Hi everyone! How are you? What's new?
We decorated for election day. This is what the balloon, and I, looked like the next day.
(The night before, I looked a lot like the jack-o-lantern photobomber.)
Just kidding. We all know what's new. We all know what I'm about to write about. It's the thing we've been thinking and talking about since last Tuesday. The thing that, cow-like, we've been digesting partially, regurgitating, and attempting to digest again. It's stuck in our craws. It's a lump in our throats. We ruminate, but do we yet digest? Do we accept this fact? Do we accept this man as our president?
I don't. I can't yet. I'm so far from accepting this man as the president of my country, which I dearly love, that it hurt me to include the above picture. I've been reading the news since the election rather than watching or listening to it because in that way I can better edit his face and voice from my media consumption. I feel about Trump like a dog feels about having shat in the living room: I want to turn my head away in abject shame and disavow any knowledge of The Bad Thing in the room. No, I didn't vote for him. But I participated in a national culture that allowed him to be elected. We all did. So, no, it's not my shit in the living room. But, regardless, I, you, we are all responsible for that stain on the rug.
And there it is. The anger.
I cycle between it, denial, bargaining, and depression. You may recognize these terms as 4 of the 5 commonly recognized stages of grief. I'm grieving, friends. A lot of us are. And it's not for the current administration or losing the dream of Hillary Clinton being the first woman president. I'm grieving for my country, which I thought I knew but clearly didn't. Like Paul Krugman wrote in his election-night editorial, "The Unknown Country", "We thought that the nation, while far from having transcended racial prejudice and misogyny, had become vastly more open and tolerant over time. We thought that the great majority of Americans valued democratic norms and the rule of law. It turns out that we were wrong."
We were wrong. I was wrong. The country I thought I knew didn't exist. Doesn't exist. And losing something so powerful, even if it was illusory, is aggrieving. We, millions of us, are aggrieved. We, millions of us, are grieving.
There is supposed to be an order to this process, and it is generally presented linearly. 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression, and finally 5) Acceptance. If only the progression toward acceptance were this clear. If only it were this easy.
I want to have made my way through this process. I really do. Because from acceptance one can move into action. From acceptance one can become unstuck. But I'm not there yet. I'm stuck. I'm trapped in the repetitive labyrinth of denial, in which I keep looping back to forgetful magical thought and have to be reminded that, yes, our nation's electoral college (DAMN YOU, HAMILTON!) has chosen this man to lead us.
And my anger is palpable nearly all of the time. It is why the line "We know who our enemies are" from the Neutral Milk Hotel song "Oh, Comely" - about Anne Frank's life and death - has been ringing in my ears since November 9th. I have thought this about my president. I have thought this about my fellow Americans. I have disagreed politically with my fellow citizens and our leadership before, but I have never felt this deeply that they are against me and my beliefs - that I am against them and theirs. I have always felt that, regardless of disagreement, that agreement and compromise and cooperation is possible. But, for now, I just burn and rage. This is frightening. This is grief. And, good lord, I hope this is temporary.
Bargaining is a tricky, sticky trap because it often feels like forward motion and can masquerade as action. It's what prompts me to think that if I just go back to teaching, it'll be OK. I can help rear a new generation of empathetic critical thinkers, and then everything will be OK. I can get a job and give all my paychecks to the ACLU so that they can bear the burden of fighting for our civil liberties, and everything will be OK. I can go back to feeling good and being happy then. I can deny my family indulgences and luxuries and write huge checks to Planned Parenthood, and then I can sleep through the night. And, YES, all of those are good and helpful plans. But that kind of bargaining, that kind of exchange for one good action for the privilege of comfortably believing in something that doesn't exist is the saddest kind of magical thinking. We've lost something significant in this election, and no single act, no single administration, no single person's good intentions can replace it. That assumption is magical thinking. That assumption is a false bargain.
The depression is textbook, and I don't need to describe my crippling fatigue and sleeplessness, my urge to cry in the aisles of the grocery store, how I keep finding myself hugging people I barely know, or how I have been listening to Redemption Song and Hallelujah on repeat. You know what it looks like. You might be doing it yourself.
Go on. Wreck yourself. Watch this. It's beautiful and cathartic and devastating.
As for acceptance, I'm not there yet. I flirt with when I think about moving forward and the work I can do to help heal this country, but the fact of last week's election is still rumbling somewhere in my fourth stomach chamber. At some point I will digest it and release it into the world in its most appropriate form, hopefully not on the living room rug (there's that anger again!).
I'm trying to help it along, to midwife it (or, to extend the metaphor, Miralax it) through. Last week my younger Smartling and I were sick, and my Smartner was out of town. I largely experienced the election and all of its emotional aftermath alone. But when someone (or, in this case, something) dies, we are best served by coming together with our people to collectively mourn. And so tonight I'm inviting a few families with whom we're close over to the house for a sloppy, sad, loud, messy, and comforting pizza party. We are going to gather, consume an obscene abundance of heavily sauced, cheese-slathered carbohydrates, let the kids run wild, and be with our friends and our feelings. It's going to be chaotic. It's going to be beautiful. It's going to mirror what our country is and what it can be.
Before we can reach acceptance of what is, we need to say goodbye to what we thought was. Before we can move forward in strength and clarity, we need to fortify ourselves and to feel our grief. Tonight we hold each other up. And tomorrow we help move each other forward.
(PS - in the midst of last week's grief-stricken cold-haze, the Smartlings and I were featured on the local news. Here's the clip and an article in which I talk about helping kids understand the election.)