Smashed Pear (entry fragment)

He left when he heard I was graduating. I wanted to follow him into the hallway and plead that I could drop my capstone class and hang around for another year but too many pieces of me were invested in matriculating. I wished him a good day and listened to the door shut behind him. A voice from the front of my brain, sitting on the tip of some pessimistic wrinkle, volunteered that he wanted eighteen months to get me into shape. Yet somewhere deeper inside the skull, buried between my hemispheres, I knew that he thought I was ready to play. Another musician — the director of jazz-bands — had affirmed that I was worthy of joining. But it all happened a year too late.

In my chest I felt something like a smashed pear. My heart felt cold, bathed in a cool ooze as if it had been dropped on the floor of that practice room. Everything seemed perfectly normal in the wake of his leaving, as if my life were wrapped in a plastic bag. A layer remained between me and the possibility of being recognized and developed as a jazz musician but the impact, the thrust of falling, could not be stopped. I wanted to lay on the floor, smashed. My heart was still beating but its skin was broken and it dripped cool sweetness into my chest, pumping it out into my extremities. I put my instrument to my mouth as if I were pressing it to the abrasion on my bruised heart, sealing the wound with a quick lip of my lips and the long buzzing kiss against cold metal. I played something familiar — “Love Gets Old” — but much bluer, with some new twists. The music and the motif met: a real musician with real blues.

Advertisements

Reverse Exiled: Bill the Cowboy & Beyond

The Aukstronaut considers prickly-pear...It is 4 AM. This night is a metaphor. Sometime around 8 pm I felt tired and decided I would take an evening nap and awake at midnight to begin my career as a writer. What I never mention to myself is that this has happened before: I sleep until midnight and then reset the alarm for 2:30, then for 3:30 — eventually for 6:45 (NOCTURNAL WRITER WAITS UNTIL DAYLIGHT?!). It is 4 AM, the night is not yet gone, and I am contemplating a cowboy named ‘Bill’. Bill was the main character of my submission to young authors’ day in 3rd grade and my first protagonist other than myself. Bill leaves the ranch to visit Africa, India, Australia and Southeast Asia. Even if rife with stereotypes plucked from television, “Bill the Cowboy Travels the World” set the stage for my vocational crisis. Bill circumnavigates the planet but decides to return to the work he began — a ranch-hand can do anything he/she wants but the ranch is still home. At the end of his journey, Bill returns to the ranch to share his stories. I drifted from a writing-life, without great success, and now I am returning — for better or worse. If nothing else, I need to finish this (THIS) journal entry (THIS ONE).

I want to wrestle this octopus; I described the feeling as “The Beige Ninja” when I was in college: something lethal (TERMINAL), lurking in our unremarkable surroundings. Not even a ninja can match an octopus for elastic strength and baffling stealth, nor its many arms. Its epoxy tentacles dragged the greater part of me into the abyss when I jammed it into the recesses of my psyche. The apartment on 1336 North Capitol Street was terrifyingly appropriate for my mental state after coming through so many consecutive challenges — newly refurbished, liberally cluttered, and noxiously cramped. It just dawned on me, as the faintest light percolates through the mini-blinds of my new apartment, that this is the largest space I have ever furnished for myself. I escaped alive (FREEDOM!).

As my oldest living dream, the authorial impulse is entangled with more shame, self-thwarting, and peculiar fits of denial than any of my other vocational affairs. I spent the greater part of childhood pacing around our yard imagining things (MOSTLY DINOSAURS), slowly accepting I could not will myself to become a cartoon character. At twelve, I decided I was too heart-broken from a girl to begin my novel about a cyborg pre-teen — he struggles to comprehend falling in love, despite the large processor mounted on his skull. At sixteen, my dog

walked me in endless circles through the woods while I imagined characters like I saw in action cartoons, eating irradiated fruit and struggling with new-found powers (THEM; I ONLY WISHED I HAD POWERS). I dreaded the moment anyone would see me pecking on the family computer and ask me about my ideas. Ridicule would have destroyed me so I simply imagined. At university, I discovered the Internet on my laptop… and blogging via LiveJournal. I wrote long pieces of nonfiction (LIKE THIS ONE), became a university writing consultant, enrolled in creative writing courses, and started my first novel as a senior thesis. I got credit for that project… and there it lies, petrified. I practice a concoction of procrastination and avoidance, with promises to salvage lost progress. My subscription to writers’ digest lapsed before I read a single issue. I threw them away, too; those issues of Writers’ Digest are like e-mails sitting in rarely opened files or the myriad of webpages ‘bookmarked’ because I was “too tired to focus properly on this right now,” — then deleted quietly at a later date: forgotten.

Palestinian 'X'My innate creativity dessicated in post-university life. I never wanted to end my life but I would lunge for a ‘reset’, a ‘do-over’. Understand: the hunger for significance predated even my desire to be an author: I led the class academically and trailed socially. Sometime after “Bill the Cowboy Travels the Globe” I became fixated with being the best. Doubts floated to the surface and left a ring of scum around my professional life that I could never quite scrub away, even with some modest accolades from writing professors and talented friends. I fell behind my own internal clock, that precocious force which drove me to be “advanced” or “a prodigy”. I ran myself into a psychological debt with myself — one that I could not repay in the wake of family tragedies, much less in the Levant.

The feelings of sadness surface like sweat — I am learning to notice and describe the messages my body is trying to convey. Imagine a briny acid forcing its way through the pores, as if secreting lemon-pulp, and a dull burning sensation like habaneros on the lips. Until last week, I thought it was enough to say I felt depressed; I invented physical reasons to feel as if I were being pickled like last Autumn’s olives rather than make the connection to unmet expectations. That ‘pickling feeling’ is unassigned regret. It is the bodily manifestation of an inkling that the past decade could and should have happened differently. As aging professionals, we lament the loss of our most precious aspirations — to be an ecologist or a jazz musician, perhaps start a family (DO NOT UNPACK THAT BAGGAGE). My relationship failures represent the loss of my most humble aspirations: (I SAID ‘DO NOT UNPACK’ IT) — okay, fine. The one aspiration that will not expire is the very first aspiration, the one that began at age eight — to be an author of books. I deliberated on the possible irony of that for twenty minutes but this reality festers and itches so much because it does not defy anyone’s expectations for me — including mine. I know what it takes and I have not done it for fear of failure.

I was the child for whom things came easily or else they were not worth doing; to dedicate myself to something at which I might never be the best was frightening. Looking at an issue of Writer’s Digest, I knew there were so many things I did not know about the craft and so many reasons that the publishing industry might never notice me. I hate a potential waste. I constructed a reality where I was supposed to pursue another vocation but ‘fell back’ on technical writing or where my mind needed to be fertilized with painful or exotic real experiences before, spontaneously, I would emerge from my chrysalis (MADE OF CALLOUSES) as a virtuoso and never have a manuscript rejected. Something supernatural — an epiphany or miracle — would emerge and be my salvation.

Never seen a pale-face in a kefia? Get used to it.

Never seen a pale-face in a kefia? Get used to it.

I wrought a work of ingrown fictionalization, a powerful character that overwhelmed all self-doubt without having to be written. He is me — activist me. I am not quite sure from where I draw the energy to write, which might explain why this obstacle is so hard to overcome, but ‘Daniel Xavier’ (LEGIT ALIAS, BABY) uses outrage to fuel his endeavors, and the more he endeavors the more he finds to be outraged about, so that I became engrossed in a figurative fire-nado of social justice indulgences. I welded him into a social justice machine in my imagination, though in every day life I was preparing grants and reports (WRITING), not wrapping a kefia over my face and defying Israeli oppression. Yet the activist in me is not just an escape, though because what is constructed is still real. When I opened a Writers’ Digest e-newsletter last week (BEFORE THEY STARTED TRYING TO SELL THINGS) I gleaned a piece of advice that almost scared me back into denial. “Most successful writers don’t score until their fifth manuscript…” Not counting those who never find their ‘muse’, authors average four failed book pitches.

“Something still needs to happen,” said the fool in me, “and then…”

“It’s too late,” said the octopus, “you’ve already had ideas but you didn’t—”

“THIS IS DANIEL XAVIER: YOU NEED TO FAIL FOUR TIMES, THEN COME SEE ME.”

Octopus says, “That’s ridiculous — let’s check Facebo—”

“BE SILENT — QUICK JD: IF YOU HAD TO PICK ONE STORY IDEA TO FAIL WITH, WHAT WOULD IT BE?”

“He doesn’t actually know—” (HOW IS AN OCTOPUS TALKING?)

“I actually do — I know the right story to learn with…”

“MAY IT BE SO; BETTER TEN YEARS AGO THAN NOW BUT BETTER NOW THAN TEN YEARS HENCE!”

I have to be honest: the octopus is still with me, still affecting me. My first night working on character development with Scrivener went well; the second night I caved and searched for thrift stores online. The third night, I started developing ‘Jem’: an antagonist who will become my hero because the protagonist of the novel needs to be challenged (THEY ARE BOTH PART OF ME). Sunday night, I did nothing more than pick backgrounds for the Tumblr I want to begin. It will be called “Interpolar Ice Field”, a pun on interpolations and the ‘principle of the iceberg’. My new handle is ‘Aukstronaut’ — invoking the extinct arctic bird, the sounds of awkwardness, and voyages into yet unexplored frontiers. This morning, I will finish this definitive piece of ‘Reverse Exiled’, though I have not fully defined what it means to be “reverse exiled”. At last, I might raise more questions than I answer. This week may keep me too busy to write.

Tray of Arabic coffee *drool*

Or maybe my writing will keep me too busy for this week; no one knows the future but I do know that Hope is a more powerful force than even Faith because an audacious Hope is a more redeeming Faith than just Believing in something unseen; that Hope moves us to action. Only my fascination with Creative Hope could draw me away from the writing life but I believe such a Hope is simultaneously my reason for writing, the one thing that will keep me writing, and a main thread in the pieces I will write. I can work with Muslims, Jews, and whoever may share my Hope but I struggle to stay engaged with resigned Christians. I need to get past this pet-peeve because they will be my target audience: when everyone has Hope (THAT HOPE), they can join together to beat Fear and help ‘reverse exile’ us all.

 

Correction: it is now 9 AM on August 27th of 2013 and I am a writer.

Mega Man X Complex: Armor

zeroRemember, you have not reached full power yet. If you use all the abilities you were designed with, you should become stronger. You may even become as powerful as I am.

 ‘Zero’

X_piecesTherefore, take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand, therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breast-plate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all these, take the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

 The Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, 6:13-17

Zero alludes to the upgrade capsules left to [Mega Man] X by Dr. Light, his creator, which together form the armor that equips X for his quest. I am not certain what that means to me. I read Paul, contextually, as speaking to a community with an unpopular ideology and bolstering their resolve with reinforced images, stripping the essence from Roman Imperial gear to equip the Ephesians with powerful abstracts. When I approached security at Tel Aviv airport, especially when I was hiding literature, the sound of electricity rushing from my core into my extremities filled my ears, as if they could see filaments of charged particles dancing all over my body.  If I were armed (literally) with a plasma-canon, I could wash the machines from the airport — from existence! — in a torrent of light and rush … rush onward instead of submitting to strip-searches…

I distilled X’s weapon as Determination but there is no satisfying release for the charge I carry, still.

Mega-Man X symbolizes my impossible wish to materialize and dematerialize in zaps of energy, without any history, constituted for a specific purpose. Behind my aliases, there was always a real person with a record of missteps – career and interpersonal. For over a decade I’ve been looking for the crucial piece that would launch me from my seeming stasis and satisfy my impatience to reclaim my identity as—valid? “Excellent” rings tinny. “Worthy”: if not superior, then loved. I wove a narrative for myself, fittingly, of being salvaged from the proverbial scrap-heap. Fussing with this piece over a week, it dawned on me that it was Vile (not Zero or Dr. Light) who called X a worthless piece of scrap.

helmet_salvNow, I will retrieve a treasure from Christian cliché: the Helmet of Salvation. X’s helmet is a less than perfect example; its only use seems to breaking walls to find other components: its a necessity for the sake of what it obtains. The blurred generalities of Salvation inhere in us as “church-speak” before we know the uncanny fibers within. Only yesterday, I realized Salvation was bigger than theology, that it has a power in secular life that exists mostly unnoted. Whenever the worth of a person seems irretrievable but resurfaces, astoundingly, then Salvation has been at work. The Gospel was decidedly about works of Salvation – unmistakably in the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’, who stops to help an injured man when priests (fearing the touch of a dead-body) bypassed him. It was no accident that Jesus’ example character came from a different background (Samaritan) – we should not skate lightly over that. We are salvaged because whatever shapes us should not mitigate our worth in one-anothers’ eyes (let alone in our Deity’s); it’s necessary for what could be obtained, together.

My writers’ block would not break until I had accepted that Salvation mattered and that I deserved it. It can never be earned but it is always deserved, for everyone rendered ‘untouchable’ and for me, too. This is no sermon on Salvation but I can appreciate that the cycle of doubt and self-deprecation cannot end without saying “I’m worthy”, putting on the helmet,boots_peace and head-busting some blocks on my way to the rest of my armor. The ‘dash boots’ were always my favorite, as X jumped and skidded through virtual dangers on the television screen. As shoes for my feet, I put on whatever will make me ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Not of perfection. Everything, in the service of peace. This peace cannot be the passive tranquility we associate with ‘pax’. This abstract is the extract of those boots, the essence of a nimbler but braver pursuit of nonviolent struggle. Early in the game, X clings to walls for safety but later he slides past heavily encumbered foes. That forward-leaning confidence in justice makes the shoes of peace. I laced my boots long ago…

breast_rightThe breast-place gives me pause. X’s armor makes him 50% less vulnerable but this capsule is not merely hidden: he must have a long, tedious battle with a heavily armored robot before Dr Light’s hologram message appears. Whatever righteousness is, it takes practice— but the word itself reveals even less than ‘Salvation’. On my chest I have a tattoo of an anchor, next to which is inscribed “…to seek justice and resist evil.” Those words bubbled to my lips that day, maybe from the vague memory of my commissioning. I rediscovered them in a baptismal liturgy… the words etched on my chest, lodged in my heart, came from somewhere and I admit that  I cannot find a better definition of righteousness than “to seek justice and resist evil,” consistent with a well-known passage from Micah…

God has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does God require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

The context of that passage has little to do with personal holiness; Micah is calling his society to rid itself of corruption. When I look at the mirror, I see a farce of a missionary and an insult to self-control but when I look back at my body of work, I submit to you, Micah’s words have fueled me from August 15th, 2011 up until the present day. Cross-my-heart: I have fastened the Belt of Truth around my waist, to the best of my understanding.

The Sword of the Spirit, or Plasma Cannon of Determination, is something more elusive than problematic. If I were a literalist, the answer would be staring me in the face: Paul said it was ‘the Word of God’. Texts can inspire but translations are problematic and eisegesis is inevitable. This time, I am departing from the common interpretation: I think we are talking about a quality of the Divine, the ‘Logos’*. Unfortunately, my inability to tap it precisely in writing is a reflection of my inability to tap that purposeful energy, that truly inspired and creative energy, in an instant or at will. Right now, I am still shedding the tiredness of changing homes so often. I am not a machine. What I said on February 15th, 2012, is worth repeating:

plasma_blaster_determinationThe key to X’s weapon-enhancer is that it must charge to full power – it is a waiting weapon. Speaking to groups [at Wi’am], I closed my eyes and remembered the sound of [him] powering-up that weapon. I used to charge it before I faced a boss, whether I needed it or not, to put myself at ease. “I’ve got this—thanks for the power-up, Spirit.” Discharged at the right time, it is super effective.

When I worry whether or not I will ever reach full power, I remind myself that I am still in a disorganized phase. It feels like I will never master that blend of waiting and pushing forward but that is an illusion. The seed of Fear is inconsistent with my experiences of rare, but real, Spirit-charged moments in my life. At just the right time, that uncanny, reinvigorating power sublimates upon me.  With time and determination, I will wash away all obstacles in torrents of energy and acquire a battery of tools with which to use that enhanced capacity.

—and now let us talk about The Shield, among other devices—

Part 4 is in the making.

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!

capitolhttp://dkphotocoop.smugmug.com/USA/Northeast/Washington-DC/i-MTgNBPp/1/L/US_Capitol_Dome_East_midday-L.jpg
Photo does not belong to me in any way: this is the internet. God bless America — we need it dearly.

Always Burning: 1

“There is always something burning,” I said. Drew wondered if the ominous nebula percolating between the buildings could be from the demonstration. When we saw a masked figure wheeling a dumpster toward the flashpoint, some neighbors had suggested an alternative route from the check-point.
“Something is always burning? Oh, you mean literally,” he said, as we sauntered down the deserted side-street, “I thought you were being poetic.”
“Yes, figuratively too. It would make a good poem title, if I ever remembered to write poetry…”
Then, a sensation like the sting of a thousand onions being shredded by power saws overwhelmed our eyes. I tried to laugh as the burn spread to my mouth and up my nose but, even at that distance, the fall-out from the tear-gas was miserable. We thumbed a ride to the next corner.
“They brew their gas stronger than anyone else would yet it won’t hurt enough to make people forget: over a hundred Palestinians murdered in less than a week.”
I harkened to the sound of stones striking against the concrete Wall and guard-tower in the distance.

* * *

I had lost the will. A month ago, in the wake of my last newsletter, I shied from reflecting at all. In distant Yanoun, near Nablus, I finally found just enough silence to feel the vacuum which had opened inside of me. Without any sense of what had drained from my soul, nor how, nor why, I

dreamteam - EAPPI

Members of EAPPI stationed in Yanoun, Bethlehem, and Yatta look out over the Jordan Valley.

was unnerved to my core and yet uncannily touched by the simple beauty of owls calling to each other from centuries-old olive trees. I felt I could be whole again but there were no guarantees.

Then Gaza was attacked. Yanoun evaporated and I ignited. Twitter became my life-line for everything important, everything that mattered to my heart, as I selected a generous roster of journalists to follow, foraging for articles to read and repost at regular intervals into the night. Solidarity makes me a wraith: why should I have the right to rest? It is difficult to tell myself “I need quiet” when the voices shouting from my depths say “the world must know!” With all of my fuel lines plugged in (tea, music, media) I hovered for hours, then burrowed into my bed as if it were the chrysalis that turns edgy missionaries into peace-gurus. I awake as myself, every day.

Meanwhile, my better sense is objecting to the cycle of push and crash. The signs were there long before the trip to Yanoun, the retreat in Jericho, or the day picking olives in Beit Jala. The first signs may have been my trembling hands, eating a sandwich with lady IOF soldiers who thought I was going to Haifa. Arguably, the writing was on the wall one winter day in Grand Rapids Michigan when I started lecturing my soapy dishes about divestment. I needed this Calling but I will be forced to examine my deficits again when the steam that fills my core cools, condenses, and runs away.

* * *

“Flatten their neighborhoods,” they said,

“as the United States did

twice in Japan, with no pause for mercy.”

They quoted from the book of Exodus

to Gazans without exits.

Whether ‘Pillar of Cloud’

or ‘Pillar of Fire’, Israel invoked

that column of permanent taint

and destruction that spread

over Nagasaki in Hiroshima’s wake.

That pillar of cloud seared

the fabric of our human heritage,

as it toppled institutions, buildings,

ravaging flesh and the very genes within but

especially our vision, our solutions— our

minds. Enthralled with quickening violence,

these politicians tapped the poisonous tree

to scare citizens more than rebels

but they called it a “Pillar of Defense”,

and made the Torah a shield of lead,

when their empire rained

fire upon the trapped people of Gaza.

* * *

They battered it down to the wire…

The technique must be key, though I make sure never to be around. One morning, a huge bite was missing from the charred base of the guard-tower by the big gate in the annexation wall. The heaps of smoking trash and tires had already been swept away by municipal workers in small earth-movers but the asphalt remained stained black and the air still smelled of gas and gas: kerosene from below and mace from above. All of the US tax money, poured-out solid and gray, becomes brittle when exposed to fire. The youth will first come in waves, running forward with kefiahs over their faces to cast a barrage of stones. Each stone whispers something just before it hits the fiberglass shield: “we are David and you are Goliath. We are the rightful inhabitants and you are the monstrous, foreign invader.” The soldiers have nothing but their orders: their society handed them cocktail after cocktail of pride and cowardice throughout childhood. When the stones fly they follow procedure, shooting rocket-propelled tear-gas. The stinking nebula is designed to push back and quell the indigenous voices but instead it provides cover as more masked protestors come forward with accelerants and pre-lit dumpsters. After a while, they dissipate to let the purifying flames take their toll. Then, another wave comes with old pipes and batters the foot of the tower down to the rebar. They cannot quite punch a hole, yet.

Israeli government applies cosmetic fixes to systemic problems.

Call Ahava: we need some illegal cosmetics for this illegal wall!

Within 24 hours of the ceasefire agreement, Israel laid the cosmetic foundations. They installed new barricades that slowed traffic and painted the burn marks with a bluish gray the color of sleeping Western skies in the early morning: backs turned to the sunrise. Yet the latticework of rebar remained exposed in the tower’s deepening scar, almost invisible for being that same, dull blue.

* * *

To be continued…

Trumpet & Accordion

‘The Cave’ has joined the constellation of favorite jamming places tracing back to my visits to Bogue

Maria’s (Mattson) Adams’ photograph.

Street bridge, freshman and sophomore

years of college. I felt drawn, in an almost mystic way, to that alcove under the bridge crossing the Red Cedar River. By chance, a young artist named Maria found me and took an iconic photograph of my silhouette, with the river in the background and the outline of a trumpet protruding from my shadow. In starkest contrast, I became the daemon of a sunny park bench by the Grand River after the collapse of my last romance. I am nostalgic for the bath of unbridled sound and reddening sunlight that I took every day for a year, finally finding the fortitude of heart to improvise without worry. That was the last place I called home before I moved to Bethlehem. I wept openly, last fall, mumbling “I just want to be by the river again.” Since then, I have managed to dry my eyes –and my heart.

 

A piece of my heaven in the midst of strife.

Friday blustered as if every gust of wind wanted to bring the first surge of winter rain. Wa’el, Drew, and I were out in the drizzle for half the work-day, trying to unhook the tarp that covers the picnic area before it takes any more damage. It was weighed down and holey with a mixture of stones and expended tear-gas canisters, since the nearby gate became the locus of all Bethlehem’s coiled frustrations with occupation, released courtesy of Gaza’s suffering. My own angst started to leak out of me when I got an e-mail to the effect that “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” was ‘more of a Christmas Eve song than an Advent song’. I had to scrap my rendition of the former for the first Sunday in Advent for what I understood to be a nit-pick. Consequently, we had a discussion in our staff meeting about anger and Sara suggested that I fill some of the empty spaces inside myself with music or sports.

 

Friends make the difference in life. I practiced moodily for a few minutes before the heavy iron door creaked open. There was Rajaee: carrying a square instrument case. He had brought his accordion into the blackening cave to play music with me!  We have a history together, by now. He used to play the piano while Lucas strummed his guitar and Rafiq played the drums – we would all play together, getting gradually more chaotic until we either faded into awkward chord progressions or else ended abruptly in laughter. With only Rajaee and I, we were able to play long improvisations on minor keys or renditions of “Time to Say Goodbye” that decayed into original melodies. There is a point, in encounter like this, that I used to become embarrassed and excuse myself. My need to be ‘perfect’ and ‘excellent’ holds me under curfew during those times but this time I was with my friend. I knew I could play however I felt and we would make it work, together.

 

Eventually, we played something more upbeat and polka-like (this is an accordion and a trumpet: how could we stay drear?). My lips were already beginning to give-out but I continued to pop joyful, staccato notes to match the swells of Rajaee’s harmonious accordion. When we tired, we stepped out into the court-yard area and enjoyed the falling rain. Without introduction, I started to play “Singing in the Rain”.