Letter to America

By Aisha Sabatini Sloan

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Dear America,

Once, after a bad breakup, I made myself do yoga every day for two weeks. I dedicated myself to some limitations for this daily routine: I ad libbed from a sequence in the practice manual we used when I completed yoga teacher training and listened to an hour-long episode of the radio show On Being. I tried to let Krista Tippett determine the duration of my practice but usually after a half hour of stretching and some super abbreviated sun salutations I was up and Googling the Beatles song about the weepy guitar and writing the lyric on Facebook and crooning “I don’t know why nobody told you how to unfold your love” into the computer screen while snot ran down my face.

Settling into savasana I marveled about what Joanna Macy said in her interview with Krista about how pain, when faced, turns. I brought my knees into my chest as I sobbed while she read her translation of Rilke: “Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me.” I don’t know that this practice hastened or lightened the mourning process but it felt important to harness my grief and shove it into something potentially transformative.

Last week, my girlfriend and I flew to New York for a visit. Even though I had lived in Brooklyn for a couple of years once upon a time, I felt nervous to go back, ride the train and be in a big city after being so used to a small one. Almost immediately we traded in our big-world anxieties for the excitement of the everyday. Late one night we were led into a room where Ocean Vuong and Juan Felipe Herrera and Natalie Diaz and Saeed Jones and Rigoberto Gonzalez were eating dinner. It didn’t feel so delusional to believe, for a spell, in magic. We decided that everything was going to be okay, president-wise, in order to get through the trip. Toward the end we noticed that we were starting to float away into a kind of delusional paradise, using the term “dissociation” a lot when someone brought up politics. When we got home we found the fear waiting for us in the living room. I realized we seemed to be moving beautifully through the real live stages of grief—depression, denial.

I entered into “bargaining” the other day when somebody on Facebook mentioned writing letters to the electors. I decided to throw myself into it the way I tried to get really effective when called upon to write letters to the staff of a prison that held my nephew in solitary confinement for over a year. I am mostly an ethos pathos kind of girl, so these letters had the tone of Oliver Twist cowering with a bowl in his hands.

With the electors I tried to think of the fastest trick to their heart-guts. I peered at their names and chose from a list of heroes on a Wikipedia page for action adventure movie heroes/villains and wrote in big, bold letters: “This moment in time is like the end of an action adventure film. You are Matt Damon. You are the hero. Be the hero. Please.” I also tried Will Smith, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Julia Roberts, Russell Crowe and Liam Neeson. I never did Catherine Zeta-Jones for some reason. Quick question: Is it just me or are most of those electors white?

A day after I sent that batch of letters, I decided to reach out to another set of electors with a different approach: watercolors. I put on Issa Rae’s show, Insecure, and tore watercolor paper that I’d meant to use for Christmas cards last year into postcard-sized sheets. I addressed them first and then painted on them using a very dried-out watercolor set running low on blue and yellow. I brought out my acrylics. I got abstract for a few hours. There were some, how do you call it, pink washes. Some dots. I like to do a red line across the page sometimes. A Diebenkornish gesture. There were a couple of good ones. I had had half a bottle of wine by the time I wrote, “I emplore you. No, I implore you,” to somebody in Texas or Arkansas, followed by a message that conveyed my very specific hopes for their electoral vote decision.

I woke up feeling dehydrated and exhausted from hours of the kind of non-sleep you get when you drank too much bad red wine and kept the salt lamp on while Frasier played for several hours into the night and you didn’t even bother to brush your teeth until 2 a.m. after eating Karamel Sutra ice cream and you never asked your dog to move over so your back is sore. And then to be faced with this fiasco: your girlfriend is out of town with the car. You have a bike, an empty stomach, lots of caffeine in your system, and no stamps. How do you buy stamps without going all the way to the post office?

After I put a bunch of abstract art in the mail for 29 strangers I got back on my bike and felt so empowered that I entered swiftly into the “I need to jog and clean the house” phase that I usually require if I’m going to stop spinning out into a destructive mess. So I had my dog drag me half a mile up the road and back and I mopped to Pop Culture Happy Hour and eventually I realized that it was time to start doing yoga again. And that it might be necessary to do yoga and meditate everyday now, and not drink so much, and feel my fear more. And clean up the dog shit from the back yard. And listen to music that might let my soul maneuver itself around all those feelings. Feelings like: an orphanage of children in Aleppo asking to live.

In a recent article for The Guardian, Rebecca Solnit asked all of us to take responsibility for coming up with the big idea that could keep him out of office: “It’s up to us, which means it’s up to you. Think big. And act.” Inspired, I quoted her to some friends over dinner. We sat under a lamp made from deer antlers. We were talking about what we could do. Every time we had an idea that made my heart beat faster, the light dimmed or surged. We looked at each other like kids in a movie hovering hands over a Ouija board, baffled by the possibility of our own power.

Every few days, I realize that I have the responsibility to clear a path for better ideas, as Solnit has pleaded. Less wine, more meditation. As this year comes to a close I hope we can all use the tools we have cultivated, whatever they are, in order to make the space for the idea that could save us.


Aisha Sabatini Sloan



Aisha Sabatini SloanAisha Sabatini Sloan’s essay collection, The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White, was published by the University of Iowa Press in 2013. Her most recent book, Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit, will be published in 2017 with 1913 Press. Her writing can be found in The Offing, Ecotone, Ninth Letter, Identity Theory, Michigan Quarterly Review, Terrain.org, Callaloo, The Southern Review, Sierra Nevada Review, Essay Daily, Tarpaulin Sky, and Autostraddle.
Read Aisha Sabatini Sloan’s essay “How to Draw a Glass Mountain: Los Angeles and the Architecture of Segregation,” appearing in Terrain.org.

Header photo of subway exit in Brooklyn by Foundry, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Aisha Sabatini Sloan by Arianne Zwartjes.


Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.