By Kathleen Lane, Co-founder of ART 180
Easy as it would be to turn this post into a tribute, I have been given strict orders not to go there. I believe the exact words were: Don’t you dare. I will only say, Marlene, that I am so grateful to you, and to all who have supported you in keeping the vision alive—so alive—all these many years. ART 180 has become so much more than I ever imagined it could be.
Instead, Marlene asked me to share a little about the work I’m doing now, a workshop called Fearless Writers designed to encourage kids dealing with anxiety to explore, express, and manage their worry through writing and art.
First of all, now that I’m back to working with young people through creative expression, I can see that ever since leaving ART 180, a part of me has been trying to find my way back.
Another realization I had: As much as Marlene and I were setting out to turn lives and communities around through art, I believe ART 180 was as much about our own desire for transformation. Our careers were pointing one way, our hearts the other, and we were each looking for our own 180. I’m guessing many people who set out to serve others are seeking some kind of change in themselves—to fill an empty space or aching need.
I say that because recently I found myself in that uncomfortable place again. This time it wasn’t my career heading the wrong direction but, to be honest, my emotional well-being. I had just finished writing a middle-grade novel about an anxious young girl named Maggie—which, ironically, had pushed my own anxiety to an all-new high—and I had to somehow reconcile the fact that, while I felt tenderness for Maggie and her sensitivity, I only felt shame around my own similar way of being in the world.
Gradually, through Maggie, I was able to see myself in softer light—to see my worrying brain as a creative brain, my sensitivity as empathy—and the more I began to appreciate those parts in myself, the more I wanted to help others, especially kids, to see the beauty and imagination in their own worrying ways. I wanted them to know that they aren’t alone in their feelings, and that there is healing, even power, to be found in creative expression.
Earlier this month, right after my return from The Big Show—20 years after the first ART 180 steering committee meeting around my kitchen table on Floyd Avenue—25 Fearless Writers summoned the courage to step up to the mic at our end-of-program celebration. They shared their fears of bullies and of math tests, of losing their parents to divorce and disease, of shooters in their schools. They compared the feeling of worrying to tornadoes and boa constrictors, to clawing bears and crashing plates and drowning in their own thoughts. They took us with them to their peaceful islands, where candy grows on trees, the sun is always shining, and snakes and guns are absolutely forbidden.
They also wrote messages to the audience: “I’m doing the best I can.” “Thank you for sticking with me.” And the audience wrote messages back: “Your best is always enough.” “You are perfect just the way you are.” “You are all so brave!” Which reminded me of a conversation Marlene and I had early on, about how it wasn’t enough to encourage young people to speak up. If we really wanted to inspire change, we had to also encourage the community to listen up. That’s where we find connection, where transformation really begins, in opening our ears and hearts to each other’s experience.
So Marlene, as promised, this is not a tribute. Just a meandering way of saying thank you. For staying on the path. For inspiring me to find my way back to mine.