Reality vs. Creativity

I’m stepping onto my soapbox. You’ve been warned.

This year has been a hard one for creative people. Throughout 2017, articles about self-care, balancing creative work with activism, and tips on refilling the creative well filled my social media feeds.

Many of these posts offered good advice on dealing with my rage and sorrow for our current political situation. Others reassured me, letting me know I’m not the only wordsmith struggling to find my voice in a world seemingly gone mad.

But thinking back on all of these posts, I noticed a common theme. Nearly every article, blog post, or Twitter thread was written by people like me: white, middle- to upper-middle-class, liberal, and fairly well-educated. For many of us, 2017 has been a nightmare trip through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole, and into a world where our favorite dystopian literature becomes real. Frankly, it’s scaring the shit out of me.

What’s been missing from all of these posts is the voice of experience. That is, I haven’t seen any posts from those who have faced these kinds of crises before and managed to be creative despite the chaos.

“Experience?” One might ask. “Who could possibly have experience in trying to write, paint, dance, compose, etc. when the world is burning and the President is a lying con man? No one has faced this situation before.”

Allow me to laugh maniacally for a moment. (Trust me, it’s a better outlet than the alternative.)

A lot of people have found ways to create during times of upheaval. Nearly every creative person of color in America, throughout our history, has created amazing art while being attacked for simply existing.

Those who are differently abled have faced similar challenges. Immigrants, members of the LBGTQ community, and people from non-Christian religious backgrounds have all faced the threat of erasure while trying to bring their perspectives and understanding into the world through their artistic endeavors.

Langston Hughes, Helen Keller, Jorge Luis Borges, and others crafted amazing works while struggling against society’s expectations for their situations. Today, we could turn to Joy Harjo, N.K. Jemisin, and others for advice on doing creative work in the face of adversity. But we haven’t? Why not?

Perhaps it’s that we are so wrapped up in our own grief and rage that we fail to see how much worse things are for those already marginalized. Maybe we just haven’t thought about looking for ways to deal with the chaos. Or maybe we aren’t as liberal and enlightened as we’d like to think we are.

Whatever the cause of our blinders, it’s past time to take them off.

To that end, my 2018 reading challenge will exclude books written by straight, white men. Maybe by immersing myself in the worlds and visions of writers of color, books in translation, and women, I can find a path through the morass and regain my creative drive.

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