Friday, February 27, 2004

many branches fall during the cutting time
take one into your home and it may bloom for you
just ask the magnolias that woke up with me

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

"We should also conduct this difficult debate in a matter worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger.

In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness and good will and decency."
--President Bush, in today's address announcing his support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

I really want to agree with Bush's sentinment in the above quote, however strongly I disagree with the sentiments of the rest of his the words of King, in our thirst for freedom we must not drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred. Our creative protest must not degenerate into physical violence.
But I AM angry. I am furious. How can I have compassion for those who disagree with me on this point? How can I have compassion for those who pursue acts of bigotry and the denial of civil rights? How can I have compassion for my President? I am at a loss. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Monday, February 23, 2004

So I didn't make it out of P-town and into the Adorondacks as I had planned for today, but oddly enough I saw more new scenery and had more new experiences than I probably would have if I had driven 5 hours north into the mountains. I attended the first dance class of my life this afternoon--a West African Dance class, taught to live drumming. I have never tried ot learn any kind of dance before, at least not in any focused and organized fashion, and this certainly did not come easily. I danced terribly. My movements were all wrong, and out of synch with the others. I fell way behind, and couldn't coordinate my feet and hands with each other. I would try to move one hand with the opposite foot, and one of them would fall out of line, or one of the other hands or feet would try to get in on the action,and the whole movement would be lost into a sort of moving body mush.
I had SO much fun. Learning without language is thrilling--a kind of learning I almost never do, that I have never really tried to cultivate. I studied some of the areas involved in action imitation over break--one of my mentors thinks areas of action imitation may be the basis of some of our more complex cognitive abilities--and the image of those withered and neglected parts of my brain groggily waking up and slowly starting to make new connnections, that image staid with me throughout the practice. I am going to try to keep up with my work so that I can have time to go back next week.

Tonight, once again, I tried to leave Providence to have dinner with my friend shira and her mom in Brookline, but Providence wasn't having that. My car refused to start, and decided instead to give me a two hour immersive experience in soliciting acts of lovingkindness from strangers and learning the subtle art of jump-starting. So I drove around the campus for a bit until it recharged, decided not to try to exit the city limits for the rest of the day. I made it to the grad center bar for the first time tonight, talked about the future of art and world travels and new england colleges around a pool table with Jesse and Seth, my roomates from last year.
I am very proud of myself this weekend. I am making good on my promise to reprioritize.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Imagine walking into a gospel church,
where the only texts used are the Torah, the Prophets,
and, primarily, translations of the traditional shabbat shacharit morning service
where most of the male congregants wear brown tuxedos with bowties
and most of the female congregants wear aqua-blue ruffled shirts, brown neckties and brown skirts
where most males wear kippot and tallitot
and most females cover their heads with black doilies or aqua-blue bows
and many men and women where medalion-like ribbons on their breasts
where congregants refer to each other as "deacon" and "elder" and "sister"
where the cantor, the chazzan, is a choir conductor
and the entire congregation is the choir (with especially gifted members leading and dancing in the front row)
where you can barely hear the cantor because he is more concerned with waving his baton in his hands
to bring out the many voices of the congregation
where every member of the congregation is a great orator
and where all English dramatic readings from the Shacharit service are spontaneously responsive
because members of the congregation
need to respond
("True" "Isn't that right!" "Amen!" "Only one!")
where the entire community comes to their feet to sanctify the holiness of a teenage girl's song
where everyone rises together to sing happy birthday to a little boy
where the entire community sanctifies each other through God
where all the music is gospel
and all the words are Jewish
when you have imagined this and so much more
and probably when you are crying
out of sheer awe and amazement
at the kavannah of this community
then you have entered the First Tabernacle
on the South Side of Providence.

Between the morning Sabbath school and the service that began at 11 and ran unti 2
There was a break for tea and pastries
We were seated as guests of honor
at a table with a white tablecloth and guilded silverwear,
where an elder of the congregation told us about his history and the history of the community
and spoke out against the objectification of religion.
Religion is not something you can get,
he told us.
Religion is something you do.
Religion is something you do when you get up in the mornging,
when you walk down the street, when you mow the lawn
Religion is something you do all the time.

the only tragedy of the experience
is that I can remember so few of the songs
I am going to contact the congregation's offices after the weekend
and try to get them to send me a recording

Friday before Shabbat, I went to the 1pm services at the Muslim student center
Rafai began them with a call to prayer
Which uses a beautiful and ornate melody
very similar to the chanting melodies of sephardi Jews,
belted out emotively
with pregnant silence between each phrase
A RISD student, Sahib, gave a sermon
about the important and difficult balance between hope and fear
and about the infinite mercy of Allah
The formal service that followed was brief
and only a little uncomfortable for me standing behind and not participating
and consisted of some recitations and
different levels of prostrations
performed in synchrony.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Blogging is powerful.
Reaching a boundless audience no longer requires a press pass.
But having a creating truly private spaces may require greater intention.
Given how glowing this blogger's review was, maybe the President will begin interacting more intentionally with members of the blogging public.
Either way, even the President will be hard pressed to have truly closed-door conversations.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

"The tone that I eventually used in 100 Years of Solitude was based on the way my grandmother used to tell stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness...What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories and everyone was surprised. In previous attempts to write, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face."
--Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Monday, February 16, 2004

Germaphobia is dangerous.
Here is just one of many reasons.

The demonization of microbes inscribes a misleading image on our relationship with invisible life,
birthing an alarmist attitude toward microbes
that manifests in oversprescription of drugs that kill microbes en mass.
Antibiotics do save lives, and in many cases they are the best tool we've got right now.
But carpetbombing your vast internal community can have an enormous impact.
It is not a step that should not be taken lightly--we must take it out of necessity not out of fear.

Thursday, February 12, 2004


Where did this panel go wrong?
In order to stop the conflict, we must change the conversation.

Guest column by Beth Goldman, Ari Johnson, Hannah Lantos, Michaella Matt, Fatima Quraishi, Jake Rosenberg, Shira Wakschlag and Sarah Zakowski

People may have come to last Tuesday's (Feb. 3) panel, "Democracy and Peace: An Exploration of the Israeli−Palestinian Conflict," thinking it would be the same as any other panel that they had attended on the Israeli−Palestinian conflict: full of anger, bitter blaming, polarized presenters, and all of the usual arguments about the unambiguous evil of suicide bombers or settlers. Unfortunately, they were right.

We, the organizers, envisioned an event that would transform a divisive and bitterly emotional debate into an important new forum for intellectual exchange on a conflict that is in dire need of new ideas. We hoped to change the tone of the dialogue from a presentation of dogmatic and immutable positions into a constructive conversation with mutual understanding of each other's arguments and pain.

Those of us who organized the event are the leaders of a wide variety of student organizations, including Brown Students for Israel, Friends of Israel, the Muslim Students Association and Tikkun. Among these groups, we have supporters of the wall, opponents of the wall, supporters of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, supporters of the Palestinian cause, supporters of the current Israeli government and everything in between. And yet we came together regularly for the past six months to plan an event that, through its panel of diverse speakers and its higher goal of greater understanding, would satisfy our common ground: our shared concern for peace in the region.

We envisioned that our panelists, though not necessarily in agreement with each other, would explore together the challenges and aspirations of Israeli and Palestinian societies by delving wholeheartedly into the historical and contemporary role of democracy in the Israeli−Palestinian relationship. By bringing scholars together to discuss both Palestinian and Israeli democracies, we sought to create a compassionate intellectual atmosphere where the audience could learn about and discuss the trajectories of the Israeli and Palestinian people and identify areas for improvement and growth in the Israeli−Palestinian relationship.

We tried to express this vision to the panelists and to set up the structure of the panel in a way that would facilitate this kind of exploration. The scholars of Israeli politics were instructed to focus on ways in which to improve and solidify Israeli democracy, while the scholars of Palestinian politics were asked to focus on methods with which to develop Palestinian democracy. We instructed the speakers to address the past, present and future of Israeli and Palestinian democracies, rather than just to make policy recommendations.

Unfortunately, the panel did not realize our goals. The political perspectives were not balanced and the atmosphere of introspection and investigation never developed. We wanted to listen to panelists who would enable us to truly consider each point of view and understand and empathize where it was coming from. Instead, the presentations became polemical and at times bitterly emotional. Members of the audience responded to such emotional appeals on an equally combative and emotional key. As happens all too often at such events, we failed to communicate and found ourselves and the audience clapping for the people we agreed with and sitting sullenly silent waiting for the people we disagreed with to stop talking.

We struggled with this outcome. Why did we not get what we wanted? Why could we not change the dialogues, or lack thereof, at this university? Even within our group, we had very different reactions. Some of us thought the panel brought up essential and often unspoken questions underlying the Israeli−Palestinian conflict. Others among us felt disappointed to have put our names on the organizing list of a panel we felt to have been one−sided and misleading.

Regardless of the nuances in our reactions, we all agreed that the panel did not achieve our ideal of a discussion that encompassed a diversity of perspectives and not only listed demands for peace, but also embodied peace in its process. Some might argue that our expectations for a mutually compassionate and self−critical discussion of this conflict were unreasonable and naive. But we maintain that this is a vision we can and must continue to strive for. Bitter, emotional arguments about these issues reproduce and amplify the very conflict they attempt to resolve. Therefore, to help transform the conflict, we must first transform the conversation.

While the panel did not create the kind of discussion we had envisioned, we believe that our collaborative process in organizing this event should be a source of hope for those who share our yearning to transform the discussion on the Israeli−Palestinian conflict. In organizing this event, we began to talk to each other. We are bringing different ideas together, and we are trying to understand each other. We disagree. And yet we can create a new conversation.