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Episodes: Normal


Emily VanDerWerff

Nov 15 2016

5 min read


The night after Donald Trump won the election, surprising essentially everyone who was supposed to know how these things worked, I woke up at 5:30 in the morning, suddenly, out of nowhere, unable to sleep. I had finally gone to bed around 3:30, the projects I was working on having rapidly reached a point of diminishing returns.

Yet here I was, unable to sleep, even though I clearly needed it. I couldn't get rid of the churning sensation in my gut.

My wife was gone, sleeping in another room, so she could toss and turn as much as she needed to. I reached up above my head to find Pippa, the cat who's always vaguely near me, sleeping on one of the pillows above my head. I placed my hand on her paw, and she laid her head down on my hand. She was wheezing loudly, and I remembered that we had planned to take her to the vet soon. She was probably just suffering from allergies, but you can never be too careful. Pippa is only 8, but weird things can happen to cats.

I found myself praying, something I rarely do, begging God or the universe or whomever was listening to give me four years with this cat, even though her constant presence could be as annoying as it was enjoyable. I was feeling unstable, and I needed stability.

I also felt a weird guilt, both for needing the cat to be alive, and for that being my greatest concern, at 5:30 in the morning, the night of the election. There were so many people with so much more to lose than a cat. Why should anybody listen to my prayers? And yet I couldn't stop myself from making them all the same. The cat came and lay down beside me, and I finally found a way to sleep just a little more.

I've slept better every night since then -- not because the churning in my gut went away, but because exhaustion took over. I have friends who still aren't sleeping, who will take naps and wake up pitched even further into existential dread. I have other friends who might not have wanted Trump to win but sure haven't had trouble sleeping since. And so on and so on.

The cry from many of us on the left-leaning side of things in the wake of Trump's election has been, "Don't normalize this." And what it primarily refers to is, say, Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon to a key advisory role in his White House. Bannon wrote some incredibly terrible things while at Breitbart, and "Don't normalize this" generally means, "Hey, don't forget that this guy wrote some terrible stuff back in the day." (Read more about that here.)

But "Don't normalize this" also gets thrown around as a kind of litmus test for who is reacting to what's happened "appropriately." And I don't know what to do about that. The strength of just feeling normal and okay for a while is palpable. Our bodies long for status quo, even if we can't quite get there. And that means, sometimes, standards eroding, just a little bit.

I'm aware that I have a lot more luxury to feel normal than many people I know. I'm straight and white and male, and in America, hey, that still counts for so much. And I also bristle when people shout at each other about coping mechanisms. We all have the right to our feelings, our sadness, our fear, our happiness. Life doesn't stop because something seismic happens. Birth and death and all of that -- it's all still there.

So this is what I'm struggling with. I want to believe the future will be okay -- but is that normalization? I want to return to writing TV and movie reviews -- but is that normalization? All I can say, and can promise, is that I'm going to try to take things as they come, and tell the stories of this America as best I can. Sometimes, those stories will be a little goofy or irreverent, and that will be okay, too. Feeling normal is what your brain wants, and that can be okay, too.

Above all else, give yourself the space to feel what you need to feel right now. If it's too much, step back and do some self-care. No matter what the next four years hold, they'll be better with you in it. If you ever need me, you know where to find me. I'll be wondering what's normal too.


I wrote a piece about rural America, pop culture, and the recent election. You might recognize some of it from some of these newsletters. It started life, many years ago, as an AV Club article about TV's slow death of rural sitcoms, and it has gradually spiraled into something gigantic. I'm really proud of it, but even if you find it terrible, at least help me rejoice that it is finished. I would be honored if you read it, or just left it open in a tab so I could get your precious click gold.


Episodes is published three-ish times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.

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