Saturday, May 07, 2011

i love that every time i return to this blog, the recent post has something to do with a thought that recently passed through my head or an experience i've just lived. the other day walking down the street, i noticed someone beating a rhythm with a random object, oblivious to the stares, and i was reminded of that time - could it be so many months ago - that i was walking down the street in Athens...i forgot i had even written about it in "Beats".

i don't watch tv in the states, principal reason being that i don't have a television. secondly because commercials drive me mad. i have been watching tv here, one to keep up with spanish, two to fill the emptiness of my apartment for lack of a music source which would otherwise fill it, and three to do what i judge others for - to turn off my brain after an exhausting day.

in such a process i have noticed the following: every single commercial for anything domestic - cleaning products, household kitchen appliances, household items, etc. features a woman. it is nauseating how these gender stereotypes are reinforced. i know it's the same in the states (i do watch tv about twice a year when i visit home). one commercial for a stove features a standard family of mom, dad, and child. mom takes the cookies out of the oven, and child and dad come running to have some. i know men who bake. but something tells me it would not occur to advertising companies to have dad take the cookies out of the oven.

i recently read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. i highly recommend it. i was intrigued by her struggle as a feminist and as a food lover to come to terms with the connections between what has happened to US kitchens in the last 50 years, and the gains in the US feminist movement. the movement exhorted us to undomesticate ourselves, to get out of the kitchen and into the workforce. of course, most families need two incomes to afford anything, but the reality is, how do we feed ourselves? this necessary thing for us to continue functioning was taken over at the same time by the food industry. Kingsolver explains better than i will the terrible conspiracy of subsidizing corn and soybeans, and using it not for food but for meal for animals which aren't supposed to eat corn and for food-like substances that fill all the packaged food with extra and poisonous calories that have turned US people fat and sluggish. apparently this generation is, for the first time, predicted to have a shorter life span than their parents. it is interesting to think what happened when women left the kitchen. of course, except for wealthy families contracting brown-skinned women as live-in nannies, women are now both in the workplace and in the kitchen and who isn't exhausted at the end of day? who wants to go to the garden to pull carrots and shred them for a soup after working the whole day? i guess this is opening many other cans of worms...i just remembered a Barcelona friend of mine telling me she was completely perplexed by the US work day. in Spain there is work for several hours, then rest for several hours, then work for several hours, then rest for several hours.

the food issue is a big one for me, even though i dedicate myself to antiwar forpeace activities, the food issue is always lurking in the background. if we don't have food sovereignty, then our bodies can be manipulated and it might come to a point where we just don't exist anymore. if the food situation is so disastrous, there won't be any other issues to fight for. the entire world has a problem of rural-urban migration. food is too overwhelming for me.

another observation i can make from watching tv in Ecuador is from the movies that are shown. on this point, there is absolutely no mystery as to why people think that in the states, everyone lives in a mansion, has a swimming pool and even the fries taste of freedom. take "The Girl Next Door" for example. this is the type of movie that hollywood churns out like Cuenca bread shops, and it's the type of movie that's shown on tv all the time. hollywood movies don't care about the poor or middle class, so those images are never on tv and of course people think the US is money-land. besides this, the movie was also nauseating. the female protagonist had her life chosen for her first by her porn star pimp and then by the student body president morally righteous nice boy next door.
what was on next? 90210.

the status quo is disgusting to me. the normalization of oppression, the banality and superficiality of relationships, the incredible profit from destruction of life...i take comfort i am not alone in my disgust.

Monday, November 08, 2010


today as i was walking down the street i was thinking of the African proverb "If you can talk, you can sing; If you can walk, you can dance." i was carrying a cardboard soup bowl with a plastic lid and plastic spoon. i began to beat a rhythm on the lid with the spoon and discovered three different beats i could make. i walked the whole way home this way, walking to the rhythm of my soup bowl, and once it occured to me that maybe i was annoying people walking around me. but then i realized they all had their ipods in their ears anyway. what a world. people aren't listening to each other's beats. this makes me sad.

Sunday, November 07, 2010


i happened to be perusing my blog a few days ago, which i have never done before, and found an entry, that, unlikeliness of unlikelihoods, came to pass again - three and one half years later, to the exact day, i feel EXACTLY the same way today as i did on 6 May 2007, when i wrote the first entry. it is a very different situation, of course, so i am deleting a few sentences here or there, perhaps adding a few. and so here is today's post:

This is an excerpt from a book called "Dear Exile," which is the one-year written correspondence between two women friends. One woman writes of her breakup:
"I hate the idea that he continues to pay his phone bills, to button his shirts, to age, to eat, to read or not read the newspaper. I hate that he lives in real time, that everything he does involves the decision that he didn't want to do it with me. Somewhere he's filling up his gas tank and I'm thinking about how I'd like to see the way his arm looks doing that[...]how his fingers looked, by themselves and against mine. How his sentences came slowly, for reasons I won't find out. How tired he was, how sad and tired all the time and determined to be well and good. How I wanted to heal him, not by helping him or carrying him but by huddling next to him. How I wanted to have his whole world, to move it in some way across my body, or to digest it, to have it be at once foreign and part of me. I wanted him to talk forever for the sound of his voice, for what he said and what made him think of it and what it made him think next, for how it sounded in the trees or in a room, for what the room said back."

No one told me life was fair; but I'm going to complain about its unfairness anyway. Why do men make women feel like fools? Note here that I say men, not love (I concede lust and infatuation must leave one feeling like a fool. Of course. I also fully concede that women make men feel like fools). Why do they pursue us, treat us well, pretend to be a friend and then disappear into their own lives? Were we wrong to hope that a person cared about us enough to want to be with us over a long period of time? Were we wrong to believe him, to believe in him, to believe in a real relationship? And even at the end of it all, were we wrong to believe him when he said he wanted to still be friends? Left with feelings of frustration, disappointment, anger, hurt, disillusionment and foolishness, one is looking for someone to blame. I don't know where the blame falls although I know this post looks like I'm blaming men. And I know you (men and women) hate me for stereotyping (both men and women). But even if I weren't speaking from personal experience, in the past 6 months 11 women, that's right, 11 of the wonderful women I know have had uncannily similiar experiences; such that it's beginning to sound to me like all men have the same recipe for a relationship. And it's 12 women who have been hurt, but by 19 guys. These are not good statistics.
The pain could disappear instantly, if one could just erase all the memories. All I want is someone who wants to commit to me because he values me, who thinks being with me (not 24/7, certainly) is a joy and not a burden, someone who is my friend, someone whom I make a better person and who makes me a better person. This is love.
And these patterns that I see are that things start well, and then one person pulls away, shuts the door, but shuts the door without telling you, so you are still knocking and eventually you realize the door isn't open anymore and then you knock really hard to say, um, hello? And the door is opened and greetings are made and then it's shut in your face again except you are now standing on the threshold so you get knocked over. And the other person continues to live his/her life, and like the quote above, you continue to live your life, knowing that the person behind the door decided not to share it with you.
I realize that nothing is as it seems and that everything is more complicated than it appears. But the feelings I listed above remain, despite any understanding of the situation or of the guy, and I don't like feeling them because it hurts and hurts and hurts. And I feel like such a fool for having believed, again, that something beautiful could have lasted.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


yesterday i woke up to the doomsday results of tuesday's midterm elections. even though the so-called options were between, in the words of Ani Difranco, tweedledumb and tweedledumber, unfortunately tweedledumbers won for both governor of Ohio and southeast Ohio's 6th district representative. so instead of just bad news, it was bad-er news. comments made by politicians who had won or lost ("America is the greatest nation in the history of the earth") made me want to run far away from this country. i've wanted to run away before, but knowing that my "representative" wants to cut the National Endowment for the Arts, really, truly, does make me want to run away. a politician in connecticut spent almost $50 million in her campaign, which she lost, and then partied for four hours by offering her republican supporters an open bar. she got half a million votes. $100 a person.

i walked out of my apartment thinking about one more aspect of how this democracy is a joke - elections are a game played mainly by millionaires and the only thing they care about is winning or losing. then i walked past a couple girls who were collecting money for Athens County Children Services. i gave a couple dollars, but instead of feeling warm and fuzzy, i just felt despair: "thanks," one of the girls said, "sometimes these are the only christmas presents the kids get."
maybe if someone spent $50 million on a political campaign and then funded a program for the entire state, in which every single child had food, shelter, clothing, and appropriate education, i wouldn't have so much of a problem. yeah, it's difficult. but i'm sick of bureaucratic and logistical excuses. there is no excuse that children go hungry. look into the eyes of a hungry child and say "well, i'm trying but really it's more important that we fund Israel's army to kill Palestinian civilians and we need to give them tanks so they can keep those people in a state of siege, so i'm sorry, you'll just have to stay hungry until we can figure this out."
and thus, yet another day began full of deep despair that the world is not how it should be, my refusal to accept the idea that maybe it's okay that it's not how it should be, and the feeling that it seems like most other people ARE accepting this idea.

the good news is, i stumbled upon something called "despairwork" in a book called "Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age" by Joanna Macy. here are some poignant ideas i have read so far: "We are not closed off from the world, but integral components of it, like cells in a larger body. When part of that body is traumatized, we sense that trauma too - in the sufferings of fellow-beings, in the pillage of our planet, and even in the violation of future generations. When the condition of the larger system falters, sickens, as is occurring in our present age of exploitation and nuclear technology, the disturbance we feel at a semi-conscious level is acute. Like the impulses of pain in any ailing organism they serve a positive purpose, these impulses of pain are warning signals...Yet we tend to repress that pain. We block it out because it hurts, because it is frightening, and most of all because we do not understand it and consider it to be a dysfunction, an aberration, a sign of personal weakness...As a society we are caught between a sense of impending apocalypse and the fear of acknowledging it. In this 'caught' place, our responses are blocked and confused..." so we all to some extent lead "double lives:" "One one level we maintain a more or less up-beat capacity to carry on as usual - getting up in the morning and remembering which shoe goes on which foot, getting the kids off to school...and all the while, underneath, there is this inchoate knowledge that our world could go at any moment." the author goes through the causes of repression, of this societal psychic numbing (fear of pain, of appearing morbid, of appearing stupid, of guilt, of causing distress, of provoking disaster, of sowing panic, of religious doubt, or of appearing too emotional), then the effects of repression (fragmentation and alienation, political passivity, destructive behaviors, psychological projection, diminished intellectual performance, burn-out, sense of powerlessness), then how despairwork came about (which was not at first a theory but simply people trying to deal with this world in a productive way and sow peace and healing), and then chapter two moves into theoretical foundations of it.

i have never felt so comforted that in fact i am not crazy, that really most people probably do feel a sense of pain for the world, it's just that we don't talk about it because it's overwhelming, we are afraid to show emotion, to cry in public, to appear unreasonable, we are passed off as idealists, as if what is Good couldn't also be what is Real. all this pain is repressed, and while "each days news brings fresh cause for grief" we still go about our day and our routines, etc. etc., and in my heart i carry a heavy burden for all the children who are dying, mothers who are suffering, men who are teased, war, famine, natural disasters, etc. tell me you don't carry this burden also? why can we not grieve together? and then do something about it? (the book offers methods and strategies to channel this sorrow into creative means).

today i woke up to reports of malnourished children in South Korea and i thought of the thousands of pounds of food "waste" generated in this country. "waste" that could not only feed children in South Korea but families in Appalachia who are hungry too. this really has nothing to do with socialism or any political belief. it is a simple belief: every life is valuable. not just rich people's lives, or white people's lives, or men's lives, or U.S. people's lives, but every fucking life. and when there is enough food, medicine, and technology to go around, then there is no excuse.
also today, i was tutoring a Chinese student in the library and i made a comment that some students near us were being loud. she looked over and then said to me, "black people," with a shake of her head. i said, "what does their being black have to do with it?"
she said, "oh, well i just said that because the other day there was a group of black people and they were being loud." WHAT??
i said, "well, white people are loud too, it has nothing to do with the fact that they are black."
"oh, okay," she said.
WHAT?? where on earth is this Chinese student, living in the U.S., getting her prejudices from?

everything is messed up and the world is complicated. but, my god, if we are afraid to speak out, to feel this pain, to grieve, to act, to cry, to heal, then this whole world is going to hell.
so, let's stop repressing it, let's weep together and let's learn strategies to act.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Hanus Hachenburg

Terezín is a small town outside of Prague, Czech Republic. it was originally founded as a military fortress in the 18th century by king somebody. during WWII it was turned into a ghetto - a model Jewish city - by the Nazis.

at the ghetto life mainly revolved around labor camps but to a certain extent, intellectual and artistic life was allowed to develop, since the Nazis needed to allow them some expression for purposes of propaganda. if you are in the Czech Republic, i highly recommend visiting this town because the museum houses an amazing collection of the artwork and literary work of the people who lived there. in the ghetto there were writers, artists, actors, singers, etc. several of the houses were boys houses, and some of the artistic ones published a secret magazine called Vedem, or We Are Leading.

Hanus Hachenburg was a boy who was taken to Terezín and lived there for several years. on 18 December 1943, he and his mother were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was last heard of. presumably he died in 1944, when he was 15.
at the age of 14, he wrote this poem:


A little dirt within the dirty walls
and round about a little bit of wire
And thirty thousand sleeping there,
who will awake one day
And see their life blood
Spilled around them.

I was a child once - two short years ago
My youth was longing for another world
I am a child no longer - I saw things to make me blush
Now I am adult and have known terror,
Bloody words and murdered days,
That is no longer just a bugaboo!

But I also believe that I am only sleeping
That I shall see my childhood once again
Childhood like a wild, wild rose
Like a bell to wake me from my dreams
Like a mother who with womanly intuition,
loves the naughty child most
How terrible my youth that watches only
For the enemy, the rope

How terrible a youth, that to itself
Must say: this one is good, and that one is evil.
Somewhere in the distance, childhood sweetly sleeps.
Along the narrow paths of Stromovka park,
There, from that house, someone leans out,
Where only contempt is left for me,
Where long ago, in gardens full of flowers,
My mother brought me into the world to weep.
In candlelight I sleep on my hand pallet,
And one day perhaps I shall understand
That I was just a tiny creature,
As small
as that chorus
of thirty thousand.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

imbalances of power

i was inspired to write, so i flipped through my journal for a subject and we'll start with this: at a party for the summer solstice in Estonia, i was helping to group branches together which are used in the sauna as a sort of beating device (it feels very good, i promise) and i had just met the people around me, which were a mix of estonians and russians. i dont really know why, but someone of those who knew english asked me if i knew anything about Belarus. with a guilty heart, i confessed that in fact, i knew nothing about Belarus. one of the women remarked, in russian, that everyone knows everything about the U.S. but U.S. people dont know anything about the rest of the world. i took her seriously, even though it was a joke, and i exclaimed "i know!" and then began to protest in a voice that was louder than necessary that yes, this was unfair and i know that the world is this way at the moment and its not fair that U.S. people dont know anything about the world which knows everything about them (which in fact, is not completely true on either side), but that i was trying, okay? and that how can i be expected to know everything about the entire world?

such were my protests. at the time, i did in fact feel exasperated that i should be expected to know everything about the entire world. but my entire purpose there was to be learning about that part of the world. and i felt it was unfair, because i have spent 4 or 5 years studying latin america really intensely, and i am very young, and if anything about Belarus was mentioned in high school, which i doubt it was, then i have forgotten it. the lady was joking, but as i often do, i took the joke seriously and i couldnt just laugh it off, probably because i havent yet reconciled my guilt for US foreign policy decisions that have nothing to do with me.
but even as i protested, i also began to question was i right to protest such a comment. maybe its unfair to expect me to know everything about the world, i didnt ask for that, but i also didnt ask for the US to be a superpower and so maybe i do in fact have a responbility to know a lot about the world, since the U.S. meddles in all the worlds affairs. and maybe if i had never gone to the middle of nowhere, estonia, i would never have found myself in such a situation, or have felt guilty about not knowing anything about Belarus, so maybe if im going to travel i should read a lot first. which normally i would be an advocate of doing that, except oddly enough i have to say that not reading before making this trip has made me much more open to hear what people have to say, and to learn about history through people's stories and perspective, rather than books, and the more people i talk to, the more diverse the perspectives become, and without reading beforehand, i have not as many prejudices towards how history happened and i can hear it from the people.

so i am a little conflicted. the U.S. is in every corner of the world, if not the government herself, then Coca cola, McDonalds, Southpark, Law and Order, Barbie, and ipods are sure to be in every city in the entire world, and anywhere that a television antenna reaches, they will be there too. i am bothered by this. very bothered. so maybe i can assuage my botheredness by learning about the entire world. i just dont know. some say the human brain has not evolved as fast as technology, our brain is not equipped to handle so much information at once, or such large social circles. i would like that believe that, as i feel the world is un-managable, although i do know people who know things about the entire world.

what a strange world. in school we learn about U.S. history, and in every other country, they also learn about U.S. history. i am bothered by this, but dont quite know how to solve it.
i remember that i asked an estonian if they had any special new year traditions for january first (although this is the West's new year). when he said no, not really, i joked, "you mean you dont drop a big diamond ball?" he gave me a puzzled look, and do you know, i was THRILLED to discover that i could actually share something that he doesnt know about the U.S.??!! U.S. media have so inundated the entire world that in estonia, i was beginning to feel it was impossible to even tell young people what the U.S. is like because they already know! and of course, this adds another layer, because the U.S. is so large, and the movies only portray a part, that is all stereotypes. but these aside, like i say, i was so excited that this young man had never heard of the ball dropping in Times Square and that we could have a real exchange (instead of the usual- me knowing nothing of estonia and him knowing everything about "America"). and of all things, this stupid tradition is the one i get to share? ("oh yes, its very popular, in fact people line up 24 hours in advance and bring bottles to pee in!")

i do admit that i like talking about the U.S. when people ask because one of my favorite things to do is dispel stereotypes. i met a young estonian man who could quote Southpark and who knew everything about our financial system from watching a lot of youtube (and tell me how many U.S. young people know that the dollar is not backed by gold?) BUT he had never actually met a real U.S. person. and i couldnt even talk pop culture with them. "leah, who is your favorite actor or actress?" "uuuhhhh..."

Latvians call people from the U.S. "ohmygods". i found this hilarious. and despite the fact that i did indeed find myself saying "oh my god" a lot in our conversations, a Latvian family told me later that i broke their stereotypes of "Americans", which i will admit, i am proud to admit. even though i am still not settled about if i have the responsibility or not to know everything about the world.
well this post easily turned into a long one. goodnight.

Monday, July 05, 2010


i was in helsinki only three days, but there a few things i selected to comment on:

1. my host. i was couchsurfing for the first time and i had a great first experience. i think couchsurfing and other networks like it are wonderful ways to travel - i was greeted at the train station and taken to my host\s home and we made dinner together and i immediately felt at home. much better than being in an anonymous hostel. the wonderful thing is realizing not only cultural differences (learning that other ways are possible) but also similarities between people who live on opposite ends of the earth. one of my favorite comments from my host was: -I drink entirely too much coffee. And I have a bad habit of making coffee and then only drinking half the mug and then the sink is cluttered with half-filled coffee mugs-. i read somewhere that Finns drink the most coffee per capita than any other country. my host also told me stories about her family - her father was a communist but most of her family came over from estonia before the revolution. so she felt sad for her father, because he really believe that people should be equal but it failed in the Soviet Union, and she thinks it is idealistic but it doesnt work in practice (i will be writing on this from my estonia & latvia experiences). in finland education and health care is free for everyone. even college. i couldnt quite imagine this. free. for everyone. i mean, it is a possible thing, you know? there are only 5 million people in Finland. and i think about small versus large countries and i think national pride is more understandable in smaller countries because maybe (maybe) there is a little less diversity of lifestyles and opinions (but i'm beginning not to believe this either) but i also think that a lot can be done with education and health care when you don't spend more than 50 % of your budget on military expenditures. just saying.

2. speaking of military expenditures. i went to visit one of the most famous sightseeing spots for Helsinki - an island called Suomenlinna, which was a military fortress (see picture). i didnt take a tour or anything, so i just wandered around, and of course, happened upon a prison (see foto). the sign said you couldn't go in. i asked at the information desk and was given a very weird look but was told it was an operational prison and there were about 90 prisoners who did work around the island. as prisons go, this doesn't seem to bad - they can work and be outside and wander around the island. i found a couple things interesting - i wonder if anyone has written a book on islands and prisons. being on this little island, i thought of Alcatraz, and stories i have heard of the Galapagos Islands, which had both a US military base on it at one point (a terrible history of what they did to the island) and a prison. i'm sure someone has. islands seem to be used as military/naval advantage points, and they are also isolated, making it the perfect place for people society or governments don't want. i also find interesting that the island is a destination for prisoners and tourists. there are also some 850 residents. i asked one girl i met in helsinki about it and she didn't even know it was there. my host did, and told me some of the history.

3. finland's currency is the euro and estonia has crowns but both are in the EU. estonia is cheaper however, and about two hours away. so one thing my host told me is that estonians are upset because finns will ferry over from helsinki to tallinn, buy a lot of beer and go back. in fact, they don't even leave the dock. on weekends they will drink on the way there, buy a lot of beer, drink in the pubs right near the dock, and then stumble onto the boat drunk. my host called them ^drunken hobbits^. sure enough, on the boat to tallinn i noticed many people with little carts that they bring to stock up with beer, and a store of beer right at the dock.