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A Writer's (Comical) Morning Routine

A la Edith Wharton, I remain in bed until the sun rises though I have no servants to bring me my tea on a silver platter. Still, it is a luxury to write in my journal propped up against the pillows. I begin the process of heating my brain in the quiet of these early morning hours. No phone, no obligation other than rousing myself into the day. I may read some of David Sedaris’ journals, the first volume recently published. Is there anyone who doesn’t love this guy? Does the much-and- unfairly-pilloried Jonathan Franzen wish he were David Sedaris? Meandering thoughts. Now it is 1999. My friend David is on an airplane to Germany sitting next to a very fat man. Ha! The guy is taking up two seats. The next day my friend David, currently living near Paris, is in his French class. His sardonic humor doesn’t quit even under pressure of acquiring a new language. Inspired, I continue my own comical morning routine and attempt to imitate David’s irreverent take on everything as I write my journal entry. I begin with the days just passed, already behind me and mulched into memory. For example, I cooked a turkey for the first time in a decade and because we are in a new apartment, and have only used the oven twice since we moved here last March, and the oven is electric, the manner of its heating and cooling is a mystery. The turkey cooked FAST and we had to rescue it before our guests arrived. Fortunately, they brought delicious side dishes so the dryness of the turkey did not matter, or was not even mentioned. Politeness! Gratitude for our hospitality! We toasted, several times, to old friends and new. Inevitably, we slid into politics or the programs we are bingeing on. Let’s make lists and pass them round, I suggested. Let’s not sully the day with you- know-what and you-know who. Let me distract you with a story about my work-out at the gym yesterday morning. Alas, it was closed today, I continued in a non-stop monologue. (I was the hostess and held the floor.) I went onto WiFi and listened to WBGO, my favorite station, and began to sing out loud as I pranced on the elliptical. No one noticed, or did they? I wasn’t sure. I kept on singing. A guy walked in and took the bike next to me and I said, “That’s your bike, make no mistake, I’ve seen you on it before, we all have our little routines and that is your bike.” His face broke into a huge smile. Why did I think until that moment that he was mute and sullen? Because it was still early in the morning, the sun just up, and we were both barely awake.
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A Few Thoughts on Veterans Day

One war's end: VJ Day in Times Square, August 14, 1945, an iconic photo by Alfred Eisenstadt. Sailors everywhere. I salute my sailor, Jim Bergman, today.

When I met my husband, Jim, in California he was still in the Navy Reserve. He’d signed up for six years and been on active duty in the Seventh Fleet for two. He still had his duffel, his pee coat, his buzz cut, his Navy “whites” and, thankfully, the GI Bill to finish his education. That’s one reason many young men and women from less than privileged backgrounds sign up. But when Jim was in the Navy, it was a peacetime Navy. These days, deployments to war zones are not the exception, they are the rule. Too many are returning maimed and traumatized. Dreams of a secure future are shattered. And is the world safer? I wonder.

I have many war stories in my arsenal of stories—family stories and stories from the field when I was working on “Another Day in Paradise; International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories.” I attended war games in Geneva run by the International Red Cross—aid workers are soldiers, too—so let us celebrate them today. They learn the Geneva Conventions, go into the war zones unarmed, risk their lives every single day. My grandfather was in the Austrian army during World War I, returned to Vienna unscathed, then died of a massive heart attack before the Nazi round-up. The German army marched into Vienna, an occupying army. Shall we celebrate them? Of course not. Am I a pacifist? Absolutely not. I remember telling my mother many times that if I’d been in Vienna during the Nazi occupation, I would have fought in the resistance. A fantasy, of course.

Reading the history of WWI is illuminating and depressing. Was it necessary? Why does diplomacy fail? What have we learned? What is the true nature of patriotism? What is the purpose of sovereign nations? Do they guarantee peace and prosperity? These are the questions I am asking myself this Veterans Day. There is a belligerent neo-fascist in the White House. He could easily get us into terrible trouble overseas; he already has. As for domestic challenges, consider the conflagration in California and his threat to withdraw federal aid. Soldiers are brilliant in disaster zones; they know what to do. Deploy in California instead of on the Mexican border. Let the caravan in, for goodness sake. Put the refugees to work on the disaster clean-up alongside our well-trained soldiers instead of at the point of a gun. Give these refugees citizenship in return for their service. Protect their children. Act with compassion. Become a humanitarian soldier, Mr. President. A fantasy, of course.

Not long ago, during a book signing, a young man came up to me and said he was a former soldier, that he’d been on two tours, one to Afghanistan, the other to Iraq –lost many of his buddies--and was getting a Masters degree before signing up for an NGO in Afghanistan. We are Facebook friends and I follow him—in Kabul and during his travels. Guns into Ploughshares. I salute him. Read More 

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A Week Called VOTE

In the midst of a tough news cycle that seems, at times, endless, the vox populi, hopefully a good number of us, are poised to VOTE. I write this on the eve—solicitations pouring in, canvassers at the door, phone bankers leaving messages, yours truly among them. I live in the 19th Congressional District where voter allegiance is not obvious: blue enclaves in a red county. The stories we tell as the door opens matter. Yes, the current sheriff is a racist. No, the young man running against Congressman Faso is a Harvard-trained lawyer. Does it really matter to you that his skin is chocolate? The answer, sadly, is often “yes,” and not sotto voce these days. And why Latin phrases this morning? Thinking of the fall of Rome, perhaps.

Last Wednesday, after my NYU workshop, standing on line at Port Authority waiting for my bus back upstate, I talked again with the lovely Sarah, from Haiti, employed by Trailways to steer the confused hordes to the correct gates. She was reading the New York Post, a strange mix of scandalous semi-news and political savvy. Those old enough will remember Jimmy Breslin and his Runyonesque columns. Breslin would have loved Sarah. She has a big story—she is an immigrant from a beleaguered nation—but she also has the oomph and drive of a typical New Yorker. She’s incensed: how dare 45 say that her 27-year-old son has no “birthright.” On she goes into the discourse, 1/3rd French, 1/3rd Creole, 1/3rd English. Regardless, we understand each other perfectly. Eavesdropping on our conversation—Gulin, from Turkey—a graduate of SUNY New Paltz, working now for an international company in Istanbul. She's been living with despotism and round-ups of journalists for fifteen years, so she gets what is going on here right now-- the warning signs, the slow, incremental, despotic rhetoric. But what she doesn’t understand is the low voter turn-out. How can anyone justify or explain abstention in what is still a “free” country?

Two security guards at the building where I teach—one an immigrant, the other a Native New Yorker—are not even registered to vote. What is their story? Their explanation? I am an educator and patiently I attempt to educate. But I am interrupted by another security guard, this one with a holster on her hip and a mouth like a big gun,who cannot abide ignorance or abstention. She lets these two younger security guards have it and stomps off.

We are on high alert, all of us. How to relax? One of my students suggests some Jane Austen this week (consoling sentences), another some junk on Netflix or Prime. My husband and I are glued to the well-plotted “Bodyguard,” a British production. During an interview with the police, a sleazy politician, suspected of passing along a bomb to the Home Secretary’s aide says, insouciantly, “We are not murderers, we are politicians.” That sentence haunted me in my sleep last night. I was so restless that this blog post surfaced as soon as I opened my eyes. “We are not murderers, we are politicians.” It’s a brilliant metaphor because, of course, the opportunistic, inhumane policies of some of our politicians kill people. All the time.  Read More 

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