Create More Fear Less

‘Pity Party’: This one’s for you

Portland writer Kathleen Lane and her smart new novel for middle schoolers turn the table on anxiety and use it to spark creativity

Can I ask something? Can I ask you to think of something? Can I ask you to think of a time you felt as though you were at war with your brain, a time you felt overwhelmed by your own thinking? Can you think of a time you felt this way? I know I can. I have struggled with mental illness throughout my life resulting in a number of diagnoses, therapists, medications and assorted treatment plans.

After reading Portland writer Kathleen Lane’s new middle-grade novel Pity Party, published in January by Little, Brown, I knew I was not alone. I knew there were other people out there with minds often riddled with stress and worry. Most importantly, I knew that the focus didn’t have to surround dissatisfaction with my own brain. 

Lane is also a nonprofit founder and program director, and all of her work centers on shifting the focus from what is wrong with us to what is right with us. Through her writing, her work with Create More, Fear Less (which helps kids combat fear and anxiety through creativity) and SHARE (in which gatherings of artists work in a single evening to create new pieces based on a shared prompt), Lane invites people of all ages to investigate their relationship with their minds. 

“Pity Party” author Kathleen Lane at her book launch. Photo courtesy the author.

Open Pity Party and you’ll find an invitation to the pity party. Right off the bat, Lane makes a point of letting readers know they are accepted and understood in all their wonderful wackiness within the worlds of the book. The book is separated into five parts linked together by the story of Katya and “The Voice,” which is the manifestation of Katya’s anxiety. Constantly filling her brain with what-ifs and reminders of danger, “The Voice” has kept Katya safe. However, it does so at the expense of Katya’s self-esteem until Katya stands up for herself.


Home front: arts at a distance

ArtsWatch Weekly: As the coronavirus crisis reshapes the world, culture shifts gears and our virtual and physical realities overlap

HOW IS SOCIAL DISTANCING WORKING IN YOUR CORNER OF THE WORLD? Are you out and about at all – one of the vital people in our food and delivery and public utility and medical-care systems, maybe, keeping things going through the crisis? Are you busily creating a makeshift world while you keep inside your home, bringing the outside in virtually, via emails and social media and radio and television and music downloads? Are you keeping a sense of the actual, physical territory of our lives that we take for granted until it’s not under our feet anymore?

It’s been five weeks since I’ve been anywhere but home, and my reality has shifted both very little and very much. I’ve been lucky. I have good shelter, and food, and I’m sharing space with close family (including one indispensable and highly entertaining cat). I work from home, anyway, so the adjustment hasn’t been nearly so abrupt as it has been for many people. I miss my afternoon coffee-shop breaks, and going out for conversations with writers or news sources, and real-time, face-to-face interaction with performing and visual art. But those things are small potatoes. I’ve been spared the horrors the COVID-19 pandemic has visited on so many.

The difference between the real and the virtual becomes stark when the real is taken away from us. The other day I was reading Out of Time: Mortality and the Old Masters, a particularly timely column in The New Yorker by the veteran art critic Peter Schjeldahl in which he ponders why “the art of what we term the Old Masters (has) so much more soulful heft than that of most moderns and nearly all of our contemporaries.” It’s an imaginative and provocative piece of writing, bound to raise a few hackles and also prompt a lot of nods of agreement. In it he comments on the real and the not-quite-real – “… the art in the world’s now shuttered museums: inoperative without the physical presence of attentive viewers. Online ‘virtual tours’ add insult to injury, in my view, as strictly spectacular, amorphous disembodiments of aesthetic experience. Inaccessible, the works conjure in the imagination a significance that we have taken for granted.”

El Greco, “View of Toledo,” 1596-1600, oil on canvas, 47.8 x 42.8 inches, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929.


ArtsEd: Age of anxiety

Create More, Fear Less provides imaginative art projects that empower middle-schoolers to take on anxiety during school and in our new era of distance learning


Create More, Fear Less is an arts-based program that helps schools respond to their students’ anxiety levels, which had reached alarming levels in this country, even before the Covid-19 pandemic closed kids in. 

None of us is immune from either the anxiety or the coronavirus: Peel back the neutral façade of a reporter and who’s there? An anxious single mother trying to regulate herself and her high school son, home 24/7, while social distancing. A few years ago, I performed in Mortified comedy shows reading diary entries from my middle school years, the prime time for Create More, Fear Less art projects. To huge crowds, I said, “What’s wrong with me? Will I live my life in the shadows covered by doubt? … Why do people worry about who their gym partner is? Is that the purpose of school? Join the pep club? When children are starving in India?” I read these entries for laughs, though when I wrote them back in middle school, I was completely earnest. 

Since 2014 I have taught creative writing residencies through Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools program, where I incorporate space on the packets I distribute for students to sketch before writing. Part of the reason for my months’-long reporting into Create More, Fear Less was to subtly incorporate de-stressing techniques into my teaching process, especially since my current residency is moving online. 

“capture the feeling” a drawing by Abby, age 10,
a student at Grout Elementary School/Image courtesy of Kathleen Lane