Tag: making art

feeling like an artist again

This weekend we had an event at the studio.  My business sign went back up and we compensated for the fact that the studio is still in the chaos of change by putting up a tent and selling our wares from the front yard.  This involved both my art, and the art of my roommates – check out their work at Neko-Jin Designs and The Common Shaman.   (Their work is on the right and I can attest to the quality.  The jewelry is powerfully lovely and those pillows are freaking huggable.)

The experience has left me exhausted and in a lot of pain, but for the first time in ages I feel anchored in what I do – I am a maker to my core.  During the first day, Friday, I was able to make 60 wee watercolors and pen and inks. Although, insomnia did help with that glut of drawings.  Yesterday, I made about five slightly larger pen and inks.  Today, I was a poet.

Sitting in the sun with nothing to do other than create and sell art was a joy.

A lot of locals came by, pleased that I am not either dead or moved out of the area.  It let me know how far I have hunkered down during this past two years.  Oh, but the change in my circumstances brings up such optimism.  Life has gotten better.

This time in 2015, I could not move my left arm much at all, I could not throw, I lost nearly all my income for the full year. Surgery on the shoulder in October 2015, then a hysterectomy in February 2016.  But by June of that year, things began to change.

Even now, I am still struggling – my hips need to be replaced, I am in a cauldron of pain – and yet, I am still making art.  Somehow, I have survived all of the crap that came my way.  Even heartbroken, I made art.  Even when I can barely walk,  I am making and selling art.  I am working as hard as I can to keep my house and have been grounding myself in faith that I can do it.  There have been days that I had to dig deeper within for strength than I thought I went, but it worked!

I continue forward with both my regular job and the art that is my vocation.   The first has not dented my passion for the second.

I am so grateful for the friends who saw me through this weekend.  Perhaps I have been whining too much in these blogs, because what I should be shouting from the rooftops is how wonderful life can be when you have friends that have your back.  To be able to rely on people and know that they will be there for me, that is a priceless, beautiful thing.  They set up the tent, set up the products and then tore them down in the evening, three days in a row, all with out a stitch of help from me because I could not move any of those things. What a blessing it is to have people who do not just share your dreams but are willing to put their shoulders into fulfilling them.  This is a case of actions speaking so loudly, all words were drowned out.  Without their kindness, none of this could have been done.

Basically, this is a blog of thanks.  I am grounded in what I do again, which will help all things – the physical struggle, this financial difficulty, my regular job, my art.  If you were here, you would be able to see my smile, hear my loud, outrageous laugh and listen to me sing to my cats about the glories of life.

I have “all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well” tattooed on my arm. Too often, I need the reminder. But, today, I did not read it.  Indeed, I did not even glance at it.  The next few months are going to be very hard, financially and physically, but good friends are teaching me that I can trust in the universe enough to reach out.  I am asking for help and receiving kindness.

This is the miracle of my life.

Because, I am talking about asking for help, I am compelled to say: you can make me $3 closer to being able to sustain myself while I am recuperating from surgery. My end of that deal will be to keep making art, even when I am flat on my ass in bed.

But for now, let not think of what could go wrong.  Instead, let’s sing songs of joy and thanksgiving!

naked truth

For weeks, i have searched for a way to talk about this through fiction, because i did not want to dwell upon my personal experience more than i already have.  However, telling the truth is what i do best.  And, to be honest, part of the problem is that i do not want to ask for help.  i do not want to talk about what i cannot do alone.

The first person to mention the near impossibility of the situation i was creating for myself was my primary care doctor, just after my divorce.  “Without doubt, you qualify,” she assured me, “with the PTSD alone.” The physical problems – asthma, thyroid disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia (or whatever that diagnosis would be now), the back and hip problems – they would all be gravy.  She all but begged me to accept that I needed to apply for Social Security Disability.

Only, the statement strung me up between two different agonies.  i need to work, for i cannot quite give myself quarter for any suffering – mental, emotional, or physical – but simultaneously, i feel like i am dying by inches, pushing myself too hard.

Regardless of my bull-headed stubbornness, i am drowning financially.  Even though i am working as hard as body and mind are able, i quite literally cannot make ends meet.

This is not a new story, unfortunately.  Nor is it unique to myself.

Over $20,000 of medical debt hangs around my neck like a noose.  This is the aggregate due from years of issues: two major surgeries, a hospitalization, three trips to the ER, two ambulance rides, not to mention every deductible, copay, and uncovered medication. Add to that the small business loan that i got when things were going ridiculously well, that now feels like cement boots.  This past month, in order to pay them, even partially, i had to forgo food, gas money and put off the mortgage for about two weeks. If you want to make me cry, lets talk mortgages.  i finally got it refinanced, but now, eight months later, i will be two weeks late.  The angry letters have already started. Not only am i at a loss for utilities and the cats’ vet bills, i have no idea how to buy the medicines i need to treat the aforementioned diabetes, thyroid disease and despair.

Last night, i wept because the list of things i have bought recently would not stop going through my mind.  i purchased a lawnmower because the grass was as high as my nipples.  My car needed new breaks, because stopping can be a good thing. Then i got $12 of new shoes so that I would have something other than the $5 flip flops to wear to work.  For my birthday, i bought a $28 pair of wireless headphone so my constant need for music would not drive my new tenants to madness.  When i got a promotion at work, two days after my birthday, i celebrated by going out to eat.  Let me tell you, guilt is a terrible seasoning.

For a solid year, i have focused on the regular job that makes reliable money, but its paychecks cover the mortgage, the small business loan and maybe my car payments.  All other responsibilities make me seem like a deadbeat.  Only by the time i am done working this job and making some art, i am exhausted beyond all measure.  Things like selling art have languished.  Too many paintings and drawings are collecting dust.

When i first heard the word foreclosure – only to find out that the mortgage company with whom i had been working for months had sold my mortgage – i reached out to a mortgage specialist.  It was my first day in the studio after having shoulder surgery, and i was still unable to bend because i was awaiting a hysterectomy.  The pain i faced was intense.

“You have done everything right,”  he said gently, “I am looking at how you paid everything off until the medical bills began to pile up…”

i am still digging out.  This month, i am short.  Something will not be paid and i have no clue how i will get the cats’ vetted, my medication purchased or food bought.  Meanwhile, i continue to get messages from clients who have not paid me, asking me if these long standing health issues have vanished so that i can do more work for free. This perception that art or design is not work worthy of being paid for, or that the artist is not worthy of being recompensed for their effort, devastates.  If you value what i do, if you like my art, then this is the time to let me know.

A $100 would pay a bill.  After that, it would be a war within my heart over feeding and maintaining my animals and myself and paying other bills.  The past three years have been, quite literally, hand to mouth.  Desperation has made me put art up for sale again, despite the exhaustion and overwhelm, and with that i hope to at least get the cats to the vet.

However, i bleed over my financial failings.  To a large degree, it feels like i bet on myself and lost – but i knew before i started working as an artist professionally that my health was compromised. Only the call to make art is something fundamental to me, it cannot be denied.  i feel shame that i fell into such disability that i was unable to continue my business’ growth. This fuels my determination to make good on every debt.  Even if i am still making tiny installments when i am ninety, i will pay everyone, even the ones to whom repayment has not begun.  i tell myself – ceaselessly, hoping the repetition will hypnotize me into believing it is true – that things will get better.

Still, i never forget, i am the person who is reviled by those who talk about the poor like we are pariahs.  i have been utterly undone – more than once – because if ill health.  Even now, living paycheck to paycheck, the struggle to maintain this level of activity is punitive. Daily i am faced with the choice between taking care of my health and fulfilling the responsibilities placed upon me. Even making art or writing a poem comes at a cost, wearing me down further.

How else can i live, though?

Being able to work feels like a privilege – and one too many have thought i could not manage.  My friends who are on disability are much braver than i am, able to move down a path i could not.  Unfortunately, i know, someday i may have to follow them despite my best efforts, but for now i am doing every dance i can to keep myself from that excruciating choice.

Whether i like it or not, i have to spend money on food, gas, car and house repair and medicine.  Therefore, i have to burn the candle at every possible point, throwing my work out into this world, no matter how exhausted i am.  Even if i were content to make art in a vacuum, which i am not, i am not going to be able to survive without more income.

So, here i am.

For once i am being utterly transparent about my movies and situation: i need your help if i am going to keep going as a human being, much less as an artist.  Your support will keep my animals and me alive.  If you buy a painting, or a drawing, it clears space for another to come into being.

And, if you are in the same position i am financially, i will be grateful if all you do is share this story, spread word about my art, and use both to build compassion for those of who us toil on fulfilling our dreams and who work our hearts out to live on the razor’s edge between triumph and dissolution.

 

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For a few hours yesterday, i published this blog.  However, i woke up after a night of howling nightmares and put it back into draft mode. The dreams kept going back and forth over the same ground – my subconscious pacing – obsessed with the one thing that i had forgotten to mention.  This blog talks about how troubles that i face came to be and how i have to ground my hopes in art again which can only be done with your help. Talking about the naked truth of my current situation made me feel exposed, more than all the poetry that i have written combined.  Yet the thing that my dreaming kept reminding me of was that i should not be alive.  During the past few years of struggle with agony and illness, i have tried to kill myself twice.  Haunting despair crumbled my heart more than i could describe. It has been because of friendships, unexpected blessings and hard work that i am still here.  i have a job that gets me most of the way to solvency and for now, my health lets me manage it, even if the margin is narrow at times.  i have friends that are unbelievably good and slowly i am coming to terms with who i am at this moment, and beginning to appreciate this hot mess of being.

So, yes, I am asking for help, for understanding, for a sense that i am not howling into the darkness – but i need to leave this writing by telling you that i am so grateful to have made it this far.

change

screaming_squarei am learning so much about myself during these past few months.

In a pinch, i can wake up early in the morning, consistently, although apparently never with joy.  i much prefer waking up in the very late morning after a night of work.

Despite having massive anxiety issues, i can put on a mask of confidence that, miraculously, people seem to accept as reality.  If i can keep the nightmares in check and manage to get some restful sleep every night, then i’ll keep getting better and maybe, someday, that mask will truly be real.

i am at peace with not knowing things… much more than i ever expected i could be.

After so long struggling, it looks like i might be able to get my house refinanced, avoiding foreclosure and a traumatic move.  However, even with that boon, it will be a long slog for me to dig myself out of the hole i am in financially.  Still, i have a slightly bigger shovel to use than i did four weeks ago.

Poetry and drawing will make their way through me, even if they have to ambush me during still moments. Stories, too, queue up and wait patiently for their time.

thesun_squareThe most profound lesson is that i am stronger than i expected, particularly when it comes to interacting with others.  Looking back, i don’t know when this shifted, but it is lovely to no longer care about those who hurt me like i once did.  Gone are the endless second guessings and guilt, well, unless it involves those i love – i care so much more then. Unfortunately, i remain quite wary of people after they have wronged me – but at least, now, i have the chance to work on it.

For these lessons, i am so grateful.  For the trial that i had to go through to get to this place, well, i suppose i’m grateful for that too. And, i know, this is just a beginning. In so many ways, i am still a hot mess. i will keep writing, keep drawing, keep working to maintain a balance between other responsibilities and the overwhelming drive to make art… and, maybe, i’ll be able to start blogging here again – for a month, all my effort has gone into my other blog.  Still, there is no rush.  All things will come in their own time.  In this moment, all is well.  For that, how can i be anything other than thankful?

 

too long

It has been too long since i have written here, although i have been writing like a fiend in other areas of my life. Four poetry collections are compiled and in the process of being edited and transformed into works that flow with some level of grace.  A short story and a novel keep plodding forward, although progress has been slow.  Most days, i fall into bed utterly exhausted and without a dent made in my to-do list.

My art has falls into stolen moments.  i have a thousand things i ought to be doing on any given day – from the regular job to housekeeping to managing the mental breakdown that seems to be stalking me to digging myself out of this financial hole.  However, no matter how busy or frenzied i get, i have to be creating, or i will truly lose my sanity. Huge amounts of micropoems and small drawings flood out of me when i have more than five minutes of idle time.  Most of them are being collected on another blog – handprints on the wall – to separate them from the work that requires more focus and editing.

Once these tiny poems are written, by in large, i don’t worry about them anymore.  When the drawings are scanned and cleaned up, they no longer rent space in my awareness.  Yet they are left, like the cave paintings in ancient times, scattered about my rooms.  They move effortlessly into the hands of others.

Hopefully, i will be back to writing here more regularly now that summer has passed and the demands on my time have begun diminishing.  Otherwise, i will be writing – just moving forward a bit more slowly.

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.

 

Howling at the moon

Right now, i feel like Godzilla.  i am stomping through-out my house, absolutely graceless, quivering with agony.

The dog must have eaten something particularly appalling, because he has been sick all day, taking out every blanket, towel, sheet and quilt covering every soft surface in the building. He even nailed one of the cats. If he weren’t still begging for food and acting ridiculously cheerful for one so gastrically challenged, i would be more worried.

Thankfully, i think he will make it through this prodigious mess.  For the past two hours, he has been content to sleep on yoga blankets on the floor.

As i watched him suffer today, i realized, i don’t think i am doing much better.  Most of the time, i force myself into this state of magical denial. All is well, my body loves me, i can do anything – and then, on the odd night, all the illusions are stripped away. No matter the power of distractions, i start to feel it. pileoartMy mind starts to list all the things that i have to do, projects on which i have fallen behind, all the price paid for my current situation. Between the physical discomfort and the psychological torment, i am reduced. What remains is the most brutal fundamental: i am suffering and right now, there is no miraculous solution.  i am stuck with this pain, with this frustration, with the sheets being slowly cleaned of various disgusting things, so i can’t even lay down and take what comfort that could bring.

Thwarted, i did what i do – i made art.  Now that my brain is coming back to itself, realigning after stopping the antidepressants, two qualities have returned to me: the need to create and the hatred for being idle.  No slack is given for feeling this desperately bad, other than to shift what work i would do.  Since i could not throw as i had planned – i started working on pen and ink drawings.  The stack above includes most of the poems and drawings of the past three days.

dieoflonelinessPoem after poem poured out of me.  Drawing after drawing.  i lost myself in the world of art, and delighted in it as long as my focus lasted.  For the past hour – between one and two am – the pain finally reached the stage where i could do nothing. i howled at the moon, absolutely impotent against this misery. But in the silence between breaths, i kept staring the pile o’ art i had made.  Tears of rage streaming down my face, i looked over some of my favorite poems from today. i was comforted.  One soothing thing in the middle of the boiling cauldron has been this recognition: i have finally become a champion of my art.  i love these poems.  The images are smooth and i find them lovely.

Even on a night like tonight, when i am shouting at the laundry for taking too long, when i am wild with distress, when i ranted at the moon about the injustice of these ridiculous burdens, i have made some beautiful things.

And, i am grateful, even in this agony.

Things must change

I am writing this during my last day sitting in an artisans’ cooperative this year; Christmas Eve, 2015.

This marks an end of an era for me. A huge amount of the galleries in which i began this year are either moving, closing (or already closed) and a few others have had sales bad enough i have to make disappointing decisions. Most of my plans for the next twelve months remain purely in the realm of the  hypothetical. What i know i will do is make pen and inks, finish at least one novel, write as many poems as i can coax through me.  Soon, i will have another surgery, and afterward i have to dedicate myself to healing and transcending whatever comes.

Never before has it been so glaringly obvious and desperate: i have to reconceive how i move through my days, even as i acknowledge that my heart beats out art as much as blood. The question remains how to do this.  How do i walk that fine line between financial need and spiritual/sanity needs? As i wrote in a poem posted fairly recently, and the haiku below that i put on twitter, art is a fickle mistress.

Art is a lover
who keeps me chained up tightly
and would let me starve.

Starving is not a viable option for an irrepressible sensualist like myself. Giving up on art, which so many have told me is the most sensible option, also seems to be impossible. Yet, i fight against incredible anxiety and fears. As much art as i create, as much as i deepen my abilities in different mediums, i have been hoxed by this relentless worry. This cannot continue. One or the other has to surrender itself – either i continue making art and become relatively fearless in its dissemination, or i surrender to my fears and live a life painfully diminished.  i do not think i could survive the latter.

So, i have to find a way. There is no other option, really, this long succession of freelance and piecemeal jobs can be the stop gap, the way to keep going, until i find a way to make art consistently pay for bread and butter.  But i must keep my focus on that far off mountain top, where the work that gives me the deepest bliss and aligns my energy with the world so well actually maintains me.

One of the miracles in my life is that this past year has brought a slew of people who believe in me enough to help me get through some terribly difficult times. When i thought i might never throw again, my friends listened to my grief; they celebrated with me when i got back to the wheel.  Gifts of food, money, time, compassion and kindness kept me afloat. As i wrote earlier, this was the year of friendship. Perhaps that is how i can find my courage – to remember that there are people who don’t just want me to succeed but see it as something that will happen, with enough patience, stubbornness and resilience.

So, this blog is a bit of a shout out to the universe at large, steeped with both prayer and intent: help me change things. Help me find a way to make this work with the blessings and limitations i have. i cannot change the basic DNA of my being, so i have to find a path that lets me keep making art AND eat.

Things will change.

Things must change.

i am apparently too stubborn to surrender, so i must find a way to be courageous and maybe even a bit wise.

The whole engine of my heart and imagination manifests this transformation.

i wish you all the best for your coming year – may all people find greater peace, kindness and love in our worlds.

Photography

I wrote this blog on the 9th, but it got preempted by the other blog about this workshop!

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Two things I should confess right away: I hate getting my picture taken and I am a terrible photographer.

So, when I was approached to be a subject for a photography workshop – which would involve my being followed around my a photographer for two days – I stared at the email for a very long time.  Then, I realized, that this was an opportunity I would be foolish to refuse and sent back an enthusiastic response. As a business woman, I could not turn down the chance to get good photographs of me throwing and trimming, not to mention decent pictures of my work.  Typically I have to take ten pictures for every decent one – if not many many more.  To see how a professional photographer does it would be a valuable experience.  As a human being, I could use the practice accepting my appearance that this exercise would demand.

The photographer with whom I was paired turned out to be a really nice guy.  Not wanting to be intimidated, I refrained from looking him up on the internet until this morning – when the workshop had ended – but now that I’ve seen his work, I am even more impressed with Tim.

What I found, during those two days, was that as long as I focused on what I was doing – treating Tim like a student, talking about the process that this pot or that carving was taking – then I didn’t tense up and feel miserable.  The mornings were weirder, making sure that I had make-up on, that my hair looked decent, that I was wearing the best clothes I could given that I would be getting clay all over them. In my real life, I don’t care about what I look like when my hands are making something.  All those insecurities dissolve in the face of paint or clay or word.  When I create beauty it does not matter that I am not beautiful. Thankfully even as the camera was clicking around me, that default state took over.  All that mattered was the art in my hands.  The few difficult moments were when we were trying to create actual portraits, and then only because I could not focus my attention onto something else.

When I got up for work today – knowing full well I would be cleaning the floors tonight from the huge amount of trimmings and dust created during those two days on film – I put on a sweatshirt, yoga pants, absolutely refrained from makeup and left my hair unwashed.  I will have a lot of dust to clean off tonight, no point in stressing my skin out with two showers.  As I started moving around, I felt deeply appreciative.  There is wild comfort in my face being bare and my body being swaddled in outrageously comfortable clothes.  I felt sudden compassion for people who have paparazzi following them around.  I feel more myself, more free, because I do not have to care how I look. This is the true uniform of my art. Although, I am also very grateful to have had the experience I did.  I can now look at a camera and not wince, thanks to Tim’s patience.

I will share the pictures when I get them.