A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Go Fish


Just continuing painting portraits of children, though I think I might try doing a landscape painting soon in gouache. I have joined Zazzle and, so far, have a card and a T-Shirt for sale with an image of the Smile girl on them. Of course, if it sells, I will only earn a small amount, but I figure it's a step in the right direction. It's kind of fun turning the artwork into a useful product, but it is time consuming, so I will only make up a couple of products a day and post them on the Zazzle site. I will also make a link somehow from the blog to the store, so you can check out my gallery if you want to. It's just bare bones right now. I'm trying to decide which images I want to use as product designs. I'm also tempted to make cards, posters and T-Shirts with some kind of message like religious (Buddhism) or political (mental health advocacy?) on them. This could potentially be quite challenging, you know, not just painting portraits but getting into the design and marketing end of things. It's new to me, but I'm willing to give it a try.

I have been going in and out of moods lately. I have taken a few more steps back from singing, not just because I've been painting, but because my confidence level has dropped quite a bit and when that happens I sing poorly and have little enthusiasm. I hope this is temporary. I also spend too much time indoors. I have it in my head that I'm becoming agoraphobic because I don't even want to go outside to get my mail. I'm going to have to push myself to go out several times a week. I would like to paint out of doors and there is a public park with a reservoir about 20 minutes from here. If I could do that I would feel quite brave.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Smile

I am thinking about joining a site called Zazzle where I can take any of my photographs of my artwork and have them reproduced onto any number of products such as cards, calendars, posters, t-shirts, mugs, etc... The company does all the work for you, you just give them your designs, set up a gallery space and sell your work online. This led me to wanting to get photographs to work from that I don't have to attribute to a particular photographer because that would be complicated if I were trying to sell multiple products with the same image on them. So I did a google search last night which led me back to a site called Morguefile that I had heard of from About.com It's the only place online that I've found so far where you can get good photographs to base paintings on for free with no attribution. The other site, Flickr, requires that you attribute your artwork to a particular photographer, which I have been doing lately. The thing is, when I do that I feel as if I am cheating or stealing or something and yet I really feel that making a painting of a photograph transforms the image into something new and genuine. A drawing and painting requires that you start from scratch with a blank page which in turn requires that you make certain creative decisions. Yes, there is painting that is photo-realism, but even that seems to heighten the image and make it super-charged. My paintings are not exact reproductions and I like to think that my spirit is infused into them. In any case, I lay claim to my own work. So I am relieved to find a site where I can get good photographs to work from free and clear and I'm looking forward to joining the Zazzle site and trying my hand at selling products with my images on them.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ethiopian Girls


This gouache painting is based on a photograph by Ahron de Leeuw that I got at the Flickr site. I love the expressions on the girls faces. Part of why I chose this photograph was because I fell in love with the little girl on the left, but as I drew and then painted I became equally fond of the girl on the right.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dancing Bali Boys


This gouache painting is based on a photograph by Dominic Alves. He goes by the name Dominic's Pics on Flickr. I'm branching out a bit in this painting because, unlike many of my portraits, here I include the background. I'm starting to include more details in my work which I find exciting. I'm still definitely into the gouache. So, I've been doing a painting a day for the last four days or so and I want to try to keep up the pace. The more I work, the more I learn. I figure if I do a lot of paintings it will allow me to experiment more. With this painting there was no blue in the photograph, more oranges, greens and yellows, but blue is the complement to orange, so, at the last minute I added some washes of blue and I think it strengthened the painting. Though I've been painting on and off for many years, I still consider myself an intermediate beginner.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Newark, N.J. Boy Dancing


This gouache painting is based on a photograph by Tony The Misfit from the Flickr site. The boy is dancing on a street in Newark, New Jersey. Though there are bars behind him, he is NOT in prison, but I can see how someone could get that mistaken impression. But even if he were, his joyful spirit seems to defy it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Profile Of A Dancer


Well, I'm on a roll. Just chose three new photographs to paint from Flickr today. This painting is based on a photo by Alaskan Dude. This woman was part of a Middle Eastern Dance group last summer in Anchorage, Alaska. It's a lot of fun getting good photographs from around the world. It's exciting to get a view into other cultures. In the next two photographs I will paint I have one of an African American boy dancing on the street in Newark, New Jersey and another of two Balinese boys dressed in traditional costumes, also dancing. That's my theme right now--dancers. And in terms of portraits of people, it's a good theme. I also wrote a blog entry on my Artid site about painting if you want to read it. Someone sent me a brief email from Artid saying they really liked my artwork which boosted me up. I want to get more involved with Artid now that I've returned to a regular practice. I'm just going to keep working and posting images of my paintings here, on Artid and on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Young Dancers


This is a painting based on a photograph by someone named Photo Mojo. I got the photograph from Flickr. I'm discovering some nice photographs to paint on Flickr. I feel a bit like an image junkie trolling for images to paint. I find now that I'm making up songs again that I need to have paintings to work on to balance me out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Voice In The Wind

I got some good responses to my cd, but have put it aside for now and have been working on new songs. I definitely paid attention when some of the psychotic symptoms returned--I took a break from the music and painted, I raised my Abilify by a quarter tablet for a few days and I monitored myself by talking into my tape recorder. Last week I saw my therapist and told her about the increase of symptoms. She said if the symptoms persisted that I should consider not being musical, but, at this point, I just can't do that. I love painting and will continue to paint, but now that I've rediscovered songwriting and singing and have the proper equipment to record myself, I'm not willing to let go of it without a fight. I will continue to be dedicated to taking care of myself, detaching from the music when I need to, but not completely. I will leave the door open. I respect the fact that I suffer from a serious mental illness and must adjust myself at times, but I won't allow the illness to dictate what I can and can't do creatively.

Singing and songwriting is not really easy for me. There is some stress involved. Every time I sit down in front of the microphone and pick up my guitar I face my own limitations. I can just barely play my guitar, enough to compose very simplistic songs and singing is always a bit of a challenge. Really it takes courage to sing out and record it. Some days I can sing and other days I can't. And writing is a mysterious process to me. I write intuitively and blindly. Lately I've been writing a lot, but I go from one song bit to another. I'm learning again about the creative process and how I have to let go of self criticism when I'm working on a song. That's hard to do when I'm lost and sounding like crap, but it is essential. That's the thing about being an artist, you have to take the bad with the good and not give up. When I was into film photography, I used to be very happy if I got one good shot from a roll of 36 and it's the same thing with doing sketches, one good sketch out of 20 or so.

I guess it's called art practice. The real thing you're celebrating is the process of being creative and aware at the same time. I see all creative work as a kind of personal journal. Writing, drawing, making songs is the process of creating artifacts that define a particular time and place for the creator. It makes me think of the power I felt as a child finger painting. And it makes me think of actual archeological artifacts like a hand print on an ancient wall. The act says: I was here and I did this and this means something. The tricky thing about the act of writing is that words have the power to influence people. For most of us, once it's said, it can't be taken back. I think about this now when I write songs, especially when I write songs about mental illness or against war. I am just another voice in the wind, but like so many, I want to be heard and I want to influence listeners to consider my point of view through my emotional standpoint. And so I have to carefully consider what it is exactly that I am trying to say and can I stand behind it.

I had attitude in some of my older songs, but I made the songs without much forethought. I guess that was because the songs stopped with me, stayed in my music room and didn't migrate out into a corner of the world. This experience of sharing my music has taught me that I have a responsibility to stand by the songs in all their imperfection, just as a parent stands by his or her child. I realize that while my words remain the same, I am changing and that who I was ten or fifteen years ago is not who I am now, but still the words I chose and the songs I made will always be a part of my experience.

Now, I want to make songs more carefully. The first step, which I've begun to take, is to just generate material. The next step is to go over what I've created spontaneously and rework it, craft it into something more than just a therapeutic release. I don't know if I can do this yet, but I very much want to try.

I think part of the reason why I began having symptoms again had little to do with handing out my cd, but had to do with me not adhering to my diet and exercise plan. I still have been sticking to eating around 1500 calories a day and writing it down in a notebook, but I stopped going to the Anne Collins site and I stopped exercising. So a couple of days ago I started exercising again and my mood has been good and my symptoms have been minimal. I have to remember that this is a lifestyle change and when I stray from it, gently redirect myself back to it. So far, I've lost 11 pounds in two months. The main thing is to keep at it, really, for the rest of my life, not in order to lose weight, though I will lose this weight, but to be as healthy and as happy as I can.

This recent dip into psychotic symptoms has been an instructional challenge. I come up against my limits, but I don't let my limits defeat me. I work with them. As an artist who suffers from schizophrenia I have more challenges to face than artists who have no such handicap, but the way I see it, if I persevere, I can weave an even richer tapestry. And really, it's the same deal for all of us, the human condition is and always will be a challenge to surmount obstacles.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

African Inspiration


I finished this gouache painting moments ago and then, after transferring the photo of it to the computer, I checked my email. There was an email from J.P. telling me that a school in Zimbabwe was having an art auction and needed artwork. There's a cholera crisis and the money would go towards getting clean drinking water for the children. I thought, what perfect timing on J.P.'s part because this would be a good painting to give to them. So I think that's what I'm going to do, once I figure out how to get in touch with them. I love the idea of one of my paintings helping children in Zimbabwe. It will also give me a little exposure because they send out the image of the artwork along with one's website to over 1500 people. Pretty cool. Thanks J.P.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Growing Pains




Here are a couple of gouache paintings I've done recently. The one on top is based on a photograph I got online at a free photograph site. I was looking for pictures of dancers and these colorful African dancers (and singers) came up. The other painting is of a photograph of J.P.'s doll Hayley. It's the second painting I've done of her doll. Neither are really an exact representation of the doll because to me they look like portraits of a real, live baby. That's part of what makes painting sometimes magical to me and I am fond of the portraits of Hayley. If you want to see it larger, click on the image.

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After I sent out my cd to a few friends, I began to feel a little stressed out about it, which is why I wrote the previous blog entry. Then I had a return of a few psychotic symptoms: the voices began calling me "evil" while I sang, I thought I was being spied on by the rock star again and I had some delusional thoughts about my music becoming popular at some point. I was also listening to my music way too much trying to imagine what each of my friends' reaction to it would be. During all this I was monitoring myself. Sometimes I pulled away from singing when I was called "evil" and other times I just kept on singing and said "No." to the voices. I gave myself little pep talks "No, no one is following you and no, your music is not that good and no, you are NOT evil!"

But don't get me wrong. I'm still glad that I made up the cd of my older songs and glad that I handed them out to a few people. It was impulsive, but I felt like I needed to do it and so I did. And I still want to pursue making songs, but I have to be willing, due to my illness, to step back from it when I need to and pursue other creative activities such as painting. So that's what I've been doing the last couple of days, taking a few steps back.

You know, not all stress is bad, some of it is about growing and that's what I think I've been doing. I still want to get constructive criticism on the songs that I've done, and I'm hoping a few of my friends will have the courage to be honest with me. I will continue working on new songs so that I can make a cd of recent work (which will be different due to my experience with mental illness) and then I will send that cd out too. And will I feel stress then, too? Yes, but that is natural and it will pass just as this stress is also passing away. Also, I may do some more growing in the next few months.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Caution To Be Tolerant

I've given my cd to my brother, my therapist and four friends so far. No feedback yet. I've been listening to the cd a lot and consulting the I Ching about people's response to it, which will be mixed. I just want to say to those who listen to it, try to be tolerant. I am far from perfect and some of the songs might offend you. Try and look to the songs that you like and leave the rest. I know I need to keep in mind that I can't please everyone. Some people will respond positively to what I've done and others will be critical, that's just the nature of life. But, of course, I'm hoping someone will get something from it and that my circle of friends will widen and deepen. I've been isolated for so long and I need the support of those who are comfortable enough to give it. For those who are not comfortable with the cd, just ignore it, let it go and move on. Or give me some constructive criticism, that would be welcome.

I'm not trying to make excuses for the music; it is what it is. It covers a certain time in my life--age 33 to 36. I had just escaped a very abusive relationship and I was full of sickness and attitude along with some righteous indignation. I became attracted to three different men, one after another--one who was single and I could have approached, but I wasn't ready to get involved. The next was a painting teacher of mine who was married. I imagined that he was attracted to me, but he probably wasn't and I didn't approach him either. Both of these attractions I now consider pre-psychotic ones, that is there were elements of sickness in them. The final man that I was attracted to was not really someone in my life, but a delusion and that was when I was just falling into psychosis. He was a rock star that I sent a tape to just before I became paranoid and delusional. He, too, was married at the time, but I thought he was in an abusive relationship with his wife. I thought he was following me and spying on me because he was attracted to me. That seems to be another theme, that I thought some men were attracted to me, when they obviously weren't. But regardless of that, I made up some heartfelt songs about all three of the men I became fixated on.

So there's a combination of romance and music and mental illness in all this. I don't have a clear perspective on it because I'm too close to it, but maybe those who listen to the cd will be able to see this more with more vision. But it's not just mental illness, there's also health and strength mixed in. There's something to be said for those who can take some attitude and walk with it. I think a lot of the best songwriters out there do just that, both talk the talk and walk the walk. By choosing to make songs, I was attempting to walk the walk. Sometimes I succeeded and other times I didn't, but I had the courage (and hopefully still have the courage) to take a stand within myself and now before you. Remember I was seriously abused in a romantic relationship and that colored my attitude, but it also gave me the right to have a voice and to speak out, if only to myself in my music room.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I am human, just like you. I've made my share of mistakes and I live with that. But I still hope that the music can make a bridge to somewhere good. Try to stay open minded.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My First CD

I got my portable studio last Tuesday. I managed to re-record many of my best songs from 1995 to 1998; thirty one songs--well, sort of, some of them are just song ideas. It comes to about 67 minutes and so I burnt them down to a CD. My first CD!! Guess what I'm calling it? Yin And Yang, of course! Which is my way of saying thanks to the powers that be that govern balance in our lives. I'm going to send it out to my friends this week. I gave one to my brother yesterday, but he may not have listened to it yet because I haven't heard from him. I've got the music on my iPod now, so I've been listening to it a lot. It sounds good to me on the iPod, but less good on my boom box. I couldn't get my CD player and stereo to work, so I don't know what it sounds like on a good system.

The music is bare bones: me singing, a guitar, either electric or acoustic and, off and on, some effects on my voice and guitar, sometimes some inexpensive percussion. Most of the recording were done on two tracks, but there are a few that I fill out on three or four tracks. I didn't fool around much with that, though I'd like to in the future. What I'd like is to spark the interest of a few musicians. That would be so cool to have someone play bass or lead guitar or drums or keyboard or vocal harmony or the whole deal. At least, I think it would be cool, well, only if we were all into the music. I don't know if I'm ready yet to be social, but the music might act as a bridge in that direction.

Personally, I think the music is good, which is a little surprising considering I was making up songs without knowing what I was doing. I still don't know, except intuitively I guess. The songs are not perfect, but they have merit even so. If anything, they might be a good starting point for something more complex, more subtle. But really, the essence, the heart of things is basic stuff, what makes it good is a kind of earnest commitment and a surrender to the creative force that is within all of us. I was able to do that at some points and record it. So, regardless of the response I get, I should sit tight with myself and say, hey, Good Job!

I think I should copyright my songs, you know, take myself and my work seriously. Now that I have an actual CD to hand out to people, I feel more serious about it all. It was so great to burn the master CD and then put it on my computer and then on my iPod. Now, I've got to continue working on new songs and reworking old songs so I can do another one of me a decade after my first psychotic break. The songs I've been writing these past three years have been much more about living with mental illness, which I think is a very important subject for me and all of us. So I'm challenged to reach out to people with my music. If I can strike a chord with people, maybe I can do some good. If not, it will still be worth doing and I might actually make friends with people I normally would have had no contact with--musicians and music lovers.

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I posted some of my fliers and cards advertising my online support group in town, but not on the campuses. It took courage to just do that and I felt a bit vulnerable after I did it, but also good. No response yet online; I still have to push myself to ask for permission to post the cards on the campuses.

I have continued with my diet. Last week I lost three and a half pounds, but this week only half a pound, I think because I didn't exercise as much. I have to push myself to continue with the exercise on most days. I'm positive it helps with boosting my metabolism, so I can lose weight and with boosting my mood, so I can do some good work.