necessary whispers

observe. connect. make new.


Jill Szoo Wilson

Artists and Depression

I recently read an article in which the author linked depression and the artistic temperament. At first glance, I was a little annoyed. The whole “depressed writer,” “melancholy comedian,” “chaotic performer” thing seems to me a dangerous sort of stereotype to propagate and to buy into. Plus, I know plenty of artistic types who do not struggle with depression. I think.


I think it’s a dangerous stereotype because sometimes artists believe that if they seek treatment for their mental health issues, they will lose the edge they otherwise have to create. And I understand the fear. Antidepressants—especially when they are first taken—can cause foggy thinking, fatigue, a dulling of the emotions and/or other physical side effects that can simply be emotionally exhausting. But I don’t think any of the things I just mentioned are the reason artists sometimes choose not to take their meds. I think the bigger reason is that antidepressants lift the mood from the darker places of the mind. Those dark nights of the soul through which many artists create do provide a certain kind of raw availability that allow him/her to grab onto the minds of the viewers (or readers) and to pull them into the heights of the imagination, as well as into the depths and corners and sink holes of life.


Also, artists search. I will speak for myself: I am on a constant quest to do exactly what Walter Mitty urges us to do in his film, “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel.” That is, after all, the purpose of life, right? Searches, journeys, quests . . . these are the reasons I create. When I am acting, directing, drawing or writing I am striving to understand. Understand what? That depends on the day. The what changes but the why remains consistent: connection. I create in an effort to connect.


Depression makes it hard to connect. Not only with other people but, sometimes, with one’s self. In the moments—or seasons—of isolation that occur within the darker nights of depression, an artist can turn to her art. She can reach inside her thoughts with one hand, grab onto some truth worth exploring with the other, and then pull herself into the exploration: through words, paint, music, a character . . . she can connect with the world through her own creative sensibility. I think maybe she gets used to connecting to her world in that way because connecting one’s self to ideas is a lot easier than connecting to other people. Connecting the deeper parts of one’s self to a concept or a universal truth is easier than connecting one’s self to another person’s individual truth. An artist can work on her art in isolation, thus connecting to thought, but she cannot build relationships in isolation because relationships require a mutual agreement to engage. Thus, the artist can explore ideas, including her own depression, without fear of being discovered. In fact, quite often, it is the artist who appears in her own work . . . some version or angle of herself can be found in one piece, while a completely different side or struggle can be found in another.


Something I have come to learn as an observer of art is that if you spend time with one artist’s work—if you take time to study her progression over time—you will come to know the artist herself. Not in totality, but in her parts. If you watch, look, listen or read any artist, you will certainly be filled with connective topics to discuss at once upon meeting her in real life. All of her parts are there in some measure.


I don’t often talk about my battle with depression. I almost called it a “struggle,” but that would be sugar coating it. It is a battle and I fight to win the war more often than I would ever let on to anyone else. I don’t keep my battle quiet out of fear of rejection or pride (I think) but, instead, I keep it quiet because I don’t like to complain. I don’t like to feel helpless or to appear helpless. I don’t like to be complicated or make others’ lives more difficult by adding my own burden into the baskets of their minds. I prefer not to need help (okay, that’s prideful) and I do prefer to be the one people come to for strength. Whatever “strength” means.


Lately, I have been realizing that my “strength” may never have been what I thought it was. I don’t mean I never had any or that I don’t have any now. What I mean is that the anatomy of my strength is not toughness or an ability to “power up” against people or things. My strength is not loud or boisterous. It does not run or flex or (something). My strength is simple: it is showing up. My strength is in listening, taking steps toward sharing my own life and in making connections between me and others, as well as making connections between people and ideas.


That’s kind of it. My strength is a journey from my heart to the heart’s of others. Whether it be students, friends, family, colleagues or even strangers, my strength is in seeing others.


So, as an artist who is depressed more than she will ever give into or let on, I would like to show myself. I would like to raise my hand and say, “I will allow you to see my hand here as one who is on a journey wearing a backpack filled with depression. There are other things in there, too. There is also laughter, questions, memories, dreams, curiosities and a whole lot of love. And . . . I see you, too.”


Copyright Jill Szoo Wilson

Photo Credit: The featured painting was created by Antoine Josse.  Please feel free to visit his Facebook page: Antoine Josse’s Facebook


Into the Woods and Out of the Woods

The most memorable moment I have ever experienced in the theatre occurred when I was sitting in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015. It was my sister’s first year as an actress at OSF and she was playing Cinderella in their production of Into the Woods. In general, I am not a big fan of musicals but I was a little bit in awe of my “little” sister and her new home-away-from-home—both environmentally and professionally—so I was pretty excited to be sitting in the audience.


Environmentally, Ashland, Oregon is one of the most beautiful little towns to which I have travelled. It is replete with mountains to hike, a valley to explore and the kind of blue sky you assume you can reach up and touch. Professionally, OSF can be considered a mecca for professional actors. If you have been hired there, it is likely you will have the opportunity to play upon their boards for as long as you wish to stay. And so, in my sister’s first year she played two leads in two of their musicals . . . not bad for a kid who started out saying, “I never want to be an actor like my big sister.”


The memorable moment to which I am referring above occurred during the finale of Into the Woods. It was a cool summer night and the stars seemed so close in the open-air theatre, I assume they also had to pay admission to watch the show. For the final number of the play, the entire company is on stage and they are singing about the journeys each of their characters have taken throughout the story. All of their journeys are rife with struggle, darkness and light, and instances in which they individually lose their way but, eventually, make their way out of the woods, again. In case you haven’t seen the play, the woods are a metaphor for walking through the dangerous, difficult places in life for the purpose of facing the dangerous, difficult places in one’s own heart and mind. At the very end of the final song, the lyrics seem to turn the focus from the characters on stage and turn a proverbial mirror toward the audience. Almost as a challenge:


All: Into the woods–you have to grope,

But that’s the way you learn to cope.

Into the woods to find there’s hope

Of getting through the journey.

Into the woods, each time you go,

There’s more to learn of what you know.

Into the woods, but not too slow–

Into the woods, it’s nearing midnight–

Into the woods to mind the wolf,

To heed the witch, to honor the giant,

To mind, to heed, to find, to think, to teach, to join, to go to the Festival!

Into the woods,

Into the woods,

Into the woods,

Then out of the woods–

And happy ever after!


Cinderella: I wish…


That “I wish” was my most memorable moment in theatre. There are a lot of reasons for that, all of which are equal in their importance. First, the entire production was stunning. Second, the idea that the action of facing one’s giants is where true revelation and growth occur was not only meaningful to me; it was a reflection of my life at the time. The play helped me to see where I was in my own journey as I considered the beginnings, middles and ends of the characters’ journeys on stage. Third, when Cinderella sings “I wish” it is a call to hope and further journeys in life. It is a reminder that even if we exit the woods ragged and less innocent than we were when we went in, there is always hope; always a rejuvenation to fight another day. When you lose one wish, there is always another waiting to be discovered. When Jennie—my sister— sang that line I remembered, all in one instant, her entire journey from my point of view. All of the woods through which she had to traipse to be standing down center on one of the most famous stages in the United States with one of the most talented companies I had to that point witnessed, all standing behind her.


You see, nothing is ever just one thing. Even the plot of a play writes itself onto the minds of the audience members’ so uniquely that the story itself twists and bends a thousand different ways as we all sit side by side hearing the same words. The same words are imbued with completely unique images, emotions, memories and questions. And so it is in life.


I have been thinking of my experience with Into the Woods lately because I have also been listening to another musical that I think is similar in some ways: The Greatest Showman. The connection, for me, is in the song “Greatest Show.” Where Into the Woods uses the woods as a metaphor for “the journey,” The Greatest Showman uses the circus. The circus becomes that place to which we all travel for one reason or another (whether it be to escape or to be amazed by life) and we end up facing reality instead. To put it another way, the cast of The Greatest Showman could just as easily sing the words to the finale of Into the Woods rather than the words to “From Now On,” which is their final song. Imagine Hugh Jackman and company singing:


Into the woods–you have to grope,

But that’s the way you learn to cope.

Into the woods to find there’s hope

Of getting through the journey.


Instead, he sings:


I drank champagne with kings and queens

The politicians praised my name

But those are someone else’s dreams

The pitfalls of the man I became

For years and years

I chased their cheers

The crazy speed of always needing more

But when I stop

And see you there

I remember who all this was for.


In conclusion, I really love both these musicals because they both acknowledge that life is a journey fraught with both shadow and light. It is messy and we are clumsy, and it is hard and we are fallible, and it is beautiful and we are sometimes beautiful too, and it is logical and we are emotional beings, and it is emotional and we are logical beings . . .


The woods change us. The circus changes us. Life changes us. As someone who has often feared change, I find that lately change doesn’t seem so bad. Instead, it seems more like an adventure. I am grateful for that.


So into the woods you go again,

You have to every now and then.

Into the woods, no telling when,

Be ready for the journey.


copyright: Jill Szoo Wilson

Photo Credit: Denizens of the town head into the woods (Rachael Warren, Miles Fletcher, Javier Muñoz, Robin Goodrin Nordli, Jennie Greenberry). Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Alive and Waking

I sleep well

With fire pulled tightly

Over my body,

Under my chin

Thin flames lick the sides

Of a landscape

Rife with alive.


Alive and waking

After dreams

Seemed real—

Innately revealed

The pull and

Push of

My will.


Will the morning sky

Agree to the lie

That misfit memory

Cordoned to

The side of my waist

Or will it let me



Swim in the water

Of imagination stirring

An element much safer

Than that which

Wreaks with smoke

Poked—but then soothed—

By waves crashing over.


Over the horizon

A line where earth meets sky

That earth

Where grounded clay

Accepts my fingers

Grabbing through and sinking.


Sinking hands

But head in the air

Where birds and insects

Catch the wind

Spiral upward

Then rescind—

Up but not away

Like dreams huddling under fire.


Copyright Jill Szoo Wilson

Photo Credit: Claudia Pomowski’s piece, “Cry Of Oblivion.”   You can see more of her work on her website: C. Pom’s Art Wesbite .

Mad Men: A Little Bit Peggy


For years, I have reserved this blog for writing poetry and essays that reflect random images, thoughts and emotions that I either experienced in the moment of the day on which they were written, or as reflections of previous times. The objective of the blog has been to capture those thoughts that threaten to fall, like crumbs, to the floor of my mind rather than allowing them to fall and be forgotten. Today, I would like to break my pattern to write about a television show—a piece of art—that has moved me as an artist, a writer, a woman and a human being: Mad Men.


Over the years various people have told me I remind them of Leslie Knope, from the series Parks and Rec. I understood the comparison as I, too, was a driven, personable and passionate woman, as well as emotionally connected to everything in which I was involved. While I still possess those qualities, I am not sure I possess them with as much fervor as we see in Ms. Knope.  Even so, I think that was a good comparison at the time the show was airing.  Then, something happened. A few of my dreams were extinguished, the vision I had for my life began to blur and I walked through a series of trials that, perhaps, left me with more wisdom but seemed to shift my perspective on life.


Today, I think I am more like the character of Peggy from Mad Men.


Peggy, the secretary turned Copy Chief, says in season 2, episode 13, “Well, one day you’re there and then all of a sudden there’s less of you. And you wonder where that part went, if it’s living somewhere outside of you, and you keep thinking maybe you’ll get it back. And then you realize, it’s just gone.


Thank you, writers of the show, for this simple yet profound sentiment. As the character of CS Lewis says in the film Shadowlands, “We read to know we’re not alone.” In this case, as I watched and listened to this episode of Mad Men, I suddenly felt not alone. The fact that a team of writers, producers and a director found the line worthy of giving to Elizabeth Moss to interpret, means the idea is universal enough to share with a large audience. And I, sitting in my living room in a small town in the Midwest did, indeed, receive it as truth.


The past year, or so, I have been struggling with the realization that I have changed. While I don’t think the changes are necessarily negative, I can see that I have lost a certain innocence, idealism and naiveté. What seems to be shaking me more acutely is that as I have changed, so has my self-awareness is any given situation. In other words, I have changed and so has world around me . . . but which came first? As we step into situations we have the ability to choose whether we will be a thermostat or a thermometer; what we choose depends on our will, as well as those intangible parts of ourselves such as confidence, certainty and security. For years, I was a thermostat. More recently in life, I feel like a thermometer . . . perhaps because as my life has been shaken, so have those intangibles I have listed above.


Recently, I had a conversation with a man who told me that the world is black and white. At first, I agreed with him. The world is, indeed, black and white inasmuch as there are rights and wrongs, an up and a down, good and evil, and dark and light. My whole life I have agreed with this sentiment. However, immediately following our conversation I began to wonder whether that is actually true. A side note about me: in the midst of any given conversation I may appear to be casually listening and discussing the topic at hand, but I assure you, I don’t take anything lightly, especially if the topic turns to something substantial that potentially connects to something meaningful to me. But I digress . . .


Life is black and white, until it is grey.


One does not need to set down her morals to write such a thing. What she does need to do is conduct an analysis in which she compares the way life “should” be with the way it often is. The older I get and the more I see and experience the world, the more vivid the juxtaposition between the ideal and reality. For example, it is an ideal that a young woman grow up in a household with her biological mother and father, that she follows her time at home with a journey to university where she chooses the career she wishes to pursue, finds a sturdy young man to marry, and then leaves university to begin meaningful work, have children and maintain that lifestyle until she leaves this earth at a reasonably old age. Within this scenario, at least a million small choices are represented that also reflect the ideals of integrity, consistency, loyalty, and . . . good fortune.


People are not pillars. We are not erected one day to stand the test of time and torrid weather for the sake of keeping the building of our lives sturdy and straight. People are more like brick houses, laid one brick at a time. If a few of the bricks are not properly set in terms of placement and/or insufficiently mortared, the house may stand but it may also crumble in places.


I think that is what I have been learning about myself, as well as others whose stories I have had the privilege to discover: we change. We grow and we shrink. We meet the goals get before us and we fail to meet them. We are kind and loving, and we are selfish and cruel: sometimes, all in the same day.


Parts of me seem to have crumbled to the ground. But parts of me still stand. And I am beginning to think that just as there are people who enjoy exploring buildings whose peeling plaster and creaky wood floors exhibit beautiful imperfections and the marks of time, there are those who don’t mind engaging with people like me who have lost interest in aesthetics alone. What I desire is true connection, which can only come through transparency, vulnerability and the willingness to be present with another human being, however flawed.


Perhaps it is time for me to stop considering the parts of myself that fell to the ground along the way. Perhaps there was a time to grieve those things and now is the time to reconcile what I thought might be with what is. I think the secret to moving forward is being willing to reassess yourself as you are today so you can move ahead with your whole heart instead of walking through life half-heartedly carrying the weight of yesterday’s goals, dreams and self.


Copyright: Jill Szoo Wilson

The Unforgiving Dog


(The adorable boy you see here in my dog, Mr. Bates.  He is named after my favorite character from the BBC television show Downton Abbey.)


My dog will not forgive me

Though I asked him many times

With treats in my hands

Bacon in my pockets

I have pleaded,


And he

Sits silently,




“What must I do?”

I have pined

Looking for the clue

Some kind of cue

To begin my

Apology anew—

It does not come

Only a wag and

Stoic stares.



“Is this a staring contest?”

I have wondered

But I have yet

To speak the words—

I am afraid he

Will think me silly

Because contests

Are mostly born of

Human insecurity.



My dog will not forgive me

Though his water bowl is full

His leash is hot

With newly acquired sunshine

Gathered on the walk

We recently took,

An offering

My bribe to him,

“Please, let me off the hook.”



I now remind him of my faults

Repent and seek my peace

He sighs like a priest

Resting his chin on his hands

And wondering when

My tirade will find its end—

He sniffs

Licks the air

Then sighs into the floor.



“I guess I am a bore,”

I think

My shoulders fully slumped

I sink to sit before him, then

He jumps to his feet

Wiggles and leaps

Like a dancer with four left feet

“Finally,” he barks

Then rolls into my lap.



“But what about the times

I ignored you

forgot to adore you

when I stayed away too long

and scolded you for being wrong,

what about

my impatience,

when I chose not to be




He licks my hand

And lifts his paw,

“You humans don’t get it at all.”

Continuing, he reflects,

“We forgive right away

we never delay

because we remember

the value of living

and loving today.”



I feel quite embarrassed

I know he is right

I wasted time worrying

Mentally scurrying

Back to the past

Where all my faults sit

Like piles of vomit

I was willing to lick—

“You’re doing it again,” he winks,

“Just relax.”


copyright Jill Szoo Wilson

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