Tag: kindness

a day off

roxiannoyedA few days ago, i called a friend and begged her to help me out today. i should have been in a gallery in Southwest Harbor, but knew if i didn’t have a day off to heal, decompress and rest, i would be creating a world of pain for myself.

She agreed, bless her heart, and here i am on the couch with the computer on my lap, heating pad (another gift from a friend) behind my back, my softest work dress on and very little work – other than writing and some gentle computerized toil for clients – getting done. Laundry chugs in the washer, but that is about as ambitious as i feel right at this moment. Having the whole day to myself feels luxurious. i don’t want to make too many impositions.

As a result, mostly, i am breathing slowly and with intent. Last night, i had a vivid dream about starting a meditation group at my new 9-5 employment which reminded me, i have been too exhausted to do my normal centering, healing meditation. So, as soon as i crawled out of bed, i mediated for the first half hour of wakefulness. Then, after a few poems and a small nap, i went back to it. i curled up here, on the couch, took that first deep breath, and was immediately beset upon by cats.

For weeks my female cat, Roxanne, has been angry with me. After Darwin died, she fell into deep grief. She stopped sleeping on the bed. Her pugilistic attitude toward her younger cat brother has not improved – if anything it has escalated. The only time where this lifted was when her favorite human in the world visited, but when he left again, she fell right back into her grumpy melancholy. Most of all, she still seems to be grieving Darwin – just as i am.

However, as soon as i sat down for tonglen this morning, she wrapped herself around my thigh. Her soft fur rubbed over my leg while she purred with ecstasy. Perhaps, she is not just grieving our beloved dog, but the changes that have come upon our life – transformations over which she had no control. If she could mandate the intricacies universe, she would have her bipedal slave around a lot more often. And have a minimum of 8 cans of wet food a day that she could stare at, eat two nibbles of, and then abandon. Failing that, she suffers.

As i pet her side, vibrating with purrs of sweet comfort, i am a bit surprised at how easy it was to give her joy.

Indeed, the same is true for me. Little things have been filling me with happiness. i have been surprising myself. In some ways, i am coping with this transition much better than expected.

However, there are a few fascinating little developments. After all these years working as an artist, letting my entire life revolve around the creation of novel, poem, painting and pottery, i had forgotten how strangely out of step i can be with other people. This is different than the loneliness over which i have written thousands of pages – this is being the one person drumming out a syncopated rhythm while the rest of the band is playing a march.

i am remembering all the years of my schooling, the years in the traditional work force during my youth. i always felt on the outside, but the past few years had driven the memory from my mind. Frankly, those i was normally around wanted to buy art or made it themselves. As an artist, i was focused and professional, but typically alone and self-driven. All education, training and help i received had to be sought out on some level. Being in a structured, large business environment – one to which i have adapted with some facility – drives home that my heart beats for different things than a lot of people, my thoughts come in at a different angle, and that the speed and grace of my gait as i walk through this world are not typicalIMG_0213

Also, i am being reminded that this body needs gentle, loving care. Working at home, i could vary my tasks frequently, nap if necessary, basically live as though i were a cat. When my health crashed over the past two years, i became more and more overwhelmed because it all landed on my shoulders, but i never quite surrendered – or at least not for more than a day or two at a time. Mountains were created and then studiously moved teaspoon by teaspoon. While i enjoyed this workflow, but that is not possible at this new job. i have to be able to sit still, focus and learn at high speed. My compassion will be tested, for myself if not others. i can see the pain of back and limb as a failure, as a judgment. But, these limitations are not condemnations of me – they are realities i have to face and to which i must adapt.

Part of that was asking – begging – for help today. i could sense i had reached a limit, and i needed to be gentle with myself. It is also governing my behavior today. Oh, there is so much art i want to make, so many chores that need to get done. For weeks, i have been treating myself with kid gloves when i come home from work – resting, trying to ease my pain, letting myself sleep when i need to regardless of how badly my to-do list stomps around. (It can act like Godzilla, thrashing around, tearing down my plans.) For the first time in my life, i have been fully accepting the messages my body sends me and obeying.

i would love to tell you that the dishes and all the laundry will be done, put a way and the floors swept and scrubbed today, while i still managed to get all the clients’ jobs done and finished the three paintings that i started last week all while airing out the studio and getting it ready to reopen. Oh, how i would adore it if i could confidently say that today will become the pivot upon which my life will turn and everything will be magically stable and glorious. But, if all i can do is sleep, or write, or rest here on the couch like a large drooling lump, curled up with a smaller purring, drooling lump, then that is alright. This is about what my body and spirit need more than my ambitions and dreams.

There are many people that i fail – like my poor realtor who has never had a pristine house to show because i still live here alone, and have to work around both my health and being perpetually exhausted – but today, i am deliberately putting that guilt and shame aside. It flows out of me on my breath.

This is the day for me to be kind to myself.

If i can manage that, then i believe, the rest of those who depend on me will get better results in the end.

And for now, there is really nothing more healing than this moment of contented cuddling.

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

poem: anger

Anger has its uses.

It can serve
as a reminder
that everyone deserves
respect –
even the one
dwelling within this skin.

Too many things matter.

i care too much.

Words can still wound.

Enlightenment
has only gone so far,
a fragile heart
filled with healed
cracks and ruptures
dwells within this breast.

Lovely contentment
can be confounded
by unexpected cruelty,
someone else shouting
their truth.

Bright, shining hopefulness
can be shattered
by the cudgel
of insult.

Such things require time
to return to wholeness.

The anger provides fuel
for self-protection.
The shit thrown at me
fertilizes growth.

As long as i return quickly
to the embrace of love,
to the stillness in my depths,
i can see anger
as a tool –
proof that i finally
find myself unquestionably worthy
of kindness and respect.

11 april 2016

Beginning and ending

Two poems about Darwin.  The first was written right after his adoption, when he was still a neurotic perpetual motion machine.  The second written the night before he died.

***

We are the same,
he and i,
living with these yawning voids
inside our hearts.

It is the price we pay
for not being loved well
when we were young,
innocent,
and needed such comforts most.

Somehow
we both learned to love
on our own,
but it’s not the same.
We can’t go back in time
and just fill ourselves up.

Today
in the puppy’s sad eyes,
constant presence
and determined longing,
i see myself.
For many have i followed,
and many times have i gone
to outrageous lengths
to please someone enough
that they might love me.

written in early 2005

***

darwin 1We are the same,
he and i,
this old dog
snoring,
soft sighs of sweet joy,
and his human
weeping
over impending loss.

We have both moved
so far
from where we started.
Lonely and wounded
in our youth,
we have grown
full of love,
fluent in gratitude
and constantly delighted
by kindness.

The yawning voids
were filled
by our own hearts –
learning to trust,
deepening
in the bond
flowing between
canine and poet.
We found contentment
in each other’s
constant company.
We bloomed in safety.

Today,
in the old dog’s dying eyes,
i see myself.
There is an immortality
to the patient kindness
i witness.
The love flowing out of me,
the saltwater rolling down my cheeks,
is met with breathtaking love
and unquestioning trust.

No doubt,
many times,
i will weep,
a gift of thanksgiving
and grief,
remembering
how well
this dog
loved me.

1 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.

 

shifting heartbeat

A quick moment of joyous celebration!

My taxes are all but done, all the background work done, ready to be filed tonight.  Slowly, i must be becoming an adult, because i actually did it this year without tears or weeping or too much of a desire to drink.

Responses are coming in to the 30 resumes/job applications that i sent out over the past week.  Now, obviously, none of this guarantees me a job, but still it is delightful to experience forward movement. Plus, after this long year of debilitating ill health, to feel strong and able enough to have a regular job feels like a treat in itself.

It’s odd how things turn, how heartbeats shift.  For so long, i had looked at a ‘job’ that wasn’t making art as a defeat, suddenly it is a blessing of the highest order.  i know i will continue to make art, and to write, but being able to pay my bills would be a major boon.

Best of all, for this is where my soul resides, i have been drawing and writing again.  The current story enchants me, the ones that have been stalled for the past year have begun to invade my dreams and thoughts again.

Several times, I have gushed my gratitude at friends saying, “i feel like i’m becoming myself again.”  However, the miracle goes even deeper.  The whole character of the world changed while i was down – it became a place of tremendous kindness and love – and now, i am able to put my weight on those blessings.  i am walking on different ground.  Oh, how that makes me sing, and laugh, and dance as much as these hips allow.

After the taxes are totally finished tonight, i will paint.  i already have the canvas on the easel, waiting for all my stuff done.

 

 

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.

Delinquency

i am now eighteen days past surgery and i cannot stop sleeping.  Well, i can, for very short spurts, long enough to take the dog out for a walk or to feed myself, but otherwise, i am back in bed with speed.

Thankfully, i have been writing, but there will be some substantial editing to do when i type these words in, once i have all my faculties going.  Right now, i find that the things that work best come in to me: reading, watching documentaries, listening to people.  Going out – writing, art, (God help me) work for clients – those are all taking inordinate amounts of time and energy.  If they can happen at all.  Yesterday i tried, i chained myself to the laptop and got halfway through one project, but then could do no more.  i was making foolish mistakes because my body was crying for rest.

If i am not careful, i will start chastising myself for this – thinking that this idleness is delinquency rather than recuperation. Half of the battle right now is to refrain from being mean to myself for what i perceive are shortfalls and weakness.

My doctor, last Friday, reminded me that i was still in recovery from the surgery.  She asked me to be kind to myself, to take it easy: no heavy lifting, no bending way down, rest as i need it. And i am doing exactly that, even if the frustration of it brings me to tears.

This means i am behind deadline, that the sink is piled with dirty dishes (again), that my heart aches because of all the things i want to do. Even when i am unable, my mind continues to create story and play with painting. Still, every other time i’ve had a major illness or injury, i ran back into the embrace of work, desperate for money but also desperate for the fulfillment and distraction that it brought.  This time, either at the worst or the best time for it, i am actually going to take care of myself.  Today, i will finish that project, and another, but it will be while swaddled in warmth and possibly interspersed with a nap or two…