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  • Erika Nichols-Frazer

A Tether to the World


Hannah Gadsby in "Nanette"

I first saw Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby's Netflix special "Nanette" while sitting on the floor of a friend's cabin in West Virginia with a dozen other writers, drinking smoked Old Fashioneds (my friend John takes his cocktails seriously), and I was completely mesmerized. In the first half she's funny, but there's a distinctive shift when she gets real and angry and it's brilliant. She tells the story of a stranger who came up to her after a show, in which she discussed taking anti-depressants, to criticize her for her self-care methods. He claimed that, because she was an artist, it was her duty to suffer for the benefit of her art, to feel. If Vincent van Gogh hadn't suffered, this man purportedly said to Hannah Gadsby, then we wouldn't have the sunflowers. She goes on to, as she describes, "tear him a college-debt-sized new asshole." Turns out, she has an art history degree and schooled him on Van Gogh, his self-medication, and factors that may have influenced his art. But, after touching upon so many important things like violence and sexual assault, she ends the special with this: "Do you know why we have the sunflowers? It's not because Vincent van Gogh suffered. It's because Vincent van Gogh had a brother who loved him. Through all the pain, he had a tether, a connection to the world. That is the focus of the story we need - connection."


I think about that quote a lot, maybe even more than her quote that will be the epigraph to my memoir-in-progress, "There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself" (and I think about that a lot). But this tether thing really spoke to me, too. A tether, a connection to the world. Because at our worst, that's what we need the most, right? I ask myself, what are my tethers, or rather, who? I am lucky enough to have people, plural, in my life who I consider my tethers to the world, the people who keep me here even when I'm hurting, who ground me, keep me on Earth when I'm drifting away. I'm lucky to be married to one of them. Even though some of them are far away and I don't always get to talk to them, even just sending a text into the void, knowing that they'll see it, can help, sometimes.


And I like the idea of recognizing that the thing that creates art isn't (always, necessarily) pain, but love, that this remarkable, beautiful thing happened because someone loved his brother.


What are your tethers, your connections to the world?

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©2019 by Erika Nichols-Frazer