Hung up on details

When the protests in Venezuela started again, I felt the need to pour my energy and anxiety into something useful. I tried to volunteer in everything I could, write as much as I could, share information with my family, keep myself informed, retweet, like, share, donate, and so on. This has been positive for me (and I hope, for others), it makes me feel I am part of a greater purpose, and that this would help my country. But suddenly I find myself with another type of anxiety, wondering “am I doing enough?” “am I really helping from the comfort of my home?” To be honest these dramatic thoughts are very egocentric and self-centered, not to mention exaggerated. It is also very likely I will not change the world, nor I appear in history books as the most altruistic person ever. And that is perfectly fine, I should not keep in the back of my head “fame and glory” as the ultimate motivation for my actions.

My “lucha” from Santa Barbara, CA is just a tiny, small, invisible, meaningless part of a greater cause, in which much more people in Venezuela and abroad are putting 110% energy to make a difference that could lead to concrete changes. And while I can spend most of my nights unable to sleep thinking I could do more, crying randomly because I cannot get an airplane ticket to Venezuela, tweeting and retweeting about what is happening, I also knew I had to put in perspective how I was handling my feelings. I still do not know what I am doing (I think that is what a lot of people feel these days), but looking for a bit of more balance has calmed me down… a little bit. For now, that is enough in order to deal with my anxiety, pay better attention to myself, my family, my work, my country, this country, and everything in between.

Once I realized I am not the center of the universe and that I am not superwoman, I decided to take an art class about collages and mixed media. This might sound very random to you, but it helped with my anxiety. Also, since I read Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, I realize that even though I have a lot of interests, I do not have an actual hobby. This resounded in the back of my head for a long time and I decided to get out of my comfort zone and do something that would allow me clear my head, at least for a couple of hours.

The “workspace” I set up for my collages. I am always happy to sit down in the floor and get to do this.

Not too many people know this about me, but I love making collages, scrapbooking, assembling objects together, collecting paper, tearing apart paper, drawing over paper, cutting and pasting, you name it. Only writing the last sentence makes me happy. I was talking about the collage class for months to my husband. He kept saying I should do it, I kept making excuses not to do it. I always wanted to experience being in an art class, but I was also too scared about it, of people thinking I was not good enough, specially with something so personal for others to scrutinize it. The anxiety started again (this time about something I was not even doing at the time!), but I stopped overthinking and signed-up for the class. Now I am very happy I did it, I enjoy making art and how different it is from my academic work.

The great thing about academia is the ability we have to ask questions, develop and polish an argument, support your ideas with sources. You are analyzing, interpreting, writing, editing, writing some more, editing again and so forth. I love doing this, and I enjoy having people’s feedback about my writing since this allows me to improve, keep asking more questions, look for more information, and grow my research. But academic work is not as personal as making art. More importantly, making collages in a class, where constructive criticism is part of the dynamic, can be sometimes stressful to me.

I am already an anxious person, and when it comes to making creative projects, I get more insecure. I feel it needs to be perfect when in reality is like another endeavor: you grow as long as you practice, feedback is important to get better. This class feels like a new territory to me, and while I really enjoy it, I am also overthinking. I sometimes find myself at home worried if everybody in the class is going to like what I do. The anxiety comes back even before the class begins. Then I realize the feedback I get from my professor and my classmates is the best part of the process, since it allows to see my art with a different perspective. Thanks to the critique, the part of the class that increases my anxiety, I have realized of things that I need to improve, and I usually get a very positive and constructive response from my peers. I feel silly when the class ends because all the anxiety I was building up was and is unnecessary. But I cannot help it, I start thinking again I need to be some sort of “collage-artist superwoman.”

The anxiety became more evident to me in one of the last sessions, when I turned the tiniest project into the most overcomplicated endeavor. In order to let our creative flow, my professor, the awesome Susan Tibbles, suggested we should make a small collage with the few materials we had available. She gave us ten minutes and the goal was “not overthink it, just do it.” I blanked almost immediately, and my piece showed it. It did not have any fluidity, it looked weird, and honestly it was pretty bad! Not to mention how nervous I was about my professor’s feedback. She was repeating to me “keep working… you will get there… are you having fun?” but for me that sounded the same as “you suck and this is the end of the world.”

The more I tried to assemble my collage, in a “perfect” way, the worse it looked. My professor noticed it and said to me “you are hung up on the details, just stop overthinking and let yourself go.” The idea of doing this was very hard for me to understand, it still is. I tend to overthink, I get anxious, I am worried about the impact of the things I do will not be enough, for whom? I do not know, but the feeling is there. Then, I panic, I blank without even starting. I know this about myself, and I am actually glad somebody said it out loud for me to hear it. Her words made me realized I REALLY need to relax, especially since this was supposed to be something to let go, to stop worrying and to have fun.

Note to self, 2017. By Andreina Soto.
“Note to self,” 2017. The collage I was supposed to make in ten minutes.

Even though it took me more than ten minutes (more like two hours), I finished the small collage. I must admit I am not fascinated with the results, but I decided to keep it around as a reminder of the feelings I experienced during that class. I think it would be a good reminder to not hung up on details, that things do not need to be perfect, that constructive criticism is important, and that I should stop putting so much pressure on myself. We have a couple of projects coming soon, and I also want to do more of the ten-minutes challenges to warm up. Fingers crossed I will keep in mind what I learned and have fun with the process. Overall, this activity makes me really happy and I enjoy doing art.

I think everybody needs an activity that serves as an energy and creativity boost, whatever that is. You can go protest, provide first-aid for the wounded, collect food and medicine, do research or write news articles to inform the public. In the case of Venezuela, there is amazing people doing all this, and you should support the cause that is more appealing to you.[1] But if there is something else that helps you drain energy –sports, yoga, Netflix, cooking, drinking, drawing- you should also stop thinking how trivial it might be and go for it for the sake of your mental health. I know, we are living very hard times, and I do not mean to be superficial about all the things that are happening in Venezuela and, basically, the rest of the world. Even in the darkest times there should be something that keeps you sane, because once we get out of this complex and dark mess we are in, we are going to need clarity in our heads to make things better. To me, making collages has been that much needed, therapeutic, creative break. I hope you have something that makes you feel the same, and if not get out of your comfort zone, do not get hung up on details, and let yourself go.


[1] You can also support independent journalism such as The Caracas Chronicles. If you live in the U.S. and want to support local causes, I have posted some of them here.


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