How To Build a Fire Pit


Version 2

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.

8 thoughts on “How To Build a Fire Pit

  1. Bonnie Middlebrook

    Dear Teri,

    Per usual you write from you heart with solid convictions, which I, respect and hear. I just want to say, that I think the fact that Trump won the election is more a statement of how people wanted a change. I think people can not get beyond their economic situation enough to value the social issues at hand. So, for example, for me, ObamaCare caused me to go without health insurance because after 2 years of paying (after tax dollars), of $12,000, I went to have a well-care visit, and was told it wasn’t covered. So, I cancelled my insurance and have been hoping nothing horrible would happen to me. And, just fyi, I voted for him, so I’m not a right-winged republican, I try to look at all the issues and balance them out. But, the ObamaCare made it super personal for me.

    Neither candidate has stellar moral character, so that sort of became a wash. As a nation, we tend to let a lot of that moral stuff go (vis-a-vis Bill Clinton). Since Trump used to be a democrat, I think he has values along the lines of many democrats. But, the world will not fall apart with him as president. Too many checks and balances are in place and although powerful, he will be restrained. Try to look for the leadership and business acumen that made him who is, and accept that as many people are happy with his election as those who are upset. I wish our country the best with whoever leads it. I think it’s time to respect the democratic process and the pendulum swing (as it has many times in history). I adore you Teri, and, although I was not an ardent Trump supporter (for the character issues you mentioned), living in the red state of California, I would have feared for my life to speak about supporting him. So, I get what you mean about that.

    xoxo…my friend!

  2. Averil Dean

    In some ways, specifically to the issue you’re writing about, it might be better that we lost this one. I feel like each party is going to learn a lesson that’s particularly important to its own members: For liberals, that we need to be more open and less scornful of the right-wing mindset, and for conservatives that there are no easy fixes and anyone who tells you so is selling you a bill of goods.

    Keep talking, Teri. The world needs more of that from people like you.


  3. lisahgolden

    I engaged in a shouting match with a friend/colleague yesterday and am still waiting to find out if there will be ramifications of me having the nerve to disagree with her because she is a volunteer leader of the association I work for. I’m upset that allowed myself to be drawn in, but after 3 attempts on my part to turn the conversation away from politics and back to the work matters at hand, I finally had enough and spoke up. I cannot be silent anymore when I hear people say, “Anyone is better than Obama who has been the worst president in my lifetime – I mean, except for THAT WOMAN who has actually been responsible for several murders…” or “you’ll like working with that volunteer. I mean, he’s black, but he’s nice, you know?” Nope – I’m done with silence. I just hope I can find a better way to discuss these things, but when someone is shouting first, it’s hard to be heard over their noise.

    Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

  4. Andrew Moore

    Wow! I enjoyed reading your post this morning and find the discussion it has generated to be especially interesting. Of course I expected to see plenty of “likes” posted by like-minded folks. Since I don’t typically peruse Facebook to see the range of comments out there, I was a bit surprised to see how vitioloic people can be. Judging by some of the comments, it appears they missed the whole point of your op-ed. I think that’s indicative of the attitude and level of understanding that creates such a challenge when meaningful discussion is the goal. My knee jerk reaction is to be intolerant of intolerance, but that only perpetuates the status quo. I think I need some kind of Dali Lama infusion of patience and compassion.

    I’m looking forward to marshmallows this Saturday.

    Andrew Moore, Landscape Architect 859-537-0389 (M)

    On Nov 16, 2016 7:25 AM, “Teri Carter’s Library” wrote:

    > Teri posted: “This OpEd can be found in today’s paper. 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” >

  5. DrWeb

    Such a thoughtful, insightful post.. will help many whose feelings align, many are in a dark, isolated place, feeling lost, left out, adrift.. your words and story will help…

Comments are closed.