We are 100 days out from the U.S. presidential election. This will be the seventh I have been eligible to vote in. Of the previous six, three went the way I voted and three did not.* It’s the losses I have been thinking about as this election nears. Not because I believe Trump will be reëlected, though it is possible. But because the losses hurt more when you wonder after the fact if you might have done more to help. Better to do what you can now.
As a writer and artist living in quarantine in a place certain to vote against Trump (Washington, D.C.), it is hard to know what more to do these next 100 days other than write, make art, and hope that some of it ripples out to places where the vote is more likely to be close. And so, I’ve recently reconfigured this site to help me do that. There are plenty of places for punditry and analysis of breaking news, I have no interest in that, so I find myself asking again, “what is the conversation you want to be having?”
It may take 100 days to find an answer, but the ties between current events and the books and film and stories I’ve been immersing myself in will surely be part of it.
I’ve been reading Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark recently, because like everyone else, I’m looking for hope during the unending darkness all around us: Covid-19, Trump’s myriad failings, the murder of George Floyd, and all the other tragedies of white supremacy newly on the surface of the collective (white) consciousness. I hadn’t realized when I picked up the book that the Dark in the book’s title originally referred to the early years of the George W. Bush administration, when the first edition was published. Civil liberties were under attack, alarming reports of civilian casualties in the Middle East were emerging, poverty was rising and corporations cozy with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were getting rich. Another four years was unthinkable.
I read this just after rediscovering some protest art I’d made in 2004. Stumbling upon the images in a forgotten Dropbox archive reminded me how inescapable the conversation about darkness seemed to me then. Yet, even then so much was happening offstage, out of my view that led to the progress we’ve achieved in the sixteen years since.
Solnit reminds us that there are always other conversations, other things to focus on besides repeating the darkness again and again:
“Sometime before the election was over, I vowed to keep away from what I thought of as “the Conversation,” the tailspin of mutual wailing about how bad everything was, a recitation of the evidence against us…. Now I watch people having it, wondering what it is we get from it. The certainty of despair—is even that kind of certainty so worth pursuing? Stories trap us, stories free us, we live and die by stories, but hearing people have the Conversation is hearing them tell themselves a story they believe is being told to them. What other stories can be told? How do people recognize that they have the power to be storytellers, not just listeners? Hope is the story of uncertainty, of coming to terms with the risk involved in not knowing what comes next, which is more demanding than despair and, in a way, more frightening. And immeasurably more rewarding. What strikes you when you come out of a deep depression or get close to a depressed person is the utter self-absorption of misery. Which is why the political imagination is better fueled by looking deeper and farther.”Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
And so, perhaps some of those deeper and farther places are where we’ll go in the next 100 days. I will at least attempt to steer away from the “tailspin of mutual wailing.”
More on 2004 tomorrow.
*The 2000 election warrants an asterisk in this win-loss record. See Day 98.