Holding Teesha

Last week I learned that Teesha Moore, the art journalist who organized ArtFest last spring, suffered a stroke while undergoing emergency surgery.

It was a thrill for me to meet her last year after using her rubber stamps and collage sheets for years, and to get life-changing advice from her artist-husband, Tracy, about how to embrace art journaling—Keep it Simple.

I knew I needed to spend time holding Teesha in my heart, sending positive and healing juju just like the thousands of other artists who love and respect her and Tracy.  To do that I needed a focus, so I pulled out every scrap of “Teesha Stuff” I had—stamps, collage sheets, ‘zines, postcards, sticky notes, pictures from Artfest—and started a spread in my journal.

Her work is so fanciful, full of life and color—image layered on image, altered figures, funky lettering. But Teesha is also a Seeker, her artistic path cuts through a spiritual landscape.  She inspires many beginning and veteran artists with words of encouragement and a directive to go deep.

It was a joyous five days of altering her altered images, recombining them in my own way, paying homage while holding her gently in love and gratitude.

I knew I would send a copy of the pages to Teesha once I was done.  I wanted her to see her own creations speaking back to her, encouraging her, reminding her of the deep, creative core that disaster and disability could never touch.

She is a remarkable woman.  I have no doubt that with the support and love of her husband and girls, she will rise and recreate her life.

Wonder Teesha.

Reset

It’s Week 2 of the latest Bronchitis Bout.  Like bipolar disorder, there’s really nothing new about getting month-long lung crud.  It happens.

Sorta amazing, really, this blasé acceptance of whatever the day brings.  I’m not always this cool, but it’s such a gift when I can be.  Seems to me I was raging right up to the point of chills and fever.

A physical shock often resets my bipolar rheostats.  Two weeks ago, I was text-wailing at my friend Lily, taking offense wherever I could find it, and wrestling paranoid thoughts to the mat.  Today, I did laundry and cleaned up cat barf with nary an emotion in sight.

Except a little glee.  I started a goofy spread in my art journal based on something I cut out of an old magazine years ago: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”  I worked on this one little piece while my laundry tumbled, and it just made me happy.

Sorta amazing, really.

Fury Road

I woke up this morning feeling like—as my friend, Lily, so delicately puts it—dog shit on the bottom of God’s shoe.  Also, furious.  But I pulled on my swimsuit, intending to take it out in the water.  Except I was 90 minutes early.

Fury boiled.

I raced to the nearest salon.  “Can someone cut my hair right now?”

“Yes!” the hapless pixie piped.  “And today all haircuts are $10!”

“Great.  Shave it all off.  I can’t stand it another second.  I’m tired of trying to look like something.”

She did.

And I left feeling like my outside finally matched my inside.  Furious.  And the closest I’ll ever come to looking like Charlize Theron.

Furious helps.  Furious brings the Bad-Ass, which is now in full display.

I roared off to misbehave and brought home two bags full of art supplies. Now we’ll see what fury can really do.

ψ

Muttering

mousy-ladiesI’ve stalled out in a mixed-state depression.  It’s nothing new, not even very noteworthy, but I’m always surprised by how it changes everything.  My perception becomes bleak and twisted, my body slow and creaky.  I miscommunicate and send mixed messages, because every part of my brain is mixed.  I’m confused and confusing.

Depression with rage is so uncomfortable, and so isolating.  I hate everyone.  Or am scared of them.  Ancient resentments and regrets rise up like specters out of unholy ground.  This is the part of my bipolarly existence that sees a life as a hermit as the only option.

I have a couple of mantras during these times:

Keep Your Mouth Shut

It Will Shift Soon

Just Wait

pretty-magazinesSo, I’m muttering mantras.  And looking at pretty magazines.

temp-poldark-poster2And watching Poldark.

 

 

 

And making art.

making-art

 

Lots of art.

Convergence

Events Conspire

Paths Converge

We may Choose to Ignore Them

But, What’s the Fun in That?

It all started with butt boils.

Take a part of the human body rich in adipose tissue, add pressure and heat (as in sitting for long periods of time), and that body part will revolt—or become revolting.  Enough on that matter.

diggingNext came a therapy session where we connected the dots between trauma and food as my drug of choice.  Since my diagnosis of Binge Eating Disorder, I’d set down my shame and guilt about being a Woman of Substance.  I’d become kinder, more accepting of my body.  But there we were, dredging up all that business, and I found myself disappearing.  My hands and feet went numb; a rushing sound filled my head; I seemed to leave my body and drift somewhere behind and above it.

Later, I learned what I’d always called this “shutting down” was technically dissociation—an altered state of consciousness that can include depersonalization, sensory and psychological numbing, disengagement, and amnesia.  Most people experience mild forms of detachment, like daydreaming while driving and losing a bit of time.  The more pathological end of the spectrum ends up Sybil-like with fragmentation of the personality.  It’s a coping mechanism—a way to keep the psyche safe when under attack, whether that attack is real or imagined.

Clearly, I had more work to do with this.  Or, as Megan reminded me, not.  I always have choices, and she is not the variety of therapist who requires excavation of Hurtful Things.

bed-rageSoon after, as I sorted my old blog posts into potential book categories, I marveled at how I once worked so very hard at controlling my eating, how I celebrated small victories and believed I made tiny changes in my behavior.  And then I always gave up, as my endgame of losing weight could never be reached.  I started to wonder if I could ever push gently against the binge eating, if I could find a way to work with it like I’d found ways to work with bipolar disorder—gently, with acceptance and kindness, while still holding the worst symptoms accountable.  I had no idea how that might look, but I opened to the possibility instead of shutting myself away from it.

On my way to Orly Avineri’s workshop in Taos, I started reading Foolsgold by Susan Wooldridge.  In her introduction she says:

I began writing these pages when I decided to make a small collage box each day for a year with what I found on my walks—often the most ordinary, seemingly worthless bits of nothing.  That’s when fool’s gold became foolsgold for me, a field around us, or state of being, where everything can be transformed by our seeing and creativity.  Merged into one word, “foolsgold” describes a paradox, the value in what may seem to be worthless.  Foolsgold reminds us to look beyond appearances, even in ourselves.  What seems to loom in us most darkly may finally be what brings the most light. Everything can be transmuted by attention, play, love.

walkabout-coverI used to walk a lot, then stopped as it wasn’t getting me to the destination I wanted.  If I had some different motivation to walk, like looking for art fodder along the way, I might be able to do it.  I let that idea sit in my hindbrain as I got my self to Taos.

One afternoon, Orly showed us a small art journal her nephew made.  An environmental crusader, all his art is made up of junk with space for sketches and ruminations.  Orly’s nephew had no concern for style, or balance, or making things look pretty.  His art was raw and powerful.  And very simple.

I can do that, I thought.  And as that realization settled in, my body demanded it.

It took a few weeks once I got home to jumpstart idea to action.  But now I have my WalkAbout journal, and every few days I set out with my big zip lock bag and find my material for the day.

hospice-walkChange, even good change, can be stressful.  My rapid cycling has been spinning like a hamster wheel.  Some days the amount of trash among the trees and berms disgusts and weakens me.  I tell myself I can’t go out among all that thoughtlessness again.  But the hamster wheel keeps spinning, and I tie on my purple trainers.  After a couple of weeks of this, I’m learning to wait for fodder to signal me—light on shiny foil, strange lumps, a flash of color in the dunny weeds.  It gets easier and easier.  As does the art that comes after.

tama-wingMy butt likes that I’m moving more.  I make my WalkAbout pages in the evening when my binge eating is most bothersome.

I’m still on an Adventure.

What to Remember When Waking

sculpture1In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

orlys-class

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

circle

 

 

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

moms-passport1

 

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

—David Whyte

Foolsgold

img_1298Travel rarely goes as expected. All the pre-planning, list-ticking, and worst-case-scenario pondering can’t foresee the unforeseeable.

Case in point:

Denver had a little weather yesterday. Just a little. Snow flurries and a bit of ice. Air traffic control asked our flight out of Des Moines to sit tight while they took care of that. Subsequently, I had 10 minutes to get from one end of the Denver airport to the other to catch my connection to Albuquerque.

In an understandably heightened state, I thought I heard the flight attendant say all checked baggage would be taken to their planes. I had to check my bag at the gate, so I thought I was safe to bolt and run as fast as my fat little legs could go without causing a heart attack.

I actually pushed people out of my way, and I think I trampled a small child. Think Rogue elephant in a pink sweatshirt.

image

But I got to the tiny commuter plane, squeezed my ass into a seat clearly built for anorexics, and tried to catch my breath.

Wait a minute. My bag doesn’t have my flight info on it. How will they know where to take it?

So I uncorked from the seat, asked the pimply flight attendant who sent me back to the gatekeeper.

Back over the icy, narrow gangplank, down an slippery ramp, I gaze into the face of “No Fucks Given Here.”

No, my bag won’t be transferred. No, I don’t have time to get it.  Get someone to give a fuck in Albuquerque.

Okay, I thought, squeezing across the rickety gangplank, I’ve managed worse.  I can do this. If all else fails, I show up at the workshop empty-handed and live in the same clothes for five days. No biggie.

To keep my mind from stewing, I started a wonderful book on creativity by Susan Wooldridge called Foolsgold. In it she talks about a time in her life when her father died and her marriage broke up.

foolsgold

By the creek just now, lost and stuck, I feel like dropping everything once again.  What’s the use?  I tell myself.  Why keep trying so hard?

Listening to the water, I watch the creek and drift with it.  I lie back in the grass with my feet in the water.    A seed-laden stem curves over my face…A bird lands above a grapevine…Floating, letting go, “out of my mind'” I begin to notice what’s around me…

Suddenly I can’t remember what’s wrong.  Clearly my life is blessed.

In Albuquerque I found someone who gave quite a few fucks. My bag arrived on the next plane.  At Budget Rental, A Scotsman named Gil drained my weariness by calling me “lassie” and singing the rental agreement with his tumbling “rrrr”s and fat, round vowels.

I drove north out of Albuquerque as dusk turned the mountains into indigo shadows.

“Hello, West,” I said, dipping my mental feet into its current.

Clearly my life is blessed.

Ready to Fly – Almost

em-taos-bagTomorrow I take off for a three-day art workshop in Taos.  I met the artist, Orly Avineri, at ArtFest last year and fell in love with her spiritual ways.  We’re going to do strange and wonderful things to old passports.

I’m ready for a change of pace, change of scenery, change of mind.  I can’t wait to get in my rental car in Albuquerque and hit new roads in a beautiful part of the country.  I can’t wait to see what an AirBNB private suite will provide Taos-style.  I can’t wait to be with artful folk.  Inspiration wafts in the air like bread rising in the oven.

Asleep in the Sun16My friend, Sue, will reprise her role as Cat Whisperer.  Now that Henry is in his dotage, I need her gentle cat ways to keep from worrying about his finicky bowels and time away from him when there’s not that much time left.  Emmett, as always, will be fine under the bed linens where he feels safest.

img_1318I’m grateful to have had several days in a row of fine mental weather—I’ve gotten so much done.  Like work on my book.

Once I’m done sorting the first draft I can see what it is.  Is there a heart?  Is there a through-line?  I’m absolutely great with not knowing.  It will come.  It always does.

img_1314So, in a calm and clear state of mind, I’m taking precautions as I haven’t flown since my assignation with Richard Armitage in London three years ago.  I’m chewing a couple of Airborne with my morning Shakeology immunity-booster smoothies.  Religiously.

But the cootie-infested air on a plane laughs at such feeble measures.  I am healthy and well will be my whistling-past-the-graveyard mantra as I squirt hand sanitizer in a pentagram around my seat.

Whatever.  It will be worth any bug or virus.

Adventures always are.

Catching Up

the-captive

After almost three weeks of Clear, Calm Mind, weeks when I made art with quiet joy and dug into the second draft of my book about being bipolar, weeks when decisions made themselves; after weeks when the Dark Times of last autumn faded, the inevitable shift came.

northern-exposureFirst, just a melancholia set in as I  watched the last season of Northern Exposure (like getting weepy over Hallmark commercials).  Mopping up with Kleenex, I would have called myself hormonal if I still had any Girl Parts.  But after the final episode, I felt bereft.  I’d binge-watched all six seasons of the show, and now it was over.  I have a bad feeling about this, my Inner Han Solo muttered.

Later that day, I shut down during therapy.  We hit something big, and it blew all the circuits.  My therapist talked and all I could hear was the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons (Wah-wah-wah).

lala2Yesterday I met my friend at the theater to see LaLa Land and cried through the whole thing.  Not that I was paying attention to what was on the screen.

It takes me a bit to catch up with the shift.  I have to find a little spot of compassion and mindfulness where I can change gears.  What do I need?  What do I have to take care of and what can wait?  I will stay home today and do art at my table instead of going to church and the Writing as a Spiritual Practice group that I love.  I can make this decision without guilt or self-loathing.  It’s what needs to be today.

Tomorrow I will focus on preparing my apartment for the new bed-bug prevention regiment.  There’s a lot to do—vacuum, get everything off the floor, pull the furniture away from the walls.  I don’t quite understand what will be done, some kind of silicon mist, so I need to get as much stuff under cover as I can.  Then, on Tuesday, the cats and I will camp out at friends all day while this procedure takes place.  I’m not sure what kind of clean-up will be required once we get back.  All I know is that I can’t vacuum for three days.

no-need-to-hurryStuff like this is stressful on my best day.  I had found a rhythm with the quarterly bug-sniffing dog’s visits, but I guess Radar wasn’t as accurate as advertised.  Now management has decided on this annual preventative hoo-haw instead.  It’s so disruptive and worrisome.

So, I breathe and try to turn my thinking.  I don’t have bedbugs, but if my neighbors do, I’m at risk.  So this is a good thing.  Proactive.  And only once a year.  I can do this.

And if it’s all I do this week, it will be enough.

Is It Soup Yet?

whisper-of-vomit

Sometimes I wonder if it’s time to take this blog off the stove.

I don’t really have much more to say about my experience of bipolar disorder.  I’ve spewed.  I’ve wallowed.  I’ve raged.  I’ve picked up shiny objects along the path and given them a look-see.  I’ve made lots and lots of Plans.  I’ve fought hard and surrendered.  I’ve changed my tune as often as my mood.

i-am-largeThere’s no end-point, no resolution, no Ah-Ha Moment or Happily Ever After.  For me, now, there’s just the daily practice of being me and trying to accept whatever shows up out of the bipolar soup.  There’s still pain and confusion, but also moments of soft contentment.  I struggle every day with relationships, but so does everyone else on the planet.  Periods of suicidal thinking will rise and fall as will my ability to function in the outer world.  So be it.

Still.

New stuff keeps surfacing out of this tepid bouillabaisse.  Since my therapist and I started working with my PTSD symptoms, my internal weather seems different.  The barometric pressure of trauma feels different from that of rapid cycling.  Free-floating fear now follows a pattern.  Opening the windows to let in fresh air turned out to be much less horrific than I’d imagined.  And I have new tools.  Gotta love new tools.

vocabulary-ninjaAside from writing about my practice of mental illness, I’ve posted enough fan-fiction to satisfy my ego.  Yes, I am a writer.  Yes, I can craft a decent story.  I don’t need to prove anything anymore.  Like Popeye, I yam what I yam.

Still.

I will take these six years of blog posts and rewrite them into a book of essays that I’ll self-publish sometime this year. Writing is still important to me—not just communicating, but crafting a sentence, weaving a metaphor, developing a thought.  Is the challenge to go deeper?  Is there a story in acceptance as well as agony?  If I stopped blogging, would I search as hard for balance?  Do I need this blog to keep me on the Path?

woohooAnd then there’s the art.  Illustrating posts with my cards and collages still lights up my ego.  I can feel it light up—all bloat and gas—and wait for the comments to roll in.

Still.

Sometimes, a piece holds more therapy than ego.  It carries a different flavor, adds savory and smoke.  It blends with the words to create a richer meaning for me.  I’m not sure ego ever disappears, but when words and art blend in this way, my ego gets quieter.  And when the ego shuts up, all kinds of doors can open.  This magic happens in my art journal.  I’m not sure it translates here.

Almost every blogger I’ve read comes to this crossroad—continue or stop, take a break or refocus.  I need to hold these questions gently and keep showing up while they simmer.  Because no matter what…

I’m on an Adventure.

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