Margaret Treanor Frey

author . artist . singer

Page 2 of 9

The Art of Human Appreciation

Art is scary. A lot of people don’t know what to do with it, so they avoid it. I’ve created art my whole life, and worked in galleries, too, although mostly in charge of the funding. Still, the only formal art appreciation training I had was in a high school art class. I retain only vague recollections of which artists did what, or what their styles are called or influenced by, or which are historically implicated in which revolutions. But the thing is, you don’t need a formal education to look at art. It’s not a rarified skill reserved only for the few. I’ve outlined a few steps for anyone who’s ever felt they couldn’t relate to art because they didn’t know how. We’ll get into the useful parallels for relating to people further on.

Step 1. Find some art. You could go to a museum, or stop by a mural on the outside of a building, or go to the library, or surf somebody’s sketches online, or visit your neighbor’s garage where they’ve converted the back room to a gallery.

Step 2. Shut up. I don’t just mean to stop talking. You need to stop all the noise in your head. It keeps other things from getting in, and it’s not about you, not yet. Shut up and look. Approach the work without expectations or judgement. Hang out with it. If it’s a complex work, leave it for a bit, days even, and come back later to hang out some more.

Step 3. Listen. Some works are dripping with deliberate and obvious symbolism. Some are subtle. Some are literal renderings of everyday things. Some are amorphous colors and shapes. You’ve been waiting patiently, what do you think it is? Do you hear it telling you anything?

Step 4. Respond. (Please wait until this step to do this. So often people respond first, and it will derail the process.) This is not necessarily separate from the previous step. Whatever you heard when you were listening is a big clue to your response. Do you feel something? Irritation? Anger? Amusement? Curiosity? Joy? Kinship? Did you learn something? What do you know now that you didn’t before? That bone structure looks a lot like sponge candy close up? That smears of bright red always remind you of violence, but you think it’s beautiful anyway?

Good job. You’ve just appreciated art.

Why bother?

Well, you might learn something about the artist. The human on the other side of this tenuous, mystical thread of communication might be trying to say something worth hearing. Regardless of whether you know more about the artist, though, you will always know more about yourself. All of that response came from you. Did any of it surprise you?

Also, it may not look like it, but this is skill-building. Being able to observe the signals around you without making yourself the center will help you evaluate situations and resources, make decisions, and yes, communicate with other humans.

What? Looking at art will help me not be an abrasive jerk?

Yes. Follow the steps.

Now let’s say the art is a person. This person is in your space, but they are not like you. You have no idea how to relate. You’ve found the art.

Remember step 2? Shut up. Again, not literally, but do keep oral communication neutral. ‘Hey, I’ve got that report for you.’ ‘It’s supposed to be really hot this weekend.’ ‘Do you want fries with that?’ Whatever expectations or judgement you brought with you to the interaction, the ones clamoring in your head for expression, should be quietly decanted out the back. Again, they will only get in the way of observing the actual person in front of you. (Also, you should never, ever touch this art/person uninvited. The oils from your fingers will indelibly mark the art, and what are you doing anyway? That’s not your art. Were you raised by wolves? If you can’t keep your hands to yourself, don’t be surprised when you’re banned from the gallery.)

Next, listen. But what if you are listening, and the person/art won’t talk to you? The thing is, your understanding of it is ultimately not actually the art’s responsibility. It is doing its thing, living its separate existence. You would look a damn fool standing in front of a painting demanding that it explain itself. Yes. You would. The metaphor stretches a little here, since, obviously, humans can usually talk, but you’re still no more entitled to that person’s time than you are to an explanation from a painting. Even if they took the precious time and effort, if you aren’t ready to listen, you’ve just wasted that much of their energy in a truly ungrateful way.

And if you were really listening, you would have learned something already by now. Things like, ‘That person likes cream in their tea,’ ‘That person is really good at logistics,’ ‘That persons stops smiling and talking every time someone comments on their outfit,’ ‘That person is working three jobs because they’re taking care of their mother and two kids on their own.’ It doesn’t matter if the things you learn directly pertain to your own agenda. They will inform and change you in subtle ways regardless.

It’s hard work, but like any skill, gets easier and more enjoyable with practice. It will change the way you think and open up a whole new dimension of cognitive resources. Not kidding.

So remember, appreciating art, or humans, is not just for people with lots of formal training. You can do it and benefit from it right away. With practice, it will really add to your quality of life. For the sake of easy remembering later, either when faced with a complicated piece of art, or a person you don’t know how to relate to, we’ll boil this down to the two most important steps.

1. Shut up.

2. Listen.

Good luck.

Getting ready for World Fantasy Con 2017.

Plane and hotel reservations are all finalized. I’m looking through the program now, and it looks exciting. This is my first time at this conference, so I’m doing a lot of research online about the presenters.  I don’t want to accidentally miss that one must-see presentation.

This will be my first flight on my own with the new shoulder. People usually see my big, tall self and ask for help putting their bags overhead. I wonder what kind of looks I’ll get when I ask for help with mine. Even though I don’t actually need it anymore, I consider wearing the sling when I’m out in new surroundings. Yes there’s a reason I’m not holding the door for you. It’s not that I’m insufferably rude. Sorry about your nose.

Thankfully, I don’t need both arms to write. Or draw. Or sing.

I should hurry up with that movie deal so I can hire a personal assistant to travel with me. Preferably one with leet martial arts skills.

Recovery Soundtrack

Cancer party soundtrack should include PF’s Comfortably Numb and CTD’s Afternoons and Coffeespoons. What else?


AC/DC Back in Black comes to mind

 Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds? A little trippy to go along with your pain patch trip.
The Firm – Radioactive
Green Day’s “Do You Know Your Enemy”
 gloria gaynor”s ‘i will survive’
rachel platten ‘this is my fight song
‘Hit Me with Your Best Shot”,, Rocky theme song,
Hotel California of course
 “Beat It” by MJ
the Beatles ‘Here Comes the Sun’
Invincible – Pat Benetar
Take the Skinheads Bowling
Beer (the one by Real Big Phish)
I’ll get by with a little help from my friends
Burning Down the House
Hit me w ith your best shot, I’m a survivor, we are the champions


I sometimes wonder if I had had a female surgeon, if she would have cut my clavicle right where a bra strap would go, as is the case. I feel like she would have had the sense to cut it back further or pull the whole thing out. Besides having a pointy, sensitive spot right in the middle of the top of my shoulder, hanging anything on it fatigues it. And despite the fact that July 11 has come and gone, I’m still having trouble with bra straps under my left arm, where the chemical burn was the worst. For every day that I wear a bra I have to go two days without.

The thing is, if I want to return to my normal active life, I’m going to need support (other than the usual excellent friends and neighbors, but thanks).

Strapless bras are nigh useless, constantly sliding down. Corsets, on the other hand, have rigid struts in them, boning, which extend far enough down to provide support from the hips. So I visited Mr. Hoss of Hoss International in the fashion district. I had emailed him about my situation, and he wanted to see me right away, before he left for Paris for a month for his fashion show (OMG LA you guys). We tried on a couple sizes, and I learned some surprising things.

1) I could breathe fine. The corsets that have the bad rap for making people faint are extreme examples.
2) Holy crap, it evened out my shoulders. My left shoulder sags. A lot. I can sort of even them out by pulling my shoulder blades way back and letting my right arm hang down, but I can only do it for about 5 minutes. Carrying your own arm around all the time is exhausting. But the corset comfortably supported the shoulder blade from underneath, making it even with the other one with no added effort on my part. It was a miracle.
3) When the surgeon told me they were taking the lattisimus on my left side to wrap the endoprosthesis, he claimed I wouldn’t miss it. This was yet another in a series of bad pieces of information. I hella miss it. The lower back fatigue on the left is substantial. But guess what? With the corset, it disappears!

I spoke with Mr. Hoss at length while wearing one of his corsets and nearly forgot it was on. When I took it off, it was like somebody had switched gravity back on. The shoulder sagged, the back slumped, and everything was awful.

In conclusion, they are not underwear. They are necessary prosthetic devices. I neeeed them.

They are also a serious investment and difficult to wash, which is why I decided to use them as outerwear. Rather than frilly or lacy, imagine a feminine waistcoat sort of look. Knowing of my friend Robin’s experience in making custom clothes, I asked if she was interested in designing a corset with me and she was!

Unfortunately, corsets are difficult to get into, mostly lacing in the back. So we’re looking at designs that I can manage myself, maybe even one that laces in the front.

Since we’re designing this puppy from scratch, I’ve been thinking about the fabric. This is an opportunity to express my new commitment to writing and illustrating, so I drew the paisley dragon as part of a fabric design that will include stylized spaceships too. I’m going to wear it to scifi/fantasy writing conferences.

I might also need to start wearing boots. Because corsets.

Schroedinger’s a Jerk

I have another scan tomorrow. Realizing it was so close, I had considered waiting to see the results before scheduling the return-to-the-living party. Then I realized that way lies madness. There will always be another scan.

So I wrote song lyrics about it. I do this to torture Mark. It should be read in a fast, cheery tone.

Schroedinger’s a Jerk

Am I going to live or die?
The scan will tell me my oh my.
Guess it’s neither that nor this
Neither hit and neither miss
Til someone checks to see.

I’ve got things to do now
Places to be
So I can’t wait and won’t, you’ll see
Cause Schroedinger, he don’t own me.

Hey kitty kitty kitty
Kitty kitty kitty kitty
Hey kitty kitty kitty
C’mon out of that box.

Am I going to rise or fall?
Don’t know yet, well damn it all.
You should tell that isotope
Don’t mess around with people’s hope.
Won’t someone check and see?

I’ve got things to do now
Places to be
Friends that I’m expecting to see
Tell Schroedinger to let me be.

Hey kitty kitty kitty
Kitty kitty kitty kitty
Hey kitty kitty kitty
Let’s burn down the box.

-Treanor Frey

(Just trying it out.)


Margaret A. Frey is a freelance writer who writes from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. The author of over a hundred published essays and short stories, Margaret is invested in the public sphere. Isn’t everyone? Margaret holds a BA in English and a graduate degree in dog appreciation. Margaret lives with her husband of 38 years and canine literary critic, a fractious Bernese Mountain dog.

This Margaret is not me, which brings up the question, when I write, who should I be? I’ve been using Margaret Treanor Frey on FB so I can be found by people who knew me then, but it’s still too confusing with that other Margaret Frey out there.

Should I reclaim my maiden name for authoring? Should I be Margaret Treanor again (a name which doesn’t pull up anything of note on Google (yet))? Or should I use a new one completely?

I’m going to need to figure this out soon, because I’m submitting stories again. And I’ve signed up for a writer’s conference, the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio, so I’ll need business cards.


This is not an update. I was thinking of something that happened weeks ago, and thought it deserved documentation.

It was shortly after the reconstruction. The endoprosthesis was installed in the shoulder, but the only thing holding it to my body was a bunch of very freshly stitched raw meat. The healed tissue and scars that were going to do the job later didn’t exist. The arrangement was very fragile.

The sling had to come off, temporarily – to adjust it, to clean off, to replace the soft fabrics around the arm that were keeping it from wearing holes in my elbow. Drains twisted over and under everything. I couldn’t let my arm be unsupported for even a moment. To complicate matters, the sling itself needed to be reshaped. The under-arm pillow was attached to the underside of the sling via a long piece of velcro. Unfortunately the fabric of the sling wasn’t attached straight, and the velcro was holding the wrinkles in place. The resulting ridges had begun to wear holes in my forearm.
So, lots of things needed to be done, and it was more than a mere three hands could accomplish, between Mark and myself. I decided it finally had to be dealt with when our friend Paige was over for dinner.

(In fairness, I waited until after dinner.)

But Paige was up for it. The more I think about it, the more I appreciate that she jumped right in. I was thinking about it from the point of view of the person who just had to get it done. There are moments in your life when you are beyond caring about what state you’re in, like when you’re giving birth. The last thing you’re worried about in the room full of strangers is that you have no clothes on.

So I was busy directing traffic. (Hold this here and don’t let it move. Hand me that washcloth.) I wasn’t remotely self-conscious about being shirtless and oozing bodily fluids (although see above for what a great sport Paige is).

And then Paige said to me, “You have such nice skin.”

When I was in graduate school with Mark in Buffalo, his mom got a rare liver cancer. They told us that only oriental men get this cancer, so they didn’t know what a white lady in Michigan City, IN was doing with it, but she only had a few months to live.

She lived three years. (So there.) They were a good three years for the most part. The last few months were hard. Mark and I put our studies on hold for a little bit and came out to be with her and Mark’s sister Jennifer, who was her full-time caretaker in the little ranch house they had both grown up in.

Toward the end, Ann stopped being able to speak. We knew she was still in there. There were small looks and gestures. She would tell us things and ask us things with her expression and we would answer her back and get what she needed. We weren’t sure how much clarity she had, but she knew she was surrounded by family and that we were doing everything we could to make her comfortable. For the most part she was very calm.

Until the one day we had a hospice worker there to check on her meds, undress her, and give her a sponge bath. This girl was young, less experienced than other people who had been there before.

I don’t know who started it, but they began fighting. Since Ann couldn’t speak, it took the form of a stubborn resistance when the girl tried to move her limbs to perform the bath. Maybe all she knew was that she was naked and some stranger was putting hands on her. The girl in turn would push harder, and eventually became rough, exasperated. Ann became more stubborn, brows furrowed with irritation, and, increasingly, fear.

I was watching this from the end of the bed. We didn’t want to leave Ann alone with strangers. So there I was. Guarding.

But how to stop this bizarre, nonverbal altercation? Do I yell at the hospice worker? It didn’t seem like a way to get her to perform her task with a little more empathy. Would I have to send her away? Do I tell the nonverbal cancer patient to relax and stop being so troublesome? As calm and proper a person as Ann was in life, she would still have figured out how to sign ‘Screw you’ with her eyebrows, I’m sure.

What I did, was stretch out my hand to Ann’s leg and stroke her ankle, gently. “Ann. You have such beautiful skin,” I said, appreciatively, breaking the tense silence.

Patient and caregiver froze, hostility suspended.

Then Ann relaxed into her bed and let the girl have her arm. The girl, for her part, resumed her ministrations, but this time her movements were more respectful and sympathetic.

I’m not sure why I did that, specifically. But it worked so much better than any lecture on ‘Hey now, we’re all just humans trying to get through this’ would have.

You have such nice skin.

A split second and twenty years later, I replied to Paige, “Thanks.”

« Older posts Newer posts »