Friday, December 21, 2012

Little Truths

I've discussed words of wisdom several times: those nuggets of advice I've heard from school advisers, friends, TV shows, fortune cookies, and the like. But with this ridiculous semester finally coming to an end, I feel like my head is clear enough for the first time in months to look back and discover all the little things I've learned on my own, just by existing and living and watching the world move around me like I'm stuck in a shaken snow globe.

So here they are:
1) There are truths no one can teach you. These are the ones you have to find on your own. Anyone can tell you that the pumpkin flavored cupcake is the best, but you will not know it until you try that cupcake. Anyone can tell you that you will discover certain truths, but those things ARE NOT truths until you discover they are. For example:

2) Cliches are cliches for a reason. That saying you've heard a billion times over, the one that makes you want to scratch out your eardrums? There's a reason everyone says it. Usually, it's because on some level, it's true. Things like 'you'll never know until you try,' or 'everything happens when you least expect it,' ALL TRUE. But you only realize them, as I said in #1, if they've already applied to you.

3) Nothing builds your confidence like losing absolutely all of it. Sounds like nothing that makes sense, but it's true. If you're anything like me (or even if you just happen to be female, or human, heck), you've suffered from low self-esteem at some point. You went through a time when all you wanted was for someone to tell you you're pretty. And when someone did, you believed them. For two seconds, and then you went back to feeling like a waste of space.
But then somebody told you that you actually ARE a waste of space. And this wasn't a school bully or someone you dislike or even someone who was trying to hurt you. Somebody you either didn't know or cared about said something that reinforced your every self-loathing feeling, and made you lose every bit of confidence you had. Maybe they said it outright, maybe underhandedly. And you hit a low point.
But then even you took a look at yourself in the mirror and thought, no. I'm not worth nothing. I may not be worth much, but not nothing. And then you corrected yourself: no, I'm too cool, and nice, and happy to be not worth much. Heck. I'm worth quite a lot. And you start to build confidence. ACTUAL confidence that depends on nobody but you. Which brings us to:

4) There is no way to convince someone of anything (that matters). You can convince someone that the second Batman movie was better than the first. You cannot convince an anorexic person that she's not fat. You can convince someone that mashed potatoes taste better with sage butter than olive oil. You cannot convince your right-wing cousin that they should be left-wing if they actually care about politics. You can convince someone that the Hulk would beat Thor in a fight. You cannot convince a Rabbi to take up Catholic Priesthood, not if he actually believes in his religion. You cannot convince somebody broken and sad to suddenly be happy and whole. You cannot convince someone who thinks they're ugly that they're beautiful. If there's a truth they must discover, like that they're not hideous, or that their selfish behavior will only hurt themselves, or that nobody will believe the fiftieth lie in a row, they have to discover it themselves. There's no. stinking. way. around that. But with luck, they WILL discover it. And that's called maturity.

5) Emotion is not weakness. Crying may not look good. It may not be dignified. It may not be attractive or pleasant to watch or listen to. It may feel terrible. But it is not weak of you to cry or tell someone how you feel. Sometimes it's much easier to pretend nothing is wrong than to face it. When you feel like something's missing and you act like nothing's going on, that isn't strength. It's called DENIAL. Don't cry all the time, don't let it sit on you like a giant rhino storm cloud, maybe don't dwell on it longer than you should. But letting it get to you once in a while does not make you weak. It makes you honest, if only with yourself.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Semester's End

Ok, I'm not one of those Tumblr Blogs with all the fun GIFs, so instead, I had to make a cartoon substitute.

When your last class of the semester from outer sadistic space ends and you hand in your final:

And there is no shame in that :)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The End of the World

I've been thinking about the end of the world. Not because I actually believe in the Mayan apocalypse, but when you hear it spoken of, you start to think about it. What if the world was actually going to end this Friday? What if I absolutely knew that this weekend would herald the end of existence? What would I do with my week remaining?

I'll tell you one thing, I wouldn't be writing my take-home final.

But the world, in all likelihood, isn't ending yet. Life has a way of enduring no matter what happens. Even when your own personal world ends, everyone else's just keeps going. And by that, I don't mean death.

Death isn't the end of your world, not if you've built it around others, around a family and friends. The end of the world, for me, isn't when you're taken from your loved ones. It's when they're taken from you.

26 worlds ended on Friday.

Being so wrapped up in my papers this past week, I barely realized it was Chanukah, usually one of my favorite times of the year. It wasn't the usual song-filled warmth-fest with family and friends. It consisted mostly of lighting candles quickly and then running back to my room to work on more final projects and papers. It was a sad feeling, but you know, a grad student's got to do what a grad student's got to do.

All of Chanukah, I found myself praying in my free time (by which I mean the 30-50 minute subway commute to school and work every day). I'd pray for answers and help finding my way. Even though they always say never to rely on a miracle, I found myself praying for one.

Not for a big one like healing the sick or ending a war or winning tons of money. Mostly a small, selfish one. I feel like most miracles are like that. The things that others seem to have but you can't quite scrape together. So when it works for you, it's miraculous, even if in the big scheme of things it's the most ordinary thing in the world.

And then on Friday, I got back from work, and started my Shabbat prep. I turned on my laptop for something to put on in the background, only to discover the news from Sandy Hook, the Facebook rants for gun control and against politicizing tragedies.

And when I lit the candles before Shabbat, I sat, for once, staring at them. Shabbat means I couldn't write my paper. I sat next to the Chanukah candles and prayed on my own. And I thought about tragedies, and I thought about miracles, and I thought about the end of the world.

I thought about making sense of the unfair things that happen to us. When family members get sick. When friends suffer mental and emotional abuse. When people don't appreciate each other and take each other for granted. When small misunderstandings or words left unsaid explode into wars. Unfair things big and small. I can't picture anything worse than losing your child. I don't have children (yet). But I can barely picture losing a friend to violence, let alone someone much closer.

Then I thought about the people who were fighting each other on Facebook and other websites about whether we should be talking about gun control so soon. And a small, horrible thought occurred to me.

Maybe, at least, if something this awful had to happen, maybe it could at least become something important. Maybe it could lead to law reform, or funds being created, or new progress in treating the mentally ill? Obviously, none of that would transform this from anything but a tragedy. Obviously, better it should never have happened.

I thought about people I know who have suffered huge losses, and how they used their experience with tragedy to help others. And I thought about the apocalypse.

If the world was ending this week, what would I do?

I would stop Facebook chatting my friends and call them instead. I'd explore the place I live and eat the food I like. I'd drink a glass of wine or a cup of coffee to taste it, not to get a buzz. I'd stop putting up with the people who don't deserve my time. I wouldn't tell them off, just drop them from my weeklong life.

And I'd tell the ones I care about exactly how I feel, and hope that they have the same end-of-the-world perspective to say it right back to me. I'd hug a lot of people. Real, tight hugs. I would look someone I care about in the eyes, ruffle their hair, observe little details like freckles or wrinkles or facial structure, appreciate that they're devoting a few moments of their remaining week to me, too.

But the world, in all likelihood, isn't ending this week. And let's face it, we're probably not going to get any miracles.

So I can only see one option. If we want G-d or the universe to help, we have to meet them halfway. If we want to live a whole, regret-less life, we have to act like the world is ending, but also remember that there will be consequences for whatever we do after Friday. Last week, I took a few small, but for me huge steps to make sure I don't live my life with regret. I haven't gotten feedback for some of these steps yet, so that scares me, but I suppose I'll see what will happen soon enough.

And I think about 26 worlds that have ended. Maybe I can't do anything to make sense of something so awful. Maybe all I can do is take a look around me and picture if that had happened here, if my world was ending. So many people responded to the news with pleas to their friends to "just hold the ones you love."

In some cases, I have held the ones I love since. In others, distance has prevented me, and I've wished ever since that I'll get the chance soon. G-d, I'm preachy.

But hey, if it's the end of the world, I might as well say what's on my mind. Even if there aren't going to be any miracles.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Some Nights of Good Karma

And this year's award for most relatable song goes to... "Some Nights" by Fun. Come get your award, you Freddy Mercury-wannabes!

Meh, I figure this is somehow fitting. I've been hearing this song all over the place for the past few weeks and just didn't take the time to listen to it until last night. I recognized it mostly from the Chanukah-themed parodies by Pella and Standfour. (Shoutout to The Maccabeats' original Chanukah song, which has an important, great cause behind it.) But then, yesterday, I gave it a listen for real.

I may be a little bit in love with the lyrics, and not just because I briefly considered the title "Some Nights" for that webcomic that never happened back on Arbitribe (the subtitle for it was supposed to be " the Heights." I know, terrible).

This is probably the first time I've listened to a song and thought, this is me. But not just me, everyone my age I've had any sort of discussion with. A song about knowing you stand for something, knowing you want something, but just not being sure what that is. A song about oscillating between thinking your life sucks and counting your blessings, because except for that one thing that sucks, you've got everything you need. It might as well have been called "So you're in your early-mid twenties."

Apologies to the easily-offended for the one curseword in this song.

Besides, it's just another clear indication that Fun is trying to be the new Queen, an artistic choice I wholeheartedly approve of. We could use more Rock n' Roll. Come on. Listen to that beat, those power-harmonies, and the lead singer's melodic yelping and tell me he's not picturing himself with the Mercury 'stache.

The song features verses which sound oddly to me like some religious/ community complaints I've had and heard:

Why don't we break the rules already? I was never one to believe the hype, save that for the black and white. I try twice as hard and I'm half as liked, but here they come again to jack my style.

A verse about pursuing people you don't care about just to keep from thinking too hard, a verse about wishing you had your real friends around to make sure you're not forgotten, a spoken verse about disillusionment.

So this is it? I sold my soul for this? Washed my hands of that for this? I miss my mom and dad for this?

Obviously, many of the experiences named are not ones I've had or relate directly to (I don't think there's a martyr in my bed, anyway), but the sentiment rings true. I think my personal favorite one, though, is the one that just seems to cover all of it (and sorry, but it's the one place there's cursing).

Well, that is it, guys. That is all. Five minutes in and I'm bored again. Ten years of this and I'm not sure if anyone understands. This is not one for the folks at home. Sorry to leave, mom, I had to go. Who the ---- wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?

To me, this song is just essentially a summary of prayer. These are essentially the things I think about when I talk to G-d (seeing G-d's ghost, I guess? Hey, I'm Jewish, so not every parallel is perfect). I wonder if He cares, if He's listening at all, wondering why He didn't listen to some things I prayed for so hard. Wondering if, like the closing verse says, it's for the best You didn't listen.

I don't know about anyone else, but if I was singing this song, I'd have a siddur in hand and be staring straight up.

So what is this post other than an ode to one of the first songs I've heard on the radio and right away loved in a long time? It's an expression of an odd sort of smile I felt this week.

I realized why I've been so freaked out. It's because I realized just how little control I have over what happens to me. Sometimes it feels like the only things I can control is what I eat and when I take a shower. But then I realized there was one more thing I could control.

I couldn't control what other people did. But I could control what I did. So I did the only thing I could think of. I responded to emails and messages I had left fester in my inbox because of school. And I made a little Chanukah resolution. It's the same resolution I've been working on this entire semester, but this time I decided to really throw it into high gear. I've been working on what I consider my worst two qualities: my impatience and my tendency to react before I process.

So that's what I've been working on. Someone pointed out to me that if the last time I'd been having a hard time, which was two winters ago, someone had told me that in just a few months I'd be starting the best year of my life so far, I would never have believed them and demanded, "Well, why can't it start now?"

So now, that's how I'm choosing to view things. Things may be difficult now, but just like that concept of Karma, maybe it's difficult now so that it can be easier later. Maybe I'm confused about what I want now so that when I finally decide on a path, I will be sure of it. Maybe my first semester was so crazy difficult so that my next few won't be so comparatively bad.

I read a quote on the whiteboard in the hall at NYU last week: "One thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast withers as quickly. That which grows slow endures." -J.G. Holland

Yesterday, the whiteboard said: "Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." -Leonard Cohen (for those who don't know, the guy who wrote 'Hallelujah')

I took both of these to heart. Patience. And remember, not all is lost. It's just that nothing is perfect, and maybe it's better that way. Just because the bell is cracked, it doesn't mean it can't ring anymore. Who knows, maybe it'll sound better, like a slightly warped record.

G-d, maybe it's for the best You didn't listen. As long as there's a reason I just don't know about yet.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Finals-week Philosophy

Call them miracles, if that's your thing. Call them fortunate coincidences, or maybe a series of fortunate coincidences. Call them Divine intervention or just a highly improbable occurrence you're pretty darn happy with. I don't care which you pick; really, I don't.

It's that time of year again. When twinkly-lights around Manhattan, Chanukah candles in the window (really, is there any sight more comforting?), and the heebie-jeebies unite to make you believe that something incredible is sure to happen. That great and rare occurrence, optimism.

All I can really see is that in a week and a half, I will be mostly free. I finished another paper this morning, and my last oral presentation is tomorrow. My twelve-page take-home final is due monday. And then, glorious exhale.

Yes, I'll still have one paper left, but I won't have class. Finals will be over. My packed five-day workweek will become a significantly easier two-and-a-half day one. I can't wait. And yes, that will mean the return of cartoons, and possibly even my sense of humor.

But that depends on whether this gut feeling I've got is indicative of truth, or just the result of too many sufganiyot.

Why do I suddenly oscillate between feeling impending doom approaching and feeling like everything's going to be ok? I shouldn't be feeling that way, by all logic. Nothing has occurred to make me think either way. Nobody has spontaneously called me with disastrous news; I have not had any wishes fulfilled or intense prayers answered. I'm still as unsure about life, the universe, and everything as I've been for the past three months.

Call it my "question phase," my epic gladiatorial battle between my brain and my heart, between what Kurt Vonnegut called the pinnacle of human evolution (the whirring machine/bad idea bear) and what Woody Allen called "a very resilient little muscle" (the thumping little masochist).

But now it's Chanukah. I have no idea what it is about lighting candles and singing songs that makes me believe that somehow, someone might have been listening to me all this time (that would be really nice, though). It's been a very long time since I asserted any belief that things happen for a reason (although I won't say they don't, either. I'm very up in the air when it comes to G-d's plan). And yet, somehow, now... I feel like there could have been reasons? And where did this feeling that things are about to take a turn for the better come from? Of course this all depends on whether this is me or the sleepless, studying, writing, caffeinating nights talking.

I'm rather confused.

If there are miracles, well, let's merit a few. They would be nice. I know of a few people who could use a miracle or two.

While we're waiting, Happy Chanukah.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

More Words of Wisdom

I'm at work when I realize I haven't eaten since yesterday early dinner, unless you count the three salt and vinegar chips I inhaled while typing up my interpretation of Martin Buber's discourse with Gershom Scholem regarding Hasidism (my take: it's one a.m. and I'm tired, go philosophize in another room, gentlemen).

Today, I finally handed in two out of the four papers I have due within the next two weeks. I haven't even had caffeine today. It's wonderful. A few more days and the other two papers will also be out of my life forever.

And in this little lull I have, the one day this week I have sworn not to spend on a paper (decompressing time is just plain old necessary, especially when you don't have the time for other forms of stress relief), I decided to look at that little blip of light at the end of the two-week tunnel.

Winter break.

I've got ideas for winter break, even though it seems so far away. It's true that since losing my ability to plan long term, I haven't been able to come up with any concrete projects and plans for that wonderful breather time, but I've got some hints. Mostly, though, I just see it as an end to the hardest semester I've ever had. Next semester, crazy as it will be work-wise, will be better than this one.

I've decided it will be this way.

I have a friend who has some of the crazy-strongest willpower of anyone I know. Whatever they decide will happen to them, whether it's where they will spend their summer, where they'll work, or even what mood they'll be in for the next week, somehow, they make it happen. It's incredible (and sometimes, I'm jealous of that ability). I'm giving it a try now. I'm DECIDING that next semester will be a good one. I'm going to be willful too.

Also, I've just got this weird, omen-like feeling that it WILL be a good, even important semester, whether I actually decide so or not.

And naturally, whenever I find myself facing a time of change or a step forward, I think back on the advice and words of wisdom I've received in the last few weeks. Here are a few of my highlights for this past month or so:

1) "Whatever you're afraid of, remember that it's a fear, not a fact." I got this one from my advisor at school, specifically in reference to fear of future failure. "You're afraid that you're going to fail? That's a fear, not a fact. Just remember the difference."

2) "Go skydiving." This one came from an old friend I met briefly after a long-time of no-see. He was telling me about a deep trouble he'd suffered some years ago, before everything started to slowly work out, and about how the only way he felt he could force his way past it was to do something that absolutely terrified him. Use the energy and fear and anger on something you would never normally do, that way, all that energy was put to good use, and you will have genuinely defeated a fear and grown from it. While the particular fear I decided to conquer wasn't skydiving, it's the principle that counts.

3) "If you're hungry, have a snack. But if they're serving your favorite food for dinner, don't spoil your appetite." Back to my favorite agonizing thought: the battle between instant gratification and possible long-term happiness. I picture it a little like this: would you choose a job that was difficult and low-paying now, but had tons of room for growth and eventual great pay and benefits, or an easy but brainless one that offered better pay right away, but with absolutely no room for growth or payraise in the future?

4) "The world is cold and cruel. If you find a small group of people who love and stand by you, cherish them and hold on, because you will need each other." This is a composite of a few lessons from Boy Meets World. I watched that show all the time growing up, and lately I've been rewatching episodes on YouTube. Sometimes you need a twenty-minute break from papers. The character Mr. Feeny has words of wisdom about love and friendship and courage, but if I learned anything from that show, it's from watching Shawn Hunter, the cute slacker. Every episode, he's got another girl on his arm, another funny comment. But he's also the one who spends nights in the park and gets arrested for petty crimes.
In one episode, Shawn considers joining a cult full of smiles, free food, and hot girls. Of course, this means turning his back on his friends and his longtime teacher, Mr. Turner. After Mr. Turner is critically hurt in a motorcycle accident and Shawn decides he can't face him, his best friend Cory grabs him in a forced hug. "This is when you hug somebody," he says, "When you care about them, and you want them to know that. Now you cannot leave here. Turner took care of you. He loves you, and you love him. Is that real?... You decide, but you cannot go." Eventually, Shawn is forced to stay and talk to his teacher, until he finally musters up the courage to say to the cult leader, "If I was an empty person, I would go with you, because it's easy. But I'm through with easy, and I'm through with empty." And I, the audience promptly burst into shameless 90's sitcom tears. For those who are curious, here's that episode.

6) "You don't know the Plan." If there is a Plan, if G-d is shaping your life or knows what's meant to happen, you don't know what it is. You can pray if you'd like. Maybe that will help. But whether it does or doesn't, you are not always, if ever, in control. I'm currently in the midst of trying to figure out what to do with this lesson, because if there's a Plan, I sure as heck don't know what it is. All I know is that for once, I've stopped my own planning, and I'm letting G-d/the Universe pick up some of the slack.

and finally, another Mr. Feeny gem:

"I can do whatever I want. I have the megaphone."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Social Interaction, Ready or Not

Two more weeks... dear, sweet Lord.

Two more weeks and I'll be done with this awful, stupid semester, and it'll be behind me forever. Yeah, there are grades, but at this point I'm not thinking about them. My entire world has become a tiny snowglobe. Except instead of snow, there are papers and textbooks and trying to fit the chaos of my brain into twelve, somehow legible, pages examining Jewish Mysticism, or Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, or the history of the Jewish community, or Winston Churchill's relationship to the Jews.

Two more weeks!

So someone explain to me why I've met more people in this past week than I have in the past year. I have my own theories.

One is a line straight from the epic religious debate with a stranger I wrote about yesterday. When the topic verged onto the changing of society, aka, can we really make changes in how the Modern Orthodox community functions now? (The topic, I believe was Agunot and possible actions the Orthodox community could take to solve this problem.) He wondered, is society ready to make a change?

To which I responded, if you're going to wait for everyone to feel perfectly ready, you're never going to take a step. That applies to legislature, social reform, religious topics, even one person's life (and I do not mean cases of 'my child is not ready to start kindergarten' or 'convince your girlfriend she's ready to go one more step when she's not.' In those places, you definitely need to wait). When change comes, you're never ready for it. It just happens, and you find out afterward if you were ready or not.

Sometimes, it turns out you weren't, but successfully coping allows you to catch up. Other times, you retreat back into your proverbial hidey-hole and deny, deny, deny. And if you're going to do that, expect life to chomp you on the butt later. That's all I'm saying.

So, I had a vague plan. I'm like that. I plan everything. If I could plan my life to the minute, it would take me some self control not to. Truthfully, the idea of planning life has of late become exhausting and unfulfilling, so I've largely stopped, but that doesn't stop me from planning the remainder of this stupid, stupid semester.

Two more weeks!

"I will write my paper on this day, finish by this time, after which I'll take a break to Skype with this person, and then clean my kitchen..." HAH.

It never does seem to work that way. I had planned to spend this last weekend reading all Shabbat in order to write and finish a paper on Saturday night and Sunday. Instead, someone told me: "I'm coming to visit you on this weekend. It's the only available Shabbat I've got. Can you host a meal?"

Now, I hadn't hosted a real meal, one I actually cooked and cleaned and prepared for, since July, that far off little castle-on-a-cloud that no longer exists. I didn't feel ready to get back into being all hostess-y. I wasn't ready for the effort, the socializing, the inviting, the coordinating dropping off tables and chairs.

But this was the only weekend, and they were coming to visit me. So I agreed, readiness be damned.

I cooked, I cleaned, I invited a large number of people, equal parts usual friends and new people, even one or two strangers. The ironic part is that the person who asked me to host later cancelled on me, but by then I'd invited the guests and bought the meat for the stew, so I was going through with this meal original intent or not.

And it was awesome. It was up there with some of the best meals I've ever thrown. I made some new friends and met some interesting people. And I pushed off my reading for Shabbat morning. Saturday night, I got invited out to go ice-skating with friends and a whole group of strangers. I went. I got invited to a near-stranger's birthday celebration. I attended.

And on Sunday, I finished my reading. And then I met a stranger and had an awesome debate. And then I sat down to write my paper. And then I hosted a leftovers dinner for a small group.

And then I wrote some more of that paper. It was there waiting for me; it didn't go away.

Now, would I have done any of these things if, say, the paper was due this morning? Heck, no. But the paper's due at the end of this week. And I know that I will get it done. All it really takes is deciding that I will finish it, and I know for a fact that I will.

That's usually all it takes.

You aren't always ready for the next step. Sometimes it comes at you unexpectedly, and turns out great. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes all it takes to "be ready" is deciding that you are, even if two seconds ago, you weren't. Again, this doesn't apply to everything, but when it does, it gets pretty interesting. Sometimes the circumstances are smarter than we are.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Challenge Accepted

Today was a turning point. Not in any significant life-event way, but in the subtle sort of epiphany way.

On this blog, I talk a lot about how the last three months have been some of the hardest of my life, though they're slowly getting easier one day at a time. I've tried to keep the details of what makes them so difficult off the internet, though more and more I'm thinking that someday soon, when I'm ready, I may actually discuss them. If I feel they're important enough to discuss.

One detail of the three months, the semester from hell, or whatever else I'm calling it, though, is something I think I want to talk about now. And that's the search for the deep conversation. It's the most minute part of this past semester, but among the tons of things and answers I've been searching for, high up on that list was a simple game of hide-and-seek with a philosophical conversation.

I used to have them all the time. And I used to hate them. Something about debating your innermost views of the world with someone seemed to me a little like changing your clothes in front of an audience. Even if that's your thing, even if you don't have any shame about your body, even in front of a close friend, you may be struck by the thought: what if I wore my ugly underwear today? Are they going to think I always wear something like that? In one way or another, you're exposing yourself.

And the thing with philosophical debates is that if the person you're talking to is smarter or more articulate or better educated than you are, it's very easy to come out of the conversation feeling stupid, or somehow invalidated. And that possibility used to scare me, because I lived life in a way I loved, but also thought was a sort of precarious existence. Boy, this post is going to be longer than I thought it would be. My apologies.

Two years ago, if you asked me what I liked least in the world, right after the taste of fennel, I'd say debating. To me, it was fighting for no reason. What was the point of exchanging life opinions with someone? It wasn't like you were going to change their mind. So why get all aggravated if you weren't going to accomplish anything?

Then, sometime in my last semester of college, I don't know when, how, or why, people started approaching me, and asking me to argue. Specifically about religion. Again, I don't know how this started or who told people to approach me. But soon it seemed like every other week, I was having discussions with agnostic or atheist friends of mine about the existence of G-d, why I keep religion, etc. And at the beginning, I hated it.

I remember being on Gchat with someone I had only recently met, having just such a debate, when I finally thought to ask, "why are you having this discussion with me? I'm not a philosopher. I don't know any more about religion than other Modern Orthodoxers."

To which he replied, "You're harder to argue with."

Apparently, the way I view my Faith is unusual. I still don't quite understand why, but from that point on, I thought, well, if they're going to argue with me, I might as well get into it. 

At the peak of my philosophical arguing (about a year ago), I was having these discussions almost every day. My favorite story to reference was the time a friend I hadn't seen in a while walked up to me at a party and said simply, "Hey, I'm an atheist now. I heard you like religious debates. Let's fight."

Again, I'm still really not sure why me.

Anyway, the debating and questioning was what finally led me, at around this time last year, to apply for my Master's in Judaic Studies. I felt like I had heard some kind of calling. Not a divine thing, but more along the lines of, hey, I seem to be good at this. Maybe I should make something of it.

And three months ago, just as all the proverbial spit was hitting the fan, I started Grad School, and instantly wondered whether I'd made a massive mistake. I felt like the tiniest little goldfish in a shark tank. Everyone knew more than me, and they were more aggressive, and they were not good little religious girls. They were theologians, Bible scholars, grown-ups. And they weren't interested in hearing my innermost thoughts. They wanted me to write papers. Long papers. One of which I should be writing right now, on what one theologian said to one historian two-hundred years ago before this pogrom wiped out the population of that village and how this all affected this theory of that study. I was In. Over. My. Head.

At one point, I confessed to a friend, "all of this academic language and writing, why did I go into this in the first place?"I remembered how much I used to love those conversations.

They used to mean something. They used to be an essential part of my week. And I missed the discussions. I missed talking about things that matter. After a while, I realized that not everyone wants to have those discussions, and I stopped asking.

And then today, I was talking to a boy I'd never met before, when they brought up the topic of Halacha. He expressed his opinion on one right path of following Halacha, which led into a discussion about why I should or shouldn't wear pants, which led into the portrayal of women in the Talmud, which led into law in general, the afterlife, evolution...

I won't go into the details of the arguments for sake of not completely boring those who read this far, but let's just say I disagreed with him on nearly every point. What was interesting though, is that while I'm usually used to playing the right-wing role, the religious gal in the face of someone rather against organized religion, this time I was the modern, left-wing, bra-burning feminist of the discussion.

Man, what a rush.

I knew I missed the discussions. I didn't realize until this afternoon just how much I missed them. As I got more excited and animated in my quoting Gemarah and philosophers, I realized I was probably starting to creep the guy out. But I really didn't care.

Somehow, I've gone from hating debates to loving every minute of them, if of course, they remain respectful and don't involve yelling. But for my current semester, unfortunately this day was a fluke. I miss talking about these things regularly. I miss having challengers around. I need a challenge. Because it's the ones who challenge you who are the ones who make you think.

How did that happen?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

One Day More

It's incredible what a difference small changes make. This week, I cleaned my room, hung up some artwork that had been lying around my apartment, put up the flower-string lights I bought in San Francisco, finished a paper, and made plans for the first big Shabbat meal I'll host since July.

And it works wonders.

Literally from one day to the next, I feel like as quickly as the crazy came, a huge chunk of it has spontaneously abated. Not all of it, but a massive, huge chunk, and that's more than enough to keep it from being overwhelming.

And I've been singing Les Miserables songs all week.

That's not a surprise, since the movie version of this book/play I've known since forever is coming out and I can't wait to see it. I've been humming the tunes for a month now. But I realized this week that things had generally improved when I realized that the tunes I've been singing have changed.

Isn't that weird? I didn't even realize until after, that I'd stopped singing 'I Dreamed a Dream' and 'Master of the House', songs filled with unbearable despair and hostile treachery, respectively, until yesterday, when I was carrying artwork to a friend's place for a project, and found I was marching in tune and singing 'One Day More' a little too loudly, aka people could hear me.

Now, 'One Day More' isn't exactly the happiest song on the planet either. None of Les Miz's songs are exactly cheerful, but the thing about 'One Day More' is its triumphant mood. Which is weird, because its characters are singing about an event that hasn't happened yet, and in most cases, is certain to actually be negative, bloody, and/or heartbreaking. But they're getting pumped anyway.

If you know the story and what eventually occurs when the event comes, you know how ironic some of these verses are. But if you listen to it, you can't help but, for some reason, think the upcoming battle can turn out any way but well. And damn the consequences. Damn the danger. Yeah, you may sweat and bleed, but you will do it while kicking some serious butt.

And I've been seeing things this way too, at least this week. I know that nothing is set, nothing is certain, but for some reason I'm pumped for it.

"Tomorrow we'll discover what our G-d in Heaven has in store. One more dawn, one more day, one day more."

I can't wait to see this movie. Hugh Jackman! Anne Hathaway! They couldn't have picked the cast better. Let's see if it's any good.

"There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!"

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Wage

I stumbled across this poem during my weekly trip to Zen Pencils:

My Wage
by Jessie B. Rittenhouse

I bargained with life for a penny,
And life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening
When I counted my scanty store;
For life is a just employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task.
I worked for a menial's hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of life,
Life would have paid.

It stuck with me like gum in your hair. Haunted me on the way home from work. I scribbled it down into my sketchbook as a reminder. Once in a while, you come across a quote or a poem that you feel is speaking directly to you, where you are, in the time you're experiencing. I got that feeling when I came across this poem; a poet I'd never heard of was trying to teach me something.

In typical me fashion, I failed to attach it to anything having to do with career or work, even though apparently most people do (at least if Google seach results are to be believed). I attached it to what I always do: a search for meaning, love, community, and peace of mind.

I started thinking about the last three months, during which, let's just say, Life and I have been in negotiations over what my wage is to be. I've had to decide: am I going to bargain to be happy now, or later? Am I going to strive to be merely satisfied? Or genuinely happy? Is 'good enough' good enough? Can I bear to set the wages at a penny?

This duality of satisfaction versus happiness reminds me very much of Jeff Smith's awesome comic-book epic, Bone (if you haven't read it, go read it now). In one scene, the Bone cousins Fone Bone and Smiley are captured by the giant puma Roque Ja, the self-proclaimed "master of the eastern border," who demands that the cousins pick a side in the ongoing war between the valley folk and rat creatures. The cat claims that a side and a leader must be followed in order for one people to gain power. And power, he reasons, is the secret to satisfaction.

"A person can be satisfied and still not be happy," the cousins respond.

"I see the problem," Roque Ja replies, "You believe that a person truly can be happy."

I've always loved this scene, mostly because once you get to know these characters, you realize what courage this exchange requires of the Bone cousins (that's how good this book is. You're actually proud of the characters when they do something right). But it also brings to light a question I've had for a long time. Should I content myself with being satisfied, or should I work hard and keep hoping that in the end, there is even the possibility of being happy?

I'm not naive enough to suppose that being happy is a goal to be reached and a state that will just be achieved. But I do believe in an eventual goal of living truly happy with your decisions, and that's when you live a life that's meaningful, within your moral standards... one you've worked hard for, and thought of something bigger, higher, and better than just you. A life you can look back on and say, this was a good life. I did a good job. And it meant something. For me, this is a life where I feel I've found meaning, and where I've done the very best I can, and where I didn't throw myself away to despair, convenience, or denial, and where if I made mistakes or did something self-destructive, I didn't drag others down with me.

So can I stand to bargain with life for a penny?

My answer is heck no. I will not settle for satisfaction. I will strive to be happy. And it's true that this means a few inconveniences, annoyances, and frustrations right now. I've been writing and rewriting the same paper for the last week and a half, and with its hyper-vague instructions, I could just as well have churned out a single draft of crap. But I'm doing it so that I'll get the good grade at semester's end. I've been exploring new communities and meeting new people, trying out new experiences, and visiting old friends when sometimes all I want to do is confine myself to the bubble of the same six or seven people who live within a three block radius of my apartment. But that's convenience, not taking action.

I guess what I'm saying is, I can find a penny any old day on the subway platform, in a gutter, left behind on the counter at Starbucks. I'm looking for something of greater value. If I've learned anything in the past three months, it's that the lowest common denominator comes too easily. It's anywhere you happen to look. Something that's worthwhile takes some work. Happiness takes work. Someone who is satisfied isn't necessarily happy, and heck, their satisfaction is often fleeting. Someone who is happy, I'd say is pretty darn satisfied.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Megillah Project: Finished!

It's finally finished! The Kohelet project is at long last done, and it feels like a milestone, another chapter finished. Literally, all that's left now of this semester of challenges is time. Three more weeks, and that's it!

Every word of Kohelet was hand-written into this 42-inch-long project, expressing my own past months of questions and searching and plain old not knowing. Now that it's finished, I feel like there's a sense of release, even though none of my questions were actually answered. But that's not to say that there hasn't been growth or progress.

This project was a reaction to the biggest disappointment I've ever suffered. It was a letdown that shook my faith in humanity and even in G-d, and facing it was the most challenging thing I've ever done. I'm not ashamed to admit this, because in stating it out loud, I've also acknowledged it, and faced it head-on. I never denied it was happening, or pushed it off to deal with later. I confronted it face-to-face, came to several decisions, and fought my way through on my own.

And here I am, still confused about a few things, but most definitely past any point where I'm afraid I won't be able to get through it. I did get through it, and I found a lot of new things and had a lot of new experiences along the way. Some were good, some were bad, some were frightening as all heck. But the point is, I had them, and I didn't have to compromise my principles, or change who I am. I'm still me, and I'm still here.

I fought my way through three months of uncertainty and fear, and now I have this project to show for it, one of the most labor-intensive paper-cuts I've ever made. I'm done now. And I never have to look back. And as soon as this semester's over, I can exhale and know that I did the very best I could with the tools I had. Maybe it's a little egotistical, but I'm proud of me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Summer in San Francisco: The Kickoff and Conclusion

Today is a very big day for me, in both the real-world and cosmic sense.

Today is the day Studio G-dcast releases my video.

In August, I spent two weeks in San Francisco, of which six very intense days were filled by Studio G-dcast, the Jewish-Educational fellowship I'd signed on for. For those of you unfamiliar with G-dcast, you can find all the info you need here, but in a nutshell, they're an awesome organization that creates animated short films based on Jewish topics for use in educational settings. Bible stories, holiday tales, etc.

This summer, they flew in twelve of us college-grad school-age artists, some writer-storytellers and the others animators, to the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco to work long hours and intense sessions reading up on, writing, recording, animating, and directing our own three-four minute Jewish educational short films. Each group of one writer/one animator was assigned a famous story from the Talmud, a few awesome teachers/staff members to work with, supplies, and work space, and told to get to it.

My amazingly amazing animation partner, Adina and I were assigned one of the more difficult stories to work with. Depressing, not all that exciting in terms of action sequence or dialogue, and yet meaningful and thought-provoking. We were pretty much assigned with that most Jewish of all questions, why, G-d, why? Well, at long last, here it is, the fruit of our labor:

Adina and I wrote the script together, and decided we would animate it using the classic Jewish medium and favorite of mine, papercuts. So I got to work, sketching and cutting like some crazed human weed whacker,

Pic courtesy of the Covenant Foundation, Photo taken by Peter Marcus

And with every finished letter, puppet, or scenery piece, Adina had a new item to computer-animate. We chose voice actors and musicians and recorded with them in a professional studio. And after five utterly-exhausting days, we presented our work-in-progress to an audience of Museum donors and G-dcast supporters. It was brutal. (FYI that pic has been featured in articles and stuff! The top of my head is famous!)

By sheer coincidence, or maybe not, it was also the week my life changed from the distinct "last year" to the challenge of "this year." It was the informal kickoff to what would prove to be the most challenging three months of my life (so far. G-d, that's not a hint. Don't take it as one). I received the first of many emotional blows, the first of a few health scares, the first of too many moments of self-doubt. I left for San Francisco naively optimistic, secure, and sure. I returned stressed to my core, uncertain, and eight pounds lighter due to a stomach thing I'd picked up.

This weekend, with the much-anticipated, finally! release of the video we worked so hard on, I naturally started relating it to where I am now. In the past two days, one of my health scares at long last abated (Thank. You. G-d.), and on that front I can breathe easier. I also (finally) came to a few conclusions in the self-worth department. I regained a small sense of the security I thought lost forever back in August, even though it's in an entirely different form. I've gained back a few of the in-total fifteen pounds I dropped in that most unhealthy few months. I'm not the same person I was before San Francisco, though. I doubt I ever will be. And to me, my own process during this semester only makes the video I worked so hard on all the more poignant.

Just like Moshe Rabbeinu in the video, I've also found myself turning to G-d many times recently and asking, "Master of the Universe... such Torah/effort/time/energy/love/determination/prayer (take your pick)... and yet, such a reward?"Only to feel like I'm being met with an order to be silent, for this is what G-d has decided.

I don't know. To me it feels significant. I feel like, with the official release of this video, some part of the last three months has paid off, even if my own major effort with regard to this project was finished back in San Francisco (Thank you, Adina, for your much longer work time!). For some reason, I feel like this is a major hurdle cleared on my race for security, normalcy, and well, life. All I've got to do now is finish that Kohelet project, hand in my last papers, and finish the semester. Call me superstitious or stupid or unrealistically optimistic, but I can't help but feel, in the deepest depths of my gut, that once this semester's run its course, so will have my rough patch, and I'll be back on top, in my true fighting form.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Chasing Answers: A Prayer

Avinu She BaShamayim (Our Father in Heaven),
Some of us are sleeping in shelters tonight
Others in the comfort of our beds
Three families at least are in unbearable mourning
Countless more are in fear
We prayed for rain, Hashem,
We meant water
We prayed to be united,
We didn't mean under terror
Now, we pray for the hurt to stop for everyone involved
Now, again, we pray for a real, true peace.

Avinu, Malkenu,
I can't imagine what it's like
To live in fear for your life while sirens go off
While mortar and rockets and shells fall
And politicians and fighters promise doom and revenge
I'm absuredly lucky
I'm as blessed as they come
I'm safe and I'm healthy.
I'll try to understand
Try to put myself in their shoes
And pray, pray that they come out okay
Without scars, physical, emotional, or mental
Please watch over them/us/them, please stop this before it gets worse.

Malkenu, Chaneinu,
Help me
And those of us who are lucky
See beyond just the fact that we are lucky
Let us FEEL that we are,
Let us gain the strength and perspective to toss away those stupid hurts
That we just can't seem to shake,
The ones that keep us up at night for the wrong reasons.

Chaneinu, Ma'areinu,
Take them away.
Let us put them behind us, let them stop distracting us
From the fact that this is not real suffering.
Give us the perspective to stop hurting one another
Intentionally or unintentionally,
Give us the tools to think ahead, and make better decisions,
Give us the inability to sit thinking only of ourselves,
Make us demand to be heard,
Make us demand justice, and improvement, and peace, and truth in our words, and an end to pettiness.
Let us unite and see where there is real suffering
And let us end it.

Ki Ein Banu Ma'asim
God, we've done wrong to ourselves and each other
You alone have the power to give sight to the blind,
If there's to be injustice, let us be unable to take it,
Give us an allergy to others' pain.
And if you can't make empathy and action the rule,
Ease the suffering.
Heal the scars, restore the Faith we've lost in each other and the Universe, in You Who is Everywhere.
Because down here, there's nothing we can do,
Arguing doesn't help
Shouting falls on deaf ears
And crying doesn't sway anyone
And the pressure keeps building from stomach to chest to throat to head
We expel what we've swallowed
We dull our pain with whatever's there.
Give us a cure, not a placebo.
Or give us something we CAN do.

Asei imanu tzedakah v'chessed, v'hoshienu.
Give us your charity and kindness, and save us
From ourselves.
I've had enough.
We've had enough.
Haven't You?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Our November Feature Film

Yesterday, I was sitting at work near Battery Park. Due to Sandy's path of rampage, the work day ended at 3 PM, which I couldn't have been more thrilled about since I had a twenty-block walk to my best (working) subway option and may have witnessed a case of assault over the last spot in the overcrowded train car that morning.

Also, the phone and heat weren't working. It's a bizarre sight, seeing the office function on half-attendance, its worker bees running to and fro in gloves and scarves (myself included). And suddenly my coworker and I looked at each other and agreed: October just flew the heck by, didn't it?

September, I think, was one of the longest months of my life, and I don't have the energy to go into why that is. The beginning of October, still in the chug of Chagim, plus nursing a cold that lasted way too long, seemed to grind to a near-halt. And then I got over my cold, handed in my first paper, visited an old friend for Shabbat, and blinked.

Now it's November.

The semester from another planet(!) is more than half over. This week, I handed in my second term paper, and I'm about to start a third. I feel like the tense few seconds after an intense action sequence in a movie, when the protagonist has lost the bad guy tailing him, and emerges from the vehicle to look around and make sure the danger has truly gone.

So cautious. But when I look around, the cop car or assassin's truck or whatever's been chasing the action hero isn't in my line of sight. I wonder for a minute if it's just waiting for the audience to exhale before it jumps onscreen again, but for the moment, it looks like I've got a second to breathe before getting back in the car and rushing to rescue the hostage or deliver the priceless artifact or pick your movie cliche.

Life's a little like the movies that way.

It's the age old question. Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? Wonderfully horrible pun courtesy of Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis:

I couldn't resist. But anyhow...

Do we place such importance on certain life events, behaviors, pleasures, and wishes because we're wired to do it, or do we do the action because that's what we see in the media? Do we hold back what we're thinking because we're told that talking and revealing too much is a sign of weakness? After all, the hero of the story doesn't cry when he's hurt. He rips open his own shoulder and claws the bullet out with his bare fingers. Um, right. When I think of real life injury, I think of when I had to remove a splinter from my (male) friend's finger, only to have him whine and gasp that I was killing him slowly.

Do girls aspire to be thin, pretty, and fashionable because that's what's attractive, or because the girls on TV who are like that get all the guys?

And most of all, are we photoshopping ourselves like they do in magazines? Airbrushing the truth like celebrities on the red carpet? Is the real us too raw, too scary, to get ratings and put butts in the seats? Increasingly, there's an emphasis on TV shows, movies, and books that are successful because they're "real." But those aren't the ones we watch when we want to feel good. Those are the ones we relate to and draw parallels between ourselves and the characters. Often we decide they're too depressing. We're all suckers for a happy ending.

This friend and I were watching 'Moulin Rouge' last week. I had seen the movie loads of times, but it was her first viewing. We're both art majors, so we were fixated on the gorgeous visuals and cinematography (as dizzying and rushed as they are at times). And then, about halfway through the movie (spoilers!) she turned to me and said "Oh no! This is going to end sadly, isn't it?"

I pointed out that they reveal the end of the movie literally within the first ten lines of the opening scene.

Later, we were discussing the movie with another friend. "I always stop the movie halfway through," she said, "I don't like the ending." It's kind of interesting, since one of the plot points of the movie is a heated argument over how a play they're performing should end. The playwright's happy ending is the financier's tragedy, and vice versa.

And so today I'm wondering, are we in our situations for the sake of a happy ending? I'm not talking about living in the moment versus living for the future. I'm talking about when things get tough. When we work on a project and realize it's not going to turn out the way we wanted: do we scrap the project, or, as Tim Gunn always says, do we "make it work?"

For my part, I'm going to keep trying to make this semester work.

And now I'm going to stop typing, because my fingers are freezing and it's time to put gloves back on.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Megillah Project Continued

The paper-cutting phase of the project is done. There are a few little patches of color in the black, white, and gray, and now I've gone on to the text. The labor-intensive, super annoying portion of hand-writing every word of the book of Kohelet into this thing.

In pen.

I know it's been a bit longer than usual between updates, and that's for a very simple reason: for a while, I stopped working on it.

No, I didn't quit. But as I explained before, my inspiration for starting this project with Kohelet, and at this particular moment of time was, well, that I was having a hard time dealing. Going through some stupid crap, for lack of a more eloquent term. So every time I was having a moment of panic, sadness, anger or life-questioning, I would deal with it by sitting down and working on this project.

Thankfully, thank you G-d, those moments have of late been fewer and farther between. There's been some great new developments in my life, a couple of steps forward, more happy experiences that have made me think a lot less of those big scary monsters in life.

But in my determination to finish the project, I attempted to just do it. AKA, to work on it without life-questions, and I found that it either made me think of the things that were giving me a hard time in the first place (as counterproductive as you can get), or I'd slack off after ten minutes. The idea of falling back into moments of sad panic was so frightening that I stopped working on it at all. I didn't (and don't) want to feel like that any longer.

Then, on a good day, during an afternoon I was spending in lively computer conversation, I looked at that big, half-finished piece of work and thought, it's a process. I'm not going to put off the process. This piece, this work, represents a lot more than questioning and frustration to me. It's my process of working through a challenging time. And part of working though anything involves the good days, not only the bad. So I sat down to write, but kept the conversation going at the same time. And in a few hours of laughing and chatting, I had finished three chapters of Kohelet. That's a quarter of the way through the book. And when I stopped for the day, it wasn't because I was frustrated, it was because it was late at night and my back and head hurt from the hours of sitting there bent over a desk.

That's my favorite reason to stop working. Because you feel like you've done all you can for the day. It feels wonderfully productive.

So here's where the project is now:

I'm looking at a new challenge with it, namely the concern of whether I'll even be able to fit the whole text into the space allotted without making it "too busy," but I'll figure that out along the way (suggestions are welcome).

I'm looking forward to getting it done. Like my hard semester, I see an end date for this work, and I can't wait to reach it, and look at how far I've come since my first awful week of grad school.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cow Creamer Philosophy

There's a short-lived TV show on DVD, by the same guy who made "Pushing Daisies," called "Wonderfalls." I think that when it aired back in 2004, it only lasted four episodes. Needless to say, it's kind of brilliant.

The essential plot of this show is that Jaye Tyler, a 24-year-old retail employee, starts hearing inanimate objects talk to her. They give her vague instructions like "Pick up that quarter," or "Make me a match," and each time she (reluctantly) listens, it sets off a chain of events that ends up helping someone in need. But why do I bring this up?

Jaye's brother Aaron (played by the awesome and crushworthy Lee Pace) is a theologian with several degrees in various religious studies, pursuing a PhD in comparative religion. He's a philosophical genius and hardcore atheist, never confused by any existential problem. Until he realizes his sister has received instructions from a porcelain cow creamer. And, well, watch the video:

I've always found Aaron's existential crisis scenes kind of hilarious, especially when he declares "meaninglessness in a universe with meaning...what does it mean?"When I rewatched the episode today, though, I found it less funny and more relatable.

I'm used to constantly questioning. I think that's a little of what life is about, the never ending search for meaning. I know what it's like to have a serious philosophical quandary and have someone laugh and respond with, "Are you high?"

Is it that weird to want to know what something means?

So one of the reasons I started rewatching Wonderfalls this week is because it's light and funny. But I also chose this specifically because it's about someone I find myself relating to.

Jaye Tyler is a graduate of Brown University, a writer, a philosopher. She's also a massive underachiever and misanthrope. She's lazy, sarcastic, and runs from every challenge, much more the type to stick her fingers in her ears and yell "lalalalalalalalalalala" than to hear a lecture.

Now, I don't really relate to any of these things. The thing I find familiar is that she's post-college, the youngest of three kids, living on her own but still very attached to her family, and very, very confused about what life's going to bring.

This week, I turned 24. For some reason, I've always placed an odd significance on this age. I remember being a little kid and telling my mom that 24 is the perfect year to be a grown-up. You know, get a job, get married, live in a house with a slide instead of a staircase because duh. 

But now, I'm 24. And I don't feel any closer to achieving anything than when I first got my acceptance letter to grad school. I know what I want out of life, which I guess is a pretty big thing. I know what I'm studying to become. I'm also living my life according to a philosophy/religion I find true meaning in. But I've also been having an uncommonly tough time with it this semester. And when I watched the scene with Aaron and the cow creamer, I think I figured out why.

Because I believe that life has meaning. I believe the meaning's out there, I just haven't found it yet, and I'm comfortable with the idea that I may never find it, that it might not be meant for human beings to understand. But that also leads me to believe that MY life has meaning, and that's something I probably AM meant to figure out and understand for myself. And that's where we hit a hitch.

I know what I WANT my life to mean. I know what my skills are, and I'm trying my best to utilize them in order to achieve that meaning. But then again, I'm also a confused post-college intern who can't seem to find what she's looking for. Instead, I've been finding out a lot of things about human behavior that I never wanted to know.

I feel like I've figured out what's wrong, made the doctor's appointment, and now I'm just in the waiting room, looking at my watch and wondering when I'll receive treatment. I feel like anything I get now is just a magazine or a text message to pass the time.

I'm 24 years old, and I've just left some things I really liked having behind and turned to a new, very scary world I'm not sure I like at all. But I can't stick my fingers in my ears and yell "lalalalalalalala." I see people everywhere doing just that. I want to hear the advice. I want to hear the cow creamer tell me what I should do, just to get going to where I know I want to be.


I hope everyone's ok.

I hope you're all safe and dry.

I wish I was helping more. There's not much I feel I can add or say, that others haven't put much better, before. I feel like there's not much left I can say. I wish I wasn't starting every sentence with "I."

The donations have been dropped off. Water has started to recede. There have been fires and floods. Thank G-d, I've seen none of it.

We're so damn lucky.

Sending my thoughts and prayers to those who weren't so much.

Please do your best, be your best. I'll try to be mine.

There's got to be more than this. There's got to be more than just an unfortunate storm.

Let it matter. Let something matter.

Hurricanes. Cleanup. Let's go.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fortune Cookies and Other Sources of Wisdom

The thing with going through a scary, confusing time in your life, especially when you're trying to figure out your life, views, and future... that you suddenly start to hear all of those cliched pieces of advice that so many TV Specials and tea labels have to offer. And of those sayings, you find the ones that apply, and make sense, and occasionally even help. 

So now that things look a little better than they did a month ago, I've discovered a few immortal truths. Some are deep and oft-quoted, some are stupid and true nonetheless. Here are what I'm calling my October lessons:

1. If you're so stressed you can't think and your campus is offering free back rubs on Wednesdays, for the love of G-d take the back rub.  

2. Running away never solved anything. If you must run, make sure it's toward something and not just away from responsibilities and all of those scary things that make up life. 

3. Courtesy of my awesome friend: "Everything will be alright in the end. So if it's not alright, it's not the end."

4. Fortune cookie fortune I found in my coat pocket when I took out my autumn coat for the first time this year: "The major value in life is not in what you get now, but in what you become."

5. Another fortune cookie: "The most important relationship you have is the one you have with yourself" or the other version of the same advice: "If your friend spoke to you the way you sometimes speak to yourself, would you continue to be friends with them?"

This one especially was one I had to deal with when I realized that I've really got to work on this self-esteem thing I keep hearing about.

6. Watching Germans sing about Russians while dressed like Mongolian warlords will solve all your problems for five blissful minutes. 

7. Courtesy of Pushing Daisies (moment of silence): "A hug is an emotional Heimlich Maneuver. Someone puts their arms around you and squeezes real tight and all your fear and anxiety come hurling out in a big, wet wad, and you can breathe again."

8. William Safire: "The right to do something does not mean that doing it is right."

9. "If you truly want something, you'll find a way. If you don't, you'll find an excuse."

10. And the awesome Neil Gaiman: "MAKE GOOD ART."

It's autumn. I read a quote today somewhere on the internet which claimed autumn as the perfectly balanced season. Well, as a Fall Baby who loves autumn colors and all pumpkin-flavored things, I agree. And I gotta say, now that I have some perspective back, I realize I'd have to be nuts not to enjoy this season of cool breezes, pumpkin pies and kosher lattes, sweaters without winter coats, boots without wool socks, bat-themed merchandise, and not-quite too early sunsets. I love this season. I'm going to spend the rest of it trying to remember what I learned so far and enjoying what I've got until I figure it all out. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Megillah Project Again

For those who haven't seen them, here's the Megillah Project Parts 1 and 2.

I've finished the black and gray layers, which means that most of the cutting is done. There's still all of the text and the smaller color patches left. But still, this is a big step in terms of this project.

I'm seeing it as finishing the first stage of the process, of the semester, of the crazy. It feels awesome, like throwing a huge weight off.

Funny how this comes right when things have been turning around in life, too. A few good days, handing in my first paper, giving my first presentation, meeting some great new people, reuniting with some old friends.

It's like I've come in from the cold, and while it might not be summer out yet, I can at least take off the first, gray, heavy layer.

Here's what it looks like so far:

Three and a half feet long and that's where it's going to stop. I think I've been letting this thing spread long enough. Time for the next stage :-)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Muzzling the Dragon

Let's call this a small victory, or maybe just a few days of a better mood. I feel as though my crazy, trying semester  has received an upgrade of sorts. All of the obstacles and challenges are still there, but perhaps the terrain has been smoothed over.

In the past week, I've gone from whelmed and panicky to... questioning and confused. I suppose this isn't an ideal state to live in, especially considering the security I felt back in the days of Arbitribe, but that's neither here nor there. Either way, it's an improvement from two weeks ago. It feels temporary and shaky, like it could give away under my feet any second. But it's a good step. A cautious step.

Like I said, the tribulations are still there. Technically, nothing has changed in the picture of my existence other than that I finally handed in my first ever Graduate School Paper (Hurdle One: Cleared!) and just today, gave my first oral presentation in class. I've still got five more papers and a final exam to go this semester, but now, for some very strange, unreal, perhaps even nonexistent reason, I feel less afraid of them. It's like fighting your way through a forest and getting a sudden improvement in weaponry.

I'm reminded again of the Arbitribe post I wrote (Oh my G-d) a year and a half ago. In that post, I compared facing the big, scary future (affectionately named the BSF) to fighting off a two-headed dragon built of what are you going to do with your life and who will be there with you while you do it? I talked about the salivating, ring-accessorized Love dragon and the sharp-beaked, baggy-eyed Career dragon.

(Wow. Let me just say, rereading that post now is SO WEIRD. I feel like a different person wrote it. So much has changed since then. It gives me chills to think about everything that's happened since then, and how much some of those issues have changed, while other points remain as relevant as they ever were.) I wrote later about how my faith in my beliefs and my people were providing me with some support in the battle.

I feel like I've been set upon by this nasty, reptilian beast again. This time, in a new arena: a bigger, scarier world I don't recognize, which I guess should be more frightening. But it's not.

And I really don't know why, because the monster isn't any less aggressive or smelly or difficult than it was in 2011. If anything, it's come closer and gotten ruder. But for the next few months at least, I've got the career head muzzled with a job and graduate school, so that's good.

But when it comes to actually tackling the thing, my mind is just too filled up with questions about this weird, scary, illogical terrain (see Peers on Piers). I feel like I'm telling the dragon, "I know you're there, I acknowledge that you're not going away. But right this second, you've got to wait, you stupid, drooling monster."

I feel like there's some vital piece of information I've been missing, which so many other knights already know. I know I need to fight you, monster, but until I figure this out, you've got to be muzzled.

I've got questions that need answering. That's really the only way I can put it. The world I've been thrown into now is so wild, and not what I thought it was. (This world is so weird. People are weird. Does anyone else feel that way?) I know (more or less) what I want to achieve sometime in that Big Scary Future. But... right now? (Shrugs.) I feel like I need to climb a mountain and ask some wise old sage a few questions first.

I got my upgrade, I've moved on to level two of this weird game of the BSF. Now I've got to examine my new terrain, my new weapons, and figure out which ones to use. And how to use them. BSF, I know that sometimes when people get confused, they think you're not going to sneak up behind them and bite. But I haven't forgotten. Don't think for one second, dragon, that I don't know you're there waiting.

Being confused is strange and discomforting. But it's so much better than being afraid.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Peers on Piers

So many times, it seems like everyone in the world knows a big secret, and you're the last to find out. I've spoken about this before in the context of being the last to know that a certain previously-kosher product was now no longer allowed.

But sometimes this happens when the issue is a little more complicated than a flavored drink. And then, when you've finally wised up, what to do with your newfound knowledge? Do you join the ranks of those who know it for a fact, or do you keep questioning until you've convinced yourself of its truth?

Do you jump off the dock when everyone else goes swimming, even if you hate the water or don't know how to swim or have been getting over a bronchiole infection?

Pier pressure. Ha ha.

So internet, I ask you. We know some things for sure. We've known them for a long time, because someone taught them to us. How much of what we've been taught is of actual value and how much is just what we've been taught?

How much is wrong with our society, and how much is just wrong with us? And why do some of us keep asking, keep questioning, when we know there are no answers, while others are content to just forget there ever was a question?

Maybe it's that they already know the answers? And if they do, how are they going to respond to our newfound realization, especially if we're taking a long time to figure out what to do with this information?


Neither one of these are bad responses, but they depend on the scenario. What fits at one time won't work at another.

It's at times like this, when I find out some things about human nature that I never realized before, that I worry I lack some kind of brain cell that most people have, right there with my inability to compartmentalize or remember certain Hebrew grammar rules. Maybe there are just some things I was never meant to understand.

Why are there priests who believe in Divine punishment but still embezzle money or molest children?

Why do people consider wearing skirts the epitome of modesty when the type they wear shows every lump and curve of their butt?

Why do people with allergies keep eating food they know will make them break out in violent hives?

Clearly these are not remotely under the same category, but they're all questions.

I'm just full of questions, aren't I? Isn't that how it goes? The moment you think you've happened upon a great epiphany, it turns out everyone knew it a year ago. And you find that all the epiphany did was open up a new can of preservative-filled questions. And maybe these suckers have no answers.

But then again, maybe they do. And maybe someone will be willing to just sit with us until we figure them out on our own.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Megillah Project Update

I've finished my first grad school paper!

And more importantly for the purposes of this blog, I've been working full-tilt on the Kohelet papercut project I mentioned in The Megillah Project.

Like I said in that post, this might just be one of the most difficult paper cuts I've ever made. It's absolutely nowhere near finished, but I've been making a lot of headway, I think, and covering lots of ground. I can't remember the last time I worked so quickly on a project, and yet taken so long to get through it.

Recently, a new friend asked to see the project I'd been working on, and so I showed it to her, in all of its half-finished, unglued glory. Her immediate reaction was, "that's a lot of pain."

"Yeah," I agreed, "it's a pain to make this thing, but-"

"No," she corrected, "I meant, I see a lot of pain in it. You must have been screaming while you made this."

I thought about that. Maybe not screaming, but freaking out on the inside, quite possibly.

Like I've said so many times, it's been a tough couple of months. But ever since taking Neil Gaiman's advice to 'make good art' to heart, I've been pouring out my frustrations and stress into this thing. So yes, I suppose it is a product of stress. But that's the first semester of grad school for you.

My mom asked me the other day whether it's still in black and white. I answered that yeah, but now I've got some gray in there too. Been considering a little patch of yellow.

She told me, "Keep doing it. But don't make it too big, or you'll never get past it."

So far, this thing is 31/2 feet long with four layers. And I have to say, I do find that every time I finish a long session of sketching, cutting, and separating layer by layer, I always do feel a little lighter than when I started. I just have to hope that this will turn into something fulfilling to be born of my stress, not a long-term reminder of how I was feeling when I started. I think it'll be fine. That's something I'm strangely confident about. On to the next layer.