Growing up in America with immigrant parents, you’re often on your own navigating your future, and so institutions like elementary school become more than just places of study. They become agents of social advancement. One day, in fifth grade, someone came to class and told us about magnet schools, explaining that you could apply to study a particular subject at a particular school. Getting into the program was connected to the category you’d been assigned in tests you’d taken, and there was a mysterious point system that helped you get into this or that school.
Just before arriving in New York as a graduate student, I was consumed by Harry Potter novels, which describe a boy seizing his chance at a life in an alternate universe with its own realities and its own customs and history. What is valued in the old world is not necessarily appreciated in the new world, and vice versa. Novels such as The Hobbit, His Dark Materials, Chronicles of Narnia, and Coraline, in which characters travel to imaginary worlds where time and reality flow differently, resonate with me, perhaps because moving to another country involves bold changes in every aspect of life—geography, climate, architecture, customs, language, and even time.
Crossing borders in the recent past was probably less confusing and demanding than it is now. Institutions, social norms, and rituals made borders more rigid, and prior to the digital revolution and hyperglobalization, borders were more stable.
I am sitting in my office, thinking about rooms. Writing for Room has prompted this state of reverie, during which one of my favorite works, A Room of One’s Own, passes through my mind. In her essay, Virginia Woolf writes of the necessity for women to have money and a room of their own in order to write fiction.
In all obvious ways, I am not an outsider. I am not isolated from the majority by dint of my sexual orientation, skin color, class, religion, disability, or appearance— all the notable and painful ways one can become marginalized.
Dreams, words, ideas, memories, contradictions—all of it is wrapped together in your feelings. The moment of leaving nears. The departure is certain…
The folks in the images appearing with this essay hold the traumas of racism, immigration, natural disaster and genocide. I show these faces because they reflect experiences of trauma so many of us Americans contain, directly or intergenerationally. I point to these images also to reflect on the ongoing fact that Donald Trump and his supporters’ aggressive words, policies and actions
against these already vulnerable people — against what is vulnerable in us all — has been traumatizing or re traumatizing for far too many.
The day in April that Ivanka Trump appeared on the dais with Angela Merkel at the Women’s Summit in Berlin, I was in my office. I was listening to a vibrant and astute young woman in her twenties as she confessed, a little sheepishly, that her new shirt had “trendy” sleeves…
Joan V. L iebermann is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Washington, DC and a clinical faculty member at the George Washington University School of Medicine.
I try to rise up each time the pits of Trump fears and anger draw me down. Many people speak of the tangle of old fears…