Not that 2016 wasn’t awful. There was a lot of loss: our nation’s sanity, for one thing. We also lost our ability to have a secure and representative election. Also Prince and Princess Leia. Personally, I lost an uncle (one of the kindest, most naturally cool people I will ever know) and an aunt (independent, intelligent, loving, full of vitality—it’s hard to describe just how great she was in a parenthetical).
But labeling last year as “horrible” grates on me. First of all, it sets the stage for 2017 to be somehow better and I’m not sure that is going to happen. Also, it locks us Americans who may feel rattled and demoralized by the election into thinking that we are somehow broken, which plays perfectly into the hands of people who want to break you.
I would rather reframe this paradigm shift. I am choosing to feel clarified, electrified, energized. Things are stark and obvious now. This last year was like a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol that was swiped over the landscape, exposing wounds and making them sting. The oily residue is gone.
Here are some things I am taking to heart as we start this year:
(1) There are more important things to think about now than your dumb gluten allergy. I don’t have to pretend I care anymore! I’m only half-joking. I also definitely don’t need to spend time reading a Facebook rant about Madonna’s face, or a New York Times Styles section article about what Tory Burch wears to the Hamptons. Needless to say, now is not the time for minor scrapes and squabbles between us. I don’t need to hear about how much more oppressed you are than me because you are not only gay, but gay and left-handed*. That will not help us unify.
I was fortunate enough to watch election night with a group of lesbians. And as the results came in, the first words out of their mouths were: “We need to organize!” And we are. Since November 8th I have been to meetings, actions, and a civil disobedience training. And I have barely scratched the surface. I have watched coalitions already forming that break through race, class, religious affiliation, and gender. It’s exciting! It’s happening and we need to stick together.
(*Calm down. As a gay left-handed person I can make this joke)
(2) Self-care is not selfish. Read this wonderful interview with writer and activist Adrienne Maree Brown. Take care of yourself. Eat well, sleep properly, exercise, breathe, see friends, create good energy. Start a daily ritual of prayer, meditation, or just time away from the constantly drooling media mouth. Be careful what you look at and dwell upon. Smile often to strangers on the street.
(3) Listening isn’t as hard as everyone seems to say it is. Maybe you are a Trump supporter and see 2017 as a fresh beginning too, but in a totally different way. If you are a Trump supporter and you have actually read this far, then OMG, please get in touch with me. I would be thrilled to talk to you over dinner sometime (do you like quinoa and beet salad?). Despite how I may be stereotyped as an East Coast gay liberal living in a bubble, I grew up in a Republican household. I am very well-trained at quietly listening to you and helping find common ground so that we don’t get indigestion as we eat.
All I ask is that you try to listen back. In the immediate media post-mortems following the election, there has been lots of criticism that we left-leaners “didn’t listen” to certain segments of the population. This tends to be a common retort coming out of the mouths of those numerous Trump blonde fembot pundits on cable news (why are there so many of them?!). I’m not so sure that it is so one sided. For example, I certainly haven’t had any experiences of some conservative coming up to me and asking, ‘Hey there, hippieish gay white guy who looks like a bass player in a forgotten ’60s psychedelic band, what are you feeling right now?’ Listening is a two way street.
(4) Monitor your fear. Be careful how it may be used. The last major paradigm shift that I experienced was 9/11. I was living in Brooklyn Heights at the time, and a couple months after the attack, at the height of the insane anthrax scare, I was standing in my kitchen listening to NPR. Someone on some show (it’s sort of a blur) recommended that people buy duct tape and plastic and seal up their windows in case of a chemical/anthrax attack.
I stood there with my coffee and stared at my “windows.” My “windows” should always have quotes around them. They are not windows, they are simply gestures at “windows.” They are broken, with holes in the rotted wood sills that I try to fill with tin cans and plastic so that cold air and mice don’t get in (the effort is semi-successful). So, I stood there with my coffee and realized I would never be able to seal up my “windows” and if this possible chemical attack were true, then I would most assuredly soon be foaming at the mouth and liquified on the kitchen floor. And then I realized that I could either believe this insane fear-based report (on NPR no less!) and die, or I could try really hard to not believe it and envision a different reality.
That experience was a blessing in disguise. I am now much more tuned in to my fear, and wary of how I may be taken advantage of when it overcomes me. Fear is a very useful tool for people who want to control you and divert you from seeing what is true.
Not much is different for me since that last paradigm shift. I am still a struggling writer. I am still committed to expressing myself and helping others do the same. And, like then, I have about $78 in my checking account right now (another stereotype-shattering truth, rare Trump supporting reader! I am what you call the Creative Working Class. See? Not so easy to pin me down!)
One thing is different. This time I am, strangely, less afraid, even though things seem exponentially more terrifying. I am certainly afraid for a lot of people and things–my black and brown friends, Muslim-Americans, Mexican-Americans, immigrants, women who want to control their bodies, other LGTB folks (especially the young ones) and most of all, the natural world. But I am not frozen in place by fear like I was then. I have no problem standing up to protect these things, which is what I will do—cheerfully—because…
(5) Laughter and optimism is vital to your mental health. In a recent profile in the Times, I was struck by Senator Al Franken’s observation that Trump never laughs. It’s true. He is mirthless, cynical, Grinch-like. Scary! Sad!
That makes laughter and good cheer in direct opposition to him and his grim clown car of a cabinet.
I am trying to see the act of making someone smile and laugh in these times as a creative challenge. Luckily, I am part of an artistic community that will do everything we can to keep people’s faces from freezing into tight frowns, stultified into silence. I will not let my emotions (or my friends) be under a regime’s control. As Prior says in Angels in America, “More life. The great work begins.” So let’s get started!
In 2017, optimism has become a political act.
An Entire Year in One Shot: W‘s Photographers Let Their Pictures Do the Talking
“My assignment was to shoot reportage at the annual Guggenheim Gala for Dior. While taking a break from the celeb fanfare I walked my way up the spiral gallery to look from a higher vantage point. There I stopped when a man in the middle of the maelstrom did the same and took the shot.”
“Another day of waking up is another day of progression… 2016 was a complete circus and I enjoyed every moment.”
“Only lovers left alive?”
“I began photographing the rodeo in southern New Jersey not far from where I grew up in July of 2016. What started as a one-time trip to the place that I knew to be a Western symbol in a place like New Jersey reinvigorated a passion for something that I have a strong admiration and respect for. So Saturday after Saturday, for three straight months, I’d make the two-hour trip south from NYC again and again. I found myself feeling right at home. This photograph was made during one of the last weekends of the rodeo season, while two women’s barrel racers, Vikki and Sheralee, prepared for the grand entry. The two of them have been not only recurring subjects in my rodeo work, but have become good friends of mine, and symbols of the strength and determination needed for pursuing a truly honest and hardworking life.”
“Attached is an image from a personal floral series I’ve been working on this year. My goal was to create something that focused less on the fragility of the flowers themselves and more on the flowers as a strong sculptural unit. Showcasing the flower’s other nature, as design.”
“It was stressful, and often disheartening, to see the country become so divisive in 2016. Hoping that the new year brings about more collaboration, understanding, and tolerance. I feel confident that there are still plenty of people ready to fight for a better future.”
“This is a portrait of the visual artist Pia Antonsen Rognes. I love the conflicting expressions in this portrait—it looks like she’s ready to cry but not, like she’s ready to fight but also to surrender.”
“Typecasting is a term we often use in the film industry. In fashion this sometimes happens with models as well, but you never hear about it with photographers. I started my career in fashion shooting street style; though actually, I only ever shot street style as a hobby. I’m grateful for the unprecedented number of opportunities I’ve been given in 2016, but signature editorials and campaigns still elude me. Building a trust with fashion houses and magazine editors is a tricky proposition; this photo I took of my friend, Tresa, best illustrates my feelings concerning this paradox.”
“Nobody can deny that 2016 was all about streetwear. It became more popular and mainstream then ever. For me as a street style lover, fashion was really on point. People bravely invested in loose and casual looks everywhere around the world, including also in the Middle East. Street culture stood strong!”
“A behind the scenes image we captured from a beauty fashion film we are directing.”
“Generally, I’m a very curious person. I love learning as much as I can about pretty much anything and everything. For me, shooting a portrait is about getting to know my subject and learning what they do. I shot this photo of E.J. Hill, a performance and installation artist, at his residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. More importantly, I gained insight into who he is and how he approaches his craft.”
Portrait of Eden, 2016.
“With Rouge et Rouge I wanted to get a little bit closer and capture raw beauty through spontaneity.”
“Amiyah Scott for her Candy magazine cover story, styled by Ian Bradley.”
“It’s almost done—I am not talking about 2016, I am talking about a lot of things… We hate too much and love too little. We buy a lot and forget to give anything away. We take too many photographs and make so few memories. This photograph tells an unwritten story of a beautiful woman in depression. Let’s write a love story together for 2017. Let 2017 be a better year. Let us all be better humans!”
“Brazilian Eloisa Fontes in Zhandra Rhodes. Shot in London.”
“I’m so fortunate that I have the opportunity to do what I love and to have the clients who give me creative freedom. I’m looking forward to pushing myself more in the new year.”
“I love taking pictures of beautiful people, and this picture captures my perception of style perfectly. Street style photography is something that always appeals to me, but within it I do tend to gravitate towards men’s fashion. I always look forward to the next Pitti Uomo where I inevitably spot the coolest cats. Spending time there and taking pictures is always an inspirational experience for me.”
“The sadness of waiting.”
“American beauty in 2016 was defined by blurred gender, race, and sexuality, and while it seemed to be a ‘come as you are’ year in fashion more than ever, there was an incredible contrast between this and such regressive global politics. But if art, as always, represents society’s new demands and forecasts the next generation of thinking, then progress feels inevitable. There is hope.”
“2016 has been one of the most interesting years of my life so far. The road to becoming a successful artist is no easy path. My mental agility was consistently challenged and there were many moments where I was unsure of what direction my life was headed. Setbacks are inevitable, but it’s all about rising back up even stronger.”
“Do you remember that time?”
“Documenting Lady Fag’s Holy Mountain parties is never dull. I always walk away from the evening feeling like I’ve dipped into an alternate reality where sexy aliens and 9-foot-tall goddesses reign. In this image, a chic crab-woman accompanies a ghoul on a quest to dominate the dance floor.”
“This shot is part of an ongoing series called ‘White Nights.’ The title comes from a Dostoevsky short story. It refers to the natural phenomenon when some days never go completely dark.”
“2016 was an exciting year for me. I got to shoot NYFW for the very first time, a city full of vibrant colors, amazing people, and inimitable style.”
“2016 taught me that anything is possible. It also taught me that losing your passport while out of the country is the scariest thing ever. I shot my first magazine cover this year and it still hasn’t hit me yet. Excited for 2017, 2018, and 2019. “