In Light of Recent Events

I went to bed last night before results had been posted. I went to bed with a little bit of hope, kept alight by disbelief in what the polls were clearly beginning to show. I woke up this morning with devastation in my heart. I stayed in bed for over an hour, crying with my covers pulled up to my chin. I felt the disbelief and fear that I see on the faces of neighbors, family and peers. My feelings today are comparable only to the feelings I had after the tragic shooting in Orlando. And, as I did after that event earlier this year, I combatted my feelings with creativity.

Every Wednesday, I am lucky enough to work through a company that teaches arts and craft classes to elementary schoolers. In this class, I have seventeen wonderful young girls. Today I could only think about them. Because they didn’t get to see a woman break the ultimate glass ceiling in America this morning. Instead, they saw a man who is the epitome of a schoolyard bully be given the highest title the United States has to offer. These bright girls have so much growing that will be done over the next four years, with some of them even starting high school as the next four years come to a close. As of this moment, it’s difficult to say how much will really change. But the election of Donald Trump into office, coupled with the steadily declining state of the environment, doesn’t leave me with much hope. These girls are smart, funny and excited. They’re eager to make something new. One of them told me that even though she isn’t very good at art, even though artistic abilities don’t “run in her family,” she still loves to create. I am mostly worried because they are girls, and some of them are girls of color. They aren’t yet aware of what either of those things might mean for them in the future, and I worry about how soon they may have to become aware. If I have these feelings of fear for a group of girls I have only known for a few months, I can barely imagine how parents are feeling today.

I decided that today was going to be full of the little things that bring me joy. I realized a few minutes into writing this that all those little things are creative. I taught a class a lesson on Native American culture and the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day before painting canvases with images of thunder birds. I came home and sang to myself, just playing through the songs I’ve memorized on guitar and ukulele. After dinner I made two batches of double chocolate cookies and danced to Frank Sinatra. Many people went to rallies, all across the country. They are wonderful and brave and strong for that. What I did today was insignificant in a big picture way. But I feel a little better eating cookie dough and listening to Fly Me To the Moon. And I feel better after writing down my thoughts here, preparing to share them with my small slice of the world.

Despite my efforts, I’m still crying.

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Creativity Breeds Compassion

The current state of the world, and especially America, my home, is heartbreaking. There have been more violent shootings in the United States than there have been days in 2016. Within a recent 24-hours, two pre-meditated shootings happened in the same city. One was the murder of 22-year-old singer Christina Grimmie, who I personally admired since she was about 19, for her incredible voice and kindhearted nature. The other was the brutal attack on a gay night club, resulting in the deaths of almost 55 members of the LGBTQ+ community and almost the same number of injuries. Although these two crimes were of different calibers, they reiterate clearly many issues that come up again and again and again within our society. It’s hard, seeing this type of violence happen somewhere I call home, to people I feel a bond with. Although I did not know anyone involved in either event, I love and support both the LGBTQ+ community and anyone who has dedicated their life to performance (artists performing at the club were also targeted). I feel I have never held such a heavy heart. It’s hard to think positively at times like this, when it seems like the state of my country is only deteriorating. Although nothing can atone for the tragedies that have befallen the friends and family of these people, it feels like a reprieve when we can be reminded of the good in the world.

The night following the massacre in Orlando was the 70th Annual Tony Awards. One of the reasons I continue to fall in love with musical theatre every day is because it is inclusive. Watching those beautiful history making people perform in the wake of so much tragedy only added to it’s power. The nominees for awards this year were especially incredible. Not only do four of the nominated musicals have almost completely non-white casts (Hamilton, The Color Purple, Shuffle Along and Get On Your Feet), but one also has a cast of deaf young adults working alongside the singing performers (Spring Awakening). On top of that, all five of the biggest awards for musical theatre were awarded to people of color: Lin-Manuel Miranda (best musical), Leslie Odom Jr. (best actor), Daveed Diggs (best featured actor), Cynthia Erivo (best actress) and Renee Elise Goldsberry (best featured actress). Four of those winners were in Hamilton, and all played characters from history who were white, which shows that casting does not need to be discriminatory to be powerful and relatable.

Theatre, and musical theatre especially, has always been a safe haven for people who are different. It’s a welcoming environment where people can begin, from a young age, to express themselves. Other art forms offer this as well, but I’m focusing on musical theatre because I have seen the effects. I worked in a youth theatre for three years, performing in seven shows. Even at twelve, I was able to see kids blossom from almost silent wallflowers into performers that could belt with the best of them. I was never on stage, but I played in the pit orchestras. I was able to be part of a creative ensemble of professional adult musicians and other kids like me, and it shaped me into who I am today. These talented kids I got to watch loved what they did, and their passion (as well as my own) was greeted with open minds full of respect and knowledge ready to be shared. When I was thirteen, I discovered the ukulele, and in four years, my mediocre playing has led me to be more confident than I would have ever thought I could become.

Although I was lucky to be raised in a community ripe with creative opportunities, I don’t see them being promoted as heavily as I think they should be to kids. Creativity is therapeutic. I have not only felt the positive affects of playing music, writing in journals and singing, but I have seen the way visual art has helped every one of my sister’s friends, and how every person I know who has some sort of creative outlet in their life is grateful for it. The arts are important because they allow people who often go unheard share their voice.

The world can be a terrifying, disgusting, horrific place, but in the aftermath of tragedy, we must find what is good in order to invoke change.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda said in his acceptance speech, “Love is love is love is love is love. It cannot be killed or swept aside.”