Month: November 2013

madonna and child

As i approach the holidays, i start preparing for my one ritual: painting or sculpting a Madonna and Child.  These are a few of the ones i have done so far.  madonna2011 madonna and child pregnant madonna front ngod nourishing god red madonna the kiss mombaby triptych_smi am fascinated by this embodiment of love, thinking about all the good and troubling things that go into love.

There is something primal about this image of Madonna and Child.   The same theme certainly presents itself in more religions than just Christianity. How we love tells the universe about who we are.

Each iteration of the Madonna and Child has had a slightly different tone.  Most embody some forms of joy, but others show the heavy weight of responsibility on her shoulders.

i have no idea where this year’s painting will take me, but i’m excited to find out.

 

Thanksgiving

i spent Thanksgiving with a dear friend and her family.  While the food was so good it was nearly a religious experience and the chance to be in another environment filled me with excitement, the thing i was most grateful for was watching this family in action.

An abundance of love flourishes within these walls.  All members of this family interact with each other in sublime safety and comfort. They have survived troubles, all while staying together. Even when the children tease each other, there remains a deep sense of kindness underneath. This past summer, i wrote about witnessing similar belonging and contentment within a group of sisters, but this experience has been just as reassuring.  Indeed, i have known this family for years and the same feelings that were evoked on Thanksgiving had were abundant in previous visits.  i watched them open their home to more than just me – they included others in their celebration with absolute acceptance.  The deep compassion they have for their elders left me awed. My friend, in particular, filled me with gratitude as i watched how she took care of everyone within these walls. She moved through this house like a focused hurricane.  No need went unmet.

Her maternal love felt tangible –  a force of nature. As her husband said, their children are their pride and joy – with the full depth of Truth in his voice.  Even though their daughters are nearly adults, they still come to Mom and Dad for hugs. She and her husband remain deeply in love, something impossible to hide even if they wanted to try.

This glimpse into the daily life of this family has left me filled with contentment.  Life is never without difficulty, nor should a completely smooth existence be the goal, and these friends are as we all are, beautifully imperfect, but it is nice to know sometimes humans have the capacity to get love right.

 

other worlds

i spent tonight watching Doctor Who, the Day of the Doctor.  The experience reminded me of all the Sunday afternoons i spent watching the show from the time i was around five (i am now 43) until it went off the air.  After every episode i danced with joy while my imagination kept traveling through space and time.

Between the books i read as a child and the television i watched, i became invested in the characters and worlds given to me. They became my friends and my refuges.  i have written about daydreaming before – but it was even more than that.  These helped fuel my fire.  i longed to create worlds and characters just as compelling.  These works of fiction taught me about how life could be.  For example, Madeleine LEngle taught me what family could be like.  Frank Herbert and JRR Tolkein started my long fascination with creating complex histories for new universes.  Ursula Le Guin in her book Left Hand of Darkness showed me the magnificent transformations that characters could make and still be completely understandable.

This is just the very peak of the mountain of my geekdom.  i fell in love with stories and verse. There are too many other worlds that fill me with satisfaction to enumerate them here.  So, i will end my thanksgivings for these people who rescued my life with a  poem – another thanksgiving for one of my favorite writers – Mr. Wilde  will be in my upcoming collection the fabric of dreams.

Mr. Wilde

i slept with Mr. Wilde last night.
His words reclined
on the pillow beside me,
seductive,
beautiful,
moving across the page
with indescribable grace.

They made me weep.

Inside of them,
i lost myself
and i learned volumes
about this particular moment.

His joy, pain and art
were like three bodies dancing,
each leading the movement
in its own way.

With more than a century between us
he taught me a better way
to deal with the cruelty
in my life at this moment.

Oscar made me marvel
at the confidence, strength and humility
he poured into his lines.

i should spend more nights
wrapped up in his prose and poem –
eventually it will render me
into a better creation.

what to blog…

Today is one of the days that i wish i had a more exciting life to blog about. i would love to write about the amazing adventures that i have had – travel and wonderful adventures.  Likewise, i would adore describing fantastic social experiences and the depths of love and friendship and companionship.

As it happens, i can tell you about those things, but it will all come from my fiction. Stand-ins for shards of my psyche with great plot-lines for lives. My actual day to day life has become very quiet over the past two weeks. Today, all i did was edit work i have written in the past few weeks – lounging on the couch in the studio with the dog snoring lustily beside me. Still, while i worked, i was enraptured. In a way that i find difficult to explain to people, those characters become real to me while i  am writing – i grow more invested in their stories and lives than is wise.

red potsThe most non-fictional excitement i have had in the past 48 hours was unloading the kiln yesterday and finding some lovely pieces waiting me. The finished pottery brings a smile to my face, in part because i never expected i would be able to make such loveliness.  Granted, i have been making pottery for thirteen years now.  But those first four years when i was just awful, have given me a keen appreciation of my improvement.  i can be made giddy by the beauty that comes out of the kiln.

Otherwise, i can recount to you stories about the softness of my cat’s fur, the way my dog approaches the food bowl, the abject terror the other cat had for the new water dish.  Other than what’s going on inside my head, there is very little to report. i wonder, sometimes, if this is perhaps the most blessed gift i have been given. My life can be very lonely; i go through long periods of relative solitude. However, i make it through with less pain than i might otherwise, because of the words that pour forth from me.  The characters i write about become family and friends.  It is only when i emerge from fiction that i have to deal with the loneliness of reality.

But it’s awfully hard to blog about without sounding a little crazy.

meditation

One of the biggest challenges i have in this exact moment in time is stilling my mind.  Much of its energy is squandered on useless thrashing. Even when i’m meditating, i’m boiling over with thoughts and images.  On a really good day, paintings and words and pottery forms float through my awareness while i watch.  They collect on the lap left by my crossed legs.  On the worst days, my endless to-do list and anxiety torment me.  Like birds, they circle and peck at me, robbing me of my quiet.

To a certain extent, i view this as the price i pay for being an artist.  The art never really stops, even when i’m focused on other things.  During the months before my divorce, when i was working as a sales clerk, only half my brain was doing the job that i was paid to do.  The rest was working out plots for short stories or figuring out how to throw a complicated piece or scheming about what sculpture to do next.  Starting during that difficult time, words and paintings and pottery began flooding out of me in great waves.  Part of this condition means that my brain rarely ever fully deviates from the work that i do.  i even written poems during church, sparked by something in the sermon.

Right now, the problem is magnified by stress.  One aspect i dislike most about being a small business owner – particularly focused on the arts – is the instability it creates.  How do you plan when you don’t know what your income will be?  How do you know if you are doing things right – and it’s just taking time to work out – or if you’ve plummeted down into the pit of failure past the point of rescue?  Recriminations swim around with the stress full thoughts, attempting to convince me that if i were somehow better then i would not be so vulnerable.

The best i can manage is to let the torments float past me without picking them up. My mental discipline does not have enough strength behind it to keep them from appearing, but i do have enough stubbornness not to engage. As for the art, i keep a tablet beside me to jot down whatever i need to so that the golden moments of inspiration are not lost.

Every time i sit down, though, i fill myself with intention.  i will not let my thoughts have their way with me.  i will tame the hamsters spinning on the wheel of my mind.  i will find stillness and deep contentment.

Someday, i’m sure, i’ll manage those things.  Although, apparently, not today.

 

messages

Several echos reverberate in my mind tonight.  They were sparked by some constructive suggestions given to me about my kickstarter – improvements that i made reality as soon as i got back to the house. Knowing that the reaction i am having is totally unfair because the message given to me tonight was to go boldly forward and be brave and try and try again has not stopped my thoughts from circling the drain. The writer in me howls with grief that my message was so deeply flawed. Simultaneously, i am thrilled by the praise i was given and despondent that my personal failings came through so clearly in text and video. Most of all, i am being pestered by memories like wasps that will not stop stinging me, evoked by the conversation despite the lack of justification. The most prominent criticisms that have been repeating in a loop on the screen of my consciousness came from three sources:

At sixteen, in the voice my mother, when she burned all my poems because they were humiliatingly bad.

At seventeen, when my English teacher told me to give up writing because, even though i was relatively skilled at putting sentences together, because “No one will ever be interested in what’s going on in your head.”

Finally, the embarrassment of my then husband, as he earnestly worried about my poetry and novels being associated with him.

My reaction to all three of these judgments, at the time they were uttered, was to deepen my resolve to write.  The actual number of lines pouring forth from my pen increased with each incident, albeit with some adaptations.  For my mother, i started hiding my poetry better – scribbling it in the margins of pages in the notebooks for my classes.  After i left that teacher’s room, i went to study hall and wrote a list of all the writers i adored who poured the contents of their mind onto the printed page.  In the case of the man now my ex, i became a different person after we divorced to keep him from suffering from a connection to me.

However, the reason that these comments are revolving around in my awareness tonight like a carousel of misery is because of the shameful timidity that they stoked in my heart. For me, it is one thing to have the endurance and inspiration to write and another thing entirely to hold the words i have strung together out for others to read.  Each time i submit, every time i throw my work out into the world, i have this recoil of anxious shyness. It exists with painting and pottery too, but is much more acute with the written word. There has to be a pause, a rest for me to re-fortify, and then i can try again.  With something like a blog, or a single poem released as part of a podcast, the delay can be small. Whatever humiliations i face are fleeting. But for big risks, like submitting a novel or this kickstarter, the time i spend retreating can be ridiculously long.

Several times, even successful exposure has left me hobbled for months.  The same thing happens with dating – something tragic occurs and then i pull away from people for a long time until i feel strong enough to try again. Or the loneliness becomes unconquerable, so i rejoin the world in desperation. Something wonderful occurs, but doesn’t last, and i’m still pulling away because things could be worse next time.

In both my social life and in my career, these pauses have lasted for years. i am deeply shamed by my cowardice. Perversely, these echoing messages became the proof that my hesitation was justified even though they did not stop me from working. i have always kept writing no matter how badly my confidence eroded. Alas, i kept thinking that book after book, poem after poem, could be nothing more than practice. For over a decade, i used the criticisms of others to say that i was not good enough to even begin to try to seek publication. Truly, it has only been in the past five years that i have made any progress on this point with my writing and all forward movement has been halting.

Even now, when i know that creating is the only thing i’m good for, i still find myself hearing good advice, implementing it even though it is probably too late, and then wanting to hide away in the dark, safe inside my house, hoping no one finds out how terrified i really am.

Indeed, i am scared to press the publish button for this blog.  But, i won’t let that stop me.  And, since it’s after one in the morning i will be able to seek refuge in bed and call it “going to sleep.”

Pieces of loneliness – Prophet and prayer

Today i have done very little but write.

Yesterday, despite feeling wretched, i rearranged my living room again.  My desktop – my last fully functioning computer – had to be moved out of the Studio last fall so that it would not be damaged by dust.  For the past year, i’ve been trying to keep the integrity of a living room while making the space as writing friendly as possible.  Well, i finally gave up on that balancing act.  i’ve been doing too much writing and i am sure to do even more over the winter.  After i made a little writer’s nest for myself in the corner, i started writing. Until the wee hours of the morning, i was typing out more of the strange little story about a girl named Rosemary.  Unexpectedly, one of the main characters died – for some reason this disturbed my dog enough that he got up, huffed at me, and walked out of the room to sleep somewhere else – probably because surprise exploded out of me.  When i woke up this morning, feeling better but still far from good, i decided that i could spend the day being a writer – which means i could take it fairly easy physically.

At any rate, after i worked more on Rosemary’s story and wrote a few poems, i started editing Pieces of Loneliness again.  i have already put up two recordings of chapters – Orbit and Vacuum.  Now, i will present two more.  Pieces of loneliness work mixes fiction and non-fiction, poetic prose and essay. These two chapters show how these different styles work together. Prophet is completely fictional (i wish it were read by a man, since the main character is male, but hopefully you can put up with my voice reading it); whereas Prayers traces a day when i was making seventy-two ceramic intentions.

Alas, but audio files are too big to upload here, so i provide you with the links.

Prophet

Prayers

Here’s the link to my website, if you want to hear more prose. 

free will and faith, stubbornness and depression

i lost my temper this morning.  Even though i am a pretty terrible Buddhist/Christian, i do make a serious effort not to say mean things or be snappish and today i failed miserably. If i am honest, i can give you reasons – mitigating factors of feeling miserable, crushingly alone and overwhelmed – but to this studio member, i was bitchy. Either i will be forgiven or not, but the words came out of my mouth and – much worse – in that exact moment they were true.  My problems loomed so massively inside me, my cognitive overload crushed me so badly, that i did not have room to care about anything other than the task at hand.  Once it was done,  i apologized and said i was in a place to care about other things again, but i don’t know if those words did any good. They certainly failed to evoke the same power as the original utterance. As the hours have ticked by, i have been recriminating myself over my vocalized irritation.  Because i am a poet and a navel-gazer in general, this has lead me to start pondering four things: free will, faith, stubbornness and depression.  And you’ll need a paragraph of background to understand why:

For a few months, life has been growing more and more challenging.  In early October, a second neurologist confirmed what the first has thought since October of 2011 – that my nervous system is being slowly digested by my immune system. Alas, that is as far as i can get with a diagnosis because my health insurance won’t cover any tests. Indeed, i have to find a way to pay the nearly $300 bill for the second neurologists’ time, since that was not covered because he’s a specialist. These problems have been around for a couple of years, but they have gotten much worse over the past six months. With some horror, i watch the situation get worse while i frantically try to make it better. The failing of my body includes massive pain, problems walking, unpleasant confusion, issues with manual dexterity (a real blow for me, given the art i make) and constant headaches that have made even the most basic thinking difficult for the past two months. This is not the first time i have struggled with hobbling ill-health, but this time i lack the support structure i used to have.  Not to mention the wonderful (pre-divorce) health insurance that i still dream of fondly.  All in all, being so unstable physically makes me feel much more vulnerable and alone generally. Then, about three weeks ago, i found out (in a failed attempt to get life insurance) that my A1C was terrible.  Either i have lost my genetic fight with diabetes or the stress from running a business with all the health issues has gotten to me. But, again, i cannot afford any actual doctoring for this.  Nor can i afford any prescriptions (which are also not covered by my health insurance) so other than cutting out carbohydrates from my diet i am on my own.  Which, truthfully, gives me some stress.

Which is where the musings on free will, faith, stubbornness and depression all come in.  Being sick is depressing.  Being this vulnerable to financial and physical instability is terrifying and depressing.  Being so unrelentingly single is depressing.  Feeling like i am not enough to get done the things that need to get done is depressing.  Every day that i am not able to throw or paint leaves me agitated, wondering if these problems are permanent, which in turn is depressing.  i wish i could say that i have blind faith that things will get better and be awesome, but i don’t.  Free will can mess me up – both my own and others.  i cannot make people buy pots.  i cannot force them to support my kickstarter.  i can beg for help, but that does not mean i will get it.  i can argue with the insurance company, but they do not have to bend to my will.  i can go on healthcare.gov but that does not mean the site will work. i can develop crushes, but that does not mean i will be going out on a date. Moreover, as i have written before, my own free will matters more than i can say.  Do i choose to eat as well as i can? Do i choose to move my body much as possible, even if it’s just walking, bent like Quasimodo, in circles in my studio? Do i choose to snap at everyone i meet, or do i try to be friendly and kind and act as though nothing is wrong as much as i possibly can? Do i forgive myself when i am bitchy? Do i drag myself out of bed when every cell is screaming in pain?  Do i face my depression down – spitting in its face as i wrote in a haiku the other day – or do i crawl into a hole and cry?  (Both might be the answer to the last question.)

angel_smFaith, when i look at it on days like today, becomes a hard, cold choice rather than an effervescent feeling of belonging or certainty.  i have to make the choice to believe that things will get better even though i know there are no guarantees, even though i am close to tearing my clothes and covering myself with sackcloth and ash.  i have to gird my loins and believe in myself and what i’m doing enough to open the studio and start writing (throwing is way beyond my abilities today.)  I have to be stubborn in my faith, forcing it to stand like a breakwater against the waves of vulnerability and despair.  Even more, i have to do this when everything inside of me – every emotion, every sensation – screams that life is too hard, too unfair and too lonely to bear.  Today, i do not feel faithful; i feel forsaken.  Optimism has drained out of me these past three days of intense physical wretchedness. Friday and yesterday, i barely wrote, only drew a few melancholy sketches and drained myself to nothing working on pottery.  There is no way to be kind to myself when there is so much that i have to do.  Kindness would be huddled in bed with a heating pad, under covers, cuddling with the animals.  Stubbornness requires me to sit here at my work table typing away. Right now, all i can do to keep myself going is to act like what i do, what i am, matters and then ground myself in this determination.

And now we have come the synthesis, how all these four pieces fit together in my heart right now:

i use my free will to stubbornly choose faith to fight off the demon of depression.

And, God, i hope tomorrow is a better day.  The prayer is so fervent i lit three candles for it.

 

a two haiku day

First of all, i wrote a haiku.

sing out thanksgivings
from inside frozen darkness –
spit in despair’s face.

lovely redThose words probably revealed more about my mood this morning than i wanted to give away.  However, work soon swept me up.  For the bulk of the day, i taught – from 2:15 until nearly 7:45. For an hour and a half, it was hands-on teaching on the wheel.  But after that, they did not demand my attention all of that time, so i was able to unload a kiln and spiffy some of the studio between questions.  One of my favorite pieces to emerge from that firing was a wee knitting bowl – child sized, i think – but with the most magnificent red i have seen in a pot.  i do not know what kind of magic this glaze experienced during the firing, but i am grateful.

Starting about six o’clock, i figured my students were working independently enough that i began throwing.  commission1i had to put off this commission for close to two weeks, due to exhaustion and serious issues getting my limbs to do what i commanded.  If i am writing and my hands malfunction, the worst result is a typo that might become part of an unfortunate tweet. Perhaps some swearing at the mouse which my fingers cannot move properly. But a lack of coordination can ruin a bag of clay quite quickly.  Eight other bowls were thrown a few days ago (and were mentioned in this blog) but today i threw the rest.  i was almost crying with gratitude when i threw the last one.  It has been awhile since i’ve been able to function for that long, that well.  To the right is a picture of the last bowl i threw and then pictures of all her sisters.

commission3This level of work, that tactile sense of progress, helped to soothe the soul that was spitting at the darkness earlier in the day, but i am far from fine.  My life feels horribly out of sync when i’m not actively working, so i find myself avoiding any kind of down time. commission2Sleep or work.  Even eating has been involving work somehow, writing as i move food into my mouth.  Really, i will perform any act of creativity i can rather than confront this profound unsteadiness. i know avoidance does not work forever, but for now, i am doing what i can.

At any rate, as i walked the dog after i finished the last bowl (before i loaded the kiln,) i wound up writing another haiku:darwin_longday

the moon lies to me.
she claims there is hope and light
but darkness guts me.

Now, i have to set an alarm for 3 am, so i can stagger back to the studio and wrap up the bowls so they don’t dry too quickly. Just as i typed those last words, i looked behind me and saw how Darwin the dog chose to end his day (see picture at left) i feel a little envious.

He is snoring so contentedly.  His universe is in balance.

working on my day off

Except for the one over the work table, the lights are off.  Given the orientation of the building, sunlight is of no help to me right now.  In this exact moment, i sit in a puddle of illumination.  When i inevitably wander upstairs to write, those lights will stay off as well – except for the one next to the couch that provides just enough brightness for me to see the lines onto which i scribble. This is not the type of day when i will sit at a desk and work on an aged computer with the letters worn off the keys. i can tell because the intrusion of technology involved in writing this blog entry exhausts me. Instead, the pad and paper will dominate my writing.  Of course, there must be throwing in between the words.  There are bowls to be made.

The music that is playing right now – The Lark Ascending – is not something i would play if i were expecting customers.  Nor are the other items on this particular playlist: Jacqueline Du Pres, David Hykes and The Harmonic Choir, and the Anonymous 4.  This is the music that soothes my soul; my listening feels like a ritual.  These are the melodies and harmonies of solitude. They open me up with the reminder of humanity caught in voice, instrument and crescendo.

doorNone of the flags or signs are out, except for the lonely “open” beside the closed entrance to the studio+showroom.  At least the door is unlocked.

As usual, the half a minute walk across the driveway occurred because of other people’s desires:  bisque another potter needs to pick up; a friend wants to be taught how to use a program on her computer; i have a commission that needs to be finished. Even so, the commission would not have been enough on its own.  Like most of my days off for the past two months, i want to be curled up in the house, under blanket, throwing myself into worlds of my own invention, writing until my hand cannot hold a pen any longer.  Today, with this nearly unbearable aching, sniffling weariness, i would have been even more likely to surrender ambition for rest.

And yet, do not mistake this for a complaint. This is my joy.  i remind myself, as i gaze about the mess and chaos, this is what i love most. Perhaps it is the music floating about me, or the softness lent by the lack of light, but i am at peace and aligned within these four walls like i am nowhere else. There is a different energy within these walls when i am alone; bliss comes easier, swells within me faster, until i overflow.