#ThrowbackThursday — “On Family (A Confession)”

Can hardly believe it’s been almost a year since I wrote this.

Originally posted as a Facebook note on April 23rd, 2014.


On Family (A Confession)


On the last day of Passover this year, I read a book called Wonder. It centers around a ten-year-old kid named August “Auggie” Pullman who has facial anomalies/deformities that are so extreme that almost no one (other than his dog) is able to meet him and not recoil in horror. And he’s starting fifth grade in a prep school for the first time after being homeschooled by his very loving parents all his life.

Sure, Auggie’s story is interesting and all, thought-provoking about superficiality and how-would-you-feel-if-this-was-you and WHY-ARE-KIDS-SO-MEAN and so on, but (and in hindsight this is kind of “duh”) I connected much more with the brief section of the book written from the point of view of his older sister, Via. She uncomplainingly takes a backseat to August, understanding full well that he and his medical, surgical, and social integration issues are more important than whatever run-of-the-mill problems she will ever deal with. And then came this passage:

On my last day in Montauk, Grans and I had watched the sunset on the beach. We had taken a blanket to sit on, but it had gotten chilly, so we wrapped it around us and cuddled and talked until there wasn’t even a sliver of sun left over the ocean. And then Grans told me she had a secret to tell me: she loved me more than anyone else in the world.

“Even August?” I had asked.

She smiled and stroked my hair, like she was thinking about what to say. “I love Auggie very, very much,” she said softly. I can still remember her Portuguese accent, the way she rolled her r’s. “But he has many angels looking out for him already, Via. And I want you to know that you have me looking out for you. Okay, menina querida? I want you to know that you are number one for me. You are my . . .” She looked out at the ocean and spread her hands out, like she was trying to smooth out the waves, “You are my everything. You understand me, Via? Tu es meu tudo.

I understood her. And I knew why she said it was a secret. Grandmothers aren’t supposed to have favorites. Everyone knows that. But after she died, I held on to that secret and let it cover me like a blanket.

Listen, I’ve read and reread John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, a tragic love story about kids dying of cancer, and it’s never made me cry. Choked up a little, maybe, but that’s all.

This passage just destroyed me. I had to literally put the book down because wiping my eyes with one hand wasn’t helping because the tears just kept coming. I had to bury my face in my arm and let them soak into the sleeve. I wanted to just keep crying until I had no tears left because how did I not know how badly I’ve always wished someone would say something like that to me?? — but I couldn’t, because I was sitting on the couch in the living room during a Passover lunch, and about 15 feet away was a table full of 14 people, a combination of family and guests, and emotional meltdowns are just not done in these situations. So I pulled it together.

Because that’s me, and that’s Via. We get that other things come first, and we’ve internalized it to the point where hearing someone say “No, you come first” is just incredible, in the sense of “not credible” — not true, not real, not possible.


If you asked me: “What’s the best thing about being part of a big family?” I would not be able to tell you.

Or even if you asked me: “What’s one good thing about being part of a big family?” I would still draw a blank.

If you pressed me for something, anything, I’d probably eventually come up with, “No matter what you do, there’s probably always someone else around to distract your parents from being mad at you for too long.”

But that’s kind of the crux of it, isn’t it. That the best thing I can say about big families is that you constantly get lost in the shuffle? That’s not the best thing. It’s not even a good thing. But it’s the only thing I can think of off the top of my head that’s different about having a big family vs. having a small family or a close-knit group of friends.

One of my boyfriends, after meeting my parents, said to me quietly, “Your parents are amazing. But it seems like they’re always so busy; I feel like they probably could never quite give you the attention you needed.”

I defended them, but he was right, of course. My boyfriends are sharp like that.

It’s not that my parents play favorites. It’s not that anyone kid gets all the attention over the others, although I’ve heard various siblings whine about how “HE/SHE always gets this but I never do.” I’ve never felt like I’ve played second fiddle to any one particular sibling. It’s just that we all play second fiddle to the family as a whole. To the other 8 people in it. We all occasionally have our moments to shine, but nobody ever gets to be the lead, and you know that no matter what you do, good or bad, you will be forgotten by the next day or at most the next week. This is probably why I have never been obsessed with being remembered forever or of somehow achieving immortality through my actions or my writing — being part of a big family is the quickest way to learn that all glory is temporary. Which is probably a good life lesson to process early, but still, it, well, it sucks.

The truth is that in a family with seven kids (and two parents, and for six years a sick grandmother who lived with us), when it comes to attention, you have two options: Compete or Retreat.

You can demand attention in three ways: 1) by acting out, 2) by being spectacular, or 3) by getting sick. (I totally understand Munchausen’s, by the way, because the only time any of us are ever truly prioritized over the others is when we are sick. Like hospital and/or medical testing level sick, or mentally/emotionally therapy level sick.) I didn’t like doing (1) on purpose because it seemed babyish and also would get me yelled at. (3) happened all by itself and I never faked being sick just for attention, because I hated being seen as vulnerable. So that left (2) Being Spectacular, and I probably did that the most of those three choices: brought home pristine report cards; wrote a novel in high school; received glowing praise from almost all the teachers I’ve ever had, in every subject from English to History to Talmud to Gym.

And of course, if the only time anyone is ever looking at you is when you’re spectacular, that becomes very much tied to your self-worth, because you know that if you ever slip and stop being spectacular, no one will give a damn about you anymore. Or so the internal logic goes.

But for the most part, I didn’t want to compete for the attention. I wanted to imagine myself as better than that. I also didn’t want my parents looking at me too closely or asking me anything too personal, because what if they ever wanted to talk to me about God, or religion, or even *gasp* what boy I had a crush on? Worst nightmare, amirite?

In a big family, the kids who can find ways to amuse themselves, be self-motivated, and appear to outsiders to be mostly self-sufficient, are the ones who get the least attention. If you are having some kind of internal crisis and you don’t want anyone to know, the best place to hide is in a big family. So I sort of disappeared, popping up every now and then when I got sick, when I did amazingly well on a test or a paper, when I got stories published, when I got depressed, when I got scholarships, when I had a boyfriend, when I graduated from something, etc, and the rest of the time I stayed mostly out of the way. And I think the rest of my siblings did and do the same thing because fortunately none of us are “problem children” and we’re all fairly healthy and capable and self-sufficient in our various different ways.

Resources like time, energy, and money, are limited in large families, and they have to get distributed in a way that best serves the family, and my parents do the best they can. Every kid is always going to have something that is going to require a little more investment than it does for the other kids — my medical bills, for instance. Also my bras probably cost more than any of my sisters’ because that’s just how anatomy and pricing work together in glorious harmony. And because my acne was so bad in my early teens, my mother took me to Macy’s and had the saleslady teach me some basics about makeup. And when my dad found out that I liked Mr Goodbar chocolate bars, he bought me a giant one, apropos of nothing. And of course there’s the fact that even though they’re not very comfortable with where I am religiously, they never pick fights with me about it or try to fix me.

They’re great parents. They do so many things for each of us. They try so hard. But that doesn’t change the fact that on a daily basis or a weekly basis, it is simply not humanly possible to make enough time for each of seven children, and none of us wants to be the ungrateful one, or the demanding one, or the problem child, and so we all retreat. I retreat. I put the family first. I help out more than any of the other kids. I go to lots of family gatherings even when I’d seriously rather not. I calculate expenses and I tell my parents not to spend money on things for me that I don’t need. My idea of an expensive dress is one that costs more than $20.

But does part of me resent the fact that I constantly tell my parents not to spend extra money on me, that I saved them thousands of dollars by getting a full merit scholarship to college, and yet the beneficiaries of that are my younger siblings, who get that money toward their college tuition while I’m going to have to pay on my own for that automotive technician training program I’ve been eying? Yeah, I resent it. Of course I do. I understand it, I understand prioritization, I understand that they earned that money and are obviously entitled to spend it how they choose, I understand that Pratt charges an arm and a leg and probably your opposable thumb too, and I understand how whiny and bratty my resentment is, but yeah, it’s tough to swallow sometimes. But that’s family. And I know that if I ever really needed something, they’d redistribute resources this way for me. But 6 out of 7 times, I’m going to be the one who gives a little, and not the one who gets.

My novels and stories are populated with characters who often serve as a catharsis for all sorts of issues, and only after reading that passage in Wonder did I realize that this was one of them. I created characters who were only children, so that their parents would shower them with all the attention I never got. I created characters who came from families whose parents were even more overextended than mine, or parents who were outright abusive, so that whatever buried feelings of neglect I had about my family could be painted onto them. I even wrote both of those extremes into the same family once — a pair of twins whose mother favored and pampered one and cruelly neglected the other. But I never wrote a character like Via, with parents who try so hard and do the best they can but somehow it’s just never quite been enough. That would have been too close to the truth. I wanted Via to have her own story, her own book, not one centered around Auggie. But of course, she doesn’t.

People still ask me fairly frequently why I don’t particularly want to have children — “But don’t you want a family??” — and I answer them that I’ve just never wanted kids. Not in my wiring. And yes, maybe something is odd about me biologically or evolutionarily that’s responsible for the fact that I have never wanted to reproduce, but it also probably has to do with the fact that I’ve never seen family as this pure good, as this lofty ideal. It’s just a way of living, with its pros and cons like every other way of living, and to me the tradeoffs have just never really felt worth it.

And of course, not reproducing doesn’t mean I won’t have a family. I’ve got one. I can’t get rid of it.





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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 — “World Suck vs. World Awesome”

I missed yet another Throwback Thursday post because I was baking and cooking last night, so here’s another Flashback Friday post, originally from November 29th 2011.


The chocolate cake I baked does not look like this. But this looks awesome.


Warning: I be moderately philosophical here.

For those of you don’t know, there’s an online community, formed around a certain Youtube channel, that I identify with: Nerdfighters. Not religiously, but I keep up with the main videos and read some of the tumblr posts. For basic info, see here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerdfighters#Brotherhood_2.0_project, but for the purposes of this post, the important thing to know is that Nerdfighter philosophy believes that there are two ways to make the world better:

1)   Increase World Awesome


2)   Decrease World Suck.

To clarify, “increasing World Awesome” means what it sounds like: increasing the amount of awesome stuff in the world. This can include anything from rocket ships to fantastic TV shows to elaborate Lego castles to settling down and having children. That’s how many people make life worth living — by creating new and beautiful things that weren’t there before.

On the flipside, we have “decreasing World Suck,” which is also just what it sounds like. This is the idea of finding the line against the darkness and holding it there, or trying to push it back. Homelessness, joblessness, bigotry . . . These things suck, and life is more worth living when people work to make them suck a little less.

Basically, as drunk Blaine Anderson said, increasing World Awesome and decreasing World Suck amount to: “Make art and help people!”

What I’ve been thinking recently is that some people have a greater inclination toward one than the other. Or at least, in some areas.

Take me, for instance. I’m a writer. I’m not a crusader, I don’t go to rallies, I’m incredibly ignorant of most politics. Writing is creation of something new and beautiful. I create stories and characters and situations, and I try to be proud of everything that I write, because it’s my most tangible contribution to the world. I should be easily categorized as someone who wants to increase World Awesome.

But in almost every other area of my life, it’s more important to me to decrease World Suck than to increase World Awesome. I want to help people. It’s not something I want to do professionally. I’ve never been interested in becoming a doctor or a psychologist or a social worker. But when I’m put in a position to help, I really want to make things better.

A friend of mine refers to this tendency—sometimes affectionately, usually exasperatedly—as “being a fixer.” I think of it as “being a problem-solver.” But even that’s too strong. I don’t expect to solve problems, to fix, or to cure. It’s not a savior complex; it’s a helper complex. Most problems are much too big for me to solve. So I have a choice. I can hide away and do nothing, or I can help in whatever limited way I can.

Let me tell you a story. Because that’s what I do.


It’s a story about me. And someone else.

I was about ten or twelve years old. It was a Saturday afternoon. My family had finished our big Shabbos lunch, and most of our guests had gone home. We have lots of guests every week, generally; in addition to hosting people we like, a rabbi’s house and table tend to be magnets for lost souls.

That day, one of those lost souls did not go home when the meal ended. He didn’t go home when the rabbi bid him adieu and went to take a nap. He didn’t go home even when there was no one left in the living room aside from ten-year-old me, curled up on the recliner with a book.

Instead, he sat down across the room on the couch. At almost regular intervals, he’d heave heavy sighs. Or stretch. But still made no move to leave.

(Before anyone gets worried, it’s not like my parents left me alone with a dangerous stranger. My family had known him for years, and he’s about as harmless as they come. One of the so-depressed-he-probably-wouldn’t-have-the-energy-to-throw-himself-off-a-building type of guys. Mid-thirties, unmarried and unhappy about it and plenty of other things. That probably doesn’t sound very reassuring. Sorry.)

I must have looked up from my book after a while. I must have asked a leading question, probably one of the classics: “Is something wrong?” or “Are you okay?”

Because what I vividly remember happening that afternoon was this: A grown-up poured out his grown-up problems to me as if I could understand them. He told me about a falling-out he’d had with friends, about his constant loneliness, about his fear that even the people who like him the most don’t really like him. He highlighted incidents, tried to analyze them, and asked if I thought he was making sense.

I remember sitting there and being very acutely aware that this was not the kind of stuff you’re supposed to talk about with little kids. He said, a few times, “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this . . .” I silently agreed with him, but the rabbi was sleeping, and a therapist costs money, and the rabbi’s ten-year-old daughter was the only one willing to listen. So I listened, and listened, and maintained eye contact, and nodded when he asked if I understood, because I did. And when he finished, he went home.

I don’t have any illusions that I fixed anything that day. These days, he’s in his mid-forties, still unmarried, still unhappy. But he did go home that day.


Sometimes, that’s the best anyone can do: be a listening ear, a patient, non-threatening presence. Make the current moment a bit more bearable for the person who’s got more suck in their life right now than you do. I’ve somehow cultivated that presence. People tend to feel comfortable telling me things. I’m not a people-pleaser, but I’m not a people-hurter, either. I want and like to help, and I respect that about myself, naïve and idealistic as it may be.

And then there are other areas where I want to do more. There aren’t that many, and you’ve probably all seen various things I’ve posted about homelessness and LGBT rights; those are two causes that have inexplicably resonated with me when nothing else does.

I also want to adopt, if I ever feel like raising kids. I’ve never felt any longing to have kids of my own — the pull of the World Awesome increase of creating a kid is so strongly outweighed in my mind by the possibility of the World Suck decrease of taking in one that’s already here. Obviously, no objective measure I could use would confirm this, but that’s how it balances on my internal scale.

Most, if not all, of us have our instincts for creation, for increasing World Awesome, and most if not all of us have them for justice, for decreasing World Suck.

Where do you fall in the spectrum? What do you create, and what do you fight for or against?




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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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