One week from Friday, Donald Trump will put his hand on the Bible, swear to God he will uphold the Constitution of the United States and become the 45th president of the United States. The inauguration is scheduled to happen at 11:25 a.m. Minneapolis time, and by the time most of the country starts thinking about lunch, the American Nazi Party will be in power and primping for its parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Where will you be? What’s your plan? Where will I be? No clue. Will we watch, partake, puke?
Or will we, that morning, noon or night or sometime soon and for the rest of our lives, be inspired like never before and make like Meryl Streep, who concluded her eloquent anti-Trump Golden Globes speech Sunday night with, “As my friend the dear departed Princess Leia said to me once, ‘Take your broken heart, make it into art.’”
Wise woman. The truth is, every day since Trump was elected, I’ve tried like always to take my broken heart and make art, words, music and connection, but by the end of the day, even with my best-laid stay-above-the-fray plans and practices, every night I feel like screaming. And so I do, into my pillow or into the midnight sky from the middle of Lake Harriet or into my dog’s warm furry back, an ancient banshee wail of enduring shock, disappointment and disbelief that usually gets followed by a yogic exhale of renewed life and sheer determination to do better in my little world.
It helps. And after the head rush fades, I always try to lasso the spirit of an eight-word phrase that has worked well for me in the past and which now rings loudly in the culture war we find ourselves in:
“The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation!”
Oh yes, that. That. That simple but imminently guiding slogan. It was penned by the late, great playwright and musician Jonathan Larson for “Rent,” his exhilarating Pulitzer- and Tony-winning rock opera that paid homage to a community of bohemian artists and activists surviving homophobia and thriving in the ’80s under the gloom of HIV/AIDS. Based loosely on Puccini’s 1877 opera “La Boheme,” which celebrated boho Paris of the 1840s, “Rent” directly influenced the writing and performance of Broadway’s current smash, “Hamilton.” The phrase is uttered just once, as protagonist Mark Cohen makes his declaration of independence and for living a life of bohemia away from the numbers, and his fellow chorus members answer in the affirmative:
Chorus: “Let he among us without sin be the first to condemn”
Mark: “Anyone out of the mainstream (La vie Boheme)
“Is anyone in the mainstream? (La vie Boheme)
“Anyone alive with a sex drive (La vie Boheme)
“Tear down the wall, aren’t we all? (La vie Boheme)
“The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation!”
It’s a call to arms, now more than ever. The quote has been used and reused since “Rent” was a smash on Broadway, and it can serve us well as inspiration to get up every morning and make something out of thin air as a direct response to humanity’s ills. At the moment, it’s painfully clear that we need new ideas, new art, new music and new creations coming from every sector. The revolution starts not in Washington, but here, and in every creative creature’s singular response to the hate that has gone mainstream.
In other words, make something. Make a meal, a scarf, an email, a masterpiece, a ditty, a movement, a gig, a new friend, a snow angel, a drink, a poem, home, business, game, meme, prayer or anything else that serves to prove to yourself and the rest of the tribe that the collective soul has not gone dark.
“In our desensitized society,” Larson wrote in 1993, “the artists, the bohemians, poor, diseased, ‘others,’ recovering addicts — all are more in touch with their human-ness than the so-called mainstream. Despite everything, human-ness, love, life, art survives.”
Yes it does, yes it all does. Music, art, books, films, and all the rest of that elite crap are what make life worth living, and especially so starting January 20 as the new reality of all this chaos settles in, and as the normalization and acceptance of Trump and his evil empire continues. Out of sheer survival we must create, create, create in the face of so much destruction, ignorance, hate, fear and war.
The picture that accompanies this column is of an apartment building by Lake Nokomis. Its simple shrine went up during the election, and I’m always happy to see it growing with new additions. To me it’s a sign of a person getting up every day and saying, “No. They will not beat me. They will not take my spirit or my soul. No matter how much hate is spewed from the rest of the human race, I will light a candle in the darkness. I will go out on my balcony, water my plants, grow something real, start from where I am and throw this beautiful snowball at an ugly world.”
That’s a resistance I can get with starting now, and on Jan. 20, and for all these strange days to come.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].