A new year, a new start and the opportunity to be clean and fresh. Each new day offers us this opportunity but it somehow doesn’t have as much power as the bells on New Year’s Eve heralding in another year. Resolutions abound, but many are broken in the first few weeks. 2016 was a difficult year for me. Dogged by ill health then depression about the outcome of the referendum on Europe and the election in the USA my blogging was one of its casualties.
By accident I came across the following in an online newsletter, Brain Pickings, edited by Maria Popova that resonated deep within me. It was written by Toni Morrison and comes from an essay entitled “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear,” included in the 150th anniversary issue of The Nation.
“Christmas, the day after, in 2004, following the presidential re-election of George W. Bush.
I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine — and you?”, I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election….” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work — not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”
I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed.
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”
No matter what is happening around us artists have responsibility towards their craft. As Mary Oliver (b. September 10, 1935) attests in “Of Power and Time,” from Upstream: Selected Essays (public library) the artist’s task is one of steadfast commitment:
“Of this there can be no question — creative work requires a loyalty as complete as the loyalty of water to the force of gravity. A person trudging through the wilderness of creation who does not know this — who does not swallow this — is lost. He who does not crave that roofless place eternity should stay at home. Such a person is perfectly worthy, and useful, and even beautiful, but is not an artist. Such a person had better live with timely ambitions and finished work formed for the sparkle of the moment only. Such a person had better go off and fly an airplane.”
As we enter 2017 I am inspired by these and other writers whose work and examples lead me to feel renewed, enthusiastic and committed again.