Writing from Behind the Film in Our Eyes

By Kristen Higgins

“More often than not, I am viewing my life– and I mean the boring, daily parts of my life– through a damp cloth of what I first mistook for emotion, but, lately, believe is a lack thereof…I am underwater, knees up to my chest, suspended for one long moment, and it sounds like a fist pounding through the surface” – March 3rd, 2016, 111 days before admission to to Leonard Morse psychiatric care

We don’t need to read any more articles about the beauty we create through our pain. We know we use our pain as a vehicle with which we speed towards art, which serves no other purpose but a temporary reprieve from the visceral monster thrashing within. It’s redundant. The idea is as tired as we are.

What artists need to understand is the path left behind on the way to art. Specifically, artists must have faith that the experience means something. In the moment, it never feels as though it does.

During the months leading to my admission to Leonard Morse Hospital for psychiatric care, I logged entries into my journal.  The entries themselves often felt redundant. Worse, they felt meaningless, weightless, worthless. The word “artist,” in reference to myself and my identity still makes me uncomfortable and embarrassed. There are other words, however, I more eagerly associate with myself: Sensitive, emotional, self-involved, proud, stubborn, self-righteous, passionate. Just to name a few. But in the months leading up to my admission into the psychiatric program, “artist”was a word I shook off like goosebumps shivering up my spine.

“I don’t know if my friends will ever really know the love I have for them. I didn’t know until last night it could hurt so bad.”-March 27th, 2016, 87 days before admission to Leonard Morse psychiatric care.

And if only I knew how much they love me.

There’s that pain again.

“I wish my awareness was enough to solve this problem.” -March 27th, 2016, 87 days before admission to Leonard Morse psychiatric care.

Self-awareness is a burden, especially to anyone attempting to displace the weight of their mind and heart. However, I cannot say I’ve known a single person who made anything worth writing home about in complete and utter ignorant bliss. Painters paint because they see colors that others do not. Musicians create music to make melancholy sound sweet. Writers write because they have something to say. Even if they’ve said it a million times.

“Yikes.”– May 6th, 2016. First word in the entry. 47 days until admission to Leonard Morse psychiatric care.

Something I’ve said a million times.

“My life is a Do-Not-Forget-To-Do-(Again) list.”-May 31st, 2016, 23 days before admission to Leonard Morse psychiatric care.

Forgetfulness is a symptom of humanity. We’re busy folks, artists or not.  We forget where we put the keys and names of acquaintances. We forget to write thank you notes and to pick up milk from the gas station. This journal entry was written in jest of my own all-too-frequent moments of mental blockage.

But what about when we forget how to love ourselves sweetly, when we forget to call when we get home? When we forget the dishes in the sink and how to put our feet on the floor first thing in the morning all in the same day?  When we will ourselves to forget painful memories and faces of those too far from us now to love wholly. I am guilty of all of these, but most especially of blacking out my life between the ages of ten and sixteen. On worse days, I leave damp clothes in the wash and bury the name of another person I loved into a corner in my arms ceremoniously, and I forget to take out the trash.

And then I write. I draw. I paint.

“I’m suddenly very exhausted. I just want to sit and stare upwards at the sky. I can’t meet anyone in the eyes. Conversations are strained. If my heart was removed from my chest and set down on a wooden beam, I’m certain that the wood would bow beneath the weight of my heart.”-June 19th, 2016, last journal entry before admission to Leonard Morse psychiatric care on June 22nd, 2016.

I wake up on June 22nd, 2016, two hours before I am due into work. Yesterday, I was sent home from work, having glazed over in my eyes and in my body, unable to interact with anyone animatedly.

“I need to go to the hospital,” I say to my fiance, disinterested and without urgency. I had cut myself a few times on my hip, unbeknownst to him. He nods.

“Okay,” he says calmly. We both expected this moment to come. It was only a matter of when.

In another piece I have recently written titled Pleasantries with the Mirror, I explain my use of time in the psych program at Leonard Morse:

“In total, I probably spent half an hour of my time there participating. Usually, it was to express frustration. The other time spent went to sitting with my knees bent to my chest, doodling on the back of handouts absentmindedly from 9am to 3pm.”

In between scribbles, I would absentmindedly write my favorite quote, one which provides blissful comfort whenever I recall it from my memory. Mark Z. Danielowski, author of House of Leaves, writes:

“Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the Latin root -pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer.”

Herein lies the message I’d like to impart on artists: The point is not that we use art as a vehicle. It is not shelter from pain. It is passion and patience. It is pain. It is not a medicine, or a band-aid; it is a scab we pick into a scar. Reconcile yourself with this. Your art will never save you. It will never prevent the inevitable. It is itself an inevitable consequence.

It does not serve you.

And the truth is, I’m not entirely sure what kind of functionality it serves. I do know, however, that my time in Leonard Morse was not a shortcoming on the part of my art. It was not about my skill or the marketability of my skills.

Art doesn’t care about the chemicals in my brain. It cares about art.

And we need to make it. Not to save ourselves. Just so that it can exist. Humanity needs Beauty and Art. It borders a moral obligation on the part of all of us.


Kristen is a Salem resident and longtime writer. She's passionate about cats, visual media, and communication through written word. She hopes to bring brutally honest pieces of writing and art to the Salem community. Follow her Wordpress at captainkbomb.wordpress.com and her instagram @creativediscourse