Tag: novel

starting over again

It seems surreal that i am back here again: being an artist who sells her work.  A week ago yesterday, we had an event here at the studio, after which i  committed to keeping the studio open every Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm for the rest of the year. Last night, i was so excited at the prospect that i barely slept.  Just being out here, making art, opening the door to sales, this is a big deal for me.

Truly, i believe that this is only happening because of the intervention of other artists.  Several provided me with amazing support when i face tasks that were impossible while this body languished in such a diminished state.  They have proven themselves willing to help me out when i have been overwhelmed.  In an act of belief that still boggles my mind, i have been blessed to share my studio space with creatives willing to partner their art with mine at these events.  You can see their work at these etsy shops, if you cannot travel to the coast of Maine:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/nekojindesign
https://www.etsy.com/shop/thecommonshaman
https://www.etsy.com/shop/theperfectcup

i cannot quite process the generosity of spirit that they are displaying.  Between these two and those who unflinchingly had my back over the past few  years, it has helped me create a new perspective when other people comment on my return to the world of art.  Things that would have crushed me when i was still alone, now give testimony to my good fortune.

At the first event we hosted, just over a month ago, people were surprised to see me.  They laughed, “We thought you were dead.”  Scores more told me that they heard i was having problems financially and physically, and that they were shocked i had made it through. i wondered why they talked like this, so comfortable at articulating their surprise at my continued existence, until i remembered that i am an introvert without family and have a learned to suffer alone rather than spill it out onto the shoes of random strangers.  Not to say people haven’t had to clean off the slime of woe after talking to me, but when i am on the edge of survival, i crawl into my hole and to heal.

Thus, when things got really bad for me, i retreated into art and the work that needed to be done to move from one minute to the next. It was all i could do. Overloaded as i was, i could not reach out; rejection would have been that one thing too much to bear.  No one else is responsible for those tendencies in myself, but realizing that they created the environment for those comments to appear was incredibly helpful.

By in large, i found i could eventually laugh at those statements and reassure people: i am alive, i never stopped making art, and here i am back to running a business, albeit part time.  However, it shook me to my core as a reminder that i am truly starting over.  The work i have been doing was invisible to the rest of the world, unless a manuscript wandered into your email’s inbox.   No one else saw that i had never fully surrendered; now, many can witness how reopening with hope and a support network is the greatest blessing possible for one that has been so alone.

Last week, a couple pulled me aside to discuss with great satisfaction what had been the hardest time in my life – when i had to start going backwards, cannibalizing the studio instead of investing in it, when i could not move my arm, when tumors had taken over to the point i could barely bend over without howling in pain, when i first found out that my hips would have to be replaced.  All this time later, they were still so pleased with the buy they got on the equipment i sold them so that i could keep living.  They let me know they had only come by to see if i was still selling off my tools at bargain prices.

While they gushed about the memory, i could not help but hear the echos of my the howling cries that night, realizing that with that sale of a wheel and kiln, i had admitted to myself that i was too broken to work. 

Exchanges like that would have made me feel excruciatingly isolated before, but my situation has changed.  i had people sitting beside me, ready to tell me things would not get that bad again.

My heart started to sing with gratitude over the miracle of human beings willing to roll up their sleeves and help me out, who stayed in touch and kept supporting my compulsive vocation to create.  Having people in your corner is always a blessing, but in this moment, when i realize that i am not hobbling forward by myself any longer, it feels like the sun has come out to shine on my life.

However, there is no room for denial: i am starting over as a business woman. People, quite literally, thought i was dead.  There is no greater indication that i am starting from scratxh than rising from a perceptual grave.  This voyage into business has to be different, too.  i am undertaking this journey hyperaware that my body’s needs cannot be pushed aside. Still, opening myself up be here in the studio, ready to make sales, feeds the best part of me.  This feels like a miracle.  i want to dance with gratitude; if only it didn’t hurt so much to stand.

And that sound you hear?  That is me shouting thanksgivings for the people who love me and are willing to help.

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?

 

The joy of Monday

Written 7 December 2015

Today, i worked at Harbor Artisans in Belfast.  In the peaceful quiet of a Monday, on the heels of a rather busy weekend for the store, i was able to spend most of my time writing.  First, i finished catching up on typing and editing my poems for the year, which included categorizing them into three different collections – two by theme and one for all the rest.  i ask again

However, the magic happened after that.  My hands were not very good for typing today, so i did not want to spend time frustrating myself working on a client’s project when that could happily be done at home where the muttering would bother no one.

Perhaps, i should also admit to a certain amount of awareness – for once, i had a singular sense of purpose.  i knew that this was the direction my spirit should go, into the stories that have been haunting my mind and dreams. Obeying that impulse, i took out the 3 x 5 cards i had bought in order to give my current novel a coherent structure.  For almost a year, this book had been creeping forward in several tablets of paper and in a ridiculous amount of digital files – all haphazard and spontaneous, creeping out during moments stolen from other work. The arc of the larger story has always been there, but the order of the chapters and the fine details about character and location had been unstable. This is a massive amount of information i am parsing in a memory compromised by healing and pain: this book crosses over multiple dimensions, includes at least two beings with the power to eat gods, several dragons and an abundance of characters whom i find outrageously fun to write.

Today, those 3×5 cards began to grow: one for every universe, one color to track protagonist, one for antagonist, then a stack for characters, finally one for all the major scenes, with a delightful number of them already in draft form by hand or on the computer. The book is much closer to complete than i thought. By the time the stack was collated and rubber banded together, i was humming with joy.  My sore body started dancing and moving with energy i have not felt in a long time. haiku Every bit of energy in my body was aligned and blissful.  Supreme confidence and a deep and abiding delight to be living this life filled me up like love.

About two hours after i stopped writing – having cleaned the store, closed the register, picked up the dog and driven home – i began to come down from the elation.  My spirit began to quiet.  A good friend waited for me at the house, we had a wonderful chat, i ate my dinner, all the while feeling my body lower in energy and embrace a peaceful calm.

Only, after she left, stillness started to turn on me.  The space opened to thoughts outside of flow, running against bliss’ current, doubting the certainty of action that had been such a blessing when i chose to work on the book.  It started with my phone impudently flashing bank account’s meager balance to my unexpecting eyes.  There is someone i wish i could help financially, but i cannot get blood from a stone. Every time i look at my washing machine, i feel a huge stabbing of guilt because i am so far behind on that bill, which in turn stoked a panic about all the bills i haven’t been able to pay while i had been unable to throw or move or function and the medical tests i’m having tomorrow and on and on.  Like an avalanche the stress can pick up to terrifying speed and mass as it moves.

i have worked so hard to recognize what is going on within my mind and heart so i do not feed such things, so panic and self-loathing flow through me as quickly as possible, but in that moment i was falling into belief in the worst about myself, ready to ignore the blessings of the day. i could have ruined one of the most sublime miracles of joy i have experienced in months.

i am burningBut, even then, the book saved me.  As i let the complaints about my competency wander through my mind, a character from the nexus wandered in. She manages to do amazing things despite what is a completely broken down situation.  As i wrote one afternoon, probably in early spring, she arose out of nothingness, a bit of the book that i did not expect but that has since been recognized as a pivotal point.

At any rate, by the time she entered the story, she had survived bankruptcy, lost nearly everything, but steadfastly kept working at her passions and helping those she could.  In what is probably the best testimony to my potential madness, i take great hope in the fact that she poured through my hands effortlessly and unbidden.  More often than most would believe, my writing has saved me – even if it is simply by giving a good role model for transcending financial chaos and social devolution.  Almost immediately upon the thought of her, i moved from anxiety back into the exhausted stillness.

Now, here i am, writing again.  The flush of flow has started to rev in my veins and i wonder if i will be up all night writing.  It seems likely if i don’t walk away from the computer after this blog.  It doesn’t matter, i have tomorrow morning for clients, and i will make good on my word to them.  For now, though, i am very tempted to lose myself in the story and the dream and the miracle of language.

when art fails

Every so often, things get bad enough for me physically or emotionally, i cannot even make art. Every bit of strength i have is consumed with moving for one moment to another. At this moment, my left arm is being ridiculously recalcitrant – a torn rotator cuff, apparently – and every movement hurts. Even walking, somehow, manages to mess up my shoulder. It’s been a long time since i carried anything heavy in two arms. For two and a half months, this has been getting worse and worse, but now it is impeding everything. i tried to throw the other day, and managed a lot of small pieces, but then wound up feeling much worse. For awhile, my hand was numb, it felt like a spike drove through my elbow.  Indeed, it has kept me from sleeping, or at least, from staying asleep.  That development, i am sure, contributes to my current emotional drowning. My mind cannot shake off terrible memories.  A sense of doom feels unconquerable. i am working toward getting my heart and mind in a better place so i can move forward more quickly and confidently. That said, right now, i am slow and tormented by indecision. Stress and anxiety have become constant companions.  Usually i heal myself through word and form, but today, i could not.

After many hours of desperate insomnia, i awoke barely able to move. Realizing that without downtime i would be very useless indeed, i spent the day with bell hooks, Rumi and Oscar Wilde, when i didn’t nap. The increase in my normal level of pain has left me exhausted. Over the years, I have learned to move through much discomfort, but every once in awhile, i am decimated. Today has been decimation. And yet, for whatever reason, i cannot quite surrender to my misery.

So, i have printed two books (thanks to the wonderful gift of a workhorse printer from amazing friends) and as i type, i’m printing out two years worth of poems.  Between those four works – 2014 poetry, 2015 poetry to date, Practicing Kindness and a series of interconnected stories that normally has me so excited that the writing flows from me feverish and fast – i have used up nearly two reams of paper.  As my words poured forth from the humming machine, destined to fill the next few days with editing, i realized that even on these days, i have a tremendous amount of things for which i am grateful.

 

quiet day at the gallery…

photoToday has been another gallery day – Harbor Artisans at Southwest Harbor, Maine.  This is the surest sign that summer has arrived, spending my days off from the studio at one cooperative or another.

During this exceptionally quiet day – by 4 pm, only five people have crossed the thresh-hold – I have been catching up on my writing.  Nearly all the poems I have scribbled into notebooks this year have been edited and typed into the computer.  The novel I was obsessed with over the winter – that I had to put aside in favor of pottery and the rush of stocking stores – has come surging back.  I love the days I can throw into writing without guilt or worry that I should be doing something more financially productive.

Ah, the sun is shining, the store looks beautiful and I am feeling a wave of gratitude, even though I wish other people were here, preferably buying everything in the store.

Since this blog is not the most thrilling run of drama ever, I’ll leave you with one of the cutest poems from today’s editing – about my cat Roxanne.

#

She hides –IMG_1201
nothing visible
to those seeking her
but a mound
under a quilt,
even her pink nose
and glorious whiskers
peek out under pillows,
safe,
where no one can see.

The world is cold,
noisy,
filled with wild beasts
and potential annoyance.

Within her warm womb,
she finds softness,roxi_closeup
the sweet echo of her own purr,
and the fantastic glory
of her dreams.

It is not so much
that she hides…
she retreats
into the embrace
of the best company
she knows –
her own.

 

Polis

These characters started stalking me in the summer between sixth and seventh grade, then followed me through high school, college and graduate school – quiet for long spells before they pounced, poking me with sticks and making me revisit their stories when I had greater understanding and perspective.

Each time, the motivation of the previous writer proved so transparent in the draft that I laughed over her naked need. Enough time had passed, it felt as if someone else had constructed that tale who had been fairly inadequate to the task.  So, I would take the same characters, rechristened with new names, the same premise and setting, even the same religion my twelve year old self invented and rewrite it – convinced I had expunged my baggage, hopeful this version would be the last, perfect one.

My freshman year of college, I handed an edited high school reworking in for a creative writing class and was told – for the first time, unequivocally and with great enthusiasm – that I was a writer.  That compliment further endeared the story to me.

But by the time I  got married, that college version seemed so sad – an exercise in avoidance and loneliness.  In response, I  reworked the whole thing over again, because I could not bear to leave the protagonist languishing alone and without hope.  It seemed like the sorrow of my youth had infected her life.

Now, alone again, going through the house that I ache over leaving, the pile of drafts confronts me once more.  For the first time, I  am actually impressed with that twelve year old.  She might have been working out her demons, but darn it, she wrote a book.  Even my high-school and college student selves weren’t bad – each time I did fairly a good job given the mental and linguistic equipment I possessed at the time.

As I sort and clean, I keep thinking about this story and wondering if it is time to brush the work off and edit it again.

Often my books and major stories hang about for years like guests who don’t want to go or prisoners I refuse to set free.  Or, maybe, the better image would be that they become family.  Either way, this is the oldest of my brood: at twelve, at twenty, now in the middle of my forties, there is something wildly primal about the main character.  I identify with her too much.  Although, I am sure if I rework it again, this version will hide all of that, seeing as how I am so much more mature and wise.

Too many blessings?

Some artists are really fortunate to have a strong faithful relationship with one medium.  They feel no need to flirt with others, because they are completely at peace and fulfilled with whatever it is they do.  Part of me always wanted to be like that – I had fantasies of funneling all my energy into writing or calling myself a painter knowing nothing else interfered with it – but my nature does not allow for such creative fidelity. I zip from project to inspiration, constantly pulled between blessings. A few words here, a pot there, a sculpture thrown together in between. It amazes me that I complete as much as I do given my patchwork concentration.

I wanted to compose a substantial, sage-like blog today but I was up past 2 am writing this new book.  When I awoke a few minutes before 8 am, it was because the character I had left in the ER, clinging to his life by a very fine thread, walked into an otherwise unrelated dream and demanded to know if he would survive. He shook me by the shoulders so hard, desperate for an answer, that he woke me up. Weary beyond words, I dragged myself out of bed because I realized the story would not let me get back to sleep.

In the shower, as I was deciding how desire and duty would dance throughout the day, I realized that I have equally strong impulses to throw, sculpt and write. Not to mention several dozen tiny poems that have been waiting impatiently to be etched onto slabs of clay. Sadly, I know from experience that no matter which of these blessings I choose to indulge, the others will continue shuffling around in my imagination, randomly shouting out for attention, all day long. Whatever I am doing, part of the experience will be allowing those voices to flow through me without deviating me from my task.

Of course, there will be much more to my day than raw creating. I have responsibilities I must fulfill as well: add products to Houzz and ebay, unload the kiln, glaze pottery and reload a kiln, teach two awesome students, fulfill more of the commissions that are clipped to my work shelves – like orders in an incredibly slow restaurant. Don’t let me forget the other business chores: I need to work on websites, go over promotional materials, start planning out the spring, make sure nothing massive is falling off my to-do list, check in with clients, keep up to date on my bookkeeping.  These obligations do not fill me with effervescent joy, but they are what allow me to attend to my blessings.

With all this bubbling up within me, I can still only do one thing at a time.  I have to choose between my desires and duties, focus on a specific task, and then move boldly forward. This decision cannot be fully impulsive: I have to think ahead about firings and weather and what my closest due-dates might be.  Once I know what I must do, the real problem begins.  For a brain like mine, putting all my attention onto that singular project can be almost painful.  It requires inordinate discipline, which can chafe if not applied correctly. Work becomes the reward for getting through a pile of work.

My treat, for getting a lot of studio work done over the next six hours, will be to write tonight.  Zavier and I will discover if he survives before I sleep again.

old friends

Last weekend (the traditional one, not the Wednesday and Thursday I occasionally take off) and into last Monday (canceled Meditation Group, again – enlightenment keeps getting postponed), I was feeling really unpleasantly sick.  It must have been the flu going around or some such.

Regardless, I cannot be completely idle even when I’m miserable, coughing, sneezing, aching, wheezing.  So I started going through my hard drive, rescuing files that had been created in defunct word processing programs, on other platforms, and converting them (thank you text editors!) to useful, functioning files.  Which meant, I was reading novels I wrote when I was a teenager, works that I labored over when I got sick and had to stop graduate school (and was still deeply steeped in the study of history).

Because I write more of it, the poetry usually gets more of my attention. Plus, it is much easier to get one page worth of verse buffed up and ready for the public than it is a 300 page novel.  However, the work I did during this miserable cold proved to me how much prose has passed through my fingertips – the pile of work, finished and incomplete, startled me.

The journey turned out to be wildly entertaining and somewhat humbling.  I have written a lot, and could not avoid the realization that I have not been a good caretaker to those efforts once the typing stopped.  Perhaps I am a better writer now, but those ideas, plots and stories certainly were worth more attention than they received.  They had been woefully neglected, some not having been opened for over seven years. One had languished on a hard-drive for over a decade, and half of it is lost due to file corruption. (Somewhere, in the bowels of my studio, I have a hard copy. I am sure of it!) So far, I have read and edited and recompiled three books, much outlining of future novels, more short stories than I can count, and many, many documents detailing histories of languages, world and characters.  The process remains incomplete, but I have hope I will find the time for it because I am fascinated.

By the time I started getting better, I realized my sickbed had hosted a convention of old friends.  Characters that I had adored, whose lives I followed from beginning to end, reintroduced themselves to me.  Very clearly, I saw how they helped me get through the difficulties that I faced at the time I was writing.  Consistently, these stories showed me how to survive.  I remember how discouraged and despondent I got when I finished each of those works – utterly convinced that the tales I had labored over didn’t matter.  Even when my proof-readers encouraged me, I could not find the strength to risk trying to release them into the wild.

Things have changed now.  Either I am more courageous, more desperate or just don’t care about failing anymore.

These old friends have made it on the to-do list.  These stories are getting edited, tightened, submitted and deep in my heart I know something will happen to them – we can find out together what that is.

leaking fiction

The gallery has been quiet today, just a few people glancing in the window and wandering inside to browse. i actually made the first purchase, hoping to start some momentum, buying a card from one of my fellow artists.  Usually i have a thousand things to do while i am here: poems to type in, essays to edit, drawing i want to get done, a stack of graphic design work and always some accounting to address.  Today, though, i had very few obligations. The clutter of things has dispersed. The overcast sky, the gratitude from yesterday, the lull in sales have all created this stillness within me. i have been doodling, blogging, but mostly losing myself inside stories.

Fiction burns like fire within my mind.  It demands my full attention.  The prose that i write consistently gets put on the back burner.  Poems manage to creep out in the spare moments between other responsibilities, but writing novels requires a massive amount of time, commitment and comfortable clothes.

For the past four years, i’ve been able to throw more of my energy into prose starting in the fall. Even though i continue to stay busy through Christmas, i convince myself that i have more spare time once the weather turns, even if reality doesn’t conform to the assumption.

My imagination has noticed that the leaves have begun to fall.  Characters keep popping into my head, shouting about their needs.  Every moment when my brain is not fully occupied, scenes race across the screen of my awareness and make my fingers tremble with anticipation of time spent with pen or keyboard.  Without quite realizing it, while i sat here in front of my computer today, making notes on what swirls through my mind, i lost my awareness that there was a universe around me – i grew so focused on the one within.  Hours have passed while i have been daydreaming stories and waiting for customers to arrive.  More than once, i surprised myself by mumbling streams of dialogue to see if the words fit together with grace.  i meant for that to stay within the confines of my skull.  Each time the sound startled me, i resolved to buy a bluetooth earpiece so i won’t look quite so crazy next time.

However, that leaves the basic reality unchanged. These stories are literally leaking out of me.