The parallels between preparing for surgery and preparing for creating . . .
I did everything I could do to prepare for the surgery. I went to a physiotherapist who gave me specific exercises to build up the necessary muscle strength so that I would have the best possible recovery. I saw an osteopath who was attempting to relax the hip and associated areas so that there would be more spaciousness, less pain, and better recovery. I followed my surgeon’s recommendation to lose weight (25 pounds) and to ride my stationary bicycle for up to an hour a day.
As a parallel experience, I do something very similar in my art room. I have all of my supplies at the ready. I have shelves where everything is stored and visible. I have canvases of all sizes and shapes so that I can choose what feels right in the moment. Having all art supplies ready to hand makes it possible for me to forget about the logistics and just focus on the act of creation.
When I met with the anesthesiologist just before going in for the surgery, I discovered that I would be awake for the procedure because the anesthesia of choice for this operation is a spinal tap. I would of course have some drugs to make me drowsy and could request more if needed. But to my surprise, I enjoyed the experience of hearing the surgery progress around me. I even asked the surgeon what was happening when he was stapling up the incision at the end. The act of being present was life changing. I didn’t need to “go away” to live through the experience.
For whatever reason, this reminds me of what it’s like for me when I’m at a difficult place in a painting. I feel stuck and confused and not sure why everything isn’t just unfolding as it ought to. Then, I usually take a break and wait for the inspiration to come to me. I don’t become unconscious, I merely invite my unconscious to speak to me when it’s ready. It always does! I’m always grateful and then the painting unfolds in an unexpected and “just right” direction.
I had to do some sorting regarding pain. I was still feeling the residual of the spinal block for days afterwards as the numbing slowly left my lower body. First it left my unaffected leg from the feet upwards and then it did the same with my affected leg. So, I felt numbness and not pain. When I was offered pain medication and the “control it yourself” pain pump, I refused both. Although I felt discomfort and limitations of movement, I would not describe it as pain. Everyone who knows me and knows of my dislike of pain medication was encouraging me to not be a “martyr” and take the offered drugs. My challenge wasn’t really whether to take the drugs or not, but whether this was pain or not. It was restlessness, discomfort and annoyance but was it pain? I did end up taking a few extra strength Tylenol (my compromise) and I wasn’t really sure if they were making much difference or not, but it was part of my process of exploration and discovery.
The parallel experience here in the creative world relates to the sorting around “How do I know when a painting is complete?” A painting could be finished at many stages along the way. The definition of completion resides within the artist, but it’s not always a clear cut and obvious answer. Sometimes I need to walk away and assume completion and return to see if the canvas calls to me wanting more.
During my recovery I did jig saw puzzles as a way of distracting myself from the discomfort, keeping busy and finding a sense of accomplishment. When I was ready to go back into the art room, it seemed natural to me, to take the actual puzzle pieces that I had been working with and apply them to the canvas. So many of the life lessons that I pondered during my recovery were with me as I did the jig saw puzzles. So, it feels right that my first painting post-surgery is this one called “Puzzling Life Mysteries.”