I love art. Monet’s Water Lilies make my heart beat faster, my insides somersault, and my mind swirl with words and colors. Few experiences compare.

I don’t love the things that get exhibited in contemporary art galleries. If you prefer: I don’t love contemporary art. It makes me feel empty and bored, sometimes a little annoyed, at best slightly amused.

I’m far from alone in my preferences; among amateurs, they’re the rule rather than the exception. Like many people, I love color, beauty, representational illusion, emotional expression, painterly texture — and these are things contemporary art doesn’t typically give its viewers. …


Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Japan’s last great printmaker, captured the spirit of an age of carnage.

Setting Moon by Tsukioka Yoshitotshi

When Japan opened its borders to trade in the 1850s, inflation, epidemics, riots, murders, executions, and battles ensued. It’s easy to rattle off the sequence of events, tracing chains of political cause and effect, and lose sight of the human dimension of all this carnage. The imagination smooths over the detail, removes individual faces, wipes out the actual blood.

The art of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi puts the blood back in the picture. He was there amidst it all, sketching in the execution grounds and battlefields. His prints zoom in on individual people — beheader as well as beheaded — and condense the spirit of his time. At this scale, his era’s violence attracts as much as it repels, leaving us face-to-face with our own capacity for bloodlust. It’s no wonder he called one of his series Biographies of Valiant Drunken Tigers; the warriors he depicts are as abhorrent in their bloodthirsty battle trance as they are admirable in their bravery. …


Becoming nomadic helped me embrace inner conflict

Sometimes I think everything is beautiful. Then I come to a place like this, trees glowing orange over cobalt hills, a beauty so blinding I veil my eyes with clichés — and my worldview shatters.

I had a dream, once, of moving to a cottage in the mountains, but I had settled for city life. I told myself I wanted closeness: to cafés, museums, friends. More importantly, my partner liked the city. (Never mind that he shared my dream of mountains, my inner conflict — it was easier to think that he didn’t.)

Besides, everything was beautiful, people as lovely as nature; I wasn’t really giving anything up. I meant it when I said it — patches of pavement, paintings of corpses, busy city squares have all floored me with unexpected glory — but “everything is beautiful” had also been the spell I chanted to protect myself from my own dreams. …


This Is Us

Thousands of people collect hyperrealistic vinyl babies — but how do they sleep at night?

Photo: michelle a

I want to stroke Alma’s silky wisp of hair, put ointment on her peeling ankles, kiss the place where a drop of blood has dried on her teeny heel. I keep scrolling. Eloisa stares at me with vacant green eyes, her fists delightfully wrinkled but eerily glossy. I keep scrolling. Red-eyed and deathly pale, Isadora makes my heart stop. Beneath her button nose, the minuscule mouth dribbles blood, sports fangs.

“Adopted,” the caption reads. Painted and designed by an 11-year-old — under her mother’s supervision — Vampire Isadora was sold at a discount.

At reborns.com, anyone can become a happy parent. With the help of a drop-down menu, you can narrow the 657 lifelike doll options by price ($100–$5,000), ethnicity, gender, eye material (glass, acrylic, polyglass). Select “boo boo,” and the faces scrunch into pouts. Choose “realborn,” and the vampires, chimpanzees, and waxy misproportioned monstrosities all blessedly disappear — replaced by something which, in its own way, is even eerier: dolls made from 3D-printed babies. (Where do the models for the dolls come from? Bountiful Babies, the top supplier of 3D-printed doll parts, is suing dollmaker Stephanie Ortiz for libel over alleged ties to the Kingston Clan, of polygamy and child marriage fame.) …


And why I don’t “do” self-care

“For fifteen minutes, welcome everything in yourself. Invite every new experience, offer it tea, send it love.”

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I didn’t have high hopes for this exercise. Don’t I already welcome everything during my daily meditation? Well, it was worth a try; I was having a crappy day anyway.

Almost immediately, I realized that what had seemed a calm mind had actually been composed of a cacophony of voices. Here’s a dramatization.

Cast:

  • Crastie: a lovable, tantrum-throwing child responsible for my procrastinatory tendencies
  • The Auntie Committee: a group of well-meaning but dogmatic matrons who have taken it upon themselves to solve Crastie’s problems. …


Everyone knows that negative feedback is tough to take. A lesser-known fact: positive feedback can be just as painful. Take Vincent van Gogh’s reaction to his first (and last) glowing review:

when I read the article it made me almost sad as I thought: [I] should be like this and I feel so inferior. …


I was brainwashed in middle school; it’s only getting worse.

Poland, 2004. “Puberty,” I read in my middle-school biology textbook, “is a time of overwhelming and confusing sexual desires. To manage the impulses of this perilous life-stage, we recommend filling your schedule with as many extracurriculars as possible. That way, you’ll fall asleep as soon as your head touches the pillow, safe from temptation.”¹

The textbook was mistaken; no number of extracurriculars was enough. Facedown on my bed in the dead of night, I was never too exhausted to feel my body. The more forbidden it was, the louder the call, and so I let myself believe my body’s fiction: that this was only pleasure, that what felt so good couldn’t be so wrong. That in the privacy of my bedroom, I could do whatever I pleased; no one would ever know, so no one would get hurt. …


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I’m taking a four-week course on boundaries. When our instructor tells us that despite not minding even hour-long video calls, she caps her calls at 30 minutes, I feel some resistance. She explains that she intentionally leaves a 30-minute buffer so that she won’t end up resentful if the conversation goes a little over her stated boundary.

In general:

  • my limit = it starts hurting (physically or emotionally) when you do that
  • my boundary = don’t do that
  • my buffer = the space between my limit and my boundary.

So we’re instructed to have a buffer. I’m still uncomfortable with this idea. Isn’t it selfish? Isn’t it deceptive? …


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The cinematic moment which has haunted me the longest and hardest is a scene from a Tom & Jerry episode. Jerry — cheeks puffy with effort, eyes brimming with despair — is clasping his hands in supplication in front of Spike the Bulldog. Spike examines him for a moment and cheerfully trots away, with a parting “If you need me, just whistle!”

The episode is called “The Bodyguard” and its plot is simple. Jerry rescues Spike from the pound. To repay his debt, Spike promises to always protect the mouse from his tormentor Tom. “Just whistle,” Spike promises, “and I’ll come to your rescue.” All’s well for the little mouse, until Tom tricks him into chewing a piece of glue-covered gum which renders him unable to whistle. …


“There are two kinds of person. Two ways to be. Either you turn towards others — or you turn inwards, digging yourself deeper and deeper into the lonely pit of your mind. It’s like directions on a screw. See what I mean?”

I think I do. The ways of turning the screw are perfect opposites. One direction undoes the other, and only one of them is worth anything.

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Image source.

“I can tell that you’re the kind who turns towards others.”

This is the first time in my life I have shared a coffeeshop table with a stranger. Just a week earlier, I was living entirely in my head, weighed down by overwhelming shyness. …

About

Eve Bigaj

Exploring experiences. (Art, travel, mental health, and more.) https://evebigaj.com/

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