The World Turned Upside Down


The sky’s grey over Jersey City. And I woke up from a good dream to a nightmare.

I fell asleep in exhaustion last night after watching the results of the election until 2AM. I sat with friends as we went through the stages of horror and grief right in their living room. We drank, ate pizza, and watched democracy deliver our country into the hands of a hate-filled demagogue. I went home and had a beautiful dream.

In this dream, I was living in a community together with my friends because we ran from a collapse, a societal nightmare. We came together and shared resources. We were there for one another. And in this dream, a man wandered into our community. He was starving, sick, homeless, lost. And one of my friends, a ferocious man who many find intimidating, went and sat beside the man. Shook his hand. Offered him food, warm clothing, a place to sleep. I went over and asked his name, and shook his hand. And the community expanded.

I woke up to grey skies over Jersey City and to an incredible uncertain future. I’m wishing I could go back to my dream.

When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. Nora Stern was a Holocaust survivor who came to the US after losing nearly all her family to the horrors of Nazi Germany. She survived pretty much the worst things humanity could throw at her, walked out of Auschwitz and came to the United States to rebuild her life. She and my grandfather opened a sandwich counter shop and worked tirelessly all their lives. My grandmother then had to nurse my grandfather through cancer until he died when my mother was 16. She raised two children, ran a business, and when my mother got married and brought me home, she helped look after me. This woman kept a good home, even when alone, and gave tirelessly of herself, no matter what she had gone through in life.

She also taught me one of the lessons I carried with myself all the days of my life. One day when I was helping her look for something in a closet, I found a roll of single dollar bills nearly as big as my fist. I asked her why she needed a roll of money. She told me then about the hatred this world could have for Jews, for people who are different. She told me that no matter what you do in your life, no matter how comfortable you get, you must always be ready to flee, because “they’ll always come, no matter what.” My grandmother believed that fascists would one day come for her and her family, just like they did so long ago, and she wanted to be ready.

Back then, I didn’t believe it was possible. Back then, I laughed.

I’m not laughing today.

Watching the election coverage last night was like watching a nightmare world supplant your own. I sat in my friend’s living room, unable to believe it, unable to shake the feeling that my world turned upside down in one breath. I’d spent the day listening to the Hamilton soundtrack and the lyrics to Hurricane kept going through my head.

In the eye of the hurricane

there is quiet

for just a moment

a yellow sky

As we were leaving to go see my friends, to watch the election, I sat down outside and looked up at the sky. I remember thinking in that quiet instant, this is that yellow sky moment. And my instincts said, wait for it, because this is the last great gasp of air above water before the plunge, the stomach-churning second before the rollercoaster drops you back towards the ground. I had a bad feeling, and it came true.

We watched and went through the stages of grief. I wished I could drink again. I took anti-anxiety medication. I let a friend hold me when I was scared. I was glad I wasn’t alone as I watched states tick away. As maybe I watched the future tick away, vote by vote.

I raged. I raged against every “protest vote” that gave an inch to the opposition. I raged against those too apathetic or too entitled to go out and vote, the 160+ million who stayed home and helped hand our country over to this nightmare. I raged against every person who looked at a campaign full of lies and bigotry, misogyny and hatred, and allied themselves with this regressive nightmare who’ll now be our president. I raged that after the grace of a leader like President Obama, our president will now be this man. This. THIS.

I raged that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” is now no longer valid.

I raged until I couldn’t anymore. And then that pit in my stomach I thought was just the queasiness before the drop yawned open and I felt the sorrow take over. Here was the stage of grief which could swallow me whole if I wasn’t careful. The unmitigated sadness took me over and I put my head down and cried.

And then, I started to plan.

In Trump’s America, I would be considered an undesirable from so many angles. I’m a disabled woman. I’m Jewish. I’m queer. I’m an outspoken feminist. A social justice advocate. A defender of progressive ideas. So, you know, a liberal.

I wear these identifiers proudly, as I was taught to stand up for what I believe in. From my parents. From the narratives I fell in love with that inspired me all my life. It boggles me to no end that these very identifiers might now put me in the crosshairs of a regressive, damaging agenda touted by a presidential candidate… no, oh God, by the president elect. I used to believe the days when the world would tolerate such open hatred in office, especially in America, were fading into memory. I thought we were on our way to a brighter future.

Instead today, I wake up to a world where I have to be afraid about losing medical coverage because the new president wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. Where queer people will need to watch their backs, will watch all the progress made by President Obama for the LGBTQ+ community disappear. I have friends whose marriages will be in jeopardy. I worry about my Latinx friends, some of whom are closer to me than blood. To Muslims in this country. To my fellow Jews. To everyone.

I’m afraid. But the fear can’t stay here forever. I won’t allow it.

And I’m starting to go past those stages of grief into what I hope is something more productive. A transition place where I can take all this fear and worry and rage and turn it to something constructive. And what is that? What can take all this movement inside me, this churning terror, and turn it into a force to go outwards? Because I’m afraid if I don’t find something, anything, to take this roiling fear inside of me and mold it into a positive force, it might consume me alive.

So I thought back to that song again, to Hurricane. And Alexander Hamilton’s solution struck me:

I wrote my way out of hell

I wrote my way to revolution…

And when my prayers to God were met with indifference

I picked up a pen, I wrote my own deliverance

Lin Manuel Miranda pens the answer: “I wrote my way out.” Anyone who is an artist can feel down in their bones the need to bring the power of their emotions into the world through their art. We bring our pains and our passions and our promises into being through songs and writing and games and paintings and comics. We make statements that ring true to so many more people than just ourselves because we reach them where they live through the expression of forms.

I’m a writer. I need to write my way out now, more than ever.

I’m still afraid this morning. I’m terrified of what the future will bring in a country led by a fascist. Our country may change in serious, dangerous ways in the next few weeks and months. There’s already been an instance of swastikas painted on the side of buildings in South Philly today. But instead of giving into that pain inside me right now, I’m focusing down and living inside the moment of acceptance. Not accepting for the sake of getting along, but for the sake of getting on to make decisions and plans.

Because the eye of the hurricane passed. And half of our country decided to drive us right into the face of the storm to see what survives at the end. Well okay then, but now that means we need to batten down the hatches and fight to stay standing, together.

A week before the election I wrote a post about the future we want being built by us, together. Well, half our country decided to take the history we all share and drove it to the bad place, the dark place, we all feared. And now, we who are horrified, who are afraid and angry, who are scared to see this country fall into the hands of hatred so toxic it could sweep away our liberties and even our very lives, we have to decide what comes next. And how we will help shape the narrative that is to come.

History may be written by the victors, but we decide if we let them write that narrative without dissent. And when the time comes, when we need to, we can write our way out. And act up, speak out, stand together, help one another, through the darkest of times. That’s my plan. And I’m certainly making plans, thinking ahead.

Because right now I’m working past the horror. And to quote one of my favorite TV shows, The West Wing, whose wisdom we could all use a little of right now, I say this now: “Mrs. Lanningham, what’s next?”

I love you all on this tough day. I’m with you. Let’s be in this together, shall we?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s