Month: August 2015

the dog practices zen

They say it’s Dog appreciation day…. so, an old poem about my old dog, when he was still a young pup.

 

the dog practices zendarwin the dog

he sleeps upside down
in the rounded belly
of the papasan,
legs askew
hanging in the air.
soft sighs
and twitching toes
testify to his dreams.
even rolling over
is accomplished
with a slumbering vitality
few humans will ever achieve.
suddenly waking,
he attacks his left leg,
chewing it with the same
intense wholeness…
and, surely, stretching
should only be attempted
with complete attention
and unhesitating abandon.

 

4 may 2006

unbelievable kindness

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

stains on my shirt

Usually i take great pains to dress as professionally as i am able during my shifts at these cooperative galleries.  Whether i like it or not, art is a business and i am selling a product.  That i make the work with my blood and sweat makes no difference.  However, today, i am dressed for the sunburn on my back, acquired during last Sunday’s Bucksport Art Festival.  youngmeAs it heals, it has begun to burn and itch, and the softest of shirts was required.  Sadly, as i ate my lunch, i spilled soup on myself so now we have a shirt chosen for comfort with stains down the front.  Of course, i dropped my extra clothes in a puddle coming in, so here i sit, as i am.

Oddly, i feel more at home in this get-up, stains and all, than i did yesterday in the more formal (and still very soft) dress.  Something in me appreciates the rumpled and worn. i have always been comfortable with imperfection, my art celebrates it. My uniform for writing, making pottery and painting, clay stained yoga pants and an old, super-soft t-shirt, feels the most natural to me.

i can remember how hard my mother worked to make me girlish – the lace pantyhose, the frilly polyester dresses, the patent leather shoes, the ongoing war over my hair. (How i hated those damned bangs!) Yet, i could never bend to her will; my natural inclination toward comfort and functionality won. Given my druthers, i would have run around in jeans and t-shirts with my hair in utter disarray in every picture.

Not much has changed since then.  Still, i am at home in what is comfortable, what lets me have freedom movement to work, clothes which demand no other thought.

So, to my customers today, i am pleased to meet you.  Let me talk to you about the art i make and the art of my amazing fellow cooperatives.  i recommend the clam chowder next door, too.

poem: do not make fun

Please,
do not make fun
of my madness.

It is all i have left
to get me through.

This persistent insanity
of faith and hope
counteracts the poison
of sober rationality.

In the face
of catastrophic failure,
i close my eyes
and demand miracles;
i convince myself
that some magic
could exist
which would let me survive.

i have become a professional
at seeing the fine silver lining
on the clouds of shit.

i beg you,
do not make me confront
the harsh judgment
of bank accounts and bills.

Please.
Give me the tease
of optimism
even when it appears
foolish,
misguided
or false.

Let me have some succor
in this cold, frozen world.

1 april 2015

poem: gratitude

Gratitude

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

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

Thank you for everything.

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

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

Thank you.

3 august 2015

 

#

 

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

poem: interventions

Two interventions
brought to me
over the course
of a week,
served with plates full of food,
delivered by friends
filled with concern.

Those who spoke
of wisdom and surrender
could not know
how deeply their words
drove like knives
into my heart.

How i bled
as their pickaxes
of advice
chipped away
at the edifice
of petrified steadfastness,
protecting
my most tender soul.

The bottom disappeared,
the soles of my feet turned to ice
as they stood on the frozen vacuum
of what my life is not.

All of my arguments
in defense of my dreams
sounded like excuses –
each impediment
i mentioned
was dismissed,
hands waving,
for to them,
i presented
capabilities and strength
to the world
that made my protestations
of uncoordinated, confused weakness
and wild, howling pain
lies.

The reality from within,
behind these downcast eyes,
bore no weight
in the face
of their insistence.

They are not wrong,
i have failed
spectacularly;
oh, but,
i cannot give up.

i keep plodding forward
knowing my foolish stubbornness
has cost me their support,
but i lack the ability
to stop trusting
in my purpose
as it pours out of me.

5 april 2015

feeling like an artist

IMG_2515When i make art, i do not necessarily feel like an artist.  i feel like a lucky fool who is getting another chance to do what delights her.  Indeed, during this year of relative hardship, i have had very few moments when i felt like an artist.  Lots where i felt like a mess, or a sales woman, or a failure.  But, few where i felt empowered by what i have created.

This past weekend, i received six of my pieces of art back, professionally framed, and that made my heart soar. Then i put 66 small pen and inks and 10 large ones in mats and bags, which elevated my spirit further.  Saturday, i participated in the Bucksport Art Festival and for the first time this year, got a chance to see a huge amount of people react to my artwork.

And that made me feel like an artist.  More, it made me feel like hope is something more than a delusion.

warm socks

Something written this past April 12th:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

right on the edge

For weeks, i have been having profound issues physically. Even my ability to produce art, beyond sporadically writing poetry and fiction, has completely stalled. i lost most of the week before last, taking four sick days. For a while, i rallied, although after three days of shuffling through my obligations, things took a troubling turn. i went to the emergency room on Tuesday evening and got home fairly late Wednesday, without any joy.  Everything between now and then has been a blur of misery.

i have been struggling in the most profound way. The smallest things cause tears to stream down my face.  The world keeps spinning on me.  Food has become the enemy, all of it digestible only with intense suffering and pain. Usually, i cope very well with pain – working around it – but this is different.  i am graceless, frustrated, constantly on the edge of cognitive overload.

IMG_2380
poor Martin

i could not even let my cat, Martin, cuddle (he is always starved for love) – the physical contact made the pain one whisker more than i could bear.  Eventually, he figured it out and started sitting beside me, cautiously creeping closer and closer, until i was in a good enough place for him to curl up close and get pets and scritches.  Thankfully, Roxi and Darwin are more self-sufficient, content to sit nearby and rest.

The worst part of this has been how it debilitates me emotionally.  My issues with anxiety get augmented wildly by this level of exhaustion and pain.  Chronic illness can lead to feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, but this has been a much stronger reaction than usual. i keep getting jumped, every phone call, each time someone knocks at the door, each time the dog barks like he announces the apocalypse, i nearly come out of my skin. i freeze and shudder and cry. There are a few really unflattering anecdotes i could share about hiding until the unexpected passed – and i acknowledge the irrationality of it. The fear is useless and misplaced.  However, this knowledge doesn’t make any difference. Indeed, the feeling of anxiety was so overwhelming and acute that i unplugged the house line for three days, knowing that people could text or leave a message on my cell (the ringer was set to vibrate) if it was urgent. The boweddown_11x14mail piled up, because i could not get to the box, either physically or emotionally.

Today, i was treading water slightly better, and predictably life felt a little more possible, a little less terrifying.  However, no illusion dwells inside my heart.  As i write, i have expended what energy i have, dinner is at war with my gastrointestinal system, and i can feel the anxiety ratcheting up.  Useless worries crowd my mind.  i try so hard to redirect myself into gratitude – this is a whole meditation/prayer i use to get through, focusing on whatever i can find to be grateful for inside even the worst present – but for now, i am a mouse and my fears are a cat.

Still, i am surviving. i am working to make bloodyminded stubbornness a blessing. All i can do is focus on tiny bits of work before i completely lose myself to sleep and pain.  In tiny, baby steps, i am making progress.  As you can see my website and online store are back up and running, i have edited the books i’ve completed this past month, and i continue to write the one that has its hands wrapped around my heart.  And if i remind myself of these tiny steps forward, maybe the rest of the hulking mountain of problems and fears will seem less intimidating.

getting through alone

i keep wishing
i were not alone,
or that i had the confidence
to make it through
on my own.

This wretchedness
makes me feel
like a fool.

After all,
it is hard
to maintain
what little dignity
i have left
bare-assed
in a hospital gown.

But the reality is:
i am surviving.

When i had to seek help,
i did.

Perhaps i move through
this experience
without grace.
Doubtless,
i am a mess of sweat
and frustration.
Certainly,
i experience my share
of thrashing,
near drowning
panic,
and the diarrhea
of complaint
leaks
from my lips.

Yet, i am still here.

Somehow,
i have endured
the most dangerous
despair
and i have learned
to make do
with what is
in this moment.

Full of fear and confusion,
with the world spinning
awkwardly,
with a gorilla on my chest
hampering
my heart and lungs,
i am managing.

Each breath comes,
albeit through pain.

My heart is still beating –
tests have proved it –
and i have done this.
i have managed,
while i feel forsaken.
Oh, but, i know,
truly,
i am not alone.

I have had the help
of God
and friends,
and whatever crazy spirit
i have within me
that refuses to surrender
without a fight –
no matter how many nights
lonely and broken,
i find myself praying
for death.

6 august 2015