Retrospective: 3 years.

Calendar year 2017 was my last year living in Portland. (I still live in the Portland area, but haven't lived in the city proper since then.) Already then, the signs of things to come were clear.

In January, I posted a link to a documentary film about pro-Trump minority students at Portland State University. The director was a graduate student at PSU, at that time on the staff of the student newspaper, the Vanguard. His name: Andy Ngo.

In February, I ruminated about social life in the hipster ghetto:

I like Portland, and I mix well with the hipsters here, culturally speaking. We can talk about books, art, music, exotic food, whatever, and it's all good. The minute we get into politics, though, everything changes. It's always the "elephant in the room" - so to speak - and there is just no getting away from the fact that I simply don't see the world the same way they do. This is what I mean when I affectionately refer to Portland as "the hipster ghetto". It's a densely populated place with a certain culture, a very rich culture to be sure, but it is a walled garden. There's this whole world of social norms, social signals, social codes, that you have to navigate. And politics is very much a part of that world. Deviate from the codes at your own peril.

Go outside of that walled garden, though, and the picture changes rapidly. A hundred miles to the east, across the Cascades, lies another Oregon entirely. It's a land of ranchers and Tea Partiers and Three Percenters; travel east from Bend and you're in John Day, the site of a recent memorial rally for LaVoy Finicum. And to the north, across the Columbia River, you're in Vancouver, Washington, a town I've so far only briefly visited but which seems more moderate and down-to-earth than my beloved Portlandia.

Portland kept right on delivering. There was a riot on May Day. I wasn't there, but the late Leo Stratton, our side's premier videographer, captured footage of it.

Meanwhile, Andy Ngo was fired from the Vanguard.

In July, there was a conservative rally in Portland and I went.

I saw Andy [Ngo] there, and finally got to meet Athena and Leo [Stratton] and a number of other local people that I'd only interacted with online. Marco and Harim came up from Cali and I got my picture taken with Harim. A street preacher talked about sin and forgiveness, and a trans activist [Amber Gwen Cummings] stomped on a communist flag. This big, friendly Polynesian guy named Tiny started the whole thing off with a warrior dance.

The folks on the other side tried to make trouble for us, but they didn't even make a dent. The Portland police did a good job of keeping order. I had been a bit apprehensive about the event, and didn't decide until the last minute that I was going to go at all. But it was incredible, energizing, and a great chance to build bonds with people I hadn't met before but needed to.

That was also my first year working IT help desk. I had three gigs during the year, but by December I had hit a dry spell and money was getting tight - and besides, I was ready for a break from living in downtown Portland, which didn't seem to be headed anyplace good.

So, I took a job in a live-work situation with an elderly couple - the parents of a friend from the synagogue - in the hills outside of Scappoose.

Beginning again.

Around last Rosh haShana, I set myself a project to write remarks on the book of Genesis chapter-by-chapter; I had planned to have it finished by the end of the year.

Well, I think it's safe to say the past year hasn't gone exactly as planned.

Nevertheless, I'm going to pick it up again. This coming Sabbath is the beginning of the annual Torah reading cycle in the synagogues - Parashath Bereshith - so it seems like a good time. I want to pick up the pace a bit, so I'm going to go by the weekly readings (there are twelve in Genesis) and see if I can finish by the end of the current Hebrew year 5781.

In other news, I've got a new prospective roommate slated to move in at the beginning of November. (The outgoing one only lasted 3 months.)

Work is going well - I've been at this job 8 months now - but the pay is much less than I was looking for and I think I can do better. So we'll see if the new year brings new opportunities.

Retrospective: 4 years.

The big event in 2016 was my trip to Africa.

I'd been interested for some time in the indigenous Jewish communities of East Africa - the Abayudaya of Uganda, and the more recent Ol Kalou / Kasuku community in Kenya, both communities founded by converts to Judaism - and had in any case wanted to visit Africa. I originally booked a trip for last year, but had to cancel in order to take care of some tax matters.

This year, I finally went. I traveled concurrently with (but separately from) my internet buddy Juliette Ochieng, who writes a conservative blog under the name Baldilocks and who has family in Kenya that she'd never met. It was a first visit to Africa for both of us.

The first week of my two-week visit I spent in Kenya. I stayed at the Nairobi Hilton, but spent two nights as a guest of Yehuda Kemani (who was profiled in the Times of Israel article that first put the spotlight on the Kenya community) at his apartment in the remote town of Kasuku, and visited his family and the community elders in the still more remote village of Ol Kalou (rhymes with "allow"). Yehuda's father, Yosef, was one of the founders of the community - three families who broke away from the local Messianic congregation to pursue authentic Judaism. He is the kindly looking man whose photograph I posted earlier.

I left Nairobi for Uganda on 2/21 Sunday with some apprehension. National elections had just been held, and the mood was tense amid rumors of election-rigging and the potential for violence. But I'd promised a Portland friend that I would deliver some humanitarian supplies that she had painstakingly packed, so off I went.

The Abayudaya of Uganda are mainly based in the northeastern city of Mbale (at the foot of Mount Elgon). Their founder, Semei Kakungulu, rebelled against the machinations of the British colonial forces about 100 years ago and adopted the religion of the Hebrew Scriptures as he understood it, circumcising himself and his sons and declaring himself a Jew. Succeeding generations of his followers encountered Jewish travelers from the outside world and adopted mainstream Jewish practices.

About an hour's drive to the southwest of Mbale, there's a smaller community at Namutumba, and that's where I ended up staying, as a guest of that community's young leader, Shadrach Mugoya. It was a week away from electricity and running water - I had to keep myself supplied with bottled water, as the well water is potable for the locals who are accustomed to it but not for an outsider.

I stayed as a guest of Shadrach, at a room in the compound that housed several families, a kitchen and storeroom, and a chapel and Jewish library. ...

Posts from that trip, with photographs, are under the tag East Africa 2016.

Since then, the Kenya community at Kasuku / ol-Kalou has acquired a synagogue building to replace the tent they were using for services before. On a sadder note, the Abayudaya community of Uganda recently lost the beloved educator Aaron Kintu Moses.

Shortly after returning from the Africa trip, I took a two-week EMT course in California. It was mainly for my own knowledge. I've never used the certification, but I enjoyed the challenge and learning about emergency medicine. On the drive back to Portland, I enjoyed a leisurely trip through California and Oregon.

Retrospective: 5 years.

Calendar year 2015, I was getting settled once again in Portland. In January I took another round of classes at Portland state, and had a memorable nighttime visit from my sister:

Stephanie - who has been missing for some time, it's unclear why - appears at the door. By this time our father is asleep. She talks about wanting to die. "Why do you want to die," I ask her, thinking maybe if I listen and understand, maybe I can help her to not want to die.

"I don't feel like I'm good at anything," she says. "If I died, would anybody miss me?"

There's a notebook in her hand, with a page full of her drawings and doodles. Wherever she's been, it seems she has been following current events, because her next story seems to be something about Mohammed. I think it is called "Mohammed and the Feather".

I want to talk to her, tell her how much I've missed her, but the words won't come. I just hold her little body in my arms and start sobbing until the tears come.

Then I wake up, and remember how long she's been gone, and that she's not coming back.

I couldn't bring Stephanie back, but I did end up writing a story called "Mohammed and the Feather".

2015 was also the year I discovered RWBY and began my series of Toni Morrison reviews.

Most notably, 2015 was the year of my visit to Iraqi Kurdistan. There was no shortage of excitement, but for a fifty-plus American tourist, those slippery steps at Bekhal were by far the most dangerous thing I did in the Middle East.

2015 began and ended with visits from Bunny. Part of me still wanted to be with Bunny's mother - but we have to learn to let the past go, and move on.

Retrospective: 6 years.

Calendar year 2014 was my first year back in Portland. I'd found a place in Northwest Portland - I actually signed the lease on New Year's Day - and spent January tying up loose ends, re-connecting with friends and family, and packing. The physical move happened around the end of January, and I was settled in just in time for my 51st birthday.

In February, I bought a new Android phone and was frustrated by the pointless switch in the positions of the "OK" and "Cancel" buttons from one version of Android to the next. This kind of thing still annoys me. My real loyalties were always with BlackBerry.

Bunny visited in March.

I didn't travel abroad that year but I did visit our Nation's capital in June. I stayed in Alexandria and saw the usual DC sights, and also got to meet all three Fadhil brothers - Omar, Ali, and Mohammed - whose blog 'Iraq the Model' I had followed closely in the early 2000s. A write-up of the trip, with pictures, is at this post. Of particular interest to me was the Masonic museum, especially the exhibit on Brother David Dellal, the Freemason and Iraqi Jew who served as a translator in the US Army during WWII.

Bunny visited again in July.

In September - shortly after I'd started an online class to earn my A+ certification (the entry-level credential for IT work) - I went outside for a little run up and down the crumbling sidewalks of Northwest Portland. Three blocks from my house, I tripped over a crack in the sidewalk, went down on hands and knees, and broke a bone for the first time in my life. The accident happened on September 9, and I remember that it was two days later, on September 11, that the pain finally forced me to stop john wayning it and pay a visit to the damn doctor. (All that time I'd been telling myself, "Nah, I didn't break nothin', it's just a bruise." Nope.)

But after spending the remainder of the course sitting at my laptop, alternately mousing with my left hand and clutching my right shoulder and moaning, I passed the exam.

I enrolled in some classes at Portland State that autumn, mostly for my own interest. One of these was an acting class, where one of the exercises was to answer fourteen questions as an essay, and then read the essay aloud.

You do your own laundry for long enough, you come to appreciate the color grey.

I grew up in suburban Connecticut, with a sister, Stephanie, who was a year and a half younger than me. My favorite show as a kid was 'Lost In Space' and I think even at that early age I appreciated the theatrical flair of Jonathan Harris as the arch-villain Doctor Zachary Smith, the sinister stowaway aboard the Jupiter 2 spacecraft. I think somehow I understood, too, that Dr. Smith was the most important character on the show: because no matter how far we travel from home, we bring our problems and our conflicts with us, and we have to deal with them.

I won't bore you with tales of a dysfunctional family. Stephanie was insanely gifted as a writer, but she had a difficult relationship with our mother and inherited Mom's taste for vodka; she discovered heroin on her own, and left this world about three weeks after her 28th birthday.

I love science and I enjoy a good science fiction movie as much as anybody. But somehow it's drama that always stays with me. It's people and their stories you remember. And it's the actors who bring those stories to life. ...

Balancing family life and the outside world has always eluded me; I've served in the military; I've been in relationships and I've co-parented two wonderful kids. (They live with their respective mothers in San Francisco and I miss them every day.) But somehow I could never make it all come together. So I live alone and I'm OK with that. And even at fifty-plus years of age, I don't feel like I really know very much about life. But here's what I think.

I think a family can be a prison or it can be a path to freedom. I think living alone can keep you sane or it can drive you crazy. I think art can bring enlightenment and wisdom, but it won't do you any good if you haven't got a life. I think it's important to stay in touch with your roots, but you can't keep living in the past because there's nothing for you there.

And I think that life is hard. It's easy to think about the other choice. "The jungle's dark, but it's full of diamonds!" That's the voice of Ben Loman - the departed brother of Willy Loman in 'Death of a Salesman', calling Willie to join him on the other side.

Don't listen. You have work to do here. Life in this world isn't dark like black velvet and studded with diamonds; it's grey and messy, like a pile of dirty laundry. But it's made for living.

Retrospective: 7 years.

Calendar year 2013 was my last year in San Francisco. The anticipated move back to Portland - and away from the kids - got me thinking about the past and the future. And about books.

On writing and young adults:

I think young people are interested in the past - but it has to be presented in a way that doesn't remind them of parents, teachers, or boring history books. Ancient Egypt is cool. (Ancient Egypt has ALWAYS been cool. Ancient Egypt was cool in Ancient Rome.) The more recent past could be cool, too. And you know, things that I don't think are cool might be cool to someone from a younger generation. Eighties music is now "oldies".

So, memoirs and nostalgia could be fun if it's done right. A memoir of growing up in the 70s with my crazy f**ked-up family? Well, who knows. I absolutely do not want to write a long, miserable account of my miserable childhood, and I'm quite sure nobody would want to read it. But if it were short vignettes, entertainingly told - "dark humor" I think would be the appropriate mood - it might work. ...

I like the idea of writing for younger people because I like the idea of having an impact on somebody's life at an early age. The YA books from my own youth really stayed with me - the Dark Is Rising books, the Green Knowe books, the Wrinkle in Time - well, "A Wrinkle in Time" anyway, I wasn't so big on the later ones. But I could spend a lot of time thinking back on the books I read in my teens and early twenties, and how they shaped the world I've lived in ever since. I like the idea of being able to reach people that way.

I think about Daniel and the world he lives in. I think about Sophie and the world she'll be growing up in. I guess I feel like I want to try to bridge that gulf - like what I wrote about earlier, with the Zelazny quote, "two different worlds ... never actually caught either one in the act of coming of going."

I started reading to Bunny from the Bible, and was surprised to find that it held her interest:

The last couple of nights I've been reading from "Bible Stories for Jewish Children" and she seemed engaged and interested. Sometimes when I don't think she's paying attention or understanding the words, she'll surprise me with a very specific question about the story.

Earlier today we were talking about her school schedule - Was she going to school today? Yes. Why? Because today is Tuesday. - and so on. I thought this was a good time to review the concept of the week, so I explained that the week has seven days. She proudly recited the names of the weekdays from Sunday to Saturday.

So then I asked her if she knew why the week has seven days; of course she did not. I said it's because there is a story in the Bible that describes G-d making the world in six days, and resting on the seventh day, Shabbat. I explained that the Bible is a very old and very important book, and that we learn from it about right and wrong, wisdom, traditions, and history.

We learned about life from the Ponies:

Bunny: Why is Twilight sad?
a63: She wants to help with the winter wrap-up, but she doesn't know how to fit in in Ponyville.
Bunny: She needs to go out more. She's all the time in the library.
a63: Yup.

In May, inspired in part by the Israeli original for the series 'Homeland', I wrote what I consider one of my better essays:

Who are you?
What is your name?
What's the place you call home? And if you were taken from your home by force, how would you stay true to who you are? ...

That was the summer that I figured out how to fix the increasingly severe back pain and foot pain - called 'plantar fasciitis' - that had been plaguing me for several years:

And I got to spend some time with TNG and Bunny together:

My dear friend B, an older lady I've been close with for more than 25 years, has often served as the glue keeping me connected with the two kids and their respective moms. Here is the one and only picture I have of all five of them together:

Retrospective: 8 years.

It was actually in October - November of 2011 that I visited Israel, but I didn't get around to posting the photos on LJ until January 2012. This set is from Allenby Street, one of the grittier parts of Tel Aviv. It had been a few years since I'd traveled abroad. TNG's mom had been very fond of international travel, but this was my first time traveling alone.

In March, I joined DreamWidth.

In May, May Day rioters vandalzied Valencia Street, very close to where I lived:

In July, I visited historic Mission Dolores, just a block or two from my home:

After my earlier visit to Israel, I promised myself I'd make a second visit within a year or less, and I did:

I'm staying at a decent, budget hotel on Allenby Street in southern Tel Aviv, and I'm upstairs from a bar and two pizza shops. I get a kick out of this area because it's so much the opposite from the pictures of Israel that you see in tourist guides. Anyway, I'm not far from the bus station, and I expect I'll catch the 405 to Jerusalem in the next couple of days.

I've been sleeping intermittently since about 6pm. They had some loud music downstairs around 1 or 2am, I think the cops made them turn it down.

I'm feeling a LOT more comfortable getting around in Hebrew, this time around.
"This is your classic Tel Aviv picture. About 70 percent of the city looks like this: crumbling Bauhaus. I find it both repellent and irresistible."

Now here's a retro-retrospective: I was actually married twice. Back in the mid-1980s, long before I crossed paths with TNG's mom, I was married for two years to this very classy lady. That's a tale that won't get told here, but after we went our separate ways she moved to Israel, and that's where we met up about 25 years later:

The end of the year found me in a reflective mood:

My mind turns constantly toward thoughts of the future - particularly my planned move back to Oregon (at long last!) but also my future more generally. Where will I be? What will I be doing? Who will be a part of my life?

Right now I'm sitting on the overstuffed leather couch in my living room. It was a housewarming gift from my good friend B when I first moved into this apartment in September of 2010. It's also my bed. Bunny has the bed in the bedroom, and (mostly) the room itself; she's with me about half the week, and spends the rest of her time with her mom a few blocks away.

Against the opposite wall sits my Oxford English Dictionary across the tops of two small bookcases (the volumes are too tall to fit on the lower shelves), and on the other side of the TV are my Encyclopaedia Britannica and the rest of my books. The Britannica is the 1973 edition, which my family proudly purchased new when I was in grade school. I still use it - and the much newer OED - regularly.

The vintage clock I inherited from my parents still sits atop my tall bookcase. It's silent now just because I needed a break from the ticking and the chimes - I'm very fond of the clock but it is quite loud, and silence is a rare and precious commodity for me. Plus, I sleep in the same room with it, and I need my sleep.

The smells from my kitchen are frozen enchiladas, canned tuna, pasta, and burner spill, but mostly burner spill. At least the place is somewhat clean - last week I broke down and shelled out for a housecleaning service. It was well worth it - unless you're an especially zealous housekeeper, there's always going to be that stain you keep overlooking. And after it's been there long enough, you don't see it anymore.

TNG just stopped by to collect his allowance and say hi. I'm taking him to see 'The Hobbit' tomorrow. He's now 17 years old - how did that happen? - and while I haven't seen as much of him as I would have liked, I'm pleased with the young man that he is becoming.

Random notes.

We've all known the bright kid who came home from the library with a big stack of books and sat in his room reading all day and thought he knew everything about everything. I used to be that kid, but I grew out of it. Some people never do.
Almost everything we know about the world, we learn from other people. It follows that our ability to understand the world depends on our ability to understand people.
Meaningful giving requires knowledge.
Performative virtue: disconnection of perceived "virtue" from any tangible results in the real world.
The ability to benefit another party depends on a clear and accurate knowledge of what their needs are, and of what kind of help is wanted, or even if it is wanted at all. Acquiring this knowledge depends on your closeness to the other party. This applies both in market economics and in the practice of compassion.

Truly giving to another person means there's a relationship. There is a feedback loop that tells you when your care has been beneficial, or misguided, or unwanted, or harmful. This relationship, this intimate knowledge, only arises out of person-to-person interactions. It cannot be replaced by any institution.

Physical needs: food, shelter, clothing.

Spiritual needs: dignity, identity, meaning.