Stronger Together, But So Far Apart

I am in that rare place as a writer where I don’t know what to say.

I don’t have words. I have the feeling of someone at a funeral or a wake. A creeping numbness is there, punctuated at times by fits of genuine sorrow, anxiety, and a mad-eyed not-actually-funny sense of overwhelming absurdity.

I feel torn in two.

I don’t know how this happened, and yet I know exactly how this happened.

I don’t know how we were so wrong about so much, and yet, I know damn well how.

I know that I’ll be more okay than most, and yet, I know that I really don’t feel okay.

I know that I want to have hope, but right now, it feels pretty hopeless.

It feels hopeless because we let a bully into our hallways. We made him our president. It feels like being a child in a family where the mother has married an abuser, and there’s not much you can do about it except develop your hiding spots and your coping strategies and your eventual exit. All the while praying you don’t get hit, and your mother doesn’t get hit, and that the bully gets his comeuppance somehow or you get out before it’s too late. It feels hopeless because he rode to the Oval Office on a tide of white nationalism and brash sexism — deport this group, grab that woman, build the wall, you can do what you want to them. It’s that last part that perhaps best earmarks his campaign promise above all else: he can do what he wants to them. To us. To you. And he will. Because that’s what a con man and an abuser does.

I also have hope because I know a lot of you out there. We chide our echo chambers, and certainly in this election above all others those echo chambers maybe lulled us into a sense of complacency — or they helped us chase and share bad information. But at the same time, I see a lot of scared people, and amazing people, and I see friends and I see strangers and I see the kind of commiseration that you see after a disaster. I see people willing to stand up and fight for those who are marginalized and under-served and under-heard — meaning, those who will be hurt the most by the results of this election. Those who will be abused in the streets or deported or groped or told they aren’t equal. Those who will have their rights contested and challenged openly, boldly, cruelly. I’m proud of those who stand against that, a firewall of humanity who actually give a shit about People Who Aren’t Them. That is a good echo.

I know that we are stronger together. Even as it feels like we’re falling apart.

And then, I pinball right back to hopelessness. Because even together, those bonds are being tested. We have each other, but it feels like we don’t really have America, not the America we thought we had. The American Experiment may not be at an end, but it’s certainly at a stage where it’s producing unreliable, unlikable results. Democracy has always been subject to its tremors, but this time especially it feels like it’s been hijacked by a con man — a literal cipher who may have ties to Russia, who may be owned by Foreign Entities, whose lies and whose scams were obvious and so garish that I’m still floored that such an overwhelming number of people took the bait and got the hook. We’re in a country where almost literally no one of any substance or intelligence recommended this guy. We had conservative newspapers go hard for Hillary. We’ve been warned in our fiction: cyberpunk and dystopia and apocalyptic tales. We’ve been warned in our history: the fall of Rome, the rise of fascism in the West. We were told time and time again, this is bad, this will crater the economy, this will set back climate change — and yet, here we are. Mostly because, I fear, straight white people just didn’t like seeing so many people who Weren’t Them.

This morning, my five-year-old woke up and he came downstairs and we told him the results of the election. We didn’t really talk much about the election here until he brought it up — it was a topic at school because, of course, children were afraid of Donald Trump. (Take note: when your presidential candidate makes kids afraid, that’s a red flag.) And when we told him Trump won, he got mad. He growled at us, then at the open air, and then ran upstairs and wanted to be alone for a while just to be upset. And he was upset. We pursued him at first but then let him have his time, and eventually he came downstairs and we told him we loved him and that everything would be okay because, and here we inadvertently cribbed Hillary’s own slogan, we were stronger together. He seemed to get that. He was okay after that. He drew zombies and we talked about swords.

There, I think, is maybe the lesson.

Grieve as you must. Growl as you will. Get mad, be sad, accept fear. It’s okay.

Then, find a way forward. Draw some zombies and talk about swords. Find the things that help you cope. Find the people that help you cope. And any who don’t, let them go.

I don’t honestly know where America stands as a country. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe the idea of us as a nation is less important as the idea of us as people, as people who support one another and defend one another from wherever we are. It was never our borders that make us good. (As a sidenote, I see some folks talking about moving overseas or to Canada, and I won’t fault you for that and we are idly considering it ourselves, because I fear our finances will get complex and potentially unlivable under the next four years. Don’t chide people who want to move or who need to move, if they can. And don’t chide people who want to stay. Let people handle this how they need to handle it, even if they’re just talking it out.)

I also know that art will be our salvation, if we let it. I’m unlikely to come back here at the blog for the remainder of the month because nothing I say will feel particularly substantial against what’s actually going on. (Sure, sure, I’ll offer you NaNoWriMo advice while Rome burns.)

But I will say this:

Art can be our way forward. Our writing, our vision, our ideas put out there, our heartsblood put to whatever medium we choose. If ever there is a good time to let art be subversive, it’s now. Get weird. Don’t be safe. Have a message. Bring it forward and into and through the work. Some of the best art, the best fiction, is stuff that has teeth, that’s willing to bite the hand that takes away its food and its shelter and its rights. This is a good time — once you’ve mourned the country you thought you lived in — to hunker down and make something. To resist through writing. To occupy your world with story, song, game, and art.

Your voice is now more vital than ever.

(And then, when the time is right, use that voice to vote once more. Because if we were reminded of something obvious last night, it’s that votes matter.)

We’ll be okay as long as we remember one another, wherever we are in the world. Help each other get through this. It’ll be okay even when it’s not, if we’re here together. It’ll be okay as long as we push back against the normalization of the septic social ideas that have infected us during this election cycle. And once again I feel torn, because I am very afraid, but I also know that fear cannot rule the day, that fear cannot be how we move forward. Fear is how we move backward. Best to you guys, and thanks for reading, wherever you are.

Anyway hey here is an owl who is very cross right now. We are all this owl.

152 comments

  • Australian here and let me say, we are so scared for America. Not only because you now have a pustule sludge puff for a presidenf, but because what happens in America ripples out. Big time. Already we’ve got pollies here flinging their jockstraps on the altar of Trump. It terrifies me.

    But as always, Chuck, you are so right. Art is definitely a way forward. Art speaks and it always punches through barriers. It can’t be silenced.
    Till arting begins, have some hugs and tea. I hope you guys will be okay.

  • Somehow, the bulk of my comment seems to have been lopped off, leaving only the end. If it’s there and I can’t see it, I’m sorry; I haven’t slept.

    Chuck, I’ve been lurking here on and off for a while, now….

    I love your take on things, even if I don’t usually share, because I have a thing about insults that goes back to my childhood.

    But this…I want a hundred thousand copies of every word of this, in just this order with Ruffled Feathers McGrumpyOwl at the bottom.

    I’m feeling the way I did sitting beside my Accomplice in a NICU, while he held our dying newborn…some things aren’t supposed to happen.

    But, an hour after the monitors stopped registering our secondborn baby boy’s heart rate, I was on the phone with the organ and tissue donation people.

    A bit under a year later, we were welcoming our daughter, who made our family as whole as it can ever be. She’s 12.5 now.

    If I survived THAT….

    It’s been a long night, hanging quietly with two kids (our eldest is 15) old enough to understand a good deal of what this means. Let my Accomplice sleep through the announcements, because he had to go to work today. We listened to some music (Hamilton and U2), and I read some articles, and we talked a lot about many things.

    What I hadn’t done is cry, or write…neither was “right” for a parent who needed to be the support network for young people who will be deeply affected by this. I planned to write after I sleep. You’ve verified what I felt…I don’t just want to write…I NEED to write!

    You opened the floodgates on my emotions, and I feel a good cry coming on. I’m glad; I need it.

    I’ll be sharing this, and saving it to read again and again.

    Thank you.

  • The hardest part was explaining it to my kids.
    Work hard. Don’t be a bully. Don’t be a bigot. Be kind. Be honest. Do your homework.
    Or you might end up president.

  • Thank you, Chuck. Very giving, as always. Very generous. I actively sought your words this morning, and I’m so grateful you felt everybody’s call and gave us a final post before you head off to create that art that is so valuable. (I thought last night about your Art Matters post from a while ago, and it rang so true. My short story about a gay couple that I’m putting the final shine on matters.)

    As a black female who went through some serious s**t in the ’70s, as the only black child in a basically all-white school with few Asians and Latinos, I’m devastated today. I’m in perpetual, low-grade, tight-throated tears. Lots of swallowing hard to regain composure. I’m so tired. I don’t know what else we’re supposed to do. I have a degree with the word Doctor in it. So does my sister. So does her born-in-Compton husband. Some will say that means opportunity is equal. But ask us what our experiences were like as we chased those degrees and good jobs and decent homes. Ask us if we’ve ever been as qualified as Hillary to do something and still been told no because we were black, and TPTB didn’t *quite* trust us with The Codes of the Realm, wherever that was–job, college, neighborhood. “You can be this much, but not that much. That’s too much. Stand down.” I could (literally) write a book about this, so I’ll actually just change the subject at the end of this paragraph to something more positive.

    I want to say thank you to the 54,344,159 (and counting) people who voted against Trump, whether you were for Hillary or not, for the rejection of bigotry and entitlement and their natural fallout will get us to something good. For many of us, that was Hillary. If you’re one of the 54,344,159 (and counting) and for you it wasn’t Hillary, at least when you had to weigh the two choices, you rejected bigotry. I would argue that matters more and shows the precise decency mankind needs.

    I’ve walked around in the skin of a black female for exactly 50 years and made it through. Half a century of stuff that would shut down Chuck’s comments section if I truly unleashed, for, to tell it right and real, I’d have to violate policies of basic decency.

    But I remember the 54,344,159 (and counting) who also get it. To stand among about a million people for every year I’ve lived is a WIN. I wouldn’t have thought it possible as a five-year-old hearing the N word hundreds of times over the course of kindergarten.

    THANK YOU.

  • November 9, 2016 at 11:24 AM // Reply

    Thank you. These are good words, and some help. My son, being 17 rather than 5, had some more frightening words on the situation (at least partly in jest, but partly not). He served yesterday as a poll worker, and commented last night that he was glad he had, because “it was good to participate in democracy before it goes away.”

    I don’t really believe Trump has the power to destroy democracy. But I’m not sure he won’t try, and that scares me. It’s good to be reminded that there are a lot of people out here willing to stand together to defend what matters to us.

  • Like a lot of people here, I had to explain this to my son. He’s a little older, enough to pick up on some consequences of this but not enough to understand any whys or hows. I fumbled for the words as we made his lunch, then said, “Steve Rogers, right?”
    He made the connection quickly enough and we got to discuss what it is to be optimistic in a crapsack situation. The best thing said was, “Look, every superhero movie starts this way.”
    I think we’re going to be having a Cap marathon tonight and contemplate the America I hope will be around when he’s old enough to vote.

    • Hey, your comment spoke to me. I’ve got three daughters, who’re thankfully too young to know what’s going on. I can only imagine what it’s been like for you, Chuck, and other parents of slightly older children.

      I wanted to tell you that you’re right. What you told your son. I posted about this myself, http://paulanthonyshortt.blogspot.ie/2016/11/i-have-voice-and-i-swear-to-use-it.html

      “Sometimes the villain wins.

      But just for a little while. Because when the villain wins, it just means there are more heroes coming to save the day. ”

      I hope your son will be okay.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this. I have a thirteen year old son who is terrified for the future. It’s hard to know what to say when I, myself, feel hopeless and afraid. We may be re-watching some superhero movies ourselves during this long holiday weekend, talk about villains and heroes and throw in a little history, too! Just might help us both.
      Great idea- much appreciated.

  • I feel ya, brother. I fear for our black, brown, Muslim, Native American, LGBTQ brethren & sistren. I fear for world peace. I fear for the health of our planet. I fear for women losing rights to control their bodies and for achieving pay parity. But beyond the fear, I feel a deep sense of disappointment in those Americans who voted for Trump and a profound sense of sadness that this country was so willing to risk all we’ve achieved in terms of human rights for a basketful of empty promises.

    It’s going to take me a while to recover from this. I’m stunned beyond belief at this point. Life will go on, but for now, I’m going to wallow.

  • I’m actually worried about what his base will do once they figure out that he cannot, or will not as they may see it, deliver on his campaign promises.

    • This. I wrote a long piece on this last night. In four years when there’s no wall, been no mass deportations, the factories and mines are still closed, and Trump’s favorable are in the twenties- what sort of monster will they turn to then?

  • Even before I went to bed last night I knew one thing: I would have to work extra hard to stand above what Trump will try to turn this country into. A lot of us will, together. We can and must do better than this, even if eventually. I stated as much on Facebook, and the debates surrounding that status update have been quite epic.

    The fact that we elected Trump really tells us where we are as a country. Too many people bought into the image Trump represents (a “successful” business man who will solve all our woes) without looking at the lack of substance and integrity underneath. We’re are easily fooled by image and Trump gave us an image of an America that was as great as the older generation think it used to be.

    My personal silver lining is that 1) It’ll push people who are on the side of equality, scientific literacy and compassion closer together, 2) It’ll show people not to be complacent about politics and 3) Trump might be more talk than action, more image than substance, as he’s always been and won’t become the megalomaniac his campaign promised.

    It’s really an odd position as someone who’s written extensively about climate change, scientific improvements, religious oppression and progressive social issues. It’s easy to feel obsolete, or like what I wrote was always a pipe dream against the tide of sexism and fear of the other. But maybe it just means I’ll have to talk louder, and hopefully others will feel the same.

  • November 9, 2016 at 12:01 PM // Reply

    Can we please remember demographics. they are changing and what made this possible will not be possible four years from now, 8 years from now.
    The loss of the Supreme Court is going to be painful, it’s going to hurt, but even that’s not forever.
    To make change actually happen can’t be done from Twitter or some blogs or Facebook it has to be local it has to be face-to-face, you have to be a physical part of it. that is what is sorely lacking. it can’t happen just before an election, it has to be a constant daily Commitment.
    Build strength in your local community, Build a local community.
    This sucks but it can become a great opportunity to rise.

  • Your analogy about the abusive stepfather is perfect. I woke up today feeling simply deflated. My 8-year- old took a dump this morning and while sitting on his thrown he threw a bouncy ball against the wall. It bounced a few times then went straight through his legs and into the toilet. He called me in and with a gloved hand I fished that ball from its poo coated Hell. Welcome to the next four years America!

  • Chuck, I normally don’t do this, but I wanted to tell you that … I also didn’t have the words. But of course, we both do have the words. I put my words here, and would like to share them in hopes that it bolsters me, you, and everyone. Hang in there, everybody. Just fight the good fight, be awesome to each other. We still have each other in great words to read and write, and friendship. Okay? Okay!!!!

    https://indigovales.com/2016/11/09/releasing-the-nightmare/

      • November 9, 2016 at 5:57 PM // Reply

        I don’t know about anyone else, but I voted. My husband voted. Our roommate voted. All of us for Hillary. The thing is, just because Millenials voted overwhelmingly for Hillary doesn’t mean we were bound to win. There are a lot of other people in the country in a lot of different age groups to take into consideration, and not everyone sees things the way we do. (Also, that map is the first time I’ve actually been proud to be called a Millenial.)

  • Commiserations from NZ, where we have a Prime Minister as vile in his intentions, just better schooled in PR. The only solution is for every decent person to take this as the moment they drop any complacency and get brave – start to march for human rights, speak out at every opportunity, support those in the firing line and take an ethical stand.

  • Your words echo ours entirely. It’s dark out there right now… bring a light. It’s scary, and we have to feel our way through this. We MUST have hope. One of my hopes it that the con will be revealed before irreparable damage is done.

  • November 9, 2016 at 2:14 PM // Reply

    “…art will be our salvation, if we let it. … If ever there is a good time to let art be subversive, it’s now.”
    I’ve been trying to write a socially subversive novel for the last three years, and other projects, other deadlines, have always stopped me. But now, this is my rallying cry; I’m going to write this novel, and I’m going to do it NOW. Thanks, Chuck, for putting into words what so many of us are feeling right now.

    • Awesome to hear, Jennifer. I’ve also been working on a project that I believe has some important things to say. This election cycle has lit a fire under my ass to get it done *ASAP.*

  • On the bright side, when (most likely not if) Trump does something impeachable, he’s alienated enough people on the Republican side who would be more than happy to join with the Democrats to impeach him out of office. Then you only have President Pence to deal with, who I think couldn’t help but do a better job. (Then again, all the vice presidential candidates seemed better than the presidential candidates, and I include the Libertarians in that statement as well)

  • Thank you for such an eloquent response.

    I’m worried, I’ve been worried, and not all of it had to do with the candidate who is now our president. Some of it had to do with issues that were exposed during the campaign. His supporters scare me more than he does. He can’t do a lot of the things they think he will, doesn’t even care to do some of the things important to them. What will they do when they find that out? Why didn’t they figure it out months ago? How are the leaders in other countries going to relate to us? Of course, I’m crying now. We’ll get through this though. We have to.

  • Then you only have President Pence to deal with, who I think couldn’t help but do a better job.

    I think an argument could be made that he would be /worse/. An experienced politician who is a true believer that The Handmaiden’s Tale was a how-to guide.

  • As an Australian, I’ve always wanted us to be a republic. Now I’m not so sure. We may have a ‘conservative’ government right now but there’s no opportunity for a right-wing lunatic to hijack the highest office in the land. Deepest sympathy to every American who is feeling afraid, overwhelmed and, perhaps, ashamed. I hope you can find that silver lining. I hope the worst threats don’t come to pass. I hope that the Congress can provide some balance. But we’re all feeling very nervous out here.

  • I know you said you don’t feel like you have anything substantial to say, but this was helpful for me to read, and if you find yourself writing something else this month that you felt like posting, I would be glad to read it.

  • Thank you for your post, Chuck. I didn’t get to writing my novel, but I did a song cover of a classical song. I used my voice and let myself get raw with emotion, and your words helped.

  • From uncertain hell come butterflies. I have a thing about butterflies. I think they’re good luck and when I see them, my whole day goes brighter – even when it actually ends up worse. But I still like to think they’re good luck for no other reason in that they look pretty and I feel good if only for a few minutes. I voted and some people I admire didn’t. Stuff like that. But humanity lasted longer than any tyrant and trying to keep things in perspective is what keeps my day going. Thank you for your words Chuck, they really made a depressing morning have a least a few butterflies. (if it helps, my little 7 year old cousins in Virginia actually had a serious talk with my uncle about moving to Canada and then they mimicked Trump as Hitler with a yogurt mustache). I might be rambling right now. But I’m writing what I can and working on my book when I’m done with this comment. “Art is our salvation”. Thank you. Already half-banshee moaned into a penguin huddle and am ready to shoot shadows with words. #Artthisshit. (random: so this is how artists feel in fucked up time periods…)

  • “…mourned the country you thought you lived in…”

    That’s so exactly it. Like so many others, I’m gutted — and almost worse than the results of this election was the shock of realizing that I don’t live in the country I thought I did.

    I’ve had the luxury of growing up white, straight, and middle-class and have thereby escaped the harsh realities of every-day life of those who battle racism, homophobia, bigotry, and the deep, entrenched despise of poor people our country has. I’ve encountered my share of misogyny and even, as the eldest daughter of a single mother who struggled to provide for her three children, had a small glimpse into what a life of poverty might look like, but never have I experienced the backlash of hate and prejudice that has reared its ugly head this campaign season, almost certainly as a response to two terms of black president.

    It’s because of this privilege, this blindness bestowed upon me by little more than the lottery of birth, that I honestly didn’t believe my country could elect someone so supremely unqualified and obviously disturbed. It never occurred to me that the deep core of hatred for anyone who isn’t white and a man that runs through the center of our nation wasn’t a dried-up shell of an organ, a relic of misguided times long since past, but rather a still-beating heart, fueling an ideology of prejudice and rage and capable of placing a deranged demagogue in the White House.

    From what I gather, I’m not alone in my horror and outrage and that, at the very least, gives me comfort because, shocked though we may be, at least now we’re facing the truth about exactly what kind of country we are. At least now we know who’s standing across the aisle.

    Once we were blind. At least now– we can see.

  • I want so much to believe that art will save us. Especially since the news has failed us. I want so much to believe that there is a way forward, and it will be alright in a week or two.

    But I’m honestly not feeling it.

    We have been lied to and swindled and what’s worse, it was from the people we trusted. I really don’t think I’ll be the same after this, and maybe that might help in my art. But right now, I cannot look anyone in the eye.

  • Thanks everyone for your blogs & comments. I have been doing nothing much today except reading all of the reactions. This is helping me deal with my own feelings. Starting about 9 pm as I was watching the returns my stomach started to clench up with stress. It got worse & worse. Went to bed at 1;15, slept a little, woke up until 4:30. My stomach was in a knot. It was like my perception of reality just flipped upside–down. Was this day a turning point, the beginning of something really horrible in history? What is going to happen? or maybe it’s just another “crappy president” cycle, like the ones we had with Nixon, Reagan, Bush. “This too shall pass”. Yeah, just keep an eye on Trump. Surely in 6 months there will be a sex scandal that will make Bill Clinton look like Sunday school, and we can impeach his sorry A**.

  • I wouldn’t mind NaNoWriMo advice, heh. Mine’s been languishing the past few days as I’ve helplessly watched pretty much everything I took for granted – my access to healthcare, my legal rights, my physical safety, my plans to start FTM transitioning – crash into sick burning hell. When it seems that half the country hates so much of what you are – female bodied, queer, trans, disabled, a survivor of sexual assault – to the point where they will vote against your own humanity, the idea that putting words on a paper is somehow going to save you feels…improbable.

    The funny thing is, though, that my NaNo novel is about overcoming that hate. It is about accepting yourself, and that your life and words matter, even – especially – if the way you were raised and the culture you live in teaches you that they don’t. It’s about survival, even in the most brutal of circumstances.

    I can’t think of any story that’s more vital to tell, now.

  • Chuck, once again, you are the man with the words we needed most to hear. Thank you for grounding us instead of fanning the flames.

    I’m heartsick and frustrated. I couldn’t vote in what was probably THE most important presidential election of my lifetime, because I was unexpectedly stuck in the hospital.

    I feel the wrong person won, and I know I’m not alone. But we can only take a deep breath and go on from here.

    I don’t think the president-elect will represent the America we need. But I can have respect for the office, if not for the man.

    So here’s my challenge:

    I will not hang my head in shame. I will not hide in fear. I will not lower myself to doomsaying and vituperation. I will vote with my head and my heart, not with my feet. I will stand up for what I believe is right, and speak out against what I believe is wrong.

    WE must be the America we want America to be. We’re the only ones who can do it.

  • I think part of the problem right now is the same as part of the problem during the Endless Campaign. During the campaign, sure, there were stories about the candidates, mired in the clicksand of False Equivalence, but once those were out of the way, the BIG story always came up — the polls. What did the scandal du jour do to the polls? If the election were held today, who would win? We always wanted to jump to the end of the story. We had to know how it was all going to come out. That was the real story. And now that we have our results, we’re discovering our addiction to jumping to the end. We still want, we still need to know how it’s all going to come out. Only there aren’t any polls to give us a hint any more, and the one in the best position to write the end of the story is a firebug toddler playing with matches and gasoline.

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