Out of the Storm
The last couple of months have been filled with a lot of magic. I don’t use that term lightly, and I don’t think magic comes from nowhere. It’s manifested through actions. I have spent the better part of 2018 and all of 2019 rebuilding my own personal creative house. It’s taken a good deal of energy to do this, but it’s given me immeasurable goodness in return.
We don’t come off of large life changes easily. Anyone who poses to do so - especially on social media - is not giving you the whole story. When we sold our B&B in 2014 and moved to Germany, there was a lot of busy-ness and things that were a distraction. But after we settled in, started respective businesses here and bought our tiny place in Italy as a second home, a darkness settled in my soul that threatened to block all the light in my life.
There is no such thing as seamless change. Change is messy, awkward, and filled with anxiety. These are things I’ve known for a long time, but somehow, I pictured myself as an expert on the subject and not vulnerable to the inevitability of what was to come.
Every time I think like that, I get bonked on the head something fierce. This time it was a particularly tough, long, hard bonk.
It was tough enough to bring me to a screeching halt and had me contracting into myself to the point where I didn’t want to leave the house or engage with anyone. Shadow then started to manifest in my not being able to leave the house. Deep down, during this darkness, I knew something was to come out of this. I had been through depression before. I knew that other, better days would come.I tried, the best I could, to let myself feel the storm.
Every day that I had a little energy, I sat at my pottery wheel. I wept, meditated, screamed, begged. Old clay backed up; the studio was a mess. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing, or if I’d even somehow get through the day.
But I kept working. I was pained to see any of what I produced as good, but I kept at it. The best way I can explain it is that I the only hope I had was a tiny stream of light that would come to me when focusing on the wheel. It allowed me to forget the pain, even for just a few minutes. And I knew if it was possible to forget the pain for a few minutes, those few minutes could be extended for another few minutes. I knew that was a fact and I held on to it even though I didn’t really believe it in my not-well-at-all mind.
The pottery wheel and my patient partner led me to people who could help me sort through whatever this hell was that was drowning me. Friends and family could name what was happening to me when I couldn’t - or didn’t want to. My friend Michele’s voice echoed in my ears. “You don’t get extra points for suffering, Diana.” God, how right she was. I wanted to tough it out without meds or therapy. I didn’t think they could help me. But this was bigger than me and I owed to all those that loved me and to myself (although I couldn’t see it at the time) to at least try and lift myself out of this quicksand.
I found, with my husband’s help, professionals who guided me through the shit storm. There were false starts. But finally, we hit upon a combination of medication and therapy that seemed to push the dark fog to the side just enough that I could start to breathe again. Just enough to focus on the light that I knew was there.
At some point, the light became bigger, and as soon as I was well enough, I ran towards the light at full speed, terrified inside that darkness would envelope me once again.
But it didn’t.
The light became brighter and brighter. One day, I couldn’t see shadow anymore because I was engulfed in light. The light of wanting to thrive, regardless how tough new beginnings are. Regardless of how scary things could feel. Regardless of what was to come.
I started again with a scraped ego, a bruised heart and a battered spirit. It was the place from which we all start after the storm. One step followed the other. Then one day, I found myself walking in the woods, picking flowers. It had been over a year since I picked a flower.
I knew, in that instant, that I would be ok.
After what seemed like an eternity of inaction and suffering, I needed to make changes that would have a profound impact on my quality of life. I committed to pursuing a fully creative, fully engaged way of being.
But first,I decided that my top priority had to be to take care of myself, as I was clearly vulnerable to being pushed too hard. I tend to overwork and exhaust my energy and that’s part of how the illness manifests into anxiety and panic and eventually, depression. That had to stop. I knew that now. I’m 60, for God’s sake. Learning how to treat myself with the love and kindness I deserve became my top priority.
During the early part of my recovery, my mother took very ill and I went to the States to help my sister with her care and the sale of her things and home. The timing of this visit was remarkable. I was forced, by situation, to go through and let go of possessions of my childhood, to see people I hadn’t seen in forty years, to engage with the beautiful natural river environment that I had so loved my entire life, and to be with my family, my dearest friends, and my mother. Yes, I worked hard and there were really tough days. But I also drank from the fountain of support and love that only that particular place, at that particular time, could give me. I appreciated every moment that I could be there. I got to take long walks with my sister and with my lifetime friend Nancy, to hold my great niece in my arms again and again, and relax with it all. My mother recovered for the most part, in no short thanks to my sister who worked like crazy to get the right living situation for her. That allowed me to come back to my own life with things handled in a good way. I was very grateful.
When I returned to Europe, I vowed to make the most of my life and my gifts, regardless where it brought me. I vowed to live fully in my love relationship with my partner, after having isolated myself for so long from him and the rest of the world. And I vowed to be kind to myself and stop second guessing every move and every action and denying myself the joy of being human. To be in nature. To appreciate every day for what it was.
I cleaned out the studio and reassembled all of what I learned about pottery during the darkness of depression. I had learned a good deal - about form, about repetition, about going deep, and about what I wanted. I decided, straight out, to develop a specific style and leave experimenting to the side. If I had been able to buckle down and throw consistently when I was will, who knew what I could do while feeling great?
I started drawing again, for the first time in many years. Two things consistently came out of my illustrations - houses and birds.
Houses and birds.
Anchor and flight. Protection and risk. Comfort and freedom. Hiding and seeking.
It was all there, for me to see, to cry over, to laugh with and to accept with grace. The drawings were humorous and light, but the energy behind them was born from pain and discovery.
As I kept drawing and making plates and cups, interesting things began to happen.
I started receiving requests for and interest in my work - nothing earth-shattering, but nice orders that helped bolster my self confidence. People responded to what I was putting out. I was reminded of what Amy Oscar calls “the call-and-response Universe”. A basic tenet of quantum theory. The world around you requires your observation to exist. In observing what I was releasing into the world, I was able to see that there was direct action coming toward me as a result.
All of this led me to new friendships and contacts, and more than anything, new hope. And more surprisingly than anything was the fact that the most of what I was receiving was coming from Italy, which I had formally left years before. Buying and renovating our little holiday house in Italy had brought friendships not only with local Italians but also with expats who are doing wonderful things in their own right. I’ve ended up making ceramics for new clients in Italy, which has challenged and focused me. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
I also spent time in the last part of 2018 in conversation with my dear friend Letizia Mattiacci who has an agriturismo in Umbria. We’d always wanted to do something together, using our combined skill set of artisan craft, cooking and hospitality. Umbria is a culturally rich region with a history of artisan craft that goes back to Roman and medieval times. I went down to visit her in November and we constructed the basis for the Food and Fire Artisan tour which took place this past June.
A close friend who supported me throughout my depression (a true angel), the writer, brand strategist and film maker Barbara Newman, asked me to help her with a new website in late 2018. That project led me to several more web projects which have turned out to be a lot of fun, and the perfect yin to my artistic yang.
In essence, the pendulum had swung the other way, and I had to be careful how much energy I was expending and on what. The amazing part for me was that my energy level didn’t seem to dip. Being so fully engaged in so many interesting projects that seemingly came out of nowhere leaves me fulfilled and joyful at the end of the day. I had stopped worrying about what was to come, and started rejoicing in what is. I had, for the first time that I could remember, stopped struggling.
But, of course, none of this healing came out of nowhere. It all came from walking through fire. It came from sitting with the pain and illness. From the love and support of those who care. From feeling the storm all around me and understanding that it had to be that way then for it to be this way now.
This last month, I hand delivered the largest pottery order of my 23 years of making to the Scarpa Winery, which is about 10 miles from our former B&B. It was so wonderful to be free to design a line that works so perfectly with Scarpa’s brand new tasting room. The winery introduced the line with a beautiful aperitivo reception and invited a wonderful group to come and celebrate.
A few days later, as Italy was entering its heat wave, I drove down from Piedmont to Umbria, where Letizia and I met with our group of Fire and Food participants.
Oh, those wonderful women. Oh, this workshop.
I don’t even know where to begin. The things we experienced were just so beautiful. Walking in the St. Francis Woodlands. A waterside picnic there. Wood firing ceramics. Cooking class. Wine tasting. And the visits - visits to experience historical craft taking place in front of us. From book binding to luster ceramics to tapestry weaving - and so much more - we literally soaked everything out of those days together.
That was magic.
And we’re doing it again. You can find out the 2020 dates here. Because there’s no way we can’t offer it again. It’s just too good. Too important. Too reflective of what truly counts in life. It’s a lesson I want to hear about again. I learned as much as a facilitator on this workshop as any of the participants.
I returned to Piedmont, fulfilled and exhausted. A few days later, we had visits from my cousins in America and Italy - a wonderful, reaffirming day spent together in our very tiny house. I’ll write more on that later, because that visit made me realize even more how good small living can really be..
I’ve had time to regroup and think about what’s next. The summer days are beautiful here in Germany and I’ve decided to do some light renovation work here in our house. Our kitchen here is smaller than even in the Italian house, and I’ve never really done anything with it, so I’m working now to make it feel as nice as the rest of the place. And we’re renovating a part of the cellar to add to my pottery studio. I need more space!
Creatively, I’ve decided to take some of those bird and house illustrations I’ve done and turn them into collages for my first real art collection. I’ve also started back in the pottery studio, but slowly. I want to enjoy these summer days.
A couple of months ago, I decided to gift myself a membership in a professional group for artists with online businesses called The Studio Source. There’s a back story. One of the course creators is a friend and fellow potter who I’ve known and loved forever. Lindsay Emery is tremendously talented, having designed porcelain collections for Anthropologie and Nordstrom and has run a highly successful on line ceramics business for years. I’ve known her since she was a student making pots in her dining room and I was trying to fit in pot making in between B&B guests. We used to skype about glaze formulas!!! I am so incredibly pleased that she and her business partner Allie Datillio have started this learning program for people just like me. If you are a creative looking to stretch yourself and live from your work, I highly suggest checking out this highly professional, extremely well done mentoring and support program.
And so it goes. Dark turns to light, change keeps on coming and growth keeps on happening. The soul catches up with the changes the body and mind have implemented. The dance continues out of the shadows and into the sun.
I’ve wanted to write this post for a very long time, but I needed to be ready to share what happened. I hope that by sharing I can help people struggling with anxiety and depression. You’re not alone. There’s help and there’s support. And there’s light - you’ll find it again. It won’t always be hard.
And you don’t get extra points for suffering.
As my dear late friend Gina DePalma used to say, shine on, you crazy diamonds.