Patti Edmon Altered Attic: A Journey

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Journey

I've kept a written journal nearly all my life, dozens, no hundreds, of notebooks -  from the 89-cent spiral bound notebooks (for morning pages) to hard cover books - zillions of letters forming  a record of my life, the better and a lot of the worse parts in detail that I don't think could be any more vivid, even if I had known how to draw. I made money writing, ad copy, articles, public relations and marketing campaigns, technical copy, video scripts.  
I made the leap from personal essays to writing short stories and an entire universe opened up. In search of help I wound up with teachers who are among the best in the country, the list of authors they've edited reads like a literary Who's Who; they've taught at Iowa Writer's Workshop, edited Esquire Magazine, published novels... How did I get in that program?? Naively, of course, by responding to a classified ad for editing services in Poets & Writers, sans credentials. It wasn't until after I'd sent off a manuscript "so Tom could get a feel for my writing style and I for his reading, that I found out how well they are known in literary circles. Like much of my life, things just sort of happened, I was signed up for a workshop and it felt like I was on my true path.  
I dove in head first, worked harder and more intensely, got shredded, constructively of course, and learned more in a week than I imagined possible. My existence began to revolve around fiction; if I wasn't writing  I was reading. I felt guilty for taking time away from my family though I worked a great deal  at night and early in the morning.
A couple of years later I flew out to San Francisco for my third workshop, having filled in with private tutoring; I had an MFA's worth of knowledge and several promising stories. The weather was perfect, chilly with brilliant blue skies. After an early breakfast with my comrades, we walked the two miles to class ready to engage. But, on the fourth morning when I got out of bed, I was swollen from head to toe; every joint in my body felt hammered and I couldn't think clearly, in a haze I felt drained and exhausted. I couldn't focus and the conversation I had been plugged into so tightly whirled in the air around me, clouds of discourse on the resolution of conflict, condensing a plot outline into 150 words, writing every word to do at least three jobs. I struggled through the final days but with little success. 
As soon as I got home my internist got me in to see a new rheumatologist and a diagnosis: psoriatic arthritis, a systemic form of inflammatory arthritis very much like RA. In the ensuing months I tried several different drugs that compounded the fatigue, confusion and overwhelming task of coming to grips with significant life change, a bend in the road. Thankfully it isn't terminal and my joints aren't permanently damaged. But, life as I knew it was over. I was no longer the healthy, thin, very active small business owner and mother and promising writer. I couldn't make a sentence. 
The grief process that results from releasing your identity and shaping a new life is lengthy, for me anyway. And I've come to terms with it, most days. In November it will be 4 years since I last wrote fiction; this illness lops 30 or 40 hours a week off my schedule and even if I had the resources, writing would consume every last minute. I've written in my journal, a few poems here and there, an introduction to a photography book. But my stories are buried with reams of notes in the closet in the studio. I hear whispers from the shelves now and again, so I stop to visit my creations, the characters I knew so intimately, as I shaped their lives and built dreams and drama and destinies. Destiny. Apparently becoming a short story author is not in my plan.
So, what is my point in all of this? After several roller-coastery months, with the help of a very dear friend who also has this illness,  I realized that I was gripping a safety bar not a steering wheel, Realizing how little in life we really have control over, I stopped trying so hard, And, I started puttering around with art. I had experience with photography and a little with collage and altering came naturally to me, a metaphor for my life. But, I still wrote in my journal. 
I embellished, embossed, drilled, dremeled, sanded, painted and wired; the art journal remained elusive. I have a number of wonderful books - True Colors, 1000 Artist's Journal Pages and others, and I've met so many wonderful, supportive people, including a  blog buddy who is a master at the process - Karin at Beyond Words.
Finally,  I pulled out an oversized 8-page board book and started to gesso the pages, search for images and words and objects I might want to use. As I 'tackled' the first page I realized the theme was life stages. I'm not finished - how do you ever know when you're done with an art journal page?! It's even more subjective than other forms of art! But I think I'm ready to reveal bits and pieces anyway.
What's the story in all of this? Four years ago I was a writer; now I'm a mixed media artist. How much of what we do in life, who we are and the journey we take, is really up to us? If you'd told me then that I'd have a blog and be swapping art pieces, I would have either thought it crazy, or realized that where your heart is, truly is where your treasure lies. My heart has always yearned for self expression and if one avenue closes off, another opens. I am just so thankful that I went to that ballet scrapbook fund raising event three years ago, the one where I used a rubber stamp for the first time, fell in love with shape, color, process...
If you're still reading (awake:) I'd love to have your comments - about art journaling, creating a life or managing a bend in your road.


Anonymous said...

WOW- great's amazing how art journaling can become such a wonderful part of our lives. Really inspiring!

random notes said...

Dear dear Patti, your words have touched me profoundly and did NOT put me to sleep. I wanted to read on and follow your story, my interest was there, your writing awakes something in me. YOU ARE A WRITER. Nothing should stop you. YOU are amazing girlfriend! Jane

Lucy said...

What a journey you've had Patti, I had no idea although I've figured out little bits and pieces from previous posts. I think you are very brave and honest and a quite colorful woman. Perhaps that fork in the road you encountered lead you to this form of art for a reason, in fact, I'm sure it did. I don't think you have to give up your dream of fiction writing, it just may come out in a different form, as you suggest--your journal. Your characters you've created over all these years can dance across your journal pages in all the scenes you create with color and a smaller dose of words.

Karin said...

Hi Patti,
I have read your post (what a wimpy word for the magnitude of what I read!!) twice now, and I'm still formulating my answering because just a comment here can't do honor to your journey and incredible story of courage and strength. What I'd love to do, in the weeks to come, is call you once I'm more fully recovered and my out of town helpers have left me. Let me know if that's an idea you think you'd be open to, okay? In the mean time, Bravo to your openness to changing gears and following the opportunities that have come your way to guide you on paths of other forms of creative expression, recognizing that they are equally powerful, if not as natural to your core. It's one of the hardest adjustments I've been through - again and again, as my body has presented me with the variety of roadblocks, challenges, and tests it has!

What a journey you've been on - thanks so much for sharing it with us all.

Odd Chick said...

oh my, what a life story but your art whether writing or mixed media has always been a consistent thread. And that you showed your grace in how life takes its twist and turns and not playing the victim to circumstances but allowing them to lead you to the next level. you are amazing.

Ragamuffin Gal said...

This is sooooo way more than good ~ I think you should submit it to Somerset Blogging. It is expertly written and your word choice is genuine. It is interesting, challenging (we all have our safety bars), and inspiring. You ARE a writer and artist. Go for it Gal ~ I have relished reading this as I am sure many others would too. You have a gift! Blessings, Katie

Tani said...

Know that I am sitting here smiling all over, remembering the you (us) we discussed several years back - sitting on that suspended bridge in the fog, no idea what was beyond. Your arrival in the lucious land on the other side makes me happy to no end.

btw - love the journal cover! I've examined it sideways and up and down, loving it. xo

Leslie said...

God has a master plan for us all and He reveals His plan for us each day. No matter how hard we try to direct our own path, in the end, He is our ultimate guide. And what a blessing that is!

I love your journey and more importantly how you have accepted your path. Once we accept that He is in control, everything falls into place. It has taken me so long to know this.

You are a wonderful Artist and I admire your strength, wisdom, courage and the very depth of your walk.

Thanks for sharing your inspirational story!


Kent McKamy said...

Maybe you haven't written a word of fiction in four years, but your Oct. 21 revelation does what the best fiction does: it lets us as readers into the light and dark places of the author's soul. Knowing you as I do, there are so many light many strong many delightful places in your soul and mind and spirit that it amazes me. Thank heavens your children have picked it up from you and Jim. My own fiction is chugging along (you know how that goes) and our friend, Tom, cooks up more vegetables than plots these days, but we're all linked by those fine days in San Francisco. I don't visit your blog often, but I'm glad I stopped by today. (I've even kickstarted my blog again; take a look.) With love from one Kentuckian to another...Kent

Karen Mireau, Founder of Bio.Graphia said...


Once again, you've inspired and challenged us all to look at our lives through the lens of gratitude and acceptance.

Merci, my friend . . .

IMGIRL said...

I found your blog while looking at another art journal blog. I just read your post and have visited around in your blog. I am very inspired by your courage and energy and your inspiring work. I am just starting a gallery for artist who journal. It is meant to be a Gallery of Inspiration where one can go to see beautiful art journals and pages all in one place and gather some links on the artist. I would love to feature some of your work there. If you are interested, please forward me a link to your journal work and I would be honored to add it to the Gallery. I have just launched it and would love any help in sharing the link and news to add more artists who journal.
You can also add a link on your blog to the site and grab a featured button from my blog:
the gallery is here and just launched this week:

Thank you and I am your newest follower.

Many blessings to you and stay inspired!


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