Stand by for Breakthrough…

My breakthrough piece!

My breakthrough piece!

My formal schooling is in English literature and poetry, as many of you know. However, I’ve lately been dabbling in the visual arts, which I’ve done most of my life, but for the past few months, I’ve been very intentional about it, drawing nearly every day and sharing my work on Instagram.

The other day, I had a breakthrough—I let the work guide me.

Allow me to explain: because of my training in writing, specifically creative writing and poetry, I have a bunch of tools in my writer’s toolbox so to speak. What I mean by this is that when I’m stuck, I have methods of pushing through. Put simply, I know how to “play” with language. If a prompt isn’t speaking to me, I move to another. If I’m experiencing writer’s block, I repeat what I just wrote until a new thought comes. I’m fairly comfortable with my writing sounding terrible in the first draft because I know I have the skill set to fix it up. I’m not intimidated by the “shitty first draft,” as Anne Lamott so eloquently puts it.

But when it comes to visual art, I’m terrified by that shitty first draft. After all, when you make a mark with paint, you can’t just cut it out and paste it somewhere else (like the trash) as you can easily do with writing. What happens when a mark I make isn’t what I want? What happens when I don’t know where to start? How can I “play” as freely as I do with language?

Over the past few months, I’ve been working diligently to add some tools to my artist’s toolbox and have done so fairly successfully by studying the work of artists like Lisa Congdon and Shantell Martin on platforms like Skillshare and Creativebug. (For a more comprehensive discussion of how I’ve come to accept my art as well as information on the tools I use, listen to the fifth episode of my podcast here).

As mentioned earlier, I recently had a breakthrough. Like with writing, I think I finally learned to “go with the flow” of my art and let the process guide me instead of me making the art piece strictly what I wanted.

I was inspired the other day to try my hand at a profile because of artists I follow on Instagram. It started out as a person, but as you can see from the finished product above, it turned into a lizard girl.

See? Totally needs texture!

See? Totally needs texture!

When I started adding color, I first added a darker flesh tone on the forehead, which I liked. However, the more of that particular color I added to the face, the more I didn’t like it. So, I scrolled through my digital color palette and found a color I liked–green. Without hesitation, I slathered that on. But when I stepped back, I realized I wanted more texture, so I added some scallop scales and, voila, my lizard girl was born!

This is really the first time where I trusted the artistic process and wasn’t afraid to stray from my original concept. Normally, I have an idea in my head and force it, even when the piece is clearly calling for a different approach or simply isn’t working. When I was adding green to the girl, it was fairly easy to silence the critic in my head that was saying “Hey, people don’t have green skin!” The part of me that said, “Yeah, but let’s just see what happens!” was way louder. I think this is because I’ve been practicing my hand at other techniques, so my “letting go” muscle has been exercised enough in preparation for a moment like this.

Is this piece the best thing I’ve ever made? Nope, but I’m really excited about this breakthrough and can’t wait to see what else I make when exercising my “letting go” muscle in the future.

What Makes You Vulnerable?

“My weakness I feel I must finally show.”
Awake My Soul, Mumford and Sons

This post is a bit darker than usual, but I feel I can’t break my hiatus from posting written blog entries until this one is seen.

To answer the question posed in this post’s title: What makes me vulnerable? Asking for help when I am so incredibly depressed I lose my words.

Now let me put this in context: Around the end of June of this year, I felt…off.  I don’t really know how else to describe it. I’m typically fairly calm, content, and level-headed, but I found myself off center. I was snapping at those closest to me and always felt either fuming angry or deeply sad. There was no in between. Thus started three months of the worst depression I have ever faced.

I don’t know where it came from or why it never left during that time period, but there it was when I woke up in the morning, haunting me throughout the day, and keeping me from sleep.  There was much crying and frustration and voices (yes, voices, which makes me sound schizophrenic. But it’s more common than you think.) I couldn’t do anything without crying. I knew there was a problem, but didn’t know what the source was, which near made me go insane.

What was the most maddening for me during this time was the fact that I’m a writer…but I had no words. When my fiancee or a friend or a family member would ask me what was wrong in a genuine attempt to help (which I am so grateful for), I had nothing to tell them. I wasn’t trying to be coy or less of a burden. I legit had no idea what was wrong with me. I eventually stopped reaching out because it seemed pointless.

I kind of felt like Vincent Van Gogh, as portrayed in Doctor Who. During one of Van Gogh’s fits of madness, he has a short conversation with the Doctor:

The Doctor: Vincent, can I help?
Van Gogh: It’s so clear you cannot help. And when you leave—and everyone always leaves—I will be left once more with an empty heart and no hope.
The Doctor: My experience is that there is, you know, surprisingly always hope.
Van Gogh: Then your experience is incomplete! I know how it will end. And it will not end well.

For months, I felt exactly as the artist did in the previous exchange. I felt as if everyone always left me, and I was always alone. I felt like this experience I was having would end very badly.

I don’t think that people should live without hope, but I do think that everyone reaches a point where they truly believe there is none. I agree with Van Gogh in the sense that if someone has not experienced that, then her experience of life is incomplete. But the point isn’t to stay there. It is to rise and get help.

I know it’s a cliche saying, but it is true that sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to go anywhere but up.  That’s where I was, and I decided to just fold into myself. I didn’t reach out, as mentioned before, and tried to deal on my own (This didn’t go well. If you’re experiencing depression, please tell someone). I watched depressing movies so I could cry. Sometimes it was all I could do not to hyperventilate. And in between all this, fielding the voices in my head, and fighting just to go out and see the sun on so-so days, I made it my goal to find words for whatever it was I was feeling.  In the process, I amassed a pretty good collection (some of which I’ve already shared in this post, with more quotes to come).

Now to circle back to the question posed in the beginning of the post: I was vulnerable during my depression, especially because I didn’t have words. But, somehow (and very thankfully), I moved past that to ask for help again. It wasn’t fancy. It wasn’t pretty. But I started to say, to a trusted few, things like “Something’s wrong,” and “I can’t take this anymore, but I don’t know what to do,” and “I don’t know what this is.” And people stepped in. My fiance, my friends, and family checked in on me. They made sure I had everything I needed. They skyped with me in a minute’s notice. They got me out of my apartment.

It’s hard for me to accept help. I think part of this hearkens back to the movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” One of the main characters says, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I wanted to soldier through the depression on my own because I wanted to be independent, but I also didn’t want to be a nuisance. The kind gestures of those closest to me showed me that I deserve a love much better than what I originally thought, and I try to carry that knowledge with me wherever I go now.

After getting help, both personal and professional, I’m feeling better. I’ve been ok for about a month now, and I can’t fully express how refreshing it is. I’m back to being myself. I still get frustrated and blue, but it’s manageable and in proportion with the circumstances I face. And I also get happy and smile a lot. But more than that, I’m content. While some may see content as being “middle of the road,” for me, right now, there is no sweeter feeling than to just be satisfied with where I am.

I must give credit where credit is due: There are two web sites (one blog post and one TED talk) that really pushed me to be brave and write this post: Natalie’s “The Lies in Our Heads” and Brene Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability.”  Thank you, ladies, for sharing your stories.

In her TED talk, Brene Brown talks about telling “the story of who you are with your whole heart” and having “the courage to be imperfect.” That’s what this post is for me. That’s why I felt I couldn’t post anything else before I wrote this. I had to learn that being depressed wasn’t my fault. I had to learn that it’s ok to be imperfect and ask for help, spreading that messiness to others who can do something positive. And I needed you, the reader, to know this and, perhaps, let what I’ve learned sink into your own life.

Epilogue: I was seriously thinking of making this a private post just so I could write it, but only for me to see. So why make it public? Because I’m starting to find words and, as a writer, it’s important for me that I put those words out in the open, knowing that this could backfire or that not one person besides myself will read this or care. But even in the times when I don’t believe in myself, I know that risk is worth it, that the written word infused with authenticity has the power to change everything. Aside from authentic human relationships with the closest people in my life, it is all that has ever changed me.

Here are some of the other words I found to help me through my journey and articulate what I was feeling:

“Do not ask the price I paid. I must live with my quiet rage.
Tame the ghosts in my head. They’re unwild and wish me dead.”
Lover’s Eyes, Mumford and Sons

“I feel fine, and I can smile,
But I feel the anger coming.
It’s underneath.
I don’t know why
It’s always overflowing.
It’s a constant fight
Deep inside,
And I wanna forget it.

I confess I’m always afraid, always ashamed
Of what’s inside me.
I confess I’m always afraid, always ashamed
Of what’s inside my head.

And I can breath, and I still feel,
But not the way I want to.
I’m on the edge. I don’t know how
I can escape this nightmare.”
Confession (What’s Inside My Head), RED

“You’re so mean when you talk about yourself. You were wrong.
Change the voices in your head. Make them like you instead.”
Fuckin’ Perfect, Pink

“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
(Thanks for sharing, Stephanie Levy!)

Adventures in Acrylic

The art class painting away!

The art class painting away!

Back when I was a kid and classes took a regular trip to the room with paint-splattered tables, I remember loving acrylic paint: the smell, the feel of it messing up my hands, the smoothness with which it colored the canvas.  But I remember the medium not liking me very much.  Even as a wee artist, I knew I didn’t have the best sense of proportion, shading, or dimension, though I couldn’t name these terms yet.

Yesterday, I took an acrylic painting class at Art Uncorkd in Whippany, New Jersey. I walked in and found it was a nice, small gallery space with a custom framing section and plenty of room for a painting class You’re even allowed to bring a snack and some beer/wine if you like!

The class was two hours long, and the instructor was great.  She took us through a step by step process of making our own interpretation of a picture very similar to this painting:Photo Jan 22, 7 13 19 PM

I decided to do something a little different.  I essentially cut the picture in half and only painted the right half (all of those fish were intimidating!).  At first, I thought I messed up right off the bat because my light half circle of water in the middle was not blending in to well with the rest of the color I put down.  But the instructor gave me some tips to smooth it out. The rest of the class and painting all the fishies was a lot of fun!

When I first sat down in front of my blank canvas, I was prepared to create something that, while fun to paint, wouldn’t live up to my perfectionist expectations. But for the first time, I pleasantly surprised myself!  Here is my finished product:

Koi Pond_LV Watermark Koi Pond_Side View

And here is a group shot of all the participants with the finished pieces:Photo Jan 22, 8 46 19 PM

I’m so happy with my finished piece!  So happy, in fact, that I worked up the nerve to list it in my Etsy shop, Lady Velociraptor.  Check out the listing here.

What is something new (or old) you have tried recently?  Did you like the results?

Rearview Mirror: A Look at Bucket List Items I’ve Accomplished

Road

Road (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

In yesterday’s post, I focused on my bucket list.  A few days before that, I posted an article about my goals for the new year.  Now I’d like to focus on things I’ve already done.

Ambition is great, but sometimes you’ve got to focus on how far you’ve already come, the road you’ve left behind. Here are some of the highlights from my 26 years (in no particular order):

  • Done a photoshoot with a band

    Yup, I took this :)  The band's name is JPT (short for Just Passing Thru)

    Yup, I took this 🙂 The band’s name is JPT (short for Just Passing Thru)

  • Met two of my fav bands – Coheed & Cambria and RED
    Me and Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria

    Me and Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria

    Me and the guys of RED

    Me and the guys of RED

     

  • Learned to shoot a gun
  • Mastered the xbox 360 controllers (There was a lot of time spent either looking at the ceiling or my character’s butt, but I eventually got the hang of it)
  • Became the first person in my family to get a Master’s degree
  • Participated in a dildo relay race (Rocky Horror Picture Show. ‘Nuff said.)
  • Moved out on my own
  • Had my first poem published
  • Survived high school
  • Found the man I want to spend the rest of my life with (He’ll deny it, but he’s the absolute bestest 🙂 )
  • Visited 10 states
  • Led poetry workshops and talks at two high schools and a senior citizen center
  • Made my own pasta from scratch
  • Dressed up for a convention (several times!)

    Me as Rocker Nana from the anime, Nana.  This costume was made mostly by a friend of mine and she kindly let me wear it.

    Me as Rocker Nana from the anime, Nana. This costume was made mostly by a friend of mine and she kindly let me wear it.

  • Me as Trinity saying "Dodge This" to one of my friends.

    Me as Trinity saying “Dodge This” to one of my friends.

  • Made a costume that I’m proud of, most of which I made by myself

    Me as Patti from the anime, Souleater.  I made the hat, tie, and shirt.

    Me as Patti from the anime, Souleater. I made the hat, tie, and shirt.

  • The actual Patti

    The actual Patti

  • Pumped my own gas
  • Read my work at several open mic nights
  • Taught at the college level
  • Started a freelance way of life

I’m pretty excited about that last one.  This year should prove interesting since I’m going to be freelancing full time.  It’ll definitely be a ride!  But that’s what life is about, right?

What are some things you’ve accomplished that you are proud of?

Sunday Morning Playlist

Music - an art for itself - Headphones and mus...

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a music related entry.  I love finding new bands and artists (and recently discovered Pandora Radio… “new music” post to come soon).  In that spirit, I put together a playlist showcasing a sampling of what I’ve been listening to lately in hopes that people can find a new song or two to add to their mp3 player.   So here it is: a collection of what I consider some funky, killer, and risque tunes!


Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Seeing RED

I got to meet the guys of one of my favorite bands last month.  It was St. Patrick’s Day. While most people wear green on this day, all I saw was RED (I know, I know, terrible pun).  I’ve been a fan of this band since before their first album was released.  I first heard their music back in 2006 on Myspace (gasp!).  I was hooked.  When I heard they were offering the chance for six fans to hang out with them during each stop of their latest tour, I knew I had to go.

And I did.  And the guys were awesome — funny, down-to-earth, talented dudes.  I was the first person to step onto the tour bus.  I had no idea what to say, so I just said “Hi!”  Before I knew it, I had shaken hands with each of them and was sitting next to the drummer.  We hung out for about 30 – 45 minutes and talked about everything from their new album to the fact that they had a fight with a taser a while back.  It was definitely one of those “I can’t believe I get to live this life” moments.

I went to this concert with a friend of mine who works for a magazine.  She was able to get a press pass (Thanks, Suzy!)  This means that during RED’s set, I was in their faces taking pictures.  See?

I will never forget being in the press pit, headbanging, singing, and clicking away with the SLR.  Now, I never have high expectations when trying to take pictures at a concert because most of them turn out to be unintentional light paintings.  But sometimes, you get shots like this:

 

 

The Link Between Grief and Song

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between grief and singing.  I know these can be thought of as pretty disparate concepts; one is filled with anguish and the other is (usually) associated with beauty.  And yet I can’t help but think they are inextricably linked.

I’m reminded of a poem by Jane Hirshfield called “If the Rise of the Fish”.  In this poem she writes, “If the leaves.  If the singing fell upward.  If grief./For a moment if singing and grief.”  I love these lines.  What would happen if singing and grief existed together in the same space for a moment?  What would that look like?  Would it be a mixture of light and dark?  Would it look gray and muddled or luminous?  I’m not quite sure but I love the fact that Hirshfield plays with this concept.

As far as my own creative process is concerned, I tend to write when going through a hardship.  Tension, living in the gray and unknown is what moves me to write.  And this creative process is helped along by music.  Most of my process has been influenced by the belief that tragedy is not necessarily found in the process of enduring a rough time; the real loss would be doing nothing to turn hardship into something beautiful.

There is a song by RED that I find myself going back to.  It’s called “Hymn for the Missing.”  Although these guys are pretty hard rockers, they compose some beautiful instrumentals.  And I think this song illustrates the concept of melding grief and beauty really well.  The lyrics clearly convey loss: “Where are you now?  Are you lost?  Will I find you again?  Are you alone?  Are you afraid?  Are you searching for me?  Why did you go?  I had to stay.  Now I’m reaching for you.  Will you wait?  Will you wait?  Will I see you again?”  So many questions.  I can’t help but think of this verse as depicting the bargaining stage of grief.  The uncertainty leads to questions, but questions don’t always lead to answers.  And still, we put them out there.  In the backdrop of this song is a beautiful piano arrangement that crescendos into an absolutely gorgeous, full instrumental – a reminder that grief and song can complement each other in the most heart-breaking, stunning way.  Listen to “Hymn for the Missing” here:

Hymn For The Missing

 

As I mentioned before, Red is a rock band so I wanted to showcase what they can do.  Check out their face-melting performance on Conan back in February: