Tag: hope

poem: do not make fun

Please,
do not make fun
of my madness.

It is all i have left
to get me through.

This persistent insanity
of faith and hope
counteracts the poison
of sober rationality.

In the face
of catastrophic failure,
i close my eyes
and demand miracles;
i convince myself
that some magic
could exist
which would let me survive.

i have become a professional
at seeing the fine silver lining
on the clouds of shit.

i beg you,
do not make me confront
the harsh judgment
of bank accounts and bills.

Please.
Give me the tease
of optimism
even when it appears
foolish,
misguided
or false.

Let me have some succor
in this cold, frozen world.

1 april 2015

feeling like an artist

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

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

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

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.

 

customer service

IMG_1439Yesterday, working in Art Space Gallery, i had a conversation with a customer that was worth its weight in gold.  Indeed, over the course of my fourth nearly sleepless night in a row, and through the drive back to ArtSpace this morning, her words kept coursing through my mind.

It had started out like nearly every other encounter in these walls:

As soon as they cross the threshold, i wait two heart beats before i smile as brightly as i can and speak with as much enthusiasm as possible without sounding weird.  “Hello!  Welcome to Art Space!”

“Hi.”  She started to look at the art.

“How are you doing on this fine day?”

“Good.”  She continues to look at the art, but she is not unfriendly by any measure.

“i don’t know if you realize this, but you have entered an artist coop – if you have any questions about any of the artists and their work, i can help.”

“Thanks.  Just looking.”  She did smile though, which is always encouraging.  However, unless people ask questions or seem open to conversation, i tend to let people look for a bit without bothering them further.  Once she reached the back room, i greeted her again – too many people miss that Lara Max has these amazing bells or that Roger Barry’s boxes have fabulous locks built into them.  Then we started talking about Lori Davis’ photography.  i told her i was in awe of the patience that it takes to be a wildlife photographer.  You have to set up before dawn, hope the sun, the clouds, the wind driven waves, the birds and the animals all do what you want or create marvelous surprises.  Then, after hours of waiting, you have to have the reflexes and the skill at composition to get the shot.

loridavis_06042015_012“This is not something that would come easily to me.”  i laughed, “This is why i am in awe.  i have a different kind of patience: i can write a book, i can spend weeks on a sculpture, i can work on a painting for two years.  However, by the time twenty minutes would have passed with me waiting for something marvelous to photograph, or for the light to get just right, or to figure out how to frame the moose, my mind would wander, my hands would fidget and i wouldn’t be able to react.  i have traded days of my life for her work, and time is the most precious thing i have, because i am in awe of her skill, her composition and her patience.  Without the patience, the other two wouldn’t have a chance to shine.”

The customer looked at me with wide eyes, nodding her head.  In a quiet voice she responded, “Thank you.”  Her hand went to her heart, “You have no idea how much I needed to hear that right now.  That feels like something divine just happened.  I feel like the message that I have to have patience is flooding over me, but you made me see it a little differently.”

A half an hour later, once she had gone through the whole gallery – and we talked about my sculpture and much of the fabulous art here by this amazing group of people – she stood in the front room as i took my seat again.  She smiled at me and said, “I don’t know why I feel the need to say this, but you know, sometimes at your darkest moments, when everything seems hopelessly lost and you have no idea what to do or where to go, that is exactly when you find your way – or get what you need.”

Instantly, tears welled up in my eyes.  “You just returned the favor.”  I put my hands out to her, hoping she could see the gratitude they were holding.  “You have no idea how much i needed to hear that.”

A few moments later, we lost something else – my surprise at finding out we had lived in the same state knocked wiser things out of the conversation – but I have been splendidly grateful for her reassurance.  She pulled me out of my fear and into a space of possibility – a great gift, particularly during this spat of insomnia and pain and stress.

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.

Pecha Kucha

01232015_af_letloveandjoywinAfter a rough start, today became consumed by car shopping and going over my presentation for tomorrow’s pecha kucha. (Now today’s pecha kucha, i suppose.  Winter has made me an incorrigible night owl again.)

i am fascinated to see what tomorrow will bring; i can’t wait to hear the other presentations.

Hopefully, the weather will not turn against us unexpectedly and the roads will be wonderful by the time we are all going to the Alamo in Bucksport.  So far, all are optimistic.

i will write more when i am not completely consumed by the words i will be uttering tomorrow.  They barely allowed another chapter of the book i am writing to puddle out of me this morning.

Although, i suppose i can remark on one accomplishment for which i am grateful: my online store has 568 different choices for you.  Paintings, prints, original pen and inks, greeting cards, bookmarks and .mp3 files – all await for purchase.  My data entry marathon nears its end… only 100 more poems or so.

See you tomorrow!

yesterday

I threw yesterday.  Two sets of dishes await firing, and the list of things I have to throw keeps dwindling: one private commission until I am caught up, then knitting bowls for an awesome local business. Two of my favorite students came for a lesson, although I had nothing to teach them.  At this stage of development, they are working independently.  All I am is a security blanket. The realization that I have done something – in this case, had a permanent effect on two people, helping them fledge as potters – filled me with happiness. Last night, I snuggled down into bed satisfied and murmuring thanksgivings.

Only today, I have been barely able to move. I awoke early in the morning weeping from the pain. My muscles were so stiff and my lungs so recalcitrant that it took hours to get myself moving.  Even now, I have a few pots left to trim and I am hesitant – IMG_5346I know my coordination is not as good as it could be and I do not want to lose these plates and bowls.

As often happens when I am in this much physical distress, I rapidly became lost emotionally.  All of the grounding, meditation, positive thinking and planning cannot mitigate that I feel truly awful right now and do not know when I will start feeling better.

I read and grumped all day, only managing to stagger out of the house for errands and to open the studio at 3 pm.  Waiting for something lovely to happen, trying to keep my spirits up, I kept pulling my thoughts out of the pit and throwing them back into yesterday.  Just 24 hours ago, I worked.  I felt valuable and vital and human.  I made good art. Perhaps, tomorrow, I will feel good and be able to work more effectively again.

Writing that last sentence, I had customers come to the studio and buy some pottery.  Sometimes gifts like that come just when you need them.  Running to the house afterward, a haiku filled my mind and stayed present until I could grab a pen and let the words emerge from my fingertips.

leaves as red as blood
until the soft, gentle rain
bore them to the earth

Suddenly, like a light, those two blessings made so grateful.  Now, again, even with all the other stress and pain –  I am singing thanksgivings.  I can trim those pots.

 

respite

For days, I have been working through overwhelm, worry and heartache the only way I know how – turning to friends for advice and comfort, meditating as much as I can, and surrendering to my body’s demands.

I have slept, rested, prayed and made what art I could.  Some of the art was lovely, some oozed with suffering and unconquerable hopelessness.  I wallowed, for certain, but my misery was interspersed with flashes of resolution and calm.  For the first time, I could celebrate my strength, even as i wept over its cost.  However, in a classic example of cognitive dissonance, I have also been stubbornly refusing to accept defeat, even though logic suggests it has already arrived.1896999_10203583401337128_274120720393616886_n

Will can be an awesome force, challenging the universe to remake itself into the form of a dream.

Last night, I fired a kiln.  This meant I could start my day slightly later – I stayed in bed and bed and retreated into poem and story for the bulk of the morning.  Once the studio reopened, I could retreat from the heat by coming upstairs for more of the same.  I wrote, then I meditated for 36 minutes (keeping track with a meditation timer on my phone that also prevents me from falling into spontaneous napping.)  During those moments the howling of my need quieted to stillness.  I dwelt in a creation nearly devoid of thought – filled only with  sound and sensation.  For the fist time in over a week, my mind and heart found place.

Of course, as soon as I get up from this blessed sanctuary of silent stillness, the world will come rushing back.  My heart will remember its lonely grief.  The monstrous collection of worry and obligation that towers over me will flex its claws and leap, aiming to sink them into my tender flesh again.

It has already tried.

Only, I am still in the embrace of meditation, so for right now, the monster slides frictionless off my awareness, falling into a puddle of unimportance on the floor.

Ask me again in an hour, or in a day, if I have maintained such equanimity.

As delightful as my practice has been, as much as it unlocks joy and love, I remain a frail, failing human.  Even my the creativity that floods out of me cannot protect me from loss and failure and pain.  Despite my growth as a human being, I find myself desiring, grieving and despairing.  Indeed, I have fought ultimate darkness this past week, by doing nothing more than accepting its presence, watching as it made plans and ranted about hopelessness, allowing it to thrash around inside my chest while I waited until faith, love, art, friendship and my innate stubbornness could take over again.

There remain times when I can manage is to not drown in those troubling nightmares for too long.  For this I am grateful.  For this, I meditate and write and pray and hope.

10 August 2014

sanity and gratitude

Gratitude is the one thing that has been keeping me sane the past few days – and I am not morningprayersure sanity is the best word for how I have been feeling.  Everything about being an artist revolves around two things: being able to make art and being able to sell it.  When either of those is compromised, it makes for terrible times.

It occurred to me a couple of days ago, as July closed its doors, that I have had three really rotten summers in a row.  From the one where I had pneumonia for eight weeks and then my kiln got struck by lightening, to the hardships last summer with my dog getting bitten and the aftermath, to this one.  Each one compromised my position more, robbing me of more savings, stamina and blind optimism.

As far as being an artist goes, this summer’s challenges have revolved around those two essential things: being able to make art and being able to sell it.  All of my galleries have been having a terrible time moving product.  In this, I am not alone, but I am particularly vulnerable.  Because I cannot do shows this year, I have lost a lot of income I otherwise would have had – and for whatever reason, sales at the studio itself had been rescuing me just enough to keep the power on and allowing me eating a bit, but not enough to buy the supplies so needed to make art or finish paying off my bills.  That sentence is in the past tense because I haven’t really made any sales for two weeks.

Which would be bad enough but too many days, I have been unable to make the art in the first place.  My coordination is off – which is a problem when the difference between art and a big mess can be smaller than a millimeter.  Most days throwing has been beyond me – taking up so much energy – but even the pen and inks can be beyond me some moments.  Even writing – which has long since been the art of choice for the bad days – has taken on new challenges.  Today, I can type but yesterday I couldn’t do this as well.  My poetry seems to be somewhat immune to an additional problem, but my memory and focus fail more and more often with the longer works of fiction.  I have to re-read them not for coherency of language but to remember which characters did which things – something that never would have been a problem before this summer.

This is excruciating – to have this art wanting to come out, all this art that already exists, and being unable to bring it into the world.  You can add how frustrating the algorithms for facebook and search engines are – even people who have specifically asked to see my art can’t unless I pay them money I cannot afford for advertising – but that would be something I could cope with if it weren’t for the rest.  Of course, I could gripe about how much better health care would help with this – as it is I am still paying the hospitals that can’t help me beyond telling me something is really wrong – but that would be another blog.  One about outrage and ranting rather than sanity and gratitude.

So, really, what I have had to anchor me is the practice of gratitude.  Trust me, there are moments this is a practice.  It does not come naturally when I am exhausted to the point I cannot move and have very little rational hope for a change in my situation.  Then, gratitude requires a rolling up of the sleeves and serious work – a true and desperate meditation.  The best metric for my desperation is my art – if it is joyous, even though I might be feeling blue as I create it, I know everything will be alright.  If it is like the poetry this morning, well, I have some work to do. Obviously, I have some grave decisions to make and I don’t want to choose from a place of despair and depression.

So, I meditated. I did this for two hours on and off today, some of it upside down to try to ease the pain in my legs, and I feel much less desperate than I did earlier.  Click here for the actual mediation I used – for sometimes real world examples are better than the abstractions.divorce_red

In a nutshell: what saves my sanity is to focus on what I am grateful for in this exact moment – not things that might happen, not things that happened yesterday.  What is going on right now, in this exact moment.  How can I even be grateful for the terrible things?  If nothing else, they prove to me that I am alive.  They can bring clarity to my actions.  Above all, sanity grows from the rich soil of gratitude.  Dangerous despair winds its vines out of the swamp of unconquerable problems.  Keeping myself standing in the first ground is crucial.  Down the other path lies intractable madness.

 

 

A poem about hope.

Hope
pure and lasting,
flowing further
than this moment’s concerns,
going deeper
than covering this month’s bills.

Hope
that sings
with every atom,
assuring
that with or without us
all will be well.

If balances shift once,
they can return again.

Everything is possible;
all joy, available.

These things i know.

This hope i can see.

Now i simply must
coax it into me.

written 31 may 2010, typed 24 june 2010