Monday, September 29, 2008

Interview with Julia (A Heart of Mersea)

I walk in the mornings. It is my way of waking up to the day and shaking the cobwebs out of my head. Especially since my dog, Papillon, died last May, I do not always want to go. Taking that first step out the door is the most difficult one. Sometimes it is rainy or cold or I just do not feel like going. But, once I get into my routine--passed the corner with the tall pine tree, passed the little store on the right, passed the cute house with the flower gardens--something snaps into place. I feel myself sighing, easing in to the rhythm of one step in front of another. It is like my body has a memory for ritual movement that automates and motivates the rest of my mind and soul to synchronize as well.

Most days, I see a woman circling the local park. Usually, she is too far away to greet. From what I have observed, she walks nearly every day in her turquoise pants, white hat and yellow coat. She is tiny, stooped a little at the shoulder and looks as if a breath of wind could blow her down. She walks with a walker. Determined, steady strides--or as determined and steady as an eighty (maybe ninety) something year old can take. She is old. She must have aches and pains and kinks and cobwebs to shake out just like me. And yet she routinely makes the trek around the park--no easy feat with crappy, chewed up city sidewalks. I wonder how her daily rituals and routines have kept her moving forward year after year after year. She has become one of my heroes. I keep her in mind when I am feeling too lethargic to get out of my door.

This is my way of introducing my next guest on this blog: Julia. She is the creative spirit behind A Heart of Mersea. Currently Julia works with colored pencils and her artwork features mermaids, angels and faeries. Julia has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes people to suffer from an increased sensitivity to pain and fatigue--far from any ache and pain I might have getting up in the morning. I wondered how Julia gets through her days and she was kind enough to share with me some insights about her life, her work, and living with fibromyalgia.

I am honored to bring you this interview.

"I have always loved to write and draw," Julia tells me. "When I was young, I used #2 pencils, pastels, and charcoal when drawing. In the mid-80's I tried my hand at acrylic painting and loved it, but I couldn't afford to continue. Now, I use colored pencils. I started using colored pencils when I became familiar with Mary Engelbreit and her work. I fell in love with the pencils, but not the markers...I am too prone to make mistakes and marker faux pauxs are very hard to hide, for me anyway!"

"I started off illustrating things that happened in my life," Julia continues. "In a lot of my artwork you will find cats, faeries, and angels. I live in Norfolk, Virgina and the symbol for the city is a Mermaid. I began doing mermaid art so the cards will sell better...hopefully! At one point I was asked to paint one of the City's mermaid statues which was great fun!"

"Sometimes when I sit down to begin a piece I will have an idea and start out with that in mind. Sometimes during the process the art goes off on its own and I go along for the ride. It is fun and addictive! Sometimes my art reflects the things I am contemplating or watching on TV. Jane Austen movies always put me in the mood for Edwardian looking faeries and angels."

Along with the Jane Austen series, Julia finds inspiration in books and period films such as the Anne of Green Gables series, Out of Africa, Little Women, Gone With the Wind, the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, and some of the REALLY old movies. She also loves to listen to Mood music, New Age, Celtic, some Classical, Contemporary Christian music, Praise music, and John Denver. "Also, I have a huge plastic container I call my Inspirational Journal and it is filled with pages and pages and pages of greeting cards and pictures that inspire me to draw, write, and expand my creative mind."

"I am planning on trying watercolor soon," Julia says. "Using pencils are great but I am a bit of an uptight person and when I draw and pencil paint my hands are very stiff and my arm gets to hurting. I am hoping watercolor will help relieve the muscular tension. Ha ha, don't I sound like a medical doctor?"

Almost in passing, Julia mentions she has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and what Julia calls "its ugly step-sisters": myofascial pain syndrome, fatigue, panic disorder to name a few. "Which," Julia says, "makes life interesting..."

The Mayo Clinic defines fibromyalgia as "a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain in your muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as fatigue and multiple tender points--places on your body where slight pressure causes pain." Other symptoms include sleep disturbances, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches and facial pain, Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), and heightened sensitivity to odors, noises, bright lights and touch. People with fibromyalgia may also experience depression, numbness or tingling sensations in their hands and feet, difficulty concentrating, changes in mood, chest pain, dry eyes, skin and mouth, painful menstrual periods, dizziness and anxiety.

The cause of fibromyalgia is still up for debate and more detailed information may be found on the Mayo Clinic website (as well as through organizations such as the Arthritis Foundation and the American Chronic Pain Association). There does seem to be a chemical change in the brains of people who suffer from this condition that causes an increased sensitivity to pain signals, along with a "memory" for pain that heightens sensitivity further. Reducing stress, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, keeping activity on an even level (trying not to overdo), maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and seeking support from family, friends and the medical community are all strategies aimed at minimizing bad days over good.

"Upon arising I take my morning medications," Julia continues. "Then I get a soda or sometimes a cup of tea and sit at my desk that faces a big window through which I view the world. I can see everyone who enters and exits the neighborhood. Some days I read a chapter of the Bible. Some days I jump into cyberspace and see what is going on and pray that I have had a sale in my Etsy shop. Sometimes the piece of art I've been working on calls to me, and some days I just sit and dream. No matter what I do though, our fat cat, D.C., has to be in the midst of it and 'help' me in my work. Do you know how hard it is to read, write, draw, or be on the computer with a fat cat sitting in front of you or on top of what you are doing? LOL! I'll leave it up to your imagination as to what D.C. stands for!"

"Exercise is good for fibro, so I have taken up swimming," Julia continues. "I have been swimming a mile a day at the warm water pool at the Fitness center for about a year. What with this gas crunch I have decided to try running again though it is hard on the body. People with fibro usually feel things several times more than normal people. I take turns between swimming and running. I love to run but I never know what pain I will be feeling during and after. I am building up my stamina because I'm thinking of trying to run in the Jingle Bell Run in November. I did it in the early 2000's." The Jingle Bell Run is sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation which seeks to raise money for arthritis research, provide public health education, influence public policy and legislation and improve the quality of life for people living with arthritis.

"It is hard to work a regular job with fibro," Julia continues, "so I have started doing Pet/House sitting. Sometimes I just visit the pet in their house, feed them, give meds, and play with them. Some jobs I stay at the house and take care of the pet(s). The longest time I have been gone is three weeks so far. From time to time I do some companion sitting jobs but find it easier for me to do pet sitting. Though I wish I could make a living selling my artwork and cards, the pet sitting service seems to do better at this time."

"I am of an age," Julia admits, "where there are lots of lemons that come my way so I have to find creative ways to make lemonade! LOL! I've always been partial to being in nature or at least sitting in a window and looking out. Journaling, drawing, praying, reading the Bible and other books help me through all my lemonade projects. I also like to surf the Net for beautiful art and writings that bring peace to my heart."

Along with her creative work and pet/house sitting, Julia volunteers with her husband for a non profit no-kill dog rescue called K-9 New Life. "We provide a foster home for dogs that are about to be put down so, along with our own two dogs and two cats (all rescues), we always have an extra dog hanging around. While they live with us the dogs get medical attention, spayed or neutered, and training (well, my husband ruins them--our current medium sized foster dog sits nowhere but in his lap and kisses him as much as he can). Just about every Sunday the Rescue takes the foster dogs to a Pet Smart so people can see and meet our foster 'children' and maybe put in an application for a dog. I like to help the Rescue in every way I can so I have been donating a percentage of every sale I get from my art and greeting cards."

As to what shoes Julia wears? "Okay, now you are gonna be a bit shocked but I am not a shoe person. During the winter months I wear knee high boots unless I am wearing pants. Just think black knee high boots with buckles at the top. The rest of the year, I wear black running shoes and water shoes when I go to the pool to do my mile swim. I am nondescript when it comes to shoes. I will say, though, I adore wearing my boots the most! I definitely am NOT a Sex and the City type girl...and I never liked that show at all!"

You may find out more about Julia's life and artwork on her website, shop, and blog.


farafield said...

Lovely article, haunting artwork. Thank you.

farafield said...

Lovely interview, haunting artwork. Thank you both!

Daren said...

Pet sitting is a nice idea. Best of luck for your job.