• introspection,  photography,  politics,  work,  writing

    A Syrian Crisis

    I was thrown into a whirlwind of self-doubt last week, after seeing a single photograph.  If you’ve paid attention to the news at all, you already know the one — a drowned toddler, clothed in vibrant primary colors, washed up on a beach.  You probably know the story, too; another migrant family, desperate to escape the civil war in Syria, put their trust (and their savings) in the wrong boat captain.  Half the family drowned and, because of the death of a child, the world is suddenly paying attention.  This is the power of photography – to capture human suffering with a strength that makes people pause their lives and actually do something.

    Suddenly, the world has been afire with criticism for the European reactions to the millions of Syrian refugees.  Perhaps it is because I am now a mother, but that image has haunted me in a way that I can’t remember another photograph doing.  Every child, no matter their nationality or language or ethnicity, has become mine.  It is only chance that my Baba is safe in her crib, while so many Syrian children are still in danger.  To be a parent is to be so aware of how vulnerable you are to great loss, at any time.  It is to know that your heart walks around outside your body — and to fear what will happen to you if you live long enough to see tragedy strike.  This child, Alan Kurdi, was born during the civil war that has torn Syria apart.  He never experienced the safety that I have been able to give to Baba, simply because she was born here and not there.

    It is an awful thought. My heart breaks for his family — for all of the families that have had to make such desperate choices.

    One of the members in an online mothering group that I belong to posted about having a feeling of gratitude that Alan Kurdi’s mother also drowned.  At least she was spared the pain of living, after the drowning of her sons.  It’s an awful sentiment, a terrible thing to say out loud, but also a feeling that I fully understood.  If I were unable to keep Baba safe, but I survived….living would be the harder course, by far.

    When he was interviewed by the press, the words of Alan Kurdi’s father really struck me.  My wife, he said, my wife was everything to me.  How do I go on?  How does he, after the death of his life partner and two of his children?

    How do you go on in the face of such loss?  Your children, your wife, your community, your home.  What do you do when your entire world has become a place of danger, a place of loss?

    It puts the trivialities of my daily trials into a certain perspective.

    What can I do from here?  I can donate money.  That’s easily done.  But what can I do?  Do my daily efforts contribute to making the world a safer place, a place where “the refugee problem” is solved not by finding refugees new homes in new countries, but creating a place where we don’t make refugees in the first place?  In my job, I build a communications network, but that seems feeble.  My writing…well, I have had an artistic crisis, as every trivial scene I’ve ever written feels empty and hollow.  I haven’t written a word all week, because what could possibly be the point of it all?

    I’ve read that there are more people on the move in Europe since the end of World War II.  Armies of people are sitting in camps and at checkpoints on national borders.  Vivid photographs of their marches through fields and along highways have made it across the world.  It’s touching — and frightening — to see just how many people have had to give up their lives.  My heart goes out to them.  It makes everything I do to get through the day seem meaningless.  What does a clever story matter, when there are people who have lost so much, suffered so much, through no fault of their own?

    What am I doing with my life that really means something, when there are such problems in the world?  It’s a question that has lingered with me, ever since I saw a single photograph.

    How to Donate:

    Neil Gaiman and the UHCR’s Efforts for Syrian Refugee Relief
    Unicef’s Syrian Campaign
    International Rescue Committee

  • politics

    The Boston Marathon

    It is a Tuesday, the day of the week I will always associate with terrorist attacks, and my country is once again reeling from the attack on the Boston Marathon. Although violence against the unwary public tends to hit me hard, I find that I am particularly angry about this one.

    (What have we become, as a species, where terrorist attacks are so numerous that we even have the ability to compare them so readily?  September 11th was on a Tuesday.  I will always remember that and where I was and how I spent the whole day trying to use the phone.  And I was a lucky one, who lost no one.)

    The Boston Marathon is special. It is the oldest running marathon in the world.  This was the 117th year that the Boston Marathon has been run consecutively.  It was where women broke into marathon distance running for the first time.  It is only open to runners who have qualified with impressive times in other marathons.  There is no one who runs the Boston marathon without an awful lot of hard work and determination.  Every single person on that race course was a role model for the rest of the nation; their accomplishment in making it to the starting line is more athleticism than most of us will ever achieve.  And hundreds of thousands of people line the streets to cheer them on and honor their achievements.  It is a beautiful moment for a city, when everyone can come together to celebrate something so wholesome and honest.  These are, with very few exceptions, not paid athletes.  These are our neighbors, the runners we see in the mornings out on their training runs.  They are dreamers who know that achieving a dream requires damn hard work.

    There are a lot of things that don’t make me too proud to be an American, but the Boston Marathon is not one of them. It is special.  What it is not is political, so choosing that as an objective of terrorism is particularly awful.

    It is being considered a terrorist attack now. The government wasn’t certain at first, but now they are. Terrorist or not, politically motivated or not, you have to be a really special kind of awful to attack long distance runners competing in one of the most prestigious events in the world. Couldn’t you be doing something better with your life, like training to be an inspiration to an entire country?

    I think the saddest part for me is hearing the reports of all the runners whose legs were amputated, because the blast was most dangerous below knee-height. To think that there will be runners who will not run another race because of human malevolence is heart-breaking. My heart truly goes out to those that have been injured. My fury goes out on behalf of those that were murdered by murderers without enough conviction to go up in the blast.  As a sometimes runner, I am particularly angry at people I admire being the target of something as base as a terrorist attack.  They deserved better.

    The most dangerous animal on the planet — the human being — strikes again.  I am well and truly saddened tonight.

  • politics

    The Protests

    This week was an extraordinarily challenging and draining one. I am very glad that it is Friday night and that I get two days to try and recharge my batteries before we go down to Virginia for Thanksgiving.

    We had some excitement at the office on Thursday, when the Occupy Wall Street protesters decided to close down Wall Street for the day. I work two blocks from Wall Street, so what they effectively also did was close down Broad Street, while screaming about closing down Wall Street. I know this, because I asked if they’d let me through to my building, and the protesters instead formed a human chain and started chanting about how they were peaceful protesters. I got into it with one of the protesters, who had no idea that he was blocking access to a building that doesn’t have a single thing to do with Wall Street, other than that we eat at the same delis as the people who work at the Stock Market.

    It was stressful and scary, particularly after a cop tried to clear a space for us to get through and the protesters on the edge went nuts and attacked the cop, with cameras zooming in for video footage. And it was frustrating, because I’m 100% sympathetic to the protesters, but got presumed to be the enemy. And then I was physically blocked from going where I needed to go, which isn’t going to change a damn thing, and is just really kind of awful.

    I know well that liberals eat their own. That’s exactly what I’m doing here. I think the protests are a good thing for a number of reasons. I don’t think they’re going to be directly productive, but they’re productive in the way that the Tea Party is productive. People are pissed off and now people are talking about it. They’re pissed off on the left and the right, for eerily similar reasons. So it’s good that people are protesting. Politicians may well take note. Things could potentially change for the better.

    But it’s not good that the protesters are getting violent enough to physically stop people from walking down the street. Admittedly, New York is not a good city for massive gatherings. I grew up in D.C, where the avenues are wide and protests tend to happen in big parks. I grew up going to them. New York doesn’t really have those kinds of spaces, so when people protest, they do it at the expense of the neighborhood that they’re in. Businesses get blocked off. Cars get stepped on. Crowds get dense and out of control and people get hurt. That’s a lot of the reason the cops have been out in force, though it’s certainly much more popular to believe they’re just evil. Or something.

    It’s a lot harder to go on the presumption that we’re mostly decent human beings at heart, but that our reactions and opinions differ. I’m getting so tired of listening to the left and the right call each other idiots, the protesters going on about how all cops are evil and against them and…well, I haven’t heard a word from the police, but the same rules apply. Both sides make mistakes. Both sides are filled with humans. Propaganda and name-calling is getting us nowhere.

    I know it’s hard to listen to someone you disagree with, but do it for me.

  • cooking,  knitting,  new york,  politics


    It’s September 11th, ten years after the event. There’s so much that’s been written about this that I couldn’t dare, even if I wanted to. But I find that I don’t want to – that day was horrible enough to live through the first time. Perhaps it’s cowardly of me, but I can’t stand to watch any of the coverage. I hate being reminded that we live in a world where people exist that spend all their productivity on hurting other people. The September 11th attacks are a demonstration of the worst part of humanity. I don’t want to give people like that any more attention than they already get. And I don’t just mean Al-Qaeda – every country and every group has its murderers in the population. We must understand ourselves and each other as humans first. We are all responsible for and to each other.

    I’m a Washingtonian and a New Yorker. My two homes were attacked. But I want to live a life filled with gratitude and light. It is so easy to drown in the badness in the world. Spending a day reliving the emotions of that day, as I tried to track down the safety of people in both of my cities, is just too much.

    I spent this morning watching kids play soccer at the community center. Kids who don’t remember the attacks, or a world unchanged by them, but are out and joyful and worried about nothing more than keeping the ball out of the goal. I was surrounded by family, knitting in my hands. I was filled with gratitude. The day was crisp and beautiful, like it was ten years ago. We talked about it. Looking back, we all seemed so young. It’s one of those pivotal moments in a culture that people just don’t forget. Major hurricanes, volcanoes, terrorist attacks. You remember where you were.

    We were so young ten years ago. And yet, time has gone on. I decided to celebrate life.

    I ran some errands. One of them was to fix my car, which someone tried to break into during the hurricane. They fortunately did this rather ineptly, so I have a car to fix, but they did knock out my turning indicator, which means I can’t drive it. But this is a minor problem, compared to the “evacuate because a hurricane is coming” problem of two weeks ago. It’s hard to be too upset, although it was done while we were evacuated, which means it was probably someone I see every day. But it’s just stuff. The car is just a thing.

    We ran to get groceries and then I spent the afternoon doing the cooking for the week. (And pie!) While I was chopping vegetables, listening to Norah Jones on Pandora and filled with peace, I looked out the back door into the yard. There, my fourteen year old cat and my thirteen year old cat were pouncing on dried leaves like they were newborn kittens. Even today, when we’re all thinking of death and murder, life goes on, unstoppable and, in some places still, innocent.

    In the darkness, light.

  • politics

    Healthcare, Morality, WWJD

    At the moment, it is clear that the big U.S.ian political issue is health care. I’ve been talking to a lot of people about it – and one of the most bizarre arguments that I’ve heard in a long time is the idea that human beings have to earn their right to go to a doctor when they’re sick.

    We have a weird system, in which we expect a person to have a job – or at least be dependent on a person with a job – in order to go to a doctor. As a result, we have this completely bizarre idea that one “earns” health care – as though this is somehow a measure of a person’s worth or status. As a reward for being gainfully employed (or the dependent of someone gainfully employed), you get to go to a doctor. Perhaps you’ll even get to go to a good doctor with excellent facilities if you work for a big enough company to have good benefits. If you’re very, very lucky, perhaps you’ll even be able to go to a dentist or an optician.

    Of course, this idea conveniently looks past all the people that work in low paid, thankless and important jobs with no benefits, who are often working much harder and for less money than us office monkeys, who are busy “earning” our health care. It looks past small business owners and people who work for companies with under 500 employees, who frequently can’t afford to have decent health care plans. It looks past people who are too sick to work that have slipped through the cracks of our systems – well, they haven’t “earned” their health care. Clearly they don’t deserve medical attention.

    People, we have gone seriously, seriously wrong when money is more important than helping a human being — any human being — get adequate medical care. Not being affiliated with a religious group, my morals are of course incredibly suspect by the majority of the population (goodness knows I could never be President), but even I can tell you that this is fundamentally wrong. I am quite frankly amazed that this concept is even up for discussion. I admit to being particularly appalled in listening to religious conservatives talk about the value of a human life in terms of money because this seems so contrary to what I would think their values should be. What happened to community and compassion? What *would* Jesus do? Would he say, “Oh, sorry, you don’t have insurance, so I can’t help you”?

    Personally, I would much prefer that my tax money go to helping people (“illegal” and legal) go to the doctor on my dime than have one more penny go towards building more bombs and weapons, invading more countries and killing more civilians. Ethically and morally, this is a simple decision for me – killing people is bad and saving lives is good. Our military budget is exponentially larger than any other country’s — how much more fruitfully could we reallocate this money? Why aren’t the people protesting our tax money going towards weapons of war? Why does giving it to financial institutions get people in the streets, but not the continued and growing military budget?

    How on earth did we come to let money dictate our morality?

    Stand up people. Dream with me.

  • ethics,  politics

    Ethical Clothing

    I’m not much of a clothes shopper, which is evidenced by the fact that my wardrobe has gotten into a pretty sad state. I’ve been slowly trying to remedy this, which is hard to do when you hate shopping as much as I do.

    Also, in this go around of trying to replenish my wardrobe, I find that I’m having a hard time developing an appetite to buy from most of the stores around me, because I’ve been thinking a lot about what goes on behind the scenes to make the clothes. The fashion industry has not made the world a better place.

    I would like to start purchasing my clothes from companies that pay fair wages and has decent labor practices. Ideally, the clothes and materials should be made from replenishable materials that have a minimum of environmental impact and aren’t shipped all over the world. I want clothes with a conscience, but I’m having a difficult time finding much information about where to shop.

    In the past, I’ve shopped some from thrift stores, but this usually doesn’t work out for me, since I like my clothes to have a good fit, which is tough enough when there’s a range of sizes for a particular item. Once items are unique, finding clothes that fit well becomes an exercise in frustration. Most of the things I’ve purchased in thrift shops get donated again pretty quickly due to a poor fit.

    Anyone have any advice? I’m all ears.

  • politics,  racism


    Yesterday I was at a burger joint down by Wall Street. Being a vegetarian, it’s not a place that I go into often, but I was with a bunch of coworkers.

    We got to the board with the specials and they had a Presidential Burger.

    “Oh boy,” thinks I. Then I started reading the ingredients. The Presidential Burger (and I wish I had a picture of this) is a Barack Burger…because it has “a smattering of cocoa” on it.

    Yes, really.

    As a woman in tech, I’m familiar with this phenomenon – I can do the most amazing things, come up with the smartest solutions (or not) – but what I will always be remembered for is being a woman. You know, the one thing that has everything to do with my birth and nothing to do with my accomplishments. There was an Oprah burger, which was a cajun style burger (presumably for her work/home in New Orleans). If you could go that far, couldn’t you make your Barack burger Chicago style or something?

    But again, applying rationality.

    This is the place if anyone reading this feels inspired to action.

  • politics

    Who Is the Middle Class?

    Is it just me, or is the Obama Administration really irking you with their focus on the middle class?

    I’d like to think that they see a classist society where there is an upper class and a middle class and no lower, since that’s how they’re acting, but I suspect it’s more of a “we just don’t care about the people at the bottom all that much, because middle class people are good, responsible people and well, y’know…”. And that’s really just not in line with the way I think – the people at the bottom are the people who are already struggling to eat in the best of times. These are the people that live with the reality that the middle class is having to deal with now every day. If anyone has been really beaten up by what’s happened with our economy, it’s the people who have the hardest time getting a fair slice of the pie on the best of days. And our new administration, who should know better, who seem to intellectually understand the reasons behind cyclical poverty, do not seem to care.

    I grew up scraping by. My mom bought her first house in her late forties, long after I’d left the nest. She was highly educated, with post-graduate educational credits, but she was a teacher and a single mom and she worked in school districts with no money. We were above the poverty threshold, which I have no idea how anyone manages to live on, but not all that much above it. Most of the people I knew and loved growing up were equally poor. My mother considered herself middle class because of her education, but I don’t think anyone else in my neighborhood thought of themselves in that way.

    Generally, I am appreciating the Obama administration. Job creation is good, getting out of Iraq is good, equal pay legislation is awesome, expanding health coverage to more children is only tragic because it has waited this long. But oh, Obama administration, there is no minimum household income to make us worthy of your focus. We are all Americans. We all count.

  • new york,  politics

    The Economy: We’re All Doomed

    I’m not sure if this is national news or not, but here in NYC, we’re seeing two hospital closings in Queens as a result of financial difficulty.

    In addition to the horrors of even fewer medical facilities in Queens (and, having lived in Queens for five years, I sadly have some personal experience with this), the MTA, which is public transportation into, around and out of New York City, has proposed a 23% rate increase . My absolute favorite part of the proposed plan is their intention of doubling prices of transport for the disabled. Because, of course, people who already have to live on public assistance due to disability are just rolling in the money and can really afford the largest percentage rate increase of any of us.

    They are out of their heads. Not only are they proposing the largest rate increase in MTA history, they are also looking to cut back services at the same time. My monthly fare will be increasing by $80, which really hurts, but I also will now have to pay an additional $3.50 per ride to ride the buses by my house, since the two monthly tickets I already buy will no longer cover Long Island bus service.

    Something has gone desperately wrong in the world. How is the recession affecting you?