Tuesday, May 24, 2016

#SOL16: Mend My Life

from my Art Journal, 5.23.16 - Tell Me About Despair (gesso, watercolor, acrylic, collage )


What do you love to do? the grief therapist I am seeing asks.
Hmm. I'm not sure. I love to teach, read, make art, write, walk, talk with others.

Our talk this week turned to taking action. Meaningful action.
Begin to breathe, again--to mend this life of mine that has been torn apart.


Rob and I led an insular life in many ways. Our work brought each of us into contact with so many people each day that we tended to spend our weekends and time off together in quiet ways. Now, the spaces of quiet are larger than I need or want and Rob is gone.  My life is an absence I need to redefine and there is such loneliness sitting in the stew. The way through this grief that paralyzes at times is not to obscure it with trivial activity which only makes the loneliness loom larger, but rather to transform it with contact with others and work that is meaningful, playful.

Meaningful work.

I don't feel ready for the pace of full time education work, but I do think I would enjoy teaching again. With that thought in mind I contacted two friends to see about potential adjunct positions at colleges. I have taught graduate school for several years before and think such work would suit me now. In the past, my courses tended to be rather creative mixing the arts with the study of literature, reading and writing as a way to make the theoretical more physical, more inhabitable. 

Yesterday, I joined a book group that meets in June and I am going to try out a sketching group that meets locally. I am looking for a watercolor class to take this summer and Devon and I planned our summer with a bit more detail.

I also have a book in the planning stages and am setting a time to meet with two others about writing a book about early literacy in kindergarten. I want to write about the work I have made with others during the last five years in poor inner cities and how joyful, developmentally appropriate, and successful that work has been for children.  

All of this reminds me of a poignant poem by Mary Oliver, "The Journey." 


The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.


Trust the voice that is mine. Wade deeper into the world. This scares me as the confidence I have had feels less present, certain.  Rob's illness, the speed of his decline, the tragedy that dogged our every step, the loss of my true love--all of this has dismantled the certainty of love that once framed my life. I felt invincible with Rob by my side.  We were partners in all things. And without him venturing into the world feels scary, exciting, lonely, uncertain, sad. 

"Don't you dare hide yourself away," Rob told right after he bid my to live brilliantly. He said this an hour after we learned that the cancer had metastasized to his liver, spleen, ribs, sternum, both lungs and that we would now measure time by days and weeks, not months and years. Rob knew me so well--knew that I would seek the shadow, not the sun.

Will you welcome me, world? Torn and battered as I am?

Do what I love.


Oliver, Mary. New and Selected Poems, Volume One: 1 (pp. 114-115). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition. 


  1. Wow, this took my breath away. There is a tangible sense of hope here - of you clawing your way to your life again.

    This is beautiful.

    1. Thank you Dana. Clawing, true. Sometime a gift comes and I can walk out of it too...writing and making art helps in ways that are hard to catalog.

  2. Thank you for sharing this journey with us; your artful writing and your story have brought me to tears. Like Dana, I feel a strong sense of hope for you.

    1. Thank you Robyn. Such important words from you. I'm touched.

  3. Thank you for sharing this journey with us; your artful writing and your story have brought me to tears. Like Dana, I feel a strong sense of hope for you.

  4. Breathe.. yes, that's the best strategy I got from my therapist in the first months when I was so raw. As I read your post, I'm remembering... As much as I hated to hear it from others, thank God it does get easier. I'm starting to feel better, more peaceful and I am hoping that you get here too, soon.
    I'm with you Mary Ann. Here's my number- text or call if you need a new voice from our group 845-358-1004.

  5. This so beautifully conjured up for me an image of frozen river breaking free as winter chill encounters spring warmth. Miraculously, magically, bits of life begin an eventual move and flow. Remain open to the current, Mary Ann, the healing qualities of movement.

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  7. I believe that creativity heals us in such important ways. "Do. Make. Teach." Each of these endeavours pulls us first into ourselves and then back out - we take the pain and sorrow and fear, and transform it. I've always loved these lines from the Oliver poem:
    and there was a new voice
    which you slowly
    recognized as your own...

    That's when a type of freedom begins, don't you think?

  8. Wishing you peace and mending!

  9. Such a powerful piece to share. And I love your last seven words.
    "Do what I love.
    And yes, I believe the world will welcome you.
    Blessings as you move forward.

  10. And breathe you shall, Mary Ann through your art, your words, and your infinite love. You have much to share and Rob's words will prepare you for what is to come. Peace to you.

  11. Your art, your writing, your travels, your feeling will all help. Another heartfelt piece, in an interesting style. Thank you, Mary Ann.

  12. Oh Mary Ann, Your post really resonated for me today. I've been trying to find this balance between being out there in the world, and just sitting and hibernating til I feel ready. I discovered that taking on too much is a disaster. Focus and participation are impossible. When Mom died I thought survival just meant putting one foot in front of the other and continuing on. I didn't realize until recently how small those steps need to be at times.

  13. Oh yes, the world welcomes you! You have so much to offer and so much to share. I want to read that book. You are beautifully brave Mary Ann

  14. There is no shadow without sun.