Monday, January 16, 2017

"Moving On" Post The 2016 Presidential Election Isn't A Thing, So I'm Forming A Book Club Instead

by Michelle M. Johnson

This isn't a political post, but it is most definitely inspired by the currently political climate in the U.S. So, you've been warned.

I am sick and tired of folks sitting on all sides of the political spectrum bemoaning that the 2016 Presidential election was "just an election." November 8th was now two months ago - TWO MONTHS. If it were "just an election" then wouldn't we all be talking about something else, wouldn't all the latest news not be tied to the election in some way (which over 95% of it is), wouldn't we all have "moved on" as that offhand phrase seems to suggest that we do?

This past election was in no way "just an election," and quite frankly, suggesting that ANY United States Presidential Election is or was "just" anything is ridiculously offensive and shows how little respect many citizens of our unique and beautiful country have for our system of government, our right to vote, and our powerful national history (I have never liked referring to my country of origin as "great" as it inherently suggests that other countries are lesser [and, man, did that piss my parents off when I disagreed about labeling the U.S.A. as "great" when I was younger], but now I loathe even using the word in any context as its use has become shrouded in the desire to shame and belittle whatever it is in opposition to). But, this election NOT being "just an election" goes much deeper than politics for me and my family, and I do not think that I am alone in this. The morning of November 9th split my family, very emotionally, into two: an unbridgeable Right and Left.

Now, the differences of opinions between myself and my parents are ages old; we have long disagreed on politics and ethics, but our differences in these areas never outweighed the similarities that kept us a family. I can't remember the last time I voted the same ticket as my folks, or maybe a better way to state that is that there was never a time when my parents voted as I chose to. And, we used to speak to each other about who we voted for, the pros and the cons. We, more or less good naturedly, joked with each other about the candidates, proposals or parties we each supported. But, post the 2016 election there has been no conversation, no dialogue.

After November 9th I have received fewer phone calls, texts and emails from my parents. And, when there is communication, on mandatory days like Christmas or birthdays, gone is the give and take of talking to my mom and dad; we are not talking TO each other, we are talking AT each other, pretending like nothing ever happened, that hurts and insults never were received and doled out, dancing around the fact that Election 2016 was painfully not "just an election."

It has been two straight months of this, and it is breaking my heart. I have been trying to address the issue, gently, not calling out the elephant in the room, but hoping to be able to do more than just "catch up" and really connect with my folks as we are separated by 1000 miles and phone calls, texts and emails are all we have. I am not looking for my parents and I to agree on any of the issues facing our country (Since I was a school aged child my folks and I have disagreed on social/political issues - yes, I was an absolute treat to raise.), and I am certainly not looking for my folks and I to "agree to disagree," because that just isn't a real thing no matter how many times someone says it. However, this talking-at behavior has persisted to the point that I have considered emotionally checking out of a relationship with my parents to protect myself from the sadness it was bringing me.

And, I almost did, but then Carrie Fisher died. In the wake of her death I sought out an interview she did with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. I had enjoyed this interview when it originally aired this past fall, laughed out loud and relished this amazing talent and intellect that I thought I was going to be able to enjoy for years to come (Full disclosure: I adore Carrie Fisher, and I was devastated by the news of her all to soon death.).
A quick snapshot of my favorite Star Wars shirt
just because. Carrie Fisher was so much
more than a princess; she was my hero.
But, the reason I went back to this segment wasn't for Fisher's wit or charm. I needed to re-hear a simple phrase that she uttered when asked why she chose to stay in a relationship with her difficult and un-fatherly dad, Eddie Fisher, "I wanted a relationship with my father, and I took the only one that was available." My parents aren't perfect (Whose parents are? I know I'm not a perfect parent, not by a long shot.), but if Carrie Fisher can have the patience, love and understanding to maintain a relationship with a man who abandoned her as a child, I can surely go back to the drawing board and try to figure out how to bring real connection back into my relationship with my folks, specifically my mother at this time, post Election 2016.

I'm DONE with this election's results mandating what we can and cannot talk about in my family, I'm DONE with the state of the nation being a mirror for the state of affairs in my family, I'm DONE with politics swiping my parents. And, since I am the one that is DONE with all of this, I felt like it was my responsibility to do something about the state of communication between my parents and myself, and that something needed to be "out of the box" as they say. So, when my mother's birthday rolled around in early January, I decided to give her something for us to talk about in hopes that it might, bit by bit, re-open the channels of communication wider, allowing perhaps a greater diversity of subjects to stream through than just polite comments on the weather or what the neighbors are doing.

I had been hearing good things all over the place about Nicola Yoon's book, The Sun Is Also A Star, so without knowing a thing about the novel except that loads of people I respected have enjoyed it, I sent my mother a copy for her birthday, and I bought a copy for myself.

I totally didn't set this image up (okay
maybe I added the pen at the top)! I was in a rush
the day the novel came, so I unwrapped
 it to be sure it wasn't damaged in the mail,
set the book down on top of my messy,
marker covered desk, and POW.
The cover of this book is really visually perfect:)
I called her that night, told her to be anticipating a package, that it was a book, that I also bought the same book for myself, and shared with her my detailed plan for a long distance book club. Surprisingly, she jumped on board, even when I assigned her to be at page 100 by the end of this week (I told you it's a real treat to have me as your daughter. But, my parents raised me, so somewhere in my idealist brain and annoyingly enthusiastic personality are traces of their influence resulting in the Michelle that exists today; I am their fault and they are reaping what they sowed.). And, this book IS good, so good that I reached page 100 far sooner than the Friday due date, so I had to seek out Nicola Yoon's previous novel, Everything, Everything, at the Seguin Public Library to read concurrently so as not to read ahead in the book I gave my mother (In case you're wondering, Everything, Everything is also very good so far:).

Both my mom and I were too busy this Friday evening to begin our book club, so I do not have anything to report as to how this little healing-the-gap experiment is going. I am really not even sure I should be writing a blog post about this moment in my life as, like all things personal and political, I have no idea how the people I love are going to perceive my immovable belief that things.can.be.better.

Me and my little mama:) She hates that I call her that.
But, I am taller, and I am super duper proud that
my tiny mom is and always has been such a dynamo
 even though she comes in a small package!
But, my enthusiasm for this little experiment got the better of me, so here I am writing and sharing, for better or for worse...because what I do know is that I cannot be the only person who has been searching for a way through this surreal time in our country's history, searching for something that might help rebuild lost hope, lost respect, lost faith in the people we love most in our lives. I don't want people like myself, the idealists of the world, the folks who, when they run into a wall, don't have the gut instinct to quit but instead go looking for a door or a window (or even a pickax), to lose hope and steam. Our nation (and the world, really) needs idealists to help heal our families, our communities; we need the people who believe that things can always improve to keep believing that. So, I wrote this blog post about my latest effort to heal my family torn apart by politics. It's ridiculous, and small, and could turn out to really backfire (especially if my mother reads this post and hates that I did this), but...I am who I am, and I'm not giving up.  If Princess Leia can do it, so can I.

6 comments:

  1. I just read The End of Your Life Book Club, about a mother and son who read together during her cancer treatments. It is a wonderful book about the power and sweetness of books in our lives. You may want to include it on your club's reading list.

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    1. Thank you for the suggestion (and for reading this post) Robin:) Thus far, I am encouraged to continue this book club idea (my mother and I had our first "meeting" finally:), so I am definitely on the look out for our next selection. I really appreciate you taking the time to suggest a title. I'm thinking the more randomness, lack of research into a title the better - the less either of us knows about the book, the more there is to discuss:)

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  2. Another good read about the power of books is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. We read it in an Honor's reading class and the students really loved! Michelle, I love reading your blog. It always brings a smile to my face.

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    1. Jean, thank you, both for the suggestion and the encouragement:) Both are invaluable! While I am enjoying the adventure and challenge of blogging, I am still in search for the purpose of it (I think A LOT); to bring smiles to the faces of others seems like a noble purpose to me:)

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  3. I've seen this over and over in families and friendships. So crazy people can think this was just an election when families were torn apart. I've never witnessed anything quite like it. I hope your methods work. I hope reading brings about healing.

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    1. Thank you for confirming what I have personally been experiencing and seeing everywhere in my part of the country as well. We are definitely in a very crucial point in our country's history; how we all respond to it will determine what is to come. Giving in and "agreeing to disagree" aren't not viable options, so I have my fingers crossed and my heart channeled to hope for good things from this experiment. One book club meeting down and I am quite encouraged:) Our second should be some time this weekend.

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