Tag: confidence

missing days

It had been my goal to blog every single day remaining in 2015, but i missed two days for no reason other than overwhelm. In eight days, i am going to have an appointment about a hysterectomy and now i’ve discovered there is a serious issue with my hips that has been causing much of my pain walking, sitting, standing and generally moving. i knew i had a problem with my legs, that is what drove me to the doctor because i was desperate with pain and my right leg to stop farting off and not working, but really thought there would be a non-surgical option – “if you just do exercise a, you will get all better.”  Alas, that is not the case. So i will definitely have one, maybe two and possibly even three surgeries this winter.  If it weren’t for friends, i would have fallen into a puddle of self-pity.

Oh, but there have been miracles this holiday season.  For a week, i have help with the chores of life and business, and it has been delightful, but this temporary relief has explained why i struggle so much alone.  Having someone here to see the difficulty i have just standing up and walking much less trying to get serious work done, the pain i am in, my distracted focus, had the unexpected effect of making me understand i can be intensely cruel to myself. Friends have been saying this a lot, commanding me to “Stop insulting my friend this way!” when i go on a tear about how awful or lazy i am. However, it is different when someone sees you 24/7.  So much denial exists when i am alone; i can tell myself that i ought to be able to overcome anything, when i fail it feels like torment.  Looking about the house to see that which i have not finished, those jobs that i cannot manage, i give myself no quarter.  It has only through other, more compassionate eyes, that i can see, ‘Ah, yes, there is a reason for this.’ and ‘Oh, maybe this is not failure so much as a setback.’

In the next few months, i intend to get myself sorted – which, i can’t believe it so i will type it out again, will involve another surgery at least, but probably more than one.  The past twelve months have made me confront the limitations of my body in ways that i don’t particularly enjoy. However, denial has stopped working.  In order to be a fierce, strong woman i have to reclaim some health first.

Still, i cannot complain that much.  This year has been a miracle too. i have learned so much about myself, i have come so far from where i started this journey eight years ago.  The fact that i have gone through this financial and physical crisis without getting self-destructive is remarkable.  However, the biggest lesson needs to come to me in 2016: how to forgive myself for my weakness, how to forgive myself for what i see as failure (by redefining both failure and success?), and most of all, how to regard myself with confidence and treat myself with compassion.

From there, i believe the other things i need – better financial stability, a way to make my art feed me, writing a new story for myself – will fall into place.

As for tonight, the lesson is: i can fuck up and be forgiven. This is really miraculous for me.  Already i had learned that a tremendous amount of physical limitations and emotional chaos could be processed by others and they could still love me, but this kind of subtlety had been suggested but not proven. Yet here it is, proven tonight: i can make thoughtless mistakes, apologize from the heart, and be not only forgiven but still loved.

If another can do that kindness for me, then shouldn’t i aspire to do the same for myself?

poem: the hammer

The hammer slides in my grip –
its heaviness too punishing
for my wounded wing –
yet, i do not relent.

Down flies the weight,
breaking and smashing,
words shattered until nothingness
is all that remains.

Countless stories told,
none of which
describe who i am,
for everything transforms
with this destruction.
Change is the hammer,
which prevents the past
from taking root again.

i have to be reimagined,
even if every syllable
has to shift and sway.

The act of recreation
has become as holy
as it is necessary.

i swing the hammer
to see who i might become.

23 october 2015

poem: the story of self

The story of self
has to change.

At first the tale
was all about my family,
the loss and loneliness
and otherness
in which i drowned.

Then the recounting
of marriage lost
took over center stage.
The love i had thought
would last forever
dissolved away,
demanding it had never been,
taking with it
all that i thought i was.

i need something new
and i do not want
to lead with this grief,
with the pain,
with the failure
of my long loneliness.

Oh, but i don’t want to lie.

So, what do i say?

In this, my eyes are my enemies,
for all i can see
when i look at myself
is an ugly, awkward woman
charging forward
like a bull
while everyone else screams:
“You’re going the wrong way!”
“Haven’t you failed enough?”
“You don’t know what to do!”
“You are going to ruin yourself!”

i know.
It is all true.
My failures,
my ignorance,
the hopelessness of reason
confront me ceaselessly.
i run over the splinters
of shattered dreams
but keep rebuilding them
despite the blood and tears.

Maybe that childhood
made me too desperate,
unable to stop pursuing
that which gives me joy.

Perhaps the divorce
made me incapable
of giving up
on this great passion.

the long loneliness
showed me
i can survive
even when i sing alone,
the rest of the world
facing the other way.

So, maybe the story
is that i am the one
who cannot commit
to surrender?
Granted, we have
a serious flirtation going on,
but out of madness,
or out of strength,
or out of faith,
i keep facing the darkness
and moving on.

Even keen knowledge
of my own limitations
has not stopped me
from charging forward
as though they did not exist.

Could it be
that i am one
too suborn to be wise?

25 october 2015

the ugly stage

small_4small_7Today is my only day here, in the studio, dedicated to making art, for at least ten days.  i had grand plans – i would throw a huge commission, work with the slab roller to have some small sculptures to fill in the spaces between plates when they are fired, and none of that came true.  Instead, i spent the morning writing – a nebulous bit of prose that i will probably blog fairly soon – and then decided to be kind to my body again. small_6 This is becoming a theme.  Unfortunately, my shoulder (torn rotator cuff) is not getting better without my taking it very easy on that arm, and when i break the rules and do things like throw, or load the car with heavy objects, or try to scrub something, i wind up with days of intense distress and numb fingers.

So, i broke out the next messiest form of art: pastels.  Before i leave for the night, i will be loading a kiln and firing some lovely little garlic plates.

i have not totally wasted the day, no matter how it feels. small_2Still, i am frustrated with my level of productivity.  i don’t seem to be doing anything enough or well.

Yesterday, i did a huge amount of pen and inks while i was at a gallery enjoying the slowness of the day.  Given that i got my first positive response to a job application yesterday, after sending out God knows how many, i found myself drawing with a renewed fervor. i could feel the gun to my head cocking.

i have written about the long goodbye before.  Without doubt, this must be one of the most excruciating devolutions that i’ve ever experienced.  i am going down a steep hill at speed, shedding things as i travel: mysmall_3 house, my studio, my credit rating, my belongings, my sense of self.  For so many years, i have been wildly blessed with the profound knowledge that art is what i’m meant to do – it pours out of me like nothing else – and to have that last illusion stripped from me has been excruciating.  Instead of ripping it off like a band-aid, fate has been slowly twisting it away, molecule by molecule, a closed gallery here, a solitary day in the studio there, a long spell where i could not write because my mind was too chaotic, punctuated with crushing online sales reports. i have moved from a woman confident in her identity as an artist to someone desperately trying not to drown. The blessing of having no attachments, no delusions of self holding me back, does not yet diminish the agony of loss.

small_1When i lost my health, back when i was 28, i saw that as a profound death of self.  Forests were ravaged for the paper needed to work out that loss.  However, in its own way, it was brutal in its speed and efficiency.  My entire life changed on a dime, and kept changing, until i moved up here to Maine and my life began to transform for the better.  Helping, softening the blow, was the fact that marriage gave me some safety.  i had someone who could help pick up the slack, who could keep two people aloft financially.

small_5At the time, i wrote a hundred poems of love and gratitude, knowing what a gift that was.

Now, though the story is different.  There is no one to help around the house.  By the time i am done with a day of work, be it here or sitting in a gallery, i am too exhausted to do anything.  If you read these blogs, you’ll know that they have decreased incredibly in their frequency.  If you paid attention to my artistic output, you would know i have barely fired the kiln in months, and that is not just the shoulder prohibiting me from throwing.  The house i have on the market gives testimony to suffering, obvious to anyone who enters; the kitchen is in danger of becoming an EPA superfund site. Nearly every day, someone gives me advice – many to quit art, but many to pursue this gallery or that store.  Only, I am hoxed by exhaustion, able to follow up on a fraction of those leads.

None of my work, including the art, is getting a quarter of the focus it should because i am constantly struggling to keep my head above water. small_8 This is the heart of the problem when there is not enough strength or energy to meet every obligation: it causes increasing failure.  Like cash, energy is a limited currency – spending it on one thing means it will not be spent on another.  Harsh choices have to be made.  i devolve from someone who thought of herself as an artist, driven by the need to make art, to something different.  The art is still there, struggling, fighting its way out, but i am no longer what i thought i was.  The certainty and sense of purpose has dissolved.

Where there should be confidence and self-reliance, i am flooded with anxiety and depression.  This is a terrible little vortex.  The worse my art sales are, the worse my financial situation gets, the more insecure i feel, the less empowered i am to change things, the more the burdens of health and pain drive me further into despair.  Each part augments the next.  This is not intended as a whine so much as an expression of my current reality.  Moreover, i know deeply that this is my fault.  While i cannot control who buys art, i have made the wrong choices, trusted thsmall_9e wrong people and been generally unwise.

Responsibility falls on my shoulders.  And, whatever solutions there are to be had, will come from me as well. i keep praying, with such wild desperation that i’m sure the Divine is laughing at the melodrama by now, for art to save me. Tremendous and marvelous help has come my way, for which i have written another hundred poems of gratitude, but any lasting fixes will have to be through my own labor – if not through art, then through some other way.

So, i look about me, at this space i will have to leave, at the countless pieces of art i have made, at the words flowing from me and i know this configuration of my life is ending.  It is a goodbye, no matter where i end up or what joys may await me.  i am being taught not to cling to things – especially not how i perceive myself.  This is a lesson which i faced with such resistance, the universe had to treat me like a remedial student.

And, today, all i could feel was gratitude for everything.  These blessings i have experienced were beyond measure.  How many get to enjoy that singular sense of purpose and joy?  I was given this chance to throw myself into creating, day after day, for years on end.  Living in this community has been a wild and amazing blessing.  Finding the quiet and stillness that i have here in Maine transformed me.  So, that is what came out in my pastels – all of the blues became gratitude and dancing.

This thanksgiving is just as tangible and fierce as the drowning.  It keeps me aloft.  Gratitudes have become my own little floaties in the sea of life.  My life might be in the ugly stage, but i know from my art ugliness can lead to great beauty.


unbelievable kindness

Gratitude21A few days ago, a friend – a former student – left me an absolutely gobsmacked, burbling idiot by committing one of the most unexpected, serendipitous acts of kindness i have ever experienced.

She could not know how deeply i needed help that day, how overwhelmed i felt, how helpless my situation seemed, or the tears and sorrow that had woken me and followed me through that morning.  Her generosity came without prompting.  She simply did something kind for the sake of being kind.  While hugging her several times more than necessary, i wept with gratitude.  i babbled incoherently because i did not know what to say. As she drove away, i vowed to myself to be a better person because of this kindness – for eventually this wave of suffering will subside and i will being a better position to make a difference in the world.

In the time since, as i have contemplated the right level of ‘thank you’ this tremendous gift deserves, i have occasionally cried over her kindness, but with a fierce intensity have been working very consciously to keep myself from falling into the spasm of anxiety that effected me the night of the gift.

Even that morning, i had been very low.  While she was here, being so unbelievable, i was held aloft, but afterward i felt utterly unworthy of her kindness.  My failures loomed larger than ever; i felt like my urgent need for help had made me less valuable as a human being.  My gratitude never wavered, but i beat myself up with anxiety and self-criticism.  After another friend called me on it, i realized something very important: if this were anyone else, and i were forced to listen to their meltdown over such a tremendously wonderful thing, i would be deeply frustrated with them. There is no sin in accepting kindness. Everyone needs help at some point. Why was i making myself so grief-stricken over something so generous?

So, i have been making gratitude an even greater practice than normal this week. Even though there is a limit to how much i can stifle anxiety, i am not augmenting it by fighting the emotion.  And, i have added something new. Each time i insult myself (which turns out to be a lot more than i thought,) i have been forcing myself to stop, calm down, take a few breaths and then counteract the criticism with three things that i actually like about myself (this is almost like an exercise in masochism, but i will eventually start finding it less painful.)  i can sense a change already. i am insulting myself much less, mostly because i don’t want to have to self-praise.  But, either way, i am adding another gratitude to the pile.

Thank you.

feeling like an artist

IMG_2515When i make art, i do not necessarily feel like an artist.  i feel like a lucky fool who is getting another chance to do what delights her.  Indeed, during this year of relative hardship, i have had very few moments when i felt like an artist.  Lots where i felt like a mess, or a sales woman, or a failure.  But, few where i felt empowered by what i have created.

This past weekend, i received six of my pieces of art back, professionally framed, and that made my heart soar. Then i put 66 small pen and inks and 10 large ones in mats and bags, which elevated my spirit further.  Saturday, i participated in the Bucksport Art Festival and for the first time this year, got a chance to see a huge amount of people react to my artwork.

And that made me feel like an artist.  More, it made me feel like hope is something more than a delusion.

giving myself some rights

Early this week, i was introduced to the idea that small business owners have rights – even in a highly customer-centered field like art.

As soon as that lesson penetrated the outer layers of my skull, particularly the idea that i have the right to say no to jobs or appointments or obligations – or at the very least, no not now, without any firm justification other than i felt the profound need to form the letters “n” and “o” in sequence – the course of the next few days shifted miraculously.

i am still breathing so much better than i thought i could be, unafraid to use my asthma medications since i can finally get refills.  This has lead to my enjoying better stamina than i have in years, which has lead to more physical activity and more joyful, aching soreness.  However, while breathing is a blessing beyond measure, i can testify that this is not a panacea to all problems.  i continue to have issues with coordination and confusion, i am exhausted from healing and overwhelmed with stress, duty and responsibility.  After embracing the idea that i could say no, though, i realized the world will not fall apart if i took a couple of days to be kind and gentle to myself. Indeed, given how profoundly i feel at risk of dissolution, i have a duty to myself (and my customers! and those with whom i work at cooperatives!) not to let myself fall apart.

TIMG_0286he only way to keep that from happening is kindness.

So, i gave myself some gifts and worked through the guilt surrounding my magnanimity.  For two days, in between errands and appointments, worked on art (poetry, sculpting and pen and inks.)  The busier i get, the more i have to keep in mind: art comes from a place of stillness for me.  If i do not have a certain amount of quiet solitude, i will not be as effective as an artist, much less as a human being.

i kept my involvement with email and social media to the barest of bare minimums.  While i did spend an inordinate amount of time compiling to-dos for every client and project, while nestled in warm blankets, i also was merciless about their priorities.  What had to be done at this exact moment?  What could be done by Monday?  What could be done by next Friday?

Once those choices were made, i let myself have some time to watch a couple of movies, to cuddle with the animals, to read a book, to simply sit in silence until the screaming of anxiety was not so loud.  Then the art and word began to flow.  Probably, there are people who will feel terribly let down by this blog – and maybe i shouldn’t have written out that i actually took some time to make art and rest – but, this was a huge realization for me.  Usually, i have to be in physical crisis to really take downtime.  Indeed, the drive to make art is fairly merciless, pushing me forward despite myself.  But, this morning, i feel so much calmer and more capable – and that wouldn’t have happened if i didn’t act on having the right to say no.

Dismissed at a cooperative

Well, today’s blog was just handed to me. A woman came in, wanting to apply to this cooperative next year.  I told her how the jurying in process went for me last year, then began searching for some applications (telling her that I didn’t fill out mine until the day of jurying.)  While I went through a binder of paperwork, she waved her hand in my general direction and proudly told her friend (as though I weren’t standing right there, binder in hand) that I had to be a consignor or somethingtimchin_may2014_0044Her tone was so dismissive, as though my being a full time artist, or a member of this cooperative, could not be remotely possible.  She judged me solely my physical appearance – and seemed absolutely shocked when I asked why she would say that.

She became flustered, stammering, “Well, I don’t know anything about cooperatives.” However, she admitted to being in one a few moments later, using the information to cut me off when I tried to explain our levels of membership and consignorship.  She kept talking about me to her friend as though I were deaf or stupid.  It wasn’t until much later that she thought to ask what I make and how my sales have been.  To the latter, I answered honestly, even though it made her seem even more dismissive.  I wonder if my lack of sales at this particular venue made her comments throw me a little more than they would normally.  Just like I wondered if she would have treated me more like an equal, raised her eyebrows with a little less sadness, if the printer had not jammed while her receipt came out?

But, what surprised me most is that I called her on her assumptions.  Instead of just sitting here, wondering why she thought to define me so completely, I asked her why she spoke those words.  Rather than worry that I might look unprofessional in my dress and jacket, or that she is judging me because I am as round and soft as one of my Buddhas, or because I had days worth of sales receipts spooled out in front of me when she arrived, trying to update the calendar with neglected sales totals, I asked her why, specifically, she insisted I couldn’t be a member.

There is nothing wrong with being a consignor. In retrospect, that would have been the much smarter choice for me this year, but what, in specific, screamed to her that I could not possibly be a member here?  I never did get an answer, just an increasingly awkward social interaction.

Her work is awesome, I have seen it at the aforementioned other cooperative.  I sincerely hope she gets juried in.  Having her work here will be good for the store.

And, I am oddly thankful to her.  She taught me something about myself this morning.  Even with all the meditation and the prayer, I have grown impatient with people who prejudge me. Like Harlan Ellison, I cannot stand being laughed at.  Countless flaws dwell within me, I know, but I am not a bad artist, nor am I unprofessional, nor am I lazy, nor am I dimwitted.  I do not deserve being made fun of nor dismissed out of hand.  Thankfully, I no longer suffer foolishness lightly – particularly when I am the fool – and I am apparently willing to challenge it when it wanders out of someone else’s mouth.  dishes

So, I’m not as nice as I was yesterday, but I have discovered that when I broke down and asked her why she judged me lacking, she could neither define or defend her assessment.  All she managed was that short dishonest stammer.  After they left, and I fixed the register’s printer, I stood in front of my art for a minute.  I reminded myself that each piece was made with my two hands.  The serve as proof of my joy, strength and courage.  Even if my dress and jacket look bad, or my hair is curling more wildly than usual, or the random blemishes on my face deny my 44 years on this earth, or my focus on the missing sales totals made me seem less effervescent than usual, I am still a good potter and have art coming out of me, in tiny beads of word and image, like some kind of blessed sweat.

strong women

doodle 8 altbFor the past two weeks, I have been lucky to have many conversations with strong women.  They have survived – no, they have transcended – all manner of difficulty and radiate their light into the world. They have taught me the proper way to say “F#$k off,” given me lessons in resilience, bestowed some marvelous advice on getting my business out of the ICU, if not off life support completely.  They have listened to me patiently and made me more human through their compassion.

They are my role models, although a couple are younger than I am.

Tonight, they have been on my mind.  I am over-tired and over-pained.  Once I get to a certain stage of overwhelm and fatigue, I could see very little redeeming in myself.  This is a recurrent problem when I get to this physical state – but my familiarity with this madness doesn’t keep it from manifesting.  I mutter insults to my reflection without even being conscious of it.  In this state, every bit of my art looks ugly and useless.  I know that it is not rational, that it is a a product of my body’s pain and my emotional agitation.  While not every piece is a masterwork, for sure,  in the back of my mind I know that tomorrow they will be seen with different eyes.  Some might even look beautiful again.  For now, though, I dwell in the realm of the uglies.

As I grumble and whine, I think of these strong women.  I admire how they move through the world with such grace.  How, when they need to, they can set limits with every person they meet, the universe itself, and not mess up their hair.   That is a miracle to me, when I am too often in a shambles.insomniac face

I have been struggling to keep my head above water.  My thrashing has felt undignified and ridiculous.  So, as I sit here tonight, settling down after a very long day, I think of these strong women and tell myself to be more like them.  Fierce.  Confident.  Intelligent and generous.

Although, at this rate, major psychological changes will probably have to wait until the morning.

poem: today i have a glimmer

Today, i have a glimmer,
the smallest hint of a clue,
about what i need
to get myself
out of bed
and moving
through the world:
courage and hope.

I need the first,
to help me act
as though the second is true.

Fill me up, my Lord, my God,
until i overflow.

i can reach deep within
and stoke the fires
of love and kindness,
so your Creation feels kinder
and i can force
my stiff, angry limbs
into action –
but without your help,
i fear all is for nothing.