So that happened.

I’m at a loss. There is too much to process, to metabolize, to grieve. I’ve been meaning to write something about the election disaster for a long time, but I haven’t had it in me. I’ve cried, I’ve marched, I’ve called law-makers; but I haven’t been able to write about what happened until now.

I know that for many people of color, the results of our election weren’t a surprise. I’ve known for a while now that our country isn’t the color-blind, fair-shake-for-everyone place it claims to be; the problems of mass-incarceration, racist policing, endemic poverty, structural racism, homophobia, transphobia, entrenched sexism, income inequality, and war-mongering existed under Obama and would have still existed under Hilary Clinton. And yet…
I always thought that, however incremental the progress, we were moving in the right direction. I consider myself a pragmatist; I believe in working within systems to change them, slowly, for the better. In this worldview, I looked up to president Obama.
The magnitude of the shift that has occurred cannot be overstated. The ideals that America has aspired to, that have guided our lawmakers and courts toward desegregation, marriage equality, progressive labor laws, and protections for the vulnerable (even as they have often been applied spottily) are under attack. The guiding principles of integrity, truthfulness, equality under the law, freedom of the press, independence of the judiciary – not to mention basic human dignity – all of these have been violently shit on.
After the election, we were told to “give him a chance.” Many on the left counseled that his more outrageous campaign rhetoric was just that – rhetoric meant to stir up his base that would never be implemented. Barely two months in, that’s been shown to be terrifyingly optimistic.
People who fled to America for a better life, for a chance to be free from the crushing poverty and violence engendered by American policies of military and economic meddling in their countries, are now living in fear of their families being torn apart. People who grew up in the United States, speak English as their first language, and don’t remember any other home, are at risk of being deported to a place that is utterly foreign to them.
The Standing Rock Sioux, who waged a courageous fight to protect their water from the rapacity of the oil industry, are seeing the Dakota Access Pipeline forced through by an administration indifferent (or actively hostile) to their wellbeing.
Regulatory agencies charged with protecting public health and safety, public lands, and the environment – the common good – are being gutted so that massive corporations can generate more profits for people who don’t need the money.
Transgender students are seeing their safety and wellbeing, their very personhood, written off as a “states-rights” issue, as the (possibly treasonous) attorney general vows to go after legalized marijuana in states where it is the law of the land.
The press is facing unprecedented attacks, with mainstream organizations such as the BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera derided as “fake news.”
Intelligence agencies agree that foreign interference played a role in our election.
And that’s not even getting into the humanitarian disasters of war, famine, and perhaps the worst global refugee crisis to date.
But.
It’s the first day of spring. I’m planting a huge garden. My toddler son is growing and thriving, more hilarious and smart and stubborn and winsome by the day.
I can eat as much food as I want whenever I want to. I always have access to clean
water, and can take a hot shower any time. My skin means that I’m innocent until proven guilty, that I don’t need to constantly fear violence against me or my family.
I have loving family and friends.
How to reconcile our (unearned) privileges and our everyday joys with the horrors of the world as it exists?
This has always been an issue. There are those who say that the world is safer and more peaceful now than at any time in history (which is kind of hard to believe – but it’s true that humans have always been brutal, bellicose, and greed-driven). It’s tempting here to offer platitudes about balance, about the need to remain sensitively engaged, about the importance of relationships and meaningful work and political action.
All these things are true.
And yet… I’m weak as fuck. After the election results came in I chopped off my hair in a fit of grief and rage, and vowed to abandon my comfortable existence to wander the road in sack-cloth and ashes, prophesying ruin. Here it is two months later, and I’ve written a few letters, made a few phone calls, marched, gone to a town hall meeting, donated money. But it feels so woefully inadequate. My personal dramas and depressive episodes and absorption in my family life often get in the way of what I feel is effective activism. And its certainly a far cry from becoming a mendicant doomsayer.
I’m insulated by my privilege from much of the terror facing immigrant communities and communities of color. But the grief is real. And there is a tinge of fear that colors my existence.
We cannot normalize this administration. But in many ways life continues to feel weirdly… normal. I suppose its an adaptive quality in humans that allows us to continue to feed our bodies and nurture our offspring in the middle of war, genocide, and environmental catastrophe: We will persist, until we don’t. In the mean time, I’ll
do my best.

Midwest Midnight Checkout Queen

A little after 8 on a Wednesday morning. My teeth hurt from a night spent clenching them. My body hasn’t yet registered that it’s well-rested. This black tea with cream and sugar tastes oddly of nori.

In a back-issue of the New Yorker, in the “Talk of the Town” section, in a short piece about the wigs of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” on Broadway, a fragment that disrupts my cozy morning and brings a painful spasm of inspiration: “Midwest Midnight Checkout Queen.” It’s the descriptive moniker of one of the wigs in the show, and its evocative power stops me dead.

Why?

I read with envious hunger, glimpsing in everything from editorials in the Economist to the fiction of Alice Munro the ways in which I have failed to live up to the promise of my youth. I have not made my mark in a particular academic discipline or artistic field. I have not published anything of note. Each day I feel this incredible tension, between the pleasurable absorption in everyday tasks that also feels like laziness, and my longing for the kind of recognizable achievement that takes work and discipline.

Midwest Midnight Checkout Queen exists outside of this tension. Her being stirs up an inchoate yearning, parallel to, and in some cases at odds with, the other longing.

Midwest: real America, bland and cheerful, expansive fields and unspeakable winters.

Midnight: solitude, the eerie confluence of waking and dreaming.

Checkout: sickly fluorescent light, tabloid covers’ aggressive banality.

Queen: haughty pride, beauty both a product of her milieu and a rejection of it.

Of course, the heart of “Hedwig” is this particular strain of pathos: the desire to rise above ordinariness and obscurity to become someone else, anyone else. The transcendence represented by Hedwig’s shape-shifting obviates the mundane and makes the Midwest Midnight Checkout Queen a symbol of the authentic self’s triumph over daily struggle.