Now Is Not the Time to Shrink

Now is not the time to shrink.

Do not disappear into the woodwork.

If you need to disappear into yourself in order to remember what it feels like inside of your own body, do that. Do that, do that, by any means necessary. If you cannot take a day off or even an afternoon because you don’t have childcare or paid time off, brainstorm with a friend or with me. Figure out a way. By any means necessary.

Now is not the time to shrink.

Do you think of writing as a form of shrinking away from the world or a way of being more fully in it?

This seems to me a critical question today.

A writer friend asked me this morning, in a message on the Marco Polo app, “If you have any suggestions for resistance, or writers getting together and taking over the world and storming the White House, let me know.”

I wish I did. I really do. I have been thinking hard on this.I keep reaching the same conclusion, and it’s not sexy. It’s not new or radical or original. Here it is:

Keep going. Keep writing. Keep putting your stories down. Keep speaking up. Keep digging deep.

Staying connected to our own humanity, looking hard at our own places of trauma, recording our own moments of joy — all of this is what keeps a society afloat or at the very least helps us keep hope alive. “Keep hope alive” may sound trite given that babies are imprisoned, lawful, nonviolent protests are met by police in riot gear, and some who have been closest to oppression in this country are understandably bitter at the fact that all of a sudden, lots of folks are feeling scared and threatened.

But there it is. Keep hope alive. This is not the time to shrink.

Yesterday was undeniably tough. And today and tomorrow and many days to come, years, quite possibly decades and entire generations, are looking at tough times. This is a continuum. The America some of us (especially those with some variation of these identities — white, middle or upper class, able-bodied, Christian, male, cisgender, and heterosexual) have found to be a place of freedom and opportunity is showing its true colors. Its ugly, bloody, racist, greedy colors. Does it hurt? Yes. Is it frightening? Very. Is it new? No. Not new.

But now is not the time to shrink.

Coach Omkari Williams, wrote these words yesterday, and I keep returning to them:

“Do whatever you need to do to absorb this blow then get back in the fight. Our grandfathers and fathers didn’t fight wars abroad for this to be who we become at home. We have faced awful times before. Eyes on the ball. Stay in the fight.”

We have to stay focused. We have to stay in the fight not to protect only our personal liberties but each other’s. Especially each other’s. Because the truth is that the American Way has never, ever been fair. One child has access to world-class healthcare while another dies from a minor infection. One child has access to the best lawyers while another is appointed a public defender. One child has a fridge full of organic produce while another gets to school early for free breakfast. One child lives in a leafy neighborhood while another stays inside to be safe.

How a country treats its women and children, how a country treats its most vulnerable populations, is the true nature of that country.

So, how can I write such a thing and in the same breath say something as trite as “keep hope alive”?

Good question, really. I don’t know. But something in me says I must. Something in me, some fighting spirit, some fire, some deep-bellied, unblinking, fierce and remembering voice growls to an empty room: FIGHT.

Now is not the time to shrink.

Now is not the time to bash each other’s heads in for being the wrong kind of fighter, because truth be told, whether you’ve been at this your whole life or are just waking up to what’s been true all along, we need your voice and your body. We need you all in now.

Now is also not the time to dismiss “hope” as something shallow or useless. Sure, it may sound pretty in the first stanza of Emily Dickinson’s famous poem (#314). Don’t be fooled by the sweet-sounding language. She was a radical in a white dress.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

But keep reading. Listen. She was a smart one:

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

These are some gale-force winds we’re facing into. Keep hope alive.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

The chill in the air is enough to make you feel paralyzed. Frozen. But now is not the time to shrink away.  Now is a time to listen to the poets, those who saw through the structures of power and oppression on which this country built its wealth. I give you Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow. 

We do not need to look to other countries’ writers for guidance now. We only need to look to our own history. What we’re experiencing now is the rising of a wave that has been growing out at sea for centuries. If it feels like a tsunami, that’s because it is.

Now is not the time to shrink. Now is the time to assess.

What immediate steps must I take to secure the safety of my children? What immediate steps must I take to secure the safety of YOUR children? What immediate steps must I take to take care of my nervous system and physical body, so as not to crash and burn and be of no use to anyone? What immediate steps must I take to remember to breathe?

Breathe. Yes, breathe. Feel the air filling your lungs. Expanding your capacity to hold what keeps you going — oxygen — and release what is toxic — carbon dioxide. To breathe consciously is the basis for living consciously, and being conscious must be a cornerstone of writing, living, loving, and fighting through this wave of violence, fear, and rapid rolling back of the rights so many have given their lives to secure for the rest of us.

So if you have no idea what it means “not to shrink,” just start there.

Really. Right now. Don’t wait. This, too, is a kind of poem and a kind of fighting.

Inhale. 

Hold. 

Exhale. 

Pause. 

Again. 

And now, get out that journal, that notebook, that blank piece of paper. Open a new Word doc.

Start writing from this place, this place of tsunami, this place of fear, this place of anger, this place of not shrinking. Start with these words: “Now is not the time to shrink.” Seven words. Seven syllables. Say them out loud. Say them to the empty room. Lower your voice. Feel the vibration of your voice in your chest, your throat, the sounds leaving your mouth and entering the world.

We need that voice. YOUR voice.

We need it today and we are also going to need it tomorrow. So do not shrink. Do not be silent. Do not flail in fear. Stand on your feet. Get out your pen. And know that you are one of millions who are not turning their backs on this moment.

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