Artistic Cheer

My friend, Dana Blythe, has been spreading “Artistic Cheer” the past few days on her Facebook page, highlighting different creative people she knows. Earlier this week, she wrote the following post. It really touched my heart when I read it, so I asked if I could also post it here. It highlights a very talented person and shares a very important message. Thank you, Dana and Mike!

Artistic Cheer – Mike Young of OCD Obsessive Creative Disorder

By Dana Blythe

OCDObsessive Creative Disorder (OCD) is a small business owned by Mike Young. Specializing in mosaic art, Mike takes old window frames, beads, paints, but mostly glass, and with that he creates one-of-a-kind mosaic pieces that will surely leave you in awe. That stuff you call junk, clutter, garbage… he’ll whip it up into a masterpiece.

His studio is in his living room on a work station he shares with his wife, Tanya, who is also a budding artist of OCD. You won’t hear him complaining, though; Mike knows what it’s like to have little to nothing, and that’s what partly makes this story extra-special…. And so difficult for me to write.

Let’s rewind 6 years, back to 2009. I was a front-line shelter worker, working in Ottawa with a hard-to-serve population. In a building spanning nearly a square block, it housed a nightmare of intravenous drug use, severe and persistent mental illness, sex trade workers and their Johns and pimps, and criminals. It was no A&E, made for TV “Intervention” special; this was real life, and it was ugly.

It’s important to note here that I’m not sitting here in my comfy house towering over others. I myself spent some years tossing and turning in stranger’s beds, with all my belongings in a green garbage bag. Admittedly, these houses had heat, but homelessness is just as much a feeling as it is a lack of housing. And, it feels hollow, nauseating, and desperate.

Mike and I had met in my grade 9 year, when he was the boyfriend of a girl I had recently befriended. She was wild and fun in those days. Mike, as I remember, was a quiet, affectionate, fiercely smart individual. We’d keep in touch over the years, always losing contact, then picking up right where we left off.

I’ll never forget that winter evening at work, when, during the dinner rush and check-in, Mike appeared cold and in a t-shirt, battered shoes, and the telling look that said he had been using for a long, long time. He looked like a corpse. My heart sank to the floor. I couldn’t make eye contact with him. Not because I was embarrassed, but between strict rules and my sudden loss of emotional awareness, I’d fall apart. It was that dreadful moment when I saw a familiar face; this wasn’t a stranger, this was my friend.

I walked all 20 miles home that morning after my shift in -20C weather, my face covered in icicles from all that crying. I was certain that in the days to come, he’d be dead from an overdose.

Mike disappeared, and so did I, to another country.

Some years later, I received a Facebook friend request from him. Our first conversation was brief, and he was on his way to rehab. He had finished detox, and his profile picture stunned me. He was healthy, he had color, he had mittens, and there was that sparkle in his eyes- that one that had been missing for far too long.

I rooted for him, I cried because I was happy, but most importantly, I was relieved.

Mike has been clean for 3.5 years. He attends regular meetings and goes to away programs as needed. Mike is married now, he has a family, he has a business, and his driver’s license. He has goals and a dedication to educating his community about drug use, recovery, and the importance in believing in a higher power, whatever that may be to a particular person. He’s a role model, an inspiration, and a symbol of resiliency.

Mike and his story make me a better person. His art really symbolizes, for me, the need to be forgiving and to find the value in people, despite the red flags, despite their flaws. While that old wooden frame can’t serve as a window frame any longer, and while that plate is cracked and can’t serve food, it doesn’t mean it’s garbage. Like his mosaics, we are pieces of our past: they shape us, they give us purpose, they help define our view of the world. You can take all those pieces, and with a little glue, some string, and a whole lot of love, you can re-direct those items into the most beautiful pieces of art.

Mike taught me that we’re gonna struggle in this life, but like Jan Arden says: “Feet on ground, heart in hand, facing forward, be yourself”.


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