Signing Up for Boredom

Last year, I signed up to work the polls. Yes, it was boring. There was a boring half-day class in how to do the job, and then a full day of sitting around being bored while I waited for people to come in and vote in a simple off-year election.

Like most of us, I don’t tolerate boredom well. When I’m bored, I often feel like I am wasting my time, that there must be something far more important that I could be doing (or at least more interesting).

This year, when the Elections folks called to ask if I would work the primaries in April, I said No. At that point, I wasn’t leaving the house for anything other than grocery shopping every two weeks.

But now I’ve signed up to work the polls for this fall. It means more boredom, tinged with fear, as I sit through another class – hopefully socially distanced – and sit around waiting for people to come in and vote.

Most of us show our support for democracy by watching the news channel that aligns with what we already believe and reading news articles that cause us to feel a great sense of moral indignation: can you believe what that guy has done now? Maybe we give some money – not being bajillionaires, most of us can’t afford to donate enough that it will make a difference. We wait in line, bored, for maybe 30 minutes – unless we wait in line for hours because we vote in a predominately democratic district that is located within a republican state – to cast our vote. Then we complain to each other about the old people staffing the polls.

Well, this year, many of those old people will be staying safely away. And if we want to have an election, someone has to staff the polls.

There’s not much I could do to influence this election. I can vote. I could, like my brother-in-law, sign up to call strangers and encourage them to vote (but that’s not happening); I could, like my sister-in-law, donate a few hundred dollars to my party’s candidate every time something in the news scares me. But one thing I can do is volunteer to work the polls. I can put on the N-95 mask that one of my doctor-relatives mailed me back in March, I can bring rubber gloves, my own stylus, and a large container of hand-sanitizer. And I can be bored for however many days they’ll let me volunteer.

After 9/11, my sister – who lives in a small town in Eastern Washington and was totally not in a target city like I am – started having panic attacks at night. What if they suddenly had to evacuate? Her mind raced, trying to figure out what to pack, what food supplies, what documents, what if she managed to get the cats into the carriers but then forgot their food. Every night, her mind raced, worrying her more and more about this unlikely scenario.

I advised her to pack a to-go bag, containing a folder with the documents, a few necessary clothes and back-up medications, some cat food, bottled water, canned foods and a can-opener. Put the cat carrier next to it. I didn’t think she needed it or would ever use it – and she didn’t either, in the daylight – but just assembling it and having it handy checked it off her list, and told her brain that was one less thing to worry about.

It gave her permission not to worry.

Sometimes this is enough. Worried about your company, job security, the new boss that may not appreciate your work as they should? Tune up your resume, buff your LinkedIn profile and start making yourself more visible, take some online classes or seminars, and increase your professional networking. It may not improve the situation at your job – it probably won’t – but you will feel like you’re taking action, and your stress will decrease. (And, if things don’t work out and you have to start looking for work, you’ll have a head start.)

Working the polls gives me permission not to worry. I will have done something that encourages as many people as possible to vote as early as possible, and in person. So that the polls, on the night of the election, send a clear message that reflects the will of the American people, even before the absentee ballots are recorded.

The least I can do to stop Covid is wear a mask, social distance, wash my hands a lot, and stay away from crowded places and small family gatherings, especially those that include teenagers. And that’s enough.

The least I can do to encourage change is to vote, work the polls, and encourage you to vote.

By the way, if you live in New York State, don’t just throw out that election reminder mailer that’s arriving now. This year, it includes a plastic card that will speed you through check-in at the polls, reducing the poll-worker interactions that most of us find frustrating when we vote. So pull that mailer out of that pile of recycling that you’ve been meaning to take to the compactor room and find that little plastic card. Also, you can do early voting starting on October 24. They’re really doing a lot of things to make this easy for you this year.


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