on the verge: dead trees, cream cheese, and children

Tragic Dead Christmas Tree 1 Toby BradburyImage:  “Tragic Dead Christmas Tree,” Toby Bradbury. Used with permission of Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas.

I have lost my bearings in the whoop-la of the “holidays”, in people pleasing, in following the way of the world:  shopping, baking, entertaining.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love presents.  I love giving presents.  I love being with my family, but enough is enough.  And no matter how I simplify, no matter how much I avoid tear-jerking, desire-provoking commercial advertising, no matter how I focus on “the reason for the season,” year after year, I overextend and find myself here.

My stomach spasms from overindulging in dairy:  cream cheese, chile con queso, fudge.  My head throbs from pollution, pollen, mental congestion.  My body aches, begging me to stop.  STOP!

a time of change and transition, when the night is on the verge of turning into the day

At three A.M., when vata is in charge, I lie awake, aching, nauseated, exhausted, overcome with anxiety.  Am I dying?  When I do, will I suffer then more than I do now?  Who will comfort me?  My chest squeezes in upon itself with worry.  I toss, turn, try to think of some action, some accomplishment, an achievement to which I can set my mind to abate the fear of the future.

All this thinking, thinking, thinking with zazen breath my sole companion.  Will I recover?  Will I have to go on living in this pain, dysfunctional, compressed, trapped in this tiny world, betrayed by the mind? 

8179518917_1ff414721a_bimage:  “Buddha Quote 100, Hartwig HKD.  Used with permission of Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

My body, too, betrays me.  I consider seeing a medical doctor again:  for sleep medication, for some pill to stop these jumping legs, muscles firing at will, demanding to go, to do, as though, like Forest Gump, I need to start running and never stop (until, like Forest, I have “put my past behind me.”)

I doubt myself.  I doubt my work.  I cannot seem to gather enough strength or patience to continue working with children to earn my bread and butter as I have done for many years.  Though I do love them still, they wear me out.

Writing student

And simply painting, usually a blissful activity that feels like the exact balm I need to soothe the “rude noise of the world” suddenly seems too solitary an endeavor, the canvas–a selfish lover from whom there are no guarantees, neither of community nor sustenance.

And yet, if I am to follow The Artist’s Way, this is a loneliness I must endure.

It is I alone who must know I have something to say (with paint or pen) that is worthy of my energy.

The making of art requires time:  time to conceive; time to create; time to problem solve; time to consider; time to complete; time to process; time to nurture the work; time to discern its message; & time to tell the story of how this work has manifested through me into being and what it means (if I know).

All the while I must eat, buy more canvas, hold a place to sleep and keep interesting tidbits: paper, thread (scraps of reality), bowls of stones, incense, icons, images of ancestors, tubes, jars, sticks of color and words–thoughts stacked in corners.

Collage Studio Portrait

I mine for courage like coal because no guarantee ever comes that any human (including myself) will understand what I do.

I think of songwriter, Stephen Foster (1826-1854), now known as “the father of American music,” who wrote over two hundred songs that are still popular to this day.  He died in New York City with thirty-eight cents and lyrics in his pocket.  He wrote about and was himself a Beautiful Dreamer, calling in the unseen world.

And so I follow his dreaming.

Again (the director says)!  Again I put this pen to page.  Again I witness this curve of ink, ask what matters.

In western schools, I learned a linear process, that following certain steps in a certain order would create a desired, predictable outcome.  This masculine way of processing left me with a false belief, a certainty that I could by exertion of my will control my world and secure my place in it.  It also left me completely unprepared to navigate the unknown.

That, I have had to learn on  my own by walking this path:  the feminine ever spiraling inward, this receptive unfolding.

This way is messy, mysterious and completely out of control.

detailimage: from the studies in sacred geometry series, @d. ellis phelps, 2015, all rights reserved.

D. Ellis Phelps is the author of Making Room for George, Balboa Press, 2013 and of the book length manuscript of poetry, what holds her, (under submission).

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