Month: September 2015

the dam bursts and the water flows

For over a week, my body tackled my aspirations and strangled them in a choke-hold until we all lost consciousness.

sleeper-300x237For days and days on end, i could not manage to be a human being. i whined enough even my animals wanted me to quiet down. For two days, migraine aura messed up my eyes enough i couldn’t see, and the headache itself kept me from thinking clearly. Not one system in my body was behaving.  i was a lump of wretchedness, dissolving into sorrow.

And thus i was every moment when i wasn’t at galleries, and too many moments when i was sitting.  This was not my best week for engaging customer service.

But today, i can see! i can think! i can move! Last night, during those first hints that things were getting better, i was able to start getting my house in order, taking control of the kitchen for the first time in a long time.  Once more i reminded myself that if i can work, i do.

This is the closest i get to manic, i suppose. After so many days of being derailed, to be able to function is pure joy. i was singing this morning, because i had the energy to do it. Even if i fail today, even if i get nothing useful done, at the very least i have managed to exist with contentment and zeal.

i feel like the dam has burst.

i am trying to be fearless.  Mostly, i am failing.  i am having surgery on my shoulder next week, and i am terrified not of going under the knife, but of a long recovery at home alone.  i am dissolving in debt, still working with someone trying to desperately avoid bankruptcy, but each day that this financial dissolution couples with increasing physical disability leaves me shaking harder from fear.  To be honest, i have not discovered a mechanism for complete boldness.  Some gear or another in my bravery engine keeps getting stuck.  Instead of fluid courage, there is a lot of sputtering, stopping and starting, and uneven progress.

Actually, if you’re reading this blog, you already know that.

However, if i am totally honest, i can see other signs of improvement and change.  i got a nice rejection for a book i finished in July, which was evidence of courage because i actually sent in a submission. So, i can make the most of a wild spasm of hope. The strength of will it took to get here, today, to this gallery, despite the weariness and sorrow and illness of the past week proves that i have some steadfastness.  And, most importantly, i have finally managed to set up two events to start purging my belongings so i can move:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1709075902637790/

https://www.facebook.com/events/599245560214457/

They will be this weekend, concurrent with the Maine Craft Weekend.

This morning, i spent a long time awash in gratitude, simultaneously praying that this sense of joy and strength can maintain itself until surgery on the 7th.  i am getting everything lined up: laundry done, cooking done in advance, cleaning as much as i can, making sure my downstairs bathroom will be useful to the one-armed gimp that i will be.

i need strength and joy right now.  And, thankfully, today i have captured the delightful echoes of both.

quick and dirty

reachingout_qadFor two days, i have been utterly unable. Yesterday, it took all i had to put up the open flag and sit here in the studio.  Stuck in my comfy chair for hours, i drew with a cheap pen on cheaper paper – a fairly primal purging of image and idea.  Even at that level of semi-solid, i still managed to miss a friend visiting because i went to the bathroom. While i was able to chat with some wonderful people, there were no sales and simply staying awake had taken so much from me that my legs wobbled beneath my girth.

By the time five pm came around, i was ready for bed. i tried, very hard, to get some cleaning done, but could not move my limbs in a coordinated manner. Breaking three things in less than ten minutes, i surrendered.  Coordination and grace have become fantasies when i am in that much pain and that exhausted. So, instead of useful, tangible progress on the problems of my life, i created more of this quick and dirty drawing while i waited for the sheets, quilt and mattress pad to finish in the washer and dryer.

i keep hoping that things will get better. i repeat “All will be well”; i meditate for over an hour a day trying to keep the wolves at bay.  Maybe this weekend, i whisper to myself, i will make a big sale. If i advertise here, then i will maybe get a bump on my online sales. Perhaps that website or this commission will come through.  This job might be the one that i take, which will make the forsaking of art sit with greater comfort inside my heart. Most of the time, i am able to convince myself to keep going with these quiet reassurances.

Only, the past two days, i have been struggling so hard to move and breathe – i got stuck in my bra this morning, because i could not lift my left arm in or out – that all hope transformed into delusion.

praying_qadYesterday, i noticed the trees behind my house are turning autumn colors. They have always been particularly easy trees, ready to shed their greens at the first quick breath of cool air, but their eagerness feels even more like betrayal this year. Today, the wind and the rain smell of autumn, and i feel the urge to grab the clock off the wall and smite it against the cement floor.  i would hold off fall with a sword. Time, as always, shows no regard for my needs or wants and just keeps charging on like an angry, blind rhinoceros.

i wish i could explain it to myself, why i struggle with such desperate, perilous despair.  Even though i have been assured that this is incorrect, even irrational, i perceive myself as particularly week and unadaptable. Would someone else be crumbling like this?  Would their loved ones praise them for having such reasonable mental breakdowns or would they be praised for holding their head up and taking life’s blows on the chin?

i face major life changes, yes. i am falling apart physically, without doubt. That each of those feeds off the other, too, cannot be disputed although an engaging debate like the chicken and the egg could take place. i was already a broken unit before i decided to pursue art with all i had. Then, using all i had, which so clearly wasn’t enough, i wound up becoming more broken. However, i refuse to give myself permission to have myself days like today and yesterday.  i hate myself for falling apart, which does nothing to keep me active and healthy, but instead fills me with shame and graceless resentment.  i draw to stop thinking about my situation, or myself.  Only, even that desperate art reminds me of how futile this situation is: fall is coming, i cannot stop time, and i am dissolving.

As much as i hate to tell you this: i have nothing to give the world today. No strength, no inspiration. Indeed, i think with this blog, i will have used up my full allotment of words for the day.  Once more, i will use all that i have to make useless art – hoping beyond hope, this madness that drives my heartbeat, that somewhere in word or line, i will find that one thing that can save me.

Recumbent gratitude

Bear with me, please.  i am typing this on my iPad, because i lack the capacity to hold my arm up any longer. Right now it is supported by the softest of pillows while all three of my animals have curled up around me.  Alas, this means that while i am comforting my aching limbs, the autocorrect on my tablet will probably toy with me mercilessly.

Still, i cannot help quietly rejoicing. i think i might have turned a corner, (i knock on wood as i type) and if i have this is the cause of much celebration and delight.  For several days now, i have been able to work through some ridiculous pain – not without whining, unfortunately – but i have begun to inch forward.  What was impossible now seems uncomfortably intimidating, but within the realm of imagination and hard work.  Instead of trying to move the mountain with a spoon, i now have a spoon and a pick axe!  Improvement!

What has been making the coals of optimism start to glow, though, is the contentment that has started peeking out between the pain and stress.  The ocean of peace had been well hidden for weeks. Indeed, if i had not lost the way to it so many times before, only to rediscover its shores with the glee of an explorer with no short term memory, i would have mourned its loss forever.  Ah, but that is not entirely true.  i had fleeting moments of contact while i was actively creating, but nothing that lasted once the pen was put away.  Otherwise, i had been wandering the parched, dry land of despair and overwhelm.

But, for three days, i have felt peacefulness’ waters splashing around my feet while i drove, while i struggled with irritation and pain, while i tried to dissect the things i must do into subgroups: what must be done NOW, what can wait until tomorrow, what can be sacrificed on the bloody and fantastic altar of sleep…

There are things i have to urgently address.  My life remains in this long, twisting crisis, caught inside transformation and loss like a fly in amber. Despite that, i must attend to urgent commitments.  Galleries must be staffed (case in point, tomorrow i will be at Artspace in Rockland.) This weekend is the garlic festival in Southwest Harbor, and i will be getting help so this can be done without further injury.  (i am excited for the show, not just because of my new garlic dishes, but because the food is so good.)

For the first time since last winter, for no rational reason, i can feel the certainty that “all will be well” taking root in my soul. More than anything, this inexplicable, perceptible  lifting of mood when the burdens upon me remain consistent convinces me that depression has a chemical hold on my brain independent of circumstance.  Right now, the shadow of suffering still lies across my life, but “all will be well” begins to stand against it, growing stronger and starting to bud.  Like an obsessive gardener, i race to this miracle and try to encourage its flowering. i do all i can to create the best environment, including celebrating the small triumphs like today – gallery sitting, then cleaning the kitchen then loading and firing the kiln.

i am in pain, and exhausted, but i feel content.  The sins of the day – junk food and sodas – helped provide the energy i needed. Instead of my normal guilt, i anchor myself in “all will be well” and once more, i can feel the ocean of contentment all around me.

This lends to every thought and dream the light of possibility; it coaxes my stubborn determination back into movement.  Slowly, i have started trying again.  In the past three days i have submitted my art and writing, sought freelance work, researched more galleries and managed to push through so much pain to do what was on my “this must be done TODAY” to-do list.  And i kept myself from becoming undone by the things i could not do, and the mistakes i made, which might have been the greatest kindness of all.

As i type the kiln is firing and the dishwasher is running.  i did that – me – this broken unit.  i found hope, strength and focus that i did not believe existed within me anymore.

Once more, i find myself crying before bed, but this time my heart overflows with thanksgivings.

 

the ugly stage

small_4small_7Today is my only day here, in the studio, dedicated to making art, for at least ten days.  i had grand plans – i would throw a huge commission, work with the slab roller to have some small sculptures to fill in the spaces between plates when they are fired, and none of that came true.  Instead, i spent the morning writing – a nebulous bit of prose that i will probably blog fairly soon – and then decided to be kind to my body again. small_6 This is becoming a theme.  Unfortunately, my shoulder (torn rotator cuff) is not getting better without my taking it very easy on that arm, and when i break the rules and do things like throw, or load the car with heavy objects, or try to scrub something, i wind up with days of intense distress and numb fingers.

So, i broke out the next messiest form of art: pastels.  Before i leave for the night, i will be loading a kiln and firing some lovely little garlic plates.

i have not totally wasted the day, no matter how it feels. small_2Still, i am frustrated with my level of productivity.  i don’t seem to be doing anything enough or well.

Yesterday, i did a huge amount of pen and inks while i was at a gallery enjoying the slowness of the day.  Given that i got my first positive response to a job application yesterday, after sending out God knows how many, i found myself drawing with a renewed fervor. i could feel the gun to my head cocking.

i have written about the long goodbye before.  Without doubt, this must be one of the most excruciating devolutions that i’ve ever experienced.  i am going down a steep hill at speed, shedding things as i travel: mysmall_3 house, my studio, my credit rating, my belongings, my sense of self.  For so many years, i have been wildly blessed with the profound knowledge that art is what i’m meant to do – it pours out of me like nothing else – and to have that last illusion stripped from me has been excruciating.  Instead of ripping it off like a band-aid, fate has been slowly twisting it away, molecule by molecule, a closed gallery here, a solitary day in the studio there, a long spell where i could not write because my mind was too chaotic, punctuated with crushing online sales reports. i have moved from a woman confident in her identity as an artist to someone desperately trying not to drown. The blessing of having no attachments, no delusions of self holding me back, does not yet diminish the agony of loss.

small_1When i lost my health, back when i was 28, i saw that as a profound death of self.  Forests were ravaged for the paper needed to work out that loss.  However, in its own way, it was brutal in its speed and efficiency.  My entire life changed on a dime, and kept changing, until i moved up here to Maine and my life began to transform for the better.  Helping, softening the blow, was the fact that marriage gave me some safety.  i had someone who could help pick up the slack, who could keep two people aloft financially.

small_5At the time, i wrote a hundred poems of love and gratitude, knowing what a gift that was.

Now, though the story is different.  There is no one to help around the house.  By the time i am done with a day of work, be it here or sitting in a gallery, i am too exhausted to do anything.  If you read these blogs, you’ll know that they have decreased incredibly in their frequency.  If you paid attention to my artistic output, you would know i have barely fired the kiln in months, and that is not just the shoulder prohibiting me from throwing.  The house i have on the market gives testimony to suffering, obvious to anyone who enters; the kitchen is in danger of becoming an EPA superfund site. Nearly every day, someone gives me advice – many to quit art, but many to pursue this gallery or that store.  Only, I am hoxed by exhaustion, able to follow up on a fraction of those leads.

None of my work, including the art, is getting a quarter of the focus it should because i am constantly struggling to keep my head above water. small_8 This is the heart of the problem when there is not enough strength or energy to meet every obligation: it causes increasing failure.  Like cash, energy is a limited currency – spending it on one thing means it will not be spent on another.  Harsh choices have to be made.  i devolve from someone who thought of herself as an artist, driven by the need to make art, to something different.  The art is still there, struggling, fighting its way out, but i am no longer what i thought i was.  The certainty and sense of purpose has dissolved.

Where there should be confidence and self-reliance, i am flooded with anxiety and depression.  This is a terrible little vortex.  The worse my art sales are, the worse my financial situation gets, the more insecure i feel, the less empowered i am to change things, the more the burdens of health and pain drive me further into despair.  Each part augments the next.  This is not intended as a whine so much as an expression of my current reality.  Moreover, i know deeply that this is my fault.  While i cannot control who buys art, i have made the wrong choices, trusted thsmall_9e wrong people and been generally unwise.

Responsibility falls on my shoulders.  And, whatever solutions there are to be had, will come from me as well. i keep praying, with such wild desperation that i’m sure the Divine is laughing at the melodrama by now, for art to save me. Tremendous and marvelous help has come my way, for which i have written another hundred poems of gratitude, but any lasting fixes will have to be through my own labor – if not through art, then through some other way.

So, i look about me, at this space i will have to leave, at the countless pieces of art i have made, at the words flowing from me and i know this configuration of my life is ending.  It is a goodbye, no matter where i end up or what joys may await me.  i am being taught not to cling to things – especially not how i perceive myself.  This is a lesson which i faced with such resistance, the universe had to treat me like a remedial student.

And, today, all i could feel was gratitude for everything.  These blessings i have experienced were beyond measure.  How many get to enjoy that singular sense of purpose and joy?  I was given this chance to throw myself into creating, day after day, for years on end.  Living in this community has been a wild and amazing blessing.  Finding the quiet and stillness that i have here in Maine transformed me.  So, that is what came out in my pastels – all of the blues became gratitude and dancing.

This thanksgiving is just as tangible and fierce as the drowning.  It keeps me aloft.  Gratitudes have become my own little floaties in the sea of life.  My life might be in the ugly stage, but i know from my art ugliness can lead to great beauty.

 

when art fails

Every so often, things get bad enough for me physically or emotionally, i cannot even make art. Every bit of strength i have is consumed with moving for one moment to another. At this moment, my left arm is being ridiculously recalcitrant – a torn rotator cuff, apparently – and every movement hurts. Even walking, somehow, manages to mess up my shoulder. It’s been a long time since i carried anything heavy in two arms. For two and a half months, this has been getting worse and worse, but now it is impeding everything. i tried to throw the other day, and managed a lot of small pieces, but then wound up feeling much worse. For awhile, my hand was numb, it felt like a spike drove through my elbow.  Indeed, it has kept me from sleeping, or at least, from staying asleep.  That development, i am sure, contributes to my current emotional drowning. My mind cannot shake off terrible memories.  A sense of doom feels unconquerable. i am working toward getting my heart and mind in a better place so i can move forward more quickly and confidently. That said, right now, i am slow and tormented by indecision. Stress and anxiety have become constant companions.  Usually i heal myself through word and form, but today, i could not.

After many hours of desperate insomnia, i awoke barely able to move. Realizing that without downtime i would be very useless indeed, i spent the day with bell hooks, Rumi and Oscar Wilde, when i didn’t nap. The increase in my normal level of pain has left me exhausted. Over the years, I have learned to move through much discomfort, but every once in awhile, i am decimated. Today has been decimation. And yet, for whatever reason, i cannot quite surrender to my misery.

So, i have printed two books (thanks to the wonderful gift of a workhorse printer from amazing friends) and as i type, i’m printing out two years worth of poems.  Between those four works – 2014 poetry, 2015 poetry to date, Practicing Kindness and a series of interconnected stories that normally has me so excited that the writing flows from me feverish and fast – i have used up nearly two reams of paper.  As my words poured forth from the humming machine, destined to fill the next few days with editing, i realized that even on these days, i have a tremendous amount of things for which i am grateful.