Camp Widow East 2012: linky/list of all the blog posts

Let's create a master list of links to all the review of Camp Widow 2012. Please send me your blog links by email or in a comment. Thank you!

Posts about Camp Widow East:
  1. Fresh Widow: Camp Widow, first East Coast event, review and Camp Widow East: I sent a note to the sea AND Me Reading at the Blog Slam
  2. Connie's Project Reclaim: Camp Widow East, the glass is both half empty and half full and The widowed blog slam AND Learned Optimism
  3. Greggie's Widow: The desire to try something new
  4. Janine TXMomx6: A Long Goodbye
  5. Crazy Widow: From Camp Widow and Beyond
  6. Cyna (27): Camp Widow and Part 2: Lessons in Loss and Living
  7. Reduced Shakespeare Company interview with Matthew Croke, Episode 284: The Widow's Voice (podcast for download, 20 minutes... but very good!)
  8. Yours?
Posts about Camp Widow West: 

It hasn't happened yet! You can still join us. Read more.

(Possible) Cover of the Rolling Stone: Old Beastie Boys Pix

That kid is so pissed.
Some more photos of the Beastie Boys from 1982... never-before-seen:

I remember when I took these photos, which were part of a long session we did for Cooky Puss, in Washington Square Park one late winter day. The boys (and girl) were in costume from playing modified Candyland at Kate’s place, and they had some concept that the park would be like the game board. They wanted pictures of them skipping down the asphalt paths in the park. Eventually one of these skipping shots was used, in silhouette, on the paper center label of the Cooky Puss 12”.

You don't see something boybandish?
I don’t remember if it was my idea or theirs to shoot them looking down through the monkey bars, and on top of a phone booth and in other silly places. But I remember that I was going for a certain Beatles-type cliche: 4 adults staring down through a network of handbars, and I recall vaguely that they did not particularly enjoy this. I had fantasies, somehow, that I was Annie Liebovitz, pushing her subjects a little too far for the sake of that perfect Rolling Stones cover. I was 15 years old.

Which makes it a little weird to be responding to both an editor and a photo editor at Rolling Stone about a possible, actual real life cover image.


(Visit my Flickr if you want to see all my shots of the early Beastie Boys in higher resolution.)

I’m sure talking about my photography seems off-topic for this blog, unless you’ve been reading for a very long time or dredged through the archives (poor you) to read the origin of the blog name. Which is:

Marcel Duchamp did a piece called “Fresh Widow” in 1920. All you really need to know is that it’s a French window. However it’s miniature, it was an open edition and almost a “ready made” except for black leather applied over each window pane so you can’t see through. The piece comes with a command that the leather be polished every day. There’s one in the MoMA (which I grew up with) and one at the Philadelphia Art Institute. It’s perverse in more ways than one; look up interpretations if you’re intrigued.

Duchamp, handsome American living in Paris and mingling with the mostests, has been one of my lifetime idols. Not least of all because late in life he insisted he’d given up art and was only working to play chess (though he was lying about it). He seemed gentlemanly and unsloppy in most every way, and he was always funny and upsetting. My man, right?

I thought, as a newly minted widow, that I might open that toy black window. I thought my hair would fly back in the wind. I thought of what you can see when your eyes are closed, or with the lights out, or when your own light goes out, and I knew there was an exhilarating truth to it.

I wanted to own that, so I took its name.

(The silly “Supa Dupa” part came when I added the Pillsbury Doughboy and Missy Misdemeanor Elliott to the mix. I thought you had to have a fake name in addition to your blog name, some kind of rule.*)

So although I have spoken only of my widowed life and grief and mostly closely related topics, I hope you can see I’ve been leaving stuff out. For various reasons… and this has never been a daily-life-as-it-happens blog, never been totally “the real me,**” never been my place to drop today’s dump. I do enough in social media I don’t feel I can do too much of that anymore, anyway. And I’ve tried to do a “real” blog for my professional life but that hasn’t been too effective because the community work I do with widowed people is the vast majority of the work and where I get most of my credibility.

The full picture of me includes not only today (remarriage and all), not only venting, but also my history as an artist and my future as whatever I end up doing for work tomorrow.

I am an artist at heart… I was raised by artists (wolf artists, apparently) and spent most of my time with artists doing art things. I have abandoned being an artist at least ten times in my life: for my mental health, for an education, for health insurance, for money, for a good marriage. I never went far… each job until the last one had a strong visual component, and my late husband was an artist. I felt close to working by supporting him in his work, for many years.

But it wasn’t the same. Though I’m still at a turning point in my professional life — how long has it been? — Creating and working with images will always be part of my process of understanding the world and my place in it, whatever form my work takes in the next few years. And even if I don’t actually keep MAKING stuff, saying “no” to it over and over again was pretty bad for me.

How can I encourage you to be true to your grief and your truth if I can’t even listen to that obnoxious little punk, my artists’ soul, screeching at me? She sings, lovely, if I listen closer.

So  I’m back to listening a bit more. Which is good, because the phone is freaking ringing about a whole nother set of photos that I took when I was a teenager before I considered health insurance, money, or true love at all.

And I gotta go pick that up.

* I am kind of famous for thinking life has rules for things that are simple and ungoverned.
** Though by now, anyone who cares does know my real name.


Grieving Adam Yauch: An Inside/Outside Perspective

IMG0020 Because I was in the circle of the Beastie Boys early in life, I am in a few Facebook groups grieving the loss of Adam Yauch. I was not close to him, but we had several close friends in common, and I photographed the band at early gigs, backstage, in “photo shoots” and just hanging out. And as a widow, I know that when the time is right, our community can help support Dechen Wangdu, his wife, as she looks ahead as a woman and a parent. I am observing the grief from several angles because I am in several positions around it.

This time, I'm experiencing this loss in a different way than any of the others I’ve been through. I can see where the community and the widow diverge and why. It’s not what you think.

We widowed people, at first, are overwhelmed by the love showered on our loved one. We are torn open but we feel grateful for all this pouring in of feeling and sharing (and casseroles). And then after a year or two, we wonder: why did those jerks send casseroles? Why did they send a card and then do nothing else? Why have I been alone since the memorial service? And when is someone going to bring me dinner or ask how I feel? Are they afraid of me?

We figure that people are too afraid of death, our new status as single, or cancer or crying or whatever. We don’t need people like that in our lives anyway. And so the friendships are dropped, one by one. I’m not saying that isn’t true: to a large extent it is the reason for this perceived abandonment. But the end result is bad for us: more isolation, bitterness, the burden of building one more thing from scratch. 

Those factors of death-a-phobia and widow leprosy are real but they are not the only factors... These factors also present the most unkind perspective on the world. To look at it in a less loaded way, many people send a condolence card or food because they want to do something. Most people are compelled to and they know they "must." But it's a limited intervention because they know that the widow’s space is not theirs. They give these things from the heart, but they respect the most intimate, most strong pain and grief… they wish to give you room that you need. In the first few weeks, you can’t hear them if they do more. All you can do is to keep eating, keep drinking water, and try to get some damn sleep (or try to get out of bed. One or the other.). That space is natural and becomes part of your healing and anyway, it's all you can possibly stand.

I know that's not all the widowed person needs... the community doesn't know what you need either. That's another story. But doesn't the world look better if you realize that this simple space is not entirely cruel to you at this one point in time? 

I have been watching this dynamic in the private Facebook groups that grieve Yauch. For the most part, these folks want — desperately, kindly, generously — to cry on each other’s shoulder. They want to grieve their loss with others who knew him. Most of them don’t know Dechen. Of course they wish her well. But they know they are in a different department. Their need to grieve is also real, and it is also intense. They can still get together now and share without -- honestly -- burdening her.

In the big losses in my life — of course — I was at the eye of those hurricanes. When my father died, when my husband died, I didn’t notice or care much about what the community was getting out of the memorial service or out of supporting me with limited interventions (though I went to the mailbox compulsively [people still sent cards back in 2006] and greedily took any food that came by). Earlier losses I don’t think I understood at all… I was too undeveloped. And most of the losses I’ve been through since Gavin died, I’ve seen through my “widow” lens, which is invested in changing the picture and making folks aware of the widowed person’s real needs and real world in a real (and really long) timeframe.

Observing the grief and loss around Adam Yauch, in addition to that agenda (which matters!) I am also a member of the larger community. I’m not close enough to be overcome with my own emotion and sadness (though I am sad… but compare this to when Amy died, when I was cracked and off balance for weeks).

I think I’m getting closer to a healthy perspective on not only my own loss and grief, but what is really going on outside, without losing the benefit of my experience from the inside.

And I think that’s another new milestone. Next thing you know, I’ll start giving a crap about people’s kitchen renovations. (I might even get a custom tile backsplash!)


Camp Widow: First East Coast Event. A review.

This was the first time we held Camp Widow on the East Coast. It can be hard to explain what we do there, and the words "bonding" and "learning," while true and important, just seem so pale. To give you some idea of the impact of bonding and learning in real life, it might help if I tell you the most common phrases in the event reviews tend to be "life saving," "totally amazing," and "thank you." Or I could give you the numbers:
  • Five: Camp Widow West this August will be our fifth event in 4 years.
  • One hundred and nine: Camp Widow East was experienced by 109 widowed people, ages 23 to 82. Their losses were very recent (just a few months) ranging to 20 years ago. 
  • Forty: This year Campers will choose two full days of programs from more than 40 presenters. These include experiential classes (yoga), creative ones (blog slam, writing intensive), and learning opportunities (childhood grief, dating, spirituality). Camp Widow programming evolves every year.
  • Half: More than half of Camp attendees are also members of Widowed Village, Soaring Spirits' online community, which I founded. They entered the weekend with a few familiar faces already, and able to continue to share after the weekend ended.
  • Fifteen: For those who enter "fresh," knowing no one, we now have two orientation events in the first few hours of Camp and our kickoff cocktail party included a fun "15 seconds" icebreaker event. (Not the "fun" kind you do at professional retreats... one that is actually fun). 
Me at the WidowedVillage.org booth

And what do you do at Camp? What does it look like? Maybe some pictures will help fill it out.

Camp Widow Snapshot: Here's me at the Widowed Village booth, with visual influences ranging from Lucy from the Peanuts comic strip and a bedspread hand-embroidered on the steppes of Uzbekistan.

We gave away chocolate and wi-fi (most of the time) and free bookmarks. (The kind you stick in books.) (Paper books.) 

A lot of what Camp looks like is like any event at a hotel, except: that a lot of people are crying, especially in front of their Tribute Tiles. Unlike events in the real world, no one is avoiding the people who are crying.

Some people are listening very intently... others are silent. Some stand around in groups. They laugh or hug... No one looks weird at the people who are laughing. Some sit down exhausted on a chair and check their phones.

There's room for anything, including skipping out for a walk on the beach or some time alone. But that is hard when everyone has something to share and the surprises of commonality are everywhere.

In the workshops (huge array, did I mention?) some cry, others laugh. Some people raise their hands and share. Others listen intently. This is a different environment. Since we've all had the air sucked out of us at some point in the not-too-distant past, since many of us have forgotten how to walk at least once, we're forgiven if we're wobbly or if we've forgotten how to breathe, again, for a moment.

It's not completely touchy-feely (and not at all earthy-crunchy) but the environment IS a new one and we are all getting used to it.

Photo by @Connie_UW
Camp Widow Snapshot: I stuck these red signs up in the bathrooms. They're derived from an Internet meme but I thought real life needed them.

And the ritual... our letters to the sea. There's a whole separate post on that.

The best thing as always about Camp Widow is the people and the amazing connections... and somehow (through an incredible amount of work by a small team of volunteers, one staff member, normal good-hotel procedures and a bit, I'm sure, of magic) the time and place becomes a home for everything that one could need.

Camp Widow Snapshot: I met someone special (a met a lot of special people). But I really like my new friend Betty, widowed a while back, who came to Camp Widow with her daughter, also widowed. All weekend Betty said "I'm just here to support her" and pointed to the smiling lady next to her... who rolled her eyes gently ... but every time I looked, Betty seemed to be having her own conversations and making her own friends. The very last event at Camp is the Sunday morning breakfast and Betty, after scouring the very well appointed buffets, asked me quietly, "Do you think I could get a cup of hot chocolate?" We called aside a gentleman in Marriott uniform and he assured us of course, he could.

Betty (r) and her daughter.
She shared why: When her husband died, it was a terrible car accident, and she was badly hurt as well. He did not make it, but she did. In her bed in that same hospital she was looking at a long recovery herself, and was in and out of consciousness. One morning the staff said she woke up hysterical, screaming, "Take it away! Get it out of here," over and over. They thought it was just hallucinations, but when they moved the coffee out of the room, she calmed down. And eventually she regained most of her health and came home, and years later, joined me at this breakfast buffet.

"You see, my husband used to bring me my coffee every morning. And I would make him up a cup of tea, just the way he liked it [I wish I could convey the proud ring in her voice as she told me this]. That was what did every day for all those years. And I knew the smell even when I was unconscious... I hated that the smell was here without him. To this day I cannot stand the smell of coffee, so I have hot chocolate every morning instead."

Her chocolate arrived and we smiled together at her "after" life and a simple need, satisfied. Her daughter shares with me via blog all the time... Betty and I had a few minutes standing at a buffet.

I think there must always be some kind of "hookup" at Camp.... any time you get a lot of big hearts together, a few will spark. But don't get excited (or worried)... there is no "pickup" energy in this space, only whatever is evoked by smiles, tears, and adding real bodies to connections made online. People are friends, and if they take it to another level... that's something that can happen. 

This year at Camp there was an extraordinary and special moment where a Camper offered a large financial gift if people matched it... and though no one expected this request, people (a lot of them) stepped in and fulfilled the grant by Sunday morning. I believe this type of sharing counts as "work" because it truly helps make the next event happen. For a small non-profit, on a weekend with such intense logistical and human demands, this generosity is tremendous. To have the enthusiasm come from within the community was perfect and validating, I think, for everyone who put their time into planning and creating the weekend. 

Silly me w/ Michele Neff Hernandez & KIM CATTRALL!
Camp Widow Snapshot: Of course -- in addition to the noble goals of being a place to learn to move forward in life and connect with others who've "been there" or are still right exactly wherever you are -- Camp Widow is also the world's largest widow party. At the end of the day, staff, volunteers, and helpers of all sorts shake off their high heels, enjoy a nightcap, and perhaps spend a little time taunting civilians in the hotel bar. See me (center) with red wine on my head.

About taunting: This year, SSLF board member Barbara Frova successfully masqueraded as Kim Cattrall to the coterie of a very young, very drunk wedding party. (It was one fellow's idea and she just played along). She didn't even mention, I don't think any of us did, that we were all widowed. We were all "mazel tov" after our drenching on the beach and far less confrontational, though equally playful, as the famous incident at a CW West afterparty (2010) when Andrea Renee wrote "GET LIFE INSURANCE" on an acquaintance's hat. Every year is wild in its own way. 

No snapshot can capture the experience of being together, of being understood... of having tears be not the sign of weakness, but of love and healing... of sharing our loves ones with one new friend. Nothing can capture the feeling of wet sand between our toes in our Saturday night ritual.

During the weekend, many of us may be stunned to receive a "thank you" from a new friend. We who feel we have done nothing but take, are thanked! What is up? This is a place where sharing is big, where if you give, you are enlarged and made stronger. At the end of the weekend, we realize that we each helped CREATE this new place, that we added to its different air and we walked in its strange gravity. We all helped AS we were helped.

We often say, "we laughed, we cried," but at Camp Widow it's bigger: we breathed, we wobbled, and while we're not exactly one uniform family (like any community, we are very diverse and our disagreements are full of heart), we are not alone. We take some of this home with us, like our love, and this connectedness (I hope!) stays with us and becomes a part of us.

Which is why we call Camp Widow a "self care" item. It's a boost toward the hard work of building a new life. Don't we all deserve that? 


I serve on the board of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, the host of Camp Widow and Widowed Village. I receive no compensation for my service. You can read the rest of my disclosure statement here.  


Boys will be Beastie, first interview, from Decline of Art magazine, 1981

Adam Yauch's death forces me to go back through dozens of boxes, to find relics of my high school history. The Beastie Boys' first published interview was in my fanzine, Decline of Art, which Jill Cunniff and I put together in 1981. This interview was in the second issue and typifies our teenage-bricoleur-meets-PereUbu style.

The Beastie Boys were a hardcore band in 1981, with John Berry on guitar and Kate Schellenbach on drums. Adam Horovitz had not yet joined. We were part of the same circle, kids in gifted-and-talented high schools running around NYC late at night. I took many photos of the band, as I did of any band we met or saw play, in this early stage. I am a little relieved I can't take credit for that much of the writing... though as I read it, I feel the tone of the times: constraints of that times' very grown-up TV and pop music scenes, the joy of being absurd and mixing things up that were part of hip hop the way it had to evolve before this digital era. The boss Grandmaster Flash, and gigs by Treacherous Three at a basement reggae club, were just around the corner but punk was here (possibly just across the ocean... we were always asking British bands about the riots) and now. Looking back reminds me how totally confusing it all was, even in its midst. None of us knew what to make of it even as we created the scene, and as kids, we were not really supposed to be there.

As I go through the boxes, I am surprised again and again. Nostalgia has morphed everything and as I review the papers, they change again. For one thing, I am  having trouble believing we were that silly, but there it is, in black and white.

Boys will be Beastie, an interview from Decline of Art #2, 1981

I did the photos on this sid
Us: What kind of musical representation is evident in your music?
A: We don't believe in music.
M: We only lift weights.
A: Off the record, my mother was a hamster.
Us: What do you think of N.Y. audiences compared to N.Y. audiences?
K: Well, I think -- yeah.
M: Best in the world, because you can insult them yet they think they are being complimented.
K: My mother is in the Health and Racquet Club.
A: Hyper admonitory synthesism of monitory confusement within a statement.
Us: What is your favorite T.V. show?
A: Bill Boggs.
M: Phil Donohue.
K: Tom Snyder.
J: I hate my fucking self.
Us: What is your favorite restaurant?
K: La Rompa.
A: Uncle Wong.
M: Lord of the Chickens.
J: Enough embarrassment for one night. (John leaves)
Throughout the interview Adam and Kate were far too eager to write on Michael's head and Michael was squirting Windex at my head.
Us: AACKH, DISGUSTING. What are your musical influences?
A: Pink Floyd.
K: Larry's hair.
M: the Mills Brothers and The 4 Freshmen.
A: Off the record, my father smelled of elderberries.
M: Honestly, I am upset.
Us: Why, Michael, why are you upset?
M: Because I wish to abate this nonsense which is plaguing this society.
Us: What do you think of Crass' ideas?
A: Los muchachos son mui stupido?
K: Das ist miene bruder.
M: Ta mere est le beurre.
Us: What do you think of Act II Haircutters?
K: Budgie rocks da house.*
Us: What do you think of these awful riots in N.Y.?
A: What?
Us: What is your favorite radio station?
A: Dub-ya Dub-ya....
M: WKRP in Cincinnati.
Us: That was really funny Michael.
K: WPAT, the place to relax.
A: My favorite color is red no blue.
K: Adam steals all his jokes from Monty Python. What time is it?
M: Marvy Marker.
A: Kate only said that because she loves Budgie because he kissed her.
Us: Do you like to carry on?
A: Yes.
K: The third OI compilation LP and they thank Noise the show on the back! **
A: Michael, you're a dick. Stop that or I'll chop your peny off and hang it from the tallest yardarm.
M: (Pollywog imitation) Are you going to see T.S.O.L. tonight? They're from Boston! (by Michael with his shaved head, dancing madly).
A: I'm Big Bank and I'm the chief of the tribe that went down in the hall of fame.
(Adam lights up a three foot cigar)
Us: Do you remember when Brian Brain threw bananas at the audience?
A: And chicken.
M: No I remember I feel on my hootie on a banana peel afterwards when I was dancing afterwards.
(Michael continues to stick his fingers up his nose and talks to an imaginary John on the telephone.) I love you, I love you. I love you. I love you. I love youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.
A. Michael continues to babble on incoherently and continues to dance madly. 


* Budgie was the drummer for Siouxie and the Banshees, who had just played in NY, and also featured in that same issue of Decline of Art with an even more nonsensical article but really first class photos by me.

**  Noise the Show was Tim Sommers' radio show on NYU's station. Two blessed hours a day, M-F, if I remember rightly, and the only place we heard the records we wanted to buy. The Beastie Boys had played a live gig on the show and a recording of that was circulated widely on cassette before their first EP, Pollywog Stew, came out on Rat Cage Records.


Camp Widow East: I sent a note to the sea

We did a ritual at Camp Widow East 2012, for the first time. A secular, all ages, all stages participatory event that was like nothing I'd ever seen. This is after two full days of being among ONLY widowed people, learning, bonding, sharing, belonging. The ritual was late, transcendent, deep and full of surprises, an expression of love shared.

Here's how it worked: Everyone received a glass heart, a piece of rice paper, and a short bit of green raffia. At some point during our day we each wrote a message to our late partner on the paper and wrapped up the heart. Spit was better at holding the package together than raffia, but whatever. (Love always binds.) All day Saturday we thought about it, or held on to it, written.

Saturday night was a banquet, a super fancy meal with a crazy photo booth where we all took on new identities and some (many) felt like dancing with their new friends. I wrote my note nearly at the last minute:
  • I forgive you and I forgive myself.
1999. Notice glow necklaces in hair.

This meant a lot because I wrote a similar note in 1999, when Gavin had a traumatic near-death event in our kitchen. I went to Burning Man that year and sent that note into the fire.

That was a big one, too. We could have broken up that year. Somehow, that year, "we" survived.

Now it's just me.

Last week, at Camp Widow East, late at night, in our fancy clothes, we all walked out, a bit uncertain, onto the short boardwalk ... yes, we left our shoes. There was a drizzle of rain, and, as we approached the shoreline, salt spray. We were each handed a glow necklace so that "no one would get lost." (Not the most confidence inspiring message when we are shoeless...)

In clusters, hand in hand, one at a time, in gaggles and lines, 100 widowed people walked into the edge of the foam, or deeper, and sent off our heart-message-raffia packets. Our words, our hearts. I've never understood so much about the word "release" till the moment before mine left my hand.

Self portrait by Tamara Hadji
Some of us fell in, or jumped (@Chris_NC took a bet and ruined a perfectly good necktie). Nearly everyone was crying or smiling huge smiles. We watched, re-clustered, and gave genuine hugs, deep ones, raising each other up or regrounding as we each needed. There were a few words... we thanked each other for being part of the amazing day. Exhausted and fulfilled, we said whatever we needed to say, silently, alone, and together. Our sequins, glow necklaces, wet ankles sparkled in the moonlight.

Then we found our shoes and regathered, party hairdo's damped down, smiling and refreshed, outside the tired ballroom, plotting one last party or too tired, perhaps to share any more, or taking what was almost the last picture of the weekend.  

It was gorgeous and we were all emptied out and yet very very full. This was what makes a good ritual and we need so many more of those in our lives after loss. How much of our time do we spend sharing via computer? What kind of "secrets" are we really telling in our blogs? The ocean can't read. We need to be alone together sometimes. We needed this. I was proud to be part of it and happy (and surprised) to participate with all my, yes!, heart.

Facebook, you can't beat the sea. 


* I shot 30 minutes of video but I don't know if anything came out because the camera owner is in Turkey till this weekend ...


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