Mindfulness, Modern Life, Philosophy, Relationships

Imagining the Series Finale of My Life

“I’m going to die on this road one of these days,” I thought without actually thinking this morning, as I slowly took the sharp curve on the road between Kfar Manda and D’meida.

The cars opposite me, one by one, took the curve twice as fast as I did, every third car with their front tire on my side of the yellow line.

“Ironic,” I muttered, out loud. “You’re more likely to die from a car crash in this country than a terrorist attack.”

I shook my head. Chased the thought away.

“Why do you do that?” I asked myself. “Why are you always imagining yourself dead?”

This as Van Morrison sings “Into the Mystic” on the CD player and as I round the next curve, the one with the magnificent view over Haifa Bay. The one that always briefly sends me into a scene from an imaginary movie, especially when the sun is setting over the city in brilliant oranges and reds.

And herein lies the answer.

Cinematic and televised drama have become the paradigm for modern living.

We can’t help but imagine our lives as a climactic scene from an award-winning independent film; as a slapstick blunder out of a popular sitcom; as a lovers’ quarrel portrayed by a pop star in her latest music video;

Or even a carefully edited feature on the evening news.

Dramatic display of emotions and exaggerated interaction have become the familiar narratives of our modern lives, and we play it out at home, in the office, on Twitter, and in our minds.

This is how we live.

How can it be any other way? I am almost 40 years old pleasantvilleand I have spent my entire life learning about love, life and death through a lens.

This is a slight exaggeration, of course. I do have plenty of memories — good and bad — informed and outlined by a more commonplace framework, but I wonder sometimes how much of our disappointments in life come from expectations of

a kiss beneath fireworks.

a long-awaited reunion in the company of crashing ocean waves

an acknowledgement of our suffering realized via ascending applause in an over-crowded school hallway.

And how much of our anxiety comes from witnessing over and over again

high-speed highway chases

dramatic deaths by untimely tragic automobile accident.

All of it orchestrated with a powerfully-moving soundtrack.

Social media perpetuates this reality even further, bringing real-life people into our lives in a way we only used to allow afternoon soap opera characters:

An ill woman in need of bone marrow transplant

A child missing

I don’t mean to sound cruel — I know firsthand how social media can be a powerful tool to rally a community, to get a person who otherwise wouldn’t to care.

But has this familiarity with both real-life strangers and with fictional characters — with Richie Cunningham; with the staff of St. Eligius; with Rachel and Ross — blurred the line between reality and fiction?

Has the line mutated … into a line that is almost invisible?

And are we compelled — simply because these are the times we live in — to measure our lives against theirs?

This is what I thought this morning once I safely made it to work and as I carefully avoided spoilers from the series finale of Breaking Bad.

My social media networks were all abuzz — the anticipation over the weekend about how this would all unfold was palpable — and I live in Israel!

How will this all end?

Where and in what matter will this character leave our lives?

And will the end be … satisfying?

* * * * * * * * * *

This is the second in a series about Jen’s dramatic imaginary life. Read the first post here. 

Community, Religion, Spirituality, Writing

A poem about Israel

For my 15-minute Friday exercise, I jotted down some thoughts I had while celebrating/not-celebrating the Jewish High Holidays in Israel this year.

The poem I produced out of this exercise may be found here on The Times of Israel  and is a culmination of both my confusion and my devotion; of my acceptance and my denial. It is an admission of judgment — of myself, as well as others. And it is a declaration of hope.

Or maybe it’s just a poem.

A whim. A wish.  An exercise. A prayer.





Where dreams come from sometimes

If time were to

stand still,

I would kiss your lips

leaving no trace of me behind.

You’d awaken

when time moved again

and know your life had changed forever

but the only evidence

of the crime

would be a hazy cornered memory

hidden in the land of dreams.

= = =

(This vignette was prompted by The Daily Prompt: Standstill)

Letting Go, Mindfulness, Philosophy, Relationships

Do you trust me?

My one son has the memory of an elephant.

He can remember the details of events that happened when he was three, trips we took when he was four.

My other son — not so much.

He hardly remembers his best friends from America, and what he does remember is from stories we’ve told him and pictures we’ve shown.

We’ve fabricated most of his memories by sharing our own.

What I mean by that is, my son now claims to remember things I’m not sure he does.

He’s recounting stories of stories. Not stories about actual events in his memory.

Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist, claims that this is not unusual. That our memories are easily-manipulated.

Unintentionally, and intentionally.

In her recent Ted talk, she offers a firsthand account of working on a crime case gone horribly wrong.

A man was wrongly identified by his supposed victim and convicted of rape — purely on the testimony of a woman who claimed she remembered him doing it.

I’m conflicted by this.

On the one hand, I’m extremely uncomfortable that a person may be put in jail for a crime he didn’t commit simply because one or more people remembered seeing him at the crime — which apparently happens a lot (less so now that we can use DNA evidence). On the other hand,

I desperately want to be believed.

If it were me — If I remembered this man as the perpetrator of the crime against me — I’d better well be believed!

I want raped women to be believed.

I want children to be believed.

And, even when a crime hasn’t been committed against me, even when I have not been wronged, I want to believe in my memory.

I want to know that what I remember seeing and doing and feeling and hearing actually happened.

I am emotionally attached to my memory.

My memory serves me.

Most of the time.

And yet, intellectually I understand that my memory is nothing more than an ever-changing interpretation of an event or an experience.

I think about memory a lot — as a parent, as a child, as a wife, as a writer.

I am very conscious of making my children’s memories, for instance.

I am very conscious that no matter how hard I work to make them good, they might remember them bad.

It’s in these conscious moments that I have great compassion for my own parents.

It’s in these conscious moments that I feel frustrated, too — knowing that there is very little I can do to control or manipulate another person’s memory of me.

As a writer, I acknowledge that my memory is faulty, even though I happen to have one that’s particularly strong and sensitive to detail.

And yet, I honor my memory when I write. I let it lead me down dark hallways, and up vanilla-scented stairwells.

I let my memory pierce that outer wall of my heart so that I may feel love not just in the past but in the present.

We put ourselves at great risk by ascribing so much power to memory – -this is true — especially in situations where memory may put an innocent man in jail;

But if we don’t give so much power to memory; what then?

If we laugh at it; belittle it; if we judge it; doubt it; forget it …

What happens then?

Who are we without our memory?

Culture, Food, Food allergies, Survivalism

Classified: In need of better ice cream in Israel

I made my own ice cream last night.

I did this out of despair.

I do not like store bought Israeli ice cream. It’s awful. Even the halavi (dairy) ice cream (as opposed to the soy-based parve) is gross.

A complete waste of calories, if you care about that kind of thing.

I don’t.

I just want some decent ice cream every now and again.

For a while, I would splurge on the Ben & Jerry’s you can find occasionally in the supermarket, but the last five times I bought it, I opened the carton to find the ice cream melted and refrozen into an icy gelatinous mess. So, in addition to having no ice cream to satisfy my already salivating glands, I had to plan a trip to Shufersal to get my 48 shekels back.

Not easy when you live in the middle of nowhere.


I exaggerate. I live in the outskirts, but Israel is not a third world nation.

We do have high-falutin “Italian ice cream parlors.” However, I have no taste for Leggenda or Dr. Lek (which is spelled the same as Dr. Lick, but is apparently pronounced Dr. Lek, go figure) or any of these gelato type places that charge you 18 shekels for a cone (that’s $5, my US friends).

Even if they didn’t charge so much, I can’t go there with my nut allergic kid.  I found a peanut in my vanilla ice cream there just the other day, which successfully proved my  theory in the company of my husband that ice cream parlors are not at all safe for nut allergic kids.

So last night, for about 6 -7 shekels (the cost of cream, milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla), I made a pint of my own vanilla ice cream following these instructions and using this recipe which totally worked.

homemade ice cream

The recipe is super easy, and while a bit time consuming, does not require an ice cream maker.

Which is quite a relief.

There’s nothing more infuriating than searching like mad for a recipe on Google, finding one, only to realize it requires some expensive piece of equipment or a brand of soup mix only found in New Zealand.

Quite the opposite with this recipe, I had everything I needed  … even the ice (which was the hardest of all the ingredients to come by in Israel).

So, finally, one ice cream discontent in Israel may now be content.

Until the container is finished.


What I am is what I am until I am not

Most of my greatest ideas come to me either in the shower or while I’m drying my hair.

As do some of the most confounding philosophical dilemmas.

Today in the shower, I found my mind starting to spin towards that place called:

What is my purpose?

I started wondering, “Is this who I am supposed to be? Is this what I am supposed to be doing?”

I started to feel concern that I wasn’t acting fast enough or prudent enough or being selfish or selfless enough.

I started to panic a little. And then I got angry. Resentful.

And then…only a few minutes later, as I was towel drying my hair… I broke free.

It was a miracle.  Usually, once I get started, my mind will spin out of control in that direction for a lot longer than a ten minute shower.

How did I break free?

Well, a few years ago, I bought a book on CD by Byron Katie. I’ve since lent it out and didn’t get it back so I can’t tell you which one it was. But they tend to overlap a bit, and choosing to listen to one of her books or attend one of her lectures is definitely worth the time.

My biggest takeaway from this Byron Katie CD was a smart, no-nonsense philosophical concept about reality that I am able to return to again and again:

If you were meant to be something, you would be.

Right now. In this moment.

This isn’t a bunch of spiritual mumbo jumbo.

It’s fact.

It makes a lot of sense, which is why I so easily latch on to it.

Think about it.

If I was meant to be something, or someone, I would be.



Since I am not that someone or something, clearly I am not meant to be that.

At least, not for now.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that I will never be that something or someone.

And it doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t work towards being that something or someone, if it feels right to me.

If think it’s, indeed, “my purpose.”

It just means I am not meant to be that something or someone right now.

And that, for some reason, is very liberating.

I reminded myself of this as I was drying my hair.

I shook my shoulders a little bit. I smiled at myself in the mirror.

I thought of who I am right now. (Who I am, clearly, meant to be.)

And how I never in a million years could have imagined this version of me only 10 or 15 years ago.

Who did I imagine myself then?

Am I her now?

Not even close.

And perhaps, someone, or something, even better than I ever could have imagined I was meant to be.

Community, Family, Food, Kibbutz, Living in Community, Mindfulness, Parenting, Relationships

Smells of Shabbat

One day in the future
My son will need some air.
He’ll leave home
Seeking solace
If only for a minute or two.

On his journey toward temporary peace
He will come upon
The smell of roasted potatoes with rosemary
Two minutes to go til burning
The scent will float beneath his nostrils
And he will remember tonight…

Walking with me
Up and down emptying streets
Through quieting paths
Around quickly passing cars
Parking on the other side of the gate.

A walk
A gasp for air
A last chance to let go of all that was
And open to
what will be
This week

Work, Writing

Is blogging the new MFA program?

Before I was in high tech, I was in publishing.

At Scholastic, I worked in the creative marketing department, not directly with authors, but with their work; trying to make their work appeal to the largest audience as possible.

My claim to fame is that I wrote responses to fan letters for R.L. Stine and K.A. Applegate. So if you came of age in the late 90s, we were probably pen pals.

I also was a part of the exciting marketing campaign surrounding the release in the U.S. of the first Harry Potter book.

Good times.

After I left Scholastic, I spent a few years in other publishing jobs: in the promotions department at Parade Magazine and as an assistant editor for a Jewish newspaper.

I soon became expert in making other people’s work better.

Of course, through this experience, my work became better, too.  In addition to assigning and editing stories to freelance writers at the Jewish newspaper, I would report on local happenings and sometimes interview C-level Jewish celebrities for features.

Every time my boss, the Editor, would hand me back my first draft, I would grimace at the red marks in the margins.

But the marks, when implemented, always made my stories better.

In time, I became a confident writer of short form non-fiction. Your work becomes better the more you write and the more heavily you are edited.

I imagine the process is similar for any form of writing; especially in fiction and poetry, two genres in which I am experimenting and want to improve.

This is why so many emerging writers and published novelists come out of MFA programs.

They’ve dedicated themselves to writing, yes — but they’ve also committed to being publicly criticized for two years in the hopes of improving. In the hopes of one day being so good they will be noticed. Noticed like a misused metaphor, like a dangling participle.

This element of the writing program — the communal critical eye — is missing from the fantastic writing community that is the blog-o-sphere.

I never — or hardly ever — publicly criticize a blogger’s work. If I add a comment to a blog, 99% of the time it’s a positive comment. If it’s a negative comment, it’s finely worded so as to not offend the author.

I’m not talking about political blogs, where trolls feel completely uninhibited to offer their frank opinions about how the author is a stupid, naive right-wing psychopath. I’m talking about the community of essayists that have sprung up through the popularity and ease of the blogging platform.

Mommy bloggers.

Aspiring novelists.

Flash fiction writers.

People who feel the need to chronicle the every movement of their cats.

Everyone can be a published writer now.

A published author even — thanks to Amazon.com and a host of self-publishing software.

And, yes, this is awesome.

Really awesome.

And … not so awesome.

I like to read good writing.

I like to pay for good writing.

I’m annoyed when I read bad writing, especially when I’ve paid for it.

I want the books I read to have been written by people who cared enough to become better writers. I want those books to have been through at least one, if not five, careful revisions by an editor.

I say this not just as a writer, but as a consumer of the written word.

Maybe I hold myself up to too high a standard. (That sounds obnoxious, I know. )

Maybe if I didn’t, I would already be a published author myself now. (I’m not counting The Fantastic Adventures of Me & My Friends or the two other activity books I wrote for Scholastic. That also sounds a bit obnoxious, doesn’t it?)

Maybe I’m worrying for nothing.

Maybe the world is a happier place because more people are writing and finding their own audiences.

But I think there is room for criticism in the blogging world. Perhaps we would do more to support each other by not just commenting when we think a post is good, but when we think a post is almost good — when something could be just a little bit better if only it was rewritten once or twice.

It irritates me when I write a post that I think is really good and a commenter writes something simple like,


This happens a lot. Which should be a good thing.

But I want to follow up on that “lovely.” I want to know, “Why?”

“Why do you think this is lovely?”

Did it strike a chord?

Was it my careful phrasing?

Was it how elegantly I described the herd of goats by the side of the road?

And how could it be better? How could I rewrite it into something you’d be happy you paid for? Satisfied you spent your time on?

This is what is missing from the blogosphere. And why, at least now, blogging in community will never be as serious as a writing program.

Most of our comments are just blatant attempts at trying to attract new followers.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Are you a blogging writer who seeks comments like this? Who wants more than just a

“Great post!”

If so, let me know — perhaps we can build a more critical commenting community together.

Help each other… emerge…from red marks in the margin.


Daily Prompt: Legs Wide Open (Straddling the Myers Briggs)

Today’s Daily Prompt from the folks at WordPress:

Are you comfortable in front of people, or does the idea of public speaking make you want to hide in the bathroom? Why?

I read this prompt a few times before responding.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s an either/or, and just goes to show how careful one must be when making comparisons.

I am very comfortable in front of people.

AND the idea of public speaking makes me want to hide in the bathroom.

This is because I officially and comfortably straddle the extrovert/introvert border.

For example, I both like being with people and hate being with them. I am both energized by social gatherings and dread them. I crave attention, and sometimes scan my surroundings frantically looking for a ditch to hide in.

I am complicated.

I also straddle the thinking/feeling border on the Myers Briggs, which basically means I don’t have trouble making decisions, but I regret them soon after.

Personality evaluation is one of my favorite pastimes. But i don’t often get to partake in it with a partner. Most people are content just judging others, but I quietly sympathize with them, tagging them an E or an I; totally a J or completely a P.

“Oh…he is such an ENFP,” I think to myself. “Emphasis on the P! Jeez.”

(In addition to being complicated, I am also a big dork.)

My husband, who is finally reading Quiet by Susan Cain (after months of my starting many conversations with “well, if you had read Quiet by Susan Cain”), asked me tonight where I fell on the Myers Briggs test.

“I consider that foreplay, honey.” I told him. “We’ll definitely be having sex later.” I then reminded him I was a total J, and a massage would be in order along the way. After all, process matters. Plan ahead!

Wait: Do I like public speaking?

Was that the question?

Frankly, I dread it. I literally feel vomit in my throat the first 30 seconds I am speaking. But when I’m up there, and I’ve reeled them in (which I usually do), my heart alights and I get high on the focused attention — all on me.

And afterwards, when I know for certain I killed it, I gloat.

My face is all “S” even though I am a full on “N” most of the time.

Is there anyone out there who actually feels comfortable speaking in front of a crowd? Who just steps out onto the stage, grabs the mike, and from the very first moment feels at ease?

That seems a bit like a P to me.

And not P (perceiving) but P psychopathic.

But I am not judging.

Nope, not me.

Letting Go, Mindfulness, Parenting, Relationships

Learning by metaphor

You know you are meant to learn a lesson when it’s offered to you in metaphor three times in one week.

Last week, I wrote an ode to Yom Kippur. One of my friends commented by referencing a Dvar Torah given by a friend and neighbor during the holiday:

She used driving a car as symbolic of seeing into the future (forward) and the past (rear view mirror) at the same time. She said it may be the only time in life that we actually have that unique opportunity to do so. She spoke about being on auto-pilot and how lucky that we have 25 hours of Yom Kippur to actually stop.

Being a little obsessed with time travel, and still hopeful that one day I will be able to travel both into the future and into the past, I really appreciated this metaphor.

Driving a car is a little bit like time travel — or at least a little bit like the megalith “Guardian of Forever” in The City on the Edge of Forever (Star Trek, episode 1×28).

star trek
Courtesy Wikipedia

There are times, if you pay careful attention, when you may be privilege to what’s behind and what’s ahead, even if there is little to do to change it.

Yesterday, as I drove home from work, I passed by a 6 kilometer bumper-to-bumper back up. As I realized how long the traffic jam was, I started to feel more and more compassion for the drivers sitting in the jam on their way home from work. They had no idea how long the backup was — but I did.

Then, as I slowly made my way around the curvy bend just after the village of D’meida, but before Kfar Manda, I approached the end of the line. There, as cars slowed to a stop, I felt compelled to open up my window and shout:

“Turn around! You’re about to hit a major traffic jam! There’s no way out.”

I felt overwhelmed with sympathy for these people who had no idea what was about to happen to them.

Only minutes before, they were grooving to tunes, catching up on the news, joyfully anticipating a reunion with their kids at the end of a long day.

And now…


I didn’t call out my window, though.

Even if I did, I asked myself, would they have heard me? Understood me?

Would they have listened?

Would they have done anything in response?

Many wouldn’t have understood. And even those who did, would use their own evaluation of the situation and past experience to decide what to do.

I chuckled to myself.

It’s a bit like parenting.

You think you know more than your kids. You’ve been there; done that, after all.

You worry. You nudge. You shout:

“Don’t do that!”

“Be careful!”

“You’re making the wrong choice!”

Sometimes they listen. Sometimes (rarely) they value your input.

But usually they don’t.

Like my daughter, for instance — who slammed the front door on her finger last Friday.

She closed the door with her hand in between the jam, despite 2 1/2 years of warnings from both me and my husband to please not.

Evidence that you can offer advice, insight, admonition,

But people — not just kids, but grown ups, too — usually need to learn from experience.

They hardly ever make decisions based solely on the advice of others.

Even if those others are knowledgeable.

Even if they can see into the future or the past.

* * *

Today, on my own drive into work, I found myself stuck in a traffic jam; almost in exactly the same spot as the jam yesterday.

Traffic sat still for a half hour. The minutes ticked away.

A few times I contemplated what to do.

Stay in the car and wait this out?

Try to make it 10 car lengths ahead and turn left to try to go around?

Do a k-turn and return home?

I chuckled. Clearly, there was a lesson to be learned with this whole car metaphor.

I checked Waze.

There was a major accident ahead. It had been there for over an hour.

I thought back to the day before, and then made a k-turn to return home.

I drove slowly, a little bit tripped out by the accident I never saw and the whole car metaphor.

I meditatively contemplated the take-away.

Is the only source of knowledge experience, as Albert Einstein once said?

Are we doomed to ignore others, until we experience things for ourselves?


Or at least until we figure out time travel.

Environment, Kibbutz

I see beauty

When I first moved to Israel, as when I first fell in love with my husband, everything was beautiful:

The early morning mountains which framed a glorious sky peppered with misshapen clouds.

The herds of cows that grazed by the side of the road in fields glistening with morning dew.

The herb garden I grew from seedlings and the lemon tree i tended in my front yard.

All instilled me daily with wonder.

But as with any new love, the extraordinary faded into the ordinary, and over the past two and a half years, I have slowly become a woman who no longer feels compelled to sigh as I drive on the beach road from the lower galilee where I live south to Tel Aviv.

I no longer breathe in deep and breathe out the question:

I live here?

I am able to see the waves crash on the shores of the Mediterranean without being overwhelmed with delight.

I am able to see a lone camel walking along the busy express highway without grinning.

Yes, i live here.

And with my acknowledgment comes a price. My vision shifts slightly.

But even in my nonchalance,

Even in my hurry to get home to my kids
To make dinner
To clean the dishes

i still stop for the cotton fields.

There’s something magical about blooming cotton.

I can’t explain it.

Is it the absurdity of seeing — there sprouting from a plant — a material I know only as a sensation against my skin?

Is it the contrast of the billowy white puffs against the dried out greenish gray stalks emerging from the ground?

I don’t know.

But I am always caught surprised by the cotton fields.

As if someone has transported me back

Somewhere else but now.



The Key to the Treasure

I grabbed the nearest book: Tolstoy Lied by Rachel Kadish. I’m about ten pages from the end, but I picked up the book and opened to a random page in order to complete today’s Daily Prompt.

Grab the nearest book. Open it and go to the tenth word. Do a Google Image Search of the word. Write about what the image brings to mind.

The tenth word on the random page i opened was “key.”

I was disappointed.

But also determined to complete the prompt. Google images produced a somewhat ordinary, but dirty old brass key at the top of the results page. I studied it.


I zoomed in. Stared at the grooves and tried to feel inspired.


I closed my eyes and meditated on the key.

Still nothing.

What did the key open? What was behind the locked door? Inside the sealed box?


Finally, I stopped trying to feel inspired — it’s the end of a long day after all,and my kids are begging me to read them bedtime stories already.

I decided to just follow the directions:

“Write about what the image brings to mind.”

So here goes:

A key. Another
mystery awakening
my humility.

What does it open?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter.
This time, just a key.