Tag: determination

starting over again

It seems surreal that i am back here again: being an artist who sells her work.  A week ago yesterday, we had an event here at the studio, after which i  committed to keeping the studio open every Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm for the rest of the year. Last night, i was so excited at the prospect that i barely slept.  Just being out here, making art, opening the door to sales, this is a big deal for me.

Truly, i believe that this is only happening because of the intervention of other artists.  Several provided me with amazing support when i face tasks that were impossible while this body languished in such a diminished state.  They have proven themselves willing to help me out when i have been overwhelmed.  In an act of belief that still boggles my mind, i have been blessed to share my studio space with creatives willing to partner their art with mine at these events.  You can see their work at these etsy shops, if you cannot travel to the coast of Maine:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/nekojindesign
https://www.etsy.com/shop/thecommonshaman
https://www.etsy.com/shop/theperfectcup

i cannot quite process the generosity of spirit that they are displaying.  Between these two and those who unflinchingly had my back over the past few  years, it has helped me create a new perspective when other people comment on my return to the world of art.  Things that would have crushed me when i was still alone, now give testimony to my good fortune.

At the first event we hosted, just over a month ago, people were surprised to see me.  They laughed, “We thought you were dead.”  Scores more told me that they heard i was having problems financially and physically, and that they were shocked i had made it through. i wondered why they talked like this, so comfortable at articulating their surprise at my continued existence, until i remembered that i am an introvert without family and have a learned to suffer alone rather than spill it out onto the shoes of random strangers.  Not to say people haven’t had to clean off the slime of woe after talking to me, but when i am on the edge of survival, i crawl into my hole and to heal.

Thus, when things got really bad for me, i retreated into art and the work that needed to be done to move from one minute to the next. It was all i could do. Overloaded as i was, i could not reach out; rejection would have been that one thing too much to bear.  No one else is responsible for those tendencies in myself, but realizing that they created the environment for those comments to appear was incredibly helpful.

By in large, i found i could eventually laugh at those statements and reassure people: i am alive, i never stopped making art, and here i am back to running a business, albeit part time.  However, it shook me to my core as a reminder that i am truly starting over.  The work i have been doing was invisible to the rest of the world, unless a manuscript wandered into your email’s inbox.   No one else saw that i had never fully surrendered; now, many can witness how reopening with hope and a support network is the greatest blessing possible for one that has been so alone.

Last week, a couple pulled me aside to discuss with great satisfaction what had been the hardest time in my life – when i had to start going backwards, cannibalizing the studio instead of investing in it, when i could not move my arm, when tumors had taken over to the point i could barely bend over without howling in pain, when i first found out that my hips would have to be replaced.  All this time later, they were still so pleased with the buy they got on the equipment i sold them so that i could keep living.  They let me know they had only come by to see if i was still selling off my tools at bargain prices.

While they gushed about the memory, i could not help but hear the echos of my the howling cries that night, realizing that with that sale of a wheel and kiln, i had admitted to myself that i was too broken to work. 

Exchanges like that would have made me feel excruciatingly isolated before, but my situation has changed.  i had people sitting beside me, ready to tell me things would not get that bad again.

My heart started to sing with gratitude over the miracle of human beings willing to roll up their sleeves and help me out, who stayed in touch and kept supporting my compulsive vocation to create.  Having people in your corner is always a blessing, but in this moment, when i realize that i am not hobbling forward by myself any longer, it feels like the sun has come out to shine on my life.

However, there is no room for denial: i am starting over as a business woman. People, quite literally, thought i was dead.  There is no greater indication that i am starting from scratxh than rising from a perceptual grave.  This voyage into business has to be different, too.  i am undertaking this journey hyperaware that my body’s needs cannot be pushed aside. Still, opening myself up be here in the studio, ready to make sales, feeds the best part of me.  This feels like a miracle.  i want to dance with gratitude; if only it didn’t hurt so much to stand.

And that sound you hear?  That is me shouting thanksgivings for the people who love me and are willing to help.

i ask again

poem: the thief

If i had no bills to pay,
i would spend
a month
locked away,
writing feverishly,
ignoring
all the pain
and distraction
so that these stories
can be finished.

This is what i crave,
especially now
that i am too disjointed
to fulfill my dreams
effortlessly.

For the first time,
i require stillness
and quiet
to coax
this reluctant lover.

Writing
has to be
seduced.

All of the odd jobs
that i use to survive
feel like betrayal;
i seem incapable
of meeting
my unrealistic standards
because these words
constantly
fondle me.

So, i am again a thief,
stealing time away
from the vital,
the necessary,
and the sane
to dance
with this ink
flowing from my pen.

16 december 2015

poem: The Big Girl Pants

Not only were
the Big Girl Pants
chafing
obviously,
they were not effective.

So, i burned them –

along with every deluded thought
that i can get through
this awful crisis
alone.

In twenty hours
it will have been eight years
since he broke my life apart.

In the intervening time
i have ridden a wild roller-coaster
between loss and survival,
crumbling over and over
in anxiety and fear,
only to recover somehow
and find a way to move again.

My scars were visible
no matter how i smiled,
showing through all my clothes,
turning up
unbidden
in my art.

Today, the duality,
the paradox,
between the two beings
sharing the shell of my skin –
the artist who laughs,
jokes,
feels so blissfully alive
in the flow,
and the one who
is so distracted
broken,
afraid,
disjointed
and impractical –
shouts at me so loudly
it causes physical pain.

If i act as though i loathe myself,
i am lying;
if i act as if i love myself,
i am lying.
Neither extreme is truth.

The first testifies
to the worst parts of me,
the shaking shadow of a person
who cannot help but believe
the most loathsome things
that has ever been said
about me.
The second
gives voice
to a joy
that seems indestructible.

In various moments,
both have validity.
Neither aspect of me
can survive on is own.

One would blindly go on,
making art,
ignoring all the world
for such passion;
the other would destroy
my soul
rather than
accept
i am worth
supporting or loving.

Without your help
i will fall into utter ruin,
weakness or art
slamming me hard
against the rocks
until i break into pieces
too small to reconstruct.

The Big Girl Pants
did not work,
nor the education,
nor the ambition,
nor the self-hatred,
nor the vicious punishment

It leaves me exhausted.

Since being an adult
is a failed experiment,
all that is open to me
right now
is to think
of the little child
who was so lost,
marooned in this life
and and the things
that always saved her –
faith that help would come;
complete, awesome gratitude
for even the smallest acts of mercy;
unwavering dreams that gave her rope
when she was falling
so she even when she hit the ground
she was never totally destroyed;
and the foolish, unconquerable
ability to love,
even those who were cruelest,
opening her arms
at the first breath of kindness.

She made no plans,
she suffered but she always
found in her dreams
what she needed
to heal from the injuries
of temporary surrender.
Her love for life was enough
to keep her going,
waiting
for that next moment to pray,
that next small miracle
that would save her
for another few hours.

Screw being a grownup.
Let me have the faith
of that suffering child.
this belief in limitless possibility.
i can really do worse tonight.

8 december 2015

the madness of poetry

Something strange accompanies this kind of inundation. This crisis has been going on for so long that i have lost track of its beginnings and my ability to see endings long ago vanished.

But i am like a cork, bobbing in a sea of failure, but still fighting for breath, still treading water. Either from stubbornness or stupidity, i refuse to surrender completely.  When i can open my eyes, i see so many others fighting the same currents i cannot complain of solitude.  For the first time in my life, i am surrounded as much by love as i am anxiety, which is a greater blessing than i can express.

12309914_10206910370509278_3227795177658048976_oThings are changing, although i do not quite know if it will be in time to save me.  However, this hardly matters in the face of tremendous glories.  Seven weeks after surgery, i can throw again.  My novel, long stalled by pain and exhaustion, has begun to reform in my mind and on paper.  A new collection of poetry gathers itself together, much to my delight.  There is an abundance of art, queued up in my imagination, ready to leap forward from my hands.

Most glorious of all, i am starting to notice world beyond the rim of my own navel.  The tucking in, the wounded hiding, that i needed to do most of this summer and right after surgery has begun to ease off.

i am opening up.

Slowly, i am beginning to see a use to me, despite this precarious position.  Such grace came, in this case, from eight pots, at least half a dozen massive pen and inks and over thirty poems.  Anchored in art, everything else becomes either more possible or more ignorable.

For the rest of the year, i am anchoring myself in poetry, painting, pen and inks and pottery. It is the best defense against melancholy and stress i have found.  To encourage this plan, i have challenged myself to post something new every day, and so far i am off to a good start.  A decent line of posts has formed behind this one.

And for today: this poem, while short, is at least filled with madness and joy.

#

It can only be madness12304443_10206894248626241_7047647740143388939_o
that brought me up here,
giving words a chance to flow
when other things
should be done.

Yes, i was breathless.
Of course, i was exhausted.
Undeniably, the words
had to flow,
or i would not be here
ten minutes and three poems later,
wishing that there was a purpose
behind my actions
other than primal need.

One word following the next.
It is a flow
as essential to my life
as the journey of my blood.

Inside these patterns
of language and silence
inexpressible joy sings.

This is a supplication
for connection,
a prayer
to be heard,
an offering
of hope
in open hands.

i throw myself
into the madness of poetry
and pray it brings me
a soft landing.

28 November 2015

another moment

Something that is helping me keep perspective: times are still tough all around.

i was talking to a brilliant young man last week and he described his sorrow at not being able to justify college.  “There are no jobs, and the amount of debt I would have to incur is crippling. Without a good paying job, I would never be able to pay it off – and I haven’t even been able to find a decent bad paying job. None of my friends who have graduated are doing any better.  They have these huge burdens and no work.”  He shrugged, “I had a lawyer offer me his practice, to give it to me, if I went through law school.  With all my heart, I would love to do it, I would love to be a lawyer, but the numbers don’t work.  There is just no way to afford undergraduate and then law school.”  He smiled sadly and shrugged.  He held out the book he was carrying, that had started our conversation, “Thank God for libraries, though.  And inter-library loan!  At least I can read it all.”

If he had been my peer, given the intelligence and curiosity that he could not hide, he would have gone to college.  He probably would have broken every curve and gotten a scholarship to a prestigious law school. But that is not the decade in which we live.

His calm, soberingly realistic view on student loan debt and the job market for twenty somethings – coupled with my current experiences both as an artist and as a job seeker myself – made me realize that the world has changed irrevocably since i was his age.  Even at that point, my then husband and i often talked about what had happened since our parents were in their twenties: our standard of living would never be equal to what our parents enjoyed, and general job instability – not to mention the complete improbability of any of our peers retiring from a job and getting a pension – were hard for our parents to comprehend.  Social security?  Don’t bet on it. Education? Even then, was not a guarantee.

When I was at Georgetown, I remember one of the professors talking about how hopeless our situation was.  “I feel guilty that we have this program.  There are no tenured jobs for you – they are all held by baby boomers. By acting like there’s a chance, we are giving you false hope. By the time we retire, you’ll be too old – the tenured jobs will go to the young pups that are just publishing their PhDs and can be hired cheap.”  He laughed wickedly, before referring to the event that had spawned the conversation, “That’s why I’m worried about this historical convention in Saskatoon.  One bomb on an airplane and all the tenure issues for your generation are solved.”

He turned out to be right in his prediction and completely safe at the convention.  Most of my peers who finished their doctorates have wound up adjunct professors without job stability or health insurance, or working in another field altogether.  Many are not doing that much better than I have as an artist – we are studies in variability and instability.  Still, the situation today is even worse across the board.  In the 1990s and early 2000s jobs (that could sustain you financially) were not as thin on the ground, by far.  Even though you would have to change positions fairly frequently, the work was there to be had.  If you were exceptionally lucky and had marketable skills, you might even make a good wage.

In a strange way, i feel like i am going through a similar arc to that young man’s sober journey now, even though i am at least twenty years older. These extra decades have helped me learn more about myself – and, honestly, that can be a mixed blessing.  Finding a job under the best of conditions is hard – when i think about who i am as a person, the forces that drive me as a human being, the meager needs that feed my joy – the task feels insurmountable. i stare ruin in the face, now on a daily basis. Keeping myself from moving from realism to abject pessimism has become a full time job on its own, added to which is the time i spend giving myself transfusions of hope through meditation, magical thinking, art and prayer.

spillingout_11x14We have become a country of people doing what we must, struggling to survive, learning that we can live without things like dentists, eye doctors, credit ratings and security.  In exchange, at least in my case, i have learned a ridiculous amount about myself.  i have learned that even on days like today, when i am so exhausted that i can barely stand and my heart weighs heavily in my chest, that there are still words to write.  There are still kind people. Gratitude for what i have been given can reign within me, if i give it half a chance. i could drown in my own responsibility – after all, i chose to keep going even when i found myself alone, i chose to trust the wrong people, i chose to follow my dreams with the zeal of a stalker and the stubbornness of a fool.  Moreover, many of these choices are ongoing: i continually choose to keep trying, i choose to make art every single day, i continue to act as though i have hope. Yet, if i take any time to talk to my fellow humans at all, i will realize, that even when i feel so woefully accountable for my own situation there are scores of people like that bright young man so interested in history, politics and law – who have done everything right, who are bright and driven and confident – and they are still struggling mightily against the weight of reality.

 

on dead mice and personal growth

One of my cats – I suspect Martin – has finally learned how to smite a mouse.  IMG_1225I discovered this yesterday morning, while staggering through the house to get ready for a day in a gallery.

This is particularly exciting for him, because Martin is not necessarily the strongest candidate for cat-mensa I have ever known.  He is, however, beautiful. Ridiculously so. That gets him through a lot.  Also, he sweet and very loving if he trusts you.  You’ll have to take my word on that last statement, since I appear to be the only person he trusts (enough to put ribbons on his head!)

At any rate, I found an entire mouse family that had been brutally shoved across the rainbow bridge.  When I happened upon the scene, Roxi the cat was poking the distorted corpses with a look of horror on her face while Martin ran over to me, started rubbing up against me, purring, awe-inspiring joy beaming up at me through those slightly vacuous golden eyes.

Prime suspect number one.

He does so love the toys that move on their own.

And now for the personal growth part.  Rodent removal has been in every lease I have ever set up as my tenant’s job, but right now I have no renter… so, I had to step up.

He is so proud, beaming down from heaven.
He is so proud, beaming down from heaven.

In previous experiences with such things, my phobias made me dress like I was about to walk on the moon.  I used a broom or long-handled tongs, gloves, glasses, a coat, etc.  This time, even though my aversion was no less strong and I kept apologizing to the wee victims of Martin’s glee, I was able to use the shoveler for my wood stove and a stick – carry them out without protective gear, and put them in the graveyard of dead things (which has not seen a lot of use since my cat Andre the Giant Cat died.)

Necessity, it appears, is the mother of transformation as well as other things.  As I flung the corpses, I thought about how much this actually means – I have conquered a lot of my fears, big and small, and keep making progress on those that stick around.  For the past two weeks, I have been a mess of stress and anxiety, barely able to function, praying that if I can’t feel better at least I’ll learn to fake it more convincingly.  With all my might, I’ve been trying to ooze pain quietly, without the loud and lusty complaints that usually accompany such downturns.  In that kind of distant, observational way in which I notice change in myself, I saw the ability to remove the mice despite my horror and fear as a sign of personal growth.  I am still improving my ability to walk through the world, traveling through both its good parts and its disgusting parts.  Oddly, since I was shaking with the power of the “eeeewww,” I realized the task was vaguely empowering.  I could actually do it, after all, without tears or a full body suit.

Yesterday, after I got to the gallery, the sense of empowerment persisted.  I sent out sixty-one post cards to promote my art. My good mood lasted until this morning, when I awoke from nightmares feeling utterly hopeless.  Like a zombie, motivated not so much by need as an inability to figure out what else to do, I started going through the list of things waiting for my attention: including writing a blog about rodent removal and personal growth.

And, like magic, writing this has made life better.  Halfway through the blog, I felt brave enough to place an ad about the rental. I think I might actually have enough strength now to deliver pottery and run errands before the torrential rains come.

I keep looking for solutions to my loneliness, to my fear, to this outrageous, crippling sense of vulnerability.  Perhaps the only way to really see any progress with such things is to focus on the tiny, small improvements: personal growth, one mouse at a time.

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

Everything keeps changing

eachdaydawnsEverything keeps changing: it is the only constant. I have known this – indeed written poems about it – but at moments the shifting ground creates more unsteadiness than can be processed.

Although, lately, I seem to be driving the transformations – personal, financial, potential and concrete – more than ever before. For good or for bad (and some of my choices have been less than wise), I am reacting less and finding the courage to leap deliberately into the unknown more.

Last October, when my then-tenant gave me notice that he would leave by May 1st, I started pondering.  By Christmas, I had decided to put my house on the market. Although the decision was terribly hard – I love this town, this state, this land, this house and most of all, my wonderful studio – I could see that it would provide me with a better chance to keep making my art in the long run. That said, it could take years for the house to sell – in which time I will still be happily working and living here.  Beyond that, I have no idea what will happen. I dare not dream too much, because the future will unfold as it will, regardless of whatever fictions I weave and throw over the horizon. All of this depends on things I cannot control: someone buying the house, the price I get for it, whether the business of art is flourishing or floundering, etc.

And then I had to wait for months, decision made but largely unable to act, feeling caught like a fly in amber. The chaos of one person moving at a time was enough; only now am I really starting to focus on getting my house ready to put on the market.  Two days into this work, three realizations have flooded over my awareness: I am a terrible housekeeper, I have way more stuff than one human being should be allowed to own, and I am going to have to call on my friends for help.  My goal is to have the house on the market by June 1st… we will see if I make it.

Just thinking about the mountain of work ahead of me has made me tired already.  And, I have to get the studio in working order first, because two galleries have to get loaded up with pottery by Sunday and I have some photographers coming to do “day in the life” shots next week – so for the next two days (what should have been my weekend) I’ll be splitting my time between cleaning here and cleaning there.

Once I finish this blog, I’ll head to the house and get started on the worst offender there: the kitchen.  Tomorrow, after a hike with the dog, I’ll begin the real work on the studio.

allwillbewell
Julian of Norwich, paraphrased.

For the sake of my sanity, I’ll write a bit about this particular transformation here as time goes on.  You see, right now I’m rather terrified by all of this even as I am awed by possibilities.  Overnight, I have lost a huge chunk of income without renting the rooms in the house.  For months, I’ve been changing the way I sell my art, how I’m reaching out to the world – no longer allowing anxiety to keep me from action.  Still, this is not an easy thing for me. And success has not been immediate. Yesterday, I spent the entire day quietly meditating and praying, just to keep myself from falling off the precipice and into the pit.  Today, thanks to good friends, my journey felt easier.

There are no guarantees – either of success or failure.  All I can do is try my hardest and believe that all will be well.

 

sculpting fire

The past few days have not been overwhelmed with joy.  I’m struggling (still!) with my energy, stamina and pain, my coordination has been terribly off and I have felt wildly alone. The latter sensation kept getting stoked by a lot of events that were canceled (the weather really hates my social life) and the business stresses that make the ‘sole’ in sole proprietor cut into me like the edge of a broken pot.  For just an extra bit of rejection, someone I really wanted to get to know better told me in two quick emails that I wasn’t worth the effort – which is his choice, and something that didn’t come completely unexpected since the lags between his emails kept getting longer and longer.  Although as I read his words, I couldn’t help thinking that he had been thwarted by circumstance.  The email coming today blunted the impact of his gratuitous rejection, like someone pushing me away me while I was too far down to fully notice.

A few melancholy poems wandered from my pen along with an angry letter to God. I kept trying to edit pictures on my turgid laptop before I gave up in despair. I painted gesso on a few boards.  In a fit of determination, I started hand-building because my back balked at the wheel.  Only, again, I couldn’t make anything.  An entire slab of clay – half a bag worth – wound up on the floor, impaled on shards of dead pottery.  A small box managed to come to life out of the remains.  Then, with great difficulty, my hands birthed a tall, towering vase.  I even instagramed a picture of it, I was so proud.

before the fall
before the fall

I didn’t want to stay here in the studio until 2 or 3 in the morning, though, so I went to use the heat gun to stiffen the vase so I could safely remove the armature.  While the vase was in a delicate spot, I raced over to get the heat gun.  It looked like it was on the shelf, ready to use, but I found out someone had left it plugged in underneath the wheels (there are times I whine about opening up my studio to other artists.  They have all been told leaving that plugged in is a fire hazard, a trip hazard and a damned inconvenience for the next person who needs the tool.  Then, I start wondering if I was the one who used the heat gun last…)  While I struggled to free the plug – ouch! the  bending! – I heard the vase fall, splat, onto the ground.  The one truly lovely thing I had made today, decimated by a freaking plug.

I stood there buzzing with anger because I had been defeated by so much lately.  I can’t fix my financial stressors.  I can’t make someone like me.  I can’t rush along the changes coming to my life just like I can’t guarantee that all my efforts aren’t in vain.  But, damn it, i don’t have to lose another half a bag of clay just because it catastrophically fell over and crumpled into itself.  Very carefully, very slowly, with stubbornness burning in my ears, I picked the clay up and straightened it out.  I grabbed dowels to stick down the bifurcated piece, determined to make something tall.

In the end, and this is probably where I should have started this blog, I sculpted defiance.  Tears streaming down my face, my body complaining vigorously about standing that long, I kept working.  She became the fire of stubbornness, the refusal to be destroyed even though she could not regain her original configuration.  She looks incredibly rough right now – but she has arms and a head.  In a little feat of irony, I’ll be here in the studio until 2 or 3 in the morning, making sure the dowels come out.  I don’t dare leave.  If I go to the house, the siren call of a steaming hot shower, the heating pad and bed will be too strong.  Instead I might write some more melancholy, self-pitying poetry. Perhaps I’ll draw on the iPad.  Maybe I will let myself work on my book.  It would be nice to lose myself in someone else’s trials and tribulations.

I wish I had more words of strength and resilience to end this babbling, but right now I’m just hanging on by a thread.  All I have to get me through is obstinacy.

things are changing

As I wrote in a recent email, things are changing. In this moment, I am grateful and stubbornly dedicated, but keenly aware that full transformation does not happen on my schedule or by my demand.

Every time I feel myself wavering, I fall down and wallow for awhile, but sooner or later I wind up recommitting. Actually now that I think about it, this is true about me for more than just my business. Sometimes I have to cower, healing my wounds for awhile before I can stand up and move forward.

Yesterday was a wretchedly difficult day. I felt terrible, my blood sugar kept crashing and every single piece I had made since Sunday wound up breaking in my shaking hands. However, once my addled brain realized I could shift tasks, life got better. I was able to get some wonderful work done for a graphic design client and move some web design mountains. Within a single day, The Lord gave and The Lord took the away.

On my way to a business meeting this morning, needing to boost my mood after yesterday. I listed all the wonderful things that have been happening – every cause for hope and delight. By the time I arrived, gratitude swelled up within me and I could not stop smiling. A few of them were mentioned in the mailing above, others had not even been noticed until I began searching for them. Finding sorrows and worries is effortless, I have to consciously give blessings their due.

For now, I am ebullient and optimistic – but I know my situation could transform. Right now, I wait for my car to get out of repairs – so I know I might get another lesson on giving and taking away.