I love being an artist. From my first memories, I remember being happiest when I was drawing, sculpting, taking pictures, singing, acting, writing or telling stories.
As an actress, being other characters let me explore other lives, and it made me more empathetic. I made people laugh and cry. On stage, you can feel your audience, even when you forget they're there. You can feel what they need from you--what you have to do to give them the emotional release they've been seeking.
Being a writer/storyteller bestows that same gift to the artist: helping the audience feel something they've been longing to feel or better understand an idea they've been grappling with. The Kennedy/Gioia Anthology of Literature claims the goal of drama is to lead audiences to a new understanding of what it means to be human. I'd say that's the goal of all art. One of the greatest gifts I've ever received was after my MFA Thesis Reading. Several members of the audience told me my poem Mirrorbox captured their grief: "That's just how it felt," one told me. "Thank you for reading it," another said. Somehow, hearing my words helped. As Julia Kasdorf wrote in her poem "What I Learned From My Mother," "Like a doctor, I learned to create/ from another's pain my own usefulness, and once/ you know how to do this, you can never refuse."
When I was a reporter, I had the added bonus of getting to hear other people's stories. I got paid to ask people questions and examine their lives in search of what made them special and beautiful. Every person I interviewed had a great story in them, though some required more digging than others. I mentioned this to Buzz Bissinger, author of the nonfiction book Friday Night Lights, and with a mixture of skepticism and boredom, he informed me he hadn't found that to be the case. Perhaps it was my scant time in the reporting biz (a mere two years) that lead me to believe that every individual has a great story, but I don't think so. You see, in six of the seven years since I left reporting, I had my students write memoirs--hundreds upon hundreds of students-- and each one had a unique story to tell, one that I could learn from.
In yesterday's post, I said I hated my depression, and I do, but that's not the whole story. Jacob Clifton, a Television Without Pity recapper, wrote about the season finale of Weeds (he tends to do literary/ psychological analyses of episodes), "The thing that makes you awesome is the thing that makes you suck. 100% of the time. But we hardly ever get to talk about the opposite thing, which is also true: The very worst thing about Nancy Botwin is the very best thing about Nancy Botwin. [...] The thing that makes you suck is the thing that makes you awesome." His language is crude, but he speaks the truth.
Last year, I told a therapist, a quiet Chinese man, that I hated being depressed and feeling so emotional.
He steepled his hands and softly asked me, "But you are artist, yes? A poet?"
"Yes," I replied, wondering where he was going with this.
"And this is a calling that requires understanding of emotions? You must be able to feel things deeply?"
"Okay, then!" he said with a beatific smile.
I was flabbergasted. The thing I hated most about myself--my depression and the attendant pitfalls and insecurities--also gave me what I loved most--my empathy and my artistic nature. Go figure! And here he was, a psychiatrist, telling me that it's okay. It's not only okay that I'm depressed: a good thing! A good thing with a hefty price tag, but a good thing, nonetheless.
It's a hard lesson to hold on to--hard to believe my depression is a gift even as I'm battling its more detrimental aspects. But in the end, I love who I am. I love my relationships with my friends and family. I love believing in the goodness in others. I love art, both partaking in it and creating it. If depression is the price I have to pay for those gifts, then so be it. Maybe that's the secret to a happy life: learning to love the flaws.