So much of being an artist, or a creative, or a maker is about feeling good about what we do. Making things help us say things we have trouble articulating, or that are otherwise inexpressible. Making things with our hands gets us out of our heads and into our bodies. Making things feels like a worthy use of our time, and like a worthwhile contribution to our society, culture, or community. Making somehow helps us feel better about whatever it is that makes us feel bad: human stuff, family stuff, political stuff, earthy stuff, universe stuff. Making is a way of working through or solving problems--sometimes problems that aren't even there.
This mindset does not come without a certain amount of predetermined privilege. And with that privilege comes a belief that we are entitled to a level of comfort in our lives, and that we shouldn't have to do things that make us feel bad. With that privilege comes a belief that the work we do is somehow enough. Most of the time, that's true--when we are protected by our little bubbles of academia, or our chosen sub-cultural scene, or our liberal workplace, or our safe neighborhood--our work matters. The sculptures and paintings and handbags and fermented vegetables and limited edition whatevers totally matter when they are inside that bubble.
But sometimes bubbles burst. Last week Alton B. Sterling was shot by police in Baton Rouge. The next day Philando Castile was shot by police in suburban St. Louis. The next night five police officers were shot at a peaceful protest in Dallas. Suddenly my bubble was gone. I felt paralyzed by the sudden realization that the "work" I do doesn't matter. Social media is a dangerous place in times like these. As I scrolled my feeds, most posts were about this stuff. Most of my friends are outraged, using the #blacklivesmatter hashtag and attending protests and changing their profile pictures and quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. like good liberal white people who don't know what else to do. And then some people just continued posting pictures of donuts and coffee, their vacations, their "work." I haven't posted anything. Like I said, paralyzed.
Some people I follow made art about these events. I wonder if it is powerful. I wonder if it's what I should be doing. (Is it what I am doing?) Some people wrote heartbreaking, beautiful things and shared them with the world. I wonder if that's what I should be doing. I don't feel a poem inside me right now. I feel questions about race, about hatred, about mental illness, about guns, about bubbles, about art, about privilege, about guilt.
I started working as an Uber driver this past week. As I may have mentioned, I sort of love driving, so it's a perfect Summer job for me. Not only that, but it's the ultimate bubble burster. So far I have driven around the farthest reaches of Portland for three straight days, meeting a new person (or large group of people--uberXL baby) every 20 minutes or so. I drove a carload of Canadian dudes on a bachelor party weekend to the next brewery on their tour. I drove a family from Argentina to the RV rental place in Wilsonville. I drove a speech pathologist from Salt Lake City to her Airbnb (who later gave me a hug and a $10 tip when I returned her water bottle that she left in the car), and picked up a woman who was lost after taking a wrong turn on a walk.
I met an east Indian guy whose job is to travel through the US teaching public teachers about inclusivity and tolerance. He teaches teachers to be good people. We talked about the news of the day, we talked about doing our "work", about civic duty--and then I had to drop him off at his hotel. The next person I picked up sat in the back seat (first rule of uber: don't ride in the back seat) and talked on her phone the whole time about how "creatives need to shut up and let project managers do their jobs." ... "Ok cool, ping me." Yikes. Everyone needs to learn about inclusivity and tolerance.
Beyond that, everyone needs to learn how to talk to each other better. We all need to learn how to share space better. We need to learn how to feel good about what we do not because it feeds our ego but because it makes life better for people who exist outside our bubble. How do we learn how to do these things? Is there a workshop or seminar I can take?
I'm writing this post a day late. It was due yesterday, according to my self-imposed weekly post calendar. And the plan was originally to write about how years ago my pals and I came up with a theory that if a person says something seven times in a row (louder each time), they mean the exact opposite. It was going to be sort of lighthearted and funny. And I was going to make an earnest ask that if you've been enjoying reading my posts that you consider becoming a patreon. But you never know when things are going to take a turn and you're suddenly reminded about what a fucking mess the world is. You really just do not ever know.
It's still true though: and maybe now more than ever. The louder and more often you hear that things are fine, the more they are probably not. It's okay to talk about this, people. The more conversations I have about things that are unpleasant or painful or unknown to me, the more I realize that THIS IS HOW WE LEARN. By saying the hard thing. By telling the truth, no matter how much we want it to not be the truth. It's not fine, and in this weird way, that's okay.