Tag: pain

poem: a smile

i wish i could smile
in that particular way
that always ends
with my shamefully
thunderous laugh.

A delightful fire
curled my lips like smoke –
burning away the damp,
of my awareness.

Even if this respite
only lasted
for that one
it could still save
the broken shards
of my life,
their jagged edges
with light.

all day i have lamented
the problems with my eye,
and begged
for that vision
to be restored –
as i lay down,
weary and worn,
i find myself wistful,
for a smile
that would slowly
take over this dour mood
until nothing was left
but the joy.

16 July 2016

The energy of pain.

If you were sitting across the table from me right now, watching me fidget and listening to me laugh too loudly, i would tell you: this is the energy of pain.  For months i have been retreating as often as i could into mediation and stillness. The sensation of being inside this skin was so overwhelming that i hid inside the sanctuary of solitude and quiet. As a result, my ability to listen to my body is stronger than it has ever been. So, trust me when i say that as i write these words, the energy of pain sings in high relief within my awareness.

Before it gets incapacitating, pain can create a perverse surge of energy.  Perhaps this is actually the need for distraction, building up inside until it starts to burble out in images, in stories, and in attempts to work that feel more like spasms than anything useful. Limbs cause enough discomfort to keep me from standing for a long time. Twelve days out of surgery, i have to keep myself from lifting heavy things. My body needs me to be conscious of my limitations.

The miraculous shift in my flesh has made such self-restraint chafe.  i want to do and go and be! The pain is so much better! Optimism so fierce that it borders on delusion has returned to my soul! Quietly, slowly, my internal engines of inspiration, discipline and resiliency have started to churn once more.

Months ago, i made a resolution to be kind to myself. i renewed the vow at the beginning of lent (giving up my tendency to verbally abuse myself when i am in distress.) However, after so long down, after ten months watching my circumstances disintegrate while my body could not function well enough to fix the problem, i am welcoming any energy that comes to me – even that which carries this unpleasant hue.  i cannot repress the feeling that all will be well, simply because one simple surgery could change so much.

My uterus, the tumors that were trying to break out of it, and about half the load of pain i had been bearing were removed in a four hour long operation. (According to one of the surgeons a tumor that was peeking out of the organ had its own tumors, like little unwanted ears.  No wonder the process of removal took some time.) The first thing i said when i came out of anesthesia was “Oh, my God, the pain is so much better.”  And in the days following surgery it became even more apparent. Recuperating at a friend’s house, i felt like i was taking advantage of her kindness.  Despite the incisions, i felt stronger and more able than i had for at least a year.

i can tell my body is wounded and healing.  This has done nothing to fix my hips or my problems with my spine, not to mention fibromyalgia, diabetes and the other health issues with which i struggle, but this current level of pain does not incapacitate me.  Even with the buildup of energy that i am experiencing right now, i am coherent enough to write. i am aware enough to be filled with ideas and inspiration.  i could literally burst with hope, simply because i am no longer feeling completely impotent inside my skin.

Before surgery, i kept thinking about my journey. The part of me that tried to get pregnant for twelve years mourned. All the hopes and dreams that i had lost over the years passed through me like shades, giving me the opportunity to ask them to leave, to be carried out of me with my womb.  Once the hysterectomy was finished, i was filled with a sense of peaceful closure. i will always feel some grief over the family i never had, but the contentment is greater. Even more profound, i accepted something that i had said before but never quite let settle down into my cells: i am the end of my line, which means, damn it, i need to stand up and make this journey worth all the trouble and suffering.

So, if you see me over the next few days, and i am bouncing or drifting on my feet, talking too fast about random things, getting so excited about the thought of making art and crafting story again, please forgive me. i believe i am finally able to dig myself out of this hole, and i am marshaling whatever forces i can toward that goal. The energy of pain can be off-putting to the people around me, i know, but please understand, i am giving thanks every single moment for the fact that my body’s burdens have grown lighter.


doing too much, doing too little

In retrospect, i entered this whole “getting surgery on my shoulder” with a lot of hubris. Most of it was fueled by desperation, my arm was in so much pain it had been rendered useless. A few days before the actual event i had written in my journal that without doubt i would be back to work within a weeks – at the very least writing and drawing and getting my online store up to date. i would be back quickly because of how deeply i grieved over the time lost to the injury over the summer.  i needed to redeem my life, prove myself useful. “Yeah,” i wrote, “No doubt. i will be back before a month is out.”

Predictably, i was thwarted – or rather, i proved to be insane in my expectations.  What i wound up doing, by in large, was crawling into a hole and waiting for friends to gently toss provisions down at me. In-between injuries and spells of terrible health, i forget: pain keeps the brain from working well, healing takes energy that would normally go toward other things.  Fighting the need to rest brings on even greater despair than the pain already stokes.  Sometimes a hole is exactly where one needs to be, to have quiet and stillness and time to sleep and get better.

It has been six weeks since surgery. Because i am wildly motivated to have two working hands, i already have nearly full range of motion in my arm, but i am terribly weak.  The muscles have no endurance.  An hour in the studio yesterday and another today has left my arm sore and completely exhausted. Inside the joint there is a deep, empty ache and the muscles all grumble angrily. Add to that another round of bronchitis-like symptoms that began a week ago, eerily similar to the affliction that leveled me this time last year (those same friends were begging me for a trip to the hospital during their visits this weekend), and i have had even more days added to this long pause when living feels like it is on hiatus.

i recognize that right now i am a fragile flower. Anything unexpected or extreme will make me wilt and lose my petals. i can do some work – clients’ projects slowly come back up to date, i wrote about a dozen poems today, i am rebuilding the world of my novel in my mind – but physical activity remains limited.  Each time i do a little too much, i fall back down on my generous behind.  i am seeking balance in a body whose needs are shifting wildly from second to second. This can be a dance, trying to maximize what i do and not destroy myself in the process.  i cannot claim success, but i am truly understanding how much of my self esteem still hinges on my ability to make art. Down to my soul, i have learned that the reflexive hatred i feel for myself when i am unable to work is not just useless, but corrosive. This is the habit i cannot let take hold.

For now, i have to be aware of where i am inside myself.  i have to be kind and gentle, dismantling the nagging demand that i justify my existence through ceaseless motion and effort. That way, i can treasure the things i manage to get done – like verse, and drawing, and just making it through another day.

poem: gratitude


Days ago,
i began
to say
thank you
for everything.

Absolutely every single thing.
More than the usual food,
fluffy cat snuggles,
steadfast love of dog,
and brilliant blue skies.

Thank you for everything.

When i couldn’t get
to the bathroom in time
and lost another pair of pants,
thank you.
i tried to stand
and fell
into the car beside mine,
thank you.
When i sat down to write,
only to be assaulted
by seven different stories
and five different poems,
thank you.
When he broke my heart,
thank you.
When she treated me
like something
to be scraped off a shoe,
thank you.
While i felt
my own spirit
crack and fracture
from the pressure
of my failure and problems,
thank you.
Love breezed through
my life
for just one moment –
enough to catch its fragrance
before leaving me
alone and lonely again –
thank you.

These mumbled gratitudes,
even when they refuse
to bear the weight
of true appreciation,
resorting to perfunctory syllables
until they awaken some echo
of thanksgiving,
even when spoken through tears
while the body seized in pain,
have begun to change things.

Thank you.

3 august 2015




Today, 14 days after i wrote this poem, i read an article at GQ about Stephen Colbert and he expressed this sentiment better than i ever could.  Read the article!

addiction to art’s flow

IMG_1554Over the years, i have known too many people who struggled with addictions to things like cigarettes or shopping or sex or alcohol or drugs, or some combination of the above.  Watching their struggles, i felt this immense gratitude (along with waves of compassion) that i had not fallen down the same path.

Only, recently, i have realized that i did not escape the gene or the effects of environment that can foster addiction.  In a very real sense, i developed an one of my own – to getting lost in the flow of art.  When i make art, everything else disappears; my entire being seems to dissolve in the way the clay, paint, ink or story moves.  i crave this.  i demand it.  i seek it out, even if i am scribbling on a napkin.  Indeed, i will continue chasing after art even when every speck of evidence tells the sane rational people around me that this is a foolish, self-destructive path.

For the past several weeks, I have been trying very hard to redirect a portion of my effort and energy into finding more freelancing jobs, exploring other options for employment that can coexist beside my current business and obligations. Indeed, i am even preparing myself for the very real possibility that art must be put on hold for awhile, so that i can keep a roof over my head and food in my animals’ bellies. In addition IMG_1545to seeking non-art solutions, i took an amazing small business class to see how to better move through the troubling arena of selling art.  i am doing all i can to put myself in a better position.

i acknowledge that all these chores are necessary things, and good places to put my energy.  After all, financially at the very least, something has to shift quickly.   However, there is a drawback. i do this knowing that the energy to which my body has access is limited. Therefore, devoting a large portion of my effort into these areas has meant that other responsibilities and joys suffered. My dog is shamefully lacking time at the beach to romp and roam.  Except for meditation, my self-care has flown out the window.  The stress is wearing on me; i am letting everyone down while i scramble for better paying jobs and new galleries to sell my art.

As i fill out applications and take tests on my competency in different subjects (discovering that i am happily quiet competent at many tasks), i have been doing the same thing i did during graduate school and undergraduate and nearly every traditional job i have ever held: i am leaking poems and art like blood dripping from my hands.

The more i try to focus on other things, the more the art surfaces. If i swear off art even for a short period, my entire being destabilizes IMG_1547and creativity bleeds into inappropriate places and spaces.  Dialogue for plays murmurs from my lips while i am in the shower. Poetry finds itself scribbled in the margins of notes i take, just like in college.  Drawings swim around in my mind until i have to draw them – not just once, but twice or three times – in order to expunge the image.  Stories that were put aside earlier due to lack of time haunt both my waking and dreaming mind; characters shake me and demand their due.

For six days, an intense, nauseating migraine has been wreaking havoc with my brain, eyes, thoughts and coordination.  My  memory is off; my attention span, worse.  Writing, like i am doing right now, actually hurts as much from the effort of putting one letter after another as from trying to focus through enough visual distortion to make the IMG_1556whole world brighter than a sparkly Twilight vampire.  The one thing that has soothed is art: the flow of ink, experimenting with watercolor, the comfort of line and form.

Even when i am at my worst, i bleed art. If i try to pretend i am a normal person, like the adult that i imagine everyone else to be, then the bleeding becomes a hemorrhage. The compulsion to make it grows irresistible.  It wails within me, disconsolate and brutal, until i give in.  So, i feed the addiction, no longer caring if i am forgetting other things, neglecting important obligations or crumbling into dissolution.  Inside the flow of creating, nothing matters but what pours through me.

And, for that, i thank the entirety of this super-sparkly Creation, every moment, including those dripping with pain.  There are worse fates than being a hopeless artist.  This strange little addiction feeds my soul; it helps to pull me back from despair; it fuels the rest of the struggle to move through this life.

Jesus and $10,000,000

movetomyheart  thisboldfiercemadness It started two days ago with a varmint. Something is in the wall upstairs and in order to make life easier on my tenant (for i am aware of how much sleep deprivation sucks,) i bought things to capture or smite said creature. Alas, yesterday i got home from the errand too late to do anything with the supplies.  However, i awoke with determination today.  Sadly, following the recommendation to put the trap in the basement (the most likely place the critter got in) meant i had to shovel a path to the basement door.

lovelostAnd that is when my back started to be unhappy. Three shifts between shoveling and then laying on a heating pad with one break to go to the bank and i was done. It took all my strength to get to the couch – going the extra four feet to the bed was out of the question. i realized i wasn’t going to be writing when i had left my pen on the table at the wrong end of the couch and could not get myself up to retrieve it. Back onto the heating pad i slumped, when almost immediately a neighbor called. The phone chasinglovewas just out of reach and my attempts at psychokinesis were still a disappointing fail. valentinesdancerMy cell phone (which cannot hold a call at home, but can text) was beside me, so i texted her – she said we could talk tomorrow – at which point the dogs went insane. Barking, growling, racing through the house, dancing.  “OHMYGOD!”  They kept barking “SOMEONEISHERE!”

i don’t care if someone is here, i texted to my neighbor and a friend with whom i was also messaging, it could be Jesus with $10,000,000 and i still can’t answer. i just can’t get up.

Don’t worry, came the response, Jesus would just shove what he could under the door and come back tomorrow.angelandspirit

dancewithspiriti found myself grateful for friends, for having a sense of humor when i can’t quite manage standing, for the snow that was coming so i wouldn’t feel guilty about going nowhere tomorrow so i can be gentle to my still screaming back. About an hour ago, i had to push myself to get the dishes done in case we lose power in the blizzard they keep predicting to hit.

Yet, physical complaints could not dent my joy. Today was a lovely day. i wound up getting a tremendous blessing. In the middle of this irritation, while moving from heating pad to cool, from prone to sitting up, i made some lovely art. It is Valentine’s day and i thought to make images of love – not love of a person specifically, for that is not my situation, but love in general, love that was lost but still lingers, dancing with Spirit, or alone, but filled with the rhythm of love. Even in this cobbling situation, i could at least draw dance. And that made me happy.

Just a reminder about yesterday’s blessings, if you missed it on my twitter, facebook, linkedin or Google+ feeds.  Any purchase ($10 or more) on my online store is 20% off with the coupon code HUZZAH! to celebrate getting credit card processing set up independent of paypal!  Woo Hoo!  If i got too mopey when i couldn’t sit up and draw, all i had to do was think about that… and huzzah! If you want one of today’s pen and inks before i get a chance to put them on the store, just email me at asha@ashafenn.com

Now i think i have the strength to make it to bed.

low charge

lovelygreenbowl5I really want to throw today – I do.  But, I am exhausted to my bones. Alas, fate intervened and messed up my plans. For whatever reason, just standing and moving and breathing are taking everything I have.  Even pen and inks feel too strenuous – my posture has to be too good. Only three sentences into this blog, I have already committed about ten spelling and grammatical mistakes my turgid mind could not immediately see.  Thank God for proof-reading.

Still, I am trying.  Meditation group met this morning and afterward, I opened up the studio like a good business woman. Now, I await a call for a web client at 4 pm.

In the meantime, I have surrendered to my exhaustion.  I have been writing and enjoying the lovely quiet of the day.  When writing gets to be too much, I meditate for awhile (setting alarms, because I do not actually want to sleep even though I really want to sleep.)  After twelve minutes of stillness, I can start scribbling again.  Thankfully, as first drafts, the unavoidable mistakes don’t matter so much. I can be kind to myself.

Earlier, I realized, this is the closest I really get to days off – ones where I am too tired, in too much pain or too punchy to work effectively.  And really, this isn’t so much a day off as a few hours.

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.


brokenpotsMy body did not want to cooperate with any of my plans today.

Meditation group wound up being canceled – I could not open the studio until nearly 4 pm.  Of the three jobs I had today: finish glazing, load the kiln, and teach my new student, I think only the latter went well.  The pots to the side, a lovely mug and chip and dip, slid out of my hands as I tried to put them on the shelf.  It can be so desperately frustrating.  Some days, my hands work beautifully, I can throw and create art and everything is wonderful.  Days like today, though, not so much.  I did manage to throw three bowls for my student, and as she continued throwing on her own, I loaded and started the kiln.  But each job took much more focus than I expected.  By the time I finished, I was absolutely exhausted.

For the past hour, I have been daydreaming a story, knowing I should do the dishes and work on the house, but I cannot even muster the focus to put pen to paper.

All day, I kept myself from getting too discouraged by reminding myself that tomorrow might be better.  Tomorrow, I might be able to throw.  Tomorrow, I might have the time and presence of mind to write.  Tomorrow might be better, if I am able to rest tonight.

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.