Thursday, March 31, 2016

Creative Catharsis: The Rock Project

Before you read any further, please understand that blind acceptance is not a trait I posses. Expecting me to accept an idea without providing rational justification is simply a guarantee I won't accept it at all. I surveyed a group of close friends and family to confirm this bit of self-awareness and the response was unanimous. That's where the story begins.


Someone once told me they admired my ability to break a problem into pieces and solve it point by point with directness and efficiency. But what parades as a blessing can also disguise a bane, sending my head into a cyclonic spin of possibilities, potential outcomes, and hazy conclusions. Every perspective must be heard and analyzed to find a central truth, dissonance coursing like water over rocks, cutting grooves where answers settle. But not all dilemmas are so transparent.


Last summer when a close friend discovered she had cancer around the same time my son was deploying to Iraq, I took the medical diagnosis and military orders at face value. I was too familiar with both to debate their validity, knowing these were problems I could not solve. I simply had to deal with them.

But when true answers about an issue important to me were replaced with crapspackle and horsefeathers, leaving me only with questions, there was no peace. The steady hum of my mental machinery became a constant roar, grinding out insight and deduction like Sherlock Holmes on a sugar high. When my attempts at silencing the internal chatter that ceaselessly analyzed the absurd explanations I'd been given hadn't brought relief or resolution, I knew I needed Plan B. 


Plan B included loud music, 
a bottle of wine, and a pile of rocks.

C stood in my kitchen, a tiny powerhouse of love and support, her face bright with anticipation. One single and the other married, we share the details of every bad date and boring Friday night. As turbulent as 2015 was for me, it wasn't any easier for her so we opened the wine and railed against scoundrels, jerks, and asshats. We cursed the insanity of war and the inability of science to cure every disease. We discussed the intricacies of the human heart and the importance of knowing your own self-worth. Life is too short, I've decided, not to live it with arms wide open even if the results aren't always what you expect. 


Equipped with permanent markers and 30 pounds of black and white decorative rocks, we exorcised twelve months of frustration borne from unsolvable problems by writing out every emotion and phrase that came to mind. We were not polite or restrained but let loose every brutally honest adjective, noun, or verb. When the English language hadn't provided the words we needed, we made them up. Yelling each word as we threw the rocks in a bucket, they landed with a satisfying smack, visceral reminders of what needed to go. It didn't cure the cancer or bring my son home, but it brought the ache from the silence, pride, and apathy we'd both encountered to a raucous halt.


To keep the mood light, we told every stupid joke and sassy story we knew and laughed til tears ran in rivulets down our cheeks and sent us running for the bathroom. We butchered the lyrics to every Adele song, blasted our favorite tunes, and wrote til we ran out of rocks.

"But when the pain cuts you deep
and the night keeps you from sleeping
Just look and you will see
a pile of rocks will be your remedy.

Adele 'Remedy - Revised'

But for every negative emotion that poured forth, came the rocks that reminded us of how wonderful our lives truly are. Tossed in the riverbed, the white rocks bounced into empty gaps, colorful reminders of all that is good.


We poured the black rocks into the bottom of an empty container on my patio and filled it with potting soil, covering the surface with seeds. With every seed scattered I could feel my deeply analytical brain sink into silence, a quiet sigh the sweet release of letting go. 

Sometimes the only path to peace is realizing the issue you've been analyzing is really just bullshit and like all manure is best buried so it can create something beautiful. Carrying it around doesn't accomplish anything and no matter how many different perspectives you employ, it's still just a pile of crap.



Seeds sown this winter sprouted as soon as the soil began to warm. Easy to grow linaria prefers cool weather and will be replaced with summer annuals once they've finished blooming. They'll be in flower by the end of the month.


72 comments:

  1. Oh Tammy, life throws some rubbish cards, even finding peace in your garden throws its own curved balls sometimes as your thoughts might be calmed by graft or beauty but the realities are still realities. I've no idea what the best way to deal with these things are but I'd deal with it exactly as you do.

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    1. It was rowdy and very cathartic. It was exactly what I needed to just quiet my brain and soothe my heart.

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  2. Turning "off" is something that I find quite difficult to do as well, especially when it comes to life's more serious situations. My coping mechanism is to purposely direct my thoughts to other "lighter" topics or tasks. Sometimes it works & sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I feel guilty - I shouldn't be weeding my beds in the face of such serious issues. But letting "unimportant" tasks and thoughts take over my mind is what keeps me sane - otherwise I would simply be a pile of worry.

    Loving the wine label by the way... :)

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    1. I actually visualize flipping a giant switch in my brain that says OFF to help me get my brain to just stop sometimes. It's effective for the little daily stuff that pops up just when I'm trying to fall asleep but it was laughably ineffective with this issue. But quiet, repetitious activities like weeding can be very calming. I thought the wine was so clever!

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  3. gardening on autopilot gets me thru a lot.
    Today, using revenge, to pull out kilometres of ivy.
    And then to plant in the new space a citrus scented pelargonium.

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    1. I also love to bake and that requires a lot of focus. It's great at getting me to divert my attention away from whatever I'm thinking about. The sweetness of revenge is so tempting..... Better to pull ivy and let karma do her job.

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  4. I really love this. We're all so good at keeping the bad bottled up, and not being thankful enough for the good. It's a great idea to get them both out in the physical world.

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    1. I'm a physical person and knew I needed to deal with these emotions in a tactile, kinetic, and auditory way. I highly recommend it!

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  5. I like this idea, especially with growing something on top of the rocks. Chucking them one by one over a bridge or off of a pier, with a resounding plop would do well too.

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    1. I love the idea of throwing them off a pier! My dogs and hers hid when we started yelling and throwing the rocks in a big black bucket. They thought we'd both lost our minds but it felt so good!

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  6. I'm really bad at turning off my (over)analytical side.

    There's some gems of wisdom in this post, Tammy.

    I like how you buried the crappy rocks and planted something beautiful on top.

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    1. I could think the paint off a wall which is in direct contrast to my impulsive side! But live and learn. I love that all those black rocks, as well as many more that weren't quite so polite, are buried under all those linaria seedlings. I feel happy every time I see them. :o)

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  7. For many of us it's so hard to let go of unsolvable problems. I'm like you. Even when rationally know there's no possible answer, my sleeping brain keeps working at it. I love your idea. It's great that you didn't just bury the negative but also scattered the positive.

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    1. One of the problems was very solvable, which made it maddening. But "Treat others as you want to be treated' isn't as universally held as it should be. Writing those rocks was a huge release. I highly recommend it! Knowing my son is in danger is a constant source of stress. But he'll be home soon!! :o)

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  8. Coping skills--we all have them and use them when we need them. It sounds like you have them in spades. The rock activity is a great idea! I thought you were going to say you used them to decorate your garden, which I'm imagining would be helpful, too. Generally, nighttime is when I have trouble finding solace. Sometimes, I think it would be best to get out of bed and read a book while petting the cats. Maybe I'll do that the next time... ;-)

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    1. They do come in handy, don't they? I've made cookies late at night before because I needed something to help me get my mind off whatever I'm thinking about. It's a good short term solution.

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  9. It's good to "do"--to place a physical reality in/on/over an emotional truth. It seems that you accomplished that with your rocks and your friend.

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    1. I think so, too. Some things you can't think your way out of.

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  10. A creative form of exorcism! I'm glad it got you and your friend over those hard bumps in the road.

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    1. Much more fun than calling in a priest. ;O)

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  11. I love the idea of the rocks and then burying them with soil and seeds. It is so good to do something, even when you're facing things outside your control. It's even better to share this with a close friend, too.

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  12. This is a wonderful, inspirational post. I love the way you handled the sadness in your life, the metaphors you used. Good writing with sound advise. Loved it.

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  13. This is a good idea, Tammy. Love your post!

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    1. Thanks! Give it a try the next time the rotten parts of life really get you down.

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  14. A brilliant strategy for coping with all the unfair pain in life. Love that you figured out how to express those negative feelings, then shift to the positive and wind up doing something positive for the future.

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  15. I like the concept of writing on stones. I chucked and imagined your singing Adele songs.

    A great post

    Have a wonderful week

    Helenx

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    1. I"m a horrible singer so you'd need a few glasses of wine to have any appreciation for my singing!

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  16. Hello Tammy, that must have been a very emotional and cathartic session. I try to keep in the mind the "Serenity Prayer" of accepting the things outside my control and positively changing the things that are in. Above all, the garden itself keeps me grounded, giving me plenty of work and occasional moments of sublime bliss where everything just seems to fall into place and nothing else matters apart from sunshine, flowers and bird song.

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    1. It was mostly just cathartic. I was done being upset, done with trying to think my way through someone else's head, done letting it affect me. I just needed release and that's what that night was all about. But it also felt good to write rocks about events that had caused C so much pain and frustration.

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  17. A great time with a close friend. A good way to relieve stress. So creative.

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  18. Great use of rocks, though I expected you to have turned them into a mosaic! I like what you did better, however. Something about new growth on top of the rocks...

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    1. The new growth was the perfect way to end it all. :o)

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  19. Glad you and your friend found a way to release some of that pain and emotional frustration. I''m going to remember this.

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  20. I was intrigued by the stone which said "fartbag" - it reminded me of the old phrase "better out than in" (ahem), which is, I guess, what this is all about. Dealing with those things about which we can do nothing - especially those long term worries which cause so much heartache - is difficult. You and your friend rocked those rocks - it is good that you also focussed on the positive too. Wishing you peace. x

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    1. It was much shorter than writing, "As ridiculous as a bag of farts". It's right up there with asshat as one of my favorite words. :o)

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  21. Tammy I can relate to this post so well....thanks for putting into words the exact way I feel sometimes.
    Hope your psyche is okay again.

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    1. My psyche is most excellent. :o) Wine, rocks, loud music, and a couple of angry women is a very powerful combination.

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  22. Lovely post but a bit serious one. You usually write posts which make me rofl. That's a great way to kick out negatives and bring in the positives. I'm just wondering one thing -- think into 1000 year in future. Archaeologists dug up your stones. How are they going to decipher the words written on them? I hope you used a permanent marker :-P. Okay just trying to lighten you up as cancer and deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan are really worrisome things to happen in life.

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    1. I used permanent Sharpie markers but they're already starting to fade. At first I was pretty bummed but now I view it as an opportunity to always have a blank surface available to remind myself of everything that's right in my life. My son will be home soon! :o)

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  23. I'm excited for you and your son's return. It will be a fantastic reunion! I like your rock ceremony. Worry has been an unwelcome lifelong companion of mine. Fortunately getting older is helping. Maybe I'm finally realizing that because so much of life is out of my hands, all I can do is trust in Something higher. Those Linaria are going to look beautiful!

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    1. I can be very laid back about a million things but the ten things I worry about will drive me crazy! Linaria are wonderful plants. They laugh off the cold and grow when everything else is freezing.

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  24. How I wish I had been there with you! I could use a few rocks and a generous glass of wine to get me inspired as to what to write on them. I am going home in on the 23rd to help my parents move to an assisted living facility. Mom is sooo proud. It's going to be so hard for her and she isn't going to make it easy for me...

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    1. I was apprehensive about how this post would be received but it seemed so relatable that I thought it might encourage others to deal with their stress/frustrations/worry the same way. That will be a hard move because she has to admit she needs the extra help. Not an easy reality to accept. I wish you strength!

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  25. I'm sorry about your friend's diagnosis. How is she doing?

    That's great that your son will be home soon!!

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    1. She has stage 4 lung cancer and is struggling. :( C had a friend successfully battle breast cancer last year because it was caught so early. Cancer sucks. I've had five family members die of it. My son will be home in 6 weeks!! That's the happy!!

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    2. She's doing better! I just talked to her today. We've been friends for 32 years. We met in high school. :o)

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  26. Tammy girl .. I think this has to be my most favorite post .. so much of my life seemed to be out of my hands, by way of our military life (I understand your situation with your son so well and I am so happy for you that he is coming home soon!) .. the worry and frustration I have felt the majority of my life has been such a waste of time and energy, I wish I could take it back but that is impossible .. so I hope to NOT worry as much and claim more of my life for me : )
    Thank you for that perspective girl .. love the rocks and what they say ... love, happiness, laughter ... ROCKS !
    Joy

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    1. Deployments are hard for non-military to relate to. But he and I are in frequent contact, which is a luxury I never had when my husband was deployed. A WiFi hotspot has been set up to allow the soldiers to message their families. It's wonderful for everyone's morale. I'm very skilled at doing my duck impression: calm on the exterior but paddling like hell underneath. It was good to stop paddling for a night and just let it all go.

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  27. What a fantastic post, I just love how you came up with such a wonderful solution to exorcise twelve months of frustration, and to have something beautiful grow is just perfect. I loved the fairy bouquet and wine and wished I had been there too, that sounds like my kind of night. I also love the words asshats and crapspackle.....just marvelous!xxx

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    1. Thank you! Crapspackle is an amazing word! I wish I'd come up with it but I found it online. My hats off to whatever genius dreamt it up. :o)

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  28. Love, love this post! This is such a great way to find catharsis. Letting go of the BS and accepting that which we cannot change is easier said than done, but I'm sure your friend will never forget the night full of laughter and true friendship she shared with you. This reminds me, in a small way, of a workshop I went to while still teaching. It was one of those all-day affairs with some good sessions and others a waste of time--I'm sure you can relate. Anyway, one was on poetry, and we were each given a pile of rocks and supposed to write a poem or a line from a favorite poem on them. My mind went blank, and all I could think of was "This, too, shall pass." Not very creative, but I put those rocks in my desk drawer when I got back to school, and every time I was having bad day, I'd open the drawer and look at them and feel a little bit better. Someday I hope all that crapsackle is truly behind you, just like the buried rocks.

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    1. Thank you! When I wrote it I was really hoping that other people would be able to relate to the feelings behind it and even use the same idea to help them deal with their own frustrations. I might need a few rocks in my desk, too!

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  29. What a wonderful post, full of wisdom and v your usual humour. I love your pebbles therapy. Sometimes life really sucks.

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    1. Yes, sometimes it does. But it's how we deal with it that defines us. :o)

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  30. I know when mind mind won't stop the chatter, I need to take the reins and come up with a remedy....loved the rocks....and burying them.

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    1. Shutting my brain down can be a chore, for sure, although knowing I'm working towards a solution or an understanding of the issue feels good. But when one of the issues involves dealing with another person who refuses to communicate and is being less than their best self, it's maddening! Burying those rocks was wonderful. It allowed me to finally feel closure and peace. But seeing the seeds sprout was even better. :o)

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  31. I enjoyed your approach to problems. Whatever helps!

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  32. Well, that is an unusual sort of rock therapy. Very effective though. As gardeners we do have a handy release valve for frustration and negativity. There is nothing like some hard exhausting digging for soothing ' the savage breast'. Yelling at stones and burying them is a great one though.

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    1. The best part is they don't yell back. :o)

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  33. You seem to have friends and family around you, how fortunate you are – coping skills are great assets, family and friends....priceless. The symbolic action of the stones was a great idea, I could add some great expressions if I applied it to my own situation. And as an army daughter I feel for you, hope your boy comes home soon.

    PS! Sherlock Holmes used to be high on rather different matters than sugar... ;-)

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    1. I am very blessed to have many amazing, loving, loyal people in my life. :o) My son will be home next month!! As for what Sherlock really preferred.... I think sugar is a better choice.

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  34. Nothing like a great friend to help pour out all those problems and worries! You are so fortunate to have such friends close by. And what a great idea with the stones! I absolutely love the name of the wine, by the way...

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    1. I wasn't able to think my way through this and needed to do something more concrete than just torture myself. This was highly effective. The name of the wine is so clever!

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  35. You never cease to amaze and inspire. Love this!

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