I have this habit that eats up a lot of my time if I allow–I like to imagine what it would be like to be other people.I love books and songs and lyrics and movies and stories which make me feel like I am stepping into a small piece of someone else’s world, even for just a moment. I like to do this in my daily life too.

Today when I was at the coffee shop I couldn’t help but wonder what my life would be like behind that counter. The thrill of the challenge urged me to go ask for an application. Of course my conscience reminded me that I have responsibilities other than to chase my every whim. As a compromise with myself, I indulged for a few minutes in a daydream.

I imagined my first day behind the counter, all nervous and jittery-they way I always get in new situations. My hands are fumbling as I pull paper cups apart and try to fill them to the brim with piping hot coffee. I try hard to remember all the orders given to me and wonder why they don’t write them all down. There is no way I can possibly remember them all now. Customers are beginning to line up and a very noisy women comes to the door and wonders aloud what kinda idiot can’t pour a cop of coffee. I blush to myself  in shame, and then in anger. I hand her a cup of coffee, my voice trembling as I try to find just the right thing to say. I start to open my mouth to tell her just what I think of her opinion of me, when I remember that I am sitting at my table all alone on the far end of the shop, sipping my tea.

I have spent many hours of my life–especially, but not limited to, my childhood–cutting out my mental self-image and pasting it over the faces of others. I’ve been a doctor, a cop, a cook, a slave, a poet, a prophet, a singer and even death itself.  There is always a clear message for me in there. And a part of myself that I always protect feels harshly exposed by every single step I take forward.

There was a time I sat across from a frum couple and I wondered what it would be like to be them. I imagined it all in my mind, as I habitually do when I have the time to sit and think. The religiosity, the spirituality, the family life, the clothing, the phrases and words, and the beauitful aura that surrounded them as they sat having the most mundane conversation–I cut myself out of my lonely world and I pasted my face over that of hers and pretended, just for a small moment, that it was me sitting there. My heart beat quickened when I realize that it was a nearly perfect fit. Different, but familiar; I felt free in a way I never had before. I cried from a place inside that I wasn’t  previously aware was in me and I gave myself the permission to hold on to that image… and like a map, it lead me to a life of Orthodoxy.

And like a map, it is only a flattened picture of a real life existence. I am not her–that women I thought I could be. She was only a vision of hope for me, that served to stir and inner desire to come to this world. I cannot be, no matter how I imagine so, anyone but a participant in the creation of an actual me. My imagination doesn’t fully dictate that as I am made up of more that just dreams and wishes, but of a Creator’s earth and breath too.

Dreaming clearly serves it’s purpose. So now I will dream this: the freedom to never have to explain to any living being why I want to be Orthodox, and the allowance for as much time as it takes me to relax into my new life. The freedom to be at peace with not always feeling at peace, and to be okay with hating myself a little every now and again, if I really need to. The freedom to feel divided or whole whenever I wish. The freedom to bring with me to this place the person who I truly am, and not the recipe for the women that I imagined I would be here. The freedom to hope for the future and acknowledge the past. The freedom to love Judaism in a way that is all my own. Selfishly, at times. The freedom be angry at it every now and again, without having my sincerity questioned. The freedom to fall back and jump forward as needed. The freedom to not be perfect and still be believed in. And the freedom to be who I am in the moment in which I find myself, without feeling any less or more authentic.

It’s a big dream, but I think it can be made real.


gold cart memories

I used to just say or do whatever popped into my head at any given moment. I guess that’s the benefit of not having any rules or expectations on you; you can pretend that your actions don’t affect on anyone-not even yourself.  I didn’t keep that attitude for too long because motherhood made me quickly realize how irresponsible a way to life that is and since then I’ve slowly but surely become a lot more self controlled. Now it takes me 3 days to write an thoughtful email, I consider all possible angles of any given situation, and I find myself oddly compelled to think before I speak–every single time!

When my husband and I met I was trying to find myself, actually in a way quite like now except I was looking in a much different place for my God. Not in Judaism… not really in religion at all.  Though my husband wasn’t what I had envisioned as my dream-guy anymore than I was his dream-girl at the time–he hated my weird hair and I hated his old man pants–we had a lot of fun. He won my heart because he took my manic depressive phases in stride. I promised to make him PB&J sandwiches every day if he ever married me. I won his heart, so he tells me, when I wore a plaid skirt on our second date. You never know what’s going to be that thing that pushes you from friend to couple in a relationship.

We were young, about as young as I feel now really, but nearly half my age. I had just turned 17, and after 2 years of denouncing boys and dating all together–I’d had my fill of the male species at that point–I was feeling refreshed and ready to date again. We weren’t religious, so of course we didn’t date in a religious way. Dating starts a lot later and ends up in marriage a lot sooner in Orthodox homes, I’ve come to find out. In the secular world you’re embarrassed to admit it if you’ve never been kissed by your 13th birthday and you shame you’re family if you marry before 24. I have never been good at following rules, however, as I had a good measure of self-respect even at the awkward age of 13, and then I really went against the grain by getting married at 18.

We had a lot that wasn’t in common; I was outgoing and prone to making stupid decisions, and he was a quiet, easy going boy who enjoyed shoe-gazer music. I was impressed to find someone who has spent more time watching all of my favorite bands live than I had. Contrary to his quiet nature, his favourite spot was right down in the pit with all the action, while mine was sitting down at a table back by the speakers, the place where the bass almost cancels out the words and the noises of other people. The thumping vibration creating a lullaby roaring from inside my own skull. One which I could almost sleep to. And in fact, I sometimes did. With no possibility for conversation,  I would put away my extroverted masque and indulge in being an introvert for a while; at least until the end of the set.

Every chance we got we were driving or hitching a ride to a show, festival, or venue. Each Summer he quit his job in order to go to the same festival, and then when he got back home they would rehire him. Something about not being allowed to give their employees 2 weeks off for vacation. We pooled our resources one year and had about $200 so we figured we were good to hitch a ride with his dad to spend 2 weeks in the Midwest at a little-known festival. We shared a pizza and Pepsi every night, and happily took advantage of anyone who offered us free food. At the end of the week we still had enough to buy a couple of cds and a hoodie. It was the biggest financial decision we had ever made together and should have been a hint into the fact that neither of us had a clue how to handle money–something we’d have to learn down the road over and over before getting it right.

My father-in-law is part rocker, and part “boss”. Think: a cross between a biker and a bouncer, with a little bit of sci-fi nerd thrown into the mix. His tattooed arms frequently crossed with a half smile peeking from behind a veil of gray flowing beard. People, not sure how to take him assume him to be a bad-ass, but really he’s just an easy-going kinda man who doesn’t generally have much he feels the need to say; at least not out loud. Because of this confusion, he often does what he wants in most situations, with little to no effort. People find themselves compelled when in his presence, to do his bidding, for inexplicable reasons. On a total whim one day he and his entourage–a motley and sometimes down right random assortment of friends he’s collected through the years–went out to town in hopes of finding a golf cart to bring back to the festival so that he could go all around the vast grounds without having to walk. Much to everyone’s surprise he was indeed able to procure a golf cart, and as there had not yet been need for it–there were no rules against such matters at the festival. To the envy of other festival goers he drove around from stage to stage savings hours of foot time. Well, this was caught on to by the people who ran the event and not wanting to be outdone themselves, they obtained some golf carts of their own. This caused a string of events that ended up in nearly half the grounds being covered with golf carts within a couple of years. Eventually a deal was worked out with a golf cart rental company to ship in golf carts by the tracker trailer load to the festival each year. They made a killing! Accommodations had to be made for all the travelers of the dirt roads, both by foot and by cart, in the form of road maintenance, signage and security to look our for wild drivers. This cost money and time, so they began charging the festival goers for a golf cart license of sorts. To break even, people started recouping the cost of the carts by charging a nominal fee for taxiing others to and from shows and concessions. The local gas companies enjoyed the extra money spent on gas in their one-horse town, and the Walmart in the next town over quickly learned that to make a few extra bucks they should stock up on such things as flashlights, walkie talkies and bicycle horns-the louder the better. Everyone won. Well, except for the people who didn’t have money for neither a golf cart nor a ride–it pretty much just sucked for them. My father-in-law? He never paid a cent – he found a way to write off the golf cart as a business expense for his part-time career as music reviewer for a small music publication that his wife runs (and for which he is “employed” only about 2 weeks a year, conveniently at the same time as he happens to need the golf-cart).  He bargained with the festival to promote them for free in his wife’s publication in exchange for a waving of the golf-cart fee. In addition to this accommodation, they also put in an electric box by my father-in-law’s hill-top campsite, and a friend hand embroidered and hung a flag reading: “Tony’s Hill” in his honor. I do believe it is still saluted every morning by his pack of faithful comrades, but I can’t say for sure as I haven’t been back in many years.

Okay so some of that might be a bit of a stretch, but really not by much, because that’s my father-in-law for you – a natural born leader; a position he tries neither to hold nor demand. Really when it was all said and done, he never meant to change anything, he just wanted a golf cart because he was too lazy to walk.

Anyhow with these golf carts came a lot of problems, like figuring out how to avoid them from ending up in the wrong places at the wrong times. Rules needed put into place to prevent such golf cart disasters as tents being run completely over, and cars being hit–sadly neither hypothetical. And of course speeding.

Up there with detective and mechanic, was race car driver on my list of things I wanted to be when I was a kid. I grew up in a house of boys, but I like to think I gave a feminine edge to everything I did. As a rule I do not drive fast, mind you, because I value both the lives of other people and my low insurance rates. (Okay and also because I drive a beat up old mini-van which has to be ever so gently coerced into changing each gear with out sputtering out.)  But a few of us knew the back roads–and I use the term roads loosely here–well enough to know when they were completely deserted. At the right times they’d be clear and you could actually get some air by pushing on the gas while going down a steep hill, stopping quickly into a spin of sorts. That’s no easy matter on a golf cart which has two speeds; turtle and reverse. But, of course you’re not supposed to do that. Nonetheless I was plenty wired on Pepsi and at least 4 or 5 days without sleep, so I was indulging. I was going back and forth driving like a maniac, when the leader of the entire event rides up. The fine for such speeding is to have the cart taken away, and to be sent home. Since the closet thing I really had to a home at this point in my life was my tent, I was risking a little more than I could really afford.

My husband was in the passenger seat pretending not to enjoy the ride because he likes to play innocent. The leader rides his own cart up right next to mine and shines his blindingly bright flashlight into my face. “Do you know how fast you are going!?”, he loudly demands in his most authoritative police-officer voice . Busted. So I did the first thing that popped into my mind–I put on a confused smile and held my hand to my ear and made the ASL sign for “hearing impaired”. My not-yet-husband looked straight into the face of the guy and quite uncharacteristically lied, “I’m sorry, she’s deaf. She can’t understand you.”

The guy was thrown completely off kilter and he stumbled through his reply, “What? oh, she’s deaf? uh, well, um.. tell her to slow down then before she hurts someone!” he says and then slams his cart into full speed turtle, and away he went.

I learned two things that night:

One- deaf people can totally get away with golf cart speeding.

Two- my not-yet-husband also knew the ASL sign for hearing impaired.