Despair and Hope

So Meryl Streep called donald trump out last night at the Golden Globes without saying his name even once, and he tweeted her out this morning calling her an overrated (btw, you don’t hyphenate overrated) actress and denying again that he did, in fact, mock a disabled reporter. I defy you to watch the video and not see in trump’s actions the grossest display of hatefulness and ignorance.

I don’t know what to do with this information. My first instinct is indignation–you know the kind, stomach all in knots, heat rising from the knots, brain threatening to explode out the nose, eyes, and ears with the injustice of the fact that this creep is going to be the President of the United States.

That’s how I feel at first. But then it’s despair. This despair is a full-body wash sort of feeling. It rolls on from the head down like a dark, heavy blanket someone plucked from a corner in a dank basement and threw over me while I wasn’t paying attention. In other words, it’s real.

But this particular blanket of despair isn’t thrown when I’m not paying attention, it is thrown because I AM paying attention. I could spend my time on this blog listing the trump falsehoods I’ve read in the past few days, the latest Republican-controlled Congress abuses of power I shared on FB or retweeted on Twitter, but you can get that information anywhere–it just depends on where you look. Instead, what I want to do is take a gander at my reaction to this despair–or rather to admitting despair.

I come from a long line of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps midwesterners. One of my mother’s favorite admonishments was, “Buck up.” And for the most part, that was pretty good advice. I do tend toward emotional over-the-toppery. That said, “buck up” can be internalized and when this happens, I believe it can normalize some bad shit.

When I write on this blog or in an email to a friend that I am feeling despair due to the inevitable inauguration of donald trump, my committee starts up. You remember the committee, don’t you? Some folks call the committee monkey mind while others nicely refer to them as the devil’s advocate.

I call them the committee, and I realize that most of us have one. Their voices rise from and mingle the many important voices of my lifetime, and when I admit to feeling despair, they start in with a vengeance. “Who the hell are YOU to admit to despair? Look around, ya’ big baby.” They are mean and bullying. They want me to shut the fuck up. “Look around at your nice house, your nice husband, your nice kids, your nice town. What the hell are YOU despairing about?”

And it does shut me up. I mean, really, who am I to despair? I have so much.

Whoa Nelly! (and yes, I did look up the origins of this phrase and realize that it means slow down horse–I’m okay with that)

My despair is real. It isn’t negated by the fact that I have a warm house to live in and adult children who still spend much of their time in it. It isn’t negated because I live in a small midwestern town whose mascot is a little white squirrel with pink eyes. The committee can’t negate my despair unless I give them permission to do so, and I’m rescinding that permission today.

I won’t tell myself to “buck up” as it pertains to accepting donald trump and the malicious policies this new Congress promises to vote in. And don’t get me wrong–despair isn’t a resting place. I do know that. But I believe it is a place where I can get some traction.

Despairing is human, and it serves a purpose. I do a disservice to myself if I ignore it. After all, what if Meryl Streep’s committee had badgered her into silence. I can hear them, can’t you? “What do you have to despair about? You are winning a huge award. Look at all those glowing and admiring faces out there? Seriously, Meryl?”


Just last night I finished reading Krista Tippett’s newest book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. This book, and Tippet’s interviews on her also essential radio show On Being, delve into the deepest aspects of what it means to be human. Becoming Wise is an essential book for these times, an ongoing conversation that juxtaposes politics and love, hope and despair in an effort to ask questions that might bring us closer to what the Martin Luther King Jr. called a Beloved Community.


Tippett posits that in despair, in the depths of darkness–that is where we find hope. She writes:

Hope is distinct, in my mind, from optimism or idealism. It has nothing to do with wishing. It references reality at every turn and reveres truth. It lives open eyed and wholehearted with the darkness that is woven ineluctably into the light of life and sometimes seems to overcome it. Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be.

And in Daring GreatlyBrené Brown asserts that “hope is a function of struggle,”that hope is a “cognitive, behavioral process that we learn when we experience adversity…”

This morning, as tears of frustration rain down my face, I am also buoyed by these ideas. We, and I use the term with love, are truly in the swamp, and despair is appropriate. I would go so far as to say that despair is essential. A clear-eyed acceptance of the muck we stand in can and will give rise to hope.

It must.



On Making

I’m still angry, still sad, still reeling from the results of the election. I don’t want to be shaken out of it or empathized with. I’m not licking my wounds; I’m allowing them to fester. People continue to remind me, on the “news,” on FB, on Twitter, that donald trump (I refuse to capitalize his name) was right, that he knew what the American people wanted, that folks like me underestimated his appeal. I don’t agree.

But here’s something new, sad and frustrated and clenching-my-jaw frustrated as I have been, my Christmas tree is up. Hell, I have two Christmas trees this year. The ornaments are hung and the house is strung with lights. Cinnamon-scented candles burn alongside their dark green pine-scented sisters. The stockings are hung on the chimney and the presents are wrapped, each one with a bow, and under the tree–ALL the presents are wrapped and under the tree.

And in the midst of all this light stringing, ornament hanging, candle burning, present-wrapping frenzy, I completed a 1000 piece puzzle in two days.

This is not me, friends. I am a woman who gets her tree up two weeks before Christmas if I’m lucky (and then leaves it up till mid-January, but that’s another story). I save wrapping presents until the last possible moment. I get candles out, but I sure as hell don’t burn them because the scent is too sweet and cloying. I am not a first week of December Christmas-is-in-the-air kind of gal.

What gives?

This morning I took a walk like I do most mornings, and I stumbled across a trump/pence sign that someone has obnoxiously left in their yard in the spirit of bad-winnerism. I stopped for a moment, and pondered kicking it over–I didn’t, by the way. The funny thing is I didn’t even want to. And that bothered me a wee bit because I’ll be damned if I’m going to be complacent, to believe that everything is okay because Wolf Blitzer and Carol Costello say it is.


Two weeks ago, right before Thanksgiving, I attended a collage/writing workshop at Spalding University  where I did my graduate work in creative writing. It’s always good to go back, to spend time with the women warriors who make up my writing group, but this time it was particularly powerful because in the wake of great loss, we created. For a couple of hours three days in a row, eight women gathered around a table. We scissored up magazines and glued random images and words together. We made stories in that room on the 3rd floor, and it felt so good.

Then I came home, turned the damned TV back on, and proceeded to watch an endless cycle of non-news about the new president-elect. And I started beating myself up for letting the blog languish. “What about your promise to write every week,” the committee taunted me each night I hit the pillow without putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

But I HAVE been making.

That’s what I realized this chilly morning when I strode past that stupid trump/pence yard garbage. I haven’t been writing, but I have been making. And as long as I follow the impulse to make, hope breathes. Hope doesn’t exist within some pie-eyed dream, but breeds during dark times in art and language and witness.

Hope is as Vaclav Havel wrote, “not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” Havel asserts that hope is “a state of mind . . . an ability to work for something because it is good.”

I’ve had those quotes on my bulletin board for years, and when I looked at them today, I realized that hope is art. Hope is making. It doesn’t matter what we make–whether it be cookies or gingerbread houses or dish rags. It doesn’t matter if our creativity manifests itself in a  beautifully lit Christmas tree or a perfectly installed car battery, we are makers. And making heals us.

Things are fucked up. There’s little doubt about that. But here’s the awesome reality–in direct conflict with soul-crushing anxiety and confusion and sadness, I continued to make. I nurtured hope like a small flame in my chest, and I didn’t even know it.

I must continue to nurture hope. We all must.

We are makers, all of us, no matter how we voted. Making is the physical manifestation of love in the world. Some of us make cakes while others make friendships while still others make words shimmer like jewels on the page. Making begets hope.

That’s why my house is lit, why my Christmas tree flickers in the front window. I’ve been making–reflexively. It doesn’t mean that my heart isn’t beating a bit too quickly or that my hands aren’t clenched or that I am not still so fucking shocked that at times I can barely breathe.

It means that hope isn’t a gift, it’s hard-ass work. We have to make it ourselves