Stretched

I think the biggest problem for me with multiple disciplines (visual art, writing, ballet) is switching gears from one to another. After wrapping up the ballet season and feeling a sense of relief that I don’t have to plan classes or choreograph dances, I feel exuberantly unburdened. I feel like I have all the time in the world, and of course there are so many things to catch up on, now that I have all this “free time.” At the same time, I have a tiny sticky note wafting around, reminding me of writing deadlines, and some decent-sized sketchbooks looming in darkened corners. Those sketchbooks are definitely up to something. There is a predatory quality to their lurking that makes me wary.
And there are so, so many word documents and files of word documents on my laptop, just begging to be released into the world…And these disciplines–I used to call then passions–of mine perch precariously on the summit of a veritable mountain of tasks and responsibilities I carry as a mother, a wife, and a person who needs a certain amount of self-care.

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A quick “action sketch” from college art–a few too many muscle groups, I think

For years I’ve given myself motivational lectures about “narrowing my focus” to be more efficient. In a way, I feel my life has done it for me. The chronically ill can accomplish only so many tasks in a day, however much they may enjoy those pursuits. But the longing is still there.
I’ve never quite believed the Superwoman myth: that I could Do it All. “What is all this ‘it’ I might want to do?” I wondered… I do, however, have a tendency to embrace too much, to stretch myself too much trying to include just one more…And as my illness has taught me, when you stretch that much, sometimes things just don’t work efficiently. Sometimes there’s something to be said for being static. Grounded. Stable. And yet I am who I am.

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My Life as a Rough Sketch

IMG_20170313_204024.jpgI have so many rough sketches I never finished–many I never intended to. My my life–that I always intended to do more with. I was thinking about this as I quickly sketched a rough self-portrait. My skills an an artist aren’t what they once were. But then, I reflected, much about me isn’t what it used to be.

The sketch, lacking in detail, nevertheless shows more than I would have thought. The not-quite-at-ease posture, the slightly lifted arms (as if to carefully hold the mug and keep it from spilling) are very accurate. I move differently than I once did, with more care and less ease. The hands are awkward, and grip too tightly, as mine do, to maintain their grip. I couldn’t quite get the foot right:my dancer’s feet that just won’t do what they’re supposed to anymore. They have the muscle memory, they try, but they are going the way many of my other joints have…

Yet here I am. Seated, contemplative, even if just for a moment. Looking into the distance as do most of the female figures I [used to] draw and paint.

But rough around the edges, just like my life: So many things I haven’t finished, and priorities have had to change. So much isn’t what I would have envisioned. So much is still vague.

Yet here I am.

Reflections on Sadness

Before dawn I was woken by a very sad little girl.
Lately I’ve noticed a strange melancholy in both my children that I remember in myself around the same age. I’m not sure if children pick up on sadness from living in a house with chronic illness, or from the depression of the parents (more likely), but it deepens my own sadness that this seems to be a legacy I have passed on. My daughter in particular asks questions such as, “are you and Papa going to die the way your mom and dad did?”
My husband says, “no, of course not. We will always be with you.”
I, unwilling to trust the backhandedness of life, say, “I hope not,” but try to reassure her she will always be taken care of.
And, I think grimly, no wonder she’s sad. I wonder if I should be so forthright and realistic with her, precocious as she is at age five. I wonder which is kinder: the promise we can’t keep, or the certain reality that one day we will die, though metaphysically, of course we will always be with her. We made her precious tiny human self, and so are ever and always connected: inexorably part of each other. Can she be secure in our intangible love when she craves the security of our physical presence?
This morning she huddled next to me in bed, crying that she would miss her brother when he grows up. Her mean older brother, who teases her, picks on her, calls her names, and is subversively jealous of her, in spite of our best efforts to teach and encourage him otherwise. She will miss him, and dreads being parted from him.
Such is the nature of sweet spirits.
I know so many young women who carry a heavy burden of sadness. And so many of them, too, are sweet spirits, undeserving of so much sorrow.
After being disappointed with my efforts to comfort my daughter, I carried a trace of sorrowful miasma with me through the rest of the day. Going on social media deepened it until I could wear it like a coat.
Finally, my ponderings outweighed my personal reserve, and I wrote a post about it. Almost immediately, there was a reaction, with surprised and almost irritated me. Then I realized it was one of the young women I know, one who has more than her own share of sorrow to carry. She was sharing in ours. I was deeply touched by the simple expression of an emoji reaction–though as a rule, I am dismissive, almost scornful of trying to relate through emoji expressions. This was different.
It brought my thoughts back to my recent blog on kindness. It made me think how valuable those small gestures are, especially when we are suffering with our own burdens, fighting our own demons of depression, poverty, frustration…how much we can give each other.
My daughter and I got through our day, and it would have been hard to tell she began it in tears. Both children played–reasonably nicely–together, and went to bed peacefully and happily–after I read them three or four bedtime stories, and completed our evening ritual of evening prayers, kisses, hugs, tucking in, and one last “good night” prayer.
And as the small gesture I received meant so much to me, I try to bring a little more mindfulness to my parenting, of all those little things that mean so much to children. Especially since I won’t be here forever.

It used to worry when when my children expressed sadness, but as I considered it more, I realized several things:

My husband and I both come from melancholy families. It seems a certain amount of pensive melancholia is inescapable.

But more significant is the role of sadness in the human experience. too little acknowledgement of sadness in our lives could be denial. too much, a sign of depression.

But in general, sorrow is merely part of the human experience, rolling over us in waves or cycles much like any other human emotion, coming to go again, to come again, and so on.

I think what is more telling about us is how we use that experience to relate to others. Knowing sadness ourselves, do we hunker down around it, feeling sorry for ourselves, or do we use that point of reference to reach out to others, extending empathy to them in any small way we can?

Thank you, my friend.

 

Long-lost Art

Finally, after years of deprivation, I’ve managed to scavenge some drawing chalk from a long-forgotten stash. These were actually my “substandard” materials at one point. I used to use them for sidewalk drawings. I never thought they were good enough for my “real” work. Ah, how things have changed!
I know, “deprivation” sounds like hyperbole to someone who doesn’t get what art is: a deep, gnawing hunger in the soul. Not to be sacrilegious, but my need for art isn’t that much different than my need for my faith. Though my faith affects many more areas of my life than it once did, so I suppose in that way it has taken a step ahead of my art.
It’s also like my need for my other driving passion: ballet, even though my dancing ability has long been lost and since crumbled away on the dusty road of my past. And for years I’ve denied myself painting, drawing, even sketching, because there was no room, no time, no money for materials. Once every few years it would get to be too much, I’d scrape together a few dollars for some low-grade acrylics or drawing pencils, and knock out a few hasty paintings or fill the last few pages in an old sketchbook. Nothing I was ever really happy with. I even had a mediocre showing or two when my daughter was a baby. I can’t imagine sustaining that sleep-deprivation now, not after prolonged illness. But back then, it was easier to keep going than to stop and rest and have to get up again. So I would plow through, settle for less than my best, and defray the cost…until now.
Now, I’ve managed not more than a few scribbles in the past year. I thought the passion was dead, and maybe it still is, but the hunger is still there. Starvation. It’s worse than living without love. And, the more miserable my physical health makes me, the more I crave anything that nurtures my spirit and keeps me a little further from despair. My faith community is now a long, slow, hazardous, winter drive away, and with love and companionship, even friendship in scarce supply due to schedules and priorities, what’s left? After I’ve given all I have and more to motherhood every day, what’s left to replenish me?
Another pursuit I’ve been trying to resurrect is recreational reading: so far I can only focus on well-written fantasy. Everything else becomes a soon-forgotten blur. In the latter of two well written fantasy books I’ve managed, I found a few lines incisive:

“Beauty is no end in itself, but if it makes our lives less miserable so that we might be more kind–well, then, let’s have beauty, painted on our porcelain, hanging on our walls, ringing through our stories. We are a sorry tribe of beasts. We need all the help we can get.” (Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire. Regan Books, an imprint of Harper Collins, copyright 1999. p 367)–forgive me if my citation skills aren’t what they used to be–rusty.

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I finally worked the chalk over a large sheet of newsprint (I always hated working on brittle newsprint! but it’s cheap & disposable, lessening the artist’s reluctance and attachment), remembering what my art teachers used to say about getting the process going. That method consists of circles, mostly: large, shaded circled. I used to be so frustrated by them, but now they were all I had the confidence to start with.
The result was electrifying. Intoxicating. I felt like I’d finally been let out of a small, dark space I didn’t know I was in. What I sketched was crap–a few shading exercises and a quick–very rough–sketch of a woman’s head, soon to be joined by some contributions from my children. But it was something. A drink to a withered soul, a few crumbs to the starving. A passion I can maybe rekindle if it’s not too dead. And if my hands and shoulders will take the repetitive motion.
Even one rough sketch now and then might keep my spirit from drying up and blowing away. And my trees: my lonely, dead trees that almost no one likes or understands. I miss my trees.