I used to have a blog, back in the early 2010s. This morning I revisited it for the first time in over three years and discovered a post from October 2012 that feels terribly relevant. I write that "we are on the brink of a terrifying election," and that "Romney could win" which, if I'd known then what I know now, would be a perfectly acceptable outcome. Here it is. (For the original posting and the rest of my ancient blog, click here):
Despair's Antidote (originally published October 17, 2012)
Recently I watched Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris for the second time. One scene that stuck in my mind is the part when, after reading Gil’s manuscript, Gertrude Stein returns it to him and tells him not to write such depressing things. “The artist's job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence,” she says.
I’ve been thinking about this for weeks now. Lately, there is much to despair about. We are at the brink of a terrifying election. We are entering a new (warmer) climate in Earth’s history, one that we as a race have instigated. It’s almost December 2012, (but don’t worry, I don’t believe in the Mayan Calendar prophecy). The list continues.
When I look at the facts, I don’t feel hopeful, but I do think fictional Gertrude Stein has a point. As Bread & Puppet’s Cheap Art Manifesto so aptly puts it: “Art is food. You can’t eat it, but it feeds you.” The question is, how do we as artists acknowledge the despair, write about it, sing about it and make images about it without succumbing to it, and better yet, how do we find the antidote? Mary Oliver offers these words:
“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
It is as simple and as complicated as that. Isn’t creating art, by its very nature, an act of speaking up? Getting out of bed every morning, sitting down at your desk or your piano with your manuscript paper is an act of defiance. Today, you say, I will write just one new measure. I will not give up. Most likely that tiny new measure has been informed by the astonishing things you have seen and heard somewhere in your life. Even though you may be alone in your room, you are now telling about those things. Even though you are racked by self-defeating thoughts, somewhere in your deepest insides, you know that some day, someone else will hear your completed piece and feel as though they have been fed.
And this is why I think Gertrude is right. Even though Romney could win the election, even though my future children may never build a snow fort, I still plan on writing at least one measure a day, wild and defiant, because the mere act of creating, in whatever form, is what keeps us standing, what propels us forward and forces us to have a voice. Despair is real, but so is beauty. We can be present to the emptiness of existence while simultaneously finding its balm.