Tuesday, 18 May 2021

The Way of Pain

I'm going to attempt to say something sensible about Palestine and Israel here, and the odds are high that I'll mess it up. But here goes...

I visited Israel in 2016, to attend the wedding of two dear friends. James and I were their guests, witnesses, and photographers when they married at San Francisco's City Hall, and we were honored to be invited to Tel Aviv to celebrate with their friends and families. These same friends have also openly struggled with Israel's gnarly history, which indeed mandatory military service conscripted them into. They are the first to decry how fucked up all of this is. (Their unease is shared with nearly every Israeli of my generation that I've met.)

Upon arrival in Israel, the first place James and I stayed was in Sheikh Jarrah, which is the area of Jerusalem where the recent looming threat of eviction during Ramadan of Palestinian families to make way for Jewish settlers was one of the flash points for the current violence. On our way in to the ancient city from the airport, rocket fire streaked through the night sky. 

When we were planning our trip, I wanted to stay in East Jerusalem. We were welcomed at the American Colony Hotel, which was beautiful, and which in name and history still frames part of my understanding of Israel's complexities: An Ottoman pasha's home, sold on to some Messianic Christians from Chicago in the 19th century, situated in the first Muslim-majority neighborhood outside of the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, and run as an oasis of neutrality for diplomats and dignitaries in a city divided. 

As the march to war has been building over the past month, the place names are familiar to me, and my acquaintance with the city puts a visceral sense of place to the flashpoints. James and I walked through this quiet neighborhood to Damascus Gate, where barricades were recently put up to prevent Muslims from gathering after prayers at al-Aqsa mosque. When Israeli officers fired rubber bullets at worshippers there, and videos played of fires and bloodshed at the mosque, it stands in horrifying contrast to the day I stood there in the sunshine, watching mischievous children get scolded by their elders while parents prayed inside. 

I have never been anywhere that felt as simultaneously beautiful and apocalyptic as Jerusalem. Its Old City quarters house Muslims, Jews, Christians and Armenians in relative peace, a longstanding cohabitation indeed. I walked through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and saw over a millennium of Christian devotion rendered in Byzantine mosaic and ancient graffiti, embodied by a diversity of sectarians I don't think I will ever see again anywhere else. 

But history is omnipresent, deep and bloody. I walked the path of Christ's torment en route to crucifixion, and then on to the Western Wall, crossing the skybridge over Jewish worshippers crying at the foundation of a Temple destroyed to a Muslim holy site built on its remains. Upon leaving the Temple Mount, we walked through Palestinian children firing imaginary guns at the deadly real armed Israeli soldiers, who frankly weren't much more than children themselves. I had little faith that the uneasy, imbalanced ceasefire would hold. 

Let me be clear: I think that Jews deserve to feel safe, and I think the world has generally proven itself wholly untrustworthy with that. I also think that Israel has reproduced the displacement and discrimination that inspired its foundation in the first place. As an American, I see an awful familiarity between the inception of the United States and Israel's origin story; indeed, the US has explicitly helped develop the narrative of Israeli exceptionalism in a way that mirrors its own arrogance and desire to mask genocide and imperialism. I have huge problems with how both the United States and Israel came to be and continue to be, and I continue to be appalled at how the US remains complicit in the misery, displacement and oppression of Palestinians by Israel. 

I also spent days refreshing my understanding of Israeli politics so I could try and briefly convey the complexity of the challenge there, and the task is genuinely beyond me. Suffice it to say, Netanyahu has been a contentious force for a decades, and during that time he has used settlers as a way to further invade Palestinian territories while also using the ensuing conflict to shore up his shaky coalitions with rightwing factions. His machinations clearly endanger Israelis, and plenty of them know it, but the incredible plurality of parties and competing agendas make it hard to actually oust him, even though he's failed to secure majorities and has been a focus of corruption investigations nearly from the start. (Americans that idolize the notion of coalition governments should do some deep reading on Israel to get a feel for how fatally stuck they can leave a country.) 

As one of my Israeli friends put it at our celebration of Biden's victory, imagine what the US would be like if Trump had been in power for twenty years instead of a single (unpresidential) term. The Netanyahu years have led away from the peace process and toward war, and there will be no improvement to the situation so long as he remains in power. 

So, here we are watching more death and destruction in the Holy Land. (Some sick factions of American Christianity even cheerlead this, as it's part and parcel of their End Times fetishes.) The people of Gaza are kettled on a tiny strip of land, trapped, deprived of free movement, subject to airstrikes, houses reduced to rubble amid a pandemic, bodies of children stacking up. Families in Tel Aviv are also racing for shelter, as the Iron Dome's impressive but not impervious defenses fend off rocket fire, debris raining into the Mediterranean Sea. 

As we left Jerusalem to head to Tel Aviv, James and I literally drove through a fire. It started small, close to the side of the road. We had been talking to our Palestinian taxi driver about Ramallah, which we had seen from the road, and I remarked that there was a grass fire. We ended up stopped on the highway next to a large tree, because drivers in front of us had paused to gawk and take photos of the blaze. I knew that if we didn't move, the flames would be on that tree and in danger of setting our car on fire, but we couldn't go anywhere until the stopped vehicles cleared. Indeed, the fire lit up the tree next to us incredibly quickly, which scared folks in front of us badly enough to get moving. The fire was so close by the time we could move that we could feel the heat through the windows. 

That sense of seeing just where the fire is heading, with nobody moving, feels like an apt metaphor for the last month of keeping up with this news. I'll never forget what it felt like to stand in the heat gazing up at the Dome of the Rock, nor the heat of that fire about to overtake our taxi. 

If anyone needs me, I'll just be over here pressuring my elected officials to stop propping up warfare and hoping Netanyahu's corruption trials lead to a forced retirement sooner rather than later. More layers of trauma, bloodshed and death bring us no closer to peace. 




Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Rush to Judgment

When I was a kid, I was exposed to Rush Limbaugh in a filthy car and a desperately dirty apartment I tried to muck out more than once to save my father. 

I heard Limbaugh's hate-filled tirades demean women, celebrate the deaths of LGBTQ activists, and rile the anger and entitlement of heavily armed men. 

If you don't know what it's like to be trapped in that smoke-filled cesspool, wondering what's happening to someone you love, seeing them be radicalized long before that word had entered your vocabulary as a child, then sit down. 

I won't show Limbaugh compassion any more than you'd mourn the death of the dealer who got your loved one hooked on heroin. 

As a grown woman--one of Limbaugh's preferred demographics to target--I look around and find that the vast majority of my friends are not straight white Americans. My nearest and dearest are immigrants, international, first generation, melanated and queer, and they all have come under attack from Limbaugh and the rot he helped fester. 

If you're capable of compassion in the face of evil that targets people you love, good on you, I guess. But don't try to shame or silence people that are feeling relief in the face of the only victory we're going to get as far as this pernicious poison is concerned. 

We live in a society that refuses to hold men like Limbaugh, his buddy Trump, and all their ilk accountable. Refuses to reject them. Instead, these creeps are given medals and presidencies, pardons and praise. They breed Brock Turners, Dylan Roofs and Eliot Rodgers, who in turn are mollycoddled after massacres as the press works to illuminate their pain despite the bodies lying all around. 

This doesn't stop because we turn the other cheek; that may be a power move for men in a world that doesn't expect them to display self-control when faced with attacks, but it's the bullshit status quo for those of us that are already expected to be quiet and kind as we are curb-stomped into submission. 

Know justice, know peace. No unity without accountability. While I somehow still hope that true diversity reaching the highest and most powerful levels of our society will relieve this grim pressure to be pliant in the face of abuse, in the meantime we might have to simply exhale more fully in the absence of a monster.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Forward to Finer

We made it. Now, I want to take a moment to talk about the wonder of President Joe Biden, and what it means to have him in office now. 

First, I will state plainly that he was not my first choice. I actively boycott boys at the ballot box. I'm all the way here for the abolition of the white heteronormative patriarchy. At first glance, Biden's election does not achieve that. 

However, we have just endured a miscarriage of constitutional duty under that orange oaf, who exited the capitol ignominiously this morning after breaking our long tradition of peaceful transfer of power. Over 400,000 of us are dead because of catastrophic mismanagement of a pandemic, the spread of a plague with no functioning federal government to mitigate the harm. White supremacists were offered pride of place in the last administration, even as cries for racial justice rose from we the people. 

And, so, I find myself grateful for any change. But, as I contemplate the matter, I find myself grateful in particular for Biden as a person. 

We now have a president who has experienced deep loss and grief, and regularly embodies empathy when presented with someone else's pain and struggle. He has stumbled, and he has learned. Biden has moved voices to the fore that we all desperately need to have there; Black women have long spoken truth to power, and we have long needed a federal government that looks like America itself. Biden has prioritized that, and is willing to move out of the way for representation that matters so much. 

Can you appreciate his bravery? In the wake of racist insurrection, he has ensured that Kamala Harris stands ready to lead if any ill should befall him. It's an amazing chess move, flagrantly defying those last-gaspers of white male privilege, and it's beyond symbolic because Harris is there to give this administration teeth, too. Though his whiteness and maleness may placate the less imaginative among us, he has assembled a team that erodes the blandness of such power. 

Biden is an institutionalist, ascending to office to assess and improve our vandalized democratic pillars. He has a long memory of how our democracy can function, as well as a detailed view of the imperfections in it. 

And, let's be clear: He is not perfect. His administration will not be. There is no perfection to be found anywhere in human endeavor, only the endless labor toward a more perfect union, toward greater justice, and toward expanded opportunity for us all. That work is never done, and will not be done in four years' time, nor eight, nor any number to follow. 

But Biden believes in that work. He has dedicated his life to it. He has been bruised and battered by life itself, and he has resolved to elevate others. That is so profoundly antithetical to the perniciousness of the last four years that it is indeed difficult to set aside cynicism and retain a kind of clear-eyed hope about healing, but that is what we are called to do. 

I am so grateful that my son will have an entirely different version of masculinity before his eyes as he ages into being able to see what's really going on, following four years of raising him amid the fight against fascism. I am so deeply relieved that my child will see that power should be inclusive and riveted with empathy. When Obama bestowed upon Biden his final Presidential Medal of Freedom, I cried, too, for the man who fought rapists and sought to free our families of cancer in the wake of his own grief. That ceremony stood in stark contrast against the looming specter of toxic masculinity that Trump embodied, and I prefer that my son remember Biden's version of old man in charge before we move on to a more colorful, female future. 

Today, I watched women in positions of prominence usher in a new era. I felt a stability return that has been noticeably lacking; how much energy have we all expended in that long uncertainty? I do not long for some pre-2016 status quo, but I am happy to feel a glimmer of hope again. I am overjoyed to have a president who is comfortable in the presence of--indeed, confident because of--the presence of brilliant women with backbones of steel. 

Today, we return to the Paris Accord. We rejoin the world in so many ways that matter, and we come humbled to the table to engage in the most important work of humanity, to stem the rising tides of climate change and address the woes of environmental injustice. We can start dealing with the life-or-death matters of our shared future with our allies once more. 

Today, we have a president that can speak whole and complete sentences that tell the plain truth of the pain of our nation's founding. Those words alone are not a solution, but we must have them to begin. We have a mandate to manifest an entirely different destiny that is honest about our history of genocide and theft, and seeks to rectify the wrongs of our ancestors inasmuch as we can from our positions of privilege within the troubled now. 

Today, we begin again, carrying the baggage of the past but less than we endured yesterday. And we have someone who has put his hand up time and again to be of service in that endeavor. 

Biden offers himself as a bridge over tumultuous waters, and I am grateful that today feels significantly less adrift than so many days that have come before. We have to build back better, not back to normal but forward to finer.


Monday, 28 December 2020

A Snuggle in the Chair

I’ve just had one of those beautiful, fortuitous moments of parenthood; lovely and serene, bonded and treasured. I got a do-over.

Last night, Dash was messing around at bedtime quite late. He has been figuring out the technologies of his bedroom, and the lights were all the way on at 9:30pm. (Lights off is officially at 9pm, and flashlights have been confiscated.) I snapped off the lights as Dash was building a flower garden. 


I shut the door, and then I went back. I opened the door again, and said: “Dash, I know you were having fun designing flowers. And I’m proud of you for playing quietly. But it’s late, and if you don’t get some sleep now you will be very tired and sad tomorrow. So it’s time to go to bed.”


He was clearly tired, and he said, “I want a snuggle.” I said, “Okay, I’ll pick you up and cuddle you, and then I’m going to put you in your bed.” I duly did so, and he seemed giddily awake, pretending to shiver. (Admittedly, I had just washed my hands, so they were probably chilly, though Dash was delighting in the theatrical rendering.)


I tucked him into bed, and he said, “Can we have a snuggle in the chair?” I, feeling that I should hold to the law, declined gently, told him I love him, and exited the room without drama.


I relayed the tale to James, admitting that I wished I had stayed, as Dash won’t always ask, and won’t always be little. James confessed that he would have caved, for those very reasons. And, so, it stuck with me. I reminded myself that I made my choice to try to help Dash get rest, and I was trying to choose the best thing for his next nights’ rest as well. 



Tonight, I’ve been in the spare room organizing the heap of treasures and detritus on my work table. I’ve felt a creative spark in many directions, nudging at some preexisting projects and ideating about others. There is a breeze of initiative in the air tonight, and it’s blowing some of the dust off my soul as well as the laden surfaces of productivity. 


This is, of course, thirsty work, and I needed to deposit some cans and make a cup of tea to continue. As I was pottering around the kitchen, I heard a stirring in the hallway. The door was open just a crack, and into the light beamed a small, cute human in stripy blue R2D2 pajamas. 


“What is going on here?” I inquired, and Dash seemed very pleased with himself. James had informed me earlier in the evening that Dash can now open the door to his room, previously sufficiently difficult as to contain him in the evening. He had intended to take himself on a little adventure when I intercepted him, clearly, and so I scooped him up and took him back to his room. 


“Can I have a snuggle in the chair, please?” he asked groggily. “Yes, I’d be happy to,” I said. He relaxed into my arms, and we got all snuggled into the chair, pillow under his head and ever-longer legs draped over the edge of the nest my legs made sitting criss-crossed and pulled onto the seat cushion. He’s so big these days, almost big enough that this trick will require a small sofa soon, but for now we can still sit in a modified version of how we ended nursing sessions: my baby asleep at my left breast, in just the right position for me to scoop up for a rocking walk over to his bed. 


“Do you want me to sing you some songs?” I asked. Eyes closed, he said yes, and gently, sleepily snuggled into me. “You are my sunshine…” I sang him the same songs I’ve been singing him since he was a newborn, a rhythm that has changed a little but really not much in the last three years. It feels like everything else has changed around those songs, but this moment of the two of us doing the dance of sleep in the incredible shrinking chair has been a steady, if distancing, refrain in life. 


Sometimes, I cry. Tears sit at the edges of my eyes even now. These moments in the middle of the night most connect me to my own parents, remembering in my bones having limbs the size of my little one’s, being held close by the invincible, omniscient adults of my early days. And what a cosmic thing it is, to live through such a transformation, from baby to mother, and back to baby yet again through the borrowed eyes of new life and the empathy required to connect to nonverbal communication and raw intuition. 


After I sang my songs, I sat with him for a little while. At the second-to-last song, I felt a nervous rush of being one foot out the door already, and I realized it was because the usual rhythm’s end was coming soon. Of course, a millisecond later i observed that no one was dictating that I stop singing, or what I could sing, and certainly not how long I could enjoy sitting with my son. 


I stroked his hair. I held him close. I thanked him for coming down from the stars to be my baby. I marveled at his beauty, and for a moment felt connected to the divine.


“I’m going to put you in your bed now,” I whispered as I belayed him into a cloud of cottony quilting. I tucked him in, kissed his forehead, and felt that silky hair I’ve loved since the day he was born. 


“I love you so much,” I reminded him. I quietly made my exit, heart full to bursting.


My tea was still hot when I got back to the kitchen.

Friday, 4 December 2020

Holding Up the Towers

We have had so many 9/11s-worth of deaths due to coronavirus here in the US. If you have ever posted in remembrance of those lost in the Twin Towers, but persist in spreading fatal idiocy about this damned plague: leave my life. 

My family has been hit, and trying to protect our elders has remained an ever-present thrum, with some successes and some painful losses. 

I have friends getting sick. Some were knocked down for months. It's not just deaths, which are awful enough, but disability and suffering, too. Trying to keep children healthy, trying to parent when we can barely breathe, watching fevers spike and knowing that hospitals are overwhelmed. 

As with all things American, the fractures of our society are illuminated further by this crisis. Damn the incessant conspiracy-mongering nonsense, the can't-be-told attitudes, the anti-science tantrums! People are dying, especially the people who are always most vulnerable in our society. 

If your family hasn't lost somebody yet, there's still time. It's hard to keep holding back, and we all mess up. But, right now, our cock-ups kill. 

There is so much to mourn. I'm grateful for the encounters with friends and family that have lifted my spirits, phone calls and video visits that make it all more bearable. 

I don't want to lose anyone else. We're all in these towers, folks, and it's actually up to us to hold them up. 

Masks on, chins up, eyes intermittently dry, hands freshly washed. Let's hunker down and get to the other side of this nightmare so we can rebuild something much better.




Thursday, 12 November 2020

Oro en Paz

I'm so in love with this city. I've been sticking close to home a lot since we've been back, but today I got a dose of that San Francisco magic again, and it just never gets old for me. 

This morning, I went to Cliff's Variety on a mission to pick up some odds and ends (and walked out with a heaping helping of totally unrelated goodies). I popped over the hill, and the big rainbow flag was flying high and proud in a perfect blue sky. 

At Cliff's, Delia delighted people coming through, and I talked with the folks working there and other customers about creative projects and making gifts for people we love. I felt ambitious again, eager to create and do beautiful things. I felt that bandwidth coming back after I'd had to set it aside for so long. 

I walked for a couple of blocks with a friar in his robes and a mask promoting his favorite dog rescue. Delia of course befriended the monk instantly as he walked out of a door on Castro, and his lilting Irish accent sounded musical in the morning traffic. 

We chatted about the magic of dogs, how his had passed at the beginning of the lockdown, and how he was working with the Labrador rescue to find another furry friend. We strolled through the rainbow crosswalk together and lifted each other's spirits. 

This is a city that decisively voted down fascism. We come from everywhere to build dreams here, and while not all of them come true, the endeavor itself shapes us. Families come in all forms, and love wins. 

This city is changed by COVID, but not crushed by it. There are parklets, makeshift alfresco spaces lining the sidewalks to provide a solution to the risks of indoor dining. The shops are open, with hand sanitizer at the door and friendly faces enforcing mask policies. Biden Harris 2020 signs proudly hang on Harvey's, evidence of decades of work toward progress and equality. 

Nothing and nowhere and no one is perfect, but the sun is shining here and there's nowhere I'd rather be. Oro en paz, fierro en guerra--I love you, San Francisco.





Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Gauntlet

To concede or to not concede, that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the eye of the voter to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous democracy, or to take arms against a sea of neckbeards, and by opposing end them.

To concede—to sleep, once more; and by sleep to say we end the heart-ache of the thousand scandalous shocks that fascism is father to:

'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd.