A Conversation in the Void

“Where have you been?” she asked him.

You left me, remember? Said it was easier.

His eyes were still kind, his voice still quiet.  But she couldn’t read him anymore. And she couldn’t believe she was trying to.  “Why are you back?”

His face shrugged. You called.

“I did not.”

Okay. You called out. So we came.

Startled, she peered into the dim behind him. Figures stood there, waiting. Figures she recognized.  “All of them?” she whispered.

He half-turned.  Most of us.

“It’s a mistake.”

One side of his mouth quirked up. Is it?

“I can’t do this again. It’s too hard.”

You’ve said that before.

“I do other things now. I don’t need you.”

How’s that working out?

“It’s the same story over and over.”

So, change the story.

“I’ve tried. It stays the same.”

Some parts. Not all of it.

“I don’t want to.”

Ah. He took a breath. You’ve said that before, too.

She pressed her hands against the sides of her head. “I don’t know what to do.”

Good. He smiled. That’s good. Maybe we can help. If you let us.

He raised his hands in surrender. Only if you want us to. No pressure. We’ll wait back here.

“I won’t be able to leave you alone if you stay.”

His kind eyes found hers. I know.

When There is Nothing to Be Done

Discomfort.

My mind is itchy, scabby, oozing where it’s scratched itself raw.

My body aches and pinches, the hollow parts filled with vinegar and steel wool.

Gravity increases.

Distraction telescopes out of reach, leaving only the rote movements.

My hands do them anyway, a prayer, a coax, a thing to do

when there is nothing to be done.

The Moment is Enough

Emmett has his own way of getting the day started.  He scuttles up to my pillow and whacks me in the face with his tail.  He’s not subtle, this second-fiddle cat who got promoted to Concert Master last December.  I consider myself trained.

From bedroom to kitchen in the gray, half-light, stiff joints find their rhythm.  The ritual of cat food alchemy and kitchen clean-up come from muscle memory, not any sort of gray matter function.  That, in itself, is a miracle.

It’s been a week since my new Medicare drug insurance ended the two month gap where I had no coverage.  I rationed three weeks of meds over those two months and learned, decisively, that Vyvanse helps the depressive part of my bipolar existence.  Without it, I made piles of my possessions in my mind with Sticky Notes of who should get them.  I slept a good part of the day and stayed in bed the rest.  All the hobgoblins nattered ugliness in my ear. I lived in a different sort of gray world.

With Vyvanse, windows of color open.  Joy slides in with the brush of Emmett’s tail and putting paint to paper.  A different ritual starts to reform—swimming, cafés, doing the next thing.  Gratitude resurfaces—for my weekly yoga class, for my steadfast sister, for the Salty Dog Ruccicino at the Erly Rush coffee drive-through.

A cardinal just flew across the parking lot—a blaze of color in the sunlight.  Limpy, the feral calico, prowls around the cars, waiting for opportunity.  Birds chirp.  Trains rumble.  The thought of getting a massage later in the morning creates a warm spot of anticipation.

In this moment, all is peaceful.  The moment is enough.

Wax On, Wax Off

Our little Art Journaling Round Robin group is still arting strong. The theme for the journal I’m working in this month is Tales from the Kitchen.  I figured this might be a stretch since I forsook (verily!) cooking many moons ago. (In fact, I should clear out all those thirty-year-old spices in my cupboard and make more paint storage. But I digress.)

How-some-ever, during that magical time between sleep and waking one morning, a path back to the kitchen presented itself through my family’s rinderwurst. This is a meat sludge made from the left-overs of butchering, a recipe known only to my Gram and never written down.

It sounds gross, but we considered it a special treat, layered on hot pancakes. As food is wont to do, this gray delicacy carries my family’s DNA in the muscle memory of helping turn the meat grinder, listening for the canning lids to pop, and digging in together around the big kitchen table.

So, I created A Genealogy of Rinderwurst, tracing the Sorta Sausage back to my German immigrant ancestors. I used bits from Gram’s journals (yes, she broke the Journaling trail for me) and indulged in a decades-old desire to try my hand at encaustics. The golden glow of liquified beeswax gave the spread even more vintage deliciousness and puddled nicely in the paper’s dips and hollows.

I loved hooking a disgusting bit of farm history to my cache of family pictures and being brave with a new medium. I love the outcome. And I am, once again, revitalized and grateful for my Round Robin group—Tanya, Lori, Carina & Cindy—the Art Angels on my shoulder.

Choosing to be Vulnerable…or Not


“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are
when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved
and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed
and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time…
Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world
but to unglove ourselves so that the door knob feels cold
and the car handle feels wet
and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being
soft and unrepeatable.”

 

~ Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Over the past several weeks, the concept of vulnerability and its importance to intimacy has followed me like a stalker.  At the same time, I heard from a friend about how sad and hurt she is over my silence and disconnect; I swore at my sister (via text) for the first time in my life; and I annoyed another close friend with my narcissism (my words, not hers).

I believe without a doubt that I’ve lost the ability to listen deeply to others.  Compassion and caring used to be important to me.  They were qualities I purposefully cultivated and practiced.  I believed in the power of kindness to change the world around me.  I have also felt that belief dribbling out of me over the past decade.  I’m easily annoyed and impatient with other people’s problems. I avoid social settings and leave when I feel my tolerance unraveling. Mental illness has made me guarded, judgmental and mean.

There’s a reason therapists caution against isolation—not just because human connection is vital to all forms of health, but because the mentally ill are already vulnerable, and making real connections with others requires us to risk being more vulnerable.  It’s too hard, too painful.  So much easier to barricade behind thicker and thicker walls, then complain about being lonely.

I can see the path I’m on leading to life as a hermitic sociopath.  Maybe I’ve binge-watched too much Dexter, but I can identify with his lack of empathy and complete self-absorption.

Then, Tara Brach, or my therapist, or an article in a magazine suggests an alternative path—to “unglove” as Mark Nepo puts it.  It’s painful and terrifying.  It seems like too much work that requires more courage, more bad-assery, more, more, more.  To be fair, Tara suggests gentleness and tiny acts of willingness.  I’m not being asked to tear down the walls, just look at them.  Or sit with my back against them and feel their warmth and strength.  Still, I don’t know that it’s worth it.

And I don’t know if I have a choice.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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