I’ve tested positive. It was bound to happen, and yet, somehow it still caught me off guard. Even with two vaccinations and the follow up booster the virus managed to worm its way into my system. Blinding headache, but I’ve been getting migraines for over a year now, so thought this was some new horrible post menopausal progression that was the new normal. Took migraine meds. Nothing. Doubled the dose and finally had some relief. People who have chronic migraines talk about being in so much pain they’re nauseous and even vomit. I stopped just short of that. The feeling of exhaustion I attributed to my mother’s memorial service, losing her, missing her or some combination of all of the above.
But in the end, I’m a New Yorker. We’ve been through some pretty horrendous times when it comes to covid so when there’s any sign of fatigue, sniffle, anything out of the ordinary, get tested.
Negative. Whew. Dodged the bullet. Again.
Then the feeling of being chilled, even though it was a beautiful spring day. Sunny, in the 70’s. We haven’t started using our air-conditioning yet. I check the thermostat. 75 degrees inside. I’m happiest when it’s 70 or maybe 71, so this was odd as normally I’d be warm. Decide to test myself again, just to be safe. And there they were, those dreaded two lines. Grab a mask, start texting everyone I’ve come in contact with, cancel any appointments that can be postponed.
Instinctively reach for my husband’s hand, sense his reluctance and draw back. Right. I’m a walking viral infected vessel for the foreseeable future.
Still I was able to conduct my Patron’s Ask Me Anything Zoom meeting. I did a demonstration of how, with photos, and in real time, I evaluate a piece, the things I look for to help me decide what my next step might be by looking at value, composition, mark making, etc to give me ideas and direction. I use lots of photographs and annotate them. I even have one piece that isn’t quite right yet, this is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
Afterwards another call, immediately after my Patron’s Zoom, but I’m still well enough and the distraction is nice. Besides it’s always great to see other’s work evolve and take shape.
New meds, Paxlovid, are delivered, the young man delivering this new medication door to door is maskless. I restrain myself from scolding him. He’s a grown man, after all, surely he knows the risks. He’s delivering medication to people with covid…. it’s impossible for me to understand the thinking. Everything’s political now, taking precedence over common sense and our collective well being. Still I worry about him. I fall asleep at 7:30 with his face in my mind.
It’s morning now, I’ve taken my 2nd dose of Paxlovid. Am I any better? Is it working? Did I wait too long to start the medication? Who knows. I think I’m feeling a little better, maybe. I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
I go to gratitude. Because this life is so fleeting and then we’re gone. Laughter, kindness, random acts of care and thoughtfulness is always the way to go. There’s so much pain and suffering out there, am I part of the problem or part of the solution? These are my go-to thoughts, especially when I don’t feel great.
My brutal, brutal migraines are Covid and not the new norm. Yay!
I was able to get this new medicine quickly from our GP (who also has Covid). We compared notes on symptoms and next course of action.
My husband, who is recovering from surgery is testing negative. So far so good.
My children are both negative.
I’m upright and able to type this and even maybe have put a few coherent sentences together.
It could be so much worse.
Thinking of all of you and hoping you are safe and well.
Grief comes in waves. People say that, and I know what they mean. The other day I was happily working away on a new piece, trying to get the elements to behave themselves and talk to each other nicely, when suddenly I thought of my mom. It was a tsunami of emotions. I had to sit down and just be still while the feelings crashed over me. And here’s the thing… this blog? It reminds me of my mom, because when I first began blogging more than a decade ago, my mother was its biggest supporter and commenter. I think she commented on every single post or nearly every one of them. That blog was called Emma’s Hope Book. It eventually reached a massive audience with thousands of views per post. And then it was time for me to move on.
I started this blog: Where Art & Life Meet. I wanted a place where I could write about my work and art and life and everything in between. And so my mother began commenting here too. I miss her so.
During the last few years of her life she began sending videos and funny quotes to a few lucky recipients, of whom I was one. I loved receiving them, especially because it was right when COVID hit New York City and all of us were reeling. The city was in lockdown, I’d just started my YouTube Channel and often Mom’s videos and messages were the one thing I could count on to make me laugh, so I’d post them here for all of you to enjoy too. I miss her so.
Whenever I see a funny video on Youtube I think of her. Sometimes if I’m doing a couple of things at once, I’ll catch myself thinking – Oh! I have to send this to mom!! She’d love it. And then I remember that I can’t.
Her favorite video of mine was this one that I’ve added below. One of her caregivers told me she watched it multiple times.
So when I saw the video I’m posting below, I thought, Mom would have loved this. This one’s for you, Mom. It won’t let me share via this blog, so you have to click on the highlighted text instead.
I’m not feeling great. I should probably just end this post right here. But, no, I’ll soldier on. Not because this post is important, it’s not, but because it represents all the things on my to do list and so much that is just life. No one needs to hear my laundry list of “woes”, we’ve all got them. More to the point is that I’m struggling. My mom’s death feels like an endless, bottomless pit of emotions. I know I’ll get through it. I know work-arounds that help me get through those days when things are really bad and “getting through the day” feels impossible. That’s when the put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other method of coping gets enacted.
Grieving is a luxury. Some days require putting all of that to the side so that other things can be dealt with in a timely fashion and because life moves along, it doesn’t wait for those of us who are grieving. And I also know I can’t leap frog my way beyond the grief. It will be there waiting for me on the other side. It’s always there. Some days I’m luckier than others, the grief stays on the edge, other days it moves front and center. Those are the days when every step feels like I’m dragging a fifty pound weight. Those are the days when showing up feels like a monumental task. But I know from designing, from creating, from every day that I work on a piece, that even when I don’t “feel like it” showing up for the work is one of the most important things I can do. And, counter-intuitively, it is what ends up making me feel better in the long run.
All of this reminds me of something Michael Crichton once said. It was decades ago when I was the Director of the Aspen Writer’s Conference and had reached out to him to kick off the conference. He was game and gave an amazing talk in the Paepcke Auditorium at the Aspen Institute. I will have to paraphrase as there is no transcript of his presentation. He was talking about writing. Imagine, he said, if you were a commercial airline pilot with a full schedule of flights and woke up one morning and said, You know, I don’t really feel like flying today. I think I’ll go back to sleep for a few hours. Writing (any of the arts) is the only “profession” where people talk themselves out of getting up and putting in the hours. Everyone in the audience was quiet. But it doesn’t work that way, he continued. If you’re a writer/artist then you get up and you put in your hours, whether it’s flying a commercial airline or writing a book, or in my case, working on a new piece, writing up a new workshop, filming a new Youtube video or any of the other things I’ve got on my list of things that I need to do because this is the life and profession I’ve chosen for myself.
How does grief fit into all of this? It doesn’t. It’s just there. All the time. And as a result, it is I that must make the necessary adjustments in my life to accommodate these new feelings and emotions, while continuing to show up for the work.
This was a question a number of people asked after my mother died. But I wasn’t. I hadn’t. In fact I couldn’t remember dreaming about anything or anyone, until this past week. Maybe it was because it was the first Thanksgiving since she died. Maybe it’s because her birthday fell on Thanksgiving every 7 years and so Thanksgiving always reminds me of her or because this was her first birthday that went uncelebrated. This past Saturday she would have been 93 years old.
When we were in Jordan, just a few weeks ago, (it seems like months already) our guide told us that the life expectancy there was mid seventies. He then asked if I was considered old in the US. “It depends upon who you ask,” I joked. “How about you?” I asked.
“I don’t feel old, until I look in the mirror,” he replied. Which was just the sort of thing my mother would have said. We laughed about that.
“Aging isn’t for the faint of heart,” my mother used to say. She also was known to say, “Aging sucks.”
But in my dreams she isn’t old. She can still speak. She has shoulder length hair and in my dream last night she was wearing an emerald green bikini, of all things, with a cream colored, open lacey top that I’d crocheted for her. Did I mention that I’m teaching myself to crochet? I’m no where near good enough to make such a thing for anyone, let alone as a gift for someone I love, but in my dream, she looked amazing and youthful and the crocheted top looked pretty fabulous as well!
I remember thinking, “I want to look like her when I’m her age,” but in the dream I said nothing and instead just told her how much I loved her. She gave me one of her magnificent smiles and then began talking to someone else in the room. I almost said something about how happy I was that she was wearing the top I’d crocheted her, but didn’t want to interrupt her conversation with this other person. Secretly, I was thrilled. After all I only just began trying to crochet in the last few weeks. Wearing that crocheted top that I’d made for her was so typical of my mother. She was a huge supporter of all my various passions, particularly when it came to making things.
It was my mother who taught me to knit and as she was right handed, (I’m left handed) I learned to knit right handed as well. I’ve often wondered if I should try to reteach myself to knit left handed, but then I think, “Why?” Besides I’m closer to the end than I am to the beginning of life, why jostle the waters? And I knit pretty quickly right handed, so there doesn’t seem to be much point. And, added plus, any instructions and videos are always written for right handers.
My mother would have approved of my dream, though I don’t think she cared for the color emerald green, but even so, it would have made her laugh. She loved to laugh. So today, I will remember her laughing and am grateful to have my dreams of her when she was still able to speak, when she was still able to move about easily and painlessly, when she was happy.
So here’s the thing… I feel a whole lot better when I show up even when I feel awful, even when I feel things are rough and I’m tired, even when I don’t want to. I’ve also learned that showing up anyway is the single best remedy for not continuing to feel that way. Except that it’s also really hard to do. That’s the thing. It’s really, really hard and sometimes… sometimes it feels impossible. I know it technically isn’t, but it sure feels that way.
Marcus Aurelius wrote about pain a great deal. And in his writings about it he consistently focusses on choice and responding, rather than reacting. I’m a huge fan of Marcus Aurelius, not just because he was wise, but because this guy was one of the most powerful men in the world and yet he continued to do his best to remain humble, to avoid arrogance, to nurture self awareness and to treat others with respect and kindness.
So yeah, showing up anyway. Easier said than done, so I have found ways to do so that aren’t quite so laden, that make it a tiny bit easier. I call it setting myself up to succeed.
Here’s what I do:
Thread up a whole bunch of needles with different types and weights of thread. I use both Chenille needles and Milliners Needles.
Grab a needle, any needle, it doesn’t matter which one, and begin stitching. I have a couple of mindless go-to stitches that don’t require any thought. They are the meditative stitches like french knots, bullion knots, colonial knots, seed stitch, chain stitch, fly stitch, straight stitch and then I riff on them, which means I start exploring every aspect of that stitch. How many wraps can I make on a french knot before the whole thing begins to fall apart? (It turns out a lot more than you might think!). What ways can I stitch a straight stitch to create different patterns?
And before you know it, I’m playing!
Stitching, more than anything, changes everything, even grief, even pain.
If you’re curious to know how I did this, I made a video about it and you can watch it here: