Author Archives: Suzanne Forbes

About Suzanne Forbes

Suzanne Forbes is a traditionally trained figurative artist, writer and bricoleur. She is an expat New Yorker living and thriving in Berlin with her third husband and their two cats. In previous lives she was a courtroom artist for CBS and CNN, a penciller for DC Comics on Star Trek, and a live-drawing chronicler of Bay Area alternative culture.

From the Vaults: Courtroom drawings and the Case of The Frozen Head.

St Paul Russian gangster trial courtroom drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes approx 1992So you all know I used to be a courtroom artist.

It’s the only job I’ve ever had where people would immediately say, “Oh, that sounds so interesting!” and I would say, “Yes, yes it is.” It was also deeply traumatic, and wildly challenging, and sometimes deadly boring (embezzlement or early days of DNA testimony).

One of the more disgusting but less traumatic cases I worked on involved a pair of Russian gangsters who had moved to suburban St. Paul.

They were best friends, and their wives were best friends, vacationed together and so on.

An attorney courtroom drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes approx 1992But all good things must come to an end, and some business rivalry caused one of them to shoot the other, chop off his head and hands, and dump the body in a lake.

At this time, around 1992 or 3, I was driving a 1991 Toyota Corolla. It was a dealer demo return but still the closest thing I’ve ever owned to a new car, and only my second car.

So I was extremely proud of it and kept it clean, visiting the carwash downtown after a day working in court.

Back to the trial: the cops found the slushy head in a partially frozen lake, and eventually arrested the Russian gangster guy.

St Paul Russian gangster trial courtroom drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes ca 1992 detailHe was not the coldest human I ever saw in court, but definitely a really vicious sociopath. I have a drawing of a forensic pathologist using a pointer to indicate gunshot wound and axe marks on a slide of the decayed head, the headsicle if you will, but I can’t find it yet.

The prosecution utilized the shockingly cavalier way many murderers talk about their acts.

This guy was really just like, so he got the lease on the laundromat, so I chopped off his head. They always talk about it like, “Well I just did what anybody would you know.”

The thing is, the thing is, the guy put the body in his trunk to dump it. And then his nice suburban car was all bloody, so he took it to a carwash to be cleaned up.

He told the guys at the carwash that he had killed a deer. Not so unusual, in Minnesota.Witness courtroom drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes approx 1992

You know what, my dear ones?

It was my fucking carwash he went to. The guys testified and everything.

Narrator: And she never went back to that carwash. 

Only the top drawing is from the Frozen Head trial; I have no idea where the other two are from. I made hundreds of courtroom drawings from 1991 to 1993, and I have only a fraction of them. I was constantly selling them to people involved in the trials, prosecutors and defense attorneys and DNA experts and ballistics people and so on.

I didn’t have a camera, and of course there were no camera phones. So until this moment, the only documentation of these drawings that existed was the footage the WCCO-TV cameraperson shot for the night’s news. And the station kept all that footage on BETAMAX tape. So,

I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

Until today, no modern media record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

 

Mädchen mit Sterne: July unterwegs bonus round.

Madchen mit Sterne on S Bahn by Suzanne Forbes July 29 2018This young dad got off the S-Bahn with his family before I could draw the face of his sleeping baby.

Little girl in star dress WIP by Suzanne Forbes June 2018The whole drawing was hard because I was so enchanted by the little girl and how pretty her dress was that I didn’t look that carefully at the handsome dad, who anyway was wearing all white which is hard as hell to draw!

Plus, they were only on the train for two stops. So I had to kind of fake it. I was planning to use photo reference of babies, although you know I never use photos for anything but objects. Babies are so challenging, though, I was willing to get some help. I let it simmer for a while.

Then this weekend we were riding the S-Bahn again, I was working on some other drawings in that sketchbook, and I had a flash of recall. So I drew the baby’s little face in two seconds from memory. I think they came out okay!Madchen mit Sterne on S Bahn by Suzanne Forbes July 29 2018

Thank you, my Patreon Patrons, for making it possible for me to capture these Berlin moments and tell these stories. It is so precious.

I have some new unterwegs in progress from this month but they will have to wait til I ride the S-Bahn again and can get the architecture in!

previous unterwegs:

July 2018

April 2018

March 2018

February 2018 bonus round

February 2018

January 2018 bonus round

January 2018 round 1

December 2017

November 2017

September 2017

July bonus round

July

June

May bonus round

May round one

April

March 2

March

January

December

November

Last Days of the Bassy Club, part two.

Vicki at Bordello Bizarre at Bassy Club by Suzanne Forbes July 29 2018Wow it took me forever to finish these drawings from one of the very last parties ever at Berlin institution The Bassy Cowboy Club.

Maybe because they are such complex scenes to do in mixed media, or maybe because it’s always sad when a beloved venue leaves the cultural landscape of your city. Above, Vicki and her consort, on the right. I could not believe how beautiful she was.

Puck the hare at Bordello Bizarre at Bassy Club by Suzanne Forbes July 29 2018

Above, Puck the Hare dancing.

Puck is a terrific photographer and professional artist’s model who also makes cool costume art like the headdress she’s wearing. I first drew her at Kitkat, where I confused her rabbit ears for pony ears! I had a hard time drawing the transparent rain ponchos the guys in the band, Cloud Kinski, were wearing and I’m not sure I fully succeeded.Backstage at the Bassy Club by Suzanne Forbes July 29 2018

The darkroom/outer backstage area of Bassy Club was done up with real prison bars like a jail cell.

I imagine this clever conceit was more enjoyable for people who have not been to jail.

Last Days of the Bassy Club, Part One.

More Bassy:

You can see my drawings from Chantal’s here and here, and the previous Bordello Bizarre here and here

Summer Bug Bricolage Update.

Bug bricolage by Suzanne Forbes July 2018Some new decorative art projects for this month. I finally made a bug box with labels!

Insect shadowbox in situ by Suzanne Forbes July 2018Rather than look for a vintage typewriter font I dabbed the inkjet printed paper in patches with water to smear some letters and rubbed it with a bit of pastel for quick aging. For the curious, I use tinfoil molded into squarish shapes around the pinbacks of the jewelled bug brooches.

This allows me to glue them onto the backing securely and keep them straight. Then I just paint the glue and foil a matching color.

I buy the brooches on eBay with the simple rule: no more than 2 euros including shipping. It means I bid on a lot of auctions, but it’s not like there’s a rush!bug bricolage WIP Suzanne Forbes artist 2018

These machine-embroidered bugs are from EmbroideryMoks, a wonderful, ingenious etsy/eBay seller in Ukraine.

The artisan who runs it, Julia Yevzhenko, is brilliant. She has come up with some really clever ways to use her embroidery machine. I tacked these bugs down to the felt with flexible glue, then put the felt in an embroidery hoop and used black, gold and metallic threads to add details and make the edges crisp. Of course I also had to add some beading!

I’m kind of like a drag queen in that my first question is always, “How would this look with MORE?”

insect shoeclips by Suzanne Forbes July 2018I made these beaded insect shoe clips with two bug brooches wired to triangles of soft aluminium sculpture mesh lined with felt.

I probably over-engineered the fucking hell out of them, since it’s not like I’m a burlesque performer and I don’t plan to go jogging in these shoes. But entropy makes me furious and I like construction to be robust.

Once again I demonstrate my commitment to the creative protocol of buying cheap stuff and making it weird.

November 2017 Bricolage Roundup with EmbroideryMoks

June 2017 Bug Bricolage Roundup

More interior decorating and bricolage posts:

Our homeHalloween decordecoupage and bug shadow boxespassementerie and staining furniturelamps and frames, more framesNo-Kill Butterfly Gallery, bas-relief rococo insect mirror, and Fearless Pink Gay Santa.

 

A therapeutic Bug Embroidery.

Embroidered beetle by Suzanne Forbes July 2018I was pretty limited in what I could do creatively after my drawing hand was injured in a bus accident this June.

Because I grip the pencil tightly and draw very fast and with a lot of force, I have been cautious about beginning to use my hand again. One thing I could start to do after the first two weeks was embroidery.

Embroidered beetle by Suzanne Forbes July 2018Embroidery puts very little pressure on my injured hand.

Embroidered beetle by Suzanne Forbes July 2018 detailI had some new thread I wanted to try, too. I got this set of multiple metallic threads at Tiger for like two euros!

I love cheap art supplies.These are not precisely metallic embroidery thread (which is a known shitshow) but more like a superthin metallic polymer strand lined with a nylon thread.

It is very fine and fairly subtle in effect, but it doesn’t snag on every draw-through like traditional metallic threads.

I ran it over the finished satin stitch to add iridescence. I always think of the new Bay Bridge when I do that!

© Frank Schulenburg / CC BY-SA 3.0

CC-licensed photo © Frank Schulenburg / CC BY-SA 3.0

As I often do on textured fabric like velvet, I ran a single embroidery stitch in doubled plain black sewing thread around it to help it look cleaner.

And of course I added some beading! My hand control was somewhat impaired for most of this piece, and I wasn’t able to stitch with normal precision. It was humbling, and yet satisfying to be able to do something, make something. I am happy with the result, and so grateful my hand wasn’t more seriously injured.

 

Extravagant Shambles, a packed-house cabaret in the North of Berlin.

Cadbury Parfait at Extravagent Shambles by Suzanne Forbes July 24 2018I’d been hoping to draw beautiful performer Cadbury Parfait for months, so I was delighted when she invited me to her first cabaret production.

It was my first time visiting Wedding venue 800A, and it seemed like everybody else had decided to go too. Above, Cadbury Parfait performing as Cleopatra! Scotty the Blue Bunny at Extravagent Shambles by Suzanne Forbes July 24 2018Here’s Scotty The Blue Bunny head and shoulders above the fray before the show.

It wasn’t the most crowded club I’ve ever been in, but it was pretty close!Sarah Tonin and Ruby De Cadence at Extravagent Shambles by Suzanne Forbes July 24 2018

There were a variety of performers, and an MC called Sera Tonin.

Ruby de Cadence is on the right, shaking it! Speaking of shaking, it was warm in the club but I got an excellent shaken iced coffee at the bar, where I ran into one of my hub’s former colleagues working. The bartender was kind enough to wash the cocktail strainer to make sure it had no traces of alcohol, when I expressed my concern.

More shaking it, from queen Noeline la Bouche!!Noeline la Bouche at Extravagent Shambles Suzanne Forbes July 24 2018

Dancers at Extravagent Shambles by Suzanne Forbes July 24 2018I didn’t get to draw everybody, but I got most of the performers.

Here is Mademoiselle Rififi on the left and Elektra Bellefleur on the right, above. I love burlesque names. I hadn’t been to live drawing at a burlesque show in ages, and I had such a lovely time. Thank you Cadbury for having me as your guest!

And thank you, my Patreon Patrons, for making it possible for me to do this work and draw these beautiful people!!

I make this live event art and share it for free because of my Patrons, and anyone can help for as little as a buck a month.

Lots and lots of my Creative Commons licensed, free, shareable burlesque drawings are here on flickr.

First unterwegs of the summer! Post-accident, drawing on the train again.

Unterwegs July 20 2018 by Suzanne ForbesI couldn’t draw on public transit for quite a while.

Plus, I have become quite cautious about using the bus, always making sure to be seated and holding a rail or handle before the bus starts moving.

Which means I have to hustle; part of the efficiency and speed of the bus system here is that the bus driver does not wait for you to be settled and secure. The drivers just take off after a certain number of seconds, even if there are older folks looking for seats. They do pause for wheelchair users and baby carriages to get arranged and strapped in the wheeled area, at least.

Unterwegs July 19 2018 by Suzanne ForbesBut everybody else is on their own, and passengers are alert to help seniors and mobility aid users find a seat and be safe. So someone like me, who looks perfectly healthy, is not accorded any concern whatsoever, and my scramble to be seated in the regular seating may look a bit unseemly or neurotic.

I don’t care, because my hand feels terribly vulnerable, and it’s my job to protect my livelihood and my ability to contribute to society. I didn’t take transit much at all while I had my cast on; it’s only the last week or so I’ve been out and about.

This Tuesday was the first time I brought my drawing kit with me since the accident. It was fantastic to sit and draw from life again, I felt like a horse let out of a stall, running around the paddock like a fuckin maniac. Drawing isn’t “fun” or pleasure for me – it’s the exercise of the strongest muscles, the best skills I have, and using those skills is like working out.

It feels fantastic to use these powerful muscles, and at the same time it feels like work. Doing my job. Telling people’s stories.

I was put here to do this work, I believe, and doing it again makes me feel useful and strong. On Thursday, headed to the Drummess Jam, I was so caught up in working on the top drawing I didn’t realize I’d taken the wrong train til I had passed several unfamiliar stops!

Thank you, my Patreon Patrons, for making it possible for me to do this work and tell these everyday human stories. I am so grateful to be back to work.

Previous unterwegs are here:

April 2018

March 2018

February 2018 bonus round

February 2018

January 2018 bonus round

January 2018 round 1

December 2017

November 2017

September 2017

July bonus round

July

June

May bonus round

May round one

April

March 2

March

January

December

November

Night of the Living Drummesses – woman drummers rock Berlin!

Second drummer at Bei Ruth drum jam July 19 2018 by Suzanne ForbesMy first time going event drawing since the accident!

My friend-muse-Patron Rah Hell invited me to an incredible woman drummers’ jam concert at a very cool punk venue called Bei Ruth. It was 8 female-identifying drummers, 2 drum kits, and a hot summer night! Above is Jarita Freydank; you can follow her on Instagram, or visit her site.

Aine Fujioka at drum jam July 19 2018 by Suzanne ForbesThis is Aine Fujioka, who started her solo right after I arrived.

Rah Hell at drum jam July 19 2018 by Suzanne ForbesI was worried about finding the venue and getting there, since it was as far on the other side of town as it could be, but I printed several maps and set out. This was one of those special Berlin things that I just wasn’t willing to miss.

The setup was that there were two drum sets, and each drummer would start with another drummer. Then one drummer would step out, and the remaining drummer would solo for a few minutes. Then a new drummer would sit down at the empty kit. The two would play together for a bit. The drummer who had already soloed would leave, the new drummer would solo, and then a new drummer would join her and they’d play together.

This not only actually worked, it was AMAZING. The whole thing SHREDDED.

Oganiser Eilis Frawley at Bei Ruth drum jam July 19 2018 by Suzanne ForbesThis is the event’s organizer Eilis Frawley. Her site is here.

The energy level rose naturally until the end when all the drummers gathered around the sets to knock out a final group jam. As you can see, the windows of the space were filled with the delicious indigos of the Berlin summer twilight and the venue was full of black shirted rockers and punks. People were dancing and thrashing to the fantastic beat. Last drummer at drum jam July 19 2018 by Suzanne Forbes

And this is Katrina Martinez Marrupe. Such a fierce drummess! I am so lucky to get to go to things like this.

I am so grateful to my Patrons on Patreon, who provide the financial support to make it possible. And so grateful my drawing hand is healing!!

Rah Hell has a nice thread on twitter with event photos. You can also follow Bang On Berlin, a collective of Berlin based bands, musicians, artists, and other talents. With a strong focus on female artists.

Archiving some very early portrait paintings.

Portrait of John Talbot Wallis by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum fall 1989One of the very first portraits I ever painted.

In late summer or early Fall 1989 I did this painting of my beloved, cherished friend John Talbot Wallis. He was staying with me at my little basement apartment in St. Paul, trying to kick heroin. It didn’t work out for him, and he went back to NY and relapsed immediately. I desperately hope he is still alive. Last I heard, in the mid-90s, he was very deep in addiction and had apparently lost most of his teeth. The odds aren’t good, but we junkies are tough as cockroaches. I’ve said a prayer for him every night for almost thirty years.

This was one of the earliest portraits I ever painted, though I had drawn quite a few by this point. To get ready for going back to art school full time, I was taking a painting class in downtown St. Paul, an extension class from the Minneapolis College of Design, with a wonderful woman professor.

I started out painting in acrylic, though there is tremendous bias against acrylics in the figurative and especially portrait painting community.

I really appreciated my teacher’s willingness to let me use acrylics. I was afraid I would have problems with my sobriety if I used oil paints, which involve solvents. I had never been an inhalant abuser, but I was less than a year sober and I wasn’t taking any chances!

I liked acrylics and it turned they are perfectly suited for my run-and-gun, punk rock style of painting, so I’ve never looked back. Detail portrait of John Talbot Wallis by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum Fall 1989My palette was a lot more Fauvist early on, partly because I didn’t know how to mix colors or how to see color temperature in shadows.

I had never intended to be a painter – I was gonna be a comic penciller, and have colorists to take care of that!  So I had paid little attention to my color theory class at Parsons and stubbornly avoided working in color as much as possible. It was really an accident that led me to becoming a painter, that the only class in the extension program that Fall was a painting class, and that I loved my teacher.  I also just really love Fauvism, and I still think my early paintings are terrific examples.

This portrait of John, an homage to The Green Stripe aka Portrait of Madame Matisse, is probably one of the top ten likenesses I’ve ever achieved.

This IS John, who I met at Stuyvesant a day or two after my fourteenth birthday and was close friends and sometimes friends with benefits with til I was 23. He was literally the jolliest drunk I have ever met, a vibrant, loving, wildly creative guy without a mean bone in his body. He was a drummer, an artist, a rapper, and a lover who adored pleasing women.

He turned me on to NWA and The Tubes, and we walked thousands of miles together over Manhattan Island in the 80s. We logged thousands of hours hanging out, writing graffiti, drinking beer, roaming the city or watching MTV. We used to do acid and heroin and watch Jaws 3 in 3D with the colors on the television reversed, laughing hysterically. He had a heart the size of Central Park. Merciful Goddess, I hope he is still alive.

detail Portrait of Brad Geiken by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum Fall 1990Another redhead, fellow MCAD painter Brad Geiken.

I painted this in the fall of 1990, I think, when Brad and I were together. Brad was a terrific, terrific painter and a really nice boyfriend. He looks mean here but that is the fault of me as the painter, not the man. Or he was mad because I was a shitty girlfriend and he deserved better. He had the most beautiful red hair.

I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

Until today, no record of these paintings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

The Anthony Bourdain Memorial Ice Cream Crawl. Cause you gotta have food at a wake.

At the cheese counter I ran at A.G. Ferrari in Berkeley, 1998.

The cool comes from under the trees in the Berlin summer nights, from the leafy plazas and million parks and the green breathing lung of Tiergarten.

You catch a vegetal blast of air that feels almost icy, the way passing the 72nd st Transverse used to feel on CPW in August. We’re pretty far north in Berlin, and it stays light til 10pm. The day Anthony Bourdain killed himself I took the U-7 to Eisenacher Str. at 7pm; the long twilight hadn’t even started.

On the train an American was explaining what Currywurst is to another American. “And the place we’re going is the most famous currywurst stand in Berlin,” she said. I came out of the station by the church and walked along Akazienstr to my favorite Habibi falafel cafe, the one with the strange fountain full of sunken amphorae.

Where the guys are brusque and the line is slow but it feels so much like Mamoun’s.

And the falafel is damn near as good. In 1981 my boyfriend Paul and I used to scrape up change from under our bed and walk from the West Village to Macdougal to get falafel at Mamoun’s. I would ask for “extra, extra tahini” and they would laugh at me but fill my falafel til it dripped creamy tahini sauce. Paul slashed his throat with a razor blade in our bedroom when I was fifteen and was hospitalized at Bellevue. My first suicide attempt was two years earlier.

Before i visited Paul at the psych ward I would go to DiBella Brothers and get a Stuyvesant sandwich and marinated artichokes stuffed with blue cheese and eat them on the lawn of a high-rise in the East twenties. I would sit on the grass in that spring of 1982 with a book – Madeleine L’Engle, I was rereading the Earthsea books – and breathe in the good news that I was alive, still, and could feel pleasure.

The first gateau marjolaine I ever made, in 1992 or 1993.

In Berlin on this summer night I had slabs of roasted eggplant smeared with baba ganoush, cauliflower caramelized at the tips of the florets, cinnamon-scented chicken schwarma, pita dredged in green olive oil.

I breathed in and out in the warm cafe, as people came and went and bought baklava at the counter. They don’t make it there, of course, but it’s so good. Pistachio only, no walnut. Also delicious: the basbousa, drowning in sugar syrup.

I didn’t get any baklava, because I was planning to get ice cream, and i can always come back another day. I ate roasted carrots cut slantwise, soft as sweet potatoes. Mint leaves. Again green oil, soft pita. Again mint.

Fresh mint leaves are the single most luxurious affordable luxury item in the world.

I sat for a bit after I finished eating, looking around, breathing.

Cakes, tarts and mousses I made for a party I gave when my first Star Trek comic came out in 1994.

Hand-sculpted gold-leafed marzipan penguins I made for a wedding cake at Dean & DeLuca in 1996.

My breath is safe in my lungs, moving safely, freely. In 1987 in my tiny bedroom the paramedics yelled into their walkie-talkies, “Put a rush on that bus!”. My boyfriend Richie hadn’t been able to wake me up.

My heart ticks over smoothly. In 1996 in Adams-Morgan I stood up, stepped one step to turn on Victoria’s oven, stepped one step back to the kitchen table, and called the hotline instead.

I was working at Dean & DeLuca Georgetown in 1996, manager of the bread and pastry and fine chocolate departments. I had the most beautiful food in the world at my fingertips.

It was like a museum of food, our store, and I would cry in the bathroom in the basement.

Here in Berlin, I left Habibi’s and went down the street to Eisfee. Eis means ice cream, and Fee of course is “fairy”. I had Berliner Bar, a vanilla eis with karamell and brownies. The flavor is amazing but the texture was a bit chewier than usual. I walked slowly up towards Gotzstr. eating ice cream with the sky still, still light. It seemed like the sun would never slip over the horizon, like the city was holding it against the skyline.

The first wedding cake I ever made, white chocolate with white chocolate buttercream and handmade marzipan roses.

The charming streets of Schöneberg are lined with restaurants and cafes, and their outdoor tables were full. People were eating together, waiters were bringing full plates. I smelled fish skin sizzling on iron, and lemon juice, outside a taverna. I smelled cilantro and green curry, and basil crisping on top of margarita pizza in a wood oven. I smelled tandoori lamb, and roasting doner kebab. Berbere and sumac. Cumin, the scent of life.

I walked up to Jones Ice Cream, and waited in the line, which was no worse than the Bi-Rite line on a Tuesday night in winter.

Bûche de noel with meringue mushrooms and crème brûlées, Christmas 1994.

Jan Diekmann at Jones Ice Cream

Jan Diekmann at Jones Ice Cream

Jan Diekmann, who runs the line, saluted me when I came in. I only make it over there every couple months, but I have made it clear how deeply I value the quality of the ice cream. I had a scoop of black sesame ice cream on one of their absurdly good white chocolate cranberry cookies.

It was a serenade of salty, buttery, umami-rich sweetness, yet with a grassy and floral creaminess. I love the way you taste the grass in good cream.

I will go ahead and say Jones Ice Cream has better flavors than Bi-Rite. At Jones each flavor is actually even more superbly calibrated, but Bi-Rite beats them on texture. I ate very slowly, paging through “Sweet Berlin”, a book of Berlin pastry chefs, confiseurs and chocolatiers. When I was done I dodged through the line, and thanked the counter staff quickly, as I often do at such times. “Vielen danke! Sehr lecker, lecker-lecker!”.

And then got out of there, because you don’t take up people’s time in the evening rush.

Gateau mârjolaine with white chocolate gates and handmade marzipan roses, and petit-fours, made for my first wedding in 1995.

I walked up Goltzstr to the St. Matthias Kirche, which is being repaired, like every other fucking building in Berlin. I smelled a breath of lilacs at the edge of the small park there, though it’s past their season, and I saw that among the wild roses there is a little cherry tree, laden with shiny fruit.

There was a tiny path worn through the loose flowering bush, but I left the cherries for the kids who will come to the Markt am Winterfeldplatz tomorrow.

At the Markt am Winterfeldplatz I once bought a handmade praline of milk chocolate ganache dusted with bee pollen; my friend Monique bought flaxseed oil they grind as you watch.

In 1987 I was sitting in the Cocolat cafe on Fillmore st., eating Alice Medrich‘s three-chocolate mousse cake and drinking a split of ice-cold Piper Heidseick I had shoplifted. I was high on heroin and I was still absolutely fucking miserable. I said to myself, fuck, if this mousse can’t make me happy, drugs really must not work for me anymore.

I went to my first recovery meeting just a couple days later. It was another eighteen months before I got sober, but that moment was the beginning.

I went back to San Francisco in 1991, two years sober, and went to that Cocolat and bought Mme. Medrich’s cookbook, Cocolat. It was the first serious cookbook I bought as an adult, and I made that three-chocolate mousse cake for the opening of my first art show at school.

I spent my tweens reading Vladimir Estragon’s Waiting for Dessert column in the Village Voice and Craig Claiborne in the New York Times. But it was Innumerable hours studying Cocolat and The Cake Bible in the 90s that formed the beginning of my professional food career, which put a roof over my head when none of my other skills could.

I walked up to Nollendorfplatz, where I picked a sprig of lavender and sniffed it over and over as I waited for the bus, as the sky darkened at last, as everything turned blue.

Astringent, spicy soapy, floral, herbal – lavender is everything. I can’t believe I’m alive. I am stupidly fucking grateful to be alive. In Culver City in 2005 I was curled up on the floor of the bathroom of my husband’s corporate housing, cradling the phone, holding on to the hotline. I had taken the scissors, the sharpest blade I could find in the place, in there with me.

Holding on to the hotline like a subway pole. The hotline was the only dignity in my pain, the only justification for my existence now that I was discarded by my life partner. I was experiencing the worst emotional pain I had known since I got sober, and I wanted so badly to be dead, but the hotline held me. They told me I had value when every particle of my brain was telling me otherwise.

Halloween cake with hand-sculpted marzipan and royal icing bat, raspberry mousse heart and vanilla Bavarian brain for Halloween, 2001.

When food doesn’t make me happy, I know I’m depressed.

Gateau Marjolaine I made for my 50th birthday, Berlin 2017.

I don’t mean pleasure; as a libertine, a person with lifelong disordered eating, I can use sugar and carbs to get drug-like comfort even when I’m deeply depressed. I mean happy – that sense of exhilaration and wonder, at the alchemy of flavor.

At the mystery of how the elements of the food come together.

For me, eating is reading a story, thinking about where the food comes from on the planet, the food traditions of the culture. About the antecedents and variations of the dish.

I never eat pasta without remembering my training at The Pasta Shop in Berkeley in the late 90s.

Coulibiac of saumon made for Daria’s 30th birthday in 2017, recipe from The Pie and Pastry Bible.

We learned that microscopic corrugations in the surface of the century-old bronze dies give the best extruded pastas their sauce-grabbing power. We tasted forty-five-year-old balsamic, syrupy thick, and Cowgirl Creamery fromage Blanc made that day, and there was always Acme Bread.

The cheese period of my Pasta Shop education was especially precious. I trained with a Neal’s Yard cheesemonger. She taught me how to break an 85 pound wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, and taste the first flake from the heart of the wheel. The head chef at the Pasta Shop was a joyful grey-haired Deadhead who ate kimchi for breakfast every morning. She was wonderful. Amazing food women have guided me all my life.

The summer I was 24 I worked as a cook in a restaurant on a boat on the Mississippi River, with a group of other women. We would bake off the night’s desserts in the hot afternoons, music playing, the windows of the boat all open, cutting whole flats of ripe peaches, until everything smelled like ripe peaches. Cooking with those women are some of my most cherished kitchen memories, even though one night a body washed up in the inlet next to our boat.

Making flourless chocolate cake for Daria, 2017.

When Spalding Gray’s body was found in the East River in 2004, I thought it was a sign.

Depressed people think crazy shit like that. I had been so depressed for so long, it just seemed like I couldn’t possibly find the strength to keep going. I thought, what is the point of making it another decade and then giving up anyway? I thought, he fought it all that time only to lose in the end. I was tired of calling the hotlines, of hiding how I felt from everyone. I felt like I would get better, then get worse, and each time I was sick I was more exhausted.

But then I got to leave my toxic job, and I started painting again, and I got on Wellbutrin, and by 2005 I was doing great – until my husband left me. Between that, the Great Recession, losing my house and losing my art business, I was down for the count until 2011. And yet, that wasn’t the end of the story. I thought my story would end like Spalding Gray’s, a long battle, the appearance of making it clear of the weeds, and then losing after all. That isn’t the story I got.

The story I know today is the story of the miracle of not being depressed.

My story today is that I have been in true, complete, uninterrupted remission from my lifelong depression for almost six years. It is the story of smelling green curry from a cafe table and feeling it as a celebration of life and human magic. Instead of feeling it as a rebuke.

Once in 1995 I was standing by a pond in a park in Hartford, looking at some ducks on the water. My comic book had been cancelled, I had no apartment and my stuff was in storage, my first marriage was coming apart, my student loans had just defaulted and I had been severely depressed for a year. I felt really pissed that there was this beautiful scene, that I was supposed to appreciate, when all I could think about was how many Tylenol it takes to kill yourself.

It seemed like a cruel cosmic joke, those fucking ducks. That’s how the world feels, when you’re depressed. It affects every part of your worldview. I remember the relentless negativity and hopelessness of most of my life quite clearly. But I’ve never operated from that system of feelings, despite dwelling within it for the majority of my time on the planet. I’ve always, always proceeded as if things were gonna get better, as if I would be ok someday, no matter how bad I felt.

Vegan chocolate cake with vegan chocolate mousse. Photo by Daria Rein.

Vegan chocolate cake with vegan chocolate mousse I made last month. Photo by Daria Rein.

I was always blessed with a dunderheaded amount of what has turned out to be, surprisingly, justified faith.

Thanks to my extremely high resilience score, and the love and support I’ve been blessed with all along, I believed a possible future without depression. But I felt the pain of that worldview most of the time, and the pain and pressure of it were unbelievable. It’s only now, having been released from it for almost six years, that I can begin to understand how pervasive and relentless and exhausting it was.

I fought like a lioness to save my body, my soul, my work, my love.

I would never say I won, because I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. Luckily, I already had pretty good skills for taking chronic illness a day at a time when I entered remission from depression. Twenty-nine years of sobriety, and three rounds of cold turkey heroin withdrawal before that, have given me certain abilities. One of them is the ability to be fucking grateful not to be in pain. SO grateful it’s like a whole emotion, like being in love. Another is the ability to relish reversals of fortune.

I never imagined I could be this deeply, consistently, profoundly happy.

It can get better, and statistically, it just plain WILL for some depressed people. Happiness has a U-shape for many and you can age out of depression, or get better through treatment, or heal. I have no idea how to share that truth with those who are suffering, to get it in under their aching chests where it can grow.

Suzanne Forbes photographed at home by Mirella Frangella May 2018

Suzanne Forbes photographed at home by Mirella Frangella, May 2018

I only know my story, the story of walking around on a summer night so glad to be alive I feel like I won the lottery. Eating ice cream.

I wrote here about how Longterm Remission from Severe Depression  is Fucking Possible.

And here about how Depression is a Disease, and Most of Us Aren’t Doctors.

More writing about my fancy-food career here and converting US recipes for Europe here (Guerilla Peanut Butter Pie) and here (Five-Car Fender-Bender Flapjacks, GF).

Resources:

In Berlin,

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, the Berlin Crisis Service (Berliner Krisendienst) offers telephone and in-person help in English at nine centres throughout the city: www.berliner-krisendienst.de/en/

The NHS.

The National Suicide Prevention Helpline.

Rob Delaney’s amazing post on depression and getting help.

The Trans Lifeline.