What I imagine when I imagine the end of the world

Short Fiction

When I imagine the end of the world, I am alone at the edge of a cliff. It’s evening and God Only Knows by the Beach Boys is playing on a box radio I looted from my neighbor’s basement.

If it were a movie, I’d be gazing out over the city lights of Los Angeles just as the electricity went out, as one by one the skyscrapers lost power, and the city fell dark.

A blazing comet approaches.

Or a neon green burst of light from beyond the reaches of time.

Or a giant tidal wave shimmies up the coast.

If it were a movie, my heart would swell as I accepted my fate. I would open my arms and embrace humanity’s extinction for I knew I had lived life to its fullest.

But it’s not a movie.

It’s my real life.

In which almost every day is the end of the world.

* * *

 

I have a disease without a name.

If it had a name, it would be called something like redemptionitis or zombisteria or hypotrychtapocalypse.

The closest anyone has ever come to labelling my disease was in the years leading up to the much-publicized end of the Mayan Calendar in December 2012.

Doomsday Phobia, they called it.

Anyone who stocked their basements with toilet paper and canned sardines in preparation for Armageddon; anyone who hoarded books of medicinal herbs or learned how to forage for mushrooms in a weekend workshop held in the back woods of Westchester County, NY; anyone who stocked in the back of the medicine cabinet antibiotics from their child’s most recent prescription for strep throat: We were all quietly laughed at and labeled “preppers.”

Back when it was cute, the way a touch of crazy is cute, as long as it doesn’t lead to a shootout in a movie theater.

Back then, I wondered to myself if I was on a CIA watch list. Did they suspect me? A suburban New Jersey mom of two? A college educated professional with a real job and a real paycheck?

I certainly didn’t fit the profile.

I wore Ann Taylor suits and took the NJ Transit train every day from the suburbs into the city where I walked six blocks to my midtown workplace. In our open floor plan, I had the closest thing to an office – a transparent cube looking out over the East River, made from glass walls so others could look in. It was called the Rainbow Fish Bowl because of the stickers my daughter once placed on the sliding glass door. Every other Friday, I got a pedicure at Trudy’s Green Nails on Lexington Avenue. I was in a book club. I volunteered at the preschool. People liked me.

Each day, I put effort into smiling at my coworkers as if life wasn’t about to abruptly end by Avian Bird Flu.  I’d make jokes over the phone with the sales consultants who’d ask me if I thought wheatgrass was gluten free. I played along. Drank Nespresso in the coffee room with the writers; made snide remarks with the editors about our wacky advertisers; especially the ones who placed ads offering organic MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) purported to last 15 years. Secretly, I wondered if it made sense to pay for organic canned food when the cans were probably lined with BPA.

Could my coworkers view my computer monitor, however, they would have noticed I spent half the day reading headlines on alternative news web sites, corresponding in code with people named “Zen Grower” about the latest UFO sighting over New Mexico or the best price on bulk dehydrated food. I read blogs from people living in half-completed bunkers in the mountains of West Virginia; with strangers supposedly privy to knowledge that was never reported on CNN.  “The ‘Illuminati’ kills scientists, you know,” wrote Jade, my telepathic friend. She communicates with an alien race who is trying to save us from another alien race who’s been trying to destroy us since the Revolutionary War. “All war,” says Jade, “is the fault of the Reptilians.”

I would search “new world order Russian scientists reveal underwater pyramid” and “fourth dimensional beings plot to reprogram our brains” because I knew the search results would give me the intel I required to plan. And I planned. I had one to-do list that included vaccinations, playdates, and dentist appointments. Another to-do list for the end of the world.

My day job, I guess, was a ruse.

It was a way to satisfy my compulsion and still remain a member of society. Or so says Dr. Solomon. I saw it as a healthy way to educate myself on tactics I would surely need for the post-apocalyptic world I was certain was looming. Easily-learned skills like:

  • Reiki for when we no longer had the option to see surgeons for bone breaks or muscle sprains;
  • Acupressure, which I would use in the place of the anti-inflammatories we so depended on in the Before Times for headaches and menstrual cramps;
  • Nutritional supplements and herbal teas — like Chia and Flax seeds; dandelion and feverfew — I’d grow in a rooftop urban garden, where I’d herd my children before the Flood.

Back then, I was Advertising Director of a major national healthy living magazine. I courted and secured advertisers from multiple sectors: home and garden, health and wellness, exercise and fitness, diet and nutrition. And, of course, our bestsellers: classifieds from personal vegan chefs, Hindu tantric sex practitioners and Henna artists.

I was really good at my job. I was good at selling ads because I really believed all of the service providers and multi-level marketing professionals.  When they heard acknowledgment and acceptance in my voice over the phone, they eagerly placed half or more of their advertising budget in my hands.

I understood them, after all. Their fears. Their hopes. I knew intimately what it felt like to want to survive, but more so to want to be listened to and believed.

In my own experience, though, there were therapies and products that worked, and those that didn’t. Quackery, some might say. Except in my business, we never use the word quackery. This would alienate the chiropractors and homeopaths who placed half-page color ads for their self-published e-books.

Reiki, for instance, didn’t cure me of recurring yeast infections, as promised. But my Thursday afternoon sessions with Liane, the psychic massage therapist did help identify a sugar addiction. She also told me I had powers like hers; that I could, if I wanted to, study to be a healer.

She was right. I am a sugar addict. But she was also wrong. I can’t seem to heal anyone.

I kept seeing Liane on a regular basis and even believed most of the stories she would tell me: How her client was miraculously cured from testicular cancer by shiatsu and a six-week juice fast. How her deep tissue hot stone massage helped a couple overcome infertility. How the couple now had triplets – all girls.

I believed Liane. Except for that one time she told me that my migraines were the key to time travel, and that I should stop taking the Relert when the auras came on. I also believed the magazine readers who emailed testimony after testimony to our editorial staff profusely thanking us for publishing stories that changed their lives.  I believed the clippable lists we elegantly designed for ease-of-use, like “Pema Chodron’s Top 5 Mantras for Mindful Sex.”

I believed we were helping people.

I believed the jacket copy on the bestseller of contributing editor, celebrity physician Dr. Joel Willey– a book I personally reviewed for the magazine last December — promising increased sexual desire and stamina for peri-menopausal women by switching to a vegan, carbohydrate-free, anti-inflammatory diet.

I believed it all.

Which, apparently, is a symptom of my disease.

I have a disease without a name; without a designation, but with a host of exhibiting symptoms that collectively, for the past fifteen years, I called “conscious living,” but collectively make up a manilla folder of evidence against me, sitting on an antique desk in Dr. Solomon’s office.

All these “symptoms,” which were formerly advantageous qualities on a resume when applying for a job at a natural healthy living magazine, are now being offered up as evidence of my insanity. My inability to continue as a functioning member of society.

My disease is without a name. It’s as lonely as a woman standing on the edge of a cliff waiting for the world to end.

But, as it turns out, no name is necessary.

* * *

 

This work of fiction is an excerpt from an original short story by Jen Maidenberg, “What I imagine when I imagine the end of the world.”

How crowdfunding is like high school pre-calc

Did you know that the success of most crowdfunding campaigns rides on the contributions of extended family and friends?

And did you know that Hannaton’s winery, Jezreel Valley Winery, launched an indiegogo campaign last week?

By the transitive power of equality (or something very similar) YOU are the key to our crowdfunding success.

I live on Hannaton. So does the winery. The owners, Jacob and Yehuda, are my good friends. You are my good friends. So (here comes the part where Cherry Hill High School East feels as if pre-calc wasn’t wasted on me).

I drew this. That's you and me and wine. And, of course. love.

I drew this. That’s you and me and wine. And, of course. love.

 

You are the winery’s extended family and friends.

Your contribution — even a small one — will make a big difference in our success. (Disclaimer: I say “our” because I am on the winery’s team for this crowdfunding project. I do not own shares in the winery.)

What’s crowdfunding?

Only the best thing to happen to entrepreneurs since  free wireless.

Crowdfunding let’s you pitch your business idea or social initiative to your friends, family and interested strangers, and in most cases, offers a “perk” or a “return” in product instead of actual shares in the business.

People have written and published books using funds from crowdfunding campaigns; produced documentaries; and even funded a 3D printer pen that allows your drawings to become real! The most popular sites for crowdfunding business ideas are indiegogo and kickstarter. There’s even one specifically for Israel tech start-ups called Our Crowd (it’s equity-based and geared more towards traditional angel investors.) Friends of mine in NJ started Umojawa, a crowdfunding platform for educational initiatives and programs for youth.

Crowdfunding, to me, is a huge opportunity for people with ideas, with dreams. It’s one of the best things about the internet. And a little bit addictive.

So … please take a minute to click through to the Jezreel Valley Winery campaign page on indiegogo. What you’ll get in return if you contribute?

For $25, you’ll get a Jezreel Valley Winery winestopper and a 10% discount on wine for the rest of your lives! (The winery ships to the U.S.)

It only gets better above $25 (more discounts, more wine … and event a free wedding or bar mitzvah hosted at the winery. A great perk if you’re planning your kid’s bar mitzvah in Israel anyway.)

Why does this campaign matter? Contributing allows you to connect to Israel in a very meaningful way. The winery is a true start-up based on a dream. Two guys had an idea. Shook hands on it. Got it up off the ground running, grew some grapes, made some great kosher wine, won some awards and now they want to expand their operations.

For me, that’s inspiring and motivating.

Invest in their success!

Jezreel Valley wine in my kitchen

 

 

 

Tell me a secret I don’t already know

Almost as much as I am fascinated by memory and by man’s search for meaning, I am insanely curious about secrets. I’m fascinated by why we keep secrets, and what happens when they’re exposed.

But I am also very, very afraid of them.

Not just mine. And what may happen if and when they are revealed.

But yours.

Your secrets scare me, too.

I’m deathly afraid of the unknown.

Of the uncertainty of what you might someday show or tell me.

Will it hurt me? Change my beliefs about you? About people? Will your secrets make me sick to my stomach?

Knowing how scared I am of your secrets makes me desperately want to keep mine safe from view.

* * *

What I mean by secrets:

The things we think at 3 am

The feelings we feel, but hardly ever show or share

The desires we have that we’re certain we’d be tarred and feathered for if we were found out.

All the thoughts we’re certain will cause people to stop loving us (or never love us at all). Never hire us. Immediately fire us. Look down upon us with condemnation, ridicule. Worse, stop looking at us at all.

This is what I think will happen when I think about sharing my own secrets. And maybe I’m right. Certainly some of them, if shared, would bring about moderate to severe consequences.

But not all of them. Some would liberate me. I just know it.

And yet, I keep silent.

* * *

I’ve had conversations with friends, acquaintances who insist they have no secrets. As if the keeping of secrets is scandalous in and of itself.

They insist even harder when I push them that their boyfriend/spouse/partner certainly keeps secrets. No way, many of my friends have said to me.

“He’s a regular guy. What secrets could he possibly have?”

I try not to smile an arrogant smile. Though sometimes, depending on my mood, I’ll argue the point.

We all have secrets. 

Especially the regular guys.

Not all our secrets are Melrose Place-worthy; not all of them would necessarily damage our reputation; or disrupt our lives if revealed. But they are secrets nonetheless, and they weigh on us.

Some are low-spoken whispers in the inner ear:

“You’re stupid.”

“This will never work.”

“You’re doomed.”

“He doesn’t really love you. He never did.”

“If she really knew, she’d never speak to me again.”

Some secrets are roadblocks. Others are dams holding back figurative flood waters.

Some secrets are background noise. Garbled truths we never quite admit to, but haunt us.

Some are stories we’ve told ourselves so long we no longer recognize them as secrets. We believe they are real.

Everyone knows already, we think to ourselves. Why bother sharing them?

But they don’t know.

Or they do, but they need you to say it out loud.

“Nothing,” writes Paul Tournier, “makes us so lonely as our secrets.”

* * *

The best of what’s been written on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death by drug overdose was Tom Junod’s op-ed in Esquire magazine. In trying to capture what drew us all into Hoffman’s character roles, Junod writes:

He held up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves and invited us not only to take a peek but to see someone we recognized.

When Hoffman died of a drug overdose, I was sick to my stomach. His secret made me sick. I won’t deny it.

The thought of him there in the bathroom. The thought of his wife; his children left behind. The shame. All the shame.

But within hours, my sick turned to compassion. To understanding. To love for someone I never knew.

Secrets are funny creatures. They soften and sweeten us in a way.

Not all of them, but maybe most of them.

Allowed into the light, liberated secrets prove not to be little monsters. But offspring of the human condition.

More commonplace than we realize.

In fact, there is a gift in the reveal of secrets. For sharing them shows others they’re not alone in their suffering.

* * *

This is what I do here, with you.

I liberate my secrets … a little.

I do it under my own name — on purpose.

I dare myself.

I work my “brave muscle.”

And most days, you are kind in return.

Proving my hypothesis. Allowing me to creep closer to freedom.

I hope I offer you some relief in return.

I hope you feel a little less alone.

The Things We Keep

When my husband and I were first married, we were part of a group of people in Tucson, Arizona designing a new cohousing community— our very own little American kibbutz!

This is actually how the community was described to us by a colleague, and why our ears perked up when we heard about it. We had never heard the word cohousing before then, but we knew what a kibbutz was (or we thought we did) and after the first informational session, we handed over a check and joined as one of the first young couples in a group made up mostly of divorcees and soon-to-be retirees.

We participated in a year or so of planning discussions — during which time I got pregnant with our first child — but in the end decided the community wasn’t an ideal fit for us. When I think of why, I remember most the day we had to decide if we would build a community laundry facility or instead choose that private homes would have laundry rooms.

My husband and I were strongly in favor of an easy access washer and dryer. We had spent too many years shlepping canvas bags to and from laundromats in various cities to give up what we now saw as a necessary luxury. Furthermore, dirty bibs and stinky onesies were in our near future.  But the majority of the group thought that building one community laundry facility better fit our group vision. It would be more environmentally-friendly (we could use the gray water on the central lawn!) and would mean our homes would take up a smaller footprint.

This conversation spiraled out of control pretty quickly.  Soon it wasn’t about the laundry room, but about how much space we occupy and why. Which became a conversation about the things we need vs. the things we can let go of. Which became — finally! — the real conversation, which was:

There is a stage of life for acquiring things. And there is a stage of life for letting things go.

My husband and I were acquiring.  We’d been married less than a year. We had a new baby on the way. Stuff was in our future.

The rest of the group, most of whom were 20 – 30 years older than we were, were ready to let go.

I understood then, intellectually, the difference. But I couldn’t possibly comprehend how I’d ever be ready to let go of my things. I could see parting one day with my Dyson vacuum or saying goodbye to my extra set of Pottery Barn bowls. (Even though I really liked both sets, which is why we registered for two in the first place.)

But I couldn’t visualize or emotionally connect to a time in which I wouldn’t need extra space. For I didn’t travel lightly. In addition to all the gadgets I used to make my life more comfortable, I also carried with me all the signs and symbols of who I was and who I wanted to be.

Art on the walls.

Tchotchkes inside cabinets.

Magnets on the fridge.

All those things that reminded me where I’ve been and where I wanted to go.

All the things we keep so we know when we’re home.

* * *

Since not choosing to buy a house in the cohousing community, my husband and I have lived in 5 different houses. We’ve moved across country, across town, and across the sea.

We’ve lost some tchotchkes along the way. And half of our Pottery Barn dishes.

Accidentally, of course. But, in the larger scheme of life, very much on purpose.

You can’t keep on acquiring forever.

There’s only so much space.

In your closets. In your house. In your heart.

And there’s only so much time.

Losing the Pottery Barn dishes is preparation for the greater losses to come. Dirty bibs and onesies — as stinky as they get — are gone with the blink of an eye, don’t you know? As are the wee ones who used to wear them.

Letting go is a tool we must learn. We have no other choice … but learning to let go is not a group decision.

It’s one we each arrive at on our own.

In time.

Little by little, we get there.

Broken plates, missing teacups, forgotten floor lamps become stacks of letters, boxes of mixed tapes, address books from long ago.

Little by little ...

Regrets, broken promises, what ifs.

Little by little

Fear, anger, shame.

Little by little…we get there.

We let go.