Open Mic is the series on BLISTER where we invite various people in the outdoor industry to say what they have to say, and share whatever it is they feel like sharing at this particular point in time.
Today, we hear from Angel Collinson:
“Art has the power to render sorrow beautiful, make loneliness a shared experience and transform despair into hope. Only art can take the holler of a returning soldier and turn it into a shared expression and a deep collective experience. Music, like all art, gives pain and our most wrenching emotions voice, language, and form so it can be recognized and shared. The magic of the ‘high lonesome’ sound is the magic of all art: the ability to both capture our pain and deliver us from it at the same time.”
-Brene Brown, Braving The Wilderness
Lately I’ve been wondering if sports can do the same thing art can do. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let me take you to the bow of my sailboat, inside the cabin.
Last week, I lay in bed, very sweaty, very sticky, and very sad. On my knees, forehead pressed to the ship’s forepeak mattress, my mind full of confused emotional static, I prayed to the gods of Moldy Foam and Shitty Polyester Sheets that I would be able to make something useful or healing out of a tough, shitty situation.
Recently I’ve had some moments of fairly deep personal pain. Some of it is regarding my own life, some is regarding other people’s lives that I deeply care about. It’s felt a little weird because in the past few months, my life has been SO good — the best I’ve had in a long time.
But the highs in our life don’t come exempt from unexpected pain or challenge.
I can’t write about my pain without acknowledging how lucky I’ve been for the lottery I won in getting my lot in life. I will be thanking baby Jesus till my dying breath for the beauty I’ve been able to witness and experience, the love and help I have received, and the dreams I’ve been able to see through.
Still, no human has a ‘get out of jail free card’ from the painful part of the life experience. It’s the situation that each of us find ourselves in when we get dropped onto this great big blue planet. Pain is unavoidable. Your life can be amazing and hard and full of tragedy that, often, no one knows about.
(One of my favorite sayings is: ‘Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.’).
For me, the art that is always there ready to uplift me, make me feel less alone, or just be with me without needing anything from me, is music. Music accompanies me when nothing else makes sense. It celebrates and exults with me in my peak life experiences, and soothes me at rock bottom. It can be exactly whatever I need it to be, whenever I need it to be that. It’s miraculous, really.
So when things in life are confusing and I don’t know what to do, I usually do two things: I listen to music, or I go outside and do something in nature (even if it’s sitting down at the base of a tree). Or both.
As a kid during my parent’s fights, I would steal away into the aspen forest with my tape player and headphones. I’d listen to decades worth of music reminding me that love is hard, people are imperfect, and sometimes nothing makes any sense.
When I was a teenager trying to navigate conflict with my parents or race coaches, trying to find friendship with other girls in the mean competitive mosh pit that is teenage girl-dom, or figure out who the heck I was and why life mattered, I would put in my headphones, put a CD in a ‘skip-proof’ portable Walkman, grab my fat skis and hit the slopes of Snowbird Ski Resort where I grew up in the employee housing. (‘Skip-proof’ was debatable when straight-lining crud.).
Shredding the mountain solo, I would get some time away from the relentlessly rigid pursuit of the perfect turn that is the sport of alpine ski racing, with its gates and drills. My legs were strong from all the weightlifting that accompanied ski racing, I was in tune with my body and my skis from all the drills I was doing — fueled by questions, angst, and youthful energy — I’ve never skied better.
Those days and moments freeskiing salvaged my sanity during my teenage life. I think there’s some sort of somatic release that we can get when we use sport as a healthy physical outlet to cope with the trials and tribulations of life. During those years, I would say that skiing ‘captured my pain and delivered me from it’ at the same time.
However, the spiritual / emotional healing that took place was in no small part because of the music that was the soundtrack playing in that gray, cherished, chipped, skip-proof-ish Sony Walkman.
Again, the music showed me that I wasn’t alone, that someone else had felt the way I was feeling, and they had made something of it that made me feel a little better, and more connected. The melodies and riffs did something that words alone simply couldn’t.
Combining music and sport is maybe my most favorite thing in the world. And I’ve found such profound healing in both of them.
And yet … I’m not so sure that sport is necessarily separate or different from art. I’ve been thinking recently about how there are a lot of similarities between the two, and the places that they take up in our lives. I spent the last 10 years of my ski career learning how to paint my way down a blank canvas of a mountain … and that was how I thought of it. It was my art, albeit a risky art. A way to express myself and the way I looked at the mountain.
In both art and sport, we can find a way to express ourselves in our own unique way. Perhaps a non-judgmental place to simply be ourselves. A place to channel energy that we can’t make sense of and don’t know where to put. Art and sport give us a way to connect with others and have a shared experience of something that often transcends words. A way to put pen to paper or hands to rock or skis to snow or tires to the dusty trail, and just BE.
So while you might not self-identify as a poet or a painter or a musician or an artist or an athlete, I believe we actually are all artists. We are all imaginative, and have an ability (maybe even a need) to create something meaningful to us out of our experience on this big rock, to help us deal with and make sense of it all. And our creations might take the form of how we move our bodies — dance is art, right? So if dance counts, why not other types of intentional body movement? Our bodies are cosmic art for sure, if you ask me.
So, flashing back to the forepeak, praying to the gods of Moldy Foam for something to help me move forward and make sense of it all, sitting in the quandary of, “What do I do with all of this feeling, all of this ache and hurt and all of these questions I don’t have the answers to?” a phrase dropped into my head, one that is age old: “Make art out of your pain.”
Maybe I would have headed out to surf, but it was 10pm and dark outside.
So I started writing a song. It was just the most obvious way at the time to channel this confused hurt. Now, mind you, I don’t really write songs. Or even really identify as an ‘artist’ or ‘musician.’
But a song is what wanted to come through, so that’s what happened. The experience was incredibly liberating. I didn’t try to make it good. I just tried to get the pieces and the feelings on paper and into a melody. It almost felt like the experience did it for me, because I’ve never been able to do it on my own before. But I just kept going back to the feelings that felt too big or too consuming inside of me, and transformed them onto the page. I just made art.
Perhaps that’s a side effect of really channeling your pain into something: it does it for you.
I’ve come back to the song fairly often, and I keep working on it — because it’s helping me. I like it more than I thought I would, though that’s not the point. The point is: Art matters. Sport matters. They can give form to our pain, ways to connect with ourselves and each other when simple language falls short. They are ways to make meaning and transform our collective experience — both the joyful and the challenging — into something additive, connective, and beautiful.
So whatever your equivalent of a CD Walkman and freeskiing solo is, I pray to the gods of SkipProof Lasers that you’ll find heaven and deliverance from your pain, support in your joy, and beauty in nature, in yourself, and in YOUR art. And maybe, it’ll call to you in a different way than it has before, and if so, I wholeheartedly encourage you to try it in a new way.
About Angel Collinson
As Angel puts it, she is currently sailing through a metamorphosis, an explorer of self and the planet, a former professional skier, singer of songs and lover of this planet.
2 comments on “Angel Collinson: On Art & Sport”
Beautiful. We are all fighting our battles. Sport, for me, has liberated me from so much existential angst throughout my life. In my early years it was mainly basketball and tennis. Then, I gravitated to outdoor sports ( skiing, rock climbing, surfing and cycling). I have filled many canvases. They don’t hang in the Louvre but they are always on full display in the gallery of my soul.
What you have written Angel, is super helpful and honest. Thank you for also putting words to emotions that I am experiencing/have experienced. It makes me feel less alone and less chaotic.
Much love from Wasilla, Alaska