Updated: Apr 25
Today is a bad day. When one lives with chronic illness or is in chronic pain, this is how life is measured out. Each 24-hour period is evaluated with the question, “How much did I get done today?” as if getting things accomplished is what defines what it means to be human.
In my case, I have two current areas of pursuit that define my existence. For the last year or more, I’ve been trying to build an online art tutorial business, as I’ve been painting furiously in recent years and would like to share what I’ve learned. I could also use the money.
I'm here, dammit.
Another area has been songwriting, which has been an unexpected offshoot of making art tutorial videos for some reason. I’m not sure what the connection is, but after a 15-year songwriting hiatus, this is a development one doesn’t take lightly, as music is born for me. I can’t summon the muse, as they say. Instead, a song just happens after some kind of alchemy comes together in ways I don’t quite understand.
The word “born” is actually a good one to explain the experience, as I can feel it coming, always – a push from some part of me that is connected to some other force that is pushing even harder, as corny as that might sound.
Yes, it seems preposterous that some deity somewhere might feel it absolutely necessary that Mary Ann Farley write a pop song today, but I don’t make the rules. I just know what happens. When its arrival is imminent, I must put everything down in that very moment and pick up the guitar or go to the piano and essentially take the dictation in order to usher in those three minutes of bliss, which is my favorite definition of a pop song.
It’s like chipping away at the marble, getting to the sculpture that I know exists within the block, which I think is something Michaelangelo once said. I’m no Michaelangelo in literally all ways in this life, except for that one quote, as that is precisely how a song comes to me. No, I will never leave historic artistic feats behind me as Michaelangelo did, but Michaelangelo never left behind a catchy tune either. It’s not as easy as it looks.
But today? I’m doing nothing with either pursuit as I feel so ill. I’ve felt ill most of my adult life, oddly enough, due to a blood clotting disorder that wasn’t diagnosed until I was 40. I have too many platelets, apparently, along with clotting issues that doctors have openly told me are not fully understood, based upon my complications.
So feeling ill isn’t new, but feeling ill in this way is, which has also been a common occurrence over the years. (I'm now feeling a debilitating fatigue.) The symptoms can morph and change, so when I think I’ve finally mastered the challenges, a new set arrives that sends me hurtling to the ground once more, and I must learn all over again how to get up and keep going forward--towards what, I don’t know, which is what I’ve been mulling over lately in this never ending quest to “get things done.”
But my stated confusion is perhaps a lie, as I indeed know why I need to accomplish things. As this illness whittles away at me, having taken so much already over the years, there’s some solid steel core within me that every day says, “I’m here, and I want someone to know it.”
Sounds so silly as I write that, as I fully know that true liberation comes from realizing that we are all completely forgotten in the end, no matter how much any one of us ever gets done. Even Shakespeare, who many might say is one of the creative immortals, will one day be forgotten when the current civilization falls due to pandemic, starvation, nuclear war or simply getting hit by a meteor. It’s a certainty that all that we think is so important will one day evaporate, based upon all the civilizations that have come before and have evaporated, leaving little (or even big) clues behind that they once existed.
There’s the Egyptians, the Romans, the Vikings, the Nubian empires, the Mayans – hell, there’s even the dinosaurs. I’m quite sure all of them during the height of their reign thought that this is how life would always be, and it would only get better from here.
But it didn’t, of course. Things changed, and in ways they probably didn’t expect or would have ever wanted. But in hindsight, maybe it’s good they all perished, not only to make way for the new, but to remind us not to ever take anything too seriously, as it all goes away in the end.
One of my favorite destruction stories is the great Library of Alexandria in Egypt, which stood for over 300 years sometime in the early Christian era, give or take 500 years. At its height, it held over half a million documents from Assyria, Greece, Persia, Egypt and India—basically, the entire known world at the time. Over 100 scholars lived at the museum as researchers, writers, translators and scribes, but then one day -- fire. That’s it. It was over. The repository of all knowledge went up in flames, and there are countless theories as to who was responsible.
Apparently, Alexandria was a volatile city that was home to Christians, Jews, Muslims and Pagans, so each group has tended to blame the other ever since for the catastrophe. But is anyone surprised, really? Modern history proves that humans have a great capacity for acting completely nuts. And we also have a great capacity not only for great creation, but also for great destruction. While no one knows who actually set the Library of Alexandria on fire, no one disputes that it really did burn and was a catastrophic loss.
One ancient historian blamed the Alexandrians themselves for the disaster, saying that “no people loved a fight more than those of Alexandria,” which, of course, sounds like my own country these days – America, which will most likely blow up the internet, the current repository of all knowledge. It makes the most sense to me that the Library of Alexandria was accidentally burned down by competing mobs looking to inflict the most pain on one another, then inadvertently destroyed the one thing that meant the most to them all. That sounds about right.
But I digress. Today is a bad day, and I’ve accomplished nothing so far. The new symptoms for the last three months or so have been a fatigue that puts me to sleep for most of the day, and this is on top of all of the pain that strikes without notice. As I read that sentence, it sounds like hyperbole, but the truth is that I’ve actually endured far worse than this, yet somehow I keep going. I’ve lived through things that I shouldn’t have lived through. And I can often carry a resultant despondency so heavy that I’m also constantly threatened with depression, truly the master of all the dragons I slay every day. Depression is the one illness that could finish me off far more easily than hemorrhages where I projectile-vomit two liters of blood in the ER, which actually happened.
Even writing this down today is perhaps another foolish exercise in the “I am here” pursuit, but maybe today I’ll cut myself some slack. I’m fully aware that I and all my work will evaporate in the end, but maybe just for now, I want to be seen, be heard, be felt, be loved, as all those things feel in such short supply on an afternoon like this. That’s today’s dragon, and these words are an attempt to slay it. Is it dead? No. The dragons are never dead. I wound them temporarily, or maybe wear them out a bit, but they always come back. In the end, I know they’ll win, unless we all perish together. We could always get hit by a meteor.
Now why does that thought relax me?
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