Getting My Mojo Back

I didn’t paint anything in September and for about half of October. I feel like it’s been a longer time than that, though. I think when I’m not painting or writing or creating in some way, time seems to expand. Well, it expands and contracts at the same time: days go on forever and speed by with a whooshing noise (thank you Douglas Adams).

I was depleted for many reasons, and I couldn’t get my creative mojo back. I began to play a caricature of myself. I thought, what if after all these years, I just became a person with no creative goals? What if like most other people, I just existed, lived, and enjoyed the creativity of others? I’d still love the arts, but I could not have goals, I could just take care of myself, see my friends and family, and let all those beautiful troubled goals fly away.

Years ago, when I was in college and writing poetry, I got to meet the poet W. S. Merwin. I asked him how do you know if you’re a poet? At the time (and perhaps through my whole life), I worried I was faking and any insight I had into the arts was a fluke. He said, “Try to quit.” As my life went by, I changed art forms, but I didn’t quit. I had dry spells and blocks, but it’s always been my goal to get back into my creative flow.

This recent plan to quit only held for about 4 weeks. Then I started sketching a little. Then I started watching an open studio presentation by Gwenn Seemel. She’s working on a series on Mental Health in 2 one hour long live sessions per week on a platform called Twith.tv. One session is Monday 7-8 p.m. Eastern Time, the other is Thursday, Noon to 1p.m., ET. She paints live, and those watching can type in comments and questions. It’s fascinating to see how she makes decisions, what she changes in compositions, and what she conveys through her colorful style.

At first, I just watched and commented. Then I started sketching. Then I started painting. By watching Gwenn and seeing her ideas take shape, listening to her talk frankly about mental health during the pandemic and about a wide range of other subjects, I couldn’t not create anymore.

I felt rusty and like I’d lost some of my skills, but I have to say, I’d forgotten what a pleasure painting is. And what a great pain reliever creating is. I don’t notice pain as much while I’m working. And if I am hurting at night, I can re-focus my mind on what I think I should do next with my painting, and it takes my attention away from the pain. It’s still there, but it’s in the background.

Before the pandemic isolated us all, I was looking for some kind of art partner, someone who’d meet with me regularly, share the studio or go to a coffee house with me, and talk about art. Some one to help me stay on track, and to have accountability with. Showing up to watch Gwenn create her incredible art has been a way for me to get a similar kind of structure. And thus a creative practice has started again for me, and I was not able to quit.

I started by sketching moths — sphinx, hawk, and hummingbird moths. I was on the phone on the porch one evening, with a person who talks a lot. When the conversation ended it was dark. I was going inside when I heard the distinct buzzing sound of what I thought was a hummingbird, but it was a huge moth pollinating my moon flowers. It flew from flower to flower, a blur, hovering above each bloom. I tried to photograph it but it was too fast. And then it was gone.

I’ve seen one once again since then, but to identify it I had to get on the internet and look in my Butterfly and Moth identification book. At first I was sketching very carefully, trying to get an accurate, realistic picture of the Carolina Spinx and the Pink Spotted Hawkmoth, the two most likely to be in my area. But I let go after awhile, stopped looking at pictures and used memory and imagination to come up with the painting.

It begins
Queen Night Pollinator by Joy Murray, 8×10″ acrylic paint on stretched canvas

I also started one of my 5×7″ faces for my “It’s Written All Over Your Face,” series. I’m working on small pieces while I watch and listen and talk to Gwenn, because of the space I need to set up the computer on my painting table. (I also work on them when I’m not watching.)

This one didn’t come together as I’d hoped, I thought the colors and didn’t blend well enough, and I thought the stars and comet on the face threw it off balance, so I’ve painted it back to a blank canvas and will start over. This started as just a face, as they usually do, with lots of color, but then it became about the debate on Critical Race Theory, which is so troubling and infuriating.

During Gwenn’s Live Open Studio, we talked about the forgiving nature of acrylic paint. During the conversation I came up with a way of coping better with the need to repaint so much of time: The paint forgives me. And the paint stays there, behind the correction, supporting the change. So layers are now even more important to me. Mistakes are layers, adding to, holding up the final image.

Talking with others who are kind and generous adds so much to my internal conversation.

Lastly, I’m working on a tree on 20×24″ stretched canvas. I’m splashing and twirling around in color. I’m adding in metallic colors and having fun. It’s a tree of exuberance so far. My studio is in my bedroom, so it’s nice to wake up and see that this tree has grown a bit more each day.

last week the tree was planted
This week it continues to grow

When I began blogging, almost 15 years ago, I titled the blog Chronically Inspired, on using the arts to help manage chronic illness, aging and mental health. The blog has gone through many iterations since then. Recently, I thought about changing the the subtitle of my blog to art*stories*disabled life, but changed my mind. Life itself includes disability, mobility aids, mental health problems, mental health support. We’re all broken in some way as we make our way through this confusing and often scary world. But there is love, and there is healing. When we forgive the broken parts and incorporate them into our lives, they give us texture and add unexpected color to our lives.

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Thanks for reading my blog. Feel free to share it, if you’d like.

This blog is brought to you by the generosity of people who support me on Patreon , buy my art, and who support me in so many different ways. 

If you’d like to make a one time donation, you can do so at paypal

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Sick Days

The morning glory vine is dying and yet it’s blooming more than ever

The night before my 61st birthday, I got sick. I got a kind of stomach flu, usually a 24 hour sort of illness that dragged on for days. I had meds to keep me from getting dehydrated, but I couldn’t eat for several days. I was very weak and unstable. Somewhere in the midst of the brain fog, I knew I shouldn’t be entirely on my own. But I didn’t have any idea how to ask for help. So I slept a lot. And slowly I got better. But I didn’t bounce back. I still feel like parts of my brain are offline.

Usually after an illness, I get a burst of energy, but it didn’t happen this time. In fact, I was ready to check out assisted living situations. And I did. They were all too expensive. And I’m afraid if I get into a subsidized facility, if we have another lockdown, I’ll be totally isolated from my friends and family. So now I’m beginning the process of getting some at home assistance.

I talked to a few friends about it and they were so kind and generous to me. Lots of helpful advice and offers of support. They will help me navigate into the next phase of my life, which I think may have started before I got sick, I just didn’t notice it.

There’s always been this force inside me that prodded me forward to goals. I’m not one to sit inside myself too long without coming up with a project to keep me afloat. Creativity has always been my life line. I’ve changed goals a million times, and necessarily met them, but I always wanted to make things — stories, fabric art, art. Oh art, so flexible and infinite in it’s variety, so many shiny heights to aspire to, so many golden paths to wander my way out of my struggles with my body.

But this time, the thought of getting back to my creative work exhausted me. A 20×24″ canvas seems huge. The way I tend to the paint and brushes, the cleaning and mixing rituals, none of that holds the charm it did. It feels strange, but I’m not sure I’m going to cling to my work the same way that I did before. The work is not work, should not be work, but a sublime journey, with difficulties, for sure, but it’s a way up and out of the challenges of mortality. To think in color, to capture a vision, an image — to tell a story — it’s a moment of transcendence. Of joy. But it’s hard, too. It feels quite difficult now.

While I recovered from the worst of my illness, but was still sick, I wrote in my journal about the frustration of life in pain, of all the roads in my life that have lead to weakness, but within that song of despair, I kept asking is there a way of finding joy. Both a centering emotion and my name. I don’t want the illness to take my identity, my joy.

Then I felt a shift, thinking how fortunate I am to be settling into this new state of limits, when actually, a limitless world is still available to me. Media technology may be a mixed blessing, but it allows me easy access to the entire world. I can see the whole of the planet through the window of my computer, my reading device, my phone, even. I can go places that, even if I were healthy, I could never get to. I started watching travel videos. Let me see the scope of this blue planet before I leave it.

I can text friends. I can call for help in the middle of the night. I’m not alone. I just have to train myself to remember that and ask for help.

I keep choosing life. It’s a sad old world, and so beautiful. So full of magic. A friend came over and we crossed my street to watch chimney swifts do their amazing dance as they descend into an old brick chimney for these September and October nights. There’s a big pipework project on my street that’s developed to the point where it’s impossible to get across without walking a block over, where there’s a break in construction. There are a couple of men living rough in that little park now, and I’m still in my wobbly loaner wheelchair, so I don’t feel safe going across the street on my own. (The men are obnoxious at times, but mostly stay to themselves.)

I can see the swifts from my porch, but getting closer, I see the dance so much more clearly. Sometimes, at dusk, the birds seem to just pop out of sky. It’s clear sky, then a full flock of 50 birds fly in and start circling the chimney, on or two dropping in. It’s a pleasure to watch, and also to hear the little gasps of delight from my friend. The swifts fly in a circle so big they disappear and reappear again until they all finally make it into their night shelter, sleeping with their claws clutching the walls, hanging on for dear life.

Dear life. I want to sketch that one day soon. Not today. But soon.

Self Portrait 2016

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Thanks for reading my blog. Feel free to share it, if you’d like.

This blog is brought to you by the generosity of people who support me on Patreon , buy my art, and who support me in so many different ways. 

If you’d like to make a one time donation, you can do so at paypal

Cards and prints on some of my art is available on Redbubble.  

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Didn’t it rain?

Carnations on a Rainy Day by Joy Murray

Last Friday, August 13, I got caught in a rain storm on the way home from Brooks Art Museum. I’ve been caught in the rain before, and it’s irritating because the chair cushions get wet and it takes a long time for them to dry out. This time, though, the rain seeped into the joystick, the mechanism that runs the chair, and about a block from home, the chair just stopped. No puttering or slowing down. It wouldn’t move at all.

At the time I was in the street because the sidewalk was blocked with trash bins and piles of yard waste. I was next to a storm drain and rain water was gushing down from the gutters. I didn’t want to disengage the motor (you can do that with two levers on either side of the chair so it can pushed manually) because I was afraid I would roll into the gutter or the storm drain. The street isn’t level — it’s been paved over so many times it’s a hill of asphalt. I was tilted.

I tried getting it to start a few times but it was dead. I called my son, and he was home and could come help me out. As I waited, cars wooshed by and a sense of vulnerability rained down on me. I wished I had some kind of flair to light in case a distracted driver didn’t see me. I remembered my flashing lights on the back and front and back of the chair. I hadn’t used them in a long time because it’s summer and I’m rarely out in the dark anymore.

I got them on and waited. It was about 10 minutes but seemed like an eternity. My son parked his SUV next to the chair and got me out of the rain. He then disengaged the motor and began a heroic struggle to get the chair into the vehicle. It weighs probably 150 lbs. or more. I tried to look up how to take it apart on my phone, but it’s not that kind of chair. A youngish man stopped and helped, so they got the chair in — it fit. It lay like some spent and defeated robot in the back.

My son got me home, got my manual chair, got me in the house, got the chair out of the SUV, got it up the ramp and into the house. We were soaked. Once I got in dry clothes, I called the wheelchair company service department. They said I had to let it dry out for a day or two and see if it worked then. The manual chair I have is not really built for my body. I got it so I could get rides in other people’s cars — it’s lightweight and folds up easy but it’s not meant for everyday use. And I have arthritis in my hands, so continued use increases my pain.

But I am glad to have it.

My 20 lb portable manual chair
My power wheelchair when I first got it, after a year’s process, in August 2018. My old chair was donated to me a few years before.

Monday I had an appointment with my neurologist. One of the things I already needed to discuss was getting the seat cushion replaced on my chair. It’s 3 years old and I’m starting to have pains in my butt. (Life can be such a pain in the butt.) When I talked to the wheelchair company, they said the doctor had to send a prescription and “a physical therapist will have to be involved.” Okay, fine, another layer and delay. I don’t mind a PT being involved. I want a good cushion because I don’t want to get pressure sores. But there was no way to get the chair serviced and the seat cushion replaced on Tuesday, when the person who services the chair would come out to look at it.

On Tuesday, the repair person came out, tried the joy stick. It turned on, but it’s stuck in the fastest mode, which is unsuitable for indoor use, especially since I have some cognitive delays and already sometimes run into walls and tables. (Plus I have a fear of going out the front door and flying off the porch like a broken ET. There are steps out there, my entry ramp is at the back door.) The repair person said, well my work here is done. “I’ll put in an order for another joystick.”

It’s going to take two to three works — getting the order in, getting medicare and medicaid approval, and getting back here to install it.

I had to ask if there was anyway I could get a loaner chair. No they didn’t have any.

And there was no real recourse.

The repair person wasn’t completely without sympathy (after I asked for it). He went back to the shop and found an old chair that I could use. He put in my batteries (it’s nice to know they weren’t damaged in the rain.) The replacement chair is not built for my body either. It’s also not designed as well. It’s a front wheel drive and the rear wheels are worn and janky. They wobble and it feels like they have their own agenda. A friend said they were twerking, which gave me a more lighthearted way to deal with it. Still, it doesn’t feel like a safe chair for running errands and travelling the neighborhood in. Or going out in the yard and communing with the garden. And the cushion is still a problem.

The loaner chair

But the team of Joy Helpers are doing what they can to make sure I get my food and medications in.

It was a rude awakening to be stopped so completely. I forget my mobility is totally ruled by my wheelchair. If it breaks down, then I don’t get to move about. The powers that be will approve a wheelchair for a person who needs one once every five years. A machine that gets used everyday in all kinds of circumstances is not going to make it 5 years without some need of repair. Businesses that contract with public health services often run on a tight margin and they don’t keep stock around; plus they have to file the paperwork to assure they get paid. It took me almost a year to get the chair I use now. And I’m very grateful for it.

But this latest rainstorm may take a month to recover from. And I’m in limbo about the cushion.

I needed to get back in touch with both the neurologist and the wheelchair service provider this week, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. There is only so much of this game of bureaucracy I can take before I start to feel the beast of depression start munching at my spirit. And so I’ve just read, rested and even painted some. The days of stress had taken a toll on me, I was exhausted by it all. I was running on anxiety and nervous energy. I watched some videos on how to better manipulate a manual chair and one bit of advice was to get rest. So I did some meditation, some stretches, danced a little in my twerking chair, and took some deep naps.

Sometimes resting is the only way to win a battle. To stay healthy and hopeful. To ease the pains in the butt.

Flying Dreams by Joy Murray

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Thanks for reading my blog. Feel free to share it, if you’d like.

This blog is brought to you by the generosity of people who support me on Patreon , buy my art, and who support me in so many different ways. 

If you’d like to make a one time donation, you can do so at pay pal

Cards and prints on some of my art is available on Redbubble.  

You can subscribe to this blog by email in the link below this post.

If you find a typo, let me know, and I’ll send you a postcard.

Back on the Bus

Earlier this week, I took a bus for the first time since February of 2020. I had a doctor’s appointment at an office that was relatively close and accessible by bus. I could have called around to family and friends for a ride, but sometimes, I just want to do things on my own. I researched the bus schedules and was delighted to find that all adult fares are $1.00 now. I am eligible to get an additional discount because I have a disability, but I’ve never gone to the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) to get my card. I don’t ride that often and fares are reasonable, so I just support public transportation with my little bit of money.

I’d spent the day before in a major funk because I’d gone to the store and while I was crossing the street at the light, a big shiny black pick up truck made a left turn almost into me. He braked quickly and then gave me this little shrug and wave with both hands. An “oopsy” smile. It was hot. I was deeply irritated by his goofy response to almost running me over. I thought of all the other times similar “almost” accidents happened to me. It weighed heavily on me.

I considered just cancelling my appointment. There’s a certain state of mind, a certain kind of confidence that I need to ask for favors, or even to go out at all, and it sometimes eludes me. The weight of living, of getting simple things done, felt impossible.

But I’m also blessed (or cursed) with a sense of adventure, so I knew it would be good for me to get out again and make my own way to see my doctor, in that small window of possibility that’s open to me. And so, in the 98 degree heat, armed with masks, water, and my long list of medications, I caught a bus.

On the way there I saw this bit of litter under the IBEW sign.
Being a pedestrian/wheelchair user, I noticed the cicada skin on the box

The trip there was nice. I had the air-conditioned bus to myself most of the way. The bus driver was masked. The farebox was broken so the ride was free. As we rode along, a few more people got on, most were masked. The ones who weren’t were clearly overwhelmed and challenged by life, trying to get home with groceries, trying to cope with the heat.

Every once in a while, an announcement would blare out about mandatory masks. The voice was deep and male, with a terse Southern twang that made me thing of a stern Southern sheriff. “Your mask MUST cover you NOSE and Mouth.”

When I got off the bus, I saw this chair parked in front of a nail salon. I hope the owner didn’t melt.

This doctor, my GP, has an office in the center city, and I appreciate that there are still doctors practicing close by. So many have been moved out to the edges of the city, and there is no public transportation that goes out there. And if there is it takes hours to get there.

In this part of the city there are lots of people without a lot of money. There are more pedestrians. There’s more variety. It’s also a part of town that shows signs of age, urban decay, and how people and businesses try to keep up appearances without much support from the city’s budget.

Sidewalk hazards — do you try the hole or the rusty cover? The cover held me. I went a different way when I returned.

My GP was encouraging. My triglycerides and my blood sugar are both down. I was glad to talk to her. While I waited in her office, I sketched, nothing much, but it sparked the memory of how much I used to sketch during waits for buses and doctors. I started missing my sketchbook. I’ve stopped using it. Some of my internal scaffolding has broken. I can’t clearly see the point of all this scribbling and drawing anymore. Haven’t for a while — since COVID? since I had to start using the wheelchair full time? Since the beginning, way back in childhood? Sixty years old and I still let negativities restrain and sabotage me. I don’t even carry a sketchbook anymore, just my calendar with some blank paper. I used to have a whole kit, pens, pencils, paint all tucked like secret joy weapons in my bag.

Back on the street, I got the bus back home. It was crowded. Another wheelchair was already on — a woman about my age. She had a larger chair and it was loaded down with bags — at least 5 backpacks, shopping bags, plastic bags — all hanging from her back handles, head rest, arm rests, and a few stacked on top of her feet. She didn’t look unhoused, she was clean, wore make up, smelled nice. Maybe a hoarder, or maybe she just went out once a month and got everything she needed.

I was able to fit my chair in the other wheelchair spot without blocking the aisle. (Thank Science for these chairs that turn in place).

We’re all being filmed on the bus, with a nice flat screen tv to remind us

The bag burdened woman had on a mask, but the bus driver didn’t, and few of the passengers did. But there were no haters — people who get angry that wheelchairs are taking up extra seats. I’ve always disliked that using the wheelchair keeps me from getting further back in the bus and eavesdropping on conversations, watching human stories unfold, but now I feel the social distancing provided by being in my designated spot is a good thing.

I got home, crossed all the streets without anyone trying to kill me.

An obstacle closer to home

The journey broke my funk. It also made me stash a small sketchbook in my purse.

The world seemed manageable again.

It’s still scary and frustrating, but I wheel on.

From a 2016 sketchbook

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Thanks for reading my blog. Feel free to share it, if you’d like.

This blog is brought to you by the generosity of people who support me on Patreon , buy my art, and who support me in so many different ways. 

If you’d like to make a one time donation, you can do so at pay pal

Cards and prints on some of my art is available on Redbubble.  

You can subscribe to this blog by email in the link below this post.

If you find a typo, let me know, and I’ll send you a postcard.