Twice in the last couple of months, I’ve had readers reach out to me in response to my other column, On That Note, to share some musical projects and ideas with me. Both writers have said, “I hope this doesn’t offend you,” as they proceed to explain their personal stories and art. To this, I’m so happy to respond, “Unburden yourself! I love these sorts of emails!”
I don’t say this to tease these courageous individuals who have put themselves out there, have stepped over this line of eggshells our society has laid out, which suggests that baring one’s true self is potentially hazardous to relationship building. In my opinion—and it’s an opinion I’ve reached after deliberating the pros and cons of public and private art—sharing one’s creative work is the completion of an arduous cycle, one that is aged and primal and pure. We make things so that we can provide the world with a small part of what lives inside of us. It’s gorgeous, and on an evolutionary spectrum, something that separates humankind from other mammals and parasites.
Of course, few put this sort of thought into their human interactions anymore. There are so many people in the world and such easy access to the daily humdrum of a large percentage of said population, like the millions who assume that I will be moved by a picture of their new running shoes or an inspiring quote about the salad they chose for lunch that day. These are the tools we have now for relationship building, so that we are constantly bombarded with people, but only on a surface level. There is little soul-to-soul connection. My two new musical friends were so cautious to invade my space with something meaningful, but if I didn’t realize my acquaintance went to the grocery store today, she’s like, “Didn’t you see my post?”
Ironic, then, that it seems offensiveness is on the rise. I have no statistical evidence of this, just a lot of dudes in my feeds and in my coffee shop spots airing their grievances about “kids these days” and “drivers these days” and “politicians these days” and “loaves of bread these days.” I keep waiting for the moment when I realize what exactly it is that offends them, and all I can ever come up with is that they’re dealing with something they don’t like or understand.
I’m going to step away from social politics for a second, into what I think is a safer space: This is why art exists. Because we have feelings and opinions and ideas swirling around inside, and sometimes we need an easier, safer way of communicating them. We establish metaphors and symbolism to say the thing we want to say. Humans are complicated creatures, another thing that separates us on that biological sliding scale, in that we’re not always a unified herd. My ideas don’t always line up with your ideas (and I know all those coffee shop guys are like, well, yes, duh, obviously!). Here we go: Imagine you’re walking around in the Denver Art Museum and you come upon a piece of abstract art. You’re staring at it, scratching your head, trying to understand why two green and blue squares sprayed onto a scrap of particle board equate to art. You’re hemming-and-hawing, very nearly saying, “Well, I could do that,” which is the art museum version of “artists these days!” But do you need to be offended by it? No, of course not. Why be offended by two blue and green squares on some wood composite? Instead, you wander off into a new wing, something a little more classical maybe, and you find yourself inspired. You’re moved to have a conversation with the stranger standing before the same painting. You connect with that human being—something else that makes us so special, the ability to establish deep relational bonds—and you trot out into the sunny day, feeling happy and ready to make the world a better place.
So, I wonder if, in all the mess of all of life’s many prevalent offenses, maybe you could identify something as a green square and a blue square and just walk away, like without saying anything? I wonder if you could just wander into another hallway, meet someone who loves what you love, and find that you actually really like the world instead of really hating it. I wonder if, the more we do this, the less people will caution themselves about being themselves, and will instead feel that what they have to offer is something worth knowing about. I wonder if, instead of apologizing for sending me a musical project, the next email I get that says, “I don’t want to offend you,” will be like an apology for flipping me off in the road or a note of appreciation, even though we don’t see eye-to-eye.
Just a thought. But you know, writers these days.