Tag: compassion

The cost of hate

We as a species can be so filled with judgment.  Visual creatures, we can be easily seduced by both beauty and similarity.  We like what makes sense without having to struggle, so we gravitate to people of like minds because we find that the most comfortable.  I understand this.  My whole life, I have been on the outside enough to witness how people can cling to the familiar even when it is destructive.

Only, that avoidance has led us to a terrible place.

Today, neo-Nazis are protesting in Virginia.  As I stared at news feeds with tears in my eyes, I realized I cannot be silent.

Hate has taken over too many souls.

One alt right terrorist ran his car into a crowd of counter protestors. At least one person has died.

What has made this acceptable?

From what mental illness does this murderous disregard for other human beings spring?

I am outraged.  I can’t deny the anger bubbling up within me as I write these words.  With all the volume I can muster, I want to scream at those alt-right Nazis: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  You are damaging everyone; no one less than your own soul. The people you are so busy dehumanizing are just as vital and beautiful as you perceive yourself and your loved ones to be.  No race, or religion, or income bracket, or gender, or sexual orientation, or political opinion can make someone less human.  Neither can those qualities make someone better.”

The alt-right has opined about the hardships heterosexual, cisgendered white people have suffered, but to blame those difficulties on people who do not believe or look as they do is madness.  It could be a comfortable insanity, one bred from generations of racism and blame, continued because it is easier than analyzing why those prejudices are there, but that is the opposite of an excuse.

Is this as simple as being terrified of economic vulnerability and a changing world, but not being able to widen their view to realize that everyone so suffers? I know no one who is secure financially, for whom a death or an illness would not upend everything. 98% of the country is in the same boat.

I am troubled by the entire concept that people who look like me want to take the country back.  The United States was founded by immigrants who stole land from those who were already happily living here.  We have paid a high price for the sins of our history – genocide of Native Americans, slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese Internment.

Do not imagine that this has nothing to do with the current situation. We are barreling down the same exact path. Not to mention, those protesting have a twisted but tight grip on the past.

Of what consequence is it to those neo-Nazis and alt right protestors spewing hate that the same sentiments were what fueled the Holocaust and Apartheid and lynchings?  Did they ever study the horror of the Civil War?  Given the T-shirts, the confederate flags, and swastikas, it appears to be a point of pride.  They are lionizing people who committed crimes against humanity, who spoke for the worst that we can be. Given the love of Hitler I saw proudly displayed in tweet after tweet, it seems that they would willingly throw their souls into a bonfire to revel in hate and the delusion of supremacy.

Take our country back implies oppression.  That we could be two generations away from mass lynchings, genocide on the scale that it boggles the mind, institutional racism that crippled large swaths of the country for decades and that continues to be a plague, I wonder: from whom must the country be rescued? How was this forgotten? Why did we become blind to our failings? How did we develop a taste for hate again, or has it always been a secret passion in the hearts of so many?

I cannot move past my revulsion over this orgy of hate.  There is no good that could ever come from it. With every speck of news I wanted to primal scream, howl out my horror. The willful, murderous delusion being paraded in the state of my birth, that one human being is of greater value than another, fills me with outrage.  How could we have gone through World War II, the Civil Rights movement, not to mention watching so much senseless suffering from Apartheid, the Khmer Rouge, Rwanda, and countless other examples large and small, only to have parts of the population that want to charge down those same roads again?

Only, I cannot hate them.  I cannot feel like they are less, even if I am terrified of their madness. I know better, because I know that we all spring from the same source.

When my paternal grandmother died, my mother found a trunk filled with artifacts from the early klan.  There was my biracial mother, so studiously passing for white, confronted by the ghost of my great grandfather’s hatred.  When she told me about it years later, I wept at the sudden, acute understanding that my heritage contained both sides: the lynched and the one in the hood; the slave owner and the slave.

Like everyone else, the potential for both good and evil exists with me. It means I cannot hate those who protest on behalf of hate; but, oh, God, I can pity them because they keep themselves from such wonders.

One of my closest friends told me about his work within the gay community after Stonewall.  But those protestors could not hear how brave and strong he was, because they could not get past the condemnation of his journey. Likewise, they would not be able to watch the queer-trans couple that is a model of compassion and love, without letting judgment cloud their eyes.  They cannot hear stories of the brilliance of black men and the unbreakable resilience of black women, because they have to feel superior.  To me this is a crushing sadness.  What is missed when hate is the focus!

Because they judge so quickly, so wrongly, choosing to embrace a caricature of the foreigner, those protesters could not appreciate the stunning beauty of Spanish prose, the lyrical miracles tucked inside Sufi poetry, the way that other religions, like Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism, and countless more can enrich their experience of faith.  Because of their race and faith, those protesters wearing swastikas and confederate flags could not hear the wisdom of Archbishop Desmond Tutu or the Dalai Lama, which makes me want to cry for them.

I wonder if their faith is too fragile to acknowledge other paths up the same mountain.

Given their hatred of everyone who is other, I wonder if they have forgotten “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” because otherwise  they could not be driving cars into crowds of counter protestors.

Honestly, I am having a real problem right now.

This experience is pushing my compassion to its limits.

I wonder if this is how my mother felt as she dragged that trunk down the stairs, staring in horrified disbelief at the books that called half of herself a monkey and an ape and accused an entire race of idiocy sight unseen.  It must have felt like such a betrayal; the hidden hatred of people whom she had lived with and helped.  I wonder how much of it was rage and how much of it was just despondency when she poured lighter fluid on that hood and robe and those awful books and lit them up.

That hatred became ash, dead and dust like the man who had worn them.

Right now, I am in pain, stumbling through my own journey, aware of how many of those people protesting would hate me because of my heritage, my physical health, my economic vulnerability.  I keep wishing to Christ that I am not simply shouting these words into the void when I say:

STOP WITH THIS TOXIC INSANITY.

Every human being – and that is what both those they deride and they are – is a worthy, valuable person.

I don’t care what you believe, who you love, with what gender you identify, from whence you came, what language you speak, you are worthy of compassion and love.

If we disagree politically, if we believe differently, that is no excuse.  We can still peacefully coexist. We cannot condone or encourage the mistreatment of others.

I am praying that everyone who protests for hate finds some ease for whatever agony drives them to this madness.  I hope they can stop before they start a war or harm more innocents.

Because, here is the kicker, all of us are human and capable of discernment.  We all have souls – and for this I pray, if for no reason other than saving themselves, turn them away from hate.

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.

 

on happiness…

angelkissesWhen i was very young, struggling with depression beyond my youthful comprehension, i can remember my mother fussing at me.  “You were such a happy baby!  So joyous! You could be fed last and still be happy as a clam.  You were always smiling!  What did you do to yourself?”

At the time, those were hard words to hear, they made me see my sorrow as a character flaw, but during the past few weeks, i have been remembering her admonition and wondering about it.

i have a job.  Soon, it will even start paying me. To sweeten the deal, i get to work with amazing, hilarious, brilliant people. Even though the financial hole i am in is deep and steep-sided, i can start bailing myself out by the middle of July.  Most important of all, i am feeling better. My endurance is better, my body feels stronger, this endless stream of work – which has become something of an unwitting summer ritual for me –  has not yet worn me down.  Most of all, i am being careful to treat myself with kindness and care – if i come home from work exhausted, everything but rest falls away.  i am transitioning from an intense night owl to waking up when i used to go to sleep, and that requires some soft adjustments.  However, there are glorious benefits.  i get to see the sun!  When i wake up without the crushing pain that had dogged me for so many years, i find myself in tears of gratitude.

Miraculously, with my burdens eased, i find myself content.  Peacefully happy.  Granted, there are moments when i panic; anxiety can still make me her plaything. Despair – particularly after reading the news or working on my bills – can attack me and pin me down.  However, i rediscover joy so much faster.  Deep within, this feels like i am returning to exactly that state my mother used to describe – the one who was smiling, entertaining herself, ebullient without reason.  My loud, rowdy laugh bursts out even more frequently than it did before.  And my art, when i can make it, makes that grin even broader.

All i can do is be thankful, and keep treating myself as i would my beloved: with kindness, forgiveness, understanding and gentleness.  My reward for such compassion, it appears, is a return to joy.

 

–written 26 June 2016–

 

poem: enough

enough

ENOUGH
with the words of brokenness!

I AM DISSOLVED.

The last lingering strands
of coherency and continuity
tore.

All that was me
floats freely.

The bridge between
what was
and what will be
snapped
like a wishbone,
leaving this wandering mess
of sensation,
dream,
reaction
and memory,
adrift and rudderless.

All ambition withered,
trapped as it was
in the walled, parched garden,
abandoned by Spirit,
starved alongisde
worry and reputation.

Only the language lingered.

The habits of existence
left marks like chains.

The scripts stayed
easy,
cozy,
hard to surrender.

Like ancient blankets
made soft from use,
though threadbare
to the point of translucence –
and completely useless –
familiarity demanded
they not be tossed aside.

Until now –
the need to be free
triumphs
over comfort and safety.

Enough of the language
of judgment and hatred.

On to discover
new vocabularies
of love.

7 may 2016

poem: the miracle

Years ago,
i sat up
fretting,
worrying,
hands red and raw
from wringing them
in nightmares.

Only now,
every single aspect
of my greatest fears –
losing my home,
my reputation,
going bankrupt,
failing my responsibilities,
being so crippled
in both body and mind
that i cannot make art
much less work
at gainful employment –
has become a reality.

i drowned.

But, then the miracle:
people helped me
out of the murky,
muddy,
waters.

This is the reality
of my nightmare,
and yet,
in the stillness
i hear the soft melody
of grateful joy.

7 may 2016

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.

 

false starts

Over the past month, i wrote at least six blogs, then deleted them or never published them. Dozens of poems hemorrhaged out of me.  With each new one i thought, ‘This will be something i can share with the world,’ only to type it in and be paralyzed by trepidation. As i have moved through these days, i kept wondering about the kind of writing and art i want to share with the world.  Creating beauty can be a raison d’être on its own, but what about the art of change and chaos and loneliness and pain?

theoceanNothing i’m going through right now feels pretty.  Exhaustion and pain have worn me down more than they have in years.  Whatever equilibrium i enjoyed before has been destroyed. 

Unstable, i have been unable to find a new balance.  The most terrifying depression i have experienced in years gripped me to the point of death two weeks ago, and even now, i am having a hard time shaking off its shackles. Except for poetry, art just stopped cold in its tracks.

Unfortunately, i have had spells where i was not making good art for a long stretch, because of mood or physical issues, but to get so low that the desire to make anything at all just tapered off into weariness, that terrified me.  It robbed me of my will to live, because without this engine inside me, creating even when i am asleep, constantly driving me forward, i am absolutely lost.  i searched for my desire like the suffocating for air, but for days that seemed to stretch on forever, i could not bring myself to work. Staring at the half finished painting brought on nothing more than increased sadness and impotence.  i lacked both the strength and focus to bring even the simplest of stories or forms into being.  Sitting at the wheel stained my face with tears more than it did my hands with mud.  Eventually, my imagination grew so disheartened that even inspiration silenced itself.

If you had asked me before this crisis how much of my self-esteem is wound around the art that i make, i would have unwittingly lied. Until this experience, i did not truly know. Even as i turned like a wheel, head and then feet, falling into the pit, i could blame other things for my descent: the realization that my physical pain won’t get better without medical intervention; the epiphany that many things (particularly anxiety and depression) are not actually a matter of my being weak or undisciplined but are caused by my brain’s chemistry and thus also require medical intervention; the understanding that the longer i am paralyzed by these things, the more unlikely it is i will preserve the freedom to keep making art; and the sharp certainty that i will need help from those that love me, whether i want to ask for it or not. 

Maybe those would have been enough to cause the crisis, but what surprised me was that none of these truly depressing facts compromised me half as much as being so broken that i could not do more, or imagine doing more, than scribbling down maudlin poems.

i should not disrespect verse. Without that outlet, i would have been in even worse shape. Certainly, one of my previous depressions would have ended me.  For decades, i have given poetry credit as the saving grace in my life, a true blessing, a refuge into which i can tuck myself until the suffering abates.  This episode of despair, however, taught me that my fundamental needs have grown. i have rooted myself deeply into visual art, into storytelling, into clay. The thought of losing those made my existence completely worthless. Honoring the love and friendship i have been given felt impossible, when all i could see was how much my suffering effects them.   Even the poetry i was writing seemed likely to spread despair like a contagion.

i crashed on the rocks, but didn’t realize i had hit bottom until the next morning. Sunrise surprised me.  i shook with weakness and fear from where i had been.  Climbing out of that hole has taken many days, and i fear i am not finished. My footing keeps giving way, and i fall back into the mire, flopping like a fish trapped on land. Even as i start to make art again, pen and inks, a tiny sculpture, i continue to shake with the nakedness of vulnerability.

Now that i am aware of this newly exposed nerve – and still have all the other problems standing on my neck, trying to force me back down into the muck – i have to find a way to mitigate them. i must discern how to save my life.

But, i get ahead of myself.  i keep fearing for the future when the present is shouting at me.

In this moment, i am still trembling and weak from this spell of sorrow.  Sunlight makes me blink as though i have been blind. The warmth and darkness found under covers or curled up in the couch’s deep corners still feel so much safer, like a shell under which i can hide. When i do move, it is with the uncoordinated awkwardness of a fawn trying out its first steps.

If i manage to think clearly, in those moments of blessed clarity when depression forgets to crush me with is suffocating weight, i feel like even this crisis has changed my relationship with the world.  Only, i have no clue what will manifest from this.  Newness remains formless.  i can sense many of my give-a-damns have irrevocably broken, but lack the internal clarity to see which. My mood remains too fragile to aimlessly poke around the shadowed corners of my psyche; i am afraid what stresses and sorrows might come flying out and completely undo me. 

Nevertheless, without my seeking it out, one possible benefit from this crisis has been laid bare:

i have lost my will and desire to continue this dance of self-hatred.

i am simply too exhausted and my spirit’s too raw to listen to that music any longer.

For years, i have felt i had to be someone that i am not.  i have absorbed so much advice, heard so many suggestions as to how i could be better, and i have believed them. Indeed, i had a long list of my flaws and limitations that i was determined to transcend. i tormented myself trying to become someone who has skills and gifts radically different than the ones with which i was naturally blessed.   i learned bookkeeping, for heaven’s sake!

i am so weary of trying to remake myself; i long to find some way to exist, to thrive, with the talents and flaws that already reside within this skin.  i want to stop pruning myself in a fruitless mission to conform to a shape unnatural to me; instead, i would be wild, find out what can be done with nothing more than sunlight, wind, rain, the seeds already planted in my soul, and the love to let them grow. i want to strengthen my roots as i reach for the sky.

fallingintotheoceanWhen i fight hard enough to think about things clearly, i only see two primary needs in the short term, both of which will help end self-hatred’s waltz: to be kind to myself, kinder than i have been before and more forgiving, and to follow my still, quiet voice. 

Kindness and listening. 

Kindness and internal awareness. 

Kindness shoving a gag in judgment’s screaming maw. 

Earlier, i heard the whisper within, telling me to rest, to write, and here i am.  Perhaps i will even publish this blog.  With such a little spark of progress, hope raises its head out of the mud and takes a deep breath. 

If i give myself the gifts of kindness and deep listening, things might keep getting better. 

Maybe, soon, i will have gained enough strength to rise and start burning with word or image again.

7 february 2016

poem: like a fragile flower

Like a fragile flower
i am vulnerable to extremes.

Too hot,
too cold,
too hard,
too soft,
any deficit or surplus
can destroy the leaves,
the stem,
the petals.

My roots
do not travel down
far enough
to make much difference –
the wind can still
carry me off.

This is a path covered
with sharp,
unforgiving rocks
and i have no shoes.

Thus, i walk carefully,
with gentle slowness,
ever deepening my awareness
of where i am
right
now.

What do i need in this moment?

To remember
that for all my delicate fibers
i am stronger than i think.

What do i need in this instant?

To listen –
i bend to the whispers
of body and soul.

17 november 2015

changing the story

Today, i am participating in two events – Maine Craft Weekend and my own estate sale, trying to purge myself of unwanted belongings.  Despite how i feel – and two days of fairly heavy labor on a bad arm mean i am not feeling well – i opened up right at 8:55 am, convinced that i would make enough money to whittle down my bills.  Alas, that is not the case as yet.  As i write, at 3:08 pm, no one has shown up for either event.  Not one car has even slowed down.  My confidence falters.

Yesterday, i had six people show up, of which four were motivated buyers.  That may have saved me for the time of recouperation ahead of me (see yesterday’s blog) and, again, i take a moment to give thanks.  But, despite the advertising, today has been nearly absolute silence – broken only by a few messages on facebook from people who could not come. Each beep evoked a great wave of gratitude because it minimized the invisibility that something like this evokes.

The child who felt so lost and alone inside her family, the kid picked last for every sport, the little girl who would have done anything not to go home but tried so hard to hide her distress and act normal, the college student that felt hopelessly out of step with her peers, these iterations of self remain within me. They keenly remember the ease with which superficial social interaction could occur while a vast, seemingly impassable distance stretched out between the rest of creation and this one soul.  They see this lack of response, this searing quiet, like a failure or a judgment.

i have to change that story, but often i am at a loss of how to go about that when so much of the world reinforces it.  i am not rich, i am not healthy, i am not married, i have no children, i stubbornly persist at work that a lot of people view as superfluous. In this society, those truths alone can cause ostracism.

Internally, divorce and the long loneliness created a cauldron for this invisibility to simmer.  i long ago lost count of how many business events and classes i hosted, for which people had registered in advance, to which no one showed up. Several learned individuals have told me it is because of my location, just far enough for the scale between the bother of going and the desire to go to tip in an unfavorable direction. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just apply to business, i have had one set of guests cancel dinner parties at my house, absolutely certain that without their presence i would have nothing to offer my other friends, but forgetting to inform me, leaving me stood up with piles of food. i still cannot eat spaghetti sauce without feeling totally irrelevant to the universe. i have been told with blessed bluntness, that even though i am great friend material, i am not worth the investment of time required for the woman i had laughing a few seconds ago to make me a friend.

This has been an ongoing struggle.  For whatever reason, i must have one of those faces, or a particular energy, or a gentle enough nature that good people have no problem telling me that the trouble of getting to me or keeping in contact with me is enough to keep them from doing it, as though there will be no hurt in that statement, as though i will always understand.

And often i do. Lord knows, i understand demands on a person’s time. This broken unit is a sole proprietor.  Even though my health and the business are not going well, it does not mean that the obligations have ceased. In fact, this past year, i shamefully let down one of my own friends, because i lacked the energy and ability to help as i would have liked.  By the time i was done with my working day, i had nothing left to give to anyone.  As i drowned in the demands placed upon me, i could not take on anything else.  So, i cannot look at the absence of others without compassion. At last i am old enough to realize that the vast majority of this story isn’t actually about me at all, but about those who are not here.  They are weaving other tales built on duty and desire, right now, as i type, and how can i blame them? After all, this silent isolation did not break me.

i work very hard on my art – especially during days like today when no one shows up.  Even though i was physically miserable, i still wrote and poemed my way through the morning before settling down for an hour and a half of meditation.  Also, i accept my spirit needs quiet, even at inconvenient times.  Without some silence and isolation, i would not be still enough to get half the art done, nor would i be practiced enough at entering the flow to be able to do it when i gallery sit or wait in a restaurant.

conversation5
at Art Space Gallery in Rockland, Maine

Moreover, it has helped me realize what an a amazing gift love and affection and help are.  Perhaps because i do often feel unmoored and isolated, when a rope is thrown to me, i grab it with all my might.  Because i have such a hard time believing people when they say they care, but act in ways that make no sense to me, i cling to the moments – the proofs – that relationships actually do have salvational power.  i remember the times when i was at the end of my rope and i got a phone call, or a hug, or really any of a wide array of gifts that might have seemed utterly insignificant to the person giving them, but that kept me going into another day.

As one of those good and true friends said to me the other day, she doesn’t worry about me so much because i am so damned stubborn.  That would help me get through, she smiled, and i don’t know that she’s wrong. i live by myself well.  The fiction and poetry that i write, the faces i draw, they fill up my life even when i am running low on real human contact.  Moreover, this perverse steadfastness to my art and my life gives me a strange, compassionate confidence when i am confronted by cruelty, intended or otherwise. The people who come to me, asserting that they know what i need to do, even when they are so deeply offended that i cannot or will not take their advice, become sources of gratitude because at least they somehow saw the invisible one.  They cared enough to form an opinion. Those who tell me that i have no reason to live, that i am a failure, that hurl judgment at me and expect me to die from it become characters in books.  The many who compliment me in the moment, talking about my work or my character in glowing ways, but then never reach out again, well i can take that praise at face value and then, in the silence their absence creates, i can throw myself into my art.

That is in fact what i have done today.  The story was changed subtly. In this precise instant, i cannot get rid of the financial insecurity, or improve my befuddled, awkward attempts to get my work seen by more people, or relieve the generalized anxiety about rehabbing from shoulder surgery alone in the house, but i can say that today’s solitude brought about good poems, more work on a novel, a long spell of time when i was quiet and still and filled with peace.

Most of all, i am changed by gratitude.  By the realization that none of us are guaranteed love or kindness or support.  Those gifts, when given freely and without obligation, are nothing short of a miracle, given from human hands.  Yesterday, i received such a gift from the friend who helped me get ready for this event.  i spent a lot of time this morning remembering her effort as well as the abundance of kindness that has showered down upon me during the last six months, while everything else went wrong.  i cannot have received such amazing blessings and be invisible; the two concepts are mutually exclusive.  Thus, the story alters even further.

True friends, and i have a gloriously high number of true friends that have found me in this life, have become cherished in ways i wonder if they ever comprehend.  So my story becomes one of thanksgivings, on my knees, for those who are not here but who love me nonetheless.

on issues of common sense and bravery

She told me this yesterday.

You have to understand your role in this.  You are too nice.  You let people get away with too much; even a nice person is trained to treat you badly because you let them get away with everything.

Sadly, she is not wrong, although there are a few good friends – herself included – who have managed to avoid being consumed by the dark side.

Still, her words keep echoing in my mind, keeping me up until much too late last night and randomly charging through my mind today.  Historically, i have had a problem with this.  Very few things in my life are worth fighting over: my friends, my animals, the welfare of a child, my ability to make art.  Otherwise, someone else’s urgent need often overcomes my lukewarm desires.  Moreover, i like being helpful to people when it doesn’t cause me undo pain and suffering.

chaoswithin_11x14When i do gently set limits, it often works.  However, when i am forced to emphatically put my foot down, or most often, just walk away from someone who has proved themselves to be a chronic asshole, they are shocked.  They see my stubbornness, anger or rejection as something unreasonable, because they might not have known that it existed until they broke my give-a-damn.  But, even people as mushy as me can feel their give-a-damn snap, like thin, fragile a bone, right in front of their heart.  Once this occurs, i will be cordial and polite, which some people do mistake for niceness, but by then it is too late.  The damage has been done, the transgression has gone far enough to make that person no longer worth time or energy spent figuring them out, and, invariably, the individual has done something to hurt me.

So there can be a limit.  i am not completely spineless, i am simply missing a few vertebrae which makes me unnaturally bendy.

However, her words keep echoing, in part because they are augmented by voices from the past.  When the evil dog came the house when i was four and bit everyone: “If the dog bites you, you have to kick him.  Otherwise, he’ll just keep biting you and it’s your fault.”  When i was being pounded on by another kid at school: “If you just kick him in the balls, he’ll lay off – otherwise it’s your fault that he’s still bullying you.”

Perhaps it is part of living in this world with a vagina, but i often feel like i am responsible for everything as it is (although John Callahan seemed to share the affliction.) One meditation i was given not too long ago and now frequently use is to watch the spiraling thoughts that try to convince me that i am the cause of all troubles, and see the lie in them.  It is a form of pride. i am taking on a massive influence in the cosmos that i don’t actually have – a lot of the reasons human beings act as we do are hidden, tucked inside our psyches, and have very little to do with what people do to us. We can react to someone from long ago, not the one sitting before us. I can remember being befuddled at a doctor who was yelling at me for being promiscuous (in the middle of a long, painful stretch of celibacy) before the nurse stopped him to remind him i wasn’t his sister, even if i looked like her.  You have red hair, i know loose women who have had red hair, therefore I WILL YELL AT YOU, YOU SHAMELESS HUSSY.

So were do we draw the line? How authoritarian do i have to be?  Kindness feels better within my heart; compassion comes easier from my hands.  Becoming angry comes at a high price for me, in energy and spirit, and i don’t want to pay it on a daily basis.  Therefore, how do i move forward wisely?   What does common sense tell me about people, both in specific and generally?  Certainly sometimes it is my fault, because i can be an asshole, just like everyone else on the planet.  So, when do i have to be brave and admit my fault, and when do i have to be strong and stand up to the bully, even though he is just bullying me?  How do i learn how to be courageous and also accept that i cannot utterly re-arrange the wiring of my brain to become some fierce hard-ass?

If i figure this balance out, i’ll let you know.  Until then, even if i’m being nice to you, remember i do have a give-a-damn, and it can break.  Moreover, so does everyone else you know.