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The Force of Truth

Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, Marion, Indiana, August 7, 1930

Detail of photo by Lawrence Beitler, Fair use image

 

The Force of Truth

 

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

-Martin Luther King Jr. Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway, 1964.

 

Walking on the rail trail in New Paltz, NY several days a week, I wondered if the town, post- Civil War, had been divided — east of the tracks and west of the tracks, rich and poor, emancipated slaves and White colonial settlers — as it still is in so many small towns across America. I also thought about Betsy, and wondered what happened to her.

 

Betsy and I met at the UC Berkeley housing office when the woman behind the desk introduced us to each other and said there was a furnished two-bedroom apartment available for a reasonable rent at 2441 Haste St. with its front windows overlooking Telegraph Avenue. Neither of us hesitated; we were both desperate to find affordable accommodation before the term started. We moved in later that day.

 

It wasn't until we sat down to a take-out dinner in our new apartment that we introduced ourselves properly. I had recently arrived from New York to make up some credits in summer school and decided to stay and finish my degree at UC Berkeley. Betsy had a more complex story. She'd been attending a school in Florida and returned from her junior year abroad pregnant with a biracial baby. There was no question of an abortion. Her parents were pro-life, stalwart members of a conservative church-going community. So they whisked Betsy out of town to a "home" where she gave the baby up for adoption.

 

"Where are you from exactly?" I asked.

"Muncie, Indiana," she replied, tears cascading down her cheeks.

 

In 1929, two married sociologists, the Lynds, published a study about Muncie. They renamed the town Middletown U.S.A. and completely ignored the Black population on the east side of town. The study was — excuse  the expression —a whitewash. Muncie was still de facto segregated when Betsy was growing up. It was also the headquarters of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan.

 

A year later, in 1930, three Black boys were lynched and then incinerated in the nearby town of Marion in front of a large crowd of onlookers. Like many other lynchings of that era, photographs of hanging and burning were sold as postcards.

 

The bodies of the two boys were retrieved by the pastor of the AME Zion Church in Muncie because there were no Black undertakers in Marion. The congregation gave them a Christian burial in Muncie.

 

This history of racial terrorism in Indiana, just a year after the publication of Middletown U.S.A., gave me pause.

 

I remember Betsy's mother coming to visit her daughter. She spent her entire visit sitting in our living room, refusing to venture outside because of what she called the "weird looking students" of all sizes, shapes and colors walking on Telegraph Avenue. I think she truly believed she'd landed in Sodom or Gomorrah, and that her daughter would end up in hell.

 

I wondered who had chosen Berkeley—of all places—for Betsy to complete her degree. It was, of course, Betsy, who'd studied abroad for her junior year, a tradition that has a purpose: to broaden. Betsy would be okay, I told myself, as I made plans to move into my boyfriend's apartment and searched for a suitable replacement flat mate for Betsy.

 

Memories of Betsy and the town of Muncie resurfaced recently while I was watching Strangers at the Gate, an Academy Award nominated New Yorker  documentary about a U.S. Marine who built an IED to bomb his "enemies" at the Islamic Center of Muncie, rose out of hatred thanks to the welcoming Muslim community, many of them Afghan refugees, and became a Muslim himself. It's a beautiful film about personal transformation, but incomplete in its depiction of the town.

***

Muncie today has a population of 63,000. Thirty percent live in poverty, about 10.5% are Black, 2.5% are refugees, only 25% of the population is college educated, and the median family income is $36,000.

 

When I asked Yvonne Thompson, born and raised in Muncie, and now Executive Director of the Muncie Human Rights Commission, how the Black community is doing today, her answer was unequivocal. "Ever since the automotive industry left, we've been sliding backwards," she told me. The General Motors Chevrolet Plant closed in 2006, and the Borg Warner Plant—they made clutches-- closed in 2009. Suddenly, 20,000 people in Muncie were unemployed, a catastrophe for many families, Black and White . Thus, the recent Census poverty stats from Muncie, the appearance of gangs in the Black community, the intensifying of a housing crisis, and uninterrupted red-lining. Oddly, the opioid crisis, raging everywhere in the United States, is mostly hitting the poor White community in Muncie.

 

Why did the resettlement agencies choose Muncie for the Afghan refugees? The interviews in the documentary with members of the Mosque are upbeat and hopeful. And when I talked to Bibi Bahrani, who is featured in the film, she expressed only gratitude for the Governor of Indiana, the Mayor of Muncie, and the warm welcome refugees have received. The Bahranis have lived in Muncie for 36 years, having arrived after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and are now helping new  refugees find jobs and homes.

 

"They keep to themselves," Thompson explains. "They look after each other. They are a tight, quiet community."

 

A community which is still de facto segregated despite the many years of Civil Rights activism and Civil Rights legislation.

 


 

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#WOMANLIFEFREEDOM

 
Self-portrait ©copyright Maedeh Ojaghlou 2023 by permission. The calligraphy,#womanlifefreedom, in the colors of the Iranian flag--without the Islamic symbol--has become the emblem of the 2023 Iranian resistance/revolution.

 

#WOMANLIFEFREEDOM

 

 

How many deaths?
How many are enough?
Should the list include everyone? Can it?
How can a list be complete when it cannot account for the ones who disappeared without a trace…

 

-Poupeh Missaghi, "trans(re)lating house one,"   Coffee House Press

 

 

Throughout recent history, Iranian women of all ages, genders, income levels and education have participated in national uprisings. In 2023, they are not only participating, they are organizing a resistance which is now massive in scale. The Iranian government is reacting with lethal force, escalating arrests and executions.

 

More than 500 people have already been killed in the current protests including four public executions. Taraneh Alidoosti, a well-known Iranian actress, and one of the most high-profile targets in Iran's campaign against celebrities who have expressed solidarity with the demonstrators, was arrested on Dec. 18th. Though she has since been released, many others haven't. Neda Naji, a labor activist, was sentenced to 8 months in prison, 60 lashes, and fined.

 

There are about 500,000 Iranians and Iranian-Americans in the United States right now and none of them, I am certain, are sleeping well. Maedeh Ojaghlou, 28-years-old, arrived in New York City via Dubai from Tehran on an F1 student visa in August 2022. We connected on the New Paltz Community Facebook page and then met for the first time last week for an in-person conversation at a Dunkin Donuts, a dystopian experience, as it was very crowded and we were both masked up. Maedeh (pr. MAH-eh-day)  was wearing a sweatshirt with the slogan of the Iranian resistance: #womanlifefreedom, a reverberating echo of women all over the world who have struggled for voting rights, abortion rights, the right to be educated, the right to choose a life partner, the right to equal pay, the right to surface from the hijab into air and light, or to remain veiled—in other words, the right to choose.

 

Maedeh and I had a lot to talk about and fell into conversation easily. Since the  444-day siege of the American Embassy in Tehran, there has been no official American consulate presence there. When Maedeh received her acceptance for the MFA program in photography at SUNY New Paltz, she was desperate to accept, but didn't know how her modest, middle-class family—her father is an accountant, her mother a housewife—could afford the funds for travel to Dubai to obtain a visa, and then living expenses once she arrived on campus. Somehow, the family found the money.

 

Maedeh's sister had already emigrated to the United States where she works as a researcher for a pharmaceutical company, so the family was accustomed to departures of their loved ones, and resigned to the financial sacrifice necessary to educate their children, especially their daughters. 

 

Many wealthy Iranian families had fled when the mullahs came to power in 1979 after the fall of the Shah, leaving the less affluent to navigate the new theocracy on their own, in the same way ordinary Afghan families now have to navigate the evisceration of freedoms and opportunities by the Taliban after the American evacuation which privileged those working for the American government or military. The religious fundamentalism of both regimes has been life changing for everyone, especially the women. And Iranians and Afghanis even share related languages: a Farsi-speaking Iranian can probably understand a Dari-speaking Afghani, and vice versa.

 

Maedeh has been an activist for many years. She had volunteered for a charity helping child laborers, some as young as five-years-old, and her parents knew she would have been on the streets demonstrating every day after Mhasa Amini's death. "But my parents  weren't just worried about me," Maedeh says. "They were worried about me and everyone else. We all worry about each other in Iran."  

 

Before long, Maedeh was on a plane to Dubai, her MFA acceptance in hand, applying for a visa. Soon after she landed in New York City, she joined demonstrations with friends and started posting photos on her Instagram account.

 

It might be difficult for Americans to understand that the demonstrators may, or may not, have an argument with Islam itself, one of the world's great religions. Maedeh's mother is devout, she does wear a hijab, but she supports and encourages the evolution of a new forward-looking generation. And her father, whose father was killed in the Iran-Iraq war, encourages his children to fight for freedom in a sanctioned country where there is no separation of church and state, and taxes go to advancing nuclear power and building drones for Russia's war against Ukraine.

 

Life in the United States is calm by comparison to Iran, Maedeh says. She misses her family, but she is safe for now, and feels free to study and demonstrate without fear of arrest, solitary confinement, floggings, or death. 

 

Dedicated to the brave women of Iran and Afghanistan.

 

For more information about incarcerated writers in Iran:

 

   https://pen.org/region/iran/

 

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 99

My avatar unmasked.

 

Do You See Me?

 

      Sky People cannot learn, you do not See.

 

-Neyteri to Jake in "Avatar"

 

As if one needed eyes in order to see.

 

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I am usually the only athlete in the gym wearing a mask, and one of the oldest, white-haired women. There's another woman in my demographic, but she does not wear a mask. Kudos  as she fast-walks for more than an hour on the treadmill listening to something or other on her headset, oblivious to everyone huffing and puffing around her. Once the guy next to her did interval training, got off the treadmill, huffed and puffed and spewed. No one said anything about his lack of consideration even though the Ulster County Department of Health had just sent out another "high" Covid alert about a new variant.

 

The years slowed during lockdown, and now have accelerated.  Based on my own unprofessional survey, those in their 20s, 30s, even 40s, don't feel the acceleration as much as older people. They have more time ahead of them, so they are getting on with their lives, as well they should. But in my immediate circle, friends and family are developing ailments they never anticipated, some are dropping away into eternity wherever that is. Covid deaths and Covid related deaths—cascades of organ failure in the ICUs—are commonplace now as they have been during the pandemic, even among immuno-compromised young people, but when they first happened they were a shock, now they are not. We hear about these losses first or second hand, we sigh with compassion, we attend funerals and memorials and continue living our self-absorbed lives afflicted with the "fox-hole" syndrome: the guy next to me is dead but I've survived Covid.

 

A long article in the New York Times last weekend in the "Well" section suggests we recover from pandemic isolation with intention, socialize as much as possible, connect, reach out, make phone calls, cultivate micro-connections in our daily lives. But how to navigate this as a Covid-vulnerable older person wearing a mask? Thus my question today to you, dear reader: I see you, but do you see me?

 

Feminist that I am, I dismissed laments of invisibility from older women… when I was young. No longer. Not only is the lament real, the experience universal, it is now exacerbated by THE MASK.  There is a caveat, of course: American culture is particularly ageist. And this ageism is amplified by our driven, material culture. The woman as object has not disappeared from the male psyche, which is why a not so young guy at the gym cruises and stares at younger women as his eyes glide over me, the invisible older woman, yet more invisible behind a mask. Younger women are also in a glissade when confronted with an older woman. It's more nuanced but it's palpable.

 

By temperament I am outgoing, by profession deeply interested in everyone's stories. Masking is a torture for me, an incarceration. And I cannot find a solution other than to talk through it, a kind of piercing cri de coeur: I see you, but do you see me? As an experiment, I'm going to write these words on a surgical mask in thick black ink and wear the mask to the gym. Who will respond and how? I will report my findings in the comments to this blog post. I anticipate a few laughs, at least.

 

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Memorabilia; A Writer's Reflections

 

Memorabilia; A Writer's Reflections

 

 

Literature is the messenger of freedom at the price of insecurity.

 

-Carlos Fuentes

 

My cousin, Ellen, in Seattle called to say she'd saved a letter I wrote to her at a "trifecta" in her life: her mother had a recurrence of breast cancer, she was pregnant, and starting a school with her husband, Paul, the now famous Northwest School. It was a pleasant surprise to hear she'd saved a letter from me. I was relieved it had provided some solace; her mother, who had suffered so much, was a favorite aunt. But it still felt creepy that an artifact of my psyche from decades ago was extant, on the page, and that someone had preserved it.

 

This is what writers must experience when an (unauthorized) biographer gets to work poring through letters, diaries and emails while they are still alive, I thought. Ugh.

 

It's not unusual for most writers I know to feel this way. It's even difficult to return to published work and feel satisfaction, or total satisfaction; or it feels like a stranger wrote the work. A detachment sets in as we quickly move on to the next project. This is why readings in public spaces in front of strangers often becomes a burden to a writer, unless you are David Sedaris. He's more like a stand-up comic—a  performer—who  happens to write really well.

 

I have moved so frequently in my life, across a continent 2x and an ocean 2x, that it's been necessary to cull books, clothes, furniture, and memorabilia. It's not easy to discern value in the moment, unfortunately, and the culling must be done before the moving truck arrives. And I've never felt regret. But when Ellen's square blue greeting-card envelope arrived, and I saw my mother's handwriting, I did feel a soupçon of regret. In addition to my typewritten letter on thin brown paper, there were two scrawled messages from my mother.

 

Suddenly a surge of vulnerability set in. What have I done throwing so much away? Why did I do this? Why have I moved so much?  Why are my suitcases always at the ready and boxes left unpacked in the closet? These are not rhetorical questions: they have an answer.

 

And there it is, the genocide again. One must be unencumbered and fleet of foot to escape and survive, then flexible enough to reconstitute a life in a new country. Think of the refugees amassed at the border, what they have carried besides water bottles and their children, and what they have left behind.

 

Ellen is a child of Holocaust survivors also, but she's a musician, and was a school administrator, more grounding, perhaps, than being a writer, though that may be my imagination. I must ask her, I  decided. In the meantime, I returned to the computer to write her a thank you email:

 

Mostly I'm left with: this fleeting life. How to hang on to precious moments? Remain sentient? Thus, the writing for me, among other things…I can well remember the enjoyment I felt scrolling paper into a typewriter and feeling the words unfold on the page. Did I write that long ago letter? I guess so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 98

This photo © copyright Carol Bergman 2020, before N95s, includes some home-sewn "original" masks.

 

The disparity between the circumstances and fates of different people offended  Dickens in the Christmas season. For him, it as a time to think about what we owe one another, how we live with one another…

 

-Maureen Dowd, "Why Dickens Haunts Us," The New York Times, 12/25/22

 

 

We decided to mask-up for our first "live" movie experience since the pandemic began. We are six-months away from the bivalent booster and have not gotten any younger. In other words, we are still in the (triaged) vulnerable population. Ironically, my husband is more protected than I am having had a 2nd bout with Covid just before Thanksgiving, as reported here. Despite optimal exposure, I did not get it, which is a good sign of something—the miracle vaccines, my own health, perhaps. Jim was put on Paxlovid, did well, and now has a load of new antibodies. 

 

Driving thirty minutes on dark, country roads, the GPS in and out of satellite connection, we did okay, but then got lost in the Hudson Valley Mall, a ghost mall, one empty store after another. I remembered that the movie complex was at the back somewhere next to what is now an abandoned SEARS, its sign stripped naked to a shadow. How desolate the mall looked, a dystopian remnant of a bustling hub. So much has changed since the pandemic began: where and how we work, where and how we shop, how we socialize, friends, family, co-workers, partners who have died either from Covid, or because of Covid.

 

The lobby of the complex—more than a dozen cinemas—was busy, the smell of popcorn welcoming. Our daughter and son-in-law arrived and we headed into the theater. I put on my mask, but no one else in our small party did, not even my husband, though we had discussed protocol. He's always been more casual than I, but he's also had Covid 2x, and now he was more protected, he reiterated. Was I being careful, overly fearful, or foolish? I suddenly felt hidden, outcast, more so when I realized that our assigned seats were next to unmasked strangers. We juggled our seating until I was at the end near the aisle and settled in to watch Avatar, a three-hour war movie masquerading as a fantasy. I decided to unmask, hope for the best, cross fingers, breathe in one direction only, and think about Charles Dickens' moral compass.

 

This post is dedicated to Ed's Jody and Rachel's Morgan.

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Ready for the Holidays

Picasso's "Dove of Peace"

 

Ready For The Holidays

 

 

Everyone I encounter in my small, upstate New York town is asking if I am ready for the holidays. They don't ask if I'm ready for Santa, or ready for Christmas. This was not the case during the decade I lived in London; everyone asked if I was ready for Christmas. My Jewish and Muslim and Christian friends all had secular, festive Christmas dinners and sent out Christmas cards, as opposed to holiday cards. And it was always "Happy Christmas," not "Happy Holidays," and certainly not "Merry Christmas." I had one (Jewish)  friend who delivered her Christmas cards around the neighborhood by hand. I must ask her when next we speak if she has reverted to that delightful Trollopian tradition during the current postal strike.

 

It took decades, but here, in America, we are finally using the word "holiday" in a generic sense. In this way we can celebrate an ecumenical season: Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Ramadan, and much else. Certainly, in many schools there is an effort to acknowledge every child's ethnic background. This feels right. This feels like the America we know and try desperately to love. Hopefully, this existential progress will not be corroded by enraged nativist school boards.

 

My mother grew up in Vienna in a mixed family (Jewish and Catholic) and always had a Christmas tree. But when she married my more observant step-father, no signs of Christmas were allowed in the house; we only celebrated Hannukah. Then when our daughter was born, in celebration of her arrival on earth, my husband and I decided to celebrate everything we could celebrate,: Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Ramadan, July 4th and Juneteenth. If we were deeply religious, or ethnically chauvinistic to an extreme, this wouldn't be possible. But we are not deeply religious or ethnically chauvinistic. Do I care about my ancestry, of course I do, it is interesting, part of who I am, but I am not here on earth to defend it with a sword; I am here to share it in a loving way.

 

It is the holiday season, the season of generosity and good will. May we have a moment, at least, of healing and peace--personally, nationally and internationally-- as we bring in the new year.

 

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Let Us Not Forget Navalny

"The Most Magical Corner in Kyiv," © Peter Zalmayev 2022 by permission. The snowy scene reminds Peter of Italo Calvino's "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler." 

 

Let Us Not Forget Navalny

 

And if they dare to keep me like an animal
And fling my food on the floor,
I won't fall silent or deaden the agony,
But shall write what I am free to write…

 

-Osip Mandelstam who died in Stalin's Gulag, 12/27/38

 

The Soviet regime robbed people not only of their ability to live freely but also of the ability to understand fully what had been taken from them, and how."

 

― Masha Gessen, "The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia"

 

  

 

We celebrate Britney Griner's return to the United States. This talented young woman is home—such a sweet, innocent  smile as she boarded the plane not knowing where she was going. The geopolitics of her release are fascinating to contemplate: Maybe our intelligence personnel turned Bout.  After 11 years in prison, Bout may have already revealed all they wanted him to reveal, a rag dog sent home to be feted by the despot, and now a double agent? Maybe the United States and Allies wanted to throw Putin a bone so he feels he has a"win" and therefore won't unleash his nuclear arsenal, or he'll resist other atrocities, including his deals with Iran for yet more weaponry.

 

On and on it goes. Peter Zalmayev, my broadcaster friend in Kyiv, continues broadcasting uninterrupted in Ukrainian, Russian and English, albeit he may be wearing a winter coat, his  beard growing a bit longer than usual. 

 

So far as I can tell, nothing, absolutely nothing, will stop the Ukrainians.  They are intrepid, freedom fighters to the core.

 

Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union, and now The Russian Federation has a long history of torturing and incarcerating its writers, artists, journalists and political dissidents. The word "defection" was coined during the Soviet period, and now we have "exiled dissidents," as opposed to defectors, many hoping and planning to return home. Much will depend upon how the conflict ends in Ukraine, whether Putin stays or goes, whether or not it is safe to return, whether or not Navalny surfaces unscathed  from Putin's gulag and becomes President.  

 

Meanwhile, writers will continue to write, artists to paint and sculpt, journalists to report the news, wherever they are and no matter the hardship. Let us not forget them, or Navalny, or the exiled dissidents, as we enter the holiday season. 

 

Dedicated to the dissident artists, writers and journalists who have fled Putin's Russia and others who struggle to survive his gulag, now known as penal colonies.

 

 

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You Are Safe With Me

"The Trail of Golden Grasses" © copyright Michael Gold 2022 by permission.

 

 

You Are Safe With Me

 

 

Must living in peace - so fervently wished for throughout human history and yet enjoyed in only a few parts of the world - inevitably result in refusing to share it with those seeking refuge, defending it instead so aggressively that it almost looks like war?

 

-Jenny Erpenbeck,  "Go, Went, Gone" 

 

 

The Russian marine scientist, Chakilev, has been tracking the walrus population "hauling out" on a remote island in the Siberian Arctic for a decade. The melting ice floes—which they need to rest, mate and give birth—have created a desperate, tragic situation for the walruses.

 

Two filmmakers have documented Chakilev's work in a short film for the New Yorker documentary series. If you don't have a subscription to the New Yorker, it's also on their YouTube site. (The title of the video is "Haulout.")

 

I have been haunted by this documentary for several days. It's a visceral testament to climate change as we are all beginning to experience it—even  in  the "developed" often callous, entitled world—and it's a metaphor for the migration of desperate men, women and children from poor, beleaguered, and war-torn nations collapsing onto our shores, pressing against our man-made borders. What is a border anyway if not man-made?

 

Comparing the 90,000 walruses scrambling for space on a small beach in the Arctic with the millions of  desperate humans who have died at sea or live in tents in refugee camps may seem far-fetched, but I do not believe it is. Many climatologists and migration experts argue that war and forced migration are both climate change events—food shortages, drought—and that we can do something about both, if we are willing, and have not entirely lost our moral compass. The doing something can be the smallest of efforts, I find, as simple as the compost bin on my counter, leaving my car behind whenever possible, or voting for politicians with a social conscience. But the doing something for migrants and refugees within our communities takes a more conscious action, a right action, as the Buddhists would say. It is a choice not to look away, a choice to engage, and it is not always easy; it can be troubling and time consuming. And so it is with a courageous and determined young woman I met recently. Like the walruses washed up on the shore in the Arctic, her travails haunt me.

 

I will call her S to protect her identity. She arrived here as a child,  is undocumented, wants to be a lawyer, works for low-pay off the books, and is trying to finish her GED so she can attempt a college application. "How are you feeling?" I ask whenever we meet. "How are your classes going?" Usually, she is hopeful, but she is also scared and—by  necessity—vigilant. ICE  agents are hovering, and I am not even certain, as yet, if my young friend is registered as a (DACA) Dreamer which costs $495 according to the DACA website. That must seem a formidable sum to her.

 

I met S by chance. Her story has surfaced in short chapters, and only after she trusted me. One day when we were talking, she noticed a safety pin on the lapel of my "professional" suit jacket, the one I wear when I interview someone for this blog or a publication. It's been there since the day ICE threatened a raid on the NYU campus. Professors, students, admin, support staff all began wearing safety pins on hats, coats, dresses and backpacks.

 

"The safety pin  symbolizes that you are safe with me," I told S. Later, feeling less vigilant, she shared her full name with me and we exchanged emails and phone #s.  

 

I do not take my American citizenship for granted. I am a child of refugees. I could have ended up in a tent city in Jordan, or a homeless shelter in Manhattan, or I could have died at sea, or never been born. Altruistic men and women took my family ashore and wrapped them in blankets. They helped my parents and many others settle, learn English, and find work. They helped them live a life of prosperity and dignity in the America of our hopes and dreams.

 

 

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Why Writing is Like Cooking a Turkey

 I was listening to The NY Times Daily podcast about the stress we all feel when we decide to host Thanksgiving, when someone mentioned slathering the turkey with mayonnaise before putting it in the oven at a slow-cook 325 degrees.  So, that's what I did this Thanksgiving, to my credit, I have decided. Isn't it always risky to try something new in the kitchen for a person who does not consider herself a cook, or like to cook? I thought it was brave to prepare the Big Bird off-grid, so to speak, and to trust that the NY Times cooking team knows of what they speak. My husband argued for the trusty foil tent, but I dissuaded him. "Just mayonnaise," I said.

 

Because turkeys are an impossible Big Bird to get absolutely right—dark meat, light meat—it's best to surrender to imperfection, apparently. Well, I'd never heard this before, but I liked it; it took the pressure off. Usually, polite, grateful guests ooh and aah at the absolute perfection of the turkey. "The turkey's perfect," they say, which is only sometimes true and everyone knows it. I think guests are grateful that someone else is hosting the Thanksgiving extravaganza and/or they don't want to insult the host and/or they love the host very much.

 

8 a.m., the mayonnaise jar on the counter, and I was painting the skin of the 13-pounder with a basting brush. It was wonderfully relaxing. After shifting the turkey into the oven, I did not look at it again until more than three-hours later. I picked up my Canadian cousin from the station and we sat and chatted over cups of tea until the other guests arrived. All the last-minute brouhaha was yet to come, the stress of getting everything onto the table at once, but I pushed that anticipatory anxiety aside.

 

Full disclosure, I'm old enough to remember writing on a typewriter, and fortunate enough not to be intimidated by the blank page, nor am I a perfectionist by nature. But I know many professional writers who are, and before computers wastepaper baskets in newsrooms across the world, and writing dens across the world, were filled with crumpled up discarded pages. My husband could never get started until he worked his way past the first paragraph into the body of the article. When the computer arrived, it was a blessing, he said. Who knows anymore when a first draft ends and revision begins? But he still labors more than I do, worrying every word and sentence. And, no surprise, he follows recipes meticulously without improvisation.

 

Perhaps it's a matter of temperament or personality. The turkey we cook will turn out okay, or not okay, and the end result is not what is important, not entirely anyway. I've done my best, worked hard, made an offering to family and friends. They will forgive a bit of white meat dryness. What's done is done or over-done, unlike writing, which we can play with and revise ad infinitum.

 

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 97

Time Can Be Wiser Than Our Own Intentions

 

He wasn't sure what to do. If he left the rock, it would only take a few minutes of desert air to dry his pool, and then all that would remain of him would be a small crucible of brown powder, a powder the wind would find and scatter.

 

-Scott Anderson, "Triage"

 

 

Ten days and my husband is out of isolation, testing negative, and I am out of quarantine, still testing negative. Three friends in my hood have been sick, and are better. Forget contact tracing, no point. And though the news about the boosters is not good, it is not bad either: I escaped this round entirely—having had Covid last January—and we are not in the hospital, and we are not dead, and neither are most of my family or friends. Yet, lest I forget, the partner of a friend died. A dear friend of my daughter and son-in-law died. Is that a good score?  Are we keeping score to make ourselves feel better as we crawl out of our foxholes?  Are we afflicted with foxhole syndrome: the guy in the foxhole is dead, shot through the head, but I'm okay, I'm alive.

 

Plus, let's be thankful for Paxlovid. My husband thanks you, certainly. And though the vaccines and boosters we have so far are working well enough, let us hope that the new Congress will not be so hopelessly gridlocked that they refuse to release money to develop a different preventive vaccine and/or nasal sprays. Note: Biden's visit to China. Make a list of what you imagine they talked about other than Taiwan and Ukraine. On the top of mine would be: continuing economic cooperation.

 

But what I want to return to today visa vie this Virus Without Borders document is not the US v. China; it's triage. Triage is a wall I hit every time I talk to someone about Covid protocols before a social interaction. So, what are your Covid protocols? I ask before such an interaction. The answers are varied: There are those who clearly state their intention of extra care and testing before Turkey Day, for example, and others who state categorically that they are moving around unmasked  and if they get Covid, it will surely be mild, more like a cold, therefore no protocols.

 

Answers have become predictable: they divide demographically. The vulnerable elders in the population are cautious, the youngsters, not just casual, but fatalistic without much concern for exposing those who are more vulnerable. This has been true for a while, I know, and I'm not sure what it ultimately signifies or portends. All I am sure of is that it seems an apt metaphor for America's entitled disregard of its aging and vulnerable populations.

 

I have no solution and I have no words of Thanksgiving, either, other than I hope yours is a healthy and joyous one, free of Covid. I'll sing Hallelujah when I can take down the His and Hers mask hooks by the door, and when a new vaccine is developed.

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