Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Winter Inoculation part 2 – beyond the holidays

I thought the 2009 Christmas holidays were a bit blah, but the dark and/or rainy January, February and beyond were worse. At some point during that I had a routine appointment to see the MD who does my medication management, and she changed my medication. That stressed me out further and I ended up going back to the old prescription, which I guess in a way was comforting – as if it validated my mood being appropriate to circumstances. Also in Dallas spring comes pretty early, at least in its intermittent way, so it is hard to make a case for the necessity of chemical proactiveness.

A decade or two ago (fuzzy on the self-realization continuum) I dimly got that I was affected mood-wise by the onset of September, very likely because Mother had died early that month. Also it’s a time of year when things cool, die…in Texas we experience that more as rain and murk/muck but still, one can sense a change is coming weather-wise, at some point.

October used to be a more purely happy month – my birthday and the weather finally staying cool, so you can more consistently wear your new fall clothes (yes I have been hot in lumpy new cotton sweaters, but kept them on anyway, because they were new and it was my birthday day). But since my oldest brother Tim, he of the 10/14 birthday always before mine on the 19th, died, I have a mix of honoring and celebrating and mourning…all of which could be approached (my first version of this said “managed” instead of “approached”, LOL) with alcohol and food abuse, but how much and on which date? And now that my dad is in his mid-80s, his birthday is not just an “oh geez another family birthday” but a time for angst also.

When my mother was alive we never combined birthdays, even when they were a week or less apart – it still, turning 49, startles me that my dad’s is less than a week after mine – which didn’t sink in more deeply because Mother made them separate occasions. Usually we had a cake for Tim, another cake for me, then a pie for Daddy – sometimes 2 pies in that sequence – very occasionally 3 cakes – but there was always something on The Day of each birthday person. With the blended stepfamily of an additional 7 people, it all got diluted. My second year in college, I received a card mailed by my stepmother fairly close to the date but not received until after the birthday that she had obviously signed for four people – all the same signature. I wasn’t ready for that level of birthday acknowledgement, but it wasn’t only her fault. My dad has said for many years, “We have too many kids to make a fuss over birthdays.” In response to which I always thought, that’s not the kids’ fault.

So I started dating an only child, who I only later realized had beaucoup relatives with October birthdays. During the years of must-please-hubby’s family, the card buying and mailing was intensive. I also added people like my dentist’s office staff who had October birthdays. I called it a Mission , the sending out of cards to friends and their kids and even the person at the dentist’s office who deals with insurance companies – now I have backed away from it as not the best use of Sarah resources.

This year I have a new perspective of maybe being a Highly Sensitive Person (http://www.hsperson.com/), which maybe (not all experts agree, some would say I need shock therapy to patch my flaws) helps explain my discomfort with low temperatures (also high temperatures), scratchy clothing (i.e. winter clothing that sometimes feels claustrophobic and warm, even in Texas), and sensitivity to noise, movement, and a zillion other things. Add to this my anxiety syndrome that has me worry our world will end every time the planet turns into winter’s dark position, and you get a person who hates summer but doesn’t think she likes winter either.

My first semester of college was spent at St. John’s in Santa Fe, NM. A lot did and didn’t happen in those short months, but I definitely remember beauty, dryness, desert light and desert darkness. My Uncle Harvey took me to New Mexico on a college tour while I was still in high school and blessedly visited me, flying in with a fellow artist and long-time family friend who enhanced the experience further, during that first semester and my first Thanksgiving outside of Texas. Since I dropped out that December, I have thought of the school and the location many times. I went back to visit a friend a couple of years later, but that was an odd trip because of things to do with her relationship and I cut it short – a surreal weekend framed by desert scenery that I didn’t even have time to appreciate. My New Mexico memories, and select photos of Uncle Harvey’s from our trip (he mailed me a wonderful half a shoebox of them, back before digital cameras you got photos with glossiness and weight!) have somehow encouraged me toward the images of Georgia O’Keeffe.


Recently I was looking on Art.com for a copy of O’Keeffe’s “Red Hills with White Shell” and saw a print of “Black Door With Snow,” an image that was totally new to me. Wow – not like she’s still painting new stuff (sadly), I just hadn’t seen it before, which felt fortuitous in an exaggerated way. The image both warmed and calmed me. I immediately thought, with this visual I can face the winter. Not that what she painted is cozy – it is stark or at least plain in its rendering, a black doorway, brown wall, there is earth and sky and snow flakes. But somehow , looking at it, I feel less lost and in the dark. The image seems to be of a back door, which reminds me I have a front door…and a richer life, and a future, and a spring to come. Yes, all this from a simple O’Keeffe image. She is an artistic genius!

I know it’s always a trap to think, if I just get this, buy this, I will feel better – but as soon as I saw the print online I was convinced that if I had it on my wall I could feel so much better, could better face the winter. For a week I tried just looking it at on my computer desktop – uh, no – of course that was not satisfying. Plus I kept thinking how good this print, with its black & beige colors and white mat, would look hung on my right-hand office wall with my O’Keeffe print, “Above the Clouds.” I wouldn’t necessarily keep the snow print on the wall all summer, but I could put it up in the fall, like a seasonal tradition – a ritual, something that would bring a spiritual or maybe even pagan consolation. (Isn’t fear of winter really pagan at its core?)

Maybe not so differently, I have been for several weeks intrigued by Rivkah Singh’s Breaking the Cycle trio of paintings. I was disappointed when it disappeared from eBay, but when she relisted it the next week I couldn’t quite commit to purchase – I love the look and the thought behind the look but…you will rarely hear me state this…my house is SMALL.


I love the red underpainting, the tree image (metaphor), the small dimension (the paintings are just big enough to show significant detail), the triptych aspect (I always feel a power in repeated patterns) and the use of snow, especially Rivkah’s explanation of that, as part of her detailed blog post. (http://rivkahsart.blogspot.com/2010/09/breaking-cycle-set-of-3-8x8-paintings.html) These are beautifully and complex representational paintings, and I hope they find a wonderful home soon.

So on the week of September 27, a blah Monday with weather that stayed cooler than we expected – which I had thought might be a relief but instead seemed to trigger a pre-lapse of winter anxiety – I became convinced I need Georgia O’Keeffe’s snowy image although not sure it will help me through Christmas (so many complexities come up during the holiday weeks) – I clicked Purchase. I am still thinking about Rivkah’s trio of trees against snow, although also leaning toward several Mark Rothko prints I have had in my shopping cart on Art.com, thinking their warm colors and small, well-priced size will help me cope…especially if I hang them near “Above the Clouds,” which sort of echoes winter in terms of tone – acceptance of space – alleged vastness.




Waking during the night after I started writing this post, I made this note to add regarding O’Keeffe’s winter image: “Acknowledge the snow. But emphasis is on the house, the being protected from the snow.”

That’s it – my winter mantra. It may need the reinforcement of more art, more prescription medication (and/or more carbs and alcohol?) but at least in early October I am approaching things proactively.

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