Journaling in coffee shops is a big part of my MO. It’s how I push the worst of the internal pain and distortion to my margins. It’s how I remember who I am. Journaling is vital for me. It’s medicine.
Now that I’ve embraced art journaling, I needed to figure out how to make it mobile, how to make it as easy as my old $1 spiral notebooks used to be. Some folks I met at ArtFest do their page set-ups at home and only journal out in public. Some take a few art supplies. Tracy likes to have people stop and talk about his journaling. He even invites them to add to it. Teesha wants to be left alone.
I put together a bag of supplies and launched. It helped that our local coffee shop closed for a couple of days and reopened under new management—Georgina, a sassy, gregarious New Zealander who is bent on upgrading the food quality and increasing the friendly factor. It seemed an auspicious start—new art form and new digs.
Since I’ve journaled in public for years, I’m used to the odd personal inquiry. I don’t get bothered much, but if folks see me as a regular with pen and notebook, eventually they ask what I’m writing. I’m happy to share. It’s also a chance to advocate as a person with mental illness. Almost to a person, they are or know of someone with mental illness. Conversation ensues. Stigma weakens. This is my superpower.
I’m finding that art journaling is a more open invitation. First it was the coffee shop staff—mostly college and very young adults—who seemed drawn to my booth like fluttery moths to a flame. They were fascinated, almost giddy, and inordinately proud that I did this weird thing in their coffee shop. I’ve become a kind of celebrity with my little bottle of matte medium and magazine gleans. They introduce me to their families. They give me muffins fresh from the ovens. It’s so sweet, and totally baffling.
It’s much more visual, this art journaling thing. My crap is spread out on the table and hard to miss. Other caffeinators wander by and stop to find out what it’s all about. And I’m happy to share.
These last few weeks have been rough, mental health-wise. The Bad Thoughts never stop, and reality is a little hard to recognize. When it starts to drag me under, I take a deep breath and go glue something or spread paint. It helps.
In one of my buying frenzies, I ordered some old art ‘zines from Teesha Moore, the wonderful art journalist who organized ArtFest. I figured there’d be lots of stuff to glean and pretty pictures to soothe my Brain-On-Fire (which would be my Hunger Games name).
In one of the zines from 2007, Teesha wrote an article about how she created an art journal page. The more I read, the angrier I got. She had lots of Do’s and Don’ts, particularly Don’t ever, under any circumstance, just cut a picture out and glue it to the page without altering it. And then there was an endless list of art supplies—types of paints and pens, markers and pastels—all with their own Do’s and Don’ts.
I thought, no wonder I could never do this. Complete intimidation. In my righteous indignation, I created a FuckYou,ThankYou,Teesha spread in my journal. Part defiance, part homage, I used some of Teesha’s techniques and a lot of swear words. And it is glorious.
Anger can light a fire under creativity. It can conquer Defeat. It can pound a fence post in the ground and say, This is as far as you get to push me.
A Brain-on-Fire can be terrifying and it can be an open door. With May being Mental Health Awareness month, I’m happy to share.