“And when I look at these poems and do not know how I wrote them, or if I would have the capacity to write a strong poem again, I feel concerned. What will disappear next?” Melissa Broder, in Paris Review
I do not know, generally, how I create art. The not-knowing is scary because if I don’t know how I do it, how will I keep doing it? It. Such a small word, so fragile.
I get these intense bursts of inspiration that literally pick me up and move my body. I get excited that It‘s back. This wild amazing creation explodes in my mind and it’s the most exhilarating thing. Too often, though, by the time I’m halfway to the studio or the keyboard, I’m slogging through quicksand, and It’s just gone.
One time, God showed me His house and He told me to do Art for Him and He told me to paint His furniture, so I did. A new It was born in me after several years of living without in a creative desert. But the quicksand of life sure does grab and stick.
I accepted a commission and then almost immediately couldn’t do the work. Right after I wrote that I was on top of the world my husband started a rapid decline in his cognitive function.
He has a traumatic brain injury from a 2009 motorcycle accident, made worse by a 2017 collision with a driver who turned on his cruise control and passed out drunk. I’ve been secretly expecting this decline to happen ever since he was diagnosed and I learned that he would probably die early with dementia because of it.
He started forgetting to take his meds. Then he took his morning meds twice in one day and slept for 20 hours. He forgot to do the self-care that he had been doing on his own. I was firmly entrenched in my projects and I was not prepared to do all the new things that he needed me to do for him.
Mostly, I felt like I was about to be lost at sea. I know that because of his multiple TBIs, my husband will probably get Alzheimer’s and die early. But I wasn’t ready for it. He’s only 47!
I spent several weeks in June completely defeated. ‘I gave up on so much to take care of him, and now he’s going to be more than I can handle soon, and I’ll be alone,’ I thought. ‘I won’t be able to stay faithful if he’s gone. I won’t want to visit him wherever he has to go to get the proper care. It’ll be a horrible place because he’s on Medicaid and disabled and I’m a horrible wife.’
That was my mind for a month. And then his doctor discovered that his blood pressure was dangerously low. As soon as we changed his meds, I had my husband back, literally overnight. It’s been almost a month, and I’m just now getting back to myself, but I’m different. I mourned the loss of my husband for a few weeks and then suddenly he was fine. As fine as he’s been.
Even though most of the time he’s this guy who resembles the love of my life who lives in a recliner and watches videos nonstop while I live this crazy life around him, sometimes he’s the scary-smart ambitious mastermind I married and lived with for such a short time before he got hit by a car and died. I’m not ready to lose that rare guy for good. Those times I get to have him are a gift.
So Spirit told me lots of things as I recovered from thinking I was about to lose my soulmate for good. One of the things was about not being afraid to go for it no matter what the audience might think.
There were a few times during the June blood pressure episode and the July recovering that I had things to write about, things to create. I got the intense pull of inspiration and would be waylaid immediately by the piles of clutter in my studio from not having the energy to put things away, or the need to find out where that smell was coming from, or the need to feed an angry frantic man, or to just go cry because I could see how awful he felt and it hurt my heart too much to continue.
One of the things that waylaid me was the fear of the reader not understanding what I was talking about, or my revealing more about my inner life than I was comfortable with. While I prayed and cried and begged for more time, Spirit addressed those fears and told me that hiding what’s the real essence of my life is over. So, I’m going to write about obeying and listening, and following a plan that I have no idea about because it’s not my plan, but it’s the plan that is right for me.
And if the reader thinks I’m off my rocker because I talk to God, well, honestly at this point, being afraid of that seems silly. God regularly takes me and does things with me that cause me to grow so fast it makes my head spin. And our parents were right when they said that struggle brings about character. He uses the struggles of me thinking I’m losing my husband and having that change so fast I can’t catch up and shows me that waiting around for it to feel right is getting me nowhere.
I want to be a public artist. I want people to see the things and read the things I’ve been given to create and write about. Because it’s not about doing art and sticking it behind doors anymore. It’s about being a window, about letting the art and the words out. It’s about leaving the window open and letting you see that I talk to God and He tells me how to do just about everything when I’m not too self-absorbed to listen.
It’s about letting you see that I repeat the same struggles over and over because the answers aren’t the ones I like, so I try it again my way. It’s about letting myself off the hook for taking a month to recover from the rollercoaster life of a TBI wife. I actually kind of want you to know me because I want to know you. I’m tired of being alone in this house, with my quicksand. Let’s hang out.
On July 1, 2018 I entered onto a most unfamiliar course. I retired at age 71!!
That day I journeyed from a familiar, well-traveled course where I knew what I was doing, who I was, and what my gifts and skills were … that day I began journeying on unfamiliar course to what I would find was a wilderness place.
I launched on this journey exhausted. I had just downsized over half of my belongings while working my normal 50-70 hours a week and always being always on call. Yet when I finally got to a rest stop I found myself one hundred miles away with a garage full of boxes, no office, no title, no colleagues and coworkers just down a hallway, no daily structure, and … quiet. Actually, the quiet part was really nice!!!
It didn’t take long for me to drop a heavy box on my big toe, resulting in a lost toenail a few months later. In the middle of September I fell and broke/crushed my shoulder, resulting in a reverse shoulder replacement … a high-fracture risk diagnosis due to significant osteoporosis … high blood pressure … very high glucose levels (I was diagnosed with diabetes less than two months before retirement began but now the numbers were spiking) … months of physical therapy (which resulted in sciatic issues from the exercises) and, as though all of that wasn’t enough …an issue with the meniscus behind my knee from climbing on an elliptical….
And, oh, I almost forgot to mention that one of the first surgeons I saw after crushing my shoulder walked into the room and his first words were “I hope you now how badly you have damaged yourself….”
It felt like my whole life had been damaged! In less than three months, the previously strong, confident, knowledgeable understanding of myself had changed into a “damaged, aging, exhausted old woman” who for months wouldn’t be able to put on her makeup or fix her hair, would have trouble getting dressed, and who would find herself living in elastic-waisted pants!!
I was truly on an unfamiliar course, wandering on a wilderness road I had no idea how to navigate! I was in between what was and what would eventually be. I needed to ascertain my bearings; acquaint myself with the environment I seemed to have landed in; and adjust to the facts of my current situation.
Ascertain. Acquaint. Adjust. These are part of the definition for the word orient, as in orienting oneself. When I was asked to consider writing this Blog on the concept of orienteering, I wasn’t even sure what that meant (and, honestly, I am still working on it)! What I’ve come to know without a doubt, though, is that I was in need of orienteering myself to a new way of life.
My mantra for my retirement was: “Not all those who wander are lost.” I knew I would need to wander for a while in the new retirement environment, but those first six months were not what I had in mind!!
You may know that my Retirement Mantra is a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s a line in a longer poem that now seems quite appropriate, although I hadn’t seen the longer quote until recently.
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
Although I’ve lifted this out of the context of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythical world, it does ultimately reflect a lot of the hope that I have as I reorient from my “damaged” life.
It’s taken a lot of new work, learning, and prayer. The doctor I ultimately found to do the surgery (not the “damaging” one) came in to do the normal now-which-shoulder-is-it? check just before the surgery. As he checked and marked my arm, he saw the tattoo on my wrist and asked me what it meant. I told him it was the Tree of Life and represented my faith journey. He said, “Well let’s breathe some new life into this arm!!!”
And the journey began from damage to new life. It is a continuing journey. One that will take more time and reflection.
Join me next month to learn how my orienteering pilgrimage began and where I am on the unfolding journey!
“You’re not the same as you were before,” he said. You were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.” ~ Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking-Glass
I used to proudly say things like, “I’m a chameleon, I can fit in anywhere.” I said those things because I was afraid of not fitting in. I felt like if I was completely authentic, someone would punish me for being too much. So I held back. I tried to be whoever others wanted me to be instead of myself. I didn’t have a clear idea of who I was. I wanted to be liked, and I thought I had to be someone else to make that happen.
I spent the past couple of years becoming. I did this through a whole lot of inner searching, healing, and listening. I saw behaviors that were defenses against being hurt but kept me from having deep relationships. I listened to the things I was saying to myself and was often horrified at how mean I was. I paid attention to how afraid I was of standing out, even though I love crazy-colored edgy hairstyles and wearing artsy clothes. I wanted to be seen, and I was terrified of being seen at the same time.
It started to sink in that I am approaching those years where a lot of women become invisible and ignored. That started to scare me more than my fear of being too much. I began to realize that I had wasted a lot of years when it’s more socially acceptable to stand out. If I wasn’t careful, I was going to slide into the last half of my life carrying a whole lot of baggage about what a woman of a certain age is supposed to look like and act like, and be. I understood that if I was ever going to figure out how to be myself, I had better get started.
I sought out every book, course, and challenge I could get my hands on that promised to teach me how to be better. When my business coach pointed out in early 2020 that I was constantly looking for ways to fix myself, I felt like I had another thing to fix, which sent me seeking even more. I thought I might always be seeking at that point.
I discovered I did not lack time, but was filling all of my time with tangential reading and learning.
~ Janelle Hardy https://www.janellehardy.com/about/
I see now that I was avoiding the real issue. I wanted to feel comfortable in my skin. I wanted to stop being who I thought would make other people happy, and be happy for myself. I began to realize I wasn’t going to find myself in someone else’s story. I had to write my own story, and be willing to be too much. There was going to be no avoiding it.
I am now me, with all the muchness I was afraid to show until now. How it happened isn’t glamorous. It was a concerted effort to make friends with myself. To listen to me. To comfort the hurts and to stop abusing myself with my inner dialogue. Stay tuned to this blog, where I will attempt to share with you what got me from a serious lack of muchness to being completely in love with my muchness. I’m not too much, and neither are you. The world is waiting for your unique brand of muchness. Let’s walk together and see what it’s like to stop hiding that muchier you.