Back to 1945

My grandfather spent his youth dropping bombs over central Europe from the nose of a B-17. On one of his thirty-five missions, enemy fire took out two and a half of the plane’s four engines. Concerned by the extent of shrapnel in the air, the pilot suggested that he land the plane, thinking they wouldn’t make it safely over the Channel. My grandfather argued until the pilot agreed to fly back to the base in England.

He wasn’t trying to be unreasonable. They were suspended over Nazi Germany, and there was a six-pointed star affixed to his uniform.

After Charlottesville, I think of that star, and I think of the rows and rows of European Jews with their yellow stars queuing for death on a train platform, stumbling toward death on a Polish field, crumbling into death at a work camp.

Ashkenazi Jews “pass” as white in the US, but it’s only ever been a temporary visa. We aren’t the first in line to have our welcome revoked, but after the immigrants and the people of color and the Muslims and the LGBTQ and the disabled, still it comes. (PS, don’t assume you’re safe because you’re Christian. We’re particular about our Christians in America, too.)

As a result, I’ve always felt that Jewishness is an entryway to understanding race in America, and that anti-Semitism is an entryway to understanding racism anywhere. No, it’s not the same, and I will never try to argue that it is. American Jews sit in the gray space between the majority and the marginalized. I feel selfish for waiving a minority status that has only ever minimally impacted me, but then, I think of the middle school teacher who insisted that I was Israeli. I think of the distant European cousins I will never meet because their great-grandparents were extinguished like blown matches. I think of my grandfather, who knew that crashing into the English Channel was preferable to landing in Nazi Germany.

Never again, we say. The years pass, leaving behind fewer and fewer of their tattooed forearms, and still, we say never again.

Never again, but more choose to believe in conspiracy theories. Never again, but hate crimes flourish. Never again, but a domestic terrorist left a peaceful protestor dead in the street. Never again, but they chant “Jews will not replace us.”

Our president refuses to be our moral leader, and never again is starting to feel a lot like now. Let’s be clear, there is only one side. We chose it back in 1865 and again in 1945.

When my grandfather made it back to England, he threw himself from the plane and kissed the tarmac. If my grandfather were alive today, hovering above this country, I wonder if he’d be willing to land on American soil, or if he’d tell the pilot to keep flying.


Depraved New World

It’s taken an embarrassingly long time to write this.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, but that I could not. There were thoughts—so many thoughts—but I could not hold on to any one of them long enough to mold it into something. It was like sitting down in front of the TV and flicking through every channel, devoting maybe three seconds of screen time to each station. Once you have flipped through them all, while somehow seeing nothing, you realize it will be easier to abstain. You sit back and meet your reflection in the black screen. Yes, it’s much easier to choose nothing, than to decide which syndicated sitcom’s laugh track is less grating.

Horror, it seems, is paralysis.

I woke up one November day deep within the plot of a dystopian novel: “The Cubs have won the World Series. Donald Trump is president of the United States…” I will remember that November day for its stillness. It was as if the sky itself were holding its breath. On the train, the jaws of the commuters around me were clenched tightly, lips pressed into thick lines. Usually, as I exit the station, a smiling black man in a yellow vest hands me a free newspaper and says good morning, while a busker strums her guitar. Not this Wednesday. No good mornings, no acoustic music.

In the following days, I read, maybe too much. I marched, probably not enough. And I thought and I thought, but apparently you can only think so much before you go numb.

One hundred and sixty-six days have passed, and here I am. Here we are. It is April. Red and orange tulips are brimming from the garden plots in the traffic circles. The sun hangs in the sky until 7, even 8 o’clock. It was April when Chaucer’s pilgrims departed on their journey. Like them, I find myself in a strange land, but unlike them, I did not go searching for it.

This world would be easier to confront if I did not know so immediately how everything has gone wrong. To not have one’s phone buzz with another breaking news message of where we have bombed and whom we have hurt.

I take everything that has happened and I scribble it down in my mind like a grocery list: the corruption, the end of truth, the bombs, the Russian interference, the ban, the forthcoming wall, the cabinet, the stolen Supreme Court seat, the nepotism, the hate crimes, the deportations, the disregard for our planet. And there, underlined and bolded, at the top of the list: my belief in this American experiment, in its customs and in its people.

This strange land grew up around me, like these springtime tulips, unnoticed until in total bloom.

It’s comical, too, this place I inhabit now. How comical, to picture White House aids stumbling around in a darkened West Wing because they cannot find the light switches, and to realize that our Commander-in-Chief cannot spell. Of course, one is then forced to acknowledge that he is, in fact, our Commander-in-Chief.

We call it “hysterical laughter” because the source of our amusement is so hilarious that it can only be insane.

So here I am. Here we are. It is time to harness my grief into something. One day, I’ll have a great story to tell. Right now, I’m still trying to find the words to tell it.

Further reading:

I have read far, far too many articles across the past months to create a succinct list, but here are some election-related items that initially came to mind.

Despair and Hope in Trump’s America

Everything mattered: lessons from 2016’s bizarre presidential election

A series of editorials from the LA Times

On Entering the Internet Slush Pile

In the publishing industry, the slush pile is the infamous, bottomless vat of manuscripts to which an aspiring writer sends off his or her query letter to be read and, most likely, quickly discarded by an over-caffeinated, underpaid assistant. The slush pile haunts me like an ever-present ghost laughing quietly in my ear as I stare at the pulsing black curser on the blank, white Word document. The pile is both the genie who just might grant my wish and the siren calling sweetly to give up more of my words, time, and sanity.

Ironically, I decided to start a blog and send my writing out into the even more immense, intangible slush pile called the Internet. Maintaining a blog feels a bit like speaking aloud in an open, empty expanse—until you realize that the hum you mistook for nothingness is actually the drone of millions of voices talking at and over and down and past one another.

The sheer immensity of the Internet is astounding, incomprehensible. According to one estimate, if we printed out all our online content, we would need as many as 305.5 billion sheets of paper. Even if that number is off, let’s not kid ourselves, the Internet is massive, and we’re never going to read all of it.

There is so much information out there, so many websites to discover, so many videos to watch, and so many other blogs to read. I know this, so it’s hard to decipher why I want to add my voice—no matter how honest and thoughtful and articulate I find it to be—to the noise that will quickly surround and muffle it.

As an American, I was raised on Cinderella stories, on the notion that with enough effort I could become whatever I wanted. While grown-up (sort of) Gelsey no longer aspires to be a ballerina, I still choose to believe that with enough perseverance I can shape myself into anything I want. At times, I find myself unable to write, cowering behind a fear that nothing I say will be enough to change anything or touch anyone. I’m not looking for world fame or a Nobel Prize in Literature. I just want to leave a few footprints on someone’s thoughts. Sometimes, even that seems impossible.

With the Internet and social media, we are now our own fairy godmothers. All it takes is a computer, and with relative ease, you too can become a blogger, Youtuber, or Instagram model. That only seems to make the fairy tale more insurmountable.

But it’s the 21st century, and I don’t believe in genies, ghosts, and fairy godmothers. I believe in words, and I’m going to try to leave behind some footprints.

Welcome to my little piece of the Internet slush pile.