I Don’t Support the Troops

I visited the Liberty Memorial/WWI Museum the other day. Not because it was Memorial Day weekend. I’d actually completely forgotten that fact until I got there and saw flowers placed at its base and tons more patrons than I’d expected.

No, I went there because I was nearby and forgot to use the bathroom at Succotash after brunch there. I’m not sure if you know this, but there aren’t a lot of bathroom options in that part of town. So, I stopped at the museum to use their bathroom and afterwards decided to have a look around. I paid my 5 bucks and went up the tower for a look-see.

It was a beautiful day and I kept overlooking the whole Memorial Day weekend thing for this photo op or that view or whatever… but occasionally it would hit me and it was weird. I just don’t get it. I just don’t understand wars and military and fighting and patriotism. I don’t understand why people join the military. I don’t understand why people fall for propaganda. I guess belonging makes us feel good. Being in the club gives us a special feeling. I get that. But is it something to die for? Is it something to kill for?

So, yeah. I do not support the troops. I’m sorry to say it on Memorial Day, but it’s been on my mind what with all the patriotism floating around all the social media networks of late. If you want to support our troops, tell them that they don’t HAVE to join the military. They don’t HAVE to fight. They don’t HAVE to kill. We will still maintain our freedom and our values without their “ultimate sacrifice” and there are lots of ways to get money for college. THAT’S how we can offer our support.

My father was in the military. He was deployed in WWII. He was a smart man (I assume - didn’t know him, really). And I understand for some young people, joining the military is just what they do in their family. But hey, sometimes family traditions are worth breaking and change is, in fact, required for growth. This is how we evolve. I was fortunate enough to know, I mean really deep down know, when I was 18 and got that inevitable army recruitment call every soon-to-be high school grad will get, that I was not cut out for such a thing. That I didn’t have it in me to be persuaded that it would be good for my future. That I do not support war and do not support those who support war… 

The “Support the Troops” movement is propaganda. Plain and simple.

The U.S. government’s cry to the American people during recent wars has been: “Support the troops.” A person might disagree with the war itself. Or the president may have failed to secure the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war. But, the government says, put all objections aside once the shooting starts. What matters then is that the people support the troops. The strategy is always effective in diminishing opposition to the war. - Jacob G. Hornberger, 1995 “Repatriation - The Dark Side of WWII” at http://www.fff.org/freedom/0895a.asp

It’s a strategy. Just like everything any government official or governing body does. It’s all strategy. Remember all the talk after Obama “came out” in favor of gay marriage? Remember all the ranting about how it was mere political strategy? Duh. He’s a politician. And speaking of WWII, did German citizens support their troops? Yes, for a great while, they did. And what were the German troops doing. Oh that’s right, genocide.

But eventually the German citizens withheld their support once they realized they’d been lied to. Well, when is it time for us to wake up, America? Don’t support the troops. Don’t support war. Seek peace and remember anti-war activists with the same (if not more) respect on Memorial Day. Remember those who speak out against injustices and against government manipulation of freedom and of its people. They are the true heroes. They are the ones who protect the values of our country and their necks are as much on the line as any soldier who is barely old enough to vote but willing to be killed, or kill. They, not troops, are the brave ones.

why must itself up every of a park
anus stick some quote statue unquote to
prove that a hero equals any jerk
who was afraid to dare to answer "no"?
quote citizens unquote might otherwise
forget(to err is human;to forgive
divine)that if the quote state unquote says
"kill" killing is an act of christian love.
"Nothing" in 1944 AD
"can stand against the argument of mil
itary necessity"(generalissimo e)
and echo answers "there is no appeal
from reason"(freud)--you pays your money and
you doesn't take your choice.  Ain't freedom grand
- e. e. cummings

And here’s a visual of what’s been stuck up this particular park’s anus. Appropriate for a country being fucked by its government. NOW is the time to turn around people and demand that they PULL OUT! Pull out of Afghanistan! Pull out of Iraq! And pull out of our collective ass because we are wise to you and won’t be fooled any longer!

A New Yorker’s 9/11

I have worked 7 of the 8 years of my professional career in the midst of trauma. I’ve heard every kind of horrible account of the worst thing a person could possibly imagine going through. Really. Terrible stories of abuse and violence. Today marks a first. See, now I’m in New York City. Things are different here. This includes trauma work. Yes, I have clients here who have been raped or beaten or molested. Unfortunately those things are sadly universal from state to state in our country. But one traumatic event that is uniquely New York is 9/11. Today I began treating my first 9/11 survivor. Of course 9/11 is something that affected the entire country. But the trauma of New Yorkers on that day is a different kind of monster. There are so many aspects of trauma that are the same in any event. Survivors of incest, sexual assault, domestic violence, war, and terrorism all have nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, and all kinds of issues with anxiety. But today I observed an aspect of the 9/11 survivor’s experience that gave me a new perspective. On that day, my client was traumatized by the fear of disaster, war and terrorism, the threat of her own safety, yes, but on that day, she was also traumatized by her empathy.

9/11 is the Kennedy assassination of our generation. We all remember, and will for decades to come, where we were when we heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center and how we felt when news of the second plane came, the collapse of the buildings, the Pentagon… and I have my own story, just like every American, of where I was that day. I lived in a high rise apartment complex and as I exited the elevator that morning to leave home and head to work (I was completing my first year internship for my MSW, working with families to prevent child abuse), someone getting on the elevator said “Did you hear? We just got attacked. We’re at war!” Then the elevator doors closed and I was left scratching my head thinking that I’d just encountered a crazy person. I got in my car, turned on NPR and listened to the ongoing play-by-play report as it unfolded during my 30 minute drive to work. By the time I got there, both towers had been struck, and the Pentagon had been hit. The TVs were on at the office and I arrived just in time to watch them fall. Then I had to go lead a group. That group discussion was more intense than any other I’ve ever done, before or since… including one, years later, that involved a serious threat of suicide, multiple personalities (or as they’re known now, “alters”), 911 and EMTs. Then that night I spent the evening with my dear friend Ange. We sat on her porch, shared a bottle of wine, smoked a lot, shared our anger and our fear and our doubts and our confusion and later rescued a baby bunny from the deathly grasp of the powerful jaws of one Chubs The Cat. It was an eventful roller coaster of a day in my experience. And the most traumatizing thing for me, like my client (though nothing like my client, as it turns out) was my empathy. I thought about what it must have been like to be there, to have watched the planes hit, to watch the building fall right before your eyes as you stood there helpless. I thought about the people of New York and what they feared and what they lost, what this meant for their city and their daily lives. I felt a true pain in my heart for them, the people of New York, and for those who had lost loved ones, too. Survivors. My empathy was focused on them and my trauma was at a certain level, a survivor level.

In the years to come, on the following 9/11s, I often tell that story, the story of my memory of that day and I listen to others tell their stories, usually quite similar to mine. Today I heard another person’s story, but this person was a New Yorker and her story was quite different. She worked at a deli in lower Manhattan, about 3 blocks from WTC, and she was at work that day, working the breakfast rush. She talked about HEARING the first plane hit and she shared her impressions of that initial impact. She ran outside and heard someone say that a plane had crashed into the building. She looked up and saw the smoke coming from the building. (Now, imagine those pictures in your mind. You’ve all seen them. So go ahead and think of it. Most of those photos, the ones on the news, were taken from cameras high up on a rooftop or in another building or across the bridge from the safety of Brooklyn. Now picture seeing that same image from a different angle… from the street below).

She was outside when the second plane hit. She didn’t go back inside until she faced the realization that the “debris” she saw falling from the towers was not debris at all, but rather people jumping/falling from the upper floors. She went inside because she couldn’t take it; this realization was too much. Her coworkers were inside discussing what to do. They decided to leave the restaurant. Back outside, my client was dumbfounded. She was dazed. She wanted to help but didn’t know what to do. She thought of her family. And then she thought of the people in those towers. She thought of what it must have been like to be so desperate and afraid that you chose to leap from a building that tall. She thought of what it must have been like to be sitting in your office just like any other normal day and look up to see a huge jetliner flying right toward you. She thought of how terrified everyone inside those buildings must have felt after the first plane hit. Just as she was starting to think she couldn’t take it anymore and her heart was breaking, the first tower began to collapse and she was now running for her life. She described it as being like “in the movies”, the way the dust and debris came barreling through the streets, enveloping avenue after avenue, chasing her down like a tsunami as she ran for her life. She said that by the time she reached safety, she was covered in a solid white film of soot and ashes and dust and debris. She is now one of the thousands of New Yorkers who suffer from “Ground Zero Disease” and requires regular breathing treatments for which she often has to be hospitalized. She continued to go to work, (though she missed quite a bit due to frequent hospitalizations), but she said going to the area after 9/11 became nearly impossible for her. She spoke of the worsening stench of death that permeated the air for quite some time from the decomposition of human remains going on beneath the rubble and aptly identified this as the “stinking” reminder of the brevity of life and the horrible ordeal she and those nearby had endured. But worst of all, that stench was the thing that pushed the play button on the video tape in her mind, the movie theater that ran one movie reel only - the vision of those bodies flying through the air as they jumped from the burning skyscraper to their death only to be buried and forgotten beneath the rubble, the memory of how close she came to becoming part of that stench herself if she hadn’t somehow, by some miracle, been one of the lucky ones to have survived.

This is why my client’s trauma was her empathy. Yes her experience was horrible, but as we tend to do in a desperate situation, she compared her situation to one worse than her own in order to save herself from becoming too overwhelmed by trauma to function. I believe it is a natural defense and I believe that is part of what empathy is. It can also help us get through something terrible to know that someone else (or 3,000 someone elses) shares a similar or even worse experience. So my client turned to empathy and she was very affected by what her heart felt that day. Her flashbacks and nightmares consist of bodies falling from skyscrapers, her pain and grief is attached to strangers in a building who scratched their heads, (just as I did wondering “what is that crazy guy talking about, ‘we’re at war…’ Hmph!”) as they tried to figure out why that 767 was flying so close to the building or seeming to be heading directly toward the tower. The survivors of 9/11 have more severe trauma partly because their empathy is connected to the actual victims while our empathy, mine at least and some others I’ve talked to, is connected to the survivors. It was an eyeopener to think about the victims of that day. I am ashamed to say that in the 10 years since this happened, this is probably the first time I have spent any significant amount of thought, time or energy considering the experience of those who died that day. This is not to say I don’t think of 9/11, of course I do. But my thoughts are focused on the survivors and the city, (among other things less personal like evils of capitalism or questions of conspiracy), those that were experiencing the loss rather than the actual lost themselves. I always consider it an honor to be given the privilege of hearing someone’s story. Today was no different, but I felt especially honored hearing this particular story because of what I learned and the new perspective I gained.

So this year on 9/11, I do not think I will spend any time or energy considering questions of conspiracy or ideas of politics or power or capitalism or greed as I normally do. I think I will make an attempt to visit ground zero, to quietly walk through the newly dedicated museum and consider those who died, consider my client as someone who felt a different kind of fear and trauma that day and how she is a survivor of a different caliber. Thank you, lovely survivor, for sharing your story with me today and for drawing a different picture through your eyes at ground level of a day that you share with America but that is very personal and unique to you.

The other day there was a guy playing his trumpet in the subway station, so I recorded it with my phone. At the end of the recording, you can hear the signal for the train doors closing and you can hear the train pulling away. I think it is pretty cool.

"

FOR MY MOTHER ON MOTHER’S DAY:

"if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses

my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)

standing near my

(swaying over her
silent)
with eyes which are really petals and see

nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
hands
which whisper
This is my beloved my

(suddenly in sunlight

he will bow,

& the whole garden will bow)”

"

~ e. e. cummings

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, MOM!

Daddy, I offer up to you this tribute, this Tank Park Salute:

Kiss me goodnight and say my prayers
Leave the light on at the top of the stairs
Tell me the names of the stars up in the sky
A tree taps on the window pane
That feeling smothers me again
Daddy is it true that we all have to die

At the top of the stairs
Is darkness

I closed my eyes and when I looked
Your name was in the memorial book
and what had become of all the things we planned
I accepted the commiserations
Of all your friends and your relations
But there’s some things I still don’t understand

You were so tall
How could you fall?


Some photographs of a summer’s day
A little boy’s lifetime away
Is all I’ve left of everything we’ve done
Like a pale moon in a sunny sky
Death gazes down as I pass by
To remind me that I’m but my father’s son

I offer up to you
This tribute
I offer up to you
This tank park salute 

"Tank Park Salute" ~ Billy Bragg


Exiled in NYC

FOR AN EXILE

When you dream, it is always home,
You are always there among your own,
The rhythm of their voices rising like song
Your blood would sing through any dark.

Then you awake to find yourself listening
To the sounds of traffic in another land.
For a moment your whole body recoils
At the strange emptiness of where you are.

This country is cold to your voice.
It is still a place without echoes.
Nothing of yours has happened here.

No one knows you,
The language slows you,
The thick accent smothers your presence,

You sound foreign to yourself;
Their eyes reflect how strange you seem
When seen across a cold distance
That has no bridge to carry
The charisma in which your friends
Delight at home.

Though your work here is hard,
It brings relief, helps your mind
In returning to the small
Bounties of your absence.

Evening is without protection;
Your room waits,
Ready to take you
Back like some convict
Who is afraid
Of the life outside.

The things you brought from home
Look back at you; out of place here
They take on lonely power.

You cringe at the thought
That someone from home
Might see you now here,
In this unsheltered room.

Now is the time to hold faithful
To your dream, to understand
That this is an interim time
Full of awkward disconnection.

Gradually you will come to find
Your way to friends who will open
Doors into a new belonging.

Your heart will brighten
With new discovery,
Your presence will unclench
And find ease,
Letting your substance
And promise be seen.

Slowly, a new world will open for you.
The eyes of your heart, refined
By this desert time, will be free
To see and celebrate the new life
For which you sacrificed everything.

~ John O’Donahue

(“The things you brought from home look back at you; out of place here they take on lonely power.”)

My mother sent me this poem the other day because it reminded her of me and my struggle to find my place, a home in this new, strange, nearly foreign city. It is a perfect description of how I’ve been feeling for the past year. Lost, adrift, disconnected, lonely, sad, afraid, displaced… But I continue on in search of the hope described in the last few stanzas. I’m not there yet, but I’ve seem glimpses ahead in the distance. Finding my way to them has been the struggle, but I have made some headway. I’ve established stronger footing in my career, something that seemed out of reach only 3 months ago. Though the ground is still a bit shaky, it can at least provide me with a path to keep to. So, that void has begun to fill in bit by bit.

The most persistent and grave abyss has been my loneliness, though. My attempts to discover the door to welcoming friendship and new belonging have consistently failed. Evidently, there are secret keys to these doors that I am required to find first… a task that only leaves me feeling more disconnected and lonely in the end. The social culture in New York is one aspect of the city that is the most foreign to me, and it has left me with the most painful emptiness in this whole experience.

But still, I believe and persevere. I haven’t given up yet. I haven’t come to the end of the poem, but I keep reading. I might backtrack and reread certain passages before reading on, but I do read on. My faith is persistent amid the longing for the comfort of the familiar. I think the “New York minute” is stretched much longer than I’d originally assumed. Certain things are indeed fast-paced here, but finding a home, a place to belong is a slow journey. So, thank you, Mother, for your encouragement and for your understanding and for your reminders of home that fill me up.

"My love runs by like a day in June,
And he makes no friends of sorrows.
He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon
In the pathway of the morrows.
He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start,
Nor could storm or wind uproot him.
My own dear love, he is all my heart, —
And I wish somebody’d shoot him."

- Dorothy Parker

Happy Valentine’s Day, J.I. Thank you for your infectious spirit.

Another Dead Friend Blog

In 1986 some amigos de Spanish class did some scheming. This is how I met Brian Berkley, a jockish dude, but cool, laid back, funny, and awesome.

In 1987 I met him again when he became my college classmate. Less jockish, more cool, laid back, funny and awesome. I developed a crush which eventually amounted to a great friendship (probably because I was practically stalking him).

In 1988 we were both card-carrying members of the campus ACLU chapter.

In 1989 we traveled with two ACLU WJC pals to Washington DC to speak out for women’s rights.

In 1991 Berk, ever the peacemaker, attempted to step in and break up a fight when he was violently struck in the face by a thrown rock which killed him instantly.

On that same day, while getting ready for bed, I heard the story of Berk’s death on the news. I sat down and wrote this tribute:

Berkley’s Haiku (On the Death of a Friend)

It’s Autumn’s rebirth.

Suddenly life continues

While you are the leaves.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tragically they fall

At the peak of their beauty,

Stolen by a breeze.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yet still, we admire…

Unaware of an ending,

September returns.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And for you, the same –

September to September,

Your reds continue.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

- September 30, 1991

REALITY ROULETTE

This clip is the opening scene from the indie movie Slacker which was released back in 1991. The rest of the movie was quirky and weird and sometimes boring, but I love this opening scene. I like this guy and I like his idea… the idea or theory that we create realities by our thoughts, even the discarded ones, that with each decision we make we are creating two different realities and merely choosing which reality we will be conscious of. It’s an interesting way to look at your choices and maybe even to have fewer regrets.

I don’t have too many of those - regrets. But still, I would be awfully curious to know what all those other Brendas out there are doing. I’d love to get in touch with those other realities that I’m living on some parallel plane somewhere, just to check in and see what it’s like. Remember the Nicholas Cage movie that depicted this? It was called Family Man. (Here’s a link to the trailer, watch it, you’ll remember it:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pBb8jPGUT4 ) His guardian angel (Don Cheadle) called it a “glimpse”. This movie was kind of just another romantic comedy in a way with a nice “message” about living a life you love and making the right choices, blah blah blah. But it’s another example of the concept of these other realities the slacker guy in the cab was talking about. And I have decided that I would like a glimpse please. So, I’m wondering what I have to do to get me one of those Don Cheadle angels?

There are countless other realities I could visit. I could see what the Brenda is up to who had dinner last night with Greg at Roti Boti instead of El Rey. Or I could go big and see how the Brenda is faring who stayed in Kansas City rather than moving to New York, or the one who stayed married or had children or continued studying English for a career in academia rather than social work…

Yeah, I would be very interested to meet them or even do a little Freaky Friday change of places for awhile. I guess the danger is that I might like their reality better and want to stay, but apparently it’s the Don Cheadle angel who’s in charge of that sort of thing. I would think, though, that if it were possible to have that glimpse, since it’s my own mind that’s creating the reality in the first place, it should be my mind that has power over it.

I say that this isn’t about any regrets that I have about the choices I’ve made, but in all honesty I think my persistent homesickness might be pushing me toward a craving for that alternate reality at the moment. Still, I wouldn’t say I regret my decision to move. I just think that having a clearer picture of what a different choice would have brought would have a significant effect on how I make decisions in the future. I feel like I could manage this reality a bit better if I could just get a glimpse every now and then of these others. I’d like to really feel like there’s a part of me that’s having a conscious experience in these other worlds I’ve created. I think I would feel much more comfortable here if I could have a glimpse now and then and let those parallel realities become perpendicular from time to time. It would be helpful is all I’m saying… and cool.

I mean, if a glimpse were truly possible it might just cure my homesickness. This way, whenever I felt tired of reality here in New York, I’d just switch over to a glimpse of Kansas City Me and enjoy it for bit while I let Kansas City Me take over here. For example, I could have easily been there for my mom’s second hip replacement rather than stuck here feeling helpless while she continued to suffer. I could have been there to hang out with Tim P. when he was in town… For that matter, I could go anywhere I want for whatever reason and all I’d have to do is to be faced with a realistic decision, create two realities and jump between them. And think of how it would save me a ton in travel costs.The possibilities are truly endless.

With everything we’re learning about physics these days, I’m sure this is only a matter of time in coming. I’m just being impatient. I guess I should have been a physicist or something. There! I just created a Physicist Me. OK then Physicist Me, get busy and find a way to make this happen!

Bridging Heart and Home

It’s been almost exactly 9 months since I came to New York. I am fully gestated. I’m starting to feel a little bit at home here, but it’s still hard. I’m not really a New Yorker and that will never change but I do feel a certain New Yorker vibe chiming in there somewhere within me. I am just sometimes too connected to that part of me that is truly a Midwesterner.

Today is Sunday and it’s September which means… football. I’m trying really hard to watch the Giants game as a means of further acclimating myself into the culture here, but I’m just not feeling it. I’m not sure how long the gestation period is for birthing a new fan, but it’s obviously longer than the period of one football game. I know that “home” is determined by more than just which football team one roots for. I know that “home is where the heart is” and all. It’s just that my heart is split in two at the moment. There is a part of me that feels good here, that feels excited and comfortable but I’m afraid I’m often unable to find this helpful when there’s also this other part of me that feels uprooted and lost. This presents an inner battle between these two sides and I’m having a difficult time mediating to find a balance, to allow both to coexist peacefully and harmoniously. How can I find a home here for my Midwesterner side?

My mother has had to have another surgery, a repeat of her last one which I was able to come home for. Not so this time around. Being so far away is bringing the Midwesterner ahead in the game. It’s hard feeling so far away. I’ve felt myself disconnecting enough from my friends back home to allow me to feel less lonely here and less homesick, but this is something that is impossible to do with my mother. So it’s hard and I’m torn and I’m sad. I’m sure, realistically, that she is fine on her own and that she will recover well even without my presence there. She has many dedicated and loyal and helpful friends there to care for her and I trust that. She’s not deathly ill or even completely incapacitated, so it’s no emergency. It’s just that if I were still living there, I’d be with her. But instead (says the Midwesterner) I’m “stuck here because of obligations that are meaningless to me (especially comparatively) and I don’t even want to be here!”



But the New Yorker side speaks up, too. I have big plans. I plan to use the extra money I’m making in this stupid temp job (which at least is better than the last one… people talk to me at this place) to make my cavehole my home (“cavehole” is how my Midwesterner describes my basement apartment). I’ve picked out some new furniture, including a nice authentic Indian rug if I feel like really splurging. I’ve got plans to hang some of my photographs on the wall to brighten up the place some and to bring a little New York into my home. I’m hoping to get some more plants around the house. And I may even paint. Creating my own environment here will do wonders for my sense of belonging. Also, (says my New Yorker,) I do like my neighborhood and I am feeling more a part of this one here than I did in Jerk Chicken, Brooklyn which consequently helps me feel more at home in the city overall. My New Yorker also argues that Greg is home and visits nearly every day and I adore him. Spending time with Greg feeds my need to connect with someone, and I enjoy the intimacy of our friendship. I have the freedom to be myself with him and that is a gift I am forever grateful for. He has saved my sanity here on countless occasions. And along the same lines of my need for connection, as I mentioned before, people talk to me at work and I’m getting to know some new folks. Granted, these are not people who will probably become lifelong friends, but they at least make my day more enjoyable and my job more bearable. And finally, as it turns out, I quite enjoy the long commute. I’d prefer not to have 4 hours erased from my day, but it gives me an excuse to travel through nearly the entire city. I’ve got people watching down to a science not to mention that I’ve also enhanced my reading skills. In three weeks I’ve read five books.

James and I are getting along so well, too. I feel like this move has been a blessing for our relationship. We’ve really had to rely on each other for companionship, for entertainment, for support, etc. and we’ve adjusted together, each in our own way. Going through this transition with each other has been a great experience. Neither one of us knows what we’re doing, and it’s nice to have a touchstone to come home to. It’s been hard for both of us, but we’re here and doing it together. He’s a great source of encouragement for me and I think we’ve both discovered a new-found kind of respect for each other through this process. Finding our place here has helped us find each other through it all and it feels good to reconnect and reestablish that. I don’t know that our relationship would have survived if we’d stayed in Kansas City and I don’t know that it would survive if we went back either.



So, things are changing here and becoming more comfortable. But I still have this part of me that is out of place. I’m just wondering what it will take (or even if it’s possible) to replant those roots here and have them flourish. I’m wondering if there are even the same nutrients here for that part of me to grow or will I always have this nagging pull in me to go back home? Can I bridge this gap, connecting there to here, bringing that feeling of home to this new place of residence? Will I ever stop hearing the debate going on inside me between that sentimental Midwesterner and that noisy New Yorker? I honestly don’t know. I’m just waiting it out. So, I guess in the meantime… GO GIANTS(?)