Rushing to Relax

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I had a mild hump-day/Park Slope co-op induced anxiety attack this evening, following my third day back in New York. After a long month of pure relaxation on consecutive vacations in Israel and California, I don’t think my body (or psyche) was able to adjust to such a rapid change in pace of life.

I flew from San Francisco to New York Sunday at the crack of dawn, stayed up all night unpacking and moving rooms, and started work at the Jewish Disaster Response Corps Monday morning. So far, I love the job– Adina, the executive director, is wonderful and welcoming. She’s organized and motivated, and I think we’re going to make a great team. I’m playing the role of program director, which means coordinating all logistics, curriculum, and communication for the service-learning trips we’ll be running in Oklahoma in January and March. Those trips will focus on helping rebuild from the massive tornadoes that struck the state in May, but the JDRC also mobilizes volunteers for Hurricane Sandy relief, and any other major natural disasters that might hit the US throughout the year.

In any case, between switching time zones, starting a new job,  and trying to get back in the swing of things at Moishe House all in the same week– grocery shopping, joining a gym, oh, right… and the High Holidays… things have been a bit hectic. I finished work and rushed home, trying to make it back in time to join an interfaith walk for 9/11 remembrance day in Brooklyn. I think I bit off a bit more than I can chew, given that I spent the past two evenings out catching up with friends and needed desperately to make phone calls and answer emails. So I decided to drop my stuff off and head to the Park Slope co-op to do some grocery shopping for the next few days.

The co-op, God bless it, is a bit disorganized when it comes to keeping track of memberships. I’ve had issues with them in the past, but always written it off as a lovable quirk that comes along with belonging to a super funky, hip and healthy alternative to big box grocery chains. You trade in your pesticides and jacked-up prices for a bit of kookiness & the occasional accidental suspension of your account thanks to some colossal error in the membership office.

Tonight, though, I didn’t have the patience. I had an hour to shop and get home with groceries before a yoga class I desperately wanted to get to in order to blow off some steam, but the co-op had other plans for my evening. After being told I was suspended for being on leave, I navigated through several clerical SNAFUs with the friendly yet discombobulated membership coordinator, and finally thought I had my account all squared away aside from several phone calls I’d have to make later to clear up several errors he wasn’t authorized to fix and switching a shift I already knew I had to miss. Whew. As the coordinator so cheerfully informed me, “You’re good to shop!”

Wrong. I got through my quick run of the store and handed the cashier my membership card. “You’re not authorized to shop right now because you’re suspended. I can’t override,” he told me apologetically. “You’re gonna have to go settle this with the membership office.”

I fumed. “It’s getting to be more work to shop here than not!” I told him, knowing it wasn’t his fault. He looked sympathetic. All co-op members have been through the whole rigamarole at one point or another… most of them numerous times… and he could relate. I left my purse and cart with the confused looking line manager and dashed through the co-op and up the flight of stairs back to the membership office, waited with waning patience as the membership coordinator explained the seemingly never-ending list of ways one can prove his or her residence to a prospective new member, and then begged him to kindly update my account status so I could go back down and pay for my groceries.

By the time I got back down, waited in line again, and paid, I was going to have to make a mad dash to get home and unpack the frozen items before jetting over to yoga. Breathless and heart racing wildly, I thought to myself, “Oof, what a ridiculous hump-day co-op induced anxiety attack,” shortly followed by, “I need an Ativan,” … and “Hey, that’s good, I should tweet that!” Of course I couldn’t reach my smart-phone while balancing my box of groceries and speed-walking down 5th avenue, so I decided it could wait ’til I got home. Still though, the oh-so-clever line stuck in my head on repeat, as I simultaneously thought of the massage I wanted to book, the dinner I wanted to make, the email I had to send, and the yoga class I now needed to sprint to in order to be there the necessary fifteen minutes early to get a spot in the eternally jam-packed studio. My heart rate spiked and sweat ran down my forehead in bullets.

The sad part, I have to admit, is how common this type of experience is. We pop xanax and valium as we rush to yoga, facebook message furiously as we walk the 10 feet from work to the subway, and make mental note of the tweets/emails/facebook messages we want to send the second we get out of the subway and back into wi-fi. Even as I type this, I’m panicking about how I have to confirm my soccer team roster, write a blurb for a poetry workshop, pick a day to volunteer with my ESL student, and somehow make time to say hello to my roommates who have also just returned from various parts of the world. Not to mention ten billion other enjoyable activities I’d love to plan and meals I’d love to cook if I could just make space in my brain to make it all happen!

If scheduling a massage, joining a peace march, writing a blog post, and making it to a yoga class have turned into stressful events, then what on earth CAN we turn to when we need to take the pressure off? I realized things today have gotten a bit ridiculous when I looked down at my to-do list and saw “Map out free time,” jotted down just underneath “Lie on floor and stretch,” “Call Dad for his birthday,” “Go Outside to sit in the backyard” and “Decorate Room” as if those were stressful chores that need to be in my google calendar with plentiful reminders if they’re ever going to happen. How sad is that??!!

The state of affairs in our modern day life, especially in fast-paced cities like New York lived out by overachiever, neurotic Jewish- joiner types like myself, has the potential to really screw up our priorities. As I take a breath now to breathe, letting my fingers slow down just a tad from their typing, I wonder what I can cut out to make my life a little more sane. It’s a new year on the Jewish calendar, and some reflection is in order.

The truth is, I don’t know what I can cut out. But I better figure it out soon. As soon as I post this blog post on facebook so all my friends can like it.

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Jerusalem, if I forget you…

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If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill…

-Psalm 137:5

I had a conversation this evening with an Israeli war hero  about Israel and its importance, in contrast to the diaspora, for global Jewry. I argued that the connection Jews have to this land is real, but he minimized the difference in Jewish value & history between Israel and the Diaspora. His claim seemed to be that while Israel is beautiful and important and sacred, the history and places of Diaspora Jewish communities are equally as central to Jewish peoplehood. I disagreed, though I could see his point.

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(me on the roof of our apartment in Nahlaot)

One thought I didn’t have while we were talking, but that just now occurred to me in the shower, is that perhaps I and other Diaspora Jews still place strong significance on Israel and the holy land because we have yet to live in it. Sure, we visit, and develop stronger connections to our identity, and stronger aversion to the social and political ills of the place, but we don’t ever really get to claim it as our own. Our opinions and hopes are, at best, received as suggestions rather than normative claims. Our critiques are cast off as ignorance. Our knowledge only skims the surface of the tanakh because we, unlike Israelis, don’t get to set foot the dirt our ancestors walked on each and every day, nor can we point at a tree in our backyard and explain its significance. We don’t know how to navigate the desert, nor fly planes into Lebanon on heroic missions with a bravery that only comes from mandatory civil service and a mandate to protect your country at all costs.

We only know how to clutch on to the past, and reimagine the future, to adapt, filter, and modify the traditions of our ancestors. We rarely touch anything directly. We empathize with Palestinians but support Israelis out of loyalty, and never really feel the conflict in a way that impacts our immediate safety or well-being. We try nobly to keep the Shabbat, but our country does not provide us with the moral support, that deliciously quiet hour where the siren rings and everyone slips out into the silent streets to walk to shul, or sing, and feel the peace of the Sabbath. Maybe we need our chance to make the desert bloom, and give our Sabra friends a break from carrying the weight of Israel on their shoulders. Country swap, anyone?

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Amsterdam

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Sitting here in the comfortable grey city of Amsterdam, sipping a cappuccino at a café in an alley, with a pretty red flowerpot in front of me and a sweet couple celebrating what must be an anniversary beside me. I sit on a wooden bench with a small wooden table on the side patio. Across the way is one of Amsterdam’s many canals. A bright graffiti decorating the brick wall in front of me, and of course several cute bikes leaned up against it. A gaggle of hooligan boys walked by just a moment ago, before stopping to pause outside of “Club 21- Thai Massage” with a heart saying “love” above the sign. They stop, and one of them hesitantly enters. The rest wait outside, with their arms crossed like guards.

Though I’m tired, I’m glad I took the train into the city here. I love the feeling of traveling. Sitting outside with the breeze on my face, watching the Dutch pass by on their bicycles. The city is beautiful, with a classic European feel of wide streets, canals, alleys, and beautiful architecture adorned in gold. It feels old, and quaint, but young. Backpackers spot the streets, and cute older people ride by in their bicycles decked out to look like gardens, or strange creatures. Tanned, blonde 20-somethings speed by on motorbikes, weaving in and out of the foot traffic.

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There are weed cafes and headshops, but they’re not as prevalent as I would’ve expected. Apparently, the city has cracked down a bit on weed—foreigners are supposedly no longer allowed to purchase? Not sure. Speaking of addicting things, I did wander into the Old Amsterdam Cheese shop, where every type of their 20+ cheeses was on sample. It’s funny how you can see the same cheese in a Trader Joes at home, but then again the forces of globalization should no longer surprise me at this point. I also took note of a Starbucks in the Amsterdam central train station, and a Maoz falafel joint packed with Europeans. The accents here are adorable: clicking, dipping, and sing-songing. The Dutch seem very friendly, and nurturing on my first impression.

I’ve now gulped down my cappuccino, sweet with sugar at the bottom, and stopped to ponder how I’ve gotten to where I am. After a 7.5 hour plane ride from John F Kennedy, I’m in Europe. It’s amazing how quickly one can be in a totally different setting. Just this morning, I was rushing around the house, despairing over the job decision, and hugging Melissa goodbye. Benji, Ellie, and Melissa saw me off this afternoon—Benji clapping and cheering as I hoisted my backpack on my back and walked out the door on Baltic Street. So easy! Just put on a backpack, head to the train station, and go! I guess I’m a veteran traveler now.

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I had a nice nap in the Amsterdam airport—they, like most foreign hubs, realize that weary travelers will have long layovers that are much more pleasantly spent napping on reclining chairs with a soundtrack of “rain sounds” and a screen of peaceful scenes from the city. I kicked off my shoes & socks, swaddled myself in the stolen airport blanket, wrapped a spare long sleeve shirt around my eyes and passed out in my pink neck pillow. Ahhh.

In an hour, I’ll meet my friend Yardena for a beer on the main tourist drag. On my way over, I wandered by accident into the red light district, which straddles another canal. I had no idea, but turning my head left I suddenly was startled by the sight of a scantily clad woman in a window. I thought she was a mannequin, but then she moved! Her eyes falsely wide, painted red lips, cliché lingerie getup. How strange! I awkwardly stumbled along, and then noticed that on every side of me were these girls in the windows. Some of them beckoning to men in suits passing by, but many of them looking bored and texting on their cell phones. Some sat in pouf chairs, and some stood in tall stilettos. I looked to my right, and two dirty swans floated, cleaning themselves in the canal. I hurried along, not knowing what to make of things, but feeling uncomfortable. Every man I passed in the street was a suspect… some looked old and decrepit, some dignified, but most looked young, straggly, & and excited.

As I walked along past erotic and exotic sex shops, peep shows, and “room for rent” signs, I wondered whether I should turn down an alley and escape. But I was also transfixed. Advertised on every woman-less dark window was a list of three or four women’s names, with phone numbers. I saw some large women, some young and sorority-like, but the strangest sight was a woman who turned to face me as I passed. She looked about seventy, with large sagging breasts and dyed brown hair. Hanging from her weathered mouth was a cigarette, her legs encased in fishnet and her eyes lined in thick black kohl. Startled, I scurried onward… needing to meet Yardena.

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A short, but interesting visit in Amsterdam. Next up, Jerusalem! 

This is What Real Life Looks Like

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(Nobody ever looks like this– perfect hair, perfect, nails, shaved legs, cute nightshirt– while chilling in their room… I repeat, nobody.)


An empty pint of Ben & Jerry’s
, featuring lukewarm chocolate drippings around the folded white cardboard edge—poop stains, if you will– and a too-big metal spoon threatening to tip the carton over. Abdominal cramps and an expired bottle of ibuprofen with the label peeling off from age, that you noisily knock to the floor when you reach to turn off the lamp with the crooked lampshade that’s slowly turning brown in one spot as it’s burnt by the bulb. Rumpled blue flannel sheets, with a  reddish brown stain from the last cycle. Twisted comforter… everything’s warm but not like cozy warm, like awkward warm from a body staying in bed way longer than it should. Continue reading

On Privilege, Databases, and Clumps of Hair

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I was undressing at the gym tonight post-workout, and thinking about a job decision that I deliberated and dramatized for hours on end today. I was just in the middle of ruminating over the scary thought that maybe I was being too picky and Don Quixote-ish by turning it down, when I noticed the nightly cleaning woman coming through the dressing room with her mop and gloves. Head down, just like every night, although I always try to catch her eye to smile or say thank you.

She was just doing her job, probably none too enjoyable– given that her job consists of picking up matted clumps of hair out of shower drains and sweeping away sock lint from the area beneath the lockers– but it got me thinking. Here I am, blabbing on and on to my friends about whether I’ll get more fulfillment from challenging intellectual program tasks versus three weeks paid vacation plus Jewish holidays, and meanwhile here’s this woman—I don’t even know her name—sweeping through my pathetic panic attack with probably very little choice as to her career and how she makes a living.

She sweeps to make a living because that’s what’s done when you live in America and need to eat and don’t speak English as your native language. Not clinging on to the cushy life of a freelance writing gig, or scoffing at job offers because they’re too database-y and thus, beneath me. And especially not taking shelter under the loomingly huge (but heretoforth unnoticed) stormcloud of privilege that floats around with me like a big protective translucent bubble.

I figured trying to give a tip could get awkward, so instead I filled out a feedback slip and dropped it into the suggestion box at the front desk saying “the cleaning staff does a lovely job—you should give them a raise.” But just as I was patting myself on the back for “taking action,” I thought, “Jesus. Is this what my activism has come to?”

Good thing I start volunteering at Imani House tomorrow… I think I need a good dose of reality.

The Meaning of Life (According to OK Cupid)

Friday, January 4th 12:06 am, sitting at my kitchen table and eating a delicious dinner of tuna salad with sweet red apple and red onion, fresh red lettuce leaves with oil and balsamic, and challah with fresh cheddar cheese… which I savored only because I turned my phone on silence and left my laptop upstairs.

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Photo on 4-12-12 at 2.51 PM
Humans can be incredibly oblivious creatures.
That’s why when I notice something: a cardboard box in a garbage can, or a piece of litter on the street… a homeless person on the street I’d rather not make eye contact with… I try to force myself into action. On those few and far between instances that I actually notice an opportunity to make a difference, I should take it—to begin making up for all the times I’m not aware.

On a completely separate note, I spent a lot of time today thinking about a particular question on OK Cupid, which I recently joined in an effort to get over my recent ex and start meeting new guys to entertain myself with. While I don’t mind being single, at the moment, it would be nice to have somebody to share life’s ups and downs with. It’s sort of like this thought I came up with while eating: Continue reading

A Moment of Sorrow in Yoga

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
Kahlil Gibran 

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I had an interesting moment in yoga tonight at Crunch. Generally I feel that their classes lack the yogic breathing and meditation elements, choosing to forego chanting and reflection for the sake of fitness workout. The instructors look like younger versions of Arnold Schwarzenegger and most of them shout into microphones as they rush you through the poses, pushing for sweat. But tonight we had an older teacher. She wore the Crunch uniform shirt, but it was maroon and looked faded. She had grey hair, an ethereal manner, and I felt she could pass for a human in Berkeley. Her butt was even a little saggy, and she started the class off with asking us to get comfortable and think of three things we were grateful for. Continue reading

10 Tips for Surviving NYC: A Newbie’s Guide

Despite the stress and hustle of New York, I am writing more than I ever have and it feels luxurious and fun… so at least I can keep that in mind when I doubt the worth of moving here! I wanted to be a writer… now I am! Broke, but not starving 😉

Everywhere you turn here are people. Turn your head one way, hundreds of people in the crowd. Turn your head the other, hundreds more. Walk a block, hundreds of new people you’ve never seen. Immigrants, tourists, locals, punks, goths, glamour girls, businessmen, hobos, musicians, artists, kids, old people… You could spend a year here and never run into anyone you’ve seen before.

After a very stressful week, I’ve compiled a list of things I learned in my first month in New York.

1. Anytime you have an opportunity to use a clean private restroom, DO IT. Even if you don’t have to go. Even if you went 10 minutes ago. New York has millions of people, and almost zero viable options for relieving yourself when out and about in public. Continue reading