My parents have been doing some spring cleaning lately. And by spring cleaning, I mean my mom called me and said, “We have five boxes of your crap in the attic. Can we throw it out?” My crap being everything I’ve ever generated artistically or scholastically since first grade.
Start by looking through all your photos of the trip for inspiration. You need to have the perfect picture to illustrate your travel story. This process takes you over half an hour and you somehow find yourself looking at your wedding photos. Hm. Your nails were awesome. Maybe you should get a French manicure again soon?
Stop that. You have something important to write. Close the iPhotos.
Open Facebook. Close Facebook.
But first, you need writing music, you know, to get you pumped up and in the spirit. You open Grooveshark. You type Scotland into the search engine. Too much happy ceildigh music. You need something serious and writer-ly. You end up having to create your own playlist. Enya. Runrig. The Corries. You know, the basics of Gaelic seriousness. Your husband tells you to stop listening to that shit out loud because he is going to massacre you like the Campbells and the McDonalds. (You’ve been listening to/singing Scottish music for the past two months. Sometimes you also mix it up and sing Scottish songs in Russian or Hebrew.) You point out to him that technically killing one person is not a massacre. He gives you a dirty look and you put on headphones.
Open Facebook. Anyone doing anything cool? No. Close Facebook.
You write the first line.
“Scotland was amazing.” Stupid. First grade. Delete delete.
“Scotland technically should be free.” Terrible. What if you have Royalist readers? You can’t alienate your reader base.
“As you stand looking over the ramparts of Stirling Castle, you’re cold and wet and miserable, but mostly, you’re thinking about Alex Salmond and Scottish independence.” Stupid. Who the hell stands on the ramparts of a castle in the dead of winter? You did, but that’s not the point. It’s not a believable narrative. Also, what kind of weirdo thinks about Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister? Terrible. Delete Delete. Delete. Also, you weren’t technically thinking about Alex Salmond, but it’s a good narrative device. But then you feel like you’re lying to your readers. Spend five minutes wondering about the merits of lying to your readers. Google James Frey, leading you down a rabbithole of literature fraud. You would never do that. Unless you could also make millions.
Wait. Get back on track. You need to read up on Alex Salmond to better understand Scotland.
TheScotsman.com. Economist.com. Guardian.co.uk. Wikipedia. Google News.
Open Facebook. Anyone doing anything fun that you can comment on yet? No? Close that shit. Read New York Times. There’s a travel essay on Ireland in there. Feel the flames of jealousy. Ignore that shit. If you read it, it’s going to influence how you write your stuff. That’s why you’re strictly off travel writing for the minute.
Back to Guardian.co.uk. Write up some some stuff on Alex Salmond. But that will go later in the piece. You still don’t have an introduction. Keep listening to Grooveshark. Screw the introduction. You’ll write one later. Force yourself to grind out one paragraph.
Open Facebook. Jesus Christ. All people are doing are posting picture memes. Doesn’t anyone use Facebook for anything interesting anymore? Discussions? Close it.
Type up three more sentences. You are done with your paragraph. There it is.
The sun, always a fickle visitor in the Northern winter, was nowhere to be seen. The muted greenery of Stirling village and farms spread out below, and the clouds moved lugubriously across the stern crags in the distance. It was two days before Christmas and the castle was empty save for five Asian tourists huddled in the Great Hall. But I was outside, drinking in the landscape, fighting hypothermia, and thinking about Alex Salmond.
But, by God, it is TERRIBLE. It sounds like every amateur travel piece ever written. Also, maybe people will think you’re racist if you mention Asian tourists? But they really are Asian. Also, you should research Stirling Castle more.
Screw it. It’s done. For now. Jesus Christ, you are finally done with the first paragraph.
Promise your blog readers (and yourself) a finished version sometime next week, like you’ve been promising them for the past three weeks.
I actually wrote this post two years ago but haven’t been brave enough to publish it until now.
It’s about a secret love of mine: Christmas carols. Technically, as a (nonobservant) Jew, I know I shouldn’t enjoy them or sing them, a knowledge that was imparted on me by my mom who, when I was learning Silent Night in third grade, acted as if she was personally experiencing the Inquisition when it gets to the part about yon Virgin and Child. I was also afraid to say the word ‘Jesus’ until I was in high school. I was always embarrassed to sing them at home and when I did, it was always in the shower.
From youth onward, singing Christmas carols became a stigma for me and an involuntary jolt of shame and fear came upon me every time we had to sing a song in class that had anything to do with Jesus or Holy Nights or Yon Virgins. I would panic and try to swallow the words as much as I could while burning in shame that I couldn’t just sing them like my classmates could.
Theoretically, this is good. Jewish (or Muslim or Bahai or areligious) kids shouldn’t be singing Christmas carols about a God they’re not supposed to believe in. And, schools need to recognize this and not have any religious content in their holiday programs (many of which I’ve had to suffer through both as a clarinet player all through high school and middle school and a member of our school chorus.) Not balanced content (i.e. one Hanukkah song, one Christmas song, etc.) Just no religious content at all. And don’t label it as the War on Christmas. Just label it as a separation of church and state.
At the same time, Jewish parents shouldn’t overreact and stigmatize kids against everything related to Christmas, which is more and more becoming a secular holiday in the United States. Particularly when one of the kid’s other parents might be Christian. Granted, my dad is a pretty stoic Christian. He never took me to Russian Orthodox Christmas services (probably out of concern for my sanity, seeing as to how the whole service is held standing up). He never explained Easter, or much any Russian religious to me in the same way that my mom explained Judaism. But he did take me to a monastery when we were in Russia, which was awesome and one of the experiences I remember most about that trip. There, my aunt asked me to drink some water that had been blessed by the priests of the monastery, which I shied away from very uncomfortably. But why? Why couldn’t I have been raised in dichotomy? I’m not saying we should have celebrated Chrismukkah, because that’s just lame.
But, I’m sad about the fact that I don’t know of any Orthodox Christian tradtitions to pass on (not even egg dyeing. I got nothin’). Because it is still part of my identity. And while I don’t identify with the sense of joy and celebration that are tied into Christmas carols because I’m not Christian, I am still going to be rocking out to the following song, which has three of my favorites (Europeans, tuxedos, and cathedrals). Just in secret, still. Because the fear never leaves you.
I’ve always been under the assumption that I’m very leery of trusting the internet, because, everyone on the internet is a creep murderer and that I would never want to give up all my data to Zuck and the Gootch, but a couple of events recently have convinced me otherwise.
The first thing that happened is that a couple of weeks ago, my grandpa discovered a long-lost relative merely from the fact that he goes to a pharmacy, she’s a pharmacist there, and they have the same last name, and my grandpa’s last name is not very common. Once they got to talking, they realized that they are definitely related, and he wanted her to meet the rest of the family. Sounds like a crazy sitcom coincidence, too good to be true, right? That’s what I thought.
At first I was really excited. We have a very small family as it is, and any new relatives, especially ones closer to my age, are welcome additions. So we met, talked, the whole deal. Afterwards, I tried to Google her. Nothing came up. I immediately became unsure. Because who’s ungooglable in this age? (by the way, that link is the whitest thing I’ve EVER read.) Then I realized I was spelling her name wrong, and came upon her Facebook page and a couple other of details, which meant she was legit. To me, unlike the rest of my family who believe in meeting someone a number of times, having an active and not sketchy online presence means you are who you say you are. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying that the internet has completely changed how my generation understands social cues.
This came into play for me when my friend Anton stayed with us for a couple days before Thanksgiving last week. Can you call someone a friend if you’ve only talked to them on Twitter or Facebook for the past year and a half? I’m doing it now. Anton was in America for work and mentioned that he would be in Philly, and that we should meet up. On a whim, because he is funny and smart and interesting and I love to learn from people that are smarter and more well-traveled than me, I invited him to stay at our house.
I know what you’re thinking. The end to this story is that Anton really murdered both of us in our sleep because we were stupid to LET THE INTERNET CREEPERS IN and in fact is writing this blog post right now because, hey, you have to keep up appearances.
Or maybe, everything turned out normal because I already trusted Anton online and we had an awesome time, and I learned SO MUCH that I didn’t know before. Oh yeah, I did almost poison him because I forgot he was allergic to mushrooms. My bad.
Also, he brought me posters for the kitchen. Ooo.
The internet really strips out the amount of background introductions you have to do, which is PERFECT for introverts like me. On Twitter and Facebook and here, I can be as weird as I want, and if someone from online wants to meet up based on that, they already know what they’re getting themselves into.
If I tell someone face-to-face for the first time at a cocktail party that I think God has it out for me because he screwed me over in Jerusalem, that person will leave the room, or worse, become disinterested. But online, there’s no need for awkward first conversations, for me to explain the fact that I’m Russian/Jewish, live in Philly but used to live in DC, like really nerdy stuff but also ponies, Nutella, feminism, the whole works. You already know who I am based on what I write online. If you accept the fact that I’m weird and nerdy and shy, we can get into a conversation about something else right away. There is no room for me to get rejected.
For introverts like me, the internet is the best thing that ever happened. I would have never met Anton in real life, because our circles are too different. I also would have never, ever, ever met Sophie or David or Sarah or Neil in real life, because I would have been too shy to introduce myself. Acquaintances have become friends as the result of this blog. I would have never, ever known anyone who reads and comments on this blog, and all you people are really smart and funny. My world has grown exponentially.
The Internet is a wonderful thing if you want it to be, and if you have enough common sense to parse out the dangerous parts, which do not include this blog. I’m like the guy in the white van, only I really am offering only candy. I promise.