I have so many questions, and less quick to say what I think is the answer. I should be clear--in my heart, I know the answer is to abolish hatred and prejudice and scapegoating and the all the other human indecencies we see. But as for the HOW of doing those things? I have so many questions about that.
What do we do with these feelings, with these fears? How do we balance allowing ourselves to get mad, really mad, and also find the focus and steadiness required to work on a long-term solution?
Should I try to convince folks in my own circles who don't seem to be seeing the terrible things being unleashed this week against women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, Muslims, that these things ARE in fact very real, and we need to care? Or should I not waste time trying to provide evidence to people who aren't using evidence in their reasoning?
If I only speak with those who share my views, aren't I just preaching to the choir? Where does that leave me? What does conversation across all perspectives look like? And not just theoretically (listen openly with your heart), but REALISTICALLY (how do I respond when someone tells me I am wrong, ignorant, naive?)?
As an artist, what can I do? What kind of work can I make? How can I connect with other artists doing the same thing? Will it matter?
In light of these questions, I haven't read anything about being an artist in this post-election environment that really satisfies me. Oh, there are things out there about continuing to love and create and keep the faith--this is all important. Then there's (understandably) stern calls to action to be as serious and focused and vigilant as possible and make art that prods, provokes, and pulls apart paradigms. This also important.
But you see, I kept waiting to find out how I can do both. If it's acceptable to do both. If I need to feel uncomfortable with that balance. of wanting and needing to play and find the light, and wanting and needing to grind it out and expose the darkness.
It got me thinking about writing these thoughts down--as the saying goes: "write what you want to read." As creatives and artists and makers, we face a pretty sobering call to action: use our abilities, time, and talents to address some serious human rights violations, to protect ourselves, our families, neighbors, communities, and ultimately, our country and the world. Turn the tide. Overhaul hatred and injustice. Talk about serious, sobering issues.
Being a creative means that we have a sense of play inside of us that can't be pushed aside or rooted out or shamed. We try to tell ourselves, "This is SERIOUS. Stop playing. Get SERIOUS. Stop playing around!" If you have ever taught young students a creative subject, you know what I'm talking about. We find ourselves raising our voice in a theatre class or art class, "Stop messing around! Be serious! Be creative!"
What a mixed message for our artist hearts--be serious/be playful and creative. What does this balance look like?
I'm still thinking about what this means for my work, and I don't have the answer. But I am convinced that this is the right question we need to ask ourselves at this moment. I know that if we are to put our creativity to work for good, we have to try with all our might to not stifle this creativity with an authoritarian order to be "SERIOUS" about it. We must keep the playfulness, the imagination, the silly, and all the engines that those things fire within us, running full steam ahead.
Do we need to feel the gravity of what is happening, of the way we are called to contribute artistically? Yes. Is this a time to be disciplined and pick up your pen, your paintbrush, your pottery with sincere intentions? You're damn right. But, keep asking yourself this question. Keep trying to discover how you might retain the freedom, the flexibility, the playfulness that you will most certainly need to make something that can contribute something that helps us to understand, to question, to move forward.
Don't punish your playful side. Indulge it, use it for good. Here's an idea--put the word "serious" aside. Instead, ask yourself: How can I be playful AND impactful? How can I be creative and contribute something meaningful at the same time?
Think of Louie C.K. His comedy is so astute, so heartbreaking sometimes in the way that it cuts right to the truth, and yet, it's hilarious as hell along the way. It's a beautiful balance.
You can be like Iris Bahr, the stunning actress, playwright, and author who wrote a one woman show "DAI (enough)" that focuses on the people in a Tel Aviv cafe moments before a suicide bomber enters AND also appeared in HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, alongside Larry David, playing an Orthodox Jewish woman who gets stuck on a ski-life with Larry David and has to decide whether to eat edible underwear because she is so hungry. Iris Bahr is one of my favorite female artists and the fact that these two credits appear side by side in her bio on her website is one of the reasons why. I love that she does both, and I don't take her any less seriously or think of her as any less hysterical because she dances back and forth between these different expressions.
So what does this mean for us today?
Volunteer your creative skills. There are so many organizations working for social justice right now that are open to artists helping with their outreach and events. Go offer your time and talents. A few organizations to check out are Showing Up For Racial Justice, Black Lives Matter, and The Future Project.
There are projects you are already working on. Whether or not they are political in nature, don't belittle this work you are doing just because you don't think it's important enough. Don't shame what your curiosity tells you is important to explore. Keep working.
Have you been working on one project and now feel compelled to pursue something else that feels more urgent? Follow that urge.
Need to alternate using your creativity to fight back against oppression with self-care and recharging? Do it, guilt-free. You're no good to anyone or any cause exhausted and worn thin. Drink water. Sleep. Watch a few episodes of your favorite comedy. Turn off the news. Go for a long walk. Play with your pet. And if you don't have a pet, Google photos of cute pets. Listen to recordings of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches. Dress up, or wear your pajamas all day. Cook good food. Do what it takes to fill your own cup so that you can give to others. Balance: recharge/get to work.
Keep asking yourself those questions: How can I be playful AND impactful? How can I be creative and contribute something meaningful at the same time?
I have faith in our creative problem solving skills. We will find ways to explore this balance. Now, go. Make something today, holding all these truths and needs and fears and joys as you do.