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Coming Back

It’s been almost two months since I’ve added to my blog/website. The last time I sat down to write in my studio, I struggled to stay awake, and making myself focus on putting words on a page was actually psychically painful.

But being away from writing, from what I know I love despite having trouble connecting with it, must be temporary – I can’t let it get stuck in my mind as “the way I am now”.

After I get physically sick, I love the feeling of getting better, even more than just feeling good in the first place. The contrast between nonfunctional misery with slow-moving contentment is so delicious.

With migraines, I’ve been lying in my bed, crying from head/body pain, nauseous and miserable. When I’m finally able to walk without feeling like I might faint or throw up, I feel so elated and free. At first I only take a couple of steps before I have to stop and catch my breath, but compared to the state of incapacity I had been in, those two steps feel like flying.

But when I go through a period of not writing, instead of feeling good about starting to move again, I spend a lot of time kicking myself for being down in the first place, for not moving with vigor and strength.

Why can’t I give myself grace to ease back into writing the same way I recover from an illness? Instead of feeling joy at tiny signs of recovering, my inner critic says mean things to me, like, “What’s the point?” “You call this writing?” Instead of looking at just enjoying the sweet existence of words, just being with them, even if I’m not crafting them into clever and inciteful poems and stories, I am writing.

It’s time to quit telling myself that whatever sickness or glitch I experienced is the “new normal” and that efforts to write well are in vain.

The rain has stopped. Clouds are parting. Words are settling themselves down into sentences, at my request.

And I am easing into writing again.

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Shaping a Poem

I wrote a poem this morning, and after a few iterations, I formed it into a shape. That would classify it as “shape poetry”, “concrete poetry”, or a “calligram”.

The inspiration was the used state of my coffee cup, which had six horizontal ring lines in it. After I’d written several drafts, I realized that the poem could have six lines, too. And several drafts later, the shape of a coffee cup emerged.

The name of the poem is Stratigraphy. I didn’t know how to get the formatting to work in Word Press, so I ended up posting a picture of it as seen on my computer screen.

Please find Stratigraphy under Poems.

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Waiting for Dry Days

Last week, before the arrival of an “atmospheric river”, a few hours of sunshine allowed me to spray paint my lawn.

I used pink paint to outline the boundaries between border plantings and lawn and potential locations for raised beds. When the pink ran out, I used blue spray paint to outline a path and to speculate where to put a small greenhouse and a compost bin. I used black spray paint to mark spots where bushes, trees, and rocks could be placed.

Originally, I had asked a landscaping company (essentially a one-man show) for some design ideas. After the initial meeting (the free consultation), he said he would get back to me in a week. One month later, when he returned my follow-up message from the week before, he apologized and said the office had been short-staffed. “We will get you a proposal for the design early next week,” he said in an e-mail to me dated February 25. It is now March 15.

I don’t really know how to proceed here. I was looking forward to his design. Since he spent over an hour walking around the yard and chatting with me about some of my sketched-out ideas, I felt somewhat obligated to work with him to pay him for that time. When he said he would get back to me, I took him at his word. It took some effort on my part to ask a professional for help in the first place. I don’t feel comfortable having to remind him about assurances he gave me of his own accord.

So, I’ve purchased a wooden-handled grass edger and a trench-digger (essentially a narrow shovel), and I’ve ordered some cheap but easy-to-assemble cedar raised beds on Amazon. As soon as the rain takes a break, maybe in about a week (according to I might just start doing some yard designing on my own. I have many questions and doubts about my specific ideas. But I also have Google and YouTube videos. So I’ll do what I can and see what happens.

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Fasting, Baha’i-Style

Today is the 6th day of the Baha’i 19-day Fast. From March 2nd to March 20th, adult Baha’is who don’t have significant physical impediments or specific exceptions to do so, refrain from eating or drinking while the sun is up. For medical reasons, I drink water during the Fast, but even with that, it can be challenging for me. Today, for example, I am feeling cold, a little achy, and strongly pulled towards taking a nap. While in the midst of a free-writing exercise this morning, I found myself drifting off into dream-thoughts seemingly unrelated to what I was writing.

This used to happen to me often when I had afternoon classes in high school and college. I remember stints of falling asleep in an after-lunch history class. I would be dutifully taking notes, struggling to stay conscious. When my head would jerk up after a temporary sleep-slouch, I would look down at my notes to see that they either had nothing to do with the history being spoken of by my teacher and/or my written words had gradually become smaller and messier, trailing down off the notebook line they had started on.

Recently I have been reading about Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the founder of the Baha’i Faith, and this morning I was writing about Abdu’l-Baha’s travels in Egypt, Europe, and North America around 1912. He was nearing 70 years old at the time, and the trip was very hard on him, physically. I was just remembering a picture I have seen of Abdu’l-Baha in his aba (a kind of robe-like garment common in Persian culture), and suddenly I was in that same brick-wall-bordered courtyard, dancing in a white robe singing, “I am Mae.” Then just as suddenly, I was awake and thinking, “What was that about?”

When I have had paying jobs during the Fast, I have struggled at times to stay awake. But now that I don’t have an employer, no specific daily tasks that I can’t bypass without consequence, the struggle is even more difficult. Why not give in and let my body snuggle under some covers and submit to somnolescence?

Not everybody struggles with fasting the way I do. I’ve seen people who seem to have high energy and joyfulness even after they have not imbibed food or water for almost 12 hours. In fact, I know many people who have fasted beyond the point of sunset because eating right at sunset didn’t work for their schedule. That’s not me, though. Especially not today.

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Migraines, Grandmothers, and Butterflies

The rain is demonstrating my relatively new vocabulary item: “atmospheric river”. It’s a constant flow of wetness that makes going outside an unattractive prospect. But I don’t really want to go outside anyway since I’m feeling a bit ill. Both rain and pain are excuses that keep me inside without feeling obligated (or even inclined) to experience the outdoors.

My current body dysphoria can go under the category of what I now call a migraine. I used to think I was getting strange, recurring sinus infections, since the pain largely occupied the area between my nose, eyebrows, cheeks, and the back of my eyeballs. But eventually several online articles and my doctor suggested it was not a sinus thing, but a brain thing. I wrote a poem this morning trying to describe the migraine experience, but I don’t know if it’s as shareworthy as it was cathartic.

In some weird synchrony, while writing the migraine poem, I thought of how the Russian words for “grandmother” and “butterfly” sound the same to English-speaker’s ears. A Russian-speaker I knew once said a word to me while pointing to a butterfly, and I responded, “Grandmother?” When I said to him that бабочка (butterfly) and бабушка (grandmother) sounded like the same word, he frown-smiled, shaking his head and communicating “not really”.

I suppose when you know a language, similar-sounding words still have a clear distinction due to years of use and association. “Clark” and “clerk” are words that, when pronounced clearly and said in a context, I probably would not get confused with each other, while someone who didn’t speak English as a first language might. There are many examples I’m sure I could think of if I put effort into it. But my current preference is not to exert myself too much.

I am reminded of my 80’s & 90’s aerobics exercise experiences, and how often there would be two instructors at the front of a class. One would be doing moves at full throttle, jumping and leaping, reaching and lunging with unassuaged gusto, while the other executed similar but moderated moves. That was the person the main teacher would refer to when saying, “And remember to go low-impact if you need to!”

So it’s a low-impact day. I’ve probably used this concept in some of my archival blogs, since it’s one that often occupies my brain when I’m feeling some iteration of low energy. It’s a good way for me to remember that all movement is valid, even if it’s not as exuberant as it could be. I’m also a big fan of naps – sometimes the actual stopping of activity is what is needed. But so far today I have been content within that zone of moderation between fully functioning and asleep.

So far, I got the beginnings of two poems out of the day. Their working titles are Migraine and Grandmother/Butterfly. If/when I get them formed into something presentable, I will post them under Poems.

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Cali Encapsulation

I slept in my own bed last night, benefitting from the warmth, physical and emotional, emanating from my husband. The hour-plus drive from the airport to our home felt like a few minutes, filled with catch-up conversation.

My 5ish days in California were ones of obligatory rest and passenger-ship. I sat in chairs, in cars, in restaurants, I walked with no particular timeline to get somewhere, I was led across sidewalks and asphalt driveways by a tiny dog on a forward mission to smell the world. I spent quality time talking with my brother-in-law, my sister, and my nephew, chatting about their lives, and watching educational and/or humorous television.

The outdoor temperature was lower than I originally expected for the majority of my stay in CA, but the daytime skies were big and generous with sunshine. It felt like love. Rain did visit in prolific quantities on a day I had planned to pull weeds, but there was plenty of television to partake of instead, along with good company and snacks, so I was content.

The going-there part of the trip included a 6-hour wait for my plane at the airport. I planned ahead to fill my long airport intermission with writing poetry and leaving it in random places to be found by strangers. I will post those on the poetry page, linked above, with their titles followed by the designation “Airport Poetry”.

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I’m going to visit my sister in California tomorrow! My suitcase contains clothes and travel size toiletries, my purse contains masks and makeup and money, and my mind has plans for packing the last-minutes like: computer, phone, chargers, earbuds, etc.

Doug showed me the visual weather report for American Canyon, the town I’ll be in, and I was met with a line of round, yellow sun symbols, unhindered by cloud shapes or disproportionally large raindrops. Sunshine and almost 70 degrees is a fast-forward into the heart of spring/pre-summer for me.

I suspect a continuous state of sunshininess will hit me like a healing drug. It happens now when I am granted an hour of morning sunshine before the clouds move in, or when the clouds move away for a few hours for an afternoon sunbreak. And yesterday, I felt elated to see that we were eating dinner before the sun had set. Winter is often my shut-down time, my hibernatory 3 to 4-month reboot. But I see hints of awakening motivation on the horizon. A week’s worth of sun might just jump start me into full wakeup mode.

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Poetry on Demand

For years now I’ve thought of writing improv poetry at Farmer’s Markets. It sounds part terrifying and part good experience. It could be great practice to task myself with expression under certain parameters. However, I am afraid that my anxiety aphasia will kick in under that kind of pressure, and I will end up being unable to express myself well or on paper or at all.

I’ve heard and read about people doing improv poetry before, but I’ve never experienced it. There are so many ways it could be structured. The folks in the following article (link) asked to be given a topic, then they composed their poems on old fashioned type writers. In front of them was a sign saying: “Poems: Your Topic. Your Price.”

I’ve considered announcing my intentions with a sign that says, “Poetry on Demand”, in which case I could call my spot the POD. “Welcome to the POD!”

But the word “demand” doesn’t feel very comfortable to me, so I considered, “Poetry at Your Polite Request”, or “PAYPR”. (Pronounced “paper”). “Come get some PAYPR!” my sign might say.

If I write the poems for free, or for voluntary donations, I might call the station “Gifting Random Ordinary Words.” GROW. “Come GROW with me.” Hmmm. Could be interpreted as sexual? If so, then no. This might be better: “Welcome to the GROW Zone!” Maybe that’s not so great either.

Another title I came up with reminds me of my “Word Fertilizer” theme: “A Piece of Original Poetry,” or APOOP. “Come over here for A POOP!”

I’ll keep thinking.

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Found Story

I organized my journals recently. They come in many different shapes, sizes, and formats, and though the entries don’t always follow a chronological order, they are now all in clear plastic bins, roughly grouped by year.

During the sorting process, slips or folded sheets of paper would occasionally slide out of a book or spiral binder. It was in this way that I found a story I thought I had lost. Written during the time my sister and I were roommates in the University District of Seattle in the early-to-mid 90’s, it was printed in the pixelated dot matrix format of the printer I used back then. I typed everything I wrote into my “Mac-in-the-Box”, a tiny computer/monitor combo about the size of shoebox (a large one, for boots) turned sideways.

I may have these writings saved on a “floppy disc” somewhere, a hard square-shaped, flattened Wonderbread slice-sized piece of plastic that is neither floppy nor the round shape of a disc. But even if I found it, I don’t know how I would ever get the data off of it. The lesson is to keep printed copies of everything I write.

The story in question, called Value Village, brought back many images, memories, and feelings – flashes of walking alone in the dark, sitting on buses, moving around in the world amongst mostly strangers. I Googled the locations of Value Village in Seattle, so I could go back and visit the one my sister worked at so long ago, but none of them seemed to be the right one . Did that particular branch of the store close down? Is the building still standing? Did I imagine the whole thing?

Please find the story, Value Village, posted under Stories (in the Writings category).

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Seasonal depression always catches up to me slowly and sneakily. But by February, I am deep in it. I have found medication and routines that help, but I can still feel the pain of it.

I watched a show on Amazon Prime the other day – Raising Bipolar – about children who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the challenges faced by them and their families in living happy and healthy lives.

I was particularly struck by the story of a 10-year-old girl, one of the older kids featured. Video of her as  a preschooler shows her growling and clenching her fists, throwing furniture, and hitting people.  After years of therapy and medication she seemed much more stable, so her doctor tapered down her meds, which resulted in a relapse; yelling and crying uncontrollably and retreating under the covers of her bed.

She’s more stable these days, and she can recognize her symptoms of depression.  The cameras show the girl’s sweet younger brother standing outside her bedroom asking, “Can I come in?” Her answer from behind the door is a calm and sincere-sounding, “I don’t want to hurt you.” It’s not said as a threat but as an acknowledgement that she sometimes can’t control her behavior.

I often think of an anecdote about a doctors conference concerning depression.  An Indian doctor gave a presentation in which he described how most depressive patients in India present with physical symptoms, compared to American patients, whose depression is most often presented with mental symptoms. At the Q&A part of the presentation, an American doctor commented that people in India tend to somaticize depression. He said it as if that was the inferior way to be depressed. But the Indian doctor’s response was that Americans seem to psychologize depression, implying that maybe Americans have it backwards.

That made a huge impression on me, because, of course, the mental and the physical go together. A mental illness may have its origins in the mind or in the brain, one of which is thought-based, and the other which is body-based. But we conflate the body and mind together, when sometimes it might be good to look at them separately.

For example, one of my winter depressions was particularly harsh. Getting out of bed was a struggle. I would drag myself to work, but when I came back home, I would fall onto the couch, cover myself with a blanket and shiver, unable to get warm, sleeping my only relief.

I was feeling terrible about myself, knowing there were things I should be doing, but being unable to move. I starting thinking my character was faulty, that I should have the will-power to push through. These negative thoughts would form a mental cloud over me, until I thought about the somaticize versus psychologize concept. It seemed clear that I was in physical pain; my muscles ached, and my body felt stiff, heavy, and cold to the bone. It was one of the first times I acknowledged that my depression might have its origin in physical pain.

With an additional medication, those particular symptoms of depression abated considerably. And in the meantime, before the meds kicked in, I reminded myself to be nice to me, to recognize that my body was having a hard time, and that it was no excuse to berate myself.

When I have a cold, or I’ve twisted my ankle, or I have a painful sunburn I don’t tell myself I’m worthless. Why should I do that when my body is suffering from some other condition, like depression?

Sometimes my depression seems to have more thought-based origins. Disappointment, anger, twisting of thoughts into complete negatives.  In that case, I need to recognize that my mental challenges don’t have to prevent me from participating in what physical things I can handle and might help pick me up.

I was touched by the girl in the documentary film, by her maturity. Instead of yelling at her brother to go away, some part of her could appreciate that he loves her, cares about her, and that she cares about him, too. Instead of going to anger to protect herself, yelling at him to go away, she had the skills to make a decision that protects her and others when she knows her limitations. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

I’ve been able to do that more as I get older. I know that I can handle a situation within certain parameters. For example, I can go shopping when I’m depressed, but not just any kind. Depressed me can shop for food with a list in my hand. But if someone would ask me to go shopping for clothes, maybe go out for coffee, check out a few different stores, depressed me might have to decline. I would want to say yes, and maybe worry that the person who invited me would feel rejected, but I know that the unknown, the socializing, the having to relate on an emotional level, the need to project empathy, and sorting through lots of stimuli, would get to me after awhile. And though I might be able to keep my pain from affecting other people, the toll it would take to hide it would wear on me and do some sort of damage.

I’m glad I can recognize the pattern now. February is always difficult for me. But I try not to let the physical pain of depression, so sneaky and hard to recognize, soak into my mental/ emotional state. I practice modified hibernation and wait for spring.