Sometimes, it seems like we live in an era that's hermetically sealed from the past. Oh sure, we talk about days gone by all the time, but only on the way to arriving at the foregone conclusion that the "better days" are behind us and the future is bleak.
Well, I'm not buyin' it.
These 'arguments' can be found in many areas of our culture, from journalism to music to politics. The Internet is destroying the printed word, and writing in general. There's no good music out there anymore since illegal downloaders have removed any and all incentives from record labels to put in the effort on artist development. Politics? If you follow any traditional media or a few political blogs, you might become worried about the sanity of the average citizen. Socialism! Unfettered capitalism! Death panels! Nazis! I mean, are these people sitting around gnawing the lead paint off the woodwork between posts?
Partner a serious lack of empathy with a fear of the future (rendering it permanently out of focus) and these are the kinds of ideas that dominate.
I survive it all by immersing myself as often as possible in words and art. Not all of it is perfect (come on, does the word 'insouciant' really describe a dish at a restaurant?), but it reminds me that there are other, healthier viewpoints out there. There are people toiling away in their basements with brushes and canvas, building a remove from the cubicle grind. There are writers producing exquisite poetry in triumph over the day job at Kinko's. Obviously, music is in the mix too. Despite the ever-changing landscape of distribution, it's not too hard to find something good — no, great — out there.
It's not hard to see how the pressures of modern life can cause a person to compress. Not too long ago, I came home from work early after a seriously poisonous event. I wandered into town after a friend invited me to an open house at the MacDowell Colony. He is good friends with sculptor John Bisbee and wanted to introduce me to him. We picked up a few beers and drove out to Bisbee's studio.
All I knew beforehand about him was that he constructed things out of nails, really big nails. I didn't know what to expect, but when we walked through that door, my first thought was "Holy shit!!" I know, that's not exactly an eloquent reaction but the stunning beauty of what Bisbee does jarred loose the cynicism and darkness that had painted the first part of my day. It made me realize that no matter how bad the world gets, there are ways of making it better — that we are not helpless. These days, that's pretty easy to forget.