Nine small steps forward in nine lousy days
since election news that was personally devastating to me. Like many, I’ve gone through various stages, anger, denial, and grief. I can’t honestly say I’ve yet reached acceptance or that I can continue to believe in my country. It’s taken me all this time even to write about it. Despite this, I’ve learned a great deal.
I was inconsolable the morning after the election—ready to leave the US—and so angry I severed more than one long-standing relationship with people who for various reasons had downplayed or belittled my fears for the outcome of this election. Having second thoughts about New Zealand, I began to consider Prince Edward Island. This venue’s appeal was diminished by the suggestion that I wait until I was a bit more compos mentis before running off to join “Anne of Green Gables.” That helped.
I’m putting immediate thoughts of departure on hold until I see how some of the following steps work out. I’ve been averaging the rate of one new step a day and would like to share them in
hopes they might be useful to you as well.
Step 1. Listen to your inner voice
The morning after the election, I received a text from an incredibly supportive reader I’ve come to consider a friend. Like me, she was grief-stricken and searching for some way to make sense of all this. Her anguish cut through me like a knife, and at first, I felt powerless to say anything. Then I realized we were friends because she’d related to the world I’d tried to create in my writing. With that realization, an inner voice said, “This is how you will fight back. You will write of dignity and love found in difference and, reader by reader, page by page, you will help others to see.” With that, I no longer felt powerless. She gave me an incredible gift by triggering those thoughts. I hope I gave something of equal value in return.
Step 2. Always recognize when you are in an echo chamber.
My background in technology meant that I was always somewhat aware of the behind-the-scenes manipulations of Facebook, Twitter, et al. to promote advertising, control spam, and limit the volume of information hitting any given user at one time. Before, I saw these efforts as self-serving. Now I see them as an enormous threat. There is no substitute for conversation and the respectful exchange of ideas.
Step 3. Weed your garden
A dear friend has said more than once, “When you get older, you weed your garden.” I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. I test myself as to my motivations, but if I become convinced an individual is talking to hear the sound of their own voice or irreconcilably out of touch with my notions of self-respect and consideration, they go on the compost heap. I need the time for activism and writing.
Step 4. Differentiate
I’ve always felt that most Americans are fundamentally fair and decent. I still do. What I believe has happened is that we have become unable to empathize with each other because we all tend to hang with people like ourselves. We need to engage in respectful discussion, avoid value judgment until given conclusive proof to the contrary and make sure we don’t exist in a bubble.
Step 5. Become an informed consumer
Let’s face it. The networks, pundits, pollsters, bloggers, and assorted talking heads that bombarded us throughout this election have much for which to atone. Since news outlets became corporate money-makers objectivity has declined. With the likes of CNN and others giving BILLIONS in free advertising to he-who-shall-not-be-named, how can we believe for one minute that the country is getting a balanced perspective from the third estate. From now on, most news is fake news, unless confirmed otherwise. And then there’s fake news.
Step 6. Bark less and wag more
My beloved Dori has been as much of a wreck as I’ve been this last week or so. She constantly looks at me as if needing an explanation as to why I’m moping about. We haven’t gone for our walks (apologies to those who follow our Instagram feed), and I can see the puzzlement in her eyes. I can almost hear her saying, “the beach is still there, and the ocean. . . The sun is shining. I have a stick out in the driveway that’s perfect for playing fetch. What’s changed? Have I done something wrong? Don’t you love me anymore?” Last night she (all 85 lbs. of her) tried to climb in my lap and started licking my face. That helped, too. I got it.
Step 7. Be Kind. . . Intentionally
I was moved to tears by the incident at Baylor where hundreds of her fellow students showed up to walk a student who had been harassed to her next class. This is the right way to respond. Every reaction I’ve had to another person, every time I’ve been tempted to dismiss someone out of hand, I’ve made myself reconsider. My judgment may be clouded at the moment, but, because of that, I have an opportunity be consciously aware of what I can bring to every encounter. There were people who voted for he-who-shall-not-be-named and Indiana’s answer to Nagini whose lives will be devastated by the policies they will put in place. When they are let’s greet them with compassion rather than a big, “I told you so.”
Step 8. Treasure your tribe
As a writer who focuses on the families we create as LGBT people, I’ve suddenly come to realize how lucky I am. I’m blessed with a core group of friends who are loyal, loving, understanding, and just plain great to be around. That’s a godsend because, with only two exceptions, my biological family is comprised of people who think the Amish are technologists and that the Pope is the Anti-Christ. The town I grew up in was at the core of Massachusetts’s anti-Hillary vote, so no surprise there. Our tribe gathers the day after Thanksgiving to recover from family expectations, share some laughs, and catch our breath. I can’t wait to see them this year and tell them how much they mean to me. And for those that can’t be there, I’m making time to tell them as well. And to my readers, you mean more than I can adequately express. Thank you.
Step 9. Embrace “The Resistance.”
One of my all-time heroes, Mary Bonauto, of GLAD, who won the Windsor Case at the Supreme Court, brought flowers to GLAD staffers with a card that read, “Welcome to the Resistance.” I rely on amazing people like Mary, Janson Wu, Ben Klein, Gary Buseck, Jennifer Levi, Brianna Boggs and so many others to protect my rights. You should get to know them, too. A good start would be to donate. They’ve done so much to move our lives forward, and they are ready to fight. I was stunned on a recent conference call to see how many organizations and individuals they have engaged with in such a short amount of time. We can see this as a devastating blow or an opportunity to come together. They already know it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
I’m still a little wobbly on my feet and still very much prone to tears, but I’m feeling a little bit better. I hope this helped in some small way. Drop me a line or leave a comment and let me know how you are doing.
I’ll check back a little bit later. Right now, Dori and I are heading to the beach.
- A. C. Burch On Writing - December 15, 2017
- Join Me at the 2nd Annual Provincetown Book Festival Sept 15 & 16th 2017 - September 12, 2017
- Provincetown Heroes - May 28, 2017
Thank you for this. Light from the darkness. Keep up the good works sir and keep Dori happy.
Thanks Mary. Knowing you are out there doing your bit to bring happiness makes a real difference to me!
Perfect! Thank you so much for your wisdom and for parting the fog a bit, that we have been in.
Enjoy your walk with Dori! Take a HUGE deep salty breath! Nancy
Thanks Nancy. I hope it helps a bit. There are people out there who are so vulnerable. We have to find our way.
I know I told you in an email, but know that we stand with you! I’ve been feeling a strong pull to get involved and take action since the week before the election. Now, I’ve already connected with other friends/colleagues who are activists and were actually lobbying in DC the week of the election. We’re all devastated, but I couldn’t be prouder to stand with and for the beautiful people I know – you being one of them. Looking at what/who I want most strongly take action for I have no doubt that the LGBTQ community is at top of my list with the homeless/impoverished right next to them. Much love to you dear one.
That email meant a great deal, Janelle. I’ve been in a sort of walking coma until recently but am now realizing what a “bully pulpit” you and Rob have (as do I). I’m thinking we should brainstorm a bit. Who knows what we could do to help everyone affected. That’s the power of good intentions and the energy that creates worlds. Looking forward to speaking with you both soon.
Such good thoughts! Thank you for sorting it out and sharing.
Thank you, Madeline. I think of you often and treasure the joy you bring to the world through your art and your laughter. Together, we’ll get there.
Thanks for this! Every one of the groups that is worrying about the impact of this election is represented in my family and circle of friends. It’s really hard to think about moving on when they are so frightened, but your thoughts helped.
Thank you, Cathy. Your thoughts have helped me as did the following: A dear friend just brought forth the concept of “tensile strength” as in a spider’s web. The web functions as an entity unto itself even as it is comprised of its individual threads. Vibrations pass along the thread as a form of communication. To me, right now, it’s important to make the connections and feel the vibrations. It sounds as though you are doing just that.
Thank you for the good advice. We need to adjust.
I hope it helps. How to adjust is the bigger question for me. I’ve been reading Baldwin and JFK’s eulogy for Robert Frost for some inspiration.
Absolutely centering of my soul…. thank you for this magnificent and thoughtfully written piece… xo j
Thanks, Jayne. It’s a small start. I appreciate your feedback. Looking forward to discussing more.
I received a link to this blog from your sister, a kind face with whom I struck up a conversation at lunch once in Berkeley. You don’t sound wobbly to me, but kind, sane, and grounded. I hope you’ve taken that walk on the beach with Dori and look forward to reading more of your writing.
Thank you, David. I appreciate your kind words. My sister spoke of her conversation with you. She enjoyed it immensely. It’s always cause for celebration when good people meet. I have taken more than one walk on the beach and have immersed myself in the essays of James Baldwin, who predicted recent events 45 years ago. I highly recommend his essays if you have not already read.
Here’s a sample from Baldwin: “The nature of our crisis then, it seems to me, is that those of us who will not live unless we can be free make this known. The events, the terrible events of the last days, have done nothing to alter this determination. In fact, if one had been undecided or uncertain before about what it meant to try to liberate oneself in this country, one is undecided no longer, because now we have seen with our own eyes the danger we are in. We have seen with our own eyes what happens to a society when it allows itself to be ruled by the least able and the most abject among us. We have seen what happens when the word “democracy” is taken to be a synonym for mediocrity; is not taken to mean to raise all of its members to the highest possible level, but on the contrary to reduce such members as aspire to excellence down to the lowest common denominator. We have begun to see what happens to a country when it is run according to the rules of a popularity contest; we have begun to see that we ourselves are far more dangerous for ourselves than Khrushchev or Castro. What we do not know about our black citizens is what we do not know about ourselves; and what we do not know about ourselves is what we do not know about the world—and the world knows it. Nothing can save us—not all our money, nor all our bombs, nor all our guns—if we cannot achieve that long-, long-, long-delayed maturity.” – James Baldwin
This is beautifully said. I’m certainly working on my “long-delayed maturity”–an ongoing project.
So am I. I’ve been working on it all my life, and as Mame Dennis once said of Vera Charles, right now I’m “somewhere between forty and death.”