I’m not trying to share everything I have found inspiring this year engaging daily with Story Storm 2022, but this one feels a bit vulnerable – so it feels worth sharing.
Funny, I found myself writing a draft inspired by a Storystorm post this week – that was so simple. It was about finding a random word in a dictionary that jumped out at you.
I am presently holed up in a hotel – displaced by a disastrous water pipe flooding in my apartment building. But I had managed to go back and get my desktop out, and keep at this, and maintain some semblances of my world between the chaos and the crummy days that hurt. So I used a random verb generator, then brainstormed as directed, and somehow a first draft was born about a visit to Grandma for lunch / Bubbe’s Bagels n’Nosh – with Yiddish words sprinkled in. Not sure I can make it work. It’s been a long time since Yiddish words were part of my daily life, so I’ll need to check on spellings and such, but it felt like a home far removed from my present life but still there.
I’ve been torn about whether or how to share that part of my upbringing and life – my beliefs have traveled outside of religion, while my culture remains part of me – now mixed in with any other parts.
I think there are many individuals and families as well similar to me, that don’t fit in neat boxes of identity, with lots of intersectionality happening.
Various days of Story Storm posts have also got me to thinking more about how to sprinkle the life that is easily invisible into some of my stories or characters within.
My desire and attempts for decades has been to represent the diversity of kids I’ve known in my life, had in my classes, loved and feel were practically invisible in children’s books. My ideology and idealism remains to share the vision of the world I wish to be – but one book can’t do it all.
My biggest problem is those boxes. I respect every person’s choice in how they identify, as well as he myriad of possibilities that may have sourced and influenced their lives to make them a rich melange, but not the sort of melting pot idea that was taught when I was a kid. That melting pot idea was an attempt to assimilate us all into one bland porridge, and it didn’t work anyway.
My father’s desire to be accepted as a white person in a white society was as strong as his desire to be a proud Jew, and as strong as his desire to live free. It makes sense, because he came over from a closed town in the Ukraine overrun by pogrom violence at age 11. He went to school till 5th grade barely and went to work at age 14 sweeping in the sweat shops of the NYC garment industry to support his mom and two little sisters. A story similar to many others, just as my maternal grandfather was a tailor who brought over 15 families. Poor or rich, they all faced similar displacements.
I know my present displacement is nothing compared to theirs, and it isn’t even my first one. Even if I pass for white, even though they stamped white on Jewish passports later on, perhaps to help protect us from harm, I choose to identify the way it feels is more true in every way to me. Yes, I understand white privilege, and that it doesn’t;t matter if I had many challenges and hardships in my life. I do not deny that society afforded me these – though on a few pointed occasions when someone found out I was from a Jewish family the tide turned, it was rare.
It is in part because I was born here that it is urgent we disclaim white status, and the use of defining people by the color labels of a construct which divides and pits groups of people against one another, to allow those with money and power to hold down the rest, and those they have done in this country the longest being at the greatest disadvantage and trauma.
I grew up feeling and seeing the unfair partitions. I was very clear at a very young age that while my father, aunts and grandparents found some niche to survive threat, fear and trauma, exchange it for survival and opportunity to work hard, they were given at least some grace of acceptance by most and freedom to work hard and do better. They did not get immediate stares in most surroundings,
Yet I felt the feelings of separation, being of a lower class, and competitions I had no clue or desire to engage with. . . I did not want to be in a race.
But stealth is not a place that fits or feels comforting. I didn’t put down one part of me only to trade it for another group. I found various beliefs and interests, skills and talents, and things I find difficult but important, and discovered some that just don’t fit who I am.
As I age, I am finding more ways to share all the parts of who I am to those who don’t bother to ask, and extend how I am seen. I don’t want to be in a box, or even in 7 different separate boxes. I might like it if I could have 7 different “earth suits”, but I have only one.
As I write and draw I am thinking about the words, and the holidays, the foods and people who are still part of my life, and ways to not withhold them, and possibly intertwine them the way I wish it to be.