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.
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?
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.