Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Year Since, Part III

No matter how wonderful painting and drawing is, I am grieving a part of me that seemed so committed, while admitting that those "tired ofs" are there, and the "oulda sisters" exist behind that door. I visit the idea of doors closing and windows opening, and hold onto it. I am back to working on doors that seemed closed, but were left open a crack, for instance, my lifetime quest to make my own Tarot Deck with all of my new realizations, complete with 79 poems that have yet to be fully edited and loaded. Then there are people are asking me if I'd consider doing a special portrait for them! Of course, I would! I'm learning how to set that idea to a reality score of inner music. Composing a real plan for it. I am also in a place of learning how to look at the windows around me.

Rainy Afternoon, Oil Pastels on Archival Paper, 11" x 17"
Physically other doors that have closed and don’t seem to be cracking open are hearing in my left ear, feelings on the left side of my face, and taste on the left side of my tongue. This is due to nerves taking their time to rebuild connections, or not. Also, I had a grand mal seizure in December that has me off the road (you should be happy about this!) and that has in turn limited my ability to be a useful chauffeur mom, and to getting to anything but the grocery store when someone can take me. I really relate to Arab women and those under house arrest now. To be constantly accompanied is both wonderful and uncomfortably demeaning. Don't feel sorry for me. It is just a thing.

It also means that I have to make peace with being on anti-seizure medications for the rest of my life, according to all the neurologists I've visited, and this is a huge drag. Better than having seizures. Yes. That. But, I’m still fighting acceptance of this for the long haul. I give in for the time being. This means I really have to look at ways to make that work -- which turns out for me to be changing my lifestyle choices - diet, exercise, self-care, how to be a productive mom and person and ways to make a living from my home (back to writing??). Oy! Never ending things that fate has given me. Everyone has them.

To focus on what CAN BE DONE is the thing.  If you haven't seen "Silverlining Playbook," yet, this is where I am highly recommending it.

I can be a great mom somehow right? Even if I cannot be there to scoop up, to deliver... I’m looking for that purpose, and meantime realizing that my kids’ lives are not about me anymore in any way, shape or form. I realized this by remembering my love of the Bay City Rollers back in the day, and realizing that they've already grown past that time and I know I didn't give a shit what my parents were doing even then. They’re out there discovering themselves and experiencing things they’ll never share with me. This is what every mother goes through. The empty nest. I’m just getting an advanced, slowed-down, warning. You know, mother birds do not stay in empty nests. They return to an adventure of flying.

I begin flying by learning about being an artist from something other than my childhood. There are a FEW (Har, many) how-to books, classes and crafts (like how to frame and mat an oil pastel piece) to take in. I can take some of the business skills I developed as a freelance writer and editor and apply them to an art career. Heck, ten years or more in Consumer Products branding, copy and content ought to be valuable to an artist. It is not really like I’m giving up on my experience so far, I'm just changing its focus from writing about the visual to making the visual. Who knows? It may bring me full circle.

I can make my body stronger and less dependent on medication to prevent the brain from having a lightning storm, if I keep after what I know. I know I have to reduce swelling, and I know going to a low-glycemic practice, and to keep walking is part of that. Perhaps I will find more. It will be a step-by-step thing. It took me 32 tries to quit smoking cigarettes for good many years ago. I must be approaching that with quitting gluten. Let the 33rd try be the one that lasts.

C,G, Jung Laughs, Oil Pastels on Black Archival Paper, 19" x 25" 
I can face the failure/success question little-by-little, first by linking my work of art to a higher goal of preparation and exposure by entering into an art contest. (I tell all my screenwriting students to consider it a real step along the way, to submit their screenplays to well-respected contests). Maybe if you vote, I'll win something that could help me along the way, a "full studio" Super Shawn Taboret, a nifty piece of furniture that would make it possible for me to do professional level artwork at home.

I could learn that asking for help is not a bad thing. I could use your help. I would really appreciate your help. All I'm asking you to do is to click on the painting to the left. When you land at Daniel Smith's Art Contest, click to "Monthly Voting Gallery," and then go to page two. You'll find this painting about half-way down the page. I am putting myself out there to see what the next step might be and to challenge myself to get beyond a shyness I have about having my work seen beyond a hundred FB friends. I don't know what will happen, but right now I appreciate what I'm learning about what I can do everyday to sell myself tall rather than short. You, by the way, can vote once every 24 hours for the rest of February 2013, if you so choose. Please choose.

So to sum it all up, my year of recovery: My gratitude runs deep. I accept the bits I cannot change...mostly. I can turn away from closed doors and let go of clothes that don't fit. I can ask for help...and even accept it. I can be content by embracing curiosity and dislodging expectations. I don't know what tomorrow brings...

2013 © Amanda Morris Johnson

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Year Since, Part II

Wave 4, Oil Pastels on Archival Paper 6" x 10"

As I was saying...recovery...

My right brain, it turns out, has a lot to express. Prolific is an understatement, especially as my energy reserves gained some momentum. At times I have been drawing four or five pieces of artwork a week! I went from drawing pictures of people, to drawing pictures of the dreams I was having about great waves that I would simply walk into. It was an “of course I walk into giant tsunami waves” moment. Then I began to combine the style of the waves to the faces I drew, and so on all year, just seeing what I could do with this wonderful, colorful, soft and tender medium, the oil pastel. Again, I received so much support for what I shared with the social web that it encouraged me to create more and more, to experiment with detail and ideas. It has become a possible pivot in my career be a professional artist. I am looking for some kind of viable confirmation that this is a sensible thing to do. Har. I have projects and ideas just growing all over the place and a need to set up some parameters and plans for them before the garden becomes an unmanageable jungle...

Dragon Wave, Oil Pastels on Black Archival Paper, 19" x 20"
My friend, Erika Napoletano, made a few  really viable suggestions in her blog about new beginnings earlier this week. She suggested looking at what was NOT next. Oy. That would mean a decision and while it was easy for me to quit some things along the way, it is not easy for me to quit the something that used to be my dream, but maybe isn't anymore, and maybe needs to be revisited before I really, really say NOT.

I am challenged by the thing I once dreamed of doing for my whole life, well since I was about 10 years old: writing. I was challenged for a while before I was diagnosed. I’d say I’ve been struggling for 7 years to stay with writing, for writing’s sake and for a career path. The left temporal lobe is important to the skills of writing, but not to the talent of it, I believe. Why do I feel this urge to write, and feel just as much, "oh no, really?"

So it is never a shortage of albeit rusty skills and opinions. This is a long, long blog, for instance, and I knew that much, so I divided it into three parts. It is a question of what is my point? What can I say that hasn't been said a million times better by a million other writers? I would love to be a writer who could write about adventures I haven't had because that is really what I dreamed of writing. Turns out I write about life as I live it, and I can't imagine that it would entertain anyone as much as it entertains me. This is a writer's conundrum, period, but it is a weird struggle now with added problem of the order of words being not normal and in need of practice.

Before I had the surgery I composed 100 poems, easily. They aren’t perfect. The grammar is a mess, but when I take a moment to fix that, to rearrange a few words, they’re not so bad. I really love some of them, especially my Tarot poems. I have always had a thing for poetry, but, truthfully, I wanted to be a screenwriter. Screenwriting is about setting up the visual of a hero's journey and that’s my thing. I wanted this for an awfully long time and made some good progress up until 7 years ago.  Ask any of my students and they can confirm I have a true passion for this craft. Perhaps, it is the divorce I went through from my co-producer that increased my trepidation of touching the craft and letting it grow, or perhaps it was the pressure, and release of pressure, on my left temporal lobe. At any rate, screenwriting has been put on a shelf, and now I’m at a stage where I am considering putting it into the storage unit for memorabilia. Leaving windows open for a lot of other ways to write, but still.

Here is an amazing little piece of irony. The book I was studying, "Story" by Robert McKee, a screenwriter's guru, was left behind at the hospital after surgery. I didn't miss it until two weeks later, and by then it was long gone. Hmmm.

The Composer, Jurica, Oil Pastels on Archival Paper, 9" x 12"
For this and so many reasons this has got to be a NOT. It is a young person's business. I know this. And, yet, I know writers older than me making great progress into it, and then I know I'm lying to myself, making excuses. If you’re too young to imagine this, imagine the fear of choosing the wrong passion. Essentially, a moment to admit defeat is not really a great feeling, but a 7-year moment of indecision is much worse. It is not that I don’t know what I know. It's that I know that I don't know what might happen if I threw myself full force into this thing that bugs me often if I'm not drawing. Ugh.

I value facing the truth, and it is coming to me that this may be the truth. In the long run, I never despair about truth.

2013 © Amanda Morris Johnson

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Year Since, Part I

Part I

It has been a year since I went to St. Anthony’s Hospital at the crack of dawn and had
my skull sawed open, an incredible year in many ways. I survived. That’s the
first thing. I survived and have so much to be thankful for all that’s around
me. I want to review that for my own good, and to clarify that challenges can
be met. The second thing I have to do is to face that in the next six months
or so I’m going to know how far the healing can go, and I’ve already begun to
accept that there are now things that will never go back to the way they were
without a miracle.  Finally, I want to do something with this acceptance
besides sigh, I want to embrace what I can do instead of tripping over the
obstacles again and again.

When I announced that I’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor, a benign meningioma on my left temporal lobe, back in October of 2011, I was rather in shock to be
honest. Giddy almost, I was, that there was really something to blame for the
never-ending headache and messed up phraseology. It wasn’t all-in-my-head, but
really it was something and it could be addressed now! Then I had the challenge of
getting on the right medication to deal with it, and that was a four-month
ordeal I didn’t expect, but like everything in my life, it seems, sort of
slowed down the pace of my impulsive tendency to rush in. I need those slowdowns
to step right up often, and so they seem to do that.

During those four months I received a great deal of support from people all over the
world, and dove deeper into far flung friendships through poetry sharing and
commenting deep into the lonely nights. I so appreciate the willingness of
people I barely knew then to stand by me, even if only in cyberspace, and
listen to my moaning and groaning, cheer me up with good and naughty jokes and
hold my cyber hand. I did not want to visit in person that often with people at
that time. I did not have much vital energy for live chit chat, but I valued
not being totally isolated. What an awesome social web it was, keeping me from
falling into a chasm of despair.

Meanwhile, my family drew in and caught me when I fell and let me cry on their
shoulders when one medication after another turned out to be that list of side
effects they play out at the end of a commercial. The fact is I will never know
if I could have made it through this experience without walking my dog, without
knowing that I was needed by my kids for something or other, without long hugs
through dark nights. They were there and they helped me through, and that is it.

So, the surgery went really well, I still believe, even if it isn’t to this day
perfect. It took four hours. I felt immediately relieved of the grayness that
had been in my head for nearly a decade and was getting very dark up to that
moment. I could count, speak, write, talk, walk and eat. All is well. I went
home in five days. I laid around for a week or two, and took up drawing,
inspired by “My Stroke of Insight,” by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, whose
book I read before surgery. I had the notion that if the pressure was off my
left temporal lobe finally, perhaps, that gave my right brain a chance, a chance
to finally get a word or an image into the conversation I have been having with

Five hours after they sawed my skull open...might good hat!
Oh my!

2013 © Amanda Morris Johnson