Before we begin… isn’t it funny when your last blog post mentions how you’re going to start blogging more and there’s going to be new posts each week and suddenly that was last December and you haven’t written a single post? Ha, yeah.
Anyways, I’ve been a married woman for a little over five months now, and while not much has changed, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of being a wife married to a wife. It feels convenient and comfortable living with someone who grew up with similar experiences as mine, who has the same biological features as me. This of course includes natural perks like my wife’s patience and understanding of my time of the month, as they have a time of the month too, and that fact that my closet has automatically doubled with options, but I feel like there’s a greater emotional understanding that only comes with both being wives and coming from a similar background of being raised as girls.
We are both conscious of the societal hardships women have faced and can both appreciate how far women have come — and there’s a strength we both feel in this, directly and fully. We are both conscious of the societal influences that have told women for years what they can and cannot do, and there is more power between the two of us to fight these influences and find our own ways to live. We are immediately part of a group, with complete understanding of this group, even during those times when the group is comprised of just the two of us.
Am I thinking irrational thoughts about my body image and how I am perceived? My wife knows where this comes from and can more appropriately console me. Do I not feel qualified enough to apply for a job that I’d be great at? My wife knows where this comes from and can more appropriately help me pull together a resume that works (it can’t hurt that they’re also an employment consultant…). It’s like we are pre-equipped with this tool belt in understanding each other’s insecurities and reactions.
And when it comes to navigating unfamiliar situations or perspectives, there’s an immediate comfortability in learning together as alike beings, from alike backgrounds. It creates a basic understanding, a home base of knowledge, even if it all diverges from there. Through all this mumbo jumbo, I mean to say that when I find myself in a place of insecurity or ignorance, it’s nice to know that I at least have that first stepping stone to help me toward knowledge and awareness, and that is my partner.
I was reading an article the other day that came hand in hand with a comic by Emma, in which the artist portrays an overworked mother being met with criticism by her husband when everything comes crashing down (a pot overflowing, their children not focusing, etc) — “You should’ve asked! I would’ve helped!” the husband says, throwing his hands into the air. Emma goes on to explain the concept of the mental load, or, always having to remember every task that must get done in order to keep a household running. This mental load is, sadly, often placed on one person.
I’m not saying that only heterosexual couples deal with the unequal responsibility of this mental load, but I am saying that straight couples are more likely to run into these issues. It’s no one’s fault besides society’s (so, I guess, everyone’s fault?), because it all goes back to the way we are conditioned by the societal expectations of gender. As Emma puts it, “we are born into a society… in which we see our mothers in charge of household management, while our fathers only execute the instructions.”
Going back to the example that starts Emma’s comic off, the mother attempts to balance dinner and grocery shopping and laundry and school projects and bedtime and finding a caretaker and setting the table and feeding the baby and, and, and. When everything inevitably begins to collapse, the father enters the room asking, “What can I do to help? All you need to do is ask.” And the mother is assigned with yet another task of assigning her husband with tasks, instead of him simply knowing what to do and doing it before she needs to ask.
I’m beginning to spiral off into a tangent, so let me rope everything back in. The points Emma discusses in her comic don’t just stop at household chores. I think it honestly just applies to the everyday flow of living with another human. Being in touch with each other’s needs and feelings, often without needing to ask.
It is so relieving to live with someone, I hate to say it, who was conditioned in the same ways I was. Why? It makes the path to transformation a hell of a lot easier. A nicer way of putting this is, we immediately understand why we do the things we do, whether those things describe pinching our love handles in front of the mirror and crying, or cleaning the house just because. And we can scrutinize and explore these things that we do to begin the transformative journey of becoming more well-rounded and unconstrained individuals.
We are also not held down by gender roles (if those still exist?). I do most of the cooking for the household and washing the dishes, which seem to be more “feminine” roles, but I also have litterbox duty and take out the trash and recycling weekly. My wife, on the other hand, manages the deep cleaning/scrubbing sessions every couple of weeks, including cleaning the bathrooms (!!) and vacuuming. You’ll also find them doing car maintenance, constructing IKEA furniture, and performing handywork around the apartment. We are not constricted by the archaic gender roles which tell us who needs to do what. We can be feminine and masculine simultaneously, equally, and freely, which is the way the world should go round (we’re getting there, slowly but surely!).
A lot of the benefits of living with a wife are better depicted as living with Kelsey, my wife, of course. Whenever Kelsey goes out to eat with their friends, they alwaysbring me back a little snack. They bake me fresh challah from scratch on Sabbath. Whenever I’m up earlier than Kelsey, I always make sure to wake them up gently, and have coffee brewed and waiting for them. At the end of the day, it is these things that portray the everyday beauty of living with my wife.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted, or written anything in general, which to me, for a long time, felt like the worst kind of self-destruction, but I have learned to forgive myself (with helpful encouragement from my wife). There’s no best way to excuse myself for 6+ months of not posting, but I will say that I’ve been experiencing life change after life change. In July of 2017, I uprooted my life as I knew it and moved across the country to start a new one. The next several months consisted of multiple job changes and settling in, saving up for our own place (we were living with my future in-laws, the millennial way…), creating new routines for new surroundings, taking on new hobbies and developing new habits (just a bunch of new), and caring for our cat, whose teeth and gums were, to put it attractively, rotting away.
In October 2018, I got married! Which means, of course, the months leading up to October were designated wedding planning months—consuming feels like a fitting adjective here, though of course now that it’s all over I find myself missing it. This recent life-changing event is mostly what this blog post will be about, but I feel like I must give some sort of exposition as to why I’m just now getting to this, nearly at the turn of the new year.
After the flurry of getting and being married, honeymooning with my new wife, relishing in the bright new light and warmth of marital happiness, we tumbled right into the holiday season. Not only did this mean preparing for Christmas—both at my Customer Service position at work, and at home—but it meant locking in on the early makings of new traditions, like hosting holiday dinners for family as a married couple, and seriously celebrating Chanukah. Between working overtime, restudying my religion so I can be a Real Jew™, and finding gifts for everyone on my list (though most of the gifts I bought ended up being for my wife), I’ve been a busy woman.
Here’s to moving forward, but looking back at the progress I’ve made. Commence true blog post.
For our wedding day, my wife built me a chuppah. It is a sacred symbol often taken on in Jewish weddings, and one of the traditions we chose to be part of our big day. Unable to track down the original chuppah my parents were married under, I was heartsick for a long while, scrolling through chuppah rental sites. It felt like the end of a dream of mine that I’d had for a while. Yet Kelsey determined that she would purchase the raw materials and build us a chuppah herself. She spent the next weekend creating our sacred space, with the help of her father and some handy power tools. She created a sacred space that we can now pass down to our children, should they choose to follow a similar path. Yes, I’ve married a dreamboat.
In fact, it is because of Kelsey’s encouragement that I decided to explore Judaism, and what spirituality and religion meant to me. I was born Jewish, born from my Jewish mother, and raised through all the token Jewish holidays—Chanukah and Passover being the most noteworthy. I remember reading from the Haggadah as early as I could make out the sounds, and wanting to wear a yamaka so effortlessly gifted to my brothers; tearing apart the house looking for the afikomen with cousins; mumbling through the candle lighting prayer on the first night of Chanukah, while my grandmother belted it on behalf of all of us. But, unlike my mother, I never learned Hebrew, I never had a Bat Mitzvah, I never went to temple. In fact, I hadn’t known that girls become the Bat Mitzvah, like one becomes a judge or a nurse, until I started working at a custom print shop. I kept seeing that phrase appear in our guest books and invitations, Celebrate Leah as she is called to the Torah as a Bat Mitzvah. The most proper of nouns.
But that’s okay. The religious experiences of my childhood only make up the first layer of my learning, like the first slathering of peanut butter on a complete pb&j, or the first leg of a race, or, I guess, to be truly literal, the first years of a developing human being. I have now begun the second layer, or condiment, or leg, of my learning, and I’m thankful to have a partner beside me while doing so. It’s technically her first Jewish leg (as if we must earn each body part of Judaism), but because she’s a history buff and has background in other religions and overall just loves to learn, I feel like she’s already surpassing me in some ways. But, she can’t quite pronounce the Hebrew words yet, and I pride myself in having that down. Even if I don’t know what the Hebrew words mean yet.
So my wife built me a chuppah. And for the ceremony, we wrapped each of its four poles with baby’s breath garland, stationed potted wildflowers at its base, and draped the lace veil of Kelsey’s nan and lace table cloth of Kelsey’s great nan—whom my engagement ring originally belonged to—over the “roof”. A chuppah is supposed to simultaneously symbolize an open space for all of the guests you have invited to your wedding, yet also embody a closed, intimate space for the couple beneath it. It’s meant to signify the couple’s new home—both welcoming and private.
The other Jewish tradition we agreed to was the symbolic breaking of the glass. Rather than asking my parents about how to execute this iconic moment, we googled “Ceremonial Jewish Breaking Glass” and bought the highest rated product off Amazon. It was a small goblet neatly packed inside a blue velvet bag. When it arrived, Kelsey and I were both impressed by how good quality and thick the glass was—something that we later learned probably wasn’t the best descriptor for a breaking glass, and that we should have consulted my parents.
Kelsey’s episcopal grandfather officiated the ceremony. Kelsey and I standing with Grandad underneath our handmade Chuppah made for a gorgeous and unique mixture of religions and spiritual themes. Kelsey and I still wanted the service to feel holy and mention God. Grandad wrote us the perfect sermon, the only change being that “spouse” be replaced with “wife”. I wanted to marry a wife. Be a wife.
Kelsey had decided that she would declare her vows first. What stood out the most to me, as she was speaking, was her appreciation for me. We’ve had a lot of discussions about the different ways people show love. My love is a very service-based type of love. I like doing things for her. Making sure the kitchen is clean and dishes are washed, brewing her coffee every morning, cooking her dinner. I did a lot of the coordinating for our wedding, like talking to the caterers, setting up appointments, tracking our guest list, making sure everything was squared away. So the fact that Kelsey expressed her appreciation for me and everything I do for our little family, during the biggest speech she would ever make to me—it made me knew that I was marrying the right person. Another thing that stood out during her vows was how thankful she was that we live during a time period where we can get married, openly and proudly. I think if she had the chance, she would have spent a couple more minutes during her vows outlining a brief history of same sex marriage, which is a thought that makes me giggle—it’s what I love about her. My historian.
For my vows, I wrote Kelsey a poem. It’s not a publishable poem by any means, but it was a poem for my wife. In this sense, it was one of the most important poems I have ever written. That’s all I will say about that.
After the vows came the time to break our ceremonial glass. Granddad reached for the blue velvet bag containing our breaking glass and placed it on the floor in front of me. When he gave the prompt, I hiked up my wedding dress, lifted my two-inch heel, and positioned it in line with my target. And then I stomped.
I swear the glass was bullet proof. Because I stomped three more times. I remember looking at Kelsey, mortified, eyes wide with fear, asking her to please try. She did, and alas, it would not break!
Kelsey jokingly suggested to throw it against the ground. Panicking, I scooped up the blue velvet bag, and, with all my might, hurled it against the ground. The carpeted floor did not cooperate, and sent the velvet bag flying back up, into the gut of Kelsey’s Man of Honor, my future brother-in-law. By now, our audience, who was once tear-soaked at our endearing vows, was now collapsing into uproarious laughter.
Kelsey and I both threw our hands up, in a very “fuck it” like manner, and Kelsey pulled me close, held my face, and kissed her bride.
I later discovered from my family that the reason I simply could not break the glass was simply because of my equipment. Every time I stomped down on the glass, it would get lodged in between the heel and sole of my shoe. Because I was not the traditional male groom wearing a traditional male, flat-footed shoe, the glass would not break easily under my stomp. I’m sure the thickness of the glass also had something to do with it—after the wedding I actually revisited the product’s amazon webpage, and read countless other reviews about the difficulty of breaking this glass—but the concept of not wearing the appropriate shoe kind of opened the room to a lot of critique on marriage, religion, and tradition.
Kelsey and I are a Jewish Queer couple. I like to think that this statement paves the way for future generations to come, generations comprised of such bright and beautiful differences which stray from those restricting societal norms and “rules to live by” of the past. Generations that are queer, that are interracial, that are multilingual, that have two moms, or two dads, that are nonbinary, gender fluid—not chained to the constructs that limit us, but overflowing with opportunities for more colorful and inclusive cultures. Think of all the knowledge that will come from this beauty! All these new experiences and opportunities to learn from those who are different from us! The opportunities to reconstruct religions and practices as times change, as humanity develops and grows. Adding an orange to the Sedar plate to represent the Jewish LGBTQ community. Wearing a yamaka as a female, becoming a female Rabbi. Stomping on a ceremonial Jewish breaking glass with a two-inch heel. Stomping on the breaking glass as a bride, not a groom.
Our wedding was definitely our wedding. I know this statement means virtually nothing on the surface, but I think that weddings can often be held up by strict and stuffy ceremonial traditions, not really leaving any room for improvisation, and therefore unplanned instances of humor, of love, of emotion. And really, to drive my point home, this can relate to the big picture, to society as a whole. A society that is tied down by socially-constructed “rules” does not leave any room for improvisation, and therefore unplanned instances of humor, of love, of emotion.
I don’t know. I can only speak from the ground on which I stand. Take it with a grain of salt.
The real point to all this is a point that my parents kept bringing up, after the ceremony. You’re supposed to use a light bulb in place of an actual “breaking glass.” A light bulb breaks easily, but breaks in the same sound as any ceremonial glass. A light bulb is the ultimate symbol of Jewish sanctity.
The day ended up being perfectly imperfect, which is a compliment Kelsey and I give each other and our relationship quite often. The ceremony was perfectly balanced, was both sweetly endearing and dangerously hilarious—which is something I like to think doesn’t happen at every wedding ceremony. We spent the night conversing and laughing and dancing with our closest loved ones—entertaining guests from across the country, who all put so much time, money, and effort in just to be there to celebrate with us. Both our brothers were our “Men of Honor”, and they encapsulated this responsibility with pride and grace. Even the sun was shining, which is rare for October in Washington, and we could see the mountains in the distance, behind rolling hills, and a rickety set of train tracks, which made us think back to our previous little life in Galesburg, Illinois. As it should be, it was the best day of my life.
It feels nice writing again. I was feeling pretty bad about not writing lately, so much so that I confided in one of my closest writing friends, Savannah. She’s a marvelously intelligent and creative woman, that one. Majored in Neuroscience but discovered her love for writing poetry in the last couple of years of college, and she’s now pursuing an MFA, her latest project being a video essay, where she explores her identity in poetic verse, but using a deliciously visual platform, accompanying her words with art from children’s books. Anyways, I had expressed that I was afraid I’d lose my writing capabilities altogether, simply because I haven’t been practicing every day, like I used to, in college. She reminded me, first, that I have a lifetime, and that I’m on a journey that “most of us cannot imagine.” She says, maybe I’ll be the poet who starts a family and finds security first, and then goes back to school. A lot of writers who made it, are making it, have traveled this same path, too. It doesn’t all have to be linear.
Savannah’s right, and I’m stubborn. But I’m working on becoming less stubborn.
I’m going to think of this space as a safe one—one where I can explore things on my mind, without the worry of sounding intellectual or being masterful on the subject. Simply writing about something because I enjoy it. I’ve been thinking a lot about my amateur love for food, for cooking, and maybe a not-so-amateur love for eating. I’d like to write some posts about life-changing restaurants I’ve eaten at in the Seattle area, or cooking experiments I’ve done in my kitchen with just the available ingredients in my pantry (think of a Chopped episode, but without the pressure of the clock, and without tough ingredients like Rocky Mountain Oysters, so, the Recruit setting of Chopped).
I’ve also been really interested in budgeting, because you have to live on a budget when you live somewhere with a higher cost of living. I’ve learned to practice budgeting until it becomes fun (it takes a lot of wallowing and pitying thyself to get to this point). I’d love to do some opinion posts about how and where to grocery shop, and treasures I’ve found at Trader Joes—things like that.
So from this point on, you’ll see posts about writing, about reading and literature, about poetry, of course, but you’ll also probably see posts about the random junk detailed above, about things that interest me, no matter how stinky I am at doing these things.
I also promise that my blog posts will be shorter from now on. Maybe. Thanks for reading.
This past July, I’ve made the hugest change in my life thus far, and that’s moving from my homestate of Illinois up to the Pacific Northwest. It took about a month of selling or donating furniture and assorted things in order to condense our possessions into two hatchbacks-worth of cargo; four days of driving with a yowling cat and very unhappy hedgehog; and what will probably be a lifetime of missing my family and remembering my childhood home.
It’s surely bittersweet, but I’ve always wanted a forest and mountains in my backyard; my fiancee just got me here faster than I would have alone. She’s a Seattle native (and when I say Seattle, I mean the Greater Seattle area. I’m only clarifying because Chicago natives would have a meltdown if I, raised in suburban Naperville, said I was from Chicago) and she was ecstatic when I first told her I someday wanted to leave Illinois. Seattle is definitely where she, and I, belong.
To commemorate this big move, I thought I’d share some of the reflection I did my senior year of college on living in Galesburg. It’s quite an interesting town of about 30,000, and I’d like to think there’s as many trains that pass through everyday as there are people. My senior capstone for Creative Writing was essentially compiling a portfolio of our work from the past four years, and starting it off with 25 pages of reflection. I broke my introduction into several chunks, and a few of them were dedicated to the town I spent those four years living and writing in. So here’s a couple of those:
“Sure, there are trains constantly announcing themselves down the Burlington Route; there is the Lincoln-Douglas debate site; there is Knox College and Dorothea Tanning and Mary Ann Bickerdyke. Yes, good. But look at these empty trainyards underneath the bridge, silent in waiting, if for just a moment. Look at the cemetery, which has done centuries of gathering up, of piecing together the continually gone. Look at the Main Street roundabout, which is the only roundabout I know that asks you to yield from within the circle. Look at Vac-World, buzzed and lonely by night, but present and thankful for it. Look at Romantix, faithful with steel doors. Look at Glory Days—barber shop by day, punk rock concert hall by night. World Buffet—a palace of culture tucked away, uncovered only with a little bit of trust and a truly empty stomach.
In my four years in Galesburg I’ve never set foot in Vac-World. I’ve only examined it from its exterior, documented its late-night aesthetic from a safe distance. Thought about how the awning light never goes off, not even at three a.m.; as if, inside, there were a secret door to an underground night club. For vacuums, of course—a whole flock of them, never sleeping, always drinking to forget the way they are forgotten. From what I can tell from the outside, the inside is a past era frozen in time. 1980s vacuums on display, as if they were collectibles, not to be taken out of their packages. They must have a cash register in there that still dings on command, an attendant who still counts change without the aid of a machine, who keeps a dish of pennies by the register for close calls.
In the center of the roundabout stands a statue of Carl Sandburg and his goat steed Nellie. Just recently the town has installed granite slabs of poetry around the statue—lines of Sandburg’s poems literally cemented into Galesburg. The statue is now officially dedicated—marked by a ribbon cut and everything—to the citizens of the town, “in honor of Galesburg’s most famous son.”
In her essay “The Lustres,” Lia Purpura writes that “a word is a way to speak about something that really, in truth, no word can touch.” Maybe these poems engraved into stone, of stone, cemented hard into legacy, speaking loud to surf the wind, proclaimed to the air we all share here, dedicated to the citizens in the cars that orbit this roundabout daily—maybe this comes a little bit closer to contact.
I’m not going to pretend to know what it means to belong. What does this word even mean? I don’t know if Galesburg will ever “belong,” just like I don’t know if I’ll ever have belonged in it. Or if Vac-World means anything, or Glory Days, or even Carl Sandburg, or me.
But I do know that at five o’clock, a church’s bells sing and chide to a church across the town, and that church bellows back, and soon, the trains join, coming in to announce themselves with steel grind and howl, and I am standing there as a tiny presence surrounded by this town’s faithful music—pulling me into place at the same time it swallows me gone.
I’ve come to the World Buffet—a restaurant located in Galesburg that features a buffet of “delicacies” from each part of the world, but is furnished much like a traditional Chinese restaurant—to think a little bit about the accessibility of poetry. The restaurant hosts booths and faux-marble-top tables on each side, separated by a walkway down the middle—its dividers embellished with cork sculptures of mountains and bamboo trees and dojos and pandas and storks pressed in between glass plates. The color scheme of the joint is a straw yellow, down to the shine of the overhead lights, with accents of deep red and mahogany; the only other color in the dining room is a dull blue glow emitted by two suspended tvs—playing some news channel with English subtitles. The restaurant sounds a backdrop of Celine Dion or Enya—deep, inspirational music to accompany the ingestion of heaps of steamy, worldly food. Being an “around-the-world experience,” World Buffet caters to every kind of resident of Galesburg, but mostly stoned college kids and middle-aged beer-bellied men wearing bald eagle t-shirts take advantage of it.
In the buffet room, like a capsized ocean, the ceiling is surprisingly blue, with built-in layers of wall, recalling the imagery of waves. Beneath this, of course, are about nine islands of food, not necessarily organized by their origins. The food selection is, indeed, quite worldly for a small joint in Galesburg, Illinois. Here’s the typical American pot pie and mashed potatoes and fried chicken and casserole, but there’s also sushi, General Tsao’s chicken, squid, Vietnamese egg rolls and potstickers. Of course, not every part of the world is represented, maybe because of resources, or the preferences of the mostly Chinese staff, or the lack of resources: there’s no Indian selection—no samosas or vegetable biryani or butter chicken—nor is there traditional Maori cuisine—food cooked in an underground “earth oven” (a Hangi), such as kumara and fern shoots and whitebait. So maybe World Buffet isn’t the greatest example here, but it’s one I do enjoy because it embodies Galesburg’s attempt at inclusion, despite its incompleteness: a small town, landlocked and, in some areas of expertise, clueless, is trying to make everyone feel welcome, attempting to represent all of its citizens, and that’s really beautiful.
I’m thinking poetry should maybe be like this—accessible to a non-poet audience, but still a little, well, “foreign,” if you will, or maybe just adventurous or maybe even a little frightening. Personally I am a bit frightened by the thought of swallowing those bite-sized, full-bodied squids, in the same way my mother is a little frightened of reading Richard Siken. And I think poets and non-poets alike should be a little frightened or uncomfortable by poetry. But I also think there should be a bit of recognition in a poem that we can follow, like a raft to carry us along, especially for those who wouldn’t even bother with poetry otherwise. Inexperienced white-water rafters go white-water rafting all the time—for the thrill, for the fear, for the feeling of being balanced on the edge of danger and safety. Why can’t non-poets or poetry-disinclined individuals dive into a poem the same way, not knowing if they are going to come out perfectly fine or scarred or unable to breathe?
Sure, there are going to be those individuals at World Buffet who have been eating squid heads all their life—this doesn’t faze them. But they also might stick their tongue out at the Wisconsin mac and cheese. And here’s the beauty of a buffet and poetry alike: we can pick and choose what to consume. But first, we must try every option, see what we like. Afterwards, we can have the waitress pick up the plate, we can put down the book. We have a whole world of food at our hands here.
As a safety net, the Chinese staff at World Buffet americanizes some of the options to make us more comfortable as “Americans”. Maybe from there, we Americans will gain the confidence to try something totally new. Does this translate to poetry? Of course. Bob Hicok writes from his life and doesn’t bother to research or investigate, I don’t know, outer space or Antarctica—things that he or we may not understand at first glance: he gives us what he lives, day to day, which generally speaks to the human condition we are all in on—no fancy fluff needed. Even the non-poets can follow. But sometimes we don’t understand, or we even understand way too much, and that’s the thrill, that’s the danger: that’s when we come out of it unable to breathe. And then we dive back in. We go back for seconds.”
I can’t even begin, yet, to fathom words out of my feelings of leaving my family in Illinois. But that, too, will eventually come.