Everybody’s a Critic

Paw Print at Dawn by Jim-Bob Barlow

I was trying to paint last night but Jim-Bob, our orange tabby making a life as a reformed barn cat, decided my time could be better spent. He hopped up on my lap and then crawled up to my neck for insistent snuggle.

“No, kitty,” I said after giving a few scratches and setting them down on the floor.

“I have needs,“ he seemed to purr at me or as he jumped up between the brush bucket and the fish tank, worming his way back onto my lap. He put a paw on the painting table, and I set him down again.

 Katie-the-wonder-dog barked at the door to let me know she was ready to come in, and I pushed the table away from me and padded out to the mudroom to let her in. Jim-Bob, curiously, did not follow, and I should’ve known something was up.

When Katie and I got back to my studio/office, Bob trotted out past us with a swish of his tail, leaving behind only a paw print of disapproval on the still wet painting.

Thing2 has just fallen asleep in the room across the hall so I kept my curses quiet, swearing that was the last that cat would ever see of the inside of my studio. He knew better, however, waiting less than five minutes to nudge open the door with a butt of his head. And as a sucker with a severe case of Stockholm syndrome, when he threaded himself between my legs, I put down my brush and decided to tackle his boundary issues another night.

Some nights in the studio are as much about processing as they are about product.  

Buried


“How are YOU doing,” they asked.

The right word escaped me then but has found me tonight as I listen to each inflection of Thing1’s fevered breath, afraid to sleep in case he spikes again, cataloging the drugs and doses he’s on incase we need to head to the hospital for the umpteenth time this snow-inundated winter, and feeling completely frustrated at not being able to do the one thing every mother is supposed to be able to do for her children — make them better. 
And, for the first time in weeks, mostly because I’m way beyond the “if i didn’t laugh I’d cry” stage of the winter and because I don’t have time to cry and can’t think to write or draw, I picked up a brush and started to paint, and the word found me.

Somehow we will dig out of this endless winter, but right now, I realized that the word I’d been looking for was “buried”, and it had nothing to do with the snow.

A Room with a View


Thing1 and I spent most of the day at Dartmouth- Hitchcock looking out the window of his room toward the great foggy north known as New Hampshire. The mountains disappeared and re-emerged from the clouds that has to around us all day, and they set the perfect view for our mood.
Thing1’s Ulcerative Colitis required him to be admitted to the hospital for treatment of a severe acute episode last night. The disease has escalated, and when we leave tomorrow, it will be with the knowledge that we need to decide between several long-term treatment options, each of which carry serious risks.

My gentle giant hasn’t shed any tears or wallowed in self-pity since his diagnosis a year and a half ago, but I could tell that the relapse and the treatment options presented had deflated his morale quite a bit. 

 Pep talks and platitudes are wasted on Thing1, so I steered the conversation back to his favorite topic – cars – until he was ready to talk about options. I worked my online day job while nurses came in and out with more medications and fluids, and the gray foggy day seemed to flow through the plate glass window.

Late in the day, the sound of a snow plow in the parking lot 5 floors below pulled our attention back to our view.

“The mountains are too populated,” said T1, “but they are beautiful.”

When the mountains disappeared into the night, I was able to do my own research into T1’s options. Number crunching and phone calls to experts made us more optimistic, and a chance conversation with a nurse with the same disease helped T1 marshal his morale.  

Tomorrow is supposed to be cold but sunny, and the view should get better as things become clearer.

Wednesday Storm

Wednesday Storm, Watercolor, 5×7

It’s been about two weeks since I made the decision to resurrect a creative routine. The decision was the result of a webinar hosted by a friend, but the fuel to keep it going beyond the first day or two came from an unwelcome source.

Saturday morning we rushed Thing1 to the emergency room because his chronic illness had generated an overnight weight loss of over 10 pounds. I knew he had not been feeling well for the last day or so, but most of his flareups have resolve themselves in a day or two. 

This one is still playing out, as we continue with fluid replacement and hospital visits. 

I’ve been trying to find a silver lining–acknowledging that the umpteen phone calls and emails and texts are signs that — unlike too many Americans — at least we have the resources to help him. Like any parent, however, my  focus has been on the cloud over the lining.

I worry how long he will have access to the care he desperately needs. I worry for all the parents of children with chronic illness who don’t have adequate health coverage and wonder how they handle that impact on their child’s health or life.  

And I paint. When I’m frustrated on T1’s behalf, I paint. When I get off the phone with the insurance company wondering if his treatment will be compromised by what they are willing to cover, I paint. The painted pages don’t express tears or shouting, they exist instead of those things.

Art has always been a therapy for me, channeling worry or depression into something productive. Inspiration is a dubious gift, however, and right now I am eagerly anticipating the moment that my new creative routine must be fueled by discipline instead.