Birthday, Thanksgiving, and homehomehome

This is what happens when you get behind on posts; too much to catch up on…

I had this great idea for my birthday: get together with everyone who has been a best friend of mine since the age of six, most of whom have never met each other, and do lunch at a retro diner followed by billiards. The billiards fell through, but lunch was fantastic–it was just splendid to see everyone. Then the next night, I went for dinner and coffee with my best friend and his girlfriend, and we had a nice tussle about religion, and the night after that, I went out for sushi with my parents and had a nice, long talk, so I’m feeling very well-loved. I’d really been dreading this birthday, but I’m starting to realize I’m really going about things all wrong; I’m actually in a decent position to take more risks, have more adventures right now. Instead of fretting that I don’t have it all figured out yet, I should be doing things like getting my driver’s licence and applying to odd programs that interest me.

Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle’s was fantastic as usual, and though I was sad not to see osewalrus or beckyfeld, it was wonderful to spend the time with mabfan and gnomi, my sort-of cousins. (Actually my father’s brother’s son’s wife’s sister and her husband. There must be some formal kinship term, but I’ve yet to find it. But lovely people whom I’m very glad to have as friends and even gladder to have as relatives, even tangentially.) And my cousin and brother made a real feast, with wonderful turkey and all the trimmings, plus amazing, garlicky homemade pickles. Yum.

Thanksgiving weekend also marked the 30th anniversary of my grandmother’s death. She died two years before I was born, and I wish I’d had the chance to meet her. My mother hosted a kiddush after services at their synagogue, and read some of her poetry and prose about how her relationship with her mother has continued to evolve long after her mother’s death. My brother and I also got an aliyah together in her honor; I’ve never had an aliyah with him before and that was just really special for me. But for me, the part of the yartzeit that had the most impact was that my mother showed me a four-page family history her mother had written in her final months, recounting the history of her own mother and grandmother. Some pieces I’d already known, but others were surprising, and some of the connective tissue made for speculation that would have done Bronte proud. What my grandmother had chosen to emphasize showed a lot about who she herself was and what was important to her: her mother showed great courage at a very young age, and her grandmother was the village’s herbal healer, known for her wisdom. It was wonderful to read, and very special to share that with my mom.

Iphigenia

Went to the opening night of a play last night, adapted by my wonderfully talented friend Emily, and had a splendid time. There were a couple of points that felt uneven to me, but overall, just amazing. The play used music, modern dance and martial arts katas to emphasize the drama, and I’ve never seen a trash-talking Greek chorus before, so that was a real delight. The actors playing Agamemnon and Clytemnestra were fantastic, and while the actress playing the title role was a bit too fake as an ingenue in the beginning, she more than made up for it with the goosepimples she gave me with her final scenes.

Emily’s dad and step-mom were there too, and it was great to catch up with them. I hadn’t seen them since Emily’s reading a while back, so I joked to Emily that clearly she needs to accomplish more amazing things so I can see her relatives more often.

All in all, a really fine evening.

Reading meme

Snagged from osewalrus:

What are the five most important (not necessarily favorite) works of fiction that you read, and why?

1. Witch’s Sister: The first book I ever bought for myself. When your allowance is seventy-five cents a week, you agonize over every book you buy, wanting to make sure it’s going to be worth the money. I saved up for this book for two months, going to the bookstore every weekend to stare at the cover and try to imagine the plot, play-acting it with a friend, until I could finally buy it. All the effort I put into imagining the story, my love of the book when I finally read it, and my frustration when the series took a real downturn after the first three books, feeling like I could have written it better at that point, was what made me want to be a writer myself.

2. Bridge to Terabithia: It was the first book I’d ever read where the main character died. I didn’t know that was possible, and it had a huge impact on me as a reader and as a writer. Things change, no matter how much it hurts or how hard you resist.

3. Alvin Journeyman: This was sort of the flip side of Bridge to Terabithia. Where Terabithia taught me that change is inevitable, Journeyman gave me the perspective that change doesn’t have to be crisis and mourning; we’re all changing all the time, trading innocence for experience, and that painful as it can be, the alternative is stagnation.

4. Stranger in a Strange Land: Despite some of its flaws, the book really made me think about what it meant to go through life half-awake or to truly pay attention; that if you spend your life enduring situations you don’t like, you waste years waiting for a better life that never comes. Paying attention means confronting pain instead of ignoring it, but it also means a far richer present.

5. A Wind in the Door: Number five was a toss-up between several books by different authors, but I have to include something about the impact Madeleine L’Engle has had on me. This was the first book that really resonated with me, where I felt a kinship with the main character, her intelligence, her awkwardness, her outsider status, her anger. It’s an honest book, which at the time was a very rare thing in children’s literature. Madeleine L’Engle’s characters live in a world where religion subtly imbues everything, and where families are well-intentioned and deeply loving despite their imperfections; I feel like the world she creates reflects my own.

Rise and shine and

Fantastic Shaharit this morning. My dad led an experimental prayer service at the Seminary with one of his students: Berakhot, then yoga, Shema, silent meditation, Amidah and Aleinu. The yoga was done by one of Tateh’s students, who kept the poses simple and gentle enough for first-timers, while giving soft instructions that brought us back to the spirituality of what we were doing. The yoga and meditation were wonderful, and I found myself praying with renewed energy and intention as we went through the service. Such a wonderful way to start the day, and I think the students felt that as well.

But an added treat for me was that I really haven’t prayed Shaharit with Tateh since I was in eighth grade, and I miss it. When I was a kid, Shaharit was like brushing my teeth; I’d do anything to avoid it but couldn’t leave the house until I’d done it, and after my Bat Mitzvah, I exercised my new authority to avoid it as much as possible. Praying in college, I could always hear my dad’s voice in the back of my head, combating homesickness and giving me added incentive to pray, but over time, I’ve built up enough memories of praying on my own that it’s rarely there anymore. This morning, I kept feeling the warmth of the sunlight streaming through our living room windows in Princeton even down in the basement Beit Midrash, and it gave me such a feeling of peace.