Why art matters in difficult times

Why art matters in divisive times

We are living in strange and difficult times.

In my city here in New Zealand, we’re 10 weeks into lockdown and everywhere you look, there is tension. A public health crisis, a growing economic, geographical and political divide, businesses going to the wall. Some days I don a cloak of melancholy that’s hard to shift.

In the midst of all this chaos, writing can seem sort of futile. Like what’s the point?  It’s not going to save lives in the ICU, keep anyone employed, bail out a business out of bankruptcy, move the needle on climate change or make a measurable difference to any of the pressing problems facing humanity right now.

Maybe it’s the sense of powerlessness that makes it so hard to take. It’s a major crisis and there is little I can do to change that.

It can feel like writing – or any kind of art – is a frivolous pursuit.

And yet.

These are the times when art can bring such comfort.

We all need an escape from the madness and we can find it in art.

My escape has come through watching Ted Lasso, listening to light and easy novels while cooking ( and so avoiding the temptation of tuning into the government’s daily press conferences) and when the homeschool tension gets too much, roller skating up and down the driveway with the Bee Gees playing loudly in my ears.

All of it is art. (Okay maybe not the skating – yet –  just the music).

I’m keeping my skills and enthusiasm for my work alive by reading instructional books on creativity, writing and editing.

I’m finding inspiration and purpose in the book Roadmaps I’m working on with my clients, as they channel their knowledge, wisdom, frustration and fire into damn great book concepts. Their ideas challenge me to see the world from a fresh perspective and their books will make a meaningful difference in so many people’s lives.

All of it is art.

Choosing not to write at this time would make ZERO positive difference to any of those pressing problems. Abstaining from writing doesn’t somehow turn me into a more useful citizen any more than it makes me a nurse/teacher/epidemiologist.

So maybe the most useful thing I can do is to guide others to share their wisdom and tell their stories. To support and encourage others as they give their communities something to hold onto, something to help us move forward, something to focus on that is not fear, restriction, uncertainty or daily case updates.

And maybe one of the most useful things you can do, is write?

There is power in helping others find hope or humour in the darkness.

There is power in bringing people together over a shared cultural moment.

There is power in sharing your wisdom to help others move forward. Maybe they can’t afford to hire you this year or next, but maybe they will be able to check your book out of the library and make a start.

And there’s one more reason why we must write.

Just like the cells of the body are in constant renewal, so is the human race. There are few alive who remember the 1918 flu pandemic and they would have been mere infants at the time. In 100 years time, there will be few people alive who remember this one.

Writing helps us make sense of crazy times, document the lessons and find hope beyond the fear.

In the end, it’s our stories that will help to bring us back together.

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