We spoke with Sandra Bell about the components of the heart, lifting the stigma around anxiety, whether children have an innate sense of morality, what she will remember when she faces the abyss and the point where two oceans meet.
In our society now in which we’re focused on ourselves rather than the tribe, our expectations of ourselves now to achieve, compete, perform and to be perfect is extreme and overwhelming.
We asked Sandra what each component of the heart reminds her of.
Makes me think of old anatomical drawings, 18th century surgeons digging up warm bodies to conduct autopsies in the middle of the night with saws, and also Spanish wine!
What is your interpretation of anxiety and depression? I feel as though popular culture has shined much more of a light on it these days, but it’s still misunderstood. Should it be okay to feel weird day-to-day among skyscrapers, supercomputers and late-stage capitalism?
Both have been around for a very long time. However, I think the reasons why people are anxious now are different from when people worried if invaders would take their land and kill everybody. We certainly had the post-WW2 nuclear anxiety that pervaded our thinking and psyche for decades. Since the Cold War, the Vietnam War and so many wars since, our world is insecure. WB Yeats wrote the poem The Age of Anxiety in 1947.
I think what’s happening now is awareness — an effort to lift the stigma associated with anxiety and depression and an understanding that they are part of the human condition. In our society now in which we’re focused on ourselves rather than the tribe, our expectations of ourselves now to achieve, compete, perform and to be perfect is extreme and overwhelming. I agree late-stage capitalism wants us to be “ideal” and has many products to help us to achieve this. We are told what to eat, wear, where to live, how we should live, etc. Capitalism views us only as consumers, not fallible human beings.
In New Zealand, we have a very high suicide rate despite initiatives to change this. It is heartbreakingly high among young Maori and Pacific people. Colonialism, disaffectedness, isolation, poverty, abuse, trauma, alcohol and drug abuse contribute. Our western culture promotes individualism, whereas Polynesian society is very group- and extended family-based. Most of us need a sense of belonging to a place, a group, and meaning in our lives, which we create ourselves, but how we do this can be different in different cultures.
Art is certainly a way to synthesize our emotions, which with distance and time, can turn into something beautiful. And in art, we seek out understanding of the human experience, the comfort of not being alone in our emotions and feelings.
When I consider our spiritual displacement in the “advanced” world, I think of our changing relationships with drugs. I would think that the opioid crisis has a lot to do with a more general urge in the human soul to leave this volatile, globalized world to achieve a cheap form of bliss. What do you think?
The opioid crisis has not hit New Zealand, but I read it is bad in the States. Yes, I believe some people do opioids as a way to dull pain of all types. Life is painful; none of us can avoid this. It’s how we deal with our pain that is the lifelong challenge. Opioids have also been around for forever in some shape and form.
I don’t know a lot about what’s happening, but does irresponsible prescribing by doctors come into the crisis? Doctors are very regulated here. They don’t give benzodiazepines or opioids easily; they wouldn’t give fentanyl or tramadol unless you had a serious condition. If you have pain here, they give you Panadol four times a day and send you to a pain clinic. I have read people’s outrage towards the drug companies. When did we ever trust drug companies?
Here, the problem is still methamphetamine; it’s dying down, but it has destroyed even provincial towns. I was in rural Northland recently, and as you drove into small towns there were billboards saying “Meth-free town.” It’s totally destructive not only to individuals and families, but to whole communities.
When you think of the phrase “information superhighway,” what comes to mind?
My own lack of discipline at controlling my time on social media. Social media killing my creativity. Crackpots finding some dubious research to back up their theories.
Maori people believe that this is where the soul departs. It was a stunning, beautiful place. When I face the abyss again, I will remember this place.
Please tell me about the town you grew up in and who you were as a child. How do you relate that young girl to your adult self today, emotionally, spiritually or mentally?
I was born in an isolated old gold mining town, Hokitika, on the West Coast of the South Island. The main street backs onto the most amazing, wild sea. The whole place is untamed and wild. My father was a forest ranger. We moved then to a very small town in the native forest also on the West Coast, and then to a pine forest in the Central North Island when I was 12. The first time I saw television was on the ferry shifting from one island to the other. It was Get Smart; I always had a fondness for Maxwell Smart since!
I was alone a lot and developed an inner narrative which was the beginning of creativity. My older brother introduced me to leftist politics at an early age, an interest I have had since. I think the shift north contributed to the feeling of being different or an outsider that I’ve carried with me since. North was much more brutal than the South Island. Poverty, racism, etc. I felt I was different, and my tastes were very different. I dressed differently, read poetry and busked.
Relating to myself as a child? I guess I can see the red thread of how I became the person I did. In the pine forest, it was a very small community; the school only had about 30 kids. It was poor and rural with a big Maori population. We looked after each other. It led to feeling empathy for other people. I’m always one for the outsiders, the vulnerable, the poor, the mentally ill, the displaced.
I feel like the idea of the “soul” is usually misunderstood, convoluted or seen as some sort of external force, like we are just robots controlled by our true “self.” What do you think? External, internal, intrinsic, nonexistent?
I’m an atheist. I generally avoid thinking about the soul. I had a serious illness a few years back and had to look into the abyss; it was frightening, empty and dark. Sort of like utter space. I think atheists are the bravest people, without dogma or religion to shield them from the concept of the unknown. Sometimes I dream of meeting loved ones that have already passed on when I myself do, in a sort of comfort fantasy.
Recently, we went to the top of New Zealand where two oceans meet, a place called Cape Reinga. Maori people believe that this is where the soul departs. It was a stunning, beautiful place. When I face the abyss again, I will remember this place.
Do you think that there are exceptions to every rule, or that some ideas, concepts or actions are sacrosanct?
I’m definitely into rule breaking, except if it hurts or abuses anyone.
Taking responsibility for our actions is very empowering, even if it can be extremely painful owning our mistakes and you just want to shut yourself in a cupboard for a few weeks after.
And from there, do you believe we truly create our own morality?
Yeah, in a way. Morals are learned through our experiences and from others such as parents and teachers. It happens first when we are children. However, I think some research says that children have an innate sense of morality without being taught. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own moral decisions, depending on our values, and our sense of what is right or wrong. Taking responsibility for our actions is very empowering, even if it can be extremely painful owning our mistakes and you just want to shut yourself in a cupboard for a few weeks after. I guess some people sadly have a skewed sense of right and wrong through being abused or neglected as children, etc.
Please describe what a candle is without using the phrase “fire,” “wax” or “wick.”
Mystery, promise, possibility, light, orange, flame, glow, flicker, friends, dinner.
Finally, please describe another person you’ve dreamed of being, or have been envious of being, at some point in your history. Then imagine being that person and meeting you. How would you and this idealistic other-self get along? Would you be irritated or drawn to each other?
I’ve never really wished to be anyone else or had that sort of hero-worship. I perhaps dream of being a type of person. I would have liked to have been a full time artist, a painter, or full-time political activist. I feel like I have created a fraction of what I could have. As I get older, the day job sucks energy out of me. I think me and me would get along fine.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Email
Published: April 12, 2018
Total questions: 9
Word count: 1402
Reading time: Five minutes
abyss, action, activist, aorta, artery, artist, atrium, benzodiazepine, Cape Reinga, challenge, Cold War, competition, component, concept, cupboard, dogma, Dunedin, expectation, fantasy, forest, fraction, globalism, heart, hero, Hokitika, idea, information, island, isolation, Maori, New Zealand, Northland, opioids, painter, perfection, performance, poetry, poverty, responsibility, sacrosanct, Sandra Bell, skyscraper, songwriting, supercomputer, superhighway, television, tribe, vein, vena cava, ventricle, Vietnam, World War II, worship
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
Related conversations W