Not that 2016 wasn’t awful. There was a lot of loss: our nation’s sanity, for one thing. We also lost our ability to have a secure and representative election. Also Prince and Princess Leia. Personally, I lost an uncle (one of the kindest, most naturally cool people I will ever know) and an aunt (independent, intelligent, loving, full of vitality—it’s hard to describe just how great she was in a parenthetical).
But labeling last year as “horrible” grates on me. First of all, it sets the stage for 2017 to be somehow better and I'm not sure that is going to happen. Also, it locks us Americans who may feel rattled and demoralized by the election into thinking that we are somehow broken, which plays perfectly into the hands of people who want to break you.
I would rather reframe this paradigm shift. I am choosing to feel clarified, electrified, energized. Things are stark and obvious now. This last year was like a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol that was swiped over the landscape, exposing wounds and making them sting. The oily residue is gone.
Here are some things I am taking to heart as we start this year:
(1) There are more important things to think about now than your dumb gluten allergy. I don’t have to pretend I care anymore! I’m only half-joking. I also definitely don’t need to spend time reading a Facebook rant about Madonna’s face, or a New York Times Styles section article about what Tory Burch wears to the Hamptons. Needless to say, now is not the time for minor scrapes and squabbles between us. I don’t need to hear about how much more oppressed you are than me because you are not only gay, but gay and left-handed*. That will not help us unify.
I was fortunate enough to watch election night with a group of lesbians. And as the results came in, the first words out of their mouths were: “We need to organize!” And we are. Since November 8th I have been to meetings, actions, and a civil disobedience training. And I have barely scratched the surface. I have watched coalitions already forming that break through race, class, religious affiliation, and gender. It’s exciting! It’s happening and we need to stick together.
(*Calm down. As a gay left-handed person I can make this joke)
(2) Self-care is not selfish. Read this wonderful interview with writer and activist Adrienne Maree Brown. Take care of yourself. Eat well, sleep properly, exercise, breathe, see friends, create good energy. Start a daily ritual of prayer, meditation, or just time away from the constantly drooling media mouth. Be careful what you look at and dwell upon. Smile often to strangers on the street.
(3) Listening isn’t as hard as everyone seems to say it is. Maybe you are a Trump supporter and see 2017 as a fresh beginning too, but in a totally different way. If you are a Trump supporter and you have actually read this far, then OMG, please get in touch with me. I would be thrilled to talk to you over dinner sometime (do you like quinoa and beet salad?). Despite how I may be stereotyped as an East Coast gay liberal living in a bubble, I grew up in a Republican household. I am very well-trained at quietly listening to you and helping find common ground so that we don’t get indigestion as we eat.
All I ask is that you try to listen back. In the immediate media post-mortems following the election, there has been lots of criticism that we left-leaners “didn’t listen” to certain segments of the population. This tends to be a common retort coming out of the mouths of those numerous Trump blonde fembot pundits on cable news (why are there so many of them?!). I’m not so sure that it is so one sided. For example, I certainly haven’t had any experiences of some conservative coming up to me and asking, 'Hey there, hippieish gay white guy who looks like a bass player in a forgotten '60s psychedelic band, what are you feeling right now?' Listening is a two way street.
(4) Monitor your fear. Be careful how it may be used. The last major paradigm shift that I experienced was 9/11. I was living in Brooklyn Heights at the time, and a couple months after the attack, at the height of the insane anthrax scare, I was standing in my kitchen listening to NPR. Someone on some show (it’s sort of a blur) recommended that people buy duct tape and plastic and seal up their windows in case of a chemical/anthrax attack.
I stood there with my coffee and stared at my “windows.” My “windows” should always have quotes around them. They are not windows, they are simply gestures at “windows.” They are broken, with holes in the rotted wood sills that I try to fill with tin cans and plastic so that cold air and mice don’t get in (the effort is semi-successful). So, I stood there with my coffee and realized I would never be able to seal up my “windows” and if this possible chemical attack were true, then I would most assuredly soon be foaming at the mouth and liquified on the kitchen floor. And then I realized that I could either believe this insane fear-based report (on NPR no less!) and die, or I could try really hard to not believe it and envision a different reality.
That experience was a blessing in disguise. I am now much more tuned in to my fear, and wary of how I may be taken advantage of when it overcomes me. Fear is a very useful tool for people who want to control you and divert you from seeing what is true.
Not much is different for me since that last paradigm shift. I am still a struggling writer. I am still committed to expressing myself and helping others do the same. And, like then, I have about $78 in my checking account right now (another stereotype-shattering truth, rare Trump supporting reader! I am what you call the Creative Working Class. See? Not so easy to pin me down!)
One thing is different. This time I am, strangely, less afraid, even though things seem exponentially more terrifying. I am certainly afraid for a lot of people and things–my black and brown friends, Muslim-Americans, Mexican-Americans, immigrants, women who want to control their bodies, other LGTB folks (especially the young ones) and most of all, the natural world. But I am not frozen in place by fear like I was then. I have no problem standing up to protect these things, which is what I will do—cheerfully—because…
(5) Laughter and optimism is vital to your mental health. In a recent profile in the Times, I was struck by Senator Al Franken’s observation that Trump never laughs. It’s true. He is mirthless, cynical, Grinch-like. Scary! Sad!
That makes laughter and good cheer in direct opposition to him and his grim clown car of a cabinet.
I am trying to see the act of making someone smile and laugh in these times as a creative challenge. Luckily, I am part of an artistic community that will do everything we can to keep people’s faces from freezing into tight frowns, stultified into silence. I will not let my emotions (or my friends) be under a regime’s control. As Prior says in Angels in America, “More life. The great work begins.” So let’s get started!
In 2017, optimism has become a political act.