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.
#4 Millennials, let’s do adulting together to disrupt elections
Ok, everyone who is Adulting right now, please stop texting and driving, put down the selfie stick, and #ListenUp!
It’s me, your lesbian auntie, Tania. Yes, even though my eyeglasses and cool old-school kicks suggest I might be one of you, I’m not; I’m 45 years old, and that’s how I can afford the glasses and sneakers!
Right now, you beautiful kids are about to rule the world and this makes me both exceedingly happy and totally terrified! Let’s start with the happy part, shall we? Great.
You cats are the most diverse and delightfully disruptive human beings that are poised and ready to take caring to the next level!
And here are some details to prove it.
On Nov. 11, The Atlantic reported, “One common trait of younger voters, according to CIRCLE researchers, is they tend to put greater stock in the causes they care about rather than the appeal of a particular candidate’s personality.”
And a few months ago, in June, the Brookings Institute backed that up with:
“Plainly, the millennial generation is ushering in the nation’s broader racial diversity. Overall, millennials are 55.8 percent white and nearly 30 percent “new minorities” (Hispanics, Asians, and those identifying as two or more races). Back in 2000, when millennials were just beginning to impact demographics, this young-adult age group was 63 percent white, whereas in 1990 it was 73 percent white.”
Okay, “mills” (can your auntie call you that? Thanks). Here is the terrifying part, according to a piece in Bloomberg on Nov. 10:
“Among the younger portion of the millennial generation, 18 to 29 year olds, Trump earned 37 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 55 percent. Millennials of color were considerably more likely to support Clinton than Trump, Circle found, while young white voters actually threw more support behind the winner. Trump secured 48 percent of the white vote in the 18-to-29 age group, while Clinton won just 43 percent. Still, Republicans fared poorly with youth vote overall. The election had the fourth-lowest turnout by young voters for a GOP nominee since 1972.”
The fourth-lowest turnout.
WTF?! You are better than that, mills! You are our freaking future, you are our country’s future, you are global citizens, you care, you’ve got great hair (that’s why I’ve stolen so many of your hairstyles), and now it’s time to use your beautiful, bold, angry, excited, transcendent voices at the polls.
Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers, it is our job to help mills out!
When you see a millennial texting at a red light, scream, “Right on! Texting is connecting! Now connect to your community, your country, and your purpose, and drive over to the voting booth and VOTE!”
If said millennial flips you off after your rabble-rousing, just say, “Yes! We need that kind of passion in politics!”
Share resources with our millennial friends that might inspire them to run for office or use technology to amplify empathy, like She Should Run, an organization dedicated inspiring and providing resources for girls and women to run for public office. And Black Girls Code, committed to increasing the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields and leaders in their communities.
#5 Challenge injustices, ists, and obics like an artist
Hate to break it to you, but reported hate crimes didn’t just pop up post-election; they’ve been around (and steady) for years now. Those of us who are a part of communities where anger and violence are openly directed, dictated, aimed, and fired at our bodies are well aware of this fact.
The difference is now all communities are hearing about it. The world is watching videos of our bodies being pulled over, beaten, torn apart, and shot. The profound difference in this election cycle is social media and its power to turn everyday citizens into documentarians, megaphones, activists, and artists. This is the strength of online, and in the streets, movements like Black Lives Matters and The Body is Not an Apology.
The silver lining? Now, we can all see hate crimes.
Now, we can all feel hate crimes.
Now, we can do something about it.
So, for all those who are convinced that hate crimes don’t happen in our offices, neighborhoods, communities, supermarkets, and homes; for those who believe that protecting one’s own is being a global citizen; for those who flinch when words like “racist” or “homophobic” or “sexist” or “xenophobic” brush against the ears; for all those who would rather not deal with injustices, ists, isms, and obics, here is a chance to take on the challenge like freaking artists do every day!
And Lord knows, we all need “3 Easy Tips to Change the World” or “3 Fun Steps For Creatively Combating Hate Crimes,” so — you’re welcome:
• Practice radical silence.
Performance artist and social choreographer Ernesto Pujol writes, teaches, and engages people in everyday space with a concept and practice called Radical Silence. In Pujol’s words:
“Radical silence is the space between two words: our rights. The silence that is but a pause between moving sentences is as deep as an ocean. That is the silence I embrace. It’s always full of love expressed as empathy. It’s never full of hate, but it may be filled with healthy anger, with the strong tone and high volume that protects the weakest in society. I invite you to engage in this deep and complex radical silence that is always listening, always gathering words. Radical silence is the territory where we prepare to speak against injustice.”
The next time one of our Friends on FB or Twitter or in real life starts spewing hateful, hurtful, harmful language aimed at someone or an entire community, read what they have to say, sit with it for a day, try to understand where they are coming from, and write them a personal message addressing how it made you feel.
When an antagonistic family member smugly asks you, “Who did you vote for, Tania, huh?” Take a few deep breaths and, when calm, say, “Our rights.” (Wish me luck at Thanksgiving!)
• Call attention to everyday injustices in a way that opens up a dialogue instead of shutting it down.
Recently, I attended a talk by an artist named Micol Hebron, who was discussing the lack of women artists represented in art galleries and museums and she said, “If you DON’T see something, say something.”
Hebron has an active art project called “Gallery Tally,” which is a crowd-sourced, social engagement art project where artists from around the world collect and visualize data regarding ratios of male and female artists in contemporary art galleries. They then make a poster visualizing these statistics.
When you get the catalog for your local art center’s new season and, after excitedly thumbing through pages, realize that 80 percent of all the performers are men and/or Caucasian folks, call up the art center and ask them if they were aware of this inequity and if they might consider having a more diverse lineup for next season.
(Spoiler alert: they might not be aware, so your phone call is super important!)
When touring the hip, new dtartup company, note all the inspirational quotes printed on the walls from Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, and P.T. Barnum, and ask your tour guide, “Hey, I’m a big fan of white dudes — my dad is one. Alas, diversity in the workforce has been proven to give companies the competitive edges, so ... got diverse quotes?”
Let telemarketers know that not everyone is a Mr. and Mrs. When that fateful 8 p.m. call comes through and you answer it (in all of your woman-ness) and the overly eager voice on the other end asks, “May I speak to your husband?” simply answer them honestly, “She’s at work.” Or “We’re in a polygamist arrangement, so … he’s pretty busy.” Or “Marriage is so deeply rooted in patriarchy, ownership, and gender inequality that even if you were offering us a brand-new home, I would never be married! Wait, are you offering us a brand-new home? Never mind.”
• Create spaces for and with people whose bodies are aimed at every day.
Theaster Gates (Dorchester Projects) and Anne Morton (Street Gems) are both artists. They don’t work in the same medium or space or neighborhood, and probably have never met in real life. But what connects them is their work’s focus. Both work with people and places that have been discarded and forgotten. The aim of their work is to enliven neglected people and spaces making both relevant cultural centers.
Gates transforms abandoned buildings into community hubs that connect and inspire the people who live in Chicago’s South Side. These new community spaces are activated with public programming ranging from art-making to gardening to communal neighborhood dinners.
Morton works with individuals with a history of chronic homelessness; together, they make art from discarded plastic like soft drink bottles, cups, and lids. The art takes the form of necklaces, earrings, and whimsical flowers. This once-discarded plastic is now transformed into something that looks like it could be sold in a museum store, and it is.
In order to create a space for someone, we have to see them first. So let’s create an award for someone who is often overlooked, passed up, or just plain left out. Maybe it’s the guy in your office who is always championing diversity in the workplace, or the cook at your son’s school who sneaks veggies in from her garden to make sure the kids are eating nutritiously, or the crossing guard who stands in the cold, shivering, making sure your children get to school safely. Come up with an Award, cut it out of construction paper, print it on paper, or simple say it, and present it to the Awardee! Here is your Inclusionary Visionary Award! I’d like to present you with the unofficial/official From Gruel to You Rule Award. Please accept this award for all the work you do at crosswalks and beyond: The Brighter Than Your Fluorescent Vest Award!
#6 National Adopt An Adversary Day!
Moping around in your pajamas and angrily deleting all of your Friends who voted for opposing politicians is not, in fact, going to change anything — it simply makes the chasm wider and that, my Friends, is why we are here today. So, it’s time to make some new Friends.
And who better to have as a Friend than someone who is open about what makes them unique and awesome?! Divergent points of view, um, RULE! Let’s burst the bubble and actually engage in a generative dialogue, not just a monologue to delight all of our homogenized Friends so they can stick their smug blue thumbs up and “Like” us; let’s make some real waves and surf ’em together! Deal? Deal!
Friend Ivanka Trump. There, I said it. Seriously, can you imagine how cute our “Tania and Ivanka are celebrating 5 years of friendship on Facebook!” video will be?! Plus, in addition to having some wildly divergent views, we actually have a lot in common: We’re both women who work. We both love to inspire and empower workingwomen. She married a Jew. I’m Jewish, too. I’m constantly telling my father not to dye his hair and I’m sure she does the same.
Make “National Adopt An Adversary Day!” a reality. Get it on some registry or calendar or offer it up to online Friends as a challenge. Kind of like the Ice Bucket Challenge, only someone else throws freezing ice on your head!
#7 Silver Linings Playlist
If all else fails, make a playlist. Lose yourself in music. Find yourself there, too.
Here’s my playlist for finding a silver lining, riling me up, and making me feel less alone in this world. Put on your headphones, close your eyes, and try not to be moved. I dare you.
The Smiths, “Bigmouth Strikes Again”
First Aid Kit, “Emmylou”
Peaches, “Rock Show”
Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
Whitney Houston, “So Emotional”
Joan Baez, “We Shall Overcome”
Queen, “We Are The Champions”
Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam”
Bronski Bet, “Smalltown Boy”
Lou Reed, “Magic and Loss”
Michael Jackson, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”
Gloria Estefan, “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You”
Chaka Khan, “I Feel For You”
The Charlie Daniels Band, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”
Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive”
Grace Jones, “Pull Up To The Bumper”
Kate Bush, “This Woman’s Work”
Joan Jett, “I Love Rock ‘N Roll”
Jonny McGovern, “Soccer Practice”
Missy Elliott, “We Run This”
Prince, “Starfish & Coffee”