Sitting down to write this post took an enormous effort of will. I finished an online creative nonfiction course a few weeks ago and I stopped writing regularly as soon as my final essay was complete, so it’s been maybe two months of unexpected and welcome relief. For the last two years, writing about my experience in the prison has been a release of sorts. It helped capture my thoughts and feelings, although it’s unclear whether it helped me release either but probably not. Nothing short of a complete separation would have accomplished that feat.
Today, I’m close to eight months away from my last day at CCCF. Most of these last eight months have been spent de-toxifying from my time there, and learning how to operate as a normal human being again. Those years, combined with the years of stress and uncertainty preceding them had turned me into an anxious, brittle, and fearful woman. I had some success hiding just how anxious, brittle and fearful I had become, but I was never able to hide it from myself.
Those years ate my light; they consumed everything I knew of beauty and grace and joy and spirit.
Lately though, the writing has been pressing on me, memories lingering in my consciousness. The stories of my time there, my relationships with the women I taught, and observations about the system constantly break the surface, jarring me with their presence. I can shove them back under, but they are still there. I’ve asked the non-intellectual part of my being to grieve and celebrate this enormous transition and it’s been thrilled to comply, so I’ve been processing mainly through art these several months. But as much as I love exploring drawing and illustration for emotional release, I cannot tell these stories through that art. Words are my medium, and the words are softly demanding my attention.
I just don’t know how to start again.
Being away from all that pain and suffering makes it less immediate, and reduces the feeling of urgency. That voice that demanded, constantly, that I let people KNOW and do my part to change the system has quieted. It rouses occasionally, but it is lackadaisical, at best. I’ve stepped away from all the information sources that used to stimulate my awareness, deliberately choosing to set all that pain to the side. It is a position of privilege, but I cannot bring myself to feel shame or guilt about this choice.
I feel light and happy and safe. Work doesn’t feel like much work, it’s a delight to do something less fraught, where a mistake won’t mean drastically increasing someone else’s suffering. This new path is a great gift, and all I want to do is enjoy the days, do art, and drift. Even thinking about writing that story feels hard.
I’ve realized that almost all the writing I do is somehow related to suffering – to trauma and oppression and the misery of the world. When I think about writing a memoir, whether it’s about CCCF or not, my thoughts focus on the sad and miserable things that brought me to where I am today. How do I write about all of those things – feelings, events, circumstances, choices – without putting myself back in that grueling, grunting space? It’s not a matter of self-judgment, it almost feels like self-preservation.
How do I stay connected to this precious gift of light and space and relief if I’m writing about those pain-soaked years? I know they are part and parcel of who I am, but I’m ready to write a new story about myself. How do I hold this new facet, and gently touch and release the old?
Even taking remarks made by the Democratic candidates with a giant teaspoon of salt, I am saddened and disheartened. Although it’s almost impossible to know what was actually said, or to trust the media at all, it’s glaringly obvious that Trump’s candidacy has already done incredible harm to our country. Among Trump’s multitude of attributes is his ability to bring out the absolute worst in anyone and anything.
It’s like a +500 Miasma of the Monstrous – a soul-crushing, anti-decency superpower.
He brings out the basest, crassest, and most fear-riddled primal instincts in those who agree with him, but that’s not the worst. He also brings out the most disgusting, reprehensible aspects of those of us who disagree with him. I’ve watched the endless parade of blaming, shaming, nose-picking, name-calling, schoolyard insults rolling across all of my social media feeds, and not all of it is directed at Trump.
It’s as if his presence, in and of itself, has poisoned the entire well, rendering all of us incapable of decency or civility.
In no way am I saying that he is qualified to lead this country, in any way that would make us or the world better. In no way is he qualified, capable, or even interested in such a task. He is interested in controlling as many people as possible, making them jump, watching them race around after their own tails, and we’re all obliging him. It would be easy to blame it all on the media and every media outlet in this country bears a significant share of the blame for giving him the attention he so desperately craves.
But “the media” doesn’t make the memes and videos and “the media” doesn’t come up with all the coarse jokes and bathroom humor we’re throwing around. We’ve allowed ourselves to be pulled into a giant shit pile, and we are wallowing with abandon. Democrats are railing at each other in the same awful way they’re railing at Trump, to the point of threatening to sit out an election if their Chosen One isn’t selected as the nominee.
Where we choose to focus our attention matters. What we choose to accept as important, as significant, matters. How we choose to interact with those who disagree with us matters. How we conduct ourselves, especially as we select our leaders, matters. That the rest of the world is watching us, speechless at our reckless, thoughtless, and immature behavior matters. That we are causing increasing harm to our identity as a nation while this man chuckles himself to sleep every night, matters.
We are human. One of our greatest gifts is our freedom of will, our freedom to choose to be better, to treat each other with dignity and respect, even when we are afraid or angry. Using tactics of hatred and aggression to tear down Trump and his supporters will only result in a nation full of hatred and violence, regardless of who is elected. I know it is hard to consider courtesy, or kindness, when emotions run high, but I see a grim future if we don’t at least try.