The dad comes downstairs. The dad works too hard in his upstairs office. The dad is brilliant. He is a genius. He sees me sitting cross legged at the table, typing. "Hello kid," he says, filling the electric kettle with water. In the time it takes for the tea to boil and steep, the dad will make one lap around the butcher block table. He will rip open the package of crackers that's sitting there and eat three. He'll turn the radio on and off. And then he'll say, "Kid, if there's one thing I teach you before I die, it's this." And then he'll pause, gazing out the window.
"What's that, dad?" I'll ask, knowing what he's going to say.
"Kid, you can't let the bastards get you down."
Sometimes he'll stop there. Other times he'll add, with a sort-of laugh, "Because, kid, there are a lot of bastards out there." And he'll take his black tea and shuffle back up the stairs to his office. This is the anthem of my childhood.
As the news was piped out over the radio Tuesday night, I was sitting on the living room floor, stitching together some photos that I took with my good friend Ava last Sunday. We took a photo stroll through Wallingford on the most heavenly warm blue day. We brought the dogs. I was planning on writing up a post about something benign, some pleasant ode to neighborhoods, friendship, dogs, coffee. Contentment in general. But I lost my concentration, actually I almost lost my dinner, as I watched the red tide seep across the map. I flicked idly through the photos and felt this wave of revulsion sweep through my stomach.
Two days before the election and what was I doing. I wasn't canvassing or making phone calls or running around doing something to help the democratic cause. I wasn't doing any of that. My cousin Tracy, who lives in Boston, who I admire so incredibly much, works full time as a lawyer. And she's a wife and has a new apartment and is always running to Washington DC for work. She's insanely busy and she still finds time to work for the left.
At her wedding last summer- rainy, perfect- her husband Todd gave a little speech about the reasons he loved her. He told a story about how Tracy was working for Obama before the 2008 election, going from door to door in a remote, conservative New Hampshire town. Tracy's car broke down, in the rain, in the middle of nowhere. It took hours for her to get it fixed. By then it was late, and dark. At this point of the story, Todd looked down at his bride with this look of pride and said, "And guys- you know what she did? She got back in the car and she kept on going, house to house. It didn't even occur to her to stop for the night."
Hey, Tracy? Cousin? I love you.
But me? I didn't do anything this time around. "Too busy," is what I said to myself, "The job, writing, money, you know, figuring myself out. Too busy." I'm not too busy. I had this idea that I'd perfect myself first- get local and healthy and use public transportation and bring a reusable coffee mug anywhere- and then I'd do something. But I spent so much damn time at whole foods deliberating what to put into the recycle vs. what to put in the compost that I never looked up, looked beyond myself, and said holy shit. We're losing. I ought to do something.
The disappointment I felt towards myself grew and grew that night until, sleepless in bed, the horrible thought occurred to me. Have I let my family down? My family is political and smart and hard working. And I feel as if I run around and laugh a lot. I don't do enough. The thought fell Thunk! Out of my brain and down into my stomach. I do not do enough. I vote, I give money to VPR. I talk a lot. But I don't do enough.
Even the next morning, after I chilled out and took a shower, I couldn't bring myself to post the nice images of our photo walk. The first post after a bad election just can't be little images of nice little distractions. Can it?
And then I thought of the dad. Playing me Phil Oches records as a kid. The dad, teaching me to walk the razor thin line between cynicism, hope, fight acceptance, and work. You can't let the bastards get you down, kid. Because there are a lot of bastards out there And now there are even more. And they're in charge. Of the House at least.
I thought about my home in Vermont, White River Junction, which is part of a national movement. It's a 'transition town,' where people have decided they really don't have a say in what happens in government, good or bad, and they're tired of waiting. They can't do anything to lower the cost of fuel, so in winter they walk door to door and ask people if they need help with their heating. If they do, they bring them wood. They try and keep their money within their communities knowing that when the communities go, Vermont goes, too.
***I remember the dad in the kitchen, we're always in the kitchen, pulling the cork out of a bottle of wine. I'm 16 years old and about to go to abroad for the semester with my weird little boarding school. The dad says, "Kid, I could not care less how well you learn algebra. But it's the most important thing in the world for you to travel, and see that there is a world outside of Vermont."
"I agree, dad!" I'm bouncing off the walls.
The dad is serious. "Kid, there is this attitude in the US that everyone else is bad and we need to be afraid. That attitude is wrong, kid. You need to understand that."
To the mom and dad, I'm not scared. I'm sick and tired of ignorance-fueled decision making and hate-backed policy just as you are. I'm glad you raised me to lift my head up and pay attention. But I don't live in fear of other people. I love this country, I love the world and being alive in it. This election sucked. But I won't let the assholes get me down, not if you don't.
I also know that I'm not doing enough. So I'm going to start. I'm going to start here.