It Doesn’t Have to Look Good

My job demands a fair amount of creative energy, and, for a week or two, I wondered if that was also draining it.

I had, afterall, thought I’d pick up my brushes as soon as I finished my masters a few weeks ago. Instead I waded deeper into the Ministry of encouragement, painting not at all. I celebrated the end of my studies by recruiting kids and teachers at my school into doing community art in the form of Inktober and helping Thing2 purchase a new guitar.

Friday evening, the late fall evening sky was so dense with color and moisture from the rainstorms that had passed during the day that I found myself snapping pictures for most of the carpool ride home. I assumed the power of nature was about to obliterate my creative lull, but less than an hour after I got home, I was asleep on the couch.

Dad and son both play guitar (Thing2, having fully sold his soul to rock-and-roll, plays drums now too), and, on Saturday, Thing2 had little trouble coaxing the Big Guy to come along to a music store to play some very expensive guitars.

I watched the two of them drool over and “test” the guitars and found myself wandering over to the junior guitars. Suddenly I remembered Thing2’s old acoustic which is just about the right size for me. With a little guidance from the Big Guy and a lot of encouragement from both of them, I bought some strings. I said it wouldn’t sound good, but they didn’t care, and neither did I.

When we got home, Thing2 strung the old guitar with the new strings as I blasted out a painting of the previous night in my watercolor journal. It wasn’t going to look good, but for some reason, I didn’t care.

The paint started to dry, and I got a first lesson from the Big Guy and Thing2. The guitar wept (and not gently), but my teachers pushed me to keep going as they demonstrated their best licks. By the time we all decided it was too late to be up, I had produced a passable D chord, a scale, and a mental note to self that none of it has to look or sound good to be good.

 

Perchance to Dream

I spend an embarrassing portion of every day daydreaming, worrying, planning for imaginary (and, occasionally, real) contingencies, and, did I mention worrying?

Now, as Nicolas Cage once opined in Raising Arizona, “Y’all without sin cast the first stone,” but, as the surgery date gets closer, the worrying gets wilder.

I’ve been through enough procedures to not worry about what’s on the other side of this one. A day ago, I thought the angst might be mourning for the impending loss of fertility, but it was willingly surrendered fifteen years ago. The Big Guy and I had replaced ourselves and, having hit the jackpot and getting two moppets with great comedic timing, were pretty sure we had our share of miracles. Besides, my uterus and I have been — at best – frenemies for most of our lives. 

My worries are way dumber than kvetching over a piece of bodily equipment I’m not using anyway. They’re more along the line of hoping the anesthesia has truly kicked in before doctors start disconnecting wires. Or that they’re sure anesthesia’s safe for people my size (short and round). And will the Big Guy get Thing2 to bed before 2 a.m. if something goes really wrong?

And there’s the rub.  Rubs.

It’s not fear of dying or that, per chance, that you’ll dream. Or that you might not be dead when they start putting the nails in the coffin (Hamlet was an amateur). A few hours before launch, I’m trying to stop the dreams just to get to sleep.

Sleep will come just when the alarm goes off, and, once it does, the day will move too quickly for dreams to move in again. The other side of this is, hopefully, more energy and freedom. The Big Guy has been pulling me back to those, reminding that the best part about the other side is that it won’t be a dream.

I know I’ll get to sleep just in time for the alarm to go off, but, once it does, the day will move too quickly for dreams to move in again. The other side of this is, hopefully, more energy and freedom. The Big Guy is great at pulling me back to those, reminding me that the best part about the other side is that it won’t be a dream.

Summer of Storms

The last time we had a summer as saturated with storms as this one, Vermont got a visit from an angry lady named Irene. The ground was saturated and the rivers so high, that when Irene swept through, many towns in our little state saw seasonal streams turn into major waterways. Roads were washed out, with some towns only accessible by horseback.

The ratio of heavy equipment and work animals to people is pretty good here, and many places were on their feet before FEMA even looked our way. Recovery was so quick that sometimes Irene seems like a memory from someone else’s lifetime.

Then I drive by a favorite view – this one is Ice Pond Farm in Arlington – and see another line of clouds passing over, drenching the fields and mountains again. I love the storms, but I often wonder if they’re trying to tell us something.

Summer of Storms

The last time we had a summer as saturated with storms as this one, Vermont got a visit from an angry lady named Irene. The ground was saturated and the rivers so high, that when Irene swept through, many towns in our little state saw seasonal streams turn into major waterways. Roads were washed out, with some towns only accessible by horseback.

The ratio of heavy equipment and work animals to people is pretty good here, and many places were on their feet before FEMA even looked our way. Recovery was so quick that sometimes Irene seems like a memory from someone else’s lifetime.

Then I drive by a favorite view – this one is Ice Pond Farm in Arlington – and see another line of clouds passing over, drenching the fields and mountains again. I love the storms, but I often wonder if they’re trying to tell us something.

Down and In

Thanks to the boys’ “donated” labor last summer, my garden was mercifully easy to prep and plan this year. Thanks to the effects of my adenomyosis, it’s the only physical labor I’ve engaged in since May, but even though it’s kept me down on the bench, I haven’t been out.

Even before school finished, I knew I needed to paint again, but I wasn’t sure how it would work. I usually paint dancing in front of my easel, and the energy just hasn’t been there. An abstract course I was taking was too physically taxing, but it got me playing with acrylics, which unexpectedly presented a solution.

Knowing I needed more practice with the new medium, I dug out some old, smaller canvases.

Really small. Like playing card small.

I’ve had fun with small pictures in the past. You can put the paint and the canvas on the same palette board and do most of the work with a small brush or knife and minimal cleanup. And you can sit in a comfy chair in the living room while you do it.

This summer, going small has that even though I’m a bit behind the game, I’m still in it.

Can We Talk about Anything Else

A year into this blog, I wrote about my lifelong dance with bipolar disorder. Clawing my way out of a deep depressive episode at the time, I was writing nothing and had nothing to lose. Even in 2013, coming out as bipolar was something only celebrities did in public When you’re not famous enough to announce it on Letterman, people look at you funny, and I was anxious about hitting “Publish” that day.

That’s nothing compared to the angst I feel as I click the publish button today.

Five years ago I was trying to move from IT to teaching. I’d found a teacher prep program. I got a part-time job as a para-educator at a place to get experience and student teach while keeping my old job. 

I’d forgotten, however, that my work at home mom status (WAHM) had not been entirely a matter of choice.

A few weeks into the new job, we were trying to get a group of preschoolers out for a walk, when I started to pass out. The other teachers in the group covered for me as I tried to recover, but I had literally fallen down on the job. I left to go home but passed out when I got to my car. 

When I woke up, I decided that an ambulance would scare kids at the school and stupidly drove myself to the emergency room. The ER staff ran bloodwork, and, discovering I was severely anemic, told me I needed rest and no driving. I said I’d always been anemic but never knew why. 

I was having my period and asked to go to the bathroom during the first hour. Having learned years earlier that ibuprofen could stop bleeding, I’d taken a pile of pills in the morning. They were wearing off, and about 20 minutes later I asked  to go to the bathroom again, and the nurse asked me about it. 

I don’t know why, but even wearing a Johnny that left little to the imagination, with wires and tubes attached to and coming out of me, I had to whisper when talking about my “period” (I cringed when I typed it just now). Most people – including me – would rather talk about anything else.

As I talked with the nurse and then the doctor, they realized I wasn’t having a normal period. I never had a normal period. I single-handedly kept Tampax stock prices afloat. I was the mother of the Mississippi.

For almost 20 years, I had mentioned “heavy” flow to various doctors or midwives, usually getting a pat answer like “everybody’s different,” so I accepted that anemia was normal. Going through a small bottle of ibuprofen every month to be able to leave the house for a few hours was normal. 

I never talked about it with anyone else because most other people would also rather talk about anything else. The very thing that makes it possible for women to have babies is also a subject that is most taboo.

The ER docs gave me a prescription and a referral. My regular GYN had retired, and the referral connected me with a new one. He got my health history and scheduled an ultrasound, quickly diagnosing me with a condition called adenomyosis, similar to endometriosis. The then-new doctor explained there were minimally invasive options to manage the condition but only one foolproof cure. 

Why am I bringing this up five years later when there are so many other things to write about?

Because the only cure for adenomyosis is it hysterectomy, which I’m having a week from today.

I’ve had enough surgeries over my life that I’m not particularly nervous about this one, but I am annoyed with myself. I’m haven’t let convention dictate my writing or conversations much in recent years. This topic maybe a doozy, but I realized convention had kept me from talking about adenomyosis and from finding answers years earlier. Period silence creates fewer places to get information and help  — online and off – for many women.  For me, silence caused multiple miscarriages, kept me working at home because I was terrified to be more than 10 feet from a bathroom five days out of every month, and nearly cost me the opportunity to do something useful.

So, while it’s not something I want or plan to talk about all the time, I’m no longer willing to tip-toe around it. 

Teeming with Life

It’s been one of those perfect puffy cloud days here in Vermont. Storms rolled through a couple days ago followed by another day of soaking rain. In their wake is a landscape so green and lush it fools you into thinking that our “brave little state“ is steeped in opulence.

Teeming, 18” x 24”

A little “Appalachian Spring,” I thought, would be the perfect soundtrack to get some hyper saturated trees and skies on canvas. But as the music started to meander, so did the paint and water. The greens and blues started to play with the sun and shadows, and pools, where so much in the woods begins, started to form, and I realized the green isn’t about opulence, it’s about life.

Stand and Create

Some people tell me I’m brave.

I hold it together when my kids need me to. I keep my life and job afloat, even when the worst depression at hit, but that’s being strong. It has nothing to do with being brave. 

I’ve known ever since I self-published my first short story that I wasn’t brave. I spent months working on that story, with the bulk of the time spent worrying if it would be any good and the next largest chunk of time spent wondering if it would upset anyone of my family who read it.

Writing demands authenticity. It demands courage. When I write about depression, when I write about teaching, authenticity is easy. There are no perceived consequences. When I try to write fiction or about subjects that might step on toes, my keyboard is quiet. 

I’ve never found the courage to get around that.

For a few years, I found expression in painting. I paint landscapes because I need to save and share the intense, often simultaneous, feelings of peace and power they generate, the way new converts want to share religious awakening.  

Authenticity is easy in that context. 

I realized this week, however, that cowardice can seep into every part of your creative life, and that, as much as comparison can smother it.

Knowing that the school year is winding down and my schedule is opening up a bit, I registered for a free abstract painting workshop. The first lesson was two week ago, just after one of my last parent-teacher meetings of the year. I knew I had to re-organize my teaching space to make room for painting, a job that should only take a few hours.

Instead of digging into the filing of papers and clearing off of work spaces, I spent the evening using a design app to rearrange the office/studio. Then I went to bed muttering to myself that the best abstract painters could all draw  better than I do anyway. On the night of the second lesson, I checked the workshop’s Facebook group, admiring the efforts of everyone else who had completed the first lesson and knowing that nothing I would’ve done would’ve been nearly as good, I started moving crates of books and desks in the office, wondering if I should be writing instead anyway.

And then I remembered that I often don’t write because I’m afraid to be authentic. I’m afraid of taking a risk and making people uncomfortable. And worse, I’m afraid of just being bad. They were all the same fears that kept painting from happening the first few nights right up until Sunday when lesson planning put cleaning and creativity on the back burner for another 24 hours.

By the fifth night, there were no excuses. My office was a studio again. My progress reports were finished. And the only thing keeping brushes in drawers was a fear that the work would be bad, that people who liked my old art would hate the new art, that people would laugh in my face or behind my back.

But the free course was short, and so is the summer when creativity can be on the front burner.  And that is exactly the time to be brave.  Or at least, to make a start of it. 

“Incoming”, 8 x 10, Acrylic on Canvas

Same Song, Different Dance

The assignment was to take a new approach to an old idea. Pick something we’ve painted a bazillion times and do it in an entirely different way – new tools, different support, mix up more than just the colors.

I used my favorite spot — my Giverny — a favorite view of Mt Equinox in Manchester, VT, framed by white poplars. I twisted it from my usual landscape to a portrait view. Instead of my usual 8″x10″, I found a big canvas that had been gathering dust for a couple years and started painting one of my favorite Vermont landscapes with Lake Michigan colors. Instead of painting it in oil in a single plein-air session, this is evolving in acrylic in the studio at a slower, more meditative pace.

I have no idea where this is going or where it will end up.

It’s one if the reasons I’m loving this course. The course isn’t about being all things to all people or even about how to paint. It isn’t about changing who you are. It’s about  challenging yourself to better find the artist you are. It’s about seeing the same places with fresh eyes.

After over a year of pandemic and healthcare-related doldrums that have desaturated every part of my landscape from personal to the professional, being able to find a new perspective on the same old places and the old me is better than a rest. It’s  a new take on life and art which, for me, go hand in hand.