Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Faith, Art and Power Ball

It’s been so long since I’ve made an entry. In re-reading my last post, it’s inspiring to report that my apparent acceptance of this chronic pain has had a lasting effect, one that has produced a stretch of creativity I haven’t had in years.

My new apartment is exploding in colors, with the walls recently painted purple and light moss green, and new paintings hanging everywhere. I’ve also been experimenting with a new painting technique, whereby I stencil antique lace patterns on a canvas, then embellish them with images and pastels that work within the shapes. And I’ve been creating dozens of my baseball card-sized paintings that feature my little glamour girlies as exercises in color and composition.

I’m even getting up at the crack of dawn, excited about the day, and about the morning in particular, when all is quiet, except for my cat, who is beyond excited herself at the prospect of her favorite wet food so early in the day.

Yet the pain persists, and during the past few days has been worse than it’s been all spring and summer. The other day I was helping my friends move and I forgot to take my second dose of daily pain medication, which perhaps was the mistake that set off this new round of trouble. When one suffers with pain, it’s important to stay ahead of it by taking the meds before the pain seriously sets in, as once it starts, it’s much harder to bring down.

Yet something has decidedly changed in my response to chronic pain, and I’m a little baffled by it. During the past few years, a new round of screeching pain would have sent me reeling in sadness and a sense of defeat, but something in me has indeed changed as I find myself annoyed by it, of course, but somehow unperturbed by its relentless pursuit of my soul, which is what it felt like for so long.

I’d like to say I’m not letting it in anymore, but that would be lying a bit, as the fear pain brings on is very real—the fear of what’s really happening in my face and jaw (is the bottom-line condition getting worse?), the fear of what all these medications are doing to my body (can my compromised liver handle them?), and the fear that, well, I somehow may die of all this, and I’ve no idea why I fear that, frankly. If there’s an afterlife, great, and if not, well then I won’t know about it, will I?

There are still moments in the day, too, where exhaustion overcomes me, probably due to the meds, and my life can continue to feel like an endurance test. I also wonder if this creativity burst is a true personal achievement, or the result of me recently cutting my Zoloft in half, in which case I could be experiencing a touch of hypomania (which has occurred in the past) instead of a divine insight that has produced a creativity spurt.

While antidepressants can be lifesavers when our brain chemistry results in profound depression, they can also tend to trim off ALL extremes—not just the lows but the highs as well. And they can affect our mojo, which is why I can’t remember the last time I had a sexual thought. I must confess that’s been the real reason I’ve decided to go off Zoloft, as how in the world will I find romance in my life if a bowl of ice cream seems more exciting than a passionate kiss?

Yet the decrease in Zoloft can’t account for the slow return of my faith, which has perhaps surprised me most of all in recent months, particularly since the whole notion of God as I understood him for so many years has had nothing to do with it.

When my life fell apart in 2004, I now wonder if my sense of shattered faith was really just the beginnings of a long grieving process for a loss I just couldn’t accept—the loss of a pain-free, healthy body. As I was raised to be so damn perfect, even an imperfect body was so unacceptable to me, as I could no longer be the achievement-oriented Mary Ann, who defined herself so completely by her accomplishments.

Pain has been a cruel teacher, but the lesson has nevertheless been learned that accomplishment should be the by-product of a life well-lived, not the goal. There’s certainly nothing new about that insight, but it’s new to me, and also liberating, as finally it’s just okay to enjoy the day for no damn purpose at all.

One of my biggest pleasures in life now is going to the dollar store with my mom and loading up on gifts for my 3- and 5-year-old nieces, who think us the greatest nana and aunt of all time, due to our apparent bottomless treasure chest of water pistols, angel wings, and beautiful jewelry sets, all compliments of Dollar Daze house of goodies.

What I love, too, during these outings with my mom is our hilarious bickering, which is much like that of comedienne Kathy Griffin and her mom Maggie on My Life on the D List. My nutty mother simply can’t resist telling me that a stop sign is coming up, to which I’ll reply, “You mean that red octagon shape with the letters S-T-O-P on it?” It goes on like this during our travels to the food store, post office, and of course, the liquor store, where much like Maggie, my mom buys the cheapest white wine on the shelf, not because it’s a bargain, but because that’s the one she likes.

If anyone had told me 15 years ago that these are the things that would bring me the most happiness in my life, I might have looked at them with a befuddled stare, as the ambitious Mary Ann back then was the destined-for-greatness singer/songwriter, which I now know had about as much chance of success as me winning the multi-state Power Ball.

Tens of thousands are called in the entertainment field, but few are anointed for that kind of accomplishment. In no other field is sheer damn luck such a component of whether or not one succeeds. If you’re an attorney and you work hard, you’ll do well. But even if you write the greatest songs of all time, whether or not anyone hears them on a large scale is largely out of your hands, no matter how hard you work at it.

Am I proud of my songs? You bet. But do I care that they didn’t land on the top of the charts? I care only in the sense that I believe my songs would have been a good and true addition to the pop canon--something that would have made people happy. But like all things, to dust, too, they will return, just like all the hit singles and albums that did make the charts, and I’m fine with that.

I’m fine with a lot these days, it seems, no doubt fueled by this wonderful creative phase. Nothing makes me happier than to feel like painting is a way to goof off--a naughty thing I’m doing when I should be doing something more serious, like earning money, of which I have none, by the way. Never in my life have I been this broke, but never in my life have I felt this curiously content, pain and all.

Geez, I hope this isn’t hypomania. Every morning I say a prayer I learned from the teachings of Florence Scovel Shinn, a woman who wrote in the 1920s with such incredible wisdom. I pray, “I give thanks for my perfect health, my perfect wealth, my perfect love and my perfect self-expression, under grace, in divine ways.”

The first part is said in the present tense as a way to feel gratitude, even if those things haven’t manifested in my life yet, and the last part is said in a way that reminds me that I want those things only as the universe intends me to have them.

Either my prayers are finally working, or I’ve simply stumbled into a better time in my life, which is okay, too, as I’ve no problem with the notion of a little bit of luck. Maybe it’s time to play Power Ball.


Artworks here are posted in my Etsy Shop for just $9.99 each.
Apologies if this isn't OS protocol, but as winning the lottery is highly unlikely, I can't resist plugging these little beauties. Remember, they're originals! :)