Saturday, September 3, 2011

Turtle Time

I would really like to get a turtle tattooed on my arm. On my inner arm, where the sun shines less and the skin is pale and thin and hairless.

My step-sister has a lot of colored tattoos and she takes really good care of them with sunscreen. One whole arm is covered with design. After many years the lines are crisp and the colors haven't faded. If I get a tattoo I'll have to put sunscreen on it everyday.

My step-sister's mother got a small rose tattoo on the back of her shoulder. She tans a lot, and the sun has completely destroyed the tattoo and it really looks awful. Like a dark smudge on her shoulder. So I've seen the difference between careful preservation and unthinking exposure.

There's a reason for a turtle, and a turtle on my arm. People wear watches on their wrists to see what time it is. Like wearing a watch, I want to be able to glance down at myself and know what time it is. Glance down, and remind myself, its turtle time! Time to remember to live my life as slowly and as deliberately as a turtle.

I've got an artist's pen and ink drawing of a turtle and it isn't a cute turtle, its an ancient looking turtle. Like a prehistoric dinosaur turtle. The picture says that this is a turtle with wisdom and hardiness.

The pace of society is simply too fast for me. When I try to enter the stream of normal social activity I get fatigued. Not sleepy, but emotionally drained. And after I get emotionally drained I suffer symptoms of schizophrenia.

I've been draining myself completely. Yesterday in the shower I was saying, again and again out loud, "dear God help me". When my husband came home from work all I could do is lie on the sofa and say "I'm sick. I'm sick. I'm sorry. I'm sick." He rubbed my feet and gave me extra medication.

I've come to the conclusion that I keep myself invested in living by throwing myself against a challenge every day. Usually that challenge is painting. I push my limitations and use all of my concentration on a project. I'm a person with schizophrenia who has trouble concentrating. Not all schizophrenics do, but I do. And frequently, I lack energy. So to commit myself for two to three hours most mornings to using the best of my concentration and decision making skills to paint is really rocking the boat. If I wanted to live safe and easy I wouldn't be making paintings.

It did not come natural to me being an artist. Over time its become important, but at first my true love was writing. I only started making art seriously when I was 28, oil painting at 30, and even then, there have been year long stretches when I haven't made any art and threw myself instead into a writing project.

My drawing skills are nothing special. My technique is fundamental and untutored. Do I get the medium of oil paint? Not naturally. Not intuitively. I'm no savant. I'm no prodigy. All I've got on my side is determination. I try. I try hard. Not the same kind of trying hard of an art student or professional artist because usually they don't have schizophrenia. I try hard as a schizophrenic. Someone who is thin skinned and mentally impaired. Hey, I don't shy away at that description. Its accurate.

There's a way that the owners of art galleries like to see their stock. The end product is what is judged. A work of art stands alone and is compared to other works of art. That's the way to run a business. They don't care to give you extra points because you are a schizophrenic artist. Unless of course your schizophrenia affects the creative process and the result is something outrageous to the eye. Being schizophrenic is like being Chinese. So you come from a foreign land they say. But can you paint? Does your background and culture get into your art, affect it, and make it look different from other art? Because what we are looking for, as gallery owners, is something that stands out from the average.

Turtle time informs me of a a lot of truths because I've got fixed in my mind Aesop's fable of the tortoise and the hare. The race that was run between the tortoise and the hare that the tortoise won.

The rabbit had all the gifts. He was a natural winner. Long lengs, long strides, abundant energy, easy time running, he felt confident. What in comparison did the tortoise have? The tortoise only had single minded determination. He had focus and willpower. He probably lacked humor. He was in a race where he looked ridiculous, against a being that nature had given all the gifts of speed to. Meanwhile, he was squat and short legged and carried a heavy burden on his back wherever he went. But he must have said to himself, "My God, I'm going to try. I'll set my mind on the finish line and let no other thought cross my path. I'm in a good mental space. I'm committed. Eventually, I'm certain, I will cross the finish line. I'm going to give this race the best of what I've got, I'm going to give it everything that I've got."

Meanwhile, what did the hare say to himself? It must have been all self praise. His greatest defect wasn't physical. His greatest defect was attitude. He relaxed and played and had none of the seriousness of the tortoise. How the hare must have laughed at his opponent! "You beat me, you best me, that's against the laws of nature! I can tell before we start this race who is going to win and who is going to lose. Silly tortoise, you are delusional. You shouldn't even try. For every one effortless bound I make, you have to make four painstaking shuffling steps. I'll be gone, ahead, and out of sight before you make the littlest significant progress. Eat my dust!"

Of course pride went before the fall. But what about the pride of the tortoise? He had just as much a strong ego as the hare. Remember, he pitted himself against a superior opponent. He dared to dream. Or else he set his goal singularly and committed every last drop of strength to that goal. He could not have foreseen the silliness and inconsistency of the hare. The one promise that the tortoise could make to himself and keep was that he would finish the race. That alone was a huge challenge. Maybe for the tortoise to come in second, just to cross the distance, was a win. He wanted to do something extraordinary, not perhaps win, just run the race.

If I get a turtle tattoo it is going to be in a place that I can easily see and it is to remind myself of a philosophy of life. Withdraw and hide when you have to. Keep it slow and easy. Stay committed and single minded. Turn a blind eye to the creatures that nature has endowed with special gifts. Don't envy them, don't be discouraged by their ability, just focus on what you can do and what you feel is possible. And sometimes, as Aesop's fable promises, you will win the race. The outcome is very uncertain, but as a turtle, it is your duty to simply give the race your best effort.

As a turtle, as a human, you will sleep well knowing that you have given life your best effort.

The only trouble with getting a tattoo is that I'm afraid of physical pain. For instance, I loath going to the dentist. I've fainted having blood drawn. And I've fainted having my knee examined. Kid you not, I was running regularly with my boyfriend and had a sports related injury. Just a heavy handed manipulation of a hurt knee cap was more than I could take. To say that I'm a chicken is putting it mildly. I have no tattoos, I don't know what I will be able to endure. It is best, therefore, to get a small tattoo somewhere else on my body to give myself a taste of what I'm in for. The worst thing in the world would be an unfinished turtle tattoo on my forearm.

Of course there are some tricks. I could drink before getting the tattoo or take extra narcotics. I took extra narcotics when I had my nose pierced and joked heavily with the fellow that put the needle through the thick middle part of my nose. We got along like gangbusters. Not much terror after the drugs, just flying high spirits. Alcohol puts me is a place of bliss too. I'm a very happy, floating kind of drunk. The problem with alcohol is that it interferes with my medication and for several days afterwords my mood is off, I feel fragile and depressed.

I'd have to really, really want the turtle to go through with all the pain. And I'd have to save up my money as well. I want a fellow artist, someone with natural illustrative skills, to put permanent ink in my body. If someone is really good, they are going to cost extra. Wouldn't you research the doctor who was preforming plastic surgery? See what his other patients ended up looking like? Yes, I want someone who has been making tattoos for a long time and has artistic ability that surpasses my own.

When I own artwork, I like it to impress me. I'd like to think, "I could never draw that turtle as well!"

Instituting turtle time in ink on my arm takes pause to think about the endeavor first.

1 comment:

  1. I found this page when I was googling, "tortoise and the hare forearm tattoo" and I was shocked when I saw a link related to schizophrenia. My brother was recently diagnosed with severe schizophrenia and I've been worrying about how happy he will be throughout his life. I looked at other parts of your blog after reading this and it was extremely reassuring seeing how happy and self sufficient you are. I love the idea of getting a tattoo to help cope with mental illness. Hang in there and know that your story truly brightened my day.


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