Author: Pat Arnow

Dad Comic

I drew a comic memoir called “A Death in Chicago” about my father’s final year. It’s a personal story but also shows a time of momentous change in the way we think about death. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who started that change with her book, On Death and Dying, appears in the story, as she did in our lives.

This fall, “The Intima,” an online journal of narrative medicine, published the comic.

Here is the link to the memoir: “A Death in Chicago”

More about “A Death in Chicago”

“The Intima” also published a lovely essay by Jonathan Garfinkel about “A Death in Chicago.”

He wrote, “Pat Arnow’s touching account of the death of her father illustrates the power of graphic memoir, showcasing both her talent as illustrator and writer. There is something simple and intimate in the story she tells, as Arnow lets us into the private moment between father and daughter, father and family, and we witness his journey toward death from cancer. The effect is incredibly moving.”

Here’s the link to Jonathan Garfinkel’s review: On Compassionate Storytelling in Graphic Memoir: Pat Arnow’s “A Death in Chicago, 1972: Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and My Family” By Jonathan Garfinkel

And here’s a link to Jonathan Garfinkel’s own excellent piece in “The Intima,” “Diabetes Diary.”

Other Dads

The blog from “The Intima” included an essay I wrote about another “Intima” story by Karen Dukess. It’s about her father’s dying and how different attitudes are now–and how some things never change in the process of death and dying.

“Karen Dukess writes…as if those choices were an everyday thing,” I said. “Well they are—now.”

“In this lovely memoir of a beloved father, it is striking to me how things have changed from when my dad faced terminal cancer in the early 1970s. Then the rule was maximum intervention no matter what the prognosis. No one would quibble with doctors. People died in hospitals.”

Here is the link to my essay: “Dads, Daughters, Death

The Intima and the importance of Storytelling in Medicine

“The Intima” is devoted to the use of storytelling to bring compassion and better communications between caregivers and patients. People involved in the field include those who provide health care, who need it, and families and friends. It’s a growing field–you can get a master’s degree in narrative medicine! You can also study my favorite subspecialty, Graphic Medicine–or comics that have to do with health and illness. The field feels especially suited to my comics, because I tend to draw and write about death.

Here’s a link to this interesting journal: The Intima

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Presidents on My Mind

In Georgia with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter

A couple of wonderful presidents were on our route as we traveled through Georgia dodging the frozen north in January.

We stopped at Jimmy Carter’s tiny hometown, Plains, Georgia, with its museum, home place, and current home.

Jimmy Carter's birthplace, a modest farmhouse in Plains, Georgia
Jimmy Carter’s birthplace, a modest farmhouse.
At the school turned museum about Jimmy Carter, there's an unattended replica of Jimmy Carter's Oval Office.
At the school turned museum for Jimmy Carter, there’s an unattended replica of President Carter’s Oval Office. It felt good to sit there, especially with the curtains matching my scarf.
Billy Carter's gas station along the main street in the tiny town of Plains, Georgia
Billy Carter’s gas station along the main street in Plains. Billy was Jimmy Carter’s rogue brother.

Near the state park we visited Warm Springs where Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a modest home built. When he became president, it was called the Little White House and is now a state historic site. We stood by the chair where the president suffered a stroke and by his single bed in his small bedroom where he died a few hours later, April 11, 1945.

This is the chair where FDR was sitting, posing for a portrait, when he collapsed. He never regained consciousness and died a few hours later.
This is where FDR was sitting, posing for a portrait, when he collapsed. He never regained consciousness and died a few hours later.
At the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, FDR died in 1945. Artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff was painting his portrait when he collapsed. The unfinished watercolor is exhibited in the home, which is open to the public.
Artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff was painting FDR’s portrait when he collapsed. The unfinished watercolor is exhibited in the home.

We spent four days at FD Roosevelt State Park in a cabin built by the CCC–the Civilian Conservation Corps–in the 1930s. It was a National Recovery Act program invented by Roosevelt after he was elected during the nation’s worst economic depression. The program employed an army of out-of-work young men to build wonderful stone structures on public lands throughout our nation. Many of the buildings, picnic shelters, stone-lined paths, and roads are still striking features across the country today.

We have seen the CCC’s handiwork from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Saguaro National Park to Watoga State Park in West Virginia. The program was a model of public works projects.

In front of the visitor's center at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt State Park in Georgia is a tribute to the thousands of men who found jobs in the National Recovery Act program. In this public works project, they built stone structures in parks all over the country including this visitor's center.
In front of the visitor’s center at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt State Park in Georgia is a tribute to the thousands of men who found jobs in the CCC. In this public works project, they built stone structures in parks all over the country including this visitor’s center.
We stayed in one of the beautiful stone cabins built by the CCC along a ridgeline in the hills of Western Georgia.
In our CCC cabin at FD Roosevelt ParkI admired the stonework of the fireplace--and built a roaring fire every night. Catnip for a city kitty.
In our CCC cabin at FDR Park, I admired the stonework of the fireplace–and built a roaring fire every night. Catnip for a city kiddie.

Cliffs, Rocks, Tides, Friend, Dog

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My friend and camping companion Jennie captured my happiness on the loveliest hike on our trip to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In Battery Provincial Park on Cape Breton Island, the trail was a grassy path through wildflowers that grew above our heads with the dark elegant fir trees and the blue sea beyond. I hiked barefoot!

The photo below with the cliffside highway and rocky beach cove captures the essence to me of the Cabot Trail that skirts Cape Breton Island.

Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada.On the Bay of Fundy with the highest tides in the world, we stayed at Five Islands Provincial Park in Nova Scotia and Fundy National Park in New Brunswick. In both places we spent hours climbing around rocks and admiring the fast approaching and receding waters, how quickly the landscape changed, how we could walk out onto mudflats that had been covered with water that would have been over our heads a little while ago.  Here are photos of the low and high tides at Five Islands:

Low Tide on the Bay of FundyHigh Tide on the Bay of Fundy

Here are my fellow explorers, Jennie and Lilac. At the picnic table, Jennie is breaking down one of the lobsters we ate along the Cabot Trail. We were at the Hideaway campground at the top of Cape Breton Island.

 

I took many more photos and posted them as an album on flickr. Click on the link below to take a look:

Flickr Nova Scotia and New Brunswick

Buttons, Floppy, and Queenie will be sorely missed

Buttons, Floppy, and Queenie will be sorely missed

What’s a desperate woman to do when there’s no place to pee for miles? Pull off onto a remote country road and turn onto a grassy gravel path looking for a deserted spot. 

And there it was, the reward for too much coffee: A rumpled sign for a pet cemetery. Arnow-1130299Just like a pet dog, I took care of my business in the grass by a tree. Then I followed the trail over a grassy field past overgrown trees laden with green apples to a large shady corral freshly mowed. Arnow-1130286There were touching and funny little headstones: Sheri, “Our Little Care Bear,” Molly, “Daddy’s Precious Little Teddy Bear,” Eleanor, “a Purrfect Companion,” Tinker, “Sassy Cat.”

Then there was Butchy, Valley Bulldog, 1997-2008 “Like Losing the Perfect Son.” Ouch for their human children.

Arnow-1130273The little graves were marked with familiar pet names: Duke, Sheba, Patches, Brandy, Rascal, Mittens (Bless Me Kitty), Tattoo, Puddy, Wiley, and two Busters.

Queenie had a big headstone decorated with with carved dog bones, sea-themed sculptures and plushy toys, well chewed. Arnow-1130282I took a close up of her bear (at right) with legs torn off and stuffing spilling out, but it’s too gruesome to publish. 

Here’s one of my favorites: Arnow-1130284Floppy lived one year but Melissa loved that hare, and her parents (I’m guessing) helped her through her grief with this memorial.

Well, I know that doesn’t tell you much about this trip to Nova Scotia except for that one little charming and eerie place outside of Lunenberg.

I have been having a fine time meandering from Yarmouth to Halifax along green-lined roads, admiring the cute towns with both pretty and working waterfronts. 

The food has been excellent: a seafood chowder, Montreal meat sandwich (corned beef, really), poutine—a combination of fries, gravy and cheese curds that sounds like a mess but tastes divine. I want to eat it every day while I’m here. 

I could be telling a lot of anecdotes—about the lacy B&Bs I stayed in, the helpful bus driver in Halifax who answered my inquiry by telling me to hop on so he could take me to a better transfer point, the bike rider who insisted on giving me a ferry ticket in Dartmouth (across from Halifax–the Brooklyn of Nova Scotia) because it was my first day. 

This trip is delightful and there is a lot to share. 

But I really wanted to show you the pet headstones. 

The Whiskey Treatment

In anticipation of a road trip with lots of camping in Nova Scotia, I’ve been reading  The Tent Dwellers, a droll 1906 travelogue about a fishing trip to Nova Scotia. It rains most of  the time on his trip, which inspires me to pack two raincoats, waterproof pants, and two tarps.

Here’s a good passage about when the author  gets poison Ivy on his face:

Many times a day I bathed my face in the pure waters of the lake and then with the spirits—rye or Scotch, as happened to be handy…And I wish to add here in all seriousness that whatever may be your scruples against the use of liquors, don’t go into the woods without whisky…

Alcohol, of course, is good for poison ivy, but whisky is better. Maybe it is because of the drugs that wicked men are said to put into it. Besides, whisky has other uses. The guides told us of one perfectly rigid person who, when he had discovered that whisky was being included in his camp supplies, had become properly incensed, and commanded that it be left at home. The guides had pleaded that he need not drink any of it, that they would attend to that part of what seemed to them a necessary camp duty, but he was petrified in his morals, and the whisky remained behind.

Well, they struck a chilly snap, and it rained. It was none of your little summer landscape rains, either. It was a deadly cold, driving, drenching saturation. Men who had built their houses on the sand, and had no whisky, were in a bad fix. The waves rose and the tents blew down, and the rigid, fossilized person had to be carried across an overflowed place on the back of a guide, lifting up his voice meanwhile in an effort to convince the Almighty that it was a mistake to let it rain at this particular time, and calling for whisky at every step.

It is well to carry one’s morals into the woods, but if I had to leave either behind, I should take the whisky.                 — Albert Bigelow Paine

Yes, I am bringing whiskey. I’ll tell you later if any morals survive. 

I hope to post pictures and stories from the trip. Next week, I’ll be taking the ferry from Portland, Maine, to Yarmouth, exploring the Southwestern coast, and staying in Dartmouth, which I read is the Brooklyn of Halifax.

Then I’ll meet with my camping friend Jennie and her miniature Schnauzer Lilac, and their little truck. We’ll camp all around Cape Breton Island.

In New Brunswick, we will stay in Fundy National Park where we’ll see the 50-foot tides. 

If you know of places I should see, please do tell.

The Ruined Resort of Curaçao

Along a beautiful, disheveled beach are the remains of a bankrupted hotel. This is on Santa Martha’s Bay, about halfway up the island, far from the cruise terminals of Willemstad. Abandoned about nine years ago, all the windows, doors, and fixtures have been removed, and the place is crumbling. These ruins below our rental house added a spooky magic to a charming trip with friends Ken and Clarence.

 

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Remains of a miniature golf course

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Unexpected hazards

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Putt around the thorns.

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The pool had a swim-up bar.

 

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Besides the glorious ruins, the beautiful beaches and views called.

 

And fabulous friends

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My Own Orwell Moment

This was unsettling:

At the turn of the century, I worked as a research editor for Readers Digest, which had offices at 260 Madison Ave. in Midtown. Last week, when Steve and I had an appointment there, it was the first time I’d been in the building since 2002. Readers Digest had long since departed, too.

Steve showed his ID at the security desk in the remodeled, unrecognizable lobby–new management, new owners. The officer took Steve’s photo and printed out a visitor label with the picture. I showed my ID. The officer didn’t take my picture, but quickly handed me a label.

Here is my visitor’s badge with the photo taken in 2000:IMG_1119

Big brother has been watching for a long time.

Cardboard Kayaking

If you needed to make a getaway by water, and all you had was cardboard and tape and a paddle, could you make it? Maybe. Every July on Governors Island (a few minutes by ferry from Manhattan), 20 teams have two hours to build a vessel, and then they race with two-person crews. Some of the boats disintegrate, many of them flip over. A few make it.

I love this event. This year it was even better for me. My friend Lauren Collins helped build this pizza slice shaped vessel with the scrappy Red Hook kayak club, so I had a personal reason to cheer for this team.

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The competition looked tough–some coastal engineering firms had teams, environmental groups, kayaking clubs and the formidable Coast Guard (the two woman in the first picture were their crew).

When the Red Hook pizza slice began their heat with four boats, I’d say their odds weren’t good. But then, every other cardboard kayak instantly flipped over.

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Even the Coast Guard boat flipped.

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All Red Hook had to do was get around the buoy and come back, which they did to big cheers.

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In the finals, all team crews were men except the Red Hook team with Sherry and her 10-year-old daughter Maggie.

The Red Hook team got the biggest cheers and came in fourth (not last!). Sherry nearly got knocked in the head by the paddle of one of the eventual winners (last picture), who didn’t need to be so aggressive to win the trophy made of cardboard and tape.

Still, Sherry thought racing was thrilling from beginning to end. A woman came up to her and said, ‘I just want to say you’re the most awesome Mom.”

The Red Hook team took home the prize for “Most Ambitious.”

Their boat held up, unlike many, including the one below:

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So…Could you escape by cardboard and tape boat? Build it like a pizza slice, and then maybe.

 

The Disgruntled Lions of Italy

On a recent trip to Orvieto, Rome, Venice, and Bologna, I noticed that lions work hard holding up buildings, showing scrolls, and spitting water in fountains. Most of these creatures look unhappy, resentful, embarrassed, sad, anxious, or resigned to duty that they never dreamed would be theirs for eternity. Here are some photos of the kings of the jungle in their reduced circumstances. I added captions that expressed what they might be thinking. If they weren’t made of stone.

For other Italian photos, some lovely, some bizarre, please see my album on flickr: https://flic.kr/s/aHskBveufg

High in the air among the gargoyles, the lion looks like he's stepping off into space, and he's not happy about it.
Oh crap, it must be four stories to the ground. That’s a long way, even for a cat with wings. (Basilica, Orvieto)

This building is heavy.
Get me down from here so I can eat some more Christians. (Rome)

Piazza del Popolo Fountain, Rome
It’s my job to spit water all day. Sigh. (Piazza del Popolo, Rome)

Natural History Museum, Venice
I’m a hunting trophy from the 19th century. Bite me. (Museum of Natural History, Venice)

Salute Basilica, Venice
Yeah I got a black eye. You should see the other guy. (Salute Basilica, Venice)

Salute Basilica, Venice
Oy oi oi, I’m not even Catholic. (Salute Basilica, Venice)

Venice
If these wings worked, I could fly away. (Venice)

Bologna
It was worse before they put up the pigeon spikes. (Bologna)

Bologna
This is not the worst job in Bologna. Really.

Rome
If I could get down from here, I’d show you who’s king of the forest.

Rome
You wonder why I look demented? I have to spout water all day. (Rome)

Rome
My brother over there is demented. I just need a cigar. (Rome)

Rome
I just think of it as puking on you. (Rome)

Rome
Where’s my incisor? (Rome)

Rome
Ack. (Rome)

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No, I’m fine. Really. Yep. Really. Happy lion. More meds, please. (Rome)