Month: February 2014

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.

and now the whimpering…

Oh, God. I paid the bills.  Well, most of them.  The ones urgently due, in any case. If I ever start feeling prideful and cocky, all I need to do is take the stack of stuff I have to pay in the next two weeks, add to that the amount I ought to spend on clay and glaze and other supplies for the business, and balance them with the amount of income that I know I will get (Ha! That is a sad little joke every artist I know will get! There is no certain income in the arts; people are not forced to buy your work.)  Then, if I still feel a glimmer of inappropriate self-satisfaction, I can either boot up my old laptop and watch it have a seizure trying to run Photoshop or attempt to look at a webpage on my (pristine, perfect condition and yet still utterly obsolete and mostly non-functional) iPad 1, and the whimpering will begin in short order.

reading-alt
the face of someone reading a book she does not like… she is slightly happier than I am paying the bills

If I really need more humbling, I can try to draw on said iPad and watch it commit seppuku rather than open the app.  (I loved drawing on it.  The last successful drawing is to the left. This loss I mourn.)

Honestly, the bills were enough today all on their own.  I comfort myself with digital drawing and the whole seppuku thing made me despondent enough to write a blog.

To a certain degree, this is a seasonal disorder.  March has always been one of the hardest months for these spasms of stress (I know it’s still technically February, but these were the March bills I was paying).  The spring sales have not yet started and whatever money I squirreled away for the first part of the year has vanished.  2014 watched it fly away much faster than normal.  This incredibly harsh winter ate it up through fuel oil and repairs to the house after the ice storm.

So, I whimper.  I stomp around in a puddle of self-pity so deep it pours into my galoshes and soaks my socks.

Thankfully, this angst does not last very long (anymore.)  When I find myself drenched in self-doubt, I am overwhelmed with a compulsion to act. Furiously, I try to shake it off.  I turn to whatever might mitigate the stress and insecurity.  The delight I take in my work helps quite a lot.  The obsessive writing that has dominated the past two days reminds me that this is my calling – whether or not it is lucrative, or wise, or just evidence that I am a fool.

If I am in such a negative mood that I keep insulting the works of my hands, or I am so anxious that I cannot focus properly on making art, I pull out my business plan and comfort myself with whatever might be going better than expected.  If I can’t find anything that meets those criteria, I search the opus for proof that I am better at handling catastrophe than I was when I started this endeavor five years ago.  Running a business did not come naturally to me. Thank God, I am improving, even if progress remains slow and uneven.  With this inspiring me, I adapt my plans, think about how I could improve my situation, vow never to eat out again (even though I know it’s a LIE), shop for deals on iPads so I will be prepared when I sell something big enough to make me think I can afford one… and that all might soothe me.

Yet, if it doesn’t, all is not lost.  The next steps are meditating to regain my inner peace and itemizing the things I’m grateful for – a list that could go on nearly endlessly.  Ah, but if the nervousness has made me too agitated to maintain the discipline required for those tasks, I can still call or text friends and try to distract myself with their triumphs and tribulations.  Maybe I’ll just have them remind me that I’m not a lost cause.

After all that, if I am still morose, I set a timer for twenty minutes and just let myself stew in the dark quiet (not meditation, simply letting myself whimper with abandon).  I get bored of such drama pretty quickly. Usually turning on the lights afterward is enough to get me out of my funk. At some point, in the darkness, I am confronted with one unavoidable truth: I cannot do anything other than what I’m doing.  Even if I’m failing, I’m following my heart.  Even if the worst happens, even if I never make another dime from my art or my writing, even if I lose everything, it does not matter enough to make me deviate from my purpose.  I know deep in my soul that this is what I do – who I am.  The realization doesn’t make me happy, or renew my faith, so much as helps me surrender to the instability of it all.

That epiphany is helped by the other unavoidable realization that comes to me after twenty minutes of motionless self-pity: I don’t seem to be able to sit still for more than fifteen minutes (sadly, this includes meditation) without some form of art starting to poke at me for attention.

Speaking of which, the book I’ve been writing – which was already gently poking me before I decided to write this blog on paying the bills – has now begun to slap me lightly.

I should get back to it before one of the characters thinks to pick up a weapon…

burbling with excitement

Let’s see if I can get a whole blog entry done in ten minutes!  That’s how long I have before people arrive for my Clayful Evening event at the Studio.

Hopefully, they are the type of people who like happiness, because I am positively burbling with excitement.  I met a good friend for lunch – a totally impromptu affair, taking the place of a meeting I was supposed to have – and we spent nearly the entire three hours brainstorming about one of the books I have going.  If only I could write them one at a time like a normal person (wait, are writers ever normal people?)… but no, I do a few chapters of one, then a flurry of activity on another, then go back to the first. It helps that characters tend to overlap from story to story. Anyway, I had been stuck with this particular work and she rolled up her sleeves, tinkered with the engine of the tale and got us going again!

Literally, the waitress at the restaurant kept avoiding us – either because we were taking so damned long or because we must have sounded crazy, both of us totally steeped in this fictional world, discussing it as though it were completely real, playing the parts of characters, describing the structure of scenes. Mel provided me with the context for actions that kept happening in the writing that I had not anticipated and could not interpret.

The whole ride home, the entire time spent cleaning the studio for the event, I have been speaking out lines of dialogue – probably sounding like I have a very strange multiple personality disorder – and simply pretty much dancing from the thrill of this glorious world in my imagination.  Sitting in the restaurant, during a pause in the conversation, I leaned back, closed my eyes (putting my hands over them for good measure) I could see the world in which Abby and Einar and so many others were walking – it was as clear as if I sat in the room with them, staring at Abby’s artwork and eavesdropping on their conversation.  Each of the characters we fleshed out walked and talked in my mind as though they were fully fleshed – and there is nothing more exhilarating.

Of course, now I have to show people how to play with clay – something else that makes me joyous – and afterward, I am racing back to the house to write.  I need to spend time with these characters, to put onto paper the scenes that we discussed.

If only I could stop bouncing and squealing with delight between now and then – eh, on second thought, why bother trying to stifle this happiness?  If my gratitude makes me obnoxious, I’ll just beam out a smile of apology.

Thanks Mel – although I wonder if it doesn’t suck to be friends with a writer who is also an external processor…

The blog, it is complete with THREE MINUTES TO SPARE!  WOO HOO!

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.

A few small words

joyToday, I went to a meeting of artists. Carpooling with a friend, I was drenched in good conversation.  Arriving at the meeting, I was surrounded by people I know and admire.  Then the unexpected gift: another friend pulled me aside, said that she has been reading my blog, and made a point to tell me that I am part of this community and among friends.  Patting me on the shoulder she said that my days of being a lonely freak are done.

Several people have given me this message lately.

I wonder how many times I will need to hear that statement before it penetrates my spirit.  My mind gets it, and I sing with gratitude every time I hear it, but in the middle of the night my heart forgets.

A few small words and my entire day turned around – like the sun had vanquished storm clouds.  Thanks, Deb.  Likewise, thanks Liz, Leslie, Lori and Mel – and Shawna – and Veronica – and probably a lot more people that I am not remembering because I have such a hard time hearing this message.

 

Poems about faith, dreams and writing

faith without waivering:

diminished dreams:

escapist writing:

steadfastness

Sometime around the fourth inch of snow of this current snowstorm, I started to lose my resolve. All I wanted was to hide.  Instead of putting on my boots and heading to the studio, I curled up with a good book and the animals, tucked under the blankets, simultaneously overwhelmed and grieved by the amount of work.  Too much of this winter has been spent hiding.

red and white bowls
red and white bowls

Both the list of all I have to do and the absolute mystery of how it will get done quickly with the foul weather and the limits of my two hands keep plaguing me.  The fear that this is what defeat feels like wandered through my heart over and over.  Perhaps, I have been too stubborn to notice it as failure has crept up behind me. How do I stay steadfast to my dreams when I am caught in this cold, lonely, confused insecurity? Even today, I know I should be grateful.  Thank God, most days this question doesn’t plague me.  As I have talked about before, I find myself fortified by art.  When I stand before the wheel, or the easel, it restores me and aligns me with a great feeling of purpose.  The ability to make new and better pots and paintings and poems somewhat insulates me from rejection.  Even when I cannot soothe myself with creating, a certain amount of strength dwells within me.  When confronted by others, I can muster some defiance in the face of predictions of doom. Another’s negativity might effect me, frustrate me or dishearten me, but it rarely unseats me entirely. No, what makes me falter are the churning doubts that echo through my skull when I am alone.  The dark and the cold don’t help. Tomorrow night, they predict another terrible storm. Then another a couple of days later. This huge mount of work that I must do continues to grow larger – for which I am wildly grateful and a bit intimidated. However, even during this snow-drenched day, I have found a comfort beyond these words and the few sketches I have put to paper.  I focus on one sentiment, which I have clung to for the past two days like a mantra: I can only do what I can do.  If I look deep into myself – from how my flesh manages in this moment, to what tenacity and inspiration dwell within my spirit, to how well I can navigate the frozen world outside – and I am doing the most that I can manage, then that is all that matters.  That has to be enough.  If I am being true to what I can do, then the pain of deadlines and pressures and stress becomes self-imposed. I am whipping myself for things I cannot alter and honestly the masochism of self-hatred long ago lost its appeal. So I am letting myself feel rotten without pushing myself to end up feeling even worse.  I sigh with the dog when we go outside for a walk only to crunch and slide on ice and snow.  And, after I am done writing, I will curl up with either Rumi or HG Wells and spend the evening in the embrace of their words. It will all be okay, even if my steadfastness feels like discipline right now rather than emotion.

another planet

This may wind up being a strange little blog, but this topic has been buzzing around in my mind for days.  Indeed, ever since two people – in random, unsolicited instants of kindness – told me that I’m not a freak, nor even that unusual, I have wanted to write this down.  Tonight, I have finally run out of excuses to keep me away from the keyboard.  Or, rather, writing this blog has now become my excuse to not do the dishes.  (It’s strange how that works.)

In an earlier blog, my fiction gave voice to something very real in my psyche: a sense of separation from people. A dissonance exists within me on this subject. I have known deep and passionate love and total, excruciating rejection. Those memories war within me, both positives and negatives wanting to project themselves onto the future and all of humanity. Simultaneously, I crave solitude for my work and I chafe at my isolation. The dissonance continues on a more abstract level.  Philosophically and spiritually, I know that we are all connected and part of Creation.  I have experienced this in my meditation. We are all human, united by the shared limitations of our flesh, our souls drops of an endless ocean. However, in a practical sense, I have always felt like I don’t belong even among those I have loved most. I imagine that being part of society is a suit that fits me badly, warping and shifting all around me, exposing things it shouldn’t with alarming frequency.

I know that I am not the first to feel this way – in fact, I have read over and over that this is a sensation that plagues people who had unhappy childhoods.  Becoming an artist, with all the false separation that implies, has only made the perception worse.  Many do not understand my priorities;  others do not value my work.  However, even there, I am not alone, because the artists I know suffer the same.  When I swell up with insecurity because I have been testy or irritated or angry at someone’s behavior, I only have to remember the times friends have cried on my shoulders with fear and anxiety that they have lost a relationship – been severed from love – because they dared to react to someone else’s actions.

It’s ironic that I have such company in this sense of separation, and yet the sensation remains.  I give thanks (with obnoxious frequency) for those moments when the veil disappears and I feel like I am fully human – that I both belong and have value – in the company of others.

For the rest of the time, at least I am used to the feeling of being from another planet.  There are moments when I actually enjoy the perspective.  People are endlessly fascinating, even if I’m just observing them from the outside.

 

 

two steps away from oblivion

As good as my mood has been for the past several weeks, I am aware that I always walk two steps away from oblivion.

angel_smThere has been great progress, though, for I used to be one step away from oblivion.  Indeed, I spent a lot of time with my toes dangling over the edge.

A quirk of my character refuses to let me to take most things for granted. I have been told my endless ‘thank you’s for even small acts of kindness are off-putting. Each great pot I throw still wows me, because I remember the many long years when I could not throw well at all. When loveliness comes out of the kiln, I find myself singing and dancing. Every month I manage to pay my bills, I celebrate (albeit from a place of anxious overwhelm).  When my friends reach out to me, I rejoice in their actions.  The good painting, the poem that makes me smile, the story that bears some grace, all leave me wildly grateful.

The flip side to this gratitude is the keen and certain knowledge that these gifts can be lost at a moment’s notice.  Whether we realize it or not, we all stand two steps away from our personal oblivions.  None of us has any real security, even if we can convince ourselves that we do because we cannot know the future.  Illness, an accident, financial stresses (and who is without those) – well, I will stop naming them.  There are countless ways to fall into oblivion.  Focusing on them is unhealthy, which I know from experience.

If I estimate conservatively, I spent a decade wallowing in fear and anxiety without the ability to move forward effectively.  PTSD, general anxiety, debilitating illness, I can come up with a lot of reasons why I was stuck, but honestly, the reason why isn’t half as important as my getting to the place where I could be brave and start moving.  Angel

So I keep going, seeing the edge beside me, realizing how vulnerable I am, and yet knowing that even if I fall in the most catastrophic way possible, even if I lose everything, this movement is better than the fear and paralysis in which I was trapped.

And, tonight as I write, this is the blessing for which I sing thanksgivings.

open center

My mind keeps turning
around the open center
of a pot.

The emptiness
the clay encloses
aches,
like the space inside
the circle of my arms and chest,
and the void within my breast.

My attention stays on this space,
spinning still,
warping and bending,
this place where all else
has been pushed away
so there is room
for becoming.