Jessie Atkin
author, procrastinator, nerd, twin
author of We Are Savages

Jessie Atkin


Thoughts and ramblings of author Jessie Atkin

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Timing and Age: The New Voices from Parkland Florida

Posted by Jessie on February 18, 2018 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (0)

I remember where I was when I heard about Sandy Hook. I was in a cubicle working my first job out of college. When I heard about Parkland it was almost the same, still a cubicle just a different office.

I always think of Sandy Hook's Noah Pozner because he was a twin, like me. I remember his mother insisted on an open casket at his funeral so mourners, politicians, and people could see what guns had done to her baby. But there was never a front-page picture of Noah, only a written description of the physical damage done.

But the media can't sensor teenagers. Media and parents alike have been trying for years. The paper didn't have to publish Noah's photo, but Twitter had no choice as Florida students posted photos and videos of their hiding places near blood covered floors.

They said the conversation on gun control ended with Sandy Hook. If politicians and members of the public could allow the murder of babies at school nothing would ever change their hearts and minds. The difference is babies have not had the time to learn to speak up for themselves. It's part of what makes the loss so jarring, so indescribable. But teenagers have had the time. And social media has given them the tools. There are not only victims there are survivors. And for the first time age and timing have come together so different voices on different platforms are amplified above the much too common noise of mass shootings in America.

Being Right and Being Disappointed

Posted by Jessie on January 20, 2018 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (0)

One year ago I was in Washington DC. Today Washington DC is shutdown. The government, the one I marched against 365 days ago, is shut down. The national government. Furloughs for staff, including over 1,000 from the Executive office, closings, including all the Smithsonian museums (starting Monday). This has to be karma, a sign right? I was correct. I knew they couldn't do it. I knew we, the popular vote had it right. I knew it would be a disaster, life ruining for so many. But, how terrible is that? How terrible to be right when you think so little of your own government, of your own country.

Maybe that's the hardest part. That being right this time is so disappointing. Women rose to the challenge a year ago, and then our leaders, particularly those who held all the cards, didn't rise to anything. So we've learned to count on each other. On the governed rather than the government. And while some days I must avoid the news so it's easier to get up in the morning, I don't avoid it today. Because I am far from the only one who is still worried and, even better, far from the only one who still cares.

And as I watch the news I see the commercials for the Olympics. And I hope that, and today I know that, there are still things to be proud of. There are still things that can bring us together for good, just like today. Just like knowing right from wrong. Just like knowing where, as a country, we actually want to go.

The Silence of Small Things

Posted by Jessie on August 14, 2017 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

When I was in high school I had a teacher who told me that the swastika was not a symbol I should find upsetting. When my sister was in middle school a boy drew a swastika on her notebook and the principal said that the boy didn't mean anything by it and it was only a mistake. I had a friend who in eighth grade hosted a Black History Month speaker and lunch at school and was given nothing but grief from the administration for her hard work and contributions.

Yesterday we saw men, as well as women, with no hoods, no masks, no fear to hide their faces behind attack both a community and individuals. They killed one young woman.

The news, and social media tells us that this is new. That we now live in a country where Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, Racists, and many more don't have to hide their faces. Where racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sexism, homophobia, and everything else can be expressed openly, can be accepted, can go without punishment. (As we saw yesterday, it was only those who stood up to this evil that did not make it home alive).

I agree. Those images from Charlottesville, VA are new, are terrifying. But I'd also like to say that while their numbers, their mass expression is most certainly new (to me, who was not alive during WWII or the Civil Rights Movement), I did grow up in a world where on the small everyday scale I knew people who also saw no need to hide their faces.

The alt right says they are fighting against a culture of political correctness. That it has harmed them, and their self-expression, their free speech in some way. I counter that it is I, and my family, and my friends, and so many others across the country that have suffered under political correctness. Because we were told not to be outraged, not to file claims, not to give names to those who minimized both our suffering and our experiences. And perhaps, if I had stood up, been noisier, more vocal, and more truthful I could have started a change that would have made a difference today.

So, while I have been to rallies, and marches, and called my congressional representatives since all of this began in January I now pledge to do one more thing differently. I pledge, that when something happens, to me, to someone I know, despite the size of the action, or the community in which it takes place, despite all those who tell me to keep it quiet because, really, who will it help to draw more attention to the situation? I pledge to say something. I pledge to tell anyone who will hear me what happened, how, and where. Because my experience, like so many others, did not deserve to be minimized to begin with. Because in a world where no one is afraid to show his face anymore, why should I be charged with protecting anyone who has, for so long, had no interest in protecting me?

The Ten Plagues: Science Not Silence

Posted by Jessie on April 23, 2017 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)

A week ago today I was still refraining from eating most carbs, as it was the Jewish holiday of Passover. A holiday where Jews across the world come together to remember the exodus from Egypt. One of the better known elements of the Passover seder, the holiday's ritual meal, is the recitation of the 10 plagues of Egypt. Blood, Frogs, Locusts, etc. In the haggadah, the book that tells the Passover story, the edition my family uses, also lists ten modern day plagues.

Ten Modern Day Plagues:

  1. The making of war
  2. The teaching of hate and violence
  3. Despoliation of the earth
  4. Perversion of justice and of government
  5. Fomenting of vice and crime
  6. Neglect of human needs
  7. Oppression of nations and peoples
  8. Corruption of culture
  9. Subjugation of science, learning, and human discourse
  10. Erosion of freedoms
We've read that list every year of my life, but never has it felt as relevant, never have I paid such close attention as I did this year.

Today I sit watching The March for Science on C-SPAN. I've heard Bill Nye, and Denis Hayes who coordinated the first Earth Day, speak about their hopes for our future. I sit in my parent's house, where we held our seder a week ago, and watch the atypical rise of Lake Ontario out their back window.

I remember the snow still on the ground when my relatives arrived for the holiday. As my birthday approaches in three weeks time I know that I've only reached this point in my life because of science. I was a NICU baby with my twin sister. My family already understands what truth, action, and scientific developments can mean for all sorts of lives, including mine.

I know things feel different. It's not just the weather. It's not just on Twitter. It's the way we talk about the environment, talk about science, and the way we are warned not to. It's the way the word "facts" has even become marred in controversy. I've heard people talk about how the environment and the economy are incompatible, how religion and science are constantly at odds. But in just a week's time I have seen how that isn't true. Not when people pay attention. Not when people have real conversations. And not when people stand up.

Cultural Consciousness

Posted by Jessie on March 8, 2017 at 10:10 PM Comments comments (0)

It's only Wednesday. But it's already been a hard week. A bomb threat was called into the JCC in my community. And today I went on strike for International Women's Day.

These two events may seem unrelated, except in timing, but they have become combined in my mind. This week there were many people in my life who wanted to advise me on what actions I should take, what voice I should use to address the events around me. I was told what my voice should sound like, what box it should fit in. As women have been told, are still told, constantly in 2017.

I was told not to use the term anti-Semitism when speaking or writing about the bomb threat at my local JCC, or when referencing the Jewish cemetery that was vandalized in my city last week. I was told I shouldn't use the term because others were not comfortable defining the act that way. I was told I should not march today, should not go on strike. Why? Because other people were striking for offensive reasons or with offensive people. Others were trying to define the terms under which I was striking.

None of these naysayers or Internet voices wanted to talk about how frustrating it was for me to grow up idolizing only the male heroes I read about in books. No one wanted to hear about my high school experiences, being told a swastika drawn on a notebook was only a "misunderstanding." These were not the people who stood with me outside a Congressman's office to hear the painful true experiences of other women who had chosen (undeterred by events in their lives that were meant to scare them, force them, silence them) to speak anyway, despite what anyone told them they should or should not do.

I was told there were a lot of things I shouldn't do this week, by a lot of people who had not chosen to act differently, but had chosen not to act at all. They wrote no other statements using their own words, nor did they plan any other events when they found fault in those taking place around them. They chose not to speak out against something or march for something. They chose inaction.

Instead they tried to tell me what I should or shouldn't do. It was frustrating, it made me angry, but it did not change my own choice, the choice to act. And, by arguing with me, the fact is, wherever they got their information, whether it was true, or the point, or fair that I was their sounding board, they talked about it. They wrote things, and argued, and for once knew there was such a thing as International Women's Day. Cultural consciousness has been raised. That's impact.

In Broad Daylight: What I Believe

Posted by Jessie on March 2, 2017 at 6:30 PM Comments comments (1)

This time it is my city. This time it is my community. This time it is my people. This time it is not my family. I am lucky it is not my family, as I was lucky when it happened in St. Louis, and Philadelphia, and not here. But I am writing now when perhaps I should have written then because, the truth is, it may not have been my city, but it was always someone's community. Someone's family. And, especially now, should we not speak out in compassion, in solidarity, in understanding?

Headstones were toppled in a Jewish cemetery in Rochester, New York last night. And I felt a personal fury that did not seem to be shared by those around me. It should always matter when the resting place for any particular community is desecrated, but this time, once again, it was the resting place of Jews, so it is from my Jewish perspective that I will speak.

At the end of a Jewish funeral mourners at the cemetery walk passed the grave and, with the blade of the shovel upside down so that the dirt will fall more gently, cover the casket with the first layer of earth. The departed is once more, and for the last time, covered by loving hands. This is a mitzvah, a good deed, but of a special kind. It is a deed that can never be repaid. It is a "Chesed Shel Emet." And when anyone goes to a cemetery and topples the headstones of the dead they are acting against everything that is a "Chesed Shel Emet." They are not performing a mitzvah that can never be repaid; their act is the inverse, attacking those who can never fight back.

Bullies are known for going after those they perceive as weak, or different, and how can you be more of a bully than by attacking the deceased? That's not power, that's fear. Fear of standing up to proclaim what you really believe. Fear of facing someone who can show you that you are wrong. Fear of facing the truth behind your hate, or ignorance, or anti-Semitism. But I'm not afraid to proclaim what I believe. I believe that there are far more people who will prop up those headstones than there are those who knocked them down. I believe they will be repaired in broad daylight where the world can see that it is not just one or two Jews, but a community of all races and creeds repairing and working together.

Thank You: From Taking to the Streets to Talking in the Streets (1/22/17)

Posted by Jessie on January 23, 2017 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (1)

To the grandma on the metro in the pink kitty cap, thank you. Thank you for smiling and nodding at me across the train as if we were sisters, because we are sisters.

To the middle aged woman who looked at me on the street corner, thank you. Thank you for asking me if I was a "nasty woman" and replying to my, "absolutely," with a, "me too."

To the waitress where we had lunch, thank you. Thank you for asking me if I was at the march yesterday and telling me your story about not being a citizen, and not being able to vote, and watching the march, and feeling American anyway.

To the lady with the green jacket, thank you. Thank you for offering us your food vouchers in the airport when you went to board your plane, and telling the waitress we were with you, because we were with you, because we all agreed we shouldn't still have to be doing this, but we'll do it as long as we have to.

To my mom who made the trip to DC with me, thank you. Thank you for marching for the first time in your life with me, by me, for me, as me, because you have seen this before and want to make sure that the future me, who is you, as a mother, doesn't have to do this again.

And to the teenage girl at the museum who said she liked my pin, and the father who smiled at his son and said, pointing at my jacket, "she is part of the rebel alliance," and the park ranger leading the suffragette tour past the Trump hotel, and the alternative fact writing, "Christy" reading, "Men's March," calling, "Great" hat wearing American people, thanks too, because you make me stronger.

When We Will Not See the Fruits of our Labors

Posted by Jessie on November 9, 2016 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Yesterday I, like thousands of others, visited the final resting place of Susan B. Anthony. I paid my respects to a woman who never saw her efforts come to fruition. But I voted. Her efforts were not for her, they were for me. And that's the greatest gift anyone can give.

Last night friends called me crying and I couldn't shed a tear because I sat in disbelief.


My adult life will now likely be defined by a man and a Congress that has been set up to pass his every whim. His efforts, like Susan B. Anthony's, as the Supreme Court and the fabric of our nation is redefined, will last long after he disappears. But the effect will be far from the positive change Anthony left behind. My generation may never fully recover.




But what about the generations after? How can I do for them what Susan B. Anthony did for me? How can I take action?

A Night of No Returns

Posted by Jessie on November 9, 2016 at 2:30 AM Comments comments (0)

"I'm scared," they say. This is what I've heard from my friends, people who voted like me. They are not angry or sad. The loudest noise has not been a noise at all, but silence. Our democracy has always been full of heated argument, lying, scheming, profanity, change, ingenuity, and passion. Now there is only fear. Why is their fear? It never feels good to have to explain oneself, but you don't know what you don't know, and if we don't talk to one another, how will we ever understand? How will we ever move forward?

I have heard them speak of fears they hold to walk home because they do not know now, in America, what will happen to them. They fear not just for the future but for now. They are worried about being attacked on the street, harassed, and having a government, a law, standing behind them that neither cares nor was designed to help. They are scared for the world and their futures. These, their formative years, will now be defined in a way so unfamiliar they cannot see anything they ever planned or dreamed for themselves coming to fruition. They worry about war because they no longer see any rules being followed.

I can only speak for myself. Here is why I am scared:

I am scared because I am not a full person, not all the time. I am not a full person under the law. How is that possible? When I hold a job? And I have the right to vote? Because of a medical condition. Can you imagine having a medical condition, and because of this condition the government can take your rights? Tell you how to live? What procedures and medicine you can access? It's the very thing everyone, no matter who you vote for, fights against. Having rights taken away. I am not a full person because I am female. I am not a full person in America when and if I become pregnant. As soon as the shadow of a baby exists inside me I no longer matter. My health, my future, is compromised. I have fewer rights than a corporation. Who takes my rights? The baby and the government. Both are considered more important than me, under the law. Sometimes I am not a full person, and I worry that sometimes could turn into all the time.

I am scared because I have been taught that being kind, and working hard leads to success. I, like everyone who votes, believe my daily work is worthwhile and that I deserve to be, in some way, rewarded for it. And yet tonight I have seen that those who have not worked in the same way I have, in the same way all those of us with our weekly ordinary day jobs, must, succeed. Instead I watched someone be rewarded for not working the same way I have had to, for not treating others with the same decency and respect I have been taught to exude. How can I tell students not to bully, and co-workers to be polite? How can I trust our country to listen? To have a level head? I have heard the same arguments, and lying, and profanity we always associate with politics directed not at politics, but at people. And if we can't respect people, what is there worth respecting?

I am scared because I am a student of history. The idea of turning people away from our boarders, and throwing people out of our country, and dividing people by color, and race, and religion has never played out well in the books I have read, or in the chronicle of my family. Perhaps you do not have this family story. But can you imagine being turned away in a moment of need? Or represented with lies? Perhaps, in some other way, you know exactly how this feels. So why will we be better, our country be better, the world be better, greater, if we do this to others? Perhaps we need to be careful, but a black and white answer, any decree without respect for the complexities of the issue and the lives involved, will never fix what is, or what we perceive, as wrong.

I am not asking for agreement. I am only trying to explain. Because no one has been able to explain to me how we got here, and I want to do my part to help someone, on the other side, if there really are sides, to understand in a way I still do not.

Those are my answers. But here are my question: Can someone explain why I should not be afraid? If so many people see the world so differently from me, can they help me understand? And what do we do now? How do we take action? Because being scared and doing nothing leaves us exactly where we are. Nowhere.

The Void

Posted by Jessie on May 1, 2016 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

You must feed the void or it will feed on you. That is what writing is. It is standing on a precipice, staring into an endless hole with no guarantee, no possibility really, that you will ever be able to fill it up. And while the void is deep enough already, if you wait, if you stand still, it will widen, and you will fall in.

The void is full of what all dark places hold: depression, fear, longing, despair. That is why you must feed it. To keep it at bay. You must finish a story, come to its very end, and complete it despite the void telling you it isn't any good. Because it doesn't matter if it is any good. You have made something despite emptiness. And you can still feed it to the void. It is finished. In this world where you circle an endless pit, you finally have something to throw into it. You have something to start filling the hole. And once you have something finished, you can, you must start again. Because in feeding the void, you are feeding yourself. And in yelling into the emptiness there is always the possibility the emptiness (that isn't really emptiness) will yell back.