My creative efforts are paying off in more than just the physical manifestation of cloth piling up and asking to be pieced. Making stuff calms and centers me. It helps me to remain true to myself, and it gives back in numerous and often, immeasurable ways.
Having been diagnosed with cancer, going to doctors appointments, settling into life post-treatment is an interesting endeavor. When I was going through treatment, I used writing Dreaming from the Journal Page as a focus to keep me steady, grounded and open to Melanie as a whole, healthy, well rounded individual. Cancer and its treatment can be all consuming, and I imagine that without a grounding force, it could be quite easy to give yourself over to your diagnosis and start identifying as a patient and survivor. I knew from the start that focusing on myself, my whole self, commiting time and energy to making artwork for the book and to writing it, was going to help me get through the difficult bits and help prevent identifying too closely with being a patient.
I will always be a ‘survivor’, but I find this sort of label to to be just a single facet of a broad and sparkling life. I am also a wife, an artist, cat mom, a woman, a friend, a human being. Life can be overwhelming. The trauma of treatment, worry over recurrence can be debilitating or even just plain distracting. When we say things like, ‘art saves lives’, I can honestly say, yes, this is true. In the last 8 months, I have been actively applying art to my daily regimen of getting used to being flat chested, taking Tamoxifen, getting Zoladex shots, healing my body, mind and spirit.
Printing cloth, steaming and ironing it, sorting through it and seeing the results of my efforts is a serious dose of Self Love.
Loving what you do and refilling the well of the self is truly important and can do as much good for the body as going to museums. Last week, I went to The Morgan Library and Museum with my friend Kailey (see photo below) and I did this as a celebration of my birthday.
What you see here is the imprint of an ancient seal. Seeing the minute detail in these seals and knowing a human, at one time, held, carved and used these little pieces of magic is amazing. What you see here is the seal itself, not the carved cylinder that creates the impression (that can been seen as a tiny bit of red at far left, but I did not capture it in photograph).
While I was at that museum I also saw the illuminated manuscript show (photographs were not allowed). I love illuminated manuscripts and this collection was amazing. I like to ingest illuminated manuscripts as if watching a movie, I want to see every detail, I like to think about the monks who painted and wrote out the pages, I wonder at the symbols, the scrolls, wonder who held and used the book. This time I was able to see an illuminated manuscript owned by Pope Leo X, and there, tucked into the scroll work on the outer left edge was a unicorn…
That book was almost 500 years old… maybe even older.
I am a mere 44 years old. 🙂
Wait a minute now.
Who is this gorgeous girl? Why, it’s Kailey, a woman who photographs things with real film. Huh? I love this young woman. I can say she has interned for me, but better still, I can say we are forging the bond of a friendship that will last a lifetime. Friendships heal us too and finding people you bond with is a gift beyond measure.
Kailey reached out to me as she was finishing high school and forging a path for college and beyond. She had a final project that required she reach out to people in an area of interest to her hoped for, eventual profession. I was one of those people. You might say I mentor Kailey, And I do, but there is so much more to our friendship.
Again, this is a relationship that fills my well.
And in order to fully celebrate my birthday I needed some girl time! Cricket and her girls, Elliot and Alex, came over and I took this as an opportunity to get the girls sewing and quilting. You can’t start too early! (I must say, Cricket has a jump start here and her girls see her knitting, quilting and making stuff often). Afterward we went to Farmacy and had ice cream! Vanilla with caramel sauce… Yum.
I guess the real point of this post is to say, I am writing a perscription to broaden and expand what fills my well. I love hanging out with friends, going to museums, walking, lifting weights, making things, hanging out with my man and loving on a certain Peach colored being. These things help heal the rift caused by the traumas of cancer treatment and they help me leave the trauma behind.
One would think that after almost two years, I would have this aspect of my life wrapped up and tucked away, right? In my experience of cancer, the fight starts just after treatment ends. But we all know, even if we have never faced a diagnosis like cancer, that the only way out of a situation is through it. When we ‘stuff’ the effects of daily life, it only seeps back into our present through back channels.
I read an article in the New York Times called The Trauma of Being Alive, it’s quite a good one. It helped me. It suggests that you lean into your trauma. I like this term, I like the image of ‘leaning into’, it suggests being in control-being able to back away, but it seems gentle. I would push it a bit further though and say, ‘Lean into the trauma’ but also look to your passions and invest in yourself through them.
So what do you do to fill your well? How do you regenerate, slough off the ‘trauma of being alive’. Do you lean in, as the article suggests? When you are faced with difficult times, do you invest in yourself and your passions? Take naps, go for walks? Exercise? Bury your head in the sand? Drink some awesome beer?
How do you fill your well?
Maybe you lay on the rug and take salacious photographs of your furred friends!
5 thoughts on “Love and Happiness, filling the well.”
I think I go through various stages. I often like to bury my head in the sand by taking a nap. Sleep solves a lot of things or at least make me feel better about the dramas in my life. I like to work and be creative and bury myself in and finally I like to spend time with wonderful people. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences these past few years. You have been a great example for me and many more!
What an interesting thoughtful post! I know from the experience of a friend that the healing doesn’t end with the treatment. It takes a long time and as I can only imagine the fear of recurance is always lurking.
I like the idea of ‘leaning in’. I’ve always had the word fight in my head when things get tough with my health. I have ongoing health issues and deal with debilitating fatigue. You’re right, lean in does sound gentler, but still determined.
When I’m down, physically or emotionally, I may visit friends, grab the sketchbook, or go for a walk with my camera. Exercise plays a big part in my life. I try to do something everyday. Doing something creative saves me. I don’t know what I would have done these three years since I’ve been off work. It absorbs me and I have grown artistically.
Sigh. So much goodness in one post. Your basket of cloth had my fingers twitching to dig through and peek at all the glorious designs hidden by folds. Elliot and Alex’s energy shines through in the photo and their quilts are so color filled – joyful! I had been wondering how Kailey was adapting to college and following her heart’s desires. It is good to see the bonds that have formed and cemented. The seal, oh my! I am always in awe of the craftsmanship of artists of old. A tatted doily, carved frieze, ironwork, etc. always make me pause and reflect on the time it was created. They didn’t have excellent lighting, quality glasses, or often modern tools. They created because it was inside of them to create. A bond we have with the past. It is fitting that you included the article link in this post. When faced with trauma, illness, death, or other calamity, how does one react? The hardest lesson for me to learn in this lifetime has been that I cannot control what happens. I can only control how I react. I can curl up into a ball and pull the covers over my head, wishing for everything/one to go away. Or, I can “lean in” to the event and rationally process what is happening. I fought learning this for half my life. Once I let go, I felt freer. A friend once told me I was like the Energizer Bunny. She meant it as a slight. I took it as a compliment. Things happen, but I keep on going. I thrive. I lean in. To do otherwise would be letting life pass me by and missing opportunities that are all around. By focusing on what has happened, you give the past power over the now and the future. My Grandmother had a huge influence over my life and those influences guide me now. She had a hard life but she lived in the now. She THRIVED. I think that is why the phrase, “bloom where you are planted” has been a powerful one for me. We often have no control over our circumstances, but if we choose to bloom and thrive in the now, we will be so much happier.
What an excellent, thoughtful post!
I think that treatment od disease is really sometimes the easiest part. It is the recovery of you life that tests your stamina and resolve. I have not had cancer, but I do have chronic issues.
On bad days I try to focus on art and/or reading to get me to a more positive space where I try to forget the world that surrounds me. It is cliche I suppose, but I really do find that making art, no matter how artful the results, is what grounds me and lifts me up.
Love your basket of cloth – what a wonderful image to use to begin this post!
After going through a rough patch in creativity I am essentially going back to basics and piecing quilt tops. I finish one that will forever have your spirit of generosity embedded in its soul. Like you time with friends, getting down to the work of creativity and learning to enjoy the process is filling the well like a good soaking rain on dry grass. Life is returning.