your time is now
This past Christmas, my friend Asha and her family spent a few days with us, to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. Asha and her husband are writers -- in the parenting and technology fields -- and the four days that we all had together were really amazing. We had deep conversations about deep things, the kinds of conversations where you're convinced that you could change the world.
At one point, Asha and I began to despair about the state of current global affairs: not just the famines and the wars, but also the way things like meanness and abuse and racism and bigotry are not only celebrated, but recently, even elected into power. And as we talked, suddenly Asha, a woman whose keen intellect I've always admired, said something unexpected. She said:
"You know, I really believe that the people who will change the world -- the folks who will cultivate mindsets where the society prioritizes caring for each other, helping the disenfranchised, and where we start to realize how interconnected we are -- aren't going to be the politicians. I think they're going to be the artists -- visual artists, writers, musicians, journalists. They're the ones who are going to capture the minds and spirits of people."
A few weeks later, my artist friend, A'Driane, said exactly the same thing.
I've been thinking about their words for a while.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Joseph messaged me. "I have extra tickets to this concert -- would you and Marcus like to come?" So Friday night, Marcus and I got dressed up and headed to The Alley Theatre to see Martha Redbone in "Bone Hill." She was incredible. For the next 90 minutes, Martha and her band shared her autobiography with us. How her family was Native American from the Black Mountain of Kentucky. And how her ancestors were exiled as part of the Trail of Tears, but then how some of them eventually made their way back to Kentucky. She explained how about how the U.S. Census Bureau would visit their community every 10 years, and judge Natives by the colour of their skin and the texture of their hair -- and how historically, it was in the government's best interest to call as many Natives "black," because Natives were wards of the state, which cost the government money, but blacks weren't worth anything, so it was cheaper for the government for them to be black.
She shared how a great-grandmother, who was Cherokee, was raped by a white slave owner. And her how her Cherokee grandmother fell in love with a man who was half-black-half-Choctaw, to the dismay of her Cherokee mother ... and so on and so on and so on. And interspersed with her storytelling, she was belting out original works, ranging from traditional Native American songs, to bluegrass, to blues, to funk. She has an incredibly powerful voice.
It was GLORIOUS. And educational, and dammit, it was ART. And I sat there mesmerized, embarrassed by how much I didn't know about Native American history before she began speaking and singing, and enthralled by how this woman was educating the entire audience by simply practicing her art.
And while I listened, I couldn't help but remember Asha's and A'Driane's words. I think they might be right: I think now, more than ever, it's important for all of us to use our creativity not just as a casual pastime, but as a more intentional form of true self-expression. Whatever your medium -- an artist's paint, a photographer's camera and light, or even a scientist's or mathematician's formulas or equations -- whatever your art, it's becoming more important than ever to use it to express what you stand for. To create meaning. To use your art to shout your values, whatever they are, and decry injustice or discrimination, wherever you see it.
Because in a time of "alternative facts," we need all the expression and art we can get. Because an artist's creation is her truth -- and it's hard to argue with that.
(Updated to add: Incidentally, if you'd like a taste of "Bone Hill" click here. And if it comes to your neighbourhood, run, do not walk, to see it.)