Category Archives: Living

Jewish-Lesbian Fan Fiction

I grew up with enough religion to have two sets of dishes, but not enough to name all the festivals that take place in the fall. Yet it’s Judy Blume with whom I credit for teaching me how to talk to g-d. It was in the pages of the eleventh printing of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret that I realized I had some requests beyond needing to increase my bust.

Dear G-d, please don’t let me be gay. Dear G-d, please don’t let me be gay. Dear G-d, please don’t let me be gay.

margaretI didn’t want to feel butterflies at the sight of a girl in JNCOs, and I didn’t attend basketball tryouts because I cared about sports. These feelings terrified me, because they didn’t align with growing up and marrying a Jewish boy.

Coming to terms with being gay was colored by my Jewish upbringing, which was less about religion and more about the responsibility to keep the culture alive. I was told that Jews kept intermarrying and letting their children have Christmas trees, and this watered-down faith didn’t sit well with most congregants. We were supposed to have an active Jewish life, marry Jewish men, and make more Jewish babies. Rinse, repeat. In some sects, like the one in which I was raised, this is almost more important that the belief system itself.

My mother will tell you she doesn’t believe in g-d, but if you ask her about religion, she is Jewish. Like her, I believe in science, energy, third-wave feminism, and evolution, but I am culturally Jewish. I read four Torah portions at my Bat Mitzvah (that’s right – I said four), I played a plant in the summer camp production of “Little Shop of Haifa,” and my seventh- and eight-grade camp boyfriends were named “Ari” and “Avi,” respectively. One year at Yom Kippur services, my best friend ate a Pop Tart and we decided that she was going to the West Side of Heaven for her sins, since there is technically no Jewish Hell (I think).

Judaism played a large role in my formative years until it didn’t. Once I started to picture kissing girls, my vision of the future became blurry. It was around the age of 14 that I stopped talking to g-d and subsequently stopped believing that I was supposed to do anything.

I knew what my life was supposed to look like until I didn’t.

I was never much for doing what I was told, but like most humans, the threat of losing my parents’ – and family’s and friends’ – love was enough to make me try to ignore the same-sex-induced heart palpitations. Their expectations were colored by a deep sense of cultural identity and the idea that I would carry on tradition. My grandparents were Holocaust survivors who sought refuge in the U.S. I don’t know most of my father’s family because they were murdered. The idea that my existence was the result of my grandparents’ surviving genocide became a part of my everyday narrative so much that veering from expectations was an unfathomable betrayal. It was bigger than me.

*          *          *

E4952C68-banner-rainbow-fabrics

It was the mid-to-late 90s when the concept of “lesbians” began to materialize in my consciousness. AOL was charging by the minute. My understanding had evolved from previous lunchroom conversations about how Melissa Etheridge wasn’t a real lesbian because real lesbians had short hair. It was around the time that Friends depicted a lesbian wedding where chef Monica lamented, “lesbian wedding…chicken breasts?” Ellen came out on national TV. Ani DiFranco was getting mainstream radio play. (White) lesbians were everywhere. They wore plaid, they wore flannel, they had tattoos and wallet chains. They did back flips on tables in British pop videos. They talked about their periods, they didn’t shave their armpits, they went to Lilith Fair in bandanas and backwards baseball hats. They loved hummus and Birkenstocks and acoustic guitars.

Dear G-d, please don’t let me be gay. Dear G-d, please don’t let this be my life. Dear G-d, please don’t let me be gay.

As much as I longed to claim the parts that made sense to me, I didn’t want to alienate myself from everyone else around me. In fact, no one blinked an eye when I went from “fluid” to “bisexual” to “lesbian.” I was convinced that my childhood best friend, who went to college in North Carolina, had been indoctrinated with sweet-tea bigotry. But after mustering up the courage to tell her, all she said was: “Finally. I’ve been waiting for that.”

At some point, my issue was no longer everyone else. My issue was me.

Part of the marriage equality rhetoric focuses on saying “we’re just like you [straight people].” And to the extent of being human beings who want to be loved and accepted, we are. But I didn’t feel like anyone else. Everyone was a stranger.

I wavered between guilt and denial and allowing myself to consume all the gay media I could in secrecy. My best friend Joanna, the only non-straight and Jewish friend I had, was my partner in gay crime. And by gay crime, I mean together we scoured Blockbuster in search of any semblance of gayness on VHS. We’d pop the tapes in the VCR in her living room, holding our breath for the moment her parents came downstairs and we’d scramble to hit pause.

It took six more years and two more boyfriends before I came out to my parents. They were not thrilled about my first girlfriend, but that could be because she pretended to be deployed several times and might have committed arson. Oh, and she wasn’t Jewish.

Mom said that Dad said that he would be more understanding if I had just brought home a Jewish girl. Though he never said “gay agenda,” Dad wasn’t sure what gay people wanted because it was OK to be openly gay (Reminder: It was 2003) and we also had Will and Grace. He also said: “I believe it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

Mom told me it was a phase. She might have even cited some now-heterosexually-paired women who also went through a “phase.”

It turned out the liberal household in which (I thought) I was raised was a bit right of center. When did we all of a sudden start taking the Bible literally? I had assumed up until that point that we were in mutual agreement that it was just a work of fan fiction. We ate shrimp. We didn’t observe Shabbas. Mom was in the gospel choir in high school. Grandma agreed to stop keeping a kosher kitchen in exchange for a remodeled kitchen. It was all very confusing.

I hate to say that my father’s death was the watershed that deemed my sexual orientation a moot point. It was in his hospital room that we stopped using pronouns and we spoke openly about my girlfriend to the rest of the family. The world will break your heart like that sometimes.

Since it’s become de rigueur in liberal circles to accept your LGBTQ family members, my loving women is not an issue. It’s the religion that puts a pregnant pause in the conversation, that elicits questions about how the children will be raised or “why would you want to make it even harder?” There is always an underlying feeling that a non-Jewish partner is a letdown, and an even stranger triumph in the case of a partner who has a Jewish mother, but was raised with no religion.

I never started talking to g-d again, but I did get a sacrilegious Hebrew tattoo. I am torn between tradition and not wanting to be associated with organized religion. I can tell you that I believe in left-of-centerism and I worship Judy Blume. I can tell you that I know several lesbian rabbis and I find Jewish social circles to be equally comforting and isolating. Your Jewish grandmother probably wants us to date. But don’t get mad at her for being pushy. It’s what she’s supposed to do.

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Adult Learning is Phun

I like the morning as a concept. How lovely it is to wake up at the crack of dawn, listen to the urban rooster-cry of the garbage truck, and feel superior for seeing the sun rise. That is in no way my morning scenario, but it sounds lovely.

Lab Safety

You make-a my dreams come true.

Thus, 9 a.m. Saturday class is not a thing that I do–the rare exception being my first class in MFA school, which consisted of writing about how rocks “spoke” to me and how this made me feel. But sometimes we must make sacrifices to ensure that our future lower back pain is the result of the normal aging process, not from being chained to a desk in Corporate America.

Fast forward many moons and I’m shocked at how fun it is to learn about normal flora and pathogens. There is shit crawling all over us, all the time! So much so that we have to wear latex gloves to stain E. coli. Gloves! Microbiology is academic crack for hypochondriacs (me!), germophobes (not me-I cut the mold off fruit and eat it), and chronic hand-washers (sometimes me). DNA is pretty rad, too. The icing on the gram (positive) cake – it’s not chemistry.

Having taken three whole science classes before, I know that initial lab classes entail a safety video that stars who I imagine to be the 10 foster children of Hall and Oates (hence, the “video” and not “DVD”). They get themselves into all sorts of shenanigans by adding water to acid (you have to add acid to water, which we can remember by the abbreviation “AA”), teasing their bangs, and donning flammable poly-blend stonewashed denim.

I remembered the second science lab consisting of a lesson on significant figures and measurements, which was about as basic as the first lab. Except for that discriminatory assignment of having to measure our feet. Donning a ladies size 12, my 19-year old classmates were in shock and awe over how I could achieve such feats (no pun intended) as registering for a community college class, having been sprung from Transylvanian giants. (Technically, I wear an 11.5 narrow, to be specific, but I won’t even go there. Just know that my life is hard.)

Unlike chemistry, microbiology entails no self-measurement. And unlike weekday classes, Saturday classes are comprised of fewer 19-year olds who say things like, “you look like a photographer.” I’m assuming this is the same as “you look like a vegetarian,” which I only get when I’m wearing glasses or pretending I have no idea there is chicken broth in matzoh ball soup.

Sometimes it’s fun to be the grown up, like when I explained to my lab group why they were not allowed to do heavy drugs without health insurance. Perhaps that’s an embellishment – but I did explain that if they didn’t study hard, they would end up on a lot of conference calls.

Homage.

I never write anymore. I feel like the fun got sucked out of writing around 2008. It was the place I went to escape my head, to let the thoughts pour out of me, like the result of taking a wrench to a fire hydrant in the city heat. The mad rush of jumbled words begging to be released. One day it stopped being fun. I sat down, grazed the keys and felt sadness echoing against my bones.

What would it be like if we all stopped doing things that weren’t fun? I imagine 20% of our lives is fun, if we are lucky.

I don’t know that writing was ever fun. It was more of a compulsion. It was the problem and the solution. I’d go into my own dark place and ache and drip words and sometimes hate what was on the page.

Then I tried to impose structure on myself – I was going to WRITE. I was going to write with PURPOSE and have things to say, neat little essays with clear sentiment, SMART and WITTY. I had so much anxiety over trying to BE all these things that I just stopped.

So here I am, thoughts in tow. The sadness still lingers, but it’s not just mine.  It’s my friends’ parents who keep dying, the juxtaposition of leaving a rehearsal dinner to drive someone I love upstate to identify her father’s body. Sometimes I don’t know how we beat on.

I take comfort in simplicity, in the make-believe, in the ever-evolving adaptations of this life.

My friend, who lives with my brother, said we should see the film adaptation of our favorite book. He bought me a copy for my birthday or my going away party in 2003 when I left for Australia. He inscribed it: “To Golfer, For hours of high schools sadness.”

If you don’t know what high school sadness is, then we probably aren’t friends. Except for my girlfriend, who was popular, who was crowned homecoming queen – excuse me – court warming queen, which I’m told is different. She has a collection of tiaras (she was also Miss St. Ignace, which she claims was a scholarship pageant, but I have seen “Toddlers and Tiaras,” and I know what it means to win a crown). I begged her to try them on when we were in her childhood house this summer. She laughed. I guess they didn’t go with her tie.

She’s not home now. She’s working, because she finally got The Job. I’m supposed to be writing the essay that will lead to The School that will get me The Job, but the words never flow when I want them to.

My friend does not understand my incessant worrying. He responded to a neurotic rant with beautiful prose, because he is disgustingly talented (which I wholeheartedly mean, despite my recent efforts to rid my vocabulary of adverbs):

“Not to always try to be the sunshine of optimism to your cloud of stress, but we’re young, we live in the best city in the world and we’ve got people around that care about us. And most importantly, we are infinite.”

I suppose we are only as infinite as we feel. Which is an homage to the aforementioned “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which the New Yorker says is lovely, so it must be true.

I’m going to close my eyes and not worry about the image that will accompany this post and imagine that all the potential energy in the world lives beneath my fingertips. I won’t focus on the sad. I will focus on what comes of it. Like the moment when I said to my brother, “do you ever look at the cat and convince yourself for a second that it’s Dad?” And instead of the look I expected, he didn’t miss a beat and said, “I know exactly what you mean.”

I know exactly what I mean.

Dreams, science and life realigned

bookshelfAt 16, you always thought you would die after high school. It’s not that you wanted to die, but you couldn’t fathom how you would keep going. What it would look like to follow those big, big dreams. You secretly felt stupid about having dreams. Your brain couldn’t picture it happening; therefore, it couldn’t exist.

Your thought pattern was half-right—not about fearing the unknown, but about the vision. You don’t have to know how you will get there, but you have to know you want it. To squeeze your eyes shut tight and see yourself at the end goal, no matter how insurmountable or ridiculous it seems. And the rest is just hard work. Head down. Light on.

You open your eyes. It’s Monday. It’s unseasonably warm. The cat is asleep on the couch. It’s 4 in the afternoon and you are home. It’s not a holiday. You don’t like this feeling, the heart palpitations that start when you remember you don’t know when you will get paid next. You send out invoices like sweepstakes entries. There’s $40 in the bank, but you’re owed $3,000. This is how you make your living now. You are lucky.

The table is littered with textbooks, a TI-83 calculator inherited from an old love and mechanical pencils. It’s unfamiliar, the evidence that someone in this house is doing math or writing not in pen. Yet somehow, the subject you always hated is growing more appealing. You like that it’s finite, that there are rules to be followed, that there is a right and a wrong answer.

It’s a shift from all the pretty lines and the yearning and the whimsy that you crave. And in that moment, I swear we were infinite, reads your favorite line from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which your friend bought you for your birthday one year. He inscribed the inside cover, “…for hours of high school sadness.”  Sometimes you miss feeling infinite. You miss feeling breathy. You think about the clichés of getting older. Aging doesn’t scare you so much as losing yourself, as the fading intensity.

You are about to turn 30 and you are back in school with 19-year olds. They speak freely, they listen when you talk, they cannot believe you are that old. You all want to be nurses, you collectively lament over organic chemistry.

electrons

Your professor is a baby boomer, a retired chiropractor and an avid storyteller. She infuses lessons on elements with anecdotes about the ’70s. While the space between electrons is too small to fathom on the human-sized scale, it’s highly significant at the atomic level. And if all the electrons were aligned in a specific pattern, there would be enough space to put your finger straight through a solid piece of matter. She swears she proved this once in her early twenties, when she and her friend both watched a potato chip fall directly through a table. They looked everywhere and couldn’t find the chip—and concluded that it was caught inside the table between the electrons. This had nothing to do with being stoned, and everything to do with proving scientific theories, she said.

School is different the second time around. Or the third time, if you count your previous degrees. Or the fourth time, if you count all the times you started and stopped the process when it got to be too much. When it was scary, when you chose friends over homework, when you thought you were too old to be making drastic changes, when it wasn’t comfortable to be broke, when you didn’t believe you were smart enough to tackle science. When you couldn’t fathom not being a writer, even though making a living off of it was making you unhappy. When you lost sight of the end goal.

School is different this time around. It’s no one else’s fault that you chose the path of most resistance; you own it as a means to an end. You are learning the art of patience with your eye on the prize. You are learning how to settle into discomfort, to welcome the unknown, to put one foot in front of the other and recognize that it’s all you can do. Sometimes you can’t see more than three steps ahead, and that’s just the reality of now.

You are sure this is right. You are sure that if you keep your head down and not allow yourself to be consumed by the forces working against you, you will make it through. You are sure that there is space—no matter how small or inconceivable—where everything lines up.

A Mild Winter’s Tale

No, sunny, unseasonably warm day in February, I will not be tempted by your charms. You cannot lure me into thinking that the period following fall is “not so bad.” I know what you are doing here. I saw “Jurassic Park,” and I know that nature always finds a way.

Mother Earth isn’t going to let us get away without a good, old-fashioned, desolate winter.  It’s like she’s dangling the sunny carrot of doom in front of us, and we don’t know when it will turn into a nine-day sleet storm.

I shudder to think of it. My people wandered in the desert for 40 years eating carbohydrates. Therefore:

  • When I see snow, I think, “apocalypse.”

    Putting the "no" in "snow" since 1525 B.C.E.

  • I refuse to retire my down accouterment until the temperature has surpassed 53 degrees.
  • Word association: You say, “cactus.” I say, “solidarity.”
  • Every election year, I threaten to move to Canada, but only if Canada and Mexico agree to switch locations.

Furthermore, it’s not just the cold that I hate. It’s all the things that go along with it. I do not understand:

  • Performance! Fleece!
  • [insert any number below 40] degrees
  • Skiing!
  • Winter “wonderland”
  • The Anti-Ugg Movement, comprised of those blessed with optimal circulation, who don’t empathize with my frigid feet in the month of (normal) January

I know, I know, I should be happy that winter is going easy on us. But instead, I am trembling in fear. While we are frolicking in the unnatural 60-degree temperatures, Eastern Europe is having the Mel Gibson of all winters, killing civilians with its aggressive cold spell.

In the words of Ned Stark of Winterfell, “winter is coming.” And it might be in April. Or August.

Come to think of it, I miss the season where I refuse to go snowboarding, arm myself with a space heater and don some sweet Sweater Uggs. Dammit, winter, come back to me!

On the Liberal Arts and Parachutes, Part I

Expecting a 17-year old to choose a life path is like asking a third-grader to create a financial portfolio for 2021. Sure, there are the occasional kids who are wired with pragmatism and wisdom beyond their years. But for the most part, these developing minds aren’t any more equipped to predict their future desires than they are to sign a debt-inducing promissory note that will haunt them for years down the road.

But four years of college is the American way for the middle class. Unlike my grandparents, who came to this country after the Holocaust without a penny to their name, I grew up in a house where going to college wasn’t an option; it was the next step after high school. This was a stark contrast from my father’s life, which, as a first-generation American, did not entail such a definitive path. Instead of hitting the books, he worked. Back in the olden days of the 1960s, college wasn’t a necessary or assumed step. So he forewent higher education in search of work – selling shoes, managing restaurants and eventually to owning a small retail business.

It was this business that put me through school in the hopes that I would make a better, easier (presumably white-collar) life for myself. I was lucky. I grew up watching my father leave before the sun came up to commute into the city and arrive home far past my bedtime. Education was supposed to be my ticket to avoiding this.

My parents weren’t thrilled at my choice to get an English degree, or later, a master’s in creative writing that I have come to deem my “master of arts and crafts.” What they fail to tell you as a wide-eyed teenager is that a liberal arts degree, though useful for developing critical thinking skills and expanding one’s mind, does nothing to prepare a student for the Real World. I didn’t know that English was the color of my parachute; but 17-year old me would not be caught dead getting a business degree. I was a writer. I was going to make documentaries and save the world and rawr riot grrrrrl.

English majors are a special breed. The English building at my school was at the South Pole of campus, a solid 35-minute walk from my dorm. I traipsed across the grassy pathways and found myself in front of an entrance that reeked of Marlboro Lights, t-shirts commemorating The Cure and the occasional Renaissance-inspired ensemble. Inside, we discussed worn novels with tiny notes inscribed on the edges and listened to each other wax philosophical on post-modernism and the Southern Gothic. I found solace in the rants of my classmates about why Hemingway was actually a feminist, even when I knew it was nothing more than marijuana-induced, masturbatory, right-brain dribble. We were THINKERS. The world was our oyster, its pages lined with all that we needed to know.

Imagine my surprise when I started working as a corporate proposal writer two weeks after graduation. Oh, the horror of cubicles and phrases like “value-added” and the sad little brown-bag lunches that my coworkers ate at their desks. Learning the cold, hard truth that my ability to excel in British Literature did not matter when it came to “impacting change.” Or that people would cringe when I responded to the obligatory “were you in any clubs in school” with “I produced the Vagina Monologues.” (Corporate America did not like to be reminded that it had genitalia.)

Why did the sales team, comprised mostly of men of a certain age with a fondness for arena rock, think that I could staple copies any better than the rest of them? And for the sake of all things holy, DID NO ONE HERE CARE ABOUT THE EGREGIOUS USE OF THE SEQUENTIAL COMMA?

The answer to all of these questions, I learned, was that I was in the Real World. Where absolutely nothing I had learned in the past four years could be applied to the actual work I was doing. Sure, I could dot I’s and cross T’s. My saving grace was having worked for my school newspaper, where I learned how to “thrive in a deadline-driven environment,” a phrase gleaned directly from my current resume.

My parents were thrilled I had acquired a job so quickly. Even though I hated every second of it. “Stick with it,” they said. “You are one of the lucky ones.”

That’s exactly what I did for the next 7.5 years – I stuck with the idea that I was an English major, and I was supposed to be dotting I’s and crossing T’s. I could always try to make it as a Writer, but that didn’t involve health insurance. And not having health insurance meant that I was asking to get hit by a bus, a fear my Jewish mother instilled in me early on. My string of writing jobs in various capacities did afford me some good times and better friends; my  stint at a small advertising agency was one of my favorite jobs to-date. But eventually I moved away and desk life began to wear on me. Writing for pay in a windowless office on someone else’s schedule was sucking the fun out of…writing for fun. And writing jobs in New York – corporate, university, nonprofit – are a breed of their own. I will happily work as a freelance writer any day – but the thought of going back to full-time desk life is enough to propel me through a drastic career change.

As I sit here on my second-to-last day of desk life, I am pushing away the fear of embarking upon an adventure into the sciences – to what will eventually be nursing. Seeing as how I took one biology class in four years of college, this shift is nothing if not drastic. But it is necessary. Rawr grrrrl power.

Law and Disorder

Dear citizens of New York City, you can all rest assured tonight knowing that your tax dollars are being put to good use. In order to keep potential evil-doers away from children, the city is now giving court summons to anyone seen in a playground without a child. And instead of letting said offenders pay a fine, they are required to go to court and use the city’s resources for hours on end, only to pay a $25 fine and leave.

I lived in Baltimore for three years, and let me tell you – for a place that inspired “The Wire,” (which, yes, is an accurate depiction*) its Department of Parking is nestled on the efficiency scale between the near-infinite-yet-brisk-line at any NYC Whole Foods and a German-engineered automobile. In other words, a city whose law enforcement can’t control its homicide rate invests a suspicious amount of resources in ensuring your car will be egregiously ticketed and/or towed if you are nine seconds late to feed your meter/move your vehicle.

Such backwards practices manifest themselves differently in New York, where I was issued a court summons at 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon for sitting in a playground without a minor present. In New York, there is a difference between a park and a playground, the latter being a location that only welcomes those over 18 when accompanied by those under 18. In other words, if you are looking for a green space to eat your lunch after being trapped in a windowless office, you’re safer loitering outside a business next to a pan-handler. Then again, I’m not a lawyer, so don’t quote me.

I’m all about protecting the children. But the fact that I was accosted in the middle of the afternoon by two police officers who pulled me and a five-foot tall college student who was waiting in the park to meet her client, a nine-year old boy with autism, is not helping anyone. There was a regulation we were not aware of, and while it seems ridiculous, I understand. We were not given a warning, despite being confused as to why we were in trouble – we were simply written up a court summons and told that we had to appear.

Perhaps the two officers had nothing better to do, like catch an actual criminal? I mean, didn’t they realize that I had to use a whole personal day to go to court? GOSH.

The night before my court date, I spent a long time picking out my most Mature and Responsible-Looking Outfit. I pondered such questions as: Can I bring a gym bag to court? Is there a coat check? If I was already going to be downtown, I’d want to get a workout in.

When I got in line, I was appalled to see that out of the thirtysome people waiting outside – including those who failed to put their dogs on leashes, jaywalkers and those in parks after sunset – I was overdressed. Well, me and the Young Republican standing behind me, both of us schvitzing in our suit jackets.

I spent three hours waiting in awful florescent lighting, only to approach the judge’s bench and be told that I could plead guilty and pay a $25 fine.

“What does pleading guilty mean? Will I have a record?” I asked the judge, a dead-ringer for Colonel Sanders.

“Oh of course not,” he replied, laughing (laughing? In court?). “It’s not a criminal offense. You could plead guilty and still run for Senate.”

So, the city needs money and the police officers have to fill their ticket quota. Fine. But why not just give out a ticket, let “offenders’ plead guilty by mail and send in a check? I don’t think the streets are any safer, and I can’t imagine how many resources were wasted on this.

On the plus side, I made a friend – we’ll call him Jim – who asked what I was doing in court. I told him I was in a park without a child. “But you’re a woman,” he said. “I know, right?” I replied, totally getting where he was coming from. (Of all times to be given an equal opportunity, couldn’t the fact that having a vagina makes me less likely to steal a child work for me JUST THIS ONCE?) Jim wore a stained, oversized t-shirt and a pair of pants big enough for a family of four. He was contesting a ticket for possessing an open container – but like me, he was “targeted and set up.” Before we parted ways, I wanted to tell him that maybe it would be in his best interest to remove his backwards baseball hat. Then again, I’m not a lawyer, so I kept it to myself.

*I have never seen “The Wire,” but this lie is much more of a crowd-pleaser.