On Valentine’s Day, while I was stirring chili and scrolling through the day’s headlines on my laptop, a comment popped up from a Star in Her Eye reader: “We miss you,” she wrote, “and want to hear from you.”
I’m not a daily blogger by far, and usually average a post a month, but it’s true that I’ve been more silent lately. I’ve only written two posts since the election. I thought at first I should write a new post. But what would I write about? Certainly not the usual piece about, say, my daughter’s trip to a doctor, or her school’s successful efforts at inclusion. In post-election America, only the broader, public stories grip me. Only the national stories seem worthwhile.
So what larger, disability-related issue might I speak to? Betsy Devos had already been confirmed, despite either her ignorance of IDEA or her unwillingness to uphold it. Since then, the IDEA website has been down and then back up and then down again, but I don’t yet know if it’s truly a glitch (as the government says) or a bad omen for the future of disabled kids’ federally-granted rights to decent education. ARC leaked an executive order barring people with intellectual disabilities from immigrating to the country (legally ostracizing a sub-group of the world that’s already plenty ostracized. Bring me your tired, your poor...) But I haven’t heard anything about the order since. Republicans are pushing block grants for Medicaid, which experts say will decrease federal funding for Medicaid programs over time, but nothing’s been passed yet, and news reports are thin, so it’s hard for a part-time writing professor / full-time “special needs” parent like me to suss out the nuances.
What I mean to say is, all these disability-related issues look like struck matches, flickers held above haystacks. But when do we call “fire”?
Meanwhile, I am taking my kid to doctors’ appointments. So many doctors’ appointments. I wrote half an essay about the ways that medical professionals sometimes talk (or don’t talk) to my daughter. But in post-election America, what’s the point? The world might be on fire. Who cares about a few insensitive gestures from a gruff ENT?
I realize something: I don’t know how to write blog posts in post-election America. I’m perpetually in an open-mouthed state, with no words coming, with only that initial sound that means, Something should be said here. But I don’t know what that something is. It’s like when a woman at church asked me, “How are you?” That week, a Somali man named Ahmed, a man who had spent his entire 26 years of life in a Kenyan refugee camp, had been denied entry into the U.S. even though he had waited years, even though he was properly vetted, even though he held a visa. He had to go back to the same refugee camp in which he took his first breath. “How are you?” my friend at church asked, and I just opened my mouth and shook my head, but no words would come out. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “What happened?” She stood up and readied to console me. I shook my head. “No, nothing personal. Just… national.” “Oh, that,” she said, and sat back down.
This morning, I read Sven Birkert’s newsletter for AGNI, a literary journal. In it, I found what I think is the reason for my blog silence.
The split between outer and inner, public and private, has preoccupied me in this post-election season…. What is the place of the individual, the personal, in a world that has become clamorous with collective agitation?…. The expressive writer lives with this ethical dilemma. Am I being self-indulgent, turning my back on the public agitation, if I try to describe the nuances of a personal relationship, or a memory from childhood? The “who cares?” question, vexing for all of us who write even under the best outer circumstances, is amplified tenfold when the very framework of society seems to be creaking madly.
I don’t know how to write blog posts—which for me have always been personal essays—in an America that seems to be creaking madly. I don’t know how to shine a light on the minutiae of the personal and say, Look here, something bigger, when the world beyond my domestic walls is clamorous with collective agitation.
On social media, I scroll quickly past the posts about frittatas and puppies. I scroll past the personal. I don’t mean to disparage frittatas and puppies. I just mean they haven’t gripped me in post-election America. When will they? How can they? Why would they?
I don’t know. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll wake and see how my family’s personal story belongs in the digital world of reading material. For now, I’m mostly trying to listen. The news is coming fast. It’s dense, thick with urgency. I am trying to keep up. I am trying to decipher the truth. (Today, for instance, I’ll investigate this worrying bill.) I am trying to call my senators. I am trying to get my kid to the doctor’s. I am trying not to wear, always, the face of worry. I’m also trying to remember that roughly half of the electorate thinks the fire isn’t the new administration but people like me. I am trying to will myself to accept that I am a part of this larger American body, split in half.
Birkerts speaks for me here. Rightly or wrongly, he writes, I have lived my life mainly at the scale of private concern, and my thinking and writing have depended on those balances. But now the public clamor has overtaken everything. It’s where my attention goes – it can’t not.
But he adds something more, an assertion I haven’t yet found true for myself just yet. Still, it’s one I take heart in: Yet I know, when I can make myself turn away, that the personal is not – cannot be – diminished by it, not by a scrap.
Here’s a photo of Fiona and me, calling our senators after school.