Birthday Cake

Blog Entries, Essays

Throughout my years of attending birthdays, I will posit that all cakes can fit safely and neatly into a few general categories:

1. Oh, It’s Birthday Cake

It’s the type of cake with frosting and scripty lettering, decadent flowers and artistic flourishes. The cake itself is either brown or yellow, but that’s not to say chocolate and vanilla because the taste is either too rich and sweet, or else altogether bland and boring; the texture is chalk-dry and yet greasy. There are too many air bubbles, making it feel like you’re eating frosting floating in the clouds, or on a layer of soap, usually depending on how much you like the birthday boy/girl.

2. Wait, Hold On, That’s Actually Good

Then there’s the type of cake (usually homemade) that the first obligatory nibble becomes something of a moment of pleasant discovery: that it is in fact really tasty. You might find yourself going back for a second piece, which in itself is remarkable, because you had been going strong on your diet for three months. What isn’t remarkable is how you stash the second piece on the festive-print paper plate, hidden under a matching (and quite useless, you’ll agree) napkin in a corner of the room. Then you go for thirds. Because, you, know, the other piece dropped or something. You can justify this sort of behavior because the second (or is it the third?) piece is actually being saved for a friend.

3. What Were You Thinking Cake*

A well-deserving third category, this is the sort of cake that demands an entirely different response than polite acceptance/decline, or feverish stashing. The first reaction is, “What were you thinking?”

I’m talking carrot cake. Strawberry jelly stuff that jiggles, and causes lightheadedness upon eating. Paleo brownies that taste like tar. ‘Slightly burnt’ granola-oatmeal concoctions that require a chisel and a skilled foreigner to extract the edible portions. The sorts of things that cause others to talk softly to you and offer cryptic recommendations for homeopathic remedies, telling you it’ll really ease the stress — whatever that’s supposed to mean — and they line up for thirds with sympathetic eyes even though they’re strict carnivores and shouldn’t be eating anything vegetarian but they just can’t resist one more bite. 


*Thanks to Moshe Delerb of The Long Short Way for bringing this to my attention

Blessing on the Mango

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It is with humble gratitude that I offer thanks to the One Who is Most High, King of all Kings and indeed of all things, viz. hidden and revealed, Above and Below, G-d Himself and no other, for there is no other like Him nor unlike Him who can be compared or not compared, for he alone created Heaven and Earth and all that is in them —

— with the inclusion of this here mango, whose juices flow from its plump circumference with beneficent abundance, whose rich and tasteful meat-flesh has thusly been deposited into my open and grateful maw, and whose nutritional properties will certainly sustain me throughout the indeterminate duration of the —

— prayers that follow this event of ingestion, this act of consumption; whose sugars will excite me to exclaim aloud my rapture for His Creations; whose yellow radiance will inspire visions of His Divine Light as I enumerate and delineate that for which I am eternally and internally thankful and hold in appreciation, and am in general and in particular in many ways —

— seen and unseen by some or all… totally or partially undeserving of, for my words and thoughts and actions are wholly inconsistent at times with the true emotions and deep contemplations of my mind and heart, which are, once again and for all time, represented by the homely and comely shape of that splendid fruit, the mango…

(Amen.)

Labyrinth

Blog Entries, Stories

Pisky Pisky was bitter. He couldn’t see a bigger picture to life. He was just a mouse, and all he did was chase after cheese. It took a while to find it, through twisting, turning alleyways, but it was satisfying in the end. He liked cheese.

Pisky Pisky (or just ‘Pisky’ for short) sort of knew that there was more to life than the labyrinth, but it was an abstract idea, a vague concept that only got fuzzier with repetition. The Maze was life. Every day, there was cheese to chase. Pisky wasn’t the best cheese seeker, but he did try. His nose was good, but he had trouble following the path to the cheese. He kept lunging headfirst into stone walls, unyielding. It was very frustrating. He could smell cheese behind this wall, right around that corner. But always, he was stopped short by a wall. It seemed like his only option was to totally and utterly ignore his instincts. He had to let go of the urge to claw through the wall (it never worked), and go back the way he came, though it was farther from his goal. Perhaps there would be another path.

As the scent of cheese grew fainter, Pisky was struck with a feeling of deep sadness and fear. His fear was the fear of losing the scent. And the sadness was a deep hopelessness. Cheese always seemed within his grasp, yet there was an insurmountable obstacle in his way every time.

Pisky was very hungry, but he began to take a certain pride in the pain he endured. The cheese was clearly unattainable, and he wouldn’t be the fool to claw at the walls when there was no hope. He developed a bitter pity for himself. He hadn’t asked for this life, he reminded himself, as the little mousy tears gathered in his eyes.

He was very weak. With his waning strength he dragged himself to as distant a corner of the Maze he knew of and collapsed in a sobbing bundle of fur and bones. The smell of cheese was so far away it was almost a memory, but the gaping hole in his stomach was real and bottomless. But Pisky ignored it. He was numb to it now. He didn’t even want cheese anymore — who even did? — and his vengeful tears were free-flowing. It was the unfairness of it all, the injustice! Someone was responsible. Someone had caused this to happen. If only he know who was to blame, Pisky hoped they felt guilty. And with this last triumphant thought, this bittersweet moment of shallow victory within his defeat, the mouse called Pisky Pisky died.

 


(Written in response to this daily prompt: Someday )

The Turn

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Another drink.

There, that makes it go fuzzy. At this point I’m good. At this point, I’m not mad at him anymore. He’s a mere mortal. He’s way beneath me; I’m floating overhead. I’m far, far above, soaring, focusing my eagle-eye vision at the world below, seeing what they can’t see. What a clear view I have.

He just wanted to have a good time, I realize. Nothing personal. I was simply not part of the equation. I smiled in my mind, the understanding spreading across me slowly, arm to arm, a glowing feeling, hot and sparkly: a firework, detonating in time with my epiphany.

Bottle’s empty, time for a new beer. Were there any, cold? But Past Me had thought ahead. Past Me knew that Future Me (Present Me to you) would be wanting an additional beer at this point. The freezer. I stood… and swayed. What a satisfying, swooping feeling. My mind in perfect control but enjoying the sense of imbalance. Beer. Cold, and I looked for an opener but I didn’t need one. Domestic beers open on a turn. No external tools needed. No obstacles. By now the taste is only bubbly and cold. No flavor. It could be club soda, but it’s not. There’s a dark abyss and I’m falling, but not in panic. Not at gravity’s whim, but at my own. Floating gently. As I see fit. Only, I can’t pick the direction. That has been determined. I’m going down, down. Far beyond the open door. The lock, another obstacle, forsaken. The key in my hand, now just an object of vague value. Heavy, useless.

My mind is heavy. If only I could remove it, put it on my night table and douse the light, then the darkness would be peaceful. But for now it is sinister, with subtle shadows given life, and manipulated by my dancing eyes.

I drink for some inner demon now, for I no longer enjoy the taste nor the feeling. My closed eyes invite the swirling, the now-sickening twisting world of colored lights, distorted faces, mocking eyes. Flashes of the past, premonitions of the future, and one more drink is all I need. Now tears find paths where before was dry land, pouring hotly from the high places, from behind closed lids.

To drink, to escape, to go back to what was, the golden days, yesteryear, nostalgia’s nostalgia. One more, but the bottles in the freezer will turn to ice and explode, surely… But that’s not my concern. Nothing is, except darkness.

 


 

{written in response to this daily post: “Retreat“}

The Fulton Street Drummer

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He’s not just a busker. He not in it for the money. It’s the music that he cares about; it’s what drives him to play the beat that he alone can hear. That only he can feel, which runs along in his head and clamors to get out, to be set free, so he sets up his drums by the A/C/E platform and plays.

His set consists of three overturned buckets, and deep welts on them show evidence of the hard plastic’s deep familiarity with his third-hand drumsticks. With feverish intensity he pounds out his song, only it’s not a song but a frequency, a pulse in the air that he gives life to. He’s the heart pumping blood to the extremities, to the bowels of the New York subway.

Yet, despite the gravity of his position, the Fulton Street Drummer seems to genuinely enjoy himself. He’s smiling, though his eyes are mostly closed in that blissful way of those entranced. There’s a slight sheen on his face. It seems to be sweat from exertion, or perhaps an inner flow that radiates outwards. He knows his work is vital; he’s spreading the message. If he looks up — and he doesn’t, ever, but if he did — he’d see commuters bobbing their heads, tapping their feet in time with the rhythm. He doesn’t see them, but he doesn’t have to. He knows. He can feel their vibes bouncing back to him. He can feel their energy responding to his, and in turn he responds to them, mirroring their reflection, echoing their echo. He plays and plays. Nothing can stop him. After all, the Fulton Street Drummer is not just a busker.

Mickey

Blog Entries, Stories

Mickey wasn’t his real name, but that was what he’d always been called. He didn’t know his real name. At some point, it didn’t really matter anymore, right? Who knew what his biological mother had called him? And honestly, who cared? Names were arbitrary designations useful for distinguishing one person from the next. A personal title, something to write on a nametag. Mickey was past caring that he didn’t have an official paper to document his birth name, but what did bother him was his lack of birthday. With his name, he had just been given another, but with his birthday, despite his foster mom’s best intentions, the new one didn’t quite stick. For the first few years since the adoption, Mickey enjoyed the attention thrown his way, sang along with “Happy Birthday to you”, blew out four, five, six candles on the cake, and made wishes for silly things. But something rang false at these parties, the cake tasted just too sweet… Even as a kid Mickey knew it was all pretend.

The orphanage had not known his real age, and the number of candles each year was the result of a guess. When he realized that March 17th was actually the date his foster mother had miscarried, the game was up. On what everyone pretended was his eighth birthday, Mickey looked into her eyes and said stonily, “I’m not your dead son.” He spent the rest of the day in his room crying, though not as hard as his foster mom did. After that, there were no more parties, even when she cautiously brought it up: “What day would you like to celebrate as your day, Mickey?” He didn’t have a good answer for that. He was being given a choice of any birthday in the year, and for a moment, January 1st was tempting—a clean slate, his ignorance corresponding to a new beginning. But it wouldn’t solve the problem. Birthdays anchor a person to the world within the objective, impersonal sea of time. Picking a day would not solve anything; he would still be adrift. Instead, Mickey did away with birthdays altogether, surrendering to the greater concept of time itself. There was no day for him to feel special, no anniversary of his first moment; of being, briefly, the youngest human, the newest arrival; nobody paid him attention that he hadn’t deserved by his own merit.

A consequence of this was that Mickey gradually lost track of what age he was supposed to be, which wasn’t difficult because he’d never been sure. He had little patience for his foster parents trying to do the math by comparing him to kids in his grade. “Let’s see, if Joey McCormack just turned fifteen; that means you have to be at least as old. I mean, you’re taller than him already… Your jeans are too short on you; we’ll need to buy some new ones…”

But Mickey tuned out these attempts. He was past his own age. He had moved onto bigger things: Time itself. It became an obsession. The only novels he read were exclusively in the genre of time-travel science fiction, and soon enough he started pursuing the philosophy of time, from Relativity to String Theory, devouring everything he could. His questions were ponderous: Why was an hour sixty minutes? Why not one hundred? And he spent many hours thinking of the answer. He grew sensitive to the changing seasons, and he spent hours out in the woods with his eyes closed, counting seconds and measuring his breath, until guessing the time was a habit he developed with increasing accuracy.

Despite the tenuous relationship they had with him, his foster parents found they had an easy task of selecting gifts for Mickey. Any book on time was appreciated, as well as little knick-knacks: sundials, hourglasses, and lately: watches. Mickey had three watches for each day of the week (which he changed every eight hours, naturally), unless there was a special occasion, for which he had a special watch. For example, when he took his SATs he wore a brand new Seiko for good luck. He had classic watches with analog faces, modern digital watches encrusted with buttons and indicators, smart watches whose faces would change based on his mood, and hybrids that were combinations of all of those. Some watch faces were quite cluttered, others were bare but for their minute and hour hands, and all boasted of some level of water resistance.

There was even an attempt at humor with a gift watch from his foster dad. It had the face of Disney’s most famous mouse; Mickey wasn’t amused. He didn’t throw it out though… he took time more seriously than that. In college he enrolled in some yoga and meditation classes, though his official major was History. He didn’t drink—his ID being an object of deep personal shame, documenting the lie of his fake birthday that his foster mother had decided upon when she’d adopted him. Besides, he wasn’t a partier. He cared deeply for meditation and living in the moment, managing to graduate a full year early despite his grueling schedule. His degree was useless, however, for his goal was loftier than materiel success: he wanted to become one with time itself, not bound by its rules; he wanted to transcend it.

He said goodbye to his foster parents and moved to Nepal to study from the monks there. He left his watches behind. He didn’t need them anymore. It was in Nepal that Mickey shed his name, brushing it like dandruff from his shoulder: an unwanted burden. From the monks he learned patience. Time slowed. The river of his life flowed on, but in his mind, he who was once Mickey could not often discern his individual existence from the Whole.

He lived for many years, but he didn’t count them, and they did not count him. When his final day came he was as still as a statue, unmoving, not even a ripple in the wind. His life’s river met the sea, and it swallowed him with its great embrace.

Another Morning in 770

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It’s morning, for now anyway. Talis and tefillin all around me – Shacharis in 770. The labored breathing of the A/C competes with murmured prayers and chazzans’ voices. Mostly, the A/C wins. The disgruntled make their rounds. Tzedakah. Guilt. Sorry, no cash. Averted eyes. Guilt. White brick wall, tables and benches caked with 7 layers of peeling Advil-colored paint. Coffee cups, garbage dumps. A hall full of bathroom stalls like a maze; a flush a minute, maybe more. The receding echo of a washing cup being filled, time to say thank you G-d, and isn’t ‘orifice’ a curious word? The entryway, people coming, people going, tissue throwing with now-dry hands, wet hair from mivka, Israeli banter, 1414 haircuts. Custom minyans: choose your cantor. Partitions, minyan cubicles. The hidden baal korehs amongst us, Torah spies; kohanim too, whose identity is revealed as the need arises. Fans whirring, blowing that 770 air around, spreading that 770 smell so it’s in your clothes, so it’s clinging to your hair. The smell of used books and neglected wood, and people. Some homeless, some cologned, most with stale coffee breath-

Stand as one in sudden kedusha salute, raising heels and answering in unison like a flash mob. Tefillin piles. Books and books. Stacked this way and that. A mound of books, a bag of week-old pastries, someone’s talis. Beard hairs on the floor. Black ones, brown ones, gray ones. Orange ones. White and blond hairs. A distracted habit, these signs of stress are everywhere, everywhere. Follicles, every step I take. Another curious word. Hairs in between the pages. Faded siddur covers bound with duct tape. The hoofbeat of tefillin boxes clapping shut, a cell phone rings. Talis-over-shoulder conversations, closed-eyed meditation. The woodpecker tap-tap-tapping of the bench fixer, fighting the good fight. The three step shuffle, I’m in the way, have to clear the bench to let someone through. The slap of the folding bench and oh, the shin’s pain from colliding with a bench’s metal frame. Vague rumbles of the 3 train. Just another day in 770.

What’s Been Up?

Blog Entries, Essays

I think the main reason I hate small talk is the repetition. You know? Saying things over again. And that’s what a lot of small talk comes down to. Where do you live? What do you do? It’s so hot outside. The cycle of repetition wears away the meaning of our words, and possibly even the ideas behind them. An introvert’s nightmare. For me, meeting a bunch of people in one sitting is exhausting. The enthusiasm [citation needed] of meeting someone new becomes stretched thin and more forced. The words become rehearsed, reduced to a memorized script. The present moment is transformed into a movie set, and my role is to interact with other performers as they go about their respective roles. Just remember my lines, then I can get back to trailer. There’s Netflix, and dried mango. But I digress.

There are things to talk about which I won’t have to repeat anymore – maybe – and hopefully I can justify what can arguably be called “neglect” of this blog, or worse.

In other words, here’s an update about me. If you’re beginning to yawn already, the rest of this post should put you to sleep. You’ve been warned.

Perhaps the loyal (if starkly silent) readership of this blog didn’t notice or care that I haven’t been posting much writing in recent months. But I’ll pretend someone cares, and I’ll graciously explain:

I spent the last few years in Wilkes-Barre, PA, accomplishing great deals of accomplishments. Among them, I acquired the formal training of a lovely skill known as Graphic Design. Now, any designer will tell you, Graphic Design is not one skill. There are so many facets to this jewel. It gets as exciting as photo manipulation, and important as logo design and branding, as slick-looking and tech-friendly as web UI/UX, and as tedious as setting and kerning type. There are book covers, app screens, print brochures, web ads, and much, much more. Related fields include animation, coding, advertising, and illustration.

And that’s all in one little title: Graphic Design.

Everyone has their specialties in life, and in graphic design, by choice or by default, nature or nurture, people have their strong points. My actual degree is in Graphic Design AND Advertising, which may not always be one and the same, but thankfully I got to explore both.

So now I’m a graphic designer/advertiser/writer. That’s a lot of labels. And it gets a little confusing. Existential questions arose in the course of my studies, such as:

“Does creativity work as a pool that one can only tap into so much before it’s depleted?” 

“Will my graphic design pursuits dip into my drive for writing and steal some of that creativity?”

“Does the focus on visuals make someone more shallow?”

I don’t have definitive answers for these questions. I can safely say that what helped me really write less was believing I couldn’t write well anymore. So, as a result, I didn’t write as much. After all, why go through the torture? You can write that tip down if you want.

As to whether visuals lead to superficiality, I have some theories. Maybe for another post.

In the meantime, I tried to do a bit of a site conversion here, shifting this into a website that can archive both my writing and my design work. Feel free to check out the Portfolio page of Abstractitude, but here’s the disclaimer: it’s still in progress. I will work on it from time to time, as… say, an elderly librarian who goes about her shelves with patience, a duster, and a retirement pension. Or a fastidious curator at a stereotypical museum from the movies, who cares more for inanimate artifacts than people. I’m getting to it, at what is a simultaneously constant and eventual rate.

And lastly, I hope to return to a regular writing schedule, because I’ve decided that writing and design aren’t mutually exclusive. In my life, for better or worse, they may have become mutually inclusive.

Thanks for reading. Now here’s a picture of a deer:

fallow-deer-984573_1920

No Matter Why

Blog Entries, Essays

Something I’ve noticed is that big companies promote their products with promises of meaning. Verizon may have done it best with their tagline: “Better matters.” Better mobile service, internet; more efficiency, go with us, we’re the better brand. And better matters. This is important.

Verizon

Mazda has a slightly vaguer message. They say, “Driving matters”. Does driving matter? This is trickier territory. Mazda believes it does, or at least wants you to think so. It’s important and meaningful, and ostensibly, Mazda takes it seriously too. Therefore, you should buy a Mazda.

Mazda.jpg

ConEdison is an energy company, and it makes sense that of any industry, they would be the one to mess this up. Deliciously ugly: “Everything matters.” In fact, they have a whole ad campaign with things like “Sunday Matters”, “Inspiration Matters” or “Trust Matters” as the headlines, with the ConEdison logo and tagline on the side. They’re like the unpopular kids at the tagline party who get good grades in school because they’re nerds but have no style and definitely no original tagline. And since “____ matters” is in, they run up, double-chin bouncing, whining, “Don’t forget about us! We’re cool, too!” Fumbling, catching their breath, wheezing – “Stuff matters! Things matter! EVERYTHING MATTERS.”

Con Ed

So sure Verizon and Mazda are giving ConEdison death looks, because hey, they just totally killed their vibe, am I right? Saying everything matters means that nothing really does. Everything has its place, but there must be a hierarchy of value for us to live lives and make conscious choices.

I don’t like the direction that these taglines take. It used to be, “We offer kick-ass mobile service”, and “We make sweet cars”. And that was…

What’s that ConEdison? You what? Speak up. “We sell lots of energy.”

Ah – ok. Thank you. Anyway, that used to be good enough. You needed a product, you picked your choice from the competition (assuming a free market economy) and life goes on. What’s with this “Blah blah blah matters?”

Advertising is nothing new. The thing I’m objecting to is that they’re targeting our values. It’s subtle, but if you just let an idea like potentially better mobile service having value sit in your head, it will have value. Driving will have value, if you let it be a repetitive tagline in your head.

The only time a tagline like that should be used is in art shops, where “Framing Matters” can be a whimsical pun that artsy types can get away with.

The Reaction

Blog Entries, Random

The excitement’s in my eyes as I say, “You have to see this.” I steer you to the phone or the computer where the video begins to play. I hide the title, of course. Why would I want to ruin the surprise? The video starts. All the while I am silent. If the video is funny, I am ready with my self-control to hold back laughter. Maybe you laugh, maybe not. Maybe the video is serious, and the self-control is not required for something humorous, but shocking instead.

The video ends. The air is thick with expectation. There’s a sticky silence that might as well be filled with, “Well, did you like it?”

But I say nothing. In fact, I’m holding my breath. Perhaps you are, too. And then the crucial moment, when you realize your time has come, that your reaction cannot be delayed any longer. Your opinion is demanded. You can hear your heart beat in your neck. Prickly drops of sweat tickle your forehead. My eyes are piercing, looking right at you, seeing through politeness, demanding the truth on pain of death, if the criticism is indeed that harsh. The lights dim; the room gets hot. The static buzz of electricity –