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.