I was in Berlin on 11/9. I woke up at 3:30 am, picked up my phone, read the election results, and discovered that the world had changed. The world has changed a number of times in my lifetime, and often it pivots in minutes. I was halfway through my first cup of coffee on 9/11 when things were completely different than they’d been when I poured it.
My world has changed in a heartbeat too. At 9:15 on 6/9, I was working on the biggest photo shoot of my career. Five minutes later, policemen were taking me to the hospital to see if my wife would ever walk again. At 10:20 on 3/18, I was in a meeting in my office. Five minutes later, I learned I was a widower.
Sometimes change is like a slowly melting icecap. Sometimes it’s a tsunami.
Whatever its pace, change is inevitable. You can’t build a wall to keep it out. You can’t hide from it by cancelling your newspaper subscription. You can’t run from it by moving to Canada.
You can soothe yourself by filling your basement with canned goods or stockpiling shotguns or ranting on Facebook. But that sort of denial won’t protect you from the next change, just the last one.
Change is the one thing you can count on. It’s always around the corner. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s awful. But it’s coming.
The scariest thing we can tell ourselves is “this changes everything.” Nothing does that. Nothing changes our need for meaning, for beauty, for connection, for love. The world may change but we have control over how much of us it changes. When my life was rocked by change, I retreated into darkness. But then, in time, I merged again and took my place on the shifted ground. And I could still draw a line from the me that is to the me that was. I still loved books and dogs and my family. I was still Danny and eventually the wounds would turn to fading scars.
One of the things that has meant the most to me in the past ten days was a discussion I came upon in the Sketchbook Skool group on Facebook. An ever-expanding group of people talked about what the group meant to them after the election. Some of these people no doubt voted one way others probably voted another, but all agreed, that this group was the place they felt safe because the things that had drawn them all together in the past still mattered an awful lot to them: art, creativity, encouragement, a sense of commonality. Many members of the group have told me that they wanted us to keep the group closed because they didn’t feel comfortable sharing their art in their usual social media feeds — they worried that relatives and colleagues would sneer at their burgeoning creative efforts, but in this group they felt like they were among friends.
Reading my newspaper today, abrim with flailing and fear, I couldn’t help but think of the model we have found in this Facebook group. Looking at what unites us rather than what divides us, at what we love rather than what we hate, at what we can create together rather than what we can destroy. I want to live my life like that. I want to see other people like that.
And I can’t help thinking that it is the very thing that has drawn us together, our creativity, that makes this attitude possible.
Creativity helps us adapt to inevitable change. To make something new to fix something old. To see through other eyes. To discover that what is truly beautiful in the world around you may not fit the standard definition. When you find how wonderful it can be to draw a dented garbage can, a wrinkled old face, a rusting truck, you transcend the obvious, the dogmatic, the rigid, the doctrinaire, the popular, the commercial, and you face the world on new, real terms. You learn to be in the moment, rather than dwelling in some futuristic hell of your own invention.
Drawing helped me escape the prison that fears about my wife’s health had built, helped me be a bit more imaginative in constructing a wonderful though different life for our changing family. It saved my sanity and my life.
When I was little, my world changed many times. My mother’s divorces, moving from continent to continent, a dozen and a half schools in a handful of languages, and yet, I emerged okay. I was adaptive because, at that age, I was at my most flexible, most imaginative, most creative.
It didn’t last. The calcification of age always threaten to make me more brittle. But sitting down and drawing my breakfast or doodling with crayons or spending time with other artists who are creating beauty, helps me to adjust. Creativity is far healthier and more calming and ennobling than gibbering in the dark, alone with my monkey brain.
Don’t fear change. Create ways to change with it.