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On taking refuge

On taking refuge

The morning after the election, I did what I could to keep my world from falling apart. I kept my writing date with my friend, burying myself in my novel. I took refuge in my own world, that of my own creation.

Is this an act of defiance, or retreat? Is art only self-care? What is the value of writing stories, especially when that time could be spent on the resistance effort?

It can seem a sort of betrayal to do your own work, to continue carving out your own life and creativity, when there is great injustice in the real world. In these past months, I've struggled with the twin callings of activism and art.

How much good am I really doing by signing up for newspapers and email lists, filling my mornings with tweets and shares to raise awareness? Conversely, is it really any use to work on my book all morning instead, adhering to the writer's credo of no email until after work?

The problem with both art and activism is that both can often seem futile. Self-expression at best, with little palpable effect on the world around us. It’s often tempting to take a break, always with the risk of a downward spiral into complacency.

How much good did it do when I joined the pink-hatted throng, all of us doing our best to boost the signal of unrest? To my ever-escalating disgust, news in the following days underscored the need. But would my efforts ever make a difference?

The difference the march made to me, at least, was finding the refuge of solidarity. Real people, standing shoulder to shoulder in the real world. Social media is sometimes called an echo chamber, effectively preaching to the choir, making lots of useless noise. But, consider the roar of like-minded strangers echoing off the city walls. Even such momentary unity feels like shelter, a respite from moral assault, a chance to recharge our shared values.

And now, the news comes that strangers who are not alike enough are no longer admitted here. Where will they find refuge? Stories about immigrants and refugees create a fantasy for the American people, the old trope of The Other. This must be a comfort for those who need that narrative, that particular bolt-hole of belief.

We need more stories. More narratives to build empathy instead of tearing it down. We all feel like our worlds are falling apart, but for some, that is the literal and life-rending truth. Would Americans be better able to see their side of the story if we all read more and wrote more?

Making noise and making art takes energy, but it also boosts energy - for ourselves and others. Writing and resisting are both about working, working more, and not stopping.

I take refuge in the belief that art and activism, collectively if not my own, will do some small part to build a world for those that seek haven.