Jan. 20 is my son’s 14th birthday, and he is thrilled to share the date with what will likely be one of the more exuberant celebrations our country has recently seen. I’ll take this pause in my current anxiety to focus on joy and the hope for our future.
Everyone tells us that these next few years are going to be rocky — filled with stress and hard choices. The warnings about our economy that are coming to us via the media mirror what I know about the teenage years — we have some challenging times ahead. This also means that it has never been more important to look into the future with optimism and visualize where we want to go. For my son, I try to let my imagination leap over the impending years of enforcing limits, fighting about homework, and managing his teenage restlessness in order to focus on his extraordinarily quick sense of humor and his ability to connect ideas. I can see his future, and I know my son will grow up to be a funny and interesting adult.
I also know that my country is in for some rough years, but with the promise of Mr. Obama’s strong leadership, I can also use my imagination to skip to a better future for America and the world. From my position of leading a midsize nonprofit arts organization, I could easily let fear get the best of me — especially at 3 a.m. Twice last month, I had to witness the layoffs of most of the staff at two sister arts organizations — In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre and Intermedia Arts. Intermedia held community meetings in which they made their announcement. As I sat in the packed auditorium on 29th & Lyndale, I was struck again that the most powerful moments in the presentation came from the artists. Dancers, vocalists, and spoken-word artists captured what we were feeling and helped us claim hope in a way that the excellent presentation from the board of directors could not do.
If America is to hope for a better future, we need to be able to imagine that future. To imagine, we need the artists to lead the way. Our problems are so daunting that we need to unleash every ounce of creativity this country has to offer. The box has broken, and we need to leap out of it and think in new ways. We must hear the spoken-word artists express their outrage, feel the compassion of the dancers’ movement, see the theater artists create the possibilities, read stories to understand each other, study photography to reframe our world, be uplifted up by music, be grounded by traditional arts and crafts, and explore nuance with the poets.
The problems of our country are so vast that each one of us needs to be inspired by the artists and then reach into ourselves and unleash our own creative souls. Even if we don’t come up with the solutions right away, this ramping up of our collective imagination will benefit this country in unspeakable ways. First off, we’ll start channeling our anxiety. Creatively, one can start with the fear and anger, but eventually our innate human spirit forces us to embrace the possibilities for the future. Once you clear a path for this creativity, you’ll be able to take it from your private realm into the public domain. Creative thinking is the only way to innovation. Innovation will fuel our future.
On Jan. 20, let hope sweep away our fear. Vow to get in touch with your creative soul. America is counting on you.
Jocelyn Hale is executive director of The Loft Literary Center. She shares this column with her husband Glenn Miller.