Category Archives: 20something Confusion

Christmastime for the Jews

After seeing a wonderfully heartwarming performance of The Nutcracker, my roommate and I ventured northward– in search of the diner where I once poured the contents of my drink on a no good, very bad date.

When we arrived, the high of the theatrical experience soon gave way to the grave realities we call our futures. My roommate, balancing a full-time job, night school, and mandatory volunteering, was unnerved by her rather strenuous daily routine. And I, questioning my leadership skills and failed forays into romance, had little positivity to profess. We were two disgruntled peas in a pod.

While chowing down on deliciously greasy omelettes, we lamented our twenty-something failures, neither making the false promise that every well-paid psychotherapist makes– that it somehow, someday gets better. And while there were so many people facing significantly greater obstacles, the “misery loves company” adage seemed meaningless.

“So how do we get past this funk?” I asked between my sips of heavily-diluted Diet Coke.

“We recognize our coping strategies for what they are– means of denial. And work past them.”

“And what are those strategies?”

“I hide, and you clean.”

When the weight of the world is on my shoulders, I take a bottle of scrubbing bubbles and make the bathtub sparkle. I grab hold of a Swiffer wet jet and get my wooden floors to glow. I, as my roommate so wisely observed, clean until I run out of cleaning supplies and/or things to clean– whichever comes first. (I should mention that I scrub my apartment from floor to ceiling at least once a week.)

Since we were being brutally honest, I trusted my roommate entirely. The supply closet was my sanctuary, and clorox wipes had become my gods. I needed to check myself and maybe cut back on my late night Swiffer activities.

And so when we returned to Casa Carroll Gardens, I didn’t take my shoes off at the door. I walked those dirty city boots to my bedroom. And I didn’t grab a mop to clean the remnants of the urban landscape from my recently refurbished floors. Instead, I jumped into bed and determined to employ my second favorite coping mechanism– SNL claymation shorts. Baby steps, amigos.

Susan Miller nails it… again.

“You actually read your daily horoscope?” says every friend who has ever listened to me prattle on about the significance of being a water sign.

Given my rather pragmatic approach to life, my devotion to Susan Miller and all her astrological offerings seems slightly paradoxical. Nonetheless, I maintain the woman is on point every month. When she says there will be rainbows and butterflies, I get a job offer. And when she states all hell will break loose, my favorite coffee barista quits his job to pursue a career in the arts (whatever that means…).

Which is why when she predicted that October would be worst month of the 2013 calendar year, I panicked. All the stars were about to misalign, and below is the evidence I have gathered that Miller may, in fact, have a direct line to the Guy Upstairs:

1) One of my interns compared my personality to that of Hannah Horvath’s on GIRLS. Hannah, played by Lena Dunham, is an obsessive-compulsive, rash decision maker with an unnerving q-tip hangup. And while this comparison already gave me reason to pause, my intern proceeded to compare my behavior to that of Hannah’s when she does cocaine for the first time. Sober me is somehow reminiscent of high Hannah.

2) While at a boozy birthday brunch, where I refrain from drinking nearly any alcohol, an intoxicated party-goer accidentally pours the entire contents of her mimosa over my dress, bag, and most notably, shoe. For the first and hopefully last time in my life, I scream, “There is mimosa in my shoe!” And everyone laughs, which I would’ve done as well if my entire foot didn’t reek of Tropicana and cheap champagne.

3) The subway I have grown to rely on since I moved to Brooklyn and away from any other accessible public transportation does not run on the weekends so I am forced to surrender the contents of my first paycheck in nearly three weeks to the indiscriminate taxi gods. Instead of $2.50, I am spending $22.50 to experience the thrill of Bowery Coffee.

4) I am suddenly single again and forced to re-enter the maddening dating jungle that is New York City. And instead of convincing myself that I am at the start of my romantic career (er, wrong word choice?), I sink back into my 22-year old mindset, in which I reside on a desert island with only a coconut tree to sustain me.

5) The 4 month old that I am babysitting decides to throw up the entire contents of her milky dinner on my brand spanking new leather jacket. And I can’t even get mad because the kid can’t even talk or walk yet. So instead I spend more than the cost of the jacket to get it cleaned at the dry cleaners. In other words, I’ve become the poster child for “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

With that, I leave you to create a countdown- to-November calendar. Miller predicts November to be replete with roses and pumpkin pie, and I. Can’t. Freaking. Wait.

On Maybe Someday Quitting New York

I’ll admit it– I’m a commitmentphobe. Except for my daily iced skimmed lattes, I cannot commit to anyone or anything for an extended period of time. I change jobs every 12-18 months; apartments every 18-24 months; and tv show loyalty every 2-3 seasons.

Perhaps this phobia is the reason I returned to New York after college. New York is a city replete with individuals unwilling to settle or accept the status quo. It is where people with insatiable desires pursue limitless possibilities. It is, quite simply, a city that never sits still.

And until recently, it was this very quality that made me feel at home. However, like any New Yorker who has even been trapped between a homeless man and a Jesus freak on a packed subway car, I get sick of it sometimes. Instead of embracing that feeling, and accepting that New York– like every other city– can be imperfect, I feel incredibly guilty for judging it.

This week, though, I read Ann Friedman’s wonderful piece- “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York at 24.” And in her typically succinct prose, she reminded me that I was not alone in my less than enthusiastic sentiment. I didn’t have to defend the city where I spotted my first cockroach or had my first bed bug scare. I could criticize its imperfections. And better yet, I could leave. I could move to any other city, state, or country– and still pursue a meaningful career in media and policy.

While most of my friends consider me the quintessential New York Jew, I realized as I read Friedman’s piece that I could retain that persona outside of New York. As the saying [sort of] goes, you can take the New Yorker out of the City, but you can’t take the City out of the New Yorker.

Now, I’m not booking my one way ticket to Nairobi anytime soon. But, for a brief moment this week, Friedman allowed me to consider the possibility that I could perhaps be true to who I am and not be so entirely committed to just one city.

The Powder Room Refrain

As an aspiring somebody, I am constantly seeking advice from people who have “made it.” And as a senior in college, one such person I sought advice from was Secretary Madeleine Albright. A fellow in a her global leadership program, I had the privilege of soaking in her political wisdom for three short weeks.

However, most of my contact with her was limited to the classroom experience. She was the teacher, and I was one of 40 students fortunate enough to learn from her lifetime of foreign policy experiences.

At the end of a three week intensive,  I attended a gala where my brief but wondrous encounter with Secretary Albright transpired. Between courses I rushed to the powder room (as it is so labeled in Alumnae Hall), and while searching for the paper towels that did not exist, bumped into the woman who I had spent the last three weeks kvelling over.

Being the inquisitive lady that she was, Secretary Albright stopped to ask me about my future career plans. I told her I was uncertain– I had an offer for Teach For America in Texas and an opportunity to study journalism abroad, but that at this point I was all but undecided. Her advice: “Read five media sources every morning– and make sure you disagree with at least two.” In that moment, her advice hardly seemed relevant in choosing a career path, but I smiled politely and thanked her for her wisdom.

Fast forward three years, and I am departing my job at a major entertainment network in New York. With one foot nearly out the door, I ask the executive producer a question I had been pondering since the day she hired me, “Why me? Of all the kids in all the tv industry, why choose me? I wasn’t exactly entertainment material.”

She paused and said, “You were exactly what we were looking for. I knew it the minute I asked you what news sources you read, and you said five names– indicating that at least two of them you disagreed with.” At which point I choked on my Diet Coke. Had Madeleine Albright really been the reason I was working for a music channel, integrating Billboard Top 40 references into my daily scripts?

Perhaps not entirely, but she certainly had taught me a lesson. Sometimes the advice you want isn’t the advice you get. However, if you invoke a little patience and let life take its course, it might just turn out to be useful. And even if it’s not, you’ll have material to write about for years to come.

On a Dr. Meg kick

24 hours ago I made a decision to opt out of the production path I have devoted the last year and a half of my life to pursuing. It was the most terrifying decision I have ever made, and one that has raised all sorts of questions regarding my professional aspirations and personal branding.

One friend remarked, “Yaffa, this will be the third job in three years. When do you hunker down and just accept your present?” A financial consultant, she was used to the ways of an industry that valued loyalty and rewarded quantitative success. But as a woman operating in a complex and ever-changing media space, I knew my path would never be as linear as hers.

This realization can be both an invigorating and debilitating feeling– one that provides freedom, but removes any sense of actual security. And one that inevitably sends me running for the one and only Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist who specializes in twenty-somethings. Author of “The Defining Decade,” Dr. Meg focuses her research on the importance of the decisions we make before we hit 30.

Nearly half way through my defining decade, I find myself wondering if I am living by the words of Dr. Meg. Am I living with intent? Am I making wise, calculated decisions with some sort of end-game in mind? Would I have something to show for myself by the time I hit 30– something more than a few shares of Starbucks stock and old copies of The New Yorker?

I rewatched Dr. Meg’s TED talk, one that has attracted close to 2.5 million hits since it first appeared in February. And this time I took notes. Though her TED talk focused on three main ideas, I gravitated towards the first two:

1) “Getting some identity capital”–adding value to who you currently are and who you may hope to be

While I am one of many lost New York souls struggling to define what I want out of my professional career, I do believe that each career jump I have made has been somewhat calculated. Each jump has been about getting  me closer to my happy place– a place where I feel fulfilled, challenged, and most importantly, inspired to be the best possible me I can be.

Though to a future employer it may not appear as such, I am exploring AND making it count. I’m “leaning in” and negotiating salaries. I’m playing hard ball and asking tough questions. And most importantly, I’m speaking up– embracing the Wellesley confidence I spent four years developing and two years applying in a professional setting.

2) “The urban trade is overrated”– instead of huddling together with exclusively like-minded people, find others who challenge you and form your “weak ties.” According to Dr. Meg, your weakest ties are the ones who help you advance, professionally and emotionally; who force you to define and refine your views; and who challenge everything you ever assumed to be true.

Unfortunately, my weak ties are pretty weak. After embracing my loony leftie tendencies, dormant during my teenage years, I made the leap, moved to Brooklyn, and now reside with my kind of thinkers. Attending a Muslim wedding in Kansas City was the closest foray into another world that I have gone– and that was only for a long weekend.

And so for the second half of this decade, I’m trying to meet all those out and about conservative-oriented individuals who fear Brooklyn the way I fear Texas; who believe my body is their business; and who actually enjoy watching sports like golf and cricket. Which is all to say I should probably send George W. Bush a get well card post-heart surgery.

Get Thee to a Nunnery!

When I was 17 I discovered the “Nuns Having Fun” calendar series, and my life took a turn for the better. These religious enigmas were suddenly less enigmatic and ever more accessible to an Orthodox Jewess struggling to balance her role in religion with her quest for secular education.

Nuns– and not of the Whoopi Goldberg variety– were capable of taking a break from their marriages to Jesus and letting loose in the bowling alley or local amusement park. While they maintained their primary responsibility– spreading the word of their long-dead husband, the nuns depicted in this calendar also found time for themselves. They quite simply struck a work-life balance; they worked hard, but they also played hard(ish).

I continued to purchase the “Nuns Having Fun” calendar for several years after, but upon graduating college my devotion to the annual publication had dissipated. And then last night happened. While walking back from a restaurant week indulgence which included goat cheese cheesecake and excessive amounts of French breads, I happened upon a midtown convent.

And as I meandered by I noticed several very stylish nuns lurking beyond the church gate. Though sporting the traditional nun garb, they each had managed to customize the otherwise generic robes into something uniquely their own. Employing traditional accessories– belts, bags, and rosary beads– they succeeded in letting their individual personalities shine through.

They soon noticed the gazing Jew in black and politely smiled, exhibiting a look of content I’m pretty sure I have neither felt nor experienced. These nuns were entirely satisfied with their careers and “marriages.” At which point my friend Christine interrupted my jealous reflection and said, “Maybe I should join them? White is kind of  my color.”

I didn’t laugh. It wasn’t all that crazy to me. There are many moments when I dream of living the traditional Orthodox lifestyle– married and with the first or second muffin in the oven. There is both beautiful simplicity and a philosophical complexity in choosing that life.

And now– at 24– well beyond the marriageable threshold, that world has become like that of the convent– something fantastical, but otherwise inaccessible. Peering into it is both a comforting and confusing experience. I admire the tenacity of those who abide by its strict rules and regulations, but perpetually wonder where their sense of fulfillment comes from. Is it their children? Their freshly baked challahs? Their collection of Holy Scriptures?

Like any philosophically religious woman wandering through a secular world, I’m searching for a sense of completion. I’m searching for the kind of content the fashionable nuns were sporting. And I’m praying it doesn’t cost as much as New York City real estate.

On crying in public

Very few of my friends and family members can handle seeing me in a tearful state. They try to calm me, comfort me, and otherwise remove the cause of my fit of sadness.

But sometimes a girl needs to have a solid uninterrupted moment to cry. And in an apartment as small as mine, that’s pretty much impossible. So this week I took to the streets, and more specifically a street corner. With an iced latte in hand and nowhere in particular to go, I just stopped and cried.

And the beauty of city streets is that nobody seemed to pause and take notice. In New York, I’m just another overly emotional crazy in a sea of neurotics, lunatics, and all together worry warts. In a twist of logic, I have more privacy on the corner of Bowery and Great Jones than I do in my 11×5.5 bedroom (notably smaller than solitary confinement cells  in the United States). I can assert my emotional state without  third party interference. And I can have a moment that feels all my own, and nobody else’s.

Apparently I am not the first New Yorker to have the realization that you have more privacy in Times Square than you do in your matchbox apartment. Melissa Febos, a contributor to the New York Times Opinionator blog, articulated as such:

“I’ve done it on the subway and at the Museum of Modern Art, in Prospect Park, Tompkins Square Park and leaning against the locked gate of Gramercy Park.If you live in New York, you’re bound to end up crying in public eventually…”

And it’s an unwritten rule among urban dwellers that unless someone’s physical well-being is in danger, you leave a momentarily emotionally unstable individual alone. Consequently, as I stood on this particularly bougie corner, watching men and women with more money than G-d enter and exit the Bowery Hotel, I thought, ‘I can do this. Right here. Right now. And no one will bother me or try to offer me some false sense of comfort.’

So I let all the things terrifying me in that moment– my imminent move, my sense of professional insecurity, and my upcoming quarter life crisis– consume me. And after I had let every last bit of feeling out of me, I slurped up the watery contents of my caffeine and smiled. Like a small child, I had my temper tantrum, and now I was done. I could assume the semblance of a 20something who has her act together. Heck, I could probably prance into the Bowery Hotel lobby and convince some mysterious stranger to buy me a drink.

Everything is copy

Nora Ephron’s mother had a saying: “Everything is copy.” And as I enter another period of major change, I’m beginning to take comfort in that adage. In place of viewing all the challenges I’m facing as insurmountable obstacles, I’m viewing them as copy– or material for my blog.

There are the little challenges, like accidentally bordering the subway car with the homeless evangelist preaching his Jesus loving speech from West 4th to Herald Square. And then there are the bigger challenges, like finding a new apartment– roach and rodent free and with space for a full or queen size bed– that doesn’t cost more than my entire month’s salary.

And rather than fixating solely on the challenges, I’m trying to treasure the New York moments. For example, last night a coworker invited me to a concert downtown featuring a hip British band: The 1975. It was in a dingy lounge in a quasi-shady part of town, and it was absolutely perfect.

Though I doubt any of the group members were alive in 1975, I embraced their name and performance. And afterwards, I had the good fortune to meet them. Rather than exemplifying the self-absorbed celebrity stereotype, they were extraordinarily friendly and engaging.

When the night came to its inevitable conclusion, I did not go home and begin editing my screenplay. I did not look up dream apartments far beyond my price range. I didn’t even open up a graduate school admissions booklet. I just sat in front of Hulu and gave my mind a solid night off.

And for a girl who doesn’t have any vacation time in the foreseeable future, one night off felt like a blessing. It may not have given me the world’s best copy, but it gave me something to write about and something to ruminate on. My mother refers to it as a “simple pleasure”– something that is relatively cheap, but entirely necessary in helping a person to recharge and re-engage with the complexities of her life.

So this morning, as I darted for a cab after my train car stalled and the clock continued ticking, I reminded myself that my world would not crumble. I would make it to work eventually, and I would complete all of the tasks on my to-do list. And if I didn’t, there was Friday. T.G.I.F.

A treatise on JDate

There comes a time in every single Jewish girl’s life when she downs just enough Diet Coke to propel her to make unwise decisions. In this particular case and with this particular girl, the unwise decision was making a free JDate account.

Now, in order to take view your potential future husband, you must answer a serious of asinine questions, including but not limited to, the three items that are found in your refrigerator at all times. (Not that it’s of value, but mine are Chobani yogurt, sliced pineapple, and carrot sticks. And though I may sound like an anorexic girl, I’m far from it.)

And after you have taken these steps, you learn the following insights about New York male Jewry:

1) Finance. Finance. Finance. Perhaps I am overly sensitive on this professional matter because I live with two individuals who live and breathe this industry. But, seriously, are there no Jewish plumbers these days? The first 15 matches I got listed “finance/accounting” as their career. And while I can play the private equity vs hedge fund game at cocktail hour, I’d hardly call this career my soulmate.

2) ThatIsMe and GeneralMan. Despite the fact that JDate explicitly states in creating a username, one should make sure to employ both creativity and common sense, 99.9% of men on this site appear to ignore this warning. Instead, they turn to their two year old nephew and seek his advice. And before you know it ThatIsMe is flashing before your eyes over and over again.

3) Lots of babies. Unlike some secular dating sites, men on JDate want wives and children. And lots of them– the kids, not wives. I’d venture to say the average guy wants 2-5. Oy, my uterus is hurting just contemplating those numbers.

4) Baseball: the sport of the Jewish people. Though a Yankee fan by birth (Bronx pride!), I couldn’t name more than two players on the team. Well, apparently that does not bode well for my dating future because these boys like their baseball teams. And any woman worth her salt better buy a pack of baseball cards and brush up.

5) Height exaggeration. As my own network has shown through the remarkably popular show-Catfish– people invariably lie about something in their dating profiles. And with Jewish men, it’s height. Our people are notably on the short side, and yet the typical JDate profile height is 6’1”. That’s statistically impossible, unless the only Jews on JDate are of Scandinavian origin.

Now given these discoveries, I have decided to proceed no further with my JDate account. I’ll cling to some Hollywood notion of romance, or I’ll adopt a cat. At least the cat would not make me know baseball stats.

Letter to my 2013 self

In the past, I’ve devoted my end of the year entry to the rather cliche ritual of making New Year’s resolutions. However, as most people can attest, few stick to those resolutions beyond January 2nd. (Remember that time I promised to stop eating my feelings in honey roasted cashews? Well that didn’t happen.) And so, this year I’ve decided to send a letter to my future self, reflecting on both the wise decisions and poor choices I’ve made this year. Instead of telling myself what to do in the future, I’m reminding myself of what I’ve done in the past.

Dear Future Self,

The last time I completed a letter-to-your-future-self exercise, I was a senior in high school, convinced that within 7 years of graduation I’d be a constitutional lawyer in Washington D.C. According to those calculations, I should currently be in my second year of law school, preferably at Yale, though I would have settled for Georgetown.

Well, fast forward 6 years, and I am in a profession entirely apart from the law, and in city unlike DC or New Haven. The beauty in the situation is that I learned it was acceptable, if not welcome, to deviate from the beaten path. I could have childhood dreams, but I could also retire those dreams if they no longer brought me the satisfaction I expected they would.

And so rather than predict where you will be a year from today, I’m going to tell you where you’ve already been. Your dreams will undoubtedly change as quickly as your favorite Chobani flavor so let’s not agonize over the future. Let’s embrace the present and reflect on the past.

In the last year you’ve switched from the legal profession to that of broadcast television. You’ve enjoyed life as both a single and romantically involved biddie. You’ve killed three cockroaches and lived to tell the tale. (Though your fear of them has hardly subsided, as evidence by your occasional leaving of the bathroom light on.)

You’ve spent a week in London and a week in San Francisco, two cities with eerily similar weather patterns despite their geographical disparity. And you’ve planned two vacations for the coming year. Basically, you’ve embraced your perpetual bout of wanderlust and began planning your life accordingly.

You’ve strengthened existing friendships and created new ones, often invoking your trademark “coffee date” as a means to ignite them. You’ve had several of those existing friendships put to the test, and by and large you’ve succeeded in maintaining them.

You’ve survived a Category 1 hurricane and determined to never buy riverfront property, even though your astrological sign longs to live near the ocean. Your super, with whom you’ve surprisingly developed a solid working relationship, has seconded your residency decision. He’s also told you, “Don’t lose faith, sweetheart, there’s someone out there for you. I just know it.” And you, for the first time since you hit puberty, actually believe he may not be entirely inaccurate.

And perhaps the reason you believe your super is because you were pursued for the first time in your life. Yes, he was a sanitation engineer with a weird salsa obsession, but it was a step in the right direction. He actively sought your attention through flowers, chocolates, and mix tapes (how retro). You were courted, and though it seems incredibly hard to believe, someday a guy with a college degree might engage in a similar behavior.

But most significantly, you started therapy. You accepted that maybe possibly you couldn’t handle everything on your own, and you began to share your cognitive and emotional experiences with a well paid healthcare professional. You, despite becoming a walking talking Woody Allen stereotype, learned to ask for help; to embrace little Ms. Independent, but to acknowledge little Ms. Dependent as well.

Which is to say, though I’m often your biggest critic, I’m actually proud of the steps you’ve taken this year. It’s not usually rainbows and butterflies, but you’ve embraced black and made it your own.


Your Former Self