20-Something Swag

(forever young, sometimes broke, and always snarky)

Month: July, 2014

All I Have to Offer Are Stories: Thinking about Gaza

My kid brother is in his early twenties and he has a job that involves driving eight hours a day, which means lots of time for talk radio. He confessed to me last night that he doesn’t know what to think about Hamas and Israel and Gaza, and if anyone can offer a solution–something he can do to stop the aggression on both sides–he wants in. I was first reminded of how much I love my brother, and how grateful I am that he’s listening to the polarized talking heads and feeling frustrated and confused. That is an appropriate response. His question got everyone in the room talking, as it does. People debating the political/religious viewpoints and bible stuff, and making inappropriate parallels with the Holocaust and the Jews’ alleged ability to defend themselves against Nazis if they had just banded together. At the end of half an hour of man-splaining, which I admit I participated in too, my brother was still frustrated.

Many of us are frustrated, and angry and broken-hearted and confused and torn and vindicated and feeling helpless. Because we want the killing to stop. We want peace, lasting peace. But I honestly don’t think there is an ideological solution except for everyone involved to decide to stop. All together. All at once. To give up the centuries’ old score board that no one reads anyway. And there is nothing I can do to bring that about, not directly. I can’t convince religious extremists that their faith can be lived out quietly and peacefully and coexist alongside other faith traditions. I can’t convince Israel that recent history does not afford them many Palestinian sympathies on a nationalistic level. Those are things I say from the outside. From my heart, which is not a Gazan heart or an Israeli heart, but just a human heart.

I’ve given up on the statistics and quantifiable data. Not because the numbers are meaningless; they are not. But they are staggering. I don’t know what any of us can “do” about Gaza. As humans clamor to hillsides overlooking the Gaza Strip as other humans without documentation to leave are bombed, I don’t care who fired first or who’s firing next. And it doesn’t matter if I care, frankly, not pragmatically. Or protest, or write to the president. Been there, done that. I wrote letters to George W. Bush and Barrack Obama, pleading with them to be more responsible and careful in funding international allies like Israel. And did they listen to me? Hell, no. Did a human being even bother to read what I wrote? I doubt it. And my writing style is fucking delightful.

Without the numbers, what do I have left to offer? Because I feel like I do have a responsibility to do or be or say something. Well, I have the stories, my own stories of encountering others’ humanity, and the stories Muslims, Jews, and Arab Christians have shared with me. I have carried them around the world in my belly where they rumble, as Naomi Shihab Nye would say. And I need to be open to more. I told my brother last night: “I think what we can do right now is listen and see.” If I were a Gazan or Israeli sister, I would want people in the U.S. to be aware of my loss and my fear and my inheritance of anger. I would want someone far away, who has the documentation to travel and the freedom to speak, to listen to me and to share my story. I would want them to recognize that I am human and I am not being seen with the dignity I inherently possess, and I don’t have the resources to change that for myself. I don’t get to stand up and protest or leave. What a luxury.

So, here you have it.

I saw children on the news missing skin. Skin. I’m obsessed with having healthy skin. It’s our largest organ and our stronghold in this world. But it’s vulnerable. And children were missing some. Their skin was peeled back at their shoulders and the remains of their tiny faces.

A young Muslim man slept curled up between the benches in a Christian church, because that was the nearest Sanctuary.

I have friends–real, human, personal friends–who fall asleep to the sounds of rockets.

And I met a Palestinian man in a silver shop in Bethlehem who had been in a near-fatal car accident. Israeli paramedics were not required to treat him, but one did. An Israeli man held the Palestinian man’s gashed neck together for over an hour while they waited and transported him to safety. He said to me, “And now I believe that we are all people. Palestinian, Israeli, Christian, Muslim, Jew. And we have got to love each other.”


When Writers Date (Other Writers, Or in General)

In a college book group, I read Donald Hall’s collection Without, a poem cycle chronicling his wife Jane Kenyon’s battle with Leukemia and his first steps into mourning. The way they spent their days, quietly, Kenyon writing her poems downstairs and Hall writing his upstairs before sleeping together in the same bed, touched me. I remarked to my professor and fellow writer, “I think being with another writer would be fascinating.” She was not so sure, and reminded me how cranky we wordsmiths can be when our words just aren’t smithing, or when there are major social disasters that stir our hearts, or when our coffee is just too damn weak. Well, it happened. Is happening. I’m a writer, dating a writer. In the way of Buzzfeed’s numbered lists that are all the rage, here’s a list of what you can expect when writers date writers.

1. Flirting is hard.
Just ask Neil Gaiman, who has tried to help us, the bookish, get a little action. We’re too used to analyzing words to “just go with” a pick-up line, and too deep within the rain forests of our minds to recognize when someone is flirting with us. Or even likes us. We might be kings and queens of Show, Don’t Tell, but sometimes we just have to be told.

2. Important conversations can take place via text messaging or e-mails.
I know that having super-serious-talks should generally be reserved for face-to-face conversation, but when that’s not available, writers are already conscious of how wonky words can be, and therefore might be more careful and clear than the average texter. With these limits in mind, we’re also ever-ready to say, “Screw this, I’m just gonna call you.” This also has a tendency to lead to overly long text messages, but Verizon can handle it.

3. The best revenge is a hidden copy of The Chicago Manual of Style.
Just don’t hide it too well. You might need to borrow it later.

4. A successful date can include absolutely no talking.
When I say, “Hey, let’s go on a reading date,” we grab our books and hit a coffee shop. And read. I even pack headphones to drown out obnoxious music. Then, when we’ve reached good stopping points, we sigh, “Okay, I’m done.” And we pack up and walk quietly home.

5. Everyone’s a critic.
Really. My boyfriend will probably assess this blog post, pointing out its strengths and weaknesses, and we’ll have a conversation about which points are most true in our relationship. Writers are used to people ripping into to them, with love. So, if you’re not up for it, you gotta say so. We’re a bunch of well intentioned sharks.

6. Your fan club knows what’s up.
That said, even though your significant other could tear your life’s work apart, they probably won’t unless it’s really, truly, deeply awful and you need a dose of tough love that you won’t get from Grammy. It’s more likely that your partner actually likes and even respects your work. Imagine being in a relationship with someone whose work you couldn’t stand behind. So when that writer who I happen to have a serious crush on likes what I write, he’s specific and knowledgable, and that’s nice.

7. Passive-agressive Post-It notes are always well proofread.
Unless he’s just trying to piss you off that much more.

8. You don’t actually want to have a character based on you.
Or to inspire a poem. Trust me.

9. When he says, “I’m killing my darlings,”
you know he’s probably not coming for you next. It’s a figure of speech, a melodramatic way to say, “Hey, I’m editing and cutting out content I’m emotionally attached to. I need a hug and maybe a cookie. Later, after the massacre.”

10. You’re cynical about relationships and tell it like it is, while in love.
He might text that he’s writing in a cafe when a well-to-do middle-aged CEO walks in with, presumably, a mail-order Thai bride. And you (aka I), having watched numerous documentaries on this phenomenon, might reply that he shouldn’t be so harsh: “They are super in love. There’s no way their relationship is held together by mutual racial fetishes, his bank account, collagen, and Viagra. I would never say that. I love you!”

11. Those love letters.