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?
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.
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.
© 2016 Jason S. Ridler