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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Moonrise Over the Jordan

Moon Phases

Something happened a week ago, a moment that happens as if it were imagined and is remembered as if it’s always happening but fading away.  We left the by-pass road that runs between The Scent and The Holy –Jericho and Jerusalem—and rose upon the backs of naked, blushing hills. We stopped at a hillock marked with a cross, climbed and gazed down at the monastery swaddled in the darkening canyon walls below.  I wished I had wings to visit that secret place, set-apart not just because of what it is but because of the way it sleeps in the land. I would try to describe it more but…

The moon, huge and orpiment, peaked from behind the mountains across the Jordan Valley. It was perfectly round, though not so perfectly uniform, with light shadows that make it look like an incandescent cookie climbing, floating from the streets of Amman, Jordan. Only a short drive from the barbed-wire of the conflict-leeched West Bank is the East Bank Kingdom: a glittery carpet of little villages, coffee-stands, and Bedouin lanterns that unravels from a distant cleft, a widening stream of lights running into the river.  I fathomed from where the moon had just come, a place where I lived in exile. I used to eat chicken at the Iraqi restaurant while the sun sank below the humps of seven Jebels—neighborhoods filled with stairs leading to many secret-doors…I recalled stairs in places further East, too… the moon nudging aside islands in the South China sea…

 

Who am I, now?

 

My blog has gone noticeably quieter as I sort through what I call the ‘new impetus’. This new sources of energy and direction is also something happening now, in my imagination, and yet rooted somewhere deep in the past. I watch the moon many times as it rises from the shepherds fields in Beit Sahour, or Wadi Nahr beyond, but there was one first time, when I realized a new period of my internal life had started. It recalled a pivotal moonrise at the beginning of my college phase, when it cast a bleach-white beam across breakers on the West-shore of Lake Michigan. I questioned God’s existence that night, then found an inkling of Her in the sparks of a fire and the hugs of friends: sparse flashes of illumination but a constant warmth. Yet, in Bethlehem it is not God’s nature in question. It is my own.

I always have wanted to be an author. In the intervening years between kindergarten and graduate school, my preliminary education let us say, I managed to become some kind of writer. I think all the time about how I would blog about the uncanny or ironic or essential or warm or etc moments in my own life. What about fiction? Poetry? I talked to the mission shrink psychologist about it and she suggested that I just needed to take the last step. Nothing makes me so hopelessly, so frantically, yet so subtly angry as having someone tell me that I can be an author because I have spent so many days thinking I should be one but so few acting as one. Instead, I have been a reporter-activist. The shrink expert therapist showed a little frustration with me,
“People often thwart themselves when they are closest to their goal!”

“I know! I know! It is because we don’t have a heuristic for succeeding anymore; I lived a narrative of failure and my brain cannot take it—look at my bad examples! Look the self-thwarting itself…“
“Just take the last step…”
“One step? Just one step? What makes you think this is the last step? I picture thousands of steps…”

 

When I finished shouting at her, I realized she was not ‘shrunken’ about this: it is time. As an understudy to the rising moon, the steaming coffee, the ex-girlfriend who leaves with vague explanations and gives an awkward, last hug—as a reporter, I have the capacity to turn my eyes outward. I can throw my social media habit and my other compulsions on the sun as it leaves for the night. My stages have finally become a cohesive era—an era passed. Where I am has more in common with my future than my past. None of this is happening without my conscious participation but I could not purely will it, either.

Even as I approach eight-hundred words, I am still unable to encapsulate it. My central office frustrated me with domestic placement questionnaire of ten engaging questions, for which they demanded 150 word answers. In a moody-fit, I told them to ask six questions and allow 250. I know, though, that my colleagues do not feel this way: I am speaking from the pit in my stomach.

Almost a month ago – a moonth ago—the Earth passed through a meteor field. At first I did not recognize the shifting constellation, draped next to the moon. I can thank my grandfather’s pilot-vision that I could see it at all. The meteors were colliding with the halo of atmosphere around the moon: sprays of wishes.

 

And when one pierced the sky above my head, I did make a wish.