Dan Piepenbring – Writers, Start Writing for The Paris Review (2016)

Dear followers,

I am sorry that I haven’t been able to post anything in the last three days. With everything that’s happened–I’ve felt the need to speak some sort of frail, faltering truth to this ugly, ugly power.

But the truth is…. I’m really not OK. Not even a little. Not at all.

The last three months have been a literal living hell. I won’t re-sweat the details but it’s involved suicide, addiction, becoming a caregiver, losing my apartment, moving, infidelity, losing (probably) the love of my life…

I knew it was going to be bad by 7:30pm on Tuesday night. I could feel it like a frozen stone in the pit of my stomach. I got unspeakable high, turned my ringer to vibrate and passed out.

A bit before 2am, the persistent vibration of my phonehad skittered into a resonating position on the nightstand and each text message announcement and FB messenger ping were translated into a continuous clatter.

It was like waking into the nightmare where the doctor tells me I have a terminal disease and only six months to live. (To be 100% real, that’s one of my greatest fears; I want to just drop dead and be done–waiting on the inevitable is not something I do well with.)

The pain and terror (that is the right word, if you disagree fuck you and unfollow me–you are a part of the problem) expressed–I’m sitting here now crying so hard I can’t breathe–I’m sorry this is inarticulate, I have to say this. It has to come out; it will destroy me if I don’t name it–the most abject devastation I have ever witnessed first hand.

It reminded me of being tortured by my father as a child. Being paraded down to the unfinished basement (and those were the good nights–more often than than we were dragged or thrown down the stairs). And forced to stand at rigid, military attention barefoot–at least–more often than not naked–not the poured concrete floor. The temperature so cold you’d see your breath.

He’d threaten to kick or slap and if you so much as blinked, not to mention flinch, you would get hit. I remember sitting there staring hatred at him. I remember all his efforts to reach in and extinguish it.

The really bad times he’d grab me by the neck–and being trained–he knew to restrict blood flow at the sides of my neck not block the airway. The pores on the cinderblock walls would move like stars at night in desert skies. He’d say: this is dangerous if you fight me I can’t help you, you may die. And I would try to speak and he’d loosen his grip just enough for me to beg: Do it. Please.

This is what it’s like to be so phenomenally broken that my baseline experience just will never mirror Normals. I’ve come to close to the edge too often, stared to deeply into an abyss that has also stared into me.

I am who I am and every day is a fight–tooth and nail–to be authentically myself instead of someone who accepts and submits. I know the other life is easier. Has less heartache, less misery. But I’d rather be miserable and myself than complacent and compliant.

Sitting there reading through all the messages on my phone: I realized that many of my LGBTQ+ and PoC friends actually know more than I’ve given them credit for about what it’s like to live through real, honest to goodness horror.

But what I saw was my other folks I love being dropped first into a similar living hell. I said I love you and meant it more times in an hour than I have in the last four years. I talked to people out of suicide (and now I feel more than a little guilty about that because maybe they were right to hold that up as an option.)

I didn’t go back to sleep. I read as many things as I could. I’m going to post a few of the most meaningful things in the next couple of days. I got up, took a shower and went to work.

This woman I know who works in the building–we’re both book lovers and we exchange recommendations sometimes; she got into the same elevator. I could see she’d been crying. She leaned against the wall facing me instead of the door as the elevator rose.

Her: Are you OK?
Me: Not really. It’s scary. Most of my nearest and dearest are LGBTQ folks–they’re terrified.
Her: It’s not just them. It’s us. Those of us who have so little. We
understand: an existential threat to others is just as much a threat to
us. It’s like Viktor Frankl said about the surviving the concentration
camps: you have to find that one thing that you are and live for that.
Let’s live because love can never triumph over hatred.

Her, crying again, hugs me in the elevator: I’m glad you were the first person I saw this morning.

(And that’s why I love my city–even though the winters here make me want to die–if you walk around like you’re Jay-Z, this city will grind you down; but every once in a while, it finds ways of reminding you that there’s beauty in this world even though you don’t often see it.)

Shortly after @sporeprint posted the above statement to his Flickr page. I keep re-encountering it and each time I’m reminded of being in my first year as a film student after Dubya 2nd re-election.

The instructor of our class let us take the class to process as a group. (One of the biggest advantages of a liberal arts education is that you’re not merely a student doing work, you’re expected to be a philosopher in a philosophy class, be a filmmaker in a filmmaking class. We were all artists deeply disillusioned and anxious.

A fellow student and I ended up having an intense dialogue about the purpose of art. We end up leaving the class because others that we were going to far.

The general premise of the conversation was that art is one of the only venues where terrorism is appropriate. And that the purpose of art should be the equivalent of walking into a room with a suicide vest strapped to your chest and detonating it in the middle of a party for the latest and greatest the status quo has to offer.

So if you want to know where I am: I only know two things. The woman on the elevator was right. If I have to pick the one thing to survive for it will be love.

I feel I shouldn’t have to say it but this blog is a safe space. If you’re a woman, a survivor of trauma, a PoC, LGBTQ, undocumented, anything you’ve spent the last election cycle being told you are less for being, I am here for you. You are my family now.

They may think they can kill us all but if they touch one of you, the better be prepared to kill ever last one of us. Because I’m done being afraid. I’m done cowering.

Writers: write. Makers: make.

A samurai never draws their sword unless they plan to use it. Unsheath your swords. Show your teeth.

We can’t literally burn this mother to the fucking ground. But Art is the venue where we now have an obligation to do exactly that.

the tyrants coming
rising like the dawn of a red sun
if you fear dying, then you’re already dead.

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