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  • There were four hundred of us packed into the school auditorium at the tip of upper Manhattan’s West side.
    The meeting had been called to discuss the service interruptions and train changes that were being proposed. It was already a long slow trip to downtown, in standing room only cars. The meeting was packed because the quality of life was low and threatened to get worse. If they cut train service the waits would be longer, the crush of people even greater.
    The meeting was underway and a speaker got up but was interrupted.
    “They started bombing six minutes ago,” was the breaking news.
    The First Gulf war had begun.
    There were gasps from the audience, some people cried out in lament.
    And then we had a minute of silence.
    Silence is profound in the surroundings of great nature, but in a room full of four hundred people silence has it’s own sound.

    We had seen this coming. We had also seen the recession coming. I had said so that August, in the heat of an argument when my husband asked me what I was afraid of.
    “By the end of the year we will be at war and the economy will slide into a recession,” I blurted out.
    And so it came to pass.
    Our only client, our private Medici, who had kept us working for four years, cancelled the next big project. It was already drawn up and decided. We completed the cabinet and panel designs, we made the drawings, it would have carved details.
    We called, two weeks before Christmas to discuss the type of wood, mahogany or oak?
    It would be neither. He had lost eleven million dollars and we were unemployed. As time went on in the coming season, we were very unemployable.

    There were weeks when we budgeted ourselves, after bills, fourteen dollars left to buy food for two.
    We ate a lot of beans.
    I did our laundry in the tub and hung it everywhere to dry.

    I succumbed to despair and put aside my art, even though I was unemployed and finally had free time, free days. I put aside the thing that would have pulled me back up.
    I listened to all of the negative voices in myself and from all of the people who had told me that art was just bullshit, or a matter of opinion and self-indulgent and I was being selfish and what did it mean anyway?
    I listened to the negative voices and I let them win.
    The country went to war and slid into recession and I let that stop me. I had asked myself “How can I make art in the face of a war, and how can I make art when I am worried about work?”
    That recession, at the start of the 1990’s was bad for real estate and many people, most of our friends and colleagues in the building trades were out of work for months. Many older businesses retired early. Even though I was not alone in the difficulty I thought I was.
    I made the global issues into my personal issues and so the war came home.
    It did me no good then and, now years later I know that the best thing I can do to help the world is to not let it get the better of me.
    I will not surrender myself again.
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