Check this new work out, as always, in my Etsy shop.
I was overwhelmed by the response to my last blog post in which I talked about my lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety. I received so many comments expressing support and even some private admissions by friends who had struggled with similar problems. I was so encouraged by the response that I submitted a more polished piece to the Huffington Post and guess what? They published it! You can read it here.
My own mental health challenges were very much on my mind this week as I mulled over asking for a medication adjustment at my next doctor’s appointment. Earlier this year, when I sought treatment for anxiety, my insomnia was out of control. I was constantly keyed up and had difficulty focusing on anything. After several months of treatment, and lots of yoga and meditation, I discovered that I had “flatlined.” In other words, wasn’t feeling much of anything. No ups, no downs.
It was strange. But perhaps a very positive sign, as my anxiety has all but disappeared. My doctor suggested I reduce my medication. I’d like to get off of it altogether.
At any rate, this was a strange experience for me and it made me think about the nature of ups and downs and mental and mood disorders. I think I suffer from a little bit of cyclothymia, which is a very mild version of bi-polar. I’m used to swinging up and down, but completely disconcerted by this unfamiliar feeling of bland evenness.
In the world of psychiatry, every tendency, disorder, and mood is collected, rated, charted, and categorized. This is what I was thinking about when I started this new series which I think I’m going to call – aptly – “Flatlining.”
This series has grown right out of my “Illumination series” which document my first serious foray into abstraction. I think I am beginning to develop a more unique language with these new pieces. Here is one of my most recent “illumination” pieces. You can see my jumping off point!
I am also working on some more figurative drawings and prints which I will update you on in my next post.
Until recently I would rather have died than admit what I am about to say, but here it is: I suffer from depression and acute anxiety. The truth is, Robin Williams’s death this week struck me as sad at first, but soon took up more and more of my thoughts over the past few days until it became a clarion call. I needed to speak up, for the first time in my life. If it helps just one person to feel less alone, the uncomfortable exposure is worth it. So, I’m speaking out about this condition, which is woven into the fabric of who I am.
Before anything, though, I must fervently state that suicide is no answer at all. If I had ever acted on any impulses or thoughts I had to kill myself in my darkest days, I would have missed out on so much in the years ahead. I never would have experienced the joy, happiness, love, friendships, and thrilling, enriching experiences, not to mention my own personal achievements, which no one and nothing can take away from me now. I have even come to see my depression as a kind of gift, which helps me to experience life more deeply and on more levels.
My earliest experience with feeling hopelessly sad was when I was about nine or ten years old and I had been in the hospital with pneumonia. I had severe asthma as a child, so it was a scary and life-threatening ordeal. For weeks afterward, I was on a lot of medication, including corticosteroids. That was when I first remembered feeling out-of-step with the world. For me, that feeling of alienation is the most pervasive and debilitating aspects of depression. From that time on, I looked at my peers and felt a chasm between us. I couldn’t often relate to them and I didn’t really know why. I’m not sure that feeling has ever left me.
During my teenage years, I suffered from what is called “major depression.” I was hospitalized for seven months. I was in such anguish, I flatly refused to go to school. I didn’t want to leave the house. I just wanted to curl up and read books from my early childhood, as if I could reverse the aging process and become a care-free little girl again if I read The Wind in the Willows for the tenth time.
Much of what I felt was what normal teenagers experience and feel, but depression is, in part, the grotesque magnification of typical emotions and moods. I felt like a hideous freak and that I needed to hide myself from the world. When my parents suggested I needed to be hospitalized, I embraced it. I thought I was somehow winning or getting away with something… I didn’t have to go to school! I could hide myself away and maybe never go back!
I came of age in the hospital. I learned that I loved The Cure. I pierced my own ears several times and they got infected. I shaved the side of my head. I also learned that art was my passion and salve. It has been so ever since. In the hospital, I made many friends who remain close to my heart, though I don’t remember their last names or have any idea how to find them now. They were the only people who stood on my side of the warped glass, looking in at the world from afar.
I had not completed my descent into depression when I entered the hospital. I learned that sadness presaged despair and unending tears, which gave way to numbness. Finally, I would arrive at a state of complete emptiness. This was rock bottom and it was a relief. The only drawback is that, to feel better, you have to climb back through all of those stages again: the hollowness, the numbness, the grief, and then sadness before there can be any happiness. The staff at the hospital actually told me the crying and agitation I felt meant the meds were working. Because I was feeling something again. I have made that descent and climb more than once.
The ordeal of trying to find the right medication is discouraging and often fruitless. It is darkly funny that patients with a condition marked by interminable pessimism would be so difficult to treat pharmacologically. As for me, prozac made me crazy and agitated. Lithium made me listless and sleepy. Zoloft did nothing. Paxil worked a little and so that’s what I continued to take until I was in college. I never seriously thought about killing myself, although I experienced a desire to self-harm and thoughts of “suicidal ideation.” The bad thing about putting a bunch of sick teenagers together is that there is a lot of copycat behavior and thinking.
When I left the hospital and rejoined the “real” world, I felt a permanent displacement. The effort of getting through my days, turning in homework, and pretending to be a “normal” teenager was about all I could muster. Every day felt like so much work and so much effort. I often didn’t know how I could get through it. I would have liked to disappear from my family and never see anyone ever again. I suppose that might qualify as suicidal ideation, just wanting to disappear. It would have been a relief to be locked away in a little dark cell forever, with no demands and no face to put on. Ironically, that would have felt like freedom.
It wasn’t until I was in college that my depression finally lifted. I became excited about school and living on my own. I saw my future as a ladder of goals I would work diligently to reach. Sometimes I would wake up and feel that empty chasm opening up inside of me, but I would tell myself in a clipped Mary Poppins-esque voice to just keep going, “spit spot.”
And that seemed to be the solution for a long time. To not stop. To just keep going and throw myself into work and life. I thought I had kicked it or that I knew how to manage my depression and often patted myself on the back for learning how to do it on my own. However, I think I may have been ignoring rising signs for a long time.
Early this year, I finally had to admit that I needed to seek help again. It came after a day in which I lay in my bed all morning unable to do anything but listen to my pounding heart and racing , panicked thoughts. For about a year, I had been feeling a constant feeling of impending doom. My thoughts would often run in circles and I couldn’t get off certain subjects that caused me the most stress and made me feel most powerless. I was consumed with thinking about every possible catastrophe that might befall me. I would game out possible chains of events, looking for the worst-case scenario so that I could prepare myself. When I couldn’t think of anything else to worry about, I worried I was overlooking something that needed worrying.
This is what is known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder and, at least for me, it is the other side of depression. It is closely linked to all the negative thinking that causes depression. In a way, it felt much worse and more terrifying than depression because, rather than sapping my energy, it expended what little energy stores I had. It was frenetic and exhausting and brutal. Depression might call to you with a steady stream of voices saying things like “you are worthless, ” “what’s the point?” and “nobody cares.” Anxiety, on the other hand, shouts at you: “You’re an idiot,” “what the hell are you thinking?” ” you will fuck this up,” and “no one gives a shit.”
I have sought treatment and new medication and I do think it has helped a lot. The most effective therapy I’ve found is cognitive behavioral therapy, which is the practice of identifying distorted thinking and challenging it. It became a little easier to get moving in the morning and to accomplish things after awhile. Yoga and meditation have also become life-savers for me. In learning to sit with the sadness and emptiness, I’ve found peace.
After several months though, I have to conclude that Andrew Solomon is quite right when he says “the truth lies.” Depressed people can carry persistent delusions, but often the thoughts that torment them are undeniable insights. Things like: “We are all essentially alone.” “The planet is fragile and we are overwhelming it.” “I may grow old and have no money and no one to take care of me in the end.” None of these thoughts may be denied or disproven. Dwelling on them is what makes a depressed person depressed.
Why are some people more prone to depression than others? I know in my case, it runs in the family. Partly due to the grief of losing a child, my grandmother suffered from depression in the decades before adequate treatment was available. She was hospitalized herself at one point. My father, too, has been dogged by depression and anxiety. Like me, they have both found relief from modern antidepressants.
Just as depression runs in families, so does suicide. No one in my family has ever committed suicide, as far as I know. It’s a mystery why one person may come through depression stronger while others never make it back. Some people come back again and again and then finally succumb, worn out by the battle. I wonder if one day, researchers will begin to study families like ours, full of resilient depressives and look for some contrasting factor – possibly genetic – that separates us from families where suicide touches every generation.
I have often heard people say, “well, everyone feels anxious or depressed sometimes.” That is true. I believe every human being has the capacity to feel depressed and many will experience some measure of it in their lifetime. Depression comes from loss, either experienced or feared.
Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we have, and depression is the mechanism of that despair… In depression, the meaninglessness of every enterprise and every emotion, the meaninglessness of life itself, becomes self-evident. The only feeling left in this loveless state is insignificance. – Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon
The more fiercely I love, the brighter and more beautiful the world can appear. However, each time I feel that pure joy and connectedness, the more I fear and mourn its loss even while I still have it.
How could someone like Robin Williams, who understood joy and laughter so well, feel such devastation? Perhaps at every moment, he experienced keenly the ephemeral nature of comedy. He knew better than anyone that the laughter always stops and is replaced by an empty pause until the next laugh comes. He lived in that silence, in the interstices, as much as in the laughter. Perhaps in the end, he made his home there.
My hometown, Columbus, is growing and changing all the time. I feel like I’m always just scratching the surface when I visit. I cannot BELIEVE how artsy and fabulous Columbus has become. Every time I come here, I hardly recognize it. And yet it remains a hidden gem, forever stuck with the “cow town “label.
Columbus has always had a quirky, unruly side to it. Increasingly, outsiders are becoming aware of our growing national sports scene and all the quirky and beautiful neighborhoods in Columbus, from Clintonville and Worthington in the North, to the Shortnorth Arts District and the historic German Village further South. There is just too much to write about if I tried to include everything I love about artsy, foodie, LGBT-friendly, politically-raucous, alternative Columbus. (Ever heard of Jeni’s ice cream?)
This is just a rundown of some cool events and places I learned about during this visit.
I visited this amazing, up-and-coming space yesterday. One of the makers here, Matthew Hatcher, treated us to an impromptu tour of the space, ostensibly the largest “makerspace” in the world. The neighborhood is called “The Bottoms,” and the building was once a shoe factory, but now it houses some of the most sophisticated and innovatice technology invented in recent years. For the price of a few classes and a membership fee, you can use their many high-tech tools to create art, products and prototypes, or dabble in more traditional crafts such as wood-turning and blacksmithing.
This thought-provoking and beautiful installation is part of the 20th annual “Blooms and Butterflies” exhibition at the conservatory. You can hear Tasha talk about how she created these butterflies using cyanotype printing techniques on fabric in this interview on the local cultural show, Broad and High.
Erick Swenson’s work was featured at the 2004 Whitney Biennial and now occupies a place in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Saatchi Collection in London. Swenson uses his arresting sculptures and installations to “create scenes of haunting, verisimilitudinous perfection… Cast in resin, the sculptures don’t exude the expected revulsion or gore, but rather a beatific reverence.” The show also features work by artists Inka Essenhigh and Diana al-Hadid.
The Canzani Center is the happening gallery at my old art school, the Columbus College of Art and Design. In recent years, like much else in Columbus, the school has expanded and grown to occupy a greater niche in the cultural life of the city.
It is difficult to get out of this lovely shop without breaking the bank. It is so hipster, it’s metahipster. Buy gifts for all the coolest people in your life, from babybibs made from old concert tees to to screen-printed shirts glibly referencing pop-culture touchstones. Much of the inventory is handcrafted by local artisans, from hand-printed tea towels to beautiful, laser-cut jewelry. If Etsy was a physical place you could visit, it would look like this store. The store also offers classes in various crafts like sewing and knitting.
Farmer’s Markets Galore
Visit one of the many, many farmer’s markets here (and there are actual farms in Ohio where the stuff comes from.) To search for an Ohio farmer’s market near you, visit the Ohio Proud website.
I have driven to Columbus from the East Coast countless times. From Baltimore and Washington through the West Virginia mountains there is a deafening absence of good radio stations. I bide my time until about an hour out from Columbus when I can tune into CD102.5 FM. This station has been a fixture in Columbus since 1990! Every time I find it on the dial, I discover new musical artists. Not only do they play original music at all hours of the day, the station’s team of old-school radio DJs play live music on air from “The Big Room” and interview musicians from all over the world. The CD102.5 truck is ubiquitous at Columbus local events and they are constant sponsor of musical and cultural events in the city. The website is more than an online address, but a community bulletin board for those “in the know.”
This one is for the foodies. After reading all the reviews for this place, I couldn’t help trying it. I was amazed by the food and the cocktails. Try an Old Fashioned #2, the Truffled Fries, or the Fig Pizza. My husband also said his burger was the best he’d ever tasted! There are scads of wonderful eateries popping up all over Columbus as well as old standbys. There is even an huge food truck festival downtown in the summer.
Unfortunately, the “Exploring Calvin and Hobbes” exhibit at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library is now over. I’m kicking myself for having missed it. But never fear. If you are a true devotee of the mischievous Calvin and his tiger friend, you may request individual holdings, including original artwork, in the reading room. Search the catalog and contact the library staff at email@example.com before you visit.
I will end with one of the most impressive and ambitious projects in Columbus, the beautification and restoration of the riverfront. Columbus, FINALLY got wise that it has a RIVERFRONT! For years it was a fairly dead place except when it came alive during certain events like Red, White, and Boom! and the Jazz and Ribs Festival. Now, thanks to new, wide walking paths and public fountains in Bicentenniel Park, it is becoming a community meeting spot. Also, over the next few years, the river, which was dammed for a hundred years and known for its chocolatey-brown color, is being restored to its naturally flowing state. Check out the website for all of the art and musical events going on by the river!
Well, I hope you enjoyed my little bit of cheerleading for my home town. I’m on my way back to Germany on Saturday… these trips home are always too short!!
However, I’m looking forward to getting back to the studio, fresh and newly inspired!
Whew! It has been a busy summer. Back in Ohio at the moment. Often when I travel, I just can’t find my creative groove and my sketchbook lies forgotten at the bottom of my suitcase for the whole trip.
This time has been different, though. My inspiration? A short little family camping trip in the Hocking Hills of Ohio. There, I got to know a family of crows while I drank my coffee each morning on the screened porch overlooking a thick stand of hemlocks and birch trees. Each morning they would call to each other back and forth, occasionally swooping like shadows through the trees. It got me thinking about how incredibly intelligent these beautiful animals are, how socially complex, and how powerful they are as symbols in many cultures.
I’ve decided that my next etching will be based on the small sketch I did in the bottom of the photo above. What do you think?
I hesitated for a long time to experiment with abstraction. Here’s a secret: a lot of us so-called realists believe, deep down inside, that abstraction – good abstraction – is really hard and we lack the imagination to develop our own visual language. At least, that’s what I thought before I decided to play with it in a serious way.
But now that I’ve completed forty-two of my illumination studies, plus a half-dozen small paintings for this series, I can definitely see something emerging.
Certain shapes, colors, and feelings pop up again and again, like a recurring dream or obsessive doodle drawn over and over. And, in spite of my fear that abstraction would not feel true for me, I see many echos of my past work in them, even echos of my realistic paintings. I feel ready to explore this language more in a larger piece.
Here is my latest batch. As always, you can find these and the rest of the series in my Etsy shop.
It has been a busy week around here. Still recovering from our trip to Berlin, my husband and I are now getting ready to go back to the States to visit family in New Mexico. I feel like I blink and the day is gone, and then the week is gone and there are so many things I need to do. I had two blogging goals for this week: write a post about our amazing street art tour in Berlin, and write an update about my newest watercolors.
I wish I could write more about Berlin, including our visit to the Martin Gropius Bau museum to see Ai Weiwei’s show. But I’ll just slip in one of my favorite pictures from the trip: me in front of the Brandenburg Gate!
So, on to my new studies.
As you know from my previous post, this series is a new direction for me, inspired by my meditation process and forms found in nature. I have become especially intrigued by little sphere and canoe-shapes, which I continue to play with in various forms.
I don’t exactly know where all this is going right now, but I can say it’s just fun not knowing. Letting go a little bit and just feeling free. By the way, all of these are available in my Etsy shop.
One idea that has come to me again and again is the idea of an exploding or broken mandala:
In others, I’ve just been experimenting with interactions between spherical shapes and the little leaves or petals that are beginning to form a motif through the work.
Then I decided to march them across the page in “streams.”
Next, I tried muted colors and then “zooming in” on the shapes.
When we get back from New Mexico, I hope I’ll feel refreshed and ready to blow these ideas up into bigger works in acrylic and maybe even spray paint.
So, I’m still on a high from our trip to Berlin over the long weekend. The most amazing part? This street art tour and workshop. I found it doing a simple Google search and clearly it was a steal so I booked it right away and could barely sleep I was so excited about it…. because I am just that much of an art nerd!
I don’t know what I expected from our guide, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Rob (not his street moniker) was an experienced graffiti artist who got his start in Perth, Australia before spending the last four years in Berlin. He had a deep knowledge of the history of street art and graffiti in an international context and an insider’s knowledge of the Berlin scene. We jumped from neighborhood to neighborhood, via train and bus, to see all the best and most interesting pieces.
It was interesting to me that I had already seen most of these online, just as I have seen just about every piece by Banksy, but never in person. Street art, above all other media, seems to straddle the line between personal, hand-created art and digital art because it depends on digital dissemination for its audience. And truly, I was amazed by some of the work we saw. I still maintain that seeing an artwork in person is by far the best way to experience it.
This building shows some of the more daring methods used to create graffiti, namely, either dangling upside down over the side of the building or repelling down the side, spray-painting as you go. But my favorite pieces show not just conquest of heights, but true artistic skill and imagination. This piece, by ROA, depicts species that were once native to the area of Berlin but have now vanished. He painted this entire piece free-hand from a cherry-picker.
This piece by Os Gemeos (the Twins) is in a neighborhood where many immigrants live and seems to depict a man who is possibly of Middle Eastern or North African descent. One of the first things I noticed about this was how different his two hands are, especially with a shortened fingernail on the left and a longer middle finger on the right hand.
This was the newest piece we saw, by Alice Pasquini. It is a charming and beautifully- painted series of sketches from her sketchbook. I like how she has taken a simple subject – a friend’s casual portrait – and turned it into something so sweeping and permanent.
If you have people in your life who are less inclined to view graffiti as art, you might want to take them on this tour. I’ve had a number of conversations with my husband, a former police officer, about whether various kinds of graffiti are legitimate or ethical. This tour gave us both a lot to think about. I think it’s interesting that the Berlin police have only 35 people devoted to combatting graffiti and tends to view it as a non-harmful crime. When people are caught, they are often only subject to a rather minimal fine. In my view, that looks a little like tacit endorsement. Berlin officials must be aware that street art and the graffiti on the Berlin wall are a huge part of the history and character that draws tourists to the city to begin with. So, they are reluctant to quash it as long as property owners refrain from pressing charges, which is the case most of the time.
After the tour, Rob took us back to the Black Market Collective in an old factory in former East Berlin where we, in his words, got to “create badass street art” of our own.
Step one: cut out the stencil. Step two: Spray paint the background. For this, we learned about a number of techniques including how to create a fade of one color into another and using various household objects to stencil graphic shapes into the background. Mike used a piece of a floral-patterned doormat. Since I was doing a picture of Spock, I created a fade and then used a hanger to stencil in the oval shapes in purple and green. It ended up looking like a strange, space- agey honeycomb pattern. Step two: Spray paint the stencil. I just love what Mike chose — a British cop with a baton in front of a psychedelic background. It actually says a lot about my husband, who is just as much of a paradox! Step Three: Rob showed me how to create some star shapes in the background using different methods. One was to simply splatter paint to create galaxies. The other was to press the can cap down upside down in a short spurt to make a comet. This was my favorite part of our trip to Berlin by far. I mean, how often do you get to create your own piece of original art to take home as a souvenir? And now that I feel more comfortable using spray paint, I’m seriously considering using it in some of my new paintings…. stay tuned for that!