Am I a Tweeter? A Twitter? A Twit?

I thought I was a masochist, but I just joined Twitter, and I’m starting to rethink.

Follow me here.

Really, please. I’m not too proud to beg.

(Last week I was too proud to beg. A week on Twitter will knock the pride right out of you.)

Twittering feels like giving an open-access blowjob to 3 million people all at once. My jaw hurts and my brain screams like! follow! retweet! all night long.

Do you use Twitter to promote your writing? Do you find it effective? How do you manage its impact on your brain?

In conclusion, please go follow the Twitter page for me, your friend @Pauli_Atomic. Your support is greatly appreciated as it is now the crux of my self-worth.

As a reward, you’ll get to see a picture of my real face. I used a filter, though. Just a heads up.

Slamming on the Brakes at Our Intersection

This conversation is becoming a weekly ritual. Next month she turns thirty. I’ll be close behind. And we still can’t seem to make up our minds:

Do we want kids?

We trudge through the usual debate points and musings. “We’ll have to eat dinner at 5:30.” “We’ll be broke. We’ve barely got the money for the sperm.” “If we don’t, who will take care of us when we’re old?”

Then, suddenly, she calls up a different kind of trepidation. Says,

“You think I’ll make them hate being Jewish.”

Screeeech! Hit the brakes. Where did that come from?

“Baby,” I say. “No I don’t. You’ll be a wonderful Mom to Jewish kids. You already know the most important blessings…”

“No. I won’t be.” She pauses, considering something. “Maybe it’s just… it’s them having an identity that I won’t have. It’s too much. Being Black is hard enough, but Black AND Jewish… It’s a scary intersection.”

I blink. “It’s our intersection.”

She nods, slowly. “Yeah.”

She’s got a point. Would we be cursing our future children by deciding to have them? Is it fair, to put challenges onto our children that neither of us have faced ourselves?


On the coffee table in front of us a copy of The Color of Water by James McBride lies open, near its end. I have almost finished reading McBride’s telling of his mother’s story, in which she flees from her Orthodox Jewish family, marries a Black man, and raises twelve Black children. She overcomes the divide between the two communities that hold her life by destroying the Jew in herself, and never looking back. She changes her name, comes to Jesus, starts a church.

In my own family, I see the same pattern reflected. My eldest auntie married a Black man in the 1960’s and faced the rejection of her family and community for years. Though she never converted to a different religion, though she reconnected with my grandparents before I was born, she did not raise her son Jewish.

I remember my shock when I overheard her on the phone with her grown son in the week leading up to Rosh Hashana, explaining to him, “We eat apples and honey to celebrate a sweet new year.” My forty-year-old cousin didn’t know this simple tradition that was second nature to me by preschool?

One generation later, my aunt sends me pictures of her grandson lighting a menorah for Chanukah and reading picture books with Jewish themes. She is teaching him to take pride in his Jewish roots, and to understand that the history of the Jewish people is his history, too. But embracing one’s Jewish ancestry is not the same as being Jewish. I don’t know how my little cousin will identify as he grows. Will our traditions become his?

My wife and I have long since decided that, should we have children, we will raise them Jewish. They will be Black, of course. That part will most likely be determined by phenotype; it was never a subject of debate. We will raise our babies to be proud of their Blackness, to celebrate their heritage as descendants of the African diaspora. So why, I used to argue in the earlier days of our commitment, should the children we bring up together reflect her culture, her people, and not mine? Over time, she relented. It was a decision we reached before we married, and a condition of the marriage itself.

Our children will be free to reject Judaism if it does not suit them. Up to 70% of Jewish kids outside of the Orthodox community choose not to live a Jewish life when they grow up. And our babies will have more reason to reject the religion than does the average Jew. A wide majority Jewish communities in the US are white-dominated, and they harbor the same diseases as other white enclaves. It is unfortunately likely that the congregants of the synagogue where we enroll our children in Hebrew School will alienate them with racist comments, harassing them with questions like “how are you Jewish?” and “are you adopted?” Maybe our kids will want out of all Jewish spaces by the time they reach B’nai Mitzvah age at around 12, going through the sacred rite of passage into Jewish adulthood only if we force them, and withdrawing from the community immediately after.

And on the other side, how will their Black cousins and friends who are not Jewish shape their views of themselves? Will the same ugly conspiracies that have led me into tearful fights with my inlaws worm their way into my babies’ ears? Who will be the first to tell them that the Nazi Holocaust is a big lie, that their white mother is not a real Jew, that white Jews stole the religion from its Black rightful owners? Will it be family, a cousin they look up to? If those conspiracies don’t erode their sense of connection to their Jewishness, it may be that their Catholic elders will convince them that they are bound for hell until they come to Jesus.

None of these outcomes would surprise me. And there’s not a lot my wife or I could do to prevent them, or to protect our future children from the bone-deep confusion of belonging to two communities and feeling out-of-place in both– not a lot, beyond deciding not to have children at all.


For tonight, we run out of steam for the debate. She heads to bed, and I flop onto the couch to finish The Color of Water. In an afterward included for the 10th anniversary edition, McBride reflects on his family’s story with these words that feel uncannily apt, tonight:

I have met hundreds of mixed-race people of all types, and I’m happy to report that– guess what, folks– they’re happy, normal people! They’re finding a way. … The plain truth is that you’d have an easier time standing in the middle of the Mississippi River and requesting that it flow backward than to expect people of different races and backgrounds to stop loving each other, stop marrying each other, stop starting families, stop enjoying the dreams that love inspires. Love is unstoppable. It is our greatest weapon, a natural force, created by God.

James McBride, The Color of Water

I want to wake her. To rush into her quiet, shake her, tell her, “See! We won’t be failing our children by raising them. Our children can proud of who they are.”

“We will raise them in love and safety,” I want to tell her. “They’ll know a struggle that’s familiar to neither of us, it’s true. But they will know a peaceful home– they’ll know joy and healthiness that was also unfamiliar to us. We made it through our childhood hurts. They’ll make it through theirs, too.”

“Our children, our Black and Jewish children, if we have them, are gonna be okay.”

Instead, I resolve to show her in the morning. I tuck myself beside her, press my skin against her back, and join her sleep.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Shalom Bayit

You enter your bedroom.

It is dark, and I

am inside, singing

swaying with 

your infant son

against my chest. I 

am ten years 

younger 

than your wife 

and my voice is soft

and lullabye-pretty.

.

You move quickly 

into and out. I

turn my back, eyes

latching on the eyelids

drooping in my arms.

.

I mean you no harm 

and you mean me no harm. 

You take your shirt, 

go, and I continue, 

rocking in the dark room, 

singing.

.

(Shalom Bayit is a Jewish value. It translates to “peace in the home”, and describes familial wholeness and healthy connection in a marriage.)

To Love With Impunity

On my second night babysitting, the youngest of the three wraps herself around my leg and stares up at me with a jack-o-lantern grin.

“I love you,” she says, eyes huge and fixed on mine.

I smile back, but am surprised to find myself uncomfortable at the toddler’s love-declaration. I’m not ready for this yet.

“I’m glad to be here,” I tell her. She goes on grinning and staring, too little to feel any sting.

My intellect knows that she is right. Love is the default state for humans in proximity. We don’t need to know each other well to love one another. Young as she is, she understands this implicitly. She loves freely, with no thought towards protecting her heart. Time and maturity will take this from her, just as it does from all of us. As we grow we deaden our instinct to love automatically, transforming love into a formal exchange between committed parties– family members, the truest of friends, romantic partners who have put in some requisite number of months together.

But we had it right, were wiser when we were tiny children. Before we learned to defend our spirits’ connection sites, we understood that love bonds could be transient. That the giving and receiving of love was no weighty milestone. A one-time babysitter, the new kid in preschool, a puppy walking down the street– each of us once understood the joy of instant and simple connection, and offered it freely and widely to anyone who made us feel good.

But grown folks will do what grown folks do. Confronted with this child’s wise and open heart, I refuse to meet her in simplicity. Some part of me reads an imaginary contract in her words, her eyes, her smile, and rejects her instinct to trust.

I have spent a lifetime learning how to complicate the simple.

Is it too late, now, to uncomplicate it?

Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

Pleasure to Meet You. Nice House!

What you need around here is what I offer.

I’m that little bit of extra that you need to keep your house from falling down. That spare morsel of energy, time, attention, care that you otherwise can’t muster. I am work, beyond what fits into one day for one woman. I’m your teammate, making it possible.

I’m a workday if you need one, a night out if you can spare one on occasion. I am the peace of mind that allows you to walk away from your children, knowing you’ve secured the love they need to make it through the day.

But if I’m not the structure of your days, I’m a shadow here. I do my work in secret. I cast soft eyes over your husband in a nearby hotel and send him home, those needs, for the moment, quieted.

You know me, or you don’t. Either way, I’m holding up parts around here. I’m taking the ends that don’t meet, and meeting them.

If you know my name, you trust me utterly. I’ve got your baby in my arms and your house key in my pocket. You exhale relief when I arrive, on time, on your stoop every morning. You feel safe when I’m here, like nothing is especially likely to go wrong.

And if you don’t know me, well… I’ve suspected for a while now that you at least know about me. Or at least, that some part of you does. That’s not to say that you know about me, per se. Just that you know that he’s got somebody. That he’s been entertaining a passing band of somebodies for years now. You’re smart. You know when you’re not alone in a room.

If you’ve ever heard my name, then you’ve heard your children screech it at the window glass in the middle of breakfast every weekday.

If you haven’t, I may or may not know yours, depending on how reckless your husband is. I never ask, but some spill eager with the facts of who they are. For the careful ones, I’ll address my love to a pseudonym, no matter how many years we spend getting together.

I only offer one service per family. If I care for your kids I won’t fuck your husband. If you trust me, you are right to trust me. And if you would hate me if you ever met me– well, you’d probably be right about that, too.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels