Zeraph Dylan Moore
Here is a question for you: Is your life small or large?
How do you know?
Is it possible to have a big life in a single, small room?
Or to lead a small life that is lived in many places?
Questions like these have become more pertinent to me lately. They surface when I am ensconced happily in my bed, writing, painting, designing or networking with other artists. They surface also when I am taking the comparatively hazardous journey outside, where the lights, sounds and unfamiliar vistas of the outdoors overwhelm me, sending my brain into a strobing cataclysm of sensory overwhelm.
They surface when I’m somewhere in between, too. When I’m in the living room of the house that I live in, a place I visit so infrequently that it seems like another country, taking a wheelchair ride to the shower or bath. At times like these, I may suddenly think, “My God—my world must seem to others so small—so sad!” But then that question bounces against a bigger and deeper feeling inside: “But my life doesn’t feel small or sad to me. Why is that?”
Perhaps I should explain a little about myself.
When I was twenty-five, I was enrolled in college at the University of Maine in Orono after concluding several years of traveling across the United States. I was studying to be an ecologist, I worked as a research assistant, and I was unhappy. At the time, I was engaged with a scientific field I no longer cared about in hopes of becoming someone I thought I ought to be—a proper scientist, not an artist who would never make much money. I wasn’t so much blossoming into adulthood as I was wilting. Life kept propelling me forward, rootless and unwilling, toward some future I could not conceive of and did not desire.
Perhaps that unhappiness was why I missed the first symptoms of my illness. Or perhaps it was simply because no one expects this to happen to them, this creeping and insidious sickness that hides the shadows, barely seen, until it’s already made itself at home in your life.
However insensitive I was to the signs, I took notice when one day, after an ordinary afternoon of classes, I was too tired to walk across the campus lawn back to my car.
What would you do in such a situation? It certainly feels like an emergency, but you cannot call 911. You need help, but no one will understand.
I had no diagnosis yet to explain my symptoms. I had no idea what was happening to me.
where rock climbers dangle above a ceaselessly moving sea
It was a dark time, both literally and figuratively. My illness caused me to be fatigued by bright lights, so I lay engulfed in the darkness of my bedroom. Sometimes I wondered at what point it would become sensible to end my own life. Could I endure fifty more years of this? It was unimaginable.
But sometime during this period, I also decided to start painting again. This desire came from a very different place than my other choices over the last few years. I didn’t do it because I thought I should, or because I might someday be successful. I did it because I saw a video online of a little girl throwing paint and glitter in the air while wearing a tutu, and I thought, that looks like fun.
So I started dragging myself to a corner of my room where I’d set up a little studio and throwing some paint and glitter around. If there were any rules I could recall about making “real art,” I tossed them out. Paper, beads, and bits of clay on canvas? Sure! The only criteria for each painting was that it pleased me.
So I lay in darkness and researched and learned self-care, and I also painted when I was able to walk and sit up. Over the next few years, I would have many ups and downs and several remissions and relapses. Over time, I became more and more sure of what illness was afflicting me. Finally, I printed the diagnostic criteria from the CDC’s website and brought in to my doctor’s office. I left with my diagnosis.
What was confirmed that day was something I had suspected for a long time.
I have CFS/ME, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (or chronic fatigue syndrome in the United States), a complex multi-system disease with post-exertional malaise, or worsening of symptoms following exercise, as its hallmark trait. It also, in its severe form, causes sensory processing problems and sensitivity to light and sound, as well as a coterie of auxiliary symptoms like pain and dysautonomia.
like a continent on a tectonic plate
Today, I live what may seem like an abridged life. I mostly stay in a single room, where I lie in bed in a dim, climate-controlled space. I have a clever set-up with a rolling table that brings my art supplies to my fingertips so that I can paint while sitting or reclined in bed.
For minutes to an hour a day, I work on creating my mixed-media paintings in a style that arose from my early experimentations with texture and color. Sometimes I can work for a while; other times, sitting up makes me so fatigued and nauseated that I have to lie down immediately and leave it for another day.
My artwork explores far-flung ecosystems through textured abstract color fields, embroidery and metalwork. I paint deserts, marshes, prairies and oceans. A remembered outing to the Maine coast, a Louisiana creek bed or a Pacific Northwest rainforest can be refracted through multiple paintings. Through my art, I see and feel the earth’s energy, channeling the uproar and harmony of these remembered landscapes.
I also reflect on my college courses in ecology and geology, but I connect to them now through art rather than science. Geology is a particular love of mine. The earth is tremendously dynamic, yet most of its dynamism is expressed over eons rather than moments. Perhaps there’s something about that that resonates with me. Like a continent on a tectonic plate, I’m drifting toward my own future so slowly I hardly seem to move.
My artwork also explores my love of exploring abandoned buildings overrun with nature, with their multiple layers of peeling paint and graffiti. I rarely get out to explore abandoned spaces now, but I keep a catalogue of them in my head and on film. I have many photos of the places I’ve explored, from overgrown barns, to industrial sites and factories, to gas stations and quaint families homes, still packed with moldering 70s toys and ephemera. I’ve always been fascinated with spaces being reclaimed by nature and the spontaneous art formed by their multi-textured surfaces.
Lately, I’ve been exploring an even more specific sense of place in my paintings, naming them for particular locales that have impressed something of their own dynamic soul upon me. My current project is a diptych abstract interpretation of Otter Cliffs in Acadia National Park, Maine, where rock climbers dangle above a ceaselessly moving sea.
Written by: Zeraph Dylan Moore ©2018
all images courtesty ©2018 Zeraph Dylan Moore
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