Saturday, June 11, 2011

On Love

I have set a date for marrying my husband. Yes, it sounds silly enough till you hear the story.

My husband and I met after four years of being in the same social circles and remaining completely unaware of each other. We didn't meet, in fact, until I put in a special request. I tell him this all the time, and he thinks I'm silly for it. But it fills me with wonder.

I was, at 34ish, ready to give up. I had, in most ways, given up long before. At age 10, along with a deep wish to have twins when I grew up, I had a deep down conviction that I would never marry.

But, there I was, coming up on 34, having been the official "Old Maid of Honor" at my sister's wedding. Having been at my brother's small but lovely and quiet wedding. My other sister had eloped. Most of the people I knew in high school had married by their mid-20s. Heck, my own grandmother asked once if I would ever get married; "I mean, to a man." she added as if the question weren't rough enough.

So I decided I was done with it. I thought about the men (and boys) I had dated over the years and what had drawn me to them. I am grateful to them for many things--in particular for teaching me what I needed to know to be in the relationship I am. I actually, literally, no-I'm-serious-Oprah-would-be-proud-ly made a list.

I knew that humor and intellect tied for first place. Part of the joy of intellect is the ability to use it to laugh at the world. Part of the joy of humor is the ability to use it to make intellectual commentary without inducing coma. I wanted one of those.

The rest don't follow any particular order.

I wanted a man who could appreciate music--on a deep level: I trained in Opera and Jazz, and was raised by eclectic-minded people, listening to everything from classical to pop to rock. I wanted someone who could appreciate that.

I wanted a man who appreciated the world beyond the borders of this country: as much as I love America, I love Israel, and Europe. I am sure I would love Africa and South America. More than anything I love travel. I wanted a man whose idea of travel wasn't just a day trip to Tampa.

I wanted a man who wasn't threatened by my intellect. Sounds snobby when I read that line. But when I was 15 my older sister pulled me aside to explain to me the reason she was followed around town by guys and I had no boyfriend was that I refused to act stupid--or even pretend I didn't know something. "For example," she started. "If someone said to you, 'I wonder how far it is to the sun...'" and I responded "About 93 to 94 million miles, but it's called a light year." She stormed off, yelling at me that I had just provided my own example of her lesson.

I wanted a man who was kind. There are different levels and types of kindness (lots of kinds of kind). To me, kindness is not about being soft, it's about having compassion--empathy. I wanted a man who could interact with others at a level that was imbued with that kind of kindness.

I wanted a man who was not afraid, ashamed, or guilty when it came to sex. One who understood it as the deepest form of physical intimacy, who could respect me as a lover and open himself up to me as one, too. I was raised to believe that sex, when meaningful was a beautiful act, not a secret, shameful unnecessary part of life, but one of the most important and meaningful ways to fully and truly share intimacy.

The list went on. I was making my impossible man list. I had to include everything. Unlike Sandra Bullock's character in Practical Magic, I wasn't looking for real impossibilities so as to ward off love, but my list was impossible to fill--I was looking to set high standards.

My husband and I began dating a month and a half before I turned 34. By my birthday, people were asking us how long we'd been married. We were amused. I was besotted. By our second date, I knew I would spend the rest of my life with him. At the end of our first month together, I told him I loved him (having first told him I would prefer if he did not respond to what I was about to say).

Is he impossibly perfect? Nope. He's marvelously human. Does he meet my list? Far more than enough of it. Are we a problemless couple? I doubt that monster exists, and even more deeply doubt I'd want to be in it. We are, however, in it for good--and always remind ourselves when it's tough that it's the hard things that make us better. We are a team. Like our dogs (each of us brought one into the marriage) we have bonded. We are family--in deep, permanent ways that no state approval can change or improve upon, that no disapproval (were we to be of the same sex) could have ever torn asunder.

But he wants a wedding, too. He wants to have a ceremony and a party. And now that I'm getting the planning ball rolling, well, so do I. We will be announcing to others what most of the people who know us have known all along. He was born before me, so technically I was made for him--but I think he was made for me. Special tailored to my impossible list. Meant to amount to the best of every guy I'd ever loved. My miracle man.

Most interestingly, to me, is that while it took him a few months to come to terms with "us," I felt a certainty I had never had in my life. I had loved before--and deeply, too. But I had never known, before, that I was with the love of my life.

Worry not. By tomorrow I'll be feeling cynical and depressing again and write something about war and blood. Today, though, as I pack for Spain, well, my life feels like love, actually.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I was an infant author

In some ways I am now an authoring toddler, but what I mean by infant author is that in the stories we tell in my family, I see that from even before I could write, I couldn't not write. That may sound weird, but hey, let me tell you a story.

I have very few memories from my early childhood. Interestingly, recent work on memory shows that before the age of 3 or so (depending on the child) the brain has not formed enough memory of memory to start keeping memory. I love this fact. My first actual memory is from when I was two years and nine months old. How do I know? It was the day my baby sister was born. Here's my version of the story:

My mother was being taken away in a BIG red and white car that made noise. I was holding on to her leg as they tried to get her in the car. She was fat. My auntie was trying to help them take my mother away. She grabbed me around the waist and called my name over and over and said other things. And then she pulled me off my mom's leg. So I swung around and punched her to make her let go of me. When she did I had to run after the car, but it was gone.

Here's the version I've been told and that has been (re)told all my life:

My mother went into labor while my father was at work, which apparently is how all the birth stories in my family start. She was having her fourth, was an RN, was unfazed, until she realized that it was happening faster than she was expecting. She called an ambulance. The nearest hospital was about 45 minutes at 1970s ambulance speeds. She took us next door to our auntie--her best friend. And we all waited for the ambulance. When it came my mother hugged each of us in turn, but I refused to let go. I had to  be forcibly removed by my auntie who was trying to calm me and promise my mother would return. As the ambulance pulled away, I punched her in the face and started running after it, crying and begging to be allowed to go along.

I knew this story. But even before this story, according to my mother, I was drawn to the written word. I refused to play with baby toys. I chewed on magazines and flipped through them instead. We had games and blocks and things of the like, but my favorite were the punch cards my father brought from work (for the young'uns out there, that's something they used to program computers back when computers took up entire buildings). I would take these and either draw on them or, more likely, pretend to write on them. My pretend writing took up interesting (I am told) forms. My mother would ask what I had drawn, I would insist I had drawn nothing and then tell her the story I'd "written."

When we moved to the US, I pretended to write by scribbling eternally connected loops of different sizes on notebook paper, bringing it to my mother and asking what I had written.

When I finally learned to write I spent hours practicing my words. I also wrote short stories (one paragraph a piece) for my mom. She has one about a tooth named Honey who goes to Hawaii. I'm not sure why Hawaii, but I remember being very intentional about naming the tooth Honey. I felt it was funny. I would now term it Ironic, but hey, I was 7.

In my 6th grade year, a woman who should never have been allowed to teach--and whom I would have nominated for sterilization if possible--took a book report I had written (I wrote it in the style of a New York Times book review because I was bored with summary), had me read it to the class, and then announced as I stood before them that it was the perfect example of how not to write a book report. EVER. This particular teacher hated my whole family through several years of her career. I stopped voluntarily writing for about 6 years.

In high school I was blessed with Mrs. Fields, whom I talked about in my teacher appreciation post, and who made me want to write again. I became an obsessive journalist (in the non-press meaning of the term). I also starting writing stories again.

My high school graduation came around the time of the Supreme Court decision banning prayer in high school graduations. The fight was raging in the local paper. My father, who had been giving me topics to write polemic essays on each week for at least two years, asked me to respond to a "letter to the editor." The Niagara Gazette is a Gannett publication, meaning (both then and now) that most "letters to the editor" were excerpted to about three sentences (if not three words). It was all I expected, but I poured the essay practice my father had been giving me into this one piece. It got published in full--with a guest editor byline. I still have a laminated copy.

In college, when bored and unable to think of a story, I would sit at the typewriter at work (yes, a typewriter) and practice by typing out the lyrics to my favorite songs, parsing them, finding ways to recombine them. I wrote because the physical urge would not be quelled otherwise.

My writing history from that point is unnecessary here. I am a writer. I was, apparently, born one. A writer from infancy. In fancy. I write because writing is stronger than the jones for a cigarette, or the next hit of heroin. It's my next hit of heroine--and I have to have it.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

On mothering in the corners

I'm going to start with my grumpy self and remind you that we came up with this day, this motherhood remembrance because we do not honor our mothers. We have one for fathers because we do not honor them, either. In Israel, there's a "Family Day"--and the mother of the year in 1997 (or was it 98?) was a father. In nearly every country, we have replaced our honor with a day. And this blog is no adequate replacement--can never be. As much as I would like to give this space to my mother, to honor her, I will be using it for me today. For the mother I get to be; I like to call it "in the corners". For the mother I'll never get to be. For the things she taught me, the skills, the approaches, the ways of loving and nurturing tough, strong, capable children into being, that I will never get to use.

Because I only get to mother in the corners. I mother my students--college kids, adults, and fourth through sixth graders alike. How do I get to have so many? I am privileged to teach Sunday School--and so, I have middle ones. I am privileged to teach college--and so, I have bigger ones. I am highly privileged to teach adults older than me a new tongue, a new thought process, new crafts, and so I have big ones. But I see them once or twice a week. Once a month, in some cases. And I mother all I can; scolding when the work could be better--or done at all. Holding when a student deals with the near loss of a cousin who is recovering from the accident they both had while she walks healthy. Encouraging, when none of it makes sense, but is on the tip of the tongue--the new tongue, foreign and greedy, self-insistent.

I mother my friends in the corners. Two are pregnant, one for the first time. And I read and research so I can tell her how wonderful all the tough things about pregnancy are. That they signal a healthy pregnancy. That nesting is a good instinct. That loving too much is impossible--and that it's impossible not to. That as cheesy as it sounds when spoken by a childless 38 year old, she is creating the only true miracle. And creating in a way I, with an MFA and a cast of internal children, will never create. She is godding--the highest form of human endeavor in Judaism. And I will never get to.

I don't tell her that, of course. She needn't be reminded that I lust after her child, her gifts. I have my own. I know that I need only look at my home. My puppies who love so openly and insist on being loved. My hunny who cares so much that it hurts him to see me hurt (and I have chronic hurt). My "kids," some of whom are older than I. Some are older than my parents, even. And they make me feel full. They sate the hunger for the hour and some I get with them.

I came to recognize this year that if I wake up with a "bad day" looming. Joints creaky and pained, fibromyalgia insistent and stubborn past medication, the usual cramping that accompanies reminders of why I cannot (pro)create, a depression hanging off my clothes like a fog. If I wake up on one of those days, there is only one cure: step into a classroom. Vicodin, Oxy, even Morphine have no effect like teaching upon my body. And I know that if it were not an impossibility that I must proudly pretend was a choice, that I would find mothering to be the same.

I've never said this before and I will never say it again. I miss the children I will never have. I hunger after pregnancy and birthing and diapering and holding and bonding and feeding. I move through space a full body, birthing hips designed to carry one on each side, a woman who wanted twin girls when she was 10--and was 17 before she found out that genetically she might then in her 20s when she realized that physically she couldn't.

And I say brightly to anyone that asks that there is no reason to extend my DNA. My siblings have already, and there are children out there in need of parents. And when and if hunny and I are ready, we will adopt. And until then, we host exchange students and might decide to foster, and both of us teach. And the list goes on, because it's the only way I can keep the desperation out of my voice when I acknowledge that I will never carry a pregnancy to term. If I'm tough like my mommy taught me, I will find ways to mother without what I cannot have. I will find the children whose needs I can fill. Even in the corners. It will be how I honor my parents and all the gifts they gave me.

I am angry that I am angry about this. I am betrayed by my inner self, by my biology. Both by having this need and by being unable to fulfill it. And so I will never say this again. I will mother in the corners, I will hold my friends' babies and lovingly rock them in my arms. I will give advice, I will parent my nephew for a couple of weeks in summer. I will mother my students one semester at a time. And I will spread my arms wide to hold all of them in defiance of my body which holds itself closed against this part of me.

Why Don't You Have Kids?: Living a Full Life Without Parenthood

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dedicated to my teachers

All of whom taught me to think critically.

You might think that's pretty good, that all my teachers did that. But in my estimation, those who didn't were no more than baby-sitters. I was going to say glorified, but that would be a lie.

The thing is, that most of my teachers were amazing people who dedicated themselves to the intellectual lives of others. I have a few who were my favorites;:

  • Rabbi Cooperman,who used to crack our knuckles in his oversized hand
  • Rabbi Joel, whom was "cool," especially when he left to become a reporter for the Jerusalem post
  • "Rabbi" Bob, whom we made an honorary Rabbi--he wasn't even Jewish--because that was what we called the best teachers we had, and whose insistence on our excellence and drive to make us try harder, even when we'd tried our hardest, was always a loving push
  • Mrs. Fields, who barely noticed I was alive, but got me writing again after a bad teacher had ruined it for me, and who taught us all that literacy was a gift that we had the responsibility to share
  • Col. Heileman, who pushed us to be our best, but also taught us to take our work, but never ourselves, seriously
  • Mike, whose last name I don't remember but who was my guidance counselor in Niagara Falls and went out of his way to help me feel cared for in a school I had trouble adjusting to
  • Mr. Kanya, who taught us that we had a voice and the right to use it
  • Rabbi Al, who took care of me when I was living in the hell I knew as the US Naval Academy, and who learned from my failures to get help and used my experiences to help a fellow plebe in a similar situation
  • Dr. Lynn Schuster, who taught me that underestimating myself was a handicap, not a form of humility
  • Dr. Pat Miller, who made sure the standards of excellence met the ability of the student and pushed her or him at an individual as well as collective level, and who always let me learn my way
  • Dr. Donna Sewell, who saw through me when I said I wasn't in school for anything other than a "piece of paper" and who met my boredom with greater challenges, took care of me like a mother, and treats me like a sister--and who doesn't ever give up
  • Julianna Baggott, one of the best writers in the world, whom I can call at the drop of a hat, whose work inspires me, and whose belief in me makes me work harder
  • Dr. Kris Fleckenstein, who took my natural teaching abilities and worked to help me learn to be an excellent teacher, even when I was mad at being challenged.
This blog is already longer than usual, and yet I know I've not mentioned everyone who touched my life, made me a writer, a writing teacher, a seeker of excellence, a willing participant in my students' academic and intellectual lives. I cannot begin to thank them, except by being the best teacher I can. I can only pass the kind of love and dedication these people put into my life with love and dedication.

My policy, as I tell my students at the end of the semester, is based in Desert Culture: By accepting the privilege of participating in their intellectual growth, I have accepted the responsibility for their lives. I will always be available to them. Why? Because my teachers parented me. Because they give me a gift when they put all their effort into a project I designed to help them learn. Because they teach me new things every day. Because when I think of teacher appreciation day I think of my students and my teachers.

But I'd like to finish this thank you card to my teachers with one not-too-happy note:

We have a day dedicated to teacher appreciation because we fail, as a society to truly appreciate what they do. We don't have a doctor appreciation day, or an astronaut appreciation day. Why? For the same reason we don't have White History Month: Because we don't need it. It's built in. We already appreciate the researchers who work on our deadliest diseases. But we don't notice the people who helped those we do appreciate reach the excellence they bring to our society.

In fact, we spend most of our time bashing teachers; we proclaim loudly that tenure (which is really only a system by which teachers can't be fired without cause, because they don't get to live professional lives) is a "job for life." We shove poorly designed tests, many of which measure little more than test-taking ability, down their throats. We then judge them for not teaching creatively, after we've forced them to teach to tests. We wonder why our educational system is failing when the answer is obvious: because we have failed those who carry it on their shoulders.

So it's nice to have a teacher appreciation day, but much like Black History Month, I look forward to the day we no longer need one--because it'll just be history, and because we'll appreciate them by providing a professional life for them. 

On a directly economical note, we'll get the best and brightest going into the profession as soon as we make it attractive to them.

Maybe some day the aphorism "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach" will be forgotten. Because the best teachers not only can, but they can at the deepest levels or they wouldn't be able to teach.

Finally, thank you to my teachers. Your hard work and dedication have never passed my notice. I hope someday to be as good at what we do as you are.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I might get bombed for this...

I realized, last night, that I was not having the "right" reaction. I heard my hunny telling me Osama was dead. I hear the president repeatedly use the first person in what seems to me the most ego-centric, most UN-presidential moment he has had. I saw the pictures of the house, and I'm sure I'll see pictures of a body, though I'd rather not.

And all I could think was: WHY am I being asked to rejoice in slaughter, when slaughter is what has brought our hell upon us?

So, feel free to blog-bomb me, but here it is:

We have ritually slaughtered the symbol of terrorism.

But just as the shamans before us knew, it is not the ritual slaughter that heals. It is the work that the mind does in thinking it has been healed--and often, it is time. Allowing the body to root out the illness. And just as often, slaughter, work, and time fail, and the body succumbs.

What am I saying? First and foremost, that incarnate evil as he may have been, I refuse to partake in the celebration of the ritual slaughter of Osama bin Laden. If he WERE the whole cancer of terrorism, I might feel differently, though I'm not really sure of that. But he isn't. He was a symbol, and a dead symbol long before his death.

Second, that any American who thinks this is a victory over terrorism is likely also the kind of person who thinks taking one's shoes off in an airport somehow adds security. It doesn't, and this isn't.

Third, that the killing of Osama bin Laden is little more than a ritual slaughter. The intent when showing the "compound", when showing the body, as our journalists insist we must so the Arabs will "get it," is little more than gloating. That "little more" is a power-play.

And I am not so naive as to believe that governments partake in anything other than power-plays. I simply wish I could look around me and see others who understand that today is no safer a day than yesterday was; that this slaughter is no more than a ritual killing; that the scape-goat does not cleanse the community; and that the only offense against terrorism is to live like we did before they brought it to our shores: in LIBERTY, personal and national.

We must make headway in terms of liberty, not backtrack as we have been, if we have any hope of coming out of this a thriving, growing nation.

I somehow doubt that will happen--and the more I watch facebook stati and tweets galore with joyous pronouncements the less I believe it can.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pesach is over--and I'm sad

J's going through Family Guy on Netflix like it's the only show available. Last night we watched the one in which Lois blows a gasket getting ready for Christmas. She even beats up and then sets fire to Frosty the Snowman.

It made me think of Pesach.

It's a pain in the ass holiday! It brings out the best and worst in people. In particular, it stresses (usually) mothers to a near breaking point as they prepare for it by cleaning the house top to bottom, replacing or rekashering an entire triple-kitchen (explanation to follow) and dealing with guests, children and logistics.

Also last night, by sheer dint of the universe's sense of humor, I read a great blog on Pesach: Ingall talks about all the stresses and perfection issues that Pesach brings. It occurred to me, as I read, that she forgot to mention one interesting thing. Part of the stress of Pesach is living up to all the Pesachs we remember. In thinking about it, it occurred to me that I remember the Seder experiences in my mother's house as being heavenly. The ones I've made I think of as mostly ok. But I wonder if that's a position problem. I wonder if my mother thinks of hers as mostly ok.

My family jokes that Pesach isn't complete unless some minor household repair has turned into a major emergency. We've replaced boilers, toilets, ovens, major kitchen appliances, roofs, large furniture, and nearly everything else in the home because of emergent damage at Pesach time. There is no holiday without a disaster. But we always managed to get it together by Seder-time.

Now for the promised explanation: My parents have always kept kosher. A kosher home has three sets of kitchenware: One for milk, one for meat, and one for either/neither. The either/neither set is mostly glass, and mostly cookware. The meat and milk are complete sets of dishes, cookware, silver, appliances, etc. The Kosher for Passover kitchen either replaces each of these sets with a separate set, or makes what is available ritually kosher, or a combination of the two. It took my parents years, but my mother now has what amounts to 6 complete kitchens: Three for everyday use and 3 for Passover.

Preparation for Passover requires cleaning the house top to bottom, to make sure both that there is no "leaven" left anywhere and to help ritually bring on the mindset of a clean slate. One would expect that the housecleaning would take place before the New Year because of this "clean slate" idea, and some does, but nowhere near what Israelis like to call "Pesach clean." Why? Because we leave our slave-selves behind on Seder night. We become new people. It is our job to (re)dedicate our selves to freedom--both our own and others'--on Seder night. We must let go of the old and allow for a clean start--literally.

If one is preparing a seder, the Pesach prep continues into a full day of cooking.

My mother has three daughters and one son. All four of us are brilliant cooks, I think. But part of becoming a cook is learning at the foot of the family cook. We did this in what I like to call the Kitchen Community. Each of us has a particular strength, and my mother would encourage us in that strength by assigning dishes. My sister, one year, decided she wanted to try to make a soup. She's been the pesach vegetable soup cook ever since. I HATE matzah balls, but one year we found out I somehow manage to make heavenly ones. I became the family matzah ball maker. My father makes the Schoog (hot sauce) required for two of the main dishes my mom makes and general happiness in a Sephardic (Spanish-Jewish) home. He's also in charge of Charoset; a nuts, apples, wine, and spices, jam-like spread used to symbolize the mortar in the bricks of the pyramids.

By the time we're ready to change over the kitchens, we have been cleaning for weeks. The night of the changeover (before the eve of Passover), we put some music on the box and got started; my mother controlling the flow of traffic and job assignments. My mother would make an excellent CEO. She can get any project going, can keep a million things in her head at once and knows how to manage people, time, money and all other resources involved. It boggles my mind.

My memories are of late nights (which we knew would be followed by early mornings), singing aloud to the music, picking out harmonies with my sisters, cleaning, cooking, replacing whole sections of the house, and feeling GREAT! I'm sure my mother's stress level was high, but she made it such an enjoyable experience I actually looked forward to Pesach, work and all.

We spent the next day cooking, laying the table, preparing the house for guests--all to the sound of music. It was glorious.

My parents took a rather Chassidic turn to Seders. The general practice is that kids are kids. Banishing them will keep them from the experience and making them sit like adults will make them hate it. But if one lets children play in the context of the seder (or synagogue service) kids will associate the practice of Judaism with joy and come to love it. They will also grow to participate, and choose to do so out of a love for the practice.

I'm glad my parents saw it that way. Our seders included food fights--using the candy and nuts my mother provided in little bowls to stave off hunger for the three hour long telling of the exodus before dinner--along with Hallakhic (that is the study of Jewish law) fights. We don't hide the Afikoman, we carry it; one by one, each person at the table gets a pillowcase with Afikoman in it to carry over her shoulder symbolizing the exodus. We fought over who would carry first, because that kid would have the "privilege" of leaning back and cracking the Matzah to bits on the back of her chair!

One of my favorite memories is from a year when I invited a Jewish college friend to seder. When he left he told me he had the most fun he'd ever had at a seder and he was surprised. I asked why. He said, "Well, your dad's a rabbi. I figured it'd be stuffy and boring and serious." Well, we were serious, but never stuffy or boring. In fact, I think my life has been many things, but boring has never been on the list. My parents don't "do" boring--and none of my siblings do either.

In many ways, this year's seder reminded me of all those things. I was invited to my cantor's house and being unable to make the 3 hour trip to my parents' I gladly accepted. My cantor is in her second year of "making Pesach" and is still learning how to handle all the stress. Her husband is blind, and thankfully was raised by amazing parents who never made that a reason or excuse to not be involved: he's the muscle of the setup, putting together tables and organizing things, carrying the wine, etc., much like my dad is. And with a few more years of practice I have no doubt she will come to the place of beautiful equilibrium my mother has cultivated.

But it made me miss home. It made me grateful for all the joy my parents built into Pesach. It made me remember why I love this holiday so much. And while I know that Lois speaks for parents everywhere who get stressed out over major holidays and whose families don't recognize the hard work that goes into happy holidays, I hope my parents remember our seders as heavenly--because I know that I do.

Next year: Pesach in Jerusalem!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Middle East--still, again, however you see it.

It is very difficult to be an insider and outsider at the same time. I am an Israeli-born American. I am a Jewish, dual citizen who didn't serve in Tzahal (the IDF) because I'd been to the US Naval Academy. I come from a zionist, Jewish home and that means many things.

But the home I come from was also (and still is, amen) astoundingly politically, ethnically, and religiously diverse. If you look at my family tree, I'm pretty sure we're Antarctica and Australia shy of being a mini UN. And so I have Japanese and Chinese cousins. I have an Indian-Ethiopean cousin (whom I would love to meet). I have a cousin who converted from generic secular humanism to Islam and married a Jordanian Palestinian. My mother converted to Judaism and married a nice Jewish boy who later became a rabbi. I have catholic in laws, presbyterian grandparents (sorta) and atheists who share my blood.

It's incredibly difficult to come from this kind of family and not realize two things: There is only one race: The human race. We really need to have a bring some ethnic food to share reunion--soon! I'm hungry just thinking of all the amazing things we could share.

On a more serious note, as a zionist, I have to be a Palestinianist. The two are inseparable. One cannot insist on a right to a homeland for oneself without understanding that the right must exist for all or it cannot be secure for any.

And as a Palestinianist, I have to advocate for the one thing that no one seems to be considering: a 3-state solution. To "get" this, one has to have some sense of history.

The Middle East is the mess it is because of the West's Imperialistic response to the outcome of World War I. I know, you expected me to say World War II--but that's not how far back you have to go. You have to go much farther, to the breaking up and parceling out of the Ottoman Empire. A great place to get the basics is the book Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World.

The basic basics come to this: The Brits, in an effort to win the war had from before the war promised both the house of Saud kings of Saudi Arabia, through Lawrence of Arabia, and the house of Hussein, kings of Jordan and heads of the Hashemite tribe, power and land. Likewise, and from earlier in the 20th century, the British had been promising the Jews a homeland. This is only part. There was French, Italian, Spanish and American involvement as well. All of which meant that when the Ottoman Empire came down along with Germany (with which it had been allied in the war), the Western powers came together and turned an Empire into a bunch of countries.

These countries were not random delegations of power, though to the people affected they seemed that way. The countries joined the League of Nations and were put under the "protection" of the larger empires they were assigned to. In essence, the Western powers got together and played cards with oil and other resources and decided who would get to rape what area for its riches while getting to benevolently "bring those people to civilization" after which, of course, they would be given their independence and, who knows, maybe rights.

This was the patronizing approach the Western countries took. It was taken out of the arrogance of Western Imperialism, with an eye to Western enrichment, under the guise of "helping" the tribes who lived off the desert to become humans.

It was not done with any eye toward understanding tribal life, tribal lines, tribal history, or any other issues. Arabs were Arabs and that was all. This lovely set of actions is the direct cause of the Iran/Iraq wars of the 1980s, the current unrest in many Middle Eastern countries, and the instability that has plagued the region from the start of this "protection plan." They may as well have taken a mafia protection plan.

So what about Israel? Well, it had been promised to the Jews at the same time it was promised tot he Palestinians in Jordan at the same time it was promised to Jordan's Hashemite kings (less than 20% of the ethnic population of the current Jordan)--and all by the British.

It took the blatant murder of 6 million Jews in Europe for part of that promise to be fulfilled. Until then, the country was the British protectorate of Trans-Jordanian Palestine. And it was all promised to three different groups. So, what now? At the point at which Israel became a nation, Jews, Arabs, and Christians had been living there for thousands of years. It's not like the UN took a vote and a bunch of folks showed up on the doorstep demanding the keys--though that is certainly how some people picture it in their minds.

Regardless, there is more to the story. Over the years (and starting with the immediate point of independence), the Jewish state had to fight its neighbors for its sovereignty. Understand that nearly EVERY other country in the area is oil or other resource rich. Israel is not. It has NONE of the things that make kingdoms like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait rich. Israel has been built into a developed, Western in culture, educated, technologically and medically world-leading country by the hard work of Israelis.

So what about the Palestinians? What is this "three-state" solution?

I've been harping on it for years. The Palestinians have spent the last 50 years being oppressed--primarily by the Arab countries where most of them live. They are not entitled to own land, get education, become members of society, or even hold non-menial jobs. They are kept in refugee status because that is the only way the Arab world can hold on to the Palestinians as the scapegoat for its anti-semitism--oh! and the UN keeps them that way because they get money for staying that way. Anti-semitism is justified because Palestinians suffer, and the mere existence of Israel is the source of all that suffering. Oppressed Palestinians have a dual purpose, though. They are also a great way to keep an otherwise also oppressed majority of the Arab population from progress. When there are those who have it worse, it's easier to keep people under control, to keep them from education and progress, and to keep them from demanding power--political, educational, or economic.

But Jordan is, and has been since before the creation of Israel, at least 80% Palestinian by population. Why is it Jordan--the gift to a small tribe of a big piece of land-- is never involved in Israeli/Palestinian peace talks? Because it would lead to a solution! Because it would require a more truthful retelling of how the problem came to be instead of the one in which people show up on the doorstep. If Jews, Palestinians, and Hashemites could each get some piece of the trans-Jordanian pie, all would get peace.

But Peace would undermine the power structure the leading royal families and dictators have built. It is contingent on unrest blamable on Israel to keep the focus off their own oppression of their own people. It is necessary to beat down the Palestinians for the rest of the Arab world to not feel its own pain.

The Israeli government (being composed of humans) has made many mistakes in its history of dealing with the Palestinians. But the West Bank was once part of Jordan (there was no Palestine other than the British Mandate), Gaza belonged to Egypt. Both were captured after those countries took part in an attack on Israel. The UN gave Israel permission to remain in the areas to create a buffer of defense. Israel has made mistakes, but at least the Palestinians who live in Israel have access to jobs, can own businesses and land, and not only have the right but a mandate for education. Those who live in the West Bank, under the Palestinian Authority now have some of the same developmental rights as well. Gaza, sadly, is under the control of a terrorist group: Hamas has a talent for oppression.

It's nowhere near perfect, but as a Palestinian-Israeli friend of mine once said "It's better than living under an Arab regime any day of the week."

I think this could be simple: Palestine will be composed of most of the West Bank (Jerusalem and Bethlehem are points of contention, at this time, but have only been open to all three Abrahamic faiths when under Israeli control), and much of Jordan--in exchange for which Israel will remove the settlements (among the errors the Israeli government has made) and the PA will forgo any claim to Gaza. Gaza residents will be given the choice of moving to Palestine or staying in Israel. Jordan will cede a section of its land on the East side of the Jordan (the section with the largest Palestinian population) and Palestinians living in Jordan will, likewise be given the choice of staying and being Jordanian or moving to the new Palestinian homeland.

No person can argue for the need of a home for himself without arguing the same for all. No person can argue the need for internal security and the right to progress without arguing the same for all. If the Palestinians are given a land and a chance, they will come to prove themselves. They will succeed or fail, but they will have done so themselves.

If we (Americans and the rest of the West) educate ourselves on the damage we did in parsing the Ottoman Empire to please ourselves, we have a chance of avoiding making more of the same mistakes we have been for the last few decades--again, still, however you want to see it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Warning: Adult language.

SO everyone will be blogging about this, I suppose. But there are some things that simply have to be said from a middle eastern point of view--and I'm lucky enough to have that.

I think the first thing that has to be said here is that Mubarak is either stupid (which I doubt) or there's a piece missing here. Today "pro-Mubarak protesters" came to "challenge" the pro-Democracy forces. They came on camels and horses, with whips, machetes and Molotov cocktails.

Hmmm. That might be the first indicator that the Mubarak side is inherently problematic and dictatorial--its supporters come armed! It reminds me of the so called "Peace-flotilla" that left Turkey armed and has caused a rift in Turkish-Israeli relations.

 Ladies and gents, fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity. Worse, culturally, we do both!

But then...

Then things got really interesting, because the violence began just in time for the Army to come in and "quell the violent protests"--because, of course, one cannot quell peaceful protests.

And this is enough stupidity on the Mubarak regime side to keep everyone laughing (if it weren't so incredibly sad to watch people being violently attacked--and so far one killed, officially-- for trying to achieve some autonomy) for the rest of the new millenium.

But then I got a file from a friend. I can't attach the PDF that was released at a briefing at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy this morning, so I am going to insert jpgs of the PDF, instead. As I was told, this was a rushed translation and is rough--but the idea comes across:

Really? I have to wonder, at this point, who thought writing this plan down in an age of wikileaks was a good idea.

It's simple. when a regime has used force to control its population, and has been tacitly allowed to do so, it cannot cope with peaceful protest except through force. Egypt has been oppressing its people violently for so long that violent repression is all Mubarak knows! And thanks to the US, the world has simply looked away. It's easy to be stupid when one has become complacent.

The 60s civil rights movement photos of people being bitten by dogs and controlled with water canons are perfect examples. The control had been violent (burning crosses, bombed churches, police brutality) and been tacitly acceptable for decades. When it stopped working, when faced with peaceful protest, the controlling class responded with violence.

But the Egyptians know that the world looks down on violent response to peaceful protest. If anyone learned anything from Tiananmen Square, it's that sending a tank against unarmed people is the best way to lose (because it makes an astounding image on the nightly news--for years).

So what does a violently repressive regime do when faced with peace-seeking revolt? It creates a violent situation to justify a violent reaction.

This will end well or poorly. 

Poorly will be the quiet, calm surrender and return to power of the oppressors.

Ending well will require a long fight, will lead to more protests in more Arab countries with oppressive regimes, and will require a great deal of mass mobilization and momentum.

Breaking momentum is what Mubarak's actions were about today. They may, sadly, work. People may decide to stay safe, now that there are thugs, machetes and Molotovs involved.

But maybe there's something we can do to help the momentum. If, instead of trying to maintain stability, as is the modus operandi of the US in the Middle East (BTW, that's also why the "piece" process will NOT work as it is); if the US stops trying to control--as Mubarak is trying to control--there is a chance.

If individual Americans--individual world citizens, for that matter--find a way to encourage and assist quietly and peacefully, if we can help the masses maintain the momentum of peaceful protest, the entirety of the Middle East stands a chance.

It will take upheaval. It will take instability. It will take time. 

And it will fail under any other circumstance.

As an Israeli who's been to Sinai (the best place on earth for snorkeling), I can only hope that the people of Egypt gain the autonomy they are hoping for. I can only hope that the members of the Arab world who stand in solidarity can bring the same autonomy to their own lives. 

That is the only hope--life in a society of freedom, where interactions are controlled by law, are evenly applied to all, and are part of a social contract voluntarily entered into by all.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An open letter to the President regarding education

Thank you, Mr. President, for some of what you said about education last night.

But only for some of it.

Let me start, Mr. President, by telling you that I am a PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. That means I teach college students to write and I study the use of words and language (and visuals and other symbol systems) in the creation of arguments--and speeches. And your State of the Union Address, as you know quite well, is one of the more symbolic forms of rhetoric in which our country engages.

But as a university teacher, let me also tell you why I wanted to thank you for only some of what you said last night.

First, I must agree with you that education begins at home. I believe, as you seem to, that education in the home is a matter both of what parents value and model, and of discipline. Yes, the TV has to be off and the homework done, but there is more, sir. There is also the active education parents provide for their children when they turn the TV on and watch the news together and discuss what it means. Here, students can learn about history, current events, and most importantly, critical thinking.

Mr. President, I believe you modeled one of my most dearly held positions on education in the home when you discussed the discipline of education: that parents are to be leaders, not friends. Teachers must be leaders, not friends. Peers and others will be friends for our children (and the best parents make sure even those are appropriate), but parents must be role models. They must provide structure and discipline and model values. Parents have stopped, it seems, using the word "no" with their children. Some teachers have stopped being leaders as well.

But, Mr. President, our educational system not only lacks good teachers and money and classroom innovation. Our educational system lacks ethos. Children learn not to value the struggle that true learning must entail. They come to believe that effort must be rewarded with success, even though oftentimes it is failure that comes of great effort--and is most instructive. They come to see grades as the outcome of their "education," and fail to see education as the outcome of their investment.

Also, and here I'll admit to bias, Mr. President, it is not only Maths and Sciences that are causing us to lose ground in the global marketplace. It is also languages, arts (of every stripe), philosophy, history, social sciences and English. Children who study music outperform those who don't in every area of academia, including maths. Children who study foreign languages have an advantage when facing the global marketplace.  Children who are taught history and social science have a greater ability to think critically about the world around them. And English is being studied everywhere around the globe, yet American native speakers of English have a harder time with standard written English than most non-native speakers.

It's no longer enough to cry out "maths and sciences." That cry passed in the '80s. I watched other presidents bemoan our lags in those fields. Because of those cries, universities around the country over-fund their maths and sciences programs and treat the humanities as a secondary concern. If you want people to choose teaching as an occupation of the future, it must become a lucrative and glorified field (like basketball). If you want maths and sciences scores to rise, you must raise the value of all education. And if you want to raise a generation able not only to understand maths and sciences but to think critically about the ethics of the discoveries and technologies that arise from those fields, as well as how they can serve humankind, you must make humanities a priority.

We began losing the technology wars when we began dropping music from our curricula. We began losing the global marketplace wars when we prioritized a college degree over an education (and the two are by no  means equivalent).

Please, Mr.President, please understand that your positing of education at the fore of your plan for our union makes sense only when all of education (and education over grades) is the goal in mind.

Please also understand that this is not the greatest nation on earth. It is ours, and we love our country. But there are other ways to live, and some are just as good. American exceptionalism, with which you ended your speech, is not helpful to the goal of education. American students must stop thinking of themselves in terms of exceptionalism and begin thinking of themselves in terms of their potential to rise to exceptional heights; the difference is one of work ethic rather than one of entitlement.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

When a woman getting educated is "news" and good at that...

Ruhksana looks, through the Burka she wears to first grade, like the most beautiful woman in the world, to me.

But it breaks my heart that a woman getting an education is "news" anywhere in the world. Her husband put it best when he said that an educated mother will make for an educated family.

According to the authors of Half the SkyNicholas Kristoff and Sheryll WuDunn, an educated woman also makes for a wealthier family--as she is more likely to budget money for family education and health than if a man is in charge of the family money. An educated woman is also the means to a wealthier, healthier, and more educated society; as she is more likely to form the networks that allow a village to create a greater marketplace (a global one). 

I have a vested interest not only because of my gender.

I attended, from fourth grade on, the Phoenix Hebrew Academy. Despite being an incredibly unpopular kid (in a really small school, you have to have talent to be totally friendless until eighth grade), I can only say that I LOVE the PHA. For everything it taught me--in class and out.

But, of course, the PHA was an Orthodox Hebrew Day School, and I am female. So, there were struggles. I had to wear skirts or dresses (a fashion I now prefer over pants), and so when I decided to play basketball with the guys, who were not too keen on the idea AT ALL, I started wearing pants under my skirts. Same for soccer. I was lucky, though; I had enlightened rabbis and teachers (mostly) who saw my resistance to being gender programmed as teaching moments.

In sixth grade, the decision was made that the class would be split in two for one hour daily. In that hour, the boys would study Mishnah (the books of legal commentary that apply the Torah's 613 laws to society as it progressed from the desert), and the girls would have "choir."

There were 4 girls. NOT a choir

But I had a beautiful voice and loved to sing! In fact, at that age I wandered listlessly behind my mother as she shopped, singing whatever came on the store muzak in the hopes of being "discovered."

And that made what I did next an incredibly difficult thing to do. I made an appointment with the head rabbi and the rabbi in charge of curriculum. Going in, I was expecting that I would be fighting a losing battle and would return to my class and join the choir.

I told the rabbis, basically, that they kept insisting that a woman's role in the Jewish home was not only to have children, but to educate them. They kept telling me that my work as a woman would be more important than any man's because I would be shaping the next generation of Jews. I then said that relegating me to the back of the classroom (a mixed metaphor, since we were actually going to be assigned separate but unequal classrooms) was to hobble me. That I would not be able to educate my children, male OR female, if I were not fully educated. That they were not only discriminating against women and asking us to believe that was a Jewish behavior, but that they were abdicating their responsibility to educate me Jewishly (a responsibility they took on when they admitted me to school).

I was shaking when I left, but I was standing tall. Taller, in fact, than I had ever felt.

The girls hated me because they were being "forced" to study Mishnah instead of being allowed to play in "choir."

And so, I kept living in the world my parents had built: one in which everyone, regardless of any creed, gender, color, etc., had the right to an education. What we made of that education, we were always told, was OUR job.

I fought that minor battle more than two decades ago.

But women today still have to fight the same battle--and only a very few win. There are more women sold, stolen or drugged into human trafficking than there are women enrolled in school in this world. There are more men who still hold to the fascinatingly oxymoronic idea that women hold immense power because of their sexual "wiles" and therefore are somehow inferior. There are still many who believe that women need to be "controlled." And even in our great country, there are many who believe a woman's life is worth less than that of a fetus.

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people, too.

Womanism is the radical notion that men and women will all benefit when they are all brought into the fold of educational and economic power.

I have a radical notion that the world will be called a truly better place when Ruhksanna is not news--when her attendance at first grade will only be remarkable because she will have been the only woman in her village to not have gone at the age of 6.

As we reach the 38th anniversary of Roe V Wade, a decision that made into law the radical notion that a woman's life and health are more important than a man's right to control her reproductive organs, let's keep in mind that we are lucky. That as a lucky nation of educationally privileged people, we have a lot to offer Ruhksanna. 

And let's not keep ourselves blinded to the plight of most of the world's women. Rape only became illegal in Haiti in 2005. Selling girls into sexual and domestic slavery is still legal in many parts of the world. Keeping girls from education is not only legal, but the norm in more than half the world.

It's time to change that. Because even if one's world view is that a woman's place is in the home, raising children and building a family, that world view must take into account that she will do that job so much better if she is educated. Because even if one fears that educating women will lead to the destruction of the family as a unit, one must take into account that not doing so leads the family into a continuous cycle of poverty and ignorance. 

Finally, because educating women is the first step toward making the world a more peaceful, balanced place.

Monday, January 17, 2011

In defense of the "shit-talkin'"

On this MLK day, I find myself angry and frustrated.

My frustrations are aplenty and likely boring to most.

My institute of education--the place that is named on one of my degrees and will be named on the next--prefers that I be liked than that my students succeed. So be it.

This week, my students and I listened to Sarah Palin defend herself against the stupid possibility that her poor choice of rhetoric caused someone else to make a far poorer choice of action. We discussed the rhetorical content of her speech--a rather fine speech, which would have stood as her finest if she had not hit the worst possible note when making the center of her point. The tenor, the word choice, the ethos, all were well put together. But the speech writer didn't recognize the irony of the use of such a rare term as "blood-libel"--a term that all the journalists who've picked up on it had to define for the majority of America that simply doesn't grasp it.

But my frustration, rather than lying with Palin's speech writer, who committed a basic act of verbal stupidity, lies with the responses to the shooting that have included people who want to limit speech to what they find acceptable.

As a First Amendment junkie, as a Jew who actually knew what a blood libel was before having to explain it to her students, as a woman, I honestly think that making people stop their vitriol is far more dangerous than allowing them to scream it from the mountaintops.

A racial slur committed aloud can be refuted. A slander spread in the silence of hatred driven underground can only gather force, speed, and violence.

Hate speech is our best warning shot. It's a bright red flag that lets us all know where ignorance needs to be fought, loudly, and with words--to avoid fighting it bloodily with weapons.

Let all who hate loudly proclaim it. Let the rest of us take MLK's example and love them into seeing the other in themselves.

"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. " -The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sorry for the gap

But the first week of school is an annoying, fun, fascinating, boring, difficult, easy time for me (listed by preference of my multiple personalities). Simple truth is my teacher and student self have so much to do to make everything start on the right foot that I spend all my down time literally down. And yesterday, I spent two hours on the floor raising money for the Jewish Braille Institute before realizing I was sitting badly and my bulging discs had pinched a nerve. ALL that said, I really need to talk about Giffords.

My dear friend (known as big bro, though he's younger than I am), Ed Braun, is a brilliant literary critic, scholar, and gunsmith.

Yup, some of us folks in the ivory tower like guns--myself included: I learned how to fire a weapon in the Naval Academy and was an expert at the M16 but just barely passed on the 38 because I became afraid of the kickback and began counteracting it. The outcome: I had perfect shot circles in the berm.

All that aside, Ed is truly a brilliant guy. Brilliant to the point of that slightly mad part of genius. He decided to start building guns a few years ago and then to apprentice himself to a gunsmith. I'm not sure where in the process he is, though I do know that even when he started he showed the same promise he shows with everything he starts.

And here's what Ed has to say about what happened in Arizona this week (from his facebook page):

AZ has been progressive the past 4 years instituting particular rigors for not only firearms ownership, but concealed carry, including into various previously barred institutions, such as universities. *It should also be noted that not only are some of the most prestigious open enrollment weapons training facilities in the country are embedded in AZ, but the majority of high end custom firearms shops and gunsmithing schools. Previous stands for CCW permits included not only a thorough background check by extensive local, state, and federal agencies, but furthermore required no less than 20 hours training by at one of said previously state and nationally recognized shooting academies. The full extents of that certification program eliminates not only questionable individuals, but likewise serves to act as a redflag pending any future efforts to purchase various weapons as it shows up in any NICS background inquiry.
However, in April, 2010; Gov. Jan Brewer repealed her previously installed system in favor of concealed carry without a permit pending individual locations. Yet the obviated problem remains--discerning certified CCW holders versus the armed Joe Q. Regardless of what she thought she was doing, Brewer cost her constituents millions garnered with the previous system and now a congress woman

I have a lot to say about this, but I think the most important thing is the end. Until April, Arizona, a state that is rather Western in its outlook (meaning that in general it's high on the state's rights and conservative far right wing "right to build a militia" attitude fount in many Western states), almost to the point of Alaska and Texas in its belief in seceding from the union as a working option, had the best system for gun control.

The system was not about infringing the rights of Americans to keep and bear arms. It was about empowering any person who wished to own and or carry arms to know how to use them safely. The system required education, it required screening, and it highly encouraged more education as an outcome.

If you screen out the crazies who are looking, intentionally to be dangerous by making sure they meet a set of requirements for weapons ownership and use, you take the first step in keeping what happened in Tuscon from happening.

Second, if you train anyone who wants to own a weapon in its safe use as well as its mechanism, you take the first step in keeping weapons from being used in kid play and accidental deaths.

The system Brewer canceled was the best possible balance between rights and security, and in keeping with the idiotic political climate we live in, she failed to take training before she shot it dead.

Worse, this shooting is now causing people to consider shooting the freedom of speech--if not to kill, at least to maim.

In March, Palin said Gifford's congressional seat was "in the cross-hairs." Palin is now trying to rollback the meaning of her own stupid rhetoric (no, it wasn't a weapon's cross-hairs...), and worse, people are now reacting by suggesting that we take away the right of people to publicly threaten using stupid rhetoric.

The solution, folks, is not to roll back Palin's right to be a public idiot, to say dangerous things, or to publicly show her own violent tendencies. In fact, I'd rather know about her stupidity, her threat to others' safety, and her violent tendencies than have to guess who would have said the ugly violent thing.

The solution is not to disallow all persons from keeping and bearing arms. Because there are millions of gun owners who are using their weapons properly and who are NOT a threat to anyone in society--not even those with whom they have political disagreement. 

The solution is to educate. It is to screen. It is to make sure that weapons are controlled, as is their use, as is their ownership.

The more we push against people's rights to speak freely (even if they speak poorly and express violent tendencies), the more we push against people's rights to carry arms, the more we push against rights in the name of security, the more we push our centrist allies on either side of the political spectrum to their furthest point of extremity.

Extremism in ANY form and from any political side is danger. Silencing the fringe elements of our society only empowers them as they go underground and find safety in darkness. 

I know that most of the people I know are wishing for the best for the congresswoman and the 7 others wounded, as well as for the families of those wounded and those dead (including a 9 year old). Let's also wish for some intellect from those we have elected in dealing with the legal and systematic errors that allowed this to happen. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Missing: Dignity. Last seen in Barcelona

I owe you a lot of pics and writing on Paris, Roses, Pamplona, trains, how not to break your camera, and maybe a million little tidbits in between (especially how I got a pic of the top of a bird of prey's wings!).

But I think this needs some discussion first.

So, New Year's Eve; two days before we're scheduled to leave Spain, we left Pamplona and took the four or so hour train ride back to Figueres, where Dali and Jaime were born (years apart). Jaime's family lives about 30 minutes away, on the Mediterranean, in Roses. The towns and region are beautiful. I think my love for the Navarre region that I acquired this year is nearly equaled by my love for the Costa Brava. Each is beautiful in its own way. And when I have the camera on me I will post more on this.

But we come back to Roses for New Year's when we can because Jaime's parents attend a gala party for New Year's eve that involves some of the world's greatest cooking along with some fun and dancing (which I do on my own because Jaime says he can't).

On the train ride, I realized my ear was hurting. It was bugging me all the way down to my jaw. So, after some prodding I asked Jaime's dad, a doctor, to look. He said it was the beginning of an infection and prescribed me some antibiotics to be begun immediately because I was flying in two days.

I hate antibiotics. I don't know anyone who actually likes them, but really, you have to be serious to get me on them. I had two whole sips of champagne on New Year's Eve because I took my first antibiotic that evening.

New Year's Day, we traveled to Barcelona, one of the loveliest port cities on the planet, and one we haven't had much chance to visit (been there twice and only for a day each time) because we were flying out the next morning. We walked the Rambla, which its name should tell you is the whole point of what you are to do. We bought some last minute gifts. We hung out at the bar in the hotel, eating patatas bravas (one of my favorite tapas) and watching a recap special on the World Cup. I'm in love with most of the Spanish team--probably because I knew from the start they would go all the way and they didn't let me down, though their looks help, too.

The next morning at quarter till butt-crack-O'-dawn we got up and I felt a bit heartburnish. I bought some mineral water (with bubbles) because it's got the same stuff in it that heartburn meds do, and figured I'd put the whole thing behind me.

Only it wouldn't go away.

Within the hour, we were standing in a mile long ticketing queue, because Delta wouldn't let us get early boarding passes. I turned to Jaime, "I don't feel good," I told him. He asked, "How?" My answer: "Kinda pukey."

Now, I am one of those people who would pretty much rather die than puke. I know. I know. You feel better getting it out, it's better to let your body get things out if it wants to, you never know if you have food poisoning, you may actually die. I've heard it all. To hell with it! I would rather die than puke.

We were nearly at the front of the queue with me complaining, and Jaime trying to keep me together when I grabbed the bag with the leftover sparkling water and part of a cake his mom had given us and began.

The bag had holes. But I didn't find that out until I came to, on the floor, with puke in my mouth and the sudden realization that if I didn't roll over I would choke and die. I rolled straight into the puddle coming out of the bag, and added to it.

And then I felt better.

I'd still rather die than puke.

Ok, I didn't feel completely better, just better enough to stand and tell the people staring at me I was ok and thank the woman who handed me a packet of tissues and refused to take them back. They let us get boarding passes anyway--don't ask me why. Jaime and I just knew they were going to tell me I couldn't fly. But we told them about the ear infection and the antibiotics.

We got our passes and I went to the toilet to clean up, change clothes and throw away my Salamanca University hoody (Damn!). And proceeded to the gate.

I spent the 10.5 hours on the plane flitting between the toilet and a semi-coma. That is after I showed the head  flight attendant my antibiotics to prove I was on meds and would live.

Little did we know. My ears are fine now, thanks for asking, but this had nothing to do with antibiotics or ear infections.

In Atlanta, as we were about to go through passport control (that post soon, too!), Jaime said, "I don't feel so good, honey."

Thankfully, by then I was mostly ok. Thankfully, too, his food poisoning which we think may have been a patatas bravas thing was far less acute than mine. Most thankfully, I have phenergan (promethazine) an anti-emetic at home because I take terrible meds that make me sick.

I made it to my meetings the next morning, but none too happily.

It's good to be home. It's bad to fly sick. And it should be better to puke than die.

But even though I know my dignity got cleaned up along with that puddle on the floor of a ticket queue in the Barcelona airport, I still say it:

I'd rather die than puke!