Literature is necessary to politics above all when it gives voice to whatever is without a voice, when it gives a name to what as yet has no name, especially to what the language of politics excludes or attempts to exclude. . . . Simply because of the solitary individualism of his work, the writer may happen to explore areas that no one has explored before, within himself or outside, and to make discoveries that sooner or later turn out to be vital areas of collective awareness.
—Italo Calvino, The Uses of Literature
Of course, Calvino’s statement also applies to every creative form. Those of us—essayists, poets, painters, songwriters, cartoonists—who publicly air our private inspirations are a hopeful lot. Even in our darkest musings is the realization of what could be. No matter the odds we face, we continue to work to inspire a better world. We write, we paint, we sing to clean out the prisons of conventional wisdom that try to keep our creative thoughts in chains. Conventional wisdom seeks to blind us to what we know in our hearts is true.
When we’re faced with the destruction of a stream as the source of life for salmon, the passionate imagery of a poem can be more effective than reasoned and measured discourse. When we’re told that humans are violent and war is inevitable, a song can convey the dreams of those who experience bombs but yearn for peace. When we’re presented with arguments that ignore the humanity of the exploited, a photograph can unite our souls through the reflection of a face.
Creative forms passionately express the values close to one’s heart. Facts, figures, and reasoning are important—we need them—but something much deeper is required. Behind every governmental policy or party platform or corporate slogan is a set of values. When those values fail to serve the earth and humanity, we must search inside for those that do, and speak them more boldly—with our drums and our pastels and our bodies.
So I ask all of you who recognize your creativity and those who don’t (surprise! you just haven’t found it yet), in the course of your daily encounters, to take your readers-viewers-listeners to some place deep inside themselves—to some place they may have forgotten or have repressed in our cultural rush for reason and acquisition. Remind people who they were and are and, even more, who they can be. Let the personal be the path to the universal.
We find ourselves living in a parasitic culture, sometimes against our will and sometimes because we’ve abdicated responsibility. We find ourselves living in a culture in which war, exploitation and environmental degradation are the norms. We find ourselves living in a culture that sickens its host and could eventually kill itself. But we know better. I cling to the hope that humans are not intrinsically parasites. I cling to the hope that our words and images can change our course. We may never reach the utopia of symbiosis, in which we give back to the earth as much as it gives to us, but we can, at least, cease to so thoroughly destroy.
As children we were in awe of a caterpillar, a pond, a thunderstorm, a flower in a crack in the sidewalk. We need to rekindle that awe. Octavio Paz wrote that “nature speaks as though it were a lover.” We, who love her back, need to use our talents to translate her message for those who have become deaf. We need to use our skills to create a community in which we are all earth’s lovers.
And so I ask that we not shy away from relating our experiences of communion with the earth and her children. It is my hope that each time one of us speaks up, in whichever form we choose—in the forum of The Bohemian or elsewhere—that we invite and inspire others to do the same, so that we can give voice to what we all share. Pick up your brush! Pick up your pencil! Pick up your guitar! If we were all to do this, we could change the world.
Susan Collier Lamont is a landscape designer, peace and social justice activist, a mother and a soon-to-be grandmother.
Open Mic is now a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write [email protected]