It’s hard to talk about why I stopped writing. Not because I don’t understand it, but because there’s this fear that writing it down and posting it up for everyone to see will reveal some fundamental weakness on my part. When you live with the brain that I do, you learn not to trust your feelings. They can be either too big or too little for any given situation, so I rely on the perspective of others to help me moderate my emotions through a more reasonable filter. None of this is conscious, so it’s taken me some time to realize what I was doing and how I was doing it. And when you realize it’s not usually the way others move through the world, you worry that talking about your own brain might reveal, in cold hard facts, just how warped you really are.
So I don’t know if the story I tell myself about my past is in any way relatable. Maybe talking about this will reveal me to be shallow or some kind of delicate snowflake too pure for this world. I don’t think this of myself, but I’m intensely worried that you do. What I’m really worried about is the horror that I’ve gotten myself all wrong, and that by telling you what’s actually happening in my head I’ll have that confirmed. The perspective of others is more reliable than my own, so if you say I’m some histrionic asshole who just can’t deal, then how am I going to counter that? My brain doesn’t process things correctly.
But in order to understand it, I’ve got to write it down. I know that much about how I work. I have to take the thoughts racing in my head and pin them on paper, put words to them, so I can make some sense of them. There are a lot of unresolved, half-told stories in my brain and I guess I have to start figuring out a way to tell them.
Election Night 2016 really did a number on me. It was the last time I felt really certain about anything. I knew, in my heart, that America would take a look at the unholy mess that was Donald Trump and reject him soundly. I was looking forward to Hillary Clinton being sworn in as President, of enjoying four years of quiet bureaucracy pulling the huge machinery of government into the future. We would draw down our dependence on fossil fuels. We would make preparations for how the changing climate would reshape our world. We would have to hold her feet to the fire to get the really big stuff done, and she was a bit hawkish on foreign policy so we would have to watch that. But we could have a conversation with Clinton, and overall, we would join the world in embracing the work to build a better future.
And then, well, something inside me died hard that night and I’m still learning how to cope without it. I don’t believe in the future anymore. I don’t think we’ll be able to hear our better angels in time to pull ourselves out of this nosedive. I don’t think the two or three decades we have left in this civilization will be the best of it. It’s going to get worse. And worse. And worse still. Then, at some point, this will all be over.
The Trump Presidency was just as vile and corrupt and stupid as I worried it would be. People I thought had my back turned out to agree with the horrendous policies of the Republican Party, who were looking the other way on their leader’s obviously criminal, insane behavior just so they could complete their decades-long mission of making sure the very definition of “American” fit only an increasingly small and homogenous few. In the wake of a dead future I had no idea how to mourn, I lost so many friends. Bit by bit, the community of friends and allies I thought I had cultivated just vanished. So I didn’t even have a tribe to face the end of days with. Just folks I couldn’t say I truly knew.
I remember not writing because there was no way to hide the feverish and desperate anger I felt. I knew it wasn’t helpful — we were all angry, and scared, and we all felt powerless. I couldn’t articulate anything I felt in a way that would be insightful, connect us in our grief, or offer some small step we could take forward. I had tried to have one-on-one conversations with friends and felt this immense gulf forming between me and the rest of the world. I couldn’t trust my judgement anymore. I couldn’t trust my friends — not really. I didn’t feel a part of a community that would last. I saw us tearing ourselves apart into smaller and smaller pockets of ideological puritanism. There were so many callouts, so many arguments, so much energy spent purging ourselves of any trace of the poison we had been dealing with for way too long. In many ways, that immune reaction is still happening. Our inability to disagree without purging the offending view says to me we’re all still pretty raw.
And with very good reason. The threat of fascism is higher in this country than it’s ever been. The Republican Party is no longer interested in preserving a functioning democracy now that they know they can get away with so much more than they have in the past, and our system is not stable enough to withstand sustained and relentless sabotage. They have embraced violent oppression against dissent. They have accepted their base is built on the foundation of white supremacy, and are increasingly brazen about using law as a tool of upholding it. Their hateful, ignorant ideology has infiltrated every sphere of conversation so that we can’t even enjoy video games, movies, TV shows, or sports without having to defend the simple right to exist unashamed of who we are. We’re wasting time beating back the smoldering embers of a dead-end worldview while boiling ourselves alive in our own toxic waste. We’re cutting down the forests that aren’t burning. We’re drilling the thawing Arctic for more oil because we can think of no other way to live. We’re pretending that we’re not on the brink of disaster even as we see those once-in-a-millennium floods and hurricanes and droughts wreak havoc on the world. I’m writing this when three American cities — Flint, MI; Jackson, MS; and Baltimore, MD — are largely without drinkable water due to systemic, racist neglect. When one-third of Pakistan is under water, and all of Puerto Rico is facing a hurricane with no power. And when the only thing on the news is the funeral of a queen who ruled nothing, presided over several atrocities in the name of colonialism, and serves as the symbolic head of a government spending billions of dollars on this event when many of its citizens aren’t sure they’ll be able to afford heat for the winter.
These times are preposterous. I don’t know how to write without ranting about them, but what good would that do? All of us are shouting, screaming at each other in a too-small room, unable to hear one another even if we wanted to. What could I possibly write that would make any of this better?
So I just stopped writing. Somewhere between my grief and my anger and my fear and despair and hopelessness, I didn’t see the point of it. Why write something that will only get you bogged down in arguments, if it’s read at all, when it won’t change anything? Why am I writing now?
I guess, because the entire time I wasn’t writing, I wanted to. There is some part of me that needs to do this to make sense of anything, and I’ve recovered enough from that personal death that I feel like I can again.
I’m still not sure who I am, and part of this is figuring that out. I really have no idea how any of this works, or how I can move through the time I have left in a way that makes it feel OK in the end. I know that I have a few friends that I would move heaven and earth for, and that I want to be a better person tomorrow than I am today, no matter what that tomorrow might look like.
But I’m freshly broken, trying to put myself together at what truly feels like the end of the world as we know it. Maybe someone somewhere can make sense of this jumble of thoughts, that’s not for me to know. I can only act according to my nature, refining myself to its best possible version. I’m going to be the best writer I know how to be.