I don’t know.
I’ve never done it before, at least not as an adult. My most recent sober presidential election night probably involved, like, watching “Laverne & Shirley” and playing Chutes & Ladders. Both still viable options, I guess, though I’ll remind you that Laverne and Shirley work in a brewery, which some people might find triggering. And also that their lives are sort of grim. They live in a basement and spend all day every day putting caps on beer bottles, and they’re a little on the dim side and their friends Lenny and Squiggy are even dimmer—in fact, something seems outright wrong with Squiggy and no one talks about it. Worst of all, you get the feeling that this may be as good as it gets for any of them, that in 40 years’ time they could be bitter, disenfranchised people in thrall to an angry demagogue who claims that only he can make the Rust Belt shine again.
So maybe don’t watch Laverne & Shirley on election night if you are triggered by breweries or hopelessness.
In addition to breweries I would stay away from bars. Bars on election night have that half-festive, half-hysterical vibe that usually accompanies snowstorms or nuclear near-misses. When they called it for Obama in 2008, my local pub went batshit with giddiness as though it were V-E Day. I got kissed by a stranger, like in that famous Doisneau photograph. Which was pretty great, yes, but only because we were both drunk — I suspect that being sober and seeing some red-eyed, grinning sot lumber toward me would not give me the same war-is-over rush. And unless you feel solid in your sobriety, being the awkward sober barfly is probably your best-case scenario on Election Night. If it’s a tight race, and you’re amped up and nervous and surrounded by options for not feeling that way — well, you’re likelier to pick the chute than the ladder.
So skip the bars and also any watching parties that you know will be big boozefests. Anyway, if your circles are anything like mine, both will be filled with the usual people talking a big game about moving to Canada, and if there’s anything I’m more sick of than people chanting “Lock her up!” at rallies, it’s people who make speeches every four years about moving to Canada and never actually do it.
I’m not giving you much how to go on, am I? Because I don’t know. When I got sober three and a half years ago, I failed to anticipate that my first sober election would be quite so, well, you know. I didn’t expect to be having thoughts like, “At least Mitt Romney’s binders were full of women he wanted to hire,” or “At least George W. Bush’s conscious intentions weren’t outright evil, maybe.” I’m dizzy with recalibration and my game plan’s a little flimsy. But I do know I’m not going to drink, and even if I can’t tell you how, I can certainly tell you why: Because of fear.
Fear around presidential election time is nothing new for me. I am in the half of the population whose bodies are contested territory, and pretty much every election involves one candidate promising to violate my fundamental autonomy as a human being, and it makes me a bit antsy.
But the special thing about this election is that it gives pretty much everyone something to fear. Maybe you’re afraid your marriage will be invalidated, or that your health coverage will disappear, or that someone you love will be deported. Maybe you’re scared of somebody with the mind of a toddler and the heart of a rapist having the nuclear codes, or frozen in horror that someone who fucked up someone email stuff and reminds you of your mom might get to run things.
Maybe you’re even reliving fears from your past of the first time someone bantered locker room-style with your body in an alley or dorm room or, in my case, stairwell. The cold concrete wall, the shock of the older boy’s hand, the hunch that telling would only mean more trouble for me.
My fear lately has been big and real and hard to get my arms around. It tells me I’m helpless and that the strange waves rolling through America will smother me and there’s nothing I can do about it. And that’s why I won’t drink on Election Night. Because drinking makes me stupid enough to believe that shit. The truth is I’m anything but helpless, and those strange waves are made up of millions of tiny actions and decisions, including mine. Including yours.
I went for a run this afternoon past a salmon hatchery, where wild salmon are born and return the next year to spawn. The first obstetrics ward for salmon was once just an idea someone had until he did the next thing and the next and the next to make it happen. On my way back, I passed a guy who smiled and said “Hey, I love Sub Pop!,” which was mildly disconcerting until I remembered I was wearing my Sub Pop Records tank top. Starting that label was someone’s idea. I bought and ate a chocolate chip cookie because someone at some point had an idea. You get the point.
Whoever our next president is, I have millions of actions ahead of me. I don’t want to be swept up in a tidal wave of helplessness that ultimately has very little to do with me. I don’t want to be sucked too far into glee, either, though some glee would be nice right about now. Because my life is still mine to shape and so I want to have a clear mind that gets ideas. Where we’re going, we’re all going to need ideas. When you wake up on November 9th, what kind of ideas do you want to have?