this time of year is exhausting and i’ve never felt so acutely Like This before but i’ve also always been surrounded by jews in surplus and not in bits and pieces
no level of participation is the right level of participation! there’s no reason to walk around pretending to hate christmas music but sometimes i feel like i want to just to draw a physical boundary people can’t cross, because first it’s “let’s listen to christmas music starting on november first” and then it’s “are you going home for hanukkah?” and then it’s “you can buy an ornament, it’s just a tree it’s secular” and then it’s “it’s weird that no jews were involved in writing this jewish christmas movie because jews run hollywood” and then it’s a pointed “will ANYONE be MADE UNCOMFORTABLE if we MENTION SANTA CLAUS during our HOLIDAY PARTY” and then it’s “can you read this bible verse and tell me if it’s anti-semitic ahead of my bible study group”
i don’t want to walk around in a Gelt Digger sweater that’ll make other people giggle because it’s different and will make me giggle because look, it’s so funny being different, and i’m self aware, so that makes me a stomachable different, doesn’t it? i don’t want to grit my teeth when someone wishes me a merry christmas or even a happy holidays. i want to breathe better when someone tries to Treat me Equally by bringing up My Holiday which is only the big deal it is beCAUSE of christmas. i know every detail of your holiday because it’s shoveled down my throat for literally two full months ahead of one day of every year. hanukkah lasts eight days which is already too long and you don’t know anything about it.
of course hanukkah must be as culturally important as christmas. it happens at christmas time, doesn’t it? isn’t it so lucky that the most important dates in our faiths coincide like that?
but actually i had to approach my superiors in my smallest voice my first week of work at a new job and ask if i could please take one day, not two days that’s excessive, for rosh hashana and one day for yom kippur, because i didn’t know if my important faith dates were going to be important enough for me to spend time out of the office to observe them (they were, i have great bosses, some people don’t). two months of the year are christmastime and i was afraid to ask for my days off because they were in september and not december.
it’s people laughing and telling me they know nothing about the hanukkah story, it’s people laughing about how difficult it is to spell Ch(H)an(n)uk(k)a(h) without caring that the spelling is a transliteration and that english is still not the central language of my americanized version of my religion, it’s me knowing and ALWAYS knowing that christmas means a regular jewish baby was born in a manger in bethlehem on christmas day on christmas day and he’s the reason people think i’m greedy and gobliny and that i control hollywood and probably the broader financial market and he still probably also had to celebrate his holidays in secret so he wouldn’t offend the Romans. he probably had to sing someone else’s songs to fit in, too. he probably wore a Gelt Digger sweater to the Office Yuletide Party
I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told a whole lot of people. If I have told, I’ve told after two-and-a-half glasses of wine at 2:13 in the morning, after the majority of people have left the party and it’s just us, sitting there, swapping secrets. Or maybe I’ve admitted it to you in a way that sounds like I’m telling a joke that’s only a punchline—I say it in a way that tells you it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to make fun. I know it’s silly and ridiculous and self-indulgent and juvenile, and I’ve given you permission to see me that way.
But now, I have zero glasses of wine in me, and I’m not joking, and I’m not telling you this to make me seem cooler than my past-self. I am telling you this because we’re friends, and I trust you. You’re going to think it’s silly and ridiculous and self-indulgent and juvenile, but I can’t just not talk about it anymore.
The thing is: between the ages of eleven and thirteen, I wrote a shit ton of self-insert fanfiction. Self-insert fanfiction is what happens when a writer inserts herself into her fanfiction. She writes about herself and her favorite character falling in love, getting married, having children, and eventually recording an album together (that last one may be very specific to me and my experience). I am not going to tell you who I wrote about, because that is more personal than I’m willing to go in this already very personal piece of writing. But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Sarah at that age wanted to marry a blonde man from Harry Potter and a brown haired man from Gilmore Girls.
And still does, really. But that’s beside the point. Sort of. I guess.
Like, just so we’re clear, I wouldn’t NOT marry Draco Malfoy or Jess Mariano if either of them showed up at my house tomorrow and offered to whisk me away to Hogwarts or Stars Hollow, and if either of them is reading this, they shouldn‘t feel deterred.
ANYWAY. Now that you know facts that have eaten away at the guiltiest center of my brain for the past ten years, I’m going to tell you what it all means to me and who I am right now: a recent college graduate who’s home for a couple of months before moving to an entirely different state and re-discovered her old notebooks shoved into a corner under her bed last night.
I have never been a good, consistent journaler. I narrativize my life, to be sure: my best friends know to expect long, unwieldy texts from me after a long and stressful day. I tweet constantly, and lay every asinine thought I have in a day out into a clean stream for anyone on the internet to see. I go to therapy and dialogue my problems with my therapist. If I’m feeling particularly sad or frustrated or stuck, I WILL write a journal-esque entry and bury it deep, deep in my Google docs with a title like “american gov notes 1/23/19.” But it’s not every day, and it never has been.
Except it clearly used to be. Over the past day, I’ve read about 200 pages of self-insert fanfiction that I wrote over three years, every night, as a pre-bedtime ritual. I don’t explicitly air grievances about my day to day middle schooler life in the writing, but it’s there subtextually. I can see how the things I was feeling and seeing and going through were represented in these sappy, saccharine preteen perceptions of romance, adult friendship, and fiscal responsibility. This is what reading that writing now taught me about who I was and what I thought as a kid:
I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to be 5’4”. I wanted to marry a writer, a musician, or a dark wizard.
There are mentions of hot pink velour Juicy Couture tracksuits in more than one place. I also talk about crimping my hair at one point, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what that meant.
Madonna, for some reason, shows up in the Gilmore Girls one. Taylor Lautner is also there. There is reference to now-D-list Hollywood couple Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, who I’m pretty sure aren’t a couple anymore? But maybe they are? Who knows. It’s 2019. The Hills is coming back. All bets are off.
The height of romance is sleeping in separate beds until your wedding night, even when you’re living together. It is also yelling at each other until someone laughs. It’s ALSO constantly telling your partner how in love you are with them, and how beautiful they are—this last part has absolutely no connection to the fact that I was definitely reading Twilight as I was writing these.
22 is the perfect age to get married. All I wanted from my wedding day was a hair and makeup team, a romantic first dance, and “to get more attention than I ever had” (this is the only direct quote you’re getting today).
Housewarming parties occur the day you move into a new apartment, and they consist of you and all your friends splatter painting a bare white bedroom wall. To get a plane ticket, you have to call the airport, and that’s it. Apartment 110 is on the third floor of a building. When you publish a novel, your income comes from royalty checks sent to you directly from bookstores. Madonna takes you shopping in Hollywood to get a dress for your husband’s movie premiere (seriously, I’ve never even really been a big fan of Madonna. Why is she there? Had I just watched A League of Their Own? Did I discover Like a Prayer that year? This is the one thing I can’t explain away).
I am constantly justifying how I can afford the things I have in these fictional worlds, constantly feeding myself more money to allow myself to follow my passions. The biggest luxury is having my own subscription to Entertainment Weekly. The best gift someone could give me for my first year wedding anniversary is Beatles Rock Band.
Between the gag-inducing romantic scenes and possibly very out of character declarations of love from these famously withholding fictional guys, there is such a deep affection for the worlds of the things I’m writing myself into. I notice that the narratives, if outlandish, always follow the rules of the worlds. I notice that I would erase and rewrite dialogue from non-me, non-love-interest characters over and over until it sounded like it could conceivably come out of a character of that world’s mouth, which shows me something about where I’ve ended up.
I’m telling you all of this because it was really valuable for me, ten years later, to look back on the stuff I produced and see what has changed. What has been brought into perspective. What hasn’t (obviously, I’ve yet to have a great romance, so some of the sweet boy stuff I wrote for 12-year-old me still sounds pretty good).
I’ve been having a really difficult time remembering who I am in this weird post-grad, pre-first-post-grad-job time. To quote the seminal Cotton-Eyed Joe, revisiting middle school Sarah’s inner life has reminded me where I come from and where I can go. It’s reminded me that it’s okay for priorities to change over time—that it’s okay for me to change over time as I learn and experience new things. To be sure, I would be mortified if anyone ever read these novel-length piles of angst and fear and desire, but maybe I’ll feel that way in ten years about the things I write today.
I hope that I’m always able to look at the things I’m writing in the context in which I was writing them. I hope that, even if I’m really embarrassed about something I used to be proud of, that I can always see what it was that led me to be proud of it.
I hope that I will experience a million new, wonderful things that will give me a million reasons to be embarrassed about the people I used to be. I think that’s all we can hope for.
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth, and then, some time that week, he created people—some of whom are tall, some of whom like to dance, some of whom can only sleep at night if their thermostat is turned to exactly 71.3 degrees, some of whom have been eating mayonnaise and relish sandwiches their whole lives without anybody ever telling them that’s gross. Some of these people live and work and breathe pretty easily, while others need to take lots of little pills and spill their guts to a therapist once a week just to get out of bed in the morning.
My great grandmother, Ida Gomer Abrams, was the only of her five siblings to be born in America. The family came over from the Russian Pale of Settlement to escape anti-semitic pogroms and to start over in a space where there was more opportunity. Bubby Ida grew up in Philadelphia and married my great grandfather, Manuel Abrams, a business owner. She raised two beautiful children, my Zayda Marvin and my Aunt Eydie, and lived into her 90s. I never knew her before she got sick, but, by all accounts, she cared fiercely about her family, loved to help out, and was an amazing storyteller. Her life was long and rich, and she was loved by many, many people.
Bubby Ida also suffered from depression and anxiety—blanket diagnoses that, we suspect, would have been more accurately pinpointed as bipolar disorder in 2018. Bipolar is categorized by periods of low emotional lows and high emotional highs, lasting weeks and months at a time, leaving you without a middle ground. You’re up, you’re down, and, regardless of where you’re at, you feel a whole lot. Bubby Ida was given the best care available at the time—which happened to be dangerous, now-defunct methods of treatment—and then sent home. Although she wasn’t treated until late in her life (her treatment started in the late 1980s), my great grandmother was the product of an era of closed doors and whispers, of women being admitted to hospitals for “hysteria,” of locking away people whose brains showed signs of missed connection. True mental health care was virtually nonexistent.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the winter of 2016. My mom was diagnosed about 30 years earlier than that. Our grandmother was a survivor, and so are we. We make our way through life cognizant of the women who have come before, who have suffered with irregular emotions and brain chemistries and still managed to hold on to families and friends and people who love them. We are lucky that, in 2018, bipolar is named and treatable. We are lucky to have access to medication and therapy that helps to create the emotional baseline we’re not good at maintaining. And, just like Bubby Ida, we’re lucky to be loved and supported by brilliant people who see us for so much more than our disorder.
A few months after my diagnosis, I went to Israel. The trip was challenging for me, ethically and emotionally, but I came back with a lot of new, Jewish perspective. I’d always known about “Chai,” the Hebrew symbol for “life,” but I never knew its larger connotation. My tour guide talked about how, in Hebrew, “life” encompasses “the will to live.” It acknowledges your struggle and raises you love—Chai means you are good and honest and kind despite how you may be hurting. I thought a lot about Bubby Ida, and my mom, and the other strong, kind, mentally ill, Jewish women in my family, and I thought about how well we embrace life and love despite living with brains that often want us to do the exact opposite.
This play came out of that generational self-love that I work at every day of my life, out of the acknowledgement that, yes, I have this thing with my brain, and, yes, people love me anyway, and I can love me anyway. I hope you enjoy it.
Hello! It’s mental health awareness month and that means a bunch of unsolicited perspective from me, your favorite mentally ill writer person. I want to talk to you about mental illness and accountability.
I normally think of myself as a good friend. I am generally a kind person. I am sensitive to the needs of others, I am chock full of love for the people around me, and I know how a mutually supportive friendship should look. With that said, sometimes, I am unkind. I am insensitive, I am bitter. I can be a vacuum, sucking all the positivity out of the air around me, gobbling up good and bad news and letting it attach to my insides without fully digesting. I know this.
There was a long time where I did not know this, where I understood only how other people’s actions were affecting me and not at all how my actions were affecting other people. I leaned too hard on friends and got mad when their backs couldn’t support the weight of all of our problems. I expected people to be receptacles, taking in all of the smog that was coming out of my mouth and turning it back around into clean air. This only works for so long, until the friendship short-circuits and everybody involved has to be hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning.
It is important to have other people to depend on. Ranting with friends is one of my favorite pastimes, but with is a crucial part of the equation. As it happens, because each person is on their own journey at any given moment in time, sometimes you’re in a rougher place than your friend and you need more space to rant than they do. “More space” does not equal “all of the space and then some.” It is so important to make sure you are not consistently dominating a very negative conversation. If you only reach out to somebody to rant, they learn to become stressed out at the ping of your text message, the sound of your voice.
I’m not writing this to make you feel like all of your friends resent you–on the contrary, the people who put themselves through the anxieties of situations like this love you very much and want you to be happy. But don’t be surprised when replies become less frequent or less in-depth.
As mentally ill people, we live under a great deal of constant stress. At first, realizing that I have been toxic and unfriendly and bad-at-friendship just put fuel in the fire of my self-hatred. I didn’t know how I’d allowed myself to treat my friends like they were rocks, assuming I could yell at them and (mentally) push them and shove them and they would not move or change or be affected in any way. By nature of caring about somebody, you are moved by them–imagine what would happen if that person you care about was driving you around a track at three hundred miles per hour while crying hysterically and expecting you to say encouraging, supportive things in response.
It is not easy to come to or stick to this realization. Mental illness makes it hard to have any kind of general sense of self worth to begin with. But, for me, knowing that I Have Been Bad actually made it a little bit easier to love myself. I Have Been Bad, but I am not always bad. I know how to be that kind of supportive friend that I need, and I know how I have felt when people have treated me like the rock in that weird metaphor I made before. Now that I’ve identified the problem, I can take the necessary steps to fix it–which takes a lot of back and forth, push and pull, and I may never master it, but I can try.
Unsurprisingly, I came to these conclusions with the help of lots of therapy and mood stabilizers. This is not entry-level stuff. But, regardless of where somebody is in their battle with mental illness, “I’m sorry I’m a jerk, it’s just that I’m mentally ill and I can’t help it,” is not an excuse. We all have the capability and faculty to recognize how our behavior affects the people we love. It’s our job to make sure we are as healthy as we can be for ourselves and our friends and family, who love us but are not ants who can carry sixteen times their weight or whatever ants can somehow do.
I told somebody this summer that I’ve kind of resigned myself to a life where I’m not happy all that much.
It’s not because I’m chronically pessimistic– which I am, but I’m working on it. It’s not like I’m intentionally shutting out the light from my life that would make me a happy person. I have a lot of really wonderful friends and family and they make me happy and I do some things that I really like that make me happy, too. It’s just, like. I’m being realistic. And I’m responding to a feeling that sneaks into my life every so often post-Bipolar II diagnosis.
Which is: every time I feel happy I feel like it’s a lie.
Every time I feel happy– when I have a good week, when I write something I like, when I’ve been singing, when I have a fun conversation with a friend, when I go outside and Do Something– I’m hit over the head with a dropped stomach and a tense breathing apparatus (a bunch of my other body parts get in on it, usually, but those are the Big Three).
That’s because, with my diagnosis, I’ve been told to expect three things: Big Sad, Big Happy, and Really Big Coming-Down-From-Big-Happy. I can’t trust my happiness because I’m never sure if it’s real or if it’s just a manic upswing. Is this rush of serotonin natural, or from my medication, or is it something else entirely? Is it a super-serotonin, from the depths of my mental illness, which shows up for a good time but not a long time? There’s no way to tell.
I rain on my own parade a lot of the time because it’s easier to BE Big Sad than it is to ANTICIPATE Big Sad.
Having a mood disorder that’s complemented by an anxiety disorder is great. You feel a lot, but worry constantly that you’re not feeling the right thing. You do things and are excited that you did something and then you question your own intentions and motivations until you can’t be excited about it anymore.
Brain: Get out of bed and greet the day! Now is no time for low-function!
Also Brain: Sit in bed and think all day about what could have possessed you to believe you were capable of getting out of bed and greeting the day!
I mentioned that I feel a lot. It’s great– like, unironically great. I am strikingly unambivalent. I’m like your mom, probably– not in the way that I always have the right answer to questions or make a really mean tuna casserole, but, like, in the way that I’ll post about you on Facebook and tag you so all your friends can see how proud I am of you. You probably will not like this about me. I also don’t really like this about me.
I have a love/hate relationship with love and hate. I don’t live life on a traditional spectrum– it’s like a seesaw, but, like, only one person is sitting on the seesaw. I think they forget they’re on a seesaw sometimes and then they, like, jump back awake and RUN to the other side of the seesaw just to change things up a little. One side at a time.
I don’t think I’m ever going to be living in a balanced-seesaw universe, pills or no pills.
Again, I unironically love my Big Feelings. They’re why I’m a good writer, and they’re why I’m a good friend. They’re also why I’m sometimes a bad friend and why I don’t like myself all that much a lot of the time. But, like. You have to find positives to your situation or you’ll explode (again, working on that optimism!!!!!!).
I think I’m writing this to let myself know that it’s okay not to be a chronically happy person as long as I’m not a chronically sad person. I may never live essentially happy, but, with help in the form of pills/therapy/friends/family/good theatre/good movies/good TV/good music, I also don’t have to live an essentially sad life.
I’m striving for ambivalence about the way I live, and I think, in the long run, that’s a happy thing.
Hello! Much has happened since I wrote an update! I’m here to tell you all about it!
First of all, I kind of had my first real introduction to Shakespeare. I read him a few times in high school, obviously, but I’d never really felt connected to his work in a way that was meaningful like so many other people-in-theatre I knew. I always thought that, if I’d really given it a try, I would really like him, but who has the time?
We first toured the Globe Theater, which was awesome for me as a theatre student as well as a history student. The Globe (well, not this Globe. This Globe was built in 1997 and is the age that I am, but the general Idea of a Globe) was the first theater that charged an admission fee, so yay for capitalism infiltrating our beloved artform. No, but, being there felt really affirming, like I was really a part of a tradition. I especially felt that way the next night when we stood and watched Much Ado About Nothing.
I cannot EXPRESS to you how much I loved this play and this production. My friend Eileen described Much Ado to me as “a smart, funny play for smart, funny people,” and I felt privileged to be a part of that demographic for three hours on my feet at Shakespeare’s Globe (yeah, we did the Groundling thing). I LOVE snark and quick-witted enemies-turned-lovers. I’ve never had a more magical experience in the theater– being outside, we also let the weather add to the magic when it started RAINING during BOTH OF THE WEDDINGS and we all cried.
I’ve done a lot of exploring London. I ate paella and drank sangria at Borough Market (because I’m not going to Spain, so I might as well pretend), toured the National Portrait Gallery (and was GIDDY over the portraits of all of my historical faves and least faves), got a free ring from a sweet man in Leicester Square, and saw two plays in one night (first one was great, second one was much-less-than).
(Here’s an obligatory picture of the sangria and paella because this is a wine blog, after all):
Then I went to Ireland!!!!! It was my first time out of the country and my second European country visited altogether so I was super excited. I got there alone (after lying to the customs officer accidentally and telling him I was staying with my Irish friend Riley Cassidy (which was only kind of a lie so it’s fine)) and spent the first night in an airbnb (which was super nice, highly recommend airbnbs in general while traveling) before meeting up with Jenn for our first FULL DAY IN DUBLIN!
We ate a full Irish breakfast, visited the Trinity College library (the famous one, with that beautiful ceiling), saw an exhibit about Oscar Wilde that happened to be out (there was no mention of Salome and I wanted my money back), went to this BIZARRE museum called Dublinia (I hate anything that looks life-like and is not actually alive and this museum was ONLY figurines that looked VERY MUCH ALIVE but VERY MUCH WERE NOT), went through Christ Church Cathedral (obviously I had nothing to physically DO there, but it was really beautiful), and ate dinner/had drinks in the Temple Bar district! We were told it was a tourist trap but did it anyway.
Dinner was at this trendy burger place and it was DELICIOUS. I also got my first Dublin Wine there, a pretty good Riesling, which they served to me in this cup:
Here is where I’m going to explain to you how the Irish population is the kindest population I’ve come across so far. We thought we had to drink a beer in the Temple Bar district in Dublin, because that is just what you do. The problem for me? I hate beer. We got to Norseman’s Pub and I asked the bartender to give me a “beer for people who don’t like beer.” I was a little afraid I’d be kicked out of the pub, but everyone around me laughed in a non-condescending way and they served me Orchard Thieves cider, which is the MOST DELICIOUS THING I’VE EVER TASTED and they ONLY HAVE IT IN A FEW PLACES IN LONDON and I’m ALREADY JONESING FOR IT.
We also listened to a local musician play and it was all pretty ideal.
We went back to our hostel, which was a less-than-savory experience on my part (if you wanna know about it, shoot me a message. It’s too much to explain in this positive blog-space). The next morning, we started the day by touring Dublin Castle, which is not so much a castle anymore as it is a place for state dinners and other official government events, but our tour guide was really cool and taught us all about the history of the place. It also occurred to me at this moment that I am, probably, going to hold a job as a historical tour guide at a point in my life.
We went from there to visit Dad (the statue of Oscar Wilde) and went through two beautiful parks (Merrion Square Park and St. Stephen’s Green). We tried to tour St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but it was closed for a graduation ceremony, so we just laid on the grass for a while.
Then we met up with our good pals Riley and Josh and went on the Guinness Storehouse Factory Tour! It was a really cool thing. At the end, we all got a free pint– the first beer I’ve ever had that I’ve ever enjoyed. They say that Guinness tastes best in Dublin because, in all other places, it needs to be coated in preservatives:
We went from there to dinner where I got aNOTHER glass of Dublin Wine, an eh Rose (I say eh because it cost me 7 euros and no sane person should ever spend 7 euros on a glass of wine that has about 2 ounces of wine in it, but I digress):
We went out to a bar after that and hung out and then Jenn and I left and spent the entire, miserable night at the airport before getting back home and PASSING OUT FOR 14 HOURS. Travel is exhausting.
This week was mostly about class and hanging out with our visiting pals from Arezzo, who were spending part of their fall break here.
I did a really cool thing by myself this weekend and it was doing an overnight trip on my own. I went to Liverpool! THE Liverpool, the one where the Beatles happened!
It was honestly one of my favorite experiences of my life! On my first day, I did the Beatles Museum, which was a really emotional experience for me and the 60 year old ladies I was grouped with. It was a seriously cool exhibit and I had a blast.
I went from there to The Cavern Club (a super famous early Beatle venue), where I had a pint of Guinness (to see if it really does taste better in Ireland– it does) and watched a John Lennon dead ringer play Beatles covers for an hour.
I went back to my airbnb after that and spent the evening relaxing. It’s nice to spend the night in a comfortable bed by yourself while you watch TV and plan your next day in a really cool city.
The next morning, I walked down to Penny Lane, which, in truth, is kind of a dump, but it’s SO FUN to know I’ve been there. Like the garbage person I am, I decided to listen to the SONG Penny Lane as I walked through Penny Lane. I stopped to take a picture just as John was singing “All the people who come and go stop and say hello,” and the second I turned around and began to walk again an old man passing me by smiled at me and said hello. DIVINE INTERVENTION! JOHN LENNON WAS THERE WITH ME IN THAT MOMENT!
I spent the rest of the day walking around and enjoying myself. I also got my Liverpool Wine, which was a DELICIOUS Rose (I say DELICIOUS because it did not cost me 7 euros) with my delicious ramen:
Not much has happened since then, but I wanted to conclude by sharing something that happened yesterday. I had just seen a show for class (St. George and the Dragon at the National Theater) and I was walking around feeling kind of #abroadsad. I came upon a Foyles, which is England’s Barnes and Noble equivalent except their student discount doesn’t suck. I ended up in the poetry section and this tiny book of Leonard Cohen poetry jumped out at me. The day before, I’d been listening to a podcast where a rabbi was talking about using Leonard Cohen’s music in her services, which made sense to me because a lot of his work was #Jewish and #Mystical. It just felt right to buy the book.
The second I walked out of the store, I saw a rainbow over the London Eye, so I figured somebody up there didn’t want me to be sad (I think it was Carrie Fisher, because it was her birthday).
I’ve got a lot of exciting things coming up! Nadia, my coolest and most cherished friend, is coming to visit me (!!!!), I’m going to Paris and Frankfurt (!!!!), and living in London is just pretty sweet.
Hello to anyone who reads the things I write! I’ve been busy (the good kind of busy). I’m actually at a bit of a low point right now, so I thought I’d sit down and recount some of the awesome stuff I’ve done since last I left you.
I can’t express how many wonderful surprises there have been for me as a person abroad. I always kind of wonder and worry about how things are going to go and, most of the time, it turns out better and more interesting than I expected.
For example, something I’ve discovered is that LONDON LOVES LOX AND CREAM CHEESE! In case you’re someone who’s never met me and you’re just reading my blog for the #laughs, you should know that I am Jewish and constantly yelling about it. I love Jewish food more than most else, so this British lox-and-cream-cheese thing has been GREAT (especially because it’s way cheaper here than it is in the states). I also found Mandel at the Sainsbury’s near Goldsmiths, so I’m sitting pretty (and introducing a bunch of non-Jews to the wonderful world of small, yellow, rectangular carbs).
We’ve done SO MUCH since our foray into modern art at the Tate. We went to a petting zoo (and formed a girl band), went to a science museum (where I found out my last name has never been common to London. Go figure), did a boat tour on the Thames (a thinly veiled excuse for a Booze Cruise), explored the Camden outdoor market, saw the palace where Princess Diana/Queen Victoria lived, and saw a bunch of theatre (Dreamgirls, Aladdin, and Evita on the West End)! We also did a few more things that I’ll explain in fuller detail here!
We had one day that, for me, was a Day™ among days.
I don’t need to go through that spiel that everyone in my generation has about how important Harry Potter is to them– I’ve certainly written enough on that subject in my life. I’ve always been That Harry Potter Kid, which doesn’t make me special, but definitely makes me part of a larger cultural zeitgeist associated with my generation. We understand the world through the larger lens of the Potterverse (sometimes this is bad, like when people compare the sitting president to a Hogwarts professor instead of dealing with the reality of who we are dealing with, but I digress). I always like to say that the Great Millennial Equalizer is fighting about Harry Potter. We all know our houses (Ravenclaw), wand types (11 inches, maple, rigid, unicorn hair), and patronuses (gray squirrel, go figure), and we all have opinions on every little detail of what happens in the series.
So, it meant a lot to me to get to go to King’s Cross and see “Platform 9 and ¾.” OBVIOUSLY I KNOW that Platform 9 and ¾ is a WORK of FICTION, but it was so much fun to stand in that line and wait to get my picture taken with my house scarf and a wand. I always like being in situations where loving a thing is what you have in common with the people around you– that line wasn’t short, and it takes a dedicated person to wait for a photo-op with a prop.
That day was also special because I got to see Abbey Road.
I know it’s passé at this point to love The Beatles, but I LOVE The Beatles. I always have and I always will. My parents introduced them to me when I was very young and they’ve always been a part of my life– frankly, part of the reason I came to London at all was my proximity to Beatle Landmarks. Being able to walk in their shoes was honestly thrilling. You can ask KC, who cried with me when we got a chance to write on the wall of the studio, surrounded by fans of all shapes and sizes (my dad and I danced to “In My Life” at my Bat Mitzvah, so I had to do this):
Something that’s been really important so far in terms of keeping myself grounded is the people I’m with. This Muhlenberg crew is pretty much the best crew you could ask for in terms of people to laugh with, to cry with, to repeat minute lines from Gilmore Girls with (i.e., season 4, episode 13’s “Nice spin! You should work for Bush!”), and to get one-pound fries from Gateway Chicken with (seriously– we have this place across the street where you give them one pound and they give you more fries than you should be able to eat in a sitting by yourself (somehow, we manage)).
I haven’t cried nearly as much so far as I’d expected to. Today was kind of a rough day– we went to Brighton (our first time out of the city!), which would have been lovely if I hadn’t been in such a bad mood from the start. We were up very early and we commuted a very long distance and basically the second we got off the bus I fell and cut up my knee. It was very windy and cold and I was upset that I couldn’t let myself enjoy it as much as I’d hoped, but I soldiered on and ended up having a nice time with nice company.
A fact of abroad life is, sometimes, you’re going to feel not-great, and it’s not going to be anybody’s fault. You’re really far from home, you’re really far from a lot of your friends and support systems, and you’re exhausted from doing stuff almost constantly. It’s nice in moments like these (like tonight for me) to step back, look at the cool people you have in your life (here and at home), and write out a blog post about the adventures you’ve already had being abroad for only a couple of weeks!
(Don’t worry– I didn’t get any wine in Brighton, but we had such a long day that I got some when we got home at one of our favorite local pubs, The Fat Walrus).
I’ll leave you with some unbelievably on-brand pictures of me taken in the past week.
This is from the Camden market. I took a picture of it because it’s just gross and wine-momish enough to end up on this blog.
From Abbey Road.
Hello! I’m here in merry old England! There’s a lot to say!
Everyone’s got their abroad blog things that they do to keep track of everything that’s been going on since they left the United States and I am no different… BUT, I wanted to make my Abroad Blog (Ablog? Abrog? No, that’s nothing) a little uniquely Sarah Jae. So. This is my W(h)ine Blog.
It’s a well documented fact that I love wine and I also know absolutely nothing about wine. I’m about as much of a sommelier as I am a rocket scientist– if you put a wine in front of me I’ll probably just be like, “Yup, I’ll drink this,” and that’s kind of it. This is less of a blog about wine than it is a blog about what I’m doing when I’m DRINKING wine– I plan to try a different wine in every city I visit and give some kind of account of both the wine and the experience when I return to blog!
It’s so nice to be under 21 and permitted to drink as much wine as I want! What a luxury!
I haven’t done a lot of traveling in my life– the last time I was on a plane was to Israel and before Israel the last time I was on a plane was age 8. The plane ride to England was particularly daunting because I literally have never flown completely unaccompanied– Birthright was different because there was at least some supervision and structure. It felt very adult and strange.
Going along with that feeling, my European Wine Journey actually begins on the plane! Behold, my ambiguous airplane red wine (alongside my surprisingly-not-terrible airplane General Tso’s Chicken):
I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not I’d be allowed to order wine on the plane, but the kid sitting next to me did it, and he couldn’t have been older than 19, so I mustered up a tiny bit of confidence and ASKED and RECEIVED.
The wine wasn’t great, but I felt super cool drinking it. It also calmed me down a little bit– not only did we have a decent amount of turbulence, but the aforementioned kid sitting next to me would literally tent his hands and pray out loud every time there was the slightest rocking of the plane. Like, PLEASE do not bring the divine into this right now! I’m trying to sit here and NOT think about my own mortality as I’m trapped in this weird metal tube flying through the sky at hundreds of miles an hour!
Also, remember that part at the end of Say Anything where Lloyd and Diane are on the plane and Lloyd’s like, “You’re safe once the seatbelt/no smoking sign goes off”? YEAH. OURS KEPT COMING BACK ON. IT’D GO OFF AND THEN IT WOULD COME BACK ON. Sometimes I wish my brain wasn’t so saturated with facts and figures I learned from movies– I never felt fully safe on the plane because Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything told me otherwise!!!!
But, speaking of movies, I had the pleasure of watching some of my favorites on the plane to drown out the immediate fear of my impending death-by-turbulence– I watched When Harry Met Sally, followed by 2 Harry Potter movies, because I am the worst, and I never watch anything I haven’t already seen 100 times.
Getting OFF the plane was also stressful! I passed through immigration without incident, tried to go buy a SIM card, aaaaand my card was rejected. I tried to take out money from an ATM, my card was rejected. I basically was just standing in Heathrow, hysterically crying, on the phone with my dad (at 2AM America time, god bless), trying to figure out what was going on. We eventually sorted everything out with the bank (they placed a hold on my account even though I told them I was going to England!!!!), but it was UNDUE STRESS!
But then I found Muhlenberg friends! Muhlenberg friends are great! We met up and waited for the shuttle and watched all of the Baltimore Ravens and their fans make their way through the airport (the Ravens are here to play American football which is just? Super weird? I don’t get it?).
Taking the shuttle to school was kind of surreal because the fact that we were not in America came into focus for the first time– we drove on the left, passed a bunch of towns with -shire or -sham as a suffix, saw the London Eye for the first time (!!!!), and tried desperately to keep each other awake. It worked! We got to school and moved in and I tried to nap but couldn’t on account of all the caffeine I’d consumed in preparation for the day.
We explored the neighborhood a little bit, shopped a little bit, and hung out a little bit. Our eating/sleeping schedules were thrown off, but we all wanted to eat dinner around 8pm– we went to this pub right down the street from school called The Rose and ate some of the best margherita pizza I’ve ever had in my life. It’s also where I got my first London wine, a really delicious rosé (Get it? Rosé at The Rose?):
It was nice to get everyone together on our first night. We got home from dinner and I basically passed out until morning– I’d been awake 30 hours, which did wonders for my emotions. I needed that sleep.
We got up early yesterday morning and had the absolute loveliest day! A bunch of us went to this ADORABLE cafe down the street called Out of the Brew (where I can see us spending a LOT of time in the next three months). I got fresh mint tea and a croissant with cheese and tomatoes (which I didn’t order… I ordered a butter croissant, but she gave me the one with tomatoes, and I have always shuddered at the idea of eating tomatoes in anything that is not sauce or ketchup, but I bit the bullet and ate the tomatoes and apparently I’m an adult now because it was delicious!).
The mint tea was neat because it was literally just a cup of hot water with mint leaves in it… Which is when I realized that tea is literally just leaves in water. I don’t know why this was such a shocking moment for me. Like… What else would tea be.
From there, we went to a campus tour and a library tour. I really like the Goldsmiths campus– we’re clearly in a city, but there’s really a palpable campus atmosphere that I’d miss if it weren’t here!
We got back from our tours and decided to spend the day in REAL DOWNTOWN LONDON. It was a touristy event and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Seeing Big Ben and the parliament building for the first time was surreal!!!! I can’t believe I’m finally here!!!
We made our way over to the British Museum following our touristy jaunt through the Times Square of England… I swear to God, I felt like a kid in the world’s coolest and most extensive candy store. Like, if you give a mouse a cookie… If you give a history major the British Museum… Same basic concept. We didn’t make it through even half of the museum– I know I will be back (it’s free! How could I not go back!).
Also, y’all probably know about my Thing for Art from the AIDS Crisis– to make a long story short, I find the narrative of the AIDS crisis very similar to the narrative of the Holocaust, and I feel very connected to that art because I understand what it’s like to know you’ve lost an entire, critical generation of your people. The museum had an LGBT history exhibit where I discovered this Australian artist named David McDiarmid, an HIV-positive visual artist who died in the 90s and dedicated his art to safe sex, education, and prevention. He has this series I really loved called the Rainbow Aphorisms… Here’s my favorite, because it’s so cruelly, darkly funny:
When we got back from downtown (after our first Tube trips!), we went out to celebrate my birthday in an event we named “Saucy London.” It was a lot of fun! It’s nice to have the freedom to do and be where we want, when we want.
Class starts next week, and soon I’m gonna start traveling, so expect many more recounts of my adventures in wine-ing and whining. Cheerio!
If you’ve talked to me at any point in the past month, I’m certain this is how the conversation went:
You: How are you doing?
Me: I’m alright. I’m going to Israel soon.
You: Wow! That’s exciting.
Me: Is it? Because I’m going on Birthright, and historically Birthright has kind of been an Israeli propaganda machine, and I really don’t want to be complicit in that, because I’m JEWISH, but I’m not, like, one of Those, you know? Like, I totally recognize that the Israeli government is fraught with unexamined human rights issues and I don’t want to go to Israel and get brainwashed and come home without the ability to think critically about my own heritage. And IS it my own heritage? Plenty of non-Jewish people were in Israel for a really long time before we showed up and took everything over. Is this really my Birthright? Whose Birthright is it?
You: *Makes a mental note never talk to me ever again about anything ever.*
So. Yeah, for me, to-go-or-not-to-go on Birthright was not the easiest decision I’ve ever made.
There is way too much I could say about my experience. Instead of trying to write a clear, focused post about it, I’m going to jump back and forth between thoughts I had and their impact on my experience. Here’s some of the more critical stuff.
There’s a lot more, but that’s what’s coming into my mind right now.
Here’s some positive stuff.
My name is Sarah Jae Leiber. I have chronic hiccups, I love to sing, I’m allergic to cinnamon, and I’m a Jewish woman.