October 10, 2007

Guest Post: Dr. J on Sculpting Memories

Those of you who have enjoyed "Dr. J's" witty and sometimes wise-assed remarks in our Comments section may not have realized that he's got quite the sensitive side too! Here's another non-blogger who has ventured to write a Guest Post and done a great job of it. If Crabby can keep getting her readers to write her posts for her, she may never come back! (Just kidding. She's totally addicted to the blog and will be rarin' to come back just as soon as she's settled back home. Lucky you!)

In the meantime, here's some sage advice from Dr. J.:

Sculpting Memories

With the release of the movie “The Aviator” several years ago, I started thinking about the life of Howard Hughes. I believe many people, when they hear the name Howard Hughes, think of some germ-a-phobic nightmare of a man, anorexic with stringy hair and out of control nails.

But Howard Hughes had an incredible life. For much of it he lived as most of us can only fantasize. He knew all the most famous people of his day, dated the most sought after woman, and had more money than most countries! He was able to explore his dreams and desires without apparent limit. With his aging, however, life became difficult for him and he succumbed to the struggles that challenged him. I think many of us have or had people in our lives who because of various reasons, are not seen at their best in our memories. Perhaps, for many of us, seeing these important persons in a kinder light will be of beneficial. A gift to one’s self, perhaps!

It seems to me that with the ‘in the moment’ way life is experienced, it’s all too easy to see people as what they end up as rather than what they were. Life can be very challenging and many people don’t bear up well to the passage of time. Because of a personal experience I feel I have found a tool which can help one to reconnect with the loved one of your past rather that the unloved one of your present.

As my grandfather got older he became more and more estranged from the family. At one point we didn’t talk for almost 15 years. When I heard he was living in the same state as me I decided to contract and visit him. Let’s just say the visit did not go as I had expected. He had years of anger built up and used me to show it. I had been under the assumption that he didn’t want to do anything with the family, but now I understand that that was because of his daughter’s anger with his divorcing her mother. I never saw my grandfather again after this and didn’t have a very good opinion of him. I remember him telling me how hurt and angry he was that I didn’t contact him before. Of course the fact that I was contacting him now didn’t seem to mean much. I said to him, “Where is it written that the grandson has to contact the grandfather and not the other way around?” I had been under the impression that he wasn’t interested in me and I felt that I was reaching out to him. Pride can be a dangerous and foolish choice.

Some years later I had renewed my childhood interest in art and decided to do a bust of my grandfather as a gift to my mother. I collected all the photos of him I could find and began the project. To my surprise, as I worked with the clay and created my grandfather’s image, I found myself reconnecting with the grandfather I had known as a child and young man. Not the angry older man, but the kind, giving person I had known, but had forgotten over the years. I was able to remember the younger man.

I think art can be a useful tool to process, renew and explore feelings. As a sculptor, I used clay.. If one has artistic talents and desires, any medium would work. Otherwise, collage or a photo collage may serve as well. Use old magazines to find memories in pictures. Or perhaps, words from the pages will appear as appropriate to the person. Personally, it feels so much better to remember my grandfather at his best, rather than the person life challenged. I think it’s unfortunate the way one can tend to forget much of a person’s life and focus on the most recent experiences, which with aging can be unpleasant.


  1. What a great post, and the sentiment would hold true for most any past relationship, I suppose. It would be a particularly wonderful way to reconnect with those who have seriously declined in their later years... mentally, emotionally or physically.

    And the sculpture certainly reflects your success in seeing beyond the bitterness.

    This post is a keeper.. thanks for that.

  2. What a thoughtful post.
    Using your creative mind to reconnect is a wonderful, wonderful tool. Thanks so much for pointing this out.

  3. Dr.J, this is a beautiful post.

    I see why you started with the story about Hughes, but the late age struggles he had were much different from those of your grandfather's... one beautiful thing about your gift was it could help your mom as much as it did you.

  4. What an amazing post about a wonderful healing experience you had. Most of us don't realize how exhausting and futile it is to carry around bitterness toward someone. I am thrilled that you were able to overcome the bitterness you had through art and then share the experience with us!

  5. Dr. J - how wonderful for you to have been able to reconnect with your memories of your grandfather's younger years. Thanks for this great post, and hopefully it will help all of us remember to look beyond the current facade to the real person inside.

  6. I agree with everyone, what a wonderful post! Such an insightful idea and great suggestions for those of us that may be a bit more artistically challenged.

  7. This is a great idea that anyone could use. Even if you didn't have artistic ability, you could just write journal entries about your positive memories of someone.

    You could also use it to remember the good times you had in, say, a tormented high school career, and sort of reshape those negative feelings.

  8. I'd like to thank everyone for their kind comments and additions to my story!

    I actually have used writing to process issues and have written a short story about 'my' high school days and basketball. Perhaps if Crabby takes another vacation, she will use it as a filler.

    I think it has been very special of Jamie to allow us, and especially me, to have this
    opportunity. She is the hub of the wheel, but being a small part of the tread has been fun!

    I guess everyone knows the photo is the sculpture I did of my grandfather. If I only had inherited his nose, I would have had that role on General Hospital

  9. Thank you so much, Dr. J., for such an inspiring post!

    Memories are so precious but they slip away so easily if they're not nurtured. What a creative way to reclaim some of the past and preserve it!

    Wish I were as artistic as you--don't know if stick figures would have quite the same emotional power.

    And btw, Guest Posts are never filler! Filler is the stuff Crabby puts up in between guest submissions when she's too busy and/or lazy to write a proper post.

    Thanks again so much for sharing this with us.

  10. What a great post! I love a the idea of a creative outlet to relive the best times of someone's life. I think sculpting someone you love would be such an intimate experience, I could see how it would really affect you, especially considering the circumstances. I think artistically one could expand the medium to the performing arts or writing-anything to creatively express and remember the loved one's life.
    Thanks Dr. J!

  11. Great post. I do think of that Howard Hughes fingernail thing too often.

  12. Wonderful post! I’m not familiar with Howard Hughes nor have I ever watched “The Aviator”, but I am reminded of Nixon. He’s notorious for Watergate at the end of his presidency, so all the good he did do are forgotten.

  13. I don't know what to say, since I haven't had any similar experiences, but the story still touched me very deeply. In fact, it has me thinking about myself: I'm afraid that I might be growing into an estranged old man if I'm not careful, because I have trouble relating to people - even my own family. I hope not.

    Fortunately, most of my family are quite understanding, and always remind of the value of their love.

  14. This reminds me that some of the many teachings I have read which equate negative feelings such as anger and resentment as corrosive acids that destroy the vessel which contains them. That would be us. It's a good motivation for finding forgiveness, which is not the same as forgetting. Understanding that all humans are flawed let's us cut everyone, including ourselves, some emotionally healthy slack.


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