Staying Technicolor

My week off from blogging served no particular purpose. While I wrote about reading more and chilling, I also had to hit the road to do a two-state tour of family members I hadn’t seen in years. We visited Iowa and Kansas, which welcomed us with open, sweaty arms and no pretense. It was 102 the day we headed home from the Sunflower State.

canstockphoto1370502We stayed in a cabin on a lake near Lawrence, Kansas for a few days to avoid a hotel, furtively dashing from car to cabin in an effort not to melt. I did a fair amount of reading and writing and got my butt kicked at cards and Scrabble, but did alright during lightning rounds of Taboo. There were ticks, spiders, and turkey vultures. Everything lovely had hidden to stay cool.

We thought traveling north would give us some relief, but we arrived home in Minnesota, disheveled and sweaty, to 100°F/37°C. So I am home, not with a refreshed perspective, but sticky and irritable.

While I avoided the news more than usual during the week, I received my New York Times updates. Byte-sized reminders of badness. I inwardly groaned, then turned back to reading the latest issue of The Paris Review. I read a long interview of László Krasznahorkai, a Hungarian writer, who talked about his work as a novelist and his experiences working under a Communist regime.

It’s no coincidence that I have a curiosity about artists working in repressive regimes. I think that we are headed for some high times with authoritarians in this country, where the pall of killjoy conservatism will hang over us for years to come.

There was an editorial by Dave Eggers in The New York Times yesterday talking about our White House being devoid of culture – empty of poetry, music, books, art. These are not valued by members of the current administration. Joy only comes in “winning”. To paraphrase one commenter: I’d feel sorry for the man if he weren’t destroying the world.

canstockphoto29686267I can’t imagine living in a world without music, words, and art to inspire, lift my spirits, and inform my humanity. Appreciating art is about empathy – letting in the words, images, and ideas of others. For people like me, who would rather pretend the world isn’t run based on who has money, art seems less grubby, like I don’t need to hide my greed for it. Unlike the current occupant in the White House, I want my world to have windows, not mirrors.

No matter how coarse, cruel, and dull our political life is, art will always matter. Even if stripped of tools, public exposure, and freedom – art has always been the lifeline to the soul of a people. That we are being overrun by soullessness is the irony of the rising power of religious, cash-heavy politics.

canstockphoto7431966.jpgThere are those who would argue that money, food, health – these are the things that matter and art is secondary. Sure, if you’re dead, you aren’t painting landscapes, writing bad poetry, or fumbling your way through a song. But what’s the point of being alive, if you are soul-impoverished?

I push myself to read and take in culture above my pay grade, while feeling a degree of squeamishness about high-minded snobbery. Growing up poor meant that, with the exception of the public library, much of what is ascribed to culture, was out of reach. It wasn’t until college that I began to branch out, see live performances, go to readings, etc. As I clambered into middle class, had more disposable income, and more access in a metro area, I have taken advantage of the opportunities to see musicals, orchestras, plays, and exhibits.

Bcanstockphoto53549768ut art is not just museums, string quartets, and Broadway. If you go into any small town, there are people creating intricate quilts, experimenting with photography, playing with other local musicians. It might just be one weird dude creating sculptures from cow dung, but art is as ubiquitous as our human imaginations.

And it can make a difference.

In Lawrence, Kansas they shot a 1983 film called “The Day After”. Until 2009 was considered the highest rated television film in TV history. It has been described as a cold-hearted, fictional depiction of the aftermath of a nuclear attack. In President Reagan’s autobiography, he wrote that the film was effective and left him greatly depressed. But it changed his mind on nuclear policy and was reflected in the negotiations of a treaty with the Soviet Union years later.

canstockphoto5432485But what if your art isn’t going to change anything on the world stage? What if we’re all plodding along with our bottle cap art, our soggy word missives to the world, our plaintive bloggy bleats? What if the internet is suddenly no longer available to the common person? Or cultural knowledge is limited to what the state wishes us to see, hear, and read?

Do we cease to exist as creators of art? Do we stop imagining a better life, a different life? Do we stop self-entertaining, telling stories, making bee-bop-chicka-boom sounds with whatever we’re banging away at? Hell no. If anything, art becomes more necessary than ever. It becomes resistance to the dull gray repression. It is the color and sound that keeps us human, reminds us of the world beyond suited, greedy men and pious, malevolent women who pull strings to create a world in their image.

canstockphoto6658146While I have not renewed my spirits, I still have fire in the belly to write, to create, to be part of the bulwark against these flat, angry humans who seek to make the world smaller and fear-based. I think we, the poets, writers, musicians, painters, dung sculptors, are going to have to up our game. In the words of Chuck Wendig, we need to art harder. Vote, but create. Resist and protest, but imagine and design and sing and write and dance. It’s on us to keep the world from turning gray.

18 thoughts on “Staying Technicolor

  1. Interesting timing for this blog post. Just this past Friday I took my cousin, who is a student at an art college here, to see an exhibit of Banksy’s work. I like street art, always have, because it makes powerful and meaningful social and political statements — and it reaches everyone, young and old, rich and poor, black, brown and white — and you don’t need a college education or a family inheritance to get the message. It’s never been more important than it is right now.


    1. I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of art in world that seems so intent on packaging and monetizing every aspect of itself. Empathy is probably the greatest gift of art, to move outside our own perspectives, as well as those that would be imposed upon us. Most art is a primal shout. “Hear me, see me” with the kinder message “we are not alone”. I like street art as a counter to the corporate advertising that pollutes the scenery.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree, art is a “primal shout,” and that’s why, in times like these, it is so important for us to continue to express ourselves. But as it related to “monetizing,” even art isn’t pure. Selling for double-digit millions at auctions and gift shops at every museum selling everything from image-imprinted mugs and make up bags and T-shirts and tote bags. You can’t leave the exhibit without going through the gift shop.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I would like to reblog this. Well written, and shows that not all American’s are for what crazy stuff is going on right now at the White House level. Also I love supporting another Army gal! We don’t stick together much as a team. I want to change that as we all need support and help once we leave the military. Just want you to know I am on your side. Please let me know how I can help and how your would like me to approach as I reblog to my community.


    1. That’s very kind of you. You’re welcome to re-blog this as you wish. The whole vet thing is funny. Once I left, I never wanted to look back, but recently (finally) applied to get a vet ID. Since this country has lost its ever-loving mind over vets and military service, businesses are offering way too many discounts to ignore.

      To me, being a vet during the end of the cold war, when things were relatively peaceful, is so different from the vets of more recent decades. The chances of seeing combat or being in hostile areas is so much higher than it ever was when I was in, so in some ways, I feel a little squeamish about claiming too many benefits. Service did pay for my college and I was able to travel. For a poor kid from Iowa, that felt like a lot.


      1. I totally understand the poor farm kid thing! Northern Minnesota farm kid and my parents raised sheep in dairy county. Luckily for me I got an ag degree with scholarships but in my final years of college I found that the world of ag was male oriented and they didn’t want women. After so many disappointing interviews I went to ROTC office. Was told I would make $100/mo! I couldn’t believe it as I was working two jobs and carried a full 24 hours. The Army gave me opportunity that I would have never had if I had continued to starve through my last years of college.

        Love your blog! I don’t comment enough but read just about everything you have written since I started blogging last Nov.

        Being home in MN opened my eyes and my mouth to a lot of the stupidity going on.


        1. I am very fond of Minnesota, having lived here the last 20 years. Still, like most places, it has some pitfalls – “Minnesota Nice” is usually cover for an inordinate amount of passive-aggression. I married into a Scandinavian family where direct communication seems beyond their reach. I’m a bit of a bulldozer, though.

          Thanks again, for the kind words about the blog. It’s a great place to unload things that don’t really fit into any other path of writing!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Art is life. It’s an expression of our inner life and a reflection of our outer life. I have been moving towards more politically motivated art with words and symbols incorporated into paintings and collage. I need as many outlets as possible for the things I am feeling lately.

    Since the Obama’s left and the Trumps moved in the White House has lost all it’s light. It’s a depressing turn of events. I’m afraid the Trumps see art like they do everything else–a financial investment, a status symbol, a brand. YEESH.

    FYI: I watched BBC news last night with all reporting being on the white nationalist movements in Europe. Hungary, Poland and Germany are moving in that direction. There are a lot of Polish immigrants to the UK involved in that countries far right movement. They have some pretty hate inspired leaders they fly in from Poland to radicalize groups. Even the Polish embassy in the UK has reportedly sponsored meetings as innocuous as book club meetings that feature some very far right speakers and they are unapologetic about their agenda and their ideology.

    I actually had a young Polish person comment on a blog post I wrote a while back about the rise of nationalism in their country and ours. It was an eye opener. They recommended some very right wing youtube videos to me to support their assertions that young Syrian men were coming into the country and raping their women, blah, blah,blah. I’ve heard that kind of talk before somewhere…haven’t you?

    And Hungary is basically closing it’s borders and proclaiming it’s right to preserve it’s white European identity. See what the Foreign Minister said:

    Angela Merkel is embattled by a vocal nationalist movement in her own government. Bavaria in particular is becoming extremely so. They seem to have a lot in common with our own movement. They like guns a lot and cleave to their own traditions with religious zealotry. Little openness to the benefits of diversity and multiculturalism.

    I am concerned that the whole world is headed into a very dark place and that it is not something that is limited to the US. These are difficult and uncertain times. I’ve come to rely on the blogging world as a reliable and supportive social platform. As such, I appreciate your posts Michelle.


    1. We are definitely taking some steps backwards, both here and internationally. I’d like to believe it’s only temporary – that darkness can only impede progress so much. But what we can’t predict is just how bad it will get and how irreversible the damage (especially when it comes to the environment, education, and human rights). I am, despite all this, trying to remain an optimist. Because without hope, we’d do nothing.

      It is perhaps apropos that we “prepare for the worst, hope for the best”. I’ve been thinking a lot about the moral and ethical dilemmas we will face against creeping authoritarianism and kleptocracy. Many people have been making the decision to become activists, get involved in the political process, and are learning through a lot of means, how to defend the rights of others. If there were an upside to all of this, it is that complacency has become untenable as a citizen of a country that purportedly values freedom.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Encouraging ideas, Michelle. Just found Tolkien’s translation of an Anglo Saxon proverb – “Will shall be the sterner, heart the bolder, spirit the greater as our strength lessens.” Seems relevant to art in difficult times …


  5. Just got back in the country and caught up with all your posts. I want you to know I really appreciate the political writing and ranting and ideas. It reminds me that I’m not alone in the thoughts and feelings and frustrations. Thanks for your beautiful words!


    1. That’s kind of you to say, Elizabeth. I’m trying to pull back just a bit, take a breather, but it’s so hard not to get sucked in, on a daily basis. I can’t seem to find my way clear of the anger and don’t imagine that’s a good thing long term.


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