Monday, May 23, 2011

New Monster Drawing

This is small, 8x10. I thought I'd color the monster dark, purples, blues and browns, and have the background yellow.

I sat with myself quietly today and yesterday before I did anything meaningful with my morning. I said the Lord's prayer, and tried to have a little conversation with God. It's about as close to meditation as I get. A while ago I had the practice good, time for prayer everyday, but then we got Cherry Blossom and my peace of mind was shattered. Now Cherry is 6 months old, we've had her for 4 months, and it is time to return to my former habit of centering myself emotionally in the morning.

Called my father yesterday to get his email address. He says his favorite paintings of mine are the monster paintings. So I wanted to send him an image of the finished Croc monster. We talked and he told me about a portrait convention he went to in some big city. He heard lectures and saw demonstrations. I sigh, because I live with so much isolation and I can't travel, can't summon the concentration to learn in a studio situation. I have no choice but to be self taught. My schizophrenia is so disabling, I have to live a closely scripted routine with brief jaunts away from the house. It is very much a "walk forth into the world" and then "scurry home and hide and recoup".

Part of my prayers are to accept me the way I am and not compare myself to others. I'm asking God for help in this. It simply hurts too much when I compare myself to persons without a mental illness. My Dad says he paints about 5 hours every day and that he heard this was an average for an artist. On an extraordinary day I'll paint three, but usually 2 hours is my limit.

Wondering how I would depict myself in a self portrait. Would take a photograph first, make a sketch, and then revise it by looking in a mirror. Rather funny, looking at yourself and then painting yourself. Tried it once in a drawing activity run by a painter at a clubhouse for the mentally ill. One eye turned out a bit larger and higher than the other, and as truth would have it, my eyes aren't level. But I don't just want to paint a likeness of my face, I want the portrait to have some inner psychological value. It is hard to say how me feels about me when I'm praying to God to accept myself as is.

I read a statistic that 60% of those with schizophrenia can't recognize their own illness, vs. only 25% of those with a schizoaffective disorder. My problem is that I'm too hyper aware of my illness. It doesn't work to simply orientate myself by calling myself an artist, because I'm hyper aware of being a mentally ill artist and I think I do crap work. It used to work when I was in my twenties, I called myself a student when I went to college and this helped me with coping with having a mental illness. It is death to the self to call yourself mentally ill and let that definition be the strongest thing about you - when I was in the hospital for two years the staff really tried to get me to accept that I was mentally ill. They thought that they were doing me a service by getting me compliant with taking medication for the illness. I knew that there was something terribly wrong with me, I couldn't read for instance, but I felt like I was a human being with the right to survive and exist.

I don't know why, at 43, I'm having such a difficult time owning my right to survive and exist. So I pray for guidance for a power that is greater than me, a power that my religion says is a source of love and acceptance and forgiveness. Am I having a mid-life crisis? Its about the right age for one.

This morning I woke early. I opened the bedroom door early. And Cherry Blossom kept trying to leap upon me, she was so excited that I was awake and out of bed. Her joy was infectious, and all the fuss she made was for the sake of loving me. What a way to start the day. With an animal that's crazy about you.

I think my life narrows down to my husband, my dog, and my art. A really simple life. I don't know how to engineer self-acceptance, but I think I can arrange for simple activities with times of rest inbetween.

I think that if you are aware that you have a simple life, living very much in the here and now, then you are likely to say to yourself, "what a blessing it is that I have a simple life." Thinking about the future, thinking about how other people live their life, thinking about what ifs and I wants is not living in the here and now.

The more fragile the person, the more important it is that they live in the here and now. Living in the present is a very rich place to live. Since I know that, in my gut, I've got something healthy in my outlook.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Getting Perspective

My therapist has a suggestion for dealing with my feelings of low self esteem. He said that I should sit back in my mind, and observe myself having these feelings. The most persistent one is that I'm a failure as an artist and ought to kill myself. Detach from the negative feelings, he said, don't identify with them, and try to live in a present tense that is not, (I suppose if I do it right), suffering from the feelings. When I get self hating thoughts don't live with the self hating thoughts (because they will control and like a bad path, lead to more and more pain) but instead view them from a distance where they don't control. Blackness leads to darker shades of blackness, you have to exert control and purposely change your mind or else you suffer mightily. A watcher exists within everyone and this is your higher, purer, saner self.

I said to my therapist, "That's a Buddhist technique" and he said that in all the reading he's done about spirituality, in any religion, they all suggest this form of mental detachment to obtain peace of mind.

Two weeks ago I got a phone call from a little old lady from church to update me on some of the lives of other little old ladies that I know from church and a church reading group called "women's spirit". One lady had her husband die on her, and my husband and I went to his funeral last Saturday. Another lady, who I secretly call my little fountain of joy, had been diagnosed with forth stage pancreatic cancer and was being transferred from a hospital to a nursing home. It was all grim news.

The woman whose husband died had been married for 59 years, had three children, oodles of grandchildren, a career as a nurse, and has a mind that I really admire. She is the main person who runs a volunteer food pantry one town over, and she and the people who work under her feed a lot of poor, needy people with really good food. Not only does she organize and run the food pantry, but she volunteers once a week playing the piano and singing at an institution for badly brain damaged children. Most of the children are so sick they don't talk or even open their eyes, but they seem to respond happily to the music. Live music hits them on a gut level. She did all this and took care of her husband who was badly diabetic and in poor physical shape. She cooked, cleaned, kept house, and accompanied her husband to his numerous doctor visits or hospital treatments. In our reading group, women's spirit, she is often outspoken and I really like the way her mind travels. She is interested in living life in the best possible way, not sinking into emotional mess, but carefully tending her thinking like it was a garden, and helping the strongest most beautiful emotions thrive. Spirituality interests her, of any religion, because it helps balance and promote peaceful thought.

Yesterday at women's spirt group I was describing how I push myself to paint even when I don't feel like it. I argue with myself, I play rock and roll music to try to soak up some of the energy of the fast sound, I basically fight back at the symptoms of amotivation that schizophrenia causes in me. It can be really hard to paint. I might look at the painting and know exactly where I want to put some color, but then I lack the willpower to lift the brush and make the stroke on the canvass. So I split into two parts, the sick part that doesn't want to do anything and the motivated part that has a plan, and wants to see the painting eventually finished. The two parts struggle, and usually, I win the struggle and painting happens. It may be that without the extra seroquil, I'm having a rougher time with the negative symptom of amotivation, even though I feel more awake and less drugged.

Joanne, this 81 year old woman who I admire so and who just lost her husband, said to me, what if you stepped back and observed the two parts of you engaged in this struggle to paint? And I thought about it, I thought about watching myself already divided, and I said, "I think that this third unattached witness is very forgiving." And Joann nodded like I had said something that she too had experienced as true.

I told my peer support group about the effects of extra Geodone and Seroquil together as making me feel super tough and nicely energized, and the group suggested I stay on the combination. But I told them I wanted a chance at loosing weight. And the group said that I wasn't overweight. All I know is that as the way things are now, after I eat dinner, I can stop eating for the day. It takes some willpower, but my willpower isn't defeated by the Seroquil. After dinner last night I was full, and I said to my husband that it was nice knowing that I wouldn't be in the refrigerator at 10pm having another meal. And true to my prediction, I didn't overeat.

I said to my therapist that even if I had never developed schizophrenia I probably would be in therapy for feelings of low self esteem. Somehow, I think they are an illusion and simple bad habit. For me they started in childhood. I remember about a month ago being in a church retreat with a new woman whose name was Cynthia who I immediately, instinctively liked. Cynthia was born in Ireland has has the most musical accent. She is also warm, intelligent, and sincere. And to my shock, after group had met for a while, she confessed of feelings of self loathing. She wasn't just sitting with these feelings, she was trying to combat them, but I wondered how such a beautiful human being could feel so low about oneself. And my first reaction was "Needless! Suffering occurring in the wrong place! Good people should know their own worth!"

I hope, that with age, experience, and the will to reflect and stand back from myself, I can try to live with more self acceptance.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Finished Painting

This is titled, "Croc Monster". It is small, 8x10 inches and done in oil on panel.

I'm pretty satisfied. The photograph looses subtle shades of color, but this is a colorful and busy painting. It is part of my monster series, a series where I get to free hand draw from my imagination and paint in a style that is freer from convention than what I'm used to, although, to my liking, not yet free enough. The challenge here was to paint as much detail of space and yet not intrude too much on the figures, to have them read as real. I wish I could do atmosphere, I wish I could do painterly, but I have to experiment if I'm to head in that direction. I fear that as much as I try, I can't get away from the self-taught primitivism of literalism. I'm like "oh, don't smear the paint!" and work with tiny brushes, making tiny shifts in color.

Originally the redish fox monster was a plant, but I thought "too boring" and painted over the plant. Unfortunately the lines of the underpainting are present, like wrinkles on the canvass, and it would have been nice to have planned the painting from its drawing conception with the extra monster being built up from smooth primer. I must remember - get the drawing right! And more monsters, the merrier!

Yesterday I painted for three hours straight. Wiped me out. Today I noticed difficulty in painting. At first the decisions were easy, but then I lost energy and it was hard to execute on the painting the idea I had in my mind. I could see what I wanted done, and yet, I didn't have the willpower handy to move the brush. I would listen a little to music, and then summon my guts, and do a little painting. It was stop, go, stop, go, and I believe this is because of the schizophrenia. Working is hard because I lack willpower, but luckily, my personality has determination. I was going to sit in front of the painting, even if I just stared at it, until I got the energy to finish it.

Last Monday I met with my medication nurse and she told me that she had read new literature on my main anti-psychotic Geodone that said it was safe to prescribe a higher dose. I wanted a higher dose so that I could get rid of my second anti-psychotic, Seroquil, which causes weight gain in me. For two days now I've been on maximum Geodone and my apatite is something I definitely can control. Happy am I when I leave the refrigerator alone, and don't open the kitchen cabinets, on a hunger driven quest for food! Should I grow unstable on the maximum dose of Geodone than I have to add the Seroquil again, but there is a bright side to this eventuality. Extra Geodone, pluse Seroquil, makes me into a very strong and capable person. For the few days that I was switching over and titrating the medication I was energetic and happy and busy. I just don't get the same symptoms of my schizophrenia with the extra Seroquil, mostly, a feeling of being brittle and emotionally fragile. I'm afraid that on Geodone I will always have times of feeling that the world is too much for me and that all I want to do is withdraw, the trick is, can I still function and not tip into depression, paranoia, and suicidality? How much sickness can I bear in order to fit into smaller sized clothing? Will the extra Geodone really replace the Seroquil in some small, but essential way? Have to wait, take the medication, and learn.

Without the Seroquil I'm also sleeping differently. Its nice to wake up in the morning not feeling medicated for two or three hours. I find that the transition from sleep into work is much quicker - I've got energy and can shake off the sleep quicker. Instead of starting to paint at 11 or 12 I'm ready to go at 9am. This means I can fit more activities into my day - as long as I'm emotionally up for more activity. Schizophrenia for me makes me wish to pull into myself like a snail pulling into its shell.

I'm going to buy another 8x10 gessoed panel and plan another oil painting monster. I think the next one the monsters should be interacting with one another. Not simply standing as though they are posing for a photograph.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

New Drawing

This is a painting I owe as an exchange of gifts. E made my website, I owe him a painting.

The drawing is just a plan for a painting. There's a girl in a yellow dress standing next to a cougar, oh well, I don't know what kind of cat it is, but the cat has spots and has more orange than the pale yellow dress of the girl. There is a large bat in the air over them. E likes bats. Any painting I make for E has to have a bat in it. The girl and the cat stand in a field of little purple and white violets, the flowers get smaller as they recede into the distance, as do the trees. In the background is a castle and water mote and a galloping horse. Mountains in the distance, and the sky behind the bat is a glorious sunset, shades of red, pink, orange and then a blue that bleeds into purple. The greens of the land will vary too; the flowers and trees will be one green, the grass another green, and the mountains in the distance will be less green, shifting to blue. Don't know yet what color the ribbon in the girl's hair will be.

E said he likes color and except for the black of the bat, I think I can give him a lot of color in this painting.

The drawing took almost exactly five days, started it on a Monday and finished it on Friday.

Yesterday I was working on another drawing, which happens to have a different type of bat in it. "Draw the bat first, and the rest of the things will fall into place." So I drew half a bat. I looked at the clock and it was only 9am in the morning. But I was tired. And I got mad at myself. "You've only worked half an hour, and your exhausted? You can't be an artist like that. You have to do more, everyday. Maybe if you listened to some music, the music would give you energy and you can draw some more." So I put on some music and listened quietly. Still no energy to draw more on the bat. So I talked to myself again. "Just the ears. That's all you have to draw. Just the bat ears." They were rather large ears. And I started drawing them. The music must have given me some energy because then I started on the second bat wing. I did most of it, but lost my concentration again when trying to draw its foot. So the bat only has one foot, but it is mostly complete. I think by the time I finished drawing it was 11am, a good chunk of time had gone by. Some of that time I was simply listening to music and trying to find the willpower to return to my drawing. Empty time, sitting alone, staring off into space, with a fog of mental resistance inside of me.

Willpower and the concentration to carry out a task is something that my schizophrenia takes away from me. I have to carry on internal conversations sometimes to boost myself into action. Walking downtown? No easy undertaking. But it was what I wanted to do next after drawing the bat. I had to push through mild or moderate paranoia, fear of people and exposure under the open sky. I have to push through these emotions, at least lay them aside with something very similar to courage. It feels like I have to summon courage to walk downtown by myself. But yesterday the sun was shining, and I was wearing a pretty skirt and jacket with scarf, and by the time I arrived downtown I felt capable of hanging around in some of the stores. Once I had put the plan into action, I felt a little carried away with it. I was downtown, in a mass of colorful, happy people, and I wanted to stay downtown. Maybe it was the good brain chemicals released by a little exercise. I actually had the guts to walk into an art gallery and have a conversation with the gallery owner. I critiqued her star artist's latest show.

If E doesn't like the plan for his painting I guess I'll have to draw him something different. But I hope he likes it. It is hard to tell, just from some pencil outlines, what the final thing will look like.

Have to draw a pig holding a gun tomorrow. A tough image.

But I like the challenge.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Vincent, Theo, Beauty and the Beast

My husband has made several observations.

He ordered from Amazon the complete seasons of the TV series "Beauty and the Beast". After we watched the first episode (I had never seen the show) he turned to me and said, "I am like Beauty and you are like the Beast. I get to live in the sunlight, in the social world, having a normal life, and you have to live underground, away from sight." I can only assume that he felt that while the Beast was physically disfigured, I am mentally disfigured. But it is true that the number of social interactions I have during the day is limited, has to be limited. I can't bear too much social contact. There is a great degree of self imposed isolation in my life.

For instance, this Sunday I have to limit myself. I want to go to church, haven't been for a while, but it is Mother's Day and I'm giving a lunch for my mother. It crossed my mind that I could invite her to go to church with me, and that we could lunch after. It sounds so simple, one activity smoothly flowing into another, but I'm afraid. I'm afraid that going to church will so deplete my emotional reserves that after I will have to struggle through lunch, sitting at the kitchen table with my head down, staring at my food and making no conversation with my mother. I want to do both activities, go to church and socialize with my mother, but it seems that I have to choose. I don't have the mental resources to do both.

And, after watching a documentary on Vincent Van Gogh, my husband announced, "I am like Theo and you are like Vincent." This too seems to be correct. My husband works and provides for me and I have enormous freedom to focus on making art. Theo provided Vincent with everything from money for rooming and food to canvas and tubes of paint. In return, Vincent wrote to Theo almost every day. My husband can't get out of his head the fact that Theo died six months after Vincent's death - the two lives seemed so existentially linked. In fact, as my husband views it, my only responsibility is to keep myself well - making art is just a bonus. My job is to maintain emotional stability, keep myself out of the hospital, and keep myself from harboring thoughts of suicide.

Monday I could not stop thinking, "If I had a gun, I would shoot myself in the head with it." It was a very impulsive and carefree thought - just do it, get it over with, end all suffering. Probably it was just me having a temper tantrum - life seemed too difficult at that moment and I wanted an escape. It was painful to be so focused on self destruction. The day prior, Sunday, we had had a long luncheon with my step-daughter and her boyfriend and my husband thinks the stress of that social necessity had caused me to become ill the next day. I know too on Monday I had several duties outside the home to preform - errands - and I had to start a new drawing and I was very unhappy with my creative powers. I got essential work done out in the community but I felt small and ordinary and lost when it came to starting the drawing. I think one of the worst things an artist can think about themselves is "I'm not creative".

Its' taken a week of effort at that drawing, but I should finish it tomorrow. I'm a lot happier with it now, it kinda sings to me and I'm excited to make it into an oil painting. It feels less of a failure and more of a success. When I finish this drawing I'm not going to start painting right away - I want to make a second drawing. I've got an idea, its pretty hazy and I don't quite know how I'm going to manage it, but the killing of Bin Laden cracked something open in me and I have to follow where it leads, and try to make it real. I've had reactions to world events before that prompted drawings. For the most part nobody would know that there is a connection unless I told them. I'm afraid that the only theme of my next drawing is violence. I'm so pro-death and anti-death, two directions in one mind, that the result is imagery that seems absurd and ridiculous. A picture that could never make sense literally. I'm reminded of the Dada movement in France, how the artists reacted with the urge to make nonsense after the horrors of World War I.

I feel very patriotic - I'm proud of President Obama for the risky decisions he made and I'm proud of the SEALS for the heroism and steel that is part of their nature and I was deeply saddened by the events of 9/ll, but I'm also against killing, murder, and assassination. I believe in locking up sociopaths to protect society from them. I understand that killing the bad guy is cleaner, cheaper, and less problematic politically. Most people equate revenge with justice. So I can see all the options and I can't choose. In essence I'm no good at making any decision except for color - and I wish all my choices in life had to do with nothing more beautiful than to put one color next to another color.

The violence in the world, and the desire to do violence to myself, is almost too much to bear.

I think art is an escape for me.

I think I make art because I have to make art. It has become a survival tactic.