May 21, 2009 § 2 Comments
I’m still having a hard time with my creative “flow” if you will. You’ll remember that a few months ago I sprang forth with some sort of Inspiration Fountain of Arts and Crafts that lasted for a good two months and cost me hundreds of dollars at Joann’s and Michael’s – but don’t worry. I managed to get my hands on a 40% off coupon. I hear they’re rare.
Anyway, that slowly trickled away, what with the preparation for moving and a two and a half year old running around at top speed, telling me “Mommy, no sit down…let’s clean!” (I don’t know how she got this sickness, but I will work tirelessly to find a cure.) I have a lot of craft projects left undone, a lot of fabric organized and uncut, a list full of tutorials I really want to follow, and I keep planning to do it tomorrow, this weekend, when I get home from work. But I’ve always been tangential like that. I pick up hobbies in the blink of an eye, devote my life to them for two weeks and then pack them up for a year until the tangent grips me again because I saw a woman painting in a McDonalds commercial.
But I guess what worries me is that I’ve never been tangential about writing. Ever since I was a child and wrote a gripping ten page novel about a bug family that lived in a bush that caught fire, I’ve been in the clutches of the gentle madness of writing. All through highschool I filled notebooks with plays and short stories and movies and novels, wasting study hall on developing the relationship between a teenager and an evil (yet sexy) Missionary rather than, you know, study for the classes I was getting Cs in. Writing was my companion, my therapy, my diary in a way, and even when I took classes or workshops on writing and got negative feedback, I didn’t care, because I knew that my writing was good and I loved it.
But you know what happened? I started trying to make writing my career in earnest. I finished a manuscript, edited it until it was air tight and started sending out query letters. Editors called back asking for more pages, only to tell me that “It’s really great but…”. I was told that my story was too strange, unmarketable, that I’d need to change giant plot points or characters or motivations in order to sell the book, but I wouldn’t do it. I loved that book like it was a living, breathing creature. I wrote the book I wanted to find in the bookstore, but it was unmarketable because it wasn’t like the other books in the bookstore. So I put that airtight book in a box on a shelf and started writing a new book. But this time I wrote “by the book”. “Sum up the novel completely in the first paragraph,” “no sexual content until at least page 72,” “only two adverbs per page”. I dreamt up the story I wanted to write and then wondered how I’d have to change it in order to sell it.
That’s when I stopped loving writing like I did in high school. That’s why I quit acting, actually. When I started having to network and schmooz and ‘glad hand’ people in order to get to act, I lost my passion for it. And I’ve made that same connection with my crafting/art/collage work. Over the past year or so, I’ve only wanted to do crafting or art in order to blog it, or see if I could sell it on etsy, or MAKE SOMETHING MORE OF IT. Something in my brain says “if there’s not more to it, it’s a waste of your time”.
But Art for Art’s sake is important. Drawing and coloring and painting and sculpture and collage are important to keep our minds sharp, our hearts open, our imaginations active, especially when you’ve got a two year old wanting to “DO SOMETHING” all the time.
So I started my Art Journal. Not for the blog, not for a homework assignment, not for an editor or a boss or anyone else’s approval, just for me. It’s a book I can paint in and sketch and put together collages and inspiration boards. I’ve only done two pages…but I don’t care. I only work on it when I really feel like it, and I when I’m bored, I stop.
It’s so simple. But I think it’s a step forward. I hope and pray and wish that this acknowledgment of creating for my own fulfillment will help me regain my love for writing.
So I can make it my career. D’oh!
July 3, 2008 § 6 Comments
This week I started therapy to get my brain in shape. In two weeks I’ll start physical therapy to try and get my back, legs, hips, stomach, arms and neck in shape. No need to work on the small distance between neck and shoulder, that’s in the top 1 percentile.
Two minutes into my first session, my counselor had me pegged as a catastrophizing major depressive. Now I’ve been insulted before, on a number of occasions. A man at Soldier Field called me the C-word AND he said I was fat, but really, CATASTROPHIZING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE? You take that back. With his notebook propped on his knee he asked me why I thought I’d started catastrophizing things (don’t know). He asked me what exactly trigged my depression (don’t know). He asked me what started my chronic pain (ice) and finally, what started my dependence and addiction to pain medication (well, ice and Microsoft Word, I guess).
The first time I was prescribed Vicodin, I had slipped on the ice outside our apartment, and rather than let myself fall to the ground, I caught myself and jerked my spine back up into a standing position. I can replay that moment like a FILMSTRIP, hoping, praying, that this time I’ll just fall down and spare myself the nightmare years that followed. After taking two days off of work, unable to walk, my doctor called in a prescription for muscle relaxants and vicodin. I took one of each and fell into a peaceful sleep, so happy to have some relief. After two or three days, I began to feel better, and the pills sat untouched in my medicine chest for months. But as we all know now, that was not the end of my back problems nor the end of my prescriptions.
The difference was that the next time I needed my vicodin I wasn’t tired. I was wide awake and hurting. And what happened was that I experienced the greatest night of writing that I ever had or ever will encounter in my life. I sat, painfree, at my computer and my mind filled and spilled over with ideas; poetic phrases, literary allusions, plots and symbols, people, places and things. My depression was non-existent, pushed far away somewhere, and after weeks and weeks of coming home from work, barely speaking and then going to bed, I found I had more energy than I could ever imagine. But it wasn’t a wild, manic, racing energy. I was peaceful, content, optimistic, brimming with creative energy. Potential. For the first time in a while I wasn’t thinking about my back, or how I could have cancer and not know it, or my infertility. I was just writing.
Twenty three pages later I realized it was three o’clock in the morning and, smiling ear to ear at my accomplishment, I went to bed.
As time went on my back got worse and my depression persisted – feeding on 9/11, infertility, losing my job, weight gain and constant, unrelenting pain. I turned noticeably pessimistic, my sister’s depression had come and gone, treated and released, while mine grew unchecked. But my Vicodin put me at ease. With two pills I could feel my favorite sensations: relief,peace,contentment,creativity.
I’ve never understood people who get “high” on painkillers, and I’ve been on ALL of them. I’ve also been drunk. I know the tipsy, giggly, loud, uninhibited behavior, the freedom, the invincibility. I know what it is to be “loopy”. To be “flying”. I never felt that with Vicodin. It was quite the opposite. I was focused, ambitious and determined. I felt the “passion” for art that I’d had when I was younger and that I’d lost track of somewhere late in the nineties.
Soon I realized that I was taking this medication every day and I was afraid of being without it. Not only because I couldn’t even sit in a chair without wincing, but because I had fully convinced myself that I couldn’t write or scrapbook or devise a catering business or teach myself German without it.
My therapist nodded as I told him all these things, things that I hadn’t told other doctors for fear of being labeled a ‘drug seeker’. He told me that it made perfect sense. One of the functions of painkillers is to act as a sort of antidepressant, a mood elevator of sorts, and that some doctors even use them as such, depending on the kind of depression the patient was suffering. While this cleared up a lot of questions for me, I felt a tremendous sadness, knowing that way back then I had essentially found the antidepressant that best worked for me, but I’d ended up abusing it as my tolerance grew and now it’s gone.
A few months ago I told my aunt that I was afraid of being without painkillers not only because of the pain, but because I was afraid I’d never feel that passion and creativity again. I would, in essence, lose my imagination. And whether it’s self fulfilling prophecy or not, it’s true. I have no desire to write anymore and I don’t make time for it. I have no desire to return to pottery, to paint, to act, to scrapbook, to cook. I don’t want to throw parties. I no longer walk the streets pretending that my life is being filmed. I no longer pretend to be interviewed by Stone Phillips when I walk the dog. I no longer converse out loud with my characters while I drive alone in the car. When I go to bed, I fall asleep, exhausted, rather than lie awake imagining what my dream bathroom would look like or planning an imaginary trip to Europe.
Sure enough, I have no imagination.
I don’t try to invent better ice cream containers or write letters to the editor. I don’t make greeting cards or develop new recipes to send to Better Homes and Gardens.
And it’s time to realize that these things may never return. I may never get that creative contentment back. This is what I must come to terms with. Perhaps, like baby teeth, we are only granted our imaginations for a while, to steer us forward as we grow. In the end, normal is to find satisfaction in your job, in your family, in reading a good book instead of day dreaming that you wrote it. Normal is not talking to yourself in the car, or pretending your three speed bike is a prize racehorse as you coast down the “big hill” in your subdivision.
But I am not UNhappy. I smile uncontrollably at my daughter; I feel safe and content in the arms of my husband. My dog makes me laugh EVERY day. I have fun on vacation. I sleep well. My leg isn’t tingling with pain all the time. I no longer have to worry about running out of pills, or getting my refill, or ruining my liver.
Through therapy I will train myself to believe that this is enough. If euphoria can only be achieved chemically, then I suppose we were never meant to have it at all.
February 19, 2008 § 3 Comments
I left class early, wondering why I was taking it in the first place. Intermediate wheel throwing. I wasn’t an art student, mind you, I was a thirty five year old woman with a toddler and a husband. I worked in accounting. Pottery was my latest tangent, if you didn’t count embroidery, which you really shouldn’t, trust me. I had been taking wheel throwing classes for a year, amassing piles of useless bowls and vessels and giving them away as gifts as if I were some coveted artist, a fanciful JMC etched in the bottom to indicate a “GENUINE JESSICA MCCARTNEY”. But where was it going? I stood in the train station staring at a yawning hole in the street below. A water main had broken in the brutal January cold and within seconds the street collapsed, sucking in cars and parking meters and young trees like a growing mouth of hell. It amazed me how swift the flood water current ran, only twenty or so feet below the surface.
By the time I got home from class, my daughter, whom I prayed and wished and worked for for nearly eight years, was sound asleep.. She’ll never know that I kissed her goodnight, or stared at her tiny limbs all curled up beneath her like a frog on a lilypad. We were both growing older, and I missed a day of her life so I could play with clay. I recalled my mother telling me that the moment we’re born we begin dying. For some reason she felt like this was an appropriate and harmless little ‘factoid’ to lay on a twelve year old. My mind is a wall of graffiti, and that sentence is bold paint, a bit worn with time, not as sharp, not as harsh, but right in the middle, surrounded by other bits of wisdom. My cousin Tommy, for example, told me that if the nuclear power plant near my childhood home were ever to melt down, I would live long enough to “watch my skin melt like water”.
I left my baby’s room and changed into pajamas, anxious to read a meaningless style magazine, watch a sitcom repeat. These were surefire ways to clear my head of “serious business”. A sharp headache pulsed behind my right eye. Dehydration? Sinuses? Tumor?
“I’m not going to be awake too much longer,” I said to my husband, noting that it wasn’t even nine o’clock.
“Bad brain day?” he asked, whipping through channels while playing poker on the laptop.
Bad brain day indeed.