A Creative’s Guide to Surviving the Trump Presidency

by Vivian Liebenson

I’m angry about the election. Not just because my candidate didn’t win, but because millions of people looked racism, misogyny, and mean-spiritedness square in the face and said, “Yes, please, let’s have some more of that.”

This past week has been a rollercoaster of emotions. The last 8 days have taken not only an emotional toll, but also a spiritual and physical one as well. I believe I passed through all the stages of grief at least twice, including – briefly – acceptance. Then I watched this and read this and experienced my first moment of clarity since Hillary gave her concession speech.

We can’t accept and normalize what has happened. Ever. This causes a bit of a cognitive disconnect for me since “normalizing” is the one of the key pillars of the creativity coaching philosophy I practice. It’s what we do. We normalize all the crazy-making parts of the creative process so our clients don’t feel so alone and can overcome blocks to get to their creative work.

But, this is not normal. We cannot accept this. We can’t move to Canada (we’re not geese) – we have to stay and fight. We can normalize the grief, the need to do “something”, the fear, but not a world where a bigot can be president.

But what does that mean for us – the artists, the writers, the poets, the creatives?

By last Wednesday some of the initial shock wore off and I found myself feeling surprisingly empowered. I had this great sense that important work needing doing, that my artwork and creativity would somehow be a part of it, and that all the filters were just turned off. I had this amazing sense of freedom as my last vestiges of self-consciousness over expressing my most heartfelt thoughts and feelings fell away. I had work to do. But what? What does my art matter at a time like this? How can creativity help?

Well, I’ve put together this guide to answer just that question:

1. This is NOT Normal
This cannot be overstated. Do not become complacent. As John Oliver said put it on a post-it note to remind yourself if you have to.

2. You Have Permission to Feel Contradictory Feelings at the Same Time
It is important to understand that it is possible to hold two opposing thoughts or feelings in your mind or heart at the same time. You can be disgusted, yet find joy and beauty in the world around you. You can be grief-stricken about this place we’ve come to, but feel tremendous optimism about this being a catalyst for positive change. You can be outraged and motivated to work to make changes, while at the same time seeking comfort and nurturing your spirit.

And finding the balance between these opposing ideas will be the way we creatives and highly-sensitive people will survive the next four years.

3. I’m Not an Activist. What Should I Do?
I asked an activist friend of mine recently, “What do we do now?” Her answer was protests, petitions, helping vulnerable groups in our society. I’ve been added to a lot of activist Facebook groups where people are fired up and yelling and trying to organize and planning protests.

But I just don’t see myself at a protest. I’m an introverted HSP who really can’t deal with crowds. I’ve also never been someone in the spotlight. I’ve always been more of a behind-the-scenes, singing-in-the-chorus type of person. So I will likely fight this fight quietly (or maybe not so quietly) behind-the-scenes. I will support your protests, but when you are tired of fighting I will be there to offer you a cup of tea and some comfort. I’ll be there to remind you to take care of yourself and nurture your spirit, because if you lose your soul in this fight, it won’t have been worth it.

I will also be making artwork. Some of it will be funny, some will be poignant; some will be beautiful and some of it will be ugly. I might even make political art, but I’m not making any promises. And the point is my art doesn’t have to be overtly political to matter. By contributing my heart and self-expression to the world, I’m making a difference.

4. Practice Self-Care
This is important for everyone. It is especially important for those of us who absorb negativity and/or have a tendency toward depression. We need to take time out to stay physically, spiritually and emotionally healthy – breathe, meditate, make art, exercise, eat well, seek comfort.

Walking outside is one of my favorite ways to destress and I highly recommend it. Not just because the clock on climate-change legislation is likely to be set back a decade and the natural world as we know is going to suffer as a result. But because walking outside, clears the mind, changes your visual focus and rests your eyes, and helps engage your creativity.

5. Pay Attention and Stay Informed
Do NOT, however, hide, avoid the news, or decide this is someone else’s fight (see #1). You must stay informed by a reliable news source that still employs the rules of journalistic integrity and reports the news without bias or agenda. (NewYork Times, Washington Post, etc) It is easy to say it is too overwhelming and simply avoid it all. But if you don’t pay attention you risk being lulled into feeling complacent. (Again, see #1). Paying attention is also great for your creativity. It isn’t all bad out there in the world, and paying attention allows us to not just stay informed, but also makes us receptive to inspiration.

6. What About My Kids?
Parenting our way through the next four years will depend on your child’s age. Obviously, for very young children we want to assure them the world is still a relatively safe space and not inflict our anxiety on them. But for older childen and teens? They should be aware of what is going on in terms they can understand and at the very least be reminded that kindness matters and bullying shouldn’t be accepted, that they should stand up against it if they see it happening.

Our son is 13. He is going to be eligible to vote in five short years and will be a young adult in the direct aftermath (or – G-d forbid – second term) of Trump’s presidency. We aren’t sugar-coating what is going on. He has full access to the same news we read and to all of our outrage. And he is fired up – he wants to volunteer for a social justice or environmental group this summer if he can find one that will take him. And I couldn’t be prouder.

7. Seek Human Connection Offline
This election was won on social media, through the repetition of opinion or flat-out lies parading as facts. As an introvert I need a lot of time to myself and often default to using social media as my main method of socializing. I plan to make an effort to seek out more human interaction in the 3D world. Whether this means finding creative groups or holding more dinners with friends, I’m not sure. But I do know that the fact that I was able to say I never actual spoke face to face with a Trump supporter is not a good thing. I want to find comfort within in-person interaction with my tribe, but I also want to put myself in situations where I get the chance to practice kindness and civility toward someone with an opposing viewpoint even if I will never agree with them or change their mind.

8. What Are You Holding Back
Whatever your creative gifts are, now is not the time to hold them back from the world. We need them. Don’t worry about trying to figure out why they are important. Just know that now, more than ever, we need them.

9. Crap! There’s a Lot to Do. I’m Completely Overwhelmed!
Yes. There is a lot to do. But it doesn’t have to be done all at once by any of us alone. Another principle of our Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching philosophy that is completely helpful here is small steps. Think of your newly-minted outrage and motivation like a New Year’s resolution. These often fail by February because people have too high expectations, thinking they can flip a switch and bring about immediate change. It never works. You will need to ask yourself “What small step can I take right now, for 5 minutes, that will help?” Then go from there, building momentum.

10. Damn, I Really Wanted There to Be 10 Things
But, there aren’t. So I’m going to leave you here and go follow my own advice on self-care and go make a cup of tea and hug my family.

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