Out of the Hobbit Hutch

I just spent a week living in a Hobbit Hutch. For those who prefer an equine image, I am a Belgian in a Halflingers’ stall; canine: a Great Dane in a Dachshund kennel. I moved into a reduced height bedroom, the product of a frugal renovation that turned a townhouse with high ceilings into multi-occupancy apartments. My roommates consist of one absentee, a buff and fun-loving guy from Georgia, a tan and very deaf guy from Iowa, and a petite Egyptian who (somehow?) works for the Republican party. She is always amused and amusing. All of what I tell you is true.


Objects overhead may be closer than they appear.

Objects overhead may be closer than they appear. (Not my photo of a Wizard in a Hobbit House, just to be clear)

Metaphor is incarnate in reality because people have the ability to create meaning. In other words, my over-stuffed roost is a symbol for my writers’ block. My mental space contains ample material but I could not thresh anything of worth from it between Christmas and my first day of work in Washington DC. Like my writers’ block, the bedroom consists of many artifacts that, in that figurative way that writers love, enable it to tell stories about itself. For instance, the futon by the wall was a brand new floor model my Dad and I found by the counter at “Baer’s Mattress Den” in Fredericksburg Maryland; we had tugged a small U-haul trailer through the rain-soaked parking lots of the usual suspect-establishments: Sears, Denver Mattress, JCPenny’s, Mattress Discounters. This place had only one futon and, no kidding, receipts with bears on them.

The dresser, desk, and stereo cabinet tell the heroic tale of how an underweight missionary (me) and his aging father moved oak furniture up two narrow staircases without dying only to discover, tragically, that there was no power-cable for the stereo. I was pitching a fit right until the moment I rammed my head against the ceiling and had to lay down –not because I was dizzy but because I was too angry to function. In less than a week, I have filled this room with new stories rooted in lasting memories: my desk drawer was filled with leftover detritus from my days of unemployment in Michigan. At an all time low, I cowered indoors last Wednesday and ate nothing but shrimp flavored ramen and Valentine’s Day nerds candy. Figuratively, I was in the fetal position.

My writers’ block is filled with bigger artifacts, still, like the security counter at theTel Aviv airport on that final day; after my mostly-naked-pat-down, I returned to find the two lady guards giggling triumphantly over my luggage, bragging: “we made all your things fit!” From my writers’ block pours the snowy Alps as they creep past windows on expansive Swiss trains;  my morale cascaded into a deep, cozy depression as I sat across from my colleagues, saying nothing. My writers’ block is layered with New York City buildings frosted with the Hudson River, with lake effect snow topping and Boeing 747 sprinkles. Yet in my writers’ block, there was still room to walk down a Michigan road bereft of traffic to a frozen lake – no noise except the eager snuffling of my dog’s nose as he poked through snow-drifts for chipmunks. I wrote none of it.

There were – there are—overwhelming possibilities inside of me. We do, as Nelson Mandela suggested, fear the enormity of such greatness and the prodigious responsibility of living and often failing in it. I dissolved the craft into my deepest substrates, emulsified them with the fallow pleasures of being at the farm-house with Ma and Grandma: nutty bars, episodes of “Big Bang Theory” on TBS, a soft kitty to pet… going to the cinema with my sister. We watched a movie where zombies gradually regain their humanity by learning to love again. It wasn’t supposed to be a serious film. To keep the zombies away the humans constructed a high wall, covered in graffiti and scorch marks, with dystopian guard turrets. In the final scene, they implode the wall together. I wept for the first time in months. My sister kept asking me, “what’s the matter? What happened?” while I tried to hide my face from the befuddled patrons. The metaphor of that crumbling wall could have been the end of a post about taking down the walls inside myself or the beginning of a post about how things did not magically click after that day in the movie theater. I stayed frozen.

In Michigan, I was confident I had burst my chains when I went to the movies with my sister. Yet everything inside my mind, like my room, was too much to pitch into the open even with clear topics available. I was frozen solid at my keyboard.

What makes this apartment a hutch and not a catacomb, though, is that I ventured out into Washington DC. I could not beat my demons, alone in my cell, so I climbed aboard the DC metro, bought a cell phone, and eventually found my way to the new job that is already reminding me who I am.

My new mission: “Associate for Movement Building” at Methodist Federation for Social Action.

–but look what pretentious neighbors we have down the street!

Photo does not belong to me in any way: this is the internet. God bless America — we need it dearly.


Borderlands: The Tabernacle Police

These scenes have to ferment for at least a week before the bouquet of poetic humor can mature. Last week I left the sanctuary of the Wi’am office at 4 PM and walked around an amoeboid scab of dividing barrier. I went to and through the Bethlehem check-point so I could attend a meeting at Tantur Ecumenical Institute; I nearly sent the meeting organizers an excuse, instead. As I went through the check-point and absorbed its routine again, gaining my grip, I located the source of my dread. On an unconscious level, I expected the lazing draftee-soldiers to transform into airport or bridge guards who would detain and search me. Instead, I felt like I was in a dystopian mosque: removing my shoes and placing my black, white, green, and red prayer-bead string on the x-ray’s conveyor belt.

I passed Bethlehem check-point easily, as ever, but walked directly into the sites of a Jerusalem PD squad-car, prowling for trouble on Sukkot. They accused me of coming through a nearby orchard, though I explained I had just left the check-point. They searched my bag and demanded I empty my pockets. The cop shoved my passport in his butt-pocket while he spat interrogatives in sub-par English. When I emptied my left pocket, I placed my prayer-beads in his hand with some relish. He handed them back, apathetically. Asked where I was staying, I showed him on my passport: “Haifa”.

I found myself distilling my resentments as I ascended the hill to Tantur. My mood was low, so I started to load my proverbial quiver with more darts, explaining to imaginary co-workers why I stay in Bethlehem. Now I know how many black people feel, traveling certain white neighborhoods. For no salient reason, one feels like they are being watched, profiled; just because my visa gives me the privilege of passing does not mean I feel comfortable. The next night, I found a place of refuge as I gazed from the patio of the Scottish church. Lacquered generously in night’s coolness, Jerusalem looked and felt like a convergence zone in time – the uncanny modernity of its West side juxtaposed against the giant, stone chest that is the old city: filled with secret places, with people who were once nearly one and the same with Bethlehemites. The dividing wall has impeded, has annexed, and has fractured — in the name of security — but has yet to engender anything like peace. To the contrary, it has done so many more, disgusting things than those who built it will live long enough to comprehend.

I now have walls inside my soul. I cannot properly have PTSD but I feel confident coining a new acronym for the world: OASD – Ongoing Ambient Stress Disorder. The stress is ubiquitous and subtle. None can live here without feeling muted trauma seeping from person to person, direct victims diffusing their tensions into us despite their good intentions. Added to that are everyone’s experiences with Israel’s matrix of control. It is girded with power and sophistication but filled with ambivalence, blindness, and insanity. The same is true of Zionism’s tentacles in the media, conflating everything Jewish with this horrifying apartheid regime.

So, I have reached the point where I know that it is alright to appreciate and admire things that are Jewish but in my guts I want to find reasons to complicate them or push them away. It’s as if I could not be happy with this metaphorical ‘house’ of Judaism unless I smeared all of its sewage onto the front picture window for everyone to see. I want to see a level of contrition from public Jewish figures that, quite frankly, is not only improbable but is askew of the many other issues in life. A friend sent me an article about self-forgiveness, written by a Jewish author, and instead of tapping into her words of self-healing I found myself tripping over the words “Yom Kippur”. There was no atonement for me; I have OASD and it makes me sick. I am unhappy to have these feelings because, according to my reasoning, Israel is simply conflated with Judaism, not synonymous with it. There is still a choice. I am being unfair, never expecting Buddhists to account for Myanmar or every Muslim to account for Jihad yet, still, expecting the Nakba to be on the end of everyone’s tongue.

Yet, sitting at my computer after writing all this, I have the sense that we all deserve better than what we are entitled to because, really, we are entitled to nothing but we deserve to make a better life with our neighbors because that is the only Way. At some point, in some way, with some help, the wall erected in my attitude must come down or else I will thwart my own goals for peace. The first step for me is not to alter my beliefs, or to reframe them in ways that make sense to the world I left behind in the United States. That is self-deceit. What I want to do is uncover a different deceit: the attitudes that attach to my beliefs and the deep sense that, because I believe a certain thing, I have to feel a certain way and then behave the way my feeling dictates. That is fundamentally untrue, though I know disentangling my attitudes will not happen so quickly because I have allowed my attitudes to drive me without questioning their necessity or even if they are helping me in my mission of awareness.

That must change…