By Jonah Raskin
Someone, somewhere is always predicting doom and gloom, though less so in California than anywhere else. In the Golden State, hope is a kind of secular religion. Luther Burbank and Jack London both insisted that Sonoma was paradise, though London also wrote a novel about the coming of a dictatorship to the U.S., and another novel about a pandemic that wipes out nearly all of humanity.
Over the last few years, fires, mandatory evacuations, and the loss of lives, homes, and landscapes have led to waves of fear about the future. And there’s more bad news. Sonoma therapists report that patients complain about something called “Trump anxiety.” They want pills that are available at pharmacies. Others have homegrown remedies.
Recently, I heard a farm worker predict a day when people would take capsules with nutrients and not eat real food. An environmentalist told me that Sonoma Valley would be a desert by the end of this century, and a 90-year-old woman who was near the end of her life, said, “I’m a cheerful person, but not about the state of the world.” Then, too, I listened to another woman whose house burned down in 2017 who said she was happy because she felt free of the weight of her possessions. Still, no one in Sonoma is an unabashed optimist. There are degrees of optimism – and pessimism, too.
Here are seven locals from diverse backgrounds on the subject of 2020 and beyond.
Lin Marie De Vincent: I wanna be a late bloomer
Health and happiness are my top priorities for 2020. As a former dancer, I’ve had to adjust to slow dancing. I don’t want to fall; that’s a big risk for seniors. I was born in 1948 in a military hospital in Virginia and got to Sonoma in ‘75. I’m a boomer and would like to be a late-bloomer and not be isolated and lose social skills. We’re all aging. It’s a generational thing. I hope to remember the hippie days in the Haight-Ashbury when I eschewed capitalism. Now I wish I hadn’t eschewed it. I’m proud to have worked on the rent control ordinance for mobile home parks in the city limits. In the future, cars are not going to go away, and we’ll need better ride-programs for seniors. In the summer there will be more 100-degree days. We have to protect green belts and build affordable houses. My vision is of Elizabeth Warren in the White House, or maybe Bernie. Thinking about what the future holds has taken me deeper into despair. Perhaps that’s because the days are shorter and the nights longer. I read tarot for people but don’t “predict” the future. Things change.
Richard Silver: Optimistic pessimist, pessimistic optimist
In 2020 we will have a clear vision of the future and there will be an explosion of diversity in the arts, music, and expression. Everything that is cloudy and convoluted will go away, though it’s never going to be the way it was. There’s no going back. It’s going to take something cataclysmic on a global scale to get us to solve our problems. That’s not impossible. In World War II the whole country flipped, but I feel like we’ve gone beyond the fail-safe point. There’s a return to tribal separatism and cooperative behaviors are gone. Look at what happened in Puerto Rico and Brazil. In Sonoma thousands of houses were lost in the fires and very few have been rebuilt. Some friends have PTSD, and every fall their anxieties are triggered. People are angry with PG&E, Cal Fire, and politicians. Sadly, they can’t separate from their own devices. They’re isolated in their own denial and they don’t think critically. People are basically good, but they’re also selfish and easily led astray. I guess you could say that I’m an optimistic pessimist and a pessimistic optimist.
Sarah Summers: Fields and redwoods… then came the giant houses
I moved to Sonoma when I was three and lived there until I was 18. I went to Sonoma Valley High School and hated it, though I had a great art teacher. Now, at 26, I live in L.A. and work at UCLA. If I lose my job I lose health care. I’m interested in beauty and ugliness and people who are attractive on the outside and monstrous on the inside. I grew up with kids who knew fields and redwoods. Then came the giant houses. Sadly, people pull out trees and put in Astroturf.
I have respect for those who stayed in town and now can be nicer to their parents than when they were in school. I worry about the tourist economy and people owning second homes and not being involved in the community. There will be more and more of an imbalance economically and socially. As Sonoma becomes more expensive, the people impacted the most will be children and families without money. In my ideal world, people who owned two homes would have to volunteer their time, or donate money to the community. I don’t go to the plaza and don’t care much about wine. After the fire, it’s harder to move forward to a hopeful future. If we do that we’ll have to also get real about grieving.
Susan Herringer-Pieper: Create out of disaster
For a long time, I felt like an outsider. After the fires I realized I belonged here. People were kinder and Sonoma felt less like a bubble. Fires are powerful. We’ll have to learn to respect them. I grew up in the country in Wisconsin, and learned to live with the elements. My grandmother froze to death one winter. As a child I visited an uncle who was rowdy and who was incarcerated. What an experience that was! I came to Sonoma in the 1980s. I’ve been married to the same man for 33 years. My husband and I are renters. I don’t let materialism dominate me and I won’t spend my time thinking about a world that isn’t here now. If I were to do that I might get stuck in muck and I’m not a duck. It’s essential to be alive and engaged and co-create Heaven on earth. I’m a faithful recycler. If I can’t be an agent of change I don’t want to be here. Social media can suck me in, but it can also be a way of communicating. After the fire at Notre Dame I made a mandala. Artists create out of disaster.
Shelley Masters: Prophecy is unreliable
I learned to meditate 40 years ago. Now when I meditate I become the universe. Time stops or expands. I’m also a shamanic practitioner. I could say what the future will be, but two minutes later it could all change. Prophecy is unreliable. Loneliness and depression are choices, to some extent, and don’t forget about spontaneity and synchronicity. There are blessings in tragedy and stress. They connect us to one another on a deep level. We don’t live in a dog-eat-dog world but a doggy-dog world. Or maybe we’re in a reality TV show. Trump did us a service. He made us aware of what we’ve lost. The damage done by toxic chemicals can be reversed. In the decade ahead there will be a backlash against technology, and especially against electronic smog and wireless radiation that comes from our devices and that have turned me into an accidental activist. I liked it when we had no electricity. You could see the stars. I’m happy to have worked as a painter and as a muralist for Joe Alioto, Melvin Belli, and Dr. Carl Djerassi, the Stanford chemist and Father of the Pill.
Steve Meloan: I think about the future a lot
I’m not in dire straights. I have a pension, social security, and a roof over my head, but I know people in Sonoma who have their asses in a sling. They work in the gig economy, have no benefits and big debts. I think about the future a lot. I worked as a computer programmer for 15 years and as a tech journalist for another 15. Things are changing so fast that we can’t keep up. Kurt Vonnegut nailed it in his novel Player Piano, where machines replace people and automation takes over. Today, people need jobs. They also need a sense of identity and a reason to live. In college I was more optimistic. I believed it was possible to change fundamental things. Now I’m not so sure. I was liberal. I voted for McGovern in ’72. Now I’m more cynical, though I know that dark eras fizzle and inconceivable things happen – like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the old disaster movies cataclysmic events unite people. Maybe climate change will bring people together.
Nancy Dome: Stop building walls and borders
Sonoma is my home. I plan to go on living here. It’s a great town and we talk a good talk, but I’d like to see us actually live the vision we have. Now, there are two towns: white Sonoma and brown Sonoma. There’s no real integration. I worked with Teen Services and saw that kids didn’t want to go to the plaza. I’d like to see more diversity. I’d like liberals to give more of their time and their heart and not just money. I grew up in West Hollywood in the 1970s when there was real diversity. Blacks, Jews, Mexicans, and Russians took care of one another. It was a kind of utopia and not just racially. I haven’t seen anything like it since then, but I think it’s worth trying to create that kind of community. If it happens anywhere it will happen in places like Sonoma, which are small and where almost everyone knows everyone else. Yes, the fires were horrific, but they enabled us to heal one another and to grow together. We have to stop building walls and borders and be reconnected to the earth.