Gone Art. If I were to write a post-truth era dystopian thriller, that would be the title: Gone Art. What would a nation be like if every citizen had to work a 9-to-5 job to profit Big Pharma, Big Insurance and Big Banks without benefit of performing, visual or literary arts? What if paintings in galleries were replaced by flat-screen TVs that displayed 24-hour state news and reality shows. No more screenwriters or actors, but shows, pitting depressed rural communities against urban ghettos to fight for the best ratings. Winners get to loot the losers’ community under the guidance of Big Brother Border Patrol and their high-tech tactical gear.
Performing art might evolve into public floggings of scientists unwilling to believe alternative facts presented by the state. Blackface might return as a dance movement to mock rap while real rappers and spoken word artists labor in privatized prisons under suspicion that art warped their minds and led to consumption of marijuana, spiced rum and Little Debbie Swiss Cakes. Mockery and punishment would be the only state-sanctioned performances, gathering crowds the way public hangings in Victorian London did. Yet, a generation would grow up not knowing what the word Victorian means.
White House ornamentation might include the piked heads that rolled from the shoulders of journalists and novelists and humanitarian advocates who dared to say, “The TRUTH is out there.” Alternative facts will be the new norm for creativity, the only form of creativity allowed, and the greatest masters of its art shall be cloistered to the Cabinet, given free meals, government moonshine and gilded thrones built from the bones of alt artists and Badlands resisters.
Literacy is no longer required. Books are not burned because no one reads them, anyways. Refrigerators and microwaves inform those who need to know, mostly alternative facts pour from the water spickets on the smart-fridge of those in the working class. Daily updates are given in the time it takes to pour a glass of water. There is no water for the poor. There is no birth control, either. Those who fornicate and reproduce are gathered up on farms, fed GMO corn and below-the-poverty-level children of all colors will become the State’s new white meat.
Billionaires will have evolved to drink champagne of fermented oil and eat truffles made of coal. The rest of the working or imprisoned populace will be sick but have Access to Healthcare that replaces any desire for art, nature or fresh food. This song will be outlawed:
What disturbed rabbit hole did Charli wander down, you might be thinking. Like Alice, let me walk backwards and start at another place.
“Europe has cathedrals; America has National Parks.” Public television tells me this every night. It’s Utah’s programming, and given that this state has five National Parks and more monuments and state parks than any other state, I feel as if I live among a cluster of medieval European cities with deep art and history. My reality is that I live near deep nature and pre-history, near the tallest sandstone pillars in the world and abandoned Anasazi ruins. Zion is so popular that now the park canyon we explored over winter is closed to all traffic. Tourists have returned because nature penetrates the soul the way cathedrals stretch skyward to God.
It’s late afternoon and the Hub and I brace against the stiff struts of our truck as we bounce across a desert two-track littered with rocks of black basalt. The dog leans into me and I hug her close to steady us both. My left foot is propped against swell in the floor that accommodates the transmission. My bag sits on the swell filled with crackers, cheese and my laptop. We all have bottled drinking water, even the dog. At first glance, the road looked to cut across the flat. Driving it corrects the perception of flatness. We dip through hidden washes and round clusters of sagebrush and mesquite.
We have three goals in our pilgrimage to the desert: shoot, chase rabbits and write. I’m sure you can match each goal to us three occupants in the truck.
At last we pull up on a dry earthen dike. Gnarled brush hints at water beneath the ground, but none surfaces. It’s a dirt reservoir and why this land is hostile to farm or ranch. The Hub parks on the hard-packed red clay and unloads his long-range rifles: 7mm08 and 6.5mm Creedmoor. He unfolds a canvas shooting mat and sets up his rifles and bullets, which he’s loaded himself. The dog runs, finds quail, and returns to drink water. I drink in the landscape, noting where the red mesas of the Colorado Plateau slam into the black basalt of a geological rift created by volcanic action.
We are in between places; a transition zone.
The Hub has his ear muffs, shooting hat with Ranger insignia and he scopes the land we tracked in the truck. It’s remote, unpopulated and a clear line of vision for him to test rounds at a mile. Yes, his target is a mile away. I can’t even pretend to make up stories how he does it, but I know it includes as much science as it does art. He has to crunch numbers, understand velocity and range, master powder loads and select bullet shapes, and ultimately imagine the shot before he takes it. Satisfied, he breaks my nature-stupor, and says “Move the truck across the dam.
Easier said than done. I profess to be a writing buckaroo, but admit to also being a cowardly cowgirl. Sure, I can drive the truck, but I have a bad half-memory, half-fear of a reservoir like this. I hate moments of unexplained danger. I note the signs — rapid heart rate, a feeling of sinking and separating from self. I’m afraid to walk on the hard earth, afraid it’s not really hard, that it’ll crumble. Gulping air I walk it first, relieved it feels compact, but further frightened by holes big enough to swallow my dog. Fear dissipates with curiosity, so I investigate.
I’m peering down the rabbit hole. Only it’s not made by a rabbit or any creature. I realize that water in this arid land not only carves ancient dunes and gathers scree, it also tunnels secretly underground as if to escape the evaporating heat above. This dike, built by a rancher at some time, is now pocked by sinkholes. The earthen structure might feel solid to walk upon but what lies beneath is Swiss cheese. Drive the truck across it, I don’t think so! Instead, I drive across the soft flat of the reservoir, turn around until its positioned just so and call the dog. Once she’s safe in the cab, I give the thumbs up to the Hub. He’s free to shoot.
And no matter my earlier intentions, I can’t write out here. My computer is set up on the tailgate, but the screen looks black in all this sunlight. Never mind. I draw a deep drink of bottled SmartWater and stare at the land like Hildegard visioning at Bingen. Art requires time to stare.
I would have stuck to my original post and led a merry chase down rabbit holes, but I read the morning news before I finished writing. I’m not as stressed as I was earlier in the POTUS’s first few weeks. Like the earthen dike, I had stepped out to test the solidity of the situation, my heart reacting to danger unseen but felt. In a nation divided by politics, navigating social space is like one of those books where you pick your own adventure: option A is alternative facts and belief-based “news;” option B is investigative journalism based on facts and science many don’t “believe;” and option C is propaganda renamed “fake news” and is liberally applied to all options, thus giving the real lies longer shelf-life. I’m weary of trying to teach people how to read critically and take accountability for the options they choose to place in their skulls. And it’s redundant to tell the skeptics and resisters what they already know.
So I’ll stick to my art. Except there will be no more art.
Here’s the rabbit hole I fell down, reading the about the proposed Presidential Budget in the New York Times this morning (note this date in infamy as the Day After the Ides of March When the Dictator Was Not Taken Out: March 16, 2017).
Gone would be federal financing for public television, the arts and humanities.
Gone. Gone art. The article goes on to cover the horrors of other cuts basically bashing in the brains and hearts of artists, writers, scientists, humanitarian advocates, teachers, diplomats and workers. POTUS wants to eliminate…ELIMINATE…the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I disagree with the New York Times journalist who writes that this upsets the East Coast elites. Now just hold your horses on that thought! Damn it! Why do we Western writers get discounted? Because, like Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner, we’re just tumbling tumble weeds writing hymns to places most New Yorkers never see? Because we can ride a horse and rope stray words into stories?
Western writers are relevant right now, especially when it was the VOICE of rural Middle America who elected this destructive clown in the first place. My western fellow citizens, and most across the nation in other rural bubbles of America, the people I roll my eyes at and call “Trumpers,” I get them. Come on, I’m a 49-year old homeless woman married to a combat vet too-long-denied his benefits to the detriment of his own health, a displaced worker, un-insured, Jesus-believer, science nerd and lit geek who wrote profiles of FARMERS and RANCHERS for 20 years, advocating for local food and revitalization of rural communities. I’m their God-damned writer! I don’t agree with them, especially when it comes to Trump, but I speak our common tongue.
The mother-tongue of a westerner is land and water, spoken in poetic contradictions. We fight among ourselves to prepare battles with outsiders who want to wrestle away control of our western lands we love and live off of, knowing better how to manage public lands than some bureaucrat in DC. But they think drain the Swamp means eliminating Fat Cats. They don’t understand the Fat Cats are draining the swamp of all that does benefit the people. They are eliminating We the People, using fear of others. We are fearing the wrong safety-breach.
Trump has blind-sided the people in pain, feeding them populist ideas. They don’t know what a populist idea is! They might be the poster children for populism, but they are controlled by its fake promise to bring back all they’ve worked so hard for throughout generations. Everything I write is imbued with western thinking. I don’t say I’m a buckaroo because it’s fun; actually it’s a painful reminder of my painful past. I’m a buckaroo because my feet knew cowboy boots in toddler size one and my eyes learned to drink in the landscape that contains the bones of seven generations of westerners.
If I’m silenced as an artist, that voice so desperate to be heard that it voted in destruction, will be silenced, too. C. Jai Ferry who writes grit lit is the west’s sharp edge, while Ann Edall-Robson (luckily for her she’s Canadian) is it’s softer nostalgic pool of memories. We need all the western writers in between. We need literature to express that voice in constructive ways, to be heard. We need books young westerners can read and see themselves in, we need to encourage the next Stegner or draw out from the eastern elites, the next Abbey or Thoreau. We need art in the West, the East, the North, the South. We need wild spaces. We need art.
March 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) go down the rabbit hole to a place where art is not allowed. It could be a small story or a dystopian vision. Is there a power struggle over art? Would the general public miss it? Is the end of art a natural evolution? Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by March 21, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 22). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
The Coming Truce (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“You think I shouldn’t be allowed art?” Danni drank the Oregon Pinot, glinting like crushed golden berries in her glass.
Michael stood in her living room, his body tense. Neither wanted to be in the other’s presence, but Ike insisted on a truce while he served in Iraq. “You have no right to Native artifacts.”
“Art, Michael, and it’s mine. Those chinks? My great Uncle Riley made those. His Nez Perce wife beaded them. The peace pipe, a gift.”
“Your art is my history, Danni. I’ll take that wine now. If it’s not toxic.
“The wine or my art?”