Another writer asked me the other day if “the misery of writing when the social fabric is unraveling” gets in the way of my creative process. He asked me this because I write things so imbedded in the current cultural climate. I was really struck by this question, mostly because I’ve never really considered my work to be political. I think that’s what felt like the problem. So many artists have discussed how the state of the world can be paralyzing to their process, and although I’m usually decent at compartmentalizing my writing from outside distresses, I feel it’s been harder and harder to stay focused lately. I can’t be the only one out here feeling that funk. Particularly since Ford and Kavanaugh took their places before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the world, it’s been agonizing trying to write about anything else.
I’m not here to talk about politics with you, mostly because I’m under no delusions that I am qualified to. I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t already been said. The last few weeks have been a dumpster fire of political shade, fueled from all sides. But you can’t look away because that fiery trash is your fiery trash. The trash that makes up the foundation of the lifestyles we live. The trash that will show our children how they are expected to behave. What they can get away with. And deep in the heart of the fire, if you can stand the heat long enough to see, are people. They always want you to forget about the little detail, that these are lives that are being used as ammunition.
But that’s the part I can never get past. I sobbed watching Ford’s voice shake in her testimony. I felt a pit in my stomach for days after reading the ignorant tweets Trump shared on the subject. I think Kavanaugh is an absolute slimeball and yet I ache for his family, for his girls who don’t know better and are internalizing all of this. I have been shocked and disappointed by the people around me spreading so much hate. And I’m sad for all of the lives in this spectacle. I’m sad for all of us at home in front of our laptops, watching.
Last Saturday, after the final vote, I went to the library to get away from the noise and finish the final essay in my MFA packet. I usually try to finish before deadline day, but the words had been coming so slowly and the thing with life is that it gets so loud. Somewhere in that struggle to put words on the page, I found myself at a complete standstill. I didn’t know what else I could possibly do to make the words come out about the right things, so I just let myself write about the things in my heart. I typed out a paragraph admitting what this grief was doing to my writing and for the first time that day, my sadness and helplessness turned to rage. I am sitting here struggling to do the ONE THING I want to do with my life because my mind can’t stop worrying about the people the world is hurting and how the hell is that fair?! Why should we have to shoulder so much empathy for each other because the people that are too big for it shovel it down to us? Why is it my job to feel EVERYTHING for EVERYONE ELSE?!
I let it out, then I wrote what I had to write. How long has this been the role of the woman? Care for those relying on you. Shoulder some of the weight for those struggling with you. Forgive. Carry on. Persist.
When my friend asked how this affects my writing process, all I could think was this: How could anything I have to say matter in the face of all this? I dwelled on it a couple days. I once heard a great writer say that in this political climate, we have a duty to be political. The statement made me feel guilty because, as I said, I would hardly consider my work as political. I mostly write about young women trying to make sense of the world around them. How could I go on doing this when the world didn’t make any sense to me?
So to answer you, my friend, of course the misery of existence gets in the way of my writing process. And yet I am learning this: A story about young girls at a party who make it home untouched? That’s political. A story about a young man who doesn’t understand the magnitude of what he’s done? That’s political. A story about two people so many years later grasping at the details of a blurry night so long ago in the presence of the whole country, or the little girl terrified into silence by it, or the teenaged boy bolstered by the immortality of it, the lack of consequence of it all? That’s political. It all matters. It might just be what somebody needs to hear. What makes them remember they are not alone in their suffering or their joy. It occurred to me that a large part of the carrying-on is reminding yourself that you feel this way because you have to in order to create this thing that might just matter. Putting into words the world as it is or as it could be is perhaps one of the most political things you can do.
So care for yourself, because there may not be someone else to do it for you. Grant yourself the silence or the downward spiral that you need. Be the person that the next grieving person can reach out to when it’s all too much to bear. Cry in your car and ask yourself how you can possibly go on like this. Then put words to it. Bear it. Revise it into something you can stomach. Sharpen it into your weapon of choice.