Category: small business

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.

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.

 

 

a month

13411862_10208363446235263_2117676587360267764_oIt has been a just over four weeks since everything changed.

Honestly the transformation started nearly eighteen months ago, sped up considerably this time last year, but the past four weeks have accelerated the process to the speed of light.

As i write, i have a job, one that requires 40 hours a week and will pay me regularly, and for that i am on my knees with gratitude. The stress of trying to make it solely through art, alone, with my health suffering for so long, was intolerable. i was breaking down.  It made my art – especially my writing – suffer.

For most of this job search, i was afraid on so many different levels.  i am an artist, an acquired taste, a round ball of strange.  To find a place that can tolerate all that – and the terrible staggering awkwardness that my body often adopts instead of graceful movement – is fantastic.

But this is a blog about the business of art.  And, thankfully, that business continues.  In one month, i have written (and typed in) a notebook full of poetry, done more drawings that i can remember, finished writing a novel, and begun working on a short story that amuses me more than i can express.  i have never written from the POV of a planet before.

Today, as i gallery sit in Southwest Harbor, i feel more centered in my calling than i have since Darwin the dog died.  Going into my studio has been hard, and something for which i have had very little time.  13483087_10208363947087784_3077929633202552197_oAs soon as i could throw again after surgery, my kiln died, so the pottery side of everything has been stalled rather horribly.  i await a paycheck or art sales to get new elements and relays, and then, i will be back up and running after this year and a half long stream of catastrophe.

i imagine i will release a deep sigh as that first kiln begins to click and heat up.  This will be the physical proof of my breaking out of this confining suffering and into a new, (glorious!) stage of life.

Indeed, it gets even better: sometime in early August, i will be teaming up with another artist and potter. He is phenomenally gifted and i am truly honored he wants to work with me. This is an endless source of personal delight, but will alter the flow of my life (and creativity) again.  This change could not be more welcome; it will be wonderful to have the studio being used more frequently. i cannot wait to see what art pours out of its doors.

Honestly, i have begun to realize that this recent journey through the darkness has given me wonderful gifts.  Somewhere underneath all the poetry and daydreams, there lies a core of tempered steel.  It can flex and move without breaking. As long as i remember that this resilience resides inside my core, especially during moments of overwhelm and despair, i think i will be able to survive.13490800_10208368963573193_3510292570587586590_o

Also, i needed to prove to myself, and maybe to the source from which my art flows, that i can actually do the hard work of life.  i have been scared and anxious for so long – to have fate force me up into a standing position, to demand such sacrifice from me, was deeply uncomfortable. Yet, i am standing.  i am slowly, haltingly, moving forward as an artist and as a woman.

Running this business for so long, alone, had left my confidence gutted.  i did not have all the skills that i needed to be successful.  This is not a whine, this is simple truth. i have grown too tired of self-recrimination to give myself a hard time over this anymore.  We all have our abilities, our talents, and i cannot keep hating the fact that there are aspects to running a business – especially finances and marketing – to which i am not equal.

Also, perhaps, i have grown a bit wiser – not many people can survive flawlessly alone.  Why would i think that i am any different?  The condition of lonely solitude had gone on for so long, i forgot that i could reach out and ask for help.  Now, i know i can.  There will be hands to catch me.

So, today, i am simply grateful. i had a wonderful dog, i have had all these years where i was married to making art.  My body is tired but functioning; my mind, likewise.  And here i am, once more, handing poetry and art to you in my open hands.

 

 

shifting heartbeat

A quick moment of joyous celebration!

My taxes are all but done, all the background work done, ready to be filed tonight.  Slowly, i must be becoming an adult, because i actually did it this year without tears or weeping or too much of a desire to drink.

Responses are coming in to the 30 resumes/job applications that i sent out over the past week.  Now, obviously, none of this guarantees me a job, but still it is delightful to experience forward movement. Plus, after this long year of debilitating ill health, to feel strong and able enough to have a regular job feels like a treat in itself.

It’s odd how things turn, how heartbeats shift.  For so long, i had looked at a ‘job’ that wasn’t making art as a defeat, suddenly it is a blessing of the highest order.  i know i will continue to make art, and to write, but being able to pay my bills would be a major boon.

Best of all, for this is where my soul resides, i have been drawing and writing again.  The current story enchants me, the ones that have been stalled for the past year have begun to invade my dreams and thoughts again.

Several times, I have gushed my gratitude at friends saying, “i feel like i’m becoming myself again.”  However, the miracle goes even deeper.  The whole character of the world changed while i was down – it became a place of tremendous kindness and love – and now, i am able to put my weight on those blessings.  i am walking on different ground.  Oh, how that makes me sing, and laugh, and dance as much as these hips allow.

After the taxes are totally finished tonight, i will paint.  i already have the canvas on the easel, waiting for all my stuff done.

 

 

shouting at the computer; or, why facebook makes my heart hurt

Today, i read a post about another artist, mentioning him by name, calling him out specifically.

Now, i admit, i admire his work tremendously.  i care for him as a person and as a creator.  Further, i know he has been a working artist as long as i have been on this earth. His art made enough money to raise a family with his first wife.  No doubt her talent and acumen helped them be successful, but that does not diminish the fact that he is a kick ass artist.

Long before we had any kind of friendship between us, i admired his art deeply.

To paraphrase the quote, since i don’t think i’m allowed to steal it directly from Facebook: This jackass thinks he is a marvelous artist and is so selfish and prideful that he thinks he is above an ordinary job, even when the art isn’t making him enough.

There were many errors in the entire post that made me howl with outrage, but this one line took the cake.  The primary slander was that at this moment, this particular artist is working a 40 hour a week job right now to make ends meet, pride be damned.  Watching him struggle to balance this job and his art has been inspirational to me, because he has not given up on his craft.

Ah, but i digress.  Back to her statement. The part that really raised my hackles was the insinuation that making art isn’t real work.  Worst of all: this statement was written by another artist! i have never understood the impulse to diminish someone else who is struggling down the same path.  In this facebook frenemy’s mind, does art only count as viable work if she decides it should? At what point should we give up on that which gives us the strength to live and breathe?  When we are told in a facebook post that we’re selfish twats for following our dreams?

i have heard that crap so often, directed at my art, (“Why the fuck would you make pottery? You can just go to Walmart and get a set for $20!”) and every single time i have reacted as calmly and reasonably as i could, even if i was imagining beating the speaker with sticks in my mind (in my mind, not on facebook.)  One of the most potent times was almost a year ago when a tenant was over a thousand dollars behind in the rent and i was explaining to her that i needed them to start paying something to make it – there was a reason that i broke my solitude and rented rooms in my house.  “So what! Just because you make shit art and can’t sell it doesn’t mean that it’s my fault you’re broke.”  Then she added her voice to the “Just get a damned job” chorus.  At the time, i was defiant; later on, i felt true pity for her – another woman who fancies herself an artist and yet was so quick to judge my art as useless and a waste of time.

This entire blog is filled with discussions about art, my drive to make it, my physical issues and why my options have been somewhat limited.  Fate, in a lot of ways, has forced me to follow my dreams, and i am grateful on my knees for this.  My impending financial implosion has made me start writing like a fool.  Even as i recuperate from surgery, every day i am researching galleries and places to submit my work.  i am being driven by art, and it whips me with intensity, pushing me forward; i am being driven by necessity and that is no less cruel a master.  i know this about my life, so when you chastise me about not having a regular job, i have defenses, reasons, dreams.  While i might be frustrated, i won’t be overly ruffled.

However, if you level the same charge against my friends, and people whose art i admire, apparently i will be left shouting at the computer about idiots and facebook.

*

We as artists have to encourage each other.  Yes, there is the thought that we shouldn’t allow our friends to walk down the path of utter madness, but only applies if you think making art is mad.

This is what art is: energy-consuming, time-eating, mind-expanding, soul-enriching, life-improving.  Even if you loathe every word i have ever written, let me assure you, getting them on the page was work.  Just because the vegetarian doesn’t want to eat the bacon doesn’t mean the farmer isn’t working.  Even though you can buy cheap sweaters at department stores doesn’t mean that the person who spins and weaves and knits doesn’t have a job.  Most artists i know are small business people, running their enterprise and creating all the art to sustain it.  If anything, the full time artist already has two jobs, and then add whatever freelancing or odd jobs we do to keep ourselves going.  There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and we need to have the creation of art fill some of them.

This one frustrating facebook post embodied two much larger problems within our society:

  1. Even among other artists, we are constantly fighting a battle against judgments of worthlessness.  Humans are varied, their interests wildly diverse – all art will be despised by someone.  But we have to change the way we talk about it, because art is vital, important, deeply necessary for the spirit.  Even if someone’s art doesn’t suit your particular aesthetic sense or you don’t like the person who made it, we are fools to begrudge them the time, effort and risk that they took to bring their heart into the world.  If we, as creatives, cannot look at someone else’s artistic labors and support them by recognizing that the work behind the finished product was real, then how on earth are we supposed to expect the rest of the world to find our dreams valid?  To pay us for the products of our hands?
  2. We have forgotten to be kind. Well, that is a bit misleading – we’ve never had an era of unbroken kindness in human history. However, given the instantaneous culture of the internet, we have the opportunity to hurt and slander others with alarming ease. With such carelessness, people forget that everyone else is a human being.  We are not slime, we live and breathe just like you.  The level of cruelty and judgment is staggering, as though the person isn’t reading the feed or the comments.  It can be leveled at entire nations, religions, sexes, and it can be sent like daggers toward individuals.

We have to learn a different way to interact, to say that we don’t like someone’s art or morals or behavior without demonizing and dismissing.  This keyboard before me can send my thoughts through the world in an instant – it is up to me to make those thoughts matter, but also to make them kind

To my fellow artists: you do good work!  If you are writing right now, homeless and under a bridge, you are my hero.  You never gave up because someone else told you to.e

To everyone i know: your time is valuable, you are worthy and let me know if someone’s talking shit about you because i will howl at the computer on your behalf.  Just don’t expect to see anything online, because i try not to be an asshole.

Delinquency

i am now eighteen days past surgery and i cannot stop sleeping.  Well, i can, for very short spurts, long enough to take the dog out for a walk or to feed myself, but otherwise, i am back in bed with speed.

Thankfully, i have been writing, but there will be some substantial editing to do when i type these words in, once i have all my faculties going.  Right now, i find that the things that work best come in to me: reading, watching documentaries, listening to people.  Going out – writing, art, (God help me) work for clients – those are all taking inordinate amounts of time and energy.  If they can happen at all.  Yesterday i tried, i chained myself to the laptop and got halfway through one project, but then could do no more.  i was making foolish mistakes because my body was crying for rest.

If i am not careful, i will start chastising myself for this – thinking that this idleness is delinquency rather than recuperation. Half of the battle right now is to refrain from being mean to myself for what i perceive are shortfalls and weakness.

My doctor, last Friday, reminded me that i was still in recovery from the surgery.  She asked me to be kind to myself, to take it easy: no heavy lifting, no bending way down, rest as i need it. And i am doing exactly that, even if the frustration of it brings me to tears.

This means i am behind deadline, that the sink is piled with dirty dishes (again), that my heart aches because of all the things i want to do. Even when i am unable, my mind continues to create story and play with painting. Still, every other time i’ve had a major illness or injury, i ran back into the embrace of work, desperate for money but also desperate for the fulfillment and distraction that it brought.  This time, either at the worst or the best time for it, i am actually going to take care of myself.  Today, i will finish that project, and another, but it will be while swaddled in warmth and possibly interspersed with a nap or two…

It has taken days to write this down…

For years, i have struggled with how personal i should allow this blog to get. It is an odd conundrum to have, given my general disposition. In conversation, i have very few boundaries. No personal embarrassment will stop me from making someone laugh.  As a poet, i am a spiritual and emotional exhibitionist. There is very little that i won’t write about, and have a peculiar lack of shame when it comes to flinging my secrets out into the world.  Think of a chimpanzee throwing it’s feces at random passers by, only substitute poems.  In rhyme or blank verse, i will describe any level of transgression or epiphany, love or suffering, without a thought.

If i appall someone with my poetry, after i am done celebrating my aim, i am quick to add: a poem is to a novel what a polaroid picture is to a movie – a tiny snapshot of reality, of Truth (if done well,) but not necessarily something eternal.  Writing can be an exorcism of sorts.  Once the words are down on paper, they do not haunt the heart.  These words may reflect a moment of profound grief or trauma, but that no longer apply to every moment of my existence.  Likewise, much to my shame, that moment of bliss and understanding might have also been swept away with the tide.  So, this temporary nature of the poem has left me feeling like the nakedness of the soul is appropriate.

Only, i have tried to walk a fine line here, in the prose, in this primary blog, between what i want to write about and what i deem appropriate for polite society.

Many people have told me that i already reveal too much and should back off.  Only, this afternoon, while i sit here waiting for glasses, i have no desire to be cagy or polite or wrap a cloak of denial over the situation in which i wallow.  This journey that i will be traveling for the next six months or so will require everything i have – keeping up a facade, or being vague about my problems, will not work.  Or, rather, it will take energy that i do not have to give, so today i will shed my inhibitions and tell you exactly what is going on with me.

Only, now that my defenses lie scattered around me on the floor, i suddenly feel shy. i have noticed that it is cold.  Perhaps i am remembering the loss of yesterday, twenty-four hours martyred to maudlin moaning and cuddling up in bed with animals.

A lot of what plagues my mind i have written about incessantly: a pitiful lack of courage, an over abundance of anxiety bordering on the ridiculous, continuing problems with my health, financial insecurity. These are all still present and strong – although, maybe, i am doing better against the depression/PTSD/anxiety than i thought, because i am still standing. In the parts of this blog focused on my spirituality, i have talked openly about despair and doubt as much as i have communion and joy.   

At least six months go, i reached the level of overwhelm that made coherent thought and action nearly impossible.  Instead of actively swimming through the currents of life, i have been thrashing, choking on the waves and spray, reacting but not able to move in a coordinated and productive manner.  i know this, so i have kept praying and begging and reaching out; my persistence fueled by desperation.  Only, with one tremendous, mind-boggling, life-altering blessing (the discovery that this world is filled with love and kindness) set aside for a moment, the rest of my troubles have continued on undaunted and undiminished.

What has my guts churning today, though, is my health.  i have to get a hysterectomy as my uterus is horribly swollen with tumors (biopsy pending) and even if they are simply fibroids (please! i have been praying ceaselessly on that score) this will be major surgery.  My right leg, because these things happen in groups, has been having problems working.  Indeed, there are times it will not work at all. Thank heavens i had company over Christmas that could move my leg when i was experiencing one of these brown-outs.  Unfortunately, now that company is back home and i am left swatting at my leg in the morning, trying to get it going. Thankfully, my dog, Darwin, seems to have more sense than me and does a laying on of paws to get me started.

At any rate, that too is surgery and my left leg has the same issue but somehow, magically, still works.

The glasses i am waiting for come because my vision has been steadily declining for the past couple of years – while so much of my hair has gone white that i have been turned into a blonde.  My primary concern, though, even before they hysterectomy and the hip surgery and the collapse of my finances (for with these injuries, no wonder my ability to run my small business has been horribly impeded,) is that i am diabetic.  i have to get my blood sugars under control. Three quarters of my problem is that when i am horribly stressed out, my sugars go sky high.  Once the stress abates, A1C gets better. 

But, when will the stress abate?  Sometimes i think that letting my life fall to pieces without a struggle would be less stressful than trying to get myself to change and be strong, fierce and fearless. Surely accepting powerlessness and submitting to the crappy things that have happened like they are some kind of judgment would feel more peaceful than demanding things from life (a living, health) that it seems so unwilling to give.

Yet, of course, here i am, pushing against the wall with all my might and demanding that it magically become a door. One of my friends – for these delightful people have been the awesome blessing that saved my life during the past eight months – keeps syaing that she knows i will be okay because i am the most stubborn cuss she’s met.  Part of me hopes she is right.  However, every time i push forward, doing something that i thought was impossible for me, i feel a quiet wave of pride and a huge inundation of WHAT WAS I THINKING?

#

Twenty four hours have passed since i wrote these words.  Glasses have made my world have sharp, clear edges again.  A seminar about selling your work at trade shows has taught me much.  But mid way through the class, i had an epiphany:

my path must be different than that of my classmates.

Simply put, i do not have the health to do major shows yet (or create the stock i would need) – perhaps in the summer or fall, but even then, by not applying for them now i will not be accepted into them.  Moreover, i am still substantially hampered in what art i can make.  So, i will have to forge my own path – taking advice from everywhere i can, gathering inspiration from the stories of artists who can pay their bills – but finding my own way. 

At least, as my heartbeat quickens with that realization, i can take comfort in the fact that i can finally see clearly again.

8-9 January 2015

Things must change

I am writing this during my last day sitting in an artisans’ cooperative this year; Christmas Eve, 2015.

This marks an end of an era for me. A huge amount of the galleries in which i began this year are either moving, closing (or already closed) and a few others have had sales bad enough i have to make disappointing decisions. Most of my plans for the next twelve months remain purely in the realm of the  hypothetical. What i know i will do is make pen and inks, finish at least one novel, write as many poems as i can coax through me.  Soon, i will have another surgery, and afterward i have to dedicate myself to healing and transcending whatever comes.

Never before has it been so glaringly obvious and desperate: i have to reconceive how i move through my days, even as i acknowledge that my heart beats out art as much as blood. The question remains how to do this.  How do i walk that fine line between financial need and spiritual/sanity needs? As i wrote in a poem posted fairly recently, and the haiku below that i put on twitter, art is a fickle mistress.

Art is a lover
who keeps me chained up tightly
and would let me starve.

Starving is not a viable option for an irrepressible sensualist like myself. Giving up on art, which so many have told me is the most sensible option, also seems to be impossible. Yet, i fight against incredible anxiety and fears. As much art as i create, as much as i deepen my abilities in different mediums, i have been hoxed by this relentless worry. This cannot continue. One or the other has to surrender itself – either i continue making art and become relatively fearless in its dissemination, or i surrender to my fears and live a life painfully diminished.  i do not think i could survive the latter.

So, i have to find a way. There is no other option, really, this long succession of freelance and piecemeal jobs can be the stop gap, the way to keep going, until i find a way to make art consistently pay for bread and butter.  But i must keep my focus on that far off mountain top, where the work that gives me the deepest bliss and aligns my energy with the world so well actually maintains me.

One of the miracles in my life is that this past year has brought a slew of people who believe in me enough to help me get through some terribly difficult times. When i thought i might never throw again, my friends listened to my grief; they celebrated with me when i got back to the wheel.  Gifts of food, money, time, compassion and kindness kept me afloat. As i wrote earlier, this was the year of friendship. Perhaps that is how i can find my courage – to remember that there are people who don’t just want me to succeed but see it as something that will happen, with enough patience, stubbornness and resilience.

So, this blog is a bit of a shout out to the universe at large, steeped with both prayer and intent: help me change things. Help me find a way to make this work with the blessings and limitations i have. i cannot change the basic DNA of my being, so i have to find a path that lets me keep making art AND eat.

Things will change.

Things must change.

i am apparently too stubborn to surrender, so i must find a way to be courageous and maybe even a bit wise.

The whole engine of my heart and imagination manifests this transformation.

i wish you all the best for your coming year – may all people find greater peace, kindness and love in our worlds.

fierceness

poem: burning advice

They break my heart.

“Do it for love.
Give up on any pretensions
of eating or paying your bills
through this labor.
You know,
these words you write
and the art you make
have no use.

“It is time to acknowledge
failure.

“You have to accept
that you cannot eat bliss.

“Your joy is irrelevant
to your debtors.
We, your friends,
are tired
of watching you struggle.
You have to realize
that your art
is just for your own benefit.

“Do it for the love of it,
in your spare time,
and give up the rest.”

i want to take their words outside
and burn them
under the full moon.
This is not helpful.
This feels astoundingly cruel.
To take away the one thing
that gives life meaning
and expect me to act
as though this wisdom
is a gift?

No.

i willingly embrace madness
when your reasonable sanity
would rob me
of my reason for living.

i become the villain,
using up resources,
failing to pay my bills,
struggling through injury and illness
only so i can make art again.

But, i have no other choice.

There are only 24 hours
in a day,
and i have so little energy,
i must be merciless
in where i put my effort.
Every moment wasted
hurts my soul.

If i do not give myself over
to the mistress of art
who has saved me so often,
there will be nothing left of me
to survive.

After they have their say,
and my tears
have exhausted themselves,
i burn their words
on the altar
of my unreasonable,
insane hope.

20 november 2015

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.