20 July, 2011

Blood Loss

Being an artist of any kind is a tricky undertaking. I’m no visual artist; I’m a writer. I see my life in words and I love words, sounds of words, even the shape of letters, and I’m fine not being a visually minded kind of person.
But, like any artist, getting to my actual work is often hard. In my case, these days, I like to tell myself the “getting to” is hard because I have a two year old, going on three, who resists going to sleep with a fierceness and tenacity that any pit bull could admire, so by the time I’ve wrangled her to bed, I’m too exhausted to work, and often too exhausted to accomplish much of anything, like dinner dishes, or picking up around the house. The good news is now she actually sleeps through the night, most nights, and so if I can pull myself together, I can get up quite a bit earlier than her to write.
But lately, specifically since last Saturday, I’ve been having a hard time pulling myself together. I’ve been waking up early enough this week – yesterday almost five hours earlier than my daughter – and so, one would think that’s quite a bit of time to get writing done, much less housework. But I positively frittered away the time. See, since last Saturday, five days now, I’ve woken up every morning with a medium-grade headache, and, I’ve been telling myself I’m too sick to be creative. So, I’ve done things like gone back to sleep, or read random books from my shelves, or, spent hours surfing the web and getting involved in all kinds of online mom dramas that have nothing to do with who I am or what I believe. Plus, I’ve felt a deep need to “process,” about the birth, and specifically, about the hemorrhage I had after the birth. And though I did talk to a few friends about my feelings this week, I’ve also spent a lot of time being down on myself that I still have this need, that I still haven’t healed.
What are the headaches and procrastination all about? Well, I had this thing happen last Saturday, which takes some explaining. I recently joined a collaborative art project comprised of many different kinds of artists, as a way, I thought, of “healing” my artist self, and, also, as I told the coordinator when I joined, healing from the birth. I started this blog, which has been a new and good undertaking, also started under the guise of helping me “heal,” but I decided to join this collaborative art project, too, because I felt I wasn’t getting far enough, that I still had too many feelings about the birth, that I hadn’t healed enough in two and a half years and needed to break through more and move on more. I was hoping doing new kinds of art would help me heal more deeply.
How this collaborative project works is each artist starts with a blank wooden panel, puts their mark on it, and then passes the panel on to other artists who continue to create whatever the piece will become. I loved the freedom of the whole idea, loved getting to work with people who see the world via visual clues, and loved the idea of doing something totally different from what I’ve ever done.
Here’s what happened last Saturday: my mark on my panel (of course) had to do with the birth of my daughter and some of the complications afterwards. And (of course) I used words to make my mark instead of using a purely visual technique. The mark I made was in the upper left-hand corner of the panel and the rest of the panel was still blank. I explained my “perspective” to the group at the art studio and happily passed the panel on to whoever would have it next. The woman who took the panel is a professional visual artist. She creates all kinds of great stuff and has a lot of skills. I was excited she took my panel because I thought she would really do something cool. And she did. This artist, with her groovy blue glasses up on top of her head to keep her abundance of orange hair out of her eyes, mixed some red acrylic paint with water in a small container, placed the panel outside on the grass, and threw that bright red paint onto the rest of the panel with a perfect hit, splattering blood red liquid across the board without messing up the original mark I’d made. This woman, while a colleague of mine, doesn’t know my birth story, and I didn’t actually see her throw that paint. But when I heard the other artists exclaim with much surprise, “wow,” and “ooh,” I went outside to see that panel spattered red in such a way that all I saw was blood. My blood. The 4000 cc’s, that’s six pints, of blood I lost after my child was born. Blood, which in reality, I never saw, but only felt rush of, thrown out of my body much like that paint was thrown, quickly and violently.
That image of the paint/blood has been stuck behind my eyes since then. The image has affected my mothering; I’ve kind of sucked at being a parent this week, I’ve not been present in my heart, I’ve been grouchy and impatient. I’ve complained to myself and others about wanting a break this week in order to heal myself and I’ve victimized myself by saying I haven’t gotten a break due to my husband being gone and not having any other child care options. And though I’ve cried and processed with a friend over the phone in bits and pieces, and written about it in my journal, I still haven’t been able shake the image or the ensuing feelings or the damned headaches.
Until this morning. When I again picked up a random book from my shelf. Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. And I read this: “What are we trying to heal anyway? The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt. Remember, the part of us that we imagine needs healing is not the part we create from; that part is far deeper and stronger. The part we create from can’t be touched by anything our parents did, or society did. That part is unsullied, uncorrupted; soundproof, waterproof, and bulletproof. In fact, the more troubles we’ve got, the better and richer that part becomes.” I realized, in reading this, that my creative Resistance, as Pressfield deems him, was kicking my ass, loving all the excuses I was making for not writing –the headaches, tiredness, and need to heal.
In the case of my hemorrhage, obviously neither my parents nor society caused that particular event. And while the experience was a trauma, this morning, I’ve taken Pressfield’s words to heart and decided, the better and richer my art will be for having had the experience at all. Even when I saw that blood red paint on the panel, though a part of me was rather re-traumatized, my true artist self knew that paint was a beautiful thing – the red splatter was my trouble being made into art, and, deep down, deep in my bulletproof place, I felt grateful and amazed at the synchronicity of my colleague’s artistic decision to throw that container. My lower self has been playing the victim of almost-dying all week, but my core self, my creative spirit, knows she never will die – she will always be here, be present, and be alive and well, and no amount of blood loss can take her away.
All that said, I don’t know what was up with the stars last Saturday, because one of the other artists collaborating in this project did not attend our session because while driving to the studio, she braked her car just in time to witness a motorcyclist hit by an RV coming from the other direction. She saw debris and a human being flying across and then crashing onto the road. She directed people to do CPR while she called 911. But the motorcyclist died. And the people who hit him (he’d crossed the center line), were devastated. I felt terrible to hear this news, sad for our friend to see such a horrible thing, and sad to hear about such a violent death, even of a stranger. My thoughts went out to the motorcyclist’s family and friends who’d lost him. When I called the woman who’d been the witness that afternoon, she was still in shock; she told the story with police-description, stoic facts, and even she knew she hadn’t processed her feelings. Yet. But she’s an artist, too, so I know she will, and though she may have to do some roundabout, procrastinating activities in the meantime, I trust her healing, soundproof inner self will turn her troubles into art, too.

2 comments:

Christine Harrison said...

Nancy,
I have been thinking of you and Sydney this week.
I would never be able to write so beautifully about anything let alone about finding our way through. When I am procrastinating I read writers …because artists aren’t terribly articulate. Lately, I have been reading Anne Lamott: Bird by Bird. She talks about writing 300 hundred words in the hard times and I say 10 minutes a day drawing…sometimes even that seems so impossible (and I do not have a 2 year old as an excuse!) and the internet is such a great and visual time waster!
Thank you for sharing this. I didn’t know about what had happened to you.
Let’s talk soon!
Christine

54 Hour Mama said...

I LOVE Bird by Bird, such a wonderful kick in the pants, as is Pressfield's book. Thanks for reading, Christine, and yes, we'll talk some day soon.