Blank- state of mind.
I'm not in Sarajevo right now. I'm on vacation with family in France. I'm privileged to be here - rocky coastlines and quiet narrow streets where grandparents and grandchildren link arms and carry baguettes back to breezy summer apartments.
But as I'm taking in the postcard-like landscapes, it is Sarajevo that beckons my thoughts - the busy mix of people milling around the public square in Carsija, the call to prayer, the approaching end of Ramadan, and beginning of Bajram, interfaith projects hanging midair, saying (a temporary) goodbye to people with whom I haven't had nearly enough time... It's like a blackhole, the way thoughts consume me and I vanish mentally from a physical place. I have no doubt that this will be an even greater challenge when I am back in the U.S.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling down, I change in the company of others. It’s a practiced automatic behavior. I guess, a habit. I hold my breath. My posture shrinks. And stiffens. I become solemn. Walled.
Some time ago I understood that sadness and depression – are not ok – especially for someone like me, who has had the world given to her on a silver plate with doilies and After Eights. Feelings like this are not permitted, with the exception of extreme / tragic experiences. In the context of an economically privileged life, there is no justification for feelings other than gratitude, joy, and constant momentum. After all, these are the qualities we value the most in our society. Efficiency. Effectiveness. Productivity. Not that I don't value these things but living in Sarajevo, where there is a real feeling of community, of an emotional safety net (other safety nets - economic, physical health - these are a completely different story), has sharpened my critical lens.
And “counting ones blessings” as my parents often remind me, does help to stir my own stillness. When I think about both of them, and my sister, and our dog, and all the places I’ve been able to see, the anvil lifts a bit higher... But lately,, I awake stumped. The dullness, the emptiness. Like there is a balloon inside me that keeps growing and filling with air – with nothing. It just expands, rolls over my organs – my heart, my stomach, squeezing out any realness, joy, passion, or excitement. And then, suddenly without warning it bursts through my skin, and I am left sitting helplessly, watching bubbles of myself float away.
My dear friend Safet, an artist, also struggles sometimes with what he calls “down days.” But these are fewer now he told me as he has shifted the subject of his paintings to “what is inside.” Safet used to paint powerful portraits of everyday people who in his own words, “were assholes during the war.” But shifting the content of his canvas to painting his own world (rather than the world outside as he told me), allows his voice, unfiltered, to color his brushes. And so he tells me, he is feeling really good.
Safet has been telling me for months that I am an artist. It’s a label I’m not sure what to do with. However I admit, the one antidote to my own “down days,” an activity that reliably drains troubled waters within, is expression. Writing. Painting. Hitting the ivories on the piano. It is the process of moving all the emotion sitting in my body to some space outside -- expression. It must come out. Is all expression art? Is all art expressions?
A few years ago another friend told me her secret for overcoming her own dark feelings. It was a visualization strategy, one she’d learned and practiced from a book. She would concentrate and visualize each dark feeling as a creature with a unique shape, color, smell. She would try to see the feelings as clearly as possible, and then enter into a conversation in an effort to understand and minimize the feeling's control. Writing often enables a similar outcome. Using raw emotions and words I sculpt and express my experience. There is a freedom in this creating and expressing. I remember a memorable quote from Toni Morrison who also could relate.
In moments over the last few months it has crossed my mind what I have gained, how I have changed over the course of this year abroad. Keeping a journal since the age of six or seven, I have always written, but only for purposes of what seemed to be my own method of therapy. To share these internal monologues publicly never occurred to me until this year when I started blogging about my experiences in Sarajevo. And the positive responses from people who enjoyed reading the blog, has surprised me. But the joy continues to come from within. I continue to write for myself, in a dialogue with the outside world as I perceive it and always colored through the lens of my intellectual and emotional hyper sensitivities. As I reflect on what I've gained, my thoughts dance around some sort of artist “coming out” party... I've already started compiling memories for future material...