Fran’s blog is beautiful, colorful and fun–just like her art! If you check it out, you’ll see a recent piece I sent her (similar to the one above; I made two and couldn’t decide which was better) as well as lots of examples of yummy watercolors and bright sketches!
Most of you know that my brain surgery was six years ago. And some of you know that before my surgery, I ran about 10 miles a week.
I loved running. It was a chance to be outside and appreciate each season and its own unique beauty. It was a way to be fit. I felt accomplishment when I finished a 5K. And running cleared my head when I needed to turn off my brain for a little while.
So when I was recovering from my surgery and barely able to walk, the question of how soon I could return to running was always on my mind. It was a painful question, but not as painful as the look that would flash across the face of any physical therapist or doctor I put the question to. They would stumble through some non-committal answer, and I would realize that they didn’t want to hurt me with the truth, but didn’t want to lie to me either.
Finally, someone explained to me that my balance might not every be good enough to run again. Asking my body to successfully land on one foot–essential for running!–was asking too much. So, I pretended to drop the subject.
Then, I really did drop it. With work and kids and art, who has time to exercise, let alone run?
But last week I remembered Jill Bolte Taylor saying in her book that she didn’t feel she was completely healed until she could water ski again, 8 years after her stroke. Eight years and she never gave up! (There’s a link to her TED talk on my “More About Brain Injuries” page.)
So since I was out for a walk and no one was looking, I decided to try it. I would see if I could run. If I landed flat on my face, then I’d try again in another few months.
The amazing thing is, I could do it! Now, it’s not a regular run–it’s definitely a brain-surgery-patient run, but it’s more than I have been able to do for six years. My feet leave the ground; I come down on them one at a time. (Yay, me!) And it feels great. Yes, my knees are killing me, but who cares? I ran! Just a couple of yards at a time, but I did it a few times and didn’t fall. Amazing.
When I first heard that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had decided to resign, I didn’t know what to think. But a few hours later, when I heard Cokie Roberts on NPR explain that, “She attended the anniversary [of the shooting that injured her] event and realized how much a public appearance like that would take out of her,” I wanted to cry.
It was the shock of recognition. I know exactly what it feels like to have come so far in your recovery–only to return to something that had been familiar (almost easy) in the past, and be reminded of how hard it is now. You are forced to realize that although you have come far and worked hard at recovery, you are not your pre-injury self, and you might not ever be. Nothing can be assumed; nothing can be taken for granted.
Sometimes I have felt resentment: “I’ve worked hard at getting better, why can’t I have this? Why can’t I do this? I deserve it as a reward for all I’ve been though.”
Other times I am wise enough to say, “First things first. Take care of yourself. Other things will come.”
Representative Giffords choice seems to me the wise one–the brave one. I wonder if she even felt a bit of the resentment that sometimes comes to me. And although I felt sad at her resignation before, now more than ever I feel she is a hero. Her grace is to be admired. Her recovery is a miracle.
And I know few would disagree with that statement. It just took me a bit longer to get over the shock and realize it.
Recently, I’ve seen a few artists online who have made Teesha Moore’s 16-page journal. That motivated me to post the instructions for Pam Carriker’s 12-page journal, although I haven’t posted a “how-to” here before.
I like Pam’s journal because it’s a bit simpler, involves no measuring, uses the single sheet efficiently, and can easily be adapted to any size sheet. And it really does take only about ten minutes to make! I have made this type of journal twice, both times using 14×17 sheets of Strathmore drawing paper. (One is the Everyday Journal I posted on flickr: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjw2quTm.) I like to work small, but I think I will try making one from a 22×30 sheet next time.
Some notes on the instructions: 1) Maybe you want to reverse steps 4 and 5 so that you don’t accidentally tear open the folds that are to be to the spine. 2) For heavier paper, wet the edges you will tear open; it makes it easier. 3) Want 24 pages? Just do the same steps with two sheets at once instead of one.
Yesterday, I hung up a recent journal page on the bulletin board in my office. I do that sometimes–it gives me a chance to think about a page or technique, and what does or doesn’t work about it, while I eat lunch at my desk. (I gotta get in that art contemplation time whenever I can!)
Both my bulletin boards (there are two) and my white boards (I have three) at work are full. There are to-do reminders, photos of the kids, schedules and calendars, thank you notes, awards and certificates, and the random journal page or two. Until yesterday, there was also the last two notes from co-workers that were left for me when I was out of the office recuperating from my brain surgery.
Those notes–short and simple but generous in spirit–are precious to me. There were so many of them! I will never forget my first day back at work after medical leave when I walked to my office and found that the white board on my door (where I sometimes post my schedule for the day) had been covered with kind messages from friends at work. “We miss you.” “We love you.” “Can’t wait until you’re back.” I left those messages there for years–three years, in fact. They were encouraging reminders that I saw daily, and they helped me get through some difficult days when I felt exhausted and frustrated by my limitations.
And then, I erased them. Three years after I returned to work, I was suddenly tired of being, “the girl who had the brain tumor.” I decided that my co-workers and I would have plenty of ups and downs to share in the times ahead, and I didn’t have to keep those messages as if they were the only kind words that would ever be written to me. (Plus, the were starting to get smudged.) Those messages were written on my heart and mind–I no longer needed to see them to remember them.
There were also notes handwritten on cards or scraps of paper, and these I moved to my bulletin board. Yesterday, however, there was no space left for the journal page I wanted to put up, so I decided it was time to take down the last two messages. I put them in a drawer. Hung up my journal page. Remembered that I needed to be “future-focused.” And tried to have a normal work day until 5.
Talented journalist and crafter Roberta Wax asked me to appear as a guest on her blog, Creative (Un)block. Check it out for a recent journal page and collage that I haven’t posted here yet!
Here’s the link:
You should go there!
There is a wonderful TED Talk from Elizabeth Gilbert (the author of Eat, Pray, Love) about the nature of genius, inspiration, and artistic talent. In that talk, she explains that the earliest understanding of a “genius” was not of a talented person or artist. Instead, a genius was a spirit, like a god or a muse, that would come to visit the artist and hopefully inspire and inhabit his or her work.
This was news to me, and news I immediately liked. Why? Because when thinking this way, I find that I am no longer solely responsible for what I can or cannot produce artistically. Beautiful journal page? Then my genius must have been around. Awful-looking page? Well, my genius must have been busy somewhere else. Oh, well.
Gilbert expresses, though, that artists have some responsibility: they need to “show up” and be ready to meet their geniuses when they arrive. Luckily, I have a place to do that.
A few months ago my husband refinished an old piece of furniture that was around the house. He made it into an art desk for me; the first one I’ve had since moving to Texas seven years ago. (Yes, I’ve been working at the kitchen table between meals, homework, and board games.) He then helped me re-purpose an old entertainment unit into an art supply cabinet. (No more cases hidden underneath the baker’s rack.)
Now I am finally ready. Here I am. Let’s hope a genius comes along!
Gilbert’s talk is at: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html
I can’t explain what inspires me. I’m not even sure that I can explain what inspiration is! But I know that there are certain pieces of art that say to me, “OK, once you are done looking, you need to go make something.”
Now I live in the DFW area, but on September 11, 2001, I was living in northern New Jersey. And everyone I knew was directly affected by the attacks on the World Trade Center that day. So many memories.
Today I am thinking of just one–about my friend Cindy. Like me, Cindy lived about 40 minutes from Manhattan (but north, in New York). I first got to know her as a frequent contributor to the art stamping magazine I edited. By the time we talked on September 12th, we had become close friends. That day, in her pain and anger, she told me, “I’m going into my studio. I need to make something.”
I was still dazed; I could hardly accept what happened. And she was talking about art.
Later, I thought I understood. Sometimes making art is what we need to work though a situation that is difficult, or even impossible, to understand. We paint or draw or cut and paste; and while our hands move, wheels in our brains turn, too; and hopefully wind themselves up to a better place.
Other times it is a way to reach out to others. When we seek human connection to assuage fears and confusion, we offer whatever we have.
Now I know these things.
I will probably work in my art journal this weekend. It may or may not have anything to do with this ten-year anniversary. But either way, I’ll be thinking of the line Mark sings in the musical RENT: “The opposite of war isn’t peace. It’s creation.”