Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dispatches From The Closet

Well, I came out of the closet, and now I want back in.

So I’m picking up my pieces. (For others, this is not easily done.)

Really, just when I’m thinking now is the time to let go, something crazy happens. Let’s talk in tweet-speak, in sound bite savvy, powerpoint-appropriate language. My random dispatches from the dark of my closet.

How do I possibly seek reconciliation with all those I offended while maintaining my positions? Must I relent? What if I can’t? What if I just can’t?

Must they?

Thanksgiving was a familial pause, a respite of sorts, albeit Jill Stein lurked in the background, auditing votes. Though not explicitly forbidden from bringing up the election at the dinner table, I could tell my political discourse was not something that anyone was looking forward to hearing. Actually, Tim and I almost came to blows in the mini-van—kids in back—because I wanted to let loose with my Deplorable Speech.

For the record, I never called anyone a racist.

Deplorable. I called them Deplorable.

Now, reconciliation.

Can we just get on with this reconciliation business?

Let’s put it out there: I know that many of you are not deplorable. I understand that many of you are fiercely opposed to abortion. I understand that many of you are not racists.

What if that’s the best I can do?

May I—for fun and convenience—keep calling the other contingent, the other half, by this moniker, The Deplorables?

Is my reconciliation-offer false if I hold onto the deplorability issue?

We’ve spent a lot of really horrible time asking, “What’s worse—abortion or racism?” I’m going to reject this entirely. Entirely.

I’m going to suggest that this awful dichotomy ruined this election, and it’s going to send me back into the closet where I truly belong, anyways.

Woody Allen, who all of my white Evangelical friends would never dream of electing for president, has an awesome little movie called Crimes and Misdemeanors. I think we might call our last presidential “election” Crimes and Misnomers. Pitting racism against abortion is the biggest misnomer around.

Rather than emphasizing the dichotomy, might we emphasize platform and character? This is what I think (about the non-deplorable voter in both parties):

1.     Some vote for the party platform. Many, many people I genuinely respect told me how they supported the Republican platform, and not Trump. Most of this had to do with abortion, but also political philosophy on small government and individualism and capitalism. These Republicans were mostly, if not exclusively, white evangelicals. The White Evangelical crowd. And it’s their closet from which I emerged. I went public this election as a writer, who identifies as a Christian. (I’ve written elsewhere about why I prefer the closet, most reasons having to do with the fact that secular humanists seem to make better Art.) Now, despite their non-deplorability—most white Evangelicals really aren’t racists, guys—I want back in the closet. Sorry I came out. I don’t want to be associated with this guy.

2.     Some vote on the basis of character. For me, character was super important, though I concede entirely that I truly do not know Hillary Clinton’s character. I will say that I found her, like, 100% less repugnant than Trump. Character, in essence, was necessarily reduced to presentation. My vote was connected to this. Presentation. I kept picturing Trump hosting a Japanese or Turkish diplomat at the White House, Melania and Barron  making noises in the next room, or Trump holding peace talks or negotiating trade deals around some great big wooden table with stacks of unread reports before him. Maybe a little gold crown skewed on top of his head. An Alec Baldwin pucker on his lips. A bevy of military generals whispering directions for the coups d'état in his ear. That vision was enough for me (not to mention the other stuff). My guess—is this true?—the non-Deplorable Trump-supporters do not value character over platform.

Am I right?

And this is the only proper dichotomy to offer up—in speaking specifically of White Evangelicals. Some of us value the platform more; some of us value character more.

With these ideas, is reconciliation possible?

As I already said, I hate that the life of the unborn is somehow pitted against the born.

I hate that my Christianity is somehow questionable because I opted for character/presentation over platform.

We watched 13th, the documentary, this past weekend. I'm wondering if there will EVER be any sense to an argument to save the unborn, if there's no equal dignity for the born. I really think the logic is suffering here, and the weird pro-life recourse is to deny systemic racism and carry on, or appeal to legislative actions already in place against racism. Racist stuff is illegal. Abortion is legal. Go after the legislature!

Sounds smart, right?

What if I reject this?

What if I tell you that I think this idea of privileging legislation as the force of cultural change sounds a little naïve about the real forces behind cultural change?

What if I tell you that this is why I’m going back in the closet? Over the forces of cultural change?

This privileging of legislation is premised on the idea that the government is the most basic, most foundational way to combat ideas. I do wholly support legislation meant to protect all humans; I do not think it is foundational. I think—really, truly—philosophical contemplation and cultural milieu-shaping forces are more weighty than legislation.

I have my own predisposition towards privileging Art as the most important force behind cultural change. I’m not going to say it is; I will, however, say that it’s more forceful over political legislation in shaping humanity.

So, well, I kinda find the White Evangelicals, um, artless.  

I spent some time banging on my drums during the election, talking about the potential cultural violence of a Trump presidency. No matter what I said or how eloquently I put it, my rant on “cultural violence” was rejected.

(Allow me to explain what I mean by cultural violence: Supporters keeps telling me how Trump may be uncouth, and he may be an idiot, and he may not be super sensitive—but he’s probably not really a racist himself. This is beside the point. I might even agree, barely. The point is that he unleashed the Deplorables. Hate-crimes, white supremacy sentiment, anti-Muslim frenzy. We didn’t need this. The country didn’t need this. This is a kind of cultural violence. This is the real danger, in my opinion, of the casino-thing, the trade-in wife habit, the handholding with the porn industry; I do not fear legislation; I fear cultural violence.)

The battle against abortion has been reduced to a legislative battle.

Racism has been dismissed as non-existent, or as a “sin problem.”

“A Sin Problem”
May I tell you a secret? I hope I don’t get in trouble for this one. I think I’d say that one of the most damaging things the Church has done has been the tongue-clucking, eye-rolling, lumping-together of miscellaneous issues under the ubiquitous heading of “a sin problem.”

This is how I’ve often heard racism discussed. The rhetoric, with which I’m very familiar as a White Evangelical insider, goes something like this: “Racism is sin, the failure to acknowledge God, the failure to recognize that all humans are made in the Image of God.” With that being said, we know what we need to do: focus on God.

Damage done.

I’m sorry.

I do not want to disregard this need to focus on God; I am going to assert that the unintended result of saying that racism is just a sin problem is that sin is dismissed, minimized.

That people are left hurting and vulnerable.

American racism warrants our unique American attention.

Yes, sin is sin. But America is uniquely American. How do we come to terms with our Americanness? In the same way that Monet was definitely French, or music that came out of Castro's Cuba was distinctly Cuban, are there distinct American aspects to our cultural phenomena?

Racism is racism is racism?


It is, then, only part of the story when we call racism “a sin problem”? Though racism is global, American racism should not be reduced to other kinds of racism. We are not talking about the Hutus and the Tutsis. American racism is uniquely American.

We are talking about American racism.

Systemic Racism
Too many naysayers. Watch 13th. Study history. Read some books. Please, read some books.

The American Narrative
I’ve become increasingly interested in this idea. I’ve always been interested in the notion of the Great American Novel, primarily because I wanted to write it. Was it The Catcher in the Rye? The Great Gatsby?

Well, every American writer—lowly me included—is eventually confronted with this quote from Ernest Hemingway, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that.”

Folks, he was right. This is our literary history. Other topics are worried over. The United States is vast and allows for a multiplicity of subject matter. But this is our theme, our central—inescapable—narrative. Racism is our literary legacy. Our shackles, our chains. The American Story. And it demands reconciliation.

I’m going to make an offer to the White Evangelical crowd. I won’t push it. I’ll see if I have any takers. I’m going to offer to lead a college-level free class on this American Narrative. I’m serious. The workload will consist mostly of reading, some film, and discussion.

The readings will be as follows:

James Baldwin:  Go Tell it On the Mountain
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me
Ralph Ellison:  The Invisible Man
Yaa Gyasi: Homegoing
James McBride:  The Color of Water AND/OR James McBride:  The Good Lord Bird
Toni Morrison:  Beloved
Solomon Northup: Twelve Years A Slave AND/OR the film
Harriet Beecher Stowe:  Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Mark Twain:  Huckleberry Finn (at the end!)
Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad
Jaqueline Woodson: Brown Girl Dreaming

I need some more women on there. Maybe a little Maya Angelou. I’m absurdly unqualified. A white girl, altogether. (This probably upsets some people; who better to talk to White Evangelicals?) Not a literary scholar. No African-American lit focus.

Just someone peeking out of the closet.

Reconciliation, anyone?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

This Is Our Time: An Ode to Colson Whitehead, An Exorcism of My Demons, and Some Relief from the Reign of Terror

I worry about myself. About my health. About that lone cancer cell, the one thinking about branching out, making a name for himself (I know it’s a guy) somewhere close to my breast. Maybe in my lung. Or in my bones. My blood. The red of it. The blue. I know certain things about who I am. Despite my loud-mouth ways, I internalize stress. I harbor turmoil. I am greedy with my woes. I reach out, hungrily, mightily, and I bring the stress close to my body, clinging to it like a little kitten, a newborn baby. It is mine. All mine.

People tell me, “Relax.”

People tell me, “Let Go, Let God.”

Ye of Little Faith? Is that me?

Is it really all that bad? I mean, really? Aren’t I blowing this a little out of proportion?

Somehow, at forty-six, here I am—mom to girls way sweeter than I, in the ironically happiest marriage out of everyone I know except for a couple of strangely blissful types (seriously?), an unsuccessful albeit fervent writer, and a freakin’ cancer survivor! I even now have a mini-van and a dog!

It’s about a week after the election, and the aftermath is like disease. My crowds are distinct, and I tried to hear them all. I tried. I promise you: I tried. Liberal writers are now screaming on the one side: foul play! Conservative Christians: strangely quiet, not really gloating, just letting it wash over them. The victory, the victory.

And I emerged homeless.

How did I come out of this as homeless?

Ah, what’s new? Same old, same old.

Though I felt the door close in my face—like, the wind hit me hard, almost the way a demon tosses the young trollop against the opposite wall in a cheesy horror film—by Christians when I said I was voting for Hillary, I’m no true liberal. The liberals sense it immediately, of course. Someone in my circle—usually my Holy Roller Mom—gives a little Sermon on the Mount, thereby alienating the secular humanists I know. However, the secular humanists are the tolerant-types; they’ll take me in. The Christians—ha!—they are less forgiving.

In one stunning instance, I read of a Christian denouncing empathy for anyone who supported a pro-choice candidate. Have no empathy! And then all of these Followers of Christ patted the speaker on his metaphoric back. Yeah, yeah! No empathy!

I, supporter of Hillary, was thrown out of the camp like an Old Testament Leper.

Well, then, who are my people? Am I really homeless? I’ve retreated into the confines of my family, for sure. My husband, who meets my crazy with his equal but different crazy, has done the equivalent of dressing me in footed pajamas with bunnies for feet, placing me gently in a cradle that rocks, patting my tense back, and singing me to sleep. He understands disillusionment with the Church; he understands it better than I. He knows it is not disillusionment with God. My children, well, they’re my children. They love mom. They’re built to love mom. Mom is a little crazy, but mom is mom. So, in this dark hour, I hide away with these people.

But I think I find solidarity in an unlikely public place too. Would you believe that I derived a great deal of comfort in “Saturday Night Live”? When Kate McKinnon sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” I had a moment of grace. Alas, this! Yes, here is how we do it!

Artists are homeless.

Art is for the unhappy.

We take our privatized woes and publicize them with aesthetic flair.

I found comfort in the aesthetic flair.

Does this mean, then, that the end of Art is World Peace?

Must we only create out of suffering?

If so, Artists, Writers, is not now our time? We know we’re going down. We know this is the decline of the American Empire, the unraveling of the American Dream. The upside-down version of The Great Gatsby. We’ve read Philip Roth’s novel, The Plot Against America. We’re well-versed in Orwellian prose. Should we not embrace this new Reign of Terror and turn it into our Renaissance?

It’s been a hard week. I need to tell you some things. Just a few. Observations from the No Man’s Land in which I now dwell, homeless. For my own sake—so as not to coddle this ulcer in my gut—I need to write it out.

Homelessness: Who is my brother? Who is my sister? I’ll tell you, I’m lonely out here. It’s a bitter loneliness, more solitary than the chemo I underwent. With chemo, there was Tim, drinking his cheap Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, sitting in the next chair, joking with me about my bald head. With this, I’m a little withdrawn, a little isolated. My passion for politics, latent or dormant or dulled, crept up on me from the old days, the college girl era, the New York stint. You’ll need to read my first book of nonfiction, of course unpublished, for some political stories. The time Malcolm X’s widow, Betty Shabazz, chased me out of Crown Heights in Brooklyn. The short-lived Amnesty International job. The candlelight vigils. The U2 concerts. My experiences with both Trump and Clinton. Yeah, both of them.

When living in Manhattan in the nineties, I would regularly use the public restroom in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, as it was the only free toilet in the vicinity that I knew about. I must’ve peed there a couple dozen times. This was during a transition period, I believe. I think we were moving from Ivana to Marla. (My earliest mention of Trump in writing, incidentally, is in my novel, Love Slave. I had actually forgotten this until I recently listened to the audiobook and I heard the chapter called “The Missing Tampon Story.” I had forgotten all about this part, which was wholly inspired by real life events that took place at Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. Yes, I was there. The buffet reference is real. So is the missing tampon, the casino, the Atlantic Boardwalk—already falling into decline)

I also met Hillary once too. She spoke at the NGO at which I worked. I can give you no juicy information other than this one small fact: she requested that Diet Cherry Coke be on hand.

But what now?

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This week, I realized my sin. Let me tell you about this week, just the sound bites—since we are a Sound Bite Nation.

My sin: it was not vacating the White Evangelicals. Rather, it was intellectual bigotry. Oh, yes. It was the sin of snobbery. I could write more on this, but I will tell you that I was, well, intellectually stunned. Like my many-degreed, well-read mouth dropped open—hitting the damn floor—as the electoral college unleashed its numbers, and all I could do is, um, fight back with some intellectualizing: Almost half (46.9%) of all voters didn’t vote! Abolish the electoral college! She won the popular vote! My husband, not into such radical calls, tried to tell me how the electoral college is meant to ensure that all Americans have a voice, not just the urban elites. My response: Pure Intellectual Snobbery. Why not? Why not let the urban elites figure it out? Why not let us run the show? We. Know. What. We’re. Doing. (Side note to the whities: you elected an urban elite, albeit an uncouth one: watch closely)

This week, I continued in my prolific cussing, as always. I am so pro-the f-word. Man, I love its linguistic punch. I love it in the beginning of things, the middle, and the end. Two Trump-supporters called me out on it. Must I use such language? Yes, I must. I didn’t think on my toes quickly enough. I didn’t say, It’s just locker room talk. I didn’t ask, But wait. Grabbing P#$%@ works? Instead of fuck this shit, grab that pussy?

This week, I thought much about reconciliation, though little happened in the way of peace.

I’m unsettled by the silence, the wait-and-see attitude. Where is the white evangelical call to hold Your Man accountable in his appointments? Will those in power now quietly accommodate bad behavior? Why am I calling your representatives? Do you think they really care what I have to say? Don’t you guys know that you can do this, that we can’t, that you must? It’s your call, your name with his. Get on him. Get him to do what you want. If you want to get rid of the stigma of racism—which I know you don’t want and deny altogether—get your ass out there, and put the pressure on. You’ll get your Supreme Court Justices. Get the white supremacists out.

This week, I thought: I hope Obama preemptively pardons HRC for any potential criminal conduct.

This week, I cried in front of the girls while driving them to school.

This week, Tim told me that we shouldn't see this as a racist thing, but rather as a two-fold protest: an anti-establishment outcry on the one hand, and a lot of unhappiness over Obamacare on the other. I'll go with this, because I find the other alternative utterly devastating.

This week, I felt a little bad about how I have done a measure of slut-shaming myself, and then someone called Michelle Obama “a Ape,” and I didn’t care that much anymore.

This week, I did not get to gloat, but I did post shit like this: Make no mistake about it: a low-class, casino-owning, fraud-fostering, fear-mongering, xenophobic, pussy-groping bigot of a man won, and the majority of you are responsible for that. From the loudmouths to the quiet ones among you. So now there is tremendous responsibility. Make your decision worth it. I'm sorry for the language. I'm a believer in words. These are his words. We will associate you with the speaker. You can associate me with mine. In fact, you should. I write. Two books on amazon. Another coming out in 2017.

I said Amazon.

This week, I considered asking Tim if he would like to have a threesome with Van Jones.

Hi, mom!

This week, I thought about my girls’ private school education. Now that I have marginalized myself from the Church, what will happen to my girls? They go to a private school. We rely on tax donations. Did I just jeopardize my children’s education by speaking out against Trump? Should I have, well, been political, strategic? DID I JUST SELL MY CHILDREN DOWN THE RIVER? Now I have to depend on the support of those I tried to defend, all the poor black people? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? What do I tell my girls? Kids, you have to leave your beloved school because I called everyone you know a Deplorable?

(Sorry, Tim.)

This week, I thought how—in addition to being an intellectual bigot and slut-shamer—I’m also writing, always, from a privileged position. I spoke boldly this season. I held back nothing. I did so because I am white; I am middle-class; I can. I am privileged enough to hashtag “Not My President” (though he is just that). I am privileged enough to threaten a move to Canada (which I wouldn’t do). I am privileged enough to call foul play, and I am privileged enough to believe I do so for those who must remain quiet while those of us with voices will fight it out. I am privileged enough to fight.

This week, I got fed up with the talk of some kind of monolithic media bias. Surely, Hillary would've won if it were true. If anything, there's a sickening celebrity culture, in which THE APPRENTICE wields more power than reality. If you've got apples and oranges on display, the media absolutely MUST talk about their appleness and orangeness. It seems like bias? Should the press ignore the orangeness? What we are, in fact, guilty of is intellectual snobbery and elitism, not media bias.

This week, I wondered how I will teach my girls to respect President Trump.

This week, I thought of complicity. My own. Theirs. Our hands are bloody. They are dripping. I wear my Scarlet A. You, too, wear a Scarlet Letter. Or a white hood. We really need you now; we need you to refuse my sentiments, to fight me, to make amends, to not let me get away with this. Do not be one of those fools who denies the existence of systemic racism. You won. Use your win. Show me I was wrong about you, about Trump. Make some phone calls. Today. Consider—yes, I’m saying this—reparations. Consider post-WWII Germany’s healing process. Fight for the born like you fight for the unborn.

This week, I thought about why I fought so hard, why I don’t respect the views of others, why I didn’t retreat into Art. I vowed to keep off social media multiple times, but broke the vow over and over. You know what? I couldn’t let it go. Friends don't let friends drive drunk? I tried to get the keys out of my friends’ hands. I utterly failed.

This week, I have solemnly tried to accept that my some of my own people voted for Trump out of good intentions.

Look, it would’ve been on me. But it’s not. It’s on you. Make America Great. Again?

The whole world is watching. The Whole World.

Congratulations, Colson Whitehead.

If you read till the end of this, you too might be an intellectual snob.