The West Coast is on fire. The Southeast is underwater, and it’s only the start of hurricane season. Nazis are feeling their oats, and the jackass we elected President is having a pissing match with a nuclear power when he’s not announcing his intention to deport a million people who are better citizens than he or I have ever been. Daily life is surreal, like we’re clapping and clapping, trying to believe hard enough to bring Tinkerbell back to life. Tinkerbell being a world where it makes sense to do things like buy houses and have children and plan for your retirement.
When do you stop clapping? When do you stop thinking the world will go on as it has, and start planning for contingencies that were science fiction two years ago? What does that even mean? Buy a gun? A bunch of canned food and bottled water? Order an apocalypse kit from the Mormons on Amazon and stop at every gas station you pass so when the moment comes you’ll have a full tank? Where will you even go?
I’m sitting here with a to-do list a mile long. I’ve got businesses to grow, a novel to finish, people who expect me to make things for them and do things to make their homes nicer. But I look outside, and I can’t see the fucking sky for the smoke, and people in the place I grew up (Florida) are bracing for a hurricane that’ll ravage the whole state whichever of the approximately five thousand possible paths it might take heading inland it ultimately does.
I’m sitting here paralyzed, because if Tinkerbell’s dead then I’m crazy to worry over what things make a normal life. If she isn’t I need to clap harder than ever, knowing it might not be enough. We all do, together.
I honestly don’t know what’s to come. Whatever it turns out to be will be hard, for all of us. It already is.
I don’t have much in the way of encouraging words today. So I’ll borrow some from people much wiser than I.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
I also know that that probably didn’t happen. But whatever its authenticity, the image of the emperor playing the fiddle while Rome burned endures. In common usage, it means ‘to occupy oneself with unimportant matters and neglect priorities during a crisis.’ Like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
But it’s not rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s more like the band playing on as the ship upended and sank. It’s making art in the face of ongoing or oncoming catastrophe.
Half the people I know have some kind of creative pursuit as a way of making meaning in their lives. From what social media tells me, most of them are having problems working. It makes sense. Why bother making things when the whole world is going to shit? Is that really the best use of your time? What even is the best use of your time? Which fire should you be helping to put out? Or should you lay stores in and plan for the aftermath, look out for you and yours?
I don’t know the answers to those questions. Telling truth I have the opposite problem. I get up everyday and work on my novel, however I’m feeling, whether I want to or not. I can’t even imagine stopping, even though I think there’s a solid and growing chance that it’s pointless, at least in terms of getting it published and out into the reading world. Who even reads anymore, right? Who has time, what with Rome burning all around us?
There’s people who say making art’s more important than ever, times like these. Whether you’re offering distraction or insight or just putting our anxious and angst-ridden zeitgeist to words or images or music, what matters is the human spirit striving to make beauty and sense from a world sorely lacking in both.
That may be. But it’s not why I show up to work in the morning. I do it because it feeds me. Because it gives my life meaning and shape. Because I’ve known my whole life this is what I was meant for, whether I chose it or it chose me.
Because without it, I don’t know how I’d go on.
I read a lot of great books, is the short answer.
So, a few days ago writer K Tempest Bradford published this article, in which she challenged readers to stop reading white, straight, cisgendered male authors for one year. Sadly (and predictably), certain corners of the internet exploded in rage at the notion (she has assembled a lovely collection of rage-tweets here, if you enjoy that sort of thing). I won’t reprise their objections, which savvy interneteers will likely be able to intuit themselves, nor pass judgement on any validity those objections may or may not have. But it so happens that I recently spent the better part of a year doing something very similar to Ms Bradford’s challenge. From roughly November 2013 until late last year, I read only books by women(*), many of them women of color, others not cisgendered (two of the new favorite writers whose work I discovered are married).
I did so for my own reasons, both personal and (for lack of a better term) professional. On a personal level it was simply the realization that the vast majority of the books on my overstuffed shelves were by men. I fought it for a long time, that realization. I mean, these were great books, each easily defensible on the merits. I have, if I may say, damned fine taste in literature, and reading material in general. Ask any of my friends. I’ve been an obsessive reader since kindergarten, the kind of person who never goes anywhere without a book and hasn’t since he could carry one. But looked at en masse, the unconscious bias in my collection was (and is) painfully clear (in my defense, I actually am a cisgendered white male).
When I was younger, the notion of placing any kind of limitation on my reading material for a whole year would have seemed preposterous. Now comfortably ensconced in middle age, it didn’t seem like that big a deal. It wasn’t like I was going to run out of good books to read, and while it might mean holding off on some things in my to-be-read stack, it’s hardly without precedent for a book to be in that stack for years before I get around to reading it. Really all I had to do was rearrange the order, though of course I used it as an excuse to go book-shopping, which is one of my favorite things to do.
The timing that November seemed propitious. I’d started writing Continue reading