Recording our Histories

When I was 15 I read 1984 for the first time. I remember my teacher walking past me in class, and quoting the first line from the book to me. “Have you read it?” I asked. He laughed. “Many times.” The book starts with one of the main characters, Winston, deciding that he wants to keep a handwritten journal, despite working at a job where he is supposed to literally destroy the past from the public memory, by putting pages, photos, and scrawled notes down “the memory tube”, which leads to an incinerator. Through him, we learn of shortened methods of speaking, and all the people who work to create the impression of the all powerful, Big Brother.

Despite this, despite knowing the consequences, and despite the panoptical discipline, Winston finds a journal and a pen, and begins writing. He writes about his days at work, about a woman he’s attracted to, about the ideologies of the Party, and childhood memories. All of which, was illegal.

Shortened speech? Destroying the public memory? Changing the facts? Creating a larger than life leader? Sound familiar? In many ways, Trump, with his tweets, alternative facts, and “yuge” persona resonate strongly of Orwellian potential.

Recently I read a really fantastic piece from someone who has studied authoritarianism for a very long time, and has worked helping political prisoners in other countries. In this piece, the writer encourages us all to become writers, and to be like Winston in that sense. Even though it may be outside of our normal routine, or maybe it’s outside what is accepted in our family, social circle, or job, we should write. Genuinely.

Write about ourselves, and what we believe. Write about our hopes for the future. Write about what has been happening as it happens so that the present doesn’t become on long blur, and all the terrible things don’t seem as if they have always been that way. Write about the people and the things we care about. Write about the things we always do, and the things we think we would never do. And sometimes, go back and read what we have written. Are we surprised? Does the world seem like it has changed more than we realized? Did we lose our sense of injustice and outrage, or do we still feel it? Do we still have the same hopes for the future? Do we still feel like the things we would never do are things we would never do?

Way back in 2001, I started keeping a journal on September 11th. I’ve had many opportunities to go back and read what I had written since then, and see what mattered to me, what changed my mind about things, how the world changed, and how I changed the world. I have moved all over the country, and all over the world, and I have gotten rid of most of my sentimental things, but the one thing I always manage to hang onto is my journals.

As we head into this new storm, I’m glad I have them with me. I can look back at how teenage me protested and fought through Bush, and how I helped to get Obama elected twice. I know we can get through this.

Write in your spare moments, or before bed to clear your mind for sleep. Have a tiny moleskin, or a spiral notebook. Get a fancy journal at a local book shop and a fountain pen. There is no wrong way to reflect, and it will do the second job of helping you sort your thoughts and alleviating your anxiety during these difficult times. If you want to be able to stay active, you will need a clear, organized mind, and nothing helps better with that than a little journaling.

So, take it upon yourself to do the simple subversive activity of recording and documenting. Because otherwise, the only history will be written by our oppressors. And we need everyone’s stories. No one has a story quiet like yours, and someone, someday will want to know how this time was for you, and for people like you. Even if that someone is just you or your family.

And just remember:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

-First Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America


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