Plates they will shift
Houses will shake
Fences will drift
We will awake
Only to find
Nothing’s the same.
Home is a Fire – Death Cab For Cutie
It was cloudy yesterday, the first cloudy day in nearly a week. Any time there’s a stretch of several sunny days in a row, I have a tendency to greet the first cloudy one with a measure of shock, seasoned with a spritz of dismay. I wonder if there are others like myself—those who fall into the trap of assuming the way things are at this moment, this is how they shall remain. I suppose there are plenty like me. It seems to be a common trait in humans. We react with legitimate surprise when we see a child for the first time in a year and marvel at how much he’s changed. My, how you’ve grown! Likewise, if we catch sight of an actress who’s been MIA for a few years, we’re inclined to remark, Wow, she really got old! News flash, buddy: we’ve all gotten old.
This is what makes our current crisis so difficult. Much of what we’ve grown accustomed to has changed and will never be the same. Many of our favorite restaurants are closed, and some won’t be back. A lot of businesses won’t be back. It only recently occurred to me that there will be no baseball this year. NO BASEBALL! I haven’t been to a Mariners game in years, but the idea that there won’t be baseball in Seattle for the first time in almost fifty years makes me sad inside. We’ve enjoyed a good stretch of economic sunshine, and suddenly it’s pouring down rain. Few of us brought umbrellas to this particular shit storm.
I’m one of the lucky ones. By chance, I stumbled into a line of work that is essential. Many who read this are not so fortunate. I ought to be more grateful than I am. Instead of being thankful for air to breathe and water to drink, I’m busy griping about the rain. I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that the things we are losing in this mess—the ceremonies, the social gatherings, the businesses—are constructs of our own collective imagination, and as it is with all products of imagination, we can imagine new things. It’s not just that we can; I am absolutely confident we will.
I used to back up stories I’d written in triplicate. After completing a draft, I would save it to my device’s local hard drive, save it to the cloud, and as a last line of defense against technical meltdown, I would save again to a thumb drive. One writer I enjoy is known to follow the above procedure, but he stores the thumb drive in his car, as an emergency backup in the event his house catches fire. All of this backing up is rooted in the common fear that creativity is a limited resource. So interesting that I could waste other resources that really are limited—water, oil, clean air—but where it comes to creativity, I behave as though it’s likely to dry up any moment.
I am convinced the power of creation is one resource which is unlimited. Many of us who grew up in the biblical tradition read the creation story as though it’s something that happened a long time ago and was finished. If you look around, it becomes obvious creation is not only something that already happened, but it’s still happening now, and it will continue to happen as far into the future as you can imagine.
There was a Doritos ad that played on television when I was a kid, starring Jay Leno speaking the line, “Crunch all you want. We’ll make more!” That silly line has brought me much comfort in these times. Whatever happens, whatever wreck we make of society as we’ve known it, we have it within us to make more. That doesn’t mean we won’t grieve with one another over what’s been lost, these are not happy times, but it does mean we have reason to hope.
If you know me, you know I love live music. When I see a musician live, I tend to keep my phone in my pocket, my eyes and ears on the stage the entire time. My reason is simple: what is happening up there will only occur once and never again. The songs are familiar, but the way it occurs at that moment is influenced by an infinite number of variables—the mix of people in the room, the weather outside, the texture of callouses on the guitar player’s left hand, what the lead singer ate for breakfast that morning—it will not occur again in the exact same way. Still, it’s a song we all know, and there are few things people love more than singing along to song we all know.
That’s what makes creativity so beautiful; it is both new and familiar at the same time. Whatever comes of the world after we decide it’s okay to go outside again, however we choose to rebuild, it will appear to us like a song that is both new and familiar at the same time. It may sound better than any song we’ve heard before.