Travel, Dada, and Artsy Yada Yada
Oh, but it's still all about perspective.
I'm a huge fan of artistic and literary movements of the WWI era. Whether it was music, dance, art, or publishing, the shift in what was produced and why lit the creative world on fire as the world itself was seemingly ending. Toilets became gallery exhibitions. Poetry dripped with machine guns. Music could sound like scalded cats and dance was shoved off its ballerina toes. Out with the old, and in with some honesty about cataclysm.
Of course, that takes a perspective shift. A willingness to try new things. The courage to say that something new has merit, even if no one else can see it. Does the world have to end to achieve that? Not really, but also yes.
What about your world? And what about now? What I see in the zeitgeist tells me we're all feeling many endings, yet no new beginnings. Whether it's the latest zombie apocalypse paranormal historical futuristic streaming series (yes, I also ask wtf that genre is?) or the latest big budget superhero rerun of reruns that we ran already, it's big business as usual with the latest newfangled mishmash of marketing-focused material. I'm craving invention, surprise, a shift in what is shown and how. A shift in who and what is prioritized here.
Let's take another example. I don't know about your work life, but if the polls tell any truths, most of us aren't happy, and we aren't even sure we'll get through the next week. Workers supposedly have an all-new power yet most plan to leave their jobs, if they can. At the same time, we're constantly told how wonderful the economy is while also being told about 40% of the country can't cover a $400 emergency. We're bombarded with broadcasts that the U.S. is a financial powerhouse while housing remains unaffordable, an outsized expense for the percentage of the paycheck. If, of course, you don't have disabilities, so you're allowed to have a paycheck because you're considered a real person who won't be a workplace burden. Guess how many decades all of the above have already been true, long before 2020?
Oh, America, I'd love to burden you though. With the thought that hey-- cataclysm has happened here and keeps happening. And you can't do something new? Something different? Not even on one channel, much less in policy? Are you telling me that we're going to do everything exactly as we have before, acknowledging fear, suffering, and broken systems, but not being willing to alter behavior? So, the result will be the same as the Before Times. The systems the same, the mantras identical, the silence of the individual deafening in a society that will not shift as the earth shifts under its feet anyway?
What I'm being tortured with in our healthcare system is, if possible, less organized, more fragmented, higher cost, and far worse care than ever. And bitches, if I am an expert in anything, it is the American medical system. If my filing cabinets could talk, sweetie! This, all this, while women lose their reproductive rights all over the country-- hard to see how medical care is going to improve. Easy to see who and what we're willing to sacrifice. Of course, that was also true in the pandemic. You've sacrificed me, on both counts, and I'm just the raging cunt from your American hell to live when you wanted me dead. I'm just the kind of cockroach you called the exterminator for, and then there I am, shitting on your bread at 2am.
Because our perspective cannot travel. It has not. The systems and their dysfunction speak volumes as to the lack of perspective that would alter, repair, create anew-- maybe be willing to try something different that had not been tried before? Maybe even for people who had not been served before? To care for those uncared for, to include those long denied, to fix what is broken and build for all, instead of business-as-usual in a time when everything unusual is always happening every day. And thus I have to travel away from you, America, to find any place worth living. Because you have always been no kind of life, insisting always that my life has no value. That my work is not worth paying for. It's my job to be what the market decrees, on my own time and dime, as one more interviewer asks my age and ends the call. There are millions of us. Maybe, America, there needs to be less of your same-old at a time where there will always be a fresh new disaster around every corner. Perhaps the old thinking and the old systems can't handle that. Aren't managing that. Will never solve for better outcomes.
Of course, you'd have to care, and that's more the realm of nonprofits and artists. By the time we need a nonprofit for an issue, it already indicates a massive societal failure. By the time an artist is spelling doom, you have already ignored the warning bells and likely enjoy serial killing canaries in coal mines. You've come up with one solution in your entire history, America: the individual. How's that panning out for you?
What you insist on, always, is that everyone just has to try harder. There are no problems here but attitude and a lack of willpower on the part of the lone struggler, who deserves to be a straggler if they can't use those bootstraps (that you keep cutting out from under them) to achieve everything from the checklist that you've graciously allowed them to be demanded to have or else. Yes, indeed, all obstacles can be overcome as you throw even more obstacles in the way of categories of people you abandoned long ago anyhow. What you insist on is that the individual can solve all problems, always, no matter the system or issue. And then I would ask you if you have ever successfully performed a triple bypass on yourself. No? Well, you're a failure, in that case. Or maybe you've built and managed your own electric grid. Or maybe you grow, hunt, prepare, and consume all the food you've ever eaten in your life all yourself, uphill both ways in the snow, no doubt. I'm sure you can do it all yourself, and no type of shared or collective system has ever come into play.
Yeah, when the systems don't work, aren't maintained, or never change, you may never get the bypass you needed or be able to flick on a light switch. If food matters at all to you, you might be aware of some interconnections that seem critical to life. It's estimated that 12 to 16 million kids go to bed hungry every night in the U.S. But you're rich, America. Workers have great jobs and all. Problem is, I have been hearing that for decades. Just by the numbers of the homeless in America, just by the numbers of what an education costs, just by the early death rates from preventable diseases that plague our health outcomes: wtf is all your money good for? It seems like it might take a change of heart, of perspective. Because forget your broadcasts, America, I believe your behavior. Forget your myths, I believe your numbers. And basically, forget any place that refuses to change when change is upon it already.
Any society that keeps taking half-measures when the whole world has been thrown into a blender has earned the toilet-as-art-exhibition treatment. You might be feeling the same. We have lost, and we are lost without collective bridge-building to tomorrow. Many of us have been thrown away as losers and bitches and defectives for decades already. You've been beaten and told you deserved it. You've been fired and told to get another education for a new industry that will put you in debt for life. You've been billed for every increasingly expensive household service while being told paychecks are for healthy people, not for you, in a legal system that laughs at the violence you've lived through while denying you the disability you can prove with medical records because you don't have the right attorney.
For the ghosts like me, who have always been just losers to everyone, deformed freaks told to sit in some back room and be smart and do the work everyone else assigned you with a gag tied around your mouth so as not to offend or appall the normal people who should have what I should not-- you have a home here. But I won't lie-- we have no home in this nation. You will have to travel far in your mind to survive the evil minds around you. We can endlessly recycle through disaster with systems that never addressed the disasters they could have prevented, and yes, it will prevent us from having anything except no place in this old place, this place of stale mentalities.
And if art is all you have, then make it. If rage and loss are all you feel, and the only thing you're given to express it is one more hellscape viewing program slapped together in five nanoseconds based on what will sell-- then give them hell. But make it music. Paint it live. Dance through the haters online. In a country that has declared it's all our job to fall in line or die quietly-- make noise of who you love, what you can celebrate, and throw the shit right back at who you hate if you are doing it legally and peacefully, maybe even building something beautiful.
Because fuck this place and to hell with these times. There's never been more capacity in human history for reinvention, discovery, worldwide connection, and a complete reinvention of how we live and who we value. But does it feel like that's what's happening underneath as our financial and healthcare systems creak along on nineteenth century tracks that never got changed or maintained much even in the twentieth century? As our housing disappears in fires and floods like some Biblical apocalypse? Seriously, what the fuck are we doing?! Well, what the fuck are we thinking? Who do we see, believe? What do you see that alters any belief that then gives rise to a new behavior, maybe even a new way of life? Oh, yeah, for that, there's every internet guru with a program that costs as much as a car, making endless promises about how they will change your life. Yeah, you'll be broke. Not the change I was looking for.
There's "new" material, and always one more new event to groan at, but the same old perspectives and practices at play. It feels like a lack of any acknowledgement of what we've all been through. What we're still living through. What ain't gonna change about a place too chickenshit to have a conscience. Or science. In policy. As policy. National policy. We're left with a nation of half-measures, some of the time, just like it's always been. No rift wide enough to open the skies, no death count high enough to prioritize the quality of how we live, and who is permitted to survive. So I hand you a toilet as art, America, and try to find my tribe. We may be ugly, broke, unwanted, ridiculed, and full of a rage that is based on our own conscience, that we're not too chickenshit to have. The Dada movement became both controversial and admired, still hanging around so many museums today and inspiring generations of future artists. Beyond micro-realms of academia, who remembers the names and articles written by the art critics who hated it? We'll see what history says, if the human species even manages to live that long. The establishment thinkers of any given era, and the establishments of so many given eras-- say, the British Empire-- are not always remembered fondly? If you think the art says nothing about any given era and what's going on-- damn, take the freaking memo down already. The zeitgeist is data, too.
So here's to anything on earth that could jolt us out of the ordinary or truly help us embrace something new. Because if a pandemic, war, and weather-as-death can't do that, nothing's ever going to crack the conscience of a place determined to lack it, collectively, and find no broad-scale changes relevant. Or even think we all might need to work on it, together, because frankly, it all keeps happening everywhere, no matter where that is. The art toilet functions better than most of the systems we're a part of, apparently, but that's cool. As long as you're not the one who gets flushed.
As the times kick our asses, coast-to-coast, more people than ever realize the way we're living is a living hell, yet we don't have effective collective ways to address the vast scale of how much has to change, how fast, to have half a chance at half a tomorrow. We're feeling it, but don't have the tools to work with it successfully because we have to invent the tools first, at a societal rather than individual scale. That would be the shift. That would be the never-done-before sensational mind-breaking experiment in America. "For all". Those stupid, precious, lying sack of shit words in our founding documents. We have never done it! We don't know how! We are rudderless and stuck in the doldrums because we all have to invent the rudder together. So, we drift. Apart, mostly. And as long as people have enough money, at least they've solved their own problems. If that remains America's only answer, America may not remain. But keep bragging about your infinite supremacy and vast wealth as you snag your Ivy League sweater on last-century thinking, guys. Money alone can't make a mind that matters. The minds that have their mitts on our systems never see the rest of us as mattering. Gee, why aren't things working?
So, we're all making collages these days. It's all a mixed-media art piece. Picking up scraps of what we can gather and try to form a whole in our own lives that somehow functions. There's little else out there. Loneliness epidemic? Well, yeah. We've all been left alone by a nation that prioritizes that very philosophy-- the individual. Millions of silos, standing alone, as is just and righteous and good. "For all", obviously. Stand out by saying that silos will never serve-- well, you are the individual failure. A weak and stupid silo who just doesn't get it. A silo who couldn't make themselves matter because they failed the definition and needed something besides standing on their own. Needed someone or something besides themselves. I mean, it's only the definition of civilization, but whatever.
Can you be more than a vintage scrap book, America, of what passed into the past as you never took the present moment to account for all present? Never did a damn thing new about who and how we would live here? Because this one, this time-- it's larger, it's global, it's so far beyond anything we've faced before. Inventing the way forward will have a shock value, guaranteed. The brave thing is to try to make those tools, ones we can't even identify yet, to build ways of life that feel like living and allow life to continue for the planet itself. "For all" includes members beyond our own species that our species depends on. (I mean, you could have listened to the people who were here first.) Now we have high-tech problems to solve with long-known wisdom, as well as whole new categories we've invented along the way of who we'd leave behind.
You've included so few people, actually, America. You mostly expect people to beg and outmaneuver your discounting of them, while you laugh and throw more problems their way. Whether it's healthcare or housing or investing or workplaces-- god damn, you are a cruel little bitch. Run, hide, beg, pray, sweat, bleed, and buy buy buy buy buy buy buy. If you can't take it, you don't deserve it. Claw your way where you gotta go, that's some admirable mountain to climb. If you can't get to your destination, surely that's no reflection of anything anyone else has done about the journey. You've spent your entire history as a country brainwashing people into the nobility of the battleground you make of just trying to make a living. Getting any healthcare. Or, you know, getting a vote. How long do you think that can last? And how well? Or really, if that's your societal game, do you think you deserve to be allowed to keep playing it? Because I'm having delightful visions of Defarge in charge, with Arya Stark as her assistant. It must be because I'm just lazy and don't want to spend 80 hours a week on minimum wage while I side gig my way to affording an annual physical 50 miles away to the nearest doctor. I am massively entitled and out-of-touch in my rejection of that as a basic American premise I should sign up for and sing the praises of.
Anything even approaching basic human decency, and maybe sleep, as a regular part of life would take a massive departure in this country. Much less going beyond the basics and into the promise and peril of the 21st century. In mind, in practice, in systems. Are we willing to travel there? Or even anywhere better, really. And are we willing to do what we've never done, which is travel there together, making history by giving a damn about one another? If you want to shatter the rafters of human history, you can do it, but it would be because you became the most caring place in the world about all of your people. The place where all kinds of successes-- environmental, interpersonal, health, housing, education, stability, peace, someone to turn to, some way you could make it work when times were bad, and maybe times weren't so bad because work was actually pretty good-- hell, you name it, what if that was the system? The priority, the expectation, the normal usual thing. For most people, most of the time. That's when you'd actually be what you've always claimed you are.
Most people on earth are always going to claim it can never be done, it's not possible. Is it working for us all that we have accepted that premise? If you want the art of the possible instead, that's what we'd all be doing together, is rejecting the premise of our own past ideas of "can't" and "won't" and "shouldn't" that lead us here, to a scale of suffering on so many levels with no solutions for it but the same old ones that fail us every day. We'd need to alter our perspective, our behaviors, to even consider the query as valid. In a journey for the first time, "for all".