Tag Archives: Trump

Dispatches from Writer’s Camp: The Next Frontier

Look, a metaphor!

Remember that on July 3rd we campers were treated here at Mt. Holyoke College to a fireworks display of stupendous proportions. Yesterday, on the 4th of July, it was quiet. I’m not kidding. After the reading I sat on an Adirondack chair in the dark sipping whiskey in the middle of the lawn and I watched some stars shoot across the sky in relative silence. Not a single explosion. Well, maybe one or two, intermittently, distantly. Whoever was in charge of the display from the night before must have wanted to get all the pyrotechnic ya yas out early. That’s fine. It seemed to have worked swimmingly. I’ve become kind of a grump about fireworks. They are beautiful to watch if you can forget that they are, after all, mostly a gussied up reenactment of warfare. Not to mention the expense. Someday, perhaps, in a perfect world, in a new frontier, people will celebrate the fourth of July by blowing soap bubbles.

At the end of a class yesterday that described the literary history of American frontier exploration, both literal and symbolic, Alison asked us what we believed would be the next frontier. It was a brilliant, thought provoking question. And our responses were revelatory. We began, as you would expect us to do, with some more literal predictions. Well, there’s space, still, the infinite expanses of the universe. There’s quantum physics. My understanding is that there’s a boat load of stuff we still don’t know about the ocean. The human brain remains mysterious territory. Medicine. There will be technological advances every bit as revolutionary as the one’s we’ve experienced over just a few short years. That kind of stuff. Then the discussion got darker. As Alison’s talk had culminated in a description of Dystopia as the most recent literary “frontier,” we began to discuss the bleak, depressing, backwards, and absurd state of affairs in our country in the age of a Trump presidency. The new frontier seems dark, indeed. It was inevitable that we should land here, our first writer’s camp since the election. I can’t speak for everyone, but my guess is that as creatives, as artists, as makers, we are in this community nearly unanimous in our outrage over the current state of American politics. We are all still smarting and trying to figure out what role we have to play in these next months and years.

And then the conversation shifted.

Bookstores are inundated with readers looking for rigorous political satire. African women are writing science fiction novels. People like us are here, in this place, in this time, coming together to write, talk about writing, celebrate each other, learn from each other, lift each other up emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. Literature matters still. Literature teaches us how to be human. Literature teaches us how to be more empathetic and compassionate. Literature teaches us how to love. It was decided: we have to keep writing. And there, in this conversation about the power our words might have to make substantive difference in the world, someone suggested that the new frontier is in relationship, deep understanding and connection, the way in which our behavior in the world and our way of relating might have a ripple effect louder and farther than any firepower ever could.

And then we moved from that wonderful, enlivening conversation to an experiment with receiving and giving feedback about writing. So accustomed, as we are, to “workshops” in which the writer cannot speak but must listen as others try to communicate, sometimes helpfully but often narcissistically, what the writer needs to do to improve their work, what if instead the writer spoke the entire time and in response to honest, open questions from peers and friends, the sole purpose of which would be to elicit inquiry, reflection, discernment, to inspire the writer’s inner teacher to speak?

We tried that. The results, I think, were stunning. I believe there is almost nothing in the world more affirming than to feel and be heard. I know from personal experience that almost every moment of conflict in my life with another human being was the result of my inability or unwillingness to listen or from the perception that someone I loved or cared about was not listening to me. But what’s especially phenomenal and important and potentially transformational about this idea, is that this same gift can be given to or received from relative strangers.

There were individuals who had never met before yesterday partnered up to have this kind of conversation around writing, where one writer described a dilemma in his or her practice and then the other asked only honest, open questions and allowed the writer to speak in response. No suggestions. No advice. No fixing. No judgement. We listen attentively to others, we listen to our own responses, later, we help each other hear  and see what we might not have been conscious of, and this listening then percolates its way into clarity–immediately in some cases, in a few hours sometimes, or after weeks or months of slow cooking.

So the new frontier might be a transformation that occurs when individuals, when groups, when cultures, when whole nations learn to listen. I’m no Polyanna. But I do sometimes tend toward rose-colored glasses, or glasses half full. I’m pretty disgusted with a lot of things, but I am also heartened and hopeful where I see sense, integrity, decency, kindness, compassion–and that stuff is all around us. Over the last four days I’ve been soaking in it, Palmolive-like. We start where we are. My friend Mark insisted that we begin with those in our immediate reach. It will ripple outward, like fireworks, only softer, like soap bubbles.

Try this at home.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Culture, Literature, Self Reflection, Teaching, Writing and Reading

#241: Stones

kidney_anatomy2

What I thought was Donald Trump
turned out to be kidney stones.
I did the research, and among the
listed causes for stones, Trump
was nowhere to be found. Stress,
however, can indirectly lead to
poor health choices that might
lead to stones. I admit, I am stressed,
have spent more time worrying
about the fate of our nation
than I ever have, and believe me,
I have worried before about
the fate of our nation. Regardless
of what caused these little fuckers,
the fact remains that I have stones
and that I cannot think of a better
metaphor right now for the Trump
presidency. Oh, let me count the ways.
They can’t pass soon enough.
While they are passing, the pain
can be excruciating. They can
transform reality. They require
attention but no easy fix. Essentially,
one must try to flush them out.
One has to catch them in order
to discover what they’re made of,
and once caught, they must be
fought, minimized, blasted,
reduced, until they are so small,
they slip right out without notice
into the toilet or a stainless steal
strainer. Ultimately, as I am beginning to
understand, stones must be impeached,
the sooner the better.

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Filed under Poetry, Politics

#24o: Afterinaugurationmath

radiohead___1984_by_onimatrix

The day after my media fast,
I binged on media,
mostly on pictures and stories
of women,
women holding signs
saying things like,
You can’t have my rights,
I’m using them;
This is my resisting
bitch face;
So bad, even introverts
are here;
 I came here to
knit sweaters and punch

nazis and I’m all out
of yarn; and a couple
of my favorites:
a portrait of Bernie Sanders
holding a kitty, how real men
grab pussy, and Sir Ian McKellen
holding a simple portrait of Captain Picard
doing the I-can’t-believe-this-shit
palm-to-the-face move.
And the math was staggering:
3.3 million people estimated in 500
demonstrations across the nation.
And the aftermath was staggering:
Kelley Ann Conway insisting on
the validity of alternative facts
and that Spicer dude saying
that the Trump administration
has a right to disagree with facts, and,
finally, two days after the biggest
march in United States history,
in large part about the rights
of women, Trump signed an
anti-abortion executive order.
I guess he didn’t get the message.
And every day since
has been a train wreck.
I went home from work today
with a stomach ache unlike
most stomach aches I’ve ever had,
not more painful, but placed differently,
gnawing in an unfamiliar way,
and I actually entertained the thought
and real possibility that the first
six days of the Trump presidency
are making me sick.
These are dark times indeed
and I know Orwell is not
necessarily rolling in his grave,
but taunting us from down there.
I hear him shouting, 2 plus 2 is 5.
I told you so. I told you so.

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Filed under Poetry, Politics