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The Great American Dream Story

If you visit, you will get a free Dr. Pepper. The museum is not-for-profit, which made me smile.

 

I've been watching reruns of "Fixer Upper." I didn't intend to watch this program, nor did I know anything about it just a few months ago when I started working out at Ignite Gym in New Paltz. It's a small, friendly, well-run gym open just about all the time, which suits my unconventional teaching and writing schedule, and it is not owned by a chain, but by an entrepreneurial person, in The Great American Dream Story tradition.


There are four mega screens, all tuned to different stations, facing the work-out machines, and much to my suprise, I always choose the elliptical facing HGTV. Or maybe it is not really a suprise. I listen to music on the elliptical, I can't read, the televisions are silent, captions on, and no way do I want to watch CNN while I am trying to relax. Hyperkinetic breaking news all day long is not good for writers or, perhaps, for any of us.


So there they were, this absolutely adorable and gorgeous inter-ethnic, long- married couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines, chatting away about smashing walls, decorative decisions, room re-configurations, landscaping and children—all in their adopted hometown of Waco, Texas. Waco? Really? Back in 1916 there was a terrible lynching of a 16-year old boy, Jesse Washington, in Waco, still known as the "Waco Horror," and in 1993, federal agents raided the Branch Davidian compound. A shootout—lots of guns—tear gas, 75 Davidians (a Christian cult) and four agents dead, and "Waco" is still a rallying cry for Second Amendment alt-right groups. As elsewhere, the demographics of the town have changed, and on the centenary of the lynching, May 15, 2016, the mayor apologized in a ceremony to some of Jesse Washington's descendants. A historical marker is being erected. The KKK may still be lurking in the backwoods of Waco, but the local government seems to have achieved—enlightenment. Joanna and Chip Gaines have raised the profile of the town—they are megastars—wealthy beyond even their own imaginations. Apparently, they are also philanthropic. That is always good news.


As we well know by now, reality television stars segue easily into politics. The transition is smooth, to say the least. They have our attention, we adore them, we want to be them. (Well, usually.) Will Chip or Joanna, or one of their children run for public office? Am I inadvertently and unintentionally becoming one among thousands of this adorable couple's fan base? Because even though "Fixer Upper" has ended, this couple is not done; they are going to have their own TV station, they've opened a restaurant, published a cookbook.


Does it matter that this power couple attend an evangelical church? Does it matter to me? Yes, it does, especially as the Evangelicals lobby constantly to end Roe v. Wade, among other atrocities. Joanna is devout, which is her privilege, her right, but if she uses her wealth to end the right to choose, I will terminate my tenuous fandom. And I have some questions about those flipped fixer upper houses that the Gaines Empire is built on. Were they foreclosures? If so, what happened to the people who were forced out? Did they lose their jobs? Declare a medical bankruptcy? What are the Chip and Joanna's thoughts about Medicare for all, for example, now that they can well afford to feed, clothe, educate and entertain their own brood of five children?


These are the questions that are never answered on HGTV, or most of American TV, which exists to deliver us—the viewer—to the advertiser. Such questions threaten every chapter of The Great American Dream Story we all covet for ourselves, which is why the press is deemed "enemy" by the current resident of the Oval Office.

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The Game of Telephone

Photo © copyright Chloe Annetts 2019 @ the June 13th reading, Inquiring Minds Bookstore in New Paltz. With thanks to Jane Liddle, the events coordinator, and all who attended and asked interesting questions during the Q & A.

In the place in my brain that handles moves, there is now a sign that says: END OF STORY. I have lived in over twenty apartments in three states and two continents. Every time I arrived at a new location, I tried to make friends, find new doctors, find work, or a school for our daughter, as fast as I could. As soon as the books and artwork were up, I felt at home. But I'd always lived in a city. Now, for the first time, I am a resident of a small town. It's different.


The metaphor that best describes the experience is the game of telephone. I played it a lot at birthday parties when I was a kid. Chairs are lined up and a word or sentence is whispered from one ear to another. By the time it arrives and is spoken aloud, it's completely distorted, just plain wrong. Everyone laughs.


Gossip in a small town can work in the same way. A story begins and is passed from one person to another until, days and weeks later, it no longer resembles the real story. Sometimes the pass-alongs are well-meaning; sometimes they are malicious; sometimes they become entertainment. None of the process feels deliberate; it feels accidental, almost improvised, as though our story-telling brains take over, often against our better judgment. If I repeat what I know of a store owner's disability, for example, and the word gets round the community that he was once-upon-a-time an addict, that feels more like a smear than neighborly concern. What are people saying about me, I wonder? And have I inadvertently participated in gossip? If so, I regret it, even if it was well-meaning. I even resist gossip within my family; I find it uncomfortable. I concede that gossip may serve a psychological, biological, or anthropological purpose I don't fully understand. If so, please enlighten me, dear reader.


Recently, with a two page profile in the local newspaper with a photo, and a reading at a local bookstore, I've become more visible in New Paltz and a bit skittish about this game of telephone. I've had some positive reactions and some strange reactions. Indeed, my own reactions to everyone's reactions worry me. If I start thinking about what people are thinking or saying about me, or if they've read the article about me, or read my book, or attended the reading when they said they would, or didn't attend the reading when they said they would, I won't be able to write freely. Certainly, I'll need a more supple tolerance for the exigencies of small town life and more anonymous city days to stay in balance.

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A Mormon Visitation

 

It was a quiet Sunday. I'd just returned from a hike and had stepped out of the shower, barely dressed, hair dripping, Jim watching the French Open, when there was a loud bang on the door. We have no doorbells here which, in itself, is anomalous. There is a small peephole, however, but I usually have to wait until my heart stops pounding to use it. That takes a breath or two.


Jim, under the headset, tennis balls cracking away, hadn't heard much. "Who's there?" was all he managed. I looked through the peephole at the distorted image of two individuals, probably male, I decided, dressed in white shirts and dark pants. For some reason—maybe remnants of my still functioning urban self—I intuited these individuals had no intent to harm. I opened the door.


"Oh, Mormons," I said.


"That's what some people call us," the young man on the left said. He did not seem pleased and his partner was not pleased with him. I assumed he was in training; this was a training session. He slunk back as the bigger, older guy took the lead.


I think he called me "Ma'am." He clutched a Bible, rich with uncorroborated stories from my journalistic point of view. "Written by man or God?" I asked.


No answer.


Mormon #2 was also carrying an iPad. I think they'd found their way to our somewhat isolated apartment complex using Google Maps. They hadn't come far—there's a Mormon church less than half a mile away, but they'd already been in the mid-Hudson valley for nine months and surely knew their way around, knew that holding out a Bible, metaphorically speaking, half a mile from the university wasn't going to play too well.


"How's the proselytizing going?" I asked.


I really wanted to know. Was it going well, or not well?


"Could you recommend a place for us to go in town where folks might be more receptive," the younger one asked.


"I think you'll find the citizens of this town hard work," I told him. "There are some religious folks, of course, but mostly I think you'll find it hard work."


I wanted to spare him disappointment. He was so young, so eager. After nine months in the vicinity he was still struggling, it seemed.


"I worked in Newark before I came up here," the older one said. "I loved the city. Brazilian community. Portuguese. That's why my tag says Jesus Cristo." And he pointed to the tag that sat right over his heart, white lettering on a black background to match his Sunday church and proselytize—after—church outfit.


I enjoy gentility and evangelical gentility is no exception. These young men were polite—misguided, sheltered, hopelessly naive, barely educated, but polite. Those are the judgmental thoughts that ran through my head. I wondered where they stood on abortion rights, on polygamy, police brutality. I wondered how they voted, or if they voted, or if they noticed or cared that the Wallkill River is polluted. Answers to my questions would have taken hours; they had to move on. Strangely, I thought, they hadn't asked any questions about me. I guess they knew from my slightly disheveled appearance and teasing sarcasm that I was past redemption.


"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," I said, determined to correct myself before their departure. "Apologies for calling you Mormons. What we call ourselves as opposed to what others choose to call us is important." Then I remembered that their presence on my doorstep was, truly, a blessing. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Our much beleaguered Constitution is still alive.

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Bridges & Maps

The Mario Cuomo Bridge

We drove over the new Mario Cuomo Bridge last Sunday for the first time. It was a mistake; we'd intended to drive down the east side of the Hudson. Deep in conversation, we weren't paying attention and forgot to exit the Thruway at Poughkeepsie, and then again in Newburgh.

 

RECALCULATING. RECALCULATING. RECALCULATING. Our old Garmin was up, not recently updated, and it got completely screwed up inside the construction labyrinth in Harriman. Either this was a satellite aneurysm or a full-blown stroke, I said, reaching for Google Maps on my phone, which wasn't as confused as the Garmin, but not airtight understandable either.

 

My husband was driving but it wasn't his fault; it was the Garmin's fault, the phone's fault, my fault for not plotting our route with my usual focused energy. The only cognitive bridge available was a paper map in the trunk, a document we could READ. Doesn't every map tell a story? We start here and proceed from here to there. This is our route, clear as the daylight we are traveling in, and this is the timeline and historical through-line of our journey: beginning, middle, end.

 

Those worn folds on the map—remember—the ones we had to scotch tape together? And the designated navigator, remember her? It was always my mother when I was a child as my stepfather never let her drive. She was as sloppy with the map as she was with the newspaper. Whereas, my stepfather was a meticulous folder of both. I have some of these old family maps, and older ones, too, as I once collected them from flea markets and thrift stores as memorabilia of a bygone car- travel-only-age. There they sit browning in a bag in the trunk. I have not been able to donate them, or trash them, or recycle them, and on this particular Sunday, I could not retrieve the most appropriate, nearly current map from inside the trunk, albeit I was in the navigator's seat trying to decipher what the Garmin was telling us and what Google Maps was telling us, which seemed contradictory—so who needs a paper map, right? I wanted to pull over somewhere, but there was nowhere to pull over. Alas, we were already late for a brunch so kept on going.  It's never a good idea to keep on going. This is how explorers get lost. I am an aficionado of polar literature and I can attest to this. Getting lost is the armature of Arctic and Antarctic literature.

 

Then, suddenly, we were flying over the bridge and didn't care. The old Tappan Zee has been demolished, expunged from history. Opened in 1955, it honored the Tappan tribe, River People, who spoke the Unami dialect of the Lenape language and welcomed the first Europeans before being slaughtered or infected by them. The original bridge was a memorial to this painful history.

 

But we've moved on, as we always move on in America, thoughtlessly at times. Our historical memory is short and the digital age is upon us. This new bridge is a masterpiece of engineering and it is aesthetically transporting as well as capacious enough to accommodate increased traffic flow, eight lanes across, the largest bridge ever built in New York State. Who needs that many cars? How are they impacting the environment?  Will the bridge last long enough to accommodate a serious commitment to public transportation? Will paper maps make a comeback, like paper books are making a comeback, or are they merely—and  forever—collectibles?

 

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Mad Men Narratives

Now that so-called Mother's Day is over, I'd like to say a few things:

 

1.  It's a commercial holiday that I, as a mother, did not plan or request. Nor do I particularly care for highly-scented floral arrangements, nor am I sentimental, nor is my life a Hallmark greeting card. Yet, like other holidays on the American Holiday Calendar, I am swept up in the Mad Men hoopla; I have expectations. And when they are not met, I deflate. This year, for example, my daughter was up to her eyebrows in deadline work, had no time to think about a card or present, yet made time to come out for brunch with her near and dear parents. And though we had a terrific meal, lots of laughs, and she had taken the time to come out to meet us, she apologized for "not doing anything," meaning what the Mad Men narrative has subliminally told us to do: buy flowers or chocolates, or whatever.

 

Though it seems as difficult as shutting down social media, can we all please try to shut off the Mad Men narratives and write our own, original family stories?

 

2.  Several friends who do not have children called me on Commercial Mother's Day and wished me a Happy Mother's Day because, as one dear friend said, "I know you are a good mother." This same friend is one of the most caring, nurturing people I know. Why should he be excluded from my Mad Men celebration? And I have other dear friends who do not have children, either by choice or circumstance. They are, to a person, the most nurturing people I know, sometimes more than the parents I know. One is a teacher in the South Bronx in a very rough school who is completely devoted to her students. Completely. The other is an animal rights activist, another a humanitarian worker, another is caring for a very sick partner and has done so for many years. I could go on. Do you get my drift, dear reader?

 

3. Creating narratives of inclusion (mothers) and exclusion (everyone else), so that the floral and candy industry can flourish, is not my idea of compassion, caring, or mothering/parenting in the largest sense of that word. And we need largess right now, really big, capacious and compassionate gestures. Let us remember all those motherless children incarcerated on our border with Mexico. Let us think of their mothers every day, and their fathers, and their families, and their impoverished or war-torn communities.

 

4. As it turns out, the woman who "invented" American Mother's Day—and got Congress to declare it a national holiday in 1914—was  one Anna Jarvis who I had never heard of until I did a Wiki search. Her mother had cared for the wounded on both sides of the Civil War and Anna wanted to honor her. The carnation became a symbol of the day;  it has remained a floral and bonbon holiday ever since. Anna hated it. Indeed, she was so unhappy  about the commercialization of the holiday that she tried to have it removed from the calendar. Too late; the Mad Men had their teeth in it. Anna went crazy with her effort and ended her life in an asylum.

 

6. Instead of Mad Men's Mother's and Father's Days, how about we celebrate teachers and courageous politicians and socially conscious doctors and ACLU lawyers and scientists struggling to preserve Mother Earth, our beautiful mother, the mother of us all.

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A Conversation With An Artist: Christopher Victor

Hammer Dance Installation at the Muroff-Kotler Visual Arts Gallery @ Suny Ulster
Photo: Courtesy Christopher Victor

 

Once upon a time, when I was very young and scoured New York galleries with my collector father, I imagined that artists spent their days and nights in the studio for the benefit of the collector, or gallery owner, or curator, and even if the artist was dead, none of my naive assumptions were less true because the whole point of collecting, according to my father and his art-loving collector friends, was beyond the joy of the work itself, it was for the value of the work and its monetary appreciation as the years passed. Nonetheless, somehow, the joy of feeling transported by visual work rooted in me. And I am thankful for that and my ability to discern what I like and don't like, almost instantaneously, and to parse what is mediocre and what is well-made. If there is a gallery or museum in proximity, I always walk into it. I deepen my enjoyment of art with every new artist I encounter and I talk to artists about their process whenever I have the opportunity.  

 

When I saw Christopher Victor's installation in the SUNY-Ulster gallery, I knew I liked his work right away. He was in the gallery talking to students and I went up to talk to him. He had been invited to install a show and give a guest lecture or two. The images were strong and I held them in my eidetic memory as I returned to the Writing Center where I work. I had already decided to visit Chris in his studio, if he was willing. Fortunately, he was.

 

I had driven my husband to the bus for a city day, my NYU term over, and I was thrilled to have an afternoon in the mountains, road winding, the GPS dropping out and returning, the trees turning to green. Chris and his wife, Rochelle, left Brooklyn many years ago and moved here; their home is an idyll. They're raising two sons and a boisterous puppy on land close to a stream in an open plan house with a deck overlooking a forest, mountains in the distance.

 

"I grew up in the country in New Hope, PA, where I walked barefoot everywhere and lived next to a stream. Now I live next to a stream again," Chris says.  His mother is a ceramicist and Chris spent many childhood hours in her studio watching her make art, and making his own.  Nature and art are contiguous in his heart and mind. Having moved to the Hudson Valley just over a year ago myself, I am beginning to feel that way, too. We are embedded in nature and forget this at our peril.

 

Has my writing changed since I have been here? Am I contemplating new genres? Has my voice and point of view shifted?  I am not yet sure. Certainly I have more time to read and write, and though I don't live in the mountains, surfacing from my apartment into the fresh air, the birds chirping, the mountains in the distance, the pulse of life is softer, which I am sure is good for writers and artists.  I feel freer, more at ease. And I only miss the city occasionally when I am here. My fast-paced, competitive urban self will never disappear, but at least it has gone quiet now, it's resting.

 

After art school Chris made props for commercials and still takes on assignments when he needs money. It's creative work, but not as satisfying as his own work, he explains, as he looks around his  tool-packed studio which is filled with found materials, works in progress, and finished work.

 

The term "careerist artist" surfaced. I had never heard this before, but it immediately reminded me of the way agents work these days. They look for young writers with two or three books ahead of them, writers who are willing to build a career attentive to shifting fads in the marketplace. And some agents consider themselves "editorial" agents; they shape the writer and the work rather than permit the writer to struggle for herself. Stories abound about these travesties, Gordon Lish and Raymond Carver, the most noteworthy. I can't imagine Chris allowing anyone to manipulate his art in this way in order to sell it.  "We're all creating our own wild places," he says.  And I believe him, or want to believe him. 

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Real Journalists

The holder of this card is a professional journalist and all authorities and IFJ affiliated organizations should extend to the bearer every assistance and courtesy in the performance of his or her mission.

 

 

I have just received my new International Federation of Journalists press card, which is accepted as a bona fide credential in 141 countries. As a free lancer, I have been reliant on press passes for many years and have never had a problem, until recently. I am a member of the prestigious Authors Guild which offers this prestigious card via the IFJ in Brussels. A writer/journalist has to qualify; the passes are not given to anyone. But now that I've proudly stashed the new card in my purse, I'm wondering if it will do me any good in the United States where there are so few news outlets left that value real journalists. Even worse, perhaps, are the many publicists who make certain that a journalist's uncomfortable questions remain unanswered. Obstruction of information. Sound familiar?

 

Controlling the flow of information, spinning, all that I accept as a publicist's job and a journalist's nemesis. But outright lying, refusal to grant interviews, stonewalling voice messages and emails in the hope that an intrepid reporter will go away and give up, that's new. And it does not bode well for our democracy. Isn't it an American journalist's mandate to exercise her First Amendment rights. Or have we forgotten?

 

Consider, for example, the demise of a robust local press. Stories in local—print and online—newspapers these days often read like unadulterated public relations handouts. So-called "facts" are unattributed and uncorroborated, and journalists on staff are frustrated by the lack of editorial support for their investigative efforts. In other words, we cannot blame the current regime in Washington DC for spinning, or faking the news, or telling vicious lies; they are merely taking advantage of the new, yet more market-driven news culture. And that includes all the punditry on broadcast and cable outlets. We need them, they are mostly doing a good job, but they are also making a fortune as they deliver their audience to the advertisers 24-7.

 

It's taken me a long time to accept this and, frankly, I am both disgusted and deeply concerned. It's one of the many reasons I started this blog. At least here I am free to write what I wish, uncensored, and oblivious to market pressures. Consequently, I don't quit. When I have a difficult question to ask, I ask it. I don't take no for an answer. If one source folds, I find another. That's what real journalists do. And when I discover a complicated story that requires the resources and clout of an institution, I pass it along to a still-standing, still reputable major news outlet such as The New York Times; they often pursue a lead for which all of us should be grateful. Most of the time. A recent story I generated didn't lead to much more than a cub reporter gathering clips and re-arranging them. No original interviews, no footwork. To say the least, I was disappointed. Time to get back into it, and unearth the real story behind the story, even if I have to do it on my own. Worse case scenario, it goes up on this blog which is RSS fed to four outlets. Dear reader, thanks to you I get some traffic. Viva the internet!

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Young Artists

Photo of Jingdi Ma ©copyright 2019 by Robin Weinstein

I met Jingdi Ma at the gym where I work out in New Paltz. She is at the front desk on the weekends working two back-to-back shifts and studying. She may have a book open as she takes hand-written notes in her precise, artistic hand-writing, or she may be using the computer. People come and go, she pays attention when she must, or answers the phone, but she is often studying. Though she is shy and soft-spoken, I've gotten to know her a bit over this past year. Adopted from China at the age of two, she grew up near Walden, NY, and went to public schools. When she arrived at SUNY New Paltz, she did not take anything for granted, least of all her acceptance into a prestigious BFA program.

 

Jingdi is graduating, a daunting prospect for any artist, or any young person these days, and moving to Indiana to join her boyfriend. How will she support herself? Will she be able to continue her studies? These are serious and difficult questions. And though the future is unknown, her determination to remain an artist is not. Here is the artist statement she wrote for the end-of-term BFA candidate show at the Dorsky Museum on the campus that opened this week:

 

"Some people may think you don't *become* an artist, you just *are* an artist. I really do not have a straightforward answer as to why I chose the life of an artist. I am sure part of it had to do with wanting to enjoy my four years of college. Sometimes it is still strange for me to say I am an artist because of the context behind it. I would say I am just taking the time to create. That is what an artist does."

 

I can say with as much conviction as Jingdi, that the same holds true for writers. Writing is what writers do. No matter what.

 

Like the other young artists I met at the gallery opening, Jingdi is formidable and her experimental, striking work is as accomplished as any I've recently seen in high-end galleries in New York. I had expected paint on canvas, but she has moved into video and has even produced a small multi-media book with images and words.

 

And all of this, let us remind ourselves, dear reader, with a federal Pell Grant and other financial aid at a public university. It's a telling reminder of the importance of investing in public, loan-free education.

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Biblical Creatures

 
A sweet mini donkey enjoying fresh hay.
Photo © copyright by Jim Bergman 2019

The donkey has been used as a working animal for at least 5000 years. There are more than 40 million donkeys in the world, mostly in underdeveloped countries, where they are used principally as draught or pack animals. Working donkeys are often associated with those living at or below subsistence levels. Small numbers of donkeys are kept for breeding or as pets in developed countries

 

--source, Wikipedia

 

 

As the world reels, as terrorists perpetrate atrocities on Easter Sunday, a Christian Holy Day, and the regime in Washington continues unabated with an anti-Christ at the helm, and Passover has passed, I wondered what to do to raise our secular spirits and remembered what I'd read a while back in a New York Times article about a "donkey park," in Ulster Park, NY, not far from where we live in New Paltz.


It was cool and cloudy, all the blossoms out after a day of heavy rain. A short ride down a long, quiet highway, the windows wide open, and when we arrived at the enclosure a small crowd of adults and children were standing among the donkeys, donkeys of all sizes, standard and mini. Although people were talking quietly to one another, and a few were brushing the donkeys, the animals made no sound and the air was oddly still, as it is in church, or in a canoe on a calm mountain lake. Sacred animals, tender and gentle animals, protective spirits from the antique world in my writer's imagination, they carry 5,000 years of history in their genes.


The donkeys walked around, they trotted a bit, they kept their noses to the ground eating hay, they seemed to enjoy having the back of their very, very long ears rubbed and their thick winter pelts brushed. "Their bellies are really soft," Carol, one of the volunteers told us. "But if you see them raise their tails, best move aside. They are about to poop," her husband, Larry, said. Carol and Larry live down the road and have been volunteering at the park for three years. They seemed comfortable in the enclosure, and were also eager to talk about two larger equines—a mule and a zonkey. The thought of cross-breeding a zebra with a donkey was a bit chilling, I'm not sure why. The large beast, not friendly exactly, not unfriendly, had stripes at the bottom of his long legs and looked more like a horse than a donkey. Not surprisingly, he was called Stripes. And there was a mule, too, which, by definition is a hybrid of a horse and a donkey, and therefore cannot reproduce, we were told. Perhaps that is for the best, I thought. Again, I'm not sure why. Maybe the deliberate manipulation feels unnatural, unlike the hybridization of plants, which we hardly notice, or the raising of animals for slaughter, which we do notice and question, if we are so inclined.


Stories about donkeys are plentiful in the Bible, in children's books, in mythology and fiction. The donkey can often seem ridiculous and is sometimes treated unkindly by storytellers—Pinocchio, for example. But I don't think of them as ridiculous creatures. When I told my colleague, Deb, at the SUNY Ulster Writing Center about our plans for a Jewish Easter Ecumenical Sunday—if that is not an oxymoron—she told me the story about Mary carrying Baby Jesus into the manger on a donkey. "That's why donkeys have crosses on their backs," she said. And, sure enough, they do. I snapped a picture of a donkey's back and sent it to her via a modern apparatus, the iPhone.


Check out the Donkey Park website: www.donkeypark.org

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This Writer Wears a Hijab

With thanks to my daughter, Chloe, and son-in-law, Ryan, for raising a flock of multi-ethnic chickens. Wishing all my readers peace in this season of universal rebirth. 

 

We may have all come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now.

         

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

If I confided to you, dear reader, that when you do not see me or hear me or notice me, in front of the classroom, or on the train, or on the bus, I am wearing a hijab not out of necessity, but out of choice, how would your opinion change about my professional status, for example? Would you ask me if I were documented, or if I was a first or second generation American, or if I prayed, or if I had terrorist inclinations, or if I even belonged here in these United States? Or would you remain silent, silent and admiring, or silent and enraged, or silent and curious, or silent and wary, or silent and frightened? Would you report me to your superiors, have me watched, or try to recruit me to spy on my friends? And in case you are wondering, dear reader, if these scenarios are real, let me assure you they are real, they have happened to me, been reported by me, and I have written about them  over the years in different guises—journalistic voices and fictional disguises. I am Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu and Kurd, Iranian and Iranian-American and Haitian-American and Honduran-American. I am an American. It does not matter where I come from—originally. I am here. This is my country. I am a child of refugees. I am a child of immigrants. Do not tell me this is not my country.

 

These were my troubled and angry thoughts as I woke this morning. And also the word enfiladed, out of a dream, the writer wearing a hijab in solidarity with the non-violent Arab world, which is our world, our extremely endangered world—walking along an enfiladed hallway of ash-filled urns, the remnants of what was once a multi-cultural, multi-faceted open society, a society without borders that still only exists in an internationalist's imagination.

 

Yesterday, this enfiladed hallway was alive with students attending a small community college where I work as a writing tutor for nine hours every week. It is a bit too quiet these days—not enough students take advantage of our services—but when a student enters and sits down, and is courageous enough to ask for help, it is always interesting. I know that the student—white, black, or brown, wearing a hijab or dreads or a pony-tail—is  probably struggling to pay the rent and  pay for school. Perhaps she has no health insurance and her parents are sick and she is looking after them. Perhaps she has been in the military, perhaps she has been in prison, or had a baby too soon, or is the first person in her family to go to college because she dreams of being a paralegal or a social worker or nurse; perhaps she remembers watching her father executed in front of her eyes—in Mexico, or Guatemala, or Sri Lanka during the Civil War, perhaps she was born blind. This is the post-colonial, endangered, gentrifying world, families fleeing from man-made violence and natural disaster, families trying to survive on declining incomes without a safety net or extended family to lend a hand, or government benefits, or unemployment when a factory shuts its doors, or farmland is bought up by conglomerates,or barns sold off to millionares from the city for weekend getaways. This is the neighborhood in which we live. These are the Americans forgotten by our politicians in the last presidential election. We have already learned our lesson: we  must never forget them again.

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