~ Thursday, August 31, 2006 ~
I'm feeling a little sickish tonight, so no Thursday night swing dancing for me. Instead I will tell you a story. A month and a half ago, at another swing dance on another Thursday night, my purse was stolen. My fault for thinking it would be safe in the heap of people's bags that we so trustingly left to their own devices while we went off and danced. Good band, though.
Fortunately, I have wonderful friends and relations who take care of me, and with their gracious assistance I was able to collect a few necessary items--replacement keys, phone, and enough cash to hold me until my new cards arrived. The green Google shirt that Deluded found for me I have given up hope of ever replacing, but fortunately Graham found a blue one for me, and as he suggested, whenever I wish it were green I can just look at it and think yellow thoughts.
The last piece that had to be replaced, and the most generative of red tape, was my passport. My dear, sweet little passport. Oh, I can see it now, with its beat-up plastic-coated blue cover, heated into a permanent curvature from spending too long in my back pocket. It was filled with the visa stamps from every foreign country I'd visited until that point, a list that was modest but steadily growing. Israel was first, the summer after my Sophomore year at Stanford, thanks to Birthright and their pretty-good-if-a-bit-packaged program intended to make College Jews fall back in love with Judaism. It has just occurred to me how much money has been spent (by Hillel, Birthright, Drisha, RRC, and various other rich Jewish organisations) on trying to keep me involved in my religion. In this aspect I am an abominable tease.
Next summer was Italy, the last Family Trip my father, bless his heart, ever tried to organise. It was a lovely trip, Daddy, and I'm very glad we went, but when you have five adults and among them four opposing ideas of what comprises a good vacation, the atmosphere gets tense. I'll always remember walking through Pompeii in the thick fog that erupted (haha) into a thunderstorm. En route to Italy we passed through England, which is why my passport was stamped by Gatwick before the Italian government could leave their mark.
The following summer, my post-graduation Grand Tour à la Dvorana, brought two more stamps into the pages of my passport. First was Marseille, though we only passed through there en route to St. Rémy de Provence. Thank goodness it was the South of France we visited, because apparently only the Southerners speak slowly enough that I could communicate with them. Funny how that's a constant, the speed of speech descending with the latitude. I just remember noticing that after several years of diligently studying modern Hebrew in college to the point that I was very nearly fluent, could extemporise on complex topics and compose essays and read newspapers and had even tackled some poetry-writing, I forgot it all--yes, all--when I began to speak French again, a language I hadn't studied since high school. I could feel it drain from my head as those cushy cushy cognates came shlping back like iron filings to an electromagnet that has suddenly been turned on. So much for preparation for rabbinic school. Ever since, whenever I want the French word I think of the Hebrew one, and whenever I want the Hebrew one I think of the French one. If you ever see me trying to speak either French or Hebrew, watch for the screwed-up face of concentration and listen for the words that don't belong.
After that was a bit of a dry spell, foreign-country-visiting-wise. I suppose I was busy enough doing real live moving: I moved myself to New York, then to Philly, and then back to New York again. Just before the latest move, though, my passport gained one more UK border patrol stamp, a bit of official ink proving that I'd spent two lovely weeks in England and Scotland with an even lovelier fellow.
Now, all these stamps are in the hands of some heartless opportunistic thief...or more probably, buried under several tons of garbage at the city dump. Poor little passport. A moment of silence, please.
You know what I miss most about my passport? The picture. Not because it happened to catch my good side, nor because my hair was sitting down for once, but because the expression on my face was so...open. Happy twenty-year-old who places herself in the world's hands and trusts it to treat her kindly, or if not, then at least to let her charm or argue it into submission. It was nice to be able to open up my passport and glimpse the expression on that tiny picture and think, "That's me. That's who I am." I'm a little more guarded now, a little less certain of whether I'll ever really amount to anything. It all shows in my face. Have you ever noticed this about yourself? How your facial expression at rest changes, over time, depending on where you are in life? Looking through an old photo album whose photos my mother had thoughtfully and artistically arranged in chronological order, we moved from one page of young me dressed up in some costume to another page of young me dressed up in some other costume (my mother's sewing area was large and chaotic, a giant treasure chest for anyone who liked to play dress-up), and all three of us who were looking at the album made noises of surprise, because the face I gave to the camera changed so dramatically between one particular picture and the next. The younger me was off in her own world, completely content to let the camera catch her mid-thought. The older me had suddenly discovered that people were looking at her, and had become self-conscious. From that photo on I had started arranging my face in what I believed to be more attractive lines, but they weren't, because you could see the tension. I was maybe six and a half.
I still had that self-conscious tension in my face in the passport photo, but at that age it looks appropriate; it reads more like the awareness that you'd expect to see in the gaze of a twenty-year-old who knows that she is having her photo taken. Still, though, that was the face of a girl who really believed that all people are basically good and lovable and wonderful in their own ways, and would surely think the same of her once they saw her. I'm not sure when nor why it happened, but at some point I started believing that less, and I know it shows in my face. That was part of why it took me so long to get myself over to the drugstore photo booth to take new pictures. Sure, I check myself in the mirror every morning, but I'm a lot more forgiving than the camera is, and I didn't really want to have to admit to how much my recent developments had written themselves on my face.
Sure enough, the first shots I took were ghastly. My smile didn't look natural. It looked at once tentative and overcompensating, like it hadn't been practiced in ages and was trying to make up for it all at once. Fortunately, the clerk who was cutting the borders off the printouts also accidentally slit part of the photo itself, so I had an excuse to go back and try again. This time I was pickier. I wanted to okay the picture before she printed it out. I actually made her point and shoot four times before I approved what I saw on the screen of her camera. They still aren't wonderful--my left eyebrow is about an inch above my right, which seems to happen when I'm tense--but at least the smile is less assaulting (I practiced in the mirror the night before, tried to memorize how it feels to smile without looking fierce), and I made sure to wear a green shirt so that my skin would look less green in comparison. Evidently neon lights aren't the most flattering for the complexion.
Speaking about the passport-losing experience later to Mr. Fodor, I was surprised to hear him immediately pick out the thing that bothered me most. "And I'll bet you really liked your picture, didn't you? That's the worst!" He's a photographer, so he thinks about stuff like this. I tried, fumblingly, to explain how I feel like I don't have the same face anymore, but he met me practically the day I arrived in New York back in 2003, and perhaps he has noticed the change on his own. Either way, I didn't have to explain much, which was nice. "Well, you're at a different point in your life now," he said, which is the most optimistic take on it I'd heard yet. I liked the sound of it--a different point in my life. Not an irreversible wrong turn, but a different point. It makes it seem like there will be other, future points during which the tensionometer that is my left eyebrow will fall down a bit, and a smile will look more at home on my face than the look of concentration that is so often disconcertingly mistaken for annoyance.
What I'm saying is that I'm ready to move on to the next different point in my life, the one where I've finished my master's degree and I have a piece of paper with my name and the word Bioethics on it, and I get to leave New York, where the constant proximity to strangers makes me wonder how I could ever have thought myself an extrovert. I've hung the idea of moving back to the Bay Area, to live among people I know and love, like a carrot in front of my eyes, and in view of this, I've decided it's time to admit that working full time while going to school full time hasn't been producing good results where it matters (I have a steady paycheck, sure, but that's not where it matters), and if I'm here to go to school, I should do that instead of spending most of my energy juggling boxes and answering phones. I want to finish at the end of my two years, not have incompletes hanging over me. I want to finish and move back to the Bay Area. It's time. By the time I'm done, it'll be past time.
As such, I'm giving Dance Shoe Store their two weeks of notice very soon. Just as soon as I work up the nerve.
~ prattled by Miriam at 10:39 p.m. [+]
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