How to creatively respond to fear?
I watch a video of neo-Nazis in the USA.
It feels like the gut-clenching ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ scene in ‘Cabaret’.
But it isn’t. It is real. It is now.
Seismic waves of fear course through my body. I leave the computer. I wander in a daze. Where is this leading? What will become of us?
I remember to self-soothe. Lucky I’m not a drinker, or I’d slug a few whiskeys and regret it later. Instead, this ageing hippie drinks a cup of chai and does yoga in the lounge room. I try to find my ground again.
I speak with a friend. I speak with my partner. I speak with my sister. I cook. I eat.
I am OK. Things are OK.
Next morning, there’s the fear again. Stark. A hole forcibly poked in the shimmery fabric of safety of my world. All that trust in human goodness, all that insulation against horror that a sensitive person constructs around herself: gone.
How will I manage to quell my anxiety enough to see a client in a couple of hours? And be open-heartedly, strongly present for her?
I realise I need to make art.
The day that I watched the scary video, I watched another video too. It was the renowned artist Yayoi Kusama – an emotionally vulnerable woman in her 80s, who makes art to survive. Her polka dots inspire me. Her personhood inspires me.
So I decide to sit down and make art, even for ten minutes. Something to soothe, ground, re-orient myself.
It comes to me.
Dots. Safety Spots. My artist brain puts the two videos together – the scary one and the inspiring one – without my even trying. How to creatively respond to fear? I will begin with dots. In the first instance, dots are enough.
Believe it or not, I feel instant relief.
The dots start out simple.
Then they merge and blend, getting a bit out of control and losing their sense of safety.
I know what to do.
I come back with black. I make outlines and patterns. I redefine the dots. They don’t have to be perfect. They don’t even have to be dots. Just shapes and forms of different colours, living there together on the page – each one unique, but joined together in community.
I am able to go see my art therapy client; able to be empathically, fully present with her joys and travails.
Later, I return to the Safe Spot painting. I am OK enough to play with it, to add silver and white glimmers. The fear has faded. For now.
I want to thank you for reading this piece. I nearly didn’t write it, as I fear coming out as a scaredy-cat.
But I’ve mustered the courage in the hope it might help you or someone you know.
And get this:
I am a well-resourced, well-supported person, across the world, far away from the direct line of fire, yet I felt significantly fearful.
How might vulnerable Americans be feeling at the moment? People who are Hispanic, black, Jewish, Muslim, LGBTIQ, incest survivors, refugees? People who are being taunted, baited, victimised? People who are triggered back into experiences of raw trauma?
Cathy Malchiodi, venerable art therapist who specialises in trauma-informed practice, has written a piece for ‘Psychology Today’. I reckon it’s immensely valuable for responding creatively to fear. I encourage you to read it if you are currently feeling fearful, or if you are a helper or healer.
with love, art and soul, Sally