On Singing and Dancing and Existential Crisis

Earlier this week my dad called me and asked how I was doing. I very un-melodramatically replied, Oh, I’m fine. Just drowning in existential crisis wondering what the purpose of my human existence is and why we’re all here and what the purpose is of my individual suffering and the global suffering we witness daily that I can’t make any sense of. Dad replies, Aha, I see…. cuz like what else are you supposed to say to your melodramatic but genuine daughter? I follow up with, Yeah, but I guess its pretty nice to have the free time to have an existential crisis. Because here’s the thing about them, when you’re caught up in questions about the purpose of existence, it gets pretty hard to follow-through on things in your day-to-day existence. I always think of this awesome youtube video where the guy is like, what’s the point of continuing to pour milk in my cereal when we’re on a giant ball of rock hurdling through space and I don’t know the point?! It’s like that. I know that these questions will likely wax and wane in their prominence for me throughout my life, so I have to make space for them now, but also keep perspective to not miss out on the life right in front of me.

So how do you keep perspective when in the grips of existential crisis? Well, I can’t tell ya for sure. There’s no magic button and I think it involves a bit of trial-and-error. But based on my own experiences, I am now convinced that it is a fundamental human right to sing and dance. The “quality” of it doesn’t matter, at least not for these purposes. There is something about the freedom of singing at the top of my lungs, rockin out with my fist microphone, dancing goofily in my kitchen, or flailing my unrestricted arms around to music in the car that just feels so good. For that however brief period of time, I’m totally in the moment and my insides feel totally ecstatic. And if I get to do this with a friend or two or three, the burst of joy is even bigger.

Will the Krill got it perfectly in Happy Feet 2:

Will the Krill: You hear that? They’re doing it again!

Bill the Krill: Doing what?

Will the Krill: This.

[starts to dance and laugh frantically]

Bill the Krill: Fascinating. What is it?

Will the Krill: I have no idea.

Bill the Krill: [starts to dance as well] Wow! What’s it for?

Will the Krill: Perhaps it’s a momentary relief from the existential terrors of existence.

Bill the Krill: Oh. [mumbles]

Will the Krill: What?

Bill the Krill: It brings out my happy!

So now I’m going to go pour some cereal and dance around my house jerkily with my superstiffinthemorning fibro body and sing pretty dang loud, even if it means the neighbors can hear me when they walk by the door. Because I’ll make myself laugh, and maybe I’ll make them laugh, and maybe then they’ll go close their own door and do the same. I think when we get courageous and deliberate enough to give ourselves unconditional permission to experience joy, we secretly let those around us know its ok for them to do the same. And if that’s all that I ever figure out in my existential crisis, well, I think that’s pretty darn great.

 

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On Creating

I can feel the pounding of my heart in my chest, my palms are a little sweaty, got a little tunnel vision going on…this is what happens any time I’m on the verge of sharing something I’ve created. It’s an inherently vulnerable process- to create and share. We open ourselves up to criticism from others, and from ourselves, and if we’ve let our self-worth become tied up with the reaction to our creations, then we’re in real big trouble. So why on earth would anyone ever do this? Are artists, creators of any kind, super humans that are immune to fear and shame?

Well, I think yes and no. I do think that creators practice courage on a regular basis. Are they immune to fear and shame? No. To varying degrees and in unique ways we’re all affected by fear and shame. But we can chose to live our life in a way that is confined by fear, or one in which we decide to practice courage. And the rewards for doing it are pretty great. Yeah, there are hurts, and criticism, and sweaty palms and racing hearts, but by showing up and sharing our bravest selves, we’re going to get the gift of connection. And honestly, I have trouble thinking of anything else in this life more worth striving for. REAL, deep, vulnerable, messy, beautiful connection. This is what makes my heart and soul feel full.

So Ellen and I are here to practice our courage. To challenge our fears on a regular basis with you. And to recognize the beauty of celebrating what can happen when we give ourselves unconditional permission to share our awesome, silly, crazy, messy, authentic selves.

“The way to create art is to burn and destroy ordinary concepts and to substitute them with new truths that run down from the top of the head and out of the heart.” – Charles Bukowski

 Love, Alex


We just finished discussing ideas for the blog and before that, decided to collaborate on a cross-country, multi-media art series. Experimentation can reduce the weight of a concept or idea. My personal story with struggling to practice art begins with mediocrity anxiety. I grew up painting and drawing. However, after years of doing art intermittently, I’ve noticed an appreciable loss of skill. The tools I once had for self-expression have dulled  (of course not irreparably) such that attempts at self-expression are not guaranteed successes, as they used to be, and such that sometimes, at the end of an artistic endeavor, I step back to find I haven’t said anything. I’ve simply thrown down some media on top of some other media to no avail. I think we call these failures and are supposed to learn from them. I’m not so conscious as to dissect the result, though. I discard the final product and, if I’m feeling bold, begin again. The process is not a means to an end.

Relating to a piece of art is as much about being present as creating a piece of art. For me, the end result is (or should be) unimportant—if I have created nothing but shapes and colors, I can recycle it. While I’m creating, I’m not the end observer and need not be concerned with him. The act of creating is for me, whether I have anything to show for at the end or not.

So I’m presently forcing myself to begin practicing, again. Experimentation is key. I have no preconceived notions about what my art could or should look like in a medium I’ve never used before, with a time constraint I’ve never set before, listening to music I’ve never heard before or am hearing again with new ears. The anxiety leaves once my pencil hits the paper. There are no missteps, no constraints, all is new, unanticipated. This is my process—a letting go, connection.

With our new project, any shortcomings I may produce may be overcome during the piece’s second iteration under new eyes and with a new pen. Or not. The outcome is trivial.

-Ellen