Writing takes spaciousness. It requires managing time and psychic space. It requires holding part of yourself away from things: reality, jobs, bills, money, even marriage and partnership and family. It requires keeping a large part of your heart and mind cleared of daily clutter.
This is true no matter what most of the world is paying attention to. This is true whether the Democrats are running things or the Republicans. This is true whether Obama is in office or Trump.
A writer, an artist, all artists have to disengage from the dominant culture in order to engage with their work.
But how do we give ourselves permission to disengage when there is new information to process every day, and it comes at us fast and furious, and it’s wild and unmanageable? In an environment where the nation is no longer arguing politics, but is instead arguing values, it can seem extremely self indulgent to value art, especially our own. In times like these art can seem unnecessary. Art can seem quaint. Art can seem extinct. An ancient fossil left in a rock. A shadow of that thing I used to do.
Trump’s election to president threw me into a state I’d never been in before. My dreams were riddled with darkness and gloom. Three days before he was inaugurated my fourth book was published.
I suppose I was lucky to have the focus of promoting my book during the first two weeks of his presidency. I could not respond or react to what was going on because I had something to do that was intense and important and required of me. I trotted around giving the readings my publicist had scheduled. The reading I gave on the Saturday after the inauguration, the day of the Women’s March in Washington, was attended by a scant audience. It is never easy to garner attention for a book, but it seemed especially futile this time around. The political climate sucked the air out of everything.
Publishing a book is often a sort of black hole. An author throws her energy there and hopes to be able to write again after the initial wave of attention is over. Writing is not a black hole for me. Writing, without thought of publishing, without thought of the outside world, without thought of how this story is going to be received, is an intimate, nurturing relationship. It is not so easy to enter back into it after a book tour, even a small one, but it was especially difficult this time. Is it right to enter into solitude, deep conversations with “imaginary” beings, intense research, silence and dreams and holding things close to my vest when every minute feels as though there is something I should be doing to save the world?
I sank into depression. Depression is not my go-to place. It’s not a place I can work from, although I tried. The depression was like quicksand. It slowly sucked me down until my eyes were filmed and gritty, and I couldn’t breathe.
I am just one person. Just one writer. Just one tiny speck of an artist who has worked for years to build the life I have. For income, I teach writing in my studio. Although I have hours to keep, I also have flexibility. Flexibility is wonderful, but it can also be a slippery slope.
I know what it is to flex myself away from my writing. In the past I have over socialized, overslept, overeaten, over given of myself, and spent too much time on social media.
And now the situation calls for activism and close observance and vigilance.
I hope I can step up. I hope I do not fail. I hope we do not fail. But I also recognize that I had better hang on to my life. I had better remain present for my students, and for my own writing. I had better step up to this game of writing. I had better pull myself out of the quicksand of depression and instead sink deeply into the work of writing. I had better engage with my fictional world, and be the writer it requires, for if I don’t and we win this fight against chaos and insanity, I will have lost what I am fighting for. I had better not lose what I hold dear.
This has always been the way of the artist. We have always had to scratch out space and time. We have always had to prioritize. We have always had to be fierce. And now we must fiercely protect what is dear to us, and what is dear to me is far larger than I ever imagined, and it is not just my art.