On Personal Power

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Back in November, I asked other artists if they thought that politics would impact their work. Most said yes, and a few others told me they couldn’t let that happen because of the type of work they did. For me, it was a confirmation that other people were feeling the same way I was. Only, I didn’t know how I could help in a way that mattered. Though I am introverted to a degree, I lose touch with the reason why I make art if I don’t connect. Just focusing on my own page only works up to a point; too much time alone and I turn into Captain Caveman. Not enough, and I’m Animal.

Enter the Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge. By focusing on making art and talking about how to retain that focus, I thought, maybe I could help people weather the political storm in my own way. Those who are taking the challenge are to varying degrees; as their focus narrows, they abandon the online spaces they used to frequent to spend that time making art. Challengers aren’t the only ones who don’t visit online communities as much; many other people I know have, too. It’s overwhelming. It’s hard to know or trust what the truth is. That’s when the questions start: What can I do? Why do I feel so small? What voice do I have?

The question “What can I do?” also seems to be generating guilt for a lot of people. “What’s the point of making art when the world goes to shit?” “Why does my work matter?” which then leads to surfing the web for answers. Maybe one pundit will have something smart to say about why we are where we are or what we can do to fix it. Maybe my friends will agree with me that the proposed policies are shit and we can commiserate so you’ll feel better knowing other people feel the same way you do. Or, maybe just maybe if you can convince “that one guy” on the internet they’re wrong, you’ll win.

Only, you know deep down you can’t convince “that one guy” on the internet. Hell, you can’t convince your own family members to listen to you. You’ve heard of confirmation bias, of course, but you have to try. The question I have for you isn’t about why you’re having the argument in the first place, or why you’re feeling the way you do about making/selling/promoting your art, or why you’re doing anything you’re doing. The question I have for you is simply this: “What can you do?”

My guess is that you’re already doing everything you can, and you’re still feeling guilty that you’re not doing more. Some of you are calling your state Senators and Representatives. Some of you are protesting. Some of you are voting in the mid-term elections or are running for office. Some of you are donating to PEN America, the ACLU, the EFF, the Hero Initiative, the RPG Creator’s Relief Fund, Planned Parenthood, etc. Whatever it is you’re doing, you feel like it’s not enough. Then, you’ll read some pundit’s article about how protests don’t matter, how your small donations won’t add up, how your feel-good efforts are misguided and don’t count, how all your activism online is boosting the signal to an echo chamber. Or worse, you or someone you know is directly impacted by all that’s been happening and now you’re in pain. You feel powerless, and in your heart of hearts you know that’s the edge of the abyss that leads to anxiety and depression.

It is depressing and, like you, I feel powerless. I’m not a politician, I’m not a brilliant scientist or a doctor or a lawyer, I’m not wealthy, either–I’m an entertainer. So, here’s how I’m dealing with this: I start with what I can do, not with what I can’t. I focus on making those moments count.

Actions like:

  • Reconnecting and building local communities
  • Reviving a pen pal
  • Dusting off old to-do lists
  • Going for a walk–movement matters!
  • Getting my address book up-to-date
  • Sending birthday cards

Will taking small actions like these change the world? No, they won’t. They’re so small and inconsequential–what’s the point? They will, however, help me in other ways because they’re affecting my world. Maybe I can lift a friend’s spirits; maybe I can encourage a fellow artist to make their deadline; maybe I can find a young writer to mentor; maybe I’ll meet new people.

Despite politics, the bills come every month. Meals still need to be cooked. Sleep still needs to happen. Deadlines still have to be met; art still has to be made(1). It doesn’t matter what era of history we’re in–events on a timeline are not reflective of the people who live through them. We are all a part of the living fabric of history, and that’s why I am directing my attention to having a life. That is what I can control. Even then, dear reader, I am human. Sometimes, I make the mistake of adding the word “should.” That’s when I make my world smaller. If I can’t do a big thing, I turn my attention to doing something small. If I can’t do something small, I focus on something smaller and smaller and smaller still. Then, I grow from there.

By focusing my attention on my personal power(1), I don’t feel so powerless anymore. It’s not a perfect solution. It may even sound incredibly lame, misguided, or filled with privilege, but as a survivor I’ve learned over time that self-care isn’t selfish. It only feels that way sometimes–especially if you’ve been in an abusive relationship. It only feels that way when someone else says you aren’t doing enough, your attention is misguided, you aren’t helping in the way they think matters. That someone else is not you, however. You’re the only person who knows how to best take care of yourself, and that person is the one you need to listen to.

(1) Friend of mine shared this article that making more art than you consume has health benefits. Shiny!
(2) Personal power is a theme I’m working on in stories I’ve written recently.

    Mood: So sick of winter it’s not even funny.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Erm… Two. No three!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking, walking, walking
    In My Ears: A snoring cat.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming this month!





Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

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