12 Years On. The Legacy of This Date Still Affects Us.

A MOMENT OF SILENCE, BEFORE I START THIS POEM

Before I start this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me

In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the
hands of U.S.-backed Israeli
forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.
embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people,
not a war – for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of
a secret war … ssssshhhhh….
Say nothing … we don’t want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have
piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos …
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found
their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of
sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…

100 years of silence…
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half
of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand
Creek,
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness …

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be. Not like it always has
been.

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,
1977.
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and
Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all…Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing…For our dead.

EMMANUEL ORTIZ,  September 11th, 2002.

Getting Over Another Bout of Writers’ Block

Once again I have slacked in blogging. Everything online now seems like you have to post it in order to manage your personal brand, which is exhausting to me. This is not one of those posts. I’m just going to write about a memory that I had, and how it was jogged, and how it still relates to how I feel today.

This is a powerful song by Bob Dylan when he was recording gospel music. Listen to it if you can. It’s called “Pressing On.”

Now, I’m not much of a gospel music listener, but this song is powerful and I’d grown up hearing my parents listen to it.

One day back in late 2007, my time as a volunteer was winding down. Most of my close friends had left the country. I was still there. I woke up one morning and groggily turned on my computer to check email and hit play in iTunes. And this song came on. And I started crying.

At the time, I was in the dumps about my friends not being around and soon leaving the beautiful nation that I’d come to call home. But the song was my encouragement to keep pressing on. I knew it would be tough, but as the same time, I knew I could eventually be able to get through it all.

Fast forward to today, this afternoon. Again, I find myself sitting at my computer. This time, I’m sending out job applications. I’ve been unemployed for months. Once again, I’m in the dumps. And I listen to “Pressing On.” A few tears rolled down my cheek. I know I’ll get through this bad time and on to something new and better. In the song, there’s a line that says, “Shake the dust off from your feet, don’t look back / Nothing can hold you down now, nothing you lack.”

I’ll keep pressing on. And when I’m past, I’ll shake the dust off of my feet and won’t look back.

Think Twice Before Snapshooting

Like many Americans of my generation, I am chronically underemployed and/or basically unemployed and try to save money wherever possible. However, as many Americans know, a car is a damn near necessity in America, and one of the many expenses that go along with owning a car, is mandatory car insurance.

Even though I have never had an accident and the one speeding ticket which I received at the age of 17 was removed from my record, I am required by state law in Oregon to have car insurance. After spending a week looking for the lowest price, I went with the company Progressive. However, after getting to know my way around Eugene, I rarely need my car anymore and can get around town fine on my bicycle or by walking. I drive my car once, or maybe twice, a week. So I thought it was bunk that I had to pay the full rate of someone who drives every day.

Progressive literally saturates the the airwaves with commercials advertising its Snapshot device: a little thing you plug into your car and it creepily tracks your driving until you take it out. In my quest to save money, I thought, “I bet I could get a discount if I plugged that thing in and they realize that I only drive once a week.” A great plan, to be sure. But the constant commercials for this thing don’t tell you that it screws with your car’s computer causing misfires and also turns on the check engine light.

This creepy tracking/recording device arrived in the mail on a Wednesday, and that evening, I plugged it into my car’s diagnostic port and started the car up, just like the instructions said. Some creepy little lights were blinking like HAL 9000 and I figured I was good to go. I thought nothing more of it.

Then on the following Friday evening, I decided that I needed to drive across town to make a purchase. My wife and I hopped in my car, which hadn’t been started or moved since Wednesday when I put in the spying device. I turned the key, the engine turned over, and started violently shaking the vehicle. A cylinder was misfiring. I gave it a little gas and the engine smoothed out a bit. The check engine light now glowed orange into my face from the dashboard.

Yes, the car that my father and I meticulously maintained for years had been brought down by a creepy insurance company and the spawn of Big Brother. I called Progressive full of loathing. They acted as though they’d never heard of such a thing occurring. A woman told me that I was on a “urgent ticket” and that someone from their Snapshot department would call me soon. I asked if I should drive the car seeing as how the check engine light was on and I wasn’t sure of the problem. She couldn’t answer that one.

The Snapshot department guy called me the next day. He seemed very excited to tell me that I had an 8% discount coming my way. I yelled at him that I didn’t care about the discount and that his company better pay for the repairs on the car. “Can I drive it without damaging it?” He couldn’t answer that one. He finally said that they would pay for any damages if they were found.

It took a whole morning, two auto shops and several sympathetic mechanics to turn the check engine light off for me. I’m happy to say that the car runs fine now. However, if you have a good driving record (like me) and don’t drive much (like me) and are thinking about using this Snapshot spy device to save a few bucks, better think twice.

If you want to go through the stress of an unknown problem with your car’s computer in order to save some money, I don’t think it’s worth the cost: For all of the worrying, stress, phone calls and time at auto shops, my total discount was $6.66. Definitely not worth it.

Trying to be profound at the age of 30

I just turned 30 a couple days ago. I thought that I’d have something utterly profound to write about as this milestone approached this month, but nothing specific emerged from my pondering. Then I thought about lists. Easy to write and sometimes profound. I began to wonder what I’ve done with these thirty years, which ten years ago seemed an eon away.

Some things I’ve done in 30 years:
-Stayed alive (I wasn’t always sure I’d make it)
-Completed a BA and an MBA
-Gotten married
-Learned a second language
-Started smoking, then quit smoking
-Started jogging
-Lived 14 of my 30 years in foreign countries

Some goals for the next ten years:
-Get a stable job/career
-Run several marathons
-Live more years in foreign countries
-Continue to travel the world
-Get my pilot’s license
-Get a Ph.D.

So there, that should keep me busy for at least ten more years. Maybe when I blog again on this subject at the age of 40 I’ll have something more profound to say.

Twenty-Four Years

I guess now that I’m 30 this poem is getting a little less applicable for me, but I still think it’s great. So here it is again, the poem that Dylan Thomas wrote on his twenty fourth birthday. Enjoy.

Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes.
(Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave in labour.)
In the groin of the natural doorway I crouched like a tailor
Sewing a shroud for a journey
By the light of the meat-eating sun.
Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun,
With my red veins full of money,
In the final direction of the elementary town
I advance as long as forever is.

-Dylan Thomas

2012: The Year I Became a Runner

I started running with the intent to improve my aerobic performance for badminton. However, at this point in my life, running has taken over as the main sport in my life. And this past year, 2012, is when it happened.

In the latter half of 2011 I started casually jogging around a track that was across the street from my office in Saigon. On my first day of running and walking, I wasn’t sure if I could complete one lap of 250 meters. However, I surprised myself and was able to do it.

It took me six months to work up to running 5km nonstop. On February 23rd, 2012, I finally accomplished this feat, the day before my 29th birthday. On February 27th was the first time I timed my run and started recording times and distances to track my performance. I continued tracking times and distances for the rest of the year.

So here are a few stats from the data in 2012, the year I became a runner:

  • Total recorded distance (actual higher): 492 miles (792km)
  • Longest run: 13.2 miles (21.3km)
  • Fastest time: 7:30 per mile for 3 miles (~4:40 per km for 4.8km)

As we’re getting into this new year of 2013, I’m happy to say that I’m going stronger than ever. I’ve registered for a half marathon here in Eugene, and I’m thinking about running the Seattle half marathon at the end of the year as well. My goal is to run a full marathon in 2014.

I’ve gotten this far with the support and encouragement of numerous friends and family. Thank you; you know who you are.

On Being a Millennial in America

I am subscribed to Harper’s Magazine and enjoy reading it every month. One of my favorite sections of the publication, and the item that drew me to the magazine when I was a teenager, is the Harper’s Index. In the Harper’s Index, they list off a number of statistics in a manner that usually come off as surprising and humorous. For example, here are two statistics from their January 2013 issue:

Average salary earned by a full-time-employed male college graduate one year after graduation: $42,918
By a full-time-employed female graduate: $35,296

What they’re doing here is highlighting the difference pay for men and women and how women still aren’t treated as equals in the workplace.

But then I started thinking about my own situation as a member of the millennial generation, and here are some of my own statistics, presented in the Harper’s Index style:

Number of years since I’ve graduated from college: 8
Number of masters degrees I’ve obtained: 1
Highest hourly wage that I’ve earned in the U.S.: $11
Average annual salary amount this translates to: $22,000
Percent lower than the average female salary one year after graduation from college: 38
Percent lower than the average male salary one year after graduation from college: 49
Number of months that I’ve had health insurance in the U.S. since graduating from college: 3

As a person born in the early 1980s, I consider myself to be of the so-called “millennial” generation. Like many of my generation, I did everything I was supposed to do: I went to college, I got my degree, I volunteered abroad for several years, I got my MBA, I worked in a field I enjoyed, etc. Then in September 2012, I found myself looking for a job in Oregon. And I couldn’t find any full-time, stable employment. And I still can’t find any.

So what’s going on, America? I did exactly what I was supposed to do. Where is this well-paying job that I should have, according to Harper’s Index? Well, the same Index also has this item:

Rank of “attire” among the leading reasons “millennials” are unsuccessful in job interviews: 1

To which my response, in Index style, is:

Number of tailored suits I own: 2
Approximate number of ties in my closet: 20
Approximate number of tie knot styles I have memorized: 3

My qualifications are sound, I know how to dress and present myself, so what’s going on, America? Why can’t I find a job? Is it because nepotism, cronyism and corruption are just as prevalent here in the land of the free as they are in third-world countries? Is it because that, no matter what the job reports and economic forecasts say, the American economy is dying a slow death?

For such a large nation, an incredible amount of the U.S. economy is based on personal debt. You want a college degree? Here’s your debt. You want a car? Gotta take out a loan to pay for it. Want a house? Gotta get a mortgage and pay back your debt for 30 years or so. Well America, you tricked me into the college loan debt, but not the other stuff. Here, let me present it in the Harper’s Index style:

Number of cars I’ve owned in the U.S.: 0
Amount of real estate I own in the U.S.: 0
Number of cars I intend to buy in the U.S.: 0
Amount of real estate I intend to buy in the U.S.: 0

And it looks like I’m not the only one. Increasing numbers of my generation are not buying cars and owning a home is becoming a more unattainable dream. Good for us! If the American economy is suddenly faced with a generation of people who refuse to buy into these lifelong debt schemes, change might actually occur.

Allen Ginsberg wrote: “America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.” I’d like to amend that quote for many people of my generation: “American I’ve given you all and you’ve taken more.”

As this year of 2012 draws to a close, here’s my favorite statistic, presented in Index style:

Number of years until I will go back to Vietnam: 1

Yes Vietnam, where jobs are plentiful, rents are low and you don’t need a car.