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Category: culture

The American Legacy

My daughter crinkles paper, blows
on the tree to make it live, festoons
herself with silver.
So far she has no use for gifts.

What can I give her,
what armor, invincible
sword or magic trick, when that year comes?

How can I teach her
some way of being human
that won’t destroy her?

I would like to tell her, Love
is enough. I would like to say,
Find shelter in another skin.

I would like to say, Dance
and be happy. Instead I will say
in my crone’s voice, Be
ruthless when you have to, tell
the truth when you can,
when you can see it.
Iron talismans, and ugly, but
more loyal than mirrors.

from “Solstice Poem”, Margaret Atwood

 

 


 

On the radio this morning, the hushed voices of NPR reporters break the news that the largest mass shooting the country has ever seen happened overnight. The details are still sparse, but I wait for the body count. In the back seat, Baba babbles about the birds she heard singing, while I wonder what new words she’ll pick up from the radio this time.

After the barest details turn into empty radio filler, I turn down the volume. There is time later to obsess about the increasingly competitive rampages of men with guns who want to die over and over again on the front page of every newspaper. And we fall into the trap, as we must, feting the murders on every radio station and in every newspaper in terse and gently probing tones. The President issues a speech that manages not to insult anyone. On social media, the cringey and meaningless posts about thoughts and prayers are echoed over and over.

We are helpless. We are hopeless. But yet, we want to be seen having compassion for people we would not know walking down the street, because the situation is so terrible that we must be observed to publicly mourn to protect our decency. And so we perform our grief, but it feels false. How can you have grief left to give to strangers, when we’ve done this show so many times?

This season, it doesn’t even have an intermission.  Hurricane, hurricane, horror, hurricane, slow response, mass shooting, horror.

Later in the day, Tom Petty dies, because how could such a well-loved American artist live out this terrible day? Although we know by now that it is simply not safe to go to work or ride a train or dance in a night club, music had been safe.  If you weren’t French.  Now, thanks to yet another white man with far more guns than anyone should ever own, that too has been defiled. Even Tom Petty’s death is ruined, because our thoughts and prayers are already taken.

Tomorrow, his record sales are sure to spike, because that is what happens every time. And we will do nothing else. Nothing and nothing and nothing.

 


 

About a month ago, I told Baba that it was time to leave to go to school.

She says, “No, Mama. I no go school. I have to murder my tiger.”

“You have to what?” I ask, as I walk into the living room, where I find her holding a long piece of plastic across the throat of a stuffed Disney-shaped lion that we have yet to identify.

“Ehm,” I say.

“Ehm,” I say a little louder.

Baba interrupts her sawing and looks up with curiosity on her sweet and feral face.

“You seem to be murdering,” I say, in what must the epitome of good parenting.

“Yes, Mama,” she says happily. “See, I murder my tiger! Like this!  You want murder my tiger too?”

“No, baby. Murder is not nice.”

“Murder is not nic-CEEEEEE?” she asks, cocking her head with an overdone smile that usually makes me laugh.

“No love, murder is not nice. Tell your tiger that you’re sorry, honey. Then we need to go.”

 


 

We have a madness that we cannot seem to shake off.   Already the old conversation about gun control has started. I think more about personal risk.  I don’t worry for myself, because I have walked through high-risk halls on my way to work so many years that I long ago accepted the chance that some violent man will take my life. After all, I ride trains. And, in 2017, we all know that bombs and trains go along very well.

Hopefully not my one, but you never know.

But no parent considers sending their child to school without also imagining the day when that decision became deadly. Because you never know.

And this is the world that I must explain to Baba. Now she is so young that her innocence about the world constantly surprises me.

One day she took down our Bernie Sanders card from the bathroom mirror and said, “Who dat?”

“That’s Bernie Sanders, love.  He reminds us to look out for one another.”

“Who Ernie Sandbars?”

I thought a while about how to explain it. “He’s a man who wants to make sure that everyone can go to the doctor if they get sick,” I said.

“Why you no can go doctor?” she asked.

“Well…” I said, at a loss for words.

What a world I have to give you, my Baba, my innocent and feral child. And that is my deepest grief. All I can arm you with are the words and poems of the fighters and the heroes and hope that you stay as courageous
as you were born.

And do better, child. Do better than me.

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Easter Passes Me Over

I have been off of work for the last week, as Baba’s day care has been closed for the Passover and Easter holidays.  Not being a Christian nor a Jew means that this mostly turns into another one of of those holidays where everyone seems to need to be somewhere, but I’m not entirely certain where that is.

Apparently people get together for Easter?  And they eat food?  Also, sort of the same thing for Passover?

I’m not so culturally tone-deaf as to not understand that there are some significantly different religious underpinnings there, but my understanding is pretty vague.  Jesus rose from the dead; a miracle is celebrated.  The Jews were spared from the plagues that God visited on the Egyptians and were liberated from slavery — another miracle.  These are fabulous and powerful stories, even if you don’t share the faith behind them.

And I must admit that I rather like the idea of miracles these days.

These shoes were made for walkin’…on mulch.

Our celebrations were more pagan.  Baba was sent a chocolate rabbit and some bunny ears, which led to a full day of listening to Baba declaring her newfound love of chocolate. I spent the afternoon digging in the dirt in the garden and trying out my new garden shoes. (Sloggers!  Recommend!)  The house that we bought was uninhabited for four years before we moved in and the yard is showing the neglect.  I don’t know a great deal about gardening, as you could spit across the entire yard of our last house without really even trying, but I’ve taken on fixing this yard as a personal vendetta project.  I’ve been learning a lot about eradicating crabgrass and annihilating dandelions, which is very much the dark side of gardening.

Still, there are worse ways to celebrate a fertility festival than by making room for new things to grow.  Tonight, I sleep the sleep of the just, even if we still haven’t figured out how to make our mysteriously 9-zone sprinkler system work.

It has been really relaxing to be away from my normal routine for so long.  My grandparents were visiting for the week, which made my time with Baba very pleasant.  She has very much become a 2 year old, with the attendant fits and dramas that limited language and a whole lot of will power entail, and the extra adult hands around were greatly appreciated.  Our entertainments were pretty mellow, with many trips to the park and the grocery store and the back yard.  The weather finally turned for the season and, for the first time since we bought the house,  I’ve actually been spending time just sitting in the back yard, enjoying our tiny private patch of outdoor space.  I bought Baba some chalk and we’ve been working on decorating all of the bricks in the patio, which is just the sort of life goal that I’ve needed for some time.

Perhaps the lessons of Easter and Passover aren’t for my family, but all of the time together with Baba and my grandparents has felt very sacred, all the same.

 

Nap refusal is never pretty.
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The Dark Days of Winter

december-solstice-winterThese are dark days.

I mean that literally and figuratively; the winter solstice is, after all, upon us.  I am headed towards Manhattan in a grey and bleak morning that has barely lifted into day.  It’s raining, just enough to make me seem strange without an umbrella, but not enough to inspire me to take it out.  I am alone in this, one bare head in an army of black umbrellas.

Like most of the world, I’ve also been reeling from the U.S. Presidential election for the last month.  I’m sure it’s not hard for regular readers to guess which way I voted, so I’ll spare everyone all of that.  Watching the post-mortem has been painful, as the pundits looking for ratings try to blame someone or explain away a result that very few people predicted.  I, for one, am tired of trying to dissect American psychology, like we are all one big mass.  I’m even tired of reading explanations about the white working class or white middle-aged women or Latinos for Trump!, because it all simplifies the picture and does not lead to much listening.  It doesn’t even ring true.  I have a white working class husband who would never vote for the anti-union candidate.  I am a white woman who has been walking through the world with a new level of fear and anxiety.  For the first week, my stomach literally ached.  As the high level administration appointments have been coming in, starting with a literal neo-Nazi, I’ve had a hard time thinking about much else.  This is not who we are, except that it is apparently exactly who we are.  It is not who I want us to be.  Maybe I am just naive, but I’d thought we could all at least agree on the Nazis.

This anxiety is not sustainable.

I want to reach across the aisle and listen – and to reach across the aisle and be heard – but how do you do that with so many people shouting?  How do you do that when our elected officials are looking at the Japanese internment camps of World War II as a legal precedent?  How do you shut your eyes and ears when a man who ran a “news” site that runs articles like “How to Make Women Happy: Uninvent the Washing Machine and the Pill” is now one of the chief advisors of one of the most influential and powerful people in the world?  Just yesterday I read an article about a man with a gun showing up on a street that I know well because he chose to believe the vilest of Internet rumors.  A childhood friend’s family church was vandalized with white supremacist graffiti within days of the election. Another friend’s cousin, living on the other side of the country, had a swastika painted on her garage.  Closer to home, the NYPD is dealing with such a large spike in hate crimes that they are creating a special division just to deal with them.

I am afraid to shut my eyes.  I’m afraid that if I don’t shut my eyes, I will never live a normal life again.  How do you strike the balance?

I haven’t a clue.  I put big pink safety pins on all my jackets and purses.  In those first few days after the election, I was terrified to wear them, but I swallowed the fear and thought about how much braver it is to wear a hijab right now.  It is a little enough thing to put a pin on my clothes – a pin that can easily be removed to let me blend into the crowd where my pale skin and blue eyes will protect me. The KKK has been dropping flyers on my train.  Yesterday, another woman on the subway was attacked for wearing a hijab. When I tell myself that adding a safety pin to my clothing is the least that I can do, it really is the absolute least that I can do.  I have decided to be accountable to my pin, that I will not blend into the background when I see that someone is afraid, but I also despair that I won’t live up to it.

So here we are in the literal darkest days of the year, trying to find a way to creep back towards the light of summer.  On Sunday, we put up a Christmas tree in our new home, right in the giant bay window that I have fallen in love with.  When I turn the corner at night, I see it shining its manufactured light out into a world of darkness.  In a normal year, it would give me hope.  This year, I am trying hard to open myself up to be able to see its light.

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The Loss of Civility

There’s a new coffee shop by the train station that opened over the summer.  In a world of Starbucks and Walmarts, it is a welcome relief to the monotony of grande cups and jazzy backgrounds.  It is in a tiny space, which previously belonged to a failed news stand and, before that, a coffee stand that only served cold bagels.

Sometimes I think that I have been in this town too long, now that I can remember the history of spaces.

But I like this shop.  It’s taken the craft approach, offering everything that you’d find at Starbucks at higher quality.  The pumpkin latte leaves a smudge of actual squash in the bottom of your cup.  The baked goods are kosher yogurt muffins where you can sink your teeth into the actual fruit.  I’ve been determined to help it thrive, which is helped by the fact that I’ve been horrible at getting out of bed lately, and often arrive at the train station needing breakfast.

The baristas take their jobs as coffee artists so seriously that I imagine that they’re all part owners. It might be so.  Every morning that I forget my breakfast, I go and choose between the big muffin and the small muffin, and I make such a stink out of it that the big blonde fellow grins every time I go for the big one.

One morning, a new customer came in behind me.  Most of America would know the type.  He was dressed for work, in an outfit that tells you that this is a man who worked with his hands.  Perhaps a mechanic, perhaps in the trades.  His jacket was the tough rough leather of a welder’s jacket and he wore jeans made for work.  When he ordered, he asked for a small coffee with sugar and a corn muffin.  He pointed at the glass display.

“I’m sorry, sir, but that’s a lime coconut yogurt muffin,” my favorite Viking told him.

“What?” He looked closer at the muffins, where a sign declared the new world order in a bubbly script.  “Don’t you have corn muffins?”

“No, sir.  Just what’s there, sir.”

The man looked over the selection, then shook his head.  “Forget it.  Just the coffee.”

When he left, he was shaking his head.  And, because I am in Trump country, I thought, Is he a Trump voter?  Is this the demographic?  The man just wanted a corn muffin and a coffee, like he’s probably been ordering at his favorite deli for 30 years, but now he can’t have it.  He could have lime coconut or apple yogurt or pumpkin spice loaf, but the classics have disappeared from our offerings.

I watched him walk away without his breakfast, embarrassed for the coffee shop, although it is just a symbol of its time.  Why should they carry a product that isn’t exciting and new?  They have to compete with the green mermaid machine, like everyone else.

Before Hurricane Sandy, there was a real New York deli right there that would have blown this coffee shop out of business in a matter of weeks.  But their store was destroyed by the storm, so they packed up and found a new location two towns away, much too far for the commuters at my station.  We have had to shift without our classic bagels and eggs and plain coffees with milk and sugar.  And the world that rebuilt never filled those needs again.  My new little coffee shop is the closest, but it doesn’t suit everyone.

And watching this man, I understood a little better about all the people who have been left behind by our shifting economics.

The man just wanted a corn muffin.  What’s so bad about that?

 


 

Living through this Presidential election season has been hard for me.  I have been joking-not-joking that 2016 is the year that White America discovered that racism is still a thing, as Trump’s candidacy grew ever more blunt about its willingness to incite anti-immigrant fervor. As the wife of an immigrant and the mother of a child with dual citizenship, this has been terrifying.  Even though I know that no one is thinking of the big Irish guy when they’re spouting off about “the Mexicans” or “the terrorists,” it’s hard to watch the violence and the ugliness of the rhetoric.  And it has been surprising to me, even though I live in a neighborhood that is deeply religious, to find out how many people have been willing to give a pass to the nastier things that he’s been saying because of how much they hate Hilary Clinton.

As the election progressed, Trump signs sprouted like daffodils on the lawns of my neighbors.  Every time I passed one, it felt like a slap in the face, as people that I’d liked shouted their support.  And I am trying to be better than this, but it’s difficult for me to look past a willingness to ignore such dangerous rhetoric.

Except.

Except there is a part of me that must be honest enough to myself to admit that there have been times where I have reacted to the injustices suffered by Black Americans with gratitude that that sort of thing was not my problem.  Until not so long ago, it happened every time an unarmed Black man was shot by the police under suspicious circumstances.  It happened when Rodney King was beaten in the early 90s.  I would shake my head and be enraged by the injustice of it, by how unstoppable the system seemed.  And then I would think, “Thank God that won’t happen to me,” and go on with my day.

I don’t feel that way any more.

Thanks to Trump, I have discovered just how many of the people in my life are okay with the way things are.  That is white privilege in a nutshell.  The Trump supporters that I know are not evil people.  But they are people who have made peace with a man who says vile things, who are content to let the problems of other people be their problems.  And they have made me feel afraid, in a way that has opened my eyes to the feelings of many dark skinned Americans.

And that was before his tape with Billy Bush leaked.

 


 

It is good that we are having big national conversations about sexual assault.   One of the best parts of the way that our culture is changing is that we’re starting to talk about rape culture, which was a phrase I’d never even heard until I was in my 20s.  I remember the epiphany, as a young woman, that we should be asking men to talk to men about rape, rather than spending our lives trying to protect ourselves from it.  It was a radical notion, this thought that men could be responsible for fixing this problem that predominantly affects women.

Sometimes it is easy to forget how far we have come, in a relatively short period of time.  It was only a hundred years ago that we even gained the vote, much less the right to sue for sexual harassment or spousal rape.

Since the tape leaked, I have been thinking of the times when a man has forced a kiss on me, in the way that Trump described.  I spent about a week vividely reliving those moments — the fear and the anger that came with it.  When a coworker made a joke about locker room talk, I know I was supposed to laugh, but I could only shudder.  I’ve been fortunate in my life and have only suffered the garden variety level of sexual harassment.  I don’t consider myself traumatized in any way by these experiences, though I am nervous when I encounter strange men.  The events that I’ve been thinking about were both strangers, who pushed themselves onto me in public places.  In the first, I was a sixteen year old girl sitting at a bus stop.  The man had been bothering me for several days, so I asked him to just leave me alone and to go away.  There were others there, and I remember their faces distinctly because after he kissed me,  I jumped up and screamed at him while they stared at me like I was the problem.

And not one of them got up to help me, because it was not their problem.  It was not happening to them.

The second incident happened one night on the subway here in New York.  It was about ten o’clock at night on a week night and I was coming home from a dinner out with friends.  Sitting in a nearly empty train car, I was studying for work.  The man approached me and asked for money, over and over again.  He wouldn’t go away, so I finally gave him some change to make him leave me alone.  When I did, he decided to kiss me.  Years later, I can still feel the wet imprint of his lips on my forearm, which I threw up above my head to deflect him and defend myself.  I remember the faces of the two women who got on the train at the next stop, who I asked to switch cars for their own safety.

Garden variety harassment, as I mentioned.  I do not know a single woman who has not had multiple experiences like these.

No real harm done, except…except that I have a certain distrust of men that I do not know, because of all the times that men have behaved this way around me.  When I first heard “The Story,” a song by The Great Ani, I thought, “Oh.  Oh yes, this.  This is exactly it.”  The lyrics are a bit of poetry:

Ani DifrancoI would have returned your greeting
if it weren’t for the way you were looking at me
this street is not a market
and I am not a commodity
don’t you find it sad that we can’t even say hello
’cause you’re a man
and I’m a woman
and the sun is getting low
there are some places that I can’t go
as a woman I can’t go there
and as a person I don’t care
I don’t go for the hey baby what’s your name
and I’d alone thank you
just the same

 

Since the tape leaked, the Trump signs in my neighborhood have come down.  I am filled with gratitude for that, as it lets me stop thinking of the men that have objectified and attacked me and all the people that look like me.

Maybe that is a start.  Maybe it’s a move towards the empathy that we need to create a kinder world where your problems are my problems. I can only hope that at the end of all this ugliness, we’ll all have learned something about ourselves and the country and culture we want to create.

As the Great Ani sings:

we’re all citizens of the womb
before we subdivide
into sexes and shades
this side
that side
and I don’t need to tell you
what this is about
Undressing for the fan
Like it was a man
Wondering about all the things
That I’ll never understand
there are some things that you can’t know
unless you’ve been there
but oh how far we could go
if we started to share
I don’t need to tell you
what it is about
you just start on the inside
you just start on the inside
and work your way out
“Work Your Way Out,” Ani DiFranco
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Bombs in Manhattan

It is Monday morning, on the sort of fall morning where rain comes by in unsuspecting gusts, drenching any commuter that was brave enough to put their umbrella away during the brief periods of dryness. On the train, freed from the drama of the rain, we are hurtling towards Penn Station, racing past the sleepy yellow houses of Queens that quietly witness the thousands of people that travel past them each day.

Then the phones begin to buzz, first a single alert, then an unignorable clatter of sounds, as Verizon and AT&T and TMobile send out a law enforcement alert. Without glancing at my phone, I know that they must have found the person behind the bombings of the last 24 hours, the set of trash can and pressure cooker bombs in Manhattan and northern New Jersey that have scathed passer-bys, but not yet killed anyone. They’ve gone off in empty neighborhoods, late at night and early in the morning, just a reminder of how vulnerable we are and how dangerous it is to dare to be in a crowd.

How much worse they could have been.

My kid brother came over last night for dinner, as is his habit on Sunday nights. “Did you hear about the bombings?” he asked, worried that people are once again attacking our city. He is young – 21 – the same age that I was on September 11th, 2001. He was six at the time and living in England, so I know that the stories about it sound like people landing on the moon or the assassination of JFK did to me.

“It’s scary,” he says.

“Yes, but,” I say, “if you lived in Baghdad, this would be something that happened every week.”

“That’s true,” he says.

“It is scary,” I add, belatedly. “And New York will always be a target. That’s just something you have to deal with, living here. And oh God, tomorrow’s commute. It’s going to be awful.”

“Ugh,” he says, sympathetically. I know that he is glad that he works nearby.

I am not, you may note, the most reassuring person in a crisis.

And so here we are again, with another frightening drama unfolding on streets so familiar that they feel like home. The mayor and the media were quick to respond, to reassure us that the first two bombs were “intentional but not terrorism.” I laugh a bit at the language, because the way the media restructures words. Of course it is terrorism. Anyone planting bombs in public spaces is trying to terrorize the public at large. And, hardy as we are by now, it’s working. The kids are scared.

And so I wonder about this name that has just shown up on all of our phones, as we go about our lives and continue on to offices with bosses that would not understand if we “let the terrorists win” (whatever that means) by staying home. We’ve seen this play out before, in Boston, and we know that he will be found. There is not a scenario where you draw this kind of police attention and walk away free. And, is that the point? Is this kid — only a handful of years older than my brother — testing himself? Is this a question of wits, inspired by a thousand and one blockbuster action films? And is he alone? Will we be safe, as he runs for his freedom?

In the seats in front of me, a woman wearing far too much perfume is peacefully playing Candy Crush Saga, whiling away her commute as though today were just an ordinary day. At the other end of my subway ride, I will come out of the World Trade Center subway stop, thinking as I queue up for the exit of how vulnerable we are, standing trapped underneath such a world-famous target. I feel the echoes of the dead around me, as I emerge into the sunlight and pass St. Paul’s, the three and a half century old church across from Ground Zero, where some of the first European inhabitants of Manhattan are buried. The grass grows long and wild at the edge of the graveyard, where it curves down to the meet the street. I wonder about the groundsmen whose job it must be to worry about this small detail.

And then I go about my day.

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The Eating Season!

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Earlier this week, Baba crawled right out of her pants.  She was nursing, which gives you an idea of what nursing a very active baby is like, and I didn’t immediately notice because I had covered us both with a sheet.  I laughed when I discovered her bare, chubby thighs and tried to hold her as close to me as she would allow.

This last month has been filled with moments like this — as the world has literally and metaphorically darkened, tiny moments of beauty keep filtering through.  My neighborhood is covered with an impressive array of Christmas lights, which make driving home through the darkness a delightful experience.  It is the first year since Hurricane Sandy that I’ve seen such an impressive display, and I am deeply grateful to see the world return to normal.  It is so reassuring to contrast the rising hatred in the world with festive frivolity, with beauty, with art.

It has been a remarkably sane holiday season for us.  I made a conscious decision to keep it simple this year.  Instead of trying to do all of the things, we picked the ones that mattered.  Cards, because sitting down to write my extended social circle once a year fills me with joy.  Small presents for family.  Our own contribution to the neighborhood lights.  Visiting with friends.  Loving our daughter in the fierce way that has become normal.  Bringing food to share with people that we love.

It is Baba’s first Christmas.  We went last night to a Christmas Eve dinner at a friend’s, in what has become a treasured annual tradition.  The food itself comes from the American Italian tradition of The Feast of the Seven Fishes, where seafood is served to both celebrate bounty and because it is a period of fasting from red meat in the Catholic tradition.  It is not my tradition, by heritage or religion, but it has been such a part of my experience since moving to New York that it has come to feel like mine.  Last night, as I fed Baba fish cakes and pasta baked in clam sauce, it felt like even more like home.

We let her stay up hours past her bedtime, which is why I can write this in the sweet silence of a sleeping house.  She took her first steps last night, after dinner and in front of an audience of kind and fine people.  We clapped and cheered for her, while her face exploded in glee at her new freedom.

Today, we will go to celebrate with a different set of lifelong friends, as we always do.  I have bought a cake for dessert that is covered in a more traditional design that I could have ever imagined picking out before — and yet, I found that I could not resist it.  I have, perhaps for the first time in my life, put on Christmas music in my home, just like my mother always used to do.

It is a season of music, of eating, of feasting, of remembering what is important in life.  This year, for me, Christmas is about love and charity.  It is about the ideals of a peaceful world; it is a reminder of what we must continue fighting for.  I can only hope to share this peace and joy that I feel in my heart with you.

 

 

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Make It Stop

It is a dark and rainy night here in the Big Apple. No different from many fall evenings, except that videos have surfaced of terrorists threatening Times Square, only a few days after the slaughter in Paris. The city is on high alert, with the much criticized NYPD doing extra patrols and sweeps to try to stop murder before it happens. Tonight, I was followed onto my train by a counter terrorism cop, who visually swept the car before nodding that the train could go on.

I usually resent the police presence in the subway. They stand
with assault weapons across their chest, the business end pointed down.  How easy, I think, for them to accidentally shoot so many, if something goes wrong. They are often young and I wonder how many years they’ve been out of the police academy. They stand for hours, usually vigilant, usually watching. Watching us. Nodding one or two out of a hundred over to their tables, they swipe our bags with little cloths, analyzing the molecules that they pick up for evidence of planned destruction. When it is not my turn for inspection, I slide by them with a resentful glance at the fire power that has become normal to me, because I live in a world of increasing militarization.

This man, who was clad head to toe in thick padding underneath his dark blue uniform, carried only a pistol in his belt. And tonight, he reminded me that the city was under threat, which I had forgotten after my busy day in the office. And yet, I was glad to see him. What a brave man, I thought, to do this day after day. That’s admirable. I took a
long look at his dark brown eyes and curly hair. I took in the intense,
trained gaze, the dark embroidery of his name and unit on his pocket.

I should really work on my will, I thought. Just in case.  You never know.


Today, too, my government began the legislation to deny refuge to 10,000 Syrians. It is couched and marketed with words that make it sound like something different. They called it screening, as though the multi-year screening process that we already had in place wasn’t sufficient. What it is, in reality, is a requirement that a single person sign off on every Syrian that we allow to come here. A single busy person.  In reality, it means that we will deny even the paltry 10,000 that we’ve already promised to help. We will be as bad as Hungary. We will close our doors to the victims of our enemies.

Two hundred and eighty nine people got together in a room today and cast their vote that we should do this, even though every American school child is taught about how the U.S. made their immigration policies stricter for the German Jews during World War II. Even after we knew about genocide, we closed our doors. We are taught about how shameful that was, about how afraid Americans were. And yet, here we are, with an opportunity to redeem our country’s actions in those dark days….and two hundred and eighty nine of our elected officials thought we should repeat history instead.

The worst part, of course, is that this is in response to an attack by French and Belgian murderers. And yet, the call to keep French and Belgian visitors and immigrants out of our country has not come.  It is the Syrian refugees who are being given the blame, as my country seeks to punish the victims of ISIS for something a bunch of Europeans did.

A few months after Baba was born, I joined the local parenting group on Facebook. The main topic of the last few weeks has been how the local shopping mall has replaced Santa’s giant Christmas tree with a
glacier display. The presumption was that the Christmas tree was somehow offensive and that the PC police were at it again. Surely, this was a sign of American values under fire, as those other people had to be accommodated. Christianity, itself, is under fire by the loss of the tree.

I admit to some confusion as to how a Christmas tree, but not Santa, would be insulting. In any case, the outrage was so ferocious that a small tree was added to the display. The parenting group was horrified; how could the mall insult them by putting such a small tree in place?

In the middle of this discussion, one hundred and twenty nine lives were taken in Paris. And then the bigots came straight out.  It’s the immigrants. We need to stop the immigrants, they said.

My husband is an immigrant, I said. He’s worked here and paid taxes for over twenty years. What is your problem with immigrants?

Well, fine, they said. It’s the immigrants who are terrorists. Like the
ones who blew up our neighbors in 9/11.

None of those attackers were immigrants, I reminded them. I know that many people here lost people that they knew, that they loved. But immigrants didn’t do it. Immigrants want what you do — a better life for their children. A safer world. A place where there is plenty to eat.

Next you’re going to tell me what a great president Obama is, they said.  Thank God these governors have the sense to not let Syrians come to their states. You won’t agree, but you must agree that it’s understandable.

But the attackers in France weren’t Syrians! I said. And that’s not even something a governor can do! Does anyone here think at all?

I am, as you might imagine, very popular in this group. The whole discussion disturbed me so much that I have been really considering if this is a place where I want to raise Baba, knowing that she will come into contact with people who speak so hatefully about people just like her father.  We have been talking about selling our house and buying another in the same neighborhood, but now I am not so sure.


It was inevitable that I would find a news article that showed pictures of the French victims. My mouse hovered over the first picture, but then I had to look away. It is too much for me now. I see Baba in all of them. I think of the mothers that have been gutted by the loss of their children. I feel it too deeply. It is just another story of families torn apart by mass violence, just like the attacks in Lebanon the day before or the shooting in Kenya or the buses and markets that are attacked so regularly that we lose count of the dead.  I have victim fatigue. I can no longer look at the victims of Virginia Tech or Oregon State or Sandy Hook. I can’t even watch the videos that the UNHCR publishes. I can’t read the stories.

Anger comes easier.   Anger is so easy when I see the hate continue. I can only ask why we have a world in which young men become radicalized, in which they are taught to hate so much that they don’t even see their victims as other people. I want to know, to understand, why the world has become a place in which they can see no future for themselves. And then I want us to put systems in place to Make. It. Stop.

It seems so hopeless when all I can hear are my neighbors screaming for blood — the wrong blood.  Can’t we please move past the fear and reach out to each other? Can we please just Make. It. Stop?

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Where Do You Buy E-books?

When I moved in to my neighborhood seven years ago, there were three independent book stores, which fell like dominoes that year.  Then Borders Books & Music by my office turned into a bank, while my beloved Strand Annex notified its loyal customers that it was combining with its parent store uptown. The loss of the Strand Annex really hurt, because I was in the habit of spending my lunch hours browsing through stack after stack of stories.  Some of my most memorable books came off the dollar pile there — short story collections from the 50s, post-apocalyptic survival novels, books recording art exhibitions long since forgotten.

Browsing seems like a lost art now, since it is difficult for me to drop into a nearby book store, even though I live in one of the most populated places on the planet. Every New Yorker knows that the song goes “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” so I admit a great anxiety for the future of book stores everywhere.

Just yesterday, I got into the old discussion about paper books versus e-books.  I read both, depending on what’s at hand, but increasingly, it is digital books that available.  I do still order books to be shipped to me, from time to time, when the book is something special, or illustrations are an important part of the text.  But with shipping fees being what they are and the nearest book store is an out of the way forty-minute drive,  digital books are accessible books.

And yet, I’m invested in publishing and writing remaining a profitable industry.  While Amazon is notoriously exploitative of writers and publishers, I bought into their system for convenience when I bought my first Kindle. But I’ve finally reached the moment where my conscience won’t allow for it any more.  I decided I wanted to support a real book store, a place where people can go and look and feel and touch books. Some of my best memories as a teenager happened while browsing the shelves of Barnes & Noble in a mall that is now closed and gone, and I want the next generation to have that experience too.

I finally gave into my want-not-need longing for a modern e-reader.  I bought a Nook, thinking that at least my new book purchases would support Barnes & Noble — an actual brick and mortar book store as well as a company that has fairer practices for publishers.  Then I discovered that you cannot download ebooks that you purchase through their store; they will deliver them to your Nook, but you cannot download them anywhere else, including your computer. If you later decide that you wish to use a Kindle or a laptop or a tablet that is not from Barnes & Noble to read your purchases, then you’re out of luck.  If Barnes & Noble stops selling the Nook, again, you’re out of luck. This is not purchasing books — this is borrowing them at full price.

Although my profession makes me think more about technological disaster than most people, it’s not crazy to be suspicious of the perils of allowing your bookseller to store all your books for you. While painstakingly downloading my library from Amazon (book by book, as Amazon provides no other method), I’ve repeatedly hit the message that the title I want to download isn’t available.  Once, while on a downloading frenzy, I was even logged out of my account.  I’m sure that was accidental…or am I?

I’m not looking to pirate my books.  I’m simply interested in being able to transfer my property between any e-reader that I choose.  I want all of my books, no matter where I buy them, to work on the same device.  I finally got this worked out with my current set of e-books after fiddling with removing DRM for a few days so that I could put my Amazon purchased e-books on my Nook.   (This method has worked well for me.)

I am admittedly the sort of person who, repeatedly and willingly, makes her life more difficult for the nebulous sake of principles. I want authors and publishing houses to be paid fairly. I want to support book sellers. I want to also own the books that I buy. This doesn’t seem like such a strange desire.   So, what to do?  How do I buy e-books?

After doing a lot of reading, I’ve settled on a combination of direct purchases from publishers that offer DRM-free books and using Kobo to purchase books that are not offered in a DRM-free format.  Buying DRM-free books directly from the publisher has its obvious advantages, while Kobo is an online marketplace that facilitates e-book sales for independent book stores. If you’re inclined the way I am, you’ll do your shopping through your favorite book store and, presuming they’re a Kobo affiliate, follow their links for your purchase so that some of your money goes back to the little guys.  You can find a list of Kobo affiliated book stores here.

Kobo delivers its books in .epub format, which can be read in Adobe Digital Editions.  As a Linux user, I’ve set it up Calibre to scan for .epub books and automatically remove the DRM.  I have to manually transfer new books to my Nook (which Calibre makes simple), but I get a a DRM-free copy for my efforts.  If I ever decide to buy a different e-reader after the Nook, all of my purchases will transfer to it without hassle.  Its a little more work, but let’s me sleep a little better at night.

I think what we will see as the e-book market matures are more marketplaces like Amazon Kindle Unlimited, where book are rented like DVDs. But what will that mean for authors? Will they see royalties for every rental? Or will it become even harder to make a living as a writer?  With the death of brick-and-mortar book stores and decreasing funding for local libraries, how will the next generation learn to love books the way that we do?

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Illness and the Circus

w-amalunaI fell, almost immediately on our return from Europe, into the flu for a week, which has been followed by bronchitis.  I am getting better, day by day, but it’s been such an interruption of my life that March feels like it didn’t really happen and the beginning of April has already passed me by.  It was a little heart-rending to come from glorious Aberdeen, where the flowers were blooming everywhere and it looked like late spring, back to New York where my dandelions are still only green shoots. It is no wonder my body decided to have none of it and fall under the spell of the fever.

Because I work from a company where working from home is so easy, I rarely take an actual sick day when I’m not feeling well.  There’s a part of me that occasionally wishes to be sick enough that I can’t work, because I have this romantic idea about sick days that involves movies and blankets and knitting.  In reality, I was too sick to do any of those things.  Instead, I spent them sleeping and trying to sweat, while being too overheated for my brain to work at all.  I had such a shortness of breath that I couldn’t even sit up long enough at the piano to get more than a few bars of practice in.  I couldn’t write.  I couldn’t think.  Even having the cat sit on me was far too taxing, as his body generated too much heat.  The flu was so miserable that the inconveniences of bronchitis seem more irritating than concerning. I’ve finally made it over the hump and am down to a persistent cough that is getting a little better every day.  It also clears out the seats on the subway around me, which just goes to prove that there’s an upside to just about anything.

Yesterday I returned to yoga after a five week hiatus and, happily, did not cough through the entire class, so I think that things are finally back on track. I even managed to pull myself together enough to go to the Cirque du Soleil, as you just don’t waste a ticket that expensive, even if you’re half-dead.  I had managed to find our tickets on a discount, so we splashed out and had seats four rows from the stage.  It was worth it. They really do put on a good show, though we were a little disappointed after the last show that we saw with them.  This isn’t a comment on the new show Amaluna, which was very good, but a comment on how amazing the Wheel of Death is in their Zarkana show.  I have never been so entranced, so breathless, at any performance in my life as when we were watching the Wheel of Death performance. Amaluna had all the elements that we expect from the Cirque du Soleil — excellent comedic clowns, amazing trapeze acts, that trendy balance goddess act, stunning costuming, jugglers, balancers, gymnasts, acrobats and a healthy dose of music and humor. It just didn’t grab my attention in quite the same way that Zarkana did, but it was still an amazing and inspiring night out. Now I want to kill this bronchitis so that I can start my training as an acrobat.  Getting back to yoga is a good start — there was more than one move in the show that I recognized from the yoga studio.

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The Ghost of New Years Eve Past

fireworks1There are some New Years Eves that I remember distinctly. The turn of the year from 1989 into 1990 is my oldest memory. I was nearly a decade old and it was the first decade turn that I had ever experienced. I spent the evening reading on the fold-out sofa bed in the living room with my mom next to me, who was probably grading papers (she was always grading papers), but I kept glancing at the clock as it inched closer and closer to midnight.  I was finishing up the fourth book of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet for the first time, reaching that final scene where the earth itself begins to break apart.  I don’t think there has ever been another series of books quite so influential on me as that one and I’m sure that reading that scene at that moment is why I remember that New Year so well.  There is a new generation that sees the characters of Harry Potter that way — that find themselves in Hermione or Ron or Harry — but for me, it was always Alanna of Trebond, who disguised herself as a boy so that she could go off and have adventures.  There’s a pretty close connection to what I did with my own life.  I often wonder if I would have chosen the same path if I hadn’t wanted so badly to be Alanna.

Another New Years Eve — a little over a decade later.  I can’t seem to remember any in between, though there must have been some good times.  I had just moved — or perhaps was just about to move — to New York and couldn’t have been much older than 23.  I was dating a socialite and we hopped from one party to another, all hosted by people I had never met before.  I talked to so many different kinds of people that night and was bedazzled by the New York scene, where everyone knows their focaccia from their semolina and kisses in the European style.  I am not a very touchy person, particularly with strangers, but I liked the casual intimacy.  It smacked of the sophistication that I love so much about this city — the small touches of a different culture that are there to embrace if you want to.

The next one that sticks out in infamy.  It was the first year I was dating my Beloved and he enjoyed going into Manhattan to be near the Times Square Madness.  I am not that type, so I wished him well and invited a few friends over my house instead for a quiet evening of wine and movies.  We were settling down when he showed up on my doorstep like an oversized manic elf in a striped knit hat, carrying a case of champagne and a gallon of orange juice.  Given the total party attendance of five and the six new bottles of champagne, things quickly went downhill, as the Times Square Madness transcended to my living room.  Bonds were forged through alcohol-induced illness, one maybe-not-so-good-friendship ended and my new back yard was christened after my one bathroom was taken over by an overindulger that refused to be parted from the refreshing coolness of the tile floor.  Infamy.  We emerged the next morning like gladiators that had run the gauntlet — exhausted and bruised, but triumphant.  The next summer, my Beloved installed a second bathroom.

The last one that I remember and, perhaps, the most important one of my life, involved a Spanish restaurant in Dublin, tapas, friends, a bridge, a very shiny ring and one Beloved Elf that forgot to get on one knee first.  When the fireworks went off at midnight, five hours before my East Coast, one of my new brothers hugged me and called me his new sister, which I think I will remember forever.  Then we ate white grapes in the Spanish style, quickly as we could, trying not to choke on the sweetness of the night.

Tonight we have plans that involve none of those things  — it is a fresh start, as the end of a year ought to be. I have been talked into staying in Manhattan for the New Year, relatively close to where the Times Square Madness is happening.  (Actually, somehow that didn’t occur to me until I just thought about it now…my Beloved is a trixsy elf.)  One of my Beloved’s many BFFs has a spouse that is playing a show at a bar and we’re going to join them.  Given the general madness of the transit system on New Years Eve, we’ve also treated ourselves to a hotel room within stumbling distance.  This works out well, as one of my BFFs is meeting me in the morning — a rare treat, as she moved to the West Coast a number of years back and I don’t see her often.  I can’t think of a better way to begin the new year than a day spent with one of my oldest and dearest friends.  My bag is packed for our little adventure and I find myself feeling carefree and joyous, which is the whole point, isn’t it?

To all the revelers, the nondrinkers, the stay home wine-and-movie-watchers, the people who find themselves alone on International Party Night, the workers, the bed-by-niners and those that are just drunk-people-phobic — I wish you all a beautiful New Years Evening.  It is one of the few times nearly the whole world comes together to celebrate hope – and that alone is something that is worth celebrating, no matter how you find yourself doing it.

10…9…8…7…

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