Don’t think about making art. Just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art. — Andy Warhol
I suppose I could write an entire tome about my fears these days, how unsafe America is for people of color, how America is changing, how the rhetoric and public discourse has become so toxic and polarized – how I’m wary to speak my mind in public, how I’m afraid for my children’s generation. Like a lot of Americans, the news triggers me: gun violence, migrant children in cages, sexual violence, racism and the rise of white nationalism, the dismantling of the EPA and denial of science in the wake of so many natural disasters. Every day a sad and disturbing story. I’m afraid of the midterm elections next week. I’m afraid people aren’t going to go out and vote. I’m afraid of what will happen next in America.
Eight and a half years since the raid on my house, and only two years since all the bogus charges against my husband were dismissed (for more information see joylaskarstory.com). Still waiting for those people who propagated the hate and the lies against my family to apologize, still waiting for the bulk of the items they took from my house at gunpoint in 2010 to be returned – including my laptop. I’m no longer having to battle for my family every minute of every day – I’m a west coast girl these days, too. Still, the panic attacks are real.
Then there’s the big book of my writing fears.
But rather than focus on the things I’m deathly afraid of when it comes to my work, I’d rather focus on what I do to banish my fears, to quell the tides of panic, to keep my mind focused.
I read joke books and newspaper articles, I read wonderful essays, memoirs, novels. I read poetry.
I work on my stories and poems, yes.
But when I’m super scared I write down my fears and then I tear off the piece of paper I’ve written them down on, take scissors to them and put the shreds into the trash. As a poet and a former reporter, I’ve always been interested in compression and brevity. Sort of like “Name that Tune” but for writing. When I’m super upset and not seeing hope in a given situation, I try to write a sentence about it. Just one sentence, in big loopy handwriting. And then it’s off to the trash basket.
Also, I take photographs.
I turned to art (mostly photography), for solace, in June 2011, about a month after my husband was fired — not long after our family was threatened, and we knew it wasn’t safe for us to remain in Georgia. Some friends told me about a local artist who had painted a picture every day for a year and posted it publicly; and then others insisted I rent Julie & Julia. I marveled at the artist’s courage to post her work online, her dedication to her art; and I loved Julie Powell’s challenge to make every recipe in Julia Childs’ book in a single year. I had nothing to left to lose, literally. So in June 2011 I began my own #artaday challenge. The condition I imposed on myself: something new every day. I could cheat on the drawings and paintings by substituting photographs for them, as long as I took the photographs within that day. I told my husband I was going to try this out for a week.
Soon that week morphed into a fortnight and then a month. Picture by picture, month by month, I was building myself up again. I spent a few minutes each day doing something that kept me at the margins of the art I had once created with words. My poetry came in handy as I had the pleasure of titling the art I submitted every day.
The act of making the art was a laser point of focus as I sold our house, packed up our things, said goodbye to my friends and our families, and moved across the country. I completed a second year of the art challenge, and a third, and a fourth. Now I’m about to hit the seven and a half year mark of #artaday. Still I make art. Every day, no matter what. It’s helped me finish two poetry chapbooks, it’s helped me take tiny pieces of a story I had started in 2004 and turn it in to my debut novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues. I can’t stop doing the one thing that sustains me. I can’t stop because it’s the thing that allows me to forgive the people who wreaked havoc with our lives and to move on.
Try it. Keep a journal: find a cheap, spiral notebook and write in it for 10 minutes each day. Take photographs and state your intention on Facebook or Instagram, and keep your word by posting the work. Take a few minutes each day to see something, anything, beautiful around you; capture it with a camera, capture it with pen and paper. Candids.
And for the sake of America, please vote.
Books to consider this week:
Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli,
Survivor Cafe by Elizabeth Rosner,
Argonauts by Maggie Nelson,
Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace.
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