Checking in on “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse”

On December 4, 2016  I came out of my self-induced coma long enough to react to the election of Donald Trump with a list of 6 personal survival strategies that I thought I would need practice in order to help me get through the next four (I refuse to even think about 8) years.  I called that piece, “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse.”

The predictions I made about this wrecking ball of an administration were pretty right on, but far too generous.  It has been so much worse, in so many ways than I could have predicted.  I’m not going to catalogue all of that; it’s just too depressing.  The only saving grace so far has been that the Republican-held Congress is so fractious and inept that they just can’t get anything done especially when the boss changes course, undercuts his own people, and makes policy changes depending on what he has watched on Fox News that morning.

That is not to say that they aren’t doing great damage.  They have squandered the chance to take advantage of the robust economy they were left with and pass legislation that might further wage growth and help to rebuild critical infrastructure.  Instead, they have wasted 6 full months trying to undo the good work of the ACA, revealing the embarrassing truth that they actually have no plan to help all Americans gain the security of health care.  This, after 6 years of decrying and defaming the ACA and passing countless “repeal” bills.

OK.  I have to stop the ranting.

The six suggestions that I made for my own survival all still make sense to me now, although some have become more important to me than others.  But to review, here is what I was thinking back in December:

ISOLATE yourself from the news to protect your spirit and avoid immersing yourself in news that is going to make you feel depressed.

EXERCISE to help to lift your spirits and to join with others in communal activities like hiking and yoga.

CREATE–spend time in whatever creative endeavor lifts your spirits, engages you with others and makes you feel that you are bringing something good into the world.

PLANT SOMETHING–It feels good to watch things grow around you and especially if you have done the work to nurture new life.  I never envisioned the outright assault that the Donald was going to inflict on the environment, but now know that everyone must contribute something.

VOLUNTEER  for any organization that you know can use your help and for which you have a passion. Social services, immigration agencies, schools, and other things we have taken for granted could be devastated by potential budget cuts.  These organizations will need us.

CELEBRATE your successes, whether they are personal or collective.  We have to take joy in any sense of good we bring into the world.  We have to celebrate the light we bring into the darkness.

I have utterly failed at #1.  For the first couple of weeks when I was in deepest mourning, it was easy, but as this shitshow has developed, I simply cannot stay away from the news.  As one commentator said last night, Trump has assembled, “the most incompetent Cabinet ever” and they are creating jaw-dropping headlines daily.  Add that to the spectacular failures of Congress, the daily Trump tweet-storm, and the looming certainty that the Russian scandal may dwarf Watergate, and it has made it impossible for me to stay away from multiple news outlets.  If anything, it has increased my appetite for news because every day, sometimes every hour, brings about a new WTF moment.

I have certainly stayed true to #2 (EXERCISE) frequently spending up to three hours a day on fitness, mostly with long walks, hikes, and yoga.  I’m going bike shopping once the weather cools down.  It has been excellent tonic for my mind, body, and spirit.

Numbers 3 and 4 have combined somewhat for me.  Much of my creative endeavors over the past six months have centered on landscape design around the house.  I have planted over 30 new plants in the yard, and increased my composting capacity.  My Father’s Day gift was a kitchen scale and I began to use it to figure out just how much kitchen waste we were successfully diverting from the landfill and into our own compost.   I discovered that we have been composting close to 25 pounds of kitchen waste per month, a number that startled me since it is just the two of us.  It doesn’t make up for pulling out of the Paris accords, but every new plant, every small effort feels like the right thing to do. Also on the CREATE side, I’ve been writing more (sorry), and am considering enrolling in a drawing and/or guitar class in the fall.

Number 5 (VOLUNTEER) has not changed much for me.  I continue to deliver food for Mama’s Kitchen twice a week, and have upped the hours that I volunteer for the Solana Center, a local non-profit dedicated to teaching folks about sustainable practices (like composting).  I’d like to do more.

CELEBRATING successes has been a more quiet thing. People are afraid to talk about politics either to avoid conflict or too avoid surging down the rabbit hole of depression.  One friend has started a “First Sunday Sunrise” hiking group and sets out a monthly challenge.  She celebrates each hike on Facebook with pictures and videos and her group seems to continue to grow.  This is kind of what I had in mind.  I think about joining her group on every first Saturday night.  It’s just that being-somewhere-at-or-before-sunrise-on-ANY-given-day thing that I struggle with.  I did joyfully celebrate overcoming my fear of fun when I went both zip-lining and white-water rafting within four days on a trip to Colorado Springs.  I became so energized by the adrenaline highs that as soon as I got home, I busted out a gift certificate that had been mouldering for almost 6 months and experienced indoor sky-diving.  Anyone near me is tired of hearing me talk about it, but those three things have changed my ability to trust myself to be more open to challenging new experiences.

Make no mistake.  The nation faces dire times ahead.  This is how I’m coping right now. How about you?  Any ideas for the rest of us?

 

 

 

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Volunteering: Feed the Hungry

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I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting into in last June when I decided to jump in as a volunteer for Mama’s Kitchen, a local non-profit that provides food assistance for San Diego residents who are living with HIV/AIDS or cancer. I went through the training to become a driver, someone who would have a selected route that I would cover one day a week and from about 3:30-5:30 PM would get bags of food out to my list of clients.

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By the time I show up, a whole lot of people have done a whole lot of work preparing the meals that I will deliver to my clients.

I did know that I was going to work for a first-class organization filled with compassionate, dedicated people.  Since 1990, Mama’s Kitchen has served over 8 million meals to needy San Diegans.  Their mission is to provide three nutritional meals a day, for no charge, to their clients with AIDS or cancer and to their clients’ dependents.  That means getting over 400 bags of food delivered every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 52 weeks out of the year.

That’s where people like me come in.  I show up every Wednesday at around 3:15, load up my bags of food (my client list has ranged from 7 to 17 on any given day) along with a hot bag that contains a freshly prepared hot meal for each client to have for dinner that night.

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Packed up and ready to go!

Then I’m on the road for the next 1-2 hours making deliveries.  To be honest, there was a lot that I did not like about the work in the beginning.  The route changed every time a client was added or deleted as the routing computer tries to give me the most efficient order of delivery.  Initially, that made it hard to relax as I was often in unfamiliar territory and had to pay close attention to Siri’s sometimes imperious directions.

What makes her think I know my east from my west, anyway?

Needless, to say, at the beginning, I missed a lot of turns and sometimes was unsure if I was at the right house even though Siri reassured me I had “arrived at my destination.”  I had to do a lot of checking and double-checking until streets and houses became more familiar.  The transactions with client seemed strangely impersonal, and I just felt like the rewards of this particular volunteer gig were going to be limited.

Seven months in, I’m enjoying it tremendously.  I now am covering the route on both Wednesdays and Fridays and some Mondays as needed.  Now that my clients know I’m committed to the work, that I’m not a student who is looking to do some volunteer work to be able to listed on a college application or someone on probation who has been sentenced to community service, they have begun to treat me more as a real person and not just “the food guy.”

And my clients are no longer just strangers which makes the work both harder and easier.  It’s hard to see them when they are having a bad day because all of them are on a rollercoaster when it comes to their strength and vitality.  I often have to pound on the door and ring the doorbell repeatedly, and shout that, “It’s me, Tom, the good looking-looking food delivery guy!” because they sometimes sleep heavily in the afternoon, and it pains me to think that they might not get their food for the next two or three days.  We are expressly forbidden from leaving food on the porch with the hope that they’ll get it before it begins to spoil.

The longer I do the route, the more of a sense of ownership I have and the more the positives pile up.  I have a standing invitation to join one of my clients for bingo night (Wednesdays at 6 PM) at the senior apartment complex where she lives.  At Christmas, one of my clients insisted I come in while she bagged up some tamales for me to take home.  I get a lot of good wishes and “God bless you”s since I’m the final contact for Mama’s Kitchen and represent all the work done by so many people. The son of one of my clients has offered to detail my SUV for me assuring me that he’ll “take good care” of me.

My favorite moment on the route is delivering to a family with two school-aged daughters, maybe 7 and 10 years of age.  They seem to love being “my favorite helpers!” which I announce loudly whenever I see them.  The older daughter’s bright eyes and ready smile kill me every time as she takes one or two of the three bags I need to tote up to the house.  I haven’t been able to resist treating them by slipping a pack of gel pens or drawing pads into their bags on Fridays and claiming that it “must have been the elves at Mama’s Kitchen.  They must have heard you are taking good care of your mom!” –two children managing to thrive in the most precarious of situations.

As the fifth pillar of my guide to “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse” (soon to be revisited and revised), volunteering is a solid investment of my time.  It takes me out of the whirlwind of bad news that #notmypresident Trump inspires and makes a small contribution to a vulnerable population, one that will receive no help soon from the federal government.

Surviving the Trump Apocalypse

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I was in bed by 9:30 on election night because I could see the ship was sinking and I couldn’t stand to watch the inevitable.  I drank pretty heavily the next night as the reality sank in, but tried as hard as I could to not think about it.  As the next few days went by, I turned off NPR, didn’t bother to open the New York Times, and stayed away from any television news.  I simply could not endure the post-mortem, the intimate dissection of this horrible election season and it’s horrible outcome.

I felt oddly calm and serene about it all even though I am convinced our country is entering another era where it will be hard to feel proud as an American, that Trump will usher in a court system that does not understand the concept of justice, that efforts to improve the environment and create a sustainable energy culture will suffer greatly.  Efforts to create a more fair and transparent justice system will cease, and women’s health and reproductive rights will wither.  We are still nearly a month away from his inauguration and we are being given daily reminders that our leader is an erratic, self-aggrandizing buffoon. Americans voted for this, after eight years of the principled, educated, visionary presidency of Barack Obama.

So, how can I be calm when I feel we are headed for the abyss?  It’s because my capacity for outrage was exhausted by eight years of George W. Bush. I simply cannot allow myself to read about every tragic misstep, every deception, and the constant brushing aside of the norms and values that I used to think of as being uniquely American and react with the fear and loathing that came with the Bush years.

So, what to do.  Being prone to depression as I wrote about here, it would be easy to sink into a quicksand of funk, but I’ve decided instead to “fight against the dying of the light” by dusting off the once-popular concept of “thinking globally and acting locally” that had us all snipping up those plastic soda can holders to save the seagulls back in the 80’s. As I’ve talked with friends, most of us are still feeling as if we are in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. Most of us know we are still in some stage of shocked denial, and all of my friends have mentioned self-protective measures they are planning to take, so nothing I suggest here may seem or be original.

Regardless, for the next 4 to 8 (shudder!) years, I intend to do the following:

ISOLATE

I already don’t watch much TV news, but I’ve been dedicated to following print news, with subscriptions to the New York Times and my local paper, listening avidly to the NPR news program, reading political posts on Facebook, and daily scanning through the Daily Beast website. No more.  I now will only get the NYT on Sundays so I can have the travel and book review sections, and the local paper will allow me to scan the headlines and get the short version of any news I need.

I simply can’t spend a couple hours a day reading about and listening to news that will tear down my spirit.  I’ve already noticed, that I have freed up a full hour of time in the morning simply by letting go of the news.  I have better things I can do with that time.

EXERCISE

That means I’m often out the door by 8 AM for my morning walk around our neighborhood.  As a slave to my Fitbit device, I need to put in a good 4 miles to enjoy the satisfaction that those damn 10,000 steps require.  However, I’m determined to live long enough to watch the nation realize the terrible mistake it has made and begin the necessary course correction that will eventually come.  If I happen to lose weight and lower both my blood pressure and my cholesterol levels, I will have Donald Trump to thank for it.

I’ve also added yoga as a daily practice.  I try to spend an hour a day now either in class or communing with Rodney Yee on the DVD as he soothingly takes me through an hour of stretches and exercises designed to ease my aching back.  I am lucky to have discovered a wonderful yoga teacher through our local adult school, and I go to three of her classes per week. I am enjoying the community that exists in each class.  There is such a comfort in being around a group of people dedicated to the flow and spirit of yoga. However, I also thrive in the quiet of my own room as I clear the hardwood floors to begin my practice in solitude (well, me and Rodney).

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CREATE

It is time to join the choir.  Or take up painting, learn a language, sculpt something, build a deck, deck the halls, write a poem, or immerse yourself in any kind of creative activity that will allow you to bring light and joy into the world or into your own soul.  As hard as it has been to write these past few months, I’ve decided I need to re-dedicate myself to my writing for my own sake and maybe for the sake of my 12 avid readers.

I began my retirement with lots of projects in mind.  There was that pergola I wanted to build in the back yard, landscaping and painting to be done.  I was determined to actually learn to play the guitar.  Some of these I’ve finished, some I’ve started, and some have fallen by the wayside.  I’m starting the list again and considering other creative avenues that are entirely outside of my comfort zone.

The reason I see this as an immunization against the poison of Trumpism is that I believe that anyone involved in the creative process brings light into the world, and in this time where some of us feel surrounded by darkness, it is important to bring our light together.  I’m not strong on spirituality, but I am so struck by the simple greeting that often ends yoga practice.  If you look up definitions for the word “Namaste” you will find many, but my favorite is, “The Divine light in me salutes the Divine light in you.”  I think creativity brings out the “Divine light” in all of us and gives us an opportunity to share it with others.

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Rendered by Scott Knox, friend, and self-taught artist

PLANT SOMETHING

The Trump administration is shaping up to be the most aggressively anti-environmentally oriented collection of scoundrels since, well, since the last time the Republicans controlled the White House.  Clean air?  Clean water?  Sustainable energy?  Psssh.  Who needs it?  Oil and gas, baby.

I’m looking around my yard and trying to figure out where I can squeeze in a few more trees.  I’m looking at ways to expand my year-round vegetable garden.  I feel like I need to grow as much as I can in my drought-affected part of the world to make my small contribution to the health of the planet.  Trump came along just when it looked like the country and the world were bonding together to make a concerted effort to battle the effects of climate change.  I guess that was part of the anger Trump tapped into.  The anger of those folks that were just mad as hell that someone was going to make them change over to LED bulbs.

If you live in an apartment, find a window where you can grow some basil, thyme, or parsley.  It won’t stop a coal plant’s production, but you’ll enjoy the greenery.  Every new bit of natural growth that you foster is now an act of subversion.  Welcome to The Resistance, my friend.

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VOLUNTEER

Lots of organizations are going to be hit hard by this administration, especially ones dependent on federal funding.  Groups that support the environment, women’s reproductive health, and immigration support and reform are going to need more than an occasional donation.  Organizations that support LGBTQ rights and social justice causes are going to be likewise vulnerable.

I currently do volunteer work occasionally for the Solana Center which promotes sustainability practices throughout the county and weekly for Mama’s Kitchen which provides food support for clients throughout San Diego County that are affected by cancer or HIV/AIDS.  I can do more.  Of course, I have the luxury of being retired and my kids are on their own, but too often I still find myself saying “I’ve just been so busy,” or “I just haven’t had time.”  It’s bullshit.  We all have time.  It’s just awfully hard to reorder one’s priorities, especially if you are someone like me who thrives on routine.  I have to make the effort.

CELEBRATE

Within the last thirty minutes, I heard the news that the Army Corps of Engineers is going to deny the easement for the Dakota Access pipeline.  Some people who sacrificed greatly and worked countless hours and those who supported them with money, supplies, and encouragement have every reason to celebrate tonight. It’s a big win, even if it proves to be temporary.

But I’m also talking about celebrating every small local and personal success that keeps  us positive and hopeful.  Today I met two neighbors I’ve never spoken to and enlisted them in providing lawn clippings for my personal composting project.  They were so kind and enthusiastic and ready to provide me with far more material than I can process.  That’s a win.  If your garden squeezes out a head of lettuce or your new tree flourishes, grab a neighbor and break out the champagne.  Make sure you tell everyone who will listen every time you hit a new personal fitness goal.  Post your artwork, photography, writing, and other creative pursuits on Facebook and let us honor your efforts to help to raise each of us up during this dark time.

I might be wrong about just how bad this presidency will be, but I doubt it.  I do have faith though in the swing of the pendulum.  Look where we were as a country in 2008 when we elected the first black president of the United States, voted for vision, hope, and change.  Eight years later, I’m not sure what people were voting for, but the pendulum will swing back once again.  In the meantime we will need each other more than ever before. We will need to come together to be “keepers of the light.”

Driving Down Memory Lane–Literally

After four years of retirement, I began to realize that I have more time available than I need for my many critical pursuits:  travel, reading, writing, home projects, gardening, napping, and beer drinking.  So, it was almost inevitable that I began to think more about volunteer work.  I already volunteer occasionally for a local environmental non-profit that specializes in teaching the basics of composting and other sustainability projects.  I also substitute teach at my former high school which is tantamount to volunteering given the amount of money one is not paid for working as a professional teacher.
So when I was ready to make a regular commitment to an organization, I had no hesitation to select San Diego’s Mama’s Kitchen.  Besides having been a regular donor for years, a close friend of mine is the head chef and my wife and I have attended many of their events and fundraisers.  Mama’s Kitchen provides 7 days worth of food, every week of the year, for nearly 600 San Diego residents who are affected by HIV/AIDS or cancer.  They have a cadre of drivers who spread out over the county delivering both hot and cold dishes three times a week and are always in need of more.

After my orientation, I selected the route that was closest to my house, west of where I live now but directly south and east of where I grew up and all around where I went to elementary school.  And there will be another post where I talk about what it is like to work with my clients, how I am slowly getting to know their needs and quirks, and how I have started to worry about them at times, but that is not what this is about. Instead, I discovered that my route unexpectedly took me back to people and memories and experiences that stretched back to my childhood.

I have to mention that I would never complete the route on any given day without the help of Siri.  Left to my own devices and sense of direction, people would starve.  Siri and I have become so close that I actually pay little attention to the street names or the how I am getting from client to client.

So, as I’m blindly following Siri’s friendly but imperious demands to “continue on Federal Blvd for 1 mile and then turn right on 61st St.”, suddenly I’m seeing street signs and buildings that have been hugely significant to my development as a person.  Honestly, I was stunned at how this route would string together memories spanning nearly every decade and every important stage in my life.

The first street sign that brought me up short was La Corta Dr. where my first girlfriend lived.  We were in the first grade.  Having a girlfriend at that early age just meant that you had admitted that you liked her, she happened to like you back, and it was ESSENTIAL that NO ONE should ever know or find out.  Our mom’s drove us back and forth to “play dates” that I have almost no memory of, but I do remember that she was a petite little blonde girl, and I thought she was absolutely beautiful.

And a single block further down was where, Mike, one of my buddies from high school lived on Madera St.  One night when I was sleeping over, I discovered that he lived next to someone who allowed Sandy and the Classics, the pre-eminent cover band for all big high school dances, to practice in their garage.  Hanging outside on a warm summer evening, listening to them working on all of our favorite songs while we dreamed of all the fantastic girls we were never going to meet in the coming year at the dances in our steamy, stinking gym, was like getting to be backstage at a free show. It was about as good as life gets for a ninth grader.

Next thing I know, I’m cruising past Morse High School, the site of my very first teaching experience. Back in 1975 I was assigned to Morse as a student teacher to teach one sophomore English class for one semester.  I had a wonderfully patient master teacher who forgave me all of my inadequacies and spent endless hours talking to me about teaching, life, and personal development.

I so owe those sweet kids an apology.  I was woefully unprepared to teach them anything about reading and writing and simply did not know how to plan thoughtful, cohesive units.  What they got was my energy, enthusiasm, and sense of humor which helped to paper over some of my shortcomings.  The class was a wonderful mix of Anglo, Mexican, Samoan, Guamanian, Native-American and African-American kids. Day after day when my lesson, planned for the 55-minute period, expired after 40 minutes, instead of giving up and giving them “free time” I’d go from student to student and check in with them, badger them about missing homework, find out what they were up to outside of class, encouraging them to keep trying hard.

It was not unusual to see those same students that same afternoon helping out their moms with the grocery shopping at the market, located just a short distance from the school,  where I was a grocery clerk.  It must have been weird for them to see me as their English teacher at 10 o’clock in the morning and as the guy bagging up the family groceries just hours later.

I cruise past the latest iteration of my old grocery store, still anchoring a crumbling strip mall as I’m rounding a corner on my way to my very last client.  But before I make that turn, I pass by Darby St.  Halfway down Darby sits the first house my wife and I owned, our starter house, purchased back in 1977 on the day that Elvis died.  I remember hearing the news as we were in the midst of signing away our lives.

We didn’t think of the house as a wreck, but in fact, it was by every measure a major fixer-upper.  In three years, we painted or wallpapered every square inch of the place inside and out, ripped up the avocado green indoor-outdoor carpet that greeted us as we walked in and re-did all of the flooring.  It was just getting comfortable when we were finally driven to sell after battling constantly with a noisy garage band across the street.  Sandy and the Classics they were not.

I sit in my car across the street from our old house now and I can barely recognize any remnant of the work that we had done.  As far as I can tell, the garage band is long gone.

I rouse myself and get back on the road to make my last delivery to a nice guy who has two very active dogs in a small house that most would call run down.  I suspect his wife is the patient.  He is chatty and fun to talk to.  We say goodbye, and I take the short cut back home where I sit in my driveway, steeped in the snapshots of so many unexpected memories.