Doodle Dream Blog Party

My friend Jenipher Lyn has released a book! Called How Being Stubborn, Depressed, and Unpopular Saved my Life, it’s an inspirational memoir that offers honest views on issues such as depression and body image, and features both writing and drawings by her. I was asked to be part of her DoodleDream Blog party, so here’s my post on this week’s topic, Ambition.

This morning, on his way out the door, S told me that, in regards to ambition, i’m here (pointing high up) whereas normal people are here (pointing mid-body level). I’m not sure if that’s true – I mean, I’m not that ambitious – but I took it as a compliment. Ambition is a huge part of who I am, and I think it started in high school.

At age 15, I wrote in my journal, quoting the sage that is Belle from Beauty and the Beast, “I want much more than this provincial life.” At that time, I just wanted more exciting things to happen to me. As I grew, I realized that I could make exciting things happen, and I didn’t need to wait around for them. And that’s when things started changing.

  • I didn’t wait to find friends when I started college – I walked up to a girl in the food court and started talking to her. (We became good friends, and roommates the following year.)
  • I didn’t sit in my room when I wasn’t in class or hanging out with friends – I joined the circus, a film club, and got a job.
  • I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the English Literature field (which is what I was majoring in), so I got an internship at a literary journal, I freelance wrote for a local newspaper, and I started education classes.
  • After college, I jumped on it some more. I had a range of jobs, but didn’t let them be the end of me. If I didn’t like them, I found something to do on the side that would make me happy. I went out with friends. I continued to freelance. I ached for more because I knew more was out there.
  • And then I decided to pursue my master’s degree while working full time because – why not? And then I fell in love with library science and moved careers to pursue that (which, ultimately, was the perfect decision). And then I wrote a book while working full time, because I needed to. And i’m still doing that. I’m still working and writing and enjoying life with my husband and daughter.

The thing is, everyone has ambition, you just need to tap into it. You just need to accept more. And if things don’t work out? Who cares, you tried. Try again.

The thing is, I still don’t want a provincial life. I want an extraordinary one.

When George Mallory was asked by the New York Times why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he famously answered “Because it’s there.” So why do I want to accomplish so much? Because I can.

March 2006

Permit me to be sentimental for a moment.

This week marks eight years of S and I being together. It’s weird that eight years have gone by – I mean, that’s practically 1/3 of my life. How did the time fly by? How did we get so much older? (Or, the question S asks me frequently, how am I still listening to the same music?)

Eight years isn’t a milestone like 10 or 20, and we never celebrate this dating anniversary, but I found it to be different and important because it’ll be the last that we’re just a duo. Next month we’ll be a  trio.

S and I met during college, in the fall of 2004. We had the lit class Contemporary American Popular Culture together. (Note: This class did not contain any contemporary American popular culture books – we read international detective stories, and it was awesome.) I sat next to him, and when he introduced himself, I had already heard of him. We were both involved with a few extracurricular activities that somewhat overlapped – in other words, we had  mutual friends. He ran the campus movie theatre and performed improv comedy. I was in the circus, and recreationally did some film projects.

To this day, I still don’t know why he liked me at first. I had a rather crappy boyfriend at the time (we lasted 2 months – it was not good), I was late for class, and I made fun of him for using the word “ostensibly.” But, worst of all, I was always coming straight from circus practice, so I was sweaty, wearing hideous workout clothes, and more than likely bleeding from my ankles due to a missed trick.

The thing about college is that you make a lot of friends in class, but they don’t always last. This was before Facebook and Twitter, so if you wanted to keep in touch, you exchanged phone numbers, email address, or AIM screen names. Most people, though not on purpose, would fall by the wayside. You clung to your base group (my freshman year dorm mates, my circus friends), and lost others along the way. The thing is, I never lost S after that. Sure, we took Shakespeare together the following semester, but we didn’t share another class after. Instead, we became friends, real friends. We merged our groups together, and he became a frequent guest at my townhouse. I drove him around (he didn’t have a car in college), we had regular places we’d hang out at. He became part of my college family.

But we didn’t actually start dating until March of 2006.

Yeah, quite a bit of time later.

By that time, we’d helped each other through good times and bad. We’d seen each other at our best, our worst. It kind of just made sense.

So when we started dating, friends said “of course.”

And when we got engaged, friends said “it’s about time.”

And when we announced our baby, friends said “finally!”

Because they clearly all knew something we didn’t. But I think that unknowing that we shared brought us even closer together. I know that we took time to get here, and I know that i’m all the prouder of it. Of us. We worked hard for each other.

So I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t know how we’ll grow and change, especially with a third in the equation, but I know we’ll continue being just as strong, and just as…us. Because for almost 1/3 of my life, it’s what i’ve known. And for almost 1/3 of my life, what I’ve loved.

I Wanna See You Be Strong

Me, circa 2004.

By my senior year of college, I was able to do 13 consecutive pull-ups. I realize this is a weird thing to brag about, but for someone who could barely do one three years prior, I was really proud of myself. That was the thing about being in a circus – we had to train to be strong. And there was no guy training and girl training. Sure there were act-specific trainings (I had to do more ab work for my aerial act than, say, the jugglers), but overall we were all treated the same. We had to do pull ups. We had to carry the giant aluminum poles around the tent. I mean, even some girls did guy acts (and vice versa). It was hard, yes, but also nice being treated similarly.

I was used to this, though, because my parents – specifically my dad – never treated me inherently “girly.” Yes, I had dolls and Barbies and an awesome Easy Bake Oven (all of which I LOVED), but my dad also taught me to use tools and throw overhand and block my brother’s snapshot into our hockey net.

But being strong isn’t just doing a crazy amount of pull ups, and I learned that as I grew up. It was making decisions, and sticking to them. It was sticking up to others, something I wasn’t very good at for a  long time. (In elementary school I was convinced to trade one of my favorite stickers to another person in order to be friends. We didn’t become friends, and I never saw my sticker again. Sigh.) I was (and still am, to a degree) a people pleaser. It was how I made friends. I went along with things I wasn’t always pleased about, because I didn’t want to let anyone down. And whenever my parents noticed it, they would interfere and try to get me to stand up for myself. But I wasn’t that kind of strong. Not yet.

But after losing and gaining friends, I realized which ones were right, which ones i’d risk my life for, and which ones I knew wouldn’t last. And I realized these tried and true friends would never like me less if I said no. So I learned the word. I learned to embrace what I believed. And I never lost someone I cared about in the process. I didn’t go to parties I felt uncomfortable at. To this day, I’ve never smoked (nor done any illegal substance), even though I could have multiple times. I just didn’t believe in doing it, and found ways to say no. This was my new way of being strong.

In the books I write, you won’t find a girl saving the world. She’s never wielding an ax or the hammer of Thor; she’s never bringing down the government. But you will see her struggle. You will see her question what she believes. But, ultimately, you’ll see her be strong in tough situations, especially when with friends. You’ll see her make hard decisions. You’ll see her be scared and brave and do what she feels is right, even when it might not ultimately be.

Because, to me, that’s the ultimate definition of strength.

(Okay, that at 13 consecutive pull-ups.)

Explorations in Religion (Or, Yarmulkes and Saris on Christmas)

(There have been a lot of articles recently written on millenials growing up with two religions. Most have been sent to me by friends saying, “hey, you can write about this, too!” so after hearing it, I’ve decided to share my story of a bi-religous household. In doing so, since religion is a tricky thing to write about, I want to say that I do not intent to insult anyone. I do not think my upbringing and beliefs are the Right and Perfect way, though they were right and perfect for me. I do not think one religion is better than another. So. That said. I’m going to start by sounding extremely intelligent and referencing an old text, and end by quoting a scandalous and mildly inappropriate musical.)

The Third Tale in Boccaccio’s novel The Decameron (think an earlier, Italian Canterbury Tales-esque book)  perfectly represents my idea of religion. In it, a man tells a story of king who had one ring and three virtuous sons. The king says upon his death that the son who receives the ring will receive his estate. Unable to make a decision, the king had two copies of the ring made, thus, at his death, each son had an identical ring and no one knew who had the real thing. The story is compared to religions, saying that they’re all, in a way, identical, and there’s no way of deciding which faith is the true one.

I read that story in college and remember it to this day. Being raised by a Jewish mother and Italian Catholic father made me think about, and question, religion a lot growing up. Which was right? Which was wrong? And does it matter? The story made me see that no, no it does not.

Though I was a product of two religions, my parents raised me mostly without religion. We didn’t go to church or temple. We didn’t pray at dinner or before bed, and I never went to Hebrew school. Instead, they gave me tales and ideas and culture. I learned about god, as this omniscient being. I knew the stories behind Hanukkah and Christmas, and we celebrated them both. I played spin the dreidel with my brother while watching the Muppet Christmas Carol. We had Santa and latkes.

It never bothered me that I didn’t have a single religion, even as my friends proclaimed theirs (with new middle names after confirmation, or giant bat/bar mitzvahs). In fact, it made me feel unique and special that I could see both sides. I got both December holidays (toys!), and though, sure, I might have wanted one of my own celebrations (have you seen some of the bat mitzvahs?!), I was okay knowing that I was this sort of inbetweener, both on the inside and outside. I liked feeling like I was part of two things, instead of one.

High school was when my friends nicknamed me the Cashew (Catholic Jew) and I found myself siding more with my Jewish upbringing. There wasn’t any specific reason, I just enjoyed the culture, the stories, the beliefs. And, perhaps, I read way too many Holocaust stories. I suppose it came to an apex in class one day, when a very brash girl told me that, because I was Jewish and therefore without Jesus, I was definitely going to hell.

To understand how much that affected me, you have to understand the kind of person I was. I was small and very timid. I didn’t speak out, I didn’t love attention. So, with red cheeks, I looked at her and said, “Jewish people don’t believe in hell.” It was my one and only drop-the-mic moment.

She kind of solidified my feelings towards Judaism.

College came, and with it questions. I was becoming someone new, and I wanted to see what that meant. I made an amazing group of friends that were all part of the same Christian organization. I figured since they were good people, there must be something there. So I went with them to a social, and met other really nice people, but didn’t quite fit in. I didn’t have the same beliefs, and didn’t like the idea that that was the only way. I loved that it worked for my friends, and I loved my friends, but it wasn’t me. Similarly, I went to Hillel, the Jewish organization, for a seder and didn’t find myself quite there, either. It was nice and lovely, and I felt more in touch with my Jewish side, but I never went back. I was still part of and not part of both.

Yet every year I had a Christmas tree and a menorah. I didn’t eat yeast for Passover. I sometimes prayed at night, when I needed to feel that someone was listening. 

It was after college that I realized I didn’t need just one religion. As a child I was happy being a part of everything, so I decided, much like a high schooler, that I didn’t need a label to define me. I was fine defining myself. Because I believed in something, and to me, that was enough.

So it wasn’t a shock to anyone when, after many years of dating, I married S, who just so happens to be Hindu and British. A third religion and more culture! It was in planning our wedding – and most importantly, our ceremony – that I realized what was most important to me…culture. Not religion, but the culture behind it all. We had a lovely non-denominational ceremony where we walked around a candle seven times (as in Hindu tradition) and S stomped on the glass at the end. We stood under a combination mandup and chuppah (because, as it happens, but cultures have a canopy you’re married under). We did the Hora, and then danced to Bollywood music. My dad toasted everyone in Italian, Hebrew, and Hindi. It was, to us, perfect.

Now we’re about to have a child. Our daughter will be born to three religions and I couldn’t be more excited. Because she’ll learn all three stories, and all three beliefs. She’ll get all of the holidays, all of the celebrations, and all of the love. And, like me, she’ll have the chance to experience everything and decide what she wants out of religion (or, if she wants religion at all). She can be open minded and understanding. She can decide. 

Because, honestly, it’s all about what makes you feel good, isn’t it? The musical The Book of Mormon ends with the idea that believing in something is important, not necessarily a specific religion. Belief is what motivates us. Faith in something, whatever it is, is important. And that’s what I believe.

Because here’s what I’ve learned – being a part of many religions is fun. Though I still consider myself more Jewish (perhaps it’s the maternal instinct), I’m so happy I have every other part of my makeup. I’m happy I have S with me now, telling me his culture. Because, much like the three rings showed, they’re not all that different. Sure, the stories are unique, but it equates to one thing, right? Just be good.

Man in the Moon

Kids in Nicaragua don’t know about the man in the moon, and don’t waste time on fake things like that. Perhaps not all Nicaraguans, but at least those in the village where my friend Shannon is living. They see the moon as a bearer of light, not something full of mystery and magic.

I’m not sure where the man in the moon lore came from, but it’s something we all know, something we all believed in at one point or another, just like the idea that the moon was made of cheese. Sure, ridiculous, but it’s the unknown that’s exciting, right? The fact that we don’t know makes the impossible almost possible. It’s like never seeing Santa Claus, but always believing in him. Believing in the magic behind him.

Of course, we grow up and learn the truth about Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. We stop pretending to be princesses and knights and instead become more invested in our own lives. But even as the man in the moon drifted in the background, I still dreamt, I still believed. I still daydreamed the days away. I still wondered what was on other planets. I still believed that my iPod knew exactly what song to play at all times. Because the unexplained is much more fun. And sometimes it’s okay to not know the whys and why nots.

If there’s anything i’d like to impart on my unborn child, it’s just that – always believe. Never get too old for magic. Always see the scariness in an abandoned, haunted building. Always think that if you concentrate hard enough you might be able to move the remote control with your mind. Think about lifting your arms up and flying away. Believe that the song on the radio was written just for you. Get lost in a fictional world only read about in books.

It’s easy, as time goes on, to lose that childlike wonder when looking at the sky. But keep it alive. Find the extraordinary in the ordinary. And never think it childish.

Isn’t it wonderful to have a man in the moon?

And isn’t it sad to not see it anymore?