Tag: art

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.

 

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

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

the blessing of dreams

i initiated contact.

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

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

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

How i love him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are a blank page of paper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please, stop torturing yourself.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

i do not want to write about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

love and compassion

Survival. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.