Not THAT again. I mean, have we not yet seen the steaming poopiness of THAT, the way it comes on all sparkling activity, and then reveals only the sad truth that you did not win the skidoosh-mobile, or even the $100 gift card, and your drawers are overflowing with useful coupons you will never use? That again.
Some people have been telling me about their election anxiety – how they can't sleep at night, how they feel fear overtaking them at the strangest times, how they can't quite believe what's happening. One friend writes to me that, in addition to insomnia, she has experienced the arrival of the Bobcat of Peace and Justice in her yard. To that, one surely cannot say, “Not that again!”
For myself, there is the sense, which I've also heard from others, that a lot that's dark and twisted, and formerly hidden, is now dark and twisted, and out in the open. It takes a certain frame of mind to register this as progress, but, given how powerful a force denial is, I think the parade of THAT again that we are currently savoring as a country is serving to shake at least a few of us out of chirpy notions such as, We are so beyond racism, sexism and class bias! We are not. It’s everywhere. Sniff around. That, again.
I'm convinced that spending time actually doing something human, enjoyable, and creative with people who aren't like me is immeasurably more useful than all of the 100 kazillion Facebook comments posted since the beginning of time, rolled up into a giant unholy sausage with all the sniffy blog posts and TV oratorios. More useful, in other words, than the Turducken of rhetoric we keep eating, while thinking it tastes nasty.
At one of the rural New Hampshire schools where I’ve been doing soil murals this fall, the kids tell me about their parents’ hunting, and their own. One little girl says her dad can’t hunt this year because he got a ticket. Another kid tells me that her dad and uncle, after dinner last night, took off after a huge black bear ambling by at the edge of the woods. They didn’t get the bear. With ticket-girl, and bear-child, I get little windows into what might be going on in households I might otherwise not have the tools to imagine. At another school, the teachers tell me that in one second-grade classroom last year, two kids lost parents to overdoses.
These are things that, in a newspaper, might sound like that again, but, from the mouths of people I know for their precise, unique way of drawing a mushroom, a lily pad, or a worm in a burrow underground – these things land in an embodied way. What will it mean for the family whose dad is not hunting? Will they eat less? Well he sulk at home irascibly through the winter? What about the kids whose parents died? Is there someone else around who can appreciate them, give them boundaries, keep them safe?
Effectively, an Artist in Residence is a Foreign Exchange Human. She doesn't know who the lunch-lady is, or about the careful calculus of pizza slices, and the way that free lunch tickets must be gathered before the kids eat. But she's learning. What is it like to have a classroom where one kid basically shrieks in terror if she’s not allowed to do things in her own time? What do kids know and not-know? In a school where many of the parents are loggers, kids know trees. In a school with an ambitious science teacher, kids know bugs. In a school where 40% of students have English as a second language, kids’ knowledge centers are so occupied with basic reconnaissance of what the hell is going on that there’s not a lot of extra room for factoids. Still, someone might tell you spontaneously that she is going to be a Doctor who also schedules people in an office.
When we say, not THAT again, we are assuming that we know a lot about THAT, coming down the pike, which is OK, as long as we know that's what we're doing: assuming. Sometimes I feel like recognition – I see you, Buster, and don't think you're fooling me – acts as a kind of talisman. When a certain potential is seen and recognized, it becomes less potent. It’s been set free from having to be THAT again, and it can try on another costume, or show off some minority-report version of itself. Often, even if we say we hate THAT, we crave it, too. We will do anything we can to cram the mystery that is headed our way into a shitty little THAT-box, so that we can rest at ease in how prescient and wise we are.
None of this means that it is somehow our job to let every unknown run its course. Sure, it could well be that a Trump presidency would include – I don't know – a baseball tax credit, or something else that people would enjoy. Or it could be that some very capable person would receive a start in that administration, and go on to do great things. Doesn’t matter – there’s enough that stinks around Trump to make the experiment unwise to run. Let some other quantum universe work out the stream of consequences, if it must run its course.
Being in the moment is good, as long as your senses are clear, and you incline towards compassion and non-harm. Elliot the Dog is very much in the moment, but his senses are conditioned by fear. He's flickering at old pains that always threaten to become new again. I’m not sure what was happening to him, in the crucial six months when you’re supposed to desensitize a puppy to all kinds of fears, but it wasn’t good. Some fears wear out for him: he’s no longer terrified of the large blue exercise ball I sit on. He’s OK with feathers, or maybe that’s only because we don’t see them much, these days. He will sometimes agree not to surge at the door when the mail comes. But there doesn’t really seem to be, in him, the ability to self-soothe, to seek ground, to come back to the peaceful feelings in the pads of his feet. He’s on high alert for THAT again, always.
I hope, whatever happens tomorrow, that we as a country can commit to the peaceful feelings in the pads of our feet, and behave. I hope that we can let go of the urge to lump all our pain together into an unbearable enormous blob. I hope that we can put down the rocks we might otherwise hurl, thinking wisely, Not THAT again. We’ve stormed the Bastille, and ridden all night. We’ve hacked our enemies to pieces in holy war, and still the milk runs out in the refrigerator, and still our kid fails to get the prize. I hope, tomorrow, we can choose to align ourselves with the best THAT we can muster, and stick with it.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.