2.27.2006

Veils, pluralism, and access to Orthodox Jews

Chayyei Sarah has posted something interesting on her blog in response to an article in the London Jewish Chronicle about Orthodox bloggers. The article is headed with the words "Weblog: Marcus J Freed on How the Internet is Lifting the Veil from Orthodox Jewish Women." My first reaction is very different from Chayyei Sarah's.

I am offended not by the implication that Orthodox women purposely hide themselves away behind a veil, but by the analogy between the practice of Orthodox women covering their hair and the word "veil," which connotes the Muslim khimar (or worse, burqa) for anyone these days, or at least anyone who is not planning a wedding.1 The Muslim connotation of the word "veil" is especially obvious, I imagine, for the intended audience of this piece, i.e., British Jews, who certainly see more khimars (often called hijabs) than your average New Yorker.

As a modern, feminist, American woman I feel that the khimar is unnecessarily oppressive (especially in terms of heat--can you imagine how sticky it must get inside those mostly-synthetic head coverings?), but as a modern, feminist, Orthodox Jew, I'm not always entirely comfortable with the suggestion that the practice of married Jewish women covering their heads or hair is equally oppressive.2 As one for whom intellectually honesty is important, I'm not 100% sure that even I buy the distinction between the oppressive khimar and the non-oppressive cotton beret or cute little hat (let's not discuss sheitlach here), but, at first glance, that's what would have bothered me about that subtitle.

Because I don't want to misrepresent Chayyei Sarah's reaction to the subtitle in the article, I'm going to quote parts of her blog post wholesale:
But for a Jewish newspaper to make it seem like, before blogging, Orthodox women were so cloistered, their lifestyles so mysterious, is disingenuous. Yes, some communities are "closed," in that they are unfriendly to outsiders. But in many, if not most, Orthodox communities, the only thing stopping a Jewish person from getting to know some Orthodox people is the unwillingness to pick up a phone, call a local Orthodox synagogue, and say "hey, what time are services? Can I be hosted by an Orthodox family for lunch? Because I'd like to get to know some Orthodox people." That's it. It's not like Orthodox Judaism is a secret underground society and you need a password. You can (if you are Jewish at least), just call up Aish Hatorah or NCSY or pretty much any Orthodox synagogue and believe me, they'll be more than happy to introduce you to as many Orthodox people as you want.

What blogging has done is put Orthodoxy into people's homes without them having to make much of an effort. Instead of having to make a phone call and visit Orthodox people in their homes or educational institutions, instead of having to befriend a Rebbetzin or a shomer negiah woman or a mom in the Five Towns, one can now sit at one's computer and click their way into new worlds.

That doesn't mean that Orthodoxy has a veil over it. It just means that people outside Orthodoxy are often uninterested in hearing Orthodox voices unless they can do so without any effort. The door may have looked closed before, but it was unlocked. All you had to do to see what's happening at the party is open the door. But now blogging makes the party come to you.

....My point being that, when it comes to non-Orthodox Jews, any perceived "veil" is made up just as much of laziness or circumstances as it is by isolationism.
I'm not exactly sure what in the article provoked this reaction, because the word "veil" alone didn't make me feel this way, but I empathize with the feelings expressed.

It often feels, as an Orthodox Jew, that the rest of the world thinks that I am strange and bizarre. Actually, most of the time, they don't even realize that I am Orthodox because I don't wear the "costume" and have no visible signs such as a kipa or yarmulke. I actually like this anonymity, and I recognize that the experiences of Orthodox men who wear kippot and married Orthodox women who cover their hair are very different in this regard. Most people I interact with (at the grocery store, at the bank, in a university class, even many of the people I deal with at my Jewish workplace) don't know about my religious observance, and that's fine with me. When people find out, though, they are often shocked and this is when I feel strange, bizarre, regarded as anachronistically weird (or worse). I have gotten reactions along the lines of, "You're Orthodox? But you're so normal!" and "You're Orthodox? But you're so nice!" (I kid you not.) This cannot help but make me feel that most people, knowing few or no Orthodox Jews, assume that Orthodox Jews are strange and not nice. What conclusions would you draw from such exclamations?

Which brings me to my point. Chayyei Sarah is upset that more non-Orthodox Jews don't reach out to Orthodox Jews and get to know them, that they don't get over that sense that Orthodox Jews are weird or bizarre or not-nice. (I, too, would want non-Orthodox Jews to stop regarding me as some sort of very strange anomaly to the human race.) Why, she wants to know, do they sit at home and read blogs instead of going out and meeting these creatures they find so likeable and interesting once they get to know them through their blogs?

I answered in a comment there. What I said was:
With all due respect, I think that most non-Orthodox Jews are sure that Orthodox Jews are going to judge them for their lifestyle choices. And I think that in many circles, they'd be right. Why would you want to call up an institution and be introduced to people who are going to question your moral, ethical, and religious choices? Reading blogs allows you to get to know people without feeling rejected or condescended to from the get-go. I'm not saying that there aren't a lot of Orthodox Jews who respect the choices made by non-Orthodox Jews, it's just that calling up your average Orthodox shul in most large American and probably Israeli cities won't get you access to those people. Orthodoxy has a veil over it to the extent that most or at least many Orthodox people feel that their approach to Judaism is the *only* correct one, and, deep down, may believe that those who are not shomrei Shabbat/kashrut the way *they* are, are sinners or at least "tinokot shehnishbah"3 (how condescending is that?) whereas most other versions of Jewish practice allow for multiple truths and pluralistic approaches.

I want to elaborate, though. BZ has written a lot about pluralism from his perspective. In his taxonomy of Jewish pluralism post, he explains three stages of Jewish pluralism as he sees them. Go there and read the whole post, but the short version is this (here I go, quoting again--BZ, please correct me if I've misrepresented your opinion):

Stage 1: "Frummest common denominator." In this stage, Orthodox practice is the standard for the whole community, and is believed to be the most inclusive. E.g. if some people can only have a man leading birkat hamazon, and other people can have a man or a woman, then the answer is to have a man lead birkat hamazon....

Stage 2: "Let's make everyone comfortable." I wrote the following to an email list a few months ago (and the discussion on that list was specifically about prayer, but this can be applied to other areas)....

Stage 3: The dialogue focuses not on forbidden/permitted/required, and not on comfort, but on identity. I can visit someone else's community and participate in something that I wouldn't have chosen for myself, and it's not the end of the world for me, but at the same time I'm quite conscious that it is not my community. Therefore, the questions for the pluralistic community are: How can we (as a community) respect the identities of everyone in our community? How can we (as individuals) respect the identities of everyone in our community? How can we form a community that all of us identify with as our community? How can we (as individuals) make sure that our communities reflect our identities?
The problem with pluralism is that if you believe in an objective truth, a truth which you believe is the only truth (as is the case with most Orthodox Jews), then it's going to be really hard or impossible to get past Stage 1. Even if you believe in multiple truths, in each person finding their own truth, which is more or less where I currently stand, it's going to be hard to get past Stage 1 if you are personally Orthoprax in a serious, consistent way.

I respect BZ and all of his beliefs (at least the ones that I am aware of), believe that he respects my beliefs (though this post may change that!), and understand where he's coming from, but even from my lefty-Orthodox religious-cultural perspective, there are times when Stage 1 pluralism feels just right to me. Stage 2 pluralism or "making everyone comfortable," as exemplified by the "two table system," is difficult if some of the people you are trying to make comfortable are Orthodox. I consider myself crouched on the far, far left edge of Orthodoxy, and even I am not really comfortable with the two table system for a variety of reasons. (Sorry, BZ.) If you are trying to be so pluralistic that you include Orthodox Jews, then you are probably stuck in Stage 1 and therefore not truly pluralistic at all. If you say "To hell with those Orthodox people" and forge ahead in your pluralistic pursuits without them, I don't blame you one bit. Trust me, most of those Orthodox people could care less about your pluralism or lack thereof.

Most Orthodox Jews are not willing to sacrifice one iota of their religious beliefs in the name of pluralism or Jewish unity, which is why Stage 1 pluralism is so common. I hate to say this because it's such a terrible slur on my Orthodox brethren (in the non-gendered sense), but I don't think it's much of a secret: Most Orthodox Jews think that anyone who is not Orthodox is wrong because they are not following the Torah as Orthodox Jews understand it. Most Orthodox Jews think that the Torah comes from God, in some direct way, and that not following [their understand of] the Torah is equivalent to not following God. The best they can do from a pluralistic perspective, then, is say that non-Orthodox Jews are in the category of tinok shenishbah,3 which essentially means "a baby who was captured and raised among bad people and therefore doesn't know any better when he sins." This is, at the very least, extremely patronizing, but that probably doesn't even begin to cover what this is.4

And that is the veil, if there is any, that prevents non-Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Jews from sitting down and getting to know one another as human beings outside of the blogosphere.

Corrections to this-more-strident-than-usual post are most welcome.

Next up (time-permitting): "Orthodox men who stand at the back of the shul talking right in front of the women's section...and what should be done to them."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1. Wikipedia defines veils foremost as "articles of clothing, worn almost exclusively by women, which cover some part of the head or face."

2. I have provided these links for your edification and enjoyment. Or you may make fun of them. Some of them are decent and others are truly appalling explanations for these particular Jewish laws, or horrific exhortations to women to keep these laws. Click at your own risk.

3. I'm sorry, but I could not find a decent link to post about this halachic category, so I had to link to Maimonides Hilchot Mamrim 3:3, which is only available in Hebrew. This is where this category is first codified to include those who appear to willingly reject halacha. I could translate it, but I think I won't, because it's really not very nice (understatement of the year). Maybe that's why it's not posted clearly on the Internet anywhere in English. Here is the Hebrew:

ג אבל בני אותן הטועים ובני בניהם, שהדיחו אותם אבותם ונולדו במינות, וגידלו אותן עליו--הרי הן כתינוק שנשבה לבין הגויים וגידלוהו הגויים על דתם, שהוא אנוס; ואף על פי ששמע אחר כך שהיה יהודי, וראה היהודיים ודתם--הרי הוא כאנוס, שהרי גידלוהו על טעותם. כך אלו האוחזים בדרכי אבותיהם שתעו. לפיכך ראוי להחזירן בתשובה, ולמשוך אותם בדרכי שלום, עד שיחזרו לאיתן התורה; ולא ימהר אדם להורגן


4. For an excellent discussion of pluralism and Orthodoxy, see Jonathan Sacks' One People?: Tradition, Modernity, and Jewish Unity. I read it when I was 16 and have not read it since. I just realized that this means that I read it ten years ago, so its quite possible that I am totally forgetting what it says, but I don't think so. It was one of the first serious Jewish books (or any non-fiction, for that matter) that I discovered and read on my own and it had a tremendous impact on me. My thoughts about Orthodoxy and pluralism were also very affected by my experiences as a Bronfman Youth Fellow in 1996.

2.21.2006

Larry Summers to resign from Harvard University

Derek Bok, who was the president of Harvard from 1971-1991, is going to serve as interim president. This sounds terrible, but I don't think I knew that he was still alive. He's only 76; I'm not sure why I thought he was so old.

I don't have time to read all of the coverage of this, but I thought that some of you might be interested. And maybe if I have time, I'll go back and read this stuff. I definitely have opinions on the matter. Meanwhile, for your edification:
Compare and contrast:
As I said, I haven't had time to read either article, but my experience has been that the Boston Globe tends to be virulently anti-Harvard. This is not surprising, although I do find it amusing. (The fact that I find it amusing is probably part of why they're virulently anti-Harvard. Oh, well.)

The Boston Globe reports that students back Summers. I am not surprised. He was much, much more student-friendly than his predecessor, Neil Rudenstine, who was, I think, primarily a fundraiser for the university.

2.16.2006

Living in a matriarchy

Wow. That last post sure drew a lot of comments. I should post more surveys! That is, if I wrote a blog purely to get comments. Since I do not, I will stick to my normally scheduled program.

Since I've been too tired to read at night, and TV keeps me awake too long, I've taken to watching old movies. I can watch for 20 minutes or so until I'm really tired and then drop off to sleep. It's a lot of fun. It takes me a week or longer to see each movie, but they're usually movies I've seen before, so I don't care. The first movie I did this with was The Court Jester (1956), which was much funnier than I remember it being when I last saw it as a little kid. The movie I watched most recently was It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), lent to me by my darling brother.

The following lines reminded me why I enjoy old movies so much:

J. Algernon Hawthorne: I must say that if I had the grievous misfortune to be a citizen of this benighted country, I should be the most hesitant of offering any criticism whatever of any other.
J. Russell Finch: Wait a minute, are you knocking this country? Are you saying something against America?
J. Algernon Hawthorne: Against it? I should be positively astounded to hear anything that could be said for it. Why the whole bloody place is the most unspeakable matriarchy in the whole history of civilization! Look at yourself! The way your wife and her strumpet of a mother push you through the hoop! As far as I can see, American men have been totally emasculated--they're like slaves! They die like flies from coronary thrombosis while their women sit under hairdryers eating chocolates and arranging for every second Tuesday to be some sort of Mother's Day! And this infantile preoccupation with bosoms. In all time in this Godforsaken country, the one thing that has appalled me most of all this preposterous preoccupation with bosoms. Don't you realize they have become the dominant theme in American culture: in literature, advertising and all fields of entertainment and everything. I'll wager you anything you like that if American women stopped wearing brassieres, your whole national economy would collapse overnight.


I just don't think they write 'em like that these days. I'm not even quite sure why I found that cinematic exchange quite so hilarious, but I did. (Thanks to IMDB and Google for saving me from watching that clip over and over again until I got all the words typed out. All I had to do was Google "mad mad mad world matriarchy" and, viola!)

Next up: Re-viewing Adam's Rib (1949; one of my all-time favorite movies), Pat and Mike (1952), and Desk Set (1957). (Do you sense a trend here?) If anyone local wants to join me, I would consider watching them in fewer than five installments and at a time other than between 11:30 pm and midnight!

2.15.2006

What kind of American English do you speak?

Fascinating. My results are:


Your Linguistic Profile:


50% General American English

30% Yankee

20% Dixie

0% Midwestern

0% Upper Midwestern


I don't know where the Dixie comes from! 50% General American English and 30% Yankee make sense. I'm curious about what the results would be for family members who were born in Omaha and grew up in California, and friends from Chicago, Cincinnatti, and Dallas.

I felt that they left out some essential options, like calling a water fountain a "bubbler" or "bubbla," if you prefer. I also would have liked to see a question about what you call little bits of sugary things that you put on top of ice cream (the obvious choices being "sprinkles" or "jimmies"). I also think that there are lots of different regional names for long sandwiches (subs, heroes, maybe more than I'm unaware of).

What I would really like to see, though, is a study on regional variations on the "Little Bunny Foo Foo" song. (I don't want to prejudice you towards one regional variant, but here are the lyrics for those who are unfamiliar with the song.) I learned to sing it in Northern California, but there are apparently small regional variations, which I discovered in college, where we had time to discuss such arcane things. I also think that there are variations in the kids' clapping song "Miss Mary Mack." I wonder if such a study has been done?

2.14.2006

"graduate school sucks"

Thanks to statcounter, I now know that on February 8, a Harvard University affiliate (perhaps a graduate student?) found my blog by Googling (through their blog-search feature) "graduate school sucks." It led the individual to this post, which is not about graduate school sucking at all. I wouldn't know anything about that, thank God, although my undergraduate experience at said university wasn't the world's best. (My less than ideal experience had less to do with where I was at the time than with being in school in general.)

It provided a nice laugh, anyway.

2.13.2006

A Computer Parable for the Jewishly-minded

Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi has written a wonderful article in January's issue of Zeek, comparing the history of computing to the history of the Jewish people. It is simply terrific. Go read it. You are hereby warned, though, that there are many terms used there that the average American Jew probably wouldn't be familiar with. For those who "get it," though, it's great. (Thanks to SNSM for pointing it out.)

You really should read it in its entirety--it's only two pages long--but for my non-reading brethren (or brother, as the case may be), some highlights:
"My first computer, with the awesome memory of 36 K and a cassette tape drive to save the data, was a revelation for me. Now, word processing software had the power to take the written Torah of paper and ink and make it flexible -- soft-ware -- as if it were Oral Torah. The mind of the computer freed me from the fundamentalism of the script once written."
.......
"Who could resist the lure of MS-DOS -- Emmes-Dos (Emmet Dat in Sephardic pronunciation), truth and religion? Once learned, it proved much more flexible than either the Exidy’s CPM or Apple’s PRODOS. New manipulations of text and data as well as communication were now possible, and da'at was more portable than before. At the same time, the lingo was neither intuitive or accessible. This was the Talmudic era of my computer life, the time of the rabbinic hegemony."
.......
"I needed a virus detector to keep my drive - the bayit of my bytes -- kosher. And every year, at least twice - before Rosh Hashanah and before Pesach -- I needed to delete old obsolete files and clean up my drives."
For the rest, you'll need to go and read yourself. It's really lovely.

2.12.2006

Snow! (now updated)

Now
An intense band of heavy snow will continue to slowly push east through 11 am...producing snowfall rates possibly as high as 3 to 5 inches per hour. Between 8 and 12 inches of additional snow may be possible during this time. Heavy snow will combine with winds of 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph to create visibilities near zero at times. Hold off any travel plans until later as roads will be extremely dangerous.

This Afternoon
Snow ending by late afternoon. Blowing snow. Snow may be heavy at times with visibility one quarter mile or less at times. Total accumulation of 1 to 2 feet. Highs in the upper 20s. North winds 15 to 25 mph with gusts up to 40 mph.
Brrrrrrrr! Need I say more?

Gee, I sure am lucky that I have enough cleaning, filing, clean-laundry-putting-away, and general household chores to keep me from going outside today!

Update at 11:34 pm: It was the biggest snowstorm in New York City history and I mostly missed it! I didn't leave the house until 4 pm, and when I did, I went around the block to the pharmacy to drop off a prescription and then I went around the corner to Starbucks to work for two hours, and then I went home and worked some more and learned with BZ and worked some more and that brings me to now, which is bedtime. I did cross two streets, which proved somewhat difficult, but I basically missed the storm. I'm sort of sad, but when I have to fight through it to get to work tomorrow, I'll probably be glad that I mostly stayed toasty warm and dry today. I wanted to go frolic in Central Park in the snow earlier today, but that would have required having spare time, which, alas, I did not. I feel like I frolicked enough in big snowstorms in my hometown to be okay about this, though.

2.11.2006

"Keys, Glasses, Billfold?"

My grandmother, may she live and be well, always used to say to my grandfather, ztz"l, "Keys, glasses, billfold?" before he left the house. Every single time. I don't remember the exact order of those three objects, but the point was, it is not a good idea to leave the house without your keys, glasses, or wallet. "Billfold" must be the term of choice in Omaha, Nebraska, where my grandparents both grew up. I've never heard it in the East or West, I don't think. Or maybe it's a generational thing.

These wise words of my grandmother's came back to haunt me a few weekends ago, when I left my keys in someone's house in Boston, and didn't realize until I was on a bus halfway back to New York.

Now I understand why she asked it. Because it really sucks to be coming home to a locked house without your keys on you when both of your roommates are out of town. Luckily, my kind brother housed me for the night, and one of my roommates was home the next day.

I often say that I make first mistakes terribly often, but I never make the exact same mistake twice. (My other grandmother says that I shouldn't say that so much, because it is possible to make the same mistake twice, you know.) For your amusement, mistakes that I have made so far, in addition to the one above, include but are not limited to:
  • losing a plane ticket (when I was 20--I found it upon my return from Israel--it was on my bookcase and it fell behind the books, flat against the back of the bookcase! what are the odds?)
  • making a plane reservation for the wrong day because it was a red eye that left right after midnight and I was stupid and it was during Pesach and they wanted me to fly on Yom Tov or Shabbat because it was always Yom Tov or Shabbat for, like, eight days
  • misremembering the time for a flight and missing it entirely (I didn't forget the time--I just remembered 4 pm as being the time that I had to leave for the airport when, in fact, it was the time that my plane was taking off--whoops!)
  • cutting my hand while preparing food (this past Friday afternoon)
  • fracturing my thumb while exercising in a stupid manner (when I was 18)
Feel free to mention other mistakes like this that I have made.

I am quite lucky in that all of incidents worked out in the end and none cost me more than $100 and a trip to Terem (not the same mistake, those were two different ones). Plus, that first trip to Terem prepared me for a later trip to Terem when I tripped up a stair and tore something in my hand! (The second trip was an accident, not a mistake. There is an essential difference. An accident is something unpreventable; a mistake happens because of stupidity or, more accurately, lack of care/attention, which is preventable.)

I'm hoping that by making them when it didn't matter a whole lot (wasting $100 and a trip to the emergency room hurt a lot, but neither one was the end of the world for me, thank God), I'll prevent myself from making them at some later point when it matters more. This theory is still in the testing stages.

2.09.2006

Another reason to leave New York City

This was the first reason, way back in December.

Then, last Saturday, I saw a woman with a cute little baby and the baby's burp cloth, or spit-up cloth, or whatever you want to call it, was monogrammed! With the baby's name! It said "Jeremy." I was aghast. Who puts a monogram on something that's going to have partially digested breastmilk or formula all over it, day in and day out? And who monograms something that can be used and reused by multiple children? Who has money for this narishkeit?

New Yorkers, that's who!

But if they have money for this foolishness, why aren't they spending it on something else?

Someone else who say it pointed out that it was probably a gift, but I was not mollified. Who gives the gift of a monogrammed burp cloth? Did they give a set of five? Why didn't they spend their money on something else?

I hate to be so self-righteous, but sometimes it just happens.

2.07.2006

On Laundry and Letting Go (For Bapa, ztz"l)

Bapa, my maternal grandfather ztz"l's, second yahrzeit is tonight, and I dedicate this post to him, even though he may not have liked it. I also want to mention that it is because of him, indirectly, that I traveled to Brazil last March, and so this whole blog would probably not have gotten started without him.

There were a lot of things about me that I think he didn't like: my fast-talking Yankee speech pattern, my extreme bookishness, my fear of...everything, and my questioning/argumentative nature. (One of his lines was, "Don't ask 'why?'" and I practically ask "Why?" in my sleep.) I didn't approve of some of his ways, either. There was a lot less disapproval in both directions as I matured and he mellowed in his later years. No matter. I know that he loved me and was very proud of me, and that's what really counts.

When I think about my grandfather now, two years after his death, I think of his many triumphs in life and his several flaws, and I think of how I loved him despite and because of it all. We're all human, and just because someone dies, it doesn't mean that we should stop honoring the humanness, the possibility-for-failure, in them. I want to remember my grandfather for who he was, flaws and triumphs alike. I think that is how it should be. Maybe he would understand. I know he knew I loved him, and that's what really counts.

It's funny, my grandfather and I. We are (were?) so different in so many ways. He was rather brash, impulsive, and adventurous, while I think options through until I nearly kill them off. He loved camping and hiking and fishing; I thought fishing was boring and worms were disgusting, and was afraid to go down hills while hiking. He thought children should ride their bikes and play outdoors when they had free time; I was too scared to learn to ride a bike until I was twelve and hated all manner of sport and physical exertion. My grandfather, who lost many relatives in the Shoah, thought every Jewish person should know how to shoot a gun; I didn't want to shoot a gun for a long time. (Eventually I did, and he taught me, and I loved it.) He thought that doing things was the most fun; all I ever really wanted to do in the summer was read books. My grandfather grew up in Omaha, Nebraska in the 1920s and '30s; I grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts in the 1980s and '90s. It doesn't get much more different than that!

And yet, the older I get, the more I become like him, in ways both good and bad, and the more I understand him for who he was. It turns out that the thing that we most have in common is that we are (were?) both control freaks.* I don't know if I'm becoming more of a control freak as I age, or if I'm just noticing it more. My grandfather, ztz"l, wanted everything to be a certain way, and so do I. For both of us it comes, at least on a superficial level, from the conviction that our way is right. Of course it is the most efficient, logical way to do things! Why can't everyone else see it that way?

On a deeper level, it may come from a feeling that there is so little that we really have control over in life. It is existentially frustrating and sometimes tragic that we cannot truly affect other people's lives, that we cannot necessarily create peace or eradicate violence, and that we cannot control life or death. In response to this very real lack of control over the world at large, we assert control where we can. Where can we assert control? Over the cleanliness of the kitchen counters, the length of time that milk stays out of the refrigerator, the way that the pots and pans get washed and then put away in the cupboards. Over how the car door is closed, and how the shower looks after it's been used. Over how the broom is put away and how much the bike tires are filled. Over the temperature at which whites, darks, and delicates are laundered. So we, my grandfather and I, request(ed) that people do things in very specific ways, and get exasperated (or worse) when people ignore our wishes. Or, if they don't do things the "right way" (our way), we hustle and bustle and follow immediately after them, fixing what we perceive as their mistakes, while making it extremely obvious that we are doing so.

Is this any kind of way to live? This desire to assert control over every controllable thing in the universe? It seems to me not so much, but I'm not sure what I can do to stop it, this urge to make everyone do things right, i.e., do things my way, to be efficient and organized and logical about everything from the way things are arranged in the refrigerator to the way plates and bowls are stacked in the cupboards (large ones under small ones, of course) to the way toilet paper is loaded onto the roller.

Maybe there is something to be done about this control freakishness, despite the fact that we will never be able to control the humongous uncontrollable things in life. My recent thoughts on being a control freak were inspired by a laundry incident that occurred last week, wherein I took my clothes out of the washer and found that two of my favorite shirts had acquired bleach stains, right on their fronts, from bleach left in the washer by a previous launderer. I was so pissed off. There was no saving these shirts. It left me fuming. Both shirts were new (purchased within the past four months) and were two lovely shades of purple, were cut well, and, of course, were bargains (never pay retail!). And they were ruined.

I was fussing and fuming and then I stopped and asked myself, "Could I have done anything to prevent this atrocity?" And the answer, of course, was "No." There is no way to see if there's bleach in the washer after a load has been run through. And I asked myself, "Is there anything I can do about these ugly white spots on my lovely shirts now?" And the answer, of course, was "No," although I did briefly consider whether it might be possible to dye the whitish stains. So I asked myself, "So what is the point of being pissed off about it?" And there was no point. So I let it go.

I have inspired myself to try to ask these questions of myself in the future, when I'm agitated about something that I want to control but cannot. It might also be useful to apply similarly reflective questions, such as "Does this really matter?" to situations when asserting control would be useless or, worse, detrimental to personal or work relationships.

I know that this is easier said (or blogged) than done, but from now on, I will try to remember the lesson of the laundry when I feel the control freakishness encroaching on my life in unhealthy ways.


* As my paternal grandmother often says about various traits that I've inherited, at least I "come by it honestly." I don't want to mention any names, but my maternal grandfather is not the only control freak in my family. You know who you are!

2.06.2006

Brush with fame (but not fortune)

Today is one of those days that I am working until 8:45 pm. When I was walking to work down Broadway at noon (having had a tremendously productive morning of cleaning up my room a teeny tiny bit, dropping off dry cleaning, and buying a set of deeply discounted meat dishes at Fishes Eddy), I was accosted by Tim Fleisher and his cameraman. Before he opened his mouth and before I noticed the guy trailing him with a camera, I was all ready to say, "No thanks" and hurry on, figuring that he was a clean-cut guy trying to get me to go to church, as someone else did on Broadway last week. But he said, "Hi, I'm Tim Fleisher from Eyewitness News and we're doing a story on Time Warner Cable." So instead of saying, "No thanks," I said, "Sorry, I don't have cable." He said, "At all?!" I said, "I have Time Warner cable-modem service, but I actually don't own a TV."* He stopped for a moment, gave me a tremendous white news anchor smile, and said, "Well, that's perfectly fine!" It was kind of funny.

The funniest part about it is that he looks exactly like you'd expect a TV anchor type to look: "all American" (i.e., pasty white with blue eyes), shiny perfectly straight white teeth, and a full head of silvery grey hair. Also, he was tall, broad, and charismatic.

Alas, I did not get interviewed for Eyewitness News. I think I shall survive.


* Not 100% true. I own a 5" black and white Radio Shack television that I bought to watch Red Sox playoff games. You can get some of the basic channels on it if you recline away from it and hold the antenna with your toe. (I think the human body must conduct television signals pretty well and act like an extended antenna. That's the only reason I can think of that holding it with my toe while reclining would make a difference. Leaning forward and holding it with my hand doesn't work nearly as well.) It currently resides inside a beat up old suitcase on the top shelf of my closet. Getting it down from there would involve risking life and limb at this point.

My First Grey Hair!

I just wanted to report that I have had my first confirmed* grey hair. I suppose it's white, really, only it was half-brown and only lost it's color towards the root. It seems that melanin production in that particular hair follicle petered out in the middle of producing that hair. I don't know quite what to think of this. It seems a bit strange to have a grey hair at the sprite young age of 26, and I don't think my parents started going grey until they were in their late thirties. But many of my friends sport a grey hair or two (or more), and Lord knows the men are certainly beginning to bald, so I guess there's nothing so unusual about this blatant sign of aging. I'm not 18 anymore!

Part of me wants to totally not care. I mean, I try, with greater or lesser success, not to be a superficial, externality-obsessed person. (This attempt to thwart the dominant external-beauty-obsessed culture began in 7th grade, when I categorically refused to put a mirror in my locker like all the other girls had. I didn't want to be the kind of girl who checked her face in the mirror in between classes. Who needs that kind of pressure at 12 years old?!) I have a deep sense that age is something to be honored and revered, and that with age, comes knowledge, wisdom, and self-confidence. I hate the dominant anti-age theme in America; I hate all of the stuff that our capitalist culture thrusts upon us in an effort to stop time, reverse aging, and look eighteen forever.

And yet.

When I see those fine lines and wrinkles around my eyes, or when I spied a grey hair sprouting out of my head last weekend, a part of me was sad. I don't think it's unusual to want to be young forever, and there will always be a part of me that will wax nostalgic for my lost youth, for days spent digging for worms in the backyard to create a terrarium; days spent eagerly writing essays and sending them off for publication, full of vim and vigor; days spent painting T-shirts; days spent curled up on the couch in my nightgown, with nary a care in the world. I do realize that childhood did not seem quite this idyllic at the time, and then I spent a great many hours of my childhood waiting to "grow up," not able to quite understand how "growing up" meant not just freedom from stricture (no more school! no more books! no more teachers' dirty looks!) but the awesome responsibility of feeding, clothing, and housing myself (among other unanticipated difficulties of being an adult).

What shall I do about it? Absolutely nothing. I take great pride in being one of only seven (estimated) women in America to never have dyed, colored, or otherwise messed with my hair.^ I don't even use a blow drier--that's how much I believe in letting my hair be, sub-freezing temperatures and morning showers be damned. Despite having had a secret desire to be blond or at least light-brown-haired as a pre-teen, I really do love the color of my hair, especially the way it has reddish highlights in the summer sun. I remain steadfast in my anti-hair-dye convictions and say, with great joy, "Bring on the grey, bring on the wisdom!"


* I say "confirmed" because MLG was sure she spotted a grey hair in my head a year or more ago, but I swore it was blond, being right at the hairline. I do have a few blondish/light brown hairs, and they look lighter in the sun or under the glare of the bathroom light fixture. I yanked the suspected grey hair out and confirmed that it was, indeed, blond. But when I yanked out a potentially grey hair last weekend, close analysis confirmed that it was, indeed, grey. So I will yank no more. Once there's one, I don't care as much that there are multiples.
Although I do wonder just how many years there are between the first grey hair and a salt-and-pepper colored mane.

^ I will admit that the summer that I turned 14, I rubbed a lemon over my hair and sat out in the sun. When my grandfather asked what had happened to my hair--it looked like straw, he said--I said, "Nothing, what are you talking about?" It did both lighten my hair and probably strip the outer layer from it or something. Not a recommended procedure, and I never did it again. While I'm confessing, I will also admit that Prell shampoo makes my hair look redder than it does after being washed with other kinds of shampoo. I have no idea why. There were times, in my adolescence and perhaps beyond, that I used Prell to boost that redness factor. No longer, though.

2.05.2006

Jews in Africa

I want to share this link to the history of the Kenyan Jewish community, based in Nairobi. It's interesting.

There is also a group of native Jews in Uganda who descended from a group of Christians (presumably converted by missionaries at some point) who rejected Christianity and accepted observant Jewish practice in 1919. Fascinating.

Why this sudden interest in Africa? I just found out that a friend of mine is spending three weeks volunteering in Tanzania this summer, and I kind of want to join her. The volunteering program is not Jewish but would be Shabbat-friendly and kashrut-friendly. (You don't volunteer on weekends, and they feed you and are willing to purchase a new pot for my friend and help her find vegan food or rice and beans or whatever to cook for herself.) The drawback? It costs money. Doesn't everything?