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Dear Readers,

I have not written in an eternity.  For a while, I knew it was the right decision.  Life was overwhelming, so much so, that keeping up a blog was becoming more of a guilty burden than an outlet for self-expression and the exchange of ideas.  However, the last few months revealed an interesting symptom: my facebook and twitter status updates became longer, more complex, resembling compositions, carefully, artfully, lovingly crafted. Word art in 140 characters or less. A clear sign I needed to actually do some real writing.  The potential subject matters have also become overwhelming – what to write about?  Where should I start?  So I’m going to jump.  Bear with me, dear reader.

Riojan Revelations

I took myself on vacation to Spain in September.  I won’t go into details except to say – visit Basque Country.  The best food, gorgeous landscape, and the kindest people you’d ever want to meet.  You wouldn’t think it – it’s not a sexy place – but there is a subtle grandeur, an old world Europe elegance, with a fascinating and often sad history, that doesn’t want to draw attention to itself.  Besides, Riojan wine country is literally next door (and culturally related), there are Europe’s loveliest beaches, and you can even go surfing if you dare to face those cold waters.

I always keep a journal when I travel extensively.  I buy a leather bound volume or two and invest in a good pen.  As I travel alone, it keeps me sane, gives me purpose, gives me distraction when needed.  It’s not easy just being with yourself and only with yourself without a routine – travel for me is a kind of meditation – extremely difficult at first, but when you get into the rhythm, the benefits are infinite.  By the end of the trip, I felt more like myself in years.  

My main revelation: who I am.  I never had a calling, never knew I had to be a surgeon or a ballerina.  And that practicality in college or slightly after never kicked in – I didn’t enlist in law school or business school or find an interesting sector to devote my life to some sort of desk.  I am not unique in this.  Whatever the decisions of the people in my generation, there is an clear sense of ennui.  Books and research and articles about “the quarterlife crisis” and the downfalls of having too many choices leading to major anxiety and crippling indecision, abounded.  In many ways, I have been a leaf.  That image of Forrest Gump’s leaf has remained ingrained in my memory.  Though I’ve had a stable job for a year and a half, in a sector I devoted 4 years to in some semblance or another, my mind, heart, “soul,” self, is not that professional person.  I love so much of what I do.  I threw all of my energy, sacrificing my health sometimes, to the company, to the mission, for the benefit of wine culture in Israel.  I’m very lucky to have this in my life.  But this is not my raison d’etre.  This is not my life.  It is not worth my health or the majority of hours in the week.  The time has come to go back to “me.”  It probably won’t make me money.  But I’m dying inside sometimes from the lack of time and attention to who it really is that I am.

(Goodness doesn’t this sound like the introduction to some sappy self-help novel! Don’t worry, I’m not selling anything, and I don’t think I’ll ever be a happy-go-luck person…)

This will sound stupid, and I even felt it to be so stupid as I wrote in my journal on my last day in San Sebastian while drinking a too-sweet cafe con leche and nibbling on a tortilla pintxo (a Spanish omelet placed on top of a too-small slice of baguette, speared with a toothpick), that I wrote down that this was embarrassingly stupid to be writing.  It’s so far-fetched. It’s such a grandiose word, that I feel I’m being an arrogant sophist for thinking such a thought.  But the word felt right, and it wouldn’t go away.  Words are powerful.  Now I’ve always felt kind of OK calling myself a thinker, or a person who likes to think, who often (or at best occasionally these days) wrote.  What I am, what I have always been, is a philosopher.  When I wrote that down, I felt good.  I am in such awe at that word – pictures of brilliant pipe-smoking tweed-clad professors and long-dead robe-wrapped Greeks come to mind.  So you can understand how silly I feel calling myself such a word.  

On a daily basis, I have all-encompassing “thinking spells.” I am an incurable daydreamer.  When seen in children it seems sweet and creative and fanciful until or unless it interrupts schoolwork or other such responsible tasks.  In adults, it’s perceived as a wishy-washy hippie impractical waste of a thing to do.  I can’t help it.  Overpowering ideas flow, and I stop, and I let them wash into me.  For minutes, for hours, on and off over the course of days sometimes.  It gives me great pleasure to think.  To roll thoughts and facts and theories over and over in my mind, connecting the dots, creating fascinating conclusions.  For example, yesterday, I entertained an imaginary conversation with an old acquaintance from college about the earliest origins of marriage, land-ownership, violence and the current socioeconomic state.  My greatest pain – that I don’t have anyone to talk to about these things.  Perhaps it’s why so many of my mental wanderings take the form of dialogues, either with people I have known, or people I respect, whether they be perfect strangers or even long-dead.  I’ve been labeled strange, an oddity, and I don’t mind that. But not to be listened to.  Not fun.  And I fear that my wits have dulled without this practice. I feel that I sometimes reject the thought pattern building up, and distract myself with television, games, food, alcohol, cleaning, gardening, and most of all – work – not entirely unhealthy, but it borders on it.  It’s why it was particularly heartbreaking not to have been accepted into a doctoral program a couple years ago.  I knew my application was hurried and weakly presented, but I still had hoped it would be enough.  

My conclusion in Spain: let it be.  It’s more difficult than it sounds.  Like meditating.  Like anything worth doing in life – it takes discipline in order to build a healthy habit.  My goal is to begin writing these thoughts down, as I have in the past.  Beyond that, I feel I need to at least try to publish something formally.  It won’t take the place of a regular discourse, but it will affirm I’m not crazy.  There’s a particular treatise on ecology, the environment, and economics that I’ve been meaning to get out of my system for over three years.  Perhaps sending these ideas into the world will negate my new self-identity – there is a danger that I will discover I’ve never had an even slightly original idea in my life.  But I need to take that chance. Exploring the writing of others, extensively, in order to better informed, is never bad. It’s always fruitful.  Thinking is always better than not thinking.  I need not be ashamed of that.  I need to embrace it, whether or not anyone understands me or cares.

I will leave you with a treat! Photos of some incredible home-libraries that have been popping up on my facebook stream all week.  I am desperate for something like this in my home.  A respite for the soul.  It’s ever so much easier to be productive and comfortable in one’s own skin when surrounded by a beautiful, functional environment. Squishy armchair required.  Fireplace optional.  Thank you for reading.

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Our own personal Proustian Madeleines.  In this case, an Italian sandwich.

If we’re attuned to it, I think we all have these moments daily. A smell we notice while walking down the street, a new food at a cafe, someone’s perfume, laundry, kitchen. And BOOM — you’re instantly transported into a memory.  Sometimes the memory is unclear for me — I can’t pinpoint it, but I can usually assign a time period or location.  Late high school.  Sometime at summer camp.  Ireland.

And sometimes, you know exactly where and when that trigger takes you. That happened to me at lunch yesterday.  I was trying to get some work done at the Loveat on Yehuda HaLevi (after having an awesome haircut at Tomer Reshef, I have to mention — best place in Tel Aviv for curly hair — bar none).  Lunch isn’t cheap at Loveat, but it’s vaguely organic there (perhaps just the coffee), and with the larger sandwiches, you get your choice of side dish — I had a cup of split pea soup — a real treat compared to what you get at most cafes.

Loveat - I really like the atmosphere at this branch

My chicken panini (or gabetta, as they call them here — I’m pretty sure they mean ciabatta; panini would be far more appropriate as that refers to a sandwich often made of a ciabatta; whatever, it’s Israel) was incredible.  When I took the first bite, I was transported back to the 2rd floor coffee shop of the Reynolds Club at the University of Chicago.  This cafe functioned on take out — basically, all the restaurants in the neighborhood brought their best takeaways — pad thai, pad seeyu, curry and rice, samosas, and tons and tons of sandwiches.  I was a vegetarian at the time, and I often got the roasted vegetable sandwich from Pizza Capri (it’s still on the menu!).  It was heaven: roasted red peppers, eggplant, perhaps zucchini, perhaps a slice of cheese, and tons and tons of garlic.  I can assert to the fact that it had peppers, eggplant, and garlic — the rest is a little hazy.

Although my Loveat gabetta had chicken, the rest of it was very much like my sandwich of yore.  The roasted red pepper I think was what took me back.  And why is this significant?  I almost lived in that building.  The theatre was on the 3rd floor, and I think I had 80% of my meals from that coffee shop.  I may have eaten more than 200 of those sandwiches over the course of 4 years.  When I had my internship at Steppenwolf Theatre, there was even a Pizza Capri across the street — and I ate it once or twice a week that whole summer.  The flavor and texture of that sandwich represents the blood, sweat, tears, and every ounce of passion I put into my undergraduate education.  It represents the grimy yet super-comfy theatre lounge I hung out at every day, where I ate half my meals, where I caught up and prepped before classes, where I piled onto ancient sofas with friends and collaboratively did the New York Times crossword, where I held weekly production meetings, where I memorized lines, where I read play after play after play, where I played snood and mac-brickout and checked my telnet email account on ancient computers, where I developed and fine-tuned proposals, where I planned my future and dreamed.

Reynolds Club 2nd floor coffee shop - much as I remember it

It’s almost ten years behind me now.  Seems like yesterday, and I can’t believe how far I’ve drifted from what that girl thought she’d be.  And that sandwich.  Do we go back and try to jump start what we used to love or thought we loved?  Is it pointless to try?  Is it too late?  I didn’t know it then, but it was the happiest time of my life.  Sure, I was miserable a lot.  But I was also challenged and busy and growing and trying and achieving and failing and was surrounded by some of the most interesting people I have yet known.  That sandwich yesterday highlighted my relatively isolated and somewhat stagnant state.

It’s time I announced my intentions: I want to go back into academia.  It will be very different this time.  Nostalgia will probably play a distracting and not-too-positive role in this.  But I’m doing it.  It will take time.  Part-time completion courses.  Maybe a second masters degree in order to get where I would like to be — an excellent doctoral program.  Not in theatre.  A social science/philosophy type course.  Life is horrible, complex, beautiful.  I study it anyway.  I want to be with people I can speak with, research with, and who have passion for these abstract and seemingly ridiculous and impractical notions.  Perhaps I’m sounding arrogant and idealistic here.  Probably.

Powerful sandwich, that. Wouldn’t you say?

A fantastic blog article – a picture-laden tour of the University of Chicago — with a particular focus on all its bizarre coffee shops (my fave was not focused on, however — although I am proud to say I frequented ALL of the ones featured).

Imaginative & refreshing cinnamon lemonade at Loveat

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