After the election of 45, I spiraled into despair for several days. It wasn’t just the victory of bigotry and ignorance. It was personal. I’d spent weeks listening to the vile language the candidate used when referencing women, the cruel descriptions of sexual assault, the excuses people made on his behalf, minimizing the assault on women.
I spent days in a state of fear and depression because, like many women, I am a sexual assault survivor. Our society’s celebration of a man who clearly perceives women as objects stirred up every memory of abuse I’d ever experienced, and I felt helpless and hopeless.
After a few days, I began reading a book by a long-dead Russian named Lev Shestov. In All Things Are Possible, Shestov addresses despair. Despair, he says, is the sudden, irrevocable recognition that all of the hopes and beliefs upon which you’ve built your life have been shattered. You’re left stranded at sea, so to speak, with no lifeline. All of the ideals you once relied on for your sense of self and security are gone – a terrifying feeling. At the time, a familiar feeling.
But Shestov found hope in the hopelessness. Instead of seeing despair as a dead end or a prison cell, he saw despair as an antechamber to the next stage in a person’s progression. Once all of your old illusions have been swept aside, you can see the world with fresh eyes. You realize: if all my old beliefs about reality were wrong, many of the ideas I found unbelievable might be right. Suddenly, with a clean slate, you are granted the ability to imagine something completely new, something better. Suddenly, all things are possible.
This insight inspired me to focus my energies on imagining a different reality. I began to write Les Stone Cold Killers. I began to imagine girls and women with more power than I imagined for myself. And it helped.
This past week, I stumbled again. In the wake of the Kavanaugh trial, I once more re-lived every assault on my humanity as a woman. I cried for days, feeling powerless and helpless. I was overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness and despair once more.
This morning I sat down with my journal, as I do, and began to analyze our current reality and my feelings about it. The status quo is an undeniable problem, but I can’t single-handedly alter it. On the other hand, I also can’t submit to feelings of helplessness. I have to be battle-ready, and you can’t be battle-ready when you feel hopeless.
So I addressed the problem of hopelessness first: How can I destroy my own hopelessness?
The first step is understanding it.
Hopelessness is the belief that the current reality is the only option. In other words, it’s a lack of imagination. Nothing more or less. All things are possible, even things that it’s difficult to imagine right now.
To fight the status quo, to overcome despair and hopelessness, I have to imagine an alternative.
I’ll be honest. The past few months, Perilous and Sparks have been dejectedly waiting for me. I’ve been struggling. Too much so to sit down and imagine stronger women than me. Too much so to imagine an alternative.
That ends today. I have very few weapons in this particular reality, which seems stacked against me. But I have my imagination. Not exercising it is giving in to hopelessness, which is not an option.
Maybe I needed this reminder: the reality we currently live in is unacceptable. But it’s not written in stone. We can change it. It starts by imagining something else.