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. 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 name on this list. 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.

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).

Balispirit Festival (Part 1?)

  You are not the person who believes in hypnotism.  You did notice while talking to yourself, that when you were tired, what you said tended to suprise you.  Maybe there's something to the idea that the conscious mind works to suppress what you don't want to know you actually believe.  But that somebody with appropriate credentials can induce this state by asking questions of you when you can't see her?  Just because you're laying down in a similar to sleep position?  No, that is not reasonable.

But that's in your normal life.  The one in New York City where your stuff keeps you safe from things that go bump in the psyche.  Where your therapist declared you well almost 20 years ago.  Come to Bali, an out of the way island, where the food and music styles are unfamiliar.  Even the friend you made 40 years ago has changed...or has she just remained more precisely herself, while everyone else has grown older, compromised their dreams, or realized that the ever elusive green light was not worth the wait and settled for the familiar.

Se you go to the Balispirit Festival, a week long festival of yoga classes, and music performances, and sound experiences.  Your father's recent death has freed you from his side-eye, he's not there to remind you that you think all of this is bullshit.  The Balispirit Festival, started a year or two after the Bali Bombing, was intended to help bring tourism back to tourism, and it's become a haven for the spiritual minded people, who believe in alternative medicine, or that's what you learn from afar.  From the safety of your first world apartment, your traditional job, your life.  You can stay, or rather retain a certain distance, from what you are suspicious of, from new age individuals who are the result of what capitalism did to the hope of the 60s, what happened when the hippies failed.

At least, you think this is bullshit in your normal life.
But surrounded by people who believe a better way is possible, it seems almost likely that change is possible, because you know that it  must be.  Hell, with (t)Rump in office, change is necessary by now.

You have always wondered if Julie created the writers' festival so you would go there and find my own community.  Hell, given Julie's mother's preference for your choices, you've always suspected that Julie wanted me to drop everything and move to paradise, if only to give Julie's choices more legitimacy.  Julie moved to Bali long before Elizabeth Gilbert made it cool.

Every evening, in the background at the concert hall, there is a video reminding you how the forests in Bali have been eviscerated by the paper industry, and you vow to start using hankerchiefs.  Staying in a hotel where the toilets can't handle anything more serious than actual human waste -- feces and urine -- and the toilet paper is tossed into a trash can next to the toilet, where it waits for the room to be cleared, reminds you again of our throwaway culture, and what it costs not only our civilization, but all civilizations, all species, our planet.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;  indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."  Margaret Mead once said.

I want to preach the value of laughter yoga.  Even in my "normal" life, I am a great fan of laughter.  We know that laughter is good for you, and laughing for no reason at all seems necessary in the current environment.  Better yet, laughter is as contagious as the common cold, as transmittable as TB.  When two people start laughing, others will follow.  I don't know how you could prove it scientifically (actually, I do, measure the air content of someone before laughing, have them laugh for 20 minutes, measure again), but I'm not sure you should.  Do we really want our doctors proscribing "watch 2 hours of SNL, 1st season, twice weekly for a month."?  Would laughter yoga lose efficacy once it's required?

The Cacao festival leaves you uncertain.  You are told to touch third eyes with your neighbor and the woman next to you asks, "Are you ready for this?" she sounds hesitant.  You're not sure if you are,really, but you also can't imagine what being ready means.  You're about to touch foreheads with a stranger.  Hell, you've been in crowded subways before.  Sure you can do it.

And it's not until that spot, an inch above the bridge of your nose, is touching someone else, is touching somebody else in the same spot, and you are sharing air, voluntarily giving up the notion of personal space, THEN you realize how intimate this feels.
Her hand touches your waist.  Yours brushes her hip.  You are unsure as to whether you are touching her somewhere else to break the connection, not to feel like you're mimicking her, or to maintain that crucial distance, but later that evening, when she embraces you, you do feel accepted, and almost as friends, and you debate letting your guard down.

But you all turn, and swear allegiance to the Cacao spirit...
And she vanishes, swallowed up by the crowd that brought her to you.
You are not sure if you're relieved, or sorry at the missed opportunity...missed opportunity of what exactly?  You're not sure of that, either.

What happens when everyone goes home?
You don't know how to turn good intentions into actions.  Do you send a follow up to everyone who attended the festival, telling them about organizations where they could volunteer or give money.  The festival is too big, there are people from all over the world, so you'd have to find the appropriate international organizations, but you also suspect that the Festival was not intended to be an instrument for social change.
But you think that a conference that got this big a following should be put to good purpose.  That just sitting around and feeling good isn't enough, and so you start to plot.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Do you know your friends on FB? (and do you care?)

A drawback of being on Facebook is that people you meet and like ask, "Are you on Facebook?" and you say, "Of course!" and you promise to keep in touch that way, through Facebook;  because Facebook is SO much easier than writing actual email messages, and nobody writes LETTERS any more and Facebook is a casual means of maintaining a relationship.

Maintaining a relationship with someone via Facebook is riskier because we are more blunt when communicating electronically and often we say things that we wouldn't when talking to somebody IRL (there have been studies, and I'm sure I could find one online, but right now I want to refer you to None of the Old Rules Apply by Dave Eggers, pp 191-211 in What We Do Now, edited by Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians).  Over the past few months I have been tempted to "unfriend" people when I learn their politics differ from mine.  On Presidents' Day I changed my profile pic to a picture of President Obama and a friend disliked it.  Somebody asked her "why?" and she didn't respond.  We can only imagine that she didn't like looking at his face.  I'd posted as my status that I was going to do this on Presidents' Day, but she wanted to express unhappiness (which I actually registered as disgust) with my opinion.

I did not engage with this friend. Perhaps I should have.  But I don't really know her.  She was on a trip I took 6 years ago;  she was a grieving widow, and her daughter was taking her to a country she knew well.  We got along well enough on the trip, where everything was new and different, and we met a few months later when she came to New York to meet somebody who had flown in from Spain (one of the countries we visited).  We've never seen each other since, and I don't expect we ever shall.
So I didn't say anything.

A former coworker "liked" a post "Black Labs Matter" "All Labs Matter" and my stomach turned.  This woman should know better.  Maybe she just thought the picture of the Labrador Retriever was cute and was completely clueless to the political implications.  It's possible.

I thought about responding, but it was a post from somebody I didn't know, and....

Perhaps I am a coward.

I don't respond to conservative posts from Facebook friends, because I suspect that it is too easy for feelings to be hurt and for people to misread my comments, but perhaps I should respond.  Perhaps not responding just allows us all to continue to live in our bubbles, where everything is really awful right now because the world outside pushed through and ruined our illusions.

Also, not responding, not seeing is a privilege.  I can say "I don't think she really meant it that way," and walk on.  And perhaps it's time that we all stripped ourselves of that privilege.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Making granola and other Comfort Foods

Seasonal foods are great.  They are perfect luxury goods without being actually luxurious.  Come on!  The pumpkin spice granola I made last night will remind me tomorrow morning of Thanksgiving.  I'll sprinkle it on my oatmeal, and as I'm chewing on a pumpkin seed I'll wonder if there's any dark meat left (there is no more turkey anywhere in my house).  I'll contemplate cranberry sauce. though I'm pretty sure I can't find cranberries in the supermarkets anywhere by the end of February.  Everyone KNOWS that the cranberry fairy starts hibernating after January 3rd.

Granola is my memories of summers' past food.  I don't care that the pumpkin granola recipe isn't my great-aunt Nita's Granola recipe, which she was sure she had whenever we came to visit her up in the middle of nowhere, Vermont.  It tasted of cold mornings warmed up by berry picking afternoons, It tasted of fresh corn, and swatting mosquitoes that came from everywhere while looking out at the flowers in the front yard.  It smelled of fresh air that couldn't have come down from the mountains, because I think Nita lived in the mountains themselves.  It tasted of goodness, of simplicity like the people who had once built the Community House had wanted.
The Community House was a simple white building down the road that looked like it might have been a Shaker Meeting House.  It had walls.  It had benches.  It had nothing else.
The granola I make now isn't even the right recipe.  I have Nita's recipe;  it's in the Moosewood Cookbook, thank you very much, and I should make it, but I think it will taste different in my city apartment than it did in Nita's country house.  And since I can never get back to Nita's house (she died in the late 90s), I don't really want to alter my memories of Vermont Granola.  A granola that tastes simply of the ingredients needed and love.

Vermont Granola tastes of the promises of youth.  Nita used different raisins or something.  We often visited her at the end of August, just when the freedom of somewhere was getting a little wearing.  But the sparse nature of her house, added to the need to be aware of everything I could taste.  There were simple pleasures at Nita's house, I just had to stop whining about having to put a heating pad at the foot of your bed before I went to sleep.

But I have pumpkin granola now.  Made it last night from a recipe I found in November and had made once earlier.  Foods should be about more than just how we nourish our physical bodies;  Food should be how we our selves, our mind.

Do you want something that you don't really have to chew right now?  Do you have the chest bug that is making the rounds, and is the mucous setting up house in your lungs?  Then I have your recipe!  Cook up a third of a cup of brown rice with about three quarters a cup of chicken stock.  You want more liquid than truly necessary because you want to be able to slurp it down when you've finished eating the rice.  You want to something easy to digest because your body really isn't up to doing much more than moaning and coughing.  And the chicken broth will help with that chest congestion.

The fact is, the rice cooked in chicken broth is my perfect comfort food because my mother told me to make it for myself when I had the flu as a grown up.  I felt achy and slept more than people normally do, and I thought that I should eat something, but I couldn't really figure out what.

"Do you have chicken broth in the house?"  My mother asked.
"No, I don't think so."  I said, wondering what she was going on about.
"Go get some.  The supermarket should just have chicken broth.  Buy it with some rice and cook it with the stock instead of water.  It'll make you feel better."

I may have muttered something about not wanting to go outside, but I didn't really have any other option.  My parents lived 40 minutes away, and this is what I got for insisting I wanted to move out and live on my own.  What does independence get you?  It gets you the privilege of having to go out and buy your own goddamned chicken soup when your sick, that's what.

But she was right.  The fact is, the only thing you have to worry about when you're making chicken broth with rice (or Chicken Soup with Rice if Maurice Sendak needs a prop right now) is not falling asleep before the broth all gets soaked up by the rice.  It's HOT, it's got PROTEIN, it's bland, but it's got just enough salt in it to replace whatever your body is losing by sweating out a fever.  It's GOOD stuff.

And thus that is my comfort food for when I'm sick.

Comfort foods are sort of a luxury good, too.  Many people eat solely to keep from dying.  Anyone who has the time to think about what they're eating and why they want that particular food is extremely fortunate.  Perhaps that's the best comfort of all, knowing how lucky some of us are.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Revolution will be Merchandized

I'm uncertain about the signs, not the sings we carry at the rallies, but how we find each other. I've bought three t-shirts; Samantha Bee's simple "Nasty Woman," which hasn't come yet, "I Never DREAMED I'd Grow Up to Become a Nasty Woman, but here I am Killing IT!" and I just ordered "Still, She Persisted." I have knit myself a pink pussy hat with ears (that actually make me look like an annoyed cat, because the ears tend to flatten out), and I have a few pins on my knapsack to identify myself of a Hillary Supporting Liberal.

Is this how we find each other? By our clothing choices? Because I really can't wear them all the time. At work I am supposed to wear "business like" attire, and t-shirts with slogans are not permitted.

I wear the hat to and from work, though. People smile at me. No one has said anything suggesting that they think the hat is inappropriate, but of course, that's because I'm in New York City, commuting between Brooklyn and Queens. It's a safe space, which might lessen the significance of wearing the hat. Now, when people wear them to the Westboro Baptist Church, that will be another story. But will that show that we have won? Or will that show that it's become safe and sanitized enough to wear the pussy hat.

In the 20th Century Cynthia Heimel wrote a piece Notes on Black in which she wrote, "If we didn't have clothes, we'd have to walk around wearing signboards saying 'Hello, I'm a radical lesbian mother with a Stalinist streak,' or 'Hello, I prefer you to think I'm athletic.'"  (Heimel, Cynthia.  If You Can't Live Without Me Why Aren't You Dead Yet?  Grove Press, 1991.)  So I guess I'm right after all, we do need to wear clothes to identify ourselves.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Fear leads to Anger, Anger leads to Hate, Hate leads to The Dark Side

41 people were arrested in ICE raids in New York City. ICE raids that President 45 (I will not use the title and Trump's last name together) has said will defend us from terrorist attacks. That was the reason for the Executive Order that was ruled unconstitutional. But less than two weeks after Trump announced that he was going to protect the nation by preventing people from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the country, ICE goes on raids and arrests 41 people in New York City, all of whom were born in Latin America or the Caribbean. Yeah, because the next terrorist attack is coming from......

You know, I was going to make a comment that's probably racist, or would certainly be taken that way, but 45 is terrifying people, tearing families apart, in the name of protecting us from terrorists, but really just shipping out people who he can pick on.
Has he even thought about this?
Two people I know have responded negatively to FB posts of mine (or shared, let's be honest) in the past few days. One accused me of living in a liberal bubble and not seeing West of the East River. The other just gave a thumbs down to a suggestion that people post a picture of President Obama as a profile pic for Facebook on President's Day.

One hurt my feelings. I have lived west of the East River for over half my life. I've only been living in the Eastern boroughs of New York City for the past 16 years, plus for two years in Astoria inbetween college and Graduate School (both at institutions on the Continental United States, and therefore very WEST of the East River. I have spent more than HALF of my life living WEST of the East River.
But she doesn't mean where I live, she means I live somewhere where I don't see "real Americans," because, well, because I don't agree with either of these women, and these women believe they are representative of "real America" because their friends agree with them and know the problems they're having.
The foreclosure crisis is nowhere near as bad as it was 10 years ago, the year before Obama was elected. In 2007 people were talking about banks failing, and the FDIC was increasing the amount it would insure people's cash deposits to $250,000. It used to be only $100,000. Detroit is no longer the ghost town it was.

When 45 one the election, one of the stories was how could the Media be SO wrong? Phrases like "liberal bubble" were tossed around, but it's not hard to shake the feeling that 45 is a fraud. That he doesn't even WANT to be President, because he isn't acting Presidential. He's acting like a spoiled child who isn't getting what he wants quickly enough.
I don't want to engage the woman who gave a thumbs down to the idea of changing your profile picture, though one of my friends did. Perhaps that's the bad thing. If you don't think that 45 is a fraud, tell me why. Come up with a good reason, but tell me what your reasons are.. Just saying "NO!" isn't helping the discussion.
And if you don't want the discussion, don't talk at all.
Fear of hurting somebody's feelings is a powerful thing, though. I could post a link to the Unemployment Statistics to my FB page, but I suspect she doesn't trust facts, and I don't *want* to get into an argument that will (probably) degenerate into ad hominem attacks because that's where these arguments tend to go, particularly when the phrase "bubble" is used. So we have fear, which leads to hate, which leads....
Enter Yoda.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Safe memories

I didn't look around much as I got on the Brooklyn bound Q train, I was just grateful for the Q instead of the N. Changing trains isn't THAT big of a hassle, but it's just so nice to be able to get on the subway at the first/last stop and take it to where you need to get off. You can pick where you sit, make yourself comfortable, get out your book, and settle in.
So that's what I did. I'd been sent to a different branch than my regular one for the day. They'd let me out a few minutes early, and the sun was setting. The sun was setting over the West behind the Continental United States, but I knew that if I sat on the right side of the train I'd get to look out the window and see the sunset over Manhattan, the high point of my day. A coworker once looked curiously at me as I did that. "Film companies give our state MILLIONS of dollars for that view," I told her. "I get it for the cost of a subway token." She shrugged. She was still too cool to think that it was significant, but I loved the view.
As I got out my book, I almost didn't notice the young man sitting across from me. His shoes probably made too much noise as he sat down, that might have drawn my attention, but what I noticed when I looked up at him, just for a moment, was his eyelashes; thick, long, the sort of eyelashes that women spent hours to get and envy terribly when the men they know have them. He sat across from me, also facing forward. I smiled to myself, and began to read.
Two stops later I glanced up, and there was a young woman sitting across from me, expertly applying makeup. She was trying to look older than she probably was. She wasn't wearing enough foundation for that not to be her skin, but her cheeks were clearly painted on perfectly. Her skin was flawless! Odd, I thought the young man was wearing that same colored hat...Where had he gotten off?
A bob underneath her chin caught my attention, and my concern. The young man had metamorphosed into a overly made up young woman while I was minding my own business. Why was he doing that here? Why couldn't he...
And I realized he was underage. Not THAT underage, exactly, he might have been 17 or even just barely 21, but he was probably still living at home, and telling his parents he was going to visit Jim and they were going out, and he securely painted on his face on the subway where no one he knew could see him, and I realized he was wearing panty hose, and I worried for him.
I worried because I was certain his parents didn't know where he was going and that he was going to make sure they never did. Perhaps he figured at some point he would tell them, one day when he was living alone somewhere, when what they thought didn't matter, but right now they could never know. Was he taking chances that he was sure he was prepared to deal with? Did he know what men were like?
I know nothing about being a gay man, but I still don't think a young man going out in drag is putting himself in a safe place, particularly if he has to get into costume on the subway. I don't think he has a safe place to retreat to if things get ugly out there, and I can't help but worry that a young man thinks he knows how men think but doesn't know how they think about women. And I wanted to tell this young man to be careful.
He put on a wig before we got to 57th street. I was suddenly sitting next to a tall beautiful blond woman with long curly hair that made me envious, but I wanted to call out before he got out at Times Square,
"Be careful out there! Give yourself to someone who cares!"
I minded my own business. New Yorkers are known for that. He was young and didn't want my advice. I wasn't sure I even wanted to give it. His world was different from mine.
That was about 10 years ago. Another Republican was living in the White House. I hope that young man has a safer place to put on his face and get into costume.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

How do you grieve? And for what?

I'll tell you, the thing I think I miss most about my Dad is his disdain for fools.
I'm having a discussion with a relative about how we're going to make "Mexico to pay for the wall," and my cousin pointed out that people would be more likely to buy American if Mexico has a 20% border tax on all its exports, and that's not the point. My father would have told me not to bother, and said something disparaging. I'm not listening.
Of course, I'm not listening because my father's been dead for almost 13 months, and he isn't talking to me anymore. I don't hear his voice from beyond the grave, I just *think* I know what he would have said based on years' of experience, and a fair amount of projection.
A few weeks ago I was reading the obituaries in the New York Times. Nicki Scarfo died in Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C. He was part of the mob in Atlantic City in the 80s when he got sent away for (I think) basic racketeering involving hotels in Atlantic City. That's when Trump was busy buying real estate and turning Atlantic City into what it has become. (In the mid 1970s, it sounded kind of small townish, if Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume is a reputable source.) And I mourned my father, because he might have remembered the case (he had an exceptional memory) and he would have had a smart comment, and we would have commiserated over how awful things are right now. We also would have taken a moment to suggest whether he knew Fat Hugo or Jimmy the Greek, two imaginary gangsters who could be relied on to beat up, injure and maim ANY bully who chanced to make me cry.
But he would have pointed out that I am not doing too badly. And while he would have agreed that I should care for people who are, he might have suggested that I not get carried away. He was always glad when Mom and I went to bond on political causes, but he hadn't joined us in that since....No, I'm not sure he ever joined us.
And what I grieve for is the special relationship I had with my father; he loved me, not someone he wished I would be, not someone he thought I really was. He was exceptionally proud of me, and his chest pushed out when I suggested that I was what happened when he and my mother were trusted with the upbringing of children. But I wondered if that was selfish -- I didn't miss Jack Robbins, I missed my Dad. I miss my Dad who would hold my hand as I walked along a ledge by Teachers' College on the eastern side of Broadway on my way to Nursery School, allowing me to see the world I was going to inherit. I missed a Dad who was always glad to hear from me when I called. I missed....
No, seriously, I worried that I was treating Dad as less than his own person because I mourned the person he was for me, not who he was as himself. I even got all philosophical about it, worrying that as saying, "I missed my Dad" meant that I missed the end relationship that I had with Jack Robbins and not Jack Robbins as himself (treat everyone as their own ends and never as a means, I think the that section of the categorical imperative went).
And then I laughed at myself, as I thought of him laughing and shaking his head at me. "You too hard on yourself, baby. Don't DO that!"
Of course I miss my Dad, and the special relationship I had with him. I was fortunate to have someone who loved me unreservedly, but was willing to discuss my flaws while warning me not to take myself (or my flaws) too seriously. There is no reason for me to have thought to have had a relationship with my father other than, well, father and daughter. That's who he was to me, and if we hadn't shared blood there would have been no reason for him to think so highly of me (unless he'd married my mother after I was born, or had been EXTREMELY creepy). He probably wouldn't have noticed me if I hadn't been his daughter.
So I will try to not be foolish when mourning him, a year after his death. Of course I miss MY DAD, who else should I miss?

Friday, January 27, 2017

New Year's Resolutions part 2...or Women's March on Washington resolutions

I enjoyed the March on Washington and I feel quite energized to actually continue marching. I had already been recruited into the Resistance but it was so good to know that over two million people worldwide agreed with my disapproval -- no, my disgust -- with "the orange one."

I was glad my cousin offered me and Mom a ride down to D.C. I was happy for the family bonding time, and spending it at a political march was too perfect. My Mom recruited me into the women's movement early. If I had a picture of me at the march celebrating the Roe v. Wade decision, I would post it, but I don't.

I do have this picture of me.

The crowd was amazing. I haven't seen any news stories dismissing the Women's March as too young, too old, too white, etc., which I take as a good sign that the march was representative of our country as a whole. Yes, I've seen a few posts about some women's bad experiences, and while I didn't see anything in particular I'm not going to deny these things happened. (I wasn't completely sure that I didn't witness something in the Million Micro-Aggressions March post.) However the organizers handed out leaflets to use the inertia for a good cause. So now I have a list of ten things to do in the next 100 days (or 95, given that it's now Thursday, January 26th. However, they push for printing them using THEIR software, and I've already read an essay telling me that I don't NEED fancy card stock quality paper for postcards. I can go buy 4x6 index cards and use them. I've even checked the USPS site and confirmed this. So I *could* just address them all to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and have a few on hand for Representative Clarke and just be able to write my elected officials whenever it seems appropriate (which is more and more often).

Because things are getting scary out there. A friend used Facebook to post a link to H.R. 193, the American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017, which would remove the United States of America from the United Nations if it passes. That is an awful idea, and I don't want to think about who would think it is a good idea to remove the world's sole super power from an organization dedicated to maintaining international peace and security. I used this blog to help people who thought their representative MIGHT be behind this bill, in the hopes that people would call, email, contact in any way, the members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to say, "What the goddamned fuck is this?!?"

Yesterday I went to a gallery to see Nancy Chunn's installation Chicken Little and the Culture of Fear and it was both terrifying and fascinating. It is so easy to get hooked into the crowd and start following. Perhaps the best way to protect ourselves is to ensure that we *know* when we start getting carried away and take a moment to contemplate. (When you start running, pull back, sit on the sidelines and THINK about what you're doing!)

The March on Washington was to gather the women who are scared by what President Trump has promised (and has started) to do as President. It was an attempt to say "We do NOT support you, we ARE here." Even if Trump tweets "Why didn't they vote?" we can say, "but we did and you LOST the popular vote." It was an attempt to build momentum, and to get people out from behind their computers and out of their houses to see what momentum could look like. It's important to see how many people (over 3 million worldwide) do NOT support the President and are scared of what he has promised to do. President Obama has started a foundation and you can get involved through that.

Despair is easy. Don't fall prey to it. We can only make a better world if we get off our asses and try.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

My Many New Yorks

“So where are you from?” The new guy asked me. I eyed him carefully. He was probably old enough to be my father (though I wasn’t yet old enough to be a good judge of other people’s age) and I just figured he spotted me for a newbie, an immigrant to our fair city, and it was my job to set him straight.
“Me? I’m from New York,” with no uncertain amount of pride. Who cares that over 2 million people are born here every year? (I am totally making that number up.) I probably didn’t deserve any credit for being from the Big Apple, but I wanted to claim it as my own, just the same. The old guy looked at incredulously.
“You’re not from New York!” He cried. “Nobody is actually *from* New York!” I smiled at him. I was, and I knew it. I’d seen the City in its darkest times and I’d been mugged on the streets and I had my New York, certainly more than this man, who (I figured) had come to New York from Ohio, or maybe even Missouri (the OTHER side of the OTHER river). I had Steinberg’s view of the world. My mother had hung a poster of the New Yorker cover on the wall of our floor of our apartment building.
I didn’t even know how to drive. That’s how much of a New Yorker I was. All of you who live elsewhere in this country, have you ever even heard of such a thing? A young woman who is almost proud of the fact that she’s been legally allowed to buy alcohol for over a year, but doesn’t know how to park a car?
My New York City had improved over the years. I was born two days after the Watergate Break In, which means President Ford refused to bail out my home town before I started elementary school (my father even worked for the newspaper which ran the headline, “Ford to City, ‘Drop Dead’”). I remember Needle Park, the junkie who died on my very block, unfortunately in the spot between Broadway and the entrance to my elementary school, so too many parents had to explain to their children who the man who didn’t look like he was sleeping was doing in the alley. By the mid 90s New York had reinvented itself a few times, and Mayor Giuliani was busy criminalizing homeless behavior, so as to push the homeless into prisons and hospitals, to make the city SEEM like it was doing better, without having to actually improve it.
New York City had changed many times in the past 40 some years. So I had many New Yorks. The New York of the mid 70s, when my Dad would walk me to a Nursery School on 122nd street. I remember him holding my hand as I walked on a railing belonging to Teachers’ College, and I could see the Manhattan Valley open up before me; so many buildings and people living their lives. It didn’t matter that this was not the New York that people travelled to see, this was where I was going, this was the world I entered; diverse, full of smells from all over, with an elevated subway that would rattle just loudly enough to cover all the arguments people were having. That New York smelled of pot, dashed dreams, and fresh bread from the store across the street. Why would we have been walking down what was, by the time we’d passed the hill, the WRONG side of Broadway? I don’t know, but I can still smell the freshly baked bread, and I think I remember seeing the store still there in the waning days of the 20th century. What was it called? Oh, yes, The Bread Store.
Then there was 57th street; which my father made us walk across every six weeks for 5 years, while I was having my teeth fixed. We would exit the 7th Avenue IRT stop at the southern end, on 57th street, and turn east, passing Carnegie Hall, the Plaza was a few blocks to the North, Tiffany’s was right there, and we would have seen Alexander’s, but I wasn’t paying attention to clothes yet, so I never noticed it. We saw people being driven in Hansom Cabs around those few tony blocks where the Upper East Side slipped into midtown. I had seen the Arena at Columbus Circle when there was a huge fair with Chinese arts and crafts there. It was the New York that promised “if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere,” like Frank Sinatra sang, but it also decayed into a city that inspired fear in many. 57th street smelled like Daisy Buchanan’s voice, it smelled of money. Yes, my father remembered walking along 125th street and being greeted by Adam Clayton Powell. “How you doin, buddy?” Mr. Powell would say. Yes, the cultural mecca of New York remained, but it got gritty and hard. Reaganomics spread poverty over the city as mom spread cream cheese on her toasted bagel. Drugs hit our city hard, and the junkie who died on my school’s corner was just one victim of the Drug War. How did we survive?
We didn’t know any better. We didn’t talk to strangers. This was our normal, panhandlers on the corner, don’t go out after dark, call your father when you get to your friend’s house, look like you know where you’re going, particularly when you don’t.
But also, we had our corners, our little worlds: The bodega where the cashier knew us; The stationary store run by our next door neighbor; The little luncheonette across the street that got written up in the New York Times (not some local tabloid, the fucking Newspaper of Record), and the crazy people who sat on the park benches were part of our world, too. Many of these institutions would change, owners would retire or be bought out; stores would become local chains challenging the bigger supermarkets. Even the local crazies eventually died off, and we would notice, but know not to ask anyone what exactly had happened. My parents’ friends left Manhattan for Brooklyn, and we would see them a few times a year. Then the friends would move to New Jersey (technically closer to us than Brooklyn) and we would never see them again.
There is the Astoria of my early adulthood, where the bagel shop knew my order and would call it out when I entered the store. This Astoria is affordable, with cute little houses and illegal sublets. It smells of youthful exuberance and cigarette smoke. It is also SO 20th Century, because by the time I returned to New York City from Texas, Astoria was just another expensive neighborhood in a ridiculously expensive town.
There is the Brooklyn of now, which smells of young people starting families (you think fertility doesn't smell? Have you ever been to a playground?). This Brooklyn smells like a melting pot, of the new people, more new to New York City than new to the 'hood, but also new to America at all. It smells of the people who've lived there forever, and who glare at me for being an infiltrator, or, more likely, part of the gentrification. I'll bet this Brooklyn smells differently than the Brooklyn Heights of the 80s, which I went to....three times, perhaps? Twice to visit the people who later moved to New Jersey, and once for a class party in elementary school. That Brooklyn's smell has been drowned among other smells of childhood. The New York of my youth has priced itself out. It doesn’t exist anymore, as people can’t afford to live anywhere on the salaries they get paid. But I know The Mill Korean Restaurant is a second generation immigrant spot. The owners I knew were Concentration Camp survivors who saw things I can’t imagine, but managed to come to The Big Apple and make a success story of their lives, eventually selling the shop and retiring to (where else?) Florida.
That didn’t mean that the neighborhood amenities were unpleasant. My experience has always been that the people who see you every day are nice to you, provided you are nice to them. The waitress will memorize your order, if you’re so dull as to order the same brunch every week. The employees of Rainbow Chicken, on 108th street and Broadway, would spot my father opening the door and call out, “One whole chicken. No cut!” because my father didn’t want them to hack his dinner into tiny pieces and they knew that.
My home town. New Yorkers don’t know you when you move there, but stay here long enough, and we’ll all recognize our own.