Tag Archives: coping

Self-Portrait: Mid-Winter

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Self-portrait, oil on canvas paper, Jessica Lakis  (WIP)

I have to light a fire. Every morning I must clean and light a wood stove. Sweeping before and after fire-making.  I empty the soot and ash into a black metal can with a handle and shovel. (Is this what is called a “scuttle?”) I will empty the ash on the compost. I let the dog out with me while I gather the tinder and wood from under the kitchen porch over the basement entrance, where Stan has stacked it.  Hauling the wood up the curving basement stairs, all the stairs curve here, I trip a lot. It’s been below zero C for weeks. I detest the cold. I curse a good deal. Sometimes it’s my Father’s voice mixed with Walter White. “Jessie! Your mind isn’t on what you’re doing.” Fair enough.

After earning the Tom Hanks moment of achieving the early human magic of fire, tea or coffee may now be had. And that’s how about every day has begun for weeks. I place humidifiers and air cleaners to protect my assaulted sinuses and lungs. I long to open the windows. But still I must clean. I have finally begun to realize and actually do what I need to survive this bleak, blear of holidays and the long nothing afterwards.

For weeks I waited for Star Wars. Stan and I made a date of  seeing the new Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which I adore. I even like Rose. She seems closer to me. I tingled to the new connection between Rey and Ben Solo (I suppose that’s what everyone calls Kylo Ren now). It’s unexpected and gorgeous. But a dark and heart-gutting story. Leia’s key role underlines how much I miss her, and will. My champion on screen and off, she’s gone forever. Nevertheless, my bright spot of December unleashes sobbing. I feel as though Star Wars has caught up with current events and the current mood. And I think of what Yoda tells Luke: failure the best teacher is.

Although I am back in therapy, my mood drops. I still had two weeks until Stan’s vacation. I begin to feel lonely and sad. I cry everyday, and every Sunday night sends me into a terror facing the loneliness of the next week when Stan goes back to work. All through the freezing weather and short days. I am tired of telling others that I don’t have the money for presents, so please don’t get me one. Even though Stan and I have permanently sworn off Christmas because we are both unbaptized nonbelievers, and we don’t have children, I am still sad. Like the O’Henry story, but neither of us has hair to sell or an expensive old watch to pawn. We instead spend our gift cards on gifts for each other. Trips to Michael’s! See Star Wars again. We are very happy.

I start recovering myself by doing more. I decide cheese sandwiches is not a healthy diet, and begin working on vegetarian cooking. Cooking in general. And Stan roasts a pork loin and eats it with my cabbage, potatoes and beans the week of the New Year. I shoot the old shithouse on the hill with a 20 gauge on New Year’s eve. I am ashamed that no one had shot the shithouse with a shotgun before. Stan throws M80s. It was dangerous, and fun.

Having found myself utterly without words to express what is happening to me, so I draw. My mother buys me a portable easel with a large, partitioned drawer. She’s also added a large tube of Titanium White, medium, and turpentine. So I begin to oil-paint. And without having used oils or drawn the human form for ages, I obviously attempt a self-portrait. I cannot correct the fractured skull I under-painted.

I start again. I suddenly realize that, better than the small makeup mirror, are selfies I take under the light I want. I suppose I never thought of it because I’m old. I began painting for an hour in the morning and one in the evening, to let the paint dry. The under-painting worked. Suddenly I’m doing classical thin to fat oil. What I learned in college and from my father over years rush back. Every piece of advice. Every admonition. Suddenly, a passable painting emerges from the cheap canvas paper. In the background I paint the design of the carpet at The Overlook Hotel from The Shining. It seems appropriate. I am proud, even seeing the flaws. Soon the crying drops away, and I just paint.

I become a happy hermit again. Oblivious to the problems outside my door. I chuckle at the ridiculous headlines of “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius,” which pops up as Breaking News from the NYT to my inbox. “President Trump declares self “very stable genius.” tee-hee-hee! The anxiety is a bit harder to ditch, but somehow I manage. Black box pinot noir contain four bottles of wine, and cost 22$. I add seltzer, and let myself have one or two in the evenings.  My tongue loosens with Stan, and we communicate and assist each other with each others’ “goals” for the New Year. We play games and “art” together. Talk about improvements to the house.

I lose some of my cool when my Mom texts me, at an inopportune moment, with several times and dates to choose from to see my sister’s show.  I feel hassled and annoyed. And again someone wants to pay for the tickets I cannot afford. The internal drama and stress family issues cause me ensues. Does my sister still hold a grudge over me? Is she simply the same little sister who tortured me between play? My younger sister who convinced me to clean her room for her. Made me feel guilty unless I slept in her bed. And would wait at the top of the steps for me, then jump out and scare me. I was certain I’d find my end at the foot of those long wooden stairs. I get the distinct feeling that I’m someone she calls on a schedule, like a grandmom. I wonder if it’s possible to love without liking. Perhaps I am to her a childhood playmate from whom she has moved on, but calls on birthdays. But she never speaks of it to me, so I don’t know. My Mother wants to keep us together as a family.

That drama still ongoing, I have fitful desires to go outside because the temperature is just above freezing. I enjoy being the local hermit again. I race Abbey down the lane because it’s too cold to walk. And then there’s my four sets of curving stairs. One second floor bathroom. I suppose I’m exercising. I still dance in the morning or whenever I really feel the urge. I stretch to the rhythm of The Smiths. My body commanded to move as though I were leisurely yodeling, or growling and gargling over a sharp, embarrassing and private pain. I add The Pogues. Angrier displaced Irishmen. Infinitely unhappy, but determined to live while they can.

At last, I find myself able to write and paint at once. Something I haven’t done since high school. So, I suppose I’m managing myself better. Perhaps in a few months Scatman Crothers will have to save either Stan or myself. Save us both!

In the meantime, I have a fire to tend.

 

While you’re here:  Check out my Instagram! There are pictures of stuff I like and hate. 😊

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Panic and Peace for Nerds

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“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.”  – Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work

Two weeks ago, I awoke on a sunny day with the intention of weeding my garden. Instead I ended up at my doctor’s office convinced I needed emergency asthma treatment. Turns out my lungs were fine. I had a panic attack.

I felt silly. I mean, I ought to know a panic attack by now, right? So I began a renewed interest in my mental health, in what, let’s face it, are trying times for anyone who cares about anything anymore. At least here in the US, and anyone watching us thinking, “Well, this can’t be good.”

After checking all of my vitals and listening to my lungs, my doctor asked me what had I been doing when I first felt I couldn’t breathe. She nodded at my answer: I was reading the morning news. I had a psychiatrist and therapist appointment in a few days, so she referred me to them with some questions. And she told me to stay away from the news.

That last bit really ticked me off. I felt like she was talking down to this “mentally ill” child. But I did lay off the news. When I met with my psychiatrist, she understood my panic attack perfectly well. She did ask me to challenge myself to find more ways to cope with and manage both my news intake and my anxiety. Although she did increase my anxiety medication a small bit to help ease me through.

My therapist was also understanding, but again she admonished me against news. And she challenged me to find more ways to use my energy towards that which made me feel peace. She suggested “simple” things. She also asked if I had a more “spiritual” back up plan for strength.

I was totally pissed again. Am I so gaslighted and fragile that I have be both ignorant, mindless, AND reliant on unknowable whims of unknowable sky fairies to live in Trump’s America? Seriously!?

And then I did some really hard work. I did my monthly budget. I carefully looked for where we were leaking the ten and twenty dollars here and there that kills our finances. I fixed it. I felt better.

After a few weeks of hemming and hawing, I redid my student loan repayment, and got back on track with that. I felt better.

I returned a book to Audible and got a credit for the book of Roman history I wanted. I felt better.

And, when my friends suggested a hike-in and camp trip on the Appalachian Trail, I signed on. Like Bilbo Baggins, I was going to have an adventure on my birthday! I was excited, and terrified. But there was a lot to do. Firstly, the house needed to be cleaned for when they came over to plan. Did it! Felt better.

Then they came over. We had a fire, toasted my birthday, christened my new knife Uncle Joe — to match my machete, Killary. And we all sang along to Abbey Road loudly. “Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight a long time.” I felt better.

Saturday dawned, and I knew we had to get ready for the trip. Having read The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks, and being old hands at camping, we were mostly ready…mostly.  Even our dog Abbey got her own backpack because she was carrying her weight, too! She liked it. I felt better.

But I was still nervous. Until my friend told me something important: It’s safe to be cautious on a trip like this. What we were doing was unknown to me, and potentially dangerous. But we would be with more experienced campers. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo Baggins, going out your door.” How I felt was normal. I felt better.

We set off on our trek as on a 14:00 away mission, but with hobbits. But that exciting vibe fell away quickly. After struggling a third of the five miles straight up — carrying one third of my body weight– everything became so clear. All I had to do was keep putting one foot ahead of the other. “Simple.” I remembered what my Dad said about Korea. The marching back and forth in the cold and mud. “Your feet are the most important thing.” Simple isn’t mindless. It’s mindfulness itself.

My life became my feet. One in front of the other. “I am one with The Force. The Force is with me. I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.” One foot in front of the other.

Well, suffice to say, I made it there and back again. And I felt washed clean, although I was filthy.  I had literally bugged-out. Now what? OK. Clean up all the dirty and wet gear. Now what? Make an action list for materials I need to gather for an appointment I have soon. Ok. Now what? Write.

And I feel better.

I did eventually get the news via my Mom.  That’s not such a bad way to stay informed. As far as my “spiritual” strength, I realized  that comes from the same places as always with me: Tolkien, Trek, Star Wars, history, The Beatles, challenging myself, my writing, and things my Father’s Force Ghost still says in my ear.

So, what’s my point? Firstly, it’s OK to feel anxious. It’s normal. Life, more uncertain than usual, will try to gaslight you. Secondly, you may need to “bug-out.” I don’t mean that you need to walk 500 ft up and sleep in the rain. But a change and a challenge you feel you are ready for…mostly. Something that reduces life to essentials and is “one foot in front of the other.” Simple.

Finally, you don’t have to give up your mind’s critical ability, sacrifice what is yourself and be a mindless sheep to get on in the brave new insane world. We rented Rogue One when we got home, and watched it twice since. I’m now convinced that I adore that movie!  I don’t need no religious education. An exciting and dramatic daughter-daddy Star Wars movie, a trek through the forest of the adventure with my mythological companions, taking care of my life, a bit of help from my friends, a bit of writing, and a book of Roman history, and I’m good.

Now what? Make food.

I am one with The Force. The Force is with me.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll weed the garden. 😉

How are you all holding up? What is helping — or hurting — you right now?

While you’re here:  Check out my Instagram! There are pictures of things I like and hate! 😊

While there: check out my BFF’s Instagram and share some love.

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