people

Finding the Flavor

It heals me.

Long before the first taste touches my lips, cooking gives me life.
One of my favorite things to do when I cook is to study the available ingredients and construct a new flavor, a new dish, something a little bit familiar and a little bit surprising.
As the pots boil and the pans sizzle, I feel my muscles relax, the tension release.
Cooking takes me away from my stresses in a similar way that music does. It encompasses me.
Cooking and I have had a tumultuous relationship. While I’ve always been very interested in it, I haven’t always been so good at it. Always chasing flavor, I tend to oversalt, which is a practice I’ve mostly stopped, but occasionally it’ll come back to haunt me.
But that’s my life in general. Always chasing flavor – which occasionally comes back to bite me. Always wanting more out of life, always wanting brighter colors, experiences that are meaningful and full of depth. Sometimes, wanting so much from life makes parts of life harder.
Cooking is one of my favorite things, but cooking for others takes it to a whole new level. Watching people I love enjoy the food, watching their energy levels climb back up is the ultimate reward. Not everyone loves cooking, but I know very few people who don’t love eating, and being able to be part of bringing them that simple happiness is a treasure I hold dear.
I’m no chef. I don’t know much about exotic dishes, my ingredients tend to be simple and cheap.
But my goal with every dish, whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner is that the flavor is rich. A simple scrambled egg, while comforting to many, is disappointing to me. When a dish, no matter what I try, comes out tasting a little empty, I feel like I didn’t do it justice.
Because every day is an opportunity for things to be better than they were yesterday. Settling for decent, settling for good when you could have incredible or delicious is not in my capabilities.
And I know that this part of me affects others. It makes me a little bit more stressed perhaps. Often, I’m told by others that perhaps I’m shooting a little too high.
But this is me. This is who I am, and I’m obviously not just talking about in the kitchen.
My love for cooking and for flavor-rich foods blends into every area of my life. I love potential. I love finding potential in things and doing my best to bring it to its fruition. Life, people, food, everything can be so complex, so detailed.
There are times in life that I need to just chill out, times I like taking a step back, breathing, not trying so hard.
But no matter what, I go to sleep happiest on the days I don’t need to compromise on the flavor.
Blog Post: 32/52

Featured Photo by Helena Yankovska on Unsplash

Making the Connection

One of my go-to phrases in life is:
“Ugh, I hate people.”

I know, I’m a lot of fun to hang out with.
Recently, my friend called me out on it.
She told me it was just a blatant lie on my part, honestly.
I protested, defending my everlasting dislike of the human species.
She didn’t buy it.
Which is a good thing, because it got me thinking.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, or I guess even about 15 minutes, you know I’m an introvert by nature. Occasionally someone will find me sitting in my room, light off, listening to music or watching something. They always assume the light off was an act of laziness on my part, and flick it on, and always, always, it feels like an invasion of my privacy. The darkness allows me to be truly alone. No distractions. No one else but my own mind.
But then, on the flip side, there is not much I enjoy more than walking the busy streets of New York City. Quite literally the most opposite experience. I get a thrill from the people, from writing their stories in my head, from the crowds.
Sometimes I’ll hang out with friends, or go to a social gathering, and I’ll come home on a high. And then the next morning, someone could ask me if I want to go somewhere…and my first thought will be “ugh, I hate people.”
This is the thing:
I absolutely hate small talk.
No matter what, you will never find me comfortably chatting about the little things.
I hate talking about the little things.
Like the weather. Or what we do. Or where we’re from.
I’ve heard continuously from people “without small talk, how does one make new friends?”
Trust me, I’d rather make a new friend by talking about my deepest secrets from when I was eight than to chat with them about what I do today.
Oh, by the way, one of the worst versions of small talk is when someone tries to start a conversation with you that can’t possibly happen right then, like in the moments between a speaker finishes and begins their sentence, or as you’re about to cross the street, or when there are people around that can’t be a part of the conversation.
Most social settings are filled with moments like these.
Hence, my dislike for people.
I hate people.
I love people.
Recently, I had to get into the front seat of a Lyft. Naturally, being me, I prefer to sit in the back, look out the window, and listen to the music.
This time, I was with friends and they had taken the back. When they came to pick me up, my only option was the front seat.
I got in, I turned to catch up with my friends, and at one point the driver joined our conversation.
We did no introductions, I did not ask him how many years he has been a Lyft driver for, I did not have to tell him who I was, where I lived.
But I learned a lot from that conversation.
As my friends in the back began to discuss something between themselves, I began a conversation with the driver.
He told me about his country, the differences between America and his homeland. He told me about the time he accidentally killed a deer, and the police allowed him to take it home. He skinned, cleaned and cooked it, to my disbelief. I looked at him.
A man who has lived a life so extraordinarily different than my own.
A stranger, who I now shared this conversation with.
A man whose native tongue was not English, who had almost none of the same experiences as I did, yet we shared a conversation. A human connection.
That is what I love about humans.
We can communicate and see into each other’s lives. We can empathize, we can feel, we can listen. We don’t have to share anything, but a language, and sometimes not even that – to link into the human chain, to widen the horizon of understanding.
We are wondrous creatures.
When I talk to people that know me very well, and I talk about how uncomfortable I am in most social settings, they laugh. They say “oh please, you’re fine talking.”
And it’s true – when I’m comfortable, I have plenty to say. I’m not shy – I’m happy to share, argue, discuss. About almost anything. Ask my family.
But those people know me.
So I don’t know what it is really.
Is it a matter of vulnerability?
Does vulnerability not just mean being able to bare your soul, but to allow people to accept you – without you baring your soul?
Oftentimes, when I meet someone I don’t know very well that will tell me they read my blog, or that they liked something particular that I wrote, I feel the growing expectation to be meaningful and inspiring in my conversations with them. Which definitely does not bode well for small talk.
I don’t hate people. Most certainly not. I find the human species fascinating, incredible, infuriating and beautiful.
At times, my connection with my fellow humans is easy. Comfortable. Sometimes it’s like trying to get water from a rock. Painful.
I don’t hate people.
I hate the process of getting to know people.
I hate how slow you have to go. How little is socially acceptable to reveal about yourself. How difficult it is to get a good conversation going sometimes.
So, strike up a conversation. I know there’s a whole lot of people out there that I would benefit from knowing.
What is the human connection?
Talking to the uber driver. Having a conversation with someone on the subway. 2am texting conversations with people you know really well. The incredibly sweet messages I get from people who read this blog that are always unexpected and always push me to continue writing. A shared love for the same song. Nighttime trips to the beach, to the mall, to anywhere, really. Road trips – again, to anywhere. All the times that you get to bypass the small stuff, and get to the good parts.
Maybe I’ll never enjoy small talk. But maybe one day I’ll accept it as a means to an end, an obstacle that just needs to be crossed to reach the person behind it.
My friend turned to me as we discussed me not hating people and said: “sorry, you’re not special.”
She’s right.
I’m not special.
I’m human.
And that is what I love most.

(by the way, if the photo that goes with this post does not give you warm fuzzy feelings and the reminder of a sweet memory, you need to try living the way I do sometime. Benches in the city should always remind you of some of the best conversations. No pressure.)
Blog Post: 17/52

Featured Photo:  DIMITRIS GEREBAKANIS on Unsplash

The People

Living in NY without a car, spending time on the subway is not a rare occurrence. No matter what, no matter how many times I’ve been on one, the subway is a surreal experience.
It’s a social experiment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with nobody recording the results.
The experiment: squeeze as many people as you can into a small space, speed them through a hollow cavity in a world of concrete, and deliver them to their destinations. See what happens between each stop.
The doors open, the doors close. A blind man appears at the door at a stop, his cane swinging, “what number train is this?” He repeats it until in unison, the passengers seem to all suddenly hear him and respond “the three!”
The door closes.
A woman, strong boned and straight-faced, an orange hard hat on her back, suddenly catches sight of a friend across the car and soon they are giggling like school girls.
A woman, who could be assumed to be a social worker, or maybe a teacher, sits scribbling notes on a yellow notepad. Her shoes are practical, her socks warm, but her hair looks recently done.
A woman sits next to her, a ponytail pulled back, eyeing the scribbles on the notepad the way we all study those alongside us, perhaps bored, perhaps reminiscing of a former job, or hoping for a future one. Perhaps the handwriting reminds her of someone she loves.
A small boy, fresh-faced and friendly, too new to the world to be afraid of it, waves and smiles at the passengers around him, pulling smiles from even the most exhausted.
A fidget spinner suddenly falls from a teenage boy’s hands, an older businessman sees it and turns to his friend “I must remember to buy that for my kid.”
An object that suddenly reminds me where I am, the harsh sound of it hitting the subway floor, the amusing realization that everyone around me knows what it is and that we all know someone who owns it.
That tiny toy that will be a memory in a week brought me closer in a moment to all the people in that rocketing metal room than anything else did before.
I looked at them all, really looked at them, at the old woman rolling her rosary beads between her fingers, muttering a prayer, at the hipster grinning at his phone, at the tired eyed couple who made each other smile, at the homeless woman with yellow socks, dirty from the universes she had traveled, and I realized that all of their journeys had brought them to the same place mine had. Each of them had been put on earth for a reason, and each of them were just as precious as the next.
The subway ads are calling to us, telling us what books we need to read and which food to order for dinner.  The poetry on the wall prods my mind to think poetically, the people are all so real, the train is so full of people living.
A subway car is a hub of humanity, a place where nobody speaks to each other but everyone sees each other. We move over a seat, stand up to allow a more worthy person to sit, doors open, doors close, the crowd changes. We all avoid eye contact but when we open our eyes to see, that day’s social experiment is complete.

A Social Experiment: Is My G-d Your G-d?

It’s been almost one entire year since I took to the streets of Brooklyn to ask one question.

If you’re an avid reader of this blog, or have spent any sort of time with me, you know that people are not my strong point. I’m a joke when it comes to small talk and I’d rather sit in an empty field than go to a party. But, despite the extents I go to avoid them, I love people. I love observing them, understanding them, writing about them. My alter ego would be able to instantly connect with every person I meet, but the real me prefers to write stories about them in my head.

Therefore, when I got the idea to ask strangers one question to get the answer to a burning question in my own mind, I knew it would take a lot of climbing out of my comfort zones.

But I did it.

I tossed around the finished product, got really close to it being published somewhere, had that thrown back in my face and therefore pushed it to a far corner for a while. It felt like a failure because it couldn’t be published. The more I thought about it, the more I belittled it and myself for assuming this would bring anything great to the world.

But one thing that has always been a burning passion in my heart and mind is the idea that we are all in essence the same. No matter what our outward appearances say, or what history tells us, we all come back to the same core, and I wish that I could bring that fact to more ears and eyes. Yes, this social experiment is the tiniest iota of what that realization would mean. But how can I pretend it means nothing?

If this social experiment that I did on one hot summer day in NY with my friend Nechama helps one person recognize that we are all the same inside, and makes them a kinder, more forgiving human, than it has accomplished something.

Now that I have given the introduction a longer introduction, please take a few more minutes to look at and think about the following:

Is My G-d Your G-d?

One late night I was thinking far too deeply, as I do, and I began to ponder the image of G-d. I don’t mean idols, or any sort of thing like that. I found myself thinking about how I automatically view G-d in my head. My brain had absentmindedly painted a picture of what G-d meant to me. I was suddenly terribly curious.  I always find myself  fascinated by what other people think and the way their brains work. Naturally, I wanted to go on a quest to find out how others translated G-d in their heads.

So I did.

One hot summer day, I took to the streets of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, NY,  with my friend Nechama Kotlarsky (a fabulous photographer) and stopped people of all ages on the street to ask them one simple question:

When I say the word G-d, what comes to mind?

The results were pretty fascinating.

The first reaction to the question was a raw answer. Given another few seconds, people began to express what I was so curious about. The way their brains translated something they knew at the core.

I learnt something special on my quest of curiosity. I didn’t quite know what I was searching for when I started, but at the end I realized what was so awesome about us Jewish folk.

We all have our own brains and imaginations, and everywhere you look; you see it being used for incredible, wonderful things. Our creativity is powerful and creates magic. The way we view our G-d differs when we use our imagination, but at the end of the day? We do all have one G-d. Sure, on the outside we all seem different, because of the way we translate it in our heads, our actions and our dress. But look into the innermost part of a Jew, and you find that deep down, under all our differences, we all do have the same G-d.

The results below, pictured and non-pictured (It was a hot day, most people refused a photograph) show humans that are different from each other; but watch, and feel what I felt on my journey through the streets:

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“The One and only Creator who created the world”

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“Is there one word? Creator, All-Mighty, heaven and earth..”

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“The creator of the Jewish people.”

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“He is the Creator. He is very holy, I feel awe when I think of Him.”

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“I used to see G-d as a flaming Aleph, but then my four year old nephew made me rethink it when he reminded me that G-d is everything. So, my answer is everything”

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“It’s hard for me to put one image to it. He created everything”

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“There isn’t one image. He is everything”

 

Non-Pictured:

“A flame. A Creator”

“Creator, ruler of all things”

“The all powerful Creator”

“A great light, warming everything, being the pulse behind everything”

“Soul, clouds, heaven, spiritual air, unseen sparks. But at the same time, an angel like King”

“G-d is something really great, above everything and at the same time within everything in this world”

“A grandfather with kind eyes, and the sky”

“An all knowing force, that keeps the world running in ways that even we cannot comprehend”

My image?

I can see the whole world in my mind’s eye. Surrounding it and within it is a vapor, encompassing everything. The only thing is that my G-d’s got googly eyes.

My walk through the minds of strangers was captivating. It was a terribly hot day. Those who live in or have visited NYC in the summer months know what I’m talking about.  Anyone who was outside was in a rush to reach air conditioning. The conversations were quick, short and to the point. I worked on how quick I could explain my entire mission before they ignored me and kept walking. So many people had no interest in aiding a young girl on a hot day with a seemingly purposeless mission. They didn’t know that I had a mountain (small hill?) of data, and that they would be part of something bigger. It was just another lesson I learnt that day – how often do I fold myself into the city life, ignoring those around me? How often do I think that all I see is what there is, and that my actions don’t have lasting effects? The first few people that ignored me or refused to take part kicked my self-esteem to the the ground. Each time, I had to take a deep breath, get up my bravado again and remind myself of my goal.

I wanted to do this. It was my chance to prove to myself that I could get answers to my questions if I put effort into it. I could have lived life with this question niggling in the back of my head occasionally. That is more in line with the way I live – grand schemes planned in my head, and that’s where they stay. This time though I knew I could do it. So despite the heat and my crushed ego, I pressed forward. If only to prove to myself that I can do things that I put my mind to. Then, of course, there was the question. What did G-d mean to everyone else? I was so curious. For weeks, it took up my thoughts. I’d ask the question to friends and family, trying to find the pattern. I felt like it was important. It could teach me something. It could teach others something.

As a girl with dreams living in a frum world, for years I felt as if real imagination was too foreign a concept to bring to the table. Most things in Torah are non-negotiable, and the fact that we all imagine G-d in different ways always struck me as strange. Almost wrong. Shouldn’t we all imagine G-d the way we are taught? He doesn’t have an image, we are His image, and anything else is not quite right. As I grew, I realized how faulty my thinking was. G-d created all of us, and while doing that, He threw in all these things that made us unique and different. Especially the way our brains work. Imagination was the secret ingredient that He gave in order that the world be decorated, beautiful and continuously advanced. When I realized that I had an image of G-d in my head, I knew that the rest of the world had one too. Then I wondered how it balances out with our lives as religious Jew’s. I knew there had to be a home base, somewhere that we could all come back to when our imaginations went a little too far.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I was awed by how many people vehemently said  that He is the Creator, when that is such an argued concept in the world these days. But no matter what, the one thing they were most sure about was that He created everything and that He was the life source behind it all. When they began to think about it, they said different things. When they put their own thoughts and imagination to work, the differences that make the world beautiful began to show its colors. But no matter what, at the core of each one, we all whole-heartedly believed in who He is at His essence. Our Creator.