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FXXK WRITING: ELECTION 2016 EDITION

It feels trite jumping back into THE GUTTERS of my salad days as a writer. The GUTTERS of today are far too real, horrific, and sad. The country elected a racist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynist demagogue. Hard to get in the time machine and go back into the world of publishing’s zaniness of 2005 with any sense of value when people of color, the LGBT community, Muslim-Americans, Jewish Americans, and various communities and groups of friends are targeted with fresh threats, intimidation, and violence as part of a presidential celebration.

So, FXXK WRITING, what is to be done?

I wrote a letter to myself. Why? Because, frankly, while I’d like to think I have a strong moral compass, one informed by the horrors of history, I needed to talk to myself and rethink how I face politics in this country, as a both a resident and as a writer. And what better way than through the written word?

Dear Jay

This is you writing. How are we? Confused yet? Great! Because we are entering some confusing goddamn times.

So, that election proved Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, might be right. “Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.” And there is no mighty warrior coming to slay the snake in the White House. The snake thinks he’s Conan, for fucksake.

But I think we can both agree that old Bob Howard was half-right. Barbarism isn’t a triumph state. It’s a commencement point. It will end if something else begins. It requires change and must be challenged. To paraphrase Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, if war is “politics by other means,” then one front in that war is art. And art, when done true, when it doesn’t flinch, when it’s at its best, has power, be it fiction or non-fiction, as many writers and artists have proven.

So, it’s time to rethink your way of interacting with the world. Time to take that punk rock attitude and focus it outside of the usual destinations. Time to stand with your favorite people in this world: the outsiders, the underdogs, the ones with the most to lose. And here’s one way.

Write your truth. Communicate ideas. Work with others to help them do the same. Writing is an act of agency in times when many feel powerless. It gives shape to ideas that grow. It builds connections. It challenges conventions. Dig deep. Write the hard stuff. Speak truth to power. Which isn’t easy. It will hurt. Be reminded of those who have inspired you in the past and learn from writers who have challenged authority and wrote in defiance of oppression, calling out the ugliness and forcing us to reconsider where we stand and what we believe, folks like Mariano Azuela, George Orwell, Tadeusz Borowski, Margaret Atwood, Reza Baraheni, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Toni Morrison, Alan Moore, Chinua Achebe, Sherman Alexi.

Then write. The coming era might be best suited to your old job as a horror writer. Horror writers create works about human extremes, and lord knows the future will have monsters to prey upon this world: old slime in new bottles that must be stopped. But whatever you do, don’t be silenced as we go into an era of resistance against a president whose champions revel in his calls for oppression as a means to make America “Great” Again. And, as a historian, you damn well know there are no good old days; especially if you’re a woman, a person of color, stray outside the lines of hetro-normativity, an immigrant, and belong to any faith other than a strain of Christianity.

Walk the talk, brālis. It’s not easy. But as scared as you might be, it’s not a piss in the ocean compared to the fear that others have lived with in this country. Learn from their courageous examples. Stand with the underdogs. Fight for them. Fight with them.

And, remember, safety pins are not enough.

Best,

Jay

If you liked this post, support a local org fighting the good fight, like The Southern Poverty Law Center, or perhaps volunteer for organizations who can use your skill set to help those most at risk.

Jason S. Ridler

Jason RidlerJason S. Ridler is a writer, historian, and actor. He is the author of The Brimstone Files, and his latest historical work Mavericks of War was called a “visceral read that is also an important piece of scholarship” by Pulitzer-Prize winner Richard Rhodes. He is a Teaching Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and teaches creative writing at Google, Youtube, and for private clients.

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6 comments
JenniferHanks
JenniferHanks

If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be here right now.And when I realized you what you were–a reader–I smiled. I did. Sitting right here on my couch with my cat and my laptop, I’m that happy to know that you found us and our offbeat stories. You can cue in the “aw, shucks” music if you want, but I’m not kidding.This little fiction magazine is a labor of love (except it’s not that little anymore). In this day and age, with thousands of free books at your fingertips, what does http://askpetersen.com/essaylab-org-review/ have to offer that you can’t find anywhere else?Dream with us. Have a nice day.

oliverbishop1988
oliverbishop1988

The problem is not as much that the political has become the personal, though this is part of the division in our society.

gryphoness
gryphoness

It does make you wonder where we are as a nation when the position of "don't support a serial sexual criminal" or "don't vote for someone who wants to imprison his political opponents and broad categories of people without trial" is seen as partisanship. To consider the enormous number of unconscionable and unconstitutional acts suggested by Trump -- punishing women who get abortions, closing mosques, retaliating against the press without proof of libel, and torture of political prisoners are just a few that come to mind -- and then rattle on about feeling uncomfortable in writer's groups seems to me to be an epitome of entitled pettiness. But, you know, YMMV.

Michael Potts
Michael Potts

I would point out that there are a minority of writers who are moderate to conservative politically--some socially conservative, some economically conservative (i.e., classical liberal), some both. Some of these writers may well have voted for Mr. Trump, as I did (and straight Republican for other offices). I am conservative socially and politically. Do not assume anyone with any sense agrees with your political views. This seems to be a vice of anyone holding the majority views in a community, and in the writing community the political left is the majority. There are exceptions: Dean Koontz is socially conservative with libertarian tendencies politically, Tom Wolfe is culturally conservative (a big change from his stance in the 1960s!}, and James Patterson is conservative. The problem is not as much that the political has become the personal, though this is part of the division in our society. The problem is that many on the Left and Right differ in their fundamental views about the world, especially social conservatives and social liberals. Social conservatives tend to believe in a stable human nature that is subject to limits and cannot be manipulated at will, which social liberals tend to believe that human nature is a construction that can be modified by human will and effort. Mr. Trump seems to be more of a searcher--he has the tendency to speak the first thing that pops into his head, and he should avoid that. I do not think his positions on the issues are racist--I favor "the wall" myself and hold that while immigration should always be allowed, there should be a limit to the numbers so people have time to assimilate into American culture. On women, I doubt Mr. Trump is much different than most other politicians in Washington, as I learned from a reporter who worked there. The context of his comments that were so controversial was the extreme behavior of groupies. The notion that he supported rape was read into his comments out of context. We can disagree about that interpretation, but the name calling on both sides needs to cool. John Davidson Hunter and another man edited a book called "Before the Shooting Starts," which argued that either we find some way to argue civilly despite our differences or people will be shooting each other in the streets. I hope the nation never gets to that stage. 


I am to the point that I rarely participate in writers groups in North Carolina because of the extreme ideologically left bent that is even expressed in some workshops. I am no longer in the NC Writers' Network for that reason. The NC Poetry Society has a sexual harassment policy that states that a single member who asks another single member on a date is guilty of sexual harassment. I cannot in good conscience participate in that organization. That is what I meant about a political test--that at times there is de facto a tacit understanding in the writing community that excludes conservatives, especially those with conservative moral and social stances.


Michael Potts

Tubularsock
Tubularsock

Jay, it is always good to highlight President Elect Tweet’s more refined abilities as being
“a racist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynist demagogue”.

See, everyone has strengths and you have certainly covered his most endearing qualities.

I do like your writing a letter to yourself. In these economic times saving on postage could be beneficial and it also gives yourself that feeling that somebody cares in our society. I’m going to jot one off to myself as well!

Great article.

KristaJHL
KristaJHL

I loved this.  Thank you so much for your passion, bravery, and articulate call to peace!

Yes yes yes!!

Let us all converse with ourselves, and meditate and listen and pray or whatever you call it when you listen deeply to yourself and the world, and then let us all go make the world we want for ourselves, each other, and most importantly, our children.  I want a world where all the children are safe--even the daughters and sons of folks whose beliefs are radically different than mine.

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