From Pain to Production

A couple of weeks ago I experienced some discomfort in my back. I’ve had some back pain issues in the past and this seemed to be nothing new. I stretched as usual and spent the day walking along the Lake Michigan Shoreline with close friends. My back however, never seemed to loosen up. In fact, it was tightening more and more. When I returned home, I laid flat on the ground, giving my lower back a break, and dozed off for a few minutes.

When I awoke and attempted to roll over, the entire left side seized up in a severe spasm. Pain exploded from my lower back and shot out the top of my head. I broke out in sweats and had to breath my way through the spasm. Each little movement caused another spasm as I struggled with help to get to a chair. Needless to say, the pain of a herniated disk controlled my life for the next few days.

I’m am high school art teacher by day, and when I returned to school I felt like a drugged-up Frankenstein limping down the hallway with a torturous back-brace holding my midsection together. The spasms had subsided, but the pain and weakness remained. It was all I could do to teach classes.

T Zuber, The Puppet (Sketch), 2014
T Zuber, The Puppet (Sketch), 2014

Then I had a prep period.

Instead of grading or preparing another lesson, I decided to draw. I needed to do something to get me away from the constant throb plaguing my spine and pelvis. From another art teacher, I acquired some large paper and a soft Ebony pencil, and, using my arm, began to draw in wild gestures. I soon got into my right brain and the pain seemed further and further away. The act of creating took me out of myself; out of my time and place.

Thomas Zuber, The Puppet, 2015
Thomas Zuber, The Puppet, 2015

For a moment, all pain subsided, as I swam in the creative muse, giving vision to my situation.

That experience gave birth to a pencil sketch, leading to a lager acrylic on canvas painting entitled, “The Puppet”. It’s an abstract expression of my experience of being controlled by my pain. It’s large, dark and “stabby”. I would guess that anyone who has experienced a pain that caused cold sweats could relate.

I’m better now. The spasms have ceased and I’m on the road to recovery. While I can’t say that I’m happy to have suffered through this, I can say that I was able to harness my pain and create something through it. I experienced creativity in a new way upon which I hope to build.

Just without my back going out again.

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