Sunday, January 16, 2011

LCS Sunday - Art While Under Siege

"It's hard to fight an enemy that has outposts in your head." - Sally Kemper

This last week was a perfect example of how my art life is impacted by my health.  Six days of on-and-off migraines brought everything non-essential to a screeching halt.  As much as people will tell you how "art saves," I'm here to say that, in truth, when my head is throbbing and every whisper of sound and glimmer of light feels like a spike to the eye, art is the thing I shuffle right to the bottom of the list.  At that point, I'm only interested in darkness, ice, ear plugs, medication and sweet sleep as my saviors.

However, when I feel bad, I still do something artistic almost every day.  On those days that I'm under siege, I make one critically important adaptation: I redefine my personal expectations.  I let my body set the pace, rather than my brain.  I expand my definition of "art," embracing everything "process" while almost completely shunning the notion that having a final product defines my productivity.  This is a hard pill for a Type-A personality but the other option is to abandon art-making altogether when I feel less than perfect; with chronic pain, periodic hand & foot surgeries (and the lengthy recovery periods), and regular bouts with extreme fatigue, I might never make art if I didn't find ways to adapt.  Here's a list of some things I do to facilitate art while under the weather:
  • Work in small bursts.  This is actually especially important when I feel good.  It is so tempting to "try and make up for lost time" but such thinking can trigger a new onset of misery.  The fallout from multiple hand surgeries has made working in small increments of time pretty much mandatory for me but a kitchen timer is useful for breaking up a work session into smaller bits if I'm having trouble reining in my enthusiasm.
  • Have a piece of "slow art" standing by for low energy/high pain days.  Slow art could be something like a cross stitch project, a journal page I fill with simple, repetitious doodles, a fabric piece that needs hand-quilting.  It is a project that can be picked up and put down at will.
  • Work on low or no pressure projects: Clipping words for found poetry, swatching supplies, browsing my library for books I've forgotten I own, patching journal backgrounds from a box of scraps I can't bear to throw away.
  • Stay warm.  I find that keeping the lower part of my body toasty seems most helpful so I employ long underwear, thick socks, and a small space heater to make sure I don't expend energy I can't afford to lose just trying to stay comfortable.
  • Since I struggle with migraines, I limit my use of traditional spray paints, Sharpies©,  and toxic glues like E6000©.  Staz-On© solvent ink happens to be the best ink for non-porous surfaces and I consider it an essential part of my journaling kit.  However, it is quite strong-smelling so I always replace the cover immediately after inking up my stamp so it isn't just sitting there polluting my airspace.  Consider this: your nose is the first line of defense against airbourne toxins; if you can smell it, the product is venting off some sort of unseen chemical.  Warning labels are there for a reason.  Read them and take heed.
I have one last thing to say:  While it is absolutely essential to modify your work habits and expectations in the middle of a chronic illness, it is just as essential to keep moving forward.  Migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, pain...all these things are life-altering but they are not life sentences.  Studies show that people who keep trying to do the things they love in spite of health obstacles actually suffer less than those who just simply proclaim their disability and give up.  Allow yourself a little room to mourn the fact that you can't always keep up a breakneck pace and then get over it.  Life is too short to wallow.  As I have said, a little here and there adds up and in the long term, I think life is actually more rewarding for those with a little wind in their face than for those who always seem to have the wind at their backs. 


roc said...

i can relate to this article on so many levels. i hope you are feeling better!

Terri Kahrs said...

So sorry to hear that you've been besieged by migraines again, Michelle. Great post with tons of suggestions and tips for every artist. Hugs, Terri xoxo

Anonymous said...

dealing with migraines myself today.

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