Sunday, April 27, 2008
By David Seth Michaels
A Memorial To Sean Bell
I'm shaking my head at the verdict Judge Cooperman (without a jury) rendered on Friday in the Sean Bell murder case. I'm saddened and troubled. I think I understand the roots of his acquittal verdict, and I think there has been an enormous miscarriage of justice in this case. Unfortunately, this kind of injustice probably should have been expected because of the way the law acknowledges and fosters police exceptionalism. The defense lawyers for the detectives knew it, and the prosecutors knew it as well.
Please join me in Kew Gardens.
The miscarriage in this case is only partially about race and the relationship between young, African American men and the New York City Police. That relationship is volatile, dangerous, oppressive, frightening, and frequently out of control. But race wasn't the only thing awry in this case. The other part, the part that is not receiving attention at the moment, is that the police, despite all of our pious insistence to the contrary, are different from the rest of us in the eyes of the law. They are exceptions to the rule of law. They are special and receive special treatment. How else can so many shots be fired with such devastating affect, killing one person and wounding others, at unarmed people with no judicial consequence? How else can the detectives have been found to have committed no criminal wrong whatsoever?
There's nothing new in seeing that the police are different from the rest of us, giving them a leg up in court just for their being cops despite repeated judicial instructions to jurors not to. And, believe it or not, there is a large segment of the population that wants it to be that way, that wants the police to be above the law, that wants the police to be unfettered by any law that romanticizes the rogue cop. And the rules are repeatedly interpreted to support this invidious discrimination in which police are special and those they encounter on the streets aren't just other citizens who by the way are presumed to be innocent. No. They're perps. Defendants. Criminals. Skulls. Mutts.
If you want to understand this more clearly, you need to understand a 1970 decision by Judge Irving Younger in the case, People v. McMurty. The McMurty decision is a clear, 38 year-old example of police exceptionalism. Since then, police exceptionalism has continued unabated. It has killed Amadou Diallo and it has killed Sean Bell. And it will kill again. Judges will continue uncritically to accept police testimony, and the miscarriages of justice will continue to mount unabated. Judge Younger wrote that "judges serve the integrity of the means, not the attractiveness of the end." How many more miscarriages will it take before the "integrity of the means" actually leads to justice? How many more dead people does it take?
To read more of David Seth Michaels' informed writing about exceptionalism, and People v. McMurty, click on the title above, "How police exceptionalism leads to the miscarriage of justice..."
Writer David Seth Michaels, a regular contributor to MyStoryLives, is an attorney living and practising in Columbia County, New York.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
By Claudia Ricci
The young black student who appeared at my office this morning was practically in tears.
“Hey Professor Ricci,” she said. “Did you hear?”
“No what, Jahqueena, what’s wrong?” She just shook her head.
“Sean Bell. Those three cops just got acquitted on all counts.”
“Oh my God Jahqueena,” I moaned. “It can’t be true.”
But of course it’s true. Why should I be surprised? We all lived through the Amadou
Dialou case back in 1999. Dialou was the West African immigrant leveled in a hailstorm of 41 police bullets. The four officers in that case were exonerated by a jury trial. In Bell’s case, it was a single judge’s ruling.
I am an English and Journalism professor at a state university in upstate New York, where I teach in a program called Educational Opportunities. EOP caters to low-income students, mostly from inner-city neighborhoods in New York City. The way it works out, most of those indigent students are African American or Dominican or Haitian or Jamaican or Puerto Rican. Often I’m the only white person in the classroom.
Jahqueena, a freshman I’ve been mentoring since she took my literature class last fall, walked me to class this morning and all the way there, she poured her heart out, carrying on about how unfair and racist the legal system is. I would have loved to disagree, but honestly, what other conclusion can we draw? Those three cops pumped 50 bullets into Sean Bell, who died just hours before he was supposed to head to the altar.
In Queens, people are up in arms. (Jahqueena was on her cell phone, getting on-site reports from her mother, who phoned with the bad news.)
Is it any wonder people are enraged? That 23-year old bridegroom had just emerged from his bachelor party. He had no gun. The cops brought him down, and then, reloaded their guns and filled him with bullets.
I got to class and before I could begin a discussion of the memoir we are reading, a second student, Joely, who hails from Panama, yelled out. “So what do you think of the Sean Bell decision?”
I inhaled. I knew where the class was headed. I told her I thought the decision seemed incredibly unfair. I asked the students – this particular class is about 50-50, black and white -- if they wanted to discuss the verdict. I told them they were free to express their opinions, one by one, by raising their hands to say what they think.
“Cops are the most despicable people on earth,” called out the young black woman sitting next to Joely. “They are the lowest of the low.”
Just when I thought she was finished, though, she added: “So I am going to take the test to become a corrections officer. I’m going to change the system, all by myself.”
Curiously, there were some students in the classroom – mostly whites – who had never heard of Sean Bell. We in the “know” briefed them on the details. Bell: Bridegroom. Bachelor party. Bullets galore.
A young white woman, blonde and blue-eyed, raised her hand.
“I don’t understand,” she began, and for a moment I tensed, wondering what she was going to say. “My father is a cop,” she went on, “and I know how it works. When somebody has a gun, the cop is just supposed to shoot to disarm. You aim maybe for the leg, or the arm, just so you get the shooter to drop the gun.”
I nodded. I waited for more comments. Suddenly I recalled a classic book by a fellow English professor, noted feminist Judith Fetterley. Called The Resisting Reader, the book offers a feminist approach to literature. Fetterley suggests that you can test for sexism in a work of literature simply by flipping the gender of the characters. If the situation makes no sense with the gender flip, then you’ve probably got a case of sexism on your hands.
I decided to try the Fetterley strategy, modified slightly, to test for racism in the Sean Bell case. “Ok, class,” I said, “I have a question for you: would the Bell verdict have come down the same way if the victim of the shooting had been a 23-year old white man?”
The chorus swelled up. “Hell no,” some of them yelled.
And then, Nadine, who today was wearing her hair neatly corn rowed, made the final statement.
"If it had been a white man, then the cops wouldn’t have gone after him in the first place,” she said, “and then none of this ever would have happened.”
This piece appeared first on The Huffington Post. The link is:
Friday, April 25, 2008
By Cecele Kraus
Have you noticed how the Greyhound bus
enters Moscogee through the back streets,
sidles into town, never causing a stir, and
have you noticed how the Trailways bus
smokes into Port Authority, passengers
all outcasts, barely affording bus fare,
no change for cigarettes or lunch stops,
and have you noticed when reaching Port
Authority, you’re unable to wash up or
change in the restroom, and arriving
cross country, ready for your appearance
in Brooklyn, in need of clean clothes,
you hear a policewoman say, no changing
clothes; so you side-slip into Brooklyn
just as you are, clammy and nervy, knowing
that sometimes you just slide into
town, slither in sideways, no one
expects you, and before you know it,
you’re eating cookies, right at home
and I wonder if you’ve noticed that.
Writer Cecele Kraus lives in Copake, New York.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
On a recent evening, after a wonderful dinner with friends, all of us deeply interested in politics, we of course ended by talking about the Presidential election. Although divided between the two strong Democratic candidates, we could support either. But our fears that we might be disappointed again were not far from the surface. Just before leaving, I said, dejectedly, “I think it is possible that we may lose the election in the fall.”
As a man in his early 30s, working in Washington, from 1967 until 1972, I witnessed the heyday of the Great Society and the beginning of its end in the second Nixon Administration. My wife Carole and I met in Washington; she held a senior job on Capitol Hill. As the Vietnam War ground on, I left my work to go to graduate school in Baltimore. Ever since, we both have struggled to do our part in putting our politics and policy into a more just path. While we often had our hopes, in truth these hopes were often frustrated.
Now at 70, ten years into retirement, time seems to be running out. I grow increasingly anxious and depressed that the politics that I believe our country needs may not turn up again in my lifetime. Instead, I fear that we will face a politics that exploits this country’s divides and fault lines—the divides of race, religious moralism, immigration, and empire, all of which will put our nation’s future on hold.
After dinner, we came home and turned on the last episode of the HBO series “John Adams.” It would be hard to summarize the richness and complexity of this series, with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson at the center, first as friends, then as political enemies and finally reconciled when both are very old and nearing death. Both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
The series is brilliant in capturing Adams’s many disappointments and defeats, his keening impatience, and, yes, at times his bitterness. But in the end he still has hope for our nation. The series reminded me that throughout the long sweep of American politics, with all of our struggles to forge a more perfect union and our repeated failures, we have had astonishing successes.
Adams’s surprising hope in the last episode somehow reminded me of Paul Tillich’s beautiful sermon, “Is There Any Word from the Lord?” found in his book, The New Being. The sermon is based on the book of Jeremiah and the siege of Judah and King Zedekiah by the Babylonians. Tillich, in his sermon, explores what it means to ask, “Is there any word from the Lord?” Tillich is in effect asking: Is there any meaning or destiny to human strivings, or is it all simply the endless struggle for power and privilege and spectacle?
Tillich says that in asking after the word of the Lord we are asking to escape the “anxiety of the possibles,” the always limited possibilities that we perceive in our historical and political situation, limits that exert an almost tyrannical grip on us, closing us off to the larger meaning of our democracy and our hope in forging a more perfect union and community. It is precisely this tyranny of the possibles that has had me in its grip, undermining my sense of hope. It is this anxiety over the possibles that has our nation in its grip, a politics of division and fear that holds us prisoner, captive to our worst angels.
For decades now, the nation has faced a rather stark choice, a choice that faces all democracies. All democratic politics occurs within a divided society. The task of democracy is to narrow the divides with more social equality, more specific liberties for all, and a widening and deepening democratic tradition that holds us together in times of crisis. We have instead become hostage to a politics of exploiting the divides, a politics that increases the anxieties of race and class, a politics that deepens inequality, a politics that substitute traditional or family piety for the democratic traditions of self-government and an enlarging trust.
Yet, despite my fears and anxieties, I must not, we must not abandon hope. I must see that my time and our time must always be a time for a democratic hope -- a prophetic hope in the larger possibilities and meaning of democracy than our times suggest. Hope is not a shallow optimism. Hope does not hangs it fortunes on this or that election. Hope in politics is precisely the democratic determination and faith to resist and fight on in the face of lengthening, darkening odds. Hope is persisting at exactly the times and places where the "anxiety of the possibles" makes it seem futile to persist. Hope is a patient waiting and refusal to surrender to our darker angels. Hope is making one's self always ready and available and attentive to the possibilities of community wherever we may find it.
At the very close of the final episode, as Adams was only days away from his death, he is walking in a lane with his son Thomas. He says that he is not tired of life and that he still has hope. He spies a small flower in the path. He stops and recalls for his son the splendor of royalty during his days as ambassador to France, with all its diamonds and glitter, “Today, I find more beauty in that little shrub right there.”
He added that his wife Abigail Adams constantly reminded him that he never took pleasure in the mundane. As his life was coming to a close, Adams says, “Now I find that if I look at the smallest thing, my imagination begins to roam the Milky Way.” And then Adams says, somewhat cryptically, “Rejoice evermore!” When Thomas looks puzzled, Adams laughs: “It’s a phrase from St. Paul, you fool!”
And this too is always the word of the Lord, as Tillich also reminds us. When we look at the everyday world before our eyes and wake up to the presence of all that is, we grasp the world’s terrible beauty reflected in even the smallest of things, a beauty that rebukes us for forgetting that we are always in the presence of a “word from the Lord.”
Dan Beauchamp, Ph.D., is a retired professor of public health and a former health official in several states, including New York. He is also a practitioner of Buddhist and Christian meditation and a church deacon. He and his wife, Carole reside in Durham, North Carolina. His blog, "Tales of Copper City, can be found at:
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
One of the most difficult things about having Parkinson’s disease is dealing with your brain when it “freezes.” The best way to picture what “freezing” looks like is to recall the scene in the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” when we first meet the Tin Man crying out for his “oil can, oil can.”
The “oil” going directly into a PD brain is the medicine—such as carbodopa-levodopa ( brand name Sinemet). Just as important, the “oil” can also be an arsenal of clever tricks which help the body to move even when the brain will not cooperate.
When I freeze, I need to find a way to start moving again. Fast. Because there is always a risk of falling.
When I move, I try very hard to stay in the “now” – and I also try hard to keep track of where my feet are every minute. This is essential no matter where I am. To get my brain to move forward with the rest of me, I have learned various techniques from several wonderful people on how to “kick start” myself into movement.
You can think of it as me sweet talking those reluctant grey cells of mine into doing something they insist they cannot do. I am talking about pushing through the effect of “freezing” which happens to me when my meds start to wear off. It is literally an “on/off” situation—and often this happens to me entering or exiting a doorway.
Picture an elevator doorway—or door to a subway car—or—an automatic entrance or exit door at the supermarket! Yipes! I can hold up foot traffic there for what seems like an eternity.
I learned “kick starts” from Georgia Riedel, an excellent physical therapist at Columbia Presbyterian’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, located at East 60th St. in >New York City. I have taught it to my family and friends. When I am out alone on the street or in a store, or on a plane or in a public ladies room, I have taught total strangers how to help me as well. Sometimes if I look as though I am having some difficulty, strangers will ask me if they can help. If I need help, I have (finally) learned to ask for it, and explain what I need.
Here’s how it works: The person helping me faces me and takes both my hands in his or hers. Then, that person walks backwards as I walk forwards. My husband Daniel has added this line: “then we have to sing.” The singing is very important. Because if you pick a tune with a peppy steady beat, it is the rhythm of the music that gives you the “kick start and can, sometimes keep you going.”
To watch a short video in which I demonstrate how the “kick start” technique works, go to www.YouTube.com and type in Dina Harris and Parkinson's.
I would like to extend my appreciation and thanks to two enthusiastic young people who helped me produce this video. The videographer/director, Jefferson Thomas,18, of Wellfleet, Massachusetts, is a senior at NausetRegional High School. Acting in the video segment is Christopher Thomas, 16, a junior at the same school. These talented young men have been making movies, it seems, since nursery school, and were great fun and an enormous help.
Dina Harris, a playwright, lives on Cape Cod. This piece appeared first in the Holistic Health blogsite at TimesUnion.com.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
As a fan of rap music, I believe that Gangster rappers like 50 Cent and The Game can learn a lot from “the Louis Vuitton Don.” I would go as far to say that they should be more like Kanye West; the world would benefit and so would the children of the ghetto.
I’m not exactly a political activist but I am a product of what everyone calls the “ghetto” and I believe that as a child of this recent generation I am obligated to be educated. My dear friend Mr. West helps me with that and adds some soulful sampling to keep me engaged. Kanye West is not what I expected him to be. He rhymes about all the finer things in life including education and politics. Who wouldn’t love him?
When I first saw a picture of “Mr. Fresh, Mr. by his self he so impressed,” he was wearing a pink Polo shirt, with the collar “popped” and Gucci loafers. But still, he was a rapper. It was weird that he didn’t rock the baggy jeans or that he claims that he has never sold drugs. As a young black girl who also dressed as if I was awaiting an acceptance letter from Blair Academy, I was impressed. I longed for a deeper connection with the rapper: through his music.
Kanye West is a phenomenal artist and conscious rapper who holds a strong opinion about blacks in the school system. And though he went from a “College Dropout” to “Late Registration” and then somehow moved on to a “Graduation,” he values education and does everything that he can to spread that message across America, especially to the black youth (and most of all the males.) Young black men, after all, have one of the highest dropout rates throughout America.
West is also a part of an ongoing campaign titled “ED 08” which focuses on education in America. In one of West’s early songs he critiques blacks and their lack of motivation to be educated:
“…ain’t no tuition for havin no ambition/and ain’t no loans for sittin yo’ ass at home/So we forced to sell crack, rap and get a job.” I’m not sure if he meant it as an insult or as black awareness; it was a very bold and honest statement. It may have sounded like a joke; I believe it was a gateway to expressing the lack of educated blacks in this country. West is very active in politics but does not call himself a politician. "Politics is a business...I'm more social. I just care about people." He grew up in an upper-middle class neighborhood in Chicago and also attended college; in my book, that gives him the right to advocate for education.
I did not grow up in a middle- or upper-class neighborhood and did not always attend some of the better schools in the New York City area. I grew up in an environment where it seemed like all the girls were pregnant and all the “men” sold drugs. It was just like hell except we had fire hydrants.
It was Harlem, but my home had a Columbia University-educated black woman and a determined immigrant from Trinidad so it’s safe to say that it was impossible for me to go wrong. But I’m no “Miss Goodie Two Shoes.
No, I had my share of late night Bob Marley sessions and ghetto hood fights. But I always valued my education. I didn’t know if I was exactly on the road to a university but I knew that I was different and that the classroom was my safe haven. I stressed the value of education in my life and tried my best to stress it in the lives of others, so when a young handsome hustler gave me the option of leaving school, staying home, having his children and basically becoming a statistic, I declined. And I made sure he understood that I would not live off of anybody and I vowed to earn a college degree and not become the statistic that society was waiting for me to turn out to be: dumb, pregnant and uneducated.
I give some of the credit to Kanye; he keeps me going and gives me inspiration through his musical talent. So whenever school is a drag and I’m down on my luck I slip my IPOD headphones in and listen to my soul teacher as he preaches, “We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25/But the jokes on you we still alive/Throw your hands up in the sky and say we don't care what people say”
Queen Shaahida is a student of journalism at the University at Albany, SUNY. She wrote this as part of a new student-run blog called Naked News Lives: www.nakednewslives.blogspot.com. CHECK IT OUT!!!
Monday, April 14, 2008
I was roaming around D.C. while David worked on environmental issues on Massachusetts Avenue. I strolled block after block until I noticed Kramerbooks, the bookstore where Monica Lewinksi used to buy books for Bill Clinton.
It fascinated me to think that Monica would drop into this bookstore, buy a volume, and then go over to the Oval Office for literary discussions and cigars, and whatever else she did with the President.
Kramerbooks was a disappointment – nothing but tables and chairs and a small coffee bar. No espresso menu in sight. And no room to write.
A few steps away, though, was the predictable-but-decent Starbucks. The sun was shining on the outdoor café table, beckoning my pen and paper. There, beneath the sun and budding cherry blossom trees, and David mere blocks away, I wrote about a morning not long before when I found myself holding a pair of long pink scissors directly over David’s heart.
Let me start over.
David and I were in the kitchen a couple Sundays ago, fixing breakfast. The sun was shining that day too, and a lone ray streamed through the kitchen window, making a rainbow on the stove.
“Bolero” was playing on the radio as David cracked eggs for blueberry pancakes. I sat at the granite countertop sewing up one of my beloved and tattered, green polka dot socks.
While David stirred the berries into the pancake batter, I went to my sewing box for a needle and thread. And then I saw the long pink scissors in the kitchen drawer.
As I sewed the hole in my sock, I thought of the words my shrink Elizabeth had said to me the week before. I had asked her a simple question: “Why can’t I put David’s affair behind me and just go forward? Why does it take so long to heal?”
Elizabeth gazed at me calmly. Her bright eyes-- and her voice – are so reassuring. “Look, Gina,” she said, tenting her fingertips together, “think about it this way.” Her carefully painted scarlet nails glowed. “It’s almost as if you had open heart surgery a few months ago. You survived it, but now, you are mending. I’m afraid that mending takes a long, long time.”
As I sat sewing my sock, I thought about my heart, mending. That sent my brain into other channels. A filmstrip unreeled in my mind. I saw David. And her. The young girl. I saw the two of them naked. In bed. Doing things I really didn’t want to see. But I couldn’t stop watching. The harder I tried not to see, the more clearly I saw.
It happens a lot lately. My brain switches into pictures I can’t handle. Into places I really don’t want to be.
Like the prison cell, where I sit in my scratchy wool habit with my back up against a clammy stone wall, and the sore on my leg, red and swollen and oozing, climbing toward my knee. The chain around my ankle is rusty and it has turned the skin above my foot raw and bloody.
I cannot explain why I see what I see. Or why I am in places I cannot possibly be.
I just am. I just see.
Sometimes when David and I are making love, I see him with her. Believe me, I would prefer not to.
I finished mending the sock, picked up those pink scissors, and snipped off the green thread. “You know,” David said, “I do love you.” Lately, David has started to say things like that. But his timing – it couldn’t have been worse.
“Come here,” he said, reaching out to me, opening his arms.
I stood and faced him, still holding the scissors. Before I could think what to do, he grabbed me and pulled me to him.
“Just hold me,” he whispered. He squeezed me tightly.
I couldn’t speak or resist him, and I couldn’t put down the scissors. I had them poised right over his back, the tips pointing at his heart.
And there was the film reel again – the two of them between crisp hotel sheets.
The girl was 24. And I’m 53.
My pulse started to throb. My head swiveled. I had the
Razor. Right at his throat.
I am so sorry that I went to see Antonie that afternoon. I should have stayed at the convent with Theresa. I should have listened to my dear sister. I should have weeded the carrots or picked the string beans, as she suggested. Or gone up the hillside with a blanket and a canteen of cold lemonade.
But instead, I made the trip to Antonie’s hacienda.
And there I was, inside his bedroom. With Senora. On the floor. The two of us were kneeling in a pool of warm blood.
I screamed, and Senora screamed. She screamed and cried out, and held her bloody hands to her wide brown face. We tried. We did everything we could.
Still, he died.
Now I am supposed to tell the true story.
Do I even know the true story?
And if I don’t, who does? And if I didn’t kill Antonie, then who did?
Here I sit, thinking about David. His warm embrace. His hazel eyes. When he finally let go of me, there in the kitchen, I still had the pink scissors in my hand. I stared at him. I wondered, does he know what I’m thinking?
Of course not. How could he?
I said nothing. I smiled at him, and he went back to flipping pancakes. I scrambled eggs, and we had an ordinary breakfast.
I love David. I don’t want to have these visions anymore. I want to go forward. I want to be rid of the images that haunt me. Images of him and her.
Images of me, kneeling beside Antonie holding that razor to his throat. The razor glitters like a mirror in my ice cold hand. I hold it against his Adam’s apple, as I so often do, when he forces me to shave him. My hand trembles as I move the razor carefully around the pointy nub protruding from his throat.
I begin to shake. If I could, I would take
an ativan. I cannot.
So instead, I kneel in the convent chapel before the statue of the Virgin Mary. She wears a blue veil and white dress. She has her hands out to either side, beckoning me. Protecting me. I kneel there, and I make the sign of the Cross. I say a prayer.
And then, I am kneeling somewhere else – in Antonie’s bedroom. Once again, it is Senora and me together, and the two of us are screaming, screeching and bloody and reaching for each other over Antonie’s grim white face and severed throat. We are soaked in my cousin’s warm blood.
I would swear, and so would Theresa, that never ever would I hurt
A living thing.
But then, there is Antonie
Lying in a pool of his own blood.
And I am not certain.
To read more of the novel SWITCH, send an email to My_Story_Lives@yahoo.com. In the subject line, write the word SUBSCRIBE. You will be added to a list of people who want to keep reading the novel.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
By Mel Waldman
He had served in Hitler’s army. And now, they asked me to be his therapist.
In the early and late ’90s, I was a therapist in several Brooklyn nursing homes. My patients suffered from a gamut of psychiatric disorders ranging from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. But perhaps, my most memorable patient was a ghostly old man in his late seventies or early eighties suffering from depression and anxiety.
After he was referred to me by the nursing and social work staff, I discovered that he had been a member of the Nazi party. (Actually, the facts are vague and unclear. The truth is obscure. And maybe my memory is flawed. The old man had been in Hitler’s army during WWII. Most likely he was a member of the Nazi party. Yet perhaps, he was not.)
This apocalyptic information catapulted me into a professional crisis. How could I -- a Jew, indeed, a Jewish therapist -- treat a man who probably had been a member of the Nazi party and may have killed or tortured Jewish people? He never told me what had happened when he was in Hitler’s army. I could only speculate...hypothesize...imagine...
You see, it is possible he never killed or even hurt another human being. Since he never revealed his secret thoughts, feelings, and deeds, the psychological landscape we entered and shared during our therapy sessions was a social phenomenon, formal and real but spontaneous and dreamlike too with a touch of Shakespearean drama. Our interactions were intertwined and embedded within a secret social game of rules and rituals.
We played our well-scripted, doctor-patient roles. He was the depressed, anxious, and sick old man seeking comfort and solace from his doctor. And I -- his benevolent doctor -- soothed his frightened, lost soul, never confronting this spectral senior with his mysterious past. He had been referred to me because he suffered from depression and anxiety, partly due to his sundry medical conditions. And my tasks were to empower him, teach him coping skills, and possibly help him feel better. If he experienced an iota of joy, I could smile triumphantly, knowing I had achieved some level of success with my patient.
But in order to fulfill our prescribed roles, we shared the tacit knowledge that certain psychic landscapes could not be explored. As a supportive therapist, I could not explore his role as a Nazi soldier. Furthermore, I could not examine the nature of evil and his possible complicity with the dark beast of inhumanity.
Did he commit heinous deeds during the war? Or did he look away when his comrades murdered my people?
Perhaps, he was only guilty of being obedient to authority and joining the Nazi party and Hitler’s army.
The old man, a phantom from our obscene past, told me he had been a German professor or a professor of German literature in one of the local colleges. (Once again, some of the facts escape me, vanishing in the labyrinth of time.)
When I met the professor, I was struck by his frailty and vulnerability. Emaciated and withdrawn, he reminded me --ironically enough -- of a wounded Holocaust survivor, scarred by traumatic memories. As he got to know me, he spoke more freely of intellectual matters. But never did he mention or articulate his toxic past. Still, he seemed to be a gentle man, although tortured by a depression and anxiety and a body that could not be fixed. And certainly, he wanted to believe that the man he presented to me reflected his true self. But I feared he might be someone else entirely.
His presentation of self might simply be the dramatic role he played (and the pathological lies he believed), I thought, for he was a character actor performing on the dynamic stage of life.
I feared that my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the unknowable, ambiguous man would interfere with my treatment of him. But I was wrong.
Ultimately, my Nazi patient benefited from my care. In the end, I had soothed his tortured soul and stolen his sadness. In return, he forced me to struggle with my chaotic, disturbing, and contradictory perceptions of him and to learn that I was, indeed, a just and fair man, even when facing my darkest demons. In that sense, I too benefited from providing therapy to my Nazi patient.
And although we avoided the religious, spiritual, and humanistic issues of evil and personal responsibility for sin-especially wartime crimes, if committed, we were two explorers in a strange land, sharing a tacit knowledge, lost in a bewildering landscape of moral questions, and struggling to fathom the nature of self and the other -- each searching for unknowable answers perhaps...
Dr. Mel Waldman is a licensed New York State psychologist and a candidate in Psychoanalysis at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies. His stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines. He is a past winner of the literary Gradiva Award in Psychoanalysis and a nominee for a Pushcart Prize. His mystery novel, Who Killed the Heartbreak Kid?, was published by iUniverse in February 2006 and can be purchased at Amazon.com. "The Nazi Patient" is taken from Waldman's new book, I AM A JEW, published by World Audience.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
All the while Renata spoke, she continued with the elaborate preparations, readying Antonie for a shave he needed, specifically, from her.
“Wash me,” Antonie whispered, his eyes closed. Renata proceeded to lay a large towel on his chest. She tucked it gingerly around his neck, and dipped a smaller hand towel into the bowl of warm water. Wringing the towel dry, she laid it on his face and ran her hands lightly through his hair, gently lifting back into place a strand or two that had come loose from the leather tie at the nape of his neck.
Her fingers continued deftly across his forehead and temples and neck, left to right, her fingers fluttering like the legs of one of the colorful birds that Antonie kept in a large cage swinging from the center beam in the dining room.
“Close your eyes,” she whispered, and at that command, Antonie slumped slightly in the large chair, leaned his head back and inhaled her. She applied the lathered soap to his chin, dipping the brush repeatedly into the bowl. Soon the foam covered all but his upper lip, masking cheekbones and jaw, grazing his earlobes and the Adam’s apple protruding sharply from the front of his throat.
She set the bowl down, and laid in the brush, and with one of her little fingers, she caught a long curl of hair at his temple and laid it behind his ear. In that moment, he reached out, caught her free hand, and kissed it, coating it with shaving soap. Swiftly she pulled back her hand.
“And how many times have I scolded you before, and how many times, my dear cousin, must I scold you again? You must never distract a hand that holds a blade.” She whispered thus into his ear, and the sound of the words, and her warm breath sent chills through the center of his back.
When he opened his eyes, she had taken up the razor, and her eyes had the slightly dazed look they always got. That was the first signal, the clue that Antonie knew so well. He knew it wouldn’t be long now, that she was beginning to undergo the metamorphosis inevitably imposed by the task.
So he relaxed, and let her drag the blade
slowly and purposely across the front of his chin, and into his dimple that lay there, and onto his cheeks and the sharply curved edges of his jaw. And all the while she saw the Adam's apple at the center of his throat.
The skin of his face tingled in the razor’s wake, and he kept his eyes closed, imagining how her face looked above his, serious at her work, her dark eyebrows poised in a slightly knit brow. He imagined too the swift movement her hand would make as she snapped the excess soap from the blade into the ceramic bowl.
At one time, he had believed that magic lay in the way she moved the razor, the way she swept it over the contour of his face. But gradually he knew the magic was simply in the way she focused her concentration on a completely unessential task. Yes, the magic lay in the fact that she was caring so intently for him, for his face, erasing a mustache he barely showed, a practically non-existent beard.
By then she had finished skimming off the soap, and now she had indeed been transformed by her work. Moving silently, Renata unwrapped the towel from Antonie’s neck, and loosened his collar, pulling the two sides of it apart so that a triangular area of his hairless chest was exposed, down to the center of his breastbone.
A small circular depression, the size of a gold coin, lay at the center of his chest. Around that point his rib cage swelled, filled with air, fell, swelled again, over and over, with the regular insistence of an ocean wave, or the boat rocking on that wave.
Renata leaned across his heaving chest and reached for an ornate crystal bottle from the dressing table. She shook a liquid balm, sweet with the fragrance of jasmine, into one cupped palm, and slowly she applied the tingling liquid against his face and neck, refreshing his heated body with her two open hands. The liquid evaporated as soon as it touched his skin. She moved progressively lower and lower, going in circles. Finally, she unbuttoned his shirt completely and pulled it apart, so that his shoulders lay exposed, and his head hung back, his eyes closed and his mouth limp and slightly open.
A third person watching in the mirror would see Renata’s hands fluttering across Antonie’s slightly protruding breasts, his hardened nipples, while Antonie’s own hands were lifeless, his arms draped across the elaborately carved wooden arms of the chair. The third person might decide then to look away, or say a prayer, particularly if that person were a God-fearing Christian, because Renata at that point lifted Antonie’s limp hand close to her lips, and folding his hand into a fist, she laid the fist to her mouth and kissed it, and then she unfolded the fist and kissed each finger in turn along its length, leaving no skin untouched.
By the time she finished with the hand, Antonie looked to be barely breathing. Moving swiftly, Renata tore the gold cuff links from Antonie’s sleeves, and threw them aside. Pushing one shirt sleeve off his arm, she kneeled on the floor, as if she too were going to pray. But instead, she set her delicate lips, and the tip of her tongue, gently, gently, gently, to the soft white skin that lay along the inside of his wrist.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Must we? Must we really sit through another whole day of
this U.S. General
and his impeccable uniform chock full of fancy rainbow-colored medals
And his endless array of graphs
that the "surge is working."
Oh pullleeez, General Petraeus,
Please don't waste your breath.
Or our precious time.
Or any more
what is it now,
4,024 young men and women?
And we've got so many many more
physical and mental,
PTSD so bad
that many have gone
and taken their lives.
Listening to wall-to-wall
coverage of this
this endless chatter,
the radio airwaves,
and I suspect many others
You may be, as all the senators on the committees, say
an honorable man, and a terrific soldier, and a great leader.
Don't tell us that the surge may ultimately succeed.
Don't tell us that we need to tough it out and stay
We are so tired of this crock of B.S.
There is civil war in Iraq,
and after five years,
we are weary beyond belief.
This engagement of ours
No. We don't need to hear
We need, General,
Monday, April 07, 2008
By David Seth Michaels
How odd it is. I started blogging in August, 2005. I thought I was unique to have my own blog.
I wasn’t. Not by a long shot. According to Technorati in October, 2006, long, long ago in Internet time, there were more than 57 million blogs with 100,000 more being created every single day. There are even more now. There are millions more. The Internet might look a lot like Jorge Luis Borges’ most famous short story, "The Infinite Library", expanding and filling the entire universe, with some volumes having only one punctuation mark different from another, an unceasing fountain of proliferation, a few excellent volumes and most, alas, incomprehensible, flawed detritus.
Maybe the Internet isn’t steadily mushrooming. Maybe it’s wavelike. Maybe it reaches a limit and then it begins slowly to contract. There may be some evidence of this in the dead blogs. While millions of blog are born, some, of course, experience the Fall Of Freddie The Leaf. They wither and die. From inattention. From lack of entries. From lack of readership. From lack of comments. From being forgotten by writer and reader alike. They’re all just abandoned blogs.
The venerable BBC says that 200 million people have already stopped writing their blogs:
... analyst Daryl Plummer said the reason for the levelling off in blogging was due to the fact that most people who would ever start a web blog had already done so.Maybe. But I doubt it. Just having something to say, no matter how clever or insightful, probably isn’t enough by itself to sustain a blog over time. No. What sustains most blogs, however large or small, are readers who find something that is not available in traditional media.
[The analyst] said those who loved blogging were committed to keeping it up, while others had become bored and moved on.
"A lot of people have been in and out of this thing," Mr Plummer said. "Everyone thinks they have something to say, until they're put on stage and asked to say it."
Two current events examples. First, when Eric Volz was convicted of a murder he did not commit in Nicaragua, blog essays kept his story alive even though the traditional media had abandoned it. And now, Irgrid Betancourt, a hostage of FARC in Colombia for six years. The traditional media reports appear to be repeating speculation. The blogs provide perspective. The blogs provide information that the traditional media don’t. They provide instant magazine pieces without waiting a week.
And this isn’t just news stories. Blogs thrive when they provide something special for their readers. When they don’t, it eventually becomes obvious, and they perish.
David Seth Michaels is a writer who lives in Columbia County, New York, and Quintana Roo, Mexico. His 2005 novel, The Dream Antilles, inspired his blog The Dream Antilles.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
That she was covered so well, that he could see so little of her, just the shy half moon of her clear face, was thrilling to him, maybe because she looked so clean, so crisp and efficient and orderly at this early hour of the day, so much the sweet-smelling, hard-working novititiate, a woman among sisters, a woman he couldn't possibly resist, Renata the nun and his lover all in one, someone who would be there endlessly patient and attentive to his every need.
But perhaps too he was thrilled because of the promise of what was to come, the promise of how she would be transformed before the sun descended into its afternoon arc. He wanted what she would become as he wanted nothing else, but he wanted to wait for it, to hold it off as long as possible, to extend the inevitable as one might try to preserve the life of a flower. She was for him, in the peachy morning light, a rose anticipating full bloom. Indeed, each morning that he greeted her there in the bedroom, he held out to her a single rose, of an exceptional color. It was yellow but also red, as if first it had been dipped into sunlight, and then, washed right away in human blood.
What thrilled him about the rose, and about Renata herself, was the notion that he would watch them both unfold, that he would witness the opening of their soft petals, that he would be present at the moment when each of the flowers became full and whole.
Antonie’s greatest intoxication lay in inhaling the fragrance of the rose, and in thinking about what would happen to Renata under his influence, in comparing what she was when she arrived with what she would become through his coaxing, through the driving, unrelenting force of his passion for her.
If the truth be known, he believed it was the very act of his gazing on her, his breathing on her, his being near and touching her, that opened her to the possibility of her transformation. For as long as possible, he put off her change, and was thoroughly aroused by its contemplation. Certainly he put it off for as long as it took her to shave his face with the straight blade, and for the time it took to apply lavender cologne with her cool palms, which she pressed with gentle certainty against his face and neck.
Antonie smiled shyly when he heard Renata knocking softly at the ornate oak door. Like most everything at the hacienda, the door had its own elaborate story. Built and carved by her grandfather and his, Gabriel Lopez de Ruiz, the door had been chiseled from a prized stand of live oak. But before the old man could build the door, he had to hack down the monstrous oak tree himself. He did, but when he tied the felled oak to the back of his mule, the animal refused to budge, the tree being much too heavy.
Gabriel’s strength was legendary and according to the story, he ended up dragging the oak to the hacienda with tree balanced over his his own shoulders. He built and carved the door with the same determination that had produced the magnificent Spanish house between 1838 and 1844.
“Please, come in,” Antonie said, and Renata appeared in the open door, where she paused and gazed briefly at her cousin. For just that instant, she was double-framed, once by the heavy door, and a second time by the mirror into which Antonie caught her reflection. Almost instantly, she dropped her eyes demurely to the floor. Demurely, though, only from his point of view. Had she the freedom of description, surely she would have used another word, one that captured the modesty, the sincere reserve she felt as she averted her eyes. But then she wasn’t free to choose the word, because she was, as we have said, framed entirely by his gaze. Thus, he would do with the language, and with her appearance in it, much as he pleased, and he would attempt the best interpretation he knew.
In the end, it was his word, imperfectly matched against her feeling, that held sway. Had she heard the word spoken aloud, she would have at the very least colored an embarrassed red. But she would have forgiven him just the same, of that he was sure. Because she would know that he was doing the best a man could do to describe the subtle interior hue of a woman.
“I worried after the other night, you wouldn't come. Renata, I apologize for...for...” But she was shaking her head and holding her finger first to his lips and then to her own and then closing the door.
“No no, don’t, I don’t want you to apologize. I won’t in fact hear of it. I won’t have you speak of…any of that. And if you insist, then I too will have to insist, that is, on leaving.” And so they eyed each other across the space of the room, each gazing at the other in the silver mirror they now shared, the mirror with the hammered silver frame.
The mirror in which they were reflected belonged to the grandmother they also shared, Gabriel’s wife, one Magdalena Sanchez y Quiero, a woman of blue eyes and black hair, a Castilian, who, despite her fair skin, was said to be part gypsy.
And so they began always in the same way, speaking to one another in hushed tones, in something of a ritual manner, dancing in words before they actually proceeded to dance with their feet.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
Our lives are drenched in miracles -- all around us and within us.
When we are bruised, what miracle heals us? When we sleep, what miracle restores us? When we see beauty, what miracle elevates us? When we hear music, what miracle moves us?
When we see suffering, what miracle makes us sad? When we give and receive love, what miracle warms us?"
What miracle is happening in this very moment, as you read these words, -- a baby's eyes -- and you understand. And you see those eyes. And you realize that eyes themselves are miracles.
What a miracle, just to be
adapted from a text by Rabbi Sidney Greenberg, Siddur Hadash
Thursday, April 03, 2008
April 3, 1883
In the afternoon, after I returned to the convent from Antonie’s, Theresa and I came out to the courtyard to snap beans for dinner. We finished, but never went back inside. For a long while, we stared in silence up to the golden hillside and felt the warm wind coming down off the slope and filling us with the peaceful smell of sage and dry crisp grasses. The sprawling oak at the hilltop called to us.
Theresa disappeared briefly inside the convent and when she emerged, she held something hidden in the folds of her habit. “Come,” she commanded. She grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet and pointed to this diary.
We found the blanket in its hiding place inside the henhouse and as the afternoon sun began dropping, we lifted our habits to our knees and headed up the steep slope. All the way up, the blonde grasses -- thick and sharp as razors -- caught at my black stockings, and pricked at the skin of my calves and ankles. We panted and sweat poured and I murmured over and over, “I can’t do this Theresa,” and she laughed at me and never turned around, but said, simply, “just be quiet and keep up.”
Finally we reached the hilltop and spread our blanket beneath the beloved live oak, where all manner of speech becomes possible.
The breeze grew warmer and kept up blowing. The climb had turned our faces deep pink. I was so warm and slippery in sweat that I felt desperate to remove my veil. I didn’t. We sat in the shade, and I fingered a single dusty oak leaf, its edge prickered.
Theresa surprised me with a canteen of freshly squeezed lemonade that she’d hidden in the folds of her habit. We took turns drinking the luscious sweet liquid. As I drained the last cool drop, she told me to read.
I dropped back onto the blanket. “I’m not feeling the need,” I said. “Not today, when, honestly, this wind wipes away all of Antonie’s madness and my energy with it.”
Her plump face grew perfectly still and her eyes bore holes into me. “My dear Renata,” she said finally, “you’ve got me worried.”
I sat up and faced her. “But, Theresa, you really have no reason to worry,” I replied. “I’m saying only that on this glorious day, I can handle all of it, just that.”
She crossed her arms over her rounded bosom. “So, then, if that be true, and you have everything under control, and nothing to hide, well then let God – and me-- be witness. Read, please. I want to hear from those light blue pages tucked there.” She pointed to the place where I had so carefully folded and tucked the sky-colored stationary.
I inhaled. There was no denying Theresa. I kneeled and sat back on my knees. I read “Roseblade.” It did, in parts, bring a deeper blush of pink to my cheeks.
When I finished, I did not speak. And I tried to avoid her eyes.
“Oh Renata.” She took my hand. She inhaled a gale of air and sat there squeezing my hand so hard it felt as though she might crush the bones. “He...he is...your cousin Oh I fear he is going to destroy you with these lies for sure.”
I dropped my gaze. My heart throbbed, and my eyes sank right through the blanket into the golden grass and deeper, much deeper. I felt as low as I have felt in ever so long a time. Looking up, I lifted my chin. In defiance? I bit into my lip and said nothing.
“Yes,” I whispered. “I fear he will. But what am I to do?”
She gazed down the golden hillside, still holding onto my hand. The sun was resting on the horizon, a bright gold and orange button. Slowly Theresa shook her head.
“I don’t know that there is anything you can do, with Father Ruby aligned with Antonie as he is. I can’t see any way out. But one thing you must absolutely do.”
The deep blue sky color sailed back into her eyes. “When you go to your cousin’s side, record absolutely everything that happens. Write it all down there. Leave out nothing, not a single detail.”
I opened my mouth to speak. I wanted to say more. But then, just as quickly, I decided to say…nothing.
The two of us remained a few minutes more, until the sun sank into the lavender row of mountains rising above the Pacific. The wind coming off the sea now cooled us. Theresa pulled the blanket up to wrap around our shoulders, and the two of us sat cocooned there together, and I felt happy and peaceful, despite everything.
“Mother Yolla will be screaming soon,” Theresa said finally.
“Oh yes,” I said. “She will indeed.”
I leaned my head briefly against Theresa’s soft shoulder. The sky overhead was turning steely, so we rose and folded the blanket and quickly retreated down the hill.
STAY TUNED FOR MORE OF SWITCH!!! -- Chapter Six, "ROSEBLADE" -- coming Sunday, April 6th!!! To read the entire novel go to:
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
By Marti Zuckrowv
Forty years ago, when my oldest daughter was a few months old, I had my two front teeth pulled. Years of braces, neglect, poor nutrition due to the anorexic rules that I lived by, and the genes I inherited from my mother, finally took their toll and rotted the pearly whites I'd been lucky to keep for as long as I had.
It was 1967. I remember moving from Brooklyn to the Bronx and meeting my new neighbors, baby-in-tow, welfare check in my purse, barking puppy at my side, and missing my two front teeth. I scrambled up the five flights of stairs to our new apartment and hid there for most of that first week. I was desperately waiting to receive the temporary partial dental plate that Medical was willing to pay for; I was desperate to look ACCEPTABLE.
"This is not me!" I wanted to shout from through the peek hole in my door. "I don't really look like this. I'm smart, I'm a dancer, I read good books, and I'm not a creep."
All that was missing was my two front teeth, yet, the person I perceived myself to be felt invisible. The gaping hole in my mouth replaced me. I felt like an ugly, toothless, welfare mother who ought to be stoned.
I felt such shame! Was this shame there all along just waiting to burst like a boil, ready to leak out and envelope me in self-disgust?
I'd always been ashamed of my mother, whose long weekdays were spent sitting before a sewing machine in a coat factory. I'd wanted her to be a stay-at-home, milk-and- cookies mom. I was ashamed of her thick Russian accent and her stocky peasant body. I'd wanted her to look like a movie star. I was ashamed of the orthopedic shoes she wore on her gnarled feet (she'd had rickets as a child due to malnutrition).
I was especially ashamed of her Saturday ritual; donning a faded housedress and tying a schmate around her hair. (I wanted her to lounge on the couch dressed in the elegant leisurewear I saw in department store windows.) She never failed to wear her false teeth as she set out to slave away the day. It was a given: never be seen toothless, as it was a sign of ignorance and poverty, two things she fought against until the day she took her own life.
She'd spend most of the day on her hands and knees, dragging a pail of soapy water behind her and washing the floors with rags. She would scrub the bathroom until her hands hurt, then wipe down the windows and walls with a solution that caused her eyes to tear. Did she think she was dirty?
Very likely. My mother was 12 when she first got her period. She was living in Russia with her 4 surviving older brothers at the time. (She was the 18th and last child). The brothers, knowing little about menstruation but enough to know that their sister could now become pregnant, tied her to the bed for five days, bringing her rags for the blood and food and water until the bleeding stopped.
Was being a female dirty? Was she bad because she was bleeding? With no mother, sister, or aunt to reassure her that this was "Normal," and "a good thing", what was she to think? Did she pass her shame onto me?
I'd been quite self destructive in the past. I'd perfected starving myself whenever life got tough, I'd swallowed a bottle of pills and had my stomach pumped. I'd had several abortions before I turned 17, one of my boyfriends was a junkie, I think you get the picture. But once I got married at 22, and had a baby at 23, I was convinced those days were behind me. I had a spice rack, and matching mugs. I'd cooked a turkey. I was a grown up, a mother, a wife, a good, upstanding, "NORMAL' person. So what if I got funny looks from the supermarket clerk when I paid with food stamps. So what if I was on welfare. I liked myself, so I thought.
Losing my two front teeth hurled me face to face with feelings I had been running away from for much of my life. Hours at the shrink's office my parents forced me to go (with the threat of reform school if I refused) didn't unveil this deep seeded shame.
It's funny how events that seem so unrelated can trigger strong emotions, how we can connect the dots and unleash buried feelings and early memories. You just never know what will pop up when. Being alive is quite the adventure, isn't it?
MyStoryLives is proud to have Dance on Paper columnist Marti Zuckrowv amongst its contributors. Zuckrowv hails from California.