Works by Barbara Roden
Original paintings and mixed media works by Barbara Roden


(posted on 16 Aug 2023)

OK, so don't laugh when I tell you Englebert Humperdinck was my saviour today.

The past few years have been tumultuous, to say the least. Just as the destabilizing and isolating effects of the infamous nasty virus were waning, along came non-stop high family drama filled with health concerns, vastly differing opinions, and overwhelming angst.  I've been racing through days, weeks and months of problem-solving, hurrying to appointments on unreliable ferries, on little sleep, on junk food, on the absence of the recuperative effects of time spent with dear friends. My infrequent respite came when I was able to steal away to my art studio for a few hours and fall into "the zone" of creativity. Unfortunately, a few months ago the macula of my right eye came apart and both my vision and my art practice were forever altered.

Vitrectomy surgery was followed by an interesting and challenging three days and nights of remaining face-down at all times. Over the following weeks the hole in my macula gradually closed and my vision improved, however, a scar remains and causes distortion in my central vision. I like to think I'm handling it pretty well. I'll take the distortion over the blind spot I first experienced. I'm grateful for the return of depth perception and my ability to read. I've returned to the studio and am painting proficiently once again. I don't even notice the distortion when I'm working close to the canvas, not until I step back and the smooth straight lines I painted appear to bend and shimmy. This unnerves me as I try to reconcile what I see with what I know I painted; it shakes my confidence. Of course, many people live full and happy lives with visual impairments far worse than mine, but this is new to me, so I'm allowing myself to grieve a little from time to time. On the hopeful front, I'm told my brain will get used to it and adapt until eventually I may not notice the distortion so much.

In the meantime, I have unsettling moments like I did this morning. I was totally focused on completing the first painting I've done start to finish, post-surgery. I lost track of time as I often do when I'm "in the zone", and I was feeling the surge of joy that comes with a sense of accomplishment. I completely forgot about my wonky eye until I stepped back to survey the completed work as a whole. I was so startled by what I saw that I actually gasped aloud. The dancing and wriggling lines I saw scrambled my brain. Self-pity started creeping; even a prickle signally the onset of tears. I literally gritted my teeth as I told myself to get a grip, that a little grief is OK, that the thing to focus on is gratitude for all I'm blessed with, not what is lost, dammit. And then, for reasons far outside my ken, I turned toward Alexa, the hockey puck-shaped robot emitting music in my studio, and told it to play Englebert Humperdinck, a voice I'm sure I hadn't heard in decades, and it did.

The sweet nostalgia of Englebert's schmoozy tones as he sang After the Lovin' brought a smile to my face. I closed my eyes and was transported back to my parents' shag rug adorned living room, mid-1970's, listening Mom's beloved Englebert, Tom Jones and Herb Alpert records on our RCA console stereo - a time when I didn't seem to have a worry in the world. I sang along and swayed to A Man Without Love and wonderfully nostalgic feelings continued to sweep over me. I felt comforted and oh so much better. With the lyrics of the next song, Quando, Quando, Quando, on both my lips and Englebert's, I chanced another glance at my painting: the image still danced.

But then, so did I.

Thank you Englebert Humperdinck.