Thoughts on Turning 25


I found myself recently on the receiving end of an unwanted blessing.


The blessing, or bracha in Hebrew, was bestowed upon me by an inebriated congregant of my dad’s synagogue during the Simchat Torah kiddush, after said congregant had drunkenly rambled at me for several minutes about how I reminded him of his grown daughter who I had not previously known existed. This person is not especially pleasant to be around when sober, and alcohol was no improvement; thus his monologue quickly devolved into this bracha that with God’s help, I should (I think) marry a Sephardic rabbi within the year, and in so doing, make my father “very happy.”



I promptly retreated into the kitchen to dissolve into a fit of hysterical laughter. I’m not sure why exactly I was laughing so hard; sure, the entire situation was completely absurd and ridiculous, but that’s nothing new. I’m pretty sure there was an element of “laugh so you don’t cry” or at the very least, “laugh so you don’t get really really mad and dropkick a drunk dude in the nuts.” Because I really, deeply, profoundly resent having my life planned out or envisioned for me by other people, particularly strangers, because, to put it mildly, it’s none of their effing business and they do not know what the hell they are talking about.


Another well-meaning congregant who had observed this exchange decided to offer me his advice of, “I know it may be scary, but when someone gives you a bracha, I’ve learned that it’s best to say Amen. Because you never know.”


And I was like, “No thanks. I didn’t want that one.”


I have nothing against Sephardic rabbis, or marriages taking place within the next calendar year. But no thanks; I’d gladly fend through the wild, wild wilderness of eternal spinsterhood without that drunken bracha rather than smile and say Amen. I have standards like that, is all.


There are blessings that I do accept, to which I will say appreciative, sincere Amens. Not the standard one that my parents give me before Yom Kippur — that one includes a sentence about being blessed to have children and that they should be god-fearing Jewish children, and I just have to grin and bear it, because…sigh. I don’t want that one either and would really prefer not to be reminded that I’m disappointing the entire Jewish nation by not wanting it. It’s caused enough pain as is.


But anyway! Blessings that I do like! They exist! At my birthday get-together that afternoon (Simchat Torah is my Hebrew-calendar birthday), I told some of my friends about this bracha!fail, and they offered to make it better by giving me some brachot I might actually want. And here, I’ll break ‘em down into categories, such as:



  • Health
  • Mental — I have struggled intermittently with anxiety and depression over the past few years. So intermittently that I often completely forget that I have a sleeping dragon somewhere in my head until it is rudely awakened and turns my entire life upside-down for a few days before slowly retreating back into the shadows with occasional milder aftershocks until it falls asleep again. For instance, I’ve had maybe 4 panic attacks in my entire life, none before age 23, and a couple months ago, I had 2 in the span of a month, as well as one milder anxiety episode. That was completely unprecedented. And this month? Nada. Dragon is snoring away. So sleep tight, Dragon. I bless you with long, happy hibernation.


  • Combination of mental and physical — My rare anxiety attacks manifest in physical ways, generally through nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and in extreme cases, weight loss. They basically turn me into a pile of goo. If I can steer clear of triggers for about 24 hours, I’m usually okay after that, although as I said, these attacks are rare and therefore I don’t yet have enough data to analyze a pattern and develop a plan of action. All I have at the moment are a bunch of disjointed coping mechanisms. Let’s hope Dragon stays in hibernation and I never get any more data.


  • Purely physical — My back problems have flared up recently; I spent three days on bedrest a few weeks back, popping advil every six hours on doctor’s orders, and I’m in much better shape now, although it still twinges if I move the wrong way. Obviously, my chosen vocation is a very physical one, and the physically demanding parts of it are some of my favorite things about it, so it’d be really nice if my body doesn’t disintegrate on me.


  • Success — fairly self-explanatory, but yes, I am going to soon be entering a workforce with entry-level training in a field that I still know very little about, comparative to people who’ve grown up around car repair rather than having just learned everything they know about it in the past 5 months.


  • Fulfillment — Because success without fulfillment is just begging for the dragon to come rough me up.


  • Friendship — Because my friends are amazing and I don’t know where I’d be without them. Also, despite my best efforts, I’ve somehow managed to evolve into an extremely likeable person, and I’ve kind of gotten used to people liking me, so if they stopped, it’d be a real shock to the system. So let’s stay friends, okay?


  • Money — As some people who know me may be aware, my current barometer for success is being able to afford my own health insurance by the time I turn 26 and am forced off my parents’ plan. Also dental because my teeth are terrible. And I need to buy tons of tools, finish paying off my automotive school tuition, and I hope to move out of my parents’ house eventually, which would entail all manner of expenses such as rent, groceries, utilities, etc, and I’ll probably need a car at some point and that car will need gasoline and insurance and blah blah blah — so yeah, money is super important.



You may have noticed that romance is not on this list. No, it’s not because I don’t want it. And no, it’s not because I don’t think it’ll ever happen.


But since I don’t believe that blessings have any actual power, I treat them more as reminders of the things that are most important to me, things that I can focus on and take care of on my own or with existing support systems. Romance is not one of those things. Romance is a crapshoot. Romance is 50% dependent on another person, and that’s if there already is another person in the picture. When there isn’t anyone, the percentages are incalculable. It’s not something that you can put on a to-do list and measure your progress toward. There is an element of randomness in health and money and all the rest of those things, but not to same degree as romance. It belongs on a different list altogether.


I’m sure some might argue that that is specifically what blessings are for, for the crapshoot uncontrollable variables in life, but to me that feels like saying, oh what the heck, I’ll do this ancient ritual mating dance naked by the light of the full moon because I’ve totally got no power over my own destiny and may as well try anything at this point. It reeks of a kind of desperation that I don’t have. (But that’s because I don’t believe blessings have power. If you do, it’s a totally different story.)


At this point, I feel like romance will happen for me if and when it happens, in the words of Captain Tautology. I attract plenty of guys, and I have quite a few male friends in my life who I’m sure would gladly date me if I gave the okay. That’s not going to happen because none of these guys happen to be remotely compatible with me, but I like to think that if I keep making new friends and meeting new people and attracting interesting guys, one of them may eventually have some potential for me. But so far that hasn’t happened at a rate of more than one per year and I’ve already dated someone this year, so I’m not expecting anyone of that sort to materialize until at least January. Huzzah statistics!


I’d like to end off with a different conversation from Simchat Torah, not one I was a participant in, but rather one that I overheard. I had come outside to enjoy the sunshine and get away from the synagogue’s overcrowded and overheated interior, and two people were conversing quite seriously about 10 feet away, and I caught bits of it.


“Look, I’m 51,” said the woman. “And in the past, I think I was too much of a people pleaser. But when you get to be 50, you realize that life isn’t forever, and you have to do what makes you happy, what inspires you. I realized that I was working so hard to maintain relationships with people that I didn’t connect with, when there are so many people that I do connect with.”


I’m glad it hasn’t taken me until 50 to figure that out. I may be turning 25 this week, but I feel like I’m still 25 years ahead of the curve.




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Girl in Automotive School: On Symbolism


The High Holidays of Judaism always arrive at around this time of year: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, followed quickly by the less High but still 8-day long Holiday of Sukkot (7 days if you live in Israel).


And I’ve noticed this year, maybe even more than any other year, just how much each of these is rife with symbolism. There are unusual fruits eaten with their own brief prayers relating their metaphoric significance or at least puns about them and how they relate to the blessings we hope to have this year. There is apple dipped in honey for a sweet new year. There is round challah bread to symbolize the circle of life. On Yom Kippur, it’s a common custom to wear white to signify a fresh start. And don’t even get me started on all the things a sukkah may or may not symbolize.


Sometimes a sukkah is just a sukkah? Nope, never.


I’m not going to deny that symbolism can have great power, that seeing a physical manifestation or reminder of an emotional truth can be very effective. However, I think it’s largely true that the symbols that have the most power to us are not the ones that are passed down to us (not to say that there’s anything wrong them), but rather, the ones that we create for ourselves.


I am no stranger to making my own symbols. I’ve been choosing certain actions based on their metaphorical resonances since long before Augustus Waters made it cool.


[Side note: I recall reading a review of The Fault in Our Stars movie and the reviewer scoffed at Augustus’s cigarette metaphor, saying that it barely worked in the book and certainly doesn’t work on screen, and to that I say, “BAH. There’s nothing to ‘work’ or ‘not work’ about it. Either you acknowledge that there are people who create symbols for themselves or you don’t. And if you don’t, well, you’re wrong.” We may be unbearably pretentious but that doesn’t mean we don’t exist!]


For instance, a while back I took to wearing a fake engagement ring, first as a social experiment and then, as explained here, as a symbol to myself of all the times I have felt most wanted, chosen, or loved, by classmates, coworkers, friends, acquaintances, family, etc.


Lately, I’ve taken to wearing another kind of ring for symbolic purposes.


There is symbolism in my choice of hand pose and background posters as well. I’m just so symbolic.


The ring is a clamp from the inner tie rod of a car that we worked on in class. (Tie rods are what connect the tires to the car’s rack-and-pinion, which is attached to the steering gear and moves to the right and to the left to steer the car. Not important! Well, no, very important, but not in regard to this post.) Point is, it’s a piece of a car and I turned it into a ring. I even coated the outside with clear nail polish so that it would be shiny.


The symbol has a couple of major layers, which I was very conscious of while choosing it:


  • It takes something stereotypically masculine (car part) and turns it into something stereotypically feminine (shiny ring). This is important to me because it helps me fight my internalized misogynistic thinking that anything feminine or girly or pretty is inherently inferior or weak or useless. These are constructs that are pushed onto us constantly and — while this may surprise you, given my affinities for bright clothes and makeup — I am still deprogramming myself from my aversion to anything girly.


  • I made a very conscious choice to wear it on my left ring finger, where it is customary to wear an engagement and/or wedding ring. I did this even though occasionally my fingers swell up a bit and it might make more sense for me to wear it on a pinky finger or even the ring finger of my right hand, which may be slightly narrower. But I didn’t want to, because I absolutely want that symbol of commitment for myself. That this is what I am dedicating my life to right now. That even when it’s overwhelming, or I’ve had a bad day full of sexism and frustration, or when it’s a long weekend and school feels far away and it may feel easier to slip backward into a more conventional career, this nail-polished piece of metal around my finger provides a physical, tangible reminder for why I won’t do that.


I lost it a couple weeks ago, and I felt naked without it; kept tightening my fingers or reaching my thumb over to my ring finger to feel the ring but it wasn’t there, and I felt unsettled and anxious, like I’d lost an anchor, like I was loosing my grip on my commitment. It’s irrational, but that’s how much power symbols can have. I totally understood why Augustus would risk his life to get another pack of cigarettes to replenish his anchoring metaphor and regain his equilibrium.


bonus John Green
excuse to post gif of Augustus Waters being adorable


What was worse than losing it, though, was the way I lost it: I took it off to wash my hands before eating bread, as per the Jewish custom, and I forgot it by the water fountain where I washed. This was because the water fountain is in a fairly small, semi-isolated nook of the school and I don’t like being in that nook for any longer than necessary, because I can’t help but be aware of the fact that out of anyplace in the school building, that is the easiest one in which to overpower a girl. It’s not like it’s ideal for that — if I screamed they’d totally hear me in the shop — but it’s definitely not the most comfortable place to linger. So I get jumpy when I’m there, and as a result, forgot to put my ring back on and by the next day, it had been cleared away.


And I hated the symbolic significance of how I’d lost it — letting sexism and fear push me around to the point where my behavior was affected and I lost something valuable to me — I hated that even more than I hated losing it, and so I desperately wanted to replace it, to erase that negative energy and make sure it never happened again. Luckily, I take home lots of spare odds and ends from shop, and I found another inner tie rod clamp in my small collection, and that’s the one I currently wear.


So the symbolism on this one is three-fold. Better not lose it.




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