The Elephant in the Room

By guest blogger Bob Sabatini

Well, now, it’s been an interesting couple of months, hasn’t it? When I was asked once again to write a guest post for yet another March, the first thing I had to know was whether I would be welcome or encouraged to write about “the Elephant in the room,” because that would make a huge difference in how I would frame whatever I might want to say. And do you notice how I didn’t even have to specify which elephant I was talking about? Sam knew exactly what I meant when I asked her, and I bet you did too. It is safe to say that the recent election is one of the most polarizing events in recent memory. And since I am a guest (blogger) in this house, I wanted to be sure I knew the rules.

Since this is not primarily a political blog, would she want to keep everything sparkling clean and sanitized? After all, good advice and cheerleading for liberal writers is good advice and cheerleading for conservative writers too, right? So why risk alienating half your readership just by making a political stand? On the other hand, it also seems a safe bet just from having met many of the contributors to this blog that a rather large percentage of the readership come down pretty heavily on the “blue” side of the chasm (although, if I’m wrong in your case, I hope you’ll stick around to the end to see that I don’t want to make you feel unwelcome just because I may disagree with you).

It echos what Sam wrote about yesterday, the question about what balance you want to strike between increasing your readership and truly speaking your mind. It’s one of those questions I really wish there could be a firm, black-and-white guidelines to. A “Right” answer. The type of answer it seems like our fellows on the other side would rally to and try to impose on everyone. But those of us on the left have been made all too aware recently, this is a world of nuance with no easy answers and no way to satisfy everyone.

For me, the answer became one of motivation. In October 2016, I went about what has become my annual tradition, writing a short play every day in the month. It was my 8th year partaking in the exercise, and it was the closest I ever came to just outright quitting. On three separate occasions, my “play” for the day was just me berating myself for not having anything better to write than a play berating myself for not writing. And it seems so clear to me now, a part of the reason for that malaise was that I was becoming more aware of the truly ugly undertones our national narrative was taking on, but I was assuming once the “correct” candidate won, they’d all be plowed back under the surface where they belonged. I was playing it safe, of the 31 scenes or other short works I wrote that month, only four addressed the political situation indirectly and one did so directly.

Then… November. Ok, let’s not talk about November. When I finally got wise to the fact that I was not in fact just in some horrible living nightmare, any thought of holding back was gone. And I was writing again. A lot. Most of it angry and utterly incoherent. But as I was able to slowly recover from the shock of what had happened, a mission to my writing slowly became clear to me. I couldn’t get past comments from the folks on the other side about how “hateful” people like me who opposed the President are. At first I just dismissed them: it’s just insensitive people and incredibly sore winners looking for hurtful things to say. But the more I read, the more I realized that they actually believe that liberals are hateful.

so hateful

See how hateful I am?

Well, I can only speak for myself, I am angry, to be sure. I’ve been punched in the gut and given an atomic wedgie. Betrayed by a friend, how could a system of government that I’ve loved and fully bought into for as long as I’ve been aware of a world outside my own consciousness possibly do something so hideously awful? And yes, I have on more than one occasion—especially in hearing the new regime attack the press, or scapegoat immigrants and ethnic or religious minorities—been reminded of the rise of historical autocracies, and the parallels have me scared pretty close to shitless. But that “hateful” charge has really stuck with me. Fear and anger can lead to some pretty strong statements, but hatred—the type that’s gotten us into this mess, anyways—is a malicious feeling that’s become so internalized that the hater hates whatever it is he hates even when calm and composed, with no need for fear or anger to push them into violence.

That’s why, when I was more than halfway through a new play-a-day writing project in January, I discovered I was breezing through writing scenes and stories that reaffirmed love. Love of all people, whether I identify with you or not. Love for the world, even though it seems to be falling apart. Love bursting out even through the anger. After leaving so many ideas off to the side in January, and having still more come to me since then, I decided on a new daily challenge. Taking the theme of love—and here I’m thinking any kind of love except romantic love—or non-violent resistance, I’m writing a monologue for the stage every day. I’m even having a lot of fun trying different voices, and I’ve got several ideas “in the bank” and absolute confidence there will be more in their place when I run through them.

Every time a new cruelty is unleashed on the American people, more loving and creative means of resistance float out into social media and my day-to-day interactions, and it’s been fun to join in. I’m not about to shut that off just because some people might not like what I have to say. Besides, while I’d much rather not be scared shitless of government and struggling to write than the other way around, if I don’t have a choice about being scared shitless, I might as well get the writing done while I can.

5 thoughts on “The Elephant in the Room

  1. I really appreciate this post. I have taken up a similar exercise in flash fiction and have found my work taking a political turn for the first time ever. It’s actually left me wondering why I have avoided it so much in all the years I’ve been writing. I really like the idea of trying to put more “love” in the writing, and in the way of sympathetic magic, perhaps a little more love in the world too. Thanks for the insight. I am going to try this out in my flash fiction for a week and see what happens.

  2. I was depressed and felt punched in the gut since the election, and I too, when I write on Mondays with my group, the only time I manage to write, find myself writing political. Great post, thanks for sharing.

  3. Very very beautiful and thought-provoking — and I LOVE the “In This House ……” sign. BEAUTIFUL!!!!! Thank you, Bob for those great and healing thoughts — you give all of us hope!!!!

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