On The Other Side

Sunday, a friend took me down to the South Main district of downtown Memphis. It was like being in a new city. There have been changes to the area over the years, but mostly it’s my own world that’s gotten smaller. My friend pushed my wheelchair up a pretty steep street, then we turned around, and we flew back down the hill. He held onto the wheelchair handles, ran with me, and steered me clear of bumps and divots. It was scary and thrilling. About halfway down the hill, I stopped gripping the arms of my wheelchair, threw my arms in the air and sang out woo-hoos of sheer delight. All the anxiety, sorrow, and fear that had taken up residence in my soul blew away like so many cobwebs.

When we got back to level ground, I felt 10 years younger. I also felt my exact age, my exact physical state –whole and healthy in my deteriorated and janky body. I haven’t felt that carefree in a long time.

And the truth be told, it was a spontaneous moment but a lot of preparation went into it. My every day preparation is complicated. I have to have medical supplies at the ready, I have to take medications several times a day, I have to eat carefully, I have to have a well maintained wheelchair and a proper cushion. That’s an everyday thing, no days off.

(I have Hereditary Spastic Paraparapelgia, a rare disorder, that is genetic more than hereditary. You can find more information here. Though I have to say in the 40 plus years I’ve had it, I’ve had several other diagnoses. No one knows quite what to make of me.)

It’s complicated, by Joy Murray, 2020

The past few months the weight of all I have to do just to maintain a small life has felt overwhelming. We are all, of course, in a state of aging and changing. Our friends have faced challenges, our friends have died.

The past few years, the pandemic has made getting medical care more complicated. I have gotten sick and weak in ways I haven’t had to deal with in the past. My doctors have changed my medications with not good results. The world around me seems to make less and less sense, I seem less and less powerful. Since the fall of last year, I’ve felt my creative spirit shrinking, felt too weak and depressed to paint. I can gather up the energy sometimes, but the daily flow of my life seemed to have slowed to a trickle. My vision narrowed.

I’ve been in the midst of such depressions before and I always try to remember what I’ve already been through, that there is another side, once I make my way through a rough part in my journey. We are all travelling difficult journeys. But I hadn’t been able to get out of my depression these past months. Good things happened, but my basic mood remained low.

Then one day, the angle of my little patch of the planet shifted toward the sun so that even rainy days seemed brighter. A friend on Facebook asked me to post 10 pieces of my art, one a day. I decided to do that by posting one piece from each of the past 10 years.

Because of that, I was able to see where I’ve been very productive some years, others not so much. I can see how I’ve grown as an artist. I can see how I’ve changed art practices when I needed to because of lost strength and ability. I can see my very own record of how much I love life, how much delight there is in it, how the sorrow and happiness all blend together to make a rich, color saturated life.

Since I have a tendency toward depression, when I have an exacerbation in my degenerative condition, I always wonder if life is worth living if I can no longer have what I’ve lost. Limping, needing a cane, needing a walker, needing a wheelchair, needing pain medications — needing some kind of assistance for almost every part of my existence. I learned to give myself a year to adjust to the new me, the new symptom, and see how I feel about it. So far, something always happens to delight and encourage me, and make life seem a wonderous thing to have.

And Sunday, it happened again.

One thing that’s been hard when I’m using my portable manual wheelchair, is trusting others to steer me safely. (That has more to do with my own fears than with the people who help me.) I’m always looking at the ground. In fact, I’ve been looking at the ground a lot since I was a teenager and started limping, started this journey with a degenerative neurological condition, looking for things that will trip me.

Sunday, my friend kept pointing out @poetrybyboots poems stenciled onto the sidewalks. I was a little alarmed that I hadn’t noticed them.

And then I realized it wasn’t that I was less observant. I was looking at the sky. I trusted my friend. I trust my friends. Interdependence isn’t as scary as it used to be. That realization opened so many memories of how helpful all my friends are to me in so many different ways.

And it was then I realized I was on the other side of an uphill struggle. Flying down hill, alive, alive — and so so glad.

Some art work from the past decade, and a few years more, starting with a fabric sculpture I made in 2010, called the Survivor, an homage to breast cancer survivors. A few years later I didn’t have enough strength in my hands to keep doing this kind of work, so I began to draw and paint.

Sweet Dreams 2012

Robot Cat, acrylic on canvas, 2013
Imagination Real, 2014, watercolor, ink and pencil on paper This is part of a series of illustrations I did for a music video

Never Going Back to the Gravity

Turtle Dreams, 2015, watercolor and ink on paper
Holding Space, 2016, Mixed Media
She Saw Things Differently, 2017, Mixed Media

Don’t Take My Sunshine Away, 2018, Mixed media
Portrait of Memphis artist Frankd Robinson, How Does Your Garden Grow? 2019

Point of Departure 2020

Portrait of Memphis musician Lou Bond, 2020

So, with a little help from my friends, I’ll try to keep making my small contributions to this world while we all spin around on this complicated planet.

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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.  

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

If you find a typo, let me know at joyzmailbox@gmail.com, and I’ll send you a postcard.

Stop Wars Everywhere

This is my contribution to the anti-war sunflowers that show solidarity with the victims of the Ukrainian invasion by Putin’s military. But I also want to acknowledge all the countries that are in that brutal condition called war. There are civil wars, drug wars and wars over territory. They are rooted in greed and hatred that is inflamed by men in power, and inflicted on the powerless.

There is so much suffering in the world with illness, lack of resources, and heartbreak. Why we still find ourselves embroiled in wars, I don’t understand. I wish for something better for us as I have all my life. I can think of plenty solutions, but have no idea how to implement them. Keep voting. Keep creating. Keep supporting the people and organizations that rush in behind the warriors and offer medical help, food, mercy, healing.

You may download and share this art as you wish. I have not signed it and am offering it to everyone. You can get stickers, cards and prints from Redbubble, too, but they are for sale. If I make any money on this, I’ll contribute it to one of the organizations helping refugees.

Stop Wars Everywhere, 8×10″

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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.  

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

If you find a typo, let me know at joyzmailbox@gmail.com, and I’ll send you a postcard.

Portrait of Billy

My friend Billy, in his mid 70s, had a stroke last summer. It was pretty severe. He went from being an active man, to being dependent on caregivers for practically everything. I’ve known him off and on since I was in my 20s. He’d been a master bricklayer and artist, drawing, painting, and making concrete sculptures with Egyptian mythological themes.

He’d always been a philosophical man, and we often spend hours talking about life. He believed we’re all cells, the planet is a cell, the universe is a cell. He did paintings of the light spectrum that included not just the colors of the rainbow but black, too. He didn’t fear death. He talked a lot about how human unity could be achieved through an understanding of prokaryotic cells, and he was inspired by the work of Bruce Lipton, author of the Biology of Belief. He talked a lot about toxic masculinity and about how to heal racism. He talked a lot. Often to an unnerving extent.

Still, he is a kind man and would help me winterize my apartment and spread sand on my ramp when icy weather was predicted without me having to ask. He built a ramp on his house so people in wheelchairs could visit, but he was a bit of a hoarder, so it was impossible to move around once I got into his house.

He used to visit me to watch science lectures on the computer. He never could quite figure out how to connect to certain sites. Some of what he liked I felt was pretty shaky science-wise, especially things about healing the body through mind power. So while he watched, I sketched him or participants in the lectures.

After he had his stroke, I wanted to give him a mixed media collage I did of him in 2018. I searched and searched for the sketchbook it was in, but I couldn’t find it. I think I got rid of it in my great journal purge this winter. I had a scan of it, but when I tried to print it, it didn’t look “right” to me.

Billy, 10×7, mixed media, December 19, 2018

A mutual friend of ours has been keeping me posted about Billy’s progress. His partner and caregiver has cleared out his house somewhat and has been helping him get better. This last week we were able to visit him. I wanted us to all sing to him (our mutual friend is an excellent singer and I can make a joyful noise, even if I’m off key).

While we were coordinating schedules, transportation, and health considerations, I decided to do another portrait of Billy. I discovered I had very few clear photos of him. I am also out of shape for portraits from not practicing much over the winter. I finally got a couple of nice sketches of him done:

When I started working on canvas, I painted one portrait that was such a disaster I couldn’t bear to look at it, and painted it white the day after I finished it. And I’m glad I did. I changed the composition and decided to add some of his prokaryotic philosophy in the painting. And lots of color.

Billy by Joy Murray, 2022, 8×10″ acrylic and ankh charm (he always wore an ankh necklace on a leather cord

Billy’s motor and communication skills have improved greatly. And though he couldn’t always keep focused or remember song lyrics, we had a blast singing. Both he and his partner really enjoyed themselves, and it was great for all of us to connect through music and art. Part of what happens when you have a stroke or some other physical change is that you get isolated. It’s hard for me to help out because I am limited in buildings I can access, and in mobility. And we’ve all been isolated by COVID. But talking and singing, it rekindles and reconnects thoughts and memories.

When we were leaving Billy’s place, a winter rainy mix had started falling. Billy, without anyone asking, got out the sand and covered the ramp. Then he helped guide my manual wheelchair through the gravelly and cracked driveway. I commented to everyone about “interdependence.” Billy repeated the word and his eyes lit up. Yes! he said, delighting in hearing that word again.

On the drive home, my friend was amazed at how Billy had responded. He said he hadn’t seen Billy that lively since the stroke. People had been putting pressure on Billy’s partner to get him into a nursing home, so she was so pleased to see how much a bit of socializing and music did for us all.

Since Billy’s stroke, I’ve reread Jill Bolte Taylor’s, My Stroke of Insight. She’s a brain scientist who had a major stroke at age 37. Her book about it was published in 2008, and is a great guide for understanding strokes, for how the brain works, and for how to help people who have had strokes. She also talks about the emotional growth she experienced post-stroke. She published a list of what she needed the most after her stroke:

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, and One Hundred Names for Love by Diane Ackerman are also great reads for understanding strokes, the brain, and how to accept changes in life.

Art, music and love. They don’t do all the healing, but they help in the process.

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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.  

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

If you find a typo, let me know at joyzmailbox@gmail.com, and I’ll send you a postcard.

Wonderful World

There are so many obstacles in life when you have mobility impairments. I find myself feeling bitter, at times, when there’s somewhere I want to go and the building is inaccessible. There are laws that are supposed to make more buildings accessible, but they aren’t always followed. One problem is with small businesses or art galleries I’d like to visit, but they’ve set up in old buildings that really can’t be safely modified for wheelchair access. I understand that. And I’d rather they be open to most people, than completely accessible.

I think everyone on the planet as gotten a taste of what inaccessibility really means from the restrictions we’ve had to live with during this pandemic. I hope it becomes part of the collective consciousness, that able-bodied people begin to identify more with people with disabilities as we move forward. Instead of getting bitter about it all, it’s a chance to learn, and to expand the way we think about limits and access.

There’s an old building down the street from me that I’ve always loved. Many, many business have opened and closed in it over the years. Most recently, it’s been occupied by Lucyja Hyyge, self described as

“Open since August 2021, Lucyja Hygge is a metaphysical gift store owned by Termaria “Maria” Tyszka; the name pays homage to Maria’s Polish mother in law (Lucyja), and the concept of Hygge – pronounced (hoo-gah)- a Danish word for creating a feeling of coziness, comfort, and well-being.”

From Lucyja Hygge website (store is at 48 S McLean)

I hadn’t called to ask them if they have a ramp in the back, pretty sure the answer would be no.

A few days ago, on a fine, spring-like day, I wheeled past, and several people were on the porch, so I asked. Maria answered no, and that she was very sorry, she wished she could get that done. I felt a little bit of bitterness tinge my heart. But they were friendly, and began to talk to me.

One of the artisans who makes jewelry for them showed me his colorful rings made with natural stones. He had ribbons around his wrist and a dreamcatcher bracelet he’d made. They were both warm and friendly. My resentment at the lack of a ramp evaporated, because friendliness is such a strong bridge builder. They looked me in the eye, didn’t try to hurry me along, and seem genuinely interested in me as a member of the neighborhood.

“I’m going to give you a gift,” Maria said and rushed back into the store.

A few minutes later, she came out with a gift bag – a box of Positive Vibes incense, a silky tapestry that matched my jacket, and a small enchanting agate mushroom. She’d taken the time to put some tissue paper in the bag, a lovely little gift that was entirely unexpected and magical. It’s a metaphysical gift store after all.

I thanked her and wandered my way home, singing.

So if you saw an older lady in wheelchair, navigating piles of broken limbs on the sidewalk from the recent storm, singing, “Wonderful World, Beautiful People,” off key and quite joyfully, that was me.

With a little accessible hoo-gah in my heart-ah.

From Lucyja Hygge Facebook

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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.  

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

If you find a typo, let me know at joyzmailbox@gmail.com, and I’ll send you a postcard.