Monday, March 14, 2011

Daylight savings

Or, Julia's face at 6:30 (really 5:30) this morning.

I'll admit, my attitude toward Daylight Savings has changed since last year.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

For Nippon

They say bad things happen in threes. I can't imagine what would be worse than an 8.8 earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear power plant explosion. The phrase "poor Japan" doesn't quite cut it, does it?

The images of tidal waves pushing debris through the streets of Japan are overwhelming, to say nothing of the reported 1,500+ dead. When I think of Japan, though, I think of Hidetaka, Itaru, Ayano, Atsushi, Ryuji, Tomohiro, Takeru, Megumi, Shota, Yuriko, Keiichiro, Tomomi: the Japanese exchange students who studied in San Francisco at the school where I used to work. The year I worked as an International Student Advisor, I started a soccer club for students of all nationalities and abilities. Once a week, we'd gather in Kaplan's fifth-floor office suite, walk to the Powell BART stop, and hop MUNI to Golden Gate Park.

Many of the students I met had never played soccer casually before - the die-hard players were on club teams back home. Every now and then I'd convince a girl to play, but usually I was the only one, and I was terrible at that. Terrible but persistent. We'd get students from all over the world: Turkey, Brazil, Spain, France, Germany, Korea, Russia, Colombia, Kazakhstan, China, Belgium, Italy. And we'd always, always, have at least one or two amazing players from Japan.

There was never really a "sports" budget at my job, and so when we did venture out to the city parks, it was with a borrowed ball and a set of orange cones that our Activities Manager had sprung for. One of our year-long students, Itaru, came nearly every week, even on the weeks when there were just three of us kicking the ball aimlessly around Washington Square Park. The week he left, he stopped by my desk and presented me with a brand new soccer ball.

I'll never forget that.

I try to think of countries in terms of the people who live there. So for my friends in Japan: I hope that you and your families are safe.

Friday, March 11, 2011

One Voice - many questions

image from Huffington Post

A personal confession:

Sometime in the last ten years, amidst eight years of George W. Bush, natural and political disasters of all kinds, and my own selfish pursuits, I have pushed thoughts of Israel and Palestine to the far corners of my mind. It's a luxury, really, to live far enough away from Jerusalem or Ramallah to justify a lack of action or critical response to events happening on the other side of the globe.

Here's the thing about the Middle East, though: no matter who you are, no matter how you identify or what religious texts you read as child, there's something intensely personal about what these countries represent, and how their very being shapes the world. I was raised in an interfaith family but attended Jewish Sunday school for years, though I've never properly learned Hebrew (not for lack of opportunities; Spanish just caught my eye first). In many Jewish communities, my agnostic-at-best understanding of the world defies the religion's central tenet: that there is one god, and he/she/it is our god. I'm not even certain if I should capitalize the word.

I spent a summer in Israel in 2000, before Bush, before 9/11, before a lot of things happened. Those six weeks rewrote the way I saw the world, not so much in terms of the need for a Jewish state, but because for the first time, I saw the consequences of having one Jewish state that existed around and on top of a country that has never really been its own. I was torn between instincts. I loved and still love the idea of Israel, both because it was a haven for some of my relatives, and because the feeling of the place itself is magical, transformative. It is a place to love. All the same, it is hard to love a place so defined by contradictions, a place where Palestinian families end up to submitting to the rules and regulations of Israeli settlements. What boundaries are safe to cross? When will they be?

My feelings about Israel were further complicated as a freshman in college. The United States declared war on Iraq that year, and every weekend I'd attend huge peace rallies in downtown Santa Barbara. Every week the peace parades were interrupted by splinter pro-Palestine groups, not organizations as much as clumps of undergraduates clinging to a cause. I always felt a bit threatened, though at the end of the day, I had no more credentials to defend Israel than they had to attack it.

Last night I attended a presentation at Congregation Bet Haverim about the OneVoice Movement in Israel and Palestine. The organization was created in 2002, and its mission is to "amplify the voice of mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, empowering them to propel their elected representatives toward a two-state solution." Unlike other peace organizations in the Middle East, OneVoice has two parallel groups: one in Palestine and one in Israel. Both groups rely on a team of youth volunteers who devise creative campaigns and initiatives to involve community members.

The organization itself is impressive, but more than anything I was amazed by the presentations given by Bashar Shweiki and Tomer Avital. Shweiki is a Palestinian small business owner whose family business was co-opted by an Israeli settlement, and Avital is an Israeli journalist who seeks to mobilize his friends and neighbors in efforts toward peace. Both men are about my age, both were eloquent and compassionate, and were respectful of opposing opinions. I could tell that they were here because they wanted to be here, that they believed in the movement for peace because it is a vital and necessary part of their everyday lives.

Avital described a recent initiative he and his fellow OneVoice members employed in Israel: they created a series of "parking tickets" that they distributed on random cars that issued "fines" for apathy and failure to act. The tickets were cunning imitations of government-issue tickets. Listening to them speak, I felt a stirring I have not recognized in years: someone should issue me a ticket. There's something I should do. I don't know what it is yet, but maybe this is a step.

Maybe this right here - maybe this is the first step?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

one hundred word story #18

Here's your job, she says mightily: you are my assistant. I'm here to assist, you say. You write down everything she says, often before she thinks to say it. You make to-do lists and start checking things off. You assign other people jobs. You give them chairs to sit in. In time, they quit. That's okay, you say, I'm here to assist. She asks you to rewrite the to-do list. And then, one night, you look around the office and realize no one else is there. She has left you a list. “To fix,” it says. “your life.” You quit.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Accidents in portraiture

Charles Dickens once said that "there are two styles of portrait painting: the serious and the smirk."

My problem is, my "serious" comes out a smirk.

Now I've got to master the serious smirk.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Charlie Sheen on "Bi-Winning"

image from Real Bollywood

This interview excerpt with Charlie Sheen reminds me of an Eddie Izzard bit about Pol Pot, Cambodian dictator and orchestrator of mass genocide: "A guy kills one man and we lock him up. A man kills thousands, hundreds of thousands of people, and we're almost thinking, man, congratulations. You must get up very early in the morning."

I don't care for Charlie Sheen, his politics, his lackluster acting, his cavalier assholishness in the news and otherwise, but after seeing this clip of his interview this week, I kind of have to admire him. He appears to be absolutely, positively, completely bat-shit insane, but he's proud of that fact, and he's willing to spell it out for whoever asks. He dictates his own image; terrible though it is, it's his. As Eddie Izzard would say, he's a busy man: busy taking drugs, possibly abusing women and neglecting his children. Still - busy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Further frog adventures

It is not over yet.

Tonight I came home after a long day - discovered poison oak on my underarm today, three weeks after a hiking expedition above Putah Creek, followed by a full day of class and meetings for work - and found the damned frog waiting for me on the front door. Really.

I tried to move it away with my keys, but again, he wouldn't budge. This must have be his new technique: had I opened the front door, he'd fall directly into the house, at which point I'd have to follow him around with a Tupperware until I could sweep him back outside again.

Needless to say, I chickened out and went in through the side door.

There is only one possible explanation for this: he must read this blog.

And if that's true, then I'll go ahead and state my case now:

Listen, Frog, you and me, we're cool. You do your thing, and I'll do mine. Just don't get slimy and come inside again, because you know you don't want to deal with me yipping around and clapping again. Let's skip past that and go straight to the part where you just hang out with your buddies outside.

You want to talk with me, just leave me a comment here, and I'll write back. Promise.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Frog learns to fly

I was minding my own business, doing my homework at the big table in the dining room, when I saw something hop out of the corner of my eye. Wait - hop? I turned to find a quarter-sized frog cornering himself where the two back walls meet. I started hearing the frogs a few weeks back, when the weather went from very cold to rainy, and once the sun sets, the chorus of their ribbits outside is like a powerful car alarm. But this little frog looked terribly lost. His legs were covered in lint.

This little frog taught me something about myself: I am squeamish and make high pitched sounds when small creatures enter the place where I live. I knew I wanted him out, and I had a hunch he was looking for the door. But I really didn't want to touch him. What else am I supposed to do? I tried stomping my feet and clapping hands, but every time I got near, he stopped moving and played dead. Exasperated, I took a recyclable container and tried to trap him inside, thinking he'd cling to the side of it and I could carry him over the threshold to meet his froggy friends. But I soon realized that his legs were too furry with lint to properly stick to anything. This just proved the importance of getting him outside!

In the end, I had to nudge him about six feet across the floor with the tupperware, edging him along and yipping aloud every time he actually hopped. It always took me off guard, although I expected him to hop. At last we got to the door. When I opened it, he just sat there, still several inches too short to clear the ledge.

"Come on!" I yelped. "You're so close!" But the darn frog wouldn't move. He just stared straight ahead. I considered walking away and leaving him be for a moment, but then it occurred to me that he might be tempted to turn around and hop into the laundry room, and I really, really didn't want that. And then I had a stroke of genius: in one swift move, I picked up the rug he was sitting on and flung him out through the door.

Problem solved, right? Well, maybe, if I hadn't decided then to grab my camera and follow him outside, shutting the door behind me. What I didn't realize is that the door was still locked. Yes, the nefarious little bugger had actually lured me right out of the house!

As it happens, I still had my keys in my pocket, so the frog did not win. I did.