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On election night 2020, I consciously decoupled from the news. Here’s how it went

On election day 2020, I stopped to smell the coffee.
(Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)

I am speaking to you from election night 2020.

Here are some things I did not do today.

Vote. I did that a couple weeks ago, in person at the Wiltern Theater, where I have seen many wonderful concerts and in the far past went to discount matinees of second-run movies. I would have voted by mail, but the post office somehow never delivered a ballot to me. So good try, Louis DeJoy, but I cast a ballot anyway, and got a free burrito on the way out.

Taking my own advice (from something I tweeted last week) I am not watching the news. Or listening to the radio. Or following Twitter. Or checking Facebook except to see if people had liked a photograph of a newborn relative (hundreds have!), a baby girl who won’t remember any of this.

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I am consciously decoupled from the carnival of speculation and commentary and spin on matters I am quite certain will keep until morning, when there will still be plenty of speculation and commentary and spin to go around. I am taking a pass on the big blue sets, the performing charts and chyrons and holographic performing election maps, the endless talking heads endlessly talking. I was there in 2016, and this year I am giving myself a break.

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Absence is all the more appealing this year, because of the slim chance that anything will be decided Tuesday, notwithstanding the president’s erroneous belief, or tactical insistence, that everything must be packed away by bedtime. Of course, I may arise on Wednesday morning to learn there was a landslide Tuesday night, something so clear and irrefutable and visible from Mars that no subsequent tallying could produce a different result. It is not impossible that everything I have to say here about living with uncertainty, and waiting until the facts are in, will seem moot and perhaps even foolish in the light of what is transpiring even as, with back turned, I write these words. If so, I will humbly accept your mockery — though learning to live with uncertainty and wait until the facts are in will serve you well on even the less historical days of your life.

Here are things I did.

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I spoke with a semi-feral cat who lives in the backyard and thinks it’s always time to eat, no matter how often I explain otherwise.

I made coffee.

I drew my cat.

A drawing of a cat made by Robert Lloyd in lieu of watching election returns.
I drew my cat.
(Robert Lloyd)
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I read the Robert Johnson chapter in Peter Guralnick’s new collection, “Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing.”

I thought about my mother, who was still alive the last time we had a presidential election, and my father who never had to live with its results. (He wouldn’t have liked it, and my mother, while she lived, certainly didn’t.)

I watered the garden. The garden doesn’t care about the election, except in that it may distract you too much to water it. Perhaps I did that just in order to write this paragraph — I am not usually the one to do the watering — but it’s nice to be around plants, and nice to be around water, our elemental home before we got the curious notion to crawl onto land and form political parties and cable news networks. I noticed while I was out back that the traffic is getting heavier again, as people want to think it’s good to go back to partying like it’s 2019. Oh pandemic, have you taught us nothing?

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At 8 o’clock, as the polls closed on the West Coast, I was halfway through making dinner. This is a thing I used to not usually do, but do more usually now, though it’s one of those systems where they deliver the ingredients and you follow the recipe. Still, there is a kind of accomplishment in that, when it turns out. There is chopping to do, and rinsing, and measuring, and sauteeing to do, and making sure things are cooked but not too cooked. What’s nice about cooking is that you do have to focus — you can’t get too caught up in extraneous thoughts or anxieties or you might burn the squash or cut off a finger. Still, I’m able to listen to Tiffany Haddish on Rob Lowe’s “Literally!” podcast; they talk about surfing and Ohio, learning deficits and roller disco, and about growing up in a white place knowing Black people only from television, and in a Black place knowing white people only from television. Lowe really is Chris Traeger, his “Parks and Recreation” character, but with a penchant for swear words and obviously a lot of money. He is sincere and excitable and open, and his podcast interviews, whether with a friend or stranger, have the quality of dinner party conversation. He seems like a good guy, I recommend his podcast, and it’s a crime “The Grinder” only got one season.

Rob Lowe as his "Parks and Recreation" character Chris Traeger, in a scene with Rashida Jones.
(NBC)

Nine o’clock, and the familiar sound of a helicopter comes and goes overhead. Maybe there are riots in the streets? Earlier I went to pick Sarah up from work and there were boards going up over the windows of the FedEx place and a Starbucks. I also saw, for the first time in my life, an LAPD bomb squad vehicle, which looks like a fire truck except painted black. Will I emerge into tomorrow’s light of day to find the world destroyed, like Burgess Meredith on “The Twilight Zone”? Well, there would probably be sirens, unless the war was already over.

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Not turning on the news to find out is surprisingly easy. But Twitter and Facebook are living at the tips of the same fingers I’m using to type the words “Twitter and Facebook are living at the tips of the same fingers I’m, using to type the” — well, you get me — and there is a thoughtless, nearly autonomic reflex that can land me there in spite of myself. I admit that this has happened tonight, but, determined to remain ignorant, I blur my eyes and back out fast. I really have no idea what’s happening out there, and I am good with it.

Like most of us, my social media feeds consist pretty much of people whose way of thinking intersects with my own; if I were following the evening through its twists and turns in the usual way, I would go there for celebration or support. But it is nice not even knowing — as tomorrow we still may not know — to close one’s eyes, relax and float downstream, lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void. I’ve never been one to fast, or go on silent retreats, or do anything much that involves self-discipline, really, but I imagine this blackout feels something like that, a consciously imposed different state of (un)consciousness. I mean, to say, I am enjoying spending this evening in the knowledge that I am not not enjoying this evening.

It feels freeing in a way knowing that big things you can no longer do a thing about are happening without you following along. The immediate media — the breaking news gang, whose news will be broken by later news — will have been having its say all day. Somewhere out of earshot, pundits and prognosticators are making their pronouncements, whether or not they have anything to say, because if television hates anything, it is dead air. I may not hear the sound of this tree as it falls in the forest, but I can read about it in the morning — TREE FALLS IN FOREST. WITNESSES DESCRIBE SOUND — and see the picture of it lying there, in the forest, down. With context.

History will catch up with me soon enough.

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On the eve of the 2020 presidential debates, the return of “The Great British Baking Show” provides a model for detoxifying our electoral process.


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