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And On The Seventh Day, He Rested

Most people know that Jews have holidays that occur intermittently throughout the year, usually in the fall. What they don’t know is about the most important holiday of all: the Sabbath, or as we like to call it, Shabbat.

Shabbat is like an island of peace to which we Jews can escape one day a week, every week. For the rest of time.

Growing up, my family observed Shabbat pretty strictly, starting off with Friday night dinner and continuing with 25 hours total of no technology (computers, TV, and later, cell phones). No drawing, no writing, no going anywhere in the car, no spending money. All there was to do was go to shul on Saturday mornings (where, if I was lucky, we’d have a luncheon) and then spending the rest of the day alternating between eating in the kitchen, sleeping either in bed or on the couch downstairs, or reading, anywhere. All up until an hour after sunset, when we’d do Havdalah at the kitchen counter. I always got to hold the candle since I was the youngest. One of the few perks of being a younger sibling.

After I left home, Shabbat became harder and harder to observe. I started to crack under the pressure of college life, especially one with few Jews. I remember resorting to counting the ceiling tiles in my dorm room over and over. I couldn’t go to the dining hall because I had to swipe in, so I’d have to make do with whatever food I had in my room. It was hard, and probably contributed to why I didn’t do so well there. I also ended up needing to do work on Shabbat in my sophomore year, a move which my parents didn’t endorse but approved of since it was for my education. It was also a move that worked in my favor, I think, for when I went to submit the paper to my professor I told her it was the first time I’d broken Shabbat in my whole life (probably not entirely true, but to this extent, at least), which earned me an apology for her and maybe a few sympathy points even though I ended up with an A anyway.

Through junior and senior years I tried to keep Shabbat the best I could, but it was mostly loneliness that caused me to break. One particularly lonely Passover, when everyone else went home but I couldn’t arrange it, I was on the phone with my dad and he told me that if I was really that upset and lonely, I should find a computer game to distract me for a little while, which is when I discovered (and became addicted to) Phantom Mansion, this weird little Internet game thing that I never did quite beat but I got pretty darn close.

In Israel, keeping Shabbat was much easier, but ever since that Passover, I did not feel as compelled to keep it 100%. I tried to, but sometimes I just needed to get on the computer for a little while. On a few particularly lonely Saturdays, including Yom Kippur, I spent the whole night and day holed up in my office at the theater, sleeping on my couch (which I wasn’t technically supposed to do, but no one ever caught me) and getting work done during the day so I could get a jump on the week.

Houston is pretty much when my Shabbat-keeping completely fell apart. It started when I told a friend (who wasn’t Jewish) that I would walk 2 miles each way to and from Chabad on Friday nights, which prompted her to say that if she ever saw me doing that, she’d pick me up and throw me in her car, so after that (and knowing how dangerous Houston at night can be) whenever I went to Chabad, save for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I would drive and feel incredibly guilty about it even though most people did the same because it’s Houston and you have to drive everywhere anyway. Usually I spent most of Shabbat doing what I did the rest of the week: watching TV, exercising, making food, doing work, and hanging out on the computer. I remember spending 8-9 hours one Shabbat on my computer translating some Slovak, without which I would’ve never finished my thesis.

One of the things I was looking forward to about moving to Wisconsin was observing Shabbat more strictly, because now I live merely blocks from Chabad, and I could probably transition back to not using technology pretty quickly. But it’s been hard not to check my email or my phone at all, but I hope that’ll change, at least as soon as the play is over.

I miss that feeling that I could be completely at peace, just praying, reading and doing non-technology-related activities that I enjoy, like taking walks, napping, or just kicking back and enjoying the day. I never liked Shabbat growing up because there was so much my parents wouldn’t let me do, but now I wish I could go back to then, that innocent time when Shabbat meant resting in its purest and highest form, and thinking about being closer to God and to myself. Maybe when I get back to Madison from Houston I can start, little by little. Shabbat is a weekly gift, and Friday night especially – as a girl I went to college with termed it, “my date with God.” Collecting my thoughts and connecting with my feelings is something that I could definitely use 25 hours of my week to focus on.

Shabbat, shabbat, I will forget thee not.

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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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I Like Bad Puns And I Cannot Lie…

…and pop culture references as well.

I know that just about every has some level of tolerance for bad puns, but mine is particularly high. When other people make them and they work, sometimes I can’t even think of that person without associating them with the pun they made. When I make a bad pun, usually I roll my eyes along with the rest of the world but inside, I’m cheering like I just scored a goal at the World Cup…of life. After all, what is language but a system of communication that is inherent fun to poke fun at and play around with?

As someone who’s been in school for the last, um…all of the years of my life, my usual form of writing is that of the essay/paper variety. I once read somewhere that even in the most serious of papers, the title is where the author gets to have fun; it’s the only gray area in the whole paper. It’s a shame that the one time that I actually was praying for a bad pun title was for my master’s thesis, nothing came to me and therefore the title is terribly boring. But, then again, it is an accurate reflection of my mental state at the time: just string the words together like so many popcorn kernels on a Christmas tree decoration.

So with that said, I’d like to share a list of my favorite bad pun titles I’ve produced as a writer.

  • She Works Hard For the Funny: Examining the Role of the Lady’s Maid in the Works of Moliere. UMass Amherst, 2009. Pretty self-explanatory. I guess I was feeling Donna Summer that day.
  • Tennessee, Anyone? The Life and Literature of Tennessee Wiliams. Program notes for a production of A Streetcar Named Desire that I dramaturged at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters’ Theatre in Baltimore in 2010. Many thanks to Fuzz and Sherri for controlling their rolling eyes. Or at least while I was around.
  • The Edge of Glory: Love, Loss, and What We Hear in A Little Night Music. Program notes for a production of A Little Night Music that I dramaturged at Spots in ’11. Based on Love, Loss, and What I Wore – something that exists, but have no idea of what it is. A book? A play? An article? Someone’s to-do list?
  • Looney Toons: Art, Media, and the Dreyfus Affair. University of Houston, 2011. This was about political cartoons and their role in influencing the outcome of the Dreyfus Affair in France. Reference is obvious, but I can’t remember if I was watching anything when I did my writing or not.

I’ve got another one that I can’t share right now that’s so good that it hurts, but it will appear in a future post.

To all the Bad Pun Lovers of the World: Don’t be shy – spread your wings and squawk on with your bad selves.

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Post-Birthday Blues

It’s almost like it all rolls downhill from here. Your birthday happens, then it’s gone, and…now what?

I tell myself that I usually get bummed on my birthday, but not so much is that true. The week after it is the worst; it’s over, and you don’t know whether you’re coming or going.

Is it like new year’s? Am I supposed to be a whole new me?

Am I supposed to start eating right and getting healthy? Because birthday cake and treats are not quite doing that.

Am I supposed to feel inspired, and sing to the birds? Uhm, jury’s out on this one. I had a humongous presentation yesterday, so preparing for that, in addition to worries about my next batch of working, memorizing lines, and the fact that my apartment is getting fumigated tomorrow because my lame neighbors have bedbugs, has not exactly led me to be inspired to do much of anything. In fact, after class today, I came back home and spent an unseemly amount of time doing nothing. I did get some stuff read for tomorrow and some emails sent, but I still have this weird feeling like I’m just waiting around for nothing to happen, just myself perpetually getting older.

It’s always been like this, now that I remember, just after my birthday – the anticipation is gone. Just when you get used to the fact that it’s your birthday, it’s over, and you have another year to figure out how to deal with it again.

For now, I guess I should just clean up, pack up for tomorrow, move some more furniture around, and get in my sheet-less bed with a book.

Hopefully tomorrow expression will beat out depression.

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Goodbye Hugs

This will probably be one of my very last posts from Houston. On Friday, I got the call from the movers that they’ll be here to pick up my furniture and boxes of books, so there’s no point in staying here much past Tuesday.

I’ve moved quite a few times in the past few years, but this one is especially difficult for some reason. I feel like I’ve really grown into my own here, and learned a lot about myself and about the way the world works. I was plunked here two years ago knowing absolutely no one and with no knowledge of how the city or even how the state worked. In two years, I’ve found a bit more solid the ground on which I stand, and have been following more of my own rules than the rules of others – but grounding my rules in firm reason. For once, I’ve developed a semblance of a circle of friends, cobbled together from different places and common interests, but each special to me in a different way. This task would have been impossible for me to do five years ago. I could do without the heat, the bugs, and the traffic, as mentioned in a previous post, but I’ll miss the beautiful Texas scenery all around me, and my beautiful apartment – which is, at the moment, in shambles, with boxes of books and piles of clean folded laundry everywhere.

My dad just called from the airport, so I’ll have to finish this up rather quickly.

Basically, I wanted to share my thoughts on goodbye hugs. I used to love to hug. I still secretly do, but I’ve become more cautious and careful about it, because you never know who might or might not want it. I thought about stopping, but when a friend told me “I don’t hug,” I tried to imagine life without hugging and found the thought unbearably sad.

The goodbye hug, however, should be a breed of its own. An average hug lasts about three seconds. Not knowing when you’ll see the person again makes those three seconds seem to either disappear too quickly without the sensation of the hug being transmitted, or expand to a five-to-seven second hug (or even longer) that can be misconstrued as awkward in the wrong place/time/context.

In these past few days, I’ve experienced several different types of goodbye hugs, and each of them tells me a little bit about the person. Rather than mentioning names, I’ll go with letters.

A is a person I’ve known for about a year. She and I have more of a hands-off relationship. Though a hug is not out of the question when we see each other, I don’t always feel that it’s appropriate. This hug was a brief squeeze, with a hint of lavender and off you go.

B is a person I’ve known for six months. She’s been there for me so, so many times and I am actually frightened by the thought of never seeing her again. She is rather slim, so when hugging her I had to gauge my own pressure. Her back is straight like a peacock or ostrich. Though it was a strange sensation to feel the bones of her back under my hands, the way her hands enveloped my body was like a bird cradling its young with its wings.

C is a person I’ve known for a year. He and I have had a steadfast friendship. A sanguine person, his hug filled me with warmth, and his clap on my back told me to keep it together, but in an affectionate way.

D is a person I’ve known for two years. He is a bit older than me. His hug was like holding a punching bag – enter, contact, go.

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Goodbye Hugs

This will probably be one of my very last posts from Houston. On Friday, I got the call from the movers that they’ll be here to pick up my furniture and boxes of books, so there’s no point in staying here much past Tuesday.

I’ve moved quite a few times in the past few years, but this one is especially difficult for some reason. I feel like I’ve really grown into my own here, and learned a lot about myself and about the way the world works. I was plunked here two years ago knowing absolutely no one and with no knowledge of how the city or even how the state worked. In two years, I’ve found a bit more solid the ground on which I stand, and have been following more of my own rules than the rules of others – but grounding my rules in firm reason. For once, I’ve developed a semblance of a circle of friends, cobbled together from different places and common interests, but each special to me in a different way. This task would have been impossible for me to do five years ago. I could do without the heat, the bugs, and the traffic, as mentioned in a previous post, but I’ll miss the beautiful Texas scenery all around me, and my beautiful apartment – which is, at the moment, in shambles, with boxes of books and piles of clean folded laundry everywhere.

My dad just called from the airport, so I’ll have to finish this up rather quickly.

Basically, I wanted to share my thoughts on goodbye hugs. I used to love to hug. I still secretly do, but I’ve become more cautious and careful about it, because you never know who might or might not want it. I thought about stopping, but when a friend told me “I don’t hug,” I tried to imagine life without hugging and found the thought unbearably sad.

The goodbye hug, however, should be a breed of its own. An average hug lasts about three seconds. Not knowing when you’ll see the person again makes those three seconds seem to either disappear too quickly without the sensation of the hug being transmitted, or expand to a five-to-seven second hug (or even longer) that can be misconstrued as awkward in the wrong place/time/context.

In these past few days, I’ve experienced several different types of goodbye hugs, and each of them tells me a little bit about the person. Rather than mentioning names, I’ll go with letters.

A is a person I’ve known for about a year. She and I have more of a hands-off relationship. Though a hug is not out of the question when we see each other, I don’t always feel that it’s appropriate. This hug was a brief squeeze, with a hint of lavender and off you go.

B is a person I’ve known for six months. She’s been there for me so, so many times and I am actually frightened by the thought of never seeing her again. She is rather slim, so when hugging her I had to gauge my own pressure. Her back is straight like a peacock or ostrich. Though it was a strange sensation to feel the bones of her back under my hands, the way her hands enveloped my body was like a bird cradling its young with its wings.

C is a person I’ve known for a year. He and I have had a steadfast friendship. A sanguine person, his hug filled me with warmth, and his clap on my back told me to keep it together, but in an affectionate way.

D is a person I’ve known for two years. He is a bit older than me. His hug was like holding a punching bag – enter, contact, go.