Can’t Get There From Here: The Outrageous Traffic Catch-22 of Lawrence, KS: Everyday Magic, Day 802

eeeWe live just south of Lawrence on N. 1000 Road which, just a few months ago, meant we had several options to get to town. Oh, how sweet those days of old look now! Louisiana Street, our main way into town, is closed down for months because of the incoming South Lawrence Trafficway. Haskell St., our alternative a mile to the east, is mostly closely: down to one lane, alternating directions thanks to the poor souls who have to hold the “Slow” or “Stop” signs in the hot sun with frequent punctuations and interruptions by massive trucks stopping all traffic to dump massive amounts of gravel.

This is kind of understandable although not a happy thing: we still have, or at least had, Iowa St. to the west of us only now Iowa is narrowed to a crawl at its intersection with the very busy 23rd Street because of road repairs. To the west of Iowa, via Clinton Parkway, there’s Wakarusa Road, which we could, in a pinch and if we didn’t mind going five miles or so west, use to get to the town, but I just read construction is happening there too.

Which means we, and anyone who lives in the southern half of Lawrence, are not a happy or accessible lot. The make-a-way-out-of-no-way routes includes treating the morning or evening drive like a maze, only one in which the open pathways shift or get more complicated at the drop of a hat when there’s extra traffic, more construction (also on 23rd and Louisiana), or just bad luck.

A few days ago, I explored a series of intersecting dirt roads to the east of town, almost making it over the hump and into the city until bridge construction and then a dead end sent me back to Haskell to wait for 10 minutes while a truck unloaded its long line of gravel. Ken showed me yesterday his complicated and seemingly counter-intuitive way to get to the town via the dirt roads, and it worked, but I have no idea how we actually broke through the time-space continuum to get to 23rd street.

I tend not to be a person who bitches about construction too much: I expect long waits here, there yonder to repave roads, fill potholes, or widen the margins of the street. But what if the total effect of all these improvements or new roads chokes out any simple and constant ways to get from here to there? Welcome to our summer and perhaps fall.

In the meantime, I’m trying to remind myself to leave 10 minutes earlier than usual, bring along a cold drink, some antacid and perhaps a good magazine for long waits, and chill out. It’s a headache, a confusion, a hassle, and a convergence of what happens when planners don’t look at the whole picture and consider the likes of me and my kind (all of us south-of-the-Wakarusans). Yet it’s also a first world problem, so as we do with such problems, a chance to bitch in chorus, roll our eyes, and then ferret out new ways through and into our town.

Back in the Swim of Things: Everyday Magic, Day 801

Today it was back to the city pool for the first time since late last August. I paid my money, drank my water, took off my cover-up and glasses, slipped out of my sandals, and went to the water. It was cool but not too cool as I slid down to my shoulders. Then the laps began.

Last year, I fell back in love with swimming after a many-decade hiatus. The rhythm of breast stroke or side stroke, really the only ones I can do (along with a mean doggie paddle) took over, and my body craved full immersion many times a week, sometimes everyday and usually at least four times each week. Once in the water, I would do my 20 laps at a sped-up turtle speed, meaning I was in the water a long time. No matter, the meditative aspects of simply moving back and forth on water caught my cravings, and I found myself structuring my days around when next I could get into a lap lane and swim.

This afternoon, the water welcomed me back with open arms as I stretched open my own arms and laid my face in the cooling water. Water to air, air to water, the clouds building up in the west and the sun occasionally blaring through drew me up to breath and down to take the next stroke.

Of course, I also was quickly reminded of the others around me, the people who don’t do lap lanes according to the rules of Caryn, such as young parents who gingerly step in, holding a baby, and just stand there. Or the little kids who leap frog and walk on their hands underwater, messing around until a life guard edges them out of the lap lanes. There’s the non-swimming movers: the power-walking women, usually my age or so, who pace back and forth, usually in pairs, talking to each other as they exercise, or the singular people just testing their ability to move across water and feel their bodies come to life. There’s the speed-racer swimmers who splash excessively and the fast fish who soar across the pool underwater, popping up half-way across the lap to take a breath. It gets noisy. The hard splashes pummel water across the surface and up my nose when I’m inhaling the serenity of the moment, and sometimes, for no apparent reason, herds of kids (or adults) crossing my lane in front of me. Water gets in my ears and chlorine in my eyes, and my new(again)-to-the-water arms get sore and tired.

But none of this matters because swimming is heavenly. Again.

Where Am I Now?: Everyday Magic, Day 800

IMG_0372I started this blog to practice writing for balance and sanity out loud, and to build a larger audience for my books as they rolled down the hill of paper and into, with luck, the arms of readers. 800 posts later, I pause for a post behind the posts.

My initial plan was to write everyday, which I did for a long time. The practice helped me aim my perception toward something to question, ponder, celebrate, or co-habitate with writing on a regular basis. Eventually, the everyday morphed into every few days although it seems the more I return to typing letters into this box on my screen, the more I want to return, yet when I’m in the throes of writing something else, especially and particularly poetry, I don’t have much to say blog-wise, and I’ve never believed in pushing the writing river.

So if you don’t hear from me for a week or so, it’s not because I don’t love writing to you. It’s simply because the writing has gone underground: into new poems or, far below that, a silent pond, waiting for the wind to work itself up again. I don’t believe in – and please, writers, don’t hate me for this — writer’s block, only writer’s-not-ready spaces. To that end, I tend to work on multiple writing projects at once, going where the energy of the words take me: sometimes into the workaday-life of revisionland, where we live as old marrieds with our prose or poetry, steadily applying letters to the page or screen, copying things over, reading things aloud, ready to catch whatever music comes through the grind. Other times, it’s that heady and breathless romance of first drafts, fishing for  possibilities well beyond our frontal-lobe, pre-selected and old-dog-trick thoughts so that something alive, and surprising can come through. Sometimes it’s just writing shit, knowing it’s shit, but being okay with that because compost is golden, especially when it comes to making something new and nourishing.

IMG_0369Wherever I am, I try to begin with the obvious markers of time and place. I write this now to you, trying to make out what I’m typing from the dozens of tiny oval-shaped insects in love with the light of my computer screen. It’s night, I’m on the front porch, the wind roars and settles, the dog stares at the dive-bombing June bugs, and the cats sleep almost back to the back. The temperature is perfect for most of human life doing most anything. Like talking through this post to you at the moment, and thanking you for reading this and reading others posts (if you have) over the years. The intimacy and immediacy of writing a blog is as sweet as a spring night when everything, for a moment at least, quiets to wind through the cedars and crickets and the squeaking of old branches.

A Big Gay Wedding For Kansas: Everyday Magic, Day 799

IMG_0081The grooms walked Michael’s mom down the aisle between them. When they arrived at the front of the church, led by a wide line of children, friends and family ringing small bells, they each turned to hug Michael’s mom with all their heart. Thus began one of the most joyful and meaningful weddings in my life and surely in the life of Kansas.

Michael and Charles were joined together in holy marriage on May 3 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Manhattan, authorized by all of us there, the authority of their love and 30+ years together, and surely by the blossoming trees and sweet wind of this spring day. While the state of Kansas wasn’t in on the authorization of this marriage YET (and that’s a big YET), the rest of the known and unknown universe sure seemed in complete alignment. The guys were legally married some months earlier in California, but now in Kansas — where Michael is a minister, Charles a retired attorney, and both writers andrabble-rousers — this wedding lands on home ground.

This will be the new billboard in Manhattan, KS

This will be the new billboard in Manhattan, KS

The ceremony itself was stunning. One groom could hardly stop crying, the other kept making us laugh so hard that we would cry ourselves into tears, and the music, readings, silence and vows were as beautiful as sunlight. Throughout the ceremony, in what was said and what didn’t need to be said, it was clear that we had all arrived at a new time: one in which gay and lesbian marriage had arrived, IMG_0074even in a state that had already gone to great lengths to slam the door against it. Many of my friends and I joke as to whether Kansas will be the 48th or 49th state to recognize gay marriage (I tend to think we’ll do it before Mississippi and Alabama, but who knows?), but thanks to my dear friends Charles and Michael, recognition may come sooner rather than later. These good men are one of two couples suing the state of Kansas to file taxes as married, and in lieu of wedding gifts, Michael and Charles asked for contributions to All’s Fair Kansas, the organization fighting for marriage equality here in the land lately known as Brownbackistan.

Thea Nietfeld reading a beautiful piece she wrote

Thea Nietfeld reading a beautiful piece she wrote

Having known Michael and Charles for over 20 years, I have no doubt that all of us in Kansas or who have Kansas states of mind are very fortunate to have such committed, loving, wise and kind men putting themselves out there on our behalf. While it might be presumptuous for a straight woman like myself to say this, I believe so much that marriage equality lifts all of us up. It breaks the cycle of silencing and choking shame that forces some to swallow their pride, identity and truth, which cannot help but diminish the health and strength of individuals, communities, cultures, even a whole state. Freedom is truly only complete when it isn’t tarnished by giving privilege to some at the expense of others. Love too is more complete out in the open.IMG_0119

As I watched Michael and Charles marry, like most everyone else crying, laughing and cheering in that church, I felt such awe and love for these men: for their courage, their beauty, their truth. For their love of flowers and adventure and each other. For their vision of community here in the heartland. For their art and heart, and willingness to very soon after the ceremony, sing together with many of us on the dance floor, “Going to the chapel, and I’m going to get married.” And for doing just that on this day.

Welcome to the Dialogue and Friendship Dinner: With An Outstretched Hand

Thanks to Eyyup Esen, the force of friendship between this event

Thanks to Eyyup Esen, the force of friendship between this event

Tonight I was honored to give the welcome and a welcoming poem at the annual Dialogue and Friendship Dinner sponsored by the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest. This interfaith gathering brought over 200 people together for an evening of inspiration in the University of Kansas ballroom. There we shared stories of courage and change, Malika Lyon astounded us with her whirling dervish dancing, Aydin Cayir took our breath away with his stunning calligraphy on the spot, and we celebrated community leadership and social responsibility through awards to Rep. Barbara Ballard, KU Dean Danny Anderson, L.I.N.K. Director Greg Moore, Food Bank director Jeremy Farmer, and County Commissioner Mike Gaughan.

Here are my words:

When I was asked to say a few welcoming words a month ago, I had no idea how

After the whirl: Malika, Clark, Daniel and me

After the whirl: Malika, Clark, Daniel and me

welcoming each other across faiths would resonate with so much more purpose and intensity since the actions of April 13, when three people died as a result of the kind of hatred meant to divide and diminish us. Our coming together tonight is imbued with this story, in which hope, sorrow, grief and faith break our hearts open even more.

About a week ago, many of us came together for a vigil at the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, where Rabbi Moti reminded us that the killer, who had studied and plotted extensively on how to find and kill Jews ended up killing Christians. That he couldn’t tell us apart shows how much our fates are entwined — Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, Agnostic, Buddhist, Spiritual or however our faith names us or we name our faith. The day of the shooting, I was driving home from Topeka, where I had just presented a talk on the Holocaust and my book Needle in the Bone, on the extremes of the kind of hatred that took the lives on April 13th of a man, woman, and teenager. History is alive, and its lessons wrap around us more closely during times like this, which means we need look more closely at history and wrap around each other more tightly. I felt this so fully during the vigil last week when many of you and others sang some of the songs of my traditions, my people, as if they were your own songs too — and this moved me and still moves me immensely. While I do feel more vulnerable as a Jew right now, I also feel more grateful to be part of events IMG_0020like this, in which we come together in friendship and respect to listen to and learn from each other.

Yet the real and enduring loss and pain for all who knew and loved Terri LaManno, Reat Griffin Underwood, and Dr. William Lewis Corporon is beyond our power to heal. What we can do, we must do, with an open heart. So let’s take a moment of silence to send our deepest wishes and prayers for comfort and peace to the families and friends of Terri LaManno, who her daughter calls “a beautiful soul”; Reat Griffin Underwood, a high school student who loved singing and life; and Dr. William Lewis Corporon, a beloved physician and family man.

May their memory be for blessing.

With An Outstretched Hand

 

With an outstretched hand, you turn to me, and I turn to you

at the moment we’re united by what was meant to divide us.

The night cools around us. The next day rises. Still, nothing

we know can speak comfort except the passage of time

behind us, ahead of us, and right now: the lantern that leads us

from here to where we can speak without fear or forgetting

what’s inside our roundest words. The tree of life on the corner

powers into blossom. The soft rain welcomes us home

to synagogues, mosques, churches; to clearings in the cedars

or prairies bowed low by wind; to sudden ponds round as the

rounding moon that sheds light to remind us how much is alive

and calling our true names in the darkness. We reach toward

the inexplicable in sorrow, in outrage, in shaken and strengthened

courage, and hold on tight. We hold the loss of those we love

or never got the chance to meet, and find the light shimmering

after the storm, catching our faces at dusk as we turn to each other,

love what teaches us to stretch new ways toward love. The dissolving

sky of one April day reaches out its outstretched hand to lead us

out of the desert where my outstretched heart meets yours,

yours meets mine, and we cross over in the cacophony

of our prayers: Allah, Thunder, God, Great Spirit, Jesus,

First Lily-of-the-Valley, Buddha, Krishna, Expanding Cosmos,

homecoming all to the the world held together

by our outstretched hands.

 

 

When Hate Strikes Close to Home: Everyday Magic, Day 798

When I left Sunday morning to give a presentation on my Holocaust book Needle in the Bone at a Topeka synagogue, hate crimes against Jews seemed as far away as the Jewish ghettos of Poland over 70 years ago. Despite the hate crimes committed in this country and around the world daily against my people and many other peoples, I felt relatively insulated from such dangers. Like many of us, I keep my cheer in check through short stints of thinking about horrendous things happening, punctuated by prayers and wishes for the victims, before returning to life as I live it.

Hearing the news of the shootings at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom in Overland Park, the real and present danger of such hate crimes hit home. Like many in this region, I know my way to the JCC and have presented workshops and talks there over the years. Even more so, some dear friends work there, and bring their children there for events and programs (our rabbi’s daughters were in the building at the time). Any violence against one center of Jewish life immediately reminds us of our vulnerability at all other such centers, including my own synagogue in Lawrence, and the synagogue in Topeka where I just talked about the Holocaust as well as Jewish centers across the country.

No doubt that there will be increased security at all these places, adding onto the regular presence of security guards for holidays and special events, and protocols for what to do when under attack. Of course we’ll also redouble our prayers for peace and work for justice, hold vigils and hold each other, embrace interfaith dialogues, further educate ourselves about terrorist groups and risks, and say or sing a special prayer tonight at Passover. We’ll also feel what we feel: sadness, heartbreak, despair, hopelessness, grief, numbness, and anger.

As I clean my house for the seder tonight, chop parsley for us to dip in salt water to remember our tears, and set the long rented tables in our living room, I’ll also be feeling my way through that question that haunts any talk I give on the Holocaust: how could this happen? Over the last two weeks, I’ve given seven out of eight scheduled talks for April on Needle in the Bone, each one bringing people together to grapple with where evil can lead, and what it means to begin again. The one talk remaining happens next week in Overland Park, close to where three people died senselessly because of hate. May we all grow our minds, hearts and spirits in courage and love.

 

Death Tour 2014: Everyday Magic, Day 797

Portrait of the artist recovering with her cat

Portrait of the artist recovering with her cat

Within one week, I attended my uncle’s moving funeral in New Jersey, our dear community friend Maggie’s beautiful memorial service in Lawrence, and gave four Holocaust book presentations in the Kansas towns of Newton, Hutchinson, Hillsboro and McPherson. I’m beyond weary, but also inspired by the love that edged everywhere I went and most everyone I met.

The funeral for my very funny and lively uncle took place on a brilliantly blue day, where we gathered at the grave site for a short ceremony. The rabbi told about my uncle’s spirit, and his unwavering love for my aunt as the wind lightly blew and the sun brightly shone. We took turns dropping three or more shovel-fulls of dirt on the simple wooden coffin, and then the Bloom men (nephews, son, cousins, brother) continued until the grave was filled. While my trip did entail long days of flying each way, and a whole lot of driving through New Jersey, it was full of appreciation for family, great meals at diners, and laughing hysterically and mom while rolling down various highways.

The service for our friend Maggie today was sparkling with soul. Beautiful music, especially a bass solo played by one of Maggie’s nephews, and heart-opening remembrances her her brother, son and husband all culminated in the 500 or so people there standing up to sing “This Little Light of Mine” together. This is the same song a bunch of sang at her window about a month ago on a snowing March day as we sheltered our candles from the wind and leaned into each other for warmth. There’s a lot to say about the injustice of such an alive person dying from cancer at the age of only 49, but there’s even more to say about her legacy of love.

In between the funerals, I traveled with my friend Liz to a bunch of south-central communities to give presentations on my book Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other. Four talks in three days meant I occasionally forgot what I told each audience, and what was left to tell. Nevertheless, the audiences surpassed expectations and numbers everywhere, especially in the small town of Hillsboro, where over 100 people came out to learn more about the Holocaust and the Polish resistance. When I showed photos of Lou’s extended family, all of whom were killed in the Holocaust, I was reminded of how, in some small way, of how right it is to remember and acknowledge these people and their lives.

Now that the week is over, I sit on the porch with Shay the dog, the wind blows fiercely, and we await whatever comes next, which might likely be another nap, with a grateful heart.