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This is what an Israeli voting booth looks like.

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We vote for a political party, not a candidate, the ranks of which are chosen within the parties. Every party has an alphabet letter or letters (some symbolic or spelling out words or names, others seemingly random). These letters are printed on little slips of paper. You are given an envelope, you choose a piece of paper, insert it, seal the envelope, and drop it into a slot in a box. Easy.

Today I was presented with no less than 35 choices. It’s simple in a way, but a bit daunting to be presented with such a choice. Doesn’t it look like a board game? Or Scrabble? I’m told this was always the system. Avoids all the “hanging chad” and computerized voting machine problems. The only real way your vote can be voided is if you place more than one paper in the envelope. No pesky representatives from local, state, and national districts, no judges to choose, just one party, one paper. My choice: Meretz.

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The 120 seats in the Knesset (parliament) are then allocated according to the percentage breakdown of the votes. Then comes the dirty dirty wheeling and dealing between parties in order to form a ruling coalition, eg “bribing” religious parties with minister of transportation (no buses on the sabbath) and education, etc etc.

Luckily – we got a day off work! Something other countries should implement. Certainly affects the turnout. And what a lovely day we got – sunny, 25 degrees! If only we got a vacation in the middle of every week. Brunch is so much sweeter on holiday. I especially love to eat bacon unapologetically in Israel.

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I’m an American living in Israel, and today I watched the Presidential inauguration live on C-Span (weeping profusely at all the right moments, as I do), wondering why the hell I’m here.

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Tomorrow is election day in Israel.  It’s one of the most harrowing, uncertain elections in recent memory.  Unlike my firm Democratic roots stateside, I’m firmly undecided in Israel.  It’s a strange position to be in.  Being “liberal” or “conservative”

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doesn’t mean much when there are literally a dozen parties from which to choose, nobody will win a majority, and it will be up to the President to grant coalition-forming power to the party most able to form a working parliament (Knesset).  Let the cabinet-bargaining begin.  I’m wavering between Meretz and Labor.  If it were only a matter of voting my beliefs, it would be Meretz, the unwavering liberal party with human rights at its very core.  However, in Israel “making your vote count” OR “not throwing your vote away” often means to vote for the ideologically closest medium-to-large party, helping to put them in a position to get enough seats to form the ruling coalition.

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That party this time is Labor.  For a long time now it has been almost invisible in government, and now, it’s suddenly stronger, perhaps a real threat to (what used to be center-right) Likud (who now readily form coalitions with ultra right wingers and build new settlements and buy up East Jerusalem and openly threaten Iran).  I grew up in a Jewish Labor youth movement.  My problem isn’t Labor, most of its ideals are fabulous.  I’m just off religion, and would very much like a party that’s doing something about human rights in Israel.  The Arab issues, the territories, the settlements, Jerusalem, the immigrants, refugees (legal and illegal), asylum seekers, foreign workers, ignorance, prejudice, and hatred.  And of course a party that is not interested in starting WWIII.

It’s baffling.  Voting what you believe or voting to enable a party that could potentially topple Likud’s Bibi (Netanyahu).  I did the latter last time in 2009 when I voted for Kadima and its leader Tzipi Livni.  She didn’t win, and both Meretz and Labor lost major numbers in parliament because so many liberals ran center to Kadima to “make their vote count.”  Did it, with such a seat loss?

I think I’ll vote my conscience tomorrow.  Politics are best left undisclosed in polite circles.  I’ve learned far too much about fellow employees and friends of the family, things that disgust me.  Racism is so blatant it doesn’t shock most people.  Is it time to go home?  I still refer to America as home.  Do I miss it so much, see it through such rose colored glasses, because I’m not there?  Perhaps.  Probably.  But there is no beautiful national rhetoric here.  No togetherness.  No dreaming big dreams.  No building the future together.  I heard a woman yesterday saying, “I’ll vote for the opposite of what the Arabs want.  Anyone they’re for, I’ll be against.”  No “We the people.”

Is it possible to love one of your countries more than the other?  Is love even necessary?  Is absolute loyalty?  Is it even possible for a dual citizen?  I obviously came here for a reason.  Now, I can’t remember what that was.  Is that a sign to leave?  I’m far from elated at the prospect of tomorrow’s election.  I’m expecting disappointment.  Do I care enough to participate in the fight when there is no unified vision?  I feel most Israelis don’t even care about peace anymore, and for those that do, the realistic prospect of attaining it seems next to impossible.  How do we balance being good citizens, acting responsibly, giving of ourselves, with being good TO ourselves and trying to live happy lives?

I’m just going to focus on President Obama’s wonderful speech today, maybe watch some West Wing reruns, and daydream of better times.  Twiddling my thumbs uselessly, until tomorrow.  At least I get a nationally-sanctioned vacation day – something the USA could actually use.

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“One last look…” he said. There goes a man who knows the value of treasuring a moment. Linger he did.

Sex & Death

Procreation, Pleasure, Pain, Passing away…  Sex and death are entirely connected, yet so divorced from each other in how we perceive them.  Or should I say, our Western society chooses not to connect them.  Ever.  Now that I think of it, “we” are uncomfortable speaking about both sex and death, even separately.  Sex ed, STDs, terminal illnesses, school shootings, the afterlife, bodies…  Uncomfortable creepy crawly conversations.  Taboos.  For such an “advanced” age, it’s no wonder there are so many problems.  Why have I chosen this as a topic for a blog post?  It’s one of those convergence of things that I came across in the last couple days, along with stuff I have thought about for ages.  Now… I wrote too long a blog post last week.  I’m prone to this.  So instead of writing voluminously, I’m just going to post links and photos and videos.  Let’s see if you all can connect the dots.  Or at least enjoy this seemingly meaningless set of things I’m presenting.  At least sex and death, as topics, can be pretty…interesting…on their own.  Enjoy your mortality, folks!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Mortician

Caitlin Doughty went to the University of Chicago right after I did, and through mutual theater acquaintances on facebook, I came across her website, The Order of the Good Death, and her incredibly funny and informative videos.  Her mission: to bring back mortality into daily life.

Fuck the Pain Away

Your friendly post-feminist ultra out-there rocker, Peaches,writes and plays the instruments and performs all her own work.  I think it’s brilliant.  Years ago I created a performance piece that some of you may have seen in Chicago entitled Inventing Eve.  We closed with “I’m the Kinda“.  Here’s her breakthrough song, “Fuck the Pain Away.”

Alien Diseases in Deep Space 

In the season 5 Star Trek Voyager episode “Disease,” love is likened to a disease. Young Ensign Harry Kim has sex with a gorgeous alien and develops a biochemical bond.  His skins starts to glow and everything, and leaving the alien causes him to suffer lots and lots of aches and pains, and could be potentially fatal to him.  Here’s the “dramatic” trailer.  Oooh, steamy!

Send Your Remains to Outer Space – FOR REAL

I’ve been researching ways of disposing bodies. Why?  Watching Caitlyn’s videos got me thinking seriously about how I want to be disposed of.  Yes, this is going to sound a lot like “what I want to be when I grow up,” but instead is, “what I want to be after I die.” So, after I donate as many organs as possible, I want to donate my body to “science,” and after they’re done with me, there’s a sort of “green” chemical liquification sort of alternative to cremation they’re doing in England, and then I want my remains sent out to space.  Yes, space, as in outer space!  For a few small thousands, they will fly a few ounces of your cremated remains on a rocket into space.  I MUST do this.  Check out this amazing company Celestis.  They really ham it up – each launch has it’s own “mission” name, like “The New Frontier Flight,” and they call the dead, “The Participants.”  There are several options, an orbital flight, a return flight, a deep space flight, and even a final resting place on the moon!  If I can’t get there while I’m alive, I might as well get there when I’m dead.  Lots of famous people have done it, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, his wife, actress Majel Barrett,  a few Star Trek actors and astronauts, and lots of ordinary people ride alongside them.

I can’t help but think about the ramifications of sending human remains into space.  I know that ashes have no remaining DNA.  But I can’t help but think of this Star Trek TNG episode “The Chase,” where the crew of the Enterprise is in a race with other alien species to solve a genetic puzzle.  Some sort of algorithm was imprinted in the DNA of many species of aliens, a result of a very advanced species who were alone in the galaxy who scattered their DNA among many planets.  I’d like to imagine my DNA bringing life to other planets.  See this moving video clip:

So I ended up writing a lot.  So what.  I hope you enjoyed the videos.

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Today I went to the Dead Sea for work. I hopped in the car in Tel Aviv at 9 am, and by 11 am I was glimpsing the sparkling water through the haze with the Jordanian peaks behind.  Ten hours later, I was back.  Why I put such thought and detail to my Facebook status update before I left last night, I don’t know, but it summed my sentiments about this experience totally:

Sometimes I can’t believe I’m a grownup and they entrust things like automobiles, giant hunks of fast-moving metal, to me. Tomorrow I get to drive for around 6+ hours, through what look like alien planets’ deserts, through the land where the world’s most prominent religions were born, through to the lowest most desolate place on earth, and even though I’ve done it before, it terrifies me. I will counteract it with vast amounts of singing – silly pop, rock, jazz standards, musicals – and coffee and junk food. All of you in Europe and the Americas may think the image quite odd. I will actually be driving past camels and date trees and Bedouin camps. All in a day’s work.

And I somehow survived: sand dunes, soldiers, camels, cliffs, rocks, sink holes, and speeding mac trucks on a winding two-lane highway (it’s honestly not as dangerous as it sounds, for anyone thinking of visiting – though I suggest taking along an experienced driver).  I will not bore you potential readers with the mundane aspects of the wine training sessions I ran today (funny, as now that I think of it, wine tastings must seem like great fun to the rest of the world – not that they’re not – I just happen to do them on a basic level day in and day out – my bread and butter). I did, however, have some lovely “enlightened” thoughts, of the sort that come to me much more regularly when I’m not a stressed blind-sided zombie.  Thoughts that would make a good short story.

The thought: a reinterpretation of SODOM and GOMORRAH

(cue lightening bolt)

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Tatooine, from Star Wars

I camped on top of Mount Sodom once, and it wasn’t a bad experience.  It’s really white and crumbly.  And there are scorpions.  And gorgeous sunsets and sunrises.  It looks like the surface of another planet, like it could not reasonably belong anywhere on earth.  It resembles Luke Skywalker’s planet, Tatooine, more than a little bit, minus the second sun. And it rises a few millimeters every year.  Great view of the Dead Sea.  You’d be hard pressed to find a stranger place.  It was today’s inspiration.

The bible story goes something like this (entirely from memory, biblical scholars and bible readers who know far better than me, please pardon my relative ignorance).  Lot (Abraham’s nephew and “adopted” son until Isaac comes along) and his family come to town, an evil town with bad, bad sinful people – and God tells him he’s going to destroy it.  Lot urges God not to do it, and begs him to spare the town if he can find 10 good men.  God agrees, but of course Lot fails to find even one good man.  A couple men (angels in disguise) come to lodge with Lot and his family in Sodom, and the townspeople surround the house, demanding Lot to turn over the men so they can rape them.  Yup.  Rape them (origin of the word Sodomy, folks).  Lot offers his virgin daughters to the townsmen instead of giving up his guests.  Yeah.  They refuse.  The angels reveal themselves, protect the family, and then God proceeds to destroy the town, in full fire and brimstone fashion.  Lot’s wife looks back, against God’s orders, and she turns into a pillar of salt.  The story gets creepier still when later on, Lot commits incest with his daughters who believe themselves to be the last human beings on earth.  Someone’s got to repopulate, right?

My thought – doesn’t this kind of sound like a Western?  Picture this being in Utah (or similar), some 150 years ago.  What kind of settlements would you find there?  Teeny tiny backwater one-street towns, that’s what.  Sand, dust, tumbleweed, hot hot sun.  Disney’s done wonderful treatments.  Sound familiar?  Woman to man ratio?  Probably 1:20.  Of course I’m speculating – I’ve not done even the least bit of googling on this yet.  What if a holier-than-thou preacher type (from a yet unheard of “religion”) rolls into town with his wife and children one day, claiming they are followers of the one true god.  What would they find?  What would they think?  Bars and brothels would kind of freak them out, right?  More than a little bit.  Though I bet it would never in a million years be spoken of, I bet there was some “fraternization” going on among those cowpokes, given the lack of female companionship, (of course).  Yeah, yeah, I weep-wailing adored Brokeback Mountain like the rest of us all.  Just riffing here.  I’m just about the biggest gay rights advocate you’re likely meet.  I’m being writerly.  (Isn’t writerly such a writerly word?)

Imagine us transplanting the biblical story to this more “modern” setting, at least one in our relatively recent past.  In all seriousness, let’s put as realistic a spin on it as possible.  Poor Reverend Lot, showing up in his covered wagon, dead set on trying to convert the beastly sinners.  Nothing works.  His family is harassed, and he’s constantly on the lookout trying to protect them.  He tells himself that if he can convert 10, or even 1, it will have been worth it.  Alas, he has no luck.  Some important visitors come, the head of his sect here to judge him, there is a scuffle, a showdown, a fight, something… something… something… Lot “hears God’s voice” and knows the town must be destroyed.  He is conflicted.  Will there be a miraculous lightening storm?  A tornado?  Or maybe he facilitates the destruction himself, unbeknownst to him, a la Oedipus.  I’m seeing a fire in the granary.  Or an arson attempt on the watering hole going wrong, alcohol bottles exploding every which way.  Etc.  Etc.  Maybe Mrs. Lot dies as she runs back to save someone from a burning building.  Maybe that’s Lot’s punishment for offering up his daughters.  I could go on.  And on.  And on.

To make a long story short – to the victor go the spoils, and in this case, the winner gets the copyright to the book.  Well, “Lot’s” version of the story gets passed down for generations until it gets written.  Growing up, this story really seemed to be talking about truly evil people, and God’s brutal eradication of them for not changing their ways.  Old Testament at it’s very best.  However, behind a story that is nearly 3,000 years old, there must be some truth, and also myriad other “sides” to the story.  How large could a “town” or “city” be back then?  And have you seen the Dead Sea region?  How much more inhospitable a place could you get?  To this day it can get truly “hellish.”  Mount Sodom is literally made almost entirely out of salt. (Aside: the words Sodom and Sodium aren’t so different…connection?).  Of course there would be “evil” men, trying to survive, coping by doing whatever they could to distract themselves.  It was a warlike time.  Rape and pillage and murder and all that goody bag of stuff.  Doesn’t sound like geographically it would have been a nice place for an ordinary thriving community, anyway.  No agriculture.  Little water.  Of course there weren’t very many women.  Logic, people.  It was the Wild West.

I resolve to write a story.  All excellent fodder.  If you steal the story, I will know…

Non sequitur – while googling Sodom, the first entry was surprising: Sodom Mountain Campground in Massachusetts.  Who on earth names a place Sodom in the New World?  Who would go camping there?  Satanists?  Occultists?  Is this where the witches of Salem came to find refuge?  It boasts being the nearest campground to Six Flags New England, and sports free wi-fi, a swimming pool, and organized activities.  Do people just ignore the name?  Are the people who stay there Sodomites?  A particularly pleased guest wrote in the comments section:

“The Pig Roast dinner was excellent.  Continued success for the next 25 years.  The bear sighting was an added surprise.”

Beelzebub and his employees must be doing an exceedingly good job. Kudos!

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And again, and again, another year.  Yet a random day, but as good a reason as any to review what has past during this last rotation around our sun.  I feel I’ve been quite a zombie in 2012.  Not much writing or thinking or reading.  A lot of busy work, a lot of senseless worry.  A lot of the proverbial hugging one’s knees and rocking back and forth while letting the rest of the world spin by.  In a year as drab as this, one I sincerely do not wish to repeat, it’s even more important to reflect, and do it well.  I suppose I’ll be waxing philosophical tomorrow, when I have more time.  For now, I have payroll to process, reports to write, events to manage, and on, and on.  I am a fool but cannot help dreaming of “my” vineyard in Spain, “my” cabin in Provence, “my” book lined clean organized warm and cozy den of an office.  Things I can see so clearly.  And yet.  Payroll.  Other people’s parties.  Work to be done.  It isn’t all bad.  But it isn’t all there is.  For any of us.

To anyone reading, I wish us all a happy new year.  Health, sanity, a modicum of contentment, and the sense that we have a place in this world, and a voice that is heard.  Welcome 2013.  

My book of the week: talk about blasphemy!

Not great. My list seems so much more ambitious than I thought.  Some things I’ve done:

  • Because of a cold, for almost a week I drank endless cups and pots of herbal teas and infusions, meaning, I got plenty of water.  Now, not so much.
  • Sleep – still averaging 5-ish hours. Not good at all.  The discovery of late-night Star Trek TNG on this odd Christian cable TV channel has me mesmerized.  I love the show, it’s never on here, and I find it so incredibly strange that it’s METV that airs it.  I’m sure it’s a “recruiting tactic” – they’re also the only channel broadcasting American football, and quite a lot of it – rare and popular pastimes for certain populations.  I wonder if they actually know what they’re broadcasting – the futuristic Star Trek world is yes, quite an optimistic one, but the show regularly presents messages of tolerance (thinly veiled themes on gay rights and euthanasia come to mind) – basic respect for acceptance of the traditions and values of other cultures, whether or not we agree with them.  Things I feel that evangelicals clearly oppose.  It’s a very liberal show.  Squeezed between shows like the 700 Club, Harvest, and Christian rock shows, it’s so entirely bizarre for me, a firm and unwavering atheist, to watch.  This channel has these shows where a Christian “psychic” talks to spirits of dead family members in front of a studio audience.  There’s even a show geared to converting Jews, with a host who is a formerly-Jewish, now devout Christian evangelical, spinning the gospel for the “chosen people.”  Anthropology.  All I can say.  I’m happy for TNG.  Not sure it’s OK that I’m patronizing them.

    This kiss between Riker and the self-identified female “degenerate mutant” from a gender-less species.

  • I have, however, been seeing friends – twice per week is realistic, and as it’s emotionally quite pressing, it seems to be a high priority for me.
  • I went on a date. I thought it went very well, but I may have received the brush off.  Waiting.  It’s OK, life goes on.  The effort is important.
  • I read a whole novel in excellent speed – fantastic feeling. Though not really my cup of tea, I’d been putting off reading the cult-classic, Good Omens.  Was a nice way to pass the weekend.
  • Creativity and culture – I have made a concerted effort to stop and notice the art displayed in the windows of the galleries in my area, and I did actually attend a group exhibition opening a couple weeks ago.  I’ve been thinking about pulling out my clarinet – back in high school I wasn’t a bad player, and I did bring my excellent Buffet Festival with me when I moved to Israel.  AND I DID PAINT! Last week I got out a bunch of expensive Italian ink I purchased years ago, made lovingly with things like real gold flake, and I found a box of old thick “panda” oil pastels of my grandfather’s, a prominent Israeli artist until his death 11 years ago.  All shades of his favorite color – blue.  Here are some of the results, taken on a crappy camera phone.

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    A sort of water-soaked inky gouache, and a pointillism landscape made with an incomplete set of crayola markers, inspired by the “International Naive and Primitive Art Gallery” near me. You can’t see the gold flake on the left, but it’s pretty cool up close. And yes, the inks came complete with a quill – very difficult to use, hence I abandoned it.

  • Bills – not being paid. Weird.  I have the money.  I can’t open the mail – it’s overwhelming. It’s quite urgent. And pressing on me.  Psychological oddity with me, also keeps me from cleaning my room for months.  Though I make a decent effort on the house, the kitchen, public things, some other tasks are near impossible to internalize.
  • I’ve been pretty successful at shutting the computer at night and not thinking of work, so I’m proud of myself in that respect.  I do need to move forward on expanding my professional goals.

So there is the update.  A rather mundane blog entry, but as I felt I needed to keep up the writing momentum, here it is in all its glorious dullness.

ID-10028225The forthcoming tips come from a journal entry from last week. Its fun to flip through a soft leather pocket-sized volume,  reading bits in juicy blue fountain pen hand. I adore fountain pens, the quill gliding, feeling the shining liquid ink absorb into the paper. I relish writing in cursive, something Israelis find perplexing. Creating loop upon look feels a little like drawing, doesn’t it?  They don’t write that way here, the boxy Hebrew characters aren’t built for it. Though everyone is fluent in English, they cannot read our connective writing. Shame.

In any case, a few facts.

1) I’m writing this post on my kindle fire – a used new-to-me model given me by my mother incredibly thoughtful sister, which despite its first-generation-ness, has really improved the quality of my life. It’s a rudimentary tablet, and I have access to wifi like a smart phone,  something I don’t have as its very expensive here. Though clunky, its so nice to have a browser and books (of which I’ve read a few) and newspapers (I read the Herald Tribune daily) and apps, though usually its just a few card games I use to distract myself to blow off steam. There is no camera and no mic so Skype and photos aren’t relevant. However I just downloaded this mobile wordpress app, seems easy to use, and here I am, writing! Brilliant. Thank you Ashley!

2) The following are guidelines I created for myself, very straightforward, things I know will vastly improve my daily existence. The moment by moment breathing in and out getting out of bed and being functional and happy kind of existence. The physical that should improve the metaphysical.  Underneath the funky bookishness, I’m just an ordinary schmo. I’m very messy and unraveled at the edges. These are my goals. Maybe you guys would find some benefit too from reading this. Or at least you can check up on me. Or ask me out. Or publish my novel. Or do my dishes. Whatever floats your boat.

  • Get 8 hours of sleep every night, preferably turning in before midnight.
  • Drink 8 glasses of water per day. 
  • Create a daily work checklist and stick to it.
  • Don’t dare to think about work after work, and really create a line, even if and when overtime is required.
  • Always be reading a book.
  • Read the newspaper every day. 
  • Attend or participate in (at least) one cultural activity per week, whether it be a night at the opera or digging out the colored pencils for a fun sketch fest at home.
  • See friends twice per week or more.
  • Write, blog, or otherwise work with words in some way every day.
  • Clean something every day and maintain a clean (ish) home – i.e. sweeping, dishes, cat box, laundry, gardening, general tidying.
  • Pay bills/rent/vaad bayit on time.
  • Cook and generally eat healthy meals (and eat with people preferably), not in front of the computer or TV.
  • Go to yoga once per week if not more.
  • Go on one date per week.

How hard is this?  Very hard!  Well, not really, but really.  It takes some self-conscious effort.  Nothing on the list is difficult.  Well, not too difficult – the cleaning is not easy for me.  But doing every single thing, or at least many of them — that is discipline.  I do some of these things, sometimes, and somehow I manage.  I imagine if I could accomplish these tasks, and maintained it, my life would be less stressed and far more fulfilling.  How often do I lose sleep over timing, running to keep up on deadlines, avoiding the disgusting kitchen sink, feeling guilty guilty guilty.  The stress is physically and mentally unhealthy.  So, while easier said than done, I must attempt this everyday Everest.

What do you think?  Do you have a regimen?  Any tips?

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