Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Male Contraceptive Pill a Reality?


News out of Great Britain suggests that a male contraceptive pill is not too many years away from the market. The pill has been shown to not affect male hormone levels (thus not making them into girly girls), but it does prevent the manufacture of sperm.

In trials so far these have produced no worrying side effects - however scientists think men may still worry about whether introducing female hormones could harm their virility in some way.
The new approach would therefore avoid this problem. The common perception is that few women would actually believe a man who said he was on the Pill.
However a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2000 found that only two per cent of women said they would not trust their partner to take a male Pill.

I bet you can tell where this diary is going. Down.
If you are a woman, would you feel comfortable relying on your male partner to take care of contraception?
If you are a man, would you consider taking the pill in order to ensure not getting your partner pregnant? Would you worry about side effects? Would having your fertility affected make you feel less "manly"?
Given a man's choices about contraception previously: condoms, coitus interruptus, coitus reservatus, and vasectomy, this may be a welcome addition to the options.
Obviously, not everyone site has to worry about pregnancy. Those of us who are gay or sterile are out of this loop, but I would hope that even so, you may still have an opinion on the topic.
This diary is partly tongue-in-cheek. But I think that the reproductive rights debate may change in ways subtle and not-so-subtle if a male birth control method that had no permanent nor sensation side-effects were to become available.

Monday, October 30, 2006

High Heeled Sneakers

reddressWhat Do Women Want?

by Kim Addonizio

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I'm the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,
it'll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Late Night Thoughts

I shouldn't be writing tonight. My neck hurts. My neck or arms or back almost always hurt, the result of a computer over-use injury that first popped up in 1996. It doesn't help to write long-hand. The nerves and wiring in me is fucked up, and when I get like this, I'm supposed to rest. Sometimes, I do that. I stop writing for a while. But for me, stopping writing is like stopping breathing. I begin to feel choked, overwhelmed, clogged up. I begin to drown in my own life, the pent-up sensations of taking the world in and then having nothing to "do" with that knowledge.

Outside, it is cold. It has sleeted much of the day. Sleet is ambivalent snow. Neither one nor the other, it just makes a mess. I wonder sometimes if my ambivalence creates the same affect in my own life. Neither here nor there, one nor the other. Happiness, when it comes, is not a long-term visitor, but when she arrives, I sometimes feel as if I overwhelm her, make too much of her being around. Perhaps if I gave her time to settle in, she wouldn't feel the need to leave so quickly. Sort of like the way I used to scare off lovers when I was younger. Sometimes, I just overwhelmed them with my need for their company, for their … love. And they would leave, hurriedly, sometimes cruelly.

Now, I spend a lot of time alone. My children split their time between their dad and me, and I no longer expect the men in my life to be permanent fixtures. I have learned, finally, to be alone, to like my own company, even on nights such as this when I am full of longing and wanderlust and not entirely sure of what it is that I want.

When I was younger, nights like this frightened me. The things I did to keep from having to be alone were myriad. I sought distraction, and that distraction took many forms. Men. Drugs. Bars. Television. Even books. That desire to get lost, to get totally fucked up and disoriented was strong, because if I didn't know where the hell I was then I didn't know where. I. was. To be aware of my true location, my true size, my real situation, was uncomfortable. I hate discomfort. Discomfort is dis-ease. That itchy, crawly sensation inside my own skin to be someone else, to be somewhere else, is god-awful. It makes me want to tear at my own flesh. I wish I could say that it has gone away. But it hasn't. What has changed is my ability to sit with it. To let it come into the room with me, see what it wants, see what it is trying to tell me.

A few years ago, shortly after I had left my marriage, at a moment when I felt completely adrift, I chanced upon Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. I do not remember how I found them, or why I felt compelled to buy a copy in the bookstore, but I did. I have a distinct memory of being sat in a coffeehouse in Seattle, and reading Letter #8 for the first time.

Have you ever had a moment when you have read something so true, so resonant with your own struggle, that you have vibrated upon reading it? It was as if someone had touched a gong within me.

The letter was written in August of 1904. It begins by discussing sadness as moments in which something enters into us, that, in fact, sadness is the reaction of our emotions to being confronted with something that whose meaning is not immediately apparent to us.

It continues:
And to speak of solitude again, it becomes always clear that this is at bottom not something that one can take or leave. We are solitary. We may delude ourselves and act as though this were not so. That is all. But how much better it is to realize that we are so, yes, even to begin by assuming it. We shall indeed turn dizzy then; for all points upon which our eye has been accustomed to rest are taken from us, there is nothing near any more and everything is infiintely far…So for him who becomes solitary all distances, all measures change; of these changes many take place suddenly, and then, as with the man on the mountaintop, extraordinary imaginings and singular sensations arise that seem to grow out beyond all bearing. But it is necessary for us to experience that too. We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it. That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm…For it is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed; it is shyness before any sort of new, unforseeable experience with which one does not think oneself ready to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most engimatical, will live the relation to another as something alive and will himself draw exhastively from his own existence…We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us. We are set down in life as in the element to which we best correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of years of accomodation become so like this life, that when we hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must rry to love them.

Last week, alerted by caliberal that Eve Ensler had published a new book, I picked up a copy. Insecure at Last: Losing It In Our Security Obsessed World was not unlike reading Rilke the first time. Except for something important. The first time I read Rilke, which wasn't all that long ago, everything he said resonated, even if I felt I wasn't ready for the truth I was reading. I knew that I was suffering, but in reality, it was my fear of potential suffering that could still happen to me that was absolutely paralyzing. I did not think that I could bear one more moment of pain, that anything else that life had to throw at me would undo me. But Rilke opened something up in me that night. It made me aware that my fear would only lead me down the same paths I had already traversed. Those paths had led me to the place I was. All of my attempts to avoid suffering had simply created new ways for suffering to get in.

When I read Ensler last week, I found myself shaking my head in agreement. Not in the "aha" moment, but rather, in the recognition that fear has driven many, many people to forfeit their freedoms, to justify torture and war, to pledge allegiance to madmen, for that false sense of security. And in reading Ensler, and in being reminded of all that we have given up out of fear, made me want to … what?

At what point do people "get" that false security is allowing our fear of possible futures to pollute our right nows? There are worse things than the monsters. There is being paralyzed by fright, sitting in the cave watching shadows, afraid to go out into the sunlight. I feel as if I'm living in a nation of cave-dwellers. But I have hope, because I think that there are a lot more people venturing outside, braving their fears to really examine where our need for security has brought us. That is the "right now" that I see.

October Pond


Hidden Grave


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Election Night

I had forgotten it was John Lennon's birthday on Monday. It also happens to be one of my dearest friend's birthdays, and he received my birthday greetings and wishes for a good year. So it was that I was thinking about when I saw the mention of Lennon today.

My connection to John Lennon is virtually non-existent, other than the fact that I came from a working-class Northern English factory town—he a Liverpudlian, me a Mancunian. But there is a link to John Lennon in my life. It's also a link to politics and my personal story, so if you're in the mood to read, I'm in the mood to tell.

In November of 1980, I was a college freshman. I had spent the entire summer prior to college working on a congressional campaign. It was exciting work, and I met many "famous" politicians, got to hob-nob with political movers and shakers. I was young, and I kind of got adopted by the campaign as the "kid," but the deal was, I was also intense and well-organized, and I wound up being the volunteer coordinator. Yep. 17-year old me organizing phone banks and sign parties and envelope-stuffing parties.
I also had an enormous crush on one of the campaign coordinators. He was a recent graduate of college, taking a year off before applying to law school, and I thought he was to die for. I thought about him constantly. Even when I went away to college, every weekend, I'd go back down to campaign headquarters and work with him. And, because I was going to college in the same district, I still got to see everyone when they came up for events.

He and I talked all the time. He was a huge Beatles fan, especially Lennon. We talked about music. About politics. About how the world was going to be a better place. We talked about human rights. About how labor unions were important. About how he was going to law school to get involved in international justice. Each day, my crush became more and more of a love. I was blissful in his company. I couldn't help it.

November 4, 1980. For a liberal Democrat, it may reign as one of the worst nights ever. It wasn't just Jimmy Carter getting trounced by that animatronic moron. It was the liberal Democratic senators who lost their seats that night: Church, Bayh, McGovern, Magnuson. I forget all of them now, but I just remember being despondent. As the election returns came in, it just went from bad to worse to grim. A caravan decided to head south to our main headquarters so our candidate, who had clinched his race, could make his victory speech. It was late. After 11. Nobody noticed that I was pouring myself drinks from the open bar. But by midnight or so, with it hellaciously clear that nothing was ever going to be the same, I was pretty drunk.

As was he. He offered me a ride home to my parents' house. My folks had no idea I was in town, of course. I remember we got into his car and he said to me, "Well. You have two choices, I can drive you to your folks, or you can come home with me."

Guess which I chose? I wasn't a virgin then. I had lost my virginity at 15, and my fantasies about this guy had always included sex. Of course I said yes. And what I needed from him was more than sex. I needed comfort. Some assurance that the world that I thought was collapsing all around my feet wasn't really collapsing. That it wasn't really as bad as it looked. That this country had not really just elected Reagan and a band of such conservative dismal Republicans that certainly, now, Orwell's 1984 was about to manifest itself.

He needed that, too. He needed to lose himself in me, to pretend that the world would be different. So that's what we did. We went back to his apartment and we fucked all night long. Literally. The room was light by the time I fell asleep. We slept for a few hours, and then, when he woke up, he said to me, as only a 22-year old male could, "That should not have happened."

I don't think I could have been more devastated. The world was over and the guy I thought I was in love with had just disowned everything that had passed between us. He drove me to the bus station, and I remember crying all the way to my college town.

Three weeks later, I'm late. It's just a day or two. No biggie. But I'm getting worried. This is 1980, and they don't sell pregnancy tests in stores. There's a health clinic on campus, but the earliest they'll do a pregnancy test is two weeks after a missed period. Three days. Four. Five. No blood. I call him, tell him the news. He's supposed to be leaving for Europe right after Christmas. He's supposed to be starting law school in the fall. This is not in his plans.

He begins to call me every day to ask me one simple question. "Have you gotten your period yet?" And every day, the same answer. "I'm sorry. No. I haven't."

I didn't tell anyone. Who was I going to tell? I just carried myself through my days in a daze. I tried not to think about it. I had heard that you could make your period late by stressing out over it, so I tried to tell my body to relax. I went running, every day, thinking that the exercise would make me start.

Abortion was legal, and was available in the college town where I lived. But I didn't know what I wanted to do. If I was pregnant, could I go through an abortion? I preferred not to think about it.

I saw my folks. Didn't mention anything going on with me. I went to classes, did my school work. Talked to him every night. It was bittersweet. On one hand, he was talking to me and I thought I might be in love with him. On the other, he clearly did not want to be talking to me. He wanted me to go away.

Finally. The first week of December. I went into the health clinic the first thing in the morning. I peed into a jar. I would get my results in the afternoon—after three p.m. they informed me. He had arranged to meet me off-campus at 4:00. I showed up at three in the clinic office. "Negative" the nurse said, and I must admit, my feelings were mixed. I was happy to not be pregnant. But I also knew what it meant for him.

He showed up at the café. I told him the news. He was so happy. He was so happy I wanted to punch him. He was happy because he wouldn't be saddled with me. That he could let me go now. That I could go away and he could go away and that was that.

And he did. But a few days later, I was sleeping and my mom called me. I thought she was calling because it was her weddding anniversary and I had forgotten. No. She was calling because John Lennon had just been shot to death. It was like 8 pm my time.

The only person I could think to call was him. And so I did. He was crying, couldn't talk. I don't remember what we said, but the conversation lasted maybe 60 seconds. I wanted so much to hold him, make him feel better. But I couldn't.

It was the last time we ever talked.

Becoming A Radical


On May 14 1970, I had just celebrated my seventh birthday. I was living at the time in a suburb of Chicago. In 1965, my parents had emigrated from England, my brother was born in 1966, and in 1970, my mother was pregnant again. The events that I'm about to speak of undoubtedly happened on May 15, but I've been snapped back to that time a conversation I had with Liza, about the radical impulse, the differences among so many bloggers—the division that has arisen among those of us who look at the upcoming election and want to cry over our "choices."

Some of us have been accused of being single-issue voters who are willing to see the Democrats lose in November because they are running so may anti-choice D's. In fact, we've been lectured by quite  a few people about how if we elect these anti-choice Democrats, choice will still be preserved. It's a logic I can't follow; won't these folks wind up serving on committees where they're still going to be able to have a say on issues related to privacy? Or will they magically vote the way they are told to by the leadership? 'Coz you know, that's been working out so well these past two years.

Anyway. I want to talk about how I became a radical leftist, the moment at which I understood that my way of looking at the world was coming from some other place than "love of country" or "patriotism," the two things we start almost immediately to teach children in school. Kindergartners say the Pledge. But they don't often talk about issues of social justice.

In my family, we did. Nearly every single night.

1970 was the year of Kent State. But I don't remember Kent State. I don't have a single image in my head of it, other than the photos I saw much later, and the song by CSNY. It's not Kent State that changed my life. It's Jackson State. On May 14, two students were killed by police at Jackson State in Mississippi. And that I do remember. Because I remember specifically what I said to my father while we were watching the news about the killings: "Daddy. I don't ever want to move down south. All they do is kill people down there."

The possibility of moving down south was not out of the question. My father was a management consultant, and we moved from assignment to assignment, following him all over the country. I was to move 11 times in 10 years. By the time I was 7, we were on our third move, and recently, even though we were living in Chicago, he had started traveling to Texas to help out with a short-term project. That day, I was filled with terror to think that I could wind up down south.

By the time I was 7, I knew my father's stories about his personal heroes: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. My father told me stories about his father's witnessing of Gandhi's trip  to Northern England, where Gandhi had asked the workers there to allow Indians to make their own cloth. My father had been inspired by King. Although my father was not a religious man, he carried a copy of the Beatitudes in his wallet. He told me that those words were the only words that someone needed to know about religion.

I don't know if the news showed footage of the dead students at Jackson State. I do know that, even now, I have a visceral reaction when I think about that day. I have images in my head of chaos and guns and black students running for their lives. I have an image in my head of my 7-year old self, trying to make sense of what had happened.

The Jackson State killings was the day I realized as a child that there were people in the world who would kill other people for the simple act of asking for what was theirs.

Certainly, the spark of my progressivism had been lit by my father, sitting at the kitchen table with me, telling me stories about people who wanted to change the world. But Jackson State was the day that I burst into flame as a leftist.

I'm not a liberal. I am a leftist and  I am a pacifist, but I believe that there are things that are worth fighting for. That justice is worth fighting for. That the right to own our bodies and not be judged by our gender, sexuality, or ethnicity is worth fighting for. 

The day that Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green died, was the day that my life changed. That was the day that I got it, that even as a 7-year old white girl, the killing of black students on a college campus was something that could happen to me. And it's for that reason that 35 years later, I will not keep my mouth shut, I will not back down, and I will proudly bear whatever epithets the wingnuts want to throw at me.

Because injustice is so clear that even a 7-year old can see it. And I may no longer look at the world through the eyes of a child, but the rage it engenders in me is that of my little self. And so for her, and for my children--and your children, too--I fight on.

It's one of the reasons that the Democrats are breaking my heart. Around us, our civil liberties are being destroyed, our cities are dying, we are fighting an illegal war, we are destroying the right to privacy, to the claiming of our own bodies. And what are we focused on right this moment? E-mails between a Congressperson and his page. Sleazy, yes. But not the abomination that is Iraq. Or the horror that is our treatment of Iraqi/Afghani/Pakistani prisoners. Or the terror that women feel when they realize they are pregnant and they have no where to go. And not the sadness that gay men and lesbians feel about their inability to secure basic civil rights in this country.

Politics is not a fucking game. It's not an academic problem that you get interested in because you read a little Machiavelli or Burke. Politics is life. There are people dying because of our politics.

And all over the world, children are getting radicalized by what is going on around them. Watching their homes being bulldozed, their families being murdered, their playmates being dragged off in the middle of the night, burying their dead, it's all become part of their politics. And those people who can't be bothered with politics, but love the sleaze of a good scandal—are fucking entertained and aroused by the content of pathetic e-mails are not the voters that the Democrats want at the polls. Those folks will turn on the Democrats in a heartbeat.

We want those voters who, having seen the carnage being committed in our name, want answers, want change, want justice. I'm embarrassed by the haymaking over the Foley affair. Yes. I recognize the hypocrisy, and I love the schadenfreude, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. What matters is justice. Goddamn it. I want the Democrats to stand for justice.

For more information on the Jackson State murders:?

Black Kent State


AA Registry

Black College Wire


The Word

It might have been written a hundred times, easily, on that enormous face. Humpty Dumpty was sitting, with his legs crossed like a Turk, on the top of a high wall -- such a narrow one that Alice quite wondered how he could keep his balance -- and, as his eyes were steadily fixed in the opposite direction, and he didn't take the least notice of her, she thought he must be a stuffed figure, after all.

`And how exactly like an egg he is!' she said aloud, standing with her hands ready to catch him, for she was every moment expecting him to fall.


`It's very provoking,' Humpty Dumpty said after a long silence, looking away from Alice as he spoke, `to be called an egg -- very!'

`I said you looked like an egg, Sir,' Alice gently explained. `And some eggs are very pretty, you know,' she added, hoping to turn her remark into a sort of compliment.

Ssssh. Can you hear us? The sounds we make our muffled. There is not much room for us here in these mass graves. We are stuffed together, face to face, arms strewn across one another, feet covering bellies. We are the dead of 1915. The smell of our rotting bodies has long ago dissipated; the flies have moved on. There is grass over the places where we were thrown into the earth.

But, if you listen closely, you can hear our murmurs. It is not so much justice we want. Justice is for the living. What does it benefit the dead to be granted justice after we are gone?

What we want is to be acknowledged. We are here. And we did not get here on our own.

So what would you have it be called?

Armenians claim that as many as 1.5 million of their ancestors were killed between 1915-1923 in an organized campaign to force them out of eastern Turkey and have pushed for recognition of the killings around the world as genocide.

Turkey acknowledges that large numbers of Armenians died, but says the overall figure is inflated and that the deaths occurred in the civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Don't call it genocide, the Turks say, and if you do, you shall be jailed. It insults "Turkishness" to say that they were capable of killing us like that. You cannot even talk about it in your fiction:

The charges stemmed from remarks made by an Armenian character in Shafak's novel The Bastard of Istanbul, published in March. "I am the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives at the hands of Turkish butchers in 1915," Dikran Stamboulian says, referring to the controversial topic of the mass murder of Armenians in the last days of the Ottoman Empire.

"It was an absurd reason to start a trial and a very sensible way of ending it," said Shafak's husband, Eyup Can, outside the heavily guarded Istanbul courthouse.

Shafak was the latest public figure targeted by a group of nationalist lawyers using the notoriously vague article 301 of Turkey's penal code. Protesters linked to the group had attacked novelist Orhan Pamuk when he went on trial last December. Around 300 riot police were on hand yesterday to prevent violence, with dozens more plainclothes police inside. Joost Lagendijk, a Dutch MEP attacked at Pamuk's trial, was given eight bodyguards.

It is not allowed. It did not happen.

The irony of the latest development would kill us if we were not already dead. The French have introduced a bill that would punish those who deny that it was genocide.

Turkey called Monday on the European Union to oppose French legislation that would outlaw denials that World War I-era killings of Armenians amounted to genocide.

Lawmakers in France, which has some 400,000 citizens of Armenian origin, have introduced a bill to penalize Armenian genocide denial with fines and jail terms. Turkey, which says the deaths came during a period of civil unrest and don't constitute genocide, asked the European bloc it seeks to join to weigh in on its side.

''We expect the European Union to express its opposition against such a development that restricts freedom of expression in France, because it contradicts key values of the EU,'' said Justice Minister Cemil Cicek, who also serves as the government's spokesman.

Do you not see why that is so funny? Call it genocide in Turkey and go to jail. Deny it was genocide in France and go to jail.

In the meantime, we are still dead. Still here. Still waiting.

The Turkish Prime Minister, who apparently believes as your president does, that a lie repeated repeatedly eventually becomes the truth has reacted thusly:

ISTANBUL, TURKEY //  Turkey's prime minister vowed today to fight against what he called a "systematic lie machine" pushing to label Turkey's World War I-era killings of Armenians as genocide.

And still, we are dead.

Hrant Dink, who last year was prosecuted for talking about the genocide, has accused the French of hurting Armenians, of killing dialogue, by its insistence on trying to make it a crime to say that our deaths were not genocide.

Commenting on the "genocide denial bill," which is scheduled to come before the French Parliament October 12, Dink said "When this bill appeared first, we were fast to declare as a group that it would lead to bad results......As you know, I have been tried in Turkey for saying the Armenian genocide exists, and I have talked about how wrong this is. But at the same time, I cannot accept that in France you could possibly now be tried for denying the Armenian genocide. If this bill becomes law, I will be among the first to head for France and break the law. Then we can watch both the Turkish Republic and the French government race against eachother to condemn me. We can watch to see which will throw me into jail first.....I really think that France, if it makes this bill law, will be hurting not only the EU, but Armenians across the world. It will also damage the normalizing of relations between Armenia and Turkey. What the peoples of these two countries need is dialogue, and all these laws do is harm such dialogue."

But how can you have a dialogue with people who say your words are meaningless, that they are lies, that they are make-believe? How can their be dialogue when the other side has closed their ears to your truth?

Peter Balakian, who has written much about what happened to us, had this to say:

I think any true and meaningful dialogue can only happen if there is truth. We can't have debate without truth. Those who come to converse around a table must acknowledge the truth about the Armenian genocide and the moral nature of what genocide is, and then we can move forward.

Balakian told our stories in his book, Black Dog of Fate. It is not to be read by the faint of heart.

In the summer of 1915 in Diarbekir, every day you heard about Armenians disappearing. Shopkeepers disappearing from their shops in the middle of the day. Children not returning from school. Men not coming back from the melon fields. Women, especially young ones, disappearing as they returned from the bath. Shops had been looted by Turks more frequently that year. The pastry shop on Albak Street had been robbed and burned. The carpet store near the mosque had been broken into and cleaned out. Farms in the outlying valley had been stripped of their goats and sheep by Kurdish bandits, and everyone knew this had been sanctioned by the Vali. In the middle of the day a teacher at the Armenian school, Kanjian, was shot to death by the son of the mudir. No reasons given. No action taken. Mr. Kanjian's body was thrown in a wagon by the zaptieh and driven around the market square...

  Whenever we passed near a eucalyptus tree I gathered some leaves so that at night I could suck on them to get water in my mouth. I lay on the desert ground at night, sucking a eucalyptus leaf and staring at the moon. The moon is terribly bright in August in the desert around the Euphrates. All that month it grew each night. It followed us. It was a wolf's eye. It was the opal charm of a Turkish sorceress. Some nights it was a damask seal and some it was a Persian charger stripped of its blue. It was scouring and harsh on the weeds and rocks, and the few animals that darted through looked like unreal silvery creatures. I lay on my back and felt the grooves of my cuts made by the Turkish whips ease onto the hard ground, and I stared at the moon. Often I unfolded the piece of the kilim. It was the piece I used under the lamp on my nightstand in my bedroom. I held it up to the moonlight and looked at the colors and thought of my bedroom windows, one looking out to the street and the other into the fruit trees of our courtyard. It was just a simple kilim of aubergine and saffron medallions. In one latch-hook medallion there was a green scorpion, in the other a red scarab. In the moonlight the colors were eerie, and after a while they seemed to float in the black air and then drip like roman candles.

  One night as I sucked on a eucalyptus leaf and stared at my kilim in the moonlight, I felt the boot of a gendarme against the side of my neck. I rolled over so as to hide my face in the ground. But the boot continued to kick me and then to step on my head. As I buried my head more fiercely in the ground, the boot hooked me under the chin and pried me up, and the next thing I knew I was looking up at a man whose mustache looked silver in the moonlight. I watched him unbuckle his pants and I shut my eyes and the next thing I knew a stream of hot piss shot into my nose and over my face. The cuts on my neck and cheeks began to sting and my eyes burned. Soon my hair was like a sticky mess of rancid flax. When he finished he kicked some dirt onto my face, and I lay there squeezing my kilim, which was also wet, and I felt a small breeze blow over my face. For a long time I did not open my eyes.

  When I did, I took a eucalyptus leaf I had saved and wiped my eyes. When I looked up, the moonlight had turned the sky white and I could see my mother's face as if it floated on the white lace of our dining table. She was saying to me: Let them take you, let them take you, we will bring you back at Easter. Then the moon turned red as my taffeta dress, and my love had come in green velvet gloves and the scarf that hung in the walnut tree.

Run, run run the little chicken said. Your cheeks are like apples, and the wind takes your golden hair and sends it to the mountains.

  From seven stores, I gathered silver and made a ring and put it on pearl's finger.

  The moon stared at me all night. In the morning I woke inside the piss-gummed web of my hair, and I sucked on the eucalyptus leaf to make some saliva to clean off my face. Later I found some weeds, and I ground them up and spread them in the wounds enflamed by the piss.

  One night I was raped. I prayed every night to the Virgin Mary and to Jesus and to God. And they answered my prayers. After this I felt some mindless will to survive.

And still we lie. In the dirt. Our bones turned to dust. Many of us will never be found. And if you cannot find us, if you cannot find the evidence that we were the victims of genocide, well, then how can you say it was so? And even if you do find the evidence, even if you were to be confronted with thousands of our skeletons, scattered across the horizon, hanging from the trees, the bodies of mothers and children and old men and old women and young men and ... and ... everyone. What then would you call it?

The French and the Turks will slap economic sanctions on one another, they will rail and hiss and spit at one another, they will throw the word "genocide" back and forth, and they will hold a mirror to each other's face and say, "You did this. Look." Algeria rhymes with Armenia. But no one will look. And we will still, still be dead.

It is, after all, a word. Just like justice, which is not for us. But please, please, can we not be allowed to claim the word "genocide" so that the enormity of what was done to us can be comprehended?

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'...

`That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'

Thursday, October 05, 2006

October Sky

Photo 161

Look, I want to love this world

as though it's the last chance I'm ever going to get

to be alive

and know it.

Mary Oliver, "October"

I woke up with hope on my tongue this morning. It was a sweetness on the flesh of my lips, a tiny taste of something larger than myself, some reason to get up this morning and partake of a mad world.

I have been resentful as hell that it's autumn. But this morning, something shifted.

I have spent the past couple of weeks in fear. Dread, from the Old English, ondrædan may be a better word. My fearful self counseled against staying here through another winter. Winter here is cruel. There is no mercy in the January wind, no safe place to walk when treacherous February freezes every surface.

As much as I love autumn, its beauty is ominous. And for the past two weeks, I've allowed that sense of fear to cloud my ability to see the beauty around me. To lose track of time and space and my own heartbeat amidst the roar and rush of fear.

Photo 154

But how can I not love these colours? My computer camera does not do them justice; it cannot catch the glow, the iridescence, of a dying leaf lit from within. The sun merely illuminates that last burst of dying energy. It is a gorgeous, melancholy, but joyful, hopeful thing.

I didn't go to work straight away this morning. Instead, I fixed myself my usual two cups of coffee, ate a bowl of cereal, and decided to go for a long walk. There was a bite in the air. Today, we'll be fortunate if the temps reach fifty, and the Arctic wind, blown across the Canadian prairie, whistled in my face as I trudged up the hill. There was a canopy of trees, all in various stages of turning. The willows were still green--they are always the last to turn around here. According to the meteorologist on the news last night, we are at 50-75 percent peak, which means that we'll be at 100 percent in a week or so.

The peak will break your heart. I often drive for dozens of miles, up into the hills, just to stare at the hillsides. It becomes like living in the middle of an impressionist painting. Oranges, and scarlets and golds bleeding into one another against a cerulean sky.

Autumn reminds me that dormany comes. Transition comes. And change happens.

So many of the people I love are in transition. I have spent countless hours the past few weeks listening as friends try to process the changes that are happening in their lives. And my beloved grandmother, Hilda Raymond Bradshaw Priestley, who came into this world in 1916, will not live to see her next birthday. She is dying, and as much as I will miss her, I know that she has lived a long and joyful life. She herself says that 89 years is enough. And so my prayer for her is to have death come to her on her terms.

We are a nation in transition, too. It is autumn for this country; all around us, the leaves are changing, and many, many of us are afraid of the cold wind that blows through Washington and bites us all.

But I'm tired of the fear. I want to embrace the hope of what could be, instead of focusing on my dread of the possibilities of Yetis.

I am not naive. And I do not have expectations. The wisdom of the rooms is that expectations merely lead to resentments. But hope. Well, "hope is the thing with feathers." And today, I intend to fly.

I no longer want to anticipate the worst. To do so merely allows the worst to happen to me twice: once in my imagination, and once in the the future--if it is to be. If the future is bad, I'll deal with it then.

For now, I want to embrace my own reality that, while fully aware of the ugliness and horror of everything around me, is also deeply cognizant that while it is not yet the autumn of my life, I am close. So I must embrace where I am. Now. Today.

When death comes

like the hungry bear in autumn;

when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;

when death comes

like the measles-pox;

when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:

what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything

as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,

and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth

tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something

precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver, "When Death Comes"

Besides, even in winter, there is still beauty in the stark reminders of loss.