By Melissa Whitaker

Posts tagged ‘Fear’

It’s All a Masquerade

Illustration of woman with Mask over her eyes.
“Masquerade” Digital Illustration by Melissa Whitaker

Mardi Gras. A time of living it up before you have to live it down. My first visit to the Big Easy was this past weekend and I was taken in by the extravagance that was displayed. The people of Louisiana do not do things in small quantities and that includes dressing up or down, whatever the case may be. On Saturday, I attended my first Mardi Gras parade, the Krewe of Iris, which is considered the oldest and largest all-female Krewe in New Orleans. Iris members always wear white gloves and masks, as proper ladies are suppose to do according to traditional southern customs, and they did not disappoint.

As I watched the parade march down the street and the people reaching out for beads, doubloons, and other paraphernalia I was handed a mask to disguise myself with. It was as if the act of putting a mask on would make me a different person. A person that was accepted for their anonymity. This made me think about the masks we wear everyday in the attempts to fit it to society and what is expected of us.

When I was a child I attempted to be just like the others in order to be accepted in to a group. My sister, who was captain of the cheer leading squad, appeared to be popular to me, so I tried out for the cheer leading squad every year in the hopes of belonging. Never made it, I was too much of a klutz. I auditioned to be a baton twirler, because of the cute boots they wore, only to be hit on the head with the baton. (You would think that would have knocked some sense into me). Nothing I did seemed to work. I was destined to be a loner on the sideline.

“I think art comes from some sense of discomfort with the world, some sense of not quite fitting with it.” ~ Yann Martel

The only place that I ever felt I truly fit was in the art room. That was my safe place and the one place I felt accepted for who I was. I could enter into my own little world that I created. The only place I could honestly be me. I still joined clubs, made a few friends here and there, all in the vain hopes of belonging somewhere, only to realize that life is often better on the fringes of society.

The truth is we are all chameleons, we adapt to what is around us. We put on masks everyday to disguise our true selves, because when the masks come off, our biggest fear is we may be rejected for who we are Not. “I am not pretty enough. I am not skinny enough. I am not witty enough. My clothes are not the correct brand. I’m not popular enough. I’m not as good as they are. I’m not worthy.” A constant cadence under the mask.

What I have come to realize is there are some of us who do better standing on the fringes of society because we are NOT part of the krewe. We are the ones who take a different path. We are not afraid of the unknown, because we live there in our heads everyday. We are the ones who often set the trends that the others follow. We are the ones who see what needs to be changed and make the difference.


“I came to terms with not fitting in a long time ago. I never really fitted in. I don’t want to fit in. And now people are buying into that.” ~ Alexander McQueen

Everyone has a desire to “fit in” at some point in their lives. The desire comes and it goes, but we all have to take our masks off at some point and accept who we are and not be afraid of who we are not. We all have idiosyncrasies, that’s what makes us unique and interesting. I for one am a klutz and must endure a lot of bruising, but it has made me learn to laugh at myself. I am cute, curvaceous, a smart ass with several different sizes of clothes in her closet. I have a wide range of friends who I can count on to be there for me when needed and I am very much worthy of this life.

Now take your mask off. I double dog dare you.

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.

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

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.”

Addressing the Fear

“It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.” ~ Paul Cezanne

Fear is the one thing that can stop any progress from being made. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. As an artist I struggle with fear constantly, however fear is also what urges me on. I will sit and stare at a blank canvas, afraid of putting that first stroke of color on the pristine surface. What if I put it in the wrong spot? What if it comes out looking like crap? What if nobody likes it? What if people discover that I have no idea what I’m doing? Then I role my shoulders back, sit up straight, and say, “What if it frees my soul?”

Welcome to my fear.

We can sit and stare at the blank canvas in the hopes that inspiration will come.  We can leave the canvas sitting in the corner of the room waiting for the moment when it will come alive.  In the meantime, it’s only collecting dust.  Take this first blog for example.  I stare at the blank screen with the cursor blinking at me as if saying in Morse code, “w.r.i.t.e.m.e”  a constant nagging that raises the blood pressure.  Let me tell you, that cursor has been blinking at me for 3 weeks now.

I have found that facing my fear head on is the only way I know to conquer it.  Now fear and I may end up having a staring contest that lasts for weeks, but eventually fear will blink.  It always does.  The same principle applies to the blank canvas.  That painting is not going to magically paint itself, (although that would be pretty cool to watch).  At some point I have to put that first stroke on the canvas.  This may sound crazy, but I have found that if I just put a small dot of paint somewhere on the canvas then the fear of the stark, white canvas is minimized.  It will still nag at me, just like that blinking cursor, but the canvas is not nearly as pristine as it use to me and I have claimed it as my own with one simple stroke.Blank_Canvas

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