Sunday, August 30, 2009

Full House?

Tonight my brother Mavis said something that really hit me. He said, "Tonight all four of us are sleeping here, but tomorrow night it's just me."

It's true. Tonight is the last night for a while when all four kids are home at once. Tomorrow night I'll be in my apartment in the Heights, Straight Man will be in YU, and Trademark will be on the plane to her year in Israel.

It's funny - when I went to my year in Israel, I was leaving a completely different kind of house behind. I'm the oldest, so everyone was still at home while I was away. I was incredibly homesick for months after I left, and it would get worse when I went to different families for chagim and Shabbos. We have many friends in Israel who used to live in my community and although I loved going to them for Shabbos, and though going there gave me some of that family feeling that I didn't have at school, I would feel even more homesick in some ways. There was family life going on around me, but I wasn't part of it. I felt somehow...outside. I would be reminded of my own family and how I wasn't there. I would get jealous of the siblings bantering with each other and play-wrestling. I would feel this dull ache that seemed like it would only get soothed by going over to my own little brother and punching him in the shoulder or having my own sister tell me how to wear my clothes. What was worse - I knew this sort of thing was still going on at my house. It's just that it was going on without me. A whole year of sibling camaraderie went by, a whole year of everyone in my family growing, both physically and as people. A time when I called home one day and an unrecognizable male voice answered who turned out to be my brother.

I remember being jealous of the British girls because it was so easy for them to go home - only a five hour flight! Compared to ten or eleven hours, that felt like nothing! Like flying from New York to California! Both New York and California felt equally like home at those times, even though I'd never even been to California. I felt like if I could at least be in the same country as my family, I'd feel better. I never got homesick in camp. I wasn't the homesick kind, I thought. But it was this feeling that my family was so far away, that I couldn't even call them any hour of the day I wanted because sometimes it was the middle of the night for them.

I know how Trademark feels when she does things like beg me to keep her updated on all my dating adventures.

"But, Trademark, going on one date with a guy is not that exciting."

"Okay, but if you start going on a few dates, you have to tell me!"

One time when I was in Israel, I called home and was so upset that I asked my mother to just tell me what they all were doing. She described what they were having for dinner and how everyone was sitting around the table...

In some ways, Trademark is leaving behind a different kind of house. We're not all going to be sitting around the table on a random weeknight. Though Straight Man and I are not too far away, we're not really living at home anymore either - especially me. Most of the time, it's just going to be my parents and Mavis. And what if Mavis goes away for Shabbos?

My family is at the point in our collective family life where everyone is off doing his or her own thing. It's not one person away and everyone else still in the status quo as far as home life. It's everyone coming and going at various frequencies.

More than ever before in my house, there was a lot of packing and moving going on this summer. For me, I'm really looking forward to having Straight Man live in the same city as me. For a while, we were hardly in the same country. I know we probably won't see each other a lot - especially as he's on a rigorous YU schedule, but it's nice to know he's there, all the same.

For Trademark - I hope she has a spectacular year in Israel, whatever kind of year it turns out to be. And I will miss her a lot. Our house is going to get a lot...quieter...

And for Mavis - He should enjoy having the house to himself, and everything that comes with it. :)

So tonight there are six people in this house. Tomorrow night, there will be three.

...My family is growing up.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Expression

Sometimes you want to express something but you don't even know what it is you want to express. And by you, I mean me, of course. You just have this strong feeling and you wish you could put it into words and up on your blog for everyone to see, not because you want to divulge everything in your mind to the world but rather so others can nod and say, "Oh yeah, I know what she means" and then they'll all leave comments to the same effect, except for the ones whom you want to read your post and have it smack them in the face a little bit. Those ones might not comment, but maybe they'll talk to you in some other venue. In any case, I can't even define what it is I wish to express, because it's not anything really, except this vague sort of something.

I think this is the best I can do.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What's Bad For Shidduchim Might Be Good For Future Olim

Ezzie wrote a post nominating Bad4Shidduchim to go on the NBN Jblogger convention and blog about a family making Aliyah.

I agree wholeheartedly with his decision and with the reasons for it. Not only will this be a great opportunity for Nefesh B'Nefesh to utilize a blogger who will bring their message out to a unique reader-base, it will also be an amazing bad-for-shidduchim-points-getting opportunity for Bad4.

For example:

1. Being involved with Nefesh B'Nefesh, a tzioni organization that helps Jews make aliyah to Israel - wait, did I say tzioni? Definitely bad for shidduchim.

2. No longer being anonymous, thereby letting the whole Jewish world know she has a blog - could be pretty bad for shidduchim.

3. Participating in a co-ed convention - GASP.

4. Being nominated on blogs, thereby drawing attention to herself - QUITE untznius!

5. Wearing a ponytail in public, especially if she gets on the livefeed camera at the convention - couldn't be WORSE for shidduchim!

I do hope she has the good sense to not wear any make-up while at the convention, or she might get some bad for shidduchim points deducted. I'll have to consult with my fellow judges on that one.

So, you see, supporting Bad4's opportunity to win an NBN trip to Israel + convention attendance is also supporting the bad for shidduchim cause as a whole.

In all seriousness - Nefesh B'Nefesh, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better choice to send to the convention. Bad4 is an excellent writer/storyteller with great descriptive skill colored with a helping of fun, but not silly, humor. She has a large following of young couples and singles - just the sort of people who are not yet set in their ways, but who are at a stage in their lives where aliyah could be a serious consideration.

So...go ahead and send Bad4 to Israel!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Stepping Forward

Today we moved Straight Man into YU. As we waited for Straight Man to sign in and get his room and student ID, someone came over and put a bright red bracelet on my wrist that said, "Welcome To YU." It was the weirdest thing. I was being welcomed to YU as though I was a guest, except I was just a student in Stern three months ago.

It's bizarre to me that YC and Stern's first day of school is this Wednesday, and I won't be there. Stern was my home for the past four years - it feels like I still belong there!

Every year of our lives, we grow and develop as people. But my time at Stern was where I probably had my biggest growth spurt as a person. So many people think that sort of thing is supposed to happen during your year in Israel. There's that pressure before you go - are you going to "change?" How much are you going to "grow?"

But what does it mean to grow, anyway? I don't think you can go anywhere specifically to grow. I know in all the Israel school interviews, they ask why you're going to Israel and everyone always says, "To grow in my Judaism, to grow as a person..." But you can't plan when and where you're going to develop as a person. My most meaningful growth experiences have been the most ordinary kinds of experiences, and not meant for growth at all. They weren't in any way inspiring. Some of them were quite difficult. I was not on a high. I struggled. I listened. I observed. I learned about others and about myself. And I grew.

I know there is still a lot of growing left for me to do, but I have a feeling it will be of a different kind. Everything about Stern was a kind of dream. Now I feel as though I'm waking up into an unfamiliar place, and I have to get my bearings all over again.Yet enough of that dream has remained with me upon waking, and I will keep it close to me. I don't know where I'm headed now. It's all very much an adventure, I suppose. I just have to learn to stop looking back and concentrate only on moving forward.

But I do miss Stern already, and I can never thank anyone who has been part of that experience enough for what they have given me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

S.A.

I've heard of Alcoholics Anonymous. I've even heard of Over Eaters Anonymous. But there's another kind of abuse that I think requires its own Anonymous group. These abusers make every appreciator of writing cringe - or ought to. If they don't make you cringe, perhaps you should attend a meeting of the newly formed Sesquipedalians Anonymous.

These are the Thesaurus Abusers. They write sentences such as this one:

"The abundance of his leonine mane and the floppiness of his silk cloth conspire to create a sort of vaporous tutu, causing the gentleman to forfeit his customary virility." - The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Hey, I gotta cite my sources.)

Or this:

"Since then, I have gone every day to the butcher's to buy a slice of ham or some calf's liver, which I slip into my net bag between my packet of noodles and my bunch of carrots. I then obligingly flaunt these pauper's victuals - now much improved by the noteworthy fact that they do not smell - because I am a pauper in a house full of rich people and this display nourishes both the consensual cliche and my cat Leo, who has become rather large by virtue of these meals that should have been mine, and who stuffs himself liberally and noisily with macaroni and butter, and pork from the delicatessen, while I am free - without any olfactory disturbances or anyone suspecting a thing - to indulge my own culinary proclivities." - ibid

Of course, there's always this:

"Moreover, a concierge who reads Marx must be contemplating subversion, must have sold her soul to that devil, the trade union. That she might simply be reading Marx to elevate her mind is so incongruous a conceit that no member of the bourgeoisie could ever entertain it.

'Say hello to your mother,' I murmur as I close the door in his face, hoping that the complete dissonance between my two sentences will be veiled by the might of millennial prejudice." - ibid

I don't know about dissonance between her sentences, but I'm pretty sure there's some dissonance between what she's trying to say and the decorative cloak she's throwing over it. It doesn't even work as a piece of irony, unless she's trying to be so ironic that she overdid herself and ended up sounding like a college freshman trying to impress her English Comp. teacher.

As a professor in Stern once said:

"Don't write: the conflagration consumed the edifice. Do write: the house burned down."

The professor then left the class with this bit of advice: "Eschew the sesquipedalian."

So I encourage all of us to eschew our own inner sesquipedalian. Realize that mastering the English language does not mean using its fanciest words at every given opportunity. It means understanding how to use simple words to convey your sophisticated (or not so sophisticated) ideas aptly and precisely.

Thank you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Heights

(Half a poem)

Give me wings so I may fly
To Heights beyond Grand crossroads
And past the glaring lights of Time
Illuminating the sky.

I lift-off like a child learns;
My journey starts expressly with A.
I climb high over the Central playground,
Farther than the Carousel turns.

Give me wings so I may fly
To Heights beside the river
And there I'll stand above the world:
That world that peeks at me, so shy.

Forward Motion

Life has a very forward motion feel. That's because time is always moving forward. The world is always spinning on its axis. Day is always turning into night, which then always turns back into day. People get older. They go through stage after stage after stage. Leaves turn colors on the trees. Snow, rain, burning hot sun.

And yet you could be watching it all as a stagnant outsider. The world is spinning fast and you seem to be standing completely still.

So then you decide, "This is it. I won't be a slug on a rock any longer. I'm going to run with the wind!"

And then you're off! You are part of the chase to the finish line, though you don't even know what everyone is chasing after. Yet you chase after it as well because you must in order to keep up.

But suddenly you realize you're running so fast, you can hardly grasp all the places you've run through. They're all a blur to you. You have vague memories of passing by, but that's all.

So you slow down.

The best way, you find, to go through life, is not racing to keep pace with everyone else, but advancing just fast enough, and slow enough, to keep pace with yourself.

Sometimes other people running by jostle you to keep up with them, though.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Morning

The pastel mists of morning
Paint over yesterday
And golden globes of sunlight
Allow for a new day.


...And I guess I have nothing else to say.

Be yourself, make the most of today, and have a good morning. Rejoice - it's a new chance for everything.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Transience

Shortly after 9/11, I was awoken at around six in the morning by a gigantic BOOM! The house shook. I was disoriented. The first thought that came to my mind was, "This is it. We're being bombed. We're at war. Life as I know it is over."

The thoughts came slowly, sluggishly, as though dragged forth from a dream. Somehow, I didn't really believe them. I wasn't even sure I believed that there had been any kind of explosion. Maybe I'd dreamed the whole thing.

My parents running down the stairs confirmed the noise, but then they came up again. They hadn't seen anything out the window. Maybe it was nothing.

I stayed where I was, clutching my blanket tightly.

A few minutes later, there was another deafening BOOM! This time, the house shook so much that I nearly toppled out of bed. With a jolt, I ran downstairs to the big window in the living room, expecting to see smoke, fire, large pits in the street.

I saw the early morning sun rising peacefully in the sky, birds just beginning to chirp their friendly hellos to the new day.

My parents came down again, frazzled and flustered.

"We're going out to see what's going on," they said. "You stay in here. If anyone else wakes up, tell them to stay inside."

I found out later that a house around the corner had blown up. Apparently, an elderly couple lived there and each had an oxygen tank. One of them decided to smoke and the oxygen tanks blew up. The couple escaped safely.

A year and a half ago, I was at SJ's house for winter break when my sister called.

"N's house burned down," she said.

"What?!"

N is one of her best friends. She lives around the corner from us. They had just built that house only a few months earlier. It was huge, and they are a large family. Baruch Hashem, they all escaped safely, but everything of theirs was destroyed. They ran to the house of their good friends, the K family, who live on the same block across the street.

N's family took the opportunity to make Aliyah.

This past Thursday night, I was woken at around four in the morning by the sound of sirens. They got louder and louder, as though approaching where I live. I listened intently, but then the sounds grew fainter and I fell back asleep. I forgot about it in the morning.

Later on Friday, I saw my next-door neighbor's facebook status. It was about the fire trucks at four in the morning, and then I remembered about them. I asked my mother if she heard anything and she said, "I didn't, but interesting you should ask - Trademark called from camp and said she heard from N that the K family's house had a big fire last night."

Their house was completely destroyed inside. Apparently a wire on the poles in the street went dead, and because of that, two other wires clashed with each other and sent sparks to the K family's house. Amazingly, a number of other houses, including possibly one on my own block, were connected to that wire as well, but they only had blackouts, not fires. Imagine the devastation that could have happened if they'd all gone up in flame.

Why do these freak accidents happen? They are so scary. That a house can burn completely down, and then the very family whose house was a sanctuary to the first family after their fire - that family's house burns down a year later? And there was another fire on the same block not that long ago - belonging to a nonJewish family. So weird. And freaky.

What these incidents make me think of the most is that everything can be taken from you in a split second. One day you have a house, you have clothes, you have books, you have furniture. The next - you have to start from scratch.

There have been a number of fires that have happened near my own house, and just imagining what it must be like to lose everything - I can't imagine that. All I can think about is how transient posessions are.

Posessions - they mean so much to people. More than they should. You must have that sweater. Your brother needs that signed football jersey. But it's a privelege to have these things. Not a right. And they can be taken away at any moment.

What we have in this world is temporary. It's so easy to not have these things anymore. The strength the people in this community have to recover from something like a devastating fire is inspiring. They say outright: their old stuff is just that - stuff. What's most important is that everyone is safe, and that everyone is able to move forward.

It's scary - these things that happen to other people. And I suppose there's nothing stopping them from happening to anyone else. That's why we have to be so thankful for what we have, and to really appreciate the fact that we are able to have things. That we are able to have good families. Good friends.

Everything in our lives is a gift. Our families, our friends, our belongings. And everything is transient. That's why we have to appreciate what we have each day that we have it. That's why we should be happy with what we have, instead of always wanting more.

And most importantly, I have learned from the people in my community and elsewhere that you can always rebuild. What may be built may also be destroyed, but from destruction there can come building anew. It's difficult. I don't know how they do it. But they do it.

It makes you appreciate people, too. All the people in these particular stories ended up safe. It makes you really think about how incredible that is, how fortunate, how amazing. It makes me think about other kinds of catastrophes, times when there are people who are lost - not posessions. And makes me appreciate the people in my own life.

And may there be no more fires. Or accidents. Or any kinds of losses.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Let Me Be Myself

I liked this song the first time I heard it.