How Are We Surviving the Days? A Group Essay in 37 Parts
I am making protein shakes with a banana in them and calling my senators each morning as I pour the various ingredients in the blender. Last night as I went to sleep I was obsessing about the need to take a small amount of cash out of the bank and keep it in the house somewhere, just in case. In case what? I don’t know. I am in that state of pre-crying where you carry the tears somewhere in the center of your face like ballast and you can almost taste them; I am pre-crying for hours while I also chat amiably and smile and do errands and work. I am staring at Facebook as if I can find the edge or the seam of the day and somehow rip out the thread, unspool everything.
The first thing I do each morning is grab my phone and read the lead articles in the news, to see which liberties have been dismantled in the previous eight hours. Then I get up, make some tea, and scroll through the various social media sites to see what my friends are doing to preserve democracy. After vacillating between hope and guilt, I spend at least a half hour drafting and deleting self-righteous, snarky FB posts about being on the right side of history. Then I, like Sonya, make a smoothie and everything feels a little bit better, until I read the newspaper. The most hopeful part of my day comes from music: I tell myself that any country that produces Bob Dylan, Wilco, Sharon Jones, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, Run the Jewels, Otis Redding, Woody Guthrie, Gillian Welch, James Brown, The Ramones, Frank Zappa, Lucinda Williams, John Zorn, The Mountain Goats, Miles Davis, etc., etc., can surely weather this mess. This comforts me until I switch on the evening news.
At the end of the day, I warm my favorite mug with hot water, dump the first batch out and fill it again to fix my tea, tiny balls of Dragon Pearl Jasmine in a fine mesh pouch. I head for the couch, where I pull the dog onto my lap. He doesn’t like being on me and in the old days I used to let him make up his own mind but no more. We all have our jobs to do now and this is his. We watch one episode of House of Cards every night, just to imagine a world where Democrats are as conniving and sneaky and underhanded as Republicans, to believe that somewhere, behind some closed door, someone is figuring the shit out. I am not proud of this. We have 42 episodes to go.
I am worrying constantly. I am worried about my house, I am worried about my grandmother who, it seems, has lost all of her rights to stay in hers once her hip replacement has healed. I have tried to save her. I have tried to make my voice heard but a man with a narcissistic personality disorder is louder than mine. I am losing and the hurt has poisoned any belief that I can help anyone at all. I don’t drink tea but I just made a cup of chamomile with honey that I’m not sure future generations will ever enjoy - the bees are dying, you know. I stop myself and wonder whether I’m being hyperbolic. I’m wondering whether anyone cares that all of my hopes for the future have to be put on hold again. That it feels like no matter what I do, it won’t matter because we live in a society that talks about rebuilding something they don’t know first hand. That have everything already and have been secure with that for years. That, somehow, sleep at night knowing that there are people like me, fighting against that word that was twisted: elitism. Elitism is having and saying that you’ve earned it (the right to proclaim yourself above everyone else) when you haven’t. I have had nothing but what I’ve earned since I was 13 years old. That is not hyperbole. It’s absolutely true. Not every one of us “liberal elites” was born with privilege. All I’ve ever asked for is a chance for all of my hard work to amount to something. This is much worse than being told that it doesn’t - I’d already figured that part out. But to tear apart the very fabric of our society as the United States of America is treason. I don’t know when treason become legal: both on a macro and micro level in my life. And I don’t drink tea but it is soothing so I’m thankful that I can. For the moment.
I had a real life ER-level nervous breakdown the week after the election so I have rationed my online time rather severely ever since. I spend all the time I can in silence, and when I have conversations, I spend some of the time revving up and more of the time shutting down. I seek the most comprehensive truths I can, the soberest articles with the most links; clutching them to my heart, I then return my body to simple things.
I have been walking barefoot more. I crave poetry even more than usual. One tonight goes,
"America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?"
--Allan Ginsberg, America
When I am walking around, when I am reading poetry, when I yawn and stretch and feel the air on my neck, it astonishes me that so much of the earth really exists in its very mud and bones, yet we who walk its surface cannot really see it, cannot understand each other.
I wake up everyday thinking “today I will do a better job balancing activism work and the other things I need to do.” I read the news, the feeds. I get disgusted and despondent. I get determined, and sit at my computer drinking coffee and water (not enough water) and get to work. There is cat litter on the floor that needs sweeping, counters that need cleaning, food that needs making and eating, doctors bills that need scrutinizing and paying. But I need to do this first. This is working on a newsletter for a local activist organization, one that came out of Pantsuit Nation. They are good. Good people, doing good work. I have never met any of them because I can’t reliably travel to or stay at events that - even if largely accessible in other ways - don’t fit with my rigid, unpredictable body. Instead I chat with them on Facebook, Facebook messenger, Slack, email, and occasionally a Google doc. Oh and Trello. I make this newsletter, because someone has to do it and I can. And if I do it, it will be accessible. The organization, and the newsletter, focus largely on national level issues. While I’m scraping Facebook for local events of that nature (Boston: Countering Islamophobia: Organizing as a Unified Force, Dorchester: To Islam, With Love: a card-making marathon against Islamophobia), a local friend sends out information about a local issue - a gas compressor station that is being planned in my town. I switch to that for a minute, make a flier about my state’s governor, write the descriptive text for the flier, and share it. Back to the newsletter. But there’s still litter on the floor that crunches when I refill my coffee, and there are still those bills. And crap, I forgot I need to call Social Security to try to unenroll from Medicare Part B, which I was signed up for because I was in the middle of a move when I got the info that I was eligible for it and I set it aside to deal with later… I called. It’s a 50-minute wait. When I do finally get through, the person I speak to is so very rude and tells me that I have to go to an office to do what I need to do. Activism and cat litter will need to wait.
In fact, the days are getting longer, but each day feels darker than the one before. What am I feeling? Am I sick? Is this just asthma? Is this a result of two nights of anxiety-riddled nightmare-flooded sleep? Little things, like hearing about Britain’s oldest barn owl, make me want to cry with gratitude. I’m writing thank you notes to my Oregon senators for being steadfast. As strange and dark as the days may seem, the light is still growing in my hemisphere. Nothing any human does can change that.
In between calls and letters to my senators and others, I inhale/exhale and focus on small triumphs—this friend marched while carrying a fantastic sign that sums up exactly what I would like to say, that senator (one of those I called this morning, one I voted for) emailed to let me know he is introducing legislation to overturn the “Muslim ban,” the lawyers showed up and won—I am measuring out moments of being “okay” and hoping that they will amount to something substantial. There are times when I need to pull over on the shoulder of the road when I’m driving because something the last caller on the NPR show I’m listening to is so stunningly awful I can barely catch my breath. There are times when I am able to practice self-care (a thing that seems selfish and radical in almost equal parts) which means I do not turn on NPR. I remind myself that people have survived worse than this. I remind myself that there is joy in a well-brewed cup of coffee. I remind myself that part of surviving is allowing oneself to recognize joy no matter what guise it takes.
Thanks to a friend’s Facebook post, I’ve printed out instructions about the best way to contact my reps. I added their local and D.C. office numbers to my phone, and I put “call reps” on my to do list every day. I thought I’d have difficulty figuring out what to call about, but that hasn’t been the case. I stick to one or two issues (that’s the difficult part), and I make sure to give them my zip code. I’ve had better luck reaching people, not recordings, at the local offices. I make sure to be polite, and brief, and thank them for their work. Everyone so far has responded well to that. Also, if my rep. has done something I support, I call to say thanks. I keep a dated record of my calls/the issues I called about/the response I got; I’m using index cards for now. When I’m finished, I watch a video of my four-month-old granddaughter sitting up on her own for the first time. I make time for writing, reading, exercise, and friends. This all falls apart a bit in the evenings, when I eat chocolate, drink wine, and stay up late to watch The Daily Show, Full Frontal, and Colbert. I can do the daily calls (and the research behind them) because I’m retired. And I don’t know about sustaining the effort (although it’s miniscule in comparison to what others are doing), but things like this document help.
I meditate and exercise first thing in the morning; I check the news and consider what the message will be of the calls that I’ll make to my senators and representatives (state and national); I go to Starbucks :); I make the calls; I reach out to my colleagues and check in with them; I stay connected to my husband, kids and especially my granddaughters - they are my sanity. (I also visit my granddaughters at least once a week; they keep me grounded and remind me why I’ll never stop fighting.) I do get on Facebook - a lot. I’m not sure if that’s good or not, but it does keep me connected to all sides of the story. I try to eat healthy - I’ve been failing at that lately. I’m trying to disconnect in the evenings and watch something that’s not connected to our national and political situation.
I am baking nearly every day. I haul out the KitchenAid stand mixer and dig through the pantry. I always have the basics: sugar, flour, baking powder, salt. I’m learning to adapt recipes for vegans and the gluten-intolerant; how to use flaxseed meal to make a binder for muffins, how to make my own flour from oats or almonds. I am becoming more creative so I don’t have to visit the store every other day. I’m Googling “quick bread with pecans” or “candy cane cupcakes” to use what I have stored up or lying around. I’m wearing my apron and measuring portions carefully, counting out a cup of flour in thirds, studying how many tablespoons of water it takes to make the pizza dough come together. I’m mixing oil and vanilla extract into the creamed butter and sugar, then flipping the switch and watching the whisk or spatula or dough hook work its way through the wet and the dry, binding together things once separate.
My younger sister is getting married in September, and her engagement has made life in Trump’s America vastly more tolerable. On a typical weekday, after I drop my son Charlie off at preschool (with NPR conspicuously turned off - I haven’t been able to listen since the election - the barrage of horror show news and the unstoppable mentions of Trump’s ludicrous name [you’re fired you’re fired you’re fired] made me question reality and staying informed was giving me unmanageable anxiety, a constant dull ache in my stomach that’s returning even as I type this), so after I park my Subaru Outback in the garage, and wash away the preschool germs, I put my two-year-old daughter Wren down for her mid-day nap (I despair-shopped the day after the election and bought Wren a t-shirt that says “future Ms. president,” bought myself a “future is female t-shirt,” and my son a “feminist” t-shirt - the weak impotence of activism-by-shopping makes me ashamed, but at the time, it was the best I could do), so after I give Wren multiple sips of water, kiss her baby, kiss her zebra lovie, and kiss both her hands, after I cover her curled up body with a blanket, rub her back, and tell her to have a nice rest, I go downstairs, make myself a strong cup of PG Tips, with a large spoonful of raw honey (I’m the mother of two toddlers, so I’m sick more often than not in the winter), I sink into my couch corner, put my feet up on the coffee table, and help my elderly Norwich terrier find a cozy nook by my side, and I open my computer. I go directly to Pinterest. I scour my brain for the name of those roses that look like peonies. Peonies will be unavailable in September, for my sister’s wedding, and right now, peonies are what I choose to think about. Peonies and roses that look like peonies. And seating charts, hand-calligraphed signs, minimalist guest books, and charming flower girl dresses - they are all saving my life. I remember - aha! David Austin roses. Such a stupid name for such a beautiful flower. All blowsy and opened. I pin the shit out of several wedding bouquets featuring David Austen roses. I keep pinning until I open Facebook almost against my conscious will, at which point I repost and copy and paste at least a half dozen entreaties to call such-and-such senator, I sign just as many petitions, I donate to ACLU, I donate to Planned Parenthood, and I press “1” in response to Paul Ryan’s phone poll about Obamacare. Then the dull ache returns, and I close Facebook. I return to Pinterest, where I realize I forgot all boutonnieres - thistles would be nice. Maybe succulents.
After big horse November, M and I are human slumps for weeks, heart-dragged through the days, the nights. We’re baking lots of cookies and binge watching cartoons salvifically, obsessively. We’re saying to each other, Let’s Get Out, Let’s Do Something New. We start our days on our phones, which is atypical and has been atypical, and end our days on our phones, which is saddening. In January, I’m rolling on the living room carpet with my phone, reading another of another of another panic article online, another call to action, another evening social media sentiment -- and M huffs and sighs and we’re both in agreement, both animalistic and infuriated at everything. And that’s when I listen to her sounds. It’s just huffs and sighs. We’ve had little real communication between us since November. Talking has not been talking. We communicate via commentary, via pundacy, via others. We are vehicles for the fact-checks. We are vessels for the op-eds. We are not ourselves. That January evening we make a pact, both slumped on the carpet together and heart-heavy. How about a discipline to abstain from political social media, news radio, newspapers, etc., for some of the week. How about most of the week? We pinky swear to it. Monday, Wednesday, Friday: we’re off, we’re running silent, we’re filling that silence with prayer between and for each other and in the groaning throats of our minds and with written words, paper words. We’re Going Outside, we promise, We’re Cooking More Than Cookies. We’re expanding our focus back into books, and into people. Especially into each other. And we’re having conversations again. And since then, since that promise, it’s been delightful. It’s been a way to begin again. After the election, I thought donating time to the only LBGTQ community therapy organization in my city would be productive, a space to convert my anxious energy into helpful action; I thought volunteering at the Islamic Center could be a social safety mechanism, a healthy optic, for the larger, beloved community I live in to witness; maybe contacting my state’s ACLU would provide me with the more politically active route, those ways with oomph to get best involved, to protest; I joined up with a new black church in the area, even, and have been helping to grow its congregation with the pastor. But no coping system, no attempt to save or protect people around me, has bested the simple act of meditation and prayer with another person. It sounds useless. It sounds selfish. Karl Barth sounds it out like this: “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” But the slowness and fuzzy focal point that clasping those hands together gives us -- rather than around lit, buzzing phones -- has been for M and I one of the most effective coping systems, uprisings, acts of protest. Because protesting fear, even our own, doesn’t seem useless or selfish at all. For us, and for those who see the effect on us, it’s the beginning we all seem to need.
Yoga, yoga, and more yoga.
15. I live in a college house with five roommates. Three voted for Hillary. One for Trump. One didn't vote; if she had it wouldn't have been for Hillary. I take showers in our tiny bathroom and look at the shampoo on the ledge that belongs to her boyfriend. On Inauguration Day he commented on a personal essay I wrote for the school paper saying,”if I disagree will that cause an awkward void in the house?” Despite the fact that the only thing to disagree with was the emotions I was feeling. As if he had a right to consume and dispel my ink; what beats under my skin. When I came back to my home from Christmas break, my succulents had wilted on their window sill. And, I say my home because despite the way my mouth stays shut and I slide around noticing things like his shampoo; this is still where I sleep. For weeks leading up to the inauguration I watched the large green fans of my favorite succulent curl and thin; I would touch its leaves only to pity their softness. One night I couldn't stand watching the shadow of a drooping creature I had agreed to keep alive and so I scooped it up in the moonlight. I set up an operating room in our garage. Gutted its pot, put in new dirt and some worm castings I bought at a local environmental festival. Like breaking a rib cage during CPR, I split the clumped dirt that coiled its thin roots too tight to let water in. Gave the dirt permission to seep under my nails and rim my finger tips. Watered and wiped down, I brought the tiny plant back into my room and pulled a lamp to the middle of my desk. Clicked it on, rested the plant underneath. It’s been days since this, but it still sits under the light while I am at class. The green fans have uncurled themselves from balled fists. I called my representatives for the first time the day after the operation, to encourage them to support planned parenthood. Even though I know they won't, because this is the state in which Mike Pence held the office of Governor. In the morning and the night from a warm spot in my bed, I often look at a plant still living on my desk; not forgetting that I went weeks resigned to watching it die.
I scroll through Facebook after resisting my alarm clock as much as I can. I tell myself it’s part of my job, because it is, but also because I am in danger of slowly falling off a ledge. Then I make breakfast in a hurry, a bowl of yogurt with granola. I pack fruit to keep me when I’m peckish throughout the day. Working in social media, I schedule the Facebook posts, the tweets. I design the Snapchat filters that need to get done, and all the while, taking small breaks to look at Facebook, because the cliff is always there. I can’t stop it. I must be ready for it. At those times I feel sad, but then I remind myself that I will accomplish nothing if I surrender, and if, in the future, I will be punished for dissent, that I might as well earn whatever I will get. So I send an email asking how I can join the local chapter of the state Democratic party. I send another email reminding the March for Science that I would like to volunteer. I still take breaks, and read briefly that there may be a new executive order against people like me. I stroke the fear from that as if I’ve found it after misplacing it for a very long time, and then I stack it in a little shelf that I’ve imagined is standing somewhere off to one side. Then I go home. I wait for my partner to be home too. He hugs me. Speaks to me sweetly. While we’re watching TV I still scroll through Facebook, but then we pet the kitten we both share. No fear can burn as bright as that.
I’m drinking water and sending Paypal donations to civil rights organizations. I’m going to bed early and paying my mother’s legal fees as my father divorces her. I’m reading books and working on ESL curriculum for the Syrian family who just moved to the city. I’m eating too much and reading the news, then eating too much. I’m making art and setting boundaries.
Yesterday, I met a friend and co-writer in Seattle and we stood among thousands of people in Seattle’s West Lake neighborhood, chanting “No Ban, No Wall.” We ate Thai food and talked about our fears and our loves and our work. Then I drove the hour it takes me to get home, which is almost as far north in the United States as you can get before the Canadian border, which is about as far as you can get from where I grew up in Florida, and I talked to my girlfriend who is in Texas for work, and who I was missing terribly. I cried with her because I can cry with her. I woke at four in the morning for no reason, and found that my youngest sister, who works for a disaster relief organization and lives in Bangkok, was chatting online with my mother, who lives in a suburb of Tampa. I joined their conversation; we ranted and commiserated and joked. My sister spoke about feeling unsafe at the US Embassy and her one-year-old daughter’s love of hats. I complained about a cousin. All of us, so spread out but trying to stay real to each other. Every day, I am working to stay connected. I am clinging to people: their bodies, their words. I am listening for ways I can put my body and my words to work for them, filling spaces that need filled, holding spaces that need held. I am holding on.
I’ve started meditating every day for the first time in my life. I take social media breaks when I need to (which is pretty often). I donate to causes when I can and speak out when I can. I volunteer and write. I tell myself it will be okay even when I’m not sure it will be. I’m trying to find work that I can handle and that will help people. I’m focusing on my health whenever I need to. I think about history and all the battles we’ve fought, what we’ve overcome, and hope this will be one of those times too. That we’ll someday look back on this and be glad we got through it. I’m thankful for the privileges I have and will continue to fight for those I don’t and for those people who don’t have mine. I take deep breaths. I cry. I go forward.
My heart has been racing all day. It’s thumping against my chest, bump bump bump, and I sit at my computer trying to figure out exactly when I’ve felt this before. When I was 15 and was told I had leukemia? When my wife and I were told she had to go into an emergency C-section with our first-born because his own heart had slowed to a crawl? When she lost not one, not two, but three to miscarriage? It’s beat this fast before, but never for any good reason. I scan Facebook and Twitter, looking for signs that my heart will slow, but it only speeds up. I post pleas that I envision one or two people reading, thinking maybe that will make a difference, but I know it won’t and my heart beats faster. I wonder, maybe there’s just something wrong with my heart, and that, that is comforting! Maybe I’m just having a heart attack! That I can deal with, correct, live. But I know this is not the case. I just had an echo-cardiogram two months ago and my heart is fine. It’s this country that is not, and my heart can’t take it.
I am Canadian. And today I have not been coping, because last night a young man walked into a Quebec city mosque and opened fire, killing six and injuring more. His victims were fathers and sons and brothers and friends; government employees and shop owners and professors. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to use this attack as an opportunity to justify Trump’s recent anti-Muslim acts. Yet the suspect is a white nationalist and misogynist and a Trump supporter. And hours after that information was confirmed, Fox News has left in place a false and misleading headline reporting that the suspect is Moroccan. So today, I am not coping. I am crying. Tonight I will attend a vigil for the victims in my small Ontario city’s market square.
Every day, I read the news with increasing fear and despair. Our countries are separate but so deeply intertwined, not just through bonds of trade but bonds of love. My partner is American-born; now a dual citizen. He wonders these days if he will ever go back to visit the U.S. Every day I try to perform at least one action. I write my MP, I march, I contact my American friends, I donate money to agencies supporting refugees and civil liberties and people of colour and LGBTQ+ people. But none of that is enough. I hug my friends and listen to my cat’s throaty purr. I make soups and muffins and fruit stews. But none of that is enough. I joined the Guardian, paid for the New York Times, subscribed to the New Yorker and I read the news more obsessively than I’ve ever read it in my life. But none of that is enough. And I know this.
To cope, I walk. I walk and walk and walk. Sometimes as I walk, I listen to the late Leonard Cohen, our urbane prophet of love and doom. I confess, though, I have to pick and choose; these days “The Future” is all too present and difficult to take.
I oscillate between “The Future” Cohen and the “Democracy” Cohen--two great songs from the same album, the second full of a strange, difficult sense of possibility. For hours I too try to stay away from the news, focus on anything else, remind myself that there have been darker times in history. Try to treat my students and colleagues and everybody else with patience and good will. Then I get onto the web and discover the latest outrage, and then the latest bursts of resistance and rebellion in response. It just could be that this is the start of something good, a gathering together of all the scattered folk who want to see justice and peace but have been divided and lazy and complacent for so long. Of course, we’re going to have to fight through a lot of awful shit to get there.
My sports are paced, long-distance. So I surprised myself by returning to the phrase “speed dial,” as in, I’ve got my senators on speed dial. I prefer lingering to speed, and furthermore, it is no speedier to call my senators than it is to call anyone else. Still, I like the phrase’s implied intimacy, as if a speed-dialed phonecall was apt to begin with a signifyin what up, Lisa! and so on. But I find it is less the persistent phonecalls getting me through, less the showing up to rallies, less the skiing and dogwalking and early bedtimes getting me through—though I’d be shipwrecked without these—rather, it is more the contours of that particular assertion that keep me going: I’ve got my senators on speed dial. It invokes a semi-old-school telephone, and with it a bit of history and physicality, but it’s also casual—and so cues my body to remember: prioritize ease of motion. So you can go forever. Because I take Kafka to heart most days (there is hope, but not for us), it’s moments of well-oiled, tireless momentum I bank on. I’ve got my senators on speed dial: ah yes, count me in. Time again to paddle, hard, all night.
“Fired up and ready to go,” I keep saying to anyone who asks how I’m doing. But the truth is, I’m scared. My German boyfriend asks me if I could leave the USA tomorrow, would I? I say no. It doesn’t seem right to bow out of the fight. I make signs, I get sore shoulders from marching with them held up high, I come home with a sore throat and read the news and post phone numbers to call and I make more signs and I call everyone and tell anyone who picks up the phone to please say NO, block this, stop that, I am a concerned citizen, don’t allow them to take away our power, our voice, our country. In one minute, I feel both strengthened and defeated. I call the people who have been chosen to represent us and then I call my people and I ask them - How are you holding up? What are you doing to take care of yourself? I read poetry to my students and talk long walks in the park by my house. At least the trees are still standing and the crickets are chirping as they always do. I’ve never cared much about history until now. I’ve never cared much about politics until now. I’ve never watched Senate hearings and attended town halls - until now. It was always someone else’s job to take care of these things - our future, our education, our country - and for some reason, I trusted that I was in good hands. It was never great, but it wasn’t terrible either. But now, we’re being called to the front lines. The shots are coming from every direction. We hold hands and dive in.
I’m trying--and failing--to stay sober. With the new year, I said “no more drinking,” but then I remembered that I’m in the world, and I remembered that something in the sky has told us “no,” and I find myself falling asleep in a haze that makes my face numb. They tell me to call, to march, to do anything, and all I can do is get home from work and cry a little, wail a little, not cope a little. This is the way my world ends: not so much with a bang, but with an uncorking, a news cycle on 24/7, a guilt over not doing more or less.
I am constantly going back and forth between trolling Trump supporters on Twitter, and sparing myself the stress of their all-too-frequently ignorant responses to my responses to their tweets. (E.g., something about “her emails,” something about how she – but not Trump! – is “corrupt,” etc. etc. etc. in the worst way possible.) Laughter is also helping me a lot, and I’ve been watching a lot of great clips by Colbert, Oliver, Bee, Noah, et. al and following a lot of liberal comedians’ Twitter accounts. My favorite one is by John Fugelsang. He’s an old interviewer and TV personality who hosted America’s Funniest Home Videos, I believe before Bob Saget did, and he has just the most cutting, brilliant one-liners. The other day he tweeted something about how Trump should wait until he meets St. Peter, and then he’ll see what “extreme vetting” looks like. I laughed and laughed.
I like choosing my favorites of his and other people’s, and the most damning Trump-related news stories, and curating my Twitter feed to reflect these and my own best one-liners. (I still think my favorite is the one I published the morning after that horrible election night: “This is the first hangover I’ve spent regretting other people’s bad decisions.”) The Onion’s been great, too. They published a piece the other day as if it had been written by Jimmy Carter, about the peanut farm he had to give up before his first term, due to the emoluments clause. (A real event that happened! How far we’ve fallen.) Today they published a piece as if quoting a fictional Trump speech. The punchline was “We cannot let ourselves give into empathy.” I find these pieces reassuring because they so plainly state what is fucked up in this situation. In their symbolic, satirical way, they say something so profoundly true. And it’s nice having that validation that things are as bad as they are, if things must be as bad as they are. And to get a laugh out of it.
I’ve also been listening to the musicians of the 1960s, the ones who wrote their songs while high on LSD. I like thinking back to the hope and passion and optimism they had, and I think we need to remember that spirit and era and the fact that it birthed some great art, in stirring people to activism. Plus LSD gave them a great sense of perspective. Spirituality in general is comforting; I choose to believe there’s more love than hate in the world, and that love really win. And sometimes I just lie in bed, under my covers. I work from home, so I can do this all day, if I’m not careful. I think it needs to be done in moderation, or you really do become afraid to get back out again. But once in a while, the fetal position can be quite comforting. Maybe the Republicans were right that we do have something to learn from fetuses.
I check on my kids every night before I go to bed. I didn’t always do this but now I feel the need to touch their warm cheeks and pull the covers up over their Disney Princess jammies. The other night my husband came upstairs after I was already in bed and I heard the door to the girls’ bedroom open. When he came into bed I asked him how long he’d been checking on them before he went to bed. November, he said. Me too, I said. We used to look at houses on Realtor.com at night, imagining the type we’d like to buy if he gets a raise or I get a full-time teaching position someday. We don’t do that anymore. The walls we have surrounding us, poorly insulated though they may be, are the ones that contain all that we value, and with all the other uncertainties that exist we can be certain of them, at least. We also used to talk about having another baby. Maybe the next one would be a boy. I really want a little boy. Now this kind of talk seems reckless. I guess I miss the freedom of our dreams the most and I resent the fear that has replaced it.
There are just moment to moment decisions. Some things are actions that I hope will do some good or make some change. Other things are just tiny bits of connection that I so desperately need. Today was Fred Korematsu’s birthday, and officially Fred Korematsu Day (thank you, Google, for commemorating it in today’s doodle). He is one of my heroes for being one of the handful to resist and stand up against Japanese American internment during WWII. I know his grave well, because it is in an Oakland cemetery that used to be the “outdoor gym” of my trainer. He’d take us to this area of the cemetery where there was a steeply slanted concrete incline. We’d have to run up it 10 or 12 times. At the top of the incline was this majestic stone with the name KOREMATSU engraved on it. Below, a plaque describing his fight for civil rights and his life as an activist. Our trainer would yell, “Run up to Fred, get strength from his stone!” We’d run up, panting and stumbling, and touch his headstone. It gave me strength and kept me going. Today, after being reminded that today was his birthday, I went to our local florist. He is an Iranian-American who has lived here for 20 years. He lamented sadly that he does not feel he can safely travel these days. I told him I wanted a red, white and blue gravesite bouquet for Fred Korematsu, and he knew exactly who I was talking about. He put together the flowers with such care--white puffy chrysanthemums, blue iris and red carnations. It was beautiful. I drove over to the cemetery and left the bouquet in a cone-shaped vase in front of Korematsu-san’s grave. There were three other fresh bouquets there, and some flowers and single stones along the top. I also left a cardboard sign, “Japanese Americans against Muslim Registry.” This act made me feel connected to a long lineage of struggle for justice. It was what I could do for today.
Black coffee. The wash of it, just this side of scalding, against my throat in the early morning before anyone else is up. The first moment of every day is a bloom of disorientation--am I alive? Am I myself?--before the knot tightens in my chest and the recognition of Oh god. Another day. I’m not good at maintaining ferocity. I tend toward despair in the best of times. More coffee. I talk, carefully (carefully enough?) to my young children about these injustices. I lament for them, but fight myself from sliding into inaction, back into sleep. I take them to small protests, tell them stories at night. My son argues politics with classmates, says he wants to dye his hair pink ”because I’m a feminist, Mama.” My daughter--she also tends toward despair-- says “this is the funeral of my happiness,” and “my desire will shut like a door.” My friend says, “parenting is protest” Okay. Okay. I dial. The knot tightens with each ring and when the overwhelmed staffer (why do I care about how they manage their day?) answers, I stumble awkwardly into my anger. I blurt. It’s inelegant. I am every day less than I wish I could be. The coffee has to be black. It has to scour the dull-dumb from my body, my do we even have a soul? Acrid, acid. Pour another mug.
I was recovering from brain surgery the night of the election, was confused and exhausted, but when my wife needed to wake me up to give me my pills-- every hour or so-- I always asked her, “What’s the latest update?” Her answers started out optimistic, but became less confident and then horrified as the night went on. We had both voted in advance, but it doesn’t seem to have mattered-- Trump received the votes of our friends and neighbors here in Ohio handily, it seems.
In the weeks that followed, I started radiation and then chemotherapy to attack the small malignancies that remained in my body. My doctors were and remain very optimistic about my odds of recovery, and indeed I’m doing very well physically except for my obsessive heart, which had a resting rate of somewhere in the low 80s when I had the unexpected seizures that led to the emergency surgery but now remain in the high 90s, sometimes over 100, when I’m just sitting on the couch. This is not, I am assured, a result of the cancer, except that my own anxiety is perfectly natural and maybe I should have a Xanax (on top of all the other pills I now take). So I take the pill, sometimes, and I feel better for a bit, but then I take out my phone and learn what is going on outside-- a Muslim ban, an attempt to end healthcare for millions of Americans, an attack on women’s reproductive rights, a private White House screening of fucking Finding Dory as a way to say “let them eat cake” to the protesting Americans-- and I feel my heart starts racing again. I remind myself that I’m lucky-- I have a wife who loves me, healthy parents who help take care of me, two cats who get into bed with me when I need to rest, and doctors paid through my employer’s insurance who are confident that they can save my life-- but I’m aware of how many others are suffering, and I can’t for the life of me think of any way to help them, and that frustration and fear causes my heart to speed up again.
Before the Inauguration, I deactivated my Twitter account. It wasn’t helping. It was causing me such rage and anger and frustration. All I wanted to do was retweet and run over the Facebook and rant and yell and scream at my friends who voted for Donald Trump. I was going to accomplish something, god dammit. It was going to help me feel less powerless. I had de-friended a good number of family and friends who blindly supported Trump and trolled me throughout the campaign and on election night. There was no reason. There was no sympathy. There was no “This may affect Eric and his family and friends in a certain way.” It was just “Make America Great Again” with no knowledge that America wasn’t made up of white, straight, Christian, cisgendered men. Deactivating Twitter helped. It did. I want to deactivate Facebook, but I’m hosting a book club on Saturday and that’s how I know who is coming and how I keep people updated. My Crossfit gym (my therapy) uses Facebook as the main line of communication with me and other members. And even worse, I haven’t been able to work out for two weeks because of a possible torn meniscus...so I can’t even work up a good sweat to not think about the world careening out of control.
I want to march, but I’m scared. I feel like I am not knowledgeable enough to bring value to a conversation. Even now, I’m worried that by standing up for my friends who are Muslim, who are women, who are of color...that I’m saying the wrong things. That my privilege still blinds me to the issues at play. But, I need to help. I need to advocate. They need to know that they have an ally in me...even if I misspeak on occasion. Also, the idea of showing up to a march or protest by myself is very overwhelming.
So, today, I set up a small recurring donation to the ACLU. I deleted my Uber account. I confront trolls calmly with an attempt at rationality.
I’m loving the fuck out of my Muslim friends. When they attempt to address their fears with humor, I support them and let them know they can laugh with me...but that I will staunchly defend them with grim determination if I have to.
I will march. I will. But for now, I’m just trying to support who I can how I can.
Before the election, I read great speeches by public leaders in the last 75 years, interested in the hallmarks of inspirational leadership. The morning after the election, I wrote a pointed letter to my young adult children, who now live in different cities, reminding them of their gender rights, tolerance, kindness, an open mind. The depth of rage, fear and disbelief I felt while trying to articulate something positive, scared me. I did not send it. Pre-Inauguration, I Facebook-unfriended my list down to 38, family and soulmates only and sent out apologies to those whom I care about, those who would notice my voice’s disappearance, who’s physical friendship I cherish. This act was the only way I could find to calm the noise, to try and control the media onslaught coming at me. It will take awhile, but I am slowly deleting 10 years worth of Facebook activity, saving photos, for I will leave Facebook within 2017. I have sought out fewer and alternative news sites, trying to dwindle the US news, alarmists and citizen critics coming at me relentlessly. I am Canadian. I will not travel to the US in the foreseeable future. Today, I make carrot soup and homemade bread, two of my comforts. I listen to music more, read fiction more, swim more, write. Such a mess.
I went to the doctor last week for a flare up of a chronic issue. Stress can be a trigger and she asked if I’ve been experiencing more stress than usual. “Just over what’s happening in our country,” I said. I think of my word choice now—“Just”. As if what’s happening is a small thing. As if anything our new administration is doing is just. “That’ll do it,” she sighed in commiseration. I hate that I’m letting our new administration get literally under my skin, affect my body, my health. I haven’t been paying enough attention to self-care, although I did go to a dance class yesterday and I do try to read in the bath every night. I just ate an avocado with green salsa, and that makes my body happy. Action—marching, calling my reps, etc.—helps tremendously, of course. So does teaching—I’m mentoring in two MFA programs right now, and helping writers hone their voices feels like deeply necessary work. Our voices are our greatest tools, our sharpest weapons. But my own voice feels weirdly garbled right now—my outrage is clear, my commitment to resistance crystal clear, but I’m having trouble locating my voice in all of this, partly because I’m in such a frantic news-reading cycle. I’m in this weird hyper vigilant place, wanting to know what’s happening in DC so I can respond to it, wanting to stay as informed and active as possible, but all the news is clogging my brain and I’m not leaving enough space for my own words to bubble up as freely as I’d like. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe, other than calls to reps, calls to action, and the like, I don’t need to prioritize my voice right now—I am happy to listen to the voices that have been underrepresented, to listen hard. I created an online journal, Lady/Liberty/Lit, to makes space for women and non-binary writers who are writing about freedom of body and voice, and that feels good, more important than using my own voice right now. But I don’t want to feel so muddled as a writer, either. I need to carve out more time to step away from the news, to breathe, to touch base with the natural world, to give my body more attention so it won’t keep finding new and uncomfortable ways to scream at me. I want to carve out more inner space so my own thoughts, my own words and actions, can rise from a more grounded place.
Today I read that Merkel had to explain the Geneva Convention to the White House occupant, and I got angry. I paced around my kitchen, feeling sorrow, but rage even larger. I also talked to my son about situational awareness during demonstrations, recounting some of my own experiences in far-away countries, in a more innocent time for me personally. I am going to MacDowell in less than a week, and I will do my best to focus on the new novel. But I know that I remain horribly frightened for my children and all of our children.
My writing goals have morphed and shrunk since the election. Writing these past few months reminds me of my daily walks following abdominal surgery, where my goal was to make it around the block knowing that eventually I’ll be able to go farther. I’ve changed my alarm clock from NPR to classical music, and I’m trying hard to save my media/social media consumption and political action items until after I’ve finished writing for the day. I’m reading more poetry than I ever have before. I’m de-cluttering my house and turning a guest room into a home office for myself. I’m preparing our house and family to bring home a puppy in April. I might be more excited than my kids about this.
I wake, regretting it. I read the news, so that I am responsible to the need to have knowledge of the badness taking place in the world. Then I walk the dog, which hurts me but brings pleasure into each of her days though the route does not change. Then I spin or weave and think of the news I've read because the zen physics of spinning and the hard mathematics of weaving can help coalesce my thoughts. I pick the activity depending on which appeals to me at the moment; go at it until my body can no longer stand the pain of doing so. The rest of the day is spent reading more news, but beyond headlines and at depth, researching, cross-referencing, learning, knowing. My days are long, because they are all the same. I go weeks without using my voice to speak with a person other than the dog. Then I read books I like (the same ones, over and over), waiting for 8 so I can take meds, go to bed and do math in my head until I fall away.
On bad days I wander back and forth in the house, from wheel to loom but not really accomplishing much, unmoved by the trip, silently so as not to disturb dog, wondering “what have I forgotten?” and “why don't I know anyone anymore?” and pray for 8 so I can take meds, go to bed and do math in my head until I fall away.
My days seem long, but they are small affairs and I am small within them. This has come to be enough.
I’m a middle school English tutor in Colorado. I’ll never forget the day after the election. So many of my kids had tears in their eyes when I saw them that day. Several of them asked me in hushed tones if I thought that Trump would make their immigrant families leave America. An LGBTQ student asked if he would be forced to go to the conversion camp. He said he’d heard that it was going to be okay to kill gay people now. Every day since the 11/9 has been emotional for my students. I cope with their turmoil and my own by showing up every day and telling them that they are loved, valued, and worthy. That they are just as American as I am, and that I will fight for their rights until my last breath. They think I’m helping them, but it’s they who sustain me with their hugs, smiles, and stories.
1. Sonya Huber
2. Tom DeMarchi
3. Beth Boquet
4. K. Campbell
5. Lisa Schamess
6. Laura Sabadini
7. Lauren Hudgins
8. Elizabeth Hilts
9. Melissa Ballard
10. Nanette Eisenhart
11. Marissa Landrigan
12. Sara Petersen
13. Nathan Klose
14. Vivian Wagner
15. Hannah Schneider
16. Eric Mayrhofer
17. Kelly Davio
18. Kelly Magee
19. Alana Saltz
20. Matt Tullis
21. Susan Olding
23. Corinna Cook
24. Carmella Guiol
27. Jill Bodach
28. Susan Ito
29. Sheila Squillante
30. William Bradley
33. Gayle Brandeis
34. Masha Hamilton
35. Janet Buttenwieser
36. Robert Rucker
37. Gina DeChario Bednarz