Saturday, February 28, 2009

Poem for the Sabbath

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

--Theodore Roethke

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How My Mother Got Done out of Her Bugs Bunny Suitcase (Theme Thursday: Toy)

I asked my mother to tell this, one of my favorite tales from her childhood, and here's what she recounted:

"My mother had a friend, or it might have been her cousin, who came infrequently over to our house in Brooklyn. She always arrived with her daughter, who was about my age, and we were consigned to the upstairs while the ladies smoked their cigarettes and ate their lunch, cottage cheese on toast with paprika and cucumbers cut into it.

I can't remember exactly when this happened, but the time I'm thinking about, Leann brought with her a cardboard Bugs Bunny suitcase, whose metal clasps didn't quite work. You had to push in the cardboard toward the metal to get the two pieces to fit together. It had an orange plastic handle, it was sort of circular, and it had the most vivid decals of Bugs and Friends. This was the most wonderful cardboard suitcase I had ever seen in my life, despite the fact that one edge of it had separated from the metal piece that held it together. I don't remember if anything was in it. Anyway, I wasn't interested in the contents. I really wanted that suitcase. It was as big as from the tip of my finger to maybe the middle of my forearm. It wasn't very large.

I didn't like Leann. We were very young. After we had played for awhile, I remember I got out all my stuffed toys and we pretended we were going places. Unfortunately she had the suitcase. My furry friends had nothing to put their stuff in. I know I became more and more upset. I offered her a stuffed dog I had, who, when you turned the legs around, his male part could be seen. She didn't want it. Nothing I offered her from my toy closet could convince her to give me that wonderful, wonderful suitcase.

At the end of an hour or so, we heard her mother call to Leann it was time to go home. Those visits never lasted long. At the last minute, I had a thought. I had a gold heart necklace that my mother had given me for my last birthday. I said, 'Leann, if you give me the suitcase I'll give you my necklace.' She stuck it in her pocket, and went downstairs.

I was always required to come downstairs with the visiting child to say goodbye politely at the door. My mother knew every single toy I owned, mostly stuffed animals and crayons. Immediately at the front door, she saw the precious Bugs Bunny. My mother sussed out the situation and admonished me, 'you never trade gold for cardboard.' In a moment, Leann, her mother, and Bugs Bunny were out the door; the necklace was back with me.

I never even attempted to travel again."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Just a Housewife, Part 2: The Rabbi that Wasn't

From the time I was twelve years old, studying for my Bat Mitzvah, I imagined that I would grow up to become a Rabbi. I consider myself lucky to have been born into a Reform Jewish family where this was even an option. But with the goal in mind, I lived a double life, one foot in my permissive, forward-thinking day school, where my friends were, nearly every single one of them, atheistic or at least staunchly agnostic, whose parents, by definite choice, didn't really "do" religion with them; one foot in our local synagogue, deeply involved in worship, youth group, community service, Hebrew and Judaic studies. It was a weird dichotomy, and I didn't always feel comfortable with my Jewishness in settings outside the synagogue. But I persisted.

In college, I decided to rectify my lack of understanding of other religions, and majored in Religion with a specialty of Formative Christianity. I read the Christian Bible, studied ancient Greek, and had a grand time trekking through the heretofore unknown terrain. I found it quite alluring. Not to mention, I met a man, Sarge, who is Roman Catholic, fell totally in love, and threw my lot in with his. Through all this, though, my desire to join the Rabbinate persisted.

In my final year of college, I went through the arduous application process to rabbinical school, which included a battery of psycho-social testing (IQ, Rorschach, etc. etc.--I think that all these revealed was that I was smart and nervous, no staggering surprise) as well as a round-table interview, ten, ten, rabbis questioning me at great length about my beliefs, my personal history, my intentions...intense for a college senior who was, for all purposes, still adolescent!

I "passed," and was accepted, and made my way to the Year-in-Israel that began the five year program, leaving Sarge behind in a tumultuous move to Jerusalem. I loved living there (and only heard gunfire once; compared to NYC in the early '90s, Jerusalem was peaceful), I studied Hebrew and Aramaic and practiced my homiletics, kept kosher, kept Shabbat, and wrangled with my concept of God and spirituality, accomplishing all that they intended in that year.

In the end, though, I didn't make it through. Not that I wasn't excelling academically. I just couldn't, somehow, put myself and Sarge through so much trouble, as I feared I would if I took on the rabbinate and all that that would entail--we would be under a great deal of scrutiny, as an interfaith couple, and I just couldn't keep apologizing for something that I didn't believe was wrong. And perhaps, too, I wasn't quite ready to assume the mantle of Rabbi--after all, I was so young and still not formed entirely. I came home, to Brooklyn, drinking Bloody Marys and smoking and fretting in the back of the quiet plane. I believed that I was choosing love over a career and a calling.

But I wonder sometimes about it--had I been older, more secure, with better ego integrity, could I have weathered criticism and difficulty in pursuit of my dream, years in the making.

All of this solipsizing has come about because in cleaning up a box of old papers this morning, I came across an essay I wrote, oh my gosh over 15 years ago. I think it may have been one of my Rabbinical School admissions papers, but I'm not sure.

Here it is; I'm not sure about the question I was answering, but can easily guess. Just one of those general admissions essay questions, open-ended. Although the essay itself is not especially well written, I'm amazed at how much I relate to it even now. Things, feelings, haven't really changed for me in relation to my Jewish self-definition. For whatever the reason, I feel compelled to copy it out here:


Sitting in my Yiddish class the third week of semester, I listened to my professor sing a niggun for us, the light, sorrowful melody echoed somewhere far in the darkness of my unconscious, where inchoate shapes of my past took on shadows for an instant and became words, forms, and memories: the soft barrel shape of my grandma Eva, perenially encased in her stiff girdles and orthopedic shoes; mornings at the little kitchen table in upstate New York, struggling over my script alef-bet (then so encrypted that it would take years for me to absorb fully their mysterious rolls and loops); the secret sounds of Yiddish that flew up to the high ceilings of the Brooklyn kitchen where my sister and I ate slices of cream cheese and listened puzzled to my grandparents' private conversations.

I was haunted in later life by the fact that I had grown up in a house where Yiddish was spoken constantly and yet remained utterly without the ability to speak it myself, beyond a vocabulary of about twenty words.

This past year, my sister and I studied the language in two classrooms halfway across the country from each other, but of the same mind. It was a startling experience for me: the language of emotion and sound became one of system, syntax, and words. The Yiddish of my childhood ran together in a wordless tune, the Yiddish of my adulthood formed itself into sentence and meaning; the niggunim my grandma hummed to me as I lay awake at night, a rotund childish body in a great white sinking mattress, held an inarticulate solace which is only now given coherence.

The Judaism my grandma taught me is like these niggunim--the essential value was always there in all my senses, and it was powerful, sad, soothing, yet also veiled in mystery and confusion. Maybe that's a symptom of childhood, that there are no words yet for what moves you most (I don't know whether that's a liability or whether it gives you the ability to form more honest responses). But more than that, I think my grandma gave me this essence--the sight, sound, touch and taste of Judaism--and in her own way, guided me towards my own path and pace.

Hopefully, the learning of words and the articulation of meaning will never end; but I want it to develop naturally, and honestly, as my grandmother intended it should.

Knowing my grandma for so many years, and outliving her, broke my heart. It also taught that memory is the single most powerful aspect of my life and my Judaism. I believe in the abiding power of memory as the thread that holds me to my Jewish past. My Judaism is a complexity of images, songs, stories, the voices and fork-clinkings and throat-clearings and arguments of those who once sat at my Pesach table, of those who sat rustling beside me at temple, now dead, of the tiny questions of those still living but changed and grown.

How many times, crosslegged on the scratchy Persian rug in my grandma's bedroom, did I listen to tales of my great-great-grandfather, a rabbi in Russia, a solemn, unsentimental, yet liberated man, who came to America and insisted my grandmother be bat mitzvahed under his auspices at a time when that was almost unheard of? Or my paternal great-grandfather, the Brooklyn tailor, pious and a little odd? All of this intrigued me, compelled me, drew me deeper into my identification as a Jew--after all, I was part of these worlds too, born a little late maybe, but connected nonetheless.

So... Just a Housewife, not a Rabbi, but Jewish anyway, and still remembering and trying ceaselessly to find ways to keep my Judaism alive. I always tell myself that my story isn't yet fully told.

*wordless Hebrew melodies, often, but not always, prayerlike or mournful

Monday, February 23, 2009

Just a Housewife...Really

5 a.m.: I woke up to worry about bills...and decided to make a morning of it...left my warm bed and the comforts of Sarge's warm feet and the warm feather comforter...grabbed a cardigan (it's chilly in the house at 5 a.m.)...

Poor Hedgie will be out of school today, as she was feverish and fluish Sunday. That means I won't be able to leave the house, and whatever gets done will be household chores.

Lit a fire, made a strong strong pot of hot coffee, and here I sit by the very nice glow, writing a random post while trying to wake up and confront the checkbook.

For a long time now, with ebbing and flowing resolve, I've kept little notebooks full of lists for each day, to be checked off with a flourish as each task was accomplished. So my days are made up of these lists and checks. It's absolutely staggering, the tiny boring nervewracking and tedious details that go into running a household. Perhaps if my housewifely duties were all baking cookies and knitting socks, it would be a little more magical...

In the years before she was born, I was unbelievably busy with school and work. In my eighth month of pregnancy, I was working full-time as a researcher, taking classes, and teaching college. I spent my days running, pregnantly, breathlessly, from one thing to another. It wasn't so bad, really. Rewarding, even. But when Hedgehog was born, we decided to be a one-income household so that I could be home to raise her and just be around for her. Also get my doctorate, but that little dream appears to be in a 5-year holding, here I am, caring for Hedgie, running the household, and keeping little notebooks full of checklists.

Anyway, it's on chilly, dark February mornings like these that I sometimes sit and take stock of where I came from and where I am. I'm actually pretty happy with my job. But I feel like I'm really of a dead breed, the housewife. The crises and delights are much more prosaic and self-referential than they would be, were I out in the workforce as I once was. The milestones and successes are not measured in tangible form--no one can congratulate me on a pay raise or tenure or promotion--and I speak a dead language, so I couldn't explain them anyway, sometimes not even to myself.

The other day, Hedgie and I were watching an episode of "Leave it to Beaver," and Hedgie asked me why June was vacuuming in high heels and a, by our standards, formal dress. I hardly knew where to begin. But the truth is, I'm really a 21st century June Cleaver, with a less-regimented household and bare feet and a dose of cynicism and self-irony. I wonder sometimes whether Hedgie thinks I'm just hanging around, waiting. I?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sodomy is Sometimes Inappropriate

Listening to our "Hair" cd this afternoon with Hedgie, we skipped over a certain song, and the careful omission brought back a memory from my childhood. Enjoy...

The time: 1979, after seeing "Hair" with our parents. Seized with excitement over the electrifying soundtrack, which we listened to every chance we got.

The place: Our grandparent's formal, very formal, living room.

The characters: Me, 9 years old, my sister, 5, and our grandparents, grandpa in the full suit he always wore even at home, my grandma decked out from girdle to stockings to conservative dress from B. Altman's in NYC.

The offense: We decided to serenade said grandparents with our rendition of "Sodomy," clearly enunciating each word in our piping children's voices so that they would get the full effect.

If you're not familiar with this magnificent maesterwerk, check it out (from the movie, not the play):

And if you would like to sing along:


Father, why do these words sound so nasty?

Can be fun
Join the holy orgy
Kama Sutra

The aftermath: I'll let you imagine for yourselves.

But hey, it was the '70s after all.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Rites of Passage

I'm off one existential topic, and on to another. I've been thinking about rites of passage in a girl's life. The big ones, like being Bat Mitzvahed and losing your virginity, and the little ones, first high heels (black Capezio Character shoes, mary janes with modest little kitten heels), first lip gloss (Maybelline soft pink sparkle), first birth control pill prescription, first crush, first kiss, first dance, first bra, first Daisy shaver, first perfume...well, maybe not in that order...

Today after school, Hedgie got her ears pierced. On her way out of her school building, she was swarmed with earring-less friends, calling "good luck" and "you're sooooo lucky!" as we went. I was a bit trepidatious--was it sterile (eh, close enough, the studs came from a steri-pack and there was a great deal of alcohol involved, including the wine I drank beforehand, better than me sticking a sewing needle in there, anyway), was it even, was it too soon--but we went ahead anyway. It took a flat two minutes all told, and there she is, two tiny green stones sparkling at her tiny lobes, looking still, thank God, like a little girl. A little girl with one rite of passage behind her; many many more to come.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thank You

...for such kind words about Pippin. Yesterday when I was very sad I read them all several times and felt just a bit bolstered by the sweetness.

Attending Pip in his death hour brought up all sorts of very hard memories of my dad's death at his home five years ago, attending that death in all its painful detail and helping dad as he crossed over into what I hope is another, better place. It was quite agonizing. But one can't be a shirker in such cases. Not with dad, and not with Pippin. When someone is dying and it's down to you, even if you're frightened, even if you're horrified, well, you can't turn away, you must see it through to its natural end, it's your faithful duty to soothe and care and help as as much as one can help in that strange unearthly grey place between our world and the next.

Besides, Sarge called me "unflinching," and although truly I did flinch, I must try in my life to live up to that, the best compliment I've ever received, coming from a man, a soldier in every sense, my hero who has seen things I couldn't come up with in nightmares...

I was going to write more about it, it's haunted me for years, but when I sat down to do so I realized that I'm still not able to find words, and that maybe those words wouldn't be helpful to me anyway, not at this moment. All I can say is, it's waaaaay existential, dudes.

Perhaps a post of more cheer later today...


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rest in Peace, Good Old Dog

Pippin died tonight. I am so brokenhearted.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


It's six weeks away, but I'm already getting geared up for our annual trip to San Antonio, Texas to visit my mother-in-law. It's always a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride, but Texas certainly has its charms, one of which is the little farm across the way where Hedgie has spent many a long afternoon playing with the eccentric animals. Case in point, the old goat Boots, who likes to play on the trampoline if anyone else is game.

A photoessay from several years ago:

He bounces around for awhile, then lies down to watch. Odd?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I Love...

The truly delightful Savannah tagged me with this, and it fits just perfectly into my February Cheer theme...and don't think the beheading of St. Valentine wasn't part of that! I never said I would forgo the acerbity!

Anyway, here it is:

in exchange for which I'll list a few things I love.

I won't even mention Sarge and Hedgie. My dear ones are the absolute sine qua non.

But I also love...

1. Rain: I scan the 10-day forecast to see when we're due for some, and then I look forward with such eagerness to the rainy days. I think rain speaks to most of my senses in a comfortable way. The long half-light that soothes the eyes and the subtle grey-on-grey of the clouds, the rivulets on the windows; the way a rainy day smells, in the city it brings a freshness to the concrete and in the country, carries with it the almost primal smell of summer grass or in autumn, the very distillation of wood smoke on damp; the feel of a rainy wind on my cheeks; the sound of rain thrumming on my little skylight, or the tin roof of Hedgie's lake cottage bedroom as I put her to sleep...

2. Perfume: I've never been a girl with a single signature scent. I change perfume with the whim of my moods. I think it's the best way I know, as a grown woman, to play dress up. My bottles live on my dressing table, which once belonged to my grandma Eva (a staunch single-scent woman by the way!), it's an enormous Victorian piece all out of scale with my modern life, but I'd never give it up. It's where I go to stand and look and wait for inspiration to strike: "who am I today?" I ask myself and some days, even if I'm just going to drop Hedgie at school and do the marketing and mail some letters, I find that I'm my own gothic heroine, planning some assignation with a shadowy see, one can't let one's self be crushed by the weight of sheer practicality all the time!

What is on my dressing table? L'Aromarine "Fleurs Blanches"; Annick Goutal "Mandragore"; Fresh "Fig Apricot", "Mangosteen", and "Pink Jasmine", just to name a few of my favorites...

3. Kissing Sarge: not sex, no. That I would put with my list of without which nothing...kissing, though, is a different matter entirely. Done correctly, as it is always between me and my husband, I think it's the epitome of...well, I won't say what. It's just the very last word.

4. Laura Ingalls Wilder: I know I've said it before, so many many times, but the "Little House" books are something like my bible, her words are my words to live by, and contrary to what one might believe at a casual glance, this was not a simple woman. She was complex, emotional, ornery, and romantic; thoughtful, faithful, and full of curiousity, a pioneer in every way one can be, a feminist housewife with boundless short, my role model.

5. Felt: yes, felt. I do love felt. Ever since Hedgie was very small, we've kept a supply in our house. It can be easily sewn up by hand, even by a child, no seams necessary. It comes in every color imaginable--check it out--don't you want to make something with this too?

Now I won't tag anyone in particular, you're all great and creative, but if anyone would like to snag this and in turn tell us some things you love, please do! I guarantee that it will make you feel just wonderful.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Poor St. Valentine

Let's join the cynical horde and remind ourselves that today is a Saint's Day--of sorts--not officially recognized by the Catholic Church, but a Saint's Day nonetheless--and that according to story, St. Valentine was horribly martyred--

First, for your enjoyment, a link to The Onion's take on the "holy day."

When I went to do my "research" (and by this I don't mean a thorough academic source-searching, but rather a lazy click on Wiki) on this hapless fellow, I discovered that there's a bit of mystery and confusion surrounding him, but I liked one version best:

"The first representation of Saint Valentine appeared in the Nuremberg Chronicle, (1493); alongside the woodcut portrait of Valentine the text states that he was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, known as Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner -- until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor -- whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that didn't finish him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate."

Are you catching the key words here? "Martyrdom"? "clubbed, stoned, and beheaded"?

Now that's my kind of Valentine's Day. But then again, I'm the girl who loves Krampus.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It was such a warm, beautiful day...

At the risk of inducing boredom whilst waxing about the glories of my city...

I can't help it, I really like it here...

and besides, we had that indescribably delicious 70 degree sunshiny day, a gift in the middle of February...

Hedgehog, home on midwinter break from school, suggested we walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Chinatown, which we did.

Hedgie and my sis, getting ready to climb the steps to the pedestrian path

At the Brooklyn foot of the bridge, looking toward the first arch

view of the Manhattan bridge right next door

at the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, looking up at those lovely arches, suspended in lacy-looking cables. One of the most beautiful sights in NYC I think

sunlight on the East River

And in Chinatown, on Bayard Street, our favorite place for bubble tea

Homer guards the entrance, although we're not really sure why

Hedgie enjoys her strawberry drink

and next door, none of us can resist the strings of little stuffed charms--mushrooms, turtles, and unidentifiable "kawaii" creatures with smiley faces, a dollar apiece

around the corner, a little hole-in-the-wall with yummy, glutinous, slightly fermented sticky rice cakes

Arms full of delicacies and gee-gaws, we make our way through the warreny streets of Chinatown and the court buildings, back across the bridge, and home again

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why Bother? The second installment in my February cheer posts

I've been knitting dish cloths and socks lately. When so many perfectly good socks and dish cloths can be had for little money, the legitimate question is, why bother?

It's not like I'm Caroline Ingalls, or even my own grandmother, who lived through the depression and, although she didn't knit socks, she rinsed and dried paper towels and carefully darned the holes in my grandfather's store-bought when his toes and heels began to poke through. Ma Ingalls not only had to knit socks, if they wanted woolen socks through the long prairie winters (and of course, sensibly, they did), but she also had to stitch up their bed sheets from long strips of muslin. By hand. They didn't even have that new-fangled invention, the foot-treadle sewing machine, until Laura was 16. Of course, she also had to butcher the hog and milk the cow and weave their straw sun hats, make dresses and bloomers and haul water and keep a fire going if they wanted bread and warmth and and and. It was only after all this work was done that the girls could spend time on their leisure arts: crocheting yards of lace to trim their petticoats.

So why all this time and effort spent learning and doing the more humble of the needle arts, in a world where they're no longer needed?

I like to think there might be a practical reason. Of course, I suppose, it's a good skill to have in the Apocalypse that might come our way. To the Apocalypse, Sarge brings his incredibly encyclopedic survival skills that he learned in the Army and in his life experience. He can find us food and create shelter, deal with munitions, do mapping and orientation. And I, representing Womanfolk, can knit us warm socks.

But seriously, I've become a woman on a mission to save, in my own small way, these "useless" skills. I worry that my daughter will be such a product of our noisy, technology-driven world that she will miss the quiet moments, the slow moments. And I worry that I will too, although I grew up in a decade that was decidedly more slow-paced. I really believe that if I continue to knit socks and dishcloths, it'll be a small victory in the fight against the confusing hubbub of modernity.

For the same reason that I believe in running a household where we're not always multi-tasking, not always getting to the next thing, not racing to appointments for no reason but to busy ourselves, constantly bombarded with media, so I believe passionately in the act of turning a heel in a pointlessly hand-knit sock.

There's sweet respite in yarn and needles, the colors and textures and possibilities. I feel calmer, I feel more connected to my grandmother, who, 30 years ago, patiently taught me to crochet, and even to the history that flows from the long-gone women of generations and generations past, in this country and universally. I like my MacBook, but I need my knitting.

I think I'll start referring to myself as Steampunk Housewife...

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Shimmer of Possibility

February Blues. I've got 'em.

I can't remember the last time I was so bummed out. The fact that I'm blogging at 3:30 in the morning should tell you something!

Sometimes when I feel like this, it helps to keep a running list, in a special little notebook I have, of things that make me happy. Maybe I'll do it here instead. In November, I did a post a day--Thankful for 30. Maybe I'll try a sort of Thankful for the Remaining Days in February. I'll just call it 20 Days of Cheer. My gloomy hunched anxious negative NY Jewish (and not in the good way) pessimistic self can just suck it up. Instead, I'm dragging out, kicking and screaming perhaps, the Hebrew Princess with the good haircut and sunny disposition.

To kick things off, let me share that, once again, I had a lovely day yesterday at the Museum of Modern Art. The best thing I've done this year, one of them, was to get a MOMA membership for myself and Sarge and Hedgie. The museum admission is 20 bucks, so visiting regularly would have been impossible without my card, my little key to happier times. The return on this relatively small investment has been enormous, and I can bring guests in too for 5 dollars each. So, yesterday, my wretched cold finally having abated, I spent an afternoon there with my mom and sister. I left Hedgie behind with Sarge, and it was a good thing to go off on my own. Really.

There's nothing like spending time in a museum, a lot of time, over a long period, to really feel like you own it. I liken it to living in a foreign country, in an apartment, shopping, cooking your own meals, using the public transportation there...when you're a tourist, it's different. You can't really get at the essence of a place with a quick stop-over and glance-through, which is why I'm not so keen on being a brief tourist when I travel. The same holds true for a museum. One visit can be overwhelming and not too illuminating. Several, or even many, and you begin to know the place, like I'm beginning to know the MOMA. I can find my favorite paintings now, and they're always there, just waiting patiently for me! The strange angles of the architecture are becoming familiar. The cafe menu (honey crisp apple sorbetto is the very definition of icy manna). The guys at the coat check. The crazy, precipitously dangling helicopter

The view from a second floor window, the one that I always like to pretend is my living room window

Do you notice how clean our glass is? It's quite a chore.

And the brilliant reflection of those same buildings

The stout, reliable bull-man-thing in the Sculpture Garden

We saw a grand exhibit of photography, by Paul Graham, poetically titled A Shimmer of Possibility.

And on the way home, it was so warm and sunny that we walked for awhile down 5th Avenue and stopped to look at the Saks windows, where they had a display of costumes from the Met (if you look closely you can see the reflection of my MOMA bubble ring--I doubt any piece of six-dollar plastic jewelry has ever given a girl more pleasure than this brings me)

And in a decidedly NY-ian juxtaposition, this van, belonging to the man who sells movie scripts on the street hang in there Leah! Spring is on its way...eventually...

p.s. I'm steadily amassing a great collection of postcards, so if anyone would like to receive a really awesome art card in the mail, direct from NYC, just leave me an email with your address and I'll happily oblige. "" Seriously!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Confessional

I've been thinking about how much I reveal, or don't reveal, in my journal here. I wonder whether I seem forthcoming; I talk about many things that the more cautious wouldn't dream of discussing in public. I can't help it--I love to talk, and I love to talk about myself. Partly as a way of understanding my motives, feelings, and dreams, and partly as a writing exercise.

But in truth, while my brief entries here can seem at times to be quite frank, whether or not I appear to be forthcoming, I'm actually a private person who reveals very little. If I come through at all in my true incarnation, then it's in the margins of what I write more than in the substance. This is not to say that what I say isn't truth, because every bit of it is. But it's what I don't say, and in the end there's a very great deal that I don't say, that makes up the substance of my existence, and I keep this substance closely guarded.

The process of editing is essential, not just in this public journal, but in my everyday life. Just as I don't blurt out every single one of my innermost secrets to my friends on a regular basis over coffee, so I wouldn't do it here (let's be honest, besides being unseemly, it would be deadly boring after awhile to the person across the table from me). And as I check my academic work for spelling and syntax, so too I check these entries for any security leaks of the psychological and personal variety.

When I was younger, much younger, in my extended adolescence, I think I really believed that unless I spoke myself out loud, I wouldn't exist. As a result, I liked to tell my stories--even the darker ones, the ones full of pain and real suffering--to too many people. I don't do that anymore, but sometimes I worry that my telling here will overstep my self-proscribed, and admittedly highly subjective, boundaries, and I'll have a horrid, detailed, cringy, vulnerable story that I forgot to edit out; one that I'll live to profoundly regret.

I've heard it said (and I think it's an old 12-step truism) that "you're only as sick as your secrets." Well, I don't buy it, not entirely. A person needs to have a private place to tuck things--even or especially the tragic, the painful, and the frightening--not everything is to be consumed by others, digested, and spit back, interpreted and weighed in on. Full confessionals may be for some, but they're not for me. I don't want to say everything...

Dangerous business, this public journal...

I think I'm already regretting this post...

*beautiful photo by Darwin Bell

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Clothes Horse: A Brief History

I love clothes, for the way they costume, disguise, transmogrify, inspire, keep me warm...I love clothes, and the little bits of things, earrings, lace scarves, shoes, that come with...

I've had some memorable bits of sartorial flotsam and jetsam in my past...

My earliest truly adored outfit was a lavender wool suit my mother bought me especially to wear to her Doctoral graduation day.  It had a special blouse to go with, lace and silk and pearl buttons.  I remember mom in her doctoral robes and hood and funny puffy hat, I beaming at her side, a vision in lavender and pride.

In the the '80s, when I was in high school, I had a favorite outfit, my party uniform.  It was a perfect black cocktail dress that had been my Aunt Abby's in the early '60s.  I liked my dresses short, so modified it a bit with an ad hoc hem.  It zippered up the side and was of some sort of rayon.  I do shudder to think how I paired that dress with neon green fishnet stockings, purchased in a rash moment at Canal Jeans (a NYC icon of bygone days), and sometimes turquoise satin sharp-toed, spike-heeled pumps.  Dear God.  Yet, I still think fondly of it.

Also from that era, a brown suede coat, which I liked to think of as Blonde-on-Blonde Bob Dylan.  Especially meaningful because one night a boy I crushed on, Jonathan was his name, he had a wild mane of curly golden-brown and was quite unintelligent really, except maybe in the maths...anyway, one night at an outdoor after-party under the Brooklyn Bridge, he borrowed it and wore it.  I still have a clear picture of him, perched up on the guardrail over the East River, wind ruffling his curls; the jacket that was snug across my breasts hung loose on his skinny frame... when he gave it back, it was as if it had alchemized, that's how much, in the privacy of my room, I stared at it and sniffed it and caressed it in lieu of sniffing and caressing the boy himself...

My wardrobe from that era was a mixture of vintage dresses from stores in the Village (there were so many vintage dresses to be had then, a plague of vintage dresses),  wonderful clothes from my mom's college years (two suede jackets come to mind, one russet red, the other olive green, both brass-buttoned), things plundered from closets in our attic (a veritable silk-and-wool history of the women in my family) and then secreted away in the depths of my enormous Victorian mahogany wardrobe...

In college, some of these things persisted, but my freshman favorite outfit was much less fanciful: a pair of jeans, motorcycle boots, a snug t-shirt, and an enormous black cardigan, sterling silver hoop earrings, and a sizable silver skull ring a la Keith Richards.  When I moved into an apartment off-campus with two girlfriends (we called it "The Cathouse" if that gives any indication of the flavor of the place), we were all roughly the same size and shape and pooled our clothes.  I mean that literally--our clothes were kept in a sort of communal heap in the livingroom.  My favorite Cathouse dress belonged to my roommate, and it was so short and wispy that I can't believe now that I wore it in public.  This I paired with borrowed six-hole Doc Martens (at the time I imagined I was being insouciant--it was the '90s after all).  And is it really any wonder that I didn't get to my papers and readings till the last minute...I was too busy tugging at my short skirts, adjusting my stockings, staring into mirrors, and reapplying lipstick...

Over these last years, the vintage dresses have receded into the background, the hems frayed past the point of no return, the buttons hanging by threads, most retired and some given a hero's farewell...they still turn up now and again when we're clearing out a closet, and I feel a fond little feeling and smile a fond little smile as they slip through my fingers...

More recently, I think lovingly of my wedding outfit. I spent 108 dollars on the dress, a creamy gold lace shirtwaisty formitted-bodice thing that I purchased on a whim in a little boutique in Soho. My mother was chagrined that she wasn't in on the decision--but as we were married by a judge at the courthouse, the dress was never fated to be anything more elaborate, expensive, or thrilling to choose. I walked in, tried it on, and bought it. I think it was charming. The shoes were cream colored satin kitten-heeled mary-janes, with little satin-covered buttons at the sides. Perfect for a courthouse wedding, and the dress is now stored all crumpled up in a shoebox, that's just the sort of dress it is.

I also dearly loved one very peculiar accessory: a snood (yes, snood) that I bought when I lived in Jerusalem, inspired by the pretty Modern Orthodox ladies I saw everywhere. It was a perfect blue, and I thought I looked quite fetching in it. When I arrived back in the States, wearing it right off the plane, Sarge took one look at me and laughed. Laughed! "A snood," he shook his head at me. "A snood!" And laughed again as he gently pulled it right off my hair. That was the last word on that.

And now I must ask, if you're willing to share, what is your favorite piece of clothing, past or present? I really really do want to know.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

More Like a Girl Every Day

These days I feel more and more like the girl I once was. It's really quite odd, how your old self comes back to you like this. As the years pass, I can shoulder my responsibilities with something pretending to competence, I am a more seasoned mother, I can manage a household and make sure everyone's okay and fed and clothed, I'm not afraid of getting older, and in fact it's good to be able to rely on my own grown-older self. But still, the more this happens, the more 16-year-old Leah makes her presence known.

I remember a night in August, many years ago: I sat on our Brooklyn balcony with my friend Sarah. We talked and talked, sipping our one-beer-each, of all the things that young girls talk about confidingly, in the secrecy of a hot dark night. At last, after a pause, I could feel her looking at me, and she said, "in the end, all I really want is a family, a house and a husband and children to take care of." It seemed so subversive at the time, the least choice among so many, but also quite romantic. I said back to her, daringly I thought, "me too."

Some days I think I've traded places with the girl on the balcony, and I'm back there in that long-ago city night, knowing my willing fate, not in it yet but looking forward to it as one looks forward to going home after a long, turbulent journey...and she, the lovely vivid girl (anxious and excitable and emotional and adventurous, boy-crazy, intense, and a daydreamer) is here, unsuitable but earnest guardian of my adult life.

I think I'm satisfied now that I couldn't have one without the other; wouldn't be happy without my girl to remind me of sweetness and excitement and hope...

"Big girl as she was, Laura spread her arms wide to the wind and ran against it. She flung herself on the flowery grass and rolled like a colt. She lay in the soft, sweet grasses and looked at the great blueness above her and the high, pearly clouds sailing in it. She was so happy that tears came into her eyes."*

*"Little Town on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder