Either Way It’s Perfect

Lenny Silverberg shares his late wife’s story of living with dementia through a collection of watercolour paintings and quotes.

This article was written by a guest contributor, and the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author.

"Noni gives me her hand and asks, 'Lenny, would you hold my holders?'"

– Excerpt from Either Way It's Perfect

In 2006 my wife, Noni, who had been fighting early-stage dementia, suffered a significant decline in her abilities. For the next six years, I was her primary caregiver. I stopped painting to care for her, but during that time I drew her. Three years after she died in 2012, I began a series of watercolors based on drawings and photographs from that time. I continued painting this series for over three years, and created more than 300 watercolors and drawings.

While Noni was suffering from dementia, she would write and say short statements: odd, funny, sad, sometimes silly, sometimes profound, and often quite moving. In the early stages, she would write them and later I wrote them down when she spoke them. I collected over a hundred of these.

I showed these pictures and sayings to the art book designer Laura Lindgren, who suggested that we combine them and create a book. We culled the pictures and statements to create this work, which has a four-page introduction, 44 watercolors and drawings, and 54 of Noni’s sayings.

This book is a collaboration of Lenny Silverberg and Noni Reisner. I, Lenny, am a lifelong artist. I have had many gallery and museum shows and am represented in public and private collections. I have created psychedelic visuals at the San Francisco dance halls in the 1960s with a group called “The North American Ibis Alchemical Company that included artists and filmmakers Bruce Conner, Ben Van Meter, Bob Comings and others. I have illustrated poetry books for poets Steve Kowit, Stephen Rodefer, Bill Pearlman and others. My illustrations have been published in social and political media such as Tikkun, Heartsong and Street Spirit.

My wife, Noni Reisner, was a truly witty and funny person who loved language. She spoke Spanish and French and bits of Italian and German, and she studied Latin. She was a filmmaker whose short films were included in women’s film events. In 1965, she went to Mississippi as part of the Freedom Summer teaching English in the Head Start program. Later after getting her Masters from Hunter College in ES, she taught English as a Second Language at private elementary schools and business schools.

"'I don’t know how many people I am.'"

– Excerpt from Either Way It's Perfect

Laura Lindgren is an art book designer for major museums — The Metropolitan, The Frick — and galleries such as the Grey Gallery and Zwirner Gallery.

This collaboration chronicles the loss that I felt and witnessed over the years as Noni slipped away from me, as well as Noni’s loss of many of her abilities. And yet, she maintained her wit, her sense of humor and her personality, even as so much disappeared.

So many of us are experiencing a similar situation of caring for a loved one who is suffering from this debilitating illness, which slowly takes them from us. I hope that this book which contains beauty, humor and love, that even in the face of tragedy, it can bring some solace. It is a kind of visual memoir of a sad, but loving journey, and I offer it to help in the grieving process.

"Noni holds up a towel and says 'We can do this instead of dancing.'

Lenny: 'I don’t see the connection.'

Noni: 'There isn’t any.'"

– Excerpt from Either Way It's Perfect

What people are saying about Either Way It's Perfect:

“We rarely find anything humorous or wise about dementia and death, yet these pages are filled with laughter, wisdom and life. I cannot read Noni’s words, so carefully tended and curated by her husband, Lenny, without shaking my head and convulsing in laughter at the deep knowledge woven in what appears, at first glance, to be nonsense. Who giggles about dementia? Who laughs and revels in the world of failing faculties and bodily functions? Lenny and Noni did. And with this book about the persistence of spirit, we all do.”

– Jonathan Salk, M.D., psychiatrist, assistant clinical professor at U.C.L.A. David Geffen School of Medicine

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“Either Way It’s Perfect pushes the limits on artist-model collaboration, as Lenny Silverberg paints his wife, Noni, in her dementia, and Noni comments on her life and loving husband. The book is a humanistic triumph.”

– Wendy Steiner, author of The Scandal of Pleasure and Venus in Exile

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lenny Silverberg is a lifelong artist whose artwork has been displayed in public and private collections. His illustrations have also been featured in poetry books and other media.

His wife, Noni Reisner, was a witty English teacher who spoke several languages. She was also a filmmaker whose short films were included in women's film events.

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