Sunday, November 30, 2008

This violent world...

We have a list of the things my son is afraid of these days, updated daily, practically by the hour. On this list are:

Mad Scientists
The Headless Horseman
The Grim Reaper
Someone Shooting Him
Going To Jail
Not Waking Up In The Morning
The Dark
Dinosaurs Walking Around Downtown
Falling Airplanes
Barking Dogs
People Walking Outside Our Home
Cloudy Days
Sunny Days
(and as of an hour or so ago) Zombies

This list is titled "Things To Not Fear." Each time he speaks to me or his father about one of his recent anxieties, we look at the title of the page, remind him that this is a page listing things one does not need to fear, and we have him put a little check mark next to the fear in question. We have a separate sheet of paper, titled "Things To Fear," upon which we have listed items like touching fire, broken glass, crossing the street without looking. We review this as well.

My son has always been someone we would call cautious, trepidatious. This characteristic revealed itself from his earliest contact with the world outside the womb: he is the child who would hang on to my legs before venturing out, the child who we never had to worry about rushing ahead of us down the street. Instead, he is the one with the magnifying lens, stopping every few feet to examine a new leaf, an interesting insect. As I am someone who always seems to be in a hurry, jam-packing my day with sundry activities, he has taught me a lot about slowing down, about noticing and appreciating things that are, you know, supposed to be influential to writers. It has not always been easy to take my natural pace down several good notches, and I have not always done it with grace, but in my more generous moments I see how much this little soul, looking through the bushes for robin's eggs, studying tracks in the snow, has changed me for the better. He has helped to reconnect me to the better days in my childhood, and he has helped me to see that there was, in fact, happiness there. He has also helped me to see the value of taking things in at a deeper level.

This recent stuff, though, has been one of the more challenging things that I've gone through as a mother. My son needs nearly constant reassurance that his life is not being threatened by Something Out There. In keeping with the pastel purple childhood recommended by Rudolf Steiner, since my son was born, we have steered away from television, from most media, in fact; I don't even listen to public radio, so much am I trying to protect my son from news about car bombs and terrorism. Somehow, though, all that ugly stuff has started to filter into his world. It was inevitable unless we wanted to raise my son in a very cloistered, isolated way, which we do not. Still, this recent spate of anxieties, which seems to be him trying to adapt to this violent world and creating a generalized internal fearfulness in response, has been a bracing blast of cold, hard reality into our generally pretty free-spirited home. How it has taken hold of our son and entered our home, I am not exactly sure, though I do suspect a large cause has been being exposed to all the other kindergarten children, kids who can talk about shooting others and going to jail and falling airplanes with a jovial grin. Not my son, though. He takes it all very seriously.

When my son was discharged from Children's Memorial Hospital, where he had been sequestered for six days after he was born, the first thing we did after changing him into the purple tie-dye onesie we had picked up for him a few weeks before at a Madison hippie shop, was put Bob Marley on the car radio. I sat in back of the car with him as my husband drove, squeezing his tiny hand in mine, staring at this alien being with the big, soft eyes, and sang along, "Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing is gonna be all right..." The very first thing I felt he needed after six long days of hospital sounds - of beeps and intercom pages and crying babies - was beautiful, peaceful reassurance. And for me, nobody quite does beautiful, peaceful reassurance like Bob Marley. Given my childhood, that so much was spent under a malevolent, threatening dictatorship, raising my son in a protected, gentle way was absolutely imperative to me. I know there are parents who vehemently disagree with this approach, implying that those who do are raising coddled, unrealistic children, and maybe they're right. Maybe I should have been exposing my son to the ugliness of this world early on, and maybe I am to blame for his current state of struggling to process it all. I am willing to accept that this is so, but I am unwilling to sacrifice his childhood so he, at six, can digest violence better. I am asking myself a lot of questions right now, and this is pushing me to be the best mother of my particular son that I can be, knowing that being a mother is an active, adaptive, dynamic role. I return, again and again, to walking the path that is uniquely our own, one of joyful engagement with the things we value: creative expression, community, independence, non-violence.

I guess what I am saying with this post is that I'd like the violent assholes of the world to just, you know, cut it out. We were eating dinner last weekend at our favorite Indian restaurant, and the radio was playing loudly in the kitchen. He heard about Mumbai that night, of the killing of Americans in the hotels there, in the restaurants. I tried to distract him but he'd already heard enough. He stopped eating and sat silently for a moment. "Mom," he said, "I don't ever want to go to India." Now India, the birthplace of vegetarianism and Gandhi and satyagraha, is a boogeyman to my son, too.

I know that we'll get through this. But in the meantime, really, could all the violent people of the world just take over a little island together somewhere?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Obligatory Thanksgiving Post From a Disaffected Vegan...

The past couple of days have been a monsoon of food preparation around here and the sink seems to be filling itself up with implements in various stages of encrustation: every skillet pan we own, the blender (three times over), the Kitchenaid mixer bowl, whisks, spatulas, knives, the slow cooker, wooden spoons, baking pans, and on and on. We had Thanksgiving dinner with my mother last night, for which I made tofu filled with a brown rice-veggie stuffing, an attempt at this decidedly non-vegan, Lipton-y noodle dish my mother used to make (wasn't as good, I have to admit, but I think it can be if I tinker with it a little) and a soy pumpkin ice cream pie from a cute local shop, The Brown Cow. Today is our main Thanksgiving meal. We will be joining friends for a vegan Thanksgiving meal together. This is one of my favorite days of the year.

We have been sharing Thanksgiving together for - who knows? - maybe ten years. There are usually about thirty of us who gather for this meal, many of whom have family out of town, and many others who just can't bare the gory sight of a bird's carcass on a day that is supposed to be about gratitude. [That last part is in full knowledge of all the plagues and violence and Howard Zinn-type of information we now have about the founding of this country; I meant more the revised version that Marcy lectured that ingrate Peppermint Patty about at Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving fiasco.] For this meal, our group of assorted friends morphs into a family for the night, a family of the best kind: a consciously created one. It is always an impressive feast. This year I made a white bean cassoulet with what I think will be a fantastic tempeh-shallot confit (this is from Robin Robertson's wonderful slow-cooker cookbook), a clementine orange and pomegranate kanten and a pumpkin-lemon swirl cheesecake. These items will share the stage with dozens of lovely, hearty dishes. As Sly Stone sang, everybody is a star. It will be beautiful as it always is on Thanksgiving.

Some people are surprised that I don't spend Thanksgiving Day with my mother and biological family. It took us a while to decide to cut-and-run but since we did it, Thanksgiving has transformed from one of my most loathed days of the year into one of my most favorite. I will always remember being the fifteen-year-old lone vegetarian at the Thanksgiving table and told to "eat around it" with "it" being in nearly everything in addition to the main course: the gravy, the stuffing, even pieces in the rice. Um, could you pass the cranberry sauce? No turkey there, right? It is not usually fun for omnivores to chow down in front of vegans on Thanksgiving either, let's be honest about it, as we are the elephant in the room, seemingly ever-ready to pop a Meet Your Meat video in the family VCR or sighing melodramatically in disgust. (I think that there were probably a few years there where I was covered in graphic buttons and an insufferable dinner guest.) Given all that, when we finally bit the bullet and said, "You know what? I think we'll just go to the vegan Thanksgiving this year," there was palpable relief felt by everyone. This way, they can eat their bird carcass in relative peace and we can enjoy all the good stuff. (Yes, I cannot resist the lure of the snark, even today.) My mother does have my brother and his wife's extended family of TV-watching-enthusiasts to celebrate the day with, though, so she's not alone. See? Everyone's happy. (I realize how arrogant I sound, especially to my dear friend, O. - no, she's not Oprah - who is probably reading this right now saying, See how self-righteous you sound? based on a conversation we had earlier in the week. Yes, dear O., I am painfully aware but I have to ask: is it possible for me to have certain values and a consistency of applying these values to my life without being labeled self-righteous? Given the framing of the debate, it seems that I am self-righteous if I am consistent and hypocritical if I am not. Can I possibly win - or, rather, not lose - in this situation? It seems that either way is designed for me to lose. I say this with love, of course, O., as well as my patented blend of self-righteousness and arrogance...)

Confusing parenthetical asides notwithstanding, I have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. They are, in no particular order:

My wonderful husband, who just gets. um, wonderfuller every year. We have gone through some dark times the past couple of years, but we have done it together and with new grace each time. That being said, we could both use a little less wisdom these days, and it certainly seems like we're on this path. I love him so much.

My son, who has enriched my life in so many ways that to speak of it is diminishing. He has taught me more about what I want in my life - and what I do not want - than anyone else ever could. He fills my heart, and this is where I turn into a walking John Denver song, so I will stop.

My friends, who are such a unique, smart and kick-ass group of people. Whether they agree with me or challenge me, they are always cherished and loved.

My animals, who teach me to curl up in the sun and give back everything I get many times over.

That lovable wingnut Sarah Palin, for throwing the election, and Barack Obama for being there when she threw it. For the rest of the country for finally, finally waking up.

For my health and energy, always in abundance.

For finishing the first draft of my novel and for the people who have supported me throughout.

For my new red hat with pink cat ears from the crafter from Madison.

For creative inspiration, wherever I find it.

For my renewed commitment to getting published.

For the sense of optimism and hope that is so much more bountiful this year.

May you all have a cozy and meaningful Thanksgiving this year.

Shalom, everyone.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Pythonesque exchange with Comcast...

So! After having very spotty service for a couple of weeks, we finally scheduled for our friendly neighborhood Comcast technician to visit. I had waited home during the arranged hours (3:00 - 7:00) only to have no one show up. A technician called a little after 7:00 and told John that he would be at our place in twenty minutes. Twenty minutes went by, thirty minutes, you get the picture. John called the Comcast office to find out what was going on and the person who he talked to said, "Oh. That call was canceled." John said, "What? I didn't cancel the visit." What do you think was the perfect corporate, totally devoid of any trace of humanity, response to this? "I didn't say you canceled it, sir." [Later that evening, when talking to some poor soul who happened to answer his irate call, we had another Pythonesque moment: after hearing John describe what had happened, the Comcast employee said, "Our records show that the visit was canceled at 8:22." John looked down at the phone in disbelief, then, barely maintaining his composure yelled, "That's now. It's 8:22 right now!"]

The next day, after leaving messages with assorted managers and filling their voicemail capacity with our tale of woe, we received a phone call from another technician who confidently assured John that he would be at our home in ten minutes. Do I need to tell you that this previously scheduled visit also ended with John becoming all Tourette's Syndrome-y and twitchy when the appointment was inexplicably and internally canceled by Comcast?

Corporations make me feel all warm and snuggly inside... I could bask in the good-natured glow of corporate warmth all winter.

Shalom, everyone.

Monday, November 17, 2008

We all know Barack Obama...

Living in the Chicago area in the post-Obama president-elect era is a little thrilling, I will admit, as it seems that everyone I talk to is one person removed from him or knows the man personally. Maybe it's a testament to how involved the Obamas really have been in the community or there's some wishful thinking going on or, maybe again, it's really that Chicago, despite it's massiveness, is still a pretty small town at heart. Think I'm exaggerating? Think again.

For example...

The woman who cuts my hair once sneezed and the next thing she knew, Barack Obama walked over and handed her a tissue. He was really cool about the whole thing, and it wasn't the scratchy kind of tissue either.

My neighbor met Barack Obama while they were both members of a Civil War reenactment group. Contrary to rumor, my neighbor was not part of an underground cell of enthusiasts who took things a little too far but if he was, he still makes no apologies for it. His book will be out in Spring 2009.

When I was selling peanuts at the Cubs game the summer before my sophomore year in college, Barack Obama bought three bags, reconsidered it, and returned one. He impressed me with his candor and willingness to dialog his decision through with me. He was very transparent about his process.

The guy who restocks dressings at the Whole Foods salad bar on North Avenue knows Barack Obama from this one time he pointed out the location of the restroom to him, and it was clear that he was not a dick despite what the guy in produce with all those tattoos said, who didn't even talk to him and is an anarchist or something.

My mother met Barack Obama when she hired him to babysit me as a child; he had a huge 'fro back then but she wasn't scared. She had watched The Jefferson’s in the past.

One of the other mothers at my son's school knows Barack Obama from interning together during the summer before he met Michelle. They dated briefly and it ended badly. She drove by his house one night to see if he was home - she admits she was a little unhinged - and when she drove past, he happened to be getting out of his car. They had direct eye contact and she was mortified. That was the last time she saw him face-to-face, but she still voted for him even though she was embarrassed somehow.

The barista at Barack Obama's favorite coffeeshop in Hyde Park says that for some reason, she has not been working when he's stopped in, but she has served a woman rumored to be Michelle Obama's pedicurist, and she apparently thinks she's hot shit or something and never, ever gets off her damn cell phone.

My son met Barack Obama when he was driving a bumper car at Kiddieland over the summer and the president-elect drove right by him, smiled, and shook his hand. My son thought the smiling man might have candy, so he was disappointed to drive away empty-handed.

Elizabeth Hasselbeck does not live in Chicago, but she did meet Barack Obama when he was on her television show and she questioned his character. Still does.

This guy who knows my friend through her neighbor's cousin met Barack Obama when they happened to be waiting at the DMV together, and he says that he took an astonishingly good driver's license photo. It looked like something created by God's personal airbrush.

My mail carrier met Barack Obama when their daughters took ballet together two years ago. He wasn't one of those obnoxious parents but he did accidentally take her seat at the recital when she got up to get some water. He didn't do it on purpose so she doesn't hold it against him, but she does hold it against her husband for not telling him that the seat was taken. It was just another example of his wimpishness.

My ex-boyfriend catered some sort of dinner he was speaking at a few years back at the Art Institute, and after he went back in the cooler to smoke a bowl with Raul, there was some kind of Powerpoint going on that was really trippy - he can't remember what it was about, something with cannonballs, he thinks - and he couldn't stop laughing. No one seemed to notice, thankfully, but, now that he thinks of it, he didn't get any new jobs from the company.

There is also the guy who drives the North Avenue bus, those three security guards at City Hall, my cousin in LaGrange, the woman in the really cool red coat deciding whether or not to buy arugula, my friend (the former Sikh), the guy who fixed my cable modem, Liz, and it’s rumored that tried to clean my windows when I was stopped at a red light (I said “no!” like twenty times) might know someone who knows him.

This is all just off the top of my head, too.

Shalom, everyone...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Apparently my son sees ghosts. Oh! And Christmas is here! Tra la la!

As my grandmother would say, I need this like I need a hole in the head.

My son has been talking about ghosts and various other Halloween-related subjects since, well, late September. Typically, my end of the conversation has gone something like, "Oh, you saw a Grim Reaper in someone's yard? Was he scary looking? Neat. Hey, did you remember your backpack? Are you going pay attention at piano lesson? Good. Leave your seatbelt alone. Remember, your right hand is your toothbrushing hand. Hold up your right hand -- that's left, oh, wait, you were right... Oh, you want a skeleton for the front yard? We'll talk about it later. We can make one. We have cardboar - I said leave your seatbelt alone!" Hearing about the various sights has been a refreshing change from the child who ran in abject terror from the countless animatronic gadgets that peppered our neighborhood and, seemingly, every business we ventured into. Still, with Halloween on the brain so much, I have been eager for it to end. Now that it has, though, my son's preoccupation with ghosts has not abated even slightly. If anything, it's increased.

Tonight as I was chopping garlic and ginger for dinner, he and I were talking in the kitchen. One of the net results of Halloween has been that he is all over me like white on rice, and this reverting has reminded me, as I grind my teeth, that I am generally a much more sanguine mother to older children than babies and toddlers. I just get edgy when I don't have enough personal space and quiet time. I have been trying ever so hard to be patient, not a strength of mine to begin with, though, by reminding myself that this is temporary, that there will come a day when I will look back longingly on the time when my son craved my company and reassurances. [He has become fearful these past couple of months since he started school, of guns and violence and cruelty, things he never thought of, perhaps never really knew about, before. This has combined with all the fervor around Halloween to create a sort of generalized fear in him. Among other things, he is afraid that someone is going to shoot him. He asks me, probably around thirty times a day, "No one's going to shoot me, right?" He is afraid to walk to school with me because of this sketchy boogyman figure, every sound he hears outside the house - and there are many as we live near a major thoroughfare - causes alarm in my son. Today, I taught him a new, but very potent, incantation of protection: "Ooga, looga, shasta, shay: Make my fears go away," with a hand clap.]

About a dozen times a day lately, I take a deep breath and mine within for my last reserve of patience, always surprised to unearth a little more. Anyway, tonight wasn't so bad because we were talking and it was a relaxed, comfortable time together. As we talked, my son told me about the ghosts he has seen.

Apparently, there is a ghost who visits every night, a female ghost with seashells in her hair. From what I have gathered, she is not scary. She brings my son fossils to examine, then leaves with them as she departs. He does not know her name but has assured me that he will ask next time. He has drawn a stark rendition of her in purple crayon.

He also apparently saw - or, rather, sensed - ghosts when we were downtown Saturday. They were invisible, he said, but he could feel their presence. No matter how many times he said, "Criss cross applesauce, ghosts go away," something he learned in a book, they did not. They were a little more menacing to him but still nothing he felt threatened by. According to my son, they were everywhere.

So, this is the thing: I am likely going to just write all this off as my son's very active and vivid imagination, which he certainly has in spades. There is a part of me, though, that wonders. He is just the sort of cinematic child who would see spirits: saucer eyes, sensitive, sweet natured. If he is, in fact, seeing ghosts, I'm sort of at a loss for what to do about it. I don't think that that is part of Dr. Sears' canon (Attachment Parenting for Children Who Communicate With the Dead) so I'd probably have to put on some patchouli oil and take my skeptical self over to the Indigo Children section of the bookstore. I will be welcomed there by spacey-eyed, breathy women in diaphanous skirts and their 'shrooming spouses. Ay yi yi. Like many challenges my son and I have met together, I am hoping this one fades away really soon.

Two not-so-quick stories this brings up...

1. Not too long ago, there was a series on A&E called Psychic Kids, which was 90% lame, 8% creepy and 2% neither here nor there. (That was its exact compositional make-up, by the way.) It was a documentary series (I guess a more highbrow way of saying reality show) about children who could apparently see and sense ghosts. The 8% that was creepy tapped into the square inch of my brain dedicated to being actively fearful of Danny-From-The-Shining-Plus-The-Kid-From-The-Sixth-Sense. I watched the series, which came complete with a melodramatically queeny ghost-huntin' adult and bizarre child psychologist who basically repeated the same refrain over and over ("So you're feeling very alone with this whole seeing dead people thing, aren't you?") because the novel I've written features an empath and there is some cross-over. My interest was strictly professional, I assure you. Anyway, I had just watched an episode and it was around 10:15 at night. I was finishing up on some email, and I heard a tapping on the window of the sunroom where I work. Mind you, the episode I had just watched featured a child who was tormented by a ghost who tapped at the window. I jumped about a foot in the air, screaming in terror, to see this shrouded figure on the other side of the glass. It was our family friend, Uncle P. with his gray sweatshirt hood over his head, who had come over to, I don't know, terrorize me. Either that or borrow the car. Anyway, even after it was clear to me that the figure on the other side of the glass was not, in fact, the ghost of Scatman Crothers and the word REDRUM was not scrawled on the window in a child's hand, I could not stop screaming. The funny thing was, just like in a comedy, as I started screaming, Uncle P. did as well, equally freaked out was he by my response, so for a good ten seconds, we stood on opposite sides of the window, staring at each other, shrieking uncontrollably.

2. When I was around 15, my parents bought a new house and the family moved. I don't know what it was that inspired us to do so, but one day while we were unpacking, my friend and I got a notion to freak out my mother, which, admittedly, is very, very easy to do. We wrote a note about how this new house was built on an Ancient Indian Burial Ground and any who should live here would be considered fair game for a good, old-fashioned cursing. It was written in the voice of a previous occupant who had been driven mad by the agitated Ancient Indian Burial Ground spirits. Not very original, I will admit: it was basically Poltergeist plus Amityville Horror. We burned the note around the edges to make it look old and yellow, and we immediately arranged for a co-conspirator in my mom's friend, the wonderfully playful and mischievous Mrs. Wasserman, who was over unpacking plates and vases and such. She called my mother over after allegedly putting some boxes in the crawl space and showed her the note she had discovered. My mother looked it over, and said with tears in her eyes, "Well, isn't this just my luck. The goddamn house is haunted. Great." We couldn't torture her for long given how she immediately accepted that she and her family were now cursed, but it was very funny at the time.

Onto an unghostly topic, but one that still chills me to the core.

This evening I was out buying tape at my local pharmaceutical-and-home supplies establishment (in case you have a burning desire to know, it was tape to make the pro-vegan message sign that goes on our front yard with the inflatable turkey every Thanksgiving) when what should hit my ears but the dulcet notes of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," that catchy homage to Arctic deer-on-elder violence. That's right: the last of the plastic spiders and orange lights have been finally packed away, so now we need to get whacked upside the collective head with the Christmas spirit. Ho ho ho. Not wanted to lend my voice to the nagging chorus of complainers, I still do have to admit that that first tacky, oversized red velvet bow of the season always makes me cringe more than a little. My state of Christmas Hate typically ebbs-and-flows throughout the, what?, seven months preceding it, usually leaving me in a state of depleted, white flag waving acquiescence by the time December 25 finally decides to roll into town. Maybe it is the Jewess in me, maybe it is the cynical urbanite, but hot damn, the producers of bad Christmas music - and much is varying degrees of bad, from the merely annoying to the outright unholy, let's face it - and the red velvet bowmakers of America, conspire to make it really, really challenging for me to be my ebullient vegan, pagan self you've all come to know. Anyone not liking my disposition until New Years can take it up with them.

But I'm still happy that Obama got elected. No seashell-coiffed ghosts or Christmas-related obnoxiousness can take that away from me!

Shalom, everyone.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My cat...

She is named Clover, because my son thought that name was pretty and we adopted her in the late springtime, when the pea family is abundant.

She is very confident. When my son has friends over, she does not run and hide, though it would often be in her best interest to do so. She also runs to the door to great new arrivals, much like a dog.

She has a little black spot on her nose, which is, of course, very endearing.

The mere sight of her will send my ailurophobic (cat phobic) mother shrieking in fear, clawing to get out of the room. My grandmother, who was otherwise a passionate animal lover, also was irrationally terrified of cats. My aunt, too.

She is mostly white with a few black areas. She has a little black spot on her right rear paw.

She is not the cat we had originally intended to adopt. We went in on the designated kitten adoption day and found a littermate of hers to adopt, and we did most of the paperwork but it was too late in the day to finalize the adoption. My son had just recovered from that heartbreak when I got a phone call from the shelter, apologizing that the cat we had put a hold on had been adopted earlier but had mistakenly not been identified as such. The next day, I raced to the shelter once my son was at school and picked out little Paige, soon to be renamed as Clover.
My son remarked when we went back to pick her up after school that he remembered her looking different, but I managed to distract him somehow. On the car ride home from the shelter, he sat with her temporary carrier next to him, singing.

I'm glad that she is our cat.

When we got home, I sang, "Crimson and Clover" to her. Over and over.

She likes to sleep between my legs if I'm on my back or stomach and pressed up against the back of my knees if I'm sleeping on my side.

We have several nicknames for her, none very interesting: Clo-Clo, Clove, and Clovie.

She is not scared of our dog. He barks at her and chases her, but she seems pretty unbothered by the whole thing.

Occasionally our dog smells like kitty litter and I really don't want to contemplate that much more than simply stating it as a fact.

We recently put up a second birdfeeder right next to our sunroom where she can watch the proceedings from her post next to our computer. Her tail swishes and twitches furiously and occasionally she has banged herself against the glass panes of a window.

If she were in kitty prison, she would have two teardrop tattoos for the two mice she has dispatched. A vegan should never have to encounter an inside-out rodent, but yet I have.

This is a lame post, yes, even Clover is looking at me all pitifully, but it is what I can manage at the moment.

Life is still happy. Shalom, everyone.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tuesday night, Grant Park, Chicago....


It's sunk in for a couple of days now, and I am still grinning ear-to-ear like a loon, wanting to hug random strangers, feeling the sense of hope that had been absent for years. We have plodded along these past eight years, yes, we've survived, that is the human spirit. To have cause to celebrate, though, and to hold our heads high as a nation, to have hope for the future, this is something that has wasted away all these years, drained from us. Tuesday night, we got our fill again, and we cried, rejoiced, swooned at what was unfolding in front of our eyes. I know some of my lefty peers are decidedly reserved in their excitement about Obama: I understand this, and, living in Illinois, I felt I could play with my vote a little, so I voted for the candidate with the values and politics that are closer to reflecting my own. (Hint: it wasn't McCain, for chrissake, and it wasn't the libertarian.) Still, even if you take this other candidate's policies, Obama is the better one for the job: he is who we need on the world stage, starting as soon as possible, to help turn things around. (Really, Mr. Bush can take early leave if he wants and not let that White House door hit him on his ass on the way out. Actually, it's fine with me if the door hits him. Repeatedly.) Obama has the tact, diplomacy, confidence, intelligence and poise needed. A better candidate couldn't be created in a laboratory: he is genetically engineered for this job and, I believe, to do it well.

So, some recollections, observations and snapshots of Tuesday, from Grant Park in Chicago.

*My friend lives in a beautiful condo in the South Loop and rented out the party room of her building. Woo-hoo! John and I made our way downtown around 6:00 after dropping off our son at his grandma's place. Riding on a packed green line train, things looked eerily quiet downtown until we rounded the corner after State and Lake. Looking to the east as our train sped on, crowds had started massing.

We got off at the Roosevelt stop, bordering the southern end of Grant Park, and we immediately looked in the direction of Lake Michigan: crowds were gathering. CTA workers in uniform and police officers assembled around the train station in full force. Out on the street, we passed three officers on the short walk to my friend's place, they (very uncharacteristically) smiled at us; I instinctively reached into my tray and handed them each a vegan mini-cupcake with Obama topper, which they cheerfully accepted. One smiled at his buddies and said, "See? This is what I'm talking about!"

* In the party room at my friend's condo, it was a festive mood to be sure. When we had arrived, the very first returns were up and in McCain's favor. It didn't dampen anyone's spirit. As we helped ourselves to some very good election night victuals, the picture we were all expecting started to emerge: state after state, boom-boom-boom!, started being called for Obama. These were big states, small states, battleground states, all contributing to his burgeoning electoral lead, one after another. We cheered and cried and hugged and ate more cupcakes.

* For me, the turning point was not Ohio but Pennsylvania. I know that it was expected to go in Obama's favor, but it seemed to be such a divided state, I was unsure which side would prevail. Hearing that PA was being called for Obama gave me a huge surge of optimism, almost making me fearful that I would just explode right there like a light bulb with too much energy shot through it.

* With all the new gadgetry, people at the party were also busy texting and receiving messages from their home states (we had Missouri, Ohio, Maryland, Minnesota and others representing). It was an unforgettable moment having one woman breathlessly read from her device (I-Phone? BlackBerry?) that Ohio had been called for Obama and then, three seconds later, Charles Gibson announced that there was breaking news: Ohio had just been called for Obama. Again, we screamed, whooped, hollered, cried, hugged. Even those of us who expected this victory were in disbelief at the rawness of what we felt as tears streamed down our faces: we were witness to a miracle unfolding in real-time. It was time to hit the streets!

* Outside, a couple blocks to our east on Chicago's storied Michigan Avenue, the energy was absolutely palpable. There was a huge line of people still waiting to get past the checkpoints into the ticketed area of Grant Park, and many, many more in every direction, just there to be a part of the experience. People were crying, singing and slapping hands together everywhere around me.

* A voice called out my name and it was my friend, Linda. We hugged and jumped and ran in a happy bunch of circles together. This is my friend who is a vegan raw foods chef and a world traveler; she is also an activist, and we have met up many times in the bitterest of Chicago winters to raise our voices together and march against war. We were breathless and ecstatic at the reality of it: finally our side had amassed for a celebration rather than a protest. Finally, after eight long, wretched years.

* Right when we were in front of the Chicago Hilton Tower on Michigan, a new wave of euphoria passed through the crowd, and people started screaming again, hugging, crying. What? What? John and I turned to the people around us - what happened? CNN had called it for Obama right as we stood in front of the hotel where activists had rioted forty years before. Again, tears, embracing and unbelievable gratitude.

* We finally found a place for ourselves between Jumbotrons where we had decent (though distant) sightlines and could hear the speakers, which was a little discombobulating because we were between two or three and there was a delay. Still, the essence of what was said got through to us loud and clear: this was a historic, remarkable day, one that would certainly be remembered. We were actively participating in an historic event, something that was not lost on us, something we felt very deeply.

* After the acceptance speech, another electrifying experience, I was depleted but in a good way. We, along with hundreds of thousands of others, started walking west. There was this overarching sense of afterglow, of cuddly, post-coital embrace and peace. In talking to my friends there, we all felt the same way: perfectly unified, calm, just right after such an exciting night. As we filed past the vendors with buttons and t-shirts, a peaceful, happy crowd of every imaginable creed, that catchy old Schoolhouse Rock song, The Great American Melting Pot, kept playing in my head. Never had I seen it so clearly in front of me. From the jubilant African American teenagers to the gray-haired lefties with their buttons, young couples kissing and Indians in saris, it was one beautiful, beaming, tear-streaked face after the next. Truly, it was the sort of thing that turns a writer into a Hallmark card sentimentalist. I think I may need an edgy experience just to put add a little angst back into my internal stew but I have a feeling that life will just do that on its own soon enough without my seeking it out. In any case, it is very much a healing thing and I'm enjoying it very much.

* We made our way back to my friend's place to reboot a little, clean and gather our belongings. We shared our stories and basked in the collective euphoria. Some friends - not big crowd lovers - had stayed behind and straightened up. I am thankful to know such good people.

* On the train back home, we ran into my son's gym teacher. It was around 1:15 in the morning. Everyone on our train car was smiling, friendly, warm.

* We finally collapsed into bed, happy and content. I slept hard that night, I think, without dreams and woke in the morning to a lingering sense of contented peacefulness, something I haven't felt in ages.

And so now I must again go to sleep. It is 3:30 in the morning and my son has to be at school at 8:30 for his class picture. Life goes on. (Very sweetly, though, every time I am on the phone with a friend, my son wants to get on the line and let him or her know that Obama won.) But I will say this: life has changed from just a couple of days ago. We have a sense of hope again, finally. We have been liberated. We must now take this dream and make it a reality. All is not perfect, of course: the bigots prevailed and gay marriage was roundly rejected. We still have troops in the Middle East, and we must demand their withdrawal and phase into rebuilding efforts, a new consciousness of peace work. Even with Obama, we must work hard to create the sort of country we want to live in, a more compassionate, truly diverse country that can send ripples in all directions. At least now we are at a good starting point. I truly believe that this good work does not so much originate in Washington but in our home communities: this is how it vibrates out. Let's go into this next administration ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work. But for a moment, let's rest and dream.

We deserve this.

Shalom, everyone.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Subliminal election day (vote!)...

Today is the day (vote!) when I go down to my son's school (vote!) and cast my ballot (vote!), which is something I've been looking forward to (vote!) for eight interminably (vote!) long (vote!) years (vote!) during which time I didn't know if we'd still have an election process in 2008 (vote!) or some sort of edict handed down by that disgustingly offensive biomass known as Karl Rove (vote!) to determine who would be in office (vote!). In any case (vote!), it does appear that we've managed to survive the Bush Doctrine (vote!), though many Iraqis, Afghanis and U.S. soldiers did not (vote!), and so later today (vote!), I will go in and indicate my preferred candidates (vote!) and while I wish that I could fuse Obama's statesmanship, demeanor and poise (vote!) with Nader's policies and politics (vote!), I am not feeling too bad about things either (vote!). So tomorrow morning I will be voting (vote!), then plant some last spring tulip bulbs to pacify my need for symbolic integrity (vote!), then I will be heading downtown to celebrate with friends (vote!) and hand out vegan mini-cupcakes with homemade Obama toppers on 'em (vote!) and leftover Halloween candy to my fellow revelers (vote!). It's going to be like New Year's Eve multiplied by a thousand in Chicago tonight (vote!) and, oh my... It's going to be huge.

So go out and vote (vote!) today if you haven't already (vote!) and remember, McCain (don't vote!) hates rainbows and puppies and dark chocolate and all things that are good in the world. Sarah Palin hates 'em even more and would riddle them with Uzi bullets if she could (don't vote!). Next time you hear from me (vote!), we'll have a new president-elect (vote!), one with a funny name (vote!) who will bring a new skin tone to the Oval Office (vote!). Finally, I can breathe again (vote!).

Shalom, everyone (and remember to vote!)...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rest in peace, Studs Terkel...

Well, it was inevitable.

Even forces of nature must pass. Tornadoes eventually wind down, tsunamis settle, fires are subdued and then, finally, diminish into a few burning embers and then - sssst - out. Something that you could not imagine ever ceasing - so powerful and vital and brimming with swaggering, stunning force - eventually defies our expectations and fades away, either in an extended rumble or a final flash of raw potency. In any case, it is gone, and so, now, is Studs. Like a force of nature, he left us marveling at his abilities, his prowess, his performance. Unlike a force of nature, we watched with smiles on our faces. (I would say that unlike a force of nature, he did not leave destruction in his path, but that's not true: he punched his tough fist through pomposity, ripped holes through bigotry, tore into hypocrisy. More than anything, he chewed up and spit out misanthropy. So he did indeed have a role in destruction, but it was of that very worthwhile kind, something I would be proud to take a few bites out of myself.)

Studs Terkel...First of all, that voice was a reverie for me each time I would hear it. That slightly clipped, nasally, whispering then loud, deeply resonant, words-tumbling-out, words-slowly-and-carefully-chosen, muscular, unique and exquisite force of nature was a marvel to me, something I could never turn off no matter what subject on which it was gloriously pontificating. (I'm sorry if this seems overly dramatic, but, truly, this is what he meant to me.) His voice was also a vehicle that transported me in an instant back to my Eastern European grandfather, who did not sound like Studs, but he was of Studs, if that makes any sense. My grandfather was also hardscrabble, a working class lover of humanity in all its various walks, and, like Studs, did not give a good goddamn about appearances or pretenses. When I would see Studs with his flannel checkered shirt, shuffling, flat-footed gait and unadulterated enthusiasm for the wonder of it all - that this child of immigrants could flesh out ideas with Big Thinkers, that he could hold court with opera divas and shopkeepers and civil rights workers and Method actors for a living - I would think of my grandfather. My papa was not famous and he never wrote a book (perhaps never even read one), but he had what Studs had: that spark, that voracious enthusiasm for life, that unquenchable thirst for understanding. When I would see footage of Studs on the number 147 bus - he never drove - talking with his fellow passengers, flirting with the women, making them blush and laugh, I couldn't help but imagine my much more soft-spoken grandfather in his little gray wool cap alongside Studs, smiling in camaraderie. Studs kept my grandfather alive for me that much longer (he's been gone more than twenty years), which is, by itself, a gift to me.

But back to that voice. Listening to his old recordings on WFMT is like going back in a time machine, to the halcyon Edward R. Murrow days of journalism and radio, and it is a reminder of the pure immediacy and intimacy of that voice in a box, just you and that person on the other side of the box. I rarely listen to the radio these days. When I'm writing, I can't listen to anything, and when I'm in the car, my son and I both go more than a little batty at the sound of a commercial, let alone a whole stream of them, and I can't bear for him to hear the news about car bombs and terrorism, so NPR is out as well. Because my days are most often radio-free, I cannot speak to the medium's current state but listening to Studs' recordings is probably like comparing an excellent dark chocolate with a Hershey bar: infinitely more rich, more satisfying, almost a completely different substance. The way he didn't settle for the superficial, the way he gently helped his guests dive deeper, the way he never took the easy way out, how he was respectful but never reverent, always passionate, this, sadly, I think is a thing of the past. Virtually all media these days are enraptured with the quick soundbite, the pat homily, the scatological teaser that debases us all. For someone with the quick wit, compassionate heart and indefatigable curiosity like Mr. Terkel possessed, radio, at least when he came of age, was the perfect fit with that voice. What a luxury those hours he spent delving into the heart of a subject were for all involved. I hope and pray that we will find a way back to such civilized, honest and challenging discourse again.

Last, two stories about Studs and me.

When my son was about six months old, I was at City Hall at the request of some friends who had organized a press conference on a building, the old Wiebolt's department store on Broadway, they were trying to develop into mixed-income, multi-use property. (They lost and it was turned into a Borders, leeching on my lovely Women and Children First feminist bookstore on Clark Street.) They wanted someone with a child there and I was happy to help out. I didn't realize that Studs Terkel had also been invited and when I saw him, he was sitting on a bench in the marble hall, his fedora on his lap, by himself but with people fanning out around him. I gathered up my courage and sat down next to him, my son in my lap. I usually try to give celebrities space - not that encountering them is such a common occurrence for me - but having touched my mortality a short time prior with the birth of my son (another story for another day), I realized that I did not have time to waste. I also didn't know how long Studs would be around and when I'd have another opportunity. So I sat down next to him and I thanked him for all his work, mentioning in particular a radio interview I'd heard of him that had really touched me (detailed below). He was very hard of hearing at this point, it would have been 2002, so he asked me to repeat myself a few times and seemed a little grumpy about his hearing loss, understandably. Then he turned his attention to my son. At that precise moment, my son reached over and took his famous fedora from his lap, and he placed it on his own head, causing Studs to laugh in delight. (My son never did anything like this again in his babyhood.) He asked me for my son's name, which I am avoiding telling here for my various reasons, and he told me that was a great name, that his friend, Helen Schiller, a liberal Chicago alderwoman, had a grandchild with the same name. Then he took my son's hand and said, "He's got a hell of a grip. Look at this kid," looking up at his admirers around him with a big grin. I handed him back his hat and I thanked him again, then he was promptly whisked off to speak. I was touched in a way that I could only imagine a handful of famous people affecting me and it is something I will always be grateful to have experienced.

Second, an experience with him in a box, on the radio in my car. I had gone to the grocery store, unaware that I was newly pregnant, a few days after September 11th, that bleary-eyed, hazy, horrible time. I was listening to him speak with Richard Steele on Chicago's WBEZ on the terrorist attacks. I sat there for twenty minutes, crying and deeply inspired by his voice, his words and wisdom. In the days when the lunatics of this country were standing out on the streets chanting, "U!S!A! U!S!A!," the letters painted across their cheeks like we were in some kind of goddamn football game, calling for blood, demanding that we bomb Them, of "our country, right or wrong," he called for circumspection and intelligence, to take this grave situation and use it as a time to turn ourselves as a nation around, into a nation of peacekeepers, of humanitarians. In the last few minutes of the interview, he said something that, honest to goodness, I had to gasp out loud at and I jumped to jot down in my cookbook, it meant so much to me. He said, "Dissent, honest dissent, is a natural American attribute." I hold this deeply in my heart and even today when the pull to maintain the status quo starts circling above me like a hungry buzzard (it isn't often, but it happens), I remember his words and think to myself, Hell no! The buzzard always disappears in a flash.

No, curiosity did not kill that cat. May this next journey for Studs be as rich and deep and marvelous as his earthly one. Right now, he's probably lining up the best interviews imaginable: Einstein, Gandhi, Emma Goldman, Plato, Michelangelo, Proust, Joan of Arc, Jesus. Not to mention more fascinating common folk than you can shake a stick at.

For tonight, I will sign off as Studs did on his radio show: Take it easy, but take it. I'll take it, Studs. Thank you.