On Tweaks and Wonky Widgets

I finally tweaked my website into a shape that I really liked. Then a widget went wonky and the support person tells me my theme has been retired. No fixing the wonky widget. I need to choose a new theme.

I have a new boss at work. We have new routines. I will have another new boss in August and I am sure they will bring their own tweaks to the routines.

They are interviewing new colleagues. They’re looking for someone I will likely be working with for the next decade (we tend to sit tight on these jobs). The devil you know, the devil you don’t? Rumors abound.

And I am thinking… whatever.

I’ll live. I will set off an afternoon to redesign my website. I will follow the new routines. I will work with the new colleague. These things are out of my control. I can accept that and set those facts aside: “Move on!

It’s this new medication. My jaw isn’t clenched. For the first time in several years, I don’t feel like I have to control everything. Set all the stories right.

I am not filled with disappointment and shame when I look in the mirror and see all the changes I haven’t been able to stop. I don’t feel that I have to justify the space I am taking up while sitting in the lunchroom with other people. I don’t feel like I have anything to proveGood enough. And even a bit of “so what?

It is frustrating that a little pill can accomplish in one week what I have been trying to will/exercise/force/meditate my way to all this time.

My head is quiet. Not numb, but rather as though it’s safe to be quiet because there is something else good just up ahead. Worth all the energy that I have been wasting. In the meantime, I go for a walk and do yoga on my lunch break. Laugh at E.’s dad jokes.

I do have a tiny worry in the corner of my mind. Will I crash? Is this lightness and this quiet “normal”? I ask E. We fall back into that truth that we can’t really ever know what is going on in someone else’s head. What something is “like” is still only relatable to one’s own experience of the metaphor’s vehicle. It is like we are all closed loops when it comes to language. We try. We make theater. We write poetry. We paint images.

But facing this sense of the futility of trying to communicate exactly, I am feeling puzzlement instead of despair. Being puzzled is kind of fun.

The effort is fun.

I had forgotten that while chasing something I was trying to make meaningful – a durable artwork. What a waste of energy.

Saturday I will revamp my website. I tend to curse a lot when I start messing with code and tweaks. I also enjoy it a lot, when it all fits together like a solved puzzle.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month in the US. Statistically, I am rising now in terms of the great U of happiness. I hope so.

Bipolar, CPTSD, likely ADHD (no childhood data for a definitive diagnosis). No shame.
On and off medication as necessary these past 35 years. Functioning member of society: teacher, artist, mother, wife – with all the normal strife. It’s not all good, but it is all worth it.

Mid-week, Mid-life, Mid-project Stalling

The sun is already shining through my little library window. I was supposed to see my shrink today to get a new solution, a new hope etc., but she’s ill. So I comply and take the prescription that is not working. I know a sudden realignment of the salts in my brain can damage my memory more than it is already damaged from that time that the factory in Mexico that made the time-release pills burnt down and I went cold turkey.

At least that’s how I remember it. I was in my mid-twenties and already divorced and nose-deep in the drama of a new relationship: barely breathing. Two years of salt and sex and adrenaline and really good writing. And not the lyric kind, but out-of-the-box, authentically articulated, outward-looking work produced with a drive – confidence – that slipped away. The emerging artist aborted in a way. Balance is difficult.

So I sit here, disspirited, feverish, and frustrated. Compliant.

But the sun… it is shining through my little library window and I do have hope. And little else right now. I am eating fish for breakfast and doing yoga and reminding myself that these ruts always end.

I remember the shrink back then who told me that my life would be chaos until I was settled – and by that he meant finished with university, working a nine-to-five with a rote, gender-appropriate, middle-class American lifestyle with minivans and PTA meetings, and I think he’d never even heard of Ballad of Lucy Jordan. I don’t think he understood that not all trailer trash aspires to be WASPs. In fact, probably very few of us do. I didn’t aspire to be him. What does mentally healthy look like? Maybe the more important question is: What does mentally healthy feel like?

So I could have done worse. I have been to Paris. And I giggled when I saw a cabriolet pass by with a middle-aged driver. I was thinking of Lucy Jordan. I always figured the song was about an acid trip. So, yeah, I definitely could have done worse.

I think this thing I am making of myself is more of an abstract sculpture than a portrait. And I can pick it up and keep working on it as long as I live. There’s no rush. And no rubric or model for the finished work.

I did finish the sextain – sestina with an extra metered foot that repeats in its own rotating pattern. It is the text that I’ll print on the paper corset. Waist corset, neck corset.

And now on to the next set of constraints. Because there is a way to squeeze really exciting work out of the tightest of constraints. Hell, they might even be necessary.

The Danger of a Singular Perspective

So much of the morning wasted. I would have been better off sleeping in. I have nothing to say. I saw a meme about discernment – about knowing when your voice isn’t needed in a conversation. It is such an important lesson. But there are days when being humbled also means slipping into feelings of worthlessness and inconsequence. An even more difficult lesson to tease out and understand.

What does a single voice matter? Everything is contextual. Yet in this borderless culture, nothing is contextualized enough to allow for nuance. So we keep getting louder and more strident, bullying the parameters of every discussion into a narrow place. The place where we are, unequivocally, in the right. In fact: not just right, but the unquestionable authority on whatever tidbit of insight/wisdom/instruction there is to be had/shared/beaten over someone’s head as a form of retribution. Personal. Tribal. Cosmic.

I am wondering if there isn’t a form of mild trauma experienced by everyone on social media – just reading social media. “Reading” is an extended concept here. People are “discussing” an actor slapping someone with the same intensity and derision as they were discussing an actual (ongoing) war the day before. Blocking one another now based on their allegiance to a celebrity, or a particular critical reading of the event.

One view. One perspective. One context. Right. Wrong. The binary of the network.

Thriving on the extended “constructed drama”, that may be easier to deal with than actual destruction, but it’s just a diversion of the pain – not even a distraction, certainly not a balm.

And maybe this is just me within the context of burn-out. Me, dreading going to work today. Me, counting down the hours until summer vacation.

Me, so tired of all this darkness. The world right now is heavier than it needs to be for me. I don’t think that does anyone any good.

I wonder if toxic empathy is related to narcissism? Yeah. I am not sure I really care. The wheels just keep turning.

Last night while falling asleep, I realized that I haven’t basked in proper sunshine in over 3 years. It explains a lot of what I am feeling, I think. I remember hearing that when Norwegians emigrated to the American midwest a lot of them became mentally ill – they developed agoraphobia, kenophobia on the plains. They couldn’t adjust to the wide-open skies. The Norwegians that I knew in Texas missed the mountains with a bodily ache. They were willing to hike with alligators to get a taste of the wild.

I miss the intense sunlight of the desert. The sticky-asphalt heat. I am depleted.

It is probably irrational, but this morning I keep having the thought that if I could get down to the Canaries, lie on the beach, hike the volcano, I could get off the medication.

Thinking about it actually brings up a feeling of grief. My stomach clenches and a sob swells into my chest and threatens to escape. I guess this is a kind of homesickness of the body.


It is always stupid for me to write about or talk about process. In fact, I am convinced it’s a form of self-sabotage. It’s the final step of a creative project, where I cut myself off at the knees and go back to a safe place.

It’s when the oxpecker shows up and pecks me bloody.

I was thinking this must be one of the horsemen of a creative apocalypse, so I googled. Nothing is original after all. There are a couple of models for the four horsemen of the creative apocalypse, actually. Discussing process isn’t included. But now I am thinking Googling any idea should be.

My grandmother said to me, “Karen, I never understand anything you are talking about, but I’m glad you’re happy.” It could be she said, “… but it’s nice to hear your voice.” I’m not sure anymore. Those conversations took place years ago.

It’s amazing how people close to you can simultaneously make you feel acknowledged and completely irrelevant. Dismissed, with a pat on the head.

We may not remember the details but we remember the feelings.

Am I still spouting half-words and nonsense melodies? I am the madwoman in the cellar, in the outhouse. The deluded relative. Fed. Humored on occasion.

“I’m happy for you.”

“Isn’t that nice.”

I guess it forces the question of self-fulfilling prophecies. It spotlights the need for approval and permission, which are met so often with glib responses like, “Who cares what other people think?”

Not caring what others think comes from a position of privilege: that voice comes from someone with a waiting seat at the table, not a stool at the pulled-out cutting board in the kitchen.

Otherwise, not caring is just another form of self-destruction. Mental illness.

This morning a random essay found its way to my inbox from Academia. I have absolutely no idea why. It takes up Sylvia Plath, and her bipolar disorder as a manifestation of Thanatos. And by doing so lifts Plath’s story – Plath herself – to a mythic plane. Which is very different from the reality of dealing with a mental disorder. To the flesh and blood, and the decaying corpse of a mother of two.

The article further promotes the idea of the “true artist” as a kind of martyr. And it led me down a rabbit hole looking for the origin of the suffering artist. Back to saints of the Middle Ages: Romantic artists as secular saints to the god of exceptionality, exile, and death itself?

I don’t know. I just know none of this is Romantic. And none of these feelings are conducive to getting the work done.

I read a bit of the article:

Unsure of where the emotion originated from, it could be interpreted that Plath’s rage is not towards any person or matter – she is not a victim of these, but a “victim of her own brilliantly imaginative brain” (Stevenson 1), the protagonist of a self-depicted tragedy. Therefore, the possibility of the unconscious Thanatos playing trick onto Plath’s mind, creating internal drama should also be taken into consideration while reading ‘Edge’. Further, as Kaufman (47) denoted, some poets “may envision the muse as the sole sources of ideas, with themselves serving as a vessel of their creative works”, implying that by placing herself as the protagonist of her works, Plath is placing her mental health at risk, by creating and living in a hopeless world. The intersection of fictional and real worlds might have brought her illusions that her sufferings doubled as she shares feelings with the character she creates, worsening her manic depression.

Interesting speculation. (Not that I follow the author’s line of thinking where muses as sources for ideas implies anything about Path’s choice of the confessional form).

But no matter. I wonder though, all this is to what f-ing end?

Is the implication here: “Aren’t we glad she did it?”, “And now she has the legacy she dreamed of”? “Her self-destruction is the evidence of her true martyr/genius?”

Is this a psychiatry paper or a literature paper? A hagiography?

No speculation is ever put forth without an underlying tenet.

No fact is ever presented free of context.

I remember reading that Plath and Sexton, both conscious of legacy, discussed their suicidal fantasies. That Sexton was pissed Plath beat her to it.

But I may have dreamt that.

It’s probably not a fact.

Dorothea Dix, the 19C reformer knew mental illness. And she wrote that she “dare not” write poetry, and turned to oration. But not all autobiographical work needs to be reflexively ruminative or Confessionalist.

There are such things as facts. Even when facts are feelings. And context can be restructured. Perspectives can broaden.

It may not keep the oxpeckers away, but Thanatos wasn’t the god of poetry. Dionysus was.

It’s 7:25 am. too early for wine.

Ambivalence and Compliance

The soft light of the alarm clock begins to glow at 4:10 and intensifies so I wake before the recording of the blackbirds begins. I’m grateful for this cheap, but fancy clock. It’s a gentle way to begin the day.

The morning ritual is set. Bathroom to stairwell, to alarm panel, to sliding glass door, all with Leonard at my heels. I put the button to warm up the coffee machine while I drink a glass of water, fill the dog bowl and wait for Leonard to trip back into the house to get his treat. Then I take my coffee to the little library and turn on the computer. From here, all order falls apart.

On days like today, no words come. There is a quiet weight in my chest and an almost neutral calm. I breathe. I suppose this waiting is a form of meditation. Definitely a form of faith: with faith’s discomfort.

There are days when no news, no comment, no achievement can be good enough. When there is still unfulfilled anticipation. Something beyond hope really. It’s a feeling that touches back to childhood and naive expectations of a vague “good” that is just around the corner. Surprise me! Come on.

In two hours my watch alarm will vibrate to remind me to take the medication that keeps that feeling at bay. Or at least keeps it from being much more than a memory of a feeling.

Another cup of coffee for now. Another sober look at the wasp project and the steep learning curve as I pick up paintbrushes and charcoal again. Wishing I had the confidence of anticipating the “good” now.

It’s odd how self-confidence can abandon you as decisively as a disappointed mentor, shrugging and saying, “I guess I was wrong about you”. A sigh. “But keep working… Who knows.”

A sigh is still a breath, I suppose.