Tickling~ A New Strategy for Conflict Resolution

Spending the day with a 20 month old is an eye-opener.

I know, news-flash there, but I’m in my mid 30s and have yet to reproduce. Nor do I spend much time around those lovely little vehicles of innocence. I love kids, I just don’t bump into too many hanging out in coffee shops and wandering the world.

The world, through the eyes of an almost 2 year old.

While on a recent assignment in South Carolina, I spent the night with one of my oldest and dearest friends. His daughter is approaching the crux of those lovely terrible twos. She’s testing out her voice and seeing just how far she can push her luck in obtaining her desired outcome. She’s determined and resilient- and stubborn- like her father.

We were standing in the kitchen, having just finished an adult dinner of brie and crackers while the little one finished her toddler staple of chicken nuggets and corn. She’d just sucked down the last of her milk and wandered back into the kitchen where the remnants of our dinner were resting on the counter. She stretched her tiny arms to the edge of the counter and began her chant. Milk! Milk! Milk!

And she was debating on whether or not her demands should be supported by a full- lunged wail or a simple pouting cry to her father while she reached aimlessly onto the counter top looking for the milk she had just finished.

She chose the ear-piercing wail and filled her lungs in order to implement her agenda, when her father reached down and tickled her.

Tickled until her lungs, ready to wail, released the most delightful little giggle that tosses you backwards to a time when all you had to worry about was milk, your blanket and the hope that someone’s nose was tuned into the fact that your lunch just passed through your little body with a vengeance.

She giggled away and released her death-grip on the counter and shuffled after her dad into the den to watch a combination of Yo-Gabba Gabba and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.

And I had to stop and think- what if all conflicts could be resolved with tickling. How simple would the world be if at the pinnacle moment of conflict driven retaliation or instigation, we were tickled and dissolved into laughter.

No- visions of Mubarak and Gaddafi being attacked by giant tickle machines before calling for mass annihilation of their people in an attempt to retain power- or enforce a western imperial agenda- is not a possible method of conflict resolution.

I get that. I’m not naive.

But what if humor were a means of conflict resolution. What if we glanced the humanity of another- one considered a mortal enemy or an impediment to the evolution of our nation- through the laughter and comedy that is inherent in all human beings?

What if the worst of the worst- and the largest stooges of the oligarchy- could be “re-programmed” to see the humor in another? What if the most impersonal among our leadership could learn to see a person’s laughter, their joy, their humanity?

Might they not be so inclined to see this person and his community as a commodity? Might they be convinced to look upon an “enemy” as a human, rather than a barrier to a natural resource to possess, exploit and consume?

What if we required Jon Stewart to attend all UN Security Council deliberations and act as the humorous mediator? What if we sent Dennis Leary along as the presidential attache for all diplomatic state dinners? What if we sent Lewis Black along with the Secretary of State to mediate the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks? What if Bill Maher became the moderator for each presidential debate?

Might the leaders of the world not wage war if they were looking at one another with a faint smile on their face? Might the men who issue the orders to destroy a village blocking access to an oil pipeline stop and reconsider if laughter were still echoing through their hearts?

Might the world be a little more secure if we were all just tickled at the moment our anger arose- and then vanished?

Authors Note: Happy Birthday, dear Jamy! Hard to believe our friendship spans three decades- are we that old? Love you and wishing you the best on your next journey in life! Ciao Bella!

Time Travel Tuesday, on a Saturday~ Home

Originally published in 2007 after returning from my project in Palestine.

“I’m already going to hell, so it don’t matter anyway!” yelled my shuttle driver as he argued with a man who was blocking his parking space.

Al Aqsa Mosque, taken with my $20 plastic Holga camera.

God bless America.

The sights and sounds of Times Square filled my senses and reminded me that I’m home. Colorful billboards cluttered the sky, horns blared in rush hour traffic, advertisement for adult theaters and the smell of hot dog venders overwhelmed me as I realized there’s nothing quite like America.
The sounds of my driver and his nemesis engaged in the art of road rage, physically standing outside their vehicles yelling at one another was simply music to my ears. The driver glanced at me and I saw the look of confusion as he looked at the eagerness with which I watched this scene and the smile on my face. Anger at fellow drivers is universal, only I can not understand the comments when I’m with Arabic drivers.

We drove off and upon learning I was from the south, my van driver told me of his last visit to South Carolina.

“I didn’t want his money, only a little time.” The driver stated he just wanted a little acknowledgment of his existence from his father. A lifetime devoid of birthday cards and Christmas gifts was written on his face. “I guess he was just a sperm donor,” said the driver. “Here’s Penn Station.”

With six hours to burn until my train for North Carolina left the station, I set out into the neon saturated night to find some American cuisine. I stumbled onto a coffee shop and diner not far from the station and settled in for a meal and a little people watching.

“I need a minute,” yelled a tiny old woman occupying the booth behind me. “Waitress, I’m ready,” she shouted thirty seconds later, loud enough for everyone within a one mile radius to hear. She took a long time placing her order, with special menu requests and triple checking with the waitress to make sure she took down her order properly.

After her meal was finished, she asked the women at the table next to her what time it was, but they didn’t speak English.

“You don’t speak English?” she looked at the pair with despair and incomprehension. “Pity!” she claimed, shaking her head as she turned to me and asked for the time. I replied and she said, “Oh, that’s my father’s birthday. When’s your birthday? Mine’s in October.”

She muttered some more phrases to herself and shuffled out into the night wearing her pajamas and clutching her bag of food from the restaurant. She stood on the sidewalk, unsure of where to go, and shuffled back and forth for several minutes. She then walked out into the street and dodged the cars to cross to the other side.

Was she someone’s mother? Was someone waiting for her at home besides some fish or a house cat? Did she even have a home?

I returned to Penn Station to wait for the 3 am train to take me home. Most people would not consider an overnight stay in Penn Station to be desirable or even an option, but what better way to reenter your homeland than at its most raw and inhibited. Riding an Amtrak gives such an insight into so many aspects of American society and the variety of cultural differences; each station has a subculture, each train has a hierarchy of social status and functionality and each town that you travel through is so diverse. The view from the window shows you a tiny peak into other people’s lives; into their backyards, into their main streets and into their skid rows.

As a whole, Penn Station is quite safe with a strong police and National Guard presence and the seated area is regulated for ticket holders only, so sleeping on your bags is not an unsafe option. The only interesting times are when nature calls and you must venture into the dark realm of the public bathroom.

“Maybe she don’t have no family. Maybe no one wants her. I’m here now ‘cause I can’t get along with my family. But I won’t be here for long,” a young black woman dressed in a lace, see-through nightgown talks to the white woman cleaning the bathroom.

Another voice bellowed from the stall beside me. “I need toilet paper!” the anonymous voice screams. She then embarked on a tirade of garbled words in a language I’ve never heard before; some odd mixture of English, German and guttural noises.

As I exited the bathroom, I saw a group of young gangster teens playing games with a cop who pulled out his taser-stick device and began to run after the misbehaving youth. After boarding the train, I finally received a small gift from the travel gods, my own two seats with enough space to curl into a ball and get some real, horizontal sleep. Heaven

After arriving in Union Station for a three hour layover, I decided to take a stroll around the train station. I walked to the front of the building and see the Capital in the distance. I notice a protester holding a sign and passing out literature. ‘Its not Iraq, Bush let’s the CIA run the world!’

It is so nice to be home.

In front of Union Station, a large statue was erected in honor of Christopher Columbus. Though it never ceases to amaze me that in America we honor a man who committed such a mass and brutal genocide, I can not help but notice the irony that this particular statue is the temporary home to some of DC’s homeless people. A man stared at me with a vacant look and lit a cigarette and I see a multitude of people huddled under blankets strewn about on the statue.

Outside of the Holy Church of the Sepluchure, taken with the trusty Holga.

In that moment, the profound sadness I felt upon returning to America begins to take form. In the Middle East, the people take care of their families, no matter how crazy they may be, and people are not allowed to fall into the personal despair that exists in the US. I look at people now and see a deep embedded sadness that lies on the surface of most of the faces I see. This sadness is not mine personally, I am quite happy to be returning to my home and my life, but the sadness is deeper, embedded within the fabric of the society in which I live.

People rushing to jobs that fill their lives with stress and remove them from their families, people that are completely alone in the world and living on the streets, sleeping in train stations, on street corners and on cold marble benches out in the night. So many people engaged in so much pain.

Americans have the ultimate gift, the thing that every Palestinian and oppressed person in the world longs for– freedom. And what do we do with our freedom? Maybe that’s part of the sadness. So much of our freedom is wasted. And I wonder just how wealthy we are as a nation when we let our children starve in the streets and our fathers and mothers wander the bus stations alone. How free are we when a grown man comes to the realization that his estranged father is nothing more than a “sperm donor.”

In a place with so much oppression and pain, Palestine had a richness that is difficult to find in America. Their greatest wealth is their families and their proximity to and relationship with these family members. Palestinian families, Muslim families in general, are large and close and everyone lives in the same apartment complex or on the same street. They all help to raise one another’s children. Brothers and cousins become one, sisters and mothers become one and fathers pass their legacies and their skill onto their sons.

We lack that in America. We go far from our families, choose to disown family members and even turn our backs on our families as conflicts and disagreements arise. This makes us a poor nation. This leaves our fathers on the streets, leads our sons into gangs, causes young teen girls to seek acceptance by becoming young mothers, it leaves our grandparents to die alone in nursing homes and leaves our cousins to wander the alleys looking to turn tricks for food. This poverty of family and belonging leads us, as a whole, to a profound sadness. It is despair we may not see everyday, in fact, many of us are insulated from this sadness. Some of us seek to embrace the sadness and work to bring hope to that one person’s life. But there is a cloud of palpable sadness that permeates the corners of our cities and the streets of our towns.

And it is a sadness that should not exist. For in the eyes of a Palestinian we have the ultimate gift; the one thing they know they will never possess and will go to their grave having never known what it tastes like, what it smells like, what it means to just leave—we have freedom.

How we use this gift– that so many have died to preserve—should be a reflection of our society; should be a reflection of our knowledge, our wealth and our abilities as a nation to embrace our gift and remove the elements of sadness from our society and others throughout the world. And how we, as individuals, use our freedoms should be a reflection of our engagement with the world and our desires to help those within this world, our cousins, our parents, our children– even strangers walking down the street in need of coffee and someone to share it with.

A Reason to Leap

We all have a reason to leap.  everyone, at some point in their life, has peered over the edge of their reality and thought- I have to leap.  I have to thrust myself off of this cliff and see what happens when I fly.

Running through the projects- towards a better day.

Our reasons are vast- they are deep, they are varied. Our reasons hold a uniqueness akin to a snowflake.  Our reasons are ours alone and no one can refute or diminish our reasons for taking a leap. The right to leap, the ability to leap and the wisdom to take the risk all lie within our own soul, within our being, within our DNA.

A young poet living in the housing projects with her two young children crawls to the edge of her cliff.  She glances behind her and sees the boulders she’s climbed to reach the edge. She sees her useless husband’s crack addiction and the police taking her children away.  She sees the eviction notice on her apartment door and her car filled with her possessions and her children- a car converted into a home.  She sees herself turning down a job to pay her bills so she can hold her art up for the world to experience.  She climbs to the edge of that cliff and sees her future self, performing her poetry and moving an audience to tears.  She sees the life she provides for her children with her art.  She peers over the edge of that cliff and sees her soul dancing in the light of a new day.  And she leaps.  And she soars.

Walking through the projects after a shooting.

A young mother trapped in an oppressive marriage of plastic falsities and hollow truths walks to the edge of her cliff and looks out to the horizon.  The obstacles she’s climbed to carry herself to this moment are large and ominous.  Long nights absorbing the reality of a man she loved who never believed in her and never saw her beauty, her strength.  For years, he never saw her art.  Long nights spent swallowing the reality of the wrong decision.  Many years spent suppressing her inner child, her inner diva, her inner empress.  She looks to the horizon past her cliff’s edge and sees the artist within, soaring through the clouds and showing her daughters a beacon of strength and wisdom- and laughter.  She sees herself as she truly is, she sees the unstoppable woman, the loving mother, the beautiful friend.  And she leaps.  And she flies.

A moment of compassion between orphans in Nepal.

A young man left parent-less at the pinnacle moments of early adulthood crawls to the edge of his cliff.  He’s climbed the lonely nights of uncertainty, he’s scaled the boulders of sorrow and he’s carried himself and his sisters through the dark, twisty depths of death.  He sat at the edge of his cliff for a long time, dangling his feet off the edge and cursing at the heavens for the boulders he had to climb to reach this point. He looks out over the edge and sees the man he will become.  The successful, self-sustaining man who builds his dreams with his bare hands, from nothing.  He sees the intuitive survivor becoming an unstoppable man, a man who lets nothing impede his progress and lets no one take away his power.  He sees that man and leaps off the cliff.  And he glides through the air, propelled to his new reality.

Each person took a leap. They climbed the gnarly boulders and jagged rocks of their paths in life to reach the moment where staring into the abyss remains the solitary option.  Leap or Die.  It’s really that simple.  And, they stepped off the cliff’s edge and into the unknown ether towards a better life, towards a vision of the person they knew lived inside of them.  The person that they must unleash or die a slow death.

The Boulders

We all have them, big ass boulders that block our vision and cause us to climb obstacles we could never truly fathom until we witnessed them.  These boulders can be products of our poor decisions, products of our spouses’ unthoughtful actions or simply products of life in general.  Boulders can be abusive partners, failed exams, failed jobs, failed marriages, poor life decisions or even death.  Sometimes boulders land in our paths by a sheer act of the Universe and we’re left to figure out the how, the why and the solution to removing the boulder.

And some people are crushed by the boulders.  Some people never see the other side of that boulder.  Some people lack the will, the strength, the knowledge or the simple resources necessary to remove the boulder from their paths.

But this article isn’t about those unfortunate souls.  We’ve all seen them, the person crushed by their boulders. And at times, we wonder if maybe we aren’t going to be crushed as well.

But we aren’t crushed.  We figured out the method of navigating the boulders on our paths.  Through sheer desire we scaled our boulders and made it to the other side.

And now, we can see the edge of our cliff.  The peak that will take us to our point of departure.  We can now see the path that leads us to a new life- to a new opportunity.  We see the edge of that path and we’re going to walk towards it.

In walking towards that path- we must reflect on our boulders.  If we do not recognize the struggle and embrace or mistakes, our failures and our rotten luck, the remnants of these boulders will weigh us down when we take our leap.  These weights of life might even prevent us from leaping and after coming so far towards our edge!

Take a moment and think about each boulder of your life. Walk backwards for a minute- or jump in your Delorian and fire up that flex-capacitor- and go back in time to the first major boulder of your life.  Really go there.  Sit at the base of that boulder and feel it’s crushing weight.  Embrace all that pain, all that sorrow, all the anger and all the self-loathing that this boulder brought into your life.

Now, write it down. All of it.  Get a shiny journal just for leaping and free-write all your emotions conjured up by the boulder.  Hell, write a letter to the boulder and tell it exactly what you think and why.  Wallow, whine and curse a little.  It’s OK.  It’s necessary.

And let it go. Write the boulder’s name on a ballon and imagine that it’s filled with all that emotion you just poured onto your blank pages.  Now stick it with the biggest needle or sharpest object you can find and feel all that emotion explode outward.  Better yet, write the boulder’s name or event on a medium sized rock and project all that emotion onto it, climb up the nearest hill or mountain and chuck that little bastard off the edge.  Visualize all that emotion following your rock into the air and leaving your personal space.  (Be sure not to hit anyone in the process- don’t let your boulder become someone else’s problem!)

Repeat this exercise for each boulder in your life.  Take the time to really embrace all the emotions involved and consciously let them go.

Climbing.

You’ve passed your boulders and now you’re climbing that hill.  It’s not easy, it’s not simple, but you have a vision.  You see something that lies just beyond the peak of your hill that only you can see.  It’s a vision of you.  Who you will become, the beauty of all that you encompass coming to life in ways you never imagined.

Maybe one of those boulders suppressed your inner artist many years ago and you were never able to let her loose.  Your inner artist never frolicked, she never romped in the freshly cut grass or made snow angels in fresh powder.  But there she is- skipping along ahead of you- leading you up this path that is difficult to see at times.  You cling to that vision of this inner child, this being that is just on the cusp of emergence.  She guides you up the path and to your launching point.

Take out that journal again and sketch out the vision of the person who is guiding you up this path.  What does he or she look like?  Is she an older, more sophisticated version of yourself?  Or is he a younger, more adventurous version of you?

Be very specific in this vision. What does she do for pleasure?  What does he produce?  Who does he love and why?  Where does she live and what does her world look like?  Why is she so important to you?  Why are you willing to climb these boulders and risk being crushed in order to be this fabulous vision?

The more you visualize this person- this fabulous You- the more real this person becomes.  At some point, this vision becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and one day, you’ll wake up, look in the mirror and realize you have become this person.  The day you wake up and see the embodiment of that vision reflected back at you is worth all the pain, suffering and sorrow that your boulders brought into your life.

So be sure and confident in the vision that you are creating.  Hold that person close to your heart and keep that vision in your mind often.  This is your compass, don’t drop it off the side of the path as you’re trudging to the edge of your cliff.

Leaping

Leaping can be the easy part.  Sometimes.  You’ll know when you’ve reached the point of departure.  When it’s time to leap, you’re inner child will take your hand, peer over the edge with you and then lean into that exhilarating empty space.  You’ll take that gigantic step off the solid ground together.  One of you may be giggling, one of you may be screaming.

But both of you will be soaring.

Now, go.  Leap.

A moment of quiet beauty in yoga for a tibetan exile in McLeod Ganj.

Time Travel Tuesday- Election Day in Madaba, Jordan

This is the first in an ongoing series called Time Travel Tuesday.  I actually began blogging sporadically while working on documentary photography projects in 2006 & 2007.  Very few people know about these writings, so I feel they should see the light of day again, with a larger and more engaged audience. We’re traveling back to my work in Jordan and Palestine where I spent a month or so documenting everyday life in the occupied territories, mainly the West Bank and Ramallah.

Election posters on the streets of Madaba, Jordan.

We start in Jordan, in a small town about an hour from Amman.  Madaba was a wonderful little town where I met some amazing people (and caught the nastiest upper-respiratory infection- which kept me from shooting often and allowed me to explore more writing opportunities- easier to write about political issues than chase after stories when you can’t really breathe properly.)  Enjoy!

Originally Published on Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Election Day

Quiet and calm nestle within the streets of Madaba as the town awakes for Election Day. The nation has a two day holiday, yes-two whole days off in order to vote, and Jordanians are approaching their duties with diligence and a degree of excitement. I wander the streets for the visitor’s center, hidden well from the visitors and after several failed attempts; I head back towards the haven of my hotel.

A car speeds by and honks repeatedly as an arm waves frantically from the window. I look around and realize the flailing arm and erratic horn serve to gain my attention. The car whips to the side of the road and my driver from the airport jumps out of the car and dodges the traffic to cross the street. He greets me with a warm smile and shakes my hand. His excitement is contagious and I can’t help but laugh with him for a moment.

“Today is very busy, very busy with election!” He exclaims. 

He clutches both cell phones in his hand and I point to the mobile devices. He says that the election is today and his cousin is involved. I am unsure if his cousin is running for office, or merely involved in the process, but after several more moments runs back across traffic to his car and drives off in a fury.

A billboard from the streets of Madaba.

As I head back to the hotel, I notice the streets are waking for the day. A soldier and a man with a cigarette dangling from his mouth are working to snap a deadlock on the exchange office, one on each arm of the massive bolt cutters, pushing furiously and laughing at one another. A van speeds by covered with election posters and the words freedom written on the windows.

While preparing for a trip to the pool, (I find it hard to avoid working on something, so I use jet lag as an excuse for engaging in the art of relaxation) I hear shouting, as though from a large group, coming from the window. I see nothing, and just assume it’s a common occurrence. 

Several hours later, a new friend from Jordan (complete with a Chicago accent) tells me of the demonstrations happening throughout the town due to the elections. Throughout the day we hear sirens and helicopters and I fight the journalistic urges to enter the streets and photograph the process.

We notice people on the rooftops pointing, so we also make our way to a higher vantage point to see tanks filled with soldiers making their way up the main street into the city. 

Here I am, one day in Jordan and riots and demonstrations are occurring just down the road. Do I photograph? Do I participate in this Election Day process?

The journalist in me says yes, the practical side-which weighs the calculated risks of such situations says no- much to my professor’s dismay, I’m sure. Not knowing the language, not knowing the climate of the local political and religious sects and simply not knowing my way around town make this an illogical choice.

The day after the election. Yes, this was shot from the hip b/c photographing tanks and soldiers in a foreign country just after a riot isn't always the smartest idea.

Curious, I ask my local friend what is the source of these demonstrations. She heard that the government was trying to interfere in the election process and many of the young men from the rural villages were protesting this interference. I pause and think of all the issues we have in America when it comes to voting- disenfranchisement, vote caging, unsecured electronic voting machines, etc., and how calm our streets remain on Election Day.

Should our streets be calm when the government interferes with our ability to vote? Should we cause a riot, make a scene, force the government to send in troops to quell the dissatisfaction at our own election process? I am not condoning rioting, but merely saying a strong voice of opposition is needed at times, particularly when our ability to vote is at stake.

Would this balance our democracy, help force more of our votes to count? Or should we engage in more active civil disobedience to achieve such means; particularly when our media is unable or unwilling to help us voice our dissent? Maybe civil disobedience would be effective if the people had a stronger voice. And where do we derive such strength in voice?

Amidst the chaos of the day, the evening returns the town of Madaba to normalcy. As the sun set and both the political and actual temperature cooled and the streets came back to life. A car pulled away from the hotel covered in flowers and carrying a bride and groom towards their celebration of union. Tourists entered the streets to dine at the local restaurants, people launched fireworks in honor of several weddings and an almost full moon rose over Madaba.

News on the election day in Jordan.

Images from my Past Documentary Work in Nepal

In 2006, I traveled to Nepal for an internship at Nepal Human Rights News and to work on a grant funded project of cultural preservation of the Tibetan exile community.  I actually ended up photographing and interviewing various communities and families directly impacted by the decade long Maoist rebellion. Several months prior to my trip, the government collapsed and the country was in flux when I arrived- working to figure out the new political landscape that would include the Maoists. Here are a few of my favorite shots from the documentary aspects of my work in Nepal.  Twenty percent of any photo sales will be donated towards the NGOs I worked with while in Nepal.

Enjoy! ps- if you click on the right hand side of the player- bottom corner- you’ll get the full screen version- way better!


Nepal – Images by Crystal Street