Sunday, August 14, 2011

First Friday, Stencil Art, Guerrilla Marketing & Upcoming Events

Over the past few months, I have regularly been selling cookies for donations out in front of my friends Matt & Lesli Yazzie's gallery, Longhouse Studios on 5th Street in the heart of the Downtown Phoenix arts district, sharing the street with Jobot Coffee and Crepes, Made Arts Boutique, the art collective, performance space and vegan cafe Conspire, Of the Earth, Lost Leaf, and Tumbleweed Drop In Center, where I work, among others. Though it is a far cry from similar bohemian neighborhoods in other cities, it is a place that many of us downtown creatives share a love/hate relationship with, and like it or not, it seems, the only place that seems like "home" to us, where a few hundred of us all know each other, and you can always find something going on. If you haven't yet been and live in Phoenix, I hope you will come check it out, preferably on any day but First Friday, though that is a different kind of experience in and of itself. I think that many of us just wish that the 1000s of wanderers who show up on that night would acknowledge that it is not the only night of the month that it is "cool" to support the arts in Phoenix. If we are in fact, your "entertainment" and a point of Phoenix pride, please recognize, we're here all week. Many of us in fact, seem to never leave.

This past First Friday Lesli invited me to put some work up in the gallery in addition to hustling my reasonably famous if I do say so myself vegan, gluten-free, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I have begun to bake a little bit for Conspire again also and recently a customer actually cleaned out the whole remaining supply of 18 cookies--$18.00 worth. I was a vegan fiend for years always looking for cookies and snacks everywhere I went but I must tell you despite my 11 years vegan, I don't think I even ever spent that much on cookies in a day. So they must be good :-)

While I haven't really made too much visual art in the past few years, and I have rarely seemed to be able to both focus on writing AND visual arts at once, successfully, I am trying to begin slowly to work on some stencils again. Though I am still a little unfamiliar with how they work or how popular they are with my crappy old Cricket phone and general resistance to embracing shiny new technology, I recently cut a stencil of a QR code via the website that people with smartphones can take a picture of  with the right app and be taken directly to my blog. Try it!
I am brainstorming some new guerrilla marketing techniques for my blog and have been putting a few of these in public just to try and see what other random people I might be able to reach, though I am trying to be careful and not do it in any way that could be perceived as "vandalism" because it basically links to my whole life. Though I wholeheartedly support graffiti as an art form, guerrilla art and taking art out of galleries and creating things in a public context to reach out and make people think, there is a fine line when it comes to the law, and I cannot afford to get arrested at this junction of my life. I do however, think there is still a lot of room to play around with this code without damaging any property, like making inserts to place in the New Times around town, in dentist office waiting rooms, making stickers of it, etc. We will see what else I come up with in the coming weeks. For now I have just put up a few in the Roosevelt area, which is already covered with all sorts of flyers and graffiti.
Guess where this is? If you know me, this should be an extremely easy question.

I screenprinted some shirts and gathered several of my favorite old stenciled works to prep for First Friday. Though for years they have been dear to me, I am feeling more easily ready to part with them, even though many are one of a kind and the stencils that created them no longer exist. I feel that all of my creativity is a rallying cry toward my one focus of healing and raising the next several thousand dollars needed over the next few months. Everything must go! If everything goes as planned with my next several appointments, I think that we should be able to begin placing implants by late September/early October. I have made it my aim to try and raise $4-5K by that time as of the beginning of this month between my own wages at Tumbleweed, cookie sales at Conspire and elsewhere, fundraising events I organize, art and tshirt sales and commissions, random donations, and whatever means I can come up with. Here is how I started out the month at the Longhouse:
In case you don't happen to be aware, all of the pictures in my blog are much larger if you click on them!
Domino/Keira Knightley in the lower left is the most detailed stencil I ever made in my first 6 months or so of stenciling while selling stencils in the streets of Portland. The tree in the middle is still by far the most elaborate single layer stencil I have ever cut, with around 1,800 pieces cut out of a single sheet of posterboard and using over 40 X-acto blades. The antique Singer sewing machine is one of the more popular images I have made and is also on the tshirts I just made.

From a small portrait series I was working on of women who inspired me. Katie, my first love, fellow "thought criminal" and partner in crime, Anastasia, a Phoenix poet who helped break me out of a writing funk and inspire me to go to Mexico to try to perform poetry in Spanish with friends 3 years ago at a big writers' conference with friends, and Miranda July, a performance artist, writer, director and actress who also is the inspiration for my "tramp stamp" tattoo I got as a birthday present to my closest friend I ever met on the internet who I also stenciled for this series, Kathleen.
This show was somewhat of a retrospective "greatest hits" of many of my stencils, many of which are personal to me as far as what they represent, or the time of my life they were created. This is actually how I met a lot of my first friends in Phoenix, as the crazy new homeless guy in town at Willow House Coffeeshop who for several visits was always cutting a ramen noodle stencil. Like 540 pieces later and about 23 blades I believe, here is a cropped version of the finished product painted on a record.
Thanks Lesli and/or Lori for making me this sign!
Between my art and cookies sales there and at Conspire that night, I raised about another $160 and with my own payday that day as well I was able to add another $485 to my credit at the school, bring my new total to almost $10,000 since January 19th! I have currently spent about half of that on everything I have had done so far, leaving me with $4642 in credit for my upcoming visits. It is quite amazing to know that ever since I began this journey, there has not thus far been a single appointment or procedure I have had to miss or a schedule I have had to change due to lack of funds. I hope to keep it that way. Implants are creeping up on my soon, and after so much momentum over the past 7 months, I don't want to get stuck just sitting here forever while I raise money in waiting for the priciest procedures. I also wholeheartedly am determined to try to find any way in my power to finish my treatment plan before Rakhee graduates next June. We have come so far together, and that is seriously probably my sincerest single wish in regards to any other person in my life over the next year. It would simply be such a wonderfully profound mutual gift to the both of us and resolution to this chapter of my life, and in my humble opinion, an awesome big finish to her education. Before she and all of the other 4th year students depart to figure out the next stage of their lives, I would love nothing more than to have a huge and epic "Apple-Eating Party" in honor of so many of them from the class of 2012 I have come to know and call friends, along with the hundreds of others who have supported me throughout this transformation.

I hope if you are reading this, and if it is in any way within your means to help me achieve this dream in any way that you can, I hope that you will consider doing so. The easiest way I think possible is to repost and share my blog and encourage others to do so. Everyone keeps telling me to write to Oprah. I feel that everything kind of has a life of it's own at this point. I just keep talking to people and being honest and open and doing what I love and making things happen, and everything has seemed to fall into place, over and over again. Maybe Oprah should write to ME! Maybe one of you out there reading knows her and how to reach her, and can speak on my behalf? Or maybe I don't need a celebrity millionaire to help me, when I already have all of you :-) Everything seems to be going "according to the plan." I hope to finally get some more local press soon. I want to also finally try to submit my story to NPR. I just made some more blog promo cards:
This is the front. Picture taken by Rakhee during my 3rd appointment after my full mouth debridement on January 26th. It's practically actual size, which gave me another crazy idea to get more printed without the text to pass out at shows and get photos of those in attendance with my old teeth in their mouths!
And the back. Panoramic X-ray taken by George on January 19th..
I also have two upcoming "FUNraising" events this coming Sunday, August 20th. The above cards, the text of which I wrote over 3 years ago somewhat inspired the first one. At 3:00PM at my friends Leann and Sven's used bookstore, Bard's Books I am going to host an open mic of sorts, with a theme of "secrets, fears and confessions." I will be providing vegan snacks and refreshments for donations and also reading some of the more personal selections from my blog. The event is also a book drive of sorts, and the owners have kindly offered to donate a portion of what they would normally be paying customers who bring books in to sell but wish to instead donate  them that day to my fund, and also a portion of sales that day. Amazing.
My other event, on the SAME day which hopefully will not drive me insane this week to organize and prep for, is a punk rock show and vegan dinner party at my former residence, The Firehouse Gallery, which is also an artist collective, performance space and coffee cart, featuring several popular downtown musicians. Below is the flyer I made with an image from a Garbage Pail Kid. The fun starts around 8:00PM. Get there before the food is gone!
After posting this on the wall of my facebook event page, I couldn't help but notice how strangely similar it was to the other picture I had been using for the event, which I took a few months back with a peephole over the lens of my old Sony Cybershot I take to all my appointments:

I had forgotten how many Garbage Pail Kids seem to have had dental themes. Maybe I just grew up wanting to be a Garbage Pail Kid? Subliminal messages?? Haha. I apologize to the artist of 3/4s of these cards from my childhood, John Pound. I know not how to reach you to ask permission to use this image I found from a google search, but if it is any consolation, I hope you will forgive me and trust me when I say that you were probably the first artist I ever was introduced to or even liked as a kid. If not for you and Art Spiegelman and the other creators of Garbage Pail Kids and also those behind Mad magazine, I don't know if I would have ever even grown up wanting to be an artist. So if somehow this blog ever makes it back to you, I hope that my earnest "Thank You" now is enough. I would also someday, love to own some of your original work and would proudly display a large painting of one of your kids alongside any of the other "finest" art I will ever own :-)

I hope if the rest of you readers who happen to live in and around Phoenix will please share my event with your friends, and I hope to see you there to eat Indian food and slurp Jobot toddy through a straw with me so as not to stain our teeth! I have lots more events of all shapes and sizes in the works, and will let you in on them all real soon when I hammer out more details. Thanks, as always, for reading. I hope I can share how far I've come with more of you in person instead of always just through my writing really soon.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Appointments 25 & 26

I have to admit, a lot of the past few appointments is kind of a blur. I need to start taking my OWN notes or get a voice recorder or something maybe. On July 29th we mostly worked on taking some new impressions. My bite has changed slightly over time with a new crown and fillings and the lab needed a new record of it. Not many pictures these next few visits. Some times are just not conducive. I try not to be a pest to my students and also take most all of my pictures myself, but some appointments feel a little redundant or I run out of time or I feel tire or sore or the procedure is exhausting, etc. I did snap this one of a neat and CLEAN tray of tools, something I feel like I have often neglected with my messy "after" pics.
And here is yet another picture of me controlling myself from coughing. I believe this was the 4th time of taking impressions, and I can proudly say I have managed to fight my gag reflex til the very end thus far.
I have also begun baking cookies a little bit at the art collective and vegan cafe Conspire across from where I work at Tumbleweed as yet another means to continue to raise more money, and on this day decided to bring Rakhee some of the leftovers from the previous night's batch. I noticed after I had wrapped them in parchment paper and tied them with dental floss that I thought the package actually kinda looked like a molar, even. I forgot to mention this at the time, and forgot even to mention that I had BROUGHT them and just left them on the counter, so I hope that my gift was received!

My next appointment on August 2nd was the follow-up to finish my maxillary molar root canal on tooth #3. This It is weird. I have been through so much and so many different kinds of procedures that cause stress and pressure and pain and are just tiring in so many sorts of ways, that it is hard sometimes lately to imagine what my early ones felt like. Extractions? I barely remember anymore. I can retrace the process in my brain and I know the name of virtually every student and Dr. who has ever touched me and what they did, but it is just hard to compare some appointments to others I guess. In retrospect, one would think that the violence of grinding down jaw bones and cutting and breaking out tooth roots piece by piece would suck the most, but for whatever reason, this day just kicked my ass. It started off okay, and then I just reached a point where I got SO cranky I barely talked, didn't try to take pictures and didn't even want to write about it or anything. The only picture I took that day was sitting in the chair awaiting one of several Xrays:
It was just a lot. Similar to the first step of endodontic therapy, there are lots of steps entailing jamming and twirling files over and over into the 3 canals of the tooth, first to remove the cotton and the calcium hydroxide, then to insert gutta percha (a kind of rubber) cones into an exactly tapered fit of the canals. This means slightly modifying the depth and width and taper it seems to perfection, and also finding the exact match of size of a variety of choices of gutta percha to fit and fill the hole precisely. This was certainly a chore, the doctors seeming impressed with the assortment of failed cones strewn all over the place. I do seem to have some complicated roots, the curved one of which, we learned to gain easier access you can bend the tip of the file, needle and gutta percha as needed. I must say, while irrigating, Rakhee had turned one of the needles into a fricken corkscrew trying to get the right angle to reach into the curved canal at the front of my tooth, the mesial buccul. This canal seemed to be the star of the day, demanding all the attention and causing the greatest trouble due to the angle and curvature demanded for entry. I did however, state above, that I didn't want to write about this appointment. Haha. It is hard to explain, and it wasn't anyone's fault. It is just a very long and complex procedure with many steps. It was one of the longest appointments I have had, and there was virtually no downtime or anything, and I barely got a chance to talk.

I came home that day and just felt "beat up." I emailed Rakhee making "Rocky" jokes that she really "knocked me out," in a cranky, yet humbling funk that swept over me when I got home and decided to just go to bed immediately. It felt like another sort of milestone had been reached in my mind and whenever I am moved, it is generally always impossible for me to keep my mouth shut and not tell the subject of my emotions immediately. It is hard. Some appointments I know are a huge struggle for me and/or my student dentists or it might happen to be one of the first times they have ever done a particular procedure, and even if I may not seem as "chipper" or talkative or positive on some days as I strive to be, I consider it very important to me to be supportive. Sometimes in the rush of trying to wrap up a rough appointment and check out I feel that those moments of clam clarity, sighs of relief and gratitude get a little lost in the shuffle, and I don't wish to be one of those people. I may, after all, get a little pissed off at the duration or the stress of my visit, but for the record, I am never personally angry at or distrusting of my dentists. If anything, I hate a procedure or a specific tool and the sensation or duress it cause, but not the person performing or using it.
I elaborated:

"however sore or tired you make me, I promise I am always happy and proud to be your patient/guinea pig. I told you were were in this together. I am happy you can learn from me, and to be learning. it only enriches the experience for me to treat it like i am also in class and learn more about myself and this process. it is truly empowering after so many years of ignorance. the fact that i even know wtf a gutta percha IS or can name the mesial, distal and palatal buchul of my first maxillary molar #3, know that I hate calcium hydroxide and the smell of the touch and heat burning plastic which for some reason smells like cloves, know that I have a provisional crown made of ProTemp on top of prep you refined and dropped the margins of after packing cord, which I also hate, know that I know ANY of these things right now, even if chances are I will never become a dentist myself or or probably not even an assistant, knowing who I was when you met me, has got to make you swell up with just a little bit of pride and smile when you think of me, right? :-) I hope so. 
A few months ago, #3 was just another ugly part of myself I hated. It is you who helps me every day learn to care about it, know it, and not take it, and all my other teeth for granted. You are truly writing the story of my teeth with a new vocabulary and also telling me the story of myself as I've never even known it. I just wanted to tell you that. I have a lot of time to think and be thankful with a rubber dam on, you know...

Next up: Tooth #3! AGAIN! Damn, it's such a diva. I hope some of my other teeth can finally have attention soon!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Appointment Number 24, My 2nd Root Canal, My Progression of Eating & For the Love of SPORKS!.

On July 25th I went in for my second root canal. As you may recall, this one was sort of a surprise that snuck up on me over the past few months and made this tooth the most sensitive in my mouth. For about two months the majority of all my chewing has been done on the left side of my mouth, due largely to a heroic effort by my 2nd premolar (and ONLY premolar) on top that worries me regularly that it is going to collapse since it is unsupported on either side. Though often much of the severe pain I once had has largely disappeared, eating is a far cry from easy for me. I still often stick with many softer foods, and make smoothies almost every day as well. Biting and tearing off large pieces of foods like sandwiches, burritos, pizza, etc is virtually impossible if they are not really soft. A few days ago I was starving after not really eating much all day and went to Pita Jungle and ordered a black bean burger and I swear it must have taken me 40 minutes to eat. The roasted garlic potatoes I chopped into smaller pieces with my fork, as I tried to also do with the tomato and raw red onion before placing them back on my burger.
Bites are very small for me and technically only having 2 teeth on the left side of my mouth that meet (not counting my canines which are hard and awkward to chew with out of the corner of one's mouth) if you can do the math for a moment and imagine that most adults either have 32 (or 28 teeth if their wisdom teeth have been removed,) and therefor you probably have 14-15 more little pinching teeth to chop and grind foods apart than I have = I can't help it if I eat slower than you. Furthermore, I should add, that it is a fucking CHORE. Afterward, quite often, depending on what it is, my jaw and just me in general feels totally exhausted, and more often than not, the task of eating for me leaves me bored, frustrated, and is generally unenjoyable. Matters only become more complicated and sensitive when attempting to eat with others, let alone if I try to also spend time talking during the meal that I could be chewing if I am to remotely keep up. (And if you know you you know that like, DAMMIT, talking is one of my favorite things!) A few weeks ago a friend and I went to try out the food of a new chef in town and both ordered the same thing. My disappointing friend grew so impatient of how long it was taking me to finish my food, he left me there alone to proceed to our next destination before me I had thought we were heading to together. Now imagine these feelings, and anxieties at every meal with everyone for nearly a decade. But this isn't a pity party, it me reaching out for just a little bit more understanding than it seems I often get from people, even those who I know care and don't generally want to hurt or upset or be unaccommodating to me on purpose.

I've used this analogy before, but I really want to make it clear and remind people, that eating for me really is like trying to split wood with a screwdriver or a chisel. It can be done, and is in fact performed regularly by me, but it is most certainly slow, tedious and frustrating. If you choose to share a meal with me during these transformational months, please try to be understanding, and do not take your numerous axes and wedges for granted. I am doing the best that I can, and if I often try to rush to keep up with others, it will probably mean that I am going to cough and choke my way through my meal that I have not chewed into small enough pieces, not to mention, that I will barely get to take part in any of the conversation we are having. Thank you.

People lately have seemed fascinated and confused by why on earth I more often than not have a titanium spork clipped to my hip. I purchased it from REI before leaving for my bike tour mostly with the intention of packing light and only needing one utensil for camping, but over time on that trip and since it has become a special tool to me that has often taken the place of my missing front teeth. Whereas spoons are hard to chop things with, and the sides of forks somewhat work, the tip of my spork sort of has the best of both worlds and I often do in fact use it to chop foods as I would bite them if I could. I don't care about all the weird looks I get or the mild, mocking amusement. I love my spork, and it has become a piece of my story as much as anything else.

So, back to my root canal.
This time it was to be on my first molar, the only one we determined was worth saving, #3. I would learn quickly that maxillary molars are a ridiculously elaborate process to perform a root canal on because unlike my previous one on tooth #7, this tooth had 3 canals to fill. Although this day did take longer than many other appointments, not to mention it is a two appointment procedure, it ultimately wasn't too horrible overall.
Today I got to meet another student, Payam, who would be assisting Rakhee in the Endo section of the school, and some of the most isolated chairs. Normally, in most of my appointments, I have been seated alongside 4-8 others sometimes in large open rooms that remind me of tattoo studios. At thsi point, and with how comfortable I am and how many people know me, I almost feel a little claustrophobic when in Endo in all honesty.
First things first, it was time for my first annoying rubber dam(n) in several visits. This one however, would prove a little problematic due to the fact that my tooth that the clamp fits on had already been prepped for a crown and had very little surface to clamp on to. Though annoying, I still could not help but snicker when even the Dr. who came to Rakhee's aid's first attempt went shooting out of my mouth across the room a few seconds later.

Something you didn't know--I actually bought my own safety glasses I wear to my appointments now. Some of the ones at the school are more scratched than others and if I can't talk half the time I am at least determined to be able to SEE! :-)
 We did however get the clamp suitably fashioned on shortly after and I proceeded through one of my least favorite parts of ALL my dentist appointments, the part where I mostly am forced to shut up! Haha. I also volunteered to use a bite block which is also not on my top ten list of fun things dentists can put in your mouth either, but it could be far worse. I am still slowly working on a top 10 list of my biggest pet peaves/most annoying tools/procedures or things that I've had to endure at the dentist, one of which, was coming up very soon.
So in case you have never had a root canal and need one, let's see if I can describe how it feels in a concise manner as best as I understand it/have experienced it. Basically you have an infection at the root of your tooth that over time can kill the pulp, the nerve and begin attacking even the supporting bone around the roots. To stop this, the dentist first creates an access point in the crown of the tooth with a round burr on their powered rotary tool I still don't know the name of, then uses a series of small hand files to remove all the necrotic pulp. It is a slow and arduous process so as not to fracture the wall of the tooth while using an ever-increasing series of longer and wider files, remeasuring the depth and taking X-rays. I forgot this time, but had wanted to count every single time a drill or anything else was stuck in my tooth throughout the duration of my appointment, because I swear it has to be nearly a hundred! It certainly seems like it. Here is a slightly blurry shot of 3 files of different depths in all 3 canals of my tooth before the X-ray to determine if the final depth was reached:
What, I had to go to the bathroom!

I thik it was around this time that my FAVORITE part came, when they use Sodium Hypochlorite, AKA bleach to irrigate and clean any remaining bacteria out of the tooth canals, which my crazy Indiana Jones tongue always seems to want to explore, and manage to taste lots of things I am not supposed to taste. Let me tell you, I cannot imagine being a child raiding an unprotected cabinet under the sink and downing a bottle of bleach. Even with the very small dilution of this solution, it is by far one of the grossest things I have ever tasted, even if only probably a drop. Gross, gross, GROSS! Here are some more pictures from the remainder of the day:

One of the rare times I would ever support using the phrase "Drill, baby, drill!"

If only I got a picture of the size of the drill INSIDE my tooth right now.

After this, they fill the canal with calcium hydroxide to help fight the remaining infection I guess and seal the tooth back up again with a small cotton pellet and a temporary material called Cavit. If you want the even longer and more detailed version of all of this that will probably make even less sense, feel free to try and translate Rakhee's notes from a picture I took at the next appointment :-)
 Frankly, it is pretty awesome and empowering that I actually understand virtually all of them, including the abbreviations. More on this when I write about the follow up root canal appointment a week later. One thing I forgot though--if accidentally tasting bleach is on the terrible end of the spectrum as far as taste sensations can go, I must add, that upon first drilling into bottom of the canals of my tooth, the smell I guess of the infection and/or rotting pulp and nerves is by far one of the most terrible things I have ever smelled. To know that that came out of the body of a LIVING person, let alone MY MOUTH seems absolutely impossible and downright disgusting. It feels really great to know that after all these years, for how "rotten" and old and morbid looking into the mirror has made me feel that somewhere inside my mouth, the deepest, darkest, most unhealthy and unsettling parts of me are finally almost all removed. If it takes bleach to do truly disinfect the most infested underworld of my spirit, so be it. It is time once and for all, to rid my body of this emotional menace, and to heal. It feels so, so very good to begin to finally start to feel "clean."