A few weeks ago I met a man who said he could identify 18 generations to the village in the Middle Eastern country where he grew up. He now lives in the bucolic northeast, where I have recently moved. He has a masters degree, but works as a day laborer. I don’t know his story, but he moved our boxes, got all my jokes, and talked me through a recipe for stuffed grape leaves.

I don’t know for sure, but he is probably a Muslim, and I am something of a Jew. I am the kind of Jew who walked into my favorite bakery today and saw that they were selling challah loaves for Rosh Hashonah, and said to my friend, “Oh, I guess it’s Rosh Hashonah,” and then fell over laughing at my own ignorance. What else am I to do?

But let’s get back to place. I spent about 19 years in a southern state that felt very much like home, but I was constantly reminded that I was not “from here.” I was born and raised there, but my family was from the West and Midwest.

Not good enough.

When I lived in Northern City, I felt at home because I lived and worked and went to school there, and there were many transients. It was a good place to live. Lots of bookstores and writers. When I met DP (my spouse), I moved North of City, and I loved the landscape and some of the culture.

In one of my classes, I said something about cussing, and one of my students said, “You’re not from around here, are you?” No. I am not from North of City. I am from Charlottesville. And I use the word “cussing,” which I guess is Southern. And I am moving North of City to Bucolic State. I am not from Bucolic State, but its mountains remind me of the mountains from the place I was raised. The place I am from. If you look at “from” widely enough.

I am the child of academics. Academics move where the jobs are, and when I meet academics in my father’s field, I know the places they have lived. Jews are a transient people. I had a high school teacher say that she could tell where we were from by our last name. I have a very Jewish last name. I raised my hand and said, “What about [Clause]?” I knew what the answer would be.

“You are Jewish, you could be from anywhere.” And yet, I am trying to make a home in a new place. Again. I think there is worth in this. I am privileged to be able to move in a non-refugee status. I am lucky and I am mobile. I have no conclusion to this post. However, I’ve been reading and rereading nature writing, which talks about knowing the land, and a sense of place. One has to build that sense of place whether one is born to it or not.

Are you from where you live?



What to Pack

The weather is criminally nice here in the biscuitless wastelands of the northeastern United States. It’s cool and sunny; maybe there will be rain later today, but nothing to worry about.

This morning, I got caught up in a slew of articles about hurricane kits and evacuation. The Raleigh News and Observer had an article about how evacuation can be sudden. The water is rising. You have ten minutes, it says, what would you pack?

Packing is heavy on my mind as I’m trying to pack everything I own in a thousand boxes to move to a nearby northern state that (strangely enough) has more biscuits than current state. What would I pack if I had to leave in ten minutes?

Realistically, I’d be lucky to find a dog leash and my wallet if I had to leave the house in ten minutes under stressful conditions. But theoretically the question is interesting. (I am privileged to think about this in a theoretical sense.) I think it would be like packing my school/freelance bag. As an adjunct and freelancer I have to carry a little mobile office with me whenever I leave the house.

Computer, the notes of whatever I was working on, a notebook so I can write more, some photos (my parents, my dog from when I was little, Stripy Stalin [a cat]), my rings and maybe a few necklaces, the spouse, the doggos, a water bottle, snacks, my favorite hoodie. Phone and charger. An extra pair of shoes?

If I had more space I might grab the most important books for the non-memoiry portions of my memoir only because they would be a pain in the ass to reassemble, and I’d probably forget the title of one of the important ones. Being a writer means that the body (and The Cloud) is where much of my work is stored. Thus I would be bringing the tools to continue my work.

I also wonder what I’d miss first. My books are an external piece of my mind, so I would think of something and miss reaching out for the reference. I’d miss some of my good t-shirts. I would need to buy another stovetop espresso machine, because nothing else will do. The cute Japanese frog-in-a-dress postcard a friend sent me years ago? My favorite napping quilt? My music?

Of course this begs the question of why, if an expanded school bag is all I truly need, I have enough shit to fill a good-sized house. Well, eventually a person wants to put her bag down and spread out. And now from my insanely privileged position of a safe northern house, I should pack some more useless crap in boxes.

Stay safe out there, my friends.

(What would you pack?)


I was recently part of a facebook thread, where I got to witness ignorance in action. Shocker, I know. Why is this ignorance different from all other ignorance? Let me explain.

I was raised a secular Jew. Because I lived in a small Southern town, I grew up without knowing very many Jews outside my family. For a long while I struggled to understand what it meant to be Jewish and what things were Jewish about myself and what parts were specific to my family. One of the rumors about Jews is that they are often highly educated and intellectual. I am a faculty brat, so I grew up in a highly educated, intellectual family. See what I mean?

Not all my family are secular. There are people I am related to who are an intrinsic part of various Jewish communities and have been so all of their lives. One of them posted on facebook asking for suggestions of movies or books to help understand the experiences of African Americans.

Did someone ask me for a book recommendation? Boy howdy, this former bookseller was cracking her knuckles and racing through the bookshelves of her brain to help her relative in her time of bookish need. This was what I was born to do! But first I read the comments.

People with last names and faces very similar to mine posted things like, “Why do we have to choose just one ethnicity to look at?” and “I read Black Like Me [which is about a white man disguising himself as a black man and was written in the 60s] years ago and it made an impact” and “The Help!” Oh, white people. It turns out that being a target of discrimination does not necessarily make a group more empathetic toward other victims of discrimination.

Other people wrote more informed comments, referring to more recent black-authored works such as Dear White People or I am Not Your Negro or some documentaries that I can’t remember the names of right now. I recommended the Lemonade Syllabus.

I have my own lefty intellectual bubble, and my relative has her extensively Jewish bubble. Why has this been bothering me over the last few days? I have always sought my lefty intellectual bubble because I feel comfortable there and weird elsewhere. (Have you ever had to answer “What did you do this weekend?” at your office with, “Uh, I spent three hours writing one line of poetry, and I guess I also emptied the kitty litter and went to the farmer’s market”?)

My own prejudices and racial pride (Jews tend to feel a little bit superior, sorry, it’s not a good thing) lead me to think that progressive, educated religious communities would be better able to address a question like “what media would help me understand African American experience?” But instead many of them/us fell into tired patterns of thought and blundering prejudice. We need to do better.

Paul wrote, “It’s not that I think there is anything inherently wrong with double spacing after a period. All of the ‘rules’ are merely convention, merely what happens to be mostly agreed upon at the present. What bugs me about double spacing after a period is that so many people do it without any thought at all. They do it because they were taught that way and never again reflected on the ‘why’ of it (that being a relic from the typewriter and typesetting days of yore).”

And I think this is my problem too. White people have to stop relying on one book they read in high school or the one black person they know or white-authored books about people of color. They can’t just have one thought about a subject and keep it all of their lives. We need to question what we think we know. We need to be more reflective and continue to educate our own selves about people who live outside the bubble.

Lazy Freelancer’s Breakfast

It turns out that potato chips are not a good breakfast. I’ve been out of bread for weeks, and I packed half my cooking utensils by mistake. But it’s morning and I’m hungry. What to do?

Enter the baked egg dish.

Find a small oven-proof dish. Pour a little olive oil at the bottom for good measure. Never pack your olive oil before your actual move.

Line the bottom of the dish with the base. This could be a stale, but not moldy, heel of bread, an English muffin, a tortilla (shredded), fresh spinach or other hardy green.

Add your fixins. This could be bacon, leftover refried beans, a bit of grain, leftover or parboiled potatoes (note: parboiling potatoes requires actual work).

Crack one or two eggs into the dish.

Add cheese and salsa if you’re going the tortilla/leftover beans route like I did.

Bake at 350 for approximately 20 minutes or until the egg is not gross and runny.

Eat carefully from the dish and try not to burn your freelancing fingers. That shit’s hot.

Don’t ask me how I know that.

How do you keep yourself from the brink of starvation?

A Day in the Life

Wake up, and realize that today is the day of the total solar eclipse. Of course, I am far north of the path of totality (the name of my new video game), so I will only get a partial eclipse. But that’s okay. I can still make a pinhole viewer and see a crescent shadow where a round shadow will be. Fun with optics and astronomy!

It’s the second-to-last day of class and I finished grading before 10 am on the day of class. What?? That’s unprecedented thus far. I think I was better about grading the last time I taught that class last fall. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

So maybe I should get some writing done. I wrote 250 words and felt like a champ. Then I looked at how much I had left to do and instantly deflated. Lord knows how I lived my life when I had actual drama to deal with. I suppose an eclipse is pretty dramatic. My third sister is visiting friends in the path of totality, and I am a little jealous.

What’s your drama?

How Was Your Weekend?

Great! I’m so glad you asked. It started on Thursday when we filled a huge truck full of our belongings (actually a bunch of college kids did the actual filling, I just ran around like an idiot, packing and preparing).

And then I took Friday off to rest my back, do valiant battle with chapter 9 of my manuscript, and consume a remarkable birthday dinner full of oysters, seasonal vegetables, pork, and bourbon with Spouse and Old Friends (not as old as me, but whatever).

Saturday consisted of a long drive to a pretty place and the emptying of the truck into a storage shed. After a sweaty few hours, I reemerge to find that everyone now knows the name of my hometown and are standing in solidarity with it. What?

Cue some very complicated reactions. I have a love/hate relationship with my hometown, as do many people with their places of origin. But in my heart of hearts (whatever that means) I love Charlottesville. (I know this breaks down my pretense of anonymity, but I can’t not write about it. Also rest assured the copyeditor in me is entirely outraged at the way people have misspelled it.)

In the nineteenth century a ten-year-old black girl was beaten to death by a white UVa student for being “insolent.” Likely this meant that she didn’t step out of the way fast enough or didn’t acknowledge him the way he expected. Or maybe she had a bratty ten-year-old moment, as all of us have had.

The beating happened at what is now the busiest cross-walk in town, a popular location for pedestrians to get from the university to the yummy yummy bagels and other delights and horrors along the commercial district neighboring the university. (You Cvillians know where I mean.)

Thousands of students, professors, staff, tourists, and townspeople walk over that spot daily. Yet the history is not acknowledged in any way. It is too common, maybe. Or maybe people don’t want to talk about it.

Charlottesville is a town rich with history and an accompanying white nostalgia. It is a very segregated town. The university’s professors are often more liberal than their students. It has an incredibly high number of bookstores per capita, and you can almost always see the mountains.

I hope the horror of this weekend will be a wake-up call for white Americans to do the right thing and actively oppose hate and bigotry in all its forms. I don’t know how to end this post because I’m either going to write a couple thousand more words or descend into cliches. There are no easy answers. So do what you need to do to take care of yourself and to make the world a better place.


Indy Clause