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.

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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.

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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

Breathing with my Fingers

As my current bipolar season continues, I’m ever so grateful for this new tool of Art Journaling.  Since there are several stages to creating a spread, I can always find some piece that will fit my state of mind.  Whether it’s pulling images out of my stash for the collage bits:

Civil War Spread

 

Or finding new ways to use text:

Air Spread

 

Or slipping into a Zen state while making boarders and lines:

Into the Storm Spread

 

Or trying out a new tool, like this very fine tipped Pilot marker:

Eyeballs

 

I can camp out at my coffee shop with my journal and let my illness be.

Megan, my therapist, said I’m not fighting it anymore, and that feels true.  It seems to be getting easier to accept whatever my illness brings—the quicksilver changes in mood, the sudden shifts in functionality.  Those things aren’t good or bad anymore.  They’re just me.

I still try to stuff myself into a “normal” sausage casing sometimes, expecting to move around in the world the way other people do.  But, as I sit with my journal, with all the space it creates in my head, I’ve started to unhook from those expectations and get curious about how I might move differently in the world.

Today, for example, I looked at how I keep trying to make commitments (like being on a committee or taking a class) when my illness makes that nearly impossible.  At some point, when my symptoms become severe, I’m forced to drop everything.  So, instead of continuing to bash myself over the head for being “unreliable,” perhaps there’s another way.  Maybe it’s a matter of showing up when I’m able.  I know the world doesn’t work this way, but I do, and I would like to honor that more.

More acceptance.  More integration.  That seems to be a by-product of all this artsy-fartsy stuff.  I’m breathing more with my fingers, slipping into meditation with color and line.  It’s a new kind of Practice.

I’ve come to a place with my art that I found a while ago with my writing—loving the mistakes and crap as much as anything that “turns out.”  The Shitty First Drafts and the Muddled Attempts are my best teachers.  They point me to the next piece of Practice.  They’re the ones who taught me to accept it all—my writing, my art and, of course, my bipolar disorder.

Funny how that all comes together.

I’m on a Funny Adventure.

Coming Out

In my art bagJournaling in coffee shops is a big part of my MO.  It’s how I push the worst of the internal pain and distortion to my margins.  It’s how I remember who I am.  Journaling is vital for me.  It’s medicine.

Now that I’ve embraced art journaling, I needed to figure out how to make it mobile, how to make it as easy as my old $1 spiral notebooks used to be.  Some folks I met at ArtFest do their page set-ups at home and only journal out in public.  Some take a few art supplies.  Tracy likes to have people stop and talk about his journaling.  He even invites them to add to it.  Teesha wants to be left alone.

I put together a bag of supplies and launched.  It helped that our local coffee shop closed for a couple of days and reopened under new management—Georgina, a sassy, gregarious New Zealander who is bent on upgrading the food quality and increasing the friendly factor.  It seemed an auspicious start—new art form and new digs.

Lion Spread

Since I’ve journaled in public for years, I’m used to the odd personal inquiry.  I don’t get bothered much, but if folks see me as a regular with pen and notebook, eventually they ask what I’m writing.  I’m happy to share.  It’s also a chance to advocate as a person with mental illness.  Almost to a person, they are or know of someone with mental illness.  Conversation ensues.  Stigma weakens.  This is my superpower.

I’m finding that art journaling is a more open invitation.  First it was the coffee shop staff—mostly college and very young adults—who seemed drawn to my booth like fluttery moths to a flame.  They were fascinated, almost giddy, and inordinately proud that I did this weird thing in their coffee shop.  I’ve become a kind of celebrity with my little bottle of matte medium and magazine gleans.  They introduce me to their families.  They give me muffins fresh from the ovens.  It’s so sweet, and totally baffling.

Failed Michael

It’s much more visual, this art journaling thing.  My crap is spread out on the table and hard to miss.  Other caffeinators wander by and stop to find out what it’s all about.  And I’m happy to share.

These last few weeks have been rough, mental health-wise.  The Bad Thoughts never stop, and reality is a little hard to recognize.  When it starts to drag me under, I take a deep breath and go glue something or spread paint.  It helps.

girl on fireIn one of my buying frenzies, I ordered some old art ‘zines from Teesha Moore, the wonderful art journalist who organized ArtFest.  I figured there’d be lots of stuff to glean and pretty pictures to soothe my Brain-On-Fire (which would be my Hunger Games name).

In one of the zines from 2007, Teesha wrote an article about how she created an art journal page.  The more I read, the angrier I got.  She had lots of Do’s and Don’ts, particularly Don’t ever, under any circumstance, just cut a picture out and glue it to the page without altering it.  And then there was an endless list of art supplies—types of paints and pens, markers and pastels—all with their own Do’s and Don’ts.

I thought, no wonder I could never do this.  Complete intimidation.  In my righteous indignation, I created a FuckYou,ThankYou,Teesha spread in my journal.  Part defiance, part homage, I used some of Teesha’s techniques and a lot of swear words.  And it is glorious.

FYTeesha

Anger can light a fire under creativity.  It can conquer Defeat.  It can pound a fence post in the ground and say, This is as far as you get to push me.

A Brain-on-Fire can be terrifying and it can be an open door.  With May being Mental Health Awareness month, I’m happy to share.

 

Integration

IntegrationTwo weeks since I returned from my cross-country sojourn, and I still can’t find the words.  But, that’s never stopped me.  Words come.  They tumble down the nerve bundles from brain to fingertip and hit the keyboard all by their lonesome.  My mistake is in thinking I have to go looking for them.

A small part of taking this trip was curiosity.  ArtFest, my destination of record, was a gathering of art journalers.  I’ve tried art journaling in the past, even made my own journals, but it never stuck.  I journal—a fast, Artists Way kind of brain dump that vomits everything onto the page as fast as possible—and I make collage art—a multi-step process that can take days or months.

Could I find a way to combine the two forms?  I went to Port Townsend without a need to make it happen, just a willingness to keep an open mind and play with fun toys.

The question followed me from that creative crucible, down through the Redwoods, and into a conversation with my friend, Robert.  That’s the thing about people of a Buddhist persuasion—if there’s a question lurking in the back of your psyche, they’ll winkle it out of you, one way or the other.

So, in the course of our conversation, I blurted out that my real Work was to Be Me—to be in the world as mindfully as I could, to use all my parts (nefarious, broken or skilled), to accept them all, and just show up.

I almost looked around the coffee shop to see who was talking.  Words tumbled out of my mouth, prompted by nerve bundles attached to a question tucked in my gray matter.  Words I obviously had no control over.  Words that made absolute sense.

Travel Journal CoverI was talking about integration.  And I could feel it happening, like a broken bone knitting together or a spider spinning a fragile web across space.  And as I left Durango, the sensation continued.  I talked to it, held it gently, never pushing or setting expectations.  I wanted to see what it would do, not me.

So, I continued to work in the journal we made at ArtFest, pulling everything about my trip into it, creating something new, something more.  At the same time, I dug out the journals I’d made years ago and wondered what might happen in them.  And I pulled out my SoulCollage© materials, because they were another piece of this emerging creative process.

In a few days, the severe depression that usually peaks this time of year arrived—another part of me accepted and welcomed.  Not that the despair and hopelessness are any easier to ride.  I felt them drain my energy and confidence.  I heard all the old fears and horrors settle into their usual corners.  And as I sobbed with my therapist on Thursday, I also knew the pain and darkness as a valuable part of me.  This, too, Tara Brach might say.

Robin & Albert

I’m comfortable being the brave, battling, Bipolar Bad-Ass.  Proud, even.  But it’s much harder to let others see my seriously brain-sick self.  I feel too vulnerable, too liable to hurt myself or others with my pain, too out of control.  It’s part of the illness to want to hide, to keep the truth of it on a leash, to just wait until the cycle shifts and I can present as more-normal.  Instead, I joined my spiritual study group on Thursday—exhausted, incoherent, weeping—and felt the truth of integration even then.

My showing up touched each of them in different ways.  Etta called it a gift.  Martha said, “We want you with us, no matter what state you’re in.”  Chuck, whose daughter also struggles with BP, wishes what I have for her.

This is the path, then.  To use it all—in the world and in my creative efforts.  No need to look for words or have a plan.  I’ve got everything I need.

Westward Ho! Day 7

Our last day of classes.

I skipped breakfast this morning to write about yesterday and ease into the day.  The Fort has a little coffee shop, so I stopped there for a latte and scone before heading to Jesse’s class; a quiet walk through the morning mist to the other side of campus with only my bag’s wheels grumbling on the asphalt and the gulls calling overhead.  Lots of crows here, too.  And owls.  The Flying Ones offer lots of singing practice.

I think Jess’s class was my favorite.  We worked in black and white acrylic paint using a fan brush and our hands.  Primitive mark-making.  And like Michael deMeng’s class, we started looking for areas of interest and larger images.  I loved the energy and immediacy of it.  Black and white felt so much easier than color.  And Jesse was a hoot.  He told stories in different accents, so of course I loved him.

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Details from the pages; lots of little Mr. Bills getting out of the thorny, pregnant monster’s way.

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After lunch, it was finally time for Tracy Moore’s class.  This was the watershed moment. Could he teach/inspire/goad me into art journaling?  Was there a way to incorporate art into my daily journal practice?  Or were these two modes of expression forever separate for me?

Tracy’s very low-key, but passionate about art journaling.  He just wanted us to keep our hand moving over the page, doodling, trying different simple shapes while he told stories about his own process.  He talked about how journaling for him is a social experience, hanging out in coffee shops and bars with his journal and pens, inviting people he meets to draw something in them.  Some of his pages have lots of text, some don’t.  He admits that he gets bored easily and switches things up.

He also gave us a list of his favorite stuff; pens, techno doo-dads, stamp-making tools, online stores.  I made a list.

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Later I talked to him about being a writer who also does art and whether I could combine the two.  “Keep it simple,” he suggested.  “Try it and see what happens.”

So at the Last Night Party,  I sat with everyone else and wrote in my newly minted art journal and pondered this question.  The Seattle band, Surrealized, provided mood music and the door between my words and my art cracked open.  Is the separation illusion?  If both are allowed to play together, what else might join them?  What else might have been sacrificed to my bipolar scramble for survival?  What else waits for room?

I’m willing to push the door open a little wider and invite everyone to come play.

 

Westward Ho! Day 6

IMG_0405I smartened up yesterday, dumped out one suitcase, and loaded it with all the art supplies I need to schlep to classes.  I’d seen other people doing this, so it’s not my brilliant idea.  Just took me a day.

Yesterday’s classes were with painters.  I’ve longed to learn how to use paint since high school (when I flunked art class).  It’s always intimidated me, so I ran through a gammet of expected emotions throughout the day.  It was a challenge to stay present, to breathe, to remember who I was and that I was okay no matter what.  Both teachers were kind, funny, helpful, nonjudgmental.  All that made a challenging day successful.

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Again, these pages are just beginnings; a way to learn techniques and start applying them.  We all wanted weeks to keep working on them.

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In Michael’s class, we started with a wash of paint, then slowly pulled images out of it with repeated layers of wash and white highlights.  This is one technique I want to try again.  It has a spooky, otherworldly quality that I dig in a big way, but couldn’t quite grok in three hours.

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Then it was time for the vendor show.  Half a table turned out to be a lot smaller than I expected, so I ditched my idea of showing my bigger collages and set up my cards as best I could.  My table-mate, Lynn, and her girlfriend, started laughing at my stuff almost immediately, so that helped me settle down and enjoy myself.

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And all I can really say is, “Holy Shit!”  People crowded around my end of the table until Teesha flicked the lights to call quits on the show.  Even then, a couple of new friends hung around, digging through my boxes and exclaiming over details like WW1-era papers and gilding paints.  Compliments bombarded me like little Nerf balls.  I loved telling the stories of cards people chose; This is my grandma… This is my mom and dad…This image came from a 1915 holistic health magazine…  This group of folks loved it.  I was in my perfect venue.

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I started out with four boxes of cards and ended up with two and a half.  I haven’t tallied the take, but let me tell you, it’s much more than I ever expected.  I was in shock when I packed up.

IMG_0403And stinky, sticky with adrenalin.

And my back ached like a son-of-a-bitch.

And What A Day!

 

Westward Ho! Day 5

 

Teesha's Pages

The focus of ArtFest is art journaling.  I’ve tried this a couple of times, even made a few art journals, but never really got into it.  I journal… and I do art.  They come from two different parts of my brain.  Whenever I’ve tried to moosh them together, both parts sort of suffer.

Part of coming out here (aside from loving Teesha’s rubber stamps and, you know, traveling) was to stretch my artsy envelope and embrace art journaling (at least for five days).  I’m with 143 artists who are good at this and six teachers who want to help us do it better, give us new ideas and techniques, and support the artsy life.  My attitude is I’ll Try Anything!  Bring It On!

IMG_0376We have two classes a day with a two and a half hour break between for lunch, rest, and journaling on our own.  Each class is three hours long, which never seems like enough time to do everything we want to do.  The point is not to create a finished piece, but to play around with the cool tools and new techniques, get a journal spread started, then go off later and mess around with it.

Not surprisingly, perfectionism among the ArtFesters abounds, but the teachers keep slicing through that by making us do things fast, sloppy, random, imperfect.  I love it!  Yesterday, teacher Orly Avineri, trooped us all outside with the images we’d made that we liked the least.  We stood in a circle, ripped them up, then released them like confetti with whoops and grunts and whatever non-language noise came from our guts.  Without release, she said, we get stuck.  We can’t continue to wander to the next thing, and the next and the next.  In Artfest’s Superhero pantheon, Orly is Wander Woman.

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IMG_0389After class yesterday, I met up with my new friend, Michelle (brain enthusiast, fan-girl, mystic, potty-mouth) and her Southern California gang for supper.  I was too tired to enjoy their lively conversation about Broadway shows.  Time zone changes, adrenaline, the push of a schedule on the road, the gentle sway of rapid cycling; whatever the reasons, I’d only gotten three hours of sleep at night for too long. I had to skip the beach bonfire last night and for the welcome snug of my bunk.  I fell asleep with the evidence of a day well spent.

Now, with a full eight hours in my sleep bank, I’m ready for another fabulous day with two more of my mixed-media Heros; Andrea Matus and Michael deMeng.  Tonight: The Vendor Show!

Westward Ho! Day 4

Spokane, WA (7:30 AM) to Port Townsend, WA (4:00 PM).  370 miles.
Notables: Sting’s Roxanne (Symphonicities version)

Between Spokane and Seattle

Well, really, ho-hum.  Another day of brilliant sun, snow-capped mountains, burbling streams.  It’s just all a little overdone, don’t you think?  I mean, on and on with the sapphire sky and pine-fresh air… can’t these Pacific Northwesterners show a little restraint?

We were doing just fine until Seattle.  I saw signs for a tollway and wondered, tollways?  When was the last time I paid a toll?  Do they still have big buckets to throw quarters at as you pass by?  Do I have any quarters?

Since John had no answers, I thought I’d better stop and inquire about proper procedure.  I didn’t want to get chased by Washington State Smokies (Were they even called that anymore?  Geez, I felt old).

Come to find out, the highway cams snap a picture of your license plate and you get a bill in the mail.  More stuff I never knew.

On the FerrySo, I was a little flustered when we got to the ferry.  I thought I told John to take a different route to avoid the ferry, but here we were.  The first time around, Cleese got us in the wrong lane and the Port Authority officer yelled at me (until he saw that I had an Iowa license plate and clearly no accurate help from my British Sulu).

 After I stuffed a sock in his recorded yap, I found my way to the ferry toll and holding area.  Clear sailing from there on (pun only sort of intended).

Looking Back at SeattleI’m finding that a GPS system can get just as befuddled as a human when the details become complicated and change quickly.  Two heads (one nav-sat and one bipolar) really are better than one.

Another hour of twisty two-lane highway through forest and, to my surprise, cattle ranches brought us to Port Townsend and Fort Worden.

I checked in, made my journal (which will hold all the art I make this week), dumped my stuff in my dorm room (which used to be the barracks), and started schmoozing.

dorm

IMG_0364Dinner offered a vegan option (a to-die-for veggie burger).  Teesha made a few logistical announcements and introduced our teachers.

I made a few swaps (traded art bits) with the fun folk I’ve met so far, and came to my room to report and crash.  Tomorrow: ART.Art Swaps

 

 

 

Do Superheroes Get PTSD?

Crazy

Several Teesha stamps on this card

One of the items on my IPR Bucket List is to attend a Teesha Moore art retreat.  I found Teesha years ago when I first started using rubber stamps.  Hers were grungy, and weird, and everything I loved.  As you can see from the link, she makes bizarre-o collages and art journals, and held Artfest annually near her home in Issaquah, Washington.

First she quit making rubber stamps (boo!), then she quit offering the retreats.  I never had the funds to get out there anyway, but I always hoped—you know—someday.  So, she stayed on my list, because weirder things have happened (like me going to London last year).

Yesterday, she sent an email to announce that Artfest had risen from the dead and would I like to register?  Boom!  Done!  Later, as I scrolled through the information about Artfest, I realized some Cosmic Convergence or Synchronicity Faerie worked unseen in the ethers, because the theme of the retreat is:

Calling All Superheroes to Unite

As Teesha says on her website:

It is my intention that by the end of Artfest Rising, we will all be flying out of there with our capes flapping in the wind and our confident faces to the skies from our newfound understanding of ourselves, our powers and our place in this world….not to mention an amazing super-sized journal packed full of the coolest artwork around!

What feels even more serendipitous is that I’ve been contemplating my super powers recently.  I know most people don’t consider mental illness a super power, but take my Clark Kent glasses for a moment and have a look-see. dark knight

There’s Bipolar Disorder, a cross between The Dark Knight and The Human Torch.  This is Human-Torchthe veteran, the Bad-Ass, the muscle. Fatale

Then, there’s Binge Eating Disorder.  She’s been around a long time, but never identified, never given her full cred in the super power department—sort of like Fatale, one of the Dark X-Men.  Deceptively evil—strong as the horse she’s usually eating. mistique

But the super power that’s come out to play recently is one I know little about.  She’s a Mistique, a chameleon, blending into her surroundings for the sneak attack.  This, of course, is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  She’s played me for a while now, posing as memory, setting trip wires that jettison me into past trauma with anxiety and flashbacks.  I’m not used to thinking of her as part of the Superhero Pantheon, but this girl’s got game.

These three (four, really—Bipolar could never be content with one aspect) might seem like a hinderance, a handicap, but look again at their power.  They’ve protected me, kept me safe.  Sure, there’s a price.  And the bill never gets settled.  But the more I learn about them, their origin stories, their special abilities, the more I can see their beauty.  I’m making room for them, inviting them in instead of locking them out.  It’s a tentative truce, but we’re making progress.

I can’t wait to take them all to Artfest next spring to see what happens.

We’re on an Adventure.

Full Voice

I took voice lessons from Barbara when I lived in Minneapolis.  One of the best things I ever did for myself.  If you have any interest in communicating better, spend 19 minutes here.

Thanks, Linda, for posting this on Facebook!

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