The Zoopness: What kind of day has it been
“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” - James Baldwin
I’ve realized recently that my “newfound” love of opting out of things (mostly the news cycle) actually isn’t new at all. Dating back to a very young age, my sisters and I learned what magic words to say to our teachers so we could go to the office and call our grandpa on the landline of the restaurant where he had coffee to come pick us up because we were “sick.” And somehow no matter how “sick” we were, he’d still take us to Dairy Queen or Skippers for a “snack.” Charlotte, with all her wisdom of three years, has already figured out how to pull this trick on my mom. I’m sure Hattie’s not far behind. We’re hardwired for it. The future has an ancient heart, as Cheryl Strayed says.
As soon as I got my license and could skip things without my grandpa’s getaway car, I basically just opted out of high school and stayed home watching soap operas (remember Passions?!) and eating grilled cheese. I only got in trouble for it one time - my math teacher junior year dared to give me detention for having missed an entire semester of trigonometry (I still feel indignant when I think about it!). I think you could count on one hand the number of times I went to my psych class in college. Basically I’ve been beta-testing how to optimize opting out and getting away with it my entire life.
And now I see: It was all training grounds for this year: opting out of the news cycle in the Most Dramatic Season of Humanity Ever.
Before 2016, I was a political news junkie. Democratic politics ran through my veins. But I think I sensed something in those days and weeks after that election that I couldn’t name then and know clearly now: my mental health hinged on going dark. I briefly would poke my head out of the cave, but slowly learned I could be responsibly informed, and do my job, with way less information than I thought. I paid extraordinarily little attention to the Georgia Senate races and never once let myself get my hopes up. I would throw a wet blanket on anyone who tried to tell me they thought the democrats could pull it off. I passed off cynicism as reason. Sometimes the things we love don’t love us back (thanks for the lesson ND Football - xoxo).
But George Carlin said that scratch any cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist, and last night I had some of my idealism restored. I decided early in the evening to just trust The Economist’s election data team in a way I never seem to be able to trust God and to take on faith their conclusion that both Ossoff and Warnock were going to win. I danced on Mitch McConnell’s political grave all night long and it felt SO GOOD. Like I didn’t know what to do with a feeling that good. I woke up this morning and texted my friends “literally anything makes me happy today. today is a good day.”
Lol. Today is a good day, she said.
Then I watched the news for 30 seconds. Like every new horror related to Donald Trump, it was both inevitable and surprising, historic and meaningless. I don’t think I believe in the devil, but I do believe that God is Creation. And that all I see from this craven, morally vacuous administration is destruction. Burn it down, damn the cost. An abyss.
But when every addict instinct in me wanted to dive into the horror, the recently re-empowered opt-outer in me knew better. She knew that absolutely nothing good could come from giving these disorganized, childish, misguided mobs my attention. I’ve seen this trick too many - forget about that and look over here! — to fall for it this time. All it would do was rob me of my good day.
And so maybe the first time ever, I consciously allowed myself to choose the good day. I opted out of the coup. Instead of watching the news I went to Gas Works and walked in the unexpected January Seattle sunshine and let myself feel good where my feet were. I let myself feel gratitude that everyone I love is safe and sound and accounted for. I kept my acupuncture appointment and sat around a fire with my cousins and listened to Paul Simon. I thought about Stacey Abrams and how she’ll be written about in history books and how I can’t wait for her to be president. I thought about how Kamala Harris is going to cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate and how black women voters have saved this country so many times. I thought about how historic last night felt, how I was pretty sure that the life of every single person on the planet will be better and safer with Mitch not in charge. How many times in my life am I going to get to feel like all of humanity was spared in one night? I kept comparing it to Bruce Willis and the asteroid in Armageddon. Like - this horrible thing was going to happen, and then it didn’t.
But because 2020 and 2021 seem to be spirit sisters, we didn’t even have a second to absorb that before the next asteroid hurled itself our way.
Honest to God actual sedition and insurrection. Nazis and Confederates (and a guy in a bear suit?) on the floor of Congress.
I kept thinking about Rwanda today — not because I thought what was happening here was anything close to what happened there. But there were similarities. The Us and the Them. The manipulative misinformation campaign. The slow burning anger and sense of injustice that had been intentionally stoked over time. The false flags. I hope Americans remember what they saw on their TV today the next time they’re inclined to judge “those poor people” “over there” who “do such terrible things.” The idea that Ted Cruz could try to denounce at this late hour the violence he helped incite is laughable. The chance to demonstrate a moral backbone and respect for the constitution passed about four felonies ago. I hope they all go to jail.
But even if it wasn’t as bad as it could have been - our new national standard? - what happened today was not normal. What happened today was not normal. What happened today was not normal. I think sometimes we need to repeat it out loud in order to believe it. But it’s going to take my brain a long time to process those 30 seconds of images I saw today; to process what happened in our country today and under this Administration.
But at this point, we know who Trump is. He’ll be who he is to the very end, which if we can just hold on, is only two weeks away. And so if I can give you one piece of unsolicited advice, which I offer so lightly only because I’ve spent years perfecting the craft -it’s this: let yourself opt out if you need to. Watch Bridgerton and eat grilled cheese and take naps. We all lived through something today, and this last year, and these last four years, that we’ll probably be trying to make sense of forever. So let’s give ourselves and each other the grace to go slowly and gently.
One of the best things I read last year was in Jessica Simpson’s memoir (don’t judge until/unless you’ve read it) - she said that women are only kind to themselves in hindsight. Years later we can look back and feel compassion for what our younger selves must have been going through (bless their hearts), but it takes (too much) time to get that perspective. Can we shrink the time it takes to find that kindness, even if we can’t do it in the moment? Let ourselves admit tomorrow that we lived through something today, even if we don’t know what that means yet.
Wishing rest for everyone tonight. Hang in there.
“Let it be said
while in the midst of horror
we fed on beauty — and that,
is what sustained us”