Twenty Words During Lockdown, Day 18: Chaos

By Pam Houston

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These 20 words were assigned to Pam Houston by her friend, the writer and photographer Kyle Wolff, as part of Project 2020 (Quarantine Edition). She gave Pam and others a word most mornings, and the assignment to write to that world and either take or find a photo to go with it. These 20 words and photographs by Pam Houston are appearing daily in through June 20, the summer solstice.

April 24, 2020


Nothing about what is happening right now feels chaotic to me. This was all preordained the moment America decided it didn’t want to be run anymore by smart people. A logical result. Also, as of this writing, 95 percent of us or more are being almost absurdly orderly. Washing our hands for 20 seconds, staying home, wearing our masks, nursing the sick, even the ones who call the virus a hoax. If anything, I feel less chaotic at this moment than any other time since 2016. What felt like chaos was when I felt like the only one who saw the chaos coming. But that’s grandiose. I was never the only one who saw the chaos coming. But I was the one most of my friends and my husband and my neighbors wished would shut the hell up about the disasters that would befall us because we had put a malignant narcissist into the most powerful position in the world.

A lot of us were raised by malignant narcissists. If you want to see the effect of what answering to a malignant narcissist does to a person in just a few weeks’ time, watch the footage from camera 2 of today’s president’s press conference. Keep your eyes on Dr. Brix. It is ten seconds of the last of a person’s sense of self leaving her body.

To get to real chaos, I have to go back to my childhood home, to the age of four and eight and 11. With malignant narcissism, there is no waiting it out and there is no winning, and there is no reasoning and above all the other things there are not, there is definitely no “if only I could make him see.” Take it from my broken femur. Take it from the little girl who was raped seven ways till Sunday for more than a decade. There is no moment the malignant narcissist becomes president/father. There is no stopping him until everything around him lies in ruins. The only option is running, and in one way or another I have been running my whole life, through and beyond my father’s death to his weird reincarnation as the president of the United States. The moment I feel I have to get out of here to (literally) survive, you can be sure I will run again. Across whatever border, open or closed.

Pam as a child with her father



Pam HoustonPam Houston is the author of the memoir Deep Creek: Finding Hope In The High Country, which won the 2019 Reading the West Advocacy Award, as well as five other books of fiction and nonfiction, all published by W.W. Norton. She lives at 9,000 feet above sea level on a 120-acre homestead near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. A book co-written with activist Amy Irvine, Air Mail: Letters of Politics, Pandemics, and Place, is forthcoming from Torrey House Press in October 2020.
Read Pam Houston’s Letter to America in Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, published by and Trinity University Press and view a video of Pam reading her Letter to America as part of a Dear America town hall.

Photos courtesy Pam Houston. is the first online literary journal of place, publishing award-winning literature, art, editorials, and community case studies since 1998.