Make Art, Not Angst

Most people have something that gets them through tough times. For some people, it’s family; for others, friends. Still others turn to religion. My family, however, is a little different.

I think it first started back in 2007. That was not a particularly easy year for my family; we had just moved from New York City to Dallas, were living in a temporary apartment while we searched desperately for a house and were struggling to adjust to our new, strange environment.

My parents, however, managed to stay pretty positive, unlike my gloomy seventh-grade self. Whenever I complained about how disgustingly hot it was or how I missed my friends or how stupid it was that you had to drive to get to the train, they told me one simple thing: don’t worry, someday you can put all of this in your novel.

It became a refrain in my household every time something terrible or embarrassing or just downright bizarre happened. Grandpa shouted something racist in the Fiesta parking lot? Put it in the novel. Hail the size of softballs broke all the windows? Put it in the novel. The dog ate a sock and got several thousand dollars’ worth of gastrointestinal surgery? Definitely put that one in the novel.

In case you haven’t gathered by now, my family is kind of unusual. Both my parents are career journalists, so writing is pretty much ingrained in our family consciousness. But I don’t think the idea of turning your troubles into literature is so strange.

Last year, my English class asked our teacher why we never read anything happy for class. Her response? “What piece of happy literature have you ever read that’s been worth reading?”

She has a point. The archetype of a suffering artist exists for a reason: many great writers, painters and poets had deeply unhappy personal lives. Caravaggio killed someone. Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf and countless other artists killed themselves.

Edvard Munch suffered from hallucinations, Georgia O’Keefe and Francisco Goya had nervous breakdowns, Beethoven went deaf, and CS Lewis was devastated by his wife’s death. You get the idea.

That’s not to say that you have to suffer to create great art. There were plenty of artists who lived perfectly normal, comfortable, even boring lives. But for those who lived through mental illness, violence, and loss, art provided an outlet for their pain.

And it can work for the rest of us, too. Even if you’re not suffering on the grand, operatic scale of a starving artist, writing a poem or playing music or making a painting can channel unhappiness in a positive, productive way that doesn’t involve breaking things or consuming copious quantities of Ben and Jerry’s.

I do it all the time; my notebooks are filled with poems, drawings, and short stories inspired by bad news, terrible days and pure grumpiness.

So the next time you’re feeling stressed out about school, angry at your parents, betrayed by a friend, saddened by a loss or just plain irritated at the world, give it a try. Make some art.

You’ll feel better, I promise.

-Lizzie