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Living in Israel has impelled me to write. Not since I was in middle or high school have I felt the need to write. I don’t like it. I don’t like it, because I’m not happy with my writing. My writing does not live up to the standards to which I hold myself. A reader can tell from my style that I am a female millennial spending her time reading the New York Times and Twitter. Usually I’m glad and proud to be female, millennial, and aware of the NYT-world; yet, perhaps because I don’t respect many female millennial writers (do I not see their/our strengths as strengths, because of social [literary] conditioning?), I want to differentiate my writing.
One must write to be a better writer, though, and I must write, either way. Before even I begin, I send this identity crisis out into the ether. Not the identity crisis I thought I’d write about today, or one I knew I had — but that’s the joy of writing, isn’t it?
When I was seventeen, I flew to Seattle to stay with my aunt in lieu of attending a program at Oxford that had accepted me but was too expensive for us. I took long walks around the block on the phone with my parents, starting to cry when my mom said she missed me. I felt keenly the strange difference of an atheist’s home. My aunt had just lost her job, and I barely knew her, and so for three weeks, I lay on the floor of my room reading first Moby-Dick and then Vanity Fair and we searched for things in common and she began to teach me to cook. At the end of a dinner party, a friend who hadn’t really spoken to me suggested we read a particular Seattleite’s food blog. I clicked over and read about the restaurant that would open the week after I left, and began to read the archives, and began to go farther back, and began to dream of being like Molly. When I returned after my freshman year of college, I begged my aunt to take me to Delancey. She was skeptical; I, besotted.
Four years later, I sat on the floor of my year-old apartment in Vancouver, eating Thai takeout and drinking an unmeasured but wonderful cocktail out of a mug: orange juice, Aperol, and two-day-old prosecco. Had I planned to mimic Luisa Weiss or Molly Wizenberg or even Julia Child, I reflected, I would have moved to Paris. I felt kinship with those heroines, but I had picked Vancouver.
I moved to Vancouver to do something bold and new. I was tired of Philadelphia, or rather, of nineteen-year-olds telling me “You must leave to grow up.” I knew leaving college was going to be hard, but I didn’t know it was going to make me feel so immature. I got to Canada and curled up in a ball and wept for eleven months. I told people that I’d love the year in hindsight: all the reading I got to do; the beautiful, beautiful streets I walked up and down and the strange, new views; the freedom of anonymity and lack of responsibility; the flexible job with regular, reasonable paychecks; etc. etc.
I didn’t love it in the present, though. I was so, so sad. Six months in, I knew Vancouver wouldn’t, couldn’t work. At the end of a year, I dissembled my entire apartment, stacking books tightly in cardboard boxes and swathing every wine glass and framed print in yards of tape and bubble wrap. I flew home. And then, three weeks later, I flew to North Africa, to disorient myself more.
Every week, I feel a bit more like a character in a novel, or the author of a blog. I feel like I’m gypping the world: today, my story sounds cool, but I’m not at all cool. I’m terrified of strangers, and insecure with friends. I’ve never been on — or been invited to — a fun spring break vacation, and I can rarely force myself to sit still to read novels for fun.
Somehow, though, my life has begun to sound like a book, or a blog. I’m becoming a real person, a brave person, an adult, a person with a story. Going places and doing things. A real person. A real person.
I haven’t written much lately — neither here, nor in my notebooks, nor in the long emails I typically spend hours every week or two composing to friends scattered at schools all over or on my own campus. I realized a week or two ago that my relative silence has coincided with the move from a slidey-keyboard to an iPhone, and that realization disgusted me. It’s good, though, to have a reason and explanation. And I’ve started writing again in the past week or three, too, and that’s so, so good.
Over college I’ve learned so much and found so many new things to learn. I follow blogs on photography, American-made goods, and CSA cooking — how “lifestyle” of me. I began drinking coffee, became obsessed with that, and began working at one of the best coffee shops in Philadelphia. I’ve amassed stacks of books on worship and liturgy, organized programs on it, and composed tens of services. I took one class on the Arab-Israeli conflict, shamed by my ignorance, and sank into a world of interviews, films, seminars, questions, books, articles, classes, and sleepless questions. There are thousands of new thoughts and questions crowding my brain.
I haven’t been writing in part because I’m overwhelmed by all these new components of my life: it’s strange to jump from meditations on Kelly Drive to these large and sometimes-bourgeoise passions.
I think I have some ideas of where I’m heading, though, and I’m excited about it. It is a really thrilling thing in life to love what you love, to see something mattering, and to know — you are small but this could be good.
Last fall, I wrote a piece on Jewish life at Penn, about Christianity and Judaism and about faith and religion. You can read it now online via Penn Filament: Hear, O Israel. Enjoy.
We’re lucky to start a new genre — the epic, the novel, the blog. We and I are, though, still figuring out what it is and how to do it well.
I’ve taken hardly any pictures in the past two months. These span March through September of this year. No meaning, other than: Hmm.