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:


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:


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


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:


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.

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.


I finished that canvas I was working on. I wonder if I’ll ever be up to having it professionally photographed.


Everywhere I go, I’m carrying this crummy little story with me. Nobody can see it, but it’s there. It’s surreal. How many other waking nightmares have I been in the same room with this week, without being aware of them?

Shame and vulnerability play tug-of-war in my belly. I find myself having to listen to Brené Brown’s Ted Talk again.

“I am enough,” says the last slide in the show.

Julie says:

feel into the bones of your skeleton – the big bones of your pelvis and thighs, the little teeny bones of your fingers and toes.  there they are – nothing missing, nothing to add.

I am enough, I am enough, I am enough. I’ve said it so many times that some days I believe it.


Shingles made it onto the canvas too. Of course it did.


“I’m sorry you have shingles,” E said. But I’m not.

Shingles is an exorcism, driving the pain out from where it’s been hiding in the roots of my nerves. It blooms on my skin like phantom fingerprint flowers.

“Go in peace,” it says, as the scabs fall away.

There’s still an ache in my arm, my shoulder, my chest. But now it just feels like my own ache, and not the combined ache of generations of my ancestors.

Thanks be to God.

itch and ache

We know so little about the body. We know so little about anything. What’s really causing that pain in my arm? A scrap of left-over chickenpox that I’ve shared my body with for forty years? Really?

Have you accepted Shingles as your personal savior?

Shingles is not the savior. Shingles is the prophet, the voice crying out in the wilderness. Shingles is a necessary storm, preparing in the forest a way for the Lord. If trees are falling, it’s because they’re ready. They’ve been waiting for this. I see them and hear them. They’re really falling.

Now it is time for body and soul to write the song of itchy scabs. Unbearable fizzling carbonation under a steaming crust, transforming the ache into a new surface to meet the world.

It feels like there should be feathers growing in, shocking as a first pubic hair.

I dreamed I was pregnant with screams, but no: it was a nestful of broken sparrows, their wings the torn-off pages of calendars.

hello my name is shingles

I had been ignoring the rash. I thought it was from the Aspercreme that I had slathered on my shoulder (in case you are in a similar boat and thinking of trying it, I should mention that it did not help).

The rash got worse. As it did, the pain moved out of my bones and joints and gathered itself in the skin around the blisters. Some of the blisters started to get crusty, which made me think of chickenpox.



That’s right: the Invisible Box of Pain is full of herpes. I guess I can cancel the physical therapy appointment.