If Fortunate

It’s mid-August and the weather feels like mid-September, warm days and cool nights. I get up at midnight and close the windows to half. The first blanket is back on the bed; I lay it over my feet, and by morning it’s up to my shoulders.

I count on my fingers. Ten months since I was last here. Ages. And gone in a flash.

My Mom died at the beginning of November. Grief is a strange and unpredictable ride. I stopped writing.

The pandemic, officially identified in March, introduced me to a stew of feelings that shifted, on some days, by the minute.

I forced myself to stay away from the news sites. Once every three days was all I could handle, and even that left me alternately chilled and in flames.

Months before the pandemic, I was longing for writing time uninterrupted by errands and appointments. Now time was mine in abundance, and I hadn’t the focus to write. I blame the feelings stew.

So I moved into Plan B. If writing isn’t working, do its opposite. I read. Should say I READ—there was a ton of it happened. I learned from the writings of others, and thank you fellow writers for carrying me and saving me.

In May my words returned. Draft number four is more than half done, and I truly love what has happened to the shape of my book. It’s become word and image–narrative, lists, pages that hold only a dozen words scattered in the white space, drawings, photographs. It’s like me, a kind of story that’s also a scrapbook.

Blessings wrapped and buoyed me all these months. That I and my family and friends remain well. That I am writing something I love. That I find ways through if I am patient and watch for light, warmth, and kindness to show themselves.

I don’t laugh as much, but I love bigger.

I am not the person who wrote the last post of October 2019.  I am shaken, broken, turned round, made whole again. Not sure I recognize this new me, and I welcome learning who I am.

One thing I know already. I am fortunate, and I hope you who read this are also.

Sending love, kindness, and care.

The Pain Equation

When I had fibromyalgia, my family and friends did their best to understand how I felt, and what my body was feeling. It was difficult for them, and not their fault their efforts to do this fell short.

It’s hard to imagine chronic pain if you’ve never experienced long pain.  When I say long, I don’t mean days or even weeks.  I mean at least one year of it, and I mean pain that gets in your way.

I’d always been a math kid, and even as an adult I understood best when I could turn something into a kind of equation.  The equation didn’t have to be numbers.  Words worked too.

I decided to invent a pain equation for fibromyalgia.

Fibro affects muscles, and every kind of muscle is vulnerable to this illness. This meant I needed to know how many muscles are in the human body.  Turns out, that’s a debatable point.  It depends on how you define muscle.  I decided to go with 700, since that is roughly the number of named muscles. 

There are also uncounted, un-named muscles in the body, but if I added those into the equation, the numbers moved beyond something imaginable.  I wanted to stick with numbers someone else could imagine into an experience.

Everyone who has experienced pain knows it’s not so much about the physical sensation as it is about time.  Pain is about how long will this pain last and can I outlast it.  Pain is about endurance.  Therefore the equation I was building needed to include time.

Fibro pain is always present, and the pain is always everywhere in every muscle, the named and the anonymous.  24/7, as my son Bryan would say.  Bryan understands pain; he is disabled because of chronic pain, the end result of an accident.  He likes the idea of a pain equation.  Pain is concrete to the person enduring it, but not always understood by someone outside of it.  An equation is both concrete and graspable, possible for someone else to understand and imagine beyond.

So, here is the pain equation, configured to be an aid to understanding for someone who has never experienced chronic pain.

700 muscles, multiplied by 24 hours, multiplied by 365 days in a year.

Six million, one hundred thirty-two thousand hours of pain endured during one year of life.

Overwhelmingly imaginable.

Feeling What I Write

mixed media pastel drawing 'All The Other Angels Fled' by Cat Fink

My book’s third draft requires what I call bridges, written pieces to fill the gaps that exist in the second draft. 

Right now I am writing a series of bridges showing an emotional shift from denial into curiosity and the beginning of a willingness to look at a long, traumatic experience of illness.  Because this third draft is all about adding the emotional layer, I need to move deep into my emotions every time I write.

Yesterday I wrote about numbing out.  Numbing out is an emotion.  It’s a way of coping with and surviving other emotions which threaten to overwhelm. I know it intimately. It was my primary emotion for a very long time when I was ill.

Writing about a denial of emotion and, at the same time, providing the emotional connection for the reader is tricky.  I struggled with the words, I persevered, but by the time I was done I was numbed out to my writing.  I left my studio in doubt of any success.

This morning I realized what had happened.  I’d not only written about the emotional wall I lived behind when I was ill with fibromyalgia, I’d recreated it.

My mind, body, and heart don’t register a difference between an emotion felt via memory and an emotion felt via a current experience.  When I feel something, I feel the experience right now.  Present.  Immediate.

I’ve learned things today.  Trust my mind and body and heart to know what needs to be written, to feel the emotions truly, and to write that truth.  Remember that the emotions I am expressing on the page colour how I feel after the writing is done; bless them, and let them go. Trust my readers and their emotional experiences to understand and complete the emotional connection I’m offering.

The shorter version—trust and write what feels true.

Writing Pain

pastel drawing 'Archangel (Raphael)' by Cat Fink

It’s strange.

Writing well and true doesn’t always leave me feeling well and true, or happy.

This knowledge came home to me yesterday.

I had two days of writing draft for my book.  I knew what I needed to work on.  A bridge was necessary between the book’s opening pieces and the first moment when I discover a process that eventually heals me completely.

 I knew the writing must focus on the shift I experienced, moving from desperation and grief into the first flash of a kind of hope.  I knew I was capable of writing this.  I also knew I would have to dive into intense memories and feelings to find the words, and dive out again to get the words onto the page.

All my life I’ve been a master at hiding my feelings from myself.  I learned this while growing up.

Now I have to do the exact opposite.

I have to open to all I feel, and feel it deeply enough inwards, to capture and express it outwards.

This is exactly when I question what I am doing, writing what I’m writing.  A story which requires me to be wildly vulnerable, not only to myself but to my readers.

Oh my.

Yet here I am, open and writing as I intended.

I finish the draft.  It needs a few more bits here and there, but the bridge is mostly built.  Good for me.  Well done, Cat.

Except I don’t feel well-done and good-for-me feelings.  Instead I feel frustrated and, if I be honest, angry.

I have enough experience by now to set aside both feelings and writing once I am done for the day.  I know how to move myself to other things.  Yet I continue frustrated and angry through the afternoon and evening.

Distractions.  Things I love, that move me towards joy.  I read a good book.  I play with a new crossword puzzle.  I make an awesome, tasty dinner.  I water the garden while the dinner cooks, and let the scents of water, earth, and new roses surround me.  My husband and I go for a walk through the neighbourhood.  I watch episodes three and four of a fantasy series I am greatly enjoying.

Now I’m in bed.  The frustration has dissipated, but the anger remains.

I look at my day—it was a good one.  I am mystified at my mood.  Since I am nowhere near sleep, I decided to pick apart the anger.

I spent two days writing emotional pain.  Two days writing memories, seeing and feeling clearly what I had not allowed myself to see or feel at the time.  It was pure survival, years ago, pushing my life to be bearable.

Bearable.  Here is a word with edges, sharp with anger and heat.

Here is why I am angry.

Why should I have had to live a life, back then, that I could only describe as bearable?

Should I not have had a life that was joy and play, wonder and beauty and love?

Should I not have been able to love my life?

I couldn’t say that during the fibromyalgia years.  There were some things I loved about my life.  There were some things that gave me joy, things that allowed me to bear what the other side of my life held.  There were things I found that could carry me through what I would not think about, would not let myself look at or feel.

I survived.  That’s the best this anger will allow me to say.  And with that, to my surprise and relief, anger drops away.  I am left feeling a blessed, quiet emptiness.

I have seen and felt and understood.

I have acknowledged what was there, and said yes, that was true.

That was true, and now this is true—I no longer have to use ‘bearable’ to describe my life.  I can use the words I was desperate for, back then.  Joy, play, wonder, beauty, and love.

Here, on this side of the bridge I’ve written, I have a life I love, and I can feel it.  Well, true, and happy.

Music Saves Me

pastel by Cat Fink, titled 'Archangel For Mrs. St. Cyr (Uriel)'

I’ve been listening to an interview series on the web.  Some of the interviewees are musicians/composers/healers all in one.  Each has told the story of how the healer part of their life developed in balance with their music.

I get it, because music has healed and saved me, all my life.

As a child, I was taught to deny what I felt whenever the feeling was difficult and uncomfortable for others to witness.  Anger, sadness, confusion, overwhelm, and grief were just a few of the unacceptable emotions in our home.

Denying and hiding my emotion made those around me more comfortable, but it left me in turmoil, not being allowed to express what was rolling through me.

Music saved me.

I started piano lessons at age seven, and quickly discovered I not only heard music, I felt it within me.  Music unlocked the denied emotions, and the feelings translated themselves into the sounds my body created on the piano.

Here, sitting on the piano bench, my feet dangling far above the floor, I could feel loud and angry, or heartbroken and slow.  I could move my fingers over the keys, feel the sound vibrate through me, and send my emotion flying into the air around me.

I could express how I felt.

I could let go.

I could be free.

I could be myself.

Music still saves me.  Sometimes, when an emotion is too painful or frightening, I lapse into the pattern of denial and control I learned as a child.  I feel something within me, a hard, heavy rock lodged in my body, and it’s the signal I am hiding an emotion from myself.  That emotion needs to be seen and heard by me.  It needs to be felt and freed so I can come back into balance in my life, and back into love for myself.

On my beloved IPod I have 67.5 days of music.  Music, melody, and sound for every mood and every layered fraction of a feeling.  Exactly what I need to heal and save and power myself, exactly whenever I need it.

I also have a keyboard sitting by the studio window.  I’m looking at it right now.  I haven’t played with it in some time, and I can feel it calling me.  I can hear it calling the music in me.

Come and play, come and feel.

______________

In this post:

The online interview series is The Conscious Late Night Show, created and hosted by Scott Brandon Hoffman.  It’s fun and illuminating. It’s also about being true to your creative self.  www.ConsciousLateNight.com

Everything Matters

A few months ago I listened to a webcast.  The speaker compared life’s experiences to climbing a ladder.

“Every rung is important,” he said, “Every rung is equal.”

At first, the idea of “everything matters equally” felt paralyzing.  Taking even the simplest of actions could be life-or-death in a world where all is so completely important. I might do it wrong.

Then I heard the words differently.

Everything in life has equal meaning. 

At first, this didn’t seem logical.  Holding a door open for someone and saving someone’s life has equal meaning? 

Yes, it does. 

Last Fall I was deep in grief over the deaths of my Dad and my cousin.  The feelings came and went, unpredictable tides that left me feeling helpless and lost.  On a day when things were especially colourless and I desperately needed to feel better, I took myself to the library.

As I walked towards the door, it swung open and someone came out.  Their arms were loaded with books, a balancing act, but when they saw me they paused and waited, holding the door open wide.  They looked me in the eyes and smiled.  I thanked them and walked through. 

Holding the door open for someone and smiling, a momentary gesture frequently repeated, nothing really in the larger movements of life. Except this someone, a stranger, smiled for me as if we knew and loved each other well.

That brief action was pure kindness, a connection that gave me light and space and breath.  I was offered a moment of love that buoyed me for the rest of the day.

I don’t know what happens as my actions and choices ripple outwards.  I don’t know who I affect every day in my life.

I do know I want my life’s touch to be as kind and loving as the gift I received that day.

If everything is important and equal, if everything has meaning, I choose to do my days with kindness and love for the people around me and for myself.

The Feeling I Didn’t Expect

My studio is in chaos.  Boxes.  Books.  Papers.  Art supplies.  Reintegrating two studios into one is a messy business.  Right now I am organizing, and there are multiple piles covering the floor and work tables.

I am joyful amidst this chaos.  My smile is wide and I am utterly content.  My studio is becoming one again, I am becoming one again.

I moved back and forth between two homes for fifteen years.  This movement was not natural to me.  I am a nester.  I did my best anyways. 

Now I am home where I began, the place where I feel grounded and whole.  Here I breathe easiest, and my body and senses know the rhythm, smells, and sounds of the land.  I am a part of this place.

I should have expected the feeling that showed up, but I didn’t.

Relief.  Overwhelming, tear-inducing relief.

I held my breath for fifteen years and did not know it.

How could I not know something this essential?

Necessity.  I forced myself to focus on what was necessary.  In my second home I made myself find what was good, what was new and interesting, what I could love.  Apparently I am very good at finding ways to feel okay, and very expert at looking away from what I have to leave behind.  No looking back, I say to myself, and I don’t.

I made good friends.  I found things I could truly love, and things that expanded my life.  I met people who love the land there, who are clearly home in every meaning of the word.

But I know my home is here.

The back-and-forth years are done, the time away completed.  The relief I didn’t expect to feel is real and honest.  I have come home again.

_____________________

In this post:

The image is a pastel drawing I made for my sister-in-law. It’s titled “I called light and dark and wove the cloth of life (Charlene)”, from a body of artwork “Dancing The Ghosts” which honours five generations of my family. I created this body of work while living in my northern home, and on Charlene’s drawing I wrote:

Nothing is wrong. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is neurotic. Nothing is disowned. Everything is possible. Everything is held. Everything is claimed. Everything is loved. This is who we are.

If you are curious about “Dancing The Ghosts”, you can find the drawings at https://www.walkingowlstudio.ca/gallery/dancing_the_ghosts/

When Nothing Makes Me Feel Better

The last few weeks have been a slow roller coaster.  My moods have traveled up and down, and longer in the downs.  This week I’ve settled, a blessed relief.

I could list the reasons, but it’s easier to simply list ‘life’.

I am exactly like my son when he was five years old.

It was a tough day at school (kindergarten is not always easy), and he came home angry.  He didn’t want to talk, and he bashed his way around the house until I became angry too.  Better we separate when we’re both angry.  I told him to go to his room. I stayed in the kitchen.

I listened as he stomped away, as his door slammed, as the noise and activity level in his bedroom peaked, then quieted.

After a few minutes, concern and curiosity led me down the hallway.  I knocked on his door, then opened it.

He looked at me, mourning written all over him.  “Mom, I’ve tried everything and nothing makes me feel better.”

The evidence of his effort lay all around him, on the floor and the bed.  Toys, Lego pieces, stuffed animals, his favourite blanket.  He had tried so hard.  My upset dissolved in an instant.

Love is what I gave my precious son that day, and received love back.  We sat on his bed and hugged, held hands, talked about nothing important.  We had all the time in the world.

I’ve tried and nothing makes me feel better–I know that place.

Luckily, I am now old enough I’ve learned what to do.

I don’t push the feelings away.  I don’t try to make myself better.  I’m upset for a reason and my feelings are broadcasting what and why.  I need to feel and listen, so I do.  I put on music, or let the house be silent , wrap myself in my favourite blanket, cocoon myself on the couch, become still.  An hour or a day, I feel and listen.  I treat myself gently, a precious being broken and hurting and needing love.

Love is what I give myself when I am hurting and needing.  Love and all the time in the world.  Love fills the cracks and mends the breaks.  Love tells me I am something precious, and makes me whole again.

My son doesn’t remember that day, but I do always.  He gave me the most perfect gift of feeling and understanding what keeps us whole.  Love.  Love.  Love.  Love.

________________

In this post:

I didn’t always know how to love myself.  I still forget sometimes, but each time the gap is smaller.  Dee Wallace’s Red Dot Exercise is one of the things that helped me learn what unconditional self-love feels like. 

My experience doing the Red Dot Exercise is here on my blog, postings from December 23 and 24, 2014:

Dee’s website is at https://iamdeewallace.com/