Good stuff: Halloween in Small Town America.

Halloween has a rhythm where I live. At about 3:05, the toddlers arrive, all monkeys and princesses and lions and so on — cute as buttons, only smaller. They can barely make it up the stairs, though one year, one had to make it all the way up the stairs and into the house, because when a toddler has to go potty, a toddler has to go potty.

Then come the elementary school kids, followed closely by the middle schoolers. The first group is still followed by parents, whereas the middle schoolers roam in packs of giggling shortness, people so close to being big and yet absolutely not-big-yet.

At that point, the occasional sullen teenager shows up, with little but a bandanna to suggest it might be a dress-up holiday, but I somehow manage to demand eye contact and a thank you, or at least a “Happy Halloween…”, by sheer dint of my own annoying friendliness. Look, I’ve bought about $80 worth of candy — I am going to smile and y’all are going to be friendly, darn it!

Then the teen moms and their toddlers and babies arrive, from across the border in Chicago. Indeed, all afternoon, folks are arriving from five blocks away, a neighborhood where paychecks are small and dangers real, and I am frankly happy to have them. It’s a chance for me to be a good neighbor to young families and little kids who I never see, otherwise, because the street that runs between our respective municipal borders serves almost as an iron wall. I only wish that when the teenagers show up, I could also hand out cans of beans and packages of condoms. Maybe some year I’ll offer at least the latter.

And then I run out of candy (and I mean: I buy about $80 worth!) before the evening is even really done, and I turn off my light, and my scattered family and I reconnoiter and wind up eating pizza at the same friends’ house, exhausted but also oddly exhilarated.

I love Halloween in my Small Town America enclave, where the schools are good, the population wildly diverse, the libraries built of a nice solid brick, and the fall leaves drifting everywhere around me. And it all starts in about 15 minutes! So off I go.

But if you’re interested in the etymology of the holiday’s name (presuming we’ve all heard the word “hallow” before — what, for heaven’s sake, is an “een”?), after the jump you’ll find a nice little piece that I read in the dead-tree version of the Chicago Tribune yesterday.  Newspapers! Now that’s a business that seems haunted, mirite? I’m right.

Any who. Happy silliness to one and all!

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Good stuff: Metric – “Gold Guns Girls”

A few days back, Ta-Nehisi posted the following as his “Morning Coffee” video. The song hadn’t even ended before I was calling my record store (Val’s Halla, baby! Holla!) to order the disc. I picked it up on Friday afternoon, and am currently (Sunday, 11 am) in the midst of Listen #4, if I’m counting correctly. It might be #5.

Metric – “Gold Guns Girls,” off of Fantasies. Enjoy!

The time I tried to stop writing.

Well, among the times.

Early in the summer, I wrote that I was essentially going to try to quit writing. “I’m tired,” I said, in the face of the world’s gigantic, shoulder-shrugging, years’ long meh in response to my efforts to actually pay bills with my skills.

That was only the latest time I tried to quit writing, though. I’ve wanted to throw up my hands for a really long time. As just about any sentient being can tell you (because every sentient being has had this happen to him or her): It really sucks to be good at something and have it go unnoticed. Especially if you’ve been jumping up and down for fucking years, trying to have it noticed.

But the most-recent-time-I-tired-to-quit, I wound up getting a lot of really kind, supportive feedback from people who have enjoyed my work and actually asked me to continue. I heard from people I only know online, people I know from Real Life, big authors (well – one big author) and various and sundry complete strangers, and it really, really did my heart good. In fact, I can’t rightly explain how touched I was by it all. For someone for whom the whole point of writing has always been to reach other people’s hearts, the knowledge that I had done so was a real balm, and very humbling.

As is the way of things, it also turned out that I was almost immediately given a two-week guest spot at Feministe, and in the meantime, I’ve appeared on television a second time (talking about stuff that I mostly write about), and have placed pieces in The Hairpin, BlogHer, the Foreign Policy Association blog, The Public Intellectual, and, most notably, The Atlantic online (twice). And I have of course continued to crosspost at Angry Black Lady Chronicles, an outlet that has begun to make real waves in the progressive blogosphere.

But, while all that is really top-notch, and very meaningful to me, here’s the thing: I made not one red cent off of any of it.

No, wait. I made $50. I won’t tell you which outlet was able to scrape together $50 for me, but suffice it to say, $50 doesn’t pay a lot of bills. And while all of those outlets have made clear to me that they like my writing and would like to see more of it (and have, in some cases, apologized for their inability to pay), it will never mean money (presuming that my submissions are accepted. Even in the world of Write For Free, submissions can always be [and have been] rejected).

So recently I’ve been on a “give it all up” kick again, the biggest problem being that I don’t have any noticeable skills, and can’t even find sub-optimal work (when Starbucks and Trader Joes and that preschool that occasionally needs substitute teachers don’t call back, that’s bad, right?), and last weekend I told an artist friend that “I want to be a manager at Trader Joes and never have to think about any of this again.”

And she looked at me and said “You won’t be able to.”

Which is the damn truth. I cannot seem to stop writing, no matter how hard I try, no matter how painful it is, no matter how little it avails me of cash moneys. This is who I am, this is what I do. So, I suppose, I’ll keep doing it unless and until I really, objectively can’t anymore. And I don’t mean grant-writing, or PR materials, or executive bios, or any of the other things I’ve done or have been suggested to me that are, technically, “writing.” I mean this, whatever the hell this is. Essays and nonfiction narrative? Sure, why not.

Moreover and not incidentally, there’s a Big Project that the big author suggested I take on, a Big Project in which I believe and which could, theoretically at least, produce a check at the other end. The big author has offered more kinds of help than I had any right to hope for, and I would be a fool to let that kind of help slip by.

But here’s another damn truth: I have discovered that in my personal Room of One’s Own, at least one of the walls is constructed of keeping my adult responsibilities. I cannot sit down to the Big Project — can’t even really think about it, to be honest — while I continue to haunt job boards and fill out applications and knock on doors and get bupkes (“bupkes” being what I got at a meeting with the head of a publications office just this morning, in fact).

I have to know that at least one chunk of money will be coming in, no matter what. Whether it be communications consultant money (which is pretty decent) or bookstore employee money (which probably isn’t, but I don’t know — I just filled out those applications two days ago) doesn’t seem to matter to me as much as the fact that it be regular. I mean – it matters, as does the ego-boosting or -bruising involved in the source of the money, but its sheer existence is what matters the most.

Or would, if I could get it. So far, and despite a great deal of effort, it hasn’t happened. I continue to get contract writing work, but that is a very unreliable thing, and (for reasons that have nothing to do with me) recently became much more so. Unless something drastic happens between now and Monday, I will have made $500 in all of October. September was better – I made $1050. July and August were sucktastic, however: I averaged $300 a month. That’s not nearly enough for me to enter my metaphorical room and Be A Writer.

So. No real point here — other than, I suppose, that the economy is terrible, and it’s even worse for professional creatives than it is for a lot of the professional class. And I will apparently keep writing anyway.

And if you know of anyone who needs a writer, a shelf-stocker, a preschool assistant, an adjunct history/communications/journalism instructor, or someone who could probably work a cash register if taught – please do let me know (why look! Here’s my online portfolio!). One is growing weary.

/end whine.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

What the hell kind of Jew am I?

I feel pretty strongly that I shouldn’t have to defend my Judaism in order to have my opinions about Israel taken seriously.

I feel pretty strongly about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am often called upon to defend my Judaism anyway. And I often go ahead and defend my Judaism anyway, not because it needs defending, but because I hope that the news that I am not, in fact, an apikoros (heretic) will perhaps allow a few new ideas out into the marketplace. Like, for instance, the idea that one need not be an apikoros to criticize Israel.

And so, hereunder, my answer to the occasionally posed questions that boil down to: What the hell kind of Jew are you?

I am an Israeli Jew, married to an Israeli Jew who was born and raised in Jerusalem. I made aliyah as a young woman, and lived in Tel Aviv for 14 years.

I am also an active member of a Chicago-area Conservative shul. I keep a strictly kosher home — which is to say, I have different sets of dishes (and silverware, and pots, and pans, and…) for meat meals and dairy meals, PLUS two entirely different sets for Passover, in keeping with the laws governing the removal of hametz (leavening) from our homes during Passover.

Come to that, I clean like a madwoman in the lead-up to Passover, annually performing the ritual of “selling” my hametz to a non-Jew, and stripping our lives of anything the least bit contaminated with hametz for a week. I cover my hair when I daven (pray), and I study Torah regularly — I’m currently making my way through Everyman’s Talmud; this summer I worked more directly on Pirkei Avot. I don’t work on Shabbat or holidays, and on holidays, my children stay home from school; we attend services in the morning, and share some Torah study in the afternoon. My family frequently speaks Hebrew in our home, and we visit Israel roughly once a year. I feel very strongly that our job in life — as Jews certainly, but also more generally, as people — is to advance the cause of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

My politics regarding Israel/Palestine stem from all of that — from the tikkun olam stuff, from the ideas held within our rituals, from the content of our prayers, on and on, and perhaps most especially, from my love of Israel. Israel is my home, and I am a Zionist. A two-state solution in which both sides are allowed human dignity and genuine security would not only be good for the Palestinians (who have been suffering under our boot for far, far too long), but it would also be good for the Jews.

I live in what I think of as the gentle exile of American suburbia not because I stopped loving Israel, but because Israel became so deeply invested in maintaining and perpetuating the immoral and indefensible occupation and settlement project that the entire state is now predicated on little else — and my Jerusalemite husband and I didn’t want to raise our Israeli-Jewish children in such a place. Didn’t want to sacrifice them and their lives on that alter, or raise them in a society in which that sacrifice, that immorality, is deemed holy.

I also happen to be a convert. This matters not at all to me — because as far as I’m concerned, I’m not a convert, I’m a Jew — but in the interests of full disclosure, I include that information here. I converted from a place of deep and abiding faith and trust in the Holy One Blessed Be He, and if we believe our stories, I was at Sinai when He gave our people our Law. I like to believe I was standing right next to my husband (who I actually met a week after I converted), holding my kids’ hands.

Slowly but surely, I find myself becoming a bit less of an Israeli Jew, and a bit more of an American one — this is, in no small part, because of the utter contempt with which Israel as an institution treats the Diaspora. I cannot stand it, and so I find myself throwing my emotional lot in, more and more, with my brothers and sisters on this side of the ocean. My respect for the Diaspora has grown enormously since leaving Israel, as I watch people struggle with a language they don’t know in order to maintain ritual and tradition in the face of a majority culture that really has little space for any of it. It’s a tremendous, and highly admirable, feat.

So what the hell kind of Jew am I? I’m that kind of Jew. Now you know. And when this post has been up for a few days, I’ll turn it into a permanent page — that way when the next person asks, I won’t have to say it all again.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

I am (apparently) a Public Intellectual!

The extremely interesting and very respectable The Public Intellectual has asked to occasionally reprint my posts. Whoot! Today they ran my first Occupy Wall Street post; tomorrow they’ll run what I wrote about Oakland. Very nice! Please show them some love (click here, if you haven’t clicked on either of the other links already) and poke around the place a bit. They’ve got some very cool stuff going on!

For fear the other will topple over from the weight – here’s an Open Thread.

It looks like Ta-Nehisi is traveling today, too and that yesterday’s Open Thread is meant to last us for two days. It’s like he’s never met us! That thing is freakin’ monster! So, just in case, here’s a thread for those who don’t want to slog through/past something like 500 comments (as of this writing!).

NOTE: I WILL HARDLY BE AT MY DESK TODAY. I’m reading a Colossus of a book for review and really, really have to keep reading. I’ll check in now and then, but a) sadly, this means I won’t be able to play as much as I usually do when I have an open thread here and b) if you get stuck in moderation, you might be there a little longer than usual. Swear words won’t land you in moderation, but posting from an account that you haven’t already posted from will. So if you’ve posted here before, please try to use that account.

If you’re new here at In My Head, hi there! Here are the rules but they mostly boil down to: Be a person. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it here. Also, too: Out of sheer respect for TNC, no bashing of his co-bloggers, please. However much one might be tempted. (Ahem. I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about).

The Oakland police and #OccupyOakland.

Occupy Oakland, Tuesday night.

I’m on record as being of at least two minds, if not six or seven, regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement, and I remain ambivalent – confident in my support of many of the individual goals, rather less confident in many of the tactics the movement employs.

And as I’ve said in various places: Nonviolent civil disobedience is disobedience. Complaining about arrest (let’s be honest: whining about arrest) when you’ve been breaking city ordinances for days or weeks on end in order to make a socio-political point is not only disingenuous, it’s self-defeating. Arrests are, in no small part, the point of civil disobedience.

And yet, having said that: Last night the Oakland Police Department came down like a fist on Occupy Oakland, greeting the nonviolent protesters in riot gear (translation: spoiling for a fight), ultimately unleashing tear gas, projectiles euphemistically known as “bean bags” and flash grenades (also known as “flash-bangs,” if I understand correctly).

The rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech are enshrined in our Constitution; the right to endlessly “occupy” public property, thus rendering it useless to other members of the public and/or creating health and sanitation issues, is not. The latter does not negate the former, however. Arrests are reasonable when people refuse to leave public property. Creating the kind of mayhem that can be seen in the following photographs is not.

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I cannot conceive of a better way for the Oakland Police Department to increase support for the Occupy movement.

I’m the first to say that this movement shouldn’t be compared to the revolutions in the Middle East or the Palestinian resistance, not least because the Occupy folks have the right to vote, haven’t been tortured, aren’t facing live fire, and need not fear that having their picture taken might result in summary execution. These differences matter, and the problems America faces are big enough without having to engage in blatant disrespect for the struggles of others.

But another reason that Occupy Oakland (or Wall Street, or Atlanta, or Chicago, or wherever) isn’t Tahrir Square is because Americans have every right in the world to feel genuine shock at being met with tear gas and “bean bags” on their streets.

If the Oakland Police Department’s goal was “not as bad as the Middle East,” well then, I guess they succeeded. Well done and kudos! But I was rather of the opinion that the goal was something more along the lines of “maintain American norms and values and act in concert, however imperfectly, to perfect our union.”

I’m on record as saying that I probably won’t join the protests for a variety of reasons, at least one of which is very personal.

But you know what? If I lived in Oakland, I have a feeling I wouldn’t be blogging right now. I have a feeling I’d be making a sign, and packing a few onions in my bag.

The Palestinians say that when you get hit with tear gas, you should hold an onion to your nose.

Photographs via BuzzFeed; to see more, click here.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Good Stuff: Being Elmo.

When I discovered who was behind the voice of Sesame Street’s Elmo a few years back, I was flabbergasted. I cannot tell you how much I’m looking forward to Being Elmo, the documentary about the puppeteer. Just the trailer left me with a big ol’ grin, and a smidge bit lump-in-the-throaty, and if it doesn’t do the same for you, well then. You may be a Grouch. No judgement. Just sayin’.

Good Stuff: Black Women in Advertising.

Well ain’t this just the ding-dang truth.

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by the clearly very clever Alexandra Dal, who can be found on deviantART (and who might have added “And whenever I’m not smiling knowingly, I’ll laugh in a near-maniacal fashion! Silently!”); h/t BuzzFeed

Come on in! Make yourself at home!

Dear one and all:

A) If you would like to continue to chat in the Open Thread over the weekend, please feel free! But bear in mind that I won’t be around during Shabbat (sundown Friday to just after sundown on Saturday) — if you happen to get stuck in moderation, I will fish you out as soon as I can.

B) If you’re new or newish around these parts, I encourage to take a look around the place. Some stuff you may have missed in recent days:

  1. The Occupy Wall Street movement, and my decidedly indecisive feelings about it.
  2. A baby. Talking to R2D2.
  3. Zachary Quinto (aka Spock) came out! And his example encouraged an ABC news anchor to do the same! Yay!
  4. Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was finally brought home, which is a very good thing — but there are oceans of horror that surround that one very good thing. (Not least, some 2000 Palestinians killed during the years that Israel was insisting it would never do the kind of deal that it just did).
  5. For instance, I’m pretty sure the two-state solution is dead. Like, really dead.
  6. I’m a progressive and a social activist, and if someone hadn’t pointed out what was wrong with the N-word on this sign, I wouldn’t have noticed.
  7. This woman has a voice to rival Adele’s, and I now harbor a dream of getting them to do a duet.
  8. Your middle years – quick! What’s oleo?

Have a lovely weekend, and shabbat shalom to one and all!

Image source.

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