My Harrowing/Hero-ing

Walking Away: A Self Portrait in Red, photo by Valentina Kaquatosh, 2015

“Walking Away: A Self Portrait in Red” photo by Valentina Kaquatosh, 2015

When I take action to control my life, I’m told I’m being manipulative. When they say I do not inform them of my life plans, it means they wanted me to ask their permission. When I decide what I want to do, it’s not done against anyone else’s will. When I ask for help, I am not asking for everything. When I ask for assistance, I am grateful, because there are things I cannot do for myself due to abilities I lack. I ask to be useful in return.

…and here’s where it gets personal.

It is not my fault when my help is refused. I am not your burden when you took me on as a “project”. I am not a project. I am a person, and I grow, I learn, and despite disabilities, in order to be happy, I have to help myself, do for myself, and not subsist on the crumbs public assistance assumes will leave me healthy.

I never ask anyone to break their back for me. I never lifted a hand to swipe away your bread for mine. I never got this depressed and sick in order to live lazy. When I volunteered at places I loved to work at, with people I loved to work with, it’s not my fault they turned me away because they thought the work was too hard on me, or maybe they thought I became a burden, too? If I cannot even volunteer, what use am I?

When I lost friends, those so-called pals told me they dumped me because they wanted to remember me as I was before I lost my health. But I am beyond pleasing them showing how crazy that made me feel. And when I could not fulfill deadlines for projects of my own, my passions were dying, I felt my fire flickering, my heart burning… What does it matter if I fail or not when I am considered this burden?

I cannot be a burden. It’s too heavy. I have to lose this weight. Not in the physical sense, but as in this weight of expectation. No more will I let my father tie me to the ground and shape my body into nothing but fat. No more will I let anyone sink me into mud whenever they give me looks of disgust like that. I am not this weight. My body is more than fat and meat. I’m not this heavy thing, yet…

I can be an anchor.

I intend to take action to control my life, and, yes, that is being manipulative because I am cutting off these strings to be master-less. I intend to live my life as I’ve always lived, really: as I choose, by my own power, whether or not you feel it’s what you think is proper or not. I do not need approval or acceptance. I never did. I don’t exist to take advantage of anyone. If I can, and I do, I support others in return with the abilities that I have that you do not. What I can do no one else can, and in that I have great value. Let me shine. Let me be my best. Let me produce.

I am a creatrix.

I should not subsist on crumbs, or favors, or public assistance alone. The shame of disability is a shroud created for me once diagnosis rears its ugly head and all the medical expenses pile up, keeping me a slave to an insane little budget, but how else to live when I have to maintain this balance? I no longer fit the mold. Since I cannot do as all the rest, what use is there for me? Do I forfeit all my learning and talent and remain in my closet drawing pretty pictures no one will see? So what shall I do? Wait to die? For years this body has rested underneath the burden of being a burden, practically the word alone “disabled” is enough to shame me into permanent instability. I am not disability itself. I am my own person. I am myself. Don’t mock me or tell me I’m this burden on society, or that my illness means you’re obligated to nurse maid me to Hell. I am not a crippled child who needs to lean on you in that fashion. Who said you had to work for me? Or fix me? It’s not your job.

While on disability, I’m not unemployed, I am working for myself.

When I choose to stand up for myself, I am not putting anyone down. When I decide to try something new, I am not abandoning help. When I ask someone to let me go, I am not asking them to dump me. Stop beating me up for being me. Quit hurting yourself taking responsibility for me. I never asked you to take my job. That’s always been up to me. Someday you won’t ever have to worry. It’s okay to think like you do because you really think it’s because you care. But it’s not helpful.

I am strong. I survive. I work my way through many tough things. But even when I am alone, I realize my survival has been the sum of many peoples’ assistance through many years. Even in my solitude, I am not an island.

I want you to know, I am not this so-called burden. Each time I’m called that, I think I die, and sometimes I thought I did, but each time I bounce back, I know it’s a lie. I grew up angry. How many women like me are told the same thing? How many lose their lives trying to work their way out of being a burden? How? Why?! I suppose I’m to feel guilty for everything they did for me when I couldn’t do anything in return, and they knew I didn’t have the means, so why did they decide to make me a burden? Does it feel good to stab themselves for picking me up when they knew I was too heavy? Because I’m not stabbing them. Just like they accuse me. I don’t do anything! All day, oh, yes, I sit here and project nothing. Especially not that.

Once you realize I am not a burden, you’ll be on to calling someone else the same thing. By then, I hope, I will have forgotten the sorrow of it, yet for now it is not a nothing, it is something I choose to toughen me up. I do not like getting like that. I like being soft, but like so many of you have told me,

  • “it builds character”


(not addressed to any one person, or organization, but written for all the women like me who are striving for independence while living with a disability)

Taking Myself Out

After having days and nights of feeling deathly depressed, I pushed myself out into a nice day, and despite the sunshine, as usual I found myself irritated by pissy people.  Where do they find me?  So once again I am the ever patient and understanding Val, but when I got home I promised myself to cut loose. I had put off seeing EVIL DEAD long enough. I could not talk my brother into seeing it with me. It was a brother-sister tradition of our’s since grade school staying up late to watch EVIL DEAD, and there was no other person in the world I could think of I wanted to watch the reboot version with, but he was Mr. Major Disappointment.  Determined not to let him ruin my evening, I went on a mission to hunt down friends — whomever was available last-minute, sweetening the deal because it was all my treat (snacks included) — yet it was too late and nobody was free.

Then I did what I NEVER DO; I started to just ASK ANYONE who crossed my path if they wanted to come with me to see the movie. Perhaps I was too bold. Perhaps it was the choice of film. Perhaps I seemed very desperate, or my offer too much. Yet it was just as well. EVIL DEAD is the kind of movie I didn’t want to see alone, not because I was anticipating I’d be scared, but because I wanted to share the experience.

It has been years since I last saw a movie with a group of friends. I miss that shared experience.  I’m not asking for a romantic “date”, I’m most pleased with the kind of companionship I once had with the kind of friend(s) who enjoy the same tastes and see the world a little like I do.  I fear I won’t ever have this companionship again and it floods me with tears.  I love my friends for all their diversity all about me, but I’m such a weird lady, I’m afraid not very many of my people are out there. It’s why I’m not writing as often as I used to online.  Out there… they are gone.  Some of the magic drains out of me. I’m missing not just a limb, but several limbs.

I’ve been dis-membered!!!

I’m healthy and strong enough to accept being alone, however, especially when it unexpectedly becomes magical.

After no one took my offer, I put on a smile for the manager and cashier at Campus Cinema, paid my ticket, then looked around, got my popcorn, and was a little creeped out when I noticed that NO ONE BUT ME was in that theater! What kind of Friday night was this? Sure, I live in a small city, yet someone other than me’s gotta be here!  I expected someone to be playing a practical joke on me. During the feature, I kept looking over my shoulder, wondering if someone’d play a William Castle maneuver on me. Alas, not so.

My initial creepy feeling grew into absolute pleasure. To have an entire cinema to myself? After awhile a girl feels like a queen!  I could really stretch out.  I could talk to myself and not disturb anyone.  It felt like I was accompanied by ghosts.  Maybe I was.  Being there not surrounded by a crowd, I it was like I was the only woman left alive in the world, and I could pretend for the duration of the film that I was sucked into the fantasy, that, indeed, at the ending credits I’d really walk out into the end of the world and have to find my own chainsaw (or fashion my own dismemberment device) in order to go back home in one piece!

*happy dance*

To up the creep factor sever-all (get it? sever all, heh) oh, so not right points, it was positively pouring rain outside when I dared step out into the lobby.  No employees were seen.  No cars left in the parking lot.  Yet businesses across the street were open as usual.  Normalcy hit me like the rain as I ran over to the nearest video store to talk to the only other soul behind a counter as I waited for a cab ride home.

It’s not unusual for me to come home to complete darkness.  I live next to the woods after all, my place little more than a cabin paradise of an apartment building anyway, and when I turn off the lights it is so pitch black, it’s soothing, my kind of soothing, like huddling into the hollow of a tree in an uninhabited-by-humans forest.

I had no nightmares.

Postcard #46: Home at the Shrine

There needs to be more shrines — in every city — on every block — places of peace — sanctuaries for silence, comfort, where I am embraced by Gods… Places of seeking, sharing, spaces of Away-from-Time and into Nature-Nurture. I seek a shrine nested in nature, un-interrupting the trees, a haven for birds and squirrels and many other creatures, one that lets plants grow over it, a shrine no person carefully manicures.

I want a wild shrine carved out of rock and petrified wood and earth by the wind and water. A shrine that is natural shelter, perhaps serving as the neighborhood safe house, more like Mother House — the place to go during tornadoes and hurricanes, a place never ravaged by storms or floods or fire or earthquake, and yet created by them. And when there, as I feel my heart blowing me down, when no one can hold me up, when no clergy or friend can console me, when my own tears threaten to drown me, a sister slips me underneath a warm blanket and the Gods’ stone likeness catches me under their ever-watchful eyes.

The most perfect shrine glows here with the special warmth of a camp fire, fragrant as incense and every exotic perfume I love, tender as the womb and every mother hug, calming shivers and curing panic, replacing every doubt with courage. My Gods do not suffer cowardice, and yet they know the human value of a good retreat, that in order to free myself from overwhelming defeat, I must recharge, find this place of wound-soothe and mind-quiet.

Here I re-connect with my Source. Forces far greater than myself reside in the Gods’ Home Mother House Shrine Storm Shelter. Here the space is peopled with the beings that move the world and push the buttons that make me think and dream. When I’m here I am taught I am part of all this powerful importance, that somehow this small woman I call me has more time to go, more work to finish… that this place is not the place of petitionary prayer and whimpering wishes, but another place for me to collect and list my dreams and ideas, whisper my desires and make them happen in Their name.

I want to build shrines.

I want to mark maps full of them.

Every where I walk. Place one somewhere — some invisible, some tiny, some large, for each God, and even for the Unknown Gods that walk the darkness beyond human understanding. There is no dot on the world’s map not worthy of a spot for a shrine.

I want to visit more shrines. Every one. Collect them in my memory like postcards. Write them down in poems. Like this. Places in my mind like gifts.

I believe in gifts. I believe in feeding the Gods with gratitude, not out of obligation, but of devotion, and not just with objects or food, some gifts are actions, duties, favors. A God may pass through the body of someone walking by. One may ride on the back of an animal or whistle through the trees in the form of a bird. Picking up a piece of garbage from the side of the road may save the life of a creature — one less thing that will not offend the ground or poison the water — because the land is religion, is the shrine, the place I count on to be here, especially after I am dead.

I will bury myself someday in this shrine. You will visit me every where it is planted in the earth.  My grave markers will be likenesses of my Gods dotting all over the world.  I can smell the dirt hugging me already, it is cool and dark chocolate, just like I thought a cemetery would feel, and very silent. Just like when I was above, I’m all alone and with the Gods. This place is life and shelters and molds me, takes me away from every pain…

Will I see you here, tomorrow?

Postcard #45: Celebrating Friendship!

“Friendship should not be mourned,” They said.

And when I say, They, I do not speak of People, or voices that may populate my head.  I talk of They that travel on the wind, whisper unseen, guide the lost when they stumble, and sometimes purr through the cat who shares my bed at night.

“Friendship should not be mourned,” They insist, keeping me awake when I want to slip into a nap this afternoon, “Friendship has no funeral. It requires no grief. It should not be mourned. You must celebrate it!”

Pick up your favorite pen, Valentina, my fingers ache with longing, and my back burns with hurt as I stretch and strive for a comfortable position, groaning as I seek my journal, find a page and make your mark so this won’t disappear. Don’t let these thoughts go! Come on, get going, make it so!

Out the words flow — ! My handwriting a river I fall in love with every time I give a damn, I set my pen in motion, the very act of holding it (although pinching my fingers and strains my wrist up to my elbow) is a flight through water, like Antarctic birds do under the ice in the deepest, darkest, undiscovered places. My pen is black and silver, shines in my hand, sharp and slim as a dagger, but does not cut paper as my every drawn word appears thin, small, and slants distinctly stiletto to the right.

I once challenged my friends with my handwritten letters… My handwriting, considered fancy and too archaic to easily decipher, only friends with a curiosity I could pique for Graphological inspired Cryptography (a pseudoscience that I thought I had made up when I was in High School), or who had a penchant for recreating the sort of 19th century literary correspondence our favorite authors had, would be interested and dedicated enough to read, let alone appreciate my letters. Such writing made for excellent handwritten essays only professors lavished attention upon, and I would sigh and dream of a day when I could enjoy a romantic friendship worthy of all my handwritten sentiments. Who did I kid? My rivers of right-slanted, sharp-emoted writing would not serve anyone good but land me a role only worthy to frighten people away as the demented, obsessed woman who scribbles in some horror movie… almost. In real life that is the impression I give! I ought to change it. Yet. Now it does not matter. I write my letters to myself. Occasionally I type them as I may, as I am now, in celebration, too good to keep secret.

This is the public side of true friendship — the celebration of sharing experience — for is that not what friendship is all about, what starts the love between people, this drawing together of mutual interests, the stringing together of the things we enjoy that ties us to one another and leads us to collaborative co-existence?

“Do not EVER mourn it,” They possess my pen, and I shake with so much passion, it takes every part of me not to burst, “Dance it!”

Words escape, the pen does not drop, only feeling excites, makes me fall into bed, pillowing my every thought, They comfort and do not quit, a swooning peace, of only knowing love. I forget all ills. Mercy replaces anger. Tears all dry. A reverse Lachrymatory appears; a bouquet of white roses soaks up the river at my bedside.

“Friendship won’t be mourned again,” It is I who says this, without question, without another memory of a slight or disappointment to mar it, only closed eyes and a smile to support it.

August Kiss Farewell

She’s almost gone, August
           almost gone, never quite left
           I know she will be back
           I just have to wait
           because sometimes she
           peeks out of other seasons, times
          so bright, August, she feels she will
          out last all of September right through October
          breaking into November, coaxing out of December
          especially these days when the heat is stubborn
          clings too long to the body, August the lady-child
          pushing you outside, pulling you come play
Yet the frost is threatening her
every morning the closer we reach the 31st
a coat of responsibility falls over the aging green
harvest days chill with dew drops dangle slow to fall
the deeper, darker nights confirm 
the white moths and fairies chase after the fire
in a frenzy, disappearing, burning, no matter warmth of day
August has grown, is growing, cold
            She is drawing her curtain
            the crickets and hornets hum less often
            the thistles bow, the willows bend far too low
            stiff wind slap to the face announce the end of the show
            the time when all begins display a touch of dry yellow
August puts down her garland crown for one of honey-gold
            the spiders, her favorites, weave gossamer death-trap tapestries
            listen!  can you hear their jaws, those spinnerets?!
            everywhere in their millions click-roar the jaws
            eight-leg symphonies, chorus of industry
            every year spiders produce the gown of the Summer’s End Queen
           quiet now, be still, and bow as she leaves…
           all through the forest, in the fields, along the road
           graceful-slow she exits with her long silk train
            dying flowers, leaves, insects stick to her rustlng, buzzing
But, August, she does not really ever go away
           with a wink like a star twinkle
           she sighs out invisible kisses
           you can smell them on the breeze —
                                         ripe crisp juicy apples ready for your bite.

for  Drew Jacob

The August Heart’s-Ache-Art Starts Now

Starting tonight, I vowed I would write a poem a day and would draw a sketch a day. First I will start with the passion that provokes me to do this in the name of my God. I look at this green all around me and it fills me with such love, my heart aches with so much hurt, I am so in love and feel so blessed here. Look here and see where I am and know a little something of why I am here and why I long to share it with you.

I write from out of visions, just like I do sometimes with my drawings and paintings. I swear to you this one was given to me last night and would not stop “replaying” in my mind until I wrote it down. Only then could I sleep…

Before the Summer is done
                            In full Sunlight
                                  Under the Pale Heat of the Moon
                                                     I want us to make love
                                         during the days and all the nights
                                                                           As the Fall has begun
                                                      In the Full Bosom of Dead Leaves
                                              Under the Slumbersome and Naked Trees
                                                                            I want us to sink into a Most
                                                                                          Legendary Cuddle
                                                                                                       using only Our
                                                                                                                 bodies as
                                                                                                  against the cold
                               When Winter Spreads Her Deep and Frozen Shadow
                                                                  In the Growing, Building Snow
                                                                        Over the Slippery Ice
                                                                         We Shall Slide…
                                                             …You will take me
                                                        Into Your arms to
                               We will rub cheeks into fire
                    Sparkle and burn like stars
           like everyone’s heart’s desire
     Then, As Spring Unfolds
We Will Uncurl with the Green
        Bloom dew-wet, petal-sweat-out
                                           and into the source of seeds again!

I promised a sketch a day, and so I shall deliver, but I am also hard at work producing a playing card deck for a language preservation project, so just in case I miss a few days to post art and poetry on my blog this first August week, I have more than a few to show you…

Vamps are a favorite subject. They tend to bleed out of mind like drops of sweat whenever I’m busy doing anything pedestrian.

I’m always drawing and painting self portraits. I do this to better understand myself and to keep a record of my shifting moods. This series of self-observations are like different pieces of my personality, some I hide, some always put on for show. There is something new on my cheek now, an age spot in the shape of a running horse. It’s not hugely disfiguring, more like a weird freckle. It was much darker back in January. I thought it was a cancer because it was so dark. When I got it removed, it would not completely disappear, the laser still left a mark in the shape of the spot. I now consider it a “tattoo” given to me by the Gods. *laughs*

I don’t know who this is, so don’t ask me. I often draw from the imagination, or I draw from the life, or from magazines, or something I see on television. I think I got this impression of a guy from a number of sources — from the news, from missing a friend, from seeking a male ideal, to thinking about a character I might want to write about. Who knows? Perhaps if I finish this drawing, flesh him out a bit more, I might find out who he is? You never know.

This is the start of August. The time of year I plan all kinds of art projects. I almost don’t consider it part of the summer anymore. In a few weeks the students will be back. Heat wave will surrender to chill. My favorite in between warm and cold time is coming! Lugh has armed me with such great gifts in this life that to praise him, and to earn honor for myself, is to put them to great use. This is what I intend to do this month, and every month. Time for no more complaining, it’s time for work!

I hope I have a nice audience out there.  Let me know if you’re there.  *waves*

Postcard #40: Lughnasadh Garden Glories

They are tiny still life home movie posters, these photographs I share with you. All around me there are so many little joys I find everyday I can’t keep to myself. Everyday, as July grows into the first of August, my heart hurts open wide, like an egg cracking, firewood snapping, insect bite itching and burning, and I crave to burst outward, spilling all these joys all across the universe. In a lava flow, streams of stars, sparkling, ranting, raving, shining for your attention, I can’t wait for the relief of finally sitting down and seeing your reaction… to match mine, like mine, when I walk through the woods and see the garden glories smile back at me.

I cannot photograph a single flower now without also capturing a bee or fly hard at work. I admire their every move. They do not seem to mind I’m there. I could tell that the bee on the thistle was old. Its wings were tattered at the edges, but perhaps this nothing much — how long do they live? And does it matter? I don’t think it matters to them. It was very happy.

Just across the trail, directly behind me, was another happy fellow; an amber wasp dancing along brilliant mustard yellow flowers.

I’m never creeped out by these little guys. For one thing, they are not in my home, I am visiting their space, or I’m just walking through their work place. On this week’s end before Lughnasadh, I decide to make it a mission to really take notice of these creatures and appreciate them.

Most of the time I just walk and think of other things, human stuff. I am most often depressed, my mind is full of desperate cares I cannot cure, and so all I do is the act of walking to clear my mind into just the concern of putting one foot in front of the other. When I deliberately set my thoughts to think about the lives of other living things, I forget my humanity, like taking a vacation from myself, and temporarily enter the exotic world of wild and wonderful things.

And the wild things look back at me, wary, curious, innocent. When I took the photo of the fly with the white underbelly, a group of children all tied together by a string leashed to their teacher (cutest thing to see) slowly walked by me. The teacher bade the kids to step slowly around me because I was taking a photograph. “There are people who use the nature reserve to study,” the teacher almost whispered, and the children quieted down, their big eyes ooh-ing and ahh-ing me, “remember what I told you, this is not just a park, this is a classroom. Let’s not disturb the lady…”

I don’t know why, but I love it when adults and children call me “lady” because it sounds sweet, not because it sounds like they are considering me an aristocrat. “Lady” is like frosting next to the “cake” of my name.

The nature reserve is not the only place to commune with garden bugs. I found plenty more, but many were too quick and jumpy for me to photograph. So I crawl up close to the flowers, stick my face and head and hands into the plants and trees, sniffing out critters, pressing my cheeks close to leaves and petals, and feeling so much love I could die the happy death of my dreams.

Then I run out of words. My most favorite Hibiscus flowers have bloomed again, a sure sign that August is about to come. I look into the center of the flower and see a star, my star, and I think of my God, and he tells me to stop advertising my sorrows and complaints and just get on with my work so I better listen.

When I do, I get back home, I hold my pencil over paper, I remember to smile when I think of my friends, fight the fear of loss, and draw out of love for them, draw upon my love for everyone, and there’s no more hurt or bursting, just a gentle gurgling-giggling from within.