Everyday thoughts on
By a human aspiring to be a cat
We all have moments when we feel small, when we feel incompetent and powerless, disillusioned with ourselves and with the world. Whether they're triggered by an action or an observation, weather changes or shifting of planets, those moments of despondency can sometimes turn into hours. Hours can stretch into a full day, then two days, then a full week, and so on. Oftentimes, the longer a "moment" lasts, the harder it can be to escape from it. The darkness weighs heavily and stifles you until the heart becomes mute.
Ideally, we want to break out of the cycle before reaching complete apathy. It is good to ask for help, to seek out a friend, a loved one, a trained professional: someone we can trust and someone who can shake us back into our own selves. Someone who can lead us to find the confidence to rise and stand on our own again. Because ultimately, our health and well-being is our own responsibility. It's like jumpstarting a car: you get the initial kick, but once the engine is on, it's up to you to do the driving. And then it's up to you to do the necessary maintenance. You want to make sure you don't need to attach jumper cables to another car every single time you need to go somewhere.
I am no doctor and no expert on clinical depression, and I realize that in severe cases of trauma and chemical imbalance you may need to "regulate" yourself by relying on external sources (drugs, therapy, etc). But I believe that all creatures go through seasonal ups and downs, and I believe that much of it can be self-managed. I think in the end it comes down to knowing yourself and to being honest with yourself. Knowing what opens up your heart, and what shuts it close. Shifting your perception away from thinking what you should feel to being aware of what you do feel and acknowledging it for what it is.
What makes things especially difficult for me is that much of my rational thinking goes out the window whenever the darkness hits. So I put my energy into preventive measures, that is, focusing on what keeps me balanced. There is a saying in Poland that goes something like this:
Within a healthy body resides a healthy spirit.
I was talking with my dad recently about my ideas for writing this post, and he pointed out to me that the Polish saying that I remember from my childhood actually comes from Latin:
Mens sana in corpore sano.
Which translates into:
Healthy mind in a healthy body.
Though the two have slightly different connotations, I find both to be very, very true. If I'm hungry, sick, tired from overworking or from a sleepless night, it is much easier for me to lose my temper, start arguments, hold on to grudges, and decide that my life is altogether meaningless. Taking care of my physical body is one of the best things I can do to take care of my mental health.
At some point, I also decided to make a sort of "emergency" cheat-list of things that I know are good for me, but I don't necessarily think of or feel like doing when the world sucks. Not everything on the list works every time, but usually something does, and it gives me enough of a push to get out of the funk. Here are some things that help me:
I'll say again: the most important thing is to be honest with yourself. Your body will often try to tell you what you need. It is good to learn to listen to it.
I have one more thought to add:
Taking care of our mental health is obviously an important thing to do for our own well being, but I think there is another great importance that's easy to overlook. How we act and how we feel affects not just us, but also everybody within our environment. Doing your best to keep healthy is simply the responsible thing to do, for yourself and for your community. Healthy individuals make up a healthy world.
I hope you find this helpful!
I notice that a lot of people who want to be an artist, want to be recognized as an artist this very millisecond. They want to be appreciated for their accomplishments. They want to be praised for their skill. They want to feel distinguished and unique. What I don't sense, from many people, is a need or a desire to go on the journey to get there and then to keep going beyond it. I don't know if it's a generational thing (age of instant everything), or a regional thing (US), or a planetary thing (it's always been this way). But I have some gripes with this.
Art, to me, is something that moves your soul, that soothes or stimulates your heart, that makes you realize something new or makes you question something new. It is an expression of a thought, or a feeling, or an observation. It is human made, and it is consciously made. A sunset is not art. A painting, or a photograph, or a carving of the sunset, or a song, a dance, a poem about or representing the sunset, those would be art. I observed something that made me feel/think, and I had the desire/need to express it. So I expressed it, in whatever medium I chose to do so. Simple and easy. Anyone and everyone can make art (I am not sarcastic here; I mean what I say, and I believe it is a beautiful thing). However, there are two slight complications.
The first: are you satisfied with your expression? Does your creation match the observation, thought, or feeling that originally inspired you to create? Are you fulfilled?
The second: does your expression communicate the observation, thought, or feeling that you wanted to communicate? Are you affected by your own creation? And if you choose to share it, are other humans affected by your creation?
Here, I believe, is where we need craft.
Craft, to me, is the ability to do something consistently and consciously, paired with the understanding of the something you are doing. It is being proficient in the mechanics of your chosen medium, and the skill and vision to fit small building blocks into the big picture. If you are making art through poetry, then learning the alphabet, vocabulary, grammar, the history of poetry, and the different styles of poetry (perhaps even refining your handwriting) would be working on your craft. The stronger your handle on your craft, the more choices of intentional expression you have.
Let's go back to our sunset. It was red and it made me a little happy and a little sad. The basic observation, a good start. But is that all you wanted/needed to say? Are you satisfied with "red"? Are there other words you can use, like crimson, or fire, or blood? How did other poets describe the colors/shapes of the sunsets they witnessed? What about your emotions? Is it nostalgia, a reminder of a past that's no longer here? Is it wistfulness with a twinge of regret, that something beautiful is coming to an end? Or a slowly growing sense of healing and peace, a resolution to a recent hardship, a new beginning on the horizon? Are the words you're choosing to describe the outer event (the sunset) in synergy with the inner event (your emotions)? Will the image burn through the night, or is it a pallid, dying flame? Is it a comforting warmth, or an empty, lackluster light? Are you using a particular form or a rhyme? Are you changing traditional capitalization or punctuation, or giving a whole line to a single word to bring attention to it?
I think the same ideas can be applied to other forms of art. Can you play or sing with a clean tone, with accuracy, with sensitivity? Can you use your carving or painting tools with ease? Do you know your proportions, angles, shapes, light? Do you have control over your body, the size and speed of your steps, the coordination between your feet, your hands, your torso? Greater understanding and mechanical ability leads to a greater spectrum of expression. This means you can be more intentional. You can be more specific. You can communicate more closely what you want to communicate. Mastery over your craft gives you flexibility and freedom of choice.
I believe that good art comes from good craft. Or in other words, I believe that good craft often leads to good art. The two are intertwined. I believe that if you hunger for art, it is inevitable that you will turn towards craft, because at some point you will decide that you need more practice with your language before you can keep playing with your poetry. The deeper you go, the deeper you need to keep going. It is a natural progression.
So here is my gripe. The journey towards artistry is yours to take and yours to make. Your family, your friends, your audience may encourage you. But the task to get there (and to keep on going!), to seek, to observe, to express in a way that communicates something and that fulfills you, that is ultimately up to you. I do believe that everyone should have some kind of artistic pursuits and aspirations, at whatever level they may be. It is a healthy and beautiful thing, and we need more of it in the world. But the instant you demand attention or praise (or money), you have the responsibility to do your absolute best. I believe that if you choose to ignore that responsibility, then you are no artist; you are simply a person who is demanding praise and attention, not for the sake of art, but to fulfill your own ego, seeking external validation rather than internal satisfaction and growth. And if you choose to embrace that responsibility, I think that to do your absolute best, you have to take your time. Study, practice, refine. Before you become an "artist", you have to become a "craftist" first.