The fire pit arrived on election day, but not in the 3 or 4 pieces I expected. There was one box the size of a sofa. The box weighed 132 lbs. The box contained 26 pieces and what looked like a hundred nuts and bolts.
I backed my car out of the garage so the driver could dolly the box to a dry, safe place and went back inside. As long as I’d been waiting for the back-ordered fire pit, my excitement was elsewhere. I had my favorite liberal TV pundits to croon over, news to refresh, Twitter to follow, Facebook to scroll, righteousness to feel.
I had the idea, the ideal, of the first woman president. The fire pit could wait.
I live in rural Kentucky, a tiny blue dot in a proud red state. It is safe to say, as much as I am known to be outgoing and outspoken—even nicknamed “the social director” by some neighbors—I’ve spent the endless months of this presidential campaign keeping my mouth shut. Being respectful, polite.
On Tuesday, I stayed up long enough to see Kentucky, as expected, go for Trump. I texted my son a photo of the freshly-opened box and the overwhelming book of instructions in the garage. “This will take a lot longer than I thought.” But he insisted it would be no big deal. We would build the fire pit tomorrow night. He would be out after work. And I fell naively asleep, imagining both having Hillary Clinton as our next president and making a list of the friends I would invite over (maybe this weekend!) to roast marshmallows and celebrate around the fire.
Then I woke up to see that a man infamous for the phrase “grab them by the pussy” was now my president.
I’ve lived in 8 states. I am a democrat. I do not go to church. I am pro-choice. A feminist. As much as I truly love living here, and adore my neighbors, driving these many months through the gauntlet of Trump / Pence and Hillary for Prison signs has kept me perpetually on alert. My son asked why I didn’t have a Clinton / Kaine sticker on my car and I told him the truth: Because I would be afraid.
No matter if it’s family, friends or neighbors, we’ve lost the art of vigorous debate. There are so many topics to avoid: politics, abortion, guns, sexual assault, religious faith or lack thereof. The things we were taught to never discuss in polite company.
But what is polite about lying, even if the lie is in our silence or omission?
While I waited for my son to get off work, I went out to the garage and started slicing through industrial-grade cardboard. I’d spent the day alternately sobbing and catatonic, listening to the pundits try, just try, to explain it all. I deactivated my Facebook account, unable to take the despair or the gloating.
As I organized the nuts and bolts and the 26 parts of the fire pit into sensible sections, I absentmindedly tried to escape the task by picking up my phone and refreshing my Facebook page. The screen came up blank. How strong, that pull to connect. I got back to work, recalling an old friend from Catholic school, one of my very best friends, who recently posted about her pro-life stance. Being the pro-choice liberal I am, I knew better than to weigh in, but I also felt left out as I watched the number of “likes” tick up, as I read the dozens of “I’m pro-life too!” comments that flooded in. What I did not see, what I knew I would not see, was anyone in disagreement.
Facebook, like Twitter and Instagram and many of our communities, is not a welcoming venue for complex views.
Like the time I don’t have to read the instructions and assemble the 26 pieces of this fire pit, we don’t have the time for difficult conversations. Our impulse is for instant soothing, instant gratification, and social media is where we feed that beast, where we gather with “friends” who think like us. Where the “like” button, with every click, reinforces our rightness.
If you’re wondering how a reality TV star with millions of Twitter followers feverishly insulted his way to the most powerful position in the world, look no further than the weapon, the phone, in your own hand.
Not guilty? Think about how many times a day, an hour, you refresh your Twitter feed or scroll through Facebook, pretending to look for photos but really looking for your people. Your mirror to confirm the way you see the world.
I know I’m guilty. Guilty of not discussing, in any meaningful way, this election with a Trump supporter. And not a single conservative friend has asked for my views, either.
Who has the time, the energy, when you already know you’re right?
And that’s how, in this devastating week post-election, I found myself sitting alone at my new fire pit, a pinprick blue dot in a big red state. Nobody like me. No Facebook for comfort. No Twitter to scroll. I’m not upset about losing. I’m not even sad about not having a woman president. I’m too busy being terrified for such luxuries.
It was Joan Didion who wrote in The Year of Magical Thinking, “I find myself stressing the fire because fires were important to us…. Fires said we were home, we had drawn the circle, we were safe through the night.”
I do not feel safe. But maybe if I sit here long enough, jonesing for a Facebook fix, but resisting, a neighbor will drop by and we will take the time to sort the pieces, to disagree, to learn about each other. To build something.