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.

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?

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:

Building the Blue Wave, Door by Door

Remember when the 2018 mid-terms were just a barely visible blip on a faraway horizon? When all we could do was write checks to the ACLU, encounter infinite busy signals on our representatives’ lines, and take to the streets (and airports)? Or, more likely, take to our beds with only Haagen Dazs and late-night comics for solace?

Well, now those mid-terms are just around the corner! We no longer need to pray that the Republican Congress will somehow grow a spine, or that Robert Mueller (and now Michael Cohen) will put the brakes on this crew. We can do it ourselves by voting.

That’s why I’ve been traveling since December once a month to my closest swing district to knock on doors. I live in a deep blue bubble, so I have to drive 75 miles each way to a congressional district where a current Republican House member hung onto his seat in a district Hillary Clinton won.

Two hours each way is worth it, though. Since 2008, I’ve done a lot of phone banking, which is a good thing to do, but I prefer door-to-door canvassing. For one thing, it’s like phone banking with exercise—gotta get those steps in somehow! It’s also fun to drive back and forth with friends. And it’s a whole lot better for my mental health than sitting around lamenting.

What I love most about canvassing, though, is talking face-to-face with people about what matters to them. Hint: it’s not the Russia investigation. Mostly it’s healthcare, traffic, and jobs. One conversation starter is to ask how people would rate things locally and nationally on a five-point scale of Terrible to Terrific.

“I don’t know, I don’t know, it depends on the day!” one 40-something woman exclaimed.

This was back in December, when Republicans were rushing through a tax bill that favored the rich and once again put the screws to the Affordable Care Act. The woman was a registered Republican, but she was really upset about assaults on healthcare and Medicare. By the end of our conversation, she had changed her registration to Democrat, taken a blank form so her elderly mother could do the same, and accepted an invitation to an event at the local Democratic Party headquarters.

I’ve had some other interesting (though less heartening) conversations as well: Three separate respondents rated things as “terrible.” However, this was cause not for voting but for celebration because it meant the End Times were near.

I’m not used to this in my usual life. Truth be told, I’m also not used to people opening their doors to strangers! But they do, and they’ve been unfailingly nice no matter what their political persuasion. Just the other weekend on a sweltering day, a nice Republican guy offered us ice water while we signed up his wife and daughter to vote for the Democrat. For the most part, people have been fair and thoughtful in trying to sort out the issues. We hear a lot about how Americans can no longer talk to one another if they have differing perspectives. Canvassing has helped me to listen and reach out to those who don’t share my world view.

Plus, it’s effective. Research has shown that if minds are to be changed at all (a tall order, as research also shows), one of the best ways to do so is person-to-person engagement. Canvassing improves voting outcomes by 4 percent. In the town I’ve been visiting, there was a 75 percent increase in Democratic voter turnout between the 2014 and 2018 mid-term primaries, and even a 14 percent increase in this June’s primary showing over the 2016 presidential election turnout. In a country where more and more elections are being determined by razor-thin margins—and even the flip of a coin in one special election in Virginia!—that’s a huge difference.

Now that we’re entering the home stretch of canvassing, we’re focusing intensively on identifying the Democratic House candidate’s supporters and making sure they vote. In previous months, people were less informed and less interested, but now they’re jazzed. Even the ones who don’t care about politics and who don’t normally vote are perking up. At one house I visited, the wife who was on our list was not home.

“What about you?” I asked her husband, who answered the door with their young daughter in tow.

“Nah, I don’t vote, I’m not even registered,” he said. But he happened to mention that he was horrified by Trump and the Republicans in Congress.

“The best way right now to put the brakes on them is through flipping the House,” I replied. “Why not register and vote for at least that race?”

“OK,” he said, taking the voter registration form.

It felt like a pledge and not just a brush-off. My friends canvassing nearby reported similar conversations—a millennial non-voter who registered because something he learned about our candidate sparked his interest. A disenchanted Republican who was impressed we were volunteering our time walking around in the heat. Now that we’ve identified such people, we can follow up to let them know how important their votes are.

My handful of success stories may not mean much on their own. But multiply that by the tens of thousands of volunteers doing just what I’m doing in every corner of the country, and it begins to add up. Every door knocked on, every conversation, every newly registered voter, and every new volunteer seeds the magic of a grassroots movement. Supporters talk to their family, friends, and neighbors. An undecided voter may remember something about a visit from a friendly stranger who reached out and listened. And so it grows.

This is how we build the blue wave. This is how we take back the country.

*

There are so many ways to get involved. Of course, the most important and most basic thing anyone can do is vote. Make sure you’re registered, make sure you cast your ballot, and talk it up among friends and family! A cool new online resource is Vote Save America. You can check your registration status, register, and find out about ways to get involved wherever you live:

https://crooked.com/article/be-a-voter-save-america/

Here are two nationwide groups where you can get involved in your area to ensure electoral success:

Indivisible

Swing Left

Also, despite my snarky first paragraph, making donations to good causes and good candidates is hugely helpful. So are Haagen Dazs and late-night comics.

 

Ah, Wilderness!

With the world on fire, my husband Jonathan and I were looking forward to a week’s hiking in the Sierra. Then California literally was on fire (again), this time with the Ferguson fire affecting Yosemite Valley and the surrounding southern areas. We had planned to stay in the high country of northern Yosemite for the last two days of our vacation, but it had become logistically too complicated, so luckily for us, we’d changed our plans before flames and smoke filled the park. We decided to stay the entire time near Sequoia National Park, first in a little-visited corner of it, Mineral King, then a couple days near the main entrance to the park.

The Horse Creek Fire began to burn in Mineral King just days before our departure. We nervously followed the updates (and the ever-rising temperatures everywhere on our weather apps). But firefighters jumped on the blaze really aggressively, and our vacation could proceed, with the warning that we’d encounter staging area equipment on the long, winding road up to where we were staying. Several mentions of this road as hair-raising even in the best of circumstances had already made us nervous, but we forged on.

We saw plumes of smoke on our drive up. We also encountered one truck and a couple of firefighters on a pull out (plus a black bear ambling across the road on our drive down four days later). The road was smooth and plenty wide, even if we had encountered another car, which we didn’t. Jonathan remarked, “The roads are much worse back home.” Our spirits lifted as we gained elevation, particularly as the temperatures fell and the sky’s blueness escaped the haze and smoke of the Central Valley.

We loved our cabin at Silver City Mountain Resort, a place close to the end of the road with spotty wi-fi, terrifically friendly and knowledgeable staff, delicious food, a range of rustic to more luxe cabins, and a communal women’s bathroom whose sinks might have sprung from the fevered imagination of glass artist Dale Chihuly if he specialized in glamping:

Best of all, we were close to the trail heads for five days of hiking. Here are some of the highlights:

And on the day we left Mineral King, our favorite hike to Monarch Lakes, which we almost didn’t do:

The Mineral King trail heads were at a higher elevation, dropping the climate-change-induced high temperatures several degrees. As you can see, we had some beautiful hikes, despite heat-stressed flowers that in bygone years would have been in their full glory:

Speaking of stress, there was one other source: marmots. Mineral King is apparently the only place in the Sierra where visitors are routinely surprised by the cute but uninvited critters taking up residence under the car hood for a feast of insulation, radiator hoses, and wires. We’d read about this before we left: The National Park Service advised hikers at high-elevation trail heads to check under their hoods and, if they visited before mid-July, to consider wrapping a tarp around the entire underbelly of their cars. Chicken wire, NPS assured us, was no longer recommended (not because it was no longer necessary, but because marmots apparently consider chicken wire an appetite-whetting starter course). Before we left home, we looked at our tarp, designed for a one-person backpacking tent, and concluded it would be the vehicular equivalent of thong underwear when only a chastity belt would do. We looked at the calendar, and concluded that July 23-27 was way past mid-July. I did, however, toss a bunch of bungee cords into the trunk as an afterthought.

Despite the many cars in the parking lot totally swaddled in tarps, we persuaded ourselves that these belonged to fastidious backpackers gone for a week or more. Surely we wouldn’t need such drastic measures for just a few hours! And indeed we were fine, enjoying marmots where they belonged, on rocks in meadows. This one even seemed trained for the cameras:

On our third hike, a terrific 12-mile hike up Farewell Canyon to Franklin Lake (with an elevation gain of 3000 feet),

we got caught in a hail and rain burst that turned the trail into a river for the last bit of our descent. Despite rivulets streaming off my hat and into my face, I popped the hood as Jonathan shivered, expecting to find nothing. There was a marmot, who quickly high-tailed it out the bottom of the engine compartment, leaving behind a sizable oval of exposed engine block where the insulation had been chewed away.

The wires seemed okay, and the car started. Chastened, we stopped at the ranger station, which fortunately kept a supply of jumbo tarps for people to borrow. Those bungee cords came in handy the next couple of days.

Not a bad wrapping job, huh? Still, if you are the kind of person who might surprise a special someone with a new car, we suggest placing the key in a small box and knocking yourself out with fancy paper and ribbons. At any rate, there are no new cars in our future, as our radiator did not blow up, nor did our brakes or anything else fail for the rest of our trip.

Sufficient wildlife adventures for a lifetime, one might think. But there was more to come. Not only did we see an aforementioned bear on our way down to our final destination, but on a terrific hike in Sequoia National Park proper on our last day,

we chanced upon a mother bear and three cubs not 20 feet from the trail. Mama hissed at Jonathan before ambling slowly away, her curious little ones stopping frequently to look at us during their leisurely retreat.

We had a wonderful time, refreshed for our return once again to a world on fire, literally and figuratively. To mark our re-entry, I’ve switched from wilderness to “The Wilderness,” Pod Save America host Jon Favreaux’s terrific podcast about the once and future Democratic Party. I recommend both–a sojourn in nature and a good listen–for replenishing the soul.