On self-worth and how it should come from, well, yourself.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: today absolutely sucked. I don’t even know quite how to explain it other than to say that I started the day with hopes for the week and by third period I was 100% done with everything.

It was the perfect storm, really. An offhand comment by a colleague during first period that sent me looking for my preliminary REACH results.* Being reminded during second period that I will be out of the building several days in a row (again). Seeing said preliminary results during third and feeling like I had been punched in the face. A squirrelly fourth period. Being unprepared for fifth period because I was so upset. Having forgotten my lunch at home so I sat during sixth dreaming of the chicken and rice in my fridge. Seventh period calling me out on being behind on grading.

And then… and then. A ton of little factors and minor annoyances converged to create a catastrophe in my eighth period.

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Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

I have spent a LOT of time trying to explain privilege to other people, especially white people–and this is the simplest, most effective way to explain this that I have found.

John Scalzi is just a boss.

Whatever

I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with “privilege,” they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.

So, the challenge: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?

Being a white guy who likes women, here’s how I would do it:

Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a…

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Shana tova u’metuka!

(Or however you prefer to transliterate it. I err on the side of removing the superfluous final h’s.)

This traditional Hebrew greeting for Rosh Hashana, which translates to wishing someone “a good and sweet year,” is especially resonant with me because I am hoping that this new Jewish year will bring some measure of sweetness to this very rough 2014.

But as is often the case, this hope is shrouded in the fear that I will be let down. What if the rest of 2014 is just more of the same? What if this new Jewish year is as awful as the rest of 2014 has been, and it gets me started off on the wrong path?

The words of my rabbi, gently delivered during her Erev Rosh Hashana d’var, come back to me then. “Broken does not mean beyond repair.” And that the train is derailed does not mean that it cannot get back on track.

I may have broken this year, but I still have time to put the pieces back together–and much to be grateful for as I keep walking.

Reinvention.

You might have noticed that things have changed around here. New banner, new theme, new name.

Yes, I am still myself. Still in Chicago. Still teaching. But I keep hearing that the best way to get the life you want is to live it, and so I have decided to overhaul my life and do some re-branding. Or, rather, work to start creating my personal brand so that, whenever I do get around to finishing one of the books living in my head (and my hard drive), I will have people to share it with.

My posts will remain as they have been: always honest, often long, sometimes painful. However, I am hoping that they will be more frequent, and they will be able to resonate with you more.

Now, a week before the year 5775 arrives, I am beginning to walk more confidently as Eliava Soto, the writer who shares her words with the world. And when October comes around? We can celebrate together with the official launch of this site and the next step of my life.

Here’s to starting this next leg of the journey together!

On Shabbat Observance.

Making plans with a friend recently, we realized that the event we thought was taking place on Friday was actually going to be on Satuday. I noticed that she seemed a little reluctant to continue planning, and after a few minutes the reason became clear. “Will that be alright for you?” she asked. “It’s Shabbat, after all.” I was surprised. “I don’t work on Shabbat, but going to a hockey game is totally kosher for me.” My fellow Jew seemed relieved. “I’ve noticed you’re not on social media very much on Shabbat, so I was just wondering.” As we continued planning, I kept thinking about her words, and others’ comments from the past. Is it that unusual for a Reform Jewish woman in her mid-20s, convert or not, to be Shabbat observant?

I guess the question kept coming back to me because I don’t consider myself particularly strict about Shabbat. I follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter of it; so I don’t work or attend work events or work on grad school things on Shabbat. As a matter of fact, I don’t look at my work email and I stop it from syncing with my phone for that blessed time. But I do cook, and use electricity, and drive, and spend money, and write–as a matter of fact, I take the time to do all of those things on Shabbat because I find them enjoyable and I don’t get to do them during the week. Thus, my level of observance might not seem observant at all to someone who is Modern Orthodox or even Conservative, but it seems to be a pretty big deal among many of my Reform brethren and several of my non-Jewish acquaintances.

More than my level of observance (or lack thereof), most people seem surprised by the fact that I even observe it at all. “Who has time for that?” I’ve heard. “How do you do it?” I found myself shrugging off those questions with some platitude or another for answer–until someone asked a different question. “Why do you choose to observe Shabbat?” The simple answer is the same explanation for why, after twenty four years of eating double bacon cheeseburgers at Wendy’s, I chose to go Biblical kosher: “it makes me feel closer to God.”

However, there is also a more practical reason: I needed to have one guilt-free day a week. I needed a day where depression couldn’t shame me into (or out of) being productive. I needed a day where it was okay to get lost in a book, or take a bath, or play some video games, or catch up on my DVR. Since I started observing Shabbat, more or less strictly about a year and a half ago, I am much more productive the other six days of the week–and I am finding my weekends much more restful. There is something really liberating about being able to say “no” to others and “yes” to myself when I find it so difficult the other six days of the week. On Shabbat, God wants me to rest–and so I will say yes to myself in order to please Him.