Interview with an Artist: Andrew Forlines

Living your best life takes many forms and requires many skills. One of the top ten skills is creativity. Creativity and mental health and their influence on each other is interesting to me personally and professionally. Sometimes the greatest art is born of pain and suffering. Sometimes pain and suffering rob us of creativity.  Because it's interesting to me, because I hope I can spark some thought and creativity in my clients and readers, and because I selfishly like picking the brains of creative people, I decided to do a series of interviews about creativity and mental health. This interview is with Andrew Forlines. He is involved in comedy and storytelling shows in Denver and was graciously thoughtful and vulnerable in this interview. I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I have.

1. You're an artist. What kind of art do you do?

I perform and produce spoken word comedic arts shows in Denver, Colorado. I perform standup, improv and storytelling.

2. It's not uncommon for creative types to struggle with mental health issues. What do you see as the interplay between mental health and creativity?

We humans are terrible at accurate causal attribution, but I'll give it a try.

This is a broad question. I'm more comfortable approaching it from my experience.

I'd say that the environment the fosters comedic instincts is the same that creates mental instability. I was raised homeschooled in isolation from society. My parents are dogmatic fundamentalist Christian. Their worldview never meshed with mine. My use of humor was developed as a tool I could employ to distract and manipulate my captors with. It was survival instinct.

What caused me to use humor and my brothers did not, I can't say. We're all just along for the ride in a sense. Consciousness is only a small part of the larger brain, yet it's convinced that it's greater than the whole.

Maybe, high intelligence is the cause of creativity. Maybe the question ought to be, what is the interplay between mental illness and high intelligence.

It is documented that less affluent societies have lower rates of depression and suicide. When people are busy staying alive and fulfilling basic needs they don't have time to lament. Even in our society, less introspective, less ‘intelligent’ people constantly react to stimulus in their immediate environment. It's mindfulness by lack of capacity.

Mental illness and creativity are both caused by a brain looking for meaning where there isn't any. Maybe.

3. You can't possibly feel creative all the time. What do you do to foster creativity and practice your craft even when you're not feeling it? Any tricks you've picked up to help you get out of your own way?

Feelings follow actions. Not the other way round. The horse pulls the cart.

You feel a way as a result of doing something or not doing something. So I constantly put myself in situations where I'm forced to perform or create. I find people to collaborate with on projects to keep me accountable and to implement deadlines.

Improv has taught me that the capacity is inside me already. I don't need to ‘create’ something as much as I need to find a way to release what's already inside. If I'm in a situation to perform, something is coming out. I'll say something.

I focus on making good situations and performance opportunities happen to react to. And if I don't feel like doing something, I think about how glad I'm be having done it compared to how miserable I'd feel not doing it. Like going to the gym. I know I don't feel like going to exercise, but never have I regretted going to the gym afterwards. Think about the feeling you get when leaving the gym to motivate you to go to the gym.

Same with performing.

Plus, I have an appreciation for performing and a zest for life after surviving my homeschool cult childhood. That motivates me.

For a long time I wasn't allowed to engage with the world. Society was vilified vehemently by my parents and the homeschool cult I was raised in. Even after the physical restrictions were lifted and I aged out of their immediate control, the psychological prison persisted. Not only was I locked into grappling with and fighting against indoctrinated beliefs, I was also encumbered with all the coping tools I had developed over the years. Disengaging both has been a process.

Now I'm free. I'm like a starved man at a buffet.

4. If you could suggest one thing for my readers to do to help them live their best life, what would that be?

Don't need so much validation from other people.

The Crab Mentality is real. Most people want things to stay more or less the way they are. If you do something interesting they may try to nudge you back in line. There is great comfort for people in predictability and certainty. So pay them no mind.

Being homeschooled and outside the schools that implicitly indoctrinate kids into conforming to the social ideal, it makes my skin crawl to see an individual seeking approval. Don't sacrifice your individuality for group acceptance! The group has its own agenda.That's what drives me nuts the most about all you ‘normies'.

Andrew Curtis Forlines, @andrewforlines on Twitter, hosts FUNNY AF every Tuesday 10pm at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse in Denver, Colorado.

He also hosts Peer Revue at Denver Museum of Nature and Science and Sunday Assembly at Crossroads Theater. As well as many other shows!

Support the local Denver comedy scene. See a live comedic arts show once a month.

Friend him on Facebook to see what all he's up to. His goal is a thousand new friends in 2017.