The Little Things…

One of my goals, as part of my ED recovery, was to really start to take notice of the world around me. The process of being ill is so isolating, all focus on such a narrow point, that the world sort of slips by with almost no attention paid at all.

                I could not have asked for a better example of really noticing than the sunset yesterday evening. It was, well…glorious. There is no other adjective that encompasses the incredible beauty of that sunset. I was lucky enough to be driving home, and around every corner and curve, bursting above the shrouded pine trees, was this.

Perfect cloud-shapes for catching the last of the sun’s rays. But wait, it does get better…

               Kinda looks photo-shopped, doesn’t it? Like watercolor thrown against a velvet background, seeping pinks and bruised blues tremble against the delicate, lavender gray underbellies of the stretching clouds. Before, I would not have seen this sunset. No joke. I’d have been driving home, utterly exhausted and in a funk and this absolutely mind-blowing beauty would have been utterly missed.

                I stopped probably eighteen times to take photos, undoubtedly drove somewhat erratically (I’m not intoxicated officer, I promise, I’m just trying to see the SKY!!!) and I’m sure I drove other drivers nuts as I dawdled along the narrow country lanes, gazing upwards adoringly.

               The culminating show was as I reached one of our lovely Maine bogs (said without any sarcasm, I love them dearly) and pulled off the road for the last time. The water was splashed with faded pastels, the newly arrived spring birds were singing sleepily in the leafless trees and, far away, a gaggle of geese were honking forlornly over the reeds.

                The intensity of that experience is a little mind-boggling. I stood on the side of the road, listening to the world going to sleep and I couldn’t contain the joy. I haven’t felt joy like that in so long, I don’t even remember when. Raw, almost painful truthfully. Like waking up early from a hard nap, disoriented but glad the whole day hasn’t passed you by. I was overwhelmed and had to sit for a few minutes, as the sky deepened from warm cerulean blue to a deep, velvety navy, the clouds shifting in aimless patterns over the trees and the last of the pinks, purples and gentle golds faded away.

                I was always one of those people who generally ignored the practice of active gratitude. ‘Gratitude’ doesn’t have a tangible pant-size to strive-for and it doesn’t endlessly berate you for tiny mistakes, so I rarely thought about it.

                I am grateful for that sunset though. For the bubble of delight that lasted me well into my evening, for the reminder that the world still has stunning loveliness in it and that I haven’t missed it all.

And lastly, I am grateful that I noticed.

Recovering Self

****Trigger Warning: While this will be a positive discussion of change and recovery, there will be talk of Eating Disorders, Anorexia in particular. If you are triggered by discussions of eating disorders—particularly if you are struggling with one—please guard your health and skip this week’s Sunday post. Go do something soul-enriching instead and know that you are not alone, my heart and soul are with you! *****

                There are crocuses coming up in the flower-beds outside! The floral heralds of warm-summer days-to-come! In the spirit of the changing seasons, I am approaching this week’s post in equal spirit. This is a time of change. That statement is a little cliché and kind of an understatement considering the global cultural climate; however, for me in particular this is a time of BIG changes.

A selfie of the author, wearing a small, insincere smile.
A post-exercise binge selfie. This isn’t photo-shopped, that lovely gray-beige color was my natural complexion, courtesy of starvation.

               I am one full year into recovery from a relapse of my anorexia nervosa. Admitting it aloud is a small change in and of itself, as I’ve always endeavored to hide as much of my illness as possible. This turned out to be pretty easy, in my case. While I’ve danced with anorexia for 18 years—all of my adult life—I have suffered from what’s called ‘Atypical Anorexia’. Meaning, that while I’ve become so ill that I flirted with hospitalization, I have never looked too thin.

               My dad’s daughters are all ‘big girls’, courtesy of my paternal grandmother. We have big bones. I’m tall and powerful. I am incredibly physically strong. Even at my most ill, when my hair was falling out, I was freezing constantly and I fainted trying to stand up, my lowest BMI—which is based on height-to-weight ratio—was 23. Still considered quite healthy, for an adult woman.

                I am in recovery now. For the first time, it’s what I’d call ‘real’ recovery. I finally really admitted that my constant dieting, my aggressive exercise addiction and my orthorexic-obsession with ‘health food’ was killing me. Literally. Last December, I came to terms with the idea that at 31 years old, I had to decide if I wanted to live my life or if I wanted to stay tethered to my ‘ideal’ body. To the raging perfectionism-driven need for control which had—all of my adult life—overshadowed all of my experiences.

An ink drawing of a woman, sitting cross-legged staring grumpily at the viewer. She's curvy and defiant, her thick hair piled high in two large buns on either side of her head.
One of the first steps towards improving my self-image was making my art more inclusive. Previously, my people-drawings were only of the western “ideal” bodies. Thin. I’m saying thin.

               The decision to change was not made in one complete go and it’s still an ongoing process . Like Winter giving way to Spring, it is a gradual thawing. I sought help, first from a doctor and then from friends and family. Family was the hardest. I believed—incorrectly as it turned out—that they were completely in the dark about my illness. They weren’t of course, but had the good grace not to eclipse my hard-won admission with a giant, bellowed ‘WE KNOW!’. The admission itself was a ripple-effect. Once I’d told my mother and siblings, I told my boss and my friends. And now I’m telling the world, in essence.

                Anorexia and eating disorders in general make you small. Not just literally, but figuratively. It becomes everything, your whole world and everything in it narrowed to a tiny window through which you can only see the things you don’t have or can’t do.  One small crack, whose only view is the person you struggle to—and inevitably fail—to be. They isolate you, drag you into an existence that has no room for anyone else. It only has room for The Rules—and there are so many. It drains all the creativity, all the love, all the existence out of existence and you are left with a shell into which you pile tiny tokens of achievement—a pound lost here, a meal missed there, the endless mental hunger, and the years of perfect, numb stagnation.

Warm pink and lavender clouds blow across a fading robin's egg blue sky, the leftovers of winter snow staining brown grass over a field, stretching towards a fence of dark, distant trees. A dark silhouetted pine-tree peeks into frame from the left, spiky fingers reaching for the pillow-like clouds.
I mean, seriously…how was I missing this for so long!?

I am in recovery. That’s a declarative statement! Starting this blog is recovery. Practicing and showing my art where others can see it is recovery. Saying I want more is recovery! I am reaching out for the world, hands open and palms up, heart tentatively exposed. I am looking for crocuses, and feeling the brilliance of sunshine on my face. Each day I look for a few small things that are utterly miraculous. The tiny green heads of daffodils, the absolutely EPIC sunsets over my house, a friend bringing me a cup of coffee. I paint more freely now, less terrified of ‘failure’, my voice is louder and I am less afraid that people will hear me. My mistakes are less agonizing, my dreams are bigger.

A centered canvas, in warm, rainy gray-blues and bright, springy greens. The colors meet in the center, the green reaching up into the blue like cat-tail stalks and the blue flowing down into the green like spring-rain. Little hot red dots peek through the stalks, tiny flower's blooming shyly among the bleeding colors.
An abstract of a summer-photo of a rainy day at a bog, down the road from my home.

 I am bigger, that’s true (and still comes with pain and panic), but my life is slowly getting bigger too! My brush-strokes are as broad as my shoulders, my thoughts are expanding with my thighs and one day—maybe not tomorrow—I will finally embrace change for what it is. Change. Growth, stretching, expansion, movement, the slow salsa of the Universe flowing as it does, in infinite directions.

                Maybe one day soon, me and my Big Body will flow along with it.

Windows to Water

A closeup of a watercolor, warm earth browns and cool ice-blues, deep satiny ink makes shadows at the corners of odd angles.

I took a walk last evening. Spring is arriving in full force, the deep snows are drawing back to show battered, green-brown grass and the earth is soggy, squelching with every step. I think I’ve said before, but Spring is my favorite season. Especially this time of year—early Spring, when the world is really just starting to wake up. It’s groggy, pre-coffee and pancakes.

There is a brook down the hill from my home, about a four-minute walk over an old cow-pasture, now used only for hay-making in the summer. The brook is narrow and hard to reach, hidden behind close-knit pine trees and a rambling of blackberry brambles that grab at your legs as you wade through them. I don’t visit often, but it’s always worth it when I do. The brook is thawing now too, foot-thick ice starting to break and pile up in tumbled block-jams. The water runs through it all, impervious to the mess the thaw is making, visible through jagged windows in the silt-layered ice-blocks. It’s a lovely place to sit, big mossy stones run along the bank and a few braver boulders wade out into the shallows; I like to sit there and listen to the water. It’s very peaceful.

Of course, I didn’t capture any of this with my camera. I had forgotten it back at my house, on the table along with a pile of the day’s mail. I was watching the water, wishing I had a way to record the sound it makes as it passes along under the ice-blocks when I realized I hadn’t brought my camera with me! The frustration put paid to the peace of course, and I sat there for a few moments, stewing. I had made a promise to start bringing my camera with me, to make an effort to record moments like that one.

A desktop surface, covered in art supplies--cups of water, stained in blues and grays, a roll of masking tape, paintbrushes, and a bottle of ink with the corner of a watercolor palette shyly peeking into the frame across from it--cluster around a water-color abstract, rich, tea-brown water flows between sharp-edged blocks of ice rendered in satiny black ink. Ice-blue chips frame one side of the flow, the cool blue borders each inked ice-block.
No camera, but here’s a watercolor abstract of the ice-windows…

One of the reasons I began this blog is that I’ve been alone too long. I don’t mean ‘alone’ as in ‘not with people’. I’m with people all day long. I mean ‘alone’ in the sense that I haven’t been sharing with the world. All closed up, my little clam-shell sealed up tight, protectively hoarding my inner-world for my-eyes-only. Forgetting my camera is a symptom of being alone like that—I’m not used to sharing things with others anymore. Life however, is not a singular, isolated existence.

A closeup of the watercolor abstract, focused on the tea-brown tannin filled brook-water, framed by the cold ice-blue with the brush-stroke ice-chips clearly bordering the bottom.
Tannin’s from the pine-roots seeps into the brook-water, turning it a glorious rich tea-brown…

I won’t forget next time. That moment was too perfect not to share it with someone. The chill spring air, the smell of moss and pine sap. The rumbling, rolling burble of the water as it calmly navigates the tumbled ice-jams Spring has put in its way. The feeling of sitting atop a boulder, watching the water slip past as the world slowly thaws around us.

Next time, I’ll bring my camera. Next time.

To a Stranger…

Detail of a charcoal portrait sketch, with focus of eyes looking upwards with a slightly worried expression.

I love stories. Good stories, bad stories, stupid or funny stories, stories that rip your soul or make you cry tears of joy. I love the characters really, I think every person has a story—true or not—a story so amazing that it makes the listeners stop and engage, really engage. Even in the worst stories, certain characters have moments of magic! I sometimes find myself looking at people’s faces and finding stories pouring out of them.

Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I
look upon you, You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking,
(it comes to me, as of a dream,)
–To a Stranger, Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1867 ed.)

Just recently, a bagger in our grocery store caught my attention. He was beautiful. I wanted to stop and paint his portrait. He wasn’t the kind of beautiful that makes you famous (in Western society, anyway). He wasn’t a Chris Hemsworth. His face was a classic landscape , cheekbones, slumped forehead and hard jutting chin. He was a Botticelli, all pious pleading hands and a boy’s face wreathed in golden curls. The structures were so interesting, so dynamic I wanted to study them from all angles, in different lights. It was like I could see a story hovering about him; he was breathing life into a character simply by existing. And his name was ‘Chip’! Chip, such an anachronistic name and so out of place with his face, which would have looked more at home in earth-colored oils than in his red, rumpled polo shirt.

A cluttered wooden table with a charcoal sketch of a young man, big ears and wild curly hair. His eyes stare upwards with a vague, mildly worried expression as if seeking assurance from on high. His shirt collar sticks up at odd angles and two pieces of stick-charcoal rest next to his right shoulder.
I mean, he’s not exactly a Botticelli but….

Well, it doesn’t do to make someone uncomfortable by staring at them, but I did come right home and made an interpretive sketch in charcoal. Do you think he would have been surprised, offended or amused (read confused) if I’d told him that he belonged in an art museum?

Spring is definitely, finally here.

Spring is here, and I am so ready for it.

                Everyone is, the end of Winter is so close we can taste it. Almost literally—the air has lost its threatening crispness and the driveway is slowly melting into a soupy mess. Soon there will be wet grass and pools of standing water everywhere until the ground finally melts enough to soak it all up.

                Spring in Maine is Mudseason. It’s probably called that elsewhere too, but I have felt since moving here, that’s it’s especially appropriate in Maine. The deeper ground stays frozen well into the April, only the top four inches or so thaw and the snow-melt has nowhere to go; the result is a thick coating of mud and water on every surface. Everything is at least six-inches deep in water everywhere you go. Splashing through puddles (or ‘muddles’ as my nephew calls them) is a daily exercise no matter where you go and the dog is constantly drenched—although that’s mostly his own fault. He does love rolling in wet grass and he especially loves being chased about with a towel afterwards. Quite a hilarious game for everyone!

The pupae stage of a spring ‘muddle’. It’s early yet, but this tiny muddle will one day take over the driveway.

                Still. Spring is magical. The long dark winter can drag at you, dreary days with barely 7-8 hours of sunlight a day (less if it’s pouring snow, which it often is). The first sign of Spring, the first day above 35 degrees F means that everyone pours out of their houses to enjoy the weather. They drag bicycles out of woodsheds and peddle wildly down slushy streets. Everyone is out with dogs and baby-strollers and toddlers splashing through the puddles. The days are lengthening now (we’re to 10 hours of sunlight, hooray!) and the sun feels like actual sun. You can hear the wind again, without the muffling blankets of snow and small sounds seem almost raucous after the long quiet.

Even the slush has a warmer glow about it!

                I love Spring. It’s my favorite season. I wandered about my yard for a good hour this morning, trying to find a way to frame the feeling of Spring in my camera. There’s an upward kind of energy, a great shifting about that you can feel but can’t find. The birds certainly know. They start singing at six am now, even in the little dumpy snow we had the other morning! I stood with a cup of coffee and listened to their intrepid—and a tad bit optimistic—singing as big fat flakes of snow settled on the branches around them. They are excited too I think and probably relieved, as I am. Soon there will be daffodils and crocuses, poking their heads through the last, stubborn dregs of slushy snow. Shortly there will be long, long 18-hour sunny summer days and the garden will be going in. The wild apples will bloom, and the air will be perfumed with apple blossom.

                Winter hasn’t left quite yet. She’s definitely winding down however, fixing a cup of tea and getting ready for bed. There will probably be a few more snows yet, and certainly some cold nights ahead before she really gives up and tucks herself in with a good book. I’m not worried though. Me and the birds know what’s up.

                Spring is here.