“There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Petunia by Georgia O’Keeffe (1925)

 

“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” ~ Ivan Turgenev

“If I just work when the spirit moves me, the spirit will ignore me.” ~ Carolyn Forché 

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"White Rose With Larkspur No. 2" by Georgia O'Keeffe

I went back to a post that I had begun in April and tried to finish it to post today. Big mistake. I’m one of those writers who needs to maintain my volition once I’m on a roll, or I completely lose my impetus as well as my interest.

I never really thought too much about the effect this has had on me as a writer over the years until now, but in considering my writing habits, my method, if you will, I have had an epiphany. Too often in the past when I lost momentum, I would shut down. Stop writing. And then wait until the mood hit me again. I did not realize that I couldn’t continue with what I was writing because I really didn’t like it, nor did I have the courage to admit that I didn’t like something that I was writing.

Confusing?

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.” ~ Alan Alda

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"From the Lake" by Georgia O'Keeffe

In the past when I was writing a poem and I got stuck on a line, I would worry the words, move them around, try to make things fit. Granted, this is precisely what the writing process is about: reworking, retooling, finessing.

But there would be times when I would get stuck, leave the poem, and not come back at all, telling myself that I was a failure and had no business attempting to write anything in the first place. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, years later and some wisdom in my soul, I realize that probably in those instances when I just stopped and couldn’t go on, I was probably working with the wrong words, the wrong subject, the wrong structure. Now, I would come at the problem in a totally different way:

Now, I look at the words and try to discern my point in writing this particular piece in the first place. If there really isn’t a point, then I was probably just exercising my brain, ambling through the woods, if you will.

Nothing wrong with a little ambling, or a lot of ambling actually. It helps to make the synapses fire, and random thought more often than not arrives at the place you intended to be in the first place. Even if you cannot use what you have written as a result of your meandering, you have still exercised your creative muscles, something that is as necessary to a writer as swimming laps is to a swimmer, or getting the earth beneath his fingernails is to a gardener. All of these things lead to something eventually, but the practice is necessary; the tilling of the soil must be done before the planting.

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” ~ Virginia Woolf

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"Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1930)

These days, I use a lot of different things for inspiration than I did when I was still relatively new at the game. I used to believe, as many novice poets do, that the poem had to come from my gut. It had to have its genesis deep within my soul, and its creation was a reflection of my state of mind and being. No wonder I used to hit roadblocks all of the time. All of that soul-diving takes its toll.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not disparaging soul-diving. We all need to do it once in a while. Looking within is definitely a necessary part of the creative process. But limiting yourself to inner reflection can be as creative as moving around your belly button lint with a Q-tip: It isn’t painful, might feel a little bit good, but doesn’t give you much in the end.

“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.” ~ Edmund Burke

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"Calla Lily Turned Away" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1923)

To be fair to myself, which I am usually not, a lot of my need to write at one point  stemmed from my grief. I have said before that I shopped my way through my grief for Caitlin, but that is not entirely true. I wrote pages and pages of words about my pain, her pain, pain, life, death, cruelty. Everything that you would imagine someone immersed in grief might delve into.

Now, years later, I am no longer ruled by my grief. Unfortunately, it is still a part of me, and I fear that it always will be—grief for my daughter commingled by my grief for my father, mixed with grief over the changes in my life over which I have had no control. But I am more than my grief.

I sit outside in the sunshine and look at the sky, listen to the sounds, and contemplate life with an ease that always used to elude me. I sit down at these keys every day (almost), and just let the words flow. Yes, I push them about a bit, but they come with more ease than I ever enjoyed before. I write about so many things, which is why I entitled my blog “musings,” as that is exactly what these post are: musings about music, art, words, politics, love, and in particular, life.

“I have lived on a razors edge. So what if you fall off, I’d rather be doing something I really wanted to do. I’d walk it again.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

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"White Sweet Peas" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1926)

I remember a time before I began to take medication for my depression when I would sit and wait for the words to come, beseech my inner muse to create. I felt that if I did not create, then there was no point.

So many creative people throughout history suffered from some kind of mental illness and/or drug addiction. Van Gogh’s depression led him to create incredible, brilliant skies and flowers, but his self-portrait shows a man without mirth. I often wonder how much beauty in art and writing the world would be without if Prozac had been available 300 or 400 years ago. Not to be glib. Just a comment on how many of the artistic names with which society is familiar were/are victims of this disease.

But I’ll let you in on something that might sound absurd: Most creative people will fight prescription mood-altering drugs tooth and nail. I did. When the firs quack I went to gave me a prescription for Prozac and began to talk about his relationship with his wife, my first response to him was that I wanted to feel the pain. It made me who I was.

Fortunately, medications for depression and other mental illnesses continue to evolve, and the zombie-like affect that Prozac had on my psyche is not a necessary fact of life.

“Anyone who does anything great in art and culture is out of control. It is done by people who are possessed.” ~ Nancy Grossman

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"Jack in the Pulpit No. IV" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Writer and poet Anne Sexton suffered from deep post-partum depression and horrible mood swings most of her life. She was institutionalized several times; her children were taken care of by others. She endured years of hell on earth, yet she produced some of the most profound, beautiful poems of the whole confessional movement, a genre of poetry in which she was an instrumental contributor.

Ernest Hemingway’s mood swings are the subject of countless analyses of the writer’s work. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to be clinically depressed, as was his firs wife Zelda, who was eventually institutionalized. Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock—all artists who suffered from clinical depression. Musicians who suffered from mental illness include Mozart, Beethoven, even Curt Kobain.

Writer and publisher Virginia Woolf ultimately committed suicide when she could no longer stand existence. Poet and writer Sylvia Plath became famous for her book The Bell Jar, which is considered semi-autobiographical: The protagonist, Esther, suffers from depression and is committed. William Styron, well known author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, suffered from such a debilitating bout with depression in 1985 that he wrote a memoir entitled Darkness Visible,  a moving retelling of the author’s personal battle with mental illness. Even famous cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” suffered from depression.

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~ Pablo Picasso

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"Black Place No. 3" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Many creative people have phases in which they are driven to create—write, paint, sculpt, whatever medium—to the point that they will work until they are physically and emotionally exhausted. In some cases, yes, this is the manic phase of bipolar disorder. But not necessarily. I would contend that these phases are also part of that wiring that sets creative people apart from mainstream society, the inherent need to make something, to produce something, to the exclusion of everything else.

It’s surprisingly hard for me to elaborate on this as it’s something that you don’t really realize that you are in the midst of until you are in its midst. And it is not something that is easily explainable to those who are more left-brained (logical and ordered). That is not to say that creativity does not exist in every field. As I said in an earlier post, the geniuses who look at numbers and see beauty are as creative as those who create color-saturated canvases or tear-inducing symphonies.

On reflection, I’m glad that I did not finish the post to which I referred in the beginning. My explanation as to why I didn’t has morphed into something in which I am much more content to post, even though some would still consider it belly-button gazing. I’ll leave you with this passage by Sidney M. Jourard:

“The act of writing bears something in common with the act of love. The writer, at this most productive moment, just flows. He gives of that which is uniquely himself, he makes himself naked. Recording his nakedness in the written word. Herein lies some of the terror which frequently freezes a writer.”

More later. Peace.

Infallible, Untouchable, and Immortal?

Why You Might Be Surprised on My Feelings About Drug Use

I know that I have mentioned my use of prescription drugs more than once in some of my entries, and I have admitted to inhaling as I was no angel in my younger days. I liked to get high, and for about a year of my teen years, I did it quite frequently, but then I decided that that was probably enough playing around, and I got my act together, stopped getting high all of the time, stopped skipping school, and still managed to graduate with honors, and that’s something of which I’m proud, especially since I know that if I hadn’t had a lost year, I could have probably ranked higher (absolutely no pun intended) on the list in my graduating class.

As to prescription drugs, yes, I have a dependency on muscle relaxers. I wish that I didn’t. I don’t take pain pills unless I absolutely have to, but I cannot get through the day without muscle relaxers. My back, shoulders and legs simply will not allow it. I have spasms that are so bad sometimes that I feel as if the side of my back has moved into my shoulder. I get knots in my shoulders that are the size of walnuts, and they have to be massaged out, or I have to get trigger shots to release them.

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"The Scream" by Edvard Munch

I also take preventive medication for my migraines, which I feel is a miracle drug. Before I started on the preventive regimen, I used to have migraines that lasted for weeks. Now, a bad one might last for days. I once had a migraine that was so bad that I could only eat jello, and I lost 12 pounds. I looked mah-velous, but what good is that when you feel as if you can only live in a bat cave?

And then there are the anti-depressants. These are a way of life for me. On occasion, I have convinced myself that I am all better, and I have thrown them away. For a while, I feel great. Life is great. The air is great. Everything is great. The birds are singing. La la la la la. And then comes the crash, which isn’t great. People who are clinically depressed do not enjoy being that way, believe me.

People who have never had any kind of clinical mental illness simply cannot understand it. They believe that you can snap out of it. Or will yourself to be better. Or pray yourself out of it. Or take vitamins. Or (and I love this one, my mother used to say it to me), think happy thoughts. Okay. Sure. That works for a while, for some people. But for those of us who are truly, clinically diagnosed, you may as well be chewing sweet tarts for all of the good that it will do you.

The advances that they have made in psycho-pharmacology are really incredible. I mean, I remember when everyone was handed Prozac, and it was declared a wonder pill, capable of curing everyone’s ills. Well, I’m here to tell you that it didn’t cure mine; it made me worse. It took trial and error and time to find the right medicine for me. But now, pharmacology has advanced so far so fast, and even though it’s still trial and error in getting to the right medicine for an individual’s body, there are so many more roads to try so that your medicine doesn’t end up turning you into a zombie.

No one should ever feel ashamed to need medicine for being depressed or anxious, and any sect of society that still imposes that kind of stigma is living in the dark ages. Many of these conditions run in families; some are caused by hormones, others by traumatic events that have occurred in life. Some last a lifetime; others just months. With the right medication, some people who are diagnosed with a mental illness can continue to function in society without major issues and without having to announce to the world that an issue exists, because after all, it isn’t really the world’s business. Is it?

But the kinds of drugs that I’m talking about having a problem with don’t come with a prescription. I’m talking about pot and cocaine and meth, or prescription drugs that belong to someone else that are being used for something other than that for which they are prescribed. That kind of drug use bothers me and is weighing heavily on my mind right now.toking

Let me clarify. You’re probably thinking that I’m being a hypocrite about pot because I just admitted that I smoked in high school, and I didn’t turn out horribly, and everything seems to be fine. However, I’m talking about excessive pot use, as in getting high every day, sometimes, a couple of times a day. I smoked pot once or twice a week, maybe. I still went to school, turned in my assignments, took care of my chores, you know, basic things.

What I’m seeing is getting high on pot, and then abusing prescription drugs, too. The result is a crappy personality, full of smart ass retorts, no respect, and manipulative behavior. An incredibly narcissistic person whose dysfunction is being exacerbated by the drug and alcohol abuse. And I cannot even believe that I am writing about this because it violates his privacy. But how about how he has violated my soul, my essence?

Am I to continue to allow this personal pummeling on my morale without responding to it? Each time feels like a new violation on my spirit. Each time I wonder where the boy has gone that I knew, the one that I rocked to sleep every night the first year of his life. Do I love him less for what he is becoming? Do I beg and plead internally in this ongoing argument with myself to wait patiently, that things will turn around, that this is just a phase, that all parents go through this, that the boy I love is there beneath this arrogant, selfish, man-boy? Do I remind myself that all youth are self-centered, ego-centric, narcissistic, wholly wrapped in the concept that they are infallible, untouchable and immortal?

When I was 17, I was already going to college full time, working, paying for my own car insurance, gas, clothes, and expenses. But I was atypical, and this goes back to my belief that I have already lived a hundred other lives, and this one is but one in which I am already an old soul. I wanted to have these responsibilities at a young age. I was already beyond where he is now. Not everyone is like me.

So how do I keep my expectations realistic? I know that he is not me. That much is certain. But to be on the receiving end of so much disdain, such a lack of common courtesy is unacceptable. My children were not brought up to be heathens, barbarians. That is intolerable. Perhaps the wildness is youth, but the rude temperament is not a matter of age. I can cloak the wounds to my soul for now in the hopes that he moves past this phase, but I will not tolerate shunning the teachings of basic human decency that he has heard since he had ears to hear and a mouth to speak.

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Cover from French Lieutenant's Woman

So, it comes to this now. I wait. I will put into action the plan to remove the drugs that I have access to from his access. I will try to find within myself some of my father’s stalwart patience, the kind he used on me during my rebellious years.

I just had a fleeting image of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, who went to the edge of the bluff each day to look out to sea, no matter what the weather, even though she knew that her lover would not return. It was an open-ended story, but I always saw her time on the bluff as a way for her way to gather her strength to face the day and all that it held for her, for she knew that it would not be easy. Funny how the doors in the sand castles of your memory open and release something for you to hold onto when you need it most.

There will be more later. Peace.