Tag: art

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.

 

 

the face i dare not show

Again, today, i heard something familiar.  When discussing anxiety and the trouble it can cause, the person i was talking to smiled brightly and said, “Yeah, you say you have anxiety, but you always look so cheerful and confident to me.  I don’t think it’s real.”

At first i felt frustrated.  Her image of me spits in the face of the reality i know.  Then i realized, to her experience of me, she must feel fully justified in her opinion.  There are faces i dare not show.  She only sees me on my best, bravest days.  For, thank heavens, i have days were i can walk through the world unhampered. Whether it be from medication or a sense of duty or just a miracle from the divine, i get these gifts of days when i am useful and reliable. Responsibilities have always had enough power over me to push me past fear and worry – only, i tend to fall apart when i get home, once the adrenaline wears off.

Yet, on the highest anxiety day, no one will ever see how fear and self-loathing can cripple me, because i will be hiding behind locked doors with the computer and the phone off.  Pain feeds the anxiety, and they will amp each other up over the course of time until i am rendered impotent. If you come to check on me during one of those spells, and knock on the door without my expecting it, i will hide in the bed, or crawl into the tub where no one peering in a window can see me, utterly terrified.

On the next step up, i might interface with you through social media or text or email, but i cannot get past my fears to pick up the ringing phone.  i stare at it in mild horror as it bleats for attention. It jars the fragile zen i can maintain while alone. Those moments are what caller ID and voicemail were made for.

Those days, i meditate for hours to keep myself calm.

Most of the time, i feel like an overfilled apple cart, one more apple and the whole thing will fall apart. My wheels will roll off in opposite directions, the structure of my being will collapse into a thousand pieces, fruit flying everywhere.  Worst of all, that new apple could come from anywhere.  Someone asks me to do a job, and i don’t feel like i can say no and i am suddenly (more) overwhelmed.  Another medical bill comes to me, that i cannot pay, because i am still limited in how i can make money.  A lot of days, i cannot check the mail.  The thought of it makes me start to tremble with angst.

The worse it gets, the more impossible it is to reach out for help, because people can be too helpful trying to solve my problems, as though anxiety means i cannot know what will work for me.  For every useful piece of advice, i have also had my heart broken.  What if i unburden my anxiety and someone uses that as opening to stoke my greatest fears (thank heavens you can’t make art so much any more, it was really awful) or my most tremendous guilts (Is that why this paperwork isn’t done?  What do you do with your days?) and the whole rickety construction of coping disintegrates?

Even worse, what if i do ask for help and then i am too needy, i keep talking too long, my need for a sense of belonging or compassion overriding my common sense? When i am in great pain, i distract myself by talking – it uses up so much less focus than listening. i am aware that i am listening too little and talking too much just like i am aware inside a dream.  Seeing that look of boredom or imposition on someone else’s face in response to my yammering can wreck me too.  i do not want to be the one who complains all the time, one of those people who see doom in every moment and cannot begin to have a positive thought or feeling.

For the anxiety, the depression, always live in tension with the joy i get from making art, the love that i feel for my friends, the multitude of blessings that i freely admit exist in this life of stress.

There are those tremendous days when i can move mountains. Thanksgivings pour from my throat until i am hoarse. And, there are the terrible days when no one sees me because i am hiding in a dark house, too afraid of everything to turn on a light.

It’s both.  Most of the time, i am in some kind of middle space – not moving mountains but not paralyzed either – and there’s no magical solution.  Progress can be excruciatingly slow, but inching forward nonetheless.  If i can work, i do.  If something urgent needs to be done, i can often put on the big girl pants, despite the chafing, and get it finished.  Often i am better at a regular job than my own art, because i am less invested in the ultimate outcome.  There are clear rules and procedures that help guide me. i can be glib and funny and am expert at hiding my pain.

So, with me and, i imagine, with many others who have anxiety and depression: what you are seeing is the best of us.  The worst is reserved for my cats, my dog, the two or three people closest to me, and those moments of solitude when suffering echoes around inside my own skull.

 

Howling at the moon

Right now, i feel like Godzilla.  i am stomping through-out my house, absolutely graceless, quivering with agony.

The dog must have eaten something particularly appalling, because he has been sick all day, taking out every blanket, towel, sheet and quilt covering every soft surface in the building. He even nailed one of the cats. If he weren’t still begging for food and acting ridiculously cheerful for one so gastrically challenged, i would be more worried.

Thankfully, i think he will make it through this prodigious mess.  For the past two hours, he has been content to sleep on yoga blankets on the floor.

As i watched him suffer today, i realized, i don’t think i am doing much better.  Most of the time, i force myself into this state of magical denial. All is well, my body loves me, i can do anything – and then, on the odd night, all the illusions are stripped away. No matter the power of distractions, i start to feel it. pileoartMy mind starts to list all the things that i have to do, projects on which i have fallen behind, all the price paid for my current situation. Between the physical discomfort and the psychological torment, i am reduced. What remains is the most brutal fundamental: i am suffering and right now, there is no miraculous solution.  i am stuck with this pain, with this frustration, with the sheets being slowly cleaned of various disgusting things, so i can’t even lay down and take what comfort that could bring.

Thwarted, i did what i do – i made art.  Now that my brain is coming back to itself, realigning after stopping the antidepressants, two qualities have returned to me: the need to create and the hatred for being idle.  No slack is given for feeling this desperately bad, other than to shift what work i would do.  Since i could not throw as i had planned – i started working on pen and ink drawings.  The stack above includes most of the poems and drawings of the past three days.

dieoflonelinessPoem after poem poured out of me.  Drawing after drawing.  i lost myself in the world of art, and delighted in it as long as my focus lasted.  For the past hour – between one and two am – the pain finally reached the stage where i could do nothing. i howled at the moon, absolutely impotent against this misery. But in the silence between breaths, i kept staring the pile o’ art i had made.  Tears of rage streaming down my face, i looked over some of my favorite poems from today. i was comforted.  One soothing thing in the middle of the boiling cauldron has been this recognition: i have finally become a champion of my art.  i love these poems.  The images are smooth and i find them lovely.

Even on a night like tonight, when i am shouting at the laundry for taking too long, when i am wild with distress, when i ranted at the moon about the injustice of these ridiculous burdens, i have made some beautiful things.

And, i am grateful, even in this agony.

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.

beautiful, joyous women

imageFor the first time in quite awhile, i was able to sit down and draw. As i wrote in my last post, i have been having a hard time working up enough focus or heart to make any kind of visual art.  Only a handful of pen and inks and two half finished paintings had come, along with a very small amount of pottery.

imageSo, tonight, after the errands were done and the snow started to fall, i let myself be romanced by the beautiful incorrupt smoothness of good drawing paper.  Once more, as it has so many times the past eighteen months, i was struck by how much joy the fluid ink manifested, particularly given the aching pain still echoing in my emptiness.  Yesterday and today, i have felt a bit like i am coming back to myself, but the process is strange and surreal. Half the time, i feel like i am still completely lost.  The other half, i feel like a mason, laying brick after brick, rebuilding.  “The reconstruction goes slowly, ma’am, but the foundation will be more stable in the end.”

imageAt any rate, as i drew, my spirit lifted.  i realized that there is something for which i need to be more thankful: the gift of joy.  Even when traveling through perilous darkness, i have been able to steal moments of joy, beauty, fleeting seconds of grace. i have held them all in my hands, glowing shards of memory, to light my way in dark places.  Tonight, i got a chance to let my fingertips be a conduit for love and happiness i did not see within my heart at the time.  If such a blessing doesn’t remove the darkness, it will at least warm me through this frozen night.

 

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.

poem: what drawings teach

They always have open arms.

i am the one
who has resisted –
keeping myself
from welcoming
every moment
with pure joy
or patient acceptance.

i have learned my lesson.

Come to me,
and i will embrace you.
i will find some purpose
to this dance
in which you lead me.

My heart
has survived
so much –
surely
that means
i can be
as open,
as willing,
and as generous
with bliss
and gratitude
as these figures i draw.

i render myself
within their curves
and smiles.

My eyes learn
fearlessness
from their gaze.

Art becomes reality
in small, hesitant steps,
a little more shading and nuance
added to the bare bones
every day.

If i can create beauty
and strength
on the page,
then what will i be able to do
with the plastic material of life.

18 november 2015

poem: reaching out

Grubby, dirty hands
covered in ink
and clay
and pigment
reaching out
with desperate longing –

that is what art is,
one spirit calling out
to another –

an exhibitionism of the soul.

Reaching out,
fingers waving,
voice pleading,
begging to be noticed.

i am alive!

Here i am!

See what i have made!

Like a child
at show and tell –
the smiling commences,
pride and joy in the eyes,
holding out
some masterpiece
or another
for you to notice:

See this drawing!
Look at this pretty pot!
i wrote this story,
see what i can do!
i made this for me
but also for you.

Oh, how this desire
tears open
the heart,
this wrenching need
for someone to share
an experience
that was so primal
and private
in its birthing.

But, these hands
can’t stop reaching,
hoping,
and praying
that these words,
and this art,
and these forms
will start
wandering
through the world,
making the artist
more real
through her art.

11 december 2015

poem: it takes time

Oh, God, it takes time.

One painting,
learning animation,
writing the book.
Art has always been
more than this moment,
pouring from my pen,
an ecstasy of stillness and flow.

It is labor,
work,
learning and failure.

Pieces pass through
chaos and the ugly stage,
riding beauty
where once only awkwardness
existed.

But, it takes time,
it demands patience,
it involves effort
and hope
and maybe madness.

Will i end up
the homeless woman
dragging around notebooks
and sketchpads
unable to give up?
Shouting at those
who think i am insane,
“It just takes time!”

26 september 2015