I need to catch up my sketchbook pictures so I will dot my post with what I've drawn since my last post and write what I've written on the opposite page. This one reads "This little orb was a gift to me. A meaningful gift. A little treasure to mix in with the others, use as a prop for greater compositions. I think my favorite thing about it is the pattern. It is quite jumbled and imperfect. Still beautiful. Seemingly uniform on the surface but upon closer inspection things overstep each other. I relate." Jan 28 2018
Next time you go to a store like Walmart, do me a favour. Go stand near the check out area and just listen. Stop everything, close your eyes if you need to, but just listen. It is insane how noisy a place like that is and before I had my surgery, I never, ever noticed. Now I can't wait to leave places like that. I actually started shopping at stores that are smaller, quieter and more expensive in order to keep my sanity. Fluorescent lighting pushes me over the edge as well. This is one of the new things I've had to account for on the road to recovery.
I am still exceeding expectations on getting back to some semblance of normalcy but I think sometimes the fact that I make a positive post or comment can be misconstrued that I am always that positive or that I've already fully recovered. Most of the times I try to be positive but this is a long road and some reoccurring issues have made me realize that this is not going to constantly be sunshine and roses.
Some days are really good, and I have energy and clear thinking. The day I made this sketch was like that. I wrote "I must be feeling a bit more myself. I felt like doing more than one sketch today. Ivy inspired me to pick up my pen again and she was holding so still until I started to draw. I just changed the drawing when she moved. It feels more fluid this way. From life." Jan 28 2018
My Small Changes
Most of the differences are really subtle. I honestly think that if I wasn't an artist and wasn't trained to look at things closely I would have a very difficult time trying to put a finger on what is different. I am really working on overcoming these things using the "use it or lose it" approach. Time will tell if I've had success. I do find that each week sees improvement. Even over last time where I blogged about things I'm working on, I've made big improvements especially the first three items (napping, leaning on stuff and dog walking) Those are barely issues at all now.
- One thing that keeps surprising me is how easily I am startled (Haha see what I did there? Clever me.), especially in the car. It just feels like things jump out of my peripheral vision. Also I am constantly paying attention to my peripheral vision because I am worried about if it was changed/diminished from surgery (pretty sure it wasn't but that fear remains).
- I am a lot less ticklish for some reason. Traditionally I am one of those highly sensitive people who cringes at side hugs and the like. I actually didn't even notice that I was less ticklish, my husband pointed it out to me the other day. I think I am closer to what normal people are like (ie getting tickled feels ticklish as opposed to touching my arm makes me want to punch you)
- Lights and screens bug me a lot more and a lot sooner. It is hard to describe how they make me feel. Frayed? Like how you feel after listening to a tv that isn't set to a station and is just white noise? Screeching brakes? It isn't so much "feeling burnt out" as opposed to an actual physical limit. Chewing foil might be a good comparison. Too much bright light is like chewing foil. To stay in the bright light is to continue to chew foil. Or you can stop. I am figuring out finally that stopping is far preferable. Hence less blog posts and online stuff.
- I don't think my eyesight was changing due to my age, I think my tumour was causing issues that I do not fully understand. Long story short, before my surgery, reading a medicine bottle was near impossible. 6 pt text impossible. I was starting to rely on reading glasses for fine detail. Yet my eye doctor did tests and determined that I have very sharp vision with glasses/contacts. Since surgery, my eyes have been crazy tuned into fine detail and tiny, tiny text. Effortlessly, with either contacts or glasses in lighting that is less than ideal. I don't understand it, but I'll take it.
- My eyes seem to have a hard time focusing if I am worn out. Not physically focusing... again, this is subtle and I don't understand it, but it seems like a processing issue. I see the information, but my brain doesn't want to deal with all it so it all seems a little hazy. Not all the time, just when I've overdone it for the day or had too many bright lights. This was a lot worse and a lot more noticeable after my seizure but before surgery. I feel like this is improving more each day.
- Being interrupted makes me frustrated. I never used to care and I am terrible for interrupting others. I apologize directly to you if I have interrupted you and it has been frustrating. I get it now. I am learning that I am currently on a very linear plane and to get a thought articulated is a lot of work. When I get interrupted not only do I lose the thought, I have to (like a video game) go back to the last "save point" and start again. If I can remember what the save point was. Ugh. This too is improving so I'm not too worried. I'm sure I'll be back to jumping all over your conversation soon enough.
How appropriate that I lead into the next section of my blog with this particular image. It was originally supposed to lead into a completely different blog post that I never wrote about the big change that I've experienced. I wrote "This little picture has been floating around in my head for days Jan 29 2018" and then I got frustrated. Honestly, I drew this to remind myself I still have an imagination. See more below.
My Biggest Change
I have one glaring difference since I had my seizure and it has taken me a really long time to write about it. Partly because it is really complicated to articulate, partly because I almost feel humiliated to admit it (I said "almost" there, I realize that I cannot control this, but it is massive to admit to this difference due to my line of work. Massive) The biggest struggle I have had is that I am having a very hard time visualizing things. I have recently realized that that part of my brain is there but I have to consciously think about it in order to engage it (and I think this is a new thing in the last few days or so, so I am encouraged)
Before I go further, I want to separate "visualizing" from my "imagination". My imagination is intact. So is my creativity. No problems there (as the above drawing is meant to illustrate, even if it is a simple image, it is not from real life) The thing I am talking about is that internal visualization one has in order to know all the steps required in order to complete a task or to be able to picture what a finished item might look like (or at least a close approximation as any painter will tell you, it never turns out like how you thought it was but the longer you paint, the closer you can achieve that original idea)
The day I was released from the hospital, I was very, very relieved that I could still spatially visualize road routes and maps. I know a little bit about how memory works and I know that if you want to remember people's names and grocery lists, it can really help to tie those things into your spatial memory. I recommend this book, Moonwalking With Einstein if that intrigues you. As an aside, that part of my memory isn't the greatest but I STILL try to memorize my student's names. Names are very important and if you want to make a connection with another human being, try your very best to remember their name. You will not regret that. Well, maybe you would if you tried to remember someone's name by picturing them as a shoe and then accidentally called them "Shoe" when you saw them. That would cause issues.
Something that has really stuck with me is a time before I had my seizure, I remember our family was over at some dear friends of ours house (I'm struggling on where to put the apostrophe on that) playing a drawing game (and if there is one kind of game I love, it's a drawing game) and my friend was saying since she had had chemotherapy, she has had a hard time visualizing what things look like - in her case it was little cartoon drawings of frogs and giraffes. For some reason, at the time, I could not let go of that thought, the idea of not being able to picture something absolutely fascinated and frightened me. Well, I'm speaking from the other side of the coin right now to tell you that it is neither fascinating nor frightening but it does take effort and planning when this affects you.
This is why I titled my blog today "Soaring Above the Trees" because that is my biggest goal right now. I want to figure out how to let my mind take flight again so that I have the big picture perspective that I once had. Instead of being on the ground walking through every idea and conversation in a linear fashion. This goes far deeper than painting pictures or drawing giraffes... this affects a lot of decision making processes.
Pre-seizure my husband would say "where should we go for our dinner date?" and 8 options would spring to mind (I'm gluten free, so I work with those limits, non gluten free people would have 25 choices) . I could visualize simultaneously where each restaurant was in relation to me, the interior, the food options, what they would taste like and the rough cost of the meal. Immediately, I could rule out 5 of those choices based on time of day, location and what I felt like eating. Three choices would remain for my husband and I to decide upon. This is what it is like to soar above the trees.
Post surgery if my husband were to say "where should we go for our dinner date?" I would draw a complete and utter blank. No clue. Add in immediate feelings of being overwhelmed and slightly ashamed at drawing a blank. At that point, I'd have a choice. To avoid looking dumb, just spit out anything that comes to mind regardless or time, location or budget. Usually for me the first thing that comes to mind is the last restaurant I went to. Fancy or food court. Doesn't matter if the goal is to not look dumb. Another choice is to ask him to narrow that down a bit (which once I realized this was a problem, I've been doing) 3 choices seems to be my maximum.
Now, to understand this better I want you to visualize (look, I'm making you work and do the thing I'm having a hard time doing). You are soaring above a park. Below you are three distinct paths that lead to three separate flower gardens. Garden A is snap dragons, Garden B is roses, Garden C is a half dead community garden that suffers from bad management. When you soar above the trees, you can see all three paths branching off from your starting position. As you soar, you can decide which garden suits your current mood and those decisions come quickly. Now, the down side is that you have to make some assumptions in that short time span and you might be disappointed on closer inspection, but overall it is a very efficient way to live. Soaring pretty much rocks and you probably totally take it for granted.
When you are on the ground, you are at that place where all three paths branch out before you. You see three paths winding off in the distance in three directions. You aren't totally sure how long those paths are or what garden is at the end. Someone says what the three gardens are and you are pretty sure two of the choices sound nice. The thing is, when you live on the ground you actually have to walk down each linear path in its' entirety in order to decide how you feel about the garden you arrive at. Walking those paths takes time. Far, far, more time than soaring. However, interestingly enough, you think through more things about each of those options because you spend more time thinking about them. Unless you are interrupted, then you end up, frustrated at the branching point. Living on the ground takes work and feels cumbersome at times. However, this is not thinking less about things or having limited capacity. This is your brain travelling everywhere on foot. It takes a little to get used to and honestly I'm hoping I find a bike soon. As a friend of mine once shared about different cultures that is also applicable here - it is not "wrong" just "different".
I've found that my husband giving me three choices earlier in the day yields better results than three choices given in the car on the way to town while we are already hungry. That is life though, you learn the work around and you make sure you are aware of the risks. I also want to avoid living like that all the time. At some point I will need to step off a cliff and see if I can soar.
This drawing of a flower I find interesting because I'm not approaching this from the ground so to speak. There are implied objects and hints of other things. This was a clue that things are starting to change, even if slightly. I wrote "Things feel like they keep improving. I felt quite down about lots of dreams only a few days ago and yet, the difference a few good days makes cannot be underestimated. I feel like the next few months may be better than originally anticipated. Feb 1 2018
Return to Instructing
Some of you might have noticed that I have an event posted on my main page. I am very excited to see it there, all by itself because it represents something far bigger. The fact that I have a teaching gig means that life goes on. That maybe one day, having brain surgery will be an interesting item of small talk or a way to walk beside someone who is going through a tough time. That maybe what I've experienced the last 6 weeks (Yes, 6 weeks since my seizure. Amazing) might have changed me, refined me and made me stronger but it didn't kill me or keep me down forever. Like I said a million years ago, hope is not to be trifled with. Please note that this gig isn't for another couple months too. Not tomorrow.
So, why do I think I am ready to return to instructing? I'm not totally ready at this very moment, but I'm very, very close. I would not be ready for full time work. Nor am I ready for painting (more on that in a minute). I'll also be limited to instructing occasionally on weekends (when I can be driven) or locally (when it isn't crazy cold and icy and I can travel by foot).
What gives me the confidence is that I don't need to soar in order to teach. In fact, teaching is just walking that linear path and talking someone's ear off while you travel along together. As the teacher, you've been on this path before and are bringing your student along for the first time (they may have been on similar paths but this is new), As the teacher, you point out all the things you've noticed all the other times you traveled that path. The curve of the hill, the rocky slope, the copse of trees and all the special birds and flowers. (of course you never tell them where the Nanking cherry or Saskatoon berry bushes are because you want to hoard them all to yourself and make jam, but then you realize that you like that person so you tell them where those are too.) Linear thinking is an asset in this situation. Not everyone is good at it either.
My husband confirmed I can still do this the past weekend when he asked me to show him how to make his own business cards using the letterpress in my studio. I did pretty good walking through the steps in order and the logic behind everything. It felt so good. So good. On an aside, next time you see my husband, ask him for a business card. Trust me on this.
In fact, something that I would like to try is some informal get togethers in the coming weeks at my house with actual human beings trying some art stuff. Just to shake out the cobwebs on instructing. (there will be no actual cobwebs involved) This is pretty loose in my head at the moment, but as I think about it more I get more excited. Talking to a friend of mine today confirmed that this is definitely a good idea on many levels. Plus I need people telling me about their exciting lives in the outside world. If that grabbed your interest, let me know and I"ll loop you in once I figure it out.
This is another appropriate sketch as I change topics in this never ending blog post. I wrote "My slippers. I'm tired of being home and wearing them all day. I'm feeling restless and a little frustrated. I've been almost totally house bound for 6 weeks now and it feels very stale. My energy levels won't co-operate for longer excursions on foot and I only seem to run errands.
That Thing Where Your Kid is Home From School For a Couple Days and Then That One Magic Day They Start Getting Bored Instead of Sleeping and So You Know it's Time For Them to go Back to School
I'm getting bored but I have limits. I can't be on screens all day, so I need to do stuff. Some of that I've been lightly playing with in my studio. Mostly letterpress and sketchbook. Why? Because both of those are very linear. Letterpress is take an idea do step 1, 2, 3,... 46 = neat thing you made. Sketching is decide what to draw, decide where to start, do your best to get a vague approximation. Add one layer of watercolour if desired.
Painting on the other hand... that is a multi step, multi layer, high soaring process. When I think of painting, I miss it so very much (I'm choked up typing this) but I feel very overwhelmed (please don't message me "just go paint" I'm not ready yet) because when I think of painting, it is very much an on the ground feeling. Plus it is multiple steps that start with "Clean Sta-wet palette", "boil water for new paper for Sta-wet palette", "decide what to paint" *Michelle's brain explodes*, "learn how to use new printer" *Michelle's brain explodes again*, "Put paint on palette" and then I arrive at the start of the path. This is discouraging and exhausting, yet I just articulated those beginning steps which I would not have been able to last week, so I know there is progress. Just slow, on foot progress at the moment.
So back to being bored. I owe a lot of my boredom to the fact that I have diligently kept lists for years and years and years. I track everything. What I eat (clearly I am not on any sort of productive diet, this is just for gluten free stuff), when, where and how far I run, (I can tell you how slow I ran 10 km all the way back about 15 years or so) and I usually write a fresh to do list each day. When I was sick a few years ago, this literally allowed me to work my desk job 2 years longer than I would have otherwise.
This diligence means I am no stranger to dumping things onto a list and then mindlessly checking it, doing a task and moving on to the next thing. I've internalized that skill so much that I had an unwritten (I guess visualized) to do list even in the hospital. (Although that to do list was all about taking painkillers, drinking Coca Cola and walking to the bathroom, the bar is set a little higher these days. Okay, let's face it, not much higher and without the painkillers)
So what does this have to do with lists? Lists keep me on track. All my cognitive functions are here. My memories are intact... I just lack focus and time management (and those are improving). What makes me look like a functioning human right now is that I make lists and I check them constantly to keep moving forward. This is also how I instruct. So I've been making lists of things to do that I actually don't have to do. When I get bored I work on stuff on the list. Today's list includes such gems as "blog", "thank yous", "painting photo" and "sketchbook" (notice the lack of household chores, somehow I never get bored enough to put that down unless we are getting low on socks or public health and safety is called into question) I also made a note about "art group" after talking with my friend. The fact that I've crossed off two on today's list already means that slowly I am climbing up to higher places. Boredom will drive me to good health.