Picking Up the Pieces

Amid the riot of color and clutter in her small Medford studio, Lola finds a world free of the paralyzing perplexities that confuse much of her life — a life crippled by brain damage.

The apparent cheer of some of Lola’s brightest canvases belies this artist’s past. It camouflages both the desperation that nearly destroyed Lola Way, and her minute-by-minute struggle now to recreate her life.

She had been depressed for some time, then suicidal. Finally, in a bout of bleak abandon four years ago, she and some friends sat around inhaling household products to test the high. She ended up with a can of Scotch Guard.

“It was like, ‘I wonder what Scotch Guard will do?’ Well, I found out.” It stopped her heart. It knocked her into a coma for five days. She came to with permanent brain damage.

The injury is most apparent in the harm done to Lola’s short-term memory. That’s the faculty that makes it possible to brew a pot of coffee without leaving the tap running; to decide what to do when someone knocks on the door; to remember to switch lights on in the dark; to know how to proceed through daily routines that most people barely think about.

Lola's art Painting and drawing are the only endeavors that come easily and naturally. The creativity and artistic skill Lola had before the coma have endured.

Everything else — just getting into her studio, for starters — is accomplished only through a painstaking self-education process.

Lola with her father Lola, aided by her parents, relies on a formula devised by Medford author Kathy Moeller, also a brain injury survivor. The family moved from Port Townsend, Wash., to learn the regimen.

Moeller’s Brain Book is a tool kit for working through the brain’s lapses. Tasks like answering the door are broken into individual steps (“You hear the buzzer”; “Ask who’s there).

Because Lola can’t count on her memory, she depends on the multitude of notes she has been taught to keep in her Brain Book. The volume bulges with calendar notes, things she wants to say to friends, color-coded reminders for appointments to come and chores accomplished. Everything to be done warrants a notation or series of notations.

More notes are posted around the studio. “Put brush on hook when done,” reads the reminder taped above Lola’s hairbrush. Without the note, no telling where she’d leave the hairbrush.

But paintbrushes, inks, markers and myriad other art supplies are sorted into trays that bear no such reminders. And drawings take shape without reference to Brain Book notations.

Lola with Salvador Dali Lola freely pursues her imagination in vivid colors and surreal compostions. Art is a haven, an experience that takes her beyond her injury.

“Everything I’ve ever wanted to be related to art,” she says. “It still does.”

On the table in front of her is a new work, tightly patterned profiles of cartoonish characters in glowing fuchsia and yellow. Each thumb-sized face is different, creating a pattern of repetition and distinction that Lola finds satisfying.

“I draw what I like to draw,” she says. “It’s drawing me into the way I like to be, to think.”