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Chanukah

I grew up celebrating Christmas. As an adult, navigating my family’s first Chanukah, I found myself approaching medical exhaustion. The parents at our preschool were often haggard, juggling continuous diapers, multiple children, demanding careers. Still, one of the teachers, “Josh,”  noticed that I looked especially unbeautiful and inquired after my health. I explained that this was my first Chanukah and while I loved the Menorah and the fun, I could barely keep up with the gifts. 

“What are you giving them?” Josh, who was Jewish, looked puzzled.

I explained and he began to laugh. “Amy, you’re trying to do Christmas for eight days.  No wonder you’re overwhelmed. One night when I was a kid, my parents gave everybody a pencil in their favorite color. Mine was orange. I loved it.”

“So I don’t have to do a massive production every night?”

“It’s the Festival of Lights, not the Festival of Gifts. Happy Chanukah.” Josh hugged my shoulders and rushed to prevent a child from drinking a bowl of purple paint.

That night, my family lit our Menorah candles and we gave our kids three pencils: one red, one yellow, one pink. They were thrilled.

Chanukah will begin at sundown tonight. As I set out the same Menorah that my husband and I lit with our young children years ago, I think of the history of Jews. Yes, I see persecution. But I also I see resilience, perseverance, strength, hope. I see ordinary people stepping forward with extraordinary acts of courage and leadership. I see care and generosity, family and friendship, tradition and change. The Festival of Lights has lived through many eclipses of reason and decency. Light always returns.

Josh — decades after our conversation — thanks for your guidance. I get it. It’s about light, today and every day.

Happy Chanukah.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

 

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Hamilton

“Stunning.” (Captivating from the opening second to the closing moment.)

“Innovative.” (Never seen anything like it.)

“Unique.” (A rap opera.)

“Amazing.” (Impeccable timing, unfailing precision.)

*Comments in italics were overheard as the audience exited the theater. Comments in parentheses are mine.

 

On Saturday after Thanksgiving, my family attended the play Hamilton at Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) in North Carolina. Beyond the raw talent saturating every aspect of this production, the quality that rockets Hamilton into uncharted greatness is its integrity. During this time of upheaval in the United States, Hamilton offers guidance, lighting our way back on track, challenging Build-The-Wall mentality.  How does Hamilton pull it off? Core values are difficult to articulate without sounding like a Hallmark card. But following the show’s advice, I’ll take my shot.

Hamilton has color. I don’t mean the lighting (Howell Binkley) or the scenic design (David Korins) or the costumes (Paul Tazewell) — all works of art. No, I mean the diverse skin-tones of the cast. I loved watching a production with the racial diversity that reflects the colors of my world. Equally important was the unspoken message that even though Caucasian men put their signatures on our Constitution, the fabric of our country is woven from many colors and genders, beyond white and male. 

The dancers are beautiful.  I mean their bodies — toned and strong, supple and healthy. They celebrate the human form as it’s meant to be: curves and bones and fat and muscle. This show, while exercising creative license from start to finish, keeps it real.

The choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler) manages to highlight each individual and simultaneously the group as a whole. In many musicals, specific movements are often considered the sole property of one gender. But not in Hamilton. For instance, all genders throw their hips at times, and march tough and strong carrying guns at other moments. The nonverbal language of Hamilton’s choreography communicates equal respect, equal acceptance, equal opportunity.

Each character’s perspective is portrayed with empathy, although (like “real” people) each is both admirable and flawed. Alexander Hamilton (Joseph Morales) is “an Icarus” — flying too close to the sun and crashing when his wings burn. Eliza Hamilton (Shoba Narayan) is swept off her feet by Alexander’s charisma, and misses the warning signs that he’s a bottomless pit, always needing more, no potential for quiet or calm. Aaron Burr (Nik Walker) wrestles with envy of the cool crowd, which gradually swells into a consuming, murderous rage. Philip Hamilton (King David Jones), Alexander’s and Eliza’s son, is endearing, with an adolescent impulsivity which leads to his death. Thomas Jefferson (Kyle Scatliffe) and James Madison (Fergie L. Philippe) are adult versions of the popular kids, the clique everyone worships and hates and fears. These are our country’s forefathers and foremothers and foreparents. Gifted, tireless, genius, strong, rebellious, thoughtful, righteous, flawed. Our country’s 1700s Resistance. 

The exception is King George (Jon Patrick Walker), whose character is purposefully (and hilariously) unidimensional — petty and narcissistic to the nth power (not unlike a president familiar to us all). His numbers are parodies of love songs. He begins with the colonies, whose purpose is to adore him. He ends with the I-take-immense-pleasure-in-your-pain attitude of a spurned lover after a nasty break-up. He camps it up and hits it absolutely right, giving the audience the perfect comic relief from the layers of meaning in every other aspect of Hamilton.

After the finale, the entire cast stands in a line, holding hands, taking their bows. Nobody steps forward as more important than any other player. The message, again, is egalitarian. To borrow from another story, one for all and all for one. To borrow from Alexander Hamilton’s contemporaries: We The People.

Whether or not you see this production, take your shot — not to duel, but to shine. Create space for others to take their shots as well. Our country thrives when people shine individually and together. Case in point: Hamilton.

ADDITIONAL CREDITS

Ensemble:

Tia Altinay, Conroe Brooks, Cameron Burke, Hope Endrenyi, Stephen Hernandez, Kristen Hoagland, Wonza Johnson, Carina-Kay Louchiey, Brandt Martinez,, Taeko McCarroll, Tyler McKenzie.

Angelica Schuyler:

Jen Sese

George Washington:

Marcus Choi

Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds

Nyla Sostre

Director:

Thomas Kail

Music Supervision and Orchestrations:

Alex Lacamoire 

Book, Music, Lyrics: 

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Inspired by the book Alexander Hamilton by:

Ron Chernow

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, NC. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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The Immigrant Within

During college, I was strolling down the street with a friend, both of us bundled against the winter cold. We walked past a pair huddled in a doorway, clutching a frayed blanket. I said I wished I knew a permanent solution, how to help homeless people get back on their feet. To my complete surprise, my friend turned livid. “My grandfather came to this country with nothing but two dollars in his shoe. Nobody helped him. Why should I help them!”  

I remember staring, speechless. I, too, was the grandchild of immigrants. To say their lives were harsh is a vast understatement — crossing the ocean in steerage, always frightened, often hungry, freezing in the winter, sweltering in the summer, illnesses terrifying, medicine not affordable, lonely and alone. But my reaction to my own heritage was diametrically opposed to my college classmate’s. I experienced my family’s history as connecting me to immigrants and to all who struggle; my classmate felt disconnected, even adversarial. 

Us and Them are much more complex than they appear at first glance. Like the vast majority in the United States, I’m a mixture of both. I’m an Us because I’m Caucasian and I’ve never had to worry about food, clothing, shelter or medical care. I’m a Them because I’m a woman and a Jew. Problems skyrocket when the Us and the Them within the individual aren’t friends. At that point, parts of the same person go to war, one part trying to disown the other, even obliterate the other. From a Build-The-Wall perspective, too many are trying to build an internal emotional wall between their present-day selves and their own immigrant history.

Walls come in many forms, shapes and sizes. Donald Trump wants to build a literal border wall. People who want to erase their immigrant heritage want to build a metaphorical wall, self vs. self. When individuals and families and children are met at our borders with tear gas, then we’re attacking not only potential new immigrants but also our own immigrant selves. Our administration doesn’t seem to realize that their policies cause deep wounds within our borders as well as beyond. 

What can we do, especially while our current administration holds so much power? Start by owning the Us and the Them within. Reach out. Clasp your own hand. That will guide you toward doing the same for others. It’s not a solve or a cure or a fix. It’s a beginning.

  

*I will be donating all of my book sale profits for the rest of 2018 to relief for the people suffering from the California fires. 

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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California Fires

Having spent my childhood in Southern California and most of my adulthood in Northern California, I want to help the many folks affected by the fires. Huge numbers of people are struggling — whether due to air quality, to losing a home, to losing a pet, or worst of all to losing a loved one. Although I now live in North Carolina, these fires feel extremely close to home.

I will be donating all of my book sale profits for the rest of 2018 — starting November 16 through December 31 — to relief from the California fires.

To the people living in California — take good care, hang in there, be safe.

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable
Caroline Black transfers from a college prep academy to the local public school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school.

Tightwire
Caroline Black, now a young adult training to become a psychologist, treats her first patient — a stormy, brilliant troubled young man with a past full of secrets. Written to help end the stigma of therapy, and to celebrate the human capacity to heal.

Click on the link to purchase a novel, check out reviews.
https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Does One Vote Really Matter?

“Does one vote really matter?”

This morning, I surprised myself. I woke up thinking not about tomorrow’s election, but instead about a seminar I took in psych grad school. The professor was an excellent teacher, published articles, thriving clinical practice. My grad school cadre always looked forward to this class…except for one gigantic pain in the neck. “Mory” audited the seminar from another program, and his goal in life was to challenge the doctor at every turn. On this day, decades ago, our professor presented a case and asked us formulate a treatment plan. Mory, as always, had another agenda.

“You don’t do research,” he declared, apropos of absolutely nothing.

“That’s true,” our professor nodded.

“I don’t know how you can justify that choice.”

“How do you figure?” she remained calm.

“Seeing patients, you’re only helping one at a time. Doing research can help thousands. One by one isn’t enough.”

The rest of us cringed, but the doctor remained unfazed.

“I know you’re a researcher, Mory, and that’s an important contribution. But one by one is good enough for God. So it’s good enough for me.”

Yeah, one vote really matters.

 I guess I woke up thinking about the election after all. 

#Vote

 

*All identifying information in this post has been changed.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels, read her recent blog posts.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Won’t Be Erased

When I was in tenth grade, a student I’ll call “Ricki” gave a presentation in our history class. She was poised and articulate, tall and slim, dangling earrings and long brown hair. She wore heavy make-up, a mini-skirt, dark nylons, scarf tied around her neck. She was pretty and charmingly awkward, as though still adjusting to her own height. I found myself liking her, even though we had never met.

Then she brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes, and I blinked. The hands — large, like her feet. I looked closely at her scarf, hiding her adams apple. I froze, not because I was uncomfortable with a trans girl, but because I was terrified for her. In my high school, gay and transgender students were regularly beaten.

Fights in movies are carefully choreographed, a thundering dance sequence, often accompanied by pounding background music to feed an adrenaline rush. A fight in real time is different. The thud of fist on meat, except the “meat” is a human body. The cries. The grunts. Torn flesh. Blood. People slip, stumble, flail. They heave as they struggle to breathe. At my high school, fights were too common.

That day in my history class, as I listened to Ricki’s report on the Articles of Confederation, she read my expression and saw that I knew her. She swallowed hard. I had no intention of outing her, but she didn’t know. She watched me closely as she reached for her poster and that instant, with everyone’s eyes on her “required visual prop,” I mouthed, “It’s okay.” She finished her presentation and as she walked past, returning to her desk, she whispered “Thanks.” I nodded slightly without looking at her, neither of us wanting to draw attention.

Over the course of high school, Ricki and I ran into each other occasionally. Our bond was unusual, founded on one intensified moment, and our friendship remained within that initial connection. She never told me her last name, or if she had siblings, or whether she planned to go to college. But she confided that every moment of every day, she feared discovery. She felt “trapped in a male body,” but the issue was “complicated,” because “it’s my body, the only body I’ve ever known.” She said that if anyone at school identified her as trans, her beating would be inevitable, and she feared her assailants would “get carried away and kill me by accident.” Still, she showed up every day, “because I won’t let them stop me.” I also knew her favorite color was green, her favorite class was history, her favorite earrings dangled, and her favorite food was chocolate.

Today, over forty years later, my country struggles to retain its equilibrium in the Trump Era. Now there’s a movement to “redefine” gender, to remove all Title IX protections for the transgender population, to erase people who are transgender and gender-nonconforming. I wonder where Ricki is today and what she’d say, given that she spent her high school years expecting to be attacked and erased.

The notion of “Transgender” sends people over the top, and I wish I could calm their worries. It makes some people so anxious that they reflexively try to make it go away. But “Transgender” isn’t an IT; Transgender is a human being. When you try to erase the idea of trans, you’re not trying to erase a concept. You’re trying to erase people, which won’t work. You can’t erase 1.4 million transgender individuals by changing a dictionary-definition of gender. You can hurt others irrevocably, skyrocket fear in our homeland, enable an upsurge of bigotry. But you can’t erase people. 

I haven’t seen Ricki since high school. I hope she owns a fine collection of dangling earrings. I hope her home is filled with green and chocolate. I hope she’s safe. I hope she stands proud, a transgender woman, one of the bravest people I’ve ever met. And I hope she knows that I stand with her — then, now and always.

*All Identifying information in this post has been changed to protect “Ricki’s” privacy.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels, read her recent blog posts.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Family Secrets

What the hell’s wrong with the GOP?

Throughout my first career as a therapist, I worked with family secrets. Sometimes the secrets had to do with an individual, with a family interaction, with a traumatic event, with a failure. Sometimes the secrets involved sexual misconduct or abuse, a one-time incident or ongoing. 

Always, the secret involved humiliation, embarrassment, shame. Always, the secret clashed against the way the family and the individuals wished to define themselves. Always, someone’s wellbeing — mental and/or physical — was sacrificed to maintain secrecy. If someone spilled the secret, the speaker (instead of the secret) was immediately labelled “the problem.” The person who blew the whistle was treated as a traitor. In an eye blink, the accuser became the accused.  

In 2011, I closed my psychotherapy office and began my second career as a writer. Fast-forward from then to now.  

In several conversations over the past few days, I’ve talked to friends about Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. They’ve all asked the same question: “What the hell’s wrong with the GOP?” Even as I write this essay, more accusations are surfacing. Still, many members of the GOP are determined to plow forward with Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. 

Some of my friends suggested that the Republican members of the House and the Senate might have lived charmed lives, untouched by sexual misconduct. Further, they wondered if this charmed existence stretched to include friends and families of the GOP. They were searching for ways to explain how so many people could be disturbingly, infuriatingly, incomprehensibly lacking in basic empathy and decency toward survivors. 

Considering the number of Kavahaugh supporters — plus their extended communities — I’m talking about a gigantic number of untouched, unscathed, charmed folks. Statistically that’s highly unlikely. Sexual misconduct has reached epidemic proportions. The volume of reported and unreported incidents makes it impossible to believe that the entire posse of Kavanaugh supporters drew the long straw, exempt status from any and every act of sexual misconduct. So again, what the hell’s wrong with the GOP?

The answer: The secret’s out.

Several members of the House and the Senate, as well as the administration, are reacting to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations in the same way I’ve seen in my therapeutic work with families. They’re treating Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser as a traitor. In an eye blink, the accuser has become the accused. The GOP is losing track of protecting the survivor, and instead is angry that the secret itself wasn’t protected.

For too long, the prevalence of sexual misconduct has been our country’s dirty secret — within individuals and families, between and among friends, laced into the fabric of subcultures, interwoven with the tenets of conduct in our country. Recently, that’s changed. People in the entertainment industry blew their cover. And gymnasts. And the Catholic Church. And more. The #MeToo movement skyrocketed. People of all genders, all religions, all racial heritages, spanning the full range of economic circumstances, in a myriad of professions — together they raised their voices. The secret is out. 

Decades ago, I watched Anita Hill eviscerated in similar proceedings during Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings. If the people in power had respected Professor Hill back then…we’ll never know how many might have been protected from carrying their secrets in painful silence, how many might have been spared sexual assault. The way Professor Anita Hill was treated enabled the rape culture to continue. 

Today we stand at a crossroads. People can no longer say “I had no idea” or “I didn’t realize.” Although we may wish to turn away from the ugly reality, we can’t un-know what we know. We The People have to deal with the explicit, implicit, complicit sexual misconduct that permeates every corner of our homeland.

Every person of every gender has the right to choose if and when and how to tell their story.

For survivors who choose to keep their experiences private — you have my respect and support. Private is a choice; secret is a problem. The key is choice, and the responses of the GOP to Professor Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford clarify how choices are taken away from survivors. Nobody has the right to take down the next survivor as a way of avoiding their own issues, or as a strategy for hiding a damaging secret. 

Through my years as a therapist, friends often asked how I dealt with the pain my patients brought to their treatments. I always answered that therapy isn’t just about dealing with pain; it’s about dealing with pain in order to heal. When secrets were revealed, people felt sad, frightened, vulnerable, uncertain how to go forward. But they also felt relief. Even though they still carried the weight of the experience, they no longer carried the weight of the secret. My goal was never to erase the painful experience; that would have been an example of trying not to know what you know, not to feel what you feel. However, people’s relationships to their own experiences can evolve, and that process can loosen the emotional shackles.

Today, although I’m (deeply) saddened and (batshit) furious, I also hold tremendous hope. As my patients showed me, once we own what we know, respect our own emotions, hold ourselves and others accountable — then our capacity to heal is astonishing. 

The United States of America had an opportunity to heal with Anita Hill. Then, my country blew it. Christine Blasey Ford gave my country another chance. My country blew it again.

It’s time to do better.

#Vote

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Both of Amy’s novels include issues of sexual assault . Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Hurricane Florence

Hurricane Florence is a natural disaster. My home — Chapel Hill, NC — was originally forecast to be much more in the line of fire. But as we all know, hurricanes don’t follow the rules. In a thoughtless gesture, Florence turned first to the south, then followed a circuitous path north and west, sparing Chapel Hill the worst of its fury. Chapel Hill did sustain damage, but nothing like the areas which have been devastated.

Although of course I feel relief, I don’t feel at all good, because this change meant other areas took the hit for Chapel Hill. To help people hit hardest, I will be donating all September profits from the sale of my novels. 

My novels are ebooks and cost only $2.99.  They can be put directly on a Kindle, or on any electronic device using Amazon’s “Free Reading Apps.” I’ve included the descriptions of the novels below, with the links. You can buy a novel for your own library, or give a book as a gift. 

Thank you for helping people recover from Hurricane Florence.

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

I wrote my first novel in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, as she leaves her college prep academy for the local public school. At Hollywood High, she finds over 40 native languages, gangs, extreme violence targeting the gay students, and friendships that open her world. Parents might consider sharing the book with adolescents navigating the social and emotional mine fields of high school.

Click on the link to read reviews and purchase Hollywood High.

Tightwire

My second novel continues to follow Caroline Black, this time as a psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. The story follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives: the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment; the patient struggling to heal; the supervisor working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Click on the link to read reviews and purchase Tightwire.

https://www.amazon.com/Tightwire-Amy-Kaufman-Burk-ebook/dp/B00QOE1C12/

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BlacKkKlansman And Rosh Hashanah

Last week, I saw the movie BlacKkKlansman. At sundown today, I’ll be in synagogue for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). Given the state of my country, the film is extremely timely. In contrast, this particular new year is the strangest-timed Rosh Hashanah I’ve known — strange because this year, the High Holy Days will take place during a period in my country that’s anything but holy. 

BlacKkKlansman, directed by Spike Lee, tells the story of a black police officer, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), and a white police officer, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Officer Stallworth initiates contact by phone, but when a meeting is arranged, he needs a white man to join his team.

Officer Zimmerman, a Caucasian Jew, steps in as the face for Officer Stallworth’s voice. Stallworth and Zimmerman need to perform the equivalent of a Vulcan Mind Meld for the operation to succeed and as the story unfolds, two-people-disguised-as-one-person turns out to be essential for their survival. At one point, Zimmerman, circumcised, is ordered at gunpoint to drop his pants by a member of the KKK who suspects him of being a Jew; Stallworth throws a rock through the window, causes a distraction, and rescues Zimmerman. In another scene, Stallworth (not wearing his uniform) is attacked by other officers (all white), after he tackles a white female suspect (a KKK wife) trying to blow up a house full of people (all black). The officers leap in, no hesitation, and beat their fellow officer until Zimmerman arrives and intervenes. BlacKkKlansman is a Spike-Lee-film, which means it contains layers of messages. But this one is front and center: without each other’s support, neither Stallworth nor Zimmerman can survive racism.

Jumping forward several decades, the film concludes with White Supremacists marching and Heather Heyer’s death as she protests racism in Charlottesville, Virginia, 2017. Spike Lee’s choice to end with Heather Heyer sends a clear message that racism is not gathering cobwebs in the archives, but is here and now and deadly. No matter what color your skin, no matter your income, you can’t afford to distance yourself from fighting racism. The price is too high. For any Caucasian person who says it’s not my problem — ask Heather Heyer. 

This evening, the sun will set and Rosh Hashanah will begin. As I celebrate, I’m sharply aware of how many in my homeland are suffering. Still, my Jewish ancestors have celebrated their traditions through good times, through imprisonment in concentration camps, in sickness and in health, in comfort and in pain. The High Holy Days will stand long after all of us, including our current administration, have fallen. 

If it seems like a stretch to write about BlacKkKlansman and Rosh Hashanah in the same essay — it’s actually not. Spike Lee (director) and the team of screenwriters (Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel) included in their script a quote from Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

To all people, all racial heritages, all genders, all religions — I wish you a happy new year. 

L’shanah tovah.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms. 

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels, read her recent blog posts.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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For Heather Heyer

Unite The Right. 

UNITE. THE. RIGHT.

“Unite” is the wrong word. Actually, so are “The” and “Right”.

I’ve got nothing against uniting — my homeland can certainly benefit from a bit of unity. But the atmosphere in the USA is growing more fractious by the moment, which leads to my problem with the “The”. THE Right no longer exists. The Republican party is increasingly divided, breaking into jagged pieces, losing its moorings. And as for “Right” —  “Unite The Right” isn’t about uniting Republicans or Conservatives. It’s about uniting hatred and rage. 

By the time we reach adulthood, we all carry plenty of valid hatred and rage. Life can be harsh, unfair, hurtful. Pain rarely hits when you’re standing on sturdy ground, surrounded by support, plenty of lead-time to prepare. The unexpected, for better or for worse, lurks around every corner. Our challenge is figuring out how to channel our personal hatred and rage in a productive direction.

I spent my first 18 years growing up in liberal Hollywood. I lived most of my adult life in the liberal Bay Area of Northern California. I moved to Chapel Hill, a liberal enclave in North Carolina. As a far-left Democrat, all of that suited me just fine. Then the fates intervened. I spent the 2016-2017 academic year, including the presidential election, in Little Rock, Arkansas. When Donald Trump won, I was baffled. I had no clue how to figure out what had happened. Then I realized I was living in the perfect place to gain some insight. Although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in Little Rock, my temporary home was filled with Build The Wall signs and Make America Great Again bumper stickers. So I turned to my community — in line at the market, filling our cars — and asked if they would help me understand.

During the campaign, I was deeply concerned by Donald Trump’s rage. His hatred leaked out of every pore. I assumed that people voted for him in spite of his rage and hatred. But I was wrong. “He’ll fight for me” was a phrase I heard over and over. After feeling “ignored” and “invisible” for so long, people believed they had finally found a candidate who would hit hard, bare fisted, no rules, ready to throw a punch as a first resort. Donald Trump’s rage and hatred inspired their confidence. In the words of one voter, “No bullshit. No political crap. Just — wham!”

In my years as a therapist, before my second career as a writer, I worked with anger issues in several treatments. A healthy range of anger covers a spectrum, just like any other emotion. Anger can take various forms: mild annoyance, intellectual disagreement, yelling fury, violent rush, murderous rage. Donald Trump’s anger spanned only a limited range: loud to deafening, furious to vicious, brawling to warring. When someone carries an immense, overflowing need to fight — without a healthy range — then specific issues lose meaning. Donald Trump wasn’t fighting for causes; he was fighting because he carried an insatiable hunger to fight. 

As long as he’s our president, the fight will never end, because his rage is a bottomless pit. Rage and hatred in themselves were — and still are — his platform. Worse, a dangerous trend has taken root. People have reacted as though Donald Trump legitimized their own extreme forms of rage and hatred. Too many who had held their rage and hatred in check now feel free to unleash the beast. Case in point: Unite The Right.

This weekend, Unite The Right is having a rally in Washington, D.C., and I’m deeply concerned. I’m afraid that hatred and rage will run rampant. I’m flooded with memories of the news coverage of roughly a year ago, when Unite The Right held a rally in Charlottesville, VA— a rage-and-hate-fest which left damage and death in its wake. 

I hope that this time, folks keep in mind that the First Amendment grants the right of the people (not violently but rather) peaceably to assemble. I hope Heather Heyer, killed in Charlottesville, will always be remembered as a voice guiding us toward decency. I hope that going forward, at all rallies, across partisan lines, people will be safe. 

From everything I’ve read about Heather Heyer, I’m certain she’d hope for the same.

#LeftInLittleRock

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Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms. 

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels, read her recent blog posts.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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