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Arts Matter: Writing, Community, and Making Healthy Choices

by Joey Phoenix

The first time I put words to paper for the sake of expression I was 11. It was my freshman year of high school (you read that right) and my English teacher gave us an assignment. The poem was called “Name” and it was about emptiness. It wasn’t a good poem, but it was the first time that I had been able to express what my twisted up insides were experiencing in some sort of tangible form.

It helped.

Over the next few years, I would resort to this whenever things became unbearable for me. I filled notebooks, napkins, journals with words, telling the pages what I wanted, what I needed, and what I felt.

My adolescent experiences were chosen for me. I wasn’t allowed to date, my friend circle was small and limited due to intense tennis training schedules, my free time was spent sleeping or in church. I wrote it all down, and over time, I developed a voice.

For years I didn’t share it with anyone. I kept it pressed between pages and hidden in closets until one day I decided to post an essay on a social platform called Xanga. People liked it. Other writers found me and commented on what I was creating and I would, in turn, read what they wrote and tell them that they were brilliant. In our own small way we lit fires for each other, surviving on the brightness.

This was my first experience with community. I not only had a way to express myself that made being a teenager with oppressive parents less impossible, but I also found humans who understood and cared about my experience and that made me less lonely.

Being able to create is healing. Transforming an idea, a feeling, or a concept into a tangible something, regardless of the medium, can change your inner landscape and help you feel more balanced and grounded in the world.

Over the years I’ve tried other mediums – paint, photography, music – but I’ve always returned to this wild act of putting words on paper, and it’s something I hope to keep doing for as long as my brain allows.

Arts Matter to me because without them, I wouldn’t know how to move through the world in a healthy way. My entire coping strategy as a human being is the creative process, and when my psyche prompts me to act in irrational destructive ways, I can choose to give in to that prompt, or I can write.

For me, the choice has become an easy one.


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Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable llamas, feel free to send them a message at joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com


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