2016 opened in misfortune. My favorite spirit animal took a journey through the cosmos, away from planet Earth. Who knew the passing of David Bowie would be a lead-in to one of the most mind-boggling, emotion-bending, logic-defying years I can remember?
Go ahead and laugh. Ask the question: How can someone you don’t know, an artist even, affect you so much? Well, human connection comes in all forms—through music, art, literature, film—to shed clarity and provide an outlet during times we may not be able to make sense of otherwise. In “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” Oscar Wilde wrote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” It’s a nice reminder from 1893 how life’s blows are inevitable and penetrable, yet manageable. Bowie’s 2016 album, “Blackstar,” seems a fitting representation of a crux of change we need to be reminded of as well: In the face of impending doom, we can have grace.
Americans were constant pallbearers in 2016, ushering in the unfathomable—changes that stood against the core of our being, of our nation. From the collusion of rigged primaries and Russian hackers, to FBI investigations, to vulgar speech and hateful insinuations against the marginalized and disenfranchised, politics as we know it flushed its last ounce of integrity down the drain. Almost 3 million voters’ voices were overstepped by our Constitution’s Electoral College, which allowed a quarter of the population to vote in Donald J. Trump as our 45th Commander in Chief.
It feels like a bookend death blow to the beginning of the year—one that has been filled with a constant stream of let-downs in our celebrity-centric culture. We’ve endured the passing of many inspirations—Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder, Muhammed Ali, Sharon Jones. Yet, we have managed to ensure an uninspired four years of “making America great again.” Is it fitting a reality TV show host was voted into the highest office in our nation? What does it say about our America?
As we inch closer to a new year with the impending inauguration on January 20, the mood of the nation feels dire. Likely, North Carolinians feel it even more at their core, thanks to the underhanded gimmicks the GOP is doing in the NC General Assembly, by stripping power from incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper. Their last-minute sessions of filing partisan bills and passing them with a majority, or making promises and failing to deliver, are more par-for-the-course instead of shocking. Where is our democracy? Is it now a word intended to instill hope but really gaslights us instead?
“Do you remember, your President Nixon?
Do you remember, the bills you have to pay?
Or even yesterday?
Have been the un-American?
Just you and your idol sing falsetto
‘Bout leather, leather everywhere, and
Not a myth left from the ghetto”
—“Young Americans,” David Bowie
All of this feels heavy, even if none of it is new. The fact is: We young Americans have had leaders before in the US who were power-hungry bigots and racists, scheming crooks and robbers, and the rich 1 percent who do nothing more than protect their own. We have made it past them; we will do so again. No, I am not saying to turn a blind eye and accept it, or move on. I am saying: We will get through this—we have for a brief 240 years.
The cards we’ve been dealt will be a hard hand played. Lack of education is the queen of hearts. Somehow, though, we’re holding a hand of spades—which Trumps everything. When nefarious people choose more nefarious people to lead an administration, is it really education that’s the problem? (Sure, it makes it easier to brainwash the uninformed.) How do we fight like mathematics card-counters to beat the system? How do we fight like criminals?
Or do we?
It’s time to question who we are, what we are doing, where we are going, and how we want our America to thrive. A pretty big shift is on the horizon; it already has begun. Who knows what the other side of this will look like? Will it be a break in the system? Will it be revolution? Will it be a ruse to reveal an actual moderate president (fingers crossed: Trump was a card-carrying Democrat until he threw his hat in the ring—but, holy smokes, that cabinet…)? Will it be the largest generation of voters, the millennials, taking the 2016 political experiment to heart, and forcing change with their votes and voices in the future?
Let’s hope so.
As young Americans it’s time to push boundaries. It’s time to become chameleons. We need to be the best storytellers, activists, musicians, conductors, visual and performance artists, wisdom-keepers, life-changers, politicians, social workers, educators, role models, nonprofit leaders imaginable. We need to show our most fascinating colors by not allowing to be pigeonholed. We need to throw ourselves into our work, our art, our values, our belief systems, our families, our voices. Even in what feels like the most shadowy of times, we can strike lightning against the incomprehensible.
“Blackstar” revealed to listeners Bowie’s death dance, his syncopated movements of facing cancer, his final bow. The penultimate album became his saving grace. Art will be a saving grace for many in this nation over the next four years. Encore will be here to cover it. To reveal to our corner of the world a greater truth, a greater connection, a greater impetus in dealing with change. We can grow with more depth when turning mire into that which enlightens us: fanciful stories filled with fighting words, luminescent hues showing light against dark, scores of sound that carry messages of hope. Let’s flip the dump of 2016 and catch fire in 2017. We can grow with collective strength—and we need that strength more than ever.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”