Saturday, April 9, 2011

Survival, Staying Sane, Living A Simpler Life & Being Happy ~ Where Do I Begin?

"A morning glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books."

~ *~ Walt Whitman ~*~

Where does one start really? My thoughts have been such a jumble that I have started numerous blog entries only to discard them in dismay and sit, as I have been for weeks now, depressed and kind of lost and not really knowing why. Finally, it becomes apparent that you just can't sit frozen not doing anything and it doesn't really matter what you do, just that you start doing something.

I am starting here. I have written a few words. I have begun the garden. I have planted morning glories galore.

I have been examining my life, going through one of those phases where everything is cloudy and one tries to grasp anything that is solid. A rotation of thoughts circle round and round in my mind. "Did she really love me? Does she still?" "Does being Bi-Polar with PTSD and a few other diagnoses in the soup, does it mean that I will never have a life where I won't constantly doubt? Feel pain? Feel frozen? Feel unproductive? Have great leaping beginnings and the inability to carry through? Will I ever be able to jump tall buildings with a single bound? (Or at least finish the book I'm working on...) Will I ever be able to get through a day without feeling like the bottom is going to drop out and I will fall into a black hole in the Universe?" It's been one of those times when I can't get out of my own head, and it's not always the most peaceful place to be.

These are not the kind of thoughts that I would like to share, but they are real, and they have been haunting me for weeks. I have a good doctor, have spent decades in therapy, take meds that really help, and am closely monitored with them, have a wonderful psychiatrist, and a full life if one pretty much cut off from the world. I live with ten animals. Animals have never hurt me. People have, and I live having to rise from the ruins of those early traumas again and again and again. But like the Phoenix I keep rising, and in the end some of my best work comes out of the most painful cycles, and the rising is a time of great fertility. I am starting to rise again.

 I have lived most of my near 57 years never fitting in, being eternally the square peg in the round hole, and being criticized for it. I once wrote an essay called "Legless With Too Many Pairs Of Shoes." The essay was about a woman who was legless, in a wheelchair (a metaphor for my broken self, unable to "walk" or move in the world as a "normal" woman much to the chagrin of every one around me...) and everyone around her kept bringing her pairs of shoes, sure that if they just got the right kind of shoes she would get up and walk. They couldn't grasp or wouldn't see that she had no legs, that she would never be able to wear any of these shoes, and their anger at her for not getting up and walking, not being what they wanted her to be only made her withdraw further and further inside herself.

I was in my early forties then. This has been going on for a lifetime. It's part of my journey. The proverbial albatross around my neck and I am ready to set it down. But where do you set an albatross? And will I feel naked without it? Am I more afraid to lose the part of me that gave me an excuse to be "less than" because then I'd have to be "more than?" And can I really be "more than?" More than I have ever been, I mean.

And then I found the books that would make me feel sane for the first time, really, as if there was another person in the world who got it. I am nearly finished with the second book and I'm going to start the first one all over again and if you have ever felt lost or remotely like what I have described here, PLEASE get these books (They are ten years or so old and you can get them cheaply on amazon now where I did.)

God Bless Susan Brackney. Her books are:

The Lost Soul Companion ~ A Book of Comfort and Constructive Advice For Black Sheep, Square Pegs. Struggling Artists, and Other Free Spirits

... and ...

The Not-So-Lost Companion ~ More Hope, Strength, and Strategies for Artists and Artists-At-Heart

And what I am carrying away from these books along with wonderful stories, some funny, or touching, and all of them filled with wonderful, practical, down to earth advice from a woman who just like the rest of us who are Square Pegs can relate to as if she were a sister or best friend, is that we will continually come upon these stumbling blocks of one sort or another but we just pick ourselves up and keep on keeping on, as best we can, even if it looks like we are not doing much of anything to anyone else.

I have told people that I am working hardest when it looks like I am doing nothing at all. The internal creative process can be like a pot about to boil over all the while you sit there staring into space. If you haven't been there it is an impossible thing to grasp. To the outside world you just look sort of crazy and real lazy.

I am talking about creative people, deeply creative people, who don't do their art as a sideline. And I'm not referring to artists who work a day job and do their serious art when and in as much time as they can. And I'm not talking about selling or not selling your work or making lots of money or none at all, I'm talking about the people who live and breathe and walk in the world as artists of one stripe or another and their whole being can only see and experience the world through a kind of lens that often makes them, us, look to others as a rather skewed person with a somewhat unbalanced, perhaps peculiar way of living and being in the world, as opposed to someone who paints or knits or builds things with great joy, as a hobby perhaps, and this is wonderful, but it isn't what defines them.

Today I just say, "I am an artist." I don't need to ramble on about how I am mainly a writer and teacher of same for 30 years, but also a fiber artist, and I have this doodly wannabe painterly sort of person in there somewhere and I dabble in mixed media and I love collage and I've filled hundreds of journals which I threw out when I moved in here a year ago. That shocked the hoo ha out of people but I had been there, done that, literally wrote the book, worked out a lot of things that I needed to let go of, and while much of the writing had been incredibly healing and cathartic, I didn't want to carry around the ashes of the painful parts of my life that had been burned away by the healing process. Maybe it's thirty years of studying Zen, but it sure helped, that letting go of the great mass of writing that I used to stand on as if I were those hundreds of books. The last year and a half have been about being stripped down to essence and trying to discover a way to move forward in as authentic a way as possible. And I want to live more simply, which is a serious goal for me, but I'm not talking about going into the woods like Thoreau or being Zen spare. I will always have a cozy home filled with old, vintage, used, well-loved sorts of things with a lot of animals as companions, and I love my mode of living, no, I am talking about a different kind of simplicity.

I started to call this piece, "Less Intake, More Output," because as a bi-polar person I have had great sweeping times of acquiring far more than I need of just about everything, and starting lots of projects (...and rushing out to buy every conceivable thing I might need to complete said project...) only to never do the project at all. Inotherwords, I Don't Need Anything Else. Less Intake. I have been struggling to move forward with my creative work, especially the book I'm working on. When you stop filling every crevice of your life with stuff ( it things, ideas, starting too many projects that never get finished, or a thousand other things...) you make a great open space to move forward into, unfettered, finally having clear space to actually create because your arms and hands and head aren't full of all the junk you've been running around buying and picking up. I have a lot of stuff here. An amazing lot of stuff. I plan to go through it all and clean it out and organize it. I figure if I work at a steady clip I might get close to getting through it in oh, say, ten years. But what's the rush? Where am I going?
What I'm trying to say is that I am looking at all manner of ways to survive this crazy life, and stay as sane as I'm ever likely to be by living the simplest life that I can (Even if no one else can see that it's simple. I'll know inside, I'll feel it.) and allowing myself -- let me repeat that -- allowing myself, to be happy. I think I can do it. By gosh and by golly, I think maybe I can.

So this has been the road I have been traveling these last weeks, trying to find my way, trying to let the work reveal itself, trying to get out of my own way, trying to trust that the table will rise if we simply relax and allow it, and knowing that I may always be bi-polar but I'm learning to take good care of myself in that respect and I'm pretty comfortable in my own lopsided, cattywompus skin.

I finish this in a nearly completely dark room with a couple of small lights beside me, all seven of the parrots put to bed and the three dogs all sleeping around me (well, one is on my head), two small pug boys snoring softly, and I am sitting here smiling. Life is good. I will survive. I am sane enough. I am learning to live more simply, and, yes, I am happy. And grateful. And now I am going to eat some hummus. It's a quiet Saturday night. I'm going to make my dinner and slip back into my book with a good cup of hot tea and with my notebook beside me I will write as thoughts arise. I could not ask for anything more.