A post to tell you some bits of the worst thing that happened. Understand if I cannot give you more details. Understand if this reads like fiction. Believe me that it is not. Understand if this sounds like poetry. Forgive me if I seem coy. […]
This Year of Flossing Regularly, where I hope to arrive at my 50th birthday happier, stronger, smarter, wiser, healthier, and braver, has resulted in all sorts of thought-provoking discoveries. Things are burbling up all the time and causing me to think about my reactions, and […]
I promised you a story about Election Day. Lately, every experience has been pulling me back to my goals for the Year of Flossing Regularly. Every experience seems to unearth some fucks to burn and Election Day was no different, but let me tell you the stories and then we will identify the fucks and burn them down.
Here is the format for this Election series: Part 1 will be the events of the day and Part 2 will be the analysis of the fucks. Because the events of the day is a really long post, but without the events, I can’t discuss the fucks and without fuck discussion, it’s harder to fully suss them out and burn them down. Also, I don’t want to forget a thing about this day, because it was pretty magical.
I am a precinct captain which means Election Day starts very early. I woke up at 4am, had my breakfast (which is important because you really don’t know when you will get a chance to eat once you leave the house), got myself showered and dressed, and was out the door by 5:15am. I arrived at my precinct in the pitch dark with a Mini Cooper full of stuff. This may not seem like a lot of stuff, but a 4-door Mini Cooper is a remarkably capacious vehicle and also extremely adorable, which is fitting since I am also extremely adorable.
Rain was forecast for the day, though it was not raining in the early morning, so my dad had gone out the night before and bought me a canopy tent, the kind that has the four poles and the tarp over top. Brett and I unpacked it and practiced putting it up. It wasn’t easy. As he pushed up the brackets at the top he shouted into the damp, night air, “YOU NEED THE STRENGTH OF GOD!!” Thankfully, Brett is like Hercules. We kept the tarp attached at the top, and then sort of gently collapsed the whole apparatus and put it into the car, also my table and chairs, my precinct box with sample ballots and other paraphernalia (bumper stickers, candidate information, pens, volunteer lists, etc). Also, I had cookies and a pretty plate. I always bring cookies and a pretty plate and since I’ve been precinct captain, we have had fabulous turnout despite inhospitable weather, so it’s part of the luck now.
I arrive alone, with all my stuff, in the pitch dark. Over on the other party’s side they have a 6-person team setting up. They have homey hay bales, mums, many lanterns, American flag tablecloth, little American flag displays, a long table, 4 chairs, lots and lots of candidate yard signs, and they have picked prime real estate and occupied both sides of the sidewalk. They must’ve gotten there at 5am. They are all very seasoned people.
I pull up to the curb near them and I set up my table and chairs, empty out the car, and Brett arrives around 6am when polls open, goes in to vote, and then, with his strength of God, erects my canopy. I will state here for the record, that the other party’s elaborate set up did not include a canopy. This is relevant; remember that.
Once the canopy is up and Brett leaves, I stick my candidate signs into the wet earth like a pretty little fence on both sides of my area, I arrange all my stickers and my volunteer clipboard, and right then, Wes shows up! I was so happy to see him since I was all by myself and there were so many people on the other side making their whole area look so nice and square dance-like, and they were laughing confidently and one of them had called out to me, “Are you alone?,” and they all laughed. Which is one of the fucks I will elaborate on later, but stick a pin in this thought: Maybe he was just being nice. At the time, however, I felt a little intimidated so I was happy when Wes showed up. He is our roamer, going from precinct to precinct throughout the day checking to make sure we have everything we need and that all is well. I was his first stop. He brought donuts, which I put on my pretty plate and he was standing with me when a man whom I will call Ben, though that was not his name, comes over to our table and looks at my setup. He reaches over, picks up my entire stack of Resistance stickers and walks away! I will add here a detail I have not before shared when telling this story, because I felt it was a less egregious offense, but in my current analytic mode, I wonder whether this was really the more unkind action: Earlier, before Wes arrived,
a smiling man came to my table, looked at my wares and asked for a Resistance sticker. I happily gave it to him, assuming he had just voted and was a Democrat, and that he actually wanted the sticker. He got into his truck and drove away. About 10 minutes later, he returned with some items for the other party’s set up and he stood around with their large group, passing my sticker around and laughing about it. He had taken the sticker to troll me, to troll the movement, and to troll our party and our collective resolve. So that happened earlier. Then, Wes arrived. And shortly thereafter, Ben (who isn’t named Ben) came over and took the stack of Resistance stickers.
Wes knows Ben and they’ve worked elections for years, so he laughed and cajoled and asked him to return them but Ben, who is about 80 years old, turns around and says, “These stickers are unamerican. They are unpatriotic. There is nothing American about resistance. We have a legitimately elected President, what is there to resist?” Many things come to mind, but that is a different post. Some more light banter back and forth between the two and then Ben returned them. The sticker stealing interchange brings up another of the fucks to burn so we will stick a pin in this as well.
Wes leaves and I literally hold onto his coat like a baby and say, “Wes, what if they’re mean to me. He only returned the stickers because you were here. My friend doesn’t come until 7:30!” As soon as he left, I texted Craig and said, “Hurry UP!! A guy stole my stickers!” It was 6:24am. I checked my text record. Also, what I said was slightly different, but I cursed many times so I will leave it as is, the gist is the same, but the words more desperate.
Notes: 1. All this happened before 6:30am and polls don’t close till 7pm., 2. I am 49 years old and I was afraid to be left alone because people might be mean to me, 3. I literally begged my friend who I knew could not stay, to stay, clearly to protect me., and 4. As soon as one friend left, I begged another to come just in case someone tried to pull some more crap. *MANY fucks to be burnt here. Stick a lot of pins.*
Anyway, Craig never saw my text and got there a little later than 7:30 as scheduled, and in the meantime there was steady voter traffic. There were SO MANY voters out.
It was really cold, but it hadn’t started raining yet and I had come dressed in many layers, and a long “oversmock” that has a cloth hood that comes way forward. I had chosen it in case of rain, and hoped that all the layers beneath would keep me warm. My plan was not working at all. I was freezing, and shivering, and handing out ballots. Lots of people were coming over to chat and to sign my contact list. It was a really encouraging morning. People whose doors I’d knocked came by to visit. I was having an excellent memory day, names were coming to me and details of our exchanges at their doors. I felt lit by the love of the Lord, to tell you the truth. In the zone, election wise. It was already electrified. There were more than a few people who came over to tell me that they were lifelong Republicans who just can’t take the risk of having a Republican governor with the state of national leadership. So many Independents who greatly preferred our slate of candidates, and who were tired of the country’s unwillingness to take on issues of gun safety. This was a particular focus. Gun violence and what happened at UVA. Fear of unchecked gun proliferation and a return of outright bigotry in Virginia drove a lot of Independent and Republican voters to vote Democratic this election.
Anyway, back to my shivering. Ben came over to my table before Craig arrived, during a lull in the traffic and he said in a very sweet, nice, gentle voice, “Oh honey, you’re so cold. You’re shivering!”And he took hold of my gloved hands and started to rub them and to rub my arms. I wasn’t thrilled about being called honey and being rubbed on by this man who had just stolen my stickers and called them unamerican and unpatriotic, but I smiled and was very nice to him. *Fucks to burn* Anyway, we made friends, because when he came over and saw me shivering, he rubbed my hands and my arms and called me honey, and I didn’t pull back or get mad. So we made friends the old fashioned way. <- a fuck to be addressed later.
Craig arrives and we hand out ballots to steady traffic for a while, and I’m still shivering my butt off. Craig does not rub my hands and my arms or call me honey, but he does suggest I run home and get a big coat. I take him up on it. And while I’m driving out, Nikki texts that she is on her way. At 9:23am I text to let her know Craig is there and that I’ll be right back. At 9:55am, I text the two of them from my house to check if they needed me to bring anything (food, water, etc) and Nikki texts back an odd message, “Is the tent ours?” I text back, “Yes.” I follow up with “I have stakes in my car. I want to stake it down if it starts blowing.” I thought since the weather was getting worse maybe the tent was starting to buffet and perhaps that was why she was asking. Note: It was not yet raining. Further Note: it was not why she was asking.
INSANE STORY COMING UP:
I return and Nikki tells me that the people at the other table had come over and said, “We think this is our tent.”
Nikki replies, “I don’t think Sujatha would just post up under someone else’s tent.” Because I had indeed posted up under the tent. Signs on all sides like fence posts, table and chairs, donuts, cookies, cute plate, unamerican, unpatriotic Resistance stickers.
They replied, “Well, we were supposed to have a tent and we don’t have one, so we think this one is probably ours.” (reread that and let it sink in)
This is the point where Nikki texted me to ask.
They replied, “Well, we’ll just come get it once it starts raining.” (reread this too, and let it sink in)
I am completely agog at this. Every time I think about it, I can hardly believe it. But I have corroboration. It wasn’t just Nikki, it was Nikki and Craig. There was no misunderstanding the interchange.
By the time I returned, a man had arrived with their tent, and it was all set up. I asked Nikki and Craig if they apologized for having made a mistake, and she just laughed and shook her head, “Nope. Not a word.” This whole business offers up some oblique whiff of fucks to burn, so stick a pin in here too.
Let me insert that before Nikki told me this story, Usha shows up with a hot cup of tea for me because I had complained on Facebook that I was freezing. Usha is, and has always been, a hero. Also, let me insert here, that this is about the time it started to rain.
I want to take a paragraph now to tell you who came to help, because the next part got too long with details so I deleted a lot, but the most important thing was that heroes came out and I want to name them: Two women whom I didn’t even know signed up on Jay’s Signup Genius. I hadn’t bothered to check the Signup Genius, because usually it’s pretty hard to get people to volunteer so it’s always the same friends I ask to help. This time, two women, Pamela and Pat, saw the call for volunteers and signed up. I was gobsmacked. First Pamela shows up just as Nikki has to leave, and then just when Craig leaves, here comes Pat. Pat is wearing a thick long parka over which she is wearing a voluminous hooded poncho. The woman has a small umbrella and she stands out in the pouring sheets of rain and hands out sample ballots even before the oncoming voters have reached the other party’s table and long before they reach ours. She’s heading people off at the pass. While I had the manpower, I ran home and picked up Lila. Her friend Sofia joins her. I am thick with volunteers, unprecedented! And then, Jose shows up with more hot drinks. Jose lives in Maryland. Hero.
Between all of us, we are able to hand out ballots, chat with neighbors, get contacts, and educate voters on the candidates. Full disclosure, Lila and Sofia spent a lot of the time inside the precinct and inside my car. Their intentions were good though, so I give them credit. It takes time to grow your frostproof, waterproof dragon wings.
Around 3pm, Pamela has to leave and I call Nikki to come back to my precinct so I can take the girls home, and then take Lila to dance. Nikki stays until another volunteer arrives: Roger, whose wife volunteered him when I knocked on their door a few days prior, another new friend who was a stranger before this election. (Aside: Something crazy happened to Nikki at the other precinct, which I will tell you in the next blogpost where I burn down the fucks, because it is perfectly illustrative of the fucks as well as the burning of the fucks).
I run the girls home, change my wet clothes, take Lila to dance, and return to the precinct where Roger has been holding it down solo in the pouring rain. He stays until 5:30. Craig returns at 6:30 and he stayed with me until the end so he could help me break down the station, collapse the canopy, and load up my car. Hero. Seriously. Because by that time, I was, frozen, soaked and exhausted.
A few more details to share before I post this and we can move on to the fucks to burn. As a precinct officer, you can go into the polls and ask for voter turnout.Those numbers were to be called in at 10am, 2pm and 5pm. At each count, the turnout was well above 2013 numbers, the last VA Gubernatorial Election. By 5pm, we were at 51% voter turnout with two more hours of voting. Voter turnout is not specific to party, so one knows what it means, but typically, high voter turnout favors Democrats. Also, typically, bad weather lowers turnout and therefore favors Republicans.
As we were all breaking down our stations and loading up to go home, the man who brought their canopy, who was very gentle and kind to me, and who helped Craig break down our canopy, asks, “Do you know how the turnout looked?” And I replied with a studiously impassive, neutral face (though inside I was luminous with joy), “At 5pm which was my last check, it was 51% turnout, 21% higher than 2013.” The man sighed dejectedly and said, “Darn. We were praying for low turnout.” Let that sink in: a man representing his party on Election Day was praying that fewer people would come out to exercise their Constitutional right to vote. That statement brought a small sadness, but moving on.
I go into the polls to check the final turnout. Counting absentee ballots cast at our precinct, we were at 58% turnout. 28% higher than in 2013. This was good news. My plan was to go home, unpack the car, take a long hot bath, eat, and then watch the results come in with Brett around 10pm. Instead, I got home, unloaded the car, went inside, and before I even got my coat off, my phone started to blow up. Everyone was calling and texting all at once! My coat was still on and Brett hadn’t even gotten home with Lila from dance! The Governor’s race was over an hour after polls closed and before they even finished counting Northern Virginia. The rest of the statewide races were called before 9pm! And at current count we gained 15 VA House seats, with 4 more too close to call, something that hardly seemed possible in our wildest imagination. A transgender woman beat her vocally anti-LGBTQ opponent on a platform that was far more about roads, infrastructure, and traffic than it was about bathrooms and physical/sexual identity. 11 seats previously held by men were won by women. The boyfriend of a victim of gun violence ran for office on a common sense gun control platform and won. Many amazing things happened. It was an incredible night.
And our beloved President Obama tweeted, “This is what happens when the people vote.”
I am moved to defend myself against a specific criticism that has followed me my whole life. Let’s burn some fucks. Recently I saw this video. I can’t stop watching. It’s young girls dancing flamenco and if you haven’t seen it, watch before you read this. […]
Every day when I stop writing, I know exactly where I want to go in the next installment. But then people contact me to tell me different stories and things they are going through themselves. These stories give greater breadth to my own thinking, and I chew on the concepts a little longer. You all are helping me a lot. I am very humbled and grateful that I might be helping some of you too.
A friend of mine texted me this morning to tell me that she was gaining inspiration from this blog because she has been catching a lot of flack lately from some people regarding a very powerful, bold step she just took. The move serves her perfectly, it makes her immensely happy and it does no harm. The decision was hers to make and she made it. However, her owning her own power and making a decision that serves her best has made other people uncomfortable. There are many people judging her vocally and behind her back for doing what she needed and wanted to do for herself. It can bring a body down.
As I was texting with her, a different perspective shone clear: this judgement is fantastic news! The judgement of others coming up into the open air is the fucks rising from the shadows. Once we see the fucks, our dragons can burn them to ashes. Until they present themselves, we might not even know they are there. How can we fight the fucks we cannot see? So this is what we are going to do, my dear ones: we are going to welcome the fucks. We are going to be our truest selves, we are going to pursue our dreams, we are going to be exactly what God intended us to be, and when others confront us with judgement or castigate us for our choices, we will think, “YES! A fuck has emerged and now I will burn it to ashes with the dragon in my heart.”
We are in this together. We are not to be pulling anyone down. We are not here to insert our judgement. We are not here to superimpose our desires onto others’ lives. We are not here to make ourselves smaller so others feel bigger. We each get to tell our own story. We need not mold our stories to fit the guidelines and parameters put in place by others, and we need not concede our stories to be told by others while we play the parts they write for us. Those are not the rules. And it doesn’t make sense anyway. We can’t do a good job of living under those constraints, can we? We can only offer a small fraction of our gifts to the world if we are trying to flourish in a story written for us by others. My parents thought I would be a good doctor. Wanna know why? Because I have a super sensitive heart, as in, I cry a lot. Outstanding reasoning, I know.
So I get to UVA and my dad had made me sign up for the pre med Chemistry. He said, “Oh, you will love it! It will be much better taught than the basic Chemistry, and you will learn so much more.” And I said, “Daddy, that is a very bad mistake, I am terrible at Chemistry.” And he and my mother said, “What do you mean? You got an A in AP Chemistry!”
Little did they know that I, and every other girl in AP Chemistry, got an A because Logan the Lech liked teenage girls. And he would stand behind us and put his hands on our necks and then down the backs of our shirts while we squirmed and flinched and did backbends to peel our rhomboids from his gropey fingers. I imagine he went further than that with others, but I can honestly say that’s as far as he went with me and my bench partner Chris (as in Christine). The following year I got an A in AP Physics because I washed Mr. Toney’s coffee pot. Anyway, I signed up for that class knowing better and it remains to this day among the most shameful experiences of my life.
My partner’s name was Julian. He was half Asian and half White, handsome, strong, and his face is emblazoned on the forefront of the crate in which I hold my shames. He was so smart and really patient and nice to me despite the fact that I was the worst Chemistry partner in the history of the world. Literally, the world has never seen a worse Chem partner than I was. I was clueless about every single thing, and I began failing from minute one, like when they explain the lab equipment. Once the experiments started I was useless. I used to cry in my goggles. When you cry in your goggles, they fog up. When you are crying in Chem class, it only gets worse. You didn’t understand to begin with, and then as class proceeds, there ensues a calamitous comprehension breakdown, and that is only made worse by the fact that you are crying so you can’t see, and you’re crying, so your heartbeat is in your ears so you also can’t hear. Then there was the patient, kind, yet woeful face of Julian who had to do the whole thing himself while also sort of trying to carry me while I sort of tried to keep up, when we both knew this was a lost cause. On top of all this was the ever present rolling thunder of shame that followed me around everywhere I went. And that was lab class. Then there was recitation, where you went to go over all the homework, and lab write-ups. You know how in Chemistry there’s “moles.” Ya.
Our section TA was young and from some Eastern European country. She was so disgusted with me. Rightly so. I didn’t understand anything, and I hadn’t understood anything from the 11th grade on, and I couldn’t ask for help. You know when you are so far gone you can’t ask for help? That was me. So before too long, I just stopped going to class. I just stopped.
Among my great shames is that when I was 17 and I got to UVA, that I didn’t have the grit, or the confidence, or even the smallest clue how to handle this situation. I told my dad I needed to drop this class and he said no, that it would get easier. I was so ashamed of myself that I didn’t insist, and I didn’t go to a counselor, I didn’t ask my RA what a person did when they were in that situation, I didn’t do anything at all. I just stopped going to class. And I failed Chemistry.
This of course is not my dad’s fault. This is entirely my own fault. But you know what it’s a really good example of? It’s a really good example of what happens when you are playing a part in a story someone else wrote for you, rather than writing your own story unapologetically and suffering no judgement against you being exactly who you are. That was 32 years ago and I’ve been dragging that shame along with me in my giant, bulletproof, lead-lined, steel-reinforced crate of shames with Julian’s face perma-sealed to the front all this time. That box is open now, and I’m burning the shames one by one. Shame #1: I went to the University of Virginia and failed Chemistry.