what to do when you can’t save the world

As even the subway rats load their backs with Egg McMuffins and every CEO on Earth sends out a gauche marketing email letting me know that they’re here for me, their valued customer, with free shipping, I’m starting to understand why some people think we live in a computer simulation. This exactly the kind of scenario that a tech startup would consult with Ridley Scott to engineer.

Ensconced as I am in a relative cocoon of American privilege, one thing you will not be reading on this blog is a single complaint about my own personal circumstances during this time of plague and pestilence. Commentary might occasionally be offered on, say, the objective weirdness and sorrow of the global situation, but as for me and my people, we will not be griping. 

I have a very real anxiety problem, as do a lot of highly sensitive and creative people, so of course that’s easier said than done. Here’s what I recommend for staying focused on our responsibilities as artists (disturb the comfortable, definitely, but more importantly right now, comfort the disturbed). Allow yourself fifteen minutes to scan the news. Find the name of a person who is going through a difficult time for any reason, and dedicate yourself to making a piece of art for them. You may not be able to give it directly to them, but I find that working for a specific audience of one makes me a better artist, and it also puts my bullshit in the backseat, where it belongs.  

When you’re ready to start a new piece of work, then go back to the news, not for the purpose of scaring yourself or getting mad at moronic politicians, but to find a new person who needs comforting and uplifting, and dedicate your talents anew. This, so far, is the only method I’ve found for getting up and getting work done without being distracted by compulsively checking NPR for updates. 

No, I am not prescribing some bullshit “The Secret” woo here. I’m not advocating for faith healing. All the standard advice about scientifically proven, evidence-based health and safety still apply. What I am saying is that people are hurting, and while artists can’t cure disease or fix the economy, we can give people respite from the recent tidal wave of stress and agony that threatens to overwhelm them. Remember what Spike Lee said—this is the time when artists need to go to work. This is our unique set of tools and we should use them to bring the springtime to those who are afraid, or unable, to go outside and see the flowers blooming. 

(And remember, if you can do nothing else, give, and give generously. Food banks are a great place to start. Check up on your neighbors and friends, and offer to help those in your immediate circle who are especially vulnerable during this time. Try to buy something from a small business, or pay ahead for a subscription to an arts program you care about.)

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