Despite It All: What I Loved Best About 2018

End-of-year lists. I love them. The “best of” ones, anyway. They’re like small-plate nostalgia buffets, filled with tidbits of all the stuff you loved, distillations of an entire year from the various points of view of clever writers, of which there are many. I’m not sure how clever Iam, but as I watched the last sunset of the year dip into darkness, I thought about making my own.

This would not be announcement-worthy except for the fact I’ve found myself damn near speechless this year, particularly in terms of political opining, quiescence brought on by a combination of outrage exhaustion, a sense of swimming in an overpopulated stream, and the fact that so much of what I think and feel is amply covered by the countless other writers op-edding on a daily basis—and for media sources with far higher profiles than my little blog (I still haven’t forgiven HuffPost for shutting down the contributors’ platform!).

Add to that the “churning machine of political horrors”—also known as the Trump Administration—which pumps out ceaseless vomit with such perpetuity one would have to write five articles a day to stay current, and I ain’t got it in me right now.

But as I got to retrospecting, I was reminded that though these last twelve months have been truly nuts on so many levels, they were also replete with tremendous progress, solid wins; the evolution of new voices, and hearty activism. Enough fabulous things happened, both personally and more expansively, that I became compelled to compile.

In no particular order, not listed by virtue of gravitas or merit, the select things, people, and events that helped make this year a wonderful one… despite it all:

What I Loved Best About 2018:

• The Women’s March, Los Angeles, January 21, 2018. We were almost a million strong (750,000) just in LA alone. The numbers worldwide were astonishing. And beyond the sheer power of that many people gathered to protest racism, sexism, corruption, and sexual assault, the event marked the first time in many years I gathered with all five of my sisters (we call ourselves “The Sixters”) to march together. With matching signs designed by our youngest sib, Grace, it was a phenomenal, empowering moment of familial and global solidarity. I do hope whatever pulls and tears have come into the Women’s March group from various quarters of late can be transcended in 2019 to keep the momentum going. We’ll see. But 2018’s event was unforgettable.

• We got a cat. That may sound silly but it’s not. I’ve watched this fuzzy little creature, who came to us from a shelter on January 5th, literally change the tenor of our habitat with her inexhaustible energy and character. I’ve watched a husband who deals with Post Concussion Syndrome become the warm landing spot for an animal who loves him, who follows him around like a puppy; engages with him in absurd games of fetch, and with whom conversation often ensues (on both sides, mind you!). She is a delightful little being who’s brought particular and unique joy to our home and has made walking in the door an event. No small thing. We call her Georgy Girl. She occasionally likes me too.

• The Parkland Kids: While caustic contrarians like Louis C.K. and Dana Loesch persist in using them as target practice for their bile, those of us who’ve been frustrated and horrified by stagnancy within the “gun reform” debate saw a group of high school students who’d survived a mass shooting take their rage, fear, and sorrow and turn it into one of the most powerful political movements of recent years. I don’t care what minor critiques are dragged up, I don’t care how young and occasionally callow they may be at times; I am not remotely interested in David Hogg’s SAT scores or Emma Gonzalez’s sexuality. There is NO ONE who has more quickly, cogently, and fearlessly dragged the convoluted issue of guns into the spotlight and onto the political stage than these kids. On top of that, they rallied thousands of young people to get registered and to the polls during the midterms, activism which contributed to record-breaking turnout, and they are continuing the movement forward from there. I do believe they will create real change… because no group has ever stood up to the corruption and callousness of the NRA with such earnest and passionate fervor.

• Attitudes about Climate Change & Conservation Continue to Evolve: Despite America having an idiot president who denies science, along with the other money-grubbers who can’t see the forest for the green (lining their pockets), short-sighted dismissal about the longterm assignment of saving the planet is becoming less and less acceptable, not unlike how attitudes about smoking or littering evolved. Reports detailing the dire circumstances that inexorably face our planet, horrific fires we’re told will become the norm, droughts, pestilence, and changing tides, all remind us that we’re a finite element in a grand universe that needs, demands, our immediate attention. And more people are paying attention. While Trump and his toadies temporarily regress America on this issue, this detailed breakdown from Quartz shows there is hope across the international stage. Please read it and do continue, however you do, to challenge and lessen your own carbon footprint.

• I found a publisher. This may not resonate widely, or with anyone who hasn’t pursued a creative career, but it was a game changer for me in ’18. As one who has pursued the arts from the time I was told I could sing or cobble a story together of some merit, I have largely been an indie artist “doing it for herself,” as Annie and Aretha might sing. I’ve had scads of people throughout my time—managers, producers, collaborators, agents, etc.—who pushed things in directions I wanted to go (and sometimes arrived), but despite tremendous wins and scores of incredible experiences, no part of my particular journey has been a slam-dunk. I wasn’t the actress plucked from a coffee shop, the singer pulled on stage by a rock star, the novelist garnering literati applause. I was that other one. The one making my own stage. Working with indie film and record producers, self-financed productions, self-published books.

So this year, when publisher Brooke Warner of She Writes Press, a small but innovative and emerging force in the publishing industry, said she wanted to publish my upcoming novel, The Alchemy of Noise, despite it being controversial, despite my independent resume, despite industry resistance to off-trend voices, I felt the embracing welcome of an opened door. I don’t know how it will go when the book’s finally out (April 9th)—I’m hopeful, they’re expert, early reader reviews (so far) are good—but just to have a group of experienced pros choose to work in tandem with me to achieve this goal is a balm.

• The Midterms: In all my life I have never been more concerned, more involved, or more invested in Midterm elections than I was this year. Anyone who knows me, reads me, converses with me, knows what I think about the current administration, so it’s no secret that I believed the outcome of this election truly was “life or death.” The urgency of implementing checks and balances into what has become a blatant flouting of rule-of-law and all manner of integrity felt tantamount to pulling a drowning society from a raging swamp. I spent hours, stamps, and handwritten agony (can anyone handwrite anymore??) sending out hundreds of campaign postcards for candidates around the country, and the unbelievable turnout, the overwhelming wins, the feeling that we now have a most amazingly diverse and capable group of adults stepping into the cult frenzy, is overwhelming. We did good. Let’s PLEASE make sure we do good for 2020. That’s a whole other article. But I think you know what I mean…

• Social Media Activism:  Say what you will about Twitter and Facebook (and there’s plenty to say), in 2018 both platforms became an even more powerful outlet for righteous anger and social activism, particularly on issues related to racism and white privilege. When New York lawyer Aaron Schlossberg bombarded a group of Spanish-speaking customers in a sandwich shop with his vile, racist nonsense, Twitter and Facebook outed him without mercy, and before long he was out of a job and had mariachi bands serenading his apartment building. When Barbecue Becky called the cops on a black family “committing the crime” of grilling in a park, Dr. Jennifer Schulte faced an onslaught of pushback that went all the up to her place of employment and had police considering her commitment. The list of perpetrators from every walk of life assaulting good men, women, and children of color is long, unfortunately, but there continues to be conscious, compassionate, and justifiably angry people with smart phones and social media platforms to take them on, giving activist citizens the empowerment of knowing silence is not an option when faced with hate and bigotry.

• Movies with/about music: I don’t mean musicals—thought I love musicals—I mean A Star is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody. I mean movies that climb inside the life of singers, songwriters, and bands, and bring us with them to watch the music evolve, see the excitement and anxiety of the lifestyle unfold, feel the power of creativity. I’m not interested in critiquing these films—plenty of reviewers have done just that—but both the films mentioned had me energized, engaged, entertained, and moved throughout. That’s always an amazing moviegoing experience. And A Star Is Born, particularly, not only resonated with me for all sorts of expected reasons given my band singer history, but the telling of its story touched me deeply. Both stars are phenomenal, and though I have wearied of drug & alcohol related “Behind the Music” narratives, Bradley Cooper did an extraordinary job of bringing vulnerability and true sorrow to the inexorable trajectory his character experienced. It showed a side of addiction rarely seen. And Lady Gaga… well. What can I say: listening to the fragility and crack in her voice on “I’ll Never Love Again” before it transforms into a soaring power ballad wraps me in tears and goosebumps every time.

• Political transcendence: Allowing a corrupt and amoral conman like Donald Trump into the White House has been one of the most egregious errors in American history. I fought with everything I had—my activism, my voice, my articles, my vote—to keep that from happening, but the power of corruption, the short-sightedness of one-issue voting, the collusion and involvement of foreign adversaries, the willingness of too many to ignore blatant bigotry, lack of intellect, and a classless, corrosive worldview, toppled the good sense of an entire nation. We have paid, and will continue to pay, a very high price for that folly. Yet, while the carnage of Trump has shaken us to the core (and when I say “us” I mean anyone who cares more for humanity than stock prices, who believes all people are created equal, who respects and embraces science; who leads with compassion, empathy, consideration, and love), it has also awakened American consciousness in ways we might not have expected. It struck me that my upcoming novel is called The Alchemy of Noise, a narrative exploring the notion of pulling the good, the gold, out of the very darkest of situations, and I do believe America is finding its own alchemy in this era of Trump. (Read this piece: The halfway point: What have two years of Trump’s wrecking ball done to America?. It is quite brilliant and hopeful… I love the line, “democratic renaissance.”) 2018 has been a “democratic renaissance.” That will only continue to evolve. I have faith in that. Don’t you?

• My circle, real and virtual: As I traverse life on a day-to-day basis, whether meeting friends for lunch, gathering with family; singing songs for my mother in hope of shaking her fog, or spending time in virtual conversations with the many incredible people with whom I engage on social media, I am reminded of how lucky I am to have such evolved, conscious, caring, active people in my global circle. The list is long, you know who you are, and though I would need another blog to name each of you, please know how grateful I am for your hearts and minds, your anger and activism, your humor and good-will, your pictures and silly videos, your articles and reviews, your generosity in helping me with my work, writing me blurbs, commenting on my articles, or simply sharing your own thoughtful perspectives either privately or on my pages. It all means something. You have helped me endure the insanity of our times; you’ve made me laugh, shared cakes I want to eat, brought brilliant art to my attention, and appreciated mine. Thank you. Let’s keep doing it all of that. It brings joy.

Photo by Cristina Cerda

• The power of love: That may sound treacly, but I don’t mean it that way. I mean it in the most transcendental, soulful, joy-empowering way. This year I had the pleasure of, once again, performing music with my brother, Tom, who I adore, and three other people I adore as well: Ben (his son/my nephew; Jeff, and Erik), and the love shared and experienced in putting our Sixth & Third shows together could light the grid for years. I also spent about six weeks putting a milestone birthday video together for my beloved husband, and, in the process, was reminded of every moment of our lives together, filling my heart beyond words. The family, the friends, the projects, the labors of love, our children, our pets, our closest friends… it was an overwhelming 18-minute blast of love, and it reminded me to remind myself to always remember and never forget… you know what I mean?

There are more, but these are the highlights, the things that made this year resonate and stand up to the opposite side of this list. I don’t want to enumerate the opposite side; I don’t need to. I only need to keep moving forward wrapped in the power and solidarity of the good side, the “renaissancing” side! I have faith in us. I have hope for us. I know love will drive us. Which is good, because, like Todd Rundgren, I do believe love is the answer.

Happy New Year, my friends! And welcome, 2019. Let’s make some history together.

All photos, except where attributed, by LDW.


LDW w glasses

Lorraine’s third novel, The Alchemy of Noise, has an April 2019 pub date, with pre-orders currently available at Amazon. Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s other books, music, photography, and articles.

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The Most Effective Form of Protest Is VOTING

“Demonstration without good legislation ends in frustration. To get good legislation you need to be in majorities. You gotta win elections.” ― Rep. Keith Ellison

Every American remotely interested in what’s going on in this country likely conducts a ritual similar to this at the beginning of their day:

They rise, get ready as needed for their particular schedule, then sit down, stand up, turn on, or pick up their media preference to scan the headlines. Some read or watch further, some don’t, but for the majority of Americans, this ritual and those headlines — at least since the current occupier of the White House has been in occupation — are a rage-inducing, gut-wrenching, anxiety-producing litany of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news of stunning variety.

Since late-evening November 8th, 2016, we have witnessed the bulk of this country convulse through every negative emotion imaginable, with millions around the globe joining in angst as they watched, slacked-jawed, while the most powerful country in the free world handed the keys of the kingdom to the most inept, unqualified, and, as is proven daily, destructive and unethical person to ever grasp the title of “President of the United States.”

And this collective emotional turmoil is not conjecture; it’s fact: anxiety in America is up since Donald Trump became president:

“Post-election stress is real,” said Vaile Wright, director of research at the American Psychological Association. “People are really fearful about what’s going on in the country and are reporting concern about the political climate.”

On behalf of the national association, Harris Poll surveyed about 3,500 people last August in an annual survey about stress. The questionnaire asked for the first time about stress related to politics after hearing from therapists that many of their clients were anxious about the campaign. More than half said the U.S. presidential election was stressing them out.

Given what we’ve witnessed on social media, in coffee-house conversations, in the fracturing of families during dinner-time discussion, and the almost obsessive cultural fixation on “what the hell is going on with this Trump guy?” as one friend put it, the data from the American Psychological Association is not surprising, even if it is unprecedented:

“I’ve been in practice for 30 years,” said Esther Lerman Freeman, clinical psychologist at Oregon Health & Science University. “I’ve never seen people this upset about an election.”

But there was a bright spot in those early days: the Women’s March on January 21st.

It was, and remains, the best day many of us have had since that dreadful November night. An explosion of civic participation in unexpected and historic numbers, it became a communal gathering that not only made clear how tremendous the anti-Trump coalition was amongst liberal, progressive, and Democratic women (and men) throughout every state of the union (even blizzard-blown Alaska!), but around the world. The head-count was so large in some spots as to be incalculable, and observant folks were struck by the notion that there simply couldn’t be enough people who actually supported Trump to make his “win” irrefutable.

In fact, there wasn’t… because then came the Russians.

Or rather, as we recently heard from FBI Director, James Comey, the Russians came a long time ago. And I don’t mean the Cold War; I mean somewhere around July 2016, when the agency launched an investigation into possible (probable?) Trump/Russian collusion to interfere with #Election2016 and any chance of a Hillary Clinton win. Much more is to be revealed on this topic, but the critical mass of information already seems to support the suspicion that had this election been fair and square, Trump would be out hawking Slavic hotels while Hillary Clinton was busy running the country.

So, yes, LOTS of outrage to express, lots of anger and an unwillingness to acquiesce to the political status quo. People of conscience wear “pussy hats” and raise protest signs. We hashtag #Revolution, #Resistance, and #NotMyPresident every chance we get; stay vigilant on social media; write op-eds, call and email state representatives, sign petitions, organize town halls, and attend marches. WE MAKE OUR VOICES HEARD IN PROTEST.

And, yes: WE VOTE!

Right? We vote?

Turns out… not so much.

Like so much else in our recent electoral history that is surprising and self-sabotaging, it appears that far too many Americans STILL abdicate their right and responsibility to vote, one of their most effective and important civic tools. That is astonishing, particularly in this post-Trump era of outrage.

VOTE IN MIDTERMS. Elect a congressional majority willing to take on the White House, rather than behaving like quislings*.” ― Joy Reid (*quisling: a person who betrays his or her own country by aiding an invading enemy, often serving later in a puppet government; fifth columnist.)

On March 7, there was an election in Los Angeles for mayor, various judges, school board folks, and several important and impactful propositions. And yet, just a few short weeks after the streets of L.A. were packed with passionate, politically active people willing to get out on a Saturday morning to show solidarity with like-minded progressives, ONLY 11.45 PERCENT OF REGISTERED CITIZENS VOTED! Only 11.45 percent! Which means in a city of over 4 million people, just over 450,000 voted, which, depending on who you ask, is far less than showed up for the Women’s March on January 21st.

Why is that? Why are we willing to strap on a pink hat, grab a protest sign, and hit the streets to the tune of “We are women, hear us roar,” but not get out to the ballot box at some point during a 12-hour period to make our voices known in tangible, policy-and-local-government-altering ways?

Fact is, voter turnout in America has always been a conundrum. Horrible numbers. Shameful, even, in light of countries where citizens put life and limb at risk to vote. Maybe it’s the “privilege of democracy” that renders Americans civically lazy, detached from the urgency of voting. Maybe it’s the bane of imprinted American competitiveness that determines that only the most exciting, most combative elections bring out the numbers (FairVote). Certainly demographics have something to do with it: young people are notorious non-voters, which makes a clear case for stronger mentor influence and the designation of civics (let me say again) as a required subject in school curriculums.

But even though voter apathy is historically endemic, why, given the clear and vibrant political activism of that memorable January 21st day, didn’t those numbers translate into exponential attendance at the ballot box, the next logical step in the act of active activism? That question is where the political disconnect lies:

“It wasn’t a big election, like, for president or even any senators. I couldn’t figure out half the propositions. I got busy. The ballot was too confusing. I planned to vote but ran out of time. I was traveling that day. Smaller elections don’t matter that much. I have no idea who all those judges and school board and city council people were so I didn’t bother. The power mongers are going to decide everything anyway. Look at what happened with Trump; what’s the point?”

All the above were communicated to me in one way or another, and I get it: who are all those judges and other folks? And why are those propositions so damn confusing (and, really, did that many trees need to die to glut our mailboxes with contradicting mega-postcards)? And yes, not all of what’s there to be voted on by each resident affects that resident… but SO WHAT?

The civic equation, the societal formula, that desperately needs to be considered is this:

First, local laws affect the well-being of people by either attending to their needs, or by ignoring them to the point that they’re motivated to change those laws. That ability, that power — to change local laws via the electoral process — is designed to engage and inspire citizens to take responsibility for their own government. The thinking follows: if they get involved locally, they’re more likely to get involved nationally. Local voters beget national voters.

Secondly, local politicians become identified, known, as they move up the political ranks. They build loyalty while becoming effective spokespeople for their constituents. Those regional and local leaders — mayors, judges, city council and school board members, etc. — often go on to become state and national leaders; governors, congresspeople… even higher. Hence, getting to know those leaders locally puts voters ahead of the curve if/when those same people move into national positions. Voters are already invested; they already know something about that person; their voice and vote will be more educated because of that local history. Engaged local voters beget engaged national voters.

Whatever your interpretation of “all politics is local” (usually attributed to Tip O’Neil, etymologist, Barry Popik asserts that the phrase was coined by Washington AP bureau chief, Byron Price), I think we can all agree that local elections have tangible and pivotal influence in building and nurturing the foundation of all politics. So, again, why do so many people ignore them?

One popular post-mortem of election 2016 was the “exit interview” of Trump voters. Social scientists attempted to discern why they voted — sometimes against their own self-interests and often in the face of facts that should have sent them running to the hills — for a guy who couldn’t be more unlike them. The take-away, putting aside documented xenophobia, racism, and the rest, was that they felt their government leaders ignored them: “They don’t listen to us, those elites. Our needs aren’t considered. We’re invisible.” Whether or not that is quantifiably true is not the point; they believed it to be true and they believed Trump would be different. Which leads back to the chicken/egg equation: did local/state politicians drop the ball or did local citizens abdicate their own civic responsibility? Given the evidence, I’d say both the chicken and egg are guilty.

When it’s suggested that gerrymandering and voter suppression could subvert the Democrats’ ability to make gains in the 2018 midterms, shaking voters out of their entrenched apathy becomes all the more urgent. We need to engage citizens early in their political life (let me say this again: civics must become a high school requirement), getting voters of every age inspired, educated, and out to the polls. The default position should be that every election is a “big one.” Because, ultimately, that is true.

Lastly — and perhaps prosaically — there is simply no excuse not to vote; not any more; not these days. Regardless of gerrymandering, insufficient polling stations, long lines, bad weather, work conflicts, babysitting snafus, car problems, travel schedules, bad knees, simply not having enough time to get to a polling place, there’s this: 37 states allow early voting, all states will mail absentee ballots to those requesting them, and three states provide mail-in ballots for all elections. Everyone can figure out a way to vote.

The Midterm Elections of 2018 are the next major elections; many important state and city elections are unfolding as we speak, some of which may have powerful impact on turning the tide against the Trump machine. VOTE. Don’t abdicate. Don’t dismiss. Don’t listen to those who tell you it doesn’t matter. Grab a rain coat, pull on your pink hat, take your protest sign, jog from work, register for mail-in ballots; whatever it takes: VOTE. That, more than any other form of resistance and protest, has the power to change the world. If #Election2016 taught us anything, it taught us that.

“Holding America” photo by Samuel Schneider @ Unsplash

To find out what your specific state provides in terms of early voting and mail-in ballots, check HERE.

Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.