I call these photos “Still Life with Flu” – the little stories in the arrangement of bowls and cups and half-eaten toast that I discover when I walk back into a room.
I’ve spent the last 9 days mostly flat on my back, epic coughing jags, mostly sleeping. I’ve watched 50 episodes of “The Andy Griffith” show and about 20 of the “Dick Van Dyke Show” — but I don’t think I was awake for any of them. I woke just long enough to have a brilliant idea for a new musical, then fell back asleep. I’ve half re-read one of my favorite books. One night I spent 20 minutes strategizing my deployment downstairs to get a banana, not sure I could make it there and back.
The pink towel under the couch above was for my gingerbeer, which I sat on. Also, I admit I neatened up a bit before I took this, otherwise you wouldn’t not have seen anything for all the kleenex on the floor.
Whatever this thing is, I’ve never had it before. I thought the flu shot I got a few months ago would protect me but it doesn’t always work that way.
I can’t live up to my expectations
So I can’t live up to my expectations of all I can do. And this has expanded my awareness in ways I hadn’t expected.
I have a practice, which I came up with during the 2nd week of the course I’m giving right now called ‘Strings of Passion.’ I’ve been using it ever since, myself and it’s called “Find one thing to love about what’s happening right now.”
Find one thing to love…
I created it to help everyone in a class of over a 100 students learn to share and observe each others’ work in a supportive way for all, a way to disengage from the envy, judgment, denigration, self-doubt, self-congratulation that we all struggle with when we share our own work and when we see other people’s work.
It goes like this: Look at the work – yours or anyone else’s – and find one thing to LOVE. Not one thing you think is GOOD, but one thing to LOVE. That disengages you from judgment of what it should or shouldn’t be and actually lets you see, appreciate and learn from what IS there, no matter what it is. At the same time, collect all the arrogant, self-abasing, denigrating, self-hating voices and phrases that rise and just put them aside to look at later knowing they’re part of what’s holding you back from expressing yourself fully – whether you feel them about your own work or someone else’s.
Focus is such a huge part of life. I’ve played the harp and piano for years, and each instrument still has the same number of notes, the same pitches — but there are an infinite number of pieces you can create, an infinite number of ways you can play each piece, depending on your focus: what note you start on – and which one follows it, what story is in your mind, where your heart hurts or sings at the moment.
Above: my tortured livingroom floor where I started hanging out when I couldn’t bear to be in bed any longer, so simply made a bed of the whole livingroom. Note the tireless pink towel is now on the right side where I kicked over my tea.
We tend to think of inspiration passively. But part of an artistic practice is to make choices about that focus – to lead it … and then follow it when it starts to spark.
And this practice of “Find one thing to love …” is surprisingly effective at opening my focus. So I started using it for everything. As I sat in the periodontist’s chair last month for a 3-hour procedure, the minute I started tensing or feeling afraid, resentful, sorry for myself I thought “What is one thing I love about this?” There were a lot but the one that repeated was “I love the fact that she’s working on me and not me on her, because I know nothing about being a periodontist.”
During this flu, I’ve used the practice a lot.
I love that the flu didn’t hit until the day after my “Lose Your Blues” show and that it happened soon enough for the worst to be over before I get on the plane for my trip to the UK tomorrow.
I love that the only truly effective thing I can do is to sleep – probably the most important thing I could be doing in my life right now anyway. I love that I just keep sleeping and it always feels good.
I love that recuperating from the hurculean task of making breakfast is simply another nap. I love discovering that the world doesn’t stop just because I’m sleeping. Even my own little world.
I love marveling at the support around me: the chicken soup that shows up in the fridge, the vitamins that appear at the top of the stairs.
I love how clearly my inability to ‘do everything’ highlights the jobs I need to train someone else on my team to do, so I can stop with the overachievementitis already.
I loved one night, the peak of my fever, a day of unseasonable warmth, having the window open, hearing the sounds outside and a blessed ceasing of my own coughing.
I love thinking about how coughing is like itching and wondering what muscles I would need to relax to relieve it and how much of it had become habit, and could I relax enough to let my chest rest.
I love practicing that and discovering new ways to connect with those chest muscles.
Then I hit day 7
I got nervous when I hit day 7: what if I’m still coughing by my show in the U.K. next week?? And I shot right back at myself, “I love that my next show is in WALES, a country where the audience sings in concerts whether you ask them to or not. Of all the places in the world I could be going where an audience would be willing to sing in my stead, there is not a single one I could have chosen better.” And I fell into a glorious nap where the whole audience sang my song, “The Nightigale” while I accompanied them on harp.
Will I miss this flu when it’s gone? No, old friend flu, can’t say I will. But has it enriched my life? More than I ever could have imagined.
Adios, old friend ….(I hope)