A bridge fell yesterday in Minneapolis. This made national news rather quickly, raising levels of tension and fear across the country. We are a society living in fear. That's so not okay.
I remember being in high school and seeing Magritte's painting "The Human Condition" for the first time. Now, it seems rather trite, but at the time - I am at the core of my being an existentialist (how's that for an oxymoron?) - I spent many hours pondering the idea of reason and the question why? In the painting, I realized I would never know what's behind the canvas. That I had to trust the artist's rendition above all else, at the risk of being absolutely duped. There's nothing to say that anything in that painting existed - the house, the curtains, the field, the painting of the field. And even less to confirm that what's on the canvas inside the painting is what is behind it. So, I had to trust. What within that was the human condition? Was I suppose to fret at not knowing? Perhaps I did. Perhaps the concept of the piece was so unified that I didn't at all.
My friend V. always says that when difficult things happen, why? is the wrong question. That it feeds into fear. There is something inherently human about that question, and about needing to know why things happen. It's almost as if our emotional state of being rests on knowing why. I can think of plenty of scenarios: break ups, tragedies, death, illness, even great success. Somehow, knowing why things happen helps us navigate the emotional landscape behind the event or moment. And what? and how? are directly connected to the why?
Another reference: The Jewish Book of Why? A must have for every bat or bar mitzvah. Am I wrong? The reason I cite this is because I remember seeing that book and understanding why? as a fundamental and necessary question. Why is the sky blue? Why do we fast on Yom Kippur? Why is swine treif? Why do we die? And why do bridges collapse?
Why is the basis of our belief systems, science, religion and art. At the heart of these questions is an attempt to understand the order of the universe. To understand our role in it and our relationship to other human beings, creatures, the sun, the moon, the weather and human events. Especially events that shake a connected psyche - like war, slavery, awful foreign policy and structural collapses.
While I'm not in disagreement with V.'s belief that Why? is the wrong question, I do think it's all about timing...why? is not the question when we're faced with uncontrollable circumstances... that" why?" morphs into "what?" what can be done? what will we do from this moment forward? what can we do to support each other? what do people need?
Getting back to my original point, the "that's so not okay" of earlier in this blog, what is the place of "why?" in relationship to fear? And I think "why are we fearful?" is a good place to start. And then followed with "what has happened to create this sense of fear?" "what's real and what isn't?" and "what can be done?" and most importantly, "what do we feel behind the fear? what is at the root of it?"
This leads me to the last point I'm going to make. The other evening, at a party, I was speaking with someone about the current state of Latin American politics. We were discussing Daniel Ortega, and I was really curious about her opinion. I concurred with some of what she had to say, but where we really differed was on the notion that this moment in history is depressing. As an artist, I am actually really excited to be living in this moment in time. It's not to say that I'm ecstatic over the state of world affairs. I am deeply troubled and angered by globalization and U.S. foreign policy, genetically modified seeds and the role states are playing throughout the world in dominating human communities. Simultaneously, I am deeply moved by the response to these forces: the demonstration of public dissent through mass mobilizations. The way that women throughout the world are organizing and re-constructing our communities. The public conversations about grief and loss. And, the surge in artists emerging in our societies - I'm not talking about the rise in MFA programs or applications. I'm talking about the rise of a creative response to chaos. As an artist, I feel that it is not only my responsibility, but that at this time, I must absolutely be working to create. It's part of the balance of things. In my creative processes, I try to move myself and to move others past fear and disillusion. To reclaim a part of our collective humanity in the face of destructive forces.