Part 2 (of 2)
One loses the capacity to grieve as a child grieves, or to rage as a child rages: hotly, despairingly, with tears of passion. One grows up, one becomes civilized, one learns one’s manners, and consequently can no longer manage these two functions — sorrow and anger — adequately.
July 2, 2008, Wednesday, Johnstown Pennsylvania, at the Friends General Conference Gathering
An exhilarating concert last night by Tribe 1, led by Niyonu Spann. Some a cappella singing, some accompanied by piano and drums, resembling Sweet Honey in the Rock with their multi voiced renditions. Among my favorites, their “Precious Lord”. They worked well with children, a song about spiders that included movements. Altho this began awkwardly, asking one child to develop movements to go with the song lines, eventually they had a crowded stage full of children, mostly about 4 –10 years old, performing. During the intermission, a group of children who’d been practicing with the resident artist, Cedric (who I first met while waiting at the train station for the shuttle, carrying a large collection of bags containing his drums—and I thought I had problems carrying my equipment), played. A girl about 11 years old danced twice across the stage, wildly interpreting the drumming. Later I heard someone who’d met her in the bathroom say that the girl had wept after her brief performance, berating herself for doing a terrible job—or possibly for dancing solo what she thought, as traditional African dance, should be danced only with others. Later I learned she met an African woman who assured her that the dancing was ok, good, talented, appropriate.
Cedric, Tribe 1
As is my custom, I sat in one of the front rows, mainly to hear and see well, and then I realized I was in good position for photographing. I made panoramics, close-ups, and as I joined the dance line I even tried photographing the crowd who were all on their feet. This was clearly the highlight of the day for me, surpassing even the workshop which continues to go reasonably well.
In the workshop, Z, the man from a land of troubles that parallel those of Israel-Palestine, broke down in tears during the worship sharing about gray areas and in response to an article I read about a journalist from Gaza who’d been harshly, brutally treated when he crossed from Jordan to Palestine/Israel at Allenby. At first Z said—I was closing the session—he had something to say. Then he wept. He asked for paper and pen to write with. He left. Returned about 30 minutes later, returning the materials and said, “I can’t continue.”
From F and others I learned that the workshop had been hard for him, not because of the leadership but because of what it invoked for him from experiences in his homeland. They told me he’d never spoken about these experiences, even at home, and certainly not in this country. What lies behind his pain? Could he have been a perpetrator of violence? Might he have tortured or killed someone?
They also told me he had two messages for us: the situation is not hopeless, look at his country, solving violent discord. And every story has at least two sides.
A pity he couldn’t have been with us when we explored the contending narratives. We returned to the timeline, skipping the part about personal connections and instead discerned which elements of the history were most relevant to each narrative, Israeli and Palestinian. We quickly realized nearly each historic event was relevant to both, but with sharply differing reasons. We chose several examples to examine, 1967 and 1948. I invited folks to frame narratives from each position. This seemed to work very well. For homework I suggested they choose another element and write both sides. Today we’ll look at the Israeli narrative, the main one of many. Tomorrow, the Palestinian. Or so goes the plan.
Tribe 1 with children of the Gathering
I also showed more of the Quakers in Israel-Palestine slide show, looking at the American Friends Service Committee in the region, and began with the show, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel. There is not much time for this, I wonder if I should be giving my photos more attention. Today I might ask for a mid term review.
Another highlight of the day was meeting with the American Friends Service Committee, led by the director, Mary Ellen McNish. Lyn A of the workshop also attended so we could both ask questions related to Israel-Palestine. Mary Ellen did mention the AFSC in the region, I asked for more information about the new investment screen related to Israel-Palestine. Lyn asked about their work in Gaza. After the session I spoke with Mary Ellen about Thuqan’s heavy workload and she said, “We’re trying to deal with that now, there’s a meeting in the region.” I am pleased I can work from this end to expedite the good work of the AFSC in the Levant. My admiration for AFSC continues, stronger and stronger.
I first met them in about 1965 when I sought conscientious objector counseling. Their office was behind 42 Brattle St in Harvard Square, Cambridge. I met Andy Rudin who was serving his alternative service as a counselor. When Andy learned of my interest in filmmaking, we collaborated on a film sponsored and widely shown by the AFSC about conscientious objection, Who owns Tony Fargus? That was the first seed for my involvement with Quakers.
I bumped into the vivacious Jennifer who is coordinating the Limeade Cabaret. She told me she’d scheduled my slide show, My trip to Gaza, for Friday. I’ve begun advertising and announcing it, most notably at the AFSC meeting yesterday, hoping some staff and AFSC supporters will attend.
Between dinner and the evening concert I sat for about 10 minutes in a large open space down from the Blackington building, observing the sky. It was magnificent. So huge, with so many varieties of cumulous clouds. An occasional airplane would drift thru, so high I couldn’t hear it—graceful silence. Each day’s sky has been like this: the big sky in the mountains, ever changing, ever encompassing, ever radiant.
And finally, at one meal I found myself sitting with Chicagoans—ah, my hometown. Who told me: the Northside Friends meeting is transient, as is the Hyde Park meeting, leading to problems of stability. Hyde Park meeting nearly collapsed but with the help of Friends General Conference was rebuilt. Tho they no longer maintain the residential house as Quaker. It is now a coop, linked with the meeting but not of it. The Southside meeting is going strong. The Chicago Fellowship of Friends of course as I’ve known is no more. Most of the high rises in that dreary pubic housing complex are gone. We all agreed that Chicago is a tremendously vibrant city. They lauded Mayor Daley, the son of the original, for his courage and vision in rebuilding the city. They noted his close and productive ties with business and his propensity toward benign dictatorship.
July 3, 2008, Thursday
One dream recalled out of a plethora experienced: someone announced to me that one of my best friends, Stan, had died suddenly. He was saying “I want a …,” not able to finish the sentence. Is this emblematic of Stan, or all of us, unfulfilled yearnings?
Another dream about caring for a baby or toddler, someone likes Ella but not her, someone very demanding. A TV, a bed. Oh, the wisps of truth.
Yesterday a gloriously relaxing day, our mid week siesta, the afternoon free, nothing scheduled, more or less. So I lingered after lunch, eventually came to my room, and journaled about questions from the workshop, all my deliberations to date. I found this very fruitful and intend to continue with the remaining questions either here while at FGC or later. I intend also to somehow blog this and ideally do it in combination with writings from other participants.
To expedite this I believe I’ll have to send out information to the list, informing and inspiring them to write. It might be an adjunct site to the website Anne put up, another tool for linking folks active on the Israel-Palestine issues.
After writing I napped, had a snack, and walked over to the most open area of campus I’ve located so far, in front of the Blackington building, overlooking the mountains, offering a wide angle view of sky. We are in the western section of the Appalachian range, rolling high hills, rolling to the flat lands of the Midwest. The day before at this same location I’d sat musing, eyes on the sky. Yesterday I experimented with the infrared filter, making a few photos that might be showable. Kids were wheeling about on bikes and one motorized wheel chair. Using a slow shutter I tried to incorporate them in the photo—big blurs. A woman providentially sat on a wall near me, entering the landscape. Another woman earlier had been sitting under a tree—figures in the landscape. And a man was hurling a Frisbee-like object designed to return to him. David A soon entered the scene.
I dined with Rose Marie, my workshop buddy, and 3 other workshop leaders including Annie Blood-Patterson who is leading a women’s sanctuary thru singing workshop. Bonnie Tinker leads something about recovery, and another woman leads writing as a spiritual journey. Rose Marie’s first question to us was how are we caring for ourselves during the workshop? Annie confessed that she is doing too much, leading the workshop from 9 am-12, then leading singing at lunch. Bonnie is for the first year in many free of family, an infirm mother who died in her 90s and children. I find in my workshop that the mid morning break helps me recover, and just yesterday began at the urging of several an open discussion period where I sit back and relax while others carry the conversation. We agreed to do this at the end of each session.
Mary Roberts led with the question to our now 5 youth, 3 high school, 2 college, what activity on this topic do you experience in your youth communities? Barbara may have misinterpreted the question and responded, when people learn which workshop I’m in they often express views about Palestine/Israel. Others said there are, as expected, varying levels of awareness and concern, but generally, reflecting the adult culture, not much is happening.
We had a worship sharing session [a form of deep reflection and listening, one of the Quaker institutions] about what silences us and our communities. Maggie mentioned in her case this is the fear that by knowing and appreciating the viewpoints of even the most extreme Jews she might be tempted to side completely with them and quit her activism in support of Palestine. If I understand her. A most revelatory remark. Others cited the lack of information about a complex situation can shut folks down. The presence of Jews and Jewish supporters quiets us. Our own unwillingness to engage in a charged conversation, the emotions this might elicit, can silence us.
From that as a beginning point I asked folks to form small groups and brainstorm ideas for action, whether as individuals related to Quakers, or for the Quaker community. Assembling, we inscribed top choices on the board, replacing (symbolically) the timeline, as if to state: from reflection to action. Today we go a little further on the action theme, to refining and presenting snippets of proposals for action.
I also showed a portion of Start Young, about Israeli and Palestinian attitudes, more about this today, also My trip to Gaza.
In the last few minutes I invited them to review the workshop so far, but since we were out of time, suggested they do this on their own and return the papers to me tomorrow. I realized this would probably be too late, leaving only one day for adjustments. So most remained past the end time and finished the reviews. A good sign I think.
I never found the folks driving to the field trip railroad site. Waiting at what I thought was our meeting place, the Living-Learning Center, I chatted with Mick who dropped the workshop because of his MS, and Steve from San Francisco, who I met with his friend Susan over a meal. In this very human and ancient manner we stay in touch, face to face, the best way.
Last night, after the long slow dinner with Rose Marie and others, I sauntered to my room, my temporary home, longing to do some photo work. I’d downloaded my recent images, filling my hard drive, and last evening I processed a representative image from the infrared series, using Photoshop CS3 on this for the first time, and Lightroom, and then I processed and edited a batch from the recent set. I intend to put this onto my site and offer them to FGC.
July 4, 2008, Friday
No dreams, but one story, from Z, formerly of the workshop who I noticed sitting near the dining hall line and sat with:
In my homeland I worked with a very gifted sculptor from Israel, an immigrant, a man named Drori. He told me that in 1987 or so while a soldier he’d been with his unit chasing some Palestinian militants up a mountain. A helicopter gunship hovered over them in support. Someone gave the pilot incorrect coordinates and they fired a missile at the unit, killing 9 of the 11 in the army unit. Machine gun fire, presumably from the gunship, wounded Drori in the knee, and completely incapacitated the only other soldier to survive.
Drori carried the wounded man, weighting 200 pounds, with both packs, each weighing 70 pounds, down the mountain. Drori told me that it was at this moment when he felt the suffering of the Palestinian people and decided to emigrate. Observing the shattering effects of the missile woke him to the suffering of the Palestinians.
Drori chose my homeland for no specific reason other than having met a woman from here in Israel. He arrived with nothing. He met a family who offered to help him. They were rich; they admitted that they’d do anything for him because of their roles during the holocaust. He never learned exactly what those roles were. He assumed their generosity was a form of atonement.
Much later I met him and we worked together on a commission he’d been given to carve a huge arch with animal figures out of a fallen tree.
God, what a story. As good as or better than most of my dreams. And Z gave me permission to tell this to the workshop. It might have something to do with his emotion concerning Israel-Palestine. He admitted he doesn’t write but might be willing to be interviewed. This might be a task for someone in the workshop.
The workshop may have faltered slightly yesterday, not quite on track, the energy not as high, the conversation a bit tepid. We lit up when a few folks volunteered their action proposals. One was to use Leon Uris’ film, Exodus, and Michener’s The Choice, to deconstruct common myths about Israel-Palestine. Another was to produce a set of playing cards with information and graphics about the conflict. And a 3rd was “ethical economic initiatives,” otherwise known as BDS, boycott, divest, sanction. There were others, some highly imaginative, that I can’t now recall. [I may put a list on this blog.]
Today we go further with the proposals, maybe sorting thru them for collective action, and end with vow taking. Can we find a way to put this in ritual form?
We also discussed how to carry the work of our group further, not lose the stimulus we find when together. A blog, website, list serve are all possibilities. More about this today and I hope we resolve it.
We also agreed to meet for supper tonight, one last time together, a farewell or last supper, an informal relaxed free flowing time. I hope most show up.
S told about going thru Ben Gurion airport on her way home, hoping to shop in the airport mall before boarding the plane. She is part Jewish. At the first security check she mentioned being Quaker, thinking this would be found either benign or bewildering. They pulled her out of line, grilled her for nearly 2 hours. She missed shopping. Earlier in the workshop she’d spoken more favorably about Israel than anyone else.
Z told me that one main reason the conflict in his country ended was that people slowly realized that all the killing was not moving any one party into ascendance. It was stalemate; it was exhausting and proving more and more futile. Something like that occurred in South Africa when apartheid became unsustainable and counterproductive. And similarly with Israel-Palestine: struggle fatigue, a realization that the oppressive system cannot be maintained, there are alternatives.
If so, how to move the parties more swiftly to this discovery?
During the chat with Z, Robin B and Doug F came thru the line, reminding me that we had a dinner engagement. We invited Z to join us. He had been filling me in on his country’s history, and reiterated some of that to Robin and Doug. Namely the correspondence with Israel-Palestine in that the colonial power, realizing they were losing power in a major part of their colony, forcibly settled it with their own, taking over land much like Israelis are doing with the settlements.
I should read a book about the that conflict, both background and resolution.
Thanks to Anne Remley we offered our Call to Action session about Israel-Palestine, drawing some 12 people, including Wendy S. Anne, like me, has much to present and perhaps too much of the time was her and me presenting our work and ideas. Not enough time for the richness of a gathering to emerge. Most seemed energized in relation to Israel-Palestine, some with first hand experience. One, who I believe later volunteered to manage the website, admitted despair, hopelessness. A classic case of awareness without action corroding the soul, maybe.
I’m not sure we gathered much data about who’s doing what, but at least we drew together more people in a slowly expanding circle of Quakers connected with Palestine/Israel.
Peterson Toscano, performing “The Re-education of George W Bush”
Then Peterson Toscano last evening for the plenary, with a new play called, ”The re-education of GW Bush.” Funny concept, not a particularly evocative or deep play. His usual cast of characters including the uproarious Vlad from Russia doing an “encoded dance” especially for Dr Condoleezza Rice who with Bush and Barb were in the audience. This concept, administration officials in the audience (Cheney was in an “undisclosed location”), undercover, switching identities so they’d be concealed, was evocative. A fascinating mix of reality and pretence.
I came back to my room immediately after the play, edited the first part of my latest slide show, Besieged Bethlehem, and I might show it in the workshop today. It is rough but a start, gives me an idea about what the story might be, how to fit in the Bethlehem-Cambridge delegation idea. This might prove to be vital to the story.
Rain fell, not for the first time, but for the first time affecting most of us who were caught often without protective gear.
Since I had to go from the workshop to the action group session in a short time, less than 1.5 hrs, and the lines in both dining halls were impossibly long, I chose to eat in the café, the Tuck, finding a full meal for a mere $3. Sloppy Joes on dark soft bread, home fries, mixed veggies, plus coffee. I sat outside, and found myself with Karl, a high schooler with a severe disability, barely able to move or talk. He was sitting with 2 others of his age, the red haired bearded man feeding him, the young attractive woman with colored hair helping interpret for me. They were all part of an initiative, the Young People’s Empowerment Convergence, bringing together youth to struggle for their rights and empowerment. She asked me for a contribution which I happily gave. She mentioned she had a very good friend, Jewish, liberal on all issues but for Israel. He is joining the Israeli army. They’ve broken off their friendship. She admitted to unrelieved anger.
July 5, 2008, Saturday, on the train home
Providence exists: I decided to try for an earlier train, avoiding the overnight in Johnstown and the awkward train shift in Philly around midnight on Sunday. Calling Amtrak at 10 pm on Fri., after a 10 minute phone hold, I reached a salesperson, cancelled my old ticket, bought the last seat on the train, agreed to pay the $60 extra charge (for the last seat). I then cancelled my Super 8-motel room (without penalty) and booked a shuttle seat to the train station for the next morning, leaving campus early at 7 am.
Glory be! Providence exists! Those living well will be blessed! I am now on the train, expecting, inshallah, to be home around midnight tonight (if the subway is still running), rather than 8 am on Monday. I ride with about 50 other Quakers who are East Coast bound. I sit next to Mark, a youth worker from a charismatic-leaning Catholic congregation.
After we’d exchanged pleasantries, me disclosing intimate details about my life and beliefs (as is my penchant), including doubting the existence of god in the conventional form, he pulled out his rosary and declaimed, “I’m a Catholic.” Not in a dogmatic or confrontative manner, but gently. We agreed that one of the blessings of life in the US is relative tolerance of differing beliefs and practices. We agreed that in some parts of the planet revealing as we did might be grounds for fighting.
How shall I assess the precious previous week at FGC Gathering? Mixed success. High success with the workshop—so much of what I’ve tried before in other iterations of the Israel-Palestine workshop, such as worship sharing seeds, that have failed, duds, worked splendidly. The group was fairly united, except for maybe Sue who thoughtfully challenged us on being one sided, one minded, somewhat narrow in not acknowledging more of the mainstream Israel perspective.
The photos fit in well and seemed well received. Not too much of them, nor too little. Many had read or were reading the two recommended books, Lemon Tree and Understanding Israel-Palestine. No one dropped for reasons of distaste with the workshop. One, Mick because of physical inability to keep up, and another, Z, because of high emotionality, left, explaining their reasons. Several were spotty attenders, including B and I, the two college level participants (maybe because of late night Adult Young Friends’ meetings). We met for dinner on Friday, after the last session, and most attended, including Maggie, the high schooler who vowed to visit Palestine/Israel, and Keenan, bound for the Woolman school for the Woolman semester during his high school life. I feel there was a good blend of practicality and spirituality, prayer and logistics, emotion and strategy.
Farewell supper, photos by Anne Remley
About mid week, my invaluable vibe watcher, Anne, commented on what she called the “non linearity “of my workshop design. She said this was challenging, because at times the pieces didn’t fit together, then they did. One must trust the process. She also asked me about my teaching method, my pedagogy, what is termed “popular education.” I outlined this to her last night—student directed teaching, interactive, participatory, collaborative. I felt she might have interpreted my criticism of her style during the action session as accusatory. When I was only trying to offer feedback. She also confided, when I asked, that she is 10 years my senior. She explained her low energy, how busy she felt with all the duties she’d taken on for this Gathering. I hope she lives a long active life. She is an invaluable ally, a major resource.
Several Israel-Palestine related circles intersected: Anne’s action session, AFSC’s meeting where Palestine/Israel was relatively prominent, numerous conversations over food with folks like Steve Leeds, and the larger topic and theme, “courageously faithful” and Martin Luther King Jr himself. Perfect fit.
The major challenge, once again, after such a high intensity experience, is maintaining the energy, direction, awareness, and vows. This time, because of workshop leadership, I feel responsible for helping others meet this challenge.
I didn’t have much fun, not in the usual sense: no dancing, no movies, no intimacies, no courtship, no lovemaking, and little music. Just the pre plenary singing which I grandly enjoyed. I had fun in others ways: following my passion being the main one.
What is that passion? Social witness, sharing the good news of awareness and action, being a loving person.
On the more personal side, I jelled well with my roomie, Paul Mays, finding our odd schedules merged, especially early morning and late evening and I discovered myself fond of several women.
Friendships too numerous to list. Most new. A few renewed, like the fragmented meeting with Joann Seaver, my old dear friend from previous Gatherings, and Robin and Doug already mentioned. Very little in the way of deepening connections with Friends Meeting at Cambridge friends, maybe with Wendy who attended the Israel-Palestine action meeting and reflected later to me about it.
My dreaming evaporated during the week, peaking on the second night with 2 dreams about M, one sexual. And concluding last night with an empty night, or at least nothing I can recall.
—We are speeding along on the train, now over the hump and maybe racing downhill, the trees whizzing by, most unlike many other train trips I’ve made; may it continue—
Photographically not many results: the panoramics of morning prayer and painting, and of the singing-chanting group; the infrared series of the sky; an attempt at videoing thru the dining hall crowd; and a few other random images. I relaxed into photography, not pushing myself to cover and interpret, a causal approach: only what presents itself to me to be photographed. I might work further on the editing and processing while on the train ride and might even prepare a new web subsite, and perhaps even a blog entry. I also wish to take the next step after the workshop, collating information and addresses, ready to send out when I return.
Photographically also in the store, miserable sales: one 8 by 10 photo for $15 (Louise sold all 4 of her books for $80—I wonder who was the generous brave soul who purchased my print, and which they purchased). This is now a clear pattern—no matter how excellent the photos (and I do believe in them, not unqualifiedly), they do not sell in this sort of venue. Louise’s success prompts me to think the format is all-important. Had I a modestly priced photo book, about whatever topic, I suspect sales would improve. I should experiment with this. I’ve also thought about portfolios. Cards also don’t seem to sell, even something as apparently appealing as my lantern series. I doubt the lack of envelopes is significant.
How to produce a book? Go the mainstream route, find a publisher? Go the self-published route, like pay a small press with a grant? Go the on-demand route, as with Aperture and Apple? Go the self-printed route as with Paired Photos?
Or what about a CD or DVD, a form of portfolio, with small enough sized photos that they can’t be effectively printed? Or sell thru my website? I’m confused.