"The indignation remains, but the righteousness wavers": Imagination & Reality with Elizabeth Ames

Though Muse and the Marketplace 2020 was sadly cancelled, we still want to share blog posts that presenters wrote about our theme “Imagination and Reality.” In this blog series we asked presenters to explore the boundaries between fact and imagination, and how each contributes to great writing. Here, authors have selected a passage from their own work, highlighting in green which elements came roughly from their direct experience, memory, or fact; while highlighting in blue which elements came from their imagination or speculation. In this post, Elizabeth Ames shares an excerpt from her novel The Other’s Gold.

 

 

Lainey dyed her hair Manic Panic Hot Hot Pink for the February antiwar protest. Students at the state school had been teargassed the week before, and Lainey was secretly hoping for this, would chain herself to anything, wanted to get arrested. The rage she felt at the government was neck and neck with her rage at her own impotence, about which she felt her liberal arts education had, for all its promises, so far mainly only enlarged the scope. Some days, Margaret’s friend Mac swiped them into the law library and Lainey sat in a private cavern of books, rules, and rulings that men had made, her best hope, and even it seemed outlandish, to add a volume that would be kept in some other, dustier library with all the plays and essays until they disintegrated or were obliterated in the nuclear war her government might initiate out of sheer stupidity.

[End of excerpt.]

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When asked, I usually say I could count the autobiographical details in The Other’s Gold on one hand. Like Lainey, I did dress up for Code Pink to protest the war in Iraq while in college, and I chose this paragraph as it’s a moment where I have much in common with her emotionally. It’s tricky to disentangle what’s memory and what’s imagination here, as I think back to my own liberal arts experience (at a state school where we were teargassed during an anti-war demonstration). My undergraduate education, like Lainey’s, enlarged the scope of my impotence, and fueled my righteous indignation. 

The indignation remains, but the righteousness wavers. And while Lainey goes on to become an activist, activism plays too small a role in my own life, receding to the occasional demonstration, donation, or Instagram post. In this way I wish I were more like Lainey, that my outrage stayed at a fever pitch that compelled action rather than sadness or, worse, resignation. Sometimes the actions that Lainey’s anger compels are dangerous, as the book goes on to explore. But looking at the last green phrase of this paragraph now, in the United States in 2020, when it’s as (if not more) relevant than it was in 2003, who doesn’t feel a rage that licks close to danger?

 

Elizabeth Ames is a writer living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan, Elizabeth has lived in Seattle, France, and Rwanda since leaving the Midwest. She currently lives in a Harvard dormitory with her husband, two children, and a few hundred undergraduates. Her debut novel, The Other's Gold, was released in 2019 by Viking Books. For more, go to www.elizabethames.com

About the Author

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