Recently I was asked what freedom and narratives mean to me, not only as we’re locked away in our houses amidst the pandemic, but also amidst the visceral pain and righteous fury felt by protestors, activists, members of the press, and those who care but can only watch on, as systematic, militaristic abuse descends on both my city of Minneapolis and the nation at large.
To all of it, I said this:
The process of shaping one’s own narratives is so incredibly powerful, especially with the desperate need right now for hope and for voices saying that together, we can get through this.
I feel that freedom is cumulative and collaborative and implicitly reliant on others (which is, of course, sardonically ironic given the stance that those “exercising their freedoms” are taking during this lockdown). Despite all the vitriol highlighted in the press, however, my own personal growth this year has been spurred on by facing the fact that we all need each other (and more than that, possibly want to need each other), and that – despite everything assailing us on a daily basis – perhaps that’s not actually as scary as I originally thought. Ultimately, only through each other can we lift spirits, uplift the ones around us, and ultimately affect great change.
Freedom is living, and freedom is what we give one another when we strive to live our most purposeful lives and choose to show the kindness in our hearts the light of day.
After writing this, my focus shifted. It moved away from the oh-so-American and yet fundamentally universal word freedom, and towards a topic which means perhaps even more to me: the importance of happiness itself amidst destruction.
People are angry at the world right now, and rightfully so. Ecosystems are crumbling. Brutality is becoming normalized in places least expected. People are dying and inequality of every type seeps more and more of its poison into that same light of day. All of this is happening while we’re forced to sit on the couch to protect our family, our neighbors, and those mysteriously-mask-allergic strangers.
Fury and grief and a knowledge of current events play essential roles in standing up, speaking out, and affecting lasting change. Sitting idly by or burying oneself in distractions is easy.
To cope with all of this daily bombardment – not only to thrive, but to survive – we need sparks of joy. We need to care for ourselves. We need moments of positivity and celebration, and most importantly, we need the fundamental belief that we are capable of building ourselves a better world.
These are not the opposite of acknowledging the state of the world we find ourselves in. They are a necessary counterpart, and are often what keep us sane on this deeply imperfect earth. Burnout is real. Depression, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion are often endemic. We cannot surround ourselves in nothing but deep, amplified pain and expect ourselves to flourish. We must take care of ourselves in addition to honoring our mantle as stewards of the world.
I want to provide a bolster for those that are attempting to change the world for the better. I want to amplify narratives that inspire and upbuild. I want to provide footholds for hope, joy, and motivation – which are so often difficult to find, especially with the constant, drowning influx of dramatics and fear we can easily find ourselves sinking into on the internet.
So, that’s what I’m now trying to do. And for the first time in my life, I feel like I’ve found the footholds to do so without losing myself in the process. I do truly believe that we will rise above these times, and god, what I wouldn’t give to be a person that helps us do just that.
Signing off with love and hope, from me, to me (and you).
J.M. (Jé) Cozē is a writer/photographer/artist who is, as the thankful result of a long and convoluted family history, a Minneapolis native. Their magazine, Fireproof Cypress Magazine,is set to launch later this year. Focused on the uplifting and empowering (“what you wish you saw on your news feed”), it will amplify both new voices and well-established ones with an eye towards sustainabilityand upbuilding creators. Their ongoing project, Minneapolism (@minneapol.ismon Instagram), features a decade of phone photography celebrating the scalable underpinnings of humanity around us and common spaces that bring us common joy. More information will be coming soon to their website, jmcoze.com.