Tag Archives: depression

Link! Frida Kahlo: Abjection, Psychic Deadness, and the Creative Impulse

There’s a quote going around, (You deserve a lover who wants you disheveled… etc.) attributed to Frida Kahlo, that doesn’t sound like something she said. It was too tidy… too abstract. It might have been her, I don’t know, I haven’t really studied her.

I looked around for the source of this quote, and couldn’t find one; but I did find her love letters. They affected me. Not in that they were lush, elegantly raw, and moving (which they were), but in the sense that I didn’t feel anything when I read them. I started to cry, because I couldn’t find it in me to feel something. I couldn’t access the part of my spirit that gives and receives passion on that level; but I remembered when I could.

Being cut off from that sucks.

Landing in that emotional oubliette, and not quite knowing how to climb back out, I figured I should keep looking through the library while I’m down here. I found this paper about Kahlo and the relationship between personal desolation and art. I really liked it, so I’m re-posting it here in the hopes to keep it bookmarked.


“Kristeva states that all objects are based on an inaugural loss, that laid the foundations of subjectivity. All abjection is in fact recognition of the want on which any being, meaning, language, or desire is founded.

Abjection summons us to an abyss that haunts and terrifies. It insists on the subject’s necessary relation to death, corporeality, animality, materiality,’ those relations which consciousness and reason find intolerable. The abject attests to the impossibility of clear borders, lines of demarcation or divisions between the proper and the improper, the clean and the unclean, order and disorder…

It exposes us to the unbearable, unnameable, and unwanted dimensions of our mortality, an exposure against which we rebel.”

Read the full paper: Frida Kahlo: Abjection, Psychic Deadness, and the Creative Impulse, by Marlene Goldsmith, Ph.D.


Hard Work and a Sense of Humor

Hard work and a sense of humor are things that no one can take away from you. Coincidentally, they’re also the two things that will see you through the most painful of clusterfuffles. Every writer gets to the point where they’re banging their head against their desk, trying to move things forward, and the immediate instinct is to fall deeper into despair. Heroes are resilient. Know what else is resilient?


Seeing the absurd or the silly in the midst of toil makes the burden so much lighter, and will help you and your characters manage the problems that drop into your laps.

Chaos, conflict, and challenge are the life-blood of stories, and no one wants to watch you (or your characters) wither under these pressures. There will always be critics. There will always be hard choices, fear, famine, pain and heartbreak. Gallows humor grants the strength to go on, and hard work finds the way out. These are both your strongest assets, and most endearing qualities. They make each character an invaluable asset to every team, squad, club, order and cult. People like this are great fun to watch, and a joy to adventure with.

Strip away everything that your characters ever needed or cherished. If they have these two things, they will be unstoppable. So will you.

Miss Tick sniffed. “You could say this advice is priceless,” she said, “Are you listening?”
“Yes,” said Tiffany.
“Good. Now…if you trust in yourself…”
“…and believe in your dreams…”
“…and follow your star…” Miss Tick went on.
“…you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye.”
― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30)


Death and Transformation in the Writing Process

Without Lauren, there would be no Setsu. This is something she wrote many years ago offline that I re-read just hours before hearing about Robin Williams’ death. It was strange to feel so overcome by loss for someone I had never met; but in a way, we have. His sincerity in each of his roles is what made them real, and what made me trust him. His portrayals in Baron Munchausen, Hook, The Birdcage, The Fisher King and What Dreams May Come will always stick out in my mind.

What a legacy of outrageous brilliance, laughter, and above all, sincerity. He was an insane hurricane — from the crazed wild winds down to the last cold, lonely droplet.

And now, Lauren’s thoughts on death and writing.

Everyone fears death to some degree. In our culture, we normally view death not just as an ending, but as the ending to all endings. Imprisonment in a black hole from which there is no escape. We usually see change in a similar vein, dying on a smaller scale—a little death to which we’re dragged kicking and screaming. Either way we perceive it as the same thing: A decision we don’t get to make that gives us no way out.

But there are belief systems existing out there that don’t consider death to be negative. One alternative is to look at death the way it’s portrayed in a stack of Tarot cards, not as a cut off point where consciousness ceases to be, but as a crossroads where transformation is born. True transformation is part of the natural cycle of the universe: Every ending leads to another beginning. It’s also about moving from the known into the unknown. But dying hurts, no matter how you do it. Change is painful…whether it’s sudden or slow. When you’re caught in the period of transition it can feel like you’ve been cast adrift. Sometimes there’s nothing more uncomfortable than feeling stuck in that waiting in-between state.

As writers, Death as Transformation is an irreplaceable instrument of our craft. It is an incomparable experience that infuses inspiration into our life, and our work. To bring paper and ink to its knees we must be brave enough to shed our familiar skin. Bold enough to emerge naked into the world again, waiting for our new carapace to crystallize and our wings to unfold. Releasing ourselves newly born into a whole new element, we must leave the well-worn husk behind. Push yourself to the precipice and bust out of that shell! Stop crawling forward in your writing—FLY.

Thank you Lauren. Thank you Robin. Thank you to everyone brave enough to walk around without armor — risking it all to make the world a little more magical.

“Sometimes a breakdown can be the beginning of a kind of breakthrough, a way of living in advance through a trauma that prepares you for a future of radical transformation.”
—Cherrie Moraga

“Every exit is an entry somewhere else.”
—Tom Stoppard

“Genius is not a gift but the way out one invents in desperate cases.”
—Jean-Paul Sartre



Robin Williams, “What Dreams May Come”

Your Strangeness is Your Strength

There’s usually one question that we get all the time. For the cellist hauling her instrument, it’s, “don’t you wish you played the piccolo?”

For the tall man, it’s, “how’s the weather up there?”

That question gets really annoying, really quickly. The angry responses don’t make sense to the innocent questioner, who was just making a joke. They don’t realize that they’ve rubbed an already sore spot again, and we hold them accountable for all the crimes against our strangeness we’ve heretofore encountered. We alleviate these conversations through well-practiced one-liners, or half-truths, just to move on and not talk about it.

The general populace doesn’t care about the hard-won pride we earned through struggle. There’s no room in small talk for big ideas. We come up with snappy one-line responses to deflect or guide the conversation away from our own strangeness. In the course of this repeated exchange, day after day, year after year, we forget that our strangeness is a valuable tool. What makes us strange, what makes us stand out, may be the key to our destiny.

Captain Awkward posted a blog about the low-mood cycle, and how to break away from it. The most eye-opening part, for me, was that if you’re not around people who support you, get the hell out of there.

Heigh-ho-the-derry-o, get the hell out of there.

Think of that question you get all the time. Maybe it’s about your ethnic background, or the shape of your nose, or the fact that you’re a writer. If you’re made to feel ashamed or embarrassed, you’re in the wrong environment. If you’re made to hide it, you’re in the wrong environment.

The longer you ask yourself to act against your core nature, the dimmer your light becomes. You are an artist. You have the secret power to slip sideways into another reality. No matter how cobwebby the slip-path becomes, you can still get there. Your flame still glows. Follow it.

Yeah, well, artists are a lot like gangsters. They both know that the official version, the one everyone else believes, is a lie.”
– Jocko – Quoted by Russell Banks

The truly great writer does not want to write: he wants the world to be a place in which he can live the life of the imagination. The first quivering word he puts to paper is the word of the wounded angel: pain.
– Henry Miller



“But what is that I don’t even –” “TREASURE IT” Wonderbook, Jeff Van Der Meer

The Language of Your Inner Demons

I’ve been revisiting “Xena: Warrior Princess” on Netflix. In an episode called Paradise Found, Xena and Gabrielle find themselves in an isolated compound where they each become more themselves.

Gabrielle — the storyteller who often serves as Xena’s moral compass — finds yoga, cleansing, and stillness.

Xena gets more jumpy and agitated, wounds appear on her body, and she keeps envisioning herself hurting or torturing Gabrielle. Once Xena loses her mind, she wanders through the gardens killing songbirds and bunnies. It’s as horrific and goofy as it sounds. If the darkness in you lives, no one is safe, not even the people you love, says their mysterious guru.

Facing one’s demons is a massive part of my books. If every writer has one theme that permeates their work, that one is mine. Every character has to go through it, whether it means reconciling a relationship or — literally — fighting a monster born from their own fear or shame. Another line from that episode of Xena goes: Goodness going to waste in peace, without evil to keep it alive and fighting.

I, and my characters, need both to be whole.

I’m convinced that our inner demons are on our side. They’re part of us, after all. We get into trouble because we speak different languages and we’re too afraid of them to try and bridge the gap. When you have dark or selfish impulses, that’s your little demon-voice telling you that you have an unfulfilled need. Hear its intention, but don’t listen to its suggestion. It doesn’t understand what consequences are — only that it loves you and you’re not happy.

The same is true if you go deeper. When your inner demon tells you to off yourself… it’s responding to your unhappiness. It knows you’re in pain and has no concept of healing. It loves you, and wants to help. It doesn’t realize it’s not helping. Your demons only understand you as much as you understand them.

What I love about Xena and others of her archetype is her willingness to learn that language and investigate what others are afraid to see. Some speak the language with compassion and understanding; while others only learn enough to hear what they want to hear.That journey, and what they do with that understanding, is how an archetype transforms into a person.

Do not look upon this world with fear and loathing. Bravely face whatever the gods offer.”
– Morihei Ueshiba, father of Aikido


I hope they cannot see
the limitless potential living inside of me
to murder everything. 
I hope they cannot see,
I am the great destroyer.
– Julius Robert Oppenheimer, father of the A-bomb


Narrow Range of Passion vs Wide Range of Passion

Passion drives artists to create. Whether you’re sketching, sculpting or writing there’s a drive behind your creation. Urgency and intensity spark the initial act of creation — like the first outline, first draft, or first few sketches. The artist finds within themselves a burning need to tell this story — for it steals their sleep and demands to be wrenched from the soul like a tumor that will eat them alive if it remains where it is.

Or, maybe the artist just had a neat idea they thought they’d scribble down. You know. Whatever.

It’s interesting to see how different people deal with their passions — especially because it doesn’t correlate to being introverted or extraverted.

Some folks have a narrow range of passion. Happy or sad, it never gets too intense. If a family member dies, or there’s a setback at work, they’ll shrug their shoulders and say, “Oh. How sad.” If they come up with something really great, or their kid gets a scholarship, they’ll nod and say, “Oh, well, that’s great!” It’s not that they don’t feel. They’re not boring people, they just have a narrow range of passion. These folks might have a more intellectual grasp on life that gets mistaken for stodginess.

Those with a broad range of passion are much more expressive. When the store’s out of the right brand of chocolate, it’s a tragedy. When their kid has a bit part in the school play, it’s a triumph of which they’ll sing for a thousand years. Bad news will lay them low for weeks. They express their feelings with the utmost extravagance — even if they’re introverted. No matter what they feel, they feel it deep into their bones. These folks (and oh boy am I one of them) fit the Tortured Artist stereotype, and can be needlessly dramatic at times.

These two types often find each other unrelatable and frequently clash. To pick a musical example, Demi Lovato popped up on my Pandora this morning. She’s got a loud, powerful voice. When someone sings a well-known song the way she does, there’s always a backlash. Folks with a narrow range of passion would prefer to hear “Over the Rainbow” or “The Star Spangled Banner” in a more traditional, less vocally acrobatic way. As someone with a wide range of passion, this response irks me. Let her do what she wants. Not everyone needs to rein it in to the degree of, say, Blossom Dearie.

There are times — rare, precious times — when the two ranges overlap. Ella Fitzgerald can slip a needle directly into your heart and fill it with longing. A song doesn’t have to be bombastic to achieve intensity. It’s subtle and understated which satisfies one group; yet overflowing with passion that could make a grown man cry… if he were the type to do so.

It’s interesting to think about where you fit on the spectrum of these two types. How much intensity do you infuse into your life? Do you prefer an even keel in your life and your entertainments; or do you want to ride the full height and depth of each wave? For myself, I find that I have such a broad range of passion that I must compartmentalize my life into ‘safe’ places and places where I have to keep it in. I constantly try to identify which type someone is when I meet them, in order to figure out if they’re “safe.” I want to know the best way to relate to others.

In art, as in life, it’s vital to consider why the Other behaves as they do, so we can hear and be heard with the greatest clarity.


I heart you.
I heart you? What is that? ‘I love you’ for pussies?
– Jenji Kohan, Orange is the New Black



Creative outlets help us find a glimmer in the chaos

Sometimes I feel down for no good reason at all. I always panic in those moments. I want to move. I want to change my whole wardrobe. I want to meet new people, or apologize to friends I haven’t spoken to in a decade. The whirlwind gets bigger and louder until I’m curled up on the floor and feel like the tiniest crumb under the weight of unending chaos and time.

This happens every time I stop writing.

But when I do create — when I do have an outlet — I become a channel for the vortex. The colors become brighter. The problems become fascinations. The chaos turns to music and time becomes the ocean lapping at the shore — smoothing over the impressions I’ve left behind and softening the canvas of sand ahead.

Once we know that kind of beauty, we can’t be separated from it. Even on the dullest days, the boring days, the piles-of-bills days — keep looking for the glimmer.

Picture yourself on a train in a station
With plasticine porters with looking glass ties
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes
― The Beatles

You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

i'm fine

Flip the script