Briefly tell us who you are and where you are from.
I’m Robert Banger from Spokane Valley in eastern Washington State. Depending on from when, people call me Bob, Robert, Banger, or Dumbo. I was born in and grew up around Chicago, moved to Fort Worth Texas, back to Glen Ellyn—a western suburb of Chicago—and finished high school in Clarkston, WA. A nomadic adult life centered around the Bay Area, the desert near Albuquerque, NM and the Washington Central Basin. I spent time abroad; England, Ireland, and Scotland, Rotterdam Holland, and most of all my ‘home’ in Belgium, Antwerp. I am Flemish by the ‘adoption of desire’.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Curious. Artist. Friend.
When is your birthday? What is your favorite color? Favorite activity?
September 6. Raw Umber. Making images; draw, paint, and/or sculpt
If you could do or be anything in the world, what would it be?
I would be a Master Artist; with conscious command of everything in my craft that is learnable, and so receptive and responsive to all that cannot be learned. Adept in communicating the meaning of what occurs, what I sense, and what I see.
What is a dream that you have? What is something that you are passionate about?
I dream of making things of meaning and value. Communicating that for those who haven’t seen it yet, and I dream I can find my place as a contributor just like those who have given so much to me. It is personally important that looking back someone can say I was worth knowing; that I left something worthwhile as I passed, that I freed more than I bound, and that I added more than I took
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
If I am so fortunate as to still be here, 10 years from now I would love to see myself beyond awkward self-criticism. Past ‘becoming’. I would like to recognize what the Lakota say; that I too have the power to overlap what my reason perceives and my spirit desires
Tell us your RISE story. What are you RISE-ing from? What are you RISE-ing to?
I am RISE-ing from a brain injury August 30, 2007. Putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. During my recovery, I’ve become aware of a number of things; if you’re not acute you’re on your own, a brain injury is a special case of normal, it’s something we need to learn our way out of, and good information is hard to find. The fundamental decision I had to make early on was that it was either ‘a puzzle to be solved or a tragedy to be mourned’. Both are true, but each lead to a different way of living and entirely different outcomes. I chose the puzzle, put on Problem-Solving Mode, and turned my waking and dreaming life into drills, exercises, and assessments that I worked very hard to carefully observe and faithfully report.
For two reasons; first, my memory was then and now severely compromised– anything I needed to remember for more than a few moments needed to be written down immediately. Still, does.
And secondly, I misunderstood a comment from Oliver Sacks. He said we know very little about what brain injury is because brain injured people are almost never able to articulate what happened to them. I took that as a request. I said, ‘I can and I will’. So, like every good sailor on a Voyage of Discovery, I keep a log. I collected all the painful, bizarre, disorienting, demeaning, and humiliating things as they occurred. I constantly sought out serious research for insights into both ‘the brain’ and ‘my brain’. I accept that I am a scientist with a sample size of one but I also assert I understand science and believe I know how to use my specifics as a framework to generalize constructive suggestions other people can try to help themselves or for people they care for. My intention is to build maps. As aids to orientation and navigation for the millions of us, dismissed and untracked, in frightening and confusing situations and circumstances.
In August 2015, I found a box of wax figures in my attic. I had sculpted them many years before but had no recollection at the time I had ever been a sculptor. I was startled to notice that I had unconsciously begun modeling one of the figures and more startled to realize that my I made an improvement. Until that moment my ability to make art was not a consideration of mine or anyone who knew me. I got to use that soon after as proof to help someone distressed by the approaching second anniversary of her injury. She had been told by her doc—stupidly— “after 2 years you will have recovered all you are going to get”.
I have been attracted to pursue Art since, just because it might be possible again. It is but I work on it so much that I feel some guilt about dividing my attention to Brain Injury. I am remiss in my intention to offer aid, comfort, and practical suggestions for our care-partners, our family and friends, and ourselves.
Last spring, I got a nasty stomach flu. Bizarrely, it affected my previously strong heart very badly. I suddenly developed a regular slow flutter (subsequently fixed by a pacemaker setting my cruise at 60, and an ablation) as well as a rapid random fibrillation. For the last year, this aberrant electrical activity has made me be hypoxic– oscillating unpredictably between occasional moments of ‘fine’ and long periods of the various stages of passing out from lack of oxygen. Contrary to my recovery from brain injury this has been very demoralizing and for the first time, I can remember in my life, despair. I think it is because I have no agency. It’s not connected to anything I do and it’s not manageable by anything that I can do. This has been very difficult but I have tried to make progress whenever progress is possible. I look forward to a procedure on 19 July that has by consensus a reasonable chance to be a complete fix.
I look forward to the possibility of being reliable and dependable to others and myself.
RISE-ing to; I feel very good beginning this relationship with RISE as a clean, bright, fixed-star towards which I can point my craft. I feel very good about the RISE portraits and all the ways they might be expanded for awareness and generating resources. They required me to grow beyond my capabilities and point to something beyond myself. They are good examples of the Third Great Act of Recovery, “Do something for somebody”
What is one thing you want people reading this to know?
RISE enables me to be part of something important—constructive, positive human transformation, effective beyond anything I could have imagined on my own.
What would you say to those who think they can’t make a difference in the world?
When I think a person can’t make a difference (as I sometimes do) I ask myself to consider evidence along with my assumptions. I ask myself to look around, see where differences are being made, and then understand how changes really happen. When I look carefully, I see three things clearly;
1) Most of the difference in this world is made by individual human beings
2) Change is made an individual’s acts of courage, meaning their willingness to move forward even when they are afraid
3) Individual acts of courage very often grow into much larger, deeper, even more meaningful things.
“Trying to make a difference” seems to be the seed necessary to grow into wondrous things far beyond the hopes, or dreams, or plans of any person’s original intentions.
What does RISE mean to you?
Rise has been a journey of awakening, growth, and finally, change for me. When I came across the image, and the very concept, of acid violence from a petition on change.org. I was stunned that such a thing could happen. I had difficulty getting past impotent outrage, and I had no ideas about how to respond beyond more violence. Then I saw a future clearly, and just as clearly, the things required on my end for that future to occur. Perhaps this is something helpful I could do. I saw myself painting portraits of these beautiful human beings. If they had the courage to openly show what had been done to them, I would have the respect and admiration for their courage to see them and represent them with all my heart and craft. At the time, painting them as they deserved to be painted was beyond my capabilities. Over time my desire and efforts to improve my skills have been fruitful. I’m getting there, hopefully, with more to come. As the story of RISE unfolded I read about Christine and Angie from Ohio. “Today is the day your beauty will cease” is incomprehensible viciousness from the Heart of Darkness. I can’t imagine having the courage to survive that and I know I do not have the courage to walk into the heart of darkness, day after day, week after week, to take the hand of the one living there to walk out with them. Those of us who don’t possess that kind of courage are fortunate we can know those who do, and more fortunate still when we can be supportive partners in their mission.