When I was young, my dad, who was one of the most artistically talented people I’ve ever known, attached an easel to a large chalkboard. The two of us would sit on the floor in the living room and we’d draw. I remember this with clarity because my dad and I never really did anything together. He wasn’t the buddy kind of parent. He did the things that he liked to do, and I tried hard to be a part of them, always careful not to get in the way or be a nuisance. I learned to be a quiet and independent sidekick.
On Halloween when I was about eight or nine, I remember standing behind my dad in the bathroom, watching as he took a black marker to his sweatshirt. He drew a picture of Mighty Mouse while studying his reflection. It was a quick, unplanned costume idea, and he sketched it out perfectly across his chest, making no mistakes and in just a matter of minutes. It was no big deal to him. Easy peasy. I remember thinking how remarkable this was. I still do. That night happened more than forty years ago. I don’t remember a thing about the party, but the memory of watching him in the mirror still feels brand new.
I would marvel at the things he created on that chalkboard. We oftentimes drew pictures of his yard which was filled with trees, blooming bushes and flowers. We had a bucketful of brightly colored chalk that stained our fingers and the thin, gray carpet we sat upon. He also liked to recreate scenes from Fantasia, one of his favorite movies. He loved the illustrations, specifically the ones of Chernabog from Night on Bald Mountain. For Christmas one year, I unwrapped a large hardbound book filled with photo stills from the Disney movie. I still remember watching my dad move his hand over that chalkboard, bringing some of those scenes to life before me.
My grandmother, Mimi, also liked to draw. She and I would sit at her kitchen table with a large supply of paper, dry and oil pastels, colored pencils and charcoal. While I was still in elementary school, my mom enrolled me in art classes at our local rec center over the course of several summers. I enjoyed those classes. Drawing was something I found great pleasure in. I even started illustrating a children’s book I thought I might like to write after my oldest child was born. I had a collection of fat, fluffy polar bears just waiting for a story … but they got tucked away when I became a homeschool mom and I got busy raising a family.
It wasn’t until recently that I decided to pick up a pencil again. It wasn’t because I thought I might be able to create anything noteworthy. In fact, the thought of trying to draw anything felt pointless, but it sounded like more fun than some of the other exercises my therapist had prescribed.
I have dealt with chronic wrist pain for more than a decade. I’ve had five surgeries since 2015—three of them between June and December of last year. I now have a rather large prosthetic in my right arm. Part of it is drilled deep into my ulna bone, the other side of it is connected to my radius by five large screws. During the last surgery, one of the tendons attached to my pinky was removed because it was too badly damaged to repair. I can’t ball my fingers into a fist—or rather, I can, but my pinky doesn’t move that
way. I can’t curl it in, and I can’t straighten it out. I can’t hold those pencils the way most other people can. My hand and fingers tire out pretty quickly, but I’ve found my love of drawing again. It is helping me physically. It’s helping me work on my grip and my control. Those are both very good things, but maybe even better than that … it’s helping me emotionally, too.
I’m writing again, but the process is different. My brain doesn’t work quite the same as it did. I think I’m trying to learn a new process … one that isn’t filled with an enormous amount of pain. It may seem that it should be much easier to write now that my pain has largely been controlled, but there are other factors. I think pain became my normal. I hurt, but I pushed through. My pinky has now gone rogue, and it’s totally unapologetic about it. It feels as if it has taken on a personality all its own. It oftentimes types whatever the hell it pleases, and I just have to backspace and try again.
I was on many painkillers for close to a year. I look back and can’t really account for all the days that filled that time. I lived in a haze of intense pain, unable to do even the most mundane tasks. I’d barely gotten off the pain meds when my house got hit with COVID. Even vaccinated, the virus took me down. My head hadn’t been working all that well before I got sick. Now, although I tested positive back in January, I’m still dealing with a strange brain fog and fatigue. I have so many ideas for a number of books … but I haven’t been able to reel it all in to do a lot of productive writing. Add to that a hand and fingers that aren’t quite capable of producing what organized thoughts I’ve been able to gather up. When I feel frustrated—which happens more often than I’d like to admit—I take to art. It calms me down. It allows me to be creative without having to struggle so hard with focus.
The words are coming. I’m being patient with myself. I wrote more words last week than I have in a year, and that’s very exciting. I am celebrating that ever slowly rising word count and falling back on my drawing when I need a reprieve. I’m creating again, and that’s the best therapy of all.