Pain Map

I created a drawing mapping out the location and types of pain that my body houses. I have psoriatic spondylitis which is just a fancy way of saying that I have arthritis in my spine. Despite doctoring for most of my life, I have not received much in regards to tangible help and pain relief. And so, I’ve gotten very used to living with pain. Over the past couple of years, I have developed a stretching and movement practice that has helped me to get in touch with my pain, better understanding the messages it tries to communicate with me. The other night while engaging in this practice, I stared to imagine what it would look like if I were to wear my pain on the outside. This drawing is an exploration into just that.

A Walk

I walk out the front door, close my eyes, take off my mask and inhale. The rain always activates the smell of fennel in the back yard. I think back to the video I watched of the man who was at sea for two months. He said what was most striking to him when he arrived back at land was how spicy it smelt. What that must be like. I pause for a moment and decide to turn left. I don’t know where i’m going. It’s not raining any more but the trees are still dripping so it sounds like it still is. The old dog is sitting on its porch again. It raises an ear at me and I nod. We are used to each other’s routines. 

I notice an object laying beneath a tree-it is some sort of pod, about the size of a date and is green for the first 3/4 and yellow for the last quarter. It is kind of oval but with a flat top and bottom. It’s got a tiny little pokey thing coming out of one end, almost like the stinger of a bee. The top, where I presume it was attached to the tree looks a bit like the butt of a spaghetti squash and is all dried out and beige. It’s got three small scratches on one side and has slightly bruised around them. It is mostly smooth but has small grooves running lengthwise down it. If it was a painting, you would probably mistake it for a poorly painted olive. But, I don’t think that it is one. I decide to walk with it for a bit, it fits nicely in the palm of my hand. 

I end up by the water again. The ocean has a way of always leading me to it. I walk east on the sea wall and look down. Someone has written a poem in chalk, one phrase per sidewalk square, read East to West. I continue walking until I reach it’s beginning and turn around to walk back. The poem is called “Can You Hear the Trees?” I stop to listen but cannot make them out over the waves. There are a lot of sailboats out today. I can count 14 from where i’m standing. I continue- “Will You finally admit that you are angry?” I chuckle, called out by pink words scribbled in sidewalk chalk. So much for taking a break from all of these feelings. “Do you not exist? Is there not truth in your death in your living?”

 I get to the end of the poem, hop over to the sea wall, take off my boots and socks and sit down. The sea wind is a gift for walked feet. I look left to cargo ships on the horizon and marvel at how we figured out that we could make buildings float. A party pirate ship sails by. I wonder if the people on those boats can hear the trees any better or worse than I can?

I look down at the shoreline and notice that someone has been balancing rocks on top of other rocks at the water. I hear a crumble and see that he is still there, working, creating. What a practice, stacking rocks as offerings for the next tide to take. I ask him how long he has been at it and he tells me that it wasn’t all him, he just added to what was already there. “Isn’t that always the case?” I think.  He leaves and I ponder the poem again. “Is there not truth in your death in your living?”  

I do not believe that it takes a long life to be a good life. Rocks stacked upon other rocks, round shapes with just enough flats to lean and hold each other up. Hold each other up, that is, until outside forces grant permission to return to rest. I am drawn to practices that accept all art and action as temporary. An impending end does not negate the presence of a now. I have never stacked rocks before and decide to put my socks and boots back on to try. 

It is harder than he made it look and my first two attempts crumble and fall upon the removal of my hands. I choose stones with more flats, admiring the stacks of rounds around me. I lose my footing and slip, toes now wet in puddles left from this morning’s tide. I continue to collect and, on my third attempt, my stack stands. Perhaps my rocks will continue to support each other until the tide returns. I wonder if the person who wrote the poem in sidewalk chalk might have stacked some rocks too. I pick up a small, flat, round grey rock and put it in my pocket. It will sit nicely above my bed, on my small window ledge, alongside all the other objects. A small nod to walks walked. I climb back up over the sea wall and onto the path.

I’m cold now and decide to begin heading in the general direction of home. I suppose I should call my mother back and tell her that i’m doing okay. I hope that she is okay too. I know that life is heavy for her right now, as i’m sure it is for everyone on the party pirate ship and in the forest and perhaps, even for the little green seed pods too. I think of rocks holding each other up and hope to be a space for someone to lean against, too. I think that I will suggest that my mother take a walk, the prairie grasshoppers could use some company. Besides, I don’t believe that we owe it to our sorrow to spend all of our time with it. 

Critique #2

For my second critique, I decided to display an assortment of the things I have collected on my walks. Within this display there are photographs, screen shots of observations written down in the note app on my phone, stills from video observations and poetry generated from my experiences. I intentionally selected a random assortment of the material from my larger collection in order to begin understanding the themes, patterns and relationships that have come out of this walking practice. Together, these collected items (and those in my larger collection) serve as research into the multitude of residues left behind by the living.