March On!

Yesterday I marched in the San Francisco Women’s March to secure our future with the future: my 20-something daughter and her friends. Last year my husband and I went to the march in Oakland, but this year he was at a climate conference all day. So I asked Ally if I could join her group as an unobtrusive mom.

“Sure,” she texted. “Just don’t wear like five fanny packs.” (Apparently, Valley-Girl-Speak is still an essential feature of women’s empowerment.)

I promised to wear only four, so I was in. Such delicate mother-daughter negotiations must have been rampant: Not only were there many two-generation duos at the march, but this sign:

(Hmm. I assumed my daughter’s sign referred to Trump, but perhaps she meant her mother?) Other signs read:

TODO LIST:

1. Smash the Patriarchy

2. Brunch

Ally and her friends had their priorities straight, though, and began with brunch. I huddled in the kitchen with another unobtrusive mom while the millennials spilled all over the living room, munching on fruit and making their signs. Finally, we were ready to go. The sole young man in attendance took the obligatory photos on the doorstep to mark the beginning of our march:

Then we headed for the Civic Center, the younger generation dancing and singing to the music on a portable sound system.

It was a gorgeous day in San Francisco, and the crowd was exuberant. Ally and her friends took selfies and pictures for their Facebook feeds (“You can tell it’s a millennial march,” she remarked to me):

I squeezed through the throngs checking out the signs. There were a jillion references to body parts—ovaries, uteruses, dicks, and two certain nether-regions made famous by the President himself: one to describe what he felt entitled to grab and one he used to demean places mostly inhabited by brown-skinned people. Here are some of my G-rated favorites:

A couple of enterprising men had set up a table on the fringe of the plaza, and were inviting everyone to sign their petitions. I recognized the sponsors and the cause (anti-tax) as Republican-based, but the pussy-hatted women adding their names apparently did not. I approached a couple to ask them if they knew what they had signed. They were shocked when I told them; one went and scratched out her name and told me she would alert her friends. Score one for the Resistance.  Score one also for Mom Lesson #1 (an extension of everything we told you about Stranger-Danger!!): Don’t assume that everyone hanging around a friendly gathering is friendly—some of them are out to hurt you, and will take advantage of your trust and goodwill.

After the rally, we marched down Market Street to the Embarcadero. It was fantastic to see not only so many of us marching, but so many lining the sidewalks cheering us on. It has been an exhausting and destructive year, but we’re still here, stronger and more determined than ever. Not only will we march, we will organize and vote all over the country to stop this administration and its enablers.

As my favorite sign put it:

Year-End Report from the Resistance

The arc of a year is often depicted as a joyous, energetic baby who ends up as a hunched-over old man, bruised and battered by the passage of time. 2017 didn’t exactly start out on such an optimistic note–how could it with Donald Trump set to move into the oval office? But along with millions more, I marched the day after the Inauguration, with high spirits and firm resolve to resist. (That’s my husband and me at the Oakland Women’s March in the picture above.)

I’ve spent the year plummeting between impotent rage and despair, punctuated by a few marches, calls to representatives, some phone banking, a little local affordable housing advocacy, some op-eds and letters to the editor, and check-writing to organizations fighting the fight more effectively than my demoralized self could muster. Mostly, though, I’m ending the year with a different kind of resistance: resisting the urge to crawl under a rock until it’s safe to emerge:

(Here we are again–has the “All clear” sounded?)

We knew this administration would be awful, but except for Trump’s own incompetence and self-destructive tendencies, it’s been far worse than imagined. The assaults are constant and brutal, effective and exhausting. The saving grace has been the strong opposition that’s been aroused. People took to the airports to protest Trump’s travel ban; they took to their representatives’ offices to thwart the repeal of Obamacare; they took to the streets to protest.white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

Most important, people have taken to the ballot box. Democratic victories in Virginia and Alabama, as well as less splashy ones throughout the country, speak to the importance of electoral politics. After I crawl out from under my rock, that’s where I’ll be putting my energies in the new year, traveling with Swing Left to my nearest swing district to try to turn a red House seat blue.

So like the decrepit figure of Father Time who ushers out the old year, I’m ending 2017 battered and bruised, but with  determination for the new year. Onto 2018! Onto the mid-terms!

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How have you survived this first year of Trump’s presidency?

 

Memorial

I thought about the Confederate monuments controversy while hiking in Austria recently. Although you would hardly know it from the rolling green hills and tidy, prosperous houses whose window boxes brimmed with geraniums, this area was part of the Third Reich only a few decades ago. Not just because it had been taken over by Nazis in the Anschluss, but because many Austrians sympathized with Hitler’s ideology.

My husband and I were walking among the ghosts of those who had fought for his horrendous vision, just as Confederate soldiers had fought to preserve the horror of slavery. Thankfully, they lost their wars. They also lost homes, loved ones, and often their lives.

Real and grievous pain needs to be acknowledged without glorifying causes that deserve to be lost. How do we dignify the suffering of the victimizer without demeaning their victims or creating false equivalencies?

As we hiked into the tiny town of Strobl, on the tip of the beautiful, mountain-ringed Wolfgangsee, we came across a war memorial unlike any we’d encountered. It was a statue of a seated woman, her head bent in sorrow. One of her hands holds a golden olive branch. The other rests atop a huge belly whose swollen contours suggest both pregnancy and a military helmet. Baby or soldier? It is impossible to discern, except to know that it is mothers’ babies who are served up endlessly to the maw of war. At the base of the statue is a simple square etched with the years of the two world wars.

The Strobl memorial stands in sharp contrast with the symbols that have become the focus of heated debate: military “heroes” enshrined in bronze, Confederate flags, and swastikas  Defenders of these despicable icons claim they merely commemorate lost forebears or are innocent emblems of heritage. But this disguises, even exalts, the bloody evils of that heritage.

The sorrowing mother of Strobl does no such thing.  She is instead a somber reminder that there are no winners and losers in war; no glory, but only sorrow.

Where I’ve Been

 

My husband and I just spent three lovely weeks in Austria and the Czech Republic . While traveling, our biggest worry was whether or not the predicted rain would materialize on our hikes. We returned to an inferno, our neighboring counties ablaze.

This was just the latest in the long list of calamities, which we’d followed from afar on our smartphones: hurricanes, earthquakes, the threat of nuclear war, Trump’s latest and unending vileness in style and substance, Las Vegas, Harvey Weinstein.

Our friend Mary remarked that the pall of smoke in the sky felt symbolic of the pall over our country since the election. I want to resist the pall, to rise to the occasion—take in those made homeless by the fires, take in refugees and Dreamers, take to the streets and the halls of Congress. Or at least I want to be the kind of person who rises to the occasion instead of the person I am: someone who just wants to–and mostly does–retreat.

This is where I’ve been as the world burns. Then I came across a book review by James Wood in the 9/25/17 issue of The New Yorker.

Wood, too, had just been on vacation, in an Italian villa near the border with France, free to come and go with his family. Noticing the number of African migrants who are not so lucky, he writes:

I had read moving articles and essays about the plight of people like these—I had read several of those pieces out loud to my children; I had watched terrible reports from the BBC, and the almost unbearable Italian documentary “Fire at Sea.” And so what? What good are the right feelings if they are only right feelings? I was just a moral flaneur. From inside my speeding car, I regarded those men with compassion, shame, indignation, curiosity, profound ignorance, all of it united in a conveniently vague conviction that . . . “something must be done.” But not so that it would disturb my week of vacation. I am like some “flat” character in a comic novel, who sits every night at the dinner table and repetitively, despicably intones, without issue or effect, “This is the central moral question of our time.” And, of course, such cleansing self-reproach is merely part of liberalism’s dance of survival. It’s not just that we are morally impotent; the continuation of our comfortable lives rests on the continuation—on the success—of that impotence.

Wood captures precisely what I’ve been feeling. Something must be done, though I don’t yet know what, or even how to wrestle with my preference for doing nothing much. But I feel comforted that Wood is on to me, in a way that my friends who reassure me that I do plenty are not.

Do you know what I’m talking about? How are you feeling? How do you handle it—or not?

Standing Up to Bigotry, SF Style

Like a lot of people alarmed in general by the election of Donald Trump and horrified in particular after he lent aid and comfort to white supremacists and Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to respond. It’s hard to know what’s just a feel-good but meaningless exercise, what is effective, and what inadvertently gives the issues and views I deplore oxygen.

Since my activism is more aspirational than actual, I often turn to my friend Ruth, whose pragmatic idealism inspires me to try to at least occasionally emulate her persistent roll-up-her-sleeves-and-get-to-work ethos.  When I bumped into Ruth after Charlottesville, I asked what she thought of the protests being planned to counter right-wing advocates descending on San Francisco and Berkeley. Was showing up a good idea, or just playing into their hands?

“I don’t know,” Ruth offered. “But you know what? I can’t go anyway—I’m going to be phone banking. We’re trying to get Democrats elected to the state legislature in Virginia.”

I don’t really like phone banking—who does? But as far as I’m concerned electoral politics are where it’s at. You snooze, you lose, particularly at the ballot box. Besides, I felt nervous about the volatile mix of right-wing rallies and counter-protests.

“That sounds like a much better plan,” I told Ruth. “Send me the info.”

Mid-week, Ruth texted that the phone banks had been canceled so people could participate in a San Francisco rally against hate. It would be several miles from Chrissy Field, where the right-wing Patriot Prayer group planned to gather, and I felt much better about that. Proximity often breeds trouble. Besides, I had been horrified to learn that, thanks to a 2010 federal law, national parks—which includes Chrissy Field–must allow open carry. (Thankfully, SF city officials wouldn’t grant a use permit until the Patriot Prayer organizers agreed to stringent contingents, including no weapons.) I also did not want to attend the Berkeley counter-protests even though I know many good people involved. Berkeley is a flashpoint, with the opposing sides in much tighter quarters. The city is often the epicenter provocateurs love to goad, with an Antifa contingent only too happy to oblige; predictably dismal results just feed the right-wing narrative.

But it felt important to show up in San Francisco. My husband and I made plans to take BART over to the city with friends. Ruth was making her own way there via a different route, and we texted back and forth about our anxiety and hope. Then, at the last minute the Patriot Prayer organizer canceled the Chrissy Field event, though his protestations of victimhood and promises of showing up elsewhere were disquieting.

“Are you still going?” I texted Ruth.

“Yes! As important today as yesterday,” she responded.

And so we went. Blue skies and a festive atmosphere prevailed in San Francisco. We arrived at the gathering spot long before the march to City Hall commenced, so sought shade and refreshment in the Mission District. We thanked the police lining the sidewalk. They were taking the scene in stride, but confessed to preferring a day off more than overtime pay. We checked out a “Dance for Equality” counter-protest, full of face-painted kids and rainbow attire. We detoured quite a bit from the march route, but caught up eventually to join the crowd at the Civic Center. Great signs, great spirit, great to see that people of goodwill vastly outnumber the haters.

We showed up, we stood up to bigotry, we went home.

Tomorrow we phone bank.

Outside the Zone

Source: www.nasa.gov

The New York Times is trying to guilt-trip us into not being blasé about the solar eclipse,” my husband remarked the other day.

I am so blasé that I will be in the dentist’s chair at the transformative moment. I will not be on a field trying to nab some elbow room in the zone of totality, or on a congested highway trying to get to said field. I will not be worrying about whether back-ordered special eclipse-viewing glasses will arrive on time, or whether the pair I’ve scored is part of a blindness-inducing scam hawked by some ruthless entrepreneur. I will not be dealing with pinholes in cardboard and reverse shadows on pieces of paper. I still remember those DIY projectors from childhood, in which the image that was safe to view was about the size and impressiveness of the dinged piece of paper that emerges from a three-hole punch.

I know many people who are more excited than I am, and who have made meticulous plans. Some people we met at a Bed-and-Breakfast several months ago had booked a house in South Carolina years ago for the event. My brother, who is excited but not a meticulous planner, thinks he will get in his car in Western Massachusetts around midnight and drive to a lake in Tennessee. He expects to have the waterfront all to himself. I expect him to not even make it to the lake.

“What about traffic?” I point out.

“Traffic?” he asks blankly.

We go back and forth for some time about this wondrous cosmic spectacle.

“Don’t you think it will be fantastic to go from brightness to total darkness?” my brother asks.

“I already experienced that on the evening of November 8,” I reply. For the record, “fantastic” is not the word that springs to mind.

Still, I am not entirely immune from the pull of the heavens. I have clipped out an item on Nova’s coverage, which promises to offer more than pinhole viewing or blindness. I may even throw a colander in the backseat of the car in case my dentist is running late, or running outside to view the eclipse. I picked up this tip listening on NPR to Andrew Fraknoi, professor emeritus of astronomy at Foothill College and author of When the Sun Goes Dark.  He advises holding a colander (minus the pasta) over your head with your back to the sun, then watching the shower of tiny eclipses appearing on the pavement.

“You’ll be the hero of your neighborhood,” Fraknoi enthuses.

That’s me, hero of the neighborhood—if the neighborhood is well outside the zone of totality, and as hassle-averse as I am.

*

What are your plans for the solar eclipse?

Why I’ve Been Away

Celebrating my father-in-law’s 96th birthday in January 2016, a little bit less than a year before he died. He and his wife of nearly 70 years are seated in front, with our dear family friend on the top left. (Then there’s me, my husband, and our daughters.) Sadly, we have lost all of these elders in the past year.

Even though I have a pretty crippling case of writer’s ambivalence, I never intended to stay away from these pages so long. But then WordPress went on the fritz and, never having quite escaped feeling ashamed of my technophobia, I failed to enlist tech help from the nice people at GoDaddy. Then I finally did, and in a heartbeat the Daddies fixed the problem, which had to do with uploading photos. Then the same problem happened two heartbeats and two blog posts later. On top of which my iPhone went all funky, and the first worldwide ransom ware hack happened. The universe seemed to be signaling that it was time to take a break from all things online. Perhaps instead I should weed my garden before the heavy rains and the finally emerging sunshine conspired to create a jungle outside my kitchen window.

Which I did. I even spread 52 cubic feet of mulch by hand on our hillside.

I also took a break from blogging to spend what little energy I had on extremely intermittent activism: publishing a couple of letters to the editor, attending some town hall meetings about affordable housing, even phone banking a time or two to try to save healthcare from the Republican repeal attempts.  It wasn’t much, but at least it was something, and made me feel less helpless.

Mostly, though, I stayed away from writing because of more pressing priorities: tending to my aging in-laws in their final months of life. In December, my husband’s father died a few weeks shy of his 97th birthday, and my mother-in-law died on Memorial Day, three weeks before turning 90. They were wonderful people, and although their decline was sad, it was inspiring to witness my husband’s faithful attention, and to be of help where I could. We recently hosted a celebration of their lives at the assisted living facility where they spent their final years. The day helped make small again one difficult year in the scope of long and well-lived lives.

While attending to matters of life and death, we’ve also been attending to more mundane matters: After 17 years, we had our entire interior repainted and re-carpeted, with some other minor improvements as well. Sorting through my in-law’s effects and noting how ephemeral the stuff of life is helped us be ruthless with our own deferred sorting, organizing, and getting rid of stuff before the contractors started. It was as arduous and time-consuming as weeding and laying mulch and tending to our failing loved ones, but in the end just as satisfying.

So now that these chapters are over, it’s time to see what will come next. More writing, perhaps, though I have been happier and less tortured not writing, so we shall see. Something meaningful, I hope. As the summer draws to a close and a new season begins, I’m back, refreshed, and ready to go.

*

What’s been going on with you as the seasons change?

 

 

 

Sleepless in Trumpcare’s America

My husband was diagnosed with melanoma in January 2010, the same week Republican Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, thus eliminating the Democrats’ brief filibuster-proof majority. (Remember that long-ago nanosecond?) As our lives turned upside down, so did the outlook for health care reform.

Our sleepless nights and worst fears were compounded by the added stress over health care. I’m self-employed, and we depended on my husband’s job for insurance. We were a decade away from Medicare. What if he died, or grew too sick to work?

“Until now, I haven’t had any pre-existing conditions,” my husband fretted as sleep eluded us. “Now I’ll never be able to get insurance on my own.”

My husband and I were lucky — we had money in the bank, a home, jobs, and insurance, at least for the moment. Luckier still, my husband’s melanoma was caught early and successfully treated through surgery. Back then he still would never have been able to get insurance on his own if he lost his job, but we had dodged a bullet.

As my husband and I discovered, though, fortune can change in an instant.

Luckily for us and for tens of millions of Americans, the Affordable Care Act became law not long after my husband’s surgery. We rested easier about the future—ours and our daughters, who could now stay on my husband’s insurance until age 26.

Our lives were upended again in 2012, when I was diagnosed with cancer. Once again we were plunged into the realm of sleepless nights and fear, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we at least did not worry about losing access to health care, exceeding annual and life-time caps, or going bankrupt.

My treatment, like my husband’s, was successful, and our lives returned to normal, although with a newfound appreciation that health care should never be a game of Russian roulette or depend on luck, employment status, or wealth.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, our eldest daughter–an artist, part-time worker, and student who makes very little money–was able to find quality health care under the ACA’s Medicaid expansion once she turned 26. (We’re in California; she would have been out of luck if she lived in one of the 19 states that have refused to expand Medicaid.)

Also thanks to the Affordable Care Act, in 2015 my husband was able to leave his corporate job to pursue his longstanding interests in research and freelance writing. Employer-provided health insurance had kept him tied to his job, but with the ACA, he could slip those golden handcuffs and we could both be assured of coverage despite our pre-existing conditions. Additionally, the good job with good benefits my husband vacated became available for somebody else. Many of our friends also became self-employed and freed up jobs for others because of the security the ACA brought. We make too much money for any subsidies from the ACA, but that’s as it should be. Although our premiums are expensive, at least we have excellent care. It is not only lower-income people who benefit from the law: Economic vibrancy, flexibility, and innovation are under-appreciated but significant aspects. We are so grateful that President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. Imperfect as the law is, it is has benefited us and tens of millions of Americans.

But now with Republicans celebrating a legislative milestone in their relentless march against Americans’ health, we are back to sleepless nights.

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What has the ACA–and the Republicans’ attempts to unravel it–meant to you?

 

Trauma and Escape: A Night at the Oscars

Our movies, ourselves: The Oscars invariably reflect the American zeitgeist. This year’s ceremony is no exception, especially given its topsy-turvy ending in which the presumed winner unexpectedly loses.

La La Land had been the clear favorite of the four top contenders for best picture. It’s the type of film Hollywood always loves because it’s about—well, Hollywood. It’s also been welcomed as an escape from the dismal reality of the current political landscape. Deliverance comes through saturated colors and a love story about attractive people who don’t sing and dance all that well. La La Land embodies the American fantasy that life works out if you follow your dreams.

Hidden Figures, too, is a feel-good narrative, depicting three brilliant African-American women who endured racism and sexism at NASA in the early years of the space program. The film is a bridge between the sheer escapism of La La Land and the more depressing realities depicted in Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea. Set in the early 1960s, Hidden Figures almost tricks us into believing that individual grit matters more than institutional oppression, and that the days of rank prejudice are behind us. These wishes, too, are part of our national fantasy. But as Faulkner and the recent election remind us, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

This theme is woven throughout Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea. While La La Land and Hidden Figures offer escape (and very little back story), these two films are in the clutches of trauma. Neither Chiron, of Moonlight, nor Lee, from Manchester, can escape the past.

Chiron, a sensitive young, gay, black boy born into poverty to a crack-addicted mother, grows into a hardened drug dealer. He is a broken survivor who nonetheless finds a bit of peace and tenderness.

Lee is also broken, but barely surviving. He is not born into trauma, but causes one that quickly engulfs him. Lee can escape the town—at least until his brother’s death forces him back–but not the guilt and harm he’s inflicted on himself and others.

Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea do not feel good. But they feel honest. They affirm the harder truths: Some damage cannot be undone. Triumphant Hollywood endings are rare. There is no escaping the past. Yet revisiting it and coming to terms with it—as Chiron chooses, as Lee must, as we do in our everyday lives—creates small shifts, more understanding, and perhaps a tender cradling or a little extra room where none existed before.

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Which film were you rooting for?

 

Signs of the Times

Last night the Write on Mamas, a wonderful group I belong to, held an Open Mic Mamas event in a local cafe. The theme was “Plan B: Now What Do We Do?” Here’s my essay:

After the primary season was over, I kept two “California for Hillary” signs on my desk in our kitchen, where they were safely hidden and kept nicely flat under a box of books.

“I’m going to frame these and give them to the girls for Christmas!” I told my husband.

“Maybe for Emma,” Jonathan remarked about our eldest, who has a penchant for memorabilia.  “But Ally will hate it.”

“That’s not the point,” I snapped.

I had grander considerations than what the girls might actually like. Maybe I’d even crack the picture frames’ glass for special symbolic significance marking the historic event to come on November 8!  Continue reading