Tag: bravery

poem: the gift of strength

As the sun rose
over a sea of discontent,
the only comforting thought
was that death
might come soon.

i hung my head,
surrendering
to this dejection.

Once i stopped resisting,
i drowned within
the darkest waters
of grief and loss.

Then, the miracles began.

Kindness,
love,
help,
kept flowing to me
from the universe
from those i love.

Over an hour
life turned around.
My arms flung themselves open
rather than hold fast
the doors of my life
against catastrophe.

i had been given
the strength
to keep living.

5 may 2016

Things must change

I am writing this during my last day sitting in an artisans’ cooperative this year; Christmas Eve, 2015.

This marks an end of an era for me. A huge amount of the galleries in which i began this year are either moving, closing (or already closed) and a few others have had sales bad enough i have to make disappointing decisions. Most of my plans for the next twelve months remain purely in the realm of the  hypothetical. What i know i will do is make pen and inks, finish at least one novel, write as many poems as i can coax through me.  Soon, i will have another surgery, and afterward i have to dedicate myself to healing and transcending whatever comes.

Never before has it been so glaringly obvious and desperate: i have to reconceive how i move through my days, even as i acknowledge that my heart beats out art as much as blood. The question remains how to do this.  How do i walk that fine line between financial need and spiritual/sanity needs? As i wrote in a poem posted fairly recently, and the haiku below that i put on twitter, art is a fickle mistress.

Art is a lover
who keeps me chained up tightly
and would let me starve.

Starving is not a viable option for an irrepressible sensualist like myself. Giving up on art, which so many have told me is the most sensible option, also seems to be impossible. Yet, i fight against incredible anxiety and fears. As much art as i create, as much as i deepen my abilities in different mediums, i have been hoxed by this relentless worry. This cannot continue. One or the other has to surrender itself – either i continue making art and become relatively fearless in its dissemination, or i surrender to my fears and live a life painfully diminished.  i do not think i could survive the latter.

So, i have to find a way. There is no other option, really, this long succession of freelance and piecemeal jobs can be the stop gap, the way to keep going, until i find a way to make art consistently pay for bread and butter.  But i must keep my focus on that far off mountain top, where the work that gives me the deepest bliss and aligns my energy with the world so well actually maintains me.

One of the miracles in my life is that this past year has brought a slew of people who believe in me enough to help me get through some terribly difficult times. When i thought i might never throw again, my friends listened to my grief; they celebrated with me when i got back to the wheel.  Gifts of food, money, time, compassion and kindness kept me afloat. As i wrote earlier, this was the year of friendship. Perhaps that is how i can find my courage – to remember that there are people who don’t just want me to succeed but see it as something that will happen, with enough patience, stubbornness and resilience.

So, this blog is a bit of a shout out to the universe at large, steeped with both prayer and intent: help me change things. Help me find a way to make this work with the blessings and limitations i have. i cannot change the basic DNA of my being, so i have to find a path that lets me keep making art AND eat.

Things will change.

Things must change.

i am apparently too stubborn to surrender, so i must find a way to be courageous and maybe even a bit wise.

The whole engine of my heart and imagination manifests this transformation.

i wish you all the best for your coming year – may all people find greater peace, kindness and love in our worlds.

poem: love in stillness

This love
dwells
in the stillness.

In the quiet places
it grows strong
and resilient,
able to bend,
flex,
and still maintain
glorious shape and form.

i exist
in this still silence.

i wade in an ocean
impossibly deep
but warm as bath water.

i am becoming
able
or, at least,
capable
of imagining
fierce confidence
and action.

i have begun
to grow flight feathers
on theses stunted,
stripped
wings.

i have started to feel
the wind
lifting me up.

31 october 2015

poem: fear

i am afraid.

Every time the phone rings,
tremors
go down my spine:
i drown in irrationality
and uncertainty.

Questions flood over
a paralyzed body:

What will be demanded of me?
What can i give,
when i have nothing?
When i am so badly broken?
Who will have an opportunity
to judge me now?

Even as i get better,
crawling out
of the deepest pits
of anxiety,
i am often non functional,
brought low
by illness,
or by this ridiculous fear
and the sorrow
that rides on its back.

i need lessons
in courage.

i need the fire
inside my heart
to burn
in such a way
that i can withstand
what comes.

Oh,
i need faith
in my purpose
and being
especially
when logic
says
everything
is
crumbling
around me.

13 december 2015

the dam bursts and the water flows

For over a week, my body tackled my aspirations and strangled them in a choke-hold until we all lost consciousness.

sleeper-300x237For days and days on end, i could not manage to be a human being. i whined enough even my animals wanted me to quiet down. For two days, migraine aura messed up my eyes enough i couldn’t see, and the headache itself kept me from thinking clearly. Not one system in my body was behaving.  i was a lump of wretchedness, dissolving into sorrow.

And thus i was every moment when i wasn’t at galleries, and too many moments when i was sitting.  This was not my best week for engaging customer service.

But today, i can see! i can think! i can move! Last night, during those first hints that things were getting better, i was able to start getting my house in order, taking control of the kitchen for the first time in a long time.  Once more i reminded myself that if i can work, i do.

This is the closest i get to manic, i suppose. After so many days of being derailed, to be able to function is pure joy. i was singing this morning, because i had the energy to do it. Even if i fail today, even if i get nothing useful done, at the very least i have managed to exist with contentment and zeal.

i feel like the dam has burst.

i am trying to be fearless.  Mostly, i am failing.  i am having surgery on my shoulder next week, and i am terrified not of going under the knife, but of a long recovery at home alone.  i am dissolving in debt, still working with someone trying to desperately avoid bankruptcy, but each day that this financial dissolution couples with increasing physical disability leaves me shaking harder from fear.  To be honest, i have not discovered a mechanism for complete boldness.  Some gear or another in my bravery engine keeps getting stuck.  Instead of fluid courage, there is a lot of sputtering, stopping and starting, and uneven progress.

Actually, if you’re reading this blog, you already know that.

However, if i am totally honest, i can see other signs of improvement and change.  i got a nice rejection for a book i finished in July, which was evidence of courage because i actually sent in a submission. So, i can make the most of a wild spasm of hope. The strength of will it took to get here, today, to this gallery, despite the weariness and sorrow and illness of the past week proves that i have some steadfastness.  And, most importantly, i have finally managed to set up two events to start purging my belongings so i can move:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1709075902637790/

https://www.facebook.com/events/599245560214457/

They will be this weekend, concurrent with the Maine Craft Weekend.

This morning, i spent a long time awash in gratitude, simultaneously praying that this sense of joy and strength can maintain itself until surgery on the 7th.  i am getting everything lined up: laundry done, cooking done in advance, cleaning as much as i can, making sure my downstairs bathroom will be useful to the one-armed gimp that i will be.

i need strength and joy right now.  And, thankfully, today i have captured the delightful echoes of both.

on issues of common sense and bravery

She told me this yesterday.

You have to understand your role in this.  You are too nice.  You let people get away with too much; even a nice person is trained to treat you badly because you let them get away with everything.

Sadly, she is not wrong, although there are a few good friends – herself included – who have managed to avoid being consumed by the dark side.

Still, her words keep echoing in my mind, keeping me up until much too late last night and randomly charging through my mind today.  Historically, i have had a problem with this.  Very few things in my life are worth fighting over: my friends, my animals, the welfare of a child, my ability to make art.  Otherwise, someone else’s urgent need often overcomes my lukewarm desires.  Moreover, i like being helpful to people when it doesn’t cause me undo pain and suffering.

chaoswithin_11x14When i do gently set limits, it often works.  However, when i am forced to emphatically put my foot down, or most often, just walk away from someone who has proved themselves to be a chronic asshole, they are shocked.  They see my stubbornness, anger or rejection as something unreasonable, because they might not have known that it existed until they broke my give-a-damn.  But, even people as mushy as me can feel their give-a-damn snap, like thin, fragile a bone, right in front of their heart.  Once this occurs, i will be cordial and polite, which some people do mistake for niceness, but by then it is too late.  The damage has been done, the transgression has gone far enough to make that person no longer worth time or energy spent figuring them out, and, invariably, the individual has done something to hurt me.

So there can be a limit.  i am not completely spineless, i am simply missing a few vertebrae which makes me unnaturally bendy.

However, her words keep echoing, in part because they are augmented by voices from the past.  When the evil dog came the house when i was four and bit everyone: “If the dog bites you, you have to kick him.  Otherwise, he’ll just keep biting you and it’s your fault.”  When i was being pounded on by another kid at school: “If you just kick him in the balls, he’ll lay off – otherwise it’s your fault that he’s still bullying you.”

Perhaps it is part of living in this world with a vagina, but i often feel like i am responsible for everything as it is (although John Callahan seemed to share the affliction.) One meditation i was given not too long ago and now frequently use is to watch the spiraling thoughts that try to convince me that i am the cause of all troubles, and see the lie in them.  It is a form of pride. i am taking on a massive influence in the cosmos that i don’t actually have – a lot of the reasons human beings act as we do are hidden, tucked inside our psyches, and have very little to do with what people do to us. We can react to someone from long ago, not the one sitting before us. I can remember being befuddled at a doctor who was yelling at me for being promiscuous (in the middle of a long, painful stretch of celibacy) before the nurse stopped him to remind him i wasn’t his sister, even if i looked like her.  You have red hair, i know loose women who have had red hair, therefore I WILL YELL AT YOU, YOU SHAMELESS HUSSY.

So were do we draw the line? How authoritarian do i have to be?  Kindness feels better within my heart; compassion comes easier from my hands.  Becoming angry comes at a high price for me, in energy and spirit, and i don’t want to pay it on a daily basis.  Therefore, how do i move forward wisely?   What does common sense tell me about people, both in specific and generally?  Certainly sometimes it is my fault, because i can be an asshole, just like everyone else on the planet.  So, when do i have to be brave and admit my fault, and when do i have to be strong and stand up to the bully, even though he is just bullying me?  How do i learn how to be courageous and also accept that i cannot utterly re-arrange the wiring of my brain to become some fierce hard-ass?

If i figure this balance out, i’ll let you know.  Until then, even if i’m being nice to you, remember i do have a give-a-damn, and it can break.  Moreover, so does everyone else you know.

 

 

 

fighting for courage.

You can't tell, but I carved her name on the bottom left corner to give her credit.
You can’t tell, but I carved her name on the bottom left corner to give her credit. So not selling it, though.

I made a little plaque for myself, a few weeks ago, after I had shown some little children what to do and had empty time while they just painted pottery (and themselves).  It uses the quote from Maya Angelou that I talked about in an earlier blog – and now rests prominently in my studio, a ready reminder.

Oh, how I need those words today.  For all the world, it feels like I am still fighting even though the war was  lost long ago.  I keep trying to get up and throw, but I simply cannot make myself grab the clay.  My limbs feel too weak and heavy; I cannot fight the sense of futility.  Sales have been apocalyptically bad for May and June, making it impossible to dig out from this past winter, my health has not been much better and I have begun to wonder if persisting in my dreams is just a new form of madness.

However, I am caught. Giving up is not an option. This is not so much bravery as self-knowledge. There is nothing else for me – every time I have tried to deviate from this path, my situation became so much worse. I know down to my core this is what I am meant to do.  Also, I am aware that without the solace of art, I have nothing to give.  I become an irredeemable burden to those I love.  Therefore, I must persist.  Trudge forward step after step, no matter how it hurts.  Eventually, I will fight the futility and pick up the clay.

So, I must exercise courage, particularly now when everything seems so bleak.  Usually I am ebullient whenever I have a chance to write or throw or paint or sculpt – just having the opportunity to make art feels like such a blessing.  Thank God, experience has taught me that this drive will overwhelm me eventually, breaking through whatever sorrow or weariness or pain it has to in order to manifest itself.  In the meantime, I have to stoke the coals of faith that my work will eventually turn around – even though all my plans to stay in business have failed and I have come to realize how foolish some of my decisions have been. There could be a silver lining: by surrendering my plans, by burning them up and letting their ash mingle with the wind, maybe I will clear the way for something glorious and unexpected.

 

poem: leap into the unknown

Fear could conquer
the most determined mood –
the persistent worry
that i am not enough,
that i have gotten too old,
that i wasted all my time.

Persistence comes not from courage
so much as desperation –
this is what i love to do,
anything else would be work.

So, i have no choice.

i leap into the unknown,
trying more with each day
to brace myself with the strength
of self-confidence
and the realization
that no matter what i do,
it involves risk –
what a betrayal it would be
if i stayed motionless
out of anxiety,
when i could have moved mountains.

8 august 2013

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.

heading into certain disappointment

This morning started out beautifully – I woke with the gift of a wonderful dream resonating through my being and when other people’s words started shuffling about my brain as I showered, they were countered by the memory of a poem I wrote way back in graduates school.  Once I turned on the computer, I found the work and was staggered by how much it applies to my life today.

When you are a writer or an artist, you hear a lot of negative messages about your art in specific and the state of art in general.  Sometimes it seems like everyone else believes they have a better idea about what art you should be making than you do.  Many talk about how impossible it is for artists to make a living or be successful. Worst of all, those pronouncements cannot be technically considered false, even if you actively fan the flames of optimism – or deliberately engage in fantasies of denial (both of which probably apply to me). An unbelievable amount of artists do not find the success they crave.  Even more hobble themselves from trying with the belief that it any success is impossible.  Still more, and this has definitely applied to me, know how to make art but have no idea how to disseminate it.  Differing definitions of success don’t help either – because many want nothing more than to keep making art.  Any way that happens becomes success.  Others want fame and fortune and things that do seem vastly unlikely.  Still more have realized that they have no idea what they need or what success would entail.  No matter what my art’s ultimate goals might be, or, rather, no matter where I find myself in a given moment, these messages can be sobering, can spark depression, and can enter the mind with as much destructive power as a grumpy rhinoceros wielding a mace.

Even though I acknowledge statistical improbabilities and my own personal limitations, I cannot allow myself to live in the mental space from which those comments arise.  I have not found a way to maintain my courage and inspiration if I resign myself to failure and misery before I have fully failed.  There is enough misery in life, I don’t need to grab more prematurely.  Yet the messages – particularly that art is doomed and my work is folly and that I should surrender my passion and do something else – do travel down to my marrow where they sing out their anxiety for awhile before optimism, stubbornness or denial can kick them out again.  Part of what made this morning delightful was the realization that sleep had evicted the negativity.

My poetic epiphany, happening about the same time as I was shampooing my hair, helped me remember that those messages also came to me long before I threw myself into art.  Indeed, when I was in college and graduate school, I fielded a huge amount of negativity and twice it derailed the life I thought I would have because I did not have the resolve to stand against it.  Now, in retrospect that was a blessing, because I have had years to do the work that I love.  However, it does mean that no matter what job you have or where you place your confidence, you will hear these kind of messages and they can have a deleterious effect.

What a long preamble for a poem.  According to the file in which I found these words, they came out of me in 1996.  That sounds about right.  i remember holding a folded up copy of these lines in my hand during an experience that changed my life.  They gave me courage.  To my ears today, this poem sounds ancient and oddly written, but I remember how important they were the day they were composed.

***

Facing the tangible possibility
of great disappointment,
i take a breath to pause
and remind myself:
it really doesn’t matter.

Whatever criticisms i hear today
will not touch my essence,
for others can only judge insignificant things.

If i encounter slights on my abilities,
i will remember
dozens of other talents
of which this crowd of fools knows nothing.
If they slander my spirit,
i will remember
they cannot measure my soul.
If they insult my appearance,
i will remember
this body,
while part of me,
is not alone my whole
and is not an expression
of my virtue and worth.

i will remember,
and i will listen.
i will absorb their words
and when they have finished,
i will discern for myself
the truth and bias,
the usefulness and motivations,
within their messages
without distortions from either insecurity
or a desire to please.

With God’s grace,
i will continue to grow and unfold
no matter what setback may await me
in the soon to be.

Also,
i will remember
i am not doomed to fail.
Good is as likely as bad
to come from this encounter,
if i but recognize it as such.

i will remember
i have countless causes
for joy and thanksgiving
that will persist
regardless of this situation
and its outcome.

But, most of all,
i will remember steadfastly:
i am loved!

No matter who dislikes me,
no matter what goes right or wrong,
no matter how embarrassed i feel,
no matter what is uttered,
i am loved!

This is no small thing.
My life includes more
than just these coming moments,
and when they are done
i will have a whole new present
in which to dwell.

That is why,
no matter how deep
this potential disappointment may be,
i will not drown in it
because i will remember,
it really doesn’t matter.