When I think about how I interact with people and how they inspire me, I often think of the Maya Angelou quote that says “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” As a writer the idea that people will forget what I said (or wrote) is a little jarring, but mostly the quote pushes me to remember how people treat me and think about how I treat them.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the people that inspire me recently. In the world we’re currently living in, I am finding inspiration in places and people that have inspired me for years, and have also been given the opportunity to find inspiration in new artists. It’s been a beautiful and incredible experience, and it’s kept me from drowning in my depression.
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 15, though I’m sure we’d spent a lot of time together before that. For years I found solace in books and movies, and around the time I was 15 I began to find that same solace in television shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. Those shows weren’t just an escape for me, they introduced me to some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
The thing about depression is that it’s hard to determine what will help. I take an anti-depressant plus a stimulant for my ADHD, and I see a therapist and a nurse practitioner. I’ve been working through my mental health issues for more than half of my life, but some days the coping skills and medications don’t work. On those days, what works is art.
I’ve spent the last 100+ days investing my spare time (of which I have a lot, considering I’m no longer employed full-time) in the art others create. I’ve watched a lot of Madam Secretary and The West Wing, but I’ve also started new television shows and films. I wept at the end of Never Have I Ever. I loved the story of a young sleuth in Home Before Dark. I laughed my way through Jon Stewart’s Irresistible. I have listened to new music and found new podcasts and read new books.
I am still sad. I still feel a little like I’m drowning.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been pulling together all of my writing, and I stumbled upon an interview I got to do with Ben Shelton in 2012, when he was working on The Daly Show with Tim Daly and Sam Daly. Talking about art with artists has been one of the things that has gotten me through the last three and a half months. It has allowed me to find some of the art that has made me laugh the most and has made me feel the best. When I spoke to Ben Shelton in 2012, it was the first time I ever got to interview an artist whose work I admired (and who was working with people I admired — I’m looking at you, Timothy). It was a moment I’ll never forget because it made me feel like I could share the stories of artists forever.
How did the idea for The Daly Show come about?
Ben: Tim and Sam had always wanted to work together, and so I wrote the pilot episode specifically for them. I emailed it to Sam, and 20 minutes later, I got a phone call from both of them saying they wanted to do it ASAP.
What is the process like for creating an episode?
Ben: The three of us work together really well. It’s a collaboration. After one of us has an initial idea, I’ll go ahead and write the script.
How do you come up with the theme of each episode?
Ben: The Comedy Gods usually text us during dinner… It’s usually in the middle of dinner. Very inconvenient.
Do you have a favorite episode that you have done?
Ben: I think episode 1 [The Daly Douche] has a special place in my heart for being the place where it all started, but I love the absurdity that the show went stylistically in the Nathan Fillion episode [The Daly Superheroes] and the [Steven] Weber episode [The Daly Wings and The Conclusion]. Both of those were very fun to put together, and both Fillion and Weber came to set so prepared; it was great working with them.
You also work on some other great projects — what are you working on now?
Ben: I’m currently writing and directing The FlipSide, a new web-series for Rainn Wilson’s company SoulPancake.com. It’s a lot of fun, with guest stars such as Jean Smart, Casper Van Dien, Chester See, Paul Adelstein, Alison Haislip and others. You can watch all the episodes on YouTube.com/SoulPancake and you can keep up at Facebook.com/FlipSideSoulPancake. I also finished directing my first feature film WAKING which Tim and Sam Daly are also in. You can find out more about all my work at SheltonFilms.com.
This interview means a lot to me for a number of reasons, the first of which is that it was an opportunity I’d never had before that has pushed me to do similar work interviewing artists now. The bigger reason, though, is that for at least 20 years, art created by Tim Daly has been part of the fabric of my relationship with depression. Wings connected me to my father. Private Practice introduced me to friends I would not have gotten through certain moments without. Madam Secretary kept me from falling down a well of despair when quarantine started. This speech reminded me that I’m an artist and pushed me to create when I didn’t think I could anymore. I would be different without this man’s work. It feels a little absurd to write it down or say it out loud, but it is honestly one of the most legitimate things I have ever felt. I am a firm believer that art and artists can change you. Even when they don’t know you.
When you realize that someone or something means something to you, it can feel like shouting it from the rooftops is more necessary than oxygen. That’s how I feel about art. I’ve always been drawn to the beauty of creativity and in particular the written word, but I’m understanding something different about art now. About how it changes and commands us in ways we don’t always immediately understand.
There has been an underlying conversation online about the necessity to continue to fund art during COVID-19. It seems to be getting brushed over in a lot of ways, because it’s not as important as other things. It’s not that I don’t get that. I do. The number of people infected with COVID-19 and the number of people who have died from COVID-19 is astronomical — worldwide and, particularly, in the United States. It was supposed to be getting better. It’s not. At least, not in the U.S.
We are also facing exponentially important racial conversations that are deeply impacted by COVID-19. Black people and Indigenous people and people of color are more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and are more likely to die from it. They are more likely to be arrested and harassed and murdered for being out of their homes or wearing a mask or just being Black or brown or Indigenous than any white person is for not wearing a mask in public. Our country is exactly who we have always pretended it isn’t and yet it also feels like the whole thing has been turned on its head.
But deep within all of this for me is the conversation around art. How are we using art and creativity to cope with what is happening? How will we use it to recover when this is over?
Every piece of art created by a Black artist or Indigenous artist or artist of color is important to the Black Lives Matter movement and other conversations about equity and equality that build out of that. Their art tells a story that other art cannot tell. Creativity is exceptionally valuable when we think about how we’re going to continue to handle the influx of people into hospitals or how we shop for food or how we’re going to educate children in the Fall. The answers to these problems don’t yet exist, but they’re out there. Art and creativity help us find them.
They also help us function in the moments that seem the most difficult. For weeks I refused to cry because I was worried I would not be able to stop. Then, while watching the finale of Never Have I Ever, I wept. I couldn’t keep the tears from coming, but I was able to stop them. It was a reminder to me that even when I think I shouldn’t, I get to feel things.
I did the same thing with Madam Secretary — I refused to watch it for weeks because, even though it made me feel better, it also made me feel. Feeling felt like too much. (I got past it but do not get me started on the moment in Season 1, Episode 16 when Tim Daly cries and I lose it every time.)
I barely know what happens tomorrow, much less a week or a month from now, but what I do know is that when quarantine and the government and mental health and everything around you makes you feel like you’re drowning, art is like air. Find the art that pushes and elevates you. Find the artists that stand on the edge of the cliff next to you and pull you back up. Let yourself be inspired. Pay for their art. Share their art with your world. Use their art to get out of bed in the morning and keep breathing.
And for god’s sake. Tell them they’re saving you.