Roll Call: Are You Here?

As I sit down to write something tonight, the Republican National Convention is happening, but I am not watching. I’ve only seen snippets of news — chaos breaks out, delegates walking out, and of course Colbert crashing the party earlier today. But I can’t bring myself to stay amused for long, not when at this very moment Iowa Congressman Steve King is openly declaring that white people have contributed more to civilization than anyone else in the world.

Mani is watching Grace & Frankie; I’m vaguely anxious but “vaguely” is the keyword; and an hour or so ago, I went outside and got horizontal on the driveway, following some visceral instinct to feel the ground literally against the length of my body. I stayed there a while, watching the sky, watching the clouds change from soft and wispy to rounded and layered yellows and pinks. I came back inside to get my phone so that I could take some pictures, which of course don’t do it justice.

Mani had just finished a movie, “Run Boy Run,” a true story of a boy who survived the Holocaust. I caught the last few minutes, where we see him on the beach in Tel Aviv with his wife Sonja, their two grown kids and six grandchildren, and his sister, whom he hadn’t seen in 30 years.

I read words from Michael Franti on his Facebook page: “We are sitting on a powder keg right now that has the potential to blow up in every city in America if we don’t all work together in this time to make long overdue change in our cities.” Mani adds, “every city in the world.” I shudder, something bone-deep in me knowing the truth of this.

My father has shared the chilling and urgently important New Yorker article about Tony Schwartz (no relation), the ghostwriter of Trump’s “The Art of the Deal.” He, my dad, has written, “Read this and weep, then act against Trump.” A woman whose name I do not recognize — I find myself curious if we are distantly related — leaves a comment. “Interesting, but I cannot support Hillary.”

My head explodes and I silently compose several possible responses without saying an actual word. It’s my dad’s page. It’s not mine. Isn’t this all of ours? How does one change the mind of 40% of the electorate? Will Trump supporters ever even read articles like this one?

(That’s when I went outside. That’s when I sought ground against body and sky above and changing clouds and room to breathe.)

Back in our bedroom, I watched the ending of the movie with Mani. I am looping backwards here, and pulling these threads through, as if trying to sew up my evening into something cohesive, something with a pattern and a purpose. I’m not convinced this is a viable goal.

Mani has three stacks of books, mostly from the public library just a few blocks from our house, on the floor next to her side of the bed. “Black dove : essays on mamá, mi’jo, and me” by Ana Castillo, who describes herself on page one as “a brown, bisexual, strapped writer and mother, constantly scrambling to take care of my work and my child.” Yes, yes this. I want to read and read and read. I want to write and write.

I am coming up the stairs to our apartment after watching the sky. “For the greater good” are the words that flit through my mind. I contemplate something Trump said to Lesley Stahl during Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview (if it can be called an interview), something that made us laugh out loud except it isn’t even remotely funny: “I think I’m a lot more humble than you would understand.” I wonder if Trump has considered anyone but himself for five minutes ever in his life.

It’s easy to feel like our voices are impotent right now.

How can I use my voice for the greater good? Where am I at choice about speaking up or staying silent, when the latter is no longer and likely never was a morally acceptable option? The fear is so big and the love is so big and I refuse to be paralyzed by the former, which leaves me with the latter as fire, as sky, as voice, as action.

This morning in one the writing groups I facilitate, I essentially asked for a show of hands — a virtual roll call. Are you here? I asked. One by one, people came and said yes and yo. They wrote half-mast and no but I want to be. There was no wrong answer. Are you here? Are you here? Am I here?

We are here, and we are not leaving.

Today, I read other news stories. Shit predictable ones, like this one.  Hopeful, heartening ones, like this one. I thought about what I am willing to give, what I am willing to give up, what I am willing to lose, what cost to others and what obligations accompany my freedom of speech, what rights to my body, to my marriage, what there is to do between now and November other than hold my breath. What there is to do today other than read and write and take roll call and love and speak?

Writing rambling blog posts like this one is one of my ways of saying, “I’m here.” This is a way of showing up and getting my ego out of the way, the ego and its wish to write something beautiful or smart, to add something, anything, new to the conversation.

I obsess over whether I should post or delete. Inner critic hisses.

Truth is, My voice is no more or less important than anyone else’s; this just happens to be a corner of the world where I get to use it. I’m swirling. I’m landing. I’m lying on the ground. I’m choosing to lie on the ground.

There is action to take. There are future generations, yes, but there are present ones, too, and past ones to heal, and so much repairing it’s hard to know where to start.

Start here. Start now. Keep starting. Don’t worry about sounding stupid or saying the wrong thing.

Are you here?

9 thoughts on “Roll Call: Are You Here?

  1. Katrina Kenison says:

    Jena I am very much here. Right beside you. I had over 50 long time readers unsubscribe from my blog this week — because I put forth a call for dialogue, expressed support for one candidate, explained why the other scares me. I expected disagreement, but not vitriol. And I certainly did not expect the private letters, the ones from people who said they agree with me but are too afraid to say so in public. The ones that said they cannot speak their truth at work or at school or in church or in their own families — because to admit that they are supporting Hillary Clinton is to invite the wrath of their friends and colleagues and loved ones. These letters made me far more worried about our future than the bitter comments from readers who told me I should stick to writing about parenting and stay out of the political conversation. So yes, I’m lying on the ground with you tonight. Gathering the courage to keep on talking and listening.

    Liked by 3 people

    • daniel says:

      Katrina—I am also lying on the ground with you and Jena. When have we ever had such a hateful, heartless candidate for president. Yes, I get that some people don’t like the Hilary Clinton. But it’s one thing not to like her, to feel uneasy with her and to support the mad man who is running against her. I applaud you and Jena for speaking up from your feelings. Sometimes that is the best we can do.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jena Schwartz says:

      Katrina, I’m so grateful for your comment here, and that you are writing about politics AND parenting (as if the two are ultimately separate). And yes, those letters and responses are so worrisome.


  2. Dana says:

    Oh, I’m here. Yesterday I was inward focused taking care of my kids who tested me every single moment. I held it together and then I didn’t. In my peripheral I saw the convention, and Trump looming, which added layers to my despair. Yes, I’m here, more today than yesterday, I’m here to find the light between shadows, to use my voice when I can, even when I’m afraid, and I’m often afraid. Of dissent and trolls, but also of saying something wrong or stupid. Here’s to showing up and contributing anyway. xo

    Liked by 1 person


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