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.

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.

 

Zen and Hot Water

I’ve had a long courtship with the Zen mindset, and it’s often seemed rather hopeless. As a teen I was enamored of Eastern Philosophy, and journeyed through Taoism to several different Zen readers, most of which were deeply cryptic. I flattered myself that I was esoteric enough to grasp the concepts, but the woeful fact was, I was far too volatile, busy-minded, and strong-willed to easily school myself to an even-keeled, “no mind” modality.
My struggled with meditation are almost laughable in retrospect. Sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor, fiercely trying to keep my mind free of thought for one brief, peaceful moment. Ah well.
It’s been a long meandering path since then. I had a somewhat rocky experience with New Age religion, and subsequently rejected all but the most basic and scholarly philosophic principles. Unwilling to simply craft my own mishmash of beliefs, I felt spiritually homeless…Until…
Suffice to say, I found an old path cleared of its overgrowth enough to be brought into view. and thankfully, the glimmer of Truth echoed in other beliefs are not taboo. Sigh of relief. Zen mindset is actually encouraged, within certain parameters. Further sigh of gratitude.

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That peaceful mindset still eludes me, eight years later, except for a brief ray of clarity here and there. In some ways, childrearing has helped and in some it hasn’t. The exhaustion of motherhood and poor health has eroded much of my volatility, my pendulum-swings of character. I’ve gotten over a lot of my illusions–or delusions–about myself. I’ve become less egocentric. But I still have a helluva temper, and stubborn need to have things my own way. Ah, well. I’m finally learning to recognize and accept my flaws, too. Then work on them. I used to have trouble accepting anything I didn’t like.

Wait, I still do…
Ah, but the moment in question: It had to do with tea, as I recall. medicinal or otherwise is uncertain, but likely medicinal. We have a carafe-style gadget that heats water, and dispenses it at the touch of one button too many. Lately, probably due to mineral deposits, it runs more slowly than it used to. So I stood, watching it drizzle out each brief series of drops, my head tilted rather vacantly to one side. Some rather peaceful Medieval-style music was playing, and the sound of my children was a duller roar than usual.
The amazing thing was that I wasn’t impatient. I wasn’t in a hurry to check on the kids and forestall any apocalypse they might have brewing, or to hurry up the water so I could do this or clean that or get something else ready for tomorrow, or write myself a note so that I didn’t forget something of overarching importance. Not at all. Spurt. Drip. Whirr. I was as peaceful and content as could be. I watched the light roll over each droplet of water. I studied the rhythm of the falling spurts, which was really no rhythm at all. I felt I had nothing better to do, nowhere better to be, only this task to compete. Without worry. Without anxiety. Without over-thinking. It was wonderful.
And now I wonder if I was simply listless because i was getting sick…

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.

A Winter Resolution

Thanksgiving is over, and though I endeavor to make a thankful attitude,”Perpetual” as Emerson put it, I am relieved to have checked off another holiday.
Last year I celebrated Thanksgiving from the couch, with my leg elevated, and throbbing from the previous week’s surgery. This year, I am grateful to be walking after a recovery more difficult than I would have imagined.
While I’m determined to get back on my feet in more ways than one, I have decided to take things slow this year. Minimal organization. No Christmas arts& crafts fairs. No extra commitments of any kind. Since I haven’t had an income for the past year, all of our Christmas gifts will be homemade, and I hope no feelings will be hurt if I don’t get to everyone.
I plan to make my health a taboo subject, at least until mid-January-ish. I do not want to hear the words “Ehlers-Danlos,” or “cancer” come out of my mouth unless I am speaking to someone in scrubs. I will not let my illness be a set of ghostly chains dragging me down through the season. I want to celebrate. I want to teach my children Christmas songs and traditions. Not just our own, but the richness of our panoply of friends and families, a wide spectrum of joy.0510151939
I want to eat and celebrate, and I plan to care for myself, but I do not want to let my illness eclipse my life. For the next month-and-a-half, I’ll try to say if I’m feeling less than great, but beyond that, I’d rather not share. I appreciate concern and thoughtfulness, but it’s a season of joy, and I want to keep the focus on joy. I don’t view this as denial, because although I am ill, I think excessive focus on it due to constant medical follow-ups and well-intentioned conversations are causing me to remain in a “sick person” mindset. I don’t believe the constant reminders of my illness are healthy, and I find they detract from my enjoyment of life. I personally believe the body/mind/spirit is a potent connection between attributes of the whole person, and I think that where the mind dwells the body may well follow. The irony of this statement in view of my “dark” style and tastes is not lost on me, but most of us are not so clear-cut or monochromatic enough to be that simple. 🙂
That said, blessings to all in the coming season of Light!

At Night

It’s a stormy night. The wind is howling outside, and a windchime tinkles softly, a bit brokenly. My children have been asleep for hours now, but I cannot sleep. It’s after 5:30 a.m., and I still feel agitated. I have paperwork to do, healing to do…I want to avoid taking any more medication tonight, but my slow-healing knee is aching sharply. A pair of crutches leans against the wall by my bed. Pain twinges through my leg. Weather changes have always affected that old injury, and it would seem that surgery hasn’t changed that. One more thing the doctor can’t explain.
I wonder if it will be a rainy day tomorrow. I wonder what my children will be interested in doing. They’ve been asking to go to the library and the park, but it is almost impossible for me to get out of the house on my crutches. I hate to ask my overworked husband if he would like to take them. He is already so tired.

I try not to resent my situation. Resentment won’t make me heal any faster, it won’t help my husband get any more rest. I hate that he has to take all the extra work on. There is so little I can do right now, and so much that I want to do….

I finally become sleepy, but the rush I feel as I unintentionally pull myself out of sleep is an exhilarating one. A draft in the house intensifies the chill I feel. The medication I take makes me shiver easily.
The windchime sounds brokenly again, beautifully broken. I hear a tree branch crackle in the wind, and hope that doesn’t mean a power outage is coming.
I reach for a sweatshirt from a pile of clean laundry my husband brought me. Now, like a quiet butler, he is nowhere to be seen. I wish he would stay in our room with me. He’s afraid of bumping me in the night–hurting me. I am tired of being fragile. It’s been four months since I’ve picked up one of my children without being seated. I haven’t gone on a walk for more than six months.
I have to recover, we have to get our lives back.
I hear a branch fall outside and the wind picks up even more. I want to check on my children and make sure they’re covered up warmly. I’m so tired that moving at all is an effort. A glance at the crutches exhausts me. I remind myself that the kids are old enough to pull their blankets back on. I still feel remiss.
The windchime sings in the gusts that sweep our porch now.
I wonder what tomorrow will be like.

Writing to Music

When I really delved back into writing like I meant it, I happened to come across some music I liked–way back when. It’s a way back when that feels like yesterday, anyway, so I assume that means I either haven’t matured or I’ve been in some kind of time bubble wondering why the world has changed and why people around me have gotten older and started having kids. Then there are these two adorable but feisty little goblins who keep flinging themselves on me and calling me Mama. They’re kinda cute, so I accept it. I feed them, and play silly games with them and cuddle them and stuff. And then there’s this amazing guy they call Dad. I think I’ll keep him too. He’s kinda nice to have around–indispensable, in fact.

So, here I am in my time bubble. The ’80s going retro has been terribly confusing. But at least the music I loved in college is still as un-retro as ever. Garmarna’s remix of Hildegard Von Bingen’s ethereal chants, miscellaneous classical pieces I love because they are still and uplifting at the same time, and let’s face it, when I was a snob I listened to classical music simply because it was classical. Nostalgia is a big factor, lifting me out of present-day frustrations and stresses to reminisce about I time I no longer remember as difficult or stressful, though it was more so.

The music is timeless, anyway, and soothing. A few tracks stand out, if I can remember composer’s names (another trait that went by the wayside with snobbery). Delibes’ Song to the Moon,  Alhambra by somebody else, Lascia Chi’o Piangia  by someone I certainly should remember, but don’t. I wouldn’t remember Delibes if my students hadn’t done a simplified dance from Coppelia last year. If I mutilate spelling, please comment and correct me. None deserve it better than I, believe me.

Well, point being, the music helps me write. I wrote better in college–I think. I’ve been impressed by what I’ve found laying around. Sometimes things I can’t believe I wrote. Some I’m pissed because I can’t remember how it was supposed to end and it was never finished.

I think I’ve finally, after far too many years, gotten to the point I am done messing around. I’m writing almost every day now, or rather every night. Short on sleep, but at least I feel like I’m accomplishing something for this family that seems to be mine…I’m entering my fourth month of Invalidship, and I don’t like it. So while I bust my britches to get walking again, I might as well be productive while applying ice packs.

One of these days, a blog will accept my writing. One of these days, I will finish one of many stories and find some way to publish it–and I think blogging will at least open up that thought realm for me. I have to watch my idealism, I may find myself trying to puff thought bubbles into the ethers, hoping a book will materialize.

Writers, honestly….