I Deserve to be Loved

My secrets come out in my art—songs I long to have sung to me.

I’m dying for the lack of it.

A Year in Oklahoma

I try to follow a couple of rules with this blog—tell the truth and wait for the gift before posting.  When those are in conflict (the “truth” can be darn ugly when my bipolarness is in the Black), I tend to keep quiet.  As Dr. Phil’s dad told him once, “Never miss a chance to keep your mouth shut.”  A dear friend reminded me that I’ve been quiet a long time, so I’m here today with my truth and my gifts, such as they are.

It’s a perfect day in Oklahoma—sunny, 72 degrees bound for 81, a gentle breeze.  I will have been here a year this week— my willingness to accept and adapt, my participation in the world around me, and the focus of my life have gone through as many rollercoaster rides as my moods.  Today I am content and grateful for the gentle weather, the Work, and the projects that put art in the center of my life.  Here’s what I’m working on now.

I bought a $2 book at my favorite antique mall for the quotes, then tore the rest of the pages out to make background papers for cards and whatever else might need funky paper.  This is my kitchen counter this morning.

Right now, my studio table is putting together three new Libra cards.  I’ve loved the beading work on this one.  And I can look out the window at my “Rock Garden” and the first doo-dad planted there—a peace pole that says “Be a Steward of the Earth” (a reminder for me to get out and pick up trash).

 

In my bedroom, I’m thrilled with the utility cart I got from Dick Blick.  Everything within reach when I camp out on the bed with Emmett and the latest Netflix binge.  Rolling the cart around still freaks Emmett out, but he freaks easily (A moth got inside recently, which sent him into a frenzy).

Right now I’m working on my spread in our Art Journal Round Robin.  Our group decided to do another round, and the theme for the journal I have now is “Make Me a Garden.”  I had a bunch of tiny portraits, so I’m happily crafting flower hats for them—lilies, Japanese poppies (it tickles me to have Japanese TV characters for these), roses, a bunch of pansies (all men with glasses, though that was not a conscious connection.  It’s weird how my brain works sometimes), a clutch of hydrangea girls and a few oddballs.  I can’t wait to place them in a garden.

I’m also in the process of making my new series of Month cards.  They are more involved and layered with tons of collage elements.  Starting next week, the Civic Center will be hosting an arts/crafts event every first Saturday of the month through October.  I’ll be part of the Muskogee Art Guild’s booth, and I wanted something new mixed in with the other cards I make.  It will be fun to keep a month ahead, adding these cards to my inventory.

I’m also getting my last deck of playing cards ready to become bases for new Penny Positives.  It’s grunt work—covering them with gesso, adding paint, maybe a little design, and a sort of “trademark” to the back.  But, I like how they turn out, so it’s all worth it.

As I mentioned, arting is the center of my life now.  It keeps me from thinking.  I never would have believed that thinking might be something to avoid.  My intelligence was valued and praised as I was growing up, so I strived to be smart.  I discovered this year that thinking can lead me down a dark path where I focus and ruminate on feelings until they turn into truth.  This is the year I learned to get out of my head whenever I could and let my hands do my thinking for me.  I’ve learned that makes for a much more peaceful existence.

I’m 61 and still discovering on this Adventure.  Thank goodness.

 

 

Saved, Forgotten, Found

Pray for Peace

Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekhina, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.

Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work.
On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus,
for everyone riding buses all over the world.
Drop some silver and pray.

Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.

To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray.
Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.

Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.

Making love, of course, is already prayer.
Skin, and open mouths worshipping that skin,
the fragile cases we are poured into.

If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.

When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:
less harm, less harm, less harm.

And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard
with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas–

With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.

Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.

Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your VISA card. Scoop your holy water
from the gutter. Gnaw your crust.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.

—Ellen Bass 

(thank you, Carol)

In the Gray

I’ve shared this journal spread a couple other places, so I’m sorry if its old news.  But this is where I am—in the Gray of disconnect and apathy.  Gray doesn’t carry the anguish or hopelessness of The Black.  It’s colorless and adrift, lonely while being intolerant of companionship, and capable of being distracted without too much effort.

I Don’t Care is the name of a restaurant here in Muskogee (as in “Where do you want to eat?”  Answer: “I don’t care.”). I think it’s a horrible name for a place of business, but it suits me as an anthem right now.  Maybe I do care a lot, and it’s easier to say I don’t.  I’d have to expend too much energy to dig out the truth of it.  Just doesn’t seem worth the effort.

So, I will pass time.  Mark time.  Exist.  Hard to tell in the mist.

Taking Scarlett’s Advice

Not my best day.  Putting on my Scarlett drapery gown.

A Slow Leak

Over the past couple of months, I’ve noticed an ongoing shift in my mental weather.  It’s subtle, quiet, not alarming or uncomfortable.  I can only describe it as a slow leak of caring.  I’m not interested in much beyond making my bits of art and maintaining creature comforts.  This I attributed to lung crud overlapping Henry-grief.  It seemed pretty normal to me, and not worth fussing about.

And it’s not completely new.  I go through cycles of pulling back, detaching, giving the Hermit full reign.  In the past, those cycles included some kind of mental anguish or agitation.  Not so now.  I’m curiously uninterested in friends or family, untroubled by minor annoyances.

So, I confessed to my therapist yesterday in the spirit of full disclosure.  And, I think, to make sure nothing else might be going on.  She agreed that sickness and grief were probably in play, and that I was correct in taking it in stride.  Although, she did ask for my promise to call her if thoughts of suicide became a daily occurrence.  That seemed a bit drastic, but Sonya doesn’t know me that well yet, so her caution and concern are actually quite endearing.  I promised.

Today will be another spent on my bed with art supplies, Emmett, and the fifth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation keeping me company (This was the season Michelle Forbes joined the cast as Ensign Ro Laren—Michelle Forbes who stars with Richard Armitage in Epix’s Berlin Station and who seems to be his current amour.  Seven Degrees of Star Trek.).

I will be content, unaffected by other people or the world.  It seems a little weird, but I’m not complaining.i

Walk-About

Last Sunday, I took my first neighborhood walk.  I’ve wanted to get out there ever since summer went away, but the excuses… oh the excuses.  Somehow, last Sunday, the bright sun and mild temperatures snuck past all the barriers.  I laced up my purple tennies, stuffed a collection bag in my pocket and went.

My creaky knee complained, but it always complains, so I kept a slow pace.  I sorta had to—my exercise regimen since moving to Muskogee boils down to Old Lady Yoga once a week and maybe a few pool laps once or twice a month.  My old rhythm is gone and a new one hasn’t presented itself, so I’m pushing when I can.  I want to enjoy this place, and getting outside this winter will move my pendulum in that direction.

Leaving Edmond Street, I took Kimberlea Drive.  Traveling east from my duplex toward the country club, the neighborhood perked up—larger homes, sturdier fences, dogs with holiday attire.  I wondered if I’d find enough refuse and biologicals to revive my Walk-About Journal. Is street trash in moderately upscale Muskogee different from a park in Des Moines or the woods near Toledo? This was my mission.

The neighborhood felt familiar—with a few exceptions.  I get this a lot—a sort of Twilight Zone slippage of the space-time continuum—Braums instead of Dairy Queen, Sooners instead of Hawkeyes.  I wonder what cultural cues I’m missing.  My cousin in Tulsa kindly informed me of the real meaning of “bless your heart” (which conveys nothing beatific).  The part of my brain that wrestled with Russian and Vietnamese keeps lighting up.  No wonder I’m so tired.

Once I made it to the golf course, I hobbled to a bench, stretched my grumbling back, and turned my face to the sun.  A whiff of breeze on the waterway, a rustle of fallen leaves. Oh, yeah.  This was the Reason for the Season—to be in a quiet place smelling of sky.  This would be worth the body moans to come.

On my way back, I reminded myself to be present, to notice more detail—the wheat color of the grass, the young couple walking toward me in shorts and tee-shirts, the beauty of a lost Christmas ornament.

And then home again, to be greeted by my Gateway Guardians—Fu Dog, who came with me from Minnesota, and Guillermo the Goat, a recent hire.  I love the entrance to my home, tucked in the back corner of the complex.  My Guardians and a glass bowl full of crystals and stones I’ve managed to keep over the years welcome me with color and meaning.

Inside, I unloaded my foraging finds into soapy water and dug out the appropriate journals.  Some of the biologicals would make nice additions to my little Zen of Mental Illness journal.  The other refuse waited until after Christmas.

As always, Christmas triggered my bipolarness.  It is one thing about this unpredictable condition that I can count on.

I cared for myself the best I could, then tried not to take the whole weepy/distorted thinking/exhaustion personally.  Distraction is key, so before I visited my therapist on Wednesday, I camped at my favorite coffee shop and made trash art gleaned from my walk.  It tickled me, and that’s always the first step back.  One foot after the other, continuing on The Adventure.

Once Again, Thankful

I love my blog.  I never came here to do anything except tell my story—whatever that might mean.  I never expected to find deep connections.  I never expected to touch so many lives.  Or to be touched by so many.  The only conditions I placed on my posts were to tell the truth and to wait long enough to know what the truth might be in a given situation.

Keeping this space for almost eight years means it has also become my memory.  Electroshock not only eliminated 2006 and 2007, but continues to burn holes in the process that changes short-term into long-term memory.  I stopped fussing about that long ago.  Being forced to live in the Now is a pretty decent way to live.

As I think about making some sort of journal/tribute for Henry, though, I mourn all the stories I’ve forgotten, all the little details, the ways he, Emmett and I became a family.  So, when I sit down to write about him, I start with what I notice now.  This morning I wrote about how quiet the house is without him.  That thought led to another and another, stitching together fragments of memories into a surprising string of delight and appreciation.

And I come to my blog, where Henry’s stories remain clear and available.  I took more pictures of the cats so I could illustrate those stories.  How grateful I am to have this reliquary!  Who knew how smart I was in 2011 to fiddle around with WordPress?

As Emmett and I rearrange ourselves around and within the space that was Henry, I’ll keep coming here to share our truths.  Today, Emmett is soaking up the morning sun in the Alpha chair.  When I came home from yoga (noticing the silence instead of Henry’s irritated greeting), and saw Emmett basking, I took pictures.  This is an important moment for him, for us, for our life now.

The sun and the silence.  And the Adventure Continues.

(This song by the Wailin Jennys has always felt like Henry to me—his energy, his personality—so I share him with you in a slightly different way.)

A Marker

I think I know something.  I think I feel something happening.  But, I can’t trust what I think or feel.  So I write it here to plant a marker.  Later, I can come back to this marker to learn the truth of it.  Maybe.

Maybe there is no truth, just the shifting sands of perception.  Maybe it’s best to let go of the idea of truth and simply breathe.

Yet, my mind wants to take note.  To point its finger.  To take a picture for its scrapbook.

So, I comply.

I think it takes more effort to leave my home.  Going outside, in the world, does not appeal to me.  I make plans—to join my sister’s family for Thanksgiving, to swim, to see a movie—and when the moment comes, I stay.  Being out in the world has always been hard work, a constant push against my neurodiversity.  Some days are easier than others.  Some days the barrier between in and out seems thin.  I can tell myself that I’ll be glad when I’m there, which has been accurate most of the time.  It is accurate less and less now.

When I am on my bed, with the cats sleeping between the piles of a project, with an episode of Friends or a Netflix movie running, I am content.  I laugh out loud and blink tears like any other human being.  I make beautiful and interesting things that create wonder in me.

When I am out, I am aware of how hard I am working.  I feel the effort of making conversation, the strain of blocking noise and triggers.  I’m not sure its worth the effort anymore.

Isolation is a symptom.  Every mental health caregiver in my life told me to fight against it.  What if I don’t?

What if I don’t?

My Anti-Hate Campaign…

…Or Training Myself to Grow Where I’m Planted.

In the wilting swamp of summer, with depression and agitation kicking up a Pig Pen Black Cloud, I found myself hating Oklahoma.  What I gained by moving seemed minuscule compared to what I’d lost.

Thankfully, I’ve done this work long enough to know I was not seeing the whole picture. I needed clarity.  I needed objectivity.  I needed to turn the Bipolar Bus around.

So, I started my Anti-Hate Campaign.

I pulled out a blank journal and started making A Plan—to be specific, to separate my “hates” into piles, and to brainstorm ideas on how to make changes.  I approached this journal like any other, painting and collaging the pages with care, using colors I love, letting the art of the process lead me.  Loving the journal itself encouraged me to pick it up and tackle the next phase.

I found that most of the “hates” I labeled unmanageable carried some seed of change, either in my perception or in a sideways action.  The state’s poverty and poor education system overwhelmed me, so I noodled about becoming more informed about specific problems.  I subscribed to the Tulsa World and looked for speaker forums to attend.  As other ideas come, into the journal they go.

The cooler weather brought all kinds of physical and mental relief.  I came back to ideas I’d had in April about making my duplex into a place of sanctuary and inspiration.  I rearranged my sitting room, painted and hung a screen door to be used as an Idea/Celebration Board, and found the perfect, Feng Shui-enhancing poster of Wonder Woman.

Outside, I asked permission to create a rock garden between the edge of my cement patio and the privacy wall.  I spent a satisfying day leveling ground and hauling rock, then sitting in my sister’s borrowed patio chair to enjoy the breeze and my handiwork.  Artful doo-dads and whirligigs will be added in due time.

Because of my journal and texts with my friend, Cheryl, I realized that hating where I live is just another bipolar symptom.  Anger, agitation and loathing rise up and attach themselves to whatever is handy.  An unfamiliar, uncomfortable place is a perfect target.  As I continue to do this Work of shifting perception and turning toward joy, I will learn to recognize that symptom sooner and take steps to be gentle with it.

And I will feel my roots growing deeper into Oklahoma’s red earth.

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