Tag: anger

poem: anger

Anger has its uses.

It can serve
as a reminder
that everyone deserves
respect –
even the one
dwelling within this skin.

Too many things matter.

i care too much.

Words can still wound.

Enlightenment
has only gone so far,
a fragile heart
filled with healed
cracks and ruptures
dwells within this breast.

Lovely contentment
can be confounded
by unexpected cruelty,
someone else shouting
their truth.

Bright, shining hopefulness
can be shattered
by the cudgel
of insult.

Such things require time
to return to wholeness.

The anger provides fuel
for self-protection.
The shit thrown at me
fertilizes growth.

As long as i return quickly
to the embrace of love,
to the stillness in my depths,
i can see anger
as a tool –
proof that i finally
find myself unquestionably worthy
of kindness and respect.

11 april 2016

right on the edge

For weeks, i have been having profound issues physically. Even my ability to produce art, beyond sporadically writing poetry and fiction, has completely stalled. i lost most of the week before last, taking four sick days. For a while, i rallied, although after three days of shuffling through my obligations, things took a troubling turn. i went to the emergency room on Tuesday evening and got home fairly late Wednesday, without any joy.  Everything between now and then has been a blur of misery.

i have been struggling in the most profound way. The smallest things cause tears to stream down my face.  The world keeps spinning on me.  Food has become the enemy, all of it digestible only with intense suffering and pain. Usually, i cope very well with pain – working around it – but this is different.  i am graceless, frustrated, constantly on the edge of cognitive overload.

IMG_2380
poor Martin

i could not even let my cat, Martin, cuddle (he is always starved for love) – the physical contact made the pain one whisker more than i could bear.  Eventually, he figured it out and started sitting beside me, cautiously creeping closer and closer, until i was in a good enough place for him to curl up close and get pets and scritches.  Thankfully, Roxi and Darwin are more self-sufficient, content to sit nearby and rest.

The worst part of this has been how it debilitates me emotionally.  My issues with anxiety get augmented wildly by this level of exhaustion and pain.  Chronic illness can lead to feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, but this has been a much stronger reaction than usual. i keep getting jumped, every phone call, each time someone knocks at the door, each time the dog barks like he announces the apocalypse, i nearly come out of my skin. i freeze and shudder and cry. There are a few really unflattering anecdotes i could share about hiding until the unexpected passed – and i acknowledge the irrationality of it. The fear is useless and misplaced.  However, this knowledge doesn’t make any difference. Indeed, the feeling of anxiety was so overwhelming and acute that i unplugged the house line for three days, knowing that people could text or leave a message on my cell (the ringer was set to vibrate) if it was urgent. The boweddown_11x14mail piled up, because i could not get to the box, either physically or emotionally.

Today, i was treading water slightly better, and predictably life felt a little more possible, a little less terrifying.  However, no illusion dwells inside my heart.  As i write, i have expended what energy i have, dinner is at war with my gastrointestinal system, and i can feel the anxiety ratcheting up.  Useless worries crowd my mind.  i try so hard to redirect myself into gratitude – this is a whole meditation/prayer i use to get through, focusing on whatever i can find to be grateful for inside even the worst present – but for now, i am a mouse and my fears are a cat.

Still, i am surviving. i am working to make bloodyminded stubbornness a blessing. All i can do is focus on tiny bits of work before i completely lose myself to sleep and pain.  In tiny, baby steps, i am making progress.  As you can see my website and online store are back up and running, i have edited the books i’ve completed this past month, and i continue to write the one that has its hands wrapped around my heart.  And if i remind myself of these tiny steps forward, maybe the rest of the hulking mountain of problems and fears will seem less intimidating.

Courage, anger and bitterness

When she died, I went on a binge of reading and listening to Maya Angelou.  One exchange has haunted me more than others: hearing her say, during her conversation with David Chappelle,

“…you continue to grow and you develop courage, the most important of all the virtues, because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.  If you have seen and known the truth and had enough courage to change your way of thinking, to say ‘hey, everybody, you know what I said last week, I don’t believe that anymore, a little child just straightened me out’…

This message came at a good time.  I have been having difficulty with courage lately. My goals have been soaring out of reach, I have been struggling to maintain heart, keep moving forward, and not let myself be deterred. Too many days, it is all I can physically manage to come over here to the studio and sit in front of the computer writing – the more demanding parts of the job seem impossible. Sometimes, the fantasy of just packing up my car and running away from the bills and the instability and the struggle and the loneliness can feel intoxicating.  Only, I remain. Creating fills me with such passion and joy, I cannot abandon it even if I know my world is collapsing beyond repair.  Night after night, I find myself thanking God that I have had a chance to write and paint and throw. It is my salvation. I keep coming back to work, wondering quietly in the back of my mind if I have crossed over the line from courage to insanity.

While I was on board with courage being the greatest virtue, Dr. Angelou captured my attention with the possibility that changing our way of thinking can be courageous. As soon as I heard her utter the words, I saw great truth in it, but I kept wishing I could ask her about the other side of that statement.  For me, choosing to believe in the still, quiet voice within my own being – demanding I remain steadfast, keep the faith and keep trying – can take more courage than I believe I possess.  It has been frighteningly easy for me to be seduced into other ways of thinking.  There has never been a shortage of people willing to tell me I am foolish for having these dreams and for following them.  For every person who talks about talent, another will look at me sadly and suggest I get a real job.  I am much too porous to what other people say, to the judgments leveled by those within earshot.  Alas, even once I remove myself from negativity’s vicinity, their words might continue to rumble about inside my head.

Today, the most toxic judgments arise from within my memory.  There continues to be a strong undercurrent within my psyche – echoes bearing the voices of those I once loved to distraction – that I am not enough, that I cannot manage on my own, that I cannot make a difference in the world, that God has no use for me.  My dreams, to them, were follies – and I could not defend myself against their cruel logic at the time.  Almost all art, they equated to vanity – particularly that of some of my favorite writers and artists – not to mention my own meager attempts.  Frida’s self portraits were ripped off the walls as examples of egotism.  Vincent was nothing but a sad madman.  Poetry was a waste of time. Well, perhaps the poetry of others might have some merit, but no one would ever be interested in what was going on in my mind.  Even Dr. Angelou herself was disparaged, something I find acutely ironic given the immense outpouring of grief over her loss.

 

The long journey I have taken with art seemed to give these judgments power. Some aspects of my work, like throwing, came very slowly to me, and others, like writing, have transformed magnificently over time.  The fact that I was not a prodigy seemed to negate whatever drive or potential I might possess.  But, I have kept writing, kept throwing, kept painting and over the years I have gotten better.

Can courage manifest itself as stubbornness?  Does defiance require bravery?

 

Another quote from Maya Angelou and David Chappelle’s conversation rumbles about my mind.  I have been thinking about bitterness a lot lately. Both anger and bitterness have always terrified me. I watched my grandmother and others martyr themselves on those terrible altars, but Dr. Angelou helped me see a greater difference between the two when she spoke these words in response to David Chappelle’s questions about the assassinations of the 60s and anger toward those that let such things happen: “If you’re not angry, you’re either a stone or you are too sick to angry.  You should be angry.  Now, mind you, there’s a difference, you must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer, it eats upon the host, it doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure.  So you said, anger, yes, you write it, you paint it, dance it, you march it, you vote it, you do everything about it, you talk it, never stop talking it.

She is talking about social injustice, about bigger problems than people who would step on your spirit and dreams, who see every misfortune that befalls you as indication of some failure or weakness on your part. But still, selfishly, I took those lines, held them to my heart, and applied them to my life.

I have avoided anger like the plague and tried to pray my way out of whatever bitterness might come to take its place. Out of the two, bitterness had always frightened me more – it colors how you see the world.  There can be no possibility for change or joy if bitterness has settled over everything, like some kind of corrosive blanket.  However, like everyone else, I have suffered other people’s cruelty and heartlessness – but typically, I let myself choke on it rather than react with outrage. Whatever anger I would feel could be vented later, uselessly, against an innocent ball of clay, or in the privacy of my solitude, or in the company of trusted friends – who may just try to talk me out of it by offering up the transgressor’s point of view.  The few times I have truly lost my temper, the people hurting me acted like it was insanity.  My anger, they insisted, should not exist even if there was a reason for it. Anger meant I was a bad person. The very fact that I was angry meant that their transgression no longer mattered, only my reaction did.  It trained me that anger, in any form, was bad and to be avoided.  I learned the lesson too well; I have been grievously hurt and not fought back, paralyzed by both fear and this deep sense that my anger could be nothing but a sin.

As I listened to Dr. Angelou over and over, transcribing those sentences bit by bit, I began to realize that by stifling anger, I stifled change. It works for individuals as well as societies. Moreover, by refusing to give my anger any quarter, I kept myself more porous. Neglecting to call out abuse for what it was when it was happening, making excuses for the people who where hurting me, drowning my anger in justifications, forcing myself to believe some invisible quality in me made me deserve whatever injuries befell me, accepting lies as reasons – I left myself more open to bitterness, to the belief that things could never be different or get better.  Seeing their side of the story with such tortured compulsiveness, attempting to disarm my own reactions, made me have to agree with them on some level.  ‘Yes, yes, maybe I am a bad artist.  Perhaps God does want me to be alone, and that is why this happened.  Maybe I do not deserve to succeed.  Perhaps my words should not be read.’  Continuing to work with those messages shoving each other around inside my skull could not be considered courageous so much as an act of survival.

In the middle of this dreary afternoon, about the forth pass making sure I had the words about bitterness and anger exactly as Dr. Angelou uttered them, I suddenly had a spark of understanding: I can be angry. Anger does not mean I have to break things or curse wildly or lose myself to wrath or behave like those who have injured me. It will not break the world if I say, “Those who tried to tear me down, who broke me to bits, had no right to do so.  I refuse to believe what they said, I will not accept their judgments. Not on any level of my psyche. My very cells reject them.  They were wrong, and cruel, and I evict them from my mind.”

thisismylife_smMy art rode ahead in this understanding – some of my poems and stories and paintings have been defiant and angry – but my ego kept lagging behind, the remedial student that it has always been.

So sitting in my studio, still steeped in the echos of Dr. Angelou’s glorious voice, I realize I have come right back to what she said: “courage to change your way of thinking.”  The words concerned me, because I felt like I changed my way of thinking to suit others too often – that their reality had always been stronger than my own – but I see how right she is, even for my immediate need.  Casting off other people’s projections, particularly the ones that I had feared were true, staring at myself and making up my own mind who I am and what I should do, how long I should try and whether or not I will ever surrender, allowing myself to be angry at ill treatment and letting all of those lessons permeate every one of my atoms, that will take real courage.

And, I believe, changing my thinking in this way will also give me more courage to persevere right now, in this exact instant, when I cut my feet on this rocky path.

Pieces of Loneliness – Job

Another chapter from Pieces of Loneliness

Job

Suffering in silence has never been my forte.  Of course, I have managed it a few times when no one was around to hear my complaining, but give me someone within earshot and the complaints will flow forth from me faster than they can run away.  Thankfully I learned to put pen to paper and thus expand the audience for my sorrows.  It simultaneously saved the few friends I have by spreading the burden to an inanimate object and keeping the worst, most judgmental of my whining in print.

If I am not a descendent of Job, I should be.  Although I have to say, my suffering is not as profound as his.  One cannot lose children one never had.  And, my body is blessedly free of boils, for which I give thanks.  But, a common thread between my suffering and his remains.  We both remain steadfast that this pain is undeserved.  When I read the book of Job, I was most struck by how alone he felt.  Granted, he had suffered terrible losses and was steeped on mourning, but the self-rightousness of his friends made him feel utterly alone.  I know the feeling.  Platitudes and rejection have met many of my darkest moments.

Suffering in itself brings on a sense of isolation.  Being confronted with all the ways in which the pain is deserved makes it worse.

Still, though, I can comfort myself with the realization that my suffering is not as terrible as it could be.  I have a home.  Most of the time, I have enough to eat.  My solitude does not wound me as it might someone else, for I live with myself well.  Yet, even as I write these words, the issues that weigh heavily on my heart shift themselves, making me doubt the wild faith I usually have in my purpose.  Magical thinking, delusional faith – whatever you would call it – usually makes my movement through this world fairly certain.  I have a Calling.  I have experienced miracles that led me to believe that I have a vocation.  Not just that I write because my own internal drives make me, but that the whole pull of creativity is what I should be doing.

But that journey – to do what I have felt called to do – has been complicated.  Perhaps I misunderstood the divine encouragement that came my way.  It could be that I thought “write” actually meant the broader mandate to “create.”  Or, I could be suffering the reversals that any artist ought to expect.  Unfortunately, I lack the confidence to know which is true.  I could have careened off the path so many times – in fact, I have – perhaps whatever divine sanction I had was forfeit.

Ah, I am not a true Job.  I am always too ready to blame myself for my situation.  From my personal failings to the lack of talent I perceive in myself, I am constantly committing the sin of hopelessness.  As much as I can believe in my purpose, I continually doubt that I possess the strength, talent and wisdom to pull it off.  These reversals chisel away at my heart.  I grow despondent and withdraw.  The time that I ought to use to dig myself out of my problems winds up being spent crying and whining.

I wonder what Job did when his troubles started. By the time he was boil covered and homeless, he knew that there was nothing he could do to fix is life but in the beginning, when it was his livestock and livelihood, did he scramble to fix things?  Did he beg his neighbor for a loan of some sheep?  Did he try to sell off some of his land?  Did he start grumbling to God then?

I do not know of a single person who is doing well right now.  There are millions, probably billions, of people who have problems graver and more intractable than my own.  The things I whine about – loneliness, insecurity, instability – none of them are as terrible as they feel in my heart.  The blessings of my life far outweigh the sorrows.  Just a few weeks ago, I was sick enough I thought I was dying.  During those moments that I danced with death, I felt awesome peace and love.  Forgiveness reigned in my soul.  Absolutely no Jobness dwelt within me when I thought I was leaving this world.

Living is so much harder.  Drowning can seem preferable to treading water endlessly.  The former implies eventual rest; the latter, perpetual exhaustion.

Still, I have been deep in whining since the tiniest shreds of decent health have been coming back to me.  It is almost as though the more capable I am of solving my problems, or at least adapting to whatever blockade has been plopped into my life, the more terrifying and impossible it all seems.  Placing one foot in front of another can wear me down beyond my ability to express – but when all movement was denied to me, I found some measure of peace inside my powerlessness.

This is a time of wild, mind-boggling change.  I have shed a lover, a tenant, my illusions of family.  My dreams have fallen – some breaking into bits, others struggling forward, perpetually transforming.

Cry out like Job.  Why, God, have you cost me so much?  Why do you demand that I move forward alone?  Why do you stay silent, when before you gave me such loving answers?

Then I come to my senses a bit, and realize that the wonder of this ink snaking across the page, creating forms intelligible to other people, the desire and need in our souls to connect with each other, the bliss of having these pages to turn to even in the worst of times –

all of this is my answer.

I have been given such gifts that they will save me.  Even if I lose everything, I have been given this time of words and form and images and creating.

Thank God.

Even in my loneliness, I am no longer complaining.  Despite my utter vulnerability, I feel at peace.  And, I came to this point by listing my complaints and realizing that they were nothing next to my joys.

two mornings

reactionsi woke up twice this morning to radically different days.  The first awakening came at 6:58, on the heels of a terrible dream in which i confronted people who had wounded me, all the way back to the earliest days of childhood.  Don’t we all want answers when confronted with incomprehensible behavior?  The writer in me gets preoccupied with motivation.  Some forms of abuse and cruelty appear meaningless to me. My brain stops in its tracks when confronted by such actions. i cannot comprehend them.

At first, i thought my subconscious was engaging in wish fulfillment.  Like a reporter asking questions, much more calm and dispassionate than i expected, i begged them to let me know why they perceived me as someone they could hurt, why they had stopped caring about me, how i became someone who could be written off so easily.  Only, as it unfolded i could see i had become a ghost in my own dream. None of them answered me, which is what made it a nightmare.  More than ignoring me, they each in turn acted as though i had never existed.  i finally struggled into wakefulness, overcome with powerlessness and solitude and irrelevancy.  Tight muscles barely allowed me to struggle out of bed.

i had hoped to see the eclipse, but clouds covered the sky.  Given my mood, it struck me like a slap.  i fell as low as i have been in months. It took everything i had to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my misery.  For once, i lacked the energy to fight the misery or the doom-drenched thoughts that my subconscious had brought up.  i allowed them to wash over me without struggle and start filling up the room around me.  After probably an hour of agonizing, thoughtless sorrow, i fell asleep.

darwin the dogThe next time i woke up, spontaneously and effortlessly, it was a few minutes before nine.  Instantly, i could tell the day had transformed into something radically different – so much so i wondered if i had somehow slept through Sunday.  i cannot remember what dreams i had, if any. As far as i can tell, no great and abiding answers to the griefs of life seeped into my awareness during that hour or so of unconsciousness.  However, i vividly recall the sunlight pouring through the window and washing over my face, the way the dog’s nose felt as he nudged exposed fingertips, the wild purr of delight as my youngest cat figured out how to burrow under the covers, and the warm comfort of being tucked inside comforter and quilt.  Possibility occupied the emptiness left by mourning’s departure.

glazesToday has been hard physically.  i mixed seven batches of glaze – that’s roughly 10 pounds of dry ingredients per bucket i had to gather from the raw ingredients. This involves numbers which always cause some anxiety.  After i finish this blog, i will begin adding the water and mixing these contained heaps of powder into true glazes. Happily, my job has been made easier by help: another gathered water, cleaned the mixing buckets and sieves and picked up the last few ingredients i needed for the last two colors of glaze.  i am grateful for the help, but the task still daunts me.

Unfortunately for everyone within a three mile radius, this is also the second day during which i have completely avoided any kind of simple carbohydrates, and believe you me, my body is angry about the lack of sugar.  Even more annoying, my ego keeps kvetching about the need to revert to the strict food laws that i lived with for years.

That said, after the second morning, all the burdens, chores and complaints felt smaller. Manageable.  Irritating to the point of chafing, but not debilitating.

As i finish up writing, the sun is still shining. The spark of optimism that the sun worked into my psyche has been encouraged by my determination and taken root.

Now i get to watch Netflix and Hulu while i add water to powder, mix well, sieve until smooth and thus create glaze.