Books, Blogs and Other Post-Election Life Rafts
Life is returning to normal after a few hard weeks.
I can feel my heart cracking open to the world again. I struggle to explain why because I don’t have the words or the reasoning. I was fine, and then I wasn’t. I could breathe, and then I couldn’t.
I was broken; now I’m not.
I suppose the election had something to do with it, though I don’t want to give it greater importance over my life or my emotional state than it deserves. I cast my vote. My candidate lost. I must go on living according to my own values.
After I posted an essay of imagined book titles on Monday, someone on Twitter reached out. A stranger. “I hope you’re alright,” he wrote. That restored my faith in the world a little.
Other faith-restorers: I’ve been reading the blog of a mother who posts daily, 365 days a year. I love seeing her words in my feed reader each morning: a few lines here, a photo there, like letters from an old friend. I’ve been meaning to write to her and tell her so. We writer moms need to build each other up in whatever ways we can. We live in a world where the average adult reads a single book a year, and where a man who boasts about sexual assault can get elected president.
My country feels a lot like the internet lately: a cesspool of vitriol and false rhetoric. Part of me is ashamed to call it home. But the election has made me a little more determined to stand my ground, and to claim what is mine by right. Just because the internet is cluttered with hatred and lies doesn’t mean that I, too, can’t carve out a place for myself there. My country has elected an internet troll. But that doesn’t mean I have to stop calling myself a feminist, or go into hiding, or consume all the bile flowing through my news streams. I have a choice in the matter. I have a choice in what I consume and what I create and what I share.
I was complacent before. I’m not now.
A book I've been reading helped me put things into context: Susan Branch's Martha's Vineyard, Isle of Dreams. The book describes her move to Martha's Vineyard after a painful break with her husband in the 1980s. Shortly after Branch arrived there, she heard news that John Belushi had died. The more she thought about it, the angrier she felt.
"John Lennon had been murdered. Before that we'd lost John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, plus Martin Luther King, the massacre at Kent State, not to mention tens of thousands of young lives in Vietnam. Then the total disappointment of everything Nixon, and, just the year before, President Reagan was shot. Each of these events was a total shock and I was sick of it. No wonder so many people around my age had been turning to (and dying from) drugs. We were in group trauma. Post-traumatic stress. ... My eyes filled with tears as my problems and the world's woes mixed together in my mind. I took it almost personally. People shooting people, drugs, lies, war, and man's inhumanity to man were not what I thought life was going to be like. It was so discouraging. What was wrong with everyone?"
Reading Susan Branch's words helped me realize that the country had been through far worse, and we survived.
She'd certainly survived—Branch has written fourteen bestsellers since the 1980s, and according to Publishers Weekly, her memoir trilogy was recently optioned for a film or television series.
This particular memoir has been like a life raft for me in recent days. It's thrilling to know there are at least two more out there, waiting to be read.
I've been questioning my own writing lately. Asking myself why I bother, when it's so hard to get a book published these days and the internet is already so cluttered with words. Then a coworker stopped me as I was getting coffee, and confessed that she'd been reading my blog.
"It's been so helpful," she said. "You know, it's funny. Whenever I'm having trouble or going through a rough time, something appears in my life at the perfect moment that helps me find exactly what I need. And it's always a book, or someone's writing."
This, too, felt like a life raft.
"Me too," I said. "Me too."