And They’re Off!

With this week’s debates, the Democratic presidential primary race is officially upon us. So here’s my official position on the contenders: I love them all, and would be happy to vote for any of them. In fact, I would happily vote for anyone with a pulse and a “D” after their name. Even those whose name I can’t recall.

Oddly, the Democrats have gone from having no bench to an extremely crowded one that could cave under the strain of all those people jockeying for position on it. It’s an embarrassment of riches, whereas the Republicans just have rich embarrassments.

Still, enough is enough. The two dozen (and counting) candidates perversely echo the effect of Trump’s lies: so numerous that we tune them all out.  Let the winnowing begin!

I’ll share my opinions on specific candidates from time to time, even though these opinions will no doubt change weekly from now until the Convention. For now, just some general observations to kick off 2020.

Electability. It’s the mysterious “It” factor, even though nobody has a clue what “It” is. Most simply, “electability” means whoever gets the most votes. Except the Electoral College makes it not so simple, as Al Gore and Hillary Clinton can attest. So we have to consider the whole body politic as we try to squeeze, Spanx-like, all the weird excesses and lacks into some pleasingly redistributed configuration.

Since the highest priority of almost all Democrats and many swing voters is to get Donald Trump out of office rather than assert moral purity (aka “lose”) by refusing to vote for any non-preferred candidate, this shouldn’t be that hard. To recap, if everyone who is alarmed by Trump pledges to vote in the General Election for anyone with a pulse and a “D” after their name, problem solved.

Year of the Woman or B is for Boy? Until recently, none of the super-qualified female candidates was gaining much traction. Biden, Bernie, Beto, and Buttigieg formed the alliterative core of Boy Power. That’s shifted some, with Elizabeth Warren and now Kamala Harris gaining ground. Plus, the only bumper sticker I’ve seen so far besides “Bernie 2020” and “Any Functioning Adult 2020” is “Tulsi.”

Unconscious (not to mention conscious) bias is real. After the 2016 election, HuffPost ran a piece by Max Weiss called, “Things I Blame for Hillary Clinton’s Loss, Ranked.” It began,

Here is my response to the Slate article, “So We’re Still Blaming Jill Stein and James Comey, Huh?” This is a partial list of the things I blame, ranked.

1-199. MISOGYNY

Of course, Hillary won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, so except for the Spanx Problem, it’s hard to argue that a woman can’t win. What worries me is that I’ve been to many dinner parties in which someone invariably says, “Elizabeth Warren is such a school marm.” And these are people who LIKE Elizabeth Warren! A little while ago there were many stories about women who would love to see a female president but were afraid to vote for one. Even if legitimate, this worry can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Michelle Goldberg just wrote a compelling post-debate piece on this dilemma.)

Of course, Democrats and women candidates prevailed in the mid-terms. Trepidation about a female nominee has abated some, and the term “school marm” has mostly disappeared from my own social circle. We have to reckon with our own unconscious bias, just as I did in 2008 when I came to view as racist my conviction that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama could never be elected president.

Feeling anxious?

I have a plan for that: vote for the nominee with a pulse and a “D” after their name.

April, Before She Goes

“April is the cruelest month,” T.S. Eliot

“April, come she will,” Simon and Garfunkel

April did indeed come, and with certain cruelties this year: acts of violent hatred around the globe, from Sri Lanka to a synagogue near San Diego; another devastating cyclone in Mozambique, and the climate catastrophe it portends; the daily anxieties of a harrowing news cycle in a fracturing nation and world. And for us personally, a dear friend died unexpectedly.

April may be the cruelest month, but it is also the month of spring wildflowers. This year’s ample rains in California have yielded a magnificent display, and we’ve been taking full advantage. They’ve provided respite for us, and here are some highlights should you, too, be in need of respite.

Big Sur Coast to Cambria Area:

Sunol Regional Park/Ohlone Wilderness. This is one of our favorite Bay Area parks. It holds special meaning since it was where our friend spent a wonderful day doing what she loves before dying from a stroke.

Jenner Headlands Preserve–except for the ridge line, it was totally socked in, so we’ll have to return. My husband got a pretty good shot of the ghost cows, though!

Oat Hill Mine Road in Calistoga. This is one of our favorite hikes–we return every couple of years. This year’s wildflowers were spectacular. Oat Hill Mine Road and most of Calistoga escaped the fires of 2017, although we could see a lot of fire damage in other nearby parts.

Skyline Park in Napa:

And, because there’s no place like home:



Weathering the “Total Exoneration” BS Storm

I’ve been sheltering in a secure, low-news bunker since Robert Mueller handed over his report to Attorney General William Barr last week. That’s so I can avoid getting caught up in the powerful cyclone of spin put out by Trump’s propaganda machine and amplified by mainstream pundits.

For the record, Mueller explicitly stated that the evidence does not exonerate the President regarding obstruction of justice. His investigation, besides concluding that Russia definitely meddled in the election, yielded 34 indictments, with several close Trump associates pleading or being found guilty and facing time. It’s also been a money-maker for the United States, netting more in fines and forfeitures than the investigation cost.

But what are facts in the age of spin?

I had fortified myself in advance thanks to Pod Save America’s Dan Pfeiffer, who offered a pre-report rant before he himself disappeared into his hidey-hole.  Pfeiffer predicted that unless the Mueller report resulted immediately in Nancy Pelosi donning her sunglasses and sauntering from Capitol Hill to the Oval Office in her new role as President following the Constitution’s prescription for succession, the media would declare a huge victory for Trump and a huge loss for the Democrats. As the Pod Save hosts have been reminding listeners since just about forever, defeating Donald Trump and his Republican enablers will require the hard work of organizing to win the 2020 election—in House, Senate, and state races as well as the White House. It was never going to be through a Deus Ex Muellercha.

In any case, with my news consumption down as I wait for the Total Exoneration Bullshit Storm to pass, I’ve freed up a lot of time for other things. If you, too, want to limit your exposure to the Mueller Report Obsession, here are some suggestions:

  1. Do your taxes. Ready or not, April 15th is just around the corner. Why not just get it over with? Be sure to think about how Trump’s biggest legislative accomplishment has been to pass a $1.5 trillion tax cut benefiting mostly the super rich and big corporations while blowing up the deficit Republicans pretended to care about under President Obama.
  2. Schedule a doctor’s appointment. You might want to do this really soon, since once again the Republicans are going after your healthcare with a vengeance, not just via death by a thousand cuts, but with wholesale elimination.
  3. Calculate how long it will be before you’re eligible for Medicare. Oh, silly me! Republicans do care about deficits again, which is why they are now threatening Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, and other vital social programs.
  4. BTW, just as you shouldn’t have been holding your breath for the Mueller Report to save us, don’t hold your breath for Medicare-for-All anytime soon. Be sure to instead work toward it via any of the avenues being proposed by Democrats, but for heaven’s sake don’t insist on any purity tests!
  5. Have sex! Following the news is not only a time-suck, it’s a libido-killer. Put that device down and snuggle up! But if your time until Medicare eligibility is substantial, first make sure to . . .
  6. Stock up on birth control. Already the Trump Administration, under the guise of “religious liberty,” has made it easier for employers to refuse to provide free contraceptives as required by the ACA. The aforementioned threat to the ACA will only make things worse in the family planning department.
  7. Speaking of which, make a donation to Planned Parenthood to counteract the Republicans’ war on the organization. Bonus activity points for donating in Mike Pence’s name.
  8. Be careful, though! If you don’t want to have a baby but followed #5 while failing to follow #6, you may find yourself needing an abortion. This has become more and more difficult and is about to become even more so as states like Georgia pass so-called “heart-beat bills.” Besides banning most abortions, often before a woman realizes she’s pregnant, the goal of these clearly unconstitutional laws is to trigger a Supreme Court hearing with the hope of overturning Roe v. Wade.
  9. Ah, yes! Remember the Supreme Court? One of whose seats was stolen by Mitch McConnell? The branch of government that motivates Republicans to vote more than Democrats? When I made calls to Nevada for the 2016 election to see if people supported Clinton or Trump, one man told me, “I think they’re both idiots, but I’m a conservative, and I want conservative justices on the Supreme Court so I’m voting for Trump!” Impeccable logic. People who are alarmed by the rightward lurch of the Supreme Court might try it. Planking in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s 86th birthday is nice, but insufficient.
  10. Hug your children. Give thanks that they have not been wrested away from you and put in cages. Spare a thought for those who have.
  11. Take a hike. It’s good to get out in nature. Do it while it lasts–it won’t be too much longer if Trump and his fellow climate deniers remain in charge.

Refreshed by your alternative activities to reading about Trump’s “exoneration” by Robert Mueller as interpreted by Attorney General Barr? Here are a couple of other suggestions once you’re ready to emerge from your bunker:

  1. Call for the release of the Mueller report.. But please, relinquish any vestigial hopes for a savior. Instead,
  2. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.

This Vox article describes how people did just that for the 2018 mid-terms. They knocked on doors, made phone calls, registered voters, and talked to people about their concerns. Contrary to what you may have heard about Democrats in disarray because they’ve been taken over by wild-eyed lefty purists, they did so with a high degree of pragmatism and personal engagement. As someone who’s knocked on a lot of doors and made a lot of phone calls in a lot of campaigns, I can attest that what happens on the ground is quite different from what media hype would have you believe. People I talked to in the swing district I visited every month in the run up to the mid-terms worried about healthcare, good jobs, traffic, and affordable housing and education. Russia and the Mueller investigation never came up.

Besides which, criminally guilty or exonerated, we’ve never needed evidence beyond what Trump and his Republican enablers display multiple times a day. From despicable character to destructive policies to deep corruption, it’s there plain as day. As George Conway (husband of Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway!) writes in the Washington Post, “If the charge were unfitness for office, the verdict would already be in: guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Let’s do something about that. Mueller Time must now be Our Time.

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.

*

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.