Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Decoupaging the Past: WWII

How's your week going? Mine is best embodied by a moment this past Saturday at a craft fair in Tarrytown's Patriot Park. A boy--an Ecuadorian immigrant's kid no more than 10 years old--was about to buy a $2 ($1 for him, cuz he's a kid) resin magnet of Elvis Costello.

This one: GET HAPPY

Just as I was smiling, "Now THAT'S a cool kid," he dropped Costello and insisted on buying the one of John Hinkley Jr. holding a shotgun.
THIS ONE. Yes, Reagan's would-be assassin.

His mother shrugged and handed over a wrinkled dollar, my happy little customer skipped away, and I had what could be classified as a public meltdown.

Irony is alive and well, Friends.

So, I keep making Art. Or Craft. Whatever. Among other things, WWII (the good, the bad, and the very ugly) has been on my mind, so I started by chopping up a damaged LIFE Magazine celebrating the 30th anniversary of the end of WWII and made magnets using clear resin squares and rectangular jeweler's glass.

Ah, WWII: Pinup girls, factory girls, bombers, vengeance, defiance.

The Art of Paranoia

But don't worry about that right now.... SOLD
Oh, how we need those cuffs now.
Action Comics #1, reprint. SOLD

Like Churchill, I'm feeling feisty, ready for a drink,
a smoke (and I don't smoke) and am probably heading
towards a massive stroke. NOT FOR SALE.

I'll show you what else I've been making in a minute. Remember, Friends, keep using your body, your mind, your voice, and your hands.

Copyright 2016, Tanya Monier

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Generations of Hustle

So. Malfoy just won The Hunger Games, in part because nobody really likes know-it-all Hermione. 

The reactions of people close to me got me thinking that maybe it's a good time (maybe it's a bad time) for a refresher about where we come from.


Yousef Moun-aye-er (an alternative transliteration of the Arabic name that captures the sound a bit better than the Frenchy looking "Monier"--roughly translated, the name means "Someone Who Radiates Light") was raised in Qatana, an Ottoman garrison and dust-dry village some 20 miles west of Damascus. Talk about a dead-end existence. Yousef, a Catholic, was built like a grizzly, which made him a target for threats and abuse from the local Muslim forces. Aged 12, Yousef, all by his lonesome, decided to take what I like to call "One Big Risk" and run away to make his fortune in "Amreeka."
His journey--which crossed the Mediterranean Sea, France, and the Atlantic ocean--took years. He stowed away on an ocean liner, and when discovered, cleaned and hauled stuff around the ship for food.

What no one told this grizzly of a boy, however, is that "Amreeka" is a big place, two continents actually. His ship docked smack between both. Teenage Yousef decided to head north to his Land of Freedom. Illegally. Working for a traveling Mexican circus. I used to pretend that this meant he was a performer. My dad had to convince me that his dad had not swung from the flying trapeze as the circus paraded across the U.S. border. Yousef had been behind the parade, sweeping up the animals' droppings. Especially memorable were the elephants.
"But, it was a different time to enter as an illegal immigrant!" some argue. Yes it was. It was the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Tammany Hall, and of lynching blacks in town squares.

In a fit of racist, disillusioned pique, thirteen-year-old me once used the words that the mean kids used on me and around me: "So, we didn't come through Ellis Island or anything? I'm the granddaughter of a towelhead wetback?"

My dad stared me down so that I held my breath. Then he released a rueful little chuckle. "Yes, I guess your Jiddo was a towelhead wetback. And he had hustle."

That's my daddy on Jiddo's lap, giving the world the reverse finger.

He started school in blond-and-blue-eyed Grand Rapids Michigan speaking "Arabish." He had a lisp, too. He spent so much time with the speech therapist that he became interested in linguistics, but that wouldn't pay the bills. So, being the first in his family to finish college, he became a dentist and spent the rest of his career pushing tongues out of the way.

During his one trip to "The Old Country," he married a gorgeous, multi-lingual, huge-hearted, highly cultured woman from Damascus whose grammar, syntax, and accent he relentlessly corrected for the next twenty years. But when civil war broke out in Lebanon in the 1970s, swallowing my mother's siblings and children into the vortex of violence, he stepped up and sponsored them. All of them. We called our house "The Hotel Monier."

Mom and Dad helped those refugees to become American. They and their kids are blue collar workers, real estate agents, daycare owners, teachers, lawyers, pharmacists, and physicians. My dad, son of an illegal immigrant, is responsible for the existence of nearly forty US citizens, if you count the wives, children, and grandchildren of those who passed through our home on their way to the American Dream. If that ain't hustle, nothing is.

I don't speak Arabic in part because my older sisters and my father always insisted that "We are ONLY AMERICAN," and in part because it was easier to go blank and glazed when relatives spoke Arabic to me. Easier to insist, "I'm just an American."

Except, unlike my sisters, I couldn't pass for one. Except my body, face, and hair were at best "exotic" and at worst were mocked by the rich white kids at school as belonging to a "sand nigger," "camel jockey," "gorilla," "Afro Queen," and "terrorist." I learned to take on the bullies by biting and scratching back--literally and figuratively. I fell, again and again, into self-loathing and depression. I read novels too advanced for my age and drew portraits of my favorite lilly-white British New Wave pop stars. I learned history, French, and German. I grappled other "freaks" and outsiders to my soul, badgered the shy immigrant kids into friendship. I traveled and taught.

Today, I seek ways to remind others of the need for compassion, for empathy, for vigilance...for each other and for our future.

It's definitely not a time to sit still, Friends.

It's definitely time to hustle.

Copyright 2017, Tanya Monier

Monday, November 7, 2016

Closing Time...

Here we are on the eve of a spectacularly intense election, one that promises a break from everything that has come before, and I have changes to report, too.

My Prince of the Forest was given notification that his office in New York is closing three years earlier than expected. His choices are to leave a company he loves and has been loyal to for 18 years, or he can be assigned to one of the company's two other offices: Princeton, New Jersey, or Rennes, France. The company is based in California, as were we once upon a time, but California is not an option. As Semisonic's 1998 strangely liquor-loving ode to birth goes, "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."

So.... I am not sure where the future takes us, but we must leave Sleepy Hollow--dearest chosen home of my heart--next summer. The anxiety is nearly unbearable, so I channel my OCD into Google searches about our two potential future homes. Let's learn a little about them, shall we?


There it is, two and a half hours southwest of our home.
Just far enough away to know no one and nothing.

Population: about 30,000
Median House Price: that would be $750,000
Median Property Taxes: $16,000
Public Schools: Freaking phenomenal, naturally
Hold on: are we actually talking about Scarsdale, New York?

Princeton University: Claims to be an Ivy League, but as a Columbia University grad, I question whether one can call oneself an Ivy League if walking around campus doesn't guarantee bits of broken glass get lodged in your sandals.

Yes, it's perfect. But have you MET ME? Is this my natural habitat?

Let's be honest: we'll all be fine in Princeton. Maybe I'll find a few secret weirdos to bond with. But it's expensive--even for a Westchester resident of 18 years--and, frankly, none of us really feel drawn to this, even the Badgerettes, who only find consolation in the fact that we could come back for Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown's brilliant Halloween parties and parades.


So, how about the other contender for new, permanent home for this American Badger?

Rennes, France
So far away it actually seems like fun.

Population: about 250,000
Median House Price: 300,000 Euros (right now, that's like $350,000)
Median Property Taxes: 3,000 Euros (but they'll hit us up for more in other ways)
Public Schools: some of the finest in the world, thank you

Anywhere we go will feature Tudor Style buildings,
but these are actually medieval.

University of Rennes: 26,000 students specializing in science, tech, and the humanities. My kind of folks.
Dang it! I don't think I'm going to get
glass shards in my feet here, either. 

Rennes is the capitol city of Brittany, the Silicon Valley of La Belle France...without the Silicon Valley real estate prices. It's home to huge numbers of English speaking expatriates, and it's considered one of the most welcoming places in France for foreigners to live. (Once upon a time, I lived in Paris, and I can't imagine a less welcoming place--and I did live in NYC, so I'm not throwing uninformed shade.)

Did I mention that I'm fairly fluent in French? Oh, I make an ass of myself regularly, but I can clown like Jerry Lewis at the drop of a hat, so it usually turns out ok.

Interestingly, the Badgerettes (especially #1) are down for adventure. Both are happily playing French language games on Babbel these days, in anticipation of a future in which they'll need to parle that stuff. Even The Prince is learning office talk in French, mostly along the lines of "Je voudrais une biere."

You get the point: I'd rather raise French girls than Jersey girls, and they'd rather be French girls than Jersey girls (even the Prince).

Fingers crossed, for America and for us. Some of my toes are crossed, too. I hope we all get what is best for our future.  I'll keep you updated.

And I leave you with more one-hit-wonder lyrics from Semisonic:

So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits
I hope you have found a friend.
Closing time, every new beginning comes
From some other beginning's end.

Tanya Monier, 2016