I’m aware that the despair I’ve been feeling has much more to do with eternal existential questions, depression, and capitalism than it does with the ups and downs of my literary career. I could publish my novel tomorrow, and more than likely I’d be feeling this way again before too long, perhaps to a different degree and perhaps for a different length of time, but I don’t believe that permanently escaping grief, sadness, and despair is possible. I’m not sure it would be desirable. Part of what I’m trying to do with this writing is to think and feel through what it means to live with these feelings as companions rather than as existential threats to be solved, erased, cured, fixed. Despite my hopelessness, most of the time I want to keep living. So how do I live with this? How do I live through this?
Thinking of myself as a European-American and thinking about how to resist the systematic oppression of other ethnicities isn’t about “white guilt.” “White guilt” is something European-Americans accuse other European-Americans of when they want to ignore history and context and the ongoing oppression of other ethnicities in the US. I think of myself as European-American not because I feel guilty but because I want to truthfully understand the world I live in and work for increased social justice.
On some level, I recognize that the amount of blame I feel, the amount of responsibility I often assume, is simply inaccurate. I am responsible for myself, but I obviously don’t and can’t control the world. I’m a small piece in a huge puzzle. It’s narcissistic? self-centered? self-involved? vain? privileged? to think I’ve reached where I am — geographically, materially, emotionally, spiritually, financially — all of my own effort, all of my own responsibility.
Perhaps I just need to be patient and see what happens. I know what the next steps are, I’ve recited them to myself often enough — submit my book to more agents, write and submit short stories, poems, essays, find a job or jobs, start a patreon account, teach some creative writing classes on my own or through one of the community arts organizations in Durham, apply for grants, apply for residencies, submit to book contests, meet more writers, be active on social media, think about self-publishing, think about starting over, think about scrapping my book, be patient, don’t admit despair, remember all the other authors who have books in drawers, be positive, be positive, be positive, don’t admit despair.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we, “white” people in the US, need to stop using the terms “white” and “race” and “racism” to describe ourselves and the system of thoughts which identifies “white” people as part of a “race.”
Why am I, why was I, so depressed? Because of my fears about my book, mostly, and the future. My fears about what the future may bring. I didn’t consider then the future might involve the results of this election.
I spent Wednesday, the day after the election, mostly in a daze, partly because I was hungover, but also — like many of us — I couldn’t get over the feeling that what had happened was all a bad dream. I had the feeling I’ve had before when terrible things have happened — political and personal — a feeling of incomprehension and shock. I’m not saying anything new, and I’m not sure why I’m saying it, if it matters, but for what it’s worth, I feel shattered, and I fear for my friends and family who aren't white, hetero men.
In early October, in the days after Hurricane Matthew, flooding wrecked dozens of towns and thousands of homes across eastern North Carolina, displaced hundreds of families, and caused the deaths of at least twenty-five people. In August, on the eve of hurricane season, NC Governor Pat McCrory allowed five hundred thousand dollars meant for emergency disaster relief to be transferred to fund the legal defense of the anti-trans, anti-lgbtq bathroom bill known as HB2. Among other things, the law mandates that people in North Carolina make use of the gender specific bathroom which corresponds to the gender they were assigned by the attending physician at their birth. Because the law can really only be enforced on state government property, the most obvious and egregious impact of this law is that it forces trans kids and teenagers attending public schools to use bathrooms in which these kids feel threatened and unsafe because of who they are. The law’s immediate material effect is to put children under increased threat of violence, bullying, and humiliation.
So for the last several months I’ve been suicidally depressed. I’m doing okay now, and I think the worst of these feelings has passed for now. I’ve had this experience before, a half-dozen or so times in my life, maybe more. This time, as in other times, I had the strong urge to write about what I was going through, thinking and feeling, experiencing. I wanted to document it; I don’t entirely know why. I’m a writer, and that’s a part of it, but there’s something more than that. The idea of writing directly, openly, and as honestly as I can about what I’m experiencing is an idea that scares me even as it excites me. I’m afraid of what people will think, even as I remind myself that people are thinking a lot less about me than I am thinking about what other people might be thinking about me.
It's been an embarrassment of riches for me lately. I received the VCCA residency last August, and since then, I'm happy to say that I have been awarded two more residencies.
First, I'm excited to say that I've been accepted for a one-month residency fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. I'll be there in January to continue work on revising The Accountant. A few friends have gone there, and it sounds like a lovely place to do work.
Lately, I’ve been applying for a lot of grants and artist residencies, and as a result, I’ve had to do a lot of writing about myself. Most of the time these exercises are actually pretty useful and even fun; the great advantage of working on a project that I deeply care about — in this case my novel and writing generally — is that it is often easy to talk passionately and at length about it. I also find that answering the questions in the applications gives me some insight into what it is I’m up to.