Wednesday, December 31, 2008

To 2008

This year has been exactly what it needs to be, and I am so grateful for everything it contained, like a great sea or like a suitcase packed for an unknown destination. The song at the end of this New Year post, by Neutral Milk Hotel, was released in 1998, 10 years ago. I was about to come to New York City by train, my first time here since 1990, for a one-day trip with my grandparents when I was 11. That week in 1998, I visited an old pen-pal but mostly wandered the city, staying at the Gershwin Hotel and seeing Art, Les Mis, and Madame Butterly at the Met. I wandered through Central Park in the surprising snow and went to the other Met to find the Chagalls. I was 18.

I wouldn't be telling you all of this were it not for the past year, which launched this blog, new friendships, new roles at work, airplanes to India and Ireland and Scotland, a journey to Alabama, steps toward 495 miles of running, new poetry, a new President, explorations of Jewish and artistic and neighborhood communities...and something that happens to be on my mind today, which loops in the Metropolitan Opera and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with snow and walking and lights and yams and me turned inside-out. This song is my heart on my sleeve:

"And in my dreams you're alive and you're crying,
As your mouth moves in mine, soft and sweet,
Rings of flowers round your eyes and
I’ll love you for the rest of your life (when you’re ready)."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Life as Prayer

I've returned to Brooklyn by by way of O'Hare, Midway, Albany, and (two days later) forested, still snowy Phoenecia. I feel like I've been away for weeks, only to get off the train tonight and run into T. We tried out Kenny's Trattoria (7 Withers, just west of Union), the new casual Italian spot opened by...Kenny (who formerly owned the well reviewed Brick Oven Gallery). The spiraled gnocchi were pretty good, like an adult version of macaroni and cheese. The ravioli of the day were a little strange, the "pasta" resembling wonton wrappers. The salads are fresh and big enough to share.

It's good to be home. There's a lot going on in the world, as usual, with the Hamas-Israel conflict taking center stage. I don't pretend to understand the full weight of politics and religious history bringing itself to bear on this poor holy region. Hamas wants to destroy Israel and instigates in words, propaganda, and the murder of students; Israel responds in such a way as to kill hundreds of innocent people. Where does it end? I pray for an end that preserves the most lives and the most capacity for wonder, kindness, and understanding, which seem like light, airy things now but which are of fundamental importance. Back in Brooklyn, with the little daily pleasures of cats and the BQE like a stream and strange ravioli, I pray for an ever-expanding sense of wonder.

"To pray is to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live. Who is worthy to be present at the constant unfolding of time? Amidst the meditation of mountains, the humility of flowers - wiser than all alphabets - clouds that die constantly for the sake of his glory, we are hating, hunting, hurting. Suddenly we feel ashamed of our clashes and complaints in the face of the tacit glory of nature. It is so embarrassing to live! How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great." Abraham Joshua Heschel

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

To Be

I tripped on some ice on Leonard Street tonight and actually seemed to bang my knee back into place. These little brushes with mortality remind me of the bliss of days.

At the end of a 1973 lecture, Bernstein said, "I'm no longer quite sure what the question is, but I do know that the answer is Yes."

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Happy Chanukah! It just sounds nicer than Happy Day of Resting on the 25th, which is Chanukah's direct translation. While in different months (Kislev and December), the 25th marks the celebration of the beginning of Chanukah and of Christmas, just another one of the the many religious "coincidences" layered through history like geological strata and necessarily connected (for instance, Chanukah is not mentioned in the Tenakh, or Jewish Scriptures, but it is referenced in John 10:22-3: "Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter, and Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon's porch.") The story of Chanukah is, for me, a story of goodness and justice prevailing against tremendous odds - but also a story of language prevailing. "And thy word broke their sword..."

The goodness for which the Macabees fought was the living language of the Torah, which King Antiochus IV and many others mocked and defiled. And the present meaning of Torah and Judaism for me can be articulated as dialogue, which is a way to community, which is a way to peace. Language, at its best, leads to dialogue, and dialogue, with or without question marks, is a constant questioning, not only of another but also of the self. Any reminder to revive a dialogue is, for me, a blessing. This Chanukah, wonderfully also the first day of winter, when the Holly*, a letter in the Celtic Ogham alphabet of trees, feels its fullest strength, has been a particularly special one for me, as it finds me, Under the BQE, rekindling a connection to a piece of my childhood, my mother's memories (and lack of memories), my father's nurturing, and a great tradition that I am entering and re-entering with great wonder and dedication.

*"In the Ogham, it was stated that the Holly was 'best in the fight,' since it helped balance both the positive and negative aspects of the self, thus revealing a new direction. It was believed to restore lost energy, bestowing the strength needed to continue toward a resolution. Despite its prickly leaves (which afford protection to the tree during winter), the Holly offered empathy and understanding within its branches and was often associated with goodwill and love. For this reason, it was frequently planted near homes for protection and to ward off evil, psychic attacks, and demons."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Vision: Share Yours!

Below is the vision and photo I shared with the Obama transition team. It seemed extra necessary given the recent appointment of Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.

"At the end of WWII, 20 million home gardens were producing enough fruits and vegetables to feed 40 percent of the American people. My vision is for Americans to relaunch a "victory garden" movement, fueled by the sun and by the actions of President Obama and other leaders. The President will have a unique opportunity to model behaviors that demonstrate a respect for land and for local food. My vision sees a country in which agribusiness is limited, in turn reducing our dependence on petroleum, increasing our homeland security, and improving American health. What we eat says more about ourselves and our country than many of us realize, and turning some of our lawns into gardens, reclaiming empty lots for gardens, and otherwise reconnecting with our small-scale agrarian past is a necessary step toward rebuilding American community and promoting ourselves as responsible tenants of the earth to the rest of the world."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


"This sweet little word: and..."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Brooklyn Talks

Participation, in my opinon, is the key to democracy, and dialogue is the key to peace. To add further perspective to my recent Vito Lopez mention that was not taken kindly by one anonymous commenter, Brooklyn has been, for at least 130 years, a place of democratic dynamism - which can be, if we so choose, the road to greater understanding. Keep the comments coming.

From PostSecret

To which someone responded, "I wish for one day everyone would say exactly what someone else needed to hear."

To which I respond, I wish for one day the two would match.

"Sense, Heart, Feet and Hands Will be in Accord..."

Happy Birthday, Nostradamus!

Here are some opportunities to find your own alignments in the coming days, right here in North Brooklyn:

There was a march at McGorlick Park today, sponosred by Parsons Students for Greenpoint, to generate awareness around the Greenpoint Oil Spill, the result of longterm leakage from tanks and pipelines that has put between 17 and 30 million gallons of oil in the ground. The spill was three times greater than the Exxon Valdez spill, but many people know nothing about it.

J and I attended a meeting of the New Kings County Democrats yesterday, which is representing for people who feel that the Kings County Democrats machine (aka (what some would call) the Vito Lopez for Vito Lopez machine) doesn't meet their needs these days. Thanks to NKD outreach and mobilization, around 50 of the 400 or so members of the Brooklyn County Committee are of the New branch. Around 40 people turned up at Sound Fix late yesterday afternoon to lay the groundwork for local and national action under an Obama administration. While long-term plans were discussed, some immediate projects were developed, too, including a food drive for local hungry people. Stay tuned.

If you haven't yet, please add your John Hancock to a petition to keep East River State Park open through the winter.

Finally, if you're interested in contributing thoughts to the North Brooklyn Story Project, please do.

Doom and gloom aside! The world is always beginning...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Portland, Pourtland, Portlande

The Winter 2009 issue of the Portland Review is out, in which two of my poems appear. First the publication's description, then the irony:

"The Portland Review has been publishing superb short prose, poetry and art since 1956. Contributors range from the celebrated to the unknown. Editors at The Review comb through thousands of submissions annually to produce a journal of exceptional quality. Our mission to promote new authors while maintaining STRICT EDITORIAL STANDARDS* allows us to bring our readers fresh and innovative works from Oregon and around the world with every issue."

*My name is spelled three different ways in the course of the issue. In fact, the sheer number of errors made me laugh. And sigh.
But the Times can't even get Sulzberger right...and there might just be a poem hidden in the letters.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Construction A Go-Go?

Just when I thought the recession had silenced the developers, I awoke this morning to the rhythmic, earth-shaking percussion* of pylons being sunk. So someone is still bank-financed and owing debt,** independently rich, or just throwing caution to the wind and building, building, building, come hell or high...rises.


Still, many lots are empty (or in limbo).*** What can we do with them? Since moving here almost two years ago (before the corner factory was razed****), I've harbored fantasies of guerilla gardening. Mightn't the spaces also become bonafide parks or community gathering spaces?

Not according to New Yorker editor Nick Paumgarten, who recently asked a similar question: "What will become of the pits?" According to Paumgarten's research, "Vacant space tends to remain vacant, in anticipation of an upswing. Tax policy, intertia, and the eternal belief that things will get better again usually trump civic dreams of pocket parks or stickball fields."

Thankfully, I think things ARE better, just as they are, with the pace of development slowed - at least - and the opportunity for bulb grenades and plywood tags on every corner...

**A Philadelphia developer had this to say about his reasons for continuing development despite the housing market crash: "We get bank financing for the site improvements. The bank needs to be repaid, and so we're committed to keeping things moving."

***Click "lots" to read a great article that mentions the empty lot at Withers and Union and shares the thoughts of neighborhood advocate Phil DePaolo, who defines "Planner’s Blight" as "when speculative development is allowed to spiral out of control because city officials zone without a policy for responsible growth."


Sunday, December 7, 2008

I Too Lived

"I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
I too walk'd the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed they came upon me,
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution,
I too had receiv'd identity by my body,
That I was I knew was of my body, and what I should be I knew I should be of my body.
- Walt Whitman, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," 1881.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Self Call

Under the BQE is now on Robert Lanham's taste-making FREEwilliamsburg site. (And self call is is just an all-around great little term. Thanks to Janos and the whole Dartmouth gang.)

And No Trampling

Put your money where you...home is.

Some ideas for Brooklyn holiday giving that would make Mr. Markowitz proud:
*A hammer from Crest Hardware.
*Brooklyn-made copper pots from Brooklyn Kitchen.
*Dog bones and cat toys from PS9.
*Drawings, photographs, snowglobes, and other artwork from The Front Room gallery's Fuse Works project.
*Chili peppers, dried and strung, from the Saturday farmers' market in McCarren Park.
*A wine cork trivet from RePlayGround.
*A gift certificate to Bamonte's.
*Mismatched teacups from Junk.
*A subscription to cheese from Bedford Cheese Shop.
*A book of poems from Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers.
*Tickets to Brick theater projects.
*Pomade or brushes from Mousey Brown or Beehive Salons.
*Pinoli tarts or pannetone from Settepani.
*A training session with Kwesi Morris of Tribal Fitness (workouts in McCarren Park).
*An elderflower gimlet at Hotel Delmano.
*Girl Talk's Feed the Animals or Belle & Sebastian's BBC Sessions from Sound Fix.
*Homemade photographs in Salvation Army found frames.
*A cup of Mexican hot chocolate from Beaner Bar.
*Bike gear from B's Bikes.
*A screen printing or jewelry design class at 3rd Ward.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

North Brooklyn Story Project

The NBSP is born? At NAG's organizing meeting tonight, we were a group devoted to "Improving our Quality of Life and Preserving Community Character." Nine people now believe in the North Brooklyn Story Project! (Excellently, Keith Wagstaff of Williamsburg is Dead was in my group, along with Gregor, Cheryl, Ward, Irene, Stephanie, and my pals Daniel and Terrence.) Anyway, each organizing team (the others are committed to preserving affordable housing, expanding open space, and improving transportation) had an hour or so to build consensus around a short-term and long-term project, to be pursued in subsequent meetings and presented at the next NAG organizing gathering in February. It's program development, baby. And the story project is the long-term way to galvanize people across the community to work toward all kinds of common good. (Our short-term project is to map garbage can locations and make calls to 311 and petitions to City Council for better receptacle allocation, coupled perhaps with some litter education.)

Speaking of common good, if you haven't yet, write an e-letter to Governor Patterson to keep East River State Park open all winter. Assemblyman Joseph Lentol is doing his part - won't you?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

PETA Underground

Protecting animals to the end. One of the things that has been most frustrating about PETA over the years, and about eco-movements in general, is the accompanying eco-righteousness. I am more inclined to like a PETA (and any activist movement (or NON-activist movement, as this article argues) that takes its cause seriously...but remembers how to laugh (even if it be very, very darkly).

I'll be cremated or donated to science. But if I had a coffin, I would like graffiti on it please. Piece me up.

You Know You've Made It (Lost It?) When

the Real World comes to your town. If the new-old recession, crime, and hipster bingo aren't reality enough, check out real people playing real people in Brooklyn at The Paley Center (52nd Street between 5th and 6th Aves), this Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Community, Yo

If you live in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, or a combination of the two, come out to the Neighbors Allied for Good Growth community organizing extravaganza tomorrow night at 7 p.m., at the Holy Ghost Church Hall Basement (160 North 5th Street between Bedford and Driggs). The last meeting was October 2nd and now, post-elections, W/G is ready to hit the ground running (in green, garbage-free parks!) or perhaps riding the (fast and uncrowded) L. The meeting will result in the formation of four committees to take over the world in the following ways:

1. By preserving affordable housing options for residents;
2. By improving open space and access to the waterfront;
3. By offering safe and quick transportation options for the neighborhood; and
4. By improving quality of life and preserving community character.

Ultimately, the neighborhood's walls say it best: