I’ve been having a hard time sitting down to write lately. Not because I lack time, but because I lack empathy for my own process therefore how could I hope to have empathy for anyone else’s. There are a lot of things I could say about depression and creativity and in fact I already have said some here, but I don’t have the strength to go there right now. I am writing to here now to give the smallest of updates and the smallest of motivation to myself to keep going, to keep writing. Because in my experience writing helps put a frame around my experience to be able to look at it from that place in the mind that does not experience pain of living, the essence of being if you will. I promised you two books of poetry exactly a year ago, and truth be told I’m scared to release them. These poems were written in a very dark period of my life, and at the time they gave me a reason to keep on going, to keep on writing, but reading them now is painful. Painful that I hurt so much, and painful that I would wish to share that sort of hurt on the world that is suffering so much already. It’s a hard thing for me to reconcile with myself in my current black disposition. I have made a promise to finish them by the end of this year regardless because people have directly asked me to, people I respect, and people that have paid me money in order that I might keep going, keep writing. If it weren’t for these people that have invested their good faith in me I would probably give up on the project entirely. Which is depressing in itself. There is this idea that the only kind of pure art is art for art’s sake that the artist creates in this vacuum regardless of who will appreciate it, but I also believe that the creative experience is not complete without someone to receive the expression of the soul. It’s like trying to have a conversation while no one is listening. Between these two beliefs I feel a little lost about how to feel about the release of this body of work. It is coming though regardless if only so I can practice having empathy for the parts of myself and my work I do not like.
It takes me so much longer to put together these lists these days. I’m not in a receptive mood, but I’m not in a creative mood either. I’m oscillating between contemplative practices and social sensory stimulation. Trying to find a way just to exist in the world without coming or going too much. In the course of that here are a few things that have come up for me.
- Listen to Mulatu Astatke – New York Addis London (full album) via Broken Trancy Things
- What Do Your Sexual Fantasies Say About You? via Slutever
- Helmholtz Resonator via the book I’m currently reading Dramturgy of Sound in the Avant-Garde and Postdramatic Theatre
- Bob Dylan on Sacrifice, The Unconscious Mind, and How to Create the Perfect Work Environment via Brain Pickings
- Inspired by the art work of WITCHORIA revisted on The Hoodwitch
A recipe for success?
- Have an existential crisis along the lines of “I will never create work again!”
- Frantically begin planning all of the projects over several notebooks, spreadsheets, text conversations, and chewed fingernails
- Plan to move away somewhere far where no one knows you and get a real job in a post office or cafe
- Make tea and soberly look out the window to see which idea comes to mind first, boil more water and refine
- Do the work, in small steps, that don’t require too much fore thought, but that make logical sense, until it starts to become too exciting to put down
- Go on a bunch of dates to try to overcome your nervous energy by channeling it into a bunch of new possibilities instead of focusing on the task at hand
- The thing is starting to look more like a thing! That you can tell people about! Time to invite in collaborators! Probably people you went on dates with in step 7
- Become morbidly depressed over the state of the world, the state of the work, and the sorry state of yourself. Decide to quit everything and go back to step 4
- Breathe, do some yoga, maybe eat a food, read a book by an author you adore
- Look at the thing you have created, look for what is missing, fill it with your love & excitement to share with the people you care about
- Share it in one wild beautiful attempt to transcend all the other drudgery and escape the inevitability that you will wind up returning to step 1 in a matter of hours
Rinse and repeat.
I’m working on a solo piece that I, and I alone, am creating. Like a sculptor alone in the studio facing a great slab of shapeless rock holding a chisel in one hand and a vision of possibility in the other. I am both sculptor & rock. Discoverer & discovered. I am navigating my body & mind in a way that is almost completely foreign to me. Total autonomy. It’s daunting.
My body is my instrument.
From which all work emerges. All ideas are expressed. Storytelling is in my veins, sinews, synapses. I, the artist, must learn to work every angle, control every aperture, understand the mechanics to take it apart & rebuild it. As a director of self my only option is to observe passively with gentle exacting focus as the performance comes through me. Let refinement arise in the commitment to discovery within. Trust my impulses.
My mind is a double edged sword.
It has baracaded itself inside behind enemy lines over analyzing all the ways I intersect with the world. Impulses that used to feel natural suddenly appear forgin under endless scrutiny. Without specific tasks & complex problems to latch onto my mind occupies itself in the most awful ways. When the anxiety rises I can barely quell the shakes. It surges through me like lightening and lingers for days.
My heart has not healed.
There are memories stored in the muscles of my body that flinch when eyes linger there too long. Memories that tighten in my throat when certain songs play. Memories so heavy my bones ache with the weight of them on rainy days. My breath tries to balance the precipice between the world & I, but I’m still caught holding on to things I wish I could forget.
My presence is the piece.
I am terrified of loosing myself in the work. I struggle to be present in my body & mind while even still I try to clutch onto some shade of normalcy. I am not creating in spite of these challenges but because of them. I am not a blank slate waiting to be filled with inspiration, I am the spark itself. The combined force of chisel point, skilled labour, and unrealized potential hidden in plain sight. The scariest part is the idea of being seen as broken, unredeemable, vulnerable. Of being seen & being hurt again. Rather than running away though I practice radical vulnerability in the studio, but how can I leave this raw open energy in the studio when this piece is also my life’s work?
My perplexing problem.
I’ve begun to own more & more that I have an anxiety problem. I have not been diagnosed so I won’t say disorder, but occasionally I am over run by a crippling fear, adrenaline, cold sweat, heart and thought racing kind of feeling. Sometimes it’s accute and begins and ends rapidly, sometimes it’s a prolonged uneasiness that sits with me for days and disturbs my focus and robs my sleep. After either is usually followed by a blue period of listless apathy and regret. It can be triggered by many things and sometimes for no apparent reason at all.
So how do I create work in spite of this feeling of impending doom?
A big one is give the brain a problem to solve. Often the characteristic of anxiety is ungrounded fear that is incurred from events or experiences out of my control. If there is a tangible task set before the anxious mind all that nervous energy can be channeled into solving it as quickly as possible to relieve the symptoms of stress.
The other one is to disassociate my creative self from my anxious self. I have to be careful with disassociation as it has been tied into my major depressive spells where I can feel lost inside myself for days or months at a time. However, in this case by being able to see my anxious thoughts as not part of myself, as something that is happening inside of me like indigestion that isn’t truly who I am, I can set those thoughts aside more easily. Sometimes I do that by writing every anxious thought down, or scheduling a specific time slot when I’m allowed to think about it, or through visualization exercises.
Being able to accept that these thoughts are happening to me, but do not define me has been a huge step forward. I think there is a lot of fear of mental health stigma still, or now the double edged sword of fear of misusing mental health language in an ableist fashion. I’ve not been diagnosed mostly because I can’t afford to go see someone who would be qualified to diagnose me, but being able to name these emotional upheavals has helped me be able to work on soothing them. Same as naming them has allowed me to talk about them and ask for help.
Creatively, if I am feeling anxious about a project it is usually the easiest anxiety to quell because I can lay out clear steps to get me where I’m going that my anxious brain can latch on to. Each step might fail, but it provides a way to tangibly measure the outcomes of my anxiety to disprove it again and again. Social anxiety lacks these clear markers of success. Anxiety about the future is too large to productively map. Anxiety triggered by feelings of unsafety is not so easily quelled as the stakes are much higher. Creative anxiety can actually be quite motivating as those bursts of nervous energy can help me achieve super human feats in relatively short periods of time.
Because of the positive correlation between my anxiety & creativity I often wish to get through particularly anxious times with more creativity. The problem is my energy & resources are limited. It can set me up for unrealistic expectations which lead to a bigger drop when anxiety subsides and I have not channeled it through this creative lens. Intensified anxiety does not always mean intensified creativity, and at a point is just disruptive. I’ve had anxiety attacks so intense I thought I was physically ill. At those times there is no amount of creative out put that will help me cope.
Usually though my anxiety needs the same things my creativity needs:
- A space where I feel safe to fail and be vulnerable.
- People who love & support me.
- Time to work itself through to completion.
- Mindfulness to experience this moment fully before jumping on to the next.
- Compassionate truth seeking to cut through illusions without degrading the spirit entwined in them.
- And radical vulnerability to be present and generous in this state of flux.