I wrote Healing Art: Don’t Let Anything Ruin Your Day as a record of my journey as a photographer and a Parkinson’s patient. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1999, and I began pursuing my crazy dream of becoming a photographer when I retired in 2004.
My wife and I love to travel to wild and beautiful places. We accelerated our travel schedule due to my Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease has helped me “slow down” to see this beauty and has given me the urgency to “hurry up” and photographically capture as much as possible while I still can, harnessing the power of the healing art.
“I love highly saturated pictures, full of color, full of life, with vibrant, surrealistic backgrounds. I enjoy using my camera and Photoshop to paint pictures of birds flying, bees buzzing and dragonflies basking in the sun.”
It’s never too late to change your major
I spent 31 years in the oil service industry as an engineer and businessman. Parkinson’s may have taken that occupation from me, but in return it gave me the gift of time.
I took most of the photography courses offered in Continuing Education at Rice University, and in 2008 I signed up for Arts 205, the beginning undergraduate course in photography. There were 21 freshmen and sophomores, and me, in the class.
It was a scream. We used a 4 x 5 view camera and developed our own film—all in black and white. I learned that it’s never too late to learn new things. The image was upside down on a glass plate and not very bright, so I certainly “saw the familiar with new eyes” with that camera. Four self-portraits I took in that course are now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Living your life in the present
Basically, I’m an existentialist. You can’t do much about the past or the future, so it doesn’t do a lot of good to worry about them. Some people seem to spend a lifetime feeling guilty or remorseful about things in the past.
We need to relax and live each day to its fullest. Watch the sun come up, smell the flowers and give someone a hug.
And don’t be encumbered by the future either. It will happen. Do your best to be ready for it by encountering, accepting, nurturing and living the eternal now.
Finding beauty nearby
You don’t have to go far to find beautiful things, but you do have to take the time to look for them. This February and March I watched azaleas blooming in my front yard and at Rice University. In May and early June, I watched the sunrise on West Boulevard about six blocks from my house with night herons building nests and hawks looking for food under the branches of huge live oak trees. In the autumn the hummingbirds return to the bottlebrush tree outside my bedroom window.
The healing power of art
Art on the walls of a hospital makes you feel better. For the year 2011, I was chosen as the artist to display “healing art” photographs in the Baylor College of Medicine Department of Neurology in Houston. By displaying my pictures in the clinic, it was hoped patients would not only enjoy my work but also understand for themselves the healing power of art.
I always enjoy encountering others with Parkinson’s disease—a chance to meet some fellow “ugly ducklings” and share Parkinson’s stories with each other. I call us “ugly ducklings” not to make fun but simply to admit that we are different.
We sometimes talk funny, and we sometimes slobber a bit, but always remember our minds are intact. We have recently learned that the levodopa we are taking often increases our creative abilities. Plus, we move so slowly that we may have the opportunity to “see” something familiar with our new eyes.
Life is like a leaf
A leaf falling from a tree in some ways mimics our lives on planet Earth.
First, a leaf’s time is very short. As Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Do what you want to do now. You’re not living in eternity. There’s only this moment, sparkling like a star in your hand, and melting like a snowflake.”
Second, a leaf’s journey is not linear. The leaf swirls, spins, stops and accelerates as the force of gravity inexorably pulls it to the ground, just as we are pulled inexorably toward death.
Third, a leaf has no control over the beginning or the end of its journey. It just “is falling.” It starts falling, it falls and then it stops. During the fall it experiences an infinite number of what Paul Tillich called the “Eternal Now,” moments in time when we “see” the beauty around us.
Fourth, a leaf is uniquely beautiful.
Life is good!
About Healing Art: Don’t Let Anything Ruin Your Day
For Parkinson’s patients and others facing debilitating diseases, choosing to not let anything ruin our day is the chance we have to defeat our illnesses. We can’t change the fact that we are sick, but we can, by God, not let it ruin our day today.
Life is good and beauty is all around us, although though we have to look for it. We need to live as much as possible in the present and, most importantly, understand that time is precious.
Parkinson’s disease gave me the gift of time to learn to take photographs that hopefully will give you some peace, joy, love and laughter. The book is full of the best pictures I have taken over the last 10 years combined with text about the ways I have coped with my disease.
About the Author
Robert Flatt earned his B.A. and M.S. in electrical engineering from Rice University and his MBA from Harvard University. He spent 31 years in the oil service industry as an engineer and businessman before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1999. In the wake of his diagnosis, he left Cameron International Corporation and enrolled in photography courses at Rice University. His ties to his alma mater grew when he became an adjunct professor of the Jones Graduate School of Business Administration. His photographs appear in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and have been on permanent display at Rice University, the Katy Prairie Conservancy and many hospitals throughout Houston, including the Department of Neurology at Baylor College of Medicine and Memorial Hermann Hospital. He has self-published two photography books, West Boulevard Night-Herons and Rice’s Owls, which garnered multiple awards. Robert and his wife, Nancy, live in Houston, Texas. They have two children and five grandchildren.
Author: Robert Flatt
Hard Cover: $34.95
11” x 1” x 11”, 128 pp.
Bright Sky Press: Where Texas Meets Books
Bright Sky Press, based in Houston, documents the richness of Texas by publishing high-quality books. The press collaborates with its authors to preserve our history, celebrate our unique culture, articulate our collective concerns and share what we love most: the diverse, positive and creative place we call home.
To see a complete listing of the unique offerings, see www.brightskypress.com .
Voices of Bright Sky
by Robert Flatt
photos courtesy of Bright Sky Press