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.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Creative Surge

This is the first piece of art that I've matted and framed in a long time.  In fact, I can't remember matting and framing any of my watercolors.  That realization shocked me.  Here I've been drawing and painting off and on for decades and I rarely brought my work to completion, even with a BFA in painting and photography.  So this little portrait of a friend's daughter, which I will give to that friend tomorrow, resonates with me.  It's not quite right, needs a softer color mat, but it will work for now.  But that it has taken me so long to get to this point says a lot about me and how I haven't taken myself seriously as an amateur artist.

So obviously I've been having one of my creative surges, which is a blessing, but tires me out.  I don't want to stop, but I really do need to rest and stand back from the work each day.   Doing black pen sketches and adding gouache to them is a delight.  It frees me up to work intuitively.  I was struggling with the watercolor pencils because I don't really know how to work with them confidently.  I will learn.  I'm investing in a lot of art supplies.  I want to have easy access to as many mediums as I can get my hands on.  Shifting from one thing to another has been my pattern ever since I can remember, so this will allow me to shift with ease while I get more familiar with all the tools and techniques.  I'm sticking mostly to the standard 8"x10" piece of paper, so I can mat them and put them in an 11"x14" frame.  Though I will try out doing an 18"x24" portrait in pastels, just to see what the pastels can do.

I work almost entirely from photographs for now and I've been going nuts in a good way picking out many good photographs to work from with Google images.  Again, I can shift in any direction and I need that newness and freshness of approach.  I love color and shapes and tones, the whole deal and there's so much available with just a few touches from my fingers.  And I can also find beautiful photos of master artists.  I did a sketch with gouache of a famous Mary Cassatt painting of a mother and daughter.  I want to do more of that.  I feel grateful for this opportunity to get back into something I love.  One of my closest friends asked me to do a few portraits of her family and I'm very happy about that too.  I need the work and all that takes is a few good photographs and I'm set.  I decided to wait to set up a personal artist's website until I've created a good portfolio of my works, especially portraits.

How long with this last?  I don't know.   I've wanted to be a working artist for so many years and I continue to go in and out of it.  Perhaps I romanticize being the artist in the studio working every day.  I guess a lot of people do do that.  The truth is probably that even seasoned artists have active and passive stages.  People do seem to come into maturity as artists at all different ages, some quite young, others much older.  So I have a ways to go and right now I have the freedom to be dedicated for however long; I feel strongly about trying again.  Maybe finding a balance between the solitary work and being with others and sharing my work with them is the key.  This blog and Facebook are great outlets for sharing myself, but I need face to face contact, too.

I said years ago that I thought of myself as an intermediate beginner and that's still true and what a great thing to be discovering new approaches at age 54.  Some Buddhists would say that a beginner's mind is the best mind to have in the sense that it is an open mind.  So I'm going to do some exploring and see what I find out there in this complex world.  I'm going to find a way to simplify what I experience and learn to make it accessible to others.  That's the beauty of art.

Another Version Of The Peace Guy

Girl With Dog


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Assessing My Creative Work

I've had a change in my sleeping and eating patterns for the last two weeks.  I've been sleeping several hours during the day, maybe because it has been quite hot and I use only fans.  So I've been staying up till around three in the morning.  And then, I stopped cooking and have been relying on Amy's frozen meals which are vegan and vegetarian, but I've lost some appetite.  As a result I have been losing weight more quickly, which is good, but I'm concerned about myself.  My strong tendency is still to stay home and see very few people outside of my home.  I do go in and out of depression, but that seems like something I just have to accept like many other people.  And yet, I have been quite creative, writing blogs, poems, a few songs and drawing.

My emphasis in quite a few of my blogs these last two years has been away from the study of Buddhism and towards the study of addiction and addiction recovery, especially the Twelve Steps.  The big shift seems to be me coming forward as a serious believer in some kind of Higher Power.  I wonder if this is off putting to whomever reads this blog.  Truth is, it puts me off somewhat too when I re-read some of my blogs.  I really do want to be all inclusive.  I grew up around atheists and agnostics and a chunk of the people I know in my town are just that.  Their points of view are just as valid as mine and they have a great deal to offer.  I believe, but I do not know.  We each have to find our way through life following whatever feels true to us.  So my advice to you is to think for yourself, take what works for you and forget the rest.  My advice to myself is to be a bit less impulsive and more open minded.

I also feel uncomfortable with the poems I write.  They come to me very quickly and I do not rewrite, which is true of my blog too.  I think that I write boldly about difficult subjects and, though my intentions are good, I wonder if it's okay to share them.  Probably I am being too hard on myself.  I am just a small voice amongst many voices.  It does feel good to write the poems and to record myself speaking them aloud.  The main thing is that I get something out of it - a clearer understanding.  I think it was Joan Didion who wrote that she writes to find out what she's thinking.  It is like that for me in the act of reaching out to express how I feel about any given subject.

Songs have been coming out of me at a slower pace this year.  I've recorded only a few and haven't uploaded any to the SoundCloud site.  I gave CDs of my music to around four people, but there's been no great response to them.  I continue to pursue it because it provides me with an emotional outlet that I really need.  It's a valued artifact of the changes and stages of my life as well as a way to feel my feelings.  It's too bad that I have no experience with performing and know only a few chords on the guitar which I tend to play haphazardly.  I have thought of taking guitar lessons.  It's funny how scared I am to even try.  So many simple things that a lot of people take for granted I have trouble approaching and doing.

And then there's drawing and painting which you can see I've been doing a lot lately.  I know I have talent that goes in different directions.  I have a versatility of approach and can work with different mediums.  I've gotten some good responses to my portraits on Facebook and again I'm thinking of making more of a commitment to doing them.  One online friend said that he thought I could earn some income doing portraits.  That would be ideal.  I tentatively tried doing that seven years ago, but failed to promote myself.  Once again, I had good ideas, but didn't follow through with them.  But I do need to make some money and I would love to do it through my talent and hard work.  And so I've been thinking the last couple of nights that I need an artist website of my own where I can offer to do portraits either for payment or for a donation.  I think I am also going to put a donation's button on this blog and again offer to do portraits.  All I need are a few good photographs.

Right now I don't have the confidence.  I'm going to have to do the work to get it.  And I'm going to have to cross that line into self promotion.  I'm not sure why I feel it is wrong to promote myself and my art work.  Lots of good and talented people do just that.  Why can't I be one of them?  I am blessed that I have the time, the money and few responsibilities.  How many people have families and  full time work who want to earn money through their various talents?  Portrait drawing and painting could be the focus that I need to actually become a practicing artist.  I tend to go in all different directions, skimming the surface of many projects.  That's not going to work well if I want to earn income.  I wonder if I'm afraid to succeed.

Portrait Of A Friend

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Poem - "To People Of Color"

To People Of Color

White is not white,
It is many shades of cream.
Black is not black,
It is many shades of brown.
But here we have created
Our fallen world of black and white.

Oh, many colored beautiful people
Do not think and feel
Through this racist dichotomy,
We are so much more collectively
Than this cartoon mentality.

The delicate shades and tones
All over your body
Have marked you for life.
Those who judge that beauty
Which is you
Do not represent humanity
As a whole.

Never reject where you’ve come from.
Never reject who you are.
Don’t give in to those who bait you
To hate in return.  
Honor your ancestors
Who lived in poverty,
Who endured the unjust,
Who gave birth 
To your mothers and fathers,
Who gave birth to you.

We shall overcome,
Not some day,
But this day,
Right here and now
When you live out
For yourself
For your children
That dignity
That is the birthright
For everyone.

Listen To The Audio

Poem - "Domestic Violence"

Domestic Violence

It was just me and him.
There were no children
Caught in the crossfire
As there are with so many others.
That was one blessing.

Another was that there was genuine love
Mixed into our mutual mental illnesses.
I was sick before I met him
And he was sick before he met me
And that was our bond.
We walked down the path
Towards some hellish realms,
But even there the sun streamed in
And there was peace and beauty.

I had not been raped
As a child and adolescent,
But he had.
I was not alcoholic,
I had not murdered,
But he had.
He gave me his secrets
And I was bent over
With the weight of them.

He initiated me into his world
Where cyclical abuse was the norm.
At the bottom of the cycle
He embraced the persona
Of the blonde haired Aryan Nazi
Remorseless in judgment
High on the power
Walking the tightrope
Emulating his childhood abuser.

In this technicolor drama
I was the pawn for a crazy king
Easily sacrificed for the war
That raged in his mind.

He opened a door for me
And I walked through it
To see the countless faces
Of boys struggling to be men
In a world where masculinity
Is marred by warped standards
Of emotional repression
And glorified aggression.

How can we as a culture
Be surprised that so many
Cross the line into violence?
Violence numbs the heart
For those who live it
And those who receive it.
The heart is our only compass.
Remove that compass
And we are lost
In the acres and acres
Of a man made wilderness.

Listen To The Audio

Monday, August 8, 2016

Poem - "Abusers"


Abusers have known love
And have given love
And have turned away from love
At early ages.
They have felt humiliation
From people they trusted
Who taught them to internalize shame.

Shame is the illusion,
An intangible soul tattoo
That makes us see ourselves
As diseased mutations
Of what was formerly healthy.
More than that shame instructs us
To have faith in no faith.
As the shamed soul enters the ranks
Of the soldiers of crime
And begins to act out
Their self fulfilling prophecies
They live with the delusion
That they can never change.

I’m shouting from the sidelines
Where the crowd roars its obscenities
At the fallen men and women
Who walk in the chain gang
Towards internal and external prisons.
I shout out Love amidst the Hate.
And I am not alone.
There are others preaching Love
Making signs large enough to see
For friends and lovers,
Acquaintances and strangers
Who find themselves facing
Their own wrong thoughts,
Wrong speech,
Wrong actions.

Too many cast the first stone
Labeling others “sinners”
Ignoring the call for compassion
From our world’s greatest leaders.
There is much complaining
That to turn the other cheek
Is just too hard
Choosing to maintain
Positions of hate,
Positions that have set our species
On a course of self destruction.

To the Christians of this country,
You say Jesus died for our sins.
And if he did who did he also die for,
But for those most impoverished in their souls:
Molesters, Rapists, Murderers.
And yet you set yourselves above the man
You call your Lord.
Your standards are way too low
When you only love and praise
Those who are easy to love and praise.
Jesus raised the bar
To utter the holy aspiration
That we live as one.

Judas kissed Jesus
And then betrayed him
For a petty price.
To those who condemn Judas
Take a look in the mirror
For you have betrayed Jesus
When you condemn anyone.

Listen To The Audio

Poem - "True Love"

True Love

Fiction embraces it with a passion.
We read of it, see it in films and listen to the songs of it.
Billions of dollars have been spent on it.
Audiences shell out even more hard won dollars
To preserve the illusion of the stories
Of True Love.

Do we buy all of these confections
Because our lives are not so sweet?
Do we yearn for a soul mate
Because we feel so incomplete?
Why is the answer to our dreams
Always out there in a new frontier?

In our for profit country
Where advertising reigns the supreme force
That oils the machinery of our culture,
We are addicted to the instant gratification
Of the easy solution, the quick fix.
This business is neither true, nor about love.

Love is a process, not a product.
You cannot buy it or sell it.
In can only grow through tenderness
And attention to the many details
Of human endurance
That is willing to remove the mask
To reveal the essence of an individual self.

True love is work,
You have to get your hands dirty
To plant the seeds and harvest the fruit.
Your beloved can be seen in many faces
Because we all share the same humanity
And our human spirit
Is spread across the globe.

The first place you must look to find it
Is in the life’s blood that pumps daily
Through your heart.
No one can know you
As well as you know yourself.
You cannot teach a lover
How to love you
If you have not first taught yourself.

True love begins with self love
And if you don’t approach yourself
With the same intuitive tenderness
You will be left with only the fiction
That is bought and sold,
Confections that cannot feed your soul.

Listen To The Audio

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Watercolor Abstraction

Poem - "Surrender"


When a baby is born into this world
It has no choice but to surrender
Into the hands of the giants
That surround him or her.

Babies usually cry from the shock
When their life in darkness
Emerges into the light.
They are at the apex 
Of their own vulnerability
In a world of raging storms
And quiet lulls,
A world of changes.

As we grow we fight to hold on
To any semblance of safety
And we run from the extreme insecurity
Of our first breath on earth.
We do not want to surrender that way
Ever again and yet the tide
Pulls us in and pushes us out
Over and over again
Making us learn lessons
We want to reject.  

Life could be without so much pain
If we could learn the biggest lesson:
To surrender to the flow.
When the way is open, push on.
When the way is closed, retreat and wait.
Listen to the small voice in your spirit
With its song of inspiration and intuition.
It is not a siren’s song
That compels you to lose your way,
But rather a song that spreads light
And shines it a mile in front of you
On a path that only you can walk.

Listen To The Audio

Friday, August 5, 2016

Violence Is A Disease And U.S. Prisons Are Sick

"I will use the terms disease, illness, and pathology to refer to any force or process within an organism or species that tends to bring death or disability to the organism, or extinction to the species.  Violence in all the forms just mentioned is, by that definition, a manifestation, form, or symptom of pathology or illness, at least as much as cancer and heart disease are, for it is a force or process within members of the human species that tends to bring death, disability, and potentially even extinction (self-extinction) to them."

James Gilligan,  Preventing Violence (Prospects for Tomorrow)

Mr. Gilligan also writes:  "Punishment does not prevent violence, it causes it, in addition to being a form of it."  The standard logic is that if someone acts out violently, they should be punished and that this will somehow deter that person and others so inclined from acting out again.  Besides this the assumption is that the person who commits a violent crime is "bad" or worse "evil" and deserves abuse and violence for what he or she did.  It is an "eye for an eye" philosophy that goes back thousands of years.  So we have made abuse and violence a part of our "justice" system.  Except it isn't justice and it just does what all abuse situations do, forms a cycle that repeats and repeats ad nauseum and makes very difficult situations much, much worse.

Treating the violently ill with punishment instead of treatment is stupid.  It didn't work thousands of  years ago and it definitely doesn't work now.   Once again we have made our puritanical ideas the basis of unjust laws that punish the sick, set a lousy example for others to follow, keeps the recidivism rate high, keeps families broken up, brands former inmates for life and exacerbates the problem instead of solving it.  Even the United Nations rejects our methods of "justice" as Mr. Gilligan writes again, "the U.S. criminal justice system was condemned in May 2000 by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, and has many times been found in violation of the U.N.'s Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners."

I've heard arguments against the "disease model" for addicts, but I remain firmly on the side of supporting it, not only for addiction, but for people who habitually respond to problems with all kinds of violence.  There is no place within communities where there aren't elements of these illnesses.  Our culture is full of these sicknesses within individuals.  Our jails and prisons are filled with sick people who are being treated as if they are bad people.  They are not.  And we, in communities all over the U.S., who supports this system by ignoring it and doing nothing about it, perpetuate it.  Generations of families are affected by people being incarcerated.  People all over this country.  The totally blameless children are thereby punished, too.  And how many of these families already had to live in poverty or with cross addictions, illness, violence and a lack of education?  And how many were homeless, mentally ill with psychosis, or war veterans?

All this actually goes beyond stupid into the realm of insanity and, for people who support our legal and prison system, who claim to be rational and intelligent, it is just plain irresponsibility.  The results have been in for so long and they are that violence in response to violence creates more violence.  The only alternative to the reward/punishment system is a compassionate system and it saddens me that so many Americans find that just too hard to swallow.  What they need to do is to substitute the word "sick" for the word "bad" or "evil" in order to find again their hearts.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Poem - "The Homeless"

The Homeless

You have seen the clouds get dark
Before a thunderstorm.
You have felt the wind pick up
Before the storm.
You have let yourself get wet
With the rain.
You have worried where the lightning will strike.
You have found your shelter, your home,
A safe place to wait the fury out.

Once inside the windows become
Like a movie screen for a spectacular show.
There is so much energy in the air
And you once again feel the delicate
Balance between life and possible death.
You hope that you are safe for now.

Remember, some people have no home
But must wander from place to place
Out in those frequent storms
Out in a circus of danger.
They hold on tight
To their few possessions.
Each day they try to believe
In the kindness of strangers
And count themselves lucky
For a pocketful of change
At the end of the day.

Our passing traumas
Are their daily process
For who knows what awaits
Around the bend?
And how do these men and women recover
When they have no safe places
To wait out the storms of life?

There but for fortune
Go you or I.
Remember to give thanks,
For all our small pleasures
Are huge in the eyes of the homeless.
Kindness must be more than a casual choice.

Make it a way of being.

Listen To The Audio

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Poem - "Rise Up"

Rise Up

Rise up like the sun
On the dark days,
On the light days,
On days when the ice is dripping,
On days when the sun makes the sand
Burn your feet
As you run towards the water.

Rise up when people are scolding you,
Misleading you to judge yourself
Without kindness.
Rise up and unclench your fists,
Show the peace of an open hand
An offering of friendship
To the strangers who open their mouths
And utter words of recovery.

Rise up like a plant, like a tree,
Like a wave, like the wind,
Like all the other naked apes
On this world
Who rolled on the floor as infants
Determined to crawl.

You are no cold blooded snake
Wedded to the ground,
But now a man or a woman
Standing upright to face the day,
To face the night.

Walk in beauty.

Listen To The Audio

Poem - "Faith"


Hell is the test of faith
When your heart has nothing to hold onto
But itself
And humanity seems very far away,
Even when
It is physically near.

Faith’s conception
Occurs in dark places
Amidst fear and in prison
Growing larger like the light
At the end of a tunnel.

Hell is the ticket to freedom
Where the war is permanently over
Because of the blood, sweat and the tears
You cried
When there was nothing left to lose.

Faith’s childhood
Is not spent in protected gardens
Or lying on some tropical beach
But rather plods through war torn streets
And sings songs in minds that have lost
The threads of reality
In the present moment.

Faith is an invisible fact
That many refuse to acknowledge
Even though the sun does rise each dawn.

Listen To The Audio

Monday, August 1, 2016

Prayer In Action

I found out several months ago that my uncle knows of my blog and really enjoys looking at my art work, but I know when it comes to reading my blogs that he probably does not agree with my belief in a Higher Power because he is a dedicated atheist.  He is a man who has an I.Q. of around 170, which is very high.  My whole family is/was very bright.  My uncle is very educated, extremely well read and knowledgeable and expertly articulate.  He and his sister, my mother, firmly rejected their Catholic upbringing and instead embraced atheism through what I would call cultural humanism and a firm belief that one should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.  From their perspective we live this one life and then we die and when we die we simply end with no spirit remaining.  And because they believed that we have just this short life they strived to live life ethically, to be helpful and not harmful, to be honest, tolerant and well informed.  In this they all succeeded.  My uncle especially is a modest man and a good man.

I pray for my uncle every day that he be safe, healthy, happy and useful.  I really believe that we humans are interconnected in ways that can't be measured and proven according to our self created rules.  When I open my spirit each morning to acknowledge and respect my uncle's life, and many others that I know of, I believe I preserve and deepen the connection.  Just taking the time to think for a few moments of all these different people on all these different paths is very healing to me.  It's a small way to honor humanity, especially those lives that have touched my own.  What a gift it is to me to now be able to reach beyond myself towards others in my spirit and tentatively in my actions.

Last night I went to an Al-Anon meeting reaching out to two other people, sharing parts of my story and listening to theirs.  One man talked about how he no longer keeps secrets but is open and honest with everyone.  He is what he is and he accepts himself and if someone else can't accept him now he can still accept himself and let go.   I try to practice this, too.  So that is one reason why I write.  It is a quiet way to come out of hiding and be honest and revealing.  I know people shy away from living this way and I can understand why they do when there could be conflict with work and/or family.  I can do it because I am independent, but there are those, braver than me, who are honest always even with having responsibilities with work and family.  I really respect them.

Honesty is the foundation of prayer.  Not keeping secrets is the practice of honesty, prayer in action.  My parents, uncle and brother all practiced honesty.  Being ethically good was their prayer in action.  Honesty and ethics go together.  They also belong in the act of praying.  Praying and meditation are linked, too.  Prayer is just a open hearted meditation sent out into the unknown.  Prayer is to be open and trusting that the universe is a good place and that the universe is listening to all the calls and cries, not  only listening, but responding.  Do not ignore the grace of the space you live in and the body that allows you to move in that space.  Space embraces you now and always.  Space is the stuff of the universe.  I believe praying helps and I know that it doesn't hurt.  Anything that opens and deepens you is a blessing.