The issue, in a single response

This morning, I was perusing Facebook, as one does and I noticed that a friend had posted an announcement that Oregon Public Broadcasting was airing “Priced Out,” a documentary about Portland’s gentrification. Full disclosure, I have not watched the documentary. And it is possible that I may never be able to watch it. Because I lived through it and the experience remains a deeply emotional issue for me.

But I am not actually writing about the documentary. I am writing about a question that was asked in response to my friend’s posted announcement.
A Facebook comment saying "I have not seen it yet- who do they say is culpable?""

Who do they say is culpable?

The obvious answer, at least to me, is everyone and no one. Gentrification in and of itself is a deeply complex issue and academics are still struggling to come up with a working definition that conveys that. And having witnessed Portland’s transformation over 29 years with the benefit of hindsight and using my policy wonk lens, let me assure you that my response of everyone and no one is as good as it is going to get. Don’t believe me? Read this.

What I take issue with the is the question itself. Because so many of us, worldwide, get so distracted by it that we forget everything else. When all of one’s energy goes into figuring out exactly who is to blame, then there is no energy left to actually fix the problem.

Let me be absolutely clear here that I believe in culpability and adults absolutely need to take responsibility for their actions. But it cannot end there.

In my time there, Portland went from a city that rarely showed up on maps showing only the major cities on the west coast, to a darling of the New York Times to a city with a severe affordable housing crisis and all of the associated issues that come along for the ride.

We are well past the time of asking on whom yet one more set of opinions places the blame. It is time to redirect all of that energy on mitigating the issues, with an eye towards longer term change to break the cycle of displacement.

The same is true for our nation. At this point, anyone who is paying the slightest bit of attention (even as some of us try to bury our heads in the sand for moments at a time to just get a moment of peace) knows at least the first layer of those who should be held culpable for our current situation. But the systems that exist to hold those people accountable are deeply broken at the moment.

I am so tired of the circular finger pointing. I am exhausted by everyone asking who anyone else thinks is culpable. No one person made this country the dark place it has become. Just as no one person can get us back to a more stable place. The Messiah is a construct, not a person.

This is where I truly want to be deeply inspirational and get people to form a movement to bring forth change in unity. But I can’t. The rules that allowed for such movements to effect change no longer apply. I have been seriously wracking my brain to come up with some way that I, as an individual, can make that change.

Then I had what I will call a Sesame Street moment. Anyone who knows me well that I retain songs pretty much forever. And while I was typing up this post, I realized that I was singing this song in my head. A song that I have been singing since forever, maybe starting with nursery school? Clearly it was my brain trying to give me the answer while I cluelessly hummed along. The song is a line from Pirkei Avot and I have posted the text in Hebrew, transliteration and English below.

Learn Hebrew - Jewish Proverbs and Sayings 21-40

For me, it is a reminder that while our country may not be ready for fundamental change right now, that doesn’t mean that we get to expend all of our energy trying to assign blame for our current situation. We still have to do the work towards that change.

I also believe that we are the only ones who can decide how we do that. We all have different situations, skills and barriers to work with. In other words, be reasonable in your expectations of what you can sustainably do to make change. The only thing you shouldn’t be doing is nothing.

Note: Written with apologies to the many rabbis in my life. I really wasn’t trying to step on your turf.

Fight the Powers that Be

Yesterday I spent several hours at the Museum of African American History in Washington DC. That was easier said than done. Due to high demand all of the tickets are timed. There are no advance tickets available until they release the next batch for October. They do release a small number of day of tickets at 6am and 9:30 am daily. I logged on at 6:23 and the tickets were gone. I was in the air at 9:30 and missed those. But I am stubborn and kept checking anyway, and managed to score a single ticket that had been released.

They strongly recommend that visitors start with the history exhibit, which begins in the 15th century and the beginning of the slave trade. So the first step is to wait on a long line to pack into a glass elevator to the beginning of the exhibition. But even the queue was informative. There are images of famous and everyday African Americans to look at while waiting and it was fascinating just listening to the conversations that they sparked around me.

The curators did an excellent job telling the stories of both men and women, which was a welcome inclusion. But once again, the conversations I heard that were sparked by the displays were as informative and powerful as the content people were responding to.

The one line that was almost completely silent was the very long line to get into the Emmett Till memorial. It was the only place photos were prohibited and there was a quiet solemnity amongst the people waiting. I made the decision not to join the queue because I wanted to make sure that I had the energy to go through the cultural exhibits upstairs. And I am glad I did.

As difficult and heart wrenching as the lower floors were to take in and absorb, the cultural exhibits were filled with joy and pride. The exhibition halls celebrated African American contributions to the arts, sports and the military.

My favorite room was a “record store” exhibit where you can flip through album covers sorted by genre and there is an interactive table display where you can play select from the music.

The room was packed as people just gathered to listen and sing together. I found it to be a place of joyful release after the harshness of the historic exhibits. Truly a reminder of the need for people to find a light in the darkness to survive.

After leaving the museum I bought a smoothie and walked around a bit while I drank it. I happened to walk by the office of US Customs and Immigration where I encountered there a group of 6 white men in their 20s and 30s, wearing Trump T-shirts, taking pictures of each other in front of the building while yelling anti-immigration slurs.

It was, in some ways, perfect timing. Because it made sense of a country that had the opportunity to abolish the horrors of slavery. After all, African Americans eagerly joined in a bloody revolution to create a nation based on the principle that all men are created equal. But it turns out that all men really only meant white men.

And the world goes round and round

As I am sure you are all all too acutely aware, we are living in dark times. It has been a tough year for the world and any human with an ounce of caring in their heart. It has also been a tough year for me personally, with several losses and excruciating decisions. And frankly, that is what has kept me from writing much lately. Because the last thing anyone wants to read is more sadness and pain. 

So instead, I am writing about my coping mechanism; crafting. 

Last year, Ravelry created a self-defined crafting challenge. My original goal was to complete 10 projects this year. A month in I realized that I was underestimating myself so I bumped it up to 15. Last night I completed my 29th and 30th projects for the year. And I am not yet done crafting presents for family we will be meeting up with in Hawaii next week. And as much as I am all for overachieving, hitting 200% of my goal really suggests I aimed too low.

As you may recall, I spent several months last year sitting on my butt with a broken foot. I took that time as an opportunity to teach myself how to crochet. I had tried to learn in Portland, but I had never made it past single crochet stitches and making kippot. But with too much time on my hands (and six seasons of Buffy to rewatch–we will not discuss the dreaded 7th season of endless lectures), I found a class that got me past the worst part (at least in my mind) of crocheting. The dreaded starting chain. 

From there it just became a series of pushing my skill set. And I’ve got to admit that rereading patterns that seemed impossibly complicated a year ago and realizing that I now can do every stitch listed is pretty amazing.

And it has not just been about crocheting. My knitting skills have moved up several notches too. David was very impressed at how even my gauge was on this turban. And I have taken on a two-color brioche knitting project as well. 

I also created my first pattern this year. I still need to write it up and post it, but the creation is done. 

Because of the aforementioned broken foot, I didn’t get out much last winter. But this year I have a job that actually requires me to leave the house (how weird is that?!?!?), It turns out that wearing a skirt and tights is not enough to keep oneself warm in the North Country. As a child of the ’80s, legwarmers were the obvious answer. 

But I am me, so basic legwarmers weren’t going to cut it for me. I was poking around Ravelry looking for inspiration and I found this. But it was still too simple for my taste. So I made the legwarmers in  smock stitch and made individual scales. 

My new legwarmers.
Awkward picture, but it gets the job done.

Unfortunately the world doesn’t look like it will be pulling back from the brink anytime soon, so I suspect challenging myself to make another 30 things next year would not be unreasonable. And that is where you all come in. I have a couple of  projects lined up for myself and a couple of commissioned projects for friends. I can fill in a bit with hats and scarves to donate. But for me crafting is all about the process. Once I’ve had my fun, I just want to move on to the next project.

My friends and family rate is fairly reasonable. Basically, I will craft for yarn. If I have what I need in my substantial, prodigious, colossal, enormous, slightly oversized stash, then it is simply my pleasure to make it for you. However, the stash is heavily weighted towards purples and greens (I know you are all shocked, shocked). So if I need a different weight or color, if you buy the yarn, I will happily do the work.

And don’t worry about how simple or difficult you think the request may be. Remember, I am in this to challenge myself. So tougher projects are great and easier ones are great for doing while listening to books, podcasts or watching TV. 

Here is just a sampling of this year’s projects. I can’t include some of my favorite projects because they are yet to be gifted. But if you are all crafty, I am EvaCatHerder on Ravelry  and I do have more project details and photos up there. 

The Evid’s Tale

20 years ago today, David and I officially declared ourselves a couple. Three cities (although in the case of Plattsburgh I am using the term loosely), one Masters in Hebrew Letters, an ordination, 3 houses, 7 cats (although 3 of those cats were extremely short timers for being demonic, invisible and/or on the brink of death) and one coworking space later, we remain a couple. This pleases me immensely.

David at PDX

Seeing David off at PDX back when non-travelers could go to the gate.

This year we celebrated our חי (chai or 18) wedding anniversary. Like most of our anniversaries, we paid it little notice (our general philosophy being that we should celebrate our marriage throughout the year and not just on one day a year). It also didn’t help that my mobility was still seriously limited at the time, so we really just let it slip by.

As a Jew living in two cultures, it makes me kind of happy that we reached notable milestones from both in the same year. Happy enough that I decided it warranted a post.

I gotta say, I never expected to date, let alone marry David (for more details, check out Katie Paul and Lynn Rosskamp’s “How Eva Met Dave/How Dave Met Eva). But I remain very glad that I did. And I owe it all to a perfectly lovely sunny Portland day.

Once upon a time, in a Portland much different than the one we know now, lived two friends who had been passing acquaintances in college. These friends went to the same synagogue and both suffered from an overwhelming need to show up 10-15 minutes early in order to ensure arriving on time. Since the rest of the congregation did not suffer from this compulsion, this presented an opportunity for the two to get to know each other better.

The summer of 1998 was fairly typical of Portland summers back then. The days were warm, but not too hot and the evenings were nice and cool. Almost no one had AC because the houses were generally designed to allow for through-breezes which made them comfortable in the summer.

On one particularly lovely July day, after an enjoyable bike ride home, our shero called her friend,  who she knew was leaving Portland soon,  to see if he wanted to hang out that evening.

Fortunately, he did and they decided to meet up for tea at the Tao of Tea on SE Belmont later that evening.  Fast forward several hours and the two were so engrossed in conversation that they barely noticed the time passing. Since the venue was closing up for the evening, they decided to continue the conversation at our hero’s house.

At the time our hero had two lovely cats. One very overprotective one who was absolutely convinced that our hero was her oversized kitten. The other was not particularly trustworthy of humans. But this skittish cat warmed up to our shero immediately, surprising both the other cat and her funny-looking kitten. But clearly she knew what was going on. Because both cats spent the remainder of their lives with their new human.

As an avid fan of Sesame Street, Grover taught me that all stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Fortunately for me, we are still deeply in the middle of our story. But suffice it to say that our story’s (s)heroes continue to be very happy together and looking forward to many more decades (p’tui, p’tui) together.

Not The End.

 

 

Nothing new to add but sadness

I tried talking myself out of writing this post, I really did. I don’t feel like I need to amplify the signal that separating children from their families is an unconscionable act. An act that is making me physically ill because as a US Citizen, it is being done in my name.

There was a piece on NPR about the life-long psychological trauma that we are inflicting on these children. But I knew that already. Anyone who has ever tried to adopt has been taught that even a child separated from its birthmother within a day or two of birth, and placed directly in to a permanent absolutely loving home is at risk for psychological trauma. And it is something I have witnessed first-hand.

These children have left their worlds behind. Their homes, their loved ones, their toys, are gone. Many of these children are coming from horrible circumstances, which are bad enough that their parents are willing to risk everything with the slimmest of hopes for a better, safer life. So chances are, there was already some trauma before these kids started the arduous journey to the US.

And now, their parents have been ripped from them. Chances are, their food is unfamiliar to them and the people around them probably are speaking another language. They have absolutely no source of comfort left to them.

This is the image that keeps haunting me.

I was at the supermarket the other day and out of the blue, a toddler burst into tears. Her mother offered her some water or a snack and the toddler just kept crying. Her mom picked her up, she contentedly put her head on her mother’s shoulder and they continued their shopping.

Now imagine that toddler in a cage with several other kids. All she wants in all the world is to have someone she loves, someone who smells and feels familiar hold her. But there is no one who smells right. No one who feels right. And possibly not anyone who even sounds right. Actually, don’t imagine that. Because I did and I was suddenly the one who wanted to burst into tears.

I am grateful that this story has remained front and center in the media. I appreciate that religious leaders of many stripes have denounced this behavior. I have already donated money, I have already emailed about possible volunteer opportunities. But what do I do now? How can I continue to sit in my home, surrounded by human and feline love while these kids have neither?

So, that is why I wrote this post. Because even though I know that I am simply echoing so many who share my disgust at parents being forcibly separated from their children when even this seemed like a better option than staying where they were, it was something I felt compelled to do.

 

And now for something completely different…

My immune system has been working overtime lately. Flu, followed by a cold (with a cough that still won’t go away) and now a stomach bug. And I am resisting the urge to push through because I have a very important spa weekend in Toronto coming up and I don’t want to be sick for that.

When I’m sick, after being immensely grateful that there are now more tv options for sick days than game shows and soap operas, I usually go for comfort TV like Firefly or some other place in the Whedonverse. But since seeing Rock of Ages last week, I  have not been able to break out of my musical theater mode.  And since you didn’t ask at all, here are some of my favorite clips.

Starting with the classics, A New Argentina with the ever magical Mandy Patinkin, aka Inigo Montoya

And the inevitable Neil Patrick Harris rabbit hole…

And an adorably young Lin Manuel Miranda…

Which obviously led me right to

And then this…

But I couldn’t stop the beat…

And then

I could go on (and I did). And hopefully any one of these will displace the ‘80s hairband loop in my head.

Wakanda Forever

There are several movies that I have served as emotional touchstones in my life. Movies that have become so much of my vernacular that I can (and have) literally had conversations comprised entirely from movie quotes. Movies that I go to when I need comfort or reassurance or even just guaranteed entertainment. But never has a film reached into my core the way that Black Panther did.

It took me long enough to see it that I have had plenty of time to get my expectations built. Although I studiously avoided spoilers, I have seen plenty of references to people’s powerful responses. I walked in expecting an exceptional super hero film. But that was not at all how I experienced it. Instead, I felt like someone reached into my soul and turned on the light. Or at least, those are the best words I can come up with to describe how I experienced it. By the end, I had tears streaming down my face and I felt like it absolutely needed to be mandatory viewing for absolutely everybody. Forever. Full stop.

When the lights came on, David saw the tears streaming down my face and asked what was wrong. I could barely get the words out to say that Black Panther was absolutely the most powerful social justice film experience I have ever had.

Because it was Marvel, we knew enough to stick around through the credits after the lights came on. And while we were waiting for the additional scenes, the guy cleaning the theater started chatting with us about the movie. He talked about how excited he was for Infinity War after seeing Black Panther and I was honestly taken aback for a moment. He had obviously seen the movie, how could he not be describing how bowled over he was and instead was excited about super heroes? This just seemed incomprehensible to me. But I adjusted and we made small talk while I eagerly waited to get David’s response.

But David’s experience was much like this other guy’s. It was just a super hero movie to him. And when David and I tried to talk to each other about the movie on the way home, it became obvious that despite having been sitting next to each other the whole time, we had just seen completely different movies.  This has never happened to us before.

Sure, we have walked away from films with different responses, but never anything as completely different as this. But then again, I have never had such a strong emotional response to a movie. I continue to struggle to describe what had made it so powerful for me. I just can’t find the words (at least not yet) to intellectualize it. They may come with time, but I literally walked in the door, hung up my coat, picked up my laptop and started writing this. Because I wanted to make sure to at least try to capture this feeling before it fades.

Based on the reactions I have seen to this movie thus far, I suspect some of you will just get my reaction. And I am sure there are plenty of you out there who saw the movie that David did. I would love those of you who felt the emotional gut punch to continue the conversation with me. Because I am still me and want to parse the experience.

Ravings of a sleep deprived mind

Last night, while I was trying to convince my brain to shut up and go to sleep, I ended up contemplating how crafting and coding are similar after a recent conversation during Girls Who Code.

To catch people up, I am currently leading the local Girls Who Code group. The group has roughly an even number of middle school girls and young women mentors from SUNY Plattsburgh. I love this combination because the college kids get a kick out of being able to help guide the middle school girls and all I really need to do is facilitate. Well, and revel in watching creative and smart girls solve problems together.

Recently, a small subgroup of us were talking about how learning to code is not as much about knowing the syntax of any given coding language, but rather about developing problem-solving skills. There are plenty of code libraries out there that can pretty much get you to where you want to go. The trick is to be able to locate and vet the ones you want and create the necessary connective tissue. Followed by the real task of the hours, days, weeks and sometimes years of inevitable debugging.

This is where I need to take a moment to thank those who build and maintain color coded text editors. Debugging in monochrome text is a horrible and near-blinding experience. But color-coded text editors are the magically wonderful yellow brick roads of bug hunting. But I digress…

Since breaking my foot this past summer, I have really upped by crochet skills. I went from only being able to crochet a basic kippah in single crochet stitch (I could add words and patterns by changing colors, but that was it), to being a fairly advanced crocheter.  I have also really developed my pattern reading skills, which has helped moved my knitting along as well.

Right now I am working on a crocheted blanket of our solar system, but the process at this point is fairly mindless and routine. Perfect for tired evenings spent in front of the tv, but not mentally challenging at all. Having recently finished knitting a pair of socks for David, I started the hunt for another knitting project to occupy myself. But apparently my brain had other plans in mind…

Last night I found a pattern that had some really intriguing aspects, but the overall design was not calling to me. I kept perusing patterns, but I could not get that first pattern out of my mind. So I started contemplating creating what I call a frankenpattern. Taking the overall structure from one pattern, adding features from a second pattern, all in an attempt to be able to showcase the intriguing aspects of that first pattern.

I never fancied myself a pattern designer, but I do know how to build recipes…and code. Why couldn’t I take the structural components from 3 patterns and put them all together? Which is exactly why my brain kept looping back to the conversation about coding. My brain is anything but subtle.

The point of this all is that once I have gotten a good nights sleep and cleared out the fog, it seems like I am ready to tackle creating my first pattern. I know I am in for some mind-bending trial and error (with an emphasis on the error). But I am looking forward to my weekly Girls Who Code sessions where the kids and I can commiserate as we collectively wander outside of our comfort zones in pursuit of challenges and the amazing feelings of accomplishment as we push our projects forward, one step at a time.

Civic engagement

If I have one complaint about our move to Plattsburgh, it is about volunteerism. An odd one to complain about, I know. But one near and dear to my heart.

Volunteerism is just something that is a given in my life. I have no memory of the first time I volunteered, because I was too young and not really given a choice in the matter. But what I do know, is that volunteerism have been a part of my life since I was old enough to plan my own activities. In college, it was volunteerism that directly led to my decision to take a year off and live in Santa Cruz and ultimately the goat farm. It was volunteerism that led to my masters and my career choice. So it should come as no surprise that within a week of my arrival I had volunteered to serve on a City committee and written to the local Planned Parenthood to ask about volunteer activities.

One of the things I spent my summer working on was exploring volunteerism as a way to help alleviate the City’s budget crisis. The local hospital has a thriving volunteer program, with a full time volunteer coordinator. And that is pretty much it for volunteer programs locally. There are some special events with a dedicated volunteer corps, but some of those leaders recently got so burned out that they handed off their event to the City.

The City now has a part-time volunteer coordinator (she is a full-time employee, but the volunteer coordination is only a portion of her responsibilities). But her program is just getting put together.

I mention this because Planned Parenthood took months to respond to my inquiry.  At first they eagerly responded. I filled out their volunteer application and waited. I waited literally for several months. And that was after several emails from me asking what was up. I was finally able to get an interview by sharing my frustrations with someone within the organization. The interview went well. The two women I met with were excited about what I could bring to the organization. And that is the last I heard from them. My one follow-up email has never received a response.

With my mobility limitations from my broken foot, I paused my search for volunteer opportunities for a bit. But recently I read about a new coding program for girls being launched in the area. The program is run through the Peru School District, so I contacted them. They eagerly responded and asked for my contact information to pass on to the person running that program. And as you may have guessed, it has been crickets since then.

The North Country has a long standing issue with brain drain. Yes, lack of jobs are a major contributor to that trend. But in my short time here, I have met 3 natives who left to go to school and launch their careers. But they all wanted to come back, so made choices that allowed them to work their way back to Plattsburgh. The one thing these people all have in common are that they are very active in the community. They serve on commissions and  legislatures.

I am fully aware that volunteers are not free. I understand that their care and feeding takes time and resources. But they are an investment in community, and that is worth a lot. It is not an accident that the one thriving volunteer program is the one that the organization has invested resources into.

I continue to volunteer with the City. And I will happily offer my time to Planned Parenthood and Girls Who Code should they decide to contact me. I just wish things were different here.

 

Life, an update

We’re kind of between two new years (5778 and 2018) so it seemed like a check in might be in order. When last heard from, our heroes had moved across the country and were setting up camp in the actual upstate New York (as opposed to what is considered to be upstate in NYC). Things have not gone as planned (no surprises there as god laughs). I broke 3 metatarsals in my right foot hiking in Maine in early August and have been pretty much hobbled since then. Although I have not been able to explore the region as much as I might have liked, I have been able to keep myself entertained.

Despite my limited mobility, I have been able to take a deep dive into local government adding my two cents to the most recent City budget process. And come 2018, I intend to continue to poke my nose into the City’s strategic planning initiative. I have also met some of the local policy wonks and built some great connections into the local economic development process. I am looking forward to working with them as the City starts to allocate its $10 million economic development grant.

Our coop is also looking to launch a community commercial kitchen to help foster local food production and I am excited to get on board with that initiative. Speaking of local food, my limited mobility has really put the kabosh on my exploration. I only got to see baby goats once and still have not made it to my absolute favorite goat dairy, Asgaard. But Spring will come again and with it baby goats and maple sugaring. Speaking of which, there is some exemplary local maple syrup to be had in these parts. My favorite is Sacred Roots and if you love maple syrup, you haven’t tried the best until you have tried theirs. But I digress…

Despite having only gotten in a single hike in the Adirondacks this year, I have enjoyed learning a bit about New York’s state environmental issues and legislation. I have barely scratched the surface, but I am feeling a bit more grounded and I am looking forward to continuing my education on the local ecology and related environmental issues. The Environmental Ed program at SUNY Plattsburgh takes an integrated approach to environmental policy with an eye towards environmental justice, which I appreciate. Rural poverty is clearly as issue here and something I need to learn a lot more about.

Probably the most disappointing aspect of my injury is my inability to make it to see my niecelettes, despite living in the same state for the first time ever. It still feels a bit strange to be in the same time zone, but definitely strange in a good way. Hopefully I will be able to see them in person soon.

Speaking of seeing people in person, I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of friends whom I have been able to connect with since our move. I expected to feel much more isolated, but our proximity to Montreal and Burlington have been great enticements and much excellent food has been consumed and many laughs shared. And yes, that is a less than subtle hint for our west coast friends.

Looking forward, in addition to continuing to feed my policy wonkiness, I am also embarking on an effort to teach myself web app development. I have taken coding courses in the past and was even vaguely competent in PHP at one time, but without an active need to retain or develop those skills they have mostly gone by the wayside. But I now have a project in mind so I have both the need and motivation to learn Golang to deploy in a Heroku environment (for those in the know, I apologize if that is the incorrect descriptor, but as I said, I am a newbie in this area).

I haven’t even touched on our new congregation or the wonderful people I am getting to know there. But that will have to wait for another post. Until then, don’t panic and may the Force be with you.