Tag: joy

the face i dare not show

Again, today, i heard something familiar.  When discussing anxiety and the trouble it can cause, the person i was talking to smiled brightly and said, “Yeah, you say you have anxiety, but you always look so cheerful and confident to me.  I don’t think it’s real.”

At first i felt frustrated.  Her image of me spits in the face of the reality i know.  Then i realized, to her experience of me, she must feel fully justified in her opinion.  There are faces i dare not show.  She only sees me on my best, bravest days.  For, thank heavens, i have days were i can walk through the world unhampered. Whether it be from medication or a sense of duty or just a miracle from the divine, i get these gifts of days when i am useful and reliable. Responsibilities have always had enough power over me to push me past fear and worry – only, i tend to fall apart when i get home, once the adrenaline wears off.

Yet, on the highest anxiety day, no one will ever see how fear and self-loathing can cripple me, because i will be hiding behind locked doors with the computer and the phone off.  Pain feeds the anxiety, and they will amp each other up over the course of time until i am rendered impotent. If you come to check on me during one of those spells, and knock on the door without my expecting it, i will hide in the bed, or crawl into the tub where no one peering in a window can see me, utterly terrified.

On the next step up, i might interface with you through social media or text or email, but i cannot get past my fears to pick up the ringing phone.  i stare at it in mild horror as it bleats for attention. It jars the fragile zen i can maintain while alone. Those moments are what caller ID and voicemail were made for.

Those days, i meditate for hours to keep myself calm.

Most of the time, i feel like an overfilled apple cart, one more apple and the whole thing will fall apart. My wheels will roll off in opposite directions, the structure of my being will collapse into a thousand pieces, fruit flying everywhere.  Worst of all, that new apple could come from anywhere.  Someone asks me to do a job, and i don’t feel like i can say no and i am suddenly (more) overwhelmed.  Another medical bill comes to me, that i cannot pay, because i am still limited in how i can make money.  A lot of days, i cannot check the mail.  The thought of it makes me start to tremble with angst.

The worse it gets, the more impossible it is to reach out for help, because people can be too helpful trying to solve my problems, as though anxiety means i cannot know what will work for me.  For every useful piece of advice, i have also had my heart broken.  What if i unburden my anxiety and someone uses that as opening to stoke my greatest fears (thank heavens you can’t make art so much any more, it was really awful) or my most tremendous guilts (Is that why this paperwork isn’t done?  What do you do with your days?) and the whole rickety construction of coping disintegrates?

Even worse, what if i do ask for help and then i am too needy, i keep talking too long, my need for a sense of belonging or compassion overriding my common sense? When i am in great pain, i distract myself by talking – it uses up so much less focus than listening. i am aware that i am listening too little and talking too much just like i am aware inside a dream.  Seeing that look of boredom or imposition on someone else’s face in response to my yammering can wreck me too.  i do not want to be the one who complains all the time, one of those people who see doom in every moment and cannot begin to have a positive thought or feeling.

For the anxiety, the depression, always live in tension with the joy i get from making art, the love that i feel for my friends, the multitude of blessings that i freely admit exist in this life of stress.

There are those tremendous days when i can move mountains. Thanksgivings pour from my throat until i am hoarse. And, there are the terrible days when no one sees me because i am hiding in a dark house, too afraid of everything to turn on a light.

It’s both.  Most of the time, i am in some kind of middle space – not moving mountains but not paralyzed either – and there’s no magical solution.  Progress can be excruciatingly slow, but inching forward nonetheless.  If i can work, i do.  If something urgent needs to be done, i can often put on the big girl pants, despite the chafing, and get it finished.  Often i am better at a regular job than my own art, because i am less invested in the ultimate outcome.  There are clear rules and procedures that help guide me. i can be glib and funny and am expert at hiding my pain.

So, with me and, i imagine, with many others who have anxiety and depression: what you are seeing is the best of us.  The worst is reserved for my cats, my dog, the two or three people closest to me, and those moments of solitude when suffering echoes around inside my own skull.

 

shifting heartbeat

A quick moment of joyous celebration!

My taxes are all but done, all the background work done, ready to be filed tonight.  Slowly, i must be becoming an adult, because i actually did it this year without tears or weeping or too much of a desire to drink.

Responses are coming in to the 30 resumes/job applications that i sent out over the past week.  Now, obviously, none of this guarantees me a job, but still it is delightful to experience forward movement. Plus, after this long year of debilitating ill health, to feel strong and able enough to have a regular job feels like a treat in itself.

It’s odd how things turn, how heartbeats shift.  For so long, i had looked at a ‘job’ that wasn’t making art as a defeat, suddenly it is a blessing of the highest order.  i know i will continue to make art, and to write, but being able to pay my bills would be a major boon.

Best of all, for this is where my soul resides, i have been drawing and writing again.  The current story enchants me, the ones that have been stalled for the past year have begun to invade my dreams and thoughts again.

Several times, I have gushed my gratitude at friends saying, “i feel like i’m becoming myself again.”  However, the miracle goes even deeper.  The whole character of the world changed while i was down – it became a place of tremendous kindness and love – and now, i am able to put my weight on those blessings.  i am walking on different ground.  Oh, how that makes me sing, and laugh, and dance as much as these hips allow.

After the taxes are totally finished tonight, i will paint.  i already have the canvas on the easel, waiting for all my stuff done.

 

 

The energy of pain.

If you were sitting across the table from me right now, watching me fidget and listening to me laugh too loudly, i would tell you: this is the energy of pain.  For months i have been retreating as often as i could into mediation and stillness. The sensation of being inside this skin was so overwhelming that i hid inside the sanctuary of solitude and quiet. As a result, my ability to listen to my body is stronger than it has ever been. So, trust me when i say that as i write these words, the energy of pain sings in high relief within my awareness.

Before it gets incapacitating, pain can create a perverse surge of energy.  Perhaps this is actually the need for distraction, building up inside until it starts to burble out in images, in stories, and in attempts to work that feel more like spasms than anything useful. Limbs cause enough discomfort to keep me from standing for a long time. Twelve days out of surgery, i have to keep myself from lifting heavy things. My body needs me to be conscious of my limitations.

The miraculous shift in my flesh has made such self-restraint chafe.  i want to do and go and be! The pain is so much better! Optimism so fierce that it borders on delusion has returned to my soul! Quietly, slowly, my internal engines of inspiration, discipline and resiliency have started to churn once more.

Months ago, i made a resolution to be kind to myself. i renewed the vow at the beginning of lent (giving up my tendency to verbally abuse myself when i am in distress.) However, after so long down, after ten months watching my circumstances disintegrate while my body could not function well enough to fix the problem, i am welcoming any energy that comes to me – even that which carries this unpleasant hue.  i cannot repress the feeling that all will be well, simply because one simple surgery could change so much.

My uterus, the tumors that were trying to break out of it, and about half the load of pain i had been bearing were removed in a four hour long operation. (According to one of the surgeons a tumor that was peeking out of the organ had its own tumors, like little unwanted ears.  No wonder the process of removal took some time.) The first thing i said when i came out of anesthesia was “Oh, my God, the pain is so much better.”  And in the days following surgery it became even more apparent. Recuperating at a friend’s house, i felt like i was taking advantage of her kindness.  Despite the incisions, i felt stronger and more able than i had for at least a year.

i can tell my body is wounded and healing.  This has done nothing to fix my hips or my problems with my spine, not to mention fibromyalgia, diabetes and the other health issues with which i struggle, but this current level of pain does not incapacitate me.  Even with the buildup of energy that i am experiencing right now, i am coherent enough to write. i am aware enough to be filled with ideas and inspiration.  i could literally burst with hope, simply because i am no longer feeling completely impotent inside my skin.

Before surgery, i kept thinking about my journey. The part of me that tried to get pregnant for twelve years mourned. All the hopes and dreams that i had lost over the years passed through me like shades, giving me the opportunity to ask them to leave, to be carried out of me with my womb.  Once the hysterectomy was finished, i was filled with a sense of peaceful closure. i will always feel some grief over the family i never had, but the contentment is greater. Even more profound, i accepted something that i had said before but never quite let settle down into my cells: i am the end of my line, which means, damn it, i need to stand up and make this journey worth all the trouble and suffering.

So, if you see me over the next few days, and i am bouncing or drifting on my feet, talking too fast about random things, getting so excited about the thought of making art and crafting story again, please forgive me. i believe i am finally able to dig myself out of this hole, and i am marshaling whatever forces i can toward that goal. The energy of pain can be off-putting to the people around me, i know, but please understand, i am giving thanks every single moment for the fact that my body’s burdens have grown lighter.

 

poem: feathers

Close my eyes
and the world
opens up
into a riot
of color and music.

A few slow breaths
and the wings
of my Spirit
extend
until i can brush
the corners
of Creation
with my feathers.

In the stillness,
quiet becomes music
filling every empty space
with absolute loving joy.

It is so tempting,
to hide within
this glorious refuge
of communion and dream –
but eventually
the eyes must open
and the sounds of life
register upon the ears.

But even awakened,
the experience remains.

i smile with joy
as i remember
those wings
and the infinite bliss
of that sublime
sacred
ecstatic
dance.

16 december 2015

meditation

poem: delicate balance

The engine
of my ambition
has broken down today.

It sits in the sun-drenched field
like an ancient tractor,
unwilling to move.

It has served its time.

All that is left
is this intense need
for quiet and stillness –
i would do nothing today
that would compromise
this delicate balance,
for one hand holds peace
while the other dances
with oncoming winter.

There is no shame
in movement,
for i am normally driven.
i love the days
when wild ebullience
flows through me
like music,
riding bareback
on ink
or paint
or clay.

Ah, but not right now.
In this instant
i am the wind
and the leaf,
completely clear
in my vision
if i don’t wreck my focus
by trying.

30 november 2015

fierceness

poem: burning advice

They break my heart.

“Do it for love.
Give up on any pretensions
of eating or paying your bills
through this labor.
You know,
these words you write
and the art you make
have no use.

“It is time to acknowledge
failure.

“You have to accept
that you cannot eat bliss.

“Your joy is irrelevant
to your debtors.
We, your friends,
are tired
of watching you struggle.
You have to realize
that your art
is just for your own benefit.

“Do it for the love of it,
in your spare time,
and give up the rest.”

i want to take their words outside
and burn them
under the full moon.
This is not helpful.
This feels astoundingly cruel.
To take away the one thing
that gives life meaning
and expect me to act
as though this wisdom
is a gift?

No.

i willingly embrace madness
when your reasonable sanity
would rob me
of my reason for living.

i become the villain,
using up resources,
failing to pay my bills,
struggling through injury and illness
only so i can make art again.

But, i have no other choice.

There are only 24 hours
in a day,
and i have so little energy,
i must be merciless
in where i put my effort.
Every moment wasted
hurts my soul.

If i do not give myself over
to the mistress of art
who has saved me so often,
there will be nothing left of me
to survive.

After they have their say,
and my tears
have exhausted themselves,
i burn their words
on the altar
of my unreasonable,
insane hope.

20 november 2015

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.

seventy-five pounds

IMG_1582On the 23rd of May, i hurt my left shoulder for the second time this year – an incident that left me screaming and clutching my arm to my chest.  For days, normal activity was severely compromised and making pottery out of the question.  Pain made me mostly useless.

Today, three weeks later, i threw seventy-five pounds of clay and transformed it into IMG_1579 eighteen lovely bowls.  For the first time in months, no piece failed; even as i got tired and sore, my coordination didn’t suffer.

i found myself singing with joy.  i kept murmuring thanksgivings.

This kind of blessing during a time of struggle gives the heart hope.  If i can throw seventy-five pounds of clay, i kept marveling as i finished the last, largest bowl, then maybe everything else is possible.  What a joyous notion!

Let’s see what i can get done tomorrow, and what art will come to me while i am at Artspace Gallery in Rockland on Monday.

twenty minutes

raining i just used up all the hot water in the tank doing the dishes and it will take twenty minutes to get some warmth back.  The limitations of my hot-water heater has given me a chance to blog.

Part of the reason that the dishes had stacked up for so long was that my injured hand could not hold the dishes well or without significant pain.  The other reason is that when confronted by the desire to make art and the need to do dishes, the former almost always wins.  At any rate, while i cleaned plate after plate, rejoicing over my left hand’s healing, i started mulling over the other things i have not been doing as i should: blogging, posting on social media, just generally reaching out even to my customers.

Part of it has been a conscious choice as to what kind of art i should make. i am aware that what is welling up inside me contains sorrow and fear.  The decision is whether or not to give those emotions a stronger voice.

Years and years ago, a friend typed in a lot of poetry for me when i was having health issues that made the job impossible.  Those poems contained vast despair, interspersed with moments of bliss.  Watching how she reacted to that collection silenced my pen for a bit, even though she kept thanking me for the rare poems of joy.  Then, a couple of years ago, someone blue hairwas looking at thespirit_goddess paintings to the left and shook his head, saying no one wants to see pain.  By that time, my art had already shifted toward things like the holy spirit to the right.  Despite whatever internal grief i suffered, my art channeled happiness.  So i smiled at my friend’s advice,  because, somehow, i had already taken it.

That is, until this winter.  i cannot count the times i stopped my hands from drawing or painting or sculpting because i sorrowknew the things rumbling about in my mind would produce art like that to the left which flooded out of me six years ago.   Art can be a purging – an exorcism of grief and sorrow.  This helped heal my soul all those years ago.

If i want to be honest about my experience of life, there will always be a bit of art that will evokes the darkness.  Sometimes, even when i give myself leave to create something just for the sake of my sanity, the joy still peaks out.  A drawing of howling despair turns into song. There will also always be joy – peeking through even during the hardest times.

This is not one of the hardest time.  i know that, deep in my soul.  i can go back to poems written years ago and realize how much sunlight has conquered the sorrow.  An indefinable, unconquerable strength has kept me going this winter and for that spark of grace i am wildly grateful.  May it continue to keep me slogging through.

However, i have made a choice, for myself alone.  i don’t think i am going to quiet the art that would come forth, even when i know it might be soaked in blues.  The cost of keeping it bottled up is too high – for it stifles what other art that would come.

 

stealing time

A thief again,
i have been stealing
from my obligations
to other people
and giving time
to myself.

i hide away,contentment_alt
turn everything off
but the sweet stilling music.

Guilty like Robin Hood,
i steal from those tasks
that gobble up days in a mouthful
and give a few intimate hours
to mold a figure in clay,
to let these words
flow across the page.

Reality struck me like a blow
last Tuesday –
the ten thousand chores
on a dozen to-do lists before me
will never go away.
One task accomplished,
three rise in its place.
Requests and demands
will always come
like moths to a flame,
the light of energy and ability
being irresistible.

i have to learn to say no.

Even better,
i must learn to state
“not now”
with singular clarity and purpose.

In my heart, i begin to believe
that i am fully valuable,
deserving of peace and art.
Even without that justification,
the results are profound:
after a few quiet hours,
i feel restored.

Even the mountains of toil
for the benefit of others
do not feel as heavy
with ink staining my hands.