Category Archives: First World Problems

SLEEP NO MORE and My One-Night-Hand-Stand

vanity fair sleep no moreLast night a strange man held my hand. That’s right: I, Ester Bloom, married lady, mother of a young child, partnered with the same dude since I was 18 years old, committed hand-adultery. I had an anonymous one-night-hand-stand.

Mr. Ben and I were at SLEEP NO MORE, the immersive theater experience where you wander around a huge, five-floor, dimly lit but extravagantly designed set that was once a hotel, forbidden to speak or to remove your opaque white mask. Around you, actors and dancers silently recreate scenes from and inspired by “Macbeth.”

To reach peak surreality, as an audience member, you are encouraged to explore the dreamscape solo. Mr. Ben, who takes this shit very seriously, waved me goodbye early on and dashed off to try to get as many one-on-ones as possible. (That’s when certain cast members take you “off-stage,” into a small enclosed space, for a special bonus dose of weirdness.)

So there I was, be-masked, silent, and alone, watching the banquet scene in the basement, when another audience member — a well-dressed white dude — took my hand. TOOK IT, LIKE IT WAS HIS. Like he was Christopher Columbus and my hand was America.

I cycled through several immediate thoughts:

+ Oh, how embarrassing for him! He must think I’m someone else.

+ Is he a member of the cast who’s going undercover, The Prince and the Pauper-style, by wearing the mask of an audience member?

+ His hand-holding sure is confident! He probably works in derivatives.

+ If I can’t speak, how can I say “no”?

+ Is this like improv, where I’m not supposed to say “no,” at least unless he does something super creepy?

While I was wrestling with all that, Christopher Columbus assertively led me out of the ballroom and to another scene, and then another. After a few minutes it became impossible to shake him off, not just because he was holding my hand so tightly but because perhaps I had missed my window of opportunity. Soon we would be joined together for life! What would I say to Mr. Ben and Babygirl? “Sorry, Christopher Columbus grabbed me. Gotta go. See you maybe in twenty years when he lets go!”

His hand was very warm, yet dry. I didn’t hold his hand back, per se, but I did allow my hand to be held. In almost fourteen years, this is as close as I’ve come to sexual contact with a person besides the father of my child.

Finally, Christopher Columbus led me to the bar on the second floor, which is the oasis in the SLEEP NO MORE desert: the place where you’re allowed to eat and drink and catch your breath and talk.

“Hello,” I said, because I’m exceedingly clever and make my living using words.

“Can I buy you a drink?” he said.

“No thanks?” I said.

He shrugged and smiled and disappeared. That was the last I saw of Christopher Columbus. I put my mask on and went back to SLEEP NO MORE.

“For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.” —
Romeo & Juliet

Tumbling Through Europe

The Great Escape is almost half over! We have made it through Lithuania and the Cotswolds in rural England; still ahead, a week in London, to which we’ve just arrived, and then the coast of Spain. Hopefully there at last we’ll get more than 24 hours between rainstorms.

View from the Woolpack pub in Slad Valley

After a drive that took us through Oxford, at which I panted out the window of the car like a forlorn hound, we’ve made it to our AirBnB rental in town. It turns out to be a boarding house we’re sharing with our host, her daughter, a fellow from Barcelona, a couple from Italy, a black-and-white cat, and possibly David Copperfield. Not 100% what we expected but no matter.

Quite close is a neighborhood called Shepherd’s Bush, and I will try manfully not to snigger every time I walk by. Considering we passed Maidenhead on the way in, I’m assuming the British have excellent restraint, or perhaps are merely used to giggle-inducing names. Can you imagine a suburb of DC called Virginity? I mean, really.

Although of course there is “Virginia” …

Anyway. London! At last! England is my Oz, which makes London my Emerald City. I almost cannot contain my excitement at finally getting to explore this place I’ve read so much about, except that I must, because I’ll be on baby duty all week and will only be able to accomplish so much. Life is long and will bring me back to London, right? There’s no need to maximize.

I wrote more about Vilnius for Lilith Magazine and about the traumatic trip from Eastern to Western Europe for The Billfold. For more regular updates vacation updates — pictures, quick thoughts, and the like — check out my new Tumblr.

Free To Be … Me: Why Do Other People’s Choices Make Us So Cranky?

America is suffering from an epidemic. No, it has nothing to do with smoking or obesity; it doesn’t even have to do with gun violence.* It has to do with unwonted bitterness and anger toward other people’s choices. No one, it seems, can be comfortable with their own decisions without justifying them by judging and/or dismissing other people’s. The trend is exemplified by Amy Sohn, who, in her recent Awl piece, cheerfully and smugly skewers everyone she knows, saying “we” just enough to allow her to criticize her community while also making it clear that she’s the observant outsider — the Mark Twain of Park Slope, if you will. (“The stoners came back with smug grins and then talked about how good the pot was, like if they didn’t talk about it, it wasn’t quite as rebellious. I decided it was time to go home.”)

Amy Sohn must be an aberration, though, right? Not these days. Everyone, it seems, now has an ax to grind. This piece in Salon is ostensibly about how being single is a legitimate life path, but in actuality drips with scorn for the alternative:

[Married people] aren’t going to pathologize you [single people] for playing around for a protracted amount of time, but eventually you’re going to have to settle. And the marker of success, the end of the romantic story, is riding off into the sunset with that person. But you don’t get to see the next 30 years of boredom, or anxiety, or terror or concern.

Look at that word choice: “Settle,” “boredom,” “anxiety,” “terror,” “concern.” What a revolutionary attitude toward marriage! Freud would be bored out of his mind by this guy. Can’t the institution just not be for him without being, well, terrible?

Slate recently ran a series about women choosing to be “child-free” that was actually about how gross & exhausting babies are. The highlight was this entry, entitled, “No Kids For Me, Thanks: I Don’t Enjoy Alien Parasites“:

So now I cheerfully tell anyone who mentions it—friend, family, co-worker, overly friendly stranger—that no, thank you, I will not have kids/parasites for reasons that will probably insult you. These include eww, gross, I-have-better-things-to-do-with-my-time, and there-are-7-billion-people-in-the-world-why-add-more. But if I can suffer through your alien ultrasound photo on Facebook or grin at your crying kids without vomiting, then you can be grateful that women like me will always be around to organize an occasional girl’s night out and to keep the population in check.

I mean, jeez, “kids/parasites”? “Without vomiting”? For many years, I felt decidedly neutral/negative on the subject of children, and especially on the subject of having them myself, but I never patted myself on the back for not going all Exorcist on someone else’s offspring just because they were making an unpleasant noise.

In Amanda Marcotte’s entry “Children Make you Happier, If Someone Else Does Most of the Work,” Marcotte contributed this gem to the hall of fame: “Not to say people are bad people for having children, but …”

But! Ha. The putting down of people who do marry and/or have kids is a theme of Marcotte’s: See also The Real Reason More Women Are Childless and Two More Reasons to be a Curmudgeonly Childless Marriage Boycotter.

And I refuse to even enter the attachment parenting fray, which has everyone taking up arms against each other on the subject of their choices, except tangentially: in another unhappy man’s case, his wife’s choice to breastfeed (and breastfeed, and breastfeed …) upsets him so much that he has taken his complaints to the Gray Lady. Perhaps he means to raise an interesting point about how a mother’s breastfeeding can affect a family’s dynamic; what he actually does is castigate huge swaths of the population and whine about how his wife’s bond with his son has affected his sex life:

So to all nursing moms, except perhaps those who used a lab technician, I say that the foundation of the parent-child bond is the parent-parent bond. Unlike the baby chicken or the fertilized egg conundrum, partnership precedes parenthood. That’s how you got into this position to begin with: by attracting a man who liked what he saw, and wanted to see more of what even the scientists researching extended breast-feeding call mammaries, not Mommaries.

How furious would you be if you were this strident fool’s wife? I’d probably rather have my husband cheat on me discreetly than slam me in a public forum. Of course, what I’d actually want is for my husband to say to me, “Honey, I totally get that breastfeeding our children serves some important function for both you and them, but can we talk about why he still has your boobs in his mouth? He can’t bring them to school in his lunchbox, after all, so it might be time to start weaning him.”

Also, of course his conclusion starts, “To all nursing moms.” Because sure, why not lump those women in who are struggling with breastfeeding, despite the numerous hurdles, for the suggested minimum 6 months, with women whose founts overflow until the kid is old enough to choose Sunny D from the fridge himself? Our society makes it difficult enough for women to nurse their children without this doofus weighing in that we’re grossing out our husbands, too.

Why the overheated self-justification? Why can’t we say, “You do what’s cool for you, and I’ll do what’s cool for me?” Why the rancor, which is just guaranteed to get everyone else reaching for their rhetorical Uzis? Isn’t it kind of exhausting?

The triggering event for this round up was my seeing, this past Sunday in the New York Times, a bitter troll complaining about how, now that his gay friends can finally get married locally, he’s being invited to too many weddings:

Same-sex weddings can also make us wince as stereotypes go on display in mixed company. Exhibit A: lesbians plodding down the aisle to the Judds. … I’m talking about one bride in a frilly Vera Wang and one in a butch pantsuit. You’re a better person than I am if that attire doesn’t make your mind wander into areas of their relationship it doesn’t belong.

In other words, “Gay people, stop enjoying your long-sought and hard-fought freedoms! They’re interfering with my weekend plans. Also, lesbians, would you please just go away? Ironically, though I am wincing at your displays of stereotypes, I am contributing to one of the more vicious stereotypes about gay men myself: that we are shallow, judgmental snobs who hate women and queer women in particular.”

A lot of this vitriol can be understood as people getting prickly because they are choosing less conventional paths: specifically not coupling up or not procreating. But is the defensiveness justified? Being single is a fully legitimate life-path, and our society has never been more accepting of it. Record numbers of people live by themselves:

Only 51% of adults today are married, according to census data. And 28% of all households now consist of just one person — the highest level in U.S. history. That second statistic may appear less dramatic than the first, but it’s actually changing much faster: The percentage of Americans living by themselves has doubled since 1960.

Singleness is, increasingly, the (or at least “a”) new norm. And single people aren’t ostracized. Look at two of the most powerful women of recent times: Condi Rice and Oprah. Not having a spouse doesn’t hold them back. We don’t burn older, unmarried ladies at the stake for being witches anymore; we appoint them to the Supreme Court.

Besides, our pop culture consistently reinforces the notion that “settling down” is for wimps, marriage is a sexless drag, and the goal is to remain young, hot, and unencumbered forever:

So what if some of your annoying relatives give you a hard time for not making it to the altar yet? That’s what annoying relatives are for. If they didn’t have your relationship status to needle you about, they’d be on you about your weight  or your mortgage payments or whether you’re going to scar your son for life if you do or don’t circumcise him.

Friends, this is very simple. If you don’t want to go to other people’s joyous ceremonies, don’t go. If you don’t want children, don’t have them. If you don’t want to get married, great! Save your money for retirement. I’m not judging you, so please do me the courtesy of not judging me. There’s no need to for all of us to turn into Katie Roiphe, is there? That’s what I thought.


*Sidenote: I liked Batman’s own statement on the issue of gun violence from within the universe of The Dark Knight Rises: “No guns,” he tells Selena Kyle sternly. “No guns, no killing.” My own favorite superhero Buffy feels the same way. One could argue that it may be easier for the extremely nimble, powerful, and quick to heal among us to eschew weaponry, but these avengers also live in even more dangerous times and places than we do. Besides, they’re still mortal and they face the prospect of dying on a near-daily basis. If they can choose not to pack heat, can’t the rest of us?

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post here.

Why I’m Starving: A PhD Tackles the Question

FRIEND, PHD:  hunger relates to calories needed vs calories consumed.
ME:  yeah, but calories burned => calories needed. we don’t burn calories sitting at our desks!
FRIEND, PHD:  if you are gestating a baby presumably you do.
ME:  presumaly, cuz otherwise, this [i.e., eating like a Sumo wrestler in training for a marathon] is ridiculous.
FRIEND, PHD:  maybe the baby is more of a manual laborer type, not a diaspora Jew
ME:  hee! or a little sabra in training.
FRIEND, PHD:  exactly. farming the land inside you, building towers and stockades, fighting off the natives, etc. that takes calories.
ME: fleeing cossacks, crossing the seas …
FRIEND, PHD: right, maybe it is fleeing persecution. let’s not assume it has already achieved proud sovereignty in its homeland.
ME:  the story usually begins with trauma and adversity, the overcoming of which brings the emigrant to the holy land
FRIEND, PHD:  that’s the typical teleology!
ME:  and prepares him/her for the toil of settling this new empty* barren country
FRIEND, PHD:  nowhere in this story is there a desk job at a nice American Jewish foundation.
ME:  that’s several generations later. why am i giving birth to the past, anyway?
FRIEND, PHD:  ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny
ME:  sesquipedalianism obfuscates pellucidity
FRIEND, PHD: shut up
ME:  my journalism teacher in HS had that on her wall 🙂
FRIEND, PHD:  no, but really! don’t you remember that from high school bio?
FRIEND, PHD:  I think that was actually very clever of me, if I don’t say so myself. the development of the fetus somehow mimics the status of human evolution from fish to human, or amoeba to human. ontogeny = fetal development, phylogeny = development of the species. recapitulates = looks something like.
ME:  uh huh.
FRIEND, PHD: i.e., your fetus first has to flee the Cossacks before it can work at [your small Jewy nonprofit]!

Be that as it may, although there are pregnancy resources up the wazoo, I haven’t found anything to help me deal with the fact that suddenly, under these circumstances, big does not equal bad. Having a belly has been a source of shame since I was little. Once, I remember, I was looking in the mirror in my bedroom and my mom came in. “Look, Mommy, I have a belly!” I said. “I know,” she said. “That’s because you don’t exercise.”

Of course it’s not her fault — the world she lives in, and knew that I’d have to live in too, measures your self-worth by your waistline. You over there! You’re taking up too much space! Only in clothes sizes do we strive to be zeroes, but we strive for that nothingness with energy and resources we dedicate to few other endeavors. For almost two years, I forewent dinner except for vegetables, and in the process I lost two dinner companions, because they ate hamburgers and couldn’t stand sitting across from me evening after evening as I picked morosely through my salad.

Pregnant women laughing with salad!

A fixation on appearance — specifically, wanting to be slim down as far as possible — is a common affliction among women in my cohort. That being the case, why isn’t there more attention drawn to the fact that it’s destabilizing to get pregnant, wake up every morning feeling like a stray dog who hasn’t eaten in weeks, and visibly expand? It’s just so strange. Suddenly, I’m supposed to listen to my body and eat what it wants. (Up to and including two [2] cheeseburgers, my first since I was 13.) When my pants start feeling tight, that’s a good thing. When I look down and see the beginnings of a dome, I’m supposed to rejoice. I keep thinking, “Really?”

I’ve been sucking in my stomach since high school and now I’m supposed to throw my shoulders back and bear my belly proudly. The cognitive dissonance is intense, and it’s taking me time to adjust.

45 / 14

I’m so addled that I just bought three pairs of shoes in one afternoon. Granted, there were sales involved, and running shoes that are necessary because my current pair has destroyed one of my toes and I’ve been ignoring that hoping something will change for six months. But primarily I did it because I’m feeling low on impulse control right now and would like pretty things.

Of course, the real pretty things I would like are well-situated, spacious apartments with amenities. Brokers and I differ on what “amenities” are: they believe “oxygen,” “floorboards,” and “non-lead paint,” count as amenities, and expect you to pay top dollar for them. Consider this apartment in Brooklyn Heights. It is a boring, boxy 2 BR condo in a boring, boxy new tower built without any regard for neighborhood architecture; it is, furthermore, under 1000 square feet; and it is selling for nearly $1M. To which I say, “How? Does it come with leprechauns? Do the air vents release the musk of the great god Pan, making you sexually irresistible to anyone you fancy?”

Because otherwise that is a fucking waste of money. It drives me round the bend. Everywhere in north and south Brooklyn, people are willing–in direct contravention of the laws of god and man–to SETTLE, to get so little for so much. That makes it much more difficult for reasonable people like me to say, “How about I give you half a million dollars* and you give me light, space, safety, comfort, workable appliances, and even perhaps a tiny slice of the great outdoors?”

*Still, by the way, a HUGE amount of money!

It is not to be. Or, anyway, not yet. I will soldier on, boats against the current, until I find what I want: a reasonably-sized place for Ben and me to sit and ponder whether buying an apartment has finally made us adults. (Appropriately I’m currently reading this book: Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House.) “You act all twenty-something,” a friend told me recently, “but secretly you’re all thirty-something.” She’s sort of right: secretly I’m 45, and also 14. I want everything to be all settled and stable and yet I am also totally immature and unready for real life. I just want someone wiser to take care of me and make the important decisions on my behalf while I, well, buy shoes on the Internet.