Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories (itinerary). The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quaker in Palestine/Israel.
October 14, 2009, Wednesday, Cambridge MA, back computer room:
In my Google mail spam, 2 messages from The Great Mystery:
Please reveal yourself
Please keep this as a top secrete (sic)
Summing up precisely what I’m about.
K said she is willing to review my Gaza slide show, maybe on Saturday. This would set a new precedent: collaboration between father and daughter. I suspect she has the skills needed to help me see the overall structure of my show. As Y had. She also reported that P might be getting more work.
I remain in touch with folks in Gaza about the student exhibition there. And I’ve made a preliminary version from their photo files, aiming at a version that can go on website and by email. Not quite small enough files yet. Much work to accomplish this: finding and transferring the various emails between me, Amal, Sherif, and Ban, sorting them chronologically, and then speckling them thru the photos, after organizing the photos into something coherent.
I awoke this morning at 5 AM, ready to work. I knew if I peed, drank water, and tried to resume sleeping I’d lie awake troubled by all I had to accomplish before Saturday evening when I board the train for North Carolina. Last night hitting my mattress, the other end of a not fully satisfying night of sleep, I remained awake in my the glow of X. She is mysterious, my attraction to her inexplicable, the force connecting us perhaps powerful, if only it is a shared force. Is it? A key question.
October 16, 2009, Friday, Cambridge MA, back computer room:
A hefty dream last night about residing with a group in a country house while observing others at some distance on mountaintops. I saw a young man ride a horse for the first time, I saw an older woman try to gather others for a walk, I saw all this as I sat high on a peak looking down. The dr may have been motivated by viewing X’s photos yesterday—more about this later.
Editing of the new Gaza show, Gaza Steadfast, proceeds, but with all the social attention I am willing to give I am not totally focused on the process. I’ve begun whittling it down, thinking now I have at least 2 new Gaza shows, and might have to leave out entirely Bureij and Raghda (did I mention she wrote, thanking me for the gallery exhibit invite?), Qattan center and Reem, summer games, etc. Which might be OK since I do not know how I’d link all these either with each other or into the main theme of hope. Ramzy wrote that he and Belal successfully left Gaza, entered Cyprus, and now are Turkey engaged in their grad studies. He’s not sure about returning, inclined to remain out of country for at least a few years.
I managed to run thru my other shows, Hydro, Bethlehem, and Quakers, finding lots I could do with these when I have time (the quotidian factor blocking me?). A revision, not a major overhaul or new show.
So much I could be doing photographically—and so much I wish to do socially. How to most wisely blend the 2?
Edward Weston may have been preoccupied with Tina (and numerous others, he was a gallant) but he managed to continue his photography. How did his social life affect his photographic life? And the reverse? If a woman is interested in me, as some might be, how much of that interest is generated by my photographic life and identity?
Now it is raining, it is cold, snow is falling west of Boston. Winter about to smack us. As I was hot for 3 months this summer, unremittingly, now I enter the cold phase—except for 5 glorious weeks in the south beginning soon.
October 18, 2009, Sunday, Washington DC, au bon pain, waiting for the train to Durham:
I’m in DC sitting in an early morning Au Bon Pain on Sunday, after riding the train from Boston overnight, 10 pm to 7 am, delivered to the Boston station by a loving and warm Y. Maintaining our tradition of giving each other send off messages when one is departing, she gave me a card (which I’ve yet to open, maybe on the train further south) and I one to her for her long car ride west. She is a dear, long lasting friend, “till death to us part.”
Just before leaving, having packed all my computer gear, feeling lost and naked, I finally examined the folder of materials she returned to me. In it, numerous promo pieces about the Israel-Palestine project, bw photos made with film of Buddhist walks, my end game or will statements, but no personal notes, thank god. She’s told me going thru that would require more time, and the emotions might overwhelm her, so she’s bringing that folder to calif where she can more serenely examine it.
The train was relatively empty, I slept OK, without dreams that I can now recall, but with visions of X. Which reminds me that probably on each of my various excursions I have one central female focus. One succeeds another. And now, fall 2009, X. In an imagined dialog with her I challenge myself to reveal this penchant of mine: numerous women. How would I explain it to her? How much would she like to know, need to know? How much could I wisely disclose? Why would she want to hear it and what would she do with it? Similarly when I open my computer for the day’s work, longing for a message from a beloved, who I hope will write varies with the times: now it is X. I do not look for messages from the others. Whereas during other periods I would focus on one of them, crushed to find nothing, elated to find something. Like some others, X has a way of disappearing. I’m getting used to it. This weekend ME is returning to France from Yemen, and KA is coming home from Israel-Palestine. While X is considering where to live and what to do.
Then this morning, using the train station toilet: DC, the nation’s capital, the nation one of the richest on the globe and in history, the toilets were filled with aging black men, all poor, some of them temporarily residing on a toilet seat. I waited for the handicap access stall to open. It didn’t. I peeked and think I observed a large black man slumped over, leaning against the wall, sitting on the toilet, probably asleep. He is warm, he is safe, and he is close to a toilet. I have to wait for a smaller stall to open. And then find a way to safeguard my 4 pieces of luggage—not much of a problem compared to those of the men I shared the men’s room with.
How ready am I for this tour? Y asked, others asked, a common question. Answer: as ready as I need to be, not nearly as ready as I should be. As John told Stan and me at dinner the other night, sometimes the less I prepare the more spontaneous and engaging is my presentation. And I recall the words of JVB when I asked him how he preps for a talk—an outline and then give it over to the Holy Spirit.
I might also say, I’m not ready now but I will be by the end of the tour.
Which is how I feel, especially with the new Gaza show. I’m confident the plot will work—the photo workshop—and that the theme will be of interest—hope and hopelessness—and that the photos are compelling. I’m certain I need to shorten it, reorganize it, work better with the sound. All this takes not only time but audience feedback. Y encourages me to alert the audience and invite them into the creative process by confessing, this is the first of many shows, I need your feedback. And forbearance and patience.
The last day home was jammed and somewhat frantic. How can I possibly do all that is needed in preparation? I’m becoming more relaxed about this phase, from experience. Also much more efficient (paying bills, scanning mail). So I know better what might wait till I return (I’m looking forward to the month of December with no teaching, no or only a few gigs, enough money to survive, and plenty of time to edit shows, finish digesting the summer experience, visit family and friends, pursue a possible relationship, read, enjoy the winter holidays, plan a spring New England tour, and do lots of spontaneous photography and writing), what can wait till I have time on the road (like catching up with blogs and sites from the summer, applying for grants, organizing this tour, editing the shows), what might never get done (mounds of readings and videos, fixing certain things), and what is crucial for this trip (verifying train reservations, packing all the right gear, choosing reading material, and calling Lynn to wish her well on her international jaunt with Chuck).
Now to catch up: from Gaza Amal’s good news. The exhibit happened, it appears to be a success, more than 100 people showed up, the excitement was great. Ban wrote later that Amal gave a fine touching speech. I’m promised visuals from the event. I’ve added Amal’s words to my show. When I read them I yelled ecstatically, yes, great, holy mother @#^&*! They did it!
October 19, 2009, Monday, Durham NC, Carol Woods retirement community, MD’s home:
Lots of dreams as I pull into one of my favorite retirement communities, Carol Woods, in what I think is Durham NC (I’m often not sure where exactly I am).
The main dream was one of the first that I recall about X, a dream forecasting good times together. Y and I had greeted each other, X was in on the greeting, Y and I kissed on the lips and then she suggested X and I could as well. We did, not with huge passion, but on my part with recognition that there is some frisson here.
And Jim H, sick and lying nearly comatose, near death, on his bed in a small neatly kept apartment above me in my same building. I was with Y and she struggled to wake him up, give him some hope. But to my eyes he was clearly in his last earthly phase.
The train ride [Boston to DC] went well, but as usual we were caught behind a freight, losing about one hour. Apparently this is typical going south, not so typical going north. Train was about 2/3s full until maybe in Raleigh when the train attendant announced, get ready, 300 people will be coming thru this car. I’d noticed them outside as we pulled in, all ages, all white, or mostly, and to this moment I have no idea who they were.
In DC an elderly black man, probably around my age, sat next to me. His breath smelled heavily of mouth wash, he spoke on the phone with someone owning a tavern in a district where beer could not be sold between 2 am and 7 the next morning but who’d been selling it. I suspected my seatmate might have a drinking problem, his affability a result of the alcohol. He’d mentioned to his phone mate something about having a bender and now needing to get sober. He moved as soon as a single seat opened up. So I sat alone for most of the trip from DC to Durham, 11 AM to about 6:30 PM.
For much of that time I edited Gaza, tightening, loosening, adjusting, sorting, trying get it in shape for showing today, its premiere.
At dinner with my main host in this area, ML, on the board of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions-USA, and also coordinating director of the local coalition for peace and justice, and her husband, a professor of music at the local university and serious amateur photographer, while she was in the kitchen, I revealed to him, just meeting him, my fascination with and concentration on love, both theoretical and practical. Along with that my penchant for younger women and how I’m slowly and painfully realizing that usually younger women if interested in me are probably only interested because of the mentorship role.
He replied, maybe so, but maybe not. A 60 year old colleague and a 23 year old woman are now a team, very happily. Surprised both. It can happen. As with gambling, that next roll of the dice could produce a winner. And yet, most won’t. Throwing the dice is usually a quick road to ruin.
I’ve met few others who are so involved with Israel-Palestine than ML. She is exemplary. Returning there every year, twice to Gaza, knowing many of the same people as me, working with ICAHD and Sabeel among others, up on AFSC activities, some of them, knowing the Ramallah Friends’ scene, conversing with her was like conversing with an old friend with whom much is shared. Like me she favors lobbying. She and B told me about their local house rep who is a member of their Baptist church and slowly learning more from her about other ways of viewing the situation than that of a strongly pro Israel perspective. B and ML seem happily entwined, each with their separate strong passions (his is photography of the Arctic and Antarctic), but sharing as much as possible.
She also told me about a recent cancellation of a presentation about Palestine/Israel at the senior center that I’d presented at in February, a last minute cancellation because the presentation was thought to be “too political.” To avoid this they booked me into the Carol Woods community room this afternoon. Apparently this venue is less subject to outside pressures.
A full day facing me: Quakers this morning, Gaza this evening, and then tomorrow, Hydropolitics in the morning to a class, and Gaza again in the evening. Three nights with Marilyn, and then a train on Wednesday to Charlotte for a Gaza show.
Unfortunately not all days are as packed. The last week is mostly open. A few days ago I received notice of a new speakers’ service thru Free Gaza, and applied. Maybe they can help Dave and me fill in the blanks.
I also began a new application to the last round of Friends Meeting at Cambridge Special Sources grants. Knowing who’s on the committee, I’m wary of applying on the basis of anything that will seem angry, inflammatory, hateful, or demonizing of Israel. So I’m applying for help with the video project, highlighting the Gaza show, and within that broad topic, concentrating on Quaker-American Friends Service Committee activities there. The last time I applied I was in Israel-Palestine, surprised when it came thru, and doubly surprised to have to meet with a critical group who questioned my receiving that grant. Will something like this happen again?
October 20, 2009, Tuesday, Durham NC, Carol Woods retirement community, MD’s home:
Last night I half dreamed while half awake, of a new structure for the Gaza slide show—4 parts, each related but different. And one would be about bamboo. Of course bamboo plays no role in Gaza that I’m aware of, but the idea of 4 parts might be useful. One might be kill, another survive, another friend, another …?
A rough show last night, Gaza Steadfast, its premiere, to an audience of about 40, mostly people already convinced that Israel was wrong on many of its policies. The problem with the show is that it is too long, twice as long as an audience can tolerate. They were at their limit: maybe 1/5 left part way thru, several called for an end wanting the discussion period to begin, one of the readers, J, lapsed into a lazy I don’t give a shit style, and several suggested paraphrasing rather than reading all the texts. Why I put so much text into this show baffles me.
Having had some success quoting Yusef and Belal in an earlier show about Gaza, I extended the idea to a few others, like Mohammed with his photos of home destruction, and then, wishing to give a fuller flavor of the Goldstone report, quoted from it extensively. My thought now is to viciously carve up the show, shorten it by half, while thinking of a new plan to organize it.
I’m not sure the idea of ending the show with the student photos is wise. They are good but not superior photos and they do not show much suffering. Someone asked about this absence and I replied, I’m not sure why. I noticed the same lack in the work of artists at Windows from Gaza. The artists replied that they have paintings showing the suffering but not in the set exhibited, and they’d like a break from their daily experiences. OK, makes sense, but not a good show. Now what?
I yearn to get back to this editing, and shall devote what remains of the morning to it. I call on my muses—Please dear friends, I need you now. Stay with me and guide my eyes and hands. I know I can count on you. Much gratitude.
Luckily I believe my photos are high quality.
Otherwise the day went superbly: morning visit with local Quakers, some 20 of them, all but one women, showing all of Quakers, which over the years I’ve pared down to a manageable 45 or so minutes. Then in the afternoon at the retirement community, hosted by the irrepressible H, and my new found colleague who shares so many personal connections with me, ML, Bethlehem the Holy. This also has experienced much revision in the heat of showing it to audiences. A good show. Now to make the same of the raw material I have for Gaza Steadfast.
A few bright spots from last night’s show: meeting JS, with family ties to Gaza. He’d never lived there, but has family there. And he seemed deeply impressed with the show, encouraging me to continue with it. And a few others came up afterwards with praise. So I feel there is much potential to this show but I’m not sure how to edit, and how to remain true to my mission of honoring my students.
“Shades of Checkpoint Charlie at Rafah Crossing”
Haidar Eid writing from the occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, July 2008
“Israel’s Crimes, America’s Silence”
John Dugard, June 2009
“Israel’s surprising best seller contradicts founding ideology”
Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada, October 2008