mental health

Can’t Handle the Hustle

I want to write. I want to make art.


I need to write. to make art. to teach, to change minds and ways of thought. I crave input to generate output, but not in an industrial sense. I write better when I’m reading broadly, when I drink deep words and dream the books on my nightstand. I make better art when I hoard found objects and old books and bury myself in the work of James Castle and my former collaborator and artist-educator Troy Passey (both of Idaho).

My art, my writing, my teaching are a reflection of the world within and the world without.

I. Can. Not. Handle. the Hustle.

James Castle made books before bookbinding and bookmaking and altered books were a “thing.” My former elementary students (and some blind students within my school) made hand-stitched books last year, some of which have spent the last 12+ months touring the state of Idaho. I’ve been digging into these arts of late, and the more I learn, the more I feel crushed under the weight of performance, hustle, namedropping, and (dare I say?) circle-jerking.

I want to create, to share, to engage. I want to collaborate and build. Maybe I want to tear some things down in the process of creation. But I see my friends. The friends who put themselves into their art, whose souls I see on the page, the screen, the canvas?

Some of them are dying. We’re going broke in an economy that “corrected” itself this week, as talking heads talk percentages and investments and percentage points that are just numbers on a datastream of using money to make more money.  We’re going bankrupt in a morally bereft landscape trying to scream or throw paint into the void.

I went to the store for paint; that’s the only thing I really want to buy new. I had to wade through a lot of crap to get to the paint. I’m trying to learn from what I see, but I just sat through a 10 minute YouTube tutorial on a certain kind of bookmaking, and if I had made it into a drinking game for every time she had to a) Name drop another blogger/vlogger; b) name drop a product she “just loves”; or c) I don’t need C I am already dead.

My point here is that neither of those things were about creating art in community or collaboration. It was all consumptive affiliate linking and back-patting. Yes, artists need an audience, and hopefully we can sell a poem, or a story, or a painting, and I’d really like someone to pick up that chapbook I just poured my guts into. At the end of the day, however, I don’t want to do art for capitalism’s sake, or for the sake of consumption. I don’t do my job for the sake of the dollar, although I’d die without it. I don’t want to do this just so I don’t die; I want to do this because we live. I want to re-purpose this old shell of the Empire.

But we are dying. Our world is on fire; Idaho rejected (AGAIN, I might add), the science standards related to climate change and human impact on the environment. I don’t want to add to the demand for resources… even though I recognize my preferred media are paper and acrylics.

I can’t handle the hustle. I submit cover letters with no website, because I can’t keep up my blog enough. My health has prevented me from completing my thesis. I’m sick. I’m tired fatigued. I’m pissed, and yet I’m in a good enough place to make some noise. I just have to be my own writer and artist and teacher. Whatever the hell that means. I recognize the privilege I have to NOT hustle. And I will give credit where it is due, but I can not go in these circles where we keep blog linking and back-patting other Crafty Cathy types for making pretties.

James Castle made his ink out of spit and charcoal. We can make our revolution art out of something other than Pinterest-pretty faux-ephemera. Screw your capitalist bougie YouTube branded hustle. That might be the worst sentence I’ve ever published. It’s ok; I’m on steroids. You’ll forgive me.


Fit Friturday: CTFO

The last two Fit Fridays, I have had to CTFO: Chill the F**k Out.

CTFO is a mantra in my anti-diet, pro-moderation, support group. It’s a veritable alphabet soup around there. Every weekend, members post photos and short posts of their DSS: Do-Something Saturdays, or their FF: Flex Fridays–sharing victories toward personal goals of movement and strength breaking free from the impossible standards of cultural beauty and fitness norms. We share NSVs (Non-scale victories) toward self-care, setting boundaries, meal-planning, taking up space. For those members who are on weight-loss or weight-gain journeys, there are SVs (scale victories). We ETF: Eat. The. Food. Freed (or progressively freeing) from the restriction and rules of disordered thinking, orthorexia, food-group restriction, and fad dieting of the culture around us.

And sometimes, we remind each other to Chill the Frick Out.

When do we CTFO? After an injury. When we’re sick. When we’re feeling the feels. When we feel guilty after a relapse of binge- or restrictive-behavior. When we feel judgement from friends, colleagues, or family members who make unwelcome commentary on our food or exercise choices.

I have a challenging class of students this year. One student in particular is taxing my mental game in a way that stretches me beyond my level of adeptness, and into the game of “Wow. What do I do here?” There have been money woes thrown in the mix, several (four, now, I think) deaths of colleague’s close family members within the first month of school, my roommate’s parents came to visit on their Farewell Tour before returning to New Guinea for four years, my roommate’s older son started school the same time I did (yay routine changes!).

So aside from my Monday silks class and Tuesday 12-Steps, I’ve been practicing CTFO during my evenings. And I’m using my weekends to get out of the house and connect with people; I don’t want to make my depression/isolation feedback loop, well, you know–feedback.That’s how I’m taking care of my body and mind right now. I don’t need to apologize for it or explain to people that “normally” I would be exercising more. I get out of my classroom during lunch or prep to walk a bit. And I think it’s time to add another day of upper body work, because silks has demonstrated I’m a veritable T-Rex… but I’m not going to kill myself trying.

This is what I need right now.


Content Note: The Vagina Monologues, migraines, mood disorders, and the Evangelical church

This weekend I performed in V-Day: The Vagina Monologues. Prior to the show, the venue hosted a wine reception. I am banned-for-life from drinking red wine on account of the old noggin; red wine is about the only thing I don’t miss, as white wine is my preferred variety of grape intoxicant.

I asked for a glass of white wine from the reception hostess, a friendly woman who recognized me immediately from monthly First Friday events downtown.  We made some small talk: I said that we only had red wine in the actors’ green room, she asked what it was about white wine that I preferred. I said that red wine gives me migraines. Her voice changed a bit, to that tone of a well-meaning but possibly too-familiar acquaintance, as she nodded in agreement and clicked her tongue: Mmm-hmmm. Soul fight headaches.

I need to provide a little background about why her response frustrated me as much as it did, considering she was just trying to offer a little empathy.

In college, I went to a little Christian coffeehouse at least half of my weekends. Sometimes there was live music, but most of the time my small group of three or four friends played ping pong or checkers, or sat around talking and telling stories. At the time, I also attended a fairly conservative Evangelical church, and there was a lot of overlap between the coffeehouse crowd and the college/career small group at the church.

I had grown up in a church, but this was the first time in my life I’d experienced polarizing worldviews among church folk. I often encountered mistrust or outright rejection of science or branches of the medical field. I dated a young man who told me I needed to reevaluate my salvation because I took Biology and intended to teach science in the public school system. I met a single mother who had recently started attending church, who was in tears because her mentor told her to throw out all her preschooler’s favorite dinosaur books. And I heard over and over from people around my age (19 and 20) that I was sinning every time I took my antidepressants or went and spoke to my therapist.

I have lived with anxiety since I was a child. I started showing symptoms of depression in middle school. I didn’t get any mental health treatment until I was a senior in high school, and it made a significant difference in my quality of life. But with this group of acquaintances, my diagnoses were seen not in terms of mental health but of spiritual health. The solution to my crushing depression and debilitating anxieties was not to develop strategies with my therapist and to take a medication to level out my moods, but to pray more, read my Bible more, and join more groups at church.

Since beginning my therapy and counseling, I have been open about my long process of healing and recovery because I want to help chip away a the stigma of mental illness. I spent far too long feeling broken to let other people suffer in silence. So I kept talking about my journey if the topic came up. And acquaintances continued to attach spiritual significance to my struggles. Had there been times when my there has been a link? It’s true that I draw strength from a lot of places. But the insinuation I had a spiritual defect from people who did not know the workings of my spiritual life was insulting. 

Which brings me back to Saturday night.

The wine hostess poured my glass of white wine and referred to my migraines as soul-fight headaches. I groaned somewhere in the back of my brain. I don’t want people I barely know to attach spiritual significance to my migraines. When I am in one, I am very much in my body. When I am in one, I want nothing more than to transcend this mortal plain, but I am crushed inside this vascular mass. I am not in some deep fight at the soul level, I am just taking an eighteen-hour nap. If I am conversing with close friends, maybe then we can have some conversations like this, but not here, not now.

My reply: No. Not really. It causes brain damage, actually.

Later, my best friend pointed out that the hostess had said sulfite, and not soul fight.

I can be such an ass sometimes.