made w/Paper 53
From the darkness of Frank-n-Furter’s castle in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Columbia sings out, “Stay sane inside insanity!” I’ve thought of that line frequently since the election. I’ve felt like everything that mattered to me–the planet’s health, women’s reproductive rights, the ACA, civil liberties, on and on–has come under attack. I’ve been tossed away with each day’s news, and I’ve felt the fear of helplessness start to silence my work. I grow more afraid as I watch many news organizations start to normalize the gaslighting of a narcissist-on-Twitter. What rabbit hole is this?
What does a novel matter when the world is flooding and heating up and our new government could care less? What does fiction matter in a world where facts are apparently optional and synonymous with opinion? Why should we write at all when there’s talk of registries and walls, privatizing education and repealing health care?
And then I remember Eugene Ionesco’s play, The Rhinoceros. If you weren’t an English or Drama major, you may not know it, but it’s a phenomenal work in which, in a far-too-simple synopsis here (sorry Professor Dunn!), a rhinoceros comes to town and people debate it, ignore it, and eventually normalize it. Then, they become the rhinoceros, willingly abdicating their humanity in favor of the force and power of the rhino. Only Berenger, our protag, refuses to capitulate as the whole world turns rhino.
And that is one demonstration of the value of what we do as artists and writers. Ionesco wrote the play in 1959 as a response to the rise of Fascism and Nazism prior to World War II. The play is still relevant today.
What we writers write in these unsettled times serves many purposes:
1) Helping us, the writers, stay sane (which allows us to show up fully for our families, jobs, and activism work)
2) Providing respite, laughter, and contemplation for people fighting difficult fights (Never underestimate the value of escapist literature in mental health!) Don’t self-censor your stories by thinking they’re not ‘important’ in these new times
3) Providing cautionary tales for future generations
4) Resisting, resisting, resisting normalcy of the rhino with every word in us
The coming years promise unfamiliar ground for many of us. Be vigilant. Take a stand for the rights of others. We all will need each other.
Writers are often the canary in the coal mine of societies’ trajectories. Don’t stop sending the signals. We never know which ones will be heard. Be gentle and compassionate with yourselves as you find the ways of resistance that work for you.
But do not, do not, do not become the rhino.