Thursday, December 25, 2008

¿Un botellazo, por favor?

I used to think that English was the right language, the only language. That everyone else translated their languages into English in their heads. I would hear instructions to put on my zapatos and in image of my pink Velcro light up shoes would pop into my head. Zapatos = shoes.

I remember my first time traveling to Mexico at six years old. We walked around shopping centers and I watched as families spoke rapidly with each other, and I wondered how quickly they translated the words in their heads before they spewed out new Spanish conversation. It only made sense that everyone thought in English. As I read the bright orange neon sign at the mall I knew that Zapatería = shoe store.

At seven years old I picked up French, and stared learning Hebrew shortly after that. It never occurred to me that the languages were interchangeable, that I could translate French to Spanish, Hebrew to French, Spanish to American Sign Language. English was always the right language. The only language. The other ones were just fluff.

As I got older, I had my share of Madams, Señoras, and גברתים, and at some point I realized that the extra languages were not so much superfluous but more of a way to see a different part of the world, a different way that people lived. I realized that not everyone thinks that way I do, and that language was just one way to demonstrate that.

Botellazo. It just doesn’t exist in English however it is absolutely my favorite word. Its meaning? To hit with a bottle. That’s it. Short and sweet. Botellazo. Si no me haces un pastel, te diré un botellazo. If-you-don’t-make-me-a-cake,-I’ll-hit-you-on-the-head-with-a-bottle just doesn’t sound nearly as good in English. Or as cool.

The other day while I was waiting for the train, a bunch of city workers jumped out of a truck, decked out in luminescent green snowsuits and armed with snow shovels, and started shoveling the path down to the train tracks. One of them started singing “Me duele, me duele, me duele…” and I smiled as the rest joined in, feeling bad that they had to do all this work while I just stood there in my ski jacket with the fur hood pulled up to keep me warm. It’s possible that I may have been staring, envisioning what my life would be like had I emigrated from Mexico, left everything I had just to move snow all winter and cut grass all summer. “Grosera,” I heard one of them yell over the noise of the oncoming train. I hadn’t meant to be rude at all, and I’m not sure if it was directed at me, but I responded “Feliz Navidad” and I saw the worker smile as I hopped on the train.

It’s scary not to know what’s going on. Not to know what everyone is saying, what they’re doing, what they want you to do. I too, am guilty, of watching Telemundo and forgetting that the rest of the company with me on the couch does not understand a word of the ongoing Telenovela. I sometimes speak in Spanish, not thinking, and realize that no one around me understands what I just said. My dog es bilingüe, como yo but somehow I forget that I cannot always just talk AT people when I want to talk TO them. People, unlike dogs, have conversation, responding and listening, and people, think in a specific language.

Everyone is different. Some of us think in English, some of us dream en español, and others translate Italiano to Deutsch without even thinking. But no way is wrong. Everyone has her own language, her own way of thinking and hoping and wishing and being, and that is exactly what makes the world interesting.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Oh, the weather outside is [not] frightful [yet]...

We all sit and wait patiently for the snow. Fourteen minutes until’s predicted flurries. I watch as Facebook statuses change from excited to anxious to frantic. AIM chat boxes flash open on my window and my friends inform me about other schools closing. I constantly refresh the Emergency Closing Center, watching as one Chicago school after another decides to shut its doors the day before break. But why are we so desperate to miss school?

I love the holidays more than anyone. I love the smiles on everyone’s faces, the cheery music playing around the city, the gift displays in shop windows. I love that people give out candy for no reason, that saying “Happy Holidays” to no one in particular is perfectly acceptable, and that the world seems to stop for six weeks as all this perfection surrounds us. So why, exactly, would we want to miss out on a day of this bliss to spend twelve hours in a basement drinking hot chocolate, eating cookie dough, and watching The L Word? (Yes, that is exactly how I plan to spend my snow day—seven minutes until predicted flurries!)

School becomes an unpredictable routine. The periods drag on while we know what to expect next, less than thrilled to have another day of discussing the reading or reviewing the notes. We complain and complain and just like that, poof, it’s gone. I have a hard time believing that at this time next year I can be living in Ohio, New York, St. Louis, Ann Arbor? It’s scary to fall out of the routine I’ve taken for granted for so many years.

Performing at the middle schools today with chorus was somewhat surreal. Sure, I did my fair amount of complaining but I was mostly in awe of how old we’ve all become. I walked the halls of my old middle school like I just attended yesterday, smiling as I saw girls in their blue and white pleated pom-pom skirts, remembering how cool I used to think I was wearing my uniform before a basketball game. We were introduced as the top group from the high school; I remember sitting in the auditorium seats, watching Chorale perform, wishing I was part of the group. And now I am—but where have the last four years gone?

Sure, we’ve done our share of complaining. Begging to get out of anything, skip a test, miss school. But there are so many good things that have happened along the way. We’ve all grown up, had new experiences, learned right from wrong. (Well, most of us.) I, for one, have become aware that dancing around with puffy shreds of plastic in your hands makes you look like more of a fool than anything else. But it’s all gone by so fast—dare I say too fast?

And as my countdown moves to negative eight minutes until predicted snow (yes, it’s late…) I have mixed feelings about missing another day of school when we have so few left. Sure, I would be elated to skip my stats test, but eventually, I will have to take it. And yes, I could sleep in, but I have the rest of my life to do that.

So as I wait to see if the “Severe Weather” actually hits at in twenty two minutes (although flurries have yet to come—negative ten minutes late) I am determined to make tomorrow and everyday there after the best day ever, snow or not.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh, Yes!

Reasons I could never be a spy:
1. I talk too much
2. I ask too many questions
3. I talk too much

I was recently told that I never take “no” for an answer. That’s probably true. Tell me you ran out of vegetable sushi and I’ll ask you to look for more. Tell me that no, I am not allowed to break curfew, and I will tell you that curfew does not really exist. Tell me no, I cannot, and yes, I can. I wouldn’t call myself pushy. However, I don’t think that accepting a “no” is ever okay.

What if Barack Obama accepted a no, when he was told he could never be elected president? What if Harvey Milk stopped running for political office after continuous losses? What if Elizabeth Cady Stanton never spoke up for women’s rights? What if Van Gogh stopped painting when no one bought his work? What if Enya stopped recording just because she’s Enya? So why should I lower myself to any standards lower than these people who never accept a no? Enough questions, back to talking:

Truth: I try not to complain. However, I’m not going to let someone else decide what is right for me, who I should be, what I should do. I try not to be rude, pushy, intolerant. But there are some instances where I can’t hold back, I need to say what I want to say and I’m not about to sneak around in a spandex unitard to avoid saying it. (Yes, all spies wear a special spandex uniform, which is how you know that they are, in fact, spies).

I’ll talk about anything anytime. I was asked today why I blog and the answer just popped out: Because I talk too much. I love words. I love telling people what is going on; I love hearing other people talk; I love responding to what they have to say.

So when you tell me again and again that I cannot do something for some illogical reason, do not expect me to just to accept it. Expect me to fight back, question you, reject your no. And don’t tell me I’m complaining, I’m just stating the facts.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Qu'ils mangent de la brioche

There are no calories in chocolate cake. Negative calories if you don’t even cut yourself a slice, just dig your fork right in. Double negative if you use your fingers.

All of this is true; it has always been and will continue to be true. There’s something about indulging—not caring, not thinking, just adoring the moment for what it is, that makes everything bad disappear and everything good rush directly to your taste buds. Swallow the good, exhale the bad after you down a cup of soy milk while licking fudge frosting off your thumb.

The first word the French associate with chocolate is “Celebration.” The first word Americans associate… “Guilt.” Lovely, isn’t it? One of the best, most delightful parts of our lives is weighed down with societal expectations, hours of premeditated working out at the gym, followed by an hour of lazy weight lifting and sluggish treadmill running, eventually succeeded by more guilt.

But the calories still don’t count. The escape, the moment of having gooey chocolate stuck to your teeth, the empty-headed sensation, all add up to an invaluable experience. No one can take this joy away, no one can tell you how you should feel or what you should be. It’s all about the cake. All about the deliciousness that continues to taunt you, makes you cringe as you think about taking another portion, but the flinch melts into a sigh as the sugary pleasure enters your mouth.

I want my life to be an enormous chocolate cake. Fifteen layers with chocolate sprinkles on top. I want to be able to reach out for that salvation, the paradise island, and momentarily forget whatever may trouble me.

But my dream dessert is not always within my reach. Sometimes I have to think, respond, and try not to be a pathetic, dessert-eating escapist, when something gets thrown my way. When I’m told how to be, how to act, what’s right and what’s wrong—I just want to fling my cake directly at them. But I know that a) that’s a waste of cake, they don’t deserve it and b) there’s just no reason, there’s no purpose in it. Get your own cake.

And those are the guilty ones: the ones who can’t get joy from their own cake. They try and steal everyone else’s; maybe they’re even lucky enough to catch an angry throw from someone else’s. But they can never truly enjoy it. They’re too busy worrying about what said celebrator might be doing wrong, why she’s so happy, carefree, and innocent. Stop counting other people’s calories. Stop counting your own calories. Stop telling people what they can and cannot do. Stop voting to suspend people’s rights. Stop yelling, stop abusing, stop vandalizing. Stop spitting on my cake.

I’m selfish. I want my cake all to myself. All fifteen layers of it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


La escritura es el vehiculo del amor.

I’m not too sure. I heard it somewhere and it kind of stuck with me, but I continue to question the phrase. And I mean truly, if writing is the vehicle of love, where has love gone? Where are the scented love notes, descriptive love poems, long distance love letters? They don’t exist.

I remember suffering (yes, truly suffering) through middle school because I was the only person without a cell phone therefore uncool and unpopular and therefore worthless. I would yell and scream and cry because I didn’t have an object on which I could choose my own ringtone, buy a glittery cover at the mall, or even better, store all my friends’ numbers in under pseudo names aka Anna Banana, because that’s just fun. When I finally received my chunky silver plastic Nokia, I couldn’t wait to call everyone I knew on my very-own-cell-phone with my very-own-cell-phone number.

But then. Then nothing. Instead of calling my house, my friends would call my cell phone, which was conveniently stored in a metallic pink purse under a pile of assorted flavors of Bonnebelle Lip Smackers and scented blue eyeshadow (eighth grade, don’t ask…), so therefore, I missed all my calls. I never checked my messages (still don’t… ) and forgot to charge my battery. The hassle and irritation that stupid glittery encased cell phone brought me was barely worth the struggle. But it was cool to have this little accessory to whip out of my purse whenever I needed a confidence boost; so therefore, I always kept it with me.

But now. Now, I know better. I know that cell phones kind of suck. (Unless you are British and call it a mobile, then it's cute.) I have to exchange twenty different text messages to find out when we are meeting for breakfast; then thirty three to find out when I should get to said breakfast place, all of which could be discussed in less than a minute over the phone. If I call during dinner it is considered rude to pick up the phone. Texting semi-discreetly in your lap (although everyone knows what you’re doing) is considered socially acceptable because… because… it’s not loud? (And yes, I will admit my cell obnoxiously blasts three choruses of “Spice up your Life” before I usually bother to pick it up.)

Don’t think that sticking both your hands and half your face inside your purse isn’t distracting. Furthermore, it’s just rude. Rude. Rude rude rude. Rude. If you have to excuse yourself to make a call, just do it, but stop pretending to search for gum when I know that you just want to text one of your many, many friends. I am not impressed by your popularity. I do not care that you can send 4525 characters a minute or that you can elaborately design a puppy face using just question marks and exclamation points. If I’m spending time with you, and you are just typing away on your miniscule keyboard, well, I may as well just leave. Seriously. I understand you have better people to talk to, no need for actual human contact so why am I even here?

I, too, am perpetually guilty of texting in the company of others. Sometimes it’s too tempting—I think of something funny to say and I just have to say it. Other times, it’s awkward, I’m with people I don’t particularly like, and I’d rather be with other people. Sure, it’s rude. Sure, it’s the easiest way out. We have forgotten what it’s like to actually interact with people, broaden our horizons, make conversation. The little Motorolas that rest so nicely in our pockets call out to us, “Use me, use me, forget about everyone else, you can look cool and avoid small talk.”

So why do so many actual friends text when we are spending time together. Where else would you rather be; who else would you rather be with? The worst is when I’m driving and I have friends in the car texting, not bothering at conversing because we can blast Beyonce while sending messages to our other friends. Other friends. I am driving you because we are friends. I am not your chauffeur. Talk to me, or walk. That’s the new rule.

There are no love notes to save in your top drawer or pin up on your wall. No epic love poems to show off in years to come. Yes, I, like everyone else, save the adorable texts, the ones that will always make you smile, laugh, (my favorite: “I’m in ancient Greece” – from a friend I was meeting up with at the Met), but they’re far from personal. Each note looks the same, no special handwriting to distinguish it, no colored pen or fancy stationary. The intangibility is so frustrating—at some point, they’ll all disappear, and I won’t remember the sweet “Happy Birthday” notes I received this year.

A couple of weeks ago, I was texting someone from across the train. At the time it seemed cute, silly, discretely making eye contact between focusing on our tiny keypads to send charming little notes to each other from merely fifteen feet away. The texts are still saved in my phone; I can scroll through and smile, but still wonder, what if we actually had a conversation? What if I had actually been human enough to get up out of my seat, sit next to her, and say something more substantial than “@ the next stop, let’s go to the middle and hug.” But it was entertaining. Is that acceptable? Is it ok to sometimes hide behind our two inch, finger-smudged screens and pre-think each conversation, each word, each syllable?

I like to talk. Far too much, I’m sure. So is la escritura truly el vehiculo del amor? Is texting a conservable art form preferable to speech? Is it a legitimate mode of communication? Personally, I’d rather just babble until your ear falls off, but that’s just me.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Faces stare blankly at teachers shouting out directions en Español. Pantsuits sit on the edge of desk chairs while manicured hands clutching thrice-used hankies lie folded on tan plastic desks. Musky, floral perfume radiates through hallways and between locker grates while endless elevator lines cause increasingly more traffic in the already over congested hallways. We saunter into class five, ten, even twenty minutes late with a nod and maybe a wink, and receive no, “Qué cara tienes?” Not even a disapproving glare, because it’s all perfectly explainable: patent shoes tap half inch heels, cookie crumbs collide onto speckled laminate, and notebooks may even emerge as we take our seats on the floor.

What’s the explanation you may ask? No, we are not dabbing our freshly fuchsia lipsticked mouths floral hankies, nor or we slipping opaque tan stockings from Anne Klein flats—Grandparents’ Day has arrived again!

For years I looked forward to the day when I could bring G & G to school, prove my remarkable intelligence, extraordinary popularity, and, of course, my all around wonderfulness to my cookie-baking, scarf-knitting, child-spoiling elders.

The day started out with breakfast, during which fruit was compulsory put onto a plate for me, despite that fact that I had had breakfast last than an hour before. Three classes followed: two in Spanish, one in English. As I linked arms with Gramma (yes, I do call her that), directing her around the building, translating the goings-on class, even sharing grapes from my lunch, I felt a new sense of power, a control I had never experienced before. For once, I knew more than my grandma. Without me, she would be lost, confused, and possible end up in, gasp, the Lower East Gym (take two lefts, go up the stairs—as if that’s not confusing…) or, even worse, the band hallway.

Seriously though, the day was more than I expected. Both of us Seniors (ironic, isn’t it...), experienced an unprecedented power shift, a new understanding of each other’s lives. I saw her learning, trying something new, being vulnerable, while she saw me struggling, also trying to learn, while trying to maintain responsibility. Unlike years of dance concerts, theatre performances, or voice recitals singing memorized Mozart or Handel, I wasn’t putting on a performance for my grandma but rather showing her what my life was like. I proudly displayed my articles, photos, and layout in the school paper, showed her my daily academic demands, and, most importantly, she saw how I interact with people on a daily basis, not just dressed up in stockings and a skirt for Rosh Hashanah dinner.

While metal walkers, oversized purses, and even chains of connected hands overtook the school, the day was far from uncomfortable. Smiles and laughter broke out continuously; boring would not be a word to describe the hours spent with two hundred and fifty grandparents on Vine Ave. And although I know it was my one and only day to bring my Gramma to school, I look forward to the memories I will create from this: being able to tell her jokes about my teachers that she will finally understand, explaining my next class project, or even just telling her about my day. So as I talk to her on the phone after school, trying to explain I have five AP classes to study for, as well as two papers due, and a meeting agenda to organize, I hope she understands why I cannot devote an entire hour to listening about her weekly Mahjong game.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Love = Love = Love

Math has never been my thing. I have never liked math. I have never really understood math. I know how to take an additional 20% off a shirt that’s already 15% off and that’s pretty much all I need. Ironically, I come from a family of mathematicians—math majors, accountants, actuaries—you name it, we’ve got them.

My brother comes home with perfect scores in math, and receives copious amounts of praise, bragging rights to the rest of the family, and maybe even a test attached with a magnet to the refrigerator door. I excel at writing, and get, well, pretty much nothing. Or, even better, “Why can’t you ever write anything normal?” Because normal is what it’s all about. Math is normal. There’s always a right answer. Right answers are normal. 1+1 = 2. That’s it. End of discussion. Normal.

However, despite my lack of mathematical skills, I am still able to see one equation that does not seem to make sense in my mother’s head:

Lesbian ≠ Butch ≠ Transgender

You think a person with high math degrees could figure this out better than one who is struggling in her first AP math class. But so it goes…

Sit on the couch with your best friend. Watch the “I am Smith” video. Eat sorbet out of a frozen pineapple. Invite your mother in to see the nice Jewish girl on the screen, a cute curly haired Israel activist who plans to dedicate her life to community service. G-d forbid. But none of this matters to mother because:

a) All women’s schools = all lesbian schools (if you are not into women already, you will be…)
b) Students at all women’s colleges = LUGs (let’s not get into this…)
c) This girl’s name happens to be a boy’s name as well, so therefore, this girl is transgender

Maybe it is my mathematical deficit that forbids me from reaching these astonishingly accurate conclusions. Perhaps it is not. I can conclude however:

Ignorance ≠ Stupidity

I give her credit; she’s a very intelligent woman. It is so much easier to hate what you do not understand than to learn about it, consider it. It is infinitely more effortless to draw up false equations with fictitious solutions than try to find the real ones. It’s forever frustrating to me that any logical point I try to make is completely disregarded.

“Mom, that makes no sense.”
“Remember when we visited Northampton—they were all transgendered!”
“I’m pretty sure most of them weren’t”
“All these girls were wearing (gasp) boys’ clothes.”
“Well, they probably weren’t transgendered, they were just butch or whatever you want to call them.” (Not that I advocate categorizing anyone, but for the sake of the conversation…)
“Well, how do you know what they had going on DOWN THERE?”
“Because a lot of women just dress that way. It’s not a big deal.”
“It is a big deal. They are getting sex changes. It’s very common over there.”
Etc. Etc. Etc. Lesbian = Butch = Transgender= Bad, Really Bad
“Ok mom, enough.”

And that’s where the non-math people come in. We have to do our best to try not to reduce the world to these silly equations which make absolutely no sense. People are not numbers, not figures that can be substituted in algebraically and solved for a single correct answer. World peace cannot be solved on a calculator. Friendship is not a derivative of imaginary numbers. Love is not measured on an X and Y axis.

So as I go off to study for AP stats, I try to take a long deep breath, remember that there is always tomorrow: a day farther away from yesterday’s equations, a day with new solutions, new probabilities, and most importantly, new questions.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Seasonally Songful

There’s something refreshing about driving home from school, seat warmers blazing, watching the whole world bustle around outside of me, while I’m cozy inside my silver sedan heaven.

There’s something even better, however, about tapping the switch on the steering wheel, flipping through plastic surgery commercials and mid-afternoon talk shows when suddenly I hear—for the first time this season—Christmas Carols! I was tempted to shout out the slightly open window with gusto: 93.9 is officially the holiday light!!! But I refrained because of a) good judgment, which I seem to lack lately, so let’s go with b) the intrigue of keeping this a secret all to myself, as if I were the only one listening to “White Christmas” at 3:30 this afternoon.

I let out an exaggerated sigh of relief as I pulled the keys out of the ignition, silencing “Silent Night” as I stopped at the grocery store to buy a challah for Shabbat tonight. Yes, that is ironic. And yes, I like it that way.

There’s something about Christmas Carols that I crave all year long. Maybe it’s the uplifting melodies or the old crooning voices that you no longer hear on the radio? Maybe it’s the familiarity; there are only so many versions of the same lyrics and tune, and they’re all easy enough to sing along to. (Have you tried singing Disturbia?) Maybe it’s just something different, something special reserved for my favorite time of year: my birthday, Thanksgiving, Secret Santas, vacation, snow.

I’m used to holidays filled with new pairs of shoes, weeks spent in the Mexican Riviera baking facedown in the sun, endless parties, celebrations, festivities, and, of course, more presents. But have I lost focus of what the holidays actually mean? Have we all?

Honestly, the first thing I think about when I think of holidays is my annual State St. / Michigan Ave. Black Friday shopping trip. Spending money = holiday time. Obviously.

Each night of my Chanukah celebrations comes full of presents, cards, gift certificates, and promises for even more the following night. And yes, I may be guilty of making an extensive list of each year filled with “definitely,” “maybe, if you’re generous,” and “don’t even think about it,” categories; I too am guilty of the indulgence phenomenon.

I associate holiday time with my birthday (presents), Thanksgiving (food), Mexican Riviera vacations (presents + food), and a variety of other indulgences I neglect to remember are not celebratory but rather extravagances with which I’ve been rewarded my entire life.

I’m not going to disagree that the holidays are stressful (for some more than others). Could it be because we are worried about what to buy for everyone, or, more importantly, what everyone will get for us? Or could it be the awkward social tension, the rare time of year in which uncles, aunts, cousins, democrats, republicans, hunters, vegetarians, teachers, students, lawyers, artists, prostitutes, must be in the same room together and at least try to behave decently.

Let’s be realistic. The holidays weren’t created to sit around tearing off wrapping paper and pretending to be happy with your freshly unfolded royal blue Menorah embroidered socks. Whether you’re slicing a freshly baked pumpkin pie, gathering around the first candle on the Chanukkiah, or putting the star on the top of your Christmas tree, take a minute to realize the significance, absorb the atmosphere around you; appreciate your family, your friends, your loved ones.

We’ve heard it again and again: economic crisis. Stores are closing. Holiday parties are being cancelled. Vacations are unbooked. But for the first time this year, can this be a good thing? Can we bring the real meaning back into the holidays, ignore the superficial smile a new Cartier diamond watch brings to a loved one’s face and emphasize on the hugs, the laughs, the toasts?

I, being the obvious perfection that I am, have taken this all into account (as I stream “Holly Jolly Christmas” through my computer). For a variety of reasons, I decided not to ask for presents this birthday; it seems unfair to ask for more when I already have so much and so many people have so little. Most sincerely, I merely want more love. Love for the world. Love for others. To be surrounded by love. It sounds asinine, childish perhaps, but I know that another pair of shoes strew on the bottom of my closet or more books on my shelves will not bring “Joy to the World” (sorry, I couldn’t resist), more material in my life won’t make others happier and it certainly won’t make my life much better.

So as I start off the holiday season, gliding down Sheridan Road as the first snowflakes strike my windshield, and I hesitate to wipe them away, I smile a little to myself, realizing that this “crisis” as some may call it, may actually be a disguised gift.—a difficult way to get our priorities back on track, a way to be grateful for what we have and acknowledge those in need.

It’s official. ‘Tis the Season. 93.9 has become Chicago’s Holiday Light Station. Snow has begun to fall. I plan to enjoy my favorite two months of the year more than ever before. And if you hear anyone belting out “Jingle Bell Rock” these next few weeks, it’s probably me, feel free to join in!