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And Yet: Gratitude for the Moment

November 15, 2018
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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Gratitude. While wildfires strip lives, and storms rip away homes, it’s hard to feel grateful. It’s hard to feel grateful when we see pollution and destruction and division. It’s hard to feel grateful when people are hurt and hungry and suffering.

And yet.

The birds still sing.

Dogs wag their tails.

Sun warms our skin.

Peach juice drips down one’s chin, delicious and juicy.

Ice-cream sweetens the tongue.

Someone opens the door and smiles.

The breeze blows gently; bringing with it the smell of soft rain.

A pillow offers welcome relief at the end of a long day.

Someone says thank you and another whispers you’re welcome.

And yet.

There are hundreds of small moments to offer gratitude. In a world where so much is out of our control, leaving us helpless and frustrated, it’s even more important to find gratitude in the present. It is the everyday flashes of beauty and joy that will bring a sense of hope. A sense of wellbeing. A sense of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

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Arriving in Tunisia as a not-so-proud American

November 2, 2018

 

American passport on desktop

I arrive at night, not sure what to expect. All I know is that someone will meet me—I’m sure of it. Still, my nerves zap with unsettled energy. How will it feel to be back in this place, remembering pieces of my former self? Neither Tunisia or I am the same as we were 35 years ago, and these are unsettled times. Wars and bombs and tremendous upheaval have plagued our countries. Since my last return, Tunisia has had a revolution, and America has put into place a corrupt president. I wonder, with trepidation, how Tunisians will react to me. I’m ashamed of our country and no longer proud to be American.

I search for my suitcase as others, speaking Arabic and French, sweep their bags away. I wait and wait and wait; my anxiety increasing. Finally, the last load emerges on the conveyer belt, and although I spot my suitcase, the woman searching bags pulls it aside. She raises her eyebrows and clucks. The hair on the back of my neck prickles as she calls for another customs officer to join her. They rifle through the gifts I’ve brought for my family, and when they spot my toy drone, I know I’m in trouble.

More officers surround me, and they take my toy. Then, when my passport is confiscated, something inside of me drops. My identity to the United States; the only legal link to my homeland is gone. My bones shift, cracking with concern. In spite of my shame for our current government, the United States is still a great democracy built on the backs of strong women and determined men. In America, I have the freedom to speak my mind and the choice to resist.

The customs officers whisk me away and ask more questions, but I don’t speak French well and know even less Arabic. They shout and wave their hands as my own shake the tiniest bit. It sinks in. I am alone in North Africa.

With my passport gone and the drone appropriated, I cross my fingers and sing silent prayers. Maybe they think I’m a spy. Perhaps they think I’m a scout. Maybe they think I like Donald Trump. I bite my lip and plan my defense. As I do, my host sister, Sonia, and her husband, Sami, burst through the door. I jump toward them grinning. It’s been eight years since my last visit. Between hugs and kisses and many tears, they ask what has delayed me. They’ve been waiting two hours, but because Sami works at the airport, he’s been allowed to come find me. He speaks with the officers, clarifying that he knows me and that I’ve been to Tunisia many times. Sami argues hard, and the officers reluctantly agree to let me go—minus the drone. I’m instructed to return 20 hours before my departing flight to sign more papers. Fine, I say. I’ll do anything to get my passport back.

When the woman hands me the little blue book with the United States emblem printed on the front, relief washes across my face. We hurry away before they change their minds.

The night air assaults me with petrol and jasmine. Sonia has prepared a feast for my arrival, and their two adult children join us in celebration. I devour couscous and spicy fish as we review the past few years. We laugh and cry, and as we talk late into the night, the conversation drifts toward politics. The Tunisians, at least the ones in my family, are incredibly knowledgeable about global issues. They are fiercely proud of their country, and as we talk, I realize I’m proud of mine, too. I don’t like our current government and say so many times. But I am proud to be American. I have the freedom to vote, the freedom to travel, and the freedom to rant and rave and protest our president. I whisper thanks, aishik. I’m grateful for my family in the States. I’m grateful for my Tunisian clan. I’m grateful to have my passport back. And I know without a doubt; America is a country worth fighting for—she makes me proud.

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An Epidemic: 15 Personal Stories of Assault

October 2, 2018

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First published on Medium.

As a writer, I’m keenly interested in definitions and stories people tell. But sometimes, we need to be on the same page, especially in the age of #MeToo.

What qualifies as assault? Rape, of course. Physical abuse, yes again. But it goes deeper, broader, regardless of how it’s defined in a court. For me, an assault has occurred when a person uses power and control to instill fear and discomfort toward another.

I asked a few women, and included myself, to share experiences about an assault—a time when a man or a boy exerted control over their world, causing them pain, shame, and fear. The recollections are disturbing. They are also common. Without knowing, a few told the same story, but at the time it happened; none of us spoke up.

Why?

A host of reasons. There was no one to tell. There was confusion. Who would believe it, and what would they do? There could be a consequence for telling. We might be mocked, told to take a joke, shamed further. Without a clear definition of assault, maybe it wasn’t assault. Maybe the story wasn’t worth telling. Above all, we wanted it erased.

But the memory of assault never goes away. And moving forward isn’t the same. There remains a hitch, an indelible mark which can cause further confusion.

Meanwhile, the perpetrators carry on; almost always hurting more people.

For women and girls living in a patriarchal world, we are warned about assault. We are told to wear proper clothing. We are told to cross the street when a man walks toward us. We are told to carry mace or whistles or phones set to 911. Above all, we are told to be careful, careful, careful. The world is a scary place.

But more often than not, dark alleys aren’t the primary places for assault. They happen at school, at work, and in homes—like in the 15 accounts below. The list is real, disturbing, and painful. Each event created a dark and permeant stain. Read them. See yourself in them. Consider them assault, or certainly, a close cousin. They are.

  1. The boss at my restaurant only hired pretty high school girls. The ones who gave him blow jobs got perks and better schedules.
  2. The guys in my high school kept a tally of who they screwed. If you weren’t on the list, they made life hell for you.
  3. A bartender told me he’d give me all the money in the cash register if I got on top of the bar and danced for him.
  4. A lot of the boys in high school ‘date’ raped multiple friends of mine. The same guys asked why I had an exclusive relationship with a guy from a different school and told me I was no fun.
  5. My boss in my first “real” job demeaned me for wearing red lipstick—then asked if I wore it other times. He wiggled his eyebrows and offered me a lollypop.
  6. In high school, I remember sitting in a kitchen with two “friends.” When they poked and prodded me in sexual ways, I told them to stop. They didn’t stop. Fortunately, the mom came home, and I ran out.
  7. My elementary school gym teacher, who we nicknamed a male chauvinist pig, told us when it came to most sports, the place for girls was on the sidelines. He always let the boys choose teams and called anyone who cried a sissy.
  8. My boss told me I should wear high heels and shorter skirts like my co-worker. He said, I’d get more accounts.
  9. The president of the company at my second job had an affair with my manager. We all knew it, which made the work environment uncomfortable. When his wife found out, my manager was fired, and he remained president.
  10. In elementary school, an older boy told me he was going to get me. He made sexual signs. When I stopped taking the bus, he followed me. If I hadn’t been such a fast runner, who knows? For years, I ran.
  11. My Brownie Troop leader who told me I needed to lose some weight if I wanted the boys to like me in a few years.
  12. My manager pressed so close to me; his penis jabbed into my back.
  13. When I was a freshman in college, two fraternity boys invited me and a couple of girls over for hot chocolate. Within minutes, ten more fraternity guys surrounded us.One squirted whipped cream in places that made me block out my memory. Somehow, we escaped and ran into town.
  14. Everyone knew to stay away from the supply closet if our manager was doing inventory. Things happened in there.
  15. One of my teachers, about age 50, kissed me in the closet and then did a bit more. We didn’t talk about stuff like that when it was happening. It was wrong. It was scary. It was too big to talk about. My parents would have freaked out on me.

If you see yourself in one of these scenarios or have a different story to tell, do. Step up and speak. Write them down. These stories continue to happen—Every. Single. Day.

It’s time to take to the streets, share our experiences, and halt the assaults. The events that are happening in DC should be of no surprise. We live in a patriarchal world, and the men in charge want to keep it that way. But this can change. Certainly, women need to protest, to vote, and to demand to be heard. But it’s bigger than that. If we create an environment with women leading, sharing, and working together, I believe, we will be able to build a healthy environment for all. At the very least, let’s change the conversation about assault. Any abuse of power is unacceptable.

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Babka and the New Year

September 25, 2018

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As often is the case, I stormed into fall with an agenda the size of the Great Pumpkin. But in spite of my overreaching goals and the stress that comes with over-commitment, I love fall. For me, it’s a high energy time, offering great possibility. It begins with a nervous tingle in my tummy, flashing back to early school mornings; organizing papers and picking new pens, and moves into a fresh, clean slate.

This past week, my husband and I hosted a dinner on Yom Kippur—the holiest of Jewish holidays. Unlike my husband, I’m not Jewish, but it is a time I’ve come to honor. The day is spent in prayer while fasting, and the dinner is appropriately named ‘break-fast.’ Living in a small mountain town means our community of Jewish friends is also small. But we gather. For break-fast, friends bring dishes easy on a starved stomach. My husband makes quiche (or buys it in a pinch), and I bake sweet bread. Someone brings bagels, lox, and whitefish while another makes kugel; a sweet and creamy noodle dish. There are platters of fruit, often a salad, cheesecakes and babka. As a breakfast girl, it is by far one of my favorite dinners of the year. But the real meaning behind break-fast is not the food; it’s a time to reflect and repent; then share, in community, the freshness of a new year.

Some say Yom Kippur is a day to atone for your sins, but this shiksa doesn’t believe in original sin, so I maintain a different spin. For me, all days should have elements of forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude, not one day a week or one day a year. I like to think of Yom Kippur as a crowning day—a day to honor ALL the days of forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude.

And it is a day to forgive myself.

I often fail at a lot of things; my writing, my parenting, my meditation practice, my wellness. I’m not always so gentle with myself during times of failure. I self-sabotage my plans and nurture bad habits instead of healthy ones. But in the failure, I learn. I’m humbled. And after, I pick myself up and begin again.

This year, I hope to confront failure with forgiveness and find compassion for myself as well as for others. I’m filled with gratitude for having grown, making the failures hurt a little less.

As I write, noshing on leftover babka and sip sweet tea, I surprise myself—I’m cultivating a new practice; divinely inspired by fall. Gratitude.

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How to Say Goodbye in 10 Simple Steps

August 29, 2018
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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When it comes to saying goodbye, I call BS. It’s not sweet; in fact, it sucks.

I’ve been forced to say a heartbreaking goodbye to my brother, who suffered a long slow death via AIDS. When a vessel burst in my dad’s brain, I whispered an equally sad yet surprising goodbye. I’ve said less permanent but still challenging farewells to hosts of others: friends and family; teachers and students; neighbors and co-workers. I’ve cried my heart out saying goodbye to beloved pets. Even harder, I’ve kissed away my children as they’ve flown into their new lives.

In addition to my personal struggle with parting’s sweet sorrow, my kids have been faced with their own good-byes; with each other, their friends, and the world they’ve always known. While stepping out and into a new life comes with great anticipation, excitement, and potential; it’s also scary, sad, and often riddled with anxiety.

When it comes to saying goodbye, I have few words of wisdom to offer. It doesn’t get easier, but I do know this; it happens—again and again. And avoiding its pain doesn’t work; grief always resurfaces. That said, there are a few things I’ve learned to help ease the process.

  1. Cry; sit with the pain and let yourself cry. Feel all the feels, but then get up. Both are equally important.
  2. Drink water; crying dehydrates.
  3. Be grateful; pick one thing a day and offer thanks.
  4. Walk in nature; it will whisper comfort.
  5. Run. Draw. Pound on a drum. Do something to channel your emotions.
  6. Hug an animal.
  7. Organizing shifts energy.
  8. If you have a garden, tend to it. If you don’t, buy a plant.
  9. Listen to music and read a book; any and all.
  10. Know that your feelings are normal. Know it is hard. Know you will survive.

Saying good-bye stinks, but it can be managed. Instead of burying the sadness, take care of yourself. It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it easier.

 

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How Ursula K. Le Guin Taught Me to Keep Writing

August 23, 2018

When I stopped writing a column for our local paper, I stopped writing essays.

Big mistake.

I lied to myself, rationalizing reasons why. I stopped because I needed to focus on fiction writing. I stopped because I was too busy teaching. I stopped because of limited time left with teenagers at home. Mostly, I’d stopped writing essays because I didn’t know what to do with them and was plagued by self-doubt.

I questioned whether or not I should seek publication elsewhere, continue my blog, or squirrel the words away, stuffing them into a folder. I wasn’t sure where to focus. If I continued writing essays, did I need to concentrate on particular issues? Should I write about writing, about politics, about parenting or relationships or emotional hardships or my dog? Themes and thoughts triggered my words, but I left them floating adrift.

Perhaps, at the deepest level, I wondered if anyone wanted to hear what I had to say. Who was my audience? Who cared?

Maybe no one.

But as days pushed by and words tackled pieces of my brain, begging to escape; I realized it didn’t matter. Writing essays, whether they were political rants or deep misgivings, gave me a therapeutic vent for my rambling thoughts. I needed a place to put my volatile emotions and passionate beliefs.

I recently read No time to Spare; Ursula K. Le Guin’s collection of blog posts and realized she wasn’t writing to anyone in particular. She had no consistent theme. She wrote about age, she wrote about her cat. Her words screamed, they whispered, they laughed. She clearly didn’t give a damn who read her written thoughts. She wrote them because she had no choice.

Although I enjoy teaching, writing fiction and crafting story is my life’s work. I care about plot and characters and theme. I want to publish, but for me, writing fiction is different than writing essays. I don’t care who reads my contemplations—but because I can’t stop them—why not write them anyway? With that knowing, I’ll continue my blog. I’ll publish on Medium. I’ll send a few letters to the editor. I may write haphazardly about ideas and issues; perhaps I’ll write weekly; maybe bi-monthly.

The only think I do know? I’m back writing essays.

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A Published link…

April 24, 2018

This was published on MEDIUM but the link’s not working so I’m republishing here.

View story at Medium.com

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For a writer, late April often conjures up scenes of tulips and daffodils; poets whisper words about sweet smelling cherry blossoms, the taste of crisp asparagus, and the sound of evening birds singing goodnight. But not this April.

During my five days at a Getting to Know your Novelworkshop with Sarah Aronson at the Highlights Foundation, it rained like a Dublin downpour and snowed like a mid-winter blizzard. Every. Single. Day.

But just as Sarah promised, magic came anyway.

My time in Pennsylvania moved my writing and made me think harder, clearer, and deeper about my characters. I thought about their needs. I thought about mine. I shifted arcs, developed plot, and asked more questions. I met fantastic folks who stretched my beliefs about my book and pushed me further. Hopefully, I did the same for them. We arrived from various places: Chicago, Vermont, San Diego, Colorado, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and more. By the time we left, we had uncovered a common home at Highlights.

As weather pounded the roof and muddied the ground, we wrote. Sarah, and her team of teaching assistants, shared secrets and wisdom, inspiring us. We wrote more passages, talked craft, and edited work, while experiencing the writers’ buzz—the kind of buzz that causes one to stay up late and wake up early—only to repeat the experience. Each morning, we met with eager words, new ideas, and sometimes, a bit of frustration. However, when our red-inked pages turned on us, making us squeeze our eyes shut and silently scream; we had each other.

Highlights is more than a place; it’s an escape from ‘regular’ life. It’s a space to dive into a literary extravaganza. A writing community is essential for a writing life, and I’m grateful for all my teachers and partners in this process. By the end of the workshop, I had discovered some of Sarah’s sparkly glitter and the kind of magic a place like Highlights brings to the writer’s desk.

In each of our rooms, we found black notebooks filled with notes from other writers who had stayed at Highlights. I snapped a picture of someone’s quote from Seamus Heaney, summing up a Highlights experience.

The main thing is to write for the joy of it… Let go, let fly, forget. You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.

And I will.