Friday, January 20, 2017

On Trump, Art, the Horror of Real Life, and a Way Forward (Plus an Announcement)

This is how I know I am lucky: On November 9, 2016, I woke up feeling worse than I can remember feeling in my entire life.

I’ve had bad days; days when I’ve been sick, scared, and hurt. I’ve dealt with frustrating medical issues. But I’ve never had a serious bout of depression, or an obstacle that threatened my life or livelihood. I’ve always had a support system to catch me when I fall.

I’ve had anxious, scary days when a friend or family member was in pain or dealing with illness. But I’ve never had a family member become so ill that there wasn’t a sizable ray of hope illuminating the path forward.

I’ve lost loved ones, but rarely in ways tragic or unexpected.

So yes, I am so deeply lucky to be able to say that before November 9, I never had to confront the all encompassing sadness, fear, and anxiety that I felt the day after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. The fear I still feel, and a fear that only seems to grow by the day, for myself and for those less privileged than me.

This post isn’t about whining. I passed whining, through grief, and into full-on fighting mode weeks ago.

Some of you – a huge majority of voters, in fact – know exactly what I mean. Others are sure to believe I’m nothing more than a “whiny liberal” who needs to sit down and shut up. Trump won. Get over it.

For those of you who think this election was just like any other election, and so Democrats should accept defeat quietly (despite that Republicans failed to do any such thing either time Obama won the presidency), I could point you to so many reasons why it’s not. For example, the rise in hate crimes since the election, including those perpetrated by elected officials who no longer feel the need to “be politically correct.” These crimes were and are directly incited by the sexist, racist, ableist rhetoric employed by Trump throughout his campaign. Despite calls to “give him a chance,” nothing that Trump has done thus far has inspired any optimism in those of us who value human rights, education, the overall health of our society, and myriad other issues that, before this election, seemed enshrined in and protected by U.S. law.

Add to all those concerns these issues that continue to plague me: Trump’s unethical ties to an untold number of domestic and foreign corporations, his alleged ties to Russia, and his refusal to accept legitimate news as fact.

In short, no, this election was not like any other election.

But if I can’t convince you with all of the above, I’m afraid that only time can. I’m afraid you will only see it when it’s directly affecting you, when it’s taking away your healthcare, your rights, your job. If you haven’t already felt some of those effects, you will likely very soon. I am truly sorry for that.

But this post isn’t about whining or sadness. I passed whining, through grief, and into full-on fighting mode weeks ago. I’ve subscribed to a reliable news source, attended meetings and forums with my local representatives, made the calls to my representatives. I will march in the Woman’s March in Washington this Saturday, because peaceful protest and civil disobedience are not anti-democracy – they are the heart of democracy. The very purpose of democracy itself.

Rather, I’m posting this because I’ve been seeking ways to supplement those efforts, short of changing careers (the idea of a career in politics is a sort of fresh hell to this introverted writer). I’ve searched my soul trying to think of ways I can make a difference, and do you know what came out? Poems. Lots and lots of poems.

Poems?, you might say. I know. I’ve been thinking that, too. What good is poetry in the face of all this? And yet, it was poetry shared by thousands on Twitter that brought me, and apparently many others, some small measure of comfort and consolation in the weeks after the election – poems like this one, and this one, and this one.

But it can feel pointless, even narcissistic, to embrace one’s own art in this political climate. Anything relevant or timely begins to feel like a bid for attention.

I am a poet by nature. I always have been. It’s how my feelings most often come out; it’s how I process things. I’ve tried more times than I can say to tamp down that part of me, to be a writer of something more “modern,” more accessible. But in the weeks following the election, the only thing that poured out of me was poetry. It’s how I work. Frankly, it’s the best way I work.

Yesterday I read that Trump has potential plans to kill the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as defund other programs that support the arts. Again, this will seem like whiny liberalism to some of you, but to me and to society at large, this news is devastating. Because no matter what anyone says, art is imperative to a working society.

But it can feel pointless, even narcissistic, to embrace one’s own art in this political climate. Anything relevant or timely begins to feel like a bid for attention. For example, this post by Rebecca Woolf, who is currently working on her first film and will soon be asking for crowdfunding help, encompasses everything I’m feeling about making my own art these days. In a nutshell, she says: “Raising money to make a movie suddenly felt petty considering everything that was going on – being an advocate for my project (and myself) felt inappropriate – like setting up a lemonade stand in the middle of a funeral,” but, “Sometimes it takes the rise of a villain for us all to become superheroes. And sometimes it takes writing fictional stories for us to realize our truths. If more women could tell the stories… maybe we wouldn't have to fight so fucking hard to be heard.”

Consider this quote from Lyndon Johnson, on signing into existence the National Endowment on the Arts: “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Societies require art. Art provides catharsis, solace and commiseration. It inspires empathy and expands our perspectives. It provides a way to communicate that is not only seen or heard, but felt. It incites action and helps us find new ways to progress. It gives society a vision and a soul. Without that soul, we crumble and die.

I’m writing a book of poems from the perspectives of final girls from horror cinema. A book about women who are stronger than me, women who inspire me, women who resist. Women who survive until the end.

All of this is to say, in part, that I am nearly done writing my first full collection of poetry. It’s inspired largely by the election of Donald Trump, but also by a lifetime spent dealing with sexism, as well as the last several months I’ve spent listening to other marginalized groups who say they’ve been experiencing Trump’s brand of hate for their entire lives – it just hasn’t been covered by the news until now. So I’m doing the only thing I know how to do – I’m writing. Specifically, I’m writing a book of poems from the perspectives of final girls from horror cinema. I’m writing a book of poetry about women who are stronger than me, women who inspire me, women who resist. Women who survive until the end.

I am so excited - invigorated - by this book. I will be publishing it myself, and it will be out soon, because I believe I have something to contribute. I believe this country needs every thoughtful, contemplative voice it can find right now.

As I let my own little piece of resistance into the world, I want to intensely encourage all of my writer friends, my artist friends, my filmmaker friends (the ones I know and the ones whose art I haven’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing) to continue making your art. No matter what. Make it loud, make it vital, make it important. Make it as accessible as possible. And when it comes time to promote that art, don’t be afraid to ask for your small piece of recognition. Hell, ask me. Because what you do means everything.

For now, I leave you with this – a poem of mine, and my (purely metaphorical) message to the GOP. It’s based on Amy Everson’s 2014 film Felt.

Felt (2014)

Give me muscles, or else I’ll make them
myself out of this anger rising
from my throat and bubbling to my skin
like disease I cannot contain any longer.
This is how you make me feel, like some
thing blighted, broken and abnormal.
I rear back my head, thrust my pink
tongue to the sky, make it ugly for you.
I want to hurt you. I want to offend.

I know you’ll laugh, and it will feel like
a slap to my jaw. You think I can’t, think
my strength seems soft as cotton, spongy
as exposed innards. You think I’m sweet,
candied to cloying, a thing to grab and put
in your mouth until I’m chewed to a pulp
and used up. You’re wrong.

I will adorn this body with scars, twist it
until it is sharp, maul it into weaponry.
I will become the fist and gun and bomb
that you have used against me since
the day I was born in this woman’s body.
If you find the tenor or shape of my words
unappealing, know that you have made me.
Thank you. I will use all this against you,
and you will not see it coming.

If you would like to follow the news regarding my upcoming book release (no pressure, I swear!) or see further excerpts from the book, please visit my website and sign up for my newsletter, or connect with me on social media. I will also post about my progress here from time to time.

Please don't hesitate to reach out on social media to talk to me about anything, regardless of whether you care about my poems. This is the time for creators to band together and support one another. If you make art, if you write, if you read - I'd love to talk about all of it.

TL;DR: Refuse to sit down and shut up. Always.

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