Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tortured Artist? Pass.

I just read a post on Make and Meaning about the Tortured Artist Myth, and how annoying it is when people expect artists to be tortured in order to be great. Of course, it's not a new discussion (thank God not everyone thinks of Hemingway's alcoholism as romantic. He would be on my list of Top 10 Famous People I'd Never Want to Meet or Hang Out With. But I digress), and yet I find my response to that mandate still evolving, my current migraine-tortured state notwithstanding.

I remember a moment at my thesis defense for my Masters in Writing during which my thesis adviser asked me if I was committed to continuing to write. I can't remember her exact words, but I don't think they were even formed as a question. She was almost giving me a scolding, telling me that I had a gift for writing, and therefore an obligation (to whom?) to use it--not to waste it, or let it fall by the wayside.

I look back on that moment now and I hate it. Why did she do that? What right did she have to tell me what my mission in life should be? I'm probably reading too much into her behest, but that's what it feels like, that she's still looking over my shoulder waiting for me to write that book of serious poetry, and shaking her head in disappointment that I'm wasting my time writing a blog and watching movies (note: Happy Go-Lucky, a great movie I just discovered about how being happy is not stupid). Of course, it doesn't help that I really admired her and that she had goddess standing with most of the people who knew her or were her students. Like many prophets, she often gave cryptic feedback. And so, to get this clear mandate from her that I better go out there and be a very serious artist or else--well, that was a bit overwhelming. I wonder, is this required of thesis advisers, the big talk that shall impress upon the student the momentousness of the masters degree?

Maybe she really was being mightily serious, or maybe it was my state of mind at the time. I had just lost Miranda, my first pregnancy after several years of trying. I was still in shock. I only asked for a couple of weeks extension to finish my thesis (a novel), which seems ridiculous looking back now.

A few months after graduating, I started writing what I thought I should be writing—a novel based on my tragic loss. I've written the opening about 20 times. Why do I quit after that? Because it's too depressing! See, here we go with the tortured artist thing. I'm a writer with oodles of talent and I've suffered a tragedy that I don't want to write about. Does this make me an irresponsible artist? That's what it feels like, that my thesis adviser is sitting back in her chair with her arms crossed over her chest, admonishing me for being a coward. My choices seem to be Happy Coward Artist or Depressed Courageous Artist. How's that for Let's Make a Deal, huh?

Well, here's the thing. I don't need any help being depressed. I have a history of depression. I have your garden variety depression, mostly controlled by medication, and I've had post-partum depression. I've been hospitalized before for depression. I have had depression long enough and have done enough self-education and therapy to recognize when I am sinking and need help. And trying to write that courageous novel makes me sink. I find myself at the edge of the ocean where I can either leap into the depths to find that character's pain and motivation and conflict, or, turn around and walk away on level ground. I choose not to leap in. I choose to be a different kind of artist. The not-tortured kind.

I did write a short essay about losing Miranda, from a sort of sideways perspective (about how learning to knit got me through some of the really rough times afterward). I was proud of what I wrote, but at the time I figured it wasn't that important, because it wasn't a full-on experience of the tragedy itself. Well, lo and behold, a publisher showed interest in the essay for a book. At first I agonized over trying to make it bigger, more tragic. My editor wisely advised against this, and the essay was subsequently published in a book called Knitting Yarns and Spinning Tales.

Some people assume that the best, most prolific time for a writer is when they are in great pain. Maybe it is for some artists. I don't know. Is Hemingway's unique writing style the result of being an alcoholic? What would he have written if he'd quit drinking? Maybe if I was willing to exacerbate my depression, then I could produce a great novel about loss. Maybe not. And even if we accept that tortured artists create great art, it's a logical fallacy to conclude that because tortured artists create great art, then non-tortured artists do not create great art. As Kirsty Hall points out in her Make and Meaning post, our culture is obsessively enamored of tragedy and spectacle. What great art are we missing by looking only for tortured art? Can we even recognize great art by non-tortured artists anymore, or are we blind to it unless it is spectacle?

I gotta go. I feel like a movie.

Response to Chris' comment:
Yes, I agree that writing can be great therapy at times. But that kind of writing is a completely different thing than writing for others to read, as you rightly point out.

And how many writers falsify their experiences in order to get on that stage precisely because they've been so influenced by this culture of spectacle? I'm thinking of writers like James Frey and his A Million Little Pieces, which is now described by Wikipedia as a "semi-fictional" memoir. "Semi-fiction"? Isn't that like sort of pregnant? We're willing to fudge the truth in order to make it a spectacle and get the attention that defines a great writer in this culture. Ugh.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

No It's Not a Tumor

Yeah, I survived the MRI and got the results back this week and it's not a tumor. Actually, they didn't find anything new, except that some of my spots (technical name: "areas of signal abnormality") from the previous MRI 3 years ago had actually gotten smaller. Well, good. And yet, I am not thrilled. Because of course, this leaves me with no explanation as to why I have had such awful headaches lately. I was doing really well in November, and then New Year's Day I started a steep downhill run.

So my neurologist wants me to go back to physical therapy. I'm just not thrilled about this. It's a lot of work, and often painful. I am shifting my thinking to accepting this migraine thing as a condition I have to work with and adapt to as best I can. And yet. I'm annoyed. I feel like I should be grateful that I can do something about it to make it a bit better. But the truth is, I'm angry and frustrated. It's not really a "why me?" feeling, but, well, maybe it's a stage of grief. For the death of my perfect health. Ok, not perfect, but way better. I want BM back, i.e., Before Migraine. But it ain't gonna happen.

It feels so complicated. I mean, when I look at my life Before Migraine, it was so different. There was no Lily. And yes, my headaches have been much worse since my pregnancy. But she was worth it, dammit. If that was a side effect of having Lily, there's no question in my mind that she's worth it. Maybe I should think of it that way, being grateful for Lily and living my gratitude by adapting to how it is now.

I just can't be cheerful about it all the time. Then I would be a big phony.

For more about how I am adapting to this condition, go to my Mommy Blog...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

fabulous clock I made for Christmas

I couldn't get pics of this earlier because our stooopid camera broke before Christmas, but my sis who I made this for graciously took pics of it for me and sent them to me. This was the most satisfying Christmas present I gave this (last) year. It was one of those projects where I sat down one evening before bed to start on it and then I got on a roll and finished the whole thing. I love how it turned out, and I love that all I knew when I started was that my sis wanted a clock and she wanted something blue. So I pulled out a clock that was big and hideous. It had gold trim around the face and a tacky silver face. The six-sided frame looked like dark wood paneling, complete with black stripes dividing indidual panels. Ugly!

I started by painting the whole thing with white gesso. It looked better already! Haha. Then I just pulled out a bunch of blue paints that I had. Some were cheap basic acrylic, some were spendy Jacquard. I put down one coat of blues, not uniformly, and then did the sort of speckling blob effect with different blues, making an effort not to make anything uniform. The older I get, the more I like things asymmetrical. I think it has something to do with life not being tidy, and how you realize as you get older that you can't fit life into neat little ordered boxes with equal amounts here and there. Anyway, I really liked how it looked, but I wanted something scrolly on it. So I took one of my scrolly rubber stamps and some blue ink, and did one stamp around each of the six sides close to the face, then I think I did a few more going outward that blended into the paint more.

I painted the face much more cleanly instead of blob-like (don't you love my made-up technical terms?) because I wanted a contrast with the outer frame. Then I had to decide what to do about the numbers. I am not into putting numbers on clock faces. But I wanted it to be somewhat functional. So I looked through my stamp collection and found some stamps that look like letters in some language, or maybe numbers. They seemed to go well with the scrolly stamps on the frame. Still, I wanted some kind of theme, even if it was very subtle. The abstractness of it all just wasn't enough by itself. I pulled out my own carved stamps and looked at the clock some more. Hmmmm. Blue is the sea. And the face has sweeping strokes, kind of like waves. Did I have anything sea-like? YES! I have a seahorse stamp I made that I absolutely love. So I decided to put him at 6 o'clock. So he's under the waves. And then, I realized, I was done. I hadn't been sure if I was going to stamp all 12 numbers, but after doing the four, I realized it would look better with only those four. It looked more like an ancient compass, I realized, with just four numbers. Even more nautical! But not in a sailor-suit way. Perfect!

Don't you love it? My sister loved it, which makes me very happy. There is nothing more satisfying than making something for someone who really appreciates it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

some art

Here's a group of zentangles I'm working on. I wanted to do something for Fall, but when I tried before to actually make a picture not so abstract, I hated it. So this time I just went for the fall colors and did abstract shapes still. I can't draw anything real tiny right now, as I can't see it!
That's Lily's head above the drawing pad. She's laying on the couch near me. Cutie.

MRI Looms

Well, my Meetup group is now official, and info was automatically emailed to 15 people already who were interested when a Meetup came into existence about migraine support. I was hoping to see a few members but no one yet. Of course, it's only been 2 days since it went public. I'm not like, impatient or anything.

Meanwhile, I had a horrid week last week with my headaches and sudden vision changes. Today I finally got what I wanted: my neurologist to schedule another MRI, as I haven't had one in almost three years and this sudden vision change is alarming.

The MRI is on Thursday, and now that I'm finally going to get it (I've been talking about how I think I should get one for at least a month now to my husband), I'm nervous. Driving to my clinic today to get a new prescription for painkillers, I actually started thinking to myself, What if they find my brain riddled with tumors and I only have six months to live? Yeah, way to think positive. I don't know, maybe it's a twisted way to think positive. Because then I started thinking of all the fun stuff I'd immediately want to do: take Lily to Disneyworld. Go hiking in the Arches National Park in Utah (one of my favorite places that J. and I went on vacation to when we lived in Utah. Can you say majestic?). But I didn't get very far on this thought train, because my toddler in the back seat started singing a song she made up and she was requesting that I sing with her. Way to bring me back to the present moment, honey. Thank God for this kid.

Anyway, cross your fingers for me with the MRI. Hopefully they find nothing. Well, other than that my brain is still there.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

My Own Support Group

All right, I did it. I started a Meetup group. Dammit. I know it is going to take some work being the organizer, but I feel like it's worth it. I need it! It's called Twin Cities Migraineurs, because, in case you aren't in the know, a person who suffers from migraines is called a Migraineur. Isn't that darling? It's like the gourmet version of headaches. As in, I don't get your run-of-the-mill fast food headaches. No, I am a connoisseur of fine headaches.

Did I mention I had an infusion yesterday? And it didn't work. And so I call my doc today, and what do they offer me? Another infusion. Um, why? Would I want to? Do it again? When it didn't work the first time? No, thank you. So I still have a headache.

Good night Gracie.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Oh brother. I was just searching on the internet for info on any supports groups in my area for migraine sufferers and through a few links, I got to this disturbing site. I mean, it's annoying because it has nothing to do with migraines and I don't know why the heck this person linked to it, but it's also just weird. It's a blog done by a woman who seems to mean very well, and is a motivational speaker, I guess you could say. Or a motivational blogger? I suppose there are blogs in that category now. Looks like she sells her own motivational merchandise as well. Anyhoo, Flylady wants you to take baby steps in getting control over your life. Watch the Shiny Sink video. It's icky, creepy. A shiny sink is not my idea of happiness. In fact, as my life has gotten busier, a shiny sink has gone down on the priority list. Anyway, if you're too freaked to watch the whole thing, I'll tell you the ending: "A good dinner is easy when you have a shiny sink!" Oh goody.

Anyway, I'm still seaching for a support group and I'm even thinking if I can't find one I'll run one myself, darnit. I'm sick of this crap and going through it relatively alone. There has to be a way to unite, even if we can't conquer.

Maybe this is my second New Year's goal, after reading more books. I have to wait a week or two to start working on that one, tho, as I'm waiting for new specs. I knew I was having problems with my vision but the last couple months it's been getting really bad and triggering migraines. When I went to the DMV to renew my license I almost didn't pass the eye test! That was enough for me to get on the phone and get to the eye doctor. I'm freaked out, tho, worrying that something worse is going on in my brain with these darn headaches. Grrrrr.