Ari Melber, host of “The Beat” on MSNBC, posed a question on his show, asking how people avoid political burnout during a time that is fraught with political volatility. I admit this is a challenge, and one I don’t always meet. But, with increasing heartburn and migraines, this political climate is having a real physical and emotional effect on me. I wake exhausted many mornings, yet I still turn on the news or grab my cell phone to slide through my Twitter feed to see what idiocy has transpired while I was sleeping. Lately, I’ve had to very consciously stop doing this, or at least back off of the news cycles. It’s a constant temptation, like picking the apples of knowledge in the garden. The price, though, is being banished from my own peace of mind.
What does help, at least for me, is spending time doing something creative, which means allowing myself to spend some time behind my camera shooting the ordinary things around me. I find the time there, as well as the time spent working on the images I’ve captured, both calming and restorative. It’s a way of participating in the creation of something as opposed to railing against the things over which one has little control. That said, it doesn’t mean activism and protest aren’t often warranted in the face of growing authoritarianism. However, the temptation to remain plugged in promotes a hyper vigilance that’s exhausting. A retreat into my photography gives me enough energy to fight another day.
On this Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I think about Mabel McKay, Pomo basket weaver and medicine woman. Recently, I went to see an exhibition of her work at The Autry Museum in Los Angeles and was struck with the serenity and with the spirit of healing and strength her baskets exude. Greg Sarris’s biography of McKay, Weaving the Dream, recounts a lecture where a student asked her if it was her grandmother who taught her the art of basket weaving. Mabel responded: “It’s no such a thing art. It’s spirit…..I only follow my Dream. That’s how I learn.”
Art, spirit, and dreaming have always been linked for me, and I could feel that in Mabel’s work, even though it was all safely housed in environmentally controlled glass housings. Such work, such medicine people, like Mabel, have so much to teach the rest of the world. In an era of such profound disconnection from spirit, from the earth, from each other, these are people whose work can help weave us back into the fabric of life, back to a place where we can awaken and realize our place within the original web of connections.