Sunday, September 30, 2007


"They can't get inside you," she had said. But they could get inside you. "What happens to you here is forever," O'Brien had said. That was a true word. There were things, your own acts, from which you could not recover. Something was killed in your breast; burnt out, cauterized out.

~1984 by George Orwell, page 239

The first time I read 1984, I learned that not even the mind is inviolate. The cruel torture practiced upon Winston had nothing to do with his physical self but his mental anguish at having betrayed Julia. O'Brien was a sadistic bastard who succeeded in breaking Winston and Julia, rendering them so harmless that they could see one another and feel no desire. Under the spreading chestnut tree/ I sold you and you sold me. There is a point of no return, a realization about one's true nature that cannot be undone. There is a sickened sense of disgust, of hatred for oneself, of weakness and the realization that one is truly broken. The first time I read 1984, I was in eighth grade and I was Winston.

I reread 1984 over Sukkot. This time, I focused upon the methods used in order to create this ugly society in which power is desired only for the sake of power, torture for the pleasure of torture. I had not paid enough attention to them the first time. Ingsoc is a study in diabolical genius.

"He who controls the past controls the future, and he who controls the present controls the past."

That's brilliant. He who controls the present is able to have anything printable edited and ensure that the only official versions of these documents are the edited and corrected versions; he is simultaneously able to destroy any variants. Hence the past as it actually occurred never happened, because the texts don't allow it to have happened. If the only texts in existence are modified texts but they depict a different past, then the first past never happened.

But what about people? Don't they remember a different version of events, a different past? But no! Hence the constant references to solipsism. The only thing that matters is what one thinks has happened; that is the past. So if the past only exists in texts and in the minds of people, and the texts are reformatted to tell a different story (and no variants exist) and the minds are structured to allow for the process of doublethink, there is no past in terms of there having been real events outside oneself that happened in a certain way. Not if one believes that everything happens within the mind.

Or as Winston thinks to himself:
    Anything could be true. The so-called laws of nature were nonsense. The law of gravity was nonsense. "If I wished," O'Brien had said, "I could float off this floor like a soap bubble." Winston worked it out. "If he thinks he floats off the floor, and if I simultaneously think I see him do it, then the thing happens." Suddenly, like a lump of submerged wreckage breaking the surface of water, the thought burst into his mind: "It doesn't really happen. We image it. It is hallucination." He pushed the thought under instantly. The fallacy was obvious. It presupposed that somewhere or other, outside oneself, there was a "real" world where "real" things happened. But how could there be such a world? What knowledge have we of anything save through our own minds? All happenings are in the mind. Whatever happens in all minds, truly happens. (229)

Now, how brilliant and disturbing is that?

There's a beautiful conversation on page 205.
    O'Brien smiled faintly. "You are no metaphysician, Winston ", he said. " Until this moment you had never considered what is meant by existence. I will put it more precisely. Does the past exist concretely, in space? Is there somewhere or other a place, a world of solid objects, where the past is still happening?"
    " No."
    " Then where does the past exist, if at all ? "
    " In records. It is written down."
    " In records. And - ?
    " In the mind. In human memories. "
    " In memory. Very well, then. We, the Party, control all records, and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not?"
It seems to me that there are several different kinds of beliefs. In The Emperor's New Clothes, nobody sees the clothes that the emperor is wearing. They therefore believe he has clothes despite their inability to see them, because they assume they are simply not worthy/ not fit for their jobs. But according to the philosophy espoused in 1984, with the proper guidance and urging, assuming these people really believed they were fit for their jobs, they would all see the Emperor's clothes, as would the Emperor himself, and therefore the emperor really would be wearing clothes in terms of their reality.

It's a very disturbing thought to consider that the mind has the power to create reality. Of course, this only works in a very controlled subtext, where every single person's mind is dominated and in accord with one another; in other words, when every person has mastered doublethink.
    Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt. Doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, and to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies - all this is indispensably necessary. (176-177)
All this suggests that people are only as free as the information that reaches them. No wonder, then, that we live in an age of information saturation! The Internet is a blessed invention because it will hopefully always allow for freedom of the press. The fact that I needn't only rely upon the official media but can also benefit from live accounts from bloggers or other freelance writers is quite comforting. Of course, each person has their own bias, but that is still far better than a society where all the documents could be tampered with and replaced, where the past truly didn't exist on paper!

It would be nice if the Asch conformity experiments supported the doublethink point- that is, that after enough people claim one line is shorter than the other, the subject actually sees it as being that way. And guess what? Recent research says that may be the case. See this New York Times article, "What Other People Say May Change What You See."

Blakeslee concludes the article by writing, "If other people's views can actually affect how someone perceives the external world, then truth itself is called into question."

Welcome to the Orwellian world.

Dining in the Dark: The Sukkot Experience

There is apparently a bizarre but fascinating experience in restaurant dining entitled "Dining in the Dark."

People pay to be blindfolded, led into pitch-black restaurants, forbidden to use their cell phones or any other device that gives light, and then, while seated, they are served an entire meal in the dark. The dark heightens their other senses and allows them the unique experience of seeing what it is like for those who are blind. Fascinatingly, many of these restaurants have blind waiters. A few have waiters who wear night vision goggles.

Perhaps the most famous of these restaurants is Dans Le Noir, which has branches in both London and Pairs.

For anyone interested in this "dining in the dark" experience, here's a range of articles including those in CBS News and The New York Times.

Anyway, the reason I bring this all up is because of my fantastically fun Sukkos adventures. We were all invited over to someone's house and in the middle of kiddush, all the lights in the sukkah went out. We ended up eating all our food (and this included soup and more) in the dark, with only the candles to aid us. It was so much fun. I don't think I've had that much a long while. And it was especially educational and edifying because my mom started discussing this "Dining in the Dark" experience since apparently Chicago is going to install one of these restaurants downtown; it'll be named "The Black Gem." And I go, "No way, are you for real? They seriously have blind waiters? How does that work?" But apparently it does work and people really do pay for this experience. How crazy and how cool?

And then our host referenced a Gemara which explains that part of the reason that food tastes good is because one is able to see it and we argued dining experiences versus the Oral Law and everything was fantastic.

And then, during dessert, the timer decided to cooperate and we could see one another again. Which was good fun, on the one hand, but I much preferred the darkness. It was so much fun...we should always have Sukkot meals in the dark! People are so entertaining!

How's your Sukkot been thus far?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

pour my life into a papercup

"Otherside" is my favorite RHCP song. I originally liked it without having the faintest idea as to what it was about, and I love the fact that nobody agrees; everyone's got a different interpretation of the lyrics.

I like to think of it as a song about addiction, and therefore about a part of oneself.

I have a fascination with the idea of addiction. This is mostly because I think addiction goes much deeper than its typical depiction, that is, addiction to something material (drugs, alcohol, etc.) You can take this as you like, but I think that there's a lot, in a more emotional-spiritual sense, that we are addicted to. And some of the things we are addicted to are good for us and some destroy us, but it's always a fight to undo them or to resist temptation, as it were. Because they're so much a part of us and we want them so much and we're fighting ourselves, not something outside ourselves.

"How long, how long will I slide..."

It's the images that really capture my attention, though. "I heard your voice through a photograph" coupled with the sequence in the music video is just fantastic. And so is "pour my life into a papercup/ the ashtray's full and I'm spilling my guts."

Or better yet, the "I don't believe it's bad" lines and "I yell and tell it that/ It’s not my friend/ I tear it down/ I tear it down/ And then it’s born again."

I love those lines. There's nothing I can tear down that will stay dead, you see; it always comes back to life. Nothing ever ends; it only continues on in an everlasting kind of dance. Sometimes you win and sometimes you fall and sometimes you're just too tired to care.

We're all addicted to something, aren't we?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

pictures in the sky

While I was painting pictures in the sky, a man came along and squinted at me foolishly.
"There is nothing there," he told me, and laughed.
"I am sorry, sir," I said, and curtsied, "but you are blind."

Monday, September 24, 2007

ballerina girl

A story

I wake up in the morning, splash water on my face, trying harder to breathe. My mascara is smeared, causing black drippings beneath my eyes; my eyes are rimmed with black. I’m standing on the cold tile in the bathroom; the room is blue, the light faintly shining through the one window toward the top. I pull off my tanktop, carelessly throw my shorts on the floor and examine my appearance. My skin is so white, so cold, tinted blue in the cold light that filters through to the bathroom. I head for the shower, careful not to turn on any of the lights, careful that the temperature is lukewarm, tepid. Step out, step into grey sweatpants, throw on a navy blue plush hoodie, run my fingers through my wet hair and shake it out. I reach for the side drawer, pick out a glittering star, lick the back of it and stick it beside the corner of my eye. My nails are painted a dark blue; there are little swirls of glitter at the tips. I bite a finger nervously as I noiselessly allow the door to open, taking care where I step so as not to make a sound. It is 6:30 in the morning.

I make myself breakfast; it’s cornflakes and milk today. I leave some soggy flakes at the bottom of the bowl, place it quietly in the sink. I hunch my hood up over my wet hair; my eyes dark and accusatory as always; I touch my finger to the glittering star at the corner of my right eye. Lick my lips and open the door, step onto the porch; I’m ready to run, ready to jog through suburbia in an effort to somehow escape the plush luxury of my life.

It’s still dark outside. I like the darkness; I like the faint light struggling to filter through. I like to feel that something else finds it hard to breathe, that it’s not just me but my entire element that reflects my mood. I pound against the cement as I run past cookie-cutter houses, well-tended gardens, manicured lawns. It all sickens me. This whole world sickens me. At the same time that it sickens me, I know that I have nothing to be upset about. I read about heroes in my English class and I long to be like them; I read about times that really mattered, times where people had to make decisions that had meaning. I wish sometimes that I had been born then, wish that I had had the chance to do something worthwhile. I wouldn’t have minded dying, I think bitterly, so long as it was for a good cause. Just to do something.

So I run. The soles of my Keds slap against the cement and I look down at them, at the designs I’ve drawn upon them in permanent marker. Again, it’s navy; I have an obsession with blue. I’ve considered buying a glitter pen, perhaps stopping by Michael’s in order to purchase one, and then I can truly complete the effect. But for now the air stings my lungs; it is chilly, cold even, and I shiver as I run, cold against the grey morning dawn.

By the time I’ve come back my father’s at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper and sipping his cup of morning coffee, an attaché case at his side. My mom stands in front of the oven, making eggs, briskly cheerful as she runs her eyes over my face, trying to evaluate and find what’s wrong. I know that I worry her and I take pleasure in it. My family makes me sick. The perfection of it is what’s wrong with it. I want something to go wrong. I need something to go wrong. I want there to be something, someone, other than me, who doesn’t fit.

“Morning, Dad,” I throw out noncommittally and he raises his head and glances at me, then looks back down at his newspaper. I give him a peck on the cheek. Then over to my Mom, who is fiercely trying to connect with me. “Alexandra, don’t you want some eggs?”

“I’m really not hungry, Mom,” I say, and reach for my Billabong backpack, this one grey with the logo embroidered in black. “Besides, I have to catch the bus.”

I can imagine her staring at me as I run outside, imagine the force of her gaze on me as I stand by the CTA sign, willing the bus to arrive. I’m always here early, waiting alongside the black man with the Times and the crossword puzzle, the little boy with the red knapsack, his cute sister with the pigtails. She used to be frightened of me, mostly because of my nailpolish, but after a while she found it more interesting than scary. I wait for the bus and heave a sigh of relief as it pulls up; I flash my Student ID and pay my discounted fare, then stare moodily at the ceiling and read the advertisements as it pulls away, bringing me to school.


I’m supposed to characterize high school as being hellish, but mine’s really not. It’s normal. They tell us that the groups and cliques are bad and apparently causing the downfall of society. Please. High school is high school; this is how we roll. I’ve got posters of Amy Lee from Evanescence inside my locker, the guy a locker over has Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy. To each his own. The fact is that I don’t even like Evanescence that much, but I like the colors. Blues and blacks and greys and gloom. I enjoy gloom.

Gloom is everything I don’t have. As far as I’m concerned, my life is decent. I’ve got two parents who have no idea how to connect to me, but then, I haven’t given them much guidance. I’ve got my own room, a kid sister who I routinely ignore, friends if I want them (I usually don’t) and more technological appliances than I know what to do with. You could call me spoiled and I wouldn’t object.

Here’s an expendable friend, Brian. I love the term expendable. Caught it from Diana Wynne Jones’ Dark Lord of Derkholm.

“Hey Alexa,” he says, pausing to awkwardly thrust his hand into the pocket of his washed-out jeans, tapping one of his scuffed up All-Stars against the floor.

“Hey,” I reply noncommittally, taking a history book out of my locker. I don’t look at him, wondering whether he’ll walk away. I sigh as I close my locker and readjust the combination code so that the arrow points to 0. “What’s up?”

The bell rings and I roll my eyes. “I’ll be late,” I murmur, staring out at the maroon lockers lining the halls, the speckled black and white tile. I adjust my backpack because it’s slipping off my shoulder. “So?”

“Lunch at the caf?” he says and I can feel how much effort it’s taken to force the one sentence. I take pity on him.

“Sure. When’s your break?”

He checks his watch. “I’m at 1:30,” he says hopefully.

“Mine’s a bit earlier, at 1,” I say, “but I’ll stay over a few minutes. Sorry, but I’ve got to go,” I lift my eyes to the clock so he sees what I mean.

“Oh. Sure.” He hoists his messenger bag over one shoulder and pads down the hall, the ends of his shirt flapping outward (he hasn’t buttoned it; he’s wearing a t-shirt underneath.) He turns, “Bye.”

I roll my eyes and proceed to class.


Slide into my desk at class just before the teacher walks in. I don’t particularly care about being late, since I don’t listen in class anyway. I always take second-row seats, close enough for the teacher to see I’m a good student; far enough away that she can’t see what I’m scribbling in my journal. I don’t need to listen during class, not that I tell that to anyone. The fact is that I just do well in school through some process of osmosis. I listen, I breathe in what’s being said, I take the tests and I’m done with it. And while I’m in class, I prefer to write.

You’re thinking that I’ve cultivated a whole image. Dark gloomy girl with the tendency toward the exotic or magical, that little glittering star at the corner of her eye, wearing her navy blue hoodie over her drying dark hair, taking out a BIC pen and scribbling away in a journal. Writer girls are a dime a dozen. Yeah, I know that. And yeah, I know that I’m nothing special, at least when compared to the other hundred thousand dark writer girls in this state alone, let alone the world. But it’s what I do, it’s what I’m good at, it’s what calms me down.

So what do I write about? It depends on the day. Sometimes I’m just being nasty, describing the outfit of the girl in front of me, the latest obsession with designer bags and couture in general. I find all of this to be so shallow, so pointless. We’re all going to die anyway; the world’s going to blow up. So who cares about the designer bags? Not that we all have to walk around in burlap sacks, either, but the money could go to a better cause. I think the world at large should sue Paris Hilton and Britney Spears for misallocation of funds. Don’t you think celebrities ought to be held to a higher standard? I do.

But sometimes I talk about things that matter more to me, like what I’m going to do with my life. The problem is that I figure I need to do something important, something big. I have the mind for it, I have the desire; I just have to figure out what to do. I wish I was absolutely crazy about something. That would help. The problem is that I’m not; I’m just interested in a lot of things. Oh, and of course I’m distracted by plenty others. Like Michael. I’m distracted by Michael.

Yes, even dark writer girls have to have their crushes. It’s high school, it’s normal, I’ve permitted myself that indulgence. The nice thing is that Michael likes me, too, so it’s not one of those doomed unrequited bittersweet romantic love stories. Ick. I never understood why so many girls fell all over the place because of The Notebook. Okay, so they kissed in the rain. Big deal. It wasn’t written well; you couldn’t feel what they were going through. At least, I didn’t. I thought it was another sappy sentimental Hollywood love story aimed for an audience of hormonally high teenage girls. And it hit its target.

So it’s light and easy with Michael, except that I sometimes think of him more than I should. So he’s distracting, and I’m supposed to be figuring out what to do with my life.

“Psst, Lexy,” I hear over my shoulder, and I turn my head. What? I mouth at her, taking in her appearance today. Hot pink shirt with foil art, this time featuring a silver rose that’s about to be engulfed in a dragon’s flame. Pretty.

“Dylan’s looking at you,” she says, and I give her a smile. Vicky’s nice. She likes to try to make everyone’s day a little bit more interesting. I slowly turn my head till I’m looking at Dylan. He is looking at me, but it’s with one of those confused unhappy glances. “What’s that on your back?” he asks me, and I crane my head over my shoulder to see a piece of masking tape. I peel it off and stick it down on the top of my desk.

“Die, bitch,” it reads.

Oh, one more thing. I’ve got a couple of messed up friends. I crumple the masking tape into a ball, give it a flick with my fingernail and turn around to glare at Kit. Prick, I mouth.

Slut, he mouths back.



I scribble a note in my assignment notebook, then pass it to Vicky. “Give it to Kit,” I say, smiling triumphantly.

He reads it, writes something, and hands it back.

I’ve written, “If I’m a ho, what does that make you?”

I look down to see his response, “Your lover” he writes and draws lots of sloppy hearts in the margin.

In your dreams! I mouth at him and then turn to find the teacher standing in front of my desk.

“Would you care to share what you find so amusing, Alexa?”

“Um,” I mumble, then rally. “Actually, I was just thinking about the Enlightenment and whether it truly was caused by economic realities or ideological certainties. It’s Marx who poses that question, right? In terms of what’s more effective when it comes to changing the world, dealing with here and now economics or more up in the air ideas?”

The teacher beams at me. “Well, I’m inclined to think it’s both…” she says and I look up at her with wide eyes and a rapt expression. Kit snickers in the back of the classroom; I imagine that Vicky’s slapped him to shut him up. I continue playing up to the teacher, then eventually return to my journal, unable to hide a smile.


“You never get into trouble!” Kit and Vicky have pounced on me as soon as class is out; Dylan follows, curious to know what this is all about.

“You know it,” I say, grinning hugely. “Neither would you if you would only follow my directions.”

“Which are?”

“Play the teacher, obviously.” I adopt a prim and proper position, pretend to adjust my spectacles so that they are resting on my nose, then declaim, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Alexa Bart’s seminar on getting off scot free in every situation.”

“Don’t you just want to slap her,” Kit murmurs under his breath.

“Excuse me?” I turn to him, my voice high and keening. “Young man, I heard that. Ten demerits for you.”

“Demerits?” Vicky asks. “What is this, the seventeenth century?”

“I don’t even think they had schools in the seventeenth century,” Lance says, passing by. He’s dribbling a basketball in the hallway and I roll my eyes; he thinks he’s so cool.

“Of course they had schools in the seventeenth century, idiot,” I say, but Kit brings me back to the point at hand.

“You were saying?” he asks, pointing at my imaginary blackboard.

“Oh, yeah. Right, so basically you just always have some really grand and broad question to ask the teacher that is somehow tangentially related to the subject and as long as it’s good enough, she’ll go off onto the tangent and you’re home free. It works like a charm. Teachers just like to talk. A lot.”

Vicky grins. “It’s just not fair,” she says petulantly.

“Oh, come on, you’re the math brain,” I say, and she colors prettily. Kit throws an arm around her shoulder.

“Yeah, and you’d better let me see your math homework, because I didn’t do mine.”

“I am so not letting you cheat off of me.”

“You so are unless you want me to tell Lexy what you did on Saturday.”

I hum aloud. “I’m not listening,” I say inanely, watching them bicker.

“Speaking of Saturday,” Vicky suddenly turns to me, “did you hear about Ben’s detention?”

“Ben’s detention?” I question, pausing outside of a container with a psychedelic sign that reads “SUGGESTIONS? Place them here! Absolutely confidential!” “Why, what did he do?”

Vicky snickers. “Kit, tell her.”

“Basically, he pulled his pants down.”

“He did what?” I gape, then start laughing. “In whose class? Was he wearing anything?”

“During a practice AP test. He was bored, so he pulled his pants down. And yeah, of course he was wearing something. Alan dared him to do it, and he did.”

“Oh my god,” I say, completely horrified but finding the whole thing hilarious. “So what was detention?”

“Oh, it’s actually not too bad,” Vicky breaks in, laughing. “Basically he’s just got to do everything the janitor does. Help set up the school in the mornings, mop the floors and the stairs, clean graffiti off of desks; I mean, it’s not horrible or anything. He can listen to his iPod while he’s doing it. It’s just that he’s got to work on weekends, and that sucks.”

“Maintenance personnel,” I stress, and Kit wrinkles his forehead. “What?”

“Maintenance personnel, not janitor,” I explain. “Honestly, you’d think that all these diversity days have been wasted on you!” I wink at them. “What happened to your PCness?”

“The PCness is out of control,” Vicky answers. “Let me tell you…oh wait, that’s Diana; I’ve got to tell her something. See you later!”

I catch a glimpse of her hot pink shirt as she melts into the crowd; I turn back to Kit, who is still grinning. “Bitch,” he says again, and I just shake my head, laughing.

“Have a good day!” I call, as he sprints off to AP Chem. He turns his head over his shoulder as he runs. “You too!” he calls, and I make for the stairs. Since I’m small, I’m able to slip through the random openings between people, duck under the chain of human arms and around lumbering bodies. I get to the stairs, dash down them and turn up just in time for Art class, where we are supposed to be making self portraits.


“Self portraits, but not a literal self portrait,” he explains, absentmindedly wiping paintbloodied fingers on his jeans. “I want you to express yourself, who you really are, to show yourself through a figure, a shape, a background-whatever you feel yourself to be. Just keep that in mind.”

I’ve already thought through exactly what I want to depict in my painting. I want a circus girl, a beautiful ballerina, walking the tightrope. She has to have lots of glitter of course, probably on her costume and her leotard and even entwined with her braided coronet of auburn hair. I want her to have the kind of petite, angular face I’ve always envied, the one that looks great in profile. I feel like I am walking a tightrope, but it’s not the kind that you can really see. After all, I’ve got my friends, people to buoy me up. It’s more that I’m frightened I won’t be able to buoy them up as well.

There’s one thing I can do well, really well. And that’s to listen. Sometimes the reason I give off this chilly aura is to keep people away from me because I can’t handle it anymore. I don’t like knowing so much about people’s private lives and I wish they wouldn’t tell them to me. It’s always been this way, since the time I was little. On the one hand, I’m honored that people trust me. On the other hand, it places a lot of responsibility on me. I’m always the one who has to know what to say, how to respond in a given situation. And I’m scared to death that I’ll do something wrong.

You’re thinking that I’m being melodramatic, overemphasizing the importance of this, but I promise you I’m not. At least, I don’t feel like I am. The reason I’m so good at listening is because I’m able to keep quiet. I can keep very quiet and focus on the person in front of me, give them my absolute attention and make them feel like they are the only person in the world for me at that moment in time. People are flattered by that, but the fact is that they’re the ones who are teaching me, most of the time.

This is in direct contrast to Michael, who talks a lot. I don’t mean that like it sounds; he’s not callous or ignorant and he doesn’t ignore other people. It’s just that he deals with them differently. He’s very genial, very talkative, walks around giving people pats on the back and making their days. Almost everybody likes Michael. He’s also really involved in school so almost everyone knows him from “just around.” They’ve seen him making posters for some club, playing basketball, helping coach the swim team, whatever it might be. He does a lot.

Michael doesn’t mind telling people lots of information about himself. I mind. I’m a very private person, very closed; I only let people know me when I trust them. Since I trust very few people, most people don’t know me at all. But they think they do, which cracks me up. Take Brian. I’m willing to bet Brian would say that we are best friends. But we aren’t at all.

Anyway, I feel like a ballerina on a tightrope, walking the line and trying to make sure I can keep my balance.

My incredibly Zen art teacher stands behind me, looking at me sketch my design onto the canvas. “Are you planning on filling in the faces in the audience?” he asks, just out of curiosity.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” I answer honestly.

“It might be interesting to blur them, to just have them watch the woman on the tightrope. A shapeless mass, a crowd of unknowable onlookers…” and he’s off in his own dreamworld, an idea taking shape in his mind.

I start shading in my ballerina, creating shadows that I will later enhance when I actually begin painting. I feel a tap on my shoulder.

“Michael!” I exclaim, putting down the piece of charcoal. “What’s up?”

“Hey Lexy, I need to talk to you today,” he says, and I smile.

“What class are you ditching now?”

“English, but only for a couple of minutes. You free around 1:30?”

Oh, I think to myself, that means standing Brian up. But for Michael I’m always free. “Sure,” I say cheerfully, “I’ll skip a couple of minutes of Statistics.”

“Great,” he says, and runs his fingers through his hair. “How about the baseball diamond?”

We have a really beautiful outdoor campus- or recreational area, as it’s supposedly called. There’s a soccer field, a playground for the younger kids, a baseball diamond and lots of leafy, beautiful trees. In the summer, plenty of people go there for picnics or lunches, especially since there are little tables on the cement portion of it. Of course, no one uses the tables.

“Sounds great,” I say, and he wanders out of Art class. My teacher hasn’t even noticed.

I wonder whether I should scribble a note to Brian and leave it in his locker saying that I won’t be able to make it. I resolve to do it but become involved in my painting, so that I forget.


My break is at 1:00 and I head to the caf for lunch, only then remembering about Brian. An odd feeling of resentment rises up in me. Why should I bother letting him know I can’t see him for five minutes? He’ll catch me later. I’m already in the caf and I don’t want to have to go all the way back upstairs to leave him a note; I’ve left my cell phone in my bag so I can’t call or text him. I figure it’s okay to leave him on his own for once, and stand in line to get my unidentified mush of the day. At least the brownie looks edible.

I gag as I look at the goulash and head over for good old reliable pizza. I think my parents would freak if they knew how often I eat the pizza here, but it’s the only thing that doesn’t seem completely detestable. Besides, it’s better picnic food. I grab my pizza, chocolate milk, an apple (green, of course) and a brownie, then head out to the baseball diamond, figuring that I’ll be there early for Michael.

A couple of guys are outside kicking around a ball; I pause to watch them for a while and one of them waves to me. “Lexy!” he calls and I smile and wave back; the sun is in my eyes so I can’t see who I’m waving to, but it’s all good all the same.

Head over to the baseball diamond and settle in the grass right near the sand, then sit down to wait. I eat my pizza and drink some of my chocolate milk; I’m just starting on my brownie when a shadow falls across me. I look up, blinking, and it’s Michael, of course, with his own tray of food. I see he’s opted for the chicken sandwich.

“Hey!” I say brightly and he sits down beside me. “So what’s this all about?”

“Actually,” he says, not looking at me, “it’s about Brian.”

My heart sinks to my stomach. Brian? Michael called me out here to talk about Brian, the same Brian who I’d just stood up for lunch?

“What about him?” I ask cheerfully, hoping he can’t hear the guilt in my voice.

Michael turns toward me now, absently clasping one of my hands. “He’s going through a really rough time, Lexy,” he says, meeting my eyes, “and I thought you could help.”

“Me?” I almost whisper. “What’s the matter?”

“Well, I don’t know whether I should tell you. I almost wish he would tell you himself. But I don’t know whether he’ll approach you with it, so basically, his parents are getting a divorce. And it’s a really nasty one. Apparently they’ve been fighting for a while at home…you’ll have noticed he doesn’t have friends over that often.”

I hadn’t really noticed, because whenever Brian and I did something, it was usually at a generic place, like the mall or a park or a bowling alley. “Oh,” I say quietly.

“Yeah, but that’s not all of it,” he continues. “He’s also got kind of a crush on one of the girls in our class…”

“Oh?” I ask, wondering how in the world this was related.

“Yeah. On you, actually.”

Well, this is awkward.

“So I was thinking that maybe he’d want someone to talk to, and he’d obviously feel comfortable talking to you, and maybe you would want to…I don’t know, humor him a little, maybe…”

“Are you telling me you want me to allow Brian to think that I like him? Because I don’t.” I stand up, shaking in anger. “That’s sick, Michael; that’s really sick.”

“No! Well, it was just an idea. I mean, I don’t want you to fake anything…but I thought…it’s just that he really needs someone to talk to, and he won’t talk to me. I’ve tried and he won’t. But he would talk to you, if you just made the effort and reached out a little.”

“He should talk to someone who can really help him,” I say frigidly. “He needs a shrink or something.”

“He has one, and that hasn’t been working well. Please, if you would just consider it…”

How can I say no to Michael? I’ll just have to make it very clear to Brian that I don’t like him, at least not that way, at the same time that I try to help him.

“All right, I’ll try,” I say and Michael smiles. I feel like he’s going to say “Atta girl” or something similarly condescending. “Thank you,” he says, and I feel ashamed.



I’m shouting at his retreating back. School’s out and he’s angry at me, no doubt. I would be angry, too, if it were me. I catch up to me and tug on his shirt. “Brian!”

He turns to face me and I wonder if I imagine the misery on his face. “Brian,” I say, and I start talking fast, “I’m really sorry. I wanted to meet you but I couldn’t because I-“

“Yeah? Because what? Because of what?” he says and he’s shouting and I’m scared but I continue.

“Because I was stupid, I did something stupid, that’s all. But I really want to talk to you- I-“ I feel like I’m about to start crying and wonder whether I should, whether that will soften him or whether it’ll make everything worse. “I want to talk to you,” I conclude miserably. “I’m sorry about today.”

He seems to focus on my face suddenly, or perhaps he sees that my eyes are red and I’m about to start crying. “Okay. Okay,” he says again, calmly, pleasantly, almost too pleasantly. “What do you want to talk to me about?”

“I’m-“ I cast around for a lie, an easy lie; I think this will work out better if I allow him to think he’s helping me, that I’m the one who needs someone to talk to. “I’m just overwhelmed, you know? Going a little crazy with schoolwork and everything and I feel like- well, I just want someone to talk to.”

“Okay,” he says again, noncommittally.

“Could we maybe-“ I offer, as the bus pulls up, “stop off by Papa’s?”

“The ice cream place?” he asks and I smile.

“Yeah. You know, just for a scoop or something, just to chat a bit, and then I’ll let you go. I know you must be so busy, with homework and everything…”

“No, that’s fine,” he says, and we get on the bus. He takes a seat but the one beside him is taken, so I hold on to a silver pole. He stands up to give me his seat but I motion him back, a little test of mine to see whether he takes me up on my offer. He doesn’t; he stands. “If you’re going to stand, I guess I will, too,” he says, and I smile.

We get off by the ice cream place and I go in, wondering how I’m going to broach the subject. “What ice cream do you like?” I ask brightly, assuming it’ll be something plain, like vanilla.

“Blueberry swirl,” he says, and I give him a look.


“Seriously,” he affirms, then asks me the same question. “Chocolate!” I reply, and we get our scoops, then sit down in one of the little booths.

“So what’s up?” he asks, and I try to figure out how to begin.

“Oh, just the usual. I’m sorry for completely falling apart before,” I say, making sure to put most of the blame on myself. He nods, acquiescing, and I wonder whether this is going to be easy. “You know, it’s just school and everything. Also that I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life, and it can be a bit…” I trail off.

He’s eating his ice cream and listening. I try to think how to work in the subject, “Yeah, and just family and everything, too,” I say. “Things can just be…difficult, sometimes.”

There. That’s vague enough. If he wants to follow my lead, he’ll do it now.

“Family?” he questions, and I see he’s taken the bait. He still continues spooning out ice cream, but now I see that he’s playing with it a little more, making little designs in his cup.

“Yeah. I mean, I’m lucky; it’s nothing too horrible. Just parents can be tough sometimes. Like my mom; she has no idea how to deal with me. Doesn’t like my clothes and stuff like that…just sometimes I wish they would let me alone.”

I wonder whether I’ll have to strengthen the opening and come up with something horrible my parents have done to me; I know I’ll feel a bit guilty if I do. I hope he’ll just take it.

“You have no idea,” he mutters, and looks down at his now empty bowl.

I wait, hoping he’ll continue. He pauses, takes a breath, and then starts out again, “Honestly, clothes and stuff are tough, but it’s nothing too bad. I’ve known people…I mean, it’s nothing to get all strung out about.”

“Oh, of course not,” I instantly agree. “Like I said, I’m lucky. Only sometimes I wish…”

“Don’t we all,” he says. I wonder whether to push him a bit farther, then decide against it.

“Well, thanks for talking to me,” I say, and make as though I’m about to get up, reaching for his empty bowl.

“Wait just a sec,” he says, and follows me out. We stand outside, about to head off to our separate homes.

“I like talking to you,” he says and I smile, considering the fact that he’s hardly said a word. “We should do it again sometime.”

“For sure,” I say easily, then make off toward my house. “See you tomorrow!”

“Yeah,” he says, and he’s smiling a little. “See ya.”

I work on him slowly, getting him to feel comfortable around me. I send him glances while we’re in school, make sure to say hello to him, sometimes bring him into our group. Vicky and Kit haven’t seemed to notice anything amiss. I’m careful about how I do it; I don’t just force him in but I work it slowly, quietly, subtly. He may notice the different tenor of our relationship, that I’m spending more time with him, but I try to make it seem as though he’s the one helping me. There are some days that I’m completely disgusted with myself; I feel like I’m a manipulative bastard, but it’s for a good cause, so I convince myself that it’s okay.

It’s Art class again and I’ve been coloring my ballerina’s tutu. It’s white, of course, and I’m working in the different gems that line her dress. I’m remembering a Nancy Drew book I once read where they discovered real gems in a painting, and I hum to myself as I apply paint, reaching for the metal object whose name I can’t remember that helps add texture.

“Hey,” I hear a voice, and I turn, smiling, knowing it’s Michael.

“English again?” I ask sympathetically, and he grins.

“You know it. Listen, I just wanted to say, good job.”

“Does it ever occur to you that we shouldn’t be interfering with people’s lives?” I ask the question because I really want to know the answer, whether he will give me an easy way out of this.

“All the time,” he says seriously. “But then I think about how much worse it could get if we didn’t.”

“I feel like this could be pretty bad as it is now,” I say.

“I know,” he says in a low voice. “But if someone comes to you…”

“You feel like you’ve got to do something,” I say. “I know. I just wonder…”

“What’s that you’re painting?” he asks and I shrug self-consciously.

“Oh, a ballerina. On a tightrope, actually.”

He looks closer, then looks back at me. He takes in my appearance, my red sweats and my foil-print t-shirt; it has a picture of a butterfly. “You see yourself as a ballerina?” His question is curious, wondering.

“Who said the painting is of me?”

He rolls his eyes and grins. “A good day to you, ballerina girl.”

“Same to you,” I smile, and then replay the conversation in my mind.


We’re in the computer lab; most people are illegally playing computer games. Whenever our teacher comes in he’ll throw them out; it’s kind of stupid because we all have usernames specially set up for us so they can track the websites we go to. Obviously if you go to gaming sites, you’ll get into trouble. There are some geeks who can get around that block, but it’s difficult.

They’re talking about their plans for Friday night; it seems that there’s going to be a party at Richard’s house. No parents, obviously, completely unsupervised fun. Lots of alcohol, probably some pot and more along those lines.

Brian’s in the room; I see that he’s agreed to join the party. I really don’t want him to go, suddenly; I feel like that could be very bad. When something really horrible and stressful is going on in your own family and you suddenly have unlicensed access to all kinds of medication, as it were, well, that doesn’t spell anything good. I realize that I’ll have to divert him.

I come up to him later, catch him on his own by the stairwell. “Brian!” I say excitedly. “Hey, I was wondering whether you had any plans for Friday night?”

He’s quiet for a moment, then questions, “Why?”

“Because I really wanted you to come over, I mean, if that’s okay with you. I figured we could hang out, maybe watch a movie, you know, just do some fun stuff at my house.”

I look up at him with pleading eyes; I’m hoping that he’ll take me up on my offer, otherwise, I’ll have to make sure Michael keeps him from getting plastered at the party.

He thinks for a moment. “Sure, I’d like that,” he says, and I feel like dancing.

“Awesome, so I’ll see you then.” I give him a smile.

I can’t really be doing anything wrong, not when Michael wants me to. And the fact is, it’ll be a million times better for Brian to be at my house than at that party. Won’t it?


He shows up at 6:30 on Friday, a little early but it’s good all the same. He’s slicked down his hair and showered and looks nice; for some reason I always associate black jeans with dressing up. I wait for Kirsten, my little sister, to open the door, then appear there myself. I’m dressed plainly; a green polo shirt and jeans, but I smile as soon as I see Brian.

“Hey!” I exclaim, then lead him into the kitchen. “Mom, Dad, this is Brian; we’re going to go downstairs now- you remember him, right? You’ve seen him around before.”

My mom and dad smile. “Sure we remember him,” they say and my Mom tries to offer him lots of food. “Don’t worry, there are snacks in the basement,” I tell him, then lead him downstairs. I figure this is the best way to do it; he won’t be comfortable talking in front of lots of people. “So hey!” I say again, smiling, and point toward the table, where I’ve placed sodas, chips, pretzels and all kinds of junk food. “Help yourself.”

He smiles. “Your parents are really cool,” he says and I wonder for a minute whether I should have spared him the introduction.

“Oh yeah, well, sometimes,” I say, hoping he won’t feel jealous of me, not that I think he would, only that that could be uncomfortable. “So I took out a bunch of movies; up to you which one you want to watch!” I lay them out on the futon and look up at him.

He takes a can of Coke. “Honestly, I’d rather talk,” he says and I smile. “That’s good, too,” I say, and settle back comfortably on my pillows.

“So I don’t know how much you know in terms of what’s going on with my parents right now,” he says, “but I figure I can tell you. They’re going through a divorce.”

I wince in sympathy.

“Yeah. And it’s an ugly divorce, so I’m glad to get out of the house. So thanks for having me over.” I smile.

“Can you imagine what it’s like when two people who you love are suddenly fighting with each other, they just really hate each other?” he suddenly asks passionately. “I mean, if I had seen it, if they had fought all the time when we were younger, that’d be one thing. But it’s just…we never saw it. I never saw it. Maybe I never wanted to see it. Who knows?”

“Yeah,” I say and nod, appreciating the silence.

“See, Lexy, I know that you’ll understand…they really hate each other. They say vicious things to each other, things that I just don’t want to hear. And they’re fighting over us, too, fighting over the kids. I’m old enough that I get to choose between them and I really don’t want to…how do I choose? How do I do something like that? And sometimes-“ and he pauses for a moment, and speaks in a lower voice, “I hate them. I hate them for doing this to me, for making me choose, for wrecking my life. And I know that I shouldn’t and I know they’re not doing it to do it to us, to do it to me, but it feels like it sometimes and I…”

“You just wish it could be different.”

“Yes, but it’s more than that. It’s that I want to take them and smash their heads together, I want to yell at them, I want to shout, I want to scream, I want to make them see that it’s not fair, but I can’t. I bite my tongue and I’m quiet because I know that I can’t yell; if I do then something is going to happen, something terrible. I just…I need to keep it to myself. But it’s hard, it’s so hard…”

“Why do you need to keep it all to yourself?” I broach the subject tentatively. “Are you….seeing anyone?”

“Yes, yes I am. But I won’t talk to him.”

He answers my unspoken question. “I can’t. I can’t talk. I can’t talk about it, talking about it makes it real, talking about it means that I have to accept what they’re doing to me and to us. And it scares me, how angry I am. I don’t want to be this angry.”

Suddenly the basement door opens and my mom yells downstairs, “Do you guys want some apples?” I want to scream at her for breaking into such an important moment. “Yeah, sure,” I say, and give Brian a meaningful look. “Just one second,” I say, dash upstairs and grab the plate with cut-up apples, then come back downstairs. “Yeah,” I say, putting the apples aside. “I hear you.”

“Have you ever been so angry it scared you?” he asks and I consider how to answer. Telling the truth doesn’t seem to be an option.

I settle for a half truth. “Kind of,” I say. “Feelings are powerful. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by them; I can understand what you mean about being so angry that it scares you. But I think that this is normal…you shouldn’t be upset with yourself. And trying to keep it all to yourself…”

“I know, you’re going to tell me it’s not healthy. But I don’t know, it works for me. I just can’t tell him; I can’t talk to him.”

“Perhaps someone else?” I venture and he shakes his head.

“No. It’s just…it won’t help me to talk it out, you know? Except with you. You’re different.”

I blush. “Well, thanks,” I say awkwardly.

“You know what I mean, though? I can tell you because I know that you’ll get it. And you’re not going to judge me. You’re just going to take it as it is.”

“You know, there are more people than just me,” I try to explain. “I mean, this man you’re seeing; I don’t know him or anything, but that’s his job, isn’t it? To listen and to try to understand.”

“But it’s just different. I don’t know him; I don’t see him, you know? I see you; I see how you are in school and with people. I just, I know you. I’ve done stuff with you; I know what you’re like.”

“I think you’re giving me too much credit,” I say, then settle back. “But about this, about your parents and you…what are you going to do? Do you have time?”

“Time to decide who I want to live with? Yeah, I guess I have some time. I just- it’s not something I want to consider, you know? Pick one parent over the other and you automatically insult the other one. Plus there’s the question of who gets custody of my siblings, and whether I’d be better off with them, whoever that is.”

“Right,” I say, feeling totally out of my element. “Gosh.”

“I don’t need you to solve my problems for me or anything, Lexy,” he says. “I just need you to be there.”

I smile. “Well, that’s all right, then,” I say. “I’m always here.”


But alone with my thoughts, I despise myself. What right do I have to meddle in any of this, to interfere? What good can I actually do? He tells me I help him; he tells me that I should listen. At the same time, though, Michael tells me that Brian says he likes me. How do I help him without allowing it to become anything further? When is the right time to explain to Brian that I don’t like him that way? I can’t bring it up by myself; he has to bring it up to me. But in the meantime, giving him so much attention leads him to think that I like him and I don’t; I just don’t want him to be by himself. I’m confused and I don’t know what to do, and I think that what I’m doing is right, but at the same time I am sure it is wrong, and I feel like I am walking a tightrope and I am going to fall if I just step the wrong way.

But at the same time it would be a lie to claim that I don’t feel the euphoria, the vast happiness that engulfs me to know that I matter to someone, that something I’ve done has helped another person, even if it is accomplished through manipulative means. And of course I’m still doing fine at school, so it’s not as though anything takes it’s toll that way; I figure that I should really just see Michael, talk to Michael out of school or something so we can compare notes on what to do. I wish that Brian would just talk to his psychologist or whoever he is seeing, but I can’t deny the faint tremors of pride that well up in me when I see that I’ve done something right and that someone trusts me. And I know this is wrong, and that there ought not to be any pride at all, but it’s there and I don’t know what to do; I haven’t got the words.

I call Michael and ask him what his plans are for Sunday; he tells me he’s going to see a movie at the mall. I ask if it’s okay if I come with him; he says that’s fine.


I’ve dressed carefully, blowdried my hair, applied my makeup and lipgloss just so, but nothing that makes it seem like I’ve done any of this on purpose; it’s supposed to look like I’m the tiniest bit dressy and only for myself. I survey myself in the mirror and smile, then I go off to see Michael.

“Hey,” I say when I catch sight of him in front of the movie theater. “What’s up; where’s the rest of the group?”

“Oh, they’re coming along later,” he says, then teases me. “Ballerina girl!”

“Come on!” I say in a tone that lets him know I like the title. “What, you don’t think I am one?”

He’s serious for a moment, looks at me. “I feel like you’re not sure what you are,” he says, and I start; he’s so right. “I’m not,” I say quietly. “Could you tell me?”

“Can I tell you what you are?” he asks and laughs. “No, that’s something you have to figure out for yourself.”

I wish he would just tell me; I’m tired of being in my head and trying to figure out my own self. “Can’t you help me, though?”

“Do you want to know what I see?”

“Yes,” I say, breathlessly anticipating what he’ll say.

“I see a very special, pretty, intelligent person, someone who cares a lot about people but who is very quiet. I see someone who listens, who watches from the sidelines, who doesn’t let a lot of people know her, a very private person.”

“You see all that?” I ask, then gape at him.

“Yup,” he says. “Now, what do you see in me?”

What do I tell him? I wonder whether I can trust him with the truth.

“I see,” I say quietly, “a wonderful friend, a person who also cares a lot about people, the star of the basketball team, and someone who seems to let lots of people know him with very little effort.”

Seems?” he asks, and laughs.

“Seems,” I affirm, and smile.

“And what about Brian?” he asks, and I pause.

“I don’t think I should tell you what he told me; it was given over in confidence,” I say.

“Good job,” he says. “It’s better for him, though. What you’re doing is great.”

“Yeah?” I ask, pleased with the approbation.

“Definitely,” he says, then leans in to kiss me on the cheek.

I’m shocked, beyond shocked. “What was that about?” I say, arms akimbo.

“I haven’t got a group of friends coming to watch a movie with me,” he says. “It’s just you and me today.” He takes my hand and pulls me after him; I’m shining with glee.


We’re sitting at a Starbucks and I’m grilling Michael. “Wait, so I don’t understand this at all,” I say, confused. “You wanted me to pretend to like Brian even though you like me?”

He grins lazily. “Well, it was as good a way as any to find out whether you liked someone else. Or Brian, for that matter.”

“You’re horrible!” I say delightedly.

“Yeah, just a bit,” he says, and ducks as I throw a crumpled napkin at him. “So we’re going to work as a team on this?”

“What, in terms of Brian?” I ask. “For sure.”

“Excellent,” he says, and we finish drinking our frappucinos. “But we’re not done yet. I have to take you to my favorite store. You ever been to Spencers?”

I crack up. “Oh, yes,” I say, recalling rubberband cellphone devices, glittering disco balls, inlaid handmade wooden marijuana boxes and some very suggestive birthday cards. “Let’s go!”


It’s when we’re leaving that it all falls apart.

We each took separate cars, so we’re standing in the parking lot and Michael’s just given me a goodbye kiss when I hear a familiar voice, “Lexy!”

The two of us turn, feeling like we’ve been caught out. Brian stares at us.

“You-“ he asks, “you’re together?”

“I—“, I say, trying to come up with a reasonable excuse for what he just witnessed. “We-“

“Yes,” Michael says, coming to my rescue.

Brian goes very quiet, then looks at me. “I thought- you lead me to think-you must have been laughing when I told you, while I was telling you-“

“No!” I say, horrified. “No, you can’t think that!”

“Oh, can’t I?” he sneers at me.

“She’s not like that,” Michael says, and Brian becomes even angrier.

You- after I told you- I told you that I- and you go and you-“ I feel like he might explode.

“Brian, you can’t think that I am any less your friend just because I happen to be with Michael- this is all really new to me and I-“

Friend?” he shouts angrily. “What friend goes and does something like this? What friend leads someone on until he tells her something really personal and private and she lets him think she’s open to something when she’s not; what friend goes behind someone else’s back and then does this? You think you’re my friend? The two of you are- you’re-“ he’s at a loss for words.

I’m crying by now. “It’s not like that! You don’t really- you don’t really like me, I know-“

You know who and what I like? You? What you know is how to play people, how to manipulate them and hurt them. You know how to take advantage of people!”

All his words wound because they are true.

“I-“ I try to defend myself and Michael steps in, trying to make this better. “Hey,” he says. “She doesn’t owe you anything; she never told you anything to lead you to think whatever it was you were thinking. She was being a friend and you misinterpreted the signals.”

“She gave me plenty of reason to misinterpret them!” he says heatedly. “You bitch,” he concludes, then stomps out of the parking lot.

Michael reaches for me but I am running, running back toward the mall as though I can hide there, in its jungle of eateries and shops and stores, in its dressing rooms and movie theaters and the other places to hide. What I’ve done is wrong, but I don’t know how it’s wrong; I thought I was playing it safe but I see I wasn’t; my intentions were good but my actions were not. Whatever I think I am, I’m not- I should have left Brian to the people who actually know how to help him, not have hurt him further. I think I’m so great, I think I have so much power; I think I know how to help people and how to cure them; you know why I think all that? Because I need to think it, because without it I know that I am nothing, I am useless, there is nothing for me and nothing I do has any kind of meaning. And I refuse to accept that obvious truth because it makes me feel sick inside. So I prefer to lie to myself and pretend I have the power to help when I don’t, because that’s the only way I can see myself doing anything productive, but what happens is that I hurt people, I hurt them more, and I hate myself for it.

I avoid Michael and leave the mall on my own, drive back home and park my mom’s car carefully in the driveway. Then I storm up the stairs and lock myself in my room, turn up the music to drown out my tears because all I know is that at this moment I despise myself and everything I think I can do, I want to strip it all down, to lay it all bare, to take everything off and face myself in the mirror, the same way I do in the morning. There is no ballerina girl; she’s an invention of my own mind. As for the tightrope? I’ve fallen, I’ve fallen and I’ve always been falling and it’s only my own mind that prevents me from thinking that I’ve fallen when I have.


I wake up in the morning, splash water on my face, trying harder to breathe. My mascara is smeared, causing black drippings beneath my eyes; my eyes are rimmed with black. I’m standing on the cold tile in the bathroom; the room is blue, the light faintly shining through the one window toward the top. I pull off my tanktop, carelessly throw my shorts on the floor and examine my appearance. My skin is so white, so cold, tinted blue in the cold light that filters through to the bathroom. I head for the shower, careful not to turn on any of the lights, careful that the temperature is lukewarm, tepid. Step out, step into grey sweatpants, throw on a navy blue plush hoodie, run my fingers through my wet hair and shake it out. I reach for the side drawer, pick out a glittering star, lick the back of it and stick it beside the corner of my eye. My nails are painted a dark blue; there are little swirls of glitter at the tips. I bite a finger nervously as I noiselessly allow the door to open, taking care where I step so as not to make a sound. It is 6:30 in the morning.

I make myself breakfast; it’s cornflakes and milk today. I leave some soggy flakes at the bottom of the bowl, place it quietly in the sink. I hunch my hood up over my wet hair; my eyes dark and accusatory as always; I touch my finger to the glittering star at the corner of my right eye. Lick my lips and open the door, step onto the porch; I’m ready to run, ready to jog through suburbia in an effort to somehow escape the plush luxury of my life.

I start running…all I want to do is outrun myself, escape myself, get beyond myself and all my dreams. I want to tear myself down in order to make myself better, but it’s always too hard and I’m always falling and there’s no way to get beyond myself, no way, and I hear the slap of my Keds against the pavement as I run faster, forcing the air to sing through my lungs, somehow thinking that this will be the answer, this will be the cure, this will show me how not to care, how to accept being meaningless and having no purpose, none at least that I can see.

And I am falling, falling again, in the same way that I always am, falling from my tightrope and failing to achieve the dreams I set for myself, disguising my falls because I can’t face them, but now in the grim light of the morning I can and I must because it’s getting harder to breathe.

And that’s the moment when the words my Art teacher once told me run through my head and I clutch at them because they’re the only things that matter and that keep me grounded and tell me that as much as I hate myself, sometimes, there’s something beyond me that’s worth it.

“Flying, not falling, Alexa.”

And so, when I paint over my ballerina girl today, and I show her falling from her tightrope, I’ll make sure to give her wings.

Maybe one day I’ll find mine.

The Evil Has Landed

Unhappily, Ahmadinejad is in our midst once more.

Per my mom, who speaks Persian and can therefore understand what he says without the need of an interpreter, he's extremely clever, adept at twisting the words of his questioners/ interviewers and enjoys answering questions with noncomittal statements/ more questions. And, of course, an s.o.b.

On the happier side, I think I've been Facebooked/ emailed about at least five different rallies going on today, so if you're at one of those...kol hakavod to you!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Seductive Women in Tanakh

It has always struck me as particularly unfortunate that so many women labor under the delusion that sexuality is somehow perverse or dirty. Firstly, this is a Christian concept, not a Jewish one. It's Christianity that associates the fall as being linked to lust and carnal desire (yes, some midrashim do, too, but let's leave those aside for now.) It is similarly Christianity that advocates for celibacy in its priests, differing strongly from Judaism which insists upon its High Priest being married or at least betrothed. The point is that sexuality is celebrated in Judaism, not looked down upon, and to suggest otherwise is to completely misread Tanakh.

I find our Jewish heroines particularly fascinating, and I find their reliance upon the weapon of their beauty and sensuality refreshing. Jewish heroines in Tanakh often make use of their beauty, femininity or sexuality in order to fulfill a higher purpose or higher cause, whether it be enabling certain events to transpire as they must or to murder our enemies under the guise of succumbing to them. (Incidentally, I use the term Jewish loosely, to refer to all those somehow involved with the nation who was to become the Children of Israel. In fact, it might be interesting to compare their methods with other seductresses, such as Zelicha, Potiphar's wife, and the women of Midian and Moab by Ba'al Pe'or. Or even to compare them to Lot's daughters!)

So who are these seductive women in Tanakh; to whom do I refer?

1. Tamar (Genesis 38)

יד וַתָּסַר בִּגְדֵי אַלְמְנוּתָהּ מֵעָלֶיהָ, וַתְּכַס בַּצָּעִיף וַתִּתְעַלָּף, וַתֵּשֶׁב בְּפֶתַח עֵינַיִם, אֲשֶׁר עַל-דֶּרֶךְ תִּמְנָתָה: כִּי רָאֲתָה, כִּי-גָדַל שֵׁלָה, וְהִוא, לֹא-נִתְּנָה לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה.

14 And she put off from her the garments of her widowhood, and covered herself with her veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the entrance of Enaim, which is by the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she was not given unto him to wife.

טו וַיִּרְאֶהָ יְהוּדָה, וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לְזוֹנָה: כִּי כִסְּתָה, פָּנֶיהָ.

15 When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; for she had covered her face.

There's something fascinating about Tamar. She is determined to have a child of the tribe of Judah, determined to bear the legitimate heir. To this end, she engages in trickery and deceit (as many women are wont to do in the Torah, not the least of whom is Rebecca) and dons the clothes of a harlot, covering her face and brazenly arguing with the man who wishes to sleep with her. "What wilt thou give me; what pledge will you make me?" It seems as though Tamar knows that her destiny is such that she must be the mother of these twins (one almost wants to compare this scenario to David and Bathsheba, for in that case David too knew that she was destined for him.) Having exhausted all the normal means of having a child by Judah's progeny, Tamar determines that she will have a child by Judah himself, and uses her femininity and sexuality, in the guise of a harlot, to accomplish this.

2. The Jewish Women in Egypt (Sotah 11b)

The Jewish women in Egypt beautified themselves for their husbands using their copper mirrors (later to form the copper laver and altar in the Temple.) They made sure to make themselves beautiful and seductive, to arouse their husbands' desire for them. Rashi explains that the women "would take the copper mirrors and each would view herself with her husband in the mirror, and entice him with words, saying," I am handsomer than you." By these means, they would bring their husbands to desire, and would have relations with them and conceive and give birth there." Sotah 11b explains that the women "set two pots on the fire, one for hot water and the other for the fish, which they carried to their husbands in the field, and washed, anointed, fed, gave them to drink and had intercourse with them among the sheepfolds," then gave birth beneath the apple trees. The Jewish women are praised and lauded for making use of their sexuality, for tempting their husbands to desire them, so much so that God overrules Moses and orders him to use their mirrors for his Temple.

3. On's Wife (Sanhedrin 109b)

"Rab said: On, the son of Peleth, was saved by his wife. Said she to him, 'What matters it to thee? Whether the one [Moses] remains master or the other [Korah] becomes master, thou art but a disciple.' He replied, 'But what can I do? I have taken part in their counsel, and they have sworn me [to be] with them.' She said, 'I know that they are all a holy community, as it is written, seeing all the congregation are holy, everyone of them.27 [So,]' she proceeded, 'Sit here, and I will save thee.' She gave him wine to drink, intoxicated him and laid him down within [the tent]. Then she sat down at the entrance thereto and loosened her hair. Whoever came [to summon him] saw her and retreated.1"

Obviously a sexually suggestive story, On's wife intoxicates him to save his life (this follows the tradition of Lot's daughters intoxicating him in order to repopulate the world, interesting!) She then sits outside her tent combing her long tresses; the Jewish men come to fetch On and are embarrassed upon seeing her en deshabille, as it were. Hence they do not collect her husband and force him to keep his word, that is, make him join the rebellion- and he does not die.

4. Jael (Judges 4:21 & Yevamot 103a-b)

"R. Johanan Said: That profligate41 had seven sexual connections on that day;42 for it is said, Between her feet he sunk, he fell, he lay; at her feet he sunk, he fell; where he sunk there he fell down dead.43 But, surely she44 derived gratification from the transgression! R. Johanan replied in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai: All the favours of the wicked45 are evil for the righteous;1 For it is said, Take heed to thyself that thou speak not to Jacob either good or evil.2 Now, as regards evil, one can perfectly well understand [the meaning]3 but why not good? From here then it may be inferred that the favour of the wicked is evil for the righteous."

The idea is that Jael slept with Sisera (hence the seven verbs connoting "falling") in order to get him in her power; it was only afterwards, when he was exhausted, that she proceeded to kill him with her hammer and tentpeg.

5. Ruth (Chapter 3)

ז וַיֹּאכַל בֹּעַז וַיֵּשְׁתְּ, וַיִּיטַב לִבּוֹ, וַיָּבֹא, לִשְׁכַּב בִּקְצֵה הָעֲרֵמָה; וַתָּבֹא בַלָּט, וַתְּגַל מַרְגְּלֹתָיו וַתִּשְׁכָּב.

7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn; and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down.

ח וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה, וַיֶּחֱרַד הָאִישׁ וַיִּלָּפֵת; וְהִנֵּה אִשָּׁה, שֹׁכֶבֶת מַרְגְּלֹתָיו.

8 And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was startled, and turned himself; and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.

Now, Ruth does not actually have intercourse with Boaz that night, but this is still a very suggestive passage. She follows her mother-in-law's advice, lays herself down at Boaz's feet; he discovers her there and hears her out, then determines that he will be her redeemer if possible. She must hide her coming, as Boaz says, "Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor;" obviously this behavior was considered forward, which is why she had to leave before one man could discern another.

6. Esther

The entire book of Esther is predicated upon the fact that she is the most beautiful lady in the land (if read literally, not midrashically), at the very least that she "obtains favor" in the eyes of those that see her. She uses her beauty to please the king; she throws her parties to allow Haman to think that he is in her favor. Esther's beauty is what helps her save her people; it is theoretically the reason that she is chosen by the king and then placed in an advantageous position to help her nation.

And then, this is not part of Tanakh but of Apocrypha, we have The Book of Judith, which mimics Jael's assasination of Sisra to the extreme. The point is the same; she uses her beauty to get her into Holifernes' camp, then her wits to get herself out.

Perhaps I ought to include Rahab on this list, for while she in and of herself did not seduce someone, her occupation as harlot helped save Joshua and Caleb's lives.

So what is the common theme amongst all these seductive women? Well, it is their cause. All of them use their beauty/ sexuality for a good cause. They use it to seduce men with whom they foresee they must have children, to save their husband's lives, to save their nation. Sexuality is a weapon, to be seen as such and used as such- in effect, to be feared. All of one's qualities are meant to be used in a true and productive fashion, for every quality can be used for the good. This includes making use of one's physical assets.

Perhaps I shall dedicate another post to dangerous beauty, that is, the women who did not use their beauty to seduce men for a higher purpose, but for the purposes of sin. Those women are also fascinating...

the age barrier

Age has nothing to do with the relevance of what one has to say.

There is an assumption that is often made that age connotes intelligence. And to some extent this is true. More experienced people have a more complicated, more nuanced view on life. They have perspective. They can look back on experiences and determine which ones were important and which ones weren't particularly meaningful; they can evaluate their actions and reactions in each of these situations. But children have something else; they have an insight and intelligence that is unmarred by contact with cynicism and perceived reality.

One of the most frustrating things for me as a child was adults not wanting to listen to me. The assumption was, "she's just a kid; what does she know?" This is something my parents were very careful never to do to me. My parents always treated me as an adult and always listened to whatever it was I wanted to tell them, whatever insight or new piece of knowledge I had. They respected me and so I was able to respect them.

I have no respect for people who resort to the argument, "I'm older than you, therefore I'm smarter than you, so shut up now." I similarly have no respect for people who scream, "I'm the teacher; you're the student, so shut up." These two things don't go hand in hand. Being older or being in the position of authority doesn't necessarily mean that you know more than me and it gives you no right to yell at me because you don't like what I've said. If you disagree with me, prove it to me, don't shout it at me. I'm willing to be disproved; indeed, I'd relish any such discussion. These statements are not arguments.

I've always found "Kids' Tables" to be a condescending form of separation. I'm sure there are several perspective on the existence of such "Kids' Tables." The adult doesn't want the child to be bored by grown-up conversation and decides to put all the kids together in order to entertain one another. And sometimes there truly isn't space, so it makes sense to create a kid's table. But I hated this. I always felt the slight; I always felt that the insinuation was that I had nothing of value to add, that I wouldn't understand the grown-up conversation, that my opinions or ideas were not important. My parents were also very careful never to have "kids' tables" at our house; everyone sat together at the table. We felt like equals; we felt like our ideas were valued, too. My parents deliberately did not have guests over for important holidays, like for the Pesach Sedarim. You know why not? Because they wanted to make sure the conversation was geared toward us, toward the children. They didn't want adults giving over complicated divrei Torah; they wanted their children to speak up and voice their ideas and opinions.

I've always wanted to grow up. From the time I was little I remember longing to be an adult. Do you know why? Because I was under the impression that as soon as I achieved this proud label, "adult," people would suddenly listen to me. I wouldn't have to struggle anymore; I wouldn't have people shout at me "you're just *insert age*" or "you're just a student;" now I would be able to talk without anybody thinking anything amiss. The fact is that regardless of my label, there will always be someone older than in me or in a position of authority who will use this fact as a weapon. I did not recognize this when I was younger.

It sickens me to watch the way many adults treat their kids. "Oh, you're so cute; you know that?" They say this while completely disregarding something the child has just told them, something honest and truly felt. There's so much condescension between adults and their kids! Why? Why is this necessary? How many of you really listen to children? They have so much to say and so much to add and most people ignore them. Do you talk to them? I do. I swore to myself, I remember making a vow when I was eleven, that I would never forget what I felt like then, that I would always treat children with respect. People admire me for being "good with children." You want to know why I'm good with them? Because I actually want to hear what they have to say. Because I don't pat them on the head and dismiss their ideas or say "oh, you're so cute" or otherwise mock them and assert my intelligence. Children enjoy creativity and thinking and finding people who are like them and do the same. They like dress-up games and telling stories or explaining where their train tracks are going, the different cities where they live. And they like an attentive audience. My parents were so good to us. We used to build cities out of Tinkertoys and then would proudly call my mother out of the kitchen and explain to her all about what we had built. Oh, and it's the same thing with drawings! Back in the days when all we could do was scribble, my parents were careful not to ask "What is that?" That can hurt a child's feelings. Instead they would say, "Tell me about your picture." And then they would listen as I explained that this line was Grandma and that one was a barbecue...

I wonder why we associate meaning with age, assume that only those of a certain age have the right or authority to speak and everyone else must simply listen. But what I'm more troubled by is the realization that all of this did have an impact on me. All this "I'm older than you, so shut up" or "I'm the teacher; you're the student, so shut up" took its toll, and I don't think I fully realized that until just now. I realize now that I'm afraid, actually afraid, to say what I think because I expect this reaction. I expect someone to start shouting at me. I'm still a child; in some ways, I think I always will be. And I'm expecting that threatening adult to loom over me and either laugh at me and pat me on the head and dismiss me or shout at me because I've said something they dislike. And though I know that what they do is worthless, and it's they who are at fault, there's a disconnect between what I know and what I feel. Why should I bother, after all? Why bother give over an opinion where it's not wanted; why bother to put myself in a situation where the teacher starts shouting at me? It's not worth it for me....I'm tired, so tired. I'm tired of having to fight and of having to risk things, tired of situations where people threaten me. I had a meeting with an administrator of an entire school where I had to give him an application essay. So I wrote the essay; he read it and said to me, "I don't understand Halakhic Man even now, and you are telling me as a seventeen-year-old you understand it?"

And what can I say to that? He's effectively put me in my place, asserted the age barrier once again. "How dare you suggest you can understand something that I, at my age, don't understand?" he's asking. The arrogance! The chutzpah! But tell me, why can't I? What if I feel a connection to a particular book, or I've read it at least twenty times; why shouldn't I be able to understand some parts better than you, even if I am younger? Why do you feel the need to put me down? There always has to be an assertion that I don't know anything because I'm age x.

But we all know something. Children know things that you don't know, and so do I and so does any other teenager. And so do older people, don't get me wrong; they have wisdom in addition to flashes of insight. The point is that we all have something valuable to add and age has nothing to do with it. And laughter and mockery and condescension kills people. It also means that they'll never trust you again. A child brings you something beautiful he made and you laugh at it and say it looks like an exploded tomato? Do you think that child is going to come back to you; do you think he will trust you again? Why should he? All you do is laugh. If you shout at me, "I'm the teacher; you're the student," I won't be able to respect you. And do you think I'll offer you my opinions or ideas again? Probably not, because why should I? Why should I trust you; why should I bother...

The age barrier is an idiotic invention created to support those who feel that they are unable to answer the questions or queries of the child, but who nevertheless must assert their authority or importance lest their self-esteem suffer. Someone who is truly secure welcomes the questions and ideas of a child, for they know his motives are pure. It is only someone who feels threatened by the child who responds by dismissing, laughing or shouting at him. And you hurt the child when you do this, and he grows up and knows never to trust you again. And he comes up with methods to protect himself from being hurt again. Either he doesn't offer his ideas or views in a public forum or he makes sure to put himself down before doing so, "This is probably wrong, but..." Or you get the confrontational people who just don't care and won't learn to be cagey and persist in putting themselves out there and dealing with the consequences. But even with them, it takes its toll.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Erev Yom Kippur

(Urchin's eating a candybar)

Me: (eyes widen) We have candybars?

Urchin: (snicker) Yeah, they're downstairs.

Dustfinger: You shouldn't have any; you have way too much junk at that school of yours.

Me: (to Urchin) I really don't think you should be eating that in your white shirt- you should eat dinner in your undershirt, then put your white shirt on; you don't want to get it stained. Also, you really need to comb your hair. (to Dustfinger) Can you comb his hair for him? It's sticking up in the back.

Dustfinger: It won't comb.

(I head to the basement.)

Mommy: (bending over oven in basement) I need you to taste the grapeleaves and tell me if they're ready!

Me: Oh...but I wanted to eat something milchigs...

Mommy: We're eating flaishigs in less than an hour!

Me: Okay- grapeleaves it is!

Mommy: (gives me grapeleaves on gold plastic plate. Urchin comes downstairs.)

Urchin: (thrusts candybars under my nose) Haha.

Me: I'm eating grapeleaves and they're good.

Taran: (goes to keyboard and starts playing a song)

Urchin: You're eating healthy; I'm not even eating healthy today (this is a huge departure from the norm)

Mommy: I don't trust you to take the grapeleaves out of the oven; Taran, go call Dustfinger over the intercom and make her come get them.

(Taran continues playing song on keyboard)

Me: Taran!

Taran: (goes to intercom) Dustfinger, come downstairs and take the pierogies out of the oven! (walks away, shakes head) Did I say pierogies?

Me: Just tell her to come downstairs!

Taran: Okay, okay. (to intercom) Dustfinger, come to the basement!

(insert image of Mother thundering "Family room!" It really is a family room, but we like calling it the basement)

Dustfinger (pounds down stairs, sees me): Hey! I want grapeleaves!

Me: Go ask Mommy if you can have them. (to Urchin and Tal, still by keyboard) You guys really shouldn't be eating dinner in your white shirts; you should eat in your undershirts.

Taran: We know.

Urchin: We're going to the mikvah, you chicken.

Me: (recalls custom of going to mikvah erev Yom Kippur) Oh.

Urchin: It's not the first time, either.

Me: Oh?

Urchin: Yeah, we went last year. You want to know who we saw there? (rattles off names)

Me: (still stuck on Urchin's epithet) Chicken?

Urchin: Yeah, it's my word.

[cut to upstairs discussion in kitchen; Taran is now eating a Baby Ruth]

Me: You're also eating candybars?

[Dustfinger and I have eaten grapeleaves; the boys have eaten candybars]

Me: That's not healthy, you know.

Dustfinger: You're one to talk! You ice-cream eater!

Me: You make that sound like an epithet.


Have a gemar chatimah tovah, everyone. Erev Yom Kippur in this house rocks. And Yom Kippur is a truly joyful day, for all our sins have been forgiven! We get to recreate ourselves through teshuva per Rabbi Soloveitchik, and now everything is beautiful again.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


elusive magnificent tease
enthrall me in your embrace
I could gladly die there
if only you would let me taste
of your deadly poison

poison me tonight
so that I lie drugged, immobile
scents of poppy on the air
alone with you, inside the dark
an intimate experience
in the depths of beyond

I want you, be my lover
come, I claim you
be mine


I am dying to go to sleep.

Dates & Deadlines

For the first time in my life, I have found it necessary to create a schedule for myself. It's a document on Microsoft Word entitled "Deadlines & Dates."

I've just realized that this Sukkos vacation isn't a vacation at all, because in order to do the things I plan on doing when I come back to school, I need to write all my papers over vacation. This is a problem because I simply don't see the time. The majority of the days are those on which I am forbidden to write/ won't be in a place where I can write.

I think someone will be writing papers in the airport tomorow.

[insert thought to self, taken from an old black and white movie]

Damn, girl, but you've made it tough on yourself!

It's easy, there's a trick to it, you do it or you die. ~American Gods

Welcome to the challenge.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I have witnessed the resurrection of my computer (and have had an intensely frustrating day.)

In other news, TWO awesomely wonderful people I know won awards for papers they wrote, so congrats to two people!

And now I get to go off and play with 250 girls. TLN for the win!

Ode to the Demise of My Computer

My computer, may it rest in peace, died in its sleep.

It is about 1 to 1 and 1/2 years old, far too young to expire in this manner.

It was working perfectly until 3 in the morning last night, although the screen did flicker a few times. I assume that was my computer trying desperately to signal me, sending up distress rockets as did the Titanic. Alas, it was not to be. I refused to believe that the strange maniacal light of the screen and/or subsequent dimness signaled defeat.

I woke up in the morning and my computer won't turn on. Is it the screen or the entire thing that has gone dead? I don't know. All I see is that on the front of the computer, where a little light generally goes green, there is a flickering, sputtering orange light (it's in front of a spherical looking thing with +/- signs.)

Now, I have a warranty...but get this, it's in Chicago. And the store that sold me this computer? All the shops have closed in Chicago. So I'll have to get the warranty, come back to New York, and pray for resurrection. I am doubtful of the outcome.

Now come the existential questions: what is Chana without her computer? Who is she? Her identity has been shattered...

Let us all mourn. (I'm taking this very well, aren't I? Perhaps because I also had to deal with a fire drill at 7:30 in the morning. Oh, did you not hear that? Yes, 7:30 in the morning we were all herded outside and made to face the light of the morning, blinking confusedly, I wondering why my computer refused to aid me.)

Oh, best of all, everything is saved to my hard drive and I won't have access to it...that's amusing. Thank God I happen to have emailed several important documents to friends of mine, so I have them on the Internet somewhere.

Anyway, tonight I'd better make sure I print off my airline tickets & arrange to get to the airport (from a school computer). I'm also doing TLN tonight.

Oh, and on a very happy note, MAZAL TOV to one of my favorite people for winning an award for a paper he wrote! That's amazing! If you want, in addition to the condolences, you can wish him a mazal tov in the comments...that will make me happy.

(I think I might start crying a little later today...Chana without a computer does not bode well for anyone. To anyone foolish enough to take that statement seriously, no, I'm not really going to start crying...but if anyone has any amusing stories of computer woes, do email them to me; perhaps I'll smile a little.)