An Open Letter to Joe Biden (Again)

20161231_100629_resized

Dear Joe Biden,

I’m sorry I missed you back in April when you were in town. I’ve got a strange story to tell you.

A couple of months ago I was dog sitting a whippet at a friend’s house in Hollywood, Florida. I’d just gotten in after a long day at work, and was letting the dog out in the backyard when I saw something strange in the pool.

There were a pair of glowing eyes in the water. For a moment, I thought I might be hallucinating. When I looked closer, I saw the eyes belonged to a firefly (down here the click beetles have two glowing dots on their wings that look like eyes). I looked a little closer, and saw the firefly was drowning.

I was still in my work clothes and didn’t want to get them wet, so I stripped down naked and jumped in the pool, scooped the bug up and tossed it into some bushes so it could dry its wings out.

And then I realized I’d just stripped down naked for a beetle. I’m not that kind of woman, Joe. I don’t get naked in friend’s backyards for beetles. I was flabbergasted at my behavior—and slightly ashamed. So, I told the beetle that I was calling magic on the whole situation, and that I wanted a wish.

And Joe Biden, I wished for you to come to Miami Book Fair.

The next day, I found out you were coming.

Thing is Joe, I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for a while, even before your book was published. I know this whole story about me getting naked for a beetle is wild and inappropriate, but it’s told with the utmost respect and with considerable skepticism about the magic part. It’s entirely possible that the whole naked beetle wish/you coming to Book Fair is a coincidence. Whatever the case. I’m getting my wish. You’re coming.

And I’ve got a ticket to hear you speak next Saturday at the Miami Book Fair. I can’t wait.

I know you’ll be busy here when you’re in town—I’d love to take you for an ice cream, but I’m lactose intolerant anyway. I do hope I get a chance to say hey and shake your hand while you’re here. And I’d like to get you a copy of my book, because I dedicated it to you.

Have a Safe Trip!

Jan Becker

PS: If you check out the blog, you’ll see I wrote you two letters previously. But you’re a busy guy. I understand.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Update to My Open Letter to Joe Biden

Dear Joe,

First, I love that I can now call you just Joe. You never seemed one for formalities. I’m guessing you have a mountain of mail left over from your time in the White House, and that the book I sent was five-fingered by someone with very good taste who just couldn’t see it left behind when you went on to do the many great things you will no doubt do now that you’re a private citizen.

If you’re free next Sunday, April 23, 2017, I’d love to see you in the crowd at Books & Books in Coral Gables, FL at 6 p.m. I’ll be wearing pearls. I know you must have a full dance card, and it’s a long shot you’ll make it, but one never gets anything they want without asking. Would you do me the honor of being my date? I’ll make sure you get a signed copy of the book that way.

Much Love,

Jan Becker

PS: Since you missed the letter I sent in December:

The Honorable Joe Biden
Vice President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20500

Dear Mr. Vice President:

Inside this package is my first book, The Sunshine Chronicles. When I was writing the dedication to the book, I wanted to acknowledge people who had inspired me through difficult circumstances, and your work as a humanitarian, and as a public servant has been exemplary, and so, in my small way, I wish to convey my heartfelt thanks, and am writing to explain why your work is so important to me personally.

Like you, I come from Northeastern Pennsylvania. I was born in Carbondale. My grandmother lived in the senior citizen high-rise on Adams Avenue in Scranton until her death, and most of my family lives in that region. In 1974, at the age of 4, I left that area when I became a military dependent, and grew up a Marine Corps brat during the years immediately following the Vietnam conflict. Life in the Marine Corps was tough on a young girl, and as a child, I internalized much of the hyper-masculine talk, and false idealization of tough men and stalwart soldiers. That kind of environment tends to be less than empowering to women and is even less empowering to young girls. It also sets up a model for young men that is unhealthy for them, for their families, and for anyone who doesn’t fit into the construct of hetero-normative masculinity.

I’m a survivor of sexual abuse, an educator who works with college undergrads teaching creative writing, and a mentor and writing instructor in a community organization in Miami called Reading Queer. Your work as an advocate for women, and in opposition to domestic and sexual violence has been an inspiration to me during long periods of writer’s block as I’ve struggled to put my testimony of abuse into words. As an educator, working with young women and men, I want you know that your support in their empowerment has made an impact on their lives. The attitude towards date rape on campus has changed noticeably over the last few years. There is more help available on campuses. I was thrilled when you came out in support of marriage equality, before most politicians. Your work and your voice have helped individual citizens give voice to their stories and pursue happiness in a manner of their own choosing, and I can think of no man more deserving a book dedication, meager thanks as that is, than you.

And most importantly, Mr. Vice President. I just think you’re swell. There’s nothing sexier than a man who advocates for a kinder world. You’re the guy I imagine running through the halls of the White House in a cape made of the rainbow flag, celebrating the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage. You’re the guy who unabashedly loves ice cream, and greets his constituents with an open heart. You’re the guy who calls out malarkey when he hears it. You’re the Mr. Vice President most people I know feel comfortable enough to call “Joe Biden.”

It’s my hope that you’ll read the book once it arrives, but I know you have considerable work ahead of you in the next few weeks. If you can, I’d be thrilled if you’d do me the favor of sending a selfie with the book. I wish you all the best as you transition from your job as Vice President. I’d tell you I’ll miss you, but I’m certain that in the coming years you’ll continue to be an influence to many Americans, like myself.

With Gratitude, and Much Love,

Jan Becker

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Open Letter to Mr. Vice President Joe Biden

20161231_100629_resized

On its way.

An UPDATE TO: Open Letter to Former Mr. Vice President Joe Biden:
The Honorable Joe Biden
Vice President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20500

Dear Mr. Vice President:

Inside this package is my first book, The Sunshine Chronicles. When I was writing the dedication to the book, I wanted to acknowledge people who had inspired me through difficult circumstances, and your work as a humanitarian, and as a public servant has been exemplary, and so, in my small way, I wish to convey my heartfelt thanks, and am writing to explain why your work is so important to me personally.

Like you, I come from Northeastern Pennsylvania. I was born in Carbondale. My grandmother lived in the senior citizen high-rise on Adams Avenue in Scranton until her death, and most of my family lives in that region. In 1974, at the age of 4, I left that area when I became a military dependent, and grew up a Marine Corps brat during the years immediately following the Vietnam conflict. Life in the Marine Corps was tough on a young girl, and as a child, I internalized much of the hyper-masculine talk, and false idealization of tough men and stalwart soldiers. That kind of environment tends to be less than empowering to women and is even less empowering to young girls. It also sets up a model for young men that is unhealthy for them, for their families, and for anyone who doesn’t fit into the construct of hetero-normative masculinity.

I’m a survivor of sexual abuse, an educator who works with college undergrads teaching creative writing, and a mentor and writing instructor in a community organization in Miami called Reading Queer. Your work as an advocate for women, and in opposition to domestic and sexual violence has been an inspiration to me during long periods of writer’s block as I’ve struggled to put my testimony of abuse into words. As an educator, working with young women and men, I want you know that your support in their empowerment has made an impact on their lives. The attitude towards date rape on campus has changed noticeably over the last few years. There is more help available on campuses. I was thrilled when you came out in support of marriage equality, before most politicians. Your work and your voice have helped individual citizens give voice to their stories and pursue happiness in a manner of their own choosing, and I can think of no man more deserving a book dedication, meager thanks as that is, than you.

And most importantly, Mr. Vice President. I just think you’re swell. There’s nothing sexier than a man who advocates for a kinder world. You’re the guy I imagine running through the halls of the White House in a cape made of the rainbow flag, celebrating the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage. You’re the guy who unabashedly loves ice cream, and greets his constituents with an open heart. You’re the guy who calls out malarkey when he hears it. You’re the Mr. Vice President most people I know feel comfortable enough to call “Joe Biden.”

It’s my hope that you’ll read the book once it arrives, but I know you have considerable work ahead of you in the next few weeks. If you can, I’d be thrilled if you’d do me the favor of sending a selfie with the book. I wish you all the best as you transition from your job as Vice President. I’d tell you I’ll miss you, but I’m certain that in the coming years you’ll continue to be an influence to many Americans, like myself.

With Gratitude, and Much Love,

Jan Becker

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Planting Seeds in American Soil

A couple of years ago, I took a master class with the inaugural poet Richard Blanco at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables with some of my classmates in the writing program at FIU. Blanco mentioned that he had been thinking lately what it would feel like to come from nowhere. I felt a slight clench in my gut then, sort of an inner acknowledgement that it was a feeling I recognize.

When we all introduced ourselves, he wanted us to state where we’d come from. This is always a question I dread, because even though I do have a place I was born and lived in for the first few years of my life, I spent my childhood in a military family, and the constant packing and unpacking of home to move to another base created an estrangement from my hometown. When I answered my usual, “I was born in a small town in Pennsylvania, but grew up in the Marine Corps.” Blanco nodded.

“Oh, okay, so you know what I meant about coming from nowhere.” He asked.

“Yeah, I do.” I answered.

When I go back now to visit, it’s an odd sort of ritual. I know people in my family by name, but it’s not like I know my extended relations in the way someone who was raised there knows them. Even my brother and sister feel a little distant to me. I did try to live in that area for a few years, but it never quite fit. I never quite fit. I’m not sure if it was that the politics were so conservative, or that because it’s a rural area it’s difficult to find things I need to sustain me like poetry. I just knew I didn’t belong.

I lived in Upstate NY for a while too, and at one point thought maybe I could settle there and live. But again, it just wasn’t right. There was something more I was looking for that I couldn’t find in Binghamton. So when I went looking for a graduate program, I focused on a place I felt I could finally call home. I chose South Florida mainly because of the diversity in the region and the vibrant writing community.

As an undergrad, I’d gotten a degree concentration in global culture, and for me, connections with friends who come from different places and have different customs is a big part of what makes my life full. I like to feel I’m connected to a community that comes from all over the globe. Many of them immigrants. In a big way, that’s because even though I was born in a small town in coal country, and my family has been in America since before the American Revolution. I feel like an immigrant in my own country, like it doesn’t quite belong to me.

Home has always felt like a fairytale of sorts. I’ll say, “I’m on my way home.” If I need to call and let The Chef know I’m running late, but there’s always a pause there that gets filled with a question. Am I really home yet? Is this where I’ve landed?

Since the election results came in early Wednesday morning announcing Donald Trump had won the presidential election, I’ve had a rough time. I’m finding that even before I get a cup of coffee poured, I’m reaching for the anti-anxiety meds to stave off the panic attacks I wake into.

Online, Trump supporters seem perplexed at the level of terror the rest of the country is experiencing. A cousin, whom I normally adore, posted a meme that said Hillary supporters are being ridiculous, referencing Sarah Silverman’s statement to the “Bernie bros” at the Democratic National Convention. At that point, I was coming out of two days of sedation. I confronted the cousin with my own post explaining that the election had caused serious anxiety, and his wife responded on his behalf, apologized, and said he’d been just kidding. That they’d voted for Trump because , “We like our 2nd Amendment rights.”

Another friend called the protestors a bunch of whiny losers who need to sit down and shut up. On Veteran’s Day, I saw Trump supporters suggest the protestors should have more respect for vets by keeping quiet, not protesting and by standing to salute  the flag, and I agree, we should respect veterans more–by making sure they have adequate healthcare and security when they come back home. By making sure there’s a home to greet them, and that they’re not left floundering on the streets. By not electing a man who suggests PTSD is a weakness, or mocks disabilities–Or likes getting his purple hearts the easy way. My stepfather got his the hard way. Two of them. I don’t think I can be expected to respect anyone who thinks that’s easy.

One of the only arguments I ever won with my dad was when I refused to stand to salute the flag, because I was upset about a bomb that killed a little girl on the other side of the world, and the vice principal of my high school sent me home with an in-school suspension note to face my Vietnam vet Gunnery Sergeant dad who was livid, and tried to insist that he wore his uniform so I’d have a flag to salute. And I told him, nah, Dad. You wear your uniform so I have the right to decide if that flag represents a country I’m proud enough to stand for. And he said, “You know, I never thought of it that way before. You’re right.”

It feels like I am living in a foreign country right now, or that I come from a foreign country who makes the decisions for the country I now live in. I keep looking around me for America and wondering where she went. I miss her.

And then last night, at the anti-Trump protests in Miami, my friend J.J. Colagrande, reported people who live in condos along the protest route were throwing rocks into the crowd of protestors.

What I think some of these Trump supporters are missing is that this isn’t just a case of people who can’t take a loss “like a man.” It’s that real people feel they are endangered, with good cause. And if I’m panicked, it’s because they are people I love as much as my own family.

I get that my friends and family who voted for Trump are not actively engaged in the more sinister behavior of some from the alt-right, and white supremacy groups, but I just have to question the values of placing the right to own a gun over another person’s right to liberty. And to me, that’s what this election came down to. It’s like Love and Hate had a cage match, and Hate beat the fuck out of Love in the tenth round, left her bleeding on the mat. TKO.

I have a former student who lives in New York City now, and is a brilliant poet, whose family immigrated from Egypt. I worry how safe she is when she travels to the afternoon call to prayers at her mosque. I worry someone will stop her from making more poems.

I have many LGBTQA friends who are still recovering from the shock of the Orlando Pulse shootings. I worry about all of them. Trans suicides have spiked since the election. I worry this will finally be too much for some I know right now are on the brink of despair.

I have gay friends who finally, after years of fighting the classiest battle for civil rights I’ve ever witnessed, got married, or adopted children. I worry their rights will be stripped away.

I worry for every Black friend I love, not only from on the street skinhead thug violence, but from a random police stop. I worry about their children, how they would feel if they ran into signs like those posted above the water fountains in Jacksonville: A Return of Jim Crow

I worry that every woman I know might get her pussy grabbed–or worse.

I can’t walk out my front door without worrying for every woman I see in a hijab. I’m constantly tensed, ready to jump in if I see anyone approach. Because I can’t just sit down and shut up if I witness a hate crime or hear hate speech. To me that is not American.

And my God, I worry about my sweet fresh-faced students who sit in my classroom each week writing their hearts out. I tell them to write through their lenses of personal perception, because Hate has a much harder time doing its ugly things when faced with the complexities of an individual rather than a generic demographic, but then I also have to wonder, does it matter in the face how of much hate is crawling out of dark and hidden corners lately?

In what kind of country is the fear of losing the right to own a gun more important than the potential loss or serious injury of such talented young people?

The Southern Poverty Law Center declared the Trump campaign a hate organization way back in February. If you look on their website, just since the election reports of hate crimes are skyrocketing: Hate Watch

Andrew Anglin who runs  “Daily Stormer” a website popular among neo-Nazis, declared, “Our Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor. Make no mistake about it: we did this.”

David Duke is dancing. David Duke says a Trump victory is something HIS PEOPLE are largely responsible for orchestrating.

I’m worried for the whole world. At the bank today, a news headline flashed that Putin acknowledged the use of chemical weapons in Aleppo.

I started getting strange urges to plant things after my stepfather died. The summer after his funeral, I ripped out a substantial bed with my bare knuckles and planted a glorious garden in my friend Michael’s backyard. It seems now, whenever someone dies, I get the same urge. Someday, I’d like to live in a house with a couple mango trees in the backyard and a plot of land I can dig up and garden in. It’s more of a challenge here in the apartment on the lake. The feeling of filling a pot with soil just isn’t as satisfying as getting my hands into the earth. And the plants here don’t last. They get attacked by aphids. The sun is just too bright on the balcony and they burn. But I keep trying to grow something back there. It’s more like a compulsion than a conscious thought-process. It’s an urge to nurture, deep-rooted in me. I need to make things grow.

I got that urge this morning, to get my fingers in the dirt and work out my grief, and went out for potting soil and seeds. But I just keep wondering. Who has died? Is it America?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wow.

I’ve been super lazy about maintaining this blog. I like to think that no one reads it anyway, so it doesn’t matter. But I think it does, even if no one else ever reads a word I write. I’ve been putting off writing a much longer blog post than this one. But this is really bad– I misplaced this blog. I mean, it disappeared. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I guess that means I should be more diligent. I’ll try. Stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Lesson in Personal Safety and a Happy Ending to the Saga

I had an experience this weekend that really shook me up and reminded me how important it is to be prepared for random aggression. I’m a pretty tough cookie. I don’t look like it, but I know how to handle myself. I also have a case of Severe Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so my reaction to physical threats is to go into a state very similar to auto-soldier. I’m fine under duress, but afterwards, it gets difficult. My friends have been great, and let me know they are here if I need them. Thank you.

I struggled about how to write about this. First, my family is up North, and I don’t want them to worry, so I wrestled with whether to even share it at all. I strongly believe that writing about a situation in which you feel powerless somehow gives you back power, and that is ultimately what led me to the decision to share.

I haven’t been doing much writing lately. I’ve had an iron deficiency, which can lead to depression and so I’ve been focusing my energy on just staying well. But I thought about it, and one of my friends mentioned there was a good tip in how I handled myself that she might not have thought of in the same situation. I learned the tip in a Women’s Self Defense Course as an under grad at Binghamton.

I have a yellow belt in Karate. When I first earned it, I was too big to tie it properly. Now that I’ve lost some weight, I’ll have to pull it out of storage and wear it once awhile, maybe go back into training for the next belt.

Here is what happened:
I went grocery shopping Saturday. I was in the parking lot at Publix, trying to find a spot. There was a big Ford Truck parked parallel to the entrance doors as though someone was picking up an elderly or disabled person, so I pulled past them into the other lane to grab a spot in the next row I saw opening up. When I did this, the truck turned sharply as if they were going to crash into my rear end. The driver started beeping and yelling and flipped me the finger.

So I flipped back–or maybe I flipped first. The guy was being a jackass, and I was annoyed. The chef has told me a thousand times not to escalate a traffic confrontation, because down here, many people carry guns, and use them inappropriately. I should have listened to him.

Then, I thought maybe the fuss was because the person was trying to get the spot i’d just pulled into, and I thought to myself, I don’t want to be that asshole who steals a spot on someone, and pulled back out.

Instead of taking the vacant spot, the guy followed me through the lot as I went up and down each aisle (I went down at least four aisles ) beeping and honking, cursing me out, and tailing me. Finally, I saw the original spot was still open, and just pulled in there. It was an end spot with a grassy area right next to it. The guy parked right on the other side of the end barrier, in the opposite direction of traffic and yelled at me to get out of the car. I locked my doors and waited. He didn’t go away.

I didn’t have my cell to call the police. I’m still getting used to carrying it around. So I did the only thing I could think to do, which was to set off my car alarm. When I am in these kinds of situations, sometimes my throat closes up, and I can’t speak or holler, but I knew right then I needed to make some noise to get the guy to leave me alone. That’s the tip. Make a lot of noise. Even if no one comes to help, it can scare off a jackass who looks like he is set to get physical. After about three minutes (or what felt like 6 hours), the truck finally pulled away. I stayed in my car until I saw him exit the lot, and then went in to do my shopping.

HE CAME BACK. He followed me into the store. He was a big guy, about 6″4, and yelled at me that I was a “miserable fucking cunt.” If I had any vocal ability right then, there are a number of things I would have said, but I could not say anything at that point. Really though, “miserable fucking cunt?” He could have come up with something better than that. My cunt is pretty wonderful, thank you very much. I think if I had a voice, I might have said that.

AND NO ONE HELPED ME. He didn’t stay and engage me any further me, but went to the customer service desk, and then made a nasty remark as I walked by with my cart. As soon as I could speak, I told two employees who did nothing.

It was only when a checker asked me casually,  “How are you today?” and got an honest unfiltered response did anyone pay any attention. What I told the smiling young cashier is that they needed to find the biggest person in the store to keep an eye on me, because if the guy came near me, it might get physical, and they would need the biggest goon in the store to drag me off him.

I don’t remember finishing up my shopping, or even driving home after that. I managed to get everything on the list. I was in auto-soldier mode, and just focused on doing my shopping for the week(the feline needs his food or he’ll gnaw my arm off). I got home though, and couldn’t sit still to catch up on all the work I have fallen behind on.

I was all alone and scared, but a good friend on the other side of the country talked to me and calmed me down, and helped me feel safe (Thank you). I needed to know I had someone close by, even though this friend is far away.

And then I made a five gallon pot of some fiery mango chutney that will last me into the next century. Mango chutney makes everything better.

I’m going to make sure I keep to my resolution to carry my cell phone, and I’ll keep my car alarm in good order. It worked well enough to get the guy away from my car, and me into an area filled with people, who I hope would have stepped in if it got physical.

After all that, there was something wonderful, and weird in the way life seems to be here in Florida. There was a beautiful sunset on the lake, and also the discovery that I have new neighbors in the building. I am very excited at the thought that my twilights may be interrupted with refrains of “Vaya Con Dios.” I might have to throw a mariachi boat launch party.

Welcome Los Mariachis de mi Tierra!

Image