Anxiety, Agoraphobia and Altered Esthetics

Every now and again I’ll wake up in the wee hours of the morning, not to roll over and doze back to sleep -- but wide awake, my mind racing and full of thoughts. I’ve come into contact with other creatives frustrated with insomnia -- but insomnia isn’t exactly what this is. There’s a clarity and sharpness about these wee hours that’s unrivaled in the busy clutter of the day. Often I’ll wake up with a letter formatted, a poem aptly carved, a grant narrative more fully fleshed out, or a blog pre-written, emerging from webby corners of thought that need sweeping out. Over time I’ve learned not to fight this, and I’m not the only one. Apparently these “waking hours” are a past product of a bimodal sleep rhythm and have served as the golden hours for many artists over time, responsible for some of history’s great works of literature and philosophical inquiry.

(This post is neither of those things.)

Rather, it is a personal exploration of a dusty topic, shelved for a little too long.

I have a happy memory of an art opening at Altered Esthetics, circa 2006. The show was one of our classic videogame art shows, Level_13. A Mario mural by Lauri Svedberg adorned the wall, a circle of pixelated sculptures centered the room, and Caly opened the evening with some 8 bit glitch. I didn’t wear a black outfit and a beret, nor did I sip wine. Nothing against berets or wine, but instead I wore a Rainbow Brite hoodie, comfy pants and fuzzy slippers. Professional? Questionable. But that wasn’t the point - I was comfortable and the show was warm and open, as was the creative space we had cultivated.

There are certain things I’ve come to terms with as a community organizer, and they seem to be things I must re-evaluate and re-commit to on a regular basis. A commitment to convening and inviting folks to the table, even when the topic is challenging. Sending meeting reminders and reminders and reminders. Project management. (A not to distant memory that you were often *that kid* when you did group projects in college and high school.) But it’s not a bittersweet equation, it just involves an acknowledgement and appreciation that everybody has a different skillset and brings something unique to the table. Some of my favorite projects were ones in which I had little creative role at all, and instead worked within my skill-set alongside a group of talented individuals to make something remarkable happen. Big Funny, Rock Ink Roll, actually Altered Esthetics in general.

But there are other things that were a harder pill to swallow that seemed to be necessary parts of the equation. Public speaking. Shameless self promotion. Small talk.


Oh god, the networking.

Especially when I was on the board of the gallery I felt obligated to go out to other events - making appearances is part of the protocol, after all. But openings in particular were challenging. For one, it’s hard to actually see the art at a crowded opening. But then, there was the crowd itself.

j-me box head

j-me box head

So while working a crowd was one thing - there were always things to be done, places to tuck away and take a mental moment. As I learned more about myself, I came to know better when I had the energy to put myself out there and when it was a better option to stay home. I learned more about what exactly a panic attack was and how to avoid triggers. It was a weird thing to dissect, and a weirder thing to admit. I can be quite calm at as an event organizer... but what is it about other people? Was Sartre right this whole time?!

The longer I worked in the arts, the more that I met other people that felt *exactly* the same way. We found each other in crowds. We had conversations in bathrooms, relieved to find somebody else feeling a little bit out of place and awkward. Not quite introverted, not quite extroverted, but not quite good at whatever this social scene experiment was - but mostly, little by little, we discovered we weren’t alone. But I watched as these anxieties manifested themselves in a variety of ways.

I’ve left events early with artist friends that have spent all their social energy and need to remove themselves from the crowd.

I’ve worked with curators that have missed their own openings because their anxiety was so severe.

I’ve worked with more artists than I wish to count that stopped creating art or music because they couldn’t handle the social requirements involved, and that is a fucking tragedy.

I've had friends who have decided that enough was too much, and that one is almost too heartbreaking to list.

I once worked with a board member who was set on making sure artists had marketing skills so they could be better about self promotion. I countered that especially for some of our most talented artists, that wasn’t a part of their skill-set, nor was "getting themselves out there" a part of why they were creating. “Well, they should know how to do this” the board member said.


The older I get, the better I know myself - and all my flaws. I can be dry and humorous on occasion. I can be warm and thoughtful. I can also bring the awkward pretty hardcore. But I haven’t had a panic attack in more than five years, and I’m quite proud of that. I re-affirm my commitment to being the hardworking girl behind a spreadsheet and I’m far more comfortable with that role than I am schmoozing in a crowd, and I’m okay with that too.

Okay so - is there a point to this late night ramble? Telling these bits of my story is a rather long context.

I think if we want to be really successful as an art community - and I believe we’re getting a lot better at this already - we need to be more willing to accept everybody at their level. That includes cultivating a better understanding of anxiety and depression (among others,) and creating a variety of engagement opportunities for everybody active in this field, along with a willingness to accept those that for whatever reason may not engage in a traditional sense. There are more than 40 million Americans that suffer with an anxiety disorder annually and over 20 million suffer from some type of depressive illness. ( From my experience in the arts I would also hypothesize that a disproportionately higher number of artists suffer from these things, however I don’t have the statistics to back that theory up.

Statistics or no, here are a few small suggestions on how we can be a continually more understanding and welcoming creative village:

  • Artists, consider providing other opportunities beyond crawls and openings for friends and patrons to visit your studio. Regular open hours, drop-in windows, etc. Not everybody can handle a crawl and the truly shy might not call for an appointment.

  • Share your stories, your personal struggle or achievement, your awkward moment... There is safety in numbers.

  • Keep inviting your artist / caretaker / socially challenged friends, and try not to take it personally if they don’t make it out. It’s (usually) nothing personal.

  • Extend the welcome by including quiet spaces at your events for artist or guests. Places for conversation, thought, (nursing!)

  • Be kind and tend towards forgiveness rather than judgement. The adage “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about” is apt here.

  • Do what you need to do to be comfortable and don’t let anybody guilt you about your choice.

  • And last but not least, it’s cliche but important. Be yourself. Let your freak flag fly! People are often compelling and relatable because of their flaws, not in spite of them.

And now, I sleep.

Some resources of interest:

Lutefisk, Lutefisk, Lutefisk, SUSHI!

Taking yet another break from NP management to bring you this super awesome blog post.

Once again I had the opportunity to work with the good folks from the International Cartoonist Conspiracy and Big Time Attic for Altered Esthetics' Annual Comic Art exhibit.

This show (in terms of both process and product) fuels my faith in the collaborative creative process. There were about 15 people on the planning and curatorial committees (all volunteers) and more than 50 artists that contributed to the show itself. Was it chaos? Maybe a little at times, but far less than you'd think with a planning committee that large. Mostly it was just fun and inspiring, and the final results were fantastic. The gallery exhibit itself has over 100 original works of art. The Bento Box full of mini comics is killer. The show made the City Pages A-List. I could gush on and on.

All of us did this while working our other full time jobs, and not one single person was crushed with work or overwhelmed. That's SO huge! If you would have told me that four years ago, I may not have believed it was possible!

I hope a lot of my friends and family join us for the reception tonight, or come see the show some time in August. Not only is it an exceptional show in its own right, but it's also a huge testament to the growth of Altered Esthetics and our role in the arts community. It's also a fantastic example of the excellence and creativity of Minnesota cartoonists.

Even though I woke up at five am today, I'm buzzing with energy and excitement. I couldn't be more proud to be a part of this.

The Buddha Prince at Powderhorn Park

Today I had the awesome opportunity to go see The Buddha Prince, a walking play running at Powderhorn Park. It was a really wonderful, moving experience and I encourage anybody that has time this weekend to go see it - it will only run until Monday.

It begins here, at the southern end of Powderhorn Park.

Over the course of about an hour and a half the play moves around the lake as the story unfolds. The play follows the life of his holiness the Dalai Llama, which a story about humanity, community, compassion and loving kindness almost more than it is about anything else.

You won't feel the same when you come to the other side of the lake. It is a beautiful experience, and is a shining example of everything art and theatre can be in a community.

When: September 17-21, 2009: Weekdays 5:30pm, Weekends 2pm and 5:30pm

Tickets: FREE, with a suggested donation

Friends with little ones: The audience was completely diverse and there were lots of families there (and a few dogs, too.) The more the merrier was the general vibe, and the play took place along the walkway around the lake so strollers and wheelchairs were not a problem.



First Time at the Minnesota State Fair

As of two weeks ago I had never been to the Minnesota state fair, even though I've lived here for almost six years now. In my own defense, it was only last year that I learned it was the "quintessential Minnesota experience." So, this year we went. And wow - it definitely is an experience. California friends, this post is also for you. None of the California county fairs come close in size or quality. If you ever visit me, come just before Labor day and I'll happily take you to experience the craziness that is the Minnesota State Fair.

I'm not going to talk about everything we did, just about a few things that stood out to me specifically.


It seems for a lot of people one of the biggest reasons to go to the State Fair is all the indulgent food. So, first and foremost, here's a list of what we tried:


Though apparently there are 67 things available on a stick, not EVERYTHING comes on a stick. We spent a portion of our day looking for the above, which we found at Famous Dave's. Actually pretty good! Nick said he would have had like 5 of these... but we settled for one batch. Oh, and they call these Pig Lickers. No joke.

The. Best. Corndog. Ever. We got a footlong corndog from the stand attached to the horse barn, and it was awesome.

The cheese curds really are the best. Over the course of the day, we had two helpings.

I tried the "Hotdish on a stick." It was... not as fantastic as I hoped it would be, but I'm glad I tried it. It was a tater tot, a Swedish meatball, a tater tot and another Swedish meatball on a stick and breaded with the same batter they use for corn dogs. They serve it to you with some mushroom-soupy business on the side, and there you go. I definitely prefer regular hotdish - and the Bulldog's is the best, hands-down.

We also ate some awesome roasted corn, beef jerky, and root beer. We also both paid $1 for an all-you-can-drink cup of milk. The gentleman next to us had 9 cups of milk. NINE CUPS, and I know some people can drink way more than that. Where is it going? That's so much freakin' milk.


This may have been the highlight for me. We saw alpacas and so many llamas.

This guy was my fave, and he was a totally camera whore.

Can you believe there was a llama costume contest that just HAPPENED to be the day we were there? I think Nick secretly planned that. Way to go, Nick! I normally don't like dressing animals up in clothing but something about how absolutely off the top ridiculous this contest was made it a must-see. There were about 10 contestants with some rather elaborate get-ups.

This girl-and-llama set was one of my faves. I love clowns AND llamas. WIN!

I think the following photo might come back to haunt this boy facebook-style in a few years. Boy groom and llama bride? His first girlfriend has a pretty high bar to rise to, eh?

This last pair won the contest. That wee beast is wearing GLOVES AND SHOES! It was also the most well behaved, chill animal of the group. Gotta love alpacas!

I'll end my llama section with this absolutely adorable baby llama. So cute you almost forget he's sleeping on a blanket of dirt and poo.

The Rides

There are a TON of rides at the fair, but we only went on a few.

We of course went on Ye Old Mill, a 96 year-old water ride. It as kind of what you'd expect in a old tunnel of love or something like that - mostly dark with occasional really awful displays and bright blue water. 100% awesome.

We also went on the Sky Ride from one end of the fairgrounds to the other, which gives one a really cool bird's eye picture of the event. In other words, you can really see just how many gobs of people there really are swarming around. 110,931 on the Wednesday we were there, to be precise.

The Exhibitions

The exhibitions may have been my favorite. Wait, weren't the llamas my favorite? No, the corn dog was. Ohhhh, I can't decide.

The exhibitions were absolutely fantastic, even for non artsy-folk. I will return each year if and only if to see the Art exhibit. Quite a few Ae artists had work on display and I was tickled to even see a few works we've shown at the gallery before. Minnesota in no way lacks for talent, creativity or expression. Lots of amazing artwork in the Fine Arts building and there was also some also amazing craftsmanship in the Creative Activities exhibit.

The Eco-experience was also pretty awesome, even if you're not a pinko commie liberal. We also got a free reusable grocery bag by posing for the following picture. You were supposed to write a little reason on the card. I wanted to write "I love bag" but Nick said I should add "& the earth." So I did.

The Great Minnesota Get Together

They call the State Fair "The Great Minnesota Get Together" and they are right when they say you cant go to the fair without running into at least a few folks you know. Even though there was over 100,000 people there we still saw quite a few friends out and about, also enjoying the craziness.

So... that about sums up my first State Fair experience. I had an awesome time and will probably go again.

You should come with me. We can share cheese curds.

Best. Opening. Ever.

Danno just put up an awesome post with great pictures from the opening. It was super super super awesome. Words cannot describe, so I send you along to see the pictures at Danno's blog: (

Shiny happy people having an awesome time. Me and the Klonowskis - Nichole, Natasha, Danno, and Autumn. (Well... Autumn is behind the camera.)