Blog / 2023 / A Shout-out to Messy People Everywhere

September 21, 2023

Right after my dad died last year, my standard response to those who offered me their condolences was:

“At least he can’t vote anymore.”

Uncalled for? Yes.

Satisfying? Yes again.

I was coping with my complicated feelings about my father in the only way I knew how. Since then, I’ve moved on to a less combative reply to the compassion that people show me, but, while I was still on my quipping kick, I happened to give my cutting response to one particularly poised person. This individual isn’t unemotional, just thoroughly buttoned up—and in a completely charming manner that I adore.

I can still picture their face when I expressed my relief at there being one less climate-change-denying, racist, homophobic, transphobic misogynist among the ranks of American voters. It was the one and only time I’ve seen this person’s composure crack, and, confronted by the fact that I’d offended them, I did what all well-meaning people do: I took a good hard look at myself.

That’s when I saw with a stunning new clarity just how deep and abiding my messiness really is. It was in that moment that I realized two things:

  1. I’m always messy, even when I’m not navigating big life changes like my father’s death. No matter how calm my life is, my default way of being is emotionally untidy—eternally a little off and slightly too much.
  2. I love my fellow messy people powerfully.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate individuals who, like my buttoned-up friend, seem to contain boundless amounts of chill. Rather, it’s that the people who wear their hearts on their sleeves make me feel less crazy and less alone. It’s the messy people who’ve saved me.

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Everything’s Fine—my project about mental health that’s both a series of paintings (including the one featured in this video) and an upcoming coloring book—is meant for anyone who finds comfort in the work, but the project is dedicated to my fellow messy people. It’s for the dragonflies who, despite choking on pollution, can’t be helped by an oxygen mask, because they’re not humans. They’re dragonflies, and they see no reason to pretend otherwise.

To those who speak the whole truth about the dead, despite society’s preference for prettifying people’s lives once they’re over...

To those who talk publicly about their struggles with mental health...

To those who refuse to pretend like everything’s fine, when there’s so much inequality in the world...

...I’m grateful for you.
airplane Earth is crashing and the oxygen mask comes down, but the dragonfly can’t use it, illustration about solastalgia and help that doesn’t help
Gwenn Seemel
Not Helping
acrylic on panel
16 x 12 inches

If you want to be involved in the coloring book phase of Everything’s Fine, the Kickstarter allows you to do everything from pre-order a copy of the book to get a special deal on custom art.

No matter the amount, every pledge makes a difference!


dragonfly painting
detail of Not Helping

This dragonfly along with the rest of the paintings from Everything’s Fine are on display at the Princeton Public Library through mid-October.

Princeton Public Library
65 Witherspoon
Princeton, NJ 08542

Open: now through October 15th
Hours: every day, visit PPL site for times

Free hands-on art workshop for teens
Saturday September 30th from 3p to 4:30p
Register here!

The original dragonfly piece is for sale for $1300 plus shipping (and tax if you live in New Jersey)—please contact me if you’d like to buy the painting. For prints and pretty things with this image, go here in my print shop.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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