Tag: contentment

Recumbent gratitude

Bear with me, please.  i am typing this on my iPad, because i lack the capacity to hold my arm up any longer. Right now it is supported by the softest of pillows while all three of my animals have curled up around me.  Alas, this means that while i am comforting my aching limbs, the autocorrect on my tablet will probably toy with me mercilessly.

Still, i cannot help quietly rejoicing. i think i might have turned a corner, (i knock on wood as i type) and if i have this is the cause of much celebration and delight.  For several days now, i have been able to work through some ridiculous pain – not without whining, unfortunately – but i have begun to inch forward.  What was impossible now seems uncomfortably intimidating, but within the realm of imagination and hard work.  Instead of trying to move the mountain with a spoon, i now have a spoon and a pick axe!  Improvement!

What has been making the coals of optimism start to glow, though, is the contentment that has started peeking out between the pain and stress.  The ocean of peace had been well hidden for weeks. Indeed, if i had not lost the way to it so many times before, only to rediscover its shores with the glee of an explorer with no short term memory, i would have mourned its loss forever.  Ah, but that is not entirely true.  i had fleeting moments of contact while i was actively creating, but nothing that lasted once the pen was put away.  Otherwise, i had been wandering the parched, dry land of despair and overwhelm.

But, for three days, i have felt peacefulness’ waters splashing around my feet while i drove, while i struggled with irritation and pain, while i tried to dissect the things i must do into subgroups: what must be done NOW, what can wait until tomorrow, what can be sacrificed on the bloody and fantastic altar of sleep…

There are things i have to urgently address.  My life remains in this long, twisting crisis, caught inside transformation and loss like a fly in amber. Despite that, i must attend to urgent commitments.  Galleries must be staffed (case in point, tomorrow i will be at Artspace in Rockland.) This weekend is the garlic festival in Southwest Harbor, and i will be getting help so this can be done without further injury.  (i am excited for the show, not just because of my new garlic dishes, but because the food is so good.)

For the first time since last winter, for no rational reason, i can feel the certainty that “all will be well” taking root in my soul. More than anything, this inexplicable, perceptible  lifting of mood when the burdens upon me remain consistent convinces me that depression has a chemical hold on my brain independent of circumstance.  Right now, the shadow of suffering still lies across my life, but “all will be well” begins to stand against it, growing stronger and starting to bud.  Like an obsessive gardener, i race to this miracle and try to encourage its flowering. i do all i can to create the best environment, including celebrating the small triumphs like today – gallery sitting, then cleaning the kitchen then loading and firing the kiln.

i am in pain, and exhausted, but i feel content.  The sins of the day – junk food and sodas – helped provide the energy i needed. Instead of my normal guilt, i anchor myself in “all will be well” and once more, i can feel the ocean of contentment all around me.

This lends to every thought and dream the light of possibility; it coaxes my stubborn determination back into movement.  Slowly, i have started trying again.  In the past three days i have submitted my art and writing, sought freelance work, researched more galleries and managed to push through so much pain to do what was on my “this must be done TODAY” to-do list.  And i kept myself from becoming undone by the things i could not do, and the mistakes i made, which might have been the greatest kindness of all.

As i type the kiln is firing and the dishwasher is running.  i did that – me – this broken unit.  i found hope, strength and focus that i did not believe existed within me anymore.

Once more, i find myself crying before bed, but this time my heart overflows with thanksgivings.

 

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.

 

poem: the thief

10614261_289799811205071_4508236065730935590_ni laugh loudly.

i have been told
my laugh bears
the dulcet tones
of a braying donkey.
It explodes out of me –
i become so full
with sudden joy
at whatever tickled me,
that i forget
all the struggle.

This is a salvation.

i can lose myself
in the delight
of a beautiful day,
or the clay flowing
through my fingers,
or the majestic dance
of ink across a page,
or the unexpected delight
of a quietly spoken joke.

Subtlety is not my strong suit.
i cannot keep things hidden well.
Compartmentalization can be done,
but at a high cost
in energy and spirit.

Alas, this means that darkness,
when it grabs hold of me,
also enjoys my full attention.
It dominates and crushes
until i can divert my attention,
until i find some blessed distraction.

So i steal what joy i can
particularly on days
drenched in the blues.
I seek out sunshine,
rainbows,
fascination
and smiles.

Like a shameless thief,
i rob from pain,
cramming laughter, flow and celebration
into my experience.

26 august 2014

poem: mortality

Mortal?
Yes.
Flawed?
Absolutely.
Confused?
Usually.
Dancing?
Well, last night,
for the first time
in long, dark ages.
Joyous?
When the music
filled me to wholeness,
enthusiastic joy
kept me dancing
on sore, weary legs.
Grateful?
Beyond words, my friend.
i made peace with my body
and all its beauty
and all its ugliness.
We four came together
in the charged ecstasy
of movement.
Embarrassed?
Not one bit.
Healed?
Those wounds that hound me
will probably find me again,
but for now, it’s all peace.
Tired?
Refreshingly so,
splendidly so
i am ready for bed,
to sleep
like i have earned it.

Restless stress

written Sunday, 29 June 2014

Yesterday, inside the four walls of a cooperative, far away from my wheel and my studio and enough quiet to compose a story, I started to go a little crazy.  I had been asked some very good questions about my business that morning, and they kept ringing through my mind.  Unfortunately, answers did not rise up to greet them.  Instead, restless stress kept echoing within my skull – guilt over the bills I can’t pay quite yet, the amount of work the house requires, the long list of commissions I have to finish, my general incompetence as a businesswoman.  It all just took over, defying every attempt to be present in the moment.  As the day wore on and my physical condition deteriorated, those annoying stress levels kept shooting up.  The last drawing I managed before my hands quite me completely is below: the poem gives a hint of my state of mind. Unable to manifest contentment or hope, I rooted myself in stubbornness.  By the time I made it home, I felt like a dishrag that had been wrung out too violently.

keepflying
The poem: There can be no quitting when you soar near the sun – No matter what setback, keep flying – sometimes surviving means that you’ve won.

Today, I have stayed home, feeling for all the world like I have a stress hangover.  Even though I wanted to very much, I did not go to church.  Even though I kept imagining myself swimming in a lake, I stayed in.  Desperate for quiet stillness, I curled up in bed and rested, reading and thinking about writing (as opposed to actually picking up a pen.)

Yesterday the effort of worry wore me down – and I need time to recuperate.  The most irritating part was that I knew how useless the anxiety was, which added a sense of futility to the stress that made it even more stressful.  I could sense contentment just past my fingertips.  For every tremor of concern that made its way through my body, the memory of peace and contentment floated over my awareness.  I knew better.  I know better. Worrying about sales won’t get me more.  Fretting about the commissions won’t get them done faster.  Listing out every to-do that looms over me won’t make the mountain they create when combined feel less intimidating.  Ringing my hands over money won’t get the accounting done.  Wondering if I have enough energy and focus within me to finish everything I need to get done does nothing to increase my confidence.  Indeed, all that happened was that I became miserable and weary and despondent, the effects of which linger into today.

But, on the bright side, today I have been able to be quiet, still and thoughtful.  If I let myself go for a moment, I could easily fall into the same well.  After all, the work I wanted to do isn’t getting done.  However, I will not go there.  The relief of being out of the pit is too strong; happiness feels vulnerable enough that it should be protected.  I still feel weak, even though my body has finally stopped screaming in pain.  My heart no longer hammers in that odd syncopated way.  And, when I lose my grip on tranquility, I force myself to dig my roots deeper into peace by focusing on two other lists: the list of things I love and the list of things for which I am wildly grateful.

That helps a lot, but it didn’t work just 24 hours ago. The biggest lesson for me this morning was that none of these things helped yesterday.  I was drowning in my discomfort and no sparks of wisdom or reminders of my blessings or even the comfort I took in drawing could save my state of mind.  In the end, I just had to endure it – to accept that I was suffering and wrap myself in one comfort I had: that eventually I would be able to rest, restore myself, and the situation that seemed so dire would become survivable again.

 

poem: a love story

timchin_may2014_0056These fat little fingers
can make such lovely things.

My tiny, thick toes
keep my balance,
such as it its.

These legs walk
and they have worked so hard
kicking wheels and hiking trails.

My arms are pale,
covered in freckles and tattoos,
absolutely glorious
with strength.

My belly remains round
with longing for dreams
unfulfilled,
but within dwells
a core of steel,
a reservoir of resilience
i never expected
to find in myself.

These eyes may see the world
differently from anyone else,
but that has suited me well.

These ears have given me
the gift of music,
which all on is own,
made life worth living.

My voice.

Well, that keeps changing,
constantly growing and deepening,
a gift that i hope will not end
until the last breath
exhales from these blessed lungs.

This is a love story
to being alive
in this body
and in these times.

Through all the goodness
and all the grief,
i have arrived at this moment
to find myself joyous
and filled with laughter.

2 june 2014

Yearning

Talking to other women tonight, after a meeting for one of the artist cooperatives in which I am a member, I had a wonderful moment of clarity.  We talked about the things for which we had yearned over the course of our Gratitude21lives – children and relationships in particular. As we told our stories, I remembered the passion and intensity that filled those long-ago prayers. However, nothing pulls at my spirit quite in the same way now. I yearn for different things. I want confidence and self-sufficiency and joy.  My heart beats for art, for creating in word, clay and pigment.  When I am caught in a flurry of movement and obligation, I beg for quiet stillness so that I can center myself and focus on the writing that wants to pour out of me.  Always, I yearn for greater connection to the divine, as I take great joy with the sense of connection I already have.

There are a thousand desires floating around in my mind; we all have them.  But nothing matters as much to me as those frenzied dreams of youth did.  I manage quite well without those things I thought I could not survive being denied.  Gratitude fills me, for these good friends and for the journey that I have taken so far..

a sweet pause

A quick note, before I start on my topic: this is written the day after Martin’s adventure avoiding flea treatment – and as I type he is on my lap, practicing his acupuncture skills and purring. I am forgiven!

Today has become a sweet pause in the blurry mess of life. This morning I had hoped to visit a dear friend in Portland, but the weather worked against us.

Once I accepted that those plans had been thwarted, I ran a few errands. I couldn’t help but smile as I threw a woman off her game at the grocery store. She nearly walked into a display looking at cans of dog food, a tub of cottage cheese, a fresh pineapple and AA batteries in my cart. Not the bread and milk she expected. Before the weather began, I was back home with the dog beating the wall with his tail as I stacked a week’s worth of food.

Since then, I have been taking it easy. I have been given this opportunity, so I am making sure my back is not taxed one iota. Reading, napping, cuddling with the animals, watching PBS and daydreaming have filled these hours. All traffic sounds from Route 1 have stopped. The world quiets and I have grown still with it. Sublime bliss fills the house, along with the snores and sighs of the sleeping dog and the rumbling contentment of the cats.

None of the unreasonable angst that haunted the past few days matters in this wondrous moment.

I am grateful to my bones.

A few small words

joyToday, I went to a meeting of artists. Carpooling with a friend, I was drenched in good conversation.  Arriving at the meeting, I was surrounded by people I know and admire.  Then the unexpected gift: another friend pulled me aside, said that she has been reading my blog, and made a point to tell me that I am part of this community and among friends.  Patting me on the shoulder she said that my days of being a lonely freak are done.

Several people have given me this message lately.

I wonder how many times I will need to hear that statement before it penetrates my spirit.  My mind gets it, and I sing with gratitude every time I hear it, but in the middle of the night my heart forgets.

A few small words and my entire day turned around – like the sun had vanquished storm clouds.  Thanks, Deb.  Likewise, thanks Liz, Leslie, Lori and Mel – and Shawna – and Veronica – and probably a lot more people that I am not remembering because I have such a hard time hearing this message.