Posted on March 3, 2020
So, I know it’s been like a trillion years since I’ve posted on this blog, but I’m BAACK! Back with a new initiative and a new endeavor.
This blog began as a sort of documentation of my journey towards Judaism. Quick overview: I was in a spiritual struggle and also in a type of existential crisis. I think it happens to many of us, even though we don’t all discuss it. Life unfolds and it’s not quite as we imagined. I realized while I was spiraling that I lacked a spiritual center. Judaism helped me get spiritually back on track with the discipline of tradition such as honoring Shabbat and staying kosher. It also helped me rediscover my ultimate purpose as a human: To make the world a better place!
Judaism gets a lot of bad rep, but at the center of this time old religion is TIKKUN OLAM – it’s a calling to do your part in making the world a better place. This made so much sense to me since I had started as a journalist with idealistic aspirations. Eventually my idealism was destroyed by too much reality and lots of unreasonable opposition, failed attempts, and bucket loads of rejection. I kind of gave up and decided to dodge all the bullets and get to the finish line. Like forget helping others, I can barely help myself. This isn’t a very fulfilling way to live. But then I converted to Judaism and reinstated my desire to make the world a better place. I also became a MOM and with this new vocation, my desire to make the world a better place became more a necessity then pure hope. I think most of us want to make the world a better place for our children.
Since I became a mom, life hasn’t been easy. My partner became long-term unemployed and I continued to struggle with a single income. Adding to the pressure of all that, all the jobs that I was being offered were of a temporary nature, which also meant none of them came with health benefits, paid days off etc. I worked long hours as a copywriter in the beauty and tech space returning home after 6 or 7pm. As much as I was a feminist I was pretty disappointed that the feminists hadn’t created a better set up for working moms. Where were the 9-4pm jobs? How was I suppose to be a good mom when I was away 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. The logistics of my working life pushed me into a dark depression and because I didn’t even have proper health insurance coverage I was forced to hunt for antidepressants on the black market.
But in my darkness I also began to brainstorm. Could I start a business? Could I get out of my living from paycheck to paycheck dark hole and create something of value? Something that would make the world a better place?
During that time my feet also began to ache. I realized that when I was pregnant I had worn the wrong types of shoes. They were flat shoes so I thought they were fine. But there was no arch or heel support. I figured as a working mom I now deserved a good pair of shoes. So I bought a golden pair of Birks, only to realize I still had no ankle support. I couldn’t for the life of me find nice shoes that were equal parts comfy and chic. If I wanted orthopedically approved shoes they lacked style or were in the form of sneakers. I wanted cute shoes for the office that were not in the form of 8 inch stilettos or lacked the width or padding to support my feet. During this shoe struggle the idea for CHAVAH (my Jewish name meaning life) was born. The concept was to create a line of cute shoes for pregnant women and working moms.
I created a business plan, working well into midnight on the weekdays. Finally I had a blueprint. I researched and discovered that Mexico was a great place to manufacture. I also discovered a faux leather made of cactus skin, as soft as lambskin. I also discovered merino wool is a great material for creating softness and accommodating swelling feet. I also discovered that I can’t sketch shoes and designers charge $100 an hour. I’m in the middle of all these logistics of starting a new business.
I have big plans. Much like Nike, I don’t just want to create a shoe brand, but a movement. I want to campaign for better conditions for working parents. We should have a better work-life balance, especially for new moms. Being a mom is hard. Being a working mom is near impossible if you’re middle class or below. Companies should be incentivized to hire working parents and provide better working hours. Sweden has a 6-hour work day. Why can’t we implement something similar for parents of small children?
I’ve discovered it’s incredibly challenging to balance work and motherhood. I’ve also discovered purpose beyond myself and a perseverance I never knew I had. I know it takes time to build a business and I know it also takes time to change the world. But I’m willing to put myself out there and do both. Currently, I’m looking for a mentor to help me take my business to the next level. My goal is to have a prototype by the end of the year and to have a fully functioning e-commerce site by the end of the year after that. Just one step at a time…but I kinda hope God steps or I’ll settle for a Toptal Scholarship. This is my blog entry for submission. I hope you enjoyed the read. Thank you!Leave a Comment
Posted on March 25, 2016
I started to question my faith recently. It’s been a rough ride since I converted to Judaism a year and a half ago. I was telling my fiancé I don’t feel like Judaism really did anything for me, aside from jolt and challenge me and serve me the equivalent of 40-years in the desert. Why did I want to be Jewish in the first place?
Well I liked the structure, the traditions. I liked Shabbat and it gave me a sense of peace for the first time ever living in Los Angeles. My other half was Jewish and since I had lost touch with Catholicism or Christianity it seemed wiser if we were on the same page of thought and philosophy, spirituality…particularly going forward in life together as a team, a unit. Plus Judaism made sense to me; it was logical, it’s the oldest religion upon which other religions are based. There’s a simplicity to it. It appealed to me. But shortly after I converted a series of issues emerged, which almost made me wonder if converting to Judaism came with some sort of curse…or the gods had decided to challenge me to test the authenticity of my beliefs.
Shortly after converting and getting engaged (the proposal in Paris went well, but after that it was a downward slide), both my fiancé and I struggled with finances and employment, so we were simultaneously engaged and jobless. Then I became very depressed and desensitized. It was like stainless steel prison walls shutting down all around me. Afterall, there’s only so much rejection a person can take. Job interview after job interview just proved disappointing and also made me severely doubt and question myself.
I thought after converting my confidence had improved, but a year into being a Jew, I had no confidence at all. I started to suffer from anxiety. I took Xanax for awhile, I tried smoking medical marijuana to ease my insomnia (every night waking up at 3am in a panic). We were on the edge, struggling to survive. If this is my “Welcome to Judaism” then I don’t want it, I thought. Finally I found a small job house-sitting and dog-walking to pay my basic bills and get me through the uncertain time. But all my ambitions, anything I had ever aimed for was met with constant rejection and opposition. It looked like I was never going to break out of the low-socio economic status I had been born into, no matter how hard I tried or how many books I read. Even if I was Jewish, I was always going to be a povo peasant Polack immigrant from Australia. I just didn’t know the right people, didn’t have the right type of luck. I was a schlimazel (a Jew with chronic bad luck). Perhaps I was even infecting my fiancé with my shitty luck, since he claimed this was the worst predicament he had ever been in himself.
I woke up one morning feeling the same discomfort and disorientation that this was my crap life. I pointed my middle finger to the sky and yelled, “F YOU God!”
I told me fiancé I was beginning to question whether converting had been a mistake. He answered, “Well it’s not a miracle cure.” Yeah, I know God is not a genie, but I’m trying to be a good person here and do the right things, why am I always struggling…financially, professionally, emotionally? Why am I always uncomfortable? I’m not asking to be extraordinary, I’d just like to be normal. Why does God hate me?
Then I started to question the whole notion of faith. What is faith? I’ve heard the term tossed around vaguely so many times. “Faith over fear” I heard one Rabbi preach. But what exactly does that mean? Does it mean you believe things will miraculously get better? I’ve always thought there was a fine line between faith and delusion and sometimes no matter how hard we pray we just don’t get the outcomes we desire. Does that mean our faith was not strong enough? We didn’t daydream enough? We failed to manifest?
I felt isolated from whatever optimism or hope the idea of being Jewish had given me in the first place. I initially felt Judaism had given me a philosophy for living – it was grounded in practicality, the family, Shabbat. But what difference did it make for me now. My new job meant I would have to occasionally work on Shabbat anyway; I slowly found my fiancé more and more irritating in the midst of our struggles and could barely tolerate being around him. I couldn’t afford the synagogue membership fees (the first year for converts was free, but year two was going to cost close to a thousand dollars or more), so I stopped going. Year two of being Jewish, I was in a really strange place, riddled with doubt, fear and humiliation. Was it too early to become a Buddhist now?
Even though I felt rejected by Judaism, I decided to attend this talk by a notorious Rabbi from Israel, Rabbi Shalom Arush. I saw the flyer on a lamppost in my neighborhood and was immediately reeled in by the caption: Finding Happiness, Peace & Closeness to God through Emuna.
I have no idea what “Emuna” is, but I would love to be happy, I thought. It seemed like such an unrealistic concept for me. Admission was free. There really was no reason why I couldn’t go. Perhaps it was a sign. Even though I said “F U” to God that one morning, Israel is defined as one who struggles with God, so technically I was perfectly within the guidelines of Judaism, even though I was in conflict with the G.O.D. So I dragged my fiancé to see this Rabbi speak and not only was he beyond inspiring and looked like a remnant from Moses’ times with his grey beard and Hasidic attire, most importantly, he redefined my whole notion of faith by introducing me to “EMUNA.”
So what is faith? If you asked me prior to hearing Rabbi Shalom Arush speak or reading his book, “The Garden of Emuna” I really couldn’t give you a concrete answer. Had I even considered what the definition of faith was leading up to my conversion? Was the Jewish definition of faith monotheism (the belief there is one God) and that’s it? I guess the extent of my faith was – God exists but he is not my baby-sitter or a miracle maker and if I screw up in life or some sh*t goes down, God has nothing to do with it. The Rabbi I had initially studied under was talking about the Holocaust as an example during a class. He said in severe atrocities people tend to ask “Where was God?” He continued, the only way he could explain something as horrific as the Holocaust was to believe that God governs on a wider scale but is removed from the day-to-day operations of our earthly lives.
So in a way partly based on this teaching and other vague notions of faith I had been introduced to along the way, I believed that God was selective and you have to help yourself and not naively rely on Divine Intervention. The problem I had with my faith or lack of definition was I began to struggle to see meaning in my life if things weren’t going well or as planned or expected…and without meaning, what’s the point? You might as well be dead. My lack of faith or poor definition of faith was exasperating my depression and I continued to view living as dodging bullets till you reach the finish line. I was kind of looking forward to my own funeral. Besides I believed I was chronically unlucky and screwed. If I couldn’t even turn to God, I might as well just quietly do my time and get through it.
But according to EMUNA, “everything comes from Hashem (God) by way of perfect Divine Providence, even the tiniest and most seemingly insignificant event.” We may not know why something happens, but if you have Emuna then you believe that EVERYTHING that happens comes from God, and secondly, everything God does is for the BEST even if it seems F’d up and we can’t understand it.
This definition changed everything for me. You see, redefining my notion of faith according to Emuna actually helped me to accept my pain and take it with dignity. If it was meant to be this way, then so be it. I will try to choose to believe it was for the best, even if it doesn’t feel very good. Sometimes we don’t know where life is leading…but if we believe that what happens comes from God and is always for the best, even if it’s uncomfortable or unpleasant, it’s much easier to accept and digest. I suppose it’s a little like destiny.
Rabbi Arush said the best thing you can do is accept everything that happens with a smile; embrace the pain, the tribulations…because it’s all part of a greater message and plan. The more spiritually evolved you are, the more capable you are of accepting the riddles of life and the things that happen that suck.
There’s of course a lot more to the concept of “EMUNA” and you should continue to pray and be proactive and do your best, but there you have it! Perhaps God is not removed from our day-to-day operations afterall, so you might as well keep striving and try to have a good attitude about it.
What’s your definition of faith?
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Posted on June 5, 2015
I’ve started drafting my memoir: BECOMING JEWISH: How Judaism Converted Me!
It’s going to be quite a journey, getting all these thoughts and memories out. Detailing the events that led to my conversion. Word sculpting, curating to find the best expression. Anyhow, I’ve decided to release my first chapter, complimentary. Please read, cry, support! It’ll probably change in the rewrite, but for now this is it:
CHAPTER 1: Dear God, Help!
The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind. – Caroline Myss
The FIRST TIME I truly felt the presence of God, I was 27-years old, living in a Nursing Home in Los Angeles. I was on the verge of being deported and only had one month left until I had to vacate the room for an actual senior.
It was a peculiar series of events that led me to living among the elderly in a Polish Nursing Home, situated beside the Catholic Church in Jefferson Park, otherwise known as South West Los Angeles, aka. the poorer side of town. Not quite Compton or Inglewood, but not far off – a low-income ethnic centric neighborhood comprising mainly African Americans, Latinos, and Asians. Despite the location, the Nursing Home, known as “Szarotka” in Polish, was its own entity removed from the rest of Los Angeles. It was like a compound, gated and isolated from regular civilization – reminiscent of communist Poland in its decor and preservation of Slavic culture.
My younger sister, only 19-years old at the time, an aspiring actress, had found the location with my dad when she came to meet with her manager and audition for some castings. It was the only month-to-month living arrangement they could figure out through Polish connections in a short time. Seriously, I felt like only Polacks could’ve suggested a Nursing Home as a housing arrangement for people not of appropriate age. Was Los Angeles seriously that impossible to function in as an outsider? Should I have just committed an actual crime and sought out a prison cell for temporary accommodation instead?
I had just relocated to Los Angeles from Chicago and upon discovering my immigration application had been denied I had nowhere to go, so I reluctantly joined my father and my sister in a single room in the old folks home. It was ironic timing. As uncomfortable as it was sharing a room with my sister and my father well into my twenties, I was fortunate they happened to be there at the time considering we were all from Australia.
But they had both since returned to Sydney and I was on my own. I no longer had the legal right to work so I couldn’t financially support myself and I couldn’t expect my parents to support me indefinitely. I couldn’t go on living in a Nursing Home in my mid-to-late twenties either, even if the room was available for a longer period of time and my parents were actually willing to support me. It was clearly a temporary solution rooted in desperation.
I didn’t know if I could even justify being in America anymore. What was my purpose? I had worked as a journalist in Chicago, but it had thoroughly exhausted me and Los Angeles didn’t seem like the city for high-end reporting anyway. I wasn’t established in LA and had few friends and acquaintances. I chose the city more for the weather than anything else. It was either that or Florida. LA was supposed to be a fresh start but instead it was turning into a B-grade horror movie nightmare. Was it time to go back home? But where was home? It had been so long since I had lived in Australia. I had moved overseas shortly after I graduated from University and had barely spent any of my adulthood years there. Could I assimilate back? What would I do? Where did I belong? I wasn’t exactly from the finest city in Sydney. I was from Liverpool, a suburb in the outer West populated by immigrants mainly. It was almost considered ghetto according to Australian standards. I would be returning back to where I had tried to escape from and I had never felt fully assimilated there anyway. There was a part of me that was so fundamentally European. I was born in Poland and even though I had barely lived there, culturally I felt more connected to Europe, then a land that was established as a convict colony by Great Britain. Was I destined to be defeated? Where did I belong?
My attitude had always been to roll with life, perhaps that was an Australian trait. You’ll be right mate. But now there was nowhere left to roll. I had hit a wall and I wasn’t accustomed to climbing. I had no idea what I was supposed to do or where I was supposed to be. The answers to my life seemed completely unavailable. I couldn’t afford a lawyer to appeal my immigration case. I didn’t even have a valid driver’s license because it had expired and I wasn’t able to renew it without proof of residence.
When I would drive, mainly to the local Starbucks, Santa Monica library or the notorious hiking destination, Runyon Canyon, I was always on the look out for police cars. I’d think of them as sharks. The road was like an open ocean on the set of Jaws. Avoid the sharks, I’d tell myself. I’d change lanes and try to dodge them as best as I could. I felt like a fugitive in those six months, constantly living in fear and paranoia. My Australian license had also expired. I was completely helpless. My only source of valid identification was an Australian passport.
A lot of what had transpired was simply out of my control. After much anxiety and panic, I surrendered. Ok, so life hasn’t gone to plan or smoothly in any sort of way. That doesn’t mean you should hurl yourself over a bridge.
It just happened one day. A calmness swept over me. I remembered what someone had told me once, When you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything at all. So I didn’t. I decided to submit. I sat on a bench beside a cream colored ceramic statue of an angel in the Nursing Home garden, looking out in the distance at the slender palm trees that stretched out into the pale blue sky, bending in all directions, misaligned and scattered unevenly between overhead power lines, imperfect and random — just like my life. I breathed into my field of vision and did the only thing I could do. I prayed.
Dear God, Please Guide me and lead me in the right direction. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I didn’t enter into a fraudulent marriage for a greencard as the USCIS has accused me. If I leave the country, I’ll be banned from re-entering the U.S. for 10-years and I’ll probably never have the desire to return after that anyway. If my destiny is to return to Australia, I am open to it. I just don’t want to leave the U.S. after five years feeling like I’ve done something wrong. My only crime has been falling in love with the wrong man. God, I put my life in your hands. I trust that whatever happens is in my best interests and meant to be. I love you now and forever and ever. Amen.
I had spent the past four years in Chicago working as a freelance journalist and then a Public Affairs writer for the military (U.S. Navy), after marrying an American man. We had met on the Amtrak when I was 20-years old traveling around the country on a student visa. We maintained a long-distance relationship for two years. He visited me in Sydney twice during that time, then I moved to Chicago after I graduated from University and we married in Vegas. We didn’t choose Vegas spontaneously; it was what we could afford. We weren’t trying to be wild or rage against the stream.
It had all worked out so ironically. I had met Foster Radcliffe on a moving train somewhere between Washington D.C., my final stop on my Amtrak route, and Los Angeles, my final destination before flying back to Sydney. Yet the only place in the United States I had any sort of family from my Polish descent, was in Chicago, in the suburb of Bolingbrook. Foster was also from Chicago, from the bordering suburb, Naperville. What were the chances of such close proximity?
It was all so uncanny. When I moved to Illinois, I wasn’t without any relations. If anything it gave me the opportunity to connect with family members I never would’ve had to opportunity to properly acquaint. It all felt like it was meant to be. Kind of.
My family in Chicago was from a lower class Western suburb and they had all sorts of Jerry Springer family issues. My cousin was struggling to mother two children from teenage pregnancies, while the father of her offspring was a classic recidivist – in and one of prison for alcohol, drugs or theft. My uncle had an issue with porn or perhaps sex addiction, and suggested I owed him a sexual favor after he co-signed on a vehicle I purchased because I didn’t have a credit history established. It wasn’t like he paid for the vehicle, it was merely a signature. What was wrong with these people?
If anything, perhaps this was family I would’ve been better off never knowing. But my aunt, my father’s older sister, was nurturing and kind and I had a natural bond with my cousin, despite her issues at the time with alcohol and dealing drugs amidst her parenting struggles and figuring out her life trajectory.
There were other aunts and uncles too. I had a small family in Australia and my parents were in a constant state of war. So leaving Australia was never difficult for me, if anything it was inevitable. There was emotional abuse, occasionally physical and after I graduated with a degree in Media, I was open to breaking off contact with my parents entirely. In fact, I had arranged a working visa in the UK for two years if Foster and I decided to change our minds about the wedding. One thing was for certain, I was starting from scratch in some new unknown location where no one knew me or my dysfunctional family history.
After our wedding, both our families in Chicago threw a wedding shower for us. Possibly out of sympathy, at least on Foster’s mom’s side. His mother attended our Vegas elopement and afterwards I heard her describe our wedding to a friend over the phone as, “very sad and lonely.”
Perhaps we had rushed into it, but if we wanted to be together, we had no choice. Flying back and forth between Sydney and Chicago, was costly and exhausting. My mother didn’t support my decision to marry Foster, but I had no respect for her opinion or how she had raised me so her disapproval didn’t affect me much. It was expected. I was often criticized for my choices.
I was in love with Foster and I didn’t consider us too young or immature to marry. I was 22 and he was 28. The problem was, I was much more prepared for marriage than he was. It’s like he had some kind of allergic reaction to it after it was done.
Late night drinking, disappearing, cheating. He wasn’t very skilled at monogamy. Since I hadn’t observed him in his regular environment having lived across the Pacific Ocean during our long-distance relationship, I was unprepared for what would become an emotionally, borderline physically abusive relationship. It’s as though conflict and chaos followed me or as if I had recreated the war zone I had grown up in, but on a grander scale with alcoholism thrown in the mix.
I had no problem finding work in Chicago. I was young, enthusiastic and excited to be in a new country. I had never lived in snow and even though I grew to resent the Chicago cold, initially I found it all very enchanting. But Foster depended on me to take care of all the responsibilities – the rent, the bills, food – while he’d go out gallivanting and entangling himself in “whiskey and women” style binges.
I felt so betrayed. How could a person suddenly be so different? Had it all been an act in the beginning? If anyone was being fraudulent, it was him in his behavior. Ultimately, the biggest culprit in the destruction of our marriage was alcohol. Foster would drink a 12-pack of Miller Lite every night. Often I’d drive to the corner Chevron with him after work and pay for the beer. He was dependent on it and would threaten me if he didn’t have the money to buy it himself. If he wasn’t drunk, he was despondent and if I wasn’t in a state of fear, then I was reveling in melancholy. It was disturbing witnessing his nightly drinking binges, hangovers, depression, demotivation to find work or do anything productive.
The relationship was turbulent to say the least. We separated after the first six months of marriage. I filed for divorce, but when he asked for a second chance, I reconsidered. We reunited and then the same would happen again. It was a cycle. Eventually, the whole marriage fell apart under the worst of circumstances.
Foster had decided to go work on an Alaskan fishing boat with a male friend from high school. Despite being fiscally suffocated, left to pay all the bills on a woman’s salary (for as long as I can remember I was always underpaid for my work as a writer and in hindsight, particularly compared to my male counterparts. At the time I was young and unaware, happy to be employed at all) I opened a credit card to pay for Foster to go to Seattle and interview for the job. It would mean we would be separated for at least three months, but I just wanted to see Foster sober and working. Our marriage was in a fractured state and on top of the financial struggles, anything romantic had also been sucked out of our relationship. We could probably use a break to regain perspective or maybe it was the most efficient way to branch off.
But Foster’s criminal record surfaced, a criminal record I was unaware of till after we married, and he was rejected for work even on a fishing boat. It was right there and then that I had reached my threshold – I couldn’t anymore. I came home from work to find Foster getting drunk on hard liquor this time when he broke the news. I flipped out. Why could he never find a job? Why was he such a liability? Why couldn’t he function in life like a normal person? Why was he always intoxicated? Why was this always happening to me?
We started arguing. He then threatened me with a gun, what looked like a 45mm, that he kept hidden in a safe. Turned out it was a fake, BB gun, upon police inspection. Foster spent six weeks in jail. I chose not to press any charges, but I filed a restraining order. I had had enough! I spent another year in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles.
Foster was the reason I came to America. Was I wrong to stay if the marriage hadn’t worked out? Maybe I was guilty? I had created some semblance of a life in Chicago – I had a job, a vehicle I was paying off, I was contributing to the economy. But now I was in Los Angeles, without purpose, and a letter from USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services), denying my application for permanent residence.
The one thing I did take away from Chicago was Christianity. Foster’s mom was a devout Christian. She prayed over me many times in the early stages of our marriage and took me to Church. It had a powerful affect on me. The times that Foster and I were separated I would still attend Christian Church. It provided me with some sense of peace and comfort in a foreign country. I would wake up on Sunday feeling helpless and destitute, then I’d attend Church and feel hopeful about the future again. I felt hopeful about change.
I was raised Catholic, but Catholic church, especially listening to Polish sermons which I only partially understood and tended to tune out, did not resonate with me. I had become disassociated from the concept of a Catholic God since I had turned 18 and became my own adult. But all of a sudden, I was relating to these Christian sermons that I was being exposed to in my early adult life and they were helping me deal.
So that afternoon, in the Nursing Home garden, I leaned on faith again. I turned to God aka. the universe, the universal field of energy, whatever that higher presence or power is, and I asked for guidance.
Several days later I was at Starbucks on Mid-Wilshire in Korea Town, my usual hang, when a man with an accent similar to mine, asked to use the internet on my laptop. He was in a hurry and didn’t have an AT& T account, so he couldn’t connect his Mac. It was before internet at Starbucks was free. I obliged, then inquired about the pass around his neck that read, “GENRE.”
“I’m doing reshoots on the Indiana Jones movie,” he said feverishly, while checking his email for the location of the shoot. “Are you Australian too?,” I asked, noticing his accent. He replied, “No! I’m from New Zealand,” in a slightly offended tone. I’m not sure where it originated, but there has always been a subtle rivalry between Aussies and Kiwi’s (as per the colloquial reference). But given that I was born Polish, I never had such inbuilt or passed down bias.
John was rugged in a hip bohemian way. He had light brown sun kissed shoulder length hair that waved and flared out at the bottom and deep creases that pierced the skin of his face, each line adding a layer of depth, suggesting a story. He made no effort to conform and seemed to own who he was; flaws and all. There was a level of badass to his demeanor, the type of guy who created his rules based on his own knowledge of life. He was compact, no taller than 5”8, and moved fast within his lean muscular physique, giving the illusion of life is too short to stand still in one place for too long.
After he was done with my laptop, he thanked me with a single word, then took a sharp right and began to walk away. I didn’t want him to leave. There was something about him. I had some type of intuition that I needed to engage this man in conversation. I yelled out a question, which turned into another question. The more that was uncovered, the more it turned out we had in common, despite the 24-year age difference. I was 27. He was 51.
John Bramley was from New Zealand, but had previously lived in Australia for 10 years. He had been a photojournalist for Rupert Murdoch’s publication, “The Australian.” Whereas, I had worked for the competition, “Fairfax,” on a local newspaper level.
He asked what I was doing in LA. Oh you know, just waiting to be arrested or deported. I only mentioned the “writer” part of my shady identity. I had actually started working on a screenplay in all my spare time of legal non-existence. It seemed like the logical thing to do, considering my journalism background, but not something I would’ve deferred to, having been lectured numerous times on the impossibility of selling a screenplay on speculation. Regardless, I had to keep my mind occupied or I’d fall into an even deeper depression. So I wrote a light-hearted comedy, inspired by an idea my sister came up with about the empty nest syndrome. It was entitled “My Dad,” about a single dad who has a mid-life crisis when his daughter goes off to college and leaves him behind to pursue a new life on campus.
John, or rather Bram, as he preferred to be called, was a still photographer who had worked in the movie industry for more than 20-years. He had worked on almost every major feature from Tombstone to Lord of the Flies, Rocky Balboa, Finding Graceland, Spider Man 2 and so on. But he had secretly always wanted to write a screenplay. He had attempted journalism during an internship with the New Zealand Herald, but discovered he was much better with images than words. Still the desire to create a visual story via script lingered in him.
I became of interest to him when he saw the potential of possibly co-writing with me, but after I failed to turn up on the set of Indiana Jones the following day, I almost never saw him again. Apparently he had gone to quite an effort to arrange a visitor’s pass, but I was so paranoid about showing identification at the gates. I wasn’t sure what type of security they had. What if upon seeing my Australian passport the guard called immigration and I’d end up in immigration prison? I did make an effort to go, but I’m not sure if I legitimately got lost or if my paranoia had reduced my effort in finding the studio that day.
Bram took me to dinner at a sushi restaurant a week later. He dressed a little more upscale than his usual everyday attire. He wore a nice white cotton dress shirt with the first few buttons undone paired with blue Levi jeans. He acted like it was a special occasion and ordered the finest of everything. “Fuck it!” he announced when we sat down and asked for my permission to order. What did I know? I had been famished and forced to survive on tuna cans in my nursing home state of poverty, so this free meal felt like a gift from the divine. I barely had any experience with sushi restaurants having lived on a Midwest diet including the worst of fried foods, hot dogs, Denny’s, Panera Bread occasionally. I had no idea what a person should order anyway. For at least a year when I first moved to Chicago I survived on McDonald’s happy meals – cheeseburger and fries – and cigarettes alone. In addition to the coffee and cigarette diet during the worst of my marital turbulence.
Few men had ever taken me out to dinner. I had spent most of my twenties up until that point battling it out with an alcoholic husband. The fanciest diner Foster and I ever frequented was Hooters, which always required me paying. So even a regular sushi restaurant in a strip mall was considered fancy by my humble standards.
During dinner we talked about photography and Ansel Adams, the famous American landscape photographer. I had always worked alongside photographers and had an attraction to the art form. Bram said, “If I don’t remember a thing I shot, then I know I had a good day.” He was modest about his work and said he operated on intuition and instinct mostly.
His real passion was sailing. He had owned boats and had sailed from the U.S. to New Zealand during a two year tour. He was on a greencard, however, and was unaware that you couldn’t be out of the country for more than a year at the time. So he snuck back in via Mexico. He reminded me of the “Most Interesting Man on Earth” from the Dos Equis beer advertisement. But the actual person the Dos Equis ad man was modeled on.
He invited me to Lake Arrowhead where he lived in the San Bernardino mountains for a weekend visit. It was two hours away if you drove fast. He said he only came down to LA for work because he couldn’t stand the people in this city. I was slightly apprehensive, but a week later I made the drive. We drank wine and talked like we had known each other since childhood.
When I arrived back at the Nursing Home I watched the DVD that Bram gave me of his favorite movie, “Dead Man” by Jim Jarmusch. The genre was labeled as Spiritual Western and Johnny Depp as the protagonist named William Blake, though he claims not to be the William Blake poet, becomes a hunted man on the Most Wanted List during a spiritual journey towards death. The theme: You can’t always win in life. I related to the doom. I felt like I was on that same journey and if life was going to be unpleasant for me in this lifetime, perhaps I needed to acquire a sort of diligence to navigate it till I reached the finish line. A sort of grace.
Bram and I had similar artistic sensibilities, backgrounds, the Australian thing in common. I felt like I needed to confess my immigration situation to him. Perhaps it would alleviate my own personal shame if I exposed my secret and I was beginning to see him as a sort of mentor. Maybe he could even advise me on what to do.
When I saw him next, I tried to tell him four times during lunch that I was living in a Nursing Home and was on the verge of deportation, but I couldn’t force the words out. I was so incredibly embarrassed. I felt like, “Nobody” the name of the Native American character from “Dead Man,” who guides Johnny Depp into the spirit world. In hindsight, I think I was William Blake and John Bramley was my “Nobody,” – my escort through my immigration turmoils and troubles, because he seemed to have the presence of a guru or shaman.
When finally I confided, preparing for immediate rejection and abandonment in friendship, Bram laughed. “Ah, don’t worry about that shit. I’ve gone through the immigration bullshit myself. l’ll help you out mate,” he said.
I’ll never forget those words.
I don’t know. Do we manifest people who are similar to us or can help us? Was it prayer or the law of attraction? The only thing I do know is that I prayed and John Bramley was the answer to those prayers.
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Posted on April 15, 2015
Passover just passed…and I was re-inspired this Passover to start making changes in my life…
Passover represents freedom, victory and acknowledging the past, respecting history. I am applying these same concepts into my life. I submitted a query letter to a couple of agents to write a memoir about Becoming Jewish…and I received one response. The problem is the agent is happy to read the manuscript, but there’s no advance…and a struggling writer must survive. So I have two options.
1) Write in the evenings and weekends around a full time job (last time I tried to do this I was driven to insanity and abusive drinking)
2) Put project up on Kickstarter…and see if I can raise the funds that will enable me to write my story.
So Kickstarter it is! I am making my video tomorrow and by the end of the week my campaign will be up and running! Wish me luck!
Judaism has changed my life, it’s taught me how to live in lieu of life not working out. It’s given me a philosophy for living, for coping when life does not go as planned. My journey has been turbulent — I went through an existential crisis in my early thirties and became very self-destructive. From AA I found Judaism and since I converted I’ve been different. I’ve grown — emotionally and spiritually. I see life differently now. And I’d like to share my story — When I moved to LA from Chicago I was almost deported, I was saved by a still photographer and lived on a mountain in Lake Arrowhead, I became a sex blogger in LA, I went back to Australia when none of my writing pursuits were working out and lived with my parents at 31 when all my friends were getting married and having babies, I lived in Section 8 in Downtown LA, I almost killed myself, I found out my writing partner HAD killed himself…and I came out of it ALL. And I’m stronger and better now, now that I’m Jewish.
I hope I am supported in writing my memoir and I hope it inspires and reaches many people. There’s of course the chance the one agent who has expressed interest may change their mind, they may not like my draft. But it’s important to try. Always try in life, make the most of it! Tikkun Olam your way through. And if the agent road doesn’t work out, then I’ll self publish! I’ve made it this far in life, I will continue on…
Shalom! (Look out for BECOMING JEWISH: How Judaism Converted Me by EVA KOWALSKI)
OH…and I finally found the courage to give standup another shot. I’m doing open mikes all over town. Watch my set at the Tao Comedy Studio last Friday on YOUTUBE. I also started a new twitter handle: EKOWALSKIKOMEDY. Follow Me!Leave a Comment