A Few Rules for Survival

Dear Ellie — Well, you know how it went down. We didn’t elect the first woman president this week. We elected a man who sees women as objects, who’s volatile and bigoted, who wears his inexperience and lack of knowledge as proudly as he would a tux.

I can’t tell you how heartsick and disillusioned I am at the outcome. It’s settled over me like a heavy cloth of grief, stifling and unbearable. I’m deeply worried for my country and our future. Hell, I’m worried about the whole damned world.

It’s unbearable, but it has to be borne — as you’ll someday learn in your own life. All I can do is tell you what’s helping me right now. As usual, when I’m greatly upset, I’ll give you a numbered list of thoughts (because, I’ve learned, when I’m going through great transitions in life, I can’t make transitions in my writing. Go figure):

  1. Respect yourself and your own grief. Don’t let anybody tell you to get over it or set a deadline on how you should feel. When something or someone has wounded you deeply, you have to experience that pain. And yes, it hurts like hell: That’s because you care so much.

Still, caring passionately is one of the most important things you’ll do in life. Life isn’t worth living without it.

2. Turn to others you love and respect so you can help them and they can help you.

Hearing this horrible election news, I immediately felt worse for your mother and you than for myself. I wanted to spare you that kind of pain and disillusionment. Your mother said she was most worried about you and me — which touched me greatly. Your uncle, knowing how fond I am of what I call ice cream therapy, sent me two pints of dulce de leche.

It’s a wonderful thing for your grandfather and me to know we’ve raised two warm, decent human beings with good hearts. At a time like this — no, really, at any time — it’s more important than anything else.

3. As our wonderful First Lady Michelle Obama

The peerless Michelle Obama.

The peerless Michelle Obama.

has said, take the high road (a place where there isn’t a lot of traffic these days, believe me). As far as I can tell, Donald Trump was chosen as president in a legitimate, fair election. I’m an American and he’s my president-elect, however much that depresses me.

Almost 50 years ago, a brilliant political cartoonist named Herb Block famously gave the president-elect Richard Nixon a shave in his cartoon — after decades of savagely drawing Nixon as unscrupulous, shifty, and unshaven. It was the right thing to do, to give the newly elected president-to-be a fresh look. (Of course, Nixon ended up being corrupt and devious and was eventually impeached. A cartoonist can’t change someone’s character, only his complexion.)

Richard Nixon en route to impeachment -- but my, how clean-shaven he was.

Richard Nixon en route to impeachment — but my, how clean-shaven he was.

Donald Trump, in contrast, is clean-shaven. I agree to metaphorically wash his vituperative mouth out with soap. After that, he’s on his own. (His heart — and mind — can use a lot of help, too. But what am I — a cardiologist?)

4. Keep getting up, getting dressed, and taking care of yourself. These are small things, but they help.

5. Remind yourself you’re strong and you will one day feel better.

6. Keep an eye out for the eventual return of your sense of humor. Our family is especially good at dark humor, which is helpful at a time like this.

7. And don’t ever give up your most cherished beliefs, no matter how unfashionable they may seem. A woman will be president some day. Maybe you‘ll have to tell me about it, but it will happen.

I love you, Coco

(Copyright 2016 by Ruth Pennebaker)


  1. Brette Sember · November 10, 2016

    All good tips. Hopefully Ellie won’t have to suffer anything like this.

  2. Melanie · November 10, 2016

    Yesterday was pretty much a black hole for me. But half-way through I thought, “Well, I can’t fix the world, but I can clean the kitchen.” So I did. There is much to be said for even a tiny bright, clean space in a chaotic world.

  3. Mwcanright · November 10, 2016

    Thanks Ruth. The solidarity of anguish.

  4. Donna M. Johns0on · November 10, 2016

    Dear Ruth–thank you for this. I find #4 and #6 especially helpful and will try to remember them. Remembering anything is hard these days.

    Your friend

  5. Steve · November 10, 2016

    I’m thinking about the words of hope (and personal responsibility) at the end of Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939:
    Defenceless under the night
    Our world in stupor lies;
    Yet, dotted everywhere,
    Ironic points of light
    Flash out wherever the Just
    Exchange their messages:
    May I, composed like them
    Of Eros and of dust,
    Beleaguered by the same
    Negation and despair,
    Show an affirming flame.

  6. jeanine barone · November 10, 2016

    Great tips. Last week I had to write a five-minute short comedy script. I did it but it was a struggle to be funny while I’m supremely depressed because of this election.

  7. Gavin · November 10, 2016

    Super Happy I stumbled onto your blog today, love the concept, and particularly this article. Saw a video from a local Austin protest on Yobored.com where a woman said she was protesting to show her daughter that there is still hope in this world, this blog gave me the same chills running up my spine. Definitely something I’m going to save and look back on during dark times.