Tag: steadfastness

poems creeping out

Gratitude21Today, delight burned bright as a sun.

i have rarely been this quiet within my mind – partly caused by the gentle softening of stress and partly because i am truly realizing that writing and art will survive this transition.

During breaks, after i got home, poems kept leaking out, creeping down my sleeves and spilling onto paper. The joy of it, as though it were some secret ecstasy, the greatest gift given to this lost lamb.

It makes me so very excited for tomorrow – when i can write more.

Each dawn brings makes me more confident. Perhaps, soon, i can lay down some of my burdens.  Different tenors of writings have come from me today.  All the despair has vanished, at least for now.

Very quietly, i hope and pray that the mantra that i spoke for so long, ‘i need to save myself and my art,’ will be true.

the madness of poetry

Something strange accompanies this kind of inundation. This crisis has been going on for so long that i have lost track of its beginnings and my ability to see endings long ago vanished.

But i am like a cork, bobbing in a sea of failure, but still fighting for breath, still treading water. Either from stubbornness or stupidity, i refuse to surrender completely.  When i can open my eyes, i see so many others fighting the same currents i cannot complain of solitude.  For the first time in my life, i am surrounded as much by love as i am anxiety, which is a greater blessing than i can express.

12309914_10206910370509278_3227795177658048976_oThings are changing, although i do not quite know if it will be in time to save me.  However, this hardly matters in the face of tremendous glories.  Seven weeks after surgery, i can throw again.  My novel, long stalled by pain and exhaustion, has begun to reform in my mind and on paper.  A new collection of poetry gathers itself together, much to my delight.  There is an abundance of art, queued up in my imagination, ready to leap forward from my hands.

Most glorious of all, i am starting to notice world beyond the rim of my own navel.  The tucking in, the wounded hiding, that i needed to do most of this summer and right after surgery has begun to ease off.

i am opening up.

Slowly, i am beginning to see a use to me, despite this precarious position.  Such grace came, in this case, from eight pots, at least half a dozen massive pen and inks and over thirty poems.  Anchored in art, everything else becomes either more possible or more ignorable.

For the rest of the year, i am anchoring myself in poetry, painting, pen and inks and pottery. It is the best defense against melancholy and stress i have found.  To encourage this plan, i have challenged myself to post something new every day, and so far i am off to a good start.  A decent line of posts has formed behind this one.

And for today: this poem, while short, is at least filled with madness and joy.

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It can only be madness12304443_10206894248626241_7047647740143388939_o
that brought me up here,
giving words a chance to flow
when other things
should be done.

Yes, i was breathless.
Of course, i was exhausted.
Undeniably, the words
had to flow,
or i would not be here
ten minutes and three poems later,
wishing that there was a purpose
behind my actions
other than primal need.

One word following the next.
It is a flow
as essential to my life
as the journey of my blood.

Inside these patterns
of language and silence
inexpressible joy sings.

This is a supplication
for connection,
a prayer
to be heard,
an offering
of hope
in open hands.

i throw myself
into the madness of poetry
and pray it brings me
a soft landing.

28 November 2015

respite

For days, I have been working through overwhelm, worry and heartache the only way I know how – turning to friends for advice and comfort, meditating as much as I can, and surrendering to my body’s demands.

I have slept, rested, prayed and made what art I could.  Some of the art was lovely, some oozed with suffering and unconquerable hopelessness.  I wallowed, for certain, but my misery was interspersed with flashes of resolution and calm.  For the first time, I could celebrate my strength, even as i wept over its cost.  However, in a classic example of cognitive dissonance, I have also been stubbornly refusing to accept defeat, even though logic suggests it has already arrived.1896999_10203583401337128_274120720393616886_n

Will can be an awesome force, challenging the universe to remake itself into the form of a dream.

Last night, I fired a kiln.  This meant I could start my day slightly later – I stayed in bed and bed and retreated into poem and story for the bulk of the morning.  Once the studio reopened, I could retreat from the heat by coming upstairs for more of the same.  I wrote, then I meditated for 36 minutes (keeping track with a meditation timer on my phone that also prevents me from falling into spontaneous napping.)  During those moments the howling of my need quieted to stillness.  I dwelt in a creation nearly devoid of thought – filled only with  sound and sensation.  For the fist time in over a week, my mind and heart found place.

Of course, as soon as I get up from this blessed sanctuary of silent stillness, the world will come rushing back.  My heart will remember its lonely grief.  The monstrous collection of worry and obligation that towers over me will flex its claws and leap, aiming to sink them into my tender flesh again.

It has already tried.

Only, I am still in the embrace of meditation, so for right now, the monster slides frictionless off my awareness, falling into a puddle of unimportance on the floor.

Ask me again in an hour, or in a day, if I have maintained such equanimity.

As delightful as my practice has been, as much as it unlocks joy and love, I remain a frail, failing human.  Even my the creativity that floods out of me cannot protect me from loss and failure and pain.  Despite my growth as a human being, I find myself desiring, grieving and despairing.  Indeed, I have fought ultimate darkness this past week, by doing nothing more than accepting its presence, watching as it made plans and ranted about hopelessness, allowing it to thrash around inside my chest while I waited until faith, love, art, friendship and my innate stubbornness could take over again.

There remain times when I can manage is to not drown in those troubling nightmares for too long.  For this I am grateful.  For this, I meditate and write and pray and hope.

10 August 2014

fighting for courage.

You can't tell, but I carved her name on the bottom left corner to give her credit.
You can’t tell, but I carved her name on the bottom left corner to give her credit. So not selling it, though.

I made a little plaque for myself, a few weeks ago, after I had shown some little children what to do and had empty time while they just painted pottery (and themselves).  It uses the quote from Maya Angelou that I talked about in an earlier blog – and now rests prominently in my studio, a ready reminder.

Oh, how I need those words today.  For all the world, it feels like I am still fighting even though the war was  lost long ago.  I keep trying to get up and throw, but I simply cannot make myself grab the clay.  My limbs feel too weak and heavy; I cannot fight the sense of futility.  Sales have been apocalyptically bad for May and June, making it impossible to dig out from this past winter, my health has not been much better and I have begun to wonder if persisting in my dreams is just a new form of madness.

However, I am caught. Giving up is not an option. This is not so much bravery as self-knowledge. There is nothing else for me – every time I have tried to deviate from this path, my situation became so much worse. I know down to my core this is what I am meant to do.  Also, I am aware that without the solace of art, I have nothing to give.  I become an irredeemable burden to those I love.  Therefore, I must persist.  Trudge forward step after step, no matter how it hurts.  Eventually, I will fight the futility and pick up the clay.

So, I must exercise courage, particularly now when everything seems so bleak.  Usually I am ebullient whenever I have a chance to write or throw or paint or sculpt – just having the opportunity to make art feels like such a blessing.  Thank God, experience has taught me that this drive will overwhelm me eventually, breaking through whatever sorrow or weariness or pain it has to in order to manifest itself.  In the meantime, I have to stoke the coals of faith that my work will eventually turn around – even though all my plans to stay in business have failed and I have come to realize how foolish some of my decisions have been. There could be a silver lining: by surrendering my plans, by burning them up and letting their ash mingle with the wind, maybe I will clear the way for something glorious and unexpected.

 

changing definitions of success and failure

My definitions for success and failure are changing.

For the second time, I have failed to deliver a commission on time. (The first time involved pots for children’s classes that were stalled by my kiln getting struck by lightening – an act of God – I felt immense guilt but could not take full responsibility.)

This should be a failure, but I cannot quite see it as such. This is a real shift in my worldview. Years ago, I had a customer who hated the glazes on a series of mugs – even though they were what she asked for – and that was alright, I took the pots back and refunded her money.  There is a kind of magic that can happen with pottery, and not everyone appreciates it.  While I did regard that as a failure the afternoon I gave her a check and bundled the mugs into boxes, I have made more money selling the pieces individually than I would have with that contract.  Right now I have another outstanding commission, for huge casserole dish and platter and pasta bowl, but they had no deadline. So, even though I have had to make the pieces a few times, it was not a hardship for the customer. I kept working at them until I got pieces beautiful and intact.  Again, not a failure, just an inconvenience. All in all, I have been fairly proud of myself for five years – the lingering sting of these setbacks has been soothed by many many prompt deliveries of pots received with joy and celebration.

This commission, for two rectangular casserole dishes, to specific measurements, hand-built, had a specific deadline and I missed it.

The project required me to learn new things and the process has lead to several unsatisfying attempts. Even though I sculpt, I am much less comfortable with hand-building than throwing. Four pieces unfit for salemoresurvivors now serve as molds for other casserole dishes, a perceived reversal that has left me indecently pleased.  I found myself grateful for the failures – because they have lead to an easy way to make more pieces. (Two examples are to the right, above the chip and dip.  The one on the left got bent at leather hard, but still turned out gorgeous.)  Finally i finished three casserole dishes, and the forth will be late but has already come into being.  The picture of the first three is to the left, in my car, ready to head to their new home.  I gave her the extra small casserole as compensation for my tardiness – along with a massive porcelain bowl.survivors

As I struggled with this project I realized that my definitions of success and failure have changed over the years. These setbacks would have totally demoralized me, making platter after pasta bowl after casserole, just two years ago. I remember having a lot of failures with plates in the early months of the business that did exactly that to my fragile mood.  It was nearly a year before I wanted to throw a plate again. The thought of plates filled me with waves of grief over my shortcomings.

However, my definitions of success and failure have changed.  Success, now, often means that I just keep at it without giving into negativity or self-pity or doubt. It means I have celebrated my small triumphs – even if it was just learning from a mistake. I make the piece as many times as I need to and then I have the satisfaction of it being done.  I can be remarkably stubborn.

Failure, then, would be giving up.  Failure means allowing my outrage over my mistakes, misdeeds, misfortunes and missteps to seep inside my soul and start to corrode it.

However, there is one sticky problem to these shifting definitions: I can try too hard.  Perhaps, at some point, I should accept that I cannot go on, there will be something that I cannot complete no matter how many times I go to the wheel or canvas or computer. I am simply too stupid or stubborn or obsessed to know when that moment has arrived.

and againMaybe there are worse things in the world than not having enough sense to give up.

Another casserole is in the bisque kiln right now, as I type, firing.  I immortalized it in a photograph to the left, in case of catastrophe.  Although, I hope it comes out of the heat intact and flawless.  Then i can glaze it and deliver it a bit late.

I send up a quiet prayer for the kiln.  May nothing explode, crack, warp or rupture… or experience any other failures on which I do not want to dwell.  I want to have good dreams tonight.

heading into certain disappointment

This morning started out beautifully – I woke with the gift of a wonderful dream resonating through my being and when other people’s words started shuffling about my brain as I showered, they were countered by the memory of a poem I wrote way back in graduates school.  Once I turned on the computer, I found the work and was staggered by how much it applies to my life today.

When you are a writer or an artist, you hear a lot of negative messages about your art in specific and the state of art in general.  Sometimes it seems like everyone else believes they have a better idea about what art you should be making than you do.  Many talk about how impossible it is for artists to make a living or be successful. Worst of all, those pronouncements cannot be technically considered false, even if you actively fan the flames of optimism – or deliberately engage in fantasies of denial (both of which probably apply to me). An unbelievable amount of artists do not find the success they crave.  Even more hobble themselves from trying with the belief that it any success is impossible.  Still more, and this has definitely applied to me, know how to make art but have no idea how to disseminate it.  Differing definitions of success don’t help either – because many want nothing more than to keep making art.  Any way that happens becomes success.  Others want fame and fortune and things that do seem vastly unlikely.  Still more have realized that they have no idea what they need or what success would entail.  No matter what my art’s ultimate goals might be, or, rather, no matter where I find myself in a given moment, these messages can be sobering, can spark depression, and can enter the mind with as much destructive power as a grumpy rhinoceros wielding a mace.

Even though I acknowledge statistical improbabilities and my own personal limitations, I cannot allow myself to live in the mental space from which those comments arise.  I have not found a way to maintain my courage and inspiration if I resign myself to failure and misery before I have fully failed.  There is enough misery in life, I don’t need to grab more prematurely.  Yet the messages – particularly that art is doomed and my work is folly and that I should surrender my passion and do something else – do travel down to my marrow where they sing out their anxiety for awhile before optimism, stubbornness or denial can kick them out again.  Part of what made this morning delightful was the realization that sleep had evicted the negativity.

My poetic epiphany, happening about the same time as I was shampooing my hair, helped me remember that those messages also came to me long before I threw myself into art.  Indeed, when I was in college and graduate school, I fielded a huge amount of negativity and twice it derailed the life I thought I would have because I did not have the resolve to stand against it.  Now, in retrospect that was a blessing, because I have had years to do the work that I love.  However, it does mean that no matter what job you have or where you place your confidence, you will hear these kind of messages and they can have a deleterious effect.

What a long preamble for a poem.  According to the file in which I found these words, they came out of me in 1996.  That sounds about right.  i remember holding a folded up copy of these lines in my hand during an experience that changed my life.  They gave me courage.  To my ears today, this poem sounds ancient and oddly written, but I remember how important they were the day they were composed.

***

Facing the tangible possibility
of great disappointment,
i take a breath to pause
and remind myself:
it really doesn’t matter.

Whatever criticisms i hear today
will not touch my essence,
for others can only judge insignificant things.

If i encounter slights on my abilities,
i will remember
dozens of other talents
of which this crowd of fools knows nothing.
If they slander my spirit,
i will remember
they cannot measure my soul.
If they insult my appearance,
i will remember
this body,
while part of me,
is not alone my whole
and is not an expression
of my virtue and worth.

i will remember,
and i will listen.
i will absorb their words
and when they have finished,
i will discern for myself
the truth and bias,
the usefulness and motivations,
within their messages
without distortions from either insecurity
or a desire to please.

With God’s grace,
i will continue to grow and unfold
no matter what setback may await me
in the soon to be.

Also,
i will remember
i am not doomed to fail.
Good is as likely as bad
to come from this encounter,
if i but recognize it as such.

i will remember
i have countless causes
for joy and thanksgiving
that will persist
regardless of this situation
and its outcome.

But, most of all,
i will remember steadfastly:
i am loved!

No matter who dislikes me,
no matter what goes right or wrong,
no matter how embarrassed i feel,
no matter what is uttered,
i am loved!

This is no small thing.
My life includes more
than just these coming moments,
and when they are done
i will have a whole new present
in which to dwell.

That is why,
no matter how deep
this potential disappointment may be,
i will not drown in it
because i will remember,
it really doesn’t matter.