Visionary Artist Dan Rhema

I just got word that Dan Rhema is posting his autobiography, When I Was A Ghost, My Journey Back from the Other Side on his website  He’s just posted the first chapter and will be post them regularly.  I reviewed his ebook I Close My Eyes to See last October on my ChronicallyInspired blog.  I thought this would be a good time to re-post hereIt’s a gorgeous book filled with color and hope.  Illness can be a devastating life changing event — or it can be a metamorphosis into a new life.  I love how art in its many forms became the saving grace for Rhema and I look forward to reading his bio.


 (Told through a unique pairing of Dan’s words with over one hundred pieces of his art, I Close My Eyes To See is the story of Dan’s extraordinary journey from near death to new life.  I Close My Eyes To See is designed for the ipad and color tablet format and is best viewed in the vertical mode. It can be read on NOOKcolor, Nook for ipad, Nook for PC and, on iphones and android phones. It is now available on, and will soon be released on the itunes bookstore)

I Close My Eyes to See:  The Dan Rhema Story as told to Kevin Wilson

Dan Rhema contacted me over a month ago to ask if I would review his ebook, I Close My Eyes to See.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time at the moment.  And from first glance, I knew that it would be a very interesting read so I wanted to make sure I could read it on a calm day when I wouldn’t be distracted.  Now that I’ve read – or I should say experienced the whole book — I wish I’d had time sooner.
Dan Rhema is an extraordinary artist and storyteller who suffered a life altering illness and near-death experience.  In 1991, he was living with his wife and 3 daughters in Mexico, directing an international training center.  An epidemic of Dengue fever spread through the town and he contracted 3 different strains of fever, which deteriorated into meningitis and encephalitis.
He says, “I traveled out of my body and began journeying down a long dark tunnel. As I progressed down the tunnel, I remember thinking that I did not want to die without my wife and children being with me. My progress down the tunnel ended and I began the long struggle back to consciousness, one level at a time.”

His illnesses ravaged his memory, which became “like swiss cheese,” with holes and detours.  Things he remembered were out of context and disjointed.  He felt like his head was on fire.  He felt like he was floating and had to grip the headboard of his bed to rest.
Before the fever he was very minimalist in his possessions, afterwards he was compelled to collect objects all the time.  At a family reunion, he discovered he could remember things if he put them in a story.

He began to keep a dream journal.  Although before the fever he never did art work, he began to create assemblages that took on a life of their own.  He began to paint – with his fingers like a child.  These compulsions made him fear he was going crazy, but through them he began to be able to reconnect aspects of his life and mind and soul.
He had created 15 sculptures before Susan found an article on outsider and visionary art and it gave him hope that he wasn’t going insane.

He was re-creating himself.  And this book is a beautiful telling of how he did so.  The text is minimalist and the story unfolds through the art.
This is the first “art” book I’ve read on the computer.  I don’t have a Kindle, or Nook or any kind of eReader.  I read this on my computer with Adobe Reader and the images came through beautifully.

The sculptures are muted and have a floating quality; the paintings are bright and imbued with intense energy.  There is a narrative quality to each, and a mystery.  The art tells the story not so much of survival but of rebirth.  There are deep spiritual overtones.  Dan seems to have a firm foot in this world and that world beyond mortal life.  I know I will read and look at this beautiful book again.  I am especially grateful to have experienced this book as we go rushing into the holiday season and are inundated with mixed messages about rebirth and gift giving.  This book is a real gift, unique and hard-won, that floats between reality and unreality; that celebrates the mystery of the future and the divinity of the present.
And I’m really looking forward to reading his children’s books.
You read more about Dan Rhema at

Chronically Inspired Conversation

I am in the process of moving my articles from my blog Chronically Inspired to here — at least the ones that still seem relevant.  This was one of the first posts I did  back in September of 2010.  I could backdate them, but I decided just to go through the site and re-post, so for the next few weeks I may seem profoundly prolific.  I had two blogs, Chronically Inspired and Joy Corcoran Studio.  Now I have just this one and they must converge.

I sent out some information on this Chronically Inspired concept on my Facebook page and got into a very interesting dialogue with a friend. I wanted to share part of it here. She is very insightful and helps me develop my thoughts, as well as gives me a wealth of links on art work and music. I hope that readers of this blog will feel free to post comments on their challenges and the ways they have risen above them.

She wrote: “My understanding is that Portland is an advanced city in its approach to accessibility and public transportation, so I hope this will help attract an audience. Even if the return on your investment is small, please never discount that little investment. I found that lots of people look and enjoy but don’t comment….But to the site, there wasn’t enough info for me to evaluate specifically with managing chronic pain or even fatigue…outside of generalities with journaling and the like. I think those are great tools, but people have to be in a mind-set that’s open to that in the first place. Please look at this link to the laughter guru I think it’s important.”

I wrote: “I actually just got through reading that article this week-end! I love it and plan to guide people to such things in the workshop. There are active laughter yoga groups here. I just watch funny movies or read funny books. Since I just started the blog, I know there’s a dearth of real information outside the generalities of announcing the class. As I put it together, I’ll add more detail. I sometimes feel I don’t want to add too much so people will come to the class, but then I want to share everything with everyone.
“Portland is much more accessible than a lot of cities. People in the suburbs still have problems, but all the bus, trolley and trains are completely accessible. There aren’t curb cuts at every corner, but we’re working on it. A lot of the buildings are on hills and have steep stairs and are totally inaccessible both for wheelchair users and other mobility limited people. The room they do most of the art workshops in isn’t really accessible, so I insisted  got one on the lower floor.  If it’s not accessible, what’s the point?”

She: “Your best sentence? If it’s not accessible, what’s the point? I can tell you how we’ve tried to rise above limitations, but it’s from here on the East Coast and frankly, it hasn’t gone all that well, but I do have some stories. Mainly I’ve ALWAYS explored accessible outdoors trails and the like: fishing areas, etc. As you likely know, the mind erects the greatest barriers. Still, reality is that physical barriers exist aplenty too. :(“

Me: “I don’t think rising above limitations is the same thing as escaping them. We can’t. We can’t eliminate pain; we can’t regenerate lost nervous systems. It’s normal to feel trapped by both our bodies and our physical barriers. I just know that after accepting them, I have always tried to make sure I live them to the fullest. And the fact that I can’t do everything I want, or go wherever I want whenever I want, keeps me from running around using up energy on things that don’t really feed my soul. The days when I’m incapacitated by pain or fatigue, or when I can’t get to an event because I’m too exhausted and the bus won’t be available for the trip home, I make it a point to at least read something special or listen to something wonderful, and give my heart a bit of positive experience, sometimes more profound than what I missed by staying within my limits.
“I’ve also developed a ‘pain place’ — I don’t know what to call it yet because pain place doesn’t sound very pleasant. I sometimes am hurting and it’s a long time before my next pain med, usually the middle of the night, I can’t sleep. I used to just be angry and frustrated about it (still am a little bit). I’ve risen above it because I’ve stashed some soft blankets and pillows, a favorite book, a favorite CD and movie, a few toys, a sketch book/diary and a very small amount of gourmet chocolate in this one corner of my living room.
“I can only go there when I’m in major pain or severely depressed. It works very well in shifting my mood from anger to acceptance, and then I can occupy my conscious mind with things I love (letters from my kids or mom are there, too) and the pain has to take a back seat. It’s a wonderful way to deal with it that feeds the creativity bank, releases endorphins and passes the time in a more creative state that just pain and anger.
“Sorry for the long post but I’m have a “popcorn mind” day and lots of ideas are jumping around. “

She: “Joy, you’ve learned well how to handle a lot of… obstacles (sounds as though you had a lot of hard early training that you were going to be the one to soothe yourself and provide your own solutions.) To substitute immensely pleasurable and expanding activities when you can’t physically manage to “get” somewhere is smart: diversion, distraction, not giving into frustration and bitterness about life “not being fair”……AND self comfort. The “pain place” is also brilliant. I see what you mean about the name, but not sure if it matters if it doesn’t sound “pleasant.”
“I come to this discussion from vastly different places than you do. I can’t be exactly in your shoes, or in anyone else’s with a disability. My husband is the one with physical and mental disabilities, so I see it through the prism of a wife, first, and, due to the extent of his challenges, as a caregiver. My other perspective is professional: was a nurse, and later got a masters degree in Social Work (with a concentration in health, aging and disabilities.)
“So, I try to help my husband manage his advancing disabilities by being realistic about what he can do himself, respecting his desire for autonomy and independence, yet balancing that with what makes sense for him to try or not: is he going to hurt himself, and frankly, what kind of a bad spot am I going to find MYSELF in getting him out of trouble when he uses poor judgment in forging ahead when it just doesn’t make any sense. (This is extremely common.)
“Sorry, guess I’m having a bit of a “popcorn mind” myself this afternoon! (That is just the BEST phrase!)”

The conversation opened my eyes a bit more to the thoughtfulness of caregivers. Physical and mental disabilities impact the whole family. My friend exhibits some of the best aspects of being Chronically Inspired. She takes beautiful nature photographs, seeks out places she and her husband can enjoy, and is always kind and thoughtful to her friends. She has raised wonderful children and helps care for her parents. She has been hand in hand with her husband as his condition (Multiple Sclerosis) has changed both of their lives. Their world has narrowed, the things they can do are limited, there’s no getting around that. But she is rising above it in so many positive ways that it’s inspirational to me. And that’s the difference I hope to show on this website and in my workshops. Not to focus so much on the paths that aren’t accessible, but pay close attention to the path you are on and the beauty growing around you and within you.

And how, on those wonderful days when you have “popcorn mind,” to capture all the exploding tasty ideas that will nourish you when you’re too pooped to pop.