How to Save Your Damned Soul: Art as a Lifeline in the Trump Years

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How to Save Your Damned Soul: Art as a Lifeline in the Trump Years

“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.”

—Albert Camus

I am sitting in my room debating if I should read a novel, write some fiction of my own or work on some music. This is how my weekends go these days. I am sipping sangria to level my spirits. In this age of despotism and demagoguery, the arts are more important than ever for the doomed.

In America, it is quite easy to get engulfed by careerism and the endless need to produce for profit. Intellectual profit, financial profit, social profit. However, these profits do not feed the soul. They may feed the wallet, the ego or the well of opportunity, but they do not feed the mind desperately trying to keep everything from unraveling. We are always at a high risk for unraveling, even when we feel at our most secure. That is the human condition. A sane man only needs one reason to lose his sanity and perhaps the roof over his head.

I am ashamed to have forgotten how necessary the arts have always been, but it’s easy to convince yourself you are making art when you are making profits. I am a business artist. I am a news reporting artist. I am a mopping artist. These things are not art, but one can convince themselves they are making art when they feel they must be part of the group that is celebrated for its art. No one wants to be the simple salesman in a party made up of genuine artists.

As a journalist, I have often convinced myself I’m making art by deciding that if one or two poetic lines in an article don’t get edited out, then I’ve done something creative. While there is some validity to the idea of artistic news writing, it should never be forgotten that the primary point of news is never how it’s written but what information it gets across. Half the time the poetic lines get edited out anyway, because editors often don’t care about them and don’t understand why they’re there.

I am excited to have rediscovered the crucial arts. That is not to say some arts are crucial and some are not; it is to say any art feeding your disposition is crucial. I have been asked many times why I write, and I have always said I’d be an insane homeless man if I didn’t, and that has become more true than ever, despite the fact I wasn’t practicing what I preached for certain periods of time. I have sometimes let myself get dangerously close to being a mad transient.

The arts can save a wavering mind in multiple ways. Sometimes you need to hear the right song to get through the day, and sometimes you need to write a song to maintain sanity. They say neurons fire at the same pace of the music you’re listening to, and I have to wonder how they fire when you’re writing a song. Is it the same when you’re performing a song? There are many layers to music and other creative endeavors.

It can take severe oppression to make a man realize what he really needs. When times are not tough, it is easy to become complacent. It is easy to simply get by. However, when there’s a gun to your head and a jackboot on your back, you become keenly aware of what is needed to maintain your structural integrity. No one’s ever written a great symphony when they were freshly laid, completely free and swimming in money. Art comes from instability.

Such a statement might sound like a celebration of oppression and the chaos caused by immense tension. This is not the case. A man can surely find inspiration and drive in a free and thriving society, because humans can find conflict wherever they go. However, art becomes vital when a man is facing so many threats that he needs to find a way to escape them and manifest hopefulness. You’re often either writing a song about a breakup to create some kind of release or you’re writing about how an outside force is actively hurting you and your people.

I’d rather be inspired by a shitty day than inspired by the actions of an authoritarian, but you don’t get to choose your inspirations. It could also be argued the creations inspired by the authoritarian will be richer and more complex. I suppose it all depends on how passionately you tend to respond to unfortunate events.

Coming from an alcoholic family—a mother who died in the bottle—art can literally be a life or death outlet. The person who isn’t properly expressing their fears and desires in the arts often simply drowns them in that toxic tranquilizer we call booze. That is not to say I haven’t been doing quite a bit of that as well, but I’ve at least minimized the need to by finding other ways to even things out. When you’re from an alcoholic family, you’re typically either handling the addiction or not handling it. There isn’t much middle ground.

I truly believe the swaths of people feeling these ways and feeling the same needs will produce a renaissance. We will sound impeccable while we struggle. The times may be dark, but so is our artwork, and we always did feel comfortable in the dark. It’s just one more day hurdling through space and trying to hold on.