This is the second part of a 2-part essay. Read Part 1 here.
What I have realized in the past few years is that, while socio-political issues matter tremendously to me, and I think that political activism is terribly important, for me, at this point, too much immersion in politics kills my creativity. It's pretty much either/or. The energy that it takes for me to be committed and active in politics makes it almost impossible for me to do art or music or write at the level I want to.
It's impossible to keep one's involvement on the level of the issues alone. The negativity, polarization, and rhetoric surrounding political action in the U.S., especially since 9/11, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, made me feel helpless after a while. It was possible to help break down barriers about homosexuality and religion,and I'm very glad I was involved in that struggle. It was possible to help dismantle some stereotypes about the Middle East, about Islam, about an inevitable "clash of civilizations" -- but only very slowly, and on a local level, almost person-to-person. The struggle against the power of money and corporations and the military, the choice to locate and exhaust the planet's fossil fuels while destroying the entire ecosystem -- I'm not sure fighting these battles is possible anymore through the system itself; maybe only a collapse will cause wholesale change. When it comes to matters of war, peace, and the power of the strong over the weak, we have learned very little over the millenia.
I was involved very intentionally for a long while; it changed me for the better, and I know my efforts did some good. But I knew that eventually I'd have to make some decisions about what I wanted to do with my remaining time -- time that seems to feel ever shorter and more precious.
My mother wanted me to go into politics. It wouldn't have been a bad fit, in some ways, and I was invited once to run for the Vermont legislature -- but I said no. We each have to look at our own gifts and what we're passionate about, as well as where our lives have led us, and what possibilities are open to us at a particular time - and make the most of them. If we don't do that, we may have to live with big regrets. And we also have to ask: where can I make the most difference? For me, the greatest passion has always been for the arts. I've been fortunate to be able to spend most of my professional career as a graphic designer, a field closely related to the fine arts, and now to have some additional time to devote to work other than the kind that pays the bills.
But the decision to focus on art and on writing -- both my own and other people's -- and to try to minimize the many distracting, conflicting, enticing calls for involvement in other pursuits and other projects -- comes at a time when it's particularly hard to be an artist or a writer, let alone a publisher. There's a lot of discouragement around, and many obstacles which have never been quite so daunting: economic, governmental, social and cultural changes are all contributing, and these combine with and magnify the personal challenges that have always existed for people who live creative lives.
The fact is that we are living in a time when the decision to be an artist, to continue to create in spite of everything that's happening around us, IS a radical political act. This is, I feel, quite a dark time, potentially destructive to the best and most noble aspects of the human spirit. And that's precisely why it is terribly important for artists in all disciplines to continue to create, even when it feels like there's little market and little appreciation for our work. Just doing it, and making the difficult decision to continue to do it -- to live creative lives that celebrate what life is and can be - is both defiant and affirming, and it's crucially important. People need to know that someone they know -- a neighbor, a friend, a cousin -- is committed to the arts. Young people particularly need to know this.
The arts don't exist against anything except apathy, destructiveness, despair. They stand for what's good, and true, and beautiful even when they express sadness, grief, outrage, or pain -- which they can often do better than any other method. And if the traditional structures that supported artists are crumbling, then we have to form our own, and help each other - without cynicism, without anger, without unreasonable expectations for "success" -- because success is not really what it's about.