Kay: A Writer’s Post-Election Blues

I watched some of the American election returns on Tuesday night, and since then I’ve been struggling to put words on the page. I’ve been upset and depressed and paralyzed. Writing is usually my stress reducer. What can I do?

Like many writers, I turned to Google. And I found a 1961 article by Philip Roth in Commentary Magazine. Philip Roth is not my favorite writer and 1961 seems like a long time ago, but political turmoil has always been with us, and his words resonated with me today.

“The American writer in the middle of the 20th century has his hands full in trying to understand, and then describe, and then make credible much of the American reality,” he writes. “It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination.”

Some of his examples of a sickening and stupefying American reality seem quaint today. [following italics are mine]

“Who, for example, could have invented Charles Van Doren?” Roth asks rhetorically. [Van Doren participated in the television quiz show scandals in the 1950s and testified before Congress.] “…Sherman Adams [President Dwight Eisenhower’s White House chief of staff, who lost his job in a scandal when he accepted an expensive vicuña coat] and Bernard Goldfine [guy who gave Sherman Adams the vicuña coat]? Dwight David Eisenhower [boss of the guy who took the vicuña coat]?”

Those crimes seem awfully minor these days, don’t they? Or maybe they seem like small potatoes only if what our current president has done in the White House upsets and sickens you. Roth wrote:

“The daily newspapers then fill one with wonder and awe: is it possible? is it happening? And of course with sickness and despair. The fixes, the scandals, the insanities, the treacheries, the idiocies, the lies, the pieties, the noise. . . .”

I wanted Biden to win this election for a lot of reasons, but the forces that brought Donald Trump to the White House will not disappear when he leaves, and the problems he created will not vanish overnight. Roth wrote, “[I]t is clear that though one may refer to a ‘problem’ as being controversial, one does not usually speak of a state of civilization as controversial, or a state of the soul.” And that reminded me of a clip I saw on Twitter yesterday morning of Eddie S. Glaude, who was a guest analyst on MSNBC during the election return coverage. Glaude is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton, where he is also the Chair of the Center for African American Studies and the Chair of the Department of African American Studies. Glaude’s response to the unfolding events was powerful and sobering: “[Donald Trump] is a manifestation of the ugliness that is in us,” Glaude said, talking about American politics and history, describing what he calls the “myth of white innocence.”

Roth’s essay essentially describes how the popular and critical writers of his day—J.D. Salinger, Bernard Malamud, William Styron, Saul Bellow, Herbert Gold, and others—grapple with the zeitgeist of the period, and how, in his opinion, they fail at this task. He might be right—I haven’t read all those authors extensively—but mostly I just think that’s Philip Roth being Philip Roth. What I take from this is that evoking the zeitgeist is hard.

As I write this, Biden will win the election if he carries Nevada, but if that happens, Trump’s lawyers will descend on all the swing states, demanding recounts and doing what they can to suppress the vote. Even if Biden ultimately prevails, the worst of the lies and chicanery and heavy-handedness of the White House will go away, but the ugliness of the soul that Eddie Glaude describes will not. That is something that will still be with us. Something we—as individuals and a nation—have to work on.

That and my book, the thing that keeps me centered, no matter how hard it is to capture the zeitgeist. Because this is what I have and what I can show for what I thought and how I lived during this period. As we say here at the Eight Ladies, nothing but good times ahead.

Forward, my friends!

5 thoughts on “Kay: A Writer’s Post-Election Blues

  1. Thanks for sharing this reminder that there’s nothing new under the sun.

    Trying to tell myself this could be good. It feels like we may have reached an inflection point, where we’re inescapably faced with dealing with America’s original sin of slavery.

    And thinking that, back during the Civil War, people must have had this same shocked confusion that fellow citizens could have such a very different sense of what’s fair and right.

  2. I’m really glad to be in a completely different time zone. I can tell myself, “NOTHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN FOR THE NEXT FIVE HOURS. Get some writing done, self!” Or laundry or dinner or whatever it is.

    I was completely sick last night at the election results, because I wasn’t looking at the percentage counted or how things worked. We had hot dogs with cheese and tortilla chips for dinner, which was a real change of pace for my Japanese inlaws! But it comforted me, and I took another look at things — on the Associated Press Polls, Michigan flipped right before my very eyes, and I was able to take a good look at how things are counted.

    My mom is looking at CNN, and they are counting things a little differently. But either way, people are optimistically cautious that Biden will win.

    Biden may not get the Senate until 2022, though, if then, so he’s going to have to show how much reasonable governance can improve the country. Or, he may have to be VERY unreasonable and pull a lot of strongman cards to get the country fighting COVID as a team. But already, he’s talking about pulling together while Trump is whining about whose fault this all is.

    There’s news today that India may have a vaccine ready in February. It’d be really, really nice if by then, we have a president who believes in international cooperation and a Congress who supports public health as the foundation for a booming economy.

    And that’s public health for ALL Americans, not just the rich ones, not just the white ones, not just the ones who know a good doctor. 2021 isn’t going to be an easy year, but it might be a year where we can make progress.

    Fingers crossed!

    And by the way, after I managed to convince myself Biden/Harris still had a chance, my mind was still racing. I found this video in my YouTube feed, and used it to get to sleep . . . and then to get to sleep again after I woke up in the middle of the night. Thunder and fire sounds don’t seem like a conceptually sleepy idea, but it turns out the cool cleansing rain and crackle-pop of a warm fire were just what I needed to drift off.

    Also, a one-minute meditation from my farm. Mama Tabby and her three kittens playing. It can’t make democracy happen, but it can refresh the soul to fight for democracy another hour. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCoLKT6Yu58

    • Your cats are fun. It reminds me of a mother watching her kids at the playground. Somebody needs her face washed! And thank you for the fire/rain meditation. I didn’t watch the entire 30 minutes, but that sure is soothing. I can see how it could relax you enough to help you sleep.

      I went to bed early on Tuesday depressed, too, Michaeline. No matter the outcome, half the country voted for Trump, knowing what he is. It was one thing in 2016, when people hoped he might mature into the office or maybe turn out to be not be as bad as we feared. And then he was worse, and…people voted for him anyway. As you say, even if Biden does eventually become president, not everything will be peachy. But it would be great to feel that somebody who knows what they’re doing is sitting in the Oval Office. Who knew my wants would be so simple?

      • The cats and dogs have been such life savers this year for me. Two housecats, two guard dogs and maybe seven (maybe more?) farm cats who are hanging around here and there. That is one good mama kitty, that’s for sure. I’ve seen her hanging out by herself and taking some me-time, too, LOL! I’m currently writing about Greebo, the feral tomcat who is also a very good daddy kitty to these three youngsters. I’m not sure if fictional Captain Greebo will have kittens or not; probably not, but I never know what’s going to happen for sure until I’m writing it.

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