I first noticed it at my daughter's third birthday party. A hyperactive, shrilly woman in an oversized Mickey Mouse costume led the ten or so kids at the party in a flurry of activities. In the space of thirty minutes, they danced the hokey pokey, squealed over Disney-themed balloon creatures, chased bubbles, recited an ode to John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and played Pin the Tail on Pluto. The party volume was on high; the low murmer of chatter from the adults, layered with the high-pitched laughter of Nat's friends, plus the tinny tape player emitting the Disney songs, all of which was no match for the constant, nasal drone of Mickey Mouse him, err, herself.
I watched Nat the whole time with a twinge of worry. She didn't seem to be joining in any of the yelling or singing or chasing. Instead, she appeared to me to be behaving classic zombie traits. Stiff motioned, blank stare, seemed to be just following the herd on autopilot. I tried to remember what happened the night before the party. Sure, we had a huge snowstorm that dumped about fourteen inches of the white stuff on the ground (and still, everyone showed up for the party), but as far as I could remember, there was no zombie invasion. Finally, I turned to my sister and said, "Does Nat look sort of catatonic to you?" My sister, too, noticed the glazed eyes and zombie-like behavior. We chalked it up to being overtired, but I had this nagging feeling that Natalie did not have the best time at her own birthday party.
Later, I watched the video with a friend, who happened to be a pre-school teacher. She cued in on Nat's behavior right away, without a hint from me. She said it was a defense mechanism. Nat was obviously overwhelmed by the cacophony of noise and movement and sort of put herself in a trance, blocking out certain sounds and motions. It explains why she was able to recall all the good parts of the party in great, breathless detail (leaving out the cousins fighting over a glass of spilled fruit punch), yet looked for all the world like she was on another planet entirely. This also explained why she was able to fall dead asleep at the Tom Chapin concert a few weeks prior to that third birthday party, even though every child around her was singing at a decibel level known to pierce eardrums. When the signal to noise ratio became so saturated with noise that the signal was lost, Nat would just shut down before her little head exploded. Later, we would discover this was just part and parcel of some other issues, but that's another story.
So, why do I bring this up now? What could Natalie's zoning out at a birthday party eleven years ago have to do with the election (as per the title)?
Well, it seems I have adapted my daughter's favored method of coping. I've zoned out, gone into a Swift Boat coma, had my brain eaten by blogs, etc. Choose your phrase.
The noise coming from both sides has reached a level that should only be heard by dogs. To these ears, it's all turned into such a horrid screeching sound that I can no longer focus on all the myriad individuals making the noises - be they in newspapers, on radio or tv, whether they be official spokespeople or bloggers or the candidates themselves. Aurally, it's perhaps the sound of thousands of children blowing whistles at once. Visually, it's 1950's era tv, going static after the national anthem.
I've tried to focus on single issues, but there's no one issue that can get through all the crap being hurled against the fan these days. Do you realize that, as of right now, this presidential election is about Vietnam? It's about a war fought thirty freaking years ago. Granted, Kerry was the one who decided to make Vietnam an issue but who knew that meant that just 71 days before November 2nd, it would be just about the only
issue? And now everyone is micromanaging this issue down to little, bitty pieces, to the point where the campaign ads are about campaign ads about Vietnam.
So while everyone - that includes both campaigns and most of their supporters - are flinging so much Vietnam-flavored feces at each other, I'm sitting here truly shocked that his election is about a thirty year old war. I had to stop reading blogs this weekend because it was all Swift Boat/Cambodia all the time. The major papers were no better, the chat at an online game I play was inundated with Swift Boat cat fights, I'm sick of the negative ads from the Bush campaign (Kerry is mentioned four
times - all with graphics or pictures - on the front page of the GWB website, a tactic that irritates me
). So when I overheard two women in the bagel store going back and forth about shrapnel wounds (You can really judge a person by this, you know. Oh, I know, but he does have the Purple Heart. No, he has three. Yea, but what about what the veterans are saying? Well, he's not Bush, he's got that going for him. Yea, he does.
), I had it.
I walked out of the bagel store in full zombie mode and lumbered towards my car sporting a catatonic stare. I wanted brains. BRAINS! Really juicy, meaty brains that were fused with nutrients like the war on terror, taxes, Iraq, health care, education, homeland security. I drove home in a daze.
My brain is just going to refuse to acknowledge that this presidential election is about something so far removed from the American psyche that the most relevant voters have no frame of reference for it. While most bloggers are cheering that this issue is finally making it to big media, I'm cringing. Neither side will benefit from bringing the Christmas in Cambodia story mainstream. Neither side will benefit from behaving like monkeys in a zoo in regards to the Swift Boat vets.
So now, my defense mechanism has gone into full effect. It's effectively tuning out the noise and letting in all the signal. While it may appear that I'm not paying attention, I certainly am. I'm just filtering out those things that don't need to get in and people may think I look dazed and confused but, like my daughter before me, I'm taking in only what's necessary. I want to talk about the Mickey Mouse lady and the funny balloons, not the spilled fruit punch.
I'm going to slink away before this mixed bag of metaphors gets out of hand [yea, too late, I know].
If anyone needs me, I'll be sitting in front of the tv, looking for signs in the static.