the thing with feathers

I think we had been working together for about six months, and I had mostly been feeling better. But suddenly it was fall, and I was feeling apocalyptically bad. I couldn’t stop crying.

“This is what healing looks like,” said E, very gently.

I kept crying. A great sodden pile of tissues filled up the wastebasket between us. At some point I noticed that she was smiling. “Why?” I asked. “Why are you smiling like that, when I’m so miserable?”

“My heart is singing,” she said. She was looking at me like I was a very new baby who had just done something totally amazing, like maybe unleashed a tiny little belch.

I cried all the way home. When I got home, I got in the shower to avoid having to explain to Dave why I was crying. I couldn’t explain it. It just kept happening. So I cried and cried and cried in the shower. I wondered how I was ever going to be able to stop. And then I remembered E telling me that her heart was singing.

“Would it sound like a robin?” a voice in my head wondered. I was so surprised by the thought, which didn’t even seem to be mine, that I stopped crying. And I started thinking about my next sculpture.

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I always knew that someday I would make one with a bird inside it. I didn’t know until that moment that the bird would be E’s heart.

Before I placed it in its cage, I took it to her office to show it to her. She held it and fussed over it for a long time. It was her turn to cry, and my turn to grin until my face almost fell off.

Everything she said about it was something I might have said about her. It might have been the best moment I’ll ever have as an artist.

the light inside the dark

More moths. Not every day, but at least once a week. I’ve taken to leaving the light on in this lady 24/7, because the moths like the dark.

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It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t photographed her with the light on since last year’s great moth-proofing effort. So there she is: several layers of acrylic fabric stiffener over felted wool, over doilies crocheted from fingering-weight yarn, over rusty wire, with an 11-watt compact fluorescent lightbulb hanging in the middle. More than the sum of her parts (as we all are).

I just finished reading The Light Inside the Dark by John Tarrant, and I’m feeling inarticulate. I had to take a break from the group I was reading it with. They weren’t having any of the seventeen conversations I wanted to have, and I felt unable to start the conversations myself.

Maybe I already said a lot of what I could say about that book anyway, before I even read it, with this sculpture.

Maybe words are overrated.

Recently I seem to have become the kind of person who’ll dance in public, and not necessarily in a polite and sedate way. “With some people, you can tell they’re holding back,” someone said to me last night, after the music had stopped and we were getting ready to go home. “But not you.” Old Me would have been deeply embarrassed. New Me shrugs and says maybe I’m old enough to start experiencing the Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck.

Tarrant says:

We need the patience to bless even our weakness, this odd weakness that seems to come not when we are helpless, as it does in the darkest night, but when we are full of strength and rising.

Last time I saw E, I cried for half an hour before I was able to say anything. She said she respected my bravery. “You’re the only person in the world who ever says anything like that to me,” I complained. “What the fuck is wrong with you? What are we turning me into? How am I supposed to be in the world like this?”

“I love you too,” she said. I hated her so much in that moment.

I am a hot mess, but not so most people would notice. I put on my boots and drive my car to the supermarket or the bank or the hardware store. I stand up straight and I smile, and it’s not an act because I really do feel pretty good a lot of the time.

And I also feel shitty and toxic, and I wish I could explain how it’s possible for the two states – light and dark – to exist at the same time and in such close proximity, and not cause some sort of explosion.

I feel like I outgrew the loneliness I was born with, and traded it in for a bigger loneliness. I’m constantly tripping over its hem and discovering odd things in its pockets: a blue bug, a red car, a long-forgotten granola bar, the sound your mother made when your head popped out of her.

bug sketches

After finding six moths in my studio in the other day (quelle horreur!), I took my wooliest sculpture down for an inspection. Didn’t find anything awful, but there’s a lot of interior real estate that I can’t really see. So I gave her another coat of acrylic and hung her back up.

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The next night, I dreamed of finding a small blue beetle in an envelope in my mother’s attic. I took it downstairs to let it go in the backyard. Before I opened the back door, I peeked inside the envelope. The beetle had turned into a small dragonfly. Out in the yard, I held the envelope upside down and shook it. A large butterfly came out. It picked up a rubber ball that had been lying in the grass, and it flew away.

Because of that, and because my house reeks of polyurethane, I’ve been in the studio this weekend drawing bugs on scraps of canvas. None of them are bigger than six inches square. I’m using Sharpies, of course, but also various other kinds of permanent markers. And Wite-Out pens. Because apparently I am meant to be inhaling noxious fumes right now, one way or another.

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A year ago I was having carpal tunnel issues and mostly doing blind contour drawings because it was easier on my hand. It was so much fun that I kept doing it. Now I’m constantly having to remind myself that I need to look at the surface I’m drawing on.

I haven’t seen any more moths since those six on Friday,which is both a relief and a mystery.

aftermath

The new girl (“the burning bridge“) is finished. I hung her in the front room next to one of the old girls (“changeling”). This is a view I see a lot, from close to the floor with bad lighting:

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E says she likes the way they turn towards each other. I point out that the changeling turns towards anyone who hangs next to her.

Twelve years ago, the first of these wire ladies announced that I had to leave my therapist. This one, with some help from the last canvas print I made, said I needed to leave the Artist’s Way group that had been meeting weekly in my studio for the last couple of years.

I reclaim the studio inch by inch, the way I reclaim my body: working and cleaning in the back room, practicing yoga in the front room. Breathing and stretching while the sculptures look on.

Sometimes the sculptures tell me things.

“Look at my right shoulder!” says the changeling:

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Nobody needs to tell me to look at this shoulder hanging next to it:

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It wasn’t a conscious decision to have that flap folding over the changeling’s shoulder like an alien paw. That’s not what she was about. But she came out of a period of time when, among all the other things that happened, I had chickenpox. And all of it led to me having shingles, which led to the burning bridge.

They never end up being about only one thing.

one way to burn a bridge

Sure, you could say “Fuck you too. Have a nice life.”

You could say a lot of things. Lord knows they did.

Or you could try this:

“I’ve been thinking about what you said, and it’s sinking in that my email was very clumsily worded.  Perhaps I should have said [insert a different and less offensive chunk of the truth here]. I’m sorry to have added insult to injury. I can only hope I haven’t just stuck my other foot in my mouth. I am beyond tired.”

Guess which approach will lead to less future engagement (which is ultimately what you want).

Sad that it took me so long to learn this.  Better late than never, though.

In happier news, I am loving my newest girl so much today:

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inscrutable hand

In the afternoons, she follows her blue shadow through the glitter-bombed woods.

What is it about the shadow that tugs at her orange-tufted paws and purple tongue?

Even if she spoke English, she could not tell you.

It leads her to the gravel pit, where the dirt bikes buzz like oversized cluster flies.

What do the dirt bikes know?

Even if they spoke English, they could not tell you.

Maybe it’s something like what the eggbeater knows: the inscrutable hand urges you onward, long after you’d have stopped if it were up to you.

 

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slogging through the weeks

The house looks & smells & sounds wrong. There’s water on the floor of the basement.

Night after night, I dream that I’m cleaning out attics and basements. Throwing away mildewed bolts of ornate fabric, broken lawn furniture, jars of bleached pickles, box after box of other people’s tax records. I sleep okay until about 3:30, and then I doze fitfully until I get up at 4:30 or 5.

The contractors show up every weekday at 7 AM. Shortly thereafter, the banging starts. Most days I leave by 7:30. I go to the studio and work on this thing:

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The blue stuff is frit, tiny chips of broken glass. The backs of my hands are covered with little scratches.

By Thursday night, I’ve usually hit a wall. My shingles-infested shoulder and arm are sore. Sometimes my eyes stop working properly. Sometimes I go to bed at 8 o’clock.

I spend Fridays alternately sleeping and crying in my studio.

Saturdays and Sundays I get up at 4. I feed the cat and make myself a cup of tea. After I drink the tea and snuggle the cat, I go back to bed and sleep for another couple of hours. It’s the best thing ever. By Monday I feel halfway sane again.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on. One of these days they’ll finish putting the house back together, and life will feel more manageable.