(Warning: This year’s Annual Christmas Letter has political tones that may or may not be funny, considering. A few swear words could be inappropriate for the young or those who don’t like swearing. Skip the first pages and last paragraph and probably the middle if you are a Trump supporter or protest voter. Which, is highly doubtful. Or, rather, you sure fooled us! But there are some family updates and a few good lines so give it a try!)
The night the election was stolen, I emailed my doctor a request for sedatives. Then went to bed. The sallow, WTF-look on Rachel Maddow’s face was disturbing enough. Too haunting to bear. The next morning was worse. After sending Chris and Cole off to The Minneapolis International Airport, where Cole met a flight to Amsterdam, possibly for his own sedatives, I hit the liquor store. It was 9 am and I assure you I had never made practice of this in the past. I just figured it was something to do while I waited for a response from my doctor. Besides, it’s a rare day I am even up by 9 am.
The day was strange. The world outside was upside down. People looked hoodwinked. People were hoodwinked. No one appeared Bedazzled. Except, perhaps, ex-Apprentice and Des Moines resident, Tana Goertz; a grown woman who took a rather questionable and juvenile delight in bedazzling her odd little world. On the show, that was all she could talk about. And yet she was not immediately fired. She went on and on like some tween, describing attaching bright plastic baubles to things with the class of a Romney American Gypsy. Shiny pretty things glued to jeans and purses and hats and kitties and tic tacs. She was annoying then, yet even more so as a Trump Thumper surrogate. Had I run into her on that particular morning I would have de-bazzled her. Gleefully.
I wept in my car as I drove painfully to the liquor store, my own Lost Weekend – my eyes so wet and thick I referred to my internal GPS to locate my brand of red wine. Cheap. Lower shelf. The lady at the counter was busy fighting her own tears, not too successfully I may add, as she walked me to my car where we hugged hard and whispered, “Stronger Together.” While heading home, gulping desperation, Hillary’s gracious speech began and I turned into my shared drive, sitting alone, listening, cheering, sobbing, clapping and chanting, “Hillary. Hillary. Hillary.” One last time. Fortunately, the workmen next door were well aware of my plight – deducing from all the signs planted in my yard and stickers attached to my car windows – and stayed humble and just far enough back to catch me if I fell.
Cole had been invited as one of 13 young journalists to partake in a Fulbright Commission in Germany. Appears the Germans were just as confused as the US about Trump. And everyone just loves Obama. Who doesn’t! Everything went well until he lost his BFF at the Berlin hotel and conference center. He was already on his way to Prague when he realized he’d left Monkey and had to phone the hotel where he was assured they had indeed located the stuffed animal and would send him safely on his way. I am not sure which I find more endearing: that my nearly 23 year-old left his childhood talisman at a Fulbright Conference and called to inquire its whereabouts; or that he brought him along at all. This mom needed a story like this and pretty much calls it a draw.
While Cole was away, I slipped sadly and too easily with the rest of my peeps into a social coma that could take years to recover from. With my sedatives making me feel that I was neither going to bedazzle, de-bazzle or commit high treason randomly, I opted to strip my brown hair of all pigment. I wanted to rebel, join the trendy youth with their silver gray hair. Wear higher boots. Black glasses. Well, buy more black glasses. I am still pretty hip at 52.
Perhaps I was trying to one-up Ivanka, or just render myself invisible. The dogs barely recognized my new unfortunate Blythe Danner look and aren’t they color blind? Perhaps I just hoped the fumes and chemicals would burn all memory of the past year out of my brain. The year I spent working for arguably the most qualified presidential candidate ever, the first woman president. Burn the fact that now idiots had elected one of the Daryl brothers instead. Watching all the hard work of the past become a joke, all the civil rights leaders, women’s rights leaders, people believing and living the truth of love in others – people having the right to be – all rounded up and spanked for caring. Revoked. So long. Farewell. Auf wiedersehen. Goodbye.
But I really didn’t want to burn the memories of the months working for Hillary here in Des Moines. Of course some of the grumbles and swearing and hang-ups are just fine staying erased. But the Wednesday evenings Women’s Calling Group where I sat next to my exuberant mother-in-law, Sally Bates, in her purple NARAL , “Keep your laws off my ” shirt, while I wore my prideful P TUS one. Happy to find those like-minded folks on the other end of the lines. Other days I canvassed with Chris, meeting genuinely concerned Hillary supporters; young and old, men and women, all races, sexual orientations, cat lovers, dog lovers – all people truly fearful of Trump. The media covered the lack of enthusiasm for Hillary. Another lie. I never witnessed anything less than her supporters excited and enamored, thrilled to be behind the first woman president of these United States. A qualified and caring leader. One supported unanimously all across the world.
We all voted early. Sam came down from blue Minnesota to vote in red Iowa. It was going to happen. Everyone knew it. Until Comey and Putin and their sick criminal agendas. Still, Madame President was wanted by nearly 3 million more folks than Trump. The biggest loss ever for a winning candidate in terms of the popular vote margin. Some mandate.
Because I was so upset about this election’s outcome, I was screeching one minute, and melting into a pool of tears and hot flashes the next. Poor Beckett – who had been calling for Hillary as a rescued pup nine years ago, felt my pain, and his 70 pounds followed me around, either confused by my hair color, or concerned about my emotional fragility. Always watching with his big black eyes and wispy Lou Grant brows. He never left me. In fact, I let him switch places with his slimmer sister, Addison, in bed one evening. (Our dear cat, Tupelo, star of the Christmas Card, has been battling kidney issues, so Chris was on kitty duty.) The dogs and I were sleeping soundly until Beckett must have heard a raccoon outside, kicked me awake, nearly broke my ribs as well as my laptop as it spun hard into my side. I could not move, had no idea what had happened. Took a lot of screaming to wake the cat man. When we told the story to an over eager physician’s assistant she simply nodded, “Oh sure.” If I were able to raise an arm, or two, I would have left her bedazzled. All over.
The best part of this bad part is that we had such good times aside from politics. Until the 9th of November we were living the good life – lots of great thing were happening. Cole graduated magna cum laude here in Des Moines, from Drake University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The actual ceremony began one day in May and ended sometime in July. We are very proud of our smart, involved son. We were giddy. Our baby boy had a B.A.
But it isn’t the paper diploma that made a fantastic year for him. It was what he did with it, how he utilized his talents to reach others, inspire people and educate many around this nation with his work. He was National Finalist for Collegiate Story of the Year, about a Cowboy Church he attended in nearby Newton, “Where Scripture Meets Pasture.” He also wrote three of the five most read stories on Drake University’s award winning online magazine, Urban Plains. Along with these stories, he published an essay and two poems in literary journals and won awards for his photography. He has managed to build a solid base as a videographer in Des Moines’s rapidly growing art scene, filming talented young recording artists. Check out his work online at ColeNorum.com/hoodwill-gunting.
Sam began his junior year in the Theater Program at the University of Minnesota, soaking up the Twin Cities’ celebrated theater scene. Constantly. Learning so much. Mostly, he is excited for his semester abroad, studying at The Gaiety School of Acting – National Theater in Dublin, Ireland. He plans to travel extensively through Europe, exploring the history of theater throughout. Despite the heavy load from his theater studies, performances and U of M honors program work, he managed to help film a short for the Minneapolis 48- hour Film Project, winning best writing for the hysterical rock band throwback, “Summer of ’99.” Along with other theater majors, he has also been filming a short sitcom about, well, college friends, a bit on the fringe. Or, rather, off. Seriously funny work. Check it out on YouTube: “Vodka Half Empty.” Because we haven’t missed a major theatrical performance of Sam’s, we may be saving up for a visit to Ireland this Spring.
I ceased private investigating when my license came up for renewal. There were a few things that made this decision a fairly easy one. First, my family sort of intervened and felt I was happier writing and should return full time to that. Secondly, a week after the tragic Pulse massacre, I learned that the Iowa Investigator Conference I was looking forward to attending was hosting gun simulators. One, assault-rifle compatible. I asked for my money back and instead was scolded by the Iowa Association’s Vice President and gun simulator business owner, himself. I had written how I was not comfortable and found it, in light of the climate of our country and guns, highly insensitive. I received a verbal NRA spanking from a dude who made a living shooting fake guns. For fun.
The man told me I was un educated. I told him he might want to rethink that, considering he’d spelled uneducated incorrectly. He called me a sheep. I didn’t know how to react to that. Was he implying I needed to be silenced? Surely that was part of it. However, a sheep, turns out, is a victim. We victims make up 98% of the American population and don’t own guns. We sheep, instead, make the 1% of the gun-owning population – referred to as German Shepherds or Bull Dogs or Toy Poodles – bear the burden of slaughtering those 1% criminals who are coming at us – knocking on our doors in the middle of the night after a car crash to use a phone, or the 2 year-old slipping a Glock from Mom’s purse, or sitting in a car. Unarmed.
I found it all sadly laughable. For the most part. Considering following his statistics was akin to getting lost in a corn maze. Not a math genius, obviously. But a real big jerk. He continued to stalk me via email until I pointed out that his 2nd Amendment rights don’t trump my freedom of speech rights and that no amount of his harassing words were going to change the fact that guns kill people. Wouldn’t it be a good thing if, in fact, only 1% of our population owned guns. Then I chucked my PI shingle at the NRA.
So – as my family suggested – I went back to writing full time and It was a good move. I began reworking a novel using suggestions given to me by a couple of agents from the prior year. I also started a simple political blog, “In a Word” at jlnorum.com. Then, something happened. Something really cool. There are writers who have said their novels “just wrote themselves.” They explain a sudden whisper of a name, or idea and they pick up a pen, hit a keyboard and soon an entire fully formed piece of work tumbles out. I’d dreamt of experiencing such a thing for decades – from journals to manual typewriters, to electric, to those damn DOS floppy things – sitting for hours only to reel in the dredges of tedium from my sloppy brain pools. I was beginning to believe it was just a myth – some big joke – when it actually happened. It has a name for me. Just spoke to me out of the blue. And in a few weeks I had a 300 page novel and a surprise for Chris’s 50th birthday. Unfortunately, the editing part doesn’t quite work the same way. But I am hopeful for both novels. Something’s bound to happen!
Chris is now the happiest camper on the block. His Wells Fargo team moved from the first circle of hell, a soulless suburban office park, to downtown Des Moines, a place we love. A mini-Minneapolis. Renovated warehouses popping up. New condos. Italian menswear. Banh mi. We have a fantastic sculpture garden, a taco truck at every corner. Downtown is filled with people in real outfits, artistic flare, thinner bellies, interesting thoughts, cool books, or what we imagine to be cool books on Kindles, under their arms. He walks for miles at lunch, stopping at all those previously non-existent new and hustling businesses. He loves it. Ten minutes driveway to desk.
Perhaps it was this found exuberance – a new lease on life – sprung from the drudgery of the daily drive to that faraway suburb (ok, only 20 minutes or so away, yet still an unimaginable distance) that made Chris turn to me one day and say, “We need a smaller refrigerator.”
“Why?” I asked, surprised only in that it was certainly the last thing I would have expected him to ever dwell on. I mean the fridge we had was normal sized. Two doors. One up. One down. Nothing fancy. Older. White. Not on trend. But it worked for the most part. He wanted a cute black, European-sized, counter-depth one with a downstairs freezer so we didn’t have to bend to get lettuce. But there would have to be other changes as well to accommodate the tiny cute as the dickens dollhouse fridge.
“We need a new kitchen” he said. I was stunned. After all, I was the family member generally hell-bent on change. “The good kind” he continued. “An IKEA kitchen.”
And so it came to be. Long months deciding – farmhouse white or midcentury mod. We chose the latter. Dark brown cabinets – all seven of them – bright white solid surface counter top, built-in rectangular black sink you can sweep the crumbs into and that tiny black refrigerator. The only one left on the planet not costing a semester of private college. I kid you not. You’d think a galley kitchen the size of a dorm suite’s would be a breeze to finish. A weekend job. Before and After in a blink. It might have been save the 345,000 flat packs that needed unboxing and so many tiny screws and wooden pegs and pages of wordless instructions introduced by that odd cartoon homeowner and, honey, the bubble does lie sometimes and why do we have so many of these #4 screws (12mm) leftover? God EKBY JÄRPEN!
This is a tricky time for us. We are about to be led, and potentially destroyed, by a man who knows nothing about government, nor the base on which it stands and has little inclination to understand the true power and purpose of the Constitution. What do we do? Stand tall; fight; educate the young so we don’t have to contend with this ever again. During these next four years we need to be the loudest, bravest, in-your-face advocates we can, for as many people as we can, for as long as we can. Because people are innately good and we deserve love, not hate. Acceptance, not shunning. Care and not criticism. We need stability. We must make our own. Bless us one and all!!!!
Jenni, Chris, Cole and Sam