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They let it happen

8 Feb

Donald Trump is our President. It seems incredible, surreal, like a bad joke the cosmos are playing on us. Is the reality show guy, the guy from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, actually sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office occupied by Barack Obama just 18 days ago? Life in America right now is so maddening that I, someone who lives firmly outside of the right-wing bubble, have to ask, how on Earth did we get here?

I keep going back to Reince Priebus. Spineless little worm Reince Priebus. He was the nominal leader of the Republican Party. Reince Priebus never discouraged Donald Trump from running for the Republican nomination. Once he began winning elections, Reince Priebus didn’t pull Trump aside and ask him to drop out for the good of the party. He didn’t ask Trump to tone it down once his rallies became ugly and violent. Throughout the long primary and then general election campaigns, the man in charge of the Republicans let Trump highjack the party, foregoing the good of the country for political gain.

And Paul Ryan? He felt empowered enough to criticize candidate Trump, but now? He is lockstep behind his party’s President. Hard to recall that just four years ago he was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate. I suspect that neither Ryan nor Priebus is driven by right-wing talk radio-driven hate and xenophobia. Priebus’ RNC produced the infamous 2012 autopsy that recommended that Republicans expand outreach to minority communities if they were to thrive in an increasingly diverse America. Ryan’s GOP pays lip service to vague concepts like liberty and opportunity, but when these ideas are made concrete and put on the chopping block by President Trump (I still shudder to type those words), like badmouthing federal judges and not divesting from his businesses, the Republican Speaker stays silent. There is no room for principle when there is a seat at the table and one is thirsty for power.

The ascension of erstwhile Ted Cruz supporter Kellyanne Conway, former RNC hack Sean Spicer, and the aforementioned Ryan and Priebus all show how tempting it is to succumb to access to power. I also suspect that there is an element of fear at play here- these people feared that if they couldn’t beat him, they’d have to join him. And so they joined him. So how did we get here, with a cruel ignoramus as President, with his slender fingers just one push away from the nuclear button? It happened because, one by one, people with scruples fell all over themselves to accommodate him and aid his ascension. They let it happen. Don’t ever forget it.

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“The Girls” and the Mansons and Growing Up

7 Sep

Last month I read one of the best books I have read in a long time: “The Girls” by new author Emma Cline. My first exposure to the book was in the tasting room of Cline Cellars in Sonoma, when I thought it was odd that a winery would sell a novel along with cheese boards and wine bottle openers. I asked the friendly woman pouring for our group about it, and she proudly exclaimed that the book was on sale because it was written by the owner’s eldest daughter. I had seen at least two people reading it on my morning ferry into San Francisco. A coworker eagerly lent me her copy, and I finally read it.

If you were once a 14 year old girl, it’s not an easy read. It takes you back where you may not want to go. Cline recreates the ennui and uncertainty and insecurity that go along with being 14, lurching from 8th grade to freshman year of high school. The book details Evie, the protagonist, as she tries to make her way in the world: among other things, she tries in vain to look cool to the boy she likes, only to get teased; she feels terribly alone after her best friend dumps her and she has no one to spend her long summer days with. Cline expertly details what it is to be an adolescent girl in the suburbs. It felt particularly relatable to me because Evie is a 14 year old in Petaluma, the North Bay town only miles from where I grew up. She referred to streets and landscapes and hippie mindsets that I knew. Although the novel is filled with 1969-era period detail (every item of clothing described is straight out of a time capsule), the confusion of being 14 and lonely appears to be timeless. One line that stands out, indicative of Cline’s lyrical literary chops: All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you — the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.

“The Girls”, as every review will remind you, is loosely inspired by the young female adherents of Charles Manson (although it is much more than that). But yes, Evie spends the summer of 1969 falling in with a group of girls who pull her into the orbit of a charismatic cult figure. We see the filth of their rural outpost, the squalor that one girl’s baby grows up in, the casual cruelty with which the girls address each other and their abandonment of all sense of self to devote themselves to their leader and his delusional dreams of pop stardom. Cline shows how it could be appealing to a young girl eager for the kinship and attention provided by the cool girls. The sense of belonging, of common purpose, the perverse joy in subverting societal norms- they are all so important to teenagers. You begin to see how this, plus copious amounts of mind-altering drugs, could lead some girls down a truly frightening path.

After finishing the book, I perused reviews of the book online, and came across this article in Australian Elle.  It mentioned the You Must Remember This podcast, which I promptly downloaded and listened to,  12 episodes devoted to the Manson family (focusing on the Family’s Hollywood connections).  Karina Longworth delves not only into the nitty gritty of Charles Manson’s life and the trials for the Tate/LaBianca murders, but also how the time, 1969- and the place, freewheeling San Francisco and Hollywood- affected the movies that were produced at the time, and how the Manson murders had an effect on future films (Shampoo, Chinatown, Easy Rider, just to name a few). Longworth effectively makes the argument that the masterpieces of 1970’s cinema were inevitably influenced by the horror of the Manson murders. Listening to this podcast was the perfect bookend to reading this magnificent book. It is the reason why I spent August of 2016 in the canyons of 1969 Los Angeles.

Brave/Foolish

6 Apr

The past twelve months have been a whirlwind. Last year at this time I was living and working in Mexico City; by the end of April, I had decided that I would give my boss a full one month notice, and my tenure with the company would be over by the end of May. I then spent the month of June traveling in Mexico, as well as spending time in Mexico City in what had become my favorite spots, seeing friends. Just before I went home to San Francisco on July 2nd, a friend had offered me a job running his boutique ad agency. I happily accepted, relieved that my gamble at leaving my previous job without a parachute had resulted in a soft landing elsewhere. The plan was for me to spend two months back in the U.S., then return to begin my new job in Mexico in the fall.

Sure enough, while I was at home in California over the summer, I communicated with the company in Mexico, and we had some discussions regarding pay. I decided that the pay was too little for me to live off of, and so reluctantly declined the job offer. Thus it was that in mid August of 2015, my plans were once again up in the air. No longer with a job waiting for me back in Mexico, the prudent plan was to begin looking for work in the San Francisco Bay Area. And so I did, though with some sadness, as I realized that my dream of living abroad was really coming to an end. I told myself that ten months of living in Mexico City were sufficient, and that I was still enormously grateful for what ended up being an amazing year. But I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to that lovely life I had created for myself. The culture shock of going from walking tree and flower-lined streets, passing by roving street musicians and vendors, and spending time with interesting new friends to relying on my car to get around in suburbia, driving to Costco and the mall, was real and abrupt. So my transition to life back home was difficult.

I even flirted with the idea of moving back to Mexico in December and January, when I interviewed with another company there. But my gut instinct said it was not the right job for me, and I didn’t want to rush into another job if it didn’t feel right. So I applied for jobs in the Bay Area, hoping to break what turned into month upon month of unemployment. If I am not gainfully employed in two months, it will be a full year of not working, with the notable exception of November and December, when I temped at a friend’s company. It’s the only reason I still have money in the bank. So I apply and apply, tweak my resume, and hope. Hope to be productive again.

I’m also choosy in my next role because during my last months in my last job, I felt my confidence in my abilities erode. My confidence has taken jab after jab in the last year; I am eager to do something that I am good at, where I am fully using my talents and doing work that puts a smile on my face. I don’t want to return to the old Sunday evening dread.

So have I been brave in my choices, or have I been foolish? It’s the question I turn around in my head. What would I do over, what would I do different? How did I end up unemployed and confused in my mid-thirties? I believe the answer lies somewhere between foolish and brave, depending on how I am feeling at the moment. But I am soldiering on, which is what’s important. Never backward, only onward.

2015 in review

30 Dec

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 33 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Are you a writer?

2 Sep

Yesterday, as I left the doctor’s office, I held the door open for an elderly woman, and we both entered the elevator together. She looked at me with a glimmer in her eye and asked me, “Are you a writer?”. I didn’t know how to answer. I stammered, “No…but I did some writing as part of my last job”. I was intrigued. Did I look like a writer? Did she figure I must have a job with an unconventional schedule to be at a doctor’s office on a Tuesday morning? In any case, I liked the implication. I liked that this woman looked at me and saw a writer. I eventually asked her, once we were out of the elevator, if she was a writer. She smiled and replied yes. Perhaps it takes a writer to recognize another. In any case, this stranger’s question prompted me to get back to this blog.

The Duggars, ISIS and Fear of Modernity

3 Jun
Hiding from Modernity

Hiding from Modernity

Perhaps it is because I have always regarded having many children (more than 4) as a modern form of female servitude, a peculiar form of modern torture. After four kids, how can you truly pay attention to each child? How can you be attentive to their needs? Of course, this comes from the naive assumption that one has kids to love and nurture them. That is not the only reason couples add to their broods. Some of them believe that a woman’s Christian duty is to birth as many children as possible in order to create more good Christian soldiers. A woman’s duty is to obey her father when she is young and her husband when she is married. Sound truly medieval? It is. It’s also the essence of the Quiverfull movement, which informs the beliefs of the Duggar family, Christian fundamentalists turned reality TV stars.

On the other side of the globe, ISIS is made up of young men from all over the Western world who have been moved by the terrorist group’s call to establish a Muslim caliphate throughout the Levant. Their rise and spread throughout the region, as well as their appeal to Westerners, has baffled people with much more expertise in modern terrorism than I can claim. CNN published a piece stating that ISIS has had success in this area through sophisticated recruitment efforts, with trailers like those that come out of Hollywood to convince young Westerners of their cause. A young ISIS recruit from England was quoted as saying, “I’m from the south of England. I grew up in a middle-class family…Life was easy back home. I had a life. I had a car. But the thing is, you cannot practice Islam back home. We see all around us evil. We see pedophiles. We see homosexuality. We see crime. We see rape.”

The aforementioned Duggars may not seem as sinister as the murderous armies of ISIS. But their worldview comes from the same place as ISIS: a deep fear of modernity, of a world where women are truly equal to men and minorities, such as gay people, also have equal rights. The Quiverfull movement, of which the Duggars are just an example, preaches very traditional roles for men and women in the home. Those who don’t adhere to such roles are heathens in the eyes of Christian fundamentalists. They prefer to homeschool their children instead of expose them to the views of the modern world. It is estimated that 58% of people in the Southern U.S. are Christian fundamentalists. While not all of them have 19 children whom they educate at home, many believe in a fallen world that is filled with sin and evil at every turn; only good Christian warriors will be saved in the end through the power of their faith.

Perhaps it seems extreme that I would compare the fundamentalism of the Duggars to the fundamentalistm behind ISIS. Yes, there are degrees of difference. ISIS is brutally murderous, there is no denying that. But their aims are political. So too is the Christian right’s. They see the onward march of modernity as a grave threat to their way of life rather than the natural arc of human progress. Rather than engage with the modern world, they adhere to a strict, literal, some would say erroneous interpretation of their religious texts. As women gain greater autonomy to live their lives, and minorities make strides in the U.S., the fundamentalist believers both in the U.S. and around the world will have to either fight the modern world, or live with it. I hope that they choose the latter, rather than the Middle Ages.

2014 in review

29 Dec

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,300 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 38 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.