Dear child: The world is a broken and bizarre place.
By the time you read this, you will be a student in college confronting an intersection of adult issues that I grappled with way back in 2016.
In 2016, the Republican Party nominated Donald Trump as its candidate for the presidency. For many of us, Trump represented troubling tendencies of exclusivism and misogyny in the United States. He campaigned on a divisive platform devoid of intellectual credibility. In the face of these problems, we laughed. We laughed because he was foolish and we laughed to conceal our fear.
In 2016, the Syrian civil war had resulted in more than 400,000 deaths. Two hundred and seventy-five thousand people were trapped in eastern Aleppo, Syria, where Russian-backed forces bombed hospitals and markets in an attempt to eradicate Islamic State rebels. Western countries accused the Kremlin of war crimes, yet the United States continued to intensify air strikes on Syrian soil. Superpower nations advanced their political interests over the well being of citizens on the ground, driving some to compare this conflict to the Holocaust.
In 2016, an estimated 44 million Americans struggled with mental health issues, and a few more million struggled in complete silence. Sometimes people can can suffer from delusions and manic outbreaks and deep depressions. But it is never their fault, and it is never their flaw. In New Haven, people lived on the street because they did not have affordable health care which would provide mental health treatment. This was the sobering truth: Some of us here at Yale had similar diseases, yet we resided in dorms and travelled to Europe and wrote for school publications because of our access to proper health care.
In 2016, your father — and many others — lived out a transgender identity. We bemoaned Caitlyn Jenner’s appeal to the Republican base, which included a plea to be Ted Cruz’s trans ambassador, yet we couldn’t resist feeling happy that an American celebrity was bringing deserved visibility to our cause. We met with Dean Jonathan Holloway and conducted a group interview with Katie Couric, who narrated a documentary on National Geographic titled “Gender Revolution” in mid-December. In the midst of these milestones, some of us decided to undergo medical treatments to feel more satisfied with our bodies. There were needles and scars. Remember, though, that no physical object or process is the sole determinant of your identity — only you are.
In 2016, your grandmother presided over an embassy in Jordan that confronted the menace of ISIS. One summer in Amman, I studied terrorist recruitment and learned that those who feel alienated from society will commit barbaric acts against innocent civilians, simply to gain a sense of belonging. As I write, Iraqi forces are executing a siege against the city of Mosul that will determine the territorial success of ISIS. Yet despite the probability of an Iraqi victory, ISIS continues to win in the sphere of propaganda simply because ideas cannot be killed. They have successfully perpetuated hate-filled messages among people in the Levant and beyond.
What ISIS taught me was that ideas stand immutable, for better or for worse. Ironically, this realization is crucial to activist pursuits: When working for a cause, you should dedicate energy to crafting durable ideas that will withstand any form of censorship, so that others, beyond your generation and geographical scope, can continue your important work.
But in order to propagate great ideas, you must learn to accurately express them. So I’ll teach you how to write. I’ll teach you how to write in hyperrational Orwellian dialect and then I’ll teach you how to write in lavish asymmetrical prose. After doing this, I’ll teach you how to reconcile these two styles so that your adjectives are ripe yet purposeful, and so that your verbs hint at the most specific of actions. Then I’ll teach you that much of writing simply cannot be taught — that your syntactical rhythm can only come from the internal monologue you use to navigate this very broken and very bizarre world.
Isaac Amend is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .