Category: about asha

overwhelm


Apparently, this is the third time that i have written a blog that is entitled overwhelm.
i am not in the least bit shocked, as the problem recurs with some frequency.  Lately, it is made worse because of a necessary change of focus.

After nearly twenty years working as an artist and writer (although for many of them i did not have to be obsessed with making my own living) and eight working myself down to a nub running my own business, i have been holding down a regular job since last June.

That sentence still sounds surreal.  Art, i used to say, is all i am good for.  Well, it is certainly my passion and vocation, but i have discovered that i can develop other skills and learn huge amounts of information in a short period of time.  i feel an odd pride in being resilient enough to make such a fundamental change to how my life is structured.  However, a tension has developed by these two opposing forces – creativity and the need to survive – and this has lead to a new kind of overwhelm.

The longer i work at this job, and the more i enjoy it, the worse the struggle between the artistic and practical sides of my psyche grows. i work eight or ten hours to come home too exhausted to write or paint or sculpt or throw.  Indeed, my health has not been terribly good, so i have to proceed with caution. All the sick time has been used up.  This constant fatigue and struggle makes me feel like less of an artist – even though, by any reasonable standard, i am still producing a decent amount of art and verse.  Logic be damned, though, my confidence is deeply compromised.  i have become excruciatingly vulnerable to criticisms.

Suggest that i am not the artist i thought i was, and i will hang my head in shame.  Maybe i am not.  After all, i have found some unexpected delights in this job. Would a real artist have been utterly inconsolable?  Unable to find joy in other accomplishments?

she has no message, because i could not go

When my writing is dismissed as irrelevant or harmful because it deals with heavy issues and are not always sparkling with wit, i hang my head and agree.  This is not work about trivisl things.  Very few poems involve wine or puppies or butterflies.  My overriding fascination as an artist – both in visual and written mediums – is the inner workings of the soul.  What happens beneath the skin, in this soup of perception, knowledge, bias, inspiration, reaction and emotion, has been the platform from which my creativity launched.

There was a time i could swim in an ocean of story without being worried about the anything else.  i can barely remember it. Given the insanity that this country (and world) is facing right now, i feel particularly hoxed.  Not only has the wild river of art that flooded from me slowed to a tiny, warbling brook, other tasks of major importance have to be put off.  i have had to learn to say no, especially to my own desires. Last weekend, kept drawing protesters, mostly because i was too exhausted and sick to go protesting myself.

Curled up under covers, i remembered fondly attending George Mason University in the late 80s, early 90s, and going to many protests in DC.  Getting involved stokes potent hope.

Yet, i have to protect this body (as well as my mental health) first and foremost, because when i am unable both the job and the calling screech to a halt.

Too often, i find myself lamenting the art-obsessed life i used to have like one would a lover.  Oh, i remember being in the arms of flow, being ready to pick up a pen at any moment. At the same time, i am proud that no matter what has been going on with anxiety, or my health, or my bills, or that nagging cloud of despair i haven’t been able to shake since i was a child, i am surviving, working the full day, and letting poetry and sketches leak out.  Some weekends, in a burst of joy, i throw myself into larger works.

i am still an artist.  My sanity continues to be maintained by the written word and the thin ribbons of ink that pour from my pen.

But, this overwhelm brought me low and made me hide.  Forgive me for my absence.  Pardon me for the awkwardness of this writing.  i am still a bit wobbly in my feet.  Ignore the loud laughter and thanksgivings, because i am just so ridiculously grateful i made it this far.

 

 

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.

Photographs

timchin_may2014_0003Last month, I had the honor of being a subject in the Roots Workshop that was hosted by a local resort, timchin_may2014_0005  French’s Point.  I was paired with Tim Chin – a wonderful photographer – who wound up being very kind and patient with me.  You see, I detest getting my picture taken.  My entire body tenses and I get nervous, but he put me at ease.  Quickly, I started to treat him like I would one of my students, and the entire process got even more painless.  There is  nothing that makes me more joyous than teaching people about making pottery and art.

At any rate, last night, while I was googling myself, I found a video of the pictures they picked at the Workshop – timchin_may2014_0052http://vimeo.com/96199141 – and what startled me was that they chose totally different images than the ones I have focused on.  Granted, they were seeking different things from the photos – but I spent a couple of hours last night marveling about how all of us can see the same pictures and yet have be moved by different aspects.

Still, there is one favorite that nearly everyone has in common – my dog booping my nose with his.

To the right and below are my favorite seven out of the group.  Thank you, Tim Chin and the Roots Workshop, for changing my relationship with photography and my own image.timchin_may2014_0056timchin_may2014_0059

earrings and other things

For whatever reason, I have felt more keenly aware that who I am today can only be a speck on a continuum of being. The process of living has proved to be an ever-changing becoming. Even though that sounds woefully metaphysical, the awareness of it walked with me all day today.

When someone dear to my heart talked about how much she was struggling with depression, all the times when I stood on the perilous edge, convinced that life had no hope or meaning, lined up inside me like small steel balls, each one as though they were fully separate manifestations of self. In every case, the sensation of hopelessness overpowered me, convincing me that who I was had always been a static, worthless mess. In time, that perception was proven to be a lie, but I recall how fierce and deadly it had been in the moment. Each repetition flowing through my memory testified that I had no way to comfort for her other than acknowledging shared pain.

altered self portrait hurricaneA few hours later, as I re-pierced the upper holes in my ears that had gone unused for nearly two  decades, I remembered the day I had them pierced, when I was about twelve, and I thought it was so cool and rebellious. That girl could have been standing beside me, fleshed out on her own, a separate being altogether. Likewise the slightly wiser version of me who realized a few years later that my action had delighted my mother; the skilled use of reverse psychology on her part had finally paid off. I had done something feminine. The twelve year old, the teenager freshly irritated from epiphany, the woman in her late twenties who gave up on earrings altogether and this person wincing briefly in the mirror all queued up like separate bubbles: singularities in time and space connected by this continual, shifting consciousness.

The sense of separateness permeating today made wonder how much true control we have in each specific instant. Forces drive us that do not speak out loud. Hindsight makes nearly every action seem obvious, miraculous or embarrassing. Yet none of these reassessments and reinterpretations give justice to my full mindset in the moment I originally acted. At the time, my motives were frequently primal or incredibly simple: I really wanted my ears pierced, because it makes the magpie in me happy …

This doubling awareness – now and then staring at each other, both having maintained a delusion of permanence – kept on getting stronger. It reminded me of how people describe remembering past lives, only I just had this one continues awareness pointing out individual moments when I dreamed I was solid.  Perhaps my art made it easier.  Each poem was like a Polaroid of a moment, quite possibly bearing no real truth to who I would be by the time the lines were done flowing from my pen.  Going through a huge amount of my art to make my social media interactions easier, I found each piece evoking specific events and inspirations, and none of them were close to how I would approach the subject today.

I spent some time staring at a painting of my ex, rendered when we were still happy. It struck me how profoundly those interactions formatted one part of my continuum, but no longer define me. Twice in two days I have talked about him, remembering how desperately I loved him, how I drowned in that love long after he broke my heart leaving, and that experience too had this surreal distance. The woman who loved could have sat beside me, her loss palpable due to proximity, but she remained separate – not actually part of the fabric of my now.

How my relationship with myself has changed since we were together. The woman writing these words barely understands the one who wailed with grief so long. Even the great traumas of childhood, or perhaps most especially those ordeals, have taken on the qualities of an echo. The memories can be vivid when I am forced to bring them out of storage, but they cannot evoke the power they once did. Likewise, all the moments when I thought I was blessed, or freakish, or quick, or magical, or cursed, hold the same separateness to this instant’s manifestation of me.

For awhile, my entire understanding shifted: right now became more real than all those memories put together; the constant evolution of my being held more sway than my perceptions of who I was or who I am.

Tomorrow, I might look at this essay as describing an isolated event, one particularly acute instance of sensation, when the world turned slightly on its side to give me a glimpse of myself I would normally have missed, and remember it with the same tinges of the surreal. That alone might be all it takes to create me anew again.

lonely artist

The reason for these spasms of loneliness has always eluded me. Most of the time i am content with my solitude. Frankly, given the amount of stories and art that fill my hours, i usually don’t feel that alone even when I have not spoken to another human in days. Given how awkward i feel in many social situations, I typically see my solitary time as comfortable and safe.

Every once in awhile, though, i lose myself to aching loneliness. The only way i can describe it would be like a fleeting, focused madness. i start to think about people who treated me badly, those that transgressed horribly, yearning for contact even though i know the well is poisoned. For some perverse reason, i perceive a great distance between my treasured network of friends and myself, which keeps my attention on the lost ones. My mind begins to weave fanciful, ridiculous scenarios about how they have changed and what our conversation might be like. This is where having a good imagination can be inconvenient. No matter how abusive, demeaning or destructive someone is, there always exists a good side too. i think about the music we both liked or how the same book riveted us, or how good touch felt before it turned to pain, and the temptation to reconnect feels nearly irresistible. For a moment, loneliness acts like a delusion: the insults and cruelty can shrink to specks, even though they were the vast majority of the relationship. The tiny shards of goodness shine like fool’s gold.

Out of all the challenges in my life, these visceral fits of need trouble me the most. Every other problem balloons to a crisis because i have no chance for help. The world can seem terribly cold and cruel when i am in this psychological space. The love of my animals does not soothe me since i long for my own kind. And the loneliness makes me feel like such a failure, how can i ever be a worthy companion to these furry blessings anyway? The intensity of my loneliness makes it seem chaotically tangiblepleading antimatter surrounding me. It is so tempting to slide into the belief that i am unloved and nothing about me – even my creations – matters. Art seems irrelevant in a vacuum. No matter how well i live by myself the rest of the time, the compulsion to connect with other people, particularly with someone whom i love (and many of those who have treated me worst still have a huge claim on my heart, even though self protection mandates separation), leads me to the stupidest mistakes.

And i have only found one pathway out of dangerous isolation that does not imperil me further: i throw myself into words or color or form. A thousand poems about loneliness have flown from my pen, countless ugly paintings and drawings cry out in yearning, and i write stories about love to prove to myself it can exist. Through this labor, I survive the storm.