The Power of Art to Stay Awake.

I’ve been watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu with equal parts fascination, fear and fury.

For those who don’t know the premise, it is based on the 1985 dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood. The former United States is now The Republic of Gilead. After extreme environmental devastation has left many women barren and men sterile, the new order steps in, sorting women into categories: young fertile women become Handmaids, some become Martha’s or maids, some are Aunts who are in charge of grooming the Handmaids for their new duties, while the rest are sent to work in the toxic camps where death is imminent. Cheery, so far, yes?

Handmaids are placed with a commander and his barren wife. Most of the commanders are sterile but that fact is no longer allowed in this society. (Dismissing of facts, sound familiar?) Only women are blamed for not being able to procreate. Their duty is to produce a child for the couple through The Ceremony which I find myself cringing through as I watch it.

One of the most disturbing aspects are the flashbacks which also greatly disturbed my 23-year-old daughter. In our current climate, setting the flashbacks in our time just makes the scenario seem not only possible but, at times, chillingly inevitable. Through the flashbacks we learn how women’s right were methodically stripped: firing them for their jobs, freezing their bank accounts so that only a husband or father could manage their money.

These are extreme actions that may, on the surface, feel completely unrealistic. We like to tell ourselves that would never happen here. But it already is. It comes down to how we value women and as a society we aren’t valued as much as men. We literally make less money for the same job just because are women. We are at the crux of a constant fight for control over our own bodies. We may be heading back to a time where our gender is considered a pre-existing condition and be charged more for our health insurance.

Beyond the issues of gender, another chilling scene was a brief flashback where men dressed in black with guns were throwing books and art into a fire. Why go after art? It is straight out of the dictator’s handbook. Go after the artists who use their voices to speak truth to power. Artists hold up a mirror to society—the good, the bad and the ugly. Once we see ourselves, we can’t unseen it. Therefore, it behooves a regime to not allow it to be seen or heard in the first place.

I’ve been watching as many artists struggle to find their voice in this new era of government where rights are threatened on an almost daily basis. Before the election, writer Julianna Baggott started a site inviting people to dedicate their no-Trump vote, sharing their stories about why they were not voting for him.

More than 600 American writers, including Stephen King, Dave Eggers, and Cheryl Strayed, penned an open letter against Trump.

Michael Moore reveals that he has been on a “creative tear” since last summer when he saw the inevitable train wreck coming at us. He encourages the use of satire and humor because it has been shown to get under the President’s extremely thin skin. What is a weakness in him becomes a strength for the resistance.

Many visual artists are turning to their work in this era of Trump to motivate action and educate the public on issues they are passionate about. As always, art is in the eyes of the beholder and there are consequences of expressing your views in such a public forum. For example, Ilma Gore’s painting of a nude Trump sporting a micropenis is currently on display at the Maddox gallery in London. She has been threatened not only by his lawyers but has received thousands of death and rape threats after posting the image online where it was shared over 260,000 times.

I find myself turning more to my writing than ever before. It soothes my anxiety, it helps me make sense of the chaos and it helps me discern what I think and how I feel within the chaos. Working on my novel five days week is often the one time of the day when I can block out the news and lose myself in another world. But I also find myself writing more political content in my journal, on social media and on my blog. I considered whether that would offend potential readers of my work and chose to use my voice. It is a gift I have and to not use it seems wrong. My audience is not huge but I have had people tell me over and over again how much they appreciate my words so I will keep sending them out into the world.

Ultimately, this election has been about waking up. Waking up to reality, to political action, to making myself heard whether through marches, town halls, calling and faxing my representatives or writing. Artists are awake to reality and they wake the rest of us up which is critical in these times.

I will leave you with the most chilling words from “The Handmaid’s Tale” so far:

Now I’m awake to the world. I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen. When they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Consitution, we didn’t wake up then, either. Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.

~ Offred

Let’s stay awake.

 

Books Read in July + August.

july-august-books

“Gonzo Girl” a novel by Cheryl Della Pietra

Everybody is laughing except for me.

Walter Reade is the infamous writer (based on Hunter S. Thompson) looking for yet another assistant to “help” him finish his next project. Recent college grad, Alley Russo, is just desperate enough to take the unpaid internship as nanny/babysitter/word coaxer/drug and alcohol enabler.

Hoping that if she hangs in long enough to get the job done, she will have the chance to help her own book see the light of day. Reade may be too far gone to help and perhaps much too dangerous.

It’s a great page-turner that explores creativity and what we are willing to do get our own art out into the world.

A sentence I love: Seizures in real life are like nothing out of the movies. They are much more awkward and far less violent.

“Blackout—Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget” by Sarah Hepola

I’m in Paris on a magazine assignment, which is exactly as great as it sounds.

In the tradition of Caroline Knapp’s, “Drinking : A Love Story,” Hepola gives us an unflinching account of her path into drinking and, eventually, out.

She plums the depths of her addiction in a matter-of-fact, I’m-no-longing-hiding-my-shit kind of way. And she doesn’t hide anything from the reader or herself. But it’s not meant to shock us. There’s a desperate sincerity behind her story. She doesn’t look away so we, as readers, don’t either.

As described on the back jacket copy, each morning after a blackout, she became a detective trying to piece together a missing chunk of her life. The whole book feels like she is detective, trying to piece together how she got there, figuring out when enough was enough and, finally, her long haul back from the edge into sobriety.

A sentence I love: Writing required hush and sharpness of vision. Drinking was roar and blur.

“How To Be Here” by Rob Bell

I once had an idea for a book.

Reading anything by Rob Bell always wakes up my soul. And makes me want to stay awake. Makes me want to be here now, every moment of my life.

Do you think that being creative means being an artist? A writer? A musician? Rob Bell is here to tell you different. He says, “All work is creative work because all work is participating in the ongoing creation of the world.”

He explores the concept of the Japanese word “ikigai.” It is “the sense you have when you wake up that this day matters, that there are new experiences to be had, that you have work to do, a contribution to make.”

He explores the importance of craft, no matter what your work is. The act of taking that first step. Of facing the blank page, whatever than may mean to you.

His writing feels effortless, easily accessible and speaks right to my heart. He connects me to my heart, to my self in this moment. If your spirit needs a pep talk, then Rob is the guy for you.

A sentence I love:

Success says, What more can I get?

Craft says, Can you believe I get to do this?

“Carry On, Warrior- The Power of Embracing your Messy, Beautiful Life” by Glennon Doyle Melton

A few years ago, strange things started happening to me at church.

This book read like I was sitting down with a dear friend, a friend who knows all of me—all the messy parts I try to hide from everyone including myself— well, she not only sees those parts, she embraces me more fully because of them. And in doing so, she makes me want to embrace all of me too. It’s quite a gift she has.

She reminds me of the badass Christianity of Anne Lamott along with the honest, wisdom-seeking of Liz Gilbert but Glennon is uniquely her own person. She brings her own voice, humor, compassion and utterly quirky and endearing authenticity to every page.

With her utter honesty she encourages the reader to be honest with herself and those around her as well. Touching on everything from marriage to parenthood, church to work, compassion to grief, these essays will make you laugh and cry and left me eager to go live my life out loud.

A sentence I love: When you write your truth, it is a love offering to the world because it helps us feel braver and less alone.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Okay. So, I didn’t realize that this was a play when I bought it. It jarred me, even annoyed me a little. I was ready to just sink into the Harry Potter world again through prose. Once I got over that little disappointment and found a rhythm to read the play in, I was able to proceed. Granted, a little cautiously, but I proceeded. It felt good to visit these old friends. See them grown up and raising children of their own. I enjoyed visiting the wizarding world again. The story was fine. It just felt a little thin and I’m not sure if that’s because of the plot or because of the genre of it being a play. Without the expanse of a novel to roam through the minds of the characters and their lives and world, it felt a little like skim milk when what I was craving was rich, heavy cream.

“The Seventh Book of Wonders” by Julianna Baggott

This is how the story goes: I was born dead—or so my mother was told.

I LOVED this story! It captivated me from the first sentence and the fact that it was about a writer and had a secret book woven in throughout only added to my captivation. Baggott is a storyteller in the best way, layering in complex characters with a plot that makes you want to keep turning the page, all with a beautiful gift for language. In fact, I underlined many sentences that I loved but I can’t share them since I let my best friend borrow it. You’ll just have to pick it up for yourself and see what I mean. And you should pick it up. As soon as possible.