How We Move Forward


We are on the precipice of a momentous decision. The fate of our future lies in the hands of voters. We have already suffered 4 years of Trump rolling back hard-won progress; I shudder to think what could come of another 4 years. We grieve what has been lost, what could be lost. And even if Trump loses the election, we still have so much work to do, so much to repeal and restore let alone heal and repair. We have our work cut out for us. Which prompts the question: What does progress look like now? Now that our baseline has been shifted so dramatically; remember the rallying cry of “This is not normal” that became the murmur of our daily life? In the face of all this, it can feel like we’ve lost before we’ve even begun, but is that actually the case? Depends on how we measure progress. Does success require continuous improvement? Or is there success in the persistent pursuit despite setbacks? Creativity can shed some light on how we move forward. 

Creativity knows that progress is not a linear succession of wins but an ongoing process of learning from and responding to failure. Our definition of creativity as imagination in action means that creativity requires testing your ideas out; and if we go back to the very first newsletter, we know that a creative idea is one that is determined to have value, use or meaning. So there is only one way to determine the value of an idea: to know when it is not useful. Progress or success are only in relation to failure, and failure is a necessary part of the process. I call teaching ‘trial by fire’ because I never know if a lesson plan is going to work until I try it out in real-time. It’s often only once they turn in an assignment do I see what they didn’t understand (despite how many times I asked). It can feel like a total failure in that moment, like I let my students down and I should just give up. Except then I brainstorm ways to teach it differently next time and when that next time comes, I find out if I fixed the problem or if I have to keep working at it. Progress is a relentless process, but creativity is not measured by how many times you fail, but how you respond. Each new idea or attempt builds towards the possibility of success, because change is not linear, it’s cumulative. 

It was the Buddhist teacher, author and activist Lama Rod Owens who helped me see the cumulative nature of progress:

“I’m confident that things are getting better, even if it’s not so evident….I know that because James Baldwin made my life better. Fannie Lou Hamer made my life better. Audre Lorde made my life better. Essex Hemphill made my life better. I mean, countless, countless folks have entered into this world and they did their work. And because they did their work, I have light. And if I do my work, then I offer light to my descendants.

(1) Lama Rod Owens, Finding Our Way Podcast with Prentis Hemphill

I love this reframing of what it means for life to get better. It’s not banking on the trajectory of life’s circumstances to always be better, but the belief that each and every one of us can contribute to a brighter future, one that sustains us through the hard times. I feel this in my personal development; it is people who have done the work before me that keep me going, even when I fear what’s next. The weight of linearity often results in me questioning my progress, saying to myself “I know this won’t last” when I’m feeling good as an instinctual protection from an inevitable decline. But then my therapist reminds me that my progress is not lost; my body will remember, it now knows what I am capable of. And then I remind myself that thinking of progress only as a pursuit for bigger and better is based in white supremacy culture (2) and relentless capitalism; that creativity is not about innovation for the sake of innovation, but an intentional responsive act, just like voting. Voting is a creative choice; it’s a cumulative act of imagination. If we keep on voting, responding, creating, then progress is inevitable. 

Living is a creative act,
Evelyn Thorne


Everyday Creativity Tip

While every vote truly matters, it is actually difficult to vote. Voter suppression was built into our government’s founding (3) and has been a direct tactic of the current administration (4). This means voting is often complicated and confusing; propositions are purposely misleading, it’s hard to research the candidates behind their campaign ads, and now there are even reports of fake ballot boxes (5). It takes a significant amount of effort to be an informed voter, which is why I say: don’t vote alone. Yes, we each are entitled to our individual vote, but as a previous newsletter stated: you can’t change the world alone. We can lean on each other to research, ask questions and compare notes; just like any study group! We make better creative decisions when we feel informed and supported, so here are a few tips on how we can create a community of voter aid:

  • Hold a voting research night! You can gather virtually to research the propositions and candidates together and compare notes. Or present out information you’ve found and have a discussion. I’ve done this for the last 3 elections and it’s always extremely helpful.
  • Have a voting buddy! Pick somebody you can check in with about the voting process, share your concerns about what to vote for, and celebrate with once you’ve turned in your ballot!
  • Call the official voter hotline! Don’t know where to turn in your ballot? Need to get a new ballot? Want to check Covid-safety precautions at your polling place? You can get an answer by calling the voter hotline; information is empowering! 
  • Check in on your friends’ or family’s voting plan. Ask them how they plan to vote and if they are struggling with any part of the process. Offer to talk out their decisions or walk them to a polling place. Let’s make voting together the new normal!

Footnotes

1. Finding Our Way Podcast with Prentis Hemphill, “A Radical Anger with Lama Rod Owens”, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/finding-our-way/id1519965068
2. Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, “The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture,” Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, ChangeWork, 2001, https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/white-supremacy-culture-characteristics.html
3. Scene on Radio, “The Excess of Democracy”, Center for Documentary Studies: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/spring-2013/the-school-to-prison-pipeline
4. Jim Rutenberg, “How President Trump’s false claim of voter fraud is being used to disenfranchise Americans”, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/30/magazine/trump-voter-fraud.html
5. Glenn Thrush and Jennifer Medina, “California Republican Party Admits It Placed Misleading Ballot Boxes Around State,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/12/us/politics/california-gop-drop-boxes.html


Originally published October 26, 2020 on the Creativity in Context Newsletter by Evelyn Thorne.


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Living is creative act

Published by Evelyn Thorne

Evelyn is a writer, educator, and facilitator who helps people unlearn misconceptions and limiting beliefs about their creative identities.

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