To write I need an opening line. Preferably I need an excellent opening line, one that gets me in the middle of something, ties me up in knots I have to untangle my way out of, or lays out a road so open and wide I have to follow it, like a two lane highway on a summerâ€™s day.
Rarely do I get such a line, but even the lesser lines are ones I get attached to, as if they are talismans. Itâ€™s very hard for me to throw an opening line away.
I didnâ€™t have any opening line when I sat down to write today. I had nothing but dread and loathing, neither of which is a place that produces great writing, or any writing, at least not for me. But my friend Pooja people to take part in this write in today, and I had to try.
A year or so ago I decided to give up on the pretense that I would ever write about anything other than my dead father. I even say to people now, â€œOh, I have another dead father essay if youâ€™d be willing to read it.â€ I thought that perhaps by surrendering I might somehow open the way for new material, but that has not happened. I keep coming back, circling around. Iâ€™m not sure if Iâ€™m digging a hole to somewhere or if Iâ€™m mired in muck like one of the circles of hell (the suicides, I think, appropriately enough). But itâ€™s the hole or the muck Iâ€™m stuck in, like it or not.
I wrote last week about how my father would likely have voted for Trump. Thereâ€™s an outside chance heâ€™d have sat out the election, but thereâ€™s no chance in hell he would have voted for Hillary Clinton. Trying to write about your father while trying not to think too much about his presidential picks is a neat trick. The only way I avoid it is by sticking to the parts of my fatherâ€™s life that overlapped with my own. He died when I was five and a half, at which point politics hadnâ€™t yet entered my world view.
The only way I can deal with the current political reality is sort of the oppositeâ€”by taking a very, very long view, one long enough that the next four years (or even eight) are just a blip in history, the wink of an eye or the toss of a hand. I think of the Trump administration in terms of how much space it would take up in my AP European History textbook. I had the seventh edition of the book my mother had used the second edition of when she was in collegeâ€”Palmer & Coltonâ€™s A Short History of the Modern World. She used to say you couldnâ€™t underline the important parts of that book because you’d be underlining everything, which I found to be true. I imagine a short paragraph about Trump in a subsection called Authoritarianism in the 21st Century, and then I feel a little better.
But not much. We donâ€™t live in the lines of a history textbook. There are more of us than fit there, and our lives are too big, and many of them arenâ€™t even deemed worthy by the authors. But we keep slogging along, even on the days when we have no inspiration. We keep showing up and doing the work.