A Cautious Step

Collage art, greeting card artA cautious optimism seems to be creeping up on me.  The last couple of days moved through with less frenetic, spastic energy; less explosive mood changes; more moments of quiet joy; more tolerance.  It’s too early to tell if this is a shift out of the mixed state rapid cycling I’ve been experiencing, or just another variation of it.  When all the bipolar symptoms get thrown in a bag and shaken up, moments of relief are bound to stick together once in a while, too.  So, the practice is not to name it, not to grasp it, but simply Observe.  And then take appropriate action.

“Appropriate” is a moving target, just like my symptoms.  What I’m capable of doing changes with each shift.  So, just when I sit down to make cards, I’m suddenly unable to tolerate being in my apartment.  Or when the urge to eat bends me over the bakery goods at Panera, I feel the compulsion vanish in an instant.  I guess it’s not surprising that I’m experiencing a lot of vertigo.  These jumps from one state to another to something combined make me a little loopy.  Lots of starting and stopping.  Lots of whipping around and muttering, “What?”

Even in this weird, stuttering place a few constants remain.  I can always exercise.  The pain that comes with the depressive symptoms may make weight-baring exercise more difficult, but there’s always water and my new friend, the recumbent bike.  And there’s always writing.  No matter how crazy I get, I can always write. It may be crap, but I’ve learned that crappy writing is a gift.  It starts the trek to the real story.  A crappy first draft or hideous turn of phrase marks where the story isn’t.  It’s a pushpin in a map.  With enough pushpins, I can see just where the path leads.  Even if I’m crazy, I can still read a map.

Exercise and writing give me a little foundation.  Whatever else I try to do with my day starts and ends there.  So, today I’ll stand on my foundation and cautiously pick up my Bad-Ass Training, knowing I may have to drop it if this moment of relief ends.  I’ll check to see where I’m leaking energy or money.  I’ll reach out to my support network.  I’ll take care of chores that have been abandoned.  I’ll shroud my TV.  I’ll do what I can in each moment to get ready for that moment to shift.

And while I’m getting ready, I’ll listen to my music.  Because that makes everything easier—like Eurythmics’ Miracle of Love.

The Avengers

Avengers Movie ArtI learned my stealth—a super-power, really—by sneaking into my big brother’s room, carefully filching his Marvel comics from their shrines, reading them without leaving fingerprints, and returning them in perfect numerical order.  Scott tried locking his door, but I only scoffed at his puny attempts to keep my mitts off his property.  Laws were made for mere mortals.

I learned how to draw by copying Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four.  I learned storytelling by writing Thor sequels.  Marvel fed my little soul.  So, of course, I’ve seen every movie based on my spandex-wearing friends.  They’ve all been a fun ride, some more than others.  But none has ever captured the essence of my heroes like The Avengers.

Writer/Director Joss Whedon created my favorite non-Star Trek TV—Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doll House—so to have him at the creative helm of the movie was like a Christmas present for me.  I could count on great character development, snappy dialogue, a meaningful story and off-the-charts action.  He brought it all.

Then, there’s the eye candy factor.


There’s just something about all those bulging biceps and pectorals when they’re real instead of ink on a page.  Did I say Woof?

And for those who prefer the fairer gender, there’s plenty of slink and curvaceousness in equally skin-tight suits.

Casting Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk seems genius to me.

He’s got the Bill Bixby edge mixed with an inherent nerdy sweetness that still transfers when he’s mean and green and splattering bad guys across the pavement.  How did he do that?

This is the first movie that really felt like the comics.  The action is that fast, that galactic, that desperate.  I’ll bet Stan Lee is proud of this one.

If you’ve already seen it, you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t seen it—Go.  Now.  Today.  Whether you grew up playing with this gang or not, you won’t be sorry.

30 Days of Sketches—Day 8

Sketching J Waterhouse's "Lady of Shalott"

John Waterhouse’s “Lady of Shalott”

I’ve read about art students copying The Masters, so today I gave it a try.  I love the Pre-Raphaelite artists—so moody, so romantic—and was thrilled to find a book of John Waterhouse’s work at the bookstore.  They didn’t mind that I sat in the coffee shop section and copied the prints.  It was a little disconcerting when other patrons stopped and watched over my shoulder, but they were very polite and encouraging.  A fine experience.

30 Days of Sketches—Day 6

Portrait Sketch

Laney & Barb

A couple of things I’ve noticed while doing these sketches (aside from the anxiety):

I only spend a couple of minutes on them, working quickly and leaving lots of the image undrawn.  This is a completely new way to work for me.  In the distant past when I drew, I spent hours filling in every detail and reworking an image until I ripped holes in the paper.  I like this breezy approach.  It makes me focus on just a few details to “make” the image and keeps me from obsessing.

I can’t erase.  The type of pencil I’m using and the way I’ve treated the pages of my sketchbook won’t allow it.  This was not intentional.  I meant to use the sketchbook as an art journal for collage work.  Not being able to erase means I end up with lots of stray lines and can also see where I’m missing perspective.  I see how I misjudge shapes and dimension.  This is really helping me hone my “eye.”  It’s also creating a completely different look to my drawings.

It will be interesting to see what will happen if I spend a little more time with a piece, use a different pencil or pull out a different sketchbook.  I still have 24 days to play with, so playing around with the tools could be part of the process.  As I get more comfortable with a pencil in my hand again, I hope to do just that.

A New Challenge

My friend, Carla Renee, at Season’s Change, and Change… is on a quest to post 30 days of creativity and invited me to play along.

Hell, yes!

She gave us until June 30 to get our 30 creations done.  Ooo… so many 30’s… head spinning… months flipping…

I’d like to torque the challenge for myself and add that I’ll be drawing my 30 submissions.  I flunked art in 10th grade, which squished my enthusiasm for drawing and painting.  But, I keep saying I want to get back to my pencils and sketchbook.  So, here I am, keeping a promise to myself.

Thanks, Carla Renee, for the much-needed kick in the patootie.

The Next Orbit

ο ο ο

I live my life in growing orbits

which move out over the things of the world.

Perhaps I can never achieve the last,

but that will be my attempt.

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,

and I have been circling for a thousand years,

and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,

or a great song.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

ο ο ο

I feel like I’ve expanded into the next of Rilke’s orbits.  I knew finishing Callinda would be a momentous occasion, but I wasn’t prepared for the way it rocked my world.

I have carried this thing around with me, every day, for over a year.  Not just in my head, but in a special carry bag that I toted to and from the designated coffee shop of the day.  Over time, the process became ritual—read the previous day’s work and edit, write 3-5 pages of new material, make the revision changes on the computer, print out the new material for tomorrow’s review.  Suds, rinse, repeat.

This is the way I spent my mornings—every morning.  Here at the end, I was writing all day long, the story spewing out like ejecta from a storytelling volcano.  And now.  Boom.  It’s done.

There’s a part of me that mourns the hole that Callinda filled.  I’ll miss hanging out with the characters and dreaming up new ways to torture them.  But, another part of me is ready to move to the next orbit.  There are several planets in my trajectory, and I’m not sure which one to aim at just yet.

But, I’m circling.  And I think I am a falcon and a storm and a great song.

A Wished-For Song

You’re song,

a wished-for song.

Go through the ear to the center

where sky is, where wind,

where silent knowing.

Put seeds and cover them.

Blades will sprout

where you do your work.


≈ ≈ ≈

Back from my trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul, and I hardly know how to talk about its profound effect on my life moving forward.  I expected my ten days there to be meaningful and challenging as I reconnected with friends I haven’t seen in five years—when I left defeated and broken after losing everything to the bipolar disorder.

What I didn’t realize is that I literally left my life there.  I never expected to survive moving back to Iowa, let alone start a new life.  Most of these past five years are a blur of mental pain, drug-fog and a near-sighted view of putting one foot in front of the other.  That’s not a life.  My life was in Minnesota.

But, I could never go back, so I shut that door and bolted it.  When I did visit one or two friends there, I kept my head down and my eyes shut because the grief and loss were too much to bear.

This week, out of the blue, while I ate supper with my friends Kirk and LaRae, they suddenly invited me to move in with them.  I dismissed it immediately (the door stayed firmly bolted), but other friends suggested I consider it.  So, for the first time, I cracked the door and imagined what my life might look like if I went “home.”

The three of us talked more about the possibility, and it became clear that it wouldn’t work.  But the process of considering, of listing what I want in my life, of writing down what I value and what I need, started a whole avalanche of inner change.

The crippling grief lifted.  The overwhelming sense of loss and desperate longing for my old life vanished.  I started to envision how I could create a life worth living in Marshalltown—a life that celebrates the glorious parts of me that survived and the Bad-Ass parts born here.

I started planting seeds today, and will continue to do the Work required to help them grow.  Now, I feel like I can go back to Minneapolis anytime, reconnect with more of my old crew, take those friendships forward instead of spinning in the past.  And then, I can come home, to Marshalltown, where my life is growing.  Where my life is.

Affirmations and Visions

I recently visited a new-to-me blog site and, once again, was astounded by the many things I have in common with the blogger.  Lara is bipolar, a student of Buddhism and in the middle of a huge weight loss.  Her inspiring site is full of information.  I’m giddy over my find.

One of her recent posts on creating vision boards reminded me that visual affirmations carry powerful juju.  No matter how committed we are to change and growth, we can’t escape the tapes that natter in our heads.  They become so ingrained that they play like background Muzak at Wal-Mart.  We don’t even know the music is playing until we find ourselves walking to the beat.

Unfortunately, these old tapes are mostly negative and self-defeating.  The only way to shut them up is to replace them with new messages.  Our personalities don’t like this.  Our personalities want us to go back to sleep and quit causing trouble.  Changing channels requires effort and awareness to recognize the crappy messages from the past and substitute something more truthful.  Affirmations and vision boards help reinforce our preference for Alternative Music.

My friend, Lily, used to stick affirmations all over her house to remind her of the power of love, the power of grace, and her own personal power.  I used to love reading all the Post-its around her lavatory mirror.  It made going to the bathroom a religious experience.

Last year I made a vision board, what I call a dream collage, around my goal of losing weight.  I stuck it on my bedroom door and mostly forgot about it.  But, Lara’s post reminded me of the power there.  The images and words I chose are significant now as they were then.

I recently dreamed about Bruce Willis (not one of my regular heroes, but he’ll do in a pinch).  In the dream, he looked down at me with his usual smug expression and said, “You can do it.”  In the dream, it felt like one Bad-Ass bolstering another.  When I woke up, I found a picture of Bruce on the Net, printed it out, taped him to my front door with his words nearby.  You can do it.

Now as I walk out the door every day, I’m reminded of my Bad-Ass power.

If you want to make a change and are finding it difficult, I invite you to visit Lara’s post on vision boards.  She offers directions and guidance that are superb.  Stick those ear-buds in and start singing a different tune.

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.

Breaking the Surface

Today I worked out in my water aerobics class without a safety belt.  We all wear this big, blue styrofoam wedge strapped around our waists to keep us from going under, or at least, make it harder to go under.

Different parts of the routine require raising hands and arms in the air, so it’s hard to tread water.  Other exercises have us pointing straight up and down—conducive to dropping like a rock to the bottom of the pool.

But today, I needed to see if I was strong enough to do the exercises without the belt.  I did—without panicking—even when I could only keep my face above the surface.  I was exhausted when we finished, but felt like I accomplished something—proved something.

All day today, I felt like my head had broken the surface—a slight sense of relief, a subtle shift of the eyes up and out to a wider view.  I drove to Ames after my water class, and found myself ticking off things I was grateful for as I watched the empty corn fields roll past—my sister, my mom, the way Emmett body-slams against my legs when he’s happy.  I was grateful for the money Mom gave me so I could gas up the truck, drive to Ames, sit in Panera with a bear claw and coffee, and write for four hours without worrying about how to balance my budget for this indulgence.

I broke the surface in my writing, too, noting how the Callinda rewrites are taking a completely different turn from the original story.  I saw how I kept trying to bring the story back around to the original, twisting it unnaturally and making it illogical.  Then, I remembered a woman from a writers’ group I belonged to years ago and her sage words: “Kill Your Darlings.”

All of a sudden my vision expanded.  I was able to look up and out.  I’d been trying to keep all the “good parts” of the old story—my darlings—when they no longer fit.  I went back over the whole story so far, all eighteen chapters, with this broader point of view, editing out the darlings and tightening the plot  (Those edits will be incorporated in the Callinda chapters posted here soon).

This has been a long and difficult episode.  I calculated it’s been 22 days so far, with some moments or days a little lighter than others.  Most of the time, though, it’s been a deep dive into the abyss.  That’s a long time to hold your breath.  It cramps perspective.  So, it was a gift to break the surface today.  Even if it’s just for today, I feel a little stronger, like I accomplished something.

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