Writing (or not) when it feels like the world has ended

[This is going to be about post-election feelings. This blog felt like the only place I could really lay them out. You’ve been warned.]

I haven’t written a word of fiction since Tuesday.

No, scratch that. I’ve written about two sentences of revision on a story I sold on Tuesday, news which I was really excited to share with everyone until the world seemed to spiral out of control. But everything else creative has been dried up, covered in a pile of anxiety and sleepless nights and grief.

You’re probably going to say (or, my traitor brain is trying to convince me that you’re going to say): what’s the big deal? So the mediocre writer who can’t sell most of her work anyway and who no one really reads when she is published hasn’t written for all of five days? So fucking what?

Well, it doesn’t really matter to anyone outside of me in the end. It’s just that I’ve always written.

I wrote before I quite knew all of my letters (I would dictate stories to my mom, and have her write them down for me, and then I’d draw the pictures).  When things got confusing, or scary, or I just didn’t want to deal with the world, my imagination was the safe place I went to. The only times I stopped writing for any extended period of time just happen to be the darkest, the hardest, the emptiest.

When it comes down to it, everything I’ve written in my life has been an attempt to understand people, because as a whole they’ve never made all that much sense to me. And I think on Tuesday I came to a realization that I will never understand people, and that really, if they’re all like this, I don’t want to.

I had been writing, pushing through all the anxiety election season was causing me. I was working out notes for a pulp series I was going to attempt, about a ghost hunter/night librarian. I was plucking away through NaNo, happy enough though I was far behind the wordcount goal. I had a couple of short stories I was trying to shape into something salable.

Maybe I’ll get them back.

Maybe I won’t.

Maybe I’ll have to learn to be okay with that.

There’s been sort of a call to arms, or maybe many calls to arms, amongst the writers I orbit on social media, particularly those from marginalized groups. We’re going to need art if we’re going to make it through the next four–or however many–years. We’re going to need stories that protest and stories that bring peace.

Part of the problem is that I don’t know if I have those stories in me. Part of the problem is that, even if I did, I don’t know if I deserve to tell them.

This was something I was grappling with before Tuesday. Even though I write in order to see through other eyes, in the end I can only be who I am, and who I am is a white, cisgender, raised-in-the-suburbs, middle-class female person. And no matter how representational I tried to make my fiction in terms of race, sex, religion, gender, or class, doe any of that matter if I am the messenger? If I get things wrong by mistake, does it make things worse for people? Are my stories worth telling, and are they worth hearing?

These are things I’ve been trying to work through. Now there’s just a much bigger layer of doubt to dig past.

I lost a lot of my youthful political idealism a long time ago. Now, with the election of a man I will not name to the most powerful position on earth, I have lost most of my hope. I don’t want to give him that power. I want to fight back. I want to tell whatever story I have it in me to tell, whether or not its good enough.

But I’m not there yet.

For now, I take sleeping pills. I try to remember to eat, though I haven’t been hungry in five days. I go to work.

I’m trying to give myself space to be. And I hope that soon space to be will mean stories to write after all.

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6 Comments

Filed under Writing Life

6 responses to “Writing (or not) when it feels like the world has ended

  1. I also struggled with this question. I am female, white, heterosexual. I am middle class, I have a good job, I am well-educated. I’m doing NaNo and writing literary fiction, a story about a family. Someone in the story commits a hate crime, but that is not the core of the story. It’s the family and how they respond to it.

    Will anyone want to read it? The truth is, I don’t know. But that was just as true two weeks ago as it is today. Do I deserve to tell this story because of who I am? I’ve thought a lot about it, and I think the answer is yes. One of the biggest dangers is monolithic thinking. In your post you describe yourself as a type, but that is not all you are. You are a friend, a daughter, a student, an employee, an enemy. You are a stranger on the Internet. You are a writer.

    Of course you will get things wrong in your writing. Writing is no different than life. But you cannot guess what it is that you will get wrong, and you may be surprised. Again, this was always true. There are people in this world of every race or gender or sexual preference who look to be offended. But there are also people who just want to read stories. We cannot guess how people will connect to our writing.

    You can always only write the story you have in you. That may sound hokey, but if you try to force yourself to write about whatever world you create with a set of rules that come from outside, then your writing will probably not be very good. But try not to assume that your story is not worth telling to people of all kinds, because you are human. Most of us read not because we want to know about some monolithic experience of race, religion, gender, or what have you. We read because we are curious about all kinds of people.

    This year two of the best books I’ve read were about families: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. One is about a privileged white family (based on Patchett’s own), one is about an African American family in Detroit trying to decide what to do with the family house that’s in a neighborhood that’s all but abandoned. These stories bring everything to bear about race and class in America, but in the end they have more in common than they have differences. Those two books were what made me decide to try to write again.

    I’m sorry for this long comment, but I felt your despair. You are not less than, you are not a type, and just the fact that this horrible election has made this mark on you means that you are a thinking, feeling person with something to offer the world. Reach out, read diversely, listen to people’s stories, and keep writing. You cannot know who you might reach out there.

    • hlmorris85

      This is all true, but I’m still at a point where this election feels like its separating everyone into “us” and “them,” forcing us into our identities more rigidly than I thought the world required. If that makes any sense? I’m still at a point where I’m trying to find my voice, and *then* maybe I’ll be able to get over the hurdle of “is my voice worth hearing by anyone?”

  2. I’m not a writer, and I have no words of wisdom or comfort to offer, but I’m glad you were able to share your feelings and I hope you will be able to return to your writing soon. Honestly, I’m getting a bit tired of the many people who want to tell people how to handle this very difficult (and frankly, terrifying) time. But I understand everyone addresses fear and uncertainty in different ways. Best wishes to you.

  3. I hear everything you say. I’m a Canadian living in the UK and the US election has hit me hard. Haven’t written (another NaNo fail and I was doing really well) or read since Tuesday. That is not me. I’m scared for the future. I feel like I have nothing to say as a white, hetero, woman. I almost feel like I am the enemy.

    • hlmorris85

      To be blunt, white women is what caused this. White women voting for that massive POS for whatever reason their brain allowed them to reason out. So it’s easy to feel like the enemy, even if you personally didn’t do this, even if, like you, you are from a completely different country. It’s in the air right now, and I actually feel a lot of shame because people who are basically my peers did this.

      I’m very scared, in a visceral way that I’ve never been with any other election before. I look around with what’s happening with countries in the EU and with Australia, I see this tide of white nationalism and I just think, have we all gone completely mad? So far I’ve kind of fallen apart from the stress and the anxiety.

      I hope that that changes. I hope I’m able to turn these feelings around. I *hope* that I’m being overly-dramatic, though I really don’t think that I am. I don’t know.

      My writing is what helps me find meaning, and I haven’t been able to get back there yet. I hope that it will come back for you. We all have stories that we deserve to tell, but in this climate it feels like everything could be lost or it could be too overwhelming to even begin.

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