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There was a time when the tortured artist life looked highly appealing to me. It all began with an intense aversion to balls. I wasn’t interested in balls on any level and every institution of my life worshiped them. Balls brought with them competition. I was too sensitive for competition. Too many hurt feelings. Too much pressure and fabricated adversity. Life was full of enough strife—why create more? I wanted connection and togetherness. I always wondered how an orb, like the moon, like the sun and the planets, when dropped into human hands, turns so immediately into opposition, clash, winning and losing. So I hid in the Art Room.
The Art Room was full of exotic things like nude figure drawings pinned haphazardly to the bulletin board like it was no big deal, like there was no dress code, like you could say the word Sex and no one would notice. And all those older girls with the long hair and tapestry skirts. And the smell of batik wax. And the endless possibility of paint and an empty palette, and wet clay on a wheel. I claimed the Art Room as my home as a young girl, and in many ways, have never left.
The Art Room for me, is a moveable feast. In every rental I had over the years, I covered the walls with art and every horizontal surface with things from nature—bones, antlers, feathers, rocks, shells, bee hives, coral. When I finally built a home, it was a farmhouse full of small rooms. I wanted to be like Anais Nin—a different color for every room, a different mood as you wandered the house for inspiration. Even on the road, even in a chain hotel, I lay my journal next to my bed, a small candle, some essential oils, a heart-shaped stone. On a recent trip to Portland a friend announced to her husband, “This woman travels with Frankincense!” And that was in Portland.
I do this because I am a deeply sensitive human being. I didn’t understand it until my forties. I didn’t understand why people were always telling me I was too emotional, too sensitive. Couldn’t take a joke. Cried too easily. I started to notice that I’d often laugh before the punchline. I started to take stock at how regularly I hear, “How did you know I was going to say that?” I’m not one to label myself, so I won’t try here. I’m just sensitive, that’s all. And sometimes being sensitive can make the world too hard to bear. Such is the gift and all-too-often, the plight of the artist.
Enter: the tortured artist paradigm. I’m on a mission to change that into the empowered artist’s reality! I think that art, namely writing since that’s my medium, should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of preventative wellness. We all need healthy access to our self-expression and our artists show us the way. We simply can’t have our artists sick and tortured any more. We need them. Artists are not looking at the world in ways that pit one against another. We don’t look at the world in opposition, victory or loss. We look at the world for what it is and depict it as truthfully as we can. And in-so-doing, we hope to build bridges. We hope to do as many South Africans have learned and find Umbuntu—love and compassion for all people.
This may shock you:
Beethoven reportedly drank wine about as often as he wrote music. Stephen King doesn’t remember writing Cujo. Even Maya Angelou loved her sherry. Among the many other artists who have used drugs, alcohol or other substances are Aldous Huxley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edgar Allen Poe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Allen Ginsberg, Marguerite Duras, composer Modest Musorgski, Elizabeth Bishop, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler, Eugene O’Neill, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, William Faulkner, Oscar Wilde, Anne Sexton, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote.
They all were quite likely deeply sensitive people who didn’t know how to handle all that they perceived. So they went into F**k It mode. I know F**k It mode well. People don’t have a lot of tolerance for it. They think it’s an affront on them. They think it’s a lack of self-control. They think that it’s weak. When in reality, it is an inability to know what to do with all those feelings. All that empathy. Booze and drugs stop the empathy. At least that’s the illusion. Because the truth is, I’ve never cried harder than when I’ve had too much to drink. Those have been my personal darkest nights of the soul.
And it’s not just artists. It’s anyone who feels deeply, as a rule.
So if we’re empowering ourselves as the deeply feeling people that we are, what if we were to look at it like when we are feeling, without blocking that flow, we are strong! We are complete! Those feelings can’t take us down! It’s the fear of them which is the problem. And an altered mind doesn’t give us all the fortification we need to fight the fear. Or, as I like to think instead, to love that fear into submission.
So how do we break old behavioral patterns, how do we train ourselves out of old thought patterns which find us in a place of suffering, woe, and even self-harm, self-loathing, or even self-violence? My way is gentle and luxuriant. Yes, it has to do with the awareness that we even have these patterns in the first place. But why not meet ourselves in this place with radical self-care in the most loving and gentle way…and easy?
Self-care. That word scares me. Maybe it scares you too. It sounds hard. It doesn’t have to be. I invite us to start with some simple things. Like a walk in the woods. Like homemade bone soup that’s been simmering on the stove for twelve hours. Like Epsom salt baths with eucalyptus and a Mexican cocoa candle. Like essential oils of clary sage, frankincense, and wild orange by your bed. Like Arnica salve, infused from the forest floor. Like early mornings in bed with your journal. And some very excellent beverages along the way that are as healing as they are delicious: like ginger tea, like guava kombucha, like rooibos muddled with mint over ice.
Sure, maybe one day we can be Jesus in the desert, or Mandela in the prison cell, and strip ourselves of all earthly delights in order to truly swallow ourselves whole. But for now, let’s be kind to ourselves, and meet ourselves with love, compassion, forgiveness, and little rituals that go a long way.
For two weeks Haven Blog will feature custom drinks that you can make at home. They are designed by master mixologist, Meagan Schmoll of Whitefish, Montana, to help your state of being in the way that you so desire. And they are alcohol free. Enjoy! yrs. Laura
Drink #1: CALM…
“The Old Letter”
2 oz Rooibos *Strong Tea*
1 oz *Honey pumpkin*
1 oz Almond Milk (unsweetened)
1 pinch kosher salt
10 Basil Leaves
3 tea bags or 9 grams of Darjeeling Tea
8 oz Boiling water
Let steep for 20 Minutes
Remove Tea and let cool
Equal Parts Clover Honey & Canned Pumpkin
Mix until it becomes a smooth puree.
Muddle Basil and Honey Pumpkin in a mixing glass
When muddling firmly press, but try not to tear the leaves of the basil this will add the essence of basil but not the bitterness from the leaves Tannins.
Add remaining ingredients and Ice
Place shaker tin on top of pint glass giving it a firm tap.
Turn it over so the tin is in your bottom hand and the pint glass is in your top hand.
Strain from the pint glass into a Tea Cup of your Choice.
Pick out a basil sprig with enough of the stem so it can sit in the teacup. Lightly slap it against your hand to releases the basil aroma then place it on the side of the tea cup, leaves over the edge, as if it is sitting in a tub or spa soaking in the sun
Sip and enjoy the calming effects of the Old Letter.
Photo credits: Katy Bell
Drink credits: Meagan Schmoll
Instagram @katybellkaty @lmschmoll #RaskolDrink #embellishpictures
Facebook: Katy Bronwyn Bell, Raskol Drink, Meagan Schmoll