Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Does God Live On a Mountain in Egypt? - How to Be a Jewish Atheist and Raise a Kid

Sometimes I'm Jew-ier than others
So I face a dilemma.  I am a culturally Jewish woman who doesn't believe in God and I have a kid.  Teaching her about her cultural heritage is really important to me.  Celebrating holidays, attending Tot Shabbat services, putting money in the tzedakah box, learning about Jewish history are all things I couldn't imagine depriving her of.  They were so integral to my youth, so a part of my idea of what a Jewish childhood should be, that I make an effort to introduce them to my daughter when the opportunity arises.  We don't light candles every Friday, but every once and a while we do.  We don't make challah all the time, but she enjoys when I make it, and enjoys eating it when I take her to Tot Shabbat.  She loves attending the Sunday school Parent and Me class once or twice a month.  I eagerly look forward to the day I get to watch her
What? Baymax and Donatello
don't go to your Sedars?

dress up in a homemade dreidel costume and sing a little song on the bimah with her kindergarten Torah school class.  She has a little Passover play set and thoroughly enjoys putting all the pieces on the Sedar plate and setting up all her little toys around the table so she can tell the story of the Exodus.  Well, her version.  In her version, the frogs come and lock all the bad guy Egyptians up in a cage and then all the Jewish babies come back and everybody is happy and eat matzah and charoset but not maror because that is yucky and she doesn't like it so nobody has to eat it.

But despite all my efforts in raising her Jewish, I am at a quandary when I am asked questions like:

"Where does God live?  Does God live on a mountain in Egypt where Moses went?"

"What does God look like?"

"Who is God?"

Oooo Magical Photons!
Now a person of faith might have reasonable, age appropriate responses to those questions.  Maybe they would say that God lives in your heart or that God is all around us or that God is blah blah blah... But... the thing is, I don't believe in God.  Neither, for that matter, does my ex.  He was nominally raised Jewish most of his life and converted when we married, but is not practicing beyond lighting Hanukkah candles with her, which isn't terrible all things considered.  I have had people ask me, "Well if you don't believe in God why are you celebrating Jewish holidays?" to which I ask them, "If you don't believe in Lent, why are you getting drunk at Mardi Gras? If you aren't Christian, why are you giving presents for Christmas?  If you aren't Irish Catholic, why are you wearing green on St Patrick's day?  If you don't believe in the Resurrection of Christ, why are your kids making cotton ball bunnies at Easter?"  The answer to all these questions is simple: cultural celebration is often times removed from actual religious observance.  Being Jewish is more than just believing in the Torah.  Being Jewish is who I AM.

Believe it or not, there are quite a number of Jewish atheists/ agnostics, even
This book is GREAT
whole congregations of Reconstructionist Jews for whom belief in God is not required.  But the dude (lady? genderless spirit-deal?) comes up in the stories. So what do I tell her when she asks about God?  She is 4. Now for background, I have brought home the book Older Than the Stars for her, a book that discusses the Big Bang, the formation of the universe, the creation of the solar system.  She has other books about space that talk about cosmology and universe expansion.  If you were to ask her how the universe was created, she would tell you that a long time ago there was a big explosion and all the bits that came from that formed the universe.  She actually gets it, or as much as a 4 year old can. She is a scientist.  But then there is this God character that keeps showing up.  What's up with that? 

Thus far I have sort of dodged the conversation.  Unlike other random questions that she has asked me lately ("Mommy, what is a pillow?"  "Mommy, what is a rock?") she hasn't mentioned the "G" word in a few days.  And I am grateful.  Because I know when we have the conversation it will go like this:

"Well some people believe... "
Ok this is good.  I'm not being dismissive of other cultures.

"Some people believe that God created the universe and that God helps people sometimes."
Is this enough?

"But I don't believe in God, I believe that the universe was created in the Big Bang like in your book."
Ok, point made

Kiddo - "So who did Moses talk to?"


So for now I avoid.  And I hope she forgets about it until I come up with a better answer.  Do I say that the stories are made up?  If I do will she start asking why we celebrate the Sedar in the first place?  Is "because we are Jewish" enough of an answer?  I don't even know.  Thankfully she often forgets her train of thought and something she was so curious about one day, is forgotten the next. Like how she forgot to follow up on that "Where do babies come from?" question.  That one I answered as honestly as I could until we got to the, "Yeah, ok but HOW does it come out?" to which I responded that it came out through the mommy's vagina, to which she responded by laughing hysterically, "WHAT?!  A baby in a vagina!  WHAT?!" and rolled around on the floor maniacally as if I had told her the funniest joke in the world.  For the record, to her the funniest joke in the world is:

"The chair fell in the yogurt"

That's it.  No set up.  "The chair fell in the yogurt."

So maybe that is a good solution to my God Dilemma.

"Where does God live?"

"Banana butts"

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

I Am Not A "Single Mom": Musings From a Mom Who Happens To Be Single

Why is this guy 10x hotter than he would be
without the kid with him? 
When people look at a single dad playing with his kids at the park there is this implication that he is doing a "great job."  "Look at him," people say, "He's actually being a part of his kids' lives instead of fucking off and abandoning them. Good for him."  Our expectations for men are so low that the most basic of parental responsibilities is treated as though it is a great accomplishment.  I think this is very unfair to men. If you watch commercials, they will show these befuddled dads who barely know how to take clothes out of the laundry or cause messes that the beleaguered mom/ housewife has to clean up.  Men are expected to be loud, boorish, crude, incapable of caring for themselves, and when they do then its this remarkable thing we need to hold up and value.  This attitude doesn't give guys enough credit.  But it is still there.

Ann Dunham and her adorable future pres
The attitude toward single mothers is very different. People can become very judgmental when they talk about "single moms," both from a philosophical and political viewpoint, and a personal one.  Ever since I found myself grouped together in this category, I have become extremely protective of other single moms, especially those that I don't know (and I don't really know many irl).  Since I have been a "single mom" for a little over half a year, there are several types of conversations I have discovered when I hear people talk about or to "single moms," including myself:  

Conversation 1: "Well I would have just stuck with it for the sake of the kids."

Hmm.. Boy I never thought of that!  Let's go back and make that an option for me instead of how my ex told me he didn't want to be married any more and I had to move out of the house that I couldn't afford on my own.  But you are right, it was just I didn't TRY enough.  Thanks for the advice, stranger.  This also is completely dismissive of the happiness/ well being of the adults in the relationship.  Why don't their feelings matter too? 

Ahhh!  Not Statistics!!
Thanks for the info, Heritage Foundation!
This will be SUPER useful to me

Conversation 2: "These women shouldn't be having children if they aren't in a committed relationship."

Oooooh don't even get me started on this one.  First of all the implication is that being a single mom is a voluntary decision for everyone.  Some women lack the knowledge or ability to acquire birth control.  Some women, because of religious indoctrination, have been told that birth control is wrong, seemingly implying that they just shouldn't have sex their entire lives outside of marriage.  Some women WERE in committed relationships, some married, some not, when they conceived their children.  To imagine that everybody has the foresight to know whether a relationship will stand the test of time presumes that women have some kind of precognitive powers from a Philip K Dick novel and aren't, ya know, human beings.  Finally there are those women who DO choose to have children on their own and they seem to be doing just fine.  I think that episode of Murphy Brown is like 20 years old now.  The world has moved past your notions of traditional family, asshole.

Welp, I guess I have to be an octopus now
Conversation 3: "Wow I don't know how you do it all on your own."

Well, I don't.  I have joint custody.  People have this preconceived notion that being a mom who happens to besingle means that you are a "single mom."  A "single mom" is a women who raises her kids entirely on her own with the ex absent entirely or neglectful.  A "single mom" is somebody who overcomes adversity and puts herself through school and with the support of her parents ends up raising the next President of the United States.  By this metric I am not a "single mom."  I have joint custody of my daughter with my ex, truly joint custody where we split every week.  Her father is just as much a part of her life as I am.  She spends just as much time with him as she does me.  That burden of responsibility isn't on me all the time and, if I am being honest, I don't hate it.  After 3.5 years of being the one who woke up to breastfeed, who took care of nightmares, who woke up at 5:30-6 nearly every single day, who made lunches, who planned play dates, who bought clothes, it doesn't suck that now I have a few days to myself in the middle of the week.  It certainly doesn't suck when I can make plans to go to see comedy shows or to the movies on the weekend or go out to drinks with people I meet online and I don't have to worry about a babysitter.  Nope, it's just time for myself, just for me.  I look at my friends who have two, sometimes three kids, who work full time and care for their families all the time with no break, and I recall my life before I separated from my ex and I think, "Gosh... I don't miss that at all." There was a time when I felt so guilty for even entertaining the notion of enjoying my life outside the role of mother.  Now I have no choice.  Now if it is a Tuesday that she is scheduled to be at her dad's it is a Tuesday she is scheduled to be at her dad's.  That feeling of shoulds, that weight of responsibility, that guilt all just goes away. The question of course is what remains?  That has been my real journey these past few months.  After "mother" defined me for so many years, just being "me" has been something that I have genuinely struggled with.

Apparently this is how I am supposed to look
So how do I respond to somebody who says, "I don't know how you do it on your own."  Do I tell them that I don't?  Do I tell them that separating from my ex is the best thing that ever happened to me?  Do I tell them how I get to have the freedom that they don't get to enjoy because they are burdened with a kid 100% of the time?  Because that's not what they want to hear.  When people make these kinds of statements, they are trying to show sympathy.  People hear bad news and they want to say "I'm sorry to hear that" and then go home and think "Boy, I'm such a good person, I'm such a good friend.  My relative/friend had something bad happen and I was there to comfort them.  Good for me."  No, what those people really want to hear is how I am struggling to pay my bills each month, which I am. They want to hear what it is like spending nights alone in bed without somebody to lie next to them.  They want to hear about how I drink a glass of wine and watch Downton Abbey with my cat.  (I did that too.  It made me feel like THE most "divorced 30-something lady" in the history of the world).  Then they want to go back to their own significant others and hug them a little harder, and appreciate them a little more, and thank their lucky stars that they have somebody loving and supportive in their life.  They want to revel in my misery porn like they would watching a documentary on starving children in Africa.  I am not judging people for thinking this way, because I have certainly thought this way before too.

Conversation 4: "That fucking asshole"

Yikes! Did you really need to buy a shirt?
These people want to hear you bitch about your ex.  While we have our disagreements regarding the coparenting of our child and some of the logistics of our impending divorce, truthfully I spend very little time thinking about him.  I might mention something that happened that frustrated me, but this is not an opportunity to get into the psychology of my ex, to bitch about him, to get all the messy details.  Maybe it is because their notion of ex is somebody that you never have to see again except for a chance run in at the grocery store where you get to tactfully avoid them hiding behind the grapefruit.  I have to see him on a regular basis.  I have to communicate with him about the goings on of preschool, about a weird rash I noticed on her back, about the logistics of our divorce.  He is, for better or worse, a part of my life, and will be for the foreseeable future.  He is part of my daughter's life for the rest of hers.  Badmouthing him or doing a lot of complaining isn't really healthy, nor is it particularly productive.

Isn't this FUN!
I can't wait to do it again in two days with
somebody completely different

Conversation 5: "Soooo are you seeing anybody?"

These people want to hear about sex.  They want to hear about all the single lady sex you are having now.  I hear this a LOT from married people who are always super curious about what it is like to date again, who want to relive glory days, who want some new real life romance novel shit to think about while they are having hurried sex with their spouses before Fallon comes on.  They are also sometimes SUPER set on this idea that everybody who is single must be immediately looking to get into another long term relationship.  Fun fact: They AREN'T!  Sometimes they want to hear that you are dating people because they want to know if you are happy, as if happiness is defined by being in a relationship or having a ton of sex. 

So maybe the key to talking to "single moms" or "moms who happen to be single" is to just go into a conversation without preconceived notions. Don't assume that they will be sad about their relationship ending, but don't assume that they are over the moon happy about it either.  If you are wondering how they are doing then ask open ended questions, rather than ones with answers you have already come up with in your head.  Nobody died.  This is really important to remember.  The kind of sympathy you would give to somebody over a lost job or a lost loved one is not the same as you would give to somebody who lost a marriage.  Emotions can be very mixed.  For some people the rawness of the breakup can be very painful and they might not want to talk about it.  For others, the implication that they should be sad about leaving a relationship that was unhealthy for them makes them feel as though they did something wrong. Also don't assume that they "lost" a marriage/ relationship.  Maybe they are single moms by choice. 

Have an open mind.  Know that being a single mom or a mom that happens to be single CAN be very challenging, but for reasons that you might not have considered.  When you are the only single mom taking your daughter to Sunday school classes, this can be very isolating.  Seeing happy families together or going to weddings can sometimes trigger feelings of sadness, but this doesn't necessarily mean that you want to get married again now, soon, or ever.  Being the only single person among married friends with kids can be frustrating.  Everyone has unsolicited advice or opinions, and it is hard to find people to go to a club with even though you don't really like going to clubs and you are at the age where they are kind of too loud, but still you wouldn't mind trying to go to one if you had a winglady but they are busy with their own mom stuff you used to have to worry about when you didn't have your days off from the kid.  Try to withhold judgment and opinion until you really understand what it is like.  And unless you plan on becoming a single mom (which for some people is physically impossible) and not just one kind of single mom, but every single mom in existence, then you really can't know.  So just do the best you can as a friend, and know what you don't know. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Creating Baby Feminists: Or How to Raise a Superhero Princess

Seriously, this tent is legit
Yesterday, my daughter turned 4 years old.  I had off work early and had been planning on taking her to the park or out to dinner, but all she wanted to do was stay home and have mac and cheese for dinner and play with her birthday present from me: a spaceship tent.  So that's what we did.  She wore her knight costume (because her astronaut costume might be too slippery inside, she said) and played in her spaceship tent all evening.  Her spaceship tent stood in the middle of her room decorated with Frozen stickers and Frozen sheets and Frozen posters.  Oh and a Star Wars poster.  And robots.  On Saturday we will have her big birthday party with all of her friends and her dad and my parents at a local children's museum.  She decided on a Ninja Turtles theme.  Lately she has
She likes Donatello
because he wears purple
gotten very interested in Ninja Turtles; she even dressed
as Donatello for Halloween, despite the fact that she can't sit through a whole episode of the actual cartoon since she thinks it is too scary.  A lot of things are scary to her.  She can't sit through pretty much any Disney movie with the exception of Frozen, Wall-E, and Toy Story 2 because she has an aversion to bad guys.  Cinderella: the mommy isn't nice, Tangled: the witch mommy isn't nice, Lion King: the bad lion is bad, Toy Story 1: Sid is scary and the toys in his room are scary, Beauty and the Beast: the wolves, Winnie the Pooh: bees (Seriously.  She doesn't like Winnie the Pooh because she is scared of bees).  On the other hand, she likes the original Star Wars just fine because Darth Vader is cool.  In fact she enjoys playing AS Darth Vader when we have lightsaber battles.  However, Empire Strikes back and Return of the Jedi are out because the Wampa and the Rancor are extremely scary to her.  If we watch those, we have to fast forward.  We can watch parts of How to Train Your Dragon but not all of it: Toothless is adorable, the other dragons not so much.  Despite all of this aversion to "bad guys," her preferred method of play is to have battles, to attack balloons with her knight sword, to pretend we are superheroes saving the day from the evil Loki (our cat, not the actual Marvel villain. Sometimes the cat plays the role of Lok-a-roid, a deadly asteroid that is attacking our space command).

Seriously, this movie
can't come soon enough
So why do I mention all this?  Because I have noticed through the course of talking to her and her play, that more often than not she plays as boy characters, except when she plays as Elsa.  Not because I believe she is experiencing any kind of gender identity issues or doesn't like being a girl, but because, just as I did when I was a kid, she finds the boy characters to be more interesting.  When she plays Big Hero 6 she wants to be Hiro and Baymax, not Go Go or Honey Lemon.  They were perfectly good "strong" characters, but they weren't the MAIN characters.  She has latched onto Frozen, to Elsa in particular like many little girls her age, I think because Elsa is truly the first female superhero to star in her own children's movie.  Think about it: can you think of another kid-friendly film that stars a woman who has superpowers?  Princess Leia is great and all but she doesn't have the Force (unless you are counting the now not-canon EU books).  Plus Princess Leia wasn't the star of the film.  In every other kid's movie, women with power are the villains: the witches, the evil fairies. 
Who WOULDN'T want to be
this badass bitch
Elsa was never truly a villain, simply a young woman with powers she couldn't control who eventually uses them for good.  And her power is cool!  She shoots ice from her fingers!  This readily translates to games of freeze tag!  Frozen is the PERFECT movie for little girls who want to have that feeling of power and strength that boys get playing Spider-Man or Batman or Superman or ANYTHING-man.  Which is why I think the new Wonder Woman movie and the Captain Marvel movie will be so important.  But they aren't enough.

Even at 4 my daughter has experienced our sexist culture.  She has been told by friends at school that certain things are "for boys," she has walked into the toy store and seen the separation of the gendered playthings, she has seen movies where women only serve as objects to be rescued (even though she doesn't particularly care for them).  There are two tacks that you can take to address this problem.  The first is denial. You can simply refuse to allow your children to watch princess movies, to limit their exposure to media in general, or to presume
Oh look, another boy off
on an adventure.
 that even worthy "classic" books and "quality" shows don't perpetuate our patriarchal culture.  But lets face it, most of your favorite "classic" children's books feature women more often than not in the role of mother and caretaker.  Not that there is anything wrong with being a mother, but if that is all your children are seeing then maybe you are "indoctrinating" them more than you know.  I sure as hell know that I would rather emulate the adventurous Peter Rabbit than be one of his demure, obedient sisters, even though they were rewarded.  The second option is to face reality, to acknowledge the fact that even if you never show a princess movie in your home that the IDEA of "princess" is so infused into our culture that exposure to the concept is inevitable.  You can deny a girl the right to princess crowns and pretty dresses all you want, but are you really taking the desire away?

One of these is astronaut Karen Nyberg

I actively try to read my daughter my issues of Captain Marvel and Ms Marvel when they come in each month, I show
her pictures of female astronauts like Karen Nyberg, an engineer formerly on board the ISS, whose flowing blonde hair is so similar to her own, and I bring home books about inspiring women like Jane Goodall.  I do these things very consciously.  I do it because without taking the time to actively select books and videos about inspirational women, without actively "indoctrinating" my daughter into the idea that women can accomplish the same things as men even at this early age, she could very easily go through life passively indoctrinating herself into the idea that they can't.  There are several moments in my daughter's favorite book, Daredevil: the Daring Life of Betty Skelton, where
Seriously, go read this book
young Betty faced adversity and sexism in trying to pursue her dreams.  She got her pilot's license at 16 but could not fly as a commercial pilot because she was a woman.  Instead she became a stunt pilot and did her own thing.  She trained with the Mercury 7, but was denied the right to be an real astronaut because NASA wasn't ready for a woman astronaut yet.  The book ends on a positive note, with a mention of the women who did break the barrier, Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride, and with Betty in her later years, a confident older lady who drove a Corvette well into her 80s.  It is an amazing book and Betty lived a remarkable life.  It is an important book for girls like my daughter, too.

Trying to raise confident children is challenging regardless of gender, and much has been written about how too much of a "You can do anything, Billy" attitude has shaped a generation of young people whose aspirations outmatch their skills.  But I think the challenge of raising confident girls is unique.  Boys, by the very nature of our culture, will naturally fall into a belief that they can do anything.  In school we teach them about presidents, about kings, about soldiers, and heroes and revolutionaries.  They might spend a few days during their school career learning about notable women.  So yeah, I take it upon myself to make sure she knows about those women who came before her.  I make sure to tell her that women can do anything that men can.  I acknowledge the sexism that exists, I actively correct her when she tells me a blue shirt with a dinosaur on it is "for boys."  When my daughter tells me she wants to be an astronaut I tell her about all the wonderful women in NASA, but I also make sure to tell her how hard it is to get into space, and how few people really make it.  She will have to work really hard, she will have to do really well in science and math, and pass all sorts of tests.  Even if she is strong and smart she might not make it, but there are lots of things that she could do with her passions: work at NASA on the ground, work at a science museum, be an engineer.  I want her to be able to "reach for the stars" but I also don't want her to feel inadequacy if she doesn't make it there. Most of all I want her to be a feminist.  I want her to proudly be able to declare the simple idea that boys and girls should be afforded the same opportunities, I want her to one day say confidently to someone who would deny her, "yes I can."  And that doesn't mean I deny her the right to wear pink, the desire to be a princess too.  I simply make sure she knows she can be so much more.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 - The Worst and Best Year of My Life

2014 has been a hell of a year.  By that I mean much of it was Hell.  I began the year realizing that my marriage was falling apart.  It didn't come as a surprise to me even though it did.  There had been problems in our relationship from the very beginning:  issues with trust, with emotional support, with the fundamentals of our personalities.  In truth we just weren't particularly compatible, but force of habit and a daughter and a house later had convinced me that all was well, or at least that it was worth preserving.  Part of the reason I clung so desperately onto this sinking ship was my own cultural perceptions, my own personal feelings about what a relationship was "supposed" to be.  Divorce, like abortion, certainly should be allowed, but it was something OTHER people did.  I had a vision of what my life was supposed to be: married, in a house, with a kid, going to PTA meetings, going on family vacations, buying a mini van, getting a dog and maybe another cat for good measure.  It was a version of a life that my parents lead, my parents who had been married for over 40 years.  It was the life of sitcom families and my friends.  Heck, most of my friends were already on their second kid.  10 years ago I never thought that I would live that kind of life.  10 years ago I was telling my mom that I didn't think I would ever get married, that I didn't think I would ever have children.  Then I met my ex and some kind of switch turned on.  All those things that I never thought I wanted before suddenly became so important.  After the birth of my daughter, this became even more true.  The notion of motherhood of what a mother should be or what a mother should do became so important to me.  I wanted to be the kind of mother that MY mother was to me.  I wanted to be the kind of mother who made Seders and planned birthdays and drove to softball practice, who was room mother or den mother or on the committee.  Even as I knew that my marriage was ultimately damaging to me psychologically, I was so terrified with the idea of being a SINGLE MOM that I tried to stave off the inevitable, convincing myself that all was well, that it was ok, that it was just a rough patch.

And then the hammer dropped in April and my husband of nearly 6 years asked me for a divorce.  In many ways, MANY many ways, I am glad he did.  I am glad he did because I would never have done it.  I was so afraid of what the future would be like alone, so convinced that people were just supposed to stay married even if they were unhappy for the sake of the kids, so unsure of my ability to find somebody new, so worried about how it would affect our daughter, so concerned about the financial impact on my life, that I may have remained married to him for years, perpetually unhappy, convinced that I really was.  How could I have been so convinced I was happy even though I wasn't?  Because before I met him I was clinically depressed.  I was on medication for depression and anxiety off and on for years.  The depression began in middle school with the constant bullying I suffered at the hands of my peers, and continued through college.  I had my friends and tried to get out some, but the deep seated unhappiness just wouldn't go away.  Sure I had fun and I went out, but in my heart I was just defeated.  After I graduated, I moved back home for a time, but most of my friends from high school weren't really my friends anymore and then just 6 months later I moved to San Jose for grad school, a town where I knew exactly nobody.  I was older and I wasn't living in a dorm and I didn't have all these crutches to make friends, and I was miserable.  There was a time when I first moved to San Jose, when I was living with this horrible roommate, that I barely left the house.  I felt perpetually self conscious about my body, perpetually down on myself because I had had quite a number of "hook ups" but nobody who had even asked me out on a proper date in years.  It was horrible. And then it slowly got better.  Here I stood 8.5 years later and I didn't feel that way anymore.  For the first time in my life I could look at myself in the mirror and see my squishy bits and not stress about them, I was in a job that didn't particularly pay me very well, but where I felt like I was making a real difference, I still didn't have too many friends but I enjoyed going out with them.  I wasn't clinically depressed.  Stressed?  Yes.  I was constantly stressed.  I was in a relationship where I didn't feel like I was being valued, where I didn't feel like my partner truly understood or supported me.  But I wasn't depressed anymore!!  It was better!!  It had been such a long time, long past my shitty brain could remember, that I had felt "good" that "not wanting to die," "not feeling like the weight of the world was crushing me and wanting to crawl into a little ball in a cave somewhere," felt fantastic!  I didn't feel good.  I felt like crap.  But feeling like crap sure as hell felt a lot better than "HORRIBLE." I would have continued to feel like crap for years because it felt better than what had come before.

When he told me he wanted the divorce I was angry.  Angry and terrified and sad.  I was angry at all the reasons that had driven us apart in the first place, angry at the life I could have lead.  For financial reasons and because I wasn't sure what the custody situation would be, I remained in our home for 3 months after we legally separated, living in the guest room in this sort of miserable limbo, uncertain how I could manage things financially, uncertain what the future would hold, festering in anger and resentment. Why HE didn't move into another room or move out, are arguments I have long since lost patience for, but which consumed my every waking moment for much of the summer.  In July I found an apartment and at the end of the month I moved out, and the custody was decided, and that was that.  And remarkably I discovered, quite surprisingly, that I could do it.  Once it was done and it had happened and there was nothing to be done for it, I realized that in truth it was the best thing that had ever happened to me.  For the first time in my life I was standing on my own two feet.  For the first time in my life I truly appreciated what I could do on my own, I realized the kind of person I could be.  For the first time in my life I could go out with people and hook up with people and not feel dirty or slutty but comfortable and confident in my sexuality.  For the first time in my life I realized the person I could be all along.

Here I stand today at the end of a year that has really tested me.  But at the end of the day it was for the best.  Because I say with no shame of seeming too boastful or self aggrandizing that I am a better person than I was this time last year.  I have gone from a person who was consumed with "shoulds" and "could haves" to someone who genuinely looks forward to the uncertainties.  I have gone from a person who felt she had to hide what she was thinking to make the peace or smooth things over to someone who has no qualms about being honest.  My bullshit tolerance has decreased considerably. I'm not as worried as I was even a month ago, and the worries decrease every day.  Not because the problems are going away but because I realize that they could be so much worse.  I have had friends this year who have had miscarriages, friends who have had medical problems, friends who have lost jobs, friends who have lost family members and friends.  I have lost my marriage.  I have lost the person I was closest to. I have lost the life I thought I was going to lead, the path I thought I was going on.  It seems like so much.  And yet... I'm happy.  I can say without equivocation that I am happy.  Not because my life is just the way I want it, not because I have everything, not because things are financially stable or comfortable, not because I have a significant other, not because I have a shiny new car or a shiny new life but because I'm happy.  Because I just am.  Because I feel happiness inside of me.  I used to think that things MADE you happy, whether they were people or something else you could hold or touch, or even things intangible.  Now I realize that nothing will "make" you happy, that happiness really is just a state of mind, as sappy and new-agey and bullshitty as that sounds. This happiness has been so strange and new and wonderful that a few months ago I even called my friend Dan and asked him if maybe I was manic, if maybe this happiness was just some illusion.  But it isn't.  This happiness is different than the kind of joy that you feel on your birthday with friends, or going to Disneyland, or high on a drug.  It is a happiness inside of me, a peace inside of me, a comfort I can't really describe. 

Another strange thing has happened to me along the way:  I have become more accepting, more understanding, as I have become happier. I'm accepting of my ex, of the way he is.  I'm not angry anymore.  He is the way he is and I am the way I am and I have just accepted that in a way that is profoundly relaxing and comforting.  Holding so much anger wasn't healthy for me.  Besides, what is the point of being angry, what good does it do?  Now I can direct my anger and frustration at the things that really matter: at injustices in the world, at things we can change, at our society in general.  I have tried to be more open this year, less judgmental.  Before I began shopping at the 99c store I used to subconsciously judge people who shopped at the 99c store.  Before I knew what it was to get into debt just to pay the bills each month, I used to judge people who were living outside their means.  Now I don't judge.  People get by the way they get by. I am not in poverty, not by any stretch of the imagination, but my change in financial circumstances has humbled me that's for damn sure.  And an odd thing is that I have given more to charity these past 6 months than I ever did before, which is not a humblebrag, just a statement of fact.  Even though I have less, I want to give more.  I had taken my life for granted before.  I was so consumed with my own dramas that it was impossible for me to look outside.  Now I see how easy it is for a life to change, how fast your life can go from something seemingly certain and steady, to something scary and unknown.  And I want to do more.  I want to give more.  I want to be more.  I want to try.

I'm still frustrated with things: I'm not sure where my career is going, I would love to sign up and take a class but I don't know how I would be able to given my custody and work schedules, I still don't have that many friends in the area and I'm not sure how to meet people (other than the folks I meet up with from dating sites).  And I still get sad: I got really sad in Orlando with my parents for a time because I realized it was the first family trip I had been on in 8 years without a major part of my family, there are still moments when I wake up to an empty apartment when my daughter is at her dad's that I feel lonely, there are times when I look at the happy families together at the library or at temple or just on the street and I miss the kind of family I had before.  But there is a difference now.  The difference now is that I like who I am.  The difference now is everybody feels sad or frustrated or challenged or angry sometimes and that's ok.  It will be ok.  That used to be a thing me and my ex would argue about.  I would be stressed and sad and overwhelmed and I would want him to just hold me and tell me everything was going to be ok and he wouldn't.  And I would get angry.  Because I NEEDED him to tell me it was going to be ok, because I was depending on him. And he should have, because that's just something that people do when they care about each other, but he's not that kind of person and that's just who he is, and that's ok too (as long as I don't have to be in a relationship with him). Now that I don't have anyone to tell it to me, now that I only have myself to lean on, I've learned to tell MYSELF that it will all be ok.  And it will.  Everything will be ok, as long as you have an open interpretation as to what "ok" means.  Ok to me means that I have a fantastic, bright, wonderful, remarkable daughter, I have parents who are supportive and loving and generous, I have friends who care about me, I have a cat who cuddles me even though he occasionally poops on the couch, I have a job that is rewarding even though it doesn't pay me particularly well, I have a new Star Wars movie and a Captain Marvel movie and a new season of Game of Thrones and a new book by Patrick Rothfuss that will come out some day, I have Comic Con to look forward to, I have all the places in the world I've never visited to see, I have books to read and places to go... I have living to do.  And I'm happy.  I'm happy to be given the opportunity to live.

So goodbye 2014.  You have been a bitch of a year.  There is so much pain and suffering and anger and fear and terrible things in this world, so many things that have happened that I could linger on, that could defeat me.  But I will not be defeated.  Because I am strong.  I am stronger than even I knew just 6 months ago.  I can do this.  So come on, 2015, give me your best shot. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Favorites of 2013

Favorites of 2013

So I don't really blog very often, because I just don't feel I need to.  But when it comes to Best of/ End of the Year lists, I feel like this is the only appropriate place to share them.

Favorite Books of 2013

This year I have read 65+ books.  Not as many as previous years, mostly because I spent my summer reading the unabridged Count of Monte Cristo which took a great deal of my time.  I read non fiction, fiction, children's books, comics.  Here are all my favorites in no particular order

I Am Malala
A remarkable book about a remarkable young girl.  It should be required reading in school.  

Blood Song
A tremendous work of fantasy.   On par with Rothfuss, Lynch and the like, it is engaging without being overly dark for dark's sake.  A brilliant new talent.

The most realistic depiction of New Adulthood that I have ever read.  Funny, warm, awkward.  Brilliant

My favorite comic of the year.  My favorite comic of all time.  Matt Fraction is just so brilliant with his writing and Aja just knocks it out of the park with his illustrations.  The comic book for people who have never read comics before.  The comic book for people who swore off "superheroes."  The comic for everyone.

 And the Mountains Echoed
Fantastic book about memory and loss from Hosseini.  Sweeping in its scope, but remaining intimate and small at the same time.

 The Black Count
Fascinating biography about a life forgotten by time.  Interesting discussion of race and culture.  As gripping as any adventure story, with an ending as tragic

 Ocean at the End of the Lane
Gaiman does it again.  Beautifully written, poetic, bizarre.  Love love love.

My second favorite comic.  Fantastic sci fi, great epic storytelling and gorgeous illustrations. 


Golem and the Jinni
Really stellar fantasy as well as remarkable look at 19th century American Jewry. Well executed writing, plotting and character development make this a real winner.

A different take on the superhero genre, a Young Adult book about a world where all super human characters are villains and the rest of the human population is subject to their whims.    Great world building in this one.

Favorite TV Shows of 2013

I watch a lot of TV.  A lot of it is crap.  There are a lot of shows I continue to watch despite their decline in quality, and other great shows I just haven't started to watch, but have been meaning to.  But this has been one of the best years ever of television.  The quality of most of these programs exceeds anything I've seen on the big screen.

Breaking Bad
One of the greatest shows of all time ended its run in the most spectacular way possible.  Tense, funny, thrilling, shocking, dark.  This show is just everything.  Gorgeously shot, the music is just spot on fantastic, marvelous acting all around.  It should win all the awards this year.  ALL. THE. AWARDS.   

I love this show so damn much.  When this show is on the air, I am just... happier.  Violent but so so funny, beautifully crafted details about Harlan County in general really make the setting a character in the show.  Patton Oswalt knocked it out of the park this year in his supporting role.  I can't wait for it to come back.

 Orange is the New Black
So fabulous to watch a show dominated by women.  Funny women, sad women, fat women, skinny women.  This show demonstrates that female characters can do so much more, can be so much more than the roles they are typically given.

This one was a total surprise.  I started watching thinking it would be a cheap Game of Thrones knock off or Xena-like syndicated fluff.  Instead I was rewarded with rich characters, beautifully shot episodes, and stories that really kept me engaged.

Game of Thrones
Having read the books, I was waiting for this season with much anticipation.  It certainly paid off in full.  The "Red Wedding" delivered, the acting was excellent, and the show moved the story along very well, covering a fair amount in such a dense book.  I particularly loved the Brianne/ Jaime scenes.  Really well done.

The best superhero show (live action) that has ever been on TV.  I think I can say that with no equivocation.  Those expecting light Smallville-esque frivolity are instead rewarded with interesting stories, some good character development (and some characters that could use some work, lets be honest ::cough:: Laurel ::cough::).  A show that proves that you can have fun while still going a little dark.

Favorite Movies of 2013

I have barely had a chance to get out of the movies this year.  I've rented a few, but I haven't seen any of the real award contenders at all.  Honestly I haven't even seen enough movies to make a list.  I liked Gravity.  I think Iron Man 3 was underrated.  Frozen was beautiful and This is the End was very very silly.  I fangirled the shit out of Thor: The Dark World. 


 Misc Favorites of 2013

Favorite Webcomic - Nimona
Sometimes light, sometimes very dark.  Noelle Stevenson really stretches what the medium can do

 Favorite Celebrity - Tom Hiddleston
This man can literally do no wrong.  He is perfect.  Just... too freaking perfect.  

This has been a really amazing year for me personally- I moved into my first house, I got to see my daughter grow into a real little person who can now use the potty all by herself, I got to visit Yosemite with my husband and see the stars on a perfectly clear night, I got to see my little brother graduate from college.  It has been a pretty stellar year. Bring on 2014

Monday, March 04, 2013



 Last week I listened to the Nerdist Podcast as frequently do, and Chris Hardwick was interviewing Neil Patrick Harris along with these two magicians I had never heard of, but who apparently had won all sorts of awards etc.  They were talking about their show "Nothing to Hide" at the Geffen Playhouse and their philosophy of magic etc.  I was enthralled.  I've been to the Magic Castle before and was incredibly impressed by the talent there, but what Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimarães, these two previously unknown magicians, were talking about was something different from what I experienced there, something more immersive.  I'd never heard of magic actually telling a story, of a magic show as a sort of play with a narrative or a vision.

On Thursday evening on my way home from work I finished the podcast.  That night I made a decision: I would see this magic show.  I found tickets online for the show Sunday, I talked to my husband to see if he was interested in attending so we could find a babysitter.  He wasn't.  I sort of half-assed asked people if they wanted to come with me, but truly, if I'm being honest with myself, I actually WANTED to go alone.  I can't really explain my motivations behind this.  Maybe it was the fact that I do so few things as a bonafide adult that I wanted to do it on my own.  Maybe I just needed a break from the real world for a while.  Or maybe, and I think this is probably the most likely, I wanted to experience this moment by myself.  DelGaudio and Guimaraes talk a lot about moments in the podcast interview.  They discourage cell phone video not simply because they don't want their act to go online without their consent or knowledge, but because the experiences we have, the moments we have, particularly in a magic show, are ones that cannot be recaptured.  I've never heard of magic being talked about with this wabi sabi connotation before.  I wanted to experience it.  I wanted an experience that I would have that no one else could share, that could be mine.

On Sunday I drove down to LA and attended the most spectacular and wonderful magic show I have ever seen in my life.  The tricks/ effects themselves were nothing flashy, nothing showboating or false.  The show was simply a demonstration in pure talent.  It was like watching a virtuoso pianist.  Surely anyone could, in theory, accomplish what they did just as surely as anyone could play cello like Yo Yo Ma.  It was artistry pure and simple.  DelGaudio and Guimarães were charming, witty, engaging as performers and a sheer delight.  They involved multiple members of the audience for many of the tricks, and the 100 person seated room felt small and intimate from where I sat in the third row.

I was selected for one of the hallmark pieces, which involved a Eng Bottle an "Impossible bottle" in which a pack of playing cards has been painstakingly crafted inside a glass jar, similar to how a ship in a bottle is assembled.  The whole back of the stage during the entire performance is filled with rows upon rows of these bottles.  After tossing a sock monkey into the audience and asking audience members to toss it again and again, eventually the adorable monkey landed in my lap.  There were some witty exchanges at which I became very giggly and nervous as I am wont to do on the occasion of being in the spotlight (though I was at my seat).  They asked me if there was anyone that I could call tomorrow, anyone without prior knowledge that I was attending the performance.  After a brief hesitation I said my Grandma Estelle (I had posted I was going to the show on Facebook, it actually took me a moment to figure out who didn't know I was going). I was instructed to call her and tell her I had a dream, a strange dream in which all that was about to occur had occured from the sock monkey to the chubby Bob's Big Boy impersonator and the Portuguese Muppet on stage.  Then I was asked to name a card.  Often times people pick common cards, the queen of hearts, the ace of spades, they explained.  I had the whole deck to choose from.  I picked the 2 of hearts.  I can't say why I picked the two of hearts.  Did they force me with subliminal suggestion or did the card just occur to me?  I don't have the slightest idea.  They made some sexual innuendo about picking that particular card with relation to my grandmother.  They teased and played and asked if I was certain that that was the particular card I wanted.  Then they asked me to pick an Eng Bottle on the wall.   Any one I wished.  I chose one on the third shelf on the second to last row, the fourth bottle over.  Again, was this forced?  Was there a particular reason I chose that bottle?  I don't know.  DelGaudio proceeded to pick up the bottle, bring it over to the small table that was in the middle of the stage, place the bottle in a plastic bag, smash the bottle with a hammer and pull out a deck of cards.  Guimarães opened the deck right in front of me.  He fanned the deck right in front of me, backs showing. One card was facing the opposite direction.  It was the 2 of hearts.  After a hearty applause he asked if that was enough to impress me.  Then he lifted the card and turned it around.  On the back of the card in thick sharpie was my grandmother's name "ESTELLE" written in bold letters.  I was dumbfounded.  Forcing decks, hiding cards in fruit or something, all that I've seen.  But when in gods name had someone had time to write in sharpie my grandmother's name?  I didn't write her name on the card so they couldn't have had it palmed the whole time.  No one ever left my sight, no hands were out of view.  Perhaps if it were something like a tear or a sticker it could have been done to the card covertly, but a name written in sharpie?

That is the only trick I will describe in detail.  They ran through many semi familiar card tricks with new twists. The entire thing was phenomenal.  Beautifully executed, charming, delightful.  Like watching Ricky Jay in his classic 52 assistants special.  A moment that I will never experience again.  That I can only capture in a single image.  A single word. 


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Things That I Read

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand

Grade: A

It is not often that I read nonfiction, but when I do by and large I'll read biographies, particularly those of people with whom I have a passing knowledge or fascination, or "adventure" stories: Lost City of Z, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, Over the Edge of the World, etc. Every once and a while I'll chance upon something wonderful, something completely unexpected. In the case of Unbroken it started on a bored Saturday night at home with nothing to watch on TV. I turned on Netflix on Demand and browsed my queue and decided on a film that looked interesting based on the premise, but which had not appeared on my radar, despite the fact that it featured several major Hollywood actors (Colin Farrell and Ed Harris) and came out only two years ago. The film was called The Way Back, directed by Peter Weir, and it told the grueling "true" story of an escape from a Siberian prison camp. The movie was overall well acted and entertaining, though it suffered from certain narrative shortcomings and failed to live up to some of the quality last seen in Weir's Master and Commander, one of my personal favorites. The plot was intriguing enough, though, that I wanted to read a bit more about this "true story." Unfortunately, when I did a bit of research I learned that the book Long Walk by Slawomir Rawicz, on which the film was based, has been frequently derided by scholars as being almost entirely fabricated. I decided against reading it for that reason. However, browsing on Amazon I saw a number of recommended titles based on my interest in the film, among them Unbroken: A World War II story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. The blurb mentioned something about a downed aircraft and survival aboard a raft, so I thought I was starting a modern day Robinson Crusoe sort of story, which was perfectly fine with me. Given my long list of books to actually read in print, I decided to check out the audio read by the estimable Edward Herman, whose voice you have probably heard over countless stock film reels of aircraft on the History Channel.

Little did I know that when I picked up this book on a whim, I would be discovering a story more fascinating than any major Hollywood film I've seen in the past 5 years. Louis Zamperini was a troubled young son of Italian immigrant parents living in Torrence, California when he discovered he had a gift for running. This passion would lead him all the way to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. When the war began he became a bombardier, taking part in a crucial raid on Wake atoll among other endeavors. Then his plane was shot down and he survived aboard a life raft, fending off sharks and eating raw bird meat. And that is not even halfway through the book. The trials that this man had to endure are worthy of Job. Internment in a series of brutal Japanese prison camps resulted in horrific mental anguish, and some of the atrocities committed by guards are stomach churning. "Unbroken" is certainly not a read for the faint of heart. The whole of Zamperini's story I will not spoil here. In fact, I am really glad that I decided to listen to the audiobook because it prevented me from reading ahead to find out what happened next. I also made a conscious decision not to Google Zamp's name so I wouldn't know what was going to happen to him, which of his friends would make it out of the war unscathed, etc.

The writing is absolutely riveting and listening to the audio gave me a sense of urgency and captivated me utterly. I spent several lunch breaks just sitting in my car so I could hear the rest of the story. Truly, it was that good. I learned fascinating details about World War II, life in Japan, the Olympics, and post war America that were completely new to me. Zamperini, as Hillenbrand describes him, is a true American hero. Not a perfect man by any measure, but a man whose drive and fortitude are enviable, almost super-human. One brief note on the latter chapters in the story. While I am not a religious person, Zamperini's eventual coming to Christ seemed a genuine expression of gratitude and faith. Though I do not believe in God myself, I can only say that his faith and strength astound me, and seem a natural result from his ordeal. "Unbroken" is one of the best books I have read in ages. It was deeply affecting and engaging and I cannot recommended enough. I do actually hope that they make it into a film, because I think a great director could do a lot with his story. Given Hillenbrand's track record (see: Seabiscuit) it is altogether likely that somebody has optioned it already. I certainly hope that if a film is made, they truly do justice to the impossible life of this man.

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