I did these two paintings back in April. Those who follow me on Twitter have seen them on our bedroom wall. The first one is me when I first moved to Atlanta: 19 and full of possibility. The second one is me right before I left: 31, older and a bit disillusioned I guess. I did these before deciding I really need to move away from color.
Last Sunday Symon was getting into the gaming stuff for our Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying.
Because everything's a toy.
Dice are irresistible to cats.
Wanna play Symon?
Shall we roll you up a character?
'I SHALL BE A RED DRAGON!'
I don't think so, Symon.
'Fine. Then I shall be in my Lair.'
'Pffft. I could have slayed them all.'
Here are the 12 pieces, for my 12 years in Atlanta, that I began working on before I made the two Atlanta big journals (these are glued into Journal 2). I worked on the sketchbook drawings and the 12 Calm Faces before I finished these (next blog post). They are intended to be the final word on my Atlanta artwork. As I began adding color the images were obscured and I kind of like that. I am symbolically leaving it all behind.
By the time I was finishing these up, I was getting tired of working on Atlanta and ready to move on. Kind of like when I am tired of living someplace and ready to move. Like I am now. At least metaphorically I can move onto Memphis.
THE SYMBOLS IN MY ATLANTA ARTWORK
When I tried to come up with ideas for my art while an undergrad, I was very literal. The issues I dealt with in my art were all negative, from life experiences: being female, societal pressures on appearance, feelings of anxiety, unhappiness.
I spent so many years feeling lost. I felt overwhelmed by life and ill-prepared for it. I had no idea how to go after what I wanted. I thought I had to wait for (as Martha Beck puts it) an “External Authority Figure” to discover me and then bestow success. I kept wishing for something to come along and completely change my life. A lottery winning. A chance meeting. An epiphany. A “Fresh Start” as I always read about in women’s magazines.
I look at my BFA paintings and I can see what I was trying to say. I felt trapped. Afraid. Unable to express myself. Unable to make things happen in my life. Feeling the pressure of time. Feeling the pressure of untapped potential. My shushed upbringing strangling me. My leaping figures were trying to express something, but they were so small and insignificant.
I was always trying to represent chaos. My mind was a mess of chaos. I had no idea how to relax. I had no idea how to be at peace. It wasn’t chaos, but unchecked anxiety, and I didn’t learn how to deal with it and quiet my mind until Martha Beck explained Lizard Brain.
PERIODS **Warning: Discussion of Menstruation**
I also spent my 20s enduring long heavy periods. This is why there is so much red paint in my BFA paintings, as well as calendars. Sometimes it felt like I was always on my period. My cycles were 35-40 days long and the periods lasted from a week to 11 days, with a few light days at the beginning and end and very heavy bleeding in the middle. My doctors all said, “Well, this is normal for you.” I felt like I was always bleeding my guts out and being reminded that I was a woman. My 30s and 40s were blissful by comparison, being on The Pill.
***End Period Discussion***
Interesting that I recently saw something on Tumblr about how attractive children are loved more by their parents, have higher expectations, grades, paying jobs, etc. than unattractive children/people. And I was thinking about how expectations for me were set so very low by my parents. I don’t think they expected much out of me at all. Get married, get a pathetic crap job, have children, what else would I do? And yet at the same time my Dad expected that everything I did had to be perfect, or I was deemed a failure. If I couldn't be the best then I shouldn't even try at all.
Sometime around the time I graduated high school the Indianapolis paper ran an article that math teachers were in demand, so my Dad suggested I become a math teacher. Never mind that I was no good at math, didn’t particularly like math or have an interest in math. My parents had such a 1950s factory worker mentality. Oh, a profession is in demand, why don’t you do that?
This lack of belief in me weighed down my self-esteem quite a bit. I painted figures that were despondent and sad.
I felt the heavy burden of time passing while I wasn’t accomplishing much – hence all the clocks. The moon shining through a window, awake at night and full of worry. The daily grind got to me, the monotony of doing meaningless office work, as did the years passing by.
I was so clunky, trying to match images to feelings.
Time = Clock
Blood = Red
Happy = Dancing
Sad = Crying
Chaotic = Messy
Orderly = Grids
LITERAL vs. METAPHORICAL
I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I was so literal until I read this blog post by Amanda Palmer: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (A Book & Marriage Review)
She tells the story, from her perspective, of how Neil Gaiman’s book and her Theatre Is Evil album came about. But the interesting part, for me, was where she talked about metaphor and being literal. It’s a small part of the blog post where she writes:
“maybe i *have* become too literal. that idea terrifies me.
i grew up in an atmosphere with no metaphor, and i can now, as an adult, cast my whole life in a perspective where i see my craving to escape that literalness as if it were the plague.” -AFP
When I read that part, suddenly I saw something about my own life that I had never seen before. I have been strangled in ‘literalness,’ trying so hard to put my feelings into literal images. Rather than stepping back and imagining something…more. I have been craving the more but I haven’t figured out the how or the what yet.
I also grew up in an atmosphere with no metaphor, no creativity, no poetry, nothing other than what was in front of us. Any expression out of the ordinary - dreams, beliefs, what-ifs, was tamped down, shouted down, made fun of or ignored. I craved a creative life and it still physically hurts to do such meaningless work in a shit office job. It’s why I was and am driven to create, even if I still can’t make a living from it. Even if nobody wants my art or hardly anyone sees it, I need to create in order to fill a need inside myself. I need to access that not-literal part of myself and give it a physical form out in the world.
I have struggled to make my artwork more than just: I feel this –*. I am still working on that part. I don’t have any solutions yet. For a few years I tried the mixed-media route, trying to express through texture and materials, but that wasn’t it. That was too much and not enough at the same time – too much stuff, materials and messy chaos and not enough expression. I am still searching for my solution, but having unloaded an awful lot of mental baggage, I feel like I am in a better position now to solve these problems than ever before. I am steering a lighter ship. As always, stay tuned.
Steve is running a new D&D campaign for me and a coworker of his. The two of us began the story with a High Elf named Eli ("Ellie"). The main story involves a Half Orc named Caylan. She has a Raven familiar, hence the campaign name: Raven's Call.
She's a bit more easygoing than most Half Orcs. Her tusks are small and easily hidden, so most don't realize she's a Half Orc. She's an Illusionist Witch in a Coven. Currently adventuring up North with a surly Wood Elf (3rd player's character) and a Palladin named Shelda. They plan to visit dragons.
All of these roleplaying portraits were done in my Butterfly Journal, which I am filling up, so I will do updated portraits in another journal.
When Steve started running a D&D roleplaying campaign for me, I did some character portraits, at his request. (D&D = Dungeons & Dragons)
Allics (pronounced "Ah-LEESH") is a Wood Elf. Below she is at Home Tree after all the Wood Elves were taken away, wondering what does she do now?
Allics in Lamasarra (a desert town in another realm).
Reunited with her Halfling friend, Dana.
After her blond hair turned dark in Lamasarra.
Redone portraits near the end of the story.
A redone Grumahr - managed to make this Half-Orc look more masculine.
Steve was going to run another campaign in the same realm as the Allics story, but in a different location. This is a Drow named Alayne, who was raised in a Northern territory, away from Drow.
Now he is running a completely new campaign - next blog post.
My siblings flew me up to Vancouver, BC in June to visit, and to meet my two nephews' children, whom I had never met (both nephews have three children apiece).
Symon settled on the bed by me the night before I traveled.
I didn't take our camera with me, but took photos on my phone and texted them to Steve to post on Twitter. (I have since gotten a new cell phone number, after a spambot stole my number earlier this year and created an account, preventing me from using my own cell phone number-anyway...)
So, Airport Story: Steve took that Friday off to drive me to the airport. We stopped at Dairy Queen for lunch on the way - burgers and shakes. At the airport he parked and walked me in, up to Security. It's been a really long time since we've been apart for the night. It's been years since I have taken a trip without him. I was sad to leave Steve and apprehensive about this trip in general. Part of it was not being able to afford the trip myself. And being apart from Steve, and Symon (we weren't sure how he would handle my absence - turned out he was fine, but he did sit in the front window for a few days).
I was fine until I had to hug Steve goodbye at Security, and then I started crying. I haven't flown since 2007 so this was my first trip through the naked body scanner. I didn't realize that my boarding pass gave me a quick pass through Security (until I looked at it later). I loaded all my things for the x-ray machines, including my shoes, the whole time with tears running down my face. The Security agents just ignored that. Then I exited the Security area, put my bags on a bench to get some Kleenex, and waved goodbye to Steve, who had stayed at the entrance to wave goodbye. I'm dabbing my eyes and crying.
Then this woman comes up to me. "Hi! Don't you work at Kelley? You're down in our area for the summer, aren't you!" And I am looking at this woman and I swear I have never seen her before in my life. She works in the department where we were temporarily relocated for the summer, while our old office space was torn up, before we moved into the new section last week. But I swear I'd never seen her. And I AM CRYING. I must have looked a wreck. But she completely ignored that and chattered away at me like we're old friends. I don't even remember what I said. I mumbled something and she wished me a good trip and bounded off to her gate. I was like: REALLY?? REALLY?? I WAS CRYING. Clearly upset. I am menopausal with hair trigger emotions, sobbing with Kleenex, and you're going to chatter away at me, really?! After I got to the gate and called Steve I had to text my office mate, who couldn't believe it. I calmed down walking around the gate area and ended up having an $8.50 beer at a restaurant at the gate.
It was a quick flight up to Toronto, a very long walk to customs and then my gate, and then a 5-hour flight to Vancouver. That's a long time to be on a plane. And I didn't know we were going to fly into Vancouver over the bay, so close to the water I thought we were landing in it. I texted my sister L. when I landed, and she texted back: Hockey game in OT. For the cup. Hang on! She actually beat me to curbside pickup. Later one of my nephews had to show me on YouTube how the hockey game was lost because a player didn't follow a rule they learn in pee wee hockey.
This is the amazing view from my sister and brother-in-law's condo deck, of the city of Vancouver.
And me having a Salmon Burger at Granville Island. I was determined to have a Salmon Burger while I was there! (It is not ground up salmon, but a salmon filet on a bun.) Steve and I loved to have those when we went to Granville Island (visiting from Seattle).
I kept stepping out onto the deck to take Selfies:
Sister M. arrived on Saturday and we all drove out to Nephew #1's house. L.&I. drove back to their condo, but came back the next day because there was a children's choir concert. After the concert I took this picture outside. We all went to a pizza place and Nephew #2 and his family joined us.
This is me in Nephew #1's backyard:
They have two cats:
Every evening we played the board game Star Trek Catan. Nephew #1 bought me a copy of the game for my birthday. Here's us playing after I got home:
Nephew #1 rummaged around for candles for my 50th birthday cake and this is what he came up with:
I was very happy NOT to have to turn 50 in Indiana.
This is me in Nephew #2's backyard:
They have one cat, with unusual markings:
I wanted to bring home some salmon. My sister recommended we go down to the docks at Granville Island and buy a fish off a boat. Here is where I bought my salmon:
In the same area (different day) - see the Heron perching on the sign?
I realized after a couple of days in Vancouver that I was very, very calm. Like all of my usual daily worries drifted away. Maybe because I was in a completely different place, away from my Daily Grind.
I took a set of 6 'panorama' photos - not really panorama - I just kept turning and taking more photos:
I drank a lot while I was there. Steve suggested I go dry one evening, but I did not, sending him this photo:
I was tired a lot, but it was a good tired. The time change. Staying up late. Waking up early. Alcohol consumption. And lack of proper coffee.
Sunset in Vancouver:
So, let me tell you the story of how I got that whole salmon home. I bought a whole salmon (gutted only) for $30 USD. Sister L. put it in her little extra freezer. I didn't realize she moved stuff to freeze it upright. That wasn't necessary - it really should have been curled up. The next morning I got up at 4:00 am to pack, etc. We put the fish wrapped in newspaper into a plastic bag, then into a mylar bag that sister M. used to bring oysters from Seattle, then into a black insulated shopping bag.
The fish wouldn't fit into my duffel bag! -which zips in the center. It wouldn't fit all the way through the opening. I was panicking! Then L. got out a duffel bag she had that zips from end to end and the fish fit perfectly. So we traded duffel bags. I put the salmon at the bottom and my clothes on top.
How I Hurt My Back:
My goodness, was my luggage heavy. Duffel bag with frozen fish, chocolate bars and clothing. Messenger bag with Star Trek Catan board game, books and all my other stuff. Getting through U.S. customs was really quick - they have computer screens. I checked 'yes' for bringing in food/groceries and when the agent asked what I had - salmon and chocolate - he couldn't have cared less. When I got to Minneapolis, I got off the plane, and was moving in super slow motion. Their airport has these trams that guys drive all over the place. One guy had his almost full, and he asked me if I wanted a ride; I declined. Then another guy drove by with an empty tram, turned around and came back. He asked me where I was going and I told him the gate. He got off, put my bags on the tram and said, "Please get in and let me drive you." Because I was clearly struggling. The gate was a very long way. It wasn't until I got out and he got my bags off the tram that I realized I should tip him. "You accept tips? All I have is a $20." "No problem!" Meal options at the gate were not great. I wasn't going to get a $12 burger, so I got McDonald's and ate at the gate. My layover was FIVE HOURS. I stayed at the gate. Sister L. said I could stow my bags and tour Minneapolis. Yeah, no. No way.
I was very happy to see Steve again. And I was ready to be back home, with Steve and Symon. The first thing Steve did was make me some good coffee! We drink Starbucks Pike Place at home.
And the fish was still frozen when I got home.
We baked the salmon the next day. Oh my goodness there is nothing like Pacific Northwest Salmon.
So, the next week I went back to work. This was the last week in June. That Thursday I was putting some photos in photo frames for a summer program - they give all the participants a photo as a memento. And I did something stupid - which I KNOW I shouldn't do - as I was taking out the label/sample photo from the frame, I was leaning to the side to drop them into my recycling bin at my desk. I KNOW I SHOULD NOT DO THIS. I have hurt my back doing this before! I only did it about a dozen times before I realized what I was doing and stopped. But I think because I had already stressed my back carrying luggage, this took me over the edge. That evening my back was sore, and got progressively worse.
I took 2 Advil before bed, 2 more during the night, 2 more Friday morning, and 2 more at lunchtime. It was a very quiet Friday and my back was really bothering me so I asked if I could go home early. I was able to leave at 2:15 pm (my coworker I cover for was out that week and the next - 4th of July - week). I took the bus home and very quickly showered before my back hurt any worse. And did it ever. The only semi-comfortable position was on the bed on my stomach.
Steve stopped at the store on the way home for back pain pills. They don't make Doan's anymore, so he got something else. It barely took the edge off. I called my Dr's office but they said she doesn't work on Fridays and it would be Monday before she would get a message. Neither of us thought of Urgent Care.
Steve ordered a pizza and I ate it in bed, on my stomach. We tried the heating pad, we tried ice packs. I was sobbing it hurt so bad. I have never been in that much pain. Steve wondered if he should take me to the ER, but it hurt too much to move and I didn't want to spend hours in a waiting room because I was not an emergency, not to mention the cost. I slept on the living room floor. I thought I needed the hard support of the floor, but this was a really bad idea because it hurt so much to get up off the floor. And I barely slept at all - the only comfortable position was on my side with my arm under my head, until my arm fell asleep and woke me up.
Saturday morning, Steve moved me to the floor of the computer room. He ran out and did shopping. When he got home I was still in such constant pain that I called my Dr's office again, to see if anyone was on call who could call in something for the pain. They took a message and an on-call Nurse called me back within 10 minutes. She said, "You need to be seen," and told me to go to Urgent Care. I told her it hurt so much to stand up. She said, "If you do nothing, you will wind up in the ER in the middle of the night. The body can only take so much of that level pain. Please. Try." So I said I would.
It probably took 10 minutes for me to get up off the floor and into the computer chair, which actually felt marginally better. Steve brought me my deodorant, clean underwear and shirt, and I went out in my sleeping shorts and slippers. I didn't care! Steve put a pillow on the car seat for me. My handwriting was so messy filling out the forms. I sat in a chair in the waiting room wincing with pain. Finally I was called back.
The nurse and the doctor both asked me the same questions the on-call nurse had - did I have pain shooting down my leg or up my back? Any numbness? Difficulty urinating? No - then it's just a sore back. The doctor kept nodding his head, looking bored, like: Yep, you hurt your back. He prescribed three drugs: a pain med, a muscle relaxer and an anti-inflammatory. Those were some very strong drugs. We stopped at Target and Steve ran in to get them, then at home he sat me in the comfy chair while he made dinner. I took the pills right away, but it took them awhile to kick in. The AC vent made me shiver. I think my body was so overstimulated from the intense pain for 24 hours that it was just shutting down. I went to bed with my heavy wool blanket.
The next day, Sunday, I was so woozy from the drugs that I determined I couldn't go back to work. I emailed my supervisor and other senior staff. It was a holiday week, and things had been very quiet at work anyway. The drugs made me nauseous and I didn't feel like eating much for a couple of days. Or doing much of anything - I couldn't concentrate to read. Writing in my journal made me dizzy. And I couldn't sleep properly either. The drugs kept me in a state where I was dreaming but still awake. That lasted most of the week. And my body was twitching when I tried to sleep.
I have to say that while I hated the pain I went through, I did enjoy having a whole week at home. Symon jumped up on the bed and settled on my chest, unbidden! He never does that! I guess I was finally deemed worthy of Cat Duty.
My best friend J. gave me a really big Amazon gift card for my birthday so I got a Kindle. I spent the week learning how to use it. I love my Kindle. I love being able to sit in bed and surf Twitter and Tumblr. And we moved the boom box out of the bedroom and now play the Sleepy Music channel on Pandora at night.
The next week I worked half-days to get used to sitting in a chair all day again. It was those mornings when I got my big journals done (paper torn down and journals sewn). I also finished uploading photos to Shutterfly and uploaded a lot of documents to our Amazon Cloud (which we have had with the Amazon Prime membership but didn't realize).
Steve was so wonderful during the whole ordeal, doing all the dishes and cooking. I kept using the ice pak for a few weeks and kept twitching when trying to sleep until I had all the drugs out of my system. It took several weeks to fully recover. My chest was hurting when I walked up the hill from the bus stop in the evenings. I have been trying to take extra good care of myself and my back especially.
And I have been trying to hold onto the calm that I achieved during my trip. I hope I am succeeding.