The Arc of 2016: Fight Smart and Do Less, Better

be-still-when-you-have-nothing-to-say-when-genuine-passion-moves-you-say-what-youve-got-to-say-and-say-it-hot

I knew Donald Trump was going to win.

At least, a part of me knew it. A part I didn’t want to hear. I suspect there are more than a few of us out there, who knew and yet couldn’t — desperately didn’t want to — believe it.

There’s a friend of mine, out there right now, who might still have a voicemail from me, that I left a few days before the election. I remember knowing what was going to happen, even then, as I clung to the belief that it couldn’t possibly happen, and did my part to avoid the result.

But it did happen. It has happened, hasn’t it — despite any recurring, sudden seizures of bewilderment. (Today, I heard someone say the word “trumpet”, and winced.)

We all know this, by now, that Donald Trump will soon be our President.

Some of us have even begun to accept the fact, as reality, if not on any further basis of principle (more on this later). Others haven’t yet accepted it, may not ever. And I suppose that is their right.

For myself, I was quick to accept the results of the election. They make, in retrospect, a perverse “sense”, at least to anyone who has been paying attention to the mood of the country and the world for the past decade.

This is not to suggest either that I am happy with what has happened (I’m not, if that hasn’t already been made clear) or that I am currently without hope for the future.

But it is a complicated, difficult time for sourcing out hope.

I can remember the day I left that voicemail more vividly now, as well as the scattering of others, occurring more recently, wherein I was similarly seized by anxiety, anger and sadness — when confronted with that sense of knowing what was about to happen, what has happened.

I can remember them more vividly because now I’m looking at those moments for what they were, as opposed to fighting against the knowledge that this is reality, as were the factors which led to (and now sustain) this unfortunate reality (for now).

Most of all, I remember the inner conflict. The sense of sinking dread.

This can be avoided. This can’t be avoided.

I refused to believe it. Still, sometimes, I can’t believe it. Perhaps that’s my sin, shared with countless others on both sides of the political spectrum. Certainly it is the sin of our media, which did not see this coming and, in fact, most likely contributed to this mess in a major way, by validating the theatrics of a bully via their mere “serious” attention.

Make no mistake, a time of reckoning has arrived in America.

People are going to suffer. The arguing will continue. The fear will continue.

Justice, fairness, equality — all supposed bedrocks of our democracy — will continue to absorb blow after blow. And we very well may wonder, soon, finally, if any of these crucial aspects of this contemporary brand of civilization can survive.

But they will survive, ultimately. We will.

I believe that. I can see and feel this belief clearly. The shock of Donald Trump’s Presidency has, at the very least, thrown our failings as a country into sharp relief against the task of safely securing a future — for all our citizens — about which can (eventually) be proud.

My acceptance does not make the pain or the sadness at our plight any lighter to carry, but it does imbue the carrying with a much-needed charge of hope.

So, what does this all have to do with my annual recap, as an artist, as I deliver it here once again? (That is, incidentally, nominally, the reason for this post.)

 

This site, the central hub for my work as an artist and activist, is now four years old.

When I started it, I was still struggling with anger, resentment and fury — against the injustices of the day. I was ready to talk about the issues, but not yet strong enough to truly engage them — or myself.

The year after that saw progress. I re-discovered a consistent creative voice, and I got to work. Along the way, I found myself heartened by the number and quality of like-minded people also working to make this country a better, more accepting, more equitable place.

Then, last year, I found peace. I began to feel capable of showing patience, of practicing faith. I’m still working on this, every day.

And, now, here is a great test. And a pressing question — how to conduct myself as an artist and a citizen during the presidency of Donald Trump?

It is a question, and a crucial one, whether its reality shocks me or not.

I have been turning this question over, regularly — but in a non-obsessive way — in the many days since I shared my initial thoughts on this deeply disappointing turn of history.

As I mentioned in that post, unfortunately, this sort of reaction comes more easily to me by nature of my demographic reality.

As a straight white male, the likeliest form of suffering in store for me has to do with my economic class — the same one I am in now, that I was born into over thirty years ago — even if I am sure to suffer by proxy as I watch friends and loved ones shake with anger and fear, and legitimately suffer, over the next four years.

And yet it is in this fact, in my similarity to Trump, that I find a point of access for the decision and announcement I am about to deliver.

 

The reason I knew this was going to happen is because it was inevitable.

I don’t mean that in a fatalistic way. I’m not being cynical or conveniently revisionist. This was inevitable because of how straight white people like me are handling the type and rate of change currently sweeping through the world — in a word, poorly.

But that is not to say that this is entirely their fault.

If there’s any justice left in the world, Donald Trump will in later years prove to be nothing more (or less) than the last gasp of a fading American power structure owned and engineered disproportionately by straight white males.

He is the face of our enemy, of our collective oppressor, not due explicitly to his whiteness or his straightness of even his maleness, but, rather, based on how he conducts and employs the power and privilege that come part and parcel with these things.

Once a bit of a misogynist, a bit of a racist and a homophobe, but always a skeptic of bureaucratic power — I now state plainly that I pride my contemporary self on being the polar opposite of someone like Donald Trump, despite our shared demographics of gender, race and sexuality.

Personally, at the very least, no matter what I do from here, I can move forward knowing that I struggled through change, learned and trusted in the goodness of people who looked and acted differently than me, and acted out of decency and courage rather than fear and hate.

It is no secret to regular readers, to anyone who saw The Videoblogs, or listeners to the podcast, that I have now absorbed goals of fairness, representation, and economic equality into my mission as an artist and a human being. However, I believe this all bears repeating for one very important reason.

 

While Donald Trump has provided a face to our enemy, he alone is not our enemy.

It is what he represents, and how he came to power, that we must understand and combat.

Politically, the answers might seem clear. And, in fact, they are.

Truth itself is under attack. It has been for a long time. I think the main reason I knew this was going to happen (despite my disbelief) is that I had already been fighting against men like Donald Trump for most of my life. Many of us have been.

Except, oftentimes through no fault of our own, we’ve been distracted from this truth, and this fight. By the machinations of the powerful, we have been bent, manipulated, and pushed away from Truth.

Our lives are not our own, in many respects. We are controlled by a power elite that, despite certain vestiges or illusions of democracy, care very little about the average American.

These people mostly only discriminate in regards to race and creed, insofar as it benefits them financially and politically to do so. They have very little actual faith in anything, apart from money and power, which are themselves faithless things.

These sad, desperate people know all this, and it destroys them inside — but they know no other way to behave, in the face of their own fears. And so they continue to hold fast to that fear, thereby, by virtue of the reality of our contemporary crony-capitalist economics, squeezing us.

And while they squeeze us and misdirect us and distract us, even to the point of their own continued and dangerous disillusionment, we turn against and fight one another, despite the overwhelming commonality of our fears and concerns as citizens. In this way, democracy (rule by the people) remains perpetually arrested, and plutocracy (rule by a wealthy elite) continues to maintain its grip on the throats of the everyday citizen.

Donald Trump may be the face of our enemy, but we must be very careful in the next several years of civil combat not to focus the majority our energy squarely on him and his administration. True deliverance from this plight requires us to go deeper, and fight longer.

This is what I have come to understand in these past few weeks.

My own distractedness, my own fear and faithlessness, have been my failure. I don’t say this to diminish the gains I and we have made over the last several years. I only mean to point out that there’s much work left to be done.

 

Trump is the symptom, not the disease.

The disease is the faithlessness, the dejection, the weariness, of contemporary America — and much of the world. We (the people) are angry, we are depressed, we find ourselves fundamentally exhausted and estranged from true hope. We have been beaten down and driven insane by the elite, confused and harried by the speed of innovation, and neither the tyranny of the elite, nor the advance of machine-dependency into our lives — show any signs of letting up.

There is no other way to explain how someone like Donald Trump can win office by claiming to represent the will of the people, while lying through his teeth about his intention to fight against the very elite that he wholly (and vulgarly) represents.

All that our cowardly, selfish, greedy President-elect intends to do for the next four years is consolidate money and power among his elite.  That much was clear all along, and has been proven by his cabinet appointments. When he’s done he’ll abandon the destruction and foot us with the bill and — barring a miracle — carry on with his greed and destruction until the moment of his lonely death.

To be clear — to repeat — in actual reality, there is no one less-representative of the average American than Donald Trump.

That millions of people either do not understand this, or refuse to believe it, that our political and economic system all but excludes the possibility of an actual champion of the people successfully reaching office (or at least one empowered by a consensus of reasonable political allies on all sides of the political spectrum) — this is the sickness from which we desperately need to recover.

 

For this reason, for myself, I find that this year has brought with it a lesson in focus.

I cannot afford, or tolerate, anything less than fully-committed, principled conduct and expression from myself. I need to fight smart and I need to move quickly. The only way to do this effectively is to put out work of real depth, that is of a larger scope, and work smartly and strategically to get the work out to as many people as possible.

To be clearer, I intend, beginning in 2017, to do less — better.

This site will remain online indefinitely. But this is likely the last blog post for a while, although I might chime in on occasion and will continue to run my email list. Beginning next month, Coffee with Creatives is going on hiatus, indefinitely. My presence here will be sporadic, as compared to previous years.

I have big things to do, in regards to the main areas of battle central to this essay. I intend to go at these things, full tilt. I’m ready to — truly, passionatelly — fight.

Are you? Because we’ll need you.

 


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. My first film, The Videoblogs, about mental health in the age of tech, is available on iTunes. I’m currently working on my next film and also a novel. Once per month or so, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this special group here. Thanks for reading.

 

Temporary Blindness

photo of man walking alone down sidewalk
I took this photo just a few days before things went momentarily dark. That must be why he’s out of focus.

I’m not even sure where to start. I went half-blind last week. I don’t mean that I went blind in one eye — although that happened (twice). I mean I mostly lost my ability to see for several hours-long stretches at a time, once for about a day and a half total.

It was hard. I was alone for much of the worst of it, while my wife was away on a business trip. It was frightening, even after I figured out that, if I kept my eyes completely closed, and tried to relax and let the pain take over for a while, I would be “rewarded” with the ability to open them back up and see well enough for a literal second while I felt my way around. It was especially frightening, though, when I had to go out and walk my dog. I can’t imagine how the truly visually-impaired do it.

The first walk in this state was tough. I took almost twice as much time as normal to get through it, taking my time and spacing out my intervals of rest to get the most out of the brief moments of sightedness. Still, I worried for myself and for my dog at points because it truly was very difficult to know if or when a car or a bike was crossing our path.

But you know what? I figured it out. I braved through it. And then I adapted.

The next time I had to take the dog out, I realized I could just choose a direction, left of right, and repeat it block by block. If I ended up walking in circles (something I usually loathe), so be it. A little bit of circling, to ease the fear and probability of injury, isn’t actually that bad at all. In fact, it’s preferable.

I got sick about a week and a half ago and I didn’t do a good enough job of resting. I took a few days off but should have taken a few more. Then there was a work obligation I couldn’t put off. Then I got carried away trying to force myself to complete some of my own work with Multiverse because I was in denial of the fact that I was quickly getting worse, instead of better.

Well, I write this now having been humbled. Illness will do that to you. You’d think I would have learned this lesson by now.

In the end, what started as a mildly sore throat turned into a violent cold that knocked me onto my ass and then spread first to one eye and then the other. That’s where the temporary blindness came from, a bad case of double pink-eye that left my vision blurry at best, and pretty much absent at worst.

Strangely, in retrospect of course, I’m fine with what happened. I have learned, a bit, over the years. I would never have been able to accept something like temporary blindness before now. It would have put me into a rage.

Keeping calm was almost as hard as dealing with being sick. At many points, I felt compelled to fight the facts of what was happening to me. I couldn’t possibly be actually blind. And in truth I wasn’t. I had the benefit of those stretches of sightedness that the actually-blind don’t get. This even made me feel guilty, occasionally, because I didn’t feel it was right for me to say that I couldn’t see. But I had to push back against the guilt, too, especially for that bad stretch, because I really couldn’t keep my eyes open.

And it didn’t matter. My anger, my fear, my guilt — none of it could or would change the fact that I was dealing with a natural course of events that was going to work out in time. The only power I could have exerted would have been negatively charged. I could have only made things worse for myself.

Even sleep was difficult, for most of last week. I spent the majority of my days and nights wiping my eyes, blowing my nose, washing my face and hands.

I took refuge in audio. I listened to podcasts in the dark. I listened to music. When I started to get better, I watched a little TV through one open eye, because reading and writing was too difficult and I could deal with the blurriness and just close my eyes and listen when it got to be too much.

In short, I made the best of a bad situation that could have been worse and which I knew with reasonable certainty would eventually resolve itself — especially if I didn’t fight.

So why am I sharing all this? Partially, out of compulsion. It was still a difficult experience, and it feels good to write about it. But I also wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the advantages of approaching the ordeal (mostly) in terms of its own reality rather than through the prism of my impossibly idealized default mindset.

My default mode is set to fight. That shouldn’t be a surprise to regular readers. My “instinctual” reaction is to try to actively fight a viral infection that I can’t do anything about, past following doctor’s orders and letting my body do the real work of getting things back to zero.

I don’t know how alone I am in this default. I feel as if many of us try to barrel through difficulty, rather than temporarily alter course until the difficulty has passed.

Sometimes, it can be an advantage to fight, to barrel through. I won’t deny these responses and won’t completely forsake the benefits of knowing they can be leaned on — both abilities have served me too well in the past to do that.

At the same time, though, I’m here to suggest that perhaps there’s much more merit, sometimes, in relegating fight and bull-headed perseverance to the background. I’m starting to believe that their benefits only exist in the realm of rare use.

Ours has become in many ways a cutthroat culture of survival of the fittest, in terms of attitude if not in truth. Bold individualism reigns. We must always push forward, in order to not only keep up but to better our chances for success — whatever that may mean.

But what if we’ve come to a point where this compulsion towards pushing has outlasted its usefulness? Where do we end up, if we push forward for the sake of it, without taking the time to survey the terrain and choose a direction — if we don’t take the time when we need it to rest and recharge and to recall the reasons for pushing in the first place? Quite apart from my personal experience, I think there’s plenty of evidence out there of how and especially where this sort of approach to life has long been failing us as a society and as individual people.

How fit are we “survivors”, really? Physically, on average, not very, if we’re talking about Americans. Mentally and spiritually — again I have to say that evidence proves we’re deficient. Even the healthiness we do have, I’d argue that much of it is performed or engineered more than it is actually felt and lived.

I don’t want to do it anymore. I guess that’s where all of the above was leading. I’m working to switch out my default. I’m not going to say that we and I don’t still have plenty of fights on our hands, as we work to build a better future. I’m not going to say we don’t and won’t have to continue barreling through, when things get difficult, when we find ourselves weakened or momentarily defeated. But if and when we are temporarily blinded, it helps nothing to defy the darkness. We really can only feel our way through it, can only listen and wait, so that we’re ready to do as much as we can when sight returns.

I’ve been thrown off for much of this month, so far, for obvious reasons. But I’m back now. I’m feeling good. I’m charged by regained healthiness, and refocused by the gracious perspective afforded by a comparatively tame — if still difficult to me — experience of powerlessness.

So, again, I remind myself — and you, if you’ll allow it — to fight smart. Play the long game. Let’s take care of ourselves. Let’s pause, at those moments when we know in our hearts that a time for pausing has arrived.

I think, if we get better at this, more good things will follow. Perhaps we’ll suddenly look around and realize that we aren’t alone, that we’re surrounded by other bewildered soldiers who have also taken a moment to pause, to try to make some sense of this crazy world.

Thanks for reading, and I wish you well.

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