When Mexican cartoonist Ani Castillo first moved to Canada ten years ago, she quickly found herself overwhelmed by her new city. Learning a new language, being isolated from her family, and having to make all new friends compounded the everyday stresses we all face. Following the advice of a renowned psychiatrist, Castillo began channeling her anxieties into cartoons that both helped her cope and resonated with a wide audience.
GOOD had the chance to speak with Castillo about her art and how pursuing creative projects can help all of us manage the anxiety of being a human in a rapidly evolving world.
Your Emoticons For Complex Emotions illustration is funny but speaks to something very troubling as well. Do you think the limits of communication keep us from fully expressing ourselves?
I feel like I grew up along with technology, so I’ve greatly benefited from it, along with my generation. I’ve met most of my collaborators, friends, and husband all through the internet and I’m very happy for its existence.
At the same time, I notice how young people (and even older people) when given the choice, lean towards the most technologically heavy means of communication, since it’s painless and convenient. And the more the technology, the least amount of information we’re getting from anyone. We don’t get the squints, the raised eyebrows, the widening eyes, the changing tone of voice, the coughs, the nervous laughter, the loving gaze, the hugs, the warmth, etc. And we’re not able to give the same thing in return. There is a lot of room for separation and misinterpretation.
Writing has always been a wonderful way for people to communicate. We’ve used it for thousands of years and it has served us quite well. The difference is that now we’re trying to write super fast, to a greater number of people and have the pressure to keep with the screen ‘persona’ we’re creating. We’re becoming an avatar of ourselves, at least to our wider audience.
Is it all bad? Not necessarily. We’re the first generation figuring out how to take advantage of and deal with technology. It’s a wonderful gift and a burden. We’re like the first monkeys to stumble upon a singular looking rock. We’re at the stage of poking and prodding. I have the hope we will get better as we go.
How different do you think society would be if we were all a little more open and honest about our feelings?
I think we’re actually moving into that direction, and it makes me really excited about the future. People are sharing more and more about their struggles with loss, mental health, and all kind of fights they’re fighting at the moment. And that will only make us more used to that as a new normal, as well as more conscious about how it is to live inside our fellow humans’ shoes.
What advice can you give people who may not be great at drawing but are still looking for an outlet for their anxiety?
Humans are designed to think and think. It’s what makes us interesting, creative and productive, but it can really get out of hand. And the busiest thinkers tend to be the most anxious.
Most people I know feel better when they do something creative during their day. It could be writing, taking pictures, singing, playing an instrument, etc., as well as some kind of physical exercise and hanging out with people. It takes the edge off of this wondrous challenge of being a human. Even just having a tiny notepad and writing the good things that happened during the day, taking a walk and calling a friend makes the day a happier one.
Also, meditation! It’s like the red pill from The Matrix. You can see your thoughts for what they are and that saves you a lot of inner struggle and heartache.
Clearly your anxiety has informed your art. Is there something positive to be said for “feeling all the feels,” as painful as it may be at times?
The feelings we feel are always there, so you’re better off letting them be. With uncomfortable feelings, we either feel them or we numb them. Numbing them tends to happen through unhealthy behaviors like binge-watching TV, surfing the web too much, overeating, drinking, drugs, sex, etc. Feeling is harder but it’s closer to our real nature.
When we can turn our difficult feelings into art or share them with others, well, I think that’s the best outcome of all. We can be sure that someone else in the globe is going through a similar pain. And maybe, just maybe, we can help them feel less alone.
This interview has been edited and condensed.