Category: women

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.

poem: shut up

“SHUT UP!”
i can still see her face,
“NO ONE CARES!
YOU ARE A SHITTY ARTIST!
A FOOL IN YOUR SUFFERING!”

The words echo
in the empty room
and i realize:
i don’t care.

Even if they are true,
these brackish, foul waters
taste sweet to me.

They sustain my life.

They give me what i need
to move forward.

Indeed,
the realization
that i can no longer
live for this art alone
fills me with more passion –
more driving, whipping need
to get these words onto paper
and fortify my soul.

So say what you want.

It can’t hurt me more
than losing art.

21 april 2016

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.

The energy of pain.

If you were sitting across the table from me right now, watching me fidget and listening to me laugh too loudly, i would tell you: this is the energy of pain.  For months i have been retreating as often as i could into mediation and stillness. The sensation of being inside this skin was so overwhelming that i hid inside the sanctuary of solitude and quiet. As a result, my ability to listen to my body is stronger than it has ever been. So, trust me when i say that as i write these words, the energy of pain sings in high relief within my awareness.

Before it gets incapacitating, pain can create a perverse surge of energy.  Perhaps this is actually the need for distraction, building up inside until it starts to burble out in images, in stories, and in attempts to work that feel more like spasms than anything useful. Limbs cause enough discomfort to keep me from standing for a long time. Twelve days out of surgery, i have to keep myself from lifting heavy things. My body needs me to be conscious of my limitations.

The miraculous shift in my flesh has made such self-restraint chafe.  i want to do and go and be! The pain is so much better! Optimism so fierce that it borders on delusion has returned to my soul! Quietly, slowly, my internal engines of inspiration, discipline and resiliency have started to churn once more.

Months ago, i made a resolution to be kind to myself. i renewed the vow at the beginning of lent (giving up my tendency to verbally abuse myself when i am in distress.) However, after so long down, after ten months watching my circumstances disintegrate while my body could not function well enough to fix the problem, i am welcoming any energy that comes to me – even that which carries this unpleasant hue.  i cannot repress the feeling that all will be well, simply because one simple surgery could change so much.

My uterus, the tumors that were trying to break out of it, and about half the load of pain i had been bearing were removed in a four hour long operation. (According to one of the surgeons a tumor that was peeking out of the organ had its own tumors, like little unwanted ears.  No wonder the process of removal took some time.) The first thing i said when i came out of anesthesia was “Oh, my God, the pain is so much better.”  And in the days following surgery it became even more apparent. Recuperating at a friend’s house, i felt like i was taking advantage of her kindness.  Despite the incisions, i felt stronger and more able than i had for at least a year.

i can tell my body is wounded and healing.  This has done nothing to fix my hips or my problems with my spine, not to mention fibromyalgia, diabetes and the other health issues with which i struggle, but this current level of pain does not incapacitate me.  Even with the buildup of energy that i am experiencing right now, i am coherent enough to write. i am aware enough to be filled with ideas and inspiration.  i could literally burst with hope, simply because i am no longer feeling completely impotent inside my skin.

Before surgery, i kept thinking about my journey. The part of me that tried to get pregnant for twelve years mourned. All the hopes and dreams that i had lost over the years passed through me like shades, giving me the opportunity to ask them to leave, to be carried out of me with my womb.  Once the hysterectomy was finished, i was filled with a sense of peaceful closure. i will always feel some grief over the family i never had, but the contentment is greater. Even more profound, i accepted something that i had said before but never quite let settle down into my cells: i am the end of my line, which means, damn it, i need to stand up and make this journey worth all the trouble and suffering.

So, if you see me over the next few days, and i am bouncing or drifting on my feet, talking too fast about random things, getting so excited about the thought of making art and crafting story again, please forgive me. i believe i am finally able to dig myself out of this hole, and i am marshaling whatever forces i can toward that goal. The energy of pain can be off-putting to the people around me, i know, but please understand, i am giving thanks every single moment for the fact that my body’s burdens have grown lighter.

 

poem: The Big Girl Pants

Not only were
the Big Girl Pants
chafing
obviously,
they were not effective.

So, i burned them –

along with every deluded thought
that i can get through
this awful crisis
alone.

In twenty hours
it will have been eight years
since he broke my life apart.

In the intervening time
i have ridden a wild roller-coaster
between loss and survival,
crumbling over and over
in anxiety and fear,
only to recover somehow
and find a way to move again.

My scars were visible
no matter how i smiled,
showing through all my clothes,
turning up
unbidden
in my art.

Today, the duality,
the paradox,
between the two beings
sharing the shell of my skin –
the artist who laughs,
jokes,
feels so blissfully alive
in the flow,
and the one who
is so distracted
broken,
afraid,
disjointed
and impractical –
shouts at me so loudly
it causes physical pain.

If i act as though i loathe myself,
i am lying;
if i act as if i love myself,
i am lying.
Neither extreme is truth.

The first testifies
to the worst parts of me,
the shaking shadow of a person
who cannot help but believe
the most loathsome things
that has ever been said
about me.
The second
gives voice
to a joy
that seems indestructible.

In various moments,
both have validity.
Neither aspect of me
can survive on is own.

One would blindly go on,
making art,
ignoring all the world
for such passion;
the other would destroy
my soul
rather than
accept
i am worth
supporting or loving.

Without your help
i will fall into utter ruin,
weakness or art
slamming me hard
against the rocks
until i break into pieces
too small to reconstruct.

The Big Girl Pants
did not work,
nor the education,
nor the ambition,
nor the self-hatred,
nor the vicious punishment

It leaves me exhausted.

Since being an adult
is a failed experiment,
all that is open to me
right now
is to think
of the little child
who was so lost,
marooned in this life
and and the things
that always saved her –
faith that help would come;
complete, awesome gratitude
for even the smallest acts of mercy;
unwavering dreams that gave her rope
when she was falling
so she even when she hit the ground
she was never totally destroyed;
and the foolish, unconquerable
ability to love,
even those who were cruelest,
opening her arms
at the first breath of kindness.

She made no plans,
she suffered but she always
found in her dreams
what she needed
to heal from the injuries
of temporary surrender.
Her love for life was enough
to keep her going,
waiting
for that next moment to pray,
that next small miracle
that would save her
for another few hours.

Screw being a grownup.
Let me have the faith
of that suffering child.
this belief in limitless possibility.
i can really do worse tonight.

8 december 2015

poem: the easy one to hate

i am the one,
the easy target for hate.
After all, i am alone:
who would defend me?

Divorced,
without the children
which appear to be
the only coin currency
that gives a woman worth,
leaves me devalued
in the eyes of many.

How often do they see
a smartass,
a sarcastic brat,
and even worse,
someone following her heart
despite external logic
that demands surrender.

This entire existence
seems
ridiculous
to the critic’s eyes.

i am so exhausted,
pain brimming
from every limb,
but i am stubborn enough
to hide it,
to wash off the ashes
and change out the sack cloth,
so i present to the unsuspecting
a fiction of success.

But still, fools call me lazy,
point to my fat
and my awkward gait
to justify their cruelty;
they claim i am crazy
because i do not conform
to what they want me to be.

And i find,
i do not care anymore
if they judge me,
or hate me,
or insult me,
for i have you
the sympathetic,
companion in otherness,
the heart willing to read these words

25 september 2015

poem: the hammer

The hammer slides in my grip –
its heaviness too punishing
for my wounded wing –
yet, i do not relent.

Down flies the weight,
breaking and smashing,
words shattered until nothingness
is all that remains.

Countless stories told,
none of which
describe who i am,
for everything transforms
with this destruction.
Change is the hammer,
which prevents the past
from taking root again.

i have to be reimagined,
even if every syllable
has to shift and sway.

The act of recreation
has become as holy
as it is necessary.

i swing the hammer
to see who i might become.

23 october 2015

poem: the story of self

The story of self
has to change.

At first the tale
was all about my family,
the loss and loneliness
and otherness
in which i drowned.

Then the recounting
of marriage lost
took over center stage.
The love i had thought
would last forever
dissolved away,
demanding it had never been,
taking with it
all that i thought i was.

Now,
i need something new
and i do not want
to lead with this grief,
with the pain,
with the failure
of my long loneliness.

Oh, but i don’t want to lie.

So, what do i say?

In this, my eyes are my enemies,
for all i can see
when i look at myself
is an ugly, awkward woman
charging forward
like a bull
while everyone else screams:
“You’re going the wrong way!”
“Haven’t you failed enough?”
“You don’t know what to do!”
“You are going to ruin yourself!”

i know.
It is all true.
My failures,
my ignorance,
the hopelessness of reason
confront me ceaselessly.
i run over the splinters
of shattered dreams
but keep rebuilding them
despite the blood and tears.

Maybe that childhood
made me too desperate,
unable to stop pursuing
that which gives me joy.

Perhaps the divorce
made me incapable
of giving up
on this great passion.

Surely,
the long loneliness
showed me
i can survive
even when i sing alone,
the rest of the world
facing the other way.

So, maybe the story
is that i am the one
who cannot commit
to surrender?
Granted, we have
a serious flirtation going on,
but out of madness,
or out of strength,
or out of faith,
i keep facing the darkness
and moving on.

Even keen knowledge
of my own limitations
has not stopped me
from charging forward
as though they did not exist.

Could it be
that i am one
too suborn to be wise?

25 october 2015

stains on my shirt

Usually i take great pains to dress as professionally as i am able during my shifts at these cooperative galleries.  Whether i like it or not, art is a business and i am selling a product.  That i make the work with my blood and sweat makes no difference.  However, today, i am dressed for the sunburn on my back, acquired during last Sunday’s Bucksport Art Festival.  youngmeAs it heals, it has begun to burn and itch, and the softest of shirts was required.  Sadly, as i ate my lunch, i spilled soup on myself so now we have a shirt chosen for comfort with stains down the front.  Of course, i dropped my extra clothes in a puddle coming in, so here i sit, as i am.

Oddly, i feel more at home in this get-up, stains and all, than i did yesterday in the more formal (and still very soft) dress.  Something in me appreciates the rumpled and worn. i have always been comfortable with imperfection, my art celebrates it. My uniform for writing, making pottery and painting, clay stained yoga pants and an old, super-soft t-shirt, feels the most natural to me.

i can remember how hard my mother worked to make me girlish – the lace pantyhose, the frilly polyester dresses, the patent leather shoes, the ongoing war over my hair. (How i hated those damned bangs!) Yet, i could never bend to her will; my natural inclination toward comfort and functionality won. Given my druthers, i would have run around in jeans and t-shirts with my hair in utter disarray in every picture.

Not much has changed since then.  Still, i am at home in what is comfortable, what lets me have freedom movement to work, clothes which demand no other thought.

So, to my customers today, i am pleased to meet you.  Let me talk to you about the art i make and the art of my amazing fellow cooperatives.  i recommend the clam chowder next door, too.

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.