in anticipation of flashbacks
I know I’m not the only one approaching these Midterms with next-level ambivalence. I feel like I’m both Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, born on a yin-yang rug to Harvey Two-Face while he dipped his french fries in a Frosty under a Gemini moon.
I see friends posting their optimism, fingers crossed emojis and “We’re gonna go blue, I can feel it!” I want to slap the lollipops out of their mouths and hiss, “What, are you a child? Grow up, for God’s sake. We’ve got a chance. Don’t fucking blow it with your attitude.”
I see friends posting increasingly dire pleas for the youths of America to get their asses engaged in the process, and announcements that this is the end of democracy. I want to slap the dark’n’stormies out of their shaking hands and hiss, “What, are you Don Draper? Buck up, for God’s sake. We’ve got a chance. Don’t fucking blow it with your attitude.”
I see so much of the same optimism and certainty coming into this election that I saw at the last one. Part of me is grizzled and dead-eyed, growling in Sam Elliott’s voice, “Ain’t you learned nothin?”
But at the same time, the sustained resistance, momentum, and engagement that’s feeding today’s optimism wasn’t present in 2016. We had our asses handed to us and realized how much we had to get to work.
Raise your hand if you were more politically engaged in the last 2 years than you were in the years before. Me too!
I want to be optimistic. We’ve got remarkable candidates making serious challenges, defying expectations to bring the promise of serious overhaul. But despite all of the momentum leading up to the election, I can’t help but feel like I’m riding a ferris wheel.
I sit in my little car and ride up the round curve of an ascent, slowly, gradually. I swing, suspended in the air. I listen to the cheerful music and relish a growing sense of anticipation, so thrilling I’m practically snuggling inside it. I get a peek at the horizon. It’s beautiful.
But no matter how beautiful the view is, I can’t shake the feeling that something terrible is about to happen. I can’t stop thinking that it’s entirely possible that the back end of this ferris wheel has been hacked off so it looks like a capital D now, and I’m about to be plummet back to earth in the express car to hell.
My little car’s door is locked. To keep me safe, they said. And it’s not like I’d jump out from up here, but dude, why’d you have to lock me in? I can’t reach anyone else in their cars. There’s so little I can do. What’s going to happen now? Will I ride back down to the ground in a gentle swoop, with the image of what’s possible imprinted on my mind as I step back out of the car onto solid ground, inspired and ready to get to work?
Or will I nosedive into the wreckage of all the cars that came before me? Will I get another chance to go around again or is this fucking it? That tinkly amusement park music starts to feel pretty fucking twisted.
I can describe this feeling perfectly because I don’t have to imagine it. This knot in the gut, like waiting for a sudden fall, is the same feeling I had in November 2016.
I stood in my kitchen and drummed my fingers, watching early results and awaiting the miracle. The miracle was late so I went to the gym because I couldn’t bear it. Also because a little superstitious part of me believed that if I wasn’t watching, the miracle would come, like when you go to the bathroom to make the food come at a restaurant. I went to the gym and did not watch the wall-mounted TVs. On my way out I tried to convince myself that the tight-lipped desk attendant was a Trump voter and that’s why he looked so grim. I stopped for a bottle of wine on the way home. Either way, I figured, we’d want it on hand.
I got home. I walked in the door. “Please tell me there’s good news,” I called out to Ryan.
“Well…” he said. “She just lost Florida.”
“Is there any way…” I couldn’t finish the sentence. I saw it on his face.
I went into the kitchen and opened the wine. I watched the pundits calling state after state, flabbergasted, somber.
All through 2016 Ryan and I had tried to insulate the kids from the awful news as much as possible, and to be both honest and age-appropriate with them. I described Donald Trump as “someone I don’t agree with at all, and someone that I don’t think has the best ideas for America.” I told my kids, magnanimously, that everyone gets to choose who to vote for, and I’m voting for someone else, and so are millions of other people, because we disagree with Donald Trump.
But Chicken, then 4 years old, had overheard Ryan and me discussing the election, and got confused about all this “build a wall” talk. Chicken has friends who are immigrants. He asked me if Donald Trump wanted to come take his friends away. I’d assured him that millions and millions of Americans would never, ever let anyone do that. (A month after the election it would be Christmas and Chicken and Buster would ask Santa for ladders and baskets and ropes and hammers so people could climb over the wall and smash holes in it. I would cry in the car when they told me their plans, still newly heartbroken that the world I’d promised my children would need to be invented by my children.)
Chicken had asked me to wake him up when Hillary Clinton won. I’d promised him I would. We’d worn red, white, and blue that day. We’d gotten special election cupcakes for dessert. We were sure. It was almost over.
I went into his bedroom and carried him into my bed. With him in my arms, I slept. In the morning, I told him what had happened as clearly as I could, which wasn’t easy. You try explaining the electoral college to a 4-year-old, even a spookily bright 4-year-old. That shit makes no sense. “More people voted for Hillary Clinton but Donald Trump won,” is a surefire way to teach your 4-year-old the concept of goddamn pointlessness and bullshit.
“Then why do you vote?” He asked me.
“What are we going to do now?”
I felt like I’d just been dropped off the back end of a broken ferris wheel. Bam.
I think it’s important to talk about these stories right now; whether we talk about them or not, they’re in our heads and knotting our tummies, making us thirsty and sleepless. On Tuesday we are going to recall all the hope and optimism we felt 2 years ago, through the lens of the loss, anger, and fear we’ve been feeling ever since.
I can’t make you feel better about the week we’re looking at now. What I can tell you is that how you feel about the week ahead is not going to influence the outcome. My friends’ optimism isn’t going to jinx Beto. My friends’ pessimism isn’t going to harness the power of The Secret to keep the legislature red. Optimism without a vote? That’ll jinx Beto’s shit right up. And pessimism that tells you your vote doesn’t matter? That’s the dark side of The Secret and it will work like a fucking charm. Your inaction will result in zero change. Guaran-fucking-teed.
Whether you feel optimistic, afraid, powerless, fired up, mired in the echoes of November 2016’s grief, or Mad Maxing down Fury Road toward 2020, your feelings about the election are less important than your actions about the election.
Punch something and then vote. Despair and then vote. Sniffle while you vote. Whistle while you vote. Wear your diamond earrings and vote. Drag yourself to the polls in sweats to vote. However you get there, whatever the state of your heart, vote. It matters.
And then no matter what happens on Tuesday, whether we scream through that gutting drop again, or glide gently to the ground like it was promised we would, remember that we’re not fucking done. I mean “done” in every sense of the word - we aren’t finished with our work; we aren’t depleted; we aren’t knocked out; we aren’t charred to a crisp. We stay in it. We’re still standing. We stay conscious. We’re still tender enough to feel.
I have a piece of homework for you today: make a plan for your Tuesday, and I’m not just talking about a plan to vote. Make a plan to protect yourself, respect yourself, and extend that respect and protection to communities around you.
On Tuesday, your goals are:
VOTE or HAVE VOTED.
Know how you’re going to get your news. Get a sense for what you can stomach in terms of Twitter and CNN and have a palate-cleansing playlist, podcast, TV show, or audiobook in the wings for when you need to retreat.
Think of 3 things you love that you can build into your day. Comfort food, a home facial mask, exercise, a talk with your partner or an old friend, a favorite book with clothy pages that you can revisit on your lunch break. What comforts you? Soothes you? Roots you? Do that. Write it down in pen.
Love your neighbors. If Tuesday doesn’t go our way it’ll be shitty for me and infinitely shittier for a lot of other people. Check on friends who are vulnerable. Bake cookies for your neighbors who might be feeling scared. Drop off a bag of new toys for your local children’s hospital or family shelter. Buy diapers and a pack of socks for the food bank. Write cards to local temples, synagogues, mosques, LGBTGIA+ youth programs. Donate something to an immigrant rights org or the Trevor Project or Black Lives Matter. There are lots of ways to love people and when a nation votes to diminish your humanity, you need to feel the love.
I still feel foolish when I look back on my optimism in 2016, but that doesn’t mean I was wrong to feel hope, nor that I was wrong to feel grief when that season’s hope died. I’m just barely emotionally mature enough to be able to say that judging your feelings is usually a self-loathing waste of time, but not quite emotionally mature enough to no longer need to say it. It’s a fucking process.
Next month I might feel foolish for having approached these Midterms like a crab-slash-hitman, scuttling sideways, snapping furiously, with a wall on my 6. I hope to feel foolish. But at the end of the day I will also feel comforted by the fact that no matter what happened, I did everything I could to participate meaningfully in this election, including voting, including text and phone banking, including donating, including sharing well-reported information, including feeling optimism and pessimism in equal force.
At the end of the day on Tuesday I’ll have ridden that fucking ferris wheel again, and so will you. Whether we’re limping away from another nosedive, or linking arms as we walk on the first solid ground we’ve felt in what feels like years, we’ll be in this together and we won’t be fucking done yet.
Take care. Be brave. Keep feeling. Keep feeling better. Keep going. Keep doing better. #Murica