Creativity and Making Art Today: Wisdom or Folly?

My newest piece for The OCH Literary Society.

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CREATIVITY AND MAKING ART TODAY: WISDOM OR FOLLY?

 

by Eleanor Parker Sapia

“It is very interesting that foolish people make the world what it is, and wise people have to live in it. Foolish people can create disasters, but they cannot endure them; wise people do not cause them, but they can endure them. One of the proofs of wisdom is the fact it can survive the shock and stress of change and the shock and stress of error. There is something immortal about wisdom because wisdom can live in an environment where stupidity cannot exist. Wisdom possesses a certain immortality. A wise person can live in a world as it is, regardless of what that world may be, regardless of the religions and philosophies, or absence of them, regardless of the intemperances and intolerances. That which is truly wise flows continuously and placidly on its way, unmoved in itself by any of the changes which affect and afflict that which is unwise.”

~ Manly P. Hall

These wise words by Canadian mystic and writer, Manly P. Hall, were posted by a Facebook friend last month. They still resonate with me and accurately describe where I hope to find myself as we inch closer to Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States: wiser.

I was deeply affected by the Election Night results. Shock, dismay, and at times, disgust plagued me on November 9. In the days and weeks that followed, I truly wish I’d returned to working on my second novel, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, with new vigor, but that didn’t happen. The long periods of writing I’d enjoyed in the past weren’t possible. Instead, I was glued to on-line news and bought a newspaper every day. I didn’t go so far as to subscribe to cable television (which I’d given up in 2011,) or to the online version of the New York Times, but I was tempted. I felt distraught enough to consider asking a friend to hide my laptop charger so I couldn’t read another on-line article that I knew would anger me. I remained frustrated, unnerved, and frightened as the horrifying news finally came out of Aleppo and South Dakota.

Despite my humble attempts to decipher real news versus fake news in November and early December, I fell for a few headlines and felt my blood pressure rise upon discovering that I’d been duped. I wondered how many people had been duped during the campaign by fake news. I broke my time-honored “no-news” rule and kept reading, hoping to better understand people who’d voted for a man (and his Cabinet choices) who seems to stand for most everything I oppose. I prayed for an end to war in Syria and that the pipeline protesters in South Dakota would win before winter. All that did was to fill my mind and heart with despair and confusion, and everything I read fueled a growing feeling of guilt for not writing and a sense of the ridiculous when I did work on my novel.

In late November, the only answer for me was to practice self-care, which I did by binge-watching “Downton Abbey”, seasons 1-6. I watched the entire gorgeous series again, this time in four days. Don’t judge; I’d hoped the period series would take me back to a gentler, kinder, more innocent time. But of course, there wasn’t any truth in that. Each episode tackled some form of racism, hatred, misogyny, and classism in the turbulent times before and after WWI and WWII. So despite knowing how damaging it was for me to return to reading news articles, I felt the need to stay informed, voice my opinion and support where I could. I also needed to write, which I knew would ground me. For many creative folks, the internal creative push and pull of November seemed relentless. Some friends still find themselves creatively paralyzed.

Several times I sat at the writing desk, only to log off as my second book tackles deep, troubling issues facing women in 1920 Puerto Rico; unfortunately similar to what women today face around the world. I couldn’t focus. I turned to reading beloved books, taking afternoon naps, long walks with my dog, and kept busy by connecting with like-minded friends, but that was short-lived. We were going around in circles; not much help to each other, but we sure tried. And as soon as I logged back onto social media, there it was—the good, the bad and the ugly—right where I’d left it all.

When I did write, my words felt trite and after a good, long writing session, I’d feel guilty for not keeping up with the horrors of Aleppo and South Dakota. Then on November 28, something happened. I believe everything that happens to me and around me is useful for my creative life. What I am passionate about is making art and telling stories about uncovering truths, so I decided to use the disappointment, confusion, and fear to write. I owned my feelings of loss, rejection, and yes, anger, at the writing desk. I refused to get up. I reread and reconnected with my story; it worked. I sat with my young protagonist and she told me her tragic and troubling story. She’d faced the same feelings and emotions in her complicated world. I reentered her head, as broken and clueless as she, and moved about in her world, not sure where to turn next. We walked side by side, and wrote the next chapters together. I regained my creative strength, and love and courage for my characters. The words flowed.

My writing voice allows me to protest what happened to my character in 1920, and the act of writing brings a sense of control and meaning to my life, balance. I don’t know what will come after January 20, 2017. I pray for peace and a ceasefire in Aleppo, and I still worry that we are being duped about the Dakota pipeline. The pain and suffering in the world continues. We do what we can, we help wherever possible, and we are stretched beyond what is comfortable because that’s important, too. We can’t bury our heads in the sand to what is happening around us and far away from our homes.

Writers and artists must continue making art. Grab the hankies, your bullhorn, and use it all. Be bold, courageous, and use your art as a way to make sense of your world and that of others, who at this time might not be able to tell their stories.

About Eleanor:

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Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor is never without a pen and a notebook, and her passport and camera are always ready. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second historical novel, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK
Please visit Eleanor at her website:
www.eleanorparkersapia.com

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Lambs and Lions on Saturday

Florida visit with Daddy 2013 286Lambs and Lions on Saturday

My dad’s day came in like a lamb, turned into a lion, and ended like a lamb. It began softly, continued throughout the day with gentle words, coaxing, raised eyebrows, and ended with a tiny blue pill meant to reduce agitation, fear, and a combative attitude, and induce calm and sleep. I learned of a new syndrome-Sundowner’s Syndrome, or Sundowning.

Sundowner’s Syndrome‘Sadness, agitation, fear, as well as other mood and behavior changes that occur just before dark are called Sundowner’s Syndrome, or sundowning. Caregivers might notice that their parent who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia becomes more agitated at twilight.’

http://www.agingcare.com – Marlo Sollitto

My dad was eating lunch when I arrived at his hospital room with my sister. I noticed we both waited three or four seconds for a sign of recognition before approaching our father’s hospital bed. No one told us to do this, we just do. My father asked when we arrived, and we know he means when we arrived in Florida, not at the hospital. His eyes tell me the rusty wheels of his mind are working as he looks at my sister and than at me. I struggle to remember what I learned in anatomy class about the brain’s synapses, and I wonder which ones are firing up as he gazes at us. What does he think of when he looks at his youngest daughters? Does he remember walking us down the aisle? Does he remember an argument or a fight? We will never know. I then realize I don’t remember a thing about anatomy class which immediately worries me, so I put that out of my mind as I greet my dad with a kiss on the cheek.

I’m greeted with, “Where’s your better half?”

“You mean Chuck?” My father nods, his mouth slightly open as he waits for my answer. He and my ex-husband were good friends. “Oh, we divorced in 2007.”

You live alone now?”

‘Yes, I’m alone now, but I’m happy,” I add quickly. His eyebrows raise, and I mentally kick myself. I should just tell him Chuck is fine and not mention the divorce, but I feel guilty lying. Is it kinder to lie to this 84 year old man or tell him the truth, and possibly make him feel bad that he doesn’t remember? My dad and I have had this conversation dozens of times over the past four years as his Alzheimer’s progressed, and I still don’t know what’s best.

“Where’s he at?”

“He’s still in Belgium.” My father believes all women should be married and protected by a man in the sanctity of marriage. I have this conversation memorized. He’ll ask me if my ex-husband remarried, and then, we’ll move onto questions about what I’m doing to support myself. I tell my dad about my children’s current news, and that they send their love. My sister knows she’s next in the line for questioning, and gives me ‘the eye.’ We change the subject. I realize my sister and I have a silent language around our father. Raised eyebrows, big eyes, and tiny, lightning-fast shakes of our heads all mean the same thing-‘don’t go there; leave it alone for now.’ We also tell each other what worked with my dad when it was our turn to be alone with him-‘try this’, ‘not that’, ‘ignore that’, and ‘never say that to him in the evening’. I realize we don’t know what we’re doing; we’re only managing moment to moment, and putting out fires we’ll fight again in the next hour or so all over again. Why do we bother sharing what worked for us, then? Do we need those minuscule moments of accomplishment and peace when we had a bit of control over a potential situation with my Dad? You bet we do. Peace and calm must be managed, and we’re all for prolonging the hell out of peaceful moments. But, Dad is agitated today.

The new nurse’s aide tells us the surgeon came in earlier and said Dad can be discharged, however, it could take all day for the necessary paperwork to be processed. My dad says it’s a stupid system, and a bunch of incompetents run the hospital. Here it comes. The sweet Bahamian nurse’s aide pulls my sister and I aside with an eye on her patient, and tells us he had a bad night. My father’s OCD tendencies have been on parade all night and all morning. She tells us he won’t leave the bandages on his head alone, and is intent on removing his IV. The bandages are protecting a precious skin graft that now covers what’s left of my father’s ear-a tiny bit of earlobe and a bit of the top of his ear. The good news is that the surgeon has deemed the skin graft healthy; there won’t be another surgery. We are very relieved. Our prayers have been answered. The bad news is that if Dad touches or messes with the bandages and disturbs the skin graft, it will be a disaster.

And, my sister and I are in charge of taking our father home, and caring for him during his first night home while our step-mom takes a much-needed mini vacation away from care giving. We won’t sleep, we already know that, but we are not prepared for Dad’s outbursts, anger, fear, and agitation. He won’t allow anyone in the bathroom with him despite being a risk for falling. When he’s in the bathroom, the nurse’s aide opens the door a crack, watching him from the mirror. Sure enough he removes his head bandage, and she opens the door. What ensued wasn’t pretty, and to complicate matters even more, my dad thought I was my step-mom as we led him to his bed. As my step-mom, I received a closed fist near my face and a warning to back off. I instantly remembered my step-mom telling us about the nights my dad pounded on her door, threatening her before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Wow.

Minutes later, the nurse came in, removed the IV from my father’s thin wrist, gave him a little blue pill, and called for the wheelchair. Her parting words to us were, “Your father cannot be left alone for a second any longer. He is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, and is very unsteady. You and your step-mom need to have a conversation about future care.”

My sister and I slept in two hour increments. My father had a restless night. He managed to push back the bandage on his head, but not remove it totally; he took two bathroom breaks which were thirty minutes each, and I could tell when that little blue pill wore off. We will have another day alone with our father today, Sunday. Monday, our step-mom returns, and Wednesday, we leave for our homes in Maryland and West Virginia. We absolutely must have that conversation with our step-mom…she’s not getting any younger herself. God bless them.