Tag: transformation

love and compassion

Survival. 

It is a sign of strength to survive hardship, without a doubt, and the last three years have thrown enough hardship in my way that I am proud to have moved through it all and found myself at this moment of promise and change.

However, I am exhausted. Every day, I struggle with pain and fatigue to the point that it has made following my passions – particularly as an artist and writer – feel beyond my reach.  While I make art, releasing it into the wild has demanded more than I had to give.  Add on to that the chaos that we all face, living in this time of change and turmoil, and it has been everything I could do to survive.

Lately, my roommates have been talking about how we all need to stop surviving and start thriving, which is a marvelous ideal and one I enthusiastically endorse. Only, I have quietly wondered how.  How can I be in the position I am financially, spiritually, physically, and yet shift my weight away from survival and into transcendence?

Finally, it occurred to me as I was driving home this evening how to accomplish such a thing for myself, even though I am still treading water, struggling to stay afloat.  

There have been a few times over the past few weeks, in the middle of massive change, heartache and new beginnings, that I could feel this inner core of steel – like a tempered sword – deep within my being. Each time it appeared, I was able to act with compassion and kindness because I knew that I could flex and bend but would not break. At first, I thought they were random miracles, but this is part of something deeply significant.  Today, after meeting another friend for dinner and running into another at the grocery store, I was awash in love, both mine for them and theirs for me.  As I drove, I felt taller, straighter, stronger and could sense that flexible, shining, unbreakable steel. 

That was the epiphany: love was the way to shift from feeling overwhelmed and unprepared to feeling like I am already thriving.  It might be as simple as throwing compassion out, whether or not it is returned.  Harder, but still vital, will be turning the same inward, especially if I am in a terrible place emotionally.

For years, my art has an act of love.  Love for creating, love for the poems and stories and images that flow out of me, a very real sensation of using them as vehicles for sending love into the world.  As my art and I have grown, I have also realized the role of kindness within the creation of anything.  All art goes through an ugly stage – maybe all personal development too? – and patience and kindness are required to get to the final point, whether it be a mess or a masterpiece. 

So, here I am, again.  All of the sputtering false starts from this time of struggle have left me with an opportunity for a new beginning.

For three years, arguably much more, I have been surviving.  Like a turtle, I hid under my shell, for protection from a world that can feel so terrifying and capricious.  The world has not changed, but I have reached my personal rubicon.  I have stood up, taller than I ever thought I could be.

I need to turn to love, to kindness and to compassion – both with myself and others.  I will keep offering up this art that I make, in open hands, because that is the first step in moving forward.  This is the unfolding of beginnings, the first step in a journey of change.

 

change

screaming_squarei am learning so much about myself during these past few months.

In a pinch, i can wake up early in the morning, consistently, although apparently never with joy.  i much prefer waking up in the very late morning after a night of work.

Despite having massive anxiety issues, i can put on a mask of confidence that, miraculously, people seem to accept as reality.  If i can keep the nightmares in check and manage to get some restful sleep every night, then i’ll keep getting better and maybe, someday, that mask will truly be real.

i am at peace with not knowing things… much more than i ever expected i could be.

After so long struggling, it looks like i might be able to get my house refinanced, avoiding foreclosure and a traumatic move.  However, even with that boon, it will be a long slog for me to dig myself out of the hole i am in financially.  Still, i have a slightly bigger shovel to use than i did four weeks ago.

Poetry and drawing will make their way through me, even if they have to ambush me during still moments. Stories, too, queue up and wait patiently for their time.

thesun_squareThe most profound lesson is that i am stronger than i expected, particularly when it comes to interacting with others.  Looking back, i don’t know when this shifted, but it is lovely to no longer care about those who hurt me like i once did.  Gone are the endless second guessings and guilt, well, unless it involves those i love – i care so much more then. Unfortunately, i remain quite wary of people after they have wronged me – but at least, now, i have the chance to work on it.

For these lessons, i am so grateful.  For the trial that i had to go through to get to this place, well, i suppose i’m grateful for that too. And, i know, this is just a beginning. In so many ways, i am still a hot mess. i will keep writing, keep drawing, keep working to maintain a balance between other responsibilities and the overwhelming drive to make art… and, maybe, i’ll be able to start blogging here again – for a month, all my effort has gone into my other blog.  Still, there is no rush.  All things will come in their own time.  In this moment, all is well.  For that, how can i be anything other than thankful?

 

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.

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.

 

 

Things must change

I am writing this during my last day sitting in an artisans’ cooperative this year; Christmas Eve, 2015.

This marks an end of an era for me. A huge amount of the galleries in which i began this year are either moving, closing (or already closed) and a few others have had sales bad enough i have to make disappointing decisions. Most of my plans for the next twelve months remain purely in the realm of the  hypothetical. What i know i will do is make pen and inks, finish at least one novel, write as many poems as i can coax through me.  Soon, i will have another surgery, and afterward i have to dedicate myself to healing and transcending whatever comes.

Never before has it been so glaringly obvious and desperate: i have to reconceive how i move through my days, even as i acknowledge that my heart beats out art as much as blood. The question remains how to do this.  How do i walk that fine line between financial need and spiritual/sanity needs? As i wrote in a poem posted fairly recently, and the haiku below that i put on twitter, art is a fickle mistress.

Art is a lover
who keeps me chained up tightly
and would let me starve.

Starving is not a viable option for an irrepressible sensualist like myself. Giving up on art, which so many have told me is the most sensible option, also seems to be impossible. Yet, i fight against incredible anxiety and fears. As much art as i create, as much as i deepen my abilities in different mediums, i have been hoxed by this relentless worry. This cannot continue. One or the other has to surrender itself – either i continue making art and become relatively fearless in its dissemination, or i surrender to my fears and live a life painfully diminished.  i do not think i could survive the latter.

So, i have to find a way. There is no other option, really, this long succession of freelance and piecemeal jobs can be the stop gap, the way to keep going, until i find a way to make art consistently pay for bread and butter.  But i must keep my focus on that far off mountain top, where the work that gives me the deepest bliss and aligns my energy with the world so well actually maintains me.

One of the miracles in my life is that this past year has brought a slew of people who believe in me enough to help me get through some terribly difficult times. When i thought i might never throw again, my friends listened to my grief; they celebrated with me when i got back to the wheel.  Gifts of food, money, time, compassion and kindness kept me afloat. As i wrote earlier, this was the year of friendship. Perhaps that is how i can find my courage – to remember that there are people who don’t just want me to succeed but see it as something that will happen, with enough patience, stubbornness and resilience.

So, this blog is a bit of a shout out to the universe at large, steeped with both prayer and intent: help me change things. Help me find a way to make this work with the blessings and limitations i have. i cannot change the basic DNA of my being, so i have to find a path that lets me keep making art AND eat.

Things will change.

Things must change.

i am apparently too stubborn to surrender, so i must find a way to be courageous and maybe even a bit wise.

The whole engine of my heart and imagination manifests this transformation.

i wish you all the best for your coming year – may all people find greater peace, kindness and love in our worlds.

poem: the hammer

The hammer slides in my grip –
its heaviness too punishing
for my wounded wing –
yet, i do not relent.

Down flies the weight,
breaking and smashing,
words shattered until nothingness
is all that remains.

Countless stories told,
none of which
describe who i am,
for everything transforms
with this destruction.
Change is the hammer,
which prevents the past
from taking root again.

i have to be reimagined,
even if every syllable
has to shift and sway.

The act of recreation
has become as holy
as it is necessary.

i swing the hammer
to see who i might become.

23 october 2015

glue the leaves back on

sunflowersThe miniseries Story of Film presents a clip from an early silent film (i can’t remember the title, but the miniseries is great, so find out from them!) in which a child overhears that her sister will die before the trees are bare of leaves, so she goes outside to tie the leaves to the branches, to prevent the inevitable from happening (that might be a direct quote, i can’t remember.)  As i drove through Maine this week, i begged the trees to hang on to their greens. i felt nothing but fear for the coming winter.  Stay on a bit longer, please, or i will start having to take stronger action.

You won’t like it, i pleaded with the forest, if i start stapling those leaves onto your bark.  Or duct tape them down.  This is what hot glue guns are for, isn’t it?

However, time marches on no matter what i want.  This weekend i have to do a ton of paperwork to see where my financial future will lie.  Today, i was able to sell a kiln and a wheel, so i can finally buy fuel oil for the house – something that has been plaguing my mind as we barrel into winter.  It felt like i was cannibalizing my future.  Nevertheless, as sorrowful as it was to see these empty spaces in my studio and to recognize that in the long run it will make production slower, the relief of neither freezing nor starving while i’m incapacitated overshadows all grief. Hopefully, i will sell enough tomorrow that i can start making inroads on my debts.

Wednesday, my shoulder will be fixed. When i look back to see how much this injury has cost me in time and ability, it boggles my mind a bit. Given my precarious health, it can be so easy for me to tip over into wretchedness. i focus so hard on the day to day, keeping myself moving as best i can, that i often fail to realize that i am actually being hoxed by something other than anxiety and pain.  Still, i have every hope that i will come out of this with my arm fully functional. The rehab period will be a challenge, but the thought of not having to deal with pain after i heal gets me a little excited. The thought of being able to use both arms effectively makes me swoon. Even if i have to stand on one leg and do a backflip, i am working to see the bright side of each leaf that falls.

thisismylife_smThe reality is that time keeps marching on, no matter what i want.  My house is for sale, although things are not happening as quickly as i want on that score.  It could be my fault.  Unintentionally, i flashed a woman a couple of weeks ago when she was inspecting my front window in the early morning.  Unsurprisingly, she did not make an offer. i cannot blame her.

From my possessions to my mind, everything has been unsettled.  i don’t want winter to come, yet i long for Spirit to clear a path for me to move forward. This endless waiting on the edge wears me down.  Push-pull.  Hurry up then wait.  Work and then crash. My days move between extremes of wanting change and dreading it.

Still, i see signs that make me smile.  The other night, a moon-bow encircled the nearly full moon and i fantasized that it was a promise of transformation.  Recently, my daydreams have directed themselves into words, and more of them meander onto paper, a hopeful sign that i will get some decent work done while i am physically sidelined.  i have three novels and a collection of poetry to edit while i am one handed. Plus i have work for clients and friends. i have made plans.

Honestly, i am so exhausted that three weeks more or less inert sounds almost delightful – except for what i am sure will be intense pain with my arm strapped to my chest.

Despite myself, and with great caution – because i know that my heart and existence are still in such a precarious place – i continue to build up my reserves of hope.  Maybe it is because i seem to be surviving the changes that have already come. On some level, i have lost so many dreams and hopes that i have gotten practice at reconfiguring my life.  Certainly, the construction of my self-perception has shifted, losing all permanence and intensity.  Perhaps, i am sliding back into magical thinking.  Either way, i’ll take the respite from depression and worry.

IMG_1803So, today, what i focus on is that even though the leaves are turning against my will, i have been able to unpack some sweaters.  Even though i have half the number of kilns and 1/3 fewer wheels, i can still make art in so many ways.  Despite my financial woes, i will soon be stronger, with two functioning arms, and better able to work.

This must mean that my personal seasons are changing, moving from endless days of blues to days of golds and reds.

 

If this blog felt repetitive, i apologize.  Perhaps it is a product of this moving backward and forward, this eagerness and fear.  i race through ground only to be thrown back, so i have to cover it again.  At any rate, by way of apology here is a lovely picture of a cat.

 

Recumbent gratitude

Bear with me, please.  i am typing this on my iPad, because i lack the capacity to hold my arm up any longer. Right now it is supported by the softest of pillows while all three of my animals have curled up around me.  Alas, this means that while i am comforting my aching limbs, the autocorrect on my tablet will probably toy with me mercilessly.

Still, i cannot help quietly rejoicing. i think i might have turned a corner, (i knock on wood as i type) and if i have this is the cause of much celebration and delight.  For several days now, i have been able to work through some ridiculous pain – not without whining, unfortunately – but i have begun to inch forward.  What was impossible now seems uncomfortably intimidating, but within the realm of imagination and hard work.  Instead of trying to move the mountain with a spoon, i now have a spoon and a pick axe!  Improvement!

What has been making the coals of optimism start to glow, though, is the contentment that has started peeking out between the pain and stress.  The ocean of peace had been well hidden for weeks. Indeed, if i had not lost the way to it so many times before, only to rediscover its shores with the glee of an explorer with no short term memory, i would have mourned its loss forever.  Ah, but that is not entirely true.  i had fleeting moments of contact while i was actively creating, but nothing that lasted once the pen was put away.  Otherwise, i had been wandering the parched, dry land of despair and overwhelm.

But, for three days, i have felt peacefulness’ waters splashing around my feet while i drove, while i struggled with irritation and pain, while i tried to dissect the things i must do into subgroups: what must be done NOW, what can wait until tomorrow, what can be sacrificed on the bloody and fantastic altar of sleep…

There are things i have to urgently address.  My life remains in this long, twisting crisis, caught inside transformation and loss like a fly in amber. Despite that, i must attend to urgent commitments.  Galleries must be staffed (case in point, tomorrow i will be at Artspace in Rockland.) This weekend is the garlic festival in Southwest Harbor, and i will be getting help so this can be done without further injury.  (i am excited for the show, not just because of my new garlic dishes, but because the food is so good.)

For the first time since last winter, for no rational reason, i can feel the certainty that “all will be well” taking root in my soul. More than anything, this inexplicable, perceptible  lifting of mood when the burdens upon me remain consistent convinces me that depression has a chemical hold on my brain independent of circumstance.  Right now, the shadow of suffering still lies across my life, but “all will be well” begins to stand against it, growing stronger and starting to bud.  Like an obsessive gardener, i race to this miracle and try to encourage its flowering. i do all i can to create the best environment, including celebrating the small triumphs like today – gallery sitting, then cleaning the kitchen then loading and firing the kiln.

i am in pain, and exhausted, but i feel content.  The sins of the day – junk food and sodas – helped provide the energy i needed. Instead of my normal guilt, i anchor myself in “all will be well” and once more, i can feel the ocean of contentment all around me.

This lends to every thought and dream the light of possibility; it coaxes my stubborn determination back into movement.  Slowly, i have started trying again.  In the past three days i have submitted my art and writing, sought freelance work, researched more galleries and managed to push through so much pain to do what was on my “this must be done TODAY” to-do list.  And i kept myself from becoming undone by the things i could not do, and the mistakes i made, which might have been the greatest kindness of all.

As i type the kiln is firing and the dishwasher is running.  i did that – me – this broken unit.  i found hope, strength and focus that i did not believe existed within me anymore.

Once more, i find myself crying before bed, but this time my heart overflows with thanksgivings.

 

the ugly stage

small_4small_7Today is my only day here, in the studio, dedicated to making art, for at least ten days.  i had grand plans – i would throw a huge commission, work with the slab roller to have some small sculptures to fill in the spaces between plates when they are fired, and none of that came true.  Instead, i spent the morning writing – a nebulous bit of prose that i will probably blog fairly soon – and then decided to be kind to my body again. small_6 This is becoming a theme.  Unfortunately, my shoulder (torn rotator cuff) is not getting better without my taking it very easy on that arm, and when i break the rules and do things like throw, or load the car with heavy objects, or try to scrub something, i wind up with days of intense distress and numb fingers.

So, i broke out the next messiest form of art: pastels.  Before i leave for the night, i will be loading a kiln and firing some lovely little garlic plates.

i have not totally wasted the day, no matter how it feels. small_2Still, i am frustrated with my level of productivity.  i don’t seem to be doing anything enough or well.

Yesterday, i did a huge amount of pen and inks while i was at a gallery enjoying the slowness of the day.  Given that i got my first positive response to a job application yesterday, after sending out God knows how many, i found myself drawing with a renewed fervor. i could feel the gun to my head cocking.

i have written about the long goodbye before.  Without doubt, this must be one of the most excruciating devolutions that i’ve ever experienced.  i am going down a steep hill at speed, shedding things as i travel: mysmall_3 house, my studio, my credit rating, my belongings, my sense of self.  For so many years, i have been wildly blessed with the profound knowledge that art is what i’m meant to do – it pours out of me like nothing else – and to have that last illusion stripped from me has been excruciating.  Instead of ripping it off like a band-aid, fate has been slowly twisting it away, molecule by molecule, a closed gallery here, a solitary day in the studio there, a long spell where i could not write because my mind was too chaotic, punctuated with crushing online sales reports. i have moved from a woman confident in her identity as an artist to someone desperately trying not to drown. The blessing of having no attachments, no delusions of self holding me back, does not yet diminish the agony of loss.

small_1When i lost my health, back when i was 28, i saw that as a profound death of self.  Forests were ravaged for the paper needed to work out that loss.  However, in its own way, it was brutal in its speed and efficiency.  My entire life changed on a dime, and kept changing, until i moved up here to Maine and my life began to transform for the better.  Helping, softening the blow, was the fact that marriage gave me some safety.  i had someone who could help pick up the slack, who could keep two people aloft financially.

small_5At the time, i wrote a hundred poems of love and gratitude, knowing what a gift that was.

Now, though the story is different.  There is no one to help around the house.  By the time i am done with a day of work, be it here or sitting in a gallery, i am too exhausted to do anything.  If you read these blogs, you’ll know that they have decreased incredibly in their frequency.  If you paid attention to my artistic output, you would know i have barely fired the kiln in months, and that is not just the shoulder prohibiting me from throwing.  The house i have on the market gives testimony to suffering, obvious to anyone who enters; the kitchen is in danger of becoming an EPA superfund site. Nearly every day, someone gives me advice – many to quit art, but many to pursue this gallery or that store.  Only, I am hoxed by exhaustion, able to follow up on a fraction of those leads.

None of my work, including the art, is getting a quarter of the focus it should because i am constantly struggling to keep my head above water. small_8 This is the heart of the problem when there is not enough strength or energy to meet every obligation: it causes increasing failure.  Like cash, energy is a limited currency – spending it on one thing means it will not be spent on another.  Harsh choices have to be made.  i devolve from someone who thought of herself as an artist, driven by the need to make art, to something different.  The art is still there, struggling, fighting its way out, but i am no longer what i thought i was.  The certainty and sense of purpose has dissolved.

Where there should be confidence and self-reliance, i am flooded with anxiety and depression.  This is a terrible little vortex.  The worse my art sales are, the worse my financial situation gets, the more insecure i feel, the less empowered i am to change things, the more the burdens of health and pain drive me further into despair.  Each part augments the next.  This is not intended as a whine so much as an expression of my current reality.  Moreover, i know deeply that this is my fault.  While i cannot control who buys art, i have made the wrong choices, trusted thsmall_9e wrong people and been generally unwise.

Responsibility falls on my shoulders.  And, whatever solutions there are to be had, will come from me as well. i keep praying, with such wild desperation that i’m sure the Divine is laughing at the melodrama by now, for art to save me. Tremendous and marvelous help has come my way, for which i have written another hundred poems of gratitude, but any lasting fixes will have to be through my own labor – if not through art, then through some other way.

So, i look about me, at this space i will have to leave, at the countless pieces of art i have made, at the words flowing from me and i know this configuration of my life is ending.  It is a goodbye, no matter where i end up or what joys may await me.  i am being taught not to cling to things – especially not how i perceive myself.  This is a lesson which i faced with such resistance, the universe had to treat me like a remedial student.

And, today, all i could feel was gratitude for everything.  These blessings i have experienced were beyond measure.  How many get to enjoy that singular sense of purpose and joy?  I was given this chance to throw myself into creating, day after day, for years on end.  Living in this community has been a wild and amazing blessing.  Finding the quiet and stillness that i have here in Maine transformed me.  So, that is what came out in my pastels – all of the blues became gratitude and dancing.

This thanksgiving is just as tangible and fierce as the drowning.  It keeps me aloft.  Gratitudes have become my own little floaties in the sea of life.  My life might be in the ugly stage, but i know from my art ugliness can lead to great beauty.

 

gifts by year

Thirty-five gave me happiness, a break from depression and anxiety for the first time. i would enjoy this for too short a spell, truthfully, but while i had it, the world was a delight.  i have never forgotten what it felt like – imagine Atlas having had the world flipped off his shoulders – and i have never stopped feeling grateful for the experience.

Thirty-six gave me a mustache.  Alas, i did not find an innner Frida Kahlo to celebrate it.

Thirty-seven told me there would be no children from this body.  But, it taught me i could survive such a loss.  Then, it let me seriously lose weight for the first time in my adult life.  (Sadly, i don’t know which year helped me find the weight again, or if i picked it back up a pound a week during the eight sets of seasons between then and now.)

Thirty-eight turned my life upside down, took the person that i thought i was and broke it like a stick over its knee, and gave me a divorce. In one swoop, it took away everything i thought i was. It handed me to thirty nine completely shattered, hollowed out, oozing pain, haphazardly held together with duct tape and twine, after having hastily slapped a crooked sticker over my chest, bearing a new name.

Thirty-nine taught me that people liked my art. It could sell! It let my pieces start their migration all over – fueled by farmers’ markets and art  shows here in Maine but spreading.  By the time i reached a new decade of my life, my art had traveled all over the US, Europe, Canada, Latin America and Asia.

Forty taught me that i knew nothing about running a business but could muddle through quite nicely with enough ignorance, zeal and hard work.  By that time i was also realizing a remarkable thing: i could live alone well.

Forty-one instructed me on relapses in health that could derail many plans.  Moreover, i discovered that the instability inherent in being an artist was squared by also being a sole-proprietor.  It made me wistful when i watched people who had families and spouses and kids helping them, even as it sparked wild gratitude for the ever widening network of friends i had found.  Mostly, it proved to me that i can be a stubborn cur.  Oh, and my first encounter with reading glasses taught me (as i stroked my mustache) that not all aspects of aging will be faced with sweet equanimity.

Forty-two showed me what lightening can do to a kiln.  That was a startling, hard lesson that lead to three more revelations: people can be unexpectedly kind, sometimes you have no choice but to ask for help even when you would rather die, and even when you are trying the hardest you can, you will still let people down.  It also taught me that people were unbelievably wonderful and shockingly dangerous, although that particular lesson spilled over into the next year.

Forty-three taught me that there was a give a damn, right in front of my heart, and that it could break. That was a liberating experience!  Finally, i could sit back and say to someone unpleasant the most basic truth: “You are being an ass, you are chronically an ass, and i don’t have to let anything you say bother me anymore.”  Oh, and it also schooled me in life as a blonde –  red started to go white, so my hair started to get blonder and blonder and blonder.

Forty-four.  Well.  Today is my last day at forty-four.  This has been a hard couple of years.  i have seen a decline in my health which has limited my opportunities, a rapid crash in my sales and my ability to make pottery, and a slowness to adapt to these changes.  But, i have learned the absolute depths of my stubborn commitment to making art.

So far, June and the first half of July have been the most tremendous, concentrated, miraculous, unpleasant, and uncomfortable awakening i have ever experienced.  While i knew my give-a-damn could break, i have been surprised at my resiliency in the face of its complete shattering. i discovered internal reserves of strength and confidence that i had only hoped existed previously. When i started to go down the desolate path of despair, outrage and stubbornness sprang up, keeping me from losing myself. With absolute shock, i learned i can  laugh at cruelty and defend myself without any second thoughts or guilt.  i am allowed to be angry, even when i actively hold myself back from being vengeful.  The tempered steel under these soft curves had not shown itself so obviously before.

i have learned that acting bravely can make up for a lot of fear, even if my hands cannot stop trembling.

Also, i have learned more about the word love.  Thankfully rid of the burden of doubt and constant questioning, i proved myself able to discern when love was true, meaning something so profound, a kindness so deep, that it changed the pitiless and variable world into a realm of unbelievable blessings, and when it was used as nothing but raw manipulation, empty and cruel syllables.  Experiencing the latter, my reaction gave testimony – the word love had no effect on me when grossly misused.

Even deeper, even more profound, i have the first kindling sparks of a fire burning within me.  June and July taught me that this life will truly and irrevocably be rendered useless unless i step up and start treating myself lovingly – even on the days of greatest despair and most debilitating anxiety. Even as my life again falls apart and once more i find myself forced to re-imagine nearly everything about my life.

Indeed, treating myself as a true beloved would treat me is even more important during intense suffering. There will always be people ready to kick you when you’re down, piss on your dreams, sparkle with joy at the pain they cause.  Protecting my spirit in the face of any unfounded criticism, unjustified cruelty and random mistreatment has become a part of being loving. If i would stand up for a friend, then i need to be that friend to myself.  i know who i am, good and bad; i realize i am constantly growing and changing.  If i don’t take care about the soil in which i take root, then i will start to take on smell of the crap thrown at me.

A knowledge deeper than any resolution came over me: i cannot allow anyone else to wear me down. i have to stop entertaining those messages, no matter their source.  If i must diminish myself to be with someone, then they are not someone to whom i should give any thought or time.  In response to that epiphany, a diamond formed around my soul, able to let light, truth and love through, remaining a great conduit for love and art flowing out, but suddenly becoming wondrously impervious to the abuse leveled at me. No comment, no insult, no hostility could touch the gifts God had given.  Oh, for one as thin-skinned and sensitive as me, who had spent forty-four years all too frequently eroding under the influence of other people’s energies and demands, that was the best birthday gift i could ever receive – the only diamond i would ever want.

Of course, i have to keep it intact.  Even diamonds have a flaw that can make them shatter, so i need to be protective of myself. Moreover, i have skills i still must learn: dealing with stress better, nourishing my faith, figuring out how to move forward boldly when my heart is screaming with fear, working through the grief of failure until i can see the rays of possibility.  When i backslide, when i grow sorrowful and lonely and pessimistic, ready to climb on the greased slide of self-loathing, i have to consciously choose to treat myself with kindness and compassion.  This morning, as i slumped out of bed trying to shake off agony-induced insomnia, i kept repeating to myself: remember, asha, everyone goes through periods of darkness. Everyone has bad mornings.  Ignoring it, recriminating yourself for it, will only give the mood more power.  Over and over i had to pull myself out of hopeless sorrow and bring myself back into the moment.

IMG_1912 (1)The last days of forty-four brought this glorious lesson: part of this continual evolution must include permission to consciously weigh my anchor in an ocean of peace and confidence; in the belief that what i am doing and who i am have value even when it is not immediately apparent; in the reality that change is the only constant – but that doesn’t have to mean a constant deconstruction, but rather it can be a story of amazing hope and growth.

So as i write today, still reeling from weariness and crisis, the sensation of this morning’s desperate pain lingering like a hangover, i have every reason to be eager to see what forty-five brings.