The Art of Coping
“It may be that art is simply what we call our most constructive coping mechanism for the incomprehension of life and mortality…” ~ Maria Popova
The Marginalian is one of my favorite blogs, so I have no hesitation in recommending it. It’s beautifully written and always gives me something deep to ponder, such as the quote I’ve listed above. Which of you readers out there have turned to your art or craft at some point in your life to help you cope? I have done this many times, often not even realizing I’ve been doing it until after the fact.
I’ll be honest. I hide in my sewing room when I’m stressed. It’s my own space and it’s full of my stuff, my efforts, and my soul (oh, and usually several flat dogs). Sometimes I literally sit in there and stare at the walls, not even trying to plan a project or make something. I just sit. There’s something extremely soothing about being in that space, even though it’s usually a chaotic mess. What is it about this room that gives me comfort and makes me feel less like I’m being chased? Maybe it represents good things and happy feelings of satisfaction.
Thinking all the way back to my childhood, as I’ve written about in other posts, sewing was all I wanted to do. It came easily to me and wasn’t something I ever struggled with. I was (and still am) good at it without a lot of effort. This is not to say I’ve learned everything and I’m perfect. There’s no such thing as perfect, and I’m a lifetime learner, so there will always be new things, some of which I won’t be good at doing. Sewing was my go-to safe place—I could lose myself and time in it and there was no judgment.
When my parents got divorced while I was in grade school and both remarried not long after, I mostly hid in our basement and stitched for as many hours as I could when I wasn’t at school. It was tough being traded off from one household to another on a regular basis, and as someone who doesn’t always handle change well, it was difficult for me to express that frustration in a productive manner, so I channeled it into making things. If I recall that period of my life accurately, it spurred several new hobbies. I was happiest when my hands and head were busy, so I was always looking for something different to do. Doll clothes, lacy cut snowflakes, ribbon barrettes, friendship bracelets, origami…my child brain was desperately trying to feed a soul that constantly felt starved. I filled my desk at school with folded paper frogs and cranes as I tried to cope with the confusion and sadness that resulted from a broken family. I filled my heart making things that I thought were pretty and unique.
Once I graduated from college, I had planned to go to grad school so I could eventually direct operas. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out the way I had hoped because I couldn’t figure out how to pay for it and I already had $20,000 in debt from my undergrad degrees. It was devastating and I felt hopeless, as if all my dreams had been dashed in a blink. I moved back in with my parents and took the first job I could find, a soul-sucking retail position. Once again, I sought art and craft as solace and escape. I acted in community theater productions. I sewed stuffed animals and handbags. I made jewelry. I sang. I filled my schedule with as many rehearsals and performances as possible, trying to push away grief and feelings of utter failure. Again, life felt better and easier in the midst of making, even though I didn’t realize it until years later when the habit of busying my hands returned during my own divorce.
I’m an intensely private person, so divulging some of this feels a little like standing naked in front of a crowd. However, I’m compelled to share because I believe that if we deny ourselves the things that truly make us feel good and safe and content, then we’re denying ourselves a fundamental part of living. We each have gifts that beg to be shared with others, and if we don’t share them, we die inside and the people around us don’t benefit from what we could offer them. Art and craft (if you can separate the two; I discuss this in my past post “Are You an Artist or a Crafter?”) are deeply personal means of expressing ourselves and our thoughts about the world that we’re unable to articulate. Creating can help make us feel more centered and calm, especially when everything around us seems scary or volatile.
It’s no wonder so many of us turn to creating when we’re trying to cope in difficult situations and process discordant feelings.
Back to my sewing room, perhaps it best represents an old, trusted friend who warmly welcomes us back into their comforting space and arms no matter how many times we’ve stumbled, fallen, beaten ourselves up and says, “It’s safe to be yourself here. Make your magic.”
And on that note, I’ll quote the Olivia Newton John song, Magic: “And if all your hopes survive, destiny will arrive and bring all your dreams alive for you.” Click here if you’d like to hear my studio recording of this song.
Do you find solace in art and craft when you’re trying to cope? If so, I’d love to hear your stories if you’d like to submit comments.