Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Artistic Pursuit of Happiness

What am I doing? This is a question readers of my other blogs might well ask, so I thought I'd better explain. I'm not very good at being happy, a fact that I am forcibly reminded of in the run-up to Christmas each year. As I've aged the year has assumed a series of patterns around me: first the speed-up of time as the Northern hemisphere's Spring looms, then a slowing down of time through the northern Summer, until a build-up to that teetering moment at the top of the rollercoaster at the end of September and wham! I slam into Christmas, rebound in the week between Christmas and New Year, and enter the start of the next year feeling thoroughly miserable. Interestingly moving into the Southern hemisphere a couple of years ago has done nothing to change the pattern. I guess 40 years of Winter in December/January/February and Summer being in June/July/August isn't going to change for me very quickly. I find myself wondering if it ever will change, or if it's bred into my bones.

The long and the short of it is that I suffer from depression, and have done since I was a teenager. There are lots of reasons why, and most of those reasons have taught me important things and make me the person that I am so I have no regrets, but unfortunately I also have quite a bleak outlook on life. I keep it all at bay, usually, by staying busy - very busy - too busy! - but the hiatus between Christmas and New Year always catches me out. Everything around me stops. Work stops, school's out, you're in between the highs of Christmas Day and New Year's Eve... it is at once a time of relief (possibly the only time in the year in which I don't feel guilty for not working) and despair.

What does one do? In my case, the best remedy is to start a new project, and this is it.

I've spent the last few years intermittently working through a river in my art. Well I'm sure that river will be there, every now and again, for years to come but I've been looking around for something else to focus on. My work has never been either figurative or personal, except in a very sideways sort of a way, so I find myself slightly surprised to realise that this year I'd like to try something a bit different. Last year's project was The Daily Drawing, 366 (it was a leap year!) small drawings, each 7 x 7 cms square, done on little pieces of Somerset Rough Not etching paper that I'd saved up from when I tore the paper for an edition of prints to size. The project's finished now, but it has reawakened pleasure in drawing, something I've lost sight of over many years. And I got excited by drawing people, and by how personal the project ended up being. Laying out some of the drawings on my printing bench I saw a visual diary of a year of my life. OK, many of the drawings were patterns or botanical details, but lots of them were small markers of what was going on, from M being in hospital several times, to E's school sports day, to the round-and-round-and-round frustration of a particularly BIG argument with P.

What is this project, then? Well it's all a bit woolly and may only gain clarity as I go along, but the intention is to explore the meaning and definition of happiness, hopefully in a way that is artistic as well as personal. I guess I'll be reading, writing and drawing and whatever I read, write or draw will go up on this blog. Will it help me? I don't know. I think I've spent so much time fighting misery that I'm not very good at being happy. Living has always been a struggle that has required enormous amounts of energy. I'l be 43 this year and I'm tired of fighting. My mother died aged 63 - much too young - but it's created a future milestone in my own mind as it did for her (her own mother died aged 58, and I remember the emotion with which my mother greeted her 59th birthday). If I was to have another 20 years alloted to me, what would I like to achieve in that time? Being happy would be a very good start. My mother told me all she ever wished for on New Year's Eve as the clock struck midnight was for her and those around her to be happy, because it encompassed the ideas of having health and sufficient wealth, and so I've always wished the same. I'm not sure how my mother approached the idea of being happy. My friend Helen tells me that she thinks happiness is truly 'living in this moment', with the implication, I suppose, that living NOW precludes the two possibilities so prevalent in my life of living in the past and worrying about the future.

It's clear to me that there are many different notions of what happiness is and how to attain it, so I plan to explore at least some of them, with the aim of noticeably improving 'how much' happiness I experience between now and roughly this time next year and, if possible, improving my overall capacity to be happy. I may need to revise some old and unhelpful ways of thinking, I'm sure I'll need to absorb some wisdom from others, and perhaps I'll create something new as a result. As for the rest, we'll have to wait and see...


  1. I'm interested to see how the new blog evolves. Actually, I wish I had thought of the idea of starting a new one myself. A new year with a new blog...a fresh start of new things to come.

    I did really enjoy the drawing blog. Actually, in my long list of blogs to read, I would always check both of yours out first whenever I saw new entries had been added.

    I hope this provides the catharsis for which you are searching.

  2. I agree with snippety gibbet. Interestingly I came back to drawing for the same reasons as you have found. There is something about drawing one's life that enables you to see the extraordinariness and the happiness that evades our eyes when our sight isn't through ink and paper. Have a happy year.


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