Uncharted Waters

Yesterday as I looked out onto the hills and sea beyond, all the craziness and sadness receded, and for a moment, this was the only reality I knew. So many worlds within the world, I thought. So many moments happening within this moment.

I’ve been sick. And I’m also tired and angry and overloaded with input, trying to take what action I can, and at the same time feeling that the game is rigged against us. How is it possible that so many voters would relinquish precious freedoms and place their trust in people who are this brazenly sinister, corrupt, and dangerous?

They’re misguidedly gleeful about it even now. But my role is not to convince or convert or even any longer try to understand those others. I’ve had enough exasperating encounters to realize that we are not confronting  reason, but rather a kind of brainwashing, a mind set calcified in bitterness and vindictiveness. (Maybe underneath that there is fear, frustration, and a troubling kind of ignorance, but this cannot be our focus now.) No–instead of wasting time and energy there, we need to look to ourselves and our allies, and how we got here, and how to turn it around. We cannot lose momentum, because this is unfolding with stunning aggression and speed.

I’ve been wondering lately, as I watch the shameful shenanigans of the Republicans, led by people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell: whatever happened to moral courage? With rare and tentative exceptions, they all seem spinelessly willing to go along with the naked insanity and corruption of the emperor and his puppet masters as long as they believe they can shove through their reactionary agenda (callously knocking people off their health care coverage, removing ethics accountability and environmental protections, diluting crucial barriers between state and religion…I could go on.) At what point will the transgressions become sufficiently abhorrent that even members of the GOP will stand up in brave, unequivocal opposition? And maybe it’s time to demand a mental health evaluation of this Frankenstein they’ve helped create. (I’m not kidding.)

My friend Jeanne shared a memory in an email yesterday:

“I am reminded this morning of the day many years ago when my Republican father became a Democrat. He announced his new perspective with shaving soap on half his face, having come from his morning absolutions half-done, the radio announcement of the Kent State killings of 1970 still playing in the bathroom. He said he could no longer belong to a party that could massacre its own children. I will never forget the look on his face, but most of all the tears in his eyes. I had never seen that before. There will be other good people now who will do the same, finally understanding what is happening here.”

I just hope it can happen fast enough. I’m trying to balance alarm and clarity.

Last night I dreamed about my dear brother Eddie, now gone nearly twenty-five years. He tried so hard to have the simple things so many take for granted. He was intelligent and kind, but born with the time bomb of a kidney disease that rendered him at the mercy of strangers, medical technology, constraints, complexities, and vicissitudes of funding far beyond his control.  He missed out on so much, and he died at forty-five, but you know what? Life never turned him mean.

It’s the meanness I hate, most of all, in what I am seeing.

But I’ll close with these words by Edna St. Vincent Millay, because I still believe in poetry and hope and the better angels:

From the apprehensive present, from a future packed
With unknown dangers, monstrous, terrible and new—
Let us turn for comfort to this simple fact:
We have been in trouble before . . . and we came through.
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Before the March

It’s a wet green gloomy day and I’m heading to LAX in a few hours for the first leg of my journey to a different reality. Washington, D.C., here I come. I am filled with trepidation, fervor, heartache, anxiety, dismay, skepticism…but somewhere at the bottom of the pile there is still a faint residue of hope. Maybe the hope will shine more brightly when we are all marching together for everything we hold dear that is now at risk. Maybe I’ll come home exhausted but inspired.

Life has its ways of humbling us, but I’ve slung my rags of hope and good intentions about my shoulders and I’m trying to move forward. I’ll be carrying the spirit of my sister in my heart, and my daughter, and dear friends…and strong women everywhere.

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The Rain and The Light

And now it has been two years. One night I dreamed that I was standing on a grassy hilltop with her and one of my girlfriends, our silhouettes framed against a wide blank sky. She looked more as she did in her seventies, long white hair, upright yet surprisingly tiny and tentative, pleased, as always, to see me. I took her hand, introduced her to my friend, and the three of us held hands, forming a circle. My mother had never been to or even seen such a place as this wild, windy hilltop, and she was surprised and proud, maybe delighted, to be there with me. Oh, I was vaguely aware of some worry pressing on me, that old familiar instruction to hurry, but we stood for a moment holding hands in that circle, and she said to me, “I love you” and I said “I love you” and I felt at peace, at least with her, and I was so glad to see her in the great outdoors, experiencing a world she never knew. I wish her life had been bigger, and happier, and I wish I had been a thousand times more present and patient and affectionate, but I am grateful that I was given the duty and the gift to move through our difficult history and get to know the person she became. There is a great deal we can only understand in the aftermath, but if we translate the painful knowing into love and deed, it wasn’t all for naught. On this rainy day, I am remembering my mother with a candle, a prayer, a leap of faith, a promise to be better, and Merwin’s perfect rain light:

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning

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Stories and Change

Cora and Clarence lived for many years in an old farmhouse on an acre of  Iowa land. They rose early each morning, worked hard, raised children, tended to a garden and a lettuce patch and a small field of corn, and by and large were happy. After Clarence died and the children had grown up, left home, and started families of their own, elderly Cora did one last thing before moving into town: she torched the house.

Cora’s granddaughter Teresa told this story as we sat with two other dear friends, Donna and Christine, on the patio of a house by the seashore. (By the way, I’ve written about these particular friends, the bicycle girls,  here, herehere…and undoubtedly elsewhere!) Anyway, the day was waning, the sky was glowing, and stories were taking shape. I pictured Cora armed with a match and a can of kerosene, a tiny lady with long white hair and fire in her eyes. A chapter of her life had unequivocally concluded, and Cora wanted to put a final punctuation to it.

“I did the same thing to my wedding dress,” Teresa confessed. “It felt good.”

You never know what girlfriends will share while sitting around gabbing at the end of the day. The burning stories got me to thinking about change and how we handle it. There are those  who do more than accept: they orchestrate, celebrate, and ceremonially mark it. Teresa has certainly become one of those people. Having weathered more than her fair share of challenges and survived, she knows that life is always in motion and she dances along with it, embracing the now, shining with her own inner light.

This get-together is in itself a marker of change. The setting is the home of Donna’s mother Sue, who passed away in the fall, and Donna is in the midst of the difficult task of sorting things out and readying the house for sale. The house is situated almost on the sand, with windows that look straight to the sea and Catalina Island beyond. There is a tall skinny palm tree in front, and a sidewalk that hosts a constant procession of walkers, runners, skaters, and cyclists, whose random fragments of conversation often float to us like poems. It’s strange to think the house will one day soon belong to someone else. But there is time for a few last gatherings, and this one of friendship and laughter is consistent with the spirit of the place, even if at times it feels poignant.

It is a house crammed with paintings, sculpture, and furniture, with photographs, books, and antique toys, with baskets, bowls and bric-a-brac. There’s a skeleton room done up in Dia de los Muertos themed decor, another room with a hundred hats hanging on the wall, and all sorts of unexpected treasures and brightly colored objects everywhere you look, each with a story or a memory connected to it. Sometimes an abundance of things has a heaviness about it. There’s a lot of stuff to deal with, and it weighs upon my friend. But the decor is evidence of a life well lived, and we are very aware of Sue’s presence, along with the vastness of her absence.

And there we were, drinking wine on the patio, watching the parade go by, feeling the sun on our faces, sharing stories. Speaking of burned or vacated houses, did I ever tell you that my family house on Long Island burned down? It was years after we had sold it, but there is still something shocking and strange about idly googling your old address and seeing images of the house engulfed in flames on the website of the local fire department. That’s it in the photo.

I hadn’t thought about that house in a long time, but now I was picturing it in vivid detail, room by room, and most of what happened was sad. Wouldn’t it be nice if I finally didn’t go to sad? What if I could shove aside those painful memories, stop tormenting myself for not doing more to make things better, and pat myself on the back for having come this far? Here is this lovely moment– good for me for having reached it–and already it is slipping away. “Where is it, this present?” asked the philosopher and psychologist William James. “It has melted in our grasp, fled ere we could touch it, gone in the instant of becoming.”

“All is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis,” wrote Henry Miller. Best not to grasp too tightly. Travel light. Love mightily. Tell someone your stories.

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Well meaning citizens had driven through the rain to attend a community gathering in a church hall in the valley. We stood at the entrance, shaking out our umbrellas and stomping our boots, then dutifully arranging chairs and plates of cheese, recognizing friends, greeting each other, all of us allies in a resistance. Who would have thought?

There were artists and teachers here, parents and grandparents, so many decent and intelligent people, all feeling anger and dismay, unexpectedly thrust into activism. I would have liked to have seen more young people, or more diversity, but that wasn’t likely on a rainy Thursday night in this little valley town. There was a great deal of fervor about immediate local actions we can take, such as protecting vulnerable immigrant farm workers, but less discussion of longer-range political solutions, which are also crucial. Several folks still seemed to be clinging to the fantasy that Electors would reverse their votes, but most of us understood that a horror had occurred and would not un-happen.

We are peaceable and fortunate people, still a bit stalled by shock, but we have been called to action now, and we will learn how to fight. We tried to be concrete and constructive at our community meeting and not dissipate our energy in emotion, even when those emotions were hard to contain.  I was happy to see my friend Genevieve, a beautiful and intelligent young mother with whom I used to teach, and then felt sad that what had brought us together is an unfolding nightmare.  But it’s gratifying to know we are on the same team, and reassuring to see so many fine and decent people stepping up. We are the majority, and we will prevail. We just can’t allow ourselves to succumb to weariness or despair, and I realize that won’t be easy. We wanted to believe the best in people, but there are ugly facts to face.

It’s hard to organize and strategize, to become an effective group, link to others, and grow into a movement–indivisible, relentless, and potent. We listed priorities in marker pen on flip chart easels, contributed comments and listened in earnest. Some recalled the lessons of the 1960s. “We need to make a lot of noise,” said one participant. “We need to read Tom Hayden’s SDS charter,” said another. There was a reference to a 2003 essay by David Harris, which I looked up later, and this in particular seemed relevant: “Under ideal circumstances, those of us who disagreed could turn to the opposition party to champion our cause, but the opposition party has long since abandoned its duty to oppose, fearing political jeopardy.”

So we’ll march, and write letters, and make phone calls, and sign petitions, and attend meetings, and lobby and support and protect and protest and obstruct and pay attention and stay informed and vote and network and communicate and learn and teach and help each other…and never give up. (Am I leaving anything out?) The world has changed, and we’ll need new tools and ideas, but our fundamental values are intact, and our commitment is unshakeable.

In this election, ethics, qualifications, and principles meant nothing, and the keys to great power were handed to a hate-mongering, mentally unstable, and dangerous narcissist whose flaunting of truth and democratic principles has already been unprecedented. He is entering office with numerous conflicts of interest, a history of corruption and despicable behavior, and an attitude of arrogance and belligerence in combination with appalling ignorance that should frighten all of us. We are seeing the clear beginnings of a kleptocracy, and we cannot let this happen. George Orwell often comes to mind: “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ War is peace. Freedom is slavery.”  Welcome to the Bizarro world, where everything you thought was right and reasonable is up-ended and brazenly replaced by its opposite.

Yes, it’s scary and depressing, but I resolve to be involved and stay involved, and to do at least one thing daily for the cause. I will never, ever take for granted the bounty of my life, the wonders of our poor beleaguered planet, or the gifts of the democracy into which I was born.  We will not stand by in silence, and we will not get over it, ever, because we will never accept the unacceptable.

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‘Tis A Season

My father-in-law at ninety sits in his La-Z-Boy playing rousing music on his iPad, a newfangled device he has grown fond of. It’s vintage Czechoslovakian polka music, he says, and it makes him happy, so it becomes the soundtrack for the morning. My mother-in-law is reading an old dog-eared book on native plants, making plans, enjoying her own notes from years past written in the margins. She propagates oak and sycamore trees and tends to a garden of natives.

Their window looks out onto a creek bed and the canyon road beyond. The cottonwood trees are in their brief season of yellow leaves, and a toyon by the house is a bounty of red berries, and wisps of cloud are rolling above the newly green hills. My daughter is removing her muddy Wellies outside the door, having just returned from the well, and one is tempted to say all is well.

But of course all is emphatically not well. I am trying to stay informed, but the news these days is crushing and infuriating, and the need to do something is accompanied by a sense of helplessness and frustration, even as the dangers of passivity grow.

I happened to run into Yvon Chouinard recently. I thanked him for what Patagonia did on the day after Thanksgiving, donating 100% of their sales to help the environment. His modest response:  “It’s only money.” And I said, “Yeah. We’re all going to hell in a hand-basket anyway.” And he said, “That’s right.”  He always seems kind of Buddhist about things, or maybe fatalistic. Might as well go down doing something.

Meanwhile, I’ve been having an ongoing dialog with a friend about anger. I admit to anger; my friend either doesn’t feel it or refuses to acknowledge it. HH the Dalai Lama would disapprove, he tells me–anger is just poison, diminishing our credibility and causing only harm. His pious dismissal of my anger makes me me angry, of course. I realize we cannot get swept up into useless drama with each new outrage, but anger is an understandable human response to the daily assaults on our values and the exasperating mentality that brought us to this point. I see it as an alarm, a clarifying energy born of conscience. The trick is to figure out how to channel it constructively.

Yesterday I went into the sweet little town of Los Olivos and stopped by to see my friend Dorothy on Figueroa Mountain Road. We talked about what strengths and resources we have, what strategies we can employ, how to sustain our energy through the long run, using our anger as a fuel but humor too, and love, mostly love. We looked out at the mountains. The world is so beautiful, she said.

California Christmas. A Mexican woman was selling homemade tamales wrapped like presents in foil and brown paper, still warm. A neighbor gave us a bowl of sweet persimmons, the kind you eat like apples. I rode my bicycle when the sandstone cliffs were golden and the green hills luminous, feeling exhilarated and inexplicably strong. There have been low-low tides and a sea as calm and quiet as I have ever seen it. My daughter is curled up on the living room sofa in a shaft of sunlight, reading, and I saw three former students in the course of a week, all good people, all grown up. It makes me feel I mattered a little.

And everything is telling me this: we have no choice but to be better.

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Leaving Dream-Island

P1010110.JPGSometimes a dream just stays with you, and this one did. It was a dream of green hills, our local ranch and farm land the way it is for a brief period after winter rain, green grass gleaming. I was looking out at the hills through a dusty window in an old rustic house. In the kitchen of the house was a cupboard heaped with china, chipped and unmatched, and on a hardwood floor there lay a small square of sunlight, a gift of the dusty window. Outside, a woman with long straight hair sat beneath a tree holding a baby, and an old man in a suede Western jacket was telling stories, holding court, assuring no one in particular that apart from the facts, all his stories were true. I recognized the storyteller, someone I’d interviewed long ago, and although he was alive and well as he stood there tolling like a bell in the green, I knew that he was dead. What difference does it make, anyway? I asked in my dream.

I lingered in the dream, but a real morning came, still dream-colored. The heavy aromas of macadamia blossoms and paper whites hovered in the air, almost too sweet, and toyon berries reddened, and many voices, living and dead, told stories in my head. I’m glad I live in the country, where it’s quiet enough to hear. On this island of green and dream, I can sleep walk for a while.

Oh, I know I need to get back in the world, but it isn’t a world that I recognize. Everything changed in November. Ethics, common sense, decency: none of the fundamentals applied. Integrity, truth, experience, worthiness…all were deemed irrelevant. The election was reality TV, the highest office in the land an entry level position filled by a vulgar, aggressively uninformed, and mentally unstable con man driven by megalomania and self-interest, and our imperfect but precious ship of state was apparently just something to blow up and see what happens. We seem to be headed into an era where knowledge is optional, intolerance is the norm, lies are the currency of the realm, and nothing we counted on can be counted on. I’m trying to find my footing on this shifting ground. Desperately seeking antidotes.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d bake some bread, which, like brewing tea, is a wonderful thing to do when you don’t know what to do next. I used a new mail-order sourdough starter descended, according to the label, from a New England culture begun in the 1700s. It was frisky. The dough rose and rose, reminding me of a childhood fairy tale about magic porridge. (Stop, little pot, stop.) But it didn’t soar to great heights in the oven, and in fact it’s heavier and flatter than I’d have liked. It’s tasty, though, and I hereby pronounce it good enough. I bake more by whimsy than science, so I may never know why this or that and what variables I should adjust. I’m just certain I’ll hit the right combination one of these days and a perfect loaf will emerge. “And how will you replicate it?” Monte would ask. I don’t know. I am of the happenstance school.

Yesterday I looked in the mirror and saw my mother. It isn’t that my face was hers, but she stood behind me, in my mind, so close and clear. I remembered the familiar lines and marks of her skin, the long white hair, her bony hands with rings beneath the knuckles, the aura of her. It hit me again that she was gone forever, and I wished I had been a thousand times more present and affectionate when she was living so nearby. This is my private grief, and I knew it was there, but I hadn’t been looking straight at it, so it hit me hard and took me by surprise, and I felt ineffably sad.

But the other grief I am carrying now is a kind of mourning for my country, a grief I share with millions of others. I can only hope we will turn our numbers into strength. How do we proceed? I’m as earnest and civic-minded as they come, an old teacher who happens to have a degree in public administration and worked in that world too; I’m a bit to the left, but relatively mainstream, probably a cliché in my California bubble. I have faith in democracy, try to participate, want to believe that fairness and reason will prevail. This disillusionment is new to me. Even now, with the checks and balances so weakened, and a bizarre president-elect that the majority of us did not vote for about to take office, there’s a part of me that wants to try to make it work, give it a chance, assume the best in people (despite all evidence to the contrary).

“Now is the time to confront the weak core at the heart of America’s addiction to optimism; it allows too little room for resilience, and too much for fragility,” writes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in “Now Is the Time To Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About” in this week’s New Yorker. And I realize I am guilty of that habit of optimism, that Pollyanna hopefulness, and maybe it isn’t particularly helpful now. This isn’t the time for revising reality, sugar-coating ugly truths, forgetting and absolving, or underestimating danger. “Now is the time,” she writes, “for the media, on the left and right, to educate and inform. To be nimble and alert, clear-eyed and skeptical, active rather than reactive. To make clear choices about what truly matters.”

We all need to step outside the comfort zone and take a more vigilant and assertive stance than we may be used to. As Barbara Kingsolver wrote, “Our first task is to stop shaming ourselves and claim our agenda. It may feel rude, unprofessional and risky to break the habit of respecting our government; we never wanted to be enemies of the state. But when that animosity mounts against us, everything we do becomes political: speaking up or not speaking up. Either one will have difficult consequences. That’s the choice we get.”

The animosity is mounting against all of us. Look at the line-up. Listen to the words. Recognize the codes. We need to seek remedies. Speak out. Object. Get in the way. Demand accountability. Require decency. Be more vocal and involved than ever before. Do good work. Refuse to go away. I realize this is vague, but we will know how to translate it into specific acts as we go along. To quote Kingsolver again: “Every soul willing to do that is part of our team, starting with the massive crowd that shows up in DC in January to show the new president what we stand for, and what we won’t.”

I’m retired and tired. I think what I wanted to do in this season of life was bake bread, collect stories, see the Northern Lights someday. Maybe I’d finally get a dog again, write something worthy, be blessed with grandchildren. I’d pitch in now and then but mostly it was time to step aside, wander in the hills on dream-island, lean back and watch the sky. I was wrong.

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What We Need Is Here

img_3055The mountain lion meandered along the ridge, aware of us but unconcerned. We had seen a bobcat earlier, and the differences were clear. The lion had a larger body, a longer tail, and a different kind of gait, more leisurely and confident somehow. It blended well against the tawny hills and now and then disappeared into the brush, but once it was visible, it was unmistakable, and it was master of its domain, a magnificent being. I was glad there were four of us, and that the lion was distant and indifferent. We didn’t feel threatened, so we stood and watched until it was no longer in sight.

We hiked to a high point. To the north, we could see the contours and colors of the earth: the green and gold of grassy ground, the dark of woods, the ocher of sandstone rock, the white diatomaceous hills of Lompoc. To the west, a great expanse of sparkling sea merged seamlessly with sky, the hazy blue outlines of the Channel Islands…and Point Conception, the Western Gate. Still here, still here. And then I heard the canyon wren. How could that not mean hope?

I won’t pretend. I’m still reeling about events that are unfolding in our nation and the world.  But I see this as a time to learn and gather strength. I don’t think I can function effectively if I’m in a constant state of nausea and rage. Maybe the silver lining of this election will be that it woke us up, and we realize what wasn’t working and what’s at stake, and hopefully we can limit damage while we regroup.

I watched a clip of a Charlie Rose interview with Jon Stewart, and I thought Stewart had some calm and helpful insights on what just happened: “It all ties together…I don’t believe we are a fundamentally different country today than we were two weeks ago. The same country with all its grace and flaws, and volatility, and insecurity, and strength, and resilience exists today as existed two weeks ago. The same country that elected Donald Trump elected Barack Obama. I feel badly for the people for whom this election will mean more uncertainty and insecurity. But I also feel like this fight has never been easy. And the ultimate irony of this election is the cynical strategy of the Republicans, which is: ‘Our position is that government doesn’t work. We’re going to make sure… that it doesn’t work.’”

what we need is hereI suppose we are the same country, although at the moment it doesn’t feel that way. It’s true that there is something inherently contradictory and impossible about the very idea of America, and yet here we are, capable of the best and the worst. Where do we go from here?  Lao-Tzu asked a relevant question in the 6th century BCE: “Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?”

That’s what I’m trying to do. Not withdrawing, but stepping back a little in order to see the big picture, ready for action when we know what is needed and how to be most effective. I’m still writing letters, making calls, signing petitions, communicating and networking, paying attention, not taking anything for granted. But I’m trying also to pace myself and not get all used up in symbolic, short-lived gestures born of outrage. There is this counsel from Thich Nhat Han disciple, Brother Phap Dung, who advised in an interview: “Go take refuge in nature, and find a cause where your heart doesn’t feel inactive and in despair. This is the medicine. We go out and we help. Don’t allow hate and anger to take over your world. There are other things happening. Right now people in our family are still there, and they might need us. Our friend may be somebody who is being discriminated against. You can only be there to offer them kindness if you are stable. You cannot help them if you are filled with hate and fear. What people need is your non-fear, your stability, solidity, clarity. This is what we can offer.”

This hike was the part where we take refuge in nature, and nature does not let us down. Among our greatest resources are hope and conviction, and the wonders of earth, sea, and sky restore both. We descended the ridge and walked along a narrow road with oak trees on either side, cool shade and shafts of sunlight, brown leaves and damp earth beneath our feet. Still here.

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Thinking Loudly

img_3017I still feel like I’ve been thrust into a nightmare from which I cannot awaken, a nightmare in which a familiar landscape is suddenly changed, people you thought you knew are transformed into aliens, fundamentals you believed in with all your heart are being trampled, and what you know very well to be false is embraced as true. The list of alarming developments even in the past few days is long, but none of this should come as a surprise. Looking back I think one of the most disillusioning aspects of all of this is that throughout the whole campaign Trump was so clearly the grotesque self-parody that he is, but his appallingly evident lack of character, decency, and experience was completely irrelevant to those who voted for him. They gave him a pass on everything.

As, really, did many in the press and media, who thoroughly enjoyed the ratings he drew, held him and HRC to such different standards, and treated absolutely repulsive deeds and statements as if they were merely different points of view and worthy of equal time. We live in an age in which facts and truth don’t seem to matter, because real stories are indistinguishable from lies and propaganda, and Trump understood the way it worked. He was able to attract attention, tap into emotion, resentment, and some visceral but ill defined let’s blow it all up desire for change, and ride into power fueled by anger and illusion.

I want to be optimistic and constructive, but my own rage and frustration boil over sometimes, and there are waves of shock and revulsion. I’ve expended a great deal of time signing petitions, writing letters, reading and worrying myself sick about the direction our country is heading. Finally I am beginning to see something that my husband and others I trust have been saying all along: this is a long game, requiring patience, attention, stamina. Efforts to prevent him from taking office are futile manifestations of denial. He has “settled” the Trump University case with a relatively cheap $25 million buy-off (but oh, Hillary Clinton and her private email server, the horror) and despite the fact that he lost the popular majority and has huge financial improprieties and conflicts as he enters office, let’s face it, the Electoral College voters are not going to flip or abstain, as several petitions have requested. What we can and must do is keep his tenure short, limit the harm and contain the damage, somehow learn from this nightmare and be better henceforth.

Seneca, philosopher of Ancient Rome, wrote: “No man was ever wise by chance.” We must actively pursue wisdom and learn all we can from what has just transpired and from history before it. There’s a lot to read.  One article that appeared in the Times the other day had good advice based on Italy’s experience with Berlusconi. It’s called  “The Right Way to Resist Trump” by Luigi Zingales, a respected economist at the University of Chicago. Zingales urges us not to focus on personality. “An opposition focused on personality would crown Mr. Trump as the people’s leader of the fight against the Washington caste,” he writes. “It would also weaken the opposition voice on the issues, where it is important to conduct a battle of principles.”

We need to focus on actual policy and action as it begins to materialize. To quote Seneca again: “If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” And the truth is, we do not yet know where this ship is headed and what we will need to do to correct its course.  Obviously we must resist fundamental wrongs, stall and sabotage when needed, and protect those most vulnerable among us, but if something is proposed that has merit, maybe cooperative effort can occur. Reflexively protesting everything isn’t helpful.

I also heard a recent interview with an historian named Thomas Ricks, in which he pointed out that every political action has a political reaction. I think we can anticipate a huge reaction from this difficult-to-digest political takeover, a pendulum swing that yields sweeping change, and that’s not necessarily bad. Things were apparently more dysfunctional than we thought. This is not the end of the story.

So I’m trying to calm down and be smart. Someone sent me a pertinent quote via Twitter by Dave Pell, Internet guru, savvy essayist, and creator of a newsletter called NextDraft: “He’s offensive. We’re offended. Let’s move on to what matters. Winning the next election.”  He also warns that every day we play a short game is a winning day for Trump.

Maybe, but these are such general statements, and I don’t always know what they mean. What will these long-game strategies look like? And even while looking ahead strategically it is essential that we remain vigilant in the present. Some people are more immediately threatened but nobody is safe if a demagogue goes unchecked. Erosion of hard-won rights and civil liberties, undoing of progress made to protect the environment, dismantling of a health care act upon which millions depend, many troubling conflicts of interest that will affect international relations…there is so much at risk.

I do see the sense of not wasting our energy, losing focus, or inadvertently feeding the monster by reacting blindly and fortifying the resolve of Trump supporters who mistakenly believe they are part of a righteous populist movement to better their lives and restore “greatness” to our nation. But what is our agenda? How do we reorganize and move forward? We have now seen indisputable evidence that our political party system is in need of radical overhaul, but what is the model? Business as usual? I don’t think so.  We seem to have misunderstood the electorate and underestimated constituent complexities even within our own party. Certainly the Democratic party needs some new leadership. (Isn’t it time for Nancy Pelosi to step aside?) Also, I hope we’ve learned that the view of elections as race horse entertainment benefits only the media outlets who profit from ratings. Despite all of our social media and the constant barrage of “news”–and maybe because of it–we have not been listening, hearing, understanding or communicating effectively.

In pursuing the wisdom and information, I’ve found I have to curate my material a little better, learn what sources I can trust, avoid Facebook, don’t obsessively read everything or listen compulsively to the news. Some articles make me cry. Others make me feel angry and riled up, but uselessly. One voice that alarms me, but which I feel should be heard, is that of Sarah Kendzior. She advocates a more immediate and proactive resistance, and although I am hoping we can create and implement effective long-term strategies, I think it’s important that we do not lose sight of the severity of the danger and the reasons for her perspective. She is an expert on the rise of authoritarian states, and even before the election, she was warning of the threat of the white supremacist movement, the insidious ways that fascism takes hold, and the very real dangers of a Trump Presidency. One of her most widely circulated articles is this one, about how to be your own light in the dark time of Trump.

I asked a friend who is knowledgable about Russia and eastern Europe for his thoughts about Kendzior’s dire warnings, and he in turn sent me this perspective from another source: “If Trump swerves that way he will be stopped by his own party as well as the courts.” He pointed out that there are great risks for those in power if they overplay their hand.  So again, the counsel is wait and see. We shouldn’t panic or over-react. He added, however, that he was going to make a large contribution to the ACLU because that organization is going to be more relevant than ever.

img_3020Meanwhile, I’m trying to stay steady and quell the nausea and dismay. Maybe we should pool our promises and ideas for getting through, and we can all draw upon these and encourage each other.  As for me, I was a teacher for many years and I will strive to live in that spirit. I am a writer too, and I will write and encourage writing, because writing helps us to heal, and to make sense of the world, and to speak to others even across time. Let us document these events as we work to shape them. I will continue to engage in real conversations with others who are living through this time and searching for the learning. I will find ways to be of service.  I will make calls and write letters, exercise our right of free speech, and hold our representatives accountable. I will step up in defense of those vulnerable to threats of deportation and openly condoned bigotry.

I will remember that many millions of us, in fact the majority, voted against Trump, and we are still here.  I will avert my gaze as Trump’s vulgarity permeates the White House, and I will boycott any publications that start talking about Melania’s fashion choices or other nonsense geared to distract, glamorize, or normalize this horror show. I will look at President Obama’s breathtaking dignity and grace as he honors the principle of peaceful transition under the most painful and bizarre of circumstances. (For a better sense of the President’s extraordinary spirit, insights, and strength of character, please read David Remnick’s piece here “Obama Reckons With A Trump Presidency”  or in the November 28 edition of The New Yorker. Obama is not going away either; I think…and hope…he will have an important role in what comes next.)  And I am certain that there are many others who will model bravery, resolve, reason, and diligence as we go forward. I will recognize the heroes in everyday life as well and try to be kinder and more compassionate than ever.

It’s not the apocalypse. But we are going to be living with a new kind of discomfort, a strange dissonance and anxiety. I’ve always been neurotic, so I suppose I have an advantage here. I never take anything for granted, and even in the happy times I’m simultaneously aware of the trouble to come. So I’m used to being uneasy, not sleeping well, forcing myself to go through the motions whether I feel like it or not, hoping the spirit kicks in. We’ll need a lot of that “put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other” stuff. More zen-like friends tell me to just live my truth, bake bread, plant seeds, walk in the hills, be the light.  Some of them send me poems. I’m always grateful for poems.

I never thought I’d say this at sixty-five years of age, but I am also going to march in D.C. the day after the inauguration. It’s crazy and impractical, not to mention that I hate crowds and cold weather…but a friend invited me to join her, and we have a plan, and there’s almost an historic inevitability about it. I am viewing it not so much as a protest but as a show of solidarity, commitment, and strength. I remember how D.C. was filled with people celebrating when President Obama took office. I would love to see the streets fill up like that, but everyone will know it’s not a celebration, but a declaration that one election will not undo all the good that has been done and all that we aspire to for generations to come. Let it be known to the world–and that megalomaniac himself, the very day after his inauguration–that he does not represent or define us.

Despair beckons, but we will not succumb to it. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. As is hope.

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It is a profoundly painful and sickening moment. I guess I didn’t understand the country that I live in. I honestly thought we were better than this.

How do we face our children tomorrow? I expected to be feeling proud, knowing we had repudiated the hatred, reaffirmed the best in ourselves, even elected the first woman President. I realize this is the time to say something comforting and hopeful and brave, but I am too heartbroken and horrified to do so. And I hurt for those who feel even more disenfranchised and devalued than I do. This man will never represent us. This is not who we are. This cannot possibly be who we are. But as historian Bruce Bartlett said, “I now understand how the most civilized, best educated country in Europe freely elected Hitler.”

Let me get this straight. We have gone from the first African-American President to a man who is endorsed by the KKK. He is a racist, a bully, a liar, a narcissist, and a sexual predator who pays no taxes and has been involved in thousands of lawsuits. He has absolutely no experience in public service and is aggressively ignorant of the workings of government and the complex issues, both domestic and global, which will come before him…and let’s face it, he has decidedly fascist tendencies. His entire platform has been based upon insults and fear and the legitimizing of xenophobia, anger, and hatred. He believes climate change is a hoax and is likely to set back any progress we have made to avert environmental catastrophe. Among his expressed priorities are the dismantling of the Affordable Health Care Act, leaving millions uninsured, banning and deporting people on the basis of their religious beliefs, and locking up Hillary Clinton. Economists speculate that his policy proposals will unleash a global recession that will make 2008 seem easy.

Who will advise him? He is reckless, ignorant, and ill suited to the grave responsibilities of the presidency, disdainful of alliances and agreements, disturbingly belligerent and lacking in judgment. It’s terrifying to imagine him as a powerful figure on the world stage. And as he enters the White House, there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and a Republican majority in both houses. So much for checks and balances. The long reach of this demagogue will extend into the next generation.

Well, unless I am just having a very bad dream and typing in my sleep, it turns out that this is what nearly half of our nation’s voters want in a President, and enough to have won the requisite number of Electoral College votes. I cannot get my mind around it. We had an incredibly hard working and well qualified woman running, and we end up with the guy with no experience, knowledge, dignity or integrity who boasted of grabbing women by the pussy and described Mexican immigrants as rapists, to choose just two memorable quotes from a campaign in which ugliness was normalized. This has to be one of the biggest WTF moments in history. Was it sexism? Racism? Confusion between reality TV and the real world?

Maybe in a little while we can regroup, be the loyal opposition. Chin up and all that stuff. We need to remain vigilant, stay involved, maintain our ideals, never give up. But right now I just want to cry. I’m stunned and sad and so terribly disillusioned. I know I am not alone in this. I am sending love to all my fellow Americans who pictured an America so different from this one we’re about to wake up to. Let’s hold each other and make our way through the dark.

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