Trying to Preserve Our Brains

Well, mine anyway

Hey, There,

How’re you holding up? This is tough, right? Tough in the day to day, tough every time you lift your head up and try to scope out the longer view. It’s no good. There’s a parallel non-Corona health crisis going on in our house, too, so there’s kind of this thing of alternating between freaking out about *this* thing and that freaking out about *that* thing.

All of which is to say: these are tough times for brains. It’s almost impossible not to be operating at some level of upset almost all the time, and that really wears a person down.

So anyway, a few weeks (which feels like a lifetime) ago, I sent one of these out exhorting everyone to make an effort in 2020 to make something. And I want to reiterate that, but this time in less of a cultural-revolutionary way and in more of a take-care-of-yourself way.

Because here’s the thing: in the tough-ass miasma of the past few weeks, the one thing I know for sure is that the moments my head has been clearest, my heartbeat the lowest, and my conscious mind less like a panicked bronco bucking and thrashing to get rid of a rider, has been when I’ve been sitting at our dining room table daubing paint onto a canvasboard panel.

Abstract View From Bar Harbor, or Several Hours of Soothing Paint-Daubing

I’m not sure if this is a good painting. But that’s OK. Maybe that’s even good. Because not giving a shit if it’s good makes the time working on it even lower-stakes (by contrast, I’ve gotten some relief as well by playing guitar, but that’s a tougher thing because no matter how hard I try I have a bunch of my identity tied up in being a person who can play the guitar pretty well and even when I’m just farting around, there’s some internal pressure to be *good*, or at least not to be bad, and that’s just upstream from the even worse urge to be *productive*).

You hear a lot about the mental state of “flow,” both from people who study creativity and from workplace charlatans who try to pervert human creativity into a thing that boosts performative capitalism, the thing where you’re absorbed in a task and everything else kind of falls away, including both the passage of time and concerns about a pandemic. Working on visual art is a fantastic way to get into that mode of being. Well, right now that state is the best possible thing, and every second you spend in it is worth gold. The moments when I’ve been locked in on figuring out the details of a piece of visual art, even one I think is gonna turn out shitty, have been my calmest moments of the past few weeks.

Abstract View from Pepin, Wisconsin, or About An Hour of Soothing Ink-Daubing

So here’s my suggestion, or maybe my plea: as you’re sequestered away and freaking out, try doing some visual art. Don’t worry if it’s good! Don’t worry if you’re doing it right or wrong! Just do it. Find some implements and try to capture an image or a mood. If you have a pen or pencil and some paper of any type, you have everything you need to draw. Draw your pet! Draw your kids! Draw a tree in your yard! Doodle a pattern of geometric shapes! Or if you bought stuff for the adult coloring book trend a few years ago, get that shit out again; NOW IS YOUR TIME! If you have paints around, get ‘em out and go nuts. If you have old books or magazines around and something to cut with, be like Rebecca and get into the collage game:

Jello Joust (2020), collage, Rebecca Collins

It’s not a cure-all, of course. But it’s a help, a real help. Whatever you do, your brain’ll spend a while processing visuals instead of running (and emotionally reacting to) possible worst-case scenarios. Maybe you’ll come out of this with a new ongoing creative habit. Maybe you won’t; it doesn’t matter. What matters is what makes it easier for you right now.

Send me pics of anything you make that you like! Maybe I’ll do a supplemental newsletter/exhibition.

Right on. Be safe.


I mean, obviously, I recommend that you make something. Howzabout this: if you need a push, try Lynda Barry’s book on making comics (I might have recommended this before, but c’mon, NOW IS THE TIME). Barry’s a giant in the comics world and is a fervent believer in the idea that expression is way more important than technical virtuosity; she’s also awesomely not precious about having fancy “correct” materials.


If you enjoy Better Call Saul, you should check out Alan Sepinwall’s feature on Rhea Seehorn, who has grown into being the emotional heart of the show (and whose name you’ve probably been mispronouncing).

Chris O’Leary, one of my absolute favorite music writers, recently posted a long, immersive exploration of the long-haul phenomenon of Queen, the perennial almost-pantheon-level-but-there’s-always-an-asterisk band.


OK, so here at the bottom, sorry for the ragged copy editing; my deal with myself was to keep this fast and loose, which is gonna mean typos. On the other hand, that also means it’ll actually come out, instead of being obsessed over.

If you have any thoughts/reactions/what have you about this, I’d love to hear about it, either by email or on Twitter. And if you know anybody who might dig this, please forward it on to them, or send ‘em the signup link! And thanks!