Looking back and thinking forward

Month: October, 2006

Where to … next?


Nineteen years ago I met America. I had spent the month of October visiting Buffalo to see if the offer of studying at the University could become a reality for me. I fell in love with fall, the cold, open spaces, choices, hot fudge atop butter crunch ice cream on a brownie, and most of all, the chance for a fresh start. Less than a year later I returned to begin my American adventure. One that would change me inside and out, grow me up, and give me the greatest gift of all: freedom to keep [my] channel[s] open!

On Halloween night, nineteen years ago I boarded a plane to return to Israel to tell my fourteen-year-old son, "Yes, it’s a go!" When he asked me what America was like, I replied, "It’s just like one big sit-com."

I remember being in New York City, looking for a cab to the airport. Dark and cold and everyone running to and fro. What a strange land, I thought at the time. How different, exciting, how child-like.

So let me see now: I lived the first nineteen years of my life in Zimbabwe (what was Rhodesia); the second 19 in Israel; and if my calculations are correct, by this time next year it will be nineteen years in the U.S. of A.

"Ooh, ooh ooh …" methinks, "where to next?"

Out of my dreams


[New Yorker Cartoon]

I awoke out of a nightmare calling out, "Nobody picks up after themselves any more!" Sat up in bed, tears prickling in my eyes, trying to get my bearings and remember where I was. A chorus of men had taken over my old child care center and no one was doing anything about it. Shaking my head from side to side I stumbled into the kitchen in the dark looking for coffee. Plopped into my chair by the computer and stared at the screen. I thought about a discussion I had yesterday afternoon where I had opened myself up, sharing thoughts and theories about how men were always a precious commodity in our family, owned by my mother. And how, these past few years, I had decided to bow out of the competition. "Ah, let them have them!" I had said, "The heck with it! I don’t want to play that game any more. I am too outspoken for it!" I imagined that the chorus of men taking over my old child care center in my dream represented something to do with that discussion.

Sighing deeply, the early morning, dream tears disappearing, anxious feelings dissipating.

Ada jumps up onto the table by the computer, tail swishing back and forth. She wants to play. I pick up her favorite toy: two large red feathers attached to a string, attached to a pole. When I wave it in the air the feathers flap like a bird. Ada runs after it and jumps high in the air trying to catch it every time. I watch her running back and forth and smile to myself. She plays the game over and over again, pretending the feathers are a bird she is trying to catch.

I think to myself as I swing the pole around and about Ada’s head, "I’m not playing any more. Not pretending I have a chance. Not wanting the chance. I don’t want to be a yes-woman all the time to buy their love. Been there, done that. I just want to be all the me I can be. And, hey! If they don’t like it … well, the heck with it!"

Sun comes up. It’s time for work.

A year ago on Tamarika: Quizzically

Favorite photos


Mike and Mar-Mar, 2004


Janna and me, 2004


Elise and Gila


Me and Gilad


Richard fishing




Jan and Tam


A road in Zimbabwe


Me, Oh so many years ago!



Politika (Update)

Very seldom do I find myself writing about politics. There are at least two reasons for that. The first is that there are so many experts out there who say it all so much better than I could. The second is that, politically, I mostly feel despair about any hope of my opinion or vote counting for anything with those dominant war-mongers and control freaks out there. It all just feels so out of my hands, as if we are living in some terrible dark ages with patriarchy as huge and wild, expansive and dominant as ever. Violence as the only means, segregation, labeling, categorizing and punishment as the only way. So little compassion. I have had to hold tight to the belief that my interactions with students, colleagues, friends, conference participants, or bloggers might, perhaps, make a little difference in one or two lives from moment to moment. Or have tried to focus on the mini-universe of my own world to make changes within me as a way through the darkness of these times.

A number of experiences have re-energized and pushed me towards hoping for more. First of all, I read, A Hope in the Unseen. That moved me to a deeper understanding that, in fact, I do not fully grasp the extent of racism and injustice in this country. It humbled me in ways that feel too difficult to describe at the moment. Am still digesting this. In fact, it changed the nature of my presentation about bias at the conference this week. Speaking at the National Black Child Development Institute, I came to my presentation participants and knelt before them with my words. Bowed my head towards them and asked permission that I, as a white privileged ex colonial woman, talk about bias at all. The discussion became deep, truthful, and authentic between us. A new dimension was reached. We tore open patriarchy and white privilege in ways that only courageous people full of love could have done.

And all the while, this week I was reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. His knowledge and understanding about compassion filled me with a feeling that all might not be lost. He writes about what it is like to be a black man in America even as one who sees himself through luck and circumstance occupying a position that insulates him from "most of the bumps and bruises that the average black man must endure." Obama writes, acknowledging all sides to the excruciatingly painful story about race:

I can recite the usual litany of petty slights that during my forty-five years have been directed my way: security guards trailing me as I shop in department stores, white couples who toss me their car keys as I stand outside a restaurant waiting for the valet, police cars pulling me over for no apparent reason. I know what it’s like to have people tell me I can’t do something because of my color, and I know the bitter swill of swallowed-back anger. I know as well that Michelle and I must be continually vigilant against some of the debilitating story lines that our daughters may absorb – from TV and music and friends and the streets – about who the world thinks they are, and what the world imagines they should be.

To think clearly about race, then, requires us to see the world on a split screen – to maintain in our sights the kind of America that we want while looking squarely at America as it is, to acknowledge the sins of our past and the challenges of the present without becoming trapped in cynicism or despair. I have witnessed a profound shift in race relations in my lifetime. I have felt it as surely as one feels a change in the temperature. When I hear some of the black community deny these changes, I think it not only dishonors those who struggled on our behalf but also robs us of our agency to complete the work they began. But as much as I insist that things have gotten better, I am mindful of this truth as well: Better isn’t good enough. (Page 233)

Yesterday I heard the news from CNN: "Gay couples have the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples under the New Jersey state constitution, the state Supreme Court rules." I excitedly forwarded the Breaking News e-mail I received to a friend, expressing my delight in working in a State that seems to be more enlightened than others. She replied: "Yes, and won’t this piss off the conservatives even more… east coast hethens!"

Oh well, I am back into politics again. I will storm out there bright and early on November 7, and vote and vote and vote! Yes, even as I am heading out the door that day to present about bias yet again at yet another conference, this time in Atlanta. I will try not to become trapped into cynicism and despair, just as Barack Obama urges and will focus on small, personal interactions as I find a way to work, with an audacity to hope with larger, more universal causes.

I e-mailed my friend a reply this morning:

never mind those fascists … one step at a time, we must press on regardless of them … closer and closer to human rights … towards the light … away from the dark, where they reside, in dank, dark, ugliness … points of light quietly, softly, compassionately, all the while, joining hands and hearts, making a web of kindness and justice for all.


My friend’s reply to me:

yes … the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  Martin Luther King Jr. [bold letters – hers]

Audacity to hope (update)

Yes, Barack, yes. I have the audacity to hope that you will run for President. I read three quarters of your book on the plane and I, too, say: Run, Barack, Run!

For example:

A government that truly reflects these Americans – that truly serves these Americans, will require a different kind of politics. The politics will need to reflect our lives as they are actually lived. It won’t be prepackaged, ready to pull off the shelf. It will have to be constructed from the best of our traditions and will have to account for the darker aspects of our past. We will need to understand how we got to this place, this land of warring factions and tribal hatreds. And we’ll need to remind ourselves, despite all our differences, just how much we share: common hopes, common dreams, a bond that will not break. Barack Obama

Update: Oops, I almost forgot:

A year ago at Tamarika: When the darkness rolls away

Spreading the word

Bags are packed and off I fly. Spreading my early childhood diversity word. At the National Black Child Development Institute. Be back soon.

I hope Ada won’t be too lonely, but I will surely miss her soft paw on my face to wake me in the morning.

I must go now and prepare my clear plastic bag

A year ago on Tamarika: My Friend Sally

Friday humor

Thanks to JJ


Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. The winners are:
1. Coffee (n.): the person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted (adj.): appalled over how much weight you have gained.

3. Abdicate (v.): to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade (v.): to attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly (adj.): impotent

6. Negligent (adj.): describes a condition in which you absent-mindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

7. Lymph (v.): to walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle (n.): olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence (n.): emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash (n.): a rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle (n.): a humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude (n.): the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon (n): a Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster (n.): a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism (n.): (back by popular demand). The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there. [this is my personal favorite]

16. Circumvent (n.): an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

The Washington Post’s Style Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing ONE letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year’s winners:

1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

2. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

3. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

4. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

5. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

6. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

7. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

8 Karmageddon (n): It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

9. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

10. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.

11. Dopeler Effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

12. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

13. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

14 Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you’re eating.

[A year ago on Tamarika: A Slice of Life]

Moments in time

Quotes of the day:

When you learn, teach. When you get, give. Maya Angelou taught me that. Oprah Winfrey

Now, I heard the owl a-callin’
Softly as the night was fallin’
With a question and I replied
But he’s gone across the borderline (
Kate Wolf)

Early, very early this morning I heard an owl. I lay very still under my blankets and listened to the silence of the dawn creeping through the sky. And there it was, "Hoo, Hoo … Hoo." A deep haunting, dawning sound in the trees nearby. My soul reached out, energy flowing through every pore. After awhile a few moments later, I sat up and following the owl call, muffled way in the distance I heard another, "Hoo, Hoo … Hoo."

A conversation!

It brought back memories of a time fifteen or so years ago of a man who taught me all about birds. I remember him waking me early one morning. He put his hand on my arm gently and said softly, "Listen …" and together we lay very still, listening to the haunting, dawning sound of an owl hoo hooing in the trees nearby. I would not have missed that for all the world.

Moments in time. Each one precious, wondrous, amazing, connecting us with our inner selves, each other, the universe. As I write this, the owl has journeyed on. I do so hope she drops by again awaking memories of moments in time. Sooner perhaps than before.

Why, so much of me is made up of haunting, dawning memories of moments in time.

A year ago on Tamarika: Mostly By Association

A lightness of being

This morning I woke up thinking that my mourning days are over. Just like that! Am not quite sure just how long it is that I have been in mourning. Definitely a few years. There were blatantly obvious reasons for grief, like losing friends to cancer or my darling Molly over the summer, and giving up my job in Buffalo and moving to Philadelphia.

On a more psychological level, though, I have been bidding farewell to the old me, letting go of ancient pains, of the ties that bind. Realizing that holding onto my youth, old paradigms and especially grudges, I have been bound to the past, weighed down, wrapped up like a cocoon inside the inner child repeating familiar patterns over and over again.

This morning I woke up lighter somehow. Now I know you might be thinking that it is just something hormonal, a mood swing, or that I just had a good night’s rest, a happy dream or something like that … I thought that too for a moment … but, no. I have noticed that this lightness of being has accompanied me for a few weeks now.

For instance, I love going to work lately. I look forward to the drive, enjoy talking with colleagues and love teaching. I am excited to be out on the circuit presenting, traveling, consulting once more. Have become passionate about critical thinking and education again as I collaborate on a new book project with a colleague of like mind. T and I seem to be talking a lot, working out differences in a lighter, more loving … mature? … way. And more than all that, I am sensing a feeling of joy threading softly, gently through it all.

My poor, old, sick, abused mind often sends signals of danger and sorrow to remind me where I come from. It makes me pay the price, niggles and teases me back down towards the abyss of victimization and shadowy pain. But just as I verge on falling in, something happens and I pull myself back and away, stepping out into the light, breathing a sigh of relief and, sometimes, even, smiling to myself.

I recall how Patti, our receptionist at the University at Buffalo Child Care Center would smile and say quietly, "It is going to be a good day," whenever she would hear me humming as I watered the plants. I have found myself humming a lot lately and, at times, even laugh out loud from a humorous thought.

If I would be seeing Bob the therapist today I might say, "Hey, Bob! I’m getting there. I’m being the most me I can be. Am shedding the fear, breaking away, letting go …" I look over at the framed Martha Graham poem he gave me before I left Buffalo almost two years ago:

You have to keep open and aware of urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open

"Hey Bob," I whisper to myself, "I’m getting there …"

A year ago at Tamarika: The Good Body & Needy Meme

Mortality shock

Just after I had pulled a muscle in my upper left thigh the pain was excruciating. The thing is, I do not recall pulling the muscle. Indeed, I am not even sure when it occurred. It might have been when I folded my legs into a lotus position so that I could eat my dinner on the couch. Or perhaps it was the way I twisted it walking back into the kitchen. Who knows! Two Advil and a rather painful night later I hobbled to my computer and read: "Slow down, you’re exercising too much," over at The Boomer Chronicles.

In fact, I have been exercising rather a lot lately and then off I went flying in planes and sitting for long stretches driving in cars all over North Western PA. I guess my leg just did not know what to do with itself last night. Hence the pulling, tightening, squeezing, twisting, turning, writhing of muscle in its upper left thigh. Nothing a strong work-out and soak in a very hot bath did not almost fix later today.

Each sign of mortality shocks me. Not dramatically. No, not even passionately. It is like a little nudge, a niggle, teasing my brain and reminding me that life is short. It has taken me 57 years to get to this point, that is true. And in a way that feels like a long time. But, honestly … at times it is just a snap of my fingers. Am not quite done with ages thirties and forties in my brain, and yet the body squeaks and rattles, hobbles and twists and reminds me that yes indeed, one of these days I will be no longer. I will not last forever.

I have noticed that all kinds of people express mortality shock in very different ways. Some are adamant that they are flowing along, controlled, supported by the universe while everything happens for a reason. They are ready, willing and able to move onto the next stage, even excited to see what that stage might bring. Others do everything they possibly can to postpone the event: exercising, dyeing their hair, eating right, taking keep-me-young-forever pills, or even doing surgery to cover up the inevitable deterioration. Mortality shock has an affect on me, I have to admit. Over and over again I am reminded that I am older, aging, moving towards a world without me. I wonder what that world might look like. Will it exist if I am not there? Like a toddler peering through her fingers playing peek-a-boo, experimenting with her own being-ness, wondering egocentrically if she exists at all when her hands block out the light. Does darkness mean that the world will spin no longer?

Mortality shock helps me take those old grudges I have harbored for so long, and release them. For example, I used to feel so sad and forlorn that not one member of my family was present at my doctoral graduation. After ten years of struggle, long hours of work and study, I completed three degrees and graduated with my Ph.D. at age 49. The only woman in my family to have done so! And yet, no one came to celebrate my graduation with me.

Recently I was reminded of that as I was reading A Hope in the Unseen along with a faculty reading group I joined. The old grudge rose up and caused me some ancient pain. While completely incomparable to Cedric Jennings‘ story of struggle through amazing, seemingly insurmountable odds, my own academic achievement suddenly became apparent to me. Alone, without family models, support or encouragement, without their acknowledgment or pride in me, I left everything behind and plunged myself into a foreign land and the strange culture of academia. Working and studying full-time, while putting my own son through high school and college, I persevered against sometimes seemingly insurmountable odds – financial and emotional obstacles, even including an unimaginable lack of confidence. And yet, in the end, I achieved the degrees, wrote a book, and found a number of fulfilling and rewarding positions where I was able to contribute and work actively towards making a difference in the lives of teachers and children.

Thanks to mortality shock I allowed the grudge against family neglect to melt away and, instead, discovered my own worth. A wave of understanding washed over me. I had bucked our family system so much that, of course, people ignored my achievement. It had nothing to do with me. It was just all too amazingly weird for them to comprehend. The other day, as I described all of this to the group of faculty during our wonderful discussions and revelations about the book I realized just how grateful I am to aging. Yes indeed, I am shocked each time I am faced with my own mortality. I am certainly nowhere ready to leave this life, and have ever so much more I want to try out. But at least these feelings of physical deterioration, or that time is flying by, help me live more fully, present in the now, and let go of old grudges, finally replacing them with badly needed, long overdue, self-acknowledgment.

Oh well, I sigh, and rise up grunting and groaning at my aching thigh muscle, hobble into the kitchen for a cup of tea. Yes, all right. I think I will take two more Advil and go for a long walk in the woods to catch the cold, afternoon light before it goes out, poof, ending yet one more day in the rest of my life.