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August 5, 2016


“Hope you’ll all have me back” Josephine Devanbu, ’16 Painting

by jdevanbu

Dear everyone, I’m starting to blog. Hope you’ll all have me back.

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Old farm dog Veil takes a breather in the shade, and I in the calm of a blank page.

As a newcomer to the divisive world of California groundwater management, starting to blog feels ill-advised. Like, gag-reflex ill-advised. Copy-pasting a secondhand condolence letter ill-advised. Wearing a heat-sensitive hypercolor shirt to a job interview ill-advised. High risk, subterraneously low reward. I’m not stalling. I’m savoring the end of my grace period.

This isn’t about shyness. If anything, boldness is to blame. I’ve got no qualms walking up to powerful person X, introducing myself, nodding with genuine empathy as they enumerate their frustrations with powerful person Y, and then, with equal aplomb, calling up Y to set a time to meet.

So far I’ve been able to find my words for the person sitting across from me. Blogging requires me to find words for more than one “you” at a time– words for both X and Y.  But if it’s going to be worth a  read it, I’ve got to dive into the very crux of X and Y’s differences while somehow honoring the legitimacy of both of their experiences. This doesn’t leave much low-hanging fruit. What if it’s all out of my reach?

To make matters worse, I’ve got something to lose: the benefit of the doubt.

Before I post this, I’m a blank slate. In a political climate where every affiliation brings with it a set of expectations, history and even past hurt, I’ve got no record. I let people know I’m a fellow at the California Institute for Water Resources putting together a story about the emotional landscape of groundwater regulation (more on this coming). For the most part, I’m perceived as harmless, impressionable and potentially useful. This relative anonymity has granted me access to a wonderfully wide swath of stakeholders. I’ve interviewed a dozen growers, ranchers, lobbyists, scientists, regulators, and activists. Sure, I’ve heard a few quips about absent political opponents. But on the whole, I’m blown away by the nuanced and nitty gritty work of bipartisanship I’ve seen underway.

So what am I so worried about? I’m on eggshells because I care about these conversations and the trust vested in me by the people I’ve spoken with. A lot. I want to get it right. But I’m a rookie and this is California water politics, so getting ‘it’ ‘right’ isn’t really on the table. I can’t make everyone happy, and, once I enter the conversation, I can’t go back to square one.

But the free pass I’m giving up was never really mine in the first place. These doors opened out of the generosity, grace, and optimism of others. As much as I’d like to take credit, I had little to do with it.

Luckily, the people I fear will find me two-faced are astute adults who know better than to think theirs is the only side I’ve heard. Many of their own careers hinge on their ability to cross ideological lines. Each has placed a stake in the debate, be it through their employment, affiliation, or writing. Each has still found ways to have meaningful conversations with people who disagree with them. Unlike my newbie free pass, they’ve earned this access over years of building their professional reputation.

Sooner or later, I’m going to have to earn my access as well.

To all I’ve interviewed so far: Thank you for your trust. I hope that what I do with your stories earns the kind of welcome you’ve given me on credit.


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