Chatting with Toni Morrison

I’ve been having a chat with Toni Morrison. In my head at least and she’s been kicking my arse.

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work,” she says.

But it must be fairly normal for creative types to spend a good proportion of their days justifying their existence and convincing themselves that there is actually value in what they do. when I  add to this a recently discovered endocrine mood disorder, it really looks like there’s no hope at all.

Over the course of one (albeit short) menstrual cycle my capacity to do the ordinary stuff of life and business varies wildly, depending on my psychological responses to changing hormone levels. This is not a new thing, PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) has been present throughout my mothering years, and I have hundreds of journal pages filled with motivational speeches asserting that I am not just a fuck-up, that the work that I make is not just self-indulgent frivolity. I am regularly paralysed by excuses hidden behind doubts.

Toni goes on, “there is no time for despair, no place for self-pity.”

When these are the thoughts that drive the shit storm in my head, this is my reality. Getting out of bed is a big deal. But I do get up and make stuff, regardless of its worth. The work itself saves me, every time. It calms me, turns down the volume on the thinking and prevents me from going back to bed to hide under the duvet. Making things has become my tried and tested strategy for getting through. I consider myself fortunate really; at least I have a strategy.

So, holding this in mind, I have reason to be cheerful. It is the reason why I wrestle with such debilitating doubt, anxiety, rage and depression. I am not just a fuck up after all!  Even when I am living in the shit storm, I can see, somewhere behind it all, a space. I am still me. I am OK. This too will pass. And it does, every time.

It is the reason, too, why making art has become my default setting. When I can't focus on anything, cannot see the path ahead, when I am well and truly lost at sea, making is the only thing I can do. It has become my escape and my sanctuary, a strategic diversionary tactic. And as a result of all that unintentional practice, my work is intricate and yes, meaningful.

PMDD offers me reasons when I find myself seeing it as an excuse, when I want an easy out. This one small shift of perspective allows me to see through the shitty feelings and get on with living. I might not be OK, but I can be OK with that. Circumstances may suck, but my thoughts about it in that moment are just as likely to pass as clouds in the sky, and actually, I can still make stuff.

Toni says “We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilisations heal.”

I can still make stuff. And as long as I keep making stuff, writing stuff, doing the stuff of life, I am doing my job. And here I am, on a good day, remembering that there is a point and a usefulness and a necessity to art. The shit storm has passed and it’s time to get to work.

It is important after all, Toni said so.