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My Morning at the DMV

(note: this post was written before the shootings at a Pittsburgh synagogue this morning)

I had to renew my driver’s license and decided to upgrade to the new version that acts as a sort of domestic passport, because Mom said I should. That meant going to the Department of Motor Vehicles in person. My last visit, ten years ago, wasn’t too bad, so I assumed things would be the same this time and didn’t try too hard to get there before the place opened. Bad idea.

Just as I arrived, the doors opened and a long line of people was walking in. I then spent a half an hour circling the parking lot, trying to find an open spot. Some people are good at following random walkers, stalking them to their cars, and intimidating other drivers away. I am not one of those people. I finally lucked into a free spot, seconds before I was ready to give up. Once inside the building I was sent to my first line of the day. This was the concierge line, where we waited to be told which line to wait on.

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“I don’t wait on lines, buster.”

Then I stood on a longer line, and had my paperwork checked and was given a ticket that specified what I was there for and gave me a number. A very high number. Once I left the line, I found a spot on the wooden benches with everyone else, to sit and wait. These benches were clearly chosen by a local chiropractor, hoping to make a lot of money out of people leaving the DMV in pain. I tried to run through all of my neck and shoulder stretches, without banging into people on either side of me, but it didn’t help. I was in an enormous amount of pain, and I’d forgotten to bring a book to read for distraction, so I watched the silent recipe videos on the screen in front of me, and watched the ticket numbers slowly rise. An hour and a half later, or so, I was called to one of the clerk’s windows, to do my vision test, and have my paperwork checked over (there was a scare when the clerk thought my birth certificate might not be valid because there was a scrap missing from the corner of the paper, but he checked with his manager and it was fine). Then there was the identification photo. For some reason they don’t want the pictures taken with glasses on, even though I am close to blind without my glasses. It’s possible that I was looking in the direction of the camera when the picture was taken, but I have no idea.

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“Am I facing the right direction?”

Then I was sent back to the benches to wait to be called again. This wait was more like half an hour, not too bad, and my papers were rechecked, and things were typed into the computer. I asked why my papers had to be checked so many times and the second clerk said, protocol, and shrugged. And then I paid, and was given a temporary license, and I was, finally, able to leave.

The relief of walking out of the building was enormous. I felt like I’d been in there for days instead of just a few hours. As soon as I got to the car, as a reward, I decided to drive around the corner to Trader Joe’s, and bought one of every winter squash they had. That almost made the trip seem worth it. But by the time I got home I was barely able to sit up long enough to eat my lunch. The pain in my neck and back was excruciating and the resulting nap was long.

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Winter Squashapalooza!

Next task, renewing my passport, or actually, getting an entirely new passport, because the one I have is from age fifteen and has never been renewed because I haven’t been out of the country since that long ago trip to Paris and London. But I need more rest before I move on to that task, and I’d also like to see how the first picture came out, and see if there’s anything I can do to look less like a drunk person when I can’t wear my glasses.

I’m doing all of this because I have the time, while I don’t have an internship, and because I feel like I should be prepared, either for the lovely possibility that I might someday go on a vacation again, or for the less lovely possibility that my country is starting to resemble pre-holocaust Germany and I will need to be able to leave in a hurry. I don’t really believe that that’s going to happen, yet, but it’s a fear, and having a fresh passport would reduce some of the underlying anxiety.

The problem, though, is that dogs don’t get passports. Dogs can be put into quarantine before being allowed to enter certain countries, and they are often put in the cargo hold instead of in the airplane itself, where they belong. I can’t imagine going anywhere that won’t treat my dogs like the worthwhile people they are.

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They are refusing to take their passport photos, in protest.

So, more likely than not, I will be staying home. And if the world crashes down around me, I will at least have two forms of I.D., and the dogs, and a huge stash of winter squash to keep me company. The dogs will be thrilled!

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They will be thrilled, when they wake up.

 

My Life as a Jewish Woman

One of my blogging friends suggested that I write about my life as a Jewish woman, and it scared me, because writing about being Jewish always scares me, just like writing about anything else people might judge me for scares me. I worry about anti-Semitism; I worry about people feeling alienated from me for being different; I worry about being rejected, and looked down on most of all. The image of the Jew as vermin has always stuck with me. I was born long after the holocaust, but it has never felt that far away.

“What are you talking about, Mommy?”

I grew up in Jewish environments, getting a Jewish education (or a few different Jewish educations), so being Jewish always felt normal to me. It was only when I went to college that being Jewish became an issue. Most of the higher educational world, no matter how many students at a school are Jewish, is based on a Christian world view. It is assumed that when you mention the bible, and you will, you mean the King James Version, including the New Testament. In a discussion about history or biology, or, god forbid, art history, teachers would reference books of the bible I’d never heard of, and I felt like I needed Google and Wikipedia, before such things existed.

“Ask me, Mommy. I know everything!”

It wasn’t just factual references that I missed and had to look up, there were world view things I couldn’t relate to. So much talk of heaven and hell, and turning the other cheek, had never come up in my childhood. I felt like I’d need a PhD in Christianity before I could understand much of anything. So I did my honors thesis on comparative religions, and read the King James Bible, and the New Testament, and the Koran, and forty other books on various religions around the world. I can’t pinpoint what I did with all of that information, and I didn’t feel like an expert when I was done, but I did feel more grounded. I felt like I knew enough to get by.

Despite the adjustment period, there was something freeing about not being in a Jewish environment anymore. I stopped feeling like someone was looking over my shoulder all the time, giving me demerits for each non-orthodox behavior. No one cared if the sandwich I ate for lunch was kosher. No one cared that I wore pants. If I went to school on a Jewish holiday, no one even noticed. It didn’t matter to anyone how religious I was, or wasn’t. They noticed that I was a good, and maybe compulsive, student. They noticed that I talked back to teachers (sometimes too much, sometimes just the right amount).

Being outside of a Jewish point of view allowed me to see how many different world views there really were. I started to see that even the Jewish world was not as unitary as it had seemed. Not all Jews are orthodox and steeped in the Talmud, not all Jews were red diaper babies raised by union activists, all Jews are not from Eastern European shtetls, all Jews are not “New York liberals,” or Pro-Israel, or Pro-peace, or well educated, or small minded, or wealthy, or clever, etc., etc.

The only really Jewish thing about my life now is the fact that I go to synagogue on Friday nights. I don’t keep kosher (sorry, God), and I don’t take out a prayer book three times a day, and I don’t wear a Star of David necklace. I do have a mezuzah on my door, but I never remember to kiss it.

My life isn’t especially Jewish, but I am. It is a big part of my identity, probably as big as being female, or American, or a writer. Being Jewish is essential to how I view the world around me, how I watch the news, how I meet new people. I am probably more skittish about traveling to, say, Germany than the average American woman. I am probably more sensitive about how Israel is portrayed in the news (though some evangelical Christians have me beat on that one).

The fact is, though, that I felt like just as much of a Jewish woman during the fifteen years when I did not belong to a synagogue as I do now. The rituals, and the belonging, while comforting and satisfying, are not the source of the identity for me. I know people who were raised without much involvement in Jewish community life, and they too feel their Jewishness strongly. There’s a mix of pride in the heritage, and fear of being targeted, and shame at being different, that we all share.

My dogs remind me, though, that my Jewish identity isn’t all of who I am. They are deeply connected to the energy of the universe, and they could care less if I am Jewish or Muslim or Christian or agnostic. The dogs represent the connection I have to everyone, not just to one small group.

“Hi Mommy!”

“If you’re Jewish, are we Dogish?”

I went to the supermarket one day, and some kid with weird hair was standing outside. Normally, I wouldn’t ever think of stopping to talk to a strange teenage boy, but he had a bulldog puppy with him and that changed everything. I met the dog, I got kisses, I talked to the boy on the other end of the leash, and he was friendly and talkative, and grateful that I liked his dog, and we parted as friends, feeling better about the world and the other people in it. Dogs do this!

Who could walk past a bulldog puppy! (not my picture)

Who could walk past a bulldog puppy! (not my picture)

So yes, I am a Jewish woman, and an American, and a writer, but before all of that, I am a dog person. It’s not an identity, it’s just what’s there, under all of the layers of identity, and my dogs think it is the most obvious thing about me.

Me and baby Cricket

Me and baby Cricket