Oral tradition versus historical ‘fact’

Working on the WWII book today, making choices: the Indian National Army, as described online, is not the same as the Indian National Army in the oral history I grew up with, stories and unspoken attitudes of my elders who lived through the war. I may of course not be remembering perfectly. I can talk to people who were alive at the time, and have, but I find they don’t remember perfectly either. Some memories are crystal clear and consistent, even down to using the exact same words each time they tell the tale,, others vague and shifting. So it’s up to me. At the end of the day, it’s my book; and I’m fiction for a reason. I will do the research, but I will write from my memory of the oral tradition.

I just heard my father chuckle and say, “What to do?” about these sorts of quandaries. So I’ll stop quandary-ing now, and get to writing.

remembering kindness: 9/11

9/11: Six degrees of separation, everyone lost someone. I waited 3 days before my next door neighbor came home from the Pentagon. People in 60 nations lost loved ones on that day. But the biggest casualty has been our collective consciousness. America was a kinder country before that day.

There is still deep kindness. Fear and the instinct to self-preservation makes it easy to forget that to love, to relate, to respect the other — other nation, other race, other gender, other anything — requires being vulnerable to a certain extent. My prayer is to see the collective trauma released — it is not seemly to grieve forever — and to remember with love but also to live, into the future, with kindness.

Just after 9/11, we were kind. At least, common people were, I claim no understanding of politicians. My neighbor, a Marine Colonel, came back from the Pentagon, having stayed long enough to be sure one of his best friends made it, and his first concern was making sure none of the violent backlash hit a very nice, older Indian couple round the corner from us who spoke little English and always wore traditional clothing. They were great gardeners and cooks, entertaining their extended family to lunch every Sunday. I was too naive back then to think they might possibly have been at risk, but — he was military, he’d been in volatile situations before — it was the first thing his mind went to. And he said a word here and a word there and made sure our neighbors were safe.

I want that neighborly America back. I do not think this disrespects the dead. They were part of that kinder world. The America where, when I was a lost kid at Bennington, one older friend lent me her bicycle, another taught me to bake bread, strangers drove me to church, my professors lent me books I could not afford to buy, and on and on. A thousand kindnesses, and too little paranoia for me to notice. I’m sure it was there. I’m not asking for a community of angels. Just the community that was injured in 9/11. Time to let go and heal.


politics, rice pudding, & the ocean: also, science 101

I’m going on holiday soon and was thinking what to take to read. This morning, I decided: mathematics. A long time ago, I was a math/physics student, and then a NASA science drone. Mathematics, unfolding, is as beautiful as the ocean, alive, intricate, complete in itself. Physics unfolds mysteries, and I don’t mean the God-particle nonsense that people have been getting excited about but the even more wondrous daily mysteries: wind, weather, why there is that odd-shaped shadow on my ceiling, how to park on a hill so your car doesn’t roll away…

Physics enchanted me, as a girl, because it the fundamental rules were essential simple, and clear. Water rolls downhill, ALWAYS. Stuff like that. Studying physics was a way to allow my mind to be simple, and clear. It does not contradict itself. Subtlety exist, but there is always the real to measure against.

For some years now I’ve been a writer. Fiction, mostly cross-cultural, dealing with social, political, and emotional issues. My community is now mostly writers, artists, activists, and nothing is simple, or clear; or rather, much of it probably could be, but people cultivate complexity. To include ALL the data — by which I mean all the facts, not all the opinions — on something, or as much data as one can get, and look at it all in balance, is not a popular sport. Balance, as best I understand it, requires calm. But the troubles of our times, from tars sands to Islamophobia to economic class warfare, call for concern. And most people don’t find concern and calm coexistent within themselves, especially in American culture, which says, subliminally, that we should be able to fix anything. So there is tumult, and shouting: a noise of long-winded thoughts and exhortations that seem to be saying, ‘Care more, care more! Don’t relax, don’t spin down, not for a minute, the world will cease to be if you do, the battle will be lost…’

I’ve tried to get people to care about some of these issues, particularly the race-related ones, without stirring anxiety. I think I have failed. Caring deeply while being staying as calm as we can is an emotional reality in daily life for most people, else we’d never let our loved ones go out the door, never mind become skydivers or firefighters. I think it’s okay, even essential, to deal with political issues the same way — do what you can, everything you can, and then let go and fix dinner. I talk a lot about politics, but I’ve never said this before, and I apologize for not doing so.

I am going to read, on my vacation, not a novel, full of sculpted emotion, or a nonfiction book full of argument, however just, but mathematics: to find a state of clarity in my mind again. It will be like eating fresh fruit, or rice pudding, after too rich a diet. Cleaning, and strengthening. In-between, I will go to California farmers markets, which are a paradise of grounded goodness, and I will cook dinner. I will look at the ocean.

I will be simple.

Outside, OR, Homeless on 5th Ave

There’s inside, and there’s outside. Inside of power. Outside in the cold.

Thursday afternoon, it was cold. Spring equinox, supposedly, but far from springlike in Manhattan. People were huddling against the wind, the lucky ones warm from still wearing heavy coats often discarded by this point in March. I had unfortunately believed the weather report, and was wearing only a light spring coat, no wool except for my hat, no fleece, the scarf around my neck and a pull-on hat the only real comfort as I walked from the subway to meet a friend at MoMA.

I got out of the subway at the bottom end of Central Park, on 5th avenue. The upscale part of NYC. I walked past high-end retailers, diamonds in the window in Bergdorff-Goodman’s (I think I’m remembering that correctly), status for sale at Louis Vuitton, and so to the upmarket church section: Presbyterian, Episcopal, Roman Catholic in a row, just a few blocks separating them. I planned, as I walked, a funny blog post about God turning off the heat in NYC and me wishing He wouldn’t because I was freezing.

On the sidewalk outside the Presbyterian church, I saw a homeless woman, and the joke stopped being funny.

The city is full of homeless people, and full of people walking past them. But this was different. In the winter, a lot of homeless people look cold, bundled in as many layers as they can get, stoically enduring. This woman wasn’t bundled. I do not know what she was wearing, because she was huddled in a canvas sheet, but it can’t have been much at all, because the whole of her, sheet and all, was slender. She was shaking violently. Not the shaking one sees sometimes in alcoholics or other addicts, but from the cold. How do I know? I’m no doctor. But I am human, and it was stunningly obvious.

Her eyes were clear, and conscious of all that was happening to her. Homeless people are sometimes shut down inside, by their eyes, long suffering having numbed them. She wasn’t numb. She was feeling every second of that horrid cold. She was sitting on a concrete sidewalk.

She was beautiful. About my age. Clear brown skin, expressive eyes, cheekbones that any artist would love to capture on canvas. An angel of God, a daughter of humanity, a sister. Our eyes met. And there was nothing I could think of to do to save her.

Her eyes expressed suffering: but no blame. I don’t know how that was possible.

She had short hair, in a spiky hairstyle. Bits of bare scalp showed in-between the thick curls. Heads lose heat. I pulled off my hat, gave it to her, and said, “Here, take this.” She pulled it on. The interaction was a natural one, in a horribly unnatural situation. Her hands were shaking. I knew I had to be out myself, late, and it would get colder; so I kept my scarf and gloves, though the real human thing to do would have been to hand her everything, coat and all. And then I dropped a dollar in her cup and walked away.

She is, was, Human and Beautiful. I pray she is alright, now. I was less than human. Every single person walking by her was less than human. If there had been a dog or cat there, stranded on that sidewalk shivering, a dozen people would have stopped, someone would have arranged a rescue.

I walked away. I did not know how to rescue her. Could one call an ambulance? Take her somewhere?

I walked the three remaining blocks to MoMA; across from MoMA there is a new building, or perhaps a renovation, under construction. It will be a luxury hotel. Presumably a thousand dollars a night, in that location. Louis Vuitton, 1K hotel rooms, 5th Avenue churches, among them my own, where well-dressed people will worship this Sunday, and Outside, in the cold, are the angels, abandoned.

In justice I will say also: those churches run soup kitchens, are active in helping the poor. Part of the reason I did not interfere is because I guessed she was in that location by choice, and presently would go to one of the soup kitchens for a meal. But dear God, it should be better than this.

“Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for …
we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.’

From ‘Dover Beach’, by Matthew Arnold.

Sandy afternoon

Hot chocolate with salt, maple syrup, orange oil, cinnamon and vanilla, just perfect after a long, cold walk. Wind is still strong and cold down by the Verazzano Narrows Bridge. My neighborhood, and I, are relatively lucky. This is the bottom of Bay Ridge, facing Staten Island, what the cabbies describe as ‘under the bridge’. We have power. There’s a large downed tree uprooted from the sidewalk and fallen across the street fortunately just short of hitting the opposite house, partly because some branches broke off. Lying across the road it’s about the height of a man’s waist.

Down by the Narrows, there’s a large hollow pipe, half the width of this tree trunk but at least half again as long, lying on the rocks below the boardwalk and partially submerged. The exposed end is full of bolts and other fittings, I try to guess what it is: something from a ship, or a pier, perhaps? Somewhere a business is probably filing an insurance claim for this lost pipe. There’s a tremendous amount of debris in the water, from the expected plastic trash cans and traffic cones to what looks like someone’s kitchen table. A sweet watering can goes by, the kind with an embossed flower on one side. So many pieces of people’s lives washed into that water.

In return the sea has given what I think must be sand from the bottom of the water. The water is a browny-green, like tropical river water, and quite unlike it’s usual northern, Atlantic-coast blues. There’s sand deposited in curves on the boardwalk of the park, and across that and the bike lane and small road — a total of about 50 feet — on the surface of the parking lot. Stones, also, about 1/2 to 1 soccer ball in size, mostly of a color and shape not like the rocks against the retaining wall below the boardwalk. The sea and the storm have brought them from elsewhere. They are too large to have made it through the protective railing. I guess the water must have literally thrown them over the waist-high railing.

There are smaller stones. Several very small children, perhaps demonstrating the resilience of our species or at least of New Yorkers, are busily tossing the smaller stones back into the river. To them it’s a lovely game, a day when parents are unexpectedly and wonderfully at home.

All over the neighborhood, as I walk, is the evidence of hard working and determined people. I only managed to force myself out, pushing through the oddest panicky feeling, at a quarter to three in the afternoon. There were sounds outside from first light, and by the time I’m out much of the debris is done, miscellaneous debris bagged, tree limbs cut down to be hauled away. It’s still messy, but the piles of trash-bags and testimony to how much has worse it was. One house has a side covered with that plastic sheeting one sees on construction sites, either a very quick repair or an ongoing job, I can’t tell. Many stores, in this neighborhood which didn’t flood except down by the water, are open, all the ones where people live close enough to get in to work. There’s still food on the shelves, and no panic. I am not the only one taking pictures, though, and walking around marveling. We all know we’re tremendously lucky to be in a neighborhood that’s come off so lightly. I pass the subway station, and wonder when it is I’ll be able to get to the city again. It smells musty, or perhaps I’m imagining it.

I’ve heard from most of my friends in Sandy’s path, but not all. I am wishing this hadn’t happened, that the storm of the century hadn’t been bred by persistent denial of climate change. I’m remembering my NASA years and thinking how futile it is to know so much when we, as a country and a people, do so little. I am anxious too, remembering Katrina and New Orleans. I know New York won’t be like that, but don’t know what it will be. I’m wondering about life, and choices, probably in the same generally anxious and tired and not very smart way most people are today. The last days have been a blur of pre-hurricane prep, which in this city means hauling stuff around through the subway or on foot from stores, carrying water bottles and that last carton of milk and canned soups and such, all those foods one never buys except for such emergencies. Yesterday as the hurricane approached, and then during, there was the building and the howling of wind, and then more howling, and louder, a maddening sound that freaked out the body without stopping to consult the mind, and then there were the images and reports of horrible things happening, flooded streets and exploding power stations and fires…

I come home from my walk, and write this, and get ready to post my pictures, and wish I had something intelligent to say, a better closing thought than how to make amazing hot chocolate, but I don’t. There’s only waiting now.

One final thought. I am grateful, sitting here waiting to see what will happen to my city after a hurricane, that Obama is in the White House and not Romney, who would have us privatize disaster relief and who thinks climate change is a myth. I don’t want what Bush let happen to New Orleans to happen to me. Call me selfish. But it could be you and your city next time.

Be safe, you all.

Occupy NY arrests

In the US, we now arrest Episcopal Bishops. Am I the only one who has trouble believing an elderly bishop was disorderly in any way? But his voice, all these voices, are a threat to the status quo, asking inconvenient questions… Those who are of the praying kind, prayers for all those being taken into custody today would not come amiss.


‘The upshot of it was, that Rosanna Spearman had been a thief, and not being of the sort that get up Companies in the City, and rob from thousands, instead of only robbing from one, the law laid hold of her, and the prison and the reformatory followed the lead of the law.’

– Wilkie Collins, ‘The Moonstone’, 1868.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Bill Maher and Occupy

Bill Maher To OWS: Stop Camping, Start Participating

Not sure I agree with this. OWS has managed a paradigm shift in the process. The language of politics, the symbols which we use, has been massively influenced by them. Easy to Sunday morning quarterback, but I’m not sure the ‘visioning’ that he’s diss-ing isn’t at least as important as doing door to door. Who ever heard of the 99% before OWS, to pick one random example? Occupy Foreclosure has gotten banks to back down,… I won’t go on.

“Made our point, now let’s go eat”

If anyone had gone down to Dataran on the Sunday after Bersih 3.0, apart from the barbed wire, everything was back to normal… Made our point, now let’s go eat. This is why we are not Egypt. In this we agree with our government. We are NOT Egypt. But then why respond in such Mubarak-like fashion?

Marina Mahathir, daughter of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has launched a stinging attack on UMNO leaders

Greens at Bersih

Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas!: Pahang MB proposed dumping Lynas’ radioactive waste in Sungai Lembing

The state of Pahang on the west of peninsular Malaysia is home to the oldest virgin rainforest in the world which deserves some respect. And so, there were green shirts in the rallies too.

Shah Rukh Khan detained at customs…again

Shah Rukh Khan’s detention case: India summons US Deputy Chief of Mission

This is the 2nd time. He was on his way to an India Day celebration the 1st time. Homeland Security can’t tell a heartthrob from a terrorist, or, they are trying to piss off all the Indian women on the planet and probably many of the men. For those who don’t know, this man is a megastar worth about as much as Brad Pitt.

I don’t think equal pay means what you think it means

‘Money Is More Important for Men,’ Wis. Repeals Equal Pay Rights

“‎’You could argue that money is more important for men. I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious.’ Clearly ‘breadwinner someday’ trumps the zillions of single-parent household headed by women, including those women who had their children with a male partner who is getting away with being a breadwinner never. To switch tracks, one needs reincarnation so as to wish the men who legislate this crap 1,000 lifetimes of reincarnation as women. To even the scales in one lifetime is just impossible.

NYPD Blues

NYPD spying program aimed at Muslims

From Spirit of Anne Frank award winner Anya Cordell: “If you don’t know about this issue…catch up here. Chilling. I guess the haters don’t read Salon much, because I scrolled to page 3 of comments before seeing a typical anti-Muslim one; very unusual. Usually, the genocidal comments pile up after any piece re. Muslims, no matter the issue. Mayor Bloomberg’s comments were so disturbing, casting aspersions on all things Muslim, trying to justify surveilling innocent people doing what so many do; live, pray, recreate, etc. Shameful, and contributing to the increasingly dangerous climate for innocents.”

2/28, 8am: Who Watches the NYPD? – The Six Most Infuriating Things White House Spokesman Jay Carney Said in the Couse of a Single Article on NYPD Spying

“The Obama administration has no control over how the New York Police Department spends millions of dollars in White House grants that helped pay for NYPD programs that put entire American Muslim neighborhoods under surveillance.”

Facebook vs. Anonymous

PSI: You may or may not already know Anonymous plans to try to crash FB on 1/28. FB isn’t the most efficient platform anyway, so perhaps somewhere between now and 1/26 or 1/27 is a good time to request a download/archive of your FB data, just in case there’s some incoherence. Especially for those who use FB professionally. Politics aside.

Narrow minds: the best people to decide what you see on the Internet

In the land of NDAA and SOPA, another day, another minority viewpoint suppressed:

Using the Netsweeper filtering program, library officials had classified information pertaining to the Wicca Church, Native American spirituality and astrology as “occult” or “criminal”. Those wishing to look at such websites were subject to being reported to local authorities.

Occupy Wall Street and minorities

Friends who are involved with OWS, please read this. Danny Chen was probably murdered, in the military, because of his race. OWS did not participate in creating this event, but tried to take it over in ways that were disrespectful of the family. I do not believe any of my friends would personally act this way, so I’m asking, try to make other people mindful that such things are happening. This isn’t the first instance of minority marginalization connected with OWS.