Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I believe in creative outlets. I believe in the power of making something with your hands; something tangible, something beautiful, and something entirely yours. I believe in articulating your feelings through the act of making. I believe the essential ingredient in creation is emotion-regardless of your ability to articulate the feeling.
I’ve been anxious. Not unlike the 4.6 million Americans currently filing for unemployment, I’ve been far from stable. I’ve always been someone who prefers to be busy rather than stagnant, so, as one can imagine, these months stuck indoors have been far from ideal. Emotionally, I’ve been riding a rollercoaster that seemingly has no end in sight. My inbox is filled with job rejections, informing that “while my resume is impressive, [insert company] has decided to move forward with other candidates”. Positivity and persistence are crucial, though hard to maintain. For weeks at a time, I have sat at my dining table in my childhood home, combing LinkedIn and job boards, searching for the “perfect” next role that will continue to grow my dream career. I’ve chosen to be picky, or at least, that is what I’ve told myself. Truthfully, I’m just a wee bit terrified, anxious, and uncertain. While incredibly difficult to admit, I’ve learned that pretending to be “fine” is unproductive and unhealthy. Rather than lay on the ground contemplating the drastic difference in my life from October 2019 to October 2020, I have forced myself to dive into creative endeavors.
I grew up around watercolors, plaster, colored pencils, compasses, and charcoal pencils. My mother, a graphic designer, filled my childhood with limitless possibilities when it came to express myself through artwork. She made sure my hands were always clasped around markers, my clothing stained with paint, and my brain filled with visions of beauty. When it came to art supplies, my mother spared no expense, always saying “yes” to my childlike plea for a new set of paintbrushes or that extra skein of yarn featured in the craft store advertisements. She is the reason I am as creative as I am, and while I haven’t always appreciated it, I am so thankful for her.
Despite the current acknowledgement for my mother’s contribution to my artistic imagination, it has not always been that way. Once I left for university, it became clear my free time was limited. Freshmen year I struggled to find my people. I was placed in a dorm that housed all four years of undergraduates, limiting my exposure to other new students to Cornell’s campus. While my floor was filled with remarkable friends, I questioned my decision, incredibly homesick and depressed. Mid-way through the first semester, I stumbled into the dorm’s basement, home to an array of art studios free to residents. Wandering down the hallways, the open door and dim light of the pottery studio practically begged me to take a seat inside. Over the next few months, I worked out my insecurities on the soft clay supplied to us by the dormitory at night after dinner. Covering every surface of my bedroom in handmade vessels, I returned home for winter break, ready to grab next semester by the clay wheel. My time spent away from the pottery studio allowed me to reflect on the mental and emotion benefits the studio offered me; my slice of paradise that allowed for quiet reflection.
I returned early for the spring semester, dressing up in formal attire and donning my biggest smile, rushing a sorority in order to meet other freshmen women not found in my four-year dormitory. Several grueling days later, I had successfully rushed a sorority filled with intelligent, hilarious, kind, quirky, and frankly weird women like me. Exchanging my time beside a clay wheel, I poured myself into social activities in order to form the very bonds I had dreamed of first semester. Preoccupied with alternative activities such as flip cup, the time I spent not in a class was spent in fraternity house basements or on the porches of the quaint Ithacan Victorian and Tudor-style homes. While my classes were filled with creative exercises, I began to feel burned out, resenting my imagination and my artistic spark. I packed away my pottery tools, a side of me that has been suppressed for several years.
Back in March of this year, I began to box up my New York City apartment. Cleaning out drawers, I found a box of watercolors, a few paintbrushes, and markers I bought on a whim one day in Soho. Filled with dread, the art supplies awoke a spark inside me; one that has been dormant for far too long. Moving back home to my childhood bedroom nestled in Upstate, I found myself with an excess of free-time and emotions to work through. I dug out those very watercolors and began to paint. Months later, I stumbled upon some of the very pots I threw on my freshmen dormitory’s pottery wheel in a box packed away in my childhood home. While the global pandemic had shuttered the doors of many artistic studios throughout the country, my county in upstate New York had few cases, and had begun to slowly open back up.
In September, I found myself driving to a nearby town running errands, pulling over as an advertisement ran on the radio. A smooth baritone voice introduced a nearby pottery studio to the listeners, offering a disclaimer that all wheels and supplies would be thoroughly sanitized between artists and that masks were required for all visitors. Googling the studio, I booked a session immediately for the following week. Several days later, I found myself in a warehouse in Kingston, New York covered in clay. Basking in the sunshine, laughing with other artists who sat at wheels six feet from one another, I felt the anxiety melt away. Throwing the clay on the wheel, manipulating and shaping the material in my hands, I was in control of its destiny. For far too long, I’ve been the metaphorical clay on the wheel of unemployment, molding to the hands of the economy and cultural disruptions. While I came out of the session without a finished product, I did leave with a sense of relaxation, breathing deeper than I had when I walked in. Behind my clay covered mask was a toothy smile, one that had been missing for several weeks.
While the creation of a few clay pots will not solve the problems plaguing the world and my personal predicaments, it will help me cope with the anxiety and emotions that accompany these questions. I recognize most individuals do not have access to a pottery studio, a socially distanced art center, or the funds to purchase the often-expensive materials associated with “proper” artwork. However, I encourage all of those who feel a similar sense of anxiety, dread, or concern to go seek creative endeavors. You do not need to be an artist to make artwork. You do not need to purchase the finest watercolors to paint a masterpiece. You do not need to take classes or possess a degree to articulate your feelings into a creation. Simply creating with your hands has this innate ability to relax you, reducing stress and the anxiety we all feel right now. For me, pottery has a way about it that immediately relaxes my worries (probably because it requires force and I am far from a gentle person). So, while I may never enjoy admitting I am anxious, concerned, or feeling a deep sense of dread, I do enjoy the creative process of releasing said emotions. I implore you to seek creative release.
Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay creative.