7 Ways Creatives Can Bounce Back in Trump's America
I went to bed early on Election Night because I had to give a speech the next morning.
I went to bed early on Election Night because I had to give a speech the next morning.
As a creative writer, consultant, and everyday disruptor, my job is going into corporations and organizations that need an infusion of creativity, a dash of humor, and some out-of-the-box training. That’s why I was slated to speak at Humana, a health-insurance company dedicated to the well-being of their employees and the human beings they serve. They have recently been acquired by Aetna, and there are no better times for a pep talk than before and during an acquisition.
By the time my head hit the pillow at 9:15 p.m., all the states that should have been red, were red, and all the states that should have been blue, were blue. My wife (yep, I’m the L in the LGBTQ soup) remained awake, downstairs, tracking the chances of human rights prevailing over some humans’ rights or just one human’s rights.
I woke up every hour to check social media and see who was president and then and then and THEN at 3 a.m. I squinted at the tiny screen on my cellphone and saw Hillary Clinton with a check mark near her face and the word PRESIDENT written above!
I was elated.
You should know that without my eyeglasses I have about 20/500 vision, and the unfortunate thing about the contour of the candidates’ faces at 3 a.m., to someone who is legally blind and overly optimistic, is that they are oddly similar.
So, unlike the rest of the world, which had a morning to mourn, I had to get up and learn the truth and then I had to speak to thousands of people.
The topic, of all things? Resiliency.
I wasn’t sure how I could speak; mostly, I felt like crying. But then I realized that resiliency was the only topic I could speak about that day. How to spring up after being knocked down. Yep.
Now, I know a little something about gettin’ knocked down and springing back up. In 1992, when I was 21 years old, happily pursuing my degree in theater, on the cusp of writing the next great American play (why not?), I found a lump in my right breast. I didn’t think it was a big deal, and neither did the three doctors that checked it out. Cool! Only, the pea-sized lump quickly became a marble and then a golf ball and, eventually, was removed for “cosmetic reasons.” When the surgeon removed the lump he discovered an advanced-stage breast cancer. Boy, talk about being knocked into outer space!
So, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I wrote. I wrote the scenes of my life as they unfolded right in front of me, as if I were in a play. I wrote about my body not being mine anymore, how doctors poked, prodded, injected, and removed parts of it. I wrote about phlebotomists missing veins, about running my fingers through my hair and finding hair in my hands, about well-meaning friends and family constantly asking, “Are you okay?”
Eventually, I turned all of those scenes into an actual play that was produced while I was still in college, still finishing up my theater degree and still recovering from chemotherapy.
Life was awesome and getting awesomer as I was on the cusp of celebrating 10 years of being cancer free, and then and then and THEN I found a lump in my remaining breast.
Now, when you get cancer one time and survive, you are a rock star! When you get cancer a second time, you’re in a Lifetime Original Movie and Judith Light is gonna play the part of you and it ain’t gonna end well.
At 31, I was scared I wasn’t going to make it. For. Real. I thought I was going to die. I did the tried-and-true: mastectomy, chemotherapy, and a heavy-duty regimen of writing. And I added something to my personal health plan: running. Well, running is an optimistic word when you’re bald and have no cells and feel like you are trapped in your own skin, but moving my body forward without falling was good enough for me!
Eventually my hair, cells, and energy all came back to town. And, at 31 years old, I had enough writing about these experiences to turn it into a memoir. And, somehow, the book got published — it’s called My One Night Stand With Cancer. And somehow, that just wasn’t enough for me to feel like I had sprung up this time; I needed to adapt the book into a one-woman show and then perform it six nights a week and twice on Sundays.
It was through the writing that I survived cancer and through the telling that I sprung back to shape, that I felt alive.
During my talk at Humana, I shared a quote by Pema Chödrön: “You can think of the groundlessness and openness of insecurity as a chance that we’re given over and over to choose a fresh alternative. Things happen to us all the time that open up the space. This spaciousness, this wide-open, unbiased, unprejudiced space is inexpressible and fundamentally good and sound. It’s like the sky.”
And here’s the thing about springing up after being knocked down: Both are under the same sky. It’s just sometimes it feels like a punch in the gut and other times it feels like flying.
So, I started thinking: What now? How do we spring back up after Clinton lost and Trump won? How do we embrace groundlessness when we are continually falling?
After enduring breast cancer twice, I know we can get through this. The way I know how to get back up after falling down, how to help my fellow human beings spring up, too, is through creative thinking, doing, seeing, being, storytelling, and story-roaring.
So, this is my personal Creative To Do List for the next four years. I’m going to do my best to flex my resiliency muscles. And, like any good workout program, I’ll start with a diet!
#1 The Election Diet (note: results are confusing at best)
Day 1, Eve of Election: Eat handfuls of light hors d’oeuvres, crunchy snacks, chocolate, cheeses, and apples. Drink something fizzy and celebratory, like Champagne.
Day 1, Election Night, Late: Realize that another fizzy drink is Alka-Seltzer; drink that. Also, consume half-empty bottle of beer long forgotten in the back of the fridge. Sink down to the ground to find amber-colored drinks in glass bottles just below the sink.
Day 2, Morning: Embrace nausea. Open fridge. Close fridge. Vomit. Call friend. Cry. Google “How long of a drive to Vancouver?” Open fridge, find bottle of Canada Dry, drink and let out an enormous, “AAAAAH.”
Day 2, Afternoon: Search the cabinet for something, anything, even crackers, those stale limp impotent crackers that have sat in the cabinet for so long they have lost their crunch. That’s okay, because you’ve lost your appetite. Eat two impotent crackers with no crunch and take a nap.
Day 3, Morning: Search the cabinet, again, expecting a slightly different outcome, choke down two cups of magical thinking, and then remember that nothing fresh ever came from a cabinet. Remember that brewer’s yeast needs to be refrigerated. Remember that Nutraloaf is not loaded with nutrition just rebranded as food. Remember that fresh food comes from the ground, is alive, can be kept on countertops for days.
Day 4: Fill your body with food that is alive — lettuce, beets, string beans, broccoli — because you need fuel, because you need to be strong, because you are in training for taking flight! Repeat.
#2 Create a piece of art that engages people in everyday conversations, every day
There’s a form of art called Social Practice, which is this wonderful soup of conceptual art (ideas), political activism, and community engagement all mixed together under one big sky to bring people together and encourage action and conversations that address social issues.
Social Practice artists are tackling some of the biggest issues of our time, like artist Gregory Sale’s three-month long installation at Arizona State University Art Museum in 2011. It’s not just black and white brought incarcerated men into a museum to paint black and white stripes on the museum walls. This piece explored the complex cultural, social, and personal issues at stake in the day-to-day workings of the criminal justice system in Arizona.
During the residency, Sale organized community talks and panel discussions, like “Considering Matters of Visual Culture and Incarceration” with soon-to-be-former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and “Education or Incarceration? The Future of Democracy” with activist Angela Davis.
Another artist, Adrian Piper, who has been addressing personal identity, race, class, sexism, and social boundaries since the ’70s, had a project called My Calling (Card) #1 (1986–1990). Whenever she was in public and overheard a person making racial slurs or sexist remarks or culturally insensitive jokes, she would offer them a calling card, an invitation to talk.
Make conversation cards (business card-size).
Use humor as a strategy to engage people in challenging conversations.
Come up with conversation card starters (to be printed on cards) like:
“Race, The Other White Meat”
“Dykes Prevent Flooding”
“Got Divergent Views? Let’s Talk!”
Give out one card a day at a coffeehouse, at the grocery store, and the airport, and engage in a real conversation.
#3 Create a Call To Action, and then answer the damn phone!
This isn’t your grandpappy’s Call To Action where all you have to do is push a button or click on a link; I’m talking about real action in real time that has the potential to create some real impact!
Here’s the skinny. So many times, we end up being reactive to change, rather than proactive. So, instead of waiting around for someone (or an entire presidential cabinet) to dictate what we should or shouldn’t do, let’s create our own Call To Action! We can create change and have an impact even if nobody sanctions us to do so. We live in a time where technology has the power to amplify our empathy. And I have proof, metrics, and data that this strategy will work.
In 2014, I left my job at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art as curator of performing arts, which was really just a fancy way of saying I was hired to create programs that broke all the rules of the museum. Arm Wrestling for Art was just one, where community-member were invited into the museum to arm-wrestle each other and win a piece of art by a famous artist. It was as wild and fun as it sounds. Or scary, if you’re a real curator.
I left the museum because a cool software company in Scottsdale, Axosoft, was looking to hire a rule-breaking creative to originate the role of brand evangelist. As a Jew, I thought that I could never be an evangelist; turns out, in technology anything is possible!
When I came up with the idea for Axosoft’s #ItWasNeverADress campaign, it wasn’t part of my job description. My job was to come up with clever copy to get people to click on buttons, purchase project management software, and give speeches. My boss at the time, Lawdan Shojaee, wanted my co-worker Sara Breeding and me to come up with an idea for our booth at a Girls in Tech conference we were sponsoring.
We could have just had a cotton candy machine and called it a day. Everyone loves cotton candy!
But I saw this as an opportunity to address a real issue and take action. So I started thinking about women in tech and women in many spaces and how oftentimes, women aren’t seen, heard, or celebrated for the superheroes they are. Then I started thinking of all the symbols that represent women, made notes, drew, got frustrated, continued anyway.
After a day of writing, sketching, thinking, and walking, the bathroom lady popped into my head. And then, I realized, holy guacamole, I think she’s wearing a cape. I quickly printed out the women’s bathroom symbol and with a pencil, drew a few lines and she was there, a superhero! She had been there this whole time; we were just looking at her the wrong way.
So, I showed her to Sara who excitedly proclaimed, “It was never a dress!” We took our idea to the boss; she gave her blessings, then got to work with our graphic designer on making #ItWasNeverADress a reality. Within the first day that the image was in the public sphere, the campaign received more than 20 million organic impressions, Axosoft started a scholarship for need-based students going into STEAM fields (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics), and we activated a global conversation that is still going strong today and continues to empower girls, women, boys, and men to realize their superhero potential.
Take initiative, because no one is going to give it to you.
Address an issue you wish to heal, like bullying, gender equity, the environment, or cancer.
Write about the issue, draw symbols connected to the issue, go for a walk and think about the issue, get frustrated that you haven’t solved the problem, and then get back to work.
Pick through your drawings, writings, and frustration to come up with an image, a story, a performance that has the power to shift perceptions.
Assemble a group of people who are smarter than you are, who have unique skills and talents and, together, make something larger than the sum of its parts.
Share your image, story, or performance online and off.
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