A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mortality and Resolutions

I've been in Florida for just about a week. The weather has been lovely, far from the snow laden north/northwest and I have gone to the beach with my family twice. No problems on this end, though I have been worrying somewhat about my mother who, at age 80, is definitely starting to slow down. My father told me sometime this year that my mother has been diagnosed as having congestive heart failure, but it seems that the vast quantities of pills that she takes each day are doing much to extend her life. She has not talked about all this with Rob or me and so we have not talked about it with her. She seems happy and well adjusted and hopeful. I'm just happy to be spending some quality time with her. I have been recording my family's conversations, some of which have been quite interesting and will listen to them when I return home.

I know mortality is not much of a holiday topic, but it has been on my mind. My father, who is 82, gave me a long memo on what to do in case someone in the family dies. Morbid, yes, but necessary and I appreciate him taking the time to spell the procedure out for me, though I confess I have not read it through yet and probably won't till I'm settled back home. I don't really want to read it, but I know I must. My father has a rare form of leukemia that is very fortunately treatable, but still we don't know how long he will be around either. I guess it's normal to think of the death of one's parents once they've reached the age of 80. Also I don't get to see them very often, so that when I do, I wonder-will this be the last time?

My brother takes after my mother in that they are both talkative people. If my mother were to pass away, there would be a serious gap in our family. This is really the first time that I've considered the possibility and yet it is just a fact of life. None of us live forever. Of course, I do not want either of my parents to ever die, but I know, on a certain level, that I need to psychologically prepare for the eventuality. Having said that, I also know that I should not dwell on it and should make the most of the present moments of relative health and wellness.

Right now, we are all alive and well and enjoying each other's company. My parent's apartment is not quite big enough for me to have a room of my own, so I have been sleeping in the living room at night. For the most part this has been fine, but now I am beginning to get restless. I will be ready to leave on Friday and head back to my home, though I will miss the warm and sunny weather of my parent's home as I will miss my parent's company. I need to make a point of staying in touch with them, something I have not been doing so much these last 6 months.

The voices have been mostly quiet this trip. For some reason when I am in someone else's environment and living with their structure for a week or so, the voices recede only to return when I resume my solitude. That should tell me something about the need for human contact and for some structure in my life. And it does, but I still have a lot of trouble with both. I told my mother that I was going to try and volunteer where Bev works, a Catholic charities organization. She thought it was a good idea, but only if I enjoyed it and she suggested that I volunteer for a month to start with to see if I can handle it. I'm hoping that I can and that I do enjoy it, it would be a godsend if I did, giving my life some usefulness and purpose and curbing my reclusive tendencies. I will have to be interviewed by Bev's boss and checked out to make sure I'm not some kind of felon. I will be open about my schizophrenia.

So that's a New Year's resolution. Another resolution is to communicate with a local minister to discuss my situation and my need (and other's need) for some kind of support group. I have her email address and will just have to take the plunge and reveal my story to her. My therapist has met the minister several times and says she is very approachable. I've gone to church once or twice and listened to her sermons and also got a good impression of her. I really should be happy that there is someone to go to in my town with my request, I just wish I knew more about what starting a support group entails.

Anyway, happy and safe holidays to all and hopefully I will pick up the pace with writing in this blog when I get home again.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Car Trouble And Prayers

My brother Rob and I leave for Florida early on Thursday morning. I'll be away for a little over a week. I don't like this time of year. I don't like the short days, the bad weather and the traveling. I don't like leaving the cats alone (though a friend keeps an eye on them). But I do like seeing my parents. Last year I didn't go visit them, so this year I absolutely must go. I know I should think of the trip as a little adventure and I will try to do just that. But today I encountered an obstacle: the car wouldn't start. I called Triple A, but they didn't get to my house for a couple of hours and then the man started the car without having to do anything. I let the car run for 15 minutes and then turned it off. Waited, then turned it on again to check it--no problem. And then off. Tomorrow I will get up early and try to turn it on again. I did make an appointment to bring the car in Wednesday morning. I've been praying that there's nothing major wrong with the car because tomorrow I need to pick up my meds and get more catfood. Fortunately our friend Richard is willing to drive us up.

I was able to call Triple A, but I had such trouble calling the car repair office. It took me at least 10 minutes to get myself to make the call. I've been having this problem making calls for years, mainly since I became ill. There was a time when I was not able to carry on a conversation. Somehow I managed to get through that stage. Now, I can have a conversation, but I have trouble asking for help from relative strangers on the phone. I feel so self-conscious, worried that I will sound dumb or incoherent. It's hard to describe. I just feel incompetent, helpless, vulnerable. But some phone calls have to be made, like today and I have to make them regardless of how I'm feeling.

I prayed today for help, for guidance from God. I got so uptight. It took me a couple of hours to wind down. I worried what should I do if the car doesn't start? I'd get it towed. How could I get to the bank, pharmacy, post office and store without a car? I'd have to impose of Richard or his wife. I hate bothering people, that's one reason why I keep to myself, but there are times when it can't be helped. But for a few minutes I did Let Go and Let God. I tried to accept the idea that I am being watched over by God, that as long as I remain open and willing to do my part, I will have a measure of protection. I counted myself fortunate that the car didn't break down in some out of the way place, far from people. And I have thought before that it's amazing how right things go most of the time. So during the times when things aren't going well, it's good to be grateful for all the times when everything has gone smoothly.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday this year. Love yourself, your family and your friends, love strangers. Spread the word: Peace on Earth.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Meeting, The First Break In The Ice

Almost a week of silence here. I'm sorry everyone. I've just been feeling withdrawn, so I've been sleeping a lot.

I did go and visit with my brother's friend Jude. I had lent her some tapes of me singing my songs and went to pick them up. I had heard a few days earlier from my brother that she had been "impressed" with some of my songs. I was happy that she liked them, but I was nervous about going to visit with her. The tapes were from over ten years ago and I hadn't listened to them in a while, so I wasn't exactly sure what she had been listening to. So I listened to a couple of songs on my 8 track to get a feel for it. I realized that I was a different person a decade ago, just entering into psychosis and that Jude might be responding to my former self rather than to my present self.

And I wondered if I was a better person now or then. Then I had left my abusive partner and started writing songs as a form of therapy. Then I had thought that I was getting a second chance at being happy. I took classes and went back to school but I made some of my best music just as I was becoming psychotic. Despite the illness that was growing in me, I appeared strong and confident. The recordings don't sound crazy. But I was headed for a fall and when the fall came I couldn't play anymore. I was too wounded.

That wounded state has lasted till now, though I am many times better than I was ten years ago. And it was that wounded self that knocked on Jude's door and then sat down at her dining room table with a cup of coffee. Jude told me how much she enjoyed my music, especially one tape in particular, the tape I had sent to the rock star 10 and 1/2 years ago. I asked if I could hear her music because Jude has done some of her own songwriting. She gave me a tape to take home and listen to because she didn't want to play it for me. She said my music was rock and roll whereas her music was folk and blues and she then sort of put her music down which I didn't like. We continued to talk with awkward moments interspersed here and there.

I was open with her about my mental illness because I wanted to be and she shared some of her personal experience with suicidal depression, how taking Prozac changed her life for the better. I told her that I had responded well to the medications also. I briefly mentioned how I wanted to start a mental health support group, but was too shy to approach the minister who might be able to help me to do it. She thought it was a good idea and said she bet a lot of people would show up. It felt good just to talk to her about it.

When I got home I listened to the tape she had given me. The music was good, much more carefully constructed than my songs and a lot sweeter too. I've listened to her tape about five or six times because I want to give her some good feedback. Her music is also from a while ago and in the interim her voice has changed and gotten deeper, so she doesn't sing as much as she used to. I could identify with that also. The difference is that Jude has learned to be technically savvy and she has gone so far as to perform which I have never done.

After I listened to Jude's music, I then listened to mine. I wished that we had talked more deeply about our music, but this was the first time I had visited her and she would be leaving for Florida for the winter in a few days. She did give me her email address, so I will keep in touch with her, but I am already looking forward to her return in the spring. She said when she got back that we could get drunk together and sing and play to break the ice.

Meanwhile, I'm here with my acoustic and electric guitars that I can barely play and a voice that needs a lot of singing practice. I have been writing bits and pieces of songs, but I don't know if I can ever get the strength back to sing and play the way I used to. I can only set my mind to practice this winter and see what happens. I told Jude that there was some crossover between music and psychosis for me which is why I can't just jump into it. I have to be cautious and pay attention to any warning signs. Sometimes I can sing okay, but other times it's a fight to sing because the voices interfere. I just can't seem to let go of this dream of being a singer/songwriter, but I have to adjust to the fact that I have changed.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Let Go And Let God

I have seen signs and bumper stickers proclaiming "God Bless America!" and have been annoyed by them; even when I was very psychotic I thought "May God bless the world and not just America." So a few years back I shot a photograph of this bumper sticker because I think it is more to the point. Lately I've been reading 12 step daily readers, some Al-Anon, some AA/NA, because I want to bring an awareness of God back into my life. I'm too detached from the spiritual side of myself and have been for a while.

I am still a beginner when it comes to understanding the Higher Power. Growing up in an atheistic/agnostic family conditioned me to avoid thinking about even the existence of God. I can't discuss the spiritual side of life with my family to this very day. To them it is a taboo subject. To them, we live and then we die and that's it. But I don't believe that. I believe that there's more to the picture than meets the eye. My experience with psychosis only confirms this belief.

One of the daily readers I have is called Each Day a New Beginning and it asserts many things. One thing it asserts is that God loves us unconditionally. I have enough guilt and shame in me to find this hard to believe, but I also think I do need to seriously consider it. Unconditional love means that whatever negative things I have done in my life, God will always accept me, in any condition. But before I can embrace that belief, I have to love myself as I imagine God would love me, unconditionally.

I have been through a lot, but the older I get I think, well, who hasn't? And mixed in with that idea is the understanding that I am not alone, though sometimes I act as if I am. So I have to say right here, right now, that I forgive myself for all the rotten things I've done in my life, intentionally and unintentionally. But just saying it is not enough, I have to practice self-forgiveness so that I can move on to more worthy pursuits.

So, if there is a God, God loves me, loves everyone and accepts us unconditionally. It's we who create all these conditions, not the Higher Power and it's we who do the punishing usually both of ourselves and those who have disappointed us. If it is true that God loves us unconditionally, then I can't believe the Old Testament was written by anyone but mere mortals. Mortals who believed in taking an eye for an eye, rather than in forgiveness. I believe the New Testament was also written by men because there are contradictions in it, but still Jesus' message gets through--"Love your enemies" just as God loves our enemies, because God loves everyone unconditionally.

Well, perhaps I am talking a good game, but my conception of God is still pretty hazy. Is it enough to know that some wise and benevolent entity out there somewhere in the universe looks down kindly on me and all of us as we blunder along? It may not be enough, but it's a start in the right direction.

Saying that God is love brings me closer to actually believing it. I have been working with affirmations this week. I've been writing them out on index cards and posting them near the computer. I have also been speaking them into my tape recorder and listening back to them. Gradually I will increase my exposure to them because I'm finding that they really do make me feel better and clearer. What initially startled me was my resistance to them, but now I've gotten past that stage and can start to incorporate them into my life.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Waking Up

I guess what's stopped me from writing these last couple of weeks is a conflict between the desire to be positive and the need to be honest. Honestly, I've been having an increase of the voices and depression. This means I spend more time lying down and doing little, either falling asleep or exploring my thoughts and psychosis. That sounds kind of negative, but actually it helps me to stay stable. It is a combination of relaxing and reflecting that seems to ease some of the general negativity. Still too much of anything is not good and so I keep waking myself up.

My brother invited four people over to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. Two days before Thanksgiving I still hadn't done much cleaning, but after a little praying and saying some affirmations ("I CAN clean my house.") I did start to clean. When I was done, it wasn't perfect, but it was much improved and I felt willing to have people into my house. Turns out only three people came, all of whom I loosely knew. The one woman was someone who I had wanted to get to know better. She was a long time friend of my brother, sort of like an older sister to him over the years. I knew she (and probably everyone in the small group) knew that I suffered from schizophrenia. I knew that she probably knew some intimate details of my life. I trusted my brother and so I trusted that she was a good person who would treat me gently.

And she did. She was kind and supportive and funny and so I liked her. Yes, there were a few awkward moments throughout the night, but nothing major. She said early on in the afternoon that she wanted to hear my music because she was also a song writer. Later she reminded me, well, really put me on the spot, but I didn't completely want to say no either. I played a couple of songs on the tape player, but then felt too self conscious. The woman asked if she could borrow my tapes to listen to and make copies for herself. I wound up giving her four partially completed tapes, including the tape that I sent to the rock star at the onset of the acute stage of my psychosis. It was a daring gesture on my part because I didn't exactly know what I was giving her. I hadn't listened to most of it in a while. But one thing I did know was that the songs were between 10 and 13 years old, nothing new and my voice was in better condition. My lyrics may be suspect, I don't know, I was just out of an abusive relationship and I was still angry, so some of the songs are angry songs.

Anyway, that was Thursday and today is Sunday and I haven't yet heard back from her, so I don't know what her response to my older work was. I feel embarrassed right now. I think I put on an attitude then that I just couldn't put on now. I've been through too much horrible stuff since then and it has changed me physically, emotionally and mentally. I am not the same person I was a decade ago. In some ways I feel defeated and in other ways I feel humbled, which is better.

This woman will be leaving to go live in Florida for the next four or five months, but maybe when she gets back in the spring I can work on some music with her. I've been working on some new songs. It would be amazing to actually work with a real live human being. Most of what I've done creatively in my life, I've done alone--sing, play guitar, dance, paint, write. Now maybe a door is opening nearby, a door I can walk through once I stir up some confidence. I used to be a solitary performer. Maybe this woman will help me and maybe somehow I can help her too.

You know what I didn't do on Thanksgiving? I didn't give thanks with my heart, I was so preoccupied with people that I forgot what the whole occasion was about. But just welcoming people into my home was a good thing all around, something I should do more of.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Self Help

I shot this digital photograph a few years ago when I visited Ireland with my mother, but I see it here symbolically, like coming up from the dungeon (though, in fact, I think it was a monastery). So here I am climbing the stone stairs to get to the light, to look out at freedom.

We all come from different places, have different patterns and dreams, but essentially, we are the same. We've laughed and cried, felt fear and love and anger. There's more that unites us, than divides us. I forget this.

Today I went to the school library and picked up a book that Christina had recommended called FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY by Susan Jeffers, Ph.D. When I got home I read through the first 5 chapters. The author is promoting the power of positive thinking, especially during adverse circumstances. She encourages the belief that we can handle whatever comes our way. We can't erase the fear, especially when learning something new, but we can face the fear and "do it anyway". It's doing the scary part that helps to create confidence.

I realize that I am a fearful person. Living with an abusive alcoholic for over five years trained me in the fear response, trained me so well, that I was afraid even when there was nothing to be afraid of. The psychosis also trained me with fear, trained me to be my own worst enemy. Now, when I go through my down times, I become anxious, though my present moment holds only peace and quiet. I play the russian roulette game of "What if...?" instead of relaxing into the moment of peace I do have. I make the mistake of slipping into negative thoughts and sitting with them.

Why do I sit with the negative? I guess I want to see the whole picture, but the truth is I can only see part of the big picture. I am not God, not all seeing and powerful. There's another truth, that negative thinking turns in on itself and paints the world black when it is full of color. I want to believe in the power of positive thinking. In fact, I relied on this philosophy during hard times in my life. Al-Anon taught me to keep the focus on myself, accept what I couldn't change and change what I could, not in others, but in myself. I have no control over others and no control over the voices, but I do have control over myself and my attitude.

I need to mull over this idea that I suffer from an addict's disease. I'm still looking for completion outside myself as if I don't have enough within myself to be happy. I do have enough, more than enough. Ms. Jefferds and others promote the self-help philosophy of retraining yourself. Instead of listening to negative self talk (which is persistent and sometimes subtle), you actively create as positive an atmosphere as you can. LIsten to inspirational audiobooks, read inspirational books, say to yourself affirmations morning, noon and night, write inspirational quotes on index cards and post them around your living space.

My question to myself was is this a form of brainwashing? But then I think of all the negative thoughts that filter into my consciousness from myself or from the voices and I think that it's only common sense to replace the negative with the positive. And it's not easy. There's resistance to me saying to myself "I am a good woman and I deserve to be happy", but if I don't believe it and fight for it, the happiness part won't just someday show up.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Glass Half Full

I'm just about 10 days free of smoking cigarettes and smoking remains "Not An Option". I haven't had any major cravings, just passing thoughts which I shut down right away. That appears to be key, to be able to say "No!" to an urge that wants to linger. So when the door opens a crack, I promptly close it and get on with the business at hand. So far, it's working, but I will remain vigilant. I've been stopping by Woofmang.com (the quit smoking support group) and I've gotten some great support and advice. I mentioned that I had been feeling a bit off, a bit blue and several people responded about how to fight depression. It was all very commonsensical: get some exercise, stay outside and get some sun each day, meditate, pray, have a healthy reward system in place, clean, etcetera. One woman told me to see the glass as half full, instead of half-empty, and another woman said to practice gratitude, which is essentially the same philosophy. What they were telling me was similar to what I tell others I know when they are depressed. I usually say--Be Creative! So now, I have to listen to my own advise again and cultivate the positive.

The I Ching has a hexagram called The Arousing or Shock which basically says you will receive shock/upsets to shake you out of complacency, to help you see things newly so that you can learn the lessons you were born to learn about life. Whenever I sink into depression, I have a window of opportunity to respond to it differently. The more I opt out of a new response, the more I fall into the hole. And so, I should practice recovery behavior now and for the rest of my life, get exercise and feel the sun on my face, meditate and pray, have meaningful creative work, help others on their way. This is called changing my attitude. I find I forget to do this over and over again. So I keep reminding myself and getting reminded by the examples and words of others.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I picked this stock photo because it's a symbol of unity and unity is the direction I hope this country is going in. The economy is in real trouble at home and abroad and this is a major factor in why Obama has been elected to be the 44th president. And we need universal healthcare and to put an end to the war in Iraq. In fact, we need so many changes. The Democrats will now have much more power, but in order to really create the change we need when we need it, Republicans must join in too. We can't afford to waste time. It's the younger generation that is really put on the spot and they know it; in a lot of ways it's up to them to change the way things are done in Washington. Partisan politics won't work.

Another reason why I think Barack Obama won is because he reached out to Independent voters and Republican voters who were dismayed by Bush and his administration. Republicans are supposed to be fiscal conservatives, but Bush was not. Instead he has borrowed and spent enormous amounts of money. That the economy is in trouble is no accident. Obama made the point several times in his book The Audacity Of Hope that he wanted to work WITH Republicans whenever possible. Of course, there will still be conflicts of interest and the country may be moving in a more liberal direction, but then we've moved from conservative politics (slavery, sexism for example) to more liberal politics consistently over time. All in all this may not be such a bad thing, though some people might take some time getting adjusted to it.

Again I think of young people and the kind of world they are growing up in. The advent of the personal computer has drastically changed the social/political landscape for young people. We now live in a global community. Gone are the days when the U.S. can remain an isolationist country. Now we affect the world and the world affects us. And what are young people looking at these days? Sexually transmitted diseases, two wars abroad, a failing economy, a lack of resources, global warming, etc, etc... We are all up against it, but they are the ones who will inherit the messes we've all made beforehand. Again the only way out of our troubles is to acknowledge that these are global problems and require an even greater unity than Democrats joining with Republicans. These problems require that the whole world work in unison.

What does that mean, a world working in unison? It means, above all things, world peace. War is not the answer to anything, it just perpetuates the cycle of horror and abuse. I hope young people figure this one out because without peace we can't address the fact that we may be killing our world and raping its resources. If we continue to attack one another we just perpetuate our problems and miss our chance to reverse all these destructive trends. If we continue to attack one another we doom our species to self-destruct.

People are so freaked out by terrorists and understandably so, but the truth is terrorists are human too, sick, obsessed humans but humans none the less. And terrorism cannot be eliminated through violence. Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers". In fact Jesus said a whole lot about the extraordinary power of love and forgiveness. Why do people forget this?In Buddhism life is considered so precious that you shouldn't even step on an ant if you can help it. People forget that too. But there is this great resistance to the concept striving for world peace. People have called me an idealist, but I am not. I am a pragmatist. We are blinded by our own bias' to the point where we rob others of the most precious thing there is: Life. What right do any of us have to be violent, to maim and murder? The power of hate is glorified in wars and the power of love is mocked. Jesus was mocked and murdered for promoting a most revolutionary concept: Turn the other cheek, love your enemies, forgive others so that you can be forgiven. He said anyone could love friends and family, but it is the extraordinary person who can love an enemy. How many people have the courage to do what Jesus did and not succumb to revenge and punishment? Not many and so here we are, in a world full of war and injustice. It's been over 2,000 years since Jesus was murdered. Unity IS the answer and peace and love should be the goal, but this requires that people be extraordinary and turn the other cheek. Is anyone willing to try?

Monday, November 3, 2008


I've been enjoying facebook. I have 5 friends including my brother. I invited Pamela to join, but she got a bit peeved that she would have to join in order to see my page. It's true, facebook is a closed system, you have to join and only personal invites or acceptances get you into the system. I don't mind that despite the fact that I know so few people. I'm just happy with the people I do know. I tried finding some old friends, but no luck. I did manage to find two boys (now middle-aged men) who went to grade school and junior high school with me, but I'm still a bit shy about contacting them. I had a major crush on one of them and a minor crush on the other all those years ago. The major crush got married to a Swedish woman and then moved to Sweden and became a school principal. I only know that because my parents met his parents at a party a few years ago. Truth is I wasn't that close to these boys years ago, I just wanted to be, but didn't reach out to them after I went to high school. And I could have, they lived close by. Oh well. Maybe I will yet.

One thing I don't like about facebook (and MySpace) are all the weight loss ads. Right now the biggest thing is an Acai Berry diet that is being promoted it seems by Oprah Winfrey. Now, don't get me wrong, I would love there to be a natural, healthy, miracle substance to ingest to make me lose all this weight, but I highly doubt it. Meanwhile people with eating disorders are growing by the thousands (millions?), all in quest of this horrible holy grail--thinness. It's perverse and sad and scary. So seeing Dieting Propaganda on a popular site as facebook is discouraging and annoying. I don't like being overweight, but I still love myself; many girls and women (and men) out there are secretly hating themselves and judging others while they do it. All for what? Superficial appearances! It's nice to look nice and it feels good, still, it IS what is inside that is most precious. People lose sight of this all too easily. Sometimes I lose sight of it and then I feel horrible. I just worry particularly about girls and young women who buy into the bull.

Aside from the Diet Patrol Ads, I like facebook because it potentially can bring me closer to the people I do know. This is a step in the right direction, away from my own generally reclusive state. If I can keep in touch with the people I care about, I may not get so detached and the winter may wind up being warmer for it (figuratively that is).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Three Days Quit

Just about 3 days quit and I'm feeling okay so far. I stopped by Woofmang.com and offered some support to someone who just relapsed for a couple of days and congratulated another person who resisted a monster crave. I have to be sure to touch base there every day to tell people how I'm doing and to support others. I still have to follow through on the Freedom From Smoking program as well. I need to write down my reasons for quitting, make copies of the list and keep it close at hand.

I've been sleeping and eating too much, but I did paint today. I worked a little bit on three acrylic paintings including the portrait of Avery Rose. I'm afraid the portrait of Avery doesn't quite capture her likeness. I tried painting a watercolor version of the photo, but that didn't come out. In fact, I'm struggling with all my paintings for this project. I'm only really satisfied with the watercolor of Jack Michael. I'd like to do a good watercolor of Avery and one of Jack and Avery. I ordered some more Arches watercolor paper in a larger size which should arrive in a few days. I'm also getting some artist grade gouache to replace my student grade gouache.

About.com-painting has a monthly painting project. This month it's mixed media or more specifically mixing wet and dry media. I'm going to use gouache and pastel. I have a large wooden box filled with soft pastels. I got it over 20 years ago and never really used them. I'm going to follow the technique of a former teacher in an instructional book she wrote over 20 years ago (too). I think I might try doing a self-portrait. According to this teacher (Mary Beth McKenzie) you establish the composition first with gouache and then go over the gouache in part with the pastels. She literally draws lines of color and crosshatches them instead of rubbing the pastel into the picture. In doing this she keeps the colors vibrant. She also uses pastel fixative spray to preserve parts of her portraits and rework other areas. I'll be a neophyte at this, but that should be exciting.

I'm not happy that we lost an hour of light in the evenings today. It means to me that winter has officially begun even though it's still fall. Short days and long nights. The main thing is to get through this winter, stay busy and keep a positive attitude. Sometimes easier said than done. I told my therapist that there are days when my painting goes well and other days when it goes poorly and I get depressed and lose motivation. She said I need to have a plan for another activity during those times of poor painting. Writing or craftwork or even songwriting. It takes training to get myself to do something instead of sleeping. But I can do it if I set my mind to it.

The national election is coming up on Tuesday and I'm getting nervous about it. When I met Bev on Friday I had an Obama button on my purse. She told me she was voting for McCain. I felt dismayed, but kept my mouth shut. This is a free country, thank God, and people should vote with their hearts and minds in whatever direction that takes them. I still have been praying that Obama wins the election, but I'm fully aware that I'm full of personal bias. I guess we all are. The main thing is to work at being bipartisan. We have a lot of problems in this country, the economy is in deep trouble, we're at war in two countries, millions of people have no healthcare. We have to work together to get through the hard times and not spend our time pointing fingers and placing blame.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Day Two And Counting

Well, yesterday was my quit day. I stopped smoking at 1:20 AM Halloween morning. I sent out a prayer that this would be the last time that I go through this. Really it hasn't been so bad, but that is deceptive. ANY smoking is bad and I have to keep reinforcing this idea. I've changed my "I Can Quit Smoking" cards to "I Have Quit Smoking" and posted them in places where I can see them. To assert that I have quit is more final than to say I can quit. I have not gone through any major craves, but this doesn't surprise me because I've been stopping voluntarily repeatedly during the month which helped to keep the physical addiction at bay. It's the psychological craves that I worry about, but not too much because too much worry leads to stress and stress leads to temptation. I know I just have to stay vigilant and keep reinforcing the fact that I am no longer a smoker, ever. N.O.P.E. means "Not One Puff Ever" and that's what I'm going to practice saying to myself. Also, if I get into trouble I must go right away to the message boards and post. And finally, I should hang around the message boards, read them regularly and post support to others along the way.

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day and I had the pleasure of going to lunch with Bev, a friend I hadn't seen in several years. We greeted each other with a hug and a few moments later she gave me a quit present: a bag filled with mints and gum and suckers along with 5 inexpensive bracelets. She used the bracelets during her quit. When she got a crave she would focus on her bracelets (they are stretch bead bracelets) as a distraction till the crave passed. I'm wearing one now and it really helps. It reminds me that I'm done with smoking and it reminds me of her and her kindness. Another pleasant surprise was that her boyfriend gave her some extra money to pay for our lunches. I thought that was so sweet of him as he's never even met me. She took me to a restaurant/bar that I've never been to. It was very nice and I'd like to go back there sometime. Hopefully I will get to see her again and I can treat her to lunch. She told me about her family and her new job. She said they had had some painful times in the past couple of years, but now things were looking up and she was very happy. That's such a great thing, to meet someone who is so obviously happy. She said she might commission me to paint a portrait of her boyfriend's family for his birthday. I'm looking forward to getting photographs from her and working on it. I would also like to paint portraits of her children. I would do that for free because I like her and I need the practice and I love painting people's children.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Goodbye Letter

I've moved my quit day up to tomorrow. It will be Halloween and therefore a memorable date. I bought my last pack of cigarettes today and will try to finish them off by bedtime. If not, I will destroy them. I've been getting some excellent advice and guidance from a couple of people on Woofmang.com, especially someone named Deb. Thanks Deb!! She's so on target and very, very supportive. I'll probably be leaning on her for the next week.

I saw my therapist today. I've been seeing her every other week for a while now and that seems to be working out. She's a very understanding person, very supportive of me. I've known her for eight out of the last ten years. She's seen me at my most psychotic and also at my most sane. I'm very fortunate to have found her at the very beginning of my psychosis. Her office is right in town which makes going to see her stress free. She's also a psychology professor at the university. There are definite boundaries she keeps in our relationship, but that also helps me to know where I stand. I don't pry into her personal life and she's very careful not to discuss me with her husband and friends, not that I'd really care too much. If she weren't my therapist, she could be my friend. She gives practical advice, she's non judgmental and she's kind. She's someone I can trust. So I told her about my quit date tomorrow and why I moved it up (to stop teasing myself with smoking). I also told her about Bev getting in touch with me. I'm going to see Bev tomorrow for lunch to catch up and hopefully create a real honest to God offline friendship. That would be wonderful and Bev is the perfect person. She's smart, responsible, very honest about herself and to others and she's funny. I also like her children. So I'm looking forward to tomorrow when I see her. She quit smoking February 14th (Valentine's Day) 2005. Being with her will help me with my quit. I've also been advised to write a Goodbye Letter to my cigarettes. So here it goes....

Dear(?) Cigarettes,

Before I met you personally, you were good friends with my mother. You became her best friend when she was 16 and stayed close to her till she was 34. That was the year she learned how harmful you have been to so many people and that was the year I was born. So she quit you. Once a year she would meet with you again at a party, but that was it. She basically left you flat. Unfortunately my mother didn't warn me about you when I was a little girl and when I saw you hanging out with a boy I really liked, I decided to become friends with you too. I guess I thought he looked "cool" and I wanted to be "cool" too. I had another friend and she also wanted to be "cool" and she liked the same boy, so we would all spend time together on the top floor of my parents' house in my room (my parents rarely came upstairs). We were 12 years old, not even teenagers. A few years later we began drinking wine, getting drunk and spending time together. I guess we thought it was fun to break the rules and pretend to be grown up when we weren't. I didn't spend all my time with you, but enough that you left a lasting impression on me.

Then I got involved with my first boyfriend and he did not like you at all. You were close friends with his mother and he knew you were bad news. So I stayed away from you for nearly five years. Then I left my boyfriend. Soon afterwards I began hearing voices that didn't feel like me and I returned to you. I hid you from my family and didn't spend all my time with you, but enough that I was under your spell.

Then I moved away from my hometown, far away into the country. I had been feeling badly about myself for many years and I wound up choosing to be with another boyfriend, but this boyfriend was also very close to you. He kept you by his side all the time. You were close to nearly everyone in his family and I got closer to you too. I began spending all my time with you and my boyfriend. I couldn't get away from either of you and both of you hurt me badly. You polluted my air and made me cough and stink and even after I left my boyfriend for some reason I still held on to you, even though you hurt me. I was chained to you. I was an addict. I tried to break it off with you when I went back to school, but went right back to you five months later.

A few months after that I became paranoid and delusional. The voices in my head turned on me and attacked me. They said smoking was evil and that I had to quit and I tried so hard to leave you, but the stress was too much and I fell into a rut with you. Oh, I admit, at times you comforted me when I was at my lowest. I was so alone. You were my most faithful companion. But soon, I became so tired of always turning to you. I couldn't go a waking hour without turning to you. And last year I left you. I thought it was for good. I remained without you for over six months and then I spent a few moments with you and left again. Four months later I spent a week with you and left again. I've been seeing you and breaking up with you ever since and now I know this has got to stop.

The truth is you killed my grandfather. You also killed my grandmother's sister. The truth is you could kill me. The truth is I don't like you and I never really did. Right now my head hurts because of you and my house stinks and my poor cats are being hurt by you. You may think that I need you, but I don't. I spent over 10 months without you and I can spend the rest of my life without you. You have no redemptive quality. You are bad to the bone. This long and painful affair is over. I'm leaving you for good this time. I may see you around, but I will never join your company again. It's over between us.



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Passing Blue Mood

I've been feeling down the last couple of days. The weather has been grey, cold, a bit snowy and miserable for three days now. I'm moving into my winter hibernation mode. I have not smoked in three days, but the temptation to smoke one more pack before I quit on Monday is still with me. I feel isolated, even lonely and the voices are shouting in the distance. I can't hear what they say, I can only tell that they are agitated. It's the nature of life to go in and out of good and bad moods. I will come out of this poor mood and get productive again.

I did hear from a friend today. I met her at Al-Anon, but we fell out of touch over four years ago. She managed to find my blog and from there she emailed me. I'm looking forward to seeing her again. She is loving life right now and I am happy for her. She deserves it.

My brother is back online after being offline for about 10 months. He joined Facebook and is getting in touch with a lot of friends. I decided to join too. I tentatively began looking for old friends, but didn't have much luck. I'm going to ask Jen (Beautiful Mind) and Bev (the friend who emailed me today) if I can add them to my friend list because I found them on Facebook. J.P. are you still on Facebook? I forgot to check you out. Facebook is a closed system. You can only get into people's space if you are invited or ask. That's probably a good idea, but right now I only know my brother (and I just asked him to be on my friend list tonight) so I can't visit people's pages yet. It should be fun once I do have access to a few people.

Last night I was feeling too isolated, so I went to the NAMI message boards and posted about my smoking relapse, asking the people there if they smoke or have tried to quit. I used to follow those message boards a lot, but have drifted away from them, so I felt somewhat self-conscious posting. I'd like to try and keep in touch with the people there; they are a good bunch. They support each other and I'd like to help out, too. It's the best message board I've found for schizophrenia.

I haven't painted much because of my down mood. If I don't go shopping tomorrow with my brother, I will paint. I'm working on an acrylic painting of Avery Rose and Jack Michael hugging. I hope it comes out well.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More On Painting (And Smoking)

I painted the first image of Jack Michael, Avery Rose's brother, yesterday in watercolor. I think it came out well, except the photo is imperfect (too dark on the left hand side) due to my using a not great camera and not having the proper light set up for taking photos of artwork. The second image is not a duplicate. I had the artist who commissioned the work look at the painting in my Artid photo gallery and she said I had painted the face too wide, so I narrowed the face by painting more hair. I decided not to rework the colors of the face because I would have to create a whole new palette as the one I was using was all dried up. That's the advantage and drawback of using acrylic, it dries quickly. I think the second version does look more like Avery, but I feel as if I'm not quite capturing her essence. I decided today to try and paint a watercolor of the same photograph of Avery to see if I could get a better likeness, but no luck. I also worked on another watercolor of Jack, but that didn't come out either. And I started a new acrylic painting of Avery and Jack hugging each other. That one has some promise, but I have to be patient. I struggled to get an accurate skin tone today. Sometimes (too often) it is hard for me to identify what color I'm looking at when it comes to skin, so I don't know what colors to choose from my palette. The skin is made up of many subtly combined colors, the trick is to not either use just one color or use too many colors. Today I was using too many colors and left the painting unresolved. So, all in all, a frustrating day of painting compared to the success of the day before.

I smoked yesterday and drank too much coffee and stayed up all night painting. After I got up this afternoon, I returned to painting. I didn't smoke, but wanted to. I didn't take my own advice--I didn't read my addiction book or go online for support. Several people at Woofmang.com suggested that I quit now instead of waiting another week, but I didn't respond to them because I felt ashamed of choosing to smoke. I didn't continue with the Freedom From Smoking program today either. Instead I painted and felt frustrated with it and a little lonely. I did say out loud, "I can quit smoking." but my heart wasn't in it. When I smoke and don't do the prep work to quit I get pulled into the addiction and I start to worry that I won't be able to stop. But enough, I must be patient with myself and keep trying.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Avery Rose

I've been commissioned to paint two portraits for an artist on Artid and this is one of them. I worked on it for several hours. It's done in acrylic on stretched canvas and I am basically pleased with it, though I might fiddle with the color a bit tomorrow. I just got a bunch of photographs to work from today. I am so pleased to be working for someone other than myself and Avery Rose is such a beautiful girl, so it was a pleasure to paint her portrait. It's the first acrylic portrait I've done in quite a while. The truth is I will be painting more than just the two portraits. I'm going to paint as many as possible because I love the photos and I need the practice. I will be working not only in acrylic, but in watercolor as well. I enjoy painting children so much, probably because I don't have any of my own. I got a painting tip from About.com-painting about how to approach skin tone which I applied in this painting. I took three primary colors--ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow medium and alizarin (which is red)--and mixed them all together then added various amounts of titanium white to get different skin tones. Avery Rose has lovely pale skin, but I might have made her too pale. The colors in this photograph are not exact. I worked hard and quickly, as I often do when I'm into a painting. Tomorrow I will try painting her brother, Jack Michael. I've already started a watercolor of him, but didn't get too far as I got immersed in this acrylic painting. And there are several photographs of them together which will be a treat to draw and paint. I'm so grateful to the Artid artist for asking me to paint her niece and nephew. I'm starting to really feel like a committed artist which is a wonderful feeling. This assignment might spur me to start posting my business cards locally. I love doing this.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Smoking: Obsession And Compulsion

I haven't smoked for three days and I haven't felt particularly uncomfortable, at least not physically, but I decided to buy a pack of cigarettes tomorrow. It's not logical. I feel better and less stressed out when I don't smoke, so where does this "decision" come from?

My quit date is in eleven days and I haven't learned something I need to learn. I'm not facing the fact that I am an addict. I know my thinking is distorted and that I'm fooling myself, but I haven't dug deep enough. Tonight I picked up a book I bought a few years back; it's really two books in one. The first book is called ADDICTIVE THINKING and the second book is called THE ADDICTIVE PERSONALITY--Understanding the Addictive Process, Compulsive Behavior, and Self-Deception. The author of the first book writes, "I cannot stress enough the importance of realizing that addicts are taken in by their own distorted thinking and that they are its victims." Part of my distorted thinking is that I won't fully acknowledge myself as addict. Being an addict is not just having a physical dependence on a drug; it's also a psycho-spiritual illness, an obsession, a compulsion. That's why I think it's very important to be mentally/emotionally prepared to quit.

I've decided that I'm not physically addicted to nicotine yet because I don't go into withdrawal after I stop. This doesn't mean that I don't have a physical reaction to the nicotine when I inhale it because I certainly do, but I can detach from it. I don't crave it. I don't get irritable. This is very good news. I probably won't need either a nicotine replacement patch or a drug like Chantix to finally stop. This fact highlights to me that my real problem is in my mind. If I'm going to quit for good, I have to look into my thoughts and behavior. One person on a message board told me that quitting smoking is a process of self-discovery. I've learned already that I am not a bad person. In fact, I've found that I have the ability to be direct and honest and that in being direct and honest I find relief from my compulsion. That's why the support groups online (and I'm sure off line as well) are so valuable.

In the Freedom From Smoking program early on they say that you should say to yourself OUT LOUD--"I can quit smoking." You should say it often. You should discuss how it feels to say it on the message boards. Then you should also write it down on several index cards and post it in places in your house or apartment where you will see it often. I have one on the wall in front of my computer and one on the cork board in front of my drawing table. I should post even more of them--maybe one on the refrigerator and on the bathroom mirror. It may seem silly, but it is not. It's a very important tool and it shows your willingness to move in the direction of quitting.

In effect, when you say "I can quit smoking", when you write it and post it, when you read it, you are reprogramming your compulsion and replacing it with positive reinforcement. When you go to your support groups and get honest and give support, you are reprogramming your internal message, replacing "I must smoke" with "I can quit smoking". The more you do these things, the greater your chance of success. There's a 12 step saying: "It works if you work it." I've found this to be true. But if you don't work it or work it sporadically, you leave yourself vulnerable to your primary compulsion.

My brother is critical of 12 step programs. He sees it as just more obsessive/compulsiveness and in some ways he may be right, but I can't really see a better alternative. In one of the Freedom From Smoking lessons they have you calculate how often you've reinforced your smoking behavior over the years. Here's the example: On average you smoke ten inhalations per cigarette. That's 10 times you practice smoking (which is a learned behavior). If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, that's 200 times you've practiced in one day, times that by 365 days (I think that's a year) and then by the number of years you've smoked. In my lifetime I've smoked over 20 years. For me I've practiced smoking over a million and a half times. What this means is that you have to practice quitting thoughts and behaviors to combat years of smoking practice. You have to unlearn your smoking behavior and replace it with something positive.

I've included tonight in the favorite links part of my blog 5 online sites that will help those who want to practice quitting smoking. J.P. check them out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

City And Country

Thanks J.P., Nancy and Jen for posting comments on my blog. I really appreciate it.

I didn't smoke today. Didn't even want to, despite the fact that it was a cold, windy, even snowy! day. I did treat my brother to lunch and then I went and got my first 40 lb bag of sunflower seeds this season for the birds. When I got home I put out seed along with some plain peanuts. The birds love the peanuts. The only birds I've seen so far around the house are the blue jays and a couple of chickadees, but I'm sure more will come now that I'm putting out food. In fact, I think the blue jays are scouts for the other birds.

I feel a great sympathy for the birds and the deer in the late fall and through winter. They are part of what gets me through the season. Deer hunting season is coming up and I hate it, but can't do anything about it. Some people (mainly men) get drunk and go hunting--drunk men with guns is a frightening thought and not just for the deer. Someone always gets accidentally killed each year. But to be fair, some people hunt to feed their families during the winter. I live in a poor county of New York and this year money is going to be even tighter; I know there are quite a few people who hunt more out of necessity than for the sport of it. The other thing is that because there are not many predators killing the deer (except humans) there is overpopulation and the deer starve to death. Nature can be so brutal. Me, I just put out some birdseed, peanuts and apples to feed the birds and treat the deer and hope for the best for them and for me.

I used to be a city girl till I was 27, but now I've become a country woman. Next June will mark my 20th year here. I can barely recall what it was like living in the City. I've visited so infrequently over the last two decades, mainly because it is too far away and I lost touch with the people I used to know there (though Nancy has very graciously said I could come and visit her sometime). When I have visited the City, I've realized why I still love it. The people, the buildings, the museums, there's just so much to like about New York City. It's got a lot of character. It's also fast paced, often noisy, a bit dirty, somewhat dangerous in certain places, at certain times. You need to be somewhat tough to live there. I used to be tougher, more city savvy. It used to be my home. I never let myself miss it, but when I visit I know I left a part of myself behind with it. My family says I can't move back there because it's too expensive, but sometimes I wonder.

Right now, I'm staying put where I am, in a small college town in the country, but I don't always want to stay here. I want to move someplace with public transportation, medical care, culture--at least to a small city. Ideally I would live an hour and a half from the City in upstate New York--still too expensive. There's another place that I'm considering that is closer to where I live now, but I don't know. The economy is bad and will most likely get worse before it gets better. I'll just have to wait and see. Except for the driving, living in the country feels more restful to me. Being able to look outside and see the deer grazing is a little blessing along with the hills and trees and all the other animals and birds. But I really don't take advantage of it because I mostly stay inside my house. I'm hoping next spring I will get outside and paint the landscape. The only time I've done that is when I took a watercolor class just before I went back to school. That was quite a while ago.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Watercolor Demonstration--Part B

Okay this is kind of backwards, but I'm hoping that you'll piece it together and figure it out. Below, in Part A, I show the photograph I'm working from. It's a reference photograph I got online. I do not know this girl, but I love her face and expression. The next photograph is of the drawing I made of her face. The following photograph shows me beginning the painting. Basically, you get a flesh tone by mixing the three primary colors: blue, red and yellow. This will give you a brownish color which you dilute with water. You have to experiment to find the right color and tone. I'm just a relative beginner at this, so I approximated and put down a wash of the color over all of the subject's face except for part of the whites of her eyes. In my opinion I didn't do a great job of this because the wash is kind of blotchy, but it will serve my purpose for now. In the next image I deepen the shadows with more of the brown mixture as well as creating some hair color. (I don't have the images in front of me, so I'm doing this from memory. Hopefully I'll get it right.) In the last image of Part A I begin to add color to the eyes and mouth and skin.

In Part B I continue the process, gradually deepening the darks and the color of her eyes and mouth. The process is called going "light to dark". I often have the temptation to darken the eyes and lips with color too soon, sometimes even before I've put on the base color. Not a good idea. Painting is about relationships, as you can see in this demonstration. The face changes dramatically during the process of adding color a bit at a time. If you jump in and paint the eyes and lips first, they will probably wind up too dark and without the subtlety of various layers of colors. All this I'm still trying to learn and during the process I often removed or lightened the colors by dabbing the paper with a paper towel. If you've made a mistake as long as you remove the color quickly, there is no harm done and sometimes you can create some good effects by playing around with the process. My weakness is, I think, that I don't estimate the skin tones properly and don't lay the base color down dark enough, so the final image tends to look a bit washed out, not colorful enough. Not sure if this painting really works. In my braver moments I'm more experimental with color, but I couldn't do that for this demonstration.

Watercolor is transparent and that's why you go from light to dark. Acrylics and oils and gouache are opaque which is why you go from dark to light. So every time I go from one medium to another, I switch my process. Opaque paint is technically easier because you can just paint over mistakes you make and try again. Watercolor is pretty challenging because you can't always just go over mistakes. Different artists use different techniques for correcting mistakes in watercolor. Some use blotting paper as I did, some wait till their mistake is dry, take a small wet brush and lift off color gradually, some use special illustration board to paint on and actually scrub paint off and still others even use a razor blade to get rid of mistakes. But the best mistakes are the ones that redirect your painting and teach you new things. And, of course, there are mistakes that are just mistakes and can't be gotten rid of, in which case you should soak your imperfect painting in water to get rid of the colors, dry it and try again or at least use the paper for color testing while working on another painting.

Watercolor Demonstration--Part A

Sunday, October 19, 2008

And Life Goes On

It's been almost two years since I started this blog and I only just now figured out how to have a full comment page where you can see the whole post that you're responding to, if you want to. I wish I were more computer savvy. I should really take an online class. Not knowing anyone really limits my ability to learn new things about the computer. Now, there's a whole generation of kids and young adults who have grown up with it, have learned it and taught it to each other (and probably to their parents, too). I should spend more time learning, instead of just using.

I spent a full two hours trying to resist the temptation to buy a pack of cigarettes and wound up going out and buying it. Ironically, after I came home, I went online to the Freedom From Smoking message boards and began working the program. I left several comments and started to feel more positive about my ability to quit again. Part of it is just saying aloud repeatedly--"I can quit smoking." That sounds sort of silly, but it's not. In fact, it's a relief to say it and a prayer at the same time. I must just keep trying each day, each night to prepare for my quit date in about two weeks. I also find going online and supporting others in their quit really helps too. J.P. if you are serious about quitting, definitely find several online groups to join. There are quite a few of them out there now that there's an international push to help people stop smoking. Just remember, the more times you try to quit, the closer you'll come to actually quitting. I'm starting to believe this again.

While I was trying to distract myself from buying cigarettes, I started a drawing of a young girl's face close up which I will turn into a watercolor painting. I'm thinking of doing a demonstration on this blog of the basic stages I go through when making a painting by taking a photograph at each stage and then posting them here. I saw another artist do that in her blog a little while back and thought it was cool. It all depends on whether I can pull it off though. Not all my watercolors come out. I have a pile of unsuccessful watercolor paintings. I've read that you shouldn't throw them out, but instead should soak them in water to wash out the paint, let the paper completely dry and then start a new painting.

Meant to clean the house or at least start on it this week-end, but didn't do a thing. It's long since gotten way out of hand. I learned tonight that Nancy is going to hire a cleaning woman to help her. Nancy works full time and needs more time to dedicate to her art. I don't work, except at painting, but the combination of the schizophrenia and recurring depression really hampers me. I've gotten a bit better about washing my body and cleaning my teeth, but that's about it. I used to enjoy bouts of cleaning. No more. Now I let things get dirtier and dirtier and I allow no one, except occasionally my brother, into my house. And that's a problem because sometimes people need to come into my house to fix things. Right now I have no satellite television reception and I haven't for months. I need someone to fix it and I've been putting off calling to have it fixed even though I'm paying for it each month. Really, I should have someone come and clean my house once or twice a month, but I don't have the money and I'm mortified by the state of my house. I keep hoping I'll change and get better.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Quiet Day

This is J.P.'s cat Rosie. Sorry J.P. I tried painting the photo of her outside in the foliage, but it didn't come out, so I chose one of the other photos to work from. If you think it looks like her, I'll send you the painting.

Quiet day today and I didn't buy cigarettes. I thought about it, but I didn't do it. I'm trying to drink more water when I get anxious about it. I painted Rosie, then shot some photographs of myself and the landscape outside my house. I'm thinking of doing a self-portrait using more naturalistic colors and I'd also like to paint one of the landscape photos I took today. I'm still using watercolors and acrylic because they are water based and easy to clean up, but sometimes I miss working in oils. I discovered on About.com-painting that there are water-based oils. I have never heard of that. I would like to try them out, but no funds right now. Maybe after Christmas I can get a beginner set.

I was looking and reading through a book by a teacher of mine, Mary Beth McKenzie. The book is called A Painterly Approach and it came out in 1987 when I was taking her class at the National Academy Of Design in New York City. It's filled with beautiful photographs of her work with several demonstrations and a review of her process in pastels, oils and monotype printing. She writes well and I think I will re-read the book for guidance and even inspiration. I've returned to the images in this book repeatedly over the years because I'm drawn to her style which is sort of an abstracted realism with a focus on color. She an excellent draftsman and an excellent painter. She taught me several things, one being that the background is just as important as the foreground subject. Most beginning artists focus on the face in a portrait and neglect the background until the very end of the painting. I sometimes do this too. But the color you choose for the background will affect all the colors in the portrait. Also it's important to bring some of the background color into the foreground and visa-versa. If you don't the painting will lack a certain harmoniousness. One of the hardest things Ms. McKenzie tried to teach was not treating your oil painting as if it were precious. Instead she encouraged doing reconstructive surgery, so to speak, on the forms that weren't working. I did this yesterday in one of my acrylic paintings.

You can do these things with acrylic or oil painting because the paint is opaque and you can just paint over mistakes. Not so easily done with watercolors where colors are transparent and mistakes show through or colors get muddy when you paint over them too much. Watercolor is a different headset, many say more difficult. Even so, I enjoy switching from watercolor to acrylic and back again to vary my process and challenge myself.

It was partly cloudy today and cold and I turned up the heat for the first time this year. Snow will be coming soon. I hope I'm ready for another winter season. Last year I stayed home a lot to avoid driving because I was feeling some anxiety about driving after I skidded of the road one fall.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Two Choices

In the Freedom From Smoking program I've been asked to write about my two choices: to smoke or not to smoke.

I saw my therapist yesterday and told her that I had smoked several times in the last two weeks. I told her I had joined The American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking program. At the end of the meeting I asked her to wish me luck, which she did. I then walked to a store a bought a pack of cigarettes. I chose to smoke. But why? The lame logic was that if my quit date is Novemeber 3rd, that means that I can smoke until that time. Addictive thinking. I haven't been posting on the message boards and I know I have to. The choice to smoke means that I will be chained to a cigarette again and I hated that feeling. If I choose to smoke, I choose to put my health in jeopardy. I make my family unhappy. I make myself unhappy. If I choose to not smoke, I will initially be uncomfortable, but in the long run I will be happier.

I'm in a strange situation, hanging between smoking and not smoking, and I find it stressful. If I were committed to quitting I would be more comfortable, more motivated, but right now I am not committed to it. I could get a pack tomorrow. I have to remember that I quit for 10 months and that that is something to be proud of. I have to remember that it often takes several serious tries before it quitting for good takes hold and that the more I open the door to quitting, the more likely I will. I have to encourage myself and not scold myself.

The choice to not smoke gives me the freedom I want and the choice to smoke takes away that freedom. Well, I'm still not committed, but I have to keep trying a little each day, writing, going to the message boards, talking into my tape recorder. I can quit smoking. I am saying it out loud.


Nancy called me tonight and I actually picked up the phone. These photographs are for her because she likes industrial sites. I shot them with my digital camera (that is now defunct) in Galway, Ireland in the spring of 2004. They're not the normal pictures of Ireland, but I still like them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Three Self Portraits Done At Age 16

I thought it would be interesting for you to look at these self-portraits I did in high school many years ago. The first two are expressionistic while the third sort of looks like me then, but is still moody (I look like I have a black eye). The one I've always been drawn to is the second portrait, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it foreshadowed my descent into madness. It's intense and strange. The technique was to take a piece of paper, lay down a wash of neutral color and maybe add another color, then take ink to outline the portrait and then, if you want, use pastels to further define the portrait. I should try to do that again. A teacher of mine in the late 1980s, Mary Beth McKenzie, used a similar technique using gouache first to make the general composition and then working over it with a variety of subtle pastel colors.

I'm very happy to have found About.Com-Painting because it keeps me in touch with other artists through the message boards, gives me instruction in various articles and allows me the chance to give feedback and get feedback on artwork. I especially like going to other artists' websites. It's a good learning tool. I found one website by an artist who paints animal portraits, which is something I've thought of doing too. I printed out his order form to get some ideas about how I should approach the business side of painting portraits of/for people.

I included a link to my website on two posts last night and the more I post, the more I will be promoting my work to others if they click the link. I would also like to promote Artid to the people there because I think it's an excellent and inexpensive way to share one's artwork and possibly make a sale. It's also an art community which I think is a plus and makes the experience more satisfying through the use of art blogs and commenting in guestbooks. A lot of artists have good websites, but they are out there in isolation. I prefer a group setting, which is ironic considering in my offline life I am quite a recluse. But, in truth, when it comes to making art, I wouldn't mind going to a regular class and being around others, I just don't have access to that right now.

Self promotion is hard and I've done practically none of it since last spring when I joined Artid. I should be posting my business cards locally, but I feel shy about it. Maybe, if I get more positive feedback online about my art and I get used to promoting myself, I will become ready to venture into my own community.

Monday, October 13, 2008

New Quit Date

This is a watercolor I painted of a B&W photograph of my brother's first cat, Squeaky. He was supposed to be my cat (I named him I'm afraid), but I abused the privilege by dressing him up in doll clothes one day when he was a kitten. Hey, I was a kid... Thanks J.P. for sending me three photos of your cat Rosie. I might try painting one of them to send to you.

Well, I've been smoking. Twice this week and I see all the warning signs. If I don't take steps to stop it now, I'll be back to a pack a day in no time, so I joined The American Lung Association--Freedom From Smoking program today. The sad fact is that most people need to make several attempts to quit before they can quit for good. Last September when I quit was my first attempt in about nine years and I stayed free of it for over ten months. I'm proud of doing that, but now I slid into making excuses. I think one of the mistakes I made was in not keeping up with the online support. I found a really good site called Woofmang.com and I think I will go back there too. I'm impressed with the people who've quit who stay in touch with the boards and offer support long after they've quit. I hope I'll turn into one of those people.

Right now I'm not physically addicted to the nicotene, but I'm right on the edge of it. I hated being tied to a cigarette day in and day out. It was like being a prisoner to it. It took me a long time to get sick and tired of it. The first year I became psychotic, the voices attacked me for smoking and forced me to try and quit, but I couldn't and I don't recommend trying to quit when you are very stressed out. It's best to wait till you're more stable. You have to be ready to quit. I'm getting ready by writing about it now. The Freedom From Smoking program suggests you set a quit date three weeks from starting the program. Three weeks from today I'm going to try to quit for good again--November 3rd, 2008.

I started smoking when I was twelve, but not a lot. A boy I liked smoked and I thought he looked "cool", so I decided to try it with another friend. I was too young at the time to realize that I was toying with something that would eventually hook me. My first boyfriend didn't smoke (his mother did and he hated it) and so I didn't smoke during the five years we were together. After we broke up, I gradually returned to it. I smoked maybe half a pack, but not every day. It was soon after I moved away from the city and got involved with an abusive alcoholic that I jumped up to a pack a day. Then I smoked because I was stressed out in the relationship, but afterwards I continued to smoke a pack a day. That's when I tried to quit.

That lasted five months and then I went right back to smoking a pack a day again. Then I became psychotic and tried to quit in the midst of the worst of it. That was pretty traumatic and kept me smoking till last year.

The thing is I know what I should do, but a lot of times I don't do it. I sabotage my well-being by making unhealthy choices. All I can do, all anyone can do, is get back on the wagon and keep trying. So that's what I intend to do.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Checking In

Here's a funny picture of one of my cats, Ozzie.

Okay, I'm going to try again to write every day or at least every other day, even if it's a really short entry.

I was looking for online art classes to see if I could get some feedback on my artwork and ran into multiple art communities. The one I just joined is called About.Com-Painting (you can find it with my favorite links if you're curious). It's got extensive active message boards and a ton of articles; it's even got some video tutorials on painting techniques. (I still don't have video on my computer unfortunately...I have to work on that). And many of the people who post on the message boards have websites to visit which is fun. Last night I went to the message board for open critiques and feedback and gave my two cents on two paintings. Today I uploaded my "The Looking Glass" painting in hopes of getting some feedback for myself.

The issue I brought up was that some of my better work is of paintings based on other established artists' work, in this case Jock Sturges' and that I was realizing that I can't sell those works without getting permission from the artist. (I went to Artid and made the paintings based on other people's photographs not for sale.) So far I've gotten three replies, all positive about my watercolor, but firm in saying that I would need to get permission to sell the image. I got several suggestions to use my own photographs or work from a live model. I could also use some reference photos that are listed for free online. If my house weren't such a mess and I were braver, I would try to get a model to pose for me from the university. I still have to check out whether the university has an open sketch class this semester. I've thought before of setting up in some out of the way spot in town or in a park and sketching/painting. That would be a challenge and it would be good for me.

There are other alternatives, such as setting up a still life to draw and paint from or doing more self-portraits. I can continue with abstract paintings. I can also continue copying from great artists for study, though I still don't know if it's okay to paint a copy of say a Cezanne to sell. I noticed someone on Artid selling reproductions of great art and so I thought it was okay. I'll have to do more research on that.

I spent so much time on the computer today, I didn't paint much. I worked a bit on a self-portrait in watercolor, but got lost in the shifting skin tones. I made some areas too red and other areas too orange. I still don't have a strong grasp on creating skin tone and making shadows. So I live and learn. That's the point, to keep learning.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fainting, Politics and Painting

This is a photograph of my ying and yang poster that I have in my living room with early morning shadows framing it. I keep it as a subliminal reminder that there are greater forces at work even in my life.

I want to write a blog entry, but I'm having trouble deciding what to write about. I'm somewhat envious of those bloggers who actually post once a day. I haven't been able to do it. How do you sum up a day in a couple of paragraphs? I keep feeling like I should have something important to say, but most of my life is quiet.

Yesterday I brought my brother to the hospital to get some blood taken for tests. He sees his doctor next week to monitor his diabetes. I waited for him in the car thinking it would take no more than half an hour. An hour went by and I got restless, so I went into the hospital to check on him. A nurse took me aside and said that my brother had fainted after his blood was drawn. She took me to his room. It was a small room, brightly lit, with a bed in the center. On that bed was my brother in a hospital gown talking with some friendly animation about English soccer to his doctor who was standing by the bed. As the doctor began talking I noticed he had an English accent. I could see that he was torn between giving medical advice and talking soccer. This reassured me that my brother's condition wasn't serious.

Soon after that he was discharged with the strong recommendation that he take it easy for the rest of the day. I drove him home and then went and got us lunch to eat at his house. I worried a little about him fainting again and what would he do if he fainted when he was alone. I've had similar worries about myself getting incapacitated when alone at night. Not that I think I'm particularly likely to. Mostly I felt detached, not wanting to engage in worrying, but the truth is my brother and I are getting older and we are no longer feeling the invulnerability of youth.

I feel protective of my brother, especially since he doesn't drive. I also just love him. He has his share of character defects, just as I do, but he's smart, honest and funny. He talks straight and he doesn't try to be anything but himself. He's the person I'm closest to in the whole world. I don't want anything bad to happen to him and I want to be there if he needs me. My family is so small, just my mother and father and uncle and my brother and me. That's it. If Rob and I are fortunate enough to live to an older age, I know we will be involved in each other's lives. We might have to live together. I'm hoping we move within ten years to a small city with adequate transportation and medical services and some culture. We shall have to see in which direction the country's economy turns in the next few years.

Speaking of the economy, wow, are we in trouble. I am an absolute boob when it comes to the economy, but I know that the whole world is struggling with this right now. I'm praying those in charge will make wise decisions and pull us through this. Being a Democrat I'm also praying that Obama wins the election in November. I don't trust McCain to be wise and I certainly don't trust Palin to possibly assume the office of the President of this country, let alone be the Vice President. My feeling is that the Republicans had their turn for two terms and now it is time for a change with new and different leadership. Whoever wins will have a tough job ahead of them trying to repair the mess of the previous administration. I hope the young people come out in droves and vote for the Democratic ticket. It's their future that's at stake and they should participate. I'm just amazed at the number of people who don't vote. There are countries aching to be democratic and some of the people who live in the US take the democratic process for granted. This election may be different. The internet has changed the game and made participation more natural. I wonder, if at some point any one of us could vote from a personal computer, would more people do it? My brother is registering voters today, the last day to do it, at least in New York.

Otherwise, I've been painting. I've done a series from Jock Sturges' photographs in watercolor and am struggling with one in acrylic. I don't know, is it okay to base my paintings on the works of another artist? I remember asking my teacher this when I was painting my Bluegirl painting and he said why not? I feel like I'm taking something that's not mine, when what I'm doing is more like transforming or translating something from one medium to another. Really, I'd rather work with color photographs. It's quite hard to make up color combinations than to follow them. Following the color of a person's body or of an object is an art form in itself unless you are painting colors expressionistically and intuitively (which can be a lot of fun). I'm sorely tempted to buy a book of Sturges' color photographs. Then again, working from a black and white photograph forces me to think about color. In the watercolor paintings I tried to be more naturalistic, but in the acrylic painting I am painting skin tones in blues as I did before, kind of following the Bluegirl painting.

The fun thing about painting in acrylic, as opposed to watercolor, is I get to exaggerate the forms and then go back over them and refine them. I started this recent painting by laying out the composition in ultramarine blue, which is a relatively dark blue. In the beginning outlining is fine because the paint being opaque means you can paint over or close to the outline in lighter shades of color. This allows for lots of layering possibilities. I feel a sense of power when I go over certain areas and remodel. Or change an entire color scheme. It took me a while to learn that lesson: that you don't have to keep what you initially start out with, that you can rework it like a sculptor with moist clay. That's not as true, I'm finding, with watercolor which requires more delicacy and precision. Truth is, I like both mediums for different reasons. I let go with acrylics and rein in with watercolor, so there's a kind of a push me, pull me thing going on when I work back and forth between them.

Monday, September 29, 2008

More New Work

I painted this watercolor this weekend and am calling it The Looking Glass. It's based on a black and white photograph by Jock Sturges which can be found in his book The Last Day Of Summer.

I had been struggling with a couple of small abstract acrylic paintings and then switched over to working in watercolors. I was getting some ideas from a book on Paul Klee. I concentrated on an abstract watercolor painting he did in 1922 called simply, Green, Violet against Orange. It's primarily a hand drawn geometric design skillfully filled in with colors from dark to light to subtle in between colors. It has an architectural feel to it and uses some of the shapes like magical windows. I thought, this might be a good work to loosely follow. I soon found out that I couldn't reproduce the colors or even the shapes very well. I did two paintings of it, one hand drawn and the other drawn with a ruler (except for the circular shapes). In the first painting I had little control, the colors splashed over the lines and I changed the colors to make it brighter and less subtle. I decided that I was painting to practice getting more control and not to paint a finished piece. So, in the second painting I was more careful, but this didn't necessarily make for a better painting, just a cleaner one. I then tried making up my own design in a couple of more paintings. On the whole it was just plain fun to work at this and I plan to do this as a practice to learn more about shapes, colors and values in watercolor.

Before I went to bed one night I picked up the Jock Stuges' book and the very first photograph captured my attention. I thought that it would make a good painting and so I sat down and drew it on watercolor paper. Then I tried to get some sleep, but couldn't, so I got up and started painting. I find that my process when I'm into something is often quick. I also find that I have to keep changing projects and mediums to stay interested in my work. But I've been very pleased that I have been consistently working for three weeks now. A good ending to an unproductive summer and a good beginning to the fall season.
May it continue.

I posted a blog on the Artid site about going through an artist's block this summer. One artist commented that this is not unusual for artists and that sometimes a "block" is necessary downtime. I thought that was interesting, that artists need to not work as part of the process to getting back to being creative again. Perhaps one's unconscious needs time to assimilate new experiences, or maybe it's a spiritual process as well. Having said that I still prefer to work than to not work because I am happier when I work, but I can now be more forgiving of the time away from work this summer.