Writing and Vulnerability in the Age of Trump
I remember distinctly one of the first stories I wrote as a kid. It was about two sisters who were traveling to Paris with their family, and, lo and behold, they meet two brothers ALSO traveling to Paris with their family and all of them fall in love — as two distinct couples, not some weird young adult polyamory thing, that probably wasn’t on my radar as an 11-year-old — and it’s all very magical. The story also relied a lot on descriptions of the clothes the sisters were wearing (very fashionable for the time, to be sure, I recall a lot of knotted t-shirts) and some sibling tension as well (the older sister was brash and assured and sort of obnoxious, the younger was insecure but quietly clever with a wicked sense of humor).
The sad part is, I don’t think I managed to finish the tale, and I’m not sure what path I even would have taken it down. But it didn’t really matter. There was always going to be another story, another ream of spiral notebooks filled with my horrific, messy scrawl, another thing for me to say or a series of thoughts for me to get lost in and then pour out on the page.
Well, over 25 years later, Donald Trump has totally and completely murdered that instinct like it was Old Yeller. Except with less thought and reasoning behind the act (I think Old Yeller had rabies so he had to be put down? Sure, whatever). To be sure I’ve consistently struggled in the last decade to write as much and enjoy the process as I did in the majority of my 20s. But as of last year I sort of felt like I was finding my way back. I was journalling a bit, I was working on the concept for a podcast, I was excited about creating again. It felt like instead of always beating myself up for not writing as much as I used to, I was dipping my toe back into the pleasure of it, and doing it because I wanted to and had ideas to say about things, not because I felt obligated to live up to the way and the amount I had written in my 20s.
Then, you know, the election happened. Beyond the actual trauma, rage, and fear that it inflicted on a wide swath of people who were terrified about the future of their country and perhaps their own personal safety, the fact that he was going to be president — well, literally nothing else mattered. Who cared if I could put together a clever blog post when it was clear the level of misogyny my country was currently operating at was higher than I ever let myself believe? What did it matter if I wanted to make a podcast about a concept that mattered to me, when it was clearer than ever before that people’s actual lives were at risk — had always been at risk, but now were to be even more so?
So I packed it all away. The instinct to write, the idea for the podcast, the ability to explore things I wanted to talk about because I just knew: they didn’t matter anymore. They couldn’t. They went back into a deep place and I went back to a constant, manic refresh of Twitter and a new Xanax prescription.
Anywho, it’s been about seven months since the election and four months since the actual inauguration, and I’m trying to dig back out. There’s been countless times over the last half a year that I thought, I should write more, but then was like, I have literally nothing interesting to say. Writing for me has always been a conversation with an audience — it’s mattered to me that people (I never cared how many) were reading, enjoying, feeling provoked or entertained. I’ve never been good at just writing for myself. But how could I expect anybody to want to read the things I had to say when all I could think about writing was a string of swear words or a dispirited rant about politics that wasn’t going to say anything new? Nothing. Mattered.
But I’m trying, now. I don’t know what is making it feel more permissible, but I don’t want to question it too much. It might just be as simple as the fact that writing feels good and things that feel good are in short supply these days for a lot of folks.
So I’m trying to treat it as something to be enjoyed instead of an obligation I owe myself or anybody. I’m trying to treat it as a way to build a world and to rediscover things that matter to me in the face of a very scary and uncertain universe. I’m trying to allow myself the pleasure of writing about whatever the hell I want to without the thought of — is this interesting enough? Does it matter? Will people enjoy it? Am I boring them? Who am I to think I get to write now and have anybody care?
The fact is, though, I care. It matters to me, and I need to do it more. I don’t expect there will be an explosion of writing and posts from me all of a sudden, but I’m doing more writing exercises, trying out creative prompts with a friend, and looking at the whole thing as: it’s okay if you don’t know exactly what to say or what you want to write. It’s enough that you just sit down, that you do it and it feels good. Each bit that comes out does not have to be a masterpiece. It’s enough, and you’re enough.
If I had to go back into the true reason why I felt that Donald Trump’s ascension and election took a hammer to my ability to want to even really DO anything, especially my writing, I’d guess it comes back to — as many things often do, my therapist would tell you — to vulnerability. The act of writing is extremely vulnerable. You’re putting an extension of yourself out into the world for everybody to judge, reflect on, think about. And if there’s one message that his election sent, especially to me, it was: vulnerability is a weakness. Bluster and cruelty are the ways of the world now. Who are you to think you matter?
Well, I matter. And my words do, too. I’m trying to really live that again. More importantly, I’m trying to remember that vulnerability is a strength. That’s hard to do in this world when politicians get praise for punching people, where women who speak up get shot down, where sharing your fears gets you mocked, where everybody is a snowflake.
But words matter. Vulnerability matters. If I can’t write because I’m more scared to share myself now than I was before, then there’s not much hope for me doing anything else in the world and I might as well admit that the stupid, cruel, bombast and projections of strength from people who actually have none has won. So, more writing. More sharing. More putting myself here and out there. It feels like a small thing right now, but it feels good. Stay tuned.