President Donald Trump and My Dog’s Poop: A Story of Acceptance and Hope

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There’s actually a (somewhat) reasonable explanation for why I have this picture.

As I’m sure was probably the case for many Americans, I had trouble sleeping last night. I couldn’t shake the anxiety and dread that grew part and parcel along with Donald Trump’s Electoral Vote tally.

My wife slept uneasily beside me, unaware of the impending doom but, as it often goes with her — somehow still aware. She tossed and turned and groaned and ground her teeth.

My wife is a Latina and a feminist who exited the polls crying yesterday, out of pride at having voted for a woman for President of The United States. I am a white man, and a fifth or sixth-generation Italian-American. I share her values of equal rights and representation for women and for all the races that make up our democracy.

We both suffer from anxiety and depression, and have dedicated much of the last several years of our life to advocating for a greater dialogue on mental health in America, and greater diversity and more accurate representation in the media.

I am not a Democrat or a Republican — in fact, I have no party affiliation. I am, however, a reasonable, compassionate human being who writes this from a place of deep disappointment with his country and fellow citizens.

When it became clear to me, last night, that Donald Trump was going to be elected as my next President, I stopped obsessively, desperately, checking my phone. I gave into fatigue, and slept.

My alarm went off this morning, as the same time it always does, and the first thing I did was confirm what I already instinctively knew — the worst-case scenario had indeed unfolded. A man whose principle political strategy was comprised of hate-mongering, and the exploitation of racial and sexist fears and biases, will soon take office as the 45th President of the United States.

What I did next might sound surprising — or perhaps not — it surprised me, a bit.

I shut off the alarm, I got up, and I went about my day. As I always do.

I didn’t wallow, and neither did I pretend that nothing had changed. Much has changed. I understand this. I also understand and would like to underscore the fact that, as a straight white male, this quick acceptance might come much easier to me than, say, a woman of color.

But I share all this because I think it’s of supreme importance that we accept this outcome and move forward as best we can.

Perhaps this is naive of me, and again, I think I’m only able to say it due to my privileged position — but I do not believe Donald Trump is going to prove to be the fascist that so many of us are afraid he’s going to turn out to be.

More likely, the next few years will reveal to all of us — his specific electorate included — the extent to which the man will lie and exploit fear in service of his own gain. This is how he has won, but it won’t serve him or us well as we go about the business of governing here and working with other countries around the globe in terms of international affairs.

I believe he will do much harm. I believe he’ll prove largely incompetent as a leader. And I do worry that I’m wrong in my estimation of the level of which he’s capable of pushing the hateful agenda espoused during his campaign — that he actually might have come to believe some of the venomous rhetoric he has co-opted from the far right of the Republican party, and turn it against minority populations in my country.

What Donald Trump will never do, however, is stop me from fighting. Neither will the results of this election distract me, for any longer than today, from my mission of doing what I can to make the world a better, more equitable place for the people whose anger and disillusionment I share — no matter their political affiliation, level of education, or how they might have voted yesterday.

I have expressed before on this site my belief that America is an abusive relationship with its economy. That much was made clear to us when this most recession swept through our population, hurting the average American more than anyone else, with little repercussions to those responsible.

Today, given that we’ve handed our Presidency to Donald Trump, and the remainder of our government to a Republican Party that has done little else but obstruct government for the past decade — I have to admit that this observation was incomplete.

It’s not just our economy. It’s our political system. Our culture. We’re so lost and desperate and confused and angry that we’ve just handed the most powerful position of influence in our country over to a man who cares very little about much more than himself and his own needs.

This is not a reasonable or an effective response to our very real — and shared — needs for identity, safety, clarity and fairness. Capitalism thrives on private interest, but capitalists, as a rule, dehumanize laborers and employees  into power and statistics for their own continued gain, with little regard for the health of the individual worker or the communities to which he or she belongs.

We have witnessed Donald Trump doing this to women. We have watched as he worked to establish his predecessor, President Obama, as an other, by calling his citizenship into question until such time as it no longer benefited himself to do so. It is a supreme, tragic injustice that a man with no real understanding or concern for the everyday American has catapulted himself into the White House by the power of millions of people with real fears and grievances, whose energy and voting power has been transmuted by cunning and misinformation in service of their own continued suffering.

These past few weeks, I have been waking up earlier, and taking longer walks with my dog. It brings me peace. Today, I made sure to stick to this routine.

Except, despite my acceptance and general hopefulness, I’ve been distracted all morning.

This is only natural. I’m worried about the lives that will be destroyed and lost before enough of us finally see the truth of all this for what it is. Forgive the silly example — again, white man of privilege here — but because of this distractedness I made an uncommon mistake this morning, and forgot to take a bag with me for picking up after my dog.

This does happen, sometimes. I always feel guilty when it does. I love my community and I try to do my part to keep it clean.

A few years ago, in this situation, before my own strides in acceptance and before I saw to the improvement of own my mental health, I would have either left my dog’s poop on the ground or attempted to pick it up with a leaf or a piece of trash. Either way I would have castigated myself for my mistake, all the way home.

Nowadays, instead, when this happens I keep an eye out for other dog-walkers. I ask if they have an extra bag. Much of the time, they do, and they’re happy to offer it. In this way, we’re collaborating to keep our neighborhood clean.

This morning, I was just realizing my mistake when I saw a young woman walking a black labrador just ahead of me. She was about the cross the street, moving away in the opposite direction. I asked if she happened to have an extra bag.

The woman stopped. She looked me squarely in the eye, and instead of answering the question she asked me — quite sincerely, in accented English — how I was doing. I got the sense that she was European, and not a citizen.

I told her that I was…distracted.

She expressed sympathy and gave me the bag. It was a simple gesture of solidarity and compassion, and I’m grateful for it.

But I’ve also been wondering at my answer — distracted.

Not terrible. Not hopeless. Not angry.

I feel distracted.

Because I have accepted the reality that Donald Trump is going to be my President. Whether we want to admit this or not, it’s the truth. And, while I am afraid of the damage he’s inevitably going to do — I have hope that not all is lost.

I’m going about my life.

In the process, I continue to feel my feelings. It’s not that I’m not angry, or struggling with sadness and disappointment. But I’m processing these emotions — at my own pace, to be fair to anyone still reeling from the results of the presidential race. To be honest, though, I’m starting to get the sense that this travesty is going to at least provide me with some extra fuel for the coming fights, of which there will likely be many.

As a realist, I never had much invested in this election in the first place. With the exception of a brief moment wherein Bernie Sanders seemed to have a shot, I never had much hope for an optimal result. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care, or that I wasn’t able to identify the clear better candidate when voting.

And yet, that doesn’t matter now, does it?

What matters now is that I  — and we — exercise caution. This mess we’re in has expressed itself numerically, in terms of the results we now have to live with. But, as time goes on and things inevitably get worse for the majority of Americans over the next few years, we must instead turn our attention not to remastering the numbers but the recovery of our collective spirit.

For myself, I plan to continue to work as a mental health advocate, as a resource for practical tactics and results-driven personal growth, and as a champion of diversity and or compassion.

There will be more pain. There will be more hate. We cannot allow it to distract us. There’s work to be done — hard work that we won’t often want to do, or that will seem hopeless. But it’s imperative that we show fortitude and courage.

It’s the only thing that can work.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

How to F*cking Rest (In 10 Not-Always-Easy Steps)

Zelda has no trouble resting.
Zelda has no trouble resting.

Let’s be clear from the start: I have very little idea of what I’m talking about in regards to this subject. But I’m learning. So, consider the following more of a report on a work-in-progress, than a presentation of any definitive framework.

Only someone like me would view the ability to rest as a work-in-progress — but I know there are some of you out there who have the same problem. Maybe more than a few.

It’s better than failing spectacularly at it, I suppose.

As I have mentioned on various social media channels, I’ve been sick. Again. For over a week. Again.

It could be worse, and I understand that. But it still sucks.

I’ve been making a concerted effort to learn from past mistakes. And, as has been well-documented — on the scale of moderate to severe — there have been plenty of those.

Anyway, for better or worse, as obvious as some of these may be, here’s what I’ve learned about what works — when I follow through. Maybe all of this is obvious to a sane person, but that’s not always me.

1. Accept it.

We all know how this works. The interior monologue:

“Something doesn’t feel right.”
“You’re okay.”
“Probably. But…”
“You need to do X, Y, Z. You’ll be fine.”
“Yeah. But…”

They key is to listen to the “but”. Ears between the cheeks.

“But I’m really not feeling well.”

This (hopefully) allows one to have compassion for oneself. Even begrudged compassion will do.

“Okay. Fine. I guess X,Y,Z will have to wait.”
“OMG!”
“Shut up.”
“It will be okay. I promise.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You don’t have to — you just have to trust me.”

2. Stay in bed (and/or stick to couch).

I’m historically bad at this. But it’s important. This week I’ve been much better about it than I have been in the past.

I’ve (luckily) been able to establish boundaries with myself in regards to my bed. I don’t work in bed. I do very little web surfing in bed. I really only sleep and read and watch TV and snore in bed.

But I’ve found that even moving from bed to couch has a debilitating effect on my levels of relaxation. It opens the floodgates of distraction. Once I’m out of bed I tend to sit and not lay down. Or I stand, battle myself about standing, and then sit again. I’m also able, from my couch, to view most of an apartment’s worth of “stuff that needs to get done” rather than just one room. So, my solution this time around?

At night, I’ve stacked my bedside table with the basics of what I’d need in the morning to stay in bed for at least a few hours after I wake up. Lately, this has been a stack of comics/graphic novels (fun reads), a bag of cough drops, water, tissues, etc. It’s worked.

After a certain point, though — and as I’ll discuss this more in a moment — it helps to move around. That’s why after a few hours I do a few minor things (with a focus on rest or healing related tasks, such as the brewing of miracle teas) and then I move to the couch.

3. Read.

It gets you out of your head. Sickness can magnify feelings of isolation, loneliness, worthlessness (a good American produces and consumes and does not rest in between) — to a spectacular (not so spectacular) degree.

Reading also passes time and dulls pain by distracting us in an immersive way that’s a bit different than when you watch movies (next on the list) or talk to people (farther down on the list). Reading fiction in particular, when the stories are doing their job well, can be like wrapping your mind in a blanket. That’s not the say the below methods have less value. It’s just different.

4. Watch movies.

If reading is a warm blanket, a good movie is a hearty bowl of chicken soup. What?

It’s strange, and I don’t know how to explain it, but, for me, the magic of cinema is that, even when you’re watching something alone in your apartment on your TV — the experience is comfortingly communal. Some people might argue that point. They’d be wrong.

There’s something about watching characters struggle/explore the worlds they inhabit on screen — which, again, if the story is well told — that gives you something you can’t get anywhere else. Fiction may warm me but film reminds me, and all of us, I think, that we’re not never alone in our loneliness. And it does this in a more direct, and more immediately observable way, than books can. You can turn away from text, or avoid it. It’s less easy to turn away from even recorded images of human beings, with humanity shining through their eyes.

The benefit to the sick is similar. Loneliness is temporarily assuaged, time passes, pain can be momentarily forgotten. All this together — and the same can be said of books — can also help contribute to a belief that the problem of the illness will eventually resolve. At the very least, some temporary relief can be easily won.

5. Move — a little.

For me, this mostly took the form of short walks down the main drag in my neighborhood. If and when it’s possible, even when you’re sick, it helps to get fresh air. Sometimes, it can’t be done. I wasn’t contagious and a few open windows weren’t cutting it for me, so on most days (but not all) I rested up for a few hours after sleeping a long sleep — and then ambled to the pharmacy or a bodega for supplies.

This helped the loneliness, too. Just fifteen minutes outside, after a day (or days) of riding the couch — it can also (obviously) provide a reminder that you’re not alone, even in your illness. Further, especially in a crowded, punishing city like New York — you also may see people whose current or long-term plight is much worse than yours. Unfortunately true, but this is also an opportunity to take hold of a little gratefulness and/or exercise a little humility.

6. Ask for help.

Ugh. I know. Right?!

I’m not great at it. Getting better. And I have been lucky (more gratefulness on the way).

My wife took over some of my household responsibilities while I was laid up. Sometimes, as I would have had to do with anyone else, I had to ask for this help. No one knows what you can or can’t handle, for the most part, unless you tell them.

Sometimes, our nearest and dearest know us better than we know ourselves — and we don’t have to ask. Still, I’ve found it helpful not to make too many assumptions in regards to this point. This is particularly true when it comes to work.

For the most part, even for those of us whose jobs technically overlap with others in terms of responsibilities — we all specialize in some way. If not, we at least still own responsibilities that are ours only, in terms of workload. Work life, as it should be, is more officious (duh) than home life, at least in such terms. It can be easy to convince ourselves to push through with work while ill because the process of explaining how to do what we do, exactly how we do it, seems daunting.

This is understandable. But temporarily letting go of responsibility can also be treated as an experiment in trust and in leadership. These are two aspects of life where daunting is often the word of the day, but which also can deliver rich rewards to those willing to confront fear and hesitation.

Sometimes asking for help means that someone else has to cover for you — and that you, in turn, need to cover for them, now (in terms of communication and guidance) and/or in the future (in terms of fairness). This all takes a little bit of acceptance and some patience. I’ve found that it can help to have a plan, as well.

Anyone can take the time, when they are healthy, to summarize (on paper or through conversation) the basic and/or most important day-to-day responsibilities that they own — especially when it comes to actionable tasks. Not only does this leave you with a manual to help people help you, it can also serve as an informal self-assessment for judging your own efficiency, and/or finding areas of responsibility that can be streamlined, and/or work flows that can be updated.

7. Talk to people.

This is another hard one for me, because, basically, it’s another form of asking for help. More than a couple of days in bed will leave anyone feeling lonely and miserable. So, sometimes, we need cheering up. Again, I’m lucky to have a spouse I can talk to, and who continually asks me to talk to her (ugh). Still, it helped when people checked in. And even though I sometimes didn’t feel like talking — or reaching out — I did. A little. I know I can still be better about this.

No one gets worse by communicating. Even brief, random discussions with neighbors, on my short walks, made a difference to me. When we feel we are at our worst, sometimes it takes the reflection of another’s impression of us to realize that it’s not as bad as all that.

8. Look on the bright side.

I know.

But there always is one. For me, this time…

I had been trying all month to rest. Even before I got sick. I was doing an only-okay job of it. Now I’m being forced to rest, and, honestly, despite all of the above — it hasn’t been that bad.

Drugs help!

But, seriously.

I’m not saying my body hit the shut down button just because my brain wasn’t playing ball. It’s a possibility, but it doesn’t matter. I’m sick and it sucks. But I also got to read some books and watch some movies that I probably would have found a reason not to watch under “normal” circumstances. And part (or most) of what’s ailing me has been a sore and swollen throat. Enter excuse for copious amounts of sorbet and ice cream.

Yes, I have gotten a little fat. But I’ll handle that.

This time off my feet has also allowed me to do some healthy thinking. It’s always a pleasant surprise, and an interesting development, to find myself sick of body and then, suddenly, simultaneously, mentally thriving. It’s almost as if my brain relents in terms of self-flagellation, temporarily, out of respect for some amorphously defined threshold of pain and uneasiness that it feels it should back away from when my body is picking up more of the slack.

The thoughts slow down and they get less dark. This is more of a recent development, now that I think of it. Sickness used to make me very angry. But I question most of my initial impulses towards anger, most days, now.

There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere. Right?!

Moving on…

9. Complain.

Yes. Do it.

I’m telling you. Let it all out.

You have a right. Don’t go crazy. Don’t assume you also have a right to be public and unrelenting about it — but complain.

Someone will listen to you. You may exhaust them. This is understandable. Move on to someone else, if you aren’t done. Someday, very soon, someone will complain to you. Maybe as soon as tomorrow. Maybe its me, right now.

Oh, but don’t listen too much to other complainers if you’re still sick. Wait until you’re better.

And one last, important note. Don’t listen to people who complain about complainers.

You know who I’m talking about. That one or two (or more) folks who troll Facebook or other social media channels griping about how annoyed they are at other people who are simple expressing their emotions.

Can it get to be too much? Yes. Anything can. Everything within moderation. There are lines.

But, sometimes, if you’re sick, or if something shitty happened, or if your life sucks…it can feel good to just cast your despair into the world. No one has to do anything about it who doesn’t feel so compelled. Contrarily, they can also tell you to shut up — and then it’s up to you to decide if this is okay or not.

All of it, though, is better than bottling up that despair. Despair is real and it’s tangible and it’s got to eat somehow. Don’t let it eat you. Send it out in small doses to your friends!

For real. We’re hard-wired to sympathize, even if these days we need to click a link to some inspiring video to be reminded of the fact. Getting the complaints out starts killing them before they even reach your friends. Despair doesn’t fare well in the air.

So, there. Claire.

10. Adapt.

This final step is more of a catch-all of all the others.

Rest isn’t doing nothing. It’s doing something non-stressful, something other than working. And I say that using a loose definition of the word “work” — because even thinking can be a lot of work. In fact, as I hinted above, it often is.

Taking time to rest requires us to do something that has become dangerously taboo in contemporary America, and that is to acknowledge our humanity. Our frailty.

We’re surrounded and infected by so many rules. Some of us, people like me, even have some rules — some unhelpful and corrosive rules that make no actual sense and only cause more damage — twisted into our DNA.

But the thing is, as we all know very well — life does not follow rules. Sometimes we get sick. Sometimes, people die. At other moments, everything in the world appears to come to us easily, and it feels like we’re riding a wild unicorn on a beam of white light (or some other metaphor).

The point is that we can never know exactly what to do, and how, or when. We can only listen to our bodies and our minds and our hearts, and do our best.

In between, we rest.

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