Hello from my home studio filled with linseed oil smells, podcasts, to do lists, piles of papers, and half finished paintings!
It’s in this space that I solve painting problems like the weird, shiny shape that has taken over the background in my painting, or… how do I make Costco’s aluminum foil look sexy? Why does my brain sees two colors at once? (It’s red and yellow, which is entirely different from orange.) And then the constant crisis: what does it all mean? When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I find myself here in my studio to make a list or a schedule or a spreadsheet. While I don’t want to only write about mental health struggles, here I am again. Perhaps it’s a side product of moving to a new country as an introvert who is struggling to find a job? Perhaps writing helps me sort it a bit more.
Much like my beloved spreadsheets, worksheets organize data and help you to learn while filling them out. As an artist who likes to her use hands to learn things, they’re pretty helpful. Math problem sets taught me differential equations and calculus. I meticulously drew the areas under the curve and watched the magic of variables falling away to offer answers to the chaos. These days the chaos is in my own brain, and I’ve found a therapist who is helping me with breathing exercises, new thought patterns, and worksheets for my anxieties. My goal is to allay my social anxieties so as to be more confident in myself and career.
Today is a good day. And I’ve been having a lot of those recently. I can feel my brain being healthier. Last Friday we looked at my Worry Journal together and laughed at two entries: “new American president” and subsequently “bagels.” Current politics are not helpful for someone with anxiety right now. These anxieties have moved from the “potential” to the “current” column on my worksheet. For someone who needs to do things with her hands, this felt impossible.
So I marched. I spent 2 studio days planning and making a protest sign. On January 21 I marched from the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square to Trafalgar Square in solidarity with women around the world in the Women’s March on London. I had never marched before. I worried I’d get lost or overwhelmed. I was cold and tired. However, once I got there, my heart was so glad to not feel alone–even here in London I was with 100,000 others and my husband to say no, to say we are still here and have a voice, to say what my vote couldn’t, to feel like I matter.
I had a hockey game scheduled for after the march, so I marched in my uniform and with my stick bag on my back. For me playing field hockey is about the same things as the march: me feeling strong and active. I think there’s even politics in sports. And even hope.
Here are directions on making a protest sign.
So I made bagels. To someone in a new land (yet incredibly privileged to have a residence permit and an actual residence), the refugee ban is unacceptable. My brain cannot fathom such a loss of home–or heartless treatment of fellow human beings.
I spent £15 on flour, eggs, and butter. I made 192 bagels and sold them so I could give the money to the International Rescue Committee. I lost some sleep due to the bagel fermentation schedule. I may have also lost my cool when they didn’t bake right or when Zeke stole 5 of them. I’m actually still a little bagel-hung-over from the final deliveries on Friday.
But I made at least £200 for the International Rescue Committee’s emergency fund for stranded refugee families. David’s work friends and other friends from our church enthusiastically ate bagels and left donations in a jar. Some didn’t have cash that day, so they made donations online. I don’t even know exactly how much money was given to the IRC. I’m even taking half a dozen bagels to my therapist this week. Know that London is rooting for the American people, friends.
My friends in the States cheered me on in text messages as I updated them on how many batches were mixing, rising, shaped, boiled, and baked. Sometimes it felt silly or inefficient It’s not the most effective way to raise money or to use my time, but it connected so many people together. I got to perform a sort of ritual in hopes of “baking the world back together” as my friend put it. And now I don’t think the world needs more efficiency.
Here’s the bagel recipe as part of a guest post I wrote for Amy Lust’s bread blog. And more about the work the International Rescue Committee is doing for the stranded refugee families.
So I listened to some podcasts while I painted. Now that I’m not bagel-ing 24/7, I’m back in my studio. Bread-friend Amy sent me The Hilarious World of Depression, which interviews comedians about their mental health struggles. I actually watch a lot of female standups on Netflix because I feel a sort of camaraderie with them. A woman calling attention to her work when she’s told she’s not that funny or interesting, feels a lot of like making art. The podcasts highlight how comedians are still working, still talking, still trying to be creative in the midst of these bouts of anxiety, stage fright, insane self-doubt, and the darkest of depressions.
Like them I find my depression hilarious. One time I had potentially the worst panic attack of my life because I couldn’t find my shin guards for field hockey. That’s absurd! (I found out 2 months later that I had left them at my parents’ house in the States, but had no idea.) Small mole hills become mountains, and their hyperbole is only comedic.
In every single interview, the comedian implores the listeners to know you are not alone. Being hermited away in my studio, I can receive that because I know it’s coming from the sincerest of places. They struggle to matter; they struggle for their work to matter. I know what that is. Their willingness to share even motivated me to share here. Peter Sagal himself learned that listening to sad music actually helps you feel better when you’re down. You feel like someone else what it is you are going through. Strangely enough it’s that way with the weather for me. The sunshine in California made me crazy. It was as if even the atmosphere didn’t get me. San Francisco’s and London’s fogs wrap around me like a blanket of knowing.
So right now I’m really tired from all the bagels and personal interaction. Even though I’ll be soaking up my alone time in studio for awhile, it’s a good tired. I feel alive and involved. I think that’s really something worth sharing. I felt deeply the need to write about all this not because I want say I’m really cool, but because I think we all need to share our small, personal successes. It encourages others to overcome their own little monsters and to organize the chaos. During this morning’s breathing, I breathed out chaos and chose to breathe in hózhó, the Navajo concept of beauty, balance, order, and harmony. We say, “May you walk in beauty” which is to walk in hózhó. I think I’m walking a little bit more in hózhó and sending some your way as well.