The President’s Bucket

I have a new essay in 3:AM Magazine called “The President’s Bucket.” It’s a hybrid piece that includes a dark fable. I wrote it at the invitation of Andrew Gallix for the journal’s ongoing “3:AM in Lockdown” series.

My contribution was the forty-fifth in the series, among artworks, writing, videos and more by a fantastic group that includes Joanna Walsh, Joseph Schreiber, Rachael de Moravia, Anna Vaught, and Steven J. Fowler. I’m finding it to be essential reading for two main reasons. First is that it shows of course the current state of the world during the coronavirus shutdown. But it also reveals how creative people are getting by, while taking care of themselves and their loved ones, while somehow generating new work.

My essay is quite dark, especially the fable, which imagines a future where Donald Trump’s authoritarian presidency has descended even further into open murder. I did not plan on writing something like this. I started in a very different direction, imagining a set of cronicas to deliver observations and some uplifting humor, plus perhaps a few words of courage to lift people’s spirits. (One draft is sort of like a bad stand-up routine, with one bit going like this: “It’s the best and worst of times for misanthropes. Best because they were right to avoid people all along! Worst because they don’t get the satisfaction of seeing the disappointed looks on other people’s faces as this hard fact sinks in.”)

My essay and fable, “The President’s Bucket,” ended up being something I just needed to write. Some cleansing rage. A line in the sand. A no-holds-barred look at what the Trump presidency really feels like when I let myself feel it. It was catharsis, yes. But also a protest against what I’ve seen other writers engaging in, especially in the pages of magazines like The New Yorker, where Lorrie Moore and Ben Lerner decided to help normalize and idolize aspects of Trump’s so-called communication style. So I admit that in terms of being an American writer alive in this time, I wanted to put as much distance as possible between myself and writing like that.

More importantly, it felt vital to express this level of rage and horror at what’s happening. And I encourage others to try it, if only as a private exercise and see what it yields emotionally and on the page. Because we are living with so many levels of fear right now and one of them, for me at least, involves the fear that Trump’s re-election is inevitable. And that’s not true. In writing about this darkness, I rid myself of some of my feelings of hopelessness. Very simple, of course. But it’s key because if we normalize or romanticize our hopelessness we can’t do what’s needed to fight back in our own way, or remember we must support one another and face this struggle together. So being part of this series reminded me of that, seeing all the other people contributing work, while knowing that there are many, many other series being published worldwide about how hard this is. We are isolated to keep one another safe but we are still speaking out and fighting back, ready to come together. There is great power in that.