people art dark texture

Secondary and Scared

people art dark texture
Photo by Ron Lach on

Because I’m a writer, I feel much more comfortable adopting the role of an observer. In fact, I prefer to watch the world around me from a distance, thoughtfully considering what I see, than to make any attempts to influence its dynamics. However, such a stance assumes safety, where no real need to be assertive exists. Due to today’s ominous times, though, where right-wing extremism has risen to become such a dominant force in our culture, remaining removed only reinforces an appalling helplessness that expands over time. As one woman, without millions of dollars, any ties to powerful corporate leaders, connections to influential politicians, or stakes in a company that manufactures firearms, I feel secondary and scared.

Although I’m well past traditional child-bearing years, the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn abortion rights deeply affects my own womanhood. These unelected jurists have sent a clear message that all women are now legally unable to make intimate decisions about their bodies, reducing every one of us to a subordinate status. Coupled with this terrible vulnerability, the implicit approval to purchase and utilize assault-style weapons in any public space imaginable demeans our lives even further.

It’s evident by this reckless direction, which both withdraws agency and devalues human life, that America is a very dangerous place. Not only does the government possess an unfair control of our privacy as women, it refuses to confront horrific threats to our existence.

The outcome is a fracturing of community for the sake of personal safety. When patriarchal principles and capitalistic greed are elevated at the expense of humanity, cruelty as well as hate can easily engulf society in their poison.

For these reasons, I’m immensely afraid right now.

My upcoming murder mystery Detached explores much of the trepidation that I’ve described above. While I wrote this novel prior to the recent political developments that aggressively uphold a fascist minority’s authoritarian vision of America, I still felt an overall sense of dread then. The worries defining my concern weren’t as concrete at that time, existing more in the form of general anxiety, but they derived from the seeds of intolerance that had already become quite apparent.

Detached‘s three protagonists, Wanda Lindstrom, Charlotte Murray, and Marcy Seele, live in a similar kind of dysfunctional world, where neo-Nazi attitudes and ethnic prejudice hover over their small quad of townhomes. Each woman interacts with this pervasive bigotry in different ways. But the mindset of exclusion, with its open rejection of ideologies beyond the mainstream, has a substantial impact on their individual outlooks nevertheless.

Alongside the underlying hate that surrounds these heroines, their gender also leaves them feeling susceptible and unprotected, particularly after a brutal homicide occurs in their complex. The violence that disrupts their daily lives coupled with the shock of knowing the actual murder victim poses an unnerving threat to the women’s safety. Yet with no community support to address this horrific reality, they each must cope with their personal trauma alone as the investigation unfolds.

All of these factors combine to produce a micrcosm of what I believe characterizes today’s society. The troubling fusion of danger, indifference, estrangement, and an undercurrent of sexism formulate an immensely unhealthy environment, a place that embodies both terror and apathy at once.

Writing this novel helped me face the agitation that I constantly feel because of these astonishing cultural shifts. By weaving the complicated threads of this right-wing doctrine, now so prominently imposed on our country, into a narrative, I tried to transform the unstructured panic that circulates in the back of my mind into something tangible. This process has enabled me to achieve a semblance of control, while still quite limited, over the extensive uneasiness that endlessly lingers.

Realistically speaking, this work won’t improve the distressed landscape we currently face. Yet it does represent one perspective that’s critical of the accelerated marginalization of women and the callous disregard of every life’s inherent value, among other notable offenses. So within that specific context, I’d like to think my novel offers some contribution, however small, to the resistance against misogyny and hate.

It’s no coincidence that writing is the primary method I use to express my thoughts on matters of particular importance to me, where I just cannot remain silent. This is especially the case when such reflections involve powerful beliefs, ideas that I refuse to abandon. In my experience, writing has a greater effect than any of my attempts to vocalize these notions while interacting in person. As a short, unassuming, usually quiet woman, now silver-haired, whose voice is easily obscured by louder, more physically dominant individuals, I often find it difficult to be heard.

Perhaps this recognition directly corresponds to feeling secondary, when, at times, it can be such a struggle to assert that I have something meaningful to say. In too many instances, I’ve received shocked looks after persevering during a debate of ideas, insisting on the validity of my opinion with a raised voice and an impassioned delivery.

But once I entwine my sentiments into the form of a story, turning personal worries into a relatable narrative, there’s a much better chance that the concepts I wish to share will be taken more seriously. As a writer, this approach is logically the most natural to me. It’s also my strategy for calling out injustice while helping me cope with our progressively intolerant culture.

While still an observer, I can contribute to the necessary confrontation of these dangers through carefully structured stories that recognize the complexities we now face. Maybe, in some small way, this effort will also be part of a larger campaign to generate positive, lasting change for women and for all of humanity. Eventually, this literary attempt could help dissolve the continual burden of feeling so secondary and scared.

Alisa Burris

Alisa Burris is a literary fiction author whose work depicts alienated lives with glimpses of mystery blended into the narrative layers. Her novel Detached explores how three vastly different women cope with the trauma of a violent murder in their townhome community as they face private secrets of their own. In addition to writing stories that reflect today’s complex world, Alisa holds a PhD in English. Her dissertation specifically examines the fiction of Jewish-American women authors in the context of the cultural estrangement that they personally experienced during the twentieth century.

Leave a Reply