23 June 2011

On Joy

Of course I was apprehensive signing up for an art retreat with mother sick. I have signed up before and cancelled, enjoyed or had sick anxiety. So why would I take a chance? Because of the possibility of joy... I decided to attend the Gilded Life Art of Spring Event in June, 2011. Large group. 35 people.  Shiver. By the time it started, that number swelled to 55. Gulp.

There are three reasons I spend time alone and recoil from groups. First, I am an introvert. Not to be confused with shy, I enjoy quiet and solitude. I gain energy from it. I process, think and grow relationships in the space alone.

Secondly, I am sensitive. I cannot make small talk and often don't like what I hear during it. I want to connect or would rather beahome, alone, with all that yarn and Bravo tv.

Lesa Dailey's Bird sample for our class.

Lastly, when I am with people and connect, I do enjoy it, laugh and have fun. However, later and for DAYS I go back over every single thing I said, and did and punish myself. The Great Critic takes the joy retroactively out of the event, which is brilliant because I (a) lose any good stuff that came from the previous occasion and (b) am prevented from wanting to do that again.

Charlotte Perez pieces on display for vendor night.
Jo said when I criticize myself remember that is what I am thinking and not what is in other people's heads. I will have to remember that. And when I don't I can be miserable with my own thoughts and give myself a bad time for forgetting stuff and not using all that expensive therapy...Yes, The Great Critic is that good.

During the Art of Spring, I saw many women, all with stories, often sad, scars (I am drawn to scars, I seek scars), and I saw them living anyway.

Delicious Lulu Kellogg
Lulu, Heather, Jackie and Charlotte then became my teachers that weekend and today. Each with their own transformations from tragedy, what worse thing could happen to anyone than Charlotte? She describes herself as a grieving mother. And yet, vibrant, vivacious and vital, she throws that red-lipped mouth open and laughs. She lives her life, she lives her grief...Any. Way. I need to get alive like that.

The ever-shining Charlotte Perez

All of us were there, drawn together to get busy with our hands surrounded by beauty, cheering each other on, creating like women do. Special. Funny. Raw.

Shea and Debbie took very good care of us. Fed us. Surprised us. Played mama to us mamas who know how to appreciate some tender care.

Shea Fragoso with Madam Charlotte

I had such fun. But I did punish myself.

I can only try to do more of one and less of the other...

Heather Ales and I

Mainly, I realize my own story is rich, the landscape of my life, but, like LuLu, Heather, Jackie and Charlotte, it need not be an obstacle, just the vehicle to here. And if my pain is acknowledged, if I am validated, valued and loved, I can have great joy, not just alone but in the company of others.

Shea's blingy bracelet we learned in class. And yes, that is one big effin' diamond Lady Shea...
So, here's to us, we tired givers, we funny lovers, we powdered and accessorized women, we Gilded Girls who carry on and on.

I can shine too.
I know you will let me.
I just have to let me.

16 June 2011

On Suffering

The first thing I said her was that I am tired of thinking about my story. I am tired of analyzing. I think it is important but understanding doesn't change my reaction. Understanding makes me do better because I know better but it doesn't make my feel better in an old conflict. I told her "I want to access joy." I thought she would say I was in denial and needed to continue a contemplative look at the past and all it implies. Instead she said, "I agree, you should enjoy your life and have joy. You need tools."

And tools she gave me. Still it takes many seasons of crop rotation to improve the soil. It takes lots of weeding and watering. Lots of practice. Jo always said "practice, practice, practice, it's all practice."

And there I was nearly 17 years later sitting on her couch, that same couch where so many tears and revelations, tools and wisdom came, there I was once again in Jo's office, coming home to mama to help me through the struggle with my mother's chronic illness and my reluctant, guilt-filled, anger-fueled care-giving. It occurred to me that I have always wanted joy and have gotten so much better at having it, really having it. But the vine of guilt grows faster and chokes out beautiful blooms, some buds to appear then never open.

I had been thinking about my disabled brother Kerry. I had not even realized the impact living with him had because it was too deep and too dark to see. I was realizing the guilt I had that he wasn't "okay." I started reading about siblings of autistic, mentally ill, and addicted children (having had all three) and came to recognize the words to describe them in myself, responsible, sensitive and guilty. Not all bad to be sure. I remembered mother would shame me from bad behavior pointing out that my pitiful brother was in the shape he was and how could I "act like that?" She did it the wrong way from the right place of reminding me to be empathetic but because she was so hurt and sorrowful it came out as a guilty dart, stabbing my value, deflating it.

It occurred to me I believe fully that I cannot have joy while there is suffering. How could I enjoy my life while my poor mother was suffering so? And I told Jo. It hit me in a childlike revelation that someone will always be suffering. Mother would die and I would feel bad about living without her, laughing and enjoying my life while her little body lies in a dark box, hot, cold, indifferent to storms. Then there would be Kerry. So simple. I would recognize the behavior in anyone else but couldn't  see my own truth shrouding and informing my choices and feelings. You know what? I am not responsible for mother's illness. I am not responsible for Kerry's severe dysfunction. I am only responsible to celebrate my blessed life because what good does more suffering do? Why do I have to be punished?

Mother died 4 days later. I am grateful for this life-giving realization prior to her death for now I can grieve, I can integrate the enormous loss but I can also live fully.

And then more teachers came to me...
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