Free

If I collected pretty purple waves of light every time I said the word “free,” perhaps I’d be the kind of free i really want to be. not gluten free, not nut free, not sugar free, fat free, or buy one get one free, not
Groupon free, but really free. Worry free is close, but not close enough. My desire is the kind of free at least three meters away from a hyphen. mine must be at a certain distance from a noun in order to avoid possible cross-contamination. mine, I’d tell the chef, burns easily, so keep it in a cool, dry place like the yellow bowl high atop the counter where little hands covered in Play-doh can’t reach it.

It’s sad, really, how we’ve corrupted free, compounded it, like mad scientists preparing the liquid version for the old man who can no longer swallow pills. It used to be so pretty: wide orange all-caps. Now free is a deflated nude, the letters warped like old records left too many years in the back storage room of my parents’ basement. I wish I had the key

to free her.

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

 

 

 

Cookie cutter approach to food activism

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.

And that is enough.