I wanted to share the collage I made for my new grand-nephew, Zane.  As I write this, it’s heading south to Oklahoma with my mom, sister and her husband.  While his big brother, Wyatt, holds a special place in my heart, Zane carries a little extra spiritual juju.  He was born two weeks after my dad died, and I like to thing of them passing each other in the ethers, offering their wisdom about the realms they’re about to enter.  You can see Great Grandpa Fred in the upper right corner of the piece, calling Zane.  It makes me a little hungry to hold that new baby boy.

Drifting in the Surreals

The past few days have been odd.  It’s the time of year when the veil between Worlds grows thin, and elements bleed from one side to the other.  But, Death and Change are thick like burning leaves in the air—and I’m still coughing.

I saw my psychiatrist for the first time in several months.  Just a check-in.  She seemed at loose ends, since I’m not on medication and not clamoring for some kind of relief.  She asked lots of questions about how I manage my illness, praised my blog, then asked if I wanted to come back “in six months, twelve months, or never.”  We decided it was best to come back in a year, that way I’d still be on the books “just in case” (I’m big on safety nets).  But, how weird to be officially on my own.  My shrink can’t help me.  My therapist can’t help me.  I’m scouting new frontiers in bipolarism, with no “experts” to refer to or fall back on.  It’s exciting and scary.

Then, the father of a dear friend passed away, which is a weird juxtaposition since our family is waiting for my dad to do the same.  She’s home from Minnesota, tending to the funeral details.  I find I’m mentally taking notes, because I’ll be doing the same things soon.  She came over for a while last night, a chance to talk without worrying about her mom or siblings.  Everything she said could have come out of my mouth, every emotion from my own heart.  How odd and beautiful to have a close friend traveling this path with me.  It’s like an echo of my own voice coming out of the mist.

And we hover in this strange holding pattern with my dad.  Every day he fails a little more—now using oxygen, now confined to bed.  He still knows us all, but gets confused—a combination of morphine and kidney failure.  Some days it seems disrespectful to talk about his funeral arrangements.  Other days it seems proper to get those details out in the open and checked off our invisible list.  Some days we feel lifted when he eats a few bites of oatmeal.  Other days, we wish the aides would just let him rest.

This is the dance we weave between the Worlds—one step back into the past, one step forward into the future, then a shuffle-rest in the present.  I find that when I’m with Dad, I’m really with him—not thinking about our past or his future, but touching his swollen hand, listening to his weak words, looking into his pale eyes.  It’s very restful there with him, just waiting and being present.  Around me, the situations and events of the past few days swirl in surreal colors.  But sitting next to Dad, things seem quite clear.


Yesterday, I started to feel better.  There’s always a shudder of dread when the haze starts to clear, especially if the episode has lasted awhile.  I imagine it must be like climbing out of the cellar after a tornado and surveying the wreckage.  Too bad there’s not a FEMA for bipolar disorder.

If I was to get through the rest of the month financially, I needed some creative options.  Looking at the stack of greeting cards I’d made over the last couple of months, I wondered if Pam at Perfect Setting might buy them.  It was worth a trip to the shop to see.

Bing Bang Boom.  She took them all and handed me a check.

I don’t think I’m ever getting used to that.

Then, she asked me if I’d be interested in speaking at their next Artist Brunch.  Every month Pam and Carol host a soirre for the patrons of the gallery with good coffee and flaky pastries.   A featured artist gives a talk about his/her work and process with lots of opportunity to purchase said artist’s wares.  I jumped at the offer.  Then, she asked if I’d be willing to teach a workshop, have the brunchers make a little collage of their own to take home.  I was leaping all over the place.  What a great way to generate excitement about an art form unfamiliar to most people.  And what an easy way to make folks feel creative and artistic.  Here’s the email Pam sent out to about a million people:

Come for some fun!

We’re prepared to have loads of fun at the next “Brunch and Learn” at The Perfect Setting!  Please join us on Wednesday, June 29, 8:30-10 am when we host mixed-media artist Sandy Wyatt.  A storyteller at heart, Sandy will relate how and why she creates her textile and paper collages.  Then YOU get to be the artist by  making your own creation from snippets of “found” art objects.  To learn more about Sandy, read her bio below.

You are welcome to pass this invitation along to friends, but be sure to save your space by emailing or calling no later than Tuesday afternoon!!  We look forward to seeing you!

Pam Swarts, Art Consultant

The Perfect Setting—Where We Bring Art to Life!

13 West Main Street, Marshalltown, IA  50158

641-752-5737; 641-751-4888

Bio:  Sandy Wyatt—Collage/Assemblage

Sandy Wyatt was born and raised in Marshalltown, but spent most of her adult life in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.  Illness brought her back to her hometown, and also set her on the artist’s path.

“I didn’t have the funds for art supplies,” she says, “so I learned to make art out of what I could find.”  She haunts garage sales, flea markets, junk shops, gardens, and the library.  Putting together mundane bits and bobs with old paper and pictures in unusual ways makes her happy and, she hopes, gives others joy as well.

A former registered nurse and published writer, Sandy lives with bipolar disorder and finds the workings of the mind fascinating and a source of endless inspiration.  “The ultimate compliment,” she says, “is for someone to look at my work and either laugh out loud or pronounce it weird.”

Since talking with Pam, I’ve been culling images and ephemera from my stash and creating little collage kits; thinking about the easiest way to get the biggest visual bang; and considering what supplies I’ll need to make this event work.  Because it’s happening on Wednesday.

In all honesty, I’m not worried or anxious about this.  I’ve done enough teaching and public speaking to be able to improvise.  I’m passionate and funny, and I know the folks who come will have a good time.

And all this because I needed a few extra bucks to get me through the month.


During this quiet spell between episodes, I’m feeling a real need to tend to my body.  My weight has crept back up to almost 300 pounds.  Yikes, that’s hard to put out in cyberspace, but truth is truth.  I always try to rein in my compulsive eating when I’m stable, but no plan, or intention, or amount of flagellation works for long.  In February, after keeping track of calories and adding more cardio and strength training to my workout, I thought I was finally making progress.  Then the next episode came, and the compulsive eating took over.  Again.

I gave up.  I’ve given up many times over the years—decided I’d just live my life fat and happy instead of fat and miserable—but the discomfort of dragging around so much excess cargo always brings me back to trying again.  So, yesterday I pulled out my Calorie Counter, planned some meals, went to the grocery store to stock up on fresh food, and worked hard at the gym.  And, of course, I ate a container of Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby.

If you’ve never seen The United States of Tara on Showtime, the show is about a woman with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder, or multiple personality) played by Toni Collette.  One of Tara’s alters is a primal, animalistic creature that comes forward when Tara is in danger, physically or psychologically.  This little creature, Gimme, pees on people it doesn’t like, huddles in corners, scuttles around like a bug.  I think Gimme and my compulsive eating hatched from the same primordial goo.

The only thing I can do is try again today.  I know the primal creature inside me is terrified.  I know the overeating is about control and comfort.  I also know that sometimes, I can choose to not eat.  Sometimes, I can hear my body when it tells me it’s full or when it’s hungry.  Sometimes, I can even act according to those sensations.  Today, I will record what I eat and work out hard.  I will try to make better choices.

In what seemed like a stroke of pure synchronicity, my friend Kathy also wrote about her struggles with food on her blog yesterday and shared a wonderful poem.  Other people have been talking to me about their battles with weight.  The attendance in aerobics class yesterday doubled with women who have renewed their efforts.  Something’s in the air.  Or maybe in the primordial goo.

Kitty in Distress

Yesterday, Henry seemed frantic.  He hopped in and out of his litter box constantly.  When he was able to pee, it was only a few drops.  Years ago, he developed a blockage in his urethra, so I recognized the symptoms and bundled him to the vet.  The doc said his bladder was empty, so no blockage, but he thought Hen had a bladder infection.  He had to spend the night at the pet hospital so they could get a urine sample.

Like the Tin Man said of Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, “I hate to think of him in that awful place.”

I know my buddy will be fine.  The miracle of this event is that a friend of mine gifted me with money while I was in Minnesota last weekend, so I’ll be able to pay for the vet and whatever medicine he prescribes.  Synchronicity.

And on a completely different note, I’m please to report that I’ve posted Chapter Eleven of my story Callinda.  The process of going back through this old story that I wrote at the height of my illness has been a wonderful exercise.  Parts of it are nicely done, parts of it are disjointed and confusing, parts of it make no sense at all.  I can feel the emotional stringers—the attachments I made with the characters and the story that created a fantasy reality for me.  Writing this story gave me some other place to go when I was so sick.  As I give those characters and that story more substance and clarity, I feel like I’m honoring the part of me that made the decision to live when it would have been so much easier not to.

Since quite a lot of the story is changing along the way, I don’t even know if it will have the same ending.  This, too, is exciting.  Whatever the outcome, I’ll post the whole story as it is revealed.

Into the Fire

After Halloween, my favorite holiday is Beltane.  In pre-Christian times, Beltane (or May Day) was a celebration of survival.  Human beings feasted, danced, adorned themselves with flowers, chased each other around a Maypole, and indulged in their passions and sexuality.  They built great bonfires and drove their herds through them for purification, good luck and fertility.  Humans collectively snapped their fingers at the long, deadly winter just passed and welcomed back Life.

Back before my bipolar disorder spun my life on this current path, I served as one of the Ministerial Guides at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community in Minneapolis.  We were a pan-theological lot, honoring all ways and means to Spirit, and I cherished my role there.  Today, I’m missing that woman who sang, and danced, and felt her sacred connection to the Earth with such passion and joy.  I’m missing the beautiful, meaningful rituals we created.  But, most of all, I’m missing the people who stood with me in the sacred circle, the people whom I loved so deeply and who loved me:  Jinjer and Carol, Steven, Mert, Christine and Linda, Greg, Jennifer, Rochelle, Tom and Jodene, Lee, Hanakia, Marshall, Nancy and Jim, Monica and Gary, Lily, Mike and Lynn, and all the others my faulty memory can’t bring forward.  My heart aches from missing them.

My illness feels deep and wide today, which accounts for the waves of loneliness and sense of loss that lap over me.  I wonder if this is what it feels like to drown?  Yesterday I flailed, impotent, in the dark, rising flood, gulping water with air.  Today, gathering in more calm, I’m able to stretch out and float between the waves that pull me under.  I sense my mind grasping at the false thoughts bobbing by.  The desire to claim the sadness as truth seems so natural.

But, I’ve learned too much, practiced too hard, to hang onto those leaky buoys for long.  If I stay calm, if I relax into the rhythm of the current, I can wait out this flood until the waters recede.  As I lie here, waiting, I will dream of the Beltane fires, roaring on the hilltops of the Isle of Man, ready for me to pass through and burn away the last vestiges of Winter’s darkness.  The water soaking me today will rise up in hot steam, boiled off my body by fire’s healing touch, faith and love.  The Wheel turns, and I turn with it.

How synchronistic that Beltane and my illness twine together today as it is also the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month.  This is a time to reach out, take action, bring light to the darkness.  One out of four Americans suffer from some form of mental illness.  You know us.  You may be one of us.  If you are suffering, reach out.  If you know someone who is suffering, reach out.  With treatment and support, we can walk through the fire together.

Shreds of Steam

Light again, and the one who brings light!

Change the way you live!

From the ocean vat, wine fire in each cup!

Two or three of the long dead wake up.

Two or three of the drunks become lion hunters.

Sunlight washes a dark face.

The flower of what’s true opens in the face.

Meadowgrass and garden ground grow damp again.

A strong light like fingers massages our heads.

No dividing these fingers from those.

Draw back the lock bolt.

One level flows into another.

Heat seeps into everything.

The passionate pots boil.

Clothing tears into the air.

Poets fume shreds of steam,

never so happy as out in the light!


Blessings in Disguise

Last week my old Ford Escape started groaning.  And so did I.

Every other month or so for the past year, my car has gone up on the lift at Alley Auto for one more patch job, one more replacement part, one more band-aid to keep it on the road.  Last summer I tried to go without a car.  I found a bicycle for free and figured out the Transit bus routes.  But, the thought of being trapped at home, with no way to escape to Ames for a day of reading magazines at Borders, or meet my meditation buddies in Des Moines, pushed a whole keyboard of buttons.  I had already given up trying to drive to Minneapolis anymore lest my car crap out.  I felt the familiar squeeze of my life shrinking to a new level of frugality.

I made an appointment with my pals at Alley Auto and started gathering information.  Instead of throwing his money into the black hole of my car, my dad offered me his 1998 Ford truck.  I also talked with Lonnie at the salvage yard to see how much my car was worth as junk.  Not much.

But, today, when the prognosis came back bleak, Todd at Alley Auto offered me a very fair price for my car.  Suddenly, my car’s demise turned into the best possible outcome.  The black hole is gone, replaced with an old, but solid pick-up on loan from my parents.  And I can pay off the surprise hospital bill that came last week.  And my credit card.  And my clinic bill.  And I can put some money away instead of spending every penny that comes my way.

How did this turn around so?  What Principle of Abundance is in play?  Serendipity?  Harmonic Convergence?  All I know is the deep gratitude I feel, for the support of my good friends as I twisted on this spike, and for miracles that drop like tiny cupcakes from above.  And that’s the very cool thing about miracles.  Just when you think you’ve got the whole situation figured out, all the angles covered, and all the possible outcomes are dire, a miracle creates an entirely new outcome outside all the figuring in the world.  A shift occurs in the Space/Time Continuum.  Grace happens, as my friend Marshall says.

It certainly does.

Rooster in the Road

Sometimes I wonder if being sane is worth all the trouble.

The psycho-spiritual work is endless, flashes of insight dim under the daily grind, and the load just gets heavy.  I catch myself schlepping along the sidewalk like an old woman, hobbling with one pain or another, dragging two or three bags everywhere I go.  Sometimes I catch my reflection in the big mirrors at the Y, and the pinched, scowling face shocks me.

Holy crap.  Where is the Joy?

Today I drove to the post office, deposited at letter (another attempt to qualify for Medicaid), and when I stopped at the intersection, a red rooster looked at me from the middle of the road.  What? I watched him cluck-cluck his way zig-zaggy across the street, and then burst out laughing.

Joy is a Rooster in the Road.  It drops off a Cosmic truck or escapes from a Holy coop to land—splat—a few inches from your tires.  All you have to do is turn toward it and say hello.

Last night I watched some hilarious videos on UTube that made me laugh so hard I lost urine (as we women of a Certain Age like to say).  It had been awhile since I laughed that hard.  My face ached, my belly hurt, I whooped and hee-hawed until my cats ran for cover.  And I had just stumbled over those videos.  A rooster in the road.

Some mornings, when I go to Haven (my coffee shop), my friend Joyce will treat me to coffee, or give me a muffin she thinks is too stale to sell, or ask me to try a new kind of truffle.  Her generosity makes me feel rich and loved.  Like speckled eggs, her gifts are joy and hold the potential for more as their warmth stirs a shift in me.

When I lived with my friends, Tom and Cheryl, I also lived with their dogs, Sage and Gracie.  If cats are a subtle pencil sketch, dogs are a slap of high gloss with a sloppy paintbrush.  I loved their largeness.  Now, nine months after moving out on my own, Gracie greets me like she can’t stand to live without me.  A fierce watchdog, she barks at kids walking on the other side of the street.  But, if she hears me, she starts whining while I’m still out on the porch.  And when I finally open the door to her, her black and white torpedo body wiggles uncontrollably.  Snorts and grunts and snufflings accompany the whining until I can love her thoroughly and apologize for being gone so long.  Her unabashed, unconditional high regard clucks like a chicken.

Marianne Williamson says, Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.

I get tunnel vision, Watching and Working every day.  I forget to look up and out, to place myself on the earth, to take a breath and relax into who I am now.  I forget how far I’ve come, how well I am and all the things I’m capable of.  But, then, a rooster crosses the road, and I remember.

Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
Why would you refuse to give
this joy to anyone?
Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups!
They swim the huge fluid freedom.— Rumi

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