Letter Thirty-Eight

Hi Henry

If you're ready for an entertaining diversion from the troubles of the world, then prepare for disappointment. The mood of this letter is sober.

A lot's happened in the last month or so, and I feel like one letter can't really do any of it justice. Partly I want to respond to your Honest Ed's letter, partly I want to respond to your letter on artists, and partly I want to respond to your most recent letter on the political trajectory which the United States has chosen (at least according to the electoral college system in place). But responding to all these topics in the same letter seems like a sure way to make each of them ridiculous; except the topic of politics, of course, which the recent events in your host country have made ridiculous without my help. Under the circumstance, I think we have to talk about the election.

It may have been a watershed moment for our generation, south and north of the border. Like you, I was shocked by the result. I was at a bar on John St with Nick when it started to dawn on me that the months of easy assurance, of being unable to take the possibility of a Clinton loss with anything other than incredulity, were about to blow up––not just in my face––but in the smug face of the entire liberal establishment. Let me tell you: the mood in that bar was depressing. I'd gone out to escape from it when a man stumbled on after me. He said, "all she needs to do is win Florida. Oh yah, and Virginia is guaranteed hers." I should have realized then that she had already lost the election.

I won't go into the aftermath––frankly, I think we're still in the midst of it––except on one point, which you brought up in your letter: self-indulgence and writing. You said, if I may paraphrase, that writing felt like an inappropriate response to a potentially cataclysmic event; that it was perhaps self-indulgent; and that now was the time for action. Truthfully, I don't think your observations were altogether off.

Of course, whether we write or not isn't at issue. Virgil Texas pointed out after the election that humour and nuance are the natural enemies of fascism, and that for this reason it would be more important for us to protect these traditions in the coming years than it had been before. And as far as I can tell, writers are necessary both in times good and times bad––and probably more necessary in times bad. So I don't think we need to feel guilty about writing; so long, that is, we don't use it as a means to avoid self-accountability, or as a means to escape from the commitments that our times are calling for us to make.

Let me be clear: there are more important things than our "projects"; and truthfully, while Hillary Rodham Clinton hides out in the woods somewhere, it's everybody else who has to pick together the pieces.

And when I say "everybody else", I realize that in Canada we are largely sheltered from the immediate effects of the election. Sadly––and this makes me bitter––in Canada, the worst affect may be the moral superiority we bandy over our American neighbours for the next four years that would allow us to––as we do so well in this country––overlook our own flaws. And I realize also that in most cases it will be the vulnerable who suffer, certainly not the twitter pundits who decried Trump for months, nor the Sunday columnists in Washington or the op-ed contributors for the newspaper of record––no matter how devastated each of them may have personally felt.

Even so, I wish I could be with you in NYC right now. The next years will be difficult and strange.

Finally, in the alleged words of Joe Hill,

Don't mourn. Organize!


P.S. This will probably be my last letter till January. Maybe in a couple days I'll write you another letter about all the nice things in the world. But if you arrive in Toronto before I do, then I'll probably just wait until January before I pick up my proverbial pen again.

Edit: Literally as I wrote this letter to you, HRC had, in fact, briefly emerged from the woods in order to denounce Vladimir Putin's "unprecedented" role to a group of her donors.