Blessed Assurance

These are the things that keep me going:

1.  An Etsy customer sent me this photo.

She said, “As you can see, I’ve discovered a way to set up your artwork in my apartment; I couldn’t have your cards just sitting in a shoebox in the closet. When I’ve sent out cards to friends and family, I simply replace them with something else fabulous from your shop. It’s a wonderful system; It helps me foster relationships through writing. And you should know, they always love them.”

Another customer said, “You are a warrior woman who is in Amazon training. I join you in your training and I fight the good fight as a secondary teacher who has seen enough of school shootings and is ready for both kids and teachers to feel and to be safe again at schools. Love your positive cards that pack a pint-sized punch. Going to keep some and share some with those in need of a pick me up.”

2.  Choosing to be Grateful

3. Subsonic Purrs. 

4. The moments, however fleeting, when a crack opens in my anger, or paranoia, or hopelessness, or wanting and something wise creeps in—something gentle, something breathable—that reminds me of who I am.

5.  Daily Confirmation of the Power of Art to Heal.  I trust the process completely now.  I sit with no ideas and in a few hours something remarkable creates itself.  No mistakes, no judgment, no hesitation, no Time.  It is Magic.  It is Grace.

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Part of the Village

This week I went to my grandnephew’s kindergarten graduation. There’s just all kinds of weird in that sentence alone. Children. Family. Social Event. Inclusion.

The school is K-12, laid out in a campus of what reminded me of Morton buildings—low-slung, metal barns. Here’s the south side of my sister as we make our way to the auditorium building

While I’m not one to follow the endless flow of depressing national news, I am invested in Oklahoma’s educational woes.  A January report in Education Weekly ranked Oklahoma schools 47th in the nation with teachers’ salaries ranked 49th.  Teachers went on strike in April, and while the state passed a bill to raise salaries slightly, it neglected to fund the bill.  It never addressed other issues like the lack of program funding and huge class sizes

Teachers are leaving the state like psychiatrists left Iowa, fed up with a system that cares very little about the end-user or those who provide for them.

Oktah, my grandnephews’ school, is considered better than average and receives a federal grant due to its number of low-income students. The superintendent, who spoke at Zane’s graduation ceremony, asked parents and friends to stay involved. More than ever, it seems, it takes a village.

So, I was verklempt, watching my one out of forty-eight kindergarteners dance, sing and use sign language to proclaim his new status.  So was my sister, the retired teacher.

I don’t know if I can help him or his older brother.  Volunteering has always ended up a bipolar casualty.  But I’m staying open to ways I might be part of that Village, even if it’s just being another grown-up (in closer proximity now) who will listen and answer their questions.

You never know the effect of just showing up. That’s something I can do.

Visit From An Old Friend

Early morning light streams over my left shoulder onto the unfinished art quilt in my lap. After a year, it’s graduated from the unwieldy three-foot hoop to a six-incher. Almost done, it whispers to me. This part. 

Missy Higgins croons quietly from the iPod.  Sometimes every inch is bruised, and there’s nothing you can do…

The cats snooze elsewhere, satisfied that nothing superviseable is happening.

One more swallow of chai left in my mug. My favorite mug.

There’s a strange word drifting in and out of my mental rear view mirror, gaining on me, slipping through the open window and settling into the shotgun seat.

Contentment

Yes. That’s it. An old friend gone missing for years, decades, maybe. She’s one of those friends I used to chase after, trying to coax her back, trying to remember what happened to put so much distance between us.

I gave up the chase long ago. I stopped chasing after all the Used To Be’s. All that wanting kept me stuck, kept me sick. Instead, I blessed what I held in my hands.

But, here she is, back for a visit. I’m too savvy now to hope she’ll stay long, but maybe she’ll come back again, now that she knows the way.

And when Henry nestles into his companionable niche against my side, I know how he feels.

Ignition

So long, Iowa.

Thanks for giving us eleven years of sanctuary and for teaching me how to live bipolar.

Next stop: Muskogee, Oklahoma.

Countdown to Muskogee . . .7

Last session with my therapist, Megan.

Tears and gratitude.

Countdown to Muskogee. . . 12

I waver over the line of leaving and arriving, trying to come back to today where they meet.  This David Whyte poem spoke to me before I even contemplated moving and became a part of the art journal that will be published in July.  I tore this spread apart three different times, trying to find my true connection to the poem and my authentic voice in it.  It was one of the first spreads I created in the journal and one of the last I finished.  It seems fitting—the struggle of leaving and arriving—to a place and to ourselves.

 

Countdown to Muskogee. . . 15

Last week I went to my old sanctuary—the Cinemark 20 in Jordan Creek Mall in Des Moines.  It was the first place I felt really safe when I moved from Minneapolis to Marshalltown.  Those years when I was so sick and ill equipped to deal with it, the hour-drive would start to ease my mind.  But it was the theater itself that gave me a place to rest.  Dark, contained, I could distract my conscious mind with the stories onscreen, the music, the beauty, the art.  Often I spent the day going from one movie to the next with no interference from the staff.  I stayed as long as I needed for my mind to settle or shift.

Jordan Creek started my bipolar education—to know for a fact that my moods would shift and to wait for it with less fear, to appreciate the need and use of distraction, to contemplate acceptance of this terrifying part of myself.

I sat in the newly remodeled lounger seats filled with gratitude for a place that held me when nothing else could.  Memories of movies experienced rolled between my fingers like prayer beads.  I said good-bye with love.

 

Countdown to Muskogee. . . 17

As a liberal Northerner, I have some preconceived beliefs about the South.  When I started looking at them, I realized I needed to bring all of the ugliness into the Light if I was to be happy there.  It was uncomfortable work.  I know enough about belief and selective perception that this work will be ongoing—to be mindful of looking for evidence that supports what I already believe and ignoring evidence to the contrary.  I want to be open to the beauty, the charm, the kindness and good manners of Oklahoma.  I want to love it there.

So, the Work begins.

I Wasn’t Cut Out to Be a Cheerleader

After tumbling around for a couple of months in the worst my bipolarity can offer, I resolved to set aside all thought, expectation, plans and hope of moving.  It would happen in its own time (in months, maybe, or even a year), but until then I needed to reengage with my life instead of living with one foot out the door.  The stretch of that cheerleader’s pose had strained my brain into a constant trembling.  Mental-muscle exhaustion.

I could feel the eminence of a raging relapse on the horizon.  I had to do more than Wait.  So, I made appointments with my therapist, reinstated my Y membership, asked my cleaning lady to postpone her scheduled attack on my Moving Out Cleaning List.  I asked my friends on dates, opening doors that I’d almost closed.

Armed with a new Plan, I slid my foot back inside the door of my life as it is, not what it might become.  I slept a little better.  My capacity seemed a little deeper.

And, of course, yesterday my sister called to say the Move is On.  The tenant I’m replacing is being evicted, and the townhouse could be ready for me as soon as mid-April.

handmade cards, collage artHowever, my new-found footing kept me from spinning at this news.  I’m sorry for whatever reason this woman must be expelled from her home.  I send my heart out to her, hoping she can find a better home, hoping she has support and help to transplant her to a place that is loving and absent of fear.  I also refuse to take note of that “mid-April” business.  It’s just an invitation to more brain-splits, and I’m not having it.

Worried, my sister wanted to know how I was taking this news.  I said I’d just do the next thing (scan and email her all the documentation required), then eat supper.  And if it falls through, that’s fine, because I’m on terra firma.

As I was scanning and emailing last night, I checked my In Box to find a new message from Art Journaling Magazine.  My journal passed muster, and I’ve been invited to write a 700-800 word article about it.  As one of the artists featured in that (as yet unknown) issue, I’ll be part of a forum where we’re asked questions like: How did you get started in art journaling?  What’s your favorite way to fill empty spaces on a journal page? How would you describe your style?

I had to laugh.  If there’s anything I believe in, it’s synchronisity.  In finding my balance and feeling my agitation and anxiety abate, I became ready for The Next Thing.  And after all my years of struggling to be a published writer, it comes to me now on the wings of an art form I love more dearly than writing.

The Universe is a perverse and whimsical partner.  But, I’m much better at dancing with It than I am at cheerleading.

Saying Good-Bye Well: Part 2

Today was my last appointment with my therapist, Megan.  Last week I had my last visit with my nurse practitioner, Sarah.  There’s been a lot of blubbing (as the BBC might say), and not all on my side of the couch.

I thought I would be a mess.  These two women saved my life many times over.  They taught me how to be bipolar and still function in the world.  When they set up their clinic almost three years ago, they created a sanctuary for me where I was always welcome to hang out with my art supplies.  They are the most professional care providers I’ve ever had.  And I know, without a doubt, that they love me.

I know, too, that their consistency is the reason I can leave them.  I take everything they’ve taught me, their humor, and their open-heartedness with me.  I will be fine, whoever I find in Muskogee to be my therapist.  It will be a new relationship enriched by the healthy, positive ones I had with Megan and Sarah.

Today, the three of us ate lunch in Sarah’s office, laughing and leaking tears in equal measure.  I know this sounds horrid, but their distress lifted me up.   I’ve been struggling with all the uncertainty of this move—not knowing when it will happen, making lists I can’t act on.  Today’s loving closure gave me a much-needed sense of a job well done.  I drove home feeling lighter than I had in weeks.

In her card to me, Megan wrote in part:

I am a better person and a better provider because of the things I have learned in our work together.  You are super fucking awesome, and I will miss you tremendously.

Sarah wrote:

“In a world of ordinary mortals, you are a wonder woman.” —Queen Hippolyta (Wonder Woman’s mom).  I will miss you dearly.

I am so grateful to have had them on My Adventure.

The Birchwood Team. Megan—back row, second from left. Sarah—front row, in the chair

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