Dancing with Depression: A Meditation on Collaboration
I walked in the door of the dimly lit bar to see him standing behind a set of turntables near the bar’s well. An old movie was playing on the projector and the patrons were sparse, spread across the booths, laughing and drinking. Crossing the threshold of the door and hearing the music, my body dropped it’s chill of the rain and without hesitation or thought started moving to the beat, feet stepping to each drum bump, hips swooning as if to say “ooooooh”. I didn’t mean to make a dance entrance. It just happened that way. Maybe it was just the intrinsic and undeniable allure of En Vogue on a loud speaker. Maybe it was just the pent up joy of a night out after weeks of hibernation within my emotions, processing the last tumultuous year, or maybe it was just the vibes. The vibes man. That’s what they say right? As if the energy of something can’t or doesn’t need to really be explained. It was a vibe, twas a very splendid vibe indeed.
What brought me to this Hollywood bar and this dance que? A friend - the DJ had invited me. But that’s not why I’d actually shown up. I showed up for one reason: Collaboration. Only days before I had whispered a little prayer to the universe:
“I want to collaborate. I want to extend myself and my work and pair with other artists to create something yet unseen. In work, in relationship, in any capacity: I want to partner with other artists, get out of my head and my own capabilities, and create totally new things, something that could only have been made in the act of collaboration.”
I wasn’t quite sure what I was asking for at the time; but I knew that I’d been dwelling in my cave alone with those processing emotions for too long. It had been weeks since I’d dressed up and gone out with the girls. In that state and in the meantime I’d spent hours a day journaling, working, reading and studying whatever interested me in an attempt to focus solely on my work and not spend too much time grieving all that I and we (collectively, as a society) have been through in 2019. The roughest of years for every single person I know.
In honesty, I’ve also been swimmingly endlessly in another period of depression, a recurring condition I’ve struggled with since chemo. I am outspoken about this because I believe artists should be. It is not uncommon in artists nor women, nor anyone in the aftermath of huge personal struggles like cancer, even years past. So as whimsical as I might have made it sound, really I’ve been at home dwelling, eating, and crying. And that’s perfectly ok too, because some great prose came out of it. #transmute.
But the time came, and with it a prayer, to expand and extend out of the cave. Through it all I’d come to be a little too comfortable alone, in solitude, enough so to realize it’s limitations. There is only one me in there. I can read, I can write, I can create. But first and foremost: unless it betters or enlightens someone else, whatever effort is quite meaningless. We are communal beings who need connection and intimacy especially in art, when things not so easily said or explained are expressed. That’s our job as artists. And because I am only one person, I can create but one thing: that of myself. In collaboration, though, lies endless possibilities, because the seemingly dichotomous differences bring about new ideas and entities, as Twyla Tharp says in her incredible book, The Collaborative Habit:
“In a good collaboration, differences between partners mean that one plus one will always equal more than two.”
The addition of blue to yellow makes green. Flour and eggs make pasta. Two strangers fall in love and create a relationship. Or a family for that matter. One plus one does not equal two; not in art, not in life. She goes on to say how important it is to step into the endlessness of that possibility:
“A willingness to try for the unknown can be a strong bond. Only those who go too far know how far they can go.”
In an artistic endeavor it’s a bit easier to accept the unreignable chaos of possibility. We don’t know how it will turn out; we can hold vision and ideals and hopes, but all art requires abandonment of expectation and self.
But isn’t it the same in every collaboration, platonic to professional to romantic? It’s all unknown. The more we willingly, trustingly fall into the unknown together, the more we are able to create, see, experience, manifest, invent, and innovate. The only true commitment is to how we will face the chaos together, rather than to a desired outcome. The willingness to say: “I don’t know what we’ll go through, and I don’t know what will happen, but I’m in it with you. And I’ll do my best in whatever comes our way.” We can’t control the unknown, we can only control our reaction to it, and THAT is commitment. Commitment to not only collaboration but growth, each other, and enlightenment.
When I whispered that little prayer, I had in my mind more professional collaborations. Which I received in the plenty. A friend wrote a poem inspired by my poem and picture. Another woman asked if she could create a voice-over of her reciting my prose. Someone from the deep recesses of my past and I came up with a way to connect beyond time and space by creating a portrait/poetry hybrid that is both intimate and challenging to us both, and deeply personal. I was blessed, many times over, in my prayer...but it got me to thinking. What is collaboration? Where does it exist?
For me, collaboration is anchored by two things: The commitment of open-minded yet loyal companionship, and the meditation of bravely learning, exploring, and conversing.
The first - commitment - requires trust, playfulness, and honesty. It requires that two people be willing to be themselves, fully with flaws and all, and see the other as such while honoring each other’s talents and gifts. The friend reading my poem about moving on looked at my photo and said to himself “I see her in this act, this destructive but necessary pain, and I honor it by also seeing her power and determination within that pain.” He saw the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. I had to be honestly and genuinely myself in the photo, and he had to do the same as he looked on, and only then could we see each other fully and created something that previously had not existed, not in word (the poem) and not in us (our friendship deepened).
The second - meditation - is an act. It’s action. It’s the movement of energy cognitively, emotionally, and often physically in learning from one another, exploring what I individually and they individually and us collectively could put together. It’s in the beingness of the interaction itself, as a living entity and energy field where things are explored and toyed with, poked and prodded, not only for the sake of a specific outcome like an art piece. Sometimes it is only in cordial, casual conversation. Sometimes it is only to see what a new relationship dynamic will look like, feel like, be capable of. As author Jordan B. Peterson writes about conversation in his book 12 Rules for Life:
"You must meditate, too, instead of strategizing towards victory. If you fail, or refuse, to do so, then you merely and automatically repeat what you already believe, seeking it’s validation and insisting on it’s rightness. But if you are meditating as you converse, then you listen to the other person, and say the new and original things that can rise from deep within of their own accord.
It’s as if you are listening to yourself during such a conversation, just as you are listening to the other person….You are reporting what that information has done to you - what new things it made appear within you, how it has changed your presuppositions, how it has made you think of new questions. You tell the speaker these things, directly. Then they have the same effect on him. In this manner, you both move towards somewhere newer and broader and better. You both change, as you let your old presuppositions die, as you shed your skins and emerge renewed. "
If collaboration is commitment (ironically) collaborating with meditation, then where is collaboration? Maybe collaboration itself is a collaboration: it happens where trust meets present awareness. Where openness meets beingness. As such, the place it happens can only be in the here and now - which is another collaboration. Here. And now. And as such, it is everywhere, in everything.
So it is in my hips as they move to Julian’s beats. It’s in my hands meeting this keyboard to write to you. It’s in every friendship. Every bite of cooked food. It’s in the way we interact with our phones, how what we see on our phones makes us feel about ourselves. With our bodies. With our everyday lives. With our dreams and goals. With our partners, or the lack of partnership, our loneliness. It’s in me and my depressed thoughts, a state of being I know isn’t completely real or in my control and yet I relax and commit and trust the process rather than denying it. (Out of that collaboration, thankfully, came another, as I venture into being the very first Writer in Residence for Like Mind Space, a non-profit based here in LA whose mission is to provide support and resources for artists (like me) with depression and other mental conditions. More on that collaboration another time.)
It’s in everything. And everywhere. It would be a shame to look at this everyday collaborations without the candor and enthusiasm we do those which we plan out or pray for. I didn’t pray for a collaboration with depression nor with my phone. But they are still endless, powerful, packed full of potential, and expansive. They are still one-plus-one making three: me, my depression, and how I let it control me or make me feel. I didn’t let it hold me back from going out that night, from dancing. I didn’t let it stop the writing, in fact it made the writing better - here we are. We cannot lose sight of the third thing, and we mustn't predestine that third to misery.