I am a writer, and I am drowning in time. I am actually drowning in different types of time, and I don’t know, really, which is first, or more important, or more urgent—which is swamping me the most. So I’ll start with the one we’re all drowning in: the political time, the time that is the year 2018, nearly two years after the election of Donald Trump to be the President of the United States.
For me, living in this political time is like living during a downpour, a rainstorm that never, ever stops. I wake to the downpour of news I might have missed during the night. It pounds on the roof of my safe little haven and at the windows. When I go out to do errands, I feel soaked, weighed down and miserable, slogging through the storm. As I lie in bed at night, I watch the water rising outside and wonder if now is the time to flee, because just how high will the waters get?
From the campaign to now, women have been targets of Trump and his ilk. Even in the face of my sympathy for other targets (immigrants, people of color, lgbtq folks), I have to admit that I haven’t felt safe since the campaign, and it is exhausting. The storm feels personal, as though the men I know are carrying umbrellas and no matter how much they try to share, the water still reaches me. I feel soaked, weighed down, unable to think of anything much other than whether I will ever get dry. I want to write about it but we are all talking about it so much, every day, in person and on social media and on the news, we are talking and talking and the words seem both utterly used up and utterly futile. And under it all I am afraid, so afraid that my throat feels squeezed, as if I am barely able to keep my chin above the rising water. Even if I could convince myself that my words mattered, I’m not sure how they could make their way past my fear.
And so, as a writer, as a woman writer, I am drowning in this awful time. As are, I believe, so many. I know some people are energized by the storm, the struggle, the constant rain and clouds—some people choose to live in Seattle, after all—but unfortunately, I am not.
Add to that a more personal drowning, a peculiar situation that I never expected to be in: I am unemployed. I am unemployed and have no pressure to get a job, because my husband makes enough that we are making it on his salary. Oh, we could get out of debt faster if I worked, but we’re not struggling to pay the rent. In fact, we have a mortgage, which is itself a bit of extraordinary luck in this time of the shrinking middle class. But it means, simply, that we don’t need the pittance I would get from teaching part-time, so I don’t have to be a cog in that exploitive machine. And we don’t need the money I would get from a “corporate job,” whatever that means these days, so I don’t have to try to figure out how to shoehorn my poet self into a “communications expert,” to figure out how to help anybody sell things better.
No, I am lucky. So many of you with crazy schedules are probably envious—should be envious—and I don’t blame you. It just happens not to be what I expected, nor what I wanted. What did I want? To be tenured at some college or university somewhere. I would have happily taught 4 classes a semester, most of them composition, if only I had been offered the miracle of a tenure-track professor’s salary and benefits. But within the 25 or so years of my own academic career, institutions flipped their faculty from 70 percent tenured to 70 percent adjunct. Those coveted jobs simply were not there anymore.
I kept writing and deleting that last paragraph, by the way. I didn’t want to come across as whiny. Oh, how desperately women don’t want to come across as whiny. Men like Brett Kavanaugh are allowed to whine that they worked hard, so they are entitled to get what they want. But women are told not to whine, perhaps even not to want. I am trying to say it straight, without blame on any other people, but on myself and on a system. I did not get what I wanted, and that has led me to where I am now.
And where I am now is drowning in time to write. My only identity not defined by my relationship to others (wife, sister, aunt, daughter-in-law, pet-mom) is Poet. And I cannot write. I feel like I’m swimming in pleasantly warm water, without waves. It’s nice, but the water is all around me, in every direction, infinite. I’m swimming, but I see nowhere to land. Visually, it’s a featureless landscape. And I’m tired. Not as exhausted as I am by the political time, but tired and overwhelmed and a little bored. Which is not a good place to be for me as a writer.
In this time of drowning for me as a writer, I look to my writing communities to help keep me afloat. I go to conferences, talk to my colleagues about their writing projects and try not to just shrug when they ask about mine. I email a failed poem to a friend who confirms that, yes, it’s just not working, while also trying to encourage and buoy me until I can get back to the page in a way that works for me. I’d like to have a group of folks who meet regularly and in person, but I’m an introvert in a strange land, outside of academia for the first time since I was seventeen and feeling adrift because of that. Oh, eventually I’ll move from ideas to action, find some way to form a group or at least meet other poets and writers, but in the meantime it is difficult to not be able to do what I should be able to do by myself: write.
So if you’re out there suffering in the same or similar ways, if you cringe when people say “there’s no such thing as writer’s block,” if you seek writerly community too: you’re not alone. Perhaps the most we can do right now is stay afloat, in solidarity even if we’re apart.
Categories: Katie's Voice