Can fiction make sense of reality? A letter to fellow campaigners

When the current reality in American politics is so surreal perhaps we can turn to fiction to help some people understand.

Here is a recent letter I wrote to Dr. Bandy X. Lee, and copied Brett Meidas.

(If you are not sure who these guys are you can find more information on them both by clicking on their names.)

Subject: Change “only” to “also”: “When Reality is Surreal, only fiction can make sense of it.”*

Dear Dr. Bandy X. Lee, (cc: Brett Meidas)

Yes, this letter is long and unsolicited. I hope you’ll stick with me. It’s my honest rant as an author with 26 years practicing therapy. (Check me out at I’d like to explore how my fiction might contribute to the work you’ve taken on. Trump must not be re-elected!

The moment in 2017 that I read about your compendium, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,  I went online and ordered it. (I live in Norway.) I can’t overstate my relief and gratitude:  You took the initiative boldly enough, and early enough, for its effects to still be snowballing as the election looms. You refused to be muzzled by invocations of the “Goldwater Rule” so that it no longer costs reputable people their sense of decency to go public about Trump’s unsuitability for the Presidency. With your ever-widening impact, you’re preparing the ground for readers of Mary Trump, Bolton, etc., to “get it” – to grasp the terrible implications of what is being exposed.

           What you write has nearly become common knowledge.

Nearly. So many good and smart people still don’t get it! Why?

           For one thing, none of the basics of mental health, no user’s manual for being a person with a psyche, no courses in complex and critical thinking, are (yet?) included in our culture’s curricula.

           And also: People learn so differently. This is where my work comes in.

           Your powerful voice calls out to cognitive learners, impacting their world view by activating and informing their intellect. When MeidasTouch clips together Moments of the Madness with such precision that the “logic of lies” stands there naked, they hit the visual/visceral learners, hard. I’ve done it through fiction, through what in Norwegian is called innlevelse, literally, “living into”.

           My recent novel, Milk and Venom,** follows Millicent and Geena, grown-up daughters of a ‘charming’, cruel mother, who embodies most of the traits of Pathological Narcissism. Very much like Trump. Slowly, slowly, the wounded sisters are taught – and they do learn – to bear love and to live less self-destructively. They’re not unscarred, but ‘good enough.’ In the process, the reader is invited to experience how it would feel to be at the mercy of abusive, venomous charmers, what’s needed to escape from their clutches, and what sorts of messy life choices might need to be cleaned up before the benefits of more tender wisdom could kick in. (BTW, the book is considered a good read – with feisty, sexy, funny characters whom I do love, as, apparently, do many readers.)

           At one point, Geena narrates how her isolation deepens when people around her refuse to believe that her mother hates her. Instead of offering shocked empathy, they insist, repeatedly, that …surely, deep deep down, your mother is like mothers everywhere; she loves her children and wishes only the best for them. Surely. Geena snarls back: “Some of us don’t have the luxury of keeping up that self-delusion. It’s too dangerous.”

           I’ve been told that Geena’s myth-defying warning, saturated as it has become by then with fictional lived experience, hasn’t only helped some readers leave bad relationships. Innlevelse into the Small – disturbance in daily life – has echoed all the way out to the Great – to the disastrous reign of Donald Trump.

           Fiction enacts what non-fiction deciphers, to quote myself. Experience informs Knowledge, and vice-versa. Together, they can bridge the divergent learning styles that all too often leave us polarized.

If all of us were to send this information out on widest range of learning frequencies possible, these months before the election could be one hell of a teachable moment for Americans. (If, that is, we don’t waste energy arguing with those who have already made their Faustian pacts, out of fear, greed, lust for power…knowing full well who Trump is.)

           After the election, too, such work will be crucial – as you describe in the planned Pt 3. of your “Trump’s Mental Unhealth” columns. If Trump loses, America’s trauma won’t heal without hard work, luck and help. If (oy!) he wins, or (oy, oy!) refuses to leave office, the need for solidarity, rooted in robust, cognitive and emotional self-protective strategies, will be even more desperate.

And, so: I would like your permission to send you Milk and Venom, preferably as an e-book since that would arrive immediately. (For that, I’d need your address and/or e-book downloading email.)

           Then, if you would like to collaborate, I believe we could find ways to maximize the synergy of our voices.

Lastly, I had an email exchange with Brett Meidas – he kindly granted me status as a “Certified MeidasTouch Founding Member” despite the lateness of my donation. I told him then that I intended to contact you. I’m cc’ing this letter to him because he had the wisdom to mobilize the synergy between his work and yours.

I am, of course, also promoting my novel this way. I must do that: I believe in it, as literature and as an urgent howl.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Susan S. Senstad

M.A., M.F.A., California Licensed Family Therapist, Ret.

*Subject line quote from the NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE Decameron Project, July 12, 2020.

**  Milk and Venom, Susan S. Senstad, Austin Macauley Publishers, London, 2018.