How Can I Create Now?

Detail from  "Vision test for america"  assemblage by sara saltee

Detail from "Vision test for america" assemblage by sara saltee

Like so many of you, I have spent a lot of time since November 8th pondering how to BE in these times as a citizen of the United States of America and as a human being of conscience.  What is required of me now?  How am I to respond to the ascendance of ideas and people who are loathsome to me and whom I regard as inhuman and even evil?

And I can feel around me that the sensitive and creative people who are my friends and clients are experiencing a particular version of these important questions, which sounds something like “how can I create now?”  How can I allow myself the selfish pleasure of an hour at my craft table when so many are now so vulnerable?  How can I step away from Facebook and find my way into the space of quiet vulnerability and openness I need for creating, when I feel I must be vigilant…what if there’s another petition to sign or another atrocity to witness?  How can I step into the bubble of focus I need to work on my novel or my poems, when I feel I should be out somewhere shouting or marching or organizing?

Of course, it is magnificent to feel the falling away of complacency and the rise of all these fierce warrior spirits with new or refreshed commitments to defending the ideals of the America we love.  It is marvelous to feel how many of us are renewing our allegiance to core values that, it turns out, really really matter to us in ways some of us haven’t been forced to articulate for a while. And, I think we would be fooling ourselves to imagine that we will not be called, in the months ahead, to raise our voices and serve our communities in some new ways.

But what does this all mean for our creating?  How can we create now?  I want to offer three thoughts:

First of all, would I look at a praying person of any faith and say to myself “why is that person wasting her time in silent connection to her God when she could be doing something useful”?  No, I would not.  I would, in fact, deeply respect her need to spend some moments in conversation with something larger than herself which gives her the strength she needs to take her next steps forward.  I would honor her ritual way of connecting to the sacred dimension of life where beauty is constant and truth is clear.  I would notice how she emerges from her time in prayer feeling less anxious, more centered, and more whole.

 Is your creative practice any less real a form of prayer?  How can prayer not matter now?

And then I think, what, after all, is the goal of all our standing up and speaking out?  What is the fight for?  Isn’t it for every person’s right to learn and care and create to the fullest of their abilities, regardless of where they were born or the color or shape of the body they were born into or the size of a parent’s bank account?  Aren’t we fighting, ultimately, for the opportunity for each of us to create what we were born to create – whether that’s buildings or books or bread or better communities?  

Is your creative practice not your personal embodiment of the freedom of the human spirit?  How can freedom not matter now?

And finally, I reflect on what really happens for me when I’m in bubble of my studio, deep in the flow of creating.  In those moments when my hands are busy and my heart is lifted by music and my mind is occupied with puzzles of color and form, another part of me is free to sort through all that I’ve taken in from the world.  While I’m busy “just” making art, my consciousness is cleaning out the jumble of scattered impressions and feelings and reactions I’m having to everything around me.  I’m finding patterns in the chaos, and making sense of my own experience.  I’m sorting all the noise I’ve taken in from “out there” and distilling an authentic personal knowing.  And the noisier the world around me becomes, the more I need that time.

Is your creative practice not your process for making meaning?  How can meaning not matter now?

So yes, we are all called to co-create with our fellow citizens the equality, justice, and peace that we know is possible.  We must each discern for ourselves where our time, money, and energy is best spent.

But please, don’t use these painful and discouraging times as an excuse to walk away from the very practices that enable you to face pain and discouragement.  Don’t let your life become a mirror of the chaotic mind of our new and – please remember - temporary President.  You are stronger and smarter and clearer than that.  In the scheme of all the important things that matter now, don’t let your inner life and your creative work fall off of the list.  Of all that the world needs from you, surely the meaning you make, the freedom you embody, and the prayers you pray are needed, too.

There is a long journey ahead.  This is not the time to jettison the life rafts of beauty and story and meaning and hope.  Let your love for earth and humanity and your conviction for justice shine through in all the ways that you create.  Your country needs the best of you, and we need you to be whole.

Happy New Year to each and all,