Dear Friends of the Unreal — I have put off writing my blog entry for October because I haven’t known what to write. I have kept on hoping that some piece of fiction, some work of cinema or television, or even some experience would be something I could share to distract us from the events occurring in our country. I haven’t found that thing.
What I have found are memories: memories of speaking with my host family at the bank in East Germany, memories of a man inviting my daughter and me into a mosque in Akko, Israel, memories of my mother telling me about her illegal abortion in the 1940’s, memories of a student trying to escape the Moonies, memories of another student covered in bruises from an abusive relationship. My best friend from grad school telling me he was gay, family members talking about their queer identities, a friend of my daughter talking about what it is like to be Iranian here in the US. The two Black women in my MFA program talking with endless kindness to the rest of us white students. Our two Latinx professors talking with endless kindness to the rest of us white students. Elsewhere, classmates of Color, professors of Color explaining carefully and patiently what their experiences have been here in the United States. A conversation in a university faculty club with author Octavia Butler where she observed that all bunkers must fall. Author Nancy Rawles pointing out in a radio interview on Whidbey Island that there is no such thing as unskilled labor. Philosopher Gayatri Spivak saying in a small gathering that when we assist, we are really just listening as in the French assister à.
Nous sommes en train d’assister à quelque chose.
We are in the middle of attending something, something where we must do more than listen. We must choose. We must vote, and whatever the outcome, we will need to not just assist but insist on big changes here in the US. Black lives have to matter. Health justice has to matter. The environment has to matter. Children at the border have to matter.
During the past 4 years, I have tried to learn how to play a bigger part in political activism. I’ve tried to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. But I need to do more and probably so do you.
My favorite German author Friedrich Schiller did not live in a free country. Expelled from the principality that he lived in (actually, he escaped, because the prince had forbidden him from ever creating another play), he wrote play after play about the dream of democracy, where justice and equality could happen. His imagination took him from Spain to medieval France to Renaissance England and Scotland to Switzerland to Russia. He never visited any of those places. But he imagined them. Centuries later, my colleague Ruth Klueger recited Schiller poems at Auschwitz. They helped her stay alive, at least psychologically. You have to defend your dreams any way that you can.
No matter what happens next week, we here in the United States — and elsewhere too– need to find ways to stay alive, psychologically, politically, spiritually, and creatively. The avant-garde artist and thinker Natasha Marin has written and spoken about Black joy — joy as powerful, subversive, and transformative. Schiller wrote about joy also, and after his death, Beethoven put that poem to music, and you know it as “the Ode to Joy.”
I hope we have reason to be joyful next week, but even if we don’t and even if we do, we have much work to do. Transformative work. I am honored to be here in this moment with you.
Please vote and encourage your friends and family to vote as well.