Luke Mehall - 05/04/2017

The worst part about being a writer is not writing. And not writing at this point in my career means not working on something big. And something big is a book.

Shortly after I moved to Durango, I published my first book. Before that I had published a couple zines and assembled some propaganda for higher education, but really I didn’t have much to show for all the writing I’d done. The proof is in the pudding as they say, and I knew I’d never be happy if I couldn’t walk into local bookstores and see my work on the shelves.

After I published that first book of short stories and poetry at 35, I set a goal to write five books by 40. I was old enough to know the importance of setting goals, and young enough to dream big. So, here I am at 381⁄2, and I’ve got just one left to write.

The first plan was to write a fiction story set in a world where Donald Trump was president. Wouldn’t that be horrible? That plan was obviously derailed, and once we started living in this era that does feel like fiction (alternative facts, anyone?) I no longer had the desire to write fiction. So back to the drawing board.
Old Trump took the wind out of my sails. I honestly can’t remember a time in my adult life when I was more angry. As a teen, I had anger issues, related to so-called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and I got in fistfights all the time. Trump is like the school bully getting elected as president, and I feel ready to brawl.

When it comes down to it, my anger stems from one thing he lacks that I think leaders should have: integrity. And politics aside, our president before him, Mr. Obama, was full of integrity. In my adult life there have been four presidents, and Obama seemed like the only one who wasn’t a total piece of shit.

Bill Clinton: cheated on his wife left and right. George W. Bush started the war in Iraq, which led to the birth of ISIS and the deaths of countless Iraqis and Americans. I’d given up hope in American leadership.

Then came Obama. Hope was the word. I knew a lot of it was bullshit, but I generally agreed with his politics, and Barack and Michelle were truly examples of decent human beings occupying the White House. Most of all, I really loved having a leader who was intelligent and articulate when he spoke. One thing I’ll never forgive Trump for is his “Birther” conspiracy – claiming that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. That was pure racism, and it gave birth (no pun indented) to Trump’s rise. That’s also why I get so angry at other leaders, like local politician J. Paul Brown, who continued to support Trump after all those horrible things he said and did. (Pussy grabbing being at the top of the list.) Where art thou integrity, Mr. Brown?

After the election, the only thing that could calm me was the desert. That soother of souls: calming, unforgiving and harsh all at the same time. It has become my sanctuary. And one day it hit me: that would be my next book.

Near the end of his presidency, Obama designated my favorite place, Indian Creek, as part of the new Bear’s Ears National Monument. At first I was hesitant to support it. I liked the land the way it was: BLM land, loosely regulated. It felt wild and free. Highly regulated and visited public lands feel stale and domestic. But after Trump was elected, I knew the stakes had changed. Monument status would protect the area, even if there were more regulations. Plus, there were some unprecedented inclusions: local Native American tribes would be involved in the management, and climbing was included in the language of the proclamation.

I remember when I first found out the designation was official. It was over the holidays and my flight had just landed in Denver. I turned on my phone and saw the news. It was not like checking news in this Trump era, because, well, it was good news. I felt light, like the desert makes me feel. I felt proud as an American in the Obama twilight. I’ll always be proud that Obama was our president, and I’ll always be ashamed that America went toward Trump.

Obviously, I’m being black and white here (no pun intended), and in quality writing, the grey is explored. For myself as a writer, that’s where my books come into play; where you can dance, cry, admit your faults and shortcomings, and let your soul shine. Don’t worry critical reader, I know I’m a hypocrite; most of us are. But I’m trying to listen to my soul and to have integrity, so I’ll welcome any criticism.

In my head I’m getting back to where I was in the Bush years, a little hopeless, a little tired and angry. I see a Confederate Flag or a Trump sticker and I boil with rage. But the real enemies are the ones with Confederate Flags in their hearts and the billionaires with no connection to anything but money and power. Most folks with Confederate Flags flying in Colorado are the victims of a side effect of capitalism: economic injustice. Like Dylan said, “the poor white man is used in the hands of them all like a tool.”

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, Trump has ordered a review of all the national parks and monuments that have been designated in the last 21 years. That includes Bear’s Ears, and if you love public lands, I bet one of your favorite places is included in this list. Again, there’s some grey areas of debate, but one ultimate truth is that these lands hold something sacred and powerful, that the original inhabitants knew, and the white man realized after they had taken most of the land away. Some called it “America’s greatest idea.” And, I don’ know about you, but I need that space and healing energy now more than ever.

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