Tag: failure

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: gratitude

Gratitude

Days ago,
i began
to say
thank you
for everything.

Absolutely every single thing.
More than the usual food,
fluffy cat snuggles,
steadfast love of dog,
and brilliant blue skies.

Thank you for everything.

When i couldn’t get
to the bathroom in time
and lost another pair of pants,
thank you.
i tried to stand
and fell
into the car beside mine,
thank you.
When i sat down to write,
only to be assaulted
simultaneously
by seven different stories
and five different poems,
thank you.
When he broke my heart,
thank you.
When she treated me
like something
to be scraped off a shoe,
thank you.
While i felt
my own spirit
crack and fracture
from the pressure
of my failure and problems,
thank you.
Love breezed through
my life
for just one moment –
enough to catch its fragrance
before leaving me
alone and lonely again –
thank you.

These mumbled gratitudes,
even when they refuse
to bear the weight
of true appreciation,
resorting to perfunctory syllables
until they awaken some echo
of thanksgiving,
even when spoken through tears
while the body seized in pain,
have begun to change things.

Thank you.

3 august 2015

 

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Today, 14 days after i wrote this poem, i read an article at GQ about Stephen Colbert and he expressed this sentiment better than i ever could.  Read the article!

poem: interventions

Two interventions
brought to me
over the course
of a week,
served with plates full of food,
delivered by friends
filled with concern.

Those who spoke
of wisdom and surrender
could not know
how deeply their words
drove like knives
into my heart.

How i bled
as their pickaxes
of advice
chipped away
at the edifice
of petrified steadfastness,
protecting
my most tender soul.

The bottom disappeared,
the soles of my feet turned to ice
as they stood on the frozen vacuum
of what my life is not.

All of my arguments
in defense of my dreams
sounded like excuses –
each impediment
i mentioned
was dismissed,
hands waving,
for to them,
i presented
capabilities and strength
to the world
that made my protestations
of uncoordinated, confused weakness
and wild, howling pain
lies.

The reality from within,
behind these downcast eyes,
bore no weight
in the face
of their insistence.

They are not wrong,
i have failed
spectacularly;
oh, but,
i cannot give up.

i keep plodding forward
knowing my foolish stubbornness
has cost me their support,
but i lack the ability
to stop trusting
in my purpose
as it pours out of me.

5 april 2015

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.

 

pieces of loneliness: failure

His dog stared up at me with deep kindness, her golden eyes filled with patience and acceptance.  Her human had stopped my car, asking about places that would house dogs.  He had heaped all his worldly possessions behind him in a shopping cart. Holding out his pale, thin left arm, he started to describe how he had gone to the hospital to get it fixed, waving wildly at defects invisible to my eyes, urgently confessing that the doctors had said he had a mental health issue. “They insisted,” he shook his arm, “that there is nothing wrong!  But anyone can see it!”  Yet, he cried, he needed help.  He knew he could not go on as he was.  He called his one friend in town, to find out she had committed suicide years ago.  Intently leaning in, he said he faced a psyche hold, but the doctors would not take his dog with him.  While he burbled and gestured, she stood calmly beside him, something eternally kind in her expression, her patience and stillness surreal next to her human’s wild energy.

The animal control officer, he told me excitedly, was trying to help him.  Did I know of any place that would take a dog?  He didn’t know how long the arm problem would take be fixed, he waved it again, but obviously this was urgent.  It seemed like he could not stop talking, moving closer to the car, he gestured to my dog sitting beside me, staring out at the man and his dog through the open window.  This stranger must have been listening to me talking to my pup about being a good boy when I had lumbered into the seat, realizing I was someone who might have information he needed.

As soon as he was forced to breathe, I gave him the name of a kennel where I had housed my dog twice.  It’s not the Ritz, I said, but maybe they will be willing to work with you.  Maybe they do pro bono work for dogs in desperate need.  He heard my words, incorporating them into his story, which he proceeded to blurt out to me at least three more times.  I wondered if this was his way of fixing my advice in his mind.

Eventually he let me go.  Even as I drove away, feeling like the dog’s gaze became disembodied, following me down the road, I realized I would be haunted by the exchange for awhile.

I had been afraid.  The last dog of size at my house bit mine and nearly killed him.  I could not avoid how much the madness of the man had unsettled me, even though I could see he meant no harm.  But, the people who have hurt me, tried to scam me and made me doubt my reality because their insanity seemed more real to them than anything has ever been to me, rose up in my head – a long line of screaming warnings.

If I were braver, perhaps I would have taken the dog.  It was a failure of compassion that I justified with practicalities – how could I afford to feed another animal, even temporarily?  What if the placid kindness was not her permanent state?  It appeared she had been living with her human on the streets for quite some time – what veterinary complications could be expected? Mostly, I could not put my dog through another attack – or endanger my cats.

And yet, I feel this failure deeply, no matter how I justify it.  Thoughts of my own safety and that of my animals overrode compassion.  I could not be brave enough to risk.

Although, even now, I want to make myself seem less cold and uncaring.  I babble forth with my own confession: I wanted to be free to do something more than what I could.  I wanted to be brave and throw all caution to the wind. I hold onto my guilt as though it could be proof that I have a heart.  I let those golden eyes haunt me, because I feel that I deserve it.  At what point did my fears of being hurt overtake my desire to do good?

a few reversals

I should have taken pictures of them. Visually, the remains were quite interesting. Two platters cracked during cooling in the kiln – one on Tuesday, one this morning – for reasons I cannot begin to identify.  There did not appear to be any fault inherent in either, they just fell to pieces.  One had been underglazed with a design of a hundred “loves” interlocking with each other.  The second bore a similar design with “hope” emblazoned across.

Each snapped into half a dozen pieces, when they were cool enough not to effect another pot – because they both banged into others that were in a perfect state.  Another, “peace,” came out undamaged only adding to the mystery.

If I am honest, the fact that they said hope and love bothered me more than losing pieces.  For example, when I lost the first platter, I also lost four casserole dishes, mostly due to my own clumsiness.  It left me muttering bad words, but beyond the instantaneous reaction, I was able to cope.  So, I had some practice with loss.  Still – “Hope” and “faith” – well, those are hard things to see smashed into bits.

10414910_10203104942895966_2449259623964739159_nOn Tuesday, after it was clear that I could not be trusted with bone dry pots, I responded by starting to sculpt a dragon.  At first, I thought it would be a more serious or inspirational form, but as she started to come together, I realized she was going to be a dragon and fighting it would be absolutely futile.  And she is a fine dragon.  A happy one.

Yesterday, I sat for a day at the Belfast Harbor Artisans – it always makes me feel better when I get a chance to talk to my customers, to be a part of the world beyond my studio.

On the way home, I took my car to the wonderful local garage to address the screaming sound that was coming from the back of the car.  I found out today that I need new rear breaks, with a few other bits in addition.  I was already struggling to pay bills and get things done – living right on the edge of function and dissolution – and this feels like one reversal more than I particularly want to deal with at this juncture.  Today is supposed to be my day off, so I have thrown it into poetry (Maya Angelou died yesterday, too, leading me to a grief that I did not expect would be so deep and poignant) and laundry.  My body is thrilled to have a chance to rest. For whatever reason, I just could not face the thought of throwing or sculpting or firing.  I needed a day ‘off.’

Now that I have reached the point that the blog should have a snappy conclusion, I don’t know what to say about the cracked plates or the destroyed casserole dishes or my car’s breaks. I don’t have any idea what importance these reversals should have – if any – in the way I think about what I am doing.

All I know, in this exact moment, is that I am grateful I had enough hope and love to spare for those platters.

visually

changing definitions of success and failure

My definitions for success and failure are changing.

For the second time, I have failed to deliver a commission on time. (The first time involved pots for children’s classes that were stalled by my kiln getting struck by lightening – an act of God – I felt immense guilt but could not take full responsibility.)

This should be a failure, but I cannot quite see it as such. This is a real shift in my worldview. Years ago, I had a customer who hated the glazes on a series of mugs – even though they were what she asked for – and that was alright, I took the pots back and refunded her money.  There is a kind of magic that can happen with pottery, and not everyone appreciates it.  While I did regard that as a failure the afternoon I gave her a check and bundled the mugs into boxes, I have made more money selling the pieces individually than I would have with that contract.  Right now I have another outstanding commission, for huge casserole dish and platter and pasta bowl, but they had no deadline. So, even though I have had to make the pieces a few times, it was not a hardship for the customer. I kept working at them until I got pieces beautiful and intact.  Again, not a failure, just an inconvenience. All in all, I have been fairly proud of myself for five years – the lingering sting of these setbacks has been soothed by many many prompt deliveries of pots received with joy and celebration.

This commission, for two rectangular casserole dishes, to specific measurements, hand-built, had a specific deadline and I missed it.

The project required me to learn new things and the process has lead to several unsatisfying attempts. Even though I sculpt, I am much less comfortable with hand-building than throwing. Four pieces unfit for salemoresurvivors now serve as molds for other casserole dishes, a perceived reversal that has left me indecently pleased.  I found myself grateful for the failures – because they have lead to an easy way to make more pieces. (Two examples are to the right, above the chip and dip.  The one on the left got bent at leather hard, but still turned out gorgeous.)  Finally i finished three casserole dishes, and the forth will be late but has already come into being.  The picture of the first three is to the left, in my car, ready to head to their new home.  I gave her the extra small casserole as compensation for my tardiness – along with a massive porcelain bowl.survivors

As I struggled with this project I realized that my definitions of success and failure have changed over the years. These setbacks would have totally demoralized me, making platter after pasta bowl after casserole, just two years ago. I remember having a lot of failures with plates in the early months of the business that did exactly that to my fragile mood.  It was nearly a year before I wanted to throw a plate again. The thought of plates filled me with waves of grief over my shortcomings.

However, my definitions of success and failure have changed.  Success, now, often means that I just keep at it without giving into negativity or self-pity or doubt. It means I have celebrated my small triumphs – even if it was just learning from a mistake. I make the piece as many times as I need to and then I have the satisfaction of it being done.  I can be remarkably stubborn.

Failure, then, would be giving up.  Failure means allowing my outrage over my mistakes, misdeeds, misfortunes and missteps to seep inside my soul and start to corrode it.

However, there is one sticky problem to these shifting definitions: I can try too hard.  Perhaps, at some point, I should accept that I cannot go on, there will be something that I cannot complete no matter how many times I go to the wheel or canvas or computer. I am simply too stupid or stubborn or obsessed to know when that moment has arrived.

and againMaybe there are worse things in the world than not having enough sense to give up.

Another casserole is in the bisque kiln right now, as I type, firing.  I immortalized it in a photograph to the left, in case of catastrophe.  Although, I hope it comes out of the heat intact and flawless.  Then i can glaze it and deliver it a bit late.

I send up a quiet prayer for the kiln.  May nothing explode, crack, warp or rupture… or experience any other failures on which I do not want to dwell.  I want to have good dreams tonight.

art or death

I lost my zen during a phone conversation.  Now I don’t mean that I ranted and cursed, but I let someone else’s prophecies into my heart for a moment. They insinuated their way into me like smoke does the lungs. The sensation felt both familiar and disheartening – because I had been doing so much better disarming this fiercenessparticular button.  A year ago, maybe even six months, those statements would have made me wildly insecure and led me to tears – but today, I reacted with defiance. Art or death, because quitting is not an option. Nor is being immobilized by negativity or fear.

Still not the reactions I want to arise from such stimuli, but they were better than falling into despair.

The button that was pushed – which wound up being hit for the second time in three days –  is hopelessness.  The overwhelming verbal waves that everything I – and in both cases the people talking to me – hope for and dream of is impossible. Their art could never support them. Financial situations will never improve.  Our chance for making art and writing has expired.  There is no adaptation to improve this situation.  Conversations even went into the realms of how foolish I am to continue with whatever medium the speaker finds problematical and how vulnerable and irrelevant we all are.

And, on a certain level, those things are real and possible. Economies and people suffer.  Art is in a state of chaos, change and redefinition.  Hence the button being there.  Committing to this life is often a difficult choice.

However, when I am alone, with nothing but my words or art, those voices no longer torment me.  They used to arise spontaneously and hold me captive for hours. They held me up by my arms and toyed with me like a cat does a mouse, all glee and sadism. Thank God, if they appear at all now, they float away without leaving the marks of their claws.

The change was not spontaneous, but rather deliberate retraining using all the tools that meditation, therapy, hope and faith have given me.  Also, this has been an act of surrender: I know I cannot control whether people buy my art, or my house, or support me as a human being.  These glories cannot be forced.  However, I also do not know that I will fail.  I have to surrender to my absolute and unavoidable ignorance of the future.  As my past has faded away to an echo of what it once was, the future too has become something completely unreal.  This realization has, finally, worked its way into my being, all the way down into my bones.

However, it must not be in the marrow yet, because I still fell off my zen.  One of my biggest challenges continues to be standing up against someone else’s insistence that their imaginings, their perception, their dread, and their judgment are the absolute truth.  People can project a staggering amount of emotion onto others, particularly when they are scared, discouraged or feeling doomed.

My impulse is to walk away from such prophets; to protect myself from the power of their woeful certainty.  But, after I let the waves of defensiveness pass this afternoon another thought arouse within me: I wonder if they are relying on me to change their mind?