J. Cafesin

Author of Addicting Fiction

jcafesin.com


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Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Hope

My mom was a born again Jew—her response to my brother’s conversion to Christianity, and my unwavering commitment to Atheism. In her continuing effort to have me meet and marry a Jewish man, during my vagabond years she suggested I to go see Israel. She said it was the most beautiful place on earth, an oasis they’d turned from desert wasteland into paradise. She had taken the guided Hilton Tour. My mother never really saw Israel.

The moment I got off the plane I knew something was wrong with the place. Bullet holes riddled the walls of Ben Yehuda airport, which had plaques commemorating this or that war or terrorist encounter. I had traveled much of the world by then but had never seen anything like this. Military men and women, some no older than teens were armed with Uzi’s; grenades hung off breast belts lined with bullets. On the ride to Tel Aviv, the public bus was packed with soldiers. The French girl next to me leaned over and whispered, “Are those guns real?” Clearly even she thought it odd.

I rented a flat in the heart of the city for a month, and used it as a base to travel from. Using public transport and walking, I explored most of Israel and Egypt, spent hours on buses and in cafes watching and listening. A lone traveler, I was continually invited to join diners, and occasionally even into people’s homes to partake in authentic meals and enlightening conversations. Most everyone spoke English, and after a while an image of the people began to emerge. However, it was my strange encounter with a Islamic man that brought into sharp focus the plight of the Middle East, and ultimately, the world.

My last full day in Israel I took a bus north, toward the Lebanese border to explore the beach town of Naharia. I felt him staring at me from where he sat a few rows back. He was in his early 20’s, dark curly hair, swarthy, handsome. He was dressed in jeans and a Hard Rock Café t-shirt, but wore the traditional Islamic headdress with a black cloth band crowning a red and white checkered bandana that cascaded over his broad shoulders and down his back. The intensity of his gaze unnerved me. I assumed he was on his way to Lebanon, or the West Bank, but when the bus finally got to Naharia he go off too, and I got scared.

I tried to convince myself he wasn’t following me. I window shopped and then got some lunch in a very public café. I saw him meandering around town, often stopping to chat with small groups of men, but almost every time I caught sight of him he looked over at me. Eventually he went into a shop and I ran across the street and tried to disappear into some woods. The low pine forest was only a few hundred meters thick. The blue/green Mediterranean glimmered beyond the trees. When I finally sat down on a log at the edge of the forest I was sure I’d lost him. I dug my toes into the warm sand and looked out at the dazzling sea. The deserted beach was silent. Then I heard twigs breaking underfoot behind me as someone approached.

The Arab man came out of the woods a few yards from me. The thought of running seemed absurd. He could have caught me in a flat second if he wanted to. I stood up, spun around, and tried to make myself as tall as possible. Then I looked him straight in the eye and said in my harshest tone, “What the fuck do you want?” Cussing, speaking before spoken to, and looking a man in the eyes are things I’d been told Islamic women do not do.

He stared at me, startled, but didn’t respond. He probably didn’t speak English. And I didn’t speak anything but.

“Leave! Or I will.” I pointed back through the forest. He didn’t move so I started to walk away. I was scared out of my mind.

“Please don’t go.” He spoke softly, his voice deep and throaty. “You’re an American, right? I just want to talk to you.”

“About what?”

“I’ve just come back from the States.” His accent was English, but richer, more sultry. “I was two years in Boston, at university there. I’ve been back in country three weeks now, and I am missing the hell out of good conversation.” He smiled then, thick ruby lips curved into a gentle grin.

I don’t know if it was his tone, his easy manner, or his striking green eyes that made me stay. He kept distance between us, and slowly sat cross-legged on the sand in the spot he had been standing. Curiosity overrode every other feeling. I’d never spoken at length with an Arab. An opportunity to speak freely without the prying eyes of others could be educational, to say the least.

“I’m from Lebanon, but in my heart I’m an American. What about you? Where are you from?”

“L.A. Hollywood,” I clarified, since many outside of the States had no clue where L.A. was, but everyone knew Hollywood. The conversation spun from there, unraveling like a well worn sweater, venturing down the road of trust, slowly revealing ourselves.

He’d recently graduated from Harvard—not just for the prestigious MBA, and the connections to society’s elite, but also to study our people. He’d returned home to take his place beside his father, a wealthy statesman of some note, and it was going to be his job to advise on how best to “work with the infidels,” meaning the U.S, according to dad.

Strange mix of anger and fear. “I’ve never considered myself an infidel as an American. I thought that title was meant for Israel, or Jews in general.”

He laughed, but not like he thought it was funny. “And that’s exactly what Islamic leaders want you think. They will say anything to get media support. They ask for a little of the West Bank here, a little of Jerusalem there. After all, who can deny them since they’ve been there for thousands of years and have no where else to go?” He shook his head in shame. “Historically, Muslims have been ruled by tyrannical fundamentalists. The wealthy few distort and then push their twisted brand of religion to keep people ignorant. They preach from birth that in order to be faithful it is the duty, the responsibility of every Muslim to convert or kill all infidels. Through killing, the individual becomes divine, and will thus spend eternity in heaven basking in Allah’s glory. All who don’t believe as they do are targets, so the ultimate goal is the annihilation of everyone who cannot be converted.”

The sun set as he spoke, and murky twilight replaced the light. Again he shook his head. Profound sadness filled the space between us. In the States, he’d become agnostic, a humanist, he told me. Integrating with our mix of cultures and beliefs taught him we all basically feel the same things, want mostly the same things—a safe, supportive environment where our needs are met so we can thrive.

“My fanatical father insists it’s business as usual—finance the current regime and whatever one replaces it. But how can I support ideology like this and sleep at night? How do I stay here and marry into a faith I no longer believe, and raise my kids to rise above the ignorance that surrounds them? Reason, logic, sanity are all washed away with the fanatics who will sacrifice their children, or raise them to hate, and the killing never ends.” He sighed heavily, his despair visceral.

I sat against the log, not three feet from him, tears streaming down my face. I had no idea what to say. I was there because of my fanatical mother. She blindly believed Jews had imminent domain to Israel, had single-handedly turned a desert into a flourishing country, and chose to see only the beauty there.

“You’ve seen a different world,” I said to him softly. “You’ve become a different man. If you can change, you can help others change.” I shut up then. Platitudes at best. I sounded like my pollyanna mom. I had no idea if change was possible with religions talons buried so deeply into the psyche of his people.

We left the beach a short while later, as it was getting dark. We both had buses to catch to take us home. He told me to leave first, walk back without him, as it wasn’t safe to be seen together. A Muslim prince alone with a white western woman in public wasn’t proper, yet, he said with a wink.

I knew I’d never see him again, and was surprised by a stab of regret as I stood to exit the scene. Only a few hours in his company, and I felt certain I could love this man. Without embracing or a parting cheek-to-cheek kiss we said goodbye, and I ventured into the small pine forest towards town.

Unfamiliar with infatuation, I had the surreal sensation of missing him on the bus ride back to Tel Aviv, and still the next day on the plane home. He’d given me a view into the plight of the Islamic people, and a deeper understanding of the struggle of Israel, and ultimately the world against our fundamentalist neighbors. And he unwittingly gave me a profound sense of hope, knowing he, and others like him were out there.


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Republicans, Religion and What’s Right

The Tea Party rally was just breaking up when I picked up my daughter from her day camp at Central Park. A woman standing at the fringe of the crowd held a big poster that read: “Gay Marriage is a SIN! God said NO on Prop. 8! God says preserve DOMA!” On the poster was a huge cross. My nine year old daughter asked me what her sign meant. I told her it was against human rights and the woman was a nutcase.

DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, was signed into federal law by Pres. Bill Clinton in 1997. It basically said that legally valid marriage is limited to opposite sex couples, absolving individual states from extending the financial benefits and tax credits to which only heterosexual couples are now privy. And who supported this unconstitutional Act denying civil rights?

–Republicans for Family Values
–The Tea Party (Republicans)
–Focus on Family  (Republicans)
–Proposition 8 [banning gay marriage] supporters (And who were they? Proposition 8 got on the ballot backed by millions from the Roman Catholic Church, and the Mormon Church, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, and, well, you get the picture.)

The foundation of this nation is based on a separation between church and state. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights prohibits the establishment of a national religion by the Congress or the preference of one religion over another, non-religion over religion, or religion over non-religion.

Our civil rights should not, MUST NOT be a determined by the church, or be beholden to any religious sect or organization/s. I am an atheist. I don’t recognize the Bible, Old or New Testament as truth, and as an American citizen it is my federal civil right NOT to believe according to our constitution. Christian morality doesn’t apply to me, or the many gay people who wish to marry. It should be in their civil right to do so. Yet senators, congressmen, presidents still choose religious ideology over constitutional laws that guarantees every U.S. citizen equal rights and protections.

Regardless of their religious persuasion, our elected officials have sworn to uphold our constitution, including The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and have no right to push their religion’s morality onto every American. Millions of our tax dollars have gone and will go to lawyers and court time over DOMA, absurdly prejudicial and preferential legislation originally meant to limit states financial liability, without understanding, maybe even acknowledging the cost to civil rights. Right-wing extremists like the Tea Party and Focus on Family have adopted DOMA as a monicker, preaching biblical text that says homosexuality is a sin and it should never be recognized as legitimate. But I don’t believe in the bible. And I don’t think being gay is a sin. Sin is a religious construct meant to control followers. I believe indifference to suffering and willful ignorance are the greatest evils.

DOMA was repealed, as unconstitutional, in 2013 under President Obama and a Democratic congress. The Republican Reich fought it out in court after court, appeal after appeal, blowing many more billions in tax dollars over a law that should never have been written, yet alone endorsed and enacted. If the right-wing had its way, DOMA would have stayed the law, limiting marriage and the benefits that come with the union to only heterosexual couples.

Who cares? You’re not gay. Doesn’t really effect you? Not your fight? There are bigger issues out there of import…

Watch out! Yesterday, it was denying gay rights, and today, it’s banning transgender from military service. Tomorrow our Republican government may outlaw a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body, or interracial marriage, or maybe Jews again, or Muslims this time, or… You and your ideology may be next on the chopping block of the religious Republican Reich.


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On Suicide

I think about suicide constantly. It used to be my out— if life got too…much, I’d leave. Feeling nothing must be better than feeling bad all the time— my rejoinder.

My life hasn’t been very hard, not like the kids in Oakland hard. I grew up in a middle-class suburban neighborhood, when it was still safe to walk to elementary school. Never wanted for food, always had a bed, felt safe in the home of my parents. And, however abstracted, I got that they loved me.

What’s been so damn hard, always in my way, is…me. Born 2, or 200 yrs too early, I don’t seem to fit here. I’ve been on the outside looking in at this world for as long as I can remember. First hit me when I was around 5 yrs old. My mom would often laud accolades of my father in the store or the car on the way home from school—what a good artist he was, or how “smart,” and “passionate.” But at home, I saw him put his fist through the wood cabinet an inch from her face in a heated argument over politics. I’d seen him make her cower multiple times, listened to him demean her time and again with statements proclaiming her ignorance, or jumping down her throat when she dared disagree with him. The cognitive dissonance between what she said and what I saw put a glass wall between us, instilled mistrust. Perhaps I was delusional, or she was, but either way it took away my ground.

My mother came to visit many years after I’m moved from my parents’ home, and told me she wanted to divorce my dad. Though she never followed through, I know she was unhappy with him. After our divorce discussion, she never again professed her admiration of him, though they were together for another 10+ years before her death. She spewed hateful word at me about her husband of 47 years on her deathbed. What I observed at 5, and forward, gave me the real picture of my parents’ relationship, regardless of what my mother said. A glass brick in the wall of my emerging psyche. I’ve plugged into the difference between what people say and what we do ever since, much to my chagrin.

No, it’s not my parents’ fault I’ve spent a lifetime on the outside looking in. They tried to instill in me religion, be a part of the grand delusions the rest of the world apparently slavishly subscribes. But I’ve never been able to believe in a vengeful, rather ugly solipsist telling me what is right and wrong, acceptable and not, whom I’m supposed to believe in without question, or even speculation. Never been any good at blind faith. Suicide is not a sin. But it is all too often the indifferent choice.

It’s true, I still think about suicide often. I hear about Robin Williams, or Aaron Swartz, now Chester Bennington, and cycle on what they felt like right before killing themselves. Black, I imagine. And I practically live there. Have, as long as I can remember. But both Williams and Bennington had kids. And Aaron Swartz had thousand of followers who believed in and supported his fight for net-neutrality, me among them. And I feel mad at them, that they left. Then I imagine how it feels for their kids, how much they must miss their dads, and I’m overwhelmed almost to tears missing my mom. I imagine Aaron’s parents, having to live the rest of their lives with the death of their 26 year old son. And, as a parent of two teens, I stop breathing with the image and feel like I might throw up.

I brought life into physicality to experience living. And the experience of living— is feeling. The full range— happy, sad, mad, glad…whatever. No matter how hard things feel, no matter how black, if I take my own life I will invalidate the very reason I gave life. To feel. Dead, I will be robbing my children my love, the most intense, fantastic, and cherished of all feelings. And as much as I want to check out sometimes, there’s that cognitive dissonance again, followed by anger, and unfathomable loss. With, or even without kids, most people have family and friends who love them.

Feelings are dynamic. They change with time. Black morphs to gray, then violet, then sky blue some sunny days. I wish I could go back in time to the moment of choice for the aforementioned suicides, and the 40,000 annually across the U.S. alone, and remind each of the sunny days that will surely come again, especially when embracing and sharing love.

jcafesin.com


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The Layering of LIFE

Hiking on the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska a few weeks ago, I was trying to capture the iridescent blue/green light coming through the ice below my feet with my Canon Digital SLR. I took a few shots, with different apertures, from different p.o.v.s, but knew when I put them on the computer the picture would flatten. The spectacular translucence would be lost—look like a blue/green patch on dirty white ice.

At a photography store in Anchorage a few days later, I asked the guy behind the counter how one could pick up that exquisite depth of field of the light coming through the glacial ice on camera. Can’t, he said. But you can create it in Photoshop. Layering the image multiple times should bring back some of the depth the camera can’t pick up.

Layering…

It was like a light bulb went on in my head. He was right, of course. The camera can’t pick up the photons moving through ice, only the ones reflecting off the surface. But the word LAYERING reverberated in my head, as I’d been thinking about layering for quite some time.

When I’m not writing fiction [or blogs], I’m developing and designing marketing and advertising campaigns. I recently created an illustration of sound waves using an image off Google. Simply adding filers to the image made it brighter, or weirder, but still left it rather…flat. I lifted another image of radio waves, and layered it over the sound wave, filtering it to 50% opacity. Then I went back to Google Images and got another light wave, and another, and layered them with effects too. As I built out the image, layer upon layer, the picture became richer, deeper, more 3D, almost in motion.

A while back my father took a painting class where students replicated a favorite work of a Great Master. Dad picked Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. It took him five months to paint, which upon completion looked virtually identical to the real one.

How did you do that? I inquired upon seeing his work. Did you know your could paint like that? My dad had been a weekend painter most of his adult life. This class, a first since college, was his attempt in retirement to reinvent himself as an artist.

No! He practically giggled with delight. Honestly, this teacher was fantastic. She taught us all about Layering, from when the Romans began using it, to the Masters to the Impressionists. I’ve been painting for 40 plus years layering two, maybe three colors or tones. But in some areas on this canvas I must have used fiftyHe proudly showed me highlights on the girl’s face that nearly glowed, bringing her right off the canvas, as in Vermeer’s original. It’s all in the layering, my dear, he’d said back then with a grin.

Layering…hmm…

I’ve always been scared of old age. The prospect of getting old is so terrifying, at times not getting there seems the better option—hasten the end than drag it out with modern medicine. Watching my mother die of cancer and my father age hasn’t been pretty. It’s pretty scary. And I’m right behind them. Other than senior discounts, the upside of aging seems rather illusive.

Driving my daughter and her teammate to soccer last Friday, they chatted in the back seat about science class, both amazed by the video of Neil Armstrong on the moon, each trying to quote his words upon stepping on the lunar surface for their test on Monday. They didn’t know he said it grammatically wrong. They hadn’t been there to see the grainy black and white image turn upside down on TV. They hadn’t held their breaths, or felt the collective sigh of a nation, and of the world, when our astronauts returned safely home. They hadn’t experience the layers of that moment, that day, all the days of the moon mission, or the ones leading up to it, or since, for the most part.

Mankind’s first steps on anything but our home planet is a mere footnote to the two 5thgraders. The video image they watched in Science was a flat view of a definitive leap in human history. I’ve learned an undeniable gift of adulthood is understanding the significance of a given moment because of the layers of experience proceeding it. At 10, kids images are still just forming, their depth of field still limited to what reflects them, like the photons on the glacial ice.

Living through the moon landing created a page, a layer, a memorable slice of my time. Aging’s saving grace may be these collection of moments of living, layered upon each other, giving, if not wisdom, at least a broader range of knowledge and experience for a vibrant life picture.

jcafesin.com


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I SEE You

I am an Empath.

Wait! Before you roll your eyes and click off this blog, I don’t have any paranormal powers. It isn’t magic that I can read people. I’m not psychic. I can’t glean people’s “energy,” whatever that means, or any of that mystical crap.

What I can do, is tell you what you’re thinking and feeling, generally before you know.

How?

If I’m in physical proximity to you, your body (posture, eye contact…etc.), and facial expressions give me tons of data about what you are experiencing inside your head. We all have this ability to read physicality, though most people hardly pay attention to one another, except on rare occasions. Ever had a blind date? The first second you see your date in person, you can tell if they like how you look.

In person, or not— over the wire, or web, I ask a LOT of questions. And I listen to your answers. My brain picks up inconsistencies in what you’re saying, telling me you are lying to yourself, and subsequently…me.

The first time my DH (of 20 yrs now) met my mother, she said to him, “My daughter (me) was born old.”

What she meant was, I was born plugged in. I don’t know why. A genetic anomaly? My senses feel hyper-charged—touch, taste, sound, even vision (clarity in peripheral sight) seem heightened, compared to most (and not just by my reckoning). OCD? Bipolar? Maybe. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to process the massive amount of information I get from others, and it’s exhausting. And I hate it. And I wish I could shut it down, live like most everyone else.

Sort of…

I’ve picked up patterns in human behavior along the way. Lots! It’s another reason I can tell what you’re feeling, often before you know. I can now predict likely responses to an enormous array of specific stimuli. It’s a fantastic tool for writing believable characters. And understanding what motivates people is equally beneficial for developing marketing campaigns with great response rates.

Yet, I struggle with living plugged in. It’s emotionally costly. I lose myself while inside others, acutely feel their pain, their sorrow, their fears and hopes. I’ve tried to shut my senses down with drugs, both prescription, and not. I had an allergic reaction to Prozac that almost killed me, and no reaction at all to weed over time.

I’ve become a recluse for the most part. I limit my friendships to very few. I stay plugged into my two teens, my DH, my bratty, but cute Shepard pound hound, which serves them well, though at times, probably not me so much. I disappear, absorbed in them. (To be fair, the dog’s needs are simple. No hidden agendas, no unconscious complexities. She makes her feelings obvious. Thank you, Annie!) And while I’ll continue to choose living, be here for my friends and family, I must admit, there is, and has always been, a beckoning to shut it all down, turn off the input. Unplug, for good.


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Fitting In

Ever been sitting with a group of people, you may, or may not know, and everyone is talking amicably, and you’re sitting there listening, and you feel like an alien? Not a foreign national among a group of natives. More like you’re from another planet. Or they are.

I’ve known I was different for most of my life, always on the outside looking in at the world I live in, but don’t really get. But beyond abstractions like my atheism, there are actual, real differences that separate me from most.

1. I don’t drink alcohol. Can’t stand the taste of the stuff. Wine. Beer. Hard liquor. BLA! Even rum wrecks some would-be-great desserts, like tiramisu. Virtually the first thing that happens at any gathering is the ritual serving of the drinks. I always refuse, which immediately raises suspicions that I’m either a friend of Bill W, or on some fad diet, or a hippy-vegan. The first brick in the wall between me and the group.

2. I don’t watch TV. Too much of a time kill. I average three movies in the theater a year. I don’t watch, or follow sports. Any. Ever. I don’t know the latest shows, any of the actors, or what rock star is trending on YouTube. My kids turn me on to their music, my only source of what is new. And while I download what I like, I suck at remembering the artist’s name, and their faces too, quite frankly. I must have some mental disorder, because people who play no active role in my life just don’t register with me.

3. For the most part, I have no interest in discussing my kids. I don’t want to talk about their schedules, their soccer matches, their summer camps. I’m not interested in other parents sharing the cute, or even bratty things their 5 year old did or said. I’m with my kids a LOT. I don’t want it still all about them when I’m not.

4. As a woman, with other women, I feel particularly off-planet. I don’t care about sales, or shoes. I dress for comfort, prefer my old, soft, often ripped clothes to new. I don’t wear a bra, except when working out, or when it’s mandatory for business. I never wear makeup. I don’t even carry a purse. The diamond studs in my ears have been there for 30 yrs. I wear no other jewelry. I don’t have a lot, and I don’t want a lot, of things.

5. I’m interested in discussing the issues of the day, without being political correct, and with virtually nothing held sacred—an open forum of communication and healthy debate. But it seems every time I bring up global, national, or even local concerns, I create a void in the group’s dialog, this vortex of weighted silence. Either no one seems to have heard of what I’m talking about, or they have no opinion, or they’re too afraid to state it.

The bitch is, I want to fit in, be a part of, integrate as I see others do. Sort of. I just don’t want to DO what most seem to. I really could care less about celebs. And while I like playing racquetball, I’ve no interest in watching someone play sports. Pro athletes work towards excellence 24/7, yet somehow fans take on team victories as their own, while they sit on the couch downing beer. I just don’t get it. The ‘little bit of color,’ my mother insisted was mandatory, make most women who wear makeup look like clowns, or manikins to me. And it’s a rather ironic twist that the media convinces women they need cosmetics to be pretty, especially since it’s a proven cause of cancer, and cancer isn’t pretty. Additionally, I don’t wish to remain ignorant about global to local news, so not to disrupt my personal bliss. We really do need more than the few vocal social advocates we have now. In order for humanity to thrive, now and forward, we all must participate in solving issues of the day for our continued evolution.

Clearly, I am damning myself to the outside looking in. And while it’s unlikely I’ll develop a taste for alcohol anytime soon, I’m hoping through community, and global social media, to find others of like mind, as it’s so often rather lonely out here.


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What is ADDICTION?

On Prozac? ? daily? 2 sleep? Then tell Urself, Ur not ? DISCONNECTED:

“Unabashedly unafraid, completely honest writing…absolutely gorgeous stuff.” 
RJ Keller, bestselling author of Waiting for Spring
“Vivid. Sharp. Strong. Realistic.” 
Robyn Engel, Award-winning blogger of Life by Chocolate
“Engrossing! Thoroughly enjoyable read.” 
Bert Epstein, Scribd Reviewer

“Driven, like the Hollywood fwy at midnight–fast, engaging and peppered with many poignant insights.”

Brittney, Writer’s Cafe Reviewer

“Beautifully told. Voice and movement are excellent.” 
Cherokee Scribe, award-winning editor/columnist, WDC Reviewer

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