Selected Transcriptions from 4th Grade Journal

Context for these is in this post.

Dear Diary,

Today is Monday, November 17, ’97. In the morning, when I woke up, I was thinking, “Why do I have to wake up from my snug, cozy bed? Why did Mommy wake me up? Why did Elisha start screaming?” I was very cranky, as you can see!

When I was walking to school, I was thinking “Why do we have to go to school? Why? Why? Why? Why can’t the scool [sic] come to me?” I guess I’m on the “why stage”!

Last night, when I went to sleep, I didn’t! Mommy kept calling me down, “Do this! Do that!” Every time I got into bed, Mommy called me down! So when I went to sleep, (finally,) I wasn’t thinking! Would you be thinking if your bedtime is 9 o’clock and you went to bed 12 o’clock? Whew?

Love, Esther Shaindel Dainy
(page 3 of the PDF)


Dear Diary,

Today is Monday, 2 Kislev, 5758 / Dec. 1, ’97. Yesterday, I went to Playland, an amusement park. My whole family, besides Mommy and Chayala, went on the roller coaster. We were chugging along and suddenly we stopped at the top! The controllers tried to make it work but it didn’t go. Then they decided to tell everyone to jump. It was a scary jump, and what’s worse my whole family is scared of heights. But they put soft mats on the floor, and everyone was safe, but I broke an arm. But now it’s all fixed. (Although I still have a cast on.)

Love, Dainy
[Note: Not a word of this is true.]
(page 6 of the PDF)


Dear Diary,

Today is Thursday, 10 Teves, 5758 / Jan. 8, ’98. If I lived a 100 [sic] years ago, this would be my story:

[Added later:] Write this over into a book.

In a little log house, the Bernstein family sat cozily around the fire. The older children, Yehoshua, Breindy, Fishel, and Esther Shaindel, were reading their books, and the younger children, Boruch, Chaim, and Elisha, were listening to their mother read a book to them. Their father was putting the baby, Chayala, to sleep. Suddenly, the light got dim. “O.K.”, Mommy said, “Boruch, Chaim, and Elisha, it’s time to go to bed.” So they all went to the big bedroom. The bedroom was one big bedroom that was separated into a room for Mommy and Totty; a room for the two older boys; a room for the girls; and a room for the three younger boys. When everybody was asleep, Esther Shaindel crept out of bed and got a candle and a match. She got her book and crept back to bed. Then she lit her candle, put it on her bedside table, and snuggled down to read. She did this every night and got away with it. Maybe she won’t this time. Who knows? But anyway, she was reading the book. It was about a dragon that banged on a window of a house. Esther Shaindel’s bed was near a window. She looked up, but then went back to the book. The window was Hincy Pincy’s. The dragon broke through the door and gobbled up Hincy Pincy. Just then, Esther Shaindel heard a bang at her window. She huddled under the covers. Suddenly, she heard a shriek. She looked out from her covers and saw that her candle had fallen Her mother came running into the room. Suddenly, everyone was awake and shrieking. Breindy yelled at everyone “Get out! Get out! Yehoshua, grab Chayala, I’ll take Elisha, Fishel grab Chaim and everyone run out!” Esther Shaindel ran out with everyone else.

continue elsewhere [the story picks up on a loose sheet of paper further on in the notebook, on page 31 of the PDF]

As everyone carried pails of water to the house, Esther Shaindel thought to herself, bitterly, “I’m the cause of the fire. I shouldn’t have EVER read in bed.” Suddenly, she ran toward the house with her pail, threw the water in, and prepared to jump in! Everyone screamed. Esther Shaindel backed away and turned around. “Esther Shaindel,” her mother said sternly, “I want to know just why you prepared to jump in the fire. That is very dangerous.” Esther Shaindel just started crying and said, “Because I’m the one who started the fire. And I feel so guilty.”

[Note: It wouldn’t be such a terrible story if Mommy then comforted Esther Shaindel and told her it’s okay, she should never pay for her mistakes with her life, etc. But I didn’t end it that way, did I. Little me didn’t think that was a plausible ending.]
(pages 11, 12, and 31 of the PDF)

Dear Diary,

Today is Monday, 21 Teves 5758 / Jan. 19, ’98. A sad thing that happened to me is that I fell off a cliff. It was scary. Boy, was I scared! I broke both my hands, my right leg, and sprained my left ankle. I also broke my spine. I stayed in the hospital for 2 months. Afterward I still had my left hand in a cast, and I had crutches My back was in a brace, and it was really hard for me. But now, all I have left is my brace. None of you know about it. Oh, one more thing! In case you’re wondering, it isn’t true. Ha, ha, ha.

Another sad thing that happened to me is a car accident. By this one I wasn’t hurt much because…. I’ll tell you later. But my mother was hurt and my brother. Now I’ll tell you why. It’s because it didn’t happen either. Ha, ha, ha.
(page 15 in the PDF)

Dear Diary,

Once upon a time, I knew how to climb a tree. Now I don’t. I’ll tell you the whole story. One time I was climbing a tree that was 7 feet and 9 inches. Plus the leaves, it was 8 1/2 feet. I was at the very top of all 8 1/2 feet. Suddenly, I felt the ground rise up in front of me. I heard my mother screaming and yelling. I thought it was because she was thrown face flat on the ground. Then I lost my balance and everything went black. When I regained consiouss [sic], I was in the hospital. It happened that I didn’t know that the tree was to be cut down that day. The people didn’t know I was up in the tree. So they cut it down, and I came down with it. I broke my right arm and left leg. Now I’m fine but I had my leg in a cast for 1 month and my arm for 1 1/2.

‘Bye!
(page 22 in the PDF)

Dear Diary,

If I were a pencil, and my owner used me a lot, I’d be dead pretty soon. After all, if I’m used a lot, I’d be sharpened. Fast! Ow! Ouch! Don’t sharpen me so fast! Ow! Don’t jerk me out! Ah, this is good. I’m being used now to color in circles on an Iowa test. [Note: the standardized grade tests.] Ow-w-w-w! Don’t bite me! How would you like it if I bit YOU? Oops. My owner is putting me away. See ya later, Alligator! In a while, Crocodile! In a minute, Little Cricket!
(page 32 of the PDF)

Dear Diary,

If I were a spiral notebook then life would be miserable. I would be written in, erased in until there holes in me, and at the end of the day, I would be stuffed in a hot, stuffy breifcase [sic]. Like the time in middle of the day I was stuffed in it. Yow! I can’t breathe!
(page 34 of the PDF)

Dear Diary,

If I fell down 101 flights of steps, 7 steps in each, with spaces in middle, I don’t know what would happen! But let me tell you a story, because it’s true! I was walking down the stairs. Suddenly, someone said, “Move aside! I’m in a hurry!” He was pushing. I fell. I was rolling down. I was trying to stop my stubborn body from rolling. I wound up in the hospital, with a broken foot, 2 broken arms, and a broken spine. After 2 weeks, I was all better. Oh I forgot my head is still all bandaged! So just remember, don’t fall down steps! (even 1)
(page 35 in the PDF)

Dear Diary,

“Bang! Crash! Boom!” Oh-no! My books! Why are they falling out of my hands? Oh-no! I know why! I’m shrinking! I used to be the size of an elephant, and now I’m the size of a mouse! I wanted someone to notice, so I crawled into my locker and I started pushing out some books. “Bang! Boom!” All my books were out of my locker. My teacher said, “Chevy, please go pick up those books and close the locker.” So Chevy came and put the books away. Then she closed the locker. I started to bang and scream, but no-one heard me. I was locked inside my locker. I continued to scream. Suddenly I heard my mother say “Sha! Don’t yell like that. What happened?” I told her everything. “Don’t be silly. It was just a dream.”
(page 44 in the PDF)

Dear Female Paramedic

Stock image.


Dear Female Paramedic Who Saved My Life,

I treated you badly at first. I hope you can forgive me.

You were there to save me, and I didn’t want to be saved.

You stood over me as I curled up in the bathtub, trying to get me out – cajoling at first, then berating.

“Come on,” you said in a clipped voice, “you don’t want the men out there to come in and see you naked, do you?”

When I responded sullenly and said I didn’t actually care who saw my naked body, your voice became exasperated.

“Come on, you have to get out. You can get out on your own, or I can tell the guys to take you out.”

I turned my head around to look at you over my naked shoulder and said drily, “I haven’t even been trained and I can deal with someone who’s suicidal better than you, apparently.”

I’m sorry I said that.

I actually thought you were a good person by that point. You had shown compassion for five minutes already (or at least I think it was five minutes – my sense of time was way off by then), and I had done nothing but act like a belligerent toddler. I wasn’t commenting on your personal abilities so much as I was commenting on the FDNY’s failure to properly train their EMTs to deal with patients struggling with mental health.

I am glad, though, that I made you laugh afterwards. In a job that can’t be easy for you, I showed you – inadvertently, and from the depths of the fog I was in – that I sympathized with your position.

I can’t know for sure, but I think my comments, said from the grip of cynical and desperate hatred of the world, made you treat me with more sympathy.

When I finally agreed to get out of the tub, you wrapped me in a sheet and guided me out of the bathroom, into the living room where I could see the fuzzy outlines of a dozen uniformed men milling around in the tiny space.

“Gosh,” I said. “There’s like fifteen of you here! I’m just one person!”

You said nothing but guided me, hands on my shoulders, into my bedroom to get dressed. I curled up on my bed and shrunk into the corner.

“Are you the only woman in that whole posse?” I asked.

“Yes,” you responded, a quizzical smile twitching at your lips.

My vision was hazy and blurred, but I could see your face as you rummaged through my drawer and took out underwear for me to put on.

I felt the weight of your position, one woman among this group of big heavy men, and turned my face to rest my cheek on the wall.

“That sucks.”

You laughed then.

“Sucks for me? or for you?”

“For the world,” I said, and you were quiet.

Revolution in the Psych Ward

Every part of this story is true, except for patients’ names and the name of my friend. I left Mark’s name real, because he doesn’t deserve anonymity.


Adam kept to himself. He always chose an empty table for meals, and during activity hours, he sat in chairs that were farthest from everyone else. If someone approached his table or his corner and asked to sit down, he would nod vigorously but shrink imperceptibly, scrunching up his body so that he was smaller without actually moving away from the new person.

Sometimes, Adam would smile. His smile split his face in two. His eyes would crinkle up and laugh lines would appear. He would laugh – a loud, boisterous, infectious laugh. And as long as we all kept a safe bodily distance from him, we could join in his laughter and joy and he would look at us – just for a moment, making eye contact before his eyes darted away again.

During downtime, when no meals or activities were scheduled, I stayed in my room and read. My friend Margaret had brought me a five-book series she had been trying to convince me to read for a while. I had been too depressed to read anything for months, but here – in the quiet peace of the psych ward, when I had no worries because I could do nothing except eat, sleep, and be taken care of – I was making my way through all five books. I didn’t want to stay in the psych ward longer than I had to, but I set myself a goal: I would finish all five books before I was discharged.

Adam spent downtime pacing the halls. Head down, arms tight and straight at his sides, he marched quickly toward the door that led off the ward, made a quick about-face, and marched quickly to the other end of the floor. As he marched, he muttered to himself, and I heard him as he passed my open door:

“Stupid, stupid,” he would say. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. Stupid, stupid.”

***

On my second day in the psych ward, it was weighing day. Aides took our vitals every morning when they woke us to give us our medication. But once a week, we all had to report to the nurse’s room where we  would be weighed in addition to getting our vitals taken.

It was a jarring experience. I was one of the first to leave breakfast, and I stopped at the nurse’s room on the way back to my room.

Mark was inside, talking on the phone as he set up the equipment. I waited a moment, but his conversation didn’t seem to be ending. I knocked on the door.

“Sit down on the chair out there,” Mark said to me, and then back into the phone, angrily: “I don’t know what you want from me.”

I sat down in the chair and tried to remain calm. Mark was having an argument with someone on the phone, and I felt my anxiety rising. See, the world sucks. See, I was right. See, I don’t want to join a world like this. See, even in the psych ward when I’m supposed to be completely safe, things are horrible.

No, I told myself. Breathe. It’s okay. He’ll be done soon, and then he’ll be calm and quiet like all the others. And then I can go back to pretending I’m safe.

This was my first encounter with Mark. But it didn’t take me long to discover that Mark was not calm and quiet like all the other nurses and aides on the psych floor.

He didn’t finish his conversation. Phone still tucked between his ear and his shoulder, Mark came out of the room to start taking my vitals. He held out the blood pressure cuff and I stuck out my arm, as he said, loudly and vehemently, into the phone, “What do you want? I got you gifts, you don’t like them, what am I supposed to do?”

He wrapped the cuff around my arm and pumped. How can he be concentrating on my numbers while he’s arguing with his girlfriend? I thought. But I couldn’t let myself think about this. So I focused on a spot on the blank wall opposite me, and waited for this to be over.

He pulled off the cuff and held out a thermometer to me. I didn’t see it immediately, because I was still focusing on that spot on the blank wall opposite me. “Open your mouth,” he said, and I turned to look at him and opened my mouth.

“No, not you,” he said into the phone. “You, you need to stop worrying about her. Nothing is happening. She’s the mother of my baby, you want me to stop going over there?”

Almost over, I told myself, and blocked out his voice.

When I was done, I escaped to my room. I could still hear him because my room was close to the nurse’s room, and my door couldn’t close. My roommate was on a 24-hour watch, so the door stayed open while an aide sat outside the door, and of course I couldn’t put on headphones because no one on the psych ward was allowed to have headphones.

I read my book and tried not to pay attention to Mark’s voice.

Then I heard another voice. Louder, more strident, a voice I recognized from breakfast. Blanche, a warm and friendly fellow patient, had stopped by the aide sitting outside my room.

“Should he be on the phone while he’s doing his job?” she asked the aide. The aide shrugged. “No,” she said, with a lift of her eyebrows and a shake of her head. “He shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t.”

“Well,” Blanche said, “is anyone going to tell him to hang up?”

The aide shifted uncomfortably. “When the nurse gets here…”

Blanche wasn’t satisfied with that. She marched over to the nurse’s station. I had abandoned my book by now and was listening attentively from my perch on the bed, filled with a sense of purpose and pride in my fellow patient for standing up for the rest of us.

She demanded that Mark be told to get off the phone, and after some grumbling on his part, he did hang up and finished the rest of the vitals-session in silence.

***

It was my last day in the psych ward. I was being released later that day. A bit more paperwork, and then I just had to wait for Margaret to come pick me up and take  me home.

I was woken up to get my medication, I showered and got dressed, and I sat on my bed. I was almost finished with the books, and I wanted to reach my goal of finishing the whole series before I left the psych ward.

Outside my door, I heard two aides talking. One of them was assigned to my roommate, a woman who lay in bed and stared at the ceiling all day, often muttering things in a language I thought I could recognize as Hungarian but wasn’t sure. The other was Mark, assigned to a boy in the next room who was a suicide risk and needed constant supervision.

Mark was pontificating about another patient, in a room across the hall.

“Tell her she can’t go to breakfast unless she takes a shower,” he said loudly. “No one wants to sit next to a smelly, dirty person.”

I was shocked. This is coming from an aide on the psych ward? Even with all I’d witnessed from Mark over the last week, this was shocking. Does he not realize that telling a depressed person who doesn’t have the energy to shower that no one will want to sit next to them is almost murder? Does he not realize how harmful that is? He works on a psych ward, for crying out loud! How can a psych aide talk like that?

You’re leaving soon, I told myself. Just keep your head down, and you’ll be out soon. But then I changed my self-talk. You’re leaving soon, I told myself. The papers are already signed. You have the power to speak up now, because even if you lose yourself and start yelling or crying, they can’t extend your stay without a hassle.

So I got up and walked over to the door, where now Mark and the other aide sat chatting.

“Hi,” I said. “I just want to say something. I heard a few moments ago how you suggested that the other patient not be allowed to go to meals in the dining room unless she showers. I don’t know what that patient’s exact case is, but having struggled with depression myself, I can say this – taking a shower and going to a social space each takes a whole different set of energy. And I know you all want to get us up and going as much as possible. So if she musters up the energy to go to meals in the dining room but can’t shower, giving her an all-or-nothing ultimatum can actually set her back quite a bit. And to be told that she’s smelly and dirty – that can emotionally kill someone who’s already depressed.”

While I spoke, Mark looked at me with a slight smirk on his face. I don’t know what I expected to happen. I certainly didn’t expect to change his mind. But I also didn’t expect what happened next.

“You’re here to get better,” Mark said. “So go back to your room and get better.”

The air was punched out of me. The other aide, whom I had chatted with frequently over the past week, shifted in her seat.

“Yes, I’m here to get better,” I said. “We all are. I’m just suggesting that your approach, unless it’s been mandated by a doctor, is not going to help us do that.”

“You think we don’t get training?” he demanded. “You think you’re a doctor now? You think you know better than me?”

“I am sure you get training,” I said, keeping my tone even and calm. “And I know I’m not a doctor. I don’t want to argue this, I just wanted to say that.”

“So you think you can come out here and say what you want, and I’m not allowed to say what I want?”

By now, I was utterly shocked. But I maintained control by hanging onto the knowledge that Mark was an incompetent and arrogant idiot.

I tried to answer, but he cut me off, yelling and shouting. Every time I tried to make a point, he cut me off. I could feel my sense of powerlessness, of being silenced, rising, and I knew I had to stop this.

“That’s all,” I said. “I just wanted to say that.”

And I turned and went back to my bed.

Mark turned to the other aide and started muttering about me. I picked up my book, and found I couldn’t concentrate on the words. My hands were shaking. I forced myself to focus on the page and read each word in each line, slowly and carefully.

When the announcement came over the PA system that breakfast was ready in the dining room, the other aide came into my room to get my roommate up. She closed the door behind her.

“Thank you for saying that,” she mouthed at me.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I know I was overstepping.”

“No,” she said. “You’re right, of course. But Mark – he’s Mark. He does things his way, and he doesn’t listen when anyone tells him he’s wrong. He’s wrong about this patient, and don’t worry, we’re not actually doing that with her.”

Why, I wondered, if he doesn’t listen when someone tells him that “his way” is wrong and even harmful – why is he still on staff? Why hasn’t he been fired, or at least moved to a medical ward where he can do less damage?

I went to breakfast. Blanche was having a difficult day. She and I and the other two patients who had formed a little posse sat in silence at our table. Tears leaked from Blanche’s eyes once, and another patient reached out a hand to her. She grasped it for a moment, and then finished her breakfast and left.

Adam was sitting at the table next to us. After the others at my table had all left, I got myself a tea and sat at the table a while longer.

“Do you want my eggs?”

I was startled by Adam’s voice next to me. He was holding out his tray to me, the eggs glistening on the shiny surface.

“No, thanks,” I said. and smiled. He smiled, and his eyes darted down.

I left the dining room a few moments later. Back in my room, I continued reading.

Mark was now assigned to another 24-hour watch patient, an elderly woman who was physically fragile and often disoriented. At 1pm every day, she would demand to know where her purse was, and get agitated. “My husband is waiting for me,” she would say. “I need to get home. Where’s my purse? Someone stole my purse!”

Now, it was too early for her disorientation to set in. She was walking slowly up and down the corridor, as she did every morning. Other days, when other aides were assigned to her, she would walk slowly on the arm of an aide. When she got to the end of the corridor and tried to open the door, the aides would gently talk to her, soothe her, and turn her around for another lap.

Today, Mark leaned against the doorway of her room and watched her walk. When she got to the door at the end of the corridor and tried to turn the (locked) handle, Mark yelled at her, “Stop that! Come back! Turn around!” And then turned to the aide next to him and muttered, “Can you believe her?”

This time, I didn’t even have a chance to decide whether to say something or stay out of it. I heard Adam’s voice.

“You don’t have to yell at her,” he said to Mark. “You can be nice to her.”

Mark laughed and scoffed. “What is it, is everyone a doctor today?”

“I don’t need to be a doctor,” Adam said. “I’m a person.” And then he retreated to his room.

Mark huffed loudly to anyone who would listen, and some who wouldn’t. “Everyone wants to be a doctor today! They’re here to get better! They need to stay in their rooms and get better!”

Adam didn’t pace that day. In the activity room an hour later, he sat two chairs away from me. He looked up at me, a quick dart of his eyes, and I smiled at him. A tiny smile, proud and shy and so different from the big loud smile he sometimes had, bloomed on his face, and he ducked his head down again.

Margaret came to pick me up a few minutes after that. There were still ten pages of my book left for me to read.

Blanche came out of her room to hug me goodbye, and Adam watched through the glass window of the activity room, eyes focused on us, steady and unwavering.

 


Image from this NYT article

Updates

A while ago, I posted some initial reactions to the film Disobedienceand I promised a Part Two. It’s on its way… But some stuff has happened in between then and now that has delayed it.

In simple terms: I got busy. What with?

  • It’s the end of the semester, and I was responsible for the editing and layout of the year-end newsletter as a WAC Fellow at Hostos Community College. The newsletter will be posted to the site shortly, and is already being printed and distributed. (Of course, as soon as I got a printed copy, I immediately found three glaring layout errors. But since this was the first time I ever really used a layout program other than Word, I’m quite proud of myself.)
  • I attended the International Congress for Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo (which I intend to blog about soon, as well. But no promises!). Here’s one non-medievalist’s reactions to the Zoo!
  • I took care of paperwork for a summer job. Not glamorous or exciting, but I’m including it here because it took up quite a chunk of my time.
  • I set up a Patreon account and put together a booklet of my art-poems to begin selling my work. I’m still working on a video for that page.
  • I chatted with someone who was writing an article about Disobedience. She didn’t end up using my comments in her article, but I will be using my own comments in my review!
  • I met with someone who is creating a short film about an ultra-Orthodox woman, and I’ll be helping with the accuracy of the community’s portrayal.
  • I wrote some more of my dissertation, read some more books and articles, began mentoring an undergrad senior who’s interested in medieval childhood, and am gathering materials for some conference abstract submissions and fellowship applications for next year.

While you wait (or not) for my actual coherent review, here’s an IndieWire reaction-post about the film, in which I appear. I’m really glad they pulled a quote from me for the written portion of this piece, because that quote sums up all my complicated feelings about the film:

“What I really like about it is that it’s actually exploring two identities: It’s exploring the ex-Orthodox identity and the queer identity. What I think Rachel Weisz does so well is embody both of those identities together.”

(They call me Dani and a woman in the piece, but I guess we can’t expect them to be super-accurate when they’re just pulling people aside on their way out of the theater? Or maybe we could and should expect them to ask for name spellings and pronouns and gender identification in addition to sexual orientation in a context like this.)

A request for monetary aid

Dear blog readers:

I am going to the annual medieval conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, with the pattern of academic earning, summers are almost always financially difficult for me. And for various reasons, this year I’m a little more financially strapped than usual.

Going to the conference is important to me for a number of reasons. After resigning myself to not attending, and feeling like I would regret not doing everything I could to get there, I decided to run a fundraiser on YouCaring and ask friends and strangers for help. It’s a small, seemingly insignificant, cause to ask people to donate to. But it is immensely meaningful to me, and your donations (or sharing the link with others) will help me tremendously.

If you want to help me out financially by requesting a custom-made blackout poem, you can go to the link in the menu at the top of this page! (or here 😉) That way, you’ll give me the gifts of joy and poetry-making and giving, in addition to money!

The fundraiser: https://www.youcaring.com/dainybernstein-1171491

 

#MeToo

This week, I joined the chorus of voices saying “me too.” I wrote a Facebook post detailing some of the incidents I could remember. I was exhausted after I wrote it. I read it through again and thought, “How does one person experience all this and keep going? How have experienced all this and kept going? How is it that (more than) half the world’s population could generate a list like this and keep going?”

The week wore on and more and more of us began sharing individual details in addition to the simple and powerful “me too” of almost every womyn and many men. And as I read each one, I was reminded of yet another incident that had gotten buried away over the years, out of reach of my consciousness.

After being so horrified at reading my own post, I thought about the power behind a list coming from a single individual, not just a collection of huge incidents in the collective lives of womyn, but a collection of incidents, large and small, in a single woman’s life.

So I started writing down each time someone’s post reminded me of one more thing I had endured at the hands of rape culture, one more time I had felt afraid or threatened or powerless or objectified without my consent. This is the result – and I’m sure I could keep adding from memory. I hope there’s enough societal change that I won’t have any future incidents to add.

Goes without saying, but saying it to be sure: TW


Me too – when I met a female friend and she introduced me to her male friend, who spent the next half hour talking to me while looking at my breasts, which incidentally were covered in a crew-neck loose-fitting shirt, so obviously what I was wearing did not matter.

Me too – when I was packed into a crowded train and felt a man’s erection pressing against my back and could do nothing until the train pulled into the next station and I escaped from the car and bent over gasping for breath and then berated myself for not screaming, for being so paralyzed that I let it happen. (No, I do not blame myself anymore for freezing and feeling powerless.)

Me too – when at least three male professors on separate occasions made me feel uncomfortable, ranging from mild discomfort to worry, but I don’t feel safe going into any more detail than that now.

Me too – when a man followed my roommate and me from a train platform onto the train and seemed to be snapping pictures of our lower bodies on his phone, and we got off a stop early but he followed us off the train and out of the station, so we walked faster but he walked faster, so we turned sharp corners to shake him off and then walked around for ten more minutes before heading into our apartment to make sure he wouldn’t see where we lived.

Me too – when a student in a high school program I taught for did many small things that made me feel objectified though not unsafe, and I spoke to the male program director whose first response was to query whether I was overreacting to a teenager’s enthusiasm in class.

Me too – when I went for a walk in a “safe” neighborhood at 2am to clear my head, and a man followed me for five blocks, matching my pace step for step, and instead of clearing my head I had to pay close attention to where he was in relation to me, and I was afraid to go back into my apartment and afraid to keep walking the nearly-empty streets, so I went to my corner bodega and waited in the brightly-lit shop for twenty minutes before cautiously stepping out again.

Me too – when I told a male friend about moments of discomfort, unease, and fear, and he insisted that since the only reason I was afraid was a sense that something was off and I could not name any specific actions of the man in question that were obviously threatening, I had no cause to be afraid or to be rattled or to recount it as a moment of harassment.

Me too – when a man sat next to me on the train late at night, and I felt a little threatened, so I got up and moved to another seat, but he followed me and sat down next to me, so I got up and stood near the door, but he came and stood directly in front of me and berated me for acting like he’s someone to be afraid of and yelled at me that he’s actually married with kids (as if that should mean he couldn’t possibly be a predator), and all the other passengers averted their eyes while I endured his verbal barrage until I was able to get off the train at the next stop despite knowing I would have to wait twenty minutes for another train so late at night.

Me too – when I was waiting on a nearly empty train platform late at night and I was pacing and a drunk man started following me around and I made a beeline for the other end of the platform where two men were standing, two men who glanced over, assessed the situation, and went back to their conversation.

Me too – when the plumber put his hand on my leg, said “I like your body,” offered to have some “fun,” and continued pressuring me in my own apartment after I had already said no three times.

Me too – when a chasid in a van pulled up next to me as I waited for the bus and motioned for me to get in the car, and then appeared to touch himself (though I could not actually see his hand) while he watched me and I ignored him.

Me too – when two of my brothers touched me inappropriately, once when my sweater rode up and a strip of skin on my lower back was exposed, and once when I had leaned over and he had easier access to my skirt-covered-butt. (I have forgiven them for these youthful follies, after they matured into decent people and one apologized to me of his own accord, but I still blame the culture that enabled this treatment of a woman’s body.)

Me too – when my oldest brother used my nine-year-old body to experiment with his pubescent hormones (or whatever his motivations were).

Me too – when the same brother thought it was funny throughout my adolescence to tickle and poke my sides and to laugh, as I got angry and told him I didn’t enjoy it or find it funny.

Me too – when memories of the childhood abuse became overwhelming and I suffered bouts of debilitating anxiety as an adult, and I was told by my parents and two of my siblings that I should keep quiet about it for the sake of the family’s reputation and for the sake of my younger siblings’ chances at a “good marriage,” when I was expected to show up to family functions and pretend my abuser was a loving brother, when I was forced to smile and hide the screaming mess I was inside.

Me too – when I tried to gain closure by talking to my brother and instead got blamed by his wife for my ongoing trauma.

Me too – when “me too” happened so many times that I  remember some incidents only vaguely and some not at all, because who has the emotional energy and space to keep track of all of these.

Me too – for the big ones, for the hundreds of small ones, for every single one that grinds us down day after day – me too.

Updates to the Blog

I’m continuing to work on the format and organization of the blog. I’ve renamed some of the categories, which appear in the menu. I’ve renamed the blog – I realized that my old academic blog (Tales of a Wandering Bard) fits better with my conception of this blog than “Standpoint” does. Plus, “wandering Jew…” 😉 And I’ve updated the About page, too.

I also imported old posts from my academic blog and from my poetry / writing blog (The Quarrel with Myself). I’m working on updating the categories of each post, so that they all appear when you click on a category from the menu.

OTD: Where Are We Now? (Survey & results)

With the help of some members of an OTD Facebook group, I’ve created a brief “survey.” The purpose of this is not scientific. It’s simply a way for us to give voice to the multitude of ways in which people who leave frum Judaism achieve and define success.

The survey is ongoing. If it had a purpose other than providing a space to collect these responses, this would be terrible – you can’t draw conclusions from a survey whose responses were revealed while the survey is ongoing! But for our purposes, it’s fine 🙂

You can take the survey here: 

Responses (will be updated soon – any suggestions on how to post these so it’s all readable are appreciated! For now, I’m bolding every other answer so it’s slightly more legible):

Questions are: A. Current age; B. Age when you left the frum community (approximate); C. What do you do now? (Interpret this question broadly – job title; student; or a brief description of what you’re up to.); D. If you’re a student: what is your major? or What field do you plan to work in when you graduate?; E. Are you financially stable now?; F. Do you consider yourself successful?; G. How do you define your success?; H. Any other comments?

Respondent #1: A. 34; B. 30; C. I work at a non-profit.; E. Mostly; F. Yes; H. I was raised in a low-income family, and struggled financially during my marriage and post-divorce. After leaving the frum community, things were awful for a while. I didn’t have a job, didn’t have a decent education, and was dealing with the fallout of leaving the community which took a heavy toll on me emotionally, as well. Now, I’m working for an organization which I feel passionate about. I’m earning enough to take care of my family. I see potential for me to grow and do bigger and better things, and I am happier than I’ve ever been.

Respondent #2:  A. 21; B. 21; C. Copywriter, completing college.; D. Psychology, though I plan to remain in the creative field.; E. Yes; F. I’m successful in many ways, but had to halt my ambitions temp to work on all the trauma of my past, so my success has sort of been on pause the past few months.; G. Career growth and success, financial independence, cutting ties with my abusive parents, and honestly, being able to wake up every day in my own apartment and live, instead of committing suicide or landing up in a mental health facility.; H. Now that I disposed of religion, I can focus on things that truly matter instead of feeling guilty, scared, and pressured all the time.

Respondent #3: A. 30; B. 28; C. Struggling student; D. Cosmetolegist; E. No; F. No; G. By having a home, custody of my child and excellent paying work; H. To say that people leaving community don’t struggle is dangerous

Respondent #4: A. 20; B. 16; C. Student, Intern; D. Law; E. Mostly; F. Yes

The Consolation of Philosophy

Last week I read Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of This Planet, and I was euphoric for at least a few days, just going over and over the ideas and processing what it all means. I don’t know yet exactly what I think of all of it – and as soon as I have time after writing my papers these next few weeks, I’m probably going to re-read this book beginning to end again, and take much more detailed notes. I was going to write a blog post about what I was thinking about as I read and as I thought about it afterwards. But I realized I’m still thinking, so that will wait a while.

But then today I came across this piece by Stephen Hawking, Stuart Russell, Max Tegmark, and Frank Wilczek in The Independent. They discuss the “risks” of Artificial Intelligence: “One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand,” and emphasize that since AI inherently means that the technology will be self-improving, “Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.” 

This leads them to a call to consider the thought going into the development of this technology:

“So, facing possible futures of incalculable benefits and risks, the experts are surely doing everything possible to ensure the best outcome, right? Wrong. If a superior alien civilisation sent us a message saying, “We’ll arrive in a few decades,” would we just reply, “OK, call us when you get here – we’ll leave the lights on”? Probably not – but this is more or less what is happening with AI. Although we are facing potentially the best or worst thing to happen to humanity in history, little serious research is devoted to these issues outside non-profit institutes such as the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, the Future of Humanity Institute, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, and the Future of Life Institute. All of us should ask ourselves what we can do now to improve the chances of reaping the benefits and avoiding the risks.”

After a semester spent reading about and discussing decentering humans from this kind of discussion, reading this piece was an interesting experience. A few quick thoughts:

I’ve been focusing recently on spotting unquestioned assumptions inherent in choices – choices of words, choices of reading material, choices of subjects for discussion, etc. In this piece, the word “risk” jumped out at me as leaving some key points unaddressed. Talking about the “risk” of AI is assuming an inherently anthropocentric view, not feeling the need to define risk as “risk to humankind” or anything like that.

Instead, it just assumes that the only consideration worthy of being called a “risk” is the survival of the human race.

But the thing is this: When I read Cary Wolfe’s Before the Law, one of the issues I started thinking about was that if we decenter humans, amid the argument that we as humans have no right to destroy another species (leaving objects out of this for now, because I want to focus on beings that have agency in the more conventional sense than object-oriented ontology or thing theory takes into account), one of the things that could get lost is the right of the human to defend itself against destruction in exactly the same degree and manner as any other species.

But the balance between seeing humans as inherently the subject of the consideration of “risk” and seeing the human as parallel to other species in their right to survival is, I think, sometimes hard to strike.

When these scientists say we wouldn’t just sit back and allow it if aliens said they’re coming in a while, I get their point, but I think creating this AI technology is different because we’re the ones creating it. We would choose to fight the aliens, that seems obvious, given this posthumanist idea that every creature/species has the right to defend itself against attack from others, including humans.

But we can’t turn back time and erase the possibility of these aliens ever existing, nor would anyone agree that systematic genocide of these aliens before they can attempt to attack is a good idea.

How exactly is AI different? It’s only in that we are at the point of creating them ourselves. So what does ethics say about the choice not to allow the generation of a species that will be sentient? Are we committing murder by choosing not to create these sentient beings? What right do we have to decide that our lives, our existence, are more valuable than AI’s? What if AI is more beneficial to the world than humans could ever be? That would turn the idea of “risk” around, and say that the risk to the world in general is allowing humans to take control and annihilate AI before it can even come into existence.

I know this sounds extreme, and I’m not advocating that choices about the production of AI be made purely from consideration of these questions. The situations the scientists describe in the article are very real problematic considerations – creating AI weapons, creating AI tech that could demolish the economy – but these are all in the short-term.

When I posted a shorter version of this on Facebook, a friend commented: #frankensteinproblems. So yes, these ideas have been around for quite some time. The main question for me, I think, is what I mentioned about spotting assumptions inherent in choices – we come to any new idea, any new situation, with a set of assumptions we may not even know we have.

As humans, it is extremely difficult to imagine a non-anthropocentric world (a problem which Thacker discusses), as much as we may want to. Some posthumanist and ecocritical theorists I’ve read take it to another extreme, and (probably not purposely, I’d like to think) suggest that humans not even defend themselves if that means destroying another species or entity.

But humans are the only species (that we know of, which is part of the problem) that can/will even consider this question. A non-human animal, a plant, acting on “instinct,” will defend itself when it finds itself in danger without considering this question (as far as we can tell). If we as humans agree that we should act the same way, the tension between that decision and the fact that we can “see both sides,” as it were, consider the damage that will be done either to the self or to the opposing party, completely problematizes the whole situation.

The crux of this particular question turns on the fact that with AI, we’re not destroying anything – in fact, we’re creating something. But by choosing not to create, are we in essence destroying? And along with that question, is choosing not to create/choosing to destroy merely exercising the right shared by every creature and species to defend itself or is it exercising control over other species the way humans have been doing for millennia to the detriment of the planet? And finally, I don’t think the question has been satisfactorily answered yet (at least for me) – can we, and should we, as humans, choose an option that essentially seals our fate of extinction if it will result in a better “world”?