Weaving the Essay: Vigil of Hope
April 14, 2020 § Leave a comment
“Vigil of Hope,” my essay included in Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era, happened in much the same way that most of my writing comes to be. I captured snippets of conversation from my day, mixed them with family stories that helped define who I am in the world, and then I wrote and wrote.
Maybe something the kid said in the car on the way to school that reminded me of growing up in my big family. Or the way I offer reassurance to a client about the very thing that worries me, too. Writing is how I process my world; sometimes it’s how I arrive at what I believe about something. Most of my writing is just for me, but sometimes there’s an external push.
I’d been following the work of a local theater director ever since I’d performed in one of her shows. Eleanor O’Brien mostly focuses on creating sex-positive theater, but this time she was hosting an event called the Election Monologues. She solicited people to write about their experiences of the election of 45 and read them on the night of the inauguration, January 20, 2017.
Eleanor tried to host writing gatherings, so that not just the performance but the entire experience could happen in community. But it was winter in Portland and ice storms got in the way. I got one chance to join a few local writers, activists, and therapists and brainstorm ideas for our monologues. In Eleanor’s cozy, NE Portland house on a chilly winter day, on couches and at the kitchen table, we sipped warm tea and wrote to prompts she offered: The voting booth. A slogan I remember. Living in a bubble. What are my choices?
I took those initial thoughts to my weekly writing group and used the timed writes there to develop these ideas. I wrote about how my family talked about – or didn’t talk about – politics. I wrote about games I learned to play with my mother, and how those games might be seen as metaphors for her life.
Jacks: My mom showed me how to toss the eight metal asterisks on the floor in front of me and throw the bright red bouncy ball into the air. One bounce, swipe, clink. One at a time, then twos, threes. So many combinations for a total of eight. Eight. My mother raised eight kids. Five boys and three girls. Eight. The big kids and the younger ones. Six and two. Eight. The oldest, the middle boys, the babies. Three and three and two. Eight.
I wrote about my own vulnerability as a queer person in America, and about the layered ways the queer and trans clients in my counseling practice were especially at risk under a government led by this new president-elect.
On the night of the event, Portland community members shared their experiences. Some were similar to mine, like the teacher of social justice describing the days after the election as she supported her students through their shock and fear. Others were different, like the men of color worried for their livelihoods and their lives under this new administration.
Eleanor’s goal of creating community was successful that night. We witnessed one another sharing our stories, and many of us walked away from that event with new friends or allies.
When I saw Amy Roost’s call for stories about women’s experiences in the Trump era, I thought that my story from the Election Monologues would fit, and sent it off with the hope it would have another life in this anthology. And it worked!
As a memoirist, I’m always pulling bits of conversations or moments from my life and weaving them into the stories I write. It’s how my writing happens, how I stay true to myself on the page. I find it helpful to approach a writing assignment from different angles and in more than one venue, so having the chance to brainstorm this piece with Eleanor and then take it further at writing group helped me flesh out the story I needed to tell. Although writing is a solo practice for me, listening to other writers engage the prompts in different ways helps me approach my ideas with creativity. Watching which lines of my own fresh writing seem to land with writing group peers, and which don’t quite work, shows me what to edit. All of this supports me when I sit down to finish a piece in the solitude of my own writing practice.
We were halfway through this presidency when Pact Press took the anthology on and I was able to revise and update, expanding on the themes in my original essay to show that the initial fears I had about his term in office were playing out detrimentally in my communities.
As a writer of memoir, I relish the opportunity to experience my world more than once. I get to live it while it is happening, and then I get to create it on the page after the fact. And sometimes, just like stories that are told and retold through generations of families, I get to write and rewrite these stories of my own life more than once.
From “Vigil of Hope”
As the reality of the election set in, I wondered where I would find and create hope during the Trump years. I imagined I’d hear it in the sound of my ten-year-old composing songs on her electric keyboard, or I’d feel it in the deepening relationships with my siblings. I would find it in the vulnerable courage of my students and clients, in their reach to learn, to understand, and to bring their true voices to the world. I committed to nurturing that hope within my communities of artists, writers, creators, and visionaries. I vowed to lean into the hope of my own small family and the home we create together every day. My words, my strength, and my own vulnerability would become a vigil of hope for all of us.
Meg Weber writes memoir about sex, grief, love, identity, family, therapy, and tangled relationships. She writes about edges, about experiences and identities that hover at the perimeter. Her writing is featured in The Quotable, MUTHA Magazine, Manifest-Station, Rabble Lit, and HipMama, and in anthologies by Seal Press, Sincyr Publishing, and Pact Press. Her debut memoir, A Year of Mr. Lucky, is forthcoming in 2020 from Sincyr Publishing. “Vigil of Hope” is featured in Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era.