Month: August 2017

feeling like an artist again

This weekend we had an event at the studio.  My business sign went back up and we compensated for the fact that the studio is still in the chaos of change by putting up a tent and selling our wares from the front yard.  This involved both my art, and the art of my roommates – check out their work at Neko-Jin Designs and The Common Shaman.   (Their work is on the right and I can attest to the quality.  The jewelry is powerfully lovely and those pillows are freaking huggable.)

The experience has left me exhausted and in a lot of pain, but for the first time in ages I feel anchored in what I do – I am a maker to my core.  During the first day, Friday, I was able to make 60 wee watercolors and pen and inks. Although, insomnia did help with that glut of drawings.  Yesterday, I made about five slightly larger pen and inks.  Today, I was a poet.

Sitting in the sun with nothing to do other than create and sell art was a joy.

A lot of locals came by, pleased that I am not either dead or moved out of the area.  It let me know how far I have hunkered down during this past two years.  Oh, but the change in my circumstances brings up such optimism.  Life has gotten better.

This time in 2015, I could not move my left arm much at all, I could not throw, I lost nearly all my income for the full year. Surgery on the shoulder in October 2015, then a hysterectomy in February 2016.  But by June of that year, things began to change.

Even now, I am still struggling – my hips need to be replaced, I am in a cauldron of pain – and yet, I am still making art.  Somehow, I have survived all of the crap that came my way.  Even heartbroken, I made art.  Even when I can barely walk,  I am making and selling art.  I am working as hard as I can to keep my house and have been grounding myself in faith that I can do it.  There have been days that I had to dig deeper within for strength than I thought I went, but it worked!

I continue forward with both my regular job and the art that is my vocation.   The first has not dented my passion for the second.

I am so grateful for the friends who saw me through this weekend.  Perhaps I have been whining too much in these blogs, because what I should be shouting from the rooftops is how wonderful life can be when you have friends that have your back.  To be able to rely on people and know that they will be there for me, that is a priceless, beautiful thing.  They set up the tent, set up the products and then tore them down in the evening, three days in a row, all with out a stitch of help from me because I could not move any of those things. What a blessing it is to have people who do not just share your dreams but are willing to put their shoulders into fulfilling them.  This is a case of actions speaking so loudly, all words were drowned out.  Without their kindness, none of this could have been done.

Basically, this is a blog of thanks.  I am grounded in what I do again, which will help all things – the physical struggle, this financial difficulty, my regular job, my art.  If you were here, you would be able to see my smile, hear my loud, outrageous laugh and listen to me sing to my cats about the glories of life.

I have “all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well” tattooed on my arm. Too often, I need the reminder. But, today, I did not read it.  Indeed, I did not even glance at it.  The next few months are going to be very hard, financially and physically, but good friends are teaching me that I can trust in the universe enough to reach out.  I am asking for help and receiving kindness.

This is the miracle of my life.

Because, I am talking about asking for help, I am compelled to say: you can make me $3 closer to being able to sustain myself while I am recuperating from surgery. My end of that deal will be to keep making art, even when I am flat on my ass in bed.

But for now, let not think of what could go wrong.  Instead, let’s sing songs of joy and thanksgiving!

The cost of hate

We as a species can be so filled with judgment.  Visual creatures, we can be easily seduced by both beauty and similarity.  We like what makes sense without having to struggle, so we gravitate to people of like minds because we find that the most comfortable.  I understand this.  My whole life, I have been on the outside enough to witness how people can cling to the familiar even when it is destructive.

Only, that avoidance has led us to a terrible place.

Today, neo-Nazis are protesting in Virginia.  As I stared at news feeds with tears in my eyes, I realized I cannot be silent.

Hate has taken over too many souls.

One alt right terrorist ran his car into a crowd of counter protestors. At least one person has died.

What has made this acceptable?

From what mental illness does this murderous disregard for other human beings spring?

I am outraged.  I can’t deny the anger bubbling up within me as I write these words.  With all the volume I can muster, I want to scream at those alt-right Nazis: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  You are damaging everyone; no one less than your own soul. The people you are so busy dehumanizing are just as vital and beautiful as you perceive yourself and your loved ones to be.  No race, or religion, or income bracket, or gender, or sexual orientation, or political opinion can make someone less human.  Neither can those qualities make someone better.”

The alt-right has opined about the hardships heterosexual, cisgendered white people have suffered, but to blame those difficulties on people who do not believe or look as they do is madness.  It could be a comfortable insanity, one bred from generations of racism and blame, continued because it is easier than analyzing why those prejudices are there, but that is the opposite of an excuse.

Is this as simple as being terrified of economic vulnerability and a changing world, but not being able to widen their view to realize that everyone so suffers? I know no one who is secure financially, for whom a death or an illness would not upend everything. 98% of the country is in the same boat.

I am troubled by the entire concept that people who look like me want to take the country back.  The United States was founded by immigrants who stole land from those who were already happily living here.  We have paid a high price for the sins of our history – genocide of Native Americans, slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese Internment.

Do not imagine that this has nothing to do with the current situation. We are barreling down the same exact path. Not to mention, those protesting have a twisted but tight grip on the past.

Of what consequence is it to those neo-Nazis and alt right protestors spewing hate that the same sentiments were what fueled the Holocaust and Apartheid and lynchings?  Did they ever study the horror of the Civil War?  Given the T-shirts, the confederate flags, and swastikas, it appears to be a point of pride.  They are lionizing people who committed crimes against humanity, who spoke for the worst that we can be. Given the love of Hitler I saw proudly displayed in tweet after tweet, it seems that they would willingly throw their souls into a bonfire to revel in hate and the delusion of supremacy.

Take our country back implies oppression.  That we could be two generations away from mass lynchings, genocide on the scale that it boggles the mind, institutional racism that crippled large swaths of the country for decades and that continues to be a plague, I wonder: from whom must the country be rescued? How was this forgotten? Why did we become blind to our failings? How did we develop a taste for hate again, or has it always been a secret passion in the hearts of so many?

I cannot move past my revulsion over this orgy of hate.  There is no good that could ever come from it. With every speck of news I wanted to primal scream, howl out my horror. The willful, murderous delusion being paraded in the state of my birth, that one human being is of greater value than another, fills me with outrage.  How could we have gone through World War II, the Civil Rights movement, not to mention watching so much senseless suffering from Apartheid, the Khmer Rouge, Rwanda, and countless other examples large and small, only to have parts of the population that want to charge down those same roads again?

Only, I cannot hate them.  I cannot feel like they are less, even if I am terrified of their madness. I know better, because I know that we all spring from the same source.

When my paternal grandmother died, my mother found a trunk filled with artifacts from the early klan.  There was my biracial mother, so studiously passing for white, confronted by the ghost of my great grandfather’s hatred.  When she told me about it years later, I wept at the sudden, acute understanding that my heritage contained both sides: the lynched and the one in the hood; the slave owner and the slave.

Like everyone else, the potential for both good and evil exists with me. It means I cannot hate those who protest on behalf of hate; but, oh, God, I can pity them because they keep themselves from such wonders.

One of my closest friends told me about his work within the gay community after Stonewall.  But those protestors could not hear how brave and strong he was, because they could not get past the condemnation of his journey. Likewise, they would not be able to watch the queer-trans couple that is a model of compassion and love, without letting judgment cloud their eyes.  They cannot hear stories of the brilliance of black men and the unbreakable resilience of black women, because they have to feel superior.  To me this is a crushing sadness.  What is missed when hate is the focus!

Because they judge so quickly, so wrongly, choosing to embrace a caricature of the foreigner, those protesters could not appreciate the stunning beauty of Spanish prose, the lyrical miracles tucked inside Sufi poetry, the way that other religions, like Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism, and countless more can enrich their experience of faith.  Because of their race and faith, those protesters wearing swastikas and confederate flags could not hear the wisdom of Archbishop Desmond Tutu or the Dalai Lama, which makes me want to cry for them.

I wonder if their faith is too fragile to acknowledge other paths up the same mountain.

Given their hatred of everyone who is other, I wonder if they have forgotten “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” because otherwise  they could not be driving cars into crowds of counter protestors.

Honestly, I am having a real problem right now.

This experience is pushing my compassion to its limits.

I wonder if this is how my mother felt as she dragged that trunk down the stairs, staring in horrified disbelief at the books that called half of herself a monkey and an ape and accused an entire race of idiocy sight unseen.  It must have felt like such a betrayal; the hidden hatred of people whom she had lived with and helped.  I wonder how much of it was rage and how much of it was just despondency when she poured lighter fluid on that hood and robe and those awful books and lit them up.

That hatred became ash, dead and dust like the man who had worn them.

Right now, I am in pain, stumbling through my own journey, aware of how many of those people protesting would hate me because of my heritage, my physical health, my economic vulnerability.  I keep wishing to Christ that I am not simply shouting these words into the void when I say:

STOP WITH THIS TOXIC INSANITY.

Every human being – and that is what both those they deride and they are – is a worthy, valuable person.

I don’t care what you believe, who you love, with what gender you identify, from whence you came, what language you speak, you are worthy of compassion and love.

If we disagree politically, if we believe differently, that is no excuse.  We can still peacefully coexist. We cannot condone or encourage the mistreatment of others.

I am praying that everyone who protests for hate finds some ease for whatever agony drives them to this madness.  I hope they can stop before they start a war or harm more innocents.

Because, here is the kicker, all of us are human and capable of discernment.  We all have souls – and for this I pray, if for no reason other than saving themselves, turn them away from hate.

The Larkus Ending

The first time i heard this music, i was very young.  Before school, certainly – probably between three and four.  i remember listening to it, not for the first time, in the darkened den. This journey in music always struck me into silence. Perhaps that is why my mother put it on.  Once that opening grabbed me, i let very little other sensation come in. For awhile, i felt things.  My pajamas had footies and was made of the softest cotton.  i felt safer in those than i did in a nightgown.  The couch held me gently, its fluffy cushion under my head.  My mother read by lamplight, having turned off the overheads.

In all likelihood, she was hoping that i would fall asleep, but when the entire symphony joined that singular melody, like a group of angels following the first sad one to comfort it, in a crescendo of glory, i lost any connection to my responsibilities or her expectations. In that darkened space, i laid on my back, and dissolved into the lilting music.

i soared.  By the time i had heard it three times, i became utterly convinced that this was written just for me, to lift me out of my life and take me sailing through the sky.  The sighing melody alternated between sadness and joy, the singular and the plural, echoing down to my fingertips and toes.

To this day, i hear the first notes of that music and i am as enthralled as a child again, floating on clouds and rising through the air. The crescendos and the moments when one or two instruments seemed to take to the winds in isolation left me thrilled. From repetition, i knew they would not be alone for long. The subsequent swelling of sound made me fill up to bursting with joy.  It gave me hope. Maybe the same would be true for me. Maybe, someday, i would not be lonely any more.

If i had known that the instrument i heard was a violin, i probably would have demanded lessons, despite listening to my older brother’s rather taxing abuse of the instrument.

As the last three beats of the song faded away, i sat up on the couch, stretching the fabric covering my feet and legs as i crossed them. “What is a Larkus?”  i chirped, “And why is it Ending?”

It took a second for my mother to pull herself out of the novel.  Then she looked at me dumbfounded for a moment.  “What the fuck are you talking about?” Her voice was deep but not unkind.

“This song.  You told me it was called The Larkus Ending.  What is a Larkus?  Why is it ending?  And why is it so happy about it?”

She stared at me for a second before she started to laugh, “Oh, my God you are retarded.  I told you it was called THE. LARK. ASCENDING. by Ralph Vaughan Williams.”

My shame at my perpetual stupidity quickly surrendered to more curiosity.  “What is a Lark?”

“A bird.”

“OOOOH.”  Suddenly i knew why i had been flying through the sky in my footie pajamas.  That was why the music freed me from the ground.  “Can we listen to it again?”

She sighed, but was still clearly entertained by my mistake, “Will you be quiet?”

Bouncing on the couch, “Yes!”  Bouncing some more, “I will!”

“Alright.”  Very slowly she marked her place in the book and then she got up from her chair and walked over to the record player. Before the first notes started again, I had gone back to laying on the couch, ready to lose myself in the music. “Seriously,” she spoke to herself more than me, “I ought to just put this on a reel to reel for you, so you can listen to the damned song on endless repeat.”

She eventually did. It was fabulous.

 The Lark Ascending was the first experience of what would be a love affair with music.  i can get drunk on harmony and melody, without the help of any other intoxicants.  Songs that have become good friends, ones to which i consistently turn when i am in need.

To this day, the Lark Ascending is a miracle in my life.  The other day at work, i was exhausted and frustrated.  i had lost the ability to pretend that i was anything other than on the edge of what i could take mentally and physically.  During my last break, i retreated to the comfortable chairs, put on headphones, and listened to the Lark Ascending at full volume, from beginning to end.  i miss the soft cotton footie pajamas, but i still soar when i hear that song.  It left me strengthened enough that i could get through the last stretch of my shift.

The tiny girl that still lives with me remains convinced that this particular sequence of notes was written just for her, so she could fly no matter how lonely and sad she felt.

Thank you

Everything in my life is changing and i don’t know quite where it will end up.

But, i am trying again. That, in so many ways, is all that matters.

Art is for sale. Baby steps. My roommates and i have been talking about the potentials for the studio.  The fact that this house is filled with creativity, laughter, hard work and music leaves me overjoyed.

Even so, pain remains.  i regularly get overwhelmed with what i need to do, the art i want to make, the words that flow from me.  Today, i have been struggling hard against the feeling of powerlessness – that i am howling into the void. As i sat thinking about it, i realized the perfect thing to share.  This poem is in my collection New Vocabularies of Love.

And the sentiment has never been more needed in my life than right now.