No One Belongs Here Less Than You

During the Omer, I’ve been following a bunch of Instagram pages that share daily reminders, with prompts about what sort of character quality each day corresponds to, and questions to check in with yourself about how you’re doing with whatever the thing is.

I am literal garbage when it comes to each and every quality. Love, compassion, discipline – you name it, I’ve failed time and time again. There was one in particular that really got me going; the question was, “Am I pushing away the compassion that Hashem wants to bestow upon me?” Um, YES. Yes I am.

Why? Because I’m scared of what it could lead to (and also I feel like I don’t deserve it). I’d rather cling to the memory that once something good might’ve been on the verge of happening for me than face the reality of everything that comes next. I’m afraid of finding something so precious that to lose it would destroy me. I’m afraid of shouldering the responsibility, afraid I won’t be strong enough to reach the finish line, and so I never start at all.

There’s this short story by Miranda July called “Roy Spivey.” I first read it when it appeared in the New Yorker during the summer of 2007, and I have thought of it probably at least once a week since then.

I have a love-hate relationship with Miranda July. She embodied all that was laughable about mid-2000s hipster culture, but at the same time some of her work really touched me. If I were ever to write a memoir, it would probably be titled No One Belongs Here Less Than You, partly because I think it’s a funny takeoff on her debut short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You but mostly because it is a painfully accurate statement on what it feels like to be me in approximately 97.5% of all life situations. There’s another story in that book, “This Person,” that I have some big thoughts about too, but I don’t think they belong in this post.

Anyway, “Roy Spivey” is about a young woman who ends up seated next to a married movie star on a plane. They hit it off, make a connection, and at the end he gives her his number on a scrap of paper, but with one digit missing at the end, for her to memorize lest the paper fall into the wrong hands. I think the last number was 4.

The woman never calls him, but throughout her life the number 4 becomes a sort of talisman she recites over and over to herself, during sex, while giving birth, on the way to pick up her delinquent child from the principal’s office.

One day, when she’s married and middle-aged, she has this revelation that she was actually supposed to use the number to call the movie star all those many years ago. It was meant to be a real thing, not a signifier of a fantastical alternate life never to be lived.

And I do something similar with all these kindnesses, these fragile, living things that were always meant to take flight but end up dead in my pockets, collected as trophies, as talismans of what could have been.

For a long time it felt like everything was frozen, in hibernation, and now life is moving so fast again. I’m scared. I don’t know how to do this. I wish I could’ve been born one of those people who embraces love fearlessly. But I wasn’t, and I think that, more than anything else, is my test in life.

E Is for Exile

Since I know some of my readers follow Luftmentsch’s blog, the time has come for me to come clean about something:

I am Luftmentsch’s ex E (because, well, my actual first name starts with an E). He knows. We’re talking. It’s cool.

I am aware that this sounds like some high school Livejournal-level blogging drama, but I promise that is the furthest thing from my intention.

Okay, that’s it for my PSA. Back to your regularly scheduled content shortly.

Shabbat Thoughts, Take 2

This Shabbat felt heavier and less hopeful than last week (maybe I was just feeling extra good then because getting the shot gave me a rare wave of optimism?). Certainly I did not do as good a job at not worrying, between some heavy stuff on my mind regarding my own life and the overall sorry state of the world. I know the Jewish world is very torn up about what happened in Meron, which is absolutely devastating. I am too, but I’m equally if not more distressed about the COVID situation in India. I suppose the victims in each of these tragedies feel equally distant to me.

Something I’ve realized is that while for the most part I’m enjoying my Shabbat observance, such as it is, and I do think it enhances my week, I really don’t enjoy the aftermath.

Toward the end I’m basically just watching the clock, counting down the minutes until I can see what I’ve missed on the internet. And then once I do log back on, it feels like there’s so much to catch on it stresses me out a lot, even though most of the stuff is both stupid and optional (some of it is work, but I don’t usually get a ton of work emails on Saturdays, thankfully).

I’m sure it’s made worse by the fact that Shabbat ends really late right now, so I’m left with lots I want to catch up on and not very many hours to do it, if I’m going to get to sleep at a reasonable time.

I’ve never been much for taking vacations, for the same reason – however good the time away is, the unpleasantness of catching up upon returning never seem quite worth it.

In general, I try to keep everything in my life sort of flat, without too many external ups and downs, because I am given to very high highs and very low lows, and it often feels like there’s an either/or choice to be made between being able to do the most basic things expected of an independently functioning adult (primarily staying employed), and putting myself in situations likely to set off my overactive emotions.

I don’t think this is a great way to live. I mean, I know it isn’t. Since the pandemic hit, I’ve been feeling big regrets for all the things I didn’t do, places I didn’t go, when I had the chance, because, I reasoned at the time, the disruption to my routine, my equilibrium, would’ve been just too much. I suppose committing to Shabbat is how I’ve chosen to start, in a way.

Other thoughts:

  • I started reading Elie Wiesel’s Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters, as recommended by Luftmentsch. I’ve only read the first chapter so far, about the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism. The sort of intense, full-body joyous communion with God and self and humanity described therein, is enrapturing, but it also feels impossible.
  • I want to start incorporating some Shabbat davening, but it seems overwhelming and I’m not sure where to start – or if I should just hold off until I’m fully vaxed and feeling brave enough to try some synagogues (and that’s if they’re even allowing random non-members these days).
  • I’m still thinking about Israel. Purely based on online research, I think the two places I’d be inclined to seriously look into would be Pardes (as recommended to me by some people on here) and a place called Midreshet Rachel V’Chaya, which is part of Shapell’s/Darche Noam yeshiva. I’m aware that those would be two quite different options. There’s a seminary called Nishmat that I think is sort of in the middle of those two, ideologically, that seems like it would be a good fit for me except that their program seems firmly targeted at recent college grads. I know a lot of people go to Neve, but that seems not my style. And then I wonder if I’m being delusional to even imagine I will actually pull off something so ambitious as to go anywhere at all.

Joyous Slipping Your Leash On

Sometimes I come across something – a poem, a song, a quotation, sometimes even something I’ve written myself – and I know it’s got something important to tell me, but I’m not quite sure what that thing is yet. And then, later – sometimes weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years – something will happen that brings it all into focus. Like, Oh. So that’s what that was all about.

This poem is one of them. I first encountered it a whole bunch of years ago – I’m pretty sure I found it on Livejournal or Tumblr, and it’s been about a decade since I’ve used either of those – and only last summer, after I was tested in a big way and failed, spectacularly, did it finally make sense why it had stuck in my mind for all these years.

The whole thing is relevant, but it this is the part where it really picks up:

I have nothing but the time and space I’ve been pining for now,
and I am using this opportunity to try and remember
why I thought this was a good idea.
I think it had something to do with Escape,
which has permanent offices in the romance division of my brain
and ground troops in my solar plexus.
The flight instinct comes on quicksand,
muscles out all rational thought,
starts Morse coding my limbic system with
complex dots and dashes for strange verbs that mean,
roughly translated: “joyous chewing your leash off,”
and “fire without readiness or aim.”
It always feels so right to go,
like it’s the only story my body knows by heart

To the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me, Mindy Nettifee

The reason this poem spoke to me is that I, too, am a runner, a flight risk. Escape has permanent offices in the romance division of my brain (and probably every other division too), and I am known for nothing if not firing without readiness or aim. I’ve spent most of my life running from just about everything, but most of all from myself. Evidently, my subconscious recognized this tendency in me way before I was able to accept it, or understand it, or verbalize it.

I’ve always been impatient, pathologically so. I can’t handle living with uncertainty. I’ve done some ridiculously foolish, destructive things because of it. I’d rather put an end to an unsettling situation myself than let it drag on, even if there’s potential for something very good to come of it. I’ve ruined some wonderful things this way.

This Yom Kippur was a big turning point in my religious journey. It was one of the first times I really felt how Judaism and God and prayer could be a support for me in a very dark time. It was also a time when I was thinking about this poem quite a lot, reading it over and over to myself, having only just pieced all of this together.

And as I was reciting the Viduy, for what felt like the millionth time, there was this one line, “for the sin we have sinned before You by casting off the yoke.”

“Casting off the yoke.” “Joyous chewing your leash off.”  

Oh. So that’s what that was all about.

I think that’s where God comes in, for me. Believing there is a God who’s in charge of all of this, who has some sort of grand plan that somehow or other will be for the best, that everything isn’t solely cause-and-effected by my shoddy choices – whether it’s ultimately true or not, this might be the one thing that can stop me from pulling that trigger. “Let go and let God,” as certain cringey Christians are wont to say. Except maybe they’re right. Casting on that yoke of – I don’t want to say obedience, exactly, but something like that – to a higher power, Someone who in return can help me shoulder the terrible burden of being myself, and doing it with love, not resentment. There’s something thrilling, exhilarating about casting off that yoke, slipping off that leash, and going it alone, the freedom of it, no one to answer to, but finally I can see that it’s not the best way, not for me.

Of course, all that is easier said than done. Since Yom Kippur, I’ve been trying to get to “joyous slipping my leash on,” which means getting right with God, sure, but also with what few people are still left in my life and, maybe most importantly, with myself. They’re all leashes in their own ways – religion, relationships, selfhood – and for a long time I thought that was something to run from. But sometimes a leash can keep you in line, keep you safe, keep you from getting hit by a car. Sometimes a leash means love. And sometimes that makes the loss of freedom worth it.

It’s slow going. There are a lot of ups and downs. I’m still far from where I want to be. But at least now I’m on the way.

I have spent the past many months learning to face what irritates me with compassion, or trying to. Learning that I can’t change my family, and learning to love them anyway, as they are. Learning that it’s time to surrender in my epic decades-long battle against reality. Learning to face up to all the things I’ve done wrong, the people I’ve hurt. Learning not to be so selfish. Learning how to step up and be there for people I love even when my own dumb drama and issues make it really, really hard.

I don’t think it’s true that you have to learn to love yourself before anyone else can love you. But I do think, at least for me, it was necessary to get really, really real with myself about my faults and my flaws and my failings, and to accept that ultimately they are mine and no one else’s, before being in any way capable of maintaining functional human relationships.

I think I’ve just about slipped that leash on. I think I’m finally ready to be a real person. The question is if it isn’t too late for anything good to come of it.

Nervous Breakthrough

As a friend of mine once said, there are mental health issues you can safely go public with, and ones you can’t. For most of my life, I have suffered from one of the latter (in addition, naturally, to a handful of the former): trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling.

I think I must have some less common variant, because I don’t rip my hair out by the roots, or at least that’s never the intention. Rather, I pull apart my split ends (or trim them, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if I didn’t do it for hours at a time, multiple times per week), or feel along my strands for weak spots and break them off. If it’s a smooth, soft hair, I won’t touch it. But if it’s bumpy, wiry, brittle, split – I just cannot handle such monstrosities growing out of my head.

It started when I was about 12, which I gather is very common. Since then, there’ve been times when it’s been better and times when it’s been worse. Sometimes I’ve stopped for a few days or even weeks at a time, but never longer. Since the start of the pandemic, it has, for the most part, been very, very bad. And for a handful of years before that, it wasn’t great either. Right now, there are approximately 1.5 hairstyles I can pull off without making it very obvious that I have these awful short bits of hair sticking out from the back of my head.

One of the hard things about trichotillomania is that you can do an awful lot of damage awfully fast, but it takes basically an eon of good behavior to get any significant growth back.

I never talk about it (except once, and even then only because there was someone I felt I owed a juicy confession), though possibly it would be better if I did. It’s too shameful, too weird. Not even in therapy, I guess because I always knew this was a coping mechanism I wasn’t ready to let go of. Not even to one of my closest friends, who has trich too, only I didn’t know it until ten plus years into our friendship when she casually let slip that she was thinking of shaving her head as a fresh start and a way of getting things under control (like, “Oh, so THAT’S why your eyebrows always looked so overplucked in college”). Talking about it makes it too real, undoes all my efforts to pass for normal.

I don’t think until now I’ve ever really admitted to myself how much havoc it’s wreaked on my life.

The other side, of course, is that it feels great. There’s nothing so soothing as snapping off a really nasty bumpy strand, as searching through for split ends and snipping them off. I know it’s bizarre, but the feeling of release is second to none.

For a long time, I convinced myself I’d be able to stop if I needed to, when I needed to. I guess that’s the lie all addicts tell themselves.

You might ask why anyone would do this. I have asked myself that too. The obvious answer is faulty brain chemistry, some haywire grooming instinct, and certainly that’s the root of it. But I think, for me, there’s something else, something I’ve only just realized.

I think my inability to accept that I do not and never will have the soft, soft hair of a regular white girl, non-ethnic variety™, that no matter how many split ends I trim off, they’ll just keep coming back, has a whole lot to do with my general inability to accept myself the way I am.

I know this is starting to sound like a “society told me I’m too ethnic to be beautiful” sob story such as you might read in Hey Alma, but it’s not exactly that.

I’ve long felt there’s a severe mismatch between who I want to be, who I actually am, and who I’m expected to be (expected by whom, you might ask – great question!). I’ve been slowly realizing that the image of the person I always thought I’d magically transform into someday – it’s not real. I need to let it go. And the image of the person people in my life expect me to be (or the person I expect that they expect me to be)? Maybe that needs to go too.

Until very, very recently, I didn’t see how that related to my hair situation. But it totally does.

The reality is, most of my hair feels like gross bumpy wires. Some of my strands have these weird holes in them, like a split end that rejoins. I have more ends that are split than not. I wish it were otherwise, but it isn’t and it probably won’t ever be. I can waste my life making futile, self-destructive efforts to change it, or I can accept it and learn to live in my reality, even if it’s not the one I would’ve chosen.

Don’t get me wrong, if given the choice, I’d choose smooth hair in an instant, just as I’d more than likely sign on for a personality transplant were that on offer. But that’s just the thing: neither of these things is on offer, or ever will be. And really, truly getting good with myself, as I am, is the only path to peace.

I feel like this is the sort of realization you’re supposed to have in therapy, although I’ve never had a realization like this in therapy.

Is this the thing that’s finally going to get me to stop pulling, or whatever it is that I do? Watch this space to find out.

Job’s Children

For a couple of years as a kid, I took gymnastics classes from a rather eccentric woman. She was very kind, but she was also into a lot of New Age-y woo stuff, the kind of person I’d roll my eyes at for identifying as “spiritual but not religious.”

At one point, when I was probably about 10, the father of one of the girls in my class passed away. The teacher told the rest of us, to let us know why this girl wasn’t going to be coming to class for a while. And she said something that really bothered me, something that’s stuck with me to this day. I can’t remember the exact words she used, but it was some variation on “everything happens for a reason,” something to the effect that sometimes these things happen for a reason, so the people left behind can learn a lesson, get a wakeup call.

Looking back, it seems like an incredibly cruel thing to say, however you slice it (though I’m sure it wasn’t meant that way, and in any case I can’t guarantee my memories are 100% accurate). But the thing that really hit me in the moment was, what about the poor father? He doesn’t get any more chances to grow or learn.

Years later, when I first encountered the Book of Job (in a secular academic context), it made me think of what my long-ago gymnastics teacher had said (or, in all fairness, what my 10-year-old self interpreted her as having said). As part of Job’s trials, his children die. Eventually, when his fortunes are restored, he has more children. And the text makes it sound like that’s supposed to be fair compensation.

But what about the first batch of children, the ones who died? Not for what they meant to their father, but for who they were as people in and of themselves? Where’s their second chance? Where, even, is the sadness for the fact that they don’t get one?

I couldn’t find any, not in the text. And it’s made me wonder, can it really be that some people are here to learn and grow, and others are just props on the journey for the major players?

(And could it be that I’m one of the prop people, the extras? Everyone wants to be the star in the movie of their life, but what if I simply am not? Maybe I’m just here to serve as an object lesson in what not to do, how not to be, for people to see just how much better off they are with me out of their lives than in it.)

I suppose if you believe in reincarnation that can be an answer, perhaps the least uneasy one, if you believe that the prop people are just cycling through their prop life as some sort of necessary karmic atonement. I’m not sure if I can believe that or not.  

But if not, what other answer can there be?

The Mirror Conspiracy

For a long time, I thought the truest idea I’d ever encountered in any religion was the Buddhist principle that the root of suffering is attachment. I probably don’t even understand what it means, in context, but it’s an idea I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about over the years. I always wondered if I’d ever find anything that rang as true in Judaism. I wanted to, but I doubted I would.

I am here to tell you I was wrong. I found the thing. It’s a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, the 18th-century founder of Hasidism, and it goes like this:

 “The world is a mirror. The faults you see in others are your own.”

That’s it. That’s the teaching. I don’t remember where I first encountered it, or when. A few years ago, at least. Initially, I dismissed it. But I kept thinking about it, on and off, off and on, sort of trying to disprove it in my mind. I guess because I knew, deep down, that there was something to it, something I wasn’t ready to accept.  

Then, during my pandemic spiritual awakening, I came across it again, and this time I was ready. This time it was like, Oh. This is it. This explains everything.

Well, perhaps not everything. But a lot. Now I think about it constantly. Whenever I’m feeling bothered by something in someone else, which is fairly often, I think, Why does this bother me so much? What does God want me to learn from this situation? What can it teach me about myself? Turns out it can teach me a lot. I don’t know if I’ve ever learned as much as I have by examining all my thoughts and feelings and interactions under this lens. It’s been brutal and exhausting, the hardest and deepest emotional work of my life, but, I think, necessary.

There are certain situations I look back on, conflicts, arguments, ruined relationships, or nearly, where I can see so clearly now that the flaws I thought I saw in someone else were all mine, projected. Or I couldn’t accept a certain quality in another person because I couldn’t accept it in myself. The only thing that was wrong, in these situations, was me. And likewise, I latched on to people who weren’t good for me because they had qualities I lacked, and felt less-than for lacking, and I thought I could just glom onto someone else instead of fixing myself. It all seems so very obvious, looking back, but I suppose I wasn’t strong enough to handle this truth until now.

Something along these lines has a lot to do with why, after all these years, I finally seem to be getting serious about getting religion, although I can’t say what exactly it is since it’s related to my job, in a way. Maybe someday.

The thing is, for me, historically, increased self-awareness has not led to change. It hasn’t led to much of anything. Is this time going to be any different? Is this when I’m finally going to learn to look at the world, at myself, at everyone, everything with kindness instead of disdain, to see others for what they are instead of for what I am, or for what I think they should be?

This whole discussion puts me in mind of some lines from my favorite Anne Carson poem, the one I recite to myself like a prayer, a promise:

I think

you are going to mention again

those illuminated manuscripts from medieval times where the scribe

has made an error in copying

so the illuminator encloses the error

in a circlet of roses and flames

which a saucy little devil is trying to tug off the side of the page.

Can I, too, learn to enclose my errors, and everyone’s, in circlets of roses and flames?

I don’t know. I would like to think so. I hope so.

Shabbat Thoughts

This Shabbat was a step backward from last week, observance wise, although I think for a pretty good reason: I got my first COVID-19 vaccination! The first appointment I was able to snag happened to be today, on a Saturday, and while I did have second thoughts about whether I shouldn’t hold out for another slot that wouldn’t mess with my fledgling Shabbat observance, ultimately I decided to take it (because I’ve waited so long, and it’s for the public good, and so on). Perhaps it was the wrong choice, but it’s done now, anyway. I did decide to stick with what I’d done last week (basically, no screens), aside from whatever needed to be done to get the vaccine, though.

When I woke up this morning, I don’t know how much of it was Shabbat and how much of it was knowing I was finally going to be getting the shot, but I felt weirdly hopeful. Maybe even something bordering on joyous. I remember reading something in Abraham Joshua Heschel about how you’re not supposed to worry on Shabbat, and at the time that idea struck me as profoundly beautiful, but also impossible. But this morning, I think I started to see how it could be real. (Maybe last Shabbat morning too, actually). I just felt overcome by this uncharacteristic feeling that maybe everything is going to be okay after all.

Now, you should know that I am a worrier. A highly anxious person, and a glass half empty one. Always have been. Once, when I was 15, I decided I would designate one day, out of the whole year, to be free of worries. When it came down to it, though, I couldn’t even do it! And I was 15! My life is so much worse and less hopeful now. All that to say, for me feeling like I did, however fleetingly, was really something.

As expected, going for my shot harshed my Shabbat mellow somewhat, but afterward I came home and tried as best I could to get back in the zone. I read. I napped. It wasn’t quite the same, but I did the best I could. I had the same feeling as  last week, where the first 20 hours or so were really good and then things gradually deteriorated from there until by the last half hour I was just anxiously watching the clock. I would like to do something about that, but I’m not sure what.

Now, post-Shabbat, and post-vaccination (the fact that I still have to get my second shot in a few weeks not withstanding), I’m feeling a lot of feelings. Like maybe now I’ll finally be able to be free, to wake up from this nightmare (though deep down I know that’s not true, because I am the nightmare; all circumstances have really done is brought that to the forefront). It’s bittersweet, though, because after everything I’m not sure exactly what there is for me to go back to. I can’t pick up where I was before, and I don’t know if I’d even want to.

A few people have told me I should thinking about spending time in Israel, and I wonder if maybe they’re right. (Or possibly they’re just saying that because Israelis, and quasi-Israelis, always think everyone should go spend time in Israel). I think the implication is that I should let loose and party in Tel Aviv, but that’s not my style. What does hold a certain appeal is going to Jerusalem, learning how to lead an observant life and read Tanakh in the original and all that good stuff, even though I know I’m really too old for it. Still, I’m pretty sure I could do my job from there if I found some sort of part-time learning situation, and the thought of picking up and starting over somewhere new, if only temporarily, is alluring.

God on a Peloton

Lately I’ve read a couple of articles positing Peloton as a sort of religion-lite for self-absorbed Millennials who can’t be troubled with the responsibilities of the real thing. One was from a Jewish perspective, one Christian, but as far as I recall both came to more or less the same conclusion: though neither author put it quite like this, the party line seems to be Peloton = individualistic = inwardly focused = bad (and immature); religion = communal = externally focused = good (and mature).

And it’s made me wonder: am I doing it all wrong? Religion, I mean; I don’t have a Peloton. The thing that draws me to observance isn’t community, and it isn’t serving others. I wish it were, and maybe someday it will be. But right now, mostly I just want to commune with God (and perhaps also my unknowable ancestors). Me, alone. And, yes, there’s an element of self-improvement to it, too, Peloton-like.

I know my vision of spirituality is highly informed by Christianity, but when I think of the holiness I crave, I think of Hildegarde von Bingen, of St. Teresa—an idealized medieval nun, but the kind who illuminates manuscripts, not the kind who feeds the poor. I think of being alone with my books and my thoughts and my silence, enveloped by a cloud of orgasmic light. I think, to quote Virginia Woolf, of “a voice answering a voice.” One thing I never think of when I think of holiness is a harried mother of a loud, large family.

Sometimes it does feel like I’m trying to fit the square peg of whatever it is that I am into the round hole of Judaism. I know there are some incredible female scholars in the observant Jewish world, and perhaps that’s a role I could’ve been drawn to, in another life. But I’ll never be one of them, not with my lack of background, my paltry Hebrew (and that’s before even touching on my generally mediocre intellect).

The truth is, if I hadn’t been born into this religion, I don’t imagine it’s one I would have chosen for myself. In Jerusalem, in the Old City, the most spiritual I ever felt was in the Armenian church, and in times of deepest distress, I turn to Anne Carson, not Tehillim (not that I’ve never really given Tehillim a fair shake, although hopelessinfertile makes me want to).

Until the past year, I never thought of myself as a spiritual person at all—I always thought, if anything, I’d end up “religious but not spiritual.” Even now, I still think I’d probably be better suited to, I don’t know, Buddhism. Something less communal, quieter, more welcoming to the solo practitioner. Or some religion that came with an option to join a convent and live the rest of my life in penance.

I wonder if I’ve come as far as I have on my religious journey, this time, in part because in COVID times there hasn’t been much choice but to go it alone. In the past, the point where I muster up the courage to drag myself to some or other synagogue is usually the point where I go, “You know what, never mind. This is not, in fact, for me.”

I wonder what will happen when things open up (if things ever truly open up), when once again I’ll be forced to confront the truth of how little I belong.  

Or maybe, somehow, this time will be different. Maybe this time I’ll be different. Maybe I’ve learned to let go of my demands that the world conform to my desires, to accept things, and people, for what they are. Maybe I’ll find I’ve finally grown up.

My Only Vice Is Device

This Shabbat, I decided to bite the bullet and go device-free for the full 25 hours. I’d initially planned on doing it last week, but I ended up being in the middle of a work project with a tight deadline and I knew if I tried to set work aside I’d just end up stressing about it.

And while some might argue that there’s never a good time, that there will always be something, that you must start as you mean to go on—this Shabbat turns out to have been EXACTLY the perfect time. In all ways, this past week had me primed for some serious, soul-deep rest and relaxation. Not to say that it was a bad week. It was just a lot. I have rarely been more ready to peace out and get away from it all.

This was by no means a full-on halachic observance of Shabbat, but for device-dependent me it was a big step. I did not go on my phone or computer. I did not watch TV. I did not write. I did turn on lights, heat up food, shower.

I slept late. I finished two books. No davening. Maybe next time—baby steps and all. (Well, I did get it in my mind that I might try to get in the habit of doing the Bedtime Shema, and started that Friday night—let’s see how that goes). Synagogue attendance is still out of the question at this point, COVID-wise.

The first twenty hours or so ranged from exceedingly pleasant to downright blissful. Disconnecting from the world and vegetating is probably my default state of being, and as that’s more or less what I did I was a happy camper.

During the last few, though, I started getting jittery from screen withdrawal and found myself less and less able to stop my mind wandering to the topic of what fresh hell I might find in my inbox at the end of it.

But I did it, even when it stopped feeling good. I stuck with it til the end.

Now, you’ve got to understand, while once notoriously strong at this point in my life my self-discipline is shot. I have the willpower of a goldfish. I would fail the marshmallow test, if only I liked marshmallows. Doing a single thing I don’t want to do feels like the mental version of plank pose—every second is agonizing, and even though I probably could, physically, go on holding it just a little bit longer, psychologically I just don’t have it in me.

This time I did have it in me, though. I found that inner reserve of strength (and yes, it is sad that this is what passes for strength for me, now, but it is what it is), and it felt, dare I say, empowering. Like maybe it isn’t too late to live a life not governed entirely by my worst impulses.