The Knot In My Chest

I’ve awoken the last few days with a rock in my chest. I’m clearly not the only one; everyone around me is just a little more frazzled, a little more distant, a little more afraid. The media is already trying desperately to paint the picture of a more reasonable Trump (I say “more reasonable”, but that’s such a low bar as to not really matter), trying to normalize the horror of what we’ve done here.

The knot in my core is ever-present, fueled partially by anger, but mostly by fear. My wife and I have spoken almost every day since the election about what comes next, and we can’t seem to come to any solid conclusion. We just know that both of us are afraid. While we were talking on Wednesday afternoon, discussing the things that frightened us most and attempting to highlight the good things in our lives to cling to, there was a pause in our conversation and my wife looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, simply, “I’m a woman.”

It might seem odd, or stupid, or obvious, but the words were an expression of every fear that Trump’s election has brought to the surface. She’s looking at a world where the leader of our country sees her as sub-human, and it broke my heart. I feel like I want to say more, but that moment is now so indelibly scarred into my memory that I’m not even sure I can articulate it. It is, honestly, not my place.

In the grand scheme of people in danger from Trump’s presidency, I don’t really rate. I’m a late-30’s white male, about as privileged as one can get, and not technically the target of the wave of hate extending out from the election’s splash. Yet, I’m still bone-shakingly afraid. My political views (primarily liberal-leaning) have put me in the crosshairs, too. I’ve been called a “libtard”, a “useful idiot”, a “cuck” – all buzzwords of the Radicalized Right that tilted this election. It wasn’t until yesterday, though, that I realized where a lot of my real fear is rooted.

In my lifetime, I’ve come to realize that many (read: most) conservatives – even the ones who might not consider themselves part of the alt-right extreme – harbor a core disdain for artists. Oh, they’ll partake in art – listen to music, read books, watch movies and TV, maybe even go to plays or buy artwork or photography. Their dichotomy is to engage in art while viewing the careers of artists invalid. I’ve had direct personal experience with conservatives telling me I should not be able to write as a career, that it’s “not a real job”, and because it’s not, it’s not a positive contribution to society.

To them, art is a hobby, and there is no value in it being a career. My skills as a writer are not useful unless being applied to a corporate job or business venture. And that’s the inherent hypocrisy I’ve seen from conservatives in my lifetime: an emphasis on the importance of entrepreneurship and individuality while simultaneously deriding anyone who isn’t part of a corporate system. It’s an amount of cognitive dissonance I can’t even fathom.

I realized, yesterday, that a Trump Presidency very likely means the death of my writing career in the womb. Under liberal leadership, art can be a career, the means and end together. Under conservative leadership – especially extreme right leadership – art only exists as rebellion.

Many of you reading this will key on that word, offering advice akin to “Well, then, rebel.” I’m still trying to figure out how that fits into my life, my psyche. As a white man, I’ve not had to endure the life of rebellion that so many marginalized people have lived every single day. I am, I think, still in shock, mourning in the quagmire of uncertainty where there was once stability.

I know, both intellectually and emotionally, that I am not endangered here like so many others. Others like my wife who, in spite of being solidly middle-class and white, is part of the 51% demographic that will see a definitive threat to their physical, mental, and social well-being. Like my gay friends, whose marriages are now on the chopping block. Like my trans friends, whose very existence is seen as an existential threat. Like the Muslims I know, who face the very real threat of deportation and mass violence.

I know I am not those people. And I know I will stand up for them and beside them in whatever ways I can. But sharing my own fear is the only way I know how to even try to move past it, to become productive again. To try to write again. Because, over the last five days, the conservative attitude toward my art has been validated and normalized by the election of their own demagogue. In a time when I know, intellectually, I should stand up and make myself heard, I find myself questioning the validity of my art, of my choices. Questioning its value. Questioning my self-worth.

I’m hoping for some level of catharsis from this writing. I can look at this blog post and say to myself I’ve used my words as and expression of my fears, and that’s helpful. I haven’t yet summoned the strength to just barrel back into the work – like I desperately need to – and I’m hoping this will help. I’m hoping I can find the strength to stop worrying about my art as a career, and engage in it as my own personal form of rebellion. I guess I won’t know until I click “Publish”.

About Luke M.

Luke Matthews is a writer, board gamer, beer drinker, and all-around geek. He currently lives in the Seattle area with his wife, two cats, and two German wirehaired pointers.
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One Comment

  1. This is a deeply moving, heart-breakingly honest account, Luke. And I thank you for sharing.

    As an artist, you are already a rebel. The world needs artists, needs words like these, no matter what conservatives say to you.

    You already have the strength, just by putting these words to paper. And you are not alone.

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