Friday, April 28, 2017

Moss on the Garden Gate

Moss on the Garden Gate

In shadows the gate stands open
The grey wood weathered
Upon closer inspection a fluorescent
Green shines through
One way or another the gate is returning
To what it once was, decomposing
The gate to the garden will one day

Become a garden

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

M & M World

I’d like to think of the M & M World store in New York City as a metaphor for the universe. Store really isn’t the right word. More like hedonism.

I remember the first time we entered the emporium. We were on vacation with another couple and had landed in Times Square. You know the Naked Cowboy, people dressed up like Dora the Explorer imploring you to have your picture taken with them (for a price), commercials being shot, traffic, confusion, lights! Now imagine something more distracting than all this: yes, M & M World.

A store dedicated to chocolate candy. How crazy can this be?

You enter and are overwhelmed by the cathedral ceilings, church for the chocoholic. Two-stories connected by frenetic escalators. Everyone there seems to be jacked up on sugar. You are greeted by an energetic young M & M retailer and given a sack. Hopefully to fill up with M & M merchandise. It’s not just about the zot-size candies, but about purchasing cute canisters, mugs, M & M character plush toys. Not exactly action figures, more like oversized couch potatoes that subsist on M & Ms.

I think the centerpiece of this extravaganza was the wall of colors. Clear cylinders that went from counter to ceiling filled with every color of M & Ms imaginable. It was like spilled paint. Seventy-two continuous candy-filled tubes. You turn the handle and out cascades candy pellets.

Or should I say gush.

They come so quick you haven’t time to bag them all. Scattered all over the counter are M & Ms and people greedily scooping and shoveling them into their mouth. And there’s nothing the perky retail assistants can do about it. It is an M & M free-for-all.

I could tell, the couple we were with were appalled. This wasn’t America, this did not represent a civilized democracy, but a contagion, end-time anarchy, unfettered chaos. All around us people were stealing and no one cared. There was no moral conscience.

At first I tried to focus on the unusual colors, the pastels, the neons, but soon I was picking up one, then two, then a handful. My friend, a pastor and his wife, showed their discomfort. Soon, though, I was beyond their recriminations. I was gone, turning the handle this time with no bag, just my open hand. Hey! I shouted with a full mouth, they don’t melt in your hand! I held up my palm, unstained and empty.

By the time we made for the exits we felt like we were escaping with our integrity, but barely. Once outside in the relative quiet of Times Square, I noticed my pastor-friend stealthily nibbling at M & Ms—hidden in pockets.

Lately I’ve been thinking about M & M World and the breakdown of society, how suddenly any of us can descend to our baser selves. It was a glimpse into a world on the brink of collapse.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Two Chances to get it Right

It seems our memories get stored first in the hippocampus (short-term memory) and in the cortex (long-term memory). That’s right we make double memories, according to an article in the BBC.

A team of US and Japanese scientists performed memory tasks on mice to discover that two parts of the brain are involved in creating memories. It’s as if we get two chances to get it right. Yet how do we continue to “mis-remember”?

Certain shocks can intervene or short-circuit the hippocampus and we have to revert to the memories stored in the cortex. By the same measure the cortex can be compromised or damaged and we are left only with the immediate memories.

The researchers also showed the long-term memory never matured if the connection between the hippocampus and the cortex was blocked.

I was stopped by that word “mature.” Just like with cheese, a good memory ages or matures, which might explain why an immediate reaction might differ from one that has been allowed to sit. After finishing my JOGLE bike ride, from the northern point of England to the southern most, I said I would never consider doing it again, but in retrospect I’ve found myself recalling with fondness a trip that killed me physically. Or at least challenged me beyond what I thought possible.

It also explains how when I was asked last summer how I liked Portland I disparaged the town—provoking an immediate reaction from my daughter. Granted I should have tempered my response. I think I was responding from an emotional center rather than a rational place. It had to do with saying goodbye and letting her live her own life. A life not in Chicago near us.

Now 6 months later, and I am planning my next bike trip: to Portland, ME.

Thank God for two chances at memories. We need both to guide us, though the likelihood that either one is reliable cannot be tested at this point.

Friday, April 21, 2017

We Will Not Be Silent

I love the work of Russell Freedman, who writes  for the YA audience non-fiction, historical essays using photographs as a foundation for his work. He has been awarded the Newbery Medal, three Newbery Honors, the Sibert Medal, and well the list goes on. In 2016 he published We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement that Defied Hitler. Basically it is the story of how the millennials of that time stood up to their government.

Can you imagine?

These were mostly middle-class, sheltered college students. The ones comedian Ck Louis claims cannot stop looking at their cell phones long enough to have a conversation.

Brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl and young father of three Christoph Probst were initially arrested but then the dragnet fanned out and others were caught and convicted. Yet it is these three who are most easily identified with the movement. Certainly they paid with their lives.

They put out altogether 5 or 6 pamphlets—they were caught distributing the last one which was immediately collected by the Gestapo. These were broadsides. So not extensive, but nevertheless well-written. They were asking people to question. To ask themselves: Do you want to be associated with crimes against humanity? What side are you on?

Yet, like ripples on a pond, the repercussion of their actions spread out, eventually being taken up by other students and members of academia. The rumbles of dissent began to sound. The White Rose Society planted the seeds of resistance; the tide was turning against Hitler and his empirical war. The Scholls and Probst were arrested and quickly sentenced. They were beheaded February 22, 1943.

Let’s keep in mind their sacrifice and courage as Trump continues to pre-emptively bomb other nations—as he leads us into wars and policy that has no rhyme or reason.
Hans, Sopbie, and Christoph

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What was he trying to say?

In light of last week (Sean Spicer claiming Hitler had never gassed his own people) I had to take a few days to process this. I had to sort of what bothered me the most.

But, first let’s look at what he said:

But first of all: This was an unforced error—he didn’t have to say anything. He was talking off the top of his head, comparing Assad to Hitler. All of this was Spicer’s attempt to defend Trump’s aggressive retaliation (59 or 60 missiles, the number I wasn’t able to nail down) on Shayrat Airfield because of an earlier chemical attack authorized by Assad. This is despicable. Saddam Hussein gassed his own people, Kurds. Poison gas was used in both WWI and WWII. From all appearances it appears to be a horrible way to die. Nevertheless, Sean Spicer sought to invoke a comparison to Hitler when discussing the US response.

And here is where he got tripped up.

I’m still not sure what he was trying to say. I know if talking one to ten in terms of evil, Hitler is like a fifteen. So that’s where Spicer went. He went nuclear—when it wasn’t called for. But by doing so he first sounded like he was defending Hitler, I mean even he wasn’t so bad. I guess in an attempt to say if Hitler is a fifteen then Assad has to be a twenty on the Richter scale of evil. Keep in mind this is all subjective.

So he asserts Hitler wasn’t even so bad as to use gas, then to clarify—on his own people.

A so-called “charitable ambulance” Gekrat bus

Sonderbehandlung was a Nazi campaign developed to eradicate the country of the sick, elderly and those deemed no longer fit for work. A special van went out equipped to gas select individuals. The Nazi campaign was in operation from 1941 to 1944 and was later expanded to the concentration camps—thus, death camps. Not Holocaust centers.

These were Germans. Albeit: gypsies, vagrants, tramps, the “work-shy”, idlers, beggars, prostitutes, troublemakers, career criminals, rowdies, traffic violators, psychopaths and the mentally ill. Eventually, selections increasingly included political or other persecuted peoples, Jews and so-called asoziale. The other.

And, here is where I find Sean Spicer’s whatever you call it statement the most abhorrent—how could he forget that these were Germans? How did the very idea that Hitler disposed of humans at all escape his memory? His sense of history?

Now I’m not trying to say that Spicer is evil or compare him to Assad or Hitler, and I do believe he made a mistake; he misspoke if ever this phrase could be used, we can truthfully say it here. But how could he even begin this thread of logic? Without, of course, it unravelling. Just like it did for Hitler and Nazi Germany. All their explanations, eugenics, racism, etc eventually began to call attention to the fact THAT HE WAS ORDERING HIS OWN PEOPLE TO BE KILLED.

Eventually, people began to resist and stand up to what their country and government was doing. Stay tuned for next post.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The collapse of the whole world

Ruminating this week on aspects of the biblical story: the first Easter. I’m always brought back to this feeling—the collapse of the whole world. How it must’ve felt for followers of Christ. A very public humiliating grotesque crucifixion, utter defeat, betrayal and broken promises. Probably how a millennial feminist must feel in post-election America right now. Pretty let down, much like giving up, wanting to turn your back.

I’m no millennial, but the day after Trump was elected I couldn’t figure out how I was going to go on. Where was my place in a country that had elected the antithesis of Obama? And, as the days went on, and videos of people scourging Mexicans, Arabs, and the perceived “other” played out, I became more and more convinced that I was in the midst of an apocalypse.

The first Easter is a story of losing hope and tenuously proceeding when we cannot see around the next corner. Miracle was even too big a word. Yet there it was unfolding.

As a kid I always wanted to believe I would not have been part of the rabble demanding the release of Barabbas. But since learning that 82% of those who identify as evangelical Christians (white folks) I’m sure they would have thought the same thing—that they wouldn’t be in the camp voting for an ambivalent reality TV star who publicly acknowledged wanting to fuck a married woman and grab her by the pussy. Because he can. You can’t count on people to do the right thing. History seems to demand a sacrifice.

The sacrifice this time: democracy. Allowing our election process to be hijacked by outsiders. The Republicans pushing forward a supreme court nominee with less than a majority vote. The legislative dismissal of climate change, environmental protections, women’s reproductive rights, and transgendered rights.

In the midst of what I perceive as a collapse, I want to keep in mind that there has always been dark ages, cataclysmic holocausts, mankind receding—before resurrection, the green leaf budding, seeds pushing up from the earth.

But it might mean being available to rush to the tomb with a basket of spices and withstanding further disappointment when the grave is empty. But wait! Hold on! Don’t give up!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Passover Seder and the Act of Ritualistic Memory

Sometimes the only purpose of a holiday is to remember. Of course there is the larger reason to gather people together or even the economical such as selling large amounts of (fill in the blank: candy, gifts, transportation, etc). Sometimes the economical far outweighs the purpose of remembering. Through the years especially holidays once attached to religion are losing track of this meaning. Nevertheless, memories continue to pile up.

The Passover Seder is one clearly identified with memory. Jews come together to share a meal where each of the elements are meant to cause members to recall—the exodus or journey out of Egypt of the early Hebrews. During the Seder, Jews all over the world come together to eat, drink, and read the Haggadah, the ritual text that sets out the order of the night. This scripted occasion — not only the text but also the ritual foods and the glasses of wine to be consumed are prescribed. Josef Yerushalmi, an expert on memory and Judaism, poignantly calls the Passover Seder ‘the quintessential exercise in Jewish group memory.

From Wiki: The six traditional items on the Seder Plate are as follows:

Maror and chazeret — Bitter herbs symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery the Hebrews endured in Egypt. In Ashkenazi tradition, either horseradish or romaine lettuce may be eaten in the fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder. Sephardic Jews often use curly parsley, green onion, or celery leaves.

Charoset — A sweet, brown mixture representing the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves to build the storehouses or pyramids of Egypt. In Ashkenazi Jewish homes, Charoset is traditionally made from chopped nuts, grated apples, cinnamon, and sweet red wine
Seder Plate.jpg

Karpas — A vegetable other than bitter herbs, which is dipped into salt water at the beginning of the Seder. Parsley, celery or boiled potato is usually used. The dipping of a simple vegetable into salt water, and the resulting dripping of water off of said vegetables visually represents tears and is a symbolic reminder of the pain felt by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Usually in a Shabbat or holiday meal, the first thing to be eaten after the kiddush over wine is bread. At the Seder table, however, the first thing to be eaten after the kiddush is a vegetable. This leads immediately to the recital of the famous question, Ma Nishtana — "Why is this night different from all other nights?" It also symbolizes the spring time, because Jews celebrate Passover in the spring.

Zeroa — Also called Z'roa , it is special as it is the only element of meat on the Seder Plate. A roasted lamb or goat shankbone, chicken wing, or chicken neck; symbolizing the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), which was a lamb that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night. Since the destruction of the Temple, the z'roa serves as a visual reminder of the Pesach sacrifice; it is not eaten or handled during the Seder. Vegetarians often substitute a beet, quoting Pesachim 114b as justification; other vegetarians substitute a sweet potato, allowing a "Paschal yam" to represent the Paschal lamb.

Beitzah — A roasted hard-boiled egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night. Although both the Pesach sacrifice and the chagigah were meat offerings, the chagigah is commemorated by an egg, a symbol of mourning (as eggs are the first thing served to mourners after a funeral), evoking the idea of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and our inability to offer any kind of sacrifices in honor of the Pesach holiday. Since the destruction of the Temple, the beitzah serves as a visual reminder of the chagigah; it is not used during the formal part of the seder, but some people eat a regular hard-boiled egg dipped in saltwater as the first course of the meal.

Then there are the jokes. The collective memory. The memories associates with big families coming together to annoy each other.

This weekend I listened to a podcast on PRX entitled We’ll be Here All Night: Stories on Passover at if you just want to jump to 49 minutes in you’ll pick up on journalist Jonathan Groubert as he recounts the old-school joke his Sheepshead dad used to tell at the Seder year after year.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Order today Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir

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Flash is generally anywhere between 1,500 words to as few as 66 (I've seen 6-word memoirs!).

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Group Names for Birds

Group Names for Birds: A Partial List

A bevy of quail
A bouquet of pheasants [when flushed]
A brood of hens
A building of rooks
A cast of hawks [or falcons]
A charm of finches
A colony of penguins
A company of parrots
A congregation of plovers
A cover of coots
A covey of partridges [or grouse or ptarmigans]
A deceit of lapwings
A descent of woodpeckers
A dissimulation of birds
A dole of doves
An exaltation of larks
A fall of woodcocks
A flight of swallows [or doves, goshawks, or cormorants]
A gaggle of geese [wild or domesticated]
A host of sparrows
A kettle of hawks [riding a thermal]
A murmuration of starlings
A murder of crows
A muster of storks
A nye of pheasants [on the ground]
An ostentation of peacocks
A paddling of ducks [on the water]
A parliament of owls
A party of jays
A peep of chickens
A pitying of turtledoves
A raft of ducks
A rafter of turkeys
A siege of herons
A skein of geese [in flight]
A sord of mallards
A spring of teal
A tidings of magpies
A trip of dotterel
An unkindness of ravens
A watch of nightingales
A wedge of swans [or geese, flying in a "V"]
A wisp of snipe

When I look up at the expanse of sky
I realize how alone I really am

That there is not a name for this solitary woman
In all the universe there is no one like me

Friday, April 7, 2017

Wheelchair in the Park

When Fred was still alive I used to push him in his wheelchair to the park, just so he could touch the grass with his toes. He was over six feet tall and probably 120 pounds, skin and bones. I’d leave him under a tree and jog in wide loops circling back to check on him. One time a lady came up and offered him a sandwich, thinking he was homeless and hungry. Fred refused it; he was on a macro diet to rid him of cancer, the same cancer that eventually killed him.

As spring approaches and I lace up to run at the park, I think of Fred. I miss orbiting around him.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Mom’s Pop

I remember the first time I tasted Coca Cola. It was like liquid gold, measured as my sister and I split a bottle. The rule was whoever poured let the other one choose, that way no one got the upper hand, got more. It was the rare treat, maybe allowed once a week.

My mother bought an 8-pack, the bottles redeemable the next time she groceried. No one touched Mom’s pop without asking. Of course she’d know if you’d snitched one; she kept track. Coke was on par with Mom’s nerve pills, the prescription she took to calm down and face life, or if not life then the daily chore of cooking and keeping house and raising four kids. It was a big deal to be granted one of Mom’s pop. A privilege. An invitation to a club. When it was gone, we’d have to wait until the next time she went to the super market.

I think about this sometimes, like when I shop or see people loading the checkout with liters and cartons of pop. How it used to be the currency of love.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Circle of Time

I used to recognize Europe
Of course not every country was the same
When I first went there were deutschmarks, francs, lire
Bread was the common currency: we bought it everywhere
And walked down the street eating it out of sacks like cotton candy
All of the old stuff was new to me
Together we discovered the Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, a corner of a cathedral
Where an organist practiced
If hard-pressed I would have to admit
That the grass there was the same green
And the same sky
But in my imagination if felt like different sunlight,
Even the graffiti was different, more exotic
Once there, I always longed to return

Since I first visited there was a union, a coming
Together of jigsaw countries, the map re-arranged
The bread varied from place to place, but it was still incredible
Language became the invisible border, separating
Yet folks mostly understood each other
We went over five or six times, never getting enough
It became a solace for my soul during the Bush-Abu Greb years
A place where Human Rights mattered, where
In the squares protestors gathered at lunch to collect
signatures: against capital punishment, solitary confinement, torture
In general Europe seemed far more advanced, vastly more
Civilized compared to America and its wars

But I’m beginning to wonder: Is Europe different now?
The sunlight has shifted into shadow
What about all the stray dogs, sleeping cats
Will they become afraid? Move away?
Move to the right, the left? Jump a boat to Tunisia?
And what about the Great War, the War to End all Wars—
And the Second World War, will there be a new crusade?
In a future alliance where will America stand? Perhaps
Against Germany and with Turkey? And will the US and Russia fight
On the same side once again.
Why are we back here again?
Back to a broken geography, to nationalism, fascism,
Absolute rule, class wars, oligarchs, machine guns
In the parks, stay off the grass.
In Bruges was a black comedy about hit men
Upsetting everyday fairy-tale life
And now that life is a black comedy, every day
There are hit men.

Was it really only 15 years ago we first visited Europe—and now
It is tearing itself apart, and we, America

Are facing our own identity crisis