Tuesday, October 4, 2016

All or Nothing

If you read my poetry from when I was a young teenager, then you know. You know that I was an angsty, brooding, emo-music-listening-to kind of teenage cliche. I dripped black Sephora tears, bled in ardent poetry, and listened to way too much Linkin Park. 

If you read my articles on Chabad.org from my late teens, then you know as well. You saw my writing attitude shift into a more optimistic, spiritual, if not somewhat self-helpy, vibe. 

Ask me which version of me was more real, more honest, and the answer is, well...neither. 

I wasn't trying to be dishonest or inauthentic at either point. In fact, I was merely trying on these personas for size, and I took comfort in giving myself a label, so I could pretend I was all figured out. Really, I was just searching for an identity, in a world that I have always seen as either black or white. 

What I needed was balance, in a world that I has always nudged me one way or another. What I needed to do was something instead of doing everything or nothing. 
The thing is, balance has always been a challenge for me. My room has always been either chaos, or meticulously organized and labeled. I got either A's or F's on exams. I worked tirelessly on a project or didn't do it at all. My day was either categorized as "amazing" or "awful", rarely anything in between. 

The truth is my day is a cocktail of monotony, joy, sadness, anger, anxiety, excitement... not in that order nor limited to those emotions (how fun for my lucky husband!). It's taken me years to understand that life is not meant to be lived in an "all or nothing" frame of mind. It's not all great or all terrible... people are not all good or all evil... and most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the broad spectrum between perfection and failure. It's the very place I am learning to be comfortable in, and although I've always favored "insta" results, I am learning to appreciate the lifelong journey that is balance. 

When I am tempted to revert to my usual "all or nothing" state and veer far left or right, I pull over and stop to think how fortunate I am to live in world that is not just black or white, but painted in various shades of vibrant color. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

90's Kid

I am almost grateful to have grown up in Buffalo in the 90’s. It challenged me in ways children who grew up in coolers cities or more recent decades were not, and it forced me to become creative. I had to be a little more imaginative, than say a Brooklyn kid with Xbox, if I wanted to have fun. When I complained to my father that I was bored back then, he would say “You’re boring”. Which was true. So I quickly became un-boring.

One hobby I took up was duck catching. We had a pond in our backyard that was home to a family of ducks. Their signature duck waddle gave me the impression that they would be slow enough to catch. This was not the case because, as it turned out, those things also have wings.

If I wanted to watch a movie (and I REALLY did, because we weren’t really allowed to), I had to be completely committed to the cause. There were hangers involved, VCR rental companies, and lots of scheming. I discovered if I stick a pin in the back of the TV monitor, I could watch Arthur. There was a lot of static, but the way I saw it, fuzzy Arthur was better than no Arthur at all. Sometimes I could catch a rerun of Full House or if I was crazy lucky, a new episode of 7th Heaven. One night I found myself watching TV through a crack in my sister’s closet.

I created an Ebay account in my mother’s name and bid on used TV/VCR combos. To my delight I usually won the auctions, but I never actually paid for them because I didn’t have any money. Ebay frowned upon this behavior and eventually shut me down.

I lied a lot, just to see if I could make people believe ridiculous stuff. Most times people were so bored themselves, they would believe me simply because they wanted it to be true.

I told some people Mary-Kate and Ashley lived down the block. I informed my little sister, Ita, and her friend that the music sensation Uncle Moishy took up residence in our basement. And to make things more exciting, his roommate was Uncle Pinchy. Technically Uncle Pinchy was a puppet, but once they were on board with Uncle Moishy, I figured it was believable that two uncles might live together. Plus these girls were like six, and what do six year olds really know about life anyway? I also tried to convince Ita (the target of most of my lies) that there was a family living in the manhole in our backyard. We’d knock and knock on the waterhole and when no one answered, I’d shrug and say “Oh I guess they’re out of town.”

Ita loved when I made her shows, but I didn’t have any Barbies or little Fisher Price people to use as characters, so I used my big sisters’ old makeup. I assigned them names, occupations, and personalities. There’s still a tube of coral lipgloss hanging around somewhere in my parents house named Aunt Martha...

I think it's safe to assume a child named Kale, growing up on the urban streets of Park Slope has not, nor will ever, experience any of that stuff. But it's the stuff that made me who I am today, and gave me the ability to think more inventively, and for that I am grateful.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The American Idol

You are not the most beautiful. 

You are not the smartest.

Or the the most talented.

Contrary to what your mother has told you.

You are not the best. 

If you have ever been told otherwise, you have been lied to.

Not only are those "compliments" untrue: they are harmful.

Why? Because those statements are not compliments; they are expectations. They are demands for perfection.

It all began when you were just a helpless infant. “You are just the cutest little thing, aren't you?” they cooed, planting the seed that would only continue to grow. Not only were you the cutest, they told you; you were also the smartest and the funniest. Your identity and self-esteem grew to be wrapped up in being "the best". The pressure to stay on top was reaffirmed each time you were convinced that you were better than the rest. You were taught that your self worth was to be measured by how far your success outweighed the success of your peers. 
Eventually, you started to believe that your champion status was what made you special, and often felt inadequate when you could not measure up. 

Society is obsessed with the pursuit of perfection. We extol success and idolize winners. Consider the Olympics, or the tens of reality shows that have people vying for the ultimate title; a medal for every talent you can imagine is fought for and coveted (even marriage is competed for!). Never mind the fact that next season there will be a new winner, and each season after that. Never mind that the best will always be replaced by better.

Ever wonder why celebrities appear the least secure? Why supermodels do coke in the bathroom at the party? Why talented artists are found dead in their mansions and accomplished actors check into rehab like the rest of us go to the spa? These people are decidedly the closest to perfection as humanly possible, so why are they the most miserable?

Why? Because people are not meant to be perfect, and even if airbrush and plastic surgery can fool their audience for a while, no one can keep it up forever. One day they will be photographed with no makeup on. One day someone younger and more talented will replace them at the top. Grammys and Oscars will just serve as reminders of their "shortcomings". They are miserable because we have placed unfair expectations on them, and the pressure to live up to those impossible labels is just too much to handle.

So if being a gold medalist is your dream, if only coming in first is acceptable, you are setting yourself up for failure every day. It is a fools game to try to be "the best". It is impossible. You don't have to be better than everyone else to be great or virtuous; you have to try to be better than you. There is always going to be someone more beautiful, more intelligent, and more talented than you. And that's okay. You are not the best, and the good news is, you don't have to be. There is nothing perfect about perfection.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Of Prayer

Some prayers are to be played in double bass, low and intimate; whispered like secrets. 

Others are to be played on black and white keys, loud and lyrical; lighthearted. 

And some few are to be screamed, raised from the ashes of the core. They are to be performed on a stage of thousand violins. And they are to reach a pitch so high, only G-d can hear it.


Mystical Marijuana

We are broken
Well-intended, still we're flawed
An Illusionist performs before us
But we're seldom ever awed

We search for other spirits
Place our faith in clever frauds
We trip on magic substances
Lest we ever trip on G-d

The hunger is profound
It consumes us from within
For it is born of a desire
Far more potent than even that of sin

The lust for any drug
Is a spiritual facade
For it is simply the soul's craving
For a relationship with G-d

Friday, August 10, 2012

How I Feel About Things

How I felt when I thought I was going to Israel for $350:

How I felt when I learned I would not, in fact, go to Israel for $350:

When I'm on a date and a guy asks me what my hobbies are, I'm just like:

When I accidentally came to work an hour early and was confused about how I was the first one there:

When my friends mock me for riding a shopping cart down Kingston in high school, I'm like:

When someone in CH says "Good Shabbos" to me:

When people don't get my sarcasm and assume I'm just mean: 

When a cop gave my friend a ticket for putting her feet up in the subway she was like:

But I was like: 

When someone who isn't religious asks me what Sukkos is: 

Simchas Beis in crown heights:

Friday night at CAY:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Adam & Eve...and Steve

The Garden of Eden was nothing like I expected. I looked down at Google Maps on my iPhone and it assured me that I had indeed arrived at my destination. 

But something wasn't right. 

For starters, I imagined I might be greeted by an angel of some sort, or at the very least, Adam and Eve themselves would usher me into paradise. Instead, a man named Ty welcomed me into an air-conditioned glass cube. Ty was wearing a suit. 

I felt like Alice when she fell into the rabbit hole. Where were the turquoise skies, the picturesque gardens, and manicured lawns? There were no lush green trees, in fact, there was little trace of greenery at all. Luscious plants were substituted with silver gizmos and richly pigmented flowers were replaced by rainbow hued gadgets with white nuclei

And in lieu of succulent red apples, in the center of nirvana, there was a great big monochrome Apple suspended in the air like a shrine. 

Ty led me down a spiral staircase and through rows of wooden tables boasting the latest technologies. Then we arrived before the MacBook Air.

My breath couldn't help but escape my lips in a whistle. It was amazingly, provokingly, arrestingly, beautiful.

“Lift it,” he urged softly.

I looked at the price tag.

“Oh no, I couldn’t,” I responded, shaking my head, “I couldn't possibly afford it.”

Ty smiled.

“That’s okay,” he said, “You don’t have to buy it; just feel how light and feathery it is.”

I was tempted. But I knew how these salespeople worked. First they would assure me that I wouldn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to. They would then take me through a Powerpoint presentation, illustrating the kind of life I could have if I were to indulge. A good salesman would make me wonder how I lived for so long without the product. And in the end, when I swiped my card and took home yet another toy I never needed, they would lead me to believe it was my idea in the first place. Then they would pocket the commission.  

“Go on,” he coaxed, gently nudging me toward the mouthwateringly thin, gorgeously sleek laptop.

Despite my better judgment, despite the voice in my head, and despite my celebrated self-control, I reached down and picked it up.

It felt like a cloud in my hands.
I thought about my chunky HP back at home; a heifer in comparison. Although I had to admit I liked the comfort of the familiar operating system, PC’s just seemed  so- I don’t know…90’s

Ty’s coaxing had absolutely nothing to do with this decision. I came to this conclusion on my own. My PC was constantly contracting viruses and more importantly, it didn’t have an Apple logo on its face.

I needed MacBook Air.

Oh come on, don’t judge me.  You’d have done it too; in fact chances are you already have. Even Eve understood the lure of an Apple…

Moral of the story?

Never trust your GPS. My iPhone hadn’t led me to paradise. It certainly wasn’t the Garden of Eden. But there were snakes. Tens of them. Charming, cajoling, sweet-talking serpents.

And they’re not just at the Apple store- they’re everywhere. They’re in the dressing rooms at Barneys. Driving glossy Mercedes’ on your way to work. They broadcast on your LED flat-screens and parade on the billboards at the side of the Manhattan Bridge. They’re dressed in suits on Wall Street and wearing Chanel on Fifth. They convince you that the key to happiness is everywhere but within you.

So you want the real moral?

Never trust a serpent in a suit.    

Monday, March 5, 2012

When Stealing is A Mitzvah Part Deux

When I was a kid my father called me “Mushka Pushkah” and it gave me a sense of entitlement to all things Pushka-related.

One day I was playing in my father’s office when I saw the very thing that rhymed with my name. It stood there enticing me, teasing me with delicious coins and beautiful green bills. “Free money!” it seemed to call, “Mushka Pushkah’s free money!”

Although the ramifications of stealing had not yet fully matured in my conscious, I was aware that it was considered undesirable behavior. But here was the good news: a) I was alone b) we had a plethora of tzedakah boxes in my house and c)  my parents believed Mushka Pushkah could do no wrong and didn't believe in punishing cute things.

When I was sure the coast was clear, I scooped up the canister in the bottom of my dress, folded it up and scurried behind my living room couch. Once in hiding I dumped the contents on the floor and began to gleefully count my treasure.

I had not yet gotten to five dollars when I felt something breathing on my head. Startled, I looked up to see my big brother Nochum, who appeared extremely triumphant to have found me in this compromising position. My face grew hot and I got a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. An odd sense of shame came over me when I realized that my parents would soon learn that Mushka Pushkah could, in fact, do wrong.

“Omigosh, you’re a ganiv!” he shouted.  

“No, I amn’t!” I countered defensively. I wasn’t entirely sure what “ganiv” meant but from the tone in which he said it I was roughly certain it didn’t mean “bubalah” or “tzadeikis” or any of the other things my parents told me I was.

I tried to think of a good reason for why I was counting tzedakah money in secrecy but before I could get another word in he had already skipped into the kitchen, chanting, “Ganiv, ganiv,” and other things that made me feel very uncomfortable. My indiscretion seemed to both excite him and bother him a great deal.

Timeout gave me time to reflect on what I’d done and consider what it was that had led me to this particular act of immorality. I did not need this money, I reasoned. I had other means of obtaining things I wanted without paying for them myself. When my mother took me to Tops I would sneak Gushers and Fruit-Roll-Ups on the conveyer belt when she wasn’t looking. In addition, I solicited money from guests who frequented my home- a rent fee, if you will. Then of course there was the allowance I earned from entertaining my father when he was bored. I was wealthy kid, with over ten dollars in honest savings, so it was difficult for me to pinpoint the psychological implications of my behavior. But the thing about soul searching is that it is awfully exhausting, so after counting to twenty a few times in my head, I attributed my delinquency to the adrenaline rush and promptly released myself from Timeout.

I left a new person. I was rehabilitated and ready to put this incident behind me. But it appeared that Nochum wasn't quite as ready. The next day at school, a random boy marched over to me, said, “I heard you’re a ganiv” then walked away. Now I had forgiven Nochum for lots of things in the past, including but not limited to subtly pinching me in the hallways between classes, attacking me with a bomb called eau de toilet and demonstrating the art of Indian Burns on my arms . But this was a whole nother level of cruelty. This was the end of my reputation at Jewish Heritage. I was finished. I would not be able to sit with the cool kids at lunch or participate in Elimination at recess…unless something drastic was done to divert attention away from my questionable ethics. I had to reinvent myself- and quickly- before I was outcast. Goody, I thought to myself, here was a chance to showcase my spectacular talents.