Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Music and Photography

Migration/Immigration: A Nation Divided

Last night I worked a photography show exhibiting Francisco Dominguez's work at the Sacramento Area Peace Action. You might know Francisco as fotowaddle. The event details are here.

I arrived early with pink punch and strawberries and cookies, and worked with others to set up the room, Manu Chao our audio backdrop. Then the guests started arriving in pairs and trios, and chose their seats among the mauve chairs, set theater-style. They filled the conference room with their glib buzzing chatter and chips-and-salsa crunching.

The program began with a short introduction, and then Pedro and Manuel played their beautiful stringed instruments and sang traditional call and response songs. Such volume! Such energy! Such melodic, percussive, dance-inducing JOY!

Francisco's photographs document the harsh conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the people who live there. In both color and black and white, they were simple portraits and action shots. They were pieces of truth and tragedy: white crosses marking the graves of unknown people who died trying to find a better life; bracero workers who have been lending their labor to the United States for decades; barrels of water placed out in the desert by merciful church family members visiting through gaps in the border fence.

Francisco also performed an art piece: a traditional prayer with a DVD slide show of some of his shots. A group discussion with a question and answer period was held. Manuel and Pedro played again, reinvigorating us, keeping us strong and happy for another day of good work and honest living.

And on that note, I might have a new crush on a certain Guatemalan musician. Oh dear, my heart did flutter when he hugged me, crisp white shirt against my red t-shirt, warm cheek against mine, my fingers in his hand and his deep, quiet eyes glancing looking into mine as he took my card.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Book Review: The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall

An Unforgettable Main Character

I knew I was reading a good book when I'd find myself wanting to sneak away from people or tasks at hand to curl up with Brady Udall's The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint in a private room. I finished the last pages of the novel in Grants Pass, Oregon a few weeks ago. I was cozily sandwiched between the mattress and layers of colorful comforters J and R had placed in their office for my stay. As Edgar finished his story - typed out completely on his Hermes Jubilee - I felt a wave of bittersweet relief sweep over me. Udall's prose is dazzling but down-to-earth; his characters complex and amusingly idiosyncratic; his similes sumptuous; his bits of descriptive details delightful, like gooey chocolate chips in a warm cookie; and the story an odyssey that makes the reader root for the main character from the first sentence to the very last.

Edgar Mint is deeply troubled, but absolutely charming. Edgar, like me, is a writer, and finds comfort and meaning in words. I found myself wincing and wanting to skip over some parts, as Brady Udall's title character endures violence at the hands of schoolyard bullies, neglect at worst or a twisted kind of self-serving attention at best at the hands of adults all around, and other forms of intense emotional pain. It would stand to reason that this character, abandoned and left to a series of institutions - a hospital, a boarding school for Native American children, and an adoptive family - would act out. And act out he does, as he tries to negotiate a childhood shot through with various difficulties and confusion. In many ways, Edgar has to grow up at much too young an age, whereas in other ways, he remains amusingly unaware of some of the facts of life. The novel had me laughing several times, and close to tears at others.

The incredible circumstances of Edgar's life imbue him with an inadvertant kind of legendary charisma, and this characteristic attracts key people who exert various kinds of lasting influence on his life. At times, Edgar seems to be a mere hapless leaf floating on a frothy, churning river. But at other times, his integrity and other strong personality traits seem to be setting the agenda for his life. When Edgar takes on a purpose for himself, I found myself intensely wanting to see him through in this task, wondering when he'd find the person he is looking for. Edgar's ultimate goal is peace of mind and a sense of belonging. All I'll say is that when he finally reaches his destination, the situation surprises both Edgar and the reader.

The story is stitched together by themes of race relations, multi-culturalism, social and economic class, and the plight of indigenous people. Udall fills the novel with rich details about the conditions of the reservation and boarding school. However, the novel is not at all preachy or overly political, and it lets Edgar's story to speak for itself, allowing the reader to draw her or his own conclusions about the treatment of indigenous Americans.

I'm happy to loan it to any friend who wants to read it next!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I Got It!

New Job

After six months of being unemployed, I accepted an offer on Thursday for an Executive Secretary position with the Department of Health Care Services!! (I think I may have earlier told folks it was the Department of Public Health - oops!) This is the interview I had on Tuesday and was really excited about. I am looking forward to working with awesome people at what sounds like a challenging position! I will be starting work after I clear HR, which should be "no sooner than the week of the 27th."

The call came while I was enjoying a falafel wrap with M at the N Street Cafe. Pretty good stuff, by the way! I recommend it. I was so excited that after I hung up the phone I shouted out to the entire cafe, "I HAVE A JOB! AFTER SIX MONTHS OF BEING UNEMPLOYED, I JUST GOT A JOB!" Some folks applauded and smiled, and others said "congratulations!" I felt so happy sharing my moment of joy with these benevolent strangers.

Until then, I'll be doing CODEPINK and Sacramento Area Peace Action work, enjoying the spring weather, catching up on projects around the house, possibly visiting K in Santa Cruz, writing, and spending time with my friends, family and Purrcey-Cat.

While there's a small chance I could not be approved by the HR people and am still keeping my feelers out, it is such a relief to have this offer. It's so relaxing not to have to walk past a business or office and wonder whether they're hiring, kick myself for not having copies of my resume on me. Such a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and I feel a kind of freedom like I used to feel at the end of a college semester. For a few weeks, my time will be my own!

Passover Shabbat


Tonight I visited J, a fellow CODEPINKer and friend in Concord, and ate my first Passover meal ever! I am not Jewish - and was, in fact, raised a devout atheist - so I don't know much about Passover. All I know is that for some reason The Ten Commandments is always on around Easter time - which always just confused me because I thought Easter was about Jesus, not Moses.

Before dinner, J's son D took me on a tour of their amazing piece o' paradise backyard garden. The light was becoming white-yellow and our shadows stretched away from us at long angles over the poppies and strawberries. I touched the plants, especially the herbs, and came away with my hands smelling like rosemary, and with springy light green mint leaves in my pocket.

As we sat down to eat, I felt as I usually do when I'm present for an unfamiliar religious or cultural ritual: both curious and nervous that I may do something wrong on accident. J and her family assured me it was not really a sadar - meaning it was not a super formal ceremony - and that I could eat things in whichever order I wanted to. First there was a blessing, during which we waved light from candles toward our bodies with our hands and then covered our eyes. They repeated a Hebrew blessing. We took sips of something sweet and grapey from a silver chalice and ate a corner of matzo bread - unleavened bread, like an unsalted cracker.

The meal was such an interesting experience because everything eaten at Passover is symbolic. Combined with a dinner conversation we had about soy, corn syrup, and other kinds of food, the experience really got me thinking about being aware of what I put in my body. After all, the food we eat is really what builds and sustains us in every regard.

One of the Passover foods is bitter herbs, which, as I understand it, can include a variety of, well, herbs that are bitter. The symbolism of eating bitter herbs is to experience the pain the Jews suffered during their time under slavery in Egypt. The bitter herbs we ate were parsley, lettuce, and horseradish. The parsley is also dipped in saltwater to represent the Jews' tears. The lettuce starts off sweet and finishes bitter, like the Jews' time in Egypt. D advised me to "make a charoses sandwich" with the horseradish and the matzo bread. Charoses is a mixture that seemed to be made of a hearty grain, walnuts, and raisins, and is representative of the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the Egyptian pharaohs' pyramids. I spread the horseradish and the charoses thickly onto the matzo bread, which symbolizes the haste with which the Jews had to leave Egypt - no time to let the bread rise. They said I was quite adventurous with the horseradish, and I ate it till there was fire in my nose and tears in my eyes, which I think means I did it right. They also usually drink four cups of wine, but I only had a small glass and then most of a medium-sized one. I asked what each of the four glasses symbolized, and J's husband joked that the purpose served by the second glass was to get the kids to pass out early.

Another interesting thing I learned is that because the guidelines of eating Kosher can be complicated, many Jews are vegetarian. For example, you're supposed to clean the kitchen in a very specific way, and only use certain dishes for meat, and certain other ones for dairy products. This can become cumbersome, and some Jews opt to eliminate meat altogether.

"A Private Civilian"

On the way down to visit J, traffic thickened in Vacaville like cream at the top of non-homogenized milk. I'm glad it did because it slowed me down enough to be able to stop when I saw a woman pulled over at the center median.

She was looking under the hood of her ancient white beast of a Dodge Ram Charger. I put on my flashers and eased off the side of the road. She was Dawn. She smelled like honeysuckle and wore a blue top with a faded pattern of maple leaves stenciled onto it, over it a purple corduroy button-down shirt. Her long brown hair was loose and she cursed in frustration. There was a walking boot on her left foot, which she said had been infected and had caused her to need surgery. Fortunately, her job as a cook at a restaurant in Nevada City was being held for her while she recovered. Dawn was on her way to see her daughter, who had just graduated from a culinary art school in San Francisco.

I gave her my milk crate to stand on so she could properly see inside the tall hood to reach her fuel filter. Then we called her a tow truck on my cell phone. I let her use the screwdriver in my Leatherman Supertool after the purple plastic knife she was using to fiddle around under the hood had snapped in half.

She called her daughter on my cell, dialing the keys with her grease-smudged fingers. I considered being concerned about the phone getting dirty, and then decided not to care.

I had to run off to see J, so could not wait the "up to fifty-five minutes" it would take for the tow truck to arrive. But the tow truck company needed a contact phone number so I gave them my cell phone number.

I wished her luck, and she said, "bless you, girlfriend. You're awesome!"

We hugged, and when she walked back to her car, she shouted from her car above the traffic to admonish me, "you be careful pulling out there!" We waved.

Twenty-five minutes later, driving over the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, I received a phone call from a dispatcher at the tow truck company. I could hear her talking to the truck driver, who claimed Dawn was not there.

"Well, is that her on the phone?" The driver asked.

"No, a private citizen called on her behalf. She should be on the left shoulder of westbound I-80 near the Nut Tree Parkway exit."

He answered again in the negative. "Got on the highway at Leisure Town Road, and I been all through Vacaville. I haven't seen her. Maybe another tow truck picked her up."

"Are you sure?" I asked repeatedly, advising them to drive by again. "Just look for the only car on the left-hand side of the road!"

"If she is there and a CHP stops to help her, they'll call us back," the dispatcher assured me.

I grumbled a bit and then hung up. I called Dawn's daughter to tell her what had happened. She promised to call me when she heard from her mother, but I haven't heard anything. That was eight hours ago.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Open Letter to Mayor Johnson

Edit: I beg your ongoing forgiveness for wonky font and other problems as I acquaint myself with properly formatting pasted text on this blog...

Sacramento made national news today, as we are again eligible to receive much-needed federal funds. A settlement was reached by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, following a year-long investigation of a scandal involving improper conduct and mismanagement of federal grant money while at his non-profit organization, St. HOPE. The settlement, which requires repayment of grant funds, takes Johnson off a list of people who are unable to receive federal funds.

Mayor Johnson making the news prompted me to post this open letter I wrote on behalf of the Sacramento Coalition to End the War regarding US involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. We submitted the letter to both the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento News and Review, but it was not published. We also have not yet received a response from Johnson's office on these issues. That doesn't mean the Coalition is giving up on this project - stay tuned.

The Coalition invites other peace and social justice groups to use the format of this letter to address similar questions to their own mayors or local officials. Be sure to check out the websites and resources cited. You can use nationalpriorities.org to calculate the cost of the Iraq war and occupation to your own community.

I work with the Sacramento Coalition to End the War as a representative of Sacramento Area Peace Action and Sacramento-Yolo CODE PINK. Private citizens, as well as members of local organizations are invited to join the Coalition.


21 November 2008

Mayor-Elect Kevin Johnson

2030 16th Street

Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Mayor-Elect Johnson:

The member organizations of the Sacramento Coalition to End the War seek your perspective on the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the possible invasion of Iran.

To date, the lives of six Sacramentan soldiers have been taken in the war and subsequent occupation of Iraq, and our state has sustained a total of 3,239 casualties, including 448 deaths (Data provided by http://www.casualties.org, as collected from the US Department of Defense.) With the $779.1 million taxpayers in Sacramento will pay for total Iraq war spending approved to date, our City could have provided any of the following:

  • 13,919 public safety officers for one year OR
  • 2,332 affordable housing units OR
  • 291,234 children with health care for one year OR
  • 93,194 head start places for children for one year OR
  • 9,840 port container inspectors for one year.

(These data, along with many other budget tradeoffs, available at http://www.nationalpriorities.org.)

The latest Gallup poll shows that 58% of Americans believe the war in Iraq was a mistake, a number that was recently as high as 62%. (From http://www.gallup.com/poll/1633/Iraq.aspx.) Even President Bush admitted there was no connection between Iraq and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. (From http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/03/13/alqaeda.saddam/.)

Undoubtedly, you are looking forward to using your position as mayor to make a positive difference in our City. With this in mind, we, the member organizations of the Sacramento Coalition to End the War, ask of you:

Will you make a bold statement by becoming a member of Mayors for Peace, as your predecessor Mayor Fargo and so many of your esteemed colleagues from cities the world over have?

Will you continue to work in the spirit of Resolution 2005-805, Calling on President Bush to Commence the Withdrawal of American Troops in Iraq, passed by an overwhelming majority of eight to one by the Sacramento City Council on November 1, 2005?

(Resolution text available at http://sacramento.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=5&clip_id=744&meta_id=52827 ; City Council Meeting Agenda and Proceedings available at http://sacramento.granicus.com/AgendaViewer.php?view_id=5&clip_id=744.)

Will you bring forward a resolution opposing military action against Iran, and advocate for its passage? (A sample resolution is included with this letter.)

Will you strongly and publicly support a resolution by the state legislature, such as the 2006 Assembly Joint Resolution 36, asking Congress and the President to bring our National Guard home?

Mr. Mayor-Elect, with both your admiration for President-Elect Barack Obama and your slogan “Together We Can,” you have promised us a mayor who will listen to his constituents and strive to unite us. You have also made it clear by promising to bulk up law enforcement that you are concerned with protecting the safety of Sacramentans. As such, the Coalition hopes you will use your position of power to bring about the end of the outrageous spending and egregious violence toward Iraqis and Americans of this illegal occupation, and to bring our troops home safely, so our National Guard may once again tend to our community’s needs.

While we realize you are quite busy, we would appreciate receiving your response by Monday, November 24.


The Sacramento Coalition to End the War

[Undersigned by representatives of member groups.]


Resolution Promoting Peaceful Resolution of US-Iran Issues

The Sacramento City Council directs the Clerk to send the following resolution to the President of the United Stated of America and the United States Congress:

1. That the Sacramento City Council supports a peaceful, diplomatic means to resolve the tensions between the United States and Iran as a result of Iran’s nuclear program.

2. That the Sacramento City Council calls for direct, unconditional negotiations between the United States and Iran with the goal of finding and implementing a peaceful resolution.

3. That the Sacramento City Council is opposed to preemptive military action by any nation against Iran.

4. That the Sacramento City Council calls for a renewed effort at all levels – people-to-people, interfaith groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and government – to help the United States and Iran eliminate the tensions that have existed between our two nations and to unite the American and Iranian people in a common effort to solve the problems of poverty, illness, and climate change.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Feelin' Groovy

Job Search

I had a fantastic interview today! The job itself seems reasonably varied in its tasks, and very challenging. And the two people who interviewed me embodied a balance between diligent dedication to their work and lightheartedness, like tightrope walkers. We laughed and joked several times, and I learned a lot about the Benefits, Waiver Analysis, and Rates Division of the Department of Health Care Services. So, even if I don't get the job, I had the opportunity to sharpen my interview skills, meet two amazing people, and laugh a lot.

That's not to say I don't really, REALLY want the job - because I do.

Manila Envelope Fun

Today was a superior mail day. No bills. No junk mail. No letters reading "While your resume and skills were impressive, we've decided to hire another candidate." Just a pleasingly plump package from my friends J, R, and N at the CODEPINK office in San Francisco.

  • a pink tank top my friend R got at a clothing swap;
  • three Mix CD's for personal enjoyment and fun PINK peace actions;
  • resources for coordinating our local chapter of CODEPINK;
  • a pink "Out Of Iraq Now!" ribbon magnet for the Ruby Suby; and
  • a beautiful card signed by everyone.
I closed my eyes and listened to the songs weave a audial tapestry with the rain, and had a private dance party in my living room.

Ephemeral Avocado

For dinner tonight, I fixed an amazing sandwich, with mostly organic ingredients:
~ wheat and oat bread
~ horseradish mustard
~ sunflower sprouts - surprisingly crunchy and tasty little protein-packed green doodads!
~ cheddar and mozzarella cheese - I peeled little strings off the edge of the thick mozzarella slices!
~ a sprinkling of olive oil and balsamic vinegar
~ black olives, and
~ nature's most perfect food: avocado.

As I cut the avocado open, and was slicing half of it up for my sandwich, I realized I'd also have to eat the other half tonight. (Oh, darn.) Because let's face it - avocados just aren't nearly as good the next day. Okay, before you start telling me about lime juice voodoo, or leaving the pits in the guacamole after you make it, or winking three times and turning around while singing the alphabet backwards - hold it right there. Avocados just aren't the same the next day - and you know it.

I realized tonight that this very ephemerality they embody is one reason I love avocados so much - in addition, of course, to their perfect taste and texture. It is the very same reason daisies are my favorite flowers. Each is such a vivid reminder that this moment - yes, this one you're experiencing right now - is really the only one there is.

So live in it. Enjoy it. Drink it in! Roll around in it! Soak it up! Jump and dance with it and wiggle your toes in it and stare at it in astonishment and sniff it and throw it in the air! And then share it with a friend, or keep it for yourself like a delicious secret.

Paul Simon

Recently, my friend A gave me a book of Paul Simon's lyrics. It is such a beautiful gift because it's caused me to listen to Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel a lot more. This music always seems to put me in some shade of good mood:

tears of joy

I feel so amazed and fortunate to live in the same time as Paul Simon does. The Simon and Garfunkel concert I attended in 2003 remains one of the best I've ever experienced.

And now, a guaranteed smile. Another one. And a third.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Political is Personal

The following is excerpted from a letter I sent to my friend in response to his blog post about anger, specifically his bit on how differences in culture and background can create difficulties in communication.

As a peace and social justice activist, I struggle with the idea of cultural relativism. To a certain extent, I (as all people do, both ethically and practically) need to accept that there are things people do that may be abhorrent to me, but which work for them. It's not my place to tell people how to run their lives. At the same time, there are things people do that are just inexcusable on a human level - hence international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And at that point, it's my duty as a human being to step in and say "that's not okay" - to engage in disruption. I have a very hard time drawing that line sometimes, especially when the kind of disruption that occurs generally on my behalf by my government is often military - which inherently perpetuates injustice and violence.

Also, an activist (and a human being!) must accept her/his own limitations. I had a very sad epiphany about two years ago, in which I realized that atrocities will probably still continue to occur after my lifetime ends, even if I dedicate every waking second to trying to make the world a more just place. While this realization stunned and saddened me, it also helped me to form a more realistic and sustainable vision for my lifelong social justice work.

I am not a religious person, but I do like this prayer:

"God, grant me
the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference."

I don't want to be one of those activists who burns out due to frustration or disappointment. I have to allow my reward for what I do be the personal fulfillment I get from the work in that moment. All I can do is mitigate the injustice that inevitably exists in this moment and in the future. Therefore, as a citizen of the world who has been awakened to her own limitations, especially as one with lots of privilege - education, access to resources, etc. - I have two duties:

- Triage: to do what I can NOW to help reduce human suffering; and
- Society building: to work to build a world that sustains justice and rewards kindness.

And so, inspired by the great Frank Costanza, my meditation of the day is... "SERENITY NOW!" :)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Welcome, Dear Reader

Today I was inspired by my dear friend Dane's blog to start blogging again. Dane is one of my most introspective and thoughtful friends. He is a lover of nature and of God. We don't always agree on things, but I always enjoy our philosophical conversations.

Now I am off to meet a new friend for coffee.