On Vacation, Restlessness, and Self




I never used to get restless. I could just sit and zone out for hours or do absolutely nothing with a week or more of vacation and see everyone growing restless around me and freaking out over not being productive, and I would feel like telling them all, “Hey! Whoa! Chill out! Watch more Netflix.”


This is the first vacation that I have ever been on where restlessness of my own has found me and sometimes drives me to the edge of my nerves. True, some of that is due to exhaustion (I can’t seem to get into a good sleep cycle due to jet lag over the 7 hour time difference between New York and Jerusalem), some of that is due to dehydration (I keep forgetting to drink as much water as I should since the tap water tastes different here), some of it is due to being cold and shivery a lot (the apartments here tend to be really really cold because everything is made of heat-sucking stone), some of that is due to people’s constant questions about “so what’s next for you with this auto mechanic stuff?” (not that I blame them for asking; it just can get a bit stressful to repeatedly answer, “I have no clue; I’ve never done this part before”), and some is due to people telling me what a terrible tourist I am since all I do is meet up with friends in coffee shops or burger joints or pizza places and sit and chitchat instead of doing this whole Traveling To A Foreign Country For A Month THE RIGHT WAY.


Am I going to get back home and feel like this month of my life was wasted? That I could have done more with it? That I would have been better served to just dive straight into job hunting as soon as I graduated as a Certified Automotive Technician? That I’m just stalling for no good reason, since I’ve done nothing worthwhile here? Maybe. I don’t know. That’s kind of why I’m writing about it — because writing about it produces something tangible, something solid that I can point to and say, “Look, I produced something. I got some thinky thoughts out of it. I learned, I experienced, I lived.”


I think what I’ve learned most, or at least what I’ve had reinforced, is the way the company I keep impacts me. How who I am and how I feel about myself is much more malleable than I’d like it to be, and how I feed off different people’s energy in different ways. I’ve written about this before, a year ago actually — https://www.facebook.com/notes/sm-rosenberg/on-falling-out-of-love-with-bonus-helpful-star-trek-parallels/10152167835903186 — in the context of relationships and how they draw out different selves from people, and how a large part of choosing to be in a relationship with a particular person is a statement of, “I prefer this version of myself, the one that I am with this person, and want to be this way on a permanent basis.”


Due to my coffee-shop-burger-bistro-pizza-place-hopping lousy tourist ways, I’ve hung out one-on-one with a lot of different people here, or in small groups, and I’ve been able to see and keep track of what selves get drawn out of me by what people. People tend to see me as a very self-confident person, with a pretty strong personality who is comfortable enough with herself to refuse to take shit from anyone, and for the most part that’s true (otherwise I’d never have gotten through automotive school). But I am also not the type to force my opinions or my attitude onto others when I don’t feel like there’s a natural entry point for me, and so when I’m around those sorts of people, I can feel my internal self making accommodations for them, adjustments, compromises, or just retreating into thoughtful silence or inconsequential small talk, because that’s all I feel like I’m able to contribute, or would like to contribute.


It’s not like that’s a terrible thing; there are all kinds of people in the world with all kinds of interests and all kinds of communication styles, and so being able to communicate with each one about exactly the same things in exactly the same way is a patently ridiculous notion.


But still, I don’t especially like being around people who make me feel smaller inside, who make me feel like I have less to offer, make me feel boring and one-dimensional. Not through any fault of their own; just due to the way interpersonal energy flows between people, or doesn’t, and feeds on itself and builds on itself, or doesn’t. I like being around people who make me feel bigger, and interesting, and multi-faceted and smart and funny and alive. I can spend forever with people like that, and I can tell that there are some people who like to be around me because I make them feel that way.


The other sorts…well, they can be enjoyable company for a while, but ultimately I’ll find myself yearning to be alone with myself and not at the mercy of anyone else’s energy flow. They make me feel fractured, as if with each one of them, I am a piece of self-mosaic, rather than one whole united awesome self. I know that I am made up of all those pieces of the mosaic, and there’s nothing wrong with facing that truth, but I really prefer feeling whole and not having my attention called to the existence of all the cracks.


Don’t get me wrong; I do have a lot of people here who make me feel like that whole awesome self, and it’s been so great to meet and spend time with them. But I have a lot of those people back home too, and I can’t wait to get back.






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#WaybackWednesday — “Stop.”

An old warning to myself to steer clear of toxic friendships and relationships. I’ll never be a poet but very occasionally I write poems.

Original post was a Facebook note on April 10th 2013, and it was also published on the Boylan Blog while I was interning for the English department at Brooklyn College.




“Hey, you — You actually left your house to see me!”

“Just needed to get some air; don’t feel special.”

“Don’t worry, you are very good at making me not feel special.”

“Oooh, burn!”


I laugh. You smile.

We talk



back and forth

familiar rhythm

I’m sure we look adorable

we always look adorable


that old married couple vibe

we give off

as a pair of 20-somethings

striding through the park

No one would ever guess

that you’re killing me

and I’m killing you


I match you insult for insult

smile for smile

and you do the same

stuck in this loop

eviscerating each other

with our laughing smiles

our barbed jokes

I hit every one of your weak spots

You hit every one of mine


And still, we laugh

and still, we smile

because it’s all we know

because we’re both too proud to say


I care.

You matter.

That hurts.






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For You.


“They’re going to hate me.”


I laughed at you for that. “Pffft, no, they won’t.”


“Oh yes, they will.”


Because that’s how it works to you, how it’s always worked — friends of your exes hate you; it’s just how it goes.


It’s a good thing we’re not exes, then.


Even though “I feel like I should add you to my list of exes,” I said, watching while you self-consciously sorted and folded your laundry, hanging up one shirt at a time in that closet by your bathroom. “Because this feels like a breakup even though we never dated.”


“I don’t wanna add you to my list of exes.” You shook out another t-shirt. “That’s basically a list of people who really really hate my guts.”


“Fine.” I grinned. “You can put me on a different list.”


“You just…kind of exist in your own…separate, special space.” You looked down at the t-shirt you were folding, then turned and tucked it away on a shelf.


Yeah. That’s me. And now you too.


A friend of mine suggested that the word for it is “fling,” but that doesn’t do it justice in the slightest, doesn’t encompass everything we were, everything we became, everything we can’t be anymore. “Well, then you come up with a better word,” my friend joked.


“I don’t need a word. I know what it was. I don’t need a nice neat label for it.”


“What was it?”


“It was a friendship that we had to end because we both wanted more from it.”




There’s no word for it. It’s a lacuna. (I know you know what that means. If you don’t remember, just ask Hank Green to remind you.)


A different friend tried to solve the dilemma mathematically —


“Say it’s an omega function, where N is your desire to not have kids, and L is the amount you like someone, so if L is less than N—”


But it doesn’t work like that. The amount that I like you is not quantifiable. And my desire not to have kids isn’t quantifiable either. They’re both infinities.


“Well, if they’re both infinities, then the omega function is useless and I pulled it out for nothing. And the omega function does not like that.”


Oh boo hoo, the omega function will have to get over itself.


I bet that’s a sentence you’ve never seen in a love letter before.


I keep trying to think of a song that captures all of it, but nothing fits anymore. Not even the one I sang you a couple weeks ago. There are lines here and there from lyrics ranging from youtube originals (“We just don’t fit each other’s frequencies”) to country ballads (“I don’t love you any less/But I can’t love you anymore”) to out-of-context Adam Lambert (“Do you know what you got into/Can you handle what I’m about to do/Cuz it’s about to get rough with you”), but none of them are really about everything.


Makes me wonder if should write one myself. But I don’t want to write a song about this. I just want to write this.


I don’t know if you’re okay with this being posted, honestly. But I need to do this. I need to reduce you to something quantifiable, to just one more Facebook note, one more post. A mental exercise of pulling together various puzzle pieces of two years and transmuting them into art. I can’t just let you exist as this amorphous unquantifiable infinity. You blot things out with music and I blot things out with words. I need you to just be words on a screen. So I hope you can forgive me.


I want to write about the things I want to remember. Even I know I need to forget them.


I want to remember everything we were before we caught fire and burned out. I need to remember that we were so much more than just how we ended.


I want to remember the first time we met, when you were handing out those random surveys for some random class and apologizing right and left for doing it.


I want to remember the first time we really hung out, two years ago, seeing the zom-rom-com “Warm Bodies” with our friends, and sitting next to you and knowing you liked me in your quiet, repressed way.


I want to remember how you first put my number into your phone as “Essem” because you were a tiny bit tipsy and thought that was funny. (It’s okay; I was sober and I thought so too.)


I want to remember immediately establishing that we could not date because of our incompatible goals regarding children, and I want to remember you finally telling me so recently how much you appreciated me being so upfront about it. (“I love how straightforward you are. It’s such a breath of fresh air.”)


I want to remember how we fell out of touch, fell back in touch, and stayed in touch, with all those facebook messaging conversations when you were going through your various and sundry crises. Like cologne. Remember cologne and how much you were freaking out about which one to get to impress some girl you barely knew? (And then she dumped you anyway. Classic you. Sorry.)


I want to remember how for the longest time I thought you thought I was a narcissist and didn’t like that about me. Turns out you kinda do now. Turns out you kinda think it’s adorable. You kinda think I’m adorable.


I want to remember how I came to feel that you were too young for me, too green and lacking experience, that you couldn’t really be the kind of emotional support I needed, so I didn’t think of you “that way.”


I want to remember how much of your history, your baggage, and your pain you entrusted me with, and how you said you’ve never regretted it.


I want to remember how protective I felt of you, trying to caution you against getting too attached to your newest crushes too fast, because of how badly that always works out for you. Not that our slow burn wound up being that much better.


I want to remember all the times I knew all I had to do if I wanted a meal for Shabbos was ask you where you were going, because you were always happy to bring me along or direct me to other viable possibilities. I met so many people because of you; I’m not even sure I can count them all.


I want to remember introducing you to my friends, who were always so impressed at my ability to summon a dude to balance the gender ratio at a meal.


I want to remember how you were sweet even when you were drunk, like that time when I told you I thought the guy I liked was interested in a friend of mine and not in me, and you were all, “man, that sucks. But hey, you don’t know for sure, maybe he does like you.” (You were right. He did like me.)


I want to remember helping you move, how I volunteered to stay by the truck and flirt with anyone to distract them from stealing your stuff, because why yes, I am a narcissist. And I want to remember how you let me be the one to put your bedframe back together after the move because you know how much I love using tools.


I want to remember the night when you messaged me when you were coming apart at the seams, and I knew better than to let you go through it alone. I want to remember how when I showed up, you’d wrapped yourself in a blanket on the edge of your bed, fidgeting and twitching, and I remember how I couldn’t find my usual even, logical tone and that everything that left my mouth was vitriolic and furious because I was so pissed at whoever had hurt you like this.


I want to remember that time I met a great girl and thought she’d be perfect for you, but then I discovered that she was, alas, already married. Sigh. I don’t think I even mentioned that one to you, but you knew I kept an eye out for you, and you’d thanked me for doing that.


I want to remember introducing you to the Vlogbrothers youtube channel, and how you liked Hank more than John, because…well, of course you do.


I want to remember all the times we spent marathoning TV shows together, and how comfortable I felt with you, and I didn’t doubt that we’d be friends for long enough to watch the million bazillion things on our lists. I hope you still get to watch them all someday, even though I don’t remember what they all are.


I want to remember how you never made me feel like I had to impress you, how 90% of the time we’ve spent together, I’ve worn no makeup and been in sweatshirts and baggy t-shirts and my shapeless automotive school uniform shirt, and you still think I’m pretty.


I want to remember the first time after we finished an episode that you actually paused and asked, “So, how are things?” I think it was the first personal conversation we ever had that wasn’t about a crisis, just about you and me and our boring lives.


I want to remember how appalled I was when I found out people had stopped setting you up because they thought you and I were dating. I was so horrified at the thought that I might have gotten in the way of you finding your soulmate.


I want to remember the first time I let you see me bleed, the first time I truly relinquished my role as the supporter and became the supportee, how you stayed up an hour past midnight texting me even though you were exhausted and had work the next day, trying to help me stop crying.


I want to remember how I knew I had to tell you that my feelings for you were changing. I remember how tense I was, but how I knew that if I just talked to you, we would work together to figure out a next step. I knew you wouldn’t just bail.


I want to remember how when I started my rambling explanation of how my feelings sometimes do wonky things without my consent, you blurted out, “You still like me, right?” Oh you. Never for a second thinking that the problem was that I liked you too much.


I want to remember how when I decided I needed space from you, you gave it without question, and I want to remember how when we got back in touch, you were like, “Gosh, it’s been so long. How long has it been?” It had been ten days. Only ten days.


I want to remember how glad I was when we were able to talk about your dating life again without it being painful to me. How I gave you advice and how annoyed I got at all these girls who wouldn’t give you the time of day.


I want to remember how I finally broke it open, how after watching an episode where a character gives a big epic speech about choices and regrets, I turned to you and confessed that I wonder if I’ll wind up with regrets about us, and you said you do too, and that really opened the door to us thinking about and admitting how much we want to be with each other.


I want to remember how you said you felt so lucky, “because so many guys go after you, and you don’t want them back. I don’t know if I deserve it, but I’ll take it.”


I want to remember that time you told me not to come over, because you worried that being around me would just make you feel frustrated about all the things you couldn’t have.


I want to remember the last time I came to see you, how part of me knew it was the last time. I kept my eyes glued to the wheels of your swivel chair while I struggled for words, before finally picking up my head, looking you straight in the eye, and just telling you for the first time, “I love you.”


I want to remember how I didn’t wash my hair because I thought that being all oily and gross would make it easier for you not to feel tempted to touch me. And you rolled your eyes at how ridiculous I was to think that there is anything I could possibly do that would make you not want to touch me.


I want to remember how you had that zit on your face, and I pointed it out because I do that, I point out the elephants in the room to get them out of the way. “Don’t worry, I like you even if you have a zit.” You laughed because it was such an understatement. And then I tried to reassure you by telling you what terrible skin I have, and you looked at my bare hands and forearms in utter confusion, so I specified, “My face, I have terrible skin on my face.” “Oh, sure, your face is terrible. I am so not attracted to your face.” And I laughed because it was such a lie.


I want to remember how while those last hours together ticked by, you asked me quietly, “Is it okay that I keep looking at you? I like looking at you.” Of course. Of course it’s okay. And I told you about the first time I thought I noticed you repeatedly looking at me, and how I told myself it was in my head, that I was only seeing what I wanted to see. “I don’t think it was in your head,” you said. “Yeah, I don’t think so either,” I said.


I want to remember how when it was all over, you walked me home for the last time, at 3 AM in the rain. And somehow we were just quoting Galaxy Quest back and forth. And laughing.


I want to remember us like that.


I want to remember


I want to remember


I want


I need to remember all of it. Because the end came so fast that it’s a blur, and it’s so easy to feel like that torrent of feelings that tore us apart wasn’t real. And I can’t let myself believe that I broke us over something that wasn’t even real.


You asked me at one point why we keep doing these things to ourselves, getting ourselves into these situations where we just get hurt.


I murmured in your ear, “I’m just too much of a masochist. It’s in my name.”


It took a second for that joke to land, but when it did, you laughed like I knew you would, a more genuine laugh than I’d heard from you in days. A laugh that trickled out into an “…Oh god.”


Oh god, you were gonna miss me.


Oh god, I’m gonna miss you.


Oh god, I’m so sorry.




“They’re going to hate me.”


No, they won’t.


I’ll write you into my history, and they’ll see how much you meant to me, and they’ll never hate you.


Thank you.


blue heart eye crying



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#FlashbackFriday — “Knowing”

This piece has quite a history, aside from the awards it’s won. It’s an extremely lightly fictionalized version of the early stages of my first relationship. By “extremely lightly fictionalized” I mean I changed the number of people in my family by adding one to make it a nice, round number. Everything else is true.

It was originally posted as a Facebook note on October 18th 2011, 4 days before my 22nd birthday. (Yes, that’s how long I waited before I ever started dating. Ew, boys.) It also won Figment.com’s “Best Bittersweet Non-Love Story Award” which is a category they clearly invented just to give me an award. Because of Figment.com, it was also published again, without my knowledge or permission but that’s another story, in The Huffington Post on September 12th 2012. It also won me a $250 award/scholarship after I read it out loud at a Brooklyn College Open Mic in my junior year – video is here if you want to watch. Ha, I totally forgot about that skirt.

And I’m posting it this week because I’m going through a similar (although not identical) situation at the moment, and I want to remember.


It’s not a love story, because they won’t let it be one.

It’s not really a story, either. Stories are things that happen to other people, stories are what they tell their friends when they clamor for details, stories are cheap and surreal.

This is too nice to be a story. It doesn’t have highs and lows. It has middles and… upper middles? Maybe. There are no sharp edges, not anymore. Not like that first week, when their nerves made them giddy and queasy and anxious and they held hands just to keep from falling apart.

They’re best friends. It should be easy. No topic is off limits, nothing is TMI, everything is laid out for the other to see.

But the universe taunts them. They know too much. They know where they match and where they diverge, and where the differences become the kinds that a divorce attorney would call irreconcilable. And it’s their curse to know.

Everyone sees them, how they make each other smile, how they’ve fallen into each other’s gravity. Everyone has plans, projections for them, all brief roads unspooling toward a tux and a bridal gown.

But they know.

Sometimes he hopes. Sometimes she wonders. But mostly, they know.

He’s an only child, raised by a single dad. He dreams of a building a family of his own, bringing up his children and giving them what he’s never had.

She’s the oldest in a family of ten, suckered into being a mommy for the whole of her young life. She dreams of an empty house, of freedom and choices.

“You’ve been a babysitter; you’ve never been a mom,” he says.

“It’s not something I’ve ever wanted,” she says.

Part of him hopes she’ll compromise. Part of him is sure she won’t.

“But I don’t want to change you, either,” she adds before he can speak.

He wants to hug her for that.

* * *

Their relationship status on Facebook is “complicated,” and they joke that even when they get married, even when they break up, it will stay there, because no matter what happens, they will be eternally complicated.

It’s not really a joke.

He’s her best friend. An open book. Someone for her to know inside and out and care about anyway. Even when she judges him for his grammatical errors.

She’s his best friend. A confidant. A fountain of acceptance to cool him down when he’s consumed by burning shame. Even if he still can’t forgive himself for the things he’s done.

“I like you,” she says.

“I like you, too,” he says.

They tumble into gray areas sometimes, like when there’s no one around and they cuddle on the couch, tracing each other’s faces lightly with their fingertips. He tries to read every last nuance of her expression. She tries to quantify how much of his eyes are green and how much are blue.

“It would be so easy,” he murmurs without pulling away.

“I would let you,” she tells him.

But they won’t kiss. Because if this falls to pieces, they’re still hoping against hope to find their best friends in the aftermath. A kiss can’t be taken back, and they won’t break the rewind button. Not yet.

He feels like they’re in limbo. She feels like she’s standing in his way, blocking him from finding someone whose dreams match his own, blinding him with her charm and her care.

“Are we being selfish?” she asks.

He shrugs. “Probably.”

He thinks she can do better, that she’s a better person than he will ever be. But she’s here with him now, and he will not let himself mess this up.

“Sometimes I wonder,” she muses, “if I were terminally ill and on pace to die in five years, would we change?”

“I might propose,” he says.

“I might say yes.”

“And I’d be a widower and a single dad by age 30.”

“Not a single dad,” she corrects. “No kids.”

“One kid.”

She sighs.

Sometimes he hopes. Sometimes she wonders. But mostly, they know.


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#ThrowbackThursday — “How to Make Friends*”

I’m coming in just under the wire for Throwback Thursday so I don’t have time to write a witty intro. Although I do want to note that I test more in the spectrum range of “ambivert” than “introvert” these days. But I drift.

Original post is from March 20th 2013.



I came across one of my old handwritten journals from my year in Israel, and thought this entry was EXTREMELY interesting, because some of it is so far from who I am now that I barely recognize myself. It sounds like some people I know, but not like me anymore.

“October 27th 2008 (Chaya Solomon’s b-day)


“ ‘I can’t’ usually means ‘I won’t’ — but aren’t there times when ‘I won’t’ isn’t such a bad thing? And some things aren’t just a matter of your will; you need the cooperation of others.

“What I want more than anything this year is to make friends. Good friends. If it’s girls or boys, I don’t really care. But whenever I try to go out and ‘be social,’ meet new people, I always find myself fading into the background while other people do all the talking, make all the jokes. So I just stand around half the time, being weirdly silent, and I end up no better off than before. I suck at group dynamics. One on one, I’m fine. How in the world am I supposed to change that? But maybe more important than that: Why SHOULD I change that? Why should I try to turn myself into the life of the party, talk when I have nothing to say, pretend to be an extrovert? I’m an introvert. It’s not a condition — it’s a fact. And I want to find someone I connect with on that level, not by pretending to be someone I’m not. Duh. Doing it any other way would be counterproductive. But what’s the point of going out to these social gatherings? The kinds of people I’m looking for will not be in those groups; they’ll be back where I want to be, in their rooms, reading, writing, or on the computer.

“It’s paradoxical. I’m intensely introverted and the only people I can meet when I go out are more extroverted than I am, and therefore I don’t get noticed or appreciated by anyone there. I just come across as dull and boring and I’d be kidding myself if I said that isn’t pretty crushing to my self-esteem.

“So, should I change? Is it my fault? If so, how would I change? Read books about taking control of social situations? Ask therapists? Do anything and everything to change my introverted nature, to put on a mask and compromise my self, this major part of my personality?

“Or is this a case of drawing a line, an ‘I won’t’? How far am I supposed to compromise, fake my way through in order to get a friend? Personally, I think I’m looking in the completely wrong place.

“But the other introverts . . . I don’t know. The few that I’ve met seem worse than me, more determined than I am to shut everyone out. They’ve got their own tight circle of friends, here or back home, and they don’t seem interested in letting me in.”


The biggest, most obvious question that gripped me while reading this is, of course: What changed?!

I’m still a reclusive introvert who rarely leaves her room during the week, but if you’ve met me in a group setting, you know how I am there — I’m not “the life of the party” necessarily, but I do that thing that actors with screen presence do: I pull focus. I’m brash and unapologetic, I crack jokes, I say outrageously honest things, I hold my own in almost any conversation. One of my friends, who I met this year at a New Year’s Eve party, told me, “I bet no one who meets you ever forgets you,” and while I wouldn’t go anywhere near that far, I will admit that I’m probably the furthest thing from “dull and boring.”


But there are times where I can feel the remnants of the things mentioned in that journal entry.

I do have days, or even random minutes or hours here and there, where something just switches off, and I’ll go silent or monosyllabic, and I’ll be that boring girl who sits on the couch and reads or sleeps while everyone else carries on just fine without me, or I’ll sit in the thick of it and tune you all out like so much white noise.

And there are certain crowds where I just don’t feel comfortable and don’t feel like talking.

Secret: Mostly this happens in crowds of Jews. Religious Jews who I don’t know make me more uncomfortable than anyone else, and that includes the horrendously smelly, schizophrenic homeless people I encounter on the subway.

Why is that?

Well, because they remind me of what I’m supposed to be but am not.

I felt this to a crippling degree while socializing during my year in Israel, because Israel was a place you were supposed to go so that you could connect with your religion and connect with God, and I was still laboring under the notion that if I just studied hard enough, and focused myself properly, and found the right teachers, then I could learn to believe the way I was supposed to, the way believers did. And I hadn’t yet come to inhabit the religious identity of “agnostic” — that came much later. At the time, I just (very, very secretly) self-identified as a “bad Jew.”

I still don’t think of myself as a particularly good Jew, in the religious sense of being Jewish. As I’ve written in other pieces, I eventually realized that the only reason I kept trying to believe was because I wanted to please the people around me — parents, teachers, friends, community — not because it mattered to me personally. And at some point, I just got tired of pretending to care and trying to make myself care about religion when I don’t, and was only searching for answers in order to fit in. The simple fact of the matter is: I don’t have answers, and I don’t care that I don’t.

So to me, hanging out with a bunch of religious Jews I don’t know can sometimes feel like hanging out with a bunch of mathematicians — it’s not that I don’t respect them; I just don’t have much to contribute to the conversation. And even if I did, I wouldn’t care about it the way they do, and I wouldn’t want to give them the impression that I do. (I dislike writing about religion for that reason; it makes people think you want to talk about it, when honestly, I really don’t.)

Being uncomfortable because of this is silly, obviously — whether the people are religious Jews or mathematicians, they’ll almost definitely have interests, likes, and dislikes outside of Judaism or math, respectively. Even if people are extremely passionate about one thing (and by no means are all Orthodox Jews passionate about being Orthodox Jews, but even if they were) they seldom obsess over it to the exclusion of all else. I have plenty of religious friends, and we hardly ever talk about religion. So of course I could easily talk to a religious Jewish stranger about Star Trek or baseball or Green Day or how hot Jennifer Lawrence is.

But when you’re insecure about something, you feel transparent except for that one thing. You feel like if you open your mouth or call attention to yourself, everyone will somehow figure it out. And you feel like there’s this huge wall between you and them, because you have this massive secret, and there’s an unbridgeable gap between your understanding of the world and theirs.

I’ve long since parted ways with the shame I used to feel about my faith or lack thereof.

I will drop “agnostic” into conversations with religious Jews I’ve barely met, just to get it out there. I have my religious views of “culturally Jewish, religiously agnostic” visible publicly on my facebook profile page, visible to people who aren’t even my facebook friends. I have no patience for pretending anymore, and no interest in misleading anyone into thinking that just because I wear skirts and sleeves and high necklines and keep shabbos and kosher and just about everything else, that I am religious.


That is just one example of a major insecurity that no longer plagues me to the degree that it used to. Others were my weight, my skin, my voice, and the fact that I don’t know what I want out of life. To name a few.

I’ve become a sort of pro at overcoming insecurity, in my old age. It’s become second nature to the point where I often don’t even realize I’m doing it.

It’s a basic two- or maximum three-step regimen.

The first step is recognition. If you don’t recognize the insecurity that is holding you back from feeling comfortable, you have no chance of overcoming it.

The second step is contextualization. How big and bad is this insecurity? What’s the worst it can do to your life, e.g., is that zit really going to make a huge difference, or are you blowing it out of proportion? Is this something that no one has ever overcome before? Do you know people with this exact issue or a similar one or worse, but it doesn’t seem to bother them and you think they’re awesome anyway? If so, what makes them awesome and why should it be any different for you?

Sometimes you can stop after step two, because the answers are obvious enough that the insecurity shrinks away to nothing. Other times, it’s not so simple, and you need to move on to step three:

Honesty. (You knew that was coming, right? I’m super predictable.)

You don’t need to be one thousand percent honest with everyone, about everything, at all times. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops. You don’t have to post it on facebook.

But you should try to have various different people in your life that you can be honest with about some things some of the time, and hopefully if you have enough of these people, then [some things] + [some things] + [some things] = Everything. For instance, there are certain things I can’t tell my parents, and there are certain things I don’t put on facebook (le shock!), and there are certain things I can tell some close friends but not others, because of overlapping social circles and violation of other people’s privacy and other sticky circumstances. But I have very few secrets of my own that I keep purely to myself. (I have some, by choice, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either.)

As important as it is to have the courage of your own convictions, it’s also important to have validation from others. Ideally, it shouldn’t be necessary, and you shouldn’t rely on it for all things, but we’re human and we’re wired to want to belong, to be understood and accepted by a community of like-minded people, and we should draw strength from that when we can.

Shame tends to seep in when you feel like there’s something you can’t talk about with anyone, and shame is one of the most corrosive and least productive emotional states in the universe.

Sometimes you really have no choice but to feel like the lone freak because your opinion is so singular or unpopular within your community that no one seems to get it. But those are rare. Most of the time, everyone is struggling or has struggled with the same things you are; they just don’t admit it. Or sometimes don’t realize it.

As a general rule, the more honest you are about who you are and how you think, the more unremarkable it will seem to you and to the people around you. These things just become a part of you that doesn’t scare anyone away any more than any other part of you. If people do get scared away, you can be sure they aren’t the kind of people you want in your life.

To be all clever and clichéd: The more you own your insecurities, the less they’ll own you.


But the big question 2008-SM was grappling with remains: How do I find these people I can be honest with? How do I make friends?

I just asked that as if I have the answer, didn’t I? Sorry, my mistake.

I don’t have an answer. There is no blueprint for making friends and I am definitely not an expert in this area.

I can tell you that it’s a numbers game. Pickup artists can tell you that if you go to a bar and set your sights on one specific person, you’re probably heading for disappointment. Not everyone you reach out to is going to reach back. People can be very standoffish and averse to new faces, and something about you may just rub them the wrong way, and these things aren’t necessarily within your control.

(For instance, I find a lot of people to be nice, friendly, upstanding human beings, but they bore me. I swear, that’s all it is. There’s nothing wrong with any of them; we’re just not on the same wavelength and there’s a limit to how close a friendship we can develop when I can’t connect with you. We can be friends, sure, but never close friends. It sounds harsh to say it like that, but everyone gets a lot more out of friendships with people who get them than with people who don’t.)

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t reach out. On the contrary — if you want more friends, you should reach out more. If statistics show that 4 out of 5 people don’t reach back, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that reaching out to 15 people will yield 3 potential friends while reaching out to 5 will yield only 1.

The downside of this is that while the percentage rate of rejection stays the same (4 out of 5, 12 out of 15 = 80% rejection rate), the quantity of rejections goes up (4 rejections from reaching out to 5 people; 12 from reaching out to 15). And that can be exhausting and demoralizing.

And of course, since I just made up these statistics, in real life you don’t have any guarantee that even 1 in 5 will reach back. You might get shut out 15 to 0.

I’ll tell you another secret: I have 1 close friend from high school. There were 70 kids in my grade.

And another: I have 1 close friend from Israel. There were 105 girls in my school.

I have a few reasonably good friends from both those places, a ton of acquaintances who probably think fairly well of me, and I never made any enemies as far as I know, but close friends? The ones you can really get to know and let them get to know you? The ones you tell the things you can’t tell facebook? The ones you’d stay on the phone with for as long as they need you when they’re having a crisis? The ones you go to when you need help?

The odds are not in your favor.

But this is a textbook case of quality over quantity. I’ve never in my life wanted to be popular. (I didn’t even understand the concept in elementary school; I remember having a conversation with a friend in 6th grade where she explained to me who the popular girls were. “So-and-so, she’s popular.” “She is? But I don’t like her.” “Yeah, but she’s popular.” “Okay. Whatever.”) But I always wanted friends.


It’s a slow process. You can’t rush friendship any more than you can hurry love. You will be rejected or ignored with varying degrees of politeness by most of the people you attempt to befriend. You will grow apart from people, and the nature of your friendships with them will change, or they’ll disintegrate entirely, and that will hurt.

But if you keep your eyes open, and you keep making an effort, you’ll find people you want in your life who will want you in theirs. Try not to assume that just because you think someone is awesome, then they must have a ton of friends and no room for little ole you. That might be the case, but if you connect with someone and appreciate them deeply, sometimes that’s because you speak the same psychic language, and that’s a two-way street. People are almost always willing to enrich their lives with other people who speak their language.

I won’t say that conquering your insecurities and cultivating a core group of close friends will turn you into a wise-cracking attention-hog like me, because let’s face it — I’m just naturally charismatic and witty and gorgeous, and ain’t nobody gonna teach you that.

But learning to accept who you are, down to the not-so-shiny nuts and bolts, and having people who accept you as well, can give you that little bit of confidence you need to be just fine with being the boring one, the quiet one, the one who doesn’t need to drink or smoke, or the one who isn’t terrified of splitting off and heading home early.

Because you know you don’t need to impress anyone. You’ve got it made.





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#ThrowbackWednesday — “Sandwich Method On Myself”

Since I missed last Thursday’s throwback post (for a legitimate reason this time — it was the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah), I’m gonna post this today and pretend I’m trying to make #ThrowbackWednesday happen. (It’s not going to happen.)

Original post is from August 26th, 2012, and it’s relevant for its soul-searching and introspection that are supposed to mark this portion of the Jewish year. I don’t know if I’ll have time before Yom Kippur this Saturday to write up a revised version of this list, so I’m going to hide my laziness behind Past-Me’s poignant self-analysis.


* * *


Sandwich Method on Myself


No, this post has nothing to do with feminism.


The “sandwich method” is a colloquial name for method of critique that I’ve been encouraged to use in some of my writing workshop classes, because it is a) the most humane, and b) generally the most effective. It “sandwiches” the criticisms between positive feedback, i.e. it starts with the good, then moves on to the bad, and ends with restating the good or adding more good. People tend to be more receptive to sandwich-structured critiques because it’s clear that you’re on their side.


It’s Elul now, the Hebrew month before the start of the Jewish New Year, and I have to admit: I’m not particularly proud of this year.


I let myself be treated poorly. I left myself be kicked around, I let myself be used. Not saying I was a doormat, because that would be extreme and untrue, but I let my standards slide at times, and let myself think certain things were “okay,” because I thought the trade-offs were worth it and that I was being too picky about what I needed from my friends.


So I’ve decided to use the sandwich method on myself, because it’ll probably be more productive than just wallowing or beating myself up over any of this.


Some things I’m good at:


1)   Making soup.

2)   Calming people down when they’re freaking out.

3)   Talking myself out of doing stupid things.

4)   Hiding my pain.


Things I’m bad at:


1)   Talking to my parents.

2)   Giving up.

3)   Letting go.

4)   Listening to music for more than half an hour without wanting to bawl my eyes out.

5)   Not getting sick.

6)   Writing on days when I have no inspiration.

7)   Getting my required volunteer hours done. [Edit from the future: This was a college requirement for my Honors program and I got them done!]

8)   Not telling myself “you’re asking too much” when no, I’m asking for very little.

9)   Keeping in touch with people who aren’t on facebook.

10)  Wearing high heels.

11)  Not judging people who wear high heels even with back and leg problems.

12)  Not valuing the opinions of some people who aren’t really my friends over the opinions of my true friends.

13)  Doing my laundry in a timely fashion.


Things I’ve gotten better at but am still not great at:


1)   Talking to strangers.

2)   Confronting the people who hurt me.

3)   Not burning quinoa.

4)   Not throwing up when certain conversation topics come around.

5)   Making plans that require me to leave the house and put on clothes.


Some more things I’m good at:


1)   Keeping in touch with people who ARE on facebook.

2)   Finding humor and fun in almost everything.

3)   School.



And a serious question for those of you who think that my list probably isn’t comprehensive: What else am I bad at and should work on during the upcoming year?


“Shut up about your lists and make me a sammich, woman!”



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Open Letter to A[nother] Friend (or, “A Series of Deeply Awkward Events”)

I debated for a bit whether I wanted to post this on a public blog rather than just on Facebook, but decided that it was a sufficiently detailed and nuanced portrait of friendship that I would like to have it out there. Also I missed yet another ThrowbackThursday post so here’s this instead.


Open Letter to A[nother] Friend (or, “A Series of Deeply Awkward Events”)

[The last time I wrote an open letter, it was to a friend who was getting married. This one isn’t a letter to mark that particular occasion, but one of my best friends’ lives is about to undergo a huge upheaval that is in some ways just as drastic as marriage, and I wanted to commemorate that somehow. This is about you, but it’s also largely about me, so I hope you’ll forgive it for being this public.]

Dear Friend Who Shall Remain Unnamed To Protect Against Prying NSA Eyes and Permanent Internet Embarrassment (the latter of which shall heretofore be known as P.I.E. because who doesn’t love pie),

The story of us starts earlier than you probably know. You probably think I’m going to start with that time you didn’t accept my Facebook friend request because you didn’t remember who the heck I was. As you might say, “#AWK.”

But the story starts earlier, as it has to, because why else would I have sent you that friend request in the first place?

See, we were in elementary school together, but you were a grade ahead of me, a big scary sixth grader, when I first became aware of your existence. You were a charter member of my dad’s sixth grade Harry Potter Writing Club, which is totally a thing that happened once upon a time — it was featured in the New York Times, yo. I don’t know if you know this, but my dad used to read his favorite excerpts of the club’s writing aloud to me and the rest of my family at home. And he read yours frequently. (See what I mean? SO MUCH P.I.E. Permanent Internet Embarrassment forever!)

In my eyes, you and your friends whose writing he read to us were just the coolest. (Clearly, my definition of “cool” has never been the cool kind of cool. Oops.) So I did what a tactless fifth grader does when she’d like to be friends with a group of sixth graders who don’t know her from a hole in the wall — I crashed your lunch table.

Your friends were none too keen on this. They alternately looked at me funny or ignored me completely and blatantly, and I didn’t understand why until I was a sixth grader myself and had some younger friends who attempted to crash my lunch table. My sixth grader friends treated them approximately the way your friends treated me.

But I tried to behave like you had, because you didn’t seem to care that I had invaded your table and violated the social order of fifth graders sitting with fifth graders and sixth graders sitting with sixth. I don’t recall you making active attempts to include me in the conversation or anything, but in no way did you make me feel unwelcome.

I didn’t know then that that was because you are one of the warmest people that I am ever going to meet, but I knew that I liked you best at that table, which I was tactful enough not to crash again.

Fast forward many, many, many months. I haven’t seen you in literally six or seven years, but your name pops up somewhere on Facebook and I figure, “Hey, why not?” So I send you a friend request, and you don’t respond. And you don’t respond. And you don’t respond.

And I figured that was it, that I’d just never really get a chance to be your friend. Because why would you want me, anyway? You were like the coolest nerdgirl ever, surrounded by other awesome nerdy friends, and I was just that awkward fifth grader of times gone by — what could you possibly want with me?

Fast forward some more, to an opening weekend showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I (funny how it all comes back to HP, don’tcha know). I went to see it with, who else, my dad and various siblings, and when the lights came back on at the end, I discovered that you had been at the same showing, with an old elementary school friend of mine who it turned out was now your roommate. It was a fairly excitable reunion (because omg the Tale of the Three Brothers was SO WELL DONE in that movie) and I dragged you over to my father because I knew he’d be happy to see you even though you weren’t so sure. (He was. I was right. I am always right.)

It also turned out that you were attending Queens College and living mere blocks away from my house, and you issued me a standing invitation: “Come visit ANYTIME!”

I’d love to be able to say here that the magic of Harry Potter brought us together forever and thereafter everything was kittens and rainbows and yadda yadda yadda. But it took a bit more than that.

Even with that standing invitation, I didn’t want to presume you wanted me around much. I mean, it’s not just that you were nerdy-cool. You’re also brilliant and articulate and knowledgeable about any number of subjects, and if you happened to not be thoroughly familiar with a topic, you were always able to succinctly and wittily encapsulate what you did know about it and where you felt the gaps in your knowledge base lay. It’s always so much more impressive to me when people are able to admit what they don’t know, instead of blustering on and pretending they have a clue. And on top of all that, you are, of course, side-splittingly hilarious. I told you recently that at first, you were probably the closest thing I ever had to a girl crush.

It wasn’t that I was intimidated, per se. It was more that I just didn’t really feel like I had anything to offer you that you didn’t already have.  But maybe that’s what intimidation is? (I wasn’t as savvy then as I am now about how much people appreciate decent companionship even if I don’t have anything measurable to offer along with it.) So I only took you up on your invitation a few times here and there.

But we did at last become facebook friends, after you apologetically explained that not accepting my friend request wasn’t anything personal — you just couldn’t figure out who I was. Because you are so bad at names. And faces. (Like so bad that you still sometimes can’t tell the difference between Hank and John Green. And probably between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. SO. BAD.) And we got along spectacularly well in comment threads.

I gradually started coming over more often, meeting your Queens College and neighborhood friends, feeling like I was becoming part of the group. I never really had a neighborhood group of friends my age before, you know. Throughout my life, I went to school in the Bronx, in Long Island, and in Brooklyn, and yet I lived in Queens, so my school friends were scattered all over, rarely local. I figure that’s why I can float between so many different groups of people of various ages and backgrounds and whatnot; I never really had any other choice until recently. Hanging out with people my age and/or at a similar place in life still feels like a luxury that I never used to have.

Then there was that time I found out that could introduce you to someone — there was a grown-up neighborhood friend of mine that you vaguely knew and were dying to properly meet. I offered to introduce you to her and you PANICKED in that adorably neurotic way you always do. Actual process of getting you to agree to come with me to her house on shabbos afternoon:

You: “Are you sure she won’t mind if you bring me along?”
Me: “Yes. Very sure. She’ll love you.”
(on the way out the door:)
You: “But are you sure?”
Me: “Yes.”
(a block away from her:)
You: “But are you sure?
Me: “Yes. Jeez.”
(upon reaching her front door:)
You: “But are you SURE???”
Me: “No, you’re right; let’s go back.”
You: “Haha, fiiiiine.”

(You met her and she loved you and now you’re great friends. I was right. I am always right.)

But a turning point in our reconnection was probably that summer I got an internship at the same marketing agency where you were already working. You seemed thrilled to have me there, always made sure to come over to my desk and chitchat, and we had marvelous lunch break adventures, including but not limited to:

·      You showing me the ropes of the mean streets of DUMBO, Brooklyn (so many hipsters. So much street art. So mean.)

·      Me falling in the East River and coming back to the office soaking wet. NBD.

·      Us hunting down and visiting the used sci-fi/fantasy bookstore I’d heard about from the internet, being interviewed about it for some local news channel, meeting the staff members, and ultimately getting the ball rolling on having it be a venue for a book signing by Lois McMaster Bujold.

·      That time when you had to mail a letter but didn’t have a stamp, so we went to the DUMBO post office. It had no humans and only a stamp machine, which was broken. There was a phone on the wall, no number keypad, just a corded hotline phone, and you picked it up, and listened. And listened again.

Me: “What? What did it say?”
You: “It said… ‘For help, press 3.’ ”

It was that day that you uttered the fateful words: “MY LIFE IS A KAFKA NOVEL!”

·      And of course, our genius backup plan for when we give up on ever marrying dudes and just move to Scotland and get gay married to each other and adopt Scottish babies and see if they develop Scottish accents despite being around us. (Those poor hypothetical children.)

You would talk to me about anything and everything, personal or worldly or anything in between, and at first I thought that was just part and parcel of your friendly, extroverted nature. But then one time, in the presence of you and another friend, I mentioned something you had told me, and you quietly asked me afterward if I would keep that particular tidbit to myself. It wasn’t for everyone to know after all. It was something you trusted me with and I didn’t realize. (This is a frequent problem for me, fyi — for whatever reason, people so easily and comfortably spill their secrets to me that I don’t always realize that they are secrets, or at least privileged information. I’ve become somewhat neurotic about protecting other people’s privacy, in my old age. This note notwithstanding.) But my point is, that was when I started to realize that I was becoming a closer friend to you than I’d realized.

I still didn’t quite let myself believe it, though, even when there were other indicators, like how you told me you often ask yourself “What would SM do?” and then do it, and like how you would occasionally quit facebook and drop off the face of the planet to most people, but still made time to IM chat with me, and always returned my emails or texts. No matter how stressed you were, and sometimes specifically when you were stressed:

You: “the phones won’t stop ringing ahhhhhhhhhhh”




*sprouts extra heads*
*and hands*
*and toenails for GOOD MEASURE*”

(Note: This is a fictionalized conversation sample that never actually happened, because I am too lazy to scroll through hours and hours of chat transcripts. But it totally could have happened.)

And yet I still didn’t let myself feel totally secure in the idea of being your friend because (a) I have attachment issues, and (b) as absurd as it sounds, you were still that big scary sixth grader to a part of me, and I still didn’t really feel like I had much to offer you that you couldn’t get from yourself or from your other friends.

I leapt at opportunities to be a better friend, to prove to you, but more importantly to myself, that I had what to give you. And bit by bit, I proved it. When you needed meals, I invited you. When you needed a listening ear, I offered one. When you needed help moving, I was so there. When you needed a safe space to vent or freak out, I provided that. When you needed a buddy to come along to Philadelphia for the weekend so that you could attend a prospective students day at UPenn Law School, I jumped on that bus. When you needed another eye to look over your application essays, I edited them all. When you were maxing out on stress, I started a facebook page just to make you laugh. When you desperately wanted friends to come to Dragon*Con with you as a last hurrah before law school, I volunteered.

And at Dragon*Con, when you wanted a buddy for that concert of that obscure band that you were dying to see, and they were slotted at 1 o’clock in the morning, I stuck with you. And I vividly remember, when we got back to our hotel room bathroom and I was helping you scrub eyeliner off your lids with hotel-provided moist towelettes, I thought to myself, “This is what friendships are made of.”

Because they are. Mountains of memories built on shared experiences and a whole lot of giving on both sides. You made my giving easy, because whatever I gave, you gave right back, with profuse thanks and hugs and love and support and advice and — always — laughter.

It’s only in the past year or so that I became aware that the intimidation went both ways. That I intimidated you. Somehow. When you told me that, I had to ask why, and your answer, as usual, made me laugh:

“I don’t know how to say this politely, but you are STAGGERINGLY GORGEOUS. And brilliant, too. It’s a heady combination.”

What you don’t understand is that you make me that way. Well, not the gorgeousness; that’s genetics and a lot of smoke and mirrors. But you make me smarter. You make me funnier. You make me more empathetic. You open my eyes and make me more curious about the world around me by making it seem more accessible, more interesting, and more zany than it appears at first glance. Even when you’re upset and we’re talking about serious or depressing things like rape culture or world poverty or the sorry state of mental health care in this country or airport security or the lack of a Wonder Woman movie (GRRRR), you are buoyant and earnest and passionate, and life feels lighter when you are there to look at it with me.

For a long time in our friendship, part of me still felt like that fifth grader trying to sit at the sixth grade table, with that underlying fear that one day you’d just drop the ball on me, because after all, I was kind of a charity case and wasn’t really that important to you. And now that you’ve made it abundantly clear that that’s not the case, that you need me and rely on me and want me around, I have a new fear: that I will drop the ball on you. That I will fail you. That I will become complacent in our wonderful friendship and let you down. It’s a lot of pressure, you understand, to be needed and wanted and trusted by someone as awe-inspiring as you.

I’m going to do my best.

I trust you to do the same. And always remember: Nobody but you gives a damn if you were once that awkward fifth grader, or that awkward high schooler, or that awkward college freshman. Go forth and be the you that you are now, because that you is incredible. Trust me. I’m right. I am always right.

Good luck.




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