Tag: friendship

the year of friendship

This is the time for reflection, i suppose, a cultural urge to look back on the past year and mull over the good and bad as we try to discipline ourselves into smaller sizes and better behavior.

For once, i have no inclination to do any of that nostalgic reminiscing or self improvement. The past year was what it was, things happened both good and bad, and i am oddly at peace with it all – every moment my heart was broken and all the times hope returned. As for right now, i am keenly aware that i am doing all i can to make my situation better – no resolutions needed.

There was one remarkable aspect about the past twelve months, though, that is worth commenting on. This was the year of friendship. All illusions i harbored about being alone, about being isolated, about being someone who could just disappear from this world without anyone noticing were vanquished in a flood of help and love. i do not think i would have survived without this outpouring. Truly, though, it did more than just get me through one day and into the next, this experience transformed me.

And, i could not be more grateful.

cleaned out

IMG_3946Not quite three weeks ago, i went through surgery to get my left arm working again. My entire shoulder had to be cleaned out. The pain since June had been increasingly crippling, leaving a path of destruction through my attention span, my memory, my strength, my mood and my endurance. A large number of blogs charted this descent, long before i realized how much the disability was effecting me. It had been months since i could throw without tears. Sculpting proved to be too much. The novels i’d been writing (a series, going forward in an odd way but still moving at a delightful and brisk pace) suddenly stalled, my mind unable to hold their complexity.  The characters continued to swim in my imagination, but their movement was languid and impotent; i could not fix them to the page without some focus.

Already, those problems have begun to shift.  Almost immediately after surgery, the pain was already less than it had been before the repair.  Today, i was able to drive and function like i have not been able to contemplate for months. As i made my way home from several errands in Bangor, i was singing with joy.

Of course, i still have a lot of healing left to do.  My attention span still wanders more than normal.  The fatigue can be overwhelming, even after gentle activity.  My other health issues have not been solved.  Also, a lot of tasks are still quite difficult, but i am getting better at them all the time. (Case in point: tying shoes.IMG_3979 Who would have thought the shoulder was involved in that? i figured a back-clasped bra would be next to impossible, but extending down or reaching out if i’ve raised my foot to a chair, turned out to be unexpected pain.) Every sign of improvement leaves me overjoyed. Indeed, my personal hygiene after using the bathroom has already reached my pre-surgery standards, for which there is endless rejoicing.

It is the simple pleasures, really.

My friends have come through for me with such shocking kindness that i have been unable to articulate my full gratitude even in prayer.  i have spent so much time writing about loneliness and isolation and feeling like the other; this experience provided testimony to the miracle of friendship.  People sat with me the first day after surgery; a steady stream of food and gifts made their way to my doorstep; calls, messages and email came in a small flood to check to see if i was ok.

There were nights alone, when i held a small pity parties for myself because i was alone, partially immobilized and in blistering pain, but then i realized, even if i were married or living with someone, the impulse to whine would remain.  Pain itself was the cause of the wallowing.

Last week, i pushed myself too far.  This past weekend, i did very little but sleep and draw.

A large stack of drawings became evidence of that first great swelling of creativity. This is the art of recuperation.  i drew each on mat board, heavy enough to stay in place.  My left arm rested while my right hand moved the pen.  Until yesterday, i had not the strength to word.  But, three poems, a few cover letters, a further revamped resume and this blog have encouraged me.  The writing has started to creep back.  i have had the image of a character walking through my imagination all day today, asking me to finish their story.  He’d just met someone, after all, i think he wants to know where that relationship is going.  With every bit of art, i feel like i am coming  back to life.

It is the simple pleasures, the patient kindness of friends, the sense of hope that comes over me when i make art – even when it’s small and frivolous.  Love has been pouring through my life, for a lot longer than i realized.  Like the insidious effect of pain, love has been there, too, on the edges, moving through me, changing everything without my conscious mind realizing it.  My life is rich with friends, with fellow artists, with innumerable blessings. The outpouring of kindness had left me unsettled.  Honestly, i knew i would get help but had no idea how much would flow my way.

After nearly three weeks of addled introspection, i realized with shock that too many awesome things had been dismissed or missed because i was too stuck in my old stories.

First there was the story of the lonely, frightened child. Then the awkward teen who had no idea what to do with people and no confidence in herself. Then, the woman who had weathered first debilitating illness and then the rejection and pain of a divorce.  After that, the long loneliness.  All of it is laid bare in this blog. i have written post after post about feeling like the other, feeling alone, feeling isolated.

Well, when i was in need, people came.  Those stories, while potent, were not the absolute truth of my life.

So what replaces otherness?  What stands up in the space where loss once loomed?

i looked at myself through another’s eyes and saw someone wildly blessed with creativity and stubbornness. This spell of injury and recovery happened when i was at my lowest, when i felt like everything had completely fallen apart, and yet, here i was sitting in a pile of my own drool, just a day and a half after surgery, drawing.  i drew because letter could not follow letter in that stupor. Nearly every day, i drew another few pieces. Then this weekend, the engine of art started roaring back to life, filling all my senses. It happened without force or effort, proving again that art is a quiet compulsion leaking from my fingertips.

When i challenged myself for a new story the one that presented itself was a deep truth: i am an artist, who can’t seem to surrender her art. Perhaps i am too mad.  Maybe i am simply too obstinate.  Either way, i keep melting into image and story.  Despite other jobs, and injury, and illness, and discouragement, and poverty, and failure – i have continued making art. Thin lines of ink have woven themselves through my healing.

i am so ridiculously grateful.

changing the story

Today, i am participating in two events – Maine Craft Weekend and my own estate sale, trying to purge myself of unwanted belongings.  Despite how i feel – and two days of fairly heavy labor on a bad arm mean i am not feeling well – i opened up right at 8:55 am, convinced that i would make enough money to whittle down my bills.  Alas, that is not the case as yet.  As i write, at 3:08 pm, no one has shown up for either event.  Not one car has even slowed down.  My confidence falters.

Yesterday, i had six people show up, of which four were motivated buyers.  That may have saved me for the time of recouperation ahead of me (see yesterday’s blog) and, again, i take a moment to give thanks.  But, despite the advertising, today has been nearly absolute silence – broken only by a few messages on facebook from people who could not come. Each beep evoked a great wave of gratitude because it minimized the invisibility that something like this evokes.

The child who felt so lost and alone inside her family, the kid picked last for every sport, the little girl who would have done anything not to go home but tried so hard to hide her distress and act normal, the college student that felt hopelessly out of step with her peers, these iterations of self remain within me. They keenly remember the ease with which superficial social interaction could occur while a vast, seemingly impassable distance stretched out between the rest of creation and this one soul.  They see this lack of response, this searing quiet, like a failure or a judgment.

i have to change that story, but often i am at a loss of how to go about that when so much of the world reinforces it.  i am not rich, i am not healthy, i am not married, i have no children, i stubbornly persist at work that a lot of people view as superfluous. In this society, those truths alone can cause ostracism.

Internally, divorce and the long loneliness created a cauldron for this invisibility to simmer.  i long ago lost count of how many business events and classes i hosted, for which people had registered in advance, to which no one showed up. Several learned individuals have told me it is because of my location, just far enough for the scale between the bother of going and the desire to go to tip in an unfavorable direction. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just apply to business, i have had one set of guests cancel dinner parties at my house, absolutely certain that without their presence i would have nothing to offer my other friends, but forgetting to inform me, leaving me stood up with piles of food. i still cannot eat spaghetti sauce without feeling totally irrelevant to the universe. i have been told with blessed bluntness, that even though i am great friend material, i am not worth the investment of time required for the woman i had laughing a few seconds ago to make me a friend.

This has been an ongoing struggle.  For whatever reason, i must have one of those faces, or a particular energy, or a gentle enough nature that good people have no problem telling me that the trouble of getting to me or keeping in contact with me is enough to keep them from doing it, as though there will be no hurt in that statement, as though i will always understand.

And often i do. Lord knows, i understand demands on a person’s time. This broken unit is a sole proprietor.  Even though my health and the business are not going well, it does not mean that the obligations have ceased. In fact, this past year, i shamefully let down one of my own friends, because i lacked the energy and ability to help as i would have liked.  By the time i was done with my working day, i had nothing left to give to anyone.  As i drowned in the demands placed upon me, i could not take on anything else.  So, i cannot look at the absence of others without compassion. At last i am old enough to realize that the vast majority of this story isn’t actually about me at all, but about those who are not here.  They are weaving other tales built on duty and desire, right now, as i type, and how can i blame them? After all, this silent isolation did not break me.

i work very hard on my art – especially during days like today when no one shows up.  Even though i was physically miserable, i still wrote and poemed my way through the morning before settling down for an hour and a half of meditation.  Also, i accept my spirit needs quiet, even at inconvenient times.  Without some silence and isolation, i would not be still enough to get half the art done, nor would i be practiced enough at entering the flow to be able to do it when i gallery sit or wait in a restaurant.

conversation5
at Art Space Gallery in Rockland, Maine

Moreover, it has helped me realize what an a amazing gift love and affection and help are.  Perhaps because i do often feel unmoored and isolated, when a rope is thrown to me, i grab it with all my might.  Because i have such a hard time believing people when they say they care, but act in ways that make no sense to me, i cling to the moments – the proofs – that relationships actually do have salvational power.  i remember the times when i was at the end of my rope and i got a phone call, or a hug, or really any of a wide array of gifts that might have seemed utterly insignificant to the person giving them, but that kept me going into another day.

As one of those good and true friends said to me the other day, she doesn’t worry about me so much because i am so damned stubborn.  That would help me get through, she smiled, and i don’t know that she’s wrong. i live by myself well.  The fiction and poetry that i write, the faces i draw, they fill up my life even when i am running low on real human contact.  Moreover, this perverse steadfastness to my art and my life gives me a strange, compassionate confidence when i am confronted by cruelty, intended or otherwise. The people who come to me, asserting that they know what i need to do, even when they are so deeply offended that i cannot or will not take their advice, become sources of gratitude because at least they somehow saw the invisible one.  They cared enough to form an opinion. Those who tell me that i have no reason to live, that i am a failure, that hurl judgment at me and expect me to die from it become characters in books.  The many who compliment me in the moment, talking about my work or my character in glowing ways, but then never reach out again, well i can take that praise at face value and then, in the silence their absence creates, i can throw myself into my art.

That is in fact what i have done today.  The story was changed subtly. In this precise instant, i cannot get rid of the financial insecurity, or improve my befuddled, awkward attempts to get my work seen by more people, or relieve the generalized anxiety about rehabbing from shoulder surgery alone in the house, but i can say that today’s solitude brought about good poems, more work on a novel, a long spell of time when i was quiet and still and filled with peace.

Most of all, i am changed by gratitude.  By the realization that none of us are guaranteed love or kindness or support.  Those gifts, when given freely and without obligation, are nothing short of a miracle, given from human hands.  Yesterday, i received such a gift from the friend who helped me get ready for this event.  i spent a lot of time this morning remembering her effort as well as the abundance of kindness that has showered down upon me during the last six months, while everything else went wrong.  i cannot have received such amazing blessings and be invisible; the two concepts are mutually exclusive.  Thus, the story alters even further.

True friends, and i have a gloriously high number of true friends that have found me in this life, have become cherished in ways i wonder if they ever comprehend.  So my story becomes one of thanksgivings, on my knees, for those who are not here but who love me nonetheless.

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.

getting through alone

i keep wishing
i were not alone,
or that i had the confidence
to make it through
on my own.

This wretchedness
makes me feel
like a fool.

After all,
it is hard
to maintain
what little dignity
i have left
bare-assed
in a hospital gown.

But the reality is:
i am surviving.

When i had to seek help,
i did.

Perhaps i move through
this experience
without grace.
Doubtless,
i am a mess of sweat
and frustration.
Certainly,
i experience my share
of thrashing,
near drowning
panic,
and the diarrhea
of complaint
leaks
from my lips.

Yet, i am still here.

Somehow,
i have endured
the most dangerous
despair
and i have learned
to make do
with what is
in this moment.

Full of fear and confusion,
with the world spinning
awkwardly,
with a gorilla on my chest
hampering
my heart and lungs,
i am managing.

Each breath comes,
albeit through pain.

My heart is still beating –
tests have proved it –
and i have done this.
i have managed,
while i feel forsaken.
Oh, but, i know,
truly,
i am not alone.

I have had the help
of God
and friends,
and whatever crazy spirit
i have within me
that refuses to surrender
without a fight –
no matter how many nights
lonely and broken,
i find myself praying
for death.

6 august 2015

asha fatigue

Depression has dogged me since i was in the single digits.  Sadly, it has not stopped squatting in my psyche despite learning a lot of ways to use it, distract it and endure it.  One therapist suggested it wasn’t so much clinical depression as situational, but in the end, something happens to brain chemistry.  The depression becomes huge and impassive and unconquerable, unable to be unseated by anyone or anything, and it brings along its gang of friends – insecurity, indecision and isolation.

The last one really wipes the floor with me, in part because of “asha fatigue.” i used to work to convince myself that asha fatigue was a form of paranoia, that either people weren’t actually avoiding me or i hemorrhaged enough pain that the sound of people walking away made sense to me. Didn’t someone tell me that nothing is ever about me?  Also, i seek out quiet when i suffer, trained long and hard that no one else will want to lick my wounds.

And yet, with this bout of difficulty, i have had people admit they are avoiding me.  asha fatigue, it seems, is real.

My despair can be overwhelming, unpleasant, even when i am trying to hide it.  A sense of impotency comes over one confessor, and another just wants to shake me and make me realize how this is all my fault so i need to buck up and stop being morose. Another said that watching the endless stream of cosmic poo befalling me lately, whether self caused or not, made her uncomfortable.  From afar, another says this is all for the good and i will be free from a cursed situation and my own failures.

i hear them speak, voices rich in concern and the tones of friendship, and i watch as their words form a cudgel for isolation to wield.

If you ask me what i want, i suppose, i would love people to realize that though my dreams are lost, i tried with all my might.  And, it would be nice to feel like i am not alone in the world.  However, i admit that emotion is a lie – i am the Pluto or Neptune to a lot of people’s Suns – but i am still functionally on my own.

Plus, i really get it.  i am experiencing pretty intense asha fatigue right now myself.  i would give a small fortune (if i had it) to be out of the stress and despair and loss which imbues my days.  i would wave a magic wand and change who i am.  But instead, i am stuck here thinking about the people i love who have died, the bloody and broken shards of my heart all around me, the struggles ahead of me, and the absolute bleakness coating my vision.

 

**UPDATE**IMG_1919

i have spoken to a few people who suffer from depression since publishing this blog, both on the phone and in person, as well as a couple who don’t have classic depression but have gone through really shitty things.  And they insist it is not actually an asha-specific phenomenon.  It’s simply “depression fatigue” or “suffering fatigue.”  Does it make me a bad person to take some encouragement from that?

Another twenty minutes

the studio 1
a view of the gallery part of my studio

Really, by the time i finished getting the photographs together, i am down to fifteen minutes for a blog.  However, i really think it is important to write something down today and fling it into the ether.  My first drop in class for the season – not a regularly scheduled student – will begin at noon.  My kiln is filled with sculptures and tinypots and as soon as it has cooled enough to harvest the shelves, i will start another kiln firing, all pots in fire red and ocean blues.  Even though the house is in a terrible state, the price paid for doing so much work out here, i am halfway through a business plan, i have been able to keep the gallery open for customers, the gallery/studio itself looks really good despite being back into production.  Kind people have offered to help me through the last legs of this rough patch.  i am getting responses to my ads for the rooms for rent upstairs in the house – and even had one walk through already. Customers are coming to look at my art, and soon they will be coming back to buy.

Even though i am still so far behind and have been in the pit for too long, some sunlight is starting to make it to me from the surface.  Small, delicate fingers of sunbeam whose caress means the world to me.  A deep stirring in my spirit tells me that this is not just the blessed entrance of spring, but it has something to do with how i am moving through the world.  Even on the days i have had to force myself out of bed, i have.  When i felt bankrupt of all words and inspiration, i kept working.

the studio 2
that this table is clean makes me happy beyond words

i realized something over the past few months – even when i am despondent, and my thoughts circle defeatism’s drain, i actually cannot quite surrender.  Of course i can have a temper tantrum for a night or two, and i can bring out several people to testify to the whining, eventually something in me started going forward again. Even when i am not ruled by joy and hope, although i always wonder if i madness and faith are more accurate, i cannot actually manage the process of surrendering.  This is a lesson i have to keep learning: i do not really have the common sense to give up even when other people demand that i should.  Thankfully, i have enough other people in my life who are just as dedicated to the arts as i am, who have inexplicable faith in me, and they have spent a lot of energy this winter keeping me going.  i am grateful to them beyond words.  In fact, i find myself singing these thanksgivings as i putter about the organized studio/gallery.

And now, as i wait for today’s students, i feel like some of the flowers in the yard.  My roots grow strong again, and i have started to open up to the wind, the sun, and celebrate the possibility of change with every cell and all my heart.

The Blessings in New Year’s Day

studio5I love my studio.  It was part of the reason I chose this house in the first place, after working in a tiny studio in Virginia or in my condo’s small living-room.  Two floors, the upper that could be private, a sanctum sanctorum for art, and the other for teaching and messy, muddy work.  The big door to bring in canvases and (as it turned out) kilns, wheels and tables. It felt decadent.  I had space for kilns and wheels and slab rollers and tables.  I could teach and make art on a level that I had not previously conceived.

Today, Lara Max was kind enough to watch the pop up after we drew for the raffle today (we only have one more full day – given the weather coming in Sunday, we’re going to let artists start collecting their work at 2 pm Saturday) and during those lovely empty hours of the afternoon my friend Melisenda Ellis helped me with a project I had been stressing over and avoiding:  moving my wheel into the house so that I can keep making pottery this winter.  There was a huge part of me that resisted this change, even though it was unavoidable.

Heating two buildings last winter was crippling financially – I just cannot do it again.  Now, there will be times I can work in the studio – just after a kiln has fired while it is heated by red-hot pottery wrapped up inside fire-brick – but to get the bulk of whatever sculpting and throwing I want to do this winter done would require my wheel and tools to be here in the house. Praying for a miracle windfall of cash has not been as effective as making do with the resources I have: a spare room in the warm house.  By Halloween, I had moved the glazes (and the shelves required for them) to the house (again, thanks Mel).  However, the wheel had been too much for that dayDSCN5425, both physically and psychologically.

Today, even though it was cold, we had no ice, no snow and (thanks to Mel’s kindness) two strong women to muscle the equipment over.  The wheel now sits on hard plastic in my spare bedroom.  While we worked, I had an epiphany on how to protect the walls and floor from clay splatter and how to set up my tools for easy access.

A lot of them sit in the kitchen, waiting to be washed so I can start my work for the winter with that last box of porcelain.

tovanquishthesefears
to vanquish these fears – i force my arms to open – i begin to dance (one of the prizes in today’s raffle)

After Mel left and I sat here on the couch being exhausted, listening to my back mumble curses at me, I realized this was one of the best New Year’s blessings I could have gotten: two good friends willing to help me out.  Lara made phone calls for me – something that is a greater kindness than she could know.  Mel’s willingness to lend her strength and stamina to push my dreams a little further has consistently left me grateful.  A chance to continue making art – vanquishing my worries about the change of venue – is a blessing beyond compare.  If I am honest, I will tell you: I already miss the studio.  This solution is not perfect.  I will have to be quite vigilant about clay dust and mess (and curious cats) in the house.  The rhythm of my work will change, without doubt.  However, the important part is that the work will continue. New ideas and challenges already bubble up in my imagination. I already know what my first post-firing project will be – how to best use the slab roller and the work table when I can be in the studio, exploiting a brief gust of heat.

It will be another few days before the spare bedroom is ready for me to be actively throwing and by that time my back will stop complaining about today’s lifting (and it could have been so much worse – Mel moved the clay for me!)

But, today was a new beginning – like every day, every moment.  This particular beginning was proof that I am not alone in this world – that I still have good friends and my art.

Really, what more could I have asked for?

 

 

Thankful for friends

The past few days have been trying, brimming with more chaos and disappointment than I can easily absorb.  Yet, no fewer than three times, I have wept in gratitude: responding to these difficulties, the universe has stepped up to make my journey better through the timely and wonderful intervention of friends.

danceunderthemoonSometimes, I get caught up in my suffering enough that I forget the wondrous blessing that friendship is.  People who have no duty or obligation to you choose to spend their time talking with you.  When you reach out, they help. They go out of their way to make you part of their life.   How glorious is that?  Really, right now, it feels like the most poignant miracle.

Where would we be without those who reach out a hand to drag us out of the muck?

I will save the narrative of this sequence of difficulties for later blogs.  Lord knows, I can complain later.  I have the skills.

For right now, though, I want to thank those who have called, helped me with the heavy lifting, listened to me whine on the phone or in person, given me advice, shared rather existential conversations with me when the small discouragements lead to ponderous ponderings, and just generally let me be in a close orbit to them for a spell.  Both last summer and this, I have realized that I have more people on whom I can count than I ever knew.  In fact, I think I would have gotten more cause to be grateful if I had not missed a couple of phone calls yesterday from friends down in Virginia while I was selling art at a cooperative up here in Maine.

Make no mistake: my life is possible because of friendship.  These good friends have reminded me that no matter how lonely I get, I am not actually walking this path alone.  I am thankful.

poem: gethsemane

i am with you in Gethsemane,
Lord,
only i am so weary.

My eyes cannot stay open,
my hands tremble.
They have extinguished
the flame they hold.

i fail you, Beloved,
and i grieve.

i gnash my teeth
in my sleep,
until my gums bleed.

i dream of how i fail you.

Then, upon waking,
i ask you for your help again,

i raise my voice
and beg for forgiveness.

As always, you bend down
and absolve me,
even though we both know
no matter what i do,
how hard i try to stay awake,
it will just happen again.