Small Adventures in New England

Hello everyone! This week will be a small photo-post! I had a small adventure this week; I drove to Vermont for a job interview!

A covered bridge in Vermont, gray skies as the backdrop and leafless trees as the foreground
Fisher’s Bridge in Wolcott VT, built in 1908 across the Lamoille River…

               I set out early, dawn creeping across the sullen sky with intrepid determination, lighting up heavy gray clouds. It rained most of the trip, mostly a kind of persistent mist which doesn’t look like much but soaks you through the second your out in it, interspersed with heavy downpours which obscured the road and drowned my camera as I tried to take photos.

A lake-shore, trees hanging out over it, reflected in shadowy ripples. A misty sky, distant clouds resting low on the horizon, everything bathed in silvery light.
A rainy lake, outside of Wayne Maine. Say that three times fast…

              The rain was supposed to be snow but a lucky break in the temperatures meant my trip was just damp, not icy so I was immensely grateful! Plus, while the gray weather and sudden downpours made for poor photography weather, it did lend a romantic softness to everything.

A farmer's field in Vermont, grayed grass beginning to green and a distant barn on the horizon. Sulky storm clouds obscure the sky and the horizon is a hazy of misting rain.

              I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, summers spent hiking off the Blue Ridge Parkway and swimming the Cullasaja river at my grandmother’s in Highlands, NC. While these Appalachian Mountains are only cousins of those I grew up in, I will admit to feeling a kind of relief to see them again. There was a special kind of nostalgia, staring up at the bones of the Earth, wreathed in the silky gray clouds.

Distant mountains
Don’t look now, but there is a tiny little scrap of blue sky visible, top left. The only one I got to see all day…don’t spook it.

              Maine has been a special place for me, much loved and it has been as much home to me as anywhere I’ve lived and(fingers crossed) if I get my new job, it will be very sad to say goodbye. There is, however, a kind of special symmetry to returning to the Appalachia, even if they aren’t quite the mountains I grew up in. A kind of return-journey feeling that feels very right somehow.

Maine state-line sign, covered in stickers
the Maine state line sign seemed to be the only one with extra decorations left by travelers…

              Wish me luck everyone, perhaps future chapters will have good news! Be well until next time!

Stop. Breathe. Repeat.

Never apologize for burning too brightly or for collapsing into yourself every night. That’s how galaxies are made. ~ Tyler Kent White

This post is for everyone, like me, who is having a bumpy-time of it lately. It has been a rough couple of weeks, guys.

                I am not great with uncertainty. Part of it is a product of the eating disorder, but a lot of is just my nature as a human—I like having a plan. It’s part of who I am, since I was small.

               Right now, there is no plan. The Universe has tossed the sticks into the air and we’re all waiting for them to fall. In the last two months, my life has become unrecognizable, the gentle rolling landscape of my days falling away into nothing and I am left in a chaotic abyss of uncertainty. We’re in the process of moving, and due to a myriad of unforeseeable circumstances find ourselves with nowhere to go. My two sisters and their family’s—one up here in Maine and one still in North Carolina—are both in middle of different and equally sudden crisis. None of this was foreseeable, at least not by mortals!

An incomplete ink and watercolor of a woman holding a small tree-sapling cradled in her hands.
She’s been sitting in a half-finished state for several weeks now…

               Finding the little bits of joy in this mess has been a serious challenge. The struggle with my eating-disorder is very real right now, the desire to dive-head first back into patterns that have previous brought order (if a kind of terrible, self-destructive order) to my life is almost suffocating. Staying on the path to recovery is a battle fought minute by minute. I have been utterly, creatively sterile, unable to draw, paint or write anything. I am also working hard to maintain a certain level of calm in all of this storm, so that my family can at least count on me to be able to deal with this situation as it arrives. Everyone is upset, everything is unknown, the lives of half my family are in the same state as my own. I managed it pretty well, until two days ago, when the control finally cracked. Well, exploded.

                The drive home on Friday, after an excruciating day of customer service, was a long one and I cried hard for most of it, even pulling over a couple of times to have a true hyperventilating break-down. I felt wildly out of control, I was lost to a train-wreck of emotions, most of them panic for my own future, fear for my sisters and self-loathing that I wasn’t coping with all of this better. I was genuinely angry at myself, beating my fists against the proverbial wall of my illness, ripping at my insecurities as if enough shouting would make them go away.

               I reached out to my closest friend. She’s stuck with me through my illness, through years of my Mother’s illness, her own divorce and ugly breakups. I didn’t want to admit—even to her—that I wasn’t coping. I wasn’t calm. I wasn’t in a creative head-space to work on my art. I wasn’t sticking to my recovery, I wasn’t handling it.

               Her reaction was ‘Seriously, alright take a deep breath. Of course you’re crying. Of course your ED is kicking your ass, of course you’re freaking out. One of the things alone is huge, all of them together is too much for one person.’

She chatted with me a while longer, but that was the bit that stuck with me. ‘Too much for one person’. I grew up in the South, and while I’m not religious there’s a common saying for when times get rough. Sugar, God won’t give you more than you can handle’.

                Except, sometimes, it is too much for one person to handle. I had been so focused on the idea that I had to cope, that I didn’t realize I was coping. The best I could. The best anyone could, eating disorder or no.

Close-up selfie of woman with glasses cuddling an unimpressed looking white cat.
I tried and failed to selfie with the cat. He looks so thrilled that I woke him up for the picture doesn’t he?

               I went home and I curled up in bed with my cat. There were other things I had to do, some of them very important, but instead I snuggled with my cat and read Terry Prachett’s Night Watch for a few hours. I haven’t been able to find little moments of joy, so instead I made one. I drank tea, cried, took a shower and cried a little more. When I got out, I took a deep breath and went to work on the important things that were waiting for me.

               We really should only take moments one breath at a time. The problem is, there are times when we can’t take it one breath at a time, we can’t even breathe and that is OK. There are times when moments come together to drag us down, to drown us in too much to handle and that is OK. We are only human. Like a lot of people, I’ve always tried to be super-human. Trying to ‘cope’ as if my entire life is lovely, smooth sandy beach that’s never seen a storm.

               Life is not a smooth sandy beach all the time. So for all of you out there who are having a rough time of it—whether it’s days, months or even years of a rough time—I see you. You’re not alone. Take what you can, when you can and know that sometimes it really is too much and that’s OK. The storm will pass, it always does but in the meantime it’s totally, 100% alright to admit that you’re getting rained on.

Drawing of a woman sitting under an umbrella, holding a warm, red mug of tea. The umbrella's top is dusty black and pinged with rain, the underside of the umbrella is summer-sunshine yellow.
A mug of warm something and a sturdy umbrella for everyone! ❤

The Ugly Fun of Starting Over…

Hello everyone! Happy Easter to those folks who celebrate, and Happy Sunday to those who don’t!

So, I put a coat of Gesso over one of my paintings yesterday, layering thick white over a design that didn’t work, hasn’t worked. I’ve painted over this particular canvas four times now—four do-overs for this one painting (and if that sounds whiny I’m sorry, I acknowledge Art-World that four is a small number). I’ve been struggling to get this particular painting to the right place; it was with great frustration that I poured more Gesso over it, blotting out the latest big mess I’ve made.

Starting over used to scare me to death. If you’ve ever worked on any kind of project, then you will know the feeling of being very nearly done and discovering that somehow, something has gone horribly wrong. That freeze-frame moment of panic when you realize you’ve made a mistake. Those moments used to come with a huge, heaping helping of guilt and shame for me. I had failed. Nothing less than perfection—the first time mind you—was at all acceptable.

Art is full of start-overs. It’s a wasteland of false-starts and half-finishes, projects that work so well and then go so wrong. Sometimes something doesn’t work. Sometimes it just doesn’t. The colors just don’t click, or the imagery is all wrong or sometimes…sometimes the reason we were making the thing in the first place gets lost in the making. You can see how this, at first, was a roller-coaster of panic-inducing, stomach-dropping horror for me.

While I loved painting, I avoided it for a long time simply because of the ‘waste’ involved. It took years, no exaggeration, for me to paint over my first ‘ruined’ canvas. The first coat of Gesso was hair-raising for me. Gesso was a ‘canvas primer’, designed to get a canvas ready to accept art, not for me to wash away my embarrassing mistakes. What was I doing that I had made such a mess!? And how could I have wasted so many materials to do it? Why hadn’t I planned my piece better…the loop was endless.

I sat glaring at that first canvas for a while. I remember staring at the white surface as it dried, the gesso leveling as the moisture left it so I could see the minute imprints of the brush-strokes left over from the previous painting. I felt so guilty. I resolved, of course, to make sure I didn’t make so many mistakes in the future. I would test everything to make sure it all worked before trying it on a real canvas.

That, of course, didn’t actually work. I was trying to treat art like I treated life—with enough planning, with enough details and caution and testing I could avoid making any mistakes. Art—like life–of course, doesn’t at all work that way. Getting messy, getting into the art, knowing your materials, wasting them on occasion—that’s all part of it! One big messy mess that, sometimes, really doesn’t work!

I still fear failure. I still want to get things perfect the first time (that magical, pretty-close-to-impossible ideal). But I remember when I went back to that first canvas I painted over. I had abandoned it in shame for months—abdicating all painting completely in fact—before I finally decided to face the canvas-demon. I painted over it, teeth gritted. And something, frankly, magical happened. All those brush-strokes I had stared at so morosely while the Gesso dried made the most incredible textures for the next work. It was dynamic, intricate, layered. The painting bloomed before my eyes with patterns way cooler than anything I had ever done intentionally. While the new painting wasn’t perfect, I couldn’t help but be utterly enamored with the textures the failure had created!

The point is, sometimes you have to start over. And over. And over. It’s not failure, it’s process. Starting over doesn’t meant that the idea is crap, or your decisions suck—it means that something new needs room! Gessoing a canvas makes a big blank space that has ALL the potential in the world. One that can be painted over—maybe with a brand-new design, maybe with a better variation of the old one. Mistakes, in life and in art, aren’t permanent (in most cases, I see you morbid troll). That’s what Gesso is for!

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.