7

On Breaking Glass

Last night, the fire alarm went off, and since it was two in the morning and there was no way I was going out in the SNOW (yes, it’s snowing here), I took that as time to wash the giant pile of dishes that has been piling up in the sink. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I had two wine glasses sitting behind the sink, and as I took a clean bowl out of the dishwasher, I knocked one into the sink.

It shattered.

Now I only have nine wine glasses. Wine glasses that came from my grandmother, that survived the moves from Baltimore to Houston to Madison to Madison again, plus countless people (okay, maybe like fifty) who have used them since they have been in my possession.

And just like that, one tipped over and broke, right into the sink, where it was easy to fish out the pieces with a cloth and throw them into the garbage like last week’s beer bottle.

It’s just a glass, and it’s not even that special; my grandmother probably got them at a department store or something. I could probably even find the same pattern online if I tried hard enough. It was just the shattering of the glass that made my heart judder, just a little bit. I’ve been a bit edgy lately, nervous, anxious, ready to go home but not ready for all the work I have to do before then, worried about friends and family, feeling somewhat lonely, and lazy because I’ve only danced twice this week and haven’t been to the gym at all. I’m just living my life.

Oh well, at least I got to do my Florida Evans impression to myself in my apartment.

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2

Ronnie in Retrospect, Part II

To those of you who didn’t read my previous post with this title, click here.

This doesn’t really fall under the category of book review, but after reading her book, I felt a kinship with Ronnie Spector.

I cheered for her when she had victories; I felt for her when she endured emotional pain, physical pain, mental anguish, and heartache. I’m not locked away in a mansion in the Hollywood hills, but in my normal life here in Madison, I tend to be my own prison guard and lock myself away from the world. Being alone has its positives: time to imagine, to reflect, to celebrate yourself, but if you’re not careful, the negatives can come out, leading you through dark paths and down steep slopes. When she had no audience, she turned inwards, which ultimately did more harm than good.

Mental illness is not an easy topic to talk or write about. Reading her words, however, made it seem more tangible and understandable. She writes about all the times she felt dark and all the circumstances that left her feeling that way. Though it was not discussed in depth, her sister Estelle also endured mental illness, of a different kind. It is fortunate that Ronnie was able to share these with the world; unfortunately, we’ll never read about the times and traumas of Estelle. I admire her search for herself, which continues to this day. She’s still got it, rockin’ and rollin’ all the way to the Hall of Fame as seen in her acceptance speech, but constantly navigating through the roles of musician, parent, friend, and person.

The biggest thing that I’ll take away from Ronnie Spector is the concept that you are not a bad person. She includes these words several times throughout her book. In times of failure, she asked God what she did wrong, citing her missteps and misfortunes: the downfall and breakup of the Ronettes, her attempts at a solo career, her failed marriage, her inability to conceive Phil Spector’s child, her failed attempt to reunite the Ronettes, and her troubled relationships with her family members. I would like to apply these words to myself.

Just like Ronnie said, despite my faults, my failures, my faux pas, and all the people who dislike me, I am not a bad person.

Oh, and be my little baby.

ronettes

***

Dear Ronnie Spector,

Please come do a concert in Madison.

Baby I love you,

Jacob

9

April 25th

Whoever said that thing about art imitating life was dead right.

As many people know, I do suffer from depression. It gets me down sometimes…well, actually that’s what depression is. I don’t think I need to go much more into detail about what it is. I don’t like to talk, write, or even think about it.

Sometimes I feel sad, sometimes I feel anxious, sometimes I feel heavy feelings, that’s all normal and okay. But every once in a while, I have a day where I feel numbed from the pain in a spooky way, like I’m living in a fugue state. I’m going and going, but my emotions aren’t going in the same direction. I want to smile and laugh and in short bursts I can, and these things sometimes tend to happen when I’m doing something social and normal-person-like, and I’ll want to withdraw into myself, when normally, I’m all about the fun. I fake it until I make it, and most days I even convince myself that everything’s okay, but then there are days like today, not quite lemonade and jelly beans, but more like…April 25th. Not too hot, not too cold. But overall, sluggish in pace. It’s on days like today when I’m the least productive, and where my couch and my bed are the only two places my mind and body want to be, although sleeping, eating and schoolwork are usually not in the plans. It’s watching videos on the Internet, watching TV, playing a game, staring at a book, a wall, or outer space. And by the time I get myself in gear, I’m late, or I forget something, and then I feel it even more.

I wish my apartment with a bathtub.

A hot bubble bath would be nice right now.

Will you massage my scalp?

Oh, and for the record, it was 66 degrees and slightly breezy in Madison today, with plenty of sunshine; a cruel shame that something inside me pulled me inward, keeping me from enjoying it.

But tomorrow is April 26.

4

Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day

Every once-in-a-while, I have a day that I call Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day.

And today was one of those days.

A Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day is not a good day, a bad day, or a neutral day. It’s one of those days that starts out with some rottenness, is usually dreary, and something good happens, but it’s not enough to turn the day around. Well, the good thing that happened to me today will have some long-lasting effects, but I’ll talk about those another time.

The provenance of Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day occurred in October 2009 in Jerusalem, Israel. I can’t exactly remember what set me off, but I was still living in the WUJS apartment so it couldn’t have been a good day, period. I remember that it was raining, which is normally a bummer, but makes everyone calm and happy in drought-stricken Israel, and softens the rougher edges of the world. It’s more of an act of purification than anything else. Plus, it makes everything beautiful. That day, I slept in, and when I woke up, my heart was sinking in my chest, heavy like a bag of sand. Which, ironically, was heavier knowing that it would have to face the rain. I wasn’t tired, hungry, or motivated to do anything. And then a feeling crept up on me.

I needed lemonade and jelly beans.

Right now.

Even though those are two foods I don’t enjoy on a regular basis, I strolled through the rain down to the makolet, which, fortunately for me, had some Minute Maid bottled lemonade and Jelly Belly Sours. Double yes, went my brain. Back at home, I settled back into my bed, my computer in front of me, and cracked open the drink. The lemony goodness washed down my throat, and when I bit into each jelly bean, the sour tang tickled my taste buds, validating all the sour thoughts and feelings that were going through me, and typed “it’s a lemonade and jelly beans type of day.”

Though I didn’t end up getting lemonade and jelly beans today, I certainly felt a bit deflated as I went about my daily routine, even passing up gym time to go home and hit the studying, hard, which was kind of good, I guess, since it got me to get some of my stuff done.

Each time I have one of these days, some other odd compulsion comes out, and for some reason, today, it was 90s one-hit-wonder group Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On” doubling as the soundtrack. There’s just something about Wendy, Chynna, and Carnie singing lyrics like “I know this pain/Why do lock yourself up in these chains?/No one can change your life except for you/Don’t ever let anyone step all over you/Just open your heart and your mind/Is it really fair to feel this way inside?” It’s like a damp dishcloth for your soul, complete with a wacky bass line and banal, inoffensive lyrics that essentially talk about nothing. Sometimes it’s a horrible song, sometimes it’s my jam, but today, it’s like my special friend, or guardian angel, if you believe in that sort of thing.

Everyone has a lemonade and jelly beans day once in a while, where you’re not at your best, and that’s okay. Again, it’s not happy, but it’s not necessarily sad – more like subtle, subdued, low-key, teetering between anxiety and calm.

I feel a little better now.

3

Let It Grow or Let It Go

As I opened WordPress on my iPad to start today’s (11:30 PM – crap) entry, the song to come through the earbuds amidst the chatter of the Saturday night crowd at Glass Nickel Pizza Co., is “Let It Go,” from Disney’s Frozen, AKA the best new song that everyone is (rightfully) going gaga over.

My Florida trip as well as the past 48 hours of being home without very much human interaction brought back my anxieties and fears, big time, preventing me from getting my work done (well, that and the fact that I left one of my textbooks in Florida and have to hunt down another copy at the library tomorrow). The usual fears; schoolwork, life, friendship. These are the anxieties that make me stare into walls, pick at a scab on my heel until it bleeds, pare my nails, and on the whole, take down my confidence.

Confidence is a tricky thing; it can help you reach your goals, but you shouldn’t have too much of it, only in moderation. Having a whole lot of inner confidence can help you shine on the outside, even when you don’t feel particularly positive. Knowing who you are, and what you love and why you love it, and allowing that feeling to emanate throughout your body, that’s true confidence and it’s tricky to achieve. Sometimes, people mistake a lack of outer effervescence for a lack of confidence or self-esteem, but sometimes you don’t need to assert yourself. It is okay to celebrate being you, because you are the best you that there is. When I doubt myself, it hampers my ability to function. But I just have to keep reminding myself to let it go, just like the song says, and focus on my power inside.

There’s a phrase that I heard somewhere along the line, what you focus on grows. It’s a corny phrase, and of course my dirty mind goes straight to the innuendo, but if you look at yourself in a better light, as a dreamer, a believer, a human…(now, “Under the Sea” is playing, so my thoughts are temporarily interrupted by singing sea creatures)..,okay, well the song’s not over yet, but grabbing back on to that previous train of thought, what you focus on does grow. The more I replay a scenario in my head, the bigger it gets. So if you just focus on being a good person, the positive attributes will grow and overpower the bad and sad thoughts, making them the plebeian, shoddily-made cloth finger puppets of your psyche rather than the complicated connections of bones, muscles, and tissues, that make up your essence as a puppet of your own design, controlled by all the processes that magically fit together to make a human being.

Taking a step back…sometimes that’s just what is necessary, to take a step back. Just today, A friend of mine posted a one-liner on Facebook that made me giggle, and I told myself “okay, I’ve gotta comment on this with a zinger.”

So I clicked.
And I thought.
And I waited for a thought to come to me.
And I started typing something…but then realized all the ways it could be misconstrued.
So I deleted it, and started typing something else…before retracting that.

Ultimately, I wasted about five solid minutes just staring at that dialogue box, “leave a comment” leering at me through the bared teeth of Facebook on iPad.

And I didn’t post anything.

Sometimes you don’t need to have your say on everything, mark your territory, get in the last word. If you have something to add, put it in focus and let it grow, or take a step back and let it go.

Exactly one post down was another keen observation made by another friend, and on that one, the appropriate response came to my mind fully formed, and took me mere seconds to post, without a second thought.

Now, that moment has come where I can’t think of anything more to say, so I’ll end this post for tonight with this message:

If you want to post a comment, do so, and let it grow.
If you’ve read this far and the moment doesn’t come to you, just press like and let it go.
I won’t be offended either way.

1

Blue Sunday

This isn’t going to be a fun or happy post, even though I did, for the most part, have a nice day and spent it with some really good friends. I know I should probably be reading for class or writing for class or something right now, but the thoughts are in my mind and I want them to be in my blog. This post may disappear without warning. Okay, now I’m just being supercilious, so here it goes.

I have a confession to make.

I have been a brother of APO since 2006. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Since then, I have been active in 3 chapters and am now working with one in an advisory role. I have traveled to Louisville and Boston for national convention, and I have made friends across the country and around the world. I have done hundreds of hours of service, attended crazy and fun fellowship events, created and carried out service projects/fellowships of my own, have collected two awards and so, so many memories.

Most of them are good, but some of them are bad.

Here’s one of the bad ones.

During my final semester as an undergraduate, I was abused by a brother.

It was not physical or sexual in any way, and since I was not a pledge, it was not technically hazing. But I was still hurt, mentally and emotionally, and I should have seen it coming based on something that happened at a meeting in an earlier semester. We were planning to hold a ritual on a Saturday night, but due to a pledge’s conflicting schedule, we moved it earlier in the week to Thursday so all the pledges could attend. Everyone else in the chapter was on board…except me. I had won a playwriting competition in Baltimore, and the show was set to open that Friday. Since I wouldn’t be able to attend the show on a Friday night, I planned on flying down Thursday afternoon, seeing final dress rehearsal that night, and getting back to Amherst on Friday morning to make it to my Friday afternoon class. When I brought this up at the meeting (which I had mentioned at the past two meetings, at least), I knew that I would probably be overruled. Unsurprisingly, I was, but not before a brother yelled out, “Well, you’re not important.” That kinda hurt, but I brushed it off as just something that came out at the wrong place at the wrong time, and in the wrong tone of voice.

In my final semester, this brother started opening up to me, or so I thought. She would call to see how I was doing, she would invite me to eat lunch with her, and was generally nice to me.

I really thought she’d changed.

I had been lulled into a false sense of security.

Over the next few weeks, things got worse. She began to be “honest” with me, and told me about what she perceived as flaws in my character, some of which I agreed with and some of which I didn’t agree with. When pledging started, she emailed me, telling me that she heard that I said something inappropriate to a female pledge. When she mentioned the name, I was taken aback: I had barely interacted with this pledge. She also said to stay away from her, and not to apologize, because that would make things worse, and warned me that our president knew and was watching me, so don’t talk about it. Puzzled about what I did or when, I just kept to myself, and since nobody ever brought it up, I assumed it had either a) fizzled out or b) been taken care of. I also avoided this pledge, making an excuse to leave whenever she was around and deliberately not talking to her, for fear of making anything worse.

That semester was also the beginning of a service project that I created with the help of the Chabad House at Amherst, Loaves for Love, a program involving brothers coming to bake challah on a Thursday night, taking some home, and taking the rest to a long-term care facility or a nursing home in nearby Hadley. I was unsure of the project at first, fearing that people would not like it. The first time, only six brothers showed up, but they had so much fun not only baking but learning the Jewish traditions behind the taking of Challah from the dough, different braiding patterns, listening to folk tales told by the rabbi’s wife while the challah was baking, decorating the challah with sesame and poppy seeds when it came out of the oven warm and fresh, playing with the children of the house, and of course, eating challah – for some of them, it was their first – and taking some home to enjoy later. The five other brothers who attended had such a great time that they told the other brothers, and for the remainder of the semester, everyone jumped at the opportunity to do Loaves for Love, and together with Chabad we made hundreds of challah rolls and heard so many stories that made us all feel good inside. Oh, and the warm bread helped too.

Then, I received an email from you-know-who. Very bluntly, she accused me of pushing a religious agenda on the brothers and pledges. As one of the few brothers to never cross the threshold of the Chabad House, I’m not sure how or why she claimed that about the project, but she used the magic “they,” so I became very nervous at future Loaves for Love events, especially around pledges. I was kind of freaked out. More than freaked out, I was terrified. The thought of me pushing religion on anyone, as a member of a religion that forbids proselytizing of any kind, was unacceptable. I continued planning and facilitating events, passing the project down to my little, but each time I went, I was petrified from the moment I rolled up my sleeves to the moment the last challah roll was bagged. But I could never let it show, because I was trying to be brave, be strong, and be a leader.

Things progressively got worse. This brother confronted me directly after meetings. After one meeting, when I refused to speak with her, she followed me around the room as I talked to other brothers, stalking me silently, waiting for me to break a conversation so she could slip herself in. When she made an attempt to butt in or start a conversation with me, I just said, “I don’t want to talk to you right now, we’ll talk later.” I successfully managed to avoid her that night, bundling myself inside my coat and briskly walking out of the room, out of the student union, and out of her clutches.

I thought I had made myself clear to her, and to the rest of the chapter, that I did not want to talk to her. I guess she felt embarrassed when I shut her down after the meeting, because what came next almost pushed me over an edge and made me want to quit entirely.

Not long after, I received an email from her. I opened it, knowing I’d be horrified, but this email left me gasping for breath. I have blocked most of it out of my memory, but not only did it bring up the pledge thing and the religion thing, it also included, well…hate speech is the best way to describe it. It was cruel, mean, and nasty. It was sexual in nature, but her usage of words was clever enough to mask her true feelings (claiming, again, it was the chapter’s feelings) that it made my eyes water and my blood drain from my face.

What happened next?

Something I’m proud of, and something I’m not so proud of.

I’m proud of the fact that I a) did not respond or retaliate, b) did not confront her publicly or privately, c) did not bring it up at chapter meeting.

I’m not proud that I a) did not share my feelings with any brothers, and b) deleted the email, hoping that no one would ever read it, ever again.

I still regret those two decisions.

Even though this was between me and her, I felt stripped of any humanity or self-esteem I had left. I was emotionally wrecked. Between plugging away at academics and being scared at the prospect of graduation, I looked to APO for service and friendship, and it had let me down. I still went to meetings, but finished my requirements quietly and then stepped away from the chapter for the remaining weeks of the semester, putting all my focus on my schoolwork.

Before the semester ended, however, I decided that I wanted to graduate from school and APO with my head held high. I had done a lot of service that semester, and I thought I’d helped start a good project. An advisor showed up at a meeting one day, someone who was relatively new to the chapter, and mentioned that she’d be available to talk to anyone, giving out her cell number and email address. I took advantage of that, and called her immediately, setting up a lunch date away from campus to talk about things. I didn’t tell her everything, but what I told her confirmed similar things she’d heard about this brother. She advised me not to listen to that brother anymore, and that her magic “they” was, in fact, nobody at all. Nobody! She continued by saying that she hadn’t heard any complaints about me from anyone else in the chapter. After that lunch, I felt so much better. I didn’t pursue anything further, even though I could have and should have. I just didn’t want any additional drama.

Whenever you become the receiving end of any abusive words or actions in your fraternity, sorority, or any organization, tell someone.

Don’t do what I did and suffer in silence; you are important and so is your voice.

Never accept hearsay.

Be true to who you are and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

You are important and you deserve to be treated with respect; if you are being treated otherwise, that person is not your friend.

Stand up for yourself and inspire others.

And most importantly, SAY SOMETHING. And not to yourself, to SOMEONE ELSE. ASK. FOR. HELP.

But this story does have a happy ending – sort of. Right before banquet, the pledge who I’d been avoiding approached me to interview me for her Pledge Book. I was tense, but I answered her questions through a poker face. At the end of the interview, I told her that I was sorry for whatever I did or said to hurt her in any way.

Her response: “I’m not mad at you…who told you that?”