Thursday, March 31, 2011

Henri Rousseau

This isn't one of Henri Rousseau's most famous works, but it showcases his style nicely. I love the business that the leaves of the jungle make, filling the canvass with energy, and how the figure is almost lost in the amazon growth of the foliage. Nature overwhelms. Nothing about a human can be as important as orange trees or big blue flowers. In Rousseau's fantasy human beings are as tiny as fairies, but here, it is the landscape that is magical. The growth of plants, fed only by soil, sunshine and water is a magical occurrence. And the jungle, which Rousseau never saw but liked to tell others that he had visited, is really, really overgrown and pushing the boundaries of what it can contain. There is almost no room for the human. But the picture without the human would be like a story lacking its ending. We know so much about the jungle because we have been given a person to put it all in perspective for us,- she small, the jungle large. Her dress is pink like the pink flowers just peeking through the leaves near the horizon of the sky. I too place pink where the blue of the sky meets the earth, but for me, the horizon light itself is pink.

My husband bought a big picture book all about the artist Renoir in a thrift store. Two nights ago I had trouble sleeping and started reading it. The book started with the artist's early years, showing in pictures and narration his life and artistic development. There was schooling and there were friendships struck up with other artists, particularly with the impressionist Monet. The story of Renoir's life was well told, but it began to trouble my nerves greatly. There were illustrations of paintings that were masterful, and which I knew I could do nothing near as well. Renoir had the history of painting behind him, in his head, and at the command of his brush. No matter his later innovation, he was fluent in academic and he spoke well and long with the exact people who would press forward and bring into the world a new style of painting. He had links to contemporaries that were emotional, real, and instructive. He was situated in society in the best way that an artist can be and while he undoubtedly had talent he was no outcast,- the new style of the impressionists had grounding in artist's discussion and joint interpretation. In short the man had none of the isolation and none of the awkwardness that I feel so strongly in myself. I felt as I read that as I read about Renoir I was reading about a King Midas who was blessed with the magic that everything he touched turned into gold. And I stopped reading because the ease in which Renoir progressed into a great painter sickened and oppressed me. I could not relate my life in any way to his life. And my art looks nothing like his art. So I put the book away and took out a book on Rousseau.

Here in my big book were Rousseau's first paintings - and how primitive they looked! At last a hero I can look up to who has feet of clay! Rousseau's great journey started with awkwardness and fumbling innocence. Could he ever really draw well? No. He had to try as hard as I try. I can't really draw all that well. Did he go to art school? No, he said he first picked up a brush when he was 42 years old. In the beginning he had no artist friends. Even later, when artists began to notice him, their reverence had a tone of mockery. But what I see in Rousseau's paintings is that he tried so hard, and as he painted, clearly, he progressed. Pronouncements of sophistication are bestowed on you, but really, sophistication is a state of mind. There's a difference between saying "he's so sophisticated" and the intense judgment and intellect and vision that leads one to make a sophisticated product. Rousseau clearly felt his own sophistication even as others were announcing him as childlike and naive. He said to Picasso, "You and I are the greatest living painters, you paint in the Egyptian style and I paint in the modern style."

I'm certain when he delivered that line people laughed. But Rousseau had great belief in himself. I know that if I had a healthy mind I would too have great belief in myself. But my mind is sick, and the hours that I can make art are very few. I can't afford to cripple myself more with self loathing and despair, so I make art and try not to judge it. Just do it, I say to myself, and save the self reflection for the journey that every painting must take though its planning stages and execution.

These are my most recent thoughts for my next painting. Do I put flowers close together or far apart? Do I redraw the expression on the face and try to put something more tormented or am I satisfied with the model's vacant, pretty face? And how to draw a bullet entering and exiting a head? What is on the ground, grass, flowers, a ball of twine, or mice? There are already three cats on the ground, perhaps all these things go with cats. Do I paint red fingernail polish on the hands and feet? How high should the pink and orange horizon light go, should it just hover above the ground or take up space in a blue sky? And what blue for my sky, and should I not settle for just one blue, but instead, marry three different blues in alternating streaks? Should there be a aura around the figure, and if so, what color the aura? Am I prepared to give everything living an aura or only the people? Am I going to let the brush leave its mark or make transitions of color smooth and seamless? Where do I paint wet into wet and where do I let dry and then paint wet over? From what direction does the light shine upon my tree and other objects? Or is there simply the all over light of a primitive. How much reality and how much distortion of the objects? Is every line going to be crisp and clean?

If I don't leave room for experimentation and distortion will I grow bored with making my painting even as I am painting it? This last question is really the most important. If everything is decided upon ahead of time, execution is tedious because there is no room for later creativity and spontaneity with the paint. As paradoxical as it sounds, you must plan for accidents to happen. You just make the decision; in this space I will wait and see what my brush will do with the paint and where, according to whim, which color paint gets picked up from the pallet.

I've had a rough couple of days. Today and yesterday I drew. Drawing takes up so much concentration that I can only do it for about two hours. But the day before, when I did not get a good nights sleep, and after I had been pushing myself with activity, I was a mess. I went to my therapist's and talked with my eyes closed, head hanging down. I don't know why I didn't cancel, it was difficult driving there. That night I had an outing with my peer support group. I had to be present to buy food. My husband went with me. He drove the car, he socialized when all I could do was again hang my head with my eyes closed. I had to take orders of food, pay for everything, and take the cooked food from the counter to the person. My husband and I did not stay and eat with the others, we ordered a pizza to go and left once we had seen that everyone was settled with their food.

Emotionally I have been harsh and quarrelsome these past few days. I felt at times in the mood where I could hurt a person and suffer no regrets. Emotionally brittle, I had no humor, no restraint, no politeness, no smiles. There were things that simply had to get done and I had to do them - and I promised myself that with sleep, and days of freedom, I would get better. I only cried once. At my therapists I cried because I said I wanted to draw, but I had no concentration with which to draw. That night I read the Renoir book I was up until 3:30am. My therapist posed that perhaps I was a little manic, considering how much medication I take to get to sleep. And he said that March is a cruel month for people with a mental illness.

I would like to travel to Connecticut this weekend to visit with my brother and sister and my sister's children. They are all staying at my mother's. There is a scientist who has predicted a major earthquake in California where they all live so they fled to the East Coast. I don't know how long they are going to stay, waiting for this earthquake. It is one scientist who made the prediction, and since then, other scientists have stepped forward and posed opposite views - the majority of the earthquake specialists have not raised an alarm. Perhaps my brother and sister are also fleeing from radiation drifting 5,000 miles from the nuclear reactor crisis in Japan. Certainly they exhibit a need for self preservation that is mostly devoid in me. I went last weekend and slept overnight at my mother's. My husband stayed home and took care of the puppy. I am afraid though that now I am so fragile that I cannot make the trip again. This is a case of wishing, yet again, that I had more strength. I would then certainly be more social. But I must be the withdrawn schizophrenic. It is self preservation. Ah, so I do have some strong tendencies for self preservation.

I need rest, plenty of sleep, and days with few commitments.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Direction

The first picture is by Max Ernst.

The second picture is by William de Kooning.

I think both pictures are fabulous.

Just put a wet oil painting to bed. It has to dry completely before I can work on it any more. Since I used white oil paint in thick quantities, this means probably two weeks. The white won't remain, I have plans to paint over it all using transparent paints. I have a high shelf that the cats can't leap upon, I put the painting there. In this household there is always the problem of an animal knocking something over or treading through it with their wonderful paws.

I'm using my brush in new and unusual ways and find myself lifting paint up with turpenoid and/or tissue, its a process of putting paint down and then taking it up again with just a faint residue remaining. There is a pull and push, you paint, you lift, you paint again, and then you wait for everything to dry so that you load more glazes of color on top of everything that you've done. As the painting stands now, only about 15% of the surface will remain untouched and be on view in the final product, a full 85% will get one or more layers of paint put over it. All I've got is a foundation. Much alteration in it's look will progress, that's why I don't bother taking a picture of it and publishing it here and now. You can't imagine the direction I mean to go. I will take a picture once its dry, before I work on it again, so that when its finished I can put on my blog a "before and after" sort of comparison.

I'm looking to put some mystery into my "croc monster" painting. I can't make myself alter the main figure much, I'm afraid to distort too much, but the background seems to be open season. I've done this before, painting an abstract painting behind the tightly wound depiction of a humanoid figure, and on one panel it worked and my father immediately bought it for $200 (the only time he's ever bought anything, he said he just had to have it) and on the other panel it was a disaster. So dabbling with the application of paint in an abstract way while you are trying to maintain a recognizable reality is not for the faint of heart. You can ruin a picture with over zealous creativity and invention - really I must remain clear eyed toward the final product and steadfast even as I am putting down strokes that have no meaning other than adding energy, direction, and mystery. This painting is rather small, and I want to try to get as much color and variety into it as possible, painting all over, the goal is to have in every corner something new and different. The last time I did this experiment the painting was 5x7, now the painting is 8x10. So I'm getting my courage up by working larger scale. It does take something like courage to go outside your comfort zone and try something that may or may not be a success. But I've got to grow. I see what I'm doing as growth. One can't get any tighter, any more anal, than the last painting I did, "Catfight". Ideally I want some areas of the canvass tight, with tiny invisible brushstrokes, and part of the canvass showing the touch of the brush, right down to the bristle lines. I've bought pallet knives but I don't have the courage yet to use them.

I watched a documentary yesterday about Max Ernst and it put me in a terrible mood. I love his work. But he is so much more creative than me. His drawing and painting skills are far superior. I'm aghast at what a fumbling primitive I am. And because of my illness, my work comes out in a tiny trickle, with Ernst it was a powerful river. There's a lot you can do when you can paint the whole day or night away.

Enough self disparaging remarks. At least I'm being creative most days. I've been skipping church and painting instead. I can't do both. Both activities are in the morning, prime creative time. And church, being social, takes so much out of me.

I've just finished reading a book about William de Kooning. It's called "de Kooning An American Master" by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan and it won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. De Kooning dedicated his life to making art and endured crushing poverty. And just about when he started getting noticed, and making money, he developed a big, bad drinking problem. It seems odd to become an alcoholic late in life. Makes one look for a trigger. Is fame really so bad?

I'll share some of De Kooning's point of view. It is the view point of an abstract painter, a man who has committed himself totally to painting and knows what it is like to mentally be inside of a painting. This made an impression on me.

"........drinking also created moments of strange beauty. In one story from the period, told in several different versions, de Kooning and a group of friends spilled into the street to get some coffee after a night in a bar. A bum approached asking for spare change. Someone gave the bum a quarter, which he then dropped. The quarter rolled slowly onto the avenue and into the oncoming traffic with the bum staggering after it, dodging the cars as they zipped around him. De Kooning, watching said, 'That's my kind of space.'"

I love the element of danger and desperation. Pathos, desire, drunken madness, the story of the bum and his quarter has it all. I want too not to be safe with my artwork. But this is so far from my personality, which is above all controlled and careful.

De Kooning gave a speech, or wrote a paper titled "What Abstract Art Means to Me" and it ended with a parable about abstraction. These are his own words.

"About twenty-four years ago, I knew a man in Hoboken, a German who used to visit us in the Dutch Seaman's Home. As far as he could remember, he was always hungry in Europe. He found a place in Hoboken where bread was sold a few days old - all kinds of bread: French bread, German bread, Italian bread, Dutch bread, Greek bread, American bread and particularly Russian black bread. He bought big stacks of it for very little money, and let it get good and hard and then he crumpled it and spread it on the floor in his flat and walked on it as on a soft carpet. I lost sight of him, but found out many years later that one of the other fellows met him again around 86th street. He had become some kind of a Jugend Bund leader and took boys and girls to Bear Mountain on Sundays He is still alive but quite old and is now a Communist. I could never figure him out, but now when I think of him, all that i can remember is that he had a very abstract look on his face."

Again, this story bumps into the realm of madness. The man from Hoboken is strange, maybe crazy, and de Kooning implies that the expression on his face has a quality that painters are looking for in their abstract paintings. Of course its one thing to be mentally ill, but I can assure you that neither de Kooning nor Max Ernst were mentally ill. Yet their art has sparks of madness in it. Is this what people are searching for when they say, "I want to do something creative in my life. My life is so predictable, house chores, a 9 to 5 job, weekends visiting friends, none of it lifts me up. I'm looking to do something creative to lift me up." I heard a woman recently speak these words. She was thinking about taking a photography or poetry course. Of course rather than madness, she may be searching for beauty, since the photography that she showed me were up close pictures of flowers. Earlier in this essay I spoke about wanting to give my current painting "mystery" - but the mystery of the two paintings that started this essay both are rich with madness. Every trait of madness - unpredictability, unreasonablness, the fantastic, extremes of energy, flight of the imagination, monstrosity, the presence of a forceful ego - all these attributes I see in the master's paintings. And all this I remember from long ago when I was psychotic at the beginning of my illness.

I'm as sane as I've ever been, now, stabilized on medication and having a stable lifestyle and home. And yet, in my art, I'm trying to break through a wall and paint more and more by instinct. And I'm hoping that my instinct has traits of madness in it, because this I know will capture mystery and energy.

Truly crazy schizophrenics I think produce very little. But if you're stabilized on medication you have a chance. Manic bi-polar people are a whole different kettle of fish. I think mania does give a boost to creativity. But psychosis in someone who has schizophrenia?

Psychotic thoughts are too much of a distraction for most artists. Psychotic thoughts feel very creative, but what actually matters is what you manage to get out of your head and put down on paper or canvass. And the process to a quality art product can be long and many stepped.

About the only thing I could do while I was psychotic was to go for very long walks that took me through several towns, while I looked at the spectacular breathtaking trees, because with my psychotic enhanced eyesight I had a crisp view of every leaf and I was able to hear every birdsong, and meanwhile, for psychotic reasons of my own, I was wearing no underwear.

So I walked and walked and walked, never tiring, and my boobs jiggled. That's my memory of madness.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New Stuff

The first image is a completed oil painting, 8 x 10 inches. It's called "Catfight".

The second image is a sketch for my next 8 x 10 inch painting. The working title is "Crocodile Monster". I intend on this one to paint quite differently than what I've just done. I want more freedom to experiment. It seems that whenever I paint a monster I feel like the figure and the space around the figure don't have to "make sense" and I can layer colors in intuitive, abstract ways. "Catfight" told a story, and in order for the story to make sense I felt like I had to paint within the lines, and do things in a very stiff, restrained style. All that careful shading in "Catfight", you loose a little of the shading in the photograph. But there are no surprises, no colors where they ought not to be, nothing that adds mystery in "Catfight". I'm disappointed with the finished product. Its a straight primitive. A little creativity in the design of the dresses, a little creativity in the subject matter (pulling hair), and I'm not afraid of bright color, but really no creativity in brushstroke or use of paint.

The last two images are icons that I designed for a flier. They are intended to add color and eye candy to a notice that I will design promoting my mental illness peer support group. This flier will be distributed to nearby hospitals and library bulletin boards and centers where the mentally ill receive services such as therapy, medication monitoring, and vocational rehabilitation. The support group I'm advertising was started by a bi-polar woman who intended it to be only for other bi-polar people, and she named it Changing Tides. When the group was opened up to include people with all sorts of mental troubles the name stuck. Mental illness sure does make your state of emotional being an ever changing ride. I need to have imagery that had a lot of color and that illustrated our name, Changing Tides. I figure the red and blue wave can be a small icon on a business card, and the larger design with the sun burst can decorate the bottom of the flier.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lent Musings

Everywhere we go, on the street people say "Look at those huge paws! She's going to be a big girl!" But I notice more her ears, which in proportion to her skull, are a bit like bat wings. In prior puppy pictures her ears were flopping over at the tips, now they stand usually straight and perky.

My husband likes to call her a perfect little German Shepherd. Yesterday we went walking with Cherry Blossom to a coffee house that welcomes dogs named "Moca Joe's". It's slightly seedy, very bohemian, and underground. The windows looks out at people's feet on the sidewalk. My husband spent the whole time we were there talking to Cherry and practicing commands, sit, stand, down. It seemed a little eccentric, because my husband was loud, and he had warm, warm honey poured all through his voice. He talked to Cherry like a man enamored with his sweetheart. I was so tired, at 5pm, and this is probably the reason I was so severe with my regard. I kept my mouth shut but I was a total witch and found a situation that was perfectly innocent and endearing, to be as annoying as all hell. When symptoms of my illness hit I get cranky. By the time we returned from the coffee house I was so fragile that I couldn't stand to listen to my husband tell me stories from his day at work. His light banter was over-stimulating me, and I almost, almost, told him to stop speaking. When I'm at the end of my rope I need silence. Following the conceptual trail of someone addressing me when I'm symptomatic is almost impossible. But I did not ask my husband to be silent. What helped a lot when we got home is that as he talked my feet were in his lap and he was rubbing them. He gave me a half an hour foot massage. And it helped me rejuvenate. I had to recover control over my mind because in a short period of time, I needed to participate in a mental illness peer support group at a local hospital. And I'm leader of the group.

The people who fund our group (State money) don't want there to be a leader of the group. In fact, I'm not supposed to call myself a leader (politically incorrect) I'm supposed to call myself "lead facilitator". But every three months I spend about two hours typing up a report so that we continue to be eligible for funding. I'm the one answering the peer support telephone, fielding questions from strangers, and during group, I'm the one that the sickest people look at while they are telling their stories. Trust me, I act, I have responsibilities, and I work like a leader. And then there is the never ending problems with the idiot bank our account is linked to. I'm going to have to visit their customer representative with the "alternative facilitator" and re-submit personal information because the bank changed it's name, and I assume, ownership. Its a waste of my time, pure and simple. And after last night it looks like I'm going to be the one designing on my computer a flier to publicize our group to in mental health agencies around town. Need a graphic to catch the eye. So, artist that I am, I have to come up with a drawing that is compatible with our name, Changing Tides. Also, a small logo for our business cards would be nice. I would have more enthusiasm for these projects if I weren't so focused currently on my painting.

Yesterday I had to rub out the wet painting of a tiny horse because compared to the other horses painted next to it it was too small. So this morning I re-drew it larger, traced the drawing, transferred the tracing to the painting surface, and painted the horse again. The final product is a huge improvement. But I was sad when I stopped painting. I stopped painting because my concentration had deteriorated. I wish my concentration wouldn't deteriorate after just a couple of hours. My therapist thinks that "healing" (his favorite word) can happen and I can have more hours concentrating eventually. After healing occurs I should be able to paint longer. I just don't know. I think that if I were single I'd be able to, after a period of six to seven hours of rest during the day, have a second shorter period of creativity in the evening. But currently I do activities with my husband in the afternoon when he gets home from work and this pretty much completely burns me out. Writing this blog will burn me out totally, but happily we got from Netflix a light comedy that we plan to watch this evening. So burn, burn those brain cells, because this evening I plan to rest and be entertained on the television.

I published on this blog a little while back my Lenten essay for the booklet put out by my church. Lent started yesterday, and each day you are given four different scripture portions to read, and in the booklet, is a musing on these assigned scriptures by a co-member of the church. When I got my booklet I zoomed ahead and read, fueled by curiosity, what other people had written. I was struck in particular by the man who was assigned the day before me. He wrote a poem and because we are ordered by date, he is on the pages right before me. There is a striking contrast between what we have written. If you are perceptive you can see that our world views would be completely different if it weren't for the fact of his spiritual discipline.

I'll tell you my impression of this man and then publish his poem and explain how he and I are different. He is a retired minister about 70 or 75 years old. I talked to him once during coffee hour and he pretty much dismissed me as not being up to his intellectual standard. He comes off as dry and humorless, but very intelligent. He is not above dropping important names of important people he knows. I know his wife well and she is very religious and just as serious as her husband but a little more approachable. It must be because of the innate charity of the female kind. I think they both went to Columbia University and met there, and I know she is always reading issues of "Foreign Affairs", a magazine that is the epitome of intellectual analysis of world events by some of the brightest minds in our government and university system. Once upon a long time ago, when I was going to the library every day, I would occasionally read "Foreign Affairs".

Here is his poem. I ought to publish his name, giving credit where credit is due, but if I did that I could not have just said the slightly critical things I said about him. I may be mistaken, or unkind, because I really don't know the man and thus am unfair to him. Best he remain anonymous. However, I admire the poem, the spirit that lies behind it, and his guts to write a poem in the first place. Nobody else in the booklet wrote a poem.

"Borrowed Life"

"All that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care." - Isaac Watts

Whose life is this?
Surely it's mine.
If I possess just one thing
it is my life, body and mind
What I do, good or bad -
constitutes life.

Because it's mine,
I cling to what I have,
hold close whom I love,
commit to group or nation,
If I can make these mine,
then surely my life is mine.
Then comes Isaac Watts, who says
I have life as a loan
extended one day at a time,
payable I know not when

My life is drawn on God's account,
owed to One whose wealth sustains
the brightness of the world all round,
the secrets of the darkest Deep,
the wonder of Eternity,
whose riches underwrite
each display of loveliness,
each joyous song of praise,
each act of love and hope.

Every day I can choose
to see that brightness,
plumb those depths,
sense Eternity in time,
know my debt to beauty, joy and love
offered by my Creditor.
And my death, when it shall come,
will be of little consequence,
for it pays back what's been lent,
and joins me to the Life
from whom I've borrowed all.

I read this poem and I was struck by the impression that this poem came from a mind that pretty much got what it always wanted and set out to get, and most certainly, has never been broken. He has absolute continuity in the sense of "I". When he questions what this "I" is, it is from a religious angle. He seems pretty humbled by the fact of his eventual death. I think it is death that really makes him reassess the illusion of the in control "I". Death puts everyone on shaky ground, but from the first stanzas, I don't think that this man has been shaken that much.

Schizophrenia teaches one strict lesson; you are helpless. The "I" is on very shaky ground. Recovery from schizophrenia is all about taking control and circumventing this state of mental helplessness and victimhood. But when the symptoms of the illness strike, be they positive or negative, your mind is taken away from your grasp and you are free falling through sensations that are not of your choosing.

After that Congresswoman was shot in the head I was reading all sorts of articles chronicling her recovery on the internet. Her husband said, that from her bedside, she gave him a neck message. He said that she played with his wedding band and took it from one of his fingers and put it on a different finger, an intimate game they had played before. All this while a portion of her skull had been removed to prevent damage from brain swelling and she wasn't talking. And her husband said that he wanted her to make such a swift recovery that when he commandeered the launch of the Space Shuttle in I think April or May, she would be there at command central witnessing his take off.

But I thought that what one doctor had to say about head gunshot wounds was very telling. The doctor said that after rehabilitation, the Congresswoman would have to come to know a new normal. The husband wanted his wife back perfectly intact, and like the commander he is, he saw recovery as being something that you simply impose your will upon, and he had great faith in the will of his wife. But what is a new normal that the doctor was talking about? It probably means an alteration in the person, perhaps at a profound level.

I noted that the Congresswoman had married the Space Shuttle Commander in 2007, and I wondered, after a decent amount of time, whether there would be, despite the great love the media was chronicling, a divorce. Will the Commander accept a new normal in his wife? The Congresswoman has no choice but to try to live with what brain damage the bullet caused. The Commander was displaying superhuman optimism and very little patience. I've always said that my schizophrenia felt like brain damage, and the way it disables me, to this day, I say that brain damage persists. However, I too, with my personality and discipline, persist, and given the span of twenty years and a husband who gives me a very stable and stress free environment, I am the benefactor of a new normal. But I'm no fool. My pre-schizophrenia abilities and potentials were far, far greater. I may be wiser, I may be more compassionate, I may be more introspective, and indeed, I may be a better human being than I was pre-schizophrenia, but it is like a bullet went through my brain and significantly altered me.

I promise you, there is no way I would be painting little horses if I hadn't gotten schizophrenia.

On a good day, I like my new normal. But then again, I have had years and years of therapy. And the therapists have always sought to brainwash me into accepting my new normal. Because not accepting my new normal would have been the source of great anguish.

Part of rehabilitation is discarding the old and embracing the new.

Sanity is all about accepting paradox. Health becomes being schizophrenic. Its your new normal.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A New Painting

The way to read this painting is that the main scene is a dark rock cliff, with a stream on top, and a waterfall tumbling down into a pool of water at the bottom. There are, off in the distance, small horses that have poses that are catastrophic to their tiny riders. There is a small man at the top pulling apart an ivy plant, two more small men negotiating a blow job, and a woman perched on top a rock ready to dive into the pool of water.

I don't know whether the ivy on the cliff face will overwhelm the figure of the horse headed woman, I will try to keep everything on the cliff face dark except for her. What I've got here is just the first underpainting of her, there probably will be two or more layers of paint to make all her limbs rounded and her flesh white-pink with purple shading.

As you can tell, I drew the horse headed woman first, in a notebook, photo-copied the drawing, and then tried to invent a scene to put her in. I'm afraid that the scene could have been better. I would have loved a forest of pansies, roses, or weeds, tall plants that flowers all stand above her figure. Nothing else but her and leaves and flowers. That would have put all the emphasis on the horse headed woman. I could have had her figure against so much that would have made her stand out - the dark depths of a forest, a sunset........... once I drew her I had a devil of a time trying to figure out what scene she would fit into.

Her vagina is showing. That is the most lovely and disquieting thing about her. I actually drew her several years ago at the beginning of a painting workshop at a local art school. The instructor helped me with her hand. I remember not knowing what its size should be. Her figure drew inspiration from 1) an erotic photograph in a book 2) the photograph of an artist's drawing of a horse's head found in a book 2) the computer generated Poser figure of a nude my husband printed out for me.

Hey, perhaps there has never been a figure like her in all of art history. If someone buys this painting it will be because they liked her.

Planning the colors for this composition is atrocious. There's a landscape, rolling hills, there's rocks, there's sky and there's water, and of course, there are 56 ivy leaves. Each leaf drawn from nature. I really do enjoy drawing plant life from nature. When in doubt of colors, do underpainting! That's my plan. I don't know if the entire scene will be done in underpainting (limiting the pallet to three colors, flesh, white and ultramarine blue), there is a chance that at some point I'll figure out the colors (for instance, the blue of the sky and the blue of the water will be two different blues, cerulean and blue horizon, I think those are the labels). Blue horizon is pale and wintry, a cool color, and cerulean is tropical and strong, a warm color. One tube of cerulean blue costs like $35! Thank goodness I don't have to do an entire sky cerulean blue. The splash at the end of the water fall should be fun to paint. And oh, maybe I'll paint some ripples in the pool of water.

I'm taking my Seroquil as prescribed. Like Kate said, its best not to monkey around with brain chemistry. My depression has lifted with the beginning of this new painting and I'm excited. The drawing presents great difficulties - which is good, I won't get bored.

My husband noted that I had had a powerful dream the night before I wrote the last post. I don't remember my dreams much, but this one had me, upon waking, wondering so many things. In my dream I returned to college. I think a part of me would like to go back to college. This is the part of me that imagines that having more education would allow me to work, as if an education could suspend the negative and positive symptoms of my illness. There is, in our culture, the faint promise that education will re-wire your brain. Turn incapable to capable, turn ignorant into savvy. I know, little fool that I am, that taking a three hour volunteer job at the front desk of an art museum completely wiped me out. I know that doing an hour and a half of work on the pictorial directory that I had as a volunteer project with another lady from church made me sometimes sick as a dog. And I know that when I come back home from and hour and a half leading the peer support group I'm usually exhausted. I've got tons of evidence that my mental activity only lasts for a short time before my illness forces me to take a withdrawal from the world. I don't doubt that I could do the classwork for part-time attendance at a college, especially if the course was on-line. Reading, writing papers, this I could do. Because I would be working in fits and starts, a little here and a little there and every other obligation in my life would be suspended and deregulated to "not important".

Upon waking from the dream where I returned to college my groggy mind was full of "what if's" - what if I needed to drive a long way to go to a class, what if I took out loans to go back to school, what if I got sick because of the stress.......... I thought my dream was a sign of a new direction in my life. And then here is where the depression started which lasted through the day. College is a beginning, but it is an ending all in itself. It is an artificial life that does not necessarily translate into the real world. While you are in college and doing it you are full of purpose and self-esteem. The job of learning is fun for people who like mental challenges. And how nice to be able to have a label for yourself, "student".

But I know that having a degree will not mean that I can do a job. And I know that having a job does not mean that I would like the job I could qualify for. For instance, I would go mad having my husband's job because it would feel so bloody senseless. I've got to feel as though there is meaning and dignity and an end product to what I put my mind to. Having a finished painting is a nice thing of quality, a little "Hello, my life has some meaning." I can look at a painting as proof I exist. I'm not a drone, I'm not the same as anyone else, and nobody before me, or after me, can do exactly what I have done. I'm not saying I'm the best, because I've seen people who I feel are more creative than me or are at least creative in a different direction. What I'm saying is that painting requires me to use my mind and talent and I've been on my own relying on my own product, producing mind work every day, that putting me in a conventional situation, such as selling clothing or working a machine in a factory would make me think ill of my life. If I can't use my mind I'll be unhappy, but given the fact that I've got schizophrenia I can only use my mind for short periods of time.

How entirely lucky I am that for the short periods of time I have mental clarity, I have a task to do! And that is painting. For more than a year's time its been writing a book. Well, I've decided that some people know how to put a book together, and some people know how to put a movie together, but I know how to put a painting together. Give me pencil, a piece of paper, and I will plan a painting. Give me canvass, tubes of paints and brushes (ah, tiny brushes!) and I will execute my plan. Maybe throw in some innovation that wasn't in the original plan. I have decided that I really don't know how to put a book together. Nor even a short story for that matter. I can narrate what has happened to me and what I think, but this is not fiction. I'm not ruling out that I will never write a book, because someday I may stumble upon how its done. But there is far more satisfaction in doing something that you feel competent at, then doing something you don't know if it will ever see light of day. I know I can finish a painting. I don't know if I can finish a book. Confidence for me is a small, trembling, delicate state. My artwork, after all, doesn't sell. Well, that's not entirely true. Haven't tried that hard, and the best pieces get bought by members of my family or people who know and like me.

Tomorrow, and the day after, my mornings are free. Hurrah! I'll be painting.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Blues (But Gently)

I've lost the desire to draw. I just can't face the blank page and try to come up with something original.

And after I wrote that I put my computer away and took up my drawing notebook. I finished a plan for an 8 x 10 inch painting. I erased and drew and erased and drew with probably a few sighs and at last finished the composition. Nothing came easy. And I have this ennui toward my art that is part mild depression and part loss of confidence. I wish I could make art that thrilled me, and sometimes in the middle of things I am thrilled and confident, but I usually wind up wishing I were someone with more talent. It is like the girl who wishes she were taller with bigger boobs. I want to be someone else. This longing to be more I hope will diminish with age. Maybe I'll accept myself when I'm 50. Maybe I'll stumble upon a new style of painting that will sweep me off my feet and make me feel alive.

Tonight we are going to Staples and have my 16 x 20 inch drawing copied on a large machine and then this little one too. I have a gessoed board for the larger one already, the small one I'll have to walk down to the art supply store here in town. The prices are steep, but its location is convenient. How many artists can walk to their local supply store?

I saw my therapist yesterday and he explained himself a little more clearly to me. The "I love you" he uttered was at the end of a group therapy where everyone was hugging one another and saying "I love you" to each other. So it did not happen in private, one on one as it did with me. And it was more for this touchy feely style of therapy that he got fired over, the administration was uncomfortable with it.

My therapist said point blank that he has never had sex with a patient, has never socialized with a patient outside of therapy, and has no patients as friends.

This was a nice line drawn in the sand.

He also said that perhaps it was a mistake telling me about his firing from his job. I didn't agree nor disagree. He and I sit at two different ends of the table and it is my nature to want to know more and more about him - the curiosity is driven from feelings of transference - and I guess when I get what I want it bites me in my ass. My husband accurately pointed out that I should not be agonizing over what is happening in my therapist's life. My therapist noticed that my trust of him took a hit, this too is true. I rather imagined him as deranged. Now I think he's got a better grip on reality than before. I told him that through this period of difficulty I clung to one thing I know about him. Its something that keeps him in my esteem always.

In the certification process to become a licensed therapist you have to take a test. And on that test is a question that has only one right answer. The question is this; what would you do if you had a patient who stopped taking their medication? And the correct answer in the eyes of the powers that be is this; you stop treatment of the patient. This cold-hearted approach to doing therapy infuriated my therapist. He is absolutely against dropping a patient merely because they stopped taking their medication. And I agree with him. No matter how crazy a person becomes they deserve having a lifeline of sanity, and a therapist who sticks with them.

I personally had a therapist who used a similar threat to drop me if I didn't enter a partial hospitalization program she thought I needed. In her case the threat worked. Since I didn't want to loose my therapist I entered the hospitalization program. Its funny, I never held her manipulation of me against her. But this happened many, many years ago and I've never forgotten it. I may have my strengths, but when it comes to authority I have my weaknesses, I do bow before authority. I like playing it safe.

So the establishment, the people who makes the rules about therapy, prefer that a therapist abandons a person who has for whatever reason stopped taking their medication. This shows how those with authority will manipulate and withhold kindness - and that the patient will be bullied by most into taking medication. But I know personally the need to choose whether or not you take medication - medication that is forced upon you is like a type of rape. I mean this in the strongest sense. To forcibly have your conscious altered, without your will, without your consent, is unloving. I know that criminals will have medication forced upon them when they have proven themselves to be violent or insane without medication. Forced medication is like forced jail time. Its a woe that you bring upon yourself. And some people can't help but be criminal, just like some people can't help but be mentally ill. Society tries to defend itself against the criminal and the mentally ill with jail time and forced medication. I was lucky - I stayed off of medication and then took it when I realized that my life would be better with it than without it - but I made the choice. It is very much like the difference between consensual sex and rape, one is wholesome to the mind - when you choose to be on medication, while the other damages the mind - when medication is forced upon you.

I know very well that there are homeless people who are homeless because they are schizophrenic and because they have chosen not to take medication. Their lives are short and brutal. But they make their choices and their life is their own. It is not what I would want, indeed, I fear the life of a homeless person very much, just as I fear the life I would lead if I were unmedicated. And I pity the life the homeless lead, I pity their choice. But I do not violate their will. It is some people's will to have unadulterated full blown symptoms of mental illness. The comfort they have is slender - that they are as God made them, pure, powerful, powerless, but master of their own fate.

My minister sometimes ends up working with the homeless and mentally ill who have refused medication. She is the person who gives comfort and aid to those poor creatures who unwittingly have chosen the hardest path. Sometimes they are full of hope and gratefulness, sometimes they cry buckets of tears at a world that seems so very cruel. Taking medication when there are no side effects is easy. Of course it may bother your conscience a bit, being dependent on artificial chemicals, the unorganic human being, but when you have no side effects you don't have to be that strong. However, if you take medication and there are side effects, then you have to be very brave and noble. Many times medication means doing without - doing without a svelte figure, having medical complications such as diabetes or heart disease, feeling groggy, feeling doped up, loosing creativity, loosing energy, loosing umph and verve to your personality, doing without sex because your libido has been killed, - I know people who all suffer from the side effects just mentioned. Real people who sometimes complain, sometimes don't complain, but who have all done the figuring out that their lives are preferable with the medication rather than without. A person can stand a great amount of chaos in their lives just so that they don't have to suffer but one of the side effects I have mentioned. I know I did. I lived without medication and remain to tell the tale. I probably would be dead without medication. Still, even knowing this, I miss the umph and verve and sparkle that life unmedicated had.

Like I said earlier, I play it safe and I don't resist authority that much. This I think makes for the pliable person who will take medication faithfully.

Most people in the end, beaten down by the pain of mental illness, will turn out like me.

I'm lovingly enfolded into the arms of family and society and the church because I'm medicated. I know this as a fact. Blessings come to me because I'm medicated. I am mostly pain free because I'm medicated.

And the devil whispers in my ear "You would lose weight and sleep less if you stopped the Seroquil. Just try it. You can always go back on it. Maybe you would feel just a little less ennui and depression if you stopped the Seroquil."

Of course this makes no sense because I started taking the Seroquil because I was having suicidal fantasies. I started taking the Seroquil because my Geodone didn't diminish my illness enough.

I think I've got depression because I'm dissatisfied with my style of painting. I need to make a breakthrough. I'm going to work on 8 x 10 size paintings for a while and try some experimentation.

I'm too smart to be bored. And sometimes, how I paint, bores me.

The choice comes down to this; do I go off a medication and entertain craziness, or do I find a new way to paint that thrills me. Its like Dali taking dope to derange his senses. Except I'm the reverse, all I need to do is stop taking the dope and my senses will be deranged. And I know I'm hooked on painting because I'm looking to it to make me feel alive. Its done it before, it can do it again.

Yes, I'm looking to painting to give meaning to my life.

My hope lies in color.

I'm certain my husband would rather my hope lay in him.

For today, I'm taking my Seroquil. I shall take things one day at a time.