Before and after and boots on the ground ...
Every home has such a spot: A place for life’s odds and ends and leftover bits. Ours is the dining room table, a place where we almost never actually sit to eat meals. Rather it’s a catchall to collect tokens of our daily existence (loose socks from the dryer, random, lonely earrings, a small, empty wallet I should just stick in a drawer somewhere but that feels like so much effort), and a never-ending stack of mail and countless magazines.
For the last several days our dining room table’s also been home to last Sunday’s newspapers, the local daily and the New York Times. Fat with information, each bound with an eraser-pink rubber band. It’s not unusual for the papers to sit there, untouched, for days on end. Sometimes I sort through them, discarding some sections, saving others to read throughout the week. Often I just read everything online and stick the papers in the recycle, guilty but somehow unable to give up the print subscription in favor of going digital-only.
This week, however, the sight of those newspapers has haunted me to the point where I felt sickened at the thought of touching them.
It’s a feeling I haven’t experienced since the days following 9/11 when I became distinctly and painfully aware of how the world had immediately sliced itself into a ‘before and after’. Then, like now, reading any sort of pre-9/11 news felt surreal —as though I was staring at something from a distant, different planet.
That’s how I felt this week every time I looked at those two tightly rolled bundles of newsprint. They represented the ‘before’ in this crazy, scary new world. They represented a world I was once excited to be a part of—a place where we’d elect the first woman president and soundly reject racism, misogyny, xenophobia and fringe lunacy.
And then November 8 arrived. I wore a pantsuit of sorts and headed down to the polls and excitedly filled out the entire ballot, saving the most important oval for the very last. I got my sticker and took the obligatory selfie and excitedly awaited the results.
I’ve tried hard not to think about how that day turned into night and then stretched on into a feeling of doom. It's hard to think about the election night party and how something joy and celebratory slowly turned into a death watch and finally I made Cory take me home because I couldn’t handle any more gallows humor, nor the way poor John King moved around anxiously in the background on CNN, trying his damnedest to make the electoral college add up to a different result and I just wanted to be quiet and drink whiskey. A lot of it. And I tried hard not to think about how once we did get home one half of my “Shattered Glass Ceiling” shot glass set fell into the sink and, well, turned into shattered glass and oh my god, the irony in that will really always be too much too bear, ever. I thought about wrapping the other shot glass up in paper and packing it away, but so far that feels like an act of defeat that I hope I’m never ready to make.
I haven’t felt this heartsick and grievous about a world event since September 11, 2001.
I’ve commiserated with friends, in person and over the phone and through emails and texts. I’ve hugged co-workers, all of us teary-eyed. I've helped them stress-eat the last of the leftover Halloween candy and then gone to the store to stock up on more. I’ve watched the news as much as I can stomach and binged on the late night comedy shows as if they were salve for a wound, which of course they are.
It’s taken days for my sleep pattern to return to something resembling normal and even now I feel as though there is a brick in my chest and I am still prone to regular bouts of crying.
I am also angry as hell (what is it that they say about the various stages of grief? Which one is the face-punching stage?) and I should probably stay off Facebook and Twitter (or so Cory tells me) but it’s turned into something of an anxious twitch. Scroll, refresh, ‘like’, retweet, repeat.
Cory is right about social media, too much of it lately isn’t healthy. So many theories as to why the election went the way it did, so much blame, so much finger-wagging, so much speculation, so many angry comments, so many stories posted to give me even more anxiety.
Right now I’m tired of the theories and the blame and the finger-wagging and the speculation and the angry comments and the stories that give me anxiety.
And in some ways I’m trying to find balance—-this weekend I spent time with friends, did yoga and devoured half of a book that is scary in all the right ways. I watched some good TV and snuggled with my cats.
I also finally threw those newspapers, still bundled, into the recycle. I didn’t feel guilty, just relieved to get them out of my sight.
But none of it is going away and so in between all these bouts of self-care, I’ve still allowed myself the scrolling and reading. I’ve watched Kate McKinnon’s SNL cold open several times and cried every time she says “I’m not giving up and neither should you.” I’ve allowed myself to be grieve and to be angry.
I’ve also thought long and hard about how when it comes to blame and finger-wagging and speculation I need to look at myself hardest of all.
What did I do during this last election? Oh, sure, I went to a rally (for Bernie) and donated as much as I could afford (to HRC) and bought a POTUS/ #ImWithHer t-shirt and tweeted and retweeted and tried to educate myself on every issue. Sure, sure, sure. And, sure, I used my platform as a local journalist for an alternative weekly to advocate for people and issues because I have the luxury of having a semi-public voice. Yay, good on me.
But it wasn’t enough and I won’t kid myself about it.
It’s overwhelming, trying to think about how to really make a difference. I’ve never been a committed activist, at least in the boots-on-the-ground sense. I don’t phone bank, I don’t canvass, and my volunteer work is sporadic at best.
With that in mind I’ve started small, setting up monthly donations to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
I’ve also joined a local feminist political group and will attend meetings.
I’m researching places to volunteer--where can my skills have the most impact?--and I’d like to attend local neighborhood association meetings because, really, that is the least I can do on a grassroots level.
If I can get my shit (and finances) together I’d like to attend the Million Woman March in either D.C. or L.A.
I will continue to read, scroll, like, retweet and refresh. I’m still invested and interested in the theories and explanations and spirited discussions about how to not repeat mistakes, how to reach out and be more inclusive, how to move forward. I understand, to some degree, the comfort found in the safety pin. I watch in awe as thousands upon thousands march in the streets across the United States. We all are finding solace and answers in whatever way we can and even as I've wrestled with the very idea of even writing this stupid blog post (because, come on really, what do I have to say that's any different, any more insightful?), I will continue to write and be a loud, semi-public voice whenever possible.
I will probably continue to be anxious and angry. To some degree I hope so because, hey, whatever keeps you motivated, right? Certainly, I am not going to give into so-called “optimism” and I’m not giving anyone a “chance” (because, fuck that, what was the entire election cycle if not one big giant horrible ‘chance’?), and I’m not going to excuse anyone’s racism or xenophobia and misogyny and I’m definitely not going to excuse anyone who tries to rationalize it, play it down or tell me that things were only said for effect or to get votes or because people like the way he tells it like it is, or if everyone had just voted third party this wouldn’t have happened because, seriously, fuck all of that.
I should probably get that medical marijuana card I keep talking about.
What I’m trying to say here is that going forward I will put my words into action as well. Suggestions are welcome.
We’re in this together.