Wisps of glimmer, shards of luminescence, chaos and silence – my mind is a mashup of weird and unsettling elements. The emotion fatigue and dread brought on by the incessant “breaking news” media notifications leaves me with a sense of shuttered vision, not to mention a weary soul.
Much of my art, and my essence, is derived from inspiration, love and a longing for equity, justice and peace. In the last two weeks it feels as if the world has tipped on a new axis. I am no stranger to hate or bigotry, but current events have thrown lighter fuel on the world I thought I knew. Silly me.
I have no idea how to fix the world in this particular moment and time. The violence, hate, fear, pain and despair are palpable. I don’t know how to fix that. With each new act of violence or hatred our human potential is compromised and the realization is staggering. The thread of my artistic inspiration is dampened under layers of grief, anger, concern, heartbreak and this painful process of consciousness expansion.
I can’t unsee the callous disregard for vulnerable human beings who have done nothing to be caught in harm’s crossfire. I’ve exhausted my current capacity to explain why we should care about refugees, women’s rights, Black Lives, LGBTQ communities, those whose faith is different than mine and our ability to protect the Earth (just to name a few.) The explaining doesn’t do it. It doesn’t touch the mark or soften hearts.
My consciousness bucket list includes seeing the end of war, hunger, violence (especially towards women and children,) homelessness, achieving equality, justice for all, mainstream acceptance and treatment of mental health issues and love, love, LOVE! Yes, I am Pollyanna, The Kumbaya Kid and any other snarky retort that comes to mind. I want to live to see peace on Earth. I do and I’m unashamed to admit that my heart weeps each time we take steps further away from that paradise.
How do I take the emotional turmoil and infuse it into a piece of work that “says something?” Hell, how do I use the skills I’ve developed to drain this emotional morass so I can connect with my creative source? I can’t seem to get away from Nina Simone’s words about an artist’s duty…”An artist’s duty is to reflect the times…How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times?”
Those are haunting words, an artistic call to action. At it’s core it comes down to the fact that the inspiration behind the art can not be beckoned with a checklist. Inspiration seeps into my heart, soul, brain, dreams through mysterious and elusive means. When my vision is shuttered the wisps of thought, light and creativity struggle to find the pathway. In such turbulent times I struggle with finding the head and heart space to nurture the creative being inside.
With acting they tell you take whatever you are feeling and use it. Intellecutally I believe it’s the same principal, yet my vast ocean of feelings are solely generating more feelings – loss, grief, exhaustion and at times hopelessness. The “work” for me is to manually turn the corner. Since I can not seem to shake this space, I have been sure to make it to the gym, to more eat fruits and vegetables, hydrate and get more than my traditional 5-6 hours of sleep.
My hope is that by consciously invoking self-care I will be able to manually reboot my creative ignition and begin to see possibilities, new worlds and magic once again. We have a long road ahead and it is expressions of art that will help guide and sustain us. Make no mistake, art is everywhere. It is part of the fabric of our lives and so I send the artists of the world, wherever your are, love, light and strength to continue on through the darkness.
In the midst of swirls of grief there are moments of happiness, joy and pure creative expression. I’ve been working to get a documentary concept out of my head and down onto paper for the last 18 months. The spark was clear and strong but unraveling the story, angle and approach would not come easy.
The initial feeling was, “Of course this should be a film!” but then when I started to think about who should be interviewed for this film I began to hesitate. When I’m developing a concept I intrinsically put myself on set, in the producer/director’s seat and in the vicinity of the action. This very thought meant that I would be in the same room with a person I had been creatively in awe of for most of my life. That’s when the doubts began to creep in.
The challenge with these doubts were that there is no way to tell this story without sitting across from all of the things that intimidate me. Over the last 18 months and through the prodding of mentors, peers and collaborators I kept coming back to my notes and drafts. I wrote my dream. I didn’t pull any punches. I finally went with the thought that the worst they can do is tell me no – but if they told me yes…
The mere act of doing the work to define the random rumblings in my head have made this real. Yesterday I sent off a proposal to two trusted colleagues who are attached to this project and then sat in a puddle of vulnerability as I waited for them to get back to me. That act of being vulnerable is why I’ve failed before. It’s why I waited a year to respond to someone who graciously offered to get me an audition with a friend of his in Hollywood.
It’s all fear. As much as I tell my little girl that feelings can’t hurt you, I find myself being paralyzed by my fear. After coming clean to my friend about why I ignored his email and promising myself to do better, I realize that I can be scared and still take action. The fear paralysis is what will kill my creative expression and ultimately my happiness. Today I am relieved and happy that I was able to wrestle the random ramblings in my head onto a 2-1/2 page proposal. This is always the first step in my process and so often the hardest.
As I remember my late aunt and celebrate her life this weekend, I’ll take with me some of her fearlessness and ingenuity and do my best to incorporate that into my creative practice. No matter what happens beyond this point with this project, my artistic voice will never be heard if I hide in the shadows. Future possibilities exist because I stepped into the light. I invite you to step out of your shadows and join me in the light…even if just for a moment.
Passion, hustle, relentless, inspired, driven, tireless – those were words that could have been used to describe the pursuit of my creative dreams before 8:45 am on March 7, 2016. Listless, unfocused, lost, self-preservative, conciliatory, slow – these words feel closer to where I am today, 10 am on May 9, 2016.
On Sunday, March 6th my 18 year-old nephew Coby ended his life by stepping in front of a train. I pause at the writing of that sentence because of the tightening in my throat, the tears that threaten to blur my vision and the current that runs up and down my arms. This moment, the moment I wish I could freeze like a superhero in a film, is the moment that will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life.
I graduated with a degree in Psychology, have a bunch of friends who are clinicians and have been down the terrifying path of suicide with others in the past. I have worked in Emergency Response and with children in crisis in the past but nothing could have prepared me for the donkey kick to the solar plexus that was the notification call from my brother that Monday morning.
There was no doubt in what I was hearing, “Coby took his life” but I still heard myself scream, “NO! WHAT??” I’m not sure how the human mind processes trauma. I’m not a clinician. I decided to go another route into the creative world, but I doubt whether clinician or not, that I would have an understanding of what my body and mind was doing in those moments to protect me. My mind is still protecting me and it is the very act of protection that has altered who I am right now.
Coby’s journey is over and I am left behind trying to make sense out of the senseless. There are certain truths I have been able to accept. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want help. Some people talk about committing suicide but never do and others don’t talk about it but execute the act.
When I became a parent I learned that I wasn’t in control. It was one of the scariest realizations of my lifetime. To love this little being more than my own life and to know that I could not control how long she would remain on this Earth was the most painful and terrifying discovery. It gave way to my faith. It found me praying that we would be allowed to have a long life together and that I would be around to see her triumphs and tribulations. It gave me the freedom to “offer up” my worries and fears.
I have never, nor would I ever be prepared for my recent internal dialogue about suicide. The questions about what I did, what I could have done and how I missed the breadcrumbs Coby floated out into the social media universe about the pain he was living with. I live online. So much of the work I do is online but all I could think was that I missed it. What could I have been doing that was more important than being there for the man-child I had watched grow from an adorable, precocious, sweet, mischievous and goofy kid?
I sat with those thoughts for a short while before I let myself off the hook. I know, and I knew in other situations, that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want help. He was 18 and in my world that means he had his own life. A life full of sports, friends, pop culture and his own dreams. I was the Aunt who was there when he forgot to bring candy to school one day and who showed up for family gatherings, but I was also the Aunt that was caught up trying to figure out how to navigate life as a divorced, single-parent solo mompreneur.
I wasn’t around for the soccer games, the birthdays (unless they were specifically for the family) and the ins and outs of his life. I misguidedly figured I’d be there for the important days – his high school graduation, his first college soccer game, his wedding and the birth of his kids.) I was here waiting in the wings if he needed anything, but I was in the wings. That was the relationship we had and if his life ended differently I wouldn’t even be here writing about it.
This post isn’t about Coby or his life. I couldn’t do him justice in a blog post. How do you sum up the moments, giggles, guffaws, bursts of pride, stern looks and gusts of love into words? How can you encapsulate what 18 years of loving an ever-changing human being means? I can’t. I won’t even try.
This post is about life after Coby. It’s easy to get distracted from the morass of feelings that sneak up from time to time because I didn’t see him all that often. It’s easy for my brain to default to an alternate reality where he will be there the next time I visit my brother, sister-in-law and niece at their house…but he won’t be there…and every now and then it comes screaming back.
In between the alternate reality and the screaming back there lies the space and time where I need to be mom, business owner and human being. The problem is I feel like I’ve forgotten who I was and how to get back there. Gone is my playful, social justice-themed and inspired social media chatter. Gone is my frequent “third shift” role call when I check in on Facebook to see who else is burning the midnight oil working on projects, grant applications or grad school work. Gone is my ability to stay up late and work all night. Gone is my willingness to want to listen to the voicemail messages that have been filling up my phone. Gone is the spark that fueled my creative engine.
Intellectually I know that my creative engine is in neutral and that life is the spark. I’m treading water until my heart receives that message and decides to return to my creative sandbox. The million dollar question is how do I navigate my work, parenting and creative demands in the meantime? My daughter wants her “happy mom” back. I thought I was being happy mom, but I appears that I am only the happy mom stand-in.
Coby’s death leaves me wondering what really matters? How much of what I do results in a positive impact on this world we share? I am grateful that the work I have chosen to do at this point in my life is meaningful and that I can see a reason to keep moving forward. I don’t have to ask myself how important it is to show up as a mom, which is another reason to feel gratitude. On the tough days since Coby has passed I remind myself that the sun will rise and the birds will sing…and so will I.
Thankfully I have some outstanding client obligations that drag me back to my computer but the biggest challenge I am facing is how I move forward with the stuff that filled my head and heart before Coby’s death left a gash behind. I know that it will take time to heal and transcend this trauma but my head and heart are at war because I was raised in a society where you work! You grind, hustle and then grind some more until you fall out…and then you start all over again.
There was never a chapter on what to do when the world stops, your heart contracts and you can’t see straight anymore. I miss Coby. The absolute hardest part is parenting my little one through the big questions about where he is and all of her memories of Coby. Just when I get myself in check she lobs me a question or a memory or just sits down with a sad, tear-filled face.
There are no answers. There is no normal. There is only life after. In our life after I hold her close, I rest when I’m tired, I ignore the calls I can’t handle and I do my best to be kind to my heart as it finds the resources it needs to heal. On my best days I’m a poor imitation of happy mom and on my worst I am the best that I can be. Life moves on and as I had to remind myself, life is for the living.
I wish with every fiber of my being that I could have been there in the moment Coby decided to go ahead with his plan, but it was not meant to be. My heart goes out to my brother, sister-in-law, niece and all of those who were close to Coby. I can’t imagine what it is like to have seen him every day and now to have to live with that loss…how you put your life back together when a entire piece of your heart is missing.
People have asked how I’m doing. Many have reached out with messages of love and support. I’m grateful. In time I believe I will be able to read and listen to them all, but right now my heart isn’t up to it. I have created a safe space filled with people who were there when it happened and who knew nothing about it. In some weird way it gives me freedom to fall apart or pretend nothing is wrong, depending on the situation.
My heart won’t allow me to do the “getting to know you” conversation about his passing anymore. I know people don’t mean anything by it, but I just know that I can’t relive or debate the details of his passing one more time – not right now. Right now I’m going to work out, cook things I never cooked before, love up on my prickly, hormonal pre-teen and spend time nurturing my spark so that it will come back to my creative sandbox.