“If we keep on voting, responding, creating, then progress is inevitable.” This was the rallying call of the previous newsletter and it was answered. We showed up, we voted and rejected a Trumpian vision of America (2). This is truly a monumental victory for our future; so much more is possible when you have a president who cares about civil service and accountability. And yet 73 million Americans embraced Trump’s message of division, vitriol, racism and dominance. Simply said, that is hard to take in. I truly don’t know how to process the polarity of this country; our worlds feel so different. But I also know reality is more complicated than us versus them: Stacey Abrams proved this (3). She knew that the voting history of Georgia was not representative of its populace; that years of aggressive voter suppression by the Right and lack of political engagement from the Left left many people in Georgia disaffected with voting. Most politicians didn’t believe Georgia could vote blue, but Abrams did. She gathered a powerful coalition to register over 800,000 new voters and for the first time in almost 30 years, Georgia chose a Democratic president. This victory is an even greater triumph because it reveals that the stories we tell ourselves shape the solutions we seek. Lest we not also forget that Florida gutted the pivotal voter initiative allowing felons to vote right before the election (4); what would our electoral map look like with their votes? These factors paint a far more complicated picture of our reality, one in which what is possible depends on how we understand what is.
The reason why I say context matters is that we don’t create in a vacuum. Sociocultural factors impact how and what we create: our education shapes how we think, our upbringing affects our values, our political systems determine what we have access to. All of this makes the context in which we live, in other words: what is possible. And our context is more complicated than ever: we are more aware of every problem through constant media coverage, more connected globally through technology and economic trade and the most politically divided we’ve ever been (thanks in part to social media) (5). No wonder we’re struggling to handle the Covid crisis. This is why feminist activists have long claimed that any solution needs to be intersectional: “Intersectional feminism centers the voices of those experiencing overlapping, concurrent forms of oppression in order to understand the depths of the inequalities and the relationships among them in any given context.” (6) We’ve explored this concept in the newsletter ‘Black Ideas Matter’ and we’ve discussed how hard it is to actually create inclusion, which means today’s political movements are trying to achieve a much more challenging and nuanced vision. This is why I have my students study the guiding principles for Black Lives Matter (7); their vision of diversity is one that is global, transgender and queer affirming, family-friendly, intergenerational and collective. This is a beautiful vision of a liberated and interconnected future and it will take a vigilant commitment to navigating complexity.
So how do we increase our capacity for complexity? By developing a creative practice of questions instead of looking for an answer. The belief that there is an answer is itself an oversimplification of reality; remember Rainer Maria Rilke’s call to live into our questions? My colleague and mentor Shalini Agrawal calls this an ‘Equity Pause’:
She offers questions like: “What would we like to say that hasn’t been said?” “Who are we not hearing from? And why?” “Is this conversation/action/project moving towards relationship?” A practice of pausing allows us to cultivate attention towards complexity and make room for nuanced conversations. Because, I will repeat: the stories we tell shape the solutions we seek. We may be facing an extremely difficult challenge, but keep reminding yourself of what Stacey Abrams proved can be possible and asking yourself this question from adrienne maree brown: “What are the ideas that liberate all of us?” (9)
Living is a creative act,
Everyday Creativity Tip
While the stakes are high for our collective future, you can practice complexity in lower stakes everyday scenarios that build your capacity. One way is to develop an awareness of your somatic response to complexity: What happens in your body when you try to hold conflicting ideas? Can you be aware of two sensations at once (such as smell, taste, sound)? Try checking in with your body before you start reading the news or looking at social media, and then pausing in the middle of the activity to see what’s changed, and again when you’ve finished. See if you can notice how your body reacts: do you get overwhelmed with sensations, drawn in and addicted, feel aversion or disgust? The more data you collect, the more you can notice when you are reacting and have more choice in your response. Another concrete way to practice complexity is through an artistic practice. For instance, you can try to write a complex form of poetry like a sestina: a poem where the ending words of each line are repeated in a specific pattern (see instructions in the footnotes (10) and an example below). Again, notice how you feel when trying to create within the complex constraints. What keeps you going or helps you through the process? These are lessons for living a nuanced life.
An example of sestina I wrote when I was considering moving across the country:
By Evelyn Thorne
As you enter the boundless unknown
let your feet land, each step
rooting you to self; a verified faith
in the stability of stillness. Then. Fall.
Let your body collapse, every part
giving way to longing’s release.
Grass cradles my skin, as I release
a deep sigh. My body knows
this place. I wiggle and part
my toes. A gentle tickle as I find my step.
Scarf wrapped close. I will miss the fair Fall
breeze. Another doubt to stymie faith.
Why leave my homeland? The birthplace of my faith
in community. Am I ready to release
all that I’ve built? It was not many Falls
ago I returned, believing I knew
the future. Only to stumble every step
of the way, losing faith in my part
of the plan. I pause at the creek bed, parting
into tributaries. Does water have faith
as it falls, or does it too need baby steps
before plunging? Sure sounds like release.
I listen for the silence between, striving to know
how to find stillness in falling.
I remind myself of the ecstasy of falling
in love; the radiant joy and guttural fear of partners
navigating the terrain from known to unknown,
holding onto longing as proof of faith.
Why is love the only time we allow our bodies to release?
I too can choose myself and step
towards my desire. I follow the steps
out of the valley, through shades of fallen
leaves, a smile spreading as I release
worries of the future. If this is a parting,
it is one made in good faith.
This ground has taught me everything I need to know:
You must step into each season to find ease.
Longing to be a part of a whole is knowing
that faith must be lived.
Thank God for the Fall.
1. The title is in reference to Dr. Martin Luther King’s seminal book Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/where-do-we-go-here-chaos-or-community
2. The New York Times, “Presidential Election Results: Biden Wins”, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/11/03/us/elections/results-president.html
3. Maya King, “How Stacey Abrams and her band of believers turned Georgia blue”, Politico, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/11/08/stacey-abrams-believers-georgia-blue-434985
4. Patricia Mazzei and Michael Wines, “How Republicans Undermined Ex-Felon Voting Rights in Florida”, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/17/us/florida-felons-voting.html
5. The Social Dilemma. Directed by Jeff Orlowski, Netflix, 2020, https://www.thesocialdilemma.com/
6. UN Women, “Intersectional feminism: what it means and why it matters right now”, Medium.com, https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/6/explainer-intersectional-feminism-what-it-means-and-why-it-matters?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook
7. Black Lives Matter Guiding Principles: https://richmondpledge.org/wp-content/uploads/Black-Lives-Matter-Guiding-Principles.pdf
8. Shalini Agrawal, “Equity Pause Questions”, Public Design for Equity, https://www.publicdesignforequity.org/blog/2020/5/25/equity-pause-questions
9. adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, p.19
10. Hayley Schoeppler, “How to Write a Sestina”, InspireFirst, https://medium.com/inspirefirst/how-to-write-a-sestina-how-to-be-a-better-writer-series-9800c3b464d
Originally published November 16, 2020 on the Creativity in Context Newsletter by Evelyn Thorne.
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