Cool fall morning. Lavender scarf. Dogs running through tall grass. Slanting early sunlight. Golden wooded trails. The sharp smell of something green and growing. Frost on the studio roof. A double espresso. Comfortable gray sweater. A long day of painting, beginning with this post.
I just want to send a great big thank you for all of the supportive and thoughtful comments, messages, phone calls and emails that I got after writing about Anu this past week. You have no idea how blessed it makes me feel to have such incredibly loving people in my life.
Although I don't have a lot of time to write, I just wanted to let you know that she is doing better. Not perfect, but much better.
For now, we are giving her pain medication to make her feel more comfortable and she is responding really well to it. Her tests showed mixed results. There are some abnormal cells, but no conclusive answers just yet. She will need to get more tests for us to know for sure if it's cancer or not, but since treatment is not really an option due to her age and the size of the lump, we will just keep a close eye on her and bring her back to the vet for another look in a week or two.
In the process of all of this, we've been lucky to find a really wonderful vet in our area. Since moving, our regular vet is an hour away, too far for Anu to travel under the circumstances. Knowledgeable and caring veterinary care means a lot to me--and Dr. Geoffrey Passe of Cannon Valley Vet Clinic is just that. They got us in, despite a tight schedule and took the time we needed to make Anu feel a bit better and to put my husband and I at ease.
I admit that I was a bit of a wreck when I called in. With last minute preparations for a major show and magazine photo shoot also on my plate, this has been a very full week. Anu got sick right smack dab in the middle of it all and I think my heart came just as close as it ever could to breaking into a million peices. I can't even tell you how grateful I am to still have Anu by my side as I continue these long days of working and painting. Every time I look down at her, every time I touch her, every time I kiss her or hug her or feed her or look into her big brown beautiful eyes or even just think about her...I am filled with relief that the Universe decided to give me a break and grant me more time with her.
I was just seriously not ready to say goodbye. I never will be...but I am grateful for every single extra moment I'm given--whether it's a week or a year. I snuggle my face deep into her neck (my favorite part of her) and breathe deep the sweet smell of her wolfie hair. She stays closer to my side than she ever has before. We are savoring each other--all of us. We might have some tough days ahead, but right now there is happiness in her eyes. And I remind myself that this might be nothing at all. Whatever it is, in a very big way, it has caused me to appreciate what I have right here and now.
Thank you, Dr. Geoffrey, for helping us out during a difficult and scary time. Thank you, friends, for doing the same. Your stories, love, and well wishes mean a lot--to all of us.
I've been meaning to write my introduction to Jamie Ridler's new book group, The Joy Diet by Martha Beck, for over a week now. I'm just going to go with the "better-late-than-never" motto and leave it at that. Anyway, today is just as good a day as any to start since I just came back from experiencing a blissful (massively blissful) moment of Nothing.
You see, I recently relocated to the edge of the Universe. We moved from the middle of a big city to a vineyard in the middle of nowhere. We traded in the bungalow we were living in for an earth home nestled in the middle of 50 acres. We call it our "hobbit castle" and, like hobbits, we have found ourselves to be very happy here. There is a big willow tree that graces the yard in front of our house and, beyond that, a pond visited by egrets and blue herons, wild geese, frogs and turtles, coyotes and bobcats, too. Beyond the pond are hardwood forests and a pasture inhabited by two brown horses and one white. I am most fascinated by the white horse and have really begun to love mornings, when our world is filled with so much mist that I can just barely make out those beautiful creatures beyond. At night, the sky is filled with stars.
This morning I got up early to turn off the windmill. It was windy last night. And that's another thing I've grown to love out here: the wind. You see, our water is generated by an old school windmill and then gravity fed from the vineyard to the house. We have to turn the windmill on every few days to fill up the well...and turn it off a day or two later so that it doesn't over-fill. Needless to say, living here is causing us to become very connected to the weather and our use of water. The second half of summer was still and windless. Running out of water is a horrible pain in the arse and so wind-sounds cause me to feel over-joyed, even with the subtlest of breezes.
I got up today in the early half-light of morning. I was starting to clench my teeth with worry over everything I need to accomplish in the next week and a half and decided that it would be best if I just got up and enjoyed my day instead of getting myself tangled up in my brain while laying in bed. It was too early for Vinny and the dogs to get up and so I had the quiet beginning of the day all to myself. I put on my husband's thick, fleecy sweatshirt and hiked up the path to the vineyard to turn off the windmill and, in the process, decided that I would treat myself to a nice big dose of Nothing.
Oh, Nothing. Sweet Nothing.
Why is Nothing such a complicated little nugget of goodness? Rather, Nothing is quite simple. It's just the getting there that is sometimes complicated.
If you've been a reader of my blog for any length of time, you probably already know pretty well what I'm like. I'm not very good at Nothing and I AM very good at overwhelming, overextending and overbooking myself. I am the Goddess of High Pressure. Or something like that.
In moving to this magical little oasis at the edge of the Universe, I decided that I wanted to change that about myself. Then I got sick. I got really sick and wasn't able to work for almost an entire month. That was frustrating and good for me all at once. You would think that this would have been a good lesson in The Art of Nothing--and it was--but then the other half of life and all its demands came crashing in on the other side of it with deadlines that cannot be moved and expectations that involve a lot of other people. I found myself with only a few weeks to create an entire art show--which is the activity that I am smack dab in the midst of right now. Among other things.
OK...so being overwhelmed and too busy is the story of my past. BUT what if I don't want that to be my story any more? Well, then I need to start telling myself a new story.
And so here it is...no matter what's going on, I need to start reminding myself that I DO have time for Nothingness. To prove this to my slow learning self, I am hereby committing myself to at least 15 minutes of Nothingness every day for the course of this book group. Thank you very much, Martha Beck.
This morning Nothingness looked like this: A sleepy girl with tousled and disheveled bed head walking up a path lined with crimson sumac and wild plums. She gets to the top of the hill and notices an overflowing well. Water! She is happy. She is also alone. No dogs, no chatter, no phone, no nothing. It is just herself and the morning. She feels a bit nauseous from hunger because she didn't eat enough the day before and asks herself: what does my body need right now? She appreciates the way Nothingness causes her to ask herself this question because, in her bones, she feels it is a good question.
She walks the length of the vineyard, row after row of grapes hanging thick and heavy on the vines. She stops occasionally to taste them and is reminded of childhood Sweet Tart flavors--except these flavors are better. They contain something of both the earth and sky. She turns down a particularly inviting row and, once she gets to the middle, flanked on both sides by grape vines, she lays down in the dewy grass and--for the first time in several days--she breathes.
Deep blue sky-filled breaths.
She breathes and notices the feel of grass on her hands and neck and in her hair. She notices the way the grapevines and solidago plants look from underneath. She notices the color of the sky. She notices the change in temperature and that she has a body. She notices that it has been a long time since the last time she visited Nothingness. She decides that Nothingness is good medicine and is glad that she decided to get up early and that the windmill needed to be turned off and that it led her to that moment of lying in the grass in the middle of the vineyard in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the sky in the middle of everything.
When she gets up again her eyes see the world around her with a bit more vibrant colors. She feels the wind in her hair and it feels good. She notices that the landscape rolls in layers of dips and peaks, a patchwork of incredible colors: gold, orange, green, red, yellow. She notices the shells of recently hatched turtles and wonders if they are from the same tiny baby black turtles she found outside her studio door a few days ago.
She decides that Nothingness feels good. She remembers that she has the power to change her story if she really, really wants to because, mostly, it is just a matter of perspective anyway.
She comes down the trail from the vineyard and, at the bottom is met by her dogs with wildly wagging tails. They are beside themselves with happiness. And so is she.
Welcome to Nothingness.
I am looking forward to the journey that lies ahead of us.
Last night I slept on the floor of my studio with my wolfie girl, Anu. It's a garage, really. Complete with mice and spiders and things that go bump in the night. But I would do anything for my dogs. And they would do anything for me. My twelve year old babe is not doing very well. If you've been reading this blog over the past few years, then you know how important she is in my life. I am exhausted. My eyes are so swollen from crying that they are starting to hurt. I am beside myself with grief and yet I keep telling myself to buck up because she might just pull through--at least for awhile and, who knows, maybe even longer.
I honestly didn't know if she'd make it through the night, but decided against emergency vet care because I could not stand the thought of being told that I'd have to leave her there, alone, without the ones who love her. My worst fear is of her dying alone. No one should die alone. Not even a dog.
But we made it to morning. A few tests and bloodwork later, we're not sure what's going on with her. She has a large growth that might be cancerous and maybe not. It's been there for a long time, but recently it's started changing, at a rapid rate. Her bloodwork pointed to some abnormalities, but nothing 100% conclusive. If it is cancer, there's not much we can do except make her last days comfortable--whether it be 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 months or 6 years. She is, after all, an old girl. We've been advised to simply take it one day at a time. I'm trying to remind myself of that. I tell myself to stay present, lest I melt into a puddle of tears.
To make matters worse, I have approximately 2 weeks to complete 9 portraits in preparation for an opening and major event that takes place on October 8th. After getting sick and not being able to work for almost a month, I am mondo-behindo. I am tired. This year (numero 34) has been a somewhat hellacious journey and I am just so tired of pulling magic out of my ass. I will do it again. Magic is, after all, a specialty of mine. So far, I have deeply enjoyed the time spent painting in preparation for this show. It seems like an impossible feat to accomplish in such a short amount of time, but I have surprised myself before and have no doubt that I'll somehow be able to do it again.
I paint from such a deep place of love. It is hard to paint while Anu lays next to me in pain. My heart breaks. Not yet knowing if it is her time...I feel torn into a millions pieces. I will let her go when it is time. I don't want to. But I will. I paint with my heart up wide open. That's just the way it works. I am glad to experience such a profound sense of love through the work I do, but holy hell. I feel like I might metaphorically bleed to death (or maybe just cry to death, if that's an option).
On Saturday a magazine will be coming out to do a photo shoot of my studio for an upcoming feature. I am so excited about it. The photographer, whose clients include Life , Real Simple, Modern Bride...she's incredible. But, I admit, much of my energy flew right out the window when Anu got sick. Last night I kept getting this image of the photographer showing up to take photos of my red, swollen eyes and no Anu--which is not, by any stretch of the imagination, my idea of an ideal photoshoot. At the moment, I just feel haggard. I feel the need for an ice pack and some sleep. I feel the need for a big long snuggles with my girl. All of which I am going to indulge myself in--because there is no other way I'm going to make it through the next couple weeks unless I do.
Right now, Anu is asleep on the floor near my feet. Behind me, my other dogs, Louie and Ella, they have their legs wrapped around each other in sweet muggle-puffin play. They know something is up, their movements are especially quiet and gentle. Louie, my Chessie, is the most sensitive. His thoughtful expression breaks my heart again. Both the pups stop and sniff Anu and keep a watchful eye on her. We stay close and surround her with love.
Needless to say, my world is filled to the brim. So much love that I feel it sharply, painfully. Maybe everything is going to be alright. No matter what the outcome, in the end, I know it will be alright. But life just seems to be happening all at once these days. And, damn. This is just a bit too much.
This is about the time of year when I start to get sick of warm weather. I begin to yearn for coolness of air. It inspires me, causes me to breathe deeper and has a way of expanding my body and brain from the inside out. I am a woman of winter, who loves fall without a doubt.
Yesterday I did something interesting. I went to visit a woman named Sage who taught me Shamanic Journeying. She traveled with me to find my power animal and also showed me how to find my human spirit guide.
I've learned a lot about myself since yesterday. I walked away with a lot of insight and information and a source to return to whenever I need it. I got a glimmer of what lies in front of me. It is incredible and colorful and expansive.
And so this is a bit of what it entails...
I'm going to start eating and cooking beautifully. I'm going to take belly dancing lessons--and might even work on getting good enough to perform. I'm going to sit in the woods and paint pictures of mushrooms. I'm going to walk and meditate up on the hill in the vineyard. I'm going to walk deep in the woods and beyond. I'm going to invite magic to infuse my senses. I'm going to stretch and listen to wild music while I paint. I'm going to drink wine and tea and build bonfires and have fun. I'm going to start watching out for myself. I'm going to become more sacred and irreverent all at once. I'm going to start doing lots of things and stop doing lots of other things. I'm going to cackle and dance and paint dogs. I'm going to bring women together. I'm going to fly and stomp and leave this dimension entirely, at least for awhile. I'm going to spend time with water. I'm going to spread my wings to the current of the wind. I'm going to write. I'm going to eat tomatoes from the garden. And wild plums along the way. I'm going to shed my old self.
You would be amazed by how many blog posts I write in my head every day. Never mind that they don't actually make it to my blog, but it does seem to be my method of making sense of this experience called LIFE.
These days I'm fluctuating somewhere in the middle. What I mean by that is that I seem to be in a holding pattern somewhere between starting to feel better (from my Rocky Mountain Horror Syndrome--yes, I'm being dramatic here) and still not feeling good at all. It is frustrating. I start to feel better and, therefore, treat myself to something wonderful like and afternoon of boutique browsing with my mom and--whamo(!)--I end up feeling like a piece of crap again.
I don't know if I'm sick from being sick or sick from the antibiotics used to treat it. Luckily, today is my last day of the antibiotics which means that I will at least be able to read my body a bit better. Yuck. I hate writing about being sick. It feels pathetic and weak. And I think that is one of the things that I hate about not feeling good. Pathetic and Weak are two states of mind that I prefer to avoid. Then again, I am fully aware of the fact that I have needed to be smacked down like this in order to knock some sense into me. I needed to slow down. I needed to shift gears and readjust for whatever is coming into my life next. As I've mentioned before, there is a transformation happening. I feel it, even if I don't yet understand the details and particulars.
Last night I laid in bed unable to sleep. My mind was racing with all the things I have to do and remember. One of the good things about getting sick is that it caused me to stop doing this for awhile. I hate the thought of this mental racing returning and so I got up to sleep on the couch and, in the process, wrapped myself in a blanket to do some meditating.
The thing is that my mind was not really racing in its usual way. It was going through all the details of things I have to do...but what I was really doing was trying to figure out what is next. I was trying to figure out the missing piece of the mysterious puzzle that is stretched out before me.
Last night I watched a video by Goddess Leonie. She talked about a meditation in which she surrounded herself with angels. I loved this idea. It seemed as though it would be helpful, comforting, and good. And so I sat nestled on the couch between the warmth of two dogs and a thick afghan blanket. I imagined myself (only semi-successfully) being surrounded by angels and repeated the question: "What's next? How should I move forward?" I sat with that question for 10 or 15 minutes until, finally, a deep sleepiness took over me. There was a part of me that was frustrated with not being able to see the answer to my question (I was, after all, hoping for a divine sort of vision). There was another part of me that was just grateful to feel my body relax. The feeling of exhaustion makes it really hard to believe in yourself sometimes.
Sleeping helped to rejuvenate my spirit just enough. I woke with a pin-prick of memory of the horses that live at the end of our (very long) driveway. I have made a promise to myself to spend time walking in the vineyard or woods. Alone. Without dogs or husband or distraction. I am dedicating myself to this half hour walking meditation--every day. Last night my walk took me through the woods and down the drive way. It brought me to 3 brown horses and a white one.
When I got there I just stood and watched them. The white one, in return, watched me. It was nothing special and something very powerful all at once. Yes, a pin-prick of energy is the only way I know how to describe it. Like a zing between the horse's eyes and mine. I looked at her body in the light of the setting sun and decided that, yes, I am capable of painting her.
You see, the body of a horse is different than anything that I've ever painted before. I understand dogs and cats because they have always existed closely in my life. Horses, although I've spent time with them, I do not have such a strong understanding of. Their bodies are magnificent and mysterious to me. With paint, I want to get it right. I want to do their muscles and nuances justice. I want to be able to capture their individual and unique spirit, their energy--and, if I can't do that, then I don't want to paint them at all. This is not about perfection. It is about connection.
I keep going back to this idea and, yet, although it sounds silly, I still can't seem to find my way in to the center of it.
I also feel a "falling away" of other details in my life. In some ways this feels sad to me. Some of these details include relationships and interactions as I currently know them. This is difficult to explain since I am not cutting out any friendships. I guess you could just say that my role in them is changing. It is a type of letting go. But in letting go there is a bit of loss involved--even when letting go is a step in a new and energetic direction. This direction will most definitely still include dogs. I am in a state of constant amazement by how inspired I am with new ideas for how I want to paint them--it is like a light that never turns off.
And, in this process, there is some part of this that is trying to break off. There is probably a geological term for this. I think, really, what is trying to happen is that my higher self is trying to do something that I have not yet done. Whatever it is that is trying to manifest itself in me is requiring a lot of independence. It is requiring a new and bigger part of myself to emerge.
Whenever I see glimpses of this part of myself, the vision always includes me standing at the highest part of the hill in the vineyard in the light of the almost setting sun. What does this mean? I don't know.
But I do think I should go there often to see if this mystery might someday be revealed to me.