Last Note From the Temporary Curmudgeon

I’m home. Glad to be here. I missed family, friends, New York. Now I miss my daughter, my grandson, the colors of Bangkok. It feels good to be cold, to see blue sky. To breathe air that doesn’t choke me.

the homecoming was relatively easy. My flight was on time, arriving early on a Wednesday morning. Amazingly, despite the predictions of horror in the immigration hall, the line moved quickly. I thanked the officer who checked me in, and he squeezed my hand.

“Thanks.” He said. “That’s good to hear. Let’s just hope it ends soon. . . ” Then he looked wistfully at me and said, “Welcome home.”

Qatar partially redeemed itself on the return flight. On the first leg, from Bangkok to Doha, I was fortunate enough to have sitting behind me a loud, drunken Russian lout. He and three of his cronies were shouting with one another, drinking and singing disruptively. It was 8 in the evening, and I planned to sleep as soon as the cabin lights were turned off. So I donned my best NY ignore’emall demeanor and settled down to pretend he wasn’t there.

After the meal was served and cleared, and darkness enveloped the cold space, I leaned my seat back and wrapped myself in my winter layers preparing to drift off. The Russian behind me leaned forward and said, “No, madame. No no.” His voice was threatening. I could hear the mob vibrating in his growl.

Still in ignore’emall mode, I paid him no heed.

He kicked the back of my chair. I failed to react. He called the flight attendant. Then he called five more flights. He insisted that I be reprimanded for insisting on reclining my seat. Each of them insisted their turns that I had the right to do just that. They offered to move him to a bulkhead (premium) seat with more legroom. He refused, insisting yet again it was their job to make me stop reclining into his space.

They would not budge. Neither would he. It got absurd, and his friends were beginning to be audibly agitated. The scolded him but clearly worried that he might explode.

I offered to move. The Qatar people gratefully put me in the bulkhead. No reclining seat there. I sat awake for the entire duration of the seven-hour flight. The flight attendants stopped by begging my forgiveness, offering me food, drink, et al. I told them again and again that it was not their fault. I was fine.

In Doha, the security check I endured from one flight to the other was humiliating. The body checks one is forced to endure once one has a prosthetic limb or joint are intolerable. We have no choice but to put up with them. There is no avoiding them. Each time they constitute a moment of awful, and then you move on. This was among the worst. But no more than a moment.

When I sat in my seat in the NY-bound aircraft, I saw a chance for total retribution. The flight was empty. I asked permission and then moved across the aisle, where I prepared to spread out. A few minutes before take-off, a lovely young attendant came and asked me would I move to the middle seat so that a woman in a seat a few rows ahead could sit here. I felt tears bubbling as I looked at the young woman and said, “Let me tell you my tale of woe. If, after you hear it, you need my seat, I will relinquish. . . .”

When I wrapped the tale of the Russian thug, the flight attendant was overcome with emotion. “You can stay here,” she said, patting me on the shoulder. “If anyone insists that you move, you tell them I said you are to keep these seats all the way to New York.”

And that is just what I did.

Notes From A Temporary Curmudgeon – Day 6

6. Complacency and the Government Shut-Down

The most depressing spectacle to watch from my faraway perch was way the orange-faced toddler masquerading as a potus made a mockery of our Constitution. It is far from surprising that he throws bigger and louder tantrums, that he engages in increasingly disturbing manipulations. It’s what two-year-olds do. We can’t expect any better from him.

But why do we put up with him? We stand by wringing our hands and calling him names, laughing with the comedians who mock his outrageous idiocy. But we don’t do anything to stop his actions.

He shut down the government, putting our national security and the livelihoods of millions of our compatriots in jeopardy. We did nothing.

He reopened the government and simultaneously threatened to shut it down again. We laughed.

He suggests that unpaid government workers, the Joe Schmoes who are forced to live without income until the baby gets his way, should ask their churches and grocers for help when they can’t afford to buy food. We shake our heads in dismay.

Why is the country not out on a general strike? Every union in America, every group in this country should be refusing to work, refusing to carry on until the government is reinstated in full. It’s not a simple matter of establishing solidarity with the workers being exploited. We all have much to lose.

Many public servants, from teachers to street cleaners, stand to be cut off in many states that depend on aid from the National government. Railroad, airline employees, dock workers, and all manner of public transportation people could be expected to accept pay cuts at very least. Medicaid and Medicare will eventually suffer, as will Social Security.

Once the government gets away with eliminating paychecks, there is no barrier to ending others, to shutting down the country in myriad financial ways. They have the control. They can do it. None of us is safe.

We have given the little whiner well more than an inch. Who knows what he will take?

 

If we let him.

Judgment Day

The Face of Heroism

I met my neighbor on the bus the other day. We began our conversation, as we are wont to do, by exchanging details about our various children and grandchildren before falling into the usual lamentations.

“Can you believe what. . . “

“No, I feel like I’m living in a cave reeking of batshit.”

“Right? Nothing makes any sense anymore. . . How can so much doubt remain when three women. . . .“

We nodded, shook our heads, tzikached profusely. Kavanaugh, his accusers, the tradition of blaming women. We shared mutual condolences.

Then I made the mistake of saying, “All this, and Bill Cosby gets only THREE years for drugging and raping –“

She jumped in.

“Well, it was only one woman. Three years seems reasonably punitive for an old man. Especially because we can only prove it happened once.”

What?

“Further,” she went on. “A young woman has the right to say no. You accept a dinner invitation from a Bill Cosby, you know what he wants. What are you doing going out with him at all?”

I realized talking to this woman, whose intelligence and empathy I generally trust, why we older women continue to be part of the disconnect in America. The rules have changed, and instead of embracing the new world order, our judgment remains crippled by old standards.

When my neighbor and I were young, the so-called Sexual Revolution was just getting underway. We got caught up in it, and as we did, we endured the disapproval and shame of the society that had not yet embraced its precepts. We were called sluts, easy women, weaklings without morals. Women were not supposed to explore options, to experiment with sex, to enjoy it. Their imperative was to comply with the wishes of the patriarchy.

We knew that if we spoke out about our experiences with assault, molestation, denigration – and believe me, I know NO one who has had those experiences – we would only besmirch our own good names. I was keenly aware that when I turned down s casting director’s demand for a blowjob, when I eschewed the opportunity to gratify an employer, I was ruining my chances to move forward professionally or personally. I would become the subject of gossip. I would be ostracized not only by the would-be usurper himself but by everyone he either supervised or collaborated with.

I was lucky in that way. I never felt like I had nowhere to go when things didn’t work out for me where I was. There was no driving compunction to give in to male impulses. There was always a refuge. My mother joked about the swinging door on the family home, and my grandmother kept the apartment in her basement stocked, furnished and ready for any time I might opt to leave where I was in order return and begin yet again.

I began many times. We did in those days. Marriage removed us from the fray. It gave us a comfortable hiding place, an awning to protect us from the inevitable detritus that would drop out of that man’s world. Marriage was admirable. No more shame. No more idiotic comments about single women from other women.

In my single days, a self-righteous matriarch told me my hips looked like they were spreading. That, she said, was a true sign I was sleeping around. “Easy virtue, spreading hips,” she sneered. In marriage, we could watch our hips spread with childbearing and be proud of our sexual activity.

We took it all in. In our hearts, however, we rejected the notion that the traditions must continue. We raised our daughters to push back, to stand up to the men who were holding them down. In the process, we taught our daughters to hate that we were not able to do that for ourselves. We forgot to teach our daughters what it was like to be entirely ruled by the parameters of the ruling penises, what it felt like to be unable to open a bank account, have a credit card, rent a car, buy a house without a man’s name attached to ours.

No matter how they judged us. We taught them to refuse to comply.

Now many of us look at them and feel a pang of regret. Maybe they are right about us. If they are successful in fighting back, why were we paralyzed? If they can achieve some kind of retribution, why did we succumb? What is wrong with us?

Nothing. We got our restraint from our own mothers, women who had survived the Great Depression, escaped the horrors of two world wars, fought for the right to work outside the home. Many of them were born before or shortly after the 19th Amendment allowed them to vote. We honored their achievement and initiated the Women’s Movement. We applauded our more brazen sisters who publically burned their bras. We hitchhiked through Europe singing protest songs and making the case for an ERA. And then we raised our daughters to say, “NO.”

But our self-doubt, our self-chastisement can lead to a lapse in judgment so that we say stupid things like, “There was only one. . . .”

Too many of my peers are willing to look the other way as Kavanaugh steamrolls toward confirmation. More shockingly, I learned this week that my 27 Freshman Comp students at a city university, 25 of whom are female, do not know who Anita Hill is. They are nearly as complacent as my cohorts in age about the fact that Rachel Mitchell, a hardline Republican, a friend of criminal Sherrif Arpaio, is conducting Dr. Ford’s hearings. Have our misgivings encouraged our daughters to teach our granddaughters to remain silent? I hope not.

We live in dangerous times. The patriarchy recognizes that women must be silenced. Again. That they are in danger of coming unhinged if we are not checked. It’s dangerous to defend Bill Cosby or to question Dr. Christine Ford Blasey’s veracity. Every time one of us does that, they are victorious.

We don’t have to let them win.

There are plenty of liberated women and men to take the legislature from the ruling, oligarchic party. There are enough enlightened women and their male allies to upend the system. Women need not be dismissed, abused, assaulted, denigrated. We have sat by and allowed the maltreatment to go on long enough. Women in my generation owe it to our country to take a firm stand against the fetid tide.

It’s time for us to remind our daughters what we are made of.

 

 

 

Julius, O Julius, Wherefore Art Thou Julius?

Shakespeare in the Park is irresistible because. . . Central Park (photo by Joan Marcus).

The main problem with the Public Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, now playing at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, is that its frame is warped. Director Oskar Eustis has set the tale first in New York City then in Washington, D.C., in the time of our current great distress. He has dressed his Julius Caesar as a lean and hungry Trump, who struts and frets his overlong hour upon the stage as a great buffoon. This Caesar plunges stupidly into the senators’ trap, dying ignominiously in a moment closer to commedia dell’arte than tragic drama. His death is a relief to us all. The mayhem that ensues seems unmotivated.

It’s a silly notion from the get-go likening the Carrot-in-Chief to the second noblest Roman of them all. It is akin to Dan Quayle’s self-comparison to JFK. We’ve studied Caesar in history, in literature. Anyone who took Latin read of Caesar’s exploits in his own words. We know Julius Caesar. That guy in the White House is no Julius Caesar.

The fault is not in the stars but in our President. The players have a firm grasp on their characters, but #45 is anything but the brilliant tactician, valiant soldier, and learned scholar Julius Caesar was. In his will, the real Caesar named the people of Rome among his heirs, and much of his property was turned over to the city. He was, in theory at least, a proponent of human rights. In Shakespeare’s version of the tale, he is a true patriot, whose vaulting ambition undermines his love of country. As trusted as a politician might be, that Caesar is an upholder of the Republic, a servant of the people.

The current American POTUS believes in nothing and in no one but himself. His ambition may sometimes pose as patriotism, but he abhors the body politic and disdains his fellow citizens. He is a narcissist, a pompous blowhard, whose rise to power is entirely the folly of the rabble that Marullus addresses at the top of the play as, “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!” These modern day “hard hearts of Rome” have raised up a feeble prince as their savior, and it is his inadequacy that destroys the current production at its core.

Theoretically, this play is an apt mirror unto our times. It’s about the corruption of power, about the way in which the fickle masses aggrandize false prophets, the way we easily relinquish our power to undeserving leaders. And what is art if not the means by which we see ourselves? As Brutus tells Cassius, “ . . . the eye sees not itself/ But by reflection.” If the play were the thing wherein to catch the conscience of a despot, then the slings and arrows of post-Pompey Rome should be the perfect foil for our present morass.

But Shakespeare’s play is lost in a jumble of ill-fitting implications. Having chosen to contemporize the play, Eustis could have preserved it and made it work in the way that some of our best popular entertainment works. Julius Caesar is as much Frank Underwood (House of Cards) or Don Draper (Mad Men) as he is the self-proclaimed Roman god. If Eustis had cast a Trump-ish leader without the multiple specifics that make this one exclusively Donald Trump, the play might have prevailed. It might have been set anywhere in the US, the title character played as any generic American politician. The satire would be obvious. The audience would extrapolate the underlying meaning without graphic detail. The writing is strong enough to work without the cartoonishly overblown visual references this director supplies. But Eustis doesn’t trust us.

His Julius Caesar is more about itself than it is about anything verging on what Shakespeare created. This JC strides the earth like a Donald-cloned Colossus, replete with the long red tie and the bright yellow pompadour. His Calpurnia (Tina Benko) walks with a sneer and speaks with an exaggerated Slovenian accent. There is no doubt who these two are. Eustis is so afraid we won’t get it, he even adds words to Caesar’s opening statements, having him directly address the good people of New York, telling them he is the greatest, that he will please them bigly. Then, just to be sure we haven’t missed it, he sets the scene preceding the murder in a bathtub full of steaming water. Calpurnia, rolling all her Rs and jumbling her sentence structure, almost succeeds in seducing him into staying at home on this dangerous Ides of March. But when the conspirators arrive and convince him he must to the Senate and receive his just rewards, this Orange Julius stands so that everyone can see his shriveled little appendage. Thanks, Mr. Eustis.

Calpurnia (Tina Benko) uses body language to dissuade her Caesar (Gregg Henry) from leaving his home on his fateful day. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

The production definitely improved after Caesar’s death. But even then, it reminded me more of a high school theater’s attempt at satire. The addition of crowds chanting “We rise” and “Resist” and other all-too-recognizable standards was cheap, amateurish. The hand was so overplayed that the overall experience was numbing.

Which was too bad on many levels.

Brutus (Corey Stoll) and Cassius (John Douglas Thompson) seal their deal. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Some wonderful acting got lost in the melee. Corey Stoll’s brooding Brutus is a thoughtful intellectual. But played in the light of the stunningly farcical Caesar, he seems more like the supercilious guy from the SNL “Deep Thoughts” routine of years ago. John Douglas Thompson is a powerful Cassius, whose ardor and sincerity work well when he is in scenes with Stoll’s Brutus but look ridiculous when he’s anywhere near the other characters and the absurdity of the staging. Stoll and Thompson are in a play of their own. Whenever they must interact with the rest of the company, they are like characters from a Pirandello scenario experimenting with interpretations. Especially when they are playing scenes opposite this feeble Julius Caesar. Or Marc Anthony.

Elizabeth Marvel’s Anthony, with an on-again-off-again Southern accent, is as much a cartoon as the slain hero she mourns. She reminded me more of the television version of Wonder Woman than of anyone cunning enough to have led the retaliation forces that shape the play’s action. I love that a woman is entrusted with this role. I wish the actor, who has played so many powerful, strong-willed, charismatic leaders in her past, had had license to embody a soldier I might have believed.

Nor is Gregg Henry culpable. He plays Julius Caesar exactly as the production demands. Which makes for an overlong SNL skit – where he’d give Alex Baldwin some real competition – rather than anything close to real dramatic art. If this were a sketch by the Uptown Citizens’ Brigade, I’d give him a standing ovation. Alas, it’s Shakespeare in the Park.

And something I’m a bit unclear about here. When Julius Caesar is assassinated, there is no question that the man with the tight suit and the impervious swagger is the present POTUS. Which means that in essence, it is #45 who is stabbed in effigy. How is that not treason? How does this not cross the line? And when the line is crossed, how is the satirist any less officious and self-important than his subject?

It’s all well and good to time bend, gender bend, and story bend in Shakespeare. Two Verona gentlemen dancing blithely in ‘70s hip-hop psychedilia, a midsummer night’s dream transpiring in a floating phantasm of umbrellas, and Coriolanus as a Nazi general are easily acceptable. Each is a fitting transformation. Shakespeare wrote characters and stories that breathe universally over time and across any era. But in order for the re-juxtaposing to work, the basic assumption must be appropriate.

In the end, Julius Caesar is not a comedy of errors, and it doesn’t play well as one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Can We Not Resist? (reprinted from Medium.com)

Photo by Aylan Kurdi

Photo by Aylan Kurdi

That photo. The Syrian baby lying face down in the water.

I can’t bear to look at it, yet I cannot look away. That beautiful child, so like children I have loved, so very like my own grandchild now living in a faraway land, who will never feel welcome in her parent’s homeland.

As the child of immigrants, who would not exist had my family not figured out how to circumvent the ban on refugees in 1939 that deemed Poles too dark, too swarthy to be admitted, especially if they were Jews, how can I not abhor the implications of that photo? How can I not scream murder, now that the Predator-in-Chief has exercised his Executive Privilege and has broken the law by banning refugees from seven countries, including Syria, whose people are being massacred and cannot stay where they are.

In school, the lessons we learned in Civics classes taught us that America was not only the land of the free and home of the brave but also the land of Checks and Balances. We have three branches of government so that no one branch becomes too powerful. Why is the judiciary allowing this flagrant law breaking to happen? Why is the Legislature not standing up for the laws they have enacted?

It is clear that it is up to us, The People to demand that our Union be treated with respect. We cannot accept the abuse, cannot allow the current state of affairs to become normalized. We must defy this executive order that, like the other 44 that have been ramrodded through in the past ten days, defies understanding. And this executive order is the one that is the most indefensible thus far.

Because this order sets a precedent. It paves the way for more heinous implications. It puts every one of us in jeopardy though it is being advertised as a measure to protect us from interlopers. In truth, it is a measure to divide us, to terrify us, to make us look for bogeymen in our closets, under our beds, next door, in our communities.

And in time, it will allow each of us to be banned in our turn.

The bare truth is that not one American has ever been killed by anyone from any of the seven banned countries. Even 9/11, which was one of the few acts of violence enacted on American soil by outsiders, was not perpetrated by anyone from any country on the banned list. It was orchestrated almost openly, defiantly, by Jihadists in Saudi Arabia, a country with whom the Bushes were accused of colluding, a country with whom the Trump Koch oligarchs who want to strangle America have deep financial ties, a country saliently not included on the ignominious list. The countries listed are homes to some of the poorest, neediest, most endangered souls on this earth.

There is a pattern here, part of the pattern being woven domestically. The Oligarchy is moving toward hording all our resources. It will eliminate the poor and the working poor and the middle class by putting health care and assistance and ample education out of our reach. And it will circle the wagons to keep the poor out and let only the wealthy in

Yet Americans buy the Kool-Aid, drink it willingly, feel grateful that they are being protected from some encroaching danger that is aiming its slings and arrows at the core of our existences. It’s easy to stick the Muslims out. So many of us don’t comprehend who they are, what they represent, what they believe. Propoganda is powerfully effective, the sugar that sweetens our sadder realities.

Terrorism by Muslims makes up less than one-third of one percent of all murders in this country. A far greater percentage are the result of domestic violence, violence that this administration would like to decriminalize.

This same administration will make it increasingly impossible for gun safety laws to be enacted. Your neighbor’s middle-aged aunt in Somalia who needs a heart transplant may be blocked from entry to our country, but guns being transported from illegal points of distribution worldwide are under no such scrutiny. Any angry husband almost anywhere in America can find a way to get a gun to kill his family.

The current nominee for Secretary of Education suggests we need guns in schools to protect our children from grizzly bears though she cannot have possibly missed the fact that not one single child has been massacred in a grizzly bear attack. Many have, however, been cut down in far more grizzly attacks by disgruntled white teenagers or white supremacists or locally disenfranchised misfits, for whom assault weapons are easier to obtain than Twizzlers.

No single school at any level in any community of any part of this country has been attacked by terrorists from anywhere abroad. But since a heavily armed, sociopathic teen gunned down twenty six- and seven-year-olds plus six of their care givers and teachers, gun violence in schools continues its steady rise.

Somehow, it has become okay for white psychopaths to terrorize our families, but it’s not okay for the huddled masses to seek refuge in the arms of Lady Liberty.

Most shocking to me is that there is a faction of pseudo-religious zealots, who call themselves pro-lifers cheering for these Draconian measures, trumpeting their approval, insisting that our resistance should be put down. They claim to advocate for the unborn children who deserve to live.

How can this photo not move them to rise up against such blatant hypocrisy?

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-12-06-44-pm

photo by Aylan Kurdi

 

 

 

 

 

Border Wars on the Mind

I perceive Gaza these days through a Texas-tempered lens.  Watching the hateful  citizenry of the wealthiest country in the world scream obscenities at indigent waifs displaced by violence and poverty, instructing them to go back to where they come from, I am reminded of stories my mother told about her arrival in Kingston just before WWII.  My mother was no waif, and poverty was not the impetus for her flight to the Land of Opportunity, but her stories inevitably lead me all the way to Gaza.

Mom’s family arrived without their patriarch in April, 1939, toward the end of what proved to be her junior year in high school.   She surprised herself by passing the English regents exam in May and so began the process of applying to college.  Her senior year felt friendless to her; classmates jeered her, mocked her accent.  Girls in the lunch room turned chairs over so she could not sit with them, and in gym class, they threw dirty socks and wet towels at her.  Teachers derided her, telling her they were unable to understand her when she spoke, deliberately refusing to call on her in class. The entire community – especially the entrenched first-and-second generation descendants of immigrants– treated her and her siblings as interlopers, avoiding them all at synagogue and football games alike, attempting to rebuff her brother’s attempts to join the Boy Scouts, even suggesting on numerous occasions that the lot of them return to their “own country.”

Fresh off the boat, Charlotte Robinson, my mother,  was 16 in 1939.

Fresh off the boat, Charlotte Robinson, my mother, turned 16 in 1939.

Of course, they owned no country any more than those homeless children seeking asylum at our Southwest borders do today.  Born in Austria during a time when Jews were highly respected, my mother reached her teens at precisely the time when Jews were successfully relegated to the status of lice.  Her passport, any European’s primary form of identification, was stamped Israelische, marking her as an outsider, a member of the tribe of Israel.  She was not Austrian.

Which was initially why she joined the Jabotinsky youth, planned to leave the vitriolic land of her birth to claim her rightful home in Eretz Isroel.

My grandfather put a stop to that.  “You think I’ll let you leave the Nazis only to throw yourself into the hands of the Arabs who want you dead?  Besides,” he told her, “the Jews cannot own the ‘promised land because the Europeans will never let it go.  You will come with us to America.’”

She was only 15; she acquiesced.  Ironically, she emigrated without her father.  In a move that may have helped to seal the fate of the Middle East, the United States closed its borders to Jews like my grandfather, who were born in countries that seemed somehow un-Caucasian, such as Poland, and were frantically seeking refuge under Lady Liberty’s lamp.  While my mother endured the slurs of her classmates, her father lived in Havana, working to become a Cuban citizen who might then be allowed to enter the United States.

America has never really welcomed the huddled masses.  At the end of WWII, American money –much of it from second and third generation Americans protecting their American territory from newcomers to these shores – veritably gushed in support of the partition of Israel, over the protestations of the local Palestinians.  It was more expedient to force the displacement of the Palestinians, to fuel the hatred of neighboring Arab countries, who wanted nothing to do with either Palestinians or Jews, than to profer better solutions to a problem to which they had been catalysts in the first place.

Over the arc of time, the European imperialists and Americans had imposed arbitrary boundaries across the Middle East, comporting themselves like puppet masters overseeing a bloody marionette show for their own entertainment.  In much the same way the British and the French turned Iroquois against Algonquin in the so-called French and Indian War by arming the natives and rewarding their aggression, the Western world played the locals off against one another, all over the Middle East.  Today the forces seem to have raised the stakes,  and they produce animatronic battles between Palestinian and Israelis (and between Suni And Shiite Muslims elsewhere), doling out money to each side so that the show runners can sit back and watch both sides exchange bombardments.   In the present Gaza conflagration, the U.S. has steadfastly encouraged the warring factions to go at one another, financing a bloodier extension of the age-old Jacob vs Esau, Isaac vs Ishmael rivalries.  They have sent millions of dollars to Hamas for the building of missile tunnels; and they have sent more millions of dollars to Israel for the building of The Dome.  The combatants in Gaza are egged on, like contestants in an obscene reality television show, while the odds are alternately stacked for one side or the other.

Unfortunately, each side is fueled by the deeply religious conviction that that side has a God-given right to the land, was placed there by divine ordinance.  Religion is an immovable feast.

But even were the religious obstinacy absent, neither side has anywhere else to go. The two peoples are caught in a battle for survival, and until one side finally trusts the other enough to make concessions, they’ll be unable to settle things.  So long as Hamas promises to eradicate the Land of Israel by any means possible, Israel cannot trust them to honor boundaries; so long as Israel won’t concede the West Bank, which Israel considers essential to guarding against eradication, Hamas won’t accept compromise.

Which leaves them both unable to stop fighting.  If there were another place to create a homeland; if, for example, the US offered a chunk of Arizona or Utah – where vast open areas of desert beg to be developed – as an alternate place to establish Israel or Palestine, would one group exit and start over?  We’ll never know.  Because both groups are as unwelcome in their diaspora as the children being sent back to South and Central America are in theirs.  So neither side is able to let go of their claim to the land of Abraham, their common ancestor.  They’re orphans, hated universally, shunned by all.

Somewhere I imagine closed circuit television cameras recording the action, playing back the videos in some perverse gambling casino, where bets are flying, emirs and pashas and captains of industry and Wall Street moguls and all kinds of professional gamblers are getting rich placing bets on how many Palestinian children will die in how much time and how many weeks Israeli children can hold out in their giant dome before it’s their turn to be destroyed.

It’s a vicious storm, from which nobody is safe.

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I herewith enter my work into a blog post relay, invited to do so by a wonderfully talented and generous blogger by the name of Thelma Adams. You can see Thelma pictured here, in a photo I pilfered from her FB post, showing her with MoMA film curator Rajenda Roy at the Provincetown Film FEstival. thelmaandroy

You can read her blog here: http://www.thelmadams.com. The first part of the process is to answer a few questions about my process.

To whit:
1. What am I working on now? Oh, dear, that is a convoluted question. Is it ever not a convoluted question for writers? It looks like we’re doing nothing but staying home and grazing, avoiding the telephone, shunning family and friends, being insular. But in fact, we have several projects at work in various stages, and everything out there is a distraction, every loved one an unwitting saboteur. Okay. So I’ll attempt to answer the question. I am at present accumulating research notes on life in Vienna and Zagreb between world wars, especially in the assimilated Jewish community, for a book I am writing about my mother’s generation, the losses they endured, and the devastating effect of that loss on my generation. At the same time, I am interviewing people, visiting sites in NYC for my column in Catch & Release, the Columbia Journal online (http://catchandrelease.columbiajournal.org/2014/06/12/get-real-robert-schenkkan-helps-unpack-the-paradox-of-all-the-way/), which I file every other Thursday. So far, I have posted stories about Hilton Als, Robert Schenkkan; a look at the Leslie-Lohman Museum will debut Thursday, and I am working on my post for the week of the 10th of July. Stay tuned. When it comes to my blog, I try to write my own observations. Sometimes I review film or theater or literature, sometimes I’ll describe a character or characters, other times I’ll comment on a social condition. Often, I reprint articles that I have published elsewhere.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? Like most skillful writers, I have a distinct voice, a specific point of view. I am a story teller, and I try to infuse some of my sense of irony, even my dark humor, but I am not a comic writer; I tell stories with pathos, but I am not a dark dramatist. I let the story mirror its own emotion, keep it as non-manipulative as the story allows me to be. I am more interested in the people I write about than the plot of their story, so there will always be more detail about the life my characters live than the blow-by-blow of the storyline.

3. Why do I write what I do? I am compelled to write about moments I believe will shine a light on other people’s circumstances. I hope that there is a universal nugget in every story I tell, a portal to understanding some aspect of the human existence that had been hiding under a different point of view. I am especially interested in why and how people survive, what survival costs and what it earns, how survival redirects lives. I am less interested in heroics than I am in the more difficult task of surviving in the face of powerlessness. There is more acknowledgement for the survivor who rails against fate and wrestles it to the death than there is for the survivor who flees. Sometimes escape takes more courage, more strength than any kind of pushback, and I want to tell stories of people who endured, carried on, lived with the knowledge that they did not turn things around.

4. How does my writing process work? As you can plainly see from my first reply here, I am an inveterate procrastinator, but that procrastination is integral to my process. I must take walks, wander my apartment investigating the contents of my cupboards and refrigerator, flip tv channels, crunch chips or cucumbers or cauliflower, play a few rounds of Scrabble while my thoughts gel, and then I can begin to formulate the words on a page. I am a good excuse fabricator, but in the final analysis, I can get down to business pretty efficiently, especially if I know I have a deadlines,  to which I am very responsive. (One reason I returned to school last year was to impose stricter deadlines on myself.)  Mostly, I think the hardest thing I have to accomplish is giving myself permission to write. I grew up being trained to see my duty to family, house and community as far more important than the simple accumulation of words, and I a constantly reminding myself that writing is my work now, writing is my obligation, writing is my reason for being.

I have invited three writers to join me on this tour, and I am awaiting confirmation from two. But fortunately for everyone, Caroline Gerardo, the author of several novels, including Toxic Assets and The Lucky Boy, has agreed to join. Besides being a novelist, Caroline is a performance poet, a photographer a blogger (http://carolinegerardo.blogspot.com ). Caroline lives in California and Wyoming with her children, and you can learn more about her here: http://carolinegerardo.com/home. I am posting today, and she will post her tour blog next week. Coming in the next day or two, the names and bios of my second and third partners in this venture.

My newest blog post, entitled LA MISERABLE, will appear here tomorrow at 8 a.m.