Party Assemblage

Plans are coming together for my Callinda Celebration Party on April 21.  I’ve reserved the community room in our apartment complex, made and sent the invitations.  Just when I was ready to raid my little savings account (the start of a new car fund) in order to cater the food, Mom offered to pay for everything.  What a wonderful gift!  I fully intended to celebrate in style, not put out a bowl of M&Ms and cheap punch, which is what I can afford.  I wanted to celebrate life now, not wait a decade when I may or may not be able to buy a car.  Get fear out of the way and miracles happen.

Now I’m in the process of making the party favors.  I wanted to create a little piece of art for everyone to take away with them, so I printed out quotes from the book and made a little platform for them.  This involves sewing fabric onto cardboard (yes, I had to learn how to sew again), lots of paint, stamping, embossing, beading, funky fabrics, sequins, fibers and the accompanying glues, tapes and tools.  I’m taking this:

And turning it into this:

I can only do three or four a day (sewing into cardboard, even with a thimble, is a little rough on the fingers), but in the meantime I can attend to other party details.  Like ordering an alien-looking, Zen floral arrangement for the table, and washing up the glass service party trays from my mom’s basement (and a recent find at a local thrift store).

Assemblage is a study in details—one more layer, one more bead, one more texture.  I’m hoping my party will hum with subtext and delight the eye.  The overriding theme is joy, and I can hear the laughter already.

Why I Love Marshalltown

We’ve had our first real snow accumulation over the past week.  Here’s what the neighbor kitty-corner from me did with it.

This is the corner of a pretty busy street, so it’s even more fun to watch people stop and hold up traffic to take a gander.  Folks park and get out to talk to him while he’s working.  A very humble, shy guy who’s not quite comfortable with all the attention.

Ahh!  Now the day care gaggle from the Lutheran church up the street is gathered around King Kong taking pictures.  This is just too cute!

What I love even more than the art or the public’s reaction is that the artist is Hispanic—a much-maligned minority in our White Bread town.  HeeHeeHee.

Count the Blessings

I’ve been down with an intestinal flu the last couple of days.  Nothing to do but watch movies, drink ginger ale and ponder the year that’s about to end.  But pondering can be a dangerous exercise, especially when I’m sick and in the middle of an episode.  I’ve learned it’s never a good idea to give too much attention to the thoughts that swirl up then.  Too much darkness, too much regret, too much grief.  So instead, I’ll focus on a few of the blessings 2011 brought me.

A place to sell my art cards.  My last visit at The Perfect Setting was disappointing compared to all the other times I’ve sold my cards there.  Pam, the owner, placed another employee in charge of the greeting cards.  This person pulled a couple of mine as “inappropriate”.  It seems she and I don’t share the same sense of humor.  So, Pam bought only half of the bunch I brought in this time instead of all of them.

Even though I know better, I took it very personally.  I know every shop has to make careful selection and cater to the clientele, but it surprised me since Pam always seemed to love everything I brought in.  Every artist has to tailor their work to fit the market—I know and understand this.  It just caught me on a very bad day, and I haven’t been able to sit at my studio table since.

This isn’t sounding much like gratitude.  But I am extremely grateful to Pam for taking a chance with my work.  She hung my weird collages even though no one in Marshalltown will ever buy them.  She bought all my cards, even when her other employees raised eyebrows.  She let me be the square peg in the town’s round hole—no one else here has ever done that for me.  Yes, I’m grateful.  And eventually, I’ll start making more of the cards that the town will accept—along with a few naughty ones.

Healing.  This year I learned how to manage without psychotropic medication.  I developed my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training guidelines.  I graduated from the Silver Sneakers water exercise class to the deep water, high-powered, water aerobics class.  I pushed the envelope of my reading disability and actually finished eleven whole books this year.  I’m learning how to be a woman alone without being lonely all the time.  I’ve moved past my fear of cooking and can now fix supper for myself every night.  I’ve started again on the weight loss journey, losing 12 pounds since my visit with the allergist at the beginning of December.

It’s an important practice to remember all the healing this year brought, all the hard work and dedication I put into it.  The illness always grabs center stage.  The loss of Will, the scrambled routine, the swamping thoughts tear down self-worth and confidence.  It’s so easy to see only failure.  So, remembering the success and joy play a vital part in bringing reality back to true.

Saying Good-bye to my dad on my terms.  I am deeply grateful that I was able to spend so much time with my dad in his final days and participate in his funeral in a meaningful way.  It was a gift.  Just as easily, my illness might have flared like it did this past Christmas, incapacitating me and keeping me from any human interaction.  Frankly, I expected to be a nut case during my dad’s rituals, and the stress did eventually cause an episode.  But I was fully there when I most wanted to be.  A miracle.  A prayer answered.

These are just a few of the gifts the Heart of the Universe placed in my lap this year.  What treasures did you receive?


The last few days have been pure delight.  No insurmountable agonies of any kind.  No hardships and no complaints.  My writing and art are both deliciously satisfying.  I can hold the relationships in my life lightly and feel no barbs or hooks.  I’m dedicated to my healthy eating changes and see results.  My arm and shoulder are getting stronger, my stamina returning to pre-surgery levels.  In this place and time, life is good.

I am grateful for this gift, this breather between episodes, this chance to erect new structures that might help me carry healthy habits through the darker times.  I’ve joined T.O.P.S., even though I dissed it after my first meeting.  I realized I need the support and accountability as I try to lose weight.  It’s a little goofy—more like a church sewing bee than a weight loss group—but I’m good with goofy.  It’s one anchor I can cling to when the dark waters roll back in.

A little while back, I read Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project.  While I agree with her that there are changes we all can make to become more content and joyful in our lives, I also know that bipolar disorder can negate all that hard work.  Happiness is sometimes just a gift from the Universe.  All we have to do is open our arms to it and say thank you.

Thank You.

Feeding the Magpie

To keep myself entertained while I heal from surgery, I thought I’d use some of the images I’ve gleaned from magazines to make a new batch of cards.

I’ve cut out stuff all my life—pictures, maps, headlines, graphics.  Like a magpie, I’m attracted to shiny bits and faces.  I remember keeping a folder or envelope full of paper scraps as far back as fourth grade.  And, yes, I still have some of those gleans.

I used to hold on tight to my collections, not wanting to use up the precious friends I’d gathered around me.  But, these days I use what I collect.  This past spring I finally made a collage of the Spock/Leonard Nimoy images I’d been hoarding since I was eleven.  It felt wonderful to finally put those pieces together and create something new and meaningful to me.

My philosophy on hoarding has changed completely over the past few years.  I buy something at a garage sale because I intend to use it, not keep it in a pretty dish.  Why not use the best, the funniest, the cleverest bits I have to make the best pieces I can?  What’s the point in holding on to primo material if it just sits in a folder?  Plus, the more great stuff I use, the more great stuff I can collect to take its place.  The Law of Abundance, baby.

Digging through my junk and the thousands of words and images I’ve clipped makes me very happy—like running my fingers through gold coins.  So, while I’m laid up, I can cackle to my heart’s content and spin those treasures into art.  Here are a few of the cards I’ve made to keep my magpie happy while I heal.

Bipolar Bad-Ass Training, Revised—Part 2

The area I revised most in my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training after reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, was in Securing Down Time.  Rubin’s book showed me there’s lots more I might be doing to Fill My Well between battles.

I always loved the idea of Artists’ Dates, a practice Julia Cameron promotes as part of The Artists’ Way.  It’s a date with yourself, taken alone, to indulge your artistic and playful side.  It might be a trip to the zoo, if you love animals, or a stroll through a beautiful garden, or wandering through a toy store to find a box of 64 crayons just like the one you had when you were eight years old.

I’d gotten out of the habit of taking an Artist Date, and my playtime had gotten noticeably grim.  I go to movies, but only if I can smuggle in a can of pop from home to save money.  I go to Barnes and Noble, but only to read the art and crafting magazines, never to buy one.  My life has become governed by my checking account balance.

So, I’m determined to find new ways to tickle my fancy and get the creative juices flowing.  One thing I want to do is read more poetry.  I love poetry, but have never sought it out.  This weekend I checked out a collection by Mary Oliver.  It’s breathtaking and sumptuous.  Why didn’t I think of this before?

Another quest is to read more children’s literature.  Since reading is difficult for me, Kidlit ought to be a bit easier and, therefore, more enjoyable.  I’ve started a list to take with me to the library—The Golden Compass and books by Elizabeth Enright and E.L. Konisberg.  I’m actually looking forward to reading these books instead of dreading a task that’s “good for me.”

As a person of bipolar persuasion, cheerfulness can be suspect.  Glee is just downright symptomatic.  So, I’ve grown accustom to tamping down any giddiness just as I’ve learned to throw a net under feelings of melancholy and pensiveness.  The result is that I don’t foster cheerfulness, which is just not a way I want to live.  I want to laugh more, even if its only between episodes.  So, I need to hit websites like I Can Has Cheeseburgers and hang out more with my friends Matt and Jeff—sure-fire ways to laugh until I choke.  I need to celebrate my good days between episodes, share them, revel in them, create some kind of goofy tradition to mark those too-few moments.  I’m still noodling on that one.

Another thing that Fills My Well is being outdoors, but I hardly spend any time there at all.  I used to take walks in the old town cemetery and drive out to the corn and bean fields around town, but haven’t in a long time.  This past Labor Day I went to a big park and ate lunch in the sunshine.  I knew it was good for me, but I was depressed at the time and only felt lonely, which soured me on trying again.  I need to find new places outside to claim as my own, maybe places where I can sketch, or take walks—something.

What Fills Your Well will be different from what fills mine.  I hope you take a moment today to consider what would trip your trigger.  What kinds of things did you like when you were a kid?  What did you love to do?  Could you try those things on again?  Are there things you’d like to try if only…?  What’s stopping you?  And if the answer to that is being bipolar or in other ways challenged with mental illness, think again.  It might not be the barrier you think it is.  It might be something you can hop over on your way to glee.

Independent Suspension

Last week I started reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  I wasn’t impressed at first—I thought she made a “project” out of life changes that seemed like common sense.  But, I respected all the research she did, gathering information from all sorts of sources from philosophers to cutting-edge science.  So, I kept reading, and now I’m enjoying the book a lot.

One bit of data she revealed seemed huge to me.  Researchers found that happiness and sadness are not two ends of a spectrum.  They are independent feeling states that rise and fall in no relation to each other.  So, increasing one’s happiness doesn’t guarantee less sadness, and battling sadness will not generate more happiness.

I think this is an especially important differentiation for those of us with bipolar disorder.  We can’t just focus on getting happy or eliminating our suffering.  We have to do both.

Rubin crafted a personal formula for happiness based on this research.  She said, “To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth.”  For her this meant increasing the amount of joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, gratitude, intimacy and friendship while also decreasing the occurences of guilt, remorse, shame, anger, envy, boredom, and irritation.

The formula includes “feeling right,” which addresses the sense of living one’s authentic life and also doing what needs to be done.  And all this activity takes place in “an atmosphere of growth”—stretching, striving, learning and expanding.

I like it.  If it’s not quite Bipolar Badass Training, it’s another way to take charge of our lives instead of living as victims of our mental illness.  I intend to finish this book, and then look at how to craft my own Happiness Project.  I’ll keep you posted.

For more information on the project, the book and Rubin’s other work, visit her blog.  Or to read excerpts of The Happiness Projectclick here.

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 29

Miles and miles of art and craft supplies.


30 Days of Gratitude: Day 24

I’m always on the look-out for goofy or oddball vintage photos when I hit the antique stores and garage sales.  Many times they’re the centerpiece of my greeting cards and collages.  So, I need a reliable, knowledgeable and reasonably priced copy shop.  Luckily, I have MinuteMan.  Just a few blocks from my apartment, the gals at MinuteMan have come to know me and my desires.  They keep quality cardstock on hand and can size my color photos perfectly.  They’re also great fun.  If other customers come in, we always get them to yuck it up with us.  It’s a happy-making place.

Here’s a little scientific research on the benefit of cultivating gratitude care of Dr. Daniel Amen.

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 14

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting around our kitchen table on the farm, the family eating and talking, when one of us would say something that contained a song lyric.  Suddenly, my mom would burst into song with that fragment as a prompt.  We’d all groan and laugh, but it was a great bit and something all the women in our family continue.

My mom, my sister and I all love to sing.  We joined choruses and choirs, sang solos for events, and generally use any excuse to warble.  My friend, Deb, also has a gorgeous voice.  When she and I get together, we crank up the volume to operatic proportions and caterwaul until the walls tremble.  And there’s just nothing as satisfying or as life-affirming for me as driving down a country road, harmonizing with my old rock ‘n’ roll favorites.  I can belt it out with Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt on a good day.

Singing is energy.  It’s light and love pouring out of my body and into the Universe.  It’s health and delight.  It grounds me.  It’s who I am.

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