Wednesday, June 26, 2002

While I was in Provincetown, I saw Promises, a documentary in which 7 Palestinian and Israeli children were filmed over a two-year period.

The documentary, filmed by a Jew, did seem to me, to have a slant in favor of the Palestinians. It certainly managed to highlight their plight without emphasizing the fear Israelis face over suicide bombings. Aside from that, the message I got from the film was simple: Children are born ready to love and embrace each other, then are taught hatred at a very early age.

The most touching scene perhaps was when twin Israeli boys maybe 11 years old are brought to meet a family of Palestinian children, and they all wind up playing and laughing together like school chums. Two years later, there is no hope for them as friends. The seeds of hatred are far too deeply planted. For the Israelis it seemed to be mostly about fear. For the Palestinians it seemed to be mostly about anger.

I've thought a lot about the war in the Middle East, and I have always felt far too uneducated to talk about it in depth. I try to study as much about it as possible, but in the end I think the only way I can speak is to go with my gut instincts.

I'm not a political scholar, and sadly, I have never been to Israel, so I think I'll just tell you what I think and feel, and you may or may not agree.

What has always come shining through to me is this: The true enemies of the Palestinian people are the Palestinian leaders and the leaders of the surrounding Arab nations. The Palestinian leaders have either been useless figureheads who refuse to admit their failures or warmongers who only want the destruction of every Jew in Israel.

Certain Arab leaders have never done anything to help the mishmash of people from various Arab nations whom we now call Palestinians. They have not let them into their own countries, and they have clearly seen them as valuable only as a pawn in their public opinion war against Israel. These Arab leaders have purposely done nothing to improve the lives of Palestinians because they want them to be a shining flag of martyrdom and anti-Semitism.

To this end, they have succeeded.

Anti-Semitism is the worst it has been since the Holocaust. Israel has been attacked by countries all over the world as a murderer and warmonger for simply defending itself.

No rules that apply to anyone else apply to Israel. Even the term "refugee" has been changed for the Palestinian. For them, "refugee" applies to anyone who had been living in Israel for more than 2 or 3 years, and their children. So 750,000 refugees are now in the millions.

Why have the Arab nations not talked about the right of return of all the Jews who were kicked out their countries, their positions taken, their lives threatened?

If I were running things in the Middle East, I would say, simply, "Let's stop trying to get along and accept the fact that at least for this generation, the hatred runs too deep." I would create a separate Palestinian state, erect a 20-foot wall (a wall is in progress, anyway) and say to the Palestinian people, "Have a nice life. Please go in peace and never talk to me again unless you come as a friend."

Israel has always been willing to come to the peace table. Time and time again it has tried and compromised and tried again. Israelis want to live their lives without fear of being murdered by suicide bombers. They are human. They want and will always want peace.

I know that many innocent Palestinians are caught up in all this and are living in less then adequate conditions. They want a nice home. They want peace. They want a good life for themselves and for their children. They are human, and they deserve these things.

So I say to these people. "You can see what your suicide bombers and your hatemongers and your useless leaders and Islamic fundamentalists are doing to the peace process and to you. Rise up and stop them.

"Tell them to shut the fuck up!"

I have never liked President Bush. I don't care for the Republican party, anyway.

But I have to say that this bold speech he just made asking for the replacement of Arafat and the halting of terror and for a total restructuring of the Palestinian leadership was right on.

Arafat is a terrorist, a murderer, a liar, a double-talking false leader, and he needs to go, yesterday. Hamas needs to go. Terrorists need to go. The Palestinians need to get rid of bloodthirsty pseudo holy men who anoint themselves as godly and then call for the murder of innocents.

If I were running things over there, I would exile Arafat to Brooklyn and have him spend the rest of his days living in the Chasidic section of Williamsburg.

Bon voyage, motherfucker!

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Oddly, it hadn't occurred to me how much 9/11 has seeped into my very pores until I woke up yesterday morning after three days in Provincetown and realized what that odd, "I forgot something" feeling tugging at the bottom of my stomach was.

A complete lack of 9/11!

That is not to say that this fun, lazy, artsy, gay seaside summer community feels no remorse for September 11th ... quite the contrary. This is, after all, a town largely fed by city folks from New York and Boston. ... It's just that the gritty, in-your-face 9/11 reminders of downtown Manhattan are nowhere to be found.

I guess it really hadn't occurred to me how much these little daily reminders have flavored my life. The memorials of candles and dying flowers in front of the fire-stations, the mural of the towers and the remnants of Jesus candles on Avenue A and 13th Street, the corner I swing by on my way to the gym.

There are all the local businesses displaying "Remember Our Heroes"-type posters and the hawkers on 14th Street with their "ground zero" baseball hats.

My whole neighborhood is seasoned in September.

But not here.

No Provincetown is the last stop. The last piece of land before the ocean, the tip of the cape, the end of the road.

This is where you come to escape your life or to find a new one.

Everyone here is trying to forget something or find something.

There are people falling in love, even if it's just for one night.

There are people starting over, even if tomorrow they will start over again in another bar with a different beer on tap.

I've been coming here on and off for 10 years.

I've fallen in love and in lust here, buried loved ones here (well, in spirit, anyway), walked the beach along the harbor, watched the sunset over the breaking waves.

This is a town for new pains and the healing of old ones.

What better place to come with the spirits of 3,000 souls haunting you?

Perhaps I will bury them just before high tide.

There are no memorials here, no World Trade Center murals, no ground zero T-shirts, no Jesus candles filled with old rain water and flower petals.

But there are the distant sounds of gulls and whale boats sounding their horns and waves and heartbeats and many, many, broken hearts ... mending.

Slowly, slowly mending.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

I'm working on a self-portrait.

This is a dangerous thing, because it was a self-portrait that prompted me to stop painting for eight years, about 10 years ago.

I think it was some sort of reverse Dorian Gray thing, but the more I painted it, the uglier I got. Finally when I was looking like Elvira on a really, really bad hair day, I threw the damn thing in the closet, took out a pen and paper and wrote for eight years.

I'm not saying I regret it. Although it was a little odd to just stop painting for ... eight friggin' years!! It was kinda nice to spend that time discovering my voice, and not just the one I hear in the shower. I don't even know why or how I started painting again, and FYI I haven't slowed down a bit. But I can tell you this: I must either be an idiot or the bravest motherfucker around, because here I am painting a self-portrait again, and it's the same damn image -- me in the grass in Provincetown -- and the same colors, too, brown, green and burnt orange.

It's like I'm being eaten alive by the colors used to paint picnic tables.

Sheesh. Well I guess I'm facing my demons or something, but what is it about me in the grass that mucks up my entire creative mojo?

Was I once attacked by a lawn-mower?

Did a giant praying mantis jump off a blade of grass and bite my nose?

Whatever. ... this painting is about as fun as Newt Gingrich at an S&M convention. ... Hmmmm. Then again ... Well, nevermind.

My point is, oh what the hell was my point, ah yes, my point is that its very dangerous to paint self portraits when your entire sense of self-esteem rests securely in two things; how many phone calls (or emails) you receive from friends and admirers and how many editors want to publish your work.

Presently I've just has a nice little score with a cover story in Jewsweek, but my self-esteem is still scrubbing the toilet bowl, because the woman in my life is busy, and all my pals seem to have managed to survive without me for two days.

Two days!!!!! Doesn't anyone like me anymore?!?!??!?

This all stems from the 7th grade cafeteria; I know it.

Anne Owens, wherever you are, I owe you a punch in the nose!

Anyway, there's not much rhyme or reason to this week's rant, but then, that's why they call it a rant, anyway ... isn't it?

I got to start using more pink ...

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Life is full of ceremonies.

There are the obvious ones we all know about and often celebrate: graduations, weddings, the blowing out of candles.

Then come all the tiny ones, ceremonies so subtle we don't even know they've occurred until we look back.

I remember the last walk I took through the house I'd grown up in. It was emptied of all the clutter and mayhem my mom used to fill it with. It was empty of my mom. It wasn't really a home anymore so much as a shell.

I walked through every room, running my hand along the walls. I climbed the stairs and let my fingers trace the banister. Mostly I sat on the windowsill in my old bedroom. This room seemed shockingly small. Well, it was, maybe only 100 square feet at the most. Yet this tiny haven had been my salvation. For the seven years I lived there, it was the only place I could go to simply be myself. ... Whoever that was. How often had I slid open the window so I could sneak a cigarette late at night while my father lay sleeping in the next room? How many times had I hid under the covers with a flashlight writing poetry about rebelling against everything I was told I had to be.

In the '70s, the room had been wallpapered with Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin posters; a black light illuminated the fluorescent rock stars. Then I'd switched to punk rock and Blondie and The Sex Pistols took their turns at decor. I'd regarded my home as a prison, my parents as the wardens and this tiny room as my one window to the world.

Then I ran away. ... A lot.

Sitting there in the windowsill of my childhood perch, I was holding my own private ceremony. It would be the last time I would see this home ... at least this way. Shortly after that, it was sold to a young family who quickly renovated it, expanded it and modernized all its features. I've driven by. It's barely recognizable now.

I understand now that my pilgrimage that day was more than a good-bye, it was a full circle kind of ceremony, comparing who I became to who I was and maybe taking a moment to just decide that there really was a lot of love back then, mixed in with all the fighting.

I've had some ceremonies of a different kind in the last week or so.

Since September of last year I've had a bright yellow hard hat,a Seaman's Church volunteer pass and other bits of ground zero paraphernalia hidden away. These things sat in the back corner of my hallway coat closet, wedged under the pile of 9/11 photographs yet to be put in an album (if I even decide that's what should be done with them. I really have no idea what's right).

Opening the closet to hang a jacket became an odd experience for me. At face level was an array of coats and jackets. At knee level was my entire September 2001 experience in photos, ventilation masks, flashlight and mostly, in that hard hat.

It was like my dirty little secret.

'That closet started to feel like some weird morph between Pandora's box and ... well ... coming out of the closet.

Last week I took my hard-hat out of the closet. I dusted off the volunteer pass I'd worn and draped it around the hat. Then I looked around my home. The walls were still empty since I'd yet to pick up the paintings that hung there from the gallery . I found a place near the window and hung the hat and pass, adjusted them, stepped back, re-adjusted them. It was as if I were hanging a master work of art.

My whole mood lifted. The dirty little secret wedged in the closet instantly became a source of light. There it was, this yellow beacon of brightness. I looked at the hat and in just the seconds it held my gaze, it seemed as though it had always hung there, as much as who I have become as a result of my experience in those days in September now feels as though it was always a part of me, a new thing that feels old.

It's taken me these nine months to come around to this point, but I now know the reason I had a strange smile in the photographs taken of me down there and in the video tape that I have just now, finally, cautiously viewed.

It's because there, in the midst of the worst horror, of mass murder on a scale that went beyond the imagination, I was doing something, anything to help and so was everyone else around me. We were scared, angry, sorrowful, lost, desperate and so many other terrible feelings, but we were also proud. We were proud as hell.

I have some extra videotapes that I bought from the church where I volunteered. St. Paul's created a documentary of sorts about their relief effort. I appear early in the tape, in my yellow hard hart and volunteer mask. I'm wired and chirpy and probably in shock, but I'm there.

I've started giving these tapes to the people in my life that I love, partly because I want them to see what it was really like down there, because no words can ever really capture it and partly because I want them to have this moment in my life, preserved on tape, when I was the proudest I've ever been.

The viewing of the tape, by the way, was another ceremony. I shared it with a friend who has just come into my life in a huge way and an old friend with whom I'd fallen out of touch in the last year or so. We sat there together on a comfy white couch and watched the second plane hit, the massive destruction of those first days after and the rescue efforts.

Then I appeared on the screen and talked about what I'd seen when I first got there. I described the 200-year-old tombstones covered in the day-to-day work papers of the World Trade Center.

The irony of viewing this tape for the first time, nestled between a friend from my past and a new friend who had blossomed in my life after 9/11 was not lost on me.

I expected to feel something terrible after seeing this film, but in fact I felt a sense of peace. It was the first time since those days, that I could simply point to the screen and say, "That's what it was like," instead of trying to find the words. Those words really don't exist, anyway. No piece of language can ever truly describe that level of devastation.

It was also a moment of closure for me and perhaps an acknowledgement that who I have become as a result of 9/11 and who I used to be are now meshed together into this new person, whoever she is.

I can't wait to get to know her better.