Woe, woe betide the writer!

Ah, writing.

Unlike any other art form I can think of, the physical mechanics of my craft are put to good use on a daily, if not hourly basis, by virtually everyone I have any contact with in the course of any even day.

Permission slips, reports to bosses, shopping lists, homework, love notes — all require exactly and precisely the same skill in producing letters and stringing them into words as that possessed by Shakespeare, Steinbeck, and Plath. Once your motor skills are developed enough to clutch a pencil, you’re pretty much assured of being able to write.

And frankly, it produces nothing. This thing I know how to do — the only thing I know how to do — is literally no thing. There’s nothing to hold, nothing to put on a shelf, nothing to clean yourself or feed yourself or warm yourself with. That which is tangible about writing is not, in fact, the writing, but the scroll, paper, screen on which it’s found. The letters themselves do not exist, save for the medium which conveys them. The “writing” of which we speak when we talk about the art or profession of writing is not — really — the formation of letters on a surface (that which anyone can do with a pencil), but rather the arranging of words in the mind.

And yet for me this process is almost as mechanical as the pencil. I think of my process, so to speak, as something close to construction. There’s also music to it, rhythm — an ugly/dissonant brick will be rejected — but it’s building. It’s foundation, layers, mortar, structure. Architectural flourishes are important, as they are in any construction project, but if they get in the way, they have to go.This is especially true when I’m writing to a specific length, as I almost always do: 750 words or (oy) 200 words is precisely that: 750 or 200 words. The house can’t exceed the lot on which it’s being built. If the choice has to be made between a solid foundation or a lovely bay window — the foundation wins. Oh, the many delicate fruits of my artistic mind that have been stripped from their branches and thrown on my compost piles! Oh, the humanity!

I suspect that this is the real reason that I don’t write fiction. It’s often assumed that anyone who self-identifies as a writer has a novel or collection of poems under the mattress, but not me. I long thought — really, really long — that this non-literary writing of mine was a lesser form, something I should aspire to overcome, and I only recently came to understand that I frankly don’t care to overcome it. I don’t want to build new worlds, or find alternative ways to envision the one I’m in. I want to talk about the one I’m in. I want to take one tiny corner of the vast slag heap of human reality and find where the pieces fit together and sort through the bits that were mis-cobbled and mis-labeled and need to be broken apart and put together differently. Even the things that work right, the stuff that’s like clockwork — I want to pry off the back, see the works, and then screw everything back into place.

But because this bears a more than a passing resemblance to what is simultaneously one of the most pedestrian acts of literate human life, and the stuff of fantasy and high literature, I find that (even among writers), there’s often very little understanding of what I do.

Carefully constructed arguments that describe painful realities and prescribe vital solutions on the pages of the nation’s largest newspapers may be, for instance, referred to as “letters.”

“An op/ed,” I want to say, pulling myself up to my fullest 5 feet 4 inches, “is not a letter!”

“As if!” I hunger to add. “I am an essayist, sirrah!”

Whereas on the other hand, when I publicly bemoan the fact that I’ve failed find a way to continue to ply my particular trade — essayists having gone the way of the glittering literary salons of the early 20th century — I’m told that what I do is art, a calling, something mystical that requires only my mind and my willing spirit. Not a job — I must, I am told, simply write.

All of which is hopelessly complicated by the fact that I actually do write, quite a lot, in yeoman-like fashion, stringing words together for other people, expressing their thoughts for them.

But not my own. Not very often, or, indeed, almost never.

What I want, what I worked toward, what I to this day dream of, is a job which allows me to use these no-thing producing skills in order to go through our slag heap and reflect back up to the world what I’ve found. This is my skill-set, it’s one I’ve honed, and I want to use it to pay my bills. I don’t want to simply write — I want a job.

Oh it’s a hard life, I tell you what.

I suspect I’m not the only professional who feels woefully misunderstood both by the larger community and often within her own profession. “I’m not a nurse!” I can imagine some saying. “I’m a nurse practitioner!” “I’m not a mechanic!” others may cry. “I’m a -”  — see, I’m too ignorant to even know what a non-mechanic mechanic might be called.

I further suspect that I’m not the only creative person called on to simply create, with little or no thought to whether or not my creations will ever be seen in the light of day, or if I will ever be compensated for my efforts.

But I am the only one who can figure out what the hell all this means for me, and I haven’t yet. And that, for now, has got to be my job. Whether it pays, gives me joy, or puts my skills to good use, or not.

Blogging about blogging.

(Sorry – deleted for being overly self-indulgent, and for inadvertently inspiring [with genuine apologies to the commenter in question, whose well-intended comment I’ve deleted along with the post] extraordinarily inaccurate arm-chair psychoanalysis. I’ll be back tomorrow!)

WTF, world? Honestly.

Passing observations from a day too busy to allow for much in the way of anything more than passing observations:

– If we have reached the point where it’s considered partisan* to say that it’s wrong to stomp on a person’s head and/or neck — well then, I may need that damn cabin in the woods. On Mars. Because honest to God, I promise you that if a Democrat ever stomps on a Republican’s head? I will condemn it as a contemptible act. Because stomping on people’s heads is wrong. Sweet baby Moses in the fucking bullrushes — how is this even up for debate? I mean, honestly: What the fuck is wrong with people?

– Do you know what else is wrong? Calling for someone to be voted out of office because of their religion. I know that the following little bit of prose applies to Congress, but I have this crazy sense that it applies to We, the People as well: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Oh Constitution, I do so love you….

Update: In the comments, ajw93 actually makes an excellent point, directing our gaze to a much more relevant bit of our founding documents: “Don’t forget Article VI: ‘The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States‘.” In-fucking-deed. Thank you, ajw93!

– Do you know what else is wrong? Baking pie inside cake. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

– Do you know what’s awesome? This simultaneously fascinating and disappointing insight into the phenomenon of “haunting.” Fascinating because, OMG! This probably explains the whole thing! Disappointing because, OMG! This probably explains the whole thing! (I would really kind of like to believe in ghosts, is what I’m saying here. But science is fun, too!)

…They did an experiment where acoustic scientists sneaked in low frequency sounds at a live concert. Since scientists love nothing more than inducing feelings of fear and terror in unsuspecting citizens, most of the concert goers had no idea what was going on. As a result one minute they were enjoying some sweet tunes while the next a feeling of dread invaded their hearts, crushing all hope and happiness. At the end of the experiment approximately 22 percent of the people involved in the experiment reported feelings of unexplainable dread, chills and depression when infrasound was blasted into the crowd.

Why would it have this effect? It may be evolution. It doesn’t take a mad scientist mind control device to create infrasound — mother nature is creating this type of low frequency vibration all the time. Volcanos, earthquakes, strong ocean waves and even winds hitting the hillside in just the right spot can create infrasound…. Evolution might have taught us that this sound means Bad News.

…So now we have a phenomenon that occurs in nature, is invisible, is imperceptible on a conscious level, but can spontaneously make you feel irrational fear, even if you’re sitting in an empty room. Notice how we’ve just described one of the first and primary signs of a “haunting” — unexplained feelings of fear or dread.

OK, but what about actual sightings of ghosts?

(To find out “what about actual sightings of ghosts,” click here!)

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go observe what happens when a person gets six and a half hours of sleep. I suspect that will also fall under the headline of “disappointing” — but likely not “fascinating.”

*I link here to John Cole at Balloon Juice, who didn’t want to link to the asswipes who are comparing the stomping of a MoveOn activist’s head to saving a sitting President from an assassination attempt by Squeaky Fromme. I found a bunch of links, to various asswipes, across the webz, but I, too, choose not to link to them. You can trust me, or Google it…. Either way, I’ll be in my cabin.

Muslim awesome sauce + light housekeeping

…only not in that order. First, the housekeeping!

As is the way with the internet, I’ve discovered a connection with someone that I didn’t know I had — and it turns out that she, unlike your humble servant, is an actual-factual Professional Writer, with a recently-published collection of short stories, an upcoming novel, and teaching gig at American University to prove it. (And I learned of our previously unsuspected [by me – she knew about it!] connection when I discovered I’d been linked to from her blog!).

So I’m honored to introduce Danielle Evans, author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (in an aside: Is that a title, or is that a title?), now residing in the Smart People blogroll. If you happen to be in southern Illinois (so near! And yet so far!), she’ll be in Carbondale this weekend for the Devil’s Kitchen Literary Festival, and if you’re in the DC area, she’ll be doing a couple of readings in the District in November (including at the storied Politics and Prose…). Verily, I call upon you to check it!

(Update: And now I’ve added TheRaven to the blogroll affectionately known as The Lovely Folks @ Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Place — and you know what you must do. You must check it!)

Aaaand now, to the Muslim awesome sauce:

There is a new tumblr out there, created in response to the statement made by Juan Williams (he of fired-by-NPR, now-making-more-money-at-Fox-News fame) that he gets nervous when he’s on a plane and sees “people in Muslim garb.” The tumblr’s name? Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things.

I am really, truly hard-pressed to choose just one favorite — no, I can’t, I have to choose two. It’s these two (captions as they appear on the site):

This is Javed “Hijabman” Memon. This Muslim is sporting a chapeau made of balloons.


This unfortunate Muslim is wearing Ed Hardy. He is called Salman Khan.

Here’s another favorite, though for a very different reason:

US Army Specialist and Muslim Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan wore camouflage, up until the day he was killed in combat in Iraq, fighting for his country. Not pictured: the bronze star and purple heart he earned posthumously.

Please go check out the whole thing, for it really is quite awesome! And while you’re there, make sure to read the lovely note of thanks that the anonymous tumblr-er (? Really, I have no idea) wrote upon getting a metric ton of attention over the weekend — and while there, you might consider clicking on the link that will allow you to purchase this:

or possibly this:

Ok, I’m off to buy one of the latter. BBL!


I’m so tired.

I am so tired, so deeply, dizzyingly, bone tired. And I don’t mean “tired of [fill in the blank],” though I am tired of many things.

I have slept mostly poorly and not enough for months. I’m on such a deficit that when I get a good night’s sleep, I’m more wrecked than usual the following day — it’s my impression that when my body gets good sleep, it remembers how things are supposed to be: “Oh my God! This is what we’re supposed to be doing! More! More of this! Now!”

But what do I then do? Almost invariably, I stay up late, get somewhere between five and six hours of sleep. Sleep which is riddled with anxiety (and thus less than restful) because I go to bed cursing myself for not having gone to bed earlier. Because I have always needed more than six and a half hours every night, my entire life, and now, with this going on, really — shouldn’t I shoot for eight or so?

The quality of my sleep has actually improved lately — fewer nights riven with Restless Leg Syndrome, fewer nights where I can remember every toss and every turn, fewer nights where I just get up and get some cereal and walk around in order to shake my brain loose of whatever is dogging it (stuff I can rarely remember the next day) — thanks mostly to the various supplements offered by Lisa, my naturopath.

(Lisa, who I love, because a couple of years ago she listened to my story of five years of post-surgical woe [surgery? you say. Click here, I offer] and ran a few tests and fiddled with various levels of vitamins and minerals and your whatnot and: Wow. Now the fact that the surgery left me an organ down [I’m now mono-adrenal glanded] no longer means a daily cycle of brain-deadness and exhaustion that is nothing like this sleepless-ness-exhaustion but is more like a kind of shut-down of functionality. I can function right now, I’m just really tired. Before Lisa, I had hours every day when it was sometimes hard to just plain function. Isn’t it amazing, how many different kinds of “tired” there are?)

But I digress. Probably because I’m so tired.

I was saying: The quality of my sleep has improved, but there’s such a deficit, that I just need more of it. Plain and simple. So I promised myself that I would get at least seven hours of sleep every night this week. That lasted three days.

Why do I tell you all of this? Because I sat here for an hour today, trying very hard to write something and all I could do was think about how tired I am.

Too tired to want to grapple with the ugliness out there, all around. Too tired to be able to seek out social truths and pin them down with words. Too tired to do anything but think about how tired I am, and how I wish I had a job that would pay me to do what I know how to do. Thinking too much about that leads to misery, though, a misery I found myself marinating in on Monday. I’m worn out. I’m worn down. I’m worn through. And the truth is that my lack of sleep is only a part of it.

But it is the part that I can do something about. To sleep, perchance to dream…. I don’t even care if I dream. I really just want to sleep.

On an imperfect POTUS, gay kids, & the arc of the universe.

Another day, another wildly long to-do list. But here I am, after midnight, trying to make sense of our incredibly frustrating President.

Who is he? Is he the guy who promised to close Gitmo but didn’t? The guy who’s falling into all the same old traps in Israel/Palestine, allowing some weird domestic need to not piss off Israel to trump the rights and lives of Palestinians? Is he the guy who has dealt so tepidly with DADT that you could be excused for thinking that he really doesn’t mind it that much?

Or is he the guy who finally achieved health care reform? The guy who saved our economy from sure disaster? The guy who sat in the White House and reached out to LGBT kids to say “You didn’t do anything wrong“?

I hate that he’s both guys. I hate that he is far more flawed than I believed him to be, and even less progressive than I knew him to be. I hate that he regularly reduces me to tears with his words and his human kindnesses, and yet cannot seem to translate his essential moral code (what I believe I have observed to be his moral code) into the policy changes that this country and our world need. I hate that I had not just hope, but real faith, and every day, I feel that faith grow smaller and dimmer. I didn’t think that Barack Obama was the Messiah, or a magic unicorn, but I believed he was a genuinely stronger, more talented, and morally consistent person than any other President I have known. I hate that I really don’t much think that anymore.

And yet. This thing that the White House released on Thursday, his contribution to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, matters. The fact that the President of the United States of America turned to LGBT kids and said “you didn’t do anything wrong”  — it just moves me so. So many of these kids live not just with the sense, but with the sure knowledge that not only have they done something wrong — but they are themselves Wrong. The fact of their own President telling them that this is in no way the case is just gut-punchingly powerful.

So tonight I’m moved, tonight I’m grateful. I hope that tomorrow, he’ll give me a few more reasons to feel both.


Bonus It Gets Better: In terms of sheer power, the following “It Gets Better” clip is right off the charts. In it, Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns talks about the rash of suicides among LGBT youth, and his own experiences as a young gay man, and it’s one of the most astonishing moments in American politics that I’ve ever seen. It will not bring back the dead, and it will not save those who are already lost — but I have never seen a more unequivocal sign that the arc of our universe has bent, irrevocably, several notches closer to justice on the question of gay rights. God bless this man.

Israel: Buffeted by fate? Or a character in its own play?

I don’t have time for much today — I seem to be even busier than I think I am (witness the light posting since last week) — but I keep thinking about something that I want to get out there in the world.

There is something very curious to the right-wing Israeli/Israeli apologist insistence that, say, settlement building isn’t what will wreck the peace process — if the Palestinians walk away over settlement expansion, it’ll just be another example of (as the Foreign Ministry took it upon itself to tweet me the other day) the Palestinians “once again miss[ing] an historic opportunity for peace.”

Or: The fact that there is no peace today doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Israel ignored the peace offer made by all 22 members of the Arab League in 2002 (and repeated in 2006) — it’s that the Arab countries rejected the division of Palestine in 1948, or attacked in 1967, or supported Lebanon in 1982, or call today for an end to Israel’s violent control of Palestinian lives.

Or: Anti-Israeli violence, from suicide bombings to Qassam rockets, has nothing to do with Israel’s occupation, its bombing runs over Gaza, its road blocks in the West Bank, its constant building on Palestinian lands, the human desire for freedom and dignity — no, Palestinian violence is an expression of hatred, pure and simple. Anti-Semitism.

Or – well, or any number of other examples.

And when people like me suggest that Israel has some responsibility for its current state of affairs, the right calls us revisionists. Because, if I understand this attitude correctly, suggesting that Israel has some responsibility for its current state of affairs is an act of going into history books and re-writing what reasonable people know to be true.

But here’s the thing: What underlies this approach is an essential infantilization, a disenfranchisement, of Israel as a state and the Israelis as a people.

Our behavior has no real-world implications, our behavior can do nothing to change our fate, our behavior plays no role in our relationship with the Arab world, beyond a base-level preservation of the state. Like the baby who can’t get the food he wants from the cupboard, but can at least clamp his mouth shut. Like the toddler who can’t make Daddy play, but can at least get his attention by breaking a lamp.

I prefer to believe that my country and I (both of my countries and I, come to that) have agency. We actually play a role in the way things are turning out — which, in turn, means that we can play a different role, if we choose.

I am aware, of course, that the right-wing approach is not predicated on a flat, cardboard cut-out reading of Israel and the Israelis, but rather on a flat, cardboard cut-out reading of “the Arabs.”

But there is always a flip-side to these things. If “the Arabs” aren’t fully-rounded characters, with all that humanity entails, from the lovely to the debased — well then, we aren’t really either. As an Israeli friend once said about the “Security Barrier” that now runs up and down the West Bank: “We forget that walls have two sides.”

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as in any human relationship, when we’re able to claim responsibility for our actions, we can also claim a new kind of power. Rather than being buffeted by fate, we can influence the direction that fate takes.

Or is it easier to believe that Israelis are babies — and the rest of the world animals?



Israel/Palestine: the basics.

Israel/Palestine peace advocacy – places to start.

Israel/Palestine – a reading list.

A day in the life.

Today I…

– wrote an op/ed for someone I’ve never met, via a PR firm, at which I have met one person, but not the person I was working with today, who I have never met.

– discovered various Items Of Great Import that the boy (who is actually trying very hard not to do this anymore) had forgotten at home. Prevailed upon the husband to drop them at school on his way to work. Wondered if maybe the ladies in the middle school office now know the husband by name.

– tried, without success, to track down a particular chunk of money that appears to have gone awry. Or amiss. Or possibly agley.

– made reservations at the “boutique hotel” (nicely renovated apartment building) at which we like to stay when we’re in Tel Aviv (cause we’re going in a month).

– tweeted a few tweets. Discovered that James Fallows at The Atlantic is following me. Passed out. Was revived.

– failed again to call my friend Hazel, but remembered that I have an excuse: I can’t find her number. Was reminded that I’m too embarrassed to email her to tell her that. Was then reminded that I could just call her on Skype. Was in turn reminded that Skype is oddly mysterious to me, and I have yet to actually use it. Was reminded that I am lame.

– attempted to throw in the towel on the girl’s Halloween costume, in the wake of this weekend’s heinous discovery that either a) I can’t sew a stretch fabric to save my life or b) my machine is a piece of crap that can’t sew a stretch fabric to save its life. Took cut fabric and pattern to the seamstress at the cleaners — only to have her come up with every excuse in the book not to do it (!). Was reduced to returning to the fabric store to buy the “wrong” fabric, a fabric which might not suit the demands of the Simplicity fabric designers but with which I am at least able to work. Sighed heavily, and repeatedly.

– bought flowers with which to construct a head lei for the girl to wear in our final mother-daughter (parent-child) hula class this evening. Constructed lei.

– re-wrote op/ed.

– called synagogue to make reservations for the various events surrounding our new rabbi’s installation. Commented to self that this makes the new rabbi sound like an art project, or pipes.

– attended said hula class. Put lei on own head at the girl’s request when the girl declared it “too heavy” for her wee head. Danced a little hula.

– practiced the haftorah that I will be chanting in shul on Shabbat. Discovered a verse with more bizarre trope (cantillation) in it than I have ever before seen in a single verse. Struggled mightily with said verse; may have prevailed. Judge is still out on this.

– threw soup, rolls, and fruit on the table, calling this supper.

– failed to place the Peapod order.

– at various and random moments of the day found myself aghast, enraged, horrified, and/or mortified by the news out of Israel, the news out of America’s mid-term elections, the news out of Washington. Wished very, very, very hard that I might never have to think about any of these things ever again.

– read two Mad Men recaps. Dude – Don proposed to Megan?!

– wondered why it was that my brain couldn’t gather itself sufficiently to write the post I had planned about God and how maybe He’s not omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, or omni-anything.

– sighed heavily, and repeatedly. Some more.

…the best is yet to be.

So. Got my first bifocals the other day – or, oops, my bad: My first progessives. Which, aside from sounding much nicer than “bifocals” (and, if I’m not mistaken, being, in fact, a better descriptor of the current lens technology) rather suits my politics. So there’s that!

I think I’m supposed to be depressed by this turn of events, or mortified, or summat, but honestly, the more I adjust to them, the happier I am. It’s just so much easier to fucking see now! For a long time, my eyes were bad enough to be really annoying, but not bad enough to warrant a whole new approach to corrective eye-wear — so, like a kid waiting for her next birthday so that she could finally get her ears pierced, I spent a good year anxiously awaiting my further decrepitude, so that I could get old lady glasses. Wheee! I can seeee!

And so it has struck me that, in fact, there are a good handful of things to look forward to as the years take their toll. I’m not loving the drying of my formerly lustrous locks, for instance, but on the other hand, not having to shower so much? Awesome!

Let’s see, what else awaits….

  1. No babysitters – In four or five years’ time, I will no long have to pay double just to go out of an evening. “Double?” you say, “what’s this?” — yes, double: Once for the event, once for the warm body who keeps the children alive. Remember the notion of “sponge-worthy”? Well, I’m now at the stage in my life where I have to consider whether something is “babysitter-worthy.” Entire events have been jettisoned because the very notion of spending anywhere from $20-$50 just to leave the house made the entire event entirely unappealing.
  2. Less acne – Note: I do not say “an end to acne.” Given that my pimple situation actually got (and remained) worse after my 25th birthday, I have begun to sense that it’s not really ever going to leave me alone. Indeed, just the other day my dermatologist, in the process of giving me my annual no-those-moles-don’t-look-cancerous once-over, was reduced to saying to me (a 46-year-old grown-ass woman) “No picking!” as his eyes took in the left corner of my chin. So.
  3. My old lady accoutrement will no longer be mockable – There’s stuff that I’ve begun to use that, at my age, is the stuff of mockery: Wrap-around sunglasses, for instance, that go on top of my regular glasses. Socks that I wear to bed. A heating pad tucked into the back of my pants on cold winter days. Go ahead, mock me now — you’ll be in good company — but I rest easy in the knowledge that a) you’re using some of this shit too, you’re just hiding it and b) as the years advance, all this stuff will just be “accoutrement.” Because I’ll be an old lady. (Though I’d like the record to show that I’ve finally found clip-ons and hardly use my wrap-arounds at all).
  4. Grandchildren – You heard me! I miss my own babies, and I’ve always found the age of 2-5 to be the most magical of childhood. I can’t wait for my kids to (get old enough to take on the responsibilities incumbent upon anyone who has begun to) start bringing home my grandbabies! I may have to go work as a preschool assistant at some point, because if memory serves, grandchildren tend to grow up, too.
  5. Gravy time – My dad died when he was 35. Thirty-five. When I was growing up, I had no idea how young that was. Now I do. Every birthday I’ve achieved past 35 has felt like victory, every year I’ve lived past 35 has felt like gravy — extra time, bonus years, stuff that my poor dad never got to see, and for which I am thus that much more grateful. And honestly, it’s nice to know that when my back creaks and my steps are slow, I’ll be able to appreciate the privilege. Perspective (also a gift of the years) is a good thing.

Sit! Stay!

I’m sorry I haven’t been here! I took it upon myself to post to this blog-thinga-ma-hoozie on the daily, and I’ve mostly done it, but I sure didn’t yesterday, and I’m not sure that I (really) will today.

In the meantime, may I recommend this predictably awesome video by Jay Smooth? In it, he talks about how, in this crazy-mixed-up-not-quite-but-on-our-way-there-post-racial-world, we need to become not lazier with each other and each other’s sensibilities, but more respectful and more caring. And that anyway, isn’t that how we should be acting in all of our relationships?

Only, you know, he’s funny and eloquent.

Watch! (Then visit his vlog!)

I’ll be back!


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