Month: October 2015

cleaned out

IMG_3946Not quite three weeks ago, i went through surgery to get my left arm working again. My entire shoulder had to be cleaned out. The pain since June had been increasingly crippling, leaving a path of destruction through my attention span, my memory, my strength, my mood and my endurance. A large number of blogs charted this descent, long before i realized how much the disability was effecting me. It had been months since i could throw without tears. Sculpting proved to be too much. The novels i’d been writing (a series, going forward in an odd way but still moving at a delightful and brisk pace) suddenly stalled, my mind unable to hold their complexity.  The characters continued to swim in my imagination, but their movement was languid and impotent; i could not fix them to the page without some focus.

Already, those problems have begun to shift.  Almost immediately after surgery, the pain was already less than it had been before the repair.  Today, i was able to drive and function like i have not been able to contemplate for months. As i made my way home from several errands in Bangor, i was singing with joy.

Of course, i still have a lot of healing left to do.  My attention span still wanders more than normal.  The fatigue can be overwhelming, even after gentle activity.  My other health issues have not been solved.  Also, a lot of tasks are still quite difficult, but i am getting better at them all the time. (Case in point: tying shoes.IMG_3979 Who would have thought the shoulder was involved in that? i figured a back-clasped bra would be next to impossible, but extending down or reaching out if i’ve raised my foot to a chair, turned out to be unexpected pain.) Every sign of improvement leaves me overjoyed. Indeed, my personal hygiene after using the bathroom has already reached my pre-surgery standards, for which there is endless rejoicing.

It is the simple pleasures, really.

My friends have come through for me with such shocking kindness that i have been unable to articulate my full gratitude even in prayer.  i have spent so much time writing about loneliness and isolation and feeling like the other; this experience provided testimony to the miracle of friendship.  People sat with me the first day after surgery; a steady stream of food and gifts made their way to my doorstep; calls, messages and email came in a small flood to check to see if i was ok.

There were nights alone, when i held a small pity parties for myself because i was alone, partially immobilized and in blistering pain, but then i realized, even if i were married or living with someone, the impulse to whine would remain.  Pain itself was the cause of the wallowing.

Last week, i pushed myself too far.  This past weekend, i did very little but sleep and draw.

A large stack of drawings became evidence of that first great swelling of creativity. This is the art of recuperation.  i drew each on mat board, heavy enough to stay in place.  My left arm rested while my right hand moved the pen.  Until yesterday, i had not the strength to word.  But, three poems, a few cover letters, a further revamped resume and this blog have encouraged me.  The writing has started to creep back.  i have had the image of a character walking through my imagination all day today, asking me to finish their story.  He’d just met someone, after all, i think he wants to know where that relationship is going.  With every bit of art, i feel like i am coming  back to life.

It is the simple pleasures, the patient kindness of friends, the sense of hope that comes over me when i make art – even when it’s small and frivolous.  Love has been pouring through my life, for a lot longer than i realized.  Like the insidious effect of pain, love has been there, too, on the edges, moving through me, changing everything without my conscious mind realizing it.  My life is rich with friends, with fellow artists, with innumerable blessings. The outpouring of kindness had left me unsettled.  Honestly, i knew i would get help but had no idea how much would flow my way.

After nearly three weeks of addled introspection, i realized with shock that too many awesome things had been dismissed or missed because i was too stuck in my old stories.

First there was the story of the lonely, frightened child. Then the awkward teen who had no idea what to do with people and no confidence in herself. Then, the woman who had weathered first debilitating illness and then the rejection and pain of a divorce.  After that, the long loneliness.  All of it is laid bare in this blog. i have written post after post about feeling like the other, feeling alone, feeling isolated.

Well, when i was in need, people came.  Those stories, while potent, were not the absolute truth of my life.

So what replaces otherness?  What stands up in the space where loss once loomed?

i looked at myself through another’s eyes and saw someone wildly blessed with creativity and stubbornness. This spell of injury and recovery happened when i was at my lowest, when i felt like everything had completely fallen apart, and yet, here i was sitting in a pile of my own drool, just a day and a half after surgery, drawing.  i drew because letter could not follow letter in that stupor. Nearly every day, i drew another few pieces. Then this weekend, the engine of art started roaring back to life, filling all my senses. It happened without force or effort, proving again that art is a quiet compulsion leaking from my fingertips.

When i challenged myself for a new story the one that presented itself was a deep truth: i am an artist, who can’t seem to surrender her art. Perhaps i am too mad.  Maybe i am simply too obstinate.  Either way, i keep melting into image and story.  Despite other jobs, and injury, and illness, and discouragement, and poverty, and failure – i have continued making art. Thin lines of ink have woven themselves through my healing.

i am so ridiculously grateful.

changing the story

Today, i am participating in two events – Maine Craft Weekend and my own estate sale, trying to purge myself of unwanted belongings.  Despite how i feel – and two days of fairly heavy labor on a bad arm mean i am not feeling well – i opened up right at 8:55 am, convinced that i would make enough money to whittle down my bills.  Alas, that is not the case as yet.  As i write, at 3:08 pm, no one has shown up for either event.  Not one car has even slowed down.  My confidence falters.

Yesterday, i had six people show up, of which four were motivated buyers.  That may have saved me for the time of recouperation ahead of me (see yesterday’s blog) and, again, i take a moment to give thanks.  But, despite the advertising, today has been nearly absolute silence – broken only by a few messages on facebook from people who could not come. Each beep evoked a great wave of gratitude because it minimized the invisibility that something like this evokes.

The child who felt so lost and alone inside her family, the kid picked last for every sport, the little girl who would have done anything not to go home but tried so hard to hide her distress and act normal, the college student that felt hopelessly out of step with her peers, these iterations of self remain within me. They keenly remember the ease with which superficial social interaction could occur while a vast, seemingly impassable distance stretched out between the rest of creation and this one soul.  They see this lack of response, this searing quiet, like a failure or a judgment.

i have to change that story, but often i am at a loss of how to go about that when so much of the world reinforces it.  i am not rich, i am not healthy, i am not married, i have no children, i stubbornly persist at work that a lot of people view as superfluous. In this society, those truths alone can cause ostracism.

Internally, divorce and the long loneliness created a cauldron for this invisibility to simmer.  i long ago lost count of how many business events and classes i hosted, for which people had registered in advance, to which no one showed up. Several learned individuals have told me it is because of my location, just far enough for the scale between the bother of going and the desire to go to tip in an unfavorable direction. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just apply to business, i have had one set of guests cancel dinner parties at my house, absolutely certain that without their presence i would have nothing to offer my other friends, but forgetting to inform me, leaving me stood up with piles of food. i still cannot eat spaghetti sauce without feeling totally irrelevant to the universe. i have been told with blessed bluntness, that even though i am great friend material, i am not worth the investment of time required for the woman i had laughing a few seconds ago to make me a friend.

This has been an ongoing struggle.  For whatever reason, i must have one of those faces, or a particular energy, or a gentle enough nature that good people have no problem telling me that the trouble of getting to me or keeping in contact with me is enough to keep them from doing it, as though there will be no hurt in that statement, as though i will always understand.

And often i do. Lord knows, i understand demands on a person’s time. This broken unit is a sole proprietor.  Even though my health and the business are not going well, it does not mean that the obligations have ceased. In fact, this past year, i shamefully let down one of my own friends, because i lacked the energy and ability to help as i would have liked.  By the time i was done with my working day, i had nothing left to give to anyone.  As i drowned in the demands placed upon me, i could not take on anything else.  So, i cannot look at the absence of others without compassion. At last i am old enough to realize that the vast majority of this story isn’t actually about me at all, but about those who are not here.  They are weaving other tales built on duty and desire, right now, as i type, and how can i blame them? After all, this silent isolation did not break me.

i work very hard on my art – especially during days like today when no one shows up.  Even though i was physically miserable, i still wrote and poemed my way through the morning before settling down for an hour and a half of meditation.  Also, i accept my spirit needs quiet, even at inconvenient times.  Without some silence and isolation, i would not be still enough to get half the art done, nor would i be practiced enough at entering the flow to be able to do it when i gallery sit or wait in a restaurant.

conversation5
at Art Space Gallery in Rockland, Maine

Moreover, it has helped me realize what an a amazing gift love and affection and help are.  Perhaps because i do often feel unmoored and isolated, when a rope is thrown to me, i grab it with all my might.  Because i have such a hard time believing people when they say they care, but act in ways that make no sense to me, i cling to the moments – the proofs – that relationships actually do have salvational power.  i remember the times when i was at the end of my rope and i got a phone call, or a hug, or really any of a wide array of gifts that might have seemed utterly insignificant to the person giving them, but that kept me going into another day.

As one of those good and true friends said to me the other day, she doesn’t worry about me so much because i am so damned stubborn.  That would help me get through, she smiled, and i don’t know that she’s wrong. i live by myself well.  The fiction and poetry that i write, the faces i draw, they fill up my life even when i am running low on real human contact.  Moreover, this perverse steadfastness to my art and my life gives me a strange, compassionate confidence when i am confronted by cruelty, intended or otherwise. The people who come to me, asserting that they know what i need to do, even when they are so deeply offended that i cannot or will not take their advice, become sources of gratitude because at least they somehow saw the invisible one.  They cared enough to form an opinion. Those who tell me that i have no reason to live, that i am a failure, that hurl judgment at me and expect me to die from it become characters in books.  The many who compliment me in the moment, talking about my work or my character in glowing ways, but then never reach out again, well i can take that praise at face value and then, in the silence their absence creates, i can throw myself into my art.

That is in fact what i have done today.  The story was changed subtly. In this precise instant, i cannot get rid of the financial insecurity, or improve my befuddled, awkward attempts to get my work seen by more people, or relieve the generalized anxiety about rehabbing from shoulder surgery alone in the house, but i can say that today’s solitude brought about good poems, more work on a novel, a long spell of time when i was quiet and still and filled with peace.

Most of all, i am changed by gratitude.  By the realization that none of us are guaranteed love or kindness or support.  Those gifts, when given freely and without obligation, are nothing short of a miracle, given from human hands.  Yesterday, i received such a gift from the friend who helped me get ready for this event.  i spent a lot of time this morning remembering her effort as well as the abundance of kindness that has showered down upon me during the last six months, while everything else went wrong.  i cannot have received such amazing blessings and be invisible; the two concepts are mutually exclusive.  Thus, the story alters even further.

True friends, and i have a gloriously high number of true friends that have found me in this life, have become cherished in ways i wonder if they ever comprehend.  So my story becomes one of thanksgivings, on my knees, for those who are not here but who love me nonetheless.

glue the leaves back on

sunflowersThe miniseries Story of Film presents a clip from an early silent film (i can’t remember the title, but the miniseries is great, so find out from them!) in which a child overhears that her sister will die before the trees are bare of leaves, so she goes outside to tie the leaves to the branches, to prevent the inevitable from happening (that might be a direct quote, i can’t remember.)  As i drove through Maine this week, i begged the trees to hang on to their greens. i felt nothing but fear for the coming winter.  Stay on a bit longer, please, or i will start having to take stronger action.

You won’t like it, i pleaded with the forest, if i start stapling those leaves onto your bark.  Or duct tape them down.  This is what hot glue guns are for, isn’t it?

However, time marches on no matter what i want.  This weekend i have to do a ton of paperwork to see where my financial future will lie.  Today, i was able to sell a kiln and a wheel, so i can finally buy fuel oil for the house – something that has been plaguing my mind as we barrel into winter.  It felt like i was cannibalizing my future.  Nevertheless, as sorrowful as it was to see these empty spaces in my studio and to recognize that in the long run it will make production slower, the relief of neither freezing nor starving while i’m incapacitated overshadows all grief. Hopefully, i will sell enough tomorrow that i can start making inroads on my debts.

Wednesday, my shoulder will be fixed. When i look back to see how much this injury has cost me in time and ability, it boggles my mind a bit. Given my precarious health, it can be so easy for me to tip over into wretchedness. i focus so hard on the day to day, keeping myself moving as best i can, that i often fail to realize that i am actually being hoxed by something other than anxiety and pain.  Still, i have every hope that i will come out of this with my arm fully functional. The rehab period will be a challenge, but the thought of not having to deal with pain after i heal gets me a little excited. The thought of being able to use both arms effectively makes me swoon. Even if i have to stand on one leg and do a backflip, i am working to see the bright side of each leaf that falls.

thisismylife_smThe reality is that time keeps marching on, no matter what i want.  My house is for sale, although things are not happening as quickly as i want on that score.  It could be my fault.  Unintentionally, i flashed a woman a couple of weeks ago when she was inspecting my front window in the early morning.  Unsurprisingly, she did not make an offer. i cannot blame her.

From my possessions to my mind, everything has been unsettled.  i don’t want winter to come, yet i long for Spirit to clear a path for me to move forward. This endless waiting on the edge wears me down.  Push-pull.  Hurry up then wait.  Work and then crash. My days move between extremes of wanting change and dreading it.

Still, i see signs that make me smile.  The other night, a moon-bow encircled the nearly full moon and i fantasized that it was a promise of transformation.  Recently, my daydreams have directed themselves into words, and more of them meander onto paper, a hopeful sign that i will get some decent work done while i am physically sidelined.  i have three novels and a collection of poetry to edit while i am one handed. Plus i have work for clients and friends. i have made plans.

Honestly, i am so exhausted that three weeks more or less inert sounds almost delightful – except for what i am sure will be intense pain with my arm strapped to my chest.

Despite myself, and with great caution – because i know that my heart and existence are still in such a precarious place – i continue to build up my reserves of hope.  Maybe it is because i seem to be surviving the changes that have already come. On some level, i have lost so many dreams and hopes that i have gotten practice at reconfiguring my life.  Certainly, the construction of my self-perception has shifted, losing all permanence and intensity.  Perhaps, i am sliding back into magical thinking.  Either way, i’ll take the respite from depression and worry.

IMG_1803So, today, what i focus on is that even though the leaves are turning against my will, i have been able to unpack some sweaters.  Even though i have half the number of kilns and 1/3 fewer wheels, i can still make art in so many ways.  Despite my financial woes, i will soon be stronger, with two functioning arms, and better able to work.

This must mean that my personal seasons are changing, moving from endless days of blues to days of golds and reds.

 

If this blog felt repetitive, i apologize.  Perhaps it is a product of this moving backward and forward, this eagerness and fear.  i race through ground only to be thrown back, so i have to cover it again.  At any rate, by way of apology here is a lovely picture of a cat.

 

singing prayers

IMG_0018 IMG_0022Last night, flooding had overcome my path.  Roads had closed in Belfast and Searsport, blocking my way home.  Instead of fighting against it, i stayed in Rockland for a while, got myself a decent meal, and then started heading north fairly late.

After all that rain, with my tiny car being buffeted by winds, it felt magical and surreal. The trees were already dancing like headbangers; music was electric in the air. i began to sing.

Song is an important thing to me – i adore music even though i have no real talents in that area.  IMG_0020This time, though, i was able to weave lyric after lyric, a seamless fabric of rhyme and rhythm, for nearly the whole hour home. Thanksgiving, fear, joy, loneliness, hope, stress, it all poured forth from my lips.

When my song finally stopped, i started thinking about the art i made yesterday, many versions of spirit and love.  In the only watercolor, the top right image, this woman holds her heart out to you, spirit flowing from her, dancing joy in her other palm.  As i painted, it made me wonder where the deeper currents of my mood might be going.  Last week, i lost my friend Fawn, next week i get surgery, night before last i had heard about another death that startled me, yet her face didn’t seem to be anguish to me. Much more the pain of change.

The dragonflies were for Fawn and her daughter.  i am gearing up for more dragonfly work.IMG_0019

The woman to the right cradles Spirit, letting it rest its broken wing.

And above to the left i included the last image i made: what a third eye she has!  The sun itself.

This is a terrifying time for me.  I have said this for months: everything is on the cusp of change.  This perpetual standing on the razor’s edge has taken a toll on my feet.  In six days, they will fix my left arm. i am facing a long rehab period while my shoulder heals itself. All of my bearings have been lost: financially, career-wise, emotionally, physically.  At this moment, i have no clue what tomorrow will bring. Indeed, i can dream and work to manifest what i need with the best of them, but none of truly know what the future brings. All i have to do is look at grief pouring over facebook to learn that lesson again.

Yet, in the middle of this, there was music.  The face to the right, just above these words, that gentleness looking at broken Spirit, made me nearly weep with joy.

There is a great parallel for my heart in this situation with my shoulder.  If i work at it, i can convince you that nothing is wrong, my fingers move even though i only sporadically feel them.  i enjoy full mobility and can keep you from seeing the searing pain; only a few movements are guaranteed to induce tears.  Indeed, i can make you laugh telling you stories about unintentionally flashing someone who was in my front yard or about the great lengths i am taking to make sure i can wipe my arse after surgery when my left arm will be all trussed up.

The jokes rarely end, but underneath them, in the quiet of the night, when i alone in my car singing, i realize that i am still completely raw from this summer’s great depression.  i continue to react with shocking intensity and vulnerability.  i am exhausted and raw.  But, then again, it is also i imagine how gently someone would hold the Spirit, catching it so it won’t fall, and then render it in ink.

Perhaps tonight i will sing as well.  Fear and hope, despair and joy all sound better in verse with a sweet melody.