Month: July 2017

naked truth

For weeks, i have searched for a way to talk about this through fiction, because i did not want to dwell upon my personal experience more than i already have.  However, telling the truth is what i do best.  And, to be honest, part of the problem is that i do not want to ask for help.  i do not want to talk about what i cannot do alone.

The first person to mention the near impossibility of the situation i was creating for myself was my primary care doctor, just after my divorce.  “Without doubt, you qualify,” she assured me, “with the PTSD alone.” The physical problems – asthma, thyroid disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia (or whatever that diagnosis would be now), the back and hip problems – they would all be gravy.  She all but begged me to accept that I needed to apply for Social Security Disability.

Only, the statement strung me up between two different agonies.  i need to work, for i cannot quite give myself quarter for any suffering – mental, emotional, or physical – but simultaneously, i feel like i am dying by inches, pushing myself too hard.

Regardless of my bull-headed stubbornness, i am drowning financially.  Even though i am working as hard as body and mind are able, i quite literally cannot make ends meet.

This is not a new story, unfortunately.  Nor is it unique to myself.

Over $20,000 of medical debt hangs around my neck like a noose.  This is the aggregate due from years of issues: two major surgeries, a hospitalization, three trips to the ER, two ambulance rides, not to mention every deductible, copay, and uncovered medication. Add to that the small business loan that i got when things were going ridiculously well, that now feels like cement boots.  This past month, in order to pay them, even partially, i had to forgo food, gas money and put off the mortgage for about two weeks. If you want to make me cry, lets talk mortgages.  i finally got it refinanced, but now, eight months later, i will be two weeks late.  The angry letters have already started. Not only am i at a loss for utilities and the cats’ vet bills, i have no idea how to buy the medicines i need to treat the aforementioned diabetes, thyroid disease and despair.

Last night, i wept because the list of things i have bought recently would not stop going through my mind.  i purchased a lawnmower because the grass was as high as my nipples.  My car needed new breaks, because stopping can be a good thing. Then i got $12 of new shoes so that I would have something other than the $5 flip flops to wear to work.  For my birthday, i bought a $28 pair of wireless headphone so my constant need for music would not drive my new tenants to madness.  When i got a promotion at work, two days after my birthday, i celebrated by going out to eat.  Let me tell you, guilt is a terrible seasoning.

For a solid year, i have focused on the regular job that makes reliable money, but its paychecks cover the mortgage, the small business loan and maybe my car payments.  All other responsibilities make me seem like a deadbeat.  Only by the time i am done working this job and making some art, i am exhausted beyond all measure.  Things like selling art have languished.  Too many paintings and drawings are collecting dust.

When i first heard the word foreclosure – only to find out that the mortgage company with whom i had been working for months had sold my mortgage – i reached out to a mortgage specialist.  It was my first day in the studio after having shoulder surgery, and i was still unable to bend because i was awaiting a hysterectomy.  The pain i faced was intense.

“You have done everything right,”  he said gently, “I am looking at how you paid everything off until the medical bills began to pile up…”

i am still digging out.  This month, i am short.  Something will not be paid and i have no clue how i will get the cats’ vetted, my medication purchased or food bought.  Meanwhile, i continue to get messages from clients who have not paid me, asking me if these long standing health issues have vanished so that i can do more work for free. This perception that art or design is not work worthy of being paid for, or that the artist is not worthy of being recompensed for their effort, devastates.  If you value what i do, if you like my art, then this is the time to let me know.

A $100 would pay a bill.  After that, it would be a war within my heart over feeding and maintaining my animals and myself and paying other bills.  The past three years have been, quite literally, hand to mouth.  Desperation has made me put art up for sale again, despite the exhaustion and overwhelm, and with that i hope to at least get the cats to the vet.

However, i bleed over my financial failings.  To a large degree, it feels like i bet on myself and lost – but i knew before i started working as an artist professionally that my health was compromised. Only the call to make art is something fundamental to me, it cannot be denied.  i feel shame that i fell into such disability that i was unable to continue my business’ growth. This fuels my determination to make good on every debt.  Even if i am still making tiny installments when i am ninety, i will pay everyone, even the ones to whom repayment has not begun.  i tell myself – ceaselessly, hoping the repetition will hypnotize me into believing it is true – that things will get better.

Still, i never forget, i am the person who is reviled by those who talk about the poor like we are pariahs.  i have been utterly undone – more than once – because if ill health.  Even now, living paycheck to paycheck, the struggle to maintain this level of activity is punitive. Daily i am faced with the choice between taking care of my health and fulfilling the responsibilities placed upon me. Even making art or writing a poem comes at a cost, wearing me down further.

How else can i live, though?

Being able to work feels like a privilege – and one too many have thought i could not manage.  My friends who are on disability are much braver than i am, able to move down a path i could not.  Unfortunately, i know, someday i may have to follow them despite my best efforts, but for now i am doing every dance i can to keep myself from that excruciating choice.

Whether i like it or not, i have to spend money on food, gas, car and house repair and medicine.  Therefore, i have to burn the candle at every possible point, throwing my work out into this world, no matter how exhausted i am.  Even if i were content to make art in a vacuum, which i am not, i am not going to be able to survive without more income.

So, here i am.

For once i am being utterly transparent about my movies and situation: i need your help if i am going to keep going as a human being, much less as an artist.  Your support will keep my animals and me alive.  If you buy a painting, or a drawing, it clears space for another to come into being.

And, if you are in the same position i am financially, i will be grateful if all you do is share this story, spread word about my art, and use both to build compassion for those of who us toil on fulfilling our dreams and who work our hearts out to live on the razor’s edge between triumph and dissolution.

 

###

 

For a few hours yesterday, i published this blog.  However, i woke up after a night of howling nightmares and put it back into draft mode. The dreams kept going back and forth over the same ground – my subconscious pacing – obsessed with the one thing that i had forgotten to mention.  This blog talks about how troubles that i face came to be and how i have to ground my hopes in art again which can only be done with your help. Talking about the naked truth of my current situation made me feel exposed, more than all the poetry that i have written combined.  Yet the thing that my dreaming kept reminding me of was that i should not be alive.  During the past few years of struggle with agony and illness, i have tried to kill myself twice.  Haunting despair crumbled my heart more than i could describe. It has been because of friendships, unexpected blessings and hard work that i am still here.  i have a job that gets me most of the way to solvency and for now, my health lets me manage it, even if the margin is narrow at times.  i have friends that are unbelievably good and slowly i am coming to terms with who i am at this moment, and beginning to appreciate this hot mess of being.

So, yes, I am asking for help, for understanding, for a sense that i am not howling into the darkness – but i need to leave this writing by telling you that i am so grateful to have made it this far.

the blessing of dreams

i initiated contact.

As with all the false starts and suffering of my life, i am the root cause.  The blame cannot be pushed aside.

Because i wanted to check in, i sent him the message, asking how he was.  What i did not expect was to be confronted by a video of him with a woman i did not recognize barely two weeks after he had left my life.

While i cannot pretend to know the circumstances, i am also glad he has moved on.  The heart demands both: to be celebrating his happiness – that this transition from a place where he felt so alienated to one where he is among family and friends has gone smoothly and well – in addition to the vicious, visceral grief over this loss in my life.

How i love him.

The intensity of my longing left me blind for so many months; when my eyes opened, i had no other choice.  i could not demand from him what he could not give and i could not keep asking myself to sacrifice what i needed.

That sounds so civilized doesn’t it?  Like i am mature and kind.

So why does it feel like glass moves through my arteries to settle down in my toes and fill my feet?  Why does this piercing wail echo within my skin?

i lament whatever it is that seems to make me intolerable. Doubt and fear scream through me. Perhaps i simply cannot be loved?  Am i doomed to lose my friends? Thinking of the tenants upstairs right now fills me with an irrational sense of dread. How did they manage to abide my presence tonight? My partner would have rolled his eyes and been angry at me for overextending. Of course, he would have been able to soothe the physical distress away – but it would have been a chore for him. There would have been sighing and a stern reminder of my transgression. Instead of just dissolving in insecurity, i also would have been corroded by guilt.

They seem to get along with me now but what will i do or say that will drive them away? Will i start coming home to people who would rather avoid me, again? With all the storytelling i have been doing, could i even blame them? What in specific will spark the transformation? Will it be that one joke too much?  That inappropriate comment?  The wrong name or pronoun given voice by the scattered thoughts escaping my mouth? i cannot let my mind wander to the social stresses of work, or i will be trapped in this despair forever.

If i were not this useless person tonight, i would have been praying more fervently, a disciplined outreach to the Divine.  Only, when i am in this kind of state, i feel irredeemable. It does not matter on which sex or shading my anthropomorphism fixates, the Deity could not possibly look upon me with compassion, much less love. i am rapidly descending into the place where all i can articulate is my own worthlessness.  My lover could not love me back. Our entire relationship, in so many ways, boiled down to the rolled eyes of exasperation. My body is unbelievably angry with me.  i am eating like shit, making the whole body hating me conundrum worse. But for the love of heaven, i can only fight so many battles at one time. i am drowning. Even the good things that are happening barely penetrate this veil of suffering.

More than nearly anything, i don’t want to be writing this.  i want to tell you stories of love that work out – that one magical person who can look at me with devotion and joy.  i might wistfully wonder what it would have been like if i could have found that kind of love when i was young. My prodigious imagination cannot quite grasp what it must feel like to look into your beloved’s eyes at nineteen and be certain that you will still be with that person when you are ninety seven.  Or to be that ninety seven year old, still drunk with gratitude for the familiar soul still vibrant inside those same eyes.  What would i have been if i had been cherished?  Would i be on this path, flanked by cement barriers that keep me from deviating, that demands i learn how to warm myself in this vacuum of space, so far from the sun?

While i can still feel my skin, i can tell you it is soft.  The undulations of the body, like waves of the sea, can move with pleasure as much as they constrict with pain.  The harder walking has become, the more i cherish the joys of the senses.  i live for that moment when i am quiet and still, when the pulse in my back becomes a disembodied throb, because i am living within the fingertips hitting the keys or the music pouring through me.

i want to tell you stories about the dreams that flow through my sleep; i want to talk about philosophy and past lives and those moments of connection to the divine. Let me hear you laugh!  Laughter would utterly transform this night of agony.  Help me expand my experience past this skin, so that i can gain courage from the rest of creation.

Only, no one is here to help me shoulder my burdens.

You are a blank page of paper.

All i have to keep me sane – the only form of love available to me – resides in these words.  If i look into my heart, all i will hear is howling.  Somehow, these letters give me gifts that i cannot bestow to myself otherwise.  If word after word tumble out long enough, i start to believe in possibility and joy again.

i cry out to story, the truest of lovers: carry me away from heartache and this terrible throbbing in the back of my head, that travels down my spine until it hits that bubbling pool of lava tucked inside my vertebrae, somewhere behind the belly button that i cannot feel any longer.  Lift me up like i were an infant and hold me fast so that the safety of the embrace overrides all the weeping.

i wonder to whom i write those words.  The divine?  A character in one of my novels? The miracle that is language?

So many people have told me that they are proud of me for breaking up with my lover, just as they were proud of me for pushing aside my heart-song to get a job.  They point to all the ways my life could spring forward now, the freedom that i have gained, that i have proved i can make decisions for myself, the incredible opportunities that, of course, they see on the horizon.

Tonight, i am not proud.  Indeed, i am humbled almost to the point of dissolution.  If i thought it would do any good, i would cry out like Job, bemoaning my fate and demanding answers.  Only, i cannot forget: i am the alpha and omega of my suffering.  i reached out to this man so beloved today and got my just reward – the realization of how far i have to go before i could begin to entertain the possibility of being with someone else.  i chose to give my heart to everyone who broke it.  My ignorance and my cowardice do not minimize my responsibility. i chose to be an artist.  i chose to believe that i am meant to write in poem and story. i chose to get a job rather than take other roads.  Even if i were to abandon everything and fly away, i cannot escape my failings as a human being.

My body has betrayed my ambition, or vice versa, but either way i am in an unenviable position, torn between what must be done and these punitive limits to movement.  The journey that begins when i rise from bed and ends when i can tuck myself back in comes at a cost. In the shower i beg for strength to get through the day; in the darkness, head against cool sheets, i weep from the stress of pain. While i can compartmentalize what is going on in my heart and soul so that i can get through the day at work, i am running my reserves so low that i often cannot even write when i get home. Exhaustion becomes a form of impotency.

Once the pain builds to a crescendo like tonight, the walls of my compartments dissolve.  If i am lucky, i can stop the destruction through art. On the nights when i am too weary to do so, i have to soundlessly endure, making the ability to create Gratitude Prime. The tragedy of this is that i also lack the courage (although tonight it feels like bone crumbling fatigue gets mistaken for fear) to release the offspring of my spirit – whether it be painting or poem or prose – into the world.  Artistic paralysis threatens to become complete.

i wish Love could hold me, so that the warmth of belonging flows into me, and speak the magic words that would make me believe in my mission as a poet, as a writer, as an artist again.  Oh, to believe that this was still my purpose, to believe i have some form of sanction for this calling, this folly, whether it makes money or not.  Spirit, i cry out for miracles that i have already betrayed.  My heart slams around in my chest, its beats defying rhythm, as i think about how deeply i have betrayed my greatest blessings.  So many others would have removed this vocation from my hands, because they would have seen it as an act of mercy.

“Please, stop torturing yourself.”

“We are tired of seeing you bleed with unrequited ambition.”

And yet, here i am.  The rest of me prays for relief while these fingers keep typing.  If i have anything at all, even the most depleted vapors of inspiration, i will hide here.  That way i don’t have to talk any more about this outrageous suffering.

Let me tell you about the characters in my book that just dance through their pages.  They get to be the outlet for grace my limbs cannot manifest.  Hear about the universes i have created – they are rich and weird and have kept me safe inside the sanctuary of distraction and story.  Give me a way to write about the chaos of our times, how everything has turned sideways and is no longer recognizable to me.  Let’s construct lyrical poems about all the things that are still good.

To keep from returning to my complaints, i can go on about how when i am too far gone for complicated plots, i try to dream like a baby would. Strip the pretense of sophistication away.  Remember helplessness.  i can be held in arms, loved and cherished despite not having coordinated limbs.  Listening to the heartbeat of the one so steadfast and strong, i would be drowning in the most simple of loves.  You love me, i love you, there are no strings to that, no demands.  i can feel the arms around me, i can hear that steady rhythm, i can remember what absolute trust that kind of love requires.

That, i swell with ecstasy at the truth of this epiphany, is how i think about the Mother-side of God. i can be safe within those arms, cheek pressed against that warm chest.  It is the heartbeat of creation i hear. i dissolve in the golden light of belonging.

Then i would dispense with poetry for the night, as it requires me to live too deeply in the body.

i do not want to write about that.

Tell me what it feels like within your soul to love and i will confess to you that the hope and strength and a ridiculous capacity to muddle through actually spring from my ability to love not only strangers, but people who have hurt me or failed me or just turned out to be assholes.  In an ecstasy of exhibitionist conversation, i will keep confessing that this resilience and love all feel like madness during nights like this one.  i will weep over how it feels like people are growing more selfish, colder, turning brittle in their certainty.  But with my next breath, i gather up my broken pieces and tell you that miracles can happen and it all might change on a dime. Transformation can sweep up this sad, round little body, all the people i know and love, all those i work with, all that travel these roads i do, everyone in this state, each soul in the country and the world.  Just as i cannot point to one thing and say, This was the moment it all went wrong, i would not be able to say This is the moment everything got better. The change would be too fundamental to remember how it was before.

That uncertainty leaves me smiling.  Indeed it makes the green electric wail screaming up and down my spine seem like a celebration of life. i hurt, ergo i live.  Not to mention, things are changing even within wretched muscle and nerve.  i have been prone for over an hour and i have begun to feel the screaming in my legs finally make it through the lava in my back to my brain.  That settled glass is now sharp and tearing into my feet.  Surely that is a good sign, even if it keeps me from sleeping and brings on fresh tears.

It gives me time to close my eyes and reach out into the worlds that live within my imagination.  So many voices clamor to be given birth.  Stories float by like gifts to be unwrapped.

Perhaps i am more like Job than i thought. During this lifetime, i have lost my family, my husband, the partner that i still ache for, the chance to have children, too many friends, and all delusions that i am anything other than a hot mess.  However, inside the realm of fantasy and dream, i have a mother and a father and, depending on which story i choose, a lover or a husband or a breathtaking contentment in solitude.  There i can dance and sing and run like the wind.  If words fail, i can paint the most amazing pieces against the canvas of my eyelids.  The hands of dreams can sculpt in a way no manual digits could. This is the most intimate art, the sublime shards of blessing, which rises up within me for no reason other than to get me through.

  Job got his health back, his wealth back, a new wife, and better children to replace those he had lost – although i imagine the way it was all taken away left a permanent scar.  Either way, God’s favor shone on him again because his faith never wavered.

While these words are wet with tears, i cannot hurl my rage at the Divine.  i am too aware of my culpability, my free will to screw up.  And, before, i have had miracles but lacked the internal fortitude to build my future upon them.  So, i have to look at these lines, begun in a moment of excruciating rawness, as the blessing.  They are enough for they have transformed me from a babbling, self-pitying fool into an inert pile of gratitude.

i am learning more every day how to give what i have lost to myself.  Granted, the configurations of love will not be the typical ones, certain opportunities have been lost. If the scars never go away, i have at least learned how to embrace them. Joy, depth of experience and appreciation for every breath weave their way through my days, even if they have to move underneath a veil of darkness.  Letters drop like rain, eventually becoming an ocean of comforts that will be unique to this particular, peculiar experiment in humanity.

All i need to do is make art a rope to pull me out of my suffering, give thanks for what i have been given, and release myself into dreams.

love and compassion

Survival. 

It is a sign of strength to survive hardship, without a doubt, and the last three years have thrown enough hardship in my way that I am proud to have moved through it all and found myself at this moment of promise and change.

However, I am exhausted. Every day, I struggle with pain and fatigue to the point that it has made following my passions – particularly as an artist and writer – feel beyond my reach.  While I make art, releasing it into the wild has demanded more than I had to give.  Add on to that the chaos that we all face, living in this time of change and turmoil, and it has been everything I could do to survive.

Lately, my roommates have been talking about how we all need to stop surviving and start thriving, which is a marvelous ideal and one I enthusiastically endorse. Only, I have quietly wondered how.  How can I be in the position I am financially, spiritually, physically, and yet shift my weight away from survival and into transcendence?

Finally, it occurred to me as I was driving home this evening how to accomplish such a thing for myself, even though I am still treading water, struggling to stay afloat.  

There have been a few times over the past few weeks, in the middle of massive change, heartache and new beginnings, that I could feel this inner core of steel – like a tempered sword – deep within my being. Each time it appeared, I was able to act with compassion and kindness because I knew that I could flex and bend but would not break. At first, I thought they were random miracles, but this is part of something deeply significant.  Today, after meeting another friend for dinner and running into another at the grocery store, I was awash in love, both mine for them and theirs for me.  As I drove, I felt taller, straighter, stronger and could sense that flexible, shining, unbreakable steel. 

That was the epiphany: love was the way to shift from feeling overwhelmed and unprepared to feeling like I am already thriving.  It might be as simple as throwing compassion out, whether or not it is returned.  Harder, but still vital, will be turning the same inward, especially if I am in a terrible place emotionally.

For years, my art has an act of love.  Love for creating, love for the poems and stories and images that flow out of me, a very real sensation of using them as vehicles for sending love into the world.  As my art and I have grown, I have also realized the role of kindness within the creation of anything.  All art goes through an ugly stage – maybe all personal development too? – and patience and kindness are required to get to the final point, whether it be a mess or a masterpiece. 

So, here I am, again.  All of the sputtering false starts from this time of struggle have left me with an opportunity for a new beginning.

For three years, arguably much more, I have been surviving.  Like a turtle, I hid under my shell, for protection from a world that can feel so terrifying and capricious.  The world has not changed, but I have reached my personal rubicon.  I have stood up, taller than I ever thought I could be.

I need to turn to love, to kindness and to compassion – both with myself and others.  I will keep offering up this art that I make, in open hands, because that is the first step in moving forward.  This is the unfolding of beginnings, the first step in a journey of change.