The Anxiety Project
One of the really cool things about working at a major university is that there is something interesting going on somewhere, all of the time. I try to stay alert for opportunities to see and do things, to get out and experience all of what I can of it. I think it's my responsibility to absorb as much as I can learn while I am here.
On this day, I had a ticket to a lunch event called the Penn State Forum. About every month or so, there are sponsored speakers on many topics under the sun. This day's speaker was William Doan, director of The Anxiety Project, a Professor of Theatre, 2019-20 Penn State laureate.
I have mentioned that in my job, I work with students with disabilities, and one of our largest and growing populations (here and everywhere) is students who grapple with mental illness of one kind or another, with anxiety and depression figuring largely. My family also has an extensive history in those areas. So for this topic, I'm in, on both professional and personal fronts.
William shared engaging, sometimes laugh-inducing (and sometimes cringe-inducing) stories from his growing-up years in Ohio, where he observed that "Everything was coated in the dust of melancholy." He spoke about his family and the death of a half-sister after a traumatic brain injury and coma.
Stories about religion provided a necessary framework for his discussion of Catholic anxiety: the death of a friend, the burning of a church. He talked about having a melt-down in the toilet paper aisle of a grocery store when overwhelmed by the number of choices, an experience many of us can probably identify with. (For one of my sisters, it was the toothpaste aisle at Walmart.)
So he talked, and while he talked, he shared images that he had created himself, many of which included words, as with the one above. I can only hit the high points in this brief posting, so I'll give you two things, 1) a link to The Anxiety Project itself, as well as 2) a recent interview done with William for a local magazine.
If you scroll down through the second link, you'll see several examples of images he shared during his presentation. One of them in particular caught my attention as being very relatable. A group of young people stand close together as a pack. Off to the side is a lone figure surrounded by words like Weirdo, Freak, Odd, Whacko. Sicko, Awkward. I cringe just reading them!
And of course, throughout the entire presentation ran the theme of Art as a means of describing, untangling, coping. What is the blanket you wrap around yourself when you are hurting? What makes you feel strong and able when everything seems impossible and the Black Dog is nipping at your heels? What makes you feel less alone? How do you find - and cherish - isolated moments of joy amid the struggle? What strategies do you use to cope? These are questions about the HUMAN condition.
This is a topic that has so much more to be said about it, but I'll leave that to the experts. Instead of pontificating about the answers I've found for myself (here's a hint or two: photography figures large in my own joy-finding and coping strategies, as does music!), let me share a related song.
I own most of Pat Benatar's albums, but this one is a standout favorite and I have probably listened to it the most: here's Anxiety (Get Nervous), from the 1982 album Get Nervous. And oddly enough, listening to it always makes me feel . . . better. :-)