When Writing Is Your One Small Thing

photo-1469733881637-10c8de93222cHow can I not sit down to write this morning? Writing is what I do. And yet there are times when even to do this most natural thing in the world feels impossible. Now would be one of those times.

In the cacophony of responses to the election, my head literally shut down. As the polls closed on Tuesday night, a sudden sore throat went from irritated to angry in a matter of hours. (Coincidence? I think not.)

By yesterday, operating on little sleep and taking in so much unbearable news, trying to formulate my own thoughts was the last thing I felt I could do.  While some kick-ass people were already organizing a Million Women March on D.C., I was blowing my nose, thinking about how best to be there with and for my kids, and wanting to throw up knowing that nearly 50% of American voters stayed home on Tuesday. In a word, I kind of shut down.

I needed a minute, one day of mourning, before I could collect myself and fish around for my own voice again, however scratchy.

**

My two have responded in ways that match their wildly different personalities. Aviva texted me from school yesterday around lunchtime, saying she was falling asleep and had a pounding headache. Could I come pick her up? I waited a half hour or so, debating, then wrote her back and said yes. When we got home, she fixed herself something to eat, showered, got into bed, and slept for a record fourteen hours (oh, how the body knows). Last night, I looked at her Instagram account and saw that she’d posted some words there — “helpless, heartbroken, terrified, lost… the fight is not over… spread love instead of hate.”

Pearl was quick to point out that “we did the right thing” by voting for Hillary. In so many words, she just wants to “be a kid.” What I heard was her unspoken, underlying request for reassurance that we will be safe (Tuesday night she asked if we were going to be killed since we are Jewish).  I grapple with wanting to wrap myself around her and tell her of course she’s safe, with knowing that I can’t ultimately say that. If one of us is not free, none of us is free: This is something I will continue to find ways to weave into everyday conversations and actions as a parent.

Would that all kids could “just be kids,” and yet sadly this is not the case in America or in the world, for that matter. Questions of innocence and privilege and where the two intersect weigh on me, and I have no platitudes or easy answers. And I refuse to take Fox News’ advice and “suck it up.” Fuck you, Fox News.

**

Mani’s was a welcome voice in my world (as always):

“I spent a huge chunk of my life pushing down my feelings, and I can tell you, it doesn’t make you strong or brave. In time, it makes you sick. So today, I’m letting myself feel. Today I’m being in today, and guys, it is a really awful day. But it is the one we have. Self-care isn’t wrong. For anyone who just can’t today, and feels embarrassed, alone, or ashamed that you’re falling apart, I feel you. I’m with you.”

There are so many sources of connection, intelligence, heart, humor, and guidance — emotional, practical, political — that this would quickly become unwieldy if I attempted to name more than a handful.

“…we’ll fucking fight. (Roxy, there’s a time for this kind of language and it’s now.)” — Aaron Sorkin (in this letter to his teenage daughters)

“Luckily, real change, like a tree, grows from the bottom up, not the top down.” — Gloria Steinem

“Count me among the resistance.” — Charles Blow

” I can do nothing but love my friends and others and as Mr. Auden wrote, “show an affirming flame.'” — Doug Anderson, poet and Vietnam veteran

“Despair undermines the spirit, and the results of this election are an assault on our spirits. It is difficult not to feel despair. But despair erodes the spirit. Despair helps the Republicans because through despair we defeat ourselves. But I never heard my parents or anyone in the black community of the 1940s and 1950s express despair. Despair gives your adversary power over you. Despair defines you in relationship to your adversary. You do not want to be defined by a relationship that is detrimental to your well-being.” — Julius Lester

“(If you have no idea what to do today) Wash your face. Do the dishes. Put on fresh clothes. Kneel by your bed or your couch. Set the timer for five minutes. Let your head rest down. And breathe. // Notice how your heart feels. Notice how your shoulders feel. Let your belly soften. And notice what rises up. Where you’re frantic, where you’re quiet, where you are strong. // Staying with how we feel is revolutionary work because it helps us understand where we are drawn and called, and also where we are afraid. // Fear is the place where we can ask love to find us which also requires courage. But it can be as simple as saying out loud, I’m ready. // This is my country. This is your country. Let’s care enough to stay with our hearts and listen, so we can hear from the depths the direction our collective soul is calling us to go.” — Jen Lemen

Many people — in fact, many of the very people a Trump presidency will hurt the most — cannot take a day or two to regroup. And one of the things that has become more and more evident to me over the past weeks and days is that many of us don’t feel safe to even voice our beliefs and opinions  or share our personal stories publicly, for fear or fallout with family members or in the workplace.

**

This is the part where I can’t shake the feeling that there really is an “us” and a “them.” I know this is not very open-minded of me. I know we are all part of the human family. But I also know that 59,341,558 individuals cast their lot with a xenophobic, greedy, isolationist, misogynistic, criminal and demagogue and his alt-right cronies to represent them (not us, not me) is hard to choke down. I find myself looking at people in their cars while I’m out, or walking on the street, or standing in line at Dunkin’ Donuts, where I stopped with the kids this morning, wondering: Did you vote? Did you vote for him?

My dear friend Miv London, who is also a therapist and Buddhist teacher, challenges me to sit with this:

“I can no longer ignore the suffering that is all around me. So many of the people who support Trump have fallen through the cracks of our system, live impoverished, hopeless lives, feel neglected by their government, and easily fall prey to blame and hatred of perceived others. I am scared of them, I want to be angry and scornful of them, yet they, too, are part of this country. And, as the Buddhist teachings remind me, they, too, are human beings who want to be happy.”

On the other hand, 46.6% of eligible voters sat this one out, and 11,000 people voted for Harambe, the dead gorilla. How do we go forward from here? Do we weep or do we rise? Do we write and and speak out or do take a hot bath and crawl under the covers? Do we hunker down and ride this out, or do we fight like our lives depend on it? As President Obama has said this week, “they do.”

Get ready for a Jewish answer: Yes. (There is the answer, and the other hand. And the other other hand.)

Pirke Avot, or “Sayings of Our Fathers,” reminds us: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).” In other words, we do all of these, but we do them knowingly. If you need some time to get your head around WTF just happened, take it. If making cookies and letting your neighbors and friends know your door is open brings you some solace and helps you get grounded, more power to you. If you have friends and family whose vote made your head explode, declare a boundary. Take care of yourself. We need you well.

**

One of the most heartening things for me in the last 24 hours has been the fact that people who’ve participated in my writing groups over the past two years, who might never before have dreamed of sharing their words publicly, are doing just that. From posts about how yesterday unfolded to poems about assault and survival to calls to action to introspective musings, we are connecting through our words and stories. We are reaching out. We are remembering who we are.

toni
I had a moment yesterday of wondering how on earth I will be able to work after this. My mind was just so foggy — Aviva even commented that my eyes looked foggy, something she’s never said before. Today, after a long Benadryl-assisted sleep, I may still be plowing through tissues, but I am not powerless. And neither are you.

I’m not here to offer up any prescriptions for being a social justice warrior or a good parent or a better writer. There are so many others out there who are brilliant at those things. And if you’re looking for a five-point to-do list, Michael Moore (who predicted Trump would win) has you covered.  My family on both sides came to this country four decades, give or take — before the Holocaust — and my layers of privilege are many. I am white and educated. I live in a blue state. I am also legally married to a woman and raising kids who are navigating their own identities. We have affordable health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act. I honestly don’t know what we’d do without that.

So what can I offer? Oy. It’s easy to feel swallowed whole by forces unimaginably dark in this moment. But that is exactly how it begins — the silencing, the intimidation. “They” may have won, but the ultimate loss is if we lie down and let this be.

**

Deb Connolly Youngblood shared this idea on Facebook today:

“Like many of you, I’m filled with despair and frustration after this election. And also like many of you, I spent yesterday surrounded by people who needed me to be strong and practical and reassuring. My children are worried and confused, members of my staff are despondent, my friends and family all are overwhelmed and sad in a variety of ways. As I cast about in a sleep deprived state for ways to talk about these events, I landed on a strategy of action that I started promoting. What if we all, when ready, committed to doing one small thing that represents your values? These elections results don’t speak my values but there are a lot of things in my orbit that do. So what if I make a little extra time now to be sure that my values are emphasized, that they are just a little bit harder to miss? It doesn’t have to be major, it doesn’t have to be expensive or hugely time consuming, just one small thing. What if we all did that? Maybe that would add up to something.”

Here are some of  my small things:

  • Raise money for the Center for New Americans by writing #30poemsinnovember.
  • Walk in the woods.
  • Look people in the eye.
  • Sign petitions.
  • Make calls.
  • Bring my wife coffee in bed.
  • Read and educate myself.
  • Learn from the past.
  • Keep generating ideas for bringing people together, online and in real life, to write and connect.
  • Call my mother.
  • Practice.
  • Watch “Jeopardy!” with Pearl at night.
  • Encourage and empower my feminist teenage daughter.
  • Smash the racist patriarchy, one word, one blow at a time.

I know is that smashing the racist patriarchy is not a bullet point or a one-shot deal. We’ve come a long  way, baby — and we have a long way to go.

And I have to believe — have to, in order to face reality — that the only real defeat is to give up, and that is not something you will see me do. But not giving up doesn’t look any one way. The truth is, I’m not really sure what it looks like. I suppose it looks like this: Laptop, coffee, kitchen table. And that list I just wrote. It looks like continuing to subject my kids to mini-lectures about white privilege and mutual responsibility, and kissing my gorgeous wife in public, no matter what state we’re in.

**

When writing is one of your small things, the writing doesn’t have to be good. You don’t have to have anything figured out. You only have to show up and set a timer for 10 minutes and see what happens when you turn on the faucet. As Naomi Alderman writes, “Your subconscious will get used to the idea and will start to work like a reliable water spout.”

Let’s keep writing, alone and together. Writing enables connection to ourselves and each other. Writing fosters courage and community. It’s in that light that I encourage you to set your own timer today for ten minutes to write. Want a prompt? Here you go:

Tell us about one small thing.

If you’re feeling brave, share your words. We need them now. Email a friend. Read to your kids or co-worker. Take a deep breath and post something on Facebook you wouldn’t normally share. Share in the comments here or send your writing to me privately if you prefer. Submit to The Roar Sessions.

Our words are far more powerful than you might believe. I believe in us. I believe in you. Your voice matters. And I, for one, want to hear it. Yes, I am scared. Yes, I am angry. Yes, I feel stunned and sickened and appalled. But showing up here today is my best shot at getting back on my feet. Walk with me. Write with me. Let’s not give in or give up. As a white woman, I have to do my part in fixing this (all the more so knowing that that 53% of white women voted for Trump).

**

In a moment that is so unfathomably complicated, this is something you can do that may feel hard but is, in fact, simple: Start and keep going. One small thing, one small word at a time.

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