Photos from the cat cafe

Hi everyone! Sorry for spamming y’all with photos; I’m not sure where to put them that I can easily link to other than here. Where do people do that besides instagram and facebook?

This calico was a little persnickety. She didn’t want pets but was very interested in playtime.


"I caught it. Now what? huh?"



Couldn’t resist a blep even if it’s not a very good picture.


glamour shots



This lovely mediumhair liked me (the feeling was mutual!) and tolerated both petting and close-up photos.

toe! floof!

All photos before this point are straight from the camera. The following two I cropped for better cat appreciation. Someday I’ll un-lazy enough to edit photos but today is not that day.

Counting the omer

When I was a kid, my dad and i would sit together every night before bed and count the omer. It was a special "us time", counting together, practicing the numbers in hebrew and doing quick math to turn the day-count into weeks.


Marking time is good for me. I get depressed, especially but not exclusively in winter, and I struggle with time slipping away from me since I exist in an relatively unstructured life. There’s bills that need paying, there’s laundry that needs done, there’s groceries and cat litter and medication refills, so I have to pay some attention and stay tethered to a linear timeline.

But there’s also the cherry trees blooming, including the one outside my kitchen window that tends to hit a little earlier than the rest. There’s traditional shabbat services I help lead the 2nd shabbat of each (gregorian calendar) month. There’s flipping the month over in each of the 4 calendars in my apartment. There's shabbat shalom texts in the family group chat. There’s looking at the Radical Jewish Calendar when I feel disconnected and unimportant, and seeing things that happened today in history connected to my political and philosophical and religious ancestors, seeing ActUp meetings and activist yahrzeits next to the week’s torah portion.

Judaism is not, broadly speaking, for people who feel like they have it all figured out. It is for people like me and people like you, people living a day at a time and trying to have that make sense in a context, in any context. It is a religion of people for whom counting each day, one by one, between the pilgrimage holidays of liberation and of receiving the torah, of planting and harvest, is an achievement. Of people who struggle with introspection and self-improvement, of people who have mental illnesses or trouble existing sometimes, who come from weird families and broken people and persistently forever trying to overcome intergenerational trauma and hereditary mental illnesses.

It is for us.

This is the second year of my adult life I’m counting the omer with the sefirot. For each day, we say the standard blessing, count the days in between, mark the time, and think on a combination of Gdly attributes. I use this guide, primarily, tweaking wording as occasionally my interpretations of the attributes differ from theirs (based on my surface level learnings from Rav Wikipedia, of course). There’s a bunch of similar guides on Ritualwell, including this list of shorter daily prompts. I am tracking my daily reactions to the prompts in this Mastodon thread if you’d like to read them.

The sun will set tonight, and rise tomorrow, and set again, and after each of these sunsets I am committing to (at least) saying a few sentences in hebrew with a blessing, and if I can manage it thinking about chesed/gevurah/tiferet/netzach/hod/yesod/malchut in pairwise combinations, reflecting on whether I am managing that particular combination (in that order) well or poorly, where to improve, what my goals are, and who I want to be.

Corpus thoughts and rec

First, a warning.

If you have medical trauma, this book will be hard to read. If you’ve had to face serious illness, it will be heard to read. If you’ve had to deal with chronic health problems, if your brain lies to you sometimes, if you are disabled: reading this anthology will be hard, because you will see yourself and your loved ones in it. Don’t feel obligated to read it, but it’s cathartic as fuck.

Corpus is a comics anthology divided into three sections: physical, mental, and medical. It’s abundantly clear from the stories that's not a neat or exact division. Many (most?) of us have experiences in more than one of the categories. Buy it here digitally: https://gumroad.com/nadiashammas

One nice part of anthologies is how diverse perspectives and experiences can be represented in the same book. There’s a huge variance of perspective in disability perspectives and art styles and writing styles and experiences and diagnoses.

I picked up my copy at Emerald City Comic-con, met a few of the contributors, asked them to sign their stories. Even without that experience, everything in here is so intensely personal that I feel like I already know these people. There’s trans mental illness stories and medical mistreatment stories and diabetes problems stories and other stories shared with people I love, and sometimes even with myself. Hereditary depression. Unsure self image. Asthma. Not knowing your own limits. Knowing them way too well because you can’t stop crashing into them. "Mental illness is something that happened to other people."

No other book I’ve read has reached so intensely into experiences of illness and messy embodiment, or represented them so well.

I don’t feel all of these ways all the time. But I feel many of them some of the time, and at least one of them most of the time. The core of the chronically ill experience resides somewhere in this book.




TransJewCon and an abundance of disability feelings

I’d heard of Rabbi Emet Tauber zt’’l before my New York trip, and very much wanted to meet him at the Trans Jews Are Here event (or elsewhere, I’m not picky). Because I didn’t know him, because our social connections remained indirect, maybe because he didn’t know either, I had no idea he was so close to death. Even though I don’t know him, R’ Emet’s death is fucking with me, emotionally. I forget sometimes that EDS is terminal, not just inconvenient and disabling. At least one of my favorite people has EDS, as does their kid; my old doctors thought i might too.

I know I’m not supposed to want a cure, or feel sad about disability, but the abundance of people like me in communities like mine is rough. How many people die young, and how many of us are suffering? The number of disabled folks at Trans Jews Are Here was both fulfilling and difficult for me. Disability and impairment rob us of productivity, not just in the shitty capitalistic way but creatively, spiritually, interpersonally, religiously. It’s at best a tax paid in money or time we could be spending elsewhere, whether due to demanding access in a world built for other people or pushing back against a body behaving poorly or both. How much time that could be spent creating trans jewish art and spaces and community is spent waiting at the pharmacy? We are suffering, and some of the best of us are dying young. How many Jewish trans folks are destined to become rabbis but can’t? How many trans disabled people are destined to become Jewish but can’t?

It’s frustrating existing in a world not built for you, and it’s lonely as hell having to build so many spaces, to put time into projects that might disappear, even just as an attendee to balance complaints and criticisms with worries about whether they'll be seen as an excuse to cancel the next one. Disability is alienating. Transness can be too, depending on where you are; same with Judaism. It is hard to be like this and find community, even temporary, even in miniature talmud retreats and friend of friend connections, in chavurahs that make a minyan maybe once a year, in I-see-you nods across a crowded shul to the other GNC mobility device user, in sitting on the sidelines with a nice lesbian couple at the yiddish socialist concert where your chevruta’s in the opening band and you were worried about there not being a place to sit but wanted so badly to go anyway.

It feels so good and beautiful and necessary to make these spaces, and it is so tiring, and much harder if you’re disabled. My favorite part of this weekend was that I didn’t have to plan it, that I was around so many trans jews and I didn’t have to pinch-hit read torah or set myself a reminder to ping the email list or see if my friend is out of the hospital or give people rides or check on the organizers. I’m burning out, and I don’t work, and I have a secure living situation, and I don’t do this full time or for a living, and if I stop, maybe the next Emet will die before he finds any of us, so I can’t stop.

I can’t stop thinking about how I don’t have the mental energy to lead two seders this year, so I won’t be doing another internet seder when the one last year made me friends and was the only one at least two people could attend and the only one more people wanted to go to.

I can’t stop thinking about the many, many, many trans jews by choice I know, so many also disabled, continuing to struggle to find a class and rabbi that doesn’t deny their existence, that doesn’t take transness or queerness or nonbinariness as a reason to reject someone, when they deserve a community that will truly bring them into the fold and love them fully as trans jews.
I can’t stop thinking about the Kaddish podcast episode about trans tahara. What happens when nonbinary Jews die? Who performs tahara? Do I need to up my observance levels and go birth stealth and be trained so there is somebody here? Can I even do that, physically? What if I die, what if my friends die, what happens?

I want the world to be better than it is, for us and for them and for future generations, and I constantly run into inaccessibility struggles for myself while trying to bring the world into a position closer to the next, tiny increments closer to wholeness, repair, moshiach. I’m holding fragments. We are all holding fragments. What now?

All the wrong people hate themselves

There’s a meme, an adage for the modern age, that states: all the wrong people hate themselves, except me. I deserve it.

It’s a self-mocking thing borne of whole social groups of depressed nobodies trying to do well. We love each other, and don’t understand why our friends don’t like themselves! Until we realize, one by one: oh. Same jerkbrain.

For some of us, it gets channeled into betterment of ourselves or of the wider world. Some of my favorite people hate themselves, and channel it into activism or art or other tikkun olam work. And some of us stare at the wall and read half a book and feel sad about it.

I just want to know things, and make yarn, and turn yarn into fabric, and watch the trees bloom. I want fewer people to die before their time, whether that’s due to natural disasters or unaffordable medications or interpersonal violence at any scale.

I want a lot of things, and I want to be a better person, and I have a sneaking suspicion that some people I think of as "better people" hate themselves too, that their admirable acts are fueled by "maybe this will make up for my inadequacy" or "my mistakes" or "my past".

You don’t have to make up for anything. I do, though, of course. All the wrong people hate themselves except me.

Retaining agency in death

One Saturday in March, 1911, a New York factory full of recent immigrant workers—Irish and Jewish women, mostly—were working their shift, locked into the building as per usual. A fire broke out. They could not leave. They died.

Mayn Rue Platz was written in 1911 by someone who worked in sweatshops, about his family and friends who worked in sweatshops, after the triangle shirtwaist factory fire. A yiddish poem about death in sweatshop conditions, bodies left to burn up and be forgotten by all but their families. Its been put to music and sung multiple times, in multiple languages. My current favorite is Geoff Berner’s version available on Bandcamp.

The sweatshop workers did not have a choice about their post-death situation. Most bodies were unidentifiable, inseparable from the ruins of the factory—their final resting place.

I’ve been thinking a lot about agency after death. About whether people’s wishes are respected, and how particularly dehumanizing it is when they’re not.

Trans people are misgendered in death all too frequently. The deceased’s blood relations often end up making decisions of obituary wording and names used; if the person wasn’t out to their family, or had cut ties, or had bigoted family; if the family’s not in the picture, but the person hadn’t been able to update legal documentation of their name or gender; endless reasons, really. We slip through the cracks a lot.

It’s cultural violence when we are misgendered after our deaths.

James Miranda Barry, renowned surgeon and medical pioneer, was a man assigned female at birth. He was not widely out in life. He did have lovers, and bore at least one child, but he was a man and viewed as one until the day he died.

Once he passed away, not only did people find out he was trans, but his story began being told differently. Some now see him as a pioneering woman, in fact.

There is a cis woman writing a book about him, under this assumption. To her, Dr. Barry acted as and dressed as a man only to gain the social power and prestige men hold; to her, he was truly a woman all along.

How do we affirm someone's specific humanity in death? Are cultural practices recognized, or personal wishes, when the two conflict?

Are our bodies cleaned and prepared for burial, or unconsidered trash? Are we buried in marked or unmarked graves, or even at all? Are our requests about our bodies honored, if we even thought of having them?

What of fictionalization in a way that erases one’s true nature, or the struggles one faces?

The publisher has since said they are still publishing the book, announcing today (February 26, 2019) on twitter:

"In response to the discussions arising from the acquisition of the novel The Cape Doctor, Little, Brown publisher Reagan Arthur says, ‘As publishers, we support the freedom of writers to imagine any kind of life and situation, including ones based on historical people and events. E.J. Levy has written a novel that it [sic] is based on a real person, Dr. James Barry. it is a work of imagination, not a biography or a representation of fact.

‘Over the last week, we have listened carefully to members of the transgender community and their allies. We will work with E.J. Levy to publish her novel with sensitivity to the issues that have been raised, including the use of the proper pronouns to describe Dr. Barry’s embodiment. These are important issues that we take seriously, and we look forward to continuing this conversation as we bring The Cape Doctor into the world.’"


A true representation of trans life, and respect for trans death, may start at using the correct pronouns but it does not end there. I do not believe that the book that results will truly respect his legacy, or his life. No matter how many individual trans people serve as sensitivity readers, no matter if he/him pronouns are used in the book, the veneer of fictionalization has been spread by someone who sees Dr. Barry as a woman. It is a profound insult, a shame and a disrespect to a gentleman who lived a hell of a life, to treat him this way. I only hope that competing publishers are seeking out trans man authors to do his story justice.

Queen Anne branch

Hi! Been a while, but I’m back to going on these library adventures. More or less. Most recent one was after we got all that snow, when everyone was getting all stir-crazy and outside looked really gross.


Anyway, the Queen Anne SPL branch opened on January 1 1914, originally. It was renovated in 2007 and then again in 2018. They put in some great stained glass in the 2007 renovation. Apparently it’s listed on the register of historic places. It’s another Carnegie library building, nice architecture (besides the relatively large number of stairs) and windows allowing what little sunlight there is to help out, and all that.


There’s three whole named spaces; I’m in the Linda Larson and Gerry Johnson Family Reading Area, as I write this. The children’ area also has a name, as does the meeting room that i accidentally walked through on my way in where tax help is happening.


I don’t know how many of the Seven Classic Whatevers mixed media pieces I’ve seen, but I’m guessing about four? There was one here.

I ended up sitting adjacent to the YA/teen sections, which wasn’t a dedicated zone or anything but just where the books are. I really liked that they explained simple things like this in ways that meant you didn’t have to talk to anyone.

Also, the bathrooms are locked, but at least one of them is nongendered and the key just hangs out right by the door. If you gotta lock a bathroom, might as well have this be the way.


I love dogs. I've always loved dogs.

Ok so: if you don’t like Jupiter Ascending that’s fine. I don’t wanna hear about how it’s trash or whatever. I am specifically stopping myself from writing apologies or excuses for bad parts of the movie. Here’s why I love it, spoilers included.

Jupiter Ascending is the story a million little girls grew up wanting. Jupiter’s an undocumented immigrant who cleans toilets for a living. She eats dinner every night with her large obnoxious family, including a sketchy cousin, then finds out she’s set to inherit a fuckin’ SPACE EMPIRE. She’s not great at things all the time either—actually yells and clings to Mr. Handsome Eyeliner when flying uncontrollably! uses the sticky side of a pad to try to absorb blood from a wound!—and I for one am charmed.

Anyway, the villains are a trio of siblings that hate and/or want to seduce each other. The movie toys with themes of genetic destiny, of rebirth, of the rich literally killing the poor so they can live longer more beautiful lives. There's gorgeous dresses and fascinating hair choices and confusing dramatic reveals and not-quite-hidden anticapitalism. It’s a movie built from the secret imaginary worlds we sometimes take too far and into weird places and what if they were real, you know?

Plus, Jupiter's got a mysterious sexy wingéd werewolf boyfriend with rocket boots. Will he gain the redemption he desires? Will he re-learn how to get along with his partially-bee ex in time for them to save the day?

For every hundred adolescent-boy-fantasy movies, there’s maybe five little girl fantasy films, and maybe one of those gets to be weird. This is a truly bizarre-ass movie that feels like it fell out of someone’s imagination wholesale and I love it deeply and wholly.

Tu Bishvat Seder

Tu Bishvat is the new year of the trees! The "tu" in the holiday’s name means 15; the month is Shevat; B’ means of. So: Tu Bishvat. Most of the traditions for the holiday involve fruit. Some eat a new-to-them fruit; some make a point to find and eat carob/St John’s Bread; some just eat any particular fruit for the first time that year.

Kabalist Arizal (R. Isaac Luria) started some of the traditions for Tu Bishvat, including the seder itself organized around the sefirot, attributes of god, and mystical levels of reality.

R’ Luria had a tradition of eating 15 different types of fruit, which sounds like a fun challenge, so that’s what we’re going with. We’ll be eating these in a few stages, but if you need to snack obviously go ahead and do so, just don’t finish up anything we haven’t gotten to yet.

My least favorite thing about Tu Bishvat is what the zionists have done with it, centering the whole thing around the contemporary state of israel and fruit from/of there and its colonialist green-the-desert ecology. Fuck that shit. Let’s practice some diaspora-centered earth-friendly traditional hippie judaism.

There are four glasses of wine or nonalcoholic alternative, like at Pesach, but this time forming a gradient from light to dark. These correspond with the four worlds, ABiYA, each of which has connections to Gdly attributes.

Let us begin.


ONE
Pour a glass of white wine. Don’t drink it yet.

Azilut is emanation. It is where the infinite light of Gd still exists and is connected to its source. It is a dimensionless point, both fixed and diffuse.

The Gdly attribute associated with azilut is chochma, or wisdom. Chochma means a lot of things, including that first inspiration moment where an idea exists without limitations. This plane of existence is beyond even the highest angels; it is part of the concealed world, along with the next world/level we will explore.

Remember back to the perfection of summer, lying on the beach and listening to the water, being part of something bigger than yourself. Unquestionable good, if you believe in that sort of thing.

Wine blessing:
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם בורא פרי הגפן
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, borei p'ri ha-gafen.
Blessed be You, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Traditionally, we eat the fruits and nuts where the outside is inedible but the inside you can eat. I’d like us to take a fruit from the most local source available and eat it. Fruit! Right here! In January! It’s very cool.

Fruit blessing:
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם בורא פרי העץ
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, borei p'ri ha-eits.
Blessed be You, who creates the fruit of the tree.


TWO
Pour a glass of white wine, but leave room for a couple drops of red. Or pour a glass of rosé.

The second world we visit tonight is beriya, the world of creation. Here, things exist, but without form. The Gdly attribute for this world is bina, or understanding. Self-awareness begins, the separation of other organisms from Gd.

In Autumn, we eat apples and crunch leaves and begin to worry about the cold creeping in. The world increases in complexity and we have some FOMO for summer fun.

Wine blessing:
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם בורא פרי הגפן
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, borei p'ri ha-gafen.
Blessed be You, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Here we eat fruits with a pit and no shell: soft edible outside interrupted by hard inedible inside. Olives, dates, cherries and other stone fruits. Jewdas suggests fruits that are edible due to a combination of human ingenuity and nature, which is pretty much all fruits as far as I’m concerned, but let’s eat olives and celebrate.

Fruit blessing:
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם בורא פרי העץ
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, borei p'ri ha-eits.
Blessed be You, who creates the fruit of the tree.



THREE
Pour a glass that is half red half white.

The previous two worlds are part of the concealed world. As autumn becomes winter and we pass from the concealed to the revealed world, we progress closer to the world we inhabit.

The third world is yetzirah, or formation. Beyonce’s here, probably, along with the rest of the angels.

The Gdly attributes here are the six at the branches of the tree of life: the emotions. Shit gets increasingly complicated, as we get closer to the material world.

There is Chesed, lovingkindness; Gevurah, discipline/severity; Tiferet, beauty/symmetry/balance; Netzach, endurance/eternity; Hod, sincerity/surrender/splendor; and Yesod, foundation, which we use to cohere ideas fully. It’s a different kind of incomprehensible than before; we’ve moved from difficult-to-conceptualize pure good to figuring out how to center ourselves, let alone counter too-close-to-home evil.

In the dark of winter, a deep part of our hindbrain is afraid the sun is gone forever. We hunker down and try not to panic, remembering that survival is work worth doing. We try not to think too hard about the futility of the actions we can take to minimize the destruction of our environment. We push back against impending fascist doom knowing that success, should it happen, will not quite reach our hopes. We push anyway, but it’s harder than it has any right to be.

Wine blessing:
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם בורא פרי הגפן
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, borei p'ri ha-gafen.
Blessed be You, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Let this be the end of the hopelessness of winter, sweet and bitter and sour joining together to see us through. Here, we focus on fruits where the entire thing is edible. Grapes, figs, berries. Kumquats, probably.

Fruit blessing:
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם בורא פרי העץ
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, borei p'ri ha-eits.
Blessed be You, who creates the fruit of the tree.


FOUR
Pour a glass of red wine, with a drop of white in it.

The fourth world is our material realm, Asiyah. The physical plane, in all its complexity.

The Gdly attribute associated with Asiya is malchut, or kingship. Asiyah means action; I like to think of this combination as a call to activism. It’s on us now. We are stewards of the earth and must take action.

I think of Mrs. Which in A Wrinkle In Time, announcing: "weeeeee aaaaare heeeeeere".

It is spring. The sap is rising in the trees; soon they will begin to bud, then flower, then fruit. It is not a perfect world, or a perfect situation. But we have survived the hardest part of the year. I hear a wise man once said that the long arc bends towards justice. With a little help, we can push this to happen.

Wine blessing:
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם בורא פרי הגפן
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, borei p'ri ha-gafen.
Blessed be You, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Take in the essence of some tree or another. Maple syrup, cinnamon, bay leaf, cedar. Enjoy the sweet smells and build hope for the future.

Sweet-smelling tree blessing:
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינומלך העולם בורא עֲצֵי בְשָמִים
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam, borei atzei b’samim
Blessed be You, who creates sweet-smelling trees.

This is where we honor Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and all others who fight for justice. This is where we face the complexity of being humans who fucked over this earth using our small power to prevent further destruction.

I do not know what is next, but we are here to build it together.

Let’s close with the traditional bracha, blessing, used in the first Tu Bishvat seder by R’ Luria, translated by R’ Wikipedia: "May all the sparks scattered by our hands, or by the hands of our ancestors, or by the sin of the first human against the fruit of the tree, be returned and included in the majestic might of the tree of life."


This Tu Bishvat seder was cobbled together from various sources, including neochasid.org, Wikipedia, and the Jewdas 2019 Tu Bishvat seder. Traditions vary, including when to eat which fruits; I did my best to merge them coherently.