Suffering without catharsis is nothing but wasted pain.
I identify as an artist. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you do, too. Whether your mode of expression is writing, performance, or any other medium, unadulterated or special blend thereof, you take the experience of life, apply effort and skill, and lift some thing—a headful of words, a body of feelings, a hunk of silver, an Idaho potato—into an expression of meaning and value.
As a writer/performer, I have turned various kinds of pain, suffering, and regular old life experience into all kinds of art from a two-person play with four people(and music!) to a humorous talk about poop and God. As a lonely and alienated girl, I turned my pain into stories about the population of an intricate doll village and told them privately, to an audience of one. As a middle-aged smartass, I turned my frustration with life’s ongoing frustrations into songs about New Year’s resolutionsand internet weirdos, and shared them with everyone. As an incipient Old, I even turned my pain and suffering (and a whole lot of other experience) into a gigantic, 50-days-long party that raised $111,000 for charity and changed the course of my career.
But that was almost three years ago, and with the exception of a tiny volley last year, I haven’t made anything since. Well, except for some major and overdue progress on a few personal issues, and I’m okay with taking time to do that. It’s good for all humans, artists inclusive.
Ultimately though, an artist makes art: out of suffering, out of frustration, out of joy, out of living. That is the strange and wonderful and messy and frustrating gift of devoting oneself to art. Few may behold it, even fewer may like it, but make it, we must.
However, there’s no reason we have to do it in isolation. One of the greatest lessons of the last few years has been the importance of community in bringing things to life. I used to think that it was cheating, or that it meant I was weak. But in the real, regular world, we accept help to do pretty much everything. You can’t raise a barn or a cake or a child or even a sandwich* without the help of at least one village; what makes us think we can toil away on our lonesome, making art in individually-wrapped containers? It’s crazy, is what it is! We need the ideas, support, resources, and inspiration of each other to make stuff.
So, hey: wanna join me in helping each other make stuff?
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Building a body of work (or a life) is all about the slow accumulation of a day’s worth of effort over time. Writing a page each day doesn’t seem like much, but do it for 365 days and you have enough to fill a novel.
—Austin Kleon, writer who draws
Here’s what I’m committing to: releasing a missive every day, for 100 days, to see what happens.
We’ll call it a newsletter for starters, because that’s the medium I’m going to start with (I have a weakness for a well-crafted newsletter), but at some point it may morph into something else, hopefully with a community element.
We’ll call it “The Cathartic Artist,” because Jim MacLaren and Elizabeth Gilbert inspired it, with their lives and their observations, respectively, but at some point, it may find its “real” name. (Or die, if that’s its fate.)
We’ll each start where we are, with what we have, and let it take shape as it sees fit.
I’ll call what I’m doing a Project for now, and I hope you will, too. You may have something concrete in mind, or even underway: a one-person show, a few minutes of comedy for open mic, a webseries, a podcast, a blog.
You may have only the vague yearning to make something, and that’s great, too. We’ll cheer each other on.
What will this Thing-We-Are-Calling-a-”Newsletter” contain? Thoughts, ideas, and links. Tools I’ve found helpful in the past, and ones I’m finding helpful in process. It will be a little like this column but not that much—shorter, and probably looser, and possibly a little more touchy-feely. (This would be a good time to assure you that you can also unsubscribe at any point.)
If this speaks to you, sign up for the adventure, which will start on September 13th, and make some stuff!
And regardless of whether or not you decide to join me on this 100-day odyssey to who-knows-where, I wish you well in your travels: to gently twist a greeting from our friends, the Hindus, the artist in me salutes the artist in you.
*Seriously, have you ever done the math on how many individual people’s work it took to get even a humble PB&J to your plate? Not to mention the plate!
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BOOK(s) OF THE MONTH: While I love a good self-help book as much as the next self-improvement junkie, I know that as an artist, I’m often as well-fed by the right novel as I am a piece of the most stunningly well-realized nonfiction. The Goldfinch, weighing in at a whopping 775 pages, is one of those novels. Author Donna Tartt draws a world populated with fascinating characters and their stories, leading them through a complex web of plots, while gently guiding her readers toward contemplating life’s greatest mysteries. It’s rich soil for a thinker, a lover, and especially, an actor. Highly recommended!
Colleen Wainwright is a writer-designer-performer who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade scripting commercials, another acting in them for cash money, and a third collecting the odd assortment of communications-based skills, which she uses to share what she’s learned along the road she’s still traveling.