On the Struggles and Hidden Blessings of Changing Course

Wow, it’s been a while.

There have been so many words inside me lately (which, really, is nothing new), but I have kept those words largely to myself, confined to my personal handwritten journals and a disorganized virtual sheaf of Google documents. If the outside world could hear my brain at work, I’d imagine it would be a furious clatter of old-fashioned typewriter clacks — at least, that’s how it feels to me most of the time. I needed the chance to hammer out a pile of messy words on my own, to let the ink dry, to scratch out the bits that didn’t fit and rework the lines that were almost there until I knew they were true. It’s strange, albeit quite a relief, how thoughts can seem so muddled, but with a bit of poking the words around you can tease out the entire knot and smooth your ideas into something polished and resonant. For me, that meant untangling societal and religious pressures, including ones I was exerting upon myself, and managing to get back to the essence of where I’ve come from, where I’m going.

It hasn’t been easy. If I’m being incredibly honest, the past few months have been some of the hardest I’ve experienced since 2010. Anxiety greets me in the mornings, depression envelopes me during the day, and trying to see past these two smothering companions, the ones I wish would just go away, is next to futile. To complicate things, anger has also made a frequent appearance; he likes to drag me wildly behind him while I flail about, unable to tear myself from his clutches. These three — anxiety, depression, and anger — have also started to throw parties that I am forced to attend, often inviting despair to join them in their twisted merry-making. It’s really quite a houseful. In the past few weeks, though, I have managed to keep them out of my way for a while as I tidy up and go about setting things back in order. And, in the mess they left behind, I have stumbled across some long lost treasures that I’m actually grateful to have unearthed. Let me tell you about them.

  • Yoga is something I started for how good it makes me feel. To be fair, I never actually forgot this. However, somewhere along the way, my yoga practice started to shift towards something I did for physical fitness and to keep my flexibility on point. While there’s nothing wrong with those things, I have been rediscovering what it means to focus my attention on the delicious physical and emotional sensations my yoga practice can elicit. It has taken my attention from an outward goal that stems from the opinions of others to a peaceful place inside. I now look forward to my daily yoga practice again.
  • Words are my first love. I have been allowing myself to get lost in the pages of novels again, with no destination and no goal in sight. I’m not reading to improve myself, to learn anything, or to get ahead, but simply for the pure experience of it. I’ve been doing a similar thing with writing. I’ve not been writing with anyone else in mind, to convey any sort of ideas or meaning or to make myself understood. Rather, my writing has consisted of scribbles here and there, of sorting my own thoughts out for my own sake alone, basking in the pleasure of playing with sounds, letters, and syntax. I realized that I feel absolutely alive when I am surrounded by words.
  • Creating music is crucial to my survival. It shocks me how easily I am prone to forget this. When you live with roommates, are constantly surrounded by people, and you don’t have a car, it’s not always easy to find the privacy to create music. I realized, though, that on the days where I play my ukulele, have access to a piano in order to pound something out, or shamelessly belt out a Broadway tune despite people being around, my sense of well-being improves significantly. In short, I cannot live without singing. It’s as vital to my self-expression as being able to speak.
  • I’ve always had pretty big aspirations. This one has been quite tricky for me to untangle, and I’m not all the way through the knot yet. Being surrounded by floods of friends who are married and popping out children can really take its toll on you if that’s something you would also like to have in your life. It’s especially rough when the men that you manage to meet are fickle, overgrown children (that’s all I’m going to say about that), and it’s easy to sink into self-pity and bitterness. However, although I’m not trying to tempt fate with this statement, I do not anticipate that I will die at age 30. While it’s true that I will most likely have fertility issues (which, the voice in my head likes to remind me, is quite unfair) that compound the longer I must wait to have children, the fact remains that I have a lot of unfinished business in this wide, wide world. I’m not done yet, and perhaps that’s the reason I feel I’ve been hitting brick wall after brick wall with my more traditional endeavors. 8-year-old Emily never anticipated being this old without her own family, but she also didn’t anticipate having lived in four different countries by now. Besides, 8-year-old Emily’s main dream was to be writing books, not chasing babies.
  • Going back to where you came from is not failure. This one hit me right over the head last week, and it took a growing certainty that I want to leave Israel paired with the In the Heights soundtrack to drive it home. I always really identify with Nina, the girl in the Barrio who “made it out” by going off to college at Stanford and is ashamed to have to reveal to her family and neighbors that she dropped out. “Hey guys, it’s me: the biggest disappointment you know,” she sings to herself, imagining the words she will say upon her return to Washington Heights. While I won’t spoil the ending of the musical, Nina’s feelings at this point in the show are exactly how I’ve been feeling. If I leave Israel, still single, still childless, still career-less, what will I tell everyone? For a long time, I thought a return would be the ultimate failure; it would be like conceding that a Nebraska girl never gets out of Nebraska. You know what, though? It turns out I was missing the point entirely. Where we are doesn’t matter. What matters is who we are, what we’re working towards, and why we make the decisions we do. Even if Israel was not a good fit for me, the rest of the world remains to be explored, and having Nebraska as a home base is a pretty big blessing.

You know how when you’re using your GPS to drive somewhere and you miss a turn or get stuck in traffic or there’s an accident, the system will re-route you? That’s essentially what’s been happening in my world the past couple of months. I had a destination in mind when I moved here to Israel, and now that it’s becoming increasingly clear that this venture will most likely end up being an interesting detour, I’m having to get my bearings and re-route my journey. And, just like it’s never a fun time when Siri changes driving directions up on you, it’s been even more frustrating to have to deal with it in real life. Muttering insults at other drivers and scowling into the rear-view mirror have been replaced by going for desperate, angry runs along the boardwalk and long rants sent to Denise via Kakao Talk voice note (G-d bless her for always listening and ranting along). Additionally, I have learned to never underestimate the power of vegan cupcakes while escaping into the implausible fantasy of a Korean drama.

Anyway, here I am. I’m still waiting for my internal navigation system to recalibrate. It’s not comfortable, but it’s a whole hell of a lot easier once you finally stop resisting.

As Nina says, “Just breathe.”

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