Finding fully immersive distractions to defend against the relentlessly ugly political news has become a daily ritual. Like so many others, I go out each day in search of sustenance in a landscape that has been ravaged by the locusts of lies, hatred and distrust. Protecting the inner landscape and keeping it moist has become an epic task during this season of my greatest struggle with EAD (see below.)
Books, good ones, work better than just about anything.
Thank you to Sally Mann for her completely captivating memoir, Hold Still. My copy is margin marked as I encounter her artistic insights and understandings. She is a masterful photographer, writer and observer.
For example here’s some of her wisdom about that inevitable process every maker knows about: You have one lucky break—a great painting or photograph or poem emerges out of nowhere. That success brings on a “cocky confidence,” but the next attempts all fail. On cue, the voices of doubt and despair appear and suggest you just give up. They tell you that you have made all the good works you can and that you have nothing more to say.
Mann shares her experience:
That voice is easy to believe…it leaves me with only two choices: I can resume the slog and take more pictures, thereby risking further failure and despair, or I can guarantee failure and despair by not making more pictures. It’s essentially a decision between uncertainty and certainty and, curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice.
So you soldier on, with just enough good outcomes to keep you going. Soon new work appears, and with it comes the disempowering of the older work. So the struggle continues.
Others looking in from the outside don’t understand how this works and how this feels.
How can they understand the paralyzing, dry-well fear I live with from one good picture to the impossible next? Who can know the agony of tamped-down hope between the shutter’s release and the image in the developer? Or the reckless joy when I realize that, at last, I have a good one; eagerly, my ebbing confidence throws off the winding-sheet and resumes business at the old headquarters, a wondrous resurrection.
But of course, it is also a fleeting one. It lasts about as long as the exquisite apex of a wave and, just as the wave takes the sand castle, it sucks my confidence out with it as it recedes. In its wake, it leaves the freshly exposed reminder that, however good that last image was, the next picture must be better. Each good new picture always holds despair within it, for it raises the ante for the ones that follow…
I practice my skills despite repeated failures and self-doubt so profound it can masquerade outwardly as conceit. It’s not heroic in any way. To the contrary, it’s plodding, obdurate effort. I make bad picture after bad picture week after week until the relief comes: the good new picture that offers benediction.
So here’s to those who slog through to get to those good new pictures, paintings, plays, poems, music. And here’s to the slogging we also have ahead of us in repairing a political landscape drained of compassion, empathy and collaboration. Taking some wisdom from Mann, it isn’t heroic but a plodding, obdurate effort that hopefully brings about a benediction.
*EAD: Election Addiction Disorder. Thank you to my friend, psychiatrist Harvey Roy Greenberg, for sharing his wickedly funny, DSM-ready description of the epidemic that overtook so many of us these last few months.