Tag: thanksgiving

the ugly stage

small_4small_7Today is my only day here, in the studio, dedicated to making art, for at least ten days.  i had grand plans – i would throw a huge commission, work with the slab roller to have some small sculptures to fill in the spaces between plates when they are fired, and none of that came true.  Instead, i spent the morning writing – a nebulous bit of prose that i will probably blog fairly soon – and then decided to be kind to my body again. small_6 This is becoming a theme.  Unfortunately, my shoulder (torn rotator cuff) is not getting better without my taking it very easy on that arm, and when i break the rules and do things like throw, or load the car with heavy objects, or try to scrub something, i wind up with days of intense distress and numb fingers.

So, i broke out the next messiest form of art: pastels.  Before i leave for the night, i will be loading a kiln and firing some lovely little garlic plates.

i have not totally wasted the day, no matter how it feels. small_2Still, i am frustrated with my level of productivity.  i don’t seem to be doing anything enough or well.

Yesterday, i did a huge amount of pen and inks while i was at a gallery enjoying the slowness of the day.  Given that i got my first positive response to a job application yesterday, after sending out God knows how many, i found myself drawing with a renewed fervor. i could feel the gun to my head cocking.

i have written about the long goodbye before.  Without doubt, this must be one of the most excruciating devolutions that i’ve ever experienced.  i am going down a steep hill at speed, shedding things as i travel: mysmall_3 house, my studio, my credit rating, my belongings, my sense of self.  For so many years, i have been wildly blessed with the profound knowledge that art is what i’m meant to do – it pours out of me like nothing else – and to have that last illusion stripped from me has been excruciating.  Instead of ripping it off like a band-aid, fate has been slowly twisting it away, molecule by molecule, a closed gallery here, a solitary day in the studio there, a long spell where i could not write because my mind was too chaotic, punctuated with crushing online sales reports. i have moved from a woman confident in her identity as an artist to someone desperately trying not to drown. The blessing of having no attachments, no delusions of self holding me back, does not yet diminish the agony of loss.

small_1When i lost my health, back when i was 28, i saw that as a profound death of self.  Forests were ravaged for the paper needed to work out that loss.  However, in its own way, it was brutal in its speed and efficiency.  My entire life changed on a dime, and kept changing, until i moved up here to Maine and my life began to transform for the better.  Helping, softening the blow, was the fact that marriage gave me some safety.  i had someone who could help pick up the slack, who could keep two people aloft financially.

small_5At the time, i wrote a hundred poems of love and gratitude, knowing what a gift that was.

Now, though the story is different.  There is no one to help around the house.  By the time i am done with a day of work, be it here or sitting in a gallery, i am too exhausted to do anything.  If you read these blogs, you’ll know that they have decreased incredibly in their frequency.  If you paid attention to my artistic output, you would know i have barely fired the kiln in months, and that is not just the shoulder prohibiting me from throwing.  The house i have on the market gives testimony to suffering, obvious to anyone who enters; the kitchen is in danger of becoming an EPA superfund site. Nearly every day, someone gives me advice – many to quit art, but many to pursue this gallery or that store.  Only, I am hoxed by exhaustion, able to follow up on a fraction of those leads.

None of my work, including the art, is getting a quarter of the focus it should because i am constantly struggling to keep my head above water. small_8 This is the heart of the problem when there is not enough strength or energy to meet every obligation: it causes increasing failure.  Like cash, energy is a limited currency – spending it on one thing means it will not be spent on another.  Harsh choices have to be made.  i devolve from someone who thought of herself as an artist, driven by the need to make art, to something different.  The art is still there, struggling, fighting its way out, but i am no longer what i thought i was.  The certainty and sense of purpose has dissolved.

Where there should be confidence and self-reliance, i am flooded with anxiety and depression.  This is a terrible little vortex.  The worse my art sales are, the worse my financial situation gets, the more insecure i feel, the less empowered i am to change things, the more the burdens of health and pain drive me further into despair.  Each part augments the next.  This is not intended as a whine so much as an expression of my current reality.  Moreover, i know deeply that this is my fault.  While i cannot control who buys art, i have made the wrong choices, trusted thsmall_9e wrong people and been generally unwise.

Responsibility falls on my shoulders.  And, whatever solutions there are to be had, will come from me as well. i keep praying, with such wild desperation that i’m sure the Divine is laughing at the melodrama by now, for art to save me. Tremendous and marvelous help has come my way, for which i have written another hundred poems of gratitude, but any lasting fixes will have to be through my own labor – if not through art, then through some other way.

So, i look about me, at this space i will have to leave, at the countless pieces of art i have made, at the words flowing from me and i know this configuration of my life is ending.  It is a goodbye, no matter where i end up or what joys may await me.  i am being taught not to cling to things – especially not how i perceive myself.  This is a lesson which i faced with such resistance, the universe had to treat me like a remedial student.

And, today, all i could feel was gratitude for everything.  These blessings i have experienced were beyond measure.  How many get to enjoy that singular sense of purpose and joy?  I was given this chance to throw myself into creating, day after day, for years on end.  Living in this community has been a wild and amazing blessing.  Finding the quiet and stillness that i have here in Maine transformed me.  So, that is what came out in my pastels – all of the blues became gratitude and dancing.

This thanksgiving is just as tangible and fierce as the drowning.  It keeps me aloft.  Gratitudes have become my own little floaties in the sea of life.  My life might be in the ugly stage, but i know from my art ugliness can lead to great beauty.

 

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.

 

unbelievable kindness

Gratitude21A few days ago, a friend – a former student – left me an absolutely gobsmacked, burbling idiot by committing one of the most unexpected, serendipitous acts of kindness i have ever experienced.

She could not know how deeply i needed help that day, how overwhelmed i felt, how helpless my situation seemed, or the tears and sorrow that had woken me and followed me through that morning.  Her generosity came without prompting.  She simply did something kind for the sake of being kind.  While hugging her several times more than necessary, i wept with gratitude.  i babbled incoherently because i did not know what to say. As she drove away, i vowed to myself to be a better person because of this kindness – for eventually this wave of suffering will subside and i will being a better position to make a difference in the world.

In the time since, as i have contemplated the right level of ‘thank you’ this tremendous gift deserves, i have occasionally cried over her kindness, but with a fierce intensity have been working very consciously to keep myself from falling into the spasm of anxiety that effected me the night of the gift.

Even that morning, i had been very low.  While she was here, being so unbelievable, i was held aloft, but afterward i felt utterly unworthy of her kindness.  My failures loomed larger than ever; i felt like my urgent need for help had made me less valuable as a human being.  My gratitude never wavered, but i beat myself up with anxiety and self-criticism.  After another friend called me on it, i realized something very important: if this were anyone else, and i were forced to listen to their meltdown over such a tremendously wonderful thing, i would be deeply frustrated with them. There is no sin in accepting kindness. Everyone needs help at some point. Why was i making myself so grief-stricken over something so generous?

So, i have been making gratitude an even greater practice than normal this week. Even though there is a limit to how much i can stifle anxiety, i am not augmenting it by fighting the emotion.  And, i have added something new. Each time i insult myself (which turns out to be a lot more than i thought,) i have been forcing myself to stop, calm down, take a few breaths and then counteract the criticism with three things that i actually like about myself (this is almost like an exercise in masochism, but i will eventually start finding it less painful.)  i can sense a change already. i am insulting myself much less, mostly because i don’t want to have to self-praise.  But, either way, i am adding another gratitude to the pile.

Thank you.

poem: gratitude

Gratitude

Days ago,
i began
to say
thank you
for everything.

Absolutely every single thing.
More than the usual food,
fluffy cat snuggles,
steadfast love of dog,
and brilliant blue skies.

Thank you for everything.

When i couldn’t get
to the bathroom in time
and lost another pair of pants,
thank you.
i tried to stand
and fell
into the car beside mine,
thank you.
When i sat down to write,
only to be assaulted
simultaneously
by seven different stories
and five different poems,
thank you.
When he broke my heart,
thank you.
When she treated me
like something
to be scraped off a shoe,
thank you.
While i felt
my own spirit
crack and fracture
from the pressure
of my failure and problems,
thank you.
Love breezed through
my life
for just one moment –
enough to catch its fragrance
before leaving me
alone and lonely again –
thank you.

These mumbled gratitudes,
even when they refuse
to bear the weight
of true appreciation,
resorting to perfunctory syllables
until they awaken some echo
of thanksgiving,
even when spoken through tears
while the body seized in pain,
have begun to change things.

Thank you.

3 august 2015

 

#

 

Today, 14 days after i wrote this poem, i read an article at GQ about Stephen Colbert and he expressed this sentiment better than i ever could.  Read the article!

warm socks

Something written this past April 12th:

 

Happiness is warm socks, fresh from the dryer.  That the washer and dryer still work, despite the error message that comes on every time i try to use the hot water, is a blessing of the highest order – bringing on the same wild gratitude i feel when the heater kicks on and takes the edge off the chill.  Some fuel oil remains in the tank.

If i focus on these small gifts, i can forget the rest of the world for a moment.  Tuning in to the dog snoring or the cat purring while she kneads the pillow is highly preferable to listening to the long list of to-dos, failures and stresses that float through my mind like locusts, buzzing angrily within the confines of my skull.

Imagining the future doesn’t help either.  Even if i dreamt of five hundred dollars finding me, it is followed by impossible decisions.  Do i pay the electric bills?  The fuel oil bill?  The overdue taxes? The mortgage?  The loan payment? How guilty do i have to feel if i buy some food?  Could i be so bold as to get my eyes checked?  Or my teeth cleaned?  It has been six years on both counts, because there is never enough money.

Those problems are the wallpaper on my rabbit hole.  They do nothing for me, because right now, it makes no difference, i have no money to pay anyone.  i have no ability to raise the funds quickly, for i am broken and i sold the last of my assets long ago.

Every time i have sought out jobs to bridge the gap, my situation has gotten worse.  My energy gets depleted before i can make art – and that is what builds my energy up, much more than sleep or food.  Yet, relying on art sales for my income has been fraught with risk.

We live in a time when art is admired, copied, stolen, demanded to be given for free and rarely paid for.  Wonderfully, a lot of the mystique around making art has been removed thanks to the internet.  You can instantly call up a video of someone making nearly everything.  The proliferation of knowledge has awoken the artist in so many, which is a lovely thing, even though it can make being an artist full time much harder.  Not impossible, but much harder.

i have a huge restlessness in my heart, wanderlust of the imagination.  If i do not make art, this builds and builds until i could scream and howl like a madman.  i am grateful to have the ability to use that engine, a place where i can dream and write, the ridiculous capacity for stubbornness that keeps me from giving up.

The sunshine and the joy of spring make me sing with delight.  i enjoy the feel of these warm socks.  The world has gone as crazy as me, dwelling on it in this moment of relative powerlessness will only make the crisis swell and bloat.

Instead, i refocus on the dog, still snoring, on how lovely the soft mattress feels under my aching body, and the tremendous miracle of this writing: letter tumbling after letter, an expression of gratitude for the small kindnesses of life.

the delight in finishing

This is a quick and simple blog of gratitude.

If i did not finish a project today, i have come close.  A solid first draft from beginning to end.  Of course, this could simply mean that i am beginning the long process of editing – but it was delightful to have finished.  The words written in spurts and spasms over the  reminded me that i know how to stand even in the face of troubles.

In a lot of ways, i chose the perfect focus for my energies at this moment in time.  It helped me realize how far i have come and remember all the gifts i have been given.

Now, to start the editing.

on the market

IMG_0175  The house is on the market – at least, i have signed papers with the realtor and we have started the process of taking pictures. IMG_0174 It will probably take at least a week to get the sign in the ground and all the photos up on the internet.  These are some shots I took after she left, mainly to prove to myself what 24 hours of concentrated cleaning can accomplish.  Sadly, i still have a ton of work to do – particularly cleaning the studio and moving the bits of glaze and boxes of clay still in the house over. i have not even begun what will be an impressive saga of purging: selling older art, furniture, books and other things.  i see many yard-sales in my future, as well as sales both on my online store and in my studio/gallery.  Lists of the things i can cast off and those i cannot live without fill my journal.

This was a intensely melancholy thing yesterday; i felt like i was hemorrhaging pain again afterward.  Indeed, my main goal after Kathy left was to be kind to myself  – and i was deeply grateful for both her compassion and efficiency during what is a difficult time for me.

During a class earlier this year, we were given a list of stressors.  Buying and selling homes, as well as changing living arrangements, moving homes and transplanting businesses all sat among the most highly rated causes for stress. IMG_0178

IMG_0176Obviously, i can’t be alone in being upset by such things – and, that said, i still feel like i am taking this particularly badly.  My woe refuses to be dignified.  This is a massive transition for a misfit like me: i root to spaces, i suffer tremendous anxiety that is barely kept in check by meditation, and i worry unreasonably about my beloved animals’ responses to this time of trial.  Like me, they seem to be suffering.  Both Roxi and Martin are hiding more than usual, chased under the bed by the sounds of transformation.  Roxi, in particular, has been so upset (she is so much like me) that even cuddling takes an openness and comfort that is in short supply right now.  Instead of sleeping beside me like she usually does, her paw in my hand all night long, she curls up on the couch, forsaking dreams to keep one eye open.  Unless he is the sleeping old man of the house, Darwin follows me everywhere. He is determined to keep me grounded and cheer me up simultaneously, hence all the photo-bombs of dog in these pictures.

IMG_3441So, i worry, and i stress, and i can feel it effecting my body. My blood sugar skyrockets irrelevant of food, my vision gets blurry, my heart slams around in my chest.IMG_3440 In response, i meditate more – for at least two hours last night, phone and computer off to avoid all distraction – and if i keep that up, it helps tremendously.  Still, no amount of quiet stillness has as yet turned me into a flawless person.  My memory and my work are suffering from the overload.  Even when i regain my inner peace for a time, i am still not supernaturally endowed with awe-inspiring strength or confidence. With my whole heart, i redirect myself whenever i start blaming another for my problems.  Instead, i take deep breaths, hope everything happens for a reason, and knead acceptance into my tight muscles.  Every time people ask me about my long term plans, i wince slightly – unable to articulate what i need to do. IMG_0179 Indeed, i truly don’t know what the absolutely ‘right’ course is at this stage. IMG_0177 To know that, i would have to be a precog and that – along with teleportation, telekinesis, telepathy and transmuting base metals to gold – is not a skill i have developed. Most of the time, i have no idea what to do, and no other viable options, than to keep putting one foot in front of another with as open a heart as possible.

Thankfully, i feel secure that the decisions i am making take me down the wisest path given who i am, what i have and what i know right now.  Of course, there is an element of choosing the lesser of evils, but that is what this moment entails.  So, i must move forward and accept the consequences. i have been actively holding my hands open to accept what the universe gives right now with as little resentment and fear as possible (and eventually, i feel confident, the cosmic diarrhea running through my fingers has to stop.)

However, i keep remembering something that occurred to me years ago: there is a certain nobility to endings.  They demand a sense of presence and honor that can disappear when things are stable and appear unchanging.  How we leave situations, whether it is a relationship, a home, a job, a life – that speaks at least as much about who we are as how we enter them.  As much as it hurts, i have been greatly blessed and honored to have lived here for ten years, to have created this marvelous network of friends, to have worked as an artist so wholeheartedly.  Now, to remember that gift, and maintain this sense of gratitude and grace, when the cosmos starts to have gastric distress in my general direction again.

The Blessings in New Year’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really, what more could I have asked for?

 

 

It took until 1 o’clock

IMG_5530The floors are still a clay covered mess, and a whole “region of shame” hides behind a three panel screen, but the studio is finally clean enough that I am not oozing shame over its condition.

Perhaps, I am still lightly dripping shame, but that I can deal with.

So far, the early birds for the Maine Craft Weekend have not minded the state of this obviously working studio – for which I am quite grateful – and they have been kind and encouraging.  Darwin has been enjoying all the cookies.  IMG_5529At this rate, I’m not sure he should have supper, but with his raging case of PYFD (Post Yummy Forgetful Disorder) I am sure he will believe he has never eaten in his life and demand kibble.

I am grateful.  Of course, I don’t know how this winter will turn out, and I am still overwhelmed with work, but I get the chance to spend an outrageous amount of time making art.  That is enough to make me sing thanksgivings.

Saturday, 11 October 2014IMG_5528   IMG_5527

 

 

Mess from Chaos

I have not been dealing well with the chaos of my environment. Mess I can handle, in abundance, but I have to have some semblance of mental order if not physical.  However,  both my home and my studio have been utterly uprooted. The longer this went on, the more agitated I have felt.  It started with moving shelves in the downstairs in the studio. Trying very hard to put things into order seems to increase the upheaval.

Of the many difficult choices I have made lately, closing my studio for the winter was oneDSCN5426 of the hardest.  I love that space.  The happiest I have ever been in my life has been within those four walls, making art.  Although, “closing” really is the wrong word. It is not like I am surrendering my business or the making of art.  However, if this winter is even half as bad as the last one, I will not be able to heat both buildings.  With luck, there will be a lot of heating through kiln this winter – for I should be able to throw and sculpt during the days after the kiln has run and on the days where it is simply warm enough to work in the space.

Between now and when it is becomes too cold to work, I want to get as much throwing done as possible around my other obligations.  I feel a great pressure to get as much done as possible before the weather turns completely. As much as I dislike the logic of this decision, I still believe that choosing to heat one building seems to be the wisest choice.  It gives me the best chance to keep being productive.

Finances are not my only reason. I have been experiencing greater problems managing stairs.  Some days, I feel like I can climb mountains, others I am falling and staggering and not able to walk with any kind of grace at all.  The unpredictability irritates me.  Fatigue has not gotten better, either.  I am forcing myself to work, having to pick what I do depending on how my mind and body are fairing in any given moment.

To help combat this, some friends moved my painting supplies and easels and some furniture from the upstairs of the studio to the house.  The paints and glazes and clay cannot freeze, so they would have had to move anyway.  However, easels and brushes and canvases are not returning to the studio. My ability to make it upstairs is simply too unreliable.  I am hoping that having the tools of my craft here, in the house, I will be able to make art even on my worst days.  patienceCertainly it will take some of the risk out of winter – I will not have to travel over ice and snow.

Tonight, I am tired and sore but I had to write this out before I went to sleep.  It has only been with the help of my friends that I am back into what passes for a normal mess from that painful chaos.  I am so ridiculously grateful to them – they were able to do this work, to help me.  Their kindness makes me want to sing!

With such good friends, I think that I will be able to get through what comes.