Saturday, June 7, 2008


Dedicated to "my girls"
Up on the watershed, standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony's your heaviest load.
You'll never fly as the crow flies, get used to a country mile.
When you're learning to face the path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while.

"Watershed", Indigo Girls

I live in the past. I live with regrets. I live with "if only". I hate this but I cannot seem to get away from it. No matter how much I do, there is always something that I have not done. There is always a price. There is always something I missed.

I know, intellectually, that this is folly. How much can one do, after all? We have limited amounts of energy. If I am putting all of my mental energy into certain goals, it stands to reason that I will let other goals slide. It cannot be helped. And yet, I want to help it. I blame myself for not helping it.

How can I help it? I have always felt old. Even when I was a child, I wanted to go back in time and to start over. To get a second shot at the time and the life that I missed and that was taken from me by elements out of my control. Today, I tend to obsess about time I wasted and about what I lost. I am lost in my opportunities lost. I focus on my bad spending habits in the past. "If you had started saving when you were in college, like your sister, than you would have this, that or the other by now". I focus on my bad eating habits. When I was 14, I went on a diet. In my calendar, I wrote up a schedule of how much I was going to lose each week. By a certain month, I would hit my target weight. Of course, I did not succeed. To this day, I still find myself thinking back to that marked-up calendar and asking myself "what if you had stuck to it? What if you had gone through your adolescence thin and pretty instead of fat and dorky? What life would you have had?" I focus on my stupid, stubborn choices. After 35 years of an often exhausting, often successful and occasionally futile battle with PDD/NOS, I finally gave in and accepted a crutch. I started anti-depressants. (The one good thing that came out of my bout with thyroid cancer). Today, instead of focusing on the 2.5 good years since then, I focus on the years before—"if only I had started this earlier". You see, I have high standards. I am harsh on myself when I do not live up to them.

I rarely live up to them.

Recently I have been thinking to myself: "Gila, you have got to get off this motherfucking negative train". This is not thanks to the ongoing efforts of my close friends to get me to stop beating myself up (though I love them for it, and know I am blessed for having them). It was not my blog-based analysis of the near-death experience that was the bombing that opened my eyes. It was not anything it should have been It was a series of curious, unrelated events. But then, that is how these things normally happen, isn't it?

First, over the last year I have had the opportunity to meet several children, adolescents and young adults "like me", or rather, the way I was as a child, as an adolescent and as a young adult. They do some of the same things I did. They screw up in some of the same ways I screwed up. They are often behind—immature for their ages—like I was. They communicate with others and act and react to situations and stimuli in similar ways to the way I did at their ages. Some of them are not keeping up with their siblings, just as I did not keep up with mine. Nonetheless, they are not bad. They are not lazy. They are not defective. They are not ungrateful. They are not stupid. They are on their own, individual timetables. It has been eye-opening to watch them. I see how wonderful and absolutely incredible they are. I see how much I love them, especially my "girls". I see how strong they are. I see their potential and how far they are going to go. I see their weaknesses and their fashlas (screw ups) and their fears and for what they are: weaknesses and fashlas and fears, and not hideous character defects. I watch them and I understand that this fighting with demons—this learning to be normal—takes a lot of time, strength and energy. It is a top priority, so it has to come before other things, like doing the stuff that everyone else does. I am learning to view my past (and my present) in a different light.

I have had the opportunity to meet young people. Not young in calendar years, but in outlook. I did the Alyn Ride and had my ass kicked by 80 year olds. I read a blog post written by Savta Dotty, who described how she has always felt 26. Even though, in calendar years, she is 71. I have met her. I agree with her. Twenty-six is far more accurate. I want to be like that. Why feel old if I can feel young? Why assume that if I have not achieved x by age 40, I will never achieve it?

Finally, last week, in advance of our 20th high school reunion, one of my fellow classmates sent out an email describing where he was in his life. Suffice it to say, that it was picture-perfect. Married, three children and successful in his career. I felt bad. I felt like a failure. I am single. I have no children. Work has not been going particularly well. But then I thought: "what if you were to send out your own email? Do you really think that people would be saying 'what a loser'? It is more likely that people would be impressed. Some might even be envious." (I am sorry—I know that this is catty. But it is also quite cool.)

I have been thinking about just how much these negative thoughts cost me. I have been thinking of my future. Enough! Forget about the past! What is done is done! How much will I lose, what is the price I will pay if I continue on this way? How much of my life will I enjoy and appreciate only in retrospect? How much of my follies and failings will I find it easy to forgive and understand only in retrospect? Maybe, just maybe, I can take the forgiveness, on credit, and move on?

I am 37 years old. Let me assume that (please G-d) I have another 30 years (am trying to be conservative). Imagine the amazing things I could do in that time:

I could fall in love. Someone could fall in love with me.

I could get married and raise a family. Even if I only manage to get married in a few years, and can no longer have kids, I could adopt.

I could get involved politically and change my beloved country.

I could continue to volunteer where I am now. In 30 years, I could help to change the lives of 60 young women. As they grow and build successful lives…I would know that I had a little piece in that.

I could start and build and succeed in a whole new career. Like Jewish education, for example

I could write ten books.

I could go on 30 trips abroad. I could cycle all over Europe. I could hike the Appalachian Trail. I could spend a year or two working in South America, learning Spanish and the amazing Latino culture.

I could learn better financial habits so that I am putting my money where I really want it to be.

I could get myself in shape and polish up my appearance and spend the rest of my life looking good and feeling confident and pleased with what I see in the mirror.

I could learn: to sew, to sing, to play piano, to make sushi and to speak several new languages.

I could do anything. I can do anything.

I have tried to get off this train before. I have failed. But I tried to quit smoking for years and years before I finally succeeded. Maybe this time will be the time I make it.


SavtaDotty said...

It's not easy to break habits, even when you know they're bad habits. I stopped smoking twice: the first time was when I was pregnant, and felt it would be irresponsible to my unborn child. The second time I went to Smokenders in response to the pleading of both my kids. The conclusion is not that one needs kids to break habits, but one should expect to "fall off the wagon" and get on it again rather than using the fall as an excuse to stay off.

Anonymous said...

How do I envision this being harsh on yourself, instead of the chocolate you do eat the bag?

Jack Steiner said...

All I can suggest is to take one day at a time.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I am coming at it from a different angle than the others because I know exactly how you feel. Not that it won't pass, but I was also that dorky child (who was called "yeled" - or boy - throughout the few years she lives in Israel as a kid. Let's see THAT not affect your self respect.) I was insanely unpopular, though I was a relatively "happy" kid on the outside. When I see videos or pics of myself as a kid, I actually feel sorry for the person I was then, even though I wasn't a bad person by any means.

We can't change who we were (and shouldn't want to), and though I would have loved to have the wisdom at 12 that I have now at almost 31, it is clearly impossible and therefore fruitless to dwell on.

I'm also single and without children (and for now, the latter makes me extremely happy). Having caught up with so many people on Facebook over the past year, sometimes I almost feel bad, but then remind myself that, as a late bloomer, I have nothing to be ashamed of.

Getting married and having kids for the sake of getting married and having kids isn't hard. If you would've wanted that part so bad - not caring about the partner as much - you would've been there. But you're smart enough to know that there are things you shouldn't settle for.

Don't forget that the picture-perfect Christmas card may just be that: A picture. I, for one, am content to live my life as it is now, with a (fairly) new job (6 months) in a (fairly) new career (2.5 years). I think that knowing who I am and what I want will only be advantageous in the long run.

When the rest comes, it will come. And maybe it won't, and when it begins to really bother me, I will make a decision about how to proceed with my life in the direction that I would like to take.

Anonymous said...

In a few moments I am going to grab my binoculars take the car and within 5 minutes I will be at the seaside, have a stroll at the green side of the dike and the return I will be going along the waterfront.
Returning home I might plant some Vinca Minor in my tiny front garden,
read the newspaper and plant some Tropoleum seeds in my tiny backgarden.
Read a few lines of The Weather Makers, The History and Future Impact of Climate Change by Tim Flannery or do a nap.
Watch BBC's Countryfile.

Tomorrow I start work at the time I like, must be somewhere around 06.00 because of the warmth, I do not have a career, I never ever in my life have worked because of money, being single provides me the freedom to live my life.

But from tiny to giant people, we like you, all do have our moments of insecurity.

Anonymous said...

A small point:

Half the population of South America lives in Brazil and speaks Portuguese. Less than half speaks Spanish. Some speak English, French, or Dutch.

I speak both Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. Portuguese is more poetic and romantic than Spanish ever dreamed it could be.


If you ever go to South America, try Brazil. It is wonderful.

Miriam Goldstein said...

Forget the Appalachian Trail - most of it is boring and there's better things to do with four to six months of your life. Go backpacking in New Zealand! Stunningly gorgeous, nice cabins to stay in, and nothing whips one into shape like having to carry all your food on your back. I went a couple years ago and it was the best vacations of my life.

(P.S. I feel guilty about everything all the time too. Must be in the lucky lucky genes of the Chosen People.)

Anonymous said...

My lucky day, instead of a gorgeous Patricia Schultze I found a message in a bottle from a Patrick Schulze of Dassel/Niedersachsen.
Duck is a four letter bird.

Anonymous said...

With regard to your upcoming reunion, the fact that you live in Israel will pretty much trump whatever anyone else might be doing, especially when you'll inevitably discover just how many of those people are still living in or close to the area in which you all grew up. It worked for my tenth reunion as well as my twentieth. In my experience, people think it's very exotic when you tell them that you live abroad.

Anonymous said...

It's great that you have many ideas about what you could accomplish in the future.

For a moment, think about the present. You are educating and inspiring people through your blog. You have a circle of friends who love you. You are happy with your decision to live in Israel. You are supporting your self financially by working at a professional job.

I'd say that's an impressive resume right there.

And I stopped reading my college alumni magazine because it was too depressing to read "I have a high-powered job where I make tons of money but still spend quality time with my 4 beautiful brilliant children and amazingly handsome and successful husband. In my spare time I do my own gardening and volunteer for 10 charities." while I was single, childless and barely making enough money to pay the rent.

Ahuva said...

Anonymous is right. How many people have you inspired? You've done so many amazing and wonderful things. You've done so many cool things that you don't even realize how impressive they are because, well, they're just normal to you.

Look at how many people are subscribed to your blog. All those people are reading what you say and getting value from *your words*, from *you.* There's a reason for that, you know. :) You are very driven and very hard on yourself. I wish you could see yourself through our eyes just for a moment.

(Love you.)

Batya said...

Great post.

I needed it right now.

Unknown said...

" ... Today, instead of focusing on the 2.5 good years since then, I focus on the years before—"if only I had started this earlier". You see, I have high standards. I am harsh on myself when I do not live up to them. I rarely live up to them. ... "

if there is anything one should truly feel REALLY ANGRY and harshly about, it would be against the Force of Evil that delights in causing Suffering,

this Evil Entity targets good people and knows that it can prevent them from accomplishing the wonderful things they are capable of,
by sidetracking them and robbing them of their energy, and pouring it into the waste drain of self-negativity

here, the Evil Entity employs a devilishly sneaky technique,
it tells the truth ...
it points out past and currently failings that have some basis ...

but it always does so out of context,
and always as a partial truth, always neglecting the good points and the total picture of how much net positive was accomplished

(writing request: ;-)

as an accountant with literary talent,
you might be able to uniquely portray how the true points in red ink, even if they are many, do not accurately reflect the actual total final Balance,
and how unthinkable it should be,
to anyone making a self-accounting,
to focus on only one side of a ledger ... )

i can't think of any focus more deserving of negativity, than the Evil Entity itself,

so the next time the Evil Entity wants to tell you something negative and depressing,
that that is your opportunity to unleash the full pent-up rage/rant/profanity/sarcasm etc. against it,
and to go do something Happy,
to spite the Evil One !

MoChassid said...

Didn't know you did Alyn. I've done it four times. Doing it again, so if you are too, let me know.

My thought: You can never know what someone is experiencing by looking from the outside. Everyone has his or her "peckela" (package). It is impossible to know what that peckela contains.

Lady-Light said...

(Profanity is ok? Oy.)
That said, I feel for you (I was always a bit of an empath)...very personal post; just let me say, that if you knew my childhood, you would see how you are blessed.
I still have doubts, regrets. Insecurites. Feelings of worthlessness. I find that writing is an outlet. In addition to my blog, I am starting a book: a memoir (which I will never finish nor publish, of course). But it's cathartic nevertheless.
I will (bli neder) add your wonderful blog to my blogroll. Would you kindly visit mine, and if you like it, reciprocate?