Goal Reached: Master Level

Today I’m sending a finished journal to Art Journaling Magazine.  This is a goal I set for myself last year—to create a journal to their specifications, send it in, and see if my work is publishable.

It’s taken seven months to complete, which is about twice as long as it usually takes me to fill a journal.  That’s because it pushed my envelope like silly putty.

The book itself was a beautifully crafted, handmade journal with pages of mulberry paper that I bought a long time ago and never used.  Mulberry paper is handmade, wispy with lots of long fibers.  Pretty, but hard to write on.  I had to Frankenstein it to make the pages semi-workable, and then I added scraps of watercolor paper with the noble intention of doing a lot of my own drawing and sketching.  Not only did that not happen, it just added to the bulk and weirdness of the pages.

As per publishing requirements, a submitted journal must not use copyrighted material in the artwork (which means no Pretend Boyfriends, evocative National Geographic images or current advertising—basically, everything in my arting arsenal).

Sorry, Boys

 

 

 

 

 

 

I struggled with this monster for months, and then the binding broke.  Suddenly I could breathe.

I started journaling differently, using my words as design instead of Great Thoughts that needed to be preserved.  I wrote over previous entries, then wrote over them again.  I wrote on napkins and tissue paper that made the words practically disappear when glued to a painted page.  When written over and over with different pens, different colors, the background takes on a lovely Serial Killer vibe.  Mixed with the right images and some cheesecloth scrap, I found a whole new way of evoking Crazy (my favorite topic).

I’d go to antique malls and use whatever I found.  Mixed with a few scraps of my own, I could still tickle myself and make pages with hats.  Putting hats on critters just makes my day.

I found these girls and a deck of Slap Jack when I visited my sister over Christmas.  I made this spread while I was there, and it’s still one of my favorites.

I sent along a query letter with several proposals for articles—about how hard this was, about art journaling as therapy, about shifting from Writer to Artist, and the thoughts and techniques that went into some of the spreads.  I covered all my bases.  And if the good folks at Stampington and Company send my journal back with a “Thanks, but no thanks” note, I’ll still be satisfied.  I met a Big Goal.  I stretched as an artist.  It’s ALL good.

 

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To Boldly Go

Split infinitive.

You’d think Gene Roddenberry would have known better.

Still, Bill Shatner could Shakespearize anything, even bad grammar.

But I digress.

Boldly going, I’m moving to Oklahoma.

My sister and I started talking about it when I visited her there over Christmas.  We let it sit a while to see if it was just holiday cheer and wishful thinking, then decided the plan had legs.  What really put shoes on those legs, though, was my brother’s offer to support me enough to live somewhere other than subsidized housing.

It’s been a shock, really, to be given this unconditional support, to know that my siblings are with me, to come to understand that I am not alone.  We didn’t grow up this way, you see.  Grand generosity was never our family’s forté.  Small gifts, yes.  Limited support with strings, yes. Pull up your big girl panties and stand on your own two feet lectures, yes.  This level of largess requires a complete brain dump and reboot.  What I thought I knew as truth isn’t.

I’m also struggling with the urge to hide in my apartment until it’s time to move.  I can feel myself disengaging from my life here, from both difficult and delightful relationships, from the activities that fill this life.  All the reasons I want and need to leave this place rear up like trained elephants, trumpeting and rolling wild eyes at me.

But I have a trip to Taos at the end of February, to make art with friends and breathe in the mountains of the West.  I want to enjoy that trip.  And I know I will need time afterward for my brain to do what it does with change and stress.  It will be well into spring before I leave this little apartment that I’ve worked so hard to make into a Nest.  I need to stay present and grounded in now, take care of my friendships, do the work in front of me each day.

In the meantime, my sister is in High Research Mode, talking to her realtor friends and sussing out neighborhoods.  In a month or so, she’ll start looking at places for me to rent.  She has my Must Have list (I have several lists going—that’s one way to keep the Greener Pastures Gremlins from taking over).

Transition is always a challenge, as is stress.  Even good stress.  So, while I do the work in front of me, I must also Do My Work.  Be kind, gentle and generous with myself.  Allow the terrified elephants a chance to walk on four feet and sing themselves to sleep.

Because (all together now), I’m on an Adventure.

A Letter To My Brain

Do shut up.

Really.

Take your digs and snide innuendos elsewhere.

That goes for the roaring in the night as well.

Let me have a bit of peace, will you?

I know you can’t help it, but this macabre droning on and on is quite wearing.  And when I happen to wrench my attention away from your chuntering, with a bit of art or a movie, I can still see you out the corner of my eye, scribbling away in the corner, tallying up a new list of nearly plausible miseries, waiting for the chance to whisper them in my ear with your dog-sour breath.

Perhaps you need a hobby.  Archery ought to be right up your alley.  Or maybe a part-time job in Guantanamo.  Something to do with all your spare time.  I realize you think I’m your full-time responsibility, but a little vacation wouldn’t be amiss.  Visit Chernobyl.  Get a tan.

And even the creative blabber is getting old.  One cannot follow eleven creative impulses at a time no matter how fascinating or expensive.

Do you ever stop to breathe?  Let’s do that now, shall we?  Just stop, sit up from that predatory slouch, and take in a nice deep breath.  There now.  And while you’re doing that I’ll just step out the door….

Cycling

Cycling into and out of deep depression over the last couple of days.

Open the Toolbox.   Stay away from people.  Cancel everything.  Pull art supplies and cats into the Nest.  Keep As Time Goes By running on the DVD player.

Wait.

 

 

 

It’s Not Real

This morning’s art journal spread.

(Click on the image and it will get big enough to read)

Doilies and Flickers in the Dark

Our Social Justice Minister, Erin Gingrich, asked me to participate in her service a couple of weeks ago.  Her topic was “Hope Rekindled,” and she’d heard enough of my story to think some version of it might add something “powerful.”

I loved crafting a speech to fit the theme and metaphors we chose—visions of high school speech competitions made me smile as I worked.  Even better was the opportunity to pull out parts of my story that could be told in an uplifting way.  I wasn’t nervous that Sunday, just honored.

The third member of our service team that day, Martha Shen, crocheted a huge doily for Erin some time ago.  She included a poem with her gift that became our service’s central theme.

a single strand

masterfully intertwined

whose beauty is defined

as much by the empty spaces

as by the strand itself.

 

Here’s my Reflection.  If you’d like to hear Erin’s homily, you can click here.

Hedgehog

There comes a point, after being physically and mentally sick for several months, that I can feel choice starting to return.  It doesn’t happen all at once, and it’s not always real.  I get nudged by shame, or a little belch of hypomania propels me, or an invitation seems less daunting.  I feel like a hedgehog, unrolling from a hibernation ball all spiny and prickly, testing the temperature and taste of the air.  The urge to stay rolled up, safe and warm, takes a long time to fade.

I’ve gone through this process so many times now, learned to be kinder and gentler with myself, practiced my coping skills until they are second nature.  Still, reengaging takes enormous effort—starting over at the pool, making a coffee date with a friend, accepting my minister’s offer to tell my story at church.  As soon as I start to move out, I retreat—back to the warm den of my bedroom where I cut paper and listen to the extended extras on The Hobbit DVDs.  They keep me company enough, the voices of actors and production crew.  Sitting on my bed doesn’t make my arthritic knee ache or start a fit of coughing.  I’m content enough.

And I know reengagement is required.  I know my body needs to move more.  I know I must go out in the real sunshine.  I know there’s a different kind of healing in looking into real people’s eyes and listening to voices who wait for my response.

I know.  I’m just not there yet.

Trust

Trust is completely paradoxical:

The thing with which to begin when

you have nothing.

The end point, which

somehow you must find first.

The smallest of present moments,

measured haltingly into a past.

Both question and answer, when every

word of your acquaintance has fled.

You think the arc of the horizon

should split, one side jaggedly askew,

one forever gone.

The horizon doesn’t split.

Its edges remain.

You think the ocean should dry to sand because

all the tears it held, you have used up.

You have stolen water even from the clouds.

But the ocean is not dried, nor the clouds

gone, though you have cried them both,

multiplied, and more.

You rub your eyes that grains still ripen,

plums turn blue, still the moon increases.

You thought all of this was gone.

Such is the unimaginable you have lived.

You thought everything was gone.

But,

without your doing, the world is fashioned

in this way: moments

become other moments; steps

lead somewhere; all things breathe,

even without remembering.

One day, after a very long time,

without rubbing your eyes you see

the arc of the horizon still

an arc; the ocean, full.

And you are not betrayed, but glad.

♦ Nancy Shaffer ~ Instructions in Joy

Waiting

Out-Out Patient Care at my mental health clinic came with pluses and minuses, like everything in life.  Was it better than going through a hospital program?  I think so.  Maybe.  It gave structure to my day, a safe place to be, no red tape or ridiculous bureaucracy, no crazy-making group therapy.  It also left me too much alone, no program except what I brought with me—my art supplies, a book about mindful depression that I never read, worksheets from my therapist on dialectic behavioral skills that irritated me in their simplicity.  Mostly, it was a different way to wait out the storm, which is really the most important skill in dealing with bipolar disorder.

I’m not right.  Not yet.  I still feel disconnected, separated from the rest of the world by a transparent, sound-muffling barrier.  People seem alien and unappealing.  The nightmares still come.  Agitation keeps me fidgeting between making my Solstice cards, playing Farm Heroes Saga or Cookie Jam on my phone, and jumping in my car to stalk the perfect binge food.  I’m not done with bronchitis, either, which adds another layer of weariness and self-pity.

So, more waiting.  And accepting each day as it comes.  Today I will do laundry, sort letters cut out of magazines, give my cats treats, watch Fringe on my bed with a cup of squash soup, sew beads.
 
And I will wait.

Out-Out Patient

Triggered by a traumatic event a few weeks ago, bipolar depression brought its bags and settled in for a long visit.  This past week I started going to my therapists’ clinic every morning to break up depression’s momentum and build my own form of Out-Patient Care.  I arranged the little alcove they set aside for me—a folding screen and white noise machine to make the patients in neighboring offices feel safe in their privacy plus the high table and chairs.  I brought in my art supplies and a large cushion to sit on the floor, and went about filling the tall, gray walls with words and colors that I needed.  But that wasn’t enough.

Yesterday, my therapist and I discussed how to create a real program that would help me tolerate this depression without resorting to hospital out-patient care.  I find the hospital programs themselves to be helpful, but interacting in the large group model difficult to the point of undoing any good done there.  So here’s what we’re trying first:

My daily schedule will be from 8:30-1:30, five days a week.  Daily, I will work on DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) worksheets dealing with tolerating distress, read one of Megan’s many children’s books and journal about it, and make art—either for the space or in my journal.

I feel a lot of dread and the usual suicidal litany gallops through my mind.  I’m uncomfortable and scattered.  My calendar empties out as I can’t tolerate most people or the pressure of going somewhere at a designated time.  But I did ask a friend to lunch yesterday, even though I phased out after twenty minutes.  Concentration doesn’t last long.

At home, I’ve put my TV in the bedroom, so the cats and I camp out on the bed as I try to work on my Solstice cards while half-listening to my go-to depression binge, Fringe (I just started Season Three).

I’ve also returned to Pinterest, where I can look at pretty pictures and hoard new photos of my Pretend Boyfriends.

Later today, I hope to go see the new Murder on the Orient Express and do my laundry.  That feels like a lot in my current condition, but I’ll try.  It’s really all I can ever do, keep trying, keep looking for new ways to get through the worst of the illness while waiting for the shift to come.

Some days it doesn’t seem like much of a life.  The distorted thinking makes that view darker and more hopeless.  Even then, I can see my courage at work, even when the list of obstacles grows like a Bugs Bunny nightmare.

This is my life.  Mine.  For better or worse.

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