What the world is coming to

American flag

Eh, it’s been a week.

I have no words for Boston or West . . . nothing adequate, anyway. Like most Americans, I’ve been glued to news sites and broadcasts for days — unable to tear my eyes away from the disturbing updates and images. The photos haunt me.

Whenever something awful happens, I vow to “tune out” and stay far away from the updates — but, you know, that rarely happens. This dates back to 9/11, I’m sure, when we were glued to our TVs in the D.C. suburbs waiting for word on parents and friends in Washington. It was terrifying; it was life-changing. My inner peace was shattered. And though I was only 16, I was certainly old enough to realize something truly terrible had happened. Life was forever divided into Before and After.

My mom and I frequently talk about “the old days” — the simpler times when she was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. Long days where kids played in the streets together, unafraid of kidnappers and rapists. No one wore sunscreen; no one got burned. People felt safe enough to leave their cars unlocked, to have their doors wide open. Neighbors waved and hosted block parties. They came to borrow to sugar.

“I feel so sad that you’ll never experience that,” she says.

“I don’t know any other way,” I say.

But their “simpler times” were often far from simple. And we talk about that, too. Threats of nuclear bombs. Volatile race relations. The assassinations of presidents, politicians, beloved leaders. An impeachment. War.

“But it wasn’t broadcast in real time,” Mom says. “That’s the difference.”

It wasn’t on your iPhone, cradled in the palm of your hand. It didn’t surround you and drag you into the thick of it; it wasn’t tweeted live from every nook of the country.

But life keeps moving.

I think about my own kids. They’ll be born in a post-9/11, post-Boston world — but we will work to protect and strengthen them. When I feel anxious and scared about “what the world is coming to,” I remember the resilience of America — through everything, through all of this — and know that, somehow, we will still link arms and work together and figure it out . . . because we’re Americans.

Though I don’t know what the world is coming to, I’m proud of my country. I cry when I hear the national anthem. I’m thinking endlessly of Boston, of Texas. I’m rooting for all of us. And if nothing else, we are here . . . together.

Time to choose

When my sister and I were little, Dad made a point of taking us along to vote.

Back in those days in Maryland, the voting booths were literal booths — complete with long curtains — and I thought it was so cool, so mysterious, to walk in and enclose yourself in that space.

Dad patiently went through the ballot, whispering to us about who was who and what was what — pretty impressive considering we were, you know, in elementary school. But my parents never talked down to us. As Dad pointed out the various candidates, he’d let Katie and I turn the little levers that would officially cast his vote. And when it was done, we’d go to lunch.

I usually vote on my own these days. Everything is electronic. I’ve cast my ballot in every election since I turned 18 — because I can. Not to get all This is America! on you, but . . . this is America. One of the tenets of our freedom is the ability to choose our elected officials. And if you think your one vote doesn’t matter, it does. Maybe now more than ever. (And I guess we say that every four years, but I believe it to be true.)

My polling place wasn’t crowded this morning — which makes me a little nervous. In 2008, I waited at least 30 minutes in line. One of the gentlemen working noted the line was out the door at 6 a.m., and I really hope that was true. Early voting was certainly popular here.

As I walked up today, I felt a twist of anxiety, just like I always do — nerves while staring at that empty ballot. Tapping out each choice. Though I’ve poured over the ballot several times, reading up on everything I thought I might need to know, there’s still a moment of hesitation. Am I making the right choice? Is this the right thing? Is he the right person?

But we can never know. We just have to choose.

And I hope you’ll choose, too.

Book review: ‘Away’ by Amy Bloom

away_amy_bloomAfter witnessing the brutal murders of her family, 22-year-old Lillian Leyb flees her native Russia for New York City, hoping to stop carrying the ghosts of her mother, father, husband and young daughter around her like a shroud. She immediately gets a job working in the Yiddish theatre district with Reuben and Meyer Burstein, a father-and-son team, and finds herself as their mostly willing accomplice until her cousin shows up at her doorstep.

With Raisele’s arrival comes big news: her four-year-old daughter Sophie, believed to be murdered, may actually be alive — and living with a family in a Jewish sector of Siberia. And Lillian begins the cross-country journey that will find her in the arms and hearts of men and women from coast to coast as she makes her way to Seattle, Washington and up the Telegraph Trail of Alaska.

Amy Bloom’s Away is one emotional wallop of a novel. Filled to the brim with precise details, graphic imagery and plenty of grief to spread around, this is the story of a young woman’s journey to find her lost daughter, the final piece of the sad life she left behind in Russia — but it’s about so much more than that, too. In the back of my paperback version of the novel, Bloom discusses the idea that the novel is about Lillian becoming “American” in the 1920s — losing her accent, changing her dress, traveling west in the hope of finding freedom from her pain and the possibility of beginning a new life. This is, in fact, an American story — for all those reasons and more.

I was immediately drawn into life in 1920s New York City, and I felt like I was standing next to Lillian in line as she hoped to be chosen to work for the Bursteins. Her numbness, grief and general ambivalence toward life were a bit off-putting, but I’m sure that was intentional. Until Lillian gets the news from Raisele, she’s drifting through life — here, but not here. Her “adventure,” if you can call it that, brings her into the lives of some pretty memorable characters, and I especially loved John Bishop, the man standing sentinel on the Telegraph Trail, and Gumdrop, the classic “hooker with a heart of gold” in Seattle.

The sexual content in the story caught me a little off guard, but I guess it’s to be expected of a single woman roaming the country on her own — and in a time when women were still viewed as objects to be coveted and used. Also be warned of the graphic nature of many of Lillian’s recollections, particularly the aftermath of the pogroms in Turov. I am a squeamish reader, and I’ll say that they honestly didn’t bother me too much — so don’t be too alarmed.

Bloom’s writing style is incredibly unique, and there was plenty of foreshadowing happening through the whole novel. She does a superb job of tying up loose ends for characters who appear only fleetingly as Lillian moves on, and I felt an intense sense of closure. Even when the ends weren’t positive, it was nice to just know what happened to them. I really appreciated that!

The impetus propelling us forward in Away is the wonder, and the hope, that Lillian will find her little girl. But as in life, it’s as much about the journey as it is the destination — and I was happy to have joined Lillian on that quest.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0812977793 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy obtained through BookMooch

Paper ballots and (almost!) decision time

My paper “ballot” came in the mail today — my first glimpse of the presidential candidates, listed in black and white, from which I will choose to be the leader of my country — the leader of the free world. In less than a month. Sitting on my table now to let me get an idea of just what I’ll be looking at come Nov. 4, I’ve already analyzed it to make sure I know just what I’m choosing. For me, there’s very little left to decide.

I haven’t been entirely politically-minded in the past, but this election has been far too important for anyone to ignore. As I’m typing this, the final presidential debate is waging loudly in my living room. Economic meltdown, health care expenditures, dependence on foreign oil (and gas prices!), abortion… yes, tons of complicated issues to discuss. Is there anyone who can honestly say they don’t have an opinion on these issues? Is there anyone left who can say they don’t care?

I’m not one to hop up on a soap box, and I’m certainly not going to pretend like I’m sort of political savant and grandstand on the election. I will say that I sincerely hope everyone out there is taking the chance to really listen to what’s being said by both Senator McCain and Senator Obama and choose the candidate they truly lead this nation — whichever gentleman that may be. Without a doubt, I know who my choice is — but what’s wonderful and terrible and incredible and scary about our big, awe-inspiring country is our ability to think critically, openly and honestly about who we are, why we do what we do and how to make it better. I hope when this is all over, we’ll be making it better. Everything. Better. And I don’t think that’s too idealistic… maybe a little idealism is what we need.

London on the brain

pretty iconic

Pretty iconic

I realized with a start last night that since going to England in May 2007, there probably hasn’t been a day that I haven’t thought about my two and a half days in the city — the culmination of which required my parents, sister and me to walk down a dark street at three in the morning, local time, to catch a train back to Gatwick Airport.

After graduating from college, my family wanted to take our “great European vacation” before I officially entered the workforce (which I did — three short weeks later). We travelled to England en route to Italy, where we toured around Rome, Florence, Tuscany, Venice and Lake Garda. It was, without a doubt, the trip of my lifetime. I can’t imagine anything more thrilling than waking up in a foreign country with the whole day ahead of you, the people you love more than anything at your side, a camera dangling from your neck.

Riding backward in a kamikazi cab

Riding backward in a kamikaze cab

While Italy was absolutely gorgeous, amazing and totally worthy of an entire blog in and of itself, it’s London that has somehow managed to stick with me — to the point that I’ve become a completely obsessed, reading up on everything I can find regarding the British monarchy, dedicating myself to shows like “The Tudors,” drafting a novel set almost entirely in the English countryside and prompting my sister to buy me presents with Big Ben splashed all over them. As I type this, I’m sitting at my desk with a wire-crafted Big Ben just to the left of my monitor, a postcard of the Globe Theatre below my screen and a tiny red double-decker bus to the right of that.

I am, to put it lightly, an Anglophile.

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