[Please take a look at my latest book, Redesign Your Mind. It will serve your creative life beautifully!]
We are a hard species to like. At the same time, some among us do beautiful work, smart work, compassionate work, life-affirming work, even breathtaking work. Does that work matter? As we witness this cataclysmic shift from what we thought was a solid-democracy-with-some-problems to an incomprehensibly fascist state, should we still be making documentaries, painting landscapes, moving physics forward? Or should we be responding entirely differently?
First, we are obliged to just get through the day. That alone is hard for millions. Sickness, sadness, isolation, money woes—it is all a lot. Well, and as long as voting still matters, we will support candidates and we will vote. We will speak up, though it is hard to say to what effect. We will try to identify the villains, though there are just too many to be counted. We will gather to hear speakers who are trying their damnedest to plug the holes in this leaking (or is it, sinking?) vessel. We will applaud them and, if we have the energy and the wherewithal, we will join them. These are things that we can do and that we know to do.
But what about our good works? Our good works will not save the world. That’s for sure. But each good work, when it reaches another human being and touches another human being, buoys him or her a little. There are no words in English to describe the difference between the heartache one feels watching civilization sink and the heartache one feels in the presence of a beautiful painting. We require a much richer vocabulary of heartache to parse that distinction. But that second heartache is quite something, isn’t it? We can buoy hearts and break hearts with our work, and that is something.
What I really mean to say is, keep at it. Make good soup. Kiss someone. Live in the light and for the light. Fight for freedom. And feel free to create. We have no illusions, but by the same token a masterpiece is not an illusion. It may not save the world—in fact, it will not save the world—but maybe for each of us our heart is the world, and that can be touched. We have our work to do in this time of despair, our political work and our social work. We also have our heart-affirming work.
We hope that we are not watching a combination of that mean-spirited authoritarian streak in human nature and late-stage capitalism bring us down for good. That is quite a tide to buck. We can’t buck it, really. But we can be the resistance. Please stay the course, be political, and resist—and also do your beautiful work. Hearts are waiting.
I love this post. I’m in Glasgow, Scotland, during COP26. Feeling overwhelmed by the big problems, the populist authoritarian leaders who are happy to burn down the Amazon rainforests, the big companies who are prepared to destroy the Great Barrier Reef while they mine and transport more coal, and the power of just one American ‘Democrat’ politician having the power to veto Biden’s commitment to slow down climate change. And yet I still have the longing to create beauty on a tiny scale in my little studio. You summed it up beautifully.