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Lights

So I find myself on the last night of Hanukkah. The festival of lights, the time of the miracles.

This past week has been a whirlwind – travel, drama, grad school, drama, emotions, and drama.

But today…

  • I presented my poster this morning.
  • I read my paper as well.
  • I got my car fixed, and even at a discount for making me wait.
  • I got to rehearsal on time.
  • I got through rehearsal, no script, no huge mistakes.
  • I got to spend the last moments of the last night of Hanukkah watching nine beautiful flames dance to the beat of Ellie Goulding’s “Lights.”

It’s the miracle of Hanukkah.

“calling, calling, calling me home…”

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Oversaid Fines

Here’s a good one.

There is a three-word phrase that you probably say just about every day of your life, whether it’s to yourself or to someone else. It’s not “I love you,” and it’s not “f my life” but to me, it’s just as overstated and meaningless.

What do you typically say to a good friend who is:

  • Struggling with school?
  • Nervous about searching for employment?
  • Scared of dying alone?
  • About to embark on a big trip?
  • Having wedding-day jitters?
  • Undergoing stage fright right before the show’s opening?
  • Has been trying and trying and trying but failing?
  • Has lost faith in himself?
  • Has lost faith in everything?

If you’re like most of the world, the response in your head at this point is something like:

“You’ll be fine.”

BUT WILL I BE?

It seems to be the catch-all answer these days.

I first noticed it being used more frequently last year in Houston, when struggling to complete my coursework and my master’s thesis. My professors used it as a clap-on-the-shoulder, “I have to do something else but I want to end this conversation on a positive note even though it may or may not be true.” My parents have used it in pretty much every conversation about anything I’ve been nervous about over the past year, from moving to a new apartment in a new city, attending a new school, and eating yogurt after its expiration date. I’ve heard it from friends, family members, doctors, teachers, and even acquaintances. Over the past few days, I’ve heard it said to me about a hundred times and have even resorted to using it myself.

But what does it mean? What does “fine” actually mean? Where’s the context?

“Fine” can mean so many different things. It can be used as a brief explanation to someone that you aren’t dying, it can be used to express happiness, it can be used to express disinterest. It can also be used ironically, to show disgust or annoyance. It’s one of those words that if you say it too many times, it loses all meaning. “Fine” can mean physically healthy, emotionally healthy, mentally healthy, safe, having money, or any combination of the above. Once upon a time, saying you’re “fine” meant that everything was going 100% smoothly and well in your life, but now, even if everything is completely out of whack, you can just say it and no one will suspect a thing since our sensibilities can no longer handle transparency anymore.

Here’s the way I see it…

My dad has a client who happens to be a very high-strung woman in her 70s. Let’s call her Doris. Doris is a wife, mother, and grandmother, with a college education, an incredible high-profile career, and so many friends that she can’t fit them all into her apartment for get-togethers. She’s the exact opposite of a cat lady – respected, honored, and leads an active social and professional life that would be envied by most. Plus, she’s friendly, fashionable, and charming. Whenever Doris and my dad talk, she’s usually fretting about something money-related, like her paycheck (from her contracts from which she works, which is hit-and-miss but lucrative when she’s working), her social security (which she hasn’t yet started claiming) or her will (and despite a physical disability, she’s in great shape for her age). And it’s always the same tone with her – at level 10. From the way she talks and how she describes herself, you’d think she’d be a step away from being evicted and that her next meal might come from a dumpster behind a Taco Bell. I, myself, am not privy to details about Doris’ financial situation; needless to say, I think that despite her paranoia she’s got a lot of bases covered to sustain emotionally, physically, and financially for the rest of her life. I don’t know if she chooses to see herself that way, or if she actually does, but either way, her self-perception is completely untrue. And every time my dad talks to her (and about her, outside the office) he says that she’ll be fine. 

That I can go for. That’s what being fine means to me – she’s already lived a full and happy life and continues to live it even as I type this entry when I should be studying. She has the money she needs, friends and family who love her, all her mental and almost all her physical faculties, and finds new things to love every day.

Basically, I dream of having a life like that.

However…that’s not the case with me. I’m a constant worrier, yes, and I do over-analyze a lot, but let’s get real here. I struggle every day in a different way. Most of the time, I am not fine. Big or small, and whether I know it or not, I feel like there’s something that’s always not right. Will I be fine in my life? With God’s blessing and no major catastrophes, yes. Will I be fine this minute? No, not necessarily. I am safe, I’m not even unhappy, yet there’s a falling-quicksand sensation in my brain that not everything is all right.

Will I be fine?

You don’t know. I don’t know. I hope so.

In the future, when someone says then to me, I’ll continue to accept it, given the large amount of possible subtext lying beneath the phrase. As to whether I’ll believe it or not, that depends on how I’m feeling that day. The fact of the matter: sometimes it’s hard to believe it, it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility. Sometimes it helps to hear, but sometimes it doesn’t. Let your actions speak louder than your words, but don’t let your words slide down.

This was a particularly long and heavy post, so here’s an audiovisual representation of how I usually feel when you say this to me, with a special thanks to Whitney Houston:

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A Rose Is Still A Rose

This past week has been pretty brutal. Some of it caused by me, some by others…well, mostly me. Won’t go into more detail but suffice it to say that due to circumstances, I got very little done.

I usually write about other things in this space. But today I want to write about me. Because I feel that that person needs some serious lovin’.

Over the last several years (well, really, most of my post-high school life), I’ve been actively working on myself in one way or another, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. I’ve gone to psychologists, psychiatrists, and art therapists. I’ve had an MRI and an EKG. I’ve attended classes; I’ve read books and articles. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. And inevitably, just when I’ve got it all figured out, something comes tumbling down.

Lately a lot of things have been tumbling down. I’ve been asking myself the big questions, and I’m lonelier than ever. I’ve been pretty good at developing and using coping mechanisms, but it seems like just about every day I face some sort of struggle. When I find there’s something wrong, I try to make it better. But it’s just really hard when solitude kicks in, because that ignites it all. The loneliness. The fear. The paranoia.

Something’s wrong with this picture, and I’m doing it all wrong.

My private college counselor back in Maryland told me that a better way to approach myself is to, instead of looking at what’s wrong about myself, look at what’s right about myself, and use those qualities to build myself up from the bottom rather than knocking myself down from the top.

Most of the time, I like myself. I’m a nice person, or at least I actively try to be, every day. I am helpful and kind. I am loyal, trustworthy, and understanding. I’m a giver, not a taker. I care about people. I am a good friend. If you are my friend, I love you to no end. I go out of my way to help others. I try to keep things light and positive, and help make others feel good about themselves. I rejoice in the fact that I’m alive and I can enjoy such wonderful things every day, some of which being other people who are with me on this planet Earth that I can interact with and can interact with me. I’m always up for a challenge. I’m also always up for lunch, dinner, dessert, coffee, or alcohol in any way, shape, or form. I used to think I was an introvert, but I think that I’m actually an extrovert in disguise: I can strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime. I love to smile and make people laugh. Overall, I’m a good thing to have in my life and if you’re lucky enough to know me personally, then in yours too.

Like a flower, I wake up every morning and put my face towards the sun. I am me. I carry that energy with me all day, and even when I come home at night, even when I’m about to go to bed, I’m still me.

Rose

“’cause a rose is still a rose/baby girl, you’re still a flower/he can’t lead you and then take you/make you and then break you/darlin’ you hold the power.” – Lauryn Hill, “A Rose Is Still A Rose”

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Failure Pie

Today was just one of those days. Things just didn’t go my way. And the worst part of it is, it’s left me tired but not sleepy.

(I just waded through reading something that was unbearably dense, so bear with me.)

It started off pretty well, the sun was shining, and that was about it. I ran to class, got there late, and spent the next almost-two-hours wishing that I were elsewhere. Class ends, and I run home to finish and print a paper, make some soup that I eventually dump down my throat as I go back out the door, and was late for my next meeting, which wasn’t horrible, but left me feeling pretty non-confident about myself. I was on time for the next class (yay) but it was my afternoon three-hour class, and I was sitting there wishing that I was elsewhere. By the end of hour two I’m usually pretty checked out. Then I had about a half-hour to shove a half-sandwich down my throat (Throat to Me: Don’t push it.) and then it was time for rehearsal, which was probably some of the worst hours of my day, then home, where I did some stuff, but mostly felt the need (and still do) to dick around and not do work (which is a bad idea) and stretch my brain to think of more stuff to type in this entry, and tell myself I’ll be in bed by 12:30 only for time to be like “surprise! you bummed around the apartment doing nothing and now it’s 3 AM, or 2:30 if you’re lucky!” And on top of that, now I feel incredibly lonely in this apartment that, while lovely, still doesn’t feel like home with the piles of mess in different places, the white hospital-room walls that nothing in the world will adhere to, and the fact that I still don’t know where half of my stuff is at any given time, yet the time I’d spend looking for a new place is spent in class, running from place to place, and – you guessed it – doing nothing constructive at all. It’s a cycle that kind of needs to end, and fast, because I’m beginning to feel like I’m going through the motions, springing back and forth on a rubber-band-slingshot between my apartment and the Vilas building with a few other stops in between sometimes that take more time than they probably should.

Oh, and my shoulders hurt from exercising yesterday. Um…good for the bones, I guess? Bleh. I don’t know.

What I do know today:

  • I’m so lonely when alone, but when in class, most of the time I just want to get out of there.
  • Saying “you’ll be fine” to me right now would be like…I think I’ll go there in a future entry.
  • The little things accumulate and escalate.
  • Budgeting more travel time is never a bad idea.
  • My computer’s fan is embarrassingly loud.
  • I’m always doing stuff, but I would never call myself “busy.” I don’t know about that. Again, more in a future entry.
  • I should probably go back and read through my posts and follow through on some of those future-entry topics.

All those charts were right, about grad school being a six-slice pie (school, social, sleep, exercise, diet, and extracurriculars, or something like that) when they say “pick four and fail at them all.”

In that case, I have about seven pies worth of failure.

And I’m not even really doing any of those things right now.

…so I guess I just proved the chart right.

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Feeling Trapped

I haven’t talked about my emotions for awhile, so I’ll try to be brief.

I’ve been feeling trapped.

Trapped by technology: I’m embarrassed to bring my laptop to class because it’s kind of noisy, I’m nervous about getting an IPad because I’m scared I might break it, and they’re expensive, I’m scared I’m addicted to my IPhone, but then again, so are most Americans.

Trapped by my own self-doubt: In terms of schoolwork, I feel like everything I write isn’t nearly as good as the others, I was too chicken to enter last week’s dance competition, and then there’s the usual bad feelings.

Trapped in my apartment: Other than class, rehearsal, meetings – I don’t have much in the way of reasoning to leave my apartment, especially now as it gets colder outside. I feel like an animal in its cage, just hanging around and not doing much. I’m basically one of the animals in the zoo that everyone walks past.

I need to find something to help me feel free…or, freer.

Oh, and I haven’t heard from Awkward Miss Estonia, or any Estonians for that matter. But it’s only a day, so I guess I need to be more patient.

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Happy Places

Getting in bed late last night, I was trying to calm myself down after a hectic day (well, mostly a hectic three hours’ worth of throwing a six-page paper together), and decided to travel to my happy place.

What is a happy place?

A “happy place” is something that I first heard on Friends, in the episode where Phoebe is trying to calm Monica down by asking her to access her happy place. Monica admits she doesn’t have one, so Phoebe lends her her own happy place, but admonishes her friend “…but please don’t move anything.” Phoebe then goes on to describe the happy place, which includes a waterfall. This fails to make Monica calm down, but does make her want to pee. Actually, I kind of have to pee now too, but I’ll finish writing first.

Probably not a great idea, but we’ll see what happens.

So, back in bed last night, I was attempting to find my own happy places, and realized that I don’t have that many. Then I really took a good long flip through my memories, and found that there are plenty of happy places for me – I just fail to recognize them as what they are. For a place to count as a happy place, it must be a concrete memory, and not just “the beach” or “in a garden.” It’s gotta be personal.

I’ve been short on stories lately, so here’s a list of random memories of times and place where I felt best, my true “happy places.”

Childhood

  • Not in my memory, but a picture of myself sitting on a brown blanket at the park near Wellwood Elementary, with my family. There are two pictures of that day that conjure up only happiness in my mind. In the first, I am a chubby toddler in a striped shirt and tan shorts, laughing and looking slightly south of the camera. In the picture, it’s just me, and for a moment, I am just happy with myself, by myself, just enjoying life. The second picture is one from that same day that my dad probably took. I am sitting on my mom’s lap at a picnic table. I know it’s from the same day because I’m in the same outfit. She’s bouncing me on her knee, and I’m laughing, and she’s looking down at me and laughing. In that frame, there’s no worry, anger, anxiety, or stress, just happiness.
  • Evenings spent sitting by my mother as she graded her third graders’ work. She sat, as my dad says “like a deer, on her haunches” on the blue bedroom carpet by the heater with her work in very specific piles around her, and usually me among them, talking to her or just sitting and reading or watching whatever channel my dad has decided on for the moment. Being situated between my parents was comforting, and such a familiar scene helps me feel like I’m right at home, in an easy part of my childhood.
  • Riding in the car with my mom, wherever, whenever, but listening to good oldies music. It seems like many of my childhood happy places seem to be close to my mother. I wasn’t really close with my father until I entered adolescence, really. Also, no school memories come to mind at all.

Adolescence/Teenage Years

  • Spending a peaceful Shabbat at home, usually involving a rotation between the couch, the brown chair in the basement, the plaid chair in the living room, my parents’ bed, and my bed. Extra happy if I got to finish at least one or two books.
  • Spending Shabbat in Ocean City. I’m not as huge on sitting on the beach reading as my dad is, usually because it’s cold, but coming with a suitcase of books and between the beach, the deck, the couch, the chairs, my bed, my parents’ bed, and my parents’ deck, worming my way both around the house and through several books could only be described as happy.

Amherst Years

  • Being lost in a bookstore. Any bookstore. Food for Thought, the big one on Pleasant St., the one in the mall in Northampton, some of the little ones in NoHo. Brattleboro, Vermont? Even better. A warm cup of something from Postcard Cafe, or Sylvester’s, (or Mocha Joe’s in Brattleboro), and a quick duck into Acme Surplus, just celebrating my freedom by hopping between stores.
  • Friday nights with any arrangement of Daniel, Goldie, Nora, Neta, Sarah, Cory, Kelsey, and Zippy on the couches at the Hillel windows for our weekly entertainment: cars getting towed on Phillips Street with their owners absent, standing by, or the best kind – running shoeless and coatless from a frat/sorority house only to watch their ride leaving without them – literally; or, watching guys pee in our parking lot, banging on the window and catching them midstream, and seeing their reactions. Pure fun with pure friends.

Israel

  • Midnight to 2 AM in the Nahum Lifshitz apartment, watching marathons of Hannah Montana, That’s So Raven, and Lizzie McGuire with Rael (and later, Adina). The routine: I get home from whatever I’m doing that night at the theatre or at the gym; if it’s the theatre, I put on the pasta and make the salads. If it’s the gym, I get out the veggies, put on the pasta, and leave the door unlocked for Rael so she can let herself in to check on the pasta in case I’m not out of the shower yet. In either scenario, at this point I take out my pasta and bring it to the table, as well as our salads and beverages. We watch show number one while Rael’s pasta continues to cook (she likes it stringy and mushy – I still don’t understand why, but whatever suits her appetite) and usually by the time show one is over, her pasta is ready and I focus on my salad or eyeball whatever dessert Rael has brought. The company, the conversation…man those were happy times. I can’t believe we’re so far away now. We did the midnight walks through Jerusalem as well…okay, this is bordering on tear-worthy nostalgia…
  • Being busy at the theatre. The busier, the better – I’m in control, I feel alive, and I’m in a million places at once, doing it all as hard as I can. Dedication, commitment, and in spare moments, a sweet garden to lounge in, or my insanely large office with the couch that served as a nap spot for myself and numerous others. Everyone comes to Jacob’s office.
  • Sunny days off, wandering around Jerusalem. Old City, New City, a different neighborhood anytime. The Old City’s the best though, the shuk, the Western Wall, getting lost and meeting locals and tourists, on the precipice of both myself. So fab. And in my happy place, I can have less acne.
  • Sitting by the sea in Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus, with the whole sea to myself. Sketching, reading, white wine, Mediterranean breeze – it was just one afternoon but it couldn’t have been more perfect. A language I don’t understand? Perfect for zoning out and being in the moment.

Houston Years

  • Hanging out in the apartment. Just knowing that I have this luxurious nest that I can go to and just lie on the couch watching TV, sit on the porch, or holing up in bed.
  • Studying at the Julia Ideson Library in downtown Houston. Leather couches and chairs, Greek statues, old bookshelves, roomy tables, free wifi, picture window views of Houston. Usually alone –  Houston’s hidden gem. Sometimes I just couldn’t sit still and got up and danced around the room – quietly, of course.

Bonus Happy Place: Vacation

  • Prague. A bench along the Vltava. A sunny Saturday. Getting lost in a book – but then looking up and seeing the most beautiful picture postcard in the world. And not only can I see it, I can feel it, I can touch it, it’s all there. I could sit on that bench forever.
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At The End of The Day, You’re Another Day Older

That pretty much sums up how I feel about my birthday.

Which is tomorrow.

As in less than an hour from now.

Freaking. Out.

Birthdays mean different things to different people. To me, it means that the other 364 days of the year aren’t.

And that bothers me.

It seems like some peoples’ birthdays go on forever, with tons of parties and events…and mine never does. It comes, twenty-four hours pass, and then it’s over, and the only thing that’s changed is my age. Some people count down to their birthdays. I can’t really fathom that. Last year, on my 25th birthday, all anyone could say to me was “wow, you’re a quarter of a century old!” Well, thanks, that makes me feel a lot better about the biological process of aging and the fact that I’m still single, childless, jobless, and pursuing a degree which may or may not help me in life. This also is the beginning of the end of me being in my mid-20s. Soon I’ll transition into my late 20s…not cool, not cool. Well, I mean, cool in the sense that I’ve made it this far in life and many others haven’t, that I’m alive and free and in control of all my faculties, but not cool in reminding me that hey, you’re getting further and further from being able to date a teenager anymore.

Creepy aside. Anyway.

What bugs me the most about birthdays is that they’re so final. Like, you only get one a year. Then you have to wait another year to go through the same experience. And the day after is the worst – it’s like everyone else in the world gets a birthday before it’s your turn again.

And then, there’s the added pressure of how to spend your birthday. Treat it like a normal day? Take the day off, eschew responsibilities, and commit yourself to pure, unadulterated fun? Eat crazy amounts of chocolate and cake and drink copious amounts of alcohol? Spend it largely alone, with your thoughts to keep you focused and sane, or have a big party with as many people as you can?

Looking back on past birthdays is something that I tend to do around this time of year. Most of the time, the memories are disappointing. Like in 7th grade, when I had a huge test on my birthday, or three years ago, when I got into a huge fight with my parents the morning of my birthday that soured my entire day. Some birthdays were relatively successful, like in 5th grade when my teacher gave me a poster of endangered species, or my junior year in college, when I turned 20, saw a Rosanne Cash concert, and ended up at a house party that turned out to be a surprise party for me. Israel was another fun birthday – a group of us went to Maale Film School and watched some short films and met up with the filmmakers, followed by dinner with Dayna and Abbie in Talpiot, and later bowling with Dayna and Anya. My last two years of birthdays, in Houston, were mostly just blah and upsetting.

But enough negative.

I enjoy that feeling of weightlessness when I wake up, and I can say, “Today is mine. No one can take it away from me.” I like the random “happy birthday” greetings from people I meet up with, and blushing when people say, “it’s your birthday, isn’t it?” I like it when people go out of their way to do something nice for me, whether it’s a present, a card, or a hug, but just a greeting and a big smile can make me happy. I like it that even if I stay up tomorrow past midnight, it’ll still be my birthday until I go to sleep (according to some birthday rules).

That’s not a lot of things to like about birthdays.

Now I’m sad again.

But it isn’t yet my birthday, so I can’t do too much worrying about it being a bad one; it’s a blank slate, a mystery, a day of promise.

Just keep yourself in check, Jacob – you’ll get through the day, one way or another.

And hopefully, it’ll be a happy day.

🙂