Thanks, 2016. In 2017, We’ll Battle for our American Identity

Wonder Woman Avatar

It’s hard to imagine what December 2017 will be like, but thanks to 2016 we have a fight on our hands. Who we are, as a country, is no longer certain and for the first time in years our American identity is questionable. Who are we? What does it mean to be American? Is there only one type of American, and if we don’t fit that description are we no longer a part of this country? Despite this nation’s many ills, we have been innovative, brave, hard-working, creative, curious, and industrious–but much of this could be forgotten in 2017. It’s hard to understand why this is; as a nation we’re young and scrappy with compared to the rest of the world and haven’t had much time to suffer from an identity crisis. We’ve been regarded as the leader of the free world and are known for significant achievements like the invention of electricity, the internet, the foundation of the United Nations, and our NASA space program, but we’ve also got an awful history we don’t talk about very much and we struggle to have hard conversations about our past with those still suffering its effects.

America’s turbulent history is, like many countries, three-dimensional. We have hope, we have sorrow, we have joy, and we have pain borne from slavery, indentured servitude, bloody battles, and genocide. And yet, we forget all of our nation’s ills when we witness the Statue of Liberty and her burning torch, a shining beacon of hope for so many immigrants and natural-born citizens. “In America,” Liberty sings, “You can be anything. You can do anything. You are welcome here.” Confident and brash, we have always believed America is “the” land of opportunity, a realm of dreams where, if you work hard enough, you’d get what you deserved.

Of course, this isn’t true for everyone. Once reality sets in, our fantasies evaporate in a puff of smoke. When we fail or lose or don’t measure up to society’s many expectations, we’re left wondering if we did something wrong. The answer is often: we did the best we could with what we had. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop us from questioning what we could have done; on a cellular level, we believe in the power of American individualism that’s been imprinted on us since birth. You can do anything you want, without help, because that’s how you become successful. It’s easy, if you just try hard enough.

Our belief in the American dream extends to how we view the wealthy and the powerful. Anyone who’s deemed a success, by whatever measuring stick we use, has obviously deserved that money, fame, beauty, etc. As a result, for us that person embodies the American myth; if we envy them, it’s because we picture ourselves in their place. If they can do it? We can, too. Only, that’s not often the case. Some people toil in obscurity for years and never get anywhere, while others inherit billions and walk the red carpet. Money grants power–regardless of how you get it–as does popularity. And, according to 2016, it doesn’t matter how you claim your corner of fame as long as you get in that spotlight. To get that lucrative shot, you also have to be in the right place at the right time with the right people. For whatever reason, however, whether it’s family obligations or worrying about that next bill, we can’t always do the things that grant us key opportunities no matter how hard we try. So, we make do with what we have, envy those who “made it”, and keeping dreaming that American dream.

Many of us also understand that the ability to achieve your wildest dreams is not just about who you are, who you know, and what you have, but how everyone else perceives your value, too. That ever-changing lens is often based on the color of your skin, your age, your gender, your appearance, and your body type; these thoughts are often wrapped up in a host of other people’s opinions both real and manufactured by gossip rags and this season’s fashion trends. They exist and, no matter how much we do to ignore them, we are aware that some invisible hand holds us back and it’s not true that every opportunity is available. Worse, often we feel we can’t talk about glass ceilings, because thanks to that myth of American individualism, for many those ceilings don’t exist and our real struggles are reduced to lying, whining, or being a sore loser.

The fact that Americans do not govern themselves and we are not all treated equal, dear reader, is partly why we have officials on a local, state, and national level. We elect politicians because we trust and need them to look out for us, the proverbial “little guy”, who lives on every corner of every street in America. We’ve grown up believing that our politicians, elected by the People, for the People, are supposed to pledge governance for all Americans–not just some of us. Yet, here we are at the end of 2016. We feel betrayed, because we have been deserted by politicians who have forgotten why they exist in the first place: to serve all Americans and not just themselves and “their” voters.

We understood, intellectually, that this was going to happen. We don’t have to look very far to examine the evidence: the erosion of bipartisanship over the past two decades, the power grabs by state governors, the foot-stomping in Congress, the endless conspiracy theories about President Obama, etc. We knew that it was possible for a President to hold office who also shares those same, self-serving ideologies as our local and state politicians, but deep down we didn’t think it was. For those of us who didn’t vote for Trump, we thought that the betrayal our British allies felt after Brexit wouldn’t happen here, but it did.

Now, on a national level, regardless of what the President-Elect does or doesn’t do after he’s inaugurated, we will be forced to ask ourselves hard questions about who we are both as a country and as individuals–and that “we” includes Trump supporters. Why? Because, regardless of whether or not you believe that your “side” won, politicians are supposed to compromise and work towards by-partisanship because they govern all American citizens–not just the ones who agree with them. Right now, I do not believe this (bipartisanship) will be a goal for this presidency, because it hasn’t held true in Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, etc. Only “some” benefit, and if you don’t agree with their policies and exercise your constitutional right to protest, you’re clearly an enemy just for being who you are and deserve to be hurt. Why? For so many who are crushed under the weight of American individualism, their lack of success isn’t the fault of the system or economic inequality, it’s your fault. Either they don’t see themselves in you and they’re afraid to admit it, or you have something they feel they deserved. The accessible target, are always the easy ones to blame.

America is not broken because of our diversity; we are beautiful and prosperous when we embrace it. The stories we all share are what give me hope, what makes me proud to be an American. I know who I am, and your stories do not threaten my identity–they inspire me to be a better human being. Now, at the end of a soul-shattering year, I am left with more questions than answers because my faith in this country has been shaken. Can we, as a nation, be successful despite our many differences because we are all Americans in the end? Right now, my answer would be: “I don’t know.” If our politicians won’t fight for all of us, then who will? What happens when our country defaults to ideological purity and millions of Americans become “one of them”? And who is “them”, anyway? Is it a moving target dictated by your identity and your beliefs rather than your actions? When someone is attacked, either verbally or physically, right in front of us–will we step up or step aside? Will we make different choices because we internalized a stranger’s value is less than because we don’t share their identity? Will we seek change when we recognize what biases we’ve internalized? What happens when the infighting between those of us classified as “them” gets so bad you’d rather hide or run away or join the “winning” side than take a stand because you’re being attacked by people you agree with?

If these questions feel overwhelming, it’s because they are. If you fear that our identity as Americans is in trouble, it’s because it is. In the end, the one soul-searching, gut-wrenching question we’re forced to ask is this: “What can I do?”

My answer isn’t a set of actions, but a promise. “I will do the best I can with what I have, for as long as I can.”

So long 2016, and thanks for nothing.



Make Art Not War With Me In 2017 (Part One)

Back when Bush, Jr. was in office, I remember thinking to myself that his presidency would solidify the shape of the future. Either we were going to figure out how to stop the divisiveness that was forming between the two major parties, or eventually that divide would become a chasm they couldn’t cross without a common enemy. I don’t know whether or not I’m right. When it comes to politics, I think about patterns as opposed to saying one President or another is totally to blame. My concern has always been about bi-partisanship, because people aren’t as reductive as we think they are. We’re complicated. Can our politicians set aside their differences and come to the table to attend to the needs of governance? And, perhaps more importantly, why have we given in to extremist or fringe ideologies? What is the solution when people are reduced to sides, and you’re either for or against one another?

I think about what happened when Walker took office and began attacking the Wisconsin unions; people were so angry that they started to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Afterwards, I witnessed how yellow journalism had to paint a clearly one-sided war against Unions as having “two, equally-numbered sides.” The subtext for attacking the unions was politically-motivated, because unions tend to donate to Democratic campaigns, and that was a blip in the larger conversation. Anyway, 100,000 protesters against the governor’s policies, and a handful of opposing protesters bused in–both filmed as having equal weight and numbers. Even then, it took six-to-eight weeks for anyone to pick up on what was happening, and by then it was too late. The idea that this was an organized, violent protest began circulating. The truth, was that so many people organically came to protest, that they needed to be organized. Unions were “dirty thugs” and “fat cats”. Teachers, firemen, machinists, state workers and, much later, police officers became the bad guys. And, because they became “the” bad guys, you couldn’t walk anywhere without being impacted by the us vs. them mentality. You were either for or against your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, and everyone else you interacted with.

Emotionally, it was very trying for a lot of people. There was no escaping it. On the ground we were also experiencing one thing, and the media and politicians who were afraid of people speaking up were depicting another. I don’t blame the media for what happened, though. Part of this, was what I feel is a technical issue which is the same problem that has facilitated fake news. When telling a story, which is what all articles are, appealing to people’s emotions is the best way to get eyeballs on the page. Instead of the news being delivered to a rapt audience via a newspaper in the morning or at night, or via the nightly news at a specific time, we have 24-7 news which is not sustainable. So, news that affects people on a local level gets stretched out ad infinitum, because the outlets have to stay in business somehow. Now, however, now that journalists are needed again and advertorials, fake news, and what “sounds” good is valued over facts… Well, you can see how people can get easily confused or frustrated, especially when they’re living and feeling the effects of what’s happening on the ground. Even then, the emotions generated by the news aren’t within the full spectrum, because outrage is more shareable than hearing how people are hurting–just look at what’s happening in North Dakota and Flint, Michigan. But, outrage doesn’t offer solutions and eventually people get tired of hearing about a situation, which allows more harm to happen.

Fast Forward to the Present

I cannot imagine what a Trump presidency will be like, and I’m not politically-savvy enough to know what the long-term effects will be either. I suspect there will be a lot of fighting, misinformation, and us vs. them on a national scale and, if my dreams are any indication that a battle is coming? A McCarthy-esque battle is coming for the soul of this country that will be felt in every city, town, and suburb and may have global repercussions. People are already getting hurt, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but much worse–there are a fair number of folks who don’t believe that crimes of hate are on the rise.

Worse, the traits that used to be associated with being a good American–empathy, compassion, helping the poor–seem to be regulated now to “bleeding heart lefties”. That leaves me speechless, that the very best of what it means to be human is regulated to a political ideology. If you’re a good person, you’re frowned upon for being weak. Being decent is no longer a goal to shoot for, it’s something to stomp on, and I don’t know why.

So what can I do? I have a teeny tiny amount of fame, friends I don’t see often enough, a small but growing readership, and a lot of peers that are struggling right alongside with me. I’m your average jane schmo artist with a big mouth, a big heart, and a lust for making art and reveling in the joy and resulting conversations. That’s what I know how to do, but I also know something else. I know what my life experiences have taught me, and I know what kind of a person I could have been if I wasn’t open to learning. I know a lot about the industry (enough to make me dangerous), and help where I can, when I can.

Unfortunately, I can’t fix what’s coming. I’m not a politician. I’m not loaded. I’m not powerful. And, I don’t want to be “known” for my politics, anyway. What I can do, is make art. I believe that a story can change the world. The problem is, no one knows which one that will be–which is why more stories will always need to be told.

What does this mean for 2017? I’m creating a Make Art Not War Challenge for myself, to push the boundaries of what I normally do. I’ll post the specific details in a follow-up post, but more than that… I want you to consider taking this challenge (or something like it) with me. Hobbyist, part-time artist, full-time artist, whatever! Art is needed now, more than ever, because this is how we can remind each other of all the complexities and depths of emotions that we share as human beings.

    Mood: Hump Day Redux
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: There’s no bottom to this coffee pot.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Blargh, blech, blargh.
    In My Ears: The wind. (Seriously, it’s strong as hell out there.)
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Game of Thrones
    Latest Artistic Project: My sekrit project.
    Latest Releases: Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.



And the Changeth of Seasons-eth

Jack The Pumpkin King Avatar

First, before I say ANYTHING else… Some GOOD news! So far, you’ve helped raise over $2,000 to fight hunger through DriveThruFiction.com‘s Read and Feed charity drive. Thanks for downloading the bundle! If you haven’t, you have until the 20th. I’d *really* like to see this hit $5,000!

So how have things been going? It’s been a roller coaster these past few weeks, but thankfully everything’s beginning to normalize. I *really* don’t like to take my bad mood out on other people, but I’m grateful for the time spent with friends who understand that while I’m a strong-willed person, even I have awful days. But those are behind me, come hell or high water, I’ll make it so — it’s all about the ‘tude for me. Sometimes, I just need to hang upside down to catch a different perspective. Six impossible things before breakfast. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I’m happy that the government is back to it’s normal day-to-day operations; I have a lot of friends that were dramatically affected by the shutdown. I understand it’s a politically charged topic, like many issues are these days, but it is what it is: people I care about were directly affected by this. Some worked as contractors or in other public agencies associated with different branches of the government (e.g. outside of the 800,000 figure). Others had to go back into work with no guarantee they’d get paid for that time. Hopefully, things will go back to normal for them very, very soon.

I’ve dealt with ideological purity before and the destruction those beliefs can leave in its wake. I was reminded of this last night when I was looking at some of my b-b-b-b-b-b-b-bad poetry. Wrote this oh, a while ago, but it’s fairly apropos to how I’m feeling right now about all of this political mess:

    Untitled

    spinning in a square pattern
    his spoken word one sad vibration
    of logic and the one way
    of naught perception, nay
    so Truth spins wayward from his line
    Statistics take their place up high
    emotions fall the Great fall
    failing his so smart conclusions

    they die the silent death
    of wind and water and angel’s breath
    till no more Truth exists within him
    a pile of data, just one more number
    un-separated from a mass
    who can not distinguish “eye”
    from “i”.

Told you it wasn’t *good* poetry. Heh, heh. But, if I’m looking on the bright side… I’m happy Fall is officially here. Seems like just yesterday it was 70s and sunny — and now it’s 50s and cool. I am totally and completely in love this weather!

Now, back to my to-do list. Oh, is it ever a beaut.

    Mood: Sunny side up
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Decent consumption
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Pesky Chores
    In My Ears: Water filter (new fish take)
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age II
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work
    Movie Last Viewed: Alice in Wonderland
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures… It’s on the list!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Serenity Crew, Wedding Planners Cortex Plus, and Shooting Fish
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.


Yep, I’m a Feminist

girl power

There are things going on right now that deeply disturb me. Strange and unusual things. Things like a movement to redefine what rape is to counteract Roe vs. Wade. I get that people don’t like abortions, but what I don’t understand is why any woman in her right mind would support legislature that decreases the rights we’ve fought so hard to get in the first place. Push the topic of abortion aside for a moment. Redefining an ugly act that has a deep stigma associated with it for its victims is really narrow-sighted and incredibly selfish. This isn’t “for the people,” this is for someone’s vanity.

Just this morning, I came across an article talking about how Justice Scalia claims the 14th Amendment doesn’t apply to women or gays, in part because he prefers an original interpretation of the law. The “original interpretation” makes me laugh. Our founding fathers were not gods, they were human. They applied the law to what they thought would be best for their society at the time. Although the law does affect future generations, there’s only so far a human being can see into the future. Take a trip back in time for a second. The 14th Amendment was drafted because back in 1868, they were still dealing with the repercussions of something called “slavery,” yet another topic we gloss over and pretend has no effect on racism today.

Keep in mind, too, women didn’t receive the right to vote until 1920. That is less than a hundred years ago. Multi-racial marriages? Weren’t legal until 1967. It’s worse for people dealing with sexual orientation issues; it’s now 2011 and two human beings still can’t marry who they choose to? Were any of these changes in the constitution? Nope. Laws change as a result of our cultural progress. Sure, our culture ebbs and flows like the tide, but it flourishes when we have a well-fed, healthy and literate population.

What kills me about these attacks, is that if we let this happen, we do a great disservice to the generations that came before us. We forget the wars they fought to be treated like decent human beings. The U.S. is still very, very young compared to the rest of the world; our country is unusual because it has experienced rapid growth. Are we cultural leaders? Yeah, not a chance.

While this country has been through a lot, our short history is rooted in violence and strife because a bunch of immigrants forged a series of micro-cultures on top of the ones that already existed here. (e.g. Native Americans. Yeah, they were here first. For thousands of years, in fact.) Did America begin with an amalgamation of different religious and political movements? Yes. Has our society changed dramatically over the last century? Yes. Not only did we go through several wars and the Age of Industrialism, our population levels have increased, to the point where a movement called “zero population growth” was founded in the late 60s. And we’re still growing. Still advancing. Still changing. Truly, miraculous.

Mind you, I love this country and all its possibilities, but what I don’t love about it is our cultural attacks on “the other.” When someone isn’t like us, typically we don’t try to identify with them, we isolate them and attack them. Worse, we make claims that someone is whining when they stand up for themselves. It takes a bunch of kids dying for us to go, “Oh shit, maybe bullying gay kids is bad.” Terrible stuff, that.

In my opinion, the biggest challenge we face is apathy. The increased channels of communication we have are both a blessing and a curse. Change is happening all over the world and we’re right there to see it, hear it and respond to it without ever leaving our desk. But change is damn scary to a lot of people, if not most of them. Very scary. Some believe that if they themselves change, it makes them less honorable or a hypocrite. Some people are so afraid, that they need to either revert progress to make it safer for them and those around them, or they hide and stick their heads in the sand. Let someone else deal with it, it’ll sort itself out. Right? Or, change it back to the way it was, because that’s how they can cope.

Maybe I’m missing something, but when did we lose our ability to be empathetic toward other human beings?

So what happens when the proposed changes by our elected leaders are not justifiable? What then? Do we allow a reversal of rights to happen, even when it doesn’t apply to us directly, because it’s too hard to deal with? We absolutely have to pick our battles, sure. But for crying out loud, if there’s one thing I learned: the less you exercise the rights you have, the more chance you have of them being taken away.

So yeah, I’m a feminist. I abhor labels, especially ones I have to identify with simply because I support the idea that all human beings were created equal. For bonus points, you should know I also believe we are not islands. Just by living, we have a relationship with other people, our environment and the animals around us. So, I guess my stance also makes me a person of coloralist and a gayist and a senior citizenist and an animal loverist… Well, you get the idea.

A couple of links follow below. I am absolutely willing to hear alternate points of view. Do I listen to the “you suxx0rs” comments? Yeah, no. Fair warning: if you’re going to be an asshole, I will screen your comments out. Unlike YouTube! or a newspaper, I do have a comment policy. Say what you gotta say, just don’t be a jerk about it.

Oh? And the reason for the picture? Because I needed a little pick-me-up. I shouldn’t have to remind myself why I’m awesome, but hey… Sometimes, I have to reassure myself that just because I was born a woman, of which I had no choice over, I don’t have to allow myself to be treated like dirt.




Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

Subscribe to Monica’s Newsletter






Subscribe
* indicates required



Archives

Back to Top