Making Art in these times

collage made by lee williams boudakian, images sourced from

These days, I find myself praying to the stars and cosmos, while planting my feet into the earth, and grounding myself in the connections that reach from me to you.

Reading news articles everyday, and I am terrified of the worlds we live in. I ease the onslaught of WTF (like what in the actual fuck!) with the fact that things are revealing themselves more and more for what they have been and for what they are. It is everywhere and it is blatant. There is no illusion to hold onto.

And still, Trump and the rapid-fire implementation of racist, islamophobic, human-rights violating executive orders is beyond what these words can begin to articulate. And beneath the daily Trump headlines, the actions Trudeau and Canada are taking: halting Syrian refugees from arriving here, refusing to change the “Safe Counties list,” and the broken promise of electoral reform, as just a few of the things. How much more blatant will things get?

But, being terrified is not new. Fear and being afraid is not restricted to this time and place; it is not only the result of the political contexts we are currently in. When I look at what my parents have survived. What my parents’ parents’ parents’ parents’ (etc) have all survived. And in my own little life span, even with the many opportunities and privileges that I walk with, from the personal to the political, contending with fear and being afraid has been a dominant emotional state for all of my life, and I suspect that is unlikely to change any time soon.

There are many cliche sayings about confronting fear. But, I have often seen cliches as valuable. It seems to me, a cliche often becomes one because of some inherent truth that perhaps at one time wasn’t so apparent, but has become so apparent, and repeated with certain words so many times, it has become trite. But at its centre, there is often a valuable truth inside a cliche.

And so, to risk and/or embrace cliches, I have learned that confronting fear, learning to live with it, using it to propel action, honing it towards clarity and focus and purpose… these are and have been the best of what fear has taught me.

In these moments, I have been focusing fear and directing it towards action. What actions can I take everyday? What actions can I take everyday to commit to change? Personal, interpersonal, collective, political, social, healing, loving change. How do I use my strengths (and my weaknesses) to show up? To do this work. Everyday.

This has looked like being present, really present, with my partner’s mom visiting for too short a time before she has to return to Venezuela, when we all wish she didn’t have to leave; It has looked like visiting my grandparents who are ageing and sick, and putting aside my stories of struggle with them, so that I can know them in these times; It looks like offering care and support for the folks in my world who call on me to be there; It has looked like designing workshops and curriculum that will confront some of the challenges we are facing towards building capacity inside our communities to deal with these challenges; It looks like structuring my time best as I can, to make the art that keeps calling on me.

There are/have been days when I struggle with action. With knowing what kind of action to take. “What really counts as action?” I ask myself. I get these overwhelming feelings that I should quit everything and become a full time organizer. I should go to every rally and every march. And, I have to remind myself that I find crowds incredibly difficult. The anxiety and distress that I experience at rallies and marches, often takes days to move through. As an introvert and HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), I’m quickly overwhelmed and then feel quite sick and go into a paranoid state of never wanting to leave my house (all responses that I have spent lots of time being hard on myself about — get up, lee! What the fuck? You need to do this, no excuses).

I have to remind myself, that our movements towards social change and justice, need us to show up, in many many ways. There is not one way to do this work. I will go to as many marches and rallies as I can, and/but there are other ways to do this work.

And, I keep having this conversation with myself about art. About whether art has any significance in these times. About whether making art is even an action. When I make art, am I doing anything? And then, I hear voices in my head counter that question.

There are voices inside that keep urging me to do the things I/we have been called here to do. That keep telling me that now, as ever, it is vital we each take to the practices/actions/things that are calling to us, as much as we are able. That part of resisting, is using what is available to us and shining as much light into the abyss as we can. I am reminded, there are many ways to act. Small and big. Everyday. Actions that teach us and commit us to being in better relation with the world, with each other, and with ourselves. And now, as ever, it is the time to act, in any and all of the ways available to us. And that we value each others’ contributions, and lift each other up, in the work we are each and together doing.

For me, it seems, now is the time to really hone this practice. To focus the making of art. To commit to it with heart and life. If this is the thing that calls to me and is a skill that I have, then now is the time to do it.


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