If You Voted for Trump and Regret It, What Next?

Hi. Listen, I know you are feeling confused and maybe a little nauseous. I don’t know what your trigger was for realizing something was wrong, but I want to applaud the sense of independence in you that led you to pull back and reassess.
I wanted to first say that you are not a pariah. I don’t believe anyone should be if they are willing to examine their choices. And I believe there are many like you, and that you have an important role to play in the health and survival of everything we believe in about this country. You are going through something that’s profoundly disorienting, and I want you to know that you are not alone. The solution is not to avoid politics. Here are some things to consider and to do to help you take stock, and then to help you feel better and help other people:

  1. Know that you were duped by a news machine that extends into the community where you live. The 20th century notion of journalism is that news is “impartial” and “objective,” but it turns out that so much news is subtle propaganda–paid for and sometimes even published on news sites that have political agendas. That’s a scary thing to think about, but it’s true.
  2. Admit your feelings first to yourself and then to one other live person. This will help all of us. This will help you make amends to people you’ve never met. The ripple effect of thousands of Trump voters admitting this instead of hiding in shame or stuffing the feeling into denial will be very powerful. It’s a hard thing, but do it. The response you hear back may very well be, “Yeah, me too.”
  3. Find a group that is an unbiased protector of human rights. Some good ones include the Southern Poverty Law Center or the American Civil Liberties Union. I know, you have probably heard terrible things about one or the other. But all they do is to track infringement of rights and lobby for people to be treated fairly. Look through the sites and maybe give $20. Or give to some other place, whatever looks right. Just google “Human Rights.” This is for your sake. It will help you feel like you are doing something, and that will give you momentum and also help you feel better about yourself.
  4. The major undertaking for the next year is going to be a personal media cleanse. You might have been surrounded by Fox News. Literally, it is on wherever you go. Bar, restaurant, hair dresser, friend’s houses. The first thing to do is to turn it off in your own home. You can watch another channel, or even local network news. But not Fox. It does not present things in an unbiased way; it tends to whip up fear which then is channeled into anger against specific groups that are supposedly to “blame” for a problem.
  5. The next thing to do is to gather the strength to ask someone in a business like a bar if they would change the channel when Fox News is on. The reason for this is that it is seeping into not only your consciousness but the minds and hearts of everyone around you. You turn it off for even five minutes, and there’s five minutes of peace. I know this is a big deal, as I come from a place where Fox News is blaring all the time. Be proud of yourself if you do this, regardless of the effect.
  6. screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-8-53-08-amSubscribe to a major newspaper that is available in your area. USA Today is fine. Anything is fine. Read it.
  7. One of the scary trends that has been well-documented is the number of hate crimes that have taken place in the few weeks since the election. I know, I know–you’re not burning crosses on anyone’s lawn. You might consider racism to have multiple forms, as I’ve written about here. But even if you’re not yet ready for that, one simple thing you can do is that when you hear someone making a racist statement, just stand up. I mean literally just plant your feet on the ground, get up from your chair, and take a step toward that person. Just make eye contact and look at them. I think that’s enough as a first step. You don’t have to make a big confrontation until you are ready. Just move your body, and then walk away.
  8. Do a faith audit. How’s your pastor or priest? How’s your congregation, and were they part of the deciding factor in your choice to vote? Did you hear politics coming from the pulpit that equated Hillary with the devil or Trump with the way of the faithful? I know you might have been in this congregation since birth along with all of your friends. But there are a bunch of churches out there. You might just commit to visiting another church one Sunday a month. Keep going to your own if you’d like, but see what else is out there.
  9. Pray and reconnect with whatever spiritual values you have. If you haven’t actually read the text of your faith tradition in a while, go back to the source and delve in. It will give you sustenance. In some ways this is  a great spiritual journey that will make you a stronger person who is more connected to the tenets of your faith. If you are in an evangelical congregation, you can consider getting support by reading something by Jim Wallis or other progressive evangelicals. A magazine like Sojourners might be a good support. If you are Catholic, there are a number of progressive Catholic congregations and supports for progressive Catholics–including our current Pope. Check out Call to Action.
  10. When you see people getting angry at anyone who has been targeted as the “enemy”–liberals, disabled people, the poor, those who receive food stamps, professors, immigrants, Black people, Mexican people, Muslims, the population of the Middle East, women, Hillary, Hillary voters, socialists, union members–stop and just tell yourself that you are witnessing anger. Reflect and pray on where that anger might come from. This is a huge open spiritual question.
  11. The culture that supported Trump has pockets of violence that you might not have been exposed to, as they tend to target only those who disagree with them. But be prepared for the fact that once you admit what you are thinking, you will be targeted with scorn and the same condemnation they have reserved for all the other “out” groups. This will be profoundly unsettling, but know that you have many many allies–everyone else who has been targeted.
  12. Contact your local representatives to urge them to stand up for decency and democracy.
  13. Consider, during the next election, whether you should choose a candidate based on their stances about multiple issues rather than a “hot button” issue like abortion, which has been used for decades to manipulate people of faith into voting for unsavory candidates, and whether you might re-evaluate the criteria by which you vote.

People make mistakes. Your faith and my faith all teach that mistakes can be recovered and redressed, but action is important. We are happy to welcome you into the fold of people who want to protect and rebuild the country.

To Survive Trump, Ask an Abuse Survivor

For domestic abuse survivors or survivors of any kind of abuse, the experience of having a terrible & erratic man in our lives with a huge amount of power is scary & triggering. Hell, it’s scary for all of us.
A nice image of trees on either side of a path with blue sky above and water ahead. I’m not pasting in another picture of Hate-Cheeto.

Tonight, Trump let forth another outrageous tweet, one that actually is an insult both to reality and the basic democratic institutions of our country. He claimed that millions of votes were “illegal,” and that without those votes, he’d be ahead in the popular vote instead of behind by 2 million. The problems with this are huge and many and will be analyzed on every imaginable news outlet. The tweet implies that there are “illegals” out there infiltrating our democratic institutions–a cue for his racist fear-mongers–and that voting is somehow not already difficult enough for many.

Some people may be able to shrug this off as more of Trump being Trump. Not me. In fact, I find myself on high alert, PTSD symptoms making me super edgy and irritable, adrenaline flooding every cell, senses sharpened. I’m emotional. I’m not going to pretend this isn’t happening. I’m not going to “man up” and hide this. Nor am I going to worry anymore about whether the world will think less of me. I’m sick of those horrible sexist assumptions about abuse victims and their reliability or objectivity.
Yes, I know to take breaks and take care of myself.  I did that today. I stayed away from the Internet all day–did Christmas shopping, errands, grocery shopping. I meditated, I exercised, I ate well. I took my vitamins and spent time with my family. I made phone calls to friends. I wrote. (Wow–I actually did all that! Cool.) Too bad all of that can get wiped away with one tweet.
The answer here is not “step away from the Internet” because, of course, I am a citizen, and I have to be engaged and vigilant and aware. And right now Donald Trump is our president-elect. And we are stuck in a verbally abusive relationship with lots of threats that could very well become physical the moment he is given power to affect our lives.
What I want to say is to myself and to everyone who is triggered right now by the outright lies and the fear that this man may wreck your future or the future of your children:
1. You are not wrong to be scared. You are not imagining things. The only normal response to this situation is to be triggered.
2. If you are triggered, I believe you; we will get through this; you are not alone; this is not the “new normal” and you are not “too sensitive”; this is danger and your gut instinct is tuned right.
3. We are being triggered on purpose. Abuse survivors know that this torrent of lies is designed not only to disorient us but also to trigger every other trauma we might have experienced in order to make us easier to control. An abuser targets those who have been through trauma in order to use that old pain against them. This, too, is a violation. I am not ok with this. I am angry about it.
4. If you need help, find a local abuse survivor’s support group. You can also call RAINN, which has a 24-hour hotline, at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
5. Our country does not deserve an abuser in power. None of us deserve this.
6. Being “triggered” doesn’t mean that we are useless in the fight against him. What it means is that we need to preserve our strength, but also that people need to listen to abuse survivors to understand why it is and how it is that we are all being manipulated.
7. In situations of abuse, it’s very common to believe that we can reason our way out of the abuse by mulling over a perfect response, engaging in a new way, understanding the abuser better, etc. We know none of this works. We are weeks away from a horrible dilemma: a situation where it will be a waste of our precious energy to allow ourselves to be roped in to the abuse and lies, but at the same time we must remain vigilant and engaged. It’s a tough and exhausting dilemma. There’s no way out besides removing him from power, which will happen with a lot of people’s help.
8. Luckily and terribly, abuse survivors know how to focus in these situations, and how to get through difficult days. We have survived, and we will survive this.
We know. We have been there. We got out–or else maybe we’re in the long process of getting out. And we’ll get out again. If you need help in coping, ask an abuse survivor. She or he will tell you the thousand tricks we use, and then we will all have to recover from this together.

Meditation for Trumpocalypse

I am barely going to be able to meditate, my head is nothing but my Facebook timeline. I am poisoned with caffeine, I am poisoned with caffeine. I lost two earrings and a hat, I got several projects part-way done and nothing really completed, or if they are completed I am not satisfied and my coat doesn’t fit me and I also lost my winter coat and how does one lose a winter coat during winter? And I need to remember my ribcage is inflatable. And I breathe so that my ribcage moves, but then when I pay attention too much to my breathing I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack and so I like to pay attention to the tense areas of my shoulder muscles and kind of think about breathing in a sidelong way. I have nuggets of pure caffeine in the blood vessels leading to my brain, my to-do list has turned into an online argument with Bernie supporters, I have turned into an online petition to the electoral college, I am in the space of not-believing and magical thinking and what would it take to make you give up your attachment to your whiteness, or my attachment to mine? What could I ever do to get a little less Phil Collins? There’s a ringing in my ears and my ribcage expands and there is no such thing as being good at meditating. The buddha doesn’t care at all if you are a good meditator or not, he really does. not. care, he has no grade book, actually Jesus doesn’t either as far as I know but anyway anyway focus on where you are right now with your ass on the cushion you bought at the last meditation retreat, the cushion that was too much money but it is nice, it is filled with some kind of seeds; how problematic is it to be a white Buddhist? You can hold that awareness and put it in parentheses. Are you hyperventilating about the electoral college? I am hyperventilating about the state of the media and the apprenticeship to fascism but I am not thinking about everything I could do in my inbox I am actually now in the state of just focusing on what the cat is doing behind me on the couch, pouncing and then shocking me a little because of static electricity because it’s kind of winter but you know we don’t really have winter anymore and Trump doesn’t believe in global warming and I can feel a breath in my throat, and it is not a great breath but it is a little bigger than I could do about five minutes ago and I felt a muscle relax in my back that I forgot was connected to breathing and there was just a half-second there where I forgot to worry about death and one thing I vowed to do today that I did do was to take out the compost which was filled with moldy oranges which was probably terrible for my allergies sitting there in the kitchen giving off spores and we have to return to a state of functioning if nothing else than for our children and so we are not eating takeout for dinner every night and I have a thousand blog entries to write and … the muscles in my neck. I will be functioning better tonight if right now all I think about are the muscles in my neck and nothing else. I did eat a salad today, a miracle. I took a probiotic and I’m going to walk the dog. I am doing things that need to be done and I have actually started to add things to the to-do list and I won’t think about Syria, I will think about Syria, I will sit here and cry about Syria and the fucking bombing of the last hospital in Aleppo and what in the fuck are we doing with anything in the whole world and ok, it is better to cry and to thaw and get out of my to-do list head and to ache with this goddamn don’t call it dread not the dread, it is not the same kind of frozen fear. It is the warm ache that we all have to carry, the warm ache about what we have done to our country, but I also paid two bills yesterday and sent three emails to ask about money and then I got a novel I wanted to read from the library, a novel, which I need. I need this. I need tea. I need a novel. We need the islands, this moment sitting on this pillow I need it, there’s no good meditator, there’s only shitty showing up, I am past the point of getting a gold star because there are no gold stars during the apocalypse, only showing up. I can feel the pulse pounding in my skull and that is something, my heart is beating. I am reading entirely too much into the tone of voice in each congressional aide I call, and my heart is beating.

Dear Ms. Uh-Oh, Am I a Racist?

Dear Ms. Uh-Oh,

I am really confused. I voted with my gut, which told me to vote for Donald Trump. Also my husband is really into Trump and I didn’t know much about the issues, but he seemed like an outsider’s choice and something “different.” And now there are so many posts on social media telling me that I’m a racist. I’m in shock. I’m not a racist! Where did all this come from, and how does it connect to Donald Trump? I’m a good person and I’m really confused.


Ms. Golly Gee

Dear Ms. Golly Gee,

Here’s the thing. We have two different definitions of racism going on here. In one, you are either burning a cross on someone’s lawn or you are an angel. Under that definition, I imagine you are not a racist.

Okay. And I do believe you are trying to be a good person who probably goes to church and is trying not to do harm. But your idea of what gets you a gold star as a “good person” is up for review. And here’s the thing:

Racism is a big structure (have you seen the movie The Matrix? It’s really good and might help) that keeps things in place so that certain people benefit more than others. To the people who benefit, white people, the system is somehow invisible, because they don’t get most of the trouble that results. To the people who are targeted and described as bad, this system is constantly visible and has real effects in terms of their choices for where they can live, where their kids can go to school, what food they are able to buy, whether they get healthcare or a college education, what jobs they have access to… just about everything.

So if there’s a candidate who makes racist statements and actively threatens people of color and makes their lives more difficult and makes it much more comfortable for Neo-Nazis and hate groups like the KKK to get out in the open, that’s not ok. Yes, Trump also talks about a bunch of other stuff. And I know you thought you could look past the racism because everybody (who’s racist) talks like that. But the people who are concerned about racism see this as a huge deal breaker and very very scary because it is not a joke; it is their actual real lives. Their real lives. Not a video game, not a comedy skit. Their real lives.

In addition, this candidate has promised to do several things (gut healthcare, build a wall, etc. etc.) that will affect people of color even more than they affect white people due to the fact that white people have more wealth and privilege to protect themselves from all of the impact. (And the sexism… that is for another post.)

Back to racism: You didn’t see it as a huge deal breaker, not because you are personally evil (although different philosophers would view this differently), but because you are enmeshed in a system that is racist in nature. When we say we are all racist, this is what we mean. We really can’t not be–especially if we benefit from this set up. That doesn’t mean we are all personally overwhelmingly so evil that all we should do is stare at the wall. It means that racism is an accurate predictor of the actions of our group. We tend to act in racist ways. Thus: screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-4-23-44-pmIt wasn’t a big deal for you to vote for this candidate because you didn’t have to deal with the real fear and threats that his statements implied. It just wasn’t on your radar. You wanted what you saw as his positive promises of benefits for you, and you didn’t have to worry about his negative comments. But now other people will really have to worry.

So, you have voted for a candidate that supports an active racist agenda and you didn’t know it. Or more likely, you knew it but weren’t really struck by it enough to make the hard choice to go against what other people and your news outlets of choice were telling you. Well, if you are concerned now, I will say it’s a bit late, but there’s always time to make amends. Investigating your own role in a racist system will take time and may be overwhelming if you have not thought about it before. But this is the perfect opportunity to get on the right side of history and to understand exactly why #BlackLivesMatter. Those activists weren’t saying they hated you, only that they hated the racist system in which we are all enmeshed. Do you get it now?

Here’s one easy thing you can do. Google “Donald Trump racist” to see what I’m talking about. Join the NAACP and read stuff on their website. Other stuff will come in time. Get on the right side of history.

With love and an aching heart and an I-mean-it look,

Ms. Uh-Oh

I belong to the culture of labor

I belong to the culture of labor.

What does that mean? Well, it’s understandable if you don’t know there is a labor culture, both in this country and around the world. This culture is not shown on sitcoms, cable networks, or in most movies–or if it is, it is portrayed as a depressing sliver: working-class people getting screwed, being poor, being depressed, using drugs, and being conservative and isolated.

That is a two-dimensional and offensive portrayal of working-class culture.

I love labor culture not because I should, but because it helps to keep me sane. I receive so many messages from mass culture that say that the only way to live is a very polished wealthy lifestyle, that everything I do is not good enough, that I work too hard, that where I come from is primitive, backward, whatever. Labor culture turns all that on its head and says: work is good. Workers are honorable, and workers can have power. The idea of workers being able to have a say in their own working conditions leads to brainstorming about what change can be possible.

I could tangent off here into economic theories about social change, Marx, etc. but I’m actually not qualified to do that. What’s great is that you can be a part of worker culture and social change without having read all the books about such things. You can read, or you can read articles about those great writers, and whether you do or not you still count as a worker and as someone who can be connected to other workers. You can read great books like this new one about organizing in your workplace. Even people who don’t currently have jobs have organized. People who work in the home and who take care of kids have organized. People who don’t have workplaces and are considered freelancers have joined together in organizations like the National Writers’ Union. Disability access includes the right to get access to the things that make work possible. There are so so so many ways to be a labor activist. Anytime you look at your own work and think about how to support yourself and others, you are doing labor activism.

There is a labor culture, a labor history, and it is glorious and inspiring. This does not mean it is not filled with losses and disappointments.

To me, being a part of the culture of labor means that I have been taught to celebrate work as honorable. I understand that being working class includes manual labor but also often labor at various changing forms of work, including at a keyboard or on a phone or with a circuitboard.

Labor history is almost never taught in schools. Wherever you are, there is a hidden history of labor beneath your feet, struggles that are suppressed or simply not told. If you google “labor history” and your town or state you can find some very cool stuff.

Here are some cool posters and images from the labor movement and labor artists. Labor has its own history of songs around the world. In many places, labor just is a part of the culture. Labor is our culture, all of us. Our cultures have been made by hand, by the hard work of people who came before us.

I was raised in a culture of labor through hard-working people, but I fell into the explicit culture of labor activism and then was educated by other activists. What I learned was that labor culture offers a way to support fellow workers–that if there are struggles going on across the globe, there are things we can do locally to support those workers right here. I learned in the culture of labor that our struggles are all connected.

To me, a culture of labor means that I don’t see working-class manners of speech, dress, movement, cooking, decorating, etc. etc. as “rough edges” to shave off. I see them as legitimate and meaningful expressions of a worldview and way of life. Labor culture includes wisdom and philosophy. Labor culture has helped me understand my family, my body, my habits, even my mind and way of seeing the world. I am a busy, capable person, and I am grateful that being raised by hard-working people has made me that way.

Labor culture includes the generations of history about struggles at work. I had to uncover my own connection to those struggles, and I am very proud that I am a great-grand-daughter of a man who organized coal miners in Germany and the grand-daughter of a man who worked to make sure that labor’s voice was included in the rebuilding of Germany after World War II. I come from socialists who believed that working culture–and the right of workers to have a voice in steering society–was fundamental. This is why my book Opa Nobody is about, everything from the revolutions and Soviet republics in Germany between World War I and World War II to my own labor activism experience.  Labor culture was what organized militias to try to oppose the rise of the Nazis. Labor culture means understanding that workers coming together have power.

Huber final cover
My grandparents are the two people at the center. My grandmother Friedchen has her arm around my grandfather Heina’s neck.

Being a part of labor culture does not mean romanticizing labor solidarity as the easy answer. It grants a way of analyzing problems to see where one’s power lies in connections to other through where we work together. Labor culture means that I can criticize an individual union’s practices, or its leadership, without making the silly assumption that the Labor Movement as a whole is a terrible thing. The labor movement is a wonderful thing.

Being part of a culture of labor means gathering with other people to see that the things I feel bad about and take personally–debt, stress at work, instability–are actually structures imposed on us that we can change, not things we need to take on as personal failings. Labor culture means thinking about the source of our anxiety problems and knowing that our stress comes from the way work and wealth and healthcare are structured.

To me, a culture of labor is a culture of hope. I have not often been an actual union member, but I have been a labor activist for the majority of my days. This means that I support other workers where I work, I try to organize at work, and I try to connect with organizations that support workers and that make labor culture visible.

Being part of a culture of labor means I see that so many of us are not free to say what we think. We are watched by our employers, and expressing our feelings on or off the clock can result in negative consequences and even job loss.

Being part of labor culture means I know that one of the traditional slogans in European and American labor work was “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what we will.” That means that we should work, and we should sleep, and we should have down-time to connect to each other, to make art, to recharge, to take walks and cook and chill out. Labor culture means fighting hard not to be worked to death. Labor means fighting for healthcare and childcare and pensions and all the other things that workers need to be safe, healthy, and free.

If you want to learn about the culture of labor, you can turn to your own life and think about the working people you come from and what you learned from them. You can also subscribe to Labor Notes, which is a wonderful magazine about current workers’ issues.

I am proud to be a worker, a workplace organizer. And Labor Day is May 1 around the world but it got moved here in the U.S. to disrupt ties to workers’ movements. So today I am puttering around the house thinking about my grandfather, and my great-grandfather, and thinking about all the great union organizers and activists I have known, and humming “Solidarity Forever” under my breath. And I am grateful to be part of this rich legacy.

A Memoirist’s Manifesto

These are scary times–if extreme right-wing semi-fascist rhetoric scares you. It scares me, so I’ve found myself huddling, a little depressed, a little beaten down. I’m not talking about your religion or your political orientation. I’m talking about the extremes that many of my Christian and Republican friends are appalled by.

The language of hate and exclusion creeps into society like a cancer, a fungus. When the solution to a problem is framed in terms of “Who should we get rid of?” the intolerance poisons not just relations between those in control and the targets, but among all people within the community. Trust is universally lowered. Polarizing rhetoric sets an electric charge in the air; who is the next “us” against the next “them”? Everyone gets defensive and edgier. Anyone could be the next target. The chilling effect of threatened repression is what tempts people to draw back into themselves and to seek whatever form of safety they might imagine. I’ve been feeling it.

One important solution to political repression is to tell your story: memoir, memoir, and more memoir. I believe in memoir not just as entertainment but as a solution that reveals how complicated and intertwined our lives all are.

Me, as one example: if you want to kick out the Buddhist democratic-socialist labor activists, be sure to put my name on the list. Seriously. My mama didn’t know her baby would grow up to be an activist memoirist, but she’s survived it. I’ve been in so many activist groups and coalitions that I’ve lost count of all the acronyms. Is that scary? It shouldn’t be. I didn’t plan to be this way; that’s just where I’m drawn–and all that activity is completely allowed in a democracy. Yep, I’m a patriot working hard to make this country better. And I write about it–I write memoir that often involves politics, not to preach but to explore (although I sometimes editorialize).

But I also love a lot of people who are described as hopelessly Trump-loving white rural working-class and lower-middle-class Midwestern, people who like guns and the right to bear arms. Complicated. I love the complexity, and I won’t give any of it up. My mom is an immigrant, as are my dad’s parents. My mom’s dad and grandfather were socialist anti-Nazi activists before World War II. My mom’s parents lived through the Hitler regime in Germany; the threat of fascism isn’t an academic black-and-white photo. It’s been a haunting consuming fog, mulling over this country’s foolish flirtation with extreme ideas as a stand-in for adult problem-solving.

Sometimes I have worried that so much of my political life is online and/or in my writing. I have chiefly worried that my politics would lead to discrimination and block employment opportunities. But my family’s history–and my own study of that history–has made me realize that trying to burrow into safety and anonymity might be a personal privilege, but one that is dangerous to the body politic.

In other words, the act of “memoiring” into family stories has changed my story and my relationship to my past.

If you’re feeling unmoored, I suggest that you read a memoir about this great diverse country. We are anxious about the truth because there is so little to go around; the lack of oxygen is suffocating.

It’s funny that those with little power are excoriated for speaking about their memories—so “domestic,” so “quiet,” so “self-centered” —while massive dehumanizing lies and radical acts of inattention are issued from governing bodies. I don’t think these two threads are disconnected. Some would prefer that we wake up and remember nothing. They would prefer the fantasy that we believe what we are fed.

We are told that writing our own accounts is “selfish.” This the desperate attempt to shame us into silence.

I believe that every single scrap of memory—every smell, every can of soup, every turn of flesh—is a victory against the void and the prefabricated, the false statistics and sound bites filled with hate or oversimplification and erasure.

I believe that remembering is never selfish and that individual experience opens spaces where complex and real political solutions among diverse people can be found. Memoir is not selfish, but massaging the truth and shaping it for profit and corporate gain is the ultimate act of self-centered egomania.

Crafting beauty from a rescued photo is resistance. Individual fondnesses in the face of global threats is the point.

Raising questions, making tenuous connections—these are our work and they are a route to salvage our humanity and reorient our compasses. We have to remember that in our real stories, we are all complicated, and our stories are all entwined together.


How to Write a Book in Two Weeks


On March 28, Okla Elliott asked me if I’d consider writing a short book on Hillary Rodham Clinton for Squint Books, an imprint of Eyewear Publishing in London. I said no, because I had no idea what my angle would be for this project; I hadn’t had any burning desire to tackle the topic, and it was the end of a crazy semester and the project required a very fast turn-around. Then I slept on it, mulled it over, and decided (with the spirit that will end up destroying me eventually) that I liked a challenge. Plus, as I describe in the book, I got interested in what I didn’t know. So on March 30 the project was on, and–this part is horrifying–I sent editor extraordinaire Kelly Davio the first draft of the book on April 14.

I kept telling myself I’d written the book in 4 or 5 weeks. But the truth is, it was two weeks for the first draft of The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Eyewear is amazingly fast, and I think we had the final copyedits and layout done by end of April. I can’t really understand how this happened, but I can tell you that I was avoiding a horrifying committee assignment at work, and I threw myself into Hillary Clinton partially as a means of masochistic escapism.

I feel like I must be missing something. Is my math wrong? No, these are the right time-stamps on the emails. The actual drafting of the 108-page thing took two weeks. I wanted to share a bit of my organizational and process in case that is helpful for other writers.

First, a few essential how-to’s:

  1. Never do this. But doing big unfamiliar projects on short time-frames is possible.
  2. Time this amazing opportunity to coincide with your child’s spring-break visit to his father out of state.
  3. Have an obsessive streak.

Now I want to talk about the multiple programs I used to make this happen. Doing this just in Microsoft Word would have been impossible.

In addition to Word, I use

  • Evernote (free, synchs across devices, also web-based, although they are cutting and cutting the free version, which makes me sad. Download at evernote.com): Evernote allows you to make “notebooks” and then write in them, tag them, reorganizing them, and search them. It is my “idea” bucket because it’s so much easier to see everything all at once rather than as separate Word files. Evernote is my major “Idea Bucket.”

This is the “notebook” view:

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Screen shot of notebook view in Evernote with pictures of topics on various notebooks

And this is the “page” view within a notebook. You can also nest notebooks inside notebooks; it’s a dream.

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Screen shot of page view in Evernote
  • Dropbox (free, synchs across devices, also web-based): download at dropbox.com. This is a screenshot; Dropbox is a bucket you can put any file in and then get access to on any computer. It is also a great system for backing up your files. This is my Master file bucket, my complete everything. Dropbox is also great because you can share folders with other people who have Dropbox accounts. This is what the section of my Dropbox for the Hillary project looked like:


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Screen shot of list of Word files stored in DropBox

I have articles, and as you can see I also take screenshots if I’m reading something on my phone or want to make a quick note to go back to something later. Other files include a rough Table of Contents for the book, and another important file, “Hillary questions,” which I’ll talk about below.

  • Scrivener ($45 with a free trial, needs to be manually synched using Dropbox): download at literatureandlatte.com; this program makes complex files and exports to Word and imports from Word.

This is the “project view” of Scrivener:

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Screen shot of Scrivener with long list of topic sub documents down left hand side

Again, like Dropbox, it’s so helpful because you can drag chunks around and see the big picture without having to close and open separate documents; Scrivener is very powerful and has a learning curve. What’s amazing about it is that it is PERFECT for organizing a huge document in progress. You can see on the left-hand side that I created little documents for every possible point or idea I might want to include. I am an associative think, very “linear-challenged,” so I cannot think of an outline first. My outline has to emerge from questions and associations and bits of information as they accrue together. Scrivener is how I think; it’s my bucket for individual projects in progress.

My Writing Process

  1. Totally random. In panic mode I started out googling “Hillary Clinton.” I also worked as an essayist, paying attention to my own “sticking points,” questions, and weird associations and feelings. What did I not get about Hillary? What annoyed me? What was annoying me about her campaign? What did I hate about the attacks on her? How did I feel about all the coverage of her, and what tone or feeling did it give off? Journaling and journaling, bits and pieces accruing.
  2. From journaling and googling, I began to outline a few key inflammatory questions and my own blind-spots. I began to get in order the big questions I didn’t understand. I polled friends on Facebook, taking screen shots of articles I wanted to come back to and Google. For example, people felt very strongly about her time as Secretary of State, and to be honest the only thing I knew about that period was the picture of her wearing sunglasses and texting. So I had a lot to learn. I broke it up by the major international hot-spots people seemed to be talking about, and then Googled and used print sources to accumulate facts and questions on each of those sub-topics.
  3. I read memoirs and biographies (I read 3: 2 written by her and 1 written about her; thankfully I read fast)
  4. I always take notes as I read: Each source has a separate open file with page numbers next to information and/or quotes. (Word, Evernote, or Scrivener). Sometimes I’ll put post-its on pages and then go back through a book and compile the quotes. This way I never have to go back to a book; the quotes I want to use are already listed with page numbers.
  5. I returned again and again to my “question” document.

My Clinton questions:

  • Is she being judged unfairly based on her husband’s record?
  • Would she be even considered for office if not for her husband? No.
  • Do I like her because she’s a woman?
  • Will she do different politics because she’s a woman?
  • Was she the reason that healthcare got on the agenda?
  • Do we have to defend her as a woman because she is facing sexism or because she is supposed to be likable?
  1. With Hillary Clinton, the awful thing was COMPLETE INFORMATION OVERLOAD. I quickly had to decide what was most interesting to me and what seems important to summarize. I didn’t want to repeat what had been covered over and over, but some major stuff I had to mention in summary form. I also had to quickly find out which sources gave me actual information and which were hate-y, think piece-y pieces of crap. Those ended up being useful in the “what does Hillary mean” section; I saw quickly that people had very strong reactions to her, and I more and more saw–because of my research process–that I had to tackle the hate first, because I couldn’t find information without delving through this layer of inflammatory commentary myself.
  2. This led to the question of voice: I had to decide, pushing against other projects about her, what voice I didn’t want and why. I am sick of snark and strong opinions in this election cycle; I wanted funny if possible, approachable, non-inflammatory; I wanted to speak to undecided voters and focus on breaking down complex information simply. The essay form influenced this; I wanted to be upfront about where I started and be transparent about my questions and my process.
  3. I began to be very compelled by the “why don’t we like her” question, which I wanted to approach not as feminist manifesto but as Bill or Ted in the cinematic masterpiece “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” aiming for approachability and the “simple” big un-ask-able questions.

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    Keanu Reeves is my research spirit animal. (pic of wide-eyed Keanu Reeves as Ted in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”)
  4. I started blank documents in Scrivener that aligned to topic areas and then moved them around to see what organizational structures might make sense. As a reader, what would I want first and why? One of my jobs was to introduce Hillary to readers in the UK who might not know the first thing about Hillary, and I liked this framework, because I really didn’t know much on a factual level myself–so much of what I realized I’d been “soaking” in was conservative hatred of her. And THAT was interesting to me because that period covered my entire adult life.
  5. Then I had to start writing. I did this based on bribery and fatigue. In general I jump around when I write based on my energy level and random interest at the time; I find the job of coalescing multiple sources into clear text to be very taxing, so I would go in for a burst of 20 minutes followed by five minutes on Facebook or eating candy or reading stuff on Jezebel.
  6. I looked at my LONG list of topic files in Scrivener and would sometimes randomly choose a section that’s troubling me, maybe a topic area that sources are very divided on. As I’m struggling to write this, using my source notes, I’m also googling other topic areas and continuing to research, using my writing to hone in on key questions I need to do more research about.
  7. I cut and paste key quotes from sources in Word quote lists into topic areas in Scrivener and notes of random thoughts I’d stored in my Evernote file; I began to write and integrate. I worked from top to bottom in Scrivener, down my list of files, moving sub-topics around as I went.
  8. My first draft was huge and very source heavy; that’s ok, they can always be taken out later.
  9. The draft, still in Scrivener, wasn’t completely organized. I began to commit to an organizational structure based on chronology interspersed with cultural context, start writing those pieces from the beginning while continuing to add research throughout.
  10. I don’t polish the writing until I have a structure in place; I don’t want to commit to transitions that won’t end up being useful if the structure changes.
  11. As I write, I generally asked myself questions; rewrote very complicated language as more simple and more direct. I had to often translate political jargon but still had to have the text be accurate and complex where it needed to be.
  12. I finished a very rough draft of book, which was basically text in complete sentences about every area I wanted to hit. I then let it sit for a day and went back from the beginning to read through; I had to fix 1000 problems, then do more research as needed. I began trimming stuff that seemed clearly extraneous, but I saved “cut stuff” in a separate Scrivener file.
  13. I then sent the draft file it to my fantastic editor Kelly; within a very short time, she sent me feedback about all the problems.
  14. I always get overwhelmed at this stage, because there’s simply no way to escape: these are all the hardest things in a project that must be fixed for the project to work. At this stage, I translate problems into a to-do list to make it seem more doable; tackle them not sequentially but randomly and by my energy level.

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    Picture of a handwritten to-do list with hash marks along the left-hand margin and arrows connecting items.

I have to say that I’m most proud of this to-do list, and it feels to me like the heart of a book. These are the huge problems I couldn’t figure out how to address, and I knew that if I could break them down into tasks, I could tackle a few at a time. Putting my weird double-hash check-mark next to each item is a tiny victory. You can see that there’s a mess in the middle where arrows connect a few of the to-do’s; even at this stage I am unsnarling connections between the various items and re-shuffling. Transitions are always a problem for me, and items on this list required more research to clarify points, to add information, and to continue to turn long chunks into accessible language. This focused part felt really hard; I was tired from the burn of the project, and I had to get it done while also finishing the semester, but I was motivated because we were so close.

Then, about 4 weeks later, after lots of discussions about promotion and everything else, the books actually arrived. And I slept a LOT.

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And there it is! Would I do it again? OMG don’t challenge me! I think I also damaged some nerves in my neck, so if I do it again I’m going to need a physical therapy and massage team on hand. 🙂 But it’s cool to know it’s possible!