It Is Art That Will Help Us Survive

It’s a little… it’s a little fucked up out there.

Right now, outside my window, it’s calm. It’s sunshine and trees. It’s the last crickets of the season. It’s squirrels, and okay, the squirrels are not calm because the squirrels are losing their fucking squirrel minds, going gonzo over every acorn and hickory nut that falls from the trees, but even still, it lends itself to an overall picture of normalcy.

Looking outside, I wouldn’t know that everything is wrong, and people are on fire.

Or maybe it’s that people are wrong, and everything is on fire.

I don’t know. The squirrels, maybe they know. The yellowjackets know, because they are tuned into the coming of winter — they get cantankerous around this time, all pissed-off and sting-happy because they know that for they and their wasp pals, it is the ends of empire as the leaves drop and the snow lurks.

And if you look online, or at the TV, or at the news, or at whatever passes for “news” on TV, you’ll see — it’s just fire and wrongness all the way down. Everything is a poisonous shit typhoon, or feels like it. It’s the hottest year on record by a good stretch. Black Americans are being shot by cops, cops protesting POC’s right to exist with bullets and institutional racism. Many dangerous bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, and now even gonorrhea has become resistant — worst of all, an entire mass of antibiotic-resistent gonorrhea is running for president underneath a PineSol-soaked clown merkin. And that presidential candidate represents, in a way, so much of what’s WRONG-AND-ALSO-ON-FIRE, so much of what got us here — he’s like a weaponized, animated version of all the bad policy decisions and septic social movements that have plagued us and dogged our heels and tried to hold us back again and again and again. Trump is a 300-foot wicker statue filled with Twitter eggs and Gamergaters and white supremacy and sleazy snake oil capitalism and tiny fingers cut off of inadequate men. That statue is now ablaze. It lights our way not to illuminate, but to blind us.

(Let’s just make sure it’s said now: if you’re the type of person voting for Trump, we aren’t going to have much in common except for an effervescent, yeasty disdain for one another. You’re supporting someone who wants to dismantle everything. Someone who wants something so simple as food regulations to be weaker than they already are. Something so simple as, “I don’t think it should be legal for people to sell me food with actual human feces in it,” is something with which this Naugahyde Buffoon disagrees and that he opposes. And that’s just the tip of the sanity he would endeavor to undo — the sexist, racist, anti-human, anti-love components of his non-policy policies are jaw-dropping on the daily. As Drew Magery says, “fuck you.”)

So, whaddya do?

What can you do to stave off that crushing feeling of being at too great a depth in the diarrhea ocean in which we’ve been floundering? How do you get a grip and keep the grip? The obvious solutions are there, and they’re tried as well as true: get off the Internet, turn off the TV, go fuck off in the trees and watch some squirrels. I don’t even know that I’m going to watch the debates. What would be the point? Hillary could literally vomit demon-spiders onto the podium and I would still be voting for her. We are not at a point in the election where I’m like, It could go both ways for me. It can’t, it won’t. She’s my candidate. I like her, and I also like not gently elbowing our nation and its people into a deep fryer bubbling with hate-fatand self-tanning lotion.

Still, it’s hard. This has been a year of spectacularly shitty shit. Every week we seem to crater once more, shattering the mantle yet again. Bowie and Prince, two of our mighty pillars, have fallen, and now there are too few to hold us back from the screaming chaos-void above our heads. It’s bad news meteors crashing one after the next after the next. It’s hard to escape all of it. Online especially, and being online is an increasingly vital part of our work, our lives, our loves.

Again I ask, so whaddya do?

Spoiler warning: it’s art that will save us.

In a way, I think it’s art that has always saved us. Not single-handedly, of course, but it affords us all a toe-hold on the sanity in a world gone mad, and in times of lessened chaos, it helps us get back to stable surfaces. It’s why, I think, invading armies and cultural warlords always want to tear down art. They want to gash away our toe-holds. They want to give us fewer ways to hold on, fewer ways to climb up and out.

But art — words, images, sounds, music, games, experiences — can give us things that the real world never can. Art can be an escape. Art can be secret truths nestled in a sweet burrito of fiction. Art can show us who we are and who we want to be, and it can give us the metaphors and thematic connections that let us understand our world in a bigger, weirder, more resonant way. We learn who other people are through art — it’s not just our stories we need reflected, but everyone’s. Art maybe won’t create empathy out of whole cloth, but it can stir it, it can stoke it, like breath blown against cooling embers. This is true for art whether you create it or absorb it. It’s doubly true for when you share it — when we say to others, you need this. When you say, this helped me cope, or this helped me understand. The act of art as a probiotic boost to our emotional and spiritual immune systems. Art as rebellion, revelation, renewal.

Making it, taking it, absorbing it, sharing it.

Like I say, it can’t happen alone. Art by itself won’t save the day. You still need to vote. You still need to speak out and signal boost. You still need to be active when you can be active, and sometimes fuck off into the forest when you need to fuck off into the forest. We still need to do things, to be love and loved, to try to create in the world the love for others that we also want to see for ourselves. But art lends itself to that.

I don’t have some grand call-to-action here. There’s nothing really profound here, no magic snap-of-the-fingers solution to sort it all out and get on with things. I just want to say, if this goddamn fuck-all of a year is testing your resolve to simply exist, I hear you. And to that I say:

Go read a book. Watch a movie. Stare at some paintings. Listen to your favorite song. Find art that challenges you and that calms you. Find art that agitates, then find art that sedates. It’s all okay. Sometimes we need to escape. Sometimes we need to escalate. Art can help us do both. Absorb it, and if you’re so bold, make some art, too. And when you’re done, share it. Spread it all around like tasty strawberry jelly. Connect with others through this art.

Tell the world and let the art flow, motherfuckers.

It may be the only way we stay sane enough to make it to 2017.

50 comments

  • Good. Thanks for all your pushy words of encouragement. Seriously, I mean that. I love my blogs I suppose they are like an extension of oneself. Time to keep moving else I’ll be stuck. Is that grammatically correct? Not sure. Time for my departure. I’ll keep my blogs for awhile & check back to do my newsletters. I never did get readers so that sucks. Oh well. I’ll think of you and smile.

  • You are so wise, Master. Following the devoted museum styled art created by that young person who shares them with you in the kitchen of your home, I have set aside a set of crayons. When I finish my words, I intend to create some wonderful art to share with the world and place it back into the correct path which it follows around the sun. Thank you, Master.

  • Chuck I thought it was just me! Thanks for connecting so eloquently. I’m listening to “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and realizing how close we are to that song from so many years ago. But it’s got energy and truth and as you say, it’s art and from art we get energy and truth. We need a lot of both these days. Be careful with those squirrels!

  • Thanks for this Chuck! You put it perfectly. I spent the day making a mixtape. I think to do exactly what you are saying, to go into the art for a few hours and live inside the music. It really does help. Another brilliant post from you, cuts right through.

  • Yesterday, I was sitting outside under my apple tree working on my book. A little bunny slept in the grass in the shade of my house. Somebody mowed a lawn. A kid laughed. One of those crazy squirrels you talked about buried a peanut not twelve inches from my right foot.

    Life was good.

    And yet, we are weathering a shitstorm of epic proportions right now. Everything you said is true. We need to anchor ourselves in what is best in us, and art does that. It’s always done that. Art brings us together, invites discussion, gives us pause, makes us think, The incredible diversity reflected in our art is a reflection of who we were, are, and dream we can be so yeah, maybe there’s hope for us.

    Thanks for the reminder, Chuck.

  • Yeah I’m one of them Chuck. One of those Trump supporters. But at least I know what I’m getting. Is he all that you say he is? Probably not. He’s no angle that is for sure, but look how bad things are going right now with this current administration. I don’t know about you, and all the people that commented here, but for me things have gone really really wrong for me in a lot of ways. Health Insurance, up 60%. Home owners insurance up 40%. Property tax, up 30% cost of living for me, up 30% household income, down 30%. So yeah Im voting for Trump. Is he a pompous baboon? Without a doubt. But I’ll gamble for another 4 years and hope he shakes things up in Washington. It might turn out bad, but maybe it could be good. And as far as Hilary is concerned? No way, no how. Just more of the same. What I really wanted to say here Chuck, I bought your book recently. It’s one he way. But had I read this blog before hand, maybe I wouldn’t have bought it. A lot of people that like your style of writing, which in my opinion is the best, Well, they might not buy your books if they know your political stance. Just saying.

    • My political stance tends to be in my books, so it’s better they know it before they start. Moreover, most writers, I find, have similar stances to mine.

      I’m not going to argue with you — you want to vote for Trump, go ahead. But those things you think are bad now? Wait till our market craters once he’s elected. Just like Brexit, the markets will suffer. Which won’t just hurt the wealthy — that’s one kind of trickle-down economics we can count on.

      — c.

      • The last time someone told me ‘It might turn out bad, but it could be good’ with regards to a presidential election, we got the Patriot Act, the second Iraq War, occupation of two foreign states, the Great Recession, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, among other things. And that was with someone who wasn’t a raging trash fire of a human being, who at least maintained the pretense of representing the whole of the constituency. I’m not finding the ‘Welcome to Itchy and Scratchy World, where nothing could posibly go wrong’ (sic) approach to governance a particularly compelling one.

        While listening to the BBC this morning, I heard them interview a (self-identifying) white supremacist who made it clear that Trump had mainstreamed and legitimized his views and that he was thankful that it had done so. I’m not making the case that Trump supporters were like him, but I would consider the fact that many of his ilk are also supporting Trump as cause for reflection.

    • If Trump wins it will get much, much worse. He’s a friend of Putin, likes the dictator approach, so you might not get another chance to vote. All he wants is to aggrandize himself and make himself richer. He’s bankrupted five or more companies so far, so maybe the USA will be the next one. Plus, it will be like waving a brightly coloured flag at the terrorists and shouting, “Come and get me if you think you’re hard enough!” They’re hard enough.

  • Agreed. We also need to vote and encourage everyone we know to do the same. This is the longest (and weirdest) election cycle ever endured and we’re all burnt out and bewildered but I honestly believe that electing Donald Trump would be literally dangerous. So, use Facebook, use blogs and Twitter and our words to encourage people to go to the voting booths. I hear too many people saying that they are voting for Trump or not planning on voting at all. Granted, I live in a red flyover state, but it is a Mormon state that doesn’t like Trump….but he’s gaining ground. So, let’s fortify ourselves with some art and then encourage those we know to overcome the confusion and despair and vote. It’s positive and achievable and will keep us from a shit apocalypse.

  • Please don’t take the art away, world. I may end up buying a Vendetta mask and go stand in a crowd.
    Oh, and I haven’t said this in a long time but I love you, Chuck. I love your words, your hella attitude, and your honesty – sorry, wife and child of Chuck. It’s strictly adoration on my part.
    Jeannie Leighton

  • YES. Thank you for this. Especially your ideas of, “The act of art as a probiotic boost to our emotional and spiritual immune systems. Art as rebellion, revelation, renewal.” I’m off to let the art flow!

  • I was just thinking, when I see Michaelangelo’s David, I know nothing from it of the period in which it was created, or its stresses. Yet, the art endures, and speaks to us today.

  • I feel like you need a hug, Chuck. Heck, I feel like a large portion of America needs a hug right now. Us Britlanders went and effed up Brexit a while ago, so I’ll admit a lot of us are worried for the USA and its upcoming presidential election. We saw for ourselves how the two-fingers-up vote – the one most of us thought was only confined to the froth-mouthed right-wingers – can rise up out of nowhere with the right kind of (malignant) publicity. Keep doing you, Chuck – the world needs more of you.

  • “Hillary could literally vomit demon-spiders onto the podium and I would still be voting for her.”

    I know, right? I would vote for one of the demon spiders over Trump.

    And to your point about art, you can always tell the people who don’t take the time to engage with great art. They’re more narrow, less empathetic, less global thinkers. Study after study shows reading sends your empathy levels through the roof. And that’s the problem with this election cycle, a profound lack of empathy at historic rates.

    I’ve been trying to get my uber-Republican parents to engage with more art and fun hobbies in their retirement. All they want to do is watch the local news, cook, complain about black people and Muslims, listen to conservative AM radio, complain about the restaurants they go to and complain about how liberals are destroying America. What a way to waste your golden years.

  • Gotta pimp some art. On The Boards in Seattle just added racial equity in the arts as part of our mission this year and we record and make available on-line some truly mind bending pieces of performance that often defy categories. The previews are free, but sadly the whole piece is not. Hope folks who need instant art gratification will pop by and get a sampler at least.
    Art is why I give them time & money year in and year out… Even if the world burns I want their to be art for everyone. (If you’re in Seattle pop by this weekend we have a great show and we even have tickets for those in financial need.)

  • Well I must admit, the demon spiders would be a deal breaker for me. To each their own, of course, but I find both major candidates and their respective parties equally objectionable, which is why I will be voting for a third party candidate. I do hope people realize that alternatives to the status quo do exist. No political party or candidate is perfect by any means, but we don’t have to settle. Even if, god forbid, the orange abomination becomes president, we still have the power and the moral obligation to demand the kind of governance that represents us all. The fight for a better world does not begin or end with this election, regardless of the results.
    That being said, thank you for this post. It is always good to be reminded that art generates hope. We CAN save the world, one word, finger painting, or booger sculpture at a time.

  • I’d add “and Nature,” as long as we don’t fuck that up too. Going off into the forest is sometimes enough, without bringing back any art from the excursion. Other than that, I agree wholeheartedly.

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