By Shannon Kirk
A good friend has a great response to try to chill me out every time I get spun up about the current political environment: “Is this going to impact the happiness of your cats?” Meaning, is this really going to lead to something that will change your life in a catastrophic way? I wish I could have this outlook on politics. I used to. I used to be able to tune most of it out and concentrate.
I confess. I have a problem. I’m addicted. I am distractified by Trump. But since I acknowledge this serious weakness, I’m hoping to fight my way back to my old ways and not let him win. I have devised a system, which I include at the end. No idea if this will work.
The distractification of Trump has impacted my writing in three ways: To lose time. To wallow in the quagmire of arguing about the fallacy of binary extremism. To resist bullying.
Distractified to Lose Time (from writing, editing, and reading)
Truth is, I was in denial. I thought I could fight it. I’ve given speeches on this very thing: fighting distraction so as to concentrate on writing and reading. In one of my presentations, called “Time Scrooge,” I answered the questions of several women executives on my method to balance writing and law and family. I said that one of the things I’d done to be a Time Scrooge was stop visiting online news and following most news, unless there was a major breaking story. So too, I’d stopped following the long-drawn-out ups and downs of campaigns, opting instead to focus before voting on the critical issues. That was because before, my attention to these things seemed irrelevant. Some would argue that that notion is precisely why we’re in the stew we’re in right now. Others would argue that my attention to these things is still irrelevant, and it certainly feels that way sometimes. My voice is just a splinter in a sea’s worth of flotsam, another voice amongst millions and millions yelling indignations, protesting, pounding on desks, calling congresspeoples, and yet, here we are. In my opinion, before, it was safer to ignore politics, because before, things were relatively even-keeled, certainly not as belligerently inflammatory. And, if I didn’t agree with a certain policy, for the most part, the opposing view wasn’t so extreme. I’ve always had my pet causes—women’s rights, human trafficking—so I focused on those.
Now I can’t follow my own damn advice. I have lost invaluable time, time I should have been writing and reading. There is news, then news about news, then news about comments to news, then Twitter comments and news about comments to Twitter comments. And so our “news” is now 24/7 meta-meta-meta-meta news. My TBR pile is out of control; edits to existing manuscripts delayed. And as this is the second publication to ask me to write on this topic, I can resist no longer. I must face the blaring music.
Distractified by Binary Extremism (frustrating my notion of character development)
Let’s first set the table and acknowledge the objective fact that we are living in La La Land right now. Nothing is normal, and, yes, nothing is logical. If your objective is to disagree and say that things are logical, then you are trolling this article; please move on.
The reason it’s easy for me to get distractified by all this is actually nothing new; it’s something that’s always been a gripe of mine, even before Trump—just now more acute and in my face every single damn day, and in alarming ways. It is indeed a core issue I try to battle in my writing: the pushing of people into simplistic, binary camps. Example: Your character is a scientist, so she must be an atheist. I battle this notion, I reject it.
Here’s where we are, I liken it to the Fruit Loops vs. Cheerios Political System. Each Fruit Loop represents a position on an issue, and each Cheerio its “opposite.” If you are on Team Fruit Loop, you MUST accept and agree and support all Fruit Loops, likewise with Team Cheerio. Never may a Fruit Loop cross-pollinate the Cheerio world, and NEVER EVER may a Cheerio contaminate a Fruit-Loop-protected zone.
This is a binary system.
This is bullshit.
We would never allow such simple sorting for fictional characters, so why is it being pushed in reality?
You are on one of two teams, and that is all. You are either “Conservative” or “Liberal” (or the derogatory team names of “Fascist” or “Libtard”). You either “won” or “lost,” just like your football team either won or lost the Super Bowl. If negative or contrary news is presented about a Froot Loop or Cheerios Team Leader or an issue within one of the Team’s bowls, the opposing Team must ignore it or discount it immediately as fake news. But this is fantasy land living, and if you’re someone who already came to the conclusion that political positions, faith and religion and spirituality, and everyday life beliefs can’t be sorted so neatly, the craziness of claiming these things can be easily sorted, sort of drives you crazy. When your challenge as a writer is to create characters with depth and contradictions, backstories that conflict with present action and yet still “paint” a true character to provide believability, yeah, binary extremism in the real world frustrates what you’re trying to achieve as a writer: believable, conflicted human characters. You feel like you’re in the Upside Down (credit: Stranger Things; side note: season two can’t come soon enough).
My political, spiritual, and everyday life positions cannot be sorted into one of two bowls. And I’m hoping to create characters who also cannot be sorted into one of two bowls. I strive and practice and challenge myself to be a writer who can someday create complex human characters, whose beliefs and positions might be mapped out in a diagram like below. Not a neat circle of Fruit Loops or Cheerios:
The irony is that this messy diagram seems, to me, way less crazy than the neat Fruit Loops and Cheerios bowls. That’s because binary extremism leads to HypoCRAZY. Just like the perfect, curated lawns in Edward Scissorhands really foretold a horror in the manicured neighborhood, whereas Scissorhands’ untamed property held the real beauty. And it’s true of writing. The best stories, settings, and characters are eclectic, complicated, messy.
Binary extremism seriously messes with what I require of myself as a writer.
As a writer, I feel it’s part of my job to observe an endless stream of input, sort, identify something to focus on, analyze, and try to translate that chosen, focused observation into a coherent, logical part of a character or plot, narrative, dialog, or prose, that—and here’s the double-twist-triple-helix backbend—incorporates contradictions to that observation, but still, somehow, makes sense. When things are not making sense in the world, when certain media and politicians oversimplify complex issues, my writer mind remains stuck on the input, input, input, analyze and sort and analyze and sort. Like a robot banging into a corner who can’t reverse. I am distractified into arguments with myself, with nameless people on the internet, with the news, the meta-meta news, family, politicians in a one-sided fight, all trying to get who? to acknowledge that Fruit Loops can live in the same bowl as Cheerios, along with certain conditions and exceptions, etc., etc., etc.
Distractified by Bullying (resistance bleeding into my manuscripts and poems)
Following strains of daily shocks in politics, who says what and how and what really happens because of it, is not only a time suck. There’s another thing lending toward distractification. Trump’s unpreCedential (how did he spell that?) tweets and “Rally” comments, his bullying of the media (except Fox News), calling opponents “stupid” (like American citizens who don’t agree with him), calling Meryl Streep “overrated” (Meryl Streep!!!), his pussy-grabber comment (which I will never in a million years forget or forgive), his middle finger to the CIA, his belittling of a CNN reporter at a press conference and calling CNN “fake news” like he’s some dictator who gets define “free press”…I could go on and on and on. He’s a bully. So, I’m distractified by this, too. I don’t recall a time in my life that I was able to sit silent and not want to combat a bully. Ever.
I admit I stew on his bullying, racist, misogynistic comments in a way that bleeds into my writing. I do notice that I have woven certain lines of prose or dialogue that might speak to my perception of bullying, and my response to that. I have, I admit, written whole poems on the matter. This is the part of the distractification that I have no intention on curbing.
What to Do with Distractification?
Now that I’ve acknowledged the problem, what am I doing to combat it so I can get back to concentrating on writing and reading in the negligible time I have to write and read? I really do need to impose some discipline here, get back to being a Time Scrooge, because, as most writers, I don’t have the luxury of writing full time. My writing time is limited, given the fact I need to work to eat food. Plus, I’m a mom. And a wife. And an aunt. And an amateur painter of jackets on cats. And a thriller writer, but also a struggling poet, in secret. And a hater of mushrooms and limp bacon. And a devotee of physics and rational sciences, but also obsessed with mysticism and the unexplained. And a lover of investigative journalism but also magical realism. And a daughter. And a sister. And a book club member. And a homebody who likes to travel a lot. And a fan of crazy modern sci-fi movies. And many, many other things because I’m not a simple bowl of Cheerios, DAMMIT! Ugh! I can’t stop.
I’m trying to follow the chart below. I’ve already failed today, but tomorrow is another day, and I will get better. What this all boils down to is I can’t go cold turkey. I can’t just think of the happiness of my cats anymore—I wish I could. I can’t completely ignore the Trump distractification. But what I can do, and think I should do, is identify what is causing me the most distraction and assign myself real practical things to do, however limited my impact may be, so that whatever comes of my distraction is at least productive, even in the most miniscule way. I also need to figure out what to prohibit and allow in my world, how much, and when. You may disagree with my chart and my approach, and really, everyone has got to do what everyone has go to do. Respect.
TRUMP DISTRACTIFICATION CHART
FORM OF DISTRACTIFICATION
|RESPONSE||NOTES TO MYSELF|
|Trump tweet||Ignore||Seriously, you need to ignore. But I have such a good retort, and he set himself up so bad. NO! Get back to work. But there’s this Golden Shower thing, and, so many hashtags…
FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, NO! STOP!
|Actions in Congress that seriously cut against my beliefs/positions||Call and/or write Senators/ Representatives||Solely complaining about it on social media is doing no good; the comments are distracting you further. Do something focused and productive.|
|News of emboldened racism and misogyny||Pro bono work for refugees and human trafficking/donations to relevant causes||Solely complaining about it on social media is doing no good; the comments are distracting you further. Do something focused and productive.|
|Social media memes||Ignore||Ignore|
|News||Only in the morning over coffee||Don’t look during the day. And read only the source material, nothing summarized or regurgitated.|
|Threats to free speech||Write anything and everything you want and do not relent||This is important. Never be silenced.|
 I am not writing this piece to invite debate. You want to disagree with me, then go ahead. Just don’t expect a response. This article is simply an article expressing the distraction of Trump on my personal writing. That is all.
Shannon Kirk is the award-winning author of the psychological thriller, METHOD 15/33 (THE METHOD in UK, NZ, and OZ), which has garnered three starred reviews, won the National Indie Excellence Award for best suspense, was selected by the School Library Journal as one of the best 17 adult fiction books for teens, and was the Gold winner of the Benjamin Franklin IBPA award. METHOD 15/33 has been optioned for a major motion film and has sold into sixteen foreign territories. Ms. Kirk’s second novel (not a thriller), THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF VIVIENNE MARSHALL, was published in September 2016. Read more about Shannon Kirk, her books, and short stories at www.shannonkirkbooks.com and www.thegoatmancometh.com.
And to learn more about THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF VIVIENNE MARSHALL, click on the cover below: