This has been the summer of slow: of washing the morning’s dishes; scraping and sweeping up Cocoa Pebbles off the ceramic kitchen tiles; straightening the throw pillows on the couch again; hanging pool towels on the line. There have been days when I wanted to scream, when I wished for salvation in the form of a plane ticket to Philadelphia paid for by my mother. There have been days I’ve feebly attempted to convince my 12 year old to wake up before 11 so we can spend a morning off the kibbutz doing “something,” but he’s never acquiesced and I’ve never pushed it.
It is August now, and we’ve done nothing, he and I. It is August, and we’re closer now to the end of the summer than the beginning.
Deborah chose me and I’ll have to be honest — I was excited. In a tingly “you’ve been selected” sorta way. I felt it …well, I won’t tell you where, but it’s the same spot in my body and the same physical sensation I get whenever I’ve decided I’ve been designated special by someone.
Of course, this sensitivity to being chosen also makes me physically vulnerable to the dark side of egocentric arousal — for when someone decides I’m not special (or worse, unremarkable or overrated), the tingly sensation moves down to my lower digestive tract; I spend the next few hours in the bathroom, and … well you can imagine the rest.
Deborah dared me to reveal five random facts about myself. I use the word “dare” lightly because, let’s be honest, if I didn’t enjoy disclosing facts about myself, you and I wouldn’t be enjoying this writer/reader virtual pseudo-relationship. In fact, if I could just eliminate the urge to tell you stuff, I might be able to once and for all walk away from social media.
I could be happy.
But then, I wouldn’t be a writer.
Which leads me to Random Fact #1.
Everyday anxiety is an “organizing principle” in my life. In other words, it has made me who I am today and continues to make me who I am no matter how much yoga I practice, no matter which books I read, how much air I breathe, no matter how slowly or deeply. Anxiety is an essential element of me.
I did not realize there was a name for this condition until I read a passage yesterday about Joan Didion written by Vivian Gornick in her book on writing called The Situation and the Story:
For Joan Didion, ordinary, everyday anxiety is an organizing principle. Out of it she has created a depressed, quivering persona that serves her talent wonderfully … in [her] essays, where a subject beyond the self must be intersected with—migraine headache, the Black Panthers, California and the American Dream—Didion’s gorgeous nerves are brought under brilliant control. It is here, in this form, that her existential nervousness is developed with such artistry that insight transforms, and literature is made through the naked use of the writer’s emotional disability.
Don’t mistake my admission of Random Fact #1 as me comparing myself to successful memoirist and essayist Joan Didion. As if! But out of this I understand that my acid reflux and my artistry, my migraines and my imagination, like Didion’s, go hand and hand. And that I am far, far from alone.
Which leads me to …
Random Fact #2
One of my most notable appearances in the media was in the Associated Press when I was quoted as being a sufferer of irritable bowel syndrome. Equally classy, I was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as not only suffering from IBS, but also allergies and anxiety. At the time, those interviews seemed like a good idea for the personal brand I was building (as a wellness expert and writer). Now, I’m not so sure.
Random Fact #3
My bowel, ever irritable, offered me the distinct honor of pooping in the Executive Office building of the White House where I volunteered every Wednesday morning between the hours of 4 am and 9 am for the Clinton administration’s Communications Office one semester in 1994. Also in the Embassy of Israel where I interned for a semester. And in the Starbucks on K Street.
I was just telling a friend of mine yesterday, in fact, that I had this brilliant idea when I used to live in Manhattan in the late 90s. I wanted to research and publish a Zagat type listing of all the best bathrooms in Manhattan. I had mentally logged most of the cleanest ones in SoHo, where I lived and worked at the time, for my own personal benefit since I never knew where or when I would need quick access to a tidy and private stall. But what if I expanded my research to the entire island? And categorized the lists according to not just cleanliness, but also friendly to, let’s say, hookups? Cleaning up after an accidental coffee spills on the train? Best for vomiting? Ones with condoms? Tampons? Fresh mints? Luxury bathrooms easily accessed in hotel lobbies? Restrooms frequented by celebrities?
I never wrote the book, but it’s on my list of “good ideas that could have made me money if only I wasn’t so lazy.”
Which leads to …
Random Fact #4
I practically invented Facebook. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who knew me in 1999. Especially my parents … because they like to brag about that almost as much as they like to say I was a “White House intern.” Which I wasn’t … I was a “volunteer.” You don’t need to watch Scandal to know that Washington has a hierarchy. A hierarchy, people. That said, I was a volunteer in the White House the same time Monica was an intern.
Back to Facebook and how I missed an opportunity to be a gajillionaire.
In 1999, a half a year or so before the internet bubble burst, I built on my Dell computer and maintained all on my own from my one bedroom apartment on Prince Street a web site called oldcampfriends.com. I came up with the idea because I was obsessed and preoccupied with my overnight camp experience and friends and figured other people were, too. This was before you could Google stalk anyone or pay $9.99 for a dossier on them. It was difficult, still, to track down old friends.
I built it on the old Homestead site builder online software. I created a form that people filled in and submitted. I HAND-FILLED in the information (their names and email addresses) on the profile pages I created for each camp: Camp Wekeela, Camp Wohelo, Pine Forest, Camp Anawana, Camp Ramah New England, Camp Nah-Jee-Way, Che-Na-Wah, Moshava, you name it. Your camp was there. Via oldcampfriends.com you were able to reconnect with your bunkmate, your first kiss, the counselor you always wanted to hook up with but who was too fearful of arrest … Oldcampfriends.com? It took you there.
Coulda been Facebook. Coulda been Facebook.
(Those hikers at the top were animated GIFs.)
If oldcampfriends.com leaves any legacy it is to illustrate how impactful the people who have passed through my life have been and continue to be even after they’re gone. It is to show that when you leave me — because leave me you must — you don’t ever really leave.
Random Fact #5
You remain inside me — sometimes as acid reflux, sometimes as tingles that recur when I look at your picture or handle between my thumbs the friendship bracelet you once wove for me in the arts and crafts cabin, or the mixed tape you made me that summer. You remain inside me, as a song or a slow dance or as a scene from a movie we watched together on Betamax in your basement. You remain inside me; sometimes as an eternal punishment, sometimes as an occasional pleasure. You remain.
As we enter the period before Passover, I’m thinking about how eat, what we what, with whom we eat and why. I am meditating on freedom and gratitude.
No, actually, I am not.
I’m thinking about the store-bought chocolate chip cookie I just ate.
For breakfast. (Actually, I had a vegetable wrap first. The cookie was for dessert. Breakfast dessert.)
As I ate the cookie with deep pleasure, I thought to myself.
This is happiness.
Of course, there are chemical reasons why the cookie made me so happy; the main one being white sugar in abundance.
This I know.
And this I shrugged off.
Instead of acknowledging the sugar and the wheat and the likelihood that both would incite the candida surely camping out in my gut or inflame the inner lining of my intestines, I ate another cookie.
I think it was even better than the first.
I’m thinking about eating another one.
But first I’m blogging: To clear my proverbial throat because what I want to say is unclear right now.
What I want to say is that I spent the last two decades a bit too food-focused.
Not without good reason.
I believe, firmly, that food can be harmful. I believe that food is a direct or indirect cause of chronic illness. I believe food is addictive. Food is a commodity that corporations use to control people. Food has been made an idol that we in the #firstworld worship.
I believe food may be used to heal if used properly, but has become deified also by wellness professionals (especially those with books or vitamins to sell) in the guise of healthy living. So many of us are self medicating with chia and gobi and wheatgrass in the same way people are self medicating with xanax and marijuana and vodka on frozen lemon juice ice cubes with mitz petel (I call it “the Hannaton.” It’s amazing and totally gets me through the homework to bedtime madness.)
I consider myself a food activist, and yet I question my focused attention on food.
I question my focus.
I question it.
It’s important to question our obsessions.
For even those of us with good intentions, food has become an obsession.
And I question that.
This is what I want to say.
It’s important to have passion.
It’s important to be mindful about our behavior and
conscious about the consequences.
It’s important to support causes.
And it’s important to share ideas — loudly and powerfully.
But it’s equally important to question our motives.
And the returns on our investment.
I spent three years dairy free. I didn’t eat a drop of cow product. I read labels religiously. My motive, at first, was to nurse my son so he wouldn’t have bloody poop. After I weaned him, I kept it up because I noticed I didn’t have as much mucus in my life. And as anyone who has a lot of mucus in their life knows, mucus-free lives are happier lives. And probably less-likely-to-have-stomach-cancer lives.
Since moving to Israel three years ago, however, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to not eat dairy. Let’s put it this way. Dairy has re-entered my life with a passion. And the passion is called “bulgarit.”
We had to make an adjustment to our lifestyle. No longer was there a Whole Foods nearby to offer us 15 different varieties of gluten free bread. No longer did we have the budget to spend on those items even if there was one nearby. No longer could I find grass-fed beef. No longer could I feed myself and my kids turkey bacon for breakfast anymore. (Ironically, there is pork bacon in Israel but no turkey bacon.) Nut and seed butters are not an option for us. Therefore, the dairy. Oh, the dairy.
My point is: As my life changed, so did my diet. And so did my relationship to food. At first, this created enormous upset in me. For a good year living here, I lived with anger, resentment, and disappointment — all related to food.
I still carry some of that. I carry it on Shabbat when I go to kiddush at our community synagogue and my nut allergic son always ALWAYS hides on the playground because kiddush is not safe for him. I carry it with me in restaurants, on the rare occasion we go out, and realize there is nothing on the menu for my kids because everything comes with sesame or nuts. I carry it with me when I see the planes flying overhead spraying the beautiful vegetable fields with pesticide. I carry it with me when I hear about childhood cancer and in the back of my mind I know it’s because of the water pollution and the air pollution and the planes that fly by.
The activist in me is not dead.
She lives … but a little more quietly.
A little less all-consuming.
She allows chocolate chip cookies…for breakfast.
* * *
When I started to give up my commitment to food a little, I started to notice some things.
There is something inside activism that is closely connected to anger.
There is something inside healthy that is closely connected to unhealthy.
And there is something inside not eating that is closely connected to desperately needing to be full.
For a big part of food activism — if we look deeply and honestly — is about controlling a life that is terrifying. It’s about trying to be certain in a world that is only certain in its uncertainty.
I still believe in activism. And I believe in sharing information.
But sometimes all we have is what makes us happy in this very moment.
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 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.
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.