Menopause and art

Menopause is a time of shifts and changes. It is a time where you are no longer physically able to be creative. And by creative, I mean procreative – you are no longer able to produce a baby. But the energy and desire to create is still part of being human, and still needs to be used. It just needs a different outlet.

We are the physical vessels through which God is revealed and works in this world. God gives us the energy and we provide the shape. We are created to be co-Creators with God.

When you go through menopause your ability to create changes and you have to navigate these unusual waters. I like to think about how a caterpillar knows what to do when it becomes a butterfly. Who tells it how to fly? How does it know how to move with these new legs? Everything is different and strange – yet it is normal. It isn’t like it was, but it is like it should be. Perhaps we forget that menopause isn’t a disease. We are transforming into something else. It doesn’t herald the end of life but the beginning of a whole new one.

Being creative saved me and taught me. Art is what saved me when my back hurt. Even though I had to hunch over my desk in order to make my art, somehow the slipped disc in my back no longer hurt.

I found this to be true with doing art now as well. The need isn’t as immediate, but rather it is cumulative. Now, doing art in some form every day centers and focuses me. When my mind was filled with too many ideas, writing helped me slow things down enough that I could think. Painting and making collage at least twice a week has given me a way to create and express myself that don’t use words. Drumming has restored my rhythm.

It took a while to learn how to navigate with these new wings. I didn’t have a guide. Mom died long before she thought about telling me how to “do” menopause. Even if she was alive now, I doubt she’d talk about this. Somehow the reality of being in a physical body was something that she just didn’t talk about. Perhaps being a person was too personal.

Part of my learning was done the hard way. There were a lot of nights where I didn’t get enough sleep, and days where I felt I was going to melt. Hot flashes aren’t a “Western construct” as one person (younger) told me. They are a reality. They aren’t in my mind. I didn’t expect them to happen so soon – so it certainly wasn’t something that I manifested. I’ll concede that perhaps hot flashes are a result of the Western lifestyle (eat whatever you want, don’t exercise).

Some of what I did was to get up when I couldn’t sleep. I would wake, hot in body and mind. Instead of staying in bed, I decided to use that energy. I didn’t want to disturb my husband or concern him though, so I didn’t get all the way up. I moved to another room and turned on one small light. I sat on a recliner in mostly darkness and wrote in my journal or in my Kindle. Some of what I wrote became this blog. Often I’d return to bed, having “burned off” that heat – yet I’d produced something useful with it.

I also started the practice of getting ready to go to work a little earlier. I made time every morning to do something artistic – watercolor pencil drawing, painting, collage, or my new “fortunate stamps” pieces. This took just 20 minutes in the morning, but it has been enough to help me immeasurably. I really notice when I don’t make time to do it. I’m starting to think of making art as a multi-vitamin. It strengthens and protects me.

I’m using this energy I’m finding to take new classes and discover what I want to do “when I grow up”. The coasting I was doing during my middle ages has changed. I no longer want to drift through life. I am trying to play it safe and be bold at the same time, so there is some tension there. I keep taking classes in helping people communicate with each other. There is something about peacemaking and leveling the playing field all rolled up together. My tutoring is factoring into this as well.

Menopause is a chance to discover new wings. It is a time to assess priorities. It is a shift of energy. It isn’t the end – but it is a reminder that life isn’t permanent. For me, creating has been a way to feel like I’m making a difference, that my existence matters. Deep down, that is the reason behind most human activity, according to Matthew Fox in his book “Creativity”. Properly channeled, it results in greatness.

Communication connection

I’m starting to see a connection with all the classes I’ve been taking on my own, the art I’ve been making, and the tutoring I’m doing. It is all about communication – in as many different ways as possible. It is about giving other people permission, as well as different ways, to express themselves.

Pastoral care, the Circle Process, Dialogue in Diversity training, the Remo Healthrhythms Facilitator training – they are all classes I’ve paid for. Tutoring and the classes I’ve taught in prayer bracelets – that has been without pay (mostly) and taken my free time. This is all in addition to working a full-time job.

Something has driven me to take these classes, but I didn’t know what the unifying theme was until now. At the heart of it, all conversation is about communion – our connection with each other, with our own selves, with the Divine. If that sounds too out there, I can say it is about connection to yourself and others.

And that is part of it too. I want to include as many people at once. All races, all cultures, all levels of understanding and ability. This involves learning about different ways of learning, different cultural norms, different myths and legends that shape us. This involves leveling the playing field for everybody – nobody is higher. We are all working together.

I also want people to be able to express themselves not only so they will feel understood, but so that they will understand themselves. Just because English is your native language doesn’t mean that you feel comfortable communicating in it. You may write well, but don’t like speaking out loud. You may speak well, but are embarrassed about your handwriting. Or you can’t spell because you are dyslexic.

I want to remove all of these barriers between people. I want to learn as many tools as possible to get people not only talking with each other but also listening to themselves. Dance, singing, drumming, fingerpainting, puppetry, beading – whatever. I want to learn as many ways to communicate as possible.

It is critical to get out feelings. I believe that unexpressed feelings are the source of all addiction and many diseases. I believe that giving people different ways to communicate is as important as providing equal access to buildings by making them handicap accessible.

We are all handicapped in one way or another. Written and spoken language is artificial. We aren’t born speaking or writing our “native” language. It is an arbitrary system of sounds and shapes assigned to the things around us. It is symbolic, and often difficult to use.

Rings and drumming

If you are going to play drums it is important to not wear rings. Wearing rings can damage your hands but can also damage the drum. Repeated exposure of the ring to the side or the head of the drum can slowly weaken it to the point of breaking. Or if they hit very hard it can damage it very fast.

If you were lucky enough to have replaceable drumheads this isn’t horrible. They are expensive and it will slow down your ability to teach drum classes, sure. You’ll be slowed down because you have to go get a new drumhead or order one. Or you may have to wait to raise the money to be able to buy the drumhead. If you weren’t lucky, you’ll have to buy a whole new drum.

While you can ask people to take off their rings, this can cause other problems. Some people may never have taken their rings off. From the time that they got married to today that ring has been on their finger. Sometimes they have gained so much weight in that time that they can’t get their ring off. Or they have arthritis and it is equally difficult. They also may feel uncomfortable about taking a ring off for fear that they will lose it.

One way around this is to bring Band-Aids. You can offer Band-Aids so that they can put one around the ring. This will soften the impact. Put the cushion side towards the bottom. Or you can bring ball chains. That way, people can take the rings off and wear them around their necks. They are inexpensive and will help people feel comfortable that their ring isn’t going to slide out of their pocket or get lost on the floor.

God provides – drum class

There is this drum class that I’m planning to attend. I heard about it months ago, and I felt really called towards it. I had no idea how I was going to justify the cost of it, though.

It is $500. This is for a two-day class. I’m kind of gasping at how much money the teacher is making. I wonder if I can get in on that kind of action. It is hard enough to get people to accept the prices I have on my jewelry, and they never approach three digits, much less close to rent-payment amounts.

Plus, I wasn’t sure what I’d do with this class. I’m not very good at drumming. I’ve never hosted a drum circle at all. I only have four drums, and I’m not really hot on lending them out.

But I felt called to this. It kept gnawing at me – sign up for the class. I feel that God is calling me to it. It isn’t something for me, really. It is interesting, sure, and I guess it goes along with some of the other classes I’ve taken recently.

I figured I’d pay for it and then earn the money with jewelry, and that hasn’t quite happened – but something else has.

I’ve earned $100 with my jewelry, and that is nice. But some surprising things, some unplanned things, have happened.

I got a raise at work, that amounts to $600 extra a year.
We got a discount on our YMCA membership that amounts to $72 off.
We changed car and house insurance, and that saves us $300 a year.

So unplanned, unrelated to this, we essentially are up $1000. I only needed $500.

Normally, when I sign up for a class that I feel led to, I earn the money first. That wasn’t possible with this one – they wanted the money right away. I trusted, and God provided.

This really lets me know that I’m on the right path, and that I really am supposed to take this class. God always makes a way.

Now I wonder what God wants me to learn out of it. That will be amazing to see. Perhaps this will be a stepping stone to something else. Perhaps I’ll meet someone who will help me with one of my usual projects.

I’ve got a lot of projects.

I’m not worried about it, just curious. God is always surprising me. That is one of the best parts about trusting that God is in control.

My name is Betsy, and I’m a drummer.

“Hands are not for hitting.” This phrase is used to teach kindergartners that they should not hit people. It is used to teach them that they need to keep their hands to themselves. But then the lesson deepens, whether it is meant to or not. Don’t make noise. Don’t stick out. Don’t take up space, be it physical or audible.

“Hands are not for hitting.” Unless you are a drummer. Somehow I’ve become a drummer. I feel like I’m admitting that I have some sort of communicable disease.

Is it a disease? Is it a sickness? “Disease” is really dis-ease. It is to be ill at ease. To not be comfortable, not well. Invalids have disease. An “invalid” is someone who is in-valid, who is not right, not true. “Invalid” is the same as invalidate. We are used to saying IN-valid with the emphasis on the first syllable when we mean “sick person.” We don’t hear it as the same word when we pronounce it as in-VAL-id, meaning wrong.

There are a lot of jokes about drummers. What do you call a guy who hangs out with four musicians? A drummer. How do you know when your stage is level? Your drummer drools out of both sides of his mouth. It isn’t seen as acceptable to be a drummer. It isn’t seen as civilized.

Mickey Hart, the longtime drummer for the Grateful Dead, wrote a book about his life with drums called “Drumming at the Edge of Magic”. He recounted a story about when his grandmother saw him at a family gathering while music was being played. He was very young, still in diapers, sitting on the floor. He was swaying rhythmically to the music. His grandmother looked at him swaying there and said “Oh no…” while shaking her head. His mother, hearing this, thought that the grandmother recognized some sign of a genetic disease in his movements. She asked, concerned. His grandmother shook her head ruefully and said “Another musician in the family…”

I don’t feel like it is a disease, but a healing. I feel that I’m becoming more myself the more I practice percussion. I’m having to be patient with myself, sure. I want to be perfect. I hate it when I get a good rhythm going and I hit a snag and it sounds like a skip in the record or a bump in the road. I have to remember to slow down. I have to remember to breathe too.

I forget to breathe sometimes when I get into things. I get so involved in getting the rhythm or pattern right that what should be an automatic, unconscious thing just stops being a thing at all. I catch myself holding my breath and sometimes the pattern falls apart. Sometimes not. Sometimes it is like juggling. Sometimes I remember to stop thinking about the rhythm and just let it be what it wants to be.

I like hitting things with my hands. The big wooden book bins at the library all have beautiful sounds that only I know. I’ve found many different notes on them. I’ve not figured out how to make a song yet, and I’m not sure I will. Then it might stop being fun.

Something I like about hand drums is that there are only so many “notes.” It is part of why I played bass guitar for a while. There isn’t a lot to learn. I greatly respect drummers who play on drum kits with sticks, but I feel that is too civilized for me. There is something very primal about hand drums.

I knew where the line was today when I walked into an instrument store that was next to the drum store I go to. It was full of stringed instruments and keyboards. The clerk invited me to try out anything I wanted to. I felt out of my depth. I explained that I had just come from the drum store next door and wanted to know what this store had.

Somehow I felt like I had to identify myself. I told him that I am in the “hitting on things” tribe, and not the “things with strings” tribe. I did ask if they had any wind instruments. I am in the “blowing in things” tribe as well. They just had some slide whistles and pennywhistles. Not quite what I wanted. While there I fooled around with an upright bass but I don’t think I’m ready to make an eight thousand dollar investment in a toy. Bass guitars are a hybrid. They are kind of rhythm, and kind of notes. I could handle a bass, if I felt like learning all those notes. There are a lot of notes.

I have a hankering for a French horn, but then again we are back to the idea of the steep learning curve. I’d have to relearn how to read music, and how to play the thing. There are only three keys to depress but there are different combinations. You can do one at a time or two, or all three. There are also three different breaths you can use. If you combine all of these things you can play any note you want. The problem is knowing what you want and knowing how to make it at the same time.

Sometimes I feel around musical instruments the same way some of my students felt about writing when I tutored in college. They had varying degrees of learning disabilities and writing down their thoughts was often an impossible task. By the time one particular student remembered how to write the letters he would forget what he was trying to say. Since his essay was on his grasp of the subject and not his ability to write, I was employed to help. I would read the question and he would answer and I would type it up. I didn’t change anything he said or do any fact checking. His grade was purely his. Essentially I was the human version of “Dragon Dictation.”

I made it easy for him. I got the words out of his head and onto paper. But there isn’t such a way for me to get the music out of my head and into reality. So right now I’m sticking with things that don’t have a lot going on.

Part of it is just allowing myself to make noise. Playing an instrument takes up space in the world. Making up your own compositions takes up more space. It isn’t physical space, sure, but it is still space. I’m noisy when I bang on things. I have to bang on them a lot to work things out. Children are supposed to be seen and not heard, after all. Making noise is kind of rebellious, and kind of brave.

It is the same kind of bravery that I employ when I write, and especially when I post my writings. To write my thoughts and share them with strangers all over the world is to take up space. It is to say that I think that I have something worth hearing. It is to say that I’m not going to be silent anymore.

In the same way that I’ve had to write a lot to feel like I can easily express myself, I know that I’m going to have to practice a lot to express myself musically. So I’m drumming. Everything needs a beat, a rhythm, after all. It is what our lives start with, that heartbeat, that boom boom boom.

I’m drumming to find myself, to make a space. I’m drumming because it is fun. I’m drumming because it is unexpected. I’m drumming in order to heal.