Concerned about the social struggles young adults face today, Kayla Wikaryasz, a senior Interdisciplinary Humanities major with a minor in Creative Writing, is producing a short story that focuses on mental illness and the creative industry.
Wikaryasz’s story was among the 13 proposed projects awarded a 2023 CREATE! Micro-Grant, with each winning proposal receiving $500.
Offered by MSU’s College of Arts & Letters and facilitated by the Dean’s Arts Advisory Council with support from the MSU Federal Credit Union and departments across the university, the CREATE! Micro-Grant program encourages Michigan State University students to critically engage, through art, with the past, present, or future while offering the opportunity to explore current events and issues through mediums such as art, dance, film, poetry, and song.
Wikaryasz’s story, titled “Caroline, Caroline, Caroline,” touches on serious mental health topics. It follows a young girl named Agnes who wants to pursue art school, but her family pressures her not to follow the path of creative work. However, Agnes believes she can make something of herself without the help of her parents. But standing in the way of her dreams of independence, artistic success, and purpose is a buried mental illness that rears its ugly head. Agnes, haunted by her own demons and the demons imposed upon her by her family, endures bouts of depression, psychosis, and mania as she tries to pull herself out of a pit of perceived failure.
“Though Agnes is privileged economically, she is not necessarily privileged with emotional support,” Wikaryasz said. “The almost inhumane pressure placed on Agnes by her family to protect the family wealth is her ultimate downfall.”
The story lies at the intersection between speculative fiction, literary fiction, and psychological thriller. It will include illustrations by Wikaryasz that symbolize themes relating to Vincent Van Gogh’s life, which Agnes parallels in many ways.
“I would love to consider myself a ‘writer’ or an ‘artist’ but those terms may be too broad to describe how I identify myself,” Wikaryasz said. “This may be a good thing, as it prevents me from pigeon-holing myself into one genre or the next.”
“I treat all of my art-making as an exercise to process the stresses that arise in my life. Often building worlds or characters that are extensions of my experiences as a young adult helps me understand the impacts of these experiences.”
Wikaryasz plans to adapt her short story into a Zine. As inspiration, she said she “falls back on family stories.”
“These stories provide me with awe, strength, and an overwhelming sense of motivation and duty,” she said. “It sometimes seems that I can’t get away with creating anything that doesn’t have some sort of reference to a family tale or legend.”
Wikaryasz also likes to relate her work to her own experiences.
“I treat all of my art-making as an exercise to process the stresses that arise in my life,” she said. “Often building worlds or characters that are extensions of my experiences as a young adult helps me understand the impacts of these experiences. I think the magic comes into my work when I am able to make that connection, and my audience can process their own experiences as they relate to my work.”
Wikaryasz will graduate in December 2023 and plans to work on individual writing projects in hopes of having them published in a literary journal one day.
“I want to work in a field in which I can continue to create, write, and have an impact on my community,” she said. “The big dream is to publish a book series I’ve been working on during the past few years.”