Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Small World Stories Website....Is there A Good Political Reason to Support It?

All names have been changed.

When I was 13 years old, my piano teacher encouraged me to join a jazz band at the Bloomingdale House of Music. The bass player who I will call George (names are all changed to protect the innocent) and I were kidding around. I thought he was cute. George thought he was cute, too. One day I was talking to a friend of mine from school talking about this very cute boy.
"George Jenson?" Gloria asked.
"I think so," I said. I mean, I was 13. We were introduced with last names when I joined the band, but I didn't really pay attention to them.
"Is he kind of built, but not too much?"
"Next week, ask him if he went to Camp Kimpel."

Of course next week I would learn that he *did* go to Camp Kimpel, and he knew my friend Gloria, and we thought that was very funny.
"It's a small world," my mother told me, when I told her about it later that day.

As I grew older, the small world stories in my life started to flourish; somedays it seemed like EVERYONE knew one another somehow. One boyfriend from my sleepaway camp went to the same synagogue, and was in the same Hebrew Youth Group, as Gloria. Gloria would later go to college with ANOTHER boyfriend from the same sleepaway camp.

The small world stories fascinated me because they suggested that we were all connected; another friend once stipulated that they really showed that there were no more than 5 thousand people in the world, all of whom were connected to one another in three or more ways. If you couldn't find at *least* three connections, the person probably was just a bad special effect created by Universal.

My mother loved these stories, too. I suppose the stories verified that we had found our people; sometimes it's hard in New York City to feel like you belong. When people you know from different areas of your life know each other, it makes you feel like you're finding your own.

My husband Fred and I met at work, which probably isn't how you're supposed to meet people, but the rules don't always apply in New York. While we were working together, but before we started seeing each other, I learned that Lola, one of my parents' neighbors, a woman I used to catsit for in high school, also knew Fred -- from the New Music Scene in New York in the early 80s. Also one of my father's coworkers was married to one of Fred's old college friends.
After Fred and I became a couple, we learned that one of my mother's coworkers had gone to college with Fred. At one of Mom's birthday parties, we ran into yet another connection when a woman cried out, "Fred! What are you doing here?"
Fred introduced me to terry, and explained that we had been involved for 3 years. Lisa had been in No More Nice Girls, a pro-choice zap-action group that Mom and a bunch of her friends started in 1976, in response to the Hyde Amendment. Terry had been on of Rodney's girl-friends; probably where Fred met Lola was through Rodney, too.

Rodney was getting his Doctorate in ethnomusicology in New York in the 80s. My piano teacher, Julia, was too. They may know each other, since they both teach in a relatively small field. But Rodney lives in Arkansas and I haven't communicated much with Julia since I stopped taking piano lessons in 1987, and there is no real way to verify whether they do or not.

See, when we talk about how everyone's really connected, what we never really get is that we're all in this together. The Ego in the White House encourages people to ignore that, but if the world goes to hell, we're all going with it. I think the small world stories can show that we all have common interests; like wanting our children to be able to drink clean water that comes out of a tap.
Maybe if we can see how we're all connected to one another -- not how we can all get to this or that famous person; trust me, if you know ANYONE who has tried to be on the stage or in film, you are 2 degrees from somebody who has been on Law & Order, and then you are no more than 4 degrees from almost everyone -- but that we are a few steps from the homeless guy who is camped out by Starbucks on 37th avenue in Jackson Heights.

Fifteen years ago there was a homeless guy named Larry in Richmond Hill, where I worked. He was a drunk, and we knew him by name. So did the police department, as the drunk's brother was a police officer, and we're not sure how Larry fell so far, but he did. I know that alcoholism drives people apart, and it's scary to know that someone could fall so far.

When I was in high school, a classmate who volunteered with a homeless shelter used to say that any of us could become homeless. I recognized that that was almost true; most of us could, but it would take longer for us to become homeless than others.
We were amused when Gina one of my friends from high school hailed a cab, and the cab driver said,
"You're wearing a Columbia Prep jacket. Tell me, does Mr. Grable still work there?" The next week Gina asked Mr. Grable about this man. Mr. Grable recognized the driver's name.
"I guess he's still trying to make it in theater," Mr. Grable said. "He was pretty good at it. Good to know he's doing something."

You are three degrees from the panhandler whose glare you avoid. Not just because he's been walking the C train for a few years and everyone on your commute knows him, but because his older brother did go to City College, and was the favorite of a professor there, who is in my mother's Writers' Group.
Perhaps I made that up; Doesn't mean it's not possible.

So my mother, my uncle and I are going to start a Small World Stories website just to show how closely connected we really are. Perhaps we let socially constructed barriers -- class mostly -- separate us, but we shouldn't. The world's population is all in this together, and we all love our children. Ideology shouldn't come before family (it has, but only in extreme times). Please, tell how guy died from an overdose near my elementary school, dying in plain sight for everyone who was going to school the next morning to see, had dropped out of MIT when the voices in his head became too much. Let me tell you about the woman who thanked me for finding books to help with her depression left me a $100 tip (she wrote a card and slipped some money in it before giving it to a coworker), so you can tell me she was your aunt's neighbor.

And perhaps I don't want to know that the waiter who got my order wrong at the diner, who I complained about because I was running late that day, went home and took it out on his wife, who turned to Legal Services (where your uncle works) and while his wife got away safely, I started something I really didn't intend to.

I think those of us who disagree vehemently with one another need to find some common ground. There have to be some things we agree on, and if we can just start seeing what we have in common, instead of sitting across the ideological spectrum, arms crossed, glaring at one another, perhaps it's a place to start.

Except, of course, for the Nazis. They can go fuck themselves.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

What "not all white people" must sound like....from a woman who just heard "not all men."

Privilege is supposed to be invisible, or at least discrete. If privilege were obvious, people would rail about it more. Older children have more privileges than younger children, and younger children resent this. Younger children are told "when you get older, you'll be able to do that, too," because that's supposed to make it better.

I'm guessing a bit about that one, having been an only child.

I'm pissed off because I was reading "Men Explain Things To Me," by Rebecca Solnit and remembering every time a man where I worked "mansplained" technology to me. Remembering with a certain vitriol when a certain gentleman approached the Reference Desk where I was working and told me "Gmail isn't working."
"Yes it is," I told him. I did not tell him that I was on my Gmail account at the moment (which is why I knew there was nothing wrong with Gmail).
"Well, then there's something wrong with my computer," he told me. "I need to switch computers."
There's nothing wrong with his computer, I'm sure of this. I also don't like being talked so abruptly, but I say,
"Let me see what's going on on your computer," get up, and follow him to his computer.
He is typing in in the address bar. He's getting an error message.
"See?" He glares at me, "there's something wrong with this computer. Other people can access their Gmail."
"Try typing in," I tell him. "See if that works."
"I don't have to type that in at home," he tells me.
"You're not at home," I say. "Try it."
He glares at me as he sits down and does what I tell him. It works. He ignores me from the on and forgets to say thank you. I don't know how to tell him our ISP doesn't do his thinking for him without sounding insulting, nor do I feel like picking a fight with a strange man, so I walk away.
I sit back down at the Reference Desk and am looking at a list of Adult Fiction books we could order, when the gentleman returns.
"Now Facebook isn't working." He tells me. I follow him back to his seat and discover that this gentleman couldn't not make the cognitive leap that if typing "" into the address bar doesn't work, but typing "" does work, then perhaps, if typing "" doesn't work, perhaps typing "" will. He glares at me again.

Some of these customers perhaps are yanking my chain, but this customer looked really indignant when I told him the computer program was working when it wasn't and I am certain that if he'd been talking to a man, the random male customer would have been more respectful. And I get more annoyed just thinking about it.

So when my husband comes over and asks what I'm thinking about, I tell him, remembering this story and a few others.
"Not all men do that," he interrupts me, mid rant.
I stare at him. "Only men behave like this," I explain.
"Not all men," he repeats.
I try to figure out what he's disagreeing with me about and he says, "I'll just get up and go into the other room until you've calmed down," and leaves for the bedroom (which has better air conditioning anyway.)
This is not a way to calm down an angry woman.
I think about following him and continuing the fight, because right now I feel like he's defending the assholes who come to my branch. And I know that sometimes he thinks that all the random customers are doing is pissing off a random person because they can, and "because upsetting you IS the high point of his day," Richard has told me.

That may be true. That's not quite was I was talking about.

And I'm not going to rehash the rest of the discussion. You don't care. What's important is the epiphany I had about it several months later.

I am a white person. I have been reading essays complaining about what white people do, about the white privilege that we get and aren't even aware of, but I don't think I really understood the anger until I heard the man I love say "not all men."
I get to live in a society where an unfair proportion of opportunities and rights are given to me and I accept it. I enjoy those privileges while I know that other people don't, and while I fight against the discrimination in theory, you still benefit from the system.
But people expect credit being aware that the system is biased TOWARD them.
My husband has never been sexually harassed on the street. He's certainly never been told "you were dressing like that what did you expect?" like I have (only twice, it's true, but still). He doesn't know the shit women go through because he can't, but he benefits from a system that doesn't penalize men for being assholes.
And he wants credit for knowing that he benefits from it, and he's not an asshole. Isn't that enough?
When I'm angry, it's not enough. It's not sympathetic. It's not meaningful.

Just saying "I'm not an asshole, don't blame me," isn't an acceptable answer. Don't give it.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

our neighbors....the people in A Big City

People come to New York for lots of reasons, but some of us were just fortunate enough to have been born here.

All the stories about how we don't really know each other are true, though. We have distinct means of keeping a distance from one another because it's what we do, or perhaps it's just what I do. I work with people, but I don't really know them. And perhaps I should try harder to get to know them (a former coworker pointed out that our coworkers ARE our families, because we spend much more time with them than we do with our actual families, when you take into consideration that we all SLEEP, too), but what I'm concerned with is the people you know in passing. There are half a dozen people who come to the public library where I work regularly whom I feel I know; they know something about my life, and I know something about theirs, and we see each other rather regularly.
Until we don't.
And we don't know when we stop seeing them, exactly, because our interactions have always been casual. They are like the people I know from the gym, and we smile at each other, but it never goes any further than that.
And then they disappear.
Or perhaps I'm being overly dramatic. I realize I haven't seen somebody for a few weeks and that's fine. People go away. People travel.

None of these people are answerable to me, but I realize I have no way of knowing what happened to them. Their families don't know *me*. Perhaps their families know that the library is important to them, but that's not a reason to contact the library when their aunt gets sick, is it?
When the aunt dies?

3 years ago I learned that a friend had died. Somebody on Facebook had initiated communication with me (send me an unsolicited message) asking "I see you're friends with Jill. I haven't heard from her in a few weeks and that's very unlike her. Do you know if anything has happened to her?"
I did not know. I did know that Jill hadn't talked to me in over a year and a half, really. We'd had a disagreement a year earlier when she'd asked me "have you wept for your grandfather?" in an overly sympathetic tone and I'd felt that Jill wasn't willing to share my pain, but rather wanted to know that somebody else felt just as sad as she did. Except Jill was miserable about EVERYTHING, and I had a few things that were a little upsetting. Attending my grandfather's memorial was more upsetting than his actual death. When a 95 year old dies, it's not exactly a tragedy, nor is it a surprise. I wanted to have room to be upset about family dramas that were working out, not drown in sorrow over a not unexpected death.
But I don't know Jill anymore, and when her depression took over, she would not allow me to be her friend. I could only be a chorus to her misery.

I told this stranger as much, and did not hear from her again.
When I learned from a former Professor that Jill had died, I reached out to the stranger on Facebook. It turned out Jill's brother had contacted her to say that Jill had died. The stranger on Facebook thought it wasn't her news to tell, so she didn't contact me.

We don't know each other. Why should we contact strangers only to give them bad news?
The World Wide Web is a great thing, in some ways; social media makes it easier to keep in contact with people cheaply. Email is marvelous, but it also allows us to believe we know people who share a few opinions or experiences with us, and cover the fact that we don't really know them at all. Facebook allows us to share opinions and keep up to date with each other. It also gives us a myriad of opportunities to deliberately misunderstand each other, speak without thinking of how what we're saying might be misinterpreted, and because we are NOT in front of each other, it gives us many other opportunities to fail to communicate and to hurt one another's feelings.
Facebook also us to meet people outside our circle and find what we have in common with people we might not otherwise see, but more likely it allows us to continue our little circles of people who agree with us. Unfriend the people who piss you off, because arguments on social media usually slide into flame wars remarkably quickly.
Facebook is like the big city. People wander in and out of your circles and you think you know them, but you don't. I see some people on the subway regularly. A friend from Texas once asked why I didn't interact with these people more. Because I don't know them and the fact that we share a subway line in our commute means next to nothing. If we were reading similar books AND taking the same subway line, that would be different.
Facebook is just another big city and we don't know each other and perhaps we should treat people we barely know in real life as though we barely know them on Facebook.

Particularly when they piss us off.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

a fairy story

We'd bought cake because we'd remembered it was momma's birthday next week and we wanted to get something to celebrate it. WE'd bought cake now because we had the money now and we were that we couldn't find someplace to hide it or keep ourselves from spending it and Kelly had proven that we couldn't save for shit.

No, I didn't mean that, but Daddy always said that money was like water, it'd flow through your hands if you're not careful and while Momma said that was why we had banks, as buckets to hide the money, and it earned interest there besides, and Daddy just made a face and said something about how he didn't think the bank charging him fees should be paying his wife interest, and then voices were raised, mean thing were said and doors slammed. Daddy didn't come round much anymore, but we hadn't bothered thinking of any of that when we asked the little girl for her money.
She was walking down the streets, and she looked nervous and we knew she had some. We'd seen her before going out to get ice cream, and we didn't think she'd ever noticed us.
She did just hand it over, though. Didn't ask questions. Didn't say "no!" Just "OK" and handed it over like it meant nothing to her. We didn't even want that much, just a few dollars to play video games with and split a donut.

"No, we don't need it all. Take this back," I said, because this was more than we could spend at the arcade before momma got home, expecting us to have dinner reading and on the table.
It spelled like spring. There was a sign for a fair behind us, and Kelly nudged my kidney, and said, "that'll be fine," and we took off.
I looked behind us. The girl just stood there for a moment and kept walking. Didn't cry or anything.

There were two cops on the corner, the opposite side of the street. I stared at them, fingering their night sticks. "Stop it! They're not looking at you!" Kelly whispered, as he took the money and pushed it into an envelope.
"Where'd you get that?" I asked. I'd never seen money in an envelope before.
"Mrs. Jones gave it to me for the permission slip for the trip. I thought it might come in handy, so I slipped it into my notebook. Stop staring at the cops. They don't know what we've done."
The cops weren't even looking at us. It was 1981 and they had bigger fish to fry; the "broken window" policy hadn't been dreamed up. These dudes were looking for actual criminals.

"She gave us $23!" Kelly whispered.
"Shit! What we gonna do with that? Momma'll know for sure"
"Wait! Didn't she tell us to get dinner going? She's working late tonight that's why we were out on our own. We could buy food with this!" Kelly's bright idea.
"Nothing too fancy," I warned. "I mean, if we go overboard,"
"Will you stop worrying? I say we can buy dinner!"
There was a bakery next to the Chinese restaurant. We stared into the window sometimes.
The man at the Chinese restaurant asked what we wanted. We looked at the menu, and figured we could get dumplings, beef with broccoli and that General chicken that Mom liked. We'd still have $12 left, and that was too much money to be caught with.

Passing the bakery again, Kelly said,
"We found a twenty dollar bill,"
"Who'd lose a twenty! Momma'll never believe that." I argued.
"Lots of people. Hell you mighta dropped it, running away from the cops like that," I fumed. I hadn't run from the cops. We hadn't even *seen* the cops when we were running, and when we DID see the cops we just kept real still. "But we found 20 dollars and decided to get dinner. Then we remembered her birthday is next week and I didn't think we could keep the money safe, so we'll buy her a cake."
"Can't keep the money safe. You mean, you think I'd spend it." Kelly always had to be the sensible one in his stories.
"You want to say that it was your idea? You think Momma will care which one of us bought her a birthday cake?"
I stared at him in awe.
"That way she can't ask where we got it and it leave $3 for later!"

The cakes in the bakery were amazing. All kinds. Kelly remarked that Momma didn't like chocolate frosting, but then I said, "it's our Mom's birthday next week!" and the lady said, "Then I'll have to show you our birthday cakes," and took us over to a different counter.

We got momma a cherry cake with black frosting that said, "Happy birthday Mom!" and hid it in the refrigerator when we got home.

Momma got home about 20 minutes later and took one look at the carefully set dinner table, with the food laid out, and shook her head.
"I probably don't want to know what you boys did today. No, I probably don't," and sat down to eat.

She loved the birthday cake, though.


It's always darkest before the dawn is a great cliche because it reminds us that things always look at their worst before they get better. But isn't that kind of obvious? When things start getting better, than they clearly have gotten to be as bad as they are going to get NOW, this time. They will start getting bad again later, but right now this is the worst it's gotten.

And the night doesn't actually get darker. Once it's night, it's dark. Unless you're in a city that knows how to burn bulbs, in which case the evening begins to look like a nite brite toy from the 70s.

I prefer to think of the day being an injury to the night. Our language backs me up. Day breaks. Yes, night falls, but it heals and cools the earth after the day has heated it up. The horizon looks like an injury at both ends of the day. The sun rises and burns red over our earth Eastward. When the sun sets over the West, the horizon burns red again, as a dark cover of night tries to cover it, and cool the earth from the damage we have done.

We act in daylight, where we can see what we're doing and we are culpable, people can tell what we're doing. What we do in the daylight is meant to be seen, we save criminal activity for night.
That is not true, of course, but right now I'm just following metaphors around trying to figure out why we think the way we do.
I was reading a book and grown women were referred to as "girls;" the novel was written in the 60s and that WAS how a grown man might have thought about two women who were older than he was. The women were childlike. He was a man. That doesn't happen much anymore. Yes, of course some men refer to women as girls, but not all men, and certainly not like they did in 1962.

Hope springs eternal; I'm not going to list all the ways that it feels like the Ego "taking our country back" is turning into this country going backwards. We all live here, and we all live here now. But I do want us to think about how he's mangling the language so we can use it properly against him. Language shapes the way we speak, of course, but also changes the way we think, because we get comfortable with certain means of expression. It's important to notice when those means of expression change and why.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Way too personal

Dear Mom,

I'm not sure how to write this, but I'm sorry if I was difficult. My father's love, no his adoration, of me was something I got used to. I was accustomed to, and when you seemed to want more from me, I didn't know what it was or how to give it to you.
No, that's not right, either. I knew that you expected more and I wasn't sure why. Dad seemed to understand and was happy with less, and I was OK with that. At 14 I didn't understand that you wanted the child I was before the head injury back, because I didn't really understand who that was.
I knew I was smart. I'd always known that. I even knew I was smart after the head injury that left me comatose for ten days. At 11 years old, I knew I was smart. I was still reading hard books, or trying to. I was still good at math. I was still ME, I was just me with a lot more growing up to do.
This might be seen by people who don't know me. By people who don't know that I taught myself to read when I was three. People who don't know how much I might have lost. If you, reader, are already tired of listening to me, click the back button. You don't know me, and you don't know what I put my parents through.
Because Dad wasn't sure what to expect, because he was sure this was going to be awful, that any recovery was just going to be impossible, that if I was LUCKY I might still have lists in the bathroom of what to do in the morning, and what to do in the evening, it was easier to live up to his expectations. He knew that this was going to be bad, and he wanted to prepare me for that.
Perhaps he didn't even understand the preparation for college that you were looking forward to. The seeing ALL the places around the country where I might discover who I was meant to be. And you wanted me to want that, to want to see the rest of the world.
I'm not being too hard on you. You wanted me to have the opportunities that I might have had if I had not stepped out into the street at the wrong moment, if I had not gotten in the way of an automobile. If I had not spent 10 days in a coma a month before my eleventh birthday. Mom, you wanted me to have options.
Dad wanted me to get well, too, but he was used to adjusting expectations, and moving them down, I think.
We can't ask him now, at any rate.
But I'm sorry that I didn't understand that by setting standards you wanted me to know that I could reach them. That by asking me what I learned in school, that you wanted to engage me in school. You wanted me to have the life that perhaps I could no longer see an an option.
And to thank you, I became more closer to the parent who asked less of me. Who was willing to settle at a lower point, but was perfectly happy with the results in the end.
That was exceptionally not fair to you. And I'm sorry.

And perhaps I am being too hard on myself, too.

Friday, July 7, 2017

What Privilege Looks Like

She came into my branch, no she came to the branch where I work, for an meeting.
"How are things going?" She asked, pleasantly. We had always gotten along, and I felt this administrator was in my corner.
"Things are OK, if you can ignore what Trump is doing in the White House," I tried to say, but as soon as I said "doing" she cut me off.
"I don't talk politics," she said primly, as though reminding me to chew with my mouth closed, and I stared at her.

A few seconds passed of silence.
"Things are fine," I told her.
"Good," she replied.

The event went as planned, and the woman said goodbye to me before she went back to her home office, but I had a bad taste in my mouth.
Not discussing politics is probably a good idea when you work with the public (as I do) because we have to help everyone who comes into our building and we never want to give the impression that our collections were chosen because of politics, or we help people because of our politics. Being viewed as a safe space is crucial to my organization, and we work to preserve that, but doesn't that mean that some element of politics shines through?

Being able to say "I don't talk politics," primly is a way of saying "this is not an appropriate forum," or it's a way of saying "we know that we don't rock the boat."
Perhaps I'm wrong, because my organization depends upon political goodwill. We need the funding from government officials, and this coworker knows that. When an earlier administrator tried to rely more on private funding he did not get support from the employees or administrators, but I still feel that saying "I don't talk politics" is an exercise of privilege because you can decide that politics are not important to you.
But you're just fooling yourself. Of course politics are important.

Black Lives Matter. There is no Planet B. We're all in this together, damn it.
The ability to choose what you care about it, or decide that "those issues don't affect me," is privilege. It's the same thing that leads most of us to think that the wealthy are just planning to buy their own new planet when we've destroyed Planet Earth beyond repair. They'll do the same damage to the next planet, too. Because some amount of privilege allows you to not need to learn from your mistakes.
The Ego in the White House is all about doing deals and not worrying about politics, because he thinks it doesn't matter. It does matter.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Not Loving It

I understood the desire for the slogan "Love Trumps Hate" from Secretary Clinton's campaign, but I thought it was a bad idea. I thought it was a bad idea because Love doesn't really trump hate, unless you're living in the novel A Wrinkle in Time. I also thought it was a bad slogan because because it repeated the opponents name (though I suppose that wasn't really Secretary Clinton's fault) and because Trump wasn't preaching hate, he was preaching fear, and that's different.

Fear is a tricky emotion, because it's often not rational, and fear doesn't often get a situationally appropriate response. I am afraid of mice and rats; no, I am phobic of mice and rats. Very briefly my apartment had mice (we have not seen evidence of them for YEARS) and I put out traps. I was talking to my father who, very sensibly, said, "You know, the mouse is more afraid of you than you are of it," and I practically spit out my water.
"Don't be ridiculous!" I told him, "The mouse isn't BIG enough to be as afraid of me as I am of it." He laughed at me, and while I understood what he meant, I didn't think it was relevant.
I don't hate mice. A small white mouse in a cage is kind of cute. I understand people who have them for pets, but I just don't want them living in my apartment. Sound familiar?

During the 2012 campaign the Ego in the White House wasn't peddling hate, he was peddling fear; fear that a world that people understood was gone forever and he could save it for them; Fear that good people were being overlooked or taken advantage of by BAD people, people who weren't playing by the rules; Fear that the world you remember with your rose-tinted glasses is never coming back and it's THEIR fault (fill in who THEY are for yourself, it's probably a different them for different readers).

On Independence Day my husband and I attended a We Will Not Be Banned Rally organized by the Council on American Islamic Relations, because it is imperative that we who do not live in fear stand up with those who might. I'm sure somebody wants to tell me to "sit down and check your privilege!" Well, fuck off. Those of us who were lucky enough to have been born here have a responsibility to make sure that our voices are heard as the Ego in the White House tries to make us all afraid of each other. I love this country and what it stands for, and it does NOT stand for forbidding people from coming here for bigoted reasons based on fear.

The next day the New York Times ran a story about how the current Administration is trying to find illegal aliens and deport them, and they're going far back to find people who have overstayed their visas. The Current Administration is deporting Iraqi Christians. These people often voted for Trump because he was going to deport MEXICANS, not them, not people who fled persecution and led respectable lives in the United States, raised children and have grandchildren 40 years later.

These people backed for Trump, and convinced their relatives to vote for him, because Trump was talking about the BAD immigrants, not them.

To get Martin Neimoller's quote wrong; First they came for the Illegal Immigrants, and I did not speak out, for I was not an illegal immigrant. Then they came for those who had overstayed their visas, and I did not speak out, for my visa was in line. Then they came for the petty criminals, and I did not speak out, for I was a law abiding individual. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

People backed Trump because they didn't realize that fear can move easily if you don't fight it. If you allow yourself to be afraid of one person, it's not difficult to let that fear spread. If you try to get to understand what you are afraid of, or get to know the person whose existence (or perceived success) frightens you, you have cured the fear, and that cure is what trumps hate. Love is blind and often has no reasons, knowledge is different. Knowledge is a cure that doesn't necessarily resolve all fears, but can tell you which ones are based on reason, and which ones are just emotion masking as fact.

Saturday, July 1, 2017


A bomb startled the voice into silence and as I opened my eyes in my bedroom I realized that thunder had woken me from a dream.

I could not hear the rain hitting my window. All I could see was light flashing outside, with booms coming closer. Flash! Boom! Flash! Boom! FLASH! BOOM!!

Please tell me this is just a rainstorm. I can't hear the rain.

Just tell me this is a rainstorm. It's too early and I can't quite seen the clock. I don't want to sit up and focus to learn what time it is.

Does it matter what time the bomb is dropped?

Will it drop in the morning?

North Korea doesn't have enough airplanes that could get a bomb over here. Probably not even enough...I do know that a missile is sent in a bomb that is shipped over here and it is THAT that North Korea doesn't have, though North Korea does seem to have Nukes now, and I don't know how many people in North America are happy about that. I'm not too happy about it, but I take some comfort in that fact when I realize that it is four in the morning and the flashes and booms have neither stopped nor quieted.

I get up. I hope it's raining. I don't know why I can't hear rain drops against my window, but I can't. I've heard dry thunder, but it's not common in New England. Yes, New York City IS New England. While it does not resemble any of the stereotypes of New Englanders, New *York* State is certainly part of *New* England according to geography. And Dry Thunder is a Midwestern thing. Flashes of light without sounds are...No, flashes of light without sounds can't be bombs because the bomb would make a sound, too. If it were a nuclear bomb it would make a sound. If it were a nuclear bomb dropping nearby it would kill me quickly and I wouldn't have time to worry about it.

That's an odd sort of comfort, isn't it?

I don't want to return to thinking about my father knowing he was dying slowly than he wanted to last January. I don't want to think about that anymore. But you can't unknow something. That's the problem with learning the truth; you're stuck with it after that, unless somebody else tells you a lie that you choose to believe instead. But wouldn't you know you were lying to yourself?

Do we know that The Ego in the White House is terrified? Or am I just projecting? If I *AM* projecting, is it a projection of the fear that I am not comfortable learning to live with on to the Ego? Or is it an awareness that if I were in his place I'd be shitting in my pants just like (I suspect) he is. Is that last sentence a question (I am not sure if my fear is just my fear projected on to him?) or is it a statement of fact (I'm sure he's terrified and has no idea what to do). Because I am certain that the Ego in the White House is terrified and thought it would be much easier to just walk into the White House, look at people and say "Fix this!" and they would do it. Because he is the President and we have to do what he tell us to.

Ha, motherfucker! Looks a lot easier from a distance, doesn't it. A lot of things are like that.

The worst possible place to be during the nuclear holocaust would be on any underground transit during rush hour. The power would stop. The trains would be crowded. We would have no idea what was going on.

If somebody announced that the reason the Q train had stopped just inches from the Canal Street stop is because the bomb had dropped and we've lost all power, I wouldn't believe them. I'd assume that was a random crazy person. If the conductor announced it....I don't think the conductor would. I'm pretty sure that somewhere in MTA training, they do not recommend encouraging people to panic on trains, particularly during rush hour, so we would just stay on a crowded, stinky train, waiting for something, while the radiation started to leak into the subway. What exactly would the conductor tell us, anyway?

Friday, June 30, 2017


The longest day of the year has come and gone. I am a year older.
These things happen within two days of each other. I turn a year older while the days are still getting longer, and then we turn around two days later at the longest day of the year, and while the days continue to heat up, they are getting imperceptibly shorter.
I am 45 and certainly middle aged. I may even have reached the half-way point, though we won't know for a while.
Mortality is a funny thing. It creeps up on you and while my father's death was a harbinger of it, I still am not certain I believe it. I am special. It won't happen to ME.
Of course it will.
Summertime is the time to entertain these thoughts because there is plenty to distract me from them when I get depressed. There's a concert somewhere. There are movies; big ones, too. Big budget movies that studios hope will drive people into theaters even more quickly than the 100 plus degree heat will.
The heat hasn't come yet, actually. Not here in New York City.
"Hot times summer in the city. Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty." One of the perils my parents didn't warn me about was which songs from my childhood would stay with me forever. I'm not sure why this one did, (it's certainly a little older than I am, in terms of music sensibilities) but it has. The oppressive heat of the summer when enforced leisure time is no longer fun, but there's hope for something coming that will distract from long hot days with nothing to do.
Shut up. I'm sure the person reading this is someone who had to work during the summer starting at a young age. I didn't. My parents sent me to a nursery school that seemed to go on for as long as I wanted it to. My elementary school had a day camp so the younger children could stay active and then when I was 8 years old I was sent to ANOTHER day camp, one that specialized in music, and I found I could be homesick 5 blocks from home because I was tired of practicing playing piano in a room by myself. The book I was reading was in a bag on the floor, but I knew I should be practicing, so reading to distract myself from the fact I that I was bored had not occurred to me.

I was a good kid, and did what I was supposed to.

And that behavior has continued, almost.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Outside Your Bubble

Let's get this straight, the "information bubble" is caused by living in a world where you avoid seeing and hearing the voices of people you don't agree with. The link "outside your bubble" does NOT give you this, because the vast majority of people who read an article with the headline "U.S. denies visas to gay, bi men fleeing torture in Chechnya" from WANT the U.S. State Department to get their collective heads out of Rex Tillerson's ass and fucking issue Emergency Visas to individuals who are going to be killed if they are left in their home country.
Thinking outside your bubble is talking to people who think that LGBT people should live in closets and not express their sexuality and that the state HAS every right to kill them. You know, assholes.
And really, why DO you want to talk to them?

Are we going to change people's minds by telling them "we are all one people"? Is anyone going to "see the light" by realizing that their Uncle Fred and his friend George have been lovers for years, but they don't talk about it, and therefore nobody talks about it. With all due respect to Harvey Milk, as a species we need to look down on other people. It's not specific to Americans. French look down on non-speaking French people. I think they look even further down on people who think they can speak French, but really can't, at least not the right KIND of French.
I think the problem is we want the people who think differently from us to get to know us, so that they can understand we're right. And that's not how you form alliances or build bridges. You build bridges by just realizing that we're all in this together.

And no, I *DON'T* want to learn that my next door neighbor voted for Trump because he hated Hillary. I don't want to talk to him, and I don't want to find out how stupid he is and learn tolerance for him just the same. Why should I? I don't know how to talk to people that stupid, and I'm sick and tired of trying.

A big problem is when the information bubble becomes invisible; When you don't even realize you're tuning people out, because you're so stuck with your own thoughts. That's bad, too.
So how to do we solve this problem of people cherry picking their facts? Can we? Should we even try?

Do we have any choice in the matter? I mean, if we want to survive, don't we have to?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Water is Life....Life is Water

We know that we need water to live. We know we need clean water to live and having to boil water before drinking should not be necessary, which is why we have created pipes that deliver clean water to people's houses.
Water is a substance that cleans us out, helps our systems work. It is also what wears against our coastlines, creating pictures like this:

Life is water.

Life is not the sum of our experiences, but a force that pushes against us, attacking us daily with things we cannot understand and which we must bend or yield to, or figure out how to avoid.
For instance, there is a woman sitting across from me on the subway, who is clearly angry about the newspaper she's reading. I can allow her anger to infect me, also getting angry (though I cannot know what she's so upset about unless I investigate) or I can dodge the whole issue by reading my own newspaper, and letting the news affect me the way it will. In these days, the first year of the Ego in Chief's Presidency, the news will upset me, unless it's about a few moments of resistance, which may or may not have any effect on the Ego in Chief.

My father died a year ago, and my mother is becoming a widow.
My mother became a widow a year and a half ago, when her spouse of over half a century decided to stop cancer treatment and allow the various ailments attacking his body to win.
My mother is a widow. Saying that mother is becoming a widow suggests a process, a metamorphosis, and that the process will change her.
My father's ailments were not attacking his body, but were attacking the systems in his body that continued his life. The medications he took to treat these ailments produced other problems and they did not all make his life easier.
The collective ailments drove a hole in my father's life and wore away at his independence as he needed to take medications that were injected, swallowed, or rubbed into him in order to continue to live.
In order to continue to need other people to help him live, Dad's sense of independence was worn away and his sense of self was altered or made to be aware of the interdependence of us all.
The ailments that attacked my father's body did not win, but merely wore down my father's desire to live. Living is not winning. Living well may be winning, but then who would lose?
My mother was a good caregiver, but her life was filled with aspects of being a caregiver. When being a caregiver was no longer her prominent role, she changed.
She did not change, but things she allowed herself to feel, changed.
Feelings wear at us. You don't believe me? Have you ever been angry for a day? Have you never felt the weight of fury wash over you and been aware of how lighter your shoulders feel when you scream that the milk has gone sour because NOBODY remembered to put it away after Sunday brunch?
Weeping is allowing your sorrow to flee your body through your eyes. Sighing is allowing the tension your are holding to exit in a controlled fashion; not as you pant when finishing the race, but as you finally wrap that last crepe and look at work well done.
Everything that happens can affect you, and your mission is not to say that your partner's death won't change who you are, but that you will remain true to the person...
Fuck that. The man you chose to spend your life with was a force that helped make you who you are. And when he is gone, you will change and discover things that he might not have liked, but he's no longer there to tell you. What he would have liked is not up for discussion, because he took himself out of the game. What he would have thought, felt, said, is a mystery and its absence is a force of its own. Negative space that you might as well recognize, but there's no need to fill it with something else.
The negative space is a force of its own. Its absence forces you to feel what might have been there, should have been there, or would have been there, if life had not worn away at that spot.

Many years ago someone told me he was a product of his experiences. I nodded, sagely, because he was telling me that people had hurt him and he was waiting to be let down by every new person he met. I wasn't going to let him down, I thought. I was going to show him people could be trusted.
He let me down by lying to me. All we were to each other were tools to prove that our prejudices were right. Did I provide him with a new experience where women were truthful? Or did my allowing myself to be worn down (see, there's the metaphor again) by his deceit prove him right? I don't know, and I no longer believed what he would tell me would be the truth.

I have a picture of my grandparents and great grandparents. I keep it with me at work, thinking "all of them would have been proud of who I turned out to be," but I don't actually know that. My mother agrees that they would have been proud of me, but since only three of them lived long enough to see me become anything, we can't possibly know what these ancestors would have thought now. How their lives would have worn away at their thoughts. We can only interpret and project.
And we must project, because even what you're reading right now is interpreted through your own lens of feeling, misinterpreting, understanding my life through a lens I don't see through.
All those interpretations change what we see and feel. Even the words we hear might be different. And the world attacks us with experiences we couldn't imagine, and all we can do is try to stay true to something. And even that something might change over time.
Let your life wash over you; it won't make you clean, nobody said life was clear water, but it is a force. It will change you, we just don't know how.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Family Institutional Memory

One of the things I learned about in Library School was Institutional Memory; what an organization knows to be true because of the people who work there. Often, if people share their knowledge, this memory is not too adversely affected by people leaving, but some of it will be. Fred, my former boss, was a World War 2 freak and knew a lot of random information that sometimes came in handy. It was necessary, but it was helpful.

A family has an institutional memory, too, because we know that grandma was really good with needlepoint and thus knew where all the thread stores were. Her sister was a great knitter and knew where all the yarn stores had been in their old neighborhood in Brooklyn. She knew that most of them were gone, and she certainly wasn't going to go back there when she visited New York (particularly since nobody we knew LIVED in Brooklyn anymore), but she'd known them once.
My father had an good memory. No, check that, my father had an obnoxiously good memory. I'm not sure if it was something he worked at, and I do know he abused drugs (mostly alcohol) that should have had a detrimental effect on his memory. If it did, we never noticed.

My father could see a movie once, and remember whole sections of dialogue. Me? Maybe, if I'm paying close attention, I'll remember dialogue. I can memorize something -- songs, music, poetry -- but I'll have to work at it, most likely. But that's not really what I'm talking about when I say "Family Institutional Memory."
Every family has a story, a sort of creation myth; a story they tell themselves that may or may not be true, but which represents how they see themselves fitting into the world.

OK, I don't know if EVERY family has this story, but I know mine does. My parents met at a US Out Of Central America Rally in D.C. Kind of perfect. My mom believed in politics and revolution. I think my father did too, but my father wasn't as involved as my mother. He was perfectly willing to be a cheerleader for the movement.
The Family Story becomes how you fit into the world, because it is how you figure out where your family fit in. My parents wanted to make the world a better place, but my mother was more devoted to this cause than my father. Perhaps she just believed that change was possible more than my father did, because her family had believed that change was possible. And that's how mom believes in therapy, and my father really didn't. He respected that other people do believe in therapy, but not for him.

I understand I may have completely misrepresented my father's beliefs, but he's dead, and that's part of my point. Everything I think he believed may now become, de facto, what he believes, because there are fewer people to tell me otherwise. How our family organized itself will become how I think it did, because fewer and fewer people will be around to tell me otherwise. Since I am the only child of my parents, and my cousins have spread out and were never too close to begin with, how could they tell me differently. They might have a different impression, but I suspect they would defer judgement to my mother and then to me.
Shit. This makes me the historian of the family now.
I'm not sure this is what I expected to have happen when my father died. But I'm pretty sure anything I expected to have happen was ill informed anyway. Anyone's presence is a layered thing, how it affects you depends on many things which are not completely within your control. Your memories aren't even completely within your control. What you remember now depends on what you believe is important, and what you believed was important at the time (which is why you remembered it in the first place) and both of those beliefs can change of over time, which can change how you remember something and what you remember that you know to be true, and what you remember which you think isn't quite what happened.
How does your family story change when pieces of it are lost? Does it really matter? Your family changes when parts of it change (when the uncle you didn't like divorces your aunt, the fabric of the family changes) so why shouldn't the story change with it? We revise a nation's history as we think differently of it, or we teach different perspectives of a country's history, why shouldn't the family history change as people leave, willingly or unwillingly (and YES, that is a euphemism for divorce). (lol)
The stories we tell ourselves and that we tell others will change over time. But still, the removal of one story teller means her stories are gone, and that changes how the rest of the stories are told.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Are We There Yet? (A Constitutional Crisis)

When does the President's behavior become A Constitutional Crisis?

When do you start looking at people on the street and saying, "What the fuck just happened?" When do they look back at you and say, "No, really? I know it's egregious!"
And when do we start doing anything about it?
What exactly would "doing anything about it" entail? When do we collectively wake up and say "NO! This is NOT normal, nor is acceptable!"

I think when we learn that the President is telling confidential information to foreign diplomats might be that time.

What? You don't feel it's time yet? You think he's just kidding us? You think he didn't really mean to register all the Muslims and deport all the illegal immigrants?

Guess what boys and girls! We've come to the Constitutional Crisis!!!

No. I'm not kidding.

Last week, I put up a blog section with links to the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee.

I'd intended to put a link to it on my Facebook page. I was that upset.
That was on Friday. I refrained from linking it to anything, because I decided it was too early...not necessary yet. I was being proactive by having the information yet, but perhaps I agreed with Erickson in the New York Times. Perhaps I was just another disappointed Hillary supporter. Perhaps I was just another liberal who was just dying to get rid of the Orange Ego in the White House.

No, I can't bring myself to call him the President. After he spent almost 8 years undermining President Obama, calling him a secret Muslim and denying that President Obama was a citizen (yeah, can we all have a good look at YOUR Birth Certificate, Orange Man?"), I don't want to be told "he's the President" by people who think they're being reasonable, and that I'm just being a sore loser.
I protest when it's necessary. And it's become necessary.

The old adage about Democracy being like sausage may be true, even if it's getting the quote wrong, but it's not the point. Democracy is a process, and like many processes, it's not about the final product, it's about how you get there. Do you remember when you gave an answer in math class, and the teacher said, "how did you come up with that answer?" You were flummoxed. Was the answer right? Or wasn't it?
Your teacher didn't let on, because she wanted to know if you had the process right. Perhaps you had the right answer, but do you know why?
On in the words of my science friends, it is replicable?

Do we know how we got here? Do we understand how the people of the United States elected an Orange Insecure Man who is too busy telling people what he learned in the secure briefing this morning to be bothered to understand why he can't do that?
Does it matter?
I wrote this in the morning of May 16th. We got there by the end of the day.

The day before I wrote this, Representative Al Green called for The Ego's impeachment.

I don't care that this is hardly a a "personal essay," this is political preaching. I don't care. We are in a historically significant moment.

We need to stand up and be counted.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Bill of Impeachment

A Bill of Impeachment may be introduced in the House of Representatives by the House Judiciary Committee. I'm afraid we're there now. Here is a list of Representatives on the House Judiciary Committee. I provide links to the Representatives' email me page on their names. I provide a link to a map of where their district is in case you need it.

If you don't feel like wading through all of this, go to the House of Representatives' website and type in your zip code. Then look for his or her name on this list.

I've done this because I find the House Judiciary Committee's webpage not particularly user-friendly, if the purpose of the webpage is to help citizens communicate with their Representatives.

First: The Majority Party

Bob Goodlatte from Virginia's Sixth Congressional District.

Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin's Fifth Congressional District.

Lamar Smith from Texas' 21st district. His email me site advises you to type in your zip code to see if he cares what you think, I mean, to check if Lamar Smith represents you.

Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio's First Congressional District. If you type in your zip code in his Contact Me site, it will inform you if he represents you.

Representative Darrell Issa represents California's 49th Congressional District.

Representative Steve King from Iowa's Fourth District. His "email me" site will tell you if he represents you or not.

Representative Trent Franks' website indicates that he is from Arizona's Eighth District, and his website will tell you if he represents you.

Representative Louie Gomert from the First district of Texas.

Representative Jim Jordan's email me site has a Zip Code look-up feature to see if he represents you. He represents Ohio's Fourth District.

Representative Ted Poe from the Second District of Texas.

Representative Jason Chaffetz from Utah's Third Congressional District.

Representative Tom Marino from Pennsylvania's Tenth Congressional District.

Representative Trey Gowdy will allow you to contact him using Facebook or email. He represents the Fourth District of South Carolina.

Representative Raul Labrador represents the First District of Idaho.

Representative Doug Collins hails from the Ninth District of Georgia.

Representative Ron DeSantis represents Florida's Sixth District.

Representative Ken Buck comes from Colorado's Fourth District.

Representative John Ratcliffe represents Texas' Fourth District.

Representative Martha Roby comes from the Second of Alabama.

Representative Matt Gaetz represents the First District of Florida.

Representative Mike Johnson hails from the Fourth District of Louisiana.

Representative Andy Biggs comes from the Fifth District of Arizona.

The Minority Party:

Representative John Conyers from the 13th District of Michigan. His "contact me" site will show you if you are in his district.

Representative Jerrold Nadler from New York State's 10th District. His "contact me" site will show you if you are in his district.

Representative Zoe Lofgren represents California's 19th District. Her "contact me" site will show you if you live in her district.

Representative Shirley Jackson Lee comes from the 18th District of Texas. Her "contact me" site will show you if you live in her district.

Representative Steve Cohen hails from Tennesee's Ninth District.

Representative Hank Johnson represents Georgia's Fourth Congressional District. His "contact me" site will show you if you are in his district.

Representative Ted Deutch comes from Florida's 22nd District.

Representative Luis Guttierez represents the Fourth Congressional District of Illinois. His "contact me" site will show you if you are in his district.

Representative Karen Bass hails from the 37th District of California. Her "contact me" site will show you if you live in her district.

Congressman Cedric Richmond comes from the Second District of Louisiana. His His "contact me" site will show you if you are in his district.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries represents the Eighth Congressional District of New York. His His "contact me" site will show you if you are in his district.

Representative David Cicilline represents the First District of Rhode Island. His "contact me" site will show you if you are in his district.

Representative Eric Swalwell hails from the 15th District of California. His "contact me" site will show you if you are in his district.

Representative Ted Liu comes from California's 33rd Congressional District. His "contact me" site will show you if you are in his district.

Representative Jamie Raskin represents Maryland's Eighth District. His "contact me" site will show you if you are in his district.

Representative Pramila Jayapal hails from Washington's Seventh Congressional District. Her "contact me" site will show you if you live in her district.

Representative Brad Schneider comes from the Tenth District of Illinois. His "contact me" site will show you if you are in his district.

Living History?

Living History is the title of Hillary Clinton's memoir. I confess I've never read it. It's in the list of books I think I "should" read, like I should eat 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables ever day.

It's odd to think about my life in a historical perspective, though, because there are times when I realize that what's happening right now is important, no, significant, to the rest of the world. How I respond to it demands careful thought.
How do you stay informed? Of the two hundred countries in the world right now, which one is experiencing something that could go so very wrong and take the rest of the world with it? Does anyone know until it starts happening?

The Great Man Theory of history posits (I think) that the people who shape our world are different from you and me. They have vision, ideals, they make the world happen the way they want to. It's an idea that separates the Leaders from the Followers. The problem is it's bullshit. Any one of us can suddenly become a leader, you just have to find your group. And that's not necessarily a good thing, because some of us certainly shouldn't become leaders. Think of Donald Trump, who is going crazy right now.
He's been protected from his worst judgments all his life. There's always been somebody to bail him out, a bankruptcy rule to save him, a woman to tell him how wonderful he is, and now he's on his own and his people (Mike Pence, Kelly Anne Conway, etc) are beginning to wonder what sort of mistake they made picking him as their leader. And the news is talking about how his days should be numbered.

We all knew Trump was a joke. Or thought we did. The video of him winning the election shows him looking like a deer caught in the headlights. His next actions proved that he had no idea what he had gotten himself into. Putting up ads on the web recruiting the best people? Really?

Stay informed. Read the papers. This is the advice I give myself.

And it's all getting too much. He's lying all the time, or maybe he doesn't quite understand what the truth is anyway. I can't tell what's going on in Trump's head and it's fascinating because I have to know.
I can't spend my whole life paying attention to...what exactly is this? Is this the crumbling of the American Empire? Or the crumbling of our Democratic System?
Is the Government (shorthand for our elected officials) going to realize that it serves a system that is more important than party? I think it will, and I'm waiting for something big to happen.

And it's burning me out.
I look for actions to take. I can't get through to my Senators. Their voice mailbox is full.
Don't Panic.
And I must take a step back. I can't do everything, and I shouldn't try to. But I must do something.

And I want to know I was on the right side when it all comes down.

I'm off to another march.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


Labored think you know what it means. It means heavy breathing that feels like you're working at it, working at something that should come naturally.
When you've run too far too fast, that's labored breathing. Your breath after the orgasm that just keeps coming and coming has gone, that's labored breathing. But when your father's lungs are so tired and worn and each breath feels like it's more work than he's up for, and he's not even talking anymore, that's when you know what labored breathing is.
It's work.
And I am tired of thinking about my father's death. I am tired of focusing on, not focusing on it, but having it, like a magnet with pins, draw me back to it, as though somewhere I think I'll forget about it.
I won't forget. I was there.
The second missed birthday was two weeks ago. Facebook forgot to remind me, which means that somehow Mother programmed it to stop doing that. Fuck Rolaids. Facebook's inattentiveness spells relief.

Two days after the missed birthday a bomb startled the voice into silence and as I opened my eyes in my bedroom I realized that thunder had woken me from a dream.

A bomb startled the voice into silence and as I opened my eyes in my bedroom I realized that thunder had woken me from a dream.
I could not hear the rain hitting my window. All I could see was light flashing outside, with booms coming closer.

Flash! Boom! Flash! Boom! FLASH! BOOM!!

Please tell me this is just a rainstorm. I can't hear the rain.
Just tell me this is a rainstorm. It's too early and I can't quite seen the clock. I don't want to sit up and focus to learn what time it is.
Does it matter what time the bomb is dropped?
Will it drop in the morning?
North Korea doesn't have enough airplanes that could get a bomb over here. Probably not even enough...I do know that a missile is sent in a bomb that is shipped over here and it is THAT that North Korea doesn't have, though North Korea does seem to have Nukes now, and I don't know how many people in North America are happy about that. I'm not too happy about it, but I take some comfort in that fact when I realize that it is four in the morning and the flashes and booms have neither stopped nor quieted.
I get up. I hope it's raining. I don't know why I can't hear rain drops against my window, but I can't. I've heard dry thunder, but it's not common in New England. Yes, New York City IS New England. While it does not resemble any of the stereotypes of New Englanders, New *York* State is certainly part of *New* England.

It's not raining. It's not even light outside. The lightning does brighten the sky, but it does not signal dawn. The dawn will creep into the night, infesting it along the horizon. The night heals the day every evening at a slightly different time, and the dawn breaks the day into the night as a confused robber might return the jewelry she stole the day before. The times might change, slightly, but it happens every day.

We rely on time to keep marking our lives, even after our loved ones are gone. Time obliges, without judgement or fanfare.

Time will keep on after we have all finished our own labored breathing. Other creatures will live and die and we won't be here to notice or care. The earth will continue, until it, too, dies.

We haven't seen a death that big yet. Unless we figure out where to go before it happens, we won't witness Earth's death either.

Perhaps we should take comfort in that, too.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What am I learning from this?

I was "invited" to join this essay a week project by a friend of my mother's; a woman I've met at writers' workshops. Write an essay a week, the FB page said. Vanessa Martir is working on a memoir, and she wants other people to join her in the experience.

No word limit or minimum. This project resembles my Crunch membership; No Judgements, Just Try.

An essay a week? Sure, I can do that.

Fortunately the beginning of the year lends itself to self-reflection, at least for me. I believe in New Year's Resolutions, and I've kept a diary before. I've thought I should keep a diary since, but the last few times I tried, it always led to way too much self-reflection, and not enough action. Like getting up in front a group and announcing my flaws, waiting for everyone to applaud, and then sitting down. Wait to listen to everyone else list their flaws, and leave the building when the meeting ends. This doesn't help anything.

But 45 is in the White House, and I have to do something to keep myself centered.

By the beginning of February we are invited to read other people's essays. This is interesting, and gives me an opportunity to see other people's work, peek into their lives.

Is that the point of this exercise? Or is it a side benefit?

Is it a bug? Or a feature?

Looking through other people's essays, I notice that most of us (it seems to me) are in New York City. We may not be FROM the City, but we live here now. We have common experiences, and I start worrying that the woman who is complaining about the white woman standing next to her on the train, pushing into her, and not being helpful, is me.
That can't be me, by the way. I am the penultimate of consideration and I try to behave as though I am holding my subway seat for somebody who really needs it.
Except when I'm tired. Or cranky.
Or my feet are already wet and I need to push my belongings under the seat on the train.
Can I post an emoticon here? Is it appropriate? :)

I read an essay yesterday by a woman who grew up in Jackson Heights. I work in Jackson Heights. I work in the library. This young woman and I know each other. We don't recognize each other online but if she grew up here, and she posted comments about the 'hood that I recognize, I've seen her around.

I like what she wrote about her life.

I hope I was nice to her when she came into the library.

My boyfriend assures me that I was. "You're the nice one," he reminds me, a reference to a story when a customer once complained that I'd been sent to work at another branch, and she wanted me back at her branch.

I'm not always the nice one. Sometimes I'm the one who says, "I can't help you right now. Can you call back?"
"Can you come back tomorrow?"
"Are you sure you returned all those books?"

Doing my job often enables me to be the nice one. I have access to information that you may not even know is out there. I know how to get your daughter into a public school in New York.

I don't know how to get the Rug out of the White House.

I didn't know how to get Hillary Clinton elected President.

I do know what dystopian novel you should read to distract you from this right now.

Last June I heard Michael Eric Dyson give a talk at the American Library Annual Conference. The Conference was in Orlando, and the mass shooting there had just happened. Mr. Dyson started his talk by mentioning it.
"Do we really just need other people to look down on?" He asked. "Do we really need other people to hate?" (Warning, this was 10 months ago, and I don't have my notes. I might be paraphrasing.)

Don't we just HATE other people who look for other people to look down on in order to make themselves feel better? Isn't it just so SAD that there are people who NEED those other people -- whichever scapegoat they are that year -- in order to feel better about themselves?

And aren't we just so glad that we aren't that pathetic?

There isn't an emoticon for typing tongue-in-cheek, I'm sorry.

When I was in high school, going through the teen angst that Ned Vizzini would later write about, I used to write down EVERY reason I was miserable. Surely there was one reason I could do something about.
Often there was, often there were several, and sometimes the list just made me feel better because it was getting it out of my system.

Almost one quarter into this, I am learning that New York is probably just as incestuous as I'd feared it was. We cross paths with one another over and over, but we can't possibly stop and recognize everyone.

But unlike the Silent Majority who interrupted my commute, (or maybe even LIKE them) we are all in this together. We need to figure out how to solve the problems our world is facing together. And we all have to get on board.

Yes, even the right wing asshats who think that they can buy their way out of global warming.

Really? On December 15th, 2016, did I not know that we were all in this together? We will all go together when we go.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Should I have engaged "The Silent Majority"?

It was a lovely October evening. I was on the subway coming home from work. I was on the sixth avenue line which meant I travelled under Rockefeller Center, where the group of people got on and talked loudly, totally upsetting my commute. These people didn't know where they were going or how to get there, but they didn't stop to find a map. They loudly complained that the trains weren't labelled well.
Their accents sounded different, rather, they sounded neither like working class New Yorkers nor teenagers who are too wrapped up in their own lives to realize they are upsetting the commute for everyone else. Yes, most New Yorkers hold public conversations at a level that can be ignored, because to do otherwise is to encourage interruption or interference, connection. I'm not sure why, but I do know that after taking subways to and from work for almost 20 years, we spend a quality amount of time trying to ignore one another.
Why is this? I think it's because we can't possibly acknowledge everyone, and we also know that we don't want to. I don't know everyone and my commute is time for me that I steal out of the day. At the worst all I can do is contemplate the day. If I'm lucky I can lose myself in whatever I'm reading.

But not that day. That evening these people got on and when I realized they broke the social barrier of the Mass Transit system of New York City (we ignore you because we can; if we can't, you're being rude) I looked up to see who they were.
They were holding signs. They had just come from a march or a protest, but before I could feel a sense of comaraderie, I realized their signs said "Make America Great Again."

I returned to my book. I don't want to know these people. They're going to lose the election and then they will spend 4 years bitching and moaning about it, I thought to myself.
Thankfully, they got off at Rockefeller Center, with a boisterous clamor as they did so. One of them, probably a son, given the range of ages in the group, held his small "Make American Great Again" sign for us to see as they climbed the stairs to the exit.
There was a young woman sitting next to me, probably my junior by about 8 years. She and I looked at each other with relief as silence returned to the train, and smiled.

"Idiots," she said to me, at the right volume for strangers talking to each other, and I smiled my agreement and nodded.
We did not say anything else to each other. She was reading a magazine. I was reading a book. We were relieved when the comforting sounds of the subway returned to drown our lives.

I wondered that evening, after they got off the train. If I should have talked to them, found out what they thought and why they thought it. We certainly hadn't had enough time to have a meaningful discussion, but I could have said something.
The problem is, that something I would have said, on that day, as I returned home from my job as a public librarian, AKA a civil servant who depends upon tax revenue for her job and the institution for which I work, to continue, probably would have been
"You do realize that as soon as Rump gets into office, you're going to be thrown under the bus, right?"

That is not a way to build alliances, even I know that.
But what could I have said to them? Given that all I wanted to say was "you're being rude because we are all trying our best to ignore each other, and you are PREVENTING that from happening." what good would that have done? Perhaps they came from a part of the world where strangers are just friends you haven't met yet, though I don't imagine walking up to a friend and saying "there are more of us than there are of you and you are going to lose," is a way of making friends. Should I have approached them and asked where they were from? How long they were in New York for? How humiliating would it have been for me if I learned they came from Nassau County and found the city as foreign a place as Timbuktu?

Every story has a perspective. Everyone brings their own story to whatever story they hear, and to whatever facts they encounter. How can we do otherwise? Someone once told me that he was the product of his experiences, and eventually I found that tiresome, because all he was saying was "I have my story and the facts I gather are fit into that storyline so that it continues to make sense;" in this context, it was "all women are fucking me over and I assume that every woman I meet will eventually start lying to me," and of course he didn't trust women at all because he was waiting for each of them to fuck him over, eventually to disappoint him to badly that it was better not to try to trust any of them.

This is why we need to learn about other perspectives as we encounter the world, particularly when we meet people who (we believe) should share our perspective but don't. A coworker once described people as crazy, and it took some time for me to realize that she just meant she didn't understand how they could think the way they did. I imagine she didn't try to understand their perspective, because she couldn't imagine a different one from her own.

I am a great believer in the power of story. The stories we tell ourselves inform our lives and shape how we interact with people. That's why The Rug won, because he told people who felt that they were losing the American Dream not only that they were, but that they were losing because of them, the illegal immigrants, and the elites.
Can we understand one another better if we actually listen to what the other side is saying? Perhaps but not if our first response is "what you think is completely stupid and you must understand why what I think is the right way.
The conversation that would follow would certainly last longer than 3 stops on the sixth avenue line.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tax Day March Crashing

I was excited about the Tax Day March. I went with a group called the March Chorus and I am happy that my contribution was a round based on Frere Jacques "Show your taxes. Show your taxes. Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Just what are you hiding? Just what are you hiding? Show them now. Show them now." It's an easy tune, everyone knows it, and the words are easy to catch. Only the third line is a little hard to copy. Divide your peeps into four groups and figure out which one starts first.

People joined in. They heard a bit of the first line and wanted to sing along! And this WAS the high point of my day. Somebody thought it should become a standard!

I need the positive affirmation. There's nothing wrong with that.

But then I wake up on Easter Sunday, remembering (again!) something my father told me about Easter being the Holy Day of the Christian religion ("Christmas is when Jesus was born," he once wrote me. "Well, all God's chilluns gets born. But getting crucified and resurrected? Now that is some holy business.") and I don't know how much good it did. The march in New York City got NO coverage in the New York Times, but the Mar A Lago rally did, presumably because the Rug saw it and it pissed him off.

I was unsure what to do today. Do I try to come up with a new round to sing at the March for Science next week? To share with the March Chorus before the rally? Do I write letters or postcards to elected officials?

Do I try to finish the pussy hat I promised someone?

Do I try not to sink into blue because my father would have turned 75 next Thursday, had he lived?

No, taking a day to relax and come down after the positive feelings after the march yesterday is necessary. I can only do so much, and we all need to be at our best now. Self-care is necessary. So is finishing the things I said I would, even (or particularly) if finishing them will require you to calm down and do something you enjoy.

Happy bunny day. I must drown peeps in hot chocolate.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fighting Tyranny

I've been reading On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder and it's bothering me. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I suggest that what is happening in the United States is different from what's happened before. We've never seriously considered that a foreign government has interfered in our elections -- either through propaganda or messing with the voting technology. It's important to obey Douglas Adams' advice; DON'T PANIC!!! But it's also imperative to know when we're just letting ourselves be boiled alive, like the frog who doesn't realize that the water is being heated slowly. The frog being boiled a live is a great metaphor, and right now I don't care that Wikipedia tells me it's wrong, because history tells me that people will slowly adapt to changes, and accept things that they would not have found acceptable earlier. Tell us we're under attack and we need to give up our privacy, we'll do it. Some of us will fight back, but a lot of us will obey authority. We're taught to obey authority, and we are NOT taught to question authority at every turn. And perhaps in normal times, that is good advice.

I don't know what normal times look like anymore.

Because the Facebook posts (or chain email messages, for us old folk) that we saw in the long ago, preaching time nostalgia, were bullshit. Yes, John Waters, your childhood was wonderful. You were young when the sex was free and not nearly as dangerous as it is now, and the music was fabulous. But you also know that your generation had to fight for the Civil Rights Movement (you made a musical and a big Broadway Hit about it), and frankly, while the world is a better place than it 60 years ago in many ways, the world still needs work. One big problem is to raise children who know how to fight the good fight without raising children who turn out to be rampant smart alecks without any actual moral framework.

My mother has a pin that I remember her wearing when I was very young. Question Authority it said. She meant it.

But she did mean to question authority in the sense of "why are you an authority?" not "why should I do what you tell me to?" They don't mean the same thing. Questioning the presence of authority, how it gains its power and how it maintains power.

Life is scary right now in the United States. The Ego in the White House knows no bounds, and doesn't understand checks and balances. He also doesn't understand the word "no!" means something he doesn't want it to mean.

We must remember that being patriotic means loving our country and what it stands for. Our country is a democracy and we must fight to protect the weak and the voiceless. Scapegoats are not actually the people responsible for our problems. Scapegoats are what the people in power, the people who are responsible for maintaining a system that denigrates us, want us to keep looking at. Scapegoats are the magic trick politicians use to distract us when the politicians are keeping their masters fed.

Democracy is a fragile flower, and we must feed it regularly with water and nutrition by staying informed and holding our democratically elected leaders accountable. Staying informed means understanding that the American Care Act IS Obamacare, and the magicians who told you they were repealing Obamacare were taking away that health insurance you got to help pay your child's medical bills.

Yes I do sound condescending. People are letting their emotions, or hatred, feed their minds. We have to stop doing that.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Why CAN'T an essay be a story? Essay #13

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is when I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.  In the first place, that stuff bores me. . . . I'm not going to tell you my whole autobiography or anything.  I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas." And this is how The Catcher in the Ryestarts; Holden Caulfield tells us what his story is about. ;He's not interested in his entire life, and he doesn't think you are, either, but these weird things happened to him when he got kicked out of school last Christmas and he thinks somebody should know about it.

It's a classic essay story, the classic essay story about a disaffected teenager. A Separate Peace is also an essay story, about how a school hasn't changed at all, but Gene has totally changed and he is disturbed by how much the rest of the world stays the same despite the awful events that he instigated.

My father has been dead for 1 year, three months, and 2 days. I still want to yell at somebody about it. It's the awful thing about death; One of the first stages of grief is anger, and death usually takes anger well. Death shrugs, walking off while you're still yelling, "I'm talking to you!" Death takes the loved one with her while she's at it. My father has lost his hearing, or he can't answer the phone, but he's not there where I can talk to him about the silly things that piss me off. I could blame him, actually. My father made a conscious choice to stop cancer treatment. He got to a point in his life where his life was not worth the trouble it took to maintain it, and I respect that choice, but I wish he'd told me who I was going to have to talk to when I was upset about something stupid.

We internalize the ones we love. Take comfort in this. Once they're dead, it is no longer important to worry whether what you love about your relatives is who they really were, or just what you remember.  What I miss right now about my Dad might just be what I would have wanted him to say if I called him on the way home, not what he would have actually said, and perhaps that's OK. Veracity is an overrated quality in memory.

On a cold spring morning, when I was eagerly awaiting my 8th birthday, my father and I were sitting on the couch. Correction, my father was sitting on the couch, I was barefoot and sprawled on the couch, sitting with my legs spread out in front of me. I was probably wondering if they were growing while I was watching them. My father saw my toes and contemplated them before talking.
"I wonder when you toes will start falling off," he mused, more to himself it sounded.
"What?" I asked, not sure whether to be terrified or start laughing.
"Your baby toes, honey. When you grow up, your baby toes fall off and you grow big ones. You see?" he reached out to grab my right foot and wiggled two of my toes, "they're already quite loose already."
And I stared at him, sure that he was lying to me, but who knows? I mean, I had older kid friends who should have passed this along to me, if only to terrify me themselves, and not leave it to the grownups to fill me in. I breathed in, and wiggled my toes. I think I was too terrified to pull up my legs and play with my toes the way my tongue had begun playing with loose teeth in my mouth.

It did not occur to me to wiggle the grownup teeth. I don't think I'd realized quite what was permanent and what wasn't, which my father was depending upon for his joke to work.  Why wouldn't my baby toes fall off?  Were they growing like the rest of me, or weren't they?

This set in motion a whole set of stories my father would tell me that were not true. I developed a mind-set that suggested alternate endings, the possibility that what you could make up might be a better story than what actually happened, and perhaps you should go with the better story, when reality was letting you down.
Why couldn't I remember to go with better stories during my adolesence? Why did I have to be so devoted to MY version of the truth, that people scorned me and made fun of me? Why couldn't I start believing in alternative realities then? (When I was 5 my father would tell me that he and Linda Rondstadt were going out for the afternoon, a fact that I never believed.) Perhaps because I figured that believing in alternative realities that made me cool as a teenager were not actually a successful means to becoming cool (which would have been accurate, nothing fails so much as pretending you're something everyone can see you're not). Perhaps I thought that alternative realities were things grownups can do, but they are not welcomed in people who are also unable to purchase alcohol.

And now my father is dead and all I can remember is the stories he told me, the way I wish his story had ended, and the conviction he had that his story was over.  The last two weeks of his life, he told his wife that he felt his life had become a movie and he wanted to end it and cry “Cut!” but he couldn’t.

Nobody was up to telling Dad that the correct call would have been “That’s a wrap!” because everyone in Hollywood knows that when anyone cries that out in the hospital, the machines return to the one solid tone, the lights go down, and the camera stops.

Nobody wants to disappoint a dying man.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

What I have to do

I couldn't finish an essay this week (this was started in March).  Why?  Because I couldn't just sit down and write one, basically.  I had time to finish reading the mediocre book (Murder at Rough Point) that I'd gotten as an Advanced Readers' Copy at a Conference;  a mystery/romance about a young woman who wants to be a newspaper reporter, when her parents want her to just get married to the right man.  I had time to do that, but I didn't enjoy it.

I couldn't finish an essay because most of what I'm writing feel more like journal entries than essays.  They feel like I'm writing down what I want to tell myself, not what I necessarily want anyone else to hear.  I'm writing into the void and I'm not sure why anyone would care about the details, and I can't come up with anything meaningful (socially relevant, or historical) enough that's worth pushing on anyone else.

Why would I think that this essay is pushing ANYTHING onto somebody else?   No one is forced to read my blog.  The only way somebody knows it's there is if I mention it to them personally or they see it on Facebook at 52essays2017.  Anyone else who finds it somehow went looking for it.

But I'm cautious, because what I ate for breakfast isn't meaningful.  I want to write an essay comparing Why I am not a feminist by Jenna Crispin (don't yell at me, I'm copying her capitalization, and I think she did it that way on purpose) and We Should All Be Feminists by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie but I don't think that's a personal essay and isn't that what this exercise is for?  Or is it just to keep writing?  To make sure we are working on something while our lives toddle away?

I started THIS essay a few weeks ago, and vacation ensured that I was 2 weeks behind schedule when I returned;  so I wrote an essay for the week I got back, and decided that I would post 2 essays the 2 following weeks, rather than try to write 3 essays in one week when I was still suffering jet lag.

This sounds more and more like it's a journal entry, but many of them do.  And we are told not to worry, to just keep writing.  So OK.

What I have to do this week is different than what I had to do the week I started this particular entry (whenever THAT was) but it's not too different.  I have a different book I'm trying to read, and it's not grabbing me (yet) as much as writing will, so perhaps this essay will have better luck than it did whenever I started it.

And now I have returned from the vacation I was anticipating when I started this essay last month.  I have returned from the vacation and have written an essay about it.  The essay is not quite the essay the friend I was visiting wanted me to write, but it's a start for that essay.   My friend wants me to write an essay to help promote the festival she has developed.  I'm not sure if the essay I wrote is exactly what she wants.

I don't think there's anything wrong pointing out that I am doing the best I can;  that I missed two weeks because I was on the other side of the world, going to a New Age Festival that I might have scorned in the past, but am looking forward to going to again next year (if Julia schedules it for the two weeks that I have off.  Please!  Please!)

And fortunately I return from vacation to learn that I have to order new travel guides.  This is fun and an enjoyable way of prolonging an experience, I think.  I get to continue to look at books that might spark interest of new places I could go, things to do.

And the point of this essay and this whole exercise is to keep writing.  So what I have to do is remind myself that this process, like NaNoWriMo, is about quantity more than quality, because perhaps if I keep at it, the quality will improve on its own.  I'm not sure if that works, but we're giving it a try.

So I have to finish writing this essay, finish updating the travel section, get myself to the gym and MAYBE I'll be able to make the movie this evening.  Either way, I will continue reading Viking Economics, How the Scandinavians Got It Right-And How We Can To by George Lakey.  And then, once Lakey has educated me, I can start writing letters to 45, the rug in the White House, telling him all about what we're doing wrong in great detail, and nothing will ever come of THAT, but I'll feel better about doing something (like I did in January).