When I was in high school and college, I spent a lot of time in the darkroom. There, I could completely immerse myself in the task, a retreat from anything that troubled me in my life. Nothing existed but the prints that I was developing, not my studies or my social anxiety, just the prints. I left it all outside and was completely present with what I was making.
As the years passed and I made photo mosaics, I found the same escape. A stressful job, the social anxiety, and the lack of direction I felt ceased to exist when I was creating. I was completely present with my work.
With such aching hearts, some writers are finding it hard to make their art in 2017. With everything that is on the news, some writers are finding it hard immerse themselves in their work. Three devastating hurricanes. Injustice. Climate change deniers. Neo Nazis who feel perfectly at ease marching in the streets, assaulting people, and declaring their hate for other humans. Worse still, those who make excuses for them.
And mass shootings. Just when we think they can’t get any worse, they do. The incident in Vegas feels unimaginable. But not only did the shooter imagined it, he planned it, worked out the logistics, and carried it out.
That is a sad and tragic and destructive misuse of the human imagination.
My year has had its darkness, too, not because of what’s in the news but because of depression.
It’s doing everything it can to destroy me. I have a lot of coping mechanisms. My schedule is filled with them. But the one place where it doesn’t have that power over me is when I’m creating art.
I’ve asked myself, “How do I live with this?” and I don’t just mean the day-to-day stuff, how do I stay moving and get treatment and all that. I mean, how do I live, fully and fearlessly? How do I take on the world when my biochemistry wants me to stay in bed?
I’m still working that out, but the best answer I’ve come up with is to make art.
Art is life.
Depression is a kind of death. It’s a spiritual death, a gangrenous rot that sets in and slowly kills the life within your spirit.
It tries very hard to keep me from doing what I was put on this earth to do. It’s an expert at making up stories about why I shouldn’t try to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life. It gives me all kinds of compelling excuses for why I should stand quietly on the sidelines. It’s intention for doing so is a story for another day, but if I want to live the life that I imagine for myself, then I have to fight that gangrenous rot. I have to fight the darkness, and I have to fight to live. Every day.
Making art is my fight for life. I do it even when the gangrenous rot creeps in, and I am revived, and I go on to fight another day.
Art is life.
It goes both ways, too. I can’t tell you how many creative works have been my light through depression: authors like Kurt Vonnegut and Margaret Atwood; TV shows like 30 Rock and The Mindy Project; and graphic novel series, like Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.
The world needs you to create your work to get through this darkness. It needs your art so it has something to fight for, something to live for. It also needs you to call your Congresspeople, send aid, deliver meals, give blood, volunteer, help your neighbor, talk to someone who feels hopeless and alone, and, yes, protest. Those things matter, but so does making art.
The world needs your art, so they know that there are others stories besides the one they’re living in, the one that is filled with darkness and death. They need a story to be shown that they are not alone in their struggles. They need a story that will give them hope, laughter, and light.
The world needs your art, so it can get through this period of darkness and others like it to come. And when the world comes out on the other side of it, it will need your art to remember that there is also light.
Art heals. Art restores. Art is life.
Photo from Unsplash, by Joel Filipe.