I find it incredibly difficult to sit down and write my column this month. In these days since the presidential election, I have hardly been able to sleep, to eat, or to write. An excursion to the grocery store becomes a major athletic patrol, and I return exhausted. I have felt anger, disgust, outrage, and fear. If you have gone through these same feelings, there’s no need for me to explain any of it to you.
In fact, from what I’ve picked up on both social media and traditional media, millions of people have been going through the same emotions I’ve been experiencing. This is a consoling fact for me, that we are not alone, that we are all going through the same thing together, and that in the future we may take collective action, shoulder to shoulder. Right now, however, just pulling my head together to write these words is a major undertaking.
This month, I have five stories from three wonderful writers, and my current mental and emotional state is perhaps not fair to them as I attempt to write an introduction to their work. I think you will find, however, that all of their work is appropriate to the current moment.
“Bedroom Paint” by Shauna Hambrick Jones is a short piece of simplicity and beauty. Although I am not a minimalist myself (currently working on an extraordinarily long novel), I have defended and celebrated minimalism over the years. There is no such thing as a “small” voice—every voice that honestly tells its story has power, and in our terrible new era, we are going to need every compassionate voice we have. Jones’s voice is just such a voice.
I’m sure you’ll agree that much the same can be said after you read three stories by Theodore Frederick. Our era is not the only one to face monumental struggles, obviously. A good Vietnam story is always apropos, especially stories like those of Frederick, which show us the spirit not only of a soldier, but of the same person as a civilian with problems at home.
Although it was several weeks before the election that I decided to publish Keenan Norris’s “To the Chi: Imagining, Recounting and Re-Thinking Three Chicago Migration Narratives,” I find that in the wake of the election, his work is more relevant than ever. At this juncture in our national life, we are presented with two visions of America that are starkly at odds. Are we the America of the “melting pot,” where everyone is equal and has the same opportunities and rights? Or are we now something less than that? Norris’s investigation is a great ethnographic survey, convincingly arguing for America as a perpetual melting pot, rather than the current ascending paradigm of America as the exclusive province of conservative white “Christian” men of a certain age. Norris’s voice would be a very welcome one at any time, but is especially vital and relevant at this dangerous time in our national narrative.
I would like to add a note inviting all of you writers out there to submit nonfiction on a topic of your choice. I’m looking for creative nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, memoirs, and personal essays—with the understanding that these categories often overlap. Up to 10,000 words. Please submit work directly to me at [email protected]. I look forward to reading your work!
And, finally, all of you please be well.