We’ve all seen that hashtag on stupid memes and as captions for the rich, famous, and spoiled, but not so much on the humblest and hardest working people. It often seems they’re the ones who suffer quietly and simply get things done while their achievements go overlooked. While I totally understand how it’s easy with all the ugly things going on in the world to want to lighten up the mood with jokes (hey, we all got ‘em), it makes me sad to realize how many of us are suffering on the inside. If we look long enough at history’s most famous scenes, we will find many true stories of loss, poverty, and illness behind them.
What I’m learning as I continue on my own journey is growth only happens when we choose to share our struggles. My experience seems to be we tend to stand solid in the belief we’re islands, our problems are solely ours, and nobody could possibly understand. However, we can all understand (sympathy), even when we can not relate (empathy) and that’s a tough space to be for a lot of people who are seeking support.
Two and a half years ago I experienced a crazy year when ten people died in the span of seven months. It started with one of my best friends committing suicide (unexpected for me, although as time passed I learned she had planned it) and it turned my world upside down. That same year I lost my job because management couldn’t understand what was wrong with me, was dumped when my boyfriend at the time said he couldn’t understand why I was taking this so hard for so long (this was three months and five deaths in), and everything I thought I knew about myself, life, friendships, family, love, spirituality, mental health, education, career, and everything in between became nothing more than a gigantic question mark.
Ann-Marie was a friend who shaped my being; I’d never be me had our paths not crossed one day in a bookstore, and her death continues to motivate me to do my very best. She would never want me to wallow which is why it’s her laughter I recall in moments of much needed guidance. I never heard her complain about a pain she couldn’t escape. She was not alone and neither am I in this aftermath. Neither are you, no matter what ails you.
Art is not just about pretty images and happily ever after stories, it’s not always sunshine and walks in the park, and it rarely ends with a studio in SoHo and a publishing deal. There are some wicked dark sides to it. There are judgments and criticisms and hardships and sacrifices, but we don’t think of those obstacles. People flee the most gruesome life situations in hopes for a better life and if we’re lucky, they choose to share their stories with us after they’ve taken time to heal and find a safe, positive, and healthy outlet. Sometimes their art is presented to us in printed word or as spray painted street murals. Other times, if we choose to see it, it will come to us in the form of fashion, performance, landscaping, baking, painting, or music.
You might be wondering, “What the hell does any of this have to do with art?” Everything! I’m an example of someone who, on paper, lost everything and was reborn with art. I had no more desk job and spreadsheets to analyze, no more medical benefits and pre-tax transit cards; I had nothing more than a blank slate and infinite choices. I chose to be vulnerable, ignore my insecurities and use my writing and photography to tell our stories. When was the last time you were true to yourself? When was the last time you saw yourself as something other than a robot sitting at a desk with no free time to do fun things like visit the NY Botanical Garden or hit up that beginner’s art class?
People are hardly creating anything of their own; it’s become normal to plant kids in front of a tv or device so they can watch YouTube videos of other people’s kids playing with games instead of us taking them to dance or drum classes or supporting local museums by enrolling them in clay sculpting or watercolor paints workshops. We are so overwhelmed by the demands and horrid news we are forgetting to share our struggles in hopes people care enough to listen and create a path toward healing or coping. It takes a village for ALL of us.
Being an artist is not for the elite and it doesn’t have to be about sketching (or it could if that’s what you uncover as your passion) – it’s about opening up and accepting we are not alone. Our struggles are real, but we’re not alone with them. Whatever you’re going through can be woven into a story on paper, with fabric, or on stage. History’s greatest artists are still teaching me that every single day. What are you willing to admit you don’t know so you can learn something new about yourself?
If you are so overwhelmed and would like to give creative therapy a try, I highly recommend the NY Creative Arts Therapists group – they are incredible and helped me cope using improv, drawing, sand sculpting, letters to myself, and music. I walked out feeling empowered to heal my wounds, express my anger, and accept the heavy gravity of a really messed up year in healthy ways https://nycreativetherapists.com/
Interested in trying something new? Check out the Nassau County Museum of Art. Their programs are diverse and right in your backyard: http://www.nassaumuseum.org/events.html. They have everything from sketching to documentaries to drink & draw events for the adults. There are lectures and family days when the art becomes collaborative. Try out a couple of different things to find your medium of choice.
Check out the Ward Melville Heritage Organization in Stony Brook: https://wmho.org/. Here you will find exhibits for adults and children, theater performances, educational outreach and programs for families and schools.
Find fun events for you and your family at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum out in Great River: http://www.bayardcuttingarboretum.com/calendar/. http://www.bayardcuttingarboretum.com/art-workshops/
If you feel like taking a day trip out to someplace new, don’t forget our friends in Yonkers. The Blue Door Art Center & Gallery’s doors are always open, even if the hours posted don’t match the expectation. Feel free to check out their poetry slams and workshops (now hosted by everyone’s favorite Luisa). https://bluedoorartcenter.org/calendar-bdac.
Without a doubt, if you hit up Blue Door, take a quick eight minute ride over to The Powerlab NY. They always have exhibits hanging and offer intense seminars and classes for the business development side of art. https://www.thepowerlabny.com/artdevelopment (A shout out to to them for co-hosting my very first photo exhibit; it was pretty magical for me to see my work hanging at the entrance. I was so proud of my achievement, I just stood there a while basking in the excitement.)
The Sketchbook Project at the Brooklyn Art Library is always a fave, fun, collaborative experience: https://www.sketchbookproject.com/libraries. Draw, write, sketch, doodle, spill coffee pass it on as your vision. Let your expression and inspiration reach farther than you might imagine.