Tag: disability

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.

cleaned out

IMG_3946Not quite three weeks ago, i went through surgery to get my left arm working again. My entire shoulder had to be cleaned out. The pain since June had been increasingly crippling, leaving a path of destruction through my attention span, my memory, my strength, my mood and my endurance. A large number of blogs charted this descent, long before i realized how much the disability was effecting me. It had been months since i could throw without tears. Sculpting proved to be too much. The novels i’d been writing (a series, going forward in an odd way but still moving at a delightful and brisk pace) suddenly stalled, my mind unable to hold their complexity.  The characters continued to swim in my imagination, but their movement was languid and impotent; i could not fix them to the page without some focus.

Already, those problems have begun to shift.  Almost immediately after surgery, the pain was already less than it had been before the repair.  Today, i was able to drive and function like i have not been able to contemplate for months. As i made my way home from several errands in Bangor, i was singing with joy.

Of course, i still have a lot of healing left to do.  My attention span still wanders more than normal.  The fatigue can be overwhelming, even after gentle activity.  My other health issues have not been solved.  Also, a lot of tasks are still quite difficult, but i am getting better at them all the time. (Case in point: tying shoes.IMG_3979 Who would have thought the shoulder was involved in that? i figured a back-clasped bra would be next to impossible, but extending down or reaching out if i’ve raised my foot to a chair, turned out to be unexpected pain.) Every sign of improvement leaves me overjoyed. Indeed, my personal hygiene after using the bathroom has already reached my pre-surgery standards, for which there is endless rejoicing.

It is the simple pleasures, really.

My friends have come through for me with such shocking kindness that i have been unable to articulate my full gratitude even in prayer.  i have spent so much time writing about loneliness and isolation and feeling like the other; this experience provided testimony to the miracle of friendship.  People sat with me the first day after surgery; a steady stream of food and gifts made their way to my doorstep; calls, messages and email came in a small flood to check to see if i was ok.

There were nights alone, when i held a small pity parties for myself because i was alone, partially immobilized and in blistering pain, but then i realized, even if i were married or living with someone, the impulse to whine would remain.  Pain itself was the cause of the wallowing.

Last week, i pushed myself too far.  This past weekend, i did very little but sleep and draw.

A large stack of drawings became evidence of that first great swelling of creativity. This is the art of recuperation.  i drew each on mat board, heavy enough to stay in place.  My left arm rested while my right hand moved the pen.  Until yesterday, i had not the strength to word.  But, three poems, a few cover letters, a further revamped resume and this blog have encouraged me.  The writing has started to creep back.  i have had the image of a character walking through my imagination all day today, asking me to finish their story.  He’d just met someone, after all, i think he wants to know where that relationship is going.  With every bit of art, i feel like i am coming  back to life.

It is the simple pleasures, the patient kindness of friends, the sense of hope that comes over me when i make art – even when it’s small and frivolous.  Love has been pouring through my life, for a lot longer than i realized.  Like the insidious effect of pain, love has been there, too, on the edges, moving through me, changing everything without my conscious mind realizing it.  My life is rich with friends, with fellow artists, with innumerable blessings. The outpouring of kindness had left me unsettled.  Honestly, i knew i would get help but had no idea how much would flow my way.

After nearly three weeks of addled introspection, i realized with shock that too many awesome things had been dismissed or missed because i was too stuck in my old stories.

First there was the story of the lonely, frightened child. Then the awkward teen who had no idea what to do with people and no confidence in herself. Then, the woman who had weathered first debilitating illness and then the rejection and pain of a divorce.  After that, the long loneliness.  All of it is laid bare in this blog. i have written post after post about feeling like the other, feeling alone, feeling isolated.

Well, when i was in need, people came.  Those stories, while potent, were not the absolute truth of my life.

So what replaces otherness?  What stands up in the space where loss once loomed?

i looked at myself through another’s eyes and saw someone wildly blessed with creativity and stubbornness. This spell of injury and recovery happened when i was at my lowest, when i felt like everything had completely fallen apart, and yet, here i was sitting in a pile of my own drool, just a day and a half after surgery, drawing.  i drew because letter could not follow letter in that stupor. Nearly every day, i drew another few pieces. Then this weekend, the engine of art started roaring back to life, filling all my senses. It happened without force or effort, proving again that art is a quiet compulsion leaking from my fingertips.

When i challenged myself for a new story the one that presented itself was a deep truth: i am an artist, who can’t seem to surrender her art. Perhaps i am too mad.  Maybe i am simply too obstinate.  Either way, i keep melting into image and story.  Despite other jobs, and injury, and illness, and discouragement, and poverty, and failure – i have continued making art. Thin lines of ink have woven themselves through my healing.

i am so ridiculously grateful.

too stupid to be my friend

I feel like I should be writing about really important stuff.  Only, I am preoccupied with the stress. My health is crippling my ability to function as a human being.  Thankfully, I still seem to have poetry and pen and ink drawings oozing out of me, but other aspects of creativity have been hampered.  I have not had enough energy to throw; my attention  span (or, rather, the lack thereof) has stalled my novels. And without every medium distracting me from the struggle of running the business and trying to sell my art, I get lost to anxiety.  I am a paradox:  a psyche absolutely at sea without new art coming through me, enjoying this huge engine ready to create, and simultaneously suffering from this massive ignorance as to how to sell my work.

Every once in a while this feels like a strange form of prostitution, convincing people that the work of my hands, something so intimate and personal to me, are worth their money and appreciation.

It is when I am in this kind of state that I make stupid decisions.  I flounder and become easily susceptible to suggestion.  Thankfully, I know it – so I seek out the counsel of others.  My friends keep me reasonable, even if they have to tell me if I go down this path or that I will be too stupid to be their friend anymore. I listen, and every once in a while I even obey.

Depression wears me down.  My limits glare at me.  All I feel competent to do is make art – so I throw myself into it, hoping it will save my life.

 

Poem: fragments

Twenty four hours of fragments.falling

Tiny shards of art
that shine and glisten
but cannot quite cohere
into something solid.

Too weak to hold,
the parts come tumbling down,
begging to e picked up,
cleaned off,
and used.

Only the distance
between my hands
and where they shimmer
on the floor
feels insurmountable.

24 august 2014.

poem: your cars

Your cars pass by
like waves of sound
breaking on ancient glass,
as i lie here in a puddle of regret,poem
my heels held by the delusion
i should be doing something else.

My imagination toys with me:
you might have been customers,
or vital contacts,
or people who would have
made me smile
on a terrible day
and fed my dog cookies.

Only i am too weak to move.
My lungs fill with lava
every single inhale.
Pain sears through my limbs.
Worst of all,
a veil of hopelessness
has enshrouded my vision.

All i have,
as you fly past
the only home
i have ever known,
are these words.
They can lead me
to the ecstasy of my dreams;
they give me some reality –
a meager purpose
on days like this,
true,
but enough to force the air
in and out again.

They are my only anchor,
tethering my spirit
to this world.

How it wants to go free –
soar through the clouds,
away from the agonizing,
lonely
struggle
to find a realm
where my prayers are answered
in ways that makes sense.

The temptation of escape
feels nearly irresistible.

Yesterday, i was defiant.

The day before that,
i fell apart utterly.

Today, i wish
i had something within me,
some inner strength
that could fill me,
let me rise from bed
fearless and powerful,
removing all obstacles
like a fair-haired Ganesh.

Instead, i listen to traffic,
making myself drink
this cocktail
of solitude, pain and failure
until i stop gagging
and acquire a taste
for this moment.

-asha fenn
1 August 2014

the tiny blessings

For days, I have hovered right at cognitive load, although it was only yesterday that I truly understood how close to the edge I was.  A young artist wanted a studio membership – showing up as I was walking to the studio with my breakfast at 9 am, wanting to start work without an appointment or a calling ahead – and I got snappish and had to apologize for it. It had been hard to start my day; getting out of bed had put me right up against my limits. The anticipation of the added work I would have to do for him – getting the waiver of liability signed, touring the studio, explaining the rules and getting him clay, tools and a shelf, the correct assumption that it would cost me a quiet breakfast – just shoved me over for a second. Thankfully he was not offended, he might not know me well enough to know that I was testy, but I knew.  Usually, I am able to keep such things inside.

I notice these deviations from my norm and they bother me.  I pride myself on my ability to hide how bad I am feeling.  I work very hard so I do not have to pester friends and neighbors for help.  I try to keep whatever confusion and slowness caused by pain from entering into my conversation.

However, for those in the know, there are several barometers for how well I’m doing physically that people can take one glance at and know for certain without my having to say a word or even seeing me at all. Am I blogging, or at least posting poems? What does the floor of the studio look like? Did the neighbors notice if my trash and recycling made it out last week? What does my kitchen look like? These are the baselines for me – especially now that I am without roommates who could give me the illusion that I might get help. If I am able to throw and do the other things that this studio demands to keep open from day to day, and keep the kitchen fairly clean (my standards are not high), the studio floors somewhat less than slovenly (again, my goals are modest) and write something every single day (haiku anyone?), then I am doing pretty well.  If not…  well, then, the cleaning starts to slip first. As hard as I have tried to tie my self esteem to a clean house, I remain able to live with dirty dishes. Next the bookkeeping, my ability to remember appointments and my mental to-do list go. Then the words stop their flow. Finally, the work that pay the bills starts to suffer significantly – today I have been unable to throw or carve the agateware I made earlier this week.  Sadly, getting my house ready for market has been thrown into last place, getting whatever dregs of energy I can mete out.  I wanted to have a yard-sale again today, but knew last night that I could not manage the physical effort of it without utterly undoing myself.

For the past two weeks I’ve been struggling more and more.  Part of this is the push of spring – getting things ready for galleries and the beginning of summer commissions. These are not things I can delegate, they have to come from my two hands – and my two hands can only do so much.  My mind and my body need me to take better care of them, but I am a sole proprietor and help is not something I can take for granted.  I keep trying to make trades – studio time or firings for help around the studio, pottery for labor – but so far, I am not able to get these deals to close.  I have made trades, but it’s usually art for art – and that is fine.  But staring at whatever lovely new piece I’ve acquired does not make the floors clean or finish painting the studio or inch the plaster bats I need to start reclaiming clay toward completion.  We are all pressed to our limits – every single person I know seems to be on the edge of cognitive load themselves.

Anyway, this is not what I wanted to write about. I want to talk about the gift hidden within today. Whenever I have a physical downturn this bad, it effects my emotional state.  Anxiety and spasms of despair begin to rule my mood.  Loneliness takes on a darker, more troubling quality when I realize how inadequate I am to the task at hand. Any words about how people cannot live in isolation (heard in recordings of Maya Angelou and Archbishop Desmond Tutu this week) leave me whimpering. PTSD symptoms that I thought I had long since vanquished begin to trouble me again.

All of these forces have been working within me for days and days. Today should have been really quite desperate for me – it has all the qualities needed for one of the worst days ever – I am short tempered and definitely still walking that fine line between function and overload.

Once more, it took everything I had to get out of bed today.  blue face smallAs I staggered to the bathroom, past the bottom of the stairs, I looked up and saw – like a videotape in my mind – the moment when my ex husband broke up with me, the moment that everything I held dear was stripped from me.  Too many mornings begin with his voice asserting that I’ve never been loved. I have yet to find an antitdote for it, but usually I have an arsenal of coping techniques to minimize the effect of that memory.  Today, I had nothing in me to struggle against it.  The words just washed over me. Getting dressed, feeding the animals, all took much more effort than they should have; every movement and bend made my solitude echo louder.  Breakfast defeated me. I did not eat until 3:30 pm, because I could not bring myself to fix food.  Yet despite it all, I have been miserable and grumpy, but I have not fallen into despondency.  This is a shift, and it is because of three tiny blessings.

As I started out to the studio around 10:30 this morning, three butterflies started flying around Darwin and I. I told them how lovely they were as they wove around us. For a second, I got lost in that dance. About an hour later, when I opened the garage door, a baby snake tried to break into the studio and I had to coax her out, placing her back into the bushes, explaining to her that Darwin the dog is terrified of snakes and would pee at the sight of her. Oh, but she was lovely. Utterly exhausted by putting up my flags and signs, I came upstairs in the studio, wanting to write, but quickly, realized I lacked the stamina and mental agility for the task.  So, instead, I surrendered and laid on the couch and just listened to the world for nearly an hour: traffic, birds, the snoring of the dog, the whir of the fans.  The stillness itself was magical.  For once I was feeling bad enough even my mind could not manage to torment me.  Thoughts tried to rise, but evaporated in the heat and weariness.  Afraid I would fall asleep, I kept setting a timer on my phone for 10 minutes, but it never went off – I stayed awake, aware, resetting it around 9:45 for another 10 minutes because I could not leave the glory of that stillness.  Abstractly I realized I am as alone as I have ever been – but in that quiet calm, I did not feel lonely anymore.

Even in the middle of wretchedness, when I fail at everything – being an artist, a decent housekeeper, a businesswoman even a writer – these tiny blessings can save me.  Today, I did nothing of value for anyone else but myself – and yet, I feel more optimistic and content than I have in days. (Although, still, I will be actively seeking quite tonight, too, for I know how close to overload I remain.)

It even seems like my good cheer has been rewarded: my words have come back too.

art of the broken

studio_005_02232011This is a first: a blog by request.  My friend Shawna Barnes has begun writing a book about art and health issues – a few hours ago she asked me for my thoughts on the subject above and beyond what I wrote in a survey she sent out.

Part of the reason she asked me this was because she knows my history.  I was in graduate school, type A, writing poetry and fiction on the down low before I got very sick. While I had painted a lot before I fell ill, I had never allowed myself to think of poetry, fiction or art as a possible career. Everyone told me that trying would make me a fool – how many have had the message that no one makes a living at art drummed into their head.  However, getting sick changed all that.  There is tremendous freedom in having nothing to lose.  I reacted to my situation by throwing myself into the arts.  I wrote thousands of poems, several novels, over a dozen short stories and started painting and drawing and sculpting.  I dealt with a lot of  depression and PTSD through art.  While many of the pieces I wrote and painted reflected my sorrow over my situation, creativity became the greatest healing force in my life.

At the time, I was married and didn’t have to worry about making a living through this compulsive creating.  Which wound up being a wonderful thing.  At the time, my health would not have allowed for any regular or reliable efforts.  Deadlines would have been impossible.  Therefore, I had years to educate myself and practice and create.  Indeed, I was coding my website earlier today – adding dozens of paintings, some for sale, some from the days when I was just starting down this road.  It proved to me how much I have evolved and improved as an artist.

I cannot bring myself to regret getting sick because it brought me to this place – where I am doing what I love.  Indeed, I am even learning to get better at running the business that keeps my art going.  However, I doubt there will ever be a time when I can ignore my health in the equations of being an artist and a business-woman. There are still days I cannot work.  Deadlines continue to be a struggle.  Without doubt, it has an effect on the environment I set up inside the studio.  A lot of the changes I expect to make within the next year are because of my health mandating adaptations in how I order the space in which I work and live.

The problem with defining such things, as we discussed when Shawna asked me to write something up, will be that everyone’s needs are radically different, disability or not.  Each artist – every human being – has their own method of work, their own particular habits and preferences.  When disability or sickness is added to the mix, that just intensifies the need to think about what each individual needs.  The joy I experience in what I’m doing means I can work through a massive amount of pain – last year I threw 150 bowls while I had a broken vertebrae and a busted disc – but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

Because I am the one that uses the studio most, my first concerns were to make it a comfortable and energizing place for me.  That sounds selfish, but really the bread and butter of my business is my own art – not the teaching that I do.studio_008_02232011

For me, the most important thing is movement.  Stillness gets painful after awhile – so if I can throw (seated), then sculpt (standing), then write (seated in a different position), and then maybe sculpt a bit more it helps.  Either way, the entire work flow is designed to serve my need for movement.

This has actually been a very good thing for my teaching.  One of my students has a fused spine, so she uses the surfaces that work well when standing. I have gathered about every possible height of stool and chair, along with a whole lot of bricks and cement blocks, all so people can move up or lower themselves at the wheel or at a table.

When I write, or code websites (for 10 hours today!), or use the computer for social media and marketing, during my “off hours” (I laugh every time I write that) at home, I have the option to use this desk as a standing desk or as a seated desk.  I wrote a blog entry about that, too.

Part of the reason I shift my environment so frequently is because I am in pain, I find a position is stressing my body, so I keep trying to get the best possible positioning for myself. As the my muscles, nerves and bones improve or deteriorate, the configuration of surfaces and seats must shift as well. I encourage my students and members of the studio to move chairs and blocks and bricks around to help them best.  The next step is to make sure that afterward everyone moves them back.

studio4Another aspect of organization was to have a space that encouraged me to create.  Both upstairs and down, I have music.  Wide tables allow for any sized project to be tackled.  I can have the lights low if my head is pounding and yet there are spotlights for close detail work.  Reading glasses have been scattered throughout the entire studio.  Most of all, I try to listen to both my body and my students – if something isn’t working then I shift the furniture and tools around until we find a better configuration.

Other adaptations are easy.  Turn off the ringer for the phone if a student has PTSD or Autism and would be jarred by the noise.  Play music that they find inspiring or energizing or comforting – most of my students have their own Pandora playlists.  If someone has poor impulse control, make sure that things which might injure them are safely stored away.  When teaching a small hoard of children, make sure there are other adults around to help herd them properly.

Yet, the most important thing I have to do is encourage my students and be kind.  All teachers will know this, but the challenge is to find a way to give advice that is true and helpful but doesn’t diminish the student’s artistic vision – or their vision of themselves as artists.

That was one of the hardest messages to digest.  Even though I had been telling people in grade school that I wanted to be a writer and I had filled nearly every notebook from the first day of kindergarten through the last day of graduate school with doodles, drawings and poems, I felt like I was somehow less legitimate as an artist because I had planned my education around another path. At art events, I found myself apologizing for studying history and language.

The insecurity ran deep.  Simply because I spent nearly every waking hour creating in some medium or another did not mean that I was good or that this was something I ought to be doing. For a long time, I thought of what I did as the art of the broken rather than simply art.  Then I surrendered to the compulsion and the bliss of it – and like magic questions of my legitimacy no longer kept me up at night.  I realized I had as much right to make a living with my art as anyone else.  It sank into me that I am truly blessed to have had this passion to embrace when other dreams fell apart.

Alas, the message that I should not be doing this continues to dog me.  Just this past weekend it was suggested that I throw out all painting, drawing, sculpting and pottery because I lack skill at them. At least this time, the speaker said my writing was worth all my attention.  So there has been improvement!  Regardless, it took years to be able to shake such judgements off – to realize that for everyone who dismisses my creations there will be another who likes them – and I don’t want to give someone else that burden.  We have enough to deal with just being artists.

And that, Shawna, basically sums up my thoughts on the art and disability.

overwhelm

a poem about writingi love making art.  However, the rest of this business that i run can turn on me quickly.  Sometimes even progress feels terrifying.

While i am ecstatic that the poetry collection is finally edited, the thought of publishing it can make my bones tremble.  Likewise, making more money than i ever have at a gallery for a four week period fills me with elation – until i realize i have to throw even more to continue making progress at the same pace. For any of this to work in the long run, i have goals i need to meet and no way to guarantee that my work continues selling. Granted the increased sales mean that i have money for clay and glaze, but throwing and glazing can take a lot out of me.

Many people give me wonderful advice, and if you are an artist, i am sure you have heard similar things. Frankly, you have probably been inundated with similar suggestions no matter what type of business you run: leads to follow up on, places to advertise, the kinds of products you should make instead of the ones you do.  Much of what i have been told was wise and wonderful; if i could do it all i would.  Only, it’s not often possible for me to do ten thousand things in one day.  The work load that i create for myself making my art and running the business surrounding it leaves me constantly overextended.  As long as my health holds out, although that for me is always a relative concept, i can manage.  Adding something new and huge can destabilize the whole system. Last year my entire life got shifted by lightening striking a kiln.  Recuperating from that took nearly nine months.a poem about hope

This week has been one for profound back pain.  Standing, much less throwing or painting, has been a challenge.  Walking to bring in the “Pottery and Art Ahead” signs (200 yards or so both North and South of the Pottery, Art and Writing Studio + Showroom entrance) made me want to cry a little.

Episodes like this always add to the sense of panic. Pain on its own can be daunting.  Also, i suspect being a moody artist makes the whole situation a little more intense. It takes a lot of discipline to keep my heart from failing. i have to go through the list of things that have been done rather than obsessing on my endless to-do list. From that perspective, i have had a good week. Book-keeping and advertisements have been finished.  i have managed to fire three kilns, i have glazed a lot of pottery with more to come Friday.  Much poetry has flowed from my pen and i am excited about my novels – newborn, in progress and finished – in a way i wasn’t a few weeks ago when pottery dominated all of my existence.  Perhaps it is the gift of fall: the recognition that i will soon have more time for writing.  Still the things i need to do and the things i want to do loom over me.

As a result, i spent a lot of time today perched on the edge of overwhelm.  i tried to work through it, but no matter what i got done, i didn’t feel like it was enough.  Except, right before i left the studio, i unloaded the kiln and took out these bowls…

blue, black and white bowls… and now everything seems possible again.  It’s amazing what a few bits of good art can do for the soul.

premeditation

immoderationi wonder how different my art would be if i were more deliberate and premeditated about it.  For instance, about half an hour ago, i came upstairs and laid down on the couch, intending to write. Despite the pain i was in, i knew that words could come.

Since i curled up with my paper and pen, i have scribbled poems and prayers and wee blog entries.  Two novels fight within my mind, each craving their own time and space to grow.  Neither, however, is fully formed, so they stay within the confines of my skull.

Today provides a good example of how i work.  Both within a project and within the way i plan out my day, i provide as much flexibility as i can.

i will know that i have 75 pounds of clay i need to throw, but i do not know if it will be the set of dishes or large bowls or platters – just that it will be pieces i need.  They might be tall, designed for a specific shelf in the kiln, or a soft commission from a reliable customer, or simply something that i suspect will sell.  All i  can tell before i start is that the pots will serve some use. i know i will draw or paint, but only have the vaguest notions of what it might be: this canvas cries out for a figure, this clay needs to become the sun, this painting will bear every shade of blue.  Poems frequently turn on me, starting out about one subject and then rapidly becoming something altogether new.  i have had characters appear in novels that i never expected to be there and had others say things that left me shocked.

If i cannot work at one thing, i shift to another.  The days that i do bookkeeping or type up a whole manuscript or do a lot of work creating promotional materials are often days where my body has completely rejected more intense labor.  Even if all i can do is sit on a heating pad in a recliner, i will pour my heart out onto the computer18 bowls.

i have learned the hard way not to fight this structureless work.  Sometimes, i can fulfill a specific order on demand.  For example, i managed to throw 18 bowls last week, because i need those bowls most desperately.  Since then, i’ve known i needed tall pieces and sculptures, and now this natural impulsiveness in my creativity can flourish.  i have made vases and bottles and oil lamps.  Today, i needed rest and that allowed for the written word – and thus i have poems.

My art is rarely premeditated.  And most of what was planned out meticulously wound up traga poem about throwingically disappointing because i could not quite equal the image or thought in my imagination.

This has become a wonderful coping technique for my physical limitations as well.  Today, i cannot throw or glaze, my back will not support it. There are days i lack the manual grace to type or paint, no matter how much planning i have done.   If i demanded more structure from myself than simply working however i can, then this irritation would feel like a crushing blow.  As it is, i am at peace despite my disappointment for i found a good time to get some blogs typed up.