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Monthly Archives: December 2017

May the Force Be With Us

(Warning, there are spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi)

On Christmas morning, before everyone else had finished unwrapping their presents, Mom and I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. We’d already had Chinese food for Christmas Eve dinner, and watched everything the Hallmark channel had to offer, so a movie and a bucket of popcorn were the next obvious Christmas rites for our Jewish family.


“Why can’t I go to the movie too?”

Sometimes I think that the Star Wars universe has as much to do with my world view as anything I learned in my Jewish Day School. The idea of the Force, an energy that exists within us and that connects everything in the universe, has always felt right to me; and the movies about the people who access it, and reject it, have always resonated for me as much as, or let’s admit it, more than, any bible story.

My first experience with the Star Wars universe was at age seven, when Return of the Jedi came out in theaters and my family went to the opening weekend. Jabba the Hutt stared down at me from the screen, dragging Princess Leia by a chain, eating unmentionable things, and laughing at what he could make people do. I fell asleep, because it was late, or because I was terrified, and I missed the Ewoks, my whole reason for going to see the movie. But Jabba was part of the resonance of the movies too: the darkness, the violence, the betrayals, were all real to me, as was the feeling that I might actually be alone in the universe; not just in my school, or my hometown, but in the whole freakin’ universe.

Anyway, we arrived at the theater early to see The Last Jedi, because there was no one on the roads on Christmas morning. It took a while for the movie theatre staff to catch up with us, so we were first on line for popcorn when they got there, and since we had nowhere else to go, we sat in our oddly uncomfortable reclining seats and watched half an hour’s worth of commercials and previews. Thank God for the bucket of popcorn. Except, I didn’t buy anything to drink, because I knew I couldn’t pause the movie for a pee break, so I was left with that puckery feeling in my mouth that made me wonder why I kept eating the excessively salty popcorn, seemingly against my will. There’s gotta be something added to movie theater popcorn that makes it addictive, but I don’t know what it is. Clearly this has something to do with the power of the dark side.

Finally, the iconic Star Wars music started blasting out of the speakers, and then the golden storytelling script was reeling back into space, and we were off!

I need to get this out of the way first: The Last Jedi is not a perfect movie. Someone forgot to edit the script, and managed to leave in nine or ten acts instead of the customary three or five. The movie seemed to end so many times that when it finally did end, I was suspicious. I thought another act might start to unfold under the credits. I can sort of understand the multiple almost-endings, because they gave all of the heroes and heroines a chance to save the day at least once. Sure, Rey is the titular Last Jedi, but there’s also Rose and Finn, and Poe and BB8 and Leia and, of course, Luke, and those icicle dogs, and Laura Dern, out of nowhere. But despite all of that, the movie worked for me.

I was worried that the long awaited return of Luke Skywalker would be a disappointment; that maybe he would be too bland or perfect in his old age. Instead, he was wonderfully grumpy, and he held the central message of the movie: you never lose people, even if they are far away, and even after death. That was a message I really needed to hear. Other characters filled out that message too, explaining it as part of the force. Yes, one of the bad guys creates the initial “bridge” between Kylo Ren and Rey, but there are other bridges that he has no role in, and even that one goes beyond his control.


The force was strong with this one.

I’ve had moments like that in my life, where I’ve almost felt like I could touch the hand of someone far away, or hear the voice of someone long gone. I can’t always tap into that network of everything, but when I can it is powerful, and bittersweet, because while you feel the connection, you feel the distance even more.


There’s something fitting about delving into the Star Wars universe during this time between the end of one year and the beginning of the next. This space is often filled with grief for what we’ve lost, and the darkness of winter, but there’s also hope and a sense of continuity. We sit in the movie theater and the music continues to play through the credits, and we know that the story will continue to unfold, soon.


Cricket is waiting.





The Christmas Quandary

I like the smell of burning wood, and the Snowflake lights, and the chill of the beginning of winter. I like hot cocoa, and eggnog, and any excuse to top things with whipped cream. But I have mixed feelings about Christmas, because I’m Jewish and it’s not my holiday. We didn’t talk much about Christmas in my Jewish Day School growing up, but every show I watched on TV at this time of year (and I watched a lot of TV) had a Christmas themed episode, and it was, as intended, enchanting.


“I love whipped cream!”

If you look through a list of the creators of Christmas movies and Christmas music, you’ll find tons of Jewish names. It could be a coincidence, but I think it’s because, as outsiders, Jews were desperate to feel that sense of magic and belonging. The whole town comes together to celebrate, with food and drink and sparkling lights. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? The idea that some magical character will know exactly what I need, and provide it, is every child’s wish. As is the idea that being a good and kind person should pay off.

But then I’m reminded, by this or that song, that this is not my holiday. I do not sing songs about Jesus. I don’t believe in the virgin birth. I am not the target audience for movies about the crucifixion, or stories about how Jews add the blood of gentile children to their matzot at Passover (where did that idea even come from?). These stories remind me that there are large groups of people who think I have horns coming out of my head.



And then I watch an ice skating show on TV, or hear someone singing Silent Night (or singing a Jewish prayer to the tune of Silent Night, at Friday night services at my synagogue), and I change my mind again. There’s something so peaceful and kind about the intentions behind Christmas: the generosity of reaching out to strangers who need help; families returning to each other; angels bringing miracles to people who need them.


“Dear Santa, can I have more chicken?”

I’ve been watching all of the Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel again this year, because they soften the edges of a harsh world for a little while, with all of that love and magic and inevitable good fortune. But they also force me to see all of the holes in my life, where things and people are missing. I see a cozy family in front of the fire, or a bright shining star in the sky, and I think of my Butterfly, and how she embodied all of the sweetness and light the world could offer, and I miss her terribly. And I miss the good fortune that all of these two dimensional heroes and heroines on TV are experiencing, getting everything they’ve ever dreamed of. And it hurts.


My Butterfly


And then it changes again, and I feel hopeful that some of that magic is still out there for me, and it will find me, no matter what my religion or culture or skin color or gender, when I’m ready. I’d really like to believe in that.



Chasing the Light


Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, started on Tuesday night, and it feels like it’s coming along at just the right time. Chanukah is a holiday for celebrating miracles and light (and a few other things that I choose to ignore, because violence and gore are not my thing). The miracles are about the survival of the Jewish people, and a light that shines longer than it ever should have. Of course, in celebrating that light we have to take it too far: if one candle is nice, eight or nine are nicer, if one Menorah is nice, twenty or thirty, or one twenty-foot tall Menorah, is nicer.

menorah21 brooklyn

In Brooklyn (not my picture)

I have been impatiently waiting for some light, especially since Miss Butterfly died, because she radiated light. I’ve tried so hard to generate enough light to fill the void she left behind, but what she did effortlessly I struggle to match.

pix from eos 020

Butterfly, radiating internal light

In a strange coincidence, or not, on Tuesday afternoon we received an envelope in the mail form Butterfly’s clinic, with her collar and tags. They’d lost track of them for five months, but on the first day of Chanukah, they were found (or at least received). Mom took it as a sign that Butterfly wants us to find a new sibling for Cricket. I want to see it that way too, but looking at her little pink Butterfly charm just made me sob.


I want to believe that bringing a new dog home will add light back into our lives. There is a new puppy across the hall, a little black ball of fluff who hops and cries and looks into your eyes until you melt. He makes me think that maybe I could manage a puppy again (I can’t); then there’s his sort-of-sister, Hazel, the mini-Goldendoodle, with her evanescent joy and uncontrollable peeing; and Teddy, our sometime boarder, who went home to find a new sister in his house, a Shih-Poo named Rosie who is doing her best to catch his eye. The light is everywhere, but I can’t quite catch it and hold onto it; I just keep seeing it run past me.

This past weekend, the first snow of the season brought out Cricket’s joy and light. She loves to run through the snow and catch snow balls with her mouth, and dig for hidden snow balls in the snow. I gladly reached down (with my gloves on) for handfuls of snow to keep her entertained. Her capacity for joy is extraordinary, and extraordinary to watch, even in the freezing cold.


“Look at the snowy light dropping from the sky!”


“Throw the ball, Mommy!”

I’ve been trying to look at, but the pages and pages of dogs in nearby rescues and shelters overwhelm me. How do you choose? I want a puppy, but I don’t have the energy. I want a senior dog, like Butterfly, but I can’t go through the trauma of loss again so soon. I want a Great Dane, but I don’t have the room, or the strength. Whenever I see a cute dog who is the right size (no bigger than Cricket), and age (three or four), and doesn’t look too much like Butterfly, I get excited, and then terrified, and then I start crying.

I’m going to need all of the light I can get in order to help me see clearly in the next leg of this journey, and I’m hoping that Chanukah will start me off well, bringing light, and some joy, and maybe even a little bit of hope.


Butterfly leads the way.



On #MeToo


When the #MeToo hashtag first appeared, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I was afraid that it would minimize the seriousness of sexual harassment and sexual assault, watering the terms down to the point of meaninglessness, and I doubted that it would lead anywhere. I was wrong. It hasn’t gone away, instead, because of twitter and Facebook and some very good journalism, women’s voices are being heard and abusers are being named, and even fired.

But not all of them. Woody Allen still gets to make movies. And Stephen Colbert still promotes his movies on The Late Show. Actors still make excuses to work with Woody Allen, and say things like, I don’t want to take sides in a “family issue.” They don’t say, I don’t have an opinion on a moral issue of deep significance that represents the misuse of power not only of men in general but of fathers in particular, because that would make them sound icky.


There are even people who think it is a legitimate thing to say, of a politician, I don’t care that he’s a pedophile, as long as he belongs to my political party.


“No way!”

I’m not sure why certain cases are taken seriously and others aren’t. I’m not sure where this whirlwind is going to land, and I worry that there will, as always, be a backlash. I’m also not a fan of the assumption that this is simply a men against women issue, as if all women have taken the high road. Unfortunately, women have been as expert at shutting down other women’s voices as men have.

My experience, as a victim of childhood sexual abuse, has been that people, of both sexes, did not want to know. And if they heard me and believed me, they still thought I should be able to get over it quickly. Maybe a year of therapy, at the most. But I’m in year twenty-something of therapy and I see no end in sight. I wrote a novel about childhood sexual abuse, but editors told me that they found the subject matter, or the way I addressed it, too painful to read, and too difficult to place, no matter how “beautifully written.” Even when I went to graduate school for writing, and sat with other writers in classes, and bars, and on couches in dorms, there was a deep unwillingness to listen to people who shared these kinds of painful stories, unless they were wrapped in the cozy fluff of sci fi or horror or mystery, or, alternatively, gave graphic details of the sex acts. There is very little tolerance for a story that emphasizes the fear and vulnerability of the victim, and the complex and time consuming process of recovery. People want something easier to live with. They want empowerment and resolution in two hundred and fifty pages.

I am afraid that, even now, the reason why #MeToo was so successful is because people only had to read two anonymous words, and didn’t have to bother with the whole, difficult story. I am afraid that those two words are all I am really allowed to say.


“You can’t shut me up!”

The Pin Cushion

When I was moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer the other day, I found a safety pin, open. Thankfully it hadn’t stuck me, it just fell out of the pile of wet clothes and hit the basement floor. I couldn’t figure out where the safety pin had come from, because I never use safety pins, but I was doing the combined laundry, Mom’s and mine, so I figured it must have fallen out of one of her sewing projects. She’s always tossing random pieces of fabric into the laundry bag for me to wash (I do most of the laundry; she does most of the cooking. It’s a pretty good deal). Then I saw one of Mom’s pincushions on the pile of wet clothes on top of the dryer, and I thought that was probably where the safety pin had come from, but, do pin cushions usually need to be washed? When I picked up the pin cushion, it pricked my finger, and I realized that the tip of a needle was sticking out of the bottom. When I pressed down on the pin cushion, to get a better grip on that needle, three more needle points appeared. I decided that the best plan would be to put the mystery aside for a minute, in a safe place like the bag of laundry supplies, and finish putting the rest of the clothes into the dryer.


The offending pin cushion.

As I walked back to the apartment (the laundry room is in the building next to mine), I was torn between being angry at my mother for putting a pin cushion in the laundry without warning the laundress – aka me, and being angry at her for not knowing that her pin cushion was stuffed with hidden needles. But when I got back to the apartment and showed her the pin cushion, she was as shocked as I was, on both fronts. The pin cushion must have fallen into her laundry bag by mistake, and she’d had no idea it was hoarding needles.

I sat down on the couch for my traditional time-waster between putting the clothes in the dryer and picking them up, and started to pull out the visible needles. I pressed and pushed at the cushion in search of more, and they kept coming. Ten, twenty, thirty needles of all shapes and sizes. This had to be years’ worth of lost needles, hiding all this time as Mom went out and bought ever more replacements. There were rounded needles, and thick quilting needles, and skinny needles, and short needles, and long needles.


Some of the hidden needles, now safely stuck in the top of the pink pin cushion.

I had to stop long enough to get the laundry and handed the pin cushion puzzle over to Mom for the time being, because she was eager to give it a try. But after we’d finished putting the clothes away, the puzzle of the pin cushion called out to me, even after Mom was certain she’d found all of the needles that could be found.

I asked if I could undo some of the seams of the pincushion, to make the search easier, but Mom balked at that, suddenly very protective of her little pincushion. So I pressed and pushed at the now miss-shapen cushion until at least fifteen more needles appeared. The needles had migrated deeper and deeper into the stuffing of the pin cushion over the years, and only a finger prick to let me know when I’d caught another needle.

Cricket had no interest in this particular mystery, thank God. I had just watched an episode of Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet where she’d had to search for porcupine quills in the face of a poor crying sled dog, so I may have been giving off the right amount of fear and foreboding to keep Cricket at a safe distance.

doctor oakley


“Save me, Grandma!”

I know that my obsession with finding the hidden needles says something important about me: that I wasn’t put off by the sharp pains, or by my lack of real interest in the needles themselves (what do I need with fifty multi-sized needles that had already been given up for lost?); but I can’t figure out what that metaphor is. I only know that the appearance of each formerly hidden needle filled me with joy and a sense of accomplishment, and that when I couldn’t find any more needles, I felt bereft, as if a sudden void had opened up around me.

Cricket offered her belly up for scratching and even let me remove a small piece of goop from underneath her eye, but the void remained. I feel like I’m supposed to continue the search for hidden needles, or their analogs, but I don’t know where to look.


“No needles here.”