So. I’ve dropped a few hints about a project I’ve been working on but I haven’t really written about it because I lost my words. But they’re coming back and so now I’m going to try to explain it and hopefully you’ll understand why it’s important to me.
When I was on book tour last year I would sometimes share the drawings I’d make when I was locked up in my hotel each night. I’ve always drawn. It’s my meditation when my anxiety disorder gets out of control. It gives my hands something to do so they don’t destroy me. When I was young I kept a journal filled with patterns I’d perfected…ones I’d learned from others or created myself that kept my mind free…and I’d spend hours filling pages up with doodles and pictures and words and ideas and the patterns I’d found on old walls or garish carpets or bathroom stalls. Whenever things got hard I would go back to these patterns, finding comfort in the intricate but uniform lines that would fill the page – a way of bringing order to the chaos if just for a few minutes.
When I lived in Houston a woman moved next door to us. She’d just moved from India and she’d often invite Hailey and I over for tea and paint mehndi designs on our hands or feet while we visited. She had journals like mine – but different, filled with hand-drawn patterns in beautiful styles, and she explained that when she was young it was common for girl friends to share designs with each other. She’d draw a pattern or design that she’d perfected in their book and they’d do the same in hers and in the end she’d have hundreds of ideas to use when making her henna artworks. She tried to teach me a few but I never quite perfected them. I shared some with her out of my books, and we experimented with them and made them more beautiful and elaborate.
In the last few years I’ve found other people who collect patterns. They do mandalas or tangles or textural collages. They trade them with others to inspire and the patterns become more fantastic as each person puts their hand to them. They -like me – take pictures of forgotten patterns on abandoned buildings, and crumbling tombstones, and resurrect them. They see the motifs in nature – the movement of trees or the way that ivy grows and they embellish those designs. You learn to see things in a different perspective…the patterns that make up a life, or the world, or the universe.
Nine months ago I was on book tour. My anxiety keeps me locked in hotel rooms when I’m not doing a reading so I often spent that time drawing, using stolen hotel pens and pilfered sharpies. I used motel room cups and pill bottles as stencils to create overlapping circles and I’d fill the circles with patterns and with words that I needed to hear myself. I shared a few on instagram and was shocked at how many people responded. They’d print them out to color or frame. They’d bring them to signings so I’d autograph them. They’d tattoo them on their bodies. They’d give them to friends who were struggling and needed to be reminded they weren’t alone.
These drawings were far from perfect. They were wrinkled and muddied and I never had the right tools or pens but still people seemed to love them. And suddenly instead of being embarrassed about them I was happy to share them, and I had the encouragement to share the drawings that usually only lived in my head or secret sketchbooks. I saw them shared online, brilliantly tinted by people who used coloring the same way I used sketching…as an escape, a meditation, and a way to quiet a sometimes dangerous brain. I saw people interpret them in lovely ways I hadn’t even meant, or add their own sketches to the drawings, or hang them up in cubicles or in frames. I got a giant unexpected package from a classroom of 4th graders who used one of my images as an inspiration to create dozens of amazing stories they invented themselves.
Several months ago I feel into a pretty heavy depression and it’s one I’m still crawling out of. I’m finally having more good days than bad, but one of the repercussions of this depression was that it made it almost impossible to write. Or, I should say, it made it almost impossible to write long-form chapters. I still wrote…but strange things that gave me strength to move forward in the dark. Some funny, some silly, some irreverent, some dark and painfully honest. But for some reason my head wanted a picture for each one.
I can’t quite explain it. Maybe it’s part of my mental illness. Maybe it was involuntary art therapy. All I know is that I couldn’t work on the book I was supposed to be working on because this…thing got in the way. These drawings. These images and thoughts and patterns and words. And once they were down on paper I could turn the page and feel free of the thought. As if I’d archived the emotion I was stuck in and could now move forward and see the next one waiting to be acknowledged and recognized.
I felt like a failure for falling behind on life and missing deadlines, but I have no doubt that these drawing saved me. They gave me a reason, and a creative outlet, and a way to count out the long seconds of the days with each stroke of the pen. They were all drawn by hand, slowly and meticulously, and as I worked on them I thought of the words in my head. Each drawing had stories written into them. Each contained a sentence or paragraph or a page of strange thoughts that went along with it. As they become more elaborate I shared them with my shrink and my agent and my editor and suddenly a book emerged. It was a book that seems like it wrote itself. Not easily. It struggled its way out of me as if it had control more than I did at times. Which was good, because I had very little control at the time and that can be a problem when you struggle with impulse control issues and self-harm problems. The book found itself. Half of it images. Half of it words. Some funny and irreverent and profane, and some dark and confused, and some to remind me to keep breathing and that depression lies.
So I made a coloring book.
It’s a coloring book if you like to color. It’s a journal if you like to write in books that make you question what’s going on. It’s a set of posters that make you feel less alone. It’s a collection of one-page stories or important sentences or pictures to tape on bathroom mirrors for strangers to see, or to hand to friends. It’s a companion piece to Furiously Happy but it also stands alone. It’s what saved me this year and I owe you for supporting and encouraging me whenever I hesitantly shared my work. It turned into something much bigger than I ever imagined and hope that you like it. I hope you like it so much you buy a dozen copies so you can color it or frame it or give it away. If you don’t, that’s okay. But I had to get it out of my head so I could move on.
It probably won’t be in stores for a while because it takes time to publish books, but I should have a cover and title and all that jazz for you in the next week if things go smoothly. In the meantime I’ll be sharing the occasional extra drawing that isn’t in the book here (most of what’s in the book is new and unpublished) and you can print it or share it or color it or post it up in your home or burn it in a fire to scare off monsters. It’s up to you.
After all, you helped create it.
And I can’t thank you enough for that.