PART TWO: The Inward Turn – Exploring the Soul of Citizenship In The Trump Era (1 of 5)

Madness in Mad Times

In 1892, Charlotte Perkins Gilman published a short story titled The Yellow Wallpaper. Gilman’s female protagonist was relegated to an upstairs room by her husband, a doctor, for a ‘rest cure’ to address her ‘nervous depression, despair, and hysteria.’ (Gilman had been given this “treatment” for depression herself, by a Dr. Silas Mitchell).

Enclosed, trapped, powerless, and pathologized (gaslighted), Gilman’s character became intoxicated by the wallpaper in the room. In the first third of the story, we find her in what seems like a petty preoccupation with the wallpaper, irritated and angered by the pattern in it, the sallow, yellow color, the sheer incongruence of the design. But as the pages turn, her intrigue with the wallpaper grows, over time ‘finding’ a woman trapped within its patterned contours.

The story continues to chronicle the protagonist’s building ‘madness,’ as she alternates between self-doubt and engagement with the woman (sometimes women) she is able to discern in the wallpaper. The protagonist refers to the guidance of those who are taking care of her, guidance she originally obliges but comes over time to question, then confront. Before long, you can’t help but join in her mounting irritation with the way they dismiss and minimize her distress and coddling her into ‘recovery.’ Over the course of the story, Gilman’s character builds the capacity (in a kind of defiant, madness) to dismiss these ‘caretakers’ who pity her condition (again, gaslighting). She finds an intimacy with her direct experience, learning to trust what she is seeing, feeling, discovering in a conscious awakening to a self-authorized reality of her own.

A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life. – Virginia Woolf

Gilman’s story culminates with the protagonist successfully stripping the wallpaper off the walls setting free, to her great satisfaction, the woman she sees caught there. When her husband opens the door in the final passage, he finds his wife proclaiming in delight: “I got out at last, I got out at last!” Said husband then faints and we are left with the image of a woman crawling in circles around him in the room, ‘mad’ and elated. We are also left with a disturbing but strangely intoxicating paradox about the relationship between a woman’s madness and her liberation. Continue reading “PART TWO: The Inward Turn – Exploring the Soul of Citizenship In The Trump Era (1 of 5)”

PART ONE: One Woman, Post-Trump Stress Disorder & the Whole Catastrophe – The Political Just Got a Whole Lot More Personal

November 9, 2016 – USA. Over the last half-century, a number of stark memories have been seared into America’s psyche so shocking or painful or unexpected that they live largely unmetabolized as an image, a recollection, something we turn to each other to say: “Where were you when it happened?”  The images of the balcony of the Lorraine Motel the day after Martin Luther King was shot. The slowly driving motorcade and Jackie O. scrambling to climb back over the front seat towards her husband.  Two planes flying into twin towers and their slow, knee-buckling collapse into clouds of billowing dust. And, now, the day Donald Trump was elected.

My husband and I were at the theatre. The play was about Haitian immigrants in America, a powerful and touching story about racism and its overcoming. In spite of the standard request to turn off our cellphones, the news flickered on screens through the audience and ‘broke’ somewhere halfway through the second act.  Surely the actors must know, I kept thinking, watching them come back on the stage after leaving a scene.  I kept wondering how they came back to perform, devoted to their craft, following cues they returned while something inside them was surely collapsing.  “The show must go on” I kept thinking to myself, along with the spirit of the arts and our desire to digest, give human meaning, and resurrect love in the face of the history’s horrors. But the memory I have of the morning after is the one that stands out more fully, perhaps because it took at least the night for the reality to have the first opportunity to sink in.

I sat on the leather couch in our living room staring at the television with the sound on mute. My children had just left for school, boisterous and blissfully naïve about the bomb that just detonated in America’s constitutional soul. I stared at the talking heads on CNN, my awareness focused inward.

Something important is happening in our world that you will not read about in the newspapers. I consider it the most fascinating and hopeful development of our time, and it is one of the reasons I am so glad to be alive today. It has to do with our notion of the self. – Joanna Macey

Like others, I was still in shock but settled between the various pesto smudged stains and illicit pen marks on our family room couch, I could sense, next to my disbelief, something else hovering in my awareness. It seemed like inside the hollow silence created by this news some part of me was assessing the size of the test we were about to be put to, one that carried the potential to either break us as a nation or to birth something new – in me and in Americans. Whatever birth might be possible, however,  was going to depend on a pending breaking point, but I had no idea what that meant, what the timing would be, or what it would look like. Accompanying this intuition was also the haunting sense that everything in my life had somehow prepared me for this moment. Continue reading “PART ONE: One Woman, Post-Trump Stress Disorder & the Whole Catastrophe – The Political Just Got a Whole Lot More Personal”

The Silver Lining: Trump and the Crisis of White, Patriarchy’s Archetypes

The silver lining to Trump and America’s white-patriarchal crisis.

In his recent interview with Bill Moyers, Ben Fountain, author of Beautiful Country, Burn Again, contextualizes Trump’s ascent to power within America’s (popular) culture, clarifying the ways our current political circumstances far from rose out of a vacuum. As an immigrant to this country and a keen observer of its culture, I’ve seen this truth as self-evident since the 2016 primaries. Fountain points to the popularity of J.R. Ewing — a Trumpian, villain proto-type — a character who, in the year I emigrated from England to the US, (1977), morosely captivated what was then still a fledgling, “global” popular culture. His image was so compelling my friends joked that I would surely return one day in a ten-gallon hat. J.R. Ewing and his tough, good-guy counterpart, John Wayne, hold sway as powerful, mythic white, male archetypes — the existence of which, in today’s evolving America, have become deeply threatened to their celluloid core.

J.R. Ewing from the TV series DallasFountain’s analysis begins to touch on the ways the Trump phenomenon is inseparable from the culture in which it was born. I remember hearing the predictions of a famous Vedic astrologer before the 2016 election that “America will get the president it deserves” — and we have. Fountain weaves connections between American popular culture, the failures of the American dream under its waking-life capitalism, and our propensity to escape, exponentially compounded today by the addictive appeal of our “devices”. Fountain is dead on here as he points to the complexity of the problems we face in this country; he makes it clear it will require much more than the time it takes for Trump to leave office to address them. (Assuming he leaves, which I still have some faith will eventually happen.)

However, there is something important missing in Fountain’s analysis — at least as it appears in this interview. American culture, its economic institutions, and this country’s values are infused at their foundation by the impact of a patriarchal worldview. As those institutions are increasingly threatened, the question is begged: What might be able to emerge on the other side? Continue reading “The Silver Lining: Trump and the Crisis of White, Patriarchy’s Archetypes”