Read At Your Own Risk / by Janis Miltenberger

There is no way I can pretend my way through this "blog". Sadly this will be a venue for me to simply let loose at the expense of what little good reputation I still maintain.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about commonalities. Drawing people into my story, uniting us. I long to have people look at my work and see a story, maybe the story I intend but really any story will do.

Ages ago I showed a piece at a gallery in Portland which had a very specific story. My story about the work revolved around something that had happened to me as a small child. The house where I spent my early years had a backyard which lead to a path through the back yards of several homes leading to the street behind our own street. In this overgrown path was a date palm. I didn't venture back there much, I was small and it seemed part of my big brothers world, one that I did not yet belong.
One day I was out in the back yard while my father was puttering about, probably trimming something or planting and I walked out that overgrown path. The place was strewn with palm fronds, I was maybe six but still the image is vivid, brown dried fronds on the path. Barefooted I stepped on them and pretty quickly realized I had encountered what felt like a thorn in my foot. Screaming bloody murder my dad came running and scooped me up taking me inside to examine my foot. It really hurt, but we saw nothing but a tiny red spot underneath my ankle. No massive thorn to pull out, the pain source a mystery.
Later my mother came home and determined I was fussing for nothing, trying to get attention as usual... that evening I think my parents were having guests over, it was during the party that my mom noticed my foot was swollen and red. Maybe it was then we started soaking my foot in warm water. By the next day there was no way I could put weight on it and off we went to the hospital. The story gets pretty fuzzy here, maybe there was an xray? At any rate my mother delivered the news to me that if the doctors dug around in my foot trying to get the thorn out there was no guarantee that they would not accidentally cause further harm to my foot.
Life as I knew it changed, from that point forward I was to keep my foot raised and my mother procured by some means a "poultice" to draw the thorn out. This ground up concoction was applied to my foot where we think the thorn entered (based upon the red dot on my ankle). It took maybe a month or possibly two but sure enough the thorn was showing itself. Oddly it had traveled from where it entered my foot at the ankle to the area above my heel near my Achilles tendon and when I would flex my foot you could see the budge of skin and under it was the thorn.
Finally my mother decided to take me back to the doctors so she scheduled the appointment. The day came and that morning my mom was running the bath water and she suggested to me that if I wanted I could try my hand at removing the thorn myself. I could take a bath, soaking my foot and making the skin pliable and then take a sterile needle and puncture the skin myself. While she readied the bath I recall sitting on the bed, needle in hand and just started at it. I flexed my foot and broke the skin using the needle. My mom was back on scene and intrigued letting me continue. Once the skin was broken we could see the end of the thorn recede and emerge with the flexing of my foot. I was handed the tweezers and my mom cautioned me to take it slow and not to break the thorn while pulling it out. Slowly I pulled and out it came.

Okay okay I know you wonder how in the heck this relates to my glass work, well I am getting there hold on!

I like all kinds of stories, always have and decades after this childhood thorn event I was fascinated by the story of the Last Supper. The story begins with Jesus entering Jerusalem people waving palm fronds and I wondered if there had been thorns as well. I know we can get caught up in the religious significance both negatively and positively, this story is so ripe for many of us. How ever this time I listened to the story anew without preconceived notions but instead one who wonders how it felt to be that person facing injustice and betrayal. It is a poignant tale.

My own palm tale is one that holds a lot of meaning. I learned that my mother had some big wisdom, that she could forge her own truth and it could have a positive outcome. I also felt her faith in me, and my body's ability to heal.

So I made this piece:

UNSPOKEN PROMISE, Photo Credit: Lynn Thompson, ©Janis Miltenberger 2015


UNSPOKEN PROMISE, Photo Credit: Lynn Thompson, ©Janis Miltenberger 2015

Amazingly a woman at the opening said to me that the palm frond reminded her of a rib cage and the apples of the Adam and Eve story. That was getting pretty close to the story I wanted to tell, a story of faith and belief and the power of both.