"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Friday, May 30, 2008

the lanyard

My son-in-law, Sam, writes a blog. He educates me in the ways of poetry on that blog, featuring poems on a regular basis by some poets I’ve heard of and others I have not. This one by Billy Collins has stayed stuck in my mind ever since Sam shared it a few days ago:

"The Lanyard

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past --
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift--not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even."

This made me think a lot about Mama Rosemary, the woman who has dedicated her life to hundreds of African children, most of whom have lost their parents to war or to HIV/AIDS. Day in and day out, Rosemary gives all she has to give to make it possible for these children to have food, clothing, shoes, shelter, education, love and encouragement. I admire her. We have become friends; she prefers saying we are sisters. She calls me Mama Gloria – I call her Mama Rosemary. We are the same age, and we are married to men who are the same age, men who are equally committed to these children. She works on the ground 24/7 getting dirty hands, a tired back and sore feet as she gives these kids their only real shot at survival. I work from my kitchen office to raise money and awareness so she can continue. The children like to say they have two mamas now.

Rosemary and Otim, a child at the orphanage

I don’t know what Rosemary receives in terms of material gifts from the orphans. I imagine they must make her a drawing or a necklace every now and then. As for me, I get wrinkled, smeared and smudged letters of thanks. I have received drawings and little beaded bracelets. The handmade presents that make their way from Uganda to my doorstep in Kansas City are as precious as anything anyone has ever bestowed upon me. They are my lanyards, I guess, and, just as with handmade gifts from my own two children, Abbie and Max, they really do make everything “even” (although I am not measuring.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

new friend/new name

There are letters that arrive from the orphanage that warm our hearts and some that make us cry and some that just plain old make us grin from ear to ear. Melissa recently received one that did all of the above. It was from Doreen, one of the little ones who wiggled her way into each of our lives in quite a memorable fashion.

In her six-year-old scrawl, she informed Melissa that she had changed her named from Doreen to Doreen Melissa.

Coincidentally, just before that letter arrived, Melissa sent me a note telling me that part of her heart was in Africa and she really needed to return and that I could put her name on the list for the next trip.

When I think about the connections that have been made and the lives that have been changed, it really truly takes my breath away.

Monday, May 26, 2008

change the truth update

The next two weeks will be really busy, as we are coming into the homestretch for the Change the Truth fundraising event and the exhibition of my new Ugandan work.

First up, the fundraiser. Hopefully, by now, all of you who live in KC area have marked your calendars for June 12th and are planning to attend! The event will be at the Screenland Theatre from 5 to 8 PM. You will be treated to a silent auction, Lynne Melcher’s film, African dancing and drumming (by the kids from Operation Breakthrough), movie snacks, a cash bar and a “store” full of cool stuff like African crafts and Change the Truth note cards, posters, caps, t-shirts and canvas tote bags. The silent auction will consist of 75 framed paintings and drawings made by the children from St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood, which, by the way, are absolutely beautiful.

The next night, June 13th, will be the opening reception for my exhibition at the Leopold Gallery from 6 -9 PM. As he did last year, Paul Dorrell, owner of the gallery, will donate a percentage of each print sale to Change the Truth. It’s a generous commitment on his part, and I am grateful to him for his ongoing support. Again, I hope those of you who live in the area will try to get by and see the show.

All of this hard work is paying off! We have managed to bring in consistent donations over these past few months to fulfill the ongoing promise we made to help pay for school fees and food. I recently received two thick spiral bound notebooks from Rosemary, director of St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood, full of receipts, grade cards and thank you letters that account for everything right down to the penny and that should make each of us who have donated our time and/or our money feel very good about the assistance we’re providing.

I have asked Rosemary for a “wish list” of larger projects that we may be able to support with the funds raised on June 12th. I’ll keep you updated as we go.

Many thanks to all who have expressed interest in Change the Truth and to those of you who have volunteered your time and donated your money. We really are making a difference in the lives of these kids. It’s amazing what we have done in such a short period of time. Please tell your friends and families about the events on the 12th and 13th.Neither require reservations; both are free and open to the public, Children are absolutely welcome. It will be a great way for us all to get together, to learn more, to make new friends, to celebrate the children in Uganda and the children from Kansas City's Operation Breakthrough, as well as the many accomplishments we have achieved thus far!

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Eddie and I were married thirty-three years ago today. The tux he wore was green with velvet lapels. And, yes, my dress had a hood.

We are still very stylish all these years later.

Friday, May 23, 2008

the not-so-pleasant part of reconstruction

I’m probably wrong, but I’ve always thought that the person who invented high heels must have surely been a man.

I believe the same can be said for tissue expanders.

It’s a brilliant concept, but one that conjures up demonic thoughts like, “How can we inflict sheer and unadulterated pain on women?”

I am nearing the end of the expansion process that was begun immediately following my mastectomy in February. Gradually, over the course of these many weeks, a nurse has injected alarming amounts of saline into a plastic bag that was installed under my chest wall during surgery. It expands with each and every “fill up” and stretches my skin as it goes. I was told that I would pretty much know when the expansion process would need to come to an end, because I would not be able to tolerate any more injections.

Well, I think I can safely say that I have reached that point.

Call me half Dolly Parton, partial Pamela Anderson Call me hurting. Especially when I breathe, which, as it turns out is something I do with surprising regularity.

Oh, and you should see me when I travel. Something about the pressurization of the plane and being at 35,000 feet… it is really scary to feel like you’re going to pop right there in the window seat of a Southwest 737 airliner. The peanuts would go flying, the flight attendants would come running – it would certainly cause a stir.

What I’ve learned is that you “expand” (read get tortured) to a point that is larger than where you’ll end up once the implant goes in. So, perhaps I won’t be Dolly or Pamela when it’s all said and done, but in the meantime….

(And now that I think about it, both of these women wear five-inch spiked heels.)


update on c.

Many of you have written me to weigh in on the sad events surrounding Max’s classmate C. and want to know what is happening. All I know is what has been reported in the news, which is this: C.’s parents went to court and announced that they were unable to pay the $250,000 bail; the attorney asked that they be allowed to pay 10%. It was dropped to $150,000, but they were still unable to pay, so C. remains in jail. We saw him on the news the other night, shackled in cuffs, donning an orange prison uniform. Not a pretty sight. Nor was the clip of the dead boy’s mom clutching a photo of her son.

I was thinking back to “senior skip day” last year. Through an odd and somewhat confusing turn of events, it seemed that (at the very last minute) the time honored tradition was going to take place at C’s family farm, which is quite a long drive from Kansas City. I was not thrilled when Max informed me (aren’t I lucky to have a kid who TALKS to me?) and I quickly kicked into protective mom mode and telephoned C’s mother to get more information. She told me that while it was a long drive, there was a hospital nearby for any emergencies and besides C. would be responsible for his friends. He would NEVER drink and drive; further, he would NEVER let any of his friends drive under the influence. The lesson for all of us parents? Never say never.

Too many unpredictable confluences of events. Too much out of our control. We may think we know our kids - what they’ll do, what they’ll say, where they’ll go, and who they’ll go there with. Lord knows “trust” is what keeps us all moving forward where there are teenagers involved. But again, never say never.

I believe that just throws us off our guard and makes us look the other way.

It could be any of us in the position of asking for lowered bail, you know. It could be any of us clutching that photo, too.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

studio visit

Okay, time for a little good news…

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art photography department’s curatorial team is coming over tomorrow to look at my work! Between jetting around the country tracking down the finest and most rare daguerreotypes, authoring books and articles on the history of photography, hosting dealers from around the world, mounting major exhibitions and lecturing on every aspect of the medium, they are admirably making time to explore what’s going on their own backyard (and it is a rich one here in Kansas City!) Though this anticipated studio visit has caused an unsettled stomach and a tiny (not) bit of trepidation, I am honored that I have made the list of photographers whose work will be viewed.

Preparing for their visit has prompted me to revisit older bodies of work, which, of course, is always challenging. Does the work still hold up? What was I thinking? Is there room in the recycling bin for these? Whoa, can I ever rise to this level again? All these reactions and more.

Here are some examples of the projects I have chosen (at least for the moment… I’ve changed my mind a hundred times) to show tomorrow. They are in chronological order.

One Square Mile (my neighborhood)

The Space Between (identical twins)

Shredding Project


Sea Series

Lawrence A. Jones Funeral Home

Saturday, May 17, 2008

fourteen years later

When Max was younger, I used to make individual portraits of his classmates on the first day of school. Each well-groomed child was brimming with excitement, dressed in his or her favorite outfit, showing off a new haircut, an extra inch or two in height, a tan from the summer sun and often a confidence that they didn’t have when school had let out in June.

One of my favorite portraits from that era was of a kid named C. When he was in first grade, he had a toothless grin, a face splattered with freckles and an untamable cowlick. He had an impossibly bright sparkle in his eyes.

Yesterday C., now a college student, turned himself in at a local police station.

Seems he had been out partying and in the wee hours of Mother’s Day had hit and killed a pedestrian who was crossing the street in our neighborhood. There were two other boys in the car with C. Who knows what happened, what was said, what went through their minds, what really happened in those few horrific seconds, but the young men drove on. They left the twenty-five year old man who was attempting to cross the street right where he was. He was pronounced dead at the scene, though we do not know yet how much later that was.

According to the news story, which just broke yesterday, the two friends who had been in the car with C. finally came forward and told the story to police. It was four or five days later. C. had no choice at this point but to put on his khaki pants, a blazer and tie, and head (with his attorney) over to the police station.

There’s a mug shot of him, looking stoic and serious, that has been shown on the local news, and I can’t help but wonder each time I see it where that little kid with the goofy grin went.

You try and you try as a parent to instill in your children the ability to make the right decisions. You have all those talks about not drinking and driving, all those talks about living up to your responsibilities even when you’ve messed up. You conjure up all the worst scenarios when they are not home yet, and it is past curfew; you have nightmares about all the ways things can go wrong. You would rather die than see your kid get into trouble or, worse yet, suffer the unbearable consequences of someone else’s kid’s horribly stupid mistakes.

And then, suddenly, for families too close to home, you see it happen. You see everything come tumbling down around them.

It’s a situation that is sad for so many reasons, and one that will have this town talking for quite awhile. I, for one, have a heavy heart for all four boys (and their families) involved. And I’ll probably pull out that picture of C. sometime soon just to remind myself who he used to be.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

irena sendler

Irena Sendler died Monday in Warsaw. She was 98.

Irena Sendler was raised by her Catholic parents to respect and love people regardless of their ethnicity or social status. Her father, a physician, died from typhus that he contracted during an epidemic in 1917. He was the only doctor in his town near Warsaw who would treat the poor, mostly Jewish victims of this tragic disease. As he was dying, he told 7-year-old Irena, “If you see someone drowning you must try to rescue them, even if you cannot swim.”

In 1939 the Nazis swept through Poland and imprisoned the Jews in ghettos where they were first starved to death and then systematically murdered in killing camps. Irena, by than a social worker in Warsaw, saw the Jewish people drowning and resolved to do what she could to rescue as many as possible, especially the children. Working with a network of other social workers and brave Poles, mostly women, she smuggled 2,500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto and hid them safely until the end of the war.

Sendler took great risks – obtaining forged papers for the children, disguising herself as an infection control nurse, diverting German occupation funds for the support of children in hiding. She entered the Warsaw ghetto, sometimes two and three times a day, and talked Jewish parents into giving up their children. Sendler drugged the babies with sedatives and smuggled them past Nazi guards in gunny sacks, boxes and coffins. She helped the older ones escape through the sewers, through secret openings in the wall, through the courthouse, through churches, any clever way she and her network could evade the Nazis. Once outside the ghetto walls, Sendler gave the children false names and documents and placed them in convents, orphanages and with Polish families.

In 1942 the Polish underground organization ZEGOTA recruited her to lead their Children’s Division, providing her with money and support. Her hope was that after the war she could reunite the children with surviving relatives, or at least return their Jewish identities. To that end she kept thin tissue paper lists of each child’s Jewish name, their Polish name and address. She hid the precious lists in glass jars buried under an apple tree in the back yard of one of her co-conspirators.

In 1943 Irena Sendler was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death by firing squad. She never divulged the location of the lists or her Polish underground contacts. At the last moment she was saved by ZEGOTA which bribed a guard to secure her freedom. After the war, the Communist government suppressed any recognition of the courageous anti-fascist partisans, most of whom were also anti-Communists. Irena’s story and those of other courageous Poles, were buried and forgotten. Her courage and resourcefulness were recognized by Israel in 1965 when she was awarded the Yad Vashem medal given to Righteous Gentiles who risked their own lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. In 1983 a tree was planted in her honor in Israel. But in general, the world was silent about Irena Sendler.

Silent until 1999, when three Kansas teens uncovered Irena’s story. Liz Cambers, Megan Stewart, and Sabrina Coons (a fourth, Jessica Shelton, joined later), students at rural Uniontown High School were looking for a National History Day project. Their teacher, Norm Conard gave them a short paragraph about Irena Sendler from a 1994 U.S. News and World Report story entitled “The Other Schindlers” and they decided to research her life. According to the article, Irena Sendler smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto just prior to its liquidation in 1943. (An internet search turned up only one web site that mentioned Irena Sendler. Now there are over 80,000.)

With the help and inspiration of their teacher, they began to reconstruct the remarkable achievements of this forgotten hero of the Holocaust. The three Kansas girls assumed Irena Sendler must be dead and searched for her burial site. To their surprise and delight, they discovered that she was still alive, 90-years-old, living with relatives in a small apartment in Warsaw. They created a play about her rescue efforts called Life in a Jar, which has since been performed more than 200 times in the U.S., Canada and Poland. In May 2001 they visited Irena in Warsaw and began a friendship that inspired other Polish Righteous Gentiles to break their silence. The visit also made Irena's story known to the world, through the international press. They visited Irena and Warsaw on four different occasions. Irena was now a Polish national hero.

Mrs. Sendler once said that she wanted to write a book about the bravery of Jewish mothers. She said, “Here I am, a stranger, asking them to place their child in my care. They ask if I can guarantee their safety. I have to answer no. Sometimes they would give me their child. Other times they would say come back. I would come back a few days later and the family had already been deported.”

Irena Sendler did not think of herself as a hero. She claimed no credit for her actions. "I could have done more," she said. "This regret will follow me to my death."

Monday, May 12, 2008

american century = art gallery for the kids

Caleb Fey, curator of the Corporate Art Collection at American Century Investments, which is headquartered in Kansas City, has been extremely kind to Change the Truth! He personally picked up the children’s artwork after we finished framing it and then installed all 75 pieces in the lunch area (Market Place) at the corporate offices. The work will remain on display there until the silent auction, which will take place on June 12th at the Screenland Theatre. If you live in the area, please check it out!

Here is the press release from American Century:

"American Century Investments is proud to exhibit the artwork for the upcoming Change The Truth fund-raiser to benefit the St. Mary Kevin Orphanage in Uganda. Our company headquarters is located at 4500 Main Street on the Country Club Plaza. The exhibit is located in our public Market Place located on the ground floor between our two tower buildings and is on view from 8 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday. Visitor parking is available on the surface lot and on level G1 of our parking garage. The garage entrance is located on the North end of our buildings, please park in a visitor spot and take one of the elevators to the lobby level."

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


I was recently invited to attend a luncheon, which was the annual meeting of the Kansas City chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. This is a message I found on the Komen website from Nancy Brinker, founder of the organization:

“As I look back over the last 25 years since I founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure, I am amazed at our accomplishments. What began as a promise to my dying sister, Susan G. Komen, has evolved into the world's largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures.

I am in awe of our victories over the last two decades. We began the global breast cancer movement. We started the Komen Race for the Cure®, the most successful fundraising and education event for breast cancer ever created; pioneered cause-related marketing; created Komen Affiliates serving needs in more than 18,000 communities; developed educational tools to reach people in more than 200 countries; and became the world's largest source of private funds for breast cancer research and community outreach programs with nearly $1 billion invested by the end of 2007.

We're proud of the fact that we don't simply dump funds and run. We create activists - one person, one community, one state, one nation at a time - to try and solve the number one health concern of women. I am so proud of the work done by the Komen Affiliates who reach into their communities to keep the subject of breast cancer high in the public consciousness. With the help of Komen Affiliates, corporate partners, individual donors, Komen staff and activists, we've saved millions of lives, making the two million breast cancer survivors the largest group of cancer survivors today.

The sad reality is there is still tremendous work to be done. We don't know what causes breast cancer, and we don't know how to prevent it. Women are still dying unnecessarily in our own backyards. And on the global front, the situation is worse. Ten million women around the world could die from breast cancer in the next 25 years. Cancer already claims twice as many lives as AIDS worldwide. At least seven million people die of cancer each year and close to 11 million new cases are diagnosed. That's more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

We have come a long way in our fight. Twenty-five years ago, when breast cancer was diagnosed before it spread beyond the breast, the five-year survival rate was just 74 percent. Today, it is 98 percent. Nearly 75 percent of women over the age of 40 now receive regular mammograms compared to just 30 percent in 1982. Now it's time to take an even more aggressive stance. We must raise the expectations of science, of institutions and ourselves. We are so close to creating a world without breast cancer. The science is there. Now is the time for us to see this fight through so that no one ever has to fear breast cancer again.”

The luncheon was quite the event. There were 1300 people there, mostly women, many donning pink suits or hats. There was a real sense of sisterhood in the room. I sat with women who spoke openly and proudly of what they’d been through, as well as women who were grieving the loss of loved ones to the disease.

When I first got there, I was given a nametag to wear. Under my name was the word “survivor.” At the end of the luncheon, I, along with all the other “survivors” was given a long stemmed pink rose. I actually struggled a bit with this. It reminded me of Holocaust Survivors. As I have gotten to know many of them, I have learned that there is delineation in their minds between those who were actually in concentration camps and those who were not. For me and breast cancer, since I did not have chemo or radiation or even an “invasive” diagnosis, I feel slightly uncomfortable laying claim to the label of “survivor.”

I mentioned this to the head of one of the local breast centers. Her response was as follows:

“Your comments about being a survivor are interesting. I have heard other survivors voice similar feelings. Yes, your treatment is less than some others, but you lost a breast and probably more significantly you have lost your innocence. Cancer is no longer something that happens to other people - it has happened to you. That realization has to be difficult. But in the 15 years I have been working in oncology, 99.9% of the patients I've met consider their having cancer as a blessing. I have no doubt you are or will be in that majority.”

In the meantime, I am going to start training for the Komen Race for the Cure, a 5K run to be held in KC in August!

Monday, May 05, 2008

imagine all the people...

Two letters that accompanied recent donations to Change the Truth really got to me. One is from high school students, the other from a father two generations older… written (then forwarded to me) to his daughter who had asked him to consider making a contribution.

Please read for a wave of inspiration and an overall good feeling about people and their big hearts:

“The girls of St. Teresa’s Academy World Cultures Club would like to present Change the Truth with this money. After organizing a bake sale and raising awareness about your organization, we want all of our profits to go towards the children at the orphanage. We hope that you take this money to provide medical care for three children for a year, as well as purchase a bunk bed and/or uniforms for students who cannot attend school without them. You are truly making a difference in the lives of many impoverished kids, and we hope that this gift will contribute to that work. The purpose of our club is to explore the many cultures of the world, promote awareness and peace and appreciate all the diversity within our world. Please keep in touch with us on how we may have helped the orphanage if you can. We thank you for all you do.”

“In accordance with your request, I am pleased to forward you herewith our contribution to Change the Truth. I know it is a truly worthwhile cause and brings some modicum of relief to kids that would otherwise be abandoned. Of course, your mother and I admire your interest and concern. Really, it is something of a tribute that we did in fact raise you right in instilling a concern for those people a little bit or a lot less off than you – and that’s all to the good.”