Month: July 2015

meditation

time to myself

namasteThe more demands that are placed on my time, the more i am reacting to immediate needs rather than thinking about where i want to go, the less art i am making, the more i crave time to myself.

Not even to make art, although i am desperate for that too, i am longing time to center myself and figure out my next steps.

i am afraid that i might miss a life jacket thrown to me because i am too busy shouting for help.  The glorious wonders of love could be destroyed by insecurity and preoccupation.  Frustration has stolen too many days, and the more tired and pained i get, the more time that useless emotion gobbles up.

So, the next day i have when i am not in a gallery, i am going to do nothing – i am taking the day for myself.  No chores, no obligations, i will pretend that i live a life of ease and luxury.  And, perhaps, that will be enough to recharge me for another month of constant movement and focused activity.

 

gifts by year

Thirty-five gave me happiness, a break from depression and anxiety for the first time. i would enjoy this for too short a spell, truthfully, but while i had it, the world was a delight.  i have never forgotten what it felt like – imagine Atlas having had the world flipped off his shoulders – and i have never stopped feeling grateful for the experience.

Thirty-six gave me a mustache.  Alas, i did not find an innner Frida Kahlo to celebrate it.

Thirty-seven told me there would be no children from this body.  But, it taught me i could survive such a loss.  Then, it let me seriously lose weight for the first time in my adult life.  (Sadly, i don’t know which year helped me find the weight again, or if i picked it back up a pound a week during the eight sets of seasons between then and now.)

Thirty-eight turned my life upside down, took the person that i thought i was and broke it like a stick over its knee, and gave me a divorce. In one swoop, it took away everything i thought i was. It handed me to thirty nine completely shattered, hollowed out, oozing pain, haphazardly held together with duct tape and twine, after having hastily slapped a crooked sticker over my chest, bearing a new name.

Thirty-nine taught me that people liked my art. It could sell! It let my pieces start their migration all over – fueled by farmers’ markets and art  shows here in Maine but spreading.  By the time i reached a new decade of my life, my art had traveled all over the US, Europe, Canada, Latin America and Asia.

Forty taught me that i knew nothing about running a business but could muddle through quite nicely with enough ignorance, zeal and hard work.  By that time i was also realizing a remarkable thing: i could live alone well.

Forty-one instructed me on relapses in health that could derail many plans.  Moreover, i discovered that the instability inherent in being an artist was squared by also being a sole-proprietor.  It made me wistful when i watched people who had families and spouses and kids helping them, even as it sparked wild gratitude for the ever widening network of friends i had found.  Mostly, it proved to me that i can be a stubborn cur.  Oh, and my first encounter with reading glasses taught me (as i stroked my mustache) that not all aspects of aging will be faced with sweet equanimity.

Forty-two showed me what lightening can do to a kiln.  That was a startling, hard lesson that lead to three more revelations: people can be unexpectedly kind, sometimes you have no choice but to ask for help even when you would rather die, and even when you are trying the hardest you can, you will still let people down.  It also taught me that people were unbelievably wonderful and shockingly dangerous, although that particular lesson spilled over into the next year.

Forty-three taught me that there was a give a damn, right in front of my heart, and that it could break. That was a liberating experience!  Finally, i could sit back and say to someone unpleasant the most basic truth: “You are being an ass, you are chronically an ass, and i don’t have to let anything you say bother me anymore.”  Oh, and it also schooled me in life as a blonde –  red started to go white, so my hair started to get blonder and blonder and blonder.

Forty-four.  Well.  Today is my last day at forty-four.  This has been a hard couple of years.  i have seen a decline in my health which has limited my opportunities, a rapid crash in my sales and my ability to make pottery, and a slowness to adapt to these changes.  But, i have learned the absolute depths of my stubborn commitment to making art.

So far, June and the first half of July have been the most tremendous, concentrated, miraculous, unpleasant, and uncomfortable awakening i have ever experienced.  While i knew my give-a-damn could break, i have been surprised at my resiliency in the face of its complete shattering. i discovered internal reserves of strength and confidence that i had only hoped existed previously. When i started to go down the desolate path of despair, outrage and stubbornness sprang up, keeping me from losing myself. With absolute shock, i learned i can  laugh at cruelty and defend myself without any second thoughts or guilt.  i am allowed to be angry, even when i actively hold myself back from being vengeful.  The tempered steel under these soft curves had not shown itself so obviously before.

i have learned that acting bravely can make up for a lot of fear, even if my hands cannot stop trembling.

Also, i have learned more about the word love.  Thankfully rid of the burden of doubt and constant questioning, i proved myself able to discern when love was true, meaning something so profound, a kindness so deep, that it changed the pitiless and variable world into a realm of unbelievable blessings, and when it was used as nothing but raw manipulation, empty and cruel syllables.  Experiencing the latter, my reaction gave testimony – the word love had no effect on me when grossly misused.

Even deeper, even more profound, i have the first kindling sparks of a fire burning within me.  June and July taught me that this life will truly and irrevocably be rendered useless unless i step up and start treating myself lovingly – even on the days of greatest despair and most debilitating anxiety. Even as my life again falls apart and once more i find myself forced to re-imagine nearly everything about my life.

Indeed, treating myself as a true beloved would treat me is even more important during intense suffering. There will always be people ready to kick you when you’re down, piss on your dreams, sparkle with joy at the pain they cause.  Protecting my spirit in the face of any unfounded criticism, unjustified cruelty and random mistreatment has become a part of being loving. If i would stand up for a friend, then i need to be that friend to myself.  i know who i am, good and bad; i realize i am constantly growing and changing.  If i don’t take care about the soil in which i take root, then i will start to take on smell of the crap thrown at me.

A knowledge deeper than any resolution came over me: i cannot allow anyone else to wear me down. i have to stop entertaining those messages, no matter their source.  If i must diminish myself to be with someone, then they are not someone to whom i should give any thought or time.  In response to that epiphany, a diamond formed around my soul, able to let light, truth and love through, remaining a great conduit for love and art flowing out, but suddenly becoming wondrously impervious to the abuse leveled at me. No comment, no insult, no hostility could touch the gifts God had given.  Oh, for one as thin-skinned and sensitive as me, who had spent forty-four years all too frequently eroding under the influence of other people’s energies and demands, that was the best birthday gift i could ever receive – the only diamond i would ever want.

Of course, i have to keep it intact.  Even diamonds have a flaw that can make them shatter, so i need to be protective of myself. Moreover, i have skills i still must learn: dealing with stress better, nourishing my faith, figuring out how to move forward boldly when my heart is screaming with fear, working through the grief of failure until i can see the rays of possibility.  When i backslide, when i grow sorrowful and lonely and pessimistic, ready to climb on the greased slide of self-loathing, i have to consciously choose to treat myself with kindness and compassion.  This morning, as i slumped out of bed trying to shake off agony-induced insomnia, i kept repeating to myself: remember, asha, everyone goes through periods of darkness. Everyone has bad mornings.  Ignoring it, recriminating yourself for it, will only give the mood more power.  Over and over i had to pull myself out of hopeless sorrow and bring myself back into the moment.

IMG_1912 (1)The last days of forty-four brought this glorious lesson: part of this continual evolution must include permission to consciously weigh my anchor in an ocean of peace and confidence; in the belief that what i am doing and who i am have value even when it is not immediately apparent; in the reality that change is the only constant – but that doesn’t have to mean a constant deconstruction, but rather it can be a story of amazing hope and growth.

So as i write today, still reeling from weariness and crisis, the sensation of this morning’s desperate pain lingering like a hangover, i have every reason to be eager to see what forty-five brings.

another moment

Something that is helping me keep perspective: times are still tough all around.

i was talking to a brilliant young man last week and he described his sorrow at not being able to justify college.  “There are no jobs, and the amount of debt I would have to incur is crippling. Without a good paying job, I would never be able to pay it off – and I haven’t even been able to find a decent bad paying job. None of my friends who have graduated are doing any better.  They have these huge burdens and no work.”  He shrugged, “I had a lawyer offer me his practice, to give it to me, if I went through law school.  With all my heart, I would love to do it, I would love to be a lawyer, but the numbers don’t work.  There is just no way to afford undergraduate and then law school.”  He smiled sadly and shrugged.  He held out the book he was carrying, that had started our conversation, “Thank God for libraries, though.  And inter-library loan!  At least I can read it all.”

If he had been my peer, given the intelligence and curiosity that he could not hide, he would have gone to college.  He probably would have broken every curve and gotten a scholarship to a prestigious law school. But that is not the decade in which we live.

His calm, soberingly realistic view on student loan debt and the job market for twenty somethings – coupled with my current experiences both as an artist and as a job seeker myself – made me realize that the world has changed irrevocably since i was his age.  Even at that point, my then husband and i often talked about what had happened since our parents were in their twenties: our standard of living would never be equal to what our parents enjoyed, and general job instability – not to mention the complete improbability of any of our peers retiring from a job and getting a pension – were hard for our parents to comprehend.  Social security?  Don’t bet on it. Education? Even then, was not a guarantee.

When I was at Georgetown, I remember one of the professors talking about how hopeless our situation was.  “I feel guilty that we have this program.  There are no tenured jobs for you – they are all held by baby boomers. By acting like there’s a chance, we are giving you false hope. By the time we retire, you’ll be too old – the tenured jobs will go to the young pups that are just publishing their PhDs and can be hired cheap.”  He laughed wickedly, before referring to the event that had spawned the conversation, “That’s why I’m worried about this historical convention in Saskatoon.  One bomb on an airplane and all the tenure issues for your generation are solved.”

He turned out to be right in his prediction and completely safe at the convention.  Most of my peers who finished their doctorates have wound up adjunct professors without job stability or health insurance, or working in another field altogether.  Many are not doing that much better than I have as an artist – we are studies in variability and instability.  Still, the situation today is even worse across the board.  In the 1990s and early 2000s jobs (that could sustain you financially) were not as thin on the ground, by far.  Even though you would have to change positions fairly frequently, the work was there to be had.  If you were exceptionally lucky and had marketable skills, you might even make a good wage.

In a strange way, i feel like i am going through a similar arc to that young man’s sober journey now, even though i am at least twenty years older. These extra decades have helped me learn more about myself – and, honestly, that can be a mixed blessing.  Finding a job under the best of conditions is hard – when i think about who i am as a person, the forces that drive me as a human being, the meager needs that feed my joy – the task feels insurmountable. i stare ruin in the face, now on a daily basis. Keeping myself from moving from realism to abject pessimism has become a full time job on its own, added to which is the time i spend giving myself transfusions of hope through meditation, magical thinking, art and prayer.

spillingout_11x14We have become a country of people doing what we must, struggling to survive, learning that we can live without things like dentists, eye doctors, credit ratings and security.  In exchange, at least in my case, i have learned a ridiculous amount about myself.  i have learned that even on days like today, when i am so exhausted that i can barely stand and my heart weighs heavily in my chest, that there are still words to write.  There are still kind people. Gratitude for what i have been given can reign within me, if i give it half a chance. i could drown in my own responsibility – after all, i chose to keep going even when i found myself alone, i chose to trust the wrong people, i chose to follow my dreams with the zeal of a stalker and the stubbornness of a fool.  Moreover, many of these choices are ongoing: i continually choose to keep trying, i choose to make art every single day, i continue to act as though i have hope. Yet, if i take any time to talk to my fellow humans at all, i will realize, that even when i feel so woefully accountable for my own situation there are scores of people like that bright young man so interested in history, politics and law – who have done everything right, who are bright and driven and confident – and they are still struggling mightily against the weight of reality.

 

customer service

IMG_1439Yesterday, working in Art Space Gallery, i had a conversation with a customer that was worth its weight in gold.  Indeed, over the course of my fourth nearly sleepless night in a row, and through the drive back to ArtSpace this morning, her words kept coursing through my mind.

It had started out like nearly every other encounter in these walls:

As soon as they cross the threshold, i wait two heart beats before i smile as brightly as i can and speak with as much enthusiasm as possible without sounding weird.  “Hello!  Welcome to Art Space!”

“Hi.”  She started to look at the art.

“How are you doing on this fine day?”

“Good.”  She continues to look at the art, but she is not unfriendly by any measure.

“i don’t know if you realize this, but you have entered an artist coop – if you have any questions about any of the artists and their work, i can help.”

“Thanks.  Just looking.”  She did smile though, which is always encouraging.  However, unless people ask questions or seem open to conversation, i tend to let people look for a bit without bothering them further.  Once she reached the back room, i greeted her again – too many people miss that Lara Max has these amazing bells or that Roger Barry’s boxes have fabulous locks built into them.  Then we started talking about Lori Davis’ photography.  i told her i was in awe of the patience that it takes to be a wildlife photographer.  You have to set up before dawn, hope the sun, the clouds, the wind driven waves, the birds and the animals all do what you want or create marvelous surprises.  Then, after hours of waiting, you have to have the reflexes and the skill at composition to get the shot.

loridavis_06042015_012“This is not something that would come easily to me.”  i laughed, “This is why i am in awe.  i have a different kind of patience: i can write a book, i can spend weeks on a sculpture, i can work on a painting for two years.  However, by the time twenty minutes would have passed with me waiting for something marvelous to photograph, or for the light to get just right, or to figure out how to frame the moose, my mind would wander, my hands would fidget and i wouldn’t be able to react.  i have traded days of my life for her work, and time is the most precious thing i have, because i am in awe of her skill, her composition and her patience.  Without the patience, the other two wouldn’t have a chance to shine.”

The customer looked at me with wide eyes, nodding her head.  In a quiet voice she responded, “Thank you.”  Her hand went to her heart, “You have no idea how much I needed to hear that right now.  That feels like something divine just happened.  I feel like the message that I have to have patience is flooding over me, but you made me see it a little differently.”

A half an hour later, once she had gone through the whole gallery – and we talked about my sculpture and much of the fabulous art here by this amazing group of people – she stood in the front room as i took my seat again.  She smiled at me and said, “I don’t know why I feel the need to say this, but you know, sometimes at your darkest moments, when everything seems hopelessly lost and you have no idea what to do or where to go, that is exactly when you find your way – or get what you need.”

Instantly, tears welled up in my eyes.  “You just returned the favor.”  I put my hands out to her, hoping she could see the gratitude they were holding.  “You have no idea how much i needed to hear that.”

A few moments later, we lost something else – my surprise at finding out we had lived in the same state knocked wiser things out of the conversation – but I have been splendidly grateful for her reassurance.  She pulled me out of my fear and into a space of possibility – a great gift, particularly during this spat of insomnia and pain and stress.

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.

asha fatigue

Depression has dogged me since i was in the single digits.  Sadly, it has not stopped squatting in my psyche despite learning a lot of ways to use it, distract it and endure it.  One therapist suggested it wasn’t so much clinical depression as situational, but in the end, something happens to brain chemistry.  The depression becomes huge and impassive and unconquerable, unable to be unseated by anyone or anything, and it brings along its gang of friends – insecurity, indecision and isolation.

The last one really wipes the floor with me, in part because of “asha fatigue.” i used to work to convince myself that asha fatigue was a form of paranoia, that either people weren’t actually avoiding me or i hemorrhaged enough pain that the sound of people walking away made sense to me. Didn’t someone tell me that nothing is ever about me?  Also, i seek out quiet when i suffer, trained long and hard that no one else will want to lick my wounds.

And yet, with this bout of difficulty, i have had people admit they are avoiding me.  asha fatigue, it seems, is real.

My despair can be overwhelming, unpleasant, even when i am trying to hide it.  A sense of impotency comes over one confessor, and another just wants to shake me and make me realize how this is all my fault so i need to buck up and stop being morose. Another said that watching the endless stream of cosmic poo befalling me lately, whether self caused or not, made her uncomfortable.  From afar, another says this is all for the good and i will be free from a cursed situation and my own failures.

i hear them speak, voices rich in concern and the tones of friendship, and i watch as their words form a cudgel for isolation to wield.

If you ask me what i want, i suppose, i would love people to realize that though my dreams are lost, i tried with all my might.  And, it would be nice to feel like i am not alone in the world.  However, i admit that emotion is a lie – i am the Pluto or Neptune to a lot of people’s Suns – but i am still functionally on my own.

Plus, i really get it.  i am experiencing pretty intense asha fatigue right now myself.  i would give a small fortune (if i had it) to be out of the stress and despair and loss which imbues my days.  i would wave a magic wand and change who i am.  But instead, i am stuck here thinking about the people i love who have died, the bloody and broken shards of my heart all around me, the struggles ahead of me, and the absolute bleakness coating my vision.

 

**UPDATE**IMG_1919

i have spoken to a few people who suffer from depression since publishing this blog, both on the phone and in person, as well as a couple who don’t have classic depression but have gone through really shitty things.  And they insist it is not actually an asha-specific phenomenon.  It’s simply “depression fatigue” or “suffering fatigue.”  Does it make me a bad person to take some encouragement from that?