Wearing trousers on New Year’s Eve

American passenger: So how was your New Year’s? Did you kiss a special dude?

Me: No.

AP: Did you kiss a special dudette?

Me: No.

AP: So what did you do?

Me: I wore trousers for the first time.

There is a moment in every Orthodox Jewish girl’s life when she looks to the High Heavens, fully expecting lightning to strike. For me, there have been two such moments. The first was June 21, 2001– the day after my Bat Mitzvah; the day I assumed full responsibility for all my sins; and the day I dared to sport a short-sleeved shirt in public. It was 90 degrees and humid, a typically painfully New York summer day, and if public nudity had been legal and I had been more comfortable with my body, I would have debated sporting my birthday suit.

Still, despite my commitment to overcoming heat stroke, I was also paralyzed with fear. Men would see my elbows, and what could be more seductive than my funny bones on display? There would be retribution; there would be lightning. And so after a few short moments in the public eye, I receded to my bedroom and opted for more modest attire.

Fast forward 12.5 years, and I make the bold decision to buy crazy, sexy, cool heathen pants. I am not entirely convinced I will wear them, but I use my discount code and go for the spiritual plunge: wearing them on New Year’s Eve in London.

Only once I am in London and surrounded by Jewish peers, I begin to rethink this somewhat bold move. Note: the last time I attempted to purchase pants, I broke down in tears in the GAP fitting room and ran a mile down Broadway shrieking, “Never again.” I wasn’t ready then, and I was beginning to reconsider if I was truly ready now.

But the joy of traveling with a quasi-small suitcase is that you don’t have lots of alternatives. Once you are 3000 miles from home, you must make do with what you have. And so reluctantly and fearful of an impending rain storm, I sported my newly purchased symbol of heresy and boarded a public bus to a fairly large party– where many people who knew my older skirt-wearing self would be amazed (and perhaps concerned) with my transformation.

Then the unthinkable happened. Nobody said a word. And not because they were silently judging my single lady ways, but because nobody actually cared. I was just another rowdy New Yorker in all black attire brooding silently over my beer.

In fact, the only comment anyone even made in reference to my clothing was, “You have a smart blazer.” And my beloved Zavi responded, “Well, obviously, she’s Yaffa.” Though her comment seemed benign, it meant the world to me. I was not defined solely by my exterior. There was a full package, and even complete strangers at the party could sort of see that.

So when I boarded my flight back to New York hours later, and the nosy American grandma quizzed me on the night before, I told her quite simply that I had worn trousers… and lightning did not strike.


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.

Dual Identities: Annie and Jay-Z

No, I’m not an orphaned red head living in the Great Depression. And no, I’m not an impoverished minority born in an urban ghetto. But this week I found myself simultaneously identifying with Annie and Jay-Z, humming “Hard Knock Life” each morning on the F train.

The problems began one fateful Wednesday when I was working late, editing a potential litigious piece in our winter issue. Determining that the second week of November was sufficiently late enough into the holiday season to listen to some Christmas tunes, I turned on Celine Dion’s “Happy X-mas” and got my professional groove on.

After 24 Christmas songs, I had completed my final edits on a 6000 word piece. I was elated, relieved, and ready to revel in the holiday spirit. And then, of course, G-d laughed. As I entered my apartment, I was greeted by a wave of cool air. The heat was not on, and the boiler most definitely had gone to that special place all boilers go when they die (heaven? hell? Staten Island?).

I did what any responsible tenant would do. I called the super– only to discover he had been fired for smoking weed in my basement. The new super, seemingly drug-free, promised to check on the problem and address it in a timely manner. Two days later, he had discovered that the problem was more serious than initially observed. We needed an entirely new boiler, and our management company was not going to provide space heaters or hotel accommodations while it dealt with the burden of ordering a new contraption for the basement.

A weekend without heat, and I was starting to reconsider the whole notion of living in the developed world. Angola- a war torn African country I’d recently become well acquainted with- was looking mighty appealing, and I’d always wanted to learn Portuguese. But, of course, G-d laughed again, and we had a gas leak, which was soon followed by no hot water.

And while the lack of heat and hot water might be enough to make anyone transform into a Scrooge, it was not what sent me into a “Hard Knock Life” tizzy.

Without the basic necessities of bougie Brooklyn life, I ventured onto the island of Manhattan and stayed with my wonderfully generous friend in her glorious one bedroom apartment overlooking Madison Square Park. For one week, I was a Manhattanite again.

As much as I have worked to make Brooklyn my own, to embrace the idea that I can make another borough my home, I really miss Manhattan. I miss feeling like I am at the center of something significant. And while I spend five days a week breathing the midtown madness, I have so little time to embrace the only place I’ve ever really called home.

So when the week came to its end, and I returned to my still heatless Brooklyn apartment, I curled up with Woody Allen’s Manhattan and feel asleep dreaming of my return:

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.