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Leaving Las Vegas: DEFCON Again
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lilmissnever
Every year I make my pilgrimage to DEFCON. I do some outreach for the Mysterious Workplace and maybe do a panel or give a talk or speak at BSides. I did both a panel and a talk this year, which was relatively low-key, since the panel required almost no preparation and the talk was in a small side room. For the first time in many years, I attended DEFCON without J, who has somehow managed to be more busy after escaping his Corporate Masters and entering "retirement" than he was when he had a full-time job. J ran the burlesque show and went to Outside Lands instead of spending the weekend in Las Vegas, which meant that all of my conversations started with, "No, J is not here this year. He's really busy." I did not go so far as to get this printed on a tee-shirt, but I gave it some serious thought.

Attending DEFCON as an unescorted female resulted in a couple of awkward moments, but nothing too terrible happened. I couldn't support this statement with any actual facts, but the gender balance at DEFCON seemed to be a little bit better than last year. The crowd is still overwhelmingly white, but it's a little less overwhelmingly male. The only people who talked down to me were people who were attending the conference for the first time.

"What kind of badge is that?"

"It's a speaker badge."

"Oh."

The half-dozen young female legal interns the Mysterious Workplace brought to DEFCON escaped with a positive impression of both Las Vegas and hacker culture in general, which I consider to be a great victory. I have been around for a long time and am most commonly described as "terrifying," so they are a far better barometer of how DEFCON is treating women who are relatively new to the scene. I had attendees tell me stories about seeing men call out other men for inappropriate comments or behavior, which pleases me.

Having said that, I heard longtime DEFCON attendees, including one Goon, make disparaging remarks about the "diversity in tech" panel. "We don't need this panel," said the Goon. "Just look around the room--it's plenty diverse!" The former spooks who have been wining and dining me for the last several conferences (nice, dull, Virginia-suburb people) opined that "feminists" want them to "feel bad about being white men" and that they were powerless to turn back time and right all of the wrongs that have been done to women and people of color. I broke out the verbal jujitsu and suggested that there were a few concrete things they could do in the "mentoring people who are not white men" and "calling out bad behavior when you see it," departments. We reached agreement and ate very expensive hamburgers at the Cosmopolitan.

There happened in Las Vegas that did not involve feminism. My talk was very well-received--so well that I may put together some slides and submit it as a real talk to a real conference, rather than a 30-minute rant delivered with a blinding hangover based on notes sketched on the back of a napkin. I made progress towards fixing some Mysterious Workplace-related problems with the security community. People who troll me relentlessly online were quite pleasant and polite in person. I made it out to the pool and it rained on me, right there in the middle of Nevada desert! I got a solid quote in the Washington Post. I returned home refreshed rather than exhausted and outraged, which is a pleasant change of pace.

I feel as if I have done battle with Las Vegas and won.

Remains
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lilmissnever
Everything that is left of my cat is in a little pine box decorated with a plaque labeled "Ada." It came with a couple of pieces of paper with Ada's paw print on them--I remember rolling my eyes and asking them not to do that--and some poetry. I haven't read the poetry. I glanced at it and whatever primitive part of my brain recognizes bad poetry kicked in and prevented me from understanding whatever was written there.

For those of you keeping score, Ada has been dead since the beginning of June. Her remains have been in that little box for about a month. And while it is true that I have been traveling (is there ever a time when I am not traveling?) I could not bring myself to park in front of the fancy vet where J and I had spent so much money, where we brought her in for tests and surgeries and we worried about her bladder stones and her inflamed kidneys and her pancreatitis. She was so skinny when she died.

I do not know what to do with this box, but I have picked it up and held it and did not cry too much. I am relieved that I had enough emotional resilience to do this thing and a little embarrassed that something so simple should be so difficult.

The next day I got up and went to the circus school in Oakland and I rigged my own tissu for the first time in many months. People who had not seen me since late last year greeted me kindly and asked for legal referrals. I thought that I would be embarrassed because it has been some time since I have been up in the air. I have been hiding at the Very Serious Circus School, taking conditioning classes with the tiny, perpetually-disappointed Russian woman who reminds me of my mother, convinced that I could not show my face among my peers until I had my one-arm hang on the rope and my break-beats back.

I climbed and I climbed and my beats are not that great and I don't think I have a straight-arm straddle-up right now. My forearms hurt and my shoulders are sore now, but I am still comfortable twenty feet up in the air, upside-down and spinning. My body will not do all of the things I have come to expect of it, but I have come back once and I can come back again. It all comes back and no one cares that I was gone, no one is judging me for my fumbling hands and lost shoulder strength. Well, maybe they are--maybe they're silently judging--but it doesn't matter. They're my shoulders and no one else's.

I have spent my weekend doing all of the things that are scary and hard. I am not sure that anything gets easier after this, but I am relieved these things are done.

Squidless: In Which I Have Hair for the First Time in 14 Years
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lilmissnever
I am squidless.

For the first time in 14 years, I do not have dreadlocks of any kind--not long ones or short
ones, not extensions or my own hair. All of my hair is mine and I can run my fingers through it unimpeded. My hairdresser, who combed out her own mess of magenta dreadlocks last year, has cut it into a severely angled bob, which I've dyed red at the roots and black at the ends. It is strange to look at myself in the mirror. My head looks tiny compared to the rest of my body. I am able to wear hats, and not just tiny jaunty hats that perch atop my head, but cloches and big floppy sunhats. And there are things I cannot do. My hair is slippery and fine and I can't stick dozens of great big fake flowers into it. My fancy fascinators seem absurdly large now. I must confine myself to wearing one thing in my hair at any given time instead of piling all of them on top of one another.

I have had a series of bad hair days. There's not much that can be done to avoid it when you've backcombed your hair into a tangle for more than a decade. For weeks, my hair was frizzy and dull. And when it started to behave like hair again, it was not the hair that I remembered. It was slippery and thin, a common side effect of a recently-treated medical condition. It fell flat against my scalp and when I tried to add styling products, it just looked greasy and messy. I took deep breaths and sought Zen-like calm. It will grow back. it will grow back. It will grow back. If you really hate it, you can have a whole head of dreadlock extensions again.

I must have looked miserable. My magenta-haired hairdresser looked me up and down as I walked into her salon for my first real trim and said, "Oh honey. I see I'm going to have to teach you about hair products."

It turns out that having had dreadlocks for nearly my entire adult life means that I have only the vaguest idea of what hair products are. I have slowly absorbed knowledge about makeup (primer and powder and moisturizer and don't overpluck your eyebrows) and health (exercise and drink water and 5HTP and L-theanine and more vitamin D than you can possibly think might be necessary) and the proper care and fit of clothes (tailor your hems and sleeves; store your woolens and silks properly or they will be eaten by moths; for heaven's sake, find a dry cleaner that you trust), but my understanding of hair maintenance has been limited to "dunk it in black hair dye every 6 weeks and stick porcupine quills in it until it stops squirming."

I don't know anything about hair styling. I have never known anything about hair styling. These goops and waxes and cremes and sprays are completely unfamiliar to me. Oh god. If I don't know anything about hair styling, what other essential femme lore am I missing? What don't I know? Why hasn't anyone told me?

It turns out that the shampoo and conditioner you use matter. This is probably obvious to most of you, but for the last decade and change, washing my hair has been something that happens once every few weeks and must be planned well in advance because it must be left down for the entire day or it will not dry. No one wants mildewed dreadlocks. Now I must wash my hair every couple of days, which means I must find gentle shampoo that will not wash my dye right out. I buy shampoo that promises to repair hair that's "dry" and "fine" and "damaged." I leave in conditioner and let it soak for a while. The label.m conditioner says it's "honey and oats," but it smells like cake. People walk up to me on the street and tell me I smell delicious. This is occasionally awkward.

And here, according to my magenta-haired hairdresser, is where I would make my fatal mistake. Having blithely washed my hair and rubbed it dry with a towel, I'd throw in styling creme or (if my hair was being particularly flat and dull) styling wax, and go about my day. It turns out that while my hair is still wet, I need hair primer. Bumble & Bumble makes some, as does Pureology. Primer gets worked into my wet hair, de-frizzes it and protects it against heat, which I am going to need because in a moment I am going to get out the blow dryer, an item which I haven't used since college. Now (and if you're keeping track, I am on my 4th hair product here), I work a little bit of mousse into the roots of my hair, bend over and dry it all out with a round brush. The mousse, like many other hair products, is heat-activated, so it works better in combination with the blow dryer.

You think I might be done by now, don't you? No. Now that my hair is dry, I add "dryspun finish" spray, in short bursts about 10 inches away from my head so that the product doesn't clump in my hair. Now, if I wanted to completely follow my hair-stylist's advice, I would deploy a finishing creme or spray, to protect my ends and return all of the shine to my hair that I've just dulled out with with volume-building products.

All of this drama takes an extra twenty minutes out of my morning. I imagine that it will get faster over time, in the same way that it now takes me approximately five minutes to do my makeup before I leave the house. It seems like a lot of trouble to go through, but my post-headsquid hair does look fabulous.

The Myth of the Slacker Genius
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lilmissnever
We've all encountered the Slacker Genius. Slacker Genius gets straight A's but never seems to study or do homework. When you grow up, Slacker Genius parties all night, drinks all the time, insufflates strange powders, and still gets the promotion or the keynote address. The Slacker Genius wins awards, gets quoted in the papers, gives talks, and publishes research and you have no idea how it's done because you've never seen him work.

Actually, that's not true. You never see 90% of your friends actually do any work. You see them stress out about work. You hear them talk about how busy and important they are. You hear them fret about deadlines. They tell you they can't talk or drink or go out right now because they have to burn the midnight oil on a very important project. You think you've never seen the Slacker Genius work because he does not do this. The Slacker Genius works in silence because he likes to make his work look effortless, like Richard Feynman just tripping over the Nobel Prize on his way to play the bongos.

The Slacker Genius likes to keep an air of mystery around his work. He will never tell you that to be really great at what you do, you need to think about it all the time. He'll never let on that the effort of keeping an entire project or problem in his head and grinding away at it with every spare cycle of energy is exhausting. He will never say that he drinks because it's the only way to put all those thoughts down for a moment.

The Slacker Genius is never a woman. I've spent some time thinking about why this is the case. Surely is it not a coincidence that the Slacker is never female--indeed, that popular culture treats the female slacker as an oxymoron. Perhaps more so in my line of work than in others, women cannot afford even the illusion of slack. A woman who does not work all the time (read as: talk about how much she is working all the time) is seen as less than serious. The woman who is out drinking and partying all the time and still produces top-quality work is not a mysterious and attractive figure; she's simply assumed to be a fraud.

Sure, it's a bit late for me to discover that I will never be Richard Feynman. I'm not even sure that I ever wanted to be a Slacker Genius. It just makes me sad that I cannot. And I am not sure how to maintain a veneer of seriousness without becoming the sort of tedious person who is always talking about how much work they have to.

And Then My Cat Died
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lilmissnever
There was a time when I might have written this differently. I might have started with the time that my cat staggered into the shower while it was still on and just stood there, dull-eyed and dazed while the water fell on her. I might talk about the many trips to the vet, the pancreatitis, the enlarged kidney, the high levels of calcium in her blood. I might talk about spending weeks feeding Ada special food and giving her a regimen of medicines to get her into good enough shape for surgery to remove the stones from her bladder. I could talk about locking Ada in the upstairs room with her shaved belly and her own cat box and her Cone of Shame for two weeks while we waited for the wound to heal up. I could talk about money. J and I spent as much on Ada as most people might spend on a new car. I could talk about watching my Ada waste away from 13 lbs to less than 7--all skin and protruding bones.

When I returned from New York and Stockholm and London, she'd stopped eating. She has some sort of terrible IBS, which we were treating with steroids, but we just couldn't get her to eat and even she did, she couldn't absorb the nutrients. J took her to the vet the next day while I went to work. We thought we might have to put in a feeding tube, like the time when she had hepatic lipidosis and we had to force-feed her. I didn't think I would get a call at the end of the work day telling me that Ada's heart had stopped and they were doing CPR. By the time I got to the vet, J was waiting there and my cat was dead.

I could not bear to look at her. I didn't want to remember her as a body. In another week or two, I will pick up a small pine box with her name on it. I don't even know what I will do with it.

J and I got Ada and Perl twelve years ago. They were so tiny I could hold both of them in one hand. Perl loved J and Ada was mine, the first and only creature that's ever been mine completely. We did everything we could for her and it still wasn't enough. Perhaps it's a little bit ridiculous that it's taken me this long to learn that death is not fair. Well, death is not fair and all that I can do is go home and hug my one remaining cat, my cat that's really J's, and feel like I failed terribly.
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Friendly Fascism
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lilmissnever
When two things happen at the same time, it's easy to get them all mixed up. You enter a fugue state where the issues interpolate and you're sure there are connections--and why hasn't anyone written a thesis about this?

At least that's what happens to me when Elliot Rodger goes on a killing spree after writing wall-to-wall a misogyny manifesto and I attend an Internet freedom conference in Sweden that is rumored to have blacklisted Edward Snowden and people associated with Wikileaks. I feel as if my weekend was nothing but white men in power holding their fingers to their lips and saying, "Shush now. You just don't understand. It's all for your own good. Just lie back and enjoy the surveillance...I mean, patriarchy."

M does dramatic readings from Rodger's manifesto while a bunch of us sit on the floor of her Manhattan studio and drink champagne. She is made of jet lag because she has just returned from a trip to Dubai, where she did interviews for an upcoming story on the plight of migrant workers in the UAE. We talk about secure communications tools for cell phones and her boyfriend orders Thai food and I take blurry selfies in M's bathroom, with its photogenic wallpaper. It's only later that I see the weirdly sympathetic media coverage of the killings--did some girl's rejection cause Rodger to go berzerk? I read endless tweets in which men pat themselves on the back for not being serial killers and rapists. I read blog post after blog post written by women, talking about their own experiences with rape and catcalls and assault. And I read comments at the end of every blog post telling them to shut up, occasionally followed up by rape threats.

I've never been shy about talking about what it's like to live and work in neighborhoods where I'm catcalled every time I walk down the street. I talk about the time I was sexually assaulted by a stranger on the street who punched me in the face. I talk about the time someone grabbed my ass on the train in Istanbul and I was livid because the train was so crowded that I could not be certain who was responsible. I talk about the times I yell back at the people who yell at me on the street. What I don't talk about are the thousands of times I shut up and look straight ahead and I keep walking. I don't talk about how tiring it is to live in a body that is always assumed to be an object of public comment and scrutiny.

What I don't say is that the next time some guy tells me to smile, I will flash my teeth and rip out his fucking throat.

I wake up in Stockholm. It is raining. The Swedish Foreign Minister tells someone in the audience that their conference on Internet freedom did not invite the people who have done more for that cause than anyone else in the last year because they wanted to focus on "diversity," and there were already too many white men. A representative from the US State Department defends NSA's global surveillance program by claiming that "it's helping people all over the world" and they need it to stop the terrorists. Old white men pat themselves on the back for being open to multi-stakholderism and embracing civil society.

If one more guy tells me that mass surveillance is there for my own good, I will flash my teeth and rip out his fucking throat.

The State of the Brainmeat
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lilmissnever
When I am quiet for a long time, I feel like I must apologize for not having written. I have to make a sheepish list of all of the places I've been that I haven't written about: LA, Philadelphia, Toronto, Detroit, Washington DC. I have seen great shows, including Godflesh and Kraftwerk. I have read interesting books, including Palimpsest (by Catherynne M. Valente, which is exactly the sort of thing that people who know me think I would like) and The Invention of Air, by Stephen Johnson, which I read because I liked The Ghost Map so much. If you have not yet read the third trade paperback of Saga or started listening to Chvrches, then you are three months behind and you must catch up immediately so that we can talk about these things. We're just going to end up sitting around talking about this season of Game of Thrones if you don't.

Is it sad that when people ask me what I'm doing, my first instinct is to tell them about what I'm reading? Is it any better if I tell them where I'm traveling to, or where I'm just returning from? Is it sadder if I talk about work? Is it sadder if I don't go out at all and no one asks me these questions because I stay home worrying about my inability to make ordinary conversation?

I took a few months to get my brainmeats in order, and so far I am cautiously optimistic about the results. Life is not noticeably better than it was a few months ago: my grandmother still falls and breaks both of her arms, my less-healthy cat has suffered from a variety of troubles that will require surgery, I had to cancel my annual circus retreat in the Dominican Republic. But none of these things feels like the end of the world. And it is an immense relief to feel as if I have some emotional resilience again.

My life is not all conferences. J and I have been hosting elaborate dinner parties on Sundays. We've had 20 lbs of crawfish flown in from Louisiana for a crawfish boil. We've made our own dim sum and enormous pans of paella. I've purchased a book of Venetian recipes I want to try out. I've been running a lot--running is something I can do in hotel gyms. I still hate running more than any other form of exercise, but I have not found a suitable alternative to high impact interval training. I have made some progress on my center splits, which I had not thought was possible.

Okay, so my life is all conferences. I had my first Guest of Honor gig at a conference in Detroit. The cliche about Midwesterners being nice is a cliche because it's true. The conference organizers stocked my hotel room with berries and hummus and pita chips. They made me pistachio ice cream, because I mentioned that I liked it. They printed "Outrage Fairy" badge ribbons for me to give out. I took part in a panel about geek culture and feminism in which no one asked any painfully stupid questions. And when it was all over, the conference chairman took me on a tour of Detroit that included its crumbling Art Deco train station and cavernous potholes and ruined mansions and empty streets, but also its up-and-coming neighborhoods and gleaming Quicken Loans skyscrapers.

"You could buy a 10-bedroom mansion with a ballroom here," he tells me. "Not that I'd know what to do with a ballroom."

"Are you kidding? Throw balls!"

Everyone I talked to told me that they lived in Detroit because their close-knit community was important to them and they could not find that anywhere else. I did my best to honor that by not being that asshole tourist who takes photos of ruin porn.

It is good to be home. It is good to sleep in my own bed, next to J and the cats. I have a lot of adventure in my life, which is makes that much more comforting to come home to a routine, to peace and order, to touching up the paint in Bunker 3 and shopping for rugs.

Now we just need a ballroom, right?

Killing Carmen San Diego
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lilmissnever
I'm not going to lie to you, my largely theoretical readers--I have suspected for quite some time that being Carmen San Diego is not good for me. For a long time, I thought that I had bigger problems. My eye exploded. J and I spent most of a very stressful year gutting and remodeling Bunker 3. Then I traveled. And I traveled. And I traveled. In 2013, I flew over 100,000 miles. I spent more than 40% of my time outside of San Francisco. In December and January, I was gone for 40 out of 60 days. I visited ten cities, gave I'm-not-sure how many talks and trainings, and put out two major reports. I spent my Christmas vacation at a conference in Hamburg. My friend killed himself and I had to stay up all night writing slides for my talk.

I'm standing around with a bunch of Internet Freedom types after our fourth conference in a row. We're drinking . We've been drinking every night for the last five nights. We were probably drinking before that, too. We're all under-slept because we make a point of staying out all night and then showing up for the 9:00 am keynote. We're all running out of pages in our passports. We're all running out of friends who don't travel for a living. We are never home. Most of us don't know where home is anymore.

"Hands up," I say, "if you've had a nervous breakdown in the last year."

That's a lot of hands.

The hands start all of their conversations with "I'm so busy..." The hands only know how to talk about work. The hands don't do any real work anymore, they just give talks at conferences. They have meetings. They worry about funding. They have depression and panic attacks. They self-medicate with alcohol. Every one of us has gained weight. I am the heaviest I have ever been, in this stupid noncompliant meat suit. I do not know where the find a circus school in Kiev.

And that's how Carmen San Diego came back from the Middle East and got a therapist.

I cannot pretend that I have snuck up on Carmen San Diego and wrung her neck and everything is fine now. But I take my vitamins and eat breakfast. I've managed to travel to Chicago and Philadelphia and still go to the gym. When I was asked to speak at a conference in Malaysia in the middle of the April, which I'd decided to spend at home, I gave the speaking gig to someone else. I have done public-facing work that does not involve speaking at a conference. I have scheduled a vacation. I have run many miles and spent a lot of time soaking in the bath.

It is hard to let go of my vision of myself as a globe-trotting, hard-drinking, international woman of mystery. It is hard not to feel as if I have to be out all night at every party, speaking at every conference, and present at every meeting. But who is really going to notice if I travel 75,000 miles this year instead of 100,000? I hope that I will still be a bad-ass--just a calmer, happier, more productive and well-rested bad-ass. And sometimes I will even be home.

This Why We Can't Have Nice Things: An Ongoing Series
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lilmissnever
I did the math. Over the last three months, I have been out of the country noticeably more often than I've been in it. I have traveled approximately 35,000 miles. I have been to ten cities in seven countries. I have experienced all of the jet lag. All of it. If you think you are jet lagged right now, it is an illusion. I assure you, the jet lag is all mine. I am tired and worn out and noticeably heavier.

I underestimate just how much the last few months of travel have taken out of me. I always think that when I get back to ess eff, I will take up all of my good habits right away. I will go to contortion class and finish the last of the Bunker 3-related projects and write lots of blog posts and schedule that eye surgery I've been putting off for a year. Instead, I come home and J is having a dinner party, and I have to retreat to the bedroom with a glass of wine to breathe slowly and hug the cats because my beautiful house is full of people and I am suddenly convinced that they all hate me. And J comes into the bedroom asking why I'm hiding in there, because he has put together a dinner party and there are fifteen people in our house and he is feeding them all. He has put off the party for two weeks just so I could be there. And why won't I just relax?

It takes me about a week to relax--a week before I can do anything other than come home after work and do anything more complicated than putting in a load of laundry and watching stupid television. After a week, I start to really come back. I can dye my hair and mend my clothes and go to the gym and repair my nice shoes and make plans to see my friends. After a few days, I feel ambitious enough to tackle the last of the cardboard boxes left over from the move to Bunker 3. Nevermind that the construction has been done since last October--we have only just finished installing the upstairs railing a couple of weeks ago, which marked the very last of the construction on our original list of Bunker 3 projects. I packed some of these things in December of 2012.

By Monday, I felt that the time had come. J and I had cleaned large swaths of the rest of the house. We could do this. We could unpack the last fifteen moving boxes. Unpacking bedroom boxes is like Christmas. Oh, how I'd missed my things! My many, many things! My boxes of socks and underwear. My boxes of go-go dancing accoutrements. My silk lounging robes. It had been a long time since I'd seen most of my jewelry. I felt like I could wear it all at once. People who tell you that if you pack your things up in a box and you do not use them you should throw them away are vicious, vicious liars. I'm just a happier person when I know where to find my 1930's black silk velvet gown, okay?

J and I spent a couple of days sorting through our things, cleaning the things that had become unfathomably dirty, throwing away broken things, extra tee-shirts and tights riddled with runs. We had made it more than halfway through the boxes when I unearthed a box of my nicest things, the box labeled "Vanity, large drawer." That's where all my jewelry went. And my feathered fascinators. And my corsets. And Archibald, my white fox fur with the little dangling feet. And my fox collar, also with little dangling feet, which had no name because it had no head.

And moths.

Probably more than a year of moths.

Did you know that in addition to wool and silk, moths eat fur and feathers? I sure know that now.

Archibald and his grey friend were, unfortunately, consigned to the trash bin. Everything else has been sprayed down with cedar and lavender spray, tossed into a garbage bag, and deposited in the freezer until the moths die. I have purchased moth traps for the bedroom and cedar bits to distribute liberally in all of my drawers and in the closet.

The War on Moths begins today. And if anyone happens to see a white fox fur for sale, with the head still on and the little dangling feet, let me know.

Slouching Towards Bethelhem
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lilmissnever
My relationship to Israel is complicated--very complicated. I don't have any relatives left in any part of the former Soviet Union. They all live in Israel--my terrifying grandmother who fought the Nazis, my Aunt and Uncle, their three kids, my grandfather's seven siblings and all of their children. Israel is where my relatives are Ambassadors and university professors. It's where there is a street named after my family. I spent every other summer there while I was growing up. I visited two years ago, on the way back from Istanbul.

It turns out I've never been to Israel. I had my suspicions. I wandered around the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem feeling twitchy and uncomfortable and biting my tongue lest I call the place a monumental justification of Palestinian apartheid. I have had the Israeli Experience, a carefully curated Israel in which I am shepherded from location to location by relatives who want to show me how nice it is. It is an Israel made up of Russians and Americans and the occasionally visitor from Western Europe.

Did you know your cousin and his wife moved to Berlin? You should look them up! Did you know D moved to the Netherlands? Look at this video of her baby! Isn't he adorable? When are you and that guy you married going to have kids? How can you have kids when you travel all the time?

I don't ask why almost all of my generation got out of Israel as soon as they could escape. I don't ask what's wrong with this place that everyone wants to escape from. We don't talk about politics. I pretend that I don't know a thing about politics. I sate my desire to make them uncomfortable by pulling a remorseful face and telling them I'm too old to have kids.

The Israeli Experience is an Israel with no Palestinians in it. There is no wall. There are no checkpoints. There is no racism because there's no one to be racist towards. And I couldn't truthfully say that I hadn't noticed this before. It was just that much more obvious after crossing from Jordan into Palestine over the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge, after staying the night in Beit Sahour and Bethelhem, and wandering around Ramallah. Here are the roads that Palestinians cannot drive on. Here are the settlements, hemming in Palestinian towns to prevent them from expanding. Here are the roads built by USAid, lined with billboards reminding you to be thankful for American charity. Here is the endless traffic at checkpoints. Here are the human cages you must stand in while armed Israelis inspect your car. Show me your passport. Where is this visa stamp from? Run your bag through this machine. Give me your cell phone. Ferrari Sheppard is right. There is no Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is only occupation.

The Mysterious Workplace pays for fancy tourist hotel on the beach in Tel Aviv. It is the first time I've ever been to Tel Aviv without staying at my aunt and uncle's apartment. I look out over the sea. I look out over skyscrapers full of tech company office workers. I meet with privacy activists and the people who run the Internet. I don't talk to them about politics. Even the privacy activists, even the people who rail against Israelis' knee-jerk eagerness to trade privacy for security, make excuses for the Mossad and Shin Bet. Those are targeted searches. They're good guys. They don't go overboard. I am glad these people do not know me very well, so that they don't recognize the face I make when I'm trying not to look incredulous.

The Israeli Experience is a trap. It's a trap for nice Jewish girls with American passports and Ashkenazi last names. We're supposed to look at holy sites and sit on beaches and go shopping and then come home and tell our friends we saw the Holy Land. We're supposed to spend money and lend political support, and if we ever think about politics at all, we should say something about how important it is for us to have a Jewish state, or that it's such an old and intractable conflict and everyone is equally to blame. You're not supposed to think about what it's like here if your passport says you're Palestinian, or your name might be Arabic, or your skin is just suspiciously dark. Just turn your self-righteousness all the way up and your empathy all the way down and you'll be alright.

Oh Israel, I think we're going to have to break up. It's not me, Israel. It's you. It's you. It's you.

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