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  • The Cruellest Month

    I'm participating in an online poetry event, called "Dark Poetry for the Cruellest Month," headed by . Today's (okay, yesterday's) prompt, "Has It Begun to Sprout?", asked us to pick a line from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and write our own poem around it.

    I decided to do a color sketch in my notebook to interpret "April is the cruellest month," then ran out of time to add any verbiage to it. I have to say, I'm really feeling the line, as my winter was particularly rough, and these bright April days don't seem to match the weariness I'm feeling. The sun makes me feel like I should be out playing, not brooding. Hopefully, the Vitamin D will soon brighten my mood, but not before this event is over, as we're supposed to write about "the dark bits that grow in the heart," according to Magaly. I love it!

    Indeed, Magaly's poem event seems to have come in the nick of time.

    So this piece is simply titled "The Cruellest Month." Magaly's prompts are coming fast and furious, so I don't know that I'll be able to keep up, but I'm going to try!

  • Musings From the Brooding Aftermath

    A fellow member in my pain support group reached out to all of us recently as she was having one of those unbearable days. I went digging through my old blog, where I chronicled for three years my own journey with pain, in the hopes of finding something that might uplift her somehow. This post isn't particularly cheerful, but sometimes we don't need inspiration as much as connection. I sent it along and hope it helped. (I don't know her personally.) I'm reposting it here. (Original post date: November 6, 2009.

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    Ever since I can remember, I've always questioned the meaning of life, even as a teenager, which back then made me think that I was insane...seriously. While all of my friends seemed to go about the daily business of boys, school, skin issues and just general life, I always had a type of tape loop going in the back of my brain, wondering why any of us were here, and wondering why everyone else wasn't wondering the same.

    Of course, I was also hiding my depression and OCD behavior back then, as well as the dark goings-on at home, so I'm sure that added to my questions about the meaning of it all.issues and just general life, I always had a type of tape loop going in the back of my brain, wondering why any of us were here, and wondering why everyone else wasn't wondering the same.

    But I was never able to just enjoy life with ease, as the plaguing questions about it seemed to thwart its pleasures. Don't get me wrong: I liked having fun, and had the detention notes to prove it. But there was this inner brooding during my teen years that could only be pierced by art, in any of its forms, and so my life-long love affair with music, painting, books and film began, as the artists in these fields were at least asking the same questions as I was, and in their work I could find a camaraderie of sorts.

    My first true encounter with art as enlightenment came as a double-whammy in nearly identical experiences. In each case, I was sitting in my living room, my face just a few feet from the TV screen, during two different family affairs where noise and conversation made me sit close to the set.

    The first film was Midnight Cowboy, and the second, The Graduate, the former being the more intense experience, as I recall.

    During those difficult days, there was little in my world that I could connect to, as I knew I didn't want the life my parents and relatives had chosen, as no one in my world seemed very happy. I thought something was just fundamentally wrong with marriage as an institution, as opposed to what was the real culprit: everyone's inability to say what they were really thinking and feeling. In hindsight, a life mate and kids might have been wonderful experiences for me, but in the kids department, I think it's fair to say that ship has sailed. I do hope some wonderful romance is in my future.

    That aside, I remember that by the end of Midnight Cowboy, I felt so moved, and perhaps for the first time, so connected to this strange earthly plane that beforehand had felt so meaningless. Here was a story about two people who felt so forsaken themselves, who had been cast off by society, living in their perspective dreamworlds that held little hope for anything more than what they could eek out on that particular day. They were outcasts, oddballs, losers and lost, just like me, no matter what my good grades, quick smile and bevy of friends might have suggested otherwise.

    Suddenly I realized that a whole other world existed out there than the one I lived in...a world where people not only thought about the greater questions of life, but actually created something from them that made us all feel just a little closer, if only through our compassion for these characters and their plight.


    Of course, The Graduate spoke loud and clear to me, as well, as what young person couldn't identify with Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock, who was also seeking something more meaningful than what the culture around him could offer. Even though his world was of the white collar variety (and mine, blue), the issues were universal, and I will be forever grateful to these filmmakers and screenwriters for doing whatever it took to get these stories to the screen.


    I suppose it's not surprising that as I was to go on to become a singer/songwriter, my songs would be so story-based. As some reviewers would observe, the songs wouldn't so much tell the story as to suggest it; the lyrics were the words going through the characters' heads in "the brooding aftermath" of what had just occurred, according to one (thank you, Linus Gelber).

    Of course, my music is behind me now, even though I still pick up the guitar now and then. Yet there seems to be some kind of curious irony happening that the questions I asked about life's meaning as a teenager are as profound as they ever were, only now the result of an untreatable pain condition. At its very core, the unfathomableness of this experience (and those like it) flies in the face of any argument that declares the human experience as one of destiny and inherent meaning.

    The one thing I can truly believe, though, the one thing that has been so sustaining this past year, is that while the experience of pain may indeed be meaningless, I can choose to give it meaning, when I'm able, by writing this blog.

    I've been gifted with the ability to write, to communicate, and while I haven't been able to muster up a single tune about this awful experience, I have been able to get it down here, to at least attempt an explanation of what it's like, if for no other reason than to give voice to an ordeal that has rendered too many mute, some permanently.

    This condition carries the awful nickname of "the suicide disease," as so many patients simply give up when they exhaust all avenues for relief; that's how bad it is.

    But there is something in me that feels compelled not to give in, to continue to be the private eye who will solve the case, if not to get out of pain, then to discover a means to gracefully weave it into my life, if that's even possible.

    It's as though I can't let my pain-mates down, which in many ways has been the thrust of so many of my creative pursuits over the years, even before I found myself in these particular dire straits. I must at least try to speak for us, and try even harder to solve the riddle of how to live when the unthinkable happens. I'm not sure if that earns me a gold star, or just an inflated ego for a short while as yet another coping mechanism that, like so many others, will ultimately give way under the weight and wear of all things relentless.

    I hurt so bad today, and I've got just one Vicodin left until tomorrow. And it's only 12:39 p.m. as I write this.

    Maddone.

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    Artwork images are selections from my illustrated journal.

  • "Am I Good Enough?": Cracking the Creative Block

    I’ve been feeling so burnt out lately, so naturally I’ve been telling myself that I need a vacation, along with the usual chestnuts like “I’m working too hard,” “my efforts are outweighing my returns,” “I’m just not good enough at this”—this being my art, my business acumen, my general ability at simply living. Ah yes, it’s been a few weeks of this, which coupled with my increasing chronic jaw pain, has made for a bit of a rough start to summer. 

    But in slowing my brain down a bit, I think the truest bell ringing is in that last comment…”I’m just not good enough at this.” It became apparent when I sat down recently to do some new works and experienced the horror that strikes fear in the hearts of writers and artists everywhere...the monstrous blank page, and not a single inspired idea to fill it.

    I was actually surprised that this was occurring, as I'd been feeling just so READY to start painting again, after months of working on my shop to the exclusion of just about everything else.

    As I was feeling such left-brain burnout, I thought for sure the watercolors would come flowing out of me, so I sharpened the pencils, opened the paints, opened the watercolor tablet, and then…nothing. Oh, dear. No matter how many times I began a drawing, I just felt so dead inside.  I wasn’t inspired, I began to feel weary, and then the dreaded, “I’m not good enough” surfaced, bringing with it a detailed list of all my limitations, failures and insecurities. 

    But something just occurred to me in the past hour or so, which is that when I began painting in 1999, I could have cared less if my paintings were “good enough.” I’d look into my heart at what I was feeling, and I’d just let it come out through the brush. And that’s all there was to it. I was so excited by the discovery of this new art form—after so many years of making music—that this brush in my hand made a childlike glee burst forth from within. Even though the paintings were crudely done and technically inept, they resonated for people, and they actually sold, not because they were “good enough,” but because they were awkwardly honest, just like so many of the art lovers looking at them. 

    So here I am today, in terrible pain, feeling weary and so very insecure. Instead of beating myself up over it, why don’t I just paint it? Why does one have to feel happy or confident to begin a work of art? The other day I painted some cheerful birds, and they’re certainly cute, but they didn’t come from my core. They were more an exercise in color, which is certainly valid, but the real joy of painting comes from my communication of an experience. 

    Is this what’s at the heart of the matter today? I won’t know until I try, right? It’s time to do a drawing… 

    (P.S.  A second look at the “cute birds” painting, above, just moments ago made me smile, not because they’re cute, but because of what they unintentionally reveal.  They’re sitting on their respective branches with eyes closed, looking shut down, and it’s raining. So much for cheerfulness. The subconscious is always at work.)

     

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