By Melissa Whitaker

Archive for the ‘Fear’ Category

Between Two Elephants

“Heebie Jeebies” Digital art by Melissa Whitaker

The above artwork is strange and bizarre, but an anxiety attack can be just as strange and bizarre. For as long as I can remember this particular vision would pop up out of nowhere. I say vision because it would happen while fully awake. I would be quietly sitting in math class and then, without any warning, I would be stuck between two elephants boxing. My heart would race and my head would throb with every punch that was thrown. As a child, I had no idea what was happening but I knew the elephants were not real, so I kept quiet about it. It was not real, so I did not have to address it.

The elephants would enter the arena with their satin robes draped over their massive shoulders. The crowd would start cheering and the first punch would be thrown POW!! The crowd would roar with excitement as I would cringe in fear of being trampled. WHAM!! my head would pound with the resonance of a timpani drum. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. My heart would march along to the rhythmic tempo and accelerate as the cheering would get louder. Meanwhile, those sitting around me casually went on with the math lesson not knowing of the battle going inside of me.

These attacks would strike at some of the oddest moments. I could never be sure when the elephants would appear, but the one place they never appeared was when I was drawing, so the art room became my sanctuary and comfort.

Art to me is extremely therapeutic. There is a zen-like quality to immersing oneself into a creative state of mind. Allowing the emotion to ebb through and come out on to the canvas, paper, tablet, or the pixels of digital art, is a release of the anxiety that can get bottled up within. When my life gets chaotic or stressful and I don’t make time for my creativity to flow, that is when the elephants make their appearance and can stampede through my mind. Exercising the inner muse is my way of calming the herd of judgment and self-doubt that can accompany the anxiety.

I have a friend who is always scolding me for putting others before myself. He sees the destruction that happens to my soul and ultimately my art when I neglect myself. The anxiety builds up to the point where I feel trapped between two boxing elephants. That is the time to stop, take a moment, breathe, and realize that I am in control and not the elephants. I have the choice of crouching in fear or standing up and proclaiming myself as the champion in the ring.

I choose.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18-54 have anxiety disorders. 54% woman and 46% of men experience anxiety in some form. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) sites that 7.1% of children aged 3-17 have diagnosed anxiety.

The Art of Disappointment

“Disappointment”

Digital Media Illustration by Melissa Whitaker

Ahhhhhh.  Disappointment, the gum on the shoe of every artist.  Difficult to remove and a constant reminder of a step once taken.  It clings to your soul and gives you a feeling of inadequacy.  A nagging persistence that your art or even you are not good enough.  It is a struggle that everyone must deal with from time to time.  It has become a constant companion that is stuck to my shoe and I have learned to incorporate it into my walk.  Every now and then it gets a little sticky, but most of the time it’s just an imbalance that needs to be corrected.

The artistic way of life is really quite masochistic.  The muse inspires one to create, but the creation seldom measures up to what the mind has envisioned.  Leaving an artist feeling disappointed, discouraged, disillusioned, and dejected.  Then that artwork is put on display for all the world to judge.   If the piece is accepted the brain is flooded with endorphins that will give the artist a temporary high.  A high that is desperately sought after, to the point that rejection is the price that is willing to be paid in order to achieve a personal validation.

This week I received another email that will be added to the collection of rejection letters in my file cabinet.  (I keep thinking that someday I will make a collage of all of them). It felt like I had just stepped on a tarantula size wad of gum.  No matter how much I tried to shake it off,  it would not let loose.  This was not the same as entering a juried art show where the judging was based on your work and whether or not it would fit in with the rest of the show.  This felt personal.  A judgment of me and who I am.  No matter how many times I told myself, “It’s nothing personal.”  It stuck to my soul as a constant reminder that I was not worthy.  I would be happily preparing Thanksgiving dinner and then BAM!  it would remind me and I would start crying.  (The blessing was, I could blame the crying on cutting onions).  It took a few days and a few bottles of wine to accept the fact that it wasn’t personal.  It’s not that I wasn’t worthy, it’s simply that I wasn’t ready YET.

It is extremely tempting to give up and not submit oneself to rejection over and over again, but then there would never be that ultimate high of validation.  That wondrous ecstasy of achievement that I strive for.  If we let the disappointments fester an accumulate we become stuck and never move forward.  Disappointments can fool you and stretch to make you feel like you are moving forward, but they will inevitably pull you back to where you were.  I will scrape the gum from my shoe and leave a bit of the residue to harden, to remind me that life has its disappointments, it’s what we do with them that makes the difference.  The important thing is to keep moving forward, that is the only way to arrive at where you are going.

Now then, please excuse me while I go to the store to purchase a pack of gum.  I seem to have dropped mine.

American Triage

For the past several days I have tried to write a blog post, but as soon as I wrote something I would quickly cut it because it may have offended someone.  Who it would offend, I don’t know, but it really didn’t matter.  Offensiveness seems to be the new normal and I do not want to be “normal.” 

I live in a small town just outside of Cape Girardeau, MO.  Today the town is being visited by the 45th President, Donald J. Trump, Sean Hannity, and Cape Girardeau’s home boy Rush Limbaugh.  There is an electricity in the air as a storm is brewing in the West, (seriously, the weatherman is calling for tornadoes this evening) the tension mounts on my social media pages, and I sit here wondering, whatever happened to civility?  I scroll through my Facebook feed and see one accusatory comment after another.  It does not matter which side a person is on, the accusations are coming from the Red and the Blue. How can we merge the two and make a lovely, vibrant purple?

When did this become an Us vs. Them country?  To borrow from one of the greatest authors of all time, Harper Lee, “I think that there is just one kind of folksFolks.”  Scout Finch had a good role model in Atticus Finch and I think we could all use a reminder of Atticus’ advice today,  “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  People develop their beliefs based on their life experiences, not another persons background.  We can learn from other people’s experiences, but it is one’s own life that develops their beliefs and foundations.

The one thing I have learned during this tumultuous time is, you are not going to change anything by being accusatory and mean to people who think differently.  It only makes the divide deeper and wider.  Saying that all Republicans/Conservatives are deplorable or all Democrats/Liberals are the Devil’s spawn is not going to heal this divide.  It only causes more discord. If you must believe in an Us vs. Them scenario then think of it this way; the more divisiveness and discord ther is, the more ground “THEY” gain.  Don’t ask me who “They” are, because I do not know.  That one I will leave to the conspiracy theorist to decide.  As for me today…. I’m going to go pass out daisies and breath mints, because if a person is going to yell at me, then they better have fresh breath while they are doing it.  

American Triage-

American Triage

False Truth

“Each person does see the world in a different way. There is not a single, unifying, objective truth. We’re all limited by our perspective.” ~ Siri Hustvedt

The last few years has had me examining the question, “What is true?” That question has taken over my life in the last month. Not just in the political atmosphere, but in business and personal as well. When long held beliefs turn out to be false there is a foundational shift that occurs. An earthquake of the conscience that makes one re-examine everything that they have been taught. What we perceive as truth is based on what we have been taught to believe. Our perception of the world is based on our life experiences, what we consume in media, and who we socialize with. Each one of these will bend the truth to fit into what we perceive to be accurate, if it does not fit in to our preconceived notions, then it is often ruled to be false.

I am not a degreed scholar, and I do not sit around and drink coffee with philosophical individuals (although that would be nice). I am an artist who examines everything from different perspectives. I have learned to examine things and life from all angles, because I will always notice something that I did not see before. Recently I discovered that my perception had been a bit skewed by folks who I believe meant well, but ultimately caused a tilt shift in my view.

Let me explain.

When photographing architecture with a wide angle lens a distortion will appear in the photo. Straight lines will look curved and there may even be some vignetting at the corners due to light bending on the lens. With an adjustment in Photoshop or Lightroom this can be corrected, or a person can invest in a tilt shift lens that adjusts enough to obtain the correct perspective when the image is captured. Much like the distortion that happens from a camera lens, what one learns from another person has been distorted by their preconceived notions. On closer examination and independent research I discovered that a serious correction was needed in what I thought was the truth. I had to look at things from all angles. Some may call this overthinking, but I prefer to call it getting the right perspective.

In this crazy, mixed up world we live in where we are told that everything is FAKE news and that, “The truth is not the truth,” it is becoming more and more difficult to correct the distortion.

“Perception” by Melissa Whitaker

The Curse of Being Nice

I am often accused of being too sweet, too pleasant, too accommodating,  too quiet, and too nice.  That last one, too nice, that’s the twisted knife.  It appears that in today’s world in order for a woman to achieve success the label “Too Nice” is the hemlock in her cup of caffeine each morning.  Do you have to go for the jugular in order to succeed in life?  Being nice and accommodating is how I was raised.

Oxford dictionary defines accommodating as: fitting in with one’s wishes or demands in a helpful way.

The question then becomes, is being accommodating a good thing?  Who is it benefiting?  I watched my grandmother spend all day cooking a meal and then serve it at the table for the family.  She never sat down with the family, she just hovered over the shoulder or sat in the kitchen waiting to serve in case anyone needed anything.  I did not think much about this growing up possibly because I watched my mother do it.   My mother would sit at the table with us, but she was always ready to get up to retrieve something.  My mother tried to teach me to do this and some of it took and some of it didn’t.

What I learned was to be accommodating and to put others needs before mine.  This accommodation can be beneficial, but it can be even more detrimental to my own personal well-being.  I no longer look at it as being accommodating or nice and sweet.  It’s enabling.  I am an enabler.  By bending to others wishes or demands I am enabling them to continue controlling MY life and MY wishes.  That control is a powerful thing and breaking free from it is extremely difficult, but in order to achieve success in my life,  I have to be in control of it.  Do I have to go for the jugular?  I don’t think so, because ultimately it is my own neck that I am sticking out and I am kind of attached to it.

It has not been easy taking control of my life and telling people “No.  I’m not doing that anymore.”  They are stunned and even a little angry but they will get over it.  I only have one shot at this life and it’s time to make it my own.

What about you?  Have you broken free?

Hey Jude

Acrylic and Graphite on Canvas

Seeing Things Differently

“An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere. The pessimist sees only the red light. But the truly wise person is color blind.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

I LOVE color!! The deeper, the brighter, the more illuminating, the better. I try to view the world through rose colored glasses, but sometimes the glasses get a little foggy and the darkness creeps in. I know as I grow older the colors in my world may begin to fade and lose some of their luminosity, it is not something I look forward to.

I have been working with a client for several months now on a marketing campaign. I have done many illustrations for him and recently it came down to choosing the color palette. I see color everywhere and my artwork is often full of intense color, so creating a color palette was hitting my prime spot. This client lives several thousand miles away, so it’s not like they could sit beside me and point out color choices. I created several palettes that he could choose from and each time he would come back with, “What if we replaced this color with some other color?” He’s lucky I am an extremely patient person……………at times.

This client had mentioned before that he had some color blindness, but he always chose colors that worked together. He has an exceptional eye, but it soon became apparent that we were seeing colors differently. Today I discovered a website that allows you to view things through the eyes of color blindness. (Technology seriously makes my mind explode). Here is a link to the color blind simulator

I would say that the term color blindness is a misnomer, color vision deficiency may be a better term. Only a small percentage have true color blindness which is called Monochromacy or Achromatopsia.

I placed my artwork in the color blind simulator in order to have a better idea on what the client may be seeing and this is what it showed me:

I do not know which one is truly what he views, but it definitely explains a LOT and helps me to understand that color vision deficiency is not really a deficiency, it may even be more colorful. So the next time your significant other asks you if this shirt goes with these pants, just say, “Yes.”

The next time someone tells me they are color blind I’m responding with, “OH! How wonderful! You can show me a whole new way of looking at things.”

Speak No Evil, Draw No Evil

For the past few years I have felt that everything I was taught to believe in has been wadded up and thrown into the bin labeled “Lost to Posterity.”  While writing this post I sit here and think, “I hope I do not offend anyone.”  I have become overly cautious on my words and actions to the point that my only outlet has been through art.  Even some of my artwork has been tethered in the hopes of not offending.  It was the way I was taught.  Be considerate of others.  But when does being considerate of others become censorship of self?

I have been told to paint pretty landscapes, flowers and even chickens because that is what people want.  It’s safe and not offensive.  I’m sorry, but I don’t do landscapes.  I am a plant assassin, all I have to do is look at a plant and it will die.  And the only chicken I like is what’s on my plate.  If I were to paint or draw what others deem is worthy of commerce, it would be a censoring of myself.  Then I would be lost.

A few months ago I had the extreme pleasure of meeting one of my favorite artists, Pamela Frankel-Fiedler.  Her work is provocative, sensual, and captivating.  My conversation with her encouraged me to not be afraid of what others may think and being overly cautious is a restraint of self expression.

I paint and draw because, if I don’t, I feel like I am suffocating.  Art is the air I breathe.  It is my voice.

In the coming months, I will be exploring this self-expression and it may shock and it may offend, but to NOT explore it would be a suffocation of the spirit.  So buckle up Buttercup, we’re going for a ride!

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