Sunday, November 8, 2020

Whatever it May Bring

I wasn’t THAT into Sinead O’Connor.

I mean, like, I didn’t see her in concert or have her poster on my bedroom wall or anything. I bought the Nothing Compares 2 U single for $2.99 on cassette at the Columbus Circle Tower Records. I gawked at her shaved head and her shock-and-awe heresy on Saturday Night Live like everyone else. 

“This bitch is CRAZY!” I remember thinking to myself at the time, with something between voyeuristic cringing and a subtle undercurrent of envy. 

What was that about?

I didn’t find out until later, when a few more of her songs started to show up on mix tapes mailed back and forth between me and my friends. I could see that her tortured sense of social justice (along with mental illness probably) both defined and doomed her to mockery and ultimate obscurity. 

There was no internet then, so I could only guess at why she hated Margaret Thatcher, but I later came to get her lyrics stuck in my head. Like REALLY stuck, and from two songs in particular.  

From Black Boys on Mopeds it was:

I’ve said this before now
You said I was childish and you’ll say it now ...
These are dangerous days
To say what you feel is to lay your own grave 
Remember what I told you 
If they hated me, they will hate you....
Remember what I told you
If you were of the world they would love you ...

Then from the Emperor’s New Clothes:

Everyone can see
What’s going on
They laugh ‘cause they know they’re untouchable 
Not because what I said was wrong 
Whatever it my bring 
I will live by my own policies 
I will sleep with a clear conscience 
I will sleep in peace 

I could not stop thinking about these lyrics then, and years later they crept back into my head, occupying real estate I could’ve used for things like my kids’ social security numbers and the password to my credit card statement. But there they were again, and after being unconstitutionally fired for criticizing the government, I finally understood why.

“It speaks to me,” people say. They say that about books, poems, or art. In this case, I felt like Sinead O’Connor’s lyrics were speaking to me, and I didn’t even want to hear them. I would’ve just as soon forgotten these words, but there they stayed—not so much inspiring as nagging, warning, and haunting me.

These are dangerous days ... to say what you feel is to lay your own grave ...

Whatever it may bring ... whatever it may bring ... whatever it may bring .... 

Those last four words—specifically—have been on loop in my head since 2015 when the Trump era began. I kept telling myself that I was not going to stay silent, but I needed the courage to absorb the consequences of speaking up.

I needed to find a way to stop trying to conform to things I couldn’t bring myself to conform to, and instead just be myself by saying what I thought—in the way I wanted—and letting the chips fall where they may.

Those four words brought me courage and reminded me that there is always a price to pay for living by your own policies. If there weren’t, everyone would do it. They don’t, and that’s because when you do you get laughed at, gawked at, called crazy, lose friends, jobs, credibility, opportunity. You’re walking across what feels like a gauntlet of burning bridges at all times.

But the sleeping in peace part is where the comfort is. It’s the faith that there are lucid clearings beyond those incinerated bridges. It’s the conviction that you’re more at peace being yourself and letting the world burn down around you than you are burning down yourself to satisfy the world.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Now What?

It's been a long time since I've written a full blog post. 

Maybe it's because the news has been coming in a furious barrage, and I feel like all I can do in response is tweet. And yet every day feels the same, like that Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. With no social events or trips to rupture the monotony of work and childcare, I feel like it's all I can do to make it from one sunrise to the next. The "Before Times" feel like a distant memory as COVID continues to ravage the planet.

I was honored, though, to receive the Anchorage Press's award for Best Blogger. A reader alerted me to the alternative weekly's 2020 Press Picks, and suddenly I was like . . . wait a minute . . .  I need to get back to writing longer blog posts again! FOR SHAME! I need to live up to this award! And in any event, writing, especially now, feels cathartic and needed.

The same thing that's been on everyone's mind has been on mine as well: the twilight of the age of Trump, and what it means for us, individually as citizens and collectively as a nation. Even as the election teeters on a razor's edge, it seems increasingly out of reach for the incumbent, and yet we need to evaluate the dangers that remain, what we do to heal as a nation, and where we go from here.

I keep coming back to the through-line of domestic abuse. I'm certainly not the first person to analogize this president and this presidency to an abusive relationship, but the analogy continues to hold fast, especially now as the country gets ready to purge the Trump scourge.

Having served on the board of Juneau's AWARE shelter for several years now, I've learned a lot about rape culture, internalized misogyny, and the cycle of abuse and control. 

The parallels are stark.

Trump wooed this country with empty promises and we believed him, despite a documented history of literal rape and sexual abuse alleged by at least 26 different women. He promised to be the best boyfriend ever! The greatest and most terrific person we'd ever known! He was going to save us from ourselves and everything that came before! He was going to make us GREAT! But it soon became apparent that his real agenda was to use America to both line his pockets and feed his bottomless, insatiable ego.

Like any abuser, humiliation, petty name-calling, and vindictive, rageful language were Trump's stock-in-trade. He had a belittling nickname for everyone. We were once a country that shunned a vice presidential candidate for misspelling potato. We became one that not only tolerated daily spelling errors, schoolyard name-calling, and gleeful illiteracy, but much, much worse forms of physical abuse. 

Kids in cages separated from their parents, maybe forever. Forced hysterectomies. The use of physical, federal force to incite riots against us while exercising our constitutional rights. Encouraging vigilante white supremacy and neo-Nazism. Downplaying COVID, leading to murders over masks. Incessant discrediting of the "fake news" media, reminiscent of the old lugenpresse tactic.

And while Trump was using his Twitter account for stochastic terrorism, he was simultaneously congratulating himself for bestowing on us various gifts in the form of regulatory repeals or executive actions, Tweet screaming at us: "YOU'RE WELCOME!" and demanding we "ENJOY!" his largesse.

Like any abuser, Trump loved to level threats against us--threats to reject the results of the election and refuse to leave office peacefully, threats to shoot us in the street, nonstop litigation and obfuscation to keep us from learning about his financial and personal alliances that would compromise our nation. Then he and his enablers would say, but he's only joking. This wasn't his "intent." Excuse after excuse after miserable excuse.

Like any abuser, he lied and gaslit us to a dizzying degree, telling us to deny both history and the evidence of wrongdoing before our eyes, isolating us from our allies abroad, intimidating the press, and fracturing relationships between friends and family members right here in our own homes and workplaces. 

All the better to exert control--the sine qua non of the abuser.

Now, as the country prepares to leave Trump forever, we are holding our breath and standing at the most dangerous juncture in the abusive relationship. Anyone who works in domestic violence knows that when you threaten to leave, or do leave, the abuser is at his most volatile. Neither you nor he can control what happens next. The abuser is a cornered animal. He is losing control. He is -- and this is Trump's worst fear -- a literal "loser." His fight or flight instinct activates, and there's no telling what he will do. Will he walk away quietly? Or will he tie us to the bed and set the house on fire?

Yes, Trump has his cult following and always will. But America at large is tired and has had enough. We are worn down. We are sick of fighting with each other. We are sick of being victimized. We are sick of being, quite literally, sick.

How did this happen, and what happens next? 

While Trump wasn't our "fault," we as a nation were vulnerable to him, because we have not dealt with our own historical traumas: the fact that our nation was built on slavery and stolen indigenous land, the white-washing of history, and the minimizing of sexual violence both in the past and today. These blind-spots allowed Trump to slither in and reflect back at us our worst impulses and wrongdoings.

So where do we go from here? Leaving Trump in the rearview mirror is the literal bare minimum of what we need to do to even begin to heal as a nation. No one person can save us from ourselves. The Biden/Harris ticket is not going to magically and heroically erase 244 years of violent history that we have yet to reckon with or accept. 

It's not going to repair our personal relationships that were fractured when strangers--or worse--people we once knew and loved, stood by silently as our democracy crumbled, or chose to be loyalist quislings, or were forced to choose a side, and at times failed to choose the right side of history. 

As I write this, we have one foot out the door. We are tantalizingly close to leaving for good. But Trump is pulling us backwards--hard--by the scruff of our necks, breathing his fetid breath into our ears, threatening to leverage every weapon in his abusive arsenal to keep us in his thrall. Will he succeed? 

That's not up to him. It's up to us.