Breaking a barrier

Taking off from an unknown departure port, darkened dusky skies outside, we begin to cruise at an altitude not quite optimal, and yet I am not afraid.

Before this, however, a man in a short-sleeve plaid button down shirt sits next to me just as the plane launches into its race towards the edge of the runway.  I am by the window and he in the aisle seat. I glance over at him and notice he is the type of man who has decided to shave his head rather than go bald — he reminds me of a young Ed Harris, but with bad intentions.

Cupping what I gather is peanuts in his palm, he looks over at me and attempts to buckle his seat belt with one hand. He pops the nuts in his mouth and says, “They’re not wasting any time, are they?” He means the men in the control tower. Or, perhaps the men in the cockpit.

I smile in response. I haven’t decided yet what I want to offer this stranger. He, however, offers me a stick of gum.

“What flavor is it?” I ask. He wrinkles his forehead, almost withdrawing the stick.

“Spearmint. Wrigley’s,” he says.

“Okay.” I pull it out from the pack and unwrap the silver. Pop it in my mouth.

It is indeed Wrigley’s Spearmint. This is a certainty, if a wearisome one.

*    *    *

Later, the skies are darker still and we seem to be skimming over land that is lush with plant life. I see tall buildings in the distance and understand we are far from the intended connecting city of Greenville, North Carolina. We are approaching L.A. instead and this is reassuring to me even though it’s unexpected. There is someone I love in L.A. Someone who loves me. If only I could remember her phone number.

*    *    *

Something else happens on this flight before it is over, but it is not yet explainable. It will be explainable only in the future when they invent the uninvented electronic device I am pretending to work on so I might have extra time to decide whether the man next to me is good or bad.

I untangle the snaky white headphone cord and place the buds in my ears, but cannot decide whether or not to plug in. The electrical connector for sound is not on my arm rest, but on a panel at the end of the row of seats and I will have to reach over the man sitting next to me in order to insert it. Furthermore, I have a hunch that introducing the jack to the hole will mean unprecedented access to my brain. I am not ready for this, even though it’s become acceptable practice. I am not ready for this, even though my acceptance is unavoidable.

*    *    *

Finally, the man pulls a navy blue coat from the overhead compartment. He stuffs the cushy light down jacket into his armpit and stands in preparation for deplaning even though we haven’t yet landed. I stay seated. I follow the rule I have always followed, which is to remain in my seat until an announcement indicating we may unbuckle and rise.

The man, however, has decided this is where he is getting off. I am both irritated and impressed, and conclude this man is neither good nor bad, simply average.

An average man.

“Hmm,” I think, but don’t say and turn to look out the window.

I see the storms now in the distance. Thunder has taken shape. It was a good idea to land in L.A. even though it means my journey will last that much longer.

I look back over towards the aisle. The man has gone. The lights are still dim in the cabin and I am still seated, still unafraid.

What of the mountains?

I don’t know if I said it because of the dream or if I dreamt it because I was bound to say it later, but I said it and only after did I realize that it didn’t matter if the dream preceded the belief or the belief the dream.

*  *  *

What matters more than the man in the dream — a composite of men I have loved — is the woman who jumped so high as to be seen from the carved out window of the plane I was flying in.

She is not me. She was too tall to be me. And yet her hair …

What am I supposed to glean from her loose and long dirty blond hair, from the bohemian dress that floated up above her knees like a parachute each time she leapt from the valley as if the earth below was her trampoline? And what about the mountains, which were not the mountains of Denver, Colorado or the Golan Heights, mountains I have seen directly, both from above and below, but were, I am certain, the mountains of a European country, Spain or Portugal, a country in which there are less Jews than in the countries I am familiar with, countries I might even dare to call my homes?

What matters more than the man in the dream — who brought me to near tears with his collection of short stories recognizable as anecdotes from his childhood — is the woman who was sitting in the row ahead of me on the plane. She, too, saw the leaper, but she was not fazed. “I’ve seen her before,” the woman ahead of me noted. “We’re friends.”

She is not me, either. She was not Jewish enough. And she was also tall, even when seated.

Perhaps, what matters more is the man in the dream — perhaps, he is me.

*  *  *

Perhaps, I believed it and dreamed it both. Neither one before the other. Neither one bound to be first.

Afternoon Moon

Do you remember the first time you saw the moon during the day? I don’t, but every time I notice it hovering half or full in a blue sky, I am startled in the same way I must have been then.

What are you doing there? I want to say to the afternoon moon. It’s not your time yet.

Look! I’ll shout instead if I am with my children, and point up and over to where a partial moon may have been mistaken for a cloud.

How? the youngest one will reply. How can that be?

I don’t know, I tell her. And this is enough.

I am surprised that it is enough.

You’re the star of the story!

Just before falling asleep last night I had an idea that I might write a choose your own adventure book, the center of which would be an adventure I already lived and thus already knew the ending. The ending would be now, here, this word.

I’d write the book on my typewriter and I would make piles for each story in order to keep them straight. I’d parse out the paths. I’d segment my life into piles of Semi-transparent, Embossed.

Each stack of papers would be evened out on each side to the best of my ability like two piles of a deck of cards before a game of gin. Chop chop. Rotate. Chop chop.

The choose your own adventure would start out in New York City in 1997, perhaps on a Greyhound Bus that just left Mt. Laurel, NJ at 9 pm on a Sunday night headed for Port Authority. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to ruin it for you the way someone once ruined Inside UFO 54-40, which is to say someone told me once that no matter what you choose you will never reach the page that tells you, “You did it! You discovered Utopia.”

* * *

A child is screaming outside my window right now. It is far away and yet near enough that I can tell the child is a boy between the ages of 8 and 12. His scream disturbs me and yet as he continues I understand — at least intellectually — that his is a scream of pleasure. Someone is chasing this boy and he likes it. He doesn’t want to get caught, but already he is caught up in the excitement of being in that space in which he doesn’t know for certain whether he will win or lose. There is still a chance for him to get away, and yet the end is there nipping at his heels.

* * *

My son is in the living room with two of his friends. Only my son is playing Tanki Online on his laptop computer, while his two friends sit beside him and watch. This is something I have never understood. To be clear, I mean all of it: the video games, the sitting by and watching, the immersing yourself in the experience of somebody else’s virtual life.

* * *

In the choose your own adventure of my life, there would be illustrations that would be drawn by someone else not me. I like the idea of doing over my life with me drawn in line art by somebody else who has seen me from all sides at once and can capture that version of me on a two dimensional page.

I especially like the idea of watching me become aware of the consequences of my actions. What does my face look like when I realize I shouldn’t have left my job at Scholastic? And on what page does that happen? I can’t remember anymore.

* * *

The boys in the living room are shouting, “Gold box! Gold box!” Two of them with accents on the Os in gold.
Long ohs.
Ohhhhh…

* * *

It’s quiet outside my window now. Somewhere close, but not so close, a boy has been caught or a boy has gotten away. Either way, he is no longer screaming, at least not out loud, for his future has finally arrived. At least this version. It’s time now to go home and eat lunch.

Tuna? His mother might ask. Or yellow cheese?

True Story

I asked you your name

Shahar

because I knew the only way to repay you
would be to write you a poem —

that there would be no handing over of cash,
no exchange of phone numbers for future use.
I knew I could never collapse in your arms there
and weep as I might have had we been alone
or had you been an inch taller or wider.

Could not even touch your shoulder tenderly
to let you know that I know
that you

Shahar

are the human in humanity.

Your black knitted cap, a tad too wide for your delicate skull
may be what stopped you from continuing along the dirt road
when you saw me waving my arms from the highway above.

Your black knitted cap was certainly what stopped me
from wrapping my arms around your 54 kilos when you finally
succeeded in screwing on the spare.

I asked you your name before we parted

Shahar

because I knew then what I know now
which is that all there was between us is all
there ever will be, that once you changed
my tire and afterwards I asked you your name.

Fantasy Seder

One day I will choose to remember the first Seder after my parents separated. My mother remembers it as the one in which Ben Saved Passover, but I don’t remember it all. Not the gefilte fish, nor the charoset which at the time surely contained chopped walnuts. Vaguely, I recall an empowered, hip hop rendition of Who Knows One, but I can’t picture the dining room without my father at the head of the table so I am not exactly sure this Seder ever really happened.

= = =

The Seder on Garwood Drive is a red blend. I admit this, which is more than I can say for you. My memory can’t be trusted to discern between a Rosh Hashana in 1986 during which Bubbi (my mother’s mother) and Big Daddy (my father’s father) got into a political debate about Gorbachev, and a Passover in 1985 during which my brother Jason was young enough still to be the dog under the table. The only family holiday dinner I know for certain was not Seder was the Thanksgiving in which Richard ate too much pumpkin pie and there was a mess in the downstairs bathroom afterwards. This has become legend and legends are what remains even after divorce divides.

= = =

In the haggadahs I asked my mother to bring from America to Israel for our Seder tomorrow night there is a note on the inside cover.

I love Marc.

ilovemarc

I almost wrote that I don’t remember loving Marc so much I needed to write his name in my Goldberg Passover Haggadah, but then I remembered I did love Marc so much in the obsessive way that compels us to doodle, I just don’t remember being so bold as to write his name out as opposed to his initials — ML — to make his name a mark on the Seder, on future Seders, to turn it into a memory that is retained because it appears year after year, there just before chanting “kadesh, urchatz…

Marc never did love me back, but “I love Marc” just goes to show that the stories we tell ourselves — whether they be universal or personal — transform from year to year: from bitter to poignant, from painful to pleasant.

The Seder, surely, is a reminder that time passes, but in reliably passing mends the frayed edges between years.

= = =

Shira and I were talking about joy and the Seder because someone asked her to write a blog post about it. I told her that a joyful Seder for me, if I were able to bottle it and spray it all over myself and my family, would be one in which I got to sing all the songs in the tunes I learned in Hebrew school, but I didn’t have to sing alone. It would be one in which my dad made both Bubbi and Big Daddy laugh at the same time with a pun he found inside a commentary from one of the Rabbis. And, you know, they’re both dead, my grandparents, so I don’t mean it literally. It would be a Seder before Nini got sick and before Big Daddy lost his ability to eat kugel without tremors, because those memories get in the way of joy a bit. I prefer the years before cancer and Parkinson’s (and sorry, before Evelyn, my grandfather’s second wife) when Big Daddy and I used to argue about which tune to use for Chad Gadya. These days, imagining my grandfather’s old school, spit-filled Ashkenazi pronunciations of what one little goat can do puts a gentle smile on my face.

A joyful Seder would certainly involve brisket, but more important it would be minus the food allergies, minus worry at all. It’s selfish, I know, to wish for a Seder in which I don’t have to worry — not about the food, nor the order, nor the harmony between my children. But if I am being honest, a joyful Seder would be one in which the only thing required of me is to look fancier than normal and to lead the family in song. If I could bottle it and spray it, this would be my joyful, midlife Seder. One so joyful, this time around, I promise to wash the dishes.

If you see me in the mirror, tell me I say Hi

In my house, the lighting is bad except for when it is good which is typically in the morning and I have drawn open the curtains which are in truth metal slats that rise up and down when I tug on a length of canvas. All the fixtures in this house, in the kitchen and bathrooms especially, must have been chosen in sorrow for the light they emit is the shade one wants to sit under when one is temporarily broken by life or haunted by regret.

When I found out this house was built by a couple in love, but finished only by one of them after they decided it wasn’t working out, I suddenly understood why I couldn’t see myself in the mirror no matter how sunny the day; why the tiles in the guest bathroom look filthy no matter how much time I spend on my knees with the Israeli brand of Brillo trying to scrub them clean. I understood why the side yard was decorated with pottery shards instead of ornamental pebbles and why the foundation of the second side porch was still exposed, its rusty innards testament to what might have been, but would never be …complete.

We rent this house, we rent this house, we rent this house, I chant, every time I pluck my eyebrows in front of a hand mirror next to the open window. I chant it when I wipe down fingerprints from the walls and when I jam my own finger in between the warped window screen and the pain. I mean pane.

As if being transitory is a salve, as if a makeshift home is not a real home and therefore, who I am in it, not a real me.

They said this outfit was 3D

I had the dream again last night in which it’s you and me and him and her at a dinner party and the lighting is for grownups, but for some reason there are children in the room. I made meringues for the children for dessert. They came out fluffy and perfect and I wanted them to stay that way – the meringues – except, inevitably they deflated. “No matter,” my husband said in the dream. “They’re still sweet.”

The dinner party is awkward even though the lighting is good. Like the last time I dreamed us at an awkward dinner party, the lighting is mostly by candle with a touch of track over a brick mantle and the scene is set for adults, which is to say there are things nearby that may be broken.

She is in black as she always is. As for me, I picked out something new to wear just before arriving. I tried it on for my husband in the store, invited him into the dressing room. “The tag said the outfit was 3D,” I told him, but only when I take my glasses off am I able to see the shapes moving in the mirror.

The call for submissions to end all submission

I am a sucker for signs. I see evidence for action in unusual places: on the bumper sticker that says “I miss you!,” on the tractor trailer in front of me on the highway, or in that dream in which cats have snuck into my hotel room and eaten up all the free pastries left on a tray by the door, or when Nina Simone sings “For Myself” at the same time an article on the Self written by Maria Popova pops up in my feed.

This week, old houses keep popping up, too — mine and others’. In poems I haven’t written yet, but also in my waking life.

* * *

Clue #1: After my middle son finished Key to the Treasure the other day, I was certain he was going to choose Clues in the Woods because choosing Haunted House would be very unlike him — he, like I am, is scared to be scared, especially before bed.

But he chose Haunted House, and after checking in with him to make sure this was the one he wanted to read next, we began.

Clue #2: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: “Leonard had grown up in an Arts & Crafts house whose previous owner had been murdered in the front hall. The grisly history of 133 Linden Street had kept the house on the market for years.”

Clue #3: This article from December about memory and mentally mapping our homes — it showed up at the top of my Twitter feed today. More than the study results, I was struck by the dollhouse image used to illustrate the story.  Dollhouses have a way of being so inviting and so terrifying at the same time. Like old hotels. Like Stephen King. I felt this way before I read The Dollhouse Murders and long before I saw The Shining.

Clue #4 is a secret. I won’t tell it, but no matter.

* * *

I am going to enter the contest to win a bed and breakfast in Maine.

I haven’t figured out yet how to explain to Janice in 200 words why it feels as though I am already the winner.

This makes me sound like a narcissist and I want to sound like a dreamer. Or at least like someone who lives her life one foot atop one pole and one foot atop the other.

I want to explain to Janice that the word Maine is blue and that I love that northern state because I spent four summers at overnight camp there, three of which I spent in love and that this is a good thing, not a thing that makes me crazy, but makes me the type of person who other people — guests — will be happy to see in the morning. And anyway, my husband will be the one cooking breakfast and serving pancakes in the shapes of native birds. Once he served our dinner guests sweet potato pancakes with a dollop of wasabi sour cream that was as delicate as a meringue. I will be the one who organizes the books in the library each night. (There will be vintage National Geographic magazines and perhaps a set of Encyclopedia Brittannica, too.) I will be the one who changes the sheets. I will keep the ghosts appeased. I will invite them to have tea in the garden so they don’t frighten the guests.

* * *

I had a dollhouse once. It was this one. Not this exact one, but its doppelganger.

(photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/magnoliasra/kh/)

* * *

I still love miniatures.

I love it that my husband sneaks into the bathroom before bed to set up clever scenes with the Playmobil my daughter left behind after her bath, with the purpose of surprising me when I happen upon them before brushing my teeth.

I especially love the miniature toilet and the European style hand shower: Bathroom appliances were never furnished with the dollhouses I played with as a child.

Which brings me back to the dream of the cats eating pastries in my hotel room.

I had been in the bathroom when they snuck in. They took advantage of my uniquely human need to relieve myself in privacy.

I was angry at first, but I couldn’t blame them. After all, I had left the front door open.

A short reflection on showering

keep telling myself to take a shower. “In 20 minutes, take a shower.” 20 minutes pass and I do not take a shower I do this thing where I look up people I admire on Twitter and see who they admire and then follow them  — half because I want to learn from them and half because I want them to pay attention to me. Not showering yet is evidence that the half that wants them to pay attention to me is diminishing because not taking a shower shows I want education more than I want to be pretty or smell good and so these days not showering is a good sign that the ego (or is it the superego) is deflating.

That

or the fact that my long hair no longer looks better after I shower so why bother. My hair which used to be the best of me after my breasts but now lies as flat as they do, shower or no shower, is no longer a win-win is betraying me is possibly falling out no not now but possibly soon. I think of my Nini that time I walked in on her adjusting her wig in the mirror at the dresser in her bedroom. This was before the cancer and I confirm it with my father who says “her forties, I guess.”

So I better

Key to the Treasure

I keep dreaming of my childhood home. I won’t bore you with the details; with the recalling of the coat closet next to the front door; the fur that once lived there, but didn’t appear in my dream. In my dream, my mother pulled out a vintage polyester shirt draped over a wire hanger steam-pressed and plastic wrapped years ago, now eager to breathe. She handed it to me, “Do you want this?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer.

= =

My middle son is reading a musky-smelling original hardcover edition of Key to the Treasure by Peggy Parish. It’s not the edition I read when I was nine — mine was paperback. But mine was lost in the Flood.

= =

I know for certain someone somewhere is reading my copy of New York Then and Now on a toilet. It’s a book meant to be read on the toilet.

They call them coffee table books, but no one has time for coffee anymore. They ought to be called toilet books. This is where I go when I want to pore over pictures from then and now.

Why can’t I manage to hang on to my books? Especially the ones I sought out, hand-picked, then coveted?

I found some of my lost New York books at The Strand last December. I had an urge to buy them all in an effort to once again build a carefully curated collection. This would have been a redux since once before — on weekday afternoons at Bookman’s in Tucson — I spent my lunch hour scanning the children’s section for the titles lost in the Flood.

= =

I say it, but I don’t yet fully believe it: That there is something worthwhile in losing.

==

Except this.

I accept the hardcover original edition of Key to the Treasure, but I do so with a gentle stab of reluctance. I understand it’s the story I was wild about when I was nine — Jed and Bill and Liza and the feathered bonnet and the sorrow of missed connections passed down through the generations — not the texture of the pages or the color illustration on the cover. And yet, I want back what was once mine.

After all, if I had wanted to part with it I would have. I would have piled my copy of the book on top of the others that were going to Good Will. But I didn’t. I kept it on my shelf and then placed it in a cardboard box which I labelled “Jen’s books” before my father carried it down to the basement.

Those books, I believed, were meant to be found again one day.

= =

I say it, but I don’t yet fully believe it: That there is something worthwhile in losing.

= =

I can have almost anything I want: a Fisher Price Sesame Street set, a pair of gently-used docksiders, a Speak and Spell, an autographed pull-out poster of Mackenzie Astin. People are buying and selling my faded memories…and yours… all the time.

I can have almost anything I want.

==

And yet, there is something worthwhile in the losing. In the being lost.

These things

“Thoughts were things, to be collected, collated, analyzed, shelved, or resolved. Fragmentary ideas, apparently unrelated, were often found to be part of a special layer or stratum of thought and memory…”  –H.D., Writing on the Wall


I seal in plastic Ziploc bags photographs, letters, my child’s artwork. I pile up large Tupperware containers of high school journals, college scrapbooks, and sticker albums I’ve saved since 3rd grade.  There is even a small box inside a larger box in which I store cut-up cotton shirts; remnants of all the graphic tees I ever stuffed into the set of almond-colored formica drawers of my childhood bedroom. The idea was to make a quilt one day. But it’s been more than 20 years since I cut them and still they remain fragments of a former social life.

Sometimes, I let go. I purge, actually; for the movement is swift and forceful.

I gather up books and plastic toys from McDonald’s and washed out jelly jars I was saving for just-in-case. I rally the troops in their respective bedrooms and we dig out unaccounted for Lego, DVDs, and well-loved teddies they once birthed at Build-A-Bear.

It used to be that we would prepare a yard sale — display all our attachments large and small on the grass for others to descend upon and barter for. Now, I push it all down into a free tote bag I got once at the grocery store and drive to the recycling area.

My load becomes lighter then. I feel clean in the same way I do when I make the bed before sleeping in it.

It’s temporary, though, this weightlessness. I will feel dirty again. I will feel weighed down by the objects that make up my life.

* * *

Sometimes I want it all back.

Not all. But something specific.

Days or years pass, for instance, and suddenly I long for the floor-length sleeveless, blue and white flowered dress I traded in for credit at the secondhand shop on Broadway because I could never bend down when I wore it. When I realize it’s missing, I’m surprised. How could I have given up that dress? Didn’t I understand that one day it might fit me differently? There are photographs of me in that dress I can actually tolerate – black and white strip photos taken on the boardwalk in Ocean City. I was younger then. I wore contacts. But, I think it was the dress that made me pretty.

Sometimes, in a dream, I’ll be certain I still own a pair of shoes I have long since abandoned. Where are they, the black wedges I know will be perfect for the job interview I have tomorrow?  I frantically shuffle around my dusty, hardwood-lined closet floor, pushing to the side my brown suede clogs and my untied docksiders and my Naot sandals. My fingers will never find them because I listed them on a Freecycle board two years ago and subsequently dropped them off in front of a Tudor in South Orange, NJ.

One morning, I wake up and realize I’ve been dreaming about the brown leather backpack I carried with me through four years of college and some years after. I don’t even remember when I threw it away. This pains me. Documenting my losses is a coping mechanism.

Soft to the touch, but robust enough to manage three spiral-bound notebooks, a heavy “baby chem” textbook, and a glass bottle of Raspberry Snapple tucked away in a side unzippered pouch — that brown leather backpack was the security blanket of my young adulthood. Sometimes I tucked the yellow Sony Walkman into the other side pocket, a long track of rubber-lined wire snaking out and up into my ears as I hiked the city blocks between my apartment on F Street and the modern mirrored building on 22nd where I took beginner’s Hebrew on the 3rd floor and piano lessons in the basement.  There were crumbs of a chocolate chip cookie that smelled like nicotine once at the bottom of that brown leather backpack.

There was a flap, too, that closed off the main compartment, but also served as a wallet-like coin holder, with room enough for a wad of cash and easy access to my student ID. With one hand, I could click the flap shut into a magnetic metal clasp. Even though it appeared to be a complicated buckle, it wasn’t. It was very simple actually.

I must have gotten rid of the brown leather backpack in Tucson.

It must have been after my mother treated me to the high end, shiny Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag.  Like the brown leather backpack, it was a handy carryall with suitable compartments – an easy-access exterior pocket for diapers and wipes; one of the side pockets for bottles. It even came with an interior zippered pouch for personal items, a nursing pad, or eventually, a tampon.

When my son was two, we decided to leave Arizona to head back to where we came from in New Jersey.  That’s when we had our first yard sale. We sold the glass tables we registered for at Pottery Barn. We sold one of the lamps, too. We sold the swing set in the backyard.  I don’t remember what else.

It must have been then I parted with the brown leather backpack.

I guess.

* * *

Now, it’s a black canvas backpack I carry daily (a leftover promotional gift from a job I left 14 years ago). Inside are two pieces of uneaten fruit and half a cream cheese sandwich prepared on a gluten-free pita.  There is an unzippered side pocket from which a Laken thermo-insulated bottled filled with filtered water peeks out and another side pocket in which I carry plastic bags for “just in case.”  In two exterior zippered compartments, there is spare change for use in either Israel or in America, but not in both.  There are markers, pencils, pens, bubblegum already chewed.

It’s durable, my black canvas backpack.  And loved, too, in a colder more practical way. I carry it on two shoulders instead of one. I am often in awe of how long it’s lasted.

From time to time –in between classes at the university where I am studying for my Master’s degree or on a plane seated in the middle of two of my children — I consider how long and often I’ve weighed the black backpack down. How I’ve tested it. How it still serves me.

I wonder, too, how I will one day lose track of the black canvas backpack or if I will wear it until it breaks.

What is a classic?

What is a classic?

The Giving Tree in English. But not in Hebrew.

What is a classic?

The Wonder Years. Especially the one in which Paul becomes a bar mitzvah. Or any episode with The Byrds as background music.

What is a classic?

Mighty Love. Let My Love Open the Door. All You Need is Love. In My Room.

What is a classic?

Cornbread. Warmed.

What is a classic?

Square dancing in gym class. Sorry, more Wonder Years.

What is a classic?

I don’t know. Classics are supposed to be timeless and yet some classics have changed for me with time.  Like, The Giving Tree used to be IT for me and now I suppose The Missing Piece is. But that just happened 15 minutes ago. Can it be a classic already? Moby Dick is not a classic, and yet it is, just not for me. Not yet. But it might be one day and then I will look back at today and realize I was ignorant of the classics. The Wizard of Oz is a classic, but I’ve watched it too many times and now it is a classic, but stale.

Like The Shawshank Redemption.

Like TBS.

Like Apple Pie.

I suppose if I had to say, a classic is that which makes me cry when I am not sad.

What is a classic?

The tune to My Darling Clementine.

Mint.

Feet in the sand.

The Barbie Dreamhouse with the elevator.

Jim Croce.

Half-burnt marshmallow on a stick.

Josh and Jodie.

My dad’s green fiat.

Pepsi Free.

Yesterday.

That time my Bubbi cried at Denny’s because her eggs were runny.

That time my brother threw a rootbeer bottle at me.

That time the car was stuck in the mud in a rainstorm, but I only remember that one in a dream.

What is a classic?

Forgot my locker combo.

Forgot to study for the final.

Left my passport at home.

What is a classic?

“These poems do not live: it’s a sad diagnosis.”

What is a classic?

“In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of we, of you
we found ourselves reduced to I
and the whole thing became silly, ironic, terrible.”

What is a classic?

“It is startling
to realize that
some of our most cherished memories
may never have happened — or may
have happened to someone else.”

What is a classic?

What is         a classic?

——–

The above contains poetry by Sylvia Plath (“Stillborn”) and Adrienne Rich (“In Those Years”), and commentary on memory by Oliver Sacks

Dreams, even those about monkey gods, are normal

1. Last night, I asked Avi if it was strange that I could not recall one exam I took in college from 1992 to 1996. I remember so much from my past, I said, but not one college exam?

He said, “Well, that was a long time ago.”

“True,” I replied, nodding my head even though I thought his response was uninspired. “But what I’ve learned about memory is that how long ago is not most important to our recall. What’s most important is how often we remember the memory. Our memories, it turns out, are mostly memories of memories. They are the stories we keep telling ourselves of our memories.”

My husband looked up at me. “That makes sense.”

2. It is February 1, 2015, two days before the final exam in Aggada and I have a dream that I am late. I look at my watch in the dream and the numbers displayed read 12:03, three minutes after I was meant to be sitting in the exam room, but instead I am drinking coffee on campus with a friend. I panic and gather my things. After a series of dream type mishaps – including not being able to find my keys or my car – I end up locating my car in a far off parking lot thanks to the assistance of a young attendant, but I wake up from the dream before I take the exam.

Nevertheless, the dream feels resolved, closed. I wake up relieved. Before I wake up, however, I hook up with the young parking attendant who helped me find my car.

3. It is February 3, 2015 the day of my Aggada exam. I arrive on campus two hours early and sit in the garden outside the assigned building until 15 minutes before the exam. I am determined not to be late. 15 minutes before the exam, I enter the building, walk down to the basement to the exam room, and attempt to check in.

I hand the middle aged female monitor my ID card. She reviews it and looks up to face me. She asks me in Hebrew, “Did you change your name?”

“No,” I respond slowly, still trying to translate in my head this phrase I wasn’t expecting.

“Your name is not on the list,” she tells me. “You must go to the Administration Building and get special permission to take the test.”

I panic, but only slightly. “Where is the Administration Building?”

“Oh, it’s over there.” She points behind her in a direction I imagine is very clear and precise in her mind, but in mine is not, since my mind is filled with parables from long ago about reincarnated rabbis, ancient wisdom, and miracles from Heaven.

Later, but not much, I will see that this moment itself is a reincarnation of an ancient wisdom. Later, but not much, I will understand again that no matter how hard I try to change the future, I can’t.

In the end, I am late for the exam.

I wander down and around winding paths, follow faded signs in Hebrew and eventually come upon the Administration Building, which is tucked away behind some bushes peppered with daylilies. Inside, I ask for Asher as I had been instructed.

Do you know what time Asher resolves the matter and sends me back to the classroom to take the exam?

12:03

I knew it would be 12:03 even though Asher had said with his thumb and pointer finger, “Dakah,” which means “just a minute.” It was 11:58 then, and I knew he’d be back in 4 minutes, not one. I knew because my dream had told me.

When he returns at 12:03, I thank Asher in Hebrew, but I do not hook up with him.

I only smile. After all, his name, in Hebrew, means “happy.”

4. “Pray for the future, hope for the best
One never knows, does one?” —
Charles Brown, One Never Knows (mixed tape, 1997)

5. I had a dream last night I had a lover. He was married. He was someone who lives here on the kibbutz. In real life, he is attractive, but I am not attracted to him. This is another kind of love. The kind where you acknowledge the beauty of thing, but don’t necessarily feel the desire to partake of it.

6. “There are such things as ghosts. People everywhere have always known that. And we believe in them every bit as much as Homer did. Only now, we call them by different names. Memory. The unconscious….”

— Donna Tartt, The Secret History

7. Yesterday, in my writing workshop, Suzanne asked me, “Are you trying to prove the unprovable?”

“Because, you know,” she said. “This magic you notice might truly exist, but it may never be provable.”

8. When I read CG Jung’s autobiography Dreams, Memories and Reflections, I cried a lot. I cried from that place we cry when we realize we are not the first to experience the profoundly unexplainable. That we are not, in fact, weird. Or that weird is, in fact, normal. At least, a little bit normal.

9. Last night I had a dream I was in my childhood home. It looked the way it looked then, not the way it looked 6 months ago when I parked my car in front of the driveway with two of my children in the backseat and asked the owner if I could enter. The kitchen was not gutted in my dream. The living room was not refashioned into some joke in my dream. In my dream, the kitchen was lined with the wallpaper of my youth and the sun shined in through the door to the deck at an angle I was familiar with.

In the dream, our cats are inside the house instead of out, and I ask my husband, “Don’t you think we should get them shots if we are going to let them inside?

He doesn’t answer.

At that moment, I notice a baboon outside in the back yard and get excited. I call for my brother or for my son  — some boy who is younger than I am and that I am meant to love — to come look. After all, it’s not often we have a baboon in our backyard. I call for my father, too, or for my husband — some man who I am meant to admire and respect in a way — to bring the smart phone so we can take a picture of it. But he doesn’t respond quickly enough. So I grab my phone and run around to the front of the house where the baboon has run off to.

I manage to capture a shot of the baboon, which I see now has the face of a man, but the body of a monkey and I realize he is neither human, nor animal, but perhaps an angry demi-god. For certain, he is angry, but I am not afraid. He is outside, after all, and I am in.

He is jumping high above the trees and coming back down to Earth again. Nevertheless, I capture a closeup of his face as he stares out but not at me and there behind him is a tree whose leaves have already changed to a deep red and complement the red shades of his angry face.

I get the picture. And I am relieved.

Nobody Understands Me

My daughter, 6, learned language in Israel.

Before we moved here four years ago, she was already speaking in 2-3 word sentences in English, but as soon as we landed we plopped her tushy down on a dirty linoleum floor in the kibbutz preschool in which other little girls, nostrils inflating green mucus bubbles, would lovingly shove their pacifiers into her mouth as a gesture of friendship, ask her questions in a Hebrew she did not yet understand, and eventually instruct her on how exactly to lift up her right shoulder towards the underside of her jaw in a way that meant, “I don’t want to. You can’t make me.”

My daughter learned Hebrew quickly and dropped the right shoulder as her vocabulary grew more robust and her voice more confident. She’s more demanding now, as well, in both English and in Hebrew. But still she often can’t find the word she wants in English when she talks to me.  Frustrated, she’ll say “Never mind” or if she’s already in a bad mood, “You just don’t understand!”

She’s 6, and she’s already telling her mother, “You just don’t understand.”

It’s not uncommon for her to say this to other adults or to her brothers. Her grandfather, just yesterday, laughed while reminiscing an incident from last week when she said outright in Hebrew, “Af echad  lo meyveen oti!” Nobody understands me!

I wonder about this. Is her frustration really a result of language? Is that the only reason my daughter often feels mis- or outright not understood? Or is it bigger than that? Something genetic my husband and I — both artists by nature, if not always by practice — passed down to her?

I stumble on what exactly, if anything, to do. If it’s purely about language, I could find a tutor for her or perhaps have her evaluated to make sure her comprehension and expression are developmentally appropriate. But what if it’s more about how she sees herself in the world. What, then, is there to do? And is it better to try to fix it? Or to leave it alone?

If someone could have fixed my “otherness” would I have wanted them to?(I think my mother might have tried from time to time.)

It is, I think, our otherness that propels us to create, to see beauty where others don’t, to express it in unique ways. I am confident that without my existential angst, without the sense sometimes that I am alone, without the urge to make myself known and heard and “gotten”, I would not be a writer.

So, maybe my daughter feels misunderstood. Maybe letting her figure that one out on her own wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

If it ends up being so, more fodder for her own memoir.