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Posts from December 2008

Israel Story: Touching Evil

The following are a couple of difficult memories of life in Israel. Difficult, because, really, why can’t the Jews just be left alone in their own little country on the Mediterranean?

When I first moved back to Israel in 1983, after deciding that I was going to make my life there (the dramatic epiphany to be told in a later post), I lived in Jerusalem for a few months while I attended an ulpan (Hebrew language class for new immigrants). One day, when I went to the neighborhood supermarket to get some things before it closed for the afternoon siesta, I was told that it was already closed. Someone had placed a bomb in the bread section. In Israel in those days the two most popular kinds of bread were not pre-sliced and stuffed in bags, no, they were fresh and bagless. You could get “white” bread which was a really long loaf (a little shorter than a baguette, but with the width of “standard” bread) with a slightly crunchy crust, or you could get “black” bread which was a whole wheat bread, this loaf was smaller, browner, and grainier. Both fresher than anything my mother would get in the bakery in our Queens neighborhood. (Remember those, neighborhood bakeries?) Bomb in the bread section. I just couldn’t get my mind around that. Who would do such a thing? What higher purpose is being served by blowing up someone as she thinks about her pastrami sandwich with mustard and a pickle on the side?

One day, on Purim (the Israeli equivalent of Halloween, but the kids are supposed to go to school dressed up because it is a religious holiday), I imagined that I was living in the US and did not need to listen to the news before I got my daughter dressed in her Queen Esther costume (she saves the day—and all the Jews in Shoshan), and walked with her through the park in our neighborhood and to the government-sponsored pre-school. There were beautiful shade trees around the two-room school and no one seemed to worry about animals pooping in the sand (well, not too much). But as we walked in I could tell that something was wrong. In my mind, I’m thinking normal mom in the suburbs thoughts that I got the day wrong and they’re wondering why I dressed my daughter up today. But in their minds they’re thinking “why is she bringing her daughter dressed up and with rouge on her cheeks when a suicide bomber just blew himself up crossing the street in front of the most popular mall in Tel Aviv, killing children in their Purim costumes?”

On another Purim someone blew himself up right next to a mother sitting with her baby in his carriage. They kept showing the twisted carriage on the news.

Then there was my pregnancy with my older daughter during the first Iraq War. I’m not quite sure if I can relate to you how relieved I was when on the first night of the war my ex-husband told me that the loud booming sound I heard and felt was the sound clouds make when they collide and no, of course it was not rockets slamming into a building on the other side of town.

And it is an odd thing to plan your shopping, not around sales, but around where you will feel the safest. Where a suicide bomber hopefully won’t go—or won’t go again.

I always told people that I felt safer in Israel than I did growing up in New York City in the 60’s and 70’s. And that statement still holds, because the random, senseless violence of muggings and rapes and murders in New York seemed so pointless, so random—so selfish. In Israel, because it came in spurts and often, because we convinced ourselves, only in certain parts of the county, it made life feel safer. I didn’t have to worry about someone ripping my necklace off me, I just had to live life as I would normally and hope that I am not in the wrong place at the wrong time. And if I was to be taken in an act of terrorism, at least, as my mind saw it, there was, somehow, a purpose, a meaning. I would have died because I was Jewish, not because I had a gold chain around my neck.

This current war or offensive or whatever it is called in Gaza does not bode well. Nor do the reasons why it came to be. Because without fine tuning any arguments or discussions here, if Israel left Gaza in September 2005, uprooting its citizens and all of their lives and livelihoods, and that was not enough, then really, what hope is there for lasting peace? (And this from a person with a master’s degree in conflict studies.)

It is horrific to once again see dead children in the arms of their mothers. And it is horrific to see people covered in blood and dust, and buildings destroyed. And it is horrific to see terrified people running for shelter when nothing can shelter them. And it is horrific to see people drained by fear, and frustration, and helplessness. It is horrific to live in a land of hate and divisiveness, when, really, all most people should want at the core of their lives is stability, hope, and a sense of calm, and peaceful purpose that encompasses all. 

May peace, sanity, understanding, patience, compassion, and empathy reign.

The Symbolism of a Bird

A bird just flew into my house. It flew in through the window in the kitchen that I had opened wide to bring in some of the crisp December air. It was a small brown bird. It fluttered about; it tried to fly out through the glass door (even though it has not been cleaned with Windex for a very long time it still thought that that was its gateway to the great outdoors). I opened the door as I told the bird to wait. It flew off to another part of the room. A few seconds after I opened the door and walked away, it flew out.

May my flight from this house be soon and as steady as that bird's flight. It didn't look back, it just took off to its next destination--anywhere but here.

Sprinkling of Vindication

As a counter to the guys who do the internet dating equivalent of hanging up on me when they see my picture, today someone called me "radiantly beautiful." Yes, I know, I'm not supposed to be thinking about a relationship while I'm still living in this absurd situation, but the desire to be desired comes and goes in cycles, and this one hasn't worked its way out yet.   

I Have Nothing to Wear: Shirts that Stay Ironed

Why is it that some people still look sharp at the end of the day and me, five seconds after putting on an ironed shirt I am already rumpled? Is there something in my skin that causes wrinkles? Is it my constant movement that stresses the fibers so that they cannot keep at attention? Is my constant internal fussing being transmitted to the fibers? And (no mocking of my ironing ability) this happens if I iron and use starch or if I spend $5.00 to have someone wash and iron for me. And it even happens in no-iron shirts (which seem to have been sprayed with some kind of slimy stuff that my skin repels). It’s just one of the things about me that sets me off from the well-to-do.

I think that the difference between the haves and the have nots is not determined by intelligence, trust funds, or even sheer arrogance, I think that the world is divided between those who always look good and the rest of us, those who wrinkle in starch, whose “long last” lipstick fades with one air kiss, whose hair products succumb to the elements, and whose pants always have unsightly wrinkles in the crotch area. (Shouldn’t the “crotch area” be called something else for women? Maybe it should be referred to as the “reproductive region.”) This wrinkle-ability has had a huge impact on my self-esteem, which we all know is critical for success in life.

What would life have been like for me if at the end of the day I looked as sharp as I had at the beginning, and if I knew in the morning that no matter what I did, short of sitting in an open convertible in the rain (that would have been another story), I would be looking perfect all day long? Would I have held my head higher as I went about my business if I didn’t think that I looked like someone who has just spent the night under an overpass? What would life have been like if I always looked as if I had just stepped out of my boudoir? 

The potential is breathtaking. I truly think that this inability to stay starched has handily hindered me. They say the suit makes the man. Well I say the shirt makes the woman. Who wants a woman who is un-ironed, who looks like she can’t put herself together, who looks like she doesn’t understand the most basic aspect of getting dressed—staying neat.

Am I the wrinkle equivalent of a stainster, you know, those people who always seem to be dropping on themselves. Have they, too, been discriminated against, and have they, too, been relegated to the lower echelons of society because they cannot breach the simple code of ethics—staying clean.

Oh, the horror, the horror. It wouldn’t be so bad if everywhere I looked there were rumpled people and just a few of the impenetrable. But no, there are so many potential ladder-climbers—people who seem to modulate their bodies just so.

This has even dictated my fashion sense, because at a certain point you just have to give in to your own elements. I have become a sweater girl, and I wear tee shirts under them. I have put the iron away. I have resigned my fate to being one of the clothing wrinklers.

Interestingly, this ability is external. So far, it has not been transmitted to my face and things there look, well, as if I just stepped out of a botox boudoir.

So, I guess, I still have some potential. For what, I’m not sure.

The Symbolism of a Toothache

About a week ago I had a toothache from Thursday to Tuesday. Not long in the physical pain department, but enough to make an impact on my life. I had a hard time focusing on anything except my pain; sometimes it was pain and sometimes it was a dull ache, but it was always there, always presenting itself. I was constantly probing the area with my tongue to see what was happening, to see if I could discover exactly where the pain emanated from and to assess if it was getting worse or better. I was not able to sleep because when I lay down I could feel the pain more acutely since I had nothing else to think about (at least not as pressing as the pain). When I ate I had to be careful not to bite on the right side, where the pain was located. And when I was at work, I was spending much of my time thinking about how uncomfortable I was and how I wished I was back on my couch curled up in comfortable discomfort. I was preoccupied in the way you are when you need to make an important decision (something akin to deciding whether you should go to Tahiti or Paris for an all-expense paid vacation—I can dream even while I am in pain).

The impact that this pain had on my life, albeit for a short time, made me think about how my physical circumstances must be impacting my mental and emotional self. But in this I am without a gauge to assess the pain or the ache that constantly accompanies me without being sharp enough to feel. Have I become used to living in pain and am not even aware of it? Do I think that this is the way a person is supposed to feel as she goes about her life? Am I so unaware of what it is to live without the constant fear that I will be insulted or put down or mocked that I don’t know the damage that is on-going? Does it seem normal to put my things on one side of the refrigerator and go up to my room when I hear the garage door open so that I won’t have to see him? Has the image of a normal life been erased from my mind so that I can function within the travesty that it has become?

Now that the physical pain is gone, I can barely remember what it felt like. Gone. Gone like the man who was just sitting next to me (in a coffee shop)—in a moment he put on his glasses, picked up his book, threw out his cup and was gone. Gone like the nail that just broke and is no longer a part of me. But when it was here it was so evident, so demanding accommodation. Is that like the mental pain or chaos that I am living within? Is it a huge pall that has been absorbed within, absorbed to such a degree that I don’t even realize that it is not a part of myself, is not me?

Where is me? Or who is me? A friend told me that her mother told her after her divorce that now she is her self, now she recognizes her. Is that what has happened with me? Is there the Laura before the pain, Laura of the pain, and please, please, please Laura after the pain?

Is it good that I cannot identify the pain, or identify how it is discombobulating my mental functions? If this pain was as alive as my toothache how would I live? Can you live constantly thinking about what is wrong and what is upsetting and what is missing and what is hurtful? Is this the pain of life? Has this pain become the backdrop of my life? Have I allowed it to take over or have I forced it into the background?

And what is pain anyway? Is it a hurt that impedes? Or is it a hurt that demands? Is pain what comes before healing?

Or is pain simply evidence of pain—constant, but present to different degrees? Is pain the pall that is over my life, but which I can blow away if I huff and I puff enough? Or do I need to climb these mountains and get above the clouds of pain? Who’s in charge of this pain that is a dulling agent? Is it me? Is it time? Is it circumstances? Is it a change? Or is it enough to know that the pain is there and that I want to live without it? Is that the true painkiller? Albeit one that works much too slowly.

Why do I do this to myself?

I was rejected twice in two days by men after they saw my photo. It wouldn't be so bad if one of them didn't have as his first line in his ad: “Brains before beauty.” Ugh. And it’s not as if they are Johnny Depp in the flesh. (This reference is in deference to my younger daughter’s obsession with Mr. Depp.) I mean neither of them made me drop my mouse in excitement. What is it that was wrong for them?

May I be so indelicate as to assume I know and say: fuck all of those men who want a SLENDER, PETITE, SKINNY woman. Why, why do you want a SLENDER, PETITE, SKINNY woman? Are you unable to think and see for yourself? Are you completely swayed by society's sick norms? Do you really think skinny is better than evidence of life?

Or is that code for YOUNGER? Because I don’t know about you, but most of the women my age—their age—are no longer slender, petite, skinny. Not that I ever was, because I never was. Think more Marilyn Monroe (I can’t believe I just compared myself to her, but heck, I can do what I want when I rail against bone lovers) rather than Gwyneth Paltrow. And F the men my age who want a younger woman to refresh their hearts and make themselves feel as if the aging process has been stopped. It hasn’t. And F all the diet mongerers, I can’t bear another conversation about what to eat and what not to eat, with more emphasis on what not to eat. And F all of the men who say that they work out six days a week--because he doesn't have the kids to take care of--and because he really does think that he and his body are a temple.  

And F all the delicate designers who find the willowy frame of a 6’ woman who weighs 100 pounds to be perfect. And F the creative directors who air brush extra pounds off of the bodies of women with mini-curves. And F all of us who think that to be thin is to be good, and to be “with a few extra pounds” indicates that we are bad people—we are weak, unable to resist temptation. (Please, bring the temptation on.) Now I know why we marry when we’re young, before the Phase II body has set in, because if those were the Phase I bodies, there wouldn’t be enough children born out of those relationships to sustain society.  

And I will not diet for an as yet unmet man. I need to exercise for myself. But you know what (whine coming), it’s hard to put the brownie down when there is nothing happy in your life. When the freezer breaks and you need to buy a new refrigerator from monopoly money, and the circuit breaker breaks so that there is no hot water for a week, and you have no parties to go to, and you’re bored with your life and dissatisfied with your unmet desires, and you’re tired of it all being so hard and futile, it’s damn hard to punish yourself even more. And yes, I know that I am the only one paying for that brownie down the hatch, but there needs to be some infinitesimal feeling of pleasure in the present.

And why the hell did the pseudo-separated man tell me that “I am perfect”? Because I now believe that I will meet another man who rocks my boat and who thinks I am perfect, in my Phase II body and with my Phase II personality.

Ugh. What a year. Here’s to 2009. I have no idea what I want from it or myself, but I would like a break in the unpleasantness rolling my way ever so consistently. And I would like to move out of this five-bedroom, 3.5 bath unhappiness-perpetuating compound. And I would like someone to seep into my heart with joy and unfettered appreciation.

First Night of Chanukah

Sunday night was the first night of Chanukah. My daughters and I celebrated in the subdued way that teens and parents celebrate a holiday that has more meaning in the continuity, in the recognition, than anything else. There were no presents, just presence. For me, for us (I hope) that was more important.

I made applesauce in the morning, and if I may say so, it was the best applesauce that I have made in years. And I made far too many latkes right before the candle lighting ceremony, letting them stay warm in the oven as I fried pan after pan of latkes (I made four big potatoes worth of latkes for the three of us).

About two minutes after my younger daughter complained that she was not hungry, she said that she was ready; and my older daughter dutifully (yes, she apparently is able to be dutiful) came to the table immediately to observe the holiday, together.

My younger daughter put the candles in the chanukiyah (menorah): white for the first night and yellow for the shamash (helper candle). I had strewn chocolate gelt (coins) around the chanukiyah—my version of holiday decorations. No plants, no bows, no angels here, no, just chocolate covered in gold and silver foil to look like coins.

Younger daughter lit the candles, and I said the three blessings. The first praises God for commanding us to do the mitzvot (commandments) and instructing us to kindle the Chanukah lights; the second praises God for performing miracles about 2,000 years ago when our ancestors withstood the intense pressure (life or death kind of pressure) put upon them to worship Greek gods and then made the oil that was only to last for one day last for eight days, which was just enough time to get everything ready to resume proper prayer services in the great temple (wish I had that oil for my car); and lastly, praising God for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this day. This last one, the Shechiyanu is said when a person does something important—does a first, or when we return to a holiday after not having celebrated it for a year.

And I kissed both of them on their foreheads after they sat down. They didn’t want that kiss, but how can a mother recite three blessings and not give the one true blessing—a kiss—to her children?

And then we ate potato latkes with applesauce and/or sour cream. To make the table look fuller, I also put down pineapple chunks and Israeli pickles. I didn’t even bother to make brisket, another traditional holiday food, because we all just hone in on the latkes. Maybe another night.

And we talked for about ten minutes. Around a dining room table, as if it were a normal act and not something that we only do when there is a holiday. Praise God for holidays. There was no meanness, there was no tension, it was the three of us. (he was upstairs in the master suite.)

I am not religious, rather I identify with my religion more on a cultural and historic level than on a conversation with God level. But, I must say, if it weren’t for religion, and for the milestones it puts in our year I would feel even more lost as a parent, more untethered and swaying in whatever moods come upon me as I try to steer some kind of course through this divorce and its undeniably damaging aftermath. These holidays, and the Bat Mitzvah, and the classes that the girls took and take, and the classes I give at temple have helped to tether me, and helped to create a family that I was not able to create at home, or at least not feel like I was able to do alone. It has enabled me to found our lives on more than just ourselves, and for that I am thankful—I could light a candle for that.

* * *

You can read my Chanukah story, “Lighting the Chanukah Lights with Emily,” at: +StoryRhyme.

Blagojevich and mr ex

Apparently Rod Blagojevich and mr ex are cut from the same cloth. Same arrogance, same narcissism, same belief in self above all the stupid people in the world. Unfortunately mr ex didn’t have a wife like Blagojevich’s (teachers at school have been comparing him to Macbeth and her to Lady Macbeth) to back him up and tell him that he is a genius, and, yeah, “Go f--- the Cubs” along with all of his F’s. Watching him in his little press conference, his big opportunity to show how much better he is than all of the little people who don’t get a bully pulpit, say that he “will fight will fight will fight,” reminded me of ex-man crawling into the king-sized bed every night. What is it that he is fighting for? What is it that he is standing up for?

Himself and no one else.

Yeah, the good fight.

Opinion Stealers

I went to a political meeting the other night. When it was time for the small groups to report back to the entire group, four out of the five speakers were women. But when we got off-topic and began discussing the auto industry and whether it should or should not be helped out, then the “experts” were all-boy all the time. I honestly hate the Battle of the Newspaper Readers. And why must men always get it going? And why do men so often think that they are experts when they have simply read a newspaper article or editorial? And why do women not have the arrogance to restate someone else’s opinion as their own? And why can’t we women shut those men up instead of letting them pontificate?


I Have Nothing to Wear: Holiday Sweaters

Could someone please let me know if the women who wear holiday sweaters are aware of how silly they look or do they really think that it’s a look to wear out in public? I am aware that teachers are not universally recognized as being fashion trendsetters, but in the past few years of working in a school building I can say that we dress pretty much like anyone else who doesn’t have money to spend on anything that is in a fashion magazine. But now it is positively a horror to walk down the English Department hall.

There seems to be a competition between two teachers as to who has the most holiday sweaters and matching earrings. Why, why would a 60-year old woman want to wear a red Santa sweater? And why would an almost 60-year old woman wear Christmas tree ornament earrings? Yes, I know that Christmas is coming, and yes I know that it is very exciting. I can see them getting all worked up about Jesus’s birthday (just like my student who keeps writing “Jesus Christ December 25” on my students' birthday chalkboard). It is just too horrible to look at them.

Is it childish? Do children get subjected to these deranged sweaters with appliquéd stars? Is it that they really think they are picking up the mood of the room? Do they think that just by standing in the front of the room in a red and silver sweater a whole classroom of students will stop moaning about writing timed essays and will be infused with holiday cheer as they gladly analyze the sayings of some long-dead, long-winded philosopher? Are they suffering from the initial stages of Alzheimer’s and need to be reminded that Christmas is coming? Perhaps these sweaters are actually some kind of visual shopping list. Oh yes, a star, that reminds me to get earrings for my daughter, she likes stars. And the reindeer, that reminds me to get my husband something for his car (maybe a GPS so he and Santa don't get lost). And the snow ball, that reminds me that I need to get more icing (or is it frosting?) for the cookies I will be sending to everyone who annually sends to me a tin of cookies.

We know that it’s certainly not image-enhancing since I am pretty sure that most women over the age of five don’t want to be a walking fashion faux pas.

Do these women buy these sweaters for themselves or are they gifts? I cannot for the life of me imagine going into a store only to find myself contemplating the red sweater with Santa or the red sweater with a gingerbread house. Do you think about how it will look on the “gift” designee or do you just go for the most garish design? I mean what are the thought processes that brings a person to spend money on an annual sweater.

I wonder if there’s a company that offers an annual subscription. “Buy now and get a new Christmas sweater for the next ten years; you’ll have it before December 1st so you’ll have plenty of time to go holiday shopping in your holiday sweater. And if you buy a subscription for a friend, we guarantee that you will not get the same sweater design.”

Seriously, sort of, why is this part of the tradition? Does it mean that we really do look beyond what people look like and look into their hearts instead? Is that it? If you can see past this ugliness you will find my beauty? Is that the true and new holiday message?

The Soap Opera Continues

Just a sad little run-down on why I feel so run-down. (Monday version)

My parents were here for a day, which was lovely, but ex got to exhibit his more childish-vindictive side. He kept closing my door (when I wasn’t in it), by now standard practice for him. Then, after my closet door slammed (which he just does not abide, tsk tsk tsk) he took a chair (I am surmising here because no one saw the act occur) and started banging on the floor above the room in the basement where my parents sleep when they come to visit me. Yes, a full-grown man, a lawyer, a financial consultant, an ex-army officer, who wears a suit and shirts with cufflinks, was banging on the floor to annoy my parents and me.

I went to the dentist today to continue the extremely expensive work that the root canal guy started last week. Yes, I am thrilled that I am not in pain, but it is not good to almost choke down tears in a dentist’s office when you are told the price of the treatment.

The visit to the dentist was a couple of hours after the heat pump guy came to fix the heat pump, which I had no intention of paying for because I paid for the repair in full in the spring because he just never got around to paying me his 50%. And he had my older daughter relay this message to me—that I need to pay 50%. And I had to stand there in front of the heat pump guy and my daughter and my parents and try not to have a complete meltdown screaming that I don’t need to pay anything. But what does it matter? If I didn’t pay the 50%, he would just not pay some college application fees or other such thing for my older daughter (no question here about younger daughter, he never paid his 50% for the Bat Mitzvah, it was more like 30%) and I would end up paying for it because I cannot let her not apply to the colleges she wants to because her father is such a bastard. (My father looked at me askance when I said that I would not toy with her applications. But hey, I know who to stand up to, don’t I?)

But I would not speak to him. She was actually standing there with her red cell phone telling me that he wants to speak to me, but I could see no reason to talk to him—or have him spurt sounds at me. So I said that I do not want to speak to him, and refused. Petulant? I think not. Taking a goddamn stand.

And when I got the email from the realtor that he told her that he and I would talk about the $2,000 worth of repairs that need to be done before the house would possibly tantalize someone, I replied with a list of my approved repairs and said that I do not plan to speak to him. Ever. Slime. How he manages to look at himself in the mirror and say, “You are the good guy and she is a leech,” I have no idea, because I only see tired eyes and chin hairs when I look at myself. And the gray that I thought was so cute, now I’m beginning to think that my daughter is right, it makes me look old. What doesn’t? 

Oh, and I’ve been whining on Momocrats about Caroline Kennedy, that I wish I were her. She married a nice Jewish boy; I just got the Jewish boy part. Oh, I really need to sit on a mental beach and relax.

And tomorrow it is back to work after this stress-free day off which I took to be with my parents and to prevent ex from having alone time with my parents. Last time that happened he said that he would call the police on my father for trespassing. I have a few parents who are upset with me—I just don’t seem to get their sons. Well, yeah, I don’t appreciate a 14-year-old calling my decision “stupid” and then broadcasting that to the class, or sleeping in class and then whining that he got a zero on the assignment that we did while he drooled.

Okay, I really need to imagine that beach. There will be sand so soft and warm that it is a smoother towel than any towel. There will be gentle waves that tantalize with their gentle repetition of beckoning. The sun’s warmth will caress the chill out of my mind and body. That is all I want.

For now.

P.S. Somehow I forgot the letter from the electric company. The "turn off" notice because he has not been paying his 50% of the bills and the extra letter that said that now we need to pay a two-months downpayment because we are so behind. Yes, I read that letter about ten minutes before the heat pump guy came. Amazing the things you can forget.