Month: March 2014

She survived!

10006958_10202718071224416_1017235673_nMy sculpture portraying the fires of endurance, survival and the amazing ability of clay – and people – to adapt survived the bisque firing! Huzzah!

After I lifted her out of the kiln, joy poured out of me.  Much singing and some dancing filled the space, although I had been cleaning the floors of the studio for a couple of hours already so that limited the physical manifestations of joy.

Cleaning the studio’s floors, for the record, is the absolute worst aspect of my job. Hands down, the biggest irritation of being a sole proprietor.  I literally cannot even pay someone to do it for me – I know this because I have tried very hard. Granted, all cleaning strikes me as somewhat tedious, but this task is extra special onerous.  Not just because it’s messy clay, you have to wet it down before you can use the wet vac to scrape it up (so dust won’t fly everywhere) but because of the pain bending and scrubbing stokes in my body. Mud is heavy to move.

photo 2
this was the “before” shot

All day was lost either to the actual cleaning, or laying on a heating pad to get my back limber enough to go back to cleaning.  No art was made.  The closest I got to making art was lifting the sculpture out of the kiln and seeing if she could stand on her own without assistance. (She could!  Yay!) Otherwise, no art.  Not even a poem managed to creep past my fingers.  Cleaning – heating pad – cleaning – heating pad. Much whimpering and complaining burbled from my lips. I felt vaguely jealous of the dog’s contented snores, floating down to me from the couch upstairs.  When a neighbor asked me for some tech support for her new computer, which I knew would take a few hours tonight, I nearly wept.  It meant I had a valid excuse to put off some of the cleaning until tomorrow.

But, alas, that means I have to clean tomorrow, too.  And, somehow, find the strength to glaze afterward so that lovely sculpture can be finished!

Oh, I shouldn’t whine.  My sculpture survived.  This battle with the studio floors shall fade into memory soon enough.  Honestly, if this is one of my biggest complaints, I live a charmed life.  I can deal with pain, having had a lot of practice with it – and once the floor is spotless, I get to corrupt it with clay again.

Getting back to the real work…

Yesterday, I threw.  It felt glorious. Like I was getting back to something real and tangible.  This ridiculous perceptual problem I have talked about over and over – feeling like my artwork somehow exists in a different realm of importance and value than the work that allows for the art to happen – stood out in glaring relief.  This seems to be a balancing act – create for awhile, do the chores of work for a few days, create more, back to the duties of business.  Yet again I have proved to myself that this is all part of the journey.  While I enjoy making art so much more, I cannot deny the use and benefit to the accompanying labors.  I have to stop being grumpy with them over the time and energy they take.

For the week previous, I had been largely consumed with the other necessities of running a business and the extra work I take on helping people with their websites and social media.  That last bit feels doubly ironic, because thanks to a hangout on Google+, watched on You Tube, I learned so much about social media for the artist and marketing your work online that my head was spinning.  (For me, I know I have spent an hour well when I realize how clueless I was 60 minutes earlier.)  A lot of the time, I find the incredible transformations in dissemination within all the creative realms – writing, painting, pottery – overwhelming and scary.  That I delude myself into thinking I travel this path on my own accentuates the anxiety.  Right now there is no perfectly paved road to follow toward success – whether that is defined as publication or art sales. As Neil Gaiman pointed out in one of my favorite videos of all time, the industry is in flux. (When I looked up the link for this, I predictably had to stop blogging so that I could watch his address again. This is one of my favorite speeches. Even though I am so far from its intended audience chronologically and educationally, it doesn’t matter.  He never fails to give me heart again, particularly after I have made another  “glorious mistake.”)

and the red is still not quite right...
and the red is still not quite right…

Always, watching someone who makes their living at art talk about how they managed it fills me with hope. All of us struggle with distractions and problems. For me, my greatest challenges center around the limitations of my body; others must dance with the demands of work and family. That someone has managed to make a living through their words or art, around whatever else pulled at their attention, means that it is possible. Even if many other things have to co-exist beside the creating, like book-keeping and web design and taking 200 photographs to get one good one of a piece of pottery, it can still feed you.

Honestly, I cannot express to you how wonderful it was to be muddy. Even after all these years, watching something lovely take form between my hands makes me giddy.  I have two boards, coated with flawless, virginal gesso, waiting to be defiled with paint.  A new keyboard – without any of the letters worn away – sits before me, eager to begin its journey through short stories, novels and poems.

Because of all the work I did this week, I can actually spend today and tomorrow making art.

Best of all: today feels like spring.  The ground has been rendered into mud from the melting snow and ice.  Birds sing all around the studio.  I’m maybe three good melting days away from being able to put up my “open for business” signs for the studio.  Ideas for new creations in every medium in which I work sing about within me; the reedy melodies of winter have suddenly become strong and ecstatic.  The long, hard, frozen months have already taken on the garb of illusion – the unreality of memory.  I am so excited to get back to my ‘real’ work, what ever that is.

earrings and other things

For whatever reason, I have felt more keenly aware that who I am today can only be a speck on a continuum of being. The process of living has proved to be an ever-changing becoming. Even though that sounds woefully metaphysical, the awareness of it walked with me all day today.

When someone dear to my heart talked about how much she was struggling with depression, all the times when I stood on the perilous edge, convinced that life had no hope or meaning, lined up inside me like small steel balls, each one as though they were fully separate manifestations of self. In every case, the sensation of hopelessness overpowered me, convincing me that who I was had always been a static, worthless mess. In time, that perception was proven to be a lie, but I recall how fierce and deadly it had been in the moment. Each repetition flowing through my memory testified that I had no way to comfort for her other than acknowledging shared pain.

altered self portrait hurricaneA few hours later, as I re-pierced the upper holes in my ears that had gone unused for nearly two  decades, I remembered the day I had them pierced, when I was about twelve, and I thought it was so cool and rebellious. That girl could have been standing beside me, fleshed out on her own, a separate being altogether. Likewise the slightly wiser version of me who realized a few years later that my action had delighted my mother; the skilled use of reverse psychology on her part had finally paid off. I had done something feminine. The twelve year old, the teenager freshly irritated from epiphany, the woman in her late twenties who gave up on earrings altogether and this person wincing briefly in the mirror all queued up like separate bubbles: singularities in time and space connected by this continual, shifting consciousness.

The sense of separateness permeating today made wonder how much true control we have in each specific instant. Forces drive us that do not speak out loud. Hindsight makes nearly every action seem obvious, miraculous or embarrassing. Yet none of these reassessments and reinterpretations give justice to my full mindset in the moment I originally acted. At the time, my motives were frequently primal or incredibly simple: I really wanted my ears pierced, because it makes the magpie in me happy …

This doubling awareness – now and then staring at each other, both having maintained a delusion of permanence – kept on getting stronger. It reminded me of how people describe remembering past lives, only I just had this one continues awareness pointing out individual moments when I dreamed I was solid.  Perhaps my art made it easier.  Each poem was like a Polaroid of a moment, quite possibly bearing no real truth to who I would be by the time the lines were done flowing from my pen.  Going through a huge amount of my art to make my social media interactions easier, I found each piece evoking specific events and inspirations, and none of them were close to how I would approach the subject today.

I spent some time staring at a painting of my ex, rendered when we were still happy. It struck me how profoundly those interactions formatted one part of my continuum, but no longer define me. Twice in two days I have talked about him, remembering how desperately I loved him, how I drowned in that love long after he broke my heart leaving, and that experience too had this surreal distance. The woman who loved could have sat beside me, her loss palpable due to proximity, but she remained separate – not actually part of the fabric of my now.

How my relationship with myself has changed since we were together. The woman writing these words barely understands the one who wailed with grief so long. Even the great traumas of childhood, or perhaps most especially those ordeals, have taken on the qualities of an echo. The memories can be vivid when I am forced to bring them out of storage, but they cannot evoke the power they once did. Likewise, all the moments when I thought I was blessed, or freakish, or quick, or magical, or cursed, hold the same separateness to this instant’s manifestation of me.

For awhile, my entire understanding shifted: right now became more real than all those memories put together; the constant evolution of my being held more sway than my perceptions of who I was or who I am.

Tomorrow, I might look at this essay as describing an isolated event, one particularly acute instance of sensation, when the world turned slightly on its side to give me a glimpse of myself I would normally have missed, and remember it with the same tinges of the surreal. That alone might be all it takes to create me anew again.

the coup

For the past hour or so, I’ve been rambling about the studio trying to figure out if I dare throw the five big pieces that have been hanging over my head for ages (three for nearly two months, having gone through four previous throws only to crack in the dry air of the studio, then to be thrown again, to crack again…). There is a cruel mathematics to things like this: do I risk hurting myself more for the psychological delight that will be ticking these things off my to-do list?  (The to-do monster is appeased by such actions, almost giggling, his red eyes glow a little less angrily for awhile.)

My wandering was interrupted by a phone call and a delightful conversation – the poor woman had no idea how much I wanted to connect with another person today!  As the words burbled from my mouth despite her attempts to hang up, I kept pacing, hoping my back would magically heal itself.  Alas, it has neither gotten worse nor better, which gives me no answers.

roxi_martinbothersmeHowever, I realized that I could use these moments of indecision to tell you about the coup this morning.

The cat to the left, Roxanne Whiskerdinks, had been the undisputed ruler of this domicile since the untimely passing of her elder brother, Andre the Giant.  As a radical militant female supremacist, a lot of her job had involved keeping her younger brother, Martin Longshanks, in check.  For two years, he has worshiped her as a goddess and every time he has drawn near enough to dare physical touch, she has growled and smacked him on the head.  He kept trying to win her over with his beauty and charisma, but she could not see past his deeply annoying little brotherness.

During the past two weeks, she had developed a new torment for the nervous, jumpy boy: standing on one side of a partially open door so she could jump on his back while he walked through and bite him on the head.  It had gotten so bad, he had taken to waving a paw into any open doorway, testing the waters, not realizing that all he was doing was providing her with delighted anticipation for the taste of his delicious flesh.  A small tooth sized chunk is missing from his left ear, which I believe is related to this particular game of hers.  (When questioned, she seemed to indicate he did it to himself.)martin_wakeup

This morning, as I showered, I heard what turned out to be the opening volley of a coup. The actual cause is a mystery. I don’t know why, but quite suddenly Martin’s nonviolent leanings left him – perhaps knocked out of his head in another assault by his sister.

By the time I was making breakfast, he had thoroughly thrashed her four times – each time relenting when she mewed and complained, only to get hit on the head as soon as she thought it was safe, at which point he looked completely affronted and attacked again.

Neither cat seems to have caused permanent damage to the other (except for the missing chunk of ear), although a significant amount of Roxi’s beautiful belly fur was caught in Martin’s back claws, like she was violently groomed.

What is obvious, though, is that the power structure of the house has changed.

The cats have a job while I work in the studio – holding down the bed – and Roxi always sleeps by my pillows and Martin is relegated to the foot of the bed where the dog sleeps.  This afternoon positions shifted.  I watched Roxi come into the dining room and all but bow to her little brother who stood on the table, tall and regal, with his eyes narrowed in pleasure, as though he were now her liege.  She even waited for him to have kibble first, instead of shoving him away and mewling at him for his impudence.

All hail Martin Longshanks, King of the House.

The interesting thing to me is that Martin could have done this at any point during the last eighteen months, at least, if not earlier.  He is taller than she is – with amazingly long legs and tail. When she rolls over onto her back, exposing her belly, fangs and all the sharp points, he can reach right through the barricade with his longer limbs. In a lot of ways, he is more agile. She always took Jabba the Hutt as her role model for despotic monarch, never really worrying about keeping her form or martial art skills in peak condition. She relied on psychological tactics: Martin thought the sun rose and set on his sister – and she used that mercilessly to her advantage.

Although, I think she has learned her lesson.  The last time I went in the house, he was forcing her to cuddle with him – something she detests more than anything else (boy cooties! For the love of GOD, boy cooties!) – and although I did not see the negotiation that lead to their positioning, he had more of her soft belly fur caught in his back claws.

So, I suppose the moral of the story for Roxi is that you shouldn’t treat your little brother like shit and expect that he will take it forever and ever without complaint.  And her brother’s take on all this?  Sadly, I think it is limited to: “If I close my eyes, it almost sounds like her growling is a purr.  She loves me!  She really loves me!”

The coup is complete.


sculpting fire

The past few days have not been overwhelmed with joy.  I’m struggling (still!) with my energy, stamina and pain, my coordination has been terribly off and I have felt wildly alone. The latter sensation kept getting stoked by a lot of events that were canceled (the weather really hates my social life) and the business stresses that make the ‘sole’ in sole proprietor cut into me like the edge of a broken pot.  For just an extra bit of rejection, someone I really wanted to get to know better told me in two quick emails that I wasn’t worth the effort – which is his choice, and something that didn’t come completely unexpected since the lags between his emails kept getting longer and longer.  Although as I read his words, I couldn’t help thinking that he had been thwarted by circumstance.  The email coming today blunted the impact of his gratuitous rejection, like someone pushing me away me while I was too far down to fully notice.

A few melancholy poems wandered from my pen along with an angry letter to God. I kept trying to edit pictures on my turgid laptop before I gave up in despair. I painted gesso on a few boards.  In a fit of determination, I started hand-building because my back balked at the wheel.  Only, again, I couldn’t make anything.  An entire slab of clay – half a bag worth – wound up on the floor, impaled on shards of dead pottery.  A small box managed to come to life out of the remains.  Then, with great difficulty, my hands birthed a tall, towering vase.  I even instagramed a picture of it, I was so proud.

before the fall
before the fall

I didn’t want to stay here in the studio until 2 or 3 in the morning, though, so I went to use the heat gun to stiffen the vase so I could safely remove the armature.  While the vase was in a delicate spot, I raced over to get the heat gun.  It looked like it was on the shelf, ready to use, but I found out someone had left it plugged in underneath the wheels (there are times I whine about opening up my studio to other artists.  They have all been told leaving that plugged in is a fire hazard, a trip hazard and a damned inconvenience for the next person who needs the tool.  Then, I start wondering if I was the one who used the heat gun last…)  While I struggled to free the plug – ouch! the  bending! – I heard the vase fall, splat, onto the ground.  The one truly lovely thing I had made today, decimated by a freaking plug.

I stood there buzzing with anger because I had been defeated by so much lately.  I can’t fix my financial stressors.  I can’t make someone like me.  I can’t rush along the changes coming to my life just like I can’t guarantee that all my efforts aren’t in vain.  But, damn it, i don’t have to lose another half a bag of clay just because it catastrophically fell over and crumpled into itself.  Very carefully, very slowly, with stubbornness burning in my ears, I picked the clay up and straightened it out.  I grabbed dowels to stick down the bifurcated piece, determined to make something tall.

In the end, and this is probably where I should have started this blog, I sculpted defiance.  Tears streaming down my face, my body complaining vigorously about standing that long, I kept working.  She became the fire of stubbornness, the refusal to be destroyed even though she could not regain her original configuration.  She looks incredibly rough right now – but she has arms and a head.  In a little feat of irony, I’ll be here in the studio until 2 or 3 in the morning, making sure the dowels come out.  I don’t dare leave.  If I go to the house, the siren call of a steaming hot shower, the heating pad and bed will be too strong.  Instead I might write some more melancholy, self-pitying poetry. Perhaps I’ll draw on the iPad.  Maybe I will let myself work on my book.  It would be nice to lose myself in someone else’s trials and tribulations.

I wish I had more words of strength and resilience to end this babbling, but right now I’m just hanging on by a thread.  All I have to get me through is obstinacy.

how hard is too hard

Tonight I was supposed to go out and break bread with other artists, but when the meeting was canceled, I continued on the path I had followed all morning and afternoon – taking it easy, editing photos, coding one website, helping another web client, adding products to Houzz, and simply taking time to rest.

Sometimes an unexpected blessing like this forces me to realize how much I need down-time and quiet. A large chunk of this evening passed me by while I napped, my cheek pressed against the pages of the book I had intended to read. When the phone rang, I was so far gone that I could not move a single muscle to answer; almost instantly upon interruption’s cessation, my thoughts wove their way back to dreams.

I know I’ve written about how shocking it is to me that I need quiet stillness beyond daily meditation before, but apparently, I am a remedial student on this subject.  When I was married, living in the city, there were enough natural distractions to keep me from going overboard.  Indeed, watching my energy get pulled in too many directions could make me agitated. That has changed.  My solitude and the business woman in me, who puts the whip to the artist’s back, conspire against fantasies like weekends.

Although, I should not blame the business. The drive to create goes very deep.  The need to work is all but irrepressible and would gladly sacrifice anything on its altar. Obviously, I cannot allow it to drive me to the point of illness and burnout.  However, I am not always intelligent about my limits.

Desperate for some balance between this compulsion and the rest of life, I have been reaching out to others like a fool – hoping that I can be given what I cannot easily provide for myself. Relationships are the one thing that will pull me away from what I ‘ought’ to be doing.  As odd as it sounds, I really enjoy being around other people even if they are not actively socializing with me.  Their noise, watching how they interact with each other, it all soothes me. Only recently, this tactic has not worked either.

Left to my own devices, I keep going until at some point, like the past two days (which are actually supposed to be ‘days off’), I collapse.  Moving the mouse has felt labor intensive.

This afternoon, waves of guilt kept assaulting me, even though I challenged their judgment with the evidence of my unsettling fatigue. ‘Look at what’s going on,’ reason told the emotion washing over me, ‘my mind has grown restless and weary.’  Just after lunch, I realized with a shock that it has been nearly two weeks since I have written anything more substantial than a blog or a poem. Once I was able to stifle the fire to write the book in favor of other deadlines, I have not stepped back into its flames. For me, that is highly irregular and a little alarming. Important and trivial things have been slipping, more so than usual. The stark realization that I have not been doing well physically feels like an excuse, but even with tonight’s rest, I know, I am still in danger. My flesh continues to ache and complain.  I must be careful.

Yet that to-do list makes me tremble, intimidating me with its glowing eyes and fear of abandonment, if I even dare to glance in its direction.

I must be kind to myself.

So, I will do some dishes (the tears of pain will help exorcize those last shreds of guilt) and then tuck myself in bed. As for this blog, I will end with a poem from my collection, ‘a seed of wild kindness,’ that feels wondrously applicable to this particular moment:darwinandandre copy

Quiet has taken over the world,
muting it in tones of gray,
softening the ground
and rocking us to sleep.
The rain caresses,
it plays lullabies,
it delays work
and encourages huddling
under blankets.

This is not a day
to move mountains
or change society –
it is a time to rest,
reach within
until the soul is opened up
to the gentleness
of creation.

things are changing

As I wrote in a recent email, things are changing. In this moment, I am grateful and stubbornly dedicated, but keenly aware that full transformation does not happen on my schedule or by my demand.

Every time I feel myself wavering, I fall down and wallow for awhile, but sooner or later I wind up recommitting. Actually now that I think about it, this is true about me for more than just my business. Sometimes I have to cower, healing my wounds for awhile before I can stand up and move forward.

Yesterday was a wretchedly difficult day. I felt terrible, my blood sugar kept crashing and every single piece I had made since Sunday wound up breaking in my shaking hands. However, once my addled brain realized I could shift tasks, life got better. I was able to get some wonderful work done for a graphic design client and move some web design mountains. Within a single day, The Lord gave and The Lord took the away.

On my way to a business meeting this morning, needing to boost my mood after yesterday. I listed all the wonderful things that have been happening – every cause for hope and delight. By the time I arrived, gratitude swelled up within me and I could not stop smiling. A few of them were mentioned in the mailing above, others had not even been noticed until I began searching for them. Finding sorrows and worries is effortless, I have to consciously give blessings their due.

For now, I am ebullient and optimistic – but I know my situation could transform. Right now, I wait for my car to get out of repairs – so I know I might get another lesson on giving and taking away.

three poems about rain

Here’s hoping that the snow is over for awhile… I am queuing up blogs and felt the energy of spring rains…

the rain pounded:

the rainbow:

Raindrops and music:

Meditation poem

Meditation stopped today, because a poem kept floating around in my head, banging on the walls of my skull.

Here it is:

my view as i meditate
my view as i meditate

Within this moment
lies indescribable peace.
Contentment and gratitude
fill me down to my toes,
love likewise overflows.
If the worries and the stressors
are not given room to fester,
this life proves itself
to be charmed and miraculous.
i give thanks!
Arms outstretched,
i embrace the luck
and the uncertainty.
Love pours out of me,
each breath bearing my song.
The rhythm shifts,
the key keeps changing,
the slowness of my transformation
can cause some phrases to repeat,
but i always feel blessed
when i give my soul over to dancing.