Before the flood

Going to steal a minute to write. I can finally do that. For the past month any stolen moments went to one of two pressing freelance projects and having just finished the last one Thursday, I can go back to guerrilla journaling.

It was not an insurmountable, punishing amount of work lately. It was an amount I could manage and still hang out with the kids in the afternoon, collect leaves in coat pocket and the next day forget them, find them days later dried and crumpled.

I haven’t gotten to the step of ironing them in was paper –that was going to be the one easy fall project I’d do with them this year. Forget swooning over watercolor leaves and gratitude trees in various magazines, snapshots of other peoples’ lives. Why attempt something so unlikely? Stick with one simple thing and actually do it.

But I didn’t manage that. Collecting the leaves was as far as we got. And even that process was not one of the wonderful, inspiring, simple life, nature-kid—This is what matters—kind of moments. It was me rushing through it. The kids not paying much attention, picking the ugliest leaves. You could argue they were picking the ones that appealed most to them and that’s of course what matters. But it had a perfunctory feel. And that’s probably because I was rushing them along. Or maybe it’s because Petra’s too obsessed with singing Moana songs and Wally’s too intent on dissecting the electoral college. Hamilton was specifically worried about the cult of personality, cautioned against an overzealous mob carrying someone unqualified into office, warned about foreign governments tampering with the election. That is why we needed the electoral college. Sounds so very reasonable, so prescient. But he was an elitist, too. Wary of true representative government. Wary of “others” and not a fan of a free press.

So the kids picked dried leaves. Lackluster ones. I found it maddening.

It shouldn’t have been maddening. Just like it shouldn’t be maddening to let them make flat and chalky cupcakes. To smile when they pick the bruised and stem-less pumpkin from an enormous pumpkin patch. To watch them grow a tangled mess of a garden. To bite my lip as they make ridiculous nonsensical hors d’oeuvres (Wally’s latest flash of brilliance was croutons on top of little dried toast crackers. Alex tried to revise them quickly before the company came in, but I said, “Leave them. Who cares?”) All of that I’ve never minded. All of it I encourage, usually. But leaf-picking this year was so unsatisfying.  

Was it just the cruelness of this November? I haven’t sorted through it yet. Or was it just the amount of work that meant I stopped jogging. Stopped writing. Stopped folding clothes. Piles everywhere, mostly clean enough to wear again. Truly clean ones all mixed in. The constant slight knot in the stomach, made worse when a grocery line was too long, when Petra wouldn’t go to bed, when Alex needed the computer. No, no no. Can’t you use the laptop? Can’t you use the laptop? I can’t deal with these giant Excel spreadsheets on the laptop. I need to upload stuff from my phone. First world problems. Way beyond first world, really.

It’s hard for me to know the difference, because without the time to write, to sort, to think in my own head, I can’t make sense of much.

The constant noise of this dystopian election. The climate change deniers taking charge of the EPA, the assaults on voter rights, the Republican dream to privatize destroy Medicare, the fear that people may not understand that privatizing it, giving vouchers which will never cover the expenses especially on the open market, with no bargaining power, is the same as destroying it. You cannot privatize—you cannot make a profit, you cannot prioritize your shareholders, without cutting services or not paying people enough. It’s so simple. How is privatizing education even a thing? Privatizing water? It never works. It never has.  

Then there will be a moment of disconnect where you sort of resume full and normal functioning. But even that feels dangerous. You can’t be normal when the point is this is all #NotNormal. Attacks on the free press. A Kleptocracy the likes of which we have never seen. Conflicts of interest doesn’t begin to describe it. A man with no qualifications, no policy, no impulse control, no desire to govern chosen over the woman who spent her entire adult life serving. The one who had the qualifications, the judgment, the tenacity. The one who would have helped most of the people who rejected her. Raised minimum wage. Expanded health insurance. Fought for family and medical leave.

And the horrifying realization I’ve had that some who didn’t vote for Trump, but are in the “Let’s wait and see category” are not only okay with the racism, misogyny, hate and the KKKabinet, they are—part of them, in the darkest maybe inaccessible through language, reptilian part of their brain—relieved, that their power as white men is so great, so assured, so unthreatened that literally the worst among them can beat the best women we could offer.

They cannot stomach that thought, so they will do their best to convince themselves of their flaws. It should have been Bernie or Biden. Or any other woman, really. They would have gone all in for Elizabeth Warren or Michelle? Really? I love them both, but those same critics of HRC would skewer Warren for the houses she flipped for profit, for her multi-million-dollar salary, for being a Republican until she was 46 years old. Those same people who make the "flawed candidate" argument about a dynasty think nominating the current, sitting first lady would not raise even the slightest specter of a one?

In one phone conversation with my parents in those early, shell-shocked days, I said I just couldn’t understand how any reasonably intelligent person watched those debates and thought Trump won. Your bias would have to be so calcified, your hatred so blinding, to lead to the grotesquely distorted perception that you were watching anything other than an incredibly bright and prepared candidate crushing a blowhard with nothing to offer. My mother said maybe some people did see it and they just couldn't stand it. 

An a-ha moment for me. 

I had never thought of that, naively, outrageously. I knew it drove so many men nuts to think of a woman in charge, of course, they cannot stand it, they will not allow it. How many women still to this day change their last names? Strong, feminist women? How few times does it go the other way? (I know of one.) Just as white male identity is so pervasive, so universal as to be unreadable as an identity, so patriarchy is so masterfully embedded in how we think that forty years after Adrienne Rich wrote Of Woman Born, the children born from those women, every single time, take on the last name of the father. And that’s just perfectly okay. Why? What are we telling our girls when we do that? That our history, our heritage, our background, our identity just doesn’t matter as much as that of our husband's. That we have accepted a tradition that would eclipse and erase our backgrounds. That if they grow up and marry a man they can reject that very name—the one that now seems so important, so central to the family identity today, the pictures, the holiday cards, the scrapbooks of this family named for this father—they can reject that name in favor of a new one, with no meaning except as a signal that they have been transferred from their father to their husband. That they accept that lesser role, that lesser identity—you matter less than your husband. That is what the makers-of-laws say, those who have always been men and still are mostly men and have, in fact, crushed, stamped out this brave woman mocked for keeping her own name and history prominently in her public name, her public identity. She who would have given everything for the chance to govern defeated by someone who wants nothing less, someone intent on destroying the system he's been selected to uphold. 

But white men are still on top and that's what matters.

Some of these men, the ones who are all okay with the way this unravelled, with the Russian involvement, with whatever it takes for a man to still win, they saw it plain as day how much better she was and they couldn't stand it.

It is very dangerous to me, as dangerous as it is to dismiss the “whitelash” that happened three weeks ago in favor of the white working class, Americana nostalgia—both are relevant, both have to be discussed—to continue with the Hillary "flawed candidate" theory, Hillary who won the popular vote by more than 2.5 million despite the right-wing propaganda machine, Wikileaks, the FBI and Russia colluding against her. Calling her a flawed candidate" means we don't really have to worry about any of those other variables, because the "right" candidate could have overcome them. The CIA and NSA agree that Russia interfered. Is that a big deal? Maybe it would be, if Hillary had been a strong candidate, but she was flawed from the start, so why worry about it? 
It is not her flaws that really bother many of these people. It is her clear superiority. Not air of superiority (i.e. smugness; arrogance). It is her actual, factual, objective on every measure when it comes to job she applied for superiority to the other candidate, the now-sore winner. That is what they could not stand. A woman that great, and she had to be that great, had to be top of her class at Yale Law, had to have the stamina, restraint and resilience of a warrior, to come close to where she got. A woman that great could threaten their power. The power they have always had. The power that allows them to remove their identity from “identity politics” (see Hadley Freeman in The Guardian for a truly astute discussion of this topic, and by celebrating her article I am not entirely discounting Mark Lilla's controversial piece). The white male identity that is so universal as to now be invisible. You are a white male with real, economic problems or you are someone else who overreacts to microaggressions and needs to “get over it.”

I am not sure what the best response is or will be. The petitions, the calls, the letters, the donations, the boycotts. Signing up for newspaper subscriptions, realizing we can’t criticize the media for chasing sensation if we’re not willing to pay for real journalism. There is something absolutely frantic about it. A constant panic - What is going to fix this? Quick, quick, what can I do? I guess somewhere I know the slowing down, simplicity, appreciation, gratitude, true connection and conversation—those are equally important antidotes to this calamity. They feel slow and it feels like right now we need to hurl sandbags against a flood.

I’m caught because I haven’t gone back to extirpate that original inverted scream. Sarah from One Blue Sail in one of her comments here to my post Primal Scream wrote how she told a neighbor on election night:
“if she heard a long, loud scream later in the evening, it would be me running out to the garage to shout my joy at the top of my lungs. I was waiting for the moment I could release it. So much joy. Unrealized. Swallowed. Instead, a different scream.” 

Yes, that was it—not only the primal scream of horror, the I-cannot-believe-we just-elected-that-man-to-the-nation’s-highest-office—but also the inverted scream of joy. The joy we were all waiting to release. The pots and pans we were waiting to bang. The cheers we were waiting to scream from rooftops. The woman in her 70s in my building, to whom I’ve never spoken, on the way back from the voting booth, who cried November 8 as she said, “I can’t believe I’m going to see a woman President.” All the women whose faces in Pennsylvania showed a searing pain and beauty of finally, finally, after a lifetime of being lesser, being disregarded, being overpowered, being talked over, after giving up their names, their dreams, their identities, subsumed into wife and mother, after being called “shrill” or “overly emotional” now represented by this brilliant woman, a woman relentlessly attacked because she was not emotional enough, finally they would on that November morning witness that woman take her rightful place as our elected leader, at last shattering that glass ceiling, and instead waking up November 9 with the ceiling intact, their worst player beating our best, the shouts of joy silenced, not the ceiling but the dream now shattered. 

Every time we walk past the school across the street, Petra says, “Remember we voted for Hillary there?”  

Yes I remember. 

We went out early. The line wrapped around the corner and halfway down the street.



  1. I read this post last night before bed and your words were buzzing in my brain, had me awake at 3:00 a.m. I am in complete awe of this essay that beats like a drum, that rises up off the page like a warrior cry. Thank you for your brilliance, for breaking it down and putting it back together, for finding the right words, for synthesizing fact and feeling, that inverted scream. Yes! Thank you for identifying precisely what has been caught in our chests, what’s crushed our lungs. Your mother’s insight, your a-ha moment, the realization that his supporters could see it, a woman besting a man, and they couldn’t stand it. Thank you for calling out the fact that no woman could’ve won this election, not Warren, not Michelle Obama. Because none of this was about HRC not being “likable” enough. Thank you for laying bare the misogyny, the patriarchy so deeply embedded in the culture we are blind to it. I believe that many of us had a late awakening over the course of the election, myself included. I was so certain of HRC’s victory, I thought I could play idealist in the primary and consider Bernie. Still others didn’t see it until the debates, until that predatory con man bullied her on a national stage. That was the night so many women felt their blood pressure rise, their hearts pound. I think it’s essential to identify that white women—however privileged some may be—are still a marginalized group, precisely because so many are duped into believing that we are not. And this is how we work against ourselves and vote against ourselves and watch the patriarchy become the oligarchy. This truth-telling is so vital, so necessary right now, and I am so grateful for your writing.

  2. Wow, I'm more than a bit honored by this high praise. "Caught in our chests...crushed our lungs"--exactly how I have felt these past weeks, sifting through all the "reasons" and catching my breath at all the new nightmares. Something else was weighing on me, something that I couldn't quite put together. BTW did you read Matt Taibbi's piece about being wrong? (During the primaries he thought Trump might win but later fell into lockstep with all the press and thought Trump was destroying the generation for at least a generation. It was so painful to go from the story that the GOP was in tatters *overnight* to the Democrats "laying in rags at [our] feet" (for some reason just thought of the Bruce Springsteen song (I think it's the graduation gown torn to shreds).

    Yes, yes, our blood pressure rise and hearts pound. And I so agree that b/c so many believe we're not still marginalized, because so many hold onto some vestigial patriarchal power as white women, mothers to white sons, that we have to wake up to what is happening. "Patriarchy become the oligarchy" is the perfect shorthand for what's happening. I have to say your writing has more than encouraged me. I have found it so hard to write and continually marvel at the way you have remained among the faithful on many days when I could not.

  3. When we could barely breathe, much less pick up words off the street, out of the gutter, rescue them from bile hurling up from our guts, you found the words. You said what we felt. Your writing is a gift to this broken world. We all wish that we weren't living through something as truly ugly as this moment. It sends me back to the prophets. They were often crying out when leaders were completely ridiculous. Who are our prophets? You are. And you know the others. We are listening.

  4. Sustaining, life-giving words. Thank you. Yours is too. Your art and your words and your light.


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