Actually, ‘The Great Gatsby’ Is Not Trash

This post is in response to this Vice article by a white dude whose books I’ve never read. I can’t make a judgment on his own literary skills (a lot of writers I respect follow him on twitter? that’s all I can go off?). Maybe Blake Butler is a really cool dude.

But Blake, I feel about you the way you feel about Will. I just don’t care.

Unfortunately, you, like many white men, have taken your view and shoved it in my face, and now I have to sit here amongst the shit and write a blog post about it because I’m angry.

Because The Great Gatsby is not trash, and what Blake has done here is conduct a really terrible reading of the book (the kind of reading you’d expect from a tenth grader) and then complained about it in the hopes that it would make a good hot take for vice.com.

He starts out his article by saying that the writing is “not what I would call great – or even necessarily sharp – writing, but the mirage of such.”

I decided to take a look at my well-loved copy of Gatsby to find what Blake considers to be a mirage of great writing. I didn’t find any mirages, but I did find these:

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But okay. Sure. The book’s not poetic. “What foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams” is definitely not poetic, and in fact, it’s just a mirage of great writing. (This concept of a mirage is interesting – all writing is a mirage, insofar as a mirage is, you know, “something that appears real or possible but is not in fact so.” So if my writing were considered a mirage of ‘great writing’ then I would be pretty damn honored.)

Pray tell, Blake, what else do you dislike?

“Carraway is a young, well-to-do white guy who takes it upon himself to affectively mansplain his basic life plan to the reader.” Considering that Blake is himself a man (and a white one to boot), I assume that he’s never been mansplained to, and as such cannot be faulted for his blatant misuse of the term here. If Nick describing his life and events that happen to him is mansplaining, then are all books not mansplaining? Nice try dropping a buzzword, Blake.

Blake takes issue with the fact that Nick isn’t like, a full person, which used to be one of my problems with the book too – but when you consider the fact that Nick is really just an avenue through which this story can be told, you realize that it doesn’t matter that you don’t give a shit about him. Nick’s hot take is about as useful as Blake’s hot take. (Like, the fact that Nick says Gatsby turned out alright in the end – you mean everything he worked his whole life for had failed and he died in his empty pool that he bought to impress a girl who wouldn’t leave her husband for him is ‘alright’? [To be clear, I know that Nick isn’t necessarily referring to Gatsby’s physical, or even mental, state here, but what’s in his heart – after all, he refers to Gatsby’s inexhaustible need for something, his constant ‘reaching toward,’ the ‘foul dust that floated in the wake of his dreams’ as something that ‘preys’ upon him. So then the real Gatsby, we must assume, is beneath the ‘Great’ Gatsby that he’s built, and that’s the Gatsby Nick is referring to here.])

Blake says that “Looking back, we shouldn’t see the flaws in these characters’ outlooks or practices as caricature, or even critcism.” This is interesting considering that that is almost certainly how we should see the flaws in these characters’ outlooks. He says this based off of a quote by Fitzgerald that he was painting “a sincere and yet radiant world.” I’m not sure why the idea of sincere discounts any possible caricature or criticism for Blake.

Blake makes his first valid criticism by suggesting that the plot is bad. Here, he isn’t wrong. Plot-wise, Gatsby is lacking something. But then Blake tries to boil the plot down to this: “Eventually, there’s a car crash and some murder, but even that seems only there to force the story to a head, to wield its point-which, I guess, is that life is short and no one’s happy? Well, no shit.”

This honestly sounds like the title of a tenth grade English paper about Gatsby. “Life is Short and No One’s Happy: A Willfully Obtuse Reading Of The Great Gatsby, By Blake Butler.”

I would argue that no one who’s ever read Gatsby with the intent of understanding it has ever thought that ‘life is short and no one’s happy’ is the point of the book.

Blake calls the book “lame and sexless,” which led me through an interesting series of thoughts which started with “yeah there should be sex in this book” and ended with “I don’t want to read a sex scene between Nick, a boring straight man, and Jordan, a lesbian.”

My personal favorite part of Blake’s article is when he says the following: ‘Did I mention that several of these characters speak like white nationalists? “It’s up to us, who are the dominant race,” says Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, “to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”‘

First of all, Tom Buchanan is an awful person and Scott Fitzgerald hates him. Also, I hate him. Also, everyone who’s read the book hates him. That’s because he was written as an awful character. Again, I’ve never read Blake’s books, but now I don’t particularly want to since he doesn’t seem to write characters that he doesn’t agree with, and that sounds boring.

I probably wouldn’t even be writing this if Blake didn’t end his article by saying that “The Great Gatsby is not only not a great novel, but one by which the continued CPR over its legacy has only done us all a psychic damage, both literarily and as a culture.”

That’s just rude.

Overall, Blake’s argument seems to hinge upon his desire to dislike the book, which resulted in a terrible reading of it, and which then resulted in a terrible Vice article. Going after the white nationalist thing towards the end of the article, once he’s made all of his comments about personal beef with Fitzgerald’s craft, indicates that even he probably doesn’t believe that it’s a problem to have characters who are shitty people and believe in shitty things. Really, Blake’s biggest issue seems to be that he just doesn’t like Fitzgerald’s writing.

Which is fine. But the inflated self-importance that led to an entire article written about how righteous his anger about the book is was just…annoying.

The most unfortunate thing is that he kind of makes a sort-of good half-point at the end. “Reread The Great Gatsby as an adult who has read outside of the canonical framework we’re presented and you’ll realize why so many young people hate to read.” I agree that Gatsby shouldn’t be taught in schools, especially when it’s accompanied by The Sun Also Rises, The Sound and the Fury, A Separate Peace, and The Grapes of Wrath (as it was in my 11th grade English class). Blake is absolutely right to read outside of the literary canon, because the canon is whitewashed and irrelevant to most students’ experiences.

Fitzgerald was a problematic person who abused alcohol and his wife and cheated on her (seriously protect Zelda forever). But he was also a good writer. The Great Gatsby is a great book and, yes, it is a novel about American life. But it doesn’t paint the only image of American life. It should always be paired with books by people of color, queer people, and – gasp – women. The American experience is more multifaceted than Fitzgerald himself could ever have understood.

So, Blake, I think it’s fine that you read a book that you didn’t like  (and dare I say, didn’t understand). But the real point of your article shouldn’t have been about Gatsby at all. Maybe what you meant to say was “The focus on books by white men has only done us all a psychic damage, both literarily and as a culture.” There’s your hot take. But, as a white man, it’s probably not one you should write.

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on writing.

First, a note: some time ago, I lost my copy of Stephen King’s book, On Writing. The contents of it are what the title would suggest, and it’s the single best book about writing that I’ve ever read. It inspired me endlessly as a high school student, first discovering that I’m good at words, after spending childhood writing for the sheer love of it.

When I found that my copy of On Writing was lost, I nearly cried. It felt like a metaphor, or something. But life’s not like that, and I assign meaning where there is none. Just because I’ve lost Mr. King’s book doesn’t mean I have to lose my own.

Second, a history: I’ve written three books for NaNoWriMo. The first, when I was 15, was called – aptly – Fifteen. It was a series of short stories about 15 year old girls at different points throughout the 20th century – and it was pretty damn fun to write. I did so well at NaNo that first year that I finished five days early. To be fair, it was a gentle wade into the difficulty of the challenge, because I wasn’t technically writing a novel. The experience was so much fun that the following year, when I found out that the Pitch Doctors were coming to a nearby bookstore to hold one of their pitch contests – where contestants have 1 minute to pitch their novel, and the winner receives a meeting with an agent – I decided to go. Here’s a video of my pitch – beware, I’m talking really fucking fast and the beginning is an extremely narrow-minded view of female adolescence that the rest of the pitch – and the book – challenges (whatever, I have a lot to say about Fifteen and it’s for another time and place).

Anyway, I won the contest and was offered a meeting with an agent, but I decided not to do it. At the time it was a decision that a lot of people (namely, my mother) criticized, but I knew that I was so young, and I didn’t want to put something out there that wasn’t my best work. It was then, I think, when I came just a little bit close to the possibility of actually publishing a book (and I want to be clear – I know a meeting with an agent wouldn’t have ended with me publishing a book, but it would have been the first step in a process that I wasn’t ready to start). I realized that I was young, and I didn’t know things. I was acutely aware of the fact that my thoughts, while valid, were half-formed at best. And I didn’t want them out there forever, when they were so subject to change.

Ever since then, my relationship with writing has been different. I still love writing, and I enjoy it when I’m actually doing it, but before and after I sit down and write something, I’m terrified. Writing is simultaneously my favorite thing to do in the world, and the thing that scares me the most.

I wrote two more NaNo novels, and haven’t written any since 2013 – and that was four years ago. I know four years isn’t, cosmically speaking, a long time, but the amount of times I’ve started to write a book since then is a little ridiculous.

I started college as an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing, all set to become a creative writer and for that to be the only thing I ever did, ever. But before the end of my first semester, I changed my major to Communications. To be fair, that was my best decision in my college career. I wouldn’t have liked being an English major as much as I like being a Communications major (which is a lot). I’ve learned lots of new types of writing, and I’ve improved my writing tenfold since I started college.

But I write a lot less creative stuff than ever before. That’s something that’s a little hard to admit, because I pride myself on being a creative writer, first and foremost, because it’s what I’ve always been and what I’ve always planned on being.

And that still stands. I still plan on being a creative writer. But I’ve realized lately that being a creative writer is always more of an eventuality than an existing thing. I’m like, Oh yeah, I love creative writing, I’m going to write a novel. I’m going to write a novel. I’m always going to write one. As soon as… something. I’ll write one in the summer. I’ll write one after this job ends. I’ll write one when I don’t have so much schoolwork. On, and on, and on, and it’s not because I lost my copy of On Writing. The reason, by the way, that I don’t buy a new one is because I’m still waiting for my old copy to turn up, even though I’ve scoured my room and it’s decidedly not there.

So what am I waiting for, then? Am I waiting for the ultimate inspiration to strike? Am I waiting for someone’s permission to start sucking? When I first watched this video years and years ago, I was pissed. I was like, Um, no, I don’t suck, I’m amazing. I’m so good at writing. I should get an award.

And then I did get an award, and I got an opportunity to meet with an agent, and I passed it up. I got a whiff of what it would be like to have people reading my books, and it filled me with fear – fear of sucking, of saying the wrong thing, of being stupid, of being offensive, of being hopeless, of not saying exactly what it is that I want to say to the universe.

I know I’m a good writer. I write poetry people like sometimes. I write short stories people like sometimes. I write articles and essays and things that people like sometimes. All of that is cool.

But what I want more than anything in this whole sparkling universe is to write another goddamn novel.

And I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it without having the first clue where On Writing went. Without thinking about an agent, or an audience, or my past self, or my future self. My present self is the only one here right now, and I really, really, really want to write another novel.

Even if it kind of sucks.

when all is said and done / 2016.

We all do a balancing act between our personal and public lives. On a global scale, this year has been tough for so many different reasons. It’s hard to say whether this year is cursed or not, or if all years are like this and we’re just being ~dramatique~. Either way, it’s been hard, globally speaking. And it looks like it’s only going to get worse from here, as Donald Trump clatters into the White House in January. So, fun!

New Year’s is easily the most stressful holiday – it’s an arbitrary line between one year and the next, when in reality, one year ends and the next begins every day. The internet’s looking back on 2016 (I saw someone make it into a horror movie, which was extra but also funny) and I couldn’t help but look back on my own year.

Which, on a personal level, was one of those years where a lot of stuff happens. I did a lot of traveling, made new friends, and met my girlfriend. For the first 4.5 months of the year, I was in Italy, drinking wine, taking trains to faroff cities, and stuttering through Italian 101. Even though I look back on it fondly, my second semester abroad had a dubious beginning, because I was unwilling to let go of how great 2015 had been.

In the beginning of 2015, I had to go to my school’s home campus for the first time, and spent January and February in kind of a depressed fugue, hating it all. But I broke up with my boyfriend, the snow melted, and I started going to the gym. Everything looked up fairly quickly. Even though I had a summer job at an insurance company, which I hated every minute of, the fall semester ended up being fantastic. I got to live with two of my closest friends in the world. And I made the decision to study abroad again based on the fact that they were both going to also be in Europe – one in Dublin, one in Barcelona.

I’m not saying that I closed my eyes and pointed to a map, but essentially, that’s what I did. I ended up in Perugia, enduring cold temperatures and a surprisingly rainy winter, wondering why the hell I had chosen to come there at all. I had been having so much fun at my home campus with my friends. I liked my classes and professors. I was getting involved. So being in Perugia, where I didn’t have any friends and had no clue what was going on, felt like a total displacement. I cried to my mom on the phone every night for the first week, saying that I should have been in Barcelona, with my best friend from school, or at the home campus. It felt like that was where my life was.

I was lonely. Lonelier than I’d been in a long time. I started to make friends, but the friendships were new and fragile, not as rich as the ones I had back home with girls I’d met during my first semester abroad. The weather wasn’t what I had expected it to be (Italy is a Mediterranean country, right?!) and traveling didn’t turn out to be as easy as I had hoped. I didn’t speak any Italian. At all. I felt utterly unprepared.

As the weeks wore on and I continued to be in Italy, it became increasingly clear that being unhappy wasn’t going to change my situation at all. My friends and family were thousands of miles away. I was alone – grocery shopping, walking home from class, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner utterly alone. No one was coming to my rescue. No one was going to hold my hand through this.

So I held my own hand. I started to meditate in the hopes that I could use this newfound loneliness – and freedom, if I squinted – to become more chill. It didn’t work that well, because my mind kept wandering which frustrated me endlessly. But the fact that I was trying made me feel good. I bought a notebook and took it everywhere I went; I wrote a poem about a sunset that made me cry, which was…a weird moment. But that cry was necessary, I think. I started experimenting – a little – with cooking. I went to a weird cafe where I sat on a lumpy velvet couch, drank hot tea, and watched what they were playing on the small TV – which was weird videos of men in fur hats doing decidedly strange things. At one point, one of the men rode another man into space.

It felt good to help myself. I didn’t have to worry about anyone else, just myself, so I did what would make me feel better. And slowly, it did help.

Until I went to Dublin. I was there for less than 48 hours with the two friends I had lived with in fall 2015. I had missed them so much, and seeing them was great until it wasn’t – until I was sobbing at a train station in Italy because I was going back to Perugia, and the loneliness. Seeing my friends had helped only in the short-term, but I was on my own again, with just my backpack and my shoes. I ended up writing this poem as a response to the uniquely awful experience of crying alone on a train platform in the middle of nowhere, Italy. Oh – and it was Valentine’s Day.

I met myself on a train platform.
I asked where she was going;
She said she doesn’t know
Funny, I laughed —
     Neither do I.

After a moment she decided
She knew after all.
“I’m going to find myself,”
She said,
And it sounded as good a destination as any
So I marched Converse to ticket booth
And asked for a ticket to me.

A few days after that, I went to a birthday aperitivo for one of my friends. After some sangria and a strawberry colada, I found myself dancing through the cobblestone streets to a gelateria with Kayla (who is now my girlfriend) and two other friends. Inside the gelateria, I picked up a paper heart left over from Valentine’s Day and asked if any of them wanted to be my Valentine.

Kayla said she did, and a few days later we were on our way to Florence to begin our complicated relationship. (Note: we didn’t go to Florence with this express purpose, but shit happens.) The Florence trip – February 20-21 – marks the end of my Homesickness. (Homesickness with a capital H as a permanent state of being, versus homesickness, which involves a passing sigh or two and possibly a tear shed every few weeks.)

It’s not super hard to figure out why my Homesickness went away. I was beginning something new and exciting with Kayla, and I didn’t have a lot of time to worry about the fact that I was in the “wrong place” when I was worrying that I would get drunk at the wine tasting and tell her I was like, super into her, or something embarrassing.

The moral of this is not that romance will cure all ills, because it won’t. But what did happen after Florence is I started going places more. I would meet Kayla and get gelato. I’d ask our group of friends if anyone wanted to get dinner. I went on weekend trips with my new friends. I spent hours laughing in Kayla’s kitchen, making spaghetti with meat sauce and eating raspberries.

So bad shit ends. It always does, it’s in its nature, thank God. And whether you have to meditate your way out of it, or start kissing a pretty girl in an Italian sunset, or write a whole bunch of poetry until results, you’ll find a way through.

I left Italy at the end of the semester, and Kayla flew back to Colorado while I returned to Pennsylvania. She visited me, then I visited her – twice. This summer I also went to Mexico and California. I took a lot of solo plane trips, which I’ve grown to hate a little less than I did in January. I wore out my old shoes and had to buy a new pair, which was its own little tragedy. I felt independent, zigzagging the continent alone a bunch of times.

And then after all that traveling, I came back to my home campus after 9 months away. Remember – this is the place I’d spent so much time missing in Italy. But my living situation was new, and most of my closest friends were gone. I was ambivalent about my classes. I found myself spending a lot of time alone… Again. My girlfriend was doing the same thing over a thousand miles away, in Boulder. I missed the past and all that jazz.

But I’d learned my lesson. I decided to start going to counseling, which was free so why not? It was a relief to finally address my anxiety and OCD with someone who wasn’t a blank journal page. I spent long hours in the library reading. I started watching Buffy and going to the gym again. I threw myself into classwork. I went places with my new roommates. Thanksgiving break came faster than I thought, and I got to see my girlfriend after 100+ days of separation. Then finals happened and the semester was over. I’d survived.

So, 2016 was weird for me. It was a good year, ultimately, even though I had to chase my own happiness all alone several times. And if I had to sum it all up in a nice bow and say how I changed, what I learned, etc – which I don’t have to do, but I’m too sentimental not to – I’d say that it’s this: Your life is wherever you are – it isn’t something you can accidentally catch a plane away from. And the past is best to be left alone. Don’t think too much about it and don’t compare your life now to your life then. You aren’t who you were then anyway. You’re new and cool and you can definitely find a path to your chill, no matter how many Italian hills you have to climb to get there.

What Do We Tell The Kids?

On November 6 I was canvassing for Hillary. It was my second day (I wrote an article about it for LocoMag) and the weather was starting to turn chilly for good. I juggled a clipboard and notice stickies to place on people’s doors. It was a Sunday.

Sundays always feel ominous to me, like you’re on the precipice of something – Monday, usually, but in this case, something more chilling. Still, though, I chose to feel hopeful, wearing my Hillary sticker proudly on my jacket. I had a few nice conversations with people who planned to vote. I ran into some kids who said their parents liked Hillary; I thought that was nice, that their parents talked about politics around them.

It was a solidly middle class neighborhood in a county that normally votes Democratic. I was only knocking on the doors of registered Democrats who were “unreliable” – that is to say, they hadn’t voted in at least one out of the last few elections. It was the final push in what will always be known as a historical campaign.

Towards the beginning of my route, I climbed the steps to a front door and knocked. The girl listed on my sheet was 19 years old – a first-time voter, the only one in her house. This could mean one of two things: either her parents were reliable voters or they weren’t registered Democrats. There was only a screen separating me and the darkened living room, but I saw a toddler wander forward, look at me, and say, “Someone’s here.”

From further into the darkness of the room, I heard a woman say, “If they’re here for Hillary let’s set the dogs on them.”

I glanced back at where my aunt was filling out the voting address on one of the notices, halfway down the driveway. She couldn’t hear. I had to decide whether I should leave quickly before the older woman came to the door, or if I should stay and try to speak to the younger girl. I didn’t believe that they’d really set their dogs on me, but I did know that this woman would have a negative reaction to me when I told her that I was actually “here for Hillary.”

She didn’t open the door, just rudely said “Who are you?” Instead of telling her, I asked if the girl who was on my list was home. She ignored me and said “Who are you?”

So I told her, “I’m Helen and I’m out here knocking on doors for Hillary Clinton.”

She scoffed. “No. No.”

I thanked her and turned to leave. As I was walking down the stairs, I heard a man’s voice from inside the house yell, “We don’t vote for criminals!”

My heart was racing. I gripped my pen tighter. I thought of the boy inside the house and what he’d just heard his parents say. If anything, this strengthened my resolve; as someone had said during the training that morning, “I’m here because the alternative is unthinkable.”

Two days later, we were plunged into the unthinkable. And now here we are. Every day since the election has brought with it news of swastikas drawn on buildings, hate crimes, cabinet appointments that threaten the rights and lives of millions. I don’t need to list these things, I don’t need to say why they’re chilling.

But I will say this: we need to find a way to respond to people who threaten to attack someone with dogs. People who shout vague and uninformed insults at someone’s retreating back. People who do these things in front of their children.

Kids absorb what they see and the next four years will shape some of their views of this world forever. We don’t need to hide it from them, nor do we need to brainwash them with our own ideals. As Margaret Mead said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Our country is divided; it always has been. I grew up knowing that we were at war throughout my childhood and adolescence. But Obama was elected the year I turned 13. Even though there was dissent, and loud voices on the other side made it known to many that they didn’t like him, I didn’t see it. That never came into my life. But this one is different in that it’s put on display the bipartisan tension between the two Americas. There is the America who believe that the way to Make America Great Again is to exclude people based on the color of their skin and their religion. Then there is the rest of America, who I believe make up the majority, who believe that everyone deserves equal rights and opportunities no matter what.

We need to make sure that kids know that good still conquers evil, that love does trump hate, no matter what the government does or what their parents say. No matter what they see drawn on the side of a building. No matter how many people they see die because of their skin color, religion, sexuality, gender, class.

It’s disturbing to think of kids who live in bubbles where they’re taught that African-Americans are dangerous, Muslims are terrorists, gay people are sinners, etc. We (being that second half of America which believes that everyone’s rights are equal and everyone should be protected by their government) need to find a way to teach these children, as well as our own children, that they can choose what to believe. And then we need to show them how good kindness feels and how rewarding it can be to be open-minded. We need to educate them (in a time when education will probably be under attack). We need to make sure the next generation is a group of smart, strong-willed free thinkers.

We have to find a way into those bubbles of kids who are taught how to hate when they’re taught how to talk. We have to give every child a glimpse of the good in the world and let them draw their own conclusions about it. We have to keep our own children, and our friends’ children, from becoming cynical.

I don’t know how to do that. But I do know that it’s our responsibility to try. Because the alternative is unthinkable.

Who Will Write to the Devil?

The devil wants to start conspiracies,
The devil wants to set a fire,
The devil wants to pepper spray
The eyes of protesters

The devil wants to fire water cannons
The devil wants to spill oil in the water
The devil wants the shore to be overcome

The devil wants to heat the people up
And choke them with it
The devil wants to breathe his hot breath
On the ice
He wants to melt it all

The devil wants to take Religion
And shoot it up with drugs
And words
And guns
And hate
To paint his dirty face on the pulpit

The devil wants to shoot the Innocent
The devil wants to tear us apart
The devil wants to draw fear
From the pits of our stomachs
And place it in our hearts instead

The devil wants to rape our Women
The devil wants to kill the Others
The devil wants to drive a plane into a building
And watch it crumble from his cockpit throne

The devil wants us to put our hand on our chest
And pledge allegiance to him

Who’s going to write to him?
Who will send him the letter –

I’m sorry you didn’t get to do what you wanted
I’m sorry we beat you to it

Who will tell him that we used freedom
To curl around our Mother
And choke ourselves and our children
With heat
Guns
Words
Words
Words

Who will write to the devil
And tell him we beat him to it all?

-Helen Armstrong, December 12, 2016

This is just the first draft of a new poem, but feel free to share this if it spoke to you! Just please make sure to credit me.

the 5 stages of grief

Bargaining.

The states fall away.
One by one
A red veil falls across
The middle of the country.

I pray to New England.
I beg at the feet of Florida.
I build a shrine to California
To Oregon
To Washington.

I lay myself across Pennsylvania
My home
I gather the farms in my hands
I place the skyscrapers of Philadelphia
And Pittsburgh
On top of my head.
I hold out my hands
I balance across a tightrope.
It isn’t enough.
The red veil lays itself down.
Was it you?

Anger.

I place my hands against the countertop
And lift my face to the mirror.
I look myself in the eye.
Rage screams in my gaze.

Tears fall into the sink.
I wash my hands.
They slide down the drain
With the grime of the day,
The guilt of Pennsylvania,
The anger of Florida,
The disgust of Texas.

My country is pried from my hands.
My heart breaks in two.
My brain spins on its head,
A top on the counter,
And I stare —
How will it fall?

Denial.

I took a road trip
Under the July sun
And in the August heat.

I looked at the Grand Canyon
I drove through the Rockies
I hiked in Yosemite
Skipped rocks in the Pacific
Drank beer in the Outer Banks
Waded under the Florida sun.

This isn’t the country I met.
This is a false picture,
Paint splattered across
A land of beauty and color.
A land of rocks
And mountains
And water.

Of amber waves of grain,
Of purple mountain’s majesty.

Depression.

I wear a mask.
I smile and say, “I’m good, you?”

I go to class.
I eat.

I run a mile on the treadmill,
Then another.

I watch TV.
I read.

I write.
I write.
I write.
I do not write enough.

I try to understand.
I fail.

I shake.
I cry.
I cry again.
And I do not cry enough.

Acceptance.

We must never get here.
We must never accept this.
We must not allow our bodies
To near the threshold

We must not stop.
We must scream ourselves hoarse.
We must donate our time
Our money.

We must hand our microphones
To the voiceless.
We must listen to what they need.

We must lay ourselves down
Like a mountain of truth
A river of love
A sea of broken hearts
And ugly promises.

We must never get here.
We must never accept this.

-Helen Armstrong, November 2016

on the election and creativity

I’m at home, trying to breathe.

Tuesday night was a slow sucker punch. I won’t soon forget it – shaking as the results came in. Watching Stephen Colbert lose hope. Crying in the bathroom, looking myself in the eye, trying to understand what was happening. Failing. Getting a text from my mom – don’t worry! It’ll be okay!

It was a slow trauma, one I was unprepared to face. I was blindsided. This clown, this joke, this bad headline, this disgusting news story, was approaching 270. My glass of wine didn’t help. I sat shaking on the couch, wondering if I would ever be able to stop.

At Florida we lost hope. We started to bargain. By California, it didn’t matter. Our country was gone.

Or, to be more precise, the country I thought I lived in had been proven to be a fairytale. It wasn’t real. Maybe it never existed.

I fell into a fitful, shallow sleep that night. I woke several times. Each time, it was still real.

On Wednesday, it rained.

On Thursday, the sun returned. The country was protesting. There were words to write. Chants to shout. Art to be created.

This year has been tiring from the start. The sky has gained a lot of bright stars, but our world feels just a bit emptier for their absence. The passing of Leonard Cohen has been nearly eclipsed by the screaming aftermath of the election. A lot of incredible artists have left us in 2016, leaving a gap for us to fill.

Since Tuesday, the first question on my mind has been what now? What can I do, every day, to protest? What can I do to say no to this election, to Donald Trump, to hatred and fear? How can I make a difference as just one person with little money and barely any resources?

The answer lies, as it often does, in art. Words. Creativity. Expression. These are the things that I would take onto the Ark with me during a flood. They are what I would arm myself with to march into the Apocalypse. The pen is mightier than the sword, as they say, and  “no” can be my sword, I can whisper love into the world with a poem or a song.

This isn’t the end of the story. Maybe this is the beginning.

Once upon a time, there was an evil man…

#heterosexualprideday

Ah, the hashtag.

Used from the banal:

#girl #pretty #blessed #party #partylife #philly #philadelphia

etc. etc. etc.

To the useful:

#giveelsaagirlfriend #nowomanever #givecaptainamericaaboyfriend

Hashtags can be used on Twitter to create a conversation, occasionally – once in a blue moon – an important conversation. But today? Today, they’re being used to make everyone seem a little more dumb.

The hashtag #heterosexualprideday is trending, and the entire thing has brought up a discussion that, well, like a heterosexual pride day, just doesn’t seem necessary.

There have been some great responses, giving the hashtag just as much flack as support, it seems, which is solid. For example:

Then there are just some dumb responses:

Well, @cartoonjunkie1 (CJ… Can I call you CJ? Have we reached that point? I assume we have), and everyone else who genuinely believes that Heterosexual Pride Day should be a thing, I feel kind of sorry for you, and kind of scared of you. Scared because not long ago, there was a horrific hate crime committed against the LGBTQ+ community. That’s why we have to have gay pride, that’s why we have to all stand together, so that in holding our hands and raising them up high, we’re telling each other that we aren’t alone, it’s all going to be okay, and we’re going to get through this.

To shift attention away from the community that’s hurting and mourning, a community who needs support from those who have the privilege of not being a part of it, that’s rude. And it’s scary. And it’s hurtful. And it needs to stop.

on pride, guns, and the usa

I’ve been putting off writing a blog post since I woke up yesterday morning to the news about what happened in Orlando. I’ve gone through the gambit of emotions – shock, dismay, anger, grief. Now morning is here again and I’ve had the chance to sleep on it and things are slowly going back to normal. I wonder, though, if they ever really can – especially for members of the LGBT community, the world has become suddenly a scarier place. We got marriage equality last summer and this summer, we’re getting shot.

Hate crimes have always taken place in small numbers, but persecution on such a grand scale is something of the past in the Western world. Or so I thought. There are other places in this world you can’t hold hands or kiss in public, as an openly queer person, without being punished by the law. And while my heart breaks today as it always has for the LGBT community in places where they must hide out of fear, my heart now breaks anew for LGBT people in my own country.

uganda pride parade

The 2012 Pride Parade in Uganda, one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be LGBT via

The shooter was, according to his father, enraged after seeing two men kissing in Miami. What kind of horrific culture of homophobia has been fostered in our own backyards that such a thing – seeing two men kissing – could set off enough anger in a human being that he would go into a gay club and kill 50 people?

Of course, it isn’t that simple. It isn’t just the two men he saw that drove him to do this. It could be any number of things – it could be the open bitter hatred for the LGBT community that gets expressed every day by radical Christians in our country, or public figures on the right, or even just every day people who make homophobic comments on the Internet and in person. All of these groups have been extra loud lately amidst the “bathroom debate,” which has gone on far too long and become far too big of a deal. People have said awful things and I’m sure I don’t need to highlight them here, because everyone’s been seeing and hearing nothing but opinions on either side of the debate. But the fact that it’s given lots of people the opportunity to emerge from the woodwork spewing hate has created a crackling negative energy that surrounds our whole country these days.

There are lots of things that we could do in the wake of this tragedy. I remember that after Sandy Hook, I thought things would really change. I had faith in our country and our lawmakers. I had faith in everyone who called themselves Americans. I had faith that the slaughter of innocent children would force everyone to unite and make a significant change. I couldn’t imagine a world where a man walks into a building with a gun, shoots 20 children, and nothing changes.

So in the wake of that tragedy, we decorated our Christmases with conversations about mental health, violent video games, and gun control. And when the New Year came around, we all went back to school and work and moved on.

Some states changed things. Most didn’t.

It sickens me to my core, as it should sicken you, that there are people in this country who would rather protect their freedom to own a gun – an outdated freedom, one that no one in our free country needs – than keep the children of the United States safe.

So here’s what will happen: we’ll talk about the shooter’s religion. We’ll talk about his mental health. We’ll wonder if he played violent video games. We’ll talk about homophobia. And in a few days, weeks, months, all of the above, there’ll be another shooting. And another. And another.

In this time of grief and mourning, as we in the LGBT community try to find our voices and words to say, we must remember that it is important above all to speak. We must not allow the national dialogue to stray away from the issues at the heart of what happened. We must be loud and constant and tell our lawmakers, neighbors, the whole world that the United States will not tolerate such acts of terrorism and homophobia. The year is 2016. We cannot be a country that allows for these tragedies to happen again, and again, and again. We must put pressure on the levee until it breaks, and let our freedom, our lives, our voices as a community pour out like water. We must fill the country with our protest, our heart, and say that we will not be killed, we will not allow anyone to be killed.

This should not have happened. But how we move forward from here can save thousands, millions of American lives on our own soil.

Sign petitions. Join protests. Call, write, tweet, and email your local politicians. When the election comes, fill Washington DC with people who might work toward greater gun control. Don’t sit down. Never sit down until the children of this country, the minorities of this country, every single person who has ever walked into a movie theater, a shopping mall, a school building, a college campus, a gay club in this country is safe.

Visit http://everytown.org/act/ for some information on what you can do to join the fight.