Being a Writer in the Age of Trump


Like many of my peers, I felt the world shatter on November 8, 2016. I spent that night watching ABC’s live election map with a group of my friends; we all expected that the results would offer us hope and safety. As we were chatting eagerly, one of those lovely people, Veronica, recorded herself with her laptop’s camera.

“I’m going to show this to my kids,” she said. “I want them to know what it was like when the first woman president was elected.”

Another one of my friends––Matt, a human calculator––counted up the number of states that were poised to turn blue. According to his estimations, Hillary Clinton’s victory should have been a shoe-in.

But then Matt was wrong. And then Veronica closed her laptop. The faith we had had in our fellow citizens drained out of our bodies. Nearly half of the country had cast ballots for a man who threatened the existences of seven of the nine people in the room. All of a sudden, seemed that our lives were not valued by the majority of the people around us.

There’s no need for me to go into the societal/political/global fallout of the election that ripped apart all standards of kindness and human decency. We’re all aware of it. This is a post about the personal implications of living in a world that doesn’t care if you are safe. For multiple affected groups––women, people of color, Muslim and Jewish Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities, among others––the red map that glowered from the television forced us to question our identities and our places in the world. And as a writer, that has been an steep and treacherous process.

Not longer after that fateful night, I penned one shoddy attempt at a poem about the November devastation, but otherwise I haven’t had much success in describing my distress. My spirit is empty. All I have left is my anger and a sense that I have been profoundly betrayed. What’s the point of being a poet if no one would care if I died? Why do my characters matter when the vice president of the United States condones child abuse? Why should I devote my soul to metaphors and assonance when I ought to be yelling and marching and fighting for my life?

Certainly, art can be a pathway to social action. A novel can spark a war for freedom. Carefully crafted speeches can move crowds. Poems can stir solidarity between marginalized people, creating unbreakable forces of resistance. But I hardly have the audience for that sort of impact, and it seems more imperative than ever to make my every action direct. The best use of my knack for writing would be in the composition of a letter to my senators. There’s no time to pique my muses with love or flower petals or quiet moments when I need to protect my friends.

I’m too angry to dwell on beauty. I can’t even think about art for art’s sake. Self-improvement is no longer about creating ever-better verse, but rather about eliminating any tendency in myself that might have helped put a monster into the country’s highest office. All I can do is shout and cry and focus on the tangible world, where tangible people are facing tangible threats, and tangible police officers are murdering tangible unarmed black civilians, and tangible hate groups are burning tangible crosses, and tangible billionaire celebrities are ogling tangible teenage girls, knowing they can get away with tangible rape and tangible assault because no one will believe the very, very tangible victims.

I can’t be bothered to emulate Billy Collins anymore because I’m too busy emulating the civil rights leaders of decades past who thought they were fighting the final fight. And I’m too busy realizing that we are still generations away from the final fight.

I’m too busy justifying my anger to write poems about my anger. I’m too busy restating the fact that my sadness and my disgust have merit to develop symbols for my feelings. If I seem distracted, if my recent stanzas seem subpar, know that it’s because I don’t go a day without fearing for my future––or wondering if there is even a future to fear for.

The just-world hypothesis has been supplanted by reality, and yet scholarly articles are telling me to empathize with people who wouldn’t bat an eye at my death. This is no environment for idealists; poetic fancies have no place in a world driven by hatred and bigotry. Everything I know about writing, every element of my writer’s identity, is irrelevant to the emotions that unite us, and that destroy us.

In 2017, creating art feels useless.

I don’t want to be a source of gentle diversion. I want to set people’s hearts on fire, send them to the streets, create action from dissatisfaction, let people know that they did something cruel, convince people to change their minds so that they truly understand “never again,” and help eradicate the forces that have put passions on hold.

To be realistic, I doubt that I can do any of that with lyrical quips or witty anecdotes. Over the course of the past eight months, my life’s purpose has shifted.

I can’t spend all day with notebooks and dreams anymore. My writer’s soul doesn’t matter when so many human bodies are at risk.

Ciao for now,
Mikki

Poem Every Day in July 10: Half an Hour


On roadtrips, we all moaned
of squished toes. The minivan lacked
legroom; it seemed our knees
were millimeters from goring
our eyes. One of us would pull a chair back
and smack into another––
like a humanoid chemical equation,
shifting towards equilibrium,
fluctuating and hitting
each other’s shins.

We spent hours like that. Days.
Mom pulled her hair
and drove with her elbows.
We bickered while leaving the hotel parking lot
in the morning, and we sneered
as the car screeched into the next at night.

That was years ago. With a bigger van
came less time for the road.
We pack lighter now, only seven days
of clothes. We stretch our arms outwards
and still can’t feel the window.
We have space, but no time
for chatter, for yelling, for chair-fights.
The clock moves too quickly
for laughter and violence.

Awake


In the third grade, I had my first stint with mental illness. My only real friend had just moved away, and no one wanted to play with me at recess. I was depressed, big time, and I was also working through grief at the loss of my friend. The stages were evident (retrospectively) in the narratives that went through my head as I tried to sleep. Some nights I would cry. Some nights I would invent stories in which who had abandoned me continued to wrong me; some nights I would scream my anger at her. At eight years old, I would spend some nights thinking seriously about death. But it wasn’t until the next school year that I started to understand that these thoughts were anything out of the ordinary. lonely-child-1024x678In the fourth grade, after she saw me hitting myself repeatedly during tests, my teacher sent me to weekly group sessions with the school counselor.

It’s gotten worse since then, but it’s also gotten better since then. My depression comes in waves. The stresses of elementary school, junior high, and high school all took their toll on me. So, too, has the unforgiving coldness of winter, as well as the unrelenting loneliness of summer. Depression is not a constant companion, but it is a consistent companion.

My anxiety, on the other hand, does not come in waves. They aren’t as bad as they could be, and I’m always learning to ways to negotiate with them, but they never leave. Ever. In fact, I’m not totally sure where my anxiety stops and my nervous personality begins. Fretting is ingrained into my very aspect.

I was born an anxious person. I was also born a sad person. That’s sort of my point, my raison d’être: to be anxious and sad. It makes me see things that other people ignore, and it allows me to be introspective. In that, mental illness is what makes me a writer. I’m only an artist because I was wired incorrectly at the factory.

Maybe I should be grateful. Continue reading “Awake”

Again: A Poem


volcano

you broke me like a shift
in tectonic plates.
revved with red, i combusted
when you said, “let’s just be friends
again.” the surface of the world smashed like glass,
lava oozing like the blood on my fists
as i battered myself, breaking free
of the hold your pyroclastic love
still had on me––it was your poisonous ghost,
sighing with an opaque, untouchable gossamer
over the gaping rocky wounds of my crests,
that killed what i loved best.
everything choked. the supercharged spill
swallowed all, entire deer omitted from existence,
falling to their knees, already carcasses, their nostrils loaded
with proto-igneous fire, eyes rolling backwards
and dissolving into flame—precious blushing blooms
i eradicated, their petal lips lit
until ashen, until ash, speciation undone—
i singed the coastline, shells swollen
to bursting with the heat, the red, the black, tiny crabs
dropping their pincers in defeat.

you wafted towards the ocean and took life
with you. but a volcanic eruption will always create
an island, bleak at first, but soon
populated in waves. first, by grasses
in greens and yellows, nurtured by sweet billowing breezes
sighing between pink clouds on blue days.
the plants are grateful as they sway. i will feel the same.
before long, the pores of my new land
will brim with heartbeats. even now, i can feel vines
stretching towards my peak, relentlessly sweet, twisting little leaves
and great trees creaking their necks towards the sun. the snow
still graces my steaming head—no matter how often
i make it melt, it returns to feed my streams,
winding into hot springs and summers
to nourish the colors. the fog, once dispersed
by my self-destructive rage, settles its pallor
calmly like a sleep mask after a laborious day.
life refuses to abandon me. i must possess some special beauty,
because it seems the world is adamant
about keeping me around.

Saturday, 10 a.m.: A Poem


20161112_103504

the mentioned view

This morning is mine.
My glasses are folded in my purse, asleep
in their case, and to my nude eye, the distance is blurry––
the nearby girl tucking her hair
into a braid, the scant fluttering yellow
I suppose is November wind. And here I am,
at the library, in a chair by the wall,
between windows, dodging the downpour
of white light. The sun
is a cup of coffee, turned over, spilling heat upon the earth.
But Hephaestus has forged this wall as a shield
against Apollo.

By the time noon makes its perch at the zenith,
my family will be here. They’ve made a seven-hour trip to visit me.
When they arrive,
my time will belong to them.
I will put my glasses on
to see the changes in my sister’s face.
I’m certain there will be some new, shining
composition––altered eighth-notes on her skin
where she smiles, where she
cries. Maybe my brother
is taller again, defying
my commands. I am afraid
of how white my mother’s hair will seem.

I capture this hour like a lightning bug in my hand.
Its antennae tickle my palm. I seal my fingers
tightly, nails hard
in flesh. Something urges the hour outwards––worries
like a porch light, a center of gravity into which
it might plunge. But I will not permit it.
Although it writhes, it is safe.
Although I pant, I breathe.

The Backseat Speaks: A Poem


After Sandra Beasley

volvo-s60-backseat

When they made me,
their hands were not caressing love. Their fingers
worked needles, left me in stitches,

but they weren’t like her, now, giggling,
you in her palms, making a manger of me.
It wasn’t long before this

that he took us over to the side of the road,
swerving snowstorm knuckles, sweating hurricane worries.
And she knew you, even then,

even as she wept, glee and misery, just minutes
ago, before she learned you
with starlight hands, meeting your eyes and your cries.

Now he stands above the scene,
observing your Madonna,
the one that I cradle, his face

a round moon among yellow lamp galaxies,
smiling anxiety,
because here you are

melting onto my loveless leather, knowing
what I will never know–
I am gray as ever, but you

are swimming life colors, and she
keeps you for her own, forever,
sighing promises that I can only overhear.

 

We have come to congratulate you on your recent admission to the Ebb: A Poem


tumblr_nld24tfGeE1smapx8o1_500Your hands are loaded with absence as you make your way through the vessels of the terrain.

The land is pulsing, and so are you. Your footsteps are the heartbeat of this earth. Congratulations.

There is little to see and little to know. Perhaps you have wandered down the wrong path.

There was a grass route as well, but at the time you believed dirt might lead to pavement.

Now, the moment your toes lift from the ground, the dirt floods your footprints.

It floods your mouth and lungs. It floods your veins and vessels. It floods your eyes and nerves.

Before long, your hands’ absence is lost. It, too, has been replaced by the dirt. Congratulations.

You are six feet tall but getting shorter. Six feet are under you, but two feet keep walking. Walking.

Maybe on tonight’s walk, you keep thinking, maybe on tonight’s walk, things will be different.

Maybe I can get home tonight. Get home clean and wash off the rest. You know you won’t.

You are the terrain now. You are the vessel. You are the bloodstream of this land. Congratulations.