Monday, March 31, 2008

Day 2: Saturday

I'm back home in my nest, but am going to make the trip last longer by slowly sharing it with my blog readers. As this was my first time on the Oregon Coast and E. wanted to ensure that our experience was relaxing and romantic, we went to a well-known town on the Oregon Coast called Cannon Beach which is famous for Haystack Rock. The weather was at times rainy, other times foggy, and yes occasionally sunny. Of my many Haystack Rock photos, this is my favorite. When we drove drown the mountain and onto the coast, I got a glimpse of the rock from the highway. It was much larger than I had expected. I mentioned to E. that its size got increasingly smaller as our time on the beach grew longer. Perception is a funny thing.

It was E.'s idea to take a photo of the ripples in the sand.


The tide was low and people were walking on the rocks and around the tide pools looking for marine flora and fauna. I was too worried of stepping on something and disrupting life and habitat to enjoy myself on the rocks. Instead I took pictures of the Toes (?) (I honestly can't remember what their official name is.)


I loved our little room. It is probably the nicest place that I ever stayed while traveling for pleasure. It had a gas fireplace and many Haystack reminders. My favorites were the wood headboard with a giant orange sun behind the famous rock and best of all, the tissue paper container in the bathroom!


Being me, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit a new bookstore. I ended up treating myself to a a book of Susan Sontag's essays and speeches. Her controversial post 9-11 writings are included. She was dying of breast cancer at the time and spoke the unedited truth. One of the essays was originally published as an opinion piece in the New York Times a year after the day. It was hard to decide, but this is my favorite part:


There are better ways to check America's enemies, less destructive of constitutional rights and of international agreements that serve the public interest of all, than continuing to invoke the dangerous, lobotomizing notion of endless war.


Oh, yes. And the day ended with a reminder that the sun sets in the west...


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Climbing the Falls

E. and I are spending our weekend on the Oregon Coast. We drove along the Columbia River Gorge on Friday and stopped at Multnomah Falls. Despite the rain and at times hail, many people ventured up to the bridge overlook. On the way, we saw Dr. Seuslike trees covered in brilliant green moss.

A less traversed trail led a mile upwards to the top of the falls. We and a few other brave souls decided to make the ascent. It wasn't easy. There were times that we thought of turning back but once we made it to the top, we were proud of our accomplishment. Due to my fear of heights, I could not get any closer to the railing than I did in the photo below. I couldn't get a better sense of the height without scaring myself in the process; but if one looks in the bottom right hand corner, one can see the highway below.


On the way back down, the sun came out and we were congratulated with a rainbow. What a wonderful day it was.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

How Muslims are treated in the U.S.A.

It's worth watching this all the way through. It is a good example of all that I dislike and all that I love about my country.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama: Great on Race but not on Israel

In case you haven't heard or read Senator Barak Obama's speech, I am including a written version. I haven't heard any candidate articulate race this way before. I also haven't heard a candidate express so much empathy and commitment to having the citizens of the United States work together towards solving our social problems and the divisiveness that contributes to them. His ideas are not unique, I have the same hopes. It is just the first time that I have heard them articulated by a politician, and very eloquently I must say.

Favorite parts:

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now...

...And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

...

But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

...

But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

...

It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

While I am liking what Obama is saying, I do still have two points of contention. Obama's lack of support for gay marriage is one. The other is the Palestine/Israeli conflict. I am disappointed with this part of his speech:

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

Obama speaks of avoiding diviseness and yet he simplifies the Middle East conflict into one between Israel and its allies and radical Islam. I am in no way in support of radical fundementalism that leads to oppression and violence no matter what the religion. However, my thinking is not distorted when I am willing to stand up and say that Israel and its lobby here in the United States have too much influence on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. While we can acknowledge our country's history of genocide and slavery, why can't we also acknowledge that Israel continues to disregard the various peace accords and build settlements in Palestinian territory in such a way that it will be very difficult for Palestine to ever have a seperate state?

I want to whole heartedly support Obama. But this is why I cannot entirely support any candidate. I will vote and if it is Obama who is nominated I will vote for him. I just wish my vote could also help the Palestinian people.

Postscript: After I posted the above, I had a pang of nervousness. What would happen to me because I spoke out? I called a friend of mine and she reminded me about how approximately two years ago Obama had shown empathy in public for the Palestinian people. He received a great deal of bad press from this and in her words, "A candidate cannot win without the support of the Israeli lobby." This is so sad to me. Why should I feel fear? Why should people be silent when a group is being oppressed? If I had lived during the Holocaust I would have been just as vocal about that. How can we stop this cycle so that the formerly oppressed do not become oppressors?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Destination: Beirut-Lebanon

I have much to be thankful for these days. E. and are doing well. Very well, in fact. She is so genuine and wonderful. Always honest and true.

My father is visiting me again. He comes every six months or so. How lucky is that? I feel bad because I do get a bit snippy with him. He is turning 70 this coming month. I should not be anything but thankful for his existence, his friendship, and unconditional love.

And, the other big news is that I sent my most important package, my application to study Arabic this summer in the land in which I grew up.

Perhaps I have no reason to be nervous. I have been a good student, and I have done at least somewhat of something with my life. But it is my nature to second guess my abilities. Will I be accepted?

I have already submitted my leave of absence at work. And, I have saved the money to go. Now I must simply wait.

I have been tracking my package everyday. It has left Paris now. Does that mean it is on a flight to Lebanon? They slighly do not tell you what the next destination will be.

I tried to send the application via Global Express mail. But as the final address was a post office box, it was returned. The clock is ticking for it to reach its destination by the deadline, March 25. And so, I took advantage of the fact that I actually grew up in Lebanon the place in which I wish to travel and study. I sent my application to my dear childhood friend without even asking her first. We skyped and she will make sure it goes from her house to the right office in the university. It was so nice to hear her voice.

And so now, I can do nothing but track my package. My recommendations are in and soon will be the rest, hopefully. As long as there are no complications, such as a war perhaps? As my father says, everyone is hyper cautious now that there is no president. Stability is not being taken for granted. Does this mean that it will persist? Why is it that when I started getting interested in returning, the political situation collapsed?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fear

I have been reading short non-fiction for my creative writing class. One assignment involved going to Brevity, reading a few shorts, and writing a response. My favorite was A. Papatya Bucak's I Cannot Explain My Fear. Bucak is a Turkish-American writer who teaches at Florida Atlantic University. She also has a blog, Reading for Writers, that might interest book loving readers.

Her short interested me because fear is too much of a motivator for many individuals who are relatively privileged and safe and for this country that I live in called the United States. If I didn’t know how I was going to feed my loved ones tonight or there was a Caterpillar bulldozer outside of my door, fear might make more sense. However, fears of not being able to play golf in twenty years or no longer fitting the norm because you spoke out in a letter to the editor are in my opinion unfounded. The latter fears are much like those of the narrator. In fact the more I read through this short, the more preposterous are the fears; which is, of course, the point.

Fear of big feet.
Fear of women in high heels.
Fear of a children’s book,
or your second grade teacher, Mrs. Stein.

The thing is that the more far fetched these fears may sound, the more real they actually are. Truth be known, I tend to judge women in high heels. I wouldn’t say that I fear them, but I sure do get annoyed by them, especially when their owner walks too slow or when they are accompanied by the manipulative behavior many women feel forced to use in order to have any semblance of power and control. And, I used to worry that my elementary and middle school teachers could read my mind when I didn’t want to do my homework. It sounds so stupid in print.

Bucak’s short starts off as a laundry list of silly fears. But then, she takes a reasonable fear such as the fear of freezing and finds the place one would least associate with freezing, the desert, to support her fear. Of course, anyone who has spent any time in the desert knows how cold it can get when the sun goes down. Fear is often subjective and based on information that only a few may have and that others don’t, which is again the point.

Things like that confirm my own good sense and fear.

I often feel that many of us confuse fear with good sense; in other words our fear becomes our code of behavior. Good sense would say that a person should find a 40 hour a week good paying job with health and maybe even dental insurance. It doesn’t even matter if the person likes this job. Good sense would not tell a person to work at a job with little pay and slim benefits helping women and children get out of abusive homes. Or take the leap at 45 years of age to do what you really want to do which is to write, cook, travel, and facilitate workshops. I know people like this and I look up to them. “I need to have faith that it will all work out,” says one friend who works part time in the field of domestic violence prevention, whose husband is diabetic and out of work. And yet, she is going back to school at 54 and recently returned from traveling to Guatemala.

Fear of lightening.
Fear of bears.

Yes, I suppose I could be struck by lightening and could get mauled by a bear if I don’t follow park rules; but the chances are slim. Should a person live their life based on slim chances? My girlfriend’s hairdresser cut my hair the other day. She doesn’t know my hair. I told her to cut my bangs shorter. “Are you sure?” she asked. I leaped into it but knew that my hair would turn out alright even if the bangs were short. They will always grow out. “I make quick calculated decisions,” I said. She asked me if I ever regretted a decision that I have made. I honestly can’t say that I have even when a decision was just plain stupid. I always learned or gained something from the experience


Some of the narrator’s fears seem to have come straight out of my unconscious, such as fear of hitting the accelerator instead of the brake, or hearing sirens and wondering if the authorities are somehow after you. I didn’t think I was speeding? And some are wonderfully humorous twists: is it scarier to spend months alone or with someone else in a tent? Sometimes the narrator shares memories that seem to have just popped into her head such as that of Brian McGreary. I’ve been doing that a bit here myself.

The more I read this short, the more I like it. The narrator worries that she has taught her dog to fear. Isn’t this what we are teaching our children to do? September 11, 2001 is only an excuse. Fear has been used by humans as a justification for violence and conquest for centuries. For the narrator, words are the answer. Words don’t scare her. They give her the power to speak out as thoughtfully and/or as sarcastically as she wants. They give her an alternative to fear.

This short reminded me of a quote that I read in Eve Ensler's Insecure at Last. I made a postcard of it when I was in obsessive postcard making mode last year.


Face your fears, they may not be as scary as you think.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

I am a lesbian

I don't come out and say it much but I am feeling the urge to right now after reading posts by mortar and pestle and mera terrha pakistan. I am a lesbian. I am not completely sure why I am rarely direct about it. I am outspoken about everything else. There aren't even very many signs on this blog.

I know that from a very early age, I questioned gender roles. Strong independent women were my role models. My favorite song was "I am woman hear me roar." In Lebanon, one of my male friends refered to me once as his girlfriend. I ran up the stairs ahead of him and when he made it up to the top, we never talked about it again. I didn't exactly know why, but I had no desire to have a boyfriend and the possessive "his" got to me. In high school in the States, I was in awe of George Sand and the fact that she would dress up like a man so that she could get published and be accepted by male literary society. I also remember a television show set in the "old west" where one woman dressed and passed as a man amongst a group of male postal carriers. I thought she was the coolest. Until she fell in love with a man and came out as a heterosexual woman, that is. Then I was confused and disappointed.

While I was completely attracted to "cross-dressing," I still did not have a clear sense of lesbianism until college. I was a bit like Allison Bechdel's Mo who began her life as a lesbian by reading every book she could by lesbian authors and about lesbians. "The Second Sex" was my initiation. I would read the chapter on women loving women over and over again. I even remember reading it to a male friend of mine that had a crush on me and that I "sort of" had a crush on. One time, I called my father in the middle of the night and asked him if he would still love me if I was a lesbian. He called me back in the morning when he was awake and said, "Of course." I also dragged my straight friends to lesbian bars with me a couple of times but didn't follow through when I was asked on a totally friendly bike ride around town. It wasn't until the tail end of college that I actually dated anyone: a smart and persistent man. We stayed together for way too long and after awhile I thought of him more as a brother than as anything else. Years later my mom made the comment, "I thought that you were both gay and that you were together for convenience."

After that debacle, I stayed away from relationships for awhile. Well, I did develop a crush on a female friend in grad school. After an evening when I realized that the crush was mutual and that I was undeniably more attracted to and fulfilled by women, I went back to not wanting anything but friendships with either gender. This may have been a reluctance with coming out but I think that it was something much deeper that I am not going to share here. Instead of becoming romantically involved, I became very dedicated to social justice issues and developed close friendships. I loved the fact that I was undefinable. No one knew if I was gay or straight and when someone asked, I would say that I did not believe in categories. In fact, I was probably the last to believe in at least one category.

There are many reasons why I took so long to come out and say openly that I am a lesbian. One is that I felt that if I had a relationship with someone, I would be settling down and I was not ready to do that. I had too many places to go, too many degrees to obtain, too many experiences to have. I felt as if a relationship with either a man or a woman would get in the way of living. Of course, in a healthy relationship partners can support and encourage each other to live their lives to their fullest. I was still not ready for that.

Finally returning to Lebanon after 25 years seems to have been my turning point. I was definitely attracted to L. and that was a large part of it but returning to where I grew up was a big influence as well. The two parts of my life that I rarely was able to experience and talk about were in plain view and completely undeniable: I am a lesbian and I grew up in Lebanon. I wanted L. to fit into some picture of relationship perfection that I had which was just plain stupid. However, the whole experience finally woke me up and L. will always be very dear to me.

I have no problem holding hands with or kissing E. in public even in this rather conservative town where we live. For safety reasons, I always ask her first. But I have to say, that I like the fact that my sexual orientation is not obvious and that there are many people both gay and straight that I associate with who do not know. I feel priviledged in this regard. My female friends who feel more comfortable being butch don't have this luxury. I have no fear of traveling to places that are not gay friendly. I can always pass. While I do not wear makeup and high heels and have short hair, I still am very feminine.

If I say that I can pass, I am not saying that I hide my identity. Now that I am out, I am very open when asked. And even before my openess, I never let a derogatory comment towards homosexuality go without a reply. Well, maybe never is too strong. I have been known to stay quiet about the subject with the elderly and when in hyper alert safety mode. I was also nervous about coming out to my Kakchikel Mayan and Catholic friend, M.. But, I did and she was very supportive.

I am finding that this post is rambling and I am not sure where I meant to go with it at this point. E. has to work today and so I got up early with her and am planning on spending the day catching up in my creative writing class. I need to write a nonfiction short and this freewriting will hopefully help me get started. Plus, it has made me be a little more direct about my sexuality. That's a good thing.