I’m so angry I could cry

I’m an angry person already, so this pandemic crisis is not making me any more sanguine, let me tell ya. It’s gotten so bad, it feels like a COVID symptom of its own.

Truth is I’ve had it. I thought I had it before with the racism and climate denial and homophobia and xenophobia and corruption and media-bashing. But this Covidiotism is all of that plus more. When did people get so awful? How can so many people be living in this cult — because it feels like a cult — where they are willing to put empathy, generosity, and all common sense aside to act like a 2-year-old? But 2-year-olds don’t kill people.

How insane is it that some people view wearing a mask as somehow anti-American?! I am infuriated that there are people who deride or even spit at mask wearers, while only blocks away people are putting their life on the line at checkout counters and ERs. How can people be so soullessly mean? How can I stop wanting to see their waxen lifeless faces in an open coffin?

My mother’s only lament about being a Holocaust survivor was the anger she carried her entire life at the Nazis and the Germans who looked the other way. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve inherited that anger epigenetically. I don’t think I can handle this much fury without it affecting my body and spirit.

I understand a certain degree of lockdown frustration. Everyone is afraid. Businesses are tanking, household nerves are fraying. It’s hard, especially when you don’t know when it will end. If people knew their lives would go back to normal in just another month or so, maybe they could handle that. But nobody knows. The uncertainty feels like it’s killing them — more than the virus might.

I also recognize that some of this irrational denialism is regional. The person who rants “it’s nothing worse than the flu” or “it’s a politicized hoax” may live in an area that has not yet been hard hit. Some are just Libertarians, who bristle from being told what they can or can’t do.

But what makes me the most upset is the realization that our president and his billionaire cronies have a far more insidious agenda: ridding the country of those seen as expendable. People of color, poor people, old people. Dying for the Dow is nothing short of cold-hearted genocide.

After Mr. Trump was elected, I became fascinated with the issue of small-mindedness. Why, for example, are most white people in the south Conservative? I recognize that some of it has to do with rural vs. urban populations. But much of how we think politically feels cultural, emanating from long-held family and community values. There is no denying that institutional racism exists everywhere in this country. But in certain areas, there are far more people with Confederate leanings. Far more people who hate immigrants or gay people. And far more “religious” people who espouse beliefs that are antithetical to the teachings of Christ. Are some people just more evil than others?

I don’t think so. I think all humans harbor the potential for both good and evil. I don’t think I’m intrinsically much different from the Good German who thought my 5-year-old aunt deserved to burn in Auschwitz. What made that person so willing to suspend their horror? Is this what happens when a tribe feels threatened and wants to protect themselves from the outside invader? Are we hard-wired like this? And a better question, is there a pill for it?

The bottom line is that this behavior is going to kill us. And I’m not just talking about anti-lockdown attitudes. I’m talking about all of it: the entire human response to fear that translates into harming others and the planet. But I’m also talking about the anger. Because anger can definitely kill. My mom popped a vessel in her brain and so did her mom (right after an argument, as it turns out). There’s a good chance, the same could happen to me. So I’ve got to figure this out.

I suppose I could stop reading the news and social media. I should meditate and do more yoga. I should probably take more political action (we all should). But part of me understands that what I really need to do is cry. Anger is the flip side of depression. And when you are an angry sort like me, you tend to rage instead of feel.

These are horrible times. People are suffering. People are dying. People are behaving immorally. I must cry for what we’ve become.

My Least Favorite Asshole

This is a rant about assholes. And before we get very far let me clarify that I am not talking about the obvious ones: the Mitch McConnells or Donald Trump, Jrs. of the world. Those people are more like in the category of Evil Doer.

I’m also not talking about the assholes we’ve known our entire life. The kid who raised his hand and always had to shout out the answer, who probably grew into the mansplainer, who never gives others a chance to talk. Everyone knows these people are lame and we can roll our eyes together and just move on.

What I’m talking about is a specific kind of asshole. The person who’s flawed just like the rest of us, but who seeks more than others to present an aura of goodness.

These types of closet assholes are endemic to the Valley. Maybe they exist everywhere but sometimes it seems like there is a higher proportion of them here. When you live in a place where being kind is highly valued, you run into a lot people hiding behind a cloak of wannabe goodness and caring.

Let me give you some examples. We’ve got the popular therapist who specializes in eating disorders. I can see her eyes, squinting slightly in distaste as she eyes my outsized thighs. Then we’ve got the philanthropist who never gives. He serves on boards of all kinds but is always tapped for funds. When people still rented videos, he was always the first to dispute a late fee. There’s the non-profit leader reknown for the many projects they have launched, but who often leaves their employees crying.

So how do you know if someone is an asshole trying hard to hide behind a mantle of goodness? Check out how they treat those who serve them or are perhaps lesser in power or status. I’m sure there are other asshole indicators, but I’ve always thought that is a good one.

So why do people want to fake being good and why is that even bad? The most positive way to think about this is that people want to be seen as good generous people. To their credit, they assign a high value to beneficence. Deep down they feel terrible about falling short in that department so they work even harder to hide it. Maybe they know they’re a big mess inside but don’t want for you to see that so they spend a lot of timing erecting facades, putting up nice curtains to block the view.

I’ve always said it would be great if people’s insecurities could be clearly marked by something like a discrete lapel pin. Oh, I would say, when I saw their diagnosis, you just need a hug.

But sadly that’s not how it works. Instead, my least favorite kind of asshole uses their good persona as a shield to hide their shameful darkness. You think you’re dealing with a decent person, but then it turns out you’re not.

I myself much prefer people who are upfront about their inadequacies and self-perceived failings. I love me the people who share that they feel like impostors or let you know they are harboring a dumpster fire in their soul. It makes me relax my own judgment and see them for the flawed and wonderful people they are. That we all are.

Thin Towels

My mother had a closet in her house that was filled with thin towels. Maybe even two closets. Every time I came for a visit, she’d offer me from her bounty. When I was younger and meaner, I would just tell her to her face that I had no need for her meager linens. As I grew older, I just shut my mouth and shook my head with mild disdain. Why on earth, I thought,  would someone so eager to please, not understand the the importance of being able to wrap yourself in luxurious cotton after a hot shower. Every time I bathed at my mother’s house I would have to dry my body with something resembling an old dish cloth.

Several weeks ago I noticed that, much to my mortification, I too had fallen short in the towel department. The problem was that I was blinded by love. I still saw my beloved Wamsuttas with the same eye as when I had brought them home 20 years ago. Long unruly strings dangled from every part of them and all the borders were frayed And even though the fabric was still deliciously soft, the towels had grown thin to the touch. When did that happen?

These were my special towels. They were a set of five and I kept them together in the same bathroom for more than 15 years.  I didn’t even like using spares when they were in the wash. One time a housesitter confessed he’d accidentally taken one of the five home. I was adamant he return it.

So letting go of these towels felt big. They had been with me through a divorce and several love affairs. But now we had to part ways.

I felt almost giddy the day I went Bed, Bath and Beyond and picked out their costly replacements. The vivid rust colored luxurious bath towels I brought home that night made me happy just looking at them. I couldn’t wait to use them. I hung them each on their own rack and sat back and admired them. And then I took a shower. A long hot one. Then I turned the water off and grabbed my new towel, closing my eyes in anticipation.

It took just a few seconds to realize that this beautiful towel had little to no absorbency. Every shower I took, I kept trying to rub myself dry with these russet-colored beauties, but I could never stop feeling damp. I did not say anything to my partner. I think I was still hoping it was my imagination. After all, these towels looked so cottony. How could this be? But then, must have been a week later, Kevin came out of the bathroom muttering, why cant I seem to dry myself off?

We lived like this for months. I kept hoping if I put these towels through enough cycles they would get beaten into some sort of absorbent submission. But no. they never did.

Then one day, I just had it. I was sick of always being sopping wet. I took all five replacement towels and stuffed them into a big contractor bag. Where are you going with those moist smell towels, asked Kevin. “I am taking these back to the store, I said. Without washing them? Hell, yes. I said.

The nice customer service lady agreed to give me my money back or exchange them for something else. But when I revisited the towel offerings, I realized THEY WERE ALL LIKE THAT. Except for the few super fancy super-sized Egyptian bath towels that only came in white. I was tempted for a moment. High quality white  towels are truly super spa but I know white things get gray around me. There was nothing here I could buy. I would need to get a refund and not an exchange.

The sales clerk was very chatty. She loved talking about towels. And clearly knew almost everything to know about them. She told me the manufacturers do something to the thread so they feel fluffier but at the expense of how well they dried. Which towel do you like best, I asked her.

I like thin towels, she told me. I have five people in my family. Thick towels don’t dry very fast. That doesn’t work for us. Thin towels are actually pretty economical. You never have to wait for them to dry, she said. But we don’t sell them here.

 

On Giving Like a Mensch

unnamed

Giving is not always easy. When some one asks me for something, my inclination is to want to help out if I  can. But sometimes I am not so generous when the cost feels high. How should one deal with someone asking you for a favor you don’t want to do? The “will-you-take-me-to-the-airport-at-5:00-in-the-morning” type of favor. The kind of favor that leaves your jaw hanging but you say yes anyway, just because you assume that no one would make such a request unless they absolutely had to. 

The real question: after you agree to do something that really puts you out and in my case it meant that for the whole rest of the day I felt like I had had only two hours of sleep because, in fact, I had had only two hours of sleep do you moan and groan first before you say yes or do you just say yes?

Now I know that higher-minded people would say if you agree to do a favor, you should do so without squawking. But I like to get full credit for my giving. So upon arriving at the traveler’s home in the pitch dark, I made sure to clarify almost immediately this was a big deal. “I hope you’re aware that I go to bed at 2?” I hope you’re aware that this is a major pain in my ass, I might have mentioned.

This is not the Jewish way of doing a mitzvah or a good deed. I know this because I went to Jewish day school with a curriculum that included Torah, Talmud, and Mishnah. (You can google these subjects but suffice it to say they’re the reason there have historically been so many Jews in the legal profession. These schools also have you doing Israeli folk dancing during recess to lyrics about irrigating the desert.) One of things I learned there was the Jewish philosophy on giving. The good person gives to someone who knows the donor. The better person gives to someone who doesn’t know the donor. And the best person doesn’t know to whom she is giving, nor does the recipient know who it was that gave. 

I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t give anonymously in a situation where that’s possible. There’s a burden to open giving. It unsettles a balance and creates a sense of owing even if that is not the giver’s intention. With anonymous giving, no one needs to see that you might be a begrudging giver or worse someone who basks in showcasing their generosity.

Giving is a gift to the giver, but not if you’re keeping score. You just have to bask in the giving for giving sake and how it makes you feel about yourself. Because the way one gives or doesn’t give defines so much about oneself sense of self. About how you love and how you deal with power. One of the worst parts of being poor is not having the luxury to give. And when you can’t give, you lose a sense of worth. I see that in my 93-year-old friend who grows blinder by the day. She feels like she can no longer offer  anybody anything. That she’s 100% of a burden. I tell her that she gives me so much with her wisdom, but she is sad she can’t give much more than that.

~ written November 15, 2015

On Being Likable

 

I’ve noticed that there’s a way of being in this world that makes one likableor not likable at all. I’m certain that I’m not a very likable person, although I suppose it depends on who’s doing the judging. And before you start reassuring me that you like me very much, know that I don’t mind being unlikable. It just makes life a little harder.

Unlikable people tend to have fewer friends and defenders. When they bring up an idea or make a point at a meeting, it’s often ignored until a likable person raises it. If they make a mistake, they are not quickly forgiven. They often don’t get credit they deserve, and no one lights up when they enter a room.

By contrast, people like being in the presence of a likable person; they want to be liked by them. Maybe because it makes them feel more likable themselves.

What exactly makes a person likable? It helps to be pleasant to look at. Not too heavy, not too thin. A nice symmetrical face, but not too good-looking. People who are very attractive often make others ill at ease. A face free of tension or hardness. No sour pusses. Resting bitch face, unconscious glaring, anything but a half-formed smile, is a problem. Nobody likes a Debbie Downeror someone who looks like one. A smile reflects acceptance and lack of judgment. People like that. It also helps to have a nice voice. Something soothing and balanced. Never shrill or too high. Some stellar political female candidates were felled by their unpleasant pitch.

Likable people know how to listen. People love listeners. A boss of mine who was a genius at raising funds used to say that the best way to get rich people to give is to let them talk. They like hearing their voice more than any other person’s. That’s true for a lot of us.

Likable people are also good laughers. That’s one way I know I could never be likable. Most things are not that funny and I refuse to laugh at something I don’t find amusing. Likable people don’t have this problem though because they laugh easily. They don’t even have to fake it. Lucky them.

Not surprisingly, I am not the biggest fan of likable people. Partly it’s because they make me feel unlikable. It’s a knee jerk Tourette’s reaction I sometimes get. Like if people are being too self-righteous, I want to do something despicable. If they are meek and mild-mannered, I want to scream obscenities.

I also find likable people a little bland. They don’t have sharp edges. They don’t say provocative things that might upset someone. They’re typically kind and considerate, and you’re grateful for their presence when you need their ministrations. But the rest of the time, forget about it. I like my people rough.

Which is not to say that I like all unlikable people. God no. In fact, my least favorite unlikables are people who pretend they are likable when in fact they are horrid. I had an ex-neighbor who was highly regarded in the community. Oh you live near X, she’s so lovely, I’d hear people say. No, she’s not, I wanted to correct them. She’s filled with venom and will do things like complain you’re not sanding the driveway correctly. I always heard her guffawing hysterically, though, when she had guests. She had a great laugh.

The Death Cafe

It was the perfect day to go to a Death Cafe. Rainy and cold.

It was hard getting the women into the car and I could not rush them. Getting from a walker into a car is not that easy when you’re 92 and 88. But they both got in to the car unaided. Very slowly. My job was wrestling the walkers into the back of the car.

These women don’t get out much from assisted living and they certainly do often go very far. The car ride was a trip through memory lane for them, as we drove through  Sunderland and Deerfield. I used to bike up Sugarloaf Mountain, one of the women said. “I had no idea you had been so athletic,” said the other. “Oh, I was,” said the first. “I was the president of the Athletic Club at college.”

We got to the Unitarian Church in plenty of time. I’m glad my friend had insisted on an hour lead time. I left the women in the car to do recon and find the right entrance/ There was not much room for error here.  I parked in the alleyway near the unmarked but well-used side door, a feature of most Unitarian churches I’ve noticed. The sidewalk was very slanted and it was raining hard. A man opened the door from within. He carried an umbrella and took turns helping the women in and keeping them dry while I parked the car.

The bathrooms were narrow and not that easy to navigate with a walker it took a lot of time for my companions to get settled, but finally we were able to get started.

There was not much to it, our host explained. Basically, people go around and introduce themselves and why they’re here, she said. Then whoever wants to talk, can start talking. There were a list of questions on a sheet, she said, that might get the conversation going.

Everyone was there for their own agenda. A sweet-faced man about 40 in a perfect purple fleece shared that he was here because his best friend’s wife was dying and she did not want to talk about it with anyone. He and his friend would descend to the basement and talk in whispers about that which could not be named. It had been hard.

Everyone revealed something they had never shared with others. What would it be like to die when you didn’t have much immediate family or any children, wondered one person.

Another person shared that death had traumatized her as a child. Her father had commit suicide during the Great Depression and jumped out of his office building when she was six years old. They never told her he died only that he went away. She found out the truth inadvertently at 18.

Another woman who was in her sixties had moved back to the area with her husband to take care of her ailing parents. Both her mom and dad had come with her to the last Death Cafe but her dad had since died. Her dad had been terminally ill and had initially chosen not to go on any life support measures, but in the last minute changed his mind. He went on to live almost another year. Some days were okay, many were not. Mostly he wore women both out. Now her mom had dementia.

Why was I at the Death Cafe? I was there because ever since hearing about this concept I had always wanted to go to one. When my older friend had brought it up, I immediately researched it and found a Cafe was scheduled in a nearby town at the end of the month. This was auspicious. It seemed like the perfect time to go.

I’ve always been fascinated with death and always welcome the opportunity to talk or write about it. I’m interested in cultivating acceptance for my own end. I’ve lived a full and love-filled life. But still I’m scared.  Not so much about death, as the process of dying. I don’t want to have to say goodbye. I don’t do sadness well.

What I found most useful about the gathering is talking about one’s bottom line. When would it no longer be worth it for you to go on living?  Atul Gawunde’s Being Mortal really made me realize the importance of having the people around you know this about you even if it changes over time. His dad’s bottom line was being able to enjoy chocolate ice cream.

We went around the table sharing our bottom line. I would hate losing the ability to read but if I could still enjoy eating, I think I’d want to go on. (I love eating.) My friend said that hers was when you stop feeling you are of any value. She told the group that every day she felt like more and more of a burden. It made me tear up to hear her say this. I need her to know how much she is teaching me about growing older with grace. I will make sure to tell her the next time I see her.

Difficult Women

A friend was complaining to my husband recently about his wife. “I know what it’s like being married to a difficult woman,” Kevin tells him. WHAT?! I am not a difficult woman! I’m not, I insist. But then I quickly realize how ridiculous that is. I am most certainly a difficult woman.

Nasty Women are popular these days, but my type of Difficult Woman is a different animal. She may speak her mind, a la Kamala Harris or Maxine Waters, but she’s not just difficult because she’s outspoken. She can be an outright pain in the ass.

She may insist on doing things her way. She may be intractable. She may be prone to moods. She may not let things go easily. I’ve known this character all my life and have been trying to help her.

My grandmother was the Grande Dame of Difficult Women. She raged and mourned deeply all the years she lived with us. She had lost her husband and her younger daughter to the Nazis. Miraculously all four of her siblings survived. I must have gotten the difficult gene from that family line. Because despite having remained alive against miraculous odds, my grandmother’s siblings were mostly estranged from each other throughout my life. My grandmother and her younger sister managed to stay together through three concentration camps, but stopped talking to each other some time in the 60s.

Not all difficult women are the same, mind you. They can range from mildly irksome to totally unbearable. I actually find that moderately difficult women are my favorite. They are the people I find the most interesting and the ones who make up most of my friends. I’ve always liked fiery people (although I have gotten burned).

You should know that difficult women are not always happy about being difficult.  They’re not just about being contrarian. (I find contrarians tiring.) It’s that Difficult people feel more wed to their truths. So it’s a little harder for them to ignore their inner voice and the feelings it generates. They know what they like and often insist on it. I like that.

Difficult women have strong feelings. They are almost never lukewarm. They crave the storms of emotion and seek them out. I think that’s why I like to read so much and why I love the movies and good drama series. Otherwise rage from reading the news would my main emotion every day. I need some variety.

Difficult women enjoy expressing themselves. Not coincidentally, many of them are artists. They also like to form their own opinions and hold lots of them. They will question assumptions to assess the strength of your argument and evaluate accordingly. They take nothing on face value unless they’ve determined it to be true themselves. They’re often skeptics.

I know that living with a difficult woman can be challenging and I am grateful that my husband Kevin is a patient man. He’s a nurse in an inner city emergency room and he’s exceptionally calm. The direct opposite of me, because laid back, I am not. Somehow our relationship mostly works, although I know he sometimes gets exasperated with me. It’s the same trait, though, that keep things interesting. He would never say I’m boring.

I suppose the argument can be made that one can be an interesting, provocative, vibrant  woman without necessarily being difficult. At least I hope so. It’ definitely something I aspire to: to manage my condition with more ease and grace as I age. To let go more often, To chill out more. Just like my grandmother did as she grew older. That is a goal I can embrace. An easier Difficult Woman.

Singing at the top of my lungs

For almost all of my 60 years I have been a painfully shy singer. I think I’m like that because singing, like dancing, feels very private to me. Almost carnal. You may know what I look like, you may know how I write or what I think—but you don’t what I sound like when I sing. It feels so private to make sounds that one doesn’t usual make in public. (Because in this country, people don’t sing much in front of others, unless it’s at church.)

My inhibition runs deep. Even around a campfire, I’ve had a hard time joining in with others. And there is nothing that sounds worse than a voice constricted by embarrassment. It’s so shaky and feeble.

Don’t think I don’t like to sing. I do. Choral music is my favorite genre, and I love sacred masses. I can sing the entire Messiah, not just the highlights. I know every note of Bach’s Magnificat and Verdi’s Requiem. In fact, I even sang with the Hampshire Choral Society for a few years because I love that music so much I wanted to be completely surrounded by it, engulfed by the harmony. But choral singing is not intimate. It’s about blending many voices together so they sound like one. To me it feels like anonymous singing.

The only other time in my life I used to sing in public would be at the Passover Seder. For two nights each year of my life, my family would sing the same dozen songs. I never heard them sing otherwise. But on Passover, my father would adopt a surprisingly robust baritone and sing Echad Mi Yodeah (Who Knows One?), a call-and-response piece which goes all the way up to thirteen. Think Twelve Days of Christmas. When my father boisterously sang “who knows one?”, “one is god!” we all sang back. It was the only time each year when I would sing at the top of my lungs, fueled by four glasses of wine built into the ceremony. The rest of the year, I might sing alone in the car, but never in earshot of another person.

And then something changed. Kevin had always kept his guitar out, but about two years ago, he started picking it up more frequently and polishing old favorites. I found myself humming along quietly while I read. I don’t know when it happened or why, but one day I asked him if he could play a song I liked. When he played it the first few times, I sang it quietly to myself. I don’t even think he could hear. But as he got more confident in his finger-picking, I felt more comfortable singing a tiny bit louder. And then even louder.

Soon I started sending him more songs I wanted him to learn—because he actually sounded good and I actually liked listening to him play. And then, to my surprise, I started liking listening to myself sing And the sweet thing about music, is that when you feel bolder, the sound is sweeter. And when the sound is sweeter, you want to sing even more boldly. Before long, we were sitting there, belting out Willin’ and Angel from Montgomery and Jolene. Soon Kevin began harmonizing with me and I with him. I could barely believe it.

And then this year, my stepdaughter, Kevin’s daughter Corrina, returned to the Valley after having been gone for seven years. When she left she was a child of 17. She returned a woman, almost 25. In those years, she too had gotten interested in playing the guitar and Kevin bought her a starter one. He also helped her put together a playlist of songs she could learn. Slowly she taught herself a few numbers, but they had never had a chance to play together during her visits home. It’s hard to do that when you’re trying to fit in family and friends in just two or three days.

But when Corrina came back for good last week, the guitars came out immediately. Turns out she had developed quite a repertoire of her own. While her singing started out tentative, after only a few minutes her deep alto voice emerged, rich and interesting, and the harmonies she produced with her dad inexplicably made me weep.

In the beginning, I just sat back, away from them, a little daunted by the unexpected beauty of their blended voices. Within days, though, I started adding songs to their playlist. Songs that that I always wanted to sing and that I wanted them to learn. I leaned towards simple spirituals and others songs that had their roots in the South, just like Kevin and Corrina. When they began singing my songs, I got choked with emotion. I closed my eyes and sat down to listen to this beautiful live music coming from my livingroom. Very quietly, I began to hum.  Then I felt this loud joyous sound emerge from the depths of my soul and heard my own voice join theirs.

June 1, 2017

 

When Things Fall Apart

[Disclaimer: I come from a place of privileged innocence. I was born a mere 11 years after the end of a horrific global nightmare, to two parents who were teenagers in Hell. I’m a child of the Sixties who avoided the draft by virtue of my gender and age. When the Bronx burned around me, I was shielded from its flames. When we were mugged in the city we were gentrifying, we fled to the country where we knew not of locks. I write about my despair fully aware that it’s still far more abstract or removed than so many others less fortunate.] 

I have never seen things fall apart—and now they are about to. Big Time. My anxiety gets higher everyday because I know that it’s coming, but I don’t know what It is. No one does. But the more I learn, the more I know these fears are justified. I’m like a child that wants to be comforted, to be told that everything will be alright; that the foxes who have been hired to guard the hen houses are good people, even when I know they’re not. I crave a parent to comfort me, when there are none to do so. Even worse, I have not been able to comfort my own children.

And yet I know I cannot continue to live at this level of despair and anger. Sometimes I get so mad at the abounding reckless ignorance and racism that I can feel my temples pulsing and nerve pain shoots down my arm and leg. I am letting the terrorists win, as Kevin is fond of saying. This can’t be sustained if I want to avoid a stroke.

But the more I read, the more I freak out. It’s like a Reverse Dayenu. It would have been bad enough if Trump had picked just conservative advisors. But no, he put in the most extreme ones, the most inexperienced, the most hateful and racist, the most corrupt, the most wealthy, the most powerful. How can I not hold my head and wail around the clock?

Here are two ways I am coping.

First, I have decided that this extremism must be embraced. (Here again I must apologize for this approach, because I know I will only barely feel the impact of the Trump Era compared to many others who will lose their health, their safety and even their lives.) The direction being taken by Trump’s cabinet is a formula for disaster, spawned by lust for money and power. The outcome will benefit only the ultra-wealthy, fueling an already growing and dangerous divide; one that will only worsen exponentially.

While the flaming Tower Tarot card looks cataclysmic, the card represents renewal and the recognition that full collapse is sometimes the only prescription to a rotting foundation.  There is so much systemic dysfunction in this country that has been masked or ignored for too long. We have allowed masters of greed and consumption to drive our actions; we have been connived into distraction and powerlessness.We have been tricked into the old divide-and-conquer mindset, quick to blame brown people and not the 62 people in the world who own as much as the bottom half of the world’s population. (And yes, if there are any Trump supporters among you, this has been fact-checked. Remember facts?)

We have a love affair with billionaires, with gilded livingrooms, with reality TV stars. We’d much rather watch Cops than think about how law-and-order policy is tied to filling for-profit prisons. We’d much rather get incensed about a student burning a flag than about the likelihood that we’ll be sending our sons and daughters to defend Mobil’s oil profits. We’ve been conned big time.

But given that those who elected Trump are not swayed by facts, they will actually need to suffer before their misplaced beliefs are shattered. No doubt, for a while they will be unwilling to acknowledge their mistake; their fake news bubble will keep them insulated for a bit. But when this horrible experiment begins to fail, when food become scarce because of global warming; when the jobs don’t magically return and things get even worse, when they lose their healthcare  or when they can’t breathe the air, it will be harder and harder not to connect the dots. Especially when they watch the excess of those who rule them. When shit makes contact with fan, there won’t be much that even Breitbart can do about hiding the food lines and desperation. I think a massive failure, so big that people can no longer pretend their esteemed vulgarian has any clothes, will probably be the only thing that can get our country on the right track.The old must fall away before anything new can be rebuilt. And I am not a religious person, but I pray daily that this fail is not apocalyptic; that we avoid a nuclear winter or ethnic internment or a climate catastrophe as part of this mess.

Second, I have faith in Middle America. I know that is a term that hasn’t been used much recently. I’m talking about the folks who voted for Obama or Bernie but switched to Trump this time or didn’t vote at all. It’s the women who love Ellen and Oprah. It’s the people who don’t like to talk about politics because they want everyone to get along. It’s the folks who just wanted to disrupt the status quo and voted in anger without enough information.

These are the people who need to speak out. Because sadly, I don’t think us Humanists (let’s get rid of the terms Left or Liberal) hold much clout among those about to take over. The Middles are our hope. And here’s where I truly feel optimistic. I actually think they will come through. Eventually.

Because Americans come from so many different backgrounds, we don’t have one dominant trait, like being warlike or nomadic or methodical. Because we are essentially mutts,  I don’t think that the Trump ‘mentality’ can  endure. We’re just too heterogeneous and come from to many divergent experiences to be swayed en masse.

But this is where I get sad again. Because in all of this I see my mortality. I realize now that I may never see the change I thought was close. I understand I may be a witness to a phase that may not change in my lifetime.Because when things fall apart as violently as they will have to, it will take time to rebuild. Because real change is like that. But even twenty years is not that long in the scheme of things, especially if we are heading in the right direction.  Especially when we really get to drain the swamp.

Onward.

When Politics Became Personal

The minute I tuned into the early election results, I knew things were not good. I hopped from Twitter to Facebook to 538 to MSNBC to the New York Times, to charts and maps and pundits. I searched hard for good news but the numbers were incontrovertible. I thought I was going to throw up. I looked for solace but there was none.

Alone in the dark with my lit screen, I watched in horror as a deep collective mourning laid its heavy mantle on my community. At one point there was an eerie lull. No one seemed to be posting or tweeting. I think we were rendered speechless as we watched the nightmare unfold.

Exhausted, I finally crawled into bed next to Kevin who had gone to sleep before the results started coming in. I envied his innocence. I stayed awake for hours. I could not cry but I remember groaning and sighing all night. When Kevin pulled me close I felt myself relax and I must have finally slept. Within moments of waking it hit me immediately, the nausea rendering me fetal for hours. I had not felt such despair since the night I realized my first marriage would end. Politics had suddenly become very personal.

It’s not that I was naive. Both my parents were concentration survivors. My mother’s sister was torn out of her hands and perished in an oven in Auschwitz. It’s just that up until now I had felt safe. I thought I lived in a predominantly sane country. For the first time, I understood in my gut, not in my brain, what people of color had been talking about forever. I apologize it took this long.

The next few days passed in a dream state. I could not work. I felt hungover and my stomach was upset. I sought comfort being outdoors. I played with my dogs. I barely ate. And I grew angry. From the start I had been furious that the DNC had shoehorned Hillary as their candidate in the hopes of maintaining a status quo that was not working for others. I grew angry again at the #ImWithHer loyalists who pushed for a flawed candidate, blindly resistant to her unelectability. Yes, the reasons she was disliked were largely misogynistic in origin, but we needed a clear winner and we didn’t get one. I have no doubt Bernie would have captured  a sizeable bloc of the “disruption” vote, and he would have also drawn out the many young people who stayed home instead, uninspired by what they were offered.

I tried to calm myself down by reading. I read Michael Moore’s July piece on how Trump would win. All his predictions were on target. That didn’t make me feel any better. But then I listened to Van Jones calming and concrete words of wisdom. I realized that this wake-up call came earlier than expected, but it was lurking in the wings all the time. Maybe it’s good that it sucker-punched us in the gut. Maybe it’s good that it’s hard to imagine a greater contrast between the 44th and the 45th president. Maybe now is when people start freaking. Finally.

My yeshiva rabbis always used to tell us “when it’s good for the Jews it’s bad for the Jews and when it’s bad for the Jews, it can be good.” The same things can be said for the social justice movement. When people are content, they get lazy. Maybe they sign a petition or two. Maybe send a check. But when your emails and texts will likely be monitored by an administration with an Enemy List, you start paying attention. When a nuclear winter suddenly becomes a real possibility, you may finally turn off your x-box.

Whatever it is that we end up doing, our response needs to be twofold:

We must expose the real enemy. There are a lot of people who voted for Trump because of the failure of our elite institutions to address their concerns and needs. Their vote was less a love of Trump and more of a ‘fuck you’ to the Democrats. Many have been led to blame brown people and immigrants for what has been taken away. (Van reminds us, people of color have experienced many of the same losses.) Trump’s Make America Great caps come from China, but his supporters don’t seem to want to connect the dots about who is really screwing them. Hospital workers don’t get raises for years. They don’t place the blame on an obscenely compensated CEO whose bonus is predicated on their being understaffed but rather on poor patients with the latest iPhone. (Consumerism works so well for the power elite, generating jealousy, complacency and — and let’s not forget profit — all at the same time!) It’s time to launch a PR campaign that unmasks this Divide and Conquer bullshit. We have to get out the real story of who is actually raping and pillaging our people and our resources. #BlameTheBillionairesNotTheBrownPeople.

We  must celebrate and protect our diversity. You know what makes America Great? The richness of our differences. This is our national treasure. But in the last 24-hour period, in my area alone, one of the most progressive places in the country, there’s been at least one Islamophobic taunting (“Isn’t it prayer time, Osama?”), one sexual harassment (“I hope Trump makes skirts like that the new uniform around here.”) and some  anti-Semitic pro-Trump graffiti. Sickening as this is, it will be nothing compared to how bad it will get. When  the factory jobs aren’t miraculously restored, when the little man is only pinched harder, Donald Trump will try to remain blameless. The finger will point downwards, not upwards. If the market crashes or if there’s another “terrorist” event, the human rights fallout will be ruthless.

Van Jones explains that change comes slowly to some people. I will try and understand. But I will not be silent. Some people have started wearing a safety pin in solidarity with victims of racist, religious and homophobic abuse. I’m thinking about starting to wear a Jude patch on my coat instead. It’s bigger and in my mind a more powerful reminder of where this hate and fear can lead if left unchecked. If nothing else, it will force me to remember what it means to feel unsafe in your own country when you can’t take off the patch.

Onward.