The Finger and The Moon

Ο

Coming back today after a swift dip into the Dark Side.  This time I was triggered by an encounter.  I knew I was being triggered, felt the color bleed out and a numbness spread into my limbs.  Under the fear and vulnerability, a part of my brain murmured, “Huh. This is different.”  There is almost never a direct cause and effect to my flavor of bipolar disorder.  Watching something specific set me off was a new experience (I think.  My memory is Swiss cheese, after all).

At the time, I was horrified that I’d gotten myself in a position to be triggered, hated that I got sucked into opening up to someone I wanted to trust.  But, I also sent out an SOS to my Posse, and started Doing the Work, as my friend, Lily, says.

Part of The Work was to separate the event from the subsequent bipolar episode.  It’s like remembering that the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.  If you stare at the finger, that’s all you see.  Moonlight glints off the nail bed. It can be hypnotizing.  I dealt with the finger and was required to turn and face the moon.  The moon is familiar.  I know how to look at it—I have tools to deal with lunacy.  And I know that patience and acceptance is the only way to get through the night.

Another part of the Work was to hold in my mind that I was successful in turning away from the finger.  My sad and flagellating brain berated me for looking at it in the first place, but I had plenty of other voices telling me otherwise.  My posse told me I was brave to take a chance and compassionate as I gazed at it.  I needed lots of help to keep turning away and remembering that the moon was the proper focus of my attention.

I went through some white-knuckle days, but kept reaching out to the people who love me.  That act alone can be so hard when your brain tells you it’s weak, wrong, bothersome.  Oh, the crap our brains can tell us!

Today, I am so grateful for my friends and family.  And I’m even grateful for the luminous moon.

If you’re familiar with the Buddhist teaching about the finger and the moon, forgive me for bastardizing it.  I needed a way to separate the event from the symptoms that followed.  This worked for me.

Gratitude Snapshot

Sitting at my desk, mellow and comfortably in the middle of my bipolar spectrum, Emmett’s tail touches my leg in a whisper.  Rhythmic, gentle, it asks for attention.  But his little bowl holds fresh food, so I wait, knowing my non-answer will send him to investigate.

Our communication is easier without Henry.  While I still miss my Companion, I give thanks for this time with Emmett—to offer him more and to open to his lessons.

There is only Today, this Moment—the quiet of a Sunday morning, the rumble of a train, a clock ticking, the faintest whiff of vinegar from my cleaning lady’s efforts.

The air conditioner kicks on.  Time to settle into a project for the day.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Stretching… A Little

Some of us are natural go-getters, some of us would rather binge-watch BBC detective series.  Most of us roam around on that spectrum, depending on the weather and available bags of Cheetos.

My sister and I decided to push against entropy by planning a few day trips before the heat and humidity drove us back to Netflix.  Last Friday, we toodled off to Robbers Cave.  We spent a pleasant hour driving through bright sunshine, moving deeper into pine forest, eyeballing new country, and nattering in our Wyatt Sister shorthand.

My sissy loves caves, rocks, stones, waterfalls, so we hoped to find some of these (a cave seemed a sure bet).  What we didn’t expect was the climb.

Our part of Oklahoma sits at the edge of the Ozark and San Bois mountains.  I’d call the terrain “foothills.”  But that was before I stepped up and really said, “Hello.”

The brochure for the park calls it “a favorite of rappellers and hikers.”  I guess we both thought that meant the Gift Shop and guided tours would be in a separate area.  However, when we found the parking lot for the cave and looked up at a trail that petered out into solid rock, we hitched up our britches and prepared to meet Nature face to face.

Between my sister’s vertigo and my bulk, we laughed our way over boulders in a drunken, grabbing-at-any-hand-hold pace.  After about an hour of that, hikers coming down told us the infamous Robbers Cave was actually on the other side of this mini-mountain and “wasn’t much to look at.”

That’s all we needed.

Proud of our foray into fresh air and green stuff, we hobbled back to the car and found Maw and Pa’s Country Cafe where our cheeseburgers felt well-earned.


And in spite of all our huffing and puffing, our elderly bodies didn’t complain much the next day, which I attribute to our weekly yoga class.  And the fact that neither of us fell down.

Next Month: Fayetteville, Arkansas where we hope to find more antiques and fewer boulders.

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.

Lonely

After seeing Avengers: Endgame on Friday, I’ve been profoundly moved.  I know it’s fan-girly, maybe bipolar, definitely grief.  I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that.  We all knew there was a Phase One in the Marvel-verse that was coming to an end with this movie.  It is superbly executed.

Something’s come to an end with me, too—some fracture in the way fantasy has soothed me in the past.  Pretend Boyfriends don’t call to me the way they used to.  Barely a whisper anymore.  And so rare.

It’s left me feeling lonely and hollow.

This song came up on my iPod yesterday as I worked in my art journal, trying to feel some connection to the other people at the coffee shop.  I played it on a loop until I could cry, until I could let myself feel all I was feeling.  I think Cap would understand.

Ω

It’s not your eyes
It’s not what you say
It’s not your laughter that gives you away
You’re just lonely
You’ve been lonely, too long
All your actin’
Your thin disguise
All your perfectly delivered lies
They don’t fool me
You’ve been lonely, too long
Let me in the wall, you’ve built around
And we can light a match and burn it down
Let me hold your hand and dance ’round and ’round the flame
In front of us
Dust to
You’ve held your head up
You’ve fought the fight
You bear the scars
You’ve done your time
Listen to me
You’ve been lonely, too long
Let me in the wall, you’ve built around
And we can light a match and burn them down
And let me hold your hand and dance ’round and ’round the flames
In front of us
Dust to dust
Ω

 

Moments of a Quiet Life

 

The Monotony and Solitude of a Quiet Life Stimulates the Creative Mind. — Albert Einstein

°

It’s been quiet inside and outside for a bit.  That’s always a gift.

In the space, I’ve been making a lot of cards.  I was called to make a sympathy card for my cousin’s son whose family just lost their dog.  It touched me so that I made more for my Etsy shop.  The words came from all the support and kindness given to me when Henry passed—especially from my friend Sue, who lost her cat, Lucky, last year.  She showed me the path I would be taking with my grief, and I wanted others to benefit.  I love this photo anyway, so I doubly love this card.

I started getting a drippy nose on Friday and thought a head cold was imminent, so I dragged my supplies into bed with me.  Of all the stuff I’ve done in bed (art-wise!), I’ve never made cards.  I keep so much STUFF to choose from, I thought it would be impossible.  But, it was good for me to get up and choose ribbon while pouring more grapefruit juice, wheel my paper box into the bedroom while soup irradiated in the microwave.  I made a dozen cards yesterday while flipping through one bad Netflix show after another.  And after a little fever spike and loading up on zinc, my cold seems to be gone.

I think this is An Oklahoma Gift.  In one of the shows I watched yesterday, someone said you either love the place you live or you don’t.  People who grow to love a place have just learned to ignore the things they still hate.

Is that a bad thing?  Does appreciation for the place where you’re planted have to be pure to be real?

In this quiet space, I can feel my gratitude for nine months without lung crud and the mild winter weather.  In the quiet, I can be thankful for lost cousins and reconnection.  I can use my hands and my stuff in different ways to touch others’ lives.

I’m on a Quiet Adventure.

The Top Sheet Rumble

I changed the sheets on my bed yesterday.  A mundane chore, but surreal without Henry.  He was the sheet-changing supervisor (he was the Everything Supervisor), laying on the yet-to-be stretched lumps, attacking the Bed Boogies that lurked beneath.  But his specialty was doing The Top Sheet Rumble.

As soon as the top sheet fell over him, his hind feet flew up, anticipating an attack.  A hand-like creature swooped in, targeting the exposed belly.  Claws and teeth ripped at the invader.  It retreated.  Henry scrambled under the sheet, waiting.  Fingers teased the hind-quarters, which were seized and shredded.  Another retreat (to suck on puncture wounds), then a deep drive to the belly that left the invader wide open to attack.

The Victor emerged quickly (he seemed to know when to stop by the wailing on the other side of the sheet), licked his lips and bounded off the bed to find other prey (usually Emmett).

I never minded the puncture wounds.  Hen lived by his wits in the wild until The Humane Society found him.  Stuck inside, he needed the exercise and the Hunt.  Poor Emmett was his usual target, but Em learned early on how to lay low and hide.  Henry loved to Rumble, and I learned how to keep my battle wounds to a minimum.

Changing the sheets will always bring Henry back to me.  It won’t ever be a chore.

Good-Bye, Henry

After suffering a stroke in the wee hours of Monday morning, Henry gave me the clear sign I’d asked for fourteen years ago when we first came home together. I promised him then that I’d pay attention and be brave when he gave that sign.

We spent our last night together on the bed so I could help him move and tell him stories about our life.

Now I’m sitting in the vet’s parking lot, our contract completed.

Thank you, Hen, for being my Person when I didn’t have a person.  Thank you (and Emmett) for giving me a reason to live when I didn’t want one. I am so grateful.

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