Yesterday I came home from the art installation, sick with fatigue, the most insidious of my MS symptoms. When I reach this level of total tired, I can’t think, my eyes get weak, I drop things, my right leg goes numb and weak, and I feel frightened, a mental and physical flailing mess. I’m unplugged from the force field, discomfited, disconnected, which is actually what happens: my nerves stop firing or at least the impulses are sporadic, t my muscles receiving only a faint if any electrical charge. Stress and heat always screw up my circuits, a Marsha brown-out. Often it is a random undoing of me.
I’d awakened with energy, a happy surprise. But by the time I got to the gallery, I was weak in the knees and my vision began to blur. The kindness of my fellow artists is balm, a palpable sweetness they give me when they see the signs.
My mentor/teacher/artist/friend Debi Pendell looked over and said, “I’m hanging Marsha’s work.” I’d sat in a folding chair and watched as she got down to business.
I'd watched the way she swept down to the floor to search her bag for picture hangers, then swept up to the wall where she arched her back as if she might begin to act out the Residence Inn commercial. I'd felt helpless, disabled, sad. How I miss the daily dance that others perform with ease, without thought. They should take their mobility for granted--that is the joy of automatic movement. This unconscious grace, flexibility, sallying forth with fearlessness is what I’ve lost.
Though I feel as if my body has turned on me—betrayed me—I’m determined to try not to turn on my body, not to blame my body for “catching,” or developing, or manifesting this disease. When I’m frustrated with my body, I become hyper-aware of it. As I watched Debi at work, I touched my neck, felt the pulse, crossed and recrossed my legs, rubbed my hands together, splayed them out in front of me. I surveyed them, rather grumpily.
My hands are in godawful shape—nails jagged, my right ring finger twisted, almost an optical illusion. I was hit by a car when I was fourteen—I was on a bicycle. I made the six o'clock news—the clip was of me being loaded by paramedics into an ambulance.
Broken tibia, broken wrist, punctured shin, assorted scrapes and lacerations. A broken finger didn't warrant much attention. Turns out that the injury attended to least has bothered—as well as reconfigured—me the most.
I’d been right-handed. I had to learn to write with my left hand. A doctor once told me that it was inevitable that this finger would get broken again, sticking out the way it does. Over time I grew protective: I opened doors, searched in my purse, broke up dog fights, reached inside sacks with my left hand. When some hearty soul came in for a handshake, I stuck out my left hand.
This resulted in a rewiring of my brain. I became ambidextrous. A good thing—the doctor’s prophecy came true many years later when my dog leapt out of the car to chase a stray cat in my yard, his leash creating a noose around my crooked finger, breaking it backwards in two.
I know I can reroute my pathways. I’ve done it before. And here is where I’m going with this—a similar compensation has happened since MS commandeered my central nervous system.
Because I've had to walk slower— I now see what I had always rushed past. The world under my feet became full of the curlicues of unfurling plants, the leaves composting into their own abstract paintings, fallen limbs sculptures in and of themselves, covered with textures-- furry fungi, green and titian buff, raw umber, sienna, iridescent gold, copper.
And when I'm creating--painting, arranging--I take risks. I've been told I'm fearless in my process. I thought of this as I watched Debi hang my large collage. All the motion! It seemed as if the paper had grown its own effluvia, enacting an organic journey across and through and around the paper.
Oh, such flagrant display.
It is not lost on me that in my art work there is a joyful mobility, a twist and shout, a hootchy-kootchy, a cantering caper performed on paper.
I looked around the gallery, an old manufacturing mill, and thought about Miley Cyrus flying through the air on her wrecking ball. I came in like a wrecking ball.
I looked at my work, full to bursting with shards of glass and mirrors, beads let loose from their strings, words unmoored from their original context, kalidiscope images, one upon another upon another, a sprint through the looking glass.
I imagined the beautiful wreckage in Miley’s wake, her flight a fearless butt- naked wild ride through space. I remembered my own feelings of being out of time, transported, unfettered, FLYING, when I made the collage now peacock-preening before me.
I came in like a wrecking ball/ lYeah, I just closed my eyes and swung/Left me crouching in a blaze and fall….
Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball”
It is this image I’ll hold in my mind when I fly through the doors of the gallery on Saturday night.