The first time I heard of him and heard his work was by accident.

At a spoken word performance, opening for the main act, there he was.

Zaccheus Jackson. He had long unhinged limbs. They moved in a jerky arrhythmic yet somehow synchronous fashion, springing from their shoulder and hips joints, rattling out then swooping back under to hold his lanky frame, the constant motion emphasizing and acting as exclamation marks for the words spitting and roaring from his mouth.

Oh, what words. Coming from his lips, full and in expressive and constant motion.

Articulate, rhythmic, passionate and playing with the pauses, he spoke, sang without singing, his poetry telling simultaneously his stories, stories of his own addiction and recovery, his Blackfoot people’s stories, thus, Canadian history, stories of colonization, the marginalized. While, at the same time, referencing mythology, humour and childhood stories.

As he says in his spoken word poem Recovery, “I set down my pipe and picked up a pen.”

Zaccheus Jackson, age 36, died  on August 30, 2014, hit by a freight train near Toronto. It was an accidental death and it is a tragedy. We need our honest, searing and soul-baring creatives. We need them dearly.

When I consider the impact having a creative outlet has had on my life, my thoughts go to him. To how explicit he is about the role creative expression had in his recovery from addiction. To all of the people I know who have found a life raft in their ability to express through art what can often be pre or non-verbal.

My thoughts go to my dance teachers. To my visual arts and writing teachers. To the novelists I’ve read, to the friends I’ve gone out dancing with. To the singers and musicians that create the music that moves my feet. My hips. My heart.

My heart feels a little broken about Zaccheus Jackson death. His creative outlet not only fed himself, it sparked so many. Every person in the audience at the event I went to walked away profoundly touched by his words and delivery. An audience of all ages and many different backgrounds, we were all were touched by his stories, and the courage it takes to be open and honest.

I think of all of the visual artists whose work feels like a cool balm to my eyes. I think of the artists whose work I don’t love too. Even when I don’t like it, I find value; it sparks thought, ideas, discussion.

Having a creative outlet in my life is, in fact, non-negotiable.

Making art, which has ranged from painting, photography, writing and dancing, is the way in which I understand and share my world. Being creative, having ‘artist’s brain’ as a friend once put it, is the juiciest affliction imaginable.

My world exists in dreams, metaphors, archetypes and symbols. I seek to pull my experiences through my body and into the world in a way that can illuminate, spark and excite people. Or calm people. It really doesn’t matter, because what others think is not the reason why I create.

Most of all I create to feel myself, in the world, in my body, and in connection.

This is what having a creative outlet means to me. Zaccheus Jackson, may he rest in peace, embodied those bold and beautiful ideals so expressively.

Until next time,

Janelle

 

ps – this piece of writing is part of Seeing Spots Photography’s Creative Outlets Blog Tour. Click this link to see more writing about what the impact a creative outlet can have on people.

pps – I love sharing my stories and thoughts on my blog. I’m also working hard to make a sustainable living as an artist and single mom.  If you enjoy my stories, please consider supporting my artmaking by purchasing my painted letter subscriptions – you’ll get stories, written on paintings, sent monthly by real mail. They’re frameable too.