Thursday, June 30, 2011

DRIVING by Chloe Brovitz

I (like every other 16 year old in New York) had spent months practicing driving. Though I was not forced to sit through 6 months of Driver's Ed, I did experience the universal feeling of passenger seat parents. Of course they knew much more about driving than I did, but it was still aggravating when they would tell me to go 5 mph below the speed limit. Parallel parking was the worst, as I would only get it right 50% of the time, and everyone thought they had the hidden key to perfecting this daunting task. Regardless, I very proudly passed my first time - even fitting snugly behind the huge black truck my tester told me to park behind. That night I was eager to start my driving career. I told my parents I wanted to go to the Palenville market to get strawberry ice cream. I wanted to be mature and nonchalant about it, but they understood my excitement and made it a very big deal. I ran up the stairs to my room and grabbed my iPod, turning it on and spending 5 minutes picking out the perfect playlist to accompany me on my great adventure. "Don't get cocky, use your lights, drive slow" followed me out the door like smoke before I closed the porch door defiantly.

All it took was 6 steps before I was giggling to myself, saying "oh my god, oh my god" over and over again. I got in the driver's seat of the car as I had so many times before, but this was so different, even drastically different than when I made my dad sit in the back seat and not say anything the entire ride, feigning adult-hood. I plugged my iPod into the stereo and pressed play, thankful that I had done all the pre-planning before stepping foot outside. I knew that the car ride was a mere minute and a half at best, but I was still satisfied with my choice of playlists, even if I only got to listen to half a song.

The car ride was liberating. Though I was only going half a mile away, I knew I could go to Woodstock if I wanted to, I could go somewhere and never, ever be found. I turned right into the parking lot and parked sloppily right on top of a yellow line. Though I was the only car in the parking lot, I quickly backed up and meticulously pulled back in satisfyingly. I debated whether or not to take the keys in with me, and ended up decided for it. All I wanted was for the stereotypically Indian woman to say something about the keys I was cockily swinging around my finger. I had the burning desire to tell her that I drove there all by myself, that I was capable of going out into the world and returning home with a pint of creamy Haagen-Daaz. However, she did not ask which almost made me feel even more mature. After all, no adult bragged about driving 2 minutes to a gas station.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The first time you pick up an instrument you feel empowered, it seems as though it will be your weapon. The first instrument I was drawn to was the bagpipe. I sensed a distant connection to Scotland, or Afghanistan. I wanted to be able to connect with it. I began to take lessons with an elderly woman who was eager to take me as her student. I loved it for the first few weeks, and then I began to notice her eyes. Her eyes would follow me everywhere. Sometimes she would tell me that she had just gotten some sort of surgery on them, and they were healing. Something about them haunted me, I would sit next to her, blowing into my chanter, seeing through my peripheral vision, her eyes, staring. I couldn't take it any longer, I had to stop playing.

I took a few months off from music, until I felt a strong connection once again, this time not to one specific nation, but to the world. I wanted to bury myself in world music. Tones from Guatemala, melodies from France, and lyrics from Israel. I wanted to connect. Hesitantly, I began to play the guitar. I wasn't attracted to it, until I let a pattern of notes flow through my head, they were played by Leo Kottke, they changed me. I fell in love with the 12-string guitar, and when the opportunity came, I instantly bought one. I fell in love with it right away. I started playing more and more, and even started seeing a new teacher.

I knew that the ease which I had felt with my previous guitar teacher would never belong to me again. Raphael began to teach me things I had never thought about, creating a new universe for me to view music through. He further inspired me, he made me want to be immersed in Ethnomusicology. As I studied more with him, I began to pick up new instruments, I started to diddle with the cello, the sitar, the cuatro, and many other little instruments. They began to cast heavy shadows in my life, I had to practice every day. And even though it added some stress to my life, it made me happy. Even though I had a new responsibility, I still felt empowered.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

THAT'S THE WAY IT WAS by Daniel Marshall

The idea was to see the world–to visit alternative communities, countercultural movements, religious and cultural roots. Different from the world of previous experiences: growing up protected in Brooklyn, Catholic school and college in New York and Massachusetts, secular university, menial work, true-blue Navy Air, and Berkeley. The idea was to travel with Elizabeth on savings until exhausted, to replenish funds wherever we were–for instance, by harvesting or tutoring, and to continue. To sleep outdoors or find hospitality, take a freighter, walk or hitchhike, seek our cultural roots in Ireland, Spain, Rome, Greece, and the shrines and museums of Europe and the Mideast, visit South Asia and India, meet other peoples, and trust God and others to lead, teach, and provide for our needs. To cast bread upon the waters. To follow the road by emptying our pockets.

If our generation learned one lesson, it was that finding a solution to life’s questions required individual or collective escape from the daily race of consumer life that had already hurled much of the earth pell mell toward destruction. Our goal was to find God, means of escape, and ways to serve.

When it was just an idea, Elizabeth agreed. Then for a month after her post-college teaching year, we were separated while she went to jail for occupying UC Berkeley’s Sproul Hall during the Free Speech Movement. While she was there, I left my job, disbanded our community, and disbursed my possessions. I was champing at the bit, waiting for her.

An old sweetheart, affectionate and charming Consuelo, re-surfaced clearly in distress while Elizabeth was in jail. About the same time, the Navy ordered me to active duty, illegally, for quitting as a conscientious objector; I sent them a peace movement mailing address. After Elizabeth’s release, on the brink of our departure, she announced that she was afraid of facing her well-connected East Coast family unmarried and of getting pregnant. Her early separation from parents and the great female serpent Security reared and roared. She gave me three days to think about marrying her.

The weekend of the ultimatum I could find no one in whom to confide. So we married within a week, with two priests, at 7:30 AM one July sun-drenched Saturday morning in a hillside glade above Berkeley. Under the canon regarding special circumstances. The ancient commitment to be spouse ‘til death, in sickness health, for richer poorer, better worse. Friends brought flute and guitar, and orange juice and donuts for breakfast afterward; soft folk songs floated among eucalyptus. Elizabeth wore her California cousin’s China silk dress. She cried at the exchange of commitment but couldn’t explain why. Her mother, aunt, and cousin were there; my family refused to come.

I don’t think that Elizabeth worried as much about the opinion of her Seattle uncle Ed and his wife. An engineer, he had divorced, remarried, left Boeing, and undertaken carpentry, and he seemed pleased as a clam to see us. But the new arrangement between Elizabeth and me felt unexpected, precipitous, and troubling–so demanding and sudden, so backward! Wasn’t I supposed to plead for her hand in marriage? I felt unresolved all week, during the wedding, and after. Puzzled, and concerned, too, about fierce affection and a flood of memories stirred in me by Consuelo, and perplexed about radical changes in her aspect. Sour and depressed, she made an awkward attempt at seduction. Her body swollen, she did not appear the pretty, delicate woman with freckled round Indian face that I remembered.

From Yosemite Valley, on honeymoon already, I called Consuelo in a rare few minutes when Elizabeth was away, to tell her what I’d done. “I’ll be your mistress,” she said. “Consuelo, I can’t do that,” I told her; “I have to go, Elizabeth’s coming!” That was the last conversation that we had.

I was split, half of me undecided, between marriage and unmarriage, as if still unpressured, preoccupied with contemplating slowly and deeply on my subconscious backburner, the prospect of engagement and marriage, accommodating to new intimacy; the other half relying on previous intuition, prematurely and desperately married, scrounging to understand and perform. I felt guilty initiating sex, and we connected awkwardly the first time. Elizabeth was responsive, interested in sexual overture and foreplay. Pleasurable, functional, not so much intense as burning and calm often mistaken for peaceful, movement was what she wanted, energetic movement–rolling, tossing, and tumbling; once in a while she took control. Two or three times a week, where we found opportunity, we got wet together in showers, grass, our sleeping bags, her Peugeot, or beds in some pension, and eventually in our own place. We lay waiting at the rim of new creation.

Once in a while, with all this, I was puzzled that we were not pregnant. All play and no work. Not that I felt impatient; we were poor and with time more so. Not becoming pregnant permitted us for a while to live oblivious, as Hippie friends seemed to, until one day Elizabeth burst into our by-then semi-subterranean New Hampshire cabin, clumped in her felt-lined rubber boots down our four heavy wooden steps, stood in the middle of our home-built tongue-in-groove maple living floor beside a wood stove that had been my parents’ gift, stirred as if by a recent conversation, and in a voice guttural and pent-up struggling to emerge, apparently furious, demanded, “I want to adopt!”

She’d cornered me. I felt startled. I was unprepared. It seemed incredible, astonishing. Who’d agitated her?

“Elizabeth, we have no money!” I said. “Adoption agencies, as I understand it, for adoption require minimum savings that we don’t have and job security!”

But I realized as I spoke that I had another reason,. I’d noticed her teasing Arthur. A year or two before she’d even mentioned feeling affection. Just as well, if she’s flirting with him, I thought, not to procure a baby that, after I’ve loved bonded to it, if and when she leaves, she might take from me to him. I was sick by then, too. The cause eluded me. While our friends seemed to thrive, I languished. It didn’t add up. Our elderly doctors hadn’t been able to help.

“If a baby comes or is left on our doorstep,” I added, “that’s wonderful and welcome! But I don’t see how we can get approved for adopting one.” I guess that she must have felt stymied, but she expressed no further feeling.

Getting pregnant! Gut longing for fertility! The prayer of Abraham and Sarah. I longed for opportunity to raise children. I prayed and fasted for health so that I could do my share. The Growing without Schooling movement, later called “unschooling”, originated around John Holt in nearby Boston. It was becoming popular within a small following on our periphery. We loved the land, studied natural hygiene, Gandhism, and Catholic Worker philosophy, and sometimes attended Quaker meetings. We joined self-awareness groups, meditated, and visited communities and families that had children. All that we discovered I wanted to employ with children.

After five years, why were we not pregnant? Was it due to my sickness, Elizabeth’s dietary indulgences or bitter feelings, our rugged coldweather lifestyle? Were we allergic? To each other?

In Washington, one morning I collected a fresh sample from a wet dream and had it tested pro bono by a kindly Georgetown University doctor. Because of the method–I scrupled of others, he said that he could not be conclusive, but did find living sperm.

At this point, blessed though our sojourn had been at the Catholic Worker farm in Tivoli, NY, we had not found it the community on the land that we sought. The Catholic Worker always emphasized hospitality. “This is the front lines,” Stanley Vishnewski said. “It’s no place for families.” With few exceptions. More to the point, no one knew where title to the land was or boundaries, or told us that most was in a zone of conservation land that excluded building. Dorothy always apologized for shortcomings of the Worker and the distance that it yet was from the vision of Peter.

We moved–almost fled–at Elizabeth’s suggestion to D.C. close to her family. We got into pastoral counseling and Christian self-awareness. She studied Montessori while we house sat. “We need couple counseling,” I said. “I recommend individual counseling and group,” our counselor answered. So we did not talk with each other of what we needed or improve our communication.

By then, my weight had plateaued at 95 pounds. It wasn’t increasing, no matter what. I was distracted with worry about Elizabeth. At any cost I determined to keep us from New Hampshire and Arthur. My preference, had I been in position to assert, might have been New Mexico rather than Washington. Arthur took initiative to visit us once, radiating adoring smiles toward Elizabeth. Elizabeth left once, quite suddenly, to rake wild blueberries with his crew on Blue Job in New Hampshire, breaking her commitment to a paid speaking engagement with me in Kentucky and to a natural hygiene conference with me in Canada. A way! We struggled to find a way!