Saturday, December 27, 2003

Just scanned the packet ...

for the Democratic Central Committee's session mid-January (I'm serving as a delegate from the 14th Assembly District) and discovered that the presidential candidates are not on the program. It will just be the work of creating the platform and debating the issues -- at least as they've surfaced here in Northern California. You'll want to remember that the two ends of this state are very different, politically. And the Greater Bay Area is light years away from the rest of Northern Cal where the rural areas reflect more conservative views. The best we can hope for is that maybe we'll neutralize Orange County. But then Orange County used to be the realm of ultra-conservative Bob Dornan and is now represented by two Latinas, the Sanchez sisters. The population has seen a dramatic demographic change. Maybe how California will lean has yet to be determined. Since we lost the governorship, all bets are off. Not sure what it will mean over time. Maybe Ahnold is just a hiccup on the body politic. Let us pray... .

I'm betting that -- whether they play official roles or not -- as many presidential candidates as can make it will be there. California is still the largest state in the union, and can't be ignored.

Have been wondering what the conversations around the various Kennedy dinner tables are like these days? Maria has tossed the family a curve, hasn't she? Her strong role in her husband's campaign and in the putting down of the harassment charges were key to his victory and she continues to be the plus factor in getting his programs across. That strange picture of the Shrivers and various and sundry Democrat relatives standing beside the Ahnold and Maria on election night still lingers in my head.

This should be a very interesting gathering. It will be interesting to see how the state leadership is handling the craziness.

Meanwhile ...
Joy to the World -- and to us, too ... !

In a rare show of being overwhelmed, I must admit that this year I surely overtaxed my strengths. The Christmas holiday was wonderful with my three kids and theirs all sharing in the festivities. Dinner was great (thanks Jenny for the support). Alayana and Tamaya were resplendant in their new "grandma dresses" despite my feeling of having inflicted old values of traditional Scotch plaid dresses with black velvet collars and cuffs and tiny gold buttons in the age of Brittany Spears! David had warned me that if I bought clothing -- "the girls prefer items with logos on them(!)." I hate things with names on them, and see such items as the ultimate in consumer branding -- of consumers! All in all, it was a wonderful day.

Pacing myself as we approach the end of the year and the beginning of the next will be important. In that respect I may have over-committed myself, and that's surely the reason I'm feeling drained. Will have another few days off during which time I will write a 15-minute speech to be delivered on January 15th at the Walnut Creek Martin Luther King Birthday celebration. Will serve as a delegate to the State Central Committee of the Democratic Party Meeting at the San Jose Convention Center January 16-18. Pretty tight planning. All of the candidates will appear before us again. They were presented in July when we met in Sacramento. I suspect that some will drop out of the race after this appearance, and only the top 3-5 will continue on in the primaries. Important meetings that I'm looking forward to. There are a couple of platform issues I'm interested in.

Meanwhile, there is the on-going need to get ready for Loni's new campaign for the Assembly. It doesn't seem possible that she is already running for a second term. We've hardly gotten into stride in her first. She'll be challenged in the March primary by two other aspirants (both male), but neither seems like a serious contender. Nonetheless, it will mean a change in the rhythm of the work. In addition there are the new budget battles to be waged between the new governor and both houses of the legislature.

Not sure what you know from reading the press, but the governor satisfied his base by removing the Vehicle License Fees. That meant that funding that went to the cities for police and fire departments, and other city services evaporated quite suddenly, throwing the cities into chaos. The VLF, when adopted under Pete Wilson, was intended to be temporarily reduced because we were then living in the bubble created by the development of the technological age in California. There was an understanding that -- while the state was running a surplus -- it would do no harm to return some moneys to the taxpayers instead of holding it in the state treasury. The other stipulation was that -- if the state's financial situation was to drastically change downward -- the VLF would be restored. That part has been ignored.

The governor under his promise to not raise taxes, ran for office against Davis on the promise to return the VLF to its pre-bubble status and, in addition, he would "search out waste in the system, and make significant cuts in order to force the legislature to live within its limits as determined by revenues." Crazy stuff! He did the VLF thing, announced severe cuts in essential services to the handicapped and those living in poverty as a way of making up the difference, but this brought on such a roar at the capital that he quickly backed away from at least the threatened lawsuits from mayors thoughout the state. The developmentally disabled -- after learning that this entire segment of the society was being heavily defunded -- quickly organized and marched on Sacramento.

The cities have been temporarily spared the painful cuts of closing fire stations and libraries and reducing policing, but the 4 billion dollars the governor had restored to the treasury by the restoration of the VLF now has to be found elsewhere. Since he restored the funds to the cities by executive order only hours after the legislature had recessed for the holidays (as if he had somehow ridden in on a white horse and saved them from an emergency he, himself, had created), he is now faced with a Senate and Assembly that will have to okay his proposed budget cuts. It's hard to tell whether he is extremely clever or resoundingly stupid. I'm guessing that it's a bit of each.

Just thinking about getting my affairs in order for the upcoming year, looking at my in-basket at the office and the newsletter I'm being asked to begin to pull together as a quarterly distribution for our Assembly District, the continuing unfolding of the Barbara Alexander Academy drama, the many environmental projects I'm not responsible for -- but do monitor regularly, the Alameda County Disabilities Council activities that will surely become more strident and demanding as the budget cuts begin to effect services to this most vulnerable population (and this hits home because of Dorian).

It's becoming increasingly difficult to see how the times we're living in can be much worse. I'm terrified of the quality of leadership we're living under, at both state and national levels. The drum beat of negatives being vomited out into the world day after day is sickening. The effects of the FCCs failure to reign in the Rupert Murdocks and the other media moguls has resulted in a deepening reliance on the Internet for truth -- and "truth" comes in so many confusing forms that there are times when the feeling of being crushed under by things beyond personal control is terrifying.

I'm beginning to feel so de-sensitized of late that the "orange alert" didn't do a thing to me but give a sense of annoyance. "You may be hit by a flying airliner, but -- what the hey -- we'll see that you're safe. Just get out there and shop!" "Your friendly Homeland Security operators have everything in hand, guys." But now let me tell you about this Mad Cow thing ... and there's the flu (promises to be worse than usual this year and we're not sure we made the right vaccine) ... and then there are the earthquakes and mudslides. Have to keep reminding myself that most of these tragedies have been happening since the beginning of time -- in one form or another -- and that the only thing that's really changed is our inability to not know about each and every one of them, within seconds of their occurrence. Taking into account that -- given the tremendous growth in world population -- the number of such tragedies is hitting us like a tidal wave! And now that we have a media system bent upon distracting us from the things that really matter, these tragedies and threats will be drawn from anywhere on the planet to feed our fears and keep us from questioning too closely those who have chosen to lead us.

So much to ponder ...

Maybe this will be the year that I adjust my sails toward new directions, and head for calmer waters. It's a little like bull-riding, I guess. There are surely days when I'd like to just let go, but feel like the moment I do -- I'll lose control and be tossed! Then I may find that the calm was simply the eye of the hurricane, with more rough seas ahead... .

Enough mixed metaphors to last 'til New Years Day.

Photo: Rhico, David, Kokee, and below them, Tamaya and Alyana - Reid (descendants of Breaux-Allen-Charbonnet-Reid).

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Dorian and and I had a great time choosing this year's Christmas tree, ...

a 6-footer, full, with that lovely pine scent that does more for ringing in the season that all of the fake Santa's in the world.

As it is with every holiday season, I thought today of Mel and the family Christmases of old, and of how much -- despite all -- we loved one another. Where we may have failed at marriage, we were loving parents and what there was to build upon was reinforced year after year by the parental love we shared. He was a doting though often absent father, but one whose life was spent in trying to grant the wishes of his kids and their mother. Whoever said that couples should not stay together for the sake of the children may not have had it right, after all. There were obvious sacrifices, but we drew enough love from being parents to hold us together for many years. That we would eventually separate as they began to spread their wings was predictable, but those were certainly not wasted years. I regret not one year of that experience. I remember him with love and longing that it might have ended differently ... .

We never really negotiated how we would spend our lives together, but gradually drifted into a kind of sibling relationship that was made up of all of the best qualities of friendship and a good deal of respect for one another. I learned to never question his fidelity -- to not expect too much -- and to enjoy those places where we were comfortable with one another, and ignore what couldn't be changed.

We wanted for nothing that money could buy. I can hardly remember a time when Mel didn't anticipate our needs and fulfill them to the best of his ability. He personified the "provider" that his father had modeled for all those years.

I must have been difficult for him, often remote and moody. Rick's homosexuality was clear from a very early age, and that certainly must have created deep anxiety for this very masculine father. We never did actually talk about Dorian's retardation. He provided me with all that I needed to care for her, but didn't seem to be able to face up to her disabilities. His busyness that grew over the years served to allow me the freedom to bring up our kids in total freedom. He rarely interfered with my decisions about the children, and in looking back, some of those were surely questionable.

It may seem strange to others, but our friendship outlived our marriage by at least ten years. In his final years, though I was remarried to another -- I drove him to his doctor's appointments and saw to it that he had food and care (he died living in poverty -- an amputee from the ravages of diabetes). My second husband, Bill, and I were at his hospital bedside when he returned from surgery. I didn't want him to awaken to a lost limb -- alone.

Though there was certainly loneliness and sorrow in that first marriage, I can't imagine having not lived it. I was lucky enough to have loved two men in my life. Both entered it at the right time. I learned much from life with Mel. He was a lovingly supportive father, to the best of his ability. There were failings on both our parts, but triumphs as well. The challenges were great, but for the most part we survived them. Maybe his was a trajectory that blazed high in the sky over a shorter period of life -- and then he was gone. Mine came much later, but the years I spent with him prepared me for the second half, I believe. It is an incredible second half -- that's still unfolding.