Saturday, August 26, 2017

Eclipse Thoughts

I can't remember if I had the glasses on or off when it started. I think I had them on, and I knew it had started because I could no longer see anything through them. A few cheers went up from the crowd in the grassy setback between Highway 50 and the strip mall parking lot. I'd been reclining on the blanket, but I got to my feet, as if that would give me a closer look. I think many others in the crowd instinctively stood to honor the celestial display. It was smaller than I expected from the photos and artistic renderings, but it was perfect, like a stamp or embossment on a dark sky. The corona was thin and white, with short etched flares, except for a red spot toward the bottom right, which I learned later was the chromosphere. The black disc of the moon was not a solid, matte black - some light from the corona bled in and made a subtle gradient of dark, smoky gray. The eerie blue light that had fallen in the minutes leading up to totality was softer now, with more purple. The sky around the corona was twilight blue, darker or lighter depending on my memory. The cicadas and tree frogs that had become increasingly loud as the light dimmed before totality were now deafening. I could hear Caleb behind me asking my mother if it was safe to look at the corona without glasses, and I harped at him - yes, it's safe, are you looking?!

A scattering of thin clouds surrounded the corona, and they were illuminated as if by moonlight. I was mesmerized by their perfect elegance, and by some God's amazing, flawless design in clearing the heavy clouds to the south and leaving just these few for adornment. Based on something Caleb was saying to someone else in our party, I was afraid he'd turned away again, and I nagged him again, "Caleb, are you looking?!" He assured me that yes, he was looking. I reached back for his hand. Then a blinding flash from the diamond ring emerged, and we knew it was over and put the glasses back on. Some folks in the crowd clapped.

It was shocking how quickly it was over. I was disappointed. Certainly not in the event, but in myself. I hadn't centered myself to take the full measure of its beauty and power. I'd profaned it by nagging Caleb when I thought he wasn't looking at it. I felt there was something wrong with me for not being able to tell people, breathlessly, that it was amazing. It certainly was, but the words didn't spill from my mouth like in that Bible passage. I felt I'd squandered this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that many Americans didn't have, and I hoped desperately that I'd have another shot at it in 2024.

The parking lot lights came on as the sunlight decreased
In the last couple minutes before totality, sunset colors popped out just above the western horizon. If atmospheric conditions had been different, we might've seen sunset in all directions. 

Driving back through Missouri, tall thunderheads were stacked across the horizon over cornfields and cattle pastures, but I thought that no other beauty of nature could come close to totality. It was remarkable how quickly everything had returned to normal, with bright yellow sun flooding the fields as if totality had never been. I thought perhaps the Sun is like a proud woman with a great obligation. A romantic encounter that she only has on occasion shakes her to her core each time, but the nature of her duties is such that she doesn't let on how it's affected her. The Moon, in his travels around the world, finds time for a liaison with her whenever the opportunity arises. I reflected on how I had lamented "God hates us!" in a Facebook post about the heavy clouds forecasted in the Midwest. But God or Gods had heard my prayers and cleared the clouds in just the right spot. I'd had time, money, and health to travel to the totality path when many others weren't so lucky. And I was grateful, even if my puny mind and heart had failed to comprehend the moment.

Pinhole projections of the receding eclipse through my hat

Crescents projected through tree canopies

We spent much of the drive back in heavy traffic, particularly at junctions and on-ramps. It wasn't bothersome, because we weren't in a huge hurry, and it was a happy reminder that we had all come to Missouri with a shared purpose, and we were all going away with a unifying experience. Like me, many passengers in other cars were looking at the receding eclipse through their sun roofs with their glasses. Google Maps said things I'd never heard before, like "Traffic is getting worse. You are still on the fastest route." Periodically we would see some eclipse viewers staked out on a gravel shoulder or in a farm field, with their lawn chairs, cameras, and telescopes. As we got further into northeastern Missouri, about three out of every four cars had Iowa plates. Crossing the Des Moines River into Iowa, and seeing sunset colors bleed into the clouds to the west, my heart ached for the weird blue light leading up to totality. But I was seduced enough by these lesser natural beauties to suggest to Caleb that we take a quick detour to cross the Mississippi. Which he vetoed, since he had to start work early the next morning. 

The next evening, I took a walk on the greenbelt near my apartment, as part of my resolution in recent weeks to be less sedentary. Sunset was illuminating the tree trunks and the creek's surface, and again I missed the blue light of the eclipsed sun straight overhead. But I thought, perhaps this yellow light is all the Sun has to pay homage to her departed lover with. 

I won't say the eclipse put things in perspective. On a daily basis there is no perspective - we need food, safety, dignity, and economic security. The fact that the sun will explode billions of years from now and we'll be long gone doesn't make us love our children any less. But it is something to look forward to - if anything, it might embolden me to take risks. Seven years from now, I don't know if I'll be married or single, a mother or childless, professionally employed and doing well or underemployed and scraping by, healthy or sick. But the possibility will be there. And if I don't get a chance to see it next time, maybe someone who missed it this time around will be so blessed.

Hard-to-see crescent projections from my hat

P.S. Much of the fun of a total eclipse is in the hours leading up to it. My mother and her boyfriend, my aunt, Caleb and I played it by ear in the morning, pushing eastward from Kansas into western Missouri through driving rain to try and get out from under the heavy cloud cover. First our target destination was Warrensburg, then Sedalia, then Columbia. Somewhere on the way, in the middle of nowhere, we stopped at a gas station with some local produce and baked goods. There was a small cardboard box labeled "Eclipse Snacks," and it had Star Crunch, moon pies, Starburst, Eclipse gum, Sun Chips, and Milky Ways. And Oreos, which look remarkably like an eclipsed crescent sun in the rendering on the package.

This song "Animals," from Vancouver techno outfit BT's album Emotional Technology, captures the feeling of the eclipse much better than that song "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Corporeal: Reflection on a Melanoma

It's remarkable how some things remind us, very suddenly and powerfully, that we have a body.  Especially in the professional world, people spend a lot of time distancing themselves from their bodies, maintaining a manicured facade that doesn't cause anyone embarrassment.  This is a bit of an overstatement - for example, you're allowed to mention to coworkers that you're having a colonoscopy the following day*, but can you imagine a high-powered businessman in an Armani suit telling his coworkers he's having a colonoscopy?

[the next 2 paragraphs are not for the squeamish]

The dermatologist drew a circle around the mole with a marker, and then an almond shape around the circle.  It looked like an eye with the mole as the iris.  Then she swabbed iodine on it, and the eye stared upward through the swirls of sepia.  I made the mistake of looking down at one point; the almond shape where the skin had been removed was raw and red, and I could see bulbous swells of subcutaneous fat just below the surface.  Then she mentioned that she was stretching out the skin to get the stitches in, and I began to feel nauseated and drifted into a dream state for a few seconds.  The dermatologist said even she, as a doctor, does not look when something similar is being done to her own body.  Your mind may know you're not in danger, but your body thinks something terrible is happening to it.  Your blood pressure drops, any blood sugar is rapidly consumed, and you become limp and "play dead," like an opossum.  As cerebral as we try to be, we are still instinctual beings, and our reactions to visceral threats and extreme circumstances sometimes surprise us.

When they removed an additional chunk of tissue, I did not look or even think about it.  But my boyfriend was in the room and he saw it, and as soon as the procedure was over I asked him for all the gory details.  He said the piece they removed was just under an inch thick--now I know exactly how much fat I have on the front of my thighs!  I can picture it--a layer of skin no thicker than the skin of a peach, already bruised and furrowed and filled with stitches, covering a healthy slab of globular yellow fat.  Of course this imagining is too neat--there would have been blood everywhere.  Blood seeping from the excised flesh, seeping from the edges where they had cut, soaking into the papers on either side.  I saw some of my own blood on the tray by the bench afterward--bright red blood soaked into handfuls of gauze, and a small steel dish with a shallow pool of deep red blood at the bottom.  I was proud of my blood--it had a deep healthy color and a smooth texture, thick but not too viscous.

A piece of me has been removed, and I have to take it easy for a couple weeks while the skin and fat fuse back together.  The full recovery time might be up to a month, but I should be able to walk normally within two weeks.  It amazes me that the body can heal itself so quickly after having such a sizeable chunk carved out of it.

I'll go to the synagogue soon, to give thanks for my good outcome, I suppose.  Isn't that what people used to do--go to a place of worship and give thanks for their safe passage through a trial?  I was never afraid, but I am in awe.  It would be too cliche to say that my life is forever changed and I'm going to live each day as if it was my last, and it's not true anyway.  I'll still go to bed without brushing my teeth, take evening naps that keep me up half the night, and let dishes pile up in the sink.  I'll still worry about money, career, and connecting with people in strange new places.

But I relish the ordinary things ahead of me just a little bit more.  I look forward to being able to walk at a normal speed again, go for a hike, swim in the Gulf, buy sun hats and loose flowy trousers and maxi skirts, have a glass of wine, visit family, go to New Mexico with Caleb one day.  I'll have a fairly long scar and I don't expect I'll be self-conscious about it--my body is something to be proud of and I'll wear cutoff shorts if I damn well please.  Knowing that my body has the potential to create more skin cancer reminds me how much I enjoy the things of ordinary life.  It spurs me to plan and take time in a way that I might not otherwise--I'm the laziest person on earth and not at all a morning person, but I at least need to make time in the mornings to apply sunscreen.  And of course, it makes me grateful to otherwise be in excellent health.  Having to walk slowly on my stiff leg has given me a small taste of what it would be like to have my mobility limited by arthritis or some other condition.

I think it's true what many people say, that Americans move too fast and are to stressed out to step back and take stock of things, starting with their own bodies.  We lose opportunities to enjoy life in ways that we're able, which might be constrained by illness or infirmity.  The older I get, the more I understand why people do yoga and pray and embrace other coping and centering mechanisms.  I also know that when you're in too deep in the daily grind, something like yoga isn't going to be enough to pull you back into balance.  If you're wondering when you're going to get a job and where you're going to stay at night, the stress can grind you down, and the health problems that result can leave you prostrated.  Often it's the grind itself that leaves people with arthritis, back pain, or cancer.  At work I've taken calls from people who were about to undergo cancer treatment and were on the verge of homelessness.  Another thing to contemplate more seriously post-melanoma is what is within my talents to do so that no cancer patient will ever be homeless.

Looking forward to a long, sunscreen-filled life.

*I've never had a colonoscopy.  For all my talk of people being more aware of their bodily selves, I don't want anyone imagining me having a colonoscopy.  I do not have a rectum.

**Also, I should mention that the melanoma was only Stage 1A, and the prognosis is extremely positive with the excision of extra tissue around where the mole was.  The biopsy results came back from the edges of that bigger chunk they removed, and there were no cancer cells.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Enough of blood and tears . . . Enough!"


[No, this has nothing to do with fashion.]

I'm relieved that Israel and Gaza have agreed to a ceasefire, and that it wasn't as bitter and destructive as Operation Cast Lead three years ago.  But it freshly broke open the festering wounds in each side's narrative--the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the new state of Israel in 1948, and the collective memories of pogroms and Holocaust that the Jewish immigrants had carried with them to the Holy Land.  Each side's tactics continue to have the opposite of their intended effects on their opponents, bringing to mind Einstein's definition of insanity.  And the rest of the world struggles to get a constructive conversation about the issue through the murk of identity politics.

The rabbi at the synagogue in Cinnaminson, New Jersey, where I attended religious school, seemed like a pretty enlightened guy.  But when he explained how Israel initially received statehood from the UN partitioning process, he glossed over the controversy and bloodshed surrounding its creation.  And when he told us about Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, he didn't provide the political context.  Or maybe he did, and I was too young to understand it.

Some years later, when I was in college, I heard of a poll that showed that a strong majority of Palestinians--about 70%--believed suicide bombings against Israeli civilians were justified.  Discussing it with my mother, I said there must be some mistake--the sample wasn't randomized, or the survey questions were leading.  But my mother said she could easily believe it.  When people are ground down for so long by poverty and violence, she said, it distorts their moral sense.  Rabbi Harold Kushner notes a similar process among Israelis: "I think sixty years of living under siege, worried that any briefcase could be a bomb and any pedestrian could be a terrorist, has contributed to the coarsening of Israeli society, affecting the way they drive, the way they argue, and inevitably affecting how they see their Arab neighbors."  Although it's only natural to have less immediate sympathy for people who harbor such hatred, I decided that a people's right to freedom and security cannot depend on them having perfectly sanitized sensibilities.  After all, the children don't choose what prejudices they're raised with.

And four years ago, during Operation Cast Lead, a fellow congregant at the synagogue in Manhattan, KS, was sharing her thoughts on the conflict.  She is a Bulgarian who met her husband in Israel.  She said that the deaths of civilians and destruction of civilian structures in Gaza was tragic, but couldn't be helped--it was the only way to stop the torrent of rockets in southern Israel.  My instinct was that Israel's tactics couldn't possibly be justified, but I wondered if this woman had a point.  After the gathering at the synagogue, I went to a cafĂ© to do some work.  Another member of the congregation was there, a right-wing fellow, and he came up to me and said, "Did you know that Hamas was attacking from the UN school [which Israeli air strikes had damaged] and using human shields!?"  I muttered, "No, I hadn't heard," and hustled off to find a table.  I was furious with him for disturbing me in a place where I had come for relaxation, and for assuming that I'd agree with his hawkish politics on Israel just because I'm Jewish. 
Now it occurs to me that the UN school incident is a microcosm for the whole situation and the way the global community discusses it.  Israel using highly destructive tactics.  Hamas utterly flouting rules of engagement by putting its own people at risk.  A global outcry against Israel that was understandable, but betrayed an assumption that Israel would do such a thing without extenuating circumstances--in other words, an utter unwillingness to give Israel the benefit of the doubt.  Israel blaming Hamas's ruthless tactics for the extent of the damage, rather than asking whether it should have used different tactics with an enemy known to hold its own people hostage.  And above all, Israel failing to step back and see how ridiculous it is for a first-world democracy to be in the business of exerting military control over a stateless people.  You'd think they'd want to divest themselves of the responsibility already.

But I failed to recognize how endemic the colonialist sentiment in Israel is, since it's so outside the Jewish upbringing I received.  Even in the very limited and sanitized education I received about Israel, I learned to be grateful that we have a sovereign state at all, rather than to be greedy for more land.  I understood Zionism as a desperate yearning for an ancestral homeland, and a political effort to create it in modern times, but I was not instilled with a sense of entitlement to take it by force.  Based on these unconscious assumptions, I misunderstood Israel's main interest in controlling the Palestinian territories to be one of security--whereas colonialists seek land, water, minerals, trade routes, etc.  While the Israelis’ tactics might be woefully misguided, I thought their motives were understandable.  I thought the true colonialists were an extreme faction, consisting mainly of Jewish settlers in Palestinian territories and their hardline backers in the Knesset.  A faction with undue influence, to be sure, but a manageable minority. 

But now I think (admittedly under heavy influence of my mother) that the extremist sentiment has bled into otherwise reasonable Israeli citizens and politicians, if it wasn't a mainstream fixture all along.  Perhaps the reason the conflict has dragged on for so many decades, and the Netanyahu-Lieberman administration has so spectacularly drug its feet, is that the extremism is deeply ingrained in Israel's policy toward Palestine, rather than being a removable fly in the ointment.  Perhaps that's why, even when it takes good-faith baby steps--dismantling settlements here, easing blockades there--Israel is unwilling to take some of the major steps that would address the Palestinians' deep-rooted and largely legitimate grievances, such as retreating to its pre-1967 borders.

During the latest conflict, I've bristled at the characterization of Israel's air strikes as willful, black-and-white atrocities.  Firstly, the IDF did a much better job than in Operation Cast Lead of tailoring their attacks to militant targets.  (Although I wonder why they weren't as well tailored in the last conflict.  Has the technology or the intel improved since 2009, or do they just have more conscience or sensitivity to international opinion?)  Also, the IDF tries to warn civilians to evacuate its targets, whereas Hamas deliberately targets civilians.  Moreover, as a legal analysis on the BBC World News website highlights, the principle of proportionality allows for the idea that a state will want to protect itself using tactics that are "required in order to achieve the legitimate purpose of the conflict, namely the complete or partial submission of the enemy at the earliest possible moment and with the minimum expenditure of life and resources."  The principle prohibits the state from using *more* than the required force, but allows that the tactics may result in higher casualties on the enemy side.  And maybe if any reasonable analyst thought that the air strikes would actually succeed in disabling Hamas and furthering the peace process, the moral calculus would be different.  But the deaths, injuries, and property damage on the Palestinian side deepen an already dismal psychological and economic environment, and only galvanize the people around Hamas.

For much of the Israeli populace, I think support for Operation Pillar of Defense was an honest self-defense instinct, and I think many of Israel’s critics could have been more sympathetic to that instinct, if not to its policy manifestation.  After all, it’s difficult to expect any national government to take the high road if it means incurring more civilian and military casualties in the short run.  The same goes for ongoing policies such as the Gaza blockade—it’s motivated at least in part by Israel’s legitimate concerns about suicide bombers and weapons trading.  And I think there’s some truth to the widespread complaint among Jews—hawks and doves alike—that the international community focuses disproportionate attention on Israel’s misdeeds. 

But if Israelis had a visceral reaction of lashing out against rocket fire, you can’t blame onlookers for reacting viscerally as if they’d seen a high school quarterback beating up a scrawny preteen.  And I think part of the reason the world scrutinizes Israel so heavily is that has higher expectations of Israel.  Jews should be flattered that critics worldwide think Israel would be more receptive to persuasion by humanistic principles than, say, North Korea.  I only wish the international community would back up its criticism by helping Israel and Palestine split the difference regarding the blockades—help prevent illicit weapons and militants from slipping across the borders and threatening Israel, while enabling Palestine to trade goods and grow its economy.  And, of course, I wish the U.S. would use its massive financial leverage to get Israel’s ass to the negotiating table.
 However, I think Israel has within itself the ingredients for empathy with its neighbors, willingness to compromise, and perseverance to build a lasting peace, even if it’s a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process.  In a Yom Kippur sermon a couple years ago by Rabbi Kushner, the same one from which I took the earlier quote, he describes a speech he gave to a Unitarian conference, where he emphasized the ways in which Israel upholds the UU’s liberal principles, including equal treatment of women and gays.  While I don’t agree with all the statements and implications of Kushner’s sermon, one segment sticks with me: “I believe a democracy should be entitled to make mistakes without having its right to exist called into question.  And I believe that the more confident Israel is that we have their backs, that it has the undivided support of the American Jewish community, the readier it will be to take risks for peace.”
Kushner’s sermon is a deeply emotional defense of Israel.  It doesn’t address the question of whether Israel should have been created if the dispossession and bloodshed of Palestinians was inevitable—if it could not have been done democratically, no matter how many times we turned back the clock and tried again.  (For my part, I think Israel’s “vested” right to exist is good enough.)  And at multiple points in the sermon, you might think that his emotion is preventing him from being rational, that he cannot be an objective judge.  But I think his argument shows that sometimes an emotional approach is the right one.  After all, it is the impulse to stand in solidarity and give the benefit of the doubt that keeps families, friends, and communities together in times of crisis.  For my part, I insist just as hard that Israel be protected in the long term as that she help the Palestinians to secure a free and sovereign state.  I just ask the rest of the world to not dismiss Israel as a lost soul, but to have faith in its ability to eventually be a peacemaker.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Seize the opportunity

The blog's going to be fairly dormant due to end-of-semester crunch time and camera woes.  But I still know a good photo op when I see one.

Melissa likes handmade clothes, and shoots for a Renaissance or Gypsy feel.  (Read more about Gypsies, or Roma as they call themselves, here.)  The repetition of brick red tones, and the subtle integration of dramatic elements (leather vest and hood) into an ordinary outfit, give her the feel of a modern-day fae that travels through time or passes through parallel universes.  Makes life feel a little less mundane for us onlookers in boring, "regular" outfits : P

Speaking of opportunities, I'm still having fun with dresses and leggings while the weather holds.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fun with Tights

As I predicted, it's getting harder to update this thing regularly as the semester progresses.  It's particularly hard to get a critical mass of photos in a short amount of time, meaning that the first person I photograph in a week has to wait several days before seeing their pic online.  I may start using "running posts", uploading photos as I take them.  And/or taking more photos of myself, since it's easier to set up a tripod than to troll the streets, find someone who's dressed cool but not in a hurry, and work up the courage to approach them.

In any case, first up is Alise (pronounced ah-LEES), one of those folks who stands out in the workaday bustle of a public place because her outfit is made of awesome.
Alise says she wears whatever makes her feel good.  I agree--sometimes it's worth foregoing the comfort of jeans for the smartness of a dressy outfit and makeup.

Next up is Quincy, an art student at UI.  Although this particular outfit is as crisp and dramatic as a magazine ad, she gets her chic from the most humble and accessible of sources.  She trolls thrift stores, has clothing swaps with friends, and "dress[es] like the people I love."
Same pose, different expressions.  They were both cute, so I didn't want to choose one over the other.

Quincy and her classmate Jordan have an exhibition called "Intimacy" coming up next month.  It's described as "a collaborative exploration of romance and webspace, exhibition and inhibition, shame and celebration".  The exhibit runs from Nov. 1 to 5 at the Market-Dubuque Display Space (122 E. Market St.), and the reception is 11/4 from 6 to 9.  I'll try to make it if I'm not babysitting!

Finally, I too had fun with tights this week--or, more precisely, leggings.  I've had a couple pairs of leggings around for awhile, but few tunics or skirts to go with them.  So I recently splurged on said tunics and skirts, and spent this past week wearing them aggressively, to convince myself I hadn't wasted my money.  (Funny how buying one article of clothing to match another has a snowball effect . . . that's why I prefer versatile pieces.)  Unfortunately, I photographed only one of the outfits:

Yes, that's a skeleton behind me.  My roommate Rezo uses it for homework for his Drawing class.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Nightmare week over!

Just finished a huge slug o' deadlines, and was finally able to squeak in some fashion photos.

I passed Margaret at the bus stop, and I was struck by how well her haircut framed her face, and how dignified the cut and pattern of her tunic were.
Margaret was happy to pose for me, probably because she's an avid follower of The Sartorialist blog.  She says she's inspired by vintage fashions, particularly from the 1930s.
Come to think of it, although the tunic style, flip-flops, and skinny jeans are very 21st century, the poise conveyed by boat-necked tunic and handbag make me think of a self-assured '30s lady attending the opera.

I'm a sucker for anything reminiscent of the Desert Southwest, so I was coveting her copper bracelets:
As part of my post-deadline decompression, I also treated myself to a fun outfit and a much-needed haircut.  My face is missing in the first picture because it looked ugly.  Looked like I didn't have a chin : /
Most of this outfit is a plug for locally-owned Midwestern boutiques.

Boots: Rockstar and Rogers, Manhattan KS
White tunic: Revival, Iowa City
Vintage belt: White Rabbit, Iowa City
Pink clay pendant: Prairie Pond Studio, Lawrence KS
Blue and brown wooden pendants: Beadology, Iowa City
Silver ring: Rockstar and Rogers

Finally, gotta love the blowout while it lasts.  I sure as hell don't do that to my hair on a regular basis . . . or at all.
I like how this angle and the poofy shirt make my boobs look enormous : )

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Critical Mass

My apologies to Rosa, the German exchange student I photographed last Thursday.  It's been a hectic weekend, so I'm just now uploading.

Rosa gets fashion inspiration by watching what people on the street are wearing.  Apparently we're similar in more than just name!

Today I slipped into a classroom about a minute before the session started, and was able to get a quick photo of Nateasa.  The scarf with bright earth colors atop the mustard sweater makes me think of sumac leaves turning red against a tallgrass backdrop.

Nateasa works at RSVP, a stationery shop on Iowa City's Northside.  I'll have to check it out!

Jenny had another very cute ensemble.  She managed to pick several statement pieces and combine them in a way that enhanced, rather than detracted from, each other.  Jenny says she likes to go for a youthful look, but she's pulled it off in a way that it still looks sophisticated.

Finally, a lady at TSpoons Cafe in the mall exemplifies the rustic dignity of a military-inspired look. 

She puts me in mind of a '40s bomber pilot.  Not that I'm a militarist by any stretch, but I can't help my aesthetic attraction to the fashion version of military wear.  I especially love the buttons!