Children in Peril

When I went to see the Oscar-nominated Live Action shorts recently, an advisory taped to the box office window warned viewers to expect themes of murder, racial violence, and children in peril. The films featured a six-year-old abandoned on a beach; a child getting sucked under by quicksand as his friend watches in helpless horror; a reenactment of the police inquiry of two 10-year-olds convicted of kidnapping and murdering a toddler in England 25 years ago; and a young boy from a gun-loving (as well as loving) family.

Well, maybe not entirely loving, since the father beats up a black man for interacting with his son in a friendly manner in a checkout line. In a fastidious act of retaliation, the beaten man’s friends and family tattoo the racist father’s entire body black before releasing him to stumble back home. Whereupon his son unknowingly shoots him to death, mistaking his dad for a black intruder. This last short, “Skin,” was awarded the Oscar.

All the films were well-acted and tightly written, with top-notch production values. Still, not a good first-date movie.

I have another short film to nominate for the “Children in Peril” category. It’s a lot less harrowing to watch than the Oscar contenders, although if you think about it for more than a nanosecond, it’s the most disturbing. Unlike the others, the production values are terrible, as videos surreptitiously shot by an amateur holding a smartphone tend to be.

The fifteen minutes of grainy footage shot through a narrow doorway are of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s now-infamous meeting with a group of middle- and high-schoolers about the Green New Deal. The senator loses no time in dismissing the kids as unrealistic know-nothings who aren’t old enough to vote anyway, so why should she care? She doesn’t allow them to read their handwritten letter to her; instead, she’s fixated on distributing copies of her proposal so the kids can read it. One little pig-tailed girl looks like she’s about to burst into tears. Another, older and bolder, manages to score an internship with Feinstein, who seems to belatedly realize that she’s committing PR suicide on a national stage.

The kids are hurried out of the meeting by some middle-aged white guys in suits. These aides, looking like Jeff Flake trapped in an elevator with sexual assault victims after the Kavanaugh hearings, attempt awkward small talk.

“I’m a big backpacker, so I’m environmentally conscious!” one offers.

A boy says, “My grandparents’ house burned down in the Paradise fire due to low rain, and that could have been caused by climate change.”

 The adults in suits choke out, “Oh, no! Really? Terrible!” before fleeing.

Terrible indeed.

Feinstein may have had a point, but she looked and sounded like an old crank yelling, “Get off of my lawn!” Not a smart move to plant a sign reading, “You and your stupid ideas aren’t welcome here” for any Democrat hoping to attract a whole new generation of voters to the Party.

Of course, DiFi’s viral moment has nothing on the virulence of the Republican climate deniers and obstructionists currently in power and rapidly catapulting us toward catastrophe. While Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell rant about socialism and mock the Green New Deal, at least the Democrats are putting forth and debating ideas necessary for addressing the problem on the scale it requires. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer—hardly a radical environmentalist but recognizing the urgency of the moment—said recently from the Senate floor:

“Maybe Leader McConnell doesn’t realize this, but because of the political stunt vote he’s planning on his version of Green New Deal, for the first time in a long time, the Senate is finally debating the issue of climate change. And it’s about time, if you ask me. . . . I understand my friends on the other side of the aisle don’t like the Green New Deal. O.K., that’s fine. What’s your plan? Maybe a lot of members think they can get away without having to answer the question. They won’t. . . . Democrats believe this is an issue of surpassing importance. What do our Republican colleagues believe? We hope sincerely that our Republican friends will come around and view it the same way.”

Until they do—until we all do—children will remain in peril.

Three Identical Strangers

I was sure that the documentary “Three Identical Strangers” would be nominated for an Oscar, but it wasn’t. Now that Oscar week and the month of February are slipping away, here are my thoughts about the film. Warning: Spoilers Abound. This piece was originally published in NCSPP’s “Impulse.

Twin studies, particularly those of babies separated at birth, have long provided important information about genetic and environmental influences. But how is such research conducted? How do infants come to be separated in the first place? What is the long-term impact?

The riveting documentary Three Identical Strangers puts these questions front and center as it explores the accidental discovery of one another at age 19 by Bobby, Eddy, and David: three identical triplets separated at birth in 1961 and adopted into different families who had no knowledge of their new baby’s multiplicity. Or of the duplicity of the adoption agency and researchers at Yale’s Child Development Center under the direction of pscychoanalyst Peter Neubauer.

We feel the triplets’ experience: the initial joy of their reunion, the shadow of early attachment wounds, the longing for union, and the reality of difference. The film also focuses on the arrogance of powerful people and institutions who withhold vital information without regard for the impact on unwittingly conscripted research subjects.

Neubauer and the adoption agency are depicted as sinister. But are they uniquely so, or was it then typical for adoption agencies to withhold information about birth families? Were identical siblings separated for nefarious research purposes, or because it was easier to place one baby in a family? The not-quite-explicit attribution of unique villainy too easily glides over conventions of the time, including lack of human subject protocols. It also lets us off the hook from examining our own and ongoing misguidedness and unconscious bias.

After skillfully handling many complexities, the film disappointingly takes a sharp turn into more simplistic supposition.

By then we’ve gradually learned that the boys all showed early signs of separation anxiety and psychological troubles. Eddy was diagnosed as manic-depressive and took his own life in 1995. As Bobby cogently asks, “Why him and why not me?”

It’s a good question, and one that lends itself to a deeper exploration of what facilitates the expression or suppression of a genetic vulnerability, the high heritability of bipolar disorder, and the high risk of suicide such a diagnosis signifies. Instead, we’re provided a definitive answer:

“It’s all about nurture,” declares a family friend.

David’s aunt, who at least acknowledges that nature plays a role, also concludes that “nurture can overcome nearly everything.” She does so after describing Eddy’s father as a strict disciplinarian and a traditional, quiet man who didn’t discuss problems. Because Eddy never talked about their relationship, she decides that it couldn’t have been good. Maybe. It’s worth noting, however, that there’s a very large pool of fathers and sons, especially from back then, who could be described this way.

We would be as foolish to dismiss the impact of parenting as that of biology. Still, it’s jarring when a film whose strength is complexity overlooks its own evidence about biology’s role to conclude with parent-blaming.

I began my training as a therapist at a time when “refrigerator mothers” and schizophrenogenic mothers–blamed for their offsprings’ autism or schizophrenia–were still very much in the literature. Thankfully, those views were challenged, and we have developed greater respect for the intertwining influences of nature AND nurture. Yet the residue persists. We must remain vigilant about examining our own unconscious inheritances and assumptions.

Bye, Bye, Birdie

“I hope this doesn’t cause you to want a divorce,” my husband, Jonathan, began a recent conversation.

I braced myself. Was he about to confess an affair? Insist we relocate to New York City? Register as a Republican?

Jonathan continued: “I signed up for a birding hike with the Sonoma Land Trust.”

No wonder he was worried. Early on in our relationship, we vowed never to become birdwatchers, a pact that was threatened several years ago when we accompanied our good friends on an outing to see the sand hill cranes. You can get the full report of that marriage-jeopardizing venture here. You can also get a better way to see the cranes–from the comfort of your own home–here, courtesy of Google Images and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

Relieved that Jonathan’s announcement wasn’t all that dire in the scheme of things, I threw caution to the wind: “Why don’t you sign me up too?” At least this trip was only 20 minutes away, and we had our own escape vehicle, since we’d be meeting the group at the levee. Plus, they were strangers–who cared what anyone thought of us? The worst that could happen was that only one of us might have a good time. Or that rain would cancel the outing. Which we were both secretly hoping for anyway.

When the Big Day arrived, the weather forecast indicated a 30 percent chance of rain starting at 10:00 a.m. The outing began at 9:00 a.m., and we figured we could leave if the rain materialized. So we went, the sun burning through a heavy layer of fog to blue sky.

About 30 people were gathered. About 28 of them actually seemed to be birding enthusiasts, if the field guides stashed in pockets, high-tech binoculars, and tendency to stand about exclaiming at tiny specks were any indication. I was bored already, but at least the wetlands and green hills were pretty enough to keep my loutish tendencies in check. Plus, I felt reassured when Jonathan said to me in a low voice, “I thought it would be covered with birds.”

Our interest picked up when the Sonoma Land Trust guide recounted the history of the restoration projection. Everything around us, including the highway we’d come in on and the ground we stood upon, was once below sea level. Then, we learned, during the mid-19th century, a “Drain the Swamp” movement quite unlike Donald Trump’s version led to a frenzy of levee-building to create rich farmland. As the tidal bay waters receded, the land sank six feet. Now that people have come to appreciate the vital role wetlands play in protecting ecosystems and mitigating sea-level rise, a few years ago reclamation began with a breech in the 5-mile-long levee built by the Swampland homesteaders. The tidal waters and their natural silting process have returned, along with a rich feeding stopover for birds.

Some of said birds we could even see, either as specks with the naked eye or dots through binoculars and scopes. The guide remarked that our presence would ensure that the birds kept their distance, which seemed to defeat the whole purpose until I remembered that the real purpose was to see how resilient our marriage was.

After about 10 minutes of standing still, the guides picked up the scopes and we all walked about 50 feet to the next spot for standing still. The wind picked up, the clouds rolled in. Without the requisite birding passion, Jonathan and I were freezing.

“Ready to walk?” I suggested in a low voice.

Jonathan checked in with the guide to see if we’d scare off the already scarce birds if we went on ahead. He assured us it would be fine.

“If I had to choose between nature-hike-Hell,” I said to Jonathan, “I’d choose wildflowers over birds. At least you can see them.”

“Yeah, and they don’t get up and leave as you approach,” he agreed.

We walked briskly to the end of the levee and back, admiring the view, seeing more birds than we’d seen as part of the group, not caring what they were called. Two women also left the group, so we weren’t the only apostates.

At 10:00 a.m. on the dot, it began to rain. We returned to our car, damp in body but not in spirits. Once again, our marriage had survived the call of the wild.

And the Nominees Are . . . !

It’s Oscar time! Let me just say that 2018 was a really weak year for movies. I don’t think any of the Best Picture nominees deserves to win. My personal picks—Blindspotting, Eighth Grade, Leave No Trace, and Searching—didn’t even make the cut. Plus, I am still brooding about the failure to even nominate The Florida Project for Best Picture the year before. But, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, you go to the Dolby Theater with the nominees you have, not the nominees you wish you had.

So here goes, in order of most favorite to least favorite, Top Critic Shrinkrapped’s take:

Vice – If you, like me, are the kind of person whose favorite bumper sticker is “Cheney-Satan ’08,” then this is the movie for you. Brilliantly acted with several clever-but-sometimes-overdone innovations (like the reel-‘em-in fly-fishing motif), Vice is a tragi-comic depiction of the pursuit of power. Like Adam McKay’s earlier tour-de-force, The Big Short, complex theories like the unitary power of the executive are explained in entertaining ways that are depressingly relevant for our times. Lynn Cheney is even more evil than Dick. But I could have done without their Lady-and-Lord-MacBeth foreplay scene. We get it, already!

A Star Is Born – I have never seen any of the Stars That Have Been Born before this one, partly because I have an allergy to Barbra Streisand. It developed in college because my roommate whose father had recently died spent all of sophomore year crying on the couch, listening to her Streisand albums over and over again. Also, I’m never really clear who Lady Gaga is. I keep confusing her with Madonna and Dame Edna. But I like Bradley Cooper, and who am I to resist Oscar buzz? I enjoyed Star 4.0 a lot, particularly the music. A solid B+.

Green Book – If you view this movie within the context of a Buddy Road Trip or a Christmas movie, as my husband does, you will really like it as a well-crafted, well-acted, engaging story that incidentally might teach a white audience a little bit about racial discrimination. If you view it as an incisive commentary on race, you will find much to be disappointed (or enraged) about. If you view it as a movie about S&H Green Stamps (as I initially did), you will be baffled. I really enjoyed it, and really agree with a lot of the critiques.

BlacKkKlansman – Here’s another mass-appeal movie about race that seems primarily directed to a white audience. I happen to think that such movies—and I count films like Marshall, Hidden Figures, and The Butler among them–play an important role in educating and sparking discussions or at least thought about race. I liked this one okay, though it was a pretty mixed bag.

Black Panther – Halfway through the movie, I texted my friend to ask if it got better in the second half. “Are you thinking of leaving?” she texted back, then gently reminded me about what a huge cultural phenomenon Black Panther is. I stayed, possibly because it got a bit more interesting, and certainly out of shame. I am as thrilled as anyone to see a classroom full of African-American kids going wild with joy when they hear they’re going to see the movie. I was also reading Homegoing at the same time, and I liked how both the novel and the film depict the different experiences of being in Africa versus America. But I don’t like the Marvel Comic/Action Hero/Adventure genre, or the spectacle of fantastically costumed and choreographed warriors. Just not my thing.

Bohemian Rhapsody – After a 16-hour plane ride to Queenstown, New Zealand, in November, my husband and I thought we might kill time by seeing a movie since it was raining and we wanted to fight jet lag by staying awake until bedtime. This was one of two movies playing. I’d seen many Facebook posts from people who love Queen’s music and loved the movie. A life-long pop-culture illiterate, I’d be hard pressed to recognize any Queen song, but I did love Rami Malek in Mr. Robot. As it turns out, my husband and I decided we’d probably just fall asleep in a movie theater, so we instead walked around Queenstown in the rain before returning to our hotel. The day after Thanksgiving, we were searching for a movie the whole family could enjoy. Emma, a huge Queen fan, desperately wanted to see Bohemian Rhapsody. Ally did not, but uncharacteristically agreed to go along to keep the peace. Emma, my husband, and I were unimpressed. Ally loved it. Go figure.


Roma – I don’t get why people like this film. I found it incredibly boring. All I can say is that I’m glad we watched it on Netflix rather than paying to see it on the big screen. And no, I don’t think the screen size is why I didn’t like it. I won’t be surprised, however, if Roma wins Best Picture.

The Favourite – “Did Nike pay for product placement for the swoosh-shaped abrasion on Rachel Weisz’s cheek?” This is one of the questions I asked myself during the film when I wasn’t wondering whether or not to walk out and why The Favourite has gotten such acclaim. Is it because of that high-brow “u” in the title? Okay, I grant that the movie is visually sumptuous, with good costumes and fine acting (especially Olivia Colman as Queen Anne). But rather than a wickedly fun romp through power plays in the palace, it’s a two-hour immersion in degradation with thoroughly unlikable characters. On the plus side, Lady Sarah and Abigail make Lynn Cheney seem downright lovable.

Mercifully, the Academy Awards will soon be over. But the 2020 presidential race is just beginning, with nine Democrats jumping in so far and plenty more about to take the plunge. Unlike the Oscars, there’s any number I’d be happy to see win. Also unlike the Oscars, this contest matters.

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What were your favorite movies this year? Presidential candidates?

Then and Now

A little more than eight years ago, I made my debut as a staff writer for Impulse, the monthly electronic newsletter of the Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies. The piece was titled “Psychological Post-Mortem of the Midterm Elections.” It viewed the topsy-turvy political environment from President Obama’s election to his midterm “shellacking” just two years later through a psychological prism.

Interweaving attachment theory, neuroscience, and Melanie Klein’s notion of development, I noted that it was as if President Obama were trying to govern a paranoid-schizoid nation from a depressive position (non-therapists will have some idea what I mean by this by clicking on the link to the earlier piece).


Based on Nancy McWilliam’s commentary on the pitfalls befalling therapists who operate from their own depressive personality styles, I also drew parallels between how President Obama related to congressional Republicans and well-meaning therapists who attempt to work too flexibly with hostile clients.


My debut caused a minor furor within NCSPP, some of whose members wanted me and the editor to resign. Instead, the powers that be quickly removed my 400+ words from the site and issued an apology. Back then, electoral politics was largely viewed as having no place in psychotherapy. Fast forward to today. Is there a psychotherapeutic organization or office that hasn’t been infused with politics?


The enormous uptick in anxiety and depression therapists encounter has been dubbed “Post-Election Stress Disorder.” Clients routinely talk about re-triggered personal traumas such as sexual assault, family ruptures brought on by political disagreements, or how they can no longer bear their like-minded loved ones’ incessant obsession with Trump. A client who had never breathed a word about politics sent me a photo of a bumper sticker that said, “Elect a Clown, Expect a Circus.”


Outside of our consulting rooms, heated debates rage among mental health practitioners over the ethics of opining about Donald Trump’s mental health, and whether a duty to warn trumps formerly sacrosanct neutrality. The American Psychoanalytic Association renounced the “Goldwater Rule” (the American Psychiatric Association still upholds it). The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President was a New York Times bestseller. When William Doherty, professor, therapist, and founder of Citizen Therapists for Democracy, published an online manifesto declaring Trump a unique threat to America’s mental health, more than 3,800 therapists signed it. Classes and seminars about practicing in the current political climate and combining activism with psychotherapy have proliferated.


As is often said in the new era, “This is not normal.” The same could be said for the changes in the field of psychotherapy in the years since I wrote my piece. We have fruitfully begun to question the whole concept of “normal,” societally and professionally. There are dangers and opportunities. But one thing is clear: The personal is not only political–it is also psychological.

Buche de Noel, Revisited

Even though I now own a still-unused candy thermometer, I’ve been content to forever swear off my Christmas fantasy of making Buche de Noel. But when I went to my weekly consulting gig at a mental health agency on December 20, they had an incredible dense chocolate version from Sweet Adeline, the kind of bakery cafe I would want to open if I still harbored fantasies about opening a bakery cafe.

This Buche was a rich swirl of buttercream and chocolate smothered in chocolate ganache. By the time I got there, the staff had pretty much eaten away it’s log-like appearance, which is probably just as well, since its pristine form might have intimidated me.

“How hard could this be?” I asked myself, noting that it was not a delicate spongecake (which doesn’t taste very good anyway). It also had no ridiculous handmade brittle like the recipe that defeated me years before. And since just three weeks before I had made for a friend’s 70th birthday the super easy and delicious Chocolate Amazon Cake with Mocha Buttercream Frosting from the Cafe Beaujolais Cookbook, I thought, “Why not pour the same batter into a jelly roll pan, then smear it with buttercream, roll it up, pour chocolate glaze on it, and see what happens?”

What happened is pictured above. If I were auditioning for Cook’s Illustrated, I could tell you the science and recount in obsessive detail the five attempts I made to get everything perfect. But I only made one attempt, because it was the holiday season after all, and I had menus to plan and presents to wrap. Besides, I only subscribed to the magazine so I could cut out the pretty cover art and frame it for my daughter’s new kitchen (she didn’t like it, but luckily the subscription was only $5.00 for the year).

“If the Buche is a major fail,” I told my family, “I’ll just cut up the frosted cake chunks and layer it with whipped cream and hot fudge sauce and call it a day.”

Once trimmed horizontally with a serrated knife (it was a little too thick; I should have made cupcakes with some of the batter) and frosted with the mocha buttercream, the cake rolled up quite nicely, thanks to a nifty parchment paper cradle that kept everything properly aligned and tight. My daughter, a devotee of The Great British Baking Show, was impressed that I knew about parchment paper despite having lived my entire life without once watching TGBBS.

Another thing–it is perfectly fine to decorate one’s Buche de Noel with real mushrooms (and pine cones and mossy twigs and holly, as long as one does not ingest these latter items). Pomegranate seeds or cranberries with mint leaves make a nice garnish that won’t actually poison anyone. Plus, my daughter sauteed the mushrooms for her breakfast the next day, which you couldn’t do with the meringue kind.

I don’t yet know if this dessert will become a Christmas tradition, or if I will go back to my longer-standing tradition of dreaming without doing. One thing is certain, however: I will NEVER make good on my fantasy of opening a bakery-cafe!! Although couldn’t you just imagine this picture on Yelp?

Political Junkie Abroad–and Back Again!

When you last heard from me, we were heading off to New Zealand right before the mid-term elections, missing out on the crucial Get Out the Vote endeavor. As I posted gorgeous photos on Facebook, one of my friends wrote, “So smart to leave the country before the election and avoid the rush.”

Our tour guide told us that wi-fi on the South Island is known as Why-Try? Right during the crucial period when I hoped to be sneaking peeks at the election results, we were scheduled to go from spotty coverage to being completely off the wi-fi grid, with barely any cell coverage. (Which we didn’t have anyway, not wanting to pay a fortune for even an accidental and momentary activation of cellular data.) Before we went totally dark, I lamented our imminent news blackout via text to my SwingLeft canvassing friend, who texted back, “Lucky you!”

But I didn’t feel lucky–I felt cut off from the thing I’ve obsessed about for the past two years. I guess I am not good at going cold turkey.

Luckily, someone on the tour with a New Zealand cell plan could get a little bit of coverage as the results dribbled in. We got lots of perpetually circling loading symbols, and a bit of CNN. This ushered in PTSD reminiscent of November 8, 2016, as Florida turned red. In a little while, it was apparent that the Democrats had secured the House, but just barely. Maybe it would have been better to be a normal person who likes to unplug on vacation.

The next day brought horizontal rain and a blizzard and several hours of driving incommunicado. But at a little town where we stretched our legs, the woman who ran a gift shop asked us about the election, then let us take over her laptop so we could find out where things stood (better). As we regained coverage over the next several days, the blue tide swelled, lifting our moods.

Throughout New Zealand, everyone we met was more interested in the mid-terms than most people in the United States. Kiwis were following the House and Senate races, and commiserated with us about Trump. Some British tourists congratulated us on the mid-terms and lamented Brexit, reassuring us that the U.S. did not have a monopoly on lunacy; ours was just more obvious.

Eventually we could truly relax. And guess what? We were in a beautiful country! Here are some highlights from our fabulous New Zealand Trails tour:

Milford Sound and the Routeburn Track–our first night we slept on this boat, and saw penguins, seals, many waterfalls, and where the sound spills into the Tasman Sea. Breathtaking, and apparently lucky we could see anything at all besides the atmospherics, aka “rain.”

We did some stuff besides hiking and election obsessing: Biking in Arrowtown and Dolphin–or perhaps Alien?–Encounter:

Hiking in Abel Tasman National Park, then donning backpacks (for Lorrie, the first time in more than 30 years) in Nelson Lakes National Park:

The West Coast:

Our last day was spent walking along gorgeous Lake Wanaka, with the famous Lake Wanaka Monster looming up from the lupine:

It’s good to be home. The rains and the new political landscape make it possible to breathe a little easier.

Be a Voter, Save America

Despite knocking on doors, making phone calls, and donating for the mid-terms this past year, I won’t even be here for the election: My husband and I are leaving tonight for New Zealand, our ballots safely delivered to our county’s registrar last week.

Since we’ll cross the international date line, I’ve been joking that we’ll be able to let people know on November 7 (Kiwi Time) if it’s safe to wake up, or whether everyone working so hard to turn red seats blue needs to drum up more votes while they still can (USA time).

But this election is no laughing matter. The Demagogue-in-Chief stokes fear and anger while his fans cheer his brutality and his Republican enablers stand by. Democratic enthusiasm is high, but voter suppression in red-dominated states is alive and well.

A couple of days ago I came across an essay by Ady Barkan that pierced through the rage, despair, numbness, and grim determination I’ve known too often in these past two years. Barkan is a progressive activist who was diagnosed at age 32 with ALS just a few weeks before the 2016 election.  As he puts it, ALS “ would rapidly destroy all the connections between my brain and my muscles, leading to complete paralysis and death, likely in three to four years. Three weeks later, our world was turned upside down a second time, when America elected a racist kleptocrat to the White House.”

Barkan describes the paradox posed by his medical condition and his life’s work:

Like many people suddenly confronted with agonizing loss, I looked for answers in Buddhism. Pema Chödrön teaches us that when the ground disappears beneath your feet, the solution is not to flail around in a desperate attempt to find a handhold; it is to accept the law of gravity and find peace despite your velocity. Leave the mode of doing and enter the mode of being. Accept things as they are, rather than yearning for them to be otherwise.

Such radical acceptance is in tension with my identity as a movement builder. Activism is precisely about not accepting the tragedies of this world, but rather on insisting that we can reduce pain and prolong life.

As Barkan rapidly loses his strength, his mobility, his ability to feed himself, and—soon—his speech, he has thrown himself even more vibrantly into the fight, traveling the country in his wheelchair, speaking to elected representatives and ordinary people, even getting arrested as he protests tax cuts for the wealthy and champions a radically humane vision of what America can be.

“Focusing on the moment and immersing myself in the task at hand has been my salvation over the past two years,” Barkan writes.

He’s encounterd much cynicism, but also much hope. Citing Rebecca Solnit, Barkan reminds us that “hope is not a lottery ticket that can deliver us out of despair, but a hammer for us to use in this national emergency—to break the glass, sound the alarm, and sprint into action.”

Barkan goes on to say that voting is not enough, that we must all be the organizers and heroes of the moment, for our communities and future generations. Few of us will be able to match his level of commitment. Yet every action matters.

November 6 is almost upon us, and voting is the necessary action right now. Make sure you vote, and that every person you know who is concerned about the national emergency brought into sharp focus by Trump’s election does, too. A great resource is Vote Save America.

November 6 is the date President Obama was re-elected. It is also the first birthday of my friend’s grandson, whose smiles and baby-deliciousness and cheerful oblivion have sustained all those who love him, inspiring them to work hard to make the world a better place. It’s an auspicious date.

Barkan, too, has a young son. Imagining the world Carl will inherit keeps him moving through the dark times of his own dwindling life and the threat to our beloved country:

I can transcend my dying body by hitching my future to yours . . . We peer into the future and hope that our children’s children will grow up in a more just and equitable society.

That is the country I wish to come home to from New Zealand, not one that deepens my horror and grief.

Let’s make this November 6 another hopeful and auspicious date.

Be a voter, save America.

 

 

 

 

Restoring the Obliterated Victim

Brett Kavanaugh’s disquieting ascent to the Supreme Court has made me think a lot about what happened 40 years ago. Not to me, but to another young girl.

A 12-year-old in my town told her mother that her father was molesting her. The mother believed her daughter, and went to the police. The father was charged and entered a plea that qualified him for a diversion program instead of jail. The family was shattered, but it seemed possible that they might all be on the long and difficult road to healing because truth, belief in the girl, and her father’s willingness to atone for his actions emerged from the wreckage.

Then the father shot himself. He didn’t die right away, and the fragile circle of family and friends rallying around the girl regrouped instantly, taking up their posts at a death bed vigil. His daughter was among the many at his side. When he died a week later, the love and support diverted his way intensified as he was memorialized in the idealizing way that grief tends to bestow. It wasn’t exactly that the girl was blamed for her father’s death (she did a good enough job of that on her own). It was more that her experience was obliterated as all the attention shifted to his suffering. The blame set in a bit later. I imagine the girl wished she had never opened her mouth.

So it has gone with Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, though with a less intense level of trauma and in a setting to determine whether the latter deserved a lifetime Supreme Court appointment, not a criminal conviction for sexual assault. Like the girl in my town, Dr. Blasey Ford reluctantly came forward to tell what happened to her, risking upending her (and her abuser’s) life.  Nearly everyone who listened to Blasey Ford’s testimony, including the President and Fox News, found her credible. At least for a moment.

Then Kavanaugh and the Republicans, in a show of high dudgeon, erased Blasey Ford’s experience with their own aggrieved victimhood. The woman who had transfixed a nation into hoping that at last people might hear and believe what so many girls and women endure was not so much blamed at first as obliterated. The blame came later.

Forty years ago a father fired a shot that took his own life and devastated his daughter’s beyond the original trauma he perpetrated. He was no doubt driven by shame and desperation, but it was also one last hostile act against her. The Republicans’ latest shot across the bow devastates victims of assault with a similarly punishing rebuke. And we wonder why women stay silent.

The tragedy that unfolded 40 years ago in my town is over. The man who had the last word back then is dead. I don’t know what happened to his daughter, or his wife, but I know their lives continued one way or another. I hope they are well, able to integrate this trauma into lives that will always bear but also transcend the scars.

The Supreme Court hearings are also over for now; the Republicans have had the last word. At least for now. The mid-terms are coming on November 6. Channel your rage, fear, despair—and hope–into voting them out. We will continue, one way or another.

Make sure you and everyone you know is registered to vote and casts a ballot on or before November 6. Everything you need to know is at votesaveamerica.org:

No Words But This For Now