Month: December 2013

Words as fuel

Today, I am more tired than I can tell you – and I am startlingly fluent at complaining.

Still, once the driveway was plowed, I received the gift of shoveled stairs and I could get my flesh moving, I came here to open the studio.

Once more, this was an act of stubbornness and endurance more than joy. In this exact moment, there’s no way for me to manage the throwing that I need to complete, or load a kiln, or finish the sculpture I started, but know what to do instead.

I am retreating upstairs, curling up with paper and pen, and giving myself over to words. In fact, I set a timer – so that I don’t go overboard and will still have dedicated time for this salvation.

I am hoping that a few poems, or part of a short story, or even just plotting out more of the book that I’m writing, will provide fuel for the engine I wrote about yesterday. Indeed, it worked then, so I have every hope it will now.

A lot of sorrow, anxiety, and discomfort squat within my awareness. I need to evict them. My mind is churning on these useless things. If I can put them on paper, they won’t block me anymore and the floodgates for the rest of my creativity will open.

At least that’s the prayer of the moment.

Thankfully, my dog is more than willing to help me out by fostering zen in the environment.

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the engine

the engine

An engine works tirelessly,
tucked deep within me.
Inside my ribs,
it provides a solidness –
the foundation for my heart –
while its churning cogs
reach up through my spine
wildly agitating my mind.

I cannot escape its persistence
for it drives me fiercely,
like a rider in the Pony Express,
filling me to overflowing
with need and inspiration,
caring not one whit
if I am awake or asleep,
able or ill.

If I were to surrender
and attempt another kind of life,
this engine would torture me
for my sin.

As it is, the driving pulse
pulls me up and pushes me hard,
demanding I keep going
even when I stand trembling and naked
before the icy whip of vulnerability,
or when my confidence wears too thin
because it was eroded by cruelty.

No infirmity nor calamity
has managed to turn the engine off
or even damage it severely.
It has amazing gifts at self-repair.

Whether the rest of me
feels ready or not,
it drags me back onto the rails
and starts the wheels of art
turning again.
It refuses to listen to my whining.
It allows for no excuses.

I weep with gratitude
for the relentless,
constant,
blessed
engine
that moves me on and on,
giving form to my days
and reason for my breathing.

— this is a first draft, written today (29 December 2013) when the icy whip of vulnerability is biting me most cruelly. But here I am, in the studio, being consoled by art.

three poems

Two poems about faith and one also about solitude.

Ask the saint:

To Julian:

The hermit:

blackouts

Usually, I find myself writing the keywords after I have written the blog, but tonight they came first. I think the last few in particular are more of a request for my life than a goal for the blog: loneliness, creativity, hope, endurance. Those are my prayers tonight – may the latter two help ease the first and stoke the second.

I had been feeling lost – the weather and my health cobbled me. All these days without power would have been bad enough, but having my vision impaired has not helped. My main solaces when I am housebound, writing and drawing, became unreasonably difficult. I have been thinking a lot about the other generations of people that lived in this house, how completely wimpy we must seem to them, complaining about what they would have seen as charmed lives of abundance. I could recognize that I have no reason to complain, and yet, I struggled. My mind restlessly churned over story and sculpture the whole time the weather, power and my physical weakness kept me from work. Again, it was proved that the words, clay and paint are the foundation for my sanity. Separation from them involves pain.

Today, the blackout lifted (and returned, and lifted, and returned, and lifted,) I went to the studio. I was able to sculpt. As my hands moved over the clay, I marveled. A deep, opaque veil had formed around my spirit – my inner light had been blocked by this stress and fear and frozen darkness. As her curves came to life under my fingertips, I started burning bright once more.

Creativity, hope and endurance.

.Here is a link to the sculpture’s preview video, if you have access to Facebook

Pieces of Loneliness: Boston

An excerpt from my work Pieces of Loneliness.

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“I am not alone.”  She looked earnestly into my eyes. The progress of this ancient woman, slow and unsteady despite the walker, had been straight as an arrow toward me. Without asking, she had lowered herself into the chair beside me, and heaved her coat and scarf and the first of what appeared to be several sweaters into the chair opposite. Her announcement had followed immediately upon her settling down. “I have a son. In Boston. He’s a banker. I wasn’t supposed to be here alone getting groceries.”  Each thought followed the next haphazardly, like so many child’s blocks put into a precariously uneven tower. Still, there was no end to them. “He was supposed to take me shopping, but he’s a banker. A very important man. He had to work.”  She bore her gaze into me, her eyes a bright blue despite the veil of age. Their expression defied me to distrust her. “He’s my son. If he didn’t have to work, he would be here. Helping me. But, he’s a banker. In Boston. He had to work.”

Her thoughts kept repeating themselves. She faced me, focused her voice toward me but never seemed to be completely talking to me. She never asked anything or gave a moment for me to respond. When my friends arrived, they warily took tables across the cafe, and waved me over. i made excuses and rose to join them, only to watch their faces fall in horror as she struggled to her feet to follow me. Slowly she gathered up her walker, her sweater, her scarf, her coat, bore them across the room before taking a seat beside my friends’ table. The whole way, she kept talking, “I have a  son you see.”  Our conversation could not withstand her drum-beat of loneliness. “He’s a banker. In Boston. A very important man.”

Irritated and frustrated, my friends ate as quickly as they could and began to drag me toward another restaurant where we could talk without interruption. As soon as the old woman lost her audience, she turned her focus to the woman on her right. The declarations had continued unabated, straight through our mumbled goodbyes, our putting on our coats and the change of her monologue’s direction. She stared into that woman’s face as intently as she had mine. “He would be here, to help me, but he had to work.”

As i checked out, one of my friends kept hissing chastisements in my ear. “She was crazy!  Why did you encourage her?”

“i didn’t encourage her,”  i shrugged. “and i don’t know that she’s really crazy. Maybe she’s just lonely.”

“Oh, she is.”  The cashier whispered as she leaned in to me. “Her son has never come to visit in all the years i’ve worked here.”

Christmas poems – day 4

the icon

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loneliness is better

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A Christmas poem – referring to the writing of my play “the hardest convert.”  Click here to hear the play, the links are at the bottom of the page.

 

A Good Christmas Story.

The writer in me wanted A Christmas Story. Already, I had written a tale about Easter, one of my favorite pieces, filled with angst, sarcasm, and the redemptive strength of faith – even at a time when the main character has no clear idea in what she is believing other than love.

The idea had came to me while visiting friends. They began to set up for Christmas right after Thanksgiving – absolutely awesome in their joy and anticipation. It challenged my assumptions. Their experiences and mine cannot be more different, and history colored all our perceptions. Last year was the first in five that I felt acknowledged in a good way – even though the feeling, I am sure, was unfair. Too many tragedies and heartbreaks had happened in December, the month bore a burden of deep suspicion. Still, the visit had been marvelous and their Christmas Spirit infectious. Surely, theirs is a better way to be, enjoying a holiday that I tolerated or ignored.

In their living-room, I resolved to write a story for the people like me, the solitaries, those unwillingly without a lover or children or family, those stuck in the kuiper belt of society. Surely, I could find something in which to anchor my own peculiar joy that could be the basis of a Good Christmas Tale. One where I did not have to have the financial wherewithal of a Scrooge to make a difference.

Once I got home, things started happening. First, I was overcome with anger at someone’s selfish, thoughtless act, one that adversely effected my business. At least, I kept telling myself, that the transgression did not come from a place of malice and premeditation, for if I allowed my thoughts to venture onto that ground, then I descended into a new level of fury. Alas, I hate being angry with anyone other than myself. It feels unchristian, unkind and dangerous – for my spirit, if not the person evoking my ire. I am enough of a Christian & Buddhist to be committed to non violence- well, in my actions, for I cannot always stifle my imagination.

Happily, my irritation acted like sand in my shorts; it prompted some vigorous movement. Ideas about change and growth for my business started to take shape, moving from the conceptual to the practical. However, success is not guaranteed. I know this. Yet, I took great comfort in being filled with possibility. The fear and exhilaration of change, even transformations that will take awhile to come to fruition, can feel like a gift all by themselves. And, these plans gave me something to focus on as the next bump threw me around onmy path.

I got the flu, and quite quickly thereafter it evolved into bronchitis. Asthma made the recovery from that more difficult, which appears to be its job. All the extra income I had wound up being thrown into prescriptions rather than savings. For nearly two weeks I had to focus on second string work – no less important, but tasks which do not require as much stamina and strength. As I grew more frustrated and sorrowful, for I get woefully discouraged by these health-mandated detours, I reminded myself of how lucky I am to have this business, to possess the freedom to take time to poem, read, paint, draw, plan my next steps and, most of all, heal.

In the middle of this morass of physical misery I resolved to do something extravagant. I had already done a few things for myself while I was away and immediately after returning: bought some new clothes, some face cream for my rosacea, gotten my ears re-pierced, but the self-directed spoilings fail to satisfy. There are people who have done amazing things for me this year, and I wanted to thank them. Instead of pottery or sculpture, I used what little cash I had on hand to buy gifts. No one got anything particularly extravagant – and a few still got pieces of my art – but I rooted myself in gift giving. I bought expensive bows and cheap wrapping paper. On a day filled with particular pluck, I brought the tiny, Charlie Brown style Christmas tree from the studio and set it up in the living room. With help, lights went in the window. Underneath the tree bending under the weight of lights and ornaments, I set up the gifts going out. I felt such joy. Twice, maybe thrice, I listened to Christmas music – medieval, but still rich with Noels. Maybe, I thought, this can be the base for my story. I try to be as giving as possible, although I am chronically cash poor and pottery rich, but there is something special about doing it for Christmas.

About a week ago, the weather remembered it is winter. Snow fell. The studio had to close for two days, in part because of my health and in part because of the danger of a super slick driveway. Then, starting this weekend, the ice took hold. We have been without power for two days. The groceries bought for my solitary celebration have either frozen on the porch or gone south in the warm fridge. Christmas presents, by in large, have remained undelivered. I dare not think of the supplies, clay, glazes and paints frozen in the studio. Those losses could be extreme. Without a working phone, for those lines decorate my driveway, I have not been free to call many friends and wish them a happy Christmas. The vulnerability and isolation would be crushing, except for small gestures of kindness. The neighbor lending me wood, the good friend who harassed me to go to the hospital and the other amazing friend who sacrificed her Christmas Eve to drive me around icy Bangor to get even more prescriptions and spend time with me when I looked like a demented pirate.

Yesterday, during the worst of the ice storm, the right side if my face went slack. I drooled while I nebulized. In the shower, I felt a terrible pain in my jaw and came out to discover my lips were half drooped. As the day went on, perceiving light and form became acutely painful. My right eye began to weep compulsively.

The first friend wanted me to brave the ice, call an ambulance, do anything to see a doctor. I refused, acknowledging it could make me a fool. However, as angry as my inaction made her, I stayed in bed. I could not shake the deep, wordless voice within me that cautioned me to stay home and assured me this situation was not life threatening. All will be well. Her growing frustration, so plain in the texts trickling through my dying phone, kept deepening my calm. I agreed to go to the hospital in the morning and true to my word, after hacking my car out of its icy sheath, I started the long, unpleasant trip to Bangor. Driving is so much easier when using my eyes is not painful, and when those wonderful devices provide clear vision rather than odd, blurred smears.

Plus, the drool and the constant weeping from my eye had become off-putting.
I kept thinking “Merry Christmas, you idiot.” Here I had been searching for a Good Christmas Story and I found a farce, some kind of comedy of errors.

The instant I arrived at the ER, they took me in. As soon as the nurse saw me, she diagnosed me with Bell’s Palsy, and wondered aloud if I might be pregnant. Laughing, I said it would go with the theme if Christmas if I were, because I have been in a long stretch of disgruntled celibacy. She reassured me that she had been through this before herself while carrying her son, gave me advice on using straws and eye patches, and left me for the doctor. He confirmed her diagnosis, showed me how to tell the difference between that and a stroke, and gave me prescriptions for steroids (doubly helpful – I will be able to breathe better and it will help the droopiness), eye drops, eye ointment and again suggested an eye patch since my lid won’t close.

As I sat there, waiting to get the prescriptions and discharge papers, wondering how bad the bill would be for the visit, the meds and the odd accessory ($55 for the latter two,) I realized that it was Christmas Eve. Honestly, it had not fully processed until that moment. All the days off and foul weather had messed up my sense of time. ‘This would have been my 19th wedding anniversary,’ I thought, and felt shock that the acknowledgement didn’t slay me. I continued to comfort myself, ‘I am not having a stroke, or any of the terrible things this could have been, nor am I overly invested in my appearance.’ Indeed once I was able to see clearly, I became fascinated by this odd geometry on such a familiar canvas.

As the day wore on, and my friend joined me for lunch after December 24th proved to be the worst day possible to get prescriptions filled at a large chain store, things started looking even better. Neither the drool nor the unevenness nor the weeping were truly bothersome. My appearance was never refined enough to bear the burden of my self-worth, although it would stoke self-loathing on occasion. This detachment has helped today. Closing the studio became a guilt free proposition since the driveway was blocked by the cables on one end and a fallen tree on the other. Both the pain and the vision problems cleared up the minute drops hit my parched eye. My mind was clear enough to nearly make my lunch companion choke on a chicken wing over a particularly wicked theological joke. To her credit, she only giggled a little when she watched me have to pull my lips away from my teeth long enough to bite down and gnaw at my lunch. The nurse was right, straws are my ally. I savored the first long, cold drink I had been able to manage in thirty hours. Then, my friend willingly drove me hither and yon while I sought out firewood, lamp oil, marvelous wet food for my animals and the all important eyepatch.

Almost inevitably, I came home to a cool, dark house, but that was okay. i felt no fear, only relief. The log I added to the fire was coaxed into flame by the coals. Oil lamps were refilled. Candles lit. I said a quick prayer over the studio: not to let clay, glaze and paint freeze if possible. But I kept myself from panicking over the losses. Whatever I face on that score will be recouped somehow. The lights in the window stayed dark, but I knew they were there. The gifts under the tree will be delivered late, but it made the left side of my face smile broadly to run my hand over them. They exist. I have people to whom I can give such things. When the fire alarm chose an hour before midnight to die, I found a fresh battery and enough stamina to whine until my tenant changed it. I did not have a stroke yesterday. My foolishness did not cost me as it could have. When I realized it was Christmas Eve, I discovered that I am no longer heartsick, even if I have to admit to occasionally severe loneliness. The distance that settled in after the tragedy of my divorce, when the man I so loved kept telling me that God wanted me to be childless and alone and suffering, so he only did God’s Will ensuring those things, has healed enough that I can pray and paint my yearly Madonna and Child without angst. This blackout has made my animals actually want to cuddle, and I can pretend it is for love as much as the desire to steal my body heat.

As I have written these words, it has become Christmas. I look out the window for a star and find a voluptuous, generous moon. In the light of a single candle I keep remembering a power outage from 1999. I had just gotten sick and lost what I thought would be my career. Certainly, all that I thought gave me value had gone up in flames. My redirection and total commitment to the arts had already occurred, but I kept tormenting myself with the thought I was wasting my time. Who could care about my work? How could it ever matter? The compulsion to create could not be denied, but I had no confidence in myself.

In that holy place, I begged and pleaded for an answer to the question ‘Am I on the right path?’ Shockingly, I received a response through a sudden, inexplicable power cut. Indescribable love filled that darkness, so huge it made me tremble, so depthless I could have drowned in it. I suddenly knew why angels always started out with some version of “Do not be afraid!” – the veil between the Divine and the soul being ripped away is humbling in the extreme, even as it brings on ecstasy. In that moment, I swam in an ocean, I became a beloved drop, simultaneously the same as and cherished by the Lover.

This prolonged darkness has been more quiet. As much as I love my home, my animals, my technology and my stuff, I am beginning to develop faith that I can make it through without almost all of those comforts. They ease my path but they do not define me. Although I am not eager to test this faithful hypothesis, I take comfort in it. At some point, I developed resilience; over the past few years, I have been forced to prove its existence repeatedly. Perhaps as a result, my needs do not scream as loudly and desperately now as they did at the time of that miracle. Wonderfully, tentatively, I am beginning to develop a firmer understanding that my emotions, even acute ones like anger, fear and anxiety or the prolonged ones like loneliness, depression and self-judgment, have no power to separate me from God. They might fool me into thinking I am unloved and without value, but eventually, the scales fall from my eyes. As my inner dialogue has lost power over me, so have the manipulations of others. The window of disbelief stays open for much less time and slams down harder. No one knows secret truths about me but God and myself.

I am even beginning to forgive myself for my distractability, weakness and mistakes.

As recalcitrant and weak as this flesh can be, I have found more ease within it. Joy weaves its way to me through pain and gracelessness. The fears of my ego do not plague me as badly. Unbelievably, I can coax affection and kindness toward myself as easily as I fall back into the habits of self-recrimination and anxiety. Happily, I have been feeling brave – like there is nothing holding me back from leaping into the unknown – because I know I can survive the loss of the things to which I am attached. Already, I pour my heart and soul into creating because it brings me sublime purpose and joy even when it is going badly. When it is going well, nothing else can compare. I am ready to give myself the gift of equally resolute and profound faith in the work I create as I have in my calling to be creative.

This is not really a Christmas Story at all, I suppose. Certainly no great works of fiction have leapt into my mind while I babbled about my personal journey. The triumph of writing something longer than a poem is mitigated by going off topic. I know what I have done to light a fire inside myself this Christmas has been meager, incomplete and shallow. I have not experienced a divine dream or another life-altering moment of connection to God tonight. Admittedly, my story bears few parallels to Mary’s – I have no children, no family. I am no saint. However, I am harmonizing with some of the best themes of the season: I overflow with deep peace, love and gratitude at this particular moment – and for me, inside this cold, dark winter’s night, with my mortality writ upon my sagging face, life feels for all the world like it is just beginning.

— And with those words, my iPad’s battery died.

I am uploading this on Christmas. I still do not have power, my face still does not work. It is cold and I stink on my third day without a shower. I feel more alone than ever, more anxious about what has frozen in the studio, but I am also swimming with gratitude and joy at being alive. Merry Christmas!