Draw, Sing, Dance, Shout from the Rooftops: Je Suis Charlie

BLOG- Je Suis CharlieI’m writing this post because I can. I have that right.

And yet, I have to admit, I’m scared.

I’m scared to google: Charlie Hebdo.

I’m scared to go to a kosher supermarket, a synagogue, a yeshivah.

I’m not scared to the point where I won’t actually do those things; but I do them with forethought.

For months after 9/11 the only way into Manhattan was by subway. As the Q train sped across the Brooklyn Bridge, I put my hands over my face, my head in my lap and prayed. My friend, Susan, took one look at me and said, “I don’t believe what I’m seeing. Are you crazy? What do you think is going to happen?”

I didn’t know.

What I did know was that on the morning of 9/11, while phone lines were still intact, I called my husband, hysterical. I told him I was watching TV and that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I said the building was going to go down. Even as the words came out of my mouth, I didn’t really believe what I was saying. My husband told me I was being ridiculous, that the building would not go down.

But it did.

Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical weekly newsmagazine named after the American Peanuts character, Charlie Brown. The magazine is known for its provocative cartoons mocking political leaders and religious extremism.

All extremism- Catholic, Jewish, Muslim.

“Charlie” is pro-freedom and believes that the best cartoons make people laugh and think.

Extremists don’t want people thinking independently. Education is like kryptonite to extremists. (See: Teach Children and Change the World.)

Twin Pencils It’s true that Charlie Hebdo cartoons have been inciting havoc for years, and after seeing images, I agree that some are racy and even disrespectful; but in a free society, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to look. You can boycott or protest- you can write, draw, dance, march, sing your opposing point of view; but you can’t murder.

Voltaire, a French philosopher and advocate for freedom of religion and freedom of expression said, “I hate what you are saying, but I shall fight so that you are able to say it.”

Friday night, at our Shabbat dinner table, my family talked about the killings at Charlie Hebdo, we talked about the murders at the kosher supermarket and we talked about the march in Paris for solidarity.

I brought up that in response to the supermarket incident, a women commented online, “Why should anyone have sympathy for a group that thinks that regular food out of the regular grocery store is unfit to eat.”

Thankfully, someone wrote back, “That is an incredibly racist and ignorant comment.”

But the questions we are left to grapple with are:

How do we deal with such hatred and naivety?

And how do we fight terrorism while protecting our civil liberties?

Before the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, the magazine was in financial trouble and did not have a huge following. Weekly, the magazine printed 60,000 copies with less than half being sold. But since the massacre, one million copies of the first issue were planned. It was then increased to three and later five million copies. In the end, seven million copies were printed. Ironically, just like with the film The Interview, terrorists have called worldwide attention to, and spurred interest in, subjects that might have gone less noticed.

And as a result of their heinous crimes, we have joined together, and in that solidarity there is commitment and strength. Who knows what will change, or if anything will change at all; but every small act matters, and if the terrorists hadn’t attacked Charlie Hebdo, I probably wouldn’t be writing this post, mostly, because my dedication to freedom of speech wouldn’t have been on my mind; but also because if I didn’t address my own fears in writing this, terrorism would be working.

While I’m not as brave as the editor at Charlie Hebdo who said after an attack in 2011, “I’d rather die standing up than live on my knees,” I embrace his sentiment, and this post is my banner, my contribution to the fight.

I am freedom.

I am Charlie.

Je Suis Charlie

Writing: It Could Come Back to Bite You

Photo of flowers in brick I keep hearing the same thing over and over again in regards to my blog.

“You’re so honest.”

And, as if I didn’t understand this the first time, I get, “No, but you’re really honest. ”

I interpret this as a warning. And after ten posts, I’m feeling it. Shut down. Censored. And I’m having trouble writing.

I go back. I reread. I don’t know what everyone is talking about. Don’t we all fight with our spouses? Don’t we all have medical concerns? Don’t we all go to the bathroom?

Okay, I’m sorry to bring that up again but I’m fighting against censorship here. I had 3 posts lined up for last Tuesday and according to my friends I couldn’t post any of them.

As I developed the piece, Desire and Marriage: A Parodox, my friend said I could not post anything that had the words stool softener in it. “No guy will ever look at you again!”

When I repeated this to a different friend, also married for over two decades, she said: “No pun intended but who gives a shit.”

Later when I told my husband I was worried about revealing too much, he thought about it and said, “It could come back to bite you in the ass.”

The jokes were endless. Even punctuating with a colon got a laugh.

Then, there was this other piece. I’d written it with passion, okay, I admit it, I was a bit irate but I didn’t think it showed. Just to be safe, I checked with a friend and after reading it, she said, “I agree with you one-hundred percent but you can’t post that. You don’t want to be known as The Angry Blogger.”

All of this to say, I got stuck.

I called Alison #2. I named her Alison #2 because she is the Alison who is teaching me about social media. She is the Alison who is a writer and has her own blog, Very Curious Mind. I named her Alison #2 so as not to confuse my friends who know of the original Alison, Alison #1, the writer and author of The Adults who worked with me for years on my novel. Both Alisons are smart and brazen. Both Alisons have been vital to me: part teacher, part muse, part therapist. They’ve helped me fight through my fear. Alison #2 reminds me that writing what others won’t say is part of what artists do.

And I don’t get it really. What’s the problem? I go back again. I reread. I look at other people’s blogs, and see how bloggers sometimes disclose how much they’d pay for a haircut or purse, there are pictures of their children, the insides of their newly renovated apartment, their perfectly organized closet.

Now, those things seem private. Those are things I wouldn’t share.

So here’s what I’ve come up with. I’m comfortable (mostly) revealing my feelings, sharing my thoughts, but my spending habits and a photo of my headboard are off limits.

Maybe it’s just that I’m willing to look less than perfect. It’s what makes us human. I’m not ashamed to say I fight with my husband, I mess up with my kids, I forget to call my parents. And while all of that is true what is also true is that I would do anything in the world for them.

“I believe we don’t chose our stories. Our stories chose us. And if we don’t tell them, then we are somehow diminished.” (Honor Moore quoted in Dani Shapiro’s book Still Writing.)

I am reminded that I need to work hard to ward off my inner (and outer) censors.

My father says that as a kid, I always had to get the last word. Maybe that’s why I write.

Maybe that’s a flaw I shouldn’t reveal.

And maybe it simply doesn’t matter.