Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why I Love Tristram Shandy

(Excerpted from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne)

(Btw, "Madam" in this chapter is you, the reader)

CHAP. XX

--How could you, Madam, be so inattentive in reading the last chapter? I told you in it, That my mother was not a papist. --Papist! You told me no such thing, Sir. Madam, I beg leave to repeat it over again, That I told you as plain, at least, as words, by direct inference, could tell you such a thing. --Then, Sir, I must have miss'd a page. --No, Madam, --you have not miss'd a word. --Then I was asleep, Sir. --My Pride, Madam, cannot allow you that refuge. --Then, I declare, I know nothing at all about the matter. --That, Madam, is the very fault I lay to your charge; and as punishment for it, I do insist upon it, that you immediately turn back, that is, as soon as you get to the next full stop, and read the whole chapter over again.

I have imposed this penance upon the lady, neither out of wantonness or cruelty, but from the best of motives; and therefore shall make her no apology for it when she returns back: --'Tis to rebuke a vicious taste which has crept into thousands besides herself, --of reading straight forwards, more in quest of the adventures, than of the deep erudition and knowledge which a book of this cast, if read over as it should be, would infallibly impart with them. --The mind should be accustomed to make wise reflections, and draw curious conclusions as it goes along;

[...] --But here comes my fair Lady. Have you read over again the chapter, Madam, as I desired you? --You have: And did you not observe the passage, upon the second reading, which admits the inference? --Not a word like it! Then, Madam, be pleased to ponder well the last line but one of the chapter, where I take upon me to say, "It was necessary I should be born before I was christen'd." Had my mother, Madam, been a Papist, that consequence did not follow.

It is a terrible misfortune for this same book of mine, but more so to the Republick of Letters; --so that my own is quite swallowed up in the consideration of it, --that this self-same vile pruriency for fresh adventure in all things, has got so strongly into our habit and humours, --and so wholly intent are we upon satisfying the impatience of our concupiscence that way, --that nothing but the gross and more carnal parts of a composition will go down: --The subtle hints and sly communications of science fly off, like spirits, upwards; --the heavy moral escapes downwards; and both the one and the other are as much lost to the world, as if they were still left in the bottom of the ink-horn.

I wish the male-reader has not pass'd by many a one, as quaint and curious as this one, in which the female-reader has been detected. I wish it may have its effects; --and that all good people, both male and female, from her example, may be taught to think as well as read.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Happily Ever Now

Sometimes it feels like having been so immersed in fairy tales and happily-ever-after stories when I was younger cramped my ability to accept that life doesn't always end happily-ever-after. Of course, I know it doesn't - I've read plenty of books that haven't ended that way, heard of plenty of people whose lives didn't end up that way, and know plenty of people who have various struggles to overcome. But I always have this strong belief that things will work out for the best in the end. But who says they will? What if they won't? Why should I have such expectations?

And - how do you define "the end?" Do you really want to wait for the end of your life in order to be happy? Is that the only time a person can truly be happy? In "the end?"

The phrase "happily ever after" is so skewed, if you think about it. You're only happy...after. After a trial has ended, after you get just what you want - then you'll be happy.

But you can't live that way. Then you'll never be happy!

Think about it. If you always have this dream of what you want, you're always going to be happy with what you don't yet have (and may never have) and you're never going to learn to be happy with what you do have! It's no use wasting energy feeling happy about things that don't even exist!

But yet - it's so hard to be happy with what you have and not yearn for something more. There's so much to want in this world. There's so much to expect. There's so much good that you hope you deserve.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

How?

How do we deal with evil in the world?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crowded Dream

~A Story~

Dedicated to those who were there.

The girl sat back in her chair, trying to look comfortable - but how can a person be comfortable if her feet won't quite reach the floor? She resisted the urge to tuck them under her and instead entwined her sweaty hands within the slightly-too-long sleeves of her sweater. She twisted and untwisted this mess of brown sleeves and pale hands as an activity to occupy her and somehow keep her grounded. Exceeding the dimensions of the room around her were multitudes of people she didn't know all talking and eating, eating and talking, sitting and standing and going back and forth from kitchen to living room to kitchen to living room. Their loud unfamiliarity only made them seem double, triple, quadruple in amount. It was like living in a dream where people came and went without warning, never seeming to penetrate your own consciousness long enough to leave anything more than fleeting, insubstantial impressions.

She had come with friends, of course, but somehow ended up alone anyway. On occasion, someone she knew would walk by, but when the girl tried desperately to grasp onto that familiarity, it quickly slipped away again, like a hallucination.

And perhaps she was hallucinating. How had she gotten here, anyway? This strange, new place filled with strange, new people. Perhaps it would all melt away with a blink and she'd find herself on the train home.

Home. Where was home? Why wasn't she home now?

And now more people came in. People she was supposed to know.

"Don't you know them?" asked a voice - someone's voice. Someone who knew her, she assumed, but it was so enmeshed in the surround-sound crowd that she might have dreamt it up altogether.

She tried hard to know them.

Blinding colors, neon noises, and then -

"Eat."

Someone shoved a paper plate into her hands, breaking up the twisting and twining of her sweater sleeves.

She couldn't even remember afterward if she ate or not. Eating was part of a world outside her realm of dreamy awareness.

Somehow she ended up in the kitchen. She thought she might have said something, but she couldn't remember what. And there might have been a big bug that someone squashed with a shoe, but she wasn't quite sure if that actually happened or if someone had just talked about it happening sometime before.

Faces, people, chatter, shoes, yelling, laughing, whispers, low voices, loud voices, eating, playing, sitting, standing, walking, spinning, spinning, spinning fun house of color and sound.

And then, like all dreams, it was somehow over without ever having ended.

The concrete reality of the crisp autumn night air splashed her in the face, tugging slightly on her hair and pinching her awake. With relief, she closed the door on the unfamiliar, crowded dream.

The irony of it all is how familiar the unfamiliar thereafter became.
(Thank you HUGELY to Serach and Ezzie for opening up their home to me this past year to the point where it feels like going home , to SJ and Fudge for first bringing me there, and to the Raggedies for just being the Raggedies)

Title Unnamed

I miss writing.








Mostly I miss
Anything that
Goes along with
Good writing and creative
Imagination and, well, just
Everything.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What's The Point, Anyway?

There's so much confusion.

Some people tell me - now is the time to do what you really want, to get the education you want, to try for your dreams. And that those things are not impractical because they do something for me.

Some people tell me - be more practical. Doing what you want is nice, but it's a luxury and you should focus more on being able to get a job and really get somewhere in life.

What's the point of it all? Do I take opportunities as they come, even if they're not the most practical, because carpe diem? Because now is my chance?

Do I do what's most practical because it's what's most practical?

Is my end goal to do what I really want or to do what's most practical? Sometimes they're not mutually exclusive, but what if they could be?

What am I trying for here?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Perfectionist

Even this, even now, I can't write. There is this blockage to everything I once knew how to do. Because suddenly, one day, I came down with a plague - Perfection. And if it's not perfect, then I'm terrible at it. If a single sentence is extraneous, if something doesn't sound right, if the writing is only okay, if it needs to be edited still further and further and further and further and further and further and--

Then I can't. I can't do it. Then I don't want it. And I know nothing can be perfect. I can never make it perfect. So then I don't want it. Even though I do. I really, really do. But I can't stand it not being perfect. I can't stand the way every single tiny ugly imperfection glares at me, scratches at me screeching like sharp nails on a blackboard, makes me cringe and wince with discomfort because it's so very, very wrong.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oasis Of Relaxation

(Inspired by a friend)

I wander lonely as a tree
Amidst the desert vast
Until I find that royal isle
And pause my way at last.

For in that way
Oasis lies
And though it may bring
Sighs and cries,
It's better when my eyes have dried.

Its happiest moments, I declare
Are when we're feeling happy there.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why Slower Is Quicker

When under pressure, people tend to perform activities in a rushed manner. This usually results in sloppy work that needs to be either fixed or completely redone. Or, you know, left alone to be sub-par.

I don't mean one should take his grand old time doing something that shouldn't take long at all. I just mean, if a person were to slow down enough to have time to perform tasks properly, it's actually a lot more efficient. There would be no need to go back and re-adjust what was done. The work would get done in the most efficient yet careful manner.

On a slightly separate note, I had a discussion with a good friend some time ago about how New Yorkers do everything so quickly - as if they always have to "get somewhere."

While this issue can be debated, it definitely is true that walking quickly through life with eyes only on your destination and ignoring all in between is actually less enriching than a walk through life where you take your time to notice things and to think. Walking quickly, you may think you're getting to where you need to be in the most efficient manner, but you're also not allowing yourself to be as much a part of the world. You're kind of just racing through it. And that is a much sloppier, less careful way of living, don't you think?

Do you ever catch yourself getting like this?*

There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself -- not just sometimes, but always.

When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he'd bothered. Nothing really interested him -- least of all the things that should have.

"It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time," he remarked one day as he walked dejectedly home from school. "I can't see the point in learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February." And, since no one bothered to explain otherwise, he regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all.

As he and his unhappy thoughts hurried along (for while he was never anxious to be where he was going, he liked to get there as quickly as possible) it seemed a great wonder that the world, which was so large, could sometimes feel so small and empty.

"And worst of all," he continued sadly, "there's nothing for me to do, nowhere I'd care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing." He punctuated this last thought with such a deep sigh that a house sparrow singing nearby stopped and rushed home to be with his family.

Without stopping or looking up, Milo dashed past the buildings and busy shops that lined the street and in a few minutes reached home -- dashed through the lobby -- hopped onto the elevator -- two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and off again -- opened the apartment door -- rushed into his room -- flopped dejectedly into a chair, and grumbled softly, "Another long afternoon."

*Excerpted from The Phantom Tollbooth

As much as I don't think I have the habit of rushing too quickly through life, ever since that conversation, I do catch myself, at times, hurrying when I don't need to hurry or feeling like I need to be somewhere else when, really, I don't need to be anywhere at all. And each time I feel myself doing it, I take a deep breath and remind myself, "Take your time. You don't need to be anywhere except right here."

Slow down. Relax.

You don't need to be anywhere except right here.

Enjoy being right here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sick Cycle Carousel

Hat tip: Ezzie (kind of, a while ago)



Regardless of what this song is originally about (probably a relationship), it can be about anything anyone is dealing with, from major issues to small ones. Anything that makes you feel like you keep revisiting the same issue over and over and over again. It's important to be able to break out of that cycle, because only then can you actually move forward.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Puzzle's Eclipse

Puzzle’s Eclipse

Immense Indiana Jones boulder,
Giant’s hail crashing down,
Lodging itself in my window,
That rhombus of jigsaw images
Illuminated – once –
Blocked,
That picture, a barely discernable frame.

Blindfolded
My hair a sweaty horse’s tail
Intruding voices stuff the room past capacity
Like an overcrowded elevator stuck between floors.

Hangs a mirror with no reflection,
An impenetrable portal.
And I, unpracticed in the art of dislodging,
Lodge in the corner and dream tea.

A cup without a saucer to catch the spill,
I drink to you, Puzzle’s Eclipse,
And etch these words into that apostrophe.


(If you felt frustrated reading this poem, if you felt there was something there you were just not getting, if you felt a huge mental block towards it - you actually understood it more than you think you did)

Wrong!

Sometimes, no matter what you say, you're always going to be wrong. And it just slaps you again and again and again in the face.

Days like that are not fun.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This Is Me



Except today I go on a quest - to prove how being an English major really IS practical!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You Are What You Read

When I was in eleventh grade, my high school took us on a Jewish History trip. This consisted of going to various different Jewish communities in the New York area and seeing for ourselves what other types of Jews were like. We went to New Square, we went to a Lubavitch school, etc. In one of the places we went, we were told that in their school, they don't read secular books. At all. (This might have been New Square but I don't want to say for sure because I don't actually remember specifically). A lot of the girls in my class, including myself, found it outrageous to censor secular books completely from our library. I couldn't imagine not reading novels just because there were secular ideas, or because a boy and a girl were friends, or anything like that.

One summer, I interviewed at a Literary Agency for a summer internship. They told me at the interview that, if I got in, I'd have to read all different kinds of manuscripts, from adventure to historical fiction to, yes, pornography. Believe it or not, they told me, there is such a thing as good pornography. I wanted to throw up. So when they asked me if I'd be interested working in their children's books department instead, I very readily said yes.

These are two extremes. The first - censoring yourself completely from all secular literature. The second - being asked to read pornography. To me, the answer in those situations are clear. The first - um, no way. The second - um, no way.

But what about everything in between?

Earlier this year in one of my classes, my teacher was complaining about how her freshman class did not want to watch a movie she assigned them because it was inappropriate. She argued that the inappropriate content wasn't there for no reason, it was there as part of the art of the movie. She ended up assigning us the same movie and my first reaction after watching it was, "no wonder the freshman class complained." My second reaction was, "wait a minute, it's art, it's for the sake of art so it's okay." My third reaction was, "what?! Would I really compromise my own standards for the sake of art?! Of course not! That's ridiculous! What is art to me? Not higher than my own religion! Not higher than my own moral standards!"

Yesterday in a different class, my teacher talked about two schools of thought back in the 18th century when it came to literature. One was that literature was supposed to be an emotional experience where you actually get affected by what you read in an emotional way and it becomes a part of you because of it. The other was that literature is supposed to be a bit more removed from a person so they have time to think about it but not feel actual, almost physical, emotional responses (like, for instance, crying. Or being put in a mood all day because of something you've read). My teacher claimed, and I think I agree with her, that you are what you read. What you read does become a part of you. It does affect you. It affects the way you think, the way you feel about things, it gives you experiences that, while they may not have actually happened to you, you've experienced vicariously through the characters in a book.

That's scary.

I know people who love reading trashy books because it makes them feel like they have a boyfriend. Even - look at this comment from my post a few days ago: "I think you're missing the point of reading Twilight and, to a certain degree, a lot of the iffy teenaged girl literatuer out there. The characters are allowed to be flat because the goal is not to create well rounded characters, the goal is to deal in wish fulfillment [...] I think that there is something about modern culture that causes the masses to feel more at home with being the story than being told it. Even if that means a compromise in the characterization and telling of the tale."

I completely agree with this assessment of modern culture - but that doesn't make it okay!

Perhaps the line is different for everyone. Perhaps you can't make a general rule about what should and should not be read or what should and should not be written about. Still, I think it's very important to recognize how what we read affects us. It's not only about reading quality literature (though that's of course part of it), it's also about choosing what we expose our minds, imaginations, and emotions to and what we don't. I'm not trying to sound extreme. I don't even mean this in an extreme way. I'm not advocating for the banning of books. No way. I'm just asking everyone to be smart. Just like you are what you eat, you are what you read. You are what you watch on TV. You're affected by your experiences in life AND in fiction. I, God forbid, do not mean people should not read or write about major issues that happen to be inappropriate or frightening or both. It's important to raise awareness about those issues. Of course. I just mean - well, I already said it. Be smart. Know yourself. Know what you want to expose yourself to. Do you really want to read an explicit description of a rape scene, for example? Where are your lines? It's important to know.

Monday, November 10, 2008

An Ode

To Linksys-John (and to working internet):

Sunday, November 9, 2008

My Candidate Can Beat Up Your Candidate!

Otherwise known as...Why Too Many JBlogospherians Are Too Immature To Engage In Political Discussion.

True, I don't read a TON of blogs, but I do read a few. And in the few that I read, nearly every political discussion deteriorates almost from the start into:

"Right-wing racist extremists!"

"I thought liberals were supposed to be tolerant! I guess they only are if you agree with them, huh?"

"Obama is finally bringing us hope again, you racists!"

"Orthodox Jews are racists!"

"Actually, you're racist because you voted for Obama because he's black!"

"Extremists!"

"Racists!"

You all sound like angry children in a schoolyard. And I want to cover my ears until all the screaming stops and you can all talk like civilized adults. And I'm probably the youngest of all of you. I thought maturity comes with age and experience. I guess not.

If you don't believe me, look at the posts and comments here and here, for example. Those aren't the only places, just the ones I'm highlighting. In fact, the only place I haven't seen this kind of fighting since the election on a widely read blog that discusses politics is on SerandEz. Yeah, there have been arguments, but not like THAT.

So what's with all the name calling and the overly dramatic angry shouting, the over generalizing, the insults? Can't people talk about an adult subject with adult maturity? Can't people have a civilized debate? Can't people argue intelligently? Because all those comments just make you guys look really stupid. On both sides. It's like you don't have a more intelligent response than to shout insults and call people "racist" and "extremist."

Do you all have to pay a visit to the principal's office until you can calm down?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Confessions Of All The Teenage Drama Queens Requested

(Today my dad insisted that I write about something controversial. I'm pretty non-confrontational and I actually have no desire to push anyone's buttons, so I'm going to compromise and, instead, heavily criticize something I know is very popular that I just can't stand. I know that's not the same as being controversial, but that's the best I can offer at this present time)

Just out of curiosity...

What's with all the Twilight hype?

I finally read the book and found it to be poorly written, the plot unoriginal and stupid, the characters pretty flat, and Edward more annoyingly stalkerish than attractive. The romance wasn't even done well. It was irritating, over-the-top, and I didn't believe it for a second.

I just don't get it. Am I the only sane person out there? Is there something I'm just not understanding? Has the quality of literature diminished so far that people actually think this stuff is good?

I'm all for people reading novels they can actually understand as opposed to more difficult literary works - that's fine with me. Not everyone is an English major. But there is still a difference between well-written, well-plotted stories and, well, trash.

I've heard, on numerous occasions, Twilight being called the next Harry Potter. Come on! Even Harry Potter wasn't the best written of novels, but at least it was a good story, had a good plot, and had some really fun characters. Twilight has none of that. I'm sorry. It's too trite. Too cliche. Too obvious. Too dull. I was bored while reading it. I have absolutely no desire to read the other ones in the series. It actually made me nauseous just to read the first one. The overly sappy romance on every single page made me want to just barf.

Is it that our society craves soap operas? Is it that people are so unsatisfied with their own relationships, they live vicariously through characters flat enough that anyone can insert herself in? Is it that people thrive on heavy gossip? Is this why so many teenage girls are obsessed with Gossip Girl? One Tree Hill? The OC? I don't get it. Can't people go and live their own lives instead of spending an eternity wishing they had the thrilling (???) drama of fictional characters? Trust me, there's enough real drama out there. You don't need TV and novels to provide it for you. No, you're not going to fall in love with a vampire, though. Sorry. But so what? Do you want to live in the world? Or do you want to live on TV?

I mean, on the one hand, some of the fun of reading is because things happen in books that don't necessarily happen in life and it's fun to pretend, for a few hours, that they could. But on the other hand, be careful what you let suck you in. It's a mistake to think that just because a character is described as good looking, that he is a good character. Just because a character is "hot" doesn't mean he's complex! Edward is in no way complex. Sorry. Neither is Bella. She's too flat. She has none of the complexities of human beings. She's too perfect. Making her a klutz does not give her realistic character flaws. It's very superficial. It makes no sense that every single boy in her school should be obsessed with her. It makes no sense that she has no sense of self-preservation. It makes no sense that she would not care that Edward has been spying on her every night the entire school year. Where is the tension here???

Our society seems to settle for stories that are way too simplistic if it actually thinks that a human girl falling in love with a hot vampire - and then nothing much happening except their constantly professing their love to each other and saving each other from random things - is a good story.

If you really want to read an exciting vampire thriller/romance, stick with Dracula. Seriously. Not that Dracula is spectacularly written either, but at least it's a much better story!

It actually truly bothers me that so, so, so many girls will become obsessed with a book, or a TV show, or a movie just because the guy is really good looking. Is everyone that shallow?

A HOT GUY DOES NOT A GOOD STORY MAKE.

And if people can no longer tell the difference between something well-written and something trashy, then I mourn for our literary future. I really, really do.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Difficulties

Sometimes it's hard to know who you are. You think you know, or you think you once knew, but there are so many things pulling you in so many different directions, it's hard to keep track of which is the real you and which is the you other people would like you to be and which is the you who you wish you could be and...

You know how there's a difference between who you are and who you wish you were? And you know how it's sometimes hard to block out everyone else's voices so you could finally see yourself and your own values and talents and desires and beliefs without anyone's opinion but your own?

You know how you wish you could change some things about yourself but not everything is so changeable?

You know how you wish you could be the best friend you can be, even if you get some things wrong?

You know how you wish you could be the best person you can be, even if you get some things wrong?

You know how you wish your passions matched your talents?

You know how you hope people understand you and all the good about you, not just what deserves criticism?

In Defense Of My Home And Childhood

"I hate New York."

Over and over and over.

"I hate New York."

I want you all to close your eyes for a minute and just imagine someone, no, several people, no, almost all your closest friends throughout your life saying they hate where you grew up. It starts off as a joke, doesn't it? Oh, yeah, haha, very funny. Maybe it stays a joke. But how long can a joke last before it starts to become a sharp little attack at what made you who you are today? And I'm not looking for a snide remark to that like, "well, if you're an overly materialistic, narrow-minded jap, then why shouldn't I knock what made you into that?" ...Am I those things? Do you really think that's what it means to live in New York? I'm not talking about Brooklyn, I'm not talking about Queens, I'm not talking about New York City, I'm not even talking about the Five Towns. I'm talking about all of us who live in none of those places but who still live in New York and who still get knocked for it (and, by the way, there are also people who do live in those places who do not fall under all the stereotyping going on about them). It is possible to live your entire life in New York and be a reasonable, open-minded, not-on-fast-forward, appreciative of the simpler things in life person with excellent values, a realization that there are others different than you, good manners, a friendly disposition, and practical ideas.

"Do you live on farms where you grew up? Did you spend your free time going cow tipping?"

Sound familiar? If any of you think I'm directing this post at you specifically - I'm not. Amazingly (or maybe it's not such a shocker), nearly all my good friends from out of town complain about the same thing and nearly all of them gripe about how they hate New York. And I have and have had many, many, many friends from out of town. In fact, most of my closest friends in life have not been from New York or have moved out of New York at a young age.

Do any of you not from New York enjoy hearing about the cow tipping over and over? When it's a joke, well, you can laugh along with it. You can even make fun of it amongst yourselves. But is it really funny to you after the hundredth time? Don't you wish people realized that wherever you're from is a normal community?

I'll let you in on a secret.

I grew up in a community not that different from yours.*

I loved my childhood. I was a happy-go-lucky kid with an incredibly loving family and I thrived in quite a close-knit community. When I was younger, nearly everyone went to the local Jewish elementary school. It was close enough to my house to walk. I knew basically every single kid, no matter what age. I may not have spoken to a lot of them, especially the ones a lot older or a lot younger, but I knew who they were. There weren't people in my community I didn't recognize and it was rare that I didn't know another kid's name (again, no matter what age). Back then there was one main shul everyone davened at (now there are a few smaller ones). The Rabbi was, and still is, one of the greatest people I know - I'm talking in terms of gadlus. We as kids all took him for granted because he was the only Rabbi we really knew, but as we got older, went to Israel, things like that, we realized how recognized he was (is) even outside of our quiet community.

On Sundays in the Spring, our shul ran (and still runs) Little League baseball for kids of all ages, with both girls teams and boys teams. I spent many, many Sundays in the local baseball field. When I was younger and first started playing, I was in the outfield. I remember being both extraordinarily bored and swelteringly hot as I stood there with nothing to do (none of the other girls could hit far enough for me to do anything) and the sun beating down on me as I watched the infield through squinted eyes, my hand getting sweaty in my glove. When I got a little older, I was, thankfully, moved to shortstop (where I finally got to do things). I remember going to my brother's games often, too, and thinking that Lawrence was a place in Cedarhurst because their team was called Lawrence Cedarhurst (and they were always so good, too).

In the summers, the Sisterhood has camp-like activities for women who are home (baseball, barbeques, arts and crafts activities, etc.). In fact, my community has lots of activities that create a nice, close community feel. The Purim carnival where all the mothers make their kids promise not to bring home any goldfish, the Simchas Torah kiddush while all the men are getting their aliyas, the women's Simchas Torah tisch on Simchas Torah night (so they don't have to just stand there watching the men dance), Shabbos youth groups, Parent-child learning, the shul Sukkah hop, the shul kiddush-a-thon, the nut roll on both Succos and Pesach (always an exciting event for a kid), tashlich at the duck pond...

Just - everything. The fact that my community, like any community that is small enough, has its quirks that everyone knows about, has its characters that everyone knows about, has that feel that you can just walk down the street and know everyone you pass by and can smile at them and say hello, not just because you're being polite but because you actually know who they are.

In some ways, the community is growing - a lot of young families are moving in and they're not all sending their kids to the local elementary school and not all of the older members of the community know the younger members. But the community tries to stay cohesive and tries to integrate the newer version with the version it used to be as best it can.

On a more personal level, my parents raised me with excellent values - and both of them are born and bred New Yorkers. I learned to put others before myself. I learned to give more than I receive. I learned to always smile, to always greet someone in a friendly way, to always act like a mentch. I learned that wherever I go, I represent my family and I have a responsibility to do so in the most positive way possible. I learned that material things don't matter as much as family, friendship, knowledge, manners. I learned to always treat others with respect, to approach the world with an open mind, and to value the differences another person might have from myself. I learned not to judge too quickly, that midos are more important than money, and that it's highly important to appreciate what we have and to take the time to enjoy the world God has created for us - not to rush through with our heads down.

A classic example of how I was taught values:

This sentence is grammatically incorrect, though is colloquially the way little kids speak:

"Me, Sarah, and Bracha went to the park."

"Sarah, Bracha, and I," my father would say. "Always put yourself last."

There are two lessons there. The first is that, grammatically, it is "I," not "me," and the "I" goes at the end of the list. The other is that it is crucial to recognize the importance of other people and to respect that importance by listing yourself last. Be polite. Don't cut in front of other people. For instance, when you're driving - don't cut someone off. Don't make it impossible for them to get into your lane. When you're handing something out, make sure everyone else has before you take for yourself. Things like that.

Wait, you think. Wait a minute. But...you're from New York! And you have...manners?!

Yes!

Amazing, isn't it? Incredible! Bizarre! Unthinkable!

And guess what?

I'm not the exception to the rule, either!

Isn't that just the most bizarre thing you have ever heard?

Do you want to hear something even more unbelievable?

...I know some pretty jappy people who are not from New York! And who are not even from the tri-state area! I even know jappy people who are from ( gasp) the Midwest! The problem is not only in New York, you know.

Yes, there are issues with New York. There are problems with people who fit the stereotypes you are thinking. And those people are real. They exist. There are way too many of them. I agree.

But we are not all like that. And not all New York communities are as horrible as you think they are. Some of them are just as tame as what you're used to. I can't even tell you how many times I've had an out of town friend come to me for Shabbos and say, somewhat surprised, "Wow, your community is just like mine. This feels exactly like where I live." And why shouldn't it?

Just like you don't like being stereotyped, I don't like being stereotyped. Just like you love where you grew up, I love where I grew up.

But after years and years and years and years and years of having my own friends knock my home, it's starting to hurt.

I know what you mean. I do. I understand completely. I went to a high school in the Five Towns and I felt what you feel when you come to New York and don't like it. My community is not like the Five Towns and I wasn't used to it. And I went through a time where I was completely intimidated by the city. I did not always like the city. I found it dirty. I found it smoky. I found it loud. Even when I was in Israel in the Old City, I mourned the lack of grass. I mourned the fact that there was no autumn. I desperately did not want to go back to New York because I was so done with that whole scene. But I had been thinking of the intense scene from the Five Towns that had left its impression. I had forgotten that there are people even in the Five Towns who don't fit that mold. And that my own community does not fit that mold. And that Stern College is big enough that you don't have to be in that scene at all.

Autumn in my community is so gorgeous. It's got that New England look with multitudes of trees of brilliant reds, oranges, yellows, and every shade in between. We have grass. We have parks. Big parks not that far away! We have a creek! We have a duck pond! We are not all fancy homes. We do not have big buildings. We have plenty of parking. We don't have smoke. We don't have dirt and grime. We don't have much crime. We're a relatively sleepy town. By an out of towner friend of mine, we've been called "quaint." We are heimish. We are warm. We are welcoming.

We are in New York and, you know what? It's still a great place to live. And I'm not at all sorry that I grew up there.

*As far as community life goes. I'm not talking about hashkafa or anything like that.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Tale Of A First-Time Voter

I remember going into a voting booth once with my mother when I was very small, but I don't remember much about it except that I couldn't understand what on earth my mother was doing. So when I went to vote today, I wasn't sure what to expect.

I had to go home last night in order to vote today in my district this morning. The school where the voting was was on the way to the train, so I showed up dragging a suitcase with one hand and clutching the voting card I got in the mail with the other. In the parking lot, a man who lives on my block winked at me, raised a brow, and said, "Running away from home?" I grinned and asked him where the voting was.

When I got inside, two other people from my block (which is a very small block) were there, so we had a nice representation. It turned out I didn't even need the voting card, I just needed to tell them my name and what street I lived on. And then I had to wait.

I watched as other people went into the booths, but still had no idea what the inside would look like. When I was next, an older lady who worked there starting telling me about two policies in my town we were voting for. I think I looked a little confused because I sort of just nodded. She glanced me over and then asked kindly, "Is this your first time voting?"

Yes, I nodded.

"I'll show you what to do."

She came with me into the booth and instructed me to pull this big red lever in order to close the curtain. Then she left, adding I should ask if I needed any help.

And then I was alone.

I stared at the little switches on the board there - I don't even know what it's actually called - and was incredibly confused at why Obama and McCain were listed so many times. I had imagined there to be just two places to vote for President - one for McCain, one for Obama. I didn't know under which line I should vote, so I picked one using an educated guess - but a guess, all the same.

A lot of the other categories I skipped. I had no clue who anyone was, anyway. There were only a few with names I actually recognized.

And then I was done. Like I had been instructed, I pulled the big red lever again and the curtain opened, sort of like in The Wizard of Oz.

The older woman smiled at me.

"So you've voted for the first time - kind of exciting, isn't it?"

I supposed so. I almost shrugged but decided to be kinder and gave her a smile instead.

"Yeah, thanks."

And then I left and went to the train.

And next time, I will no longer be a first-time voter.

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's Gonna Be A Good Day!

I have no classes today! How lucky - especially the morning after Pobody's wedding! I'm very excited because this means I can have time to go ice skating. Yay! I love ice skating. This is generally how I feel right now:



Sometimes it's good to just forget about everything that normally stresses you out, let go, and smile. Enjoy life. It's generally a good thing to have and a good thing to be happy about.

I hope you all have a FANTASTIC day and be sure to share the happiness! And leave happy comments, if you'd like! And if you're not having a good day - don't worry. Tomorrow is another chance! :D

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Strange

It's always slightly strange to go immediately from one group of people in your life to a completely different group of people in your life. The contrast is sometimes so stark, it becomes almost confusing.

It's like this. I know who I am. I know which parts of me come out when around certain people. I am very comfortable with that. Then, when I'm around other people, I become a slightly different person. Does this make sense to any of you? It's like I'm a person from the past, and then I start to get muddled about who I really am now. It feels almost like straddling two worlds. I have one foot in one world and one foot in another and I just have no idea where I really belong anymore. I don't only mean personality-wise, I mean hashkafically, too.

Unless I just create my own world called Erachetland. Uh...come visit, sometime. It's lonely all by myself in there.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Navigating The Balance Beam

Change is complicated.

My first instinct was to write "change is scary," but then I heard a voice in my head saying, "not everything is scary, sheesh!" My second instinct was to write, "change is exciting." Except that's not what I'm feeling at the moment. Change is something in between "scary" and "exciting."

Change is active. You can't ignore change.

Change is undefinable because each person experiences it and deals with it and approaches it differently. So I'm going to stop trying to define change.

Certain things about life you can learn from others. You can watch them, see their mistakes, be careful not to make the same ones. You can talk to them, they can give you advice.

Other things about life you really have to teach yourself.

Some things are expected.

Some things are strange.

Sometimes you can be there for your friends. But I've learned that you can't always protect your friends. Sometimes, all you can do is be someone to talk to, be there for them, comfort them, reason with them, but you can't always actually help them. Sometimes they might hurt each other and there's nothing you can do, or nothing you should do. But just being there for them might be all they need. Sometimes that's one of the most important parts of a friendship: being there. Just being a good friend. Showing you care.

Sometimes you both understand and don't understand something. Then what do you do? People may give advice, but I've also learned, you have to navigate your own way. You have to play the cards that were actually dealt to you, not always look for answers elsewhere, even if others have good advice. You're you and your situations are unique because of that.

And yet, after all these realizations, it's still hard to figure things out.

Losing friends is sad. Even if you make new ones. You can say keep in touch with everyone, but I see how it is all the time. Everyone drifts.

I love all my friends now. I wish I could stay close with them.

Emotions are a tricky thing. The future is a tricky thing. Life is a tricky thing.

Sometimes I wish it was easier...