I don’t know? But I DO know now, and have seen in my own life, that we absolutely get back tenfold whatever we put out. Like a bank account! And it’s all very fair and matter of fact. It’s just always our choice what we will contribute, if anything. With my Dad, because he put nothing in, he got nothing out. And I take real issue with all that. Because he had no right to complain the world was a crappy place when he didn’t do a single thing to add anything good to it. I saw it as irresponsible. If he thought the world was such a crapola place then frankly he should have bellied up. He bellied up to pull himself out of the slums. He bellied up to provide his kid with a stable home. So why didn’t he belly up in this instance?
Copyright Denyse Dar 2011
I learned so much from my Dad while he was living. He is where my art comes from and my ethics and even some of my very annoying faults. But I learned much, much more from his dying. He used to say to me that it was the natural order of things to do a little better than your parents. I took that to heart. I refuse to go out with a pathetic poof. And I refuse to be an armchair quarterback complaining about this world. For 6 years now, I have been making daily deposits into this “bank account”; something good, something positive, something loving. In my personal life, I do whatever I can, no matter how small. Whether I am being supportive to someone who is feeling down or leaving something yummy in a friend’s mailbox because I know they cook for 1 or are sick; I’m at least doing SOMETHING. Even my work is a form of making a deposit. And as a result, in 6 years, the world has changed drastically in my eyes. It’s a little softer, a lot kinder and so unbelievably rich. I hope when I leave, that I’m remembered for my deposits. I may not have started out so great but dammit, I left on a high note. More importantly though, I hope I leave behind 3 little souls who will follow the natural order of things and do a little better than their Mom and Grandad. It will mean that I was a smart banker – I started with 1 but invested well and turned my investment into 3. ;)  

November 19, 2013

The Art of Waitressing

When I was in college, I worked as a waitress. The job title of waitress does NOT have one modicum of power, prestige or even respect. And in the beginning, I didn’t respect what I did either. On days I made no money, I was pissed. I had bills and tuition to pay. On days I made money, I felt relieved because I wouldn’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul. My approach to this “job” was the same as every other waitress. We all strolled in early in the morning with the attitude of “yeah, let’s get this shit over so we can go home.” The basic tenet was that people are assholes. And some of them were. But most of them were just faceless, nameless folks who you hoped would tip you well.

Now, I don’t know about the other waitresses, but in my brain this was a very temporary gig. However, the joke was on me. It turned out to be a gig that I was stuck in for a long time. And man, was I frustrated. I just couldn’t understand it. WTF. I have a big fat brain and all kinds of skills so why didn’t I have a job that utilized those skills and paid me decent money?? My parents weren’t helping matters either. My mother would say with a sneer, you’re just a “waitress” as if it were a 4-letter word. The phrase, “What are we raising waitresses here?” became a pathetic joke within the family. My Dad would constantly pressure me, “just get a job somewhere – ANYWHERE - and work your way up.” Ugh. My guts would scream every time he said that to me. Couldn’t he see I was killing myself trying? Couldn’t he see that I was utterly desperate to have a job I felt was both worthy AND compensated me well? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I seem to do the very basic things that everyone else seems able to do?

At a certain point, my gut started to answer me and I didn’t like the answer I was receiving. There was a lesson in this job for me and until I got the lesson, I was NOT going anywhere.

Previously, when people sat down at a table of mine, like every other waitress I knew, I’d lump them very quickly into “good tipper” or “bad tipper” categories. But then it dawned on me; what a horrible thing that is to do to people. You shouldn’t shove people into little boxes based upon what kind of money you THINK they will give you for the job you do. I didn’t want them lumping me into the little box titled “waitress” so why was I doing similar to them? Maybe the lesson I wasn’t getting actually had something to do with people and not money?  

That was one of those pivotal moments when a single epiphany sends everything spinning. I decided to forget about the money. Screw it – it couldn’t get any worse. So I started focusing on these people. What would happen if instead of just slinging hash at these folks, I instead treated them like human beings? Who was sitting at my table? What was their story? What did I have to learn from these people? And WHY were they in my station?

So it began. Each time someone was seated at one of my tables, I didn’t just walk up and give them the standard monotone, “Hello, my name is Denyse. I’m going to be your server today. The specials are blah blah blah.” I’d said it so many times that it was hollow. I was tired of talking at people. So instead, I’d saunter up, say hi and ask how they were doing as if I were making new friends. And I meant it! And they knew it. And guess what? I discovered that a LOT of these people were seriously amazing. They inspired and interested me. But I also had a job to do. I figured out that if I was going to spend all this time talking with people, I’d better figure out how to be more efficient at the waitressing part because the talking part was sucking up a LOT of time. Talking was not what I was getting paid to do. So instead of going to a table, asking what they needed and running back to get it – I’d hit ALL the tables, make one trip back for all the stuff and then disperse it as I made my chatty rounds. Meanwhile, all the other waitresses were doing the same old routine of one table at a time. Somehow I’d figured out how to do the same job with half the effort. The bonus was that the remaining half time was so enjoyable! I quit strolling into work in the mornings thinking, “yeah let’s get this shit over” and started thinking “OOOOoooo I wonder who I’m going to meet today!”

After a few months, I got pretty damn good at both caring for my customers and waitressing. As a result, my income began to rise. A LOT. Huh? Ok so hold the phone. I’m the same person, working in the same place which means nothing about my income potential had changed. And yet it had. Whatever I was doing, it was making a difference. I wasn’t hating my job and it wasn’t even remotely painful to pay my rent or tuition. Well that just egged me on even further.

Because I was expanding my awareness of other people, I started noticing that many of my customers arrived stressed out and in a bad mood. Now that’s probably the single most bothersome thing for me. At my core, I can’t stand to see people unhappy. I’ve been there and I literally don’t want anyone else to be there. So I started a game with myself. I decided to see every customer who came in contact with me that was in a bad or neutral mood, as a challenge. This may sound Pollyanna but it was my secret mission to turn the frowns upside down. I decided that every person I took care of had to leave with a smile. Holy shit did that blow the doors off everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. It not only turned my entire belief system upside down but proved that people desperately want to be happy. And because it’s so rare for a stranger to give the gift of happiness, boy they never forget you.

One morning, at 6am, a truck driver came in for coffee. He looked pretty chewed up. Being on the road, away from those he loved, driving endlessly through all the road rage – it took a toll on his soul and he clearly had no way to wash that off. This was a man who like me 6 months prior was thinking about his day ahead as, “yeah, let’s get this shit over.” He plunked down in my booth in a withdrawn mood, rubbed his eyes and asked for coffee. I got him coffee. But I also spent 50 cents to buy him the morning newspaper and asked if he’d like to read it. It was a small thing but he looked more shocked than if a second head had just burst out of my belly. As I watched him process it all mentally, I asked him how he was doing. And I meant it. I really wanted to know and I really wanted to help him remove some of whatever was weighing him down. So for a few minutes, I stood there with a pot of coffee in my hand and just talked with him. Mainly, I listened but every now and then I’d steer him toward some sort of “positive” because he wasn’t seeing it on his own. When I knew he was in a neutral place mentally, then I let him enjoy the morning paper as the sun rose and shone through those big windows. Nothing beats greeting the day like that – a warm cup of coffee, the rising sun and the leisure to read. It was a good moment and I knew it because this man, who’d arrived to me in such rough shape, was leaving renewed and SMILING. I said goodbye to him, wished him a great day and went back to work as he went to pay his 69 cent bill. About 5 minutes later, I went back to clean the table and there for a tip was a $20 bill. A $20 tip for a 69 cent bottomless cup of coffee? And then the cash clerk came to me to relay a message. My customer asked for the manager so that he could tell him what an amazing and invaluable employee I was. Wow. Just wow. The man only got a cup of coffee but apparently it was the best cup of coffee he’d ever had.

It wasn’t too long after that, I was at my folks house again. And, like clockwork, my mother made a dig about me “just being a waitress.” And without even thinking, I replied, “I may be just a waitress, but I’m the best damn waitress you ever met. And the proof is in the fact that I make just as much money in 3 days as you do at your shitty job for 5 days after 13 years there. So you keep going on about how I’m “just a waitress” while I laugh my ass all the way to the bank.” She didn’t make another waitress joke ever.  

I have to tell you that I look back on my days as a waitress now with such fondness. I would absolutely do it all over again. If I’d had to live my life as a waitress, I would have done it gladly. It was the first time in my life that I truly felt connected to others. Not a single person thought I was a freak and not one person ever rejected my kindness. In fact, I had a lot of people thank me and express that it was a treat to spend that time with me. What it wound up doing for me on a personal level was that I discovered a work ethic in myself that I didn’t know I possessed. But more than that, I got the lesson and when I no longer cared at all, my life got to move forward. I understood that when we go along being concerned only with our own problems and misery, we’re trapped and go nowhere. As soon as I turned my focus off my own misery and onto to others (even in the smallest of ways), everything started to fall into place; a good place. No a GREAT place because as it turns out; all these things in life are somehow connected. Now instead of just painting a restaurant happy, I get to paint the whole world happy. It’s a wonderful thing!  

November 14, 2013

The Art of Seeing

I am often told about my paintings, “I wish I saw the world like that.” Well, let’s talk about that because it’s important! If it weren’t then I wouldn’t be told that constantly. My paintings somehow make a difference for people. I won’t pretend I understand. I don’t. The experience of being a creator versus an observer is diametrically different. But apparently, the way I view the world is something that others need. And I am all about passing that on. So, if you’ve wound up here, it’s not by mistake. You are someone, who for whatever reason, needs to see differently.


Do you REALLY want to see the world the way I do? It’ll take some change on your part; a shift in perception and a smidgen of practice. That is if you really want to see what I see. I’m hoping you do because honestly; the world is breathtaking. No, I’m not talking about that waterfall in the rainforest. I’m talking about the common, every day world; the people you live near, the things that surround you. We’re supposed to see the world this way. The result is waking up each morning with a joy and wonder about what you will see and do that day. It’s the reason my work calls to you. Why we’ve taught each other otherwise is an utter mystery (and frankly a real shame) to me.

So how did I get here? I took 2 drawing classes in college. And it changed my life. Not because I was drawing or because technical information was being passed on to me but because my professor taught me how to really SEE. You can’t draw accurately (which was the goal) unless you can stop your brain long enough so that your eyes can see and then your hand put it down on paper. I call this the process of "new eyes." I admit though, I took this skill to a different level but we'll get to that part later.

The process is simple. First, you have to acknowledge the fact that as you are going along, you’re not really paying attention. Your brain does a quick scan and fills in a LOT of information. (btw..there’s a ton of information, studies and tests out there that will prove this to you.) And it’s all based on past experience. Experiences which then become your belief system about the world around you. So, in reality, you are seeing what you (and your brain) want you to see. The problem is, you can’t gain a fresh perspective when you are dragging along every assumption from the past.    

So what if you changed your gaze slightly? What if you really paid attention? What if you didn’t allow your brain to just automatically fill in all this information? What if you looked at every day objects with new eyes that had no previous information or experience? How would things look differently? What details would you find that your old eyes would have missed?

I’ll illustrate. Here are some photos I just took from my yard. Nothing profound here. You see this kind of scene every day which is why I chose them.

Here’s a pine tree in my back yard. Your brain is telling you, “Yeah, it’s a tree. Whoppdie do. Tall, straight, green n brown. Blah blah.” It tells you that because it’s simplifying everything for you into black and white. (And I mean that both literally and metaphorically.) But close your eyes, hit the mental reset button and look CLOSELY. The tree is certainly tall but it’s definitely not straight. It’s shaped like a “Y.” And there’s beautiful color there! The arrow on the left points to a section of the tree that is actually a deep shade of magenta. The arrow on the right points to a section that is purple. Holy crap – it’s not actually a straight brown tree at all. More importantly, how do you feel about this silly leaning tree now that you can acknowledge it's not brown and boring? 

Next is the dead hydrangea bush in my front yard. Again, your brain will tell you, “brown and straight.” But again, look closely at all the stalks. What color are they truly? There’s an awful lot of red and orange in those stalks. Hey, they’re not actually brown! And look at the sense of movement in the stalks that are leaning and curving. Your brain skips over all of that and just tells you things it thinks it already knows. 


Now here comes the kicker; the next level. The truth is, I go through every day operating upon the absolute assumption that I don’t know doodly-squat about jack-diddly. After all, at one time, I didn’t know the pine tree was magenta and purple. So I asked myself what other things I could have been seeing inaccurately. It turns out; A LOT! So, now I don’t just apply the “new eyes” principle to what I’m seeing. I also apply it to what I’m experiencing. And by doing so, I see the world the way I paint it; as beautiful, sunny, colorful and soooooo whimsically funny. Isn’t that preferable to the world you’ve been seeing?

My Welcome to Warwick, MA painting is a perfect example. Those chickens in the road...they're real. They are actual chickens - the Killay's chickens - and they run around on Main Street all the time. They're sassy chickens too. They move for no one. Well except the Fed Ex man which is why there's a truck in my painting. Now there are one of two ways to look at this chicken scenario. One way would be to get completely pissy about not being able to get to the Town Hall in a hurry without being a chicken killer. The second would be to see the absolute humor in these fearless chickens who have the power to stop ordinary men smack dab in the middle of the road AND to acknowledge how freaking funny it is that they only scurry for the Fed Ex man. It's your brain's choice which of those two outlooks it will hold. 

So here’s what I learned to ask myself; what if the world isn’t what you think it is? If a pine tree isn’t actually straight and brown, then maybe the world isn’t a shitty place either. Maybe the world isn’t full of assholes that are out to screw and hurt others? What if it’s actually full of kind and good people, who have been taught and now operate on the belief that they need to protect themselves? And what if your brain is filling in information that isn’t really accurate? What if every time you meet someone, your brain is saying “this is a human and getting close or being kind to them could wind up with you getting hurt” and uses each time you do get hurt to say, “see I told you so!” Then you’d suddenly have a whole belief system around human beings as hurtful. But what if..just what if…you started to look at others as possibilities instead of liabilities? What would happen? How would your life change?

For me, it’s become very easy to reach out to others and connect. I simply do it with no expectation that anything - not even kindness - be returned. And the way my heart feels when I do (even when it has a negative outcome); wow. I also see a change in others when I interact with them from this fresh perspective. They blossom! Sometimes I am touched to the core by our exchange. Other times, I feel so proud that I made a difference. And trust me – being a positive experience for other human beings really does make a difference. It gives them hope and a sneaking suspicion that world might not be a completely sucky place after all. Yeah, I get hurt. Not very often, but it happens. So what. I’m strong and healthy enough to heal. The blessings of a whimsical and beautiful world have the power to heal those hurts very quickly. So try to SEE. Watch what happens. You have little to lose (and I mean that literally because the belief that the world is a shitty, colorless, cold place is nothing worth holding onto) and everything to gain.