At times in the last few months, I have felt like a captive audience at a show for which I never bought a ticket.
It is set at a time when both of my countries (the UK is my country of birth; the US is my country of residence) are reeling from recent political upsets, and questions of national and personal identity are hogging the spotlight. I know that I’m watching what someone else wants me to see, and I’m somehow angry, bored, afraid and riveted all at once. Some days, when I get a good idea or a creative urge, I feel more like I’m watching from the wings, in full costume and with a routine of my own ready to go, but waiting for a turn that will never come. The overwhelming number of voices out there and the level of discord among them makes me want to cling to the safety of the shadows while the familiar tunes play out on an interminable loop.
I’m sure the soundtrack is a little different for each of us unwilling voyeurs, but for me, the loop begins with the discordant headbanger Louder Faster Harder, reminding me that I’m neither working nor caring enough. It’s quickly followed by the waltz Women Can’t Win, which somehow plays as dated despite the edgy modern harmonies. This merges into a poignant if pathetic ballad of self-doubt from the protagonist entitled Can I Will I Should I before her shame sweeps her up into the patter of First World White Girl Problems. Then there’s an ironic kick-line led by Miss America before Donald Trump swings across the fourth wall on a cheap-looking chandelier and sets off the cycle all over again.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of feeling like a victimized audience member in the face of the toxic bullshit on the world stage. There’s already plenty coming at me from the predators in my own head, and the mixture can feel intoxicatingly incapacitating, a modern-day poppy field lulling me into educated inaction. Whether I’m passively watching from my seat in the darkness, or just-as-passively waiting in the just-as-dark wings, I’m tired of consuming a narrative that makes me feel helpless.
And so I’m staging a boycott. I’m walking out, tearing off my old costume, heading back to the studio to figure out how to tell my own stories in my own way.
I mean that last part quite literally. My husband and I recently moved to the countryside a few hours north of New York City, to a home that includes my own dance studio (that’s where I am in the picture above). I commute in to New York City for a couple of days each week but the majority of the time you will find me at my house in the Hudson Valley woods. I’m still learning how to drive, so if my husband is traveling, it’s a very solitary life: making dances, doing the obscene amount of work that it takes to get them seen by anyone other than my cat, and coping with the withdrawal from urban life.
This may sound like an isolationist cop-out from the “real world”, but I assure you that the New York Times reads the same here as it does in the city, and the MetroNorth train does not go fast enough to outrun my inner, outer, and chandelier-borne demons. On the contrary, I am beginning to see myself as a kind of activist, engaging with an essential yet often-forgotten aspect of humanity: creativity.
In a relatively recent reversal, humans now consume so much more than we create. Whether it’s food, furniture or truth, somebody is manufacturing it for a profit. Many of us go days, weeks, even years of our lives without ever making something of use or meaning where before there was nothing, and it’s easy to understand why: Creation takes time, has its own unpredictable rhythm. It gets worse before it gets better, messy before it makes sense. So why take the time to cook – and clean up after yourself – when you could order in? Who makes their own clothes any more; what family makes their own entertainment? Whatever we think of the main players on the world stage right now, we can all agree that it is easier to sit back and watch them than to try to scramble up onto the stage ourselves.
But it is precisely because we live in a world where it is not strictly necessary to create that it has become more important than ever. When we do not have a real-life experience of personal authenticity against which to measure what we are being told, the decisions being made on our behalf (with or without our consent) slip under our noses unquestioned. We get so much of our information these days from devices that we spend more time with (and often know us better!) than our families. And there are so many opportunities to personalize, curate and organize our media that it can feel like we have authorship over the information we are fed. But don’t be fooled; You didn’t make any of the music on that playlist you “created”, and half of it was probably recommended to you via an algorithm designed to get your money.
When you consume another person’s version of your story, your agency in the writing of it is inevitably compromised. The sense of being an audience member at my own life stems from a glut of information – not just through the media, but through the breakneck pace at which urban living has taught me I should live every aspect of my life – combined with a deficiency of confidence in my own power, rightness or reputation. This does not seem like a good time to get complacent about the story of me or my planet, but it’s impossible to think my way out of the resulting paralysis, to weigh all the options and outcomes and make decisions grounded in logic. If we want to have a say in our next chapters as individuals and as a society, we need a more efficient procedure. Lucky for us, Mother Nature has been working on this one for… well… since forever.
If you can’t write a song, sing one note; if you can’t make a dance, make a move. Bake a cake, tend a garden, make a music video on your smartphone (check out these iPhone super shorts by choreographer Jonathan Watkins, an inspirational friend who literally finds creative potential in his own shadow). Create something from nothing, and you will develop new confidence in your abilities. Create something personal, and you will develop an inner tuning fork for external bullshit. Create something that you love, and you will instinctively create the motivation you need to protect it. Share something you create, and in the words of the great dancer, choreographer and humanitarian Margie Gillis, you will also create “A place where Trump isn’t”. Not out of fantasy, but out of the very stuff that you are made of.
And thusly empowered, I restart my blog. See you next month.
P.S These photos by Amanda Tipton Photography are from my own piece Neruda Songs, which will receive its NY premiere next weekend (Dec 17/18). Come! More info on my website, lauracareless.com