shingle-versary

It’s been about a year since I came down with shingles, and my body is celebrating the anniversary by having its first cold sore ever. Of course. Fortunately (and unlike with shingles), it didn’t take me long to figure out what was going on. And I got some of that cream that people put on cold sores, and it’s working.

Other than that, there’s not much to say. There’s a lot going on, but it’s mostly below the surface. I think it’s good to tell our stories. I also think it’s good to know when a story isn’t fully-cooked and ready to be served. Now is a listening time for me, a time of bone-deep change that I can’t understand yet (much less examine in public).

 

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.

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.

empty attic

It took a long time and a lot of work, and now the attic is clean. It wasn’t as hard as making one last amazing album while you’re dying of cancer, but it wasn’t easy. It doesn’t look like much, but I cried when I saw it.

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Cleaning that space has been at the top of my bucket list for years. I had not wanted to leave the mess for someone else to deal with. “Now I can die,” I thought.

Parts of me already did.

My new neighbor’s elderly father is in the hospital. “The thing about dying,” she says, “is that it doesn’t happen all at once.” Yes. Shingles didn’t even come close to finishing the job, but it did knock me down pretty hard. And I’m not bouncing back as fast as I would have when I was younger.

I’m intensely aware that I am made of both Meat and Magic. We all are.

There was something almost comforting for me about David Bowie dying. We’re all going to do it someday, and we’re in good company. Everyone we’ve ever loved or admired or respected is going to do it too, if they haven’t already.

Yeah, I know. I’m a weirdo.

 

shingles update

Two months later, my body feels weak and stiff. My right shoulder is still sore, sometimes to the point of waking me up at night. I get tired easily. Clearly, my nervous system is still a disputed territory.

I’ve been reading a lot about shingles since I got sick.

The incidence of shingles has been increasing. Some people think that’s because kids are getting vaccinated for chickenpox, which keeps adults from being exposed to periodic booster doses of the chickenpox virus. The CDC says that’s probably not why. I like the idea that I might have been providing a valuable public service by walking around with undiagnosed shingles and inadvertently exposing people to the chickenpox virus, so I guess I like to think the CDC may be at least partly wrong.

After an episode of shingles, there’s an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Apparently it takes about 27 weeks for the risk to return to baseline. Not great news, but it supports my observation that it takes a really long time to fully recover.

So if you’ve had shingles in the last few months, be patient and kind with yourself.

Sleep when you need to. Drink lots of water. Eat lots of vegetables. Get down on the floor and stretch five times a day like you’ve just converted to a new religion and this is how you’re supposed to pray. I am aware that this is easy to say, and not-so-easy to do. This advice is for me, as much as for anyone else.

And if you haven’t been sick, be patient and kind with yourself anyway. Because if you keep flogging yourself, you may get sick.

the edge of the known universe

 

Before I got sick, I had been talking about doing a sculpture for someone else: a large hand-shaped wire basket. I remember thinking it would be an interesting technical challenge. I remember being excited about collaborating, and about the idea of a project that might be a little less emotionally fraught than my usual thing. I remember thinking it would be easier to talk about than most of my work.

But then I was explaining the project to someone and she called it “a cheap solution.” Ouch! And then I got sick.

And now that I’m finally starting to recover, now that I’m able to spend more than an hour in the studio without needing a nap, I’m not so sure I want to do this project.

I hate feeling indecisive.

All of the stuff I was excited about is still true, but it’s not the whole truth.

This year has been incredibly disruptive. I’ve taken to calling it “The Year of Pestilence.” I had an infestation of clothes moths in the studio (a disaster for someone who’d been working with wool as much as I had). I had shingles. My house was full of carpenter ants, and mice built a nest in my car and peed all over everything and it took me months to get the smell out. It’s been a lot of work. It has eaten most of my year.

Being middle-aged and being sick have made me really think hard about what’s important to me and how I want to spend my time.

In my morning pages, I wrote that the Hand project was like being at the Edge of the Known Universe. I was about to do something I didn’t know how to do. It was a fun place to be, that place of not-knowing. When I’m there, that’s always when the best things happen for me in the studio.

But the truth is: my work is almost always a technical challenge. I’m often not sure how to do it. Sometimes I’m not even sure it can be done.

The truth is: learning how to live with disappointing people is Edge-of-the-Known-Universe stuff too.

The truth is: I am always at the Edge of my Known Universe, always in a moment I’ve never been in before. While I’m still breathing, there’s always a chance to consider that maybe I don’t know how to do it and to choose differently this time.

There is no right way to live your life. There is only the right way for you today, and the knowledge that everything could change tomorrow.

I’m not finished making wire ladies yet. Not by a long shot. I don’t have time to be distracted by hands.