“Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”
– George Orwell
“Nobody thought I was going to be big on television, and then I dominated the ratings and my name was on everybody’s lips. But being a celebrity is good 70% of the time — it gives you fame, money and power.”
– Donald Trump
My sister was at the Woman’s March in Washington the day after the inauguration of Trump. She texted me pictures of the some of the signs marchers and protestors were carrying: “Just another slut on birth control”; “This machine kills fascists” (with a drawing of the female reproductive system); a cartoon drawing of Trump grabbing Lady Liberty’s crotch; and one that read, “This ‘anyone can grow up to become president’ thing has gone too far!”
People sometimes write scary-funny things when they’re frightened and angry and full of impassioned purpose.
“Writing,” our former president Barack Obama said in a recent New York Times interview, “has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are … the process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions.”
Here’s the opening paragraph from Obama’s 1995 memoir Dreams from the Father:
A few months after my twenty-first birthday, a stranger called to give me the news. I was living in New York at the time, on Ninety-fourth between Second and First, part of that unnamed, shifting border between East Harlem and the rest of Manhattan. It was an uninviting block, treeless and barren, lined with soot-colored walk-ups that cast heavy shadows for most of the day. The apartment was small, with slanting floors and irregular heat and a buzzer downstairs that didn’t work, so that visitors had to call ahead from a pay phone at the corner gas station, where a black Doberman the size of a wolf paced through the night in vigilant patrol, its jaws clamped around an empty beer bottle.
Maybe I see it because I’m scared and angry, but a nightmarish depiction of our now haunts Obama’s paragraph: we are all living on an uneasy block; borders have shifted; strangers are delivering the news. And the heavy shadow cast across the land is that of a Doberman with the temperament of a rabid wolf pacing in the Oval Office.
Attacks on our freedom of speech have begun. The Trump White House has declared war against the media. Asking questions and telling the truth are considered acts of aggression. “Alternative facts” has come into our lexicon.
The last text my sister sent me from the march was a picture of a sign that read: “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit!”
“One of the things I’m confident about,” Obama said, “is that, out of this moment, there are a whole bunch of writers, a lot of them young, who are probably writing the book I need to read.”
I was one of the keynote speakers at the recent Goddard MFAW residency in Vermont. The theme was “Intend and Imagination.” During the Q & A, a student shared that in these dark days of national fear, anger, rancor, division, and uncertainty, he didn’t know what he ought to be writing. I answered: “Write the book you want to read.” Let me revise my answer here: Write the book you need to read. Right now. Write now.