So how’s everybody doing?
I’m a bit rattled.
I’ve been doing a lot of things that I shouldn’t—stress eating, stress drinking, stress shopping. I probably won’t surprise you to know that I’ve been handling our historic crisis (pandemic + election that may very well plunge my world into a level of sustained chaos that ranges from –depending on who you ask–a few burned out cars to, like, sustained battles in the streets) via over-consumption (although I have been taking long walks to listen to political podcasts, which is itself over-consumption). And all the things I should be doing—sleeping, writing, creative projects, meaningful work, meaningful exercise, blah, blah mindfulness bullshit,—have pretty much been cast aside in favor of another turn round NYT and 538 via SHOULD I BUY THESE LEOPARD PRINT CHELSEA BOOTS BEFORE THE WORLD ENDS AND IF SO DO I ALSO NEED A CHEAP CASHMERE TURTLENECK while my iPhone screen gums up with fake cheese powdered fingers and is it 5 yet? Maybe I should I pour a gin and tonic with extra limes for “health.”
I joke that I’ll need rehab to recover from 2020, but rehab honestly feels like a thing for more civilized times, when white supremacists aren’t stalking polling places dressed like Hawaiian-shirted commandos and even some of my otherwise sensible, moderately liberal, seemingly mild-mannered civilian friends are earnestly discussing the pros of building an armory for the incipient hot civil war like it’s a foregone conclusion. It’s real precipice of doom stuff in a year that has pretty much been a hell’s catalog of precipice of doom stuff. I just left my desk in the middle of the day today for a therapeutic walk and got so panicked in the middle of a “This American Life” episode (repeat, a “This American Life” episode) that I felt like I was having a heart attack. A bunch of deer wandered past, so close I could have touched them, and looked at me like, Yeah? What’s your deal. Then the sun spotted through the changing leaves, all red and gold. Beautiful. I took a deep breath and put on Leonard Cohen, and remembered that four years, fifteen pounds, a dozen worry wrinkles, and several eons of sleepless nights, waking nightmares, and lost innocence ago, the morning of the election, I also went out for a run, thinking, How could anything terrible happen on such a beautiful day.
I want to be hopeful about the tomorrow, but I’m superstitious, inexorably damaged by 2016. Also, there are actual nazis, wild-eyed Q Anon-ers, the fleets of Trump flagged pick-ups shutting down bridges and menacing the opposition on the highway, police officers that pepper spray children on a peaceful march to the polls scarcely twenty miles northwest west of my house. A president egging them all on. I read today that overnight someone turned up at a local Baptist church and burned the VOTE and Black Lives Matter banners hanging outside. Reading that hit me hard. I’m not a Baptist. I’m a not a religious person at all, but I am a southerner. The words “church” and “burning” that close in a sentence trigger a nauseating historical vertigo. I figure the guys who did it know it. That’s the point. Because as their signs say, “Fuck your feelings.”
For them, there’s no compromise, no middle path, no reasoned discourse. I’m hesitant to even bring up the old points of order because lamenting civility at this point feels like wishing the invaders had wiped their feet before burning down the house or offering an olive branch to someone who will only use it for kindling when they burn you alive.
A friend tonight told me he’s scared either way it goes tomorrow. “If Trump wins, it feels like everything is just definitively rigged and everything will feel truly hopeless and desolate. If he loses, I feel like his supporters will not go gently and that everything will just fall into chaos.” He said he was thinking about buying a gun. “I just worry there’s no way to rationalize, to break through to them and they will just keep relighting the dynamite until it finally explodes.”
His parents are Trump supporters. “They’re sweet people. I always thought they were sweet people, but. . .” He sighed. He loves them. The last diehard Trump supporter I unconditionally loved passed away eight weeks ago. I feel relieved that I don’t have to discuss the election with her. I feel guilty at feeling relieved. I feel lucky that I don’t have to deal with a brother or a parent or a spouse informing me that they’ve already planned to take up arms against me in the coming conflagration, as I’ve heard from other friends recently. But I still suffer the general heartbreak of that comes from feeling the seams of your world pulled out until they start to fray. I don’t want my world torn apart.
Human beings do vile and terrible things. We make stupid mistakes. We fall for conspiracies and scams. We act of ignorance and fear and self-interest and unexamined privilege. We take the easy path, the one that makes us feel good, or, in the moment, less bad. I try to rationalize because I want to understand. Maybe we do the destructive awful things because it makes us feel something— like, power or closure or catharsis. Or maybe we just manage our sadness and fear by going into debt drunkenly ordering leopard print Chelsea boots and a cashmere turtleneck instead of say, volunteering all day every day at the polls in a rural county like a decent person, insuring that we will spent most of the next two days hungover, awash in regret, shame, self-recrimination and a soupcon of lingering nausea, because did I really eat that whole bag of Doritos tonight? (yes, yes I did)
The ideological positions heading into Election 2020 are well-nigh immovable. No minds will be changed. I’d be more useful and probably healthier if I’d just accept that there’s an chasm between us and the other side and stop pinning my hope that a few chastened ex-fuck-ups might remember that we’re all human beings and stop it with the fascism for, like, five minutes. I’m told they probably wouldn’t extend me the same courtesy. After all, these are people who evidently look at a nearly quarter of a million people dead since March from a virus—including their friends, their families, their coworkers, their community members and think, “Not a real thing. Who cares?”
But it’s hard for me to give up on anyone entirely (fact). Not just because that’s me, but because somebody has to be willing to blow out the match and step away from the precipice. Because a nearly a quarter of a million people have died since March in US of Covid alone, and that’s way, way too many. I’m not the slightest bit interested in seeing how we can increase that total if a bunch of vicious, scared, heavily armed assholes take aim at their own private Fort Sumters, and the rest of us have to decide, individually and collectively, how and when and whether we shoot back.
I can tell you right now that I probably won’t. Among other things, I have terrible aim.
So I hope this goes hitchless. I hope we get through this election and all my horrified rambling looks like a terrible, awful, absurd overreaction. I’ll invite you to laugh at me then. I’ll hopefully be laughing myself. Then maybe we can get back to the business of trying to survive pandemic winter without losing our minds and arguing about politics in the traditional “you know, I think I should pay less taxes” vs “I don’t think Biden is progressive enough on health care” way that doesn’t feel like playing with firecrackers on a narrow wooden bridge over an active volcano.
I, despite any evidence to the contrary, hope.
Suffice to say, if you haven’t, vote. Please. Vote like your life depends on it. Tell your friends to vote. Then, go home and settle in, find some snacks, self-medicate, because tomorrow is going to be a historic doozy, and it’s entirely likely tomorrow won’t even end tomorrow.
I want to have dance parties and feasts again. I want to hug people again. It’s really the only thing keeping me going,
I hope, above all, we make it through to do so.
As of this writing 34, 012,944 people have recovered from COVID-19.