Archives for category: Art

I tend to think of “challenges” as negative, and to think of “being overwhelmed” as a byproduct of generally negative emotional experiences or circumstances. You, too? It’s a misleading oversimplification, though, isn’t it? I think for a minute about the experience of an “overexcited” or “overstimulated” exhausted toddler, well-past the point that can be supported by their as-yet-undeveloped emotional resilience, frustrated over some “nothing” moment (when viewed externally, as an observer), dissolving into tears or tantrums. Doesn’t matter that the day behind them was excited, fun-filled, positive, rewarding, engaging, or adventurous – they’re tired, they’re done, and it’s finally all just “too much”. They yield to their emotions. I’m 59 years old and it still happens in my experience of life, too. Hard to be irked about it, it’s just a thing. Part of the human experience. I’m sure it serves – or once served – some clear purpose for human primates. Maybe a warning to slow down and let my brain catch up on all the newness and excitement?

Things have been exciting around here. I’ve been helping my Traveling Partner get his business started. Very exciting. His business – our future. It’s a big deal. There are new tools and machines to learn. New processes to master. New skills to pick up. There are other skills to refine and improve. There are tasks yet to be completed – I know we each have our own focus, and our own “to do list”. It’s his business, but I’m 100% about supporting that endeavor with him; we’re a team. A partnership. All of that is exciting and positive – not a single legitimate “down side”, other than the other positives piling up that simply require some effort (mostly in the form of cognitive work, learning some new software, and a couple of really cool tools that I’m excited about artistically, for my own creative endeavors). Still, there is so much new stuff coming at me day-to-day right now, there’s been no time to write. I mean, that’s what it has felt like. I’m sure I could have made other choices, but I’m not ashamed to be making a point to choose supporting my partner’s developing business.

My brain is tired. I have been mostly sleeping pretty well, but kind of a lot. I go to bed pretty early. I sleep as late as circumstances permit. My list of shit to get done exploded over the past couple weeks. I feel chronically behind on just about everything. Hike with my new camera? It rains too hard to go, or too hard to take the camera out into the weather. I feel held back by that and frustrated. I’m eager to get out into the garden. Some days I just haven’t got the strength to do the work. Other days the rain keeps me in. Build a website for my partner’s business? Unfamiliar interface and new software to learn. I feel a bit stalled, but not terribly frustrated; I at least expected to face a learning curve. More to learn. There’s the laser cutter, the Cricut, the pen tablet… so much to learn. Gardening, too. I’m no master gardener. I just sort of get by doing my best. I’d like to do better. I’d like to feed us from our garden.

If I just stack everything up or put it on a list, it does sort of start freaking me out. I feel so behind on “everything”. I had terrible nightmares last night that I had invested so much of my time and attention into all the new stuff to learn, do, try… that my friends all just sort of… slipped away. I was just starting to achieve mastery of “everything”, and turned to share this with my Traveling Partner… and… he wasn’t there. Gone. Just… gone. I looked out my window and society appeared to have crumbled. There were few people, and all strangers to me. I looked at my hands, in my dream, and they were withered with age and effort, and I was feeble and weak. All my “new knowledge” and skills were already … out of date. Useless. I woke feeling sad and lonely, and it persisted for some minutes after waking.

Nightmares are unpleasant. They have a visceral quality that lingers. They are crafted directly from our emotions and feel somehow inescapable. They’re still only dreams.

The thing is, there’s more good here than struggle. It’s just… a lot to take in. Yesterday I harvested lovely peas and Swiss chard and radishes from the garden, and dinner included that bounty. It was delicious. Spending hours with my Traveling Partner designing, building, making, learning – those are happy hours, well-spent in each other’s good company. Learning new skills? Great for keeping youthful well-being and perspective. Every detail taken individually is pretty fucking splendid. I sip my coffee and reflect on that. On the splendor. Feels pretty good. I feel fortunate, and even “blessed”. It’s a good place to be. That “to do list” doesn’t need to drive my experience. It’s just a wee map. Tells me where the turn up ahead is to be, and where to go next. Useful.

Today a friend will come around to visit. There’s been so little of that with the pandemic. I’ve missed the companionship of my friends. Losing touch with so many feels uncomfortable. I tell myself I could do better to stay in touch… which is a lot of pressure to put on one human. We’re all in that place. We could each do more, better, somehow. It can quickly snowball into a spiral of frustration and dismay. I sip my coffee figuring I won’t do that today. Small bites of life are enough to taste it. 🙂 Today, a little housekeeping in the morning. A little hanging out in the afternoon. An evening spent wrapped in love with my Traveling Partner, steadfast and true, best friend, lover, spouse, business partner… I am fortunate indeed.

A glance at the clock tells me it is already time to begin again. 🙂

I’m sipping my Sunday morning coffee in solitude. Best that I do so. I’m in a lot of pain after a long walk on a windy winter beach, yesterday, which, while it provided wonderful time to reflect and listen to my own thoughts, was also physically taxing. I’m definitely glad I wore base layers, too; it was chilly!!

Windy, rainy, cold, and the tide coming in. There’s no stopping the tide.

Things went seriously sideways Friday night, and Saturday’s walk on the beach was moody and bleak. It felt wholly necessary, but there was little joy in the moment. This saddens me, even now. It is, at this point, just something I’m adding to the recollection. I breathe, exhale, and let that go.

…I got some great pictures…

Friday might not have turned into the emotional shitstorm it did if I had been paying more attention… or… if I were altogether someone else, I suppose. My Traveling Partner woke in pain Friday morning, and was in an absolutely foul mood as a result (not unlike where I find myself this morning). He made a point of saying so, and was very kind and careful in our interactions all day, although he was cross and irritable. I finally ended my work day and … the whole delicate considerate assembled-with-care framework crumbled. I’m still sipping my first coffee, right now, this morning, and my brain is not yet entirely “on line”; I struggle to recall specifically what went wrong. Something I said, or my reaction to something he said, and suddenly we were lobbing raw emotions at each other in the form of angry words. I wept. We took turns shouting. We both ended up triggered – and triggering each other – and just fucking mired in our individual pain and heartache. To call it “unpleasant” seems insufficient. To make more of it than that seems simultaneously disrespectful of any underlying legitimate concerns that ought be addressed with love and consideration – but also seems likely to elevate those painful hours to something more important than what they were. Chaos fueled by emotions. Emotions that had less to do with the moments we found ourselves in than other moments, in other relationships, that left us scarred. Both unpleasant and unfair. How is it “unfair”? Isn’t it always unfair to ask love to sweep up the mess left behind by circumstances that had little, if any, actual love in them?

Friday morning became a painting, instead of an argument. 8″ x 10″ acrylic on canvas, untitled.

Yesterday was strained and awkward. This morning I woke up in pain, and found myself saying so, much in the same manner that he had on Friday morning. A cold chill rolls up my spine, and my mouth goes dry, and my anxiety spikes over fear that today will be another Friday, and end poorly. I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I do it again. Then another breath. Followed by another. I keep at the breathing until the hinted-at-future-but-not-now feelings of anxiety recede. I definitely don’t need to invite or cultivate that shit.

I sit with my coffee this morning, thinking about my walk, my work, my relationships… I consider how my TBI affects the way I communicate, not just the part where I talk (a lot), or interrupt (too much), but also the part that is the step beyond listening; my ability to make sense of what I am hearing, and to correctly reply to what has actually been said. I do pretty well, generally, but… when I am tired, or in pain, or distracted, I’m not just “less good at that”, I’m pretty horrible – and when I look at that, and also consider the “performance pressure” I tend to feel that pushes me to answer any question very quickly, I see how easily this can go very wrong, leaving someone trying to have a conversation with me feeling perhaps I am not listening at all. It’s rough. It can go a bit like this:

“Did you hear from your friend about that painting?” someone asks.

“No.” I say, “Well, they texted me. I didn’t feel up to talking right then, so I said I would call back today after work,” I add, followed by “They did say they really like the painting, in their message to me.”

(no shit, a real conversation I had)

So… yeah. What the hell?? When I see it written down, I totally get why that would be not just incredibly frustrating to wade through to get a simple “Yes, they liked it.” It also tends to seem potentially … dishonest? Misleading? Manipulative? Crafty? Vague? Withholding? Dissembling? A whole bunch of adjectives could apply. It’s not actually about any of that, though. I started answering the question I was asked before I actually understood the question at all. Along the way, my brain mixed up “hear from” with “speak to” – similar but quite different – and entirely missed the point of the fucking question until I’d provided a bunch of utterly unsolicited other information. So… slow down? Fuck yes. Easy, right? Well… maybe? It’ll take practice. I’ll say very bluntly that I’ve had “reply immediately” literally beaten into me (first marriage was a domestic violence nightmare I’m lucky to have survived). It’s hard to change behaviors that were heavily reinforced with violence or trauma. It takes more work and practice and commitment and awareness and encouragement and kindness and support than I can describe. It can be done. My results vary, though, and every failure is heart-breaking for at least a moment of pure distilled disappointment with myself.

…This isn’t “all about me” though. This particular challenge is very specifically the sort that commonly affects the people interacting with me, most. I’m kind, honest, open, and well-intentioned, but I’ve also got PTSD… and I’ve got brain damage. That’s going to present a combinations of characteristics some people just aren’t going to be willing to deal with long-term. So far my Traveling Partner still chooses to share this complicated journey with me. I’m very fortunate, and very grateful. I know it isn’t easy.

Caution.

So, yesterday, I walked on the beach alone, reflecting on my challenges, my abilities, love, and life, and work, and gave some thought to life’s curriculum on the topics of boundaries, and of communication. I was missing my partner long before I noticed my knees were aching, and headed home when the rain began to fall heavily.

I find myself, now, bringing my thinking “back to basics”: breathing, listening deeply, my “Big 5” relationship values (Respect, Reciprocity, Consideration, Compassion, Openness), and the book my own beloved recommended to me, early in our relationship…

It’s hard to go wrong with good basics…

Yep. I am re-reading The Four Agreements, again. Sometimes beginning again is simply a step forward, with new thinking. Sometimes beginning again means a new commitment to something that is proven to work well, when applied consistently. Now there is a day ahead of me… I see sunshine through the window shade. The aquarium needs maintenance. There is housework to be done. In spite of aching knees, I’d enjoy a walk in the forest, now that the storm damage from the recent ice storm is cleared away. All of that, and Love to nurture besides… looks like a busy day ahead.

…I guess it’s time to begin again…

I’m sipping my second coffee this morning, letting my mind take a break from work by looking over newly prepared canvases waiting for further attention, and a couple small half-finished pieces that I am working on a bit at a time. It’s a new approach. It reflects the feeling of permanence in this place. I sigh contentedly and sip my coffee, smiling.

…It’s not permanent. Very little, if anything, is. I sip my coffee staring into the colors on canvases, and lose myself in my thoughts…

Sometimes beginnings are untidy. It’s rare that an intention is effortlessly achieved. Things seem always to be “becoming”.

It’s a pleasant day to reflect on an unwalked path, an incomplete painting, or a dream as-yet-unfulfilled. I sip my coffee and try to do so in the context of impermanence, and a sort of accepting non-attachment… the future does not exist in my present. It’s up ahead, somewhere, waiting to become a moment all its own. I think about my notion that a cottage garden would be lovely out front… and the patience involved in seeing that become, first, a plan, then, over time, with some luck and persistence and any number of new beginnings… a garden worth lingering in. No certainty that it will be a “cottage garden”, really… That’s how things go; differently than planned. Often. 🙂 My results vary. lol

Still… I can begin again.

The cycle of holidays and seasons continues. I woke hoping to catch a glimpse of the Morning Star this morning (or, perhaps, this evening)… but no, it’s the Pacific Northwest, and the morning is cloudy, wet, and gray. No stars this morning. 🙂

Winter Solstice at home, 2020, the year of pandemic.

Yesterday’s flood waters have already receded. The morning is balmy and feels strangely mild after a day of chill winds and pounding rain. It’s the Winter Solstice (and, I hope, a merry one for you). I am smiling and eager, sipping my second coffee. I’ve planned a day’s painting, a way of celebrating, of meditating, of committing this day to memory. It’s special; I’m here, at home. 🙂

My Traveling Partner gave me some amazing gifts for Yule, and I opened them yesterday evening at his request; new paint, new brushes – and my lasting joy in this partnership reinforced, yet again, by his consideration. 🙂 I’m feeling very loved. I’m eager to get to work on new canvases, in this new studio.

I think a point I am making is that dates on calendars come and go. What lingers is the joy we take from the precious moments we share – when we allow those to be the details central to our thinking, and our recollections. (I mean… there are other choices.) What we commit to memory, and those details we regularly revisit, become the defining details of who we find ourselves to be, and how we see life, generally. Joy is not exclusive to any particular holiday – or any particular moment. I try to find my joy everywhere I can.

…This morning I am spectacularly joyful, on the order of an excited child…

I smile and sip my coffee. The euphoria of this one moment will fade. Perhaps even the rich cherished memory of it will also fade, with time. Hell, with the passage of time I may forget which particular gifting holiday resulted in my having these exquisite brushes. I have this moment, here, now, though, and I have this joy to cherish. It’s enough. 🙂

The morning sunshine breaks through the clouds. Perhaps a sunny day ahead? This studio has very good light on sunny days… I think it’s already time to begin again. 🙂

Merry Solstice, Humans. Here’s hoping we each find such joy as will sustain us through our darkest times, and my best and fondest wishes that we don’t need to use it that way, at all. 🙂

Not for consumption. Do not take internally.

Seriously; human beings can be mean, callous, insensitive, rude, inconsiderate, and yes, even deliberately hurtful. Don’t drink the poison just because it’s offered to you. 🙂 It can be quite difficult in the moment, when we’re feeling the emotional sting of something mean, cruel, hurtful, or just factually incorrect (based on our own also very human recollection), to remember that it isn’t actually personal at all; those hurtful words are a reflection of the thinking (and values, and intent, and practices) of the person saying them. Nothing to do with you, actually, unless you accept it, and internalize it, and make it your own. Why do that? Let it go.

We’re each human. Each having our own experience. Each writing our own narrative in our heads, cobbled together from our recollections, assumptions, expectations, values – and things we think we understand, about which we generally know far less than we assume we do. Even when we’re certain? Even when we’re “quite expert” in the field? Yep. Maybe especially then. We’re human. Thinking errors are built right in. I’m just saying, it’s very likely for any one of us that we are far less correct than we tend to assume, far more of the time than we’d ideally want to be, and waaaaaaay too willing to attempt to force our assumptions and thinking on others without even asking the simplest clarifying questions.¯\_()_/¯

…We could do better. I mean… I know I could.

recommended summer reading

I sip my coffee and let the day begin. Nothing fancy about it, although it feels very different. My workstation is in the dining room, and my fingers on the keys “feel loud”. I’m temporarily “kicked out” of my studio due to a leak my Traveling Partner spotted Friday (I’m damned glad he did!), and although we’ve gotten that fixed, there is some damage that needs repair, and some mold remediation required, too. Rather not sicken myself working in a potentially unhealthy environment, so with my partner’s help, a temporary workstation is set up. Homeowner stuff. :-\ It’s hard to grouse about it too much; it’s one of the things I signed up for, right? Taking care of everything that ever goes wrong? Yep. That’s on us now. LOL Fuuuuuuuuuuck.

Friday, when we spotted the damage being caused by the leak we later identified, was much harder. Paintings were damaged. I wept. There’s still a weight to the grief of that piece of this situation. It’s possible those paintings will have to be destroyed. 😦 The pain of it comes and goes, but seems mostly behind me, now. (I’m at the “paintings are just things” stage, this morning…) To get through it, to process the enormity of the emotional ache, I’ve spent rather a lot of time this weekend meditating on non-attachment (and how many of the things and experiences we become attached to in life serve only to cause us pain – because of the attachment, itself). I found it helpful, and rather more obvious, after all, that seems reasonable, when I do feel so much hurt. Letting go of some things is far easier than letting go others. Just being real.

I sip my coffee and contemplate all the many things I’ve let go of over a lifetime – often with considerable emotional resistance, sometimes because I’ve been literally forced to let them go by circumstances. I think about the pain of loss, and the relief involved in letting go of attachment. I consider how very many of life’s most painful disappointments feel that way because of the sudden severing of some unnoticed attachment to a thing, person, experience, or outcome. I wonder at the slow progression of healthy attachment toward unhealthy attachment that sometimes occurs in a relationship. I replay things my therapist has said about non-attachment, and practices useful for avoiding becoming “fused” with someone else’s emotional experience. The pre-dawn darkness slowly becomes morning light, and a new day. I finish my coffee. There’s a day ahead, and it’s time to begin again. 🙂

Where does this path lead?

*addendum and a wee follow-up note: I’m fully made of human. I really struggle with this one, like, nearly every day. Avoiding the pitfall of taking other people’s words, or experience, or emotions, personally – becoming attached to the feelings that causes me, and fused with someone else’s emotional experience is a shitty way to treat myself. So, I really work on this… a lot. Tons of new beginnings. Tons of self-compassionate reminders. A lot of moments to reflect on handling life more skillfully, and more comfortably. My results vary. That’s why I write about it. 😉