I typically kick off a new year with a list of goals in hand, relieved to have packed away all traces of the holiday season prior to the stroke of midnight. I really love that clean slate feeling.
So I love making goals for the new year, and I definitely have some for 2018, but for this moment I prefer to suck in a deep breath, slow down for a few minutes, and reflect on the passing of 2017.
I have come across several local news items in recent days that make me happy and proud to be a Minnesotan. Our family has made some pretty dramatic work and lifestyle changes in order to get settled back in Minnesota. We have always argued that the air and water here are clean, and that the schools and roads are (largely) cared for as they should be. However, it has been a bumpy path finding the right professional situation allowing us to stay permanently, causing me to question at times our stubborn single-mindedness.
For about a year, I had the pleasure of working for Anne Damon, the owner of Zinnia Folk Arts. She was looking for help with her blog and some other related tasks, and I was looking for flexible creative work. We took a let's-see-how-this-goes approach, and I'm happy to report that it was an opportunity that I very much appreciated.
I will never be a scientist, a mathematician, or a person who writes code for newfangled internet functions; that ship has sailed. If I went back in time to the beginning of college, I would choose a double major that would include both a STEM major, in addition to my humanities major, in order to feed both my whole brain and my future job prospects.
You may (or may not) have noticed some surprising Instagram posts, Facebook posts, or tweets this week. There may be people wearing clothing inside out, exposing labels, and holding signs that read "Who Made My Clothes?"
I have been spending some time setting up my creative space due to our recent move, which has put me in an organizing mood in general. We are experiencing a loss of closets and storage in our new house, which is always challenging. Add maternity supplies, and a pile of breastfeeding-friendly clothing, a second young child and a tight budget to the household mix, and the result is me digging deep and getting back to basics when it comes to managing our stuff.
Until last weekend, I had never been to the Minnesota State Fair, in spite of being born here and living in the metro area for over half of my life. My energetic sister-in-law convinced us to go, four adults plus three-year-old, and I'm glad she did. And while some of my negative suspicions were unfortunately confirmed, there was certainly also plenty that impressed me.
Parking was as annoying as I expected, and the prices for mediocre food were even higher than the high prices I expected at this kind of event. That said, there was also more inspiration than I expected. Who knew that so many people were so crafty and that so much of it was on display for us right here every summer? Actually, knowing Minnesotans the way that I do, I'm not surprised at the level of craftiness...we love to make things! But I had no idea that so many people also liked to compete for prizes while making their things.
I would have loved to take even more pictures, but on a hot day, with toddler in tow, our time was limited. However, here is a small taste:
The flea market near our lake cabin has long been a major source of inspiration to me. I have always felt intrigued by the old objects on offer, as well as the people willing to travel the region (or country), gathering and selling these tidbits. This particular flea market happens every Sunday morning during the summer.
It used to be solely populated by collected items and a few homemade tidbits. Now new products are offered alongside the old, in an Anthropologie-style new-but-looks-old way, but luckily the old treasures still abound. While in high school, I found a vintage flapper dress there which later became a prom dress. My mom has furnished many a room with re-fashioned pieces from there, and it was also there almost twenty years later, where I finally felt the spark of inspiration for the nursery for my first son.
The idea to write Mrs. Rose Glasses grew out of terrible homesickness that I was experiencing while we were living in Calgary, Alberta, in 2010, although the seeds were planted during some colorful adventures had while we were living in Louisiana. But Calgary was where I really needed to put on my big-girl pants and work it out, so I started writing Mrs. Rose Glasses then as an exercise in facilitating attitude change.
Writing Mrs. Rose Glasses proved an effective vehicle for painting an accurate picture of the positive, and also provided a place me to reflect on what was so terribly amplifying the negative. Writing about my experiences of finding or creating home in unlikely, non-home places helped me get happier right where I was. As it turned out, it also became a way for me to poke gentle fun, both myself and at the location in question (originally Louisiana, then Calgary, and ultimately Houston).
I don't know anything about this artist, so I have no idea what her work or her teaching are like, but her voice was calm and her response was soothing. Just listening to her response made me feel instantly more relaxed about what I might be able to do in the coming days, weeks, years. I could feel my brow loosening and my shoulders unfolding as she responded to the question.
She said that when her son was born, she just learned how to make differently: "It happens in your kitchen, it just happens differently...trusting that just because you can't be in whatever you call your studio doesn't mean that you are not having a thought or insight. If I conceive of them as being separate, then I would be forever frustrated, but if they are all one practice, and...all the projects are one big project...not that we don't feel pressed for time in some ways, but there is an anxiousness that I can at least allay a little bit. Sometimes the most important thing is to...make the soup and in the soup is going to be the project even though a kid is sick upstairs and that's why you're making the soup."
"Everything feeds everything else," she said, and isn't that so true?
It feels lucky that the universe connected me with her thoughts at just this time, as I am coming to realize that executing the move to the village is going to cost me dearly in any kind of private free time for a large portion of 2014; the thought of which renders me both slightly devastated and also a little bit defeated with regard to the uncomfortable goal for 2014. It's not that I have given it up, but it is true that I had to let go of the pressure I was placing on myself with regard to the deadline.
In spite of my dismay at yet another disruption to the ever-so-brief settled feeling that I have felt only recently in Houston, and how that links to my creative life, I have been working to imagine what small projects will travel well while we are in limbo. Some days it sounds fine, almost like a fun creative challenge, and other days, it is hard to resist a feeling of desperation about the sum total of lost time due to continuous moving disruptions. Hopefully, anything I can accomplish along the way will feed both my soul and the future of my ideas, a la Ann Hamilton.
Another notion that Ann addressed was the idea of time as a material, instead of a boundary, and the importance of letting things take the time that they need, which is another nice validation of what I have been working on personally for a few years now. I know people who succeed, and indeed thrive, at a breakneck pace with no down time, but I have learned that I am not one of those people. Not only that but it just feels like things are still brewing and fermenting for me, and that maybe the uncomfortable goal was a little premature. Immediately after I made it, I felt anxiety every time I looked at the calendar, and it had me spinning.
This very wise maker added still another thought to an already-helpful conversation; she posed the question "how does your own vulnerability become a place of incredible strength...if you can just occupy that, then there's whole lot of knowledge in there".
To me it feels that my vulnerability is the uncertainty of our geographical future; the inability to know with confidence that a place I make my own, or my home. will remain my place for any length of time. I have dug deep into my heart and soul to find ways to live comfortably alongside that notion, and it continues to be a challenge. We made the hard decision, but today it feels almost unbearably risky and exhausting. I need to take a deep breath and find a way to make turn these challenges into assets.
An art crawl, a neighborhood walking architecture tour, a Thanksgiving flu, Thanksgiving. Now friends coming for visits and holidays sneaking up fast!
I'm thankful for so many things that I could burst.
I'm thankful for my husband, my friends, my family, my cat (I hope that doesn't sound dumb, but she really brings me piles of uncomplicated joy). I'm grateful that I feel healthy right now and I'm super grateful for our new house and the fact that it is currently untouched by disasters which have befallen others.
I'm thankful for Minnesota, Texas, France, New Zealand, Madison, New Orleans...even Missouri and Calgary...all places that have shaped my life, some in ways I love and others in ways that just make me grateful to have moved on.
I'm grateful for the opportunity to improve every single day.
Every twelve to sixteen months, I experience a period of extreme intermittent head pain, in the form of cluster headaches. The period lasts four to six weeks, and during that time I generally experience between one and three attacks a day. Normally they strike about an hour after going to sleep and/or in the wee early hours of morning. Another dangerous time is the late afternoon.
Attacks strike with little warning. In the space of minutes, I shift from feeling and looking normal, to being unable to comfortably talk, eat, drive or focus on anything in particular. My face goes pale, and my right eye gets watery and puffy. It feels as though an ice pick is going through the right side of the front of my head. Most cluster periods pass with me only missing a day or two of school or work, but many other areas of life are affected.
My husband experiences the greatest fallout from this month of unrest. Almost every night, there is me getting up from bed, taking medicine, wincing, and fetching an ice pack. The medicine often works within fifteen to thirty minutes, but sometimes, especially after two or three weeks, the pain does not respond to the medicine, or the attack does not completely subside. During these times, I try to go elsewhere in the house so as to not wake him with my whimpering and rocking. I have never heard him complain about any of this.
Many foods do not appeal to me during this time. Exercise is dicey, and can either abort or provoke an attack, although mostly it provokes. Alcohol is off limits, and only very controlled caffeine feels ok for me. Bright lights and sounds can be painful (similar to to a migraine experience, I'm told), so I can't really watch movies and even restaurants, malls, or bars can be uncomfortable. Friends have driven me home, or held my hand during an attack. Once, during my second year of teaching, my mom had to pick me up from work, because I could not finish teaching or drive myself home.
I try not to look for special favors from anyone, but it is necessary to warn employers, professors and co-workers. Once I had an attack during a team-taught ESL math course at a high school. My co-teacher took over, and I hid behind a lab table on the floor in the back of the room and waited for the medicine to work. She was such a fantastic teacher that the students hardly noticed. Another time, a professor went on the hunt for ice, so that I could remain at school and not miss the several hours of workshop time ahead of us.
In the effort to reduce the frequency of the cluster periods, the number of cluster attacks, and the intensity of the attack pain, I have tried every thing I could think of or learn about. I once went a year and a half without sugar, caffeine and chocolate. I have altered my sleeping habits. I have applied water mixed with cayenne powder to my nostril. I have had cocktails during a bout, knowing full well an attack would come immediately, and then just taken the medicine and carried on with the party (that was during university, when it seemed a huge tragedy to have to abstain during a fun event). I have crept into the freezer in the home of my friend, looking for an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables because I was caught on a trip without my medicine.
Once an attack came while we were eating at a restaurant to which we had walked, and I couldn't make the walk home, so my husband had to run ten blocks to get the car in order to pick me up, while I sat on the grass on the side of the road, and rocked in pain. I have applied lidocaine to the inside of my nose with a Q-tip, and I have tried natural supplements, including melatonin, magnesium and feverfew (magnesium has been most impressive so far). I have changed my hairstyle to alter the weight of my hair and sometimes have stopped wearing certain shoes for a time when they become too jarring. Carrying a heavy purse can also cause trouble during this time.
Cluster has come upon me again; it started over the weekend. It will be a long month, and hard. Since I was diagnosed with cluster in my late teens, I've learned a lot. I've learned that my head could prevent me from being covered on a health "care" plan, and I've learned that cluster will likely never go away. I've learned that it normally impacts middle-aged men, and that it likely has something to do with my hypothalamus and circadian rhthyms (body clock regulation). One study I read said that they affect 69 out of 100,000 people; in my life so far I have met two other sufferers.
However, in spite of all of that, it could worse. Some people have this condition all the time, with no year off in-between bouts. This is called chronic cluster, and if you meet someone like this, and they are out in the world, doing normal every day things, you should be amazed by them. They are in a constant battle with excruciating pain, and I don't know how they survive. Which means I am lucky. So far, in almost twenty years of this, I have never had a bout longer than five or six weeks.
I am lucky in so many ways. My month of pain reminds me to appreciate my many months of no pain. It reminds me that you never know what someone has going on privately. It reminds me that sometimes people are crabby or mean not because they are bad people but because maybe they are just getting by at that moment. Maybe they are in pain right now.
I am lucky right now because I have plenty of medicine. When I have enough medicine, I am nicer, less irritable, and more able to handle this condition. Having medicine makes me more productive and more able to participate in the world around me, and this needs to be considered when our culture decides how to organize health care. Anyone could be me, one day healthy and the next day possibly experiencing excruciating, debilitating, unpredictable pain.
Cluster headaches caused me to start examining how to take better care of myself way before I even finished university, when I was still boozing too much and eating crap and not sleeping enough. If those habits had continued unchecked, maybe I would have experienced other ramifications down the road which could also have become uncomfortable, expensive and hard to fix...which is also why our nation needs to look at health care through a preventative lens, and not limit what it is willing to treat.
While cluster is my burden, sometimes I imagine that it also helps me. It would be hard to go so far as to say that I'm grateful for it, but as with most things, I have learned from its enormous challenges, and in my heart, I know it could be much much worse. So today, I'm grateful.
[special thanks is extended to
, a resource that improves every year, and has provided me with more help than any other person or experience since I was diagnosed with cluster]