Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Archive for the ‘Holocaust’ Category

Important Safety Recall Notice

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The world is a hot mess, more than usual. To misquote GOT’s Martin, ‘Winter is coming.’ The crazies are out in hordes tearing down the wall of our hard-won freedoms and laws.

I’m watching the world implode, and my bloody hip hurts. Inexplicably, one day I woke up and I couldn’t move my leg more than six inches above the bed without searing pain. Since that morning, my hip has hurt every day, worse at 3am when I hobble to the bathroom for my pain meds.

I have a feeling you’re saying, ‘yeah, well, you’ve done crazy yoga poses for years. You’re one of those crazy Instagram nutters who do the legs behind the head pose while balancing on one hand.’ No, I’m not! My yoga practice has been about developing the strength to counteract my stretchy joints. I learned assertion in yoga – walking away from classes that were too stretchy or when I was told to go deeper into the pose or anything that reeked of batshit crazy hyper-flexibility. In my yoga and movement classes (except for the first year when I was a little too enthusiastic), my mantra is ‘Do Less.’

I don’t know how the hip injury happened. However, I can get my hip replaced or resurface (like replacing grout) or whatever other, probably painful procedure the orthopedists are doing today. The hip won’t be good as new, but it will work and hurt less.

But I do know how the world’s chaos and cruelty happened. Like most people, I lived in a bubble. But in the quiet caused by a painful hip, when I’ve stepped out of my daily activities and usual busyness, the causes become apparent. We did it by inaction when –

People who admit to sexually assaulting others get elected.

People who stand by while families are separated then post a picture of themselves holding their son, and we click Like or buy their products.

People who suggest registries for one group or another, and we don’t condemn the action.

People take away another group’s authority over their own body, and we stand aside.

People who decide that certain groups cannot have access to education or healthcare.

People who use images of people at their most vulnerability to sell t-shirts, and we buy one in our size.

People are maiming, raping, and killing, and we look away.

The list feels endless and innervating. I am ashamed of myself and want to pull the covers over my head, sleeping away my responsibility. But my hip won’t let me sleep.

To people who say it’s not my fight, I’ll be dead by then, I’m not a woman or an immigrant or a Jew or a Muslim or an Asian or it’s not my country, remember Niemoller’s indictment –

‘Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.’

Lists of People

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It has started again. My mother warned me. She knew how little it took to ignite hatred.

An Austrian politician wants Jews to register to buy kosher meat. Jews to register.

Yes, I couldn’t believe it either.

Isn’t this one of the first steps? To identify a group. Create a list or registry of their names. Blame them for problems, small and big. Encourage exclusion, contempt, turning to hatred. Then round up the names on the list. Isolate them within the society. From there, it is such a small step to the camps and the ovens.

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Dallas is suffering through a heat wave with temperatures going to 110 degrees. But I am cold.

I am cold and chilled to the bone like the day I read the names. Twenty-eight years ago. In front of the Student Union at my progressive university with all the grants for bringing people together. During my doctoral program focused on valuing diversity.

I stood in the rains of November on Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, and waited for my turn. The midday sun couldn’t break through the dark clouds. All around us, students, heads down, muffled in rain gear, were hurrying to class or the cafeteria. Steam rose from the warm buildings but in the square, the glacial air burned my lungs. The rain came down in sheets, soaking us, blinding us, knocking us sideways. The colors of the students and the buildings were down to a sleeted gray. The cold wet penetrated us through our clothes. The students moved with haste, dodging each other, and clutching their backpacks to their chests. I stood in the middle of the hubbub, next to a young man huddled under his parka. Both of us were shaking from cold and maybe, other things, as I waited for my turn.

The young man paused and handed me stapled sheets with names printed in a row down the page. He didn’t look at me. My shoes were so wet, and my feet sloshed in them, like standing in a pool of icy water. I pulled my hood further over me to protect the paper. Wiping the rain out of my eyes, I began to read.

For thirty minutes, I read the names of people who died in the camps. People like me. Jews. I struggled and stuttered over the pronunciation of some names, but after a while, the names became people. People with dreams and lives. Relationships. Successes and failures. Children and teenagers and adults. I said each name into the rain-soaked, gray day until I was yelling. I wanted each person’s name heard by another person. Students stopped and looked at me. I was crying, but I screamed their names until, at the end of my thirty minutes, I was whispering. Hoarse – all out of voice. My clothes stuck to my body like another layer of skin. Or a layer of ash.

A gloved hand tapped me on the shoulder. I gave over the precious list. The other student started quietly, tentatively but after a few names, he broke into a roar. The students turned to look at him, and his face was fierce. I smiled at him, nodded, and drove home. In the shower, I cried more tears, shivering, trying to get some warmth back in my body.

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When we were kids growing up, our mother kept a baseball bat by the door. “For defense,” she said. I am glad she is not here to witness this again. Now I will place her bat by my door.

For defense.

I am frozen in the 110-degree heat.

Jamming My World

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My forty-year-old Swingline stapler is jammed. I’ve stabbed myself in the thumb with a pair of tweezers, a pen, and now a knife trying to get it working again. I understand the urgency of my righting the stapler has more to do with the state of the world and my fear for the global future than the need to attach pieces of paper. But the world is an ugly place right now. Right now, it is really ugly.

I’ve tried to keep out of social media for the last two months. That world is another chaotic and mean venue. Real mean. One word and everyone descends to feed on your bones. Kind of appropriate for last week’s Halloween but I don’t want any part of it.

I’m not chicken shit, but life is tough, and I feel myself pulling away in response. As I get older, I wanted to get a little sweeter, a little nicer (that might be a stretch), and a little more thoughtful about where I put my fiery energy, but I’m not becoming any of those things.

In massage school and then again in yoga teacher training, come to think of it, even in graduate school, I have always been the fireball. The one who is not afraid to say what I’m thinking and usually a few others too, the one who will stand against what is wrong. This stance is necessary and right (and self-righteous).

I am pitta; I am Aries, I am the consequence of a history of inflicted wrongs, one who wants justice. I pick up my sword to fight but in the darkest hour of the night, when I am honest with myself, the question – do I like the Adrenalin high – pings around inside my head. What if I am addicted to fighting for the sake of fighting, basically self-mutilating to get that feeling of being on the side of justice?

And it is getting in my way of allocating my energy in useful ways – ways that are beneficial to myself and humankind?

My graduate school advisor, the thoughtful and wonderful Dr. Norm Thies-Sprinthall, told me to “Pick my battles.” My therapist, a kindly soul, told me to “Be careful with your judgmental stance.” My friends tell me to “Use your power for good not evil.”

So, I’m trying to use their words as my mantra and good grief, it’s hard work. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, I cannot look away. I could not live with myself if I negated the millions of lives demolished then, now, and into the future. I don’t want to dwell, hyperfocus, obsess because PTSD is an ugly and incapacitating result.

I need to find balance. I’m working on it. Paying attention to the world but placing parameters about the amount of time I watch TV or listen to NPR, spending more time with friends not talking or picking apart the latest terror, and guarding my sleep. Those 3 am panic attacks suck. I am so over them.

In the meantime, I am asking you to pick up the sword, pay attention to the world, while I get my own house in order. My father’s death and the repercussions hit hard. The move to Texas continues to be tiring. Coming back to jobs where I have been replaced while looking after my father and family was hurtful.

I stare at the stapler. Work dammit.

(My image – you can use it.)

Blow and Suck

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“Blow and suck!”
“What?” I said, red in the face and dripping sweat from exertion.
“I said, blow and suck.” She wasn’t red in the face. She wasn’t breaking a sweat. Things were happening on her end.
“Are you sure?” I asked as I caught my breath.
“Yes.” She said demonstrating easily. No panting. No dripping. No wasted effort. Calm face like the Madonna.
“Okay,” and I did exactly as she said.
“Aren’t you glad you followed my directions?” she asked.
I nodded with my mouth full. She looked on with pride, a small smile on her lips.

Those were my friend’s instructions for enjoying a pineapple milkshake through a straw. Despite the mostly creamy goodness, little chunks of pineapple would get stuck halfway up the straw. Blow and suck. Doesn’t it make sense now?

Her words sound vulgar out of context but I love the precision and brevity. Clear, pithy directions are few and far between. They are difficult to write. But when I screw up the courage to face what I honestly need or want or desire, the words come easily.

This is how I feel about writing. I can be all red-faced and stumbling, wasting time with trying to make it pretty or I can put myself out there. Concisely. With chunks of acute vulnerability. Sometimes my writing blows or sucks (depending on your generation) but I keep trying for clarity, for the honest words that could be off-putting but are true and direct.

At my writing group of many years, I read a story around the repercussions of my mother’s adolescence during the Holocaust. It’s not a pretty story. Neither my mother nor I look loving or smart or kind in the narrative. After reading the last sentence, I looked up from the page – into silence. Within a minute, one member rushed to the bathroom to throw up. More silence.

I put the piece away for a year but the value of the story kept pulling me back to it. I submitted the piece to an anthology for children of Holocaust survivors. The editor loved it but the anthology folded. He said that his authors had difficulty being brutally honest about their families’ histories. I submitted the story to other anthologies and publications. A flurry of rejections arrived.

Two years later, I tightened up the story and submitted it again. I believe in the story – a good story but dead of night dark, scalpel sharp, and so honest, my teeth ache, scraped raw. Waiting for a reply, I am gobbling down pineapple milkshakes. The calcium can’t hurt, it might be a long time before it is published, but mainly to remind myself about the need for and value of honesty, directness, and clarity in my writing (and life).

Now go out there and practice on your pineapple milkshake. Once you have that, risk honest words on paper. Blow and suck.

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