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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Heartbreak Resistance

It's very personal. What is most person can become the more universal when expressed. I'll leave some of that really personal stuff out, but I'll try to tell enough of this story to make you understand how much of a cross-roads it was for me. Well, maybe I shouldn't parade a story this heartbreaking here, since everyone knows who I am here in real life. Ah - I guess it doesn't matter what the content of the problem was. You can guess. It was a baaaad thing. Instead I'm going to talk about the solution.

You know all the stuff people tell about how to get past your self-sabotage? Well, it doesn't work when things are really baaaad. This is a story of what did work for me.

The problem was a huge gaping wound. It had already been resolved, and now I had to deal with how I felt about having resolved it the way I did. Talking about it didn't help. Crying about it didn't help. Freaking out about it didn't help. Couldn't stop thinking about it either. It was eating out a heartbreak.

I'm trained as an artist, but for some mystery reason I was resisting making art. I think what happened is that this thing heartbreak was preoccupied with bothered me badly. Suddenly, making the art became less stressful than everything else I was experiencing.

That's the thing about resistance that I've just learned about from a podcast by Barbara Sher. Learn it yourself here.

Behind resistance is an avoidance of something important, something that totally makes sense. You've got to find out what that is, because it's often hiding from you. Using positive affirmations just signals the resistant part of you that it's time to protect you even more - positive stuff doesn't really work. Positive thinking never helped me stop procrastination; it actually made it worse. In fact, using affirmations can make the resistance so strong, it can cause me to hurt myself to put a stop to all progress. As my friend Chris once said, "Got in a fight with myself and I lost."

If you can find the source of your resistance, then the stress and pressure of not being able to do the thing vanishes. You can go forward with no problem into whatever you've been avoiding. The tricky part is finding something inside of yourself that part of you is dead set about protecting you from noticing while you're busy running in the other direction.

So that's what happened with me. My concern that was eating at me finally outweighed the resistance I'd been experiencing about being an artist. I began to make art. I had to make art - I had no choice. I painted and painted and painted. I hung a huge roll of paper on the wall in my garage and slung paint at it. I pulled out another length of paper, got more of the paints and did it over and over and over. I painted like a fiend for a solid week.

I felt better.

A week later than that, I stood back and looked at the art. It was completely and totally abstract. I had done it without any thought of what I was making. Yet, somehow, accidentally on purpose, images, symbols and scenes had emerged in every single painting.

I sat there and looked at what I had painted. I hung them all over my walls and looked at them. they went floor to ceiling - they were huge. Somehow, these paintings had turned out to look like exactly about what I was upset about. I don't know why I was surprised about that. All of the images in every one of these paintings was directly related to why and how I felt about being upset.

What I had painted in each picture was just like one of those "magic" drawings for kids in "Highlights" magazine, (does that magazine still exist?) where there were images hidden in other images, and it was a game to find what they were and where they were. I had done it by slinging paint around - completely by accident, yet, obviously not by accident at all.

The whole process of what happened totally blew my mind. How could I have been painting completely abstract and had these images emerge in the work? What was really going on that something like this could happen? I rolled up these paintings, stuck them in my storage unit. Later I burned most of them. Think that I have one left somewhere. I have never again painted like that since. It scared me, but at the same time, being able to paint like that satisfied something big inside of me.

I've done little glimmers of being able to paint like that before. I'd been told that I could be a great painter by someone who knew enough for me to believe they knew what they were talking about. They said, "Not just good, not just famous - but great." Tried it for a little while, being a painter. But I didn't like the art scene and had no clue how to get into a gallery. So I became a sign painter. It allowed me to work big, which was something I liked to do. It paid the rent, which was also nice. I didn't like painting in a studio, I liked painting where there were people around, so painting on the street was fun for me.

The really weird part was that, after making these hugs paintings, I wasn't upset anymore about this thing that I'd been preoccupied with for months and had tried to accept but couldn't. Whatever I had done when I painted had resolved what I had been so upset about. It scared me that in order to paint like that, I had to feel that intensity of emotion. But painting worked as the solution to express the pain. I guess it worked because the pain got expressed in a non-verbal way - accidentally on purpose. I did something to externalize how I was feeling that went beyond words. So now - art is what I resort to when I can't use words.

So now, even though it's can be difficult to remember what works when I feel that nothing is helping me. When I get really stuck, sometimes it dawns on me that I can paint.

What do you do when nothing works to express how you're feeling?  

Friday, January 22, 2010

Worried Today, Time to Make Art

Thinking of what to do to improve the level of my own happiness today. I'm worried today because money to pay rent hasn't appeared on the horizon. Realized that making art has worked for me before when I've felt like a deer in the headlights, so decided to draw a picture of a kitty who was nice enough to tame herself so I could be her friend.

Shared her with Janet after I began a mobile lifestyle, so I even have corroboration about how unusual this kitty truly was. This pussycat became my icon for the proof that a specific character could surpass the character traits of her species. In her case, she was thoughtful and compassionate about others, when felines are known for being completely and shamelessly self-involved. I wrote about her story previously here.

Her name was "Squeeker," affectionately known as, "Ms. Vanilla."
Most Magnanimous Kitty - Ever

All my cats have had "theme songs," usually parodies.

Squeeker's theme song is sung to the tune of
"Look At That Stupid Girl" by the Rolling Stones.

~I'm not talkin' about the cutest squeak she has.... 
~ Look at that fluffy kitty
~ I'm not talkin' about the ever-wafting baths... 
~ Look at that fluffy kitty

~ The way she packs a punch
~ Poor mice fast become her lunch
~ To me the sweetest cat in the world
~ Greet that fluffy kitty!

~ I'm not talking about the kind of dust she wears
~ Check out that fluffy kitty...
~ I'm not talkin' about the twisted fang she bears
~ Look out for that fluffy kitty...

~ The way she bathes her friends
~ Her peace-makin' never ends
~ Her lack of vanity plus times ten
~ Gotta pet that fluffy kitty!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

No Other Night

In my late twenties, I had joined a Brazilian dance troupe. A fellow dancer, a Brazilian, had asked me out on a date to a Brazilian nightclub. After he picked me up at my girlfriend's house, he grilled me about my relationship to her. When I asked why, he indicated that us two girls had been so much more affectionate to each other saying goodbye than other women in America. He wanted to know what made us different from the other, more commonly not-so-affectionate women. I explained that some people grew up in families that were much more physically affectionate than the prevailing culture. They find and bond to each other as friends privately once they reach an understanding of what their displays of affection mean.

He turned to me and said, "Be with me tonight as if there were no other night."

What he meant was, "Feel free to be as affectionate as you would like with me. I will not imagine you are giving me permission that you are available sexually before I know you." I'm sure he had no idea how romantic a phrase he had just uttered to me, being new to the culture.

So we walked into the Brazilian club with me having a much more interesting understanding of Brazilian culture concerning the display of sexuality. I took to heart his suggestion, and it attracted quite a bit of attention in the whole club - attention from women as well as men.

The owner of the club invited me behind the bar in the noisy club. He gave me a copy of the album of the band. When I asked him why he was giving this to me, he told me, "Because tonight you act like a Brazilian woman - you must go to Brazil."

With almost every guy's eye on me, I turned to my very respectful date and said - "You see, this is why I do not display my natural sensuality. I am not sure I like all these eyes staring at me, watching my every move. How do I put an end to this unrelenting attention of all these men in this club?"

After asking my permission to solve my question, he gave me a big, sloppy kiss. Every other man looked away. Evidently in Brazil, once a woman indicates she has chosen a man, she is then unavailable to all the rest. Have to admit, that it did effectively solve the problem at hand.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Being Authentic

There's a cost to honesty and to drawing personal boundaries.  Certainly being "honest, real, and ethical" as defined by you is a good thing to do. However, if you care about others, you still must deal with how others feel about how you're acting. How do you want to affect others and the situation while communicating effectively?

It's wise to choose your battles deliberately. Sometimes it's better to tell a white lie and go through some meaningless social niceties than it is to announce your contrariness just out of the starting gate. Asking for permission is more complicated than asking for forgiveness.

I know I'm an unusual person with unusual values; it's not important to me anymore to broadcast that quality to the world. Now I let others figure that out about me on their own. I've learned a little friendly reserve helps others not be intimidated by my lack of social constraints. I decided that I do not enjoy people being afraid of me because of my social "daring". Hard to imagine this person in the picture is the one I'm describing, isn't it?

Have always been surprised how others seem to assign the lowest motive to actions they don't understand. To respond to this, it's best to explain motives and go from there. Often, opting out without revealing why is a better strategy. My rule of thumb for making these decisions has been, "keep you eyes on the prize." The virtual question is: "What do I want to create here, and are my means congruent with my goals?"

Someone who is "ethical" and treats people well is actually is in the act of protecting the other person, while leaving themselves vulnerable. In a perfect world, the other person is being ethical to watch your back, but that's not always the case. So that's why wonderful people lose out, and find themselves paying prices they didn't expect to have volunteered for making the sacrifice. That's one of the costs of "being real."

Friday, January 01, 2010

Success Wreck

Yes, I've had emotional train wrecks just after major successes as many other people experience. Feels like a tsunami rolling over me at best. Had to take some time to re-group and think carefully about how to provide for my own needs and desires, hopes and fears. This was often days of time.

In order to get some freedom, I seemed to be capable of pretending that I was smart; or at least it seemed to me that I wasn't as smart as others considered me to be. When growing up, every once in awhile I'd get a teacher who was smart enough to use what I had to offer. They must have been wise enough to understood some of why I was acting the way I did.

For instance, my Spanish teacher in middle school was brilliant. It didn't matter to her that having eaten breakfast made me fall sleep during her class every day. She was smart enough to observe that I would soak up everything that was going on around me in this half-asleep state. It was fine with her that she had to call my name to wake me; then she'd repeat her request that she was passing around the room for everyone to answer. The test was that I had the answer that would satisfy her criteria. She was so kind to not penalize me in any way for sleeping with my head on my desk.

Every once in awhile she would give me something interesting to do that would keep me awake enough; the job of making flash cards for the class - or tutoring my classmates who were slower to learn. By the time I had spent three years in her class - I was completely fluent and could think and even tell jokes in Spanish. I joke now that I've forgotten many Spanish words... but the truth of the matter is it comes back to me when I go to Mexico. Pretty much I can tell what someone is talking about in Spanish, but not what they're saying about until I hit the books a bit again.

I knew where this wound came from in my past, but that didn't help much figuring out how to get past it. When I was a kid in the 1950s, I studied tap dancing at a gym - it was also a place where kids got rewarded (with the equivalent of twenty bucks now) the first time they could walk across the length of the gym on their hands. Had a funny flash-back that seemed to be lodged into my body when I attended a stretching class thirty years later as I bent backwards into what is called a "bridge" to "spider-walk" - walk on one's hands and feet belly-up, back arched with one's head hanging upside-down and backwards. As a five year old, I was such a fast learner of routines in the gym and dance classes that the teachers put me at the head of the troupe and had the other kids to just follow my excellent memory.

The problem happened at a huge group recital. Some other kids not in my group sat in the wrong line. When the line of my group was called me and a couple others in my troupe who were supposed to be at the head of the group did not get to go out on stage. I was completely crushed that I'd been pumped up about how important my role was as leader and then no grownup noticed I was not at the head of my group to perform. How important could I be if I was not even missed?

The event producers offered to let me go out on stage with the other two kids in my troupe, but I could not stop crying. My mom even stuck me into the car and drove me around the block to try to calm me down. She tried to give me a pep talk that I was doing what actresses do - throw a fit when I had been short-changed. I had been successful and now it was time for the show to go on. But it didn't work because I had not had any practice in calming myself down after being really upset. I had never gotten so freaked out and disappointed in my sweet, short life before.

I recognized myself in a scene of the movie "Wave Rider." A young girl works hard and skillfully to prove to her grandfather she is qualified to be the spiritual leader of her community. But he refuses to allow her recognition because of her gender. She successfully fulfills many trials, in spite of being spurned, and she is even actively prevented from learning by being excluded from her grandfather's classes - for boys only. In one scene, she has learned complex Maori chants and performs them with tears streaming down her face, in spite of the fact that her grandfather has refused to attend her performance.

For some reason, the producers of that even long ago would not allow me as a forgotten performer to express myself by crying while dancing. Why not? Where is this rule that performers must be happy?

The movie does not go into why the Wave Rider protagonist cannot give up the role she is meant to play for her people. But this is what I need to know - for myself. How can persist and continue to fulfill the role I know I am supposed to play without allowing setbacks to prevent me from eventual success?

Anyone who does not fit into the mold that language usage or culture has established to be "normal" is left to flounder - this is just as true for people who are good looking, talented and smart as well as those who are on the other end of the social spectrum.

Part of being an adult to know what it is you need and go out and provide it for yourself. My own secret has been to figure out how to ask for or get what I needed in other ways, other avenues that did not excite societal reactions, to sneak under the go in the back door rather than the front door.

I'm not sure that this "back door approach" will work for me in the future. Self-doubt has reared its ugly head for me.