It's been a couple of months since I've blogged, but since I never mentally committed to blogging regularly I've decided to not feel guilty about it. It would be nice to be consistent with most things, but since this season has been all about opening up horizons and seeing what sticks/what doesn't I've learned to, for the time being, ride the waves of building a creative career rather than trying to control them. However, I thought it would be good to give an update as I start transitioning into a new creative season and 2018 rounds out. It may help explain some of the new pieces you'll see popping up on my feed.
RED SEASON 2019
Right now, I'm sitting in my studio on a comfy office chair I inherited from a neighbor down the hall who moved out a few months ago. My shoes are off and legs propped up on a cart- I'm focusing on my breathing and trying to bring my heart rate down with a mixture of mindfulness and CBD oil. If I don't get my mind to a calm place, soon I'll have a hard time focusing my eyes on what I'm working on, my stomach will start to hurt, my chest will get tight, and I'll be unable to finish the day's work as I try to discern if this is just anxiety or I'm having a heart attack (rest assured, it's definitely anxiety). I just finished sanding a few pairs of earrings and I'm gazing at a series of red paintings I'm working on for a band who has a release in a few months. I haven't used the color red in my work (at least in pure form) in over a decade, but the color has arrived onto my radar of visual elements and will probably be present in every single piece for at least the next six months. I've had a series brewing in my mind with the working title Anxious Magician for over a year, ever since moving to San Diego and for the first time in a long time having to really get a handle on what has plagued nearly my whole life: Anxiety.
Red is the color of anxiety to me. One drop of it on a neutral plane will completely dominate the entire surface. It is passionate, fearful, commanding, and electrifies whatever colors it's next to. It drives the narrative of wherever it dwells, and though it is far from a favorite color, it is THE color I'll be working with. Suffice to say, I have an anxiety disorder. This is not news to me, nor is it uncommon. It's not an easy world to live in, and through a mixture of genetics and circumstances myself and many, many other people are treated for anxiety disorders. As much as the experience has sucked, it's been manageable enough that with great effort I've been able to get a degree and hold down a career. It's also been the fuel for pretty much every single artistic endeavor of mine. Whenever people look at the work I do and praise my talent and marvel at the magic of art, I have a private chuckle over the struggles that have motivated my love for music and painting. As crazy as this next sentence sounds, many artists will agree: I make things because existing is hard with out the therapeutic ability to create. Thus, the title Anxious Magician perfectly describes my lived experience as an artist. I make beautiful things, but I do so because life is impossible with out making.
A MAP OF ANXIETY
In an attempt to understand my struggles with mental health, I've read up a ton on the brain's amygdala: the tiny, round two-sided structure in the center of everyone's brain that control's the body's flight or fight response when under perceived danger. It's connection to your body's adrenal glands can create a cascade of physical symptoms that prepare you to either fight to the death or hide away under piles of blankets while shivering for hours on end like a Chihuahua. In my brain, this tiny mass of gray matter works with the rest of the sympathetic nervous system to flood my body with stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) over situations that normally shouldn't cause such a response. On my worst days, it feels like my life has been hijacked by a tiny red army and I'm bed-ridden from trying to come down from a state of war. On my best days, with therapy and yoga/journaling/etc, I'm able to channel this powerful red army into a creative practice and bless the world with artwork.
But, to be completely transparent, for the last year and a half my anxiety has gotten totally out of control, bat shit crazy bad. The exact reasons why still kind of evade me, but I have some guesses and with the help of therapy some professional clarity. A year and a half ago I moved to the happiest, most chillest and sunny place on earth... San Diego. I absolutely LOVE it here and can genuinely say that I'm the HAPPIEST I've ever been (shout out to married life being awesome). However, previous to San Diego I lived and worked in Chicago, a city whose foundation is ambition, loyalty, stress, and the idea that suffering builds character. Not only did I endure -40 degree with windchill winters and normalized violence, I was a teacher. My job was immensely stressful and my self-induced work habits were even worse. I'm midwestern through and through, I was raised on the idea that constant work is the meaning of life. I love the midwest (rather reluctantly) and Chicago with my entire being. I never, ever questioned the way of life because it was what I was used to...until I moved to Southern California.
On the west coast, people value being over doing. Thus, SD has been a total fish out of water experience that's brought on some pretty hard self revelations. Asking myself the question "who are you outside of what you've accomplished?" has made me realize that a decade of ignoring my body's burn out warning signs caused damage to my mental and physical health. I am physically unable to return to the productivity level I had back then with out coming down with cold sweats and chest pain (I have had my heart checked a few times, don't worry, I don't have a heart condition... anxiety is just that bad). Coming down from the high of constant ambition-fueled adrenaline is not pretty, and in this adjustment period I've had to constantly revisit what healthy life rhythms look like. After a year and a half of trying to figure out what's wrong, I'm currently exploring with my therapist the probability of having PTSD. I won't get into details over what specifically caused the PTSD, but I will say that for a long time I just didn't take care of or advocate for myself, and now I have this giant ass health mountain to climb.
All that to say, I have grandiose visions of turning Anxious Magician into a perfectly curated series of pieces that map out how anxiety takes over the brain and how the brain's neuroplasticity allows it to be healed through therapeutic creativity. I have big visions of overcoming my current hurdles and coming out a healthier person. I've tried to blog about this over and over again from an angle of having it all under control, but the truth is I am very much still in the midst of learning the difference between healing and managing anxiety. I'm not in the place yet to deliver a complete statement on the what and how, but I think it's still important to open up about the process. So now, when you see the color red in my work these next few months, you'll know what it's all about.
Onward and upwards!