Saturday, April 30, 2011

Truth about me and my walkman

This morning, on my usual subway ride to work, I couldn't help but overhear a conversation which made me reflect on the role of pretentiousness and truthfulness in our lives. Ok, MY life...

Several young and beautiful "friends" were on their way someplace on the B train. Come to think of it, they were all really pretty - in both feminine and masculine terms, like the set of characters on the sitcom "Friends". They immediately grabbed my attention, because, I don't know about your commute, but beauty is not something which is served up on the New York subway in large quantities. The friends were chatting and laughing. They were clearly talking about someone less perfect than they are. Words like, "desperate", "unattractive", "loser" were thrown around. One of the friends was a young beautiful woman, with long shimmering golden hair, who laughed especially hard at the jokes of the others. It just seemed like she was having a whale of a time. She flipped her hair and slapped her hands on her knees, when someone mention that certain OTHER who is a major loser.
After some time most of the friends got off their stops, after a lot of smooching and ciaos. And eventually the gorgeous blond was the only who stayed behind. I was certain, on her way to even cooler things and even more stunning people...BUT as soon as the "witnesses were gone", she totally changed. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. She cradled her face in her hands for a few seconds. And when she lifted her eyes again, her perfect make up was a not as perfect. She put her long blond hair in a simple ponytail, with a few stands sticking out in a funny, messy and yet endearing kind of a way. Our eyes met (or was the fact that I've been starring at her caught her attention?) She looked at me and I looked at her.... This was a young woman in a simple ponytail. The glamour was gone. The strained laughter was gone. And then a thought hit me - could it be that the process of trying so hard to fit in made her so exhausted? I am not sure why, but this whole scene stirred something in me. I suppose enough of something to write a blog about it. Of course, I haven't a clue whether they were talking about actual desperados and losers. Or whether she was just exhausted from lifting bricks the night before at her construction job. Then again, maybe part of it is the American thing...That idea of putting your best "face on" when others are around. It took me years after I came to the US to realize that when people asked "how are you", most of the time, they were expecting "great" in a form of a response and not the results of the most recent MRI!

But if my intuition is right, and she was tired of being someone else, what does it mean? Why do we cover up the truth about ourselves? Who are we kidding??? Because I believe, the issue isn't just with the subway riders. I recently attended a very posh event where pretentiousness and the truth collided with such speed and intensity that nearly each conversation could have started a small fire. Since nobody is perfect (if such a thing even exists), the friends on the B train, may just appear as such, but what lies beneath the appearance and how much energy does it take to keep up the appearance? We all think have to put out a persona or a version of ourselves that is more or less acceptable to the world (or at least we think it is). But what if we start a little truth trend?

What would happen if we all disclosed some truths about ourselves; those weird idiosyncrasies that make us unique? Would it be so bad? You know that feeling of connectedness you experience when you realize you are "in the same boat" with another human being or, holly smokes, MANY human beings. If we disclosed at least one truth about ourselves, wouldn't it make the world a little friendlier and a little less fake? Maybe this is part of the success the Alcoholic Anonymous and group therapy in general – people bond by first acknowledging that they are far from perfect.

So, I'll start. My name is Rina and here is one of the truths about me (and yes, I realize that I am posting it on the World Wide Web, thankyouverymuch):

I have a walkman radio. It’s black, worn out and it just FM. It has one dial, no buttons, and no screen. When I first turn it on, it needs a few moments to “warm-up”. I've had my little ugly walkman since I was in High School. I love it. I cherish it. I have nightmares about loosing it because it would be irreplaceable
But the truth is I feel a little...oh, what the heck, a LOT, embarrassed carrying it around. So, when I am on the subway, I try to hide it from people's prying eyes. Why is that? What am I trying to hide or prove? To whom? Who cares if I get the puzzled looks like "what the heck is that?" I suppose, the truth is I care, because I don't want to feel inferior to the people with I-Pads, I-phones and I-whatevers. If you asked me, I'd tell you that I am very confident and comfortable in my shoes...but what's with the walkman situation? Maybe, it’s that deep inside I am very conservative and kind of old-fashioned...and sort of the opposite of cool. I don't like admitting it! I get attached to "old things". And the other part of the truth, which is even more concerning, is that it is possible that I may have made fun of someone else who is attached to something that seems ridiculous and old-fashioned to me. I was covering up my own truth by devaluing someone else’s. And not unlike the beautiful, tired friend on the B train, it made me feel empty inside, exhausted, as if something essential got chipped away.

Lost in my thoughts, I nearly forgot about my new subway friend. Now she was standing closer to me, waiting at the door for her stop. And when the door opened, she smiled, a very warm genuine smile, and said, “Nice radio.” I looked down on my lap, and there it was – the little black radio walkman, which I forgot to turn off since we went into the tunnel. Now it was sending equally soothing and annoying sounds into my ears – the cracking and hissing “sssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”.

So, here is to all old-fashioned losers out there, beautiful young Goldilocks, and everyone else, whether you have an old warn out walkman or not, lets bond together and just be more real with who we are...and with time even more comfortable in our skins.

What's your truth? My point is you don't have to post it on your blog. But acknowledging it even to yourself could be really liberating.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

“If it wasn’t for you…” A toast to my grandfather on his 89th birthday (translated from Russian).

A long time ago, when you were only a toddler, your family settled in the “promised land” (Israel) to grow oranges and camels. Fortunately for me, in just a couple of years, all of you returned to the land of promises (the Soviet Union).
When you told me this story I was very young, but it made a big impression on me. Over the years I’ve often thought that there could have been myriad different reasons and circumstances that would have prevented you from being my grandfather. Your family could have stayed in Israel. You could have been killed in a pogrom or in the World War II…And even if you had survived all of that, instead of my grandmother, you could have met someone else or no one at all…and so on. My point is that, I am convinced, had we not “met”, my world would have been a much bleaker place. You see, I not only love you as my grandfather, I really, really like you and respect you as a human being. So, today, on your 89th birthday, with gratitude and love…a little bit of awe, I want to tell of the things that couldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for you.
  • If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t know that my “real” name is “shainer punim” or “sweet face” in Yiddish. The memory of you calling me that special name since I was a little girl, its warmth and beauty, are always in my heart.
  • If it wasn’t for you, I would have never tried skiing, or fallen off a bike, or broken my arm trying to ice-skate. Considering how “un”, or should I say, “anti” athletic I’ve always been, basically, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t even come this close to any sports-related activity.
  • If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have believed that real, passionate, mad kind of love between a husband and a wife could last more than 60 years…And then, when the time comes, it could just evolve into a new form and become eternal.
  • If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have known that any dish could be SIGNIFICANLY improved by mixing in the right amount of finely chopped, fried onions (this includes desserts too!)
  • If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be so self-confident. When I was called bad (horrible) names in school, you were the one who told me, “You are a star. So, there will always be people who are envious of you. Get used to it and then revel in it.” And now I know we are all stars! I was just fortunate enough that you taught me that secret early on in life.
  • If it wasn’t for you, our family wouldn’t have made it to America. You took care of it all – the tickets, the paperwork, the red tape…and, to a large extent, thanks to your energy and persistence I am here today.
  • If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t know that it is possible to be both a major pain in the butt and enormously loveable at the same time (yes, I am talking about you!)
  • If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t know an awesome, multi-purpose Yiddish expression “Oi vey”. Two tiny little words that can easily express deep sadness, surprise, exhaustion, annoyance, etc.
  • And finally, it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have known that an undying, vibrant sense of humor combined with a passionate, hungry, almost greedy love of life, could be considered an official, personal religion. I learned it from you and doing my best to practice it every day.
Happy birthday…and, God-willing, many, many more good years ahead.
Yours always,

Sheiner Punim