Sunday, July 22, 2007

30 and Thrilling

I turned 30 last Tuesday. With a birthdate like mine (7/17/77) you would think I would have all, or at least some, of the luck in the world. I tend, however, to be a magnet for disaster and catastrophe most of the time. And I am not lucky in Vegas. In real life, I work hard and know how to network, but I am not lucky. I once played the lottery and did not win. I am not lucky.

I spent all of last year, my last year of my twenties, gearing up to turn 30 -- preparing for the day I would wake up and not be young anymore. I focused on training myself mentally to withstand the horror that is 30. A few months ago, before I came up to Ithaca for the summer, for Cornell's School of Criticism and Theory, I was deeply depressed when I realized I would be spending my 30th at theory camp with a bunch of people I did not know.

I should be in Hollywood on that day, I thought to myself, partying with all of the other have beens. Boulevard of broken dreams and all that . . .

But I had a phenomenal day it turns out, though it started off a bit rocky. At midnight, the night before, my friend David accused me of being 30. "No," I said, "I was born in California. I was not born on the east coast. I have three hours left of my twenties."

The challenge then became how to spend those last three hours. What does one do in the final throes of youth? I decided to finish working on a project that was due the next day, since I really had no other choice. I actually stayed up all night, until 7am, working on it. Happy Birthday.

Then I skipped my Tuesday morning seminar and decided to give myself a birthday nap. I woke up sometime that afternoon and rummaged through a giant ice cream cone-shaped pinata that my mother had sent me the day before, filled with little gifts. When I first received the pinata, I thought it was an empty pinata, and the funny thing is that I was thrilled. I was so excited to be receiving a giant ice cream cone-shaped pinata, even if it was empty. When my mom asked me later that day if I liked the gifts, I had no idea what she was talking about. It seems that turning 30 means you're now easily pleased and amused.

So I searched through the pinata. I was looking for the pin (pictured above) she had sent me. "30 and Thrilling." I was going to wear it and make a parody of myself. I had decided that when in your twenties, it's easy to be sexy. But in your thirties, in the wake of diminished sexiness, you must be funny also. I would try.

That afternoon I attended a lecture by Daniel Boyarin. Boyarin on my birthday. I had been looking forward to this lecture for months, but I could barely keep my eyes open. At the reception afterward, I ate too much and drank too little. My pin was quite the conversation starter. Everyone, mostly women, seemed to feel the need to say the same thing to me: "30 is the new 20" and "Your 30s are the best years of your life." I asked one woman, who was going on and on about how great the 30s are, how old she was. She was 24. "But," she said, "I can't wait to turn 30. I am so jealous that you are 30." Uh, really? She seemed to think that by the time she turns 30 she will have her life figured out.

I am so behind if that was the goal.

But one woman did have a good point when she said, "The year I turned 30 was much better than the year I turned 20. I feel much confident in who I am now than I did when I turned 20." And she was right. I actually feel the same way. I would not trade 30 for 20, though I might trade 30 for, say, 26. My twenties were some of the best, and most horrific, years of my life. I suppose it's good to move on. If only I could keep my 29-year-old body.

But it gets good. After the reception, we decided to go to a place called Stella's for martinis. My first martini as a 30-year-old, pictured below, was ideal -- very cold and extra extra dirty. Lots of people showed up to celebrate, and it was a blast. There was a very loud "Happy Birthday" song, sung by the entire bar (we were the only ones there), that made me happy. Love my new friends. It was actually one of the best birthdays ever, if you can believe it. There is no other group of people I would've rather spent it with. And, as it turns out, Ithaca, NY isn't so bad.

30 is thrilling.

Something I don't often do, but here are a few select photos:

My first martini as a 30-year-old.

My friend Jenny and me. She bought me a birthday lemon drop shot.

Two Levinasians and two Davids.

My friend Mindi and me. She is super cool.

The face of 30: tired and angry.

David and Jenny are two of my favorites. I want to be Local Meat.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Are You There, G-d?

Last night was a typical Saturday night for me -- I ate Indian food and watched a Holocaust documentary. This one, though, actually made me cry in a few instances. Not that crying while watching a film about genocide is surprising, but I've seen so many by this point, and I've read so much about the Holocaust, that I often think I am in some ways desensitized to the individual pain, though I remain passionate about speaking out against the atrocity.

Last Days is about Hitler's massacre of the Hungarian Jews in 1944, in the last days of WWII. But while the documentary itself is incredibly moving and tastefully done (it won an Oscar in 1998 for best documentary), what I was most struck by was the place of G-d in the documentary. Everything always comes back to G-d, and questions of G-d. One man, for example, a Greek Jew who had been a member of the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz, asks, "Why did G-d spare me?" I suppose, though, that the better question is: "What kind of god would allow this to happen?" And yet, the atrocity itself seems to answer the question: "There is no god." The irony, of course, (though maybe "irony" is the wrong word) is that he was not spared. G-d did not spare him. He lived, physically, but he was not spared emotionally or psychologically. I imagine that living through such a horrific experience (remember that the Sonderkommando saw the worst of the worst in Auschwitz, and that very few survived to tell the tale) is tantamount to dying countless physical deaths. There is no "life" after Auschwitz.

It is in this context that I thought of something a friend said to me the other day. For various reasons, this person has spent time in different countries, some of which are countries where people don't vacation or travel to for fun because of the terrible things that transpire there on a daily basis. At any rate, witnessing firsthand what we might call the inhumanity of man against man has shaped my friend's view of G-d, which is that there is no G-d.

But of course it is "true" in that it makes perfect sense. Our beliefs in G-d have everything to do with two things: our own experience of the world (which has largely to do with where we live and to what class we belong), and our own desires. I grew up in an Evangelical community (lately I've been saying that I'm a recovering Evangelical, though the truth is that I am fully recovered, thank G-d, with no chance of relapse) where the prevailing mindset was that G-d is good all the time, that if we ask, we will receive, that G-d loves, protects, and watches over us. We are selfish; our view of G-d reflects little more than what we want him to be for us personally.

And so we populate the heavens with the golems of our own narcissistic impulses . . .

But this god exists only for the people who inhabit a culture of mega-churches and economic abundance. Sometimes I still want this god to exist; I want him to be real -- at least "real" in this particular way. But that is not possible anymore, especially when this is a view of G-d that cannot be perceived by most people around the world. One Hungarian survivor from the film -- actually was a member of Congress from California -- said it best: We "cannot find a place for a higher authority in this nightmare." And that is just the nightmare of the Holocaust, not the nightmare of living in a post-Holocaust world full of daily nightmares.

So now I'm going to be depressed all week, no doubt. No more Holocaust films for the next week.