Sunday, July 17, 2016


It's been almost a month since we've moved officially to our new house, since our furniture arrived, since we unpacked our knick knacks and clothes and found new homes for kitchen utensils that we're still trying to find again on a regular basis.

We've made pitchers of sangria and had family and friends arrive in rotation, on the 3rd and 4th and 10th of July; on Thursday one of the local moms rang the doorbell and invited me to join the other women from the block for a drink on her back deck; and on Friday, after our neighbor delivered a delicious carrot zucchini bread, my colleagues from work came over with their families for dinner, during which we consumed many bottles of champagne. One of my colleagues brought a dense dark brown bread and salt, a traditional European blessing for a new home, reminding me of my friend's blog, which is named for those very gifts.

On Saturday, the neighbors pulled chairs out to the cul de sac, and the kids (there are many on our road) rode bicycles and pulled each other around (sometimes dumping each other out of) a home-made rickshaw and drew in chalk on the road while we all talked and drank beer and water and whatever else people brought out with them to share.

This is more partying than I think we've ever done in such a short period of time; we've smoked loins of pork and entire chickens and grilled chicken and salmon and burgers and hot dogs; we've made kale salads and watermelon salads and corn and Spanish tortillas and gazpacho and icebox pie and lemon Bundt cake. We've sat outside until it gets dark, and until the mosquitos begin to nip at us. It only rained once, and even then, just during dessert.

The people from whom we bought this house entertained a lot, they said; they talked about how they loved having a crowd over, cooking and baking and laughing together.  While we did that in our Flemington house sometimes, too, it's been nice to feel like there's space to share. This house invites gatherings of loved ones and new friends.

I still worry sometimes about feeling lonely here, about missing old friends, about not making the kinds of close friends I left behind.  But as I said to my son just this morning, it may be that the people we meet here don't become our best friends, and that's OK, because they seem to be kind people, and we're haven't left our other friends behind. Both have already warmed our house with so much laughter and good food and good company, for which I've been especially grateful this summer, given the sadness and darkness unfolding in the world.  Maybe, in some small way, our celebrations of each other can continue to create ripples of light.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On Domestic Abuse

I have cried a lot, watching the events of the past week unfold.  More dead Black men. More protests. And then dead police in Dallas.

I had a title, but not a post, for a few days: Black and Blue. Like a bruise. Like the result of battering. A domestic abuse.

But I had nothing new to say. I felt like a voyeur. Watching the videos, scanning the photos from the comfort/discomfort of my couch, on my laptop.

Perhaps most memorable for me, this one, taken by Jonathan Bachman of Reuters:


A young Black woman, standing tall and straight, bold and powerful, being handcuffed.  White officers in full riot gear. Destabilized. Why do they need to approach this unarmed woman this way? How much is this like the initial moments of colonization and slavery? How can they see her as a threat?  And yet, they do.

Is this, as Michelle Alexander writes, our mirror? Will this be enough? Will it disturb us enough?

My neighbors went to a Black Lives Matter protest in Trenton last night. I was home with two kids who were not going to a protest. Part of me has been looking for a protest, and another part of me, like this woman, wonders, what the fuck is a protest going to do? We can march all we want; what is really going to change? How many times will we lose energy, and forget?

I watched protest video footage from Baton Rouge.  I wanted to reach through the screen and pull those people to safety, here in my living room.

Our students, this past year, occupied the University President's office, telling him they wouldn't leave until he agreed to their demands.  He did, eventually. Or at least, agreed to consider them. Which, of course, wasn't really the same thing at all. Why did he agree? Because he believes that the institution he leads is a fundamentally racist institution?   I doubt that, though I know his heart is in the right place, and I'm sure that he realizes the institution will need to change and evolve and respond during the next few years. Will our students return to their protests this year, knowing that they haven't achieved their goals?

Beyond our campus, where do we sit in? Whose office do we occupy?  What do we demand?  Not more task forces. Not more committees.  Yes, justice. Accountability.  But more. So much more.

What counts as a crime? Who gets stopped, imprisoned? How do we make sure that our measures are equal, regardless of the color of our skin?

Who gets to live in places that are clean and safe and bright and affordable?

Who gets access to a good education, good jobs?

Who gets a chance in this nation of opportunity?

We can approach each other -- black, white, brown, blue -- with open hearts, but how do our open hearts create equality?  We encourage our students to meet each other with civility, with respect, but how can we change lifetimes of wrongs before someone else has to die?

Years ago, I served as a board member for our county's domestic violence agency. We didn't get to see the agency's clients very often because of the policies around confidentiality.  But we did get to see a lot of the infrastructure that supported them.  We toured the safe house and the transitional house, where families were protected and then getting back on their feet, preparing to start over again.  We met children in the Peace: A Learned Solution (PALS) program, who were finding voices through art and music and theater, unlearning conflict and violence. We talked with the people who manned the crisis hotline, were often joined in meetings by the lawyer who supported clients free of charge through difficult appearances in court. And we also met counselors and community educators who worked with the abusers and with outreach to high school students, who shared a belief not just that we could create safe spaces for the victims of domestic violence, but that the perpetrators of violence could change. There is research on this: that abusers can stop abusing their partners, if they take responsibility, if they learn communication skills, if they examine their own pasts.

Maybe there are lessons to be learned here.  That domestic abuse can stop. That abusers can redefine what it means to be masculine, that they can begin to see their partners as partners, not as threats. That we can find ways to support both abusers and survivors. That we can offer hope. That we can heal our broken and bruised political body.

Because the alternative is too much for our nation, and for us all, to bear.

For Tamir Rice, Ousmane Zongo, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Kajieme Powell, Samuel DuBose, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Kayla Moore and Tanisha Anderson. For Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson, who were there to protect that day, and who, I have to believe, shared the conviction that #Black Lives Matter.
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