musings on the precipice

NOVEMBER 3, 2020

Blue Ridge Winery in Pennsylvania. Somewhere, in the not-too-distant distance, a Trump flag flaps in the wind...
Before packing up my battered, leaking Toyota Matrix for a two week trip down a large expanse of the Mid-Atlantic, I neatly tied up a long overdue loose end.

Early on in my month of telefunding for Biden, I punched out a window. It was not out of rage. A pesky fly had been creeping up and down the double-hung aluminum frame all day. Between calls it had found a new perch upon the pane: I stood up and made a fist, knuckles hovering above the intruder for a few moments to test its reflexes. Then a swift jab.

It’s the sound I keep thinking back to, because it didn’t hurt. The crashing of glass around my hand, and my target, which calmly alighted upon another, higher spot on the inner pane, and stayed there for the rest of my shift.

The window remained broken for most of October. Then, last Wednesday, I found a list of window repair services on Yelp, then called my new main man Benson, who came and replaced the broken pane on the spot for $200. On Friday Clarissa and I drove out of the city to begin our indefinitely long road trip.

We booked a very cheap Airbnb in Hamburg, PA, which we quickly realized is Trump City. Thankfully, our basement “Artists’ Studio” was hosted by a pleasant, elderly liberal couple, living inside a neighborhood that greets you with a snowplow blade emblazoned with “TRUMP 2020” in block letters that closely resemble the embarrassing “Back The Blue” street mural in Tampa, FL. Every neighbor seemed to own a 12-foot high double-wide pick-up truck. Wrapped up in high winds and swirling, pregnant storm clouds, it was a perfectly spooky place to spend Halloween weekend.

"Shitty Sign Painters for TRUMP". Our Airbnb was just around the bend.
What I wanted out of the trip I received in abundance: the foliage in the hills and along the highways was gorgeous; another windstorm like the one we drove out of this past weekend, though, and it will all come billowing down. While I know I shouldn’t do it, I love projecting my own feelings, fears and anxieties onto the landscape. So I can’t deny how frustratingly poetic it is to witness nature’s largest features standing on the edge of their annual precipice, and so stunningly, as the world’s future and my own seem poised on their own.

Every person reading this feels a different type of way about this election and the future that will greet us. Some people may not feel much at all, but will at least acknowledge how many fearful earfuls they’ve received from their friends, families, apps and personalized advertisements. And unless you are a lawyer on retainer for the RNC or DNC, all you can do is wait and see what happens.

After a chilly, idyllic Fall afternoon at a country winery with an old friend of Clarissa’s, we drove to Philly on Sunday to hang out with my friend Matt and his girlfriend Arielle at their new townhouse near Center City. We sat together on their back patio and chatted for two hours or so around a bag of pretzels, and while we talked a good deal about the election in grim tones, spending time and sharing stories with good friends — and having no other agenda — was incredibly comforting. Once it got dark and the rain reemerged in torrents, we found our way back to the car, then cruised downtown to pick up some Chinese food for the road.

While I had heard radio blips about businesses boarding up the windows to prepare for the election, it was no less disquieting to see every single retail store in downtown Philly decked out in this opaque state of readiness. It is a sign o’ the times, collectively bracing for imminent chaos. Whether or not every American city will experience a riot tomorrow, no one wants to be too surprised, or too optimistic.
Clarissa holding a terrified baby (little does she know, we are just as terrified....)
On the phones, when faced with a verbal objection from a potential Biden donor, we telemarketers were encouraged to say something like “we don’t want to wake up on November 4th and think we could have done more.” I never wanted to use this counter, as I find it extremely tacky to use latent fear-sowing as a means of combating an administration that has made fear-sowing its signature policy achievement. Of course, I do understand why it is effective rhetoric, because I do remember waking up in the dark on Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, on a rainy morning in the Northwest, and taking the train to work, and not wanting to be there at all, and I believe it was a profound confusion that occupied most of my mental machinations that day. I went out to the protests in downtown Portland that night, which I remember fairly well because it was the first protest I’d ever attended. But the memory of my wet brown leather shoes, and the darkness of that morning, and that awful, humid, quiet train — that feeling had faded, and only returned as of writing the last couple paragraphs or so. I didn’t think about it all month, all year, and now it’s hard to think about much else.

My life has changed tremendously since that morning; I feel like I’ve grown and shed several skins, flirted with so many different versions of myself, and now can look back at my early-to-mid-twenties with the same cringing grin that was once reserved for the foibles of my college years. When I realize that I was 24 when Trump was elected — and how icky the idea of being 24 sounds to me now — it is strangely reassuring to know that I can reach back through my memories, point at the morning of November 9th, 2016 and say “that was the spiritual heaviness I feel right now.” Election years form a pleat in time: they force us to reckon with our past selves as we are desperately trying to rein control over our future. And I still feel so hopelessly confused.

All those Trump signs that I drove past in Pennsylvania, stuck in medians, plastered on billboards, whipping from behind pick-up trucks or the gutters of small one-story homes, represent someone who believes, trusts, even loves a man whose disappearance from the Earth would please me immensely. No matter how I wake up on November 4th, I will have to once again adapt to a world that I have less — much less — control over than I think.

Controlling my environment gives me great pleasure, which is why I am very particular about the lighting in my apartment, and where certain spices live in the kitchen, and probably why I am so drawn to the world-making of film and visual art. When I shattered my apartment window, I left it in pieces for almost a month because I was in a state of denial: it didn’t make sense that I broke a large pane of glass with my fist for no reason but that a fly happened to irritate me enough — and my work was soul-draining enough — that I wanted to stand up and punch something. So I draped a thin paper curtain over the mess and tried to ignore what clearly needed fixing.
My studio window, pre- and post-Benson.
When Clarissa and I ran out the door last Friday, writing this Blog was one of the last unchecked circles on my dry erase board of personal memos (I made sure to strike a dramatic green line through “FIX WINDOW” after my man Benson worked his magic). Whenever I sit down to write these things, I’m never sure what they’ll shape into, and that uncertainty over the final outcome is largely why I have been so historically inconsistent with my writing. And I know so many of these thoughts are disparate, and I am finding it hard to funnel my thoughts into a lesson, or a call to action, or the cheekiest conclusion. Mostly, I wanted to publish something before the tumult of Election Day, because I know that my thought patterns, anxieties and motivations may change dramatically within the week. Also, it just feels so good to finish something.

Before leaving for Pennsylvania, I considered quitting the Biden campaign early. I was coming off a cold streak on the phones, where it felt like people really didn’t want to talk to me, and was at my wit’s end. Anxiety coursed through my mental map of the coming week, and I felt like I needed more time, just a little more time to myself. Wednesday morning I got up early to move my damp, vibrating Toyota Matrix for the street weepers, then composed a message to my managers declaring my resignation. When I sat down at my laptop to send it off via Slack, I felt a pang of guilt for quitting so close to the finish line, and decided to stick it out. That evening and the next I gathered over $4,000 in donations, those last two days shattering my previous weekly totals. I took it as a good omen, and left the telefunding game with a bit more pride than I started, crediting my cat-poster-friendly-anti-quitting attitude for carrying me through.

My car still needs to stop dripping water on me when it rains, just as my country needs to stop accepting chaos as a normal state of affairs. Both of these statements were just as true four years ago. Clarissa and I just arrived in Virginia to stay with my parents for a few days before heading down to Asheville, NC for a small family wedding. In spite of everything, it feels good to be home. It feels right. Like every Election Night I can remember, we’ll have the TV on in one room and probably be playing a board game in the other. As far as tonight goes, that’s all I have to look forward to, so I’ll take it.
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