This is the sixth prompt for #swinspires, the Gift of Inspiration campaign hosted by She Writes. Between December 13 and 24, ten She Writers who inspire *us* will share a writing prompt. (For past prompts, click here.)
Author: Rebecca Traister
Prompt #4: What inspires you to...be political?
This is a funny inspiration for me to be pondering, because my own engagement in politics still surprises me sometimes! Sure, I have always cared about the process, about policy, and about ideology -- even as a kid, my identification as a "Democrat" in my Republican neighborhood was an important part of my identity. But as a younger person, it never occurred to me that I'd ever be in a position to incorporate my politics -- be they party politics or gender politics -- into my work.
But the thing about politics is: we live them. And they are constantly changing, surprising us, delighting and dismaying us. And how else do we get hooked -- as readers, writers or human beings -- but by getting caught up in narrative, attached to characters, moved by the rapidly shifting scope of power and possibility that comprise politics?
We are living in amazing times. Even in seasons like this, when many of my political compatriots are feeling low, so much history is being made around us: we have an African-American president; women are competing against women for senate and gubernatorial seats, there is national debate about gay rights; there is health fair reform, fair pay legislation (sometimes); we have three women on the Supreme Court and two who are repeatedly referred to as potential presidential candidates. Sure, some measure of all of this is depressing, not the kind of debate, the kind of candidates, that many of us would dream of seeing. And yet consider that none of these things have precedent in American history. This a new world being forged around us, forged BY us. How can we not invest in it, engage it, wonder about it and write and read and think about it?
Conversations about race, feminism, sexuality aren't just happening in classrooms; they're happening on debate stages, in campaign ads, and on cable television (see Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown, recent Virginia congressional candidate Krystal Ball, Rachel Maddow taking after John Raese of West Virginia). We are living through some of the most exciting and dramatic social shifts in this country's history; it's bound to be rocky, but it's also thrilling.
And one of the remarkable things about politics -- at least at a national level -- is that it draws the eyes of so many in the same direction, a rarer and rarer phenomenon in this fractured technological age. When I wrote a book about the 2008 election, I was writing about a story that practically everyone in this nation had paid attention to, that we all felt we had lived through, and perhaps had had a part in writing. How exhilarating, in days when our entertainment options have become so private -- when we program ipods instead of hearing what's on radio, when we select our television viewing from thousands of channels instead of four -- to come together to care and argue about a common bunch of characters, to wonder simultaneously about what's going to happen next, and how our shared story is going to play out! And the very technology that in some way isolates us also creates for us virtual book clubs and social networks (literally!) in which we parse and analyze the changing world around us. And all this with an optimistic eye toward our own national betterment? How could I NOT be inspired to invest and cheer and chronicle and care about the political world?
I've been thinking lately about how emotional politics can be. My book is entitled Big Girls Don't Cry, in what was supposed to be a rather dry reference to our assumptions about femininity, loss, emotion, and Hillary Clinton (not) crying during the 2008 race. But while I was writing and reporting it, I realized that there were in fact so many tears shed in 2008 -- about politics! From Clinton to Geraldine Ferraro to Sarah Palin and Gloria Steinem, there are many moments in the book in which women describe choking up or just plain sobbing -- often out of anger, out of pride, out of their own sense of history-making, or just because they were exhausted. And I open the book with a scene of me crying after Clinton conceded her party's nomination. That moment, my own show of unexpected emotion (in a professional setting now less) surprised me so much. I have long understood, and believed, that the personal is political. One of the things that writing about politics has taught me is that the political is, for many of us, intensely personal.
What about you? Do you care about party politics? Social politics? Gender, race, sexual politics? Do you find yourself moved, enraged, engaged, bored, buoyed or depressed by the political world? Do you incorporate your ideological or partisan passions into your writing, fiction or non?
Rebecca Traister is the author of Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for Ameri... (Free Press), and a contributor to Salon.com, where she has written about women in politics, media and entertainment since 2003. She has also written for the New York Observer, Elle, The Nation, The New York Times, the Washington Post and many other publications. She lives in Brooklyn. Visit her website at www.rebeccatraister.com.
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