Fish and a Vegetarian Girl: How Fish Has Helped In My Journey With Multiple Sclerosis

Last year, I had become rather unwell. Finally one day, in a state of total distress, I wrote an email to my family members who were right outside my room, “Will someone please buy me fish?” It was a long email which went on to say much more. Sometimes distress is very good. It makes us say, in no uncertain terms, things that we had long been struggling to say.

Mom arranged for Gauri our cook to bring me cooked fish from her place, as much and as often as I felt like. Our cook is a Bengali lady. We are a vegetarian Marwari family. Since then I have been eating fish regularly. After some initial trial I have settled for one piece of fish every alternate day. The change I have experienced is so distinct, drastic, and positive, that it pushes me to share this with you.

Fish is the best source of a thing called Omega 3 that the brain cells and nerves really need, especially in conditions like Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and othersTerry Wahls and a few other sources had told me. I had started cooking and eating it when I was in USA, and I clearly experienced myself moving towards health and strength. Personally I experienced the benefits at a mental level more clearly because I, as a personality, have always been more interested in the state of my mind. However, the restoration of physical health and strength was also distinct. Other people noticed the physical improvements in me too.

This restoration was not only due fish. Based on what Terry Wahls had told me, I had also eliminated food that caused harm to my cells — wheat, rice, sugar and milk products. I also focused on eating dark green leafy vegetables and brightly coloured fruits — along with other vegetables, daal, chholaa, nuts, dark-chocolate-almond-milk (yummy!) and soya yoghurt. Those days, from Charlotte, North Carolina USA, I announced on Facebook one day about how healthy I was feeling, healthier than I had ever felt even as a child. It seemed as if I had conquered Multiple Sclerosis.

Then my health started to flounder again. I had returned to India. Cooking fish became a practical challenge and rice entered into the diet again. I was living in south-west coastal Karnataka (Udupi-Manipal), so fish was easily available but there were practical difficulties. I did not know how to clean it and cook it. My maid tried to teach me but I was unable to learn. Fish wasn’t sold cleaned and cut into pieces that I just had to smear with some masala and roast in the oven, as in USA. I went to a few nearby joints to eat fish but they were rather seedy joints and the fish was too oily. One place on Tiger Circle offered steamed fish. That was very nice. I ordered it for home delivery sometimes, but restaurant food is not a great regular solution.

When I moved to Kolkata to live, after years, with my family, the need for fish did not go away. I could feel it within myself because I had experienced the restoration of health and strength in USA. If I had not experienced that change first hand, I might have discarded everything I had learned from Terry Wahls as, “Maybe, होता होगा किसी के लिए, पर मुझे तो नहीं हुआ फायदा,” which is fair enough. Unless something helps us, that knowledge is neither here nor there.

Since I started eating fish regularly last year, I have benefited in these ways —

* Now I don’t feel hungry all the time. I don’t grab at food that harms this body, that makes this body sluggish and weak, that makes this mind muddy, weepy, and weak.

* My mind is genuinely and starkly “stronger”. I do not struggle with wanting to do x, really really trying to do it, succeeding slightly, failing mostly, and then being horribly frustrated with myself, convinced that I cannot live. Instead, there is a clear sense of strength within. This strength has nothing to do with faith, spirituality, resolve, or belief. I really do not know how to describe it, but it is distinct because I know how it was before, and I know how it is now.

So why did I feel hungry before? Did I not have enough to eat? One could easily say that when I was living alone I did not keep my larders well stocked. “अकेली रहती है, ठीक से खाती नहीं होगी” — I have heard this from relatives far and near. However, even when I moved back to live with my family, I used to feel a constant panting kind of hunger.

My family loves food and our larders are well stocked. Pa does the fresh produce shopping for the family and always makes it a point to get all the fruits – pomegranate, jaamun, pitaaree etc. apart from the humble banana, apple, oranges – and all the veggies kumdaa, lauki, even laal saag, beet root. As a substitute for the kale in USA, we discovered pui saag (in Bengali. Basale in Karnataka, Malabar spinach in English), the green version of laal saag – loddhe saag (in Bengali. Harive soppu in Karnataka), kalmee saag etc. – vegetables that most Marwari families have not learned to eat despite living in Kolkata for generations. The normal paalak comes regularly, apart from bathuaa, sarson etc. in the winters. Mom and my bhabhis always makes it a point that the meal menu contains preparations I can eat — such as daal, cauliflower sabzi and not just aaloo kee sabzi and pooree. Even then I felt hungry almost all the time.

When I lived alone, food that was in my taboo list (rice, wheat, sugar and milk products), just did not exist in the house. So I felt hungry and as a result of the hunger I felt even more depressed than what I was anyway feeling. That was all. Here in Kolkata, we are a joint family of ten members and I like I said, we love food. So there is always some barfi ready, snacks like suhaalee nimkee, some sandesh or the other keeps popping onto the table on some pretext, my niece loves her Hide-and-seek and Bourbon biscuits with milk… Initially I used to feel angry, “They know this food harms my body? Why do they keep presenting it in front of me? This family is so crazy about food, food, food!”

Then instead of being angry, I became spiritual. “We are infinite beings. It does not matter what we eat. I shall be free of all restrictions,” and so in my hunger I started lunging at the food that I knew harms my system. If nothing else, for Hide-and-seek biscuits in the evening were a must — for the chocolate, but you also get sugar free (pun intended). I just couldn’t help it. In Manipal, and here in Kolkata too, I had also started eating rice regularly again (कुछ तो चाहिए न खाने को!), and could clearly feel it making my system sluggish progressively.

Now, ever since I have started eating fish regularly, that craving is simply not there, that gnawing hunger is not there. So it requires no effort to stay away from food that harms my system. My family is free to be what they are. The food is there on the table — the stuff that repairs my system and the stuff that damages my system, and I feel zero urge to lunge at the stuff. Plus I can feel a distinct strength within.

What food we eat is not a matter of morals. It is a matter of chemistry. X chemicals in the food reacting with Y chemicals in our cells cause Z transformation. Some bodies need something, others need something else. Our bodies, a constantly evolving biology, individually and collectively, is a vehicle given to us to operate in this world. Having driven mine for some years, I have learned to recognize its sounds. We may categorize all cars as cars, but diesel is appropriate for some engines, petrol for some, and electricity for some other engines.

When I had announced good health on Facebook from USA, an uncle asked me to share my experience with an MS patient in Kolkata. Another uncle asked me to share my experience with another MS patient in Ranchi. They might have tried some of what I suggested, but things have not changed much for them as far as I know. They both belong to vegetarian Marwari families. This article is especially for them, and others of similar social and physical configurations. Fish might be a crucial missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle.

Will I never get unwell again? Can’t say. However, this is not just my experience. Terry Wahls and numerous others have benefited by consciously eating food that helps their cells and not eating food that harms their cells. Terry, a medical doctor and researcher is an MS patient herself. It is has become her life work now to conduct well designed research regarding the healing power of food and bring her findings to the general world — after she experienced drastic benefits herself. Apart from seeing her video and reading her book, I have met her in person too. It’s a beautiful stroke of providence — we were associated with the same university, consulting the same neurology doctor.

Changing the food we eat involves social, emotional and many other issues, along with a plethora of practical matters. It is not simply a matter of resolve. If you would like to know about anything else of my experience in this regard, please tell me and I will respond as best as I can.

Also, please know: You Are Your Own Boss. Not all MS patients are created alike. Not all Parkinson’s patients are created alike. “One tree is like another tree, but not too much. One tulip is like the next tulip, but not altogether. More or less like people — a general outline, then the stunning individual strokes”. (Mary Oliver). Read up about stuff. Educate yourself. Try things. But no one knows your system better than you. And you have more power than you acknowledge.  Over time I have developed an uncanny awareness. I know, often in the first bite, whether the food is impacting the body positively or negatively, and if the system is starving for something. So for example, no one told me rice is bad for MS patients. They talked about gulten and wheat. However, I have found consistently that rice also harms my system. As you eat with awareness, you will learn best, what is bringing energy to your body, what is not.

The book I read and linked to above is very costly in rupees. You might want to try this book: The Wahls Protocol. I have not read it.

If you think this post can be of help to someone, please share it with them.

You have more power than you acknowledge

1. You have more power than you acknowledge

2. Your mind is very powerful. Even now, despite all the excruciating pain, your mind is still very powerful.

3. The pain is your biggest present problem.

4. To solve a problem you have to know and understand the problem.

5. To know and understand the problem you have to look at the problem.

6. Your job is not to analyze prematurely. You know practically nothing about the pain except that it is there.

7. Your job is not to run away from the problem by distracting your mind away from it.

8. Your job is also not to stubbornly (and apparently valiantly) keep on trying to live your previous life and it’s engagements (conferences, publishers, meetings etc.) by pushing the pain aside.

The pain is at the center of your experience right now so you must give it your central attention.

9. This does not mean that you sit and mope the whole day with attention on the pain. Do what you can, as naturally as you can, in co-operation, in partnership with the pain — not despite it. Ask the pain, “What do you want?”

10. Each day, give at least 10 minutes to yourself to sit and connect to your current experience physically and mentally, in the present moment. Observe it minutely. Experience your full body and receive what it is telling you. That is where the answers lie — in the present moment, at the heart of the pain.

You have more power than you acknowledge. No one can know your pain better than you can. No doctor, no other person who cares for you. Ask the pain for answers — that is where the answer lies. But first and foremost, sit with the pain. With gentle kindness — towards your self and the pain. Without judgement — for your self or the pain. With fascination even — towards the pain and your self.

You are not your pain. The pain is a visitor. Honor it. But you are still the master of your self and you have more power than you acknowledge.

Processing Pain: What I Have Learned

The child was playing. The child fell down, got hurt and started bawling. The mother (or whichever other elder was in the vicinity) rushed to the aid of the child, picked her up and started consoling her. The child continued bawling.

One strategy that mothers (or elders in general) resort to in this situation is to distract the child from the pain. There is one thing they do which I find mighty fascinating. The elder stomps the ground, or slaps it saying in a mock scolding tone, “तुमने वाणी को चोट पहुँचाई? (You hurt Vani?) Bad ground.” Or the elder says in jest, pointing to the ground, “See how many ants have died!”

The child looks with fascination at the ground. Her mother slapping and scolding the ground? Or ants (which the child can’t see) have died? How curious! The child gets adequately distracted, feels adequately pacified by a boosted ego (someone else is having to pay for her pain), stops bawling, strategy successful, elder feels like a good caring elder.

And so it goes for the rest of life. When we feel pain, be it physical or emotional, the first strategy and in most cases the only strategy is to find who is to blame. If it is someone else and that someone else is adequately slapped and scolded, we feel pacified. If it is not someone else, we blame our self and slap and scold ourself. Extremely intense, mean, vicious and private slapping and scolding at that! At the very least, if we find others who have suffered too, we feel “OK, it’s not too bad then” and are thereby somewhat pacified. This is more-or-less the only strategy we adopt for processing pain. Either someone has to be found to blame and has to be made to pay for it, or someone else has to suffer with us. Be it the individual human being or any other collective – nation, community, religion whatever. This is our system of “justice”.

What if the true answer is that there is no one to blame? Not even you. Not even God.

I share below what I have learned of processing pain

  • Physical Pain: When I first learned a new way of processing pain
  • Emotional Pain: Transferring the learning from physical to emotional pain
  • Keeping A Childlike Curiosity and Fascination Towards The “Phenomena”
  • There is no blame. No one is at fault.

Physical Pain: When I first learned a new way of processing pain

I had gone to USA to study computer science. A dream come true, finally. However, as I got into the tune of living a student’s life, my health deteriorated. Along with attending classes, the days and the semester comprised of several visits to the hospital for various tests and perplexing conversations with the doctors – not to mention the perplexing increasing weakness and a new array of sensations in my body. I was scared. Eventually it was declared that I have Multiple Sclerosis.

After some months I enrolled into a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at the hospital. These programs at hospitals across USA teach meditation, extended shavaasan, and a smattering of yoga to participants to enable them to receive whatever life is throwing at them with greater awareness in a manner that can be rather empowering. At the mindfulness program, for the first time I learned a way of processing pain that was totally new to me.

In the extended shavaasan, over a period of 45 minutes say, one lies down with eyes closed and brings one’s awareness, in turn, to each and every part of the body, from the toes to the skull and experiences whatever one is experiencing there. “Whatever you are experiencing at that point where your awareness is, it is just a sensation. Experience it as just that. A sensation. Is it a tingling? Is it a throbbing? Experience the sensation completely”, the program guide said.

When the mind is totally absorbed in experiencing the sensation completely, there is no further assignment of additional thoughts and stories to the experience – This is so painful! What is happening to me? My symptoms are getting worse… future projections of seeing oneself in a wheelchair… and all other exotic future projections that we are all very capable of.

At that moment, that which you are experiencing at that point in the body, is just a sensation. Even if it is a pain it becomes more painful and harrowing than it actually is due to the grand ensemble of stories that we attach to it.

As I did that extended shavaasan every day and received whatever I was experiencing just as a sensation, fear towards those sensations faded away. Often, complete awareness of the sensation also made the sensation go away. One day after one of the extended shavaasans, as I was applying cream and getting ready to go to the university I found myself actually apply the cream with a gentle love and appreciation for my body. This was a rather new experience for me for I have always just lived in my mind since childhood. The body has just incidentally been there. For the first time I was acknowledging my body and all that it enabled me to do in life.

This learning has stood by me in good stead. Whenever I feel physical pain, most times I simply experience it. It does not bring on fear the way it did in those days. If there is anything practical to be done about the pain, I do it as best as I can. Often I found that receiving the pain with complete awareness brings tremendous transformative power with it – the pain and discomfort melts away in a most fascinating manner and sometimes even leaves me with greater clues and information about myself.

Receiving pain completely with awareness sure connects us firsthand to an intrinsic power we have within. We find that we are not victims of what we are experiencing. Irrespective of how debilitating the weakness becomes, one tiny grain of strength remains. A grain that is totally indestructible.

Emotional Pain: Transferring the learning from physical to emotional pain

Most of the pain we experience in life is mental, emotional. A person may have no physical ailments but chances are there is substantial emotional pain she is nevertheless experiencing. Relationships are the most fertile ground for emotional pain. It is a challenging domain for almost every person on the planet. This is also where most of the ping-pong blame game matches are held which go into lengthy rallies extending over years. The challenge of physical ailments is also exacerbated by the mental/emotional appendages we attach to it. Every person’s quest for finding her own valid place in the world itself is rife with painful experiences.

I gained confidence about processing physical pain by bringing my complete attention to it. I felt empowered. I also found that all physical challenges I was facing was a tip of the iceberg. The true underlying ailment that was rusting me was hurt and resentments I had harbored towards people in my life. It also included feeling not-good (on mild days) and shitty (on intense days) about myself. All this information and its resolution did not come in fragrant floral greeting cards. It came in a series harrowing experiences interspersed with some nice relief periods of song, dance and joy. The challenge was (and mostly always is) at the mental-emotional level.

Having successfully processed pain at the physical level, the thing to do was to transfer the learning to the mental-emotional level. It is kind-of like having learned and practiced division with smaller well-behaved numbers, we apply the same approach to larger more unruly numbers. Higher gaming level basically. How nice!

I found processing physical pain easier and carried that learning over to mental-emotional pain but it need not always be that way. My friend in Udupi feels confident about dealing with challenges that life may throw at her but physical pain trumps her. However when physical pain strikes she knows it is time to slow down. She feels totally unapologetic taking the day off from work on the first day of her periods for example.

Be it physical or mental-emotional, the strategy is the same: to bring our complete awareness to the pain. With physical pain there is a tangible well-defined point in space to bring attention to. With mental-emotional pain it is easy to get buffeted around in the mind with nothing tangible to hold onto. However, there are ways to counter that. One effective strategy being – bring your attention to the breath again and again, while you are talking to someone, while you are doing whatever. Even one or two breaths that you become aware of in a day has tremendous transformational power.

On more-or-less ok days, awareness on the breath is very effective to come back to again and again through the day. What do we do when things get really mucky? When we are seething in anger or we are pulled into the depths of perplexing depression?

When emotional pain becomes intense it almost takes on a kind-of-physical form. Then one can almost see the black ink moving and changing shape within the mind and the body, the thought intensity moving and changing shape. Awareness on this movement of pain opens the doorway to its resolution.

Keeping A Childlike Curiosity and Fascination Towards The “Phenomena”

This is another strategy that helps me tremendously. To look at what is happening with childlike curiosity and fascination. The fundamental aspect of a scientific bent of mind is not analysis, but childlike curiosity. Everything is simply a phenomenon worthy of curious observation. There is nothing good or bad about a phenomenon. It is a simply something that is happening.

So this is happening – whatever the ‘this’ may be. I am feeling this way (anger, hatred, jealousy, depression, lust, horribly unwell whatever) – whatever I may be feeling and experiencing, it does not make me a bad person. That does not mean I am a failure. This is simply what is happening at this moment. To think in this manner frees up huge amounts of mental bandwidth. It becomes much more feasible to look at what is happening properly and from a fresh perspective. By not beating our self up for what we are experiencing, we can now truly look at what is happening. It enables us to wonder, “Is there another way?” It even becomes possible to acknowledge that our perspective is not working, it is not making the pain go away. Maybe we are not seeing things quite correctly? “I am at a loss here. This is not working. I need guidance. I want to see this differently.” – when this thought-feeling comes in, the ball of transformation sets rolling in a super-fascinating way. Sometimes the answer to the challenge wafts in with floral fragrance almost immediately. Even if the guidance comes in time, over layers of increasing clarity (and challenges), the guidance comes in a manner that is absolutely tailor-made for our unique personality.

For me, the book A Course In Miracles brought fundamental transformation. It taught me about emotional pain and the pain in relationships in great depth. It taught me about the incorrect thinking and perceptions of my mind. It then held me by hand, and step by step, via a series of thought exercises, took me to a place where now I feel more empowered to honor myself and honor my relationships. It taught me how there are only two fundamental emotions: love and fear, and the idea is to shift our thinking from fear to love. It taught me how we are so intrinsically connected, literally one organism. A Course in Miracles is an excellent book to learn how to process relationships and emotional pain.

It may be the book for you, it may not. However, when our mind comes to even the slightest place of wondering, “There must be another way”, tailor-made guidance flows in.

There is no blame. No one is at fault.

In every case, and I say this with 100% certainty – there is no one to blame. Yes, every, with emphasis. This applies to each and every thing that is happening in every individual’s life and in the life of every collective – be it community, nation, the human race or all of universe. No one is at fault for what is happening, for what happened. No external x person or process in life is at fault, you are not at fault, God is not at fault. God has not failed you. You have not failed anyone. No one has failed you.

At each given moment, each entity does the best it can do as per what it knows and understands at that moment. This is intrinsic to the way each and every particle of the universe functions. It is an inbuilt property of the universe – immutable, unchangeable and exists at every level of the universe.

Greed is “bad” but no person is being greedy – they are only doing what they can do best at that moment. The person is intrinsically feeling impoverished, there-in lies the source of that insatiable greed.

Saying a lie is “bad” but the person who is saying the lie, will say the lie, while being aware that it is a lie because there are greater forces within him that are convincing him that saying the lie is at that moment the best option, for the sake of self-preservation or whatever other reason.

This applies to you, this applies to each and every one of us. If you had known better, you would have done better. If he had known better, he would have done better.

Even the rapist and the person who throws acid on another person’s face is also essentially not to blame. No person can inflict such pain on a fellow human being without first being in worse pain himself. However, he has no clue how to be aware of his pain, his feelings. He has no clue how to process it. The lack of awareness and acknowledgement of his pain, makes the pain rage as a demon, makes the person a zombie, takes him to the depths of insanity.

There is no blame. No one is at fault. This might be totally opposite of everything you see around with so much strife clearly happening all over the world. However it is all a result of pain not being processed with awareness. When pain is not processed consciously, with awareness, it does not go away anywhere. Seeking acknowledgement the pain festers and erupts in a myriad ways. It erupts in a person shouting, it erupts as depression and a sudden disinterest in the world, it erupts in partitions of nations, it erupts in continued wars.

What we can do, is to learn to process pain better, let that learning improve our life and share that learning in our own unique manner with others. Not only is it something tangible that we can do, it is absolutely vital that we do this. It is vital for our life and it is vital for our world and the universe.

Unless you learn and share your learning, unless you touch love and share the love you touched, our world will not heal. We are pieces in a grand jig-saw puzzle. Even if one piece is missing, the puzzle is not complete. One missing piece means one center of pain, and pain spreads.

You are not alone in being affected by your thoughts. Each and every thought that you think, even in the privacy of your room, a thought that you did not express to anyone, each and every thought impacts you, it impacts all the people in your life, it impacts every person and being on this planet.

Do not run away from pain. Immerse into it, with awareness. Ask in your mind, “This is hurting. What is the way out?” The answer that is tailor-made for you will come to you.

I might write in a future article someday why even God is not to blame. This article has already become too long.

Image: “Pain” Oil Painting by Vani Murarka

No Longer Chasing Good Health or Nirvana

In 2008 I was officially diagnosed to have Multiple Sclerosis.
In 2017 I have now officially accepted the diagnosis, made it my own.

Yes the mind body connection is so deep and intrinsic that maybe two different words ‘mind’ and ‘body’ is a gross misconception. Yes thoughts do impact the body absolutely directly. Ever since I learned about the mind body connection, and learned to watch my thoughts and emotions, with almost every cough and sniffle I know which thought caused its onset.

Louise Hay cured her cancer totally by cleaning up the muck in her mind. The same thing happened with Anita Moorjani in a more miraculous, dramatic manner. Terry Wahls “fixed herself” by fixing her food. As I read these and countless other stories after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I aimed for the holy grail too. Not only did I aim for it, I had touched it once. In communion with God when I was in Charlotte, I had experienced such good health, energy, vigor, joy that I had never experienced even in childhood.

However, Vani Murarka, in general is a person of low immunity. Not only does she get the cough and sniffles easily, there are various other things that are challenging for her, physically and mentally. Stuff that is not as challenging for other “normal” people such as others in her family and countless others on the planet. As I was focusing on “fixing myself” by cleaning my thoughts, I did not explicitly speak about these challenges to my family.

“I am going to free myself of them all”, I had implicitly told myself. The challenges and limitations. I really had freed myself of the invisible MS label I had begun wearing pasted on my forehead. I no longer had imaginary conversations with people in the queue such as, “Please let me go ahead. I have Multiple Sclerosis.” As if that explained everything. I got rid of that label and that pining, whining.

Now I hereby reclaim the MS label. I realize that by not talking frankly about my challenges, I have been doing disservice to myself, my family members and to every one really. When the need arises, I no longer have any qualms in saying, “I have Multiple Sclerosis. Hence for my rightful place in this event (whether that event is life or whatever) matters need to be adjusted thus.” When I state my needs, I help not just myself but others who also have that need but are not voicing it.

I hereby reclaim the MS label also because I realize I am not broken. So I don’t need to be fixed. The body’s health does not indicate the health of a person, surely not the spiritual health of a person. We all have our role to play. Threads in a grand tapestry.

On one end of the spectrum is Louise Hay, Anita Moorjani, Terry Wahls and others of their ilk who cured themselves of their respective ailments.

On the other end there are the likes of Ramana Maharshi who first got enlightened, then got cancer – and actively demonstrated to throngs who were there in his physical presence, how one can be in pain and be totally ok with it. He demonstrated this simply by being.

In between, there are all other kinds too, at every point of the spectrum.

There is one who met kidney failure and cancer and hip replacement with such grace and fortitude, that his mere presence must have been a blessing to the doctors, nurses, friends, family, as they went about doing what they were supposed to do, as they went about helping him. I know it is that way when I meet him even now, hail and hearty, and sweetness and light.

There is one who underwent an eye operation without anesthesia (because her body was too battered by other ailments to be administered anesthesia), all on the basis of mindfulness. Who knows whether it was the nurses and doctors attending to her during that operation or vice versa. She clearly did impact me – from a fat book, her anecdote is the only thing I remember.

There are all kinds. We all have our role to play. In every way that MS has weakened me, that weakness itself has become my strength. Each of those strengths are not for me alone. They are for everyone.

Till I was concerned only with myself, I wanted to touch the holy grail that Louise Hay and Anita Moorjani touched. I wanted to become so immune and fortified by my devotion to the one I love, that gluten be damned, I may consume even poison and still live and thrive as Meera Bai did. These were my aspirations.

If Vani Murarka tries to do what Louise Hay or Anita Moorjani or Meera Bai did, it is rather silly of her. So Vani Murarka shall be what Vani Murarka is. A cell in a vast, wondrous, single, whole organism.

What about Nirvana?
What about it? Like I said, no longer chasing it. Too much to be done. No time.

Image: “We Are Like That Only” digital art by yours truly.