Saturday, October 22, 2011

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

The first thing I thought when I saw him was,  "he's just a boy".  Being interviewed on Egyptian t.v., he seemed thin and pale, disoriented, but lucid. He seemed like anyone would seem being set free after 5 and a half years of captivity. He seemed real.

I didn't fight for Gilad Schalit. I didn't go to one protest, or step inside the tent set up in front of the Prime Minister's house even once. I didn't even take a yellow ribbon for him. This is partly because I don't do politics. I don't do slogans. I don't go to rallies, even when I truly and deeply believe in the cause. I hate crowds, and I hate dogma. But mostly, and shamefully, I didn't fight for Gilad Schalit because it was too painful. I couldn't stand to see his parents, his friends, his eyes. I couldn't fathom that this day would come and I couldn't bear the grind of days and normalization of the weight of absence. I couldn't stand the way the tent faded into the background, just another part of the Jerusalem landscape. 

The deal to free Gilad doesn't sit well with me. It doesn't sit well with anyone, I imagine. Its implications for the region are unsettling to say the least, not to mention the issues of ethics and justice. But then I think that human justice is so inadequate in any case; and that that the dead are dead, and nothing we do, or don't do will change that; and that I would like to think that the people I cared about who are lost to me now would rather Gilad alive even though they are dead. And isn't ironic that those who helped kill are now pawns in a deal to help save a life? May that stick in their throats and twist their stomachs and haunt them forever. And then I think, maybe there are some who are just going back to their families. Maybe they have mothers, and fathers and sisters and children. Maybe they have faces. Maybe they have room for peace in their hearts, no matter how unfathomable that may seem. Mostly, I think that life- a heart that is still beating- is always preferable. The world is so full of unimaginable things- both terrible and wonderful. We cannot know the future. We only have the world as it is. We only have a heart that is still beating. 

And I think, perhaps, that I prefer to live in this society- the one that took up Gilad's image as a symbol; the one the forced the government to keep its end of the deal- we give you our sons, our daughters, our fathers, our friends and pieces of our lives, and you give us the promise that you will do everything in your power to return them to us. I think I feel safer in a society that is willing to sacrifice potential safety for the real, concrete safety of an individual who paid way more than his dues. That's part of our social contract as well. Sometimes, we are not given the choice but to die for our country, but death itself is not a value. Sacrifice itself is not a value. Life is. But maybe that too, is dogma, and I contradict myself.

And then he stepped off that helicopter and I thought, "he's just a boy." He's just a too skinny, too pale boy.  But even that is patronizing. He's not a boy, he's a young man- a young man who spent too many years in the dark. He's not ours, and he's not a symbol. He's not justice, or injustice, safety, or danger. He's just him, whoever he may be, with his own hopes and dreams, his own terrors and demons; his own dark eyes. His suffering and his freedom belong only to him. I spent all day watching, thinking, isn't this a miracle, to see someone awake from the dead?  Isn't this a blessing, to watch a symbol become a person? This fragile thing. This life on shaky legs. We can stop watching now. The cage door is open. Let's let him fly free.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Don't know much about history

It's official-I have a master's degree in Jewish history. Graduation day isn't till June (Israel is weird that way), but who cares. I have that little piece of paper and that's all that matters. It's been a long road, and suddenly here I am. How odd. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

when will there be good news?

It's been a rough little while. But, there is good news. After over 6 months of radio silence, with me fearing the worst, I finally got an email from B. He is fine. His family is fine. They are overjoyed at the birth of their new state. Good news. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Girl, you'll be a woman soon

I'm small. I'm  4'10" and weigh something about 35 kilo. Sometimes, this works to my advantage. In the kitchen it most definitively does not. Beyond the simple fact that certain things- like lifting pots and reaching the baking paper that lives on top of the cabinets- are more difficult for me, it also means that I have to fight for my womanhood. In the kitchen I am called- הילדה- the girl. Never mind that at 30 I am not the youngest woman in the kitchen by far. Exasperating the issue is the fact that though I am not the youngest woman, I am the only woman without children. Israeli society, more-so than American society from what I can tell- highly values motherhood and children. (This is not inherently a bad thing at all. Maternity leave laws here are head and shoulders above American one). When the rest of the women sit around discussing their kids, (and/or grandkids) the only thing I can contribute are niece stories and stories about my cat (which always makes me feel a bit like the crazy cat lady.) It leaves me a bit on the outside and a bit more vulnerable to being condescended to. 

In one of our first business management classes we were instructed to list our first impressions of our classmates and to say whether or not, based on those first impressions, we would buy from them. The point of the exercise, obviously, was to illustrate the way first impressions color our interactions with people. Upon further discussion of what we could do alleviate any negative first impressions that might keep people from buying what we're selling, I was told, point blank, by the teacher, "you need to gain 10 kilo."  I have had my cheek patted. Even the head of the kitchen, who I adore, upon seeing me in a skirt for the first time, exclaimed-"you look just like a doll!".

One would think that by this point in my life I would be used to this. But, up until now, my size has pretty not really been a factor in the work I do. Mostly I have spent my time using my brain, not my body. In the academy nobody is really interested in whether you have children or not. You could have ten, or none, so long as you get your papers in. So it took my a while to figure out how to deal with this new situation. I've come to learn that the way to deal with it is by working hard- by being the onion chopper, the potato peeler, the dole-er of food; by not leaving the kitchen until the last surface has been washed down, even after I've been dismissed. I try to be reliable, to be conscientious, to let the other women know that hey, this is my kitchen too. And paradoxically, by swallowing my pride and asking for help. I'd rather have someone help lift a heavy tray than spill it all over the place. I'd rather say, "I need to sit for five minutes", than do a half-assed job on the floor. I've learned to talk to myself in the kitchen like I talk to myself in the pool. Pace yourself. Pay attention. Breathe. 

It's a process, this.

Cubbie Watch: erm, we beat the White Sox once.

Book Rec: Faithful Place, Tana French

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Diameter of the Bomb

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
 and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
 with four dead and eleven wounded.
 And around these, in a larger circle
 of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
 and one graveyard. But the young woman
 who was buried in the city she came from,
 at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
 enlarges the circle considerably,
 and the solitary man mourning her death
 at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
 includes the entire world in the circle.
 And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
 that reaches up to the throne of God and
 beyond, making
 a circle with no end and no God.
-Yehuda Amichai (trans. C. Bloch)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?

As the winter has progressed my life has settled into a predictable pattern. I spend a few weeks trying to juggle my various jobs, responsibilities, etc. until I finally manage to settle into some sort of schedule. Then I get sick. Then, once I recover, I scramble to play catch up, settle into a schedule... and get sick. I think this has been my sickest winter in a long while. (In fact, I am at this moment recovering from the cold from hell) Obviously something has to change, I'm just not sure what that might be. Right now I'm working  three jobs- two part time jobs (research and writing) and one uber-part time job (cooking- which is only 6 hours a week). Theoretically, if I work out my schedule right, I have time to do a number of things- swim, take care of my plants and kitchen and house. But of course that never really happens (see above) and I'm left wondering when I'm ever going to find the time to get my haircut, go to the dressmaker or host my friends for fresh pasta. The problem, I think, is not so much time, but the various stresses that come with each job. I am learning all at once to be a boss, a writer with deadlines and a feeder of people. During the course of one day I can go to work, make decisions about my colleagues' work (boss hat), field an email from annoying editor (writer hat) go home, write an article, (writer's hat, again) and then realize that the next morning I have to get up at 6:30 to go cook (thankfully that happens only once a week). Just writing about it exhausts me. I'm wearing too many hats. 
The boss job should probably go. It makes me anxious. I don't like making decisions that could potentially impact someone else's research and I don't like dealing with the higher ups. When I was just a grunt, I was just a grunt. The work I did got reviewed by somebody else (now, me) and the higher ups didn't know I existed, or if they did, they didn't care. Now, I've got vacation days and sick days, but I also have to worry about the fact that one day a scholar may call me up and tell me that I'm just wrong, or even worse, the dude in charge may call me up and tell me that my team isn't producing enough material, is doing a bad job, etc etc. The good news is that our funding runs out in September, and if on the off chance it is renewed, I run out in September, or at least that what I keep on telling myself. 
The writing and cooking are blog posts all on their own. In short, I think I like it. Both its. I'm learning to deal with annoying editor and I enjoy writing. Even silly inconsequential articles for kids have their value.   I'm also learning a tremendous amount in the kitchen - and not only about food. I'm surrounded by women whom I would have never met were it not for the fact that we work together. We come from such different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Mostly, I am very glad to have met them. Right now writing and cooking feel like the places I want to be. So I think I'm gonna stay.

Cubbie Watch: Spring training! Oh, time of eternal hope.

Book rec: Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sometimes I get nervous when I see an open door. Close your eyes. Clear your heart. Cut the cord.

I had plans for my birthday. Big plans. Plans that involved not only celebrating reaching 30, but also the imminent conclusion of my thesis. It was going to be epic. (Ok, so maybe going out for drinks with a bunch of friends is not quite epic, but if you knew me you would concede- it was epic for me). And then. Then, I was sick. Miserably sick. Entirely too sick to celebrate. So, I canceled the party and crawled into bed, and thought, "well, fuck. What a year this is going to be."
I had a lot of time to think, lying in bed for the next four days. And most of what I had to think wasn't all that pleasant. Thoughts of my thesis made me feel anxious and thoughts of my future made me feel adrift. Here I was preparing myself to hand off 4 years of my life- a piece of my identity- without any clear idea of where I was going. Sure, I had ideas about what I wanted my life to look like in the future- but in terms of the next day- of, you know, the moment after I handed my thesis- I had no bloody clue. I was filled with this overwhelming fear that whatever I did the coming year would be as horrifically unbearable as my first year in Israel. I couldn't help but to anticipate that this coming evolution in my identity- from student to something else would be just as painful and lonely as my transition from America to Israel. So there I was, generally miserable and depressed, not sick enough to be unconscious and not well enough to actually do anything, meditating on the great wide unknown that was my life. 
Then I got an email a friend way across the ocean. (You know who you are). Masked as an email from the Chicago Cubs, it said: "We heard you had a cold on your birthday, so we went ahead and signed Kerry Wood to compensate."  I started to laugh and then to smile the way I hadn't smiled in days. Everything was going to be just fine. My boy Kerry was coming home and the world was right again. But more than that, absolutely more than that, the email was proof that whatever the year would bring, I was going to be ok because I have friends;  friends who would go out their way to make my world bright and steady;  friends who know what I love and love me. And when eventually I was well enough to celebrate I was moved beyond what I could express at all the people that came to sit with me, not only to celebrate, but just to be and to enjoy each others' companies and be friends; to fill each others lives. And that is a gift.
The email was also a reminder that the world is not quite as cold and confusing as I might  think. Yes, sometimes you send people you love back into the chaos that is Africa and you have no way of knowing if they are safe and well. Sometimes, whole forests go up in flames. But sometimes, a pitcher will turn down millions of dollars to come home. Sometimes, an organization will make room for that player, because it's the right thing to do.  These things don't always match up. They don't weigh the same amount in the weight of the world. A life weighs more than a game. A forest weighs more than a game. But, sometimes you are reminded in the small gestures of life that  the love you put into the world comes back to you. And that is a gift.  
These past few weeks of post-thesis life have been a gasping race of change. I have, in the span of three weeks (in this order)- taken a job writing for a small children's magazine, joined a micro-business program that helps women open culinary businesses, and accepted a (sort of) promotion at my current job. It's a lot and I'm terrified. I told a good friend that I felt like I was in one of those time-lapse videos that show a caterpillar turning into a butterfly is 30 seconds, and I'm pretty sure that doesn't happen in nature. I'm also pretty sure that my body is in an active state of revolt (don't ask me about my back). But. But. Come spring, (fingers cross, send a prayer up to the baseball gods.) Kerry Wood will take the mound at Wrigley. And as for me, I'm doing what I want to do. I'm cooking. I'm writing. My friends and family have my back. It's going to be hard, all this new, and it's probably not going to be pretty, or graceful. But it's time to fly.

By the way, dear, you know I"m never going to erase that email, right? Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Book Rec: The Mockingjay Trilogy, Suzanne Collins

Cubbie Watch: Let's do this for Ron, boys