When I came across this passage in my readings the other day, it stopped me in my tracks. I re-read these particular lines a few times, letting them sink in. It was the first time I read something about exactly what I have been feeling for a few years now, most especially this year:
“I have written a lot of articles and several books about Russia’s transformation under Vladimir Putin, but the experience I’ve always found hardest to describe is one of feeling as if creativity and imagination were sucked out of society after he came to power. The reason is not so much censorship or even intimidation as it is indifference. When the state took over television, for example, it wasn’t just that the news was censored: it was that the new bosses didn’t care about the quality of the visuals or the writing. The same thing happened in other media, in architecture, in filmmaking. Life in an autocracy is, among other things, dull.” – Masha Gessen, for the The New Yorker
One of the insidious cruelties of living through an attempted coup by a sadistic psychopathic wanna-be dictator and his fellow goons is one that goes unspoken but not unnoticed by the artist.
When you are made to be constantly on alert for the next crazed dangerous act against the dignity of humanity, you enter into survival mode. What to watch for? How to know when it’s “really bad”? If it is really bad, what even do you do to protect yourself, the ones you love?
You become obsessed with understanding the new hell hole you find yourself in suddenly. At some point, and you can never quite put your finger on that point, it all becomes life or death. Sink or swim. Put up or shut up.
And all the while, a numbness toward your own writing, your own art, your own creativity, seems to have permanently lodged itself within your own spirit. You feel as if access to your very soul has been hijacked.
It becomes impossible to create the way you used to because you used to be able to detach yourself from the world entirely in order to touch the freedom inside of you, the wilderness. How that wilderness would welcome you readily into her beautiful dark.
When a leader disregards all life and crushes the pursuit of liberty and freedom for all every five seconds, a cloud of hopelessness, numbness, uselessness, descends into your body little by little. And because you are so disoriented by the noise and the chaos and the shock and the anger, you do not seem to realize what is happening to you.
Until you want to create something and find exhaustion where vitality used to be.
Indifference where curiosity once thrived.
I haven’t talked about this with anyone, but this is what I have been experiencing for a long time now. I haven’t told anyone because until I read the above passage, I didn’t really even know what I was feeling.
There will be a push for us to forget, to sweep all of the brutality of the past four years under the rug and just move on. Pretend it never happened.
But if you forfeit your opportunity to name what happened, to understand the depths of the wounds you have at the hands of a lunatic with a lust for death and destruction, how will you ever recover your creativity?
There has to be a clearing, or perhaps more precisely, a clarity. A clear awareness of what you have endured, what it felt like, why it felt that way.
Because you are never going back to the way it was before. Now you have experienced the madness and the shock of the realization that blunt viciousness can also cause a dullness within. Abuse causes a dulling of the senses without your even realizing it because your nerves are too busy fraying at the edges over and over and over again.
The next twelve days are holidays for me. I’m planning to close out this terrible year with a great deal of quietude, soul searching, reading, poetry, journaling, and time in nature.
I love the winter. The solace of the silence of the snowy cold and endless white-blanketed fields.
With all my heart I hope that we artists are not buried for good, but slumbering.
That in the darkness we learn again to thaw, again to melt, again to let go.
Again to dream.
Photo by Hannah Gullixson