The Aging Artist

29 05 2017

Weather.: Oh it’s been a rollercoaster. Cooler spring than expected, with more rain than anticipated. May is heading for the door and June looks to be mild. 

So. Glances at the date and winces.  

I’d make excuses or give reasons for my lack of blog activity, but the truth is I just haven’t had the energy or coherency to write lately. The political garbage fire kind of sucked me in and I have been spending way too much time refreshing my Twitter feed rather than looking out the window or thinking about creating. The righteous anger I felt at the start of this year has turned into a low burning seething fire in my belly. I’ve been productive in the studio, but my new work hours have somewhat curtailed the time I’ve spent there.

Wildly random update: The husbeast and I took a financial planning class which has actually helped us get back on track with our economic situation.  Which was good because my little beat up Punk Mobile of a car decided that it was time to self destruct– Rack and pinion broke along with the steering column and struts. In other words: $$$$ of repairs. There was a period of deciding whether it was worth it to put the money into the car, but ultimately we realized that we can’t be a one car  family. (We tried for a month and it was getting very unfeasible.)  So, made an adult decision to hold off on a new car until we could pay mostly cash for it, and got the Punk Mobile fixed.

Also, made another adult decision to get our health back in order and went to see a nutritionist who gave us much more clear and practical ways to eat better and get in healthy shape.

Add in some relatives passing away and having bad things happen…it’s been a rather busy and distracted period of time.

Now. The title is something I’ve been wanting to discuss, but been mulling over how to write it up.  I’m not old, not by any reasonable definition. 50 years old is solid middle aged. But sometimes “aging” is less to do with a number and more to do with the deterioration and decline of certain faculties and body functions.

I have, over the past few years, had an acceleration in vision deterioration, the onset of arthritis in several of my joints and of course, the weight problems I’m  working on as we  speak.

I wear increasingly strong bi-focals to see, and as of recent, I have to wear them all the time because I can’t see shit with them off.  They used to be just for reading. Now I can’t function without them.

The arthritis is hard, mostly because it’s setting into my hands, predominately in my thumb joints. The thumbs are starting to float towards my palm, making it almost impossible for me to flatten my hand out on a level surface. My grip is getting weaker, though I’m doing what I can with exercises and braces to counter it.

The weight issue is fixable, but with age comes more effort necessary to achieve your goals.

It’s obvious how it affects my day to day, but the frustrating part is how it’s affecting my art.

Being a mosaic artist, a lot is depending on my ability to cut tile, stone and glass. I use clippers, glass cutters and even saws to get pieces to the shape I need for whatever the piece requires. With my thumb joints deteriorating, using the clippers for extended periods of time is getting difficult. And trying to hold the tiles as I clip them is increasingly difficult as my thumb-to-index finger grip is getting weaker and has less dexterity. I’ve compensated where I can by using tiles that are smaller and need less customizing, but it’s definitely starting to limit the work I can do.

The way I’ve come to terms with this is accepting that I may have to alter my technique and re-define what kinds of art I want to make. I’m not one that takes these kind of limitations well, but practicality will always win out over my fragile little feelings.

Yes, I’ve spoken to my doctor about this, but the answers are usually to offer exercises to stave off the deterioration a bit longer, but no, there’s no reversing it.

The vision problem will just be relegated to better glasses, hopefully not ending in a point where I just have to accept that I can’t do smaller detailed work anymore.

There is some guilt flagellation going on, because I know that some of this bodily degradation rests solely on my sedentary shoulders. Had I done a better job of staying healthier, I might have not been dealing with these issues  for a few more years. But this is what it is. We adapt to our environment, our new relationships with our surroundings, because we have to.  I will have to adapt to my new reality, where my body may not be working the way it did, but I will find a way to work with the new limitations. Self-inflected wounds aside, I need to stop beating myself up over past lapses and make sure they don’t continue in the future.

I’m 50, not dead. And if watching others have blooming careers in their 60s, 70s and older has taught me anything, you can have the life you want, but you may have to accept that there are different parameters to work within.

So no whining. No lamenting. Just accepting the circumstances, doing what I can to adapt and still work on slowing the deterioration, and making the best of my new reality.

An aging artist is still an artist.  Limitations are merely things to work around.  I won’t be defined or limited by things as simple as sore joints and bad eyesight. I still have a destination, I just need to adjust the path.

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Kicking my own ass because it’s necessary.

4 01 2017

Weather: Gray, with hefty winds, which help the air temp drop into single digits. Had to pin my face on as the cold was insisting on tugging it off. High was somewhere in the mid- 20s though you’d be hard pressed to know it.

Work went quickly today. Home for lunch then I had a few errands to run- meds for the kittie and performing my monthly gas tank refill (it’s so nice to live close to where I work- 5 minutes away!) 

When I got home, the urge to just curl up and get under a blanket was mighty strong. But I tempered it.  Got online and did get sucked in for the duration. Damn it. Managed to pry myself loose and do some exercise. We have stairs to the second floor and a full staircase into the basement. I was doing a circular lap from the second floor into the basement and back up pausing to  do pushups between laps. The number of laps was pitiful but I did get my heart rate up to something resembling cardio. May do another round this evening. Trying to at least force myself into some semblance of accountability.

The title is not literal as I don’t have that kind of flexibility at the moment. However, I am a grown goddamn woman with a brain that can talk me out of doing anything I really don’t want to do. Even if the thing is going to benefit me. Stupid brain. So I sometimes take to berating myself like a drill instructor with an axe to grind. It works. I hate having my laziness pointed out. Granted it’s worse coming from others, but it still gets me moving, albeit with grumbling annoyance. The results will be the reward. I just need to start seeing some.

One thing that has become rather evident since I blew a brain gasket a couple of years ago: I seem to have lost some mental capabilities I used to pride myself on having. One is the ability to visualize things that I’m creating. I have to work very hard at this now. I can’t “see” things the way I used to. Husbeast gave me a couple of tricks to work around it, but it’s vexing that  I can’t do it on spec anymore. Another thing is my facility with words has taken a bit of hit. I can write, no problem, but speaking? I draw a blank a lot of the time and I have to pause and dig for the appropriate word. Do I think this is all due to the brain injury? Maybe. But I know some of it comes from the same short term attention span that a lot of the internet generation suffers from- too much information, all the time. I’ve been combating it with books, forcing myself to focus on the words. This was one thing I discovered last year. Where for years I was able to rip through a hardcover in a weekend and retain fairly good details from the book, suddenly I’m finding I have to re-read a page two or three times to get it. And my retention isn’t what it should be.

The good news (that silver lining that  I always insist on finding) is that a lot of this is reversible with training. And working at it. I have no doubt that with effort I’ll be able to get my brain agile again. Kind of like I hope my physical shape will get back to being more functional and a shape other than “sack of mushy potatoes”.

So today I managed to move, to write and after dinner I’m doing some sketches for new mosaic pieces, so there’s my creative output for the day. Still going strong.

And because you have stuck with this meandering musing, here’s some cat pictures for your troubles….(Left is Lord Snooty of Booty, Right is Lady Fern the Derisive.)

 

And here’s your Gif of Wise Wisdom type Stuff for the day:

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Off to sketch and maybe tackle the Stairs of Jointly Torture.





NaNoWriMo Day #20 – Deep thoughts are creeping out again…

20 11 2016

Weather: Still cold- low 30s- but much less windy and the snow seems to have gone. Still, finally feels like November.

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Thanksgiving is on the near horizon, and Christmas is not long after. This year has been mostly a garbage fire. Not that my personal life has been awful, far from it. But it seems the world at large has been fracturing, with long simmering resentments bubbling up and taking form in surprising and chaotic ways. We’ve lost a lot of touchstone people that especially people my age (late 40s) were hit hard by- Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman, the list goes on and on. I know that a lot of this is to be expected- as we age, those we look up to or are inspired by, age accordingly. Some will leave us sooner than we are ready to let them go. Doesn’t make the hurt any less.

NaNo has been harder this year for me than last. Didn’t help that there was a contentious (she said, in vast understatement) election in the first week of writing, and between the weather, and potential jury duty, and imminent family gatherings, and the usual financial roller coaster, the word making was a little derailed.

But I’ve realized in the  past week that as the particular overwhelming signal to noise disruption happening on social media required me to step away a bit, I’m starting to get back in touch with life again. I hadn’t realized how much the politics and associated strong emotions had sucked me in. The slow drowning effect, I suppose. Didn’t realize I wasn’t breathing or underwater until my health, both mental and physical started taking a hit. So I extricated myself as best I could. The concerns I had before the election are still there, but the associated din of outrage and blame and finger-pointing and gloating are not washing over me like before. I’m trying to take the “Make Good Art” mantra to heart.

Do not take this as me giving up fighting for things I believe need fighting for, but understand that existing in a constant state of rage and fear does not make for clear thinking or good judgment. I’m no anarchist. I don’t believe that burning things to the ground is necessarily the way to fix what’s broken. Yes, it requires an unvarnished look at how we got here, but I also believe that things can be fixed by a complicated combination of compassion, realistic assessment and taking a long view. By finding allies with common goals. By not demonizing those who would help us, though they might not 100% agree with us. By not letting things slide because they are difficult. And most of all, by not enabling bad behavior or derailing conversations because it’s “not going to change” or “it’s been going on for a long time”.

I’ve said many times before, I am not a fan of nostalgia. I find it annoying and unrealistic and cherry-picking, because the past is the past for reason. Yes, there were good things, but there were also awful things and you don’t get to gloss over the bad because the good things make you wistful. Too easy and lazy by a long stretch. I’m more for grappling with the issues we have today, so we can entrench the advances we made and work on the new challenges so we can move forward. I mentioned to a friend today that part of our problem now is that we are just far enough away in time from things like the Depression,  WWII or even Cold War eras that the current generation has no real connection to that time. It’s stuff in history books or things our grandparents talk about. (In my case, parents). We look around and say things are horrific, and by some measure, they are. But we are still nowhere near the bottom of the barrel of the Dust Bowl, or rationing, or the Draft, or being wiped out by the flu. (1918. Look it up.) We need to deal with our current problems, but we also need to get a grip. Worse things have been lived through and worse things have been conquered. Which should be a MOTIVATION not a way to diminish our worries or challenges, mind you.

(I see too many people minimizing others pain by saying others have it worse. That’s cruel, reductive and not at all helpful. Be compassionate or be silent.)

All the same, I think our historical challenges can help us face our current challenges a little more clearly if we put them in perspective.

All of this musing leads to story compilation. Taking a long view of history and asking a lot of what if questions when turning that view toward the future is how ideas come to mind. Will those ideas fix real world problems? Who knows. Creativity is not limited to fictional or artistic outlets.  It’s something I think we’ve lost a bit over the past few years. We do a lot of re-sharing of others ideas, images and creative output, but I think we’ve diminished a little by not putting our own creative output out there as well. Happy accidents and half-baked ideas can lead to solutions. Maybe not in themselves, but by providing component pieces to foster discussion or to build upon by others with their own pieces to the puzzle. Collaboration has taken a big hit of late, whether due to fear of ridicule or fear of having one’s own ideas co-opted by someone else or losing one’s sole claim to glory, who knows?

Sorry for the woolgathering here, but these things have been weighing heavily on me lately and I’ve been too scattered to compile them into something coherent. I suppose I need to take my own advice and start suggesting ideas and putting my creative output into the stream and see what floats and what sinks. Failure isn’t fatal. It’s just an idea that didn’t work. Trying something new that builds on what didn’t work, or just making another attempt from a different launch pad is not a waste of time. That’s how most things result in a success. We talk way too much. We need to do more. Discussion is fine, but ONLY discussion results in little. Awareness is good, but awareness alone changes little. No one is asking you to fix EVERYTHING or even to solve anything on your own. Don’t let people make you think that all the challenges we face are a zero sum game, that by focusing on one problem, you are ignoring others.  You can’t spread yourself that thin. But you can contribute. You can lend a hand. Make your voice heard. Create memorable images. Help motivate others.  Just my 2 cents on all this craziness.

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Readjusting my perspectives: Imminent Birthday Edition

7 01 2013

Weather: Weirdly warming. In the mid 30s today but heading into the near 50s by weekend.

My birthday is this coming Saturday. I’ll be 46. It’s neither noteworthy or shocking, but it does have some bearing on my life outlook.

Turning 40 was a walk in the park. Turning 45 was cold water on my head. Numbers shouldn’t create such drama, because honestly they’re just arbitrary markers in time. We’re aging at a fairly constant rate. But we’ve applied implications to ages, making them seem more or less important depending on how close they are to other arbitrary life event markers that society seems to plant in our path.

Remember when you were 18? Remember how old 30 seemed? I imagined myself married with kids and settled into some middle aged soccer mom life. Wait….did I say IMAGINED? No I was pretty terrified of that idea, even then. Not the married or kids part, but the settled part.

So 30 came and I was a little disconcerted that I was neither married nor a parent. Or settled. Wasn’t that the expectation? Granted there was a bit of fist pumping involved that I still felt young and vibrant. (Although, truth be told, it wasn’t like I was living like a rock star or out traveling or doing any of the other myriad lifestyle choices that seem to excuse an absence of a settled life to most people’s eyes.)

Then I was 40. Still not feeling my age. Not really looking what I expected to look like at 40. Married. Homeowner. And then the discomfort started settling into my bones. Trying to get back in shape was a much steeper hill to climb. My list of “things to do before you’re too old”  needed to shrink a bit. Decisions that I could have made for my life at 29 seemed to have fewer viable options.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not doing the “I’m too old to do things” kinda whine. I firmly believe that unless you’re six feet under, you shouldn’t ever give up the possibility of trying something new.  Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a realistic view of how much longer the recovery time will be if it goes pear shaped. 😉 I think I’m just more pragmatic.

I’m viewing the things on my list with a more realistic perspective. It’s more a case of “You can do anything you want, you just can’t do everything.” I’m also trying to live more simply. Less stuff, more  experiences. Fewer toys, fewer distractions.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I find clinging to things out of nostalgia is kind of useless for me. (Note, I don’t begrudge others this, because it is a source of comfort to some.) For example, I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and while there was some fantastic music that came out of that era, I don’t understand people who enshrine it to the point of not listening to anything past that era. Mostly because I remember there was an equal amount of crap music that came out during that time frame. Don’t believe me? Go look at the top 50 songs for those years. Seriously. I’ll wait. ::HUMS TO HERSELF::  Did you see a lot of bands and songs you don’t remember? There you go.

Do I wish I had my figure from when I was 18? Oh hell yes. Do I want to be 18 again? OH HOLY CRAP NO! I’ve earned every small worry line, silver hair and  knee ache that I experience today.  I have a much healthier & wider scoped outlook on things and this world that has been EARNED by experiencing it first hand. Time is a tricky thing. Looking back we can see all the places we’d fix things, spare ourselves some hurt or sidestep a bad experience. Sometimes those regrets overwhelm the good things that came from just living day to day.  Time marches forward, no matter what earth shattering thing has been dropped in your lap.

I guess the biggest perspective shift for me is this: The more things I cling to from the past- good, bad or ugly- the less space there is in my life for new things.  Because if you’re honest with yourself, there is comfort in things we know, whether they’re good or bad. Comfort zones are appealing, but if that’s all you have? You’re not really changing as a person. You’re not growing.

Trying something new is a risk. There aren’t necessarily any guarantees. But that’s why it’s necessary to try. I could have stuck with playing it safe – never letting anyone read my stories, never trying to make art for other people, never moved across this country, never reached out to people outside my comfort zone of conversation- and probably I could have been happy. But I’m glad I did. I’ve got friends all over the world, some similar to me, some only overlapping with me on the thinnest of things. I’ve met some amazing people because I refused to let my sometimes crippling self-consciousness stop me from stepping up and saying hi! I’ve learned things and experienced things, some good, some bad, some life-changing, and some mind-blowing.

The thing is, all this LIVING has landed me at 45, almost 46, with a pretty damn good idea of who I am. I still falter now and then, allowing others to define me in their terms, or trusting the wrong people or the wrong information, but I don’t let it weigh me down for too long. The pendulum can swing wildly in all aspects of life, but it is only still when it rests in the middle. The older I get, the shorter the time off center I spend. My opinions change, my views alter, and my life adapts accordingly. Age does that to you, and it should.

So these days, being settled isn’t a bad thing, because I’m settled by my own definition. I’m finding things that bring me joy. I’m releasing the things that are outdated or have no place in my life anymore. I try to keep looking forward, because while looking back may bring some comfort, even some perspective, it doesn’t add anything new to my life.  You can’t look at the world with fresh perspective if you keep viewing it through the same lenses of cynicism, old pain or golden hued nostalgia.

Of course that won’t stop me from the occasional grumpy “Damn kids today” exhortation. 🙂

As always, Your Mileage May Vary.