Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


On the last day of Hannukah

Filed under : Etc.
On December 16, 2012
At 10:00 am
Comments : 3

The Hannukah holiday is sold as one of miracles but as usual, if you look really closely, any miracles were really precipitated by people. In this case, the Maccabees and other heroes who took a stand against oppression and assimilation (maybe too much of a stand but that’s a discussion for another day).

This month there was a lot of talk about a guy who got thrown onto subway tracks and what was done or not done to help him. The photographer who took pictures. The people who ran to the other side of the platform. Those who just stood there. In my thoughts, I joined in the outrage. What cowards! Why didn’t they DO something?

About a week later, I was sitting on the bus in my morning daze, thinking about a decision I needed to make and all the plusses and minuses and permutations. In front of me, but barely processed, a large, heavy man with a cane got on the bus and gingerly edged forward. At the same time, a slightly off his rocker homeless-type guy who was sitting in the first seat began thrusting forward his cart and yelling, “is this 86th Street? IS THIS 86TH STREET?????” (It wasn’t.) He jumped up and, in a barely a second, blink of the eye type timespan, the guy with the cane fell with a huge thud down on his back (he had pivoted around his cane which splintered into three parts). I was just feet from him but I was utterly, totally frozen. It was a moment of unreality; did that just happen? Is that guy really just lying there? In back of me, a woman yelled, “don’t just sit there! Help him up!” It wasn’t at me directly, but I felt terribly. She and another woman lifted him up and led him to a seat. I was holding a cup of coffee and I suddenly remembered the scene from Coming to America where Eddie Murphy bravely confronts an armed robber while his love interest’s boyfriend lamely explains later, “I would have helped, but you know, I was holding a shake.” That was me: the lame wussy guy with the soul-glo hair.

After that, I stopped wondering what I would have done while a guy got thrown into the subway. The answer was, freeze in total shock.

This weekend led me to think of that question again. When a horror show occurs in the exact setting that you spend your every day in, you can’t help thinking of yourself in that situation. I thought of our head of school and school psychologist. I think they would have run into danger, too. I could see the spaces that the kids were hidden in in our school, too: bathrooms between classrooms that weren’t meant to hold a whole class but probably could, supply closets, etc. And I think our smart, experienced, amazing teachers would all do what those teachers did, too.

What I did personally, to make sure I’d never have a bus moment, was to practice what I would do in my head. I found the space in my lab that I’d take the kids to. I thought of what I might say. I don’t want to freeze. I want it to be a total reflex until I can unfreeze myself. I love those kids so much and don’t want to fail them. Because I used to think things like, “but anyone would do that! Any thinking, caring person.” Now I know better. I think the teachers and staff at Sandy Hook are and were amazing people who created their own miracles and I salute them. They are my role models.


Everything you do continues long after you’re gone

Filed under : Etc.
On December 27, 2011
At 2:30 pm
Comments : 18

I wrote a far better post meant to be published tomorrow, on the last day of Hannukah, but I’ve decided to shelve it. It was about…. feelings. I am not a person who talks a lot about feelings, and if my former therapist, from when my Mom died, is reading this, she’ll agree. I am more a “facts mixed with comic relief” type person. And if I am loathe to talk about feelings in “real life,” than I am even less inclined to do so on the Internet. In fact, every time I pictured someone reading what I wrote in my last post, I cringed. Imagine me going down a mental list of people in my life who read this blog, and every name I’d hit…. ack.

But I’m aware that I’ve left people hanging and that I have friends, good friends who care. I am lucky to have them. And you (twice, if you are in both categories, and of course you are). So I’ll state it plainly: my father has cancer. I’m really, really depressed. Those who have had ill parents (and I am one) know what this entails, especially when that parent is alone. But I feel better than I have the last few weeks in the sense that the normal idiocies of life, like a cab ride that was too expensive and a back-ordered cell phone, have begun to irritate me again. One small step for mankind! That is, I am losing that “who cares, my father has cancer” and occasional “fuck off, my father has cancer” sensibility. Everything becomes normal after a while, even when you’re depressed. You lose the compunction to punch the guy on the street from Amnesty International who asks “hey, how are you today!” or the person on Facebook who posts, “major disaster, burned the latkes, lol!!!” Or maybe not.

And I want to be kind, because people have been kind to me. But it’s hard. So I’ll give it a shot, and if I find that I am not kind, then I’ll take some more time off. Because I hate “don’t take it personally.” I always take it personally; why shouldn’t you?

There won’t be a holiday song post this year but the title of this post is from a Neil Finn song that I thought of when I heard my favorite Christmas song, The Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping, this year. It will tell you what frame of mind I was in when I heard it that I immediately remembered that the singer had died young, of cancer. But then I remembered the Neil Finn line.

Here’s the comic relief, and you’ll have to be a Waitresses fan (or at least know their two biggest songs) to get it: She did know what boys like – cranberries. Har. Happy holidays!

Neil Finn – Truth


You hear the clocks counting down

Filed under : Etc.
On December 14, 2011
At 10:00 pm
Comments :Comments Off on You hear the clocks counting down

There is something wrong with the clocks at my school. They sent out a note about it but I didn’t really pay attention. Something about the satellites which control the clocks having a communication problem and the clocks in turn not getting the proper signals. So the sweep hand, which is the red one that shows the seconds going by, has some issue. I don’t know, I usually look at the clocks on the computers over the kids’ shoulders as I’m looking at their work or reminding them how to save.

Things are not OK right now and I won’t go into it but it has consumed my life lately and will for a while. Not only has normality been shorn away but other people’s normality irritates me which in turn makes me feel like a tone-deaf jerk. So I’ve been staying away from places where people are normal and living normal lives. The one bit of normality in my life is work.

Today, just a couple of days before the start of what is supposed to be a vacation, I wandered into a main area just outside my door where the Kindergarteners were having a session with their 4th grade “mentors.” Each kid had a partner from the other grade and the 4th graders were explaining a project they had done, which was displayed on the walls, to their Kindergartener. Each K child looked completely absorbed and inquisitive and eager. Each 4th grader looked serious and engaged and you could feel their sense of importance and responsibility. It choked me up inside, I was so full of emotion at seeing all these children I teach in these roles, their connection and transformation. I went inside my lab to pull myself together when I saw the clock and this is what it looked like: the sweep hand would stop completely for a few seconds and then suddenly jerk forward to catch up. All the way around the dial. And I had this overwhelming sense that this clock was not broken but perfect in the way it illustrated my life and maybe life in general… not in a smooth, calm flow but in utter stillness and then sudden action. And then I let it take hold of me.

The blog will be on hiatus for a while. Thanks for not emailing because I would not write you back and then further feel like a jerk. I’ll rejoin you sometime.

Title is from the Editors’ Escape the Nest but this is the song from that record which I feel just now.


As I’m listening to the bells of the cathedral, I am thinking of your voice

Filed under : Etc.
On July 31, 2011
At 7:00 am
Comments : 9

Written on July 1st, 2011 to be posted on July 31st, 2011, 29 Tammuz 5771, my mother’s yahrzeit.

It’s been a bittersweet week for me. I finished the job that I hated at TC which, for obvious reasons, was great, but it’s also the end of my nearly two year stint at the school, and just like two years ago, I say goodbye to a routine and a neighborhood and a subway stop and so much more. I think, more than my actual graduation, I felt like I had finished what I never did when I went to grad school the first time, accumulated a bunch of credits, and wandered around dazedly for a year. I don’t remember how I felt when I left the school for the “last” time but it wasn’t anything like this time, I’m sure. I kept seeing echos of that experience as well as the last two years as I walked around the buildings for the last time this week. The classroom where my psych professor in the 90’s told us how she had been childhood friends with Perry Farrell and they had made a pact that they would marry each other if no one else would (eighteen years later, I had my financial aid exit seminar in that room so I could find out how my loans will follow me around forever, yay). The office where I had my interview for last year’s job – I was still at The Record Label and had bought a suit the day before (my office this year was just a few doors down – I passed the other one almost every day). The lounge where I hung out the first time around because I was commuting and needed to be there early to grab a parking space and the second time the scene of ice cream socials and collaborative groups. The classroom where the first time around, one day, I suddenly realized I had left my keys in the car, couldn’t concentrate, left in the middle, and called a locksmith to break into my parents’ car. I didn’t have a class there the second time, but again, I passed it it almost every day.

I received the seventh degree in my immediate family from Columbia. My dad has two graduate degrees from there, my mom had a BA and an MA, and my brother has two graduate degrees as well. Next year my niece starts college and will hopefully get the eighth. The university is also two blocks from the seminary to which my family is closely connected. In sum, the neighborhood always felt like home and I’m sure I’ll be back, but not on a daily basis. Every year on my mom’s yahrzeit we go to the cemetery but I don’t feel her there, probably because I rarely went there with her when she was alive (it’s a family plot, but decently far away). Where I have always felt her most was at Barnard, which I walked past every day. My mother loved her time at Barnard. She wasn’t from New York but she loved it and made the most of her time and education. She kept scrapbooks through her years there, which I found after her death and took home with me. In them she kept programs from ballets and Broadway shows, handouts from committees and activities she took part in, notes from friends and boyfriends, letters from my grandparents, and many other things. She kept up with her group of friends all throughout her life (without Facebook!) and wore only one ring besides her wedding rings: her Barnard class ring. She felt there was a certain type of “Barnard woman:” a woman who accomplished important things, and she tried to be this woman in her life. She succeeded.

I almost went to Barnard. It was my first choice until I visited Hopkins. My mother never showed any disappointment that I didn’t go there and I’ll never know if she felt any. But we did the tour together and I’m glad I had that experience with her, even though I barely remember it. I recall one thing supremely well, though, and it was when I was away from her, having my interview. The interviewer was trying to give me a sense of the sort of network that alumnae enjoyed. She described how Suzanne Vega, a graduate, had called the school recently looking for a student to assist her. You see, the woman told me, Barnard women want to work with other Barnard women. I don’t know why this stayed with me through my life but when I first heard the song Tom’s Diner, I knew which diner it was, because I knew Suzanne Vega had gone to Barnard.

Every day when I went to school these last two years, every day, I paused as I walked by Barnard and made “eye contact” with the gate and the main building, which is called Barnard and says Barnard in great carved letters. I wanted to tell my mother I would finish and I would become an educator, as she had been. I was on the Barnard campus three or four times in the last two years and I always, always thought about how my mother had walked down the exact pathways and maybe sat on the step on which I was sitting. It wasn’t until this week, when I was totally finished that I realized that going into education wasn’t the thing that would have made the greatest impression on my mother, it’s that I finally obtained the love of learning. And I have. I love to learn and would go back to class in a heartbeat. I think this thirst for knowledge was my mother’s hallmark and legacy and I’m glad I finally inherited it. Now I too will spend my days trying to inspire it in others.

בזכות מרים נחמה בת הרב יצחק
זכרונה לברכה

Title is from Tom’s Diner, a song by a true Barnard woman, and the cathedral referenced is the one in which I finally graduated.
Suzanne Vega – Tom’s Diner (the version most people know)


From the depths I called to you

Filed under : Etc.
On December 2, 2010
At 11:46 pm
Comments : 18

It’s never good to be told bad news… there’s never a good time. I remember when my mother called to tell me my aunt had breast cancer. It was my first month on the job at my second label and I was close to no one and worked in a cubicle. But I found the person that in my limited time I liked the best, went into her office, and said that I had just found out my aunt had cancer and could I just hide in there for a few minutes. Of course she said yes. Then I started to sob.

When my mother called me to tell me she had breast cancer, I was sitting in my new office at my third and last label, full of cocky confidence, and told her a long story about a bad date before proceeding to weigh the pros and cons of saying yes to a second date. After all that, I finally asked, “oh yes, what were you calling about?” I’ll go to my grave wishing I had just asked that question first. You can say it doesn’t matter but somehow it still does and always will.

When my father called me today to tell me that the third of the three sisters has breast cancer, he had to leave a bland “call me back” message because I was busy helping teach a 4th grade technology class. I have no office there and I went outside to call him back afterwards. There, in front of a giant picture window of high school students sitting around a library table, I stood on a lovely downtown side street, hearing the news and forced to not show any emotion at all. Then I had to get on the train to go man a table and greet people at a technology fair for three hours. You can be sure that even if this blog goes into the ether with its written record of events, I will always remember that moment and this day and what it felt like.

Sometimes when I see a particular look in a face on the subway, I wonder if that person was told bad news and has nowhere to go to cry. Then it all bunches in their face and it’s just as naked but without the release. But it was the wrong time and the wrong place and even if it wasn’t, it will always feel as if it were.

Title is from Psalm 130, traditionally said by Jews in times of distress to ask for God’s help.