Mary Schmich: Take a deep breath and repeat, “Despair is not an option.” An election season to-do list

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We’ve entered a new season. It’s not just the season of autumn, it’s election season, five weeks that stretch before us like an eternity and a nanosecond, weeks that risk being a nonstop brawl. As the countdown proceeds, the noise will get louder and uglier, meaning we, the people, will get louder and uglier. And more anxious.

So today, we turn to a time-honored anxiety management tool, the to-do list. Keep this list handy. Place a check next to each item you accomplish. You can do it.


1. Register to vote.

2. Take a deep breath and repeat, “Despair is not an option.”

3. Educate yourself on where and how to vote.

4. Once more, take a full inhale. A full exhale. And repeat, “Despair is not an option.”

5. Go outside.

Gluing yourself to Twitter, Facebook and the TV is not a patriotic duty. On the contrary, it will fog your brain and shrivel your soul. Given that it’s often accompanied by excessive eating and drinking, it might even rot your teeth.

Reading or watching reliable media reports on the candidates and the issues is important, but so is getting out in the fresh air, looking at the autumn trees, calming down. That cliche about how if you’re not angry all the time you’re not paying attention? Wrong. If you’re angry all the time you can’t pay attention.

6. And again. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat, “Less Twitter, more trees.”

7. Vote early. Do it in person, socially distanced and wearing a mask. Or do it by mail. There’s no evidence that voting by mail favors one party over the other, no matter what your cousin insists or what you read on Facebook.

8. Watch all three presidential debates.

Don’t rely on the official media rehash, the social media snippets and the talking heads to tell you what happened. Watch for yourself. The debates won’t supply all, or even most, of the information you need to vote intelligently. And chances are you already know who you’re going to vote for. Still, watching will be interesting and in some way informative.

9. After watching the debates, you’ll really, really, really need to breathe. So again. Inhale, exhale, and repeat, “Despair … etc.”

10. Sometimes the best thing to do is to not do. So stop doomsday scrolling. Nothing is improved by reading one more story on our inevitable civil war and the coming apocalypse. And resist the urge to share posts from unreliable sources. Don’t be duped by deceptive organizations and individuals operating on the “enrage to engage” principal.

See “Go outside” above.

11. Time for another full breath. You can’t take too many. How many other things in life can you say that about?

12. Keep wearing your mask. If you don’t wear one, today’s the perfect day to start.

Conquering the coronavirus requires more than voting. But voting for the guy who understands that the coronavirus is serious will help conquer it in the long run.

13. Take another full breath and repeat Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s wise words: “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

14. Find out what else is on the ballot before you vote. Do some research.

15. Make soup.

OK, I never make soup, but it sounds like a comforting thing to do as the weather gets cool and we wait for the election. It would be a good activity while watching the debates.

16. Make a log every day of three good things that happened to you. Even when the thought of the election sends you toward despair, you can always find three good things, even if one of them is only, “I woke up today.”

17. If you didn’t vote early, vote on Election Day. It’s Tuesday, Nov. 3, an eternity and a nanosecond from now.

18. Keep going. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat, “Despair is not an option.”



Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.


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