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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?

I wrote this post a few months back, then didn’t push the publish button. I suppose I’d run afoul of one too many articles this political season that made me mad or upset and I didn’t want to add to the noise. But in light of the escalation of the events at the Dakota Pipeline and the election now less than a week away, I think it’s worth revisiting. So when you read this, know a) it’s a post about politics again, so you’re forewarned, and b) the news articles and events mentioned at the beginning are from a month or so back. From there, enjoy.


 

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I woke up this morning restless. It’s been a problem lately for me, an inability to sleep that’s had me feeling tired all day and irritable. I’ve stayed away from reading the news, which only seems to be making it worse. Only this morning, I woke up and turned on a video by Keith Olbermann cataloguing the myriad offenses by Donald J. Trump since his rise to the candidacy for president. If there’s anything to get irritable about, it’s Trump. But the video helped lock into perspective a lot of things that have been plaguing me for the last few months.

I’m a writer. Connecting points to make a cohesive narrative is what I do for a living. So when I look at today’s media reports, I often look for a coherent narrative to give me a view on the world. It’s what we all do for context of our lives. So I looked at my items in my feed the last few days and try to contextualize.

Item: Donald J. Trump leads one of the most bigoted campaigns in history to staggering approval from right wing Republicans. His candidacy brings out those who previously hid prejudiced ideas, uniting them under his banner in their rush to blame every ‘other’ group they can for their plight in life. All while ignoring the dangerous, uniformed, erratic, terrifying behavior of the man they support for the highest seat in the land.

Item: A pipeline is being created through Native American territory in the Dakotas, drawing protestors from across the world attempting to save sacred ground holding the bones of native ancestors. While many stand with the protestors, the media at large has remained silent on the unfolding issues, including the mauling of protestors by dogs.

Item: Recent Hugo awards winner N.K. Jemisin faces racist responses after winning for her novel, The Fifth Season. Hers is only one story in a continuing narrative of barely veiled hatred aimed at progressive storytelling in the science fiction and fantasy genres, led by conservative factions that wish to return to a time when fiction was less diverse in subject material and in creators.

Item: Stories trickle in from various media outlets about “alleged” rapists like Brock Turner receiving absurdly lenient sentences after being convicted in a court of law. Comparable crimes being perpetuated by people of color get more aggressive punishments, while white male defendants are often let off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. The most recent unfolding case involves a man having sex on video with a toddler. While people outcry these deplorable cases, politicians still make statements about rape victims “just keeping their knees together.”

Item: A game organization issues a statement about not including potentially triggering content about sexual assault and rape in their game’s plots. This practice, while already standard in many organization’s policies (including my own), draws fire for constituting censorship and sparks bitter, often vicious debates, across the internet and convention spaces. The conversations become so embattled as to require admonishing posts asking people to remember that the person on the other side of the keyboard is a human being and not an invisible punching bag. This hallmarks a disturbing trend of harassment of creators for content that steps over the line from critique and conversation to bullying, exemplified by recent harassment by fans of a Steven Universe creator for supposed “queer baiting” in the show.

Item: A football star chooses to protest the rampant murder of black people by police by taking a knee during the National Anthem before a game. The incident draws a maelstrom of controversy wherein pundits and media alike try to paint the protest as unpatriotic, as an affront to our military and veterans, as worthy of sanction. They refuse to engage with the heart of the protest, namely the rampant trend of police brutality and violence against minorities across the country.

Item: Articles abound calling millennials lazy and directionless, citing their habits as killing everything from the housing market to our country’s competitive job market. Meanwhile, studies show most millennials face absurd financial burdens from student loans in an economy flooded with workers from a previous generation that has not retired. The narrative remains the same: the young are weak and directionless and ruining the world. The dialogue across generational lines goes on.

I could keep giving examples from the news. Yet here’s one from everyday life.

I was waiting on line for a prescription and chatting with my roommate. I point out how absurd it is that Hillary Clinton is being criticized for developing pneumonia while still going out on the campaign trail. I indicate how sexist the arguments against her have gotten, and how her behavior is indicative of so many women forced to work through their illnesses to survive in a male-dominated world. A man on line turns to agree with me and bemoans the chance of Trump getting into office. Yet when my roommate walks away, the man steps closer to add that Trump does have one thing correct: immigrants are stealing all our jobs, he says. When I protest that our country is made of immigrants, the man indicates his family come from immigrants too. But that “these Russians and Syrians” are the ones he means. Not every immigrant is bad. Just those.

And I’m left staring at him, as I often stare at my computer screen or at someone who tells me yet another example of unbridled prejudice running rampant in our society. From rape culture to the profiling of people of color as criminals, the blaming of millennials for society’s ills to the desecration of native people’s holy lands, to the hatred aimed at both Israelis and Palestinians from various sides, the list of things I simply boggle at is overwhelming. Because I often wonder… didn’t people grow up knowing this shit is WRONG?

I watched a lot of TV and movies as a kid, and read a lot of books. For that reason, I grew up with a lot of those media tropes we all know and love: Be a good person. Share. Love your neighbor. Stand up for what you believe in. Be yourself. Love others. Stand up to bullies. Eat healthy food. Friendship is magic. You know, all the good stuff. And what’s more, I believed it because these messages created a framework that backed up what I believed about the world: that being a good person, not just a ‘nice’ person but a person striving to do good, is what a person is supposed to do. Not only that, looking at the heroes of both fiction and the real world, they all are remembered for striving for better goals. Advancement of the world, it seems, has come from aiming for ideas like acceptance, fairness, equality, peace, courage, and empowerment.

And then I grew up and realized maybe some folks didn’t get the same programs when they were kids. Maybe they looked around and said “this is malarky” and looked for someone to blame, to other, over their problems. Maybe they rejected the narratives of tolerance for something else, a darker look at the world where the dog eat dog mentality is the only way to survive. Their narrative is so different to me it boggles the imagination. The future they envision is not mine.

I watched a lot of Star Trek growing up. And for all its flaws (and there are many), Star Trek presented a view of the future where people of all kinds existed side by side. Where people strive for a higher goal. Star Wars presented us with a narrative of people fighting for freedom against tyranny in a galaxy far, far away. Lord of the Rings showed a band of people unlike one another gathering to fight against a terrifying despot. X-Men battle not only despots but bigots willing to murder those unlike them. Harry Potter fights the wizarding form of white supremacy along with Voldemort. Katniss Everdeen fights a regime that represses the poor for the enjoyment of the rich.

The list goes on but the fiction of my life has carried the thru-line of people fighting for a future that involved equality, freedom, peace, and acceptance.

So it boggles me when I look at the world, at people, who can imagine a world where these are not the watchwords for their future. Where their peace and security comes at the expense of the hope of others.

Theirs is not my future.

“But Shoshana,” you may say, “these fictions aren’t real! They’re just stories, and things are easier in stories! Being the kind of good guy you’re talking about is hard and in a complex world-”

Not to paraphrase Kanye, but I’m gonna stop you there for a second. First off, isn’t part of the reason we create narratives like these to inspire us? To bring us to new heights and give us examples of better things, better times, heroes that point us to the better parts of our nature and say, “See, this is possible!” We aren’t going to be Gandalf in this world and hopefully we’re never going to be tossed into a child fighting ring on national television like Katniss, but we have choices in our lives we need to make and narratives like those I mentioned help can help us aspire to do better, be better, even in the face of hardships.

Also, and I’m going to say this with all due respect: who said choices to be good were meant to be easy? Or binary? Sure, in the books it’s simple. The bad guys wear dark colored hats and everyone knows Sauron is the bad guy while we root for the scrappy little Hobbits. Everyone knows making the right choices in life is harder. But just because it’s harder doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim for it, aspire to it. Fight for it.

There’s a concept I’ve heard before: being on the wrong side of history. It presupposes, and rightly so, that history is written by the victors in any conflict and though context will remain part of a more complex narrative, events are remembered through the lens of the dominant viewpoint that survives. Anyone studying history realizes that historical time periods are washed in the context of who survived to take dominance during that time. So I often wonder, when we look back, what this decade and our current time will reflect. And I realize it entirely depends on whose ideals take root going forward.

Whose future will survive?

I grew up on Star Wars, on super heroes, on Harry Potter. I grew up the child of a thousand stories about how the world can be made a better place if we all come together in peace. The world outside is a far more complicated place than those stories, with nuance and difficulties so complex as to be nearly Gordian in their knotting. The impulse to throw up your hands and state that the ideals of our fictions cannot be applied to the muddled, gargantuan issues of our realities is strong. Yet history shows evidence of time periods where regression led the dominant narrative, and saw the backslide of civilizations and societies. Is that the story we want people to see when they look back at this time period? Is that the future we want to build?

I’m just a writer. I don’t make world policy, or social policy, or any policy at all. What I do is tell stories. I make games for people to live in through role-play, and spin fiction for people to enjoy. And I know in my own way, I have a limited impact on what the future will look like. But I think about how I can perpetuate the ideals I hold so dear. So I pledge to try and be conscientious in my creation. I will continue to strive to create fiction that reflects the kind of world I hope to see. I will push aside concerns about being labeled ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ or (heaven forfend) a ‘social justice warrior’ and instead recognize that everyone has an agenda in creating, and mine is to continue forward the ideas that drove me to believe in a better world when I was little.

I will acknowledge that we are all fallible. And we always have more to learn, and ways to improve, even if we think of ourselves as on the side of progressiveness and equality. I will recognize that one can make a choice that is progressive one day and then make a decision the next that harms another, even unintentionally. I pledge to try and learn from my mistakes, to listen to those around me, and to acknowledge and make amends when I’m in error or do harm.

I am fallible, but I pledge to try.

Nobody can tell me what my narrative will be after I’m gone, when it has become the future and my actions now are the past. As a favorite musical of mine laments, you don’t get to choose “who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” But I know that in a world seemingly at tug-of-war over acceptance, peace, and equality, I want to create towards a better, more equal tomorrow.

So I can say to those who perpetuate intolerance and bigotry and hate and fear: The future isn’t yours. The fate of this country, this world, belongs to all of us, together. And that is the exact opposite of your beliefs. The future isn’t yours, because your selfish ideas don’t believe in a future that includes others, and that selfishness is the opposite of what is good and true. I know it because even conservative views say so: be charitable, be welcoming, treat others as you’d like to be treated, love thy neighbor, etc. Except when those beliefs become tinged, tainted, corrupted, by intolerance do they become conditional and become the things we must fight against. When they become, “Love thy neighbor, except if thy neighbor isn’t like you.” Except.

That future of exceptions isn’t mine. It doesn’t belong to so many out there who stand as the exceptions to conservative, myopic rules. And since we have as much right to the world as anyone else (sorry, we do!), then your future doesn’t get to overrule ours. Your future isn’t ours and cannot hold sway for us to exist. Because you can’t wish people out of existence and your hatred cannot drive our world. Good people won’t let it happen. We can’t. And those views will only put you on the wrong side of history and resign you to a life in conflict.

And hey, I  know even the most bigoted, intolerant person isn’t some mustache twirling villain. They’re people with concerns and fears and the earnest right to life, liberty, and all that… as long as that pursuit of happiness doesn’t try to snuff out that happiness for others. Once you step over that line, then we got some problems. I don’t have to be tolerant of intolerance as an ideal, because by its very nature, intolerance does not afford the same allowance to others. I don’t need to accept bigotry as an ideology because it doesn’t respect my right to exist. And that is where I draw the line and say to the bigots, the intolerant: think about how things go in the stories with the best happy endings and wonder, where did the bigots end up? Do you want to be Harry Potter, or a Death Eater? Folks might think evil is a little cool in stories, but in reality, it means harming others by your choices, your actions, your beliefs. Do you choose to bring harm into this world, or strive for a higher standard for yourself and others? You get to choose.

To quote Hamilton once more: “History has its eyes on you.” On us. On what we build as our legacy, especially right now.

And if you need any evidence that such fights can be won, look at the struggles progression has won over the years. Happy endings to battles aren’t like they are in the movies, because the struggle for a better world doesn’t end. It’s just little wins, stacking up into a better tomorrow.

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This is our eye of the hurricane. We stand in it every day. And the question is left to all of us, in our own lives, in our individual arenas: what will you help make the future?


End note: We’re six days to what might be the biggest elections in our nation’s recent history. And history has its eyes on all of us now. Go out and vote, and consider what you’d like our future to look like. It really is in each of our hands.

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