PSYCH OUT: Christine Herzer
Psych Out is an ongoing series on the topic of fear & creativity.
In response to many of our readers expressing that fear often blocked their creative flow, Seymour asked a variety of entrepreneurs and artists to share their experience in their own words. Discover how they get over anxiety and self-doubt and find the strength to move forward with their projects.
CHRISTINE HERZER is a poet and visual artist. She received her MFA from Bennington College. In 2013, she performed her poetry at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai and her artworks were on display at La Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris; Galerie Evi Gougenheim/Artplace, Paris; Galerie Ivana de Gavardie, Paris. She is the author of ‘i wanted to be a pirate’ [h_ngm_n, eBook 2009] and ‘i cheated on Chanel N°5 [forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press]. Her writing appears in numerous international literary magazines, art reviews and online publications such as Fence, American Letters & Commentary, The New York Quarterly, The Volta, Drunken Boat, Columbia: A Journal of Literature, Timber, and EVERYDAY GENIUS. She keeps a tumblr at honeymoon in the fridge.
On following the unknown; On the value of fear, desire, change, and paying attention [love].
by Christine Herzer
What I have been thinking about, lately, is bewilderment as a way of entering the day as much as the work.
Bewilderment as a poetics and an ethics.
As an artist I am a powerful person. In real life, I feel like a mouse behind the radiator.
Are we human or are we dancer?
In 2002, I LEFT PARIS AND MY CORPORATE JOB, INITIALLY FOR A TWELVE-MONTH SABBATICAL IN INDIA. I WANTED TO FIND OUT WHAT I LIKED, HATED, ENJOYED, LOVED, WHO I WANTED TO BE, WHAT MATTERED TO ME MOST.
I did not know that I would get to know my fears; that was never the plan.
I did not know that I would let go of my return-ticket, although I always ‘knew’ that I wanted to go back to university: I had put aside money to allow for that option,
I did not know that writing poetry and making art, living the life of an artist would become my reality,
(It takes time to unravel)
I remember purchasing a book on the do’s and don’ts of sabbaticals, that according to its author, ‘the return’/’preparing for the return’ was key to succeeding. I remember not understanding the concept.
The best way to honor as well as to describe my experience and what compelled me to leave would be to evoke a sudden loss of ambition, some massive loss of desire – a falling out of love, perhaps?
My heart was no longer in/into ‘it’.
I remember resenting my heart for its unreliability.
I realize that professionally speaking the ‘heart’ [feeling] usually doesn’t enter corporate situations, just as the ‘mind’ [thinking] is somewhat frowned upon in so-called spiritual (business) circles.
I would come to understand much much later that what I had set out to do would mean a collapse of all possible reference points and identities.
Being without reference points, therefore trusting in something else – not unlike writing or art making or working creatively – brings ‘foreign’ [inner & outer] things to the surface, and into focus:
body, relationship to body
wounds, conflicts, conflictions, confusion contradictions
joy [!], joy, (values) time, loneliness…
(ethics & aesthetics) (& anxieties)
In 2002, I wasn’t in search of a more ‘meaningful’ life, not consciously anyway. I wasn’t at odds with [western] society. I wasn’t following some love interest either [as if falling in love with a man were the only strategy available to women to make a change]. I refuse to be identified with something that would become a bestseller later. I hadn’t planned on experiencing [living] my values [or lack thereof] from scratch.
If I had to describe the decision-process resulting in my leaving using language, the words that come to mind are quiet, small, sad, loss, long/conflicted, gluey;
I didn’t know anyone in India, or anyone who had gone on a similar quest. I would use my savings to make a living.
I knew, with the strangest kind of CLARITY that I would do it, had to follow this other/foreign form of knowing, a clarity so clear:
I would have had to be dead in order to stay.
I didn’t and I still don’t think of myself as courageous. My heart had nothing to do with it.
In 2002, I didn’t want to give anymore, or rather, I wanted to give something else, something else entirely, something I was unable to name, something I had to bring home first.
I had no name for it because I had yet to experience what I wanted to give.
I DIDN’T KNOW IT AT THE TIME, I’M A LOVER. WHAT MOTIVATES ME, WHAT DRIVES ME MORE THAN ANYTHING ARE LEARNING, AND BEAUTY, AND EXCELLENCE, AND GIVING.
I had been working in an international, stimulating [intellectually, culturally] environment. Thinking outside of the box was encouraged. I believed in our mission, my/our importance. I loved my job. Everything in my life made sense, was easy to explain. My life looked good [=’successful’] to me and to others. I genuinely liked being in it. I had a permanent address, a job title, a good salary, a secretary, a gorgeous corporate apartment, responsibilities, freedom (the freedom that comes from feeling ‘secure’, the freedom that responsibilities bring), an office, a schedule [planes to catch, meetings to attend, reports to write, presentations to make, strategies to think up, and through, and to implement, events to imagine and host…].
I knew what was expected of me. The next steps on the career ladder had been laid out for me.
During one of our last meetings, a meeting in which I pretended to want what was expected of me [I lied, I’m a lousy liar, it was ridiculous; We both knew it.], HPS, my mentor, said: I think you are looking for yourself. There it was. I had been outed, my inner workings made public. I blushed when the verdict touched my face -words of such intimacy- I felt very ashamed, and excited.
What sounded like an insult at the time, I would later hear as a compliment.
Over the years, I trained myself to feel humbled instead of humiliated. Such is the power of language.
In the corporate world, a Vice President once caused me great anguish by likening me to a perfume ‘Vous êtes l’air du temps’. This happened on a plane, one of many business trips to New York. More than anything I wanted to come across as hard working, reliable, professional [which I totally was, only I needed outside proof]. It wasn’t until years later, I was studying for my MFA at Bennington College, that I fell in love with that description, the very quality of ‘being with time’, I had finally begun to see the beauty that fluidity brings: everything becomes more spacious.
There is possibility when you don’t hold on to meaning.
There is meaning to be made from anguish and perfume.
The rules are in my head.
For the longest time, I didn’t know what I wanted. A quality very few people seem to appreciate without shaming you or taking advantage. I only knew what I was supposed to want. I resented my heart, what felt like my heart, for being so vast [empty?} and confusing. I was at a loss. A loss I didn’t understand and didn’t know how to ‘safely’ communicate. I wasn’t lost, that would come later. I was being honest. I had lost track of something [the plot?] and I didn’t know the word for it.
I traveled, I visited ashrams, I meditated, I did yoga, I had sex, I studied Reiki, I took acting classes, I read spiritual books and took ‘spiritual’ workshops, I meditated more, I fell in deep love with meditation & silence. I was stolen from, I was lied to, and I believed people when they said they meditated a lot, when in fact they were on drugs and/or drank a lot. I ‘followed the heart’ often [I don’t recommend it), more aptly put, I followed the abyss, I kept creating ‘I want to be loved, I want love, All I really want is a beautiful boyfriend’-situations and lost all communication with myself, to a point where I didn’t recognize myself any longer: I had nothing to say to ‘that woman sitting on that chair’.
I never did drugs – there was no temptation, so not my hook – I was genuinely and furiously/desperately into and after ‘the truth’; and very conflicted because the reality of the ‘truth’ kept moving. The purist in me fought with the magical thinker in me.
I couldn’t handle environments that seem to thrive on/tolerate/maybe even exploit the pain & love-business every human seems to carry. It took time for me to ‘see’ these beautiful environments as a temporary / transitional education, to accept them, to forgive myself for having fallen for mediocrity [soul glue] in the disguise of beauty [soul]. The word ‘spiritual’ lost all meaning. I thought of myself as a ‘failed’ meditator. I felt sad about the realization that I would never be a follower. I had yet to fall in love with my seemingly infinite capacity for questioning the status quo. I still bought into the bullshit [agenda] about the mind [thinking] being the obstacle to heart [feeling]-matters.
I lacked solid, grounding human knowledge [about addiction, for example]. Despite all the evidence pointing to my own weakness, I resisted to assign meaning;
Some 2 ½ years after departing, I took myself to Paris, where I rented a room on rue du Cherche-Midi. I began collecting the words that fell out of my mouth, I slept a lot, I went to an art studio three times a week, I worked with oil pastels, glue, a color named ‘Indian rose’. I discovered John Ashbery. I informed myself about addiction. I drew. I made room for everything that I had seen about myself and others and the world and desire; I stayed for 9 months. It takes 9 months for a baby’s bones to harden.
For the next 5 years, a penthouse in India [neglected, dirty, beautiful, full of light] and rooms in Paris became my container [womb] [classroom]:
I read voraciously. I wrote. I made things. I ignored all distractions. I was into finding. I would make and believe my own experiences only. My life was boring, I was never bored. I was still lost to the world, lost ‘by choice’. Once again, I reached a clarity so clear, all I had to do was follow. I had been found. Art and poetry found me. I let them.
In 2006, for one year, I stopped using the word ‘why’, replaced it with ‘how’ instead.
To view it differently:
India is vast. I had spent my first two years on some kind of ‘lonely planets on spiritual-safari’-trip. I hadn’t seen a thing.
I was exposed to a multitude of ways of living and making a living and being in the world; I found much to admire, and more to feel outraged & shocked about. I saw how little I knew about myself, and the world, how alike seemingly far away worlds [corporate/spiritual] could be, how fast the world was changing [I saw people eating out of garbage cans in the streets of Paris, I witnessed the arrival of everything I thought I had left when Louis Vuitton opened its first store in India, I witnessed how India brings out the best and most often the worst in foreigners] that ‘freedom’ and ‘truth’ and ‘respect’ were [empty] concepts everyone can own/disown when needed, that as a woman I had to get a grip on what ‘being a woman’ meant to me. I had a lot of leaving to do before I wanted to stay. I stopped being a tourist. Increasingly, fondly, I noticed I was the same person wherever I went.
By 2007, the work was ready to be shared. I needed exposure, and debate, and community. I went to Bennington College to continue my education. In our first meeting, TL, one of my poetry professors, shared something so precious– I took it into my heart:
‘If you find one person who totally gets what you are doing, you are lucky, be grateful. If you find the ideal reader for your work – it is rare – be grateful.
In the words of Louise Bourgeois:
‘One must accept that others don’t see what you do.’
TO BRING INTO PRESENCE THE SPIRITS WITH WHOM I WANT TO BE IN CONTACT: BEAUTY, GRACE, LEARNING, AND MYSTERY
handwash my heart is a 60hour-creative writing-course I designed/led for a prestigious Design-Institute in India. The course operates at the intersection of poetry, visual art, performance, and, for lack of a better word, ‘love’- listening & paying attention to what is. Doubt, Confusion, Silences, Fears & Feelings, Rigor, Play and Solitude are essential to the learning experience.
What is worth knowing?
How to make thinking [education] sexy [desirable] & worthwhile?
How to find value in solitude and loneliness?
Can a classroom be made into a work of art?
Working creatively with young minds has been one of the most rewarding & humbling experiences. I can’t think of a better way to make a difference in the world.
In 2012, as an artist-in-resident at La Cité des Arts, Paris, I watched a mouse entering my living-space from the kitchen in the middle of the night, I admired the mouse for her speed, her timing, her ability to completely ignore the distractions [poison cake boxes] on the kitchen floor. I clearly remember the moment when I totally wanted to be in the world – the contents of my notebooks changed, I began to ‘see’ other people, instead of inventing them – it takes time to think [to unknow].
I end my readings by offering two questions to the audience, selected at random from my work entitled ‘RED QUESTIONS [TURN ME ON]:
Does the word ‘Integrity’ feel important to you, and how do you honor it?
When was the last time you said I love you?
CHRISTINE HERZER, FEBRUARY 2014
Published: March 18th, 2014