My latest essay has been published at The Wisdom Daily. It's about divorce, and life changes, and the difference between rebuilding and starting something entirely new. Here's a taste:
...From the matrix of community relationships into which I remain woven, to the reality of the child my ex and I are still committed to co-parenting, I haven’t completely left my old life behind. To be sure, large parts of that life have been gutted and await restoration. (Parts of my heart occasionally still feel gutted and in need of restoration.) But the structures I’m building in this new chapter have to dovetail with the old ones...
Read the whole thing: Life After Divorce Is About Repairing, Not Building Anew.
May. 24th, 2017 @ 04:00 am
My breasts are full and tender:
I ache to give to you.
Say yes and I will bathe you
in flowing milk and honey.
Taste and see that I am good.
How I yearn for you to know me!
I want to quench the thirsts
that keep your heart from resting.
I crave your gasp of surprise
and your sigh of completion.
My heart's desire
is to share myself with you.
Open to me, beloved
so my precious words can let down.
This is another poem arising out of my study and reflection on the relationship between yearning and the revelation at Sinai. (See also I want.)
My breasts are full and tender. The Hebrew word for "breasts" is shadayim; one of Torah's names for God is "El Shaddai," which can be understood to depict God as a nursing mother.
I ache to give to you. See Pesachim 221a: "More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow yearns to give milk." (See also "El Shaddai (Nursing Poem)," the first poem I wrote after my son was born -- now published in Waiting to Unfold.)
Flowing milk and honey. Song of Songs 4:11 speaks of "honey and milk under your tongue." One traditional interpretation holds that this is a description of Torah's sweetness. Just as milk has the ability to fully sustain a newborn, so Torah is considered to provide all of the spiritual nourishment that we need.
(Reb Zalman z"l taught that this isn't necessarily so -- sometimes there are spiritual "vitamins" we can most readily receive from other traditions, rather than our own -- but the tradition's likening of Torah to milk is one of the reasons why it's customary to eat dairy at Shavuot when we celebrate revelation.)
Taste and see. See psalm 34:8: "Taste and see that God is good."
My heart's desire. This riffs off of a line from the Kabbalat Shabbat love song "Yedid Nefesh" -- in Reb Zalman z"l's singable English translation, "My heart's desire is to harmonize with yours." Here I imagine that God's heart's desire is to share God's-self with us.
You think I'm not listening.
You can't feel my hand
on your shoulderblade, my lips
pressed to your forehead
my heart, ground down with yours
into the dust of the earth.
Sweet one, I feel your grief
like a black hole inside my chest
strong enough to swallow galaxies.
I can't lift it from you.
All I can do is cry with you
until I struggle for breath
all I can do is love you
with a force as limitless as gravity,
endless as the uncountable stars.
[E]ndless as the uncountable stars. See Shir Yaakov's Broken-hearted (psalm 147.)
This is another poem in my current series -- aspiring to speak in the voice of the Beloved, responding to us. (Previous poems in the series: Missing you, Because, Always, God says yes.)
[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]
The apparent elevation of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke to a position within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would mark another “first” of sorts for the Trump administration: It’s the first time any known participant in the antigovernment Patriot movement, let alone one of its leading figures, has ever held a federal position of any significance.
Clarke told a radio talk-show host earlier this week that he was accepting the job as assistant secretary in the Office of Partnership and Engagement at DHS, serving as a kind of liaison between local law enforcement the federal agency.
This would be a remarkable position for someone long affiliated with Richard Mack’s extremist Patriot organization, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, to hold. Among the core tenets of CSPOA dogma is the far-right “constitutionalist” belief that sheriffs represent the highest law of the land, and are capable of overturning or ignoring federal laws within their own jurisdictions. Moreover, Clarke's history of incendiary remarks includes his advocacy of "a second American revolution."
“I’m both honored and humbled to be appointed to this position,” Clarke told WISN-AM host Vicki McKenna.
Officials at DHS, however, were not so forthcoming. “The position mentioned is a secretarial appointment. Such senior positions are announced by the department when made official by the secretary. No such announcement with regard to the office of public engagement has been made,” it said in a released statement.
While a number of Donald Trump’s appointments to his new administration have drawn criticism and opposition for holding extreme right-wing views, the president so far had not elevated anyone associated with direct ties to Patriot groups to a federal position, particularly not placed so highly in the hierarchy. No previous administration has ever knowingly employed a leader in any extremist antigovernment movement.
Clarke’s record of extremism is long and multifaceted, as is his history of incendiary remarks. He originally rose to prominence among Patriot organizations, but in 2014 became a favorite pundit on Fox News, called to provide a black face for conservative criticism of civil-rights activists in the Black Lives Matter movement. Nor has he hidden from his extremist associations.
In May 2016, he was honored by the militant Patriot organization Oath Keepers with its second annual “Leadership Award”. During his speech accepting the award, Clarke let his radical flag fly freely:
Notably, Clarke also warned Trump, whose support he openly embraced, that “if he [Trump] doesn’t [break up the “Washington cartel”], then we’ll get rid of him too.”
- He asked where the media in the room was, because “it’s always good to know where the enemy is.”
- Told the audience: “I’m one of those that believes that only a citizen uprising is going to allow We the People to resume our rightful place in this republic.”
- “Our government has been coopted. Our government is corrupt. All of our institutions of government are corrupt. The White House is corrupt. The Congress is corrupt. Our courts are corrupt.”
- Demanded that the SPLC designate Black Lives Matter a hate group: “They are a dangerous movement full of rage, bitterness and hate because of some phantom grievance status that they themselves never experienced.”
- Fed the group’s conspiracism: “Is there anyone here tonight, and I want to see you hand, if you believe that Barack Obama is living up to his oath with his circumventing the separation of powers, ignoring court orders, his appointment of czars and his executive orders that go beyond the power of the executive. Folks, this a slippery slope into a very dark place. A place called tyranny.”
Since the election, Clarke has become even more inflammatory, particularly on his Twitter account. There, he has continued his incendiary rhetoric, referring to Chelsea Clinton as a “cockroach,” and liberal pundit Marc Lamont Hill as “a jigaboo.”
Even more ominously, given his plans to oversee coordination between federal and local law enforcement, Clarke has posted tweets that suggest the depths of his political radicalism and authoritarianism. In one, published after the Women’s March on Washington and other anti-Trump protests, he displayed a photo of himself holding up one of those pocket Constitutions, declaring: “The left isn't protesting. It's resistance to our constitutionally elected POTUS. It's showdown time. Pushback time. Are you ready? I am.”
Along similar lines, Clarke posted shortly after the election, amid anti-Trump protests: “How to stop riots. 1)Declare state of emergency.2)Impose early curfew. 3)Mobilize Nat Guard.4)Authorize ALL non lethal force. 5)Tear gas.”
[Ironically, one of the Oath Keepers’ major bugaboos is a fear that the federal government will impose martial law through a state of emergency declaration: On the group’s list of “10 Orders We Will Not Obey,” No. 4 reads: “We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a ‘state of emergency’ on a state, or to enter with force into a state, without the express consent and invitation of that state’s legislature and governor.” However, no admonition or correction of Clarke has appeared on the Oath Keepers’ website or social-media feeds.]
His influence has spread to other, more ostensibly mainstream venues, including a keynote address to the National Rifle Association (at which he suggested adding an assault rifle to the national seal), as well as a recent CBS News report profiling “other voices” in the national debate over gun rights.
As Media Matters notes, Clarke’s contribution consisted of the discredited claim that mass shootings are occurring largely in “gun-free zones” (in reality, only 13% of such shootings occur in these zones). The report included similar disinformation from gun-rights extremist Larry Pratt.
All of these programs, as well as Clarke’s voluminous media appearances (primarily on Fox News) presented Clarke as some kind of a normative law-enforcement officer with conservative views, but in reality, Clarke’s views and advocacy go well beyond the mainstream and are, in fact, deeply mired in right-wing extremism.
Clarke calls himself a “constitutional sheriff” – which is not the benign label it appears, but rather signifies his membership in the CSPOA, the antigovernment organization that promotes the Posse Comitatus-derived belief, among others, that the county sheriff is the supreme law-enforcement entity in the United States. Not only is Clarke a member in good standing with the CSPOA, he was named its “Sheriff of the Year” in 2013, and addressed its annual convention. His speech openly endorsed the organization’s radical interpretation of the Constitution, and he called its members “the true patriots.” Clarke also emphasized his view that “our common enemy” is “the government,” which he claimed constituted a greater threat to freedom than terrorists.
Earlier that same year, Clarke made an appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars radio program, during which he contended that any attempt by federal authorities to confiscate guns would inspire “the second coming of an American Revolution, the likes of which would make the first Revolution pale by comparison.” He then appeared on a Fox News show to explain that he and Jones were envisioning a scenario with “the feds coming in and going into homes, forcing their way into homes and removing firearms,” an idea he admitted is “preposterous.”
Clarke’s subsequent career as a frequent guest on Fox News included segments featuring vicious attacks on President Obama, whom he claimed was attempting to foment racial unrest due to his “divisive policies,” as well as accusing Obama of waging a “war on cops.” He has been especially vicious in his attacks on black activists and the Black Lives Matter movement, describing them as “scum” and “subhuman” and calling for their eradication.
Clarke put his "constitutionalist" background on public display in February 2016 during a radio show he hosted, when he launched into a strident defense of Ammon Bundy and his cohorts in Oregon, who had just been arrested at the culmination of the monthlong standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He described the takeover as potentially "that crystallizing moment, where that critical mass builds, and a movement is started by We the People, to push back against this intrusive and overbearing federal government. I certainly hope so." His rant promoted several Patriot conspiracy theories, notably the groundless claim that the federal government is not permitted to hold large tracts of public lands in the West.
Nor is his extremism the only cloud on his record. Clarke faces scrutiny in Milwaukee over the death of an inmate in the county jail operated under Clarke's oversight; the mentally ill man died of dehydration after being denied water for seven days by Clarke's employees.
Clarke's record of extremism is considerable, as we detailed previously in an October 2015 profile:
His rise to conservative media stardom began in early 2013 with a contentious appearance on CNN with Piers Morgan, defending his anti-gun control policies and a controversial public-service announcement Clarke had made urging residents to arm themselves with guns. Mack later said that the appearance caught his eye, since he had not heard of Clarke before then.
Shortly afterward, Clarke was named “Sheriff of the Year” by the CSPOA, a selection which provoked a piece from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Dan Bice exploring the organization’s background and radical beliefs. Clarke fired back with a press release attacking Bice and defending the CSPOA as “a group of honorable Sheriffs and officers who vow to uphold their oath of defending the U.S. Constitution.”
Joining Clarke on the CSPOA stage that year was Stewart Rhodes, whose Oath Keepers organization has a long record as a fiercely antigovernment, militaristic group. As Media Matters notes, among others attending CSPOA that year were Larry Pratt, head of the far-right Gun Owners of America; Michael Peroutka, an active member of Neo-Confederate hate group League of the South, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio's "chief birther" Mike Zullo.
An excerpt from Clarke’s CSPOA speech:
I want to thank you folks. You’re the true patriots. Every successful movement in the history of mankind started at the grassroots level, with true believers. ….You folks are the modern founders, because you want to return where I want to return, and it’s back to the promise that this document made to the people of the United States of America.
…What’s happening today is what was happening then. And a courageous group of grassroots individuals – that’s what the Founding Fathers were, they were grassroots people – said, ‘Enough,’ and started to push back. And that’s what I started to do, and that’s why I started to become more outspoken.I didn’t just wake up one day and have an epiphany start believing this stuff. But I said it’s not enough to just keep it in here. I know I have to join this movement. You folks. I’m just a footsoldier in this. You folks got it started.
To be successful, this movement’s going to have to have two things: You have to have a common enemy, and you have to have a common language. And I’m not here to tell you what to do, or this group what to do, because as I said, I’m a Johnny-come-lately. But I know about movements. And in this movement, the common enemy – and let’s not make this mistake, because I think sometimes you do – this is not about Democrats and Republicans, this is not about liberals and conservatives. Because the ruling class in Washington, D.C., sees us as nothing more than subjects. We’re not citizens anymore, in their minds.
So don’t get caught up with liberals, Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, and even people. Obama – Obama will be gone in a couple years. But guess what will still be there, and this is the common enemy: It’s government.That’s the common enemy. It’s not Nancy Pelosi, it’s not Barack Obama, it’s not the faces and the names. These people come and go. The government remains. That’s what’s becoming oppressive, that’s what’s starting to become intrusive, more and more intrusive, and that’s what’s encroaching on our liberties.
His interview with Alex Jones earlier that year had rung a number of similar notes from antigovernment conspiracy theorists:
JONES: What about this issue? Many sheriffs have said, Sheriff Clarke, that if the executive orders come down banning semi-autos, or whatever … Seriously, if they try to take physically take semi-autos, I know a lot of veterans and people that have had enough, and I would not want to be the police or sheriff’s department ordered by the Feds to try to go get guns. What is your take on the fact that, from a lot of analysts that I talk to, think that the Obama Marxist types want to start a civil war in this county. Ah, they gotta know what’s gonna happen when they try to confiscate guns.
CLARKE: Well, first of all, to me, that would be an act of terror. So, the people of Milwaukee County do not have to worry about me enforcing some sort of order that goes out and collects everybody’s handgun or rifles or any kind of firearm and makes them turn them in. And the reason is, I don’t want to get shot. Because I believe that if somebody tried to enforce something of that magnitude, you would see the second coming of an American Revolution, the likes of which would make the first Revolution pale by comparison. So the people of Milwaukee County don’t have to worry about me engaging in that sort of tyranny.
In the interview, Clarke also brought up the case of the horrifying massacre of six Sikhs at a temple near Milwaukee, an act perpetrated by a radicalized white supremacist. Clarke questioned the coverage of the case, saying: “This isn’t about reducing violence. This is about attacking the Second Amendment. This is going after the wrong crowd.”
Jones replied: “Exactly. Let me ask you this question: Why does the government class, the socialist class, why do they want our guns so bad right now? What are they worried about in the future?”
Clarke replied: “Well, I don’t want to get way out there and try to guess to what they’re getting at, but you know, government control cannot go on as long as people have some sort of ability to say, ‘Hey, wait just a doggone minute.’ And as long as that exists, the government, they – that’s what the government is, they don’t really scare the criminal, they support the criminal, after they’ve been arrested.
“But what they fear is a law-abiding person who’s gonna load up – I mean, read the Declaration of Independence. It’s right there. We’re a law-abiding people saying enough is enough, you are exerting too much influence in our lives, this is tyrannical, and it’s going to stop. That’s what we’re worried about.”
A year later, he appeared on Fox News to discuss that “second American Revolution” with Judge Jeanine Pirro:
CLARKE: It was talking about the feds coming in and going into homes, forcing their way into homes and removing firearms. And you know, the thought is preposterous.
PIRRO: You know what, the thought of it is preposterous. And people are very concerned about it. I mean, this whole idea of identifying gun owners in newspapers and chipping away at these gun rights. And getting a registry. This guy’s a chief, this guy McCarthy, the chief of the third-largest police department in the nation, who works for Rahm Emanuel, who’s so connected to the White House, who’s saying, ‘You know what, we should be able to put a chip in your gun.’ Are you crazy?
CLARKE: You know, that’s why the American people bristle at the thought of a national gun registry. And if the United States – the White House or anybody – would turn over the names of gun owners in the United States to a foreign nation,that would be an act of betrayal on the American people.
By early 2014, Fox began having Clarke appear on-air to discuss the contentious issue of police brutality when handling African Americans, which spurred the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement. In his Dec. 12, 2014, appearance on Fox News with Megyn Kelly, Clarke blamed President Obama for creating the problem.
“He built this racial divide,” Clarke said. “It was a wound that had been healing for a number of years, a number of decades […] and he reopened it with his divisive politics. … Who would have thought that after the election of the first black president in the history of the United States that we would need a period of reconstruction to try to put this country back together?”
We have to begin to ask when white society is going to be through paying for the sins of slavery. We’re now punishing people for sins they didn’t commit. I’ve forgiven and I’ve moved on. I’ve stamped that bill marked for the wrongs of slavery paid in full. This country is now open for opportunities for all people. Instances of discrimination, racism had to go underground. OK, it’s been uprooted, the president of the United States said a couple of days ago that they were deep rooted, and that’s simply not true. Clarke also has indicated his alignment with the CSPOA belief that the county sheriff has the authority to ignore other civic authorities, while discussing the riots in Baltimore this spring with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly:
So we have to have that discussion as to when we’re really gonna be ready to move on and forgive people, especially people today who have no connection to what’s being talked about.
O’REILLY: If the county commissioner – it’s a speculative question, it certainly could happen – gave you an order to stand down while people rioted and looted in the county, you’d have to obey that order, correct?
CLARKE: No. No. No, that’s not going to happen. I’m going to have to defy that order, obviously. I report to the people, that’s who elected me sheriff.
O’REILLY: So if you had been in Baltimore and you had received the order from the mayor to stand down, as we have credible reporting that she gave, you would have defied the order?
CLARKE: Defied the order, sent my officers out there, made sure they had the proper resources, and made sure that they know that they have the authority to use a reasonable amount of force to accomplish their mission.
Clarke’s rhetoric is frequently laden with racially incendiary vitriol. His remark on Fox that Hillary Clinton was willing to “prostitute herself to secure the black vote” is only one example. He also blamed Sandra Bland, a black Texas woman who died while in custody, for her own demise, saying he would “have been embarrassed” if Bland was his own daughter.
Clarke also regularly indulges in conspiracism, claiming that President Obama is trying to “emasculate” police in order to impose dictatorial control. He has even weighed in on LGBT rights, calling for “pitchforks and torches” in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.
Nor has he slowed down on the references to armed revolt, telling a World Net Daily interviewer that it might take a “Lexington moment” to stop gay rights and the “socialist agenda.”
On the Oct. 11 broadcast Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News show, he attacked Obama for flying out to Oregon to meet with townspeople in Roseburg after a mass shooting on the community-college campus there, suggesting the president reduce his security instead:
You know, [President Obama] never misses an opportunity to politicize something. Any time there’s a tragedy that happens in the United States, he goes into his political bag of tricks to see what he can accomplish on his agenda and it’s sad that he exploits these people and I’m glad they saw through it. When he takes advantage and uses them to achieve a political agenda, I’m glad to see that they slapped back. This is a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ president and he speaks as he is surrounded by this protective bubble, which he should have. If he wants to disarm people, he should start with his security staff.
However, he went completely off the rails, veering into eliminationist rhetoric advocating the “eradication” of other citizens, when he went on Fox News with Pirro on August 29, 2015, to discuss the recent murders of a law-enforcement officer in Texas that, according to local law-enforcement officials, had been inspired by the anti-police rhetoric of the Black Lives Matter movement. (It shortly emerged that, in fact, there was nothing linking the murder to the black activists at all.)
Clarke was in a full rage. “Jeanine, I am too pissed off tonight to be diplomatic about what’s going on, and I’m not going to stick my head in the sand about,” he answered when Pirro asked if it was “open season” on cops out there. “I said last December that war had been declared on the American police officer, led by some high profile people — one of them coming out of the White House, one of them coming out of the Department of Justice.”
He continued: “It’s open season right now, no doubt about it. … I’m tired of hearing people call [Black Lives Matter] black activists. They’re black slime, and it needs to be eradicated from American society and American culture. I need every law-abiding person in the United States of America to stand up and start pushing back against this slime, this filth disparaging the American law enforcement officers within these communities.”
Clarke continued in a similar vein after hearing remarks from the sheriff in Texas suggesting that “all lives matter”:
We need to hear more of that from everybody. This whole movement — 'Black Lies' I've renamed it — because it's based on a lie, the 'Hands up, don't shoot.' That's why I said this slime need to be eradicated from American society and American culture.
That kind of rhetoric is fairly common among the militiamen and hatemongers of the extremist right. It’s fairly uncommon – and downright disturbing – coming from an elected officer of the law, especially for one with designs on a powerful position within the federal law enforcement apparatus.
To celebrate my baby turning 49 days old today, you can get 49% off orders of greeting cards, stickers, books, and puzzles in my in-house store!
Just what I have in stock at the moment, and just for a few days, I think.
Use code FEEDTHEBABY at checkout to get the discount! All proceeds go directly to feeding my baby.
The same discount code also applies over on Gumroad for my downloadable, print-at-home greeting cards!
Also, I forget if I ever mentioned it here before, but I made a cool Wondermark wallpaper; that’s on Gumroad too.
In early 2015 it was announced that we would serve as the next co-chairs of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. Today we announce that we are stepping down. Our term will end in July.
When we began, we saw four key goals. First, to help steward ALEPH through the complex aftermath of the death of Reb Zalman z”l, whose third yahrzeit soon approaches. Second, to offer hundreds of people around the world ways to express hopes, dreams and longings – and bring their hearts and ideas back to ALEPH for integration. Third, to support in tangible ways the continuing flow of Jewish Renewal for today and tomorrow. Fourth, to model a stewardship that saw our roles as temporary and sought our successors quickly.
We did much that we came to do. Along with Board colleagues and staff, we spent 15 months on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour, taking stock of who and where ALEPH and Renewal are -- how the renewal of Judaism has spread and matured, what is cherished, what should change and what must never change. It was a tremendous blessing to journey into those deep places together. We took hundreds of pages of notes, and brought what we learned back to ALEPH, the Ordination Program and OHALAH (the association of Jewish Renewal clergy). Some of those ideas are starting to take root now.
Behind the scenes, ALEPH evolved a new governance system aspiring to be more inclusive. We established an Advisory Council to harness the wisdom of elders, teachers and visionaries across the Jewish landscape to support Judaism’s ongoing renewal. ALEPH laid the foundation for a Communities Council so that ALEPH Network members -- communities, organizations, and individuals -- could help set a new bottom-up agenda for how to support ALEPH communities in the future. ALEPH began strategic planning with Reverend Bill Kondrath, a consultant specializing in midwifing faith-based organizations through major transitions, including and especially the death of a charismatic founder.
In the public realm, the magic of the 2016 Kallah happened at Colorado State University: 37% of attendees were first-timers, and brought the joy and “juice” of Jewish Renewal home with them. ALEPH began planning the 2018 Kallah. (Stay tuned for more information soon.) New spiritual communities joined ALEPH – both “new” ones (started from scratch), and existing ones rooted in Reform and Conservative denominational contexts. New programs and projects sought ALEPH affiliation. ALEPH was featured in a variety of publications and podcasts. ALEPH began developing new initiatives, including Clergy Camp and Tikshoret (an education platform to bring tastes of Jewish Renewal to a broad online audience), while also better supporting beloved ALEPH stalwart programs and initiatives. Finances improved, and funds were invested wisely and securely.
Perhaps most importantly, as co-chairs, we said from the start that we wanted to model stewardship that flows in ways we learned from our teachers. We created a Nominations Circle, on which we did not serve, and asked that it immediately seek successors for the Board and its leadership. We felt that, especially in this era after Reb Zalman’s life on this plane, it would be important for many reasons to fulfill this intention to serve with all our hearts while making way for the next turning. The time for that next turning has now come.
For the confidence, volunteerism, and support ALEPH received during our time of service, we are grateful beyond measure: these are tremendous gifts, and we thank you for them. We are especially grateful to ALEPH’s executive director Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin, ALEPH’s deputy directors Tamy Jacobs and Steve Weinberg, their predecessor David Brown, Lynda Simons, and Ming Shem-Lu, who have nourished ALEPH and have done the very hard work of bringing ideas and relationships to life. They are ALEPH’s unsung heroes, and they deserve wild applause for their dedication and hard work. We are grateful to our teachers, and their teachers, and their students, and the students of their students – both within and beyond ALEPH – for so very much that has come through them over the years.
The work of renewing Judaism, by its nature, is never complete (Pirkei Avot has something to say about that). The next phase of this ongoing journey now is for our successors, to keep that flame burning bright in ways that perhaps today can scarcely be imagined. We wish them every success and blessing as they dream and lead forward.
With blessings on this Omer day of chesed sheba yesod (lovingkindness in foundation),
Rachel and David
(Cross-posted to David's website and to Kol ALEPH.)
To those I often see in the Bay Area around this time of year, I’ll be missing Maker Faire this time around. I’ll be staying home with my little dude, who cannot fend for himself and must have everything done for him.
I grew up in a family business. I was raised behind the counter of a store; I was stocking shelves by the time I could stand; I was making change by the time I could count.
Most of my childhood, I was surrounded by adults doing work. I think it taught me a lot.
I bristle somewhat when I hear people say “don’t define yourself by your work,” because I like my work, and I think I occasionally do good work, work that feels like an authentic expression of something I care about. And I do not feel entitled to any sort of success without doing work, so I feel like work must be worth something.
Work must be important, otherwise I would just do no work and wait to be successful, and that math doesn’t compute, to me, based on my mindset or my lived experience.
So when my own son was on his way, I pictured myself perkily doing my regular work with him hanging off the front of me in one of those little carriers, cheerily observing and absorbing everything in order to become a creative person of his own one day.
It has not gone quite that way. It may still, but not yet.
He’s here, now, and I don’t know whether he’ll be a creative person, or an entrepreneur, or not; he’s got plenty of time to figure out what those words even mean, much less what to do with his life.
The first thing people ask when they see him is “Are you sleeping at all?” Like it’s a big in-joke that babies will wake you up in the night. Yes, thank you, I’m sleeping. (In little two-hour bites, but yes.)
Our boy is six weeks old — or just one week and change if you correct for his premature arrival — and as of yet he’s basically a houseplant. He stays where you put him, wiggling around like he’s imitating a skydiver. He doesn’t yet understand “objects” or “interaction” or “operating his limbs purposefully” or “responding to anything”. He lives in a world all his own, population one.
We’re also packing up our life to move to a new house, quite unexpectedly as it turns out…and we’ve got a sick kitty who requires a lot of attention…and projects and tasks are stacking up at work. I’ve been trying to wrap up a bunch of complicated projects that I started months ago KNOWING academically that they were going to be impossible to maintain once the baby arrived, but not quite anticipating just how fast the days would slip by, just how hard it would be to accomplish basic tasks in this state of mind.
This will be old news to many (you parents out there) and of little interest to others, I imagine. Remarking on the capital-C Change that the arrival of a child brings to one’s life is so mundane an observation as to be a dull cliché.
I think because of that, I figured it would be different for us, somehow. We would be smarter; we would figure it out.
And we have, so far — but we have withstood it, not bested it, which I understand one never quite does.
I’m grateful that I have the flexibility to stay home with my wife and the kitty and the baby, for a little while at least, and I will beg your forgiveness for the occasional lapse here on the site. This is my conduit to you, and I want to keep it alive, so I will try my best.
I want to make more fun things for you to take home, but I don’t want to shill products more than I provide new comics. People email me every day offering to cram my site full of terrible ads, and I turn all of them down, or ignore them entirely, because that feels gross to me, and disrespectful to you.
I will get back to work soon enough, I hope, with the baby hanging off of me or not. I will imagine myself teaching him all sorts of important things about Business and The World and Adultness, when in reality he will probably be teaching me things. Already, at his knee I have learned much about the subject of Wiggles, and we are working now on a new effort called Groans-And-Moans.
He is issuing creative product of his own, daily, but so far it kind of stinks, and I throw it away in a special can.
I need to become okay with not doing as much work, at least for a bit. But this is also my job, and I have to do some work, or else I don’t have a job.
The solution, of course, is obvious, as my own parents knew: child labor. Work hard, little one, and learn fast. Someday, this will all be yours.
May. 15th, 2017 @ 04:00 am
I want with all my might
to give you milk and honey
aspire only to feed you
(look: you're skin and bones,
the Jewish mother in me
aches to fill your plate)
but not just nutrients:
like manna that took on
each person's yearned-for flavor
I want my offering to you
to meet your every need
balm your every sorrow
fill your mouth with sweetness
you didn't know you didn't have
I want to give you my heart
but all I can offer are words
you'll misunderstand them
sometimes you'll resent them
often you'll resent me
for the neverending letters
that I can't stop pouring
because I can't stop loving you
I've been thinking a lot lately about God giving Torah at Mount Sinai, which we'll re-experience at Shavuot in a few short weeks. One of my favorite teachings about creation is that God brought creation into being because God yearned to be in relationship with us. I've been reflecting on how we might extend that teaching to say something about the revelation of Torah, also. What if God yearns to give us Torah, the way one yearns to give the gift of one's heart to a beloved? That's the question that sparked this poem. (And also a couple of other poems still in early draft form -- stay tuned for those.)
To give you milk and honey. Torah is often compared to milk and honey; this is one reason why it's traditional to eat cheesecake at Shavuot.
Like manna that took on / each person's yearned-for flavor. See Exodus Rabbah 5:9: "Rabbi Jose ben Hanina says: ... the manna that descended had a taste varying according to the needs of each individual Israelite. To young men, it tasted like bread...to the old, like wafers made with honey...to infants, it tasted like the milk from their mothers’ breasts...to the sick, it was like fine flour mingled with honey."
For the neverending letters // that I can't stop pouring. I learned from Reb Zalman z"l that the revelation of Torah wasn't just a onetime thing that happened to "them" back "then" -- it's something that continues even now.
As Reb Zalman used to say, God broadcasts on every channel; we receive revelation based on where and how we are attuned. The flow of revelation into the world -- the flow of Torah into the world -- is for me first and foremost an act of divine love.
In the United States today is Mother's Day. We're reminded of that in a million little ways: from television commercials for Hallmark cards, to ads for Mother's Day brunch deals, to countless social media postings about mothers and motherhood.
I'm always aware that days like these can be fraught and painful, for all kinds of reasons. Maybe you had a difficult relationship with your mother. There are mothers who are neglectful, narcissistic, and/or abusive; maybe yours was one. Maybe this day reminds you of everything you wish your relationship with your mother could have been but wasn't. Or maybe you had a wonderful relationship with your mother, and now she has died and this day reminds you of how much you miss her.
Maybe you yearned to become a mother, and faced infertility. Maybe you yearned to be a mother but your marriage has ended. Maybe you've had a miscarriage, or an abortion. Maybe you are a mother, and you have a painful relationship with one or more of your children. Or maybe you are a mother and your child has died -- the English language offers us a word for a child whose parents have died, and a word for a person whose spouse has died, but we don't have a word that means a parent who has lost a child.
All of these are land mines hidden among the greeting cards, the commercials, and the friends on social media posting photographs of their happy families and hand-drawn mother's day cards. There are endless social and cultural messages telling us how we are "supposed" to feel today. And it can be extra-isolating to feel out-of-step with the way we think we're "supposed" to feel on a birthday or an anniversary or a holiday like this one. Days like today can evoke, trigger, and intensify feelings of loss.
If you are someone for whom today is purely sweet, I am glad for you. May you be blessed to always experience this day as a source of sweetness.
If you are someone for whom today contains bitterness or sorrow, I am holding you in my heart. Be gentle with yourself today in all the ways that you can.
In this week's Torah portion, Emor, we read that no one who has a defect may draw near to God through offering sacrifices on the altar. And then Torah goes into exquisite detail about all of the different kinds of physical defects that would disqualify a priest from serving.
Fortunately for us, we live in a post-sacrificial paradigm. When the Temple was destroyed, we engaged in an act of radical reinterpretation. We no longer talk with God through burnt offerings: we talk with God through prayer, the "service of the heart."
In the old paradigm, anyone with a "defect" was disqualified from service. I want to turn that on its head: anyone who thinks they are perfect should be disqualified from serving the community, because they are so full of themselves that there's no room to let God in.
We all have imperfections. We all have broken places. We all have bodies that will age and will someday not work as well as they do now. (I suspect that for most of you, that truth is not yet a reality -- though for others it's old news; even at 20 one can be injured or sick.) We all have hearts that break and ache and grieve. We all have minds that sometimes fail us. We all have souls that sometimes feel lost and lonely.
This is what it means to be human. To be human is to be imperfect, and sometimes to feel broken. Authentic spiritual life calls us to serve not despite our brokenness, but in and with the parts of ourselves that feel most damaged.
The word קרבן is usually translated as "sacrifice," but it comes from a root that means drawing-near. The English word "sacrifice" connotes giving something up, but that's not what the priests were doing. Their task was to draw near to holiness, to meaning, to what we call God.
That's our task, too. All of us have the opportunity and obligation to take our spiritual lives into our own hands. Spiritual life isn't just what happens on Shabbat or in the sanctuary. All of our life is spiritual life -- or it can be, if we're willing to be real with ourselves and each other.
And that means being real about the places where we feel whole and strong and beautiful, and the places where we feel crushed and ground-down. We draw near to God (and if the G-word doesn't work for you, try "holiness" or "meaning" or "love") not despite our broken places, but in and through them.
The school year is ending. Some of us are feeling loss: our friends are graduating, or we ourselves are graduating, and our community is going to change. Some of us are feeling sorrow: the year wasn't everything we hoped it would be, or it was everything we hoped for but now it's over and what do we do with that?
My answer is: be real. Be real with yourself and with each other. Don't paper over the broken places. They're not a flaw in our lives or in who we are: they're integral to who we are. The great sage Leonard Cohen wrote, "There is a crack in everything -- that's how the light gets in." May our broken places let in infinite light and comfort, hope and love, now and always.
This is the d'varling I offered tonight at the end of Kabbalat Shabbat services at the Williams College Jewish Association. (Cross-posted to Under the Kippah: Thoughts from the Jewish Chaplain.)
People sometimes ask me about “how to get into webcomics,” or “how to do a webcomic,” or “how to get people to read a webcomic.”
The truth is I don’t know! I had what could charitably be called a strategy a decade ago, but now I just make comics and put them in the places folks expect to see them — here, on Twitter, on Facebook, in your email.
But other people do it lots of different ways — there are a lot of comics that live on Tumblr exclusively, and there are comics that I only recognize because they bubble up on Reddit a lot.
Here’s an example of a comic that lives in a “comics” tag on the artist’s Tumblr… I happened across it because I saw it posted on Twitter, and then I checked out the other comic strips the author has posted. I don’t know if the comic has a name per se, but the Tumblr’s handle is Iguanamouth.
That’s just the first couple of panels! Click to read the whole thing! It’s very good.
I don’t know much about this artist (Lauren), but it seems like the comic strips are an occasional thing that she posts along with other stuff on her blog.
And I think comics are getting to be like that now — just another form of thing to post. There are people I follow on Twitter or Instagram who occasionally post comics in between regular tweets about whatever.
That’s a great thing for the comics medium and for artists, but it makes it hard to draw a line around “webcomics” in any specific form and say “This is how you do a webcomic.” It’s always been kinda fuzzy, and now it’s… just no more clear than it was, perhaps.
That’s a small tradeoff for seeing the explosion of work of a new generation of artists who grew up on comics, and are learning to speak that language natively. I think it invites more interesting voices to participate in the medium.
Lauren has more art in her “Scribbles” tag, here! They are fun drawings that aren’t comics per se, but exist in the same space as her comics; that is to say, a piece of art that tells a story. Comics is just one way of accomplishing that end, and I love that too.