Recent Reads

I’ll be back soon with a health update, but suffice it to say that despite my best laid plans, 2020 hasn’t been the best year, disease-wise, for me. And that’s not pandemic related, thankfully. Just my regular uncontrolled chronic illness nonsense. But, like many other high-risk folks in this community, I have been self-isolating at home since March.

Which means that I’ve been reading. A lot. Every cloud has a silver lining, right? 🙂 With that in mind, I thought I’d share a few recent reviews across some different genres. They’re also posted, along with a number of others (and all of my reads) on my GoodReads profile. If reading is also your jam, I’d love to connect with you there and swap book recommendations!

Regardless of how you are spending your time during the pandemic, I hope you and yours are doing as well as you can, and finding some peace in these difficult times. xo

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins (pub 2020)

“Ballad” takes us back to Panem, and centers us on two events: the early adulthood of Coriolanus Snow, and the early years of the Hunger Games. Through Snow’s eyes, we learn more about the brutal reign of the Capitol leaders in Panem following the war, and the origins of many of the Games’ most torturous elements.

But, because this prequel mainly centers its narrative on Snow – the ruthless dictator in the original series – it’s hard to feel fully invested in the story. My best analogy is that we’re watching the slow unraveling of Anakin Skywalker, who we already know to be Darth Vader, in the Star Wars prequels. We feel curious, but we also instinctively know that it’s important to keep our emotional distance. Still, for fans of this world, “Ballad” offers a compelling history of the early Games, and allows us to see how their structure evolved to what we see when we meet Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games”. GR Stars: 3

Nothing To See Here – Kevin Wilson (pub 2019)

I picked up this slim novel for two reasons. First, it was in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide, and I trust Anne Bogel’s taste (even if I don’t love the book, it’ll challenge me in some way). Second, the premise was too interesting not to check out. The themes of class, wealth, power, and what makes a good parent are not new. But exploring them through kids that spontaneously combust??? That was unique.

Since I finished, I’ve been reflecting on this one. The thing is that, at first, I thought (especially) Madison and even Lillian, to a degree, were a bit one-dimensional overall. Not enough of a journey for either, and neither was super likeable. But upon reflection, I realized that their characters were written in a fairly realistic way, regardless of whether I liked them or thought they grew enough by the end. And I just adored the kids, particularly Bessie and Roland. They made the story for me. If you’re looking for familiar story themes, told in an original way with realistic adult characters, I’d recommend trying this one. GR Stars: 4

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier (pub 1938)

“I could fight the living, but I could not fight the dead.” I’m a huge fan of both mystery and gothic literature, so it’s inexcusable that I’ve missed this classic in the genre for so many years. It’s the story of a very young (second) Mrs. de Winter – we never learn her name – moving to her new husband’s grand estate, and living in the shadow of his late first wife, Rebecca. Manderley itself is a main character, looming large over the entire story, from the famous first line to the end. And every character in the story is flawed. Through their actions, du Maurier explores themes of loneliness, power/gender roles, revenge, insecurity, and morality. The author brilliantly keeps you on your toes, manipulating your emotions and making you question what you thought you knew (about the story and yourself!) from one page to the next. And Mrs. Danvers…chills!

“Rebecca” is brilliantly done, and despite its original release in 1938, it feels very modern. In fact, it’s easy to see du Maurier’s influence on so many of today’s thrillers. I read this on Kindle, and listened to the Audible version with Anna Massey’s narration, which was excellent. Hitchcock’s first American film was an adaption of “Rebecca” in 1940, which won the “Best Picture” Oscar. A new adaptation with Lily James and Armie Hammer comes out next month (see the trailer here). You can bet I’ll be watching both in the weeks to come! It’s the perfect season to find your way to this classic, in whatever form makes you happiest. GR Stars: 5

Book Review: Don’t Overthink It

TITLE: Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy Into Your Life

AUTHOR: Anne Bogel

PUB DATE: March 3, 2020AB-cover

GOODREADS REVIEW

NOTE: I received an advanced digital copy this book, in return for my honest review.

For those unfamiliar, Anne Bogel is the creator of the bookish universe encompassing the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog and two podcasts, literary matchmaking on What Should I Read Next? and book reviews on One Great Book. I can safely say that, since I discovered her work about 4 years ago, she is probably more responsible for adding books to my TBR shelf (that’s “to be read”, for those that are not up on this lingo) than anyone else. So, now my wife knows exactly who’s to blame for our burgeoning bookshelves. Ha!

Though I could go on about the blog and the podcast, today I want to talk about Anne’s third book, “Don’t Overthink It”, which will be released on March 3rd. In this one, Ms. Bogel takes us on a thought-provoking journey through talks us through the cycle of the chronic overthinker. And boy, did it resonate with me!

Like her two previous (and highly recommended) works, “Reading People” and “I’d Rather Be Reading“, this offering is authentically Anne. Her voice shines through. As I read it, I felt as though I was sitting with her over coffee, discussing both the root causes of overthinking, and strategies to help us overcome the problem. I loved the concrete examples she offered, both from her own life, and from the lives of friends, family, and listeners/readers. From small changes like “complete the cycle” and “everyday indulgences” to big ideas like “live your values” (which sounds easy, but when you evaluate your calendar against what you value, you may find it isn’t), she distills so much worthy information for the reader in this slim volume.

I have always been prone to overthinking. Since I was diagnosed with a chronic illness a decade ago, and as my health has continued to decline, that habit has accelerated. My life is one big decision point. If I attend this event, how much rest will I need? Is there risk of additional pain/fatigue? Do I need extra meds or other accommodations? Which toothbrush will be less painful today? What pants can I button? You get the idea. On top of that, since I’ve been unable to work for the past few years, I’ve been less likely to splurge on anything for myself. After all, I don’t earn income anymore. So, I overthink before I buy even a regular priced book, and frankly, I rarely do.

The questions as the end of each chapter allow the reader to delve more deeply into each principle for themselves. I’ve done some journaling with them, and realized that I often spin far beyond what’s necessary. For example, while chronic illness forces me to weigh clothing options, I can limit my options — and therefore my energy expenditure on getting ready — with a capsule wardrobe. I’ve started working through some of my own income guilt with respect to small indulgences too. And I’m starting to be more intentional about simplifying my routines, while keeping flexibility for life / my illness.

A readable book that inspires real change? That’s just about the best recommendation I can offer. Hope you won’t overthink it, and instead will get yourself a copy on March 3rd. 🙂 Can’t wait to hear what you think!

Hard Days

Uninvited.

Like a surprise and most unwelcome guest.

Whether it’s the first hard day in awhile

or the next in a long, ongoing flare.

Feels like acid rushing through veins.

Joints burn.

Limbs are so heavy.

Showers are painful.

Mental calculus for every movement.

How long can the bathroom wait?

Sounds hurt.

Ears ring.

Can’t focus.

Can’t even see, sometimes.

Can’t sleep.

Medication doesn’t help.

Neither does meditation

or any of the well-worn remedies.

Click through media

looking for a brain distraction.

There is no escape.

Overwhelmed.

Scared.

Guilty, as she cancels plans.

Again.

How long until she “feels better”?

What is “better”, anyway?

Is this her new normal?

Remembers

she is not alone.

Chooses

to love herself

through as many tomorrows as it takes.

Books, Books, Books!

As I wrote last week, I’m struggling mightily with my symptoms right now, which means that I’m even more homebound than usual. This also means I’ve got to find ways to occupy those long resting hours. Hopefully, I can also mentally distract myself — a little — from the unrelenting pain and fatigue, or at least from the constant visual of my four walls. People who don’t deal with chronic illness sometimes think it sounds luxurious to be at home with “nothing to do”, but I promise, it isn’t. I’ve written about both the physical and mental tolls before, as have many others. Today, though, I want to write about one of the ways I occupy my hours at home.

Bookcase

One of the (almost full) bookcases in our bedroom.

You see, I’m a book lover. A big ol’ bookworm who circled the Scholastic Book Fair date on my calendar and crushed every Summer Library Challenge. One of those kids who used to keep a flashlight tucked in my room, so I could sneak in some reading time after my parents tucked me in. And that hasn’t changed.

Today, I read to keep my mind sharp (since I can’t work), to go on adventures (since I’m often home), to experience the world through the eyes of others, to distract my mind from my physical symptoms, and well, because I love it. It’s one of my favorite pastimes, and it turns out that it’s a fabulous way to pass time in patient waiting rooms. Reading is also my favorite way to relax before sleep. My wife lovingly tolerates the glow from my Kindle Paperwhite late into the night, especially when painsomnia is keeping me up. I’m into physical books, ebooks, and audiobooks. I source from libraries, bookstores, and online. I don’t discriminate, as long as I’m reading. Sometimes, a symptom — usually migraine, pain, or brain fog — is too intense, and I can’t concentrate enough to read anything. Those times are tough, but I have other remedies for those moments, which I’ll save for another day.

In that spirit, for any other readers out there, I’ll start posting some reviews of my favorites here. You can also follow me on Goodreads at @hawktilly. I’m committing to reviewing more of what I read in 2020, and you’ll see it cross-posted here and on Goodreads. So, if reading is your thing, or if you’d like to start reading more, you’ll get some recommendations here. What are some of your favorite “resting” activities?

Is This Thing On?

Retro vintage style metal microphone on background banner

It’s been awhile, eh? After almost three years, I presume I’m talking to myself at this point. But, in case anyone is reading (hi mom!), I am truly sorry. I can’t explain much of why I was absent for so long, except to say that it was necessary, and it was not my choice. I have missed talking with you here, and I’m so glad to be back.

What’s new? Well, I’m still sick. Okay, I guess that’s not really news. But, I’ve added some new illnesses to the mix, so I guess that’s exciting. Ha. My doc officially switched my primary diagnosis from rheumatoid arthritis to psoriatic arthritis. I am winding down an 18 month stint on Simponi/Aria, which gave me some relief*. However, it’s become obvious for the last 3-4 months that its effectiveness is quickly fading, so she wants me to switch to Remicade. I know I need to give it a go, but the last time I took a spin at the “wheel of pharmaceuticals”, it took 2.5 years of trial and error to find something that got me to semi-functional (my pal, Simponi). So, I’m petrified. But the other option is continuing to watch myself go downhill. Not a great choice in the bunch, but a long climb is better than a certain deep hole, so here we go again. My fellow spoonies, I know you know what I mean.

On top of that, I am dealing with chronic migraines. It got to the point that I was having 5+ a week, and very often, they were untouchable with breakthrough meds. I spent a ton of time in bed, in the dark. Thankfully, after jumping through the (many!) treatment hoops required to be approved, I now suffer Botox torture once every three months. Torture is only a minor exaggeration, but wow, it works! I’ve gone from migraines almost EVERY DAY down to 1-2 a week. And most of those, I *can* manage through with some combo of meds, ice packs, etc. It’s been a miracle for me, so those needles are absolutely worth it.

There are other things happening too, but this story is getting long, so I’ll leave it for now. The bottom line is that I’m back, and I am thrilled to be (still) here and (still) able to have a conversation with you. It’s a new year — a new decade, even — and I’ve got a ton of thoughts about what I’d like this blog to become in 2020 and beyond. I’m hoping you’d like to join me on the ride. So, hi again, and Happy New Year! It’s great to be back!

* for those interested in the numbers, I quantified my relief this way for my rheumatologist. The drug took probably a week to kick in, especially given that side effects laid me up for a few days following each infusion. After that, I saw roughly 20-25% improvement in my symptoms for 4-5 weeks. After that, I declined rapidly, and would generally be non-functional again for at least 7-10 days before every infusion. When I write it out, it sounds pitiful, but this is the best I’d done on any biologic in years. I am having a hard time accepting that this tiny bit of relief is gone, and I have to start over.

Homemade Olive Oil Mayonnaise (aka Rockstar Mayo)

*Note: Regular readers have seen me post about cooking/food before. It’s a hobby and passion of mine, and I believe, a key to our overall health. In that spirit, here is a recipe post, which originated from a picture on I recently posted on my Instagram feed (@hawktilly). But it’s related to my health journey, and the beginnings of a doctor-ordered ketogenic diet. I’m working on more posts around that, and I’ve got other surprises in store as well. But, since this post a bit different than what my usual readers see, I thought I’d offer a short note of explanation. Hope you enjoy! 🙂

I love to cook. I’m the person who reads cookbooks like novels. But homemade mayonnaise? Well, it always, ALWAYS intimidated me. More than almost anything (well, except flan, but that’s a story for another day). When I first tried Paleo a few years ago, it was time to finally get comfortable. So, I experimented with a few different recipes from my favorite blogger/authors, and Mel Joulwan’s was my favorite. Over time, and through lots of trial and error, I modified her recipe to create something uniquely my own. What you see below suits my family’s taste and works for me 99% of the time. On the rare occasions it doesn’t, it’s usually because I haven’t followed the tips here. When you master mayo-making, you will feel like a total Rockstar. As Lora can attest, I still make her admire my handiwork with each batch. So, read it through, follow the tips, and get to work. In less time than it takes to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody”, you’ll have your very own batch of homemade mayonnaise.

A few simple tips and tricks will help you master the recipe and technique quickly, so let’s start with those (gratefully gathered through many hours of learning from experts and my own trials):
          Before you start, make sure your all of your mayo ingredients are room temperature. I usually measure out my eggs, mustard, and lemon juice and get those into the blender roughly an hour before I’m planning to make my mayonnaise.
          The “best by” date of your eggs is the “best by” date of your mayo. If you like, write that date on your jar. Usually, ours is gone well before we hit the date. Of course, like anything else, if it smells off or has separated, do not use it. Common sense always rules.mayo-oct2017
          When adding oil, stream as slowly as possible to incorporate and emulsify into the eggs.
          Fresh lemon juice does not work well for mayonnaise. The acid level of individual lemons varies from one to the next. So, bottled is preferable for this application.
          As it pertains to raw egg concerns, you really have three options: (1) Buy organic, pasture-raised eggs (from a trusted local source, if possible) for the safest raw option.  (2) Buy pasteurized eggs. (3) Pasteurize eggs yourself…there are plenty of online resources. Any of the three should eliminate bacteria worries!
          Use your favorite neutral-flavored oil. Mine happens to be organic light (not extra virgin) olive oil. I have also followed the same recipe using avocado oil. I liked it, but came back to my fave.
          For me, the traditional blender works best. Some people swear by a stick blender, but I’ve not had success with that method. You can even find lovers of good old fashioned whisks, but my arthritic hands cannot go that route. Mad respect, though.

As for how to use your glorious creation? Well, it’s mayonnaise, so let your imagination run wild! I happen to think that homemade mayonnaise has a far superior taste and texture to anything store-bought. But if you go that route (or like us, just feel more comfortable with extra mayo in the fridge), my Southern wife would like me to clearly state for the record that Duke’s is hands down the best of the grocery store bunch. Now that I’m doing a doc-ordered ketogenic diet (detailed post coming soon!), I need healthy fats. So, I’m back to making and eating lots of mayo. Yay! I use it as my base for creamy dressings; from Italian to green goddess. I mix it in to my tuna/egg/chicken salads. And it’s life changing in deviled eggs. Of course, once you master this, there are plenty of variations. Roasted garlic, chipotle, jalapeno, etc. The possibilities are endless! Okay, without further ado….

Rockstar Mayo Recipe (makes approx. 2 cups)

In a traditional blender, mix the following room temperature ingredients at low speed until blended (10-15 seconds):

          2 eggs, out of shell
          2 tbsp bottled lemon juice
          1 tsp kosher or sea salt (I’ve used both with equally successful results)
          2 tsp Dijon mustard
          ½ c light olive oil (not extra virgin)

With blender on lowest setting, slooooooooowly stream in 1 ½ cups of additional olive oil. I try to get the smallest continuous stream of olive oil I can (see tips and tricks section). It should take roughly 4-5 minutes to get all of the olive oil into the blender. Do not be tempted to dump the oil in at any point. Your patience will be rewarded. Believe me! When it’s done, give it a taste, and season with a pinch more salt, if needed. I just whir it in for 5 seconds with the blender, if needed.

Okay, that’s it. Please let me know how it goes for you. I can’t wait to hear! Have fun, Rockstars! 😊

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Side of Invisibility

Generally speaking, I’m not big into selfies. I prefer to take pics of my son and my dogs. That said, friends on social media will likely be familiar with the “progression of mediocre selfies” series; multiple attempts at family self-portraits taken during our adventures. Our crappy selfie skills have become a family punch line. But truth be told, I adore their candid silliness. 😊

For the last 18 months, I’ve been sick enough that I’ve largely disengaged from my previous everyday life. I don’t have to tell you all that, of course, because I’ve been absent here. Pain and fatigue are quite a tag team, as many of you know. They’ve largely limited my ability to write in complete sentences. But I’m slowly writing a post on my continuing pharmaceutical roulette, and I hope to feel well enough to get back to a more regular rhythm soon. I cannot thank you enough for sticking it out with me. 

At this point, you may be thinking “Girl, you weren’t kidding about not writing coherently. I mean, how do those two paragraphs even relate to each other?” But bear with me, because I took a mediocre selfie for this post. 

My selfie skills haven’t improved, but the caption says it all. When you’re chronically sick and mostly homebound, you can feel invisible. When everyone around you is racing to work, you can feel invisible. When your daily accomplishments include “got out of bed”, “slept for more than 3 hours straight”, or “made it to the doctor”, you can feel invisible. 

Much has been written about the frustration of the invisible chronic illness. But less is said about the invisibility we feel.  We are so often forced to the sidelines, as the world spins around us. So, this selfie proves, to me and to you, that I’m still here. Even without a job. Even without makeup. And it’s no accident that I’m holding a crochet project. If I take it slow and use the right tools, crochet is good exercise for my joints. It’s also a calming influence on my mind. I feel accomplished when I complete projects — in crochet, in the kitchen, or with my writing. And that’s crucial for my type-A personality. 

Is the feeling the same as closing a big deal or leading a strategy session with a business partner? As crossing a half-marathon finish line? As singing a solo in front of a crowd? Nope. But like my selfie, these hobbies remind me of where I am on life’s journey. They help me remember that I am here. And no matter what, I’m grateful for that. ✌️

Heart To Heart Thoughts From Inside My Chronic Life

  • bedvsout-selfie

    The look changes. The diseases do not. On the left, in my natural habitat. On the right, after spending energy to “clean up”. Oh, and sunglasses hide a lot. 😉

    Rheumatoid Arthritis is one of 100+ types of arthritis.

  • But it’s also not “arthritis”, as I knew it pre-diagnosis.
  • Yes, it’s joint inflammation, immobility, and deformity.
  • But it is not cartilage degeneration, like osteoarthritis.
  • Which is common starting in middle age.
  • RA is an autoimmune disease.
  • This means my body is attacking itself.
  • Specifically, the lining of my joints.
  • RA can be systemic, which means it shows itself well beyond the joints.
  • My eyes, lungs, heart, and autonomic functions are all impacted.
  • And RA affects people in every age group.
  • Including over 300,000 kids in the US.
  • I’m always in pain. Like, 24/7.
  • But the fatigue, both from RA and fibromyalgia, is sometimes just as hard to handle.
  • My outward appearance generally doesn’t match how I feel.
  • I evaluate every task, every day, to determine whether to perform as normal, perform with modifications, or skip.
  • Yes, this includes showers, which zap my energy.
  • Some days, I can manage a short one in the evening before bed.
  • Some days, I can’t.
  • I contemplate my toothbrush twice a day.
  • Sometimes, I can’t manage the back and forth motion required for my manual brush.
  • Other times, the vibration of my electric toothbrush is unbearable.
  • This constant evaluation is mentally exhausting.
  • Fatigue does not mean “in need of a nap”.
  • It’s limb heaviness.
  • It’s brain fog.
  • It’s like having a bad flu, constantly.
  • At least once a day, I break down in tears because of the pain.
  • Pain keeps me from sleep 3-5 nights a week.
  • Opioids do not take it away.
  • Most days, they dull the pain.
  • And are necessary for me to function at all.
  • I use them in combination with other therapies and treatments.
  • So don’t be surprised if I smell like menthol.
  • It’s just the Bio-Freeze.
  • Medical marijuana is not legal where I live.
  • But it’s on the ballot again.
  • I’m scared that millions of chronic pain patients like me are getting lost.
  • While we debate the serious and separate issue of opioid addiction.
  • I have a permanent disabled parking permit.
  • Which I only use when I need it.
  • I have received angry stares and comments because I don’t “look” sick enough to have one.
  • If you have heard about a treatment, I have tried it.
  • Yes, this includes medications, alternative therapies, diets, protein shakes, vitamins, balms, and yoga.
  • Even if it worked for your mother/sister/uncle/grandpa/spouse/roommate, autoimmune disease affects everyone differently.
  • And though I use some of them, my diseases continue to be mostly unresponsive to treatment.
  • Save the unconditional love and support of my wife and son, a treatment that work wonders.
  • Despite all of these challenges, I try to stay positive, especially online.
  • I share photos of wonderful vacations I take with my wife and son.
  • But I don’t share the activities I skip to rest in bed.
  • Or the number of days I cannot even bear to get out of my pajamas.
  • The same goes for work, entertaining, date nights, soccer matches, and well, everything.
  • Many days, my bed is both my office and my dinner table.
  • And my computer and TV are my views to the outside world.
  • So I often feel apart and alone.
  • If I cancel plans we’ve made, it’s because I’m in really bad shape.
  • It is never because you are not important to me.
  • And it breaks my heart that you might think otherwise.
  • That you might stop inviting, stop calling, stop writing…
  • I want to do everything I could do before I was diagnosed.
  • But I can’t.
  • And resetting my own expectations is the hardest task of all.
  • I often feel guilty saying “no”.
  • I often feel like a failure when I can’t do what others can do.
  • Seven years in, I’m starting to accept that I need a different balance.
  • “No” allows me to be better in control of my chronic life.
  • So my disease no longer controls me.
  • It’s hard, and I’m far from perfect.
  • But no matter what comes, I plan on enjoying the hell out of this crazy, beautiful life.
  • As it is, not as I wish it was.
  • For as long as possible.

Thank you for listening. Namaste.

Election 2016: Change Comes From Within (The Voters)

DISCLAIMER: As loyal readers know, my blog is focused on living with Rheumatoid Arthritis. From time to time, I wander off topic (cooking, travel, politics). Today is one of those days. This year’s Presidential election has been the ugliest and most vitriolic I can recall, and I’ve been feeling a bit helpless. The below outlines my thoughts on what we, the citizens, can do to change the political climate. Thank you, Carla, for your feedback. And as always, thank you all for reading.

“Every nation gets the government it deserves.” – Joseph de Maistre

Since I’m not running for office, I don’t have to follow the #1 rule of campaigning: don’t insult the electorate. Plus, I’m going to constructively criticize (not insult, I hope) all of us with three numbers. 15. 96. 37.

Let’s look at the first two as a pair. A December 2014 Gallup poll found that U.S. Congress has a 15% approval rating among the American people. There’s a little wiggle room in the exact percentages, according to Politifact, but in general, the numbers haven’t moved much in the last decade. And this means a whopping 85% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, whichever party is in control. In fact, head lice, cockroaches, root canals, traffic jams, and even Nickelback all boast higher approval ratings. The same poll did show that Congress is more popular than telemarketers, North Korea, ebola, and gonorrhea. So, I suppose there’s a feather in their collective caps.

Now, want to guess the second number? Almost 96% of incumbents are re-elected to Congress. Despite the fact that we’d rather listen to Nickelback while getting a root canal. This cycle, we’ve heard a ton on both sides about how voters are “fed up” with career politicians, how they want our leaders to fix the “rigged system”. A 15% approval rating certainly supports these sentiments. But the media coverage on voters’ motivations largely misses the other piece. We are not victims. We the people continually ask these very politicians – the ones we think are terrible at their jobs – to make our laws and spend our tax dollars. Year after year. Election after election. 96% of the time, in fact. Why?

Before we attempt a diagnosis, let’s dig into a third number. 37. This is the percentage of voters who turned out for the 2010 mid-term elections. As Pew Research points out, midterm voter turnout since 1948 represents a 15-20% decrease from Presidential election years. The fact that our high point is only 52-57% is cause for concern, but that’s an issue for another day. It seems that many millions of Americans wake up every four years to vote for our highest office, then simply tune out until the next Presidential election. Not the best way to change a rigged system.

So, back to the question of why. The numbers suggest that both voter apathy and polarization play a role.

Voter indifference is a fairly easy diagnosis. Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of Congress, but we keep re-electing the same people to serve. Minus the media spectacle inherent in a Presidential race, most Americans don’t even turn out to cast votes at all. But America isn’t a monarchy, and whether the President shares your party or not, Congress and state/local officeholders impact most of our lives more than the individual serving in our highest office. We simply aren’t paying attention most of the time, for most political races.

Yes, a slim majority of us vote when the Commander-In-Chief is on the ballot. But many of us don’t force politicians to earn that vote. We check a box based on our party preference. Increasing polarization is one reason we are not likely to see a Presidential landslide in either direction. It may also explain why third-party candidates have trouble gaining traction. Regardless of individual policy positions or qualifications, each of the two major party candidates is likely to receive 42ish% of the popular vote, just because of the “R” or “D” next to their name. And the undecided population dwindles with each cycle.

We’re further polarized by the hyper-partisan media bubble, which reinforces the idea that “our” side is good and “their” side is evil. We see pundits on TV talking past each other, and we do the same on our Facebook feeds, reiterating party talking points. Think about what happens after every Presidential election. The “winning” side heaps praise on the White House for the next 4 years, taking credit for all positives. The “losing” side blames every negative thing on the White House. These narratives are repeated by leaders in the Senate and House, and reinforced by the partisan media outlets we choose. We reward Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz for ideological purity. We slam Hillary Clinton and John McCain for “compromising their beliefs” to find solutions. Winners and losers. Party over progress. We’re in a climate where it’s politically dangerous to even meet with politicians from the other side. Where our politicians refuse to hold hearings on a President’s Supreme Court nominee. Where the other side is painted as dangerous to the very future of the country. In short, we’ve officially reached a stalemate. As evidenced by that dismal 15% approval rating, this environment is endlessly frustrating to voters. But, it’s also the behavior we continue to reward, as shown by the 96% incumbent re-election rate.

The theme of 2016 has been voter frustration with the rigged system, corrupt politicians, and greedy bankers. And once again, we pin our hopes on putting a savior in the White House who will fix it for us. But change doesn’t reside within the Presidency. It resides within us. We decide whether our politicians, both in our cities and in Washington D.C., keep their jobs. Imagine what would happen if voters harnessed our power and tried a different approach this year. Imagine an America where we stop re-electing party ideologues and obstructionists. Imagine an America where “work across the aisle” compromise and real progress are rewarded, not labeled as party traitorism. Imagine an America where voters pay more attention to real issues than to horse races. Imagine an America where voters step outside the partisan bubble and reject “us” versus “them” discussions. Imagine an America where we engage in respectful, nuanced dialogue about complex issues, and seek out media that does the same. Imagine an America where we stop shouting, and start listening to and learning from each other’s perspectives. Imagine an America where we vote.

These three numbers are disheartening. But they also remind us that we have power. We can speak out with one voice, and break the vicious cycles of apathy and partisanship. To paraphrase Mahatma Ghandi, let’s be the change we want to see in our politics.

Vote like it matters to our country. Because it does.

 

P.S. If you’re into these ideas, here are three of my favorite sites:

Pantsuit Politics (their twice a week podcast is required listening for me!)
No Labels
ISideWith.com

What are some of yours?