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.
Sometimes I feel that I need greater creative focus. You know how it is: I have limited time and energy, so whatever I can get done isn’t going to amount to much unless I focus on getting one thing done–all the way done–before moving on. Besides, I feel guilty whenever I find a half-finished and now-forgotten art project in a drawer or cabinet, all alone like an orphaned child.
Yet although I want to focus, there are times when I just can’t seem to make it happen–the line from the start of a project doesn’t seem to lead straight to its completion. For example, a while back Fran posted pictures of some of the stamps she carved by hand on her blog. They were wonderful, and I immediately remembered that I loved to carve stamps myself and that I had some Staedtler MasterCarve blocks ready and waiting in my art stash. I quickly got them out, put them on my desk, and started thinking of what to carve.
But that was back in October! And when did I finally carve that stamp? Just four days ago. I got tired of those blank carving blocks staring at me whenever I sat at my desk to work on another journal page or watercolor or drawing. “I have done so much–why haven’t I made time to carve a stamp?” I kept asking myself. Since I had no good answer (except that “lack of focus” thing), I did one stamp–had a lot of fun, by the way!–and put the other uncarved blocks away because I have way too much going on. I’m trying to make some cards to sell and maybe set up an Etsy account, remember?
But just as I was promising myself that I would do better, my latest order from amazon.com arrived: a set of 12 Inktense Pencils and some watercolor paper. Once I peeked inside the pencil tin and saw the wonderful colors in there, I decided I’d start keeping that promise next week. (It took me six months to get around to carving a stamp–I wasn’t going to let these pencils sit unused for that long!)
In the end, I decided that I would compromise with myself this way: do something toward finishing one long-term project, then do something else that I just randomly want to try. (This makes these side projects seem move like a diversion than a distraction.) So this morning I photographed about half the cards I plan to offer for sale and, once that was done, I treated myself to some time with the new Inktense pencils. (Everyone says these are great, and they really are! So creamy to draw with, such bright colors when wet!) I hope that I may have found a balance between chaos and control, focus and randomness… we’ll see! After all, a quick count reveals that I have more than 30 books downloaded to my e-reader–none of them finished–yet.
The other day I was moving around the piles in my art area–pretending I was cleaning up–when I came across my first “real” watercolor painting. It is about 12 to 15 years old, and seeing it again surprised me in many ways with the memories it holds.
First, I remembered how disappointed I was when I had finished this painting. Somehow, it did not look the way I had intended. But now that I can no longer remember what I had in mind, I think, “well, it’s not so bad.” Years later, I find I can be easier on myself.
Then I remembered how much effort I had put into this painting: I had taken a recent photograph of my own, enlarged it on a copy machine, then traced it, transferred the tracing to watercolor paper, and then finally started painting. Whew! And the painting had taken hours–when I think about it, I can still feel the tension in my back and shoulders from hunching over that piece for longer than I should have. (It didn’t help that I had no art desk at the time and worked on the coffee table in the living room while sitting on the floor.)
No wonder I stayed away from watercolors for a while!
Today is different. In the past 12 or 15 years, I have learned that if working at art isn’t going to make me relaxed and at peace, I shouldn’t bother. As a result, my style is very different from what I attempted before: simple, sometimes abstracted, and only what I can create in the brief span of time when the kids are occupied with projects of their own. And instead of trying to achieve realism, I’m more interested in expressing feelings and emotions.
Yes, I may have given up my efforts for technical mastery, but I have found what enjoyment art can bring to my life. That seems like a fair trade to me.
Sometimes, the stress of everyday life seems too much. I race from meeting to meeting at work, race around helping to take care of the boys when I get home, and by the time my body collapses into bed, my mind is racing. Sleep can seem a long time off.
So I’ve started taking 15 to 30 minutes at night once the boys are asleep–no matter how tired my body feels and no matter how many dishes are in the sink–to draw. I find an image from an art book at home and copy it (or just a portion of it). It works wonders for relaxation!
Because I am copying another’s work, this exercise is both good practice and pressure-free. (I don’t have to spend mental energy trying to be creative or original.) It must also be good for my mental health, because once I close my sketchbook, I immediately drift into a trouble-free dreamland.
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.
This hasn’t been a week conducive to blogging. It’s been too busy for clear thoughts… like “what’s my name again?”… let alone writing!
So rather than force myself to come up with something that wouldn’t be worth your precious reading time, I’ve photographed and posted the first three spreads from my contribution to The Sketchbook Project, Limited Edition. My theme is “The Secret and How We Tell It,” which I am excited about.
I used to create a lot of photocopier art, which I’ve incorporated into the book. I also took the time to rebind the book, creating new pages from 90 lbs. Canson Foundation Series Watercolor paper. This paper has been perfect–not too heavy for a slim book, yet heavy enough to take washes of acrylic color and layers of acrylic gloss medium without buckling.
There will be more pages from the book–and more meaningful blog entries–coming soon!
And P.S.–As I write this, there are still more than 1,000 openings for this project. Head over to arthousecoop.com to sign up!
I use my time with my art journals to relax, to be peaceful, to move my hands–because when I do that, it helps my brain work things out. I try new techniques and new art supplies. I try to get better at drawing. I hardly ever illustrate a struggle I am having or a problem I am experiencing, although I know others do and find it very therapeutic. Instead, my journal is a respite from those things.
Until this week, when I did something different. When I sat down at my art journal, all I could think about was Antonio’s calendar.
But I should start at the beginning: a little while ago I made a calendar for him because, as someone on the autism spectrum, he has a bit of trouble understanding what’s past and what’s future. He lives in the moment, and this presents some problems. For example, three days before Christmas, he started sobbing suddenly. Why? Because he thought Christmas had passed and no one had told him, and he had missed it. With a calendar, we can cross off each day and he can be sure there’s nothing he’ll miss. Using it, we arrived at Three Kings Day without tears! (Although whenever I hear someone preaching that we need to live more “in the now,” I still roll my eyes.)
Recently, Antonio wanted to order a special toy online with some of the money he received for Christmas. Now, most adults that you could ask would tell you that they are satisfied with amazon.com’s shipping speed, but they aren’t 6-year-olds with an autism spectrum disorder. The steps of order processing, shipping from the warehouse, and arriving at our home seemed like torture to him. Each day after the order was placed, I arrived home from work to a disappointed son who would moan, “It didn’t come today–again!”
No matter what I said or did, he just didn’t understand why he didn’t have the toy already. I could not reach him–not through compassion or logic–and that was torture to me.
Of course, once the package arrived, all the waiting was forgotten and he was happy. (Maybe there are a few benefits to living in the moment after all.) Me? All I’m left with is a journal page and a question: what do I do differently next time?
Years ago, I was introduced to a man through my job that I knew immediately must have been through a grim battle. He was polite, smart, and reserved. Yet his solemn mien told me he had stared the undertaker in the eye and said a firm, resounding, “No.”
I never got to know him well, but others who did told me that he had survived cancer. So that explained it.
Since my brain surgery, I often think of him. I feel that in many ways I have said “no” to limitations and defeats of my own, and I wonder if those who meet me see my scars so obviously, like I saw his.
But, the thing is, I don’t want to be known for saying no. I want people to hear me saying “yes” after I have refused defeat.
Not because I think that, in saying “yes,” I have the better, wiser, more complete answer. There are times when you are so injured in your fight that all you can do is manage to stand your ground and say “no,” and that is the bravest, most powerful, best thing you can do. But “no” leaves little room for whimsy and fun. Any joy must be quiet.
For me, the fight is not over once I have said “no” to a circumstance that would defeat me. It continues until I am able to say “yes” to other things, the next things, better things.
I have found that my enjoyment of my sons, art, and life as a whole has to come from a place of yes. I don’t want to feel as if I can no longer doodle goofy hearts, act silly with my three-year-old, or even (get this) forget the whole brain surgery thing for a few minutes. To do any of that, I have to find a way to say “yes.”
Don’t mistake me–I don’t want to seem as if I have never been through trials and tough experiences. Yes, they have forever changed me. But they cannot define me.
It been about six months, and over a thousand views, since I started this blog. My original goal in writing was to assuage some guilt: many people told me that I should write a book about my brain surgery and recovery–so many and so often that I was afraid that my lack of action was becoming offensive to them. (“Why won’t she listen to us?” I could hear them mutter.)
I didn’t want to seem lazy. And I fully believed (and still do) that if what I learned from my experiences can provide help or comfort to anyone–well, then it was all worthwhile. I was flattered by the suggestions and didn’t want to seem ungrateful. But a whole book? I sense the possibilities, yet with a full-time job and two young kids–do you think I need a new project?
A blog, with brief posts and no deadlines, seemed like the perfect compromise.
So here we are, readers and writer, for my last entry of 2011. And I have to say thank you, because I have learned so much from my readers! You have commented, emailed, and otherwise told me how much a certain post or journal page meant to you. You have shared your own experiences with me. You have given my blog and my artwork your time and attention–two things that always seem in short supply these days! You have given me encouragement and compliments. You have shown me time and again that art and creativity really can connect us all. People seem amazed at my recovery, yet they don’t realize what a large part they have in it. (What, did you think I did this by myself?)
Did I say thank you? Then I need to say it again. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Let’s have a virtual group hug as we head into 2012. I wish great things for all of us!