“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” — Henry David Thoreau
I baked cookies the other day. Chocolate chip with those little nuts mixed in, the crumbly ones that get everywhere as soon as you crack the bag. I didn’t do the Toll House thing, the easy stuff in a yellow tube you find in the aisle next to the yogurt. No, I went full Nana, hunting every shelf in the market for ingredients like a nearsighted quarterback doing check-downs after a busted play. Brown sugar, chocolate chips, butter, the crumbly nuts … I started to get worried when I found myself squinting at a row of bleach bottles looking for flour. As for the cookies, well … they exist. I sharpened the kitchen knives on the first one out of the oven. Didn’t leave a mark.
This is what it’s been like for a few weeks now. Distracting the mind has become a paramount priority on the order of breathing. Projects, projects, nothing but projects. The kitchen cupboard needed to be reorganized; now the Triscuits and the stuffing and the colon-challenging bran cereals are organized according to the Dewey Decimal System. Too many dead leaves on the houseplants; now they all have one leaf, and you can hear them photosynthesizing for dear life as soon as the sun comes up over the mountain. Daughter needs a haircut; now she looks like a roadie for Black Flag. My driveway is many long feet of loose gravel. I found myself grasping a push broom and wondering if it needed to be swept.
Something has clearly gone wrong.
“Loose ends” is the phrase that comes to mind. Muddled. Befuddled. Afraid to admit that I am afraid, and so I keep busy. A full 76 percent of this nation’s voting population either voted for someone other than Donald Trump or didn’t vote at all. I don’t know what the second thing feels like — if it rained live, flesh-rending jaguars on Election Day, I’d still find my way to a booth — but I have to guess that many people who didn’t vote probably share at least a degree of the numb astonishment I can’t seem to shake.
I wonder how their cupboards look right now. My guess is there isn’t a filament of dust to be found on any flat surface, everything is at right angles to everything else, and the cat is wearing culottes, because someone has to. Projects, projects, fill the day and never mind that your pillow has become a sponge soaking in the nightmares that wait for dusk like a spider you can’t see who sees you just fine. Someone once said we’re never more than three feet away from a spider. I think they were being generous.
What about those others, the 24 percent who delivered this half-wrapped Christmas present to our door? I wonder about them, when I allow myself to wonder. Many of them, of course, wanted this very badly. You could see it in their faces, in the hardness of their eyes, in the way they wore their MAGA hats like coal-scuttle helmets as they gave voice to the inchoate rage that will eventually burn them out like old rags in a furnace forge. There may be no blood to be rendered from such stones.
Like a trickle through a dam, however, there have been growing signs of discontent, even dismay, from within the victorious ranks. These are the people who voted for Trump believing he could not win … until Jack jumped out of the box with a discordant “donk” and smiled, and smiled. Stories have been appearing all over the public prints about those very voters, who now contemplate the oncoming consummation of their participation with slowly dawning dread. “I didn’t think he would do what he said he would do,” goes the common refrain, despite the fact that his campaign promises were so often repeated that they became incantations. One woman I read about is very grateful for the insurance provided by the Affordable Care Act because her husband is dying of liver disease and needs a transplant. She voted for Trump, but couldn’t really explain why. I wonder what her cupboards look like.
I am afraid.
I am afraid to admit that I am afraid, because such an admission makes the whole thing real.
It’s real. This is happening. The sun will rise on January 20 to shine down upon Donald Trump taking the presidential oath of office. The bitter winter wind will raise up his hair flap like a shark fin unless his handlers dog it down like some errant sail, he will complete the oath, and every living organism on Earth will be joined together as we enter the uncharted waters of the terrifying history to come.
Easier to pretend it’s all just bad television while sorting the spoons for the sixth time. Easier, but not better. It is fine to be afraid — you’d be a fool to feel otherwise — so long as you remember that you are not alone in your fears. There are millions of people in this country who share the sentiment, and millions more besides throughout the world.
Importantly, not everyone is stuck in the mud. Many people — including many of you — are already knee-deep in resistance, strategizing and formulating plans to push back against Trump’s destructive vision. The work to defend and preserve a century of human progress is already well underway. This is a generational affair, a towering global challenge. It will be nasty, brutish and hopefully short, but it will be. The trick is not to shelter in place, but to find the people near us who are mobilizing, and join with them. It takes many fingers to make a fist.
The cupboards will keep. It’s time to get to work.