The Sampler Platter

Most of my journal ideas have bungled together inside the queue in my mind since we finished sorting the olives. Here is my sampler-platter:

I have to let my knuckles heal. The skin wore off of each middle-knuckle on Sunday while I was working the punching bag that hangs off the front porch rail, swinging in front of the chickens’ alcove. The boys hung it too low so I raised it in order to get some solid punches on the denser part of the bag, for greater satisfaction. When I felt the urge to be pathetic this weekend, I found ways to push through it via my body.

I finally bought new pants. Two out of three jeans in my closet have holes on their seats. When I returned from Jericho I immediately walked to Beit Jala and found two pairs of brown corduroy pants. My sister could not wait forever to get a new computer nor could I wait to get pants that finally fit.  Visitors had commented that they could tell I was American by my over-sized attire. Oddly, less give in my trousers made me more comfortable in my own skin. I look good.

I told them to keep their clothes on. The tweenagers locked themselves in the computer room by breaking off the handle and losing it. They were my therapy all day, in the same way that having your back pounded is a massage. They spun me so fast on the merry-go-round that I had welts on my back from where the metal touched me. David and Andrew came to my rescue and I collapsed in a heap on the ground, laughing, when I finally got off that thing. The Pal-American girl delights me endlessly. She makes side-comments, the type that make her unintelligible to even the Swede but that I understand because, really, we are both Americans. The best part of pretending to supervise these kids is how they use [cussword] so freely because it doesn’t register as vulgar. “Crap”.

A six-inch centipede streaked across the living-room to my bedroom. I started yelling “oh fudge my socks! Oh fudge my socks!” repeatedly (and I did not say fudge). The punch-line is that I was simultaneously on a Skype-call with two of my superiors in New York. They politely suggested that I might be suffering from burn-out and I quickly agreed with them. Centipedes are something beyond giant insects: more archaic, more other-worldly, and more venomous. Small children die from desert centipede bites yet, as I gently brushed him/her out the door with a push-broom, I felt a twinge of compassion for the panicked predator, wriggling into the darkness of the evening – terrified of me. I hope there was a big roach out there, just waiting to be eaten.

“You know, Drew, I just can’t picture her sitting out on a second-story porch in Jericho – smoking a sheesha with me.” I made that tobacco stuffed apple really smolder, drawing the evening out until I was blowing nothing but the steam from the water-pipe. Drew was feeling quieter than the night before, when we did the same down the street and talked non-stop about politics and activism. Dusk filled a banana plantation across the street, while the entire town square teemed with youth, families, and tourists like us. In Bethlehem, everyone was on their way home. “الريحا, المدينة القمر”

“Jericho, city of the moon.”

My path, long ago, diverged from my ex-girlfriend’s life. This time, though, I didn’t try to make it sound like it was destined one way or another. “I want to play things as they lie, now.”

The giant spider made my day. It looked like a wolf-spider, at first, but on closer examination it was a small tarantula of some kind. She raised her little hairy arms in aggression at my pink pen. My co-workers were slightly befuddled by my interest and affection but I insisted that I once wanted to be an entomologist. I left that dream when I fell in love with music, then left music to fall in love with writing – now I am leaving writing to fall in love with peace and conflict studies? No. I really never left any of those parts of my self behind. I love creepy-crawlers, I play trumpet in the cave whenever I have time, and I never will relinquish my dream of writing a novel that English majors will study in fifty years. My central goal right now, though, is different…

The little one is our favorite. When you try to dribble the ball past her she’ll start gleefully slapping at your hip. I think she might have authoritarian parents and saves her wild behavior for visiting our Center. She is always genuine and guileless: her anger comes out in shouts, her joy in… shouts, and her questions… come in shouts. I adore her. She is probably the only evidence in existence that I could ever be a parent because she’s not at all a model child but I am always happy to see her. For over a year, I stuck to my role, editing English on the second floor, while the kids spewed hackneyed Arabic below. My Arabic is not much better, now, but my personality changed between the first October here and the second one. It is regressing in a constructive way: I might even have fun.

I stood on Imad’s porch, glancing at the lightening over Gilo settlement and back at the moon. I felt my caldera of emotions beginning to simmer. I could say that the moon represented my past and the lightening my future, or the reverse, or nothing of that variety. What will matter more is how I learn to express feelings like that instead of drowning them in the ocean of stimuli the internet has provided me as an escape. In a real way, I am being called to mourn my own, partial death over the past ten years. Lately, I am more focused on piecing together how I would live and where I would go while I was in the business of living and describing. In essence, I really do need to play things where they lie because I cannot undo even one happening in my life.

I made a guideline: living life with other people is most important. That is not a justification for drinking and doing party-drugs; rather, it’s a justification for going to Beit Jala with co-workers, more pants, and making soup with my boss, the Swede, and the Alabaman. We peeled carrots, chopped garlic, tested the potatoes as they boiled, and finished an entire bowl of dip. Nothing particularly noteworthy was discussed. There was a time where I would lament the time I spent away from the computer, not making ‘progress’. The problem with that time was that I never made any progress, despite having all that time alone.

A person can farm a piece of land to death – fields have to be fallow sometimes.

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The Phoenix in the Olive Tree

The phoenix of popular imagination does not belong flat on his back, atop a broken couch and cuddled with his trumpet, in the cave beneath the(A dark phoenix -- Moltres) Zoughbi house. I was sore from the previous night’s stress-release workout. Still, by the time Rajaee found me in my hiding place, my brain was busy piecing apart the possibility of getting a PhD in Peace & Conflict Studies.

We went olive picking the very next day, strained calf-muscle or not. Last year’s olive harvest made an arboreal man of me. This year I felt just as lithe, though not as daring as the Swede since he had a way of getting into the highest branches. As usual, I was looking for things to write about: the teenage hired-helpers and their father, hanging our arms out the side of the car to carry long ladders, plump orbs of green and purple, or the cactus patch –bare of fruit but still menacing. Aloft in the oldest tree, I conceived of myself, as I had in a line from a poem I wrote long ago, as a phoenix alight in an olive tree. ‘I really am a phoenix on an olive branch– a fiery person reborn in the movement for peace.’ The olive tree is made of sleeping fire: when the fruit is squeezed it produces a flammable oil.

…as I was plucking olives from the tree, my mind went back to a discussion I had with a friend about altruism (useful concept?) and the nature of collective responsibility (more useful, I believe…). Writing and peace are where my inner nerd marries my inner geek.

I fell asleep early last night, in the drowse from a beer shared with the Swede, our colleague from Alabama, and Zoughbi (who preferred ginger-ale). I excused myself to bed and slept until six in the morning, rolled out of bed to turn the alarm off, and rolled in again under the weight of my aching body. The weight never quite left me when I rose, hopeful about drafting my vision for life but overwhelmed by the gravity of doing something like that. Tea is often my solution for moments of inertia but I didn’t expect that the next ‘big move’ would strike me as the tea was steeping.

“I need to be reconciled with my ex-girlfriend… I’ve become genuinely thankful that she left me.” I drafted an e-mail, thanking her for making that decision and for the way that she chose to do that. Understand, friends, I had once taken back my sense of pride by criticizing her. Today, I took back my honor by seeing the good in what she had done and appreciating her for it. I want to show respect to my colleagues, and my future, by choosing the restorative way.

My visionary break-through was not waiting for me in Microsoft Word. I dragged my heels and fussed with iTunes but only came-up with this meager skeleton:

Vision Statement:

 

My Biography (free-write)

-Starting in Mindanao, reminded of who I am. Go into flashbacks to tell the story

My Main Interests (free-write)

How Peace is Composed (free-write)

My Related Interests (free-write)

The social media vortex grabbed my attention, as I struggled to be articulate, and I had to thrust myself away from the computer. My hand-written journal was laying open on the couch, book-marked to an entry in July where I write about “recoil effects” from my solitary confinement in Jordan. I know too well that I have had too much solitary dwelling in my history. I fought hard to stay engaged with what I had written weeks ago, to keep from medicating my sense of emptiness with more browsing. I know too well I have too much self-medicating in my history. As I read yesterday’s entry, this passage came into sharp focus:

“Five minutes after I awoke the second time, I was laying flat on my back with my face buried under my hands. At the turning-point of my life, I’m still wondering about bread, vegetables, changing money… [spiritual-director] ‘kicked’ me hard last night, urging me to begin the process of applying to graduate programs and reminding me, again, that I think I don’t deserve it—don’t deserve to go by the seat of my pants, don’t deserve to be a talented writer after my squandered years online, don’t deserve… khalas. I have a number of ‘blocking’ feelings I can’t name and don’t understand…”

Putting aside the hard-back journal, I immediately fell into a fitful sleep on the couch. (Moltres outline) I woke in Palestine, realizing my laundry was dry and that I should probably remove the multiple shirts hanging in crucifix- position on my clothes-line. A little morbid humor was good medicine, just then. A suppressed memory of my dead grandmother emerged, as she seemed to pin my grandfather’s shirts against Michiganian, lake-effect winds and, concurrently, hand me the shirt I took from his closet after he died.

I descended to the cave to try to play away some of that tension but the Swede intercepted me with an offer to help at the office. A half-hour later I was shelling-out pomegranate kernels and listening to my co-worker talk to our Mennonite friend about Israeli assassination conspiracy. I scooted my chair closer. It was my pleasure to join the dinner discussion about a culture of acceptance and the complex prospect of mosques in Germany. This is the essence of the life I found by accident—my greatest challenge and greatest gift—because my commitments in Michigan walked away from me. I gambled with the extra space in my life, hoping to fill it with stories worth telling, writing, or even melting into the fabric of my being. Not one step has been easy yet all have been fruitful, somehow. Now, I live in the bigger-version of our world.

My prayer under the stars, tonight, became a long journey into places I have not seen in months, years. I used to become a black-hole every time I prayed—collapsing inward, looking for my ‘flaw’. What is the opposite of a black-hole? A disco-ball—it’s reflective on all sides, yes, but it’s also a great deal more fun than having your atoms pulled apart. Disco-balls are for dances… for weddings… for hanging in miniature-form on my rear-view mirror. Living through the computer-screen, it’s easy to forget the breadth of visions contained in my brain– begging to be visited, ordered, and reinterpreted. My thoughts careened through the inner-space of night: church hay-rides, a snow-filled college-campus, boat-lights on lakes, camp-fires in the woods, holding my mother’s hand as we leave my aunt’s house on Thanksgiving… Palestinian barbeques. I miss all those places with a hurt that scares me. I want it back.

Inside again, I struggled to sketch what I wanted from my adventures:

I want to explore the way that narratives interface with collective identity

                the way the colonized critique the colonizers; the way traditions critique themselves and each other and the overall goals of culture.

I want to create enriched narratives from my encounters with peace-builders

I wonder how acts of creativity manifest resistance

                mediate the process of building trust or reimagining narratives

I would like to do an ethnographic study of grassroots peace-builders and their stories, perhaps passed through literary/artistic lenses.

                sociological lenses/mass media lenses/IPC lenses

                pertaining to particular biases, synthesized together in restorative ways

Concerned with building a safe-space for story-telling, toward creating common narratives.

                toward a ‘culture of acceptance’ where trust provides a foundation for dialogue

                with acknowledgement to the ‘metaphorical engineer’: friction is always there…

I would like to improve the art of story-telling in myself, using that as a way to create dialogue

                to dissolve the usual power-dynamics.

Ways of fragmentation versus ways of emulsification…

Nobody here but us trouble-makers...

Nobody here but us trouble-makers…

 

An e-mail quietly appeared. It was my ex, the one who turned her back on me in 2010. The precise contents of that message are private but she was appropriately gracious. She wished me luck during the next phase of my life, let me know she was happily married and tending the house, etc. I learned she had left church-work as a career– a beautiful irony that the ‘broken’ person became the missionary and the very religious person found tranquility at home. At the end, she said she had no intention of being friends nor of staying in-contact, which is what I expected since she tended to keep her circle small. Oddly, instead of thinking “Fine: she doesn’t appreciate my friendship—screw-it” I thought, “it would probably confuse her too deeply to try—I’ll let her know I’m removing her from my address book and that I appreciate her reply.” There’s nothing wrong with being happily married and tending house, nothing to hold in contempt. Every woman should have that right – in every place.

My heart ached for just a moment, just a flutter of leftover sadness, but I looked at the other pane on my screen:

The place of peace and conflict studies in my life is to provide foci and goals for diverse interests: writing & literature, history & sociology, consciousness & communication. Still, this field of study is inseparable from a personal commitment to mitigating social disharmony. Without this love, the labor is too difficult to sustain.

She said she knew in her heart I couldn’t be the partner she needed. God bless that guy, her husband. On the other hand, God bless me for being a Phoenix—for blazing brightly, sometimes volcanically. The love I know now was unintelligible then, living with so much hurt in a culture where anguish is taboo. I mistook my codependency for commitment, years ago, but now I can see what real commitment looks like—looking back at me while I shave. The tattoo over my heart reads “to seek justice and resist evil”: resisting it in the world and in myself. It would collapse her world to understand that; it’s better that she remembers me slumped on an old couch, with a potted plant on my lap (because I had to cuddle something to stay composed). Not everyone is willing to see me differently – but I do now. I also want to see myself be vulnerable like that again; I want to merge selves.

 * * *

Moltres, of Pokemon fame.

Moltres, of Pokemon fame.

Xavier Phoenix is barely aflame again, in the ashes of foiled wishes. What fire-bird

A Foil to Moltres: Articuno

Articuno, also of Pokemon fame.

would NOT want to find someone with whom he can dash into trouble—another fire-bird? I could not try hard enough to find her but I hope to cross her smoke-trail.

On the other hand, maybe precisely what I need is a woman who leaves flurries of snow in her wake – someone so cool that she tempers me.

Tonight, though, I feel like I am courting my fate in a different way. As my friend said, “graduate education is not a matter to consider lightly.”

“Of course. I was upset with myself for not taking the step forward earlier, until I realized that peace-studies and I have only been dating since I came to Palestine… relationships take time.”