Chicken Soup for Post-Election Gloom and Doom

8

hugging lizards

Over the past weekend, I ran into a couple of writer friends in the coffee shop downstairs from the Politics and Prose bookstore in DC. Are you here for the reading? I asked. I was there to see Beverly Lowry present her new book, Who Killed These Girls, about the yogurt shop murders in Austin, Texas in 1991.

No, we’re just here trying to figure out how we’re going to get through it, said Dave.

The next few years, added Paula.

Yeah, I said, needing no further explanation. Let me know what you come up with.

Clearly, I’m not the only one who is struggling with the results of our election, which seem to grow more disturbing and far-reaching every day. I have to re-accept it each morning upon awakening, the way you do after someone dies. Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States. Yes, really. Now get out of bed.

It’s been hard to think positive or to think at all. I find myself spaced out and semi-paralyzed, spending hours mired in anxiety and vague dark thoughts, missing engagements and making stupid mistakes because I’m too busy staring into space.

In case you have forgotten, Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States. Yes, really. And your doctor’s appointment was forty minutes ago.

I’ve found a bit of comfort for these strange times in a fable I heard in yoga class and a joke I found in a novel.  There’s a good chance you’ve heard one or both of these before, but I doubt I’ll come up with anything more useful in my etiolated state of mind, so here goes.

The Fable

I go to a great Sunday morning class at Midtown Yoga on Preston Street. The teacher is a woman named Tami. I am known to be quite a crank about yoga teachers, as the sermonizing of the lithe in their spandex often sets my teeth on edge. But Tami truly seems to have a calling, offering a blend of mental focus and graceful movement that would be inspiring even without the things she says, which are often helpful as well.

The Sunday after the election Tami read us a story, and it has stuck with me.

An old, poor farmer had just one broken-down horse, and it ran away. How terrible, said his neighbors. What bad luck.

The old farmer said, Hmmm. Maybe.

The next day, the horse came back with three beautiful wild horses. How amazing, said the neighbors. So fortunate!

Maybe, said the old farmer.

The day after that, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses; it threw him, and he badly broke his arm and leg. Oh, no! That sucks! said the neighbors.

Maybe, said the old farmer.

The next day, the army came through town, conscripting young men for the infantry. When they got to the man’s house, they found his injured son unfit for service. Hallelujah, said the neighbors.

Maybe, said the old farmer.

I believe the folk tale ended there, but of course it wasn’t over. That’s the whole point. A black president for eight years! A woman candidate on the ballot! Oh joy!

Maybe, says the farmer, who has just received an eviction notice from Donald Trump.

The Joke

The joke, which is about lizards on the ceiling, suggests a different approach to the situation – a micro rather than a macro perspective. I found it in a novel called The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma by Ratika Kapur. I loved this book, the first-person narrative of a seemingly prim and proper woman in Delhi who is unhappier than she cares to admit with her husband working overseas, her job as a medical receptionist, her life in a crappy apartment with her in-laws and her sixteen-year-old son, Bobby. She is particularly obsessed with Bobby, who has recently come home so drunk he had to be hospitalized and has announced his intention to quit school. I’ll quote the section with the joke at length so you can hear the voice of the book.

[My husband] says that I worry about everything too much, he says that I worry without reason, and that the sky won’t fall down if I sit down and relax for some time. And then he tells me that stupid story about the house lizards, about how two lizard-friends on the ceiling of a room were talking one day and one of them suggested that they go on a little outing. Absolutely not! the other friend said. Who will hold up the ceiling?

Maybe it is a funny story, maybe it is also a lesson for some people, but it does not apply to my life. Maybe the sky or the ceiling won’t come crashing down, but if I took a little holiday, if I took two or three days or as my husband tells me to, my house would become a garbage dump, and in this dump my son would be starving to death, my father-in-law would be lying on the floor in a diabetic coma and my poor mother-in- law would just be sitting in one corner watching everything around her break down….

Mrs. Sharma is fooling herself, of course. She is holding up that ceiling with every molecule of her being. But she doesn’t admit it until after she has taken very extreme measures to get out of ceiling duty, beginning with having an affair with a man she meets in the metro.

As for us house lizards over here in the US of A: Perhaps we’re beginning to believe that we’re actually doing something by worrying so much, perhaps we’re committing to worry as a form of passive resistance. We’ll worry in shifts, if necessary, to keep the anxious energy level high.

There may be some better focus for our devotion.

Bonus Wisdom

At the MFA program where I teach at the University of Baltimore, our motto is a quote from the poet William Stafford: “A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.” (If you’d like to read the short essay this comes from, here it is.)

This describes the approach I took in writing this column, and I wonder if it has wider application for us shattered citizens in our numb and stunned states. Nobody knows what to do, and nobody knows what to say. We can’t let that stop us. We should snap out of it. We should start moving, and talking, and writing, we should go to the march on Washington in January.

We should crawl off the ceiling and see if some wild horses show up in the yard.

University of Baltimore professor Marion Winik is the author of First Comes LoveThe Glen Rock Book of the Dead, and other books. Visit marionwinik.com to sign up for her monthly email.

Marion Winik

Marion Winik

University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik writes Bohemian Rhapsody for the Baltimore Fishbowl on the first Wednesday of the month. She is the author of "First Comes Love", "The Glen Rock Book of the Dead" and other books, and the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her monthly email at marionwinik.com.
Marion Winik

8 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the perspective Marion. I’ll be picking up The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma now, as I realize I might need it. I too am weary from holding up the ceiling, but in terms of the election, I resigned myself to sit back and witness the folly, with hope that he can keep the country moving forward.

  2. the message our country has delivered to the rest of the world seems to me to be: “we don’t care about our daughters, we’re still racists, we don’t give a f#@k about you, we’re sick of it all, so suck on that for the next four years.” Like it or not, it’s where the majority of The U.S. is right now, and so be it, it is what it is, let’s just hope the ceiling doesn’t come crashing down while we’re not holding it up.

    cheers to you lady, fantastic as always… much love, and see you on the porch :p

  3. If there were ever a time to regroup and spring into action, it is now. And your “Post Election Gloom and Doom” article is one way to stop mourning and start doing. What a brill combination of folktale and joke! Thank you! Many friends will be reading your article. They need to read it. We all need to believe in it.

    Here’s a great way to take action, everyday, effectively. Go to https://www.wall-of-us.org to see the 4 daily ways we can get things done. The only thing worse than 4 years of Trump is 8 years. Let’s get going!

  4. Not to go all Freudian but….I figured out why this is bothering me so. I grew up in a major dysfunctional home. Chaos, clutter, crisis and domestic violence. I would say to myself ” when I grow up I will not live like this. I’ll plan ahead to avoid chaos and crisis. Work hard and take care of my family” And I may be a bit of a control freak/planner but it’s worked for me and kept me sane.
    Now there’s this Authority Figure who seems to throw out whatever comes to mind, consequences who cares. He reminds me of my childhood. I may be negatively affected by this person and I feel powerless to do a thing about it!

  5. I know I no longer have the chops to take up the degree of active resistance this situation requires. I have taken to heart the recommendation not to allow anything Trump does to be normalized. I am so fucking pissed off that I have to contend with him, when we could have had our first woman President, I could easily chuck it all because the country deserves what it voted for…whoops, actually not. The people voted for HRC.
    What I can do: keep writing songs about it to preserve my own sanity. Give $ to people who do have the chops to resist officially and effectively.
    Go to the Women’s March in January. Don’t kid myself that it’s not as bad as it seems, but remember that even The Dark Ages passed, even Hitler was eventually defeated and Germany now is the last most successful Western democracy functioning as a citizen of the World and not just it’s own interests.
    I still can’t find it anything less than horrifying that every aspect of life as I have enjoyed it and felt secure in, even in all it’s imperfections, is being transparently and summarily dismantled as a function of greed and ignorance, though it does occur to me that this same sense of vulnerability must have figured in the lives of Trump voters whom I callously believed could continue sucking it up for the sake of “greater good”. That being said, I submit that “they” are wrong and everyone I know and care about is right.
    I don’t accept, but do recognize that there isn’t enough time left in my life for me to see it come back into balance, and that I can only grieve.

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