Hold Up Your Light, Don’t Look Away

Where do I start? Do I disguise the origins of this post in generic language, in case anyone happening upon it doesn’t want to be bothered by this right now? Do I wad up my anger and pack it down into my guts to sputter and cool until people start to care less than I do? Do I reveal the complexities, the contradictions, in that fury and the other feelings it drags along? Where the Hell do I start?

It’s hard to start. It’s hard like it’s hard to love anyone in a world designed to take them away from you. It’s hard like it’s hard to love that world.

The ubiquity of firearms in the United States has taken two precious people from me.

The pervasive hatred on which we build our collective identity as a country threatens yet more daily, it threatens me and everyone dear to me.

Yesterday the confluence of these elements ended fifty lives, shattered many more, in the deadliest civilian mass murder in U.S. history. It would have ended many, many more without swift action. The twelfth of June, 2016, was a historic bloodbath and we still have to be glad that it wasn’t as terrible as it could have been.

Already, these atrocities committed against marginalized people are held up by our esteemed presidential candidates as the ideal excuses to further marginalize others, to militarize our hatred to an extent that outstrips even the current cartoonish reality. They leave us to rot, they blast away all that we have, they arm and indoctrinate our murderers and they pick up our long bones as cudgels against those we’d never harm in life.

It’s hard to love this world. It’s hard to want anything to do with it. It’s hard to look at this world and not gut yourself with numbness or let your fury strangle you. It’s hard to let yourself want anything but Destruction or Nothingness. Tear it all down, or take it all away. It’s easy to want that, and to fall to hatred or apathy depending on your preference.

Yesterday, from 8am to around 11am, I switched myself Off. I took a long mechanical walk, I made mechanical coffee, I ate an early mechanical lunch. I watched the situation go from “Oh, another bloodbath,” to “Oh, Jesus, the biggest bloodbath,” while robo-walking through town. When I started to switch On again, when I started to come out of myself, I wrote in the little book I keep for moments of sharp feeling, “Anything I can do feels so pale.”

I’m a writer. A queer writer of genre fiction. A self-published, perpetually hungry writer. I am not visible, notable, accomplished, or acknowledged. I managed to drag myself into adulthood with exactly one talent with which to either flail against the world for some kind of change or tear some semblance of a living out of a system that doesn’t accommodate me. Every single project, every juncture at which I find myself, I feel the weight of a choice I make between the two. I’m hungry and I’m afraid. I don’t always make the noble choice.

I’m hungry and I’m angry and I’m invisible, and there’s a terrible thing inside me that would tear the world down, that knows it’s easiest to pull that hunger and hatred around myself and charge with my head down through life to try and keep myself mostly intact while everything and everyone else burns.

It’s hard to do something as simple as make something, hard to see the value in that, yet the only points of sharp emotional engagement I’ve experienced in this tragedy have been spurred into me not by the continued insult to human life or the vehement defense of our sick society but by simple, earnest, bright creations by people who do care.

I am not moved by the anger because it’s old, animal, automatic. It’s a base biological reaction, and like the silencing fear it comes easy. Anger and apathy are easy and they’re exploitable. We’re pacified and patronized by media that soothes our basest reactions to difficult times, that tells us it’s acceptable to kill or maim whoever makes you angry and cool to not care about anything because everything is bad anyway. We return again and again to stories that rock us to sleep singing not “It gets better,” but “It doesn’t matter.” We get drunk on self-consciousness, on careful sarcasm, on stories that by standing for nothing stand for everything that smothers us. We inoculate ourselves against the very concept of giving a fuck.

Because giving a fuck is hard, and we don’t like things that are hard. The impulse to do difficult, constructive, positive things is new and terrifying. It isn’t as animal as the anger or the fear dressed up as apathy.

The self-soothing notion that positivity is easy or cowardly disgusts me. To construct something, to make something with an ideology, to make anything that uplifts that which society leaves in the ditch or throws under the bus is to take a risk. You risk ridicule, you risk time and effort poured into something that may not even pay off in a smile from a stranger, you risk harassment and attack, you risk having to stand by principles you wouldn’t have expressed without art as an outlet. You risk visibility as a dissenting voice, however friendly and positive.

Positivity offers you no assurances. By attempting to construct something it risks failure and destruction from outside forces. It requires upkeep. It needs to stay limber and active. It’s a light you have to feed in a terrible darkness, in tearing winds.

It’s hard.

It’s hard, and I’m hungry, and I’m afraid, and I can only do so much, and I don’t always make the noble choice. But there are things that I can do, skills that I have. And there have been bleak days and and weeks and  months where I choose to keep going because someone I love didn’t get a choice.

For some of us the most accessible way to affect change is to create, and it’s my priority now more than ever before to create stories of triumph and love, to hold up a light alongside others and create by tedious degrees a world where the people this world would destroy can live without fear or shame.

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