“We fall, but we keep gettin’ up, over and over and over and over…” (Pretenders, “Message of Love”)
Bear with me; I’m coming at this from an oblique angle.
I come from a very political family.
My father ran for Congress in 1962 (yeah, that’s him with JFK in the Rose Garden in this photo) and later Common Pleas Court Judge and County Court Judge. He lost the first two elections but was elected to the last, serving his six-year term while I was in high school.
In addition to being very politically active, my mother served as president of the school board for most of the time I was in school and also ran for County Prosecutor. She was elected to County Court Judge after my father’s term and served her six-year term, after which she ran for Common Pleas Court and lost.
My earliest political memories in childhood involve summers at the county fair where “home base” was the County Democratic Party’s tent, and autumns where we often went uptown after school to help stuff envelopes and hang out with mom and her pals at the Democratic Headquarters. At the age of 12, I was the only kid in my class who could explain the difference between general, primary, and special elections. I remember meeting all sorts of politicians, and from a young age I understood a lot about candidates by listening to their “elevator pitches” and the way they spoke with kids like me who were too young to vote but not too young to think for themselves.
Where I grew up was never a blue county, and I learned to accept disappointment early. It was just part and parcel of being what I now understand to be a pretty liberal family living in a pretty conservative community. Our candidates and issues nearly always lost. People respected my parents, and for the most part they were gracious and tolerant of our differences. However, there were a few bits of nastiness: after losing the Prosecutor election, one man “consoled” my mother that it was “no job for a woman”; some kids’ parents didn’t want them playing with us because our family was friendly with the “crispy critters” with the wrong skin color. The differences between our family and most everyone else was something I never appreciated until I was older and distanced from my home town.
In sum, I’m used to being different, and I’m very ussed to being on the losing side.
By my calculations, counting all general, primary, and special elections, I’ve probably voted somewhere between 30 and 60 times in my lifetime so far. I might have missed a special election or non-presidential primary from time to time, but I’ve never missed a general election or presidential primary. More often than not, every single candidate and issue I vote on loses. There have been several elections that have broken my heart… several that I worked on very hard and cared deeply about… bond issues and other local issues about which I felt strongly but failed. I’ve been on the losing side over and over again… AND YET I KEEP GOING BACK TO THE POLLS.
WTF? Why is it that I can’t imagine NOT voting — I would never willingly skip an election — and yet I sometimes am so defeated by other situations in life? What is it about voting wherein perseverance is a given that I don’t even have to think twice about?
I’ve been reading about “learned helplessness” and how it contributes to depression. For me, the Black Dog is Learned Helplessness personified. It’s when you feel powerless due to persistent failure or some traumatic event. Like a presidential election, for example. Last Tuesday evening I went spinning off the rails and spent the next four and a half days curled up in a fetal position in my bed… like the dogs in Seligman’s experiments that huddled whimpering in the corner. What was it that finally made me get up this morning, shower, dress, eat a couple regular meals, and start writing again? WTF indeed?
I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I do know one thing. You know that negativity that I fear so much? That’s not me. That’s the Black Dog. And there are ways to counter his negativity. One day at a time. I have no control over yesterday or tomorrow or next week’s weather or the BCS standings or the Paris Accords or global warming or anyone else’s behavior, but I am the master of my own thoughts and behavior at this moment.
Maybe that’s small consolation, but maybe I can learn to live each day as if life is brand, shiny, spanking new in the same way that I vote in every election regardless of how the last one went, or what the polls predict, or what others say or do. If things don’t go well today, well then tomorrow’s another day.
And there’s another election in no more than two years — I’ll be there at the polls again, no matter what.