Remember when I was talking about how much I enjoyed working in the restaurant industry? Well, I totally lied. The first couple of weeks were fun getting to know people, learning the ropes, and sampling our amazing food and drinks. And it was fun making fun of rich people with the rest of the staff and pulling in $400 in tips (though you and the other waiters have to share it with about a dozen people, meaning you got just a fraction of it).
Then as soon as I developed minimal competence, they started slamming me with 6, 7, or 8 shifts a week, plus a few extra days “on-call,” where you can’t make any plans until you call in and make sure no one else called in sick or anything. And the first time I got a paycheck, it was so much less than I expected, I just assumed payroll had accidentally left off a shift or two.
They hadn’t. New York taxes, man. Suddenly I understand the rage of the Tea Party.
The stress plus having no time to exercise properly has triggered an insomnia attack, and there’s virtually no time or energy left over to work on the book or on selling it, making my presence here kind of pointless.
So I’m working on figuring out alternate ways to make ends meet, because other than the job, New York is amazing. So many people to meet, so much to do, gorgeous weather, and I’m living in a cool shared studio in Chelsea (my third apartment in less than two months), which is handy to just about everything. Despite the stress and exhaustion, I have been scratching out some time to work on the book and network, and I have a few leads that may be promising. I don’t want to jinx anything but will let you know if/when there’s any concrete news.
The highlight of my last few weeks was a concert in Brooklyn by DAM, a Palestinian hip hop group known for songs like Meen Irhabe? (‘Who’s a Terrorist?’), ‘Born Here,’ and ‘I’m in Love with a Jew’ (a song about a Palestinian guy caught in an elevator with a hot Israeli girl soldier, with such classic lines as, “I said 69, she heard ’67”). Great energy, great crowd, great Arabic rhymes, good times.
I’ve been to several other events and talks, where I didn’t learn much new, but I am starting to meet the pro-justice community here. And every talk I go to, where the presenter is almost always preaching to the choir, and every time I see American public opinion slowly moving toward opposing Israel’s policies (because they’re getting so abjectly preposterous) without really knowing the extent of what they’re opposing and without knowing anything at all about the Palestinian side of the story, I become more and more convinced that it’s exactly the right time for a book like mine to be published.
The need is there. The book is there. It’s just a question of getting them together.
I’ve been advised that getting published for the first time is a kind of catch-22. Until you’ve given a few talks and gotten a few articles published in major outlets, the publishers are less likely to give you the time of day. But until you have a book to hawk, newspaper editors and groups who arrange talks are less likely to give you the time of day. It probably goes without saying in our current culture, but everyone is dazzled by big names more than serious content. And the bigger your name is, the less in touch with ordinary Americans you’re likely to be, and the less likely you’ll be willing to court controversy by being honest about things.
And of course, writing and pitching articles and arranging presentations takes a lot of time and energy, neither of which I have much of these days.
The good news is, when people read my book or see my talk, the material speaks for itself. I met a best-selling author who checked out my blog and emailed me, “I finally got to read your first chapter and I am on to the second. It was completely absorbing. Now I see what you mean about the book being a gateway drug: you have cleverly packaged the Palestinian narrative into a dramatic travelogue and managed to smuggle in facts like the $3 billion in aid to Israel. Your narrative voice is also very effective; instead of preaching or professing, you affect a tone of curiosity, so your sense of moral outrage comes off as non-ideological and sincerely divorced from any ulterior political agenda.”
He’s offered to put in a good word with his agent, who happens to care about Israel/Palestine and have an uncommonly good understanding of it. So I’m hoping that pans out.
But in general it gets pretty exhausting trying to sell myself and my material and justify my existence over and over and over again. It’s not an easy thing to summarize because no one else is doing it.
In other news, a friend of mine from Stanford named Malavika Mohanan has offered to do a dance performance called Being Human, which she’s done in DC, California, and Argentina, as a fundraiser for my friend Rania in Palestine. It’s another thing that’s difficult to summarize. The performance includes poetry, interpretive dance, traditional Indian dance, and audience participation.
The dance is choreographed to both Carnatic (South Indian classical) music and popular music from India. The form, based in bharatanatyam (a South Indian classical dance tradition), is influenced by traditions as varied as flamenco, West African dance, and hip-hop, among others. It is usually followed by discussions with the audience inspired by the dance on topics like politics, ecology, and human nature.
If you’ll be in New York in mid-June, let me know and I’ll be sure to send you the details.
Last time I asked for donations for Rania, I raised $250 and put $50 of my own money with it, which was enough to get the family through May. Until Rania’s molar broke, her electricity got shut off, and her daughter needed to go to the hospital for a problem with her heart. One generous donor was kind enough to give $300 more to take care of those emergencies, and hopefully Mali’s performance will take care of July and August and give them a little money left over to start rebuilding their lives.
But that still leaves June that needs to be paid for. If I could raise just $300 more from this list (or anyone else you want to forward this to―$10 each from 30 people would do it), we’ll most likely be home free! Finally. (The story is here in case you’re new to the blog.)
Thanks so much for sticking with us this long. It really means the world to this family. My paypal account is firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you’d rather send a check, let me know and I’ll send you the details.
Meanwhile some goofy-ass terrorist wannabe inadvertently saved about 800 policemen in New York whose jobs would otherwise have been cut, which will probably end up making the city safer. And an exploding oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico is probably going to scrap a bunch of other plans for off-shore drilling, which may in the end make our shores and air cleaner. And of course―shocker alert!―another sanctimonious anti-gay conservative was caught with another male prostitute, which may in the end be hilarious.
Speaking of hilarious hypocrites, check out this video by Max Blumenthal of nutcase right-wing schmucks demonstrating in Manhattan for unlimited Israeli power and impunity. They are truly becoming parodies of themselves.
I saw Norman Finkelstein talk last night, and he said he was blown away by the shift in American public opinion on Israel/Palestine in just the past year. You can see it everywhere. In my more ambitious moments, I hope my book can help solidify that change in a way similar to how Uncle Tom’s Cabin solidified public opposition to slavery. That book wasn’t perfect, and neither is mine, but it filled a need and pushed things over the edge when they were heading toward the edge anyway.
And we’re definitely heading toward the edge now. The contradictions are becoming too great for any thoughtful person to bear. Inshallah.
Missing you all, and always happy to hear from you.
P.S. All of Chapters One and Two are online now: