How to Take On New Projects with an Open Mind
In my mind, projects are divided into the kinds of truth they reveal - under the assumptions that all art reveals a truth - and how they reveal it. Sometimes, in longer form essays like this oldie but goodie, it’s about sharing something deeply personal yet universally experienced (in that particular essay: the experience of trying to cover shame and insecurity with vanity. We’ve all done it.) The truth is shame and inadequacy. How it’s expressed is revelation, bluntly and in a straightforward admission.
In other projects, it’s about exploration of an emotion/thought/feeling/question. How it’s shared varies, and is also experimental. In other words, it’s less about saying something and more about asking something. Confidence will take you places you already know you want to go; curiosity will take you places you can't even imagine yet. So for nearly every blog post you see on this site, I do my best to implore a bit of literary gymnastics, tumbling words and visuals around in ways that convey what it is I feel truly, authentically, about the subject matter without bogging it down with grammatical or even political correctness. You can see as much (I hope) in this post, a personal favorite. The truth there is that the concept itself is playful, malleable, and experiential on different levels beyond simply the written word.
If you can’t make a statement, ask a question.
However, when I was tasked with using my medium of choice, writing, to talk about a condition as intimidating as depression, something so many people experience and know in their own unique ways, I found myself nearly paralyzed by the idea of translating such an experience into words.
To be successful, I needed to be able to explain what it’s like to be an artist with depression, while working through a holistic program for the condition in hopes of helping other artists find this resource and end the stigmas posed against mental health (that depression isn’t a ‘real illness’, that it’s all in our heads, that it’s just self pity, etc). But even for a wordsmith, how does one describe in words such enveloping emotions? How does music, in it’s sweeping crescendos, capture our hopes, our affairs? How does the painter translate the curve of hip through the fibers of a brush? Sometimes all that one can do is surrender the intention, and allow the medium to move, like a wave, through us.
And so my clean
cut and clinical attempts
To capture exactly
what it's like Simply.
I had to release expectation, and be genuinely in the experience. I needed to analyze the experience of being in the state of depression from new angles, with new eyes. How did that manifest? Through videos. Expose style diary videos where instead of trying to explain how or why it feels the way it does, I simply allowed the feeling to express itself. Instead of telling it what to do on paper, I asked it: where are you? How do you look? What do you need to say? And so it was answered, in its own fantastical way.
Video is an entirely new medium for me, one in which I am not at all confident nor particularly competent (as one particular friend knows, I believe that competence is the wellspring of confidence). To become as much and see the project through, I had to jump in and learn to swim. While some twiddle on the shore, dipping toes here and there, I personally must dive head first, and drown or make it. And that I nearly did, staring down the 82 videos I’d somehow amassed over three months, thinking “how the hell am I going to make this into something comprehensive?”.
Sometimes, when it comes to making art, you simply just have to:
get out of the f*cking way.
When an idea (project, goal, dream, purpose) wants to express itself, it will let us know in many ways. It will gnaw at us, in the back of our heads, in the feeling of something we both long for and fear simultaneous. It will present itself in clues, hints, and guide posts in our everyday lives: little signs, synchronicities, coincidences, that thing we can’t stop thinking about. We will feel a deep and unsettling sensation of inadequacy, that of our potential and purpose beckoning us forward through our own sense of frustration and stagnation. It will even take away other things, people and places and priorities, to make sure our head and life are cleared to make way for what it wants. When the muses strike, so rarely do they do so subtly.
But what about when we know the impulse, we recognize the cosmic draw to create something that even to us makes no sense, but have no idea how to execute it? That is where this divine surrender comes into play. A great joy and playfulness is to be discovered in letting go of what you hoped a project would look like, feel like, accomplish and simply dancing with it. Follow its steps. Let it choose the music. Sway. Be carried away. So I’ve never used video and it's not what I’m known for, so what? So you’ve never run a business but you want to own your own, dive in. Drown in questions of how instead of why until you can swim.
I liken this whimsy to that of a small child playing outside. The way as a little girl, the backyard was both magical in and of itself, already full of flowers for every bouquet I could want, and already brimming with excitement, insects and wildlife and growing things. And then there was my imagination to pair with it: unlimited and unbridled enthusiasm as Swami Chidvilasananda would call it, for the experience of being alive. My medium of play collaborated with my imagination and the tools around me. I didn’t tell the flowers they were the wrong variety, they suited my dreams of a bridal bouquet just fine at six. We worked together, the idea and I.
"The moment you have faith, there is the experience. The moment you have trust, there is realization, there is enlightenment. Then this world no longer exists as the world. The world exists as the Self. It exists as God. And then, with our physical eyes, we can see the light of God everywhere and in everything."
~ Gurumayi Chidvilasananda
And so is the same for my latest project, as I begin to trickle release the videos in whatever way they want to express. The first hurdle was to get the guts to be on camera. I asked what it would take, and it answered: willingness and honesty. Easy enough. Now my task is to compile those into comprehensibility while not putting too much of my vanity and ego on the way. I must accept: I won’t look good. I’m crying on video for f*cks sake (apparently this project also has quite a mouth on it). I won’t look admirable. I won’t look attractive in most of it. I’ll look a mess. That is it’s very order: it’s messiness. Its rawness is it’s destined form. I have to get out of the way.
And so this week, I released only a very small but raw and real and imperfectly perfect introduction into what a period of depression looks like. For those not visually inclined and would rather read of it, there will be articles to follow on how I keep my head above the waters of depression and PTSD while maintaining (or attempting to) work and income, interpersonal relationships, and a semblance of balance and normality. A lot of that stability is faked or forced, a necessary effort in my opinion. Not all days will be mine. Some will be lost to the darkness. Others, though, will expose that darkness as my own purpose enacted through artistry, and my work. And for that I’m grateful.
I present you: A woman, an artist, a discourse on depression and artistry, discussed literally and executed through both the condition and art itself simultaneously. Yes, I’m saying: this is the message of what it’s like to be an artist with depression, shown through depression turning itself into art. All is as it should be. It’s the great balance that makes up this life so beautiful?