Each year, on this day, my thoughts turn, with reverence, to memories of my Great Aunt M. Throughout the year I think of her often, but on this day, I spend a few quiet moments recalling her warmth and kindness toward me and all the happiness during time spent with her. As much as it saddens me that she’s gone, I’m more grateful that I knew her.
Today would have been my aunt’s 89th birthday. As I made my first meal of the day, one of the items I chose to make put a huge smile on my face. I remembered how much my Aunt M used to look forward to having family and friends from towns larger than the one in which she lived visit her because it sometimes meant they might bring her some of the foods from the country of her birth. One of those foods that I made this morning was ripe plantains, which are best described as the much larger siblings of bananas.
Aunt M lived in a small town where it was close to impossible to get many of the foods she had eaten while growing up. I on the other hand can get them all without any difficulty. Yet, I take it for granted and only buy them on rare occasions. Still, I’m glad today was one of those occasions and I’m even happier that having it brought to mind someone whom I loved so dearly.
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On another note, for anyone who’s never eaten plantains before, you can usually find them in the produce department of most large grocery stores. I gave mine time to ripen – just like you would bananas – then I peeled the skin, cut it into three equal pieces, then sliced those pieces lengthwise. I then fried the slices in a hot frying pan with organic coconut oil (you can use your preference of cooking oil). I fry the slices of plantain until they are golden brown, and then eat. Be ready for a sweet surprise…
I write a fair bit about my use of art, in particular, doodling and drawing, to distract my thoughts from the pain I feel. In the past, I’ve also attempted to draw representations of how I think my pain could look. I haven’t done that in a while because the concentration it takes is not always available to me and the meditative value of unplanned, spontaneous line drawing has become a large factor behind why I do so much of it. No measuring, no choosing of a complementary colour palette, just grabbing a pen or pencil and allowing my hand to move it across the page.
About a week ago, as I was scrolling through the feed of one of my creative connections on Instagram, Dana “Jonesy” Jones, I saw an illustration she created to symbolize her back pain. I commented that I could probably fill an entire sketchbook with only illustrations of my pain. I’m actually positive that I could fill multiple volumes. However, to start with, I decided to create just one page.
For about a month, I’ve been riding the wave of an intense and lengthy pain flare up – I define a flare up as pain I measure, on the very subjective pain scale, that stays above 7 or 8 consistently – so this idea came at an ideal time. Thanks to Dana’s inspiration, I sat down and focussed on what I felt in my body: The sharp edges of glaringly bright colours trying to cut through the deepest layers of my flesh to burst free of their confines, which might, unintentionally, free me. The overlapping of sensations that are indistinguishable as they land simultaneously and pound the life out of every nerve they touch. Even on a “good” day, this pain keeps wrapping around itself and within me.
Here’s a glimpse of how I imagine my pain looking during this flare up…
I’m still having difficulty writing. However, although I’ve been struggling with my writing, I’ve still been using other creative outlets to cope with the frustrations of my illness. I’m making index card art with more frequency. Instead of using my sketchbook, it’s easier to carry a small stack of white 6 inch x 4 inch cards (15.24 cm x 10.16 cm) and a few pens around with me to draw something, while attending my pain management programs and other medical appointments.
Line drawing and basic doodling have become easy ways to distract myself from thinking about my pain. I guess that makes writing the harder way I’ve chosen to cope with my pain, since the greater my pain the less able I am to focus and concentrate on putting words together on a page. I’m anxiously anticipating a break in the block because writing has always been part of my self-care.
In the meantime, I can I only hope my pain management program instructors understand that I can draw lines on index cards and still pay attention to the information they share…