When he met The Fockersteins

I thought I’d reprise a post from the early days… when my now husband and then goyfriend and I first began dating and he came home with me to New Jersey to meet The Fockersteins. It’s nice to look back and see how much I’ve changed (and that my parents have not.).

MEET THE FOCKERSTEINS

 

 

Gone Girl, Found: What qualifies a woman as "crazy"?

My husband and I saw the movie GONE GIRL a few days ago. I read the book when it first came out and enjoyed it, so with David Fincher at the helm, I assumed I would like it.

“Like” is the wrong word to describe the experience. Horrifying and unnerving are more apropos (and perhaps, the point). And not because of the Hollywood plot constructs or gratuitous gore designed to do so. The movie was unnerving because through its depiction of the perfect “It” girl (“Amazing Amy”) gone berzerk, it temporarily puts a crack in the lens of what crazy looks like. It causes men to look at women, be it their girlfriends, wives, sisters or mothers, and wonder, no matter how subconsciously, “Could that brand of crazy be lurking in her?”  images

Seven years ago, on the heels of a devastating divorce, I discovered that I had some meshugah lurking in me. It crept up on me slowly. One morning, while vacationing in a big old house in Martha’s Vineyard with a few newly single girlfriends (a sequel called “Gone Girls”?), I awoke early to make coffee and as I stood at the kitchen sink looking out over the Dickensian landscape of gray rolling hills, I pictured myself standing on that hill, my long black skirt billowing savagely in the wind, and I thought to myself: That woman (me) looks mad. What if her husband came home at that moment and saw her there, and realizes, by the subtle way she dips her head or moves her arm, that she is mad, and that he is afraid of her? Would he be right, or is it only his perspective?

I thought of writing a novella about a husband and wife’s alternating points of view of the wife’s descent into madness, which explores the meaning of “crazy” and the moment it springs into being. But then… well… I had some more crazy exploits to tend to, so I forgot. And then “Gone Girl,” the book came out. And here we are.

The questions that plagued me at the time were maddening in their own right. Had my own sense of “crazy” been lurking all along, waiting for a trauma to unleash it? Or, was it just a temporary side effect of that trauma? And how do we even define “crazy”? Is it subjective, depending on circumstances and perspective? Or is it diagnosed only by visible, tangible behaviors? Can we feel crazy but not act or necessarily be crazy?

I don’t know, nor am I equipped or educated enough on the topic to attempt to answer any of those questions. But for me,  it was defined by a feeling that was strange and disorienting – of being lost and off balance; in emotional survival mode, intent on protecting my raw wounds from infection by enveloping them in a prickly shell. I would act impulsively or speak inappropriately, and it was this specific lack of control – which I only recognized after the fact  – that concerned me. (Plus a few instances of being “that” person at the bar, sobbing in public for no apparent reason, and going to a public restroom to pee without noticing the urinals until my exit.)

Filled with shame, I retreated into myself. It wasn’t that I feared going Crazy Amy on anyone. I just didn’t want to be around people who might detect this about me. I wanted to hide until it passed. I was hoping that this was a phase, and not the “real me.”

And eventually, in time, it did pass. As I healed, I emerged from that murky place and left that “me” behind. I got my shit sorted and met the man I am now married to, who is kind, patient, and as sane as they come. Those qualities bring out the stable, rational, and self aware qualities in me and my sense of self and grasp on life feel peacefully balanced. Most of the time anyway.

When GONE GIRL was over and my husband and I walked out of the dark theater, I turned to him and blurted, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t marry a crazy person?”

My question didn’t require an answer, because it wasn’t really a question. I was only seeking validation for what I already knew. That the crazy girl is gone, and the real one’s been found.

 

 

 

 

Cougel comes full circle: And then what?

In this new season of Cougel, I promised to fill you in on where I’ve been, and I can’t do that without telling you where I’ve arrived.

I didn’t realize this when I started the blog, but the origin of the word “Kugel” bears mentioning now . According to Wikipedia, “the name of the dish comes from the German Kugel meaning ‘sphere, globe, ball.’”   rice-kugel-400x300

The connotations are obvious: circular, interconnected. The process of learning one lesson over and over,  disjointed experiences suddenly connecting with a revelatory click, before we can move on to the next.

When I started this blog in 2010, I was 1) in the throes of a tumultuous divorce 2) acclimating to being single for the first time in my adult life and, 3) excavating my true self and discovering my voice as a writer…amongst other things.

The theme that wrapped all of this together was my struggle, and skepticism (thinly veiled fear), to find true love. Did I have too much baggage as a divorcee in her late thirties? (Yes). Would I find love in the NYC dating scene – on J-Date, Match, or Ok Stupid? (Hell no). Thankfully, there was no Tinder back then, the dating version of Russian Roulette in flip book form, which would have led me down an even more hypothetical path of perceived options than the typical single New Yorker. And Christian Mingle wasn’t an option, although somehow, I sniffed out all of the goys who snuck onto J-Date anyway, like so: http://thecougelchronicles.com/dating/j-cougar/

Even back then, before I met my goyfriend and now Christian husband, I was trying reeaaally hard to go J.

Many of these dates were quite comical in retrospect, and provided me with fodder to blog.  (Here’s one on sub-texting.   And Dating in NYC.)  I was careful not to reveal too many personal details about these dudes, because I was sensitive to their feelings and privacy (I swear). But moreover, I was wary of what my future partner who I hadn’t met yet might think if he stumbled upon my personal but public historical account of crazy. Was I preemptively sabotaging the thing I claimed to want most? Would my future partner learn too much about me too soon, and would it deter him? Would it uneven the playing field, by giving him the edge and robbing us of the critical getting to know you period, which should be slow, deliberate, and earned?

When I did meet him, I didn’t know it. A Christian cub nine years my junior was a no-no for a Good Jewish Divorced Girl. A Goy with no Jewy neuroses or shtick who laughed out loud when I told him about this blog. On the surface, he was so not “my type” that I didn’t even think to hide it from him. He was so not the kind of guy I was trying to meet, that I didn’t even think about over-thinking it. Talking to him, being with him, from the very first moment, seemed to zap the crazy Cougel right out of me.

In retrospect, this blog was a good litmus test perhaps. He got it, he got me, and as things started to get serious, I ceased blogging.

I decided that I wanted to honor his privacy, and ours, and shift my focus inward, towards the intimate space that enveloped him and I, rather than blasting that focus on a blog megaphone out to the world.

“Our life, my past, my divorce, but mostly, our marriage, it’s a private thing!” I declared, three years late to the private party. And so right after we got married, on the first day of our honeymoon, I decided to write a divorce memoir.

Yeah.

So let’s face it. That’s really where I’ve been since I stopped blogging in the good ole service of privacy. I’ve been pouring the details of my entire life into a tell-all instead. That my husband, only eight months into our new marriage, had to read and ingest. All the vivid and sometimes sordid details of my past, particularly during the Cougel years which I had gone to great lengths to leave out of the blog, are now “out there” (or will be soon).

Couldn’t I just write fiction, you wonder? My husband probably secretly (or not so secretly) wishes that too, but then I wouldn’t be me. And he wouldn’t be him, as evidenced by what he texted me while he was reading the memoir: “This is the most beautiful and genuine thing I’ve ever read. And it’s like a kick in the balls every five paragraphs.”

That’s fair. Hopefully my future blog posts will skip more than five.

 

 

 

 

 

The Cougel's back (with a whole new flavor)

What better time is there to restart my blog – and share the changes in my life – than the Jewish New Year? Aka the high holy days, the days of awe?

shofar-rosh-hashanah

A lot’s happened in the years since I blogged regularly as a single, Jewish Cougar. Serendipitous timing and a confluence of events that have built upon one another and brought me here, to this moment on the day after Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and Reflection. And so, I reflect back (with some awe).

I used to attribute the notable events in my life to random chance or coincidence, but not anymore. Based on how things have unfolded in the last year, I believe that a force way bigger than me is pulling the strings – or at the very least, giving me a nudge, a slap, and sometimes even a smile. But you tell me.

Let’s start with the month of September as a retrospective marker. My husband and I celebrated our one-year anniversary, twice: on a weekend trip to the Mexican Riviera at the same resort we went to on our honeymoon, and the following weekend, on our “real” anniversary, we watched the footage from our wedding which we had not yet seen, cuddled adorably on the couch while sipping champagne. As my new husband rested his cheek on my shoulder, I was overcome with a wave of emotion and gratitude, one of an endless series that you’d think I’d get used to by now.

When I say “new” husband, to those of you who are just catching up on Cougel, my husband is not only new because we’ve only been married a year, and only known each other for three, but also because I have been married before – for fourteen years – my ex-husband sometimes referred to as my “old” husband. So even though I’m 42, everything feels new and fresh, the gratitude wave that overtakes me sharply cold and reinvigorating, and surprising each time.

The month of September also marks a turning point in my writing life. Several months ago, I finished the first draft of a memoir. I haven’t been that public about it yet, because well, it’s a divorce memoir, which I started writing exactly one year ago – on my honeymoon. The timing might seem absurd in its irony, but that only serves to reinforce my point; events that seem incongruent in their timing are almost always – at least to me – the opposite. And then I learned that I couldn’t submit my completed memoir to agents and publishers because they don’t read it like they would fiction. I needed to write a proposal, a business plan that sells me and my book in less than fifty pages, and to build my “platform” (which includes tweeting and yes, lots of blogging).

So I begrudgingly and agonizingly wrote the damn thing. I loathe outlines. It zaps the creative juice out of writing by removing the thrill of discovery. When I finished my clunky first draft – on the Friday before my anniversary – I sent it to an editor I had hired who could help make it submission ready. She told me she would get back to me in 2-3 weeks. But she didn’t. She got back to me in two days – on the morning of my anniversary. She told me that she meant to only take a peek at it, but ended up “devouring the whole thing in one sitting, laughing throughout.” She told me I had something saleable and funny and full of heart (and other compliments but my shameless self-promotion stops there).

In this same week, my husband had gotten a call for a final interview at a job that he had been striving towards for months, and things were looking promising.

In this same week, we also put the final brick on top of the family planning foundation we have been building in the last year. Each individual brick had been daunting and frightening in it’s size and heft, but looking back, had been put into place at just the right time – as if God knew what we needed better than we did – bringing us to this moment where one year into our marriage, we are finally ready to turn our make-a-family plan into a reality.

Which leads me to Rosh Hashana morning. For years, I’ve always gone to New Jersey to be with my parents on the holidays and attend their synagogue, but this year, I wanted to start planting seeds here in New York City and find a Jewish community for my husband and myself. Not to mention that since I’ve been frequently going to Church with him, I needed to balance out the faith-scale (and report back to Mom that her daughter had a found a place to be with her people).

A friend recommended a conservative synagogue on the upper west side, and I took my husband there, not knowing what to expect. When we arrived, my husband went to the bathroom and I peered into the massive stain-glassed sanctuary, where the Rabbi had just begun to speak. “Today’s Torah portion,” he said. “Is about childbirth and fertility.” [Cue emo-wave number 5,850).

The message was immediately clear. It was as if God was giving me a little squeeze, reassuring me that I am on the right path, and to keep going, and keep building.

So as I keep building, I’m going to keep blogging, as… (fade up on the theme music)…the Cougel Returns, or: “What happens after a divorced Jewish Cougar marries a Christian?”

Stay tuned til’ next Sunday evening. (And don’t worry, Mom’s back too, with a new and improved addition of Momlish.)