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2007: A year I'm not sorry to see end

2007 was a doozy of a year! (So was 2006, for that matter.)

2006 wasn't any better. In fact, it was probably worse. In 2006, my cousin died. That one doozy of a tragedy probably equaled all of the sheer, utter, ridiculous, sad craziness of 2007. A 79-year-old woman dying is very sad, but I got to spend 28 years with my grandmother, and I only got to spend 13 years with my cousin. My cousin's bar mitzvah was in March, as was his funeral, and the unveiling and thus ripping open of starting-to-heal wounds took place in December. I cried a lot more in public in 2006 than I usually do. 2006 was also the year that my grandmother was diagnosed with the ovarian cancer that killed her in 2007. 2006 sucked big time! Also, I spent some part of 2006 in a relationship that was fabulous and exciting and swept me off my feet before dumping me unceremoniously onto some really hard pavement. It was, by far, the hardest I've ever fallen. I needed to buy a self-help book to get over it! (That's not something I normally do, but I was desperate and it was a paperback and I had a coupon! So cut me some slack.)

I feel a little bit bad complaining about all of this stuff, when entire countries are at war, families lost everything in Katrina and the tsunami and any other number of earthquakes, floods, and fires that pass me right by, and people are starving and dying of diarrhea all over the third world, etc. But I'm not the only one who's complaining.

Rather than feeling guilty about complaining, I am trying to remind myself that 2007 was only a bad year because I am blessed enough to have the expectation of full health for myself and longevity for my grandparents (to 120!) and living in one place for a long time and honest and trustworthy management companies. 2006 was a bad year by any stretch of the imagination, but the loss of my cousin was so tragic because in my world, kids don't die. The various failed relationships weren't tragic by any stretch of the imagination, and they only bother me because I enter into each one with the hope that This Could Be It. And then I hold onto the hope for just a little bit too long. But that's okay. I prefer that to entering into each one with a completely cynical, jaded view, looking for disaster around every corner.

The truth is that, despite their unremitting major inconveniences and minor tragedies, 2006 and 2007 were years of tremendous learning and personal growth for me. But it was learning in the way that nobody wants to learn--by getting kicked in the pants over and over and over again, with brief breaks in between to recoup. In addition to growing tremendously as a person, and being a better and happier person for it, I did some of my best personal writing in a long time during those brief breaks, both here and in my altogether different private (paper) journal. And I had the very best Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur of my life in 5767. It was truly a new beginning in a way that I hadn't experienced before. It's not like I have nothing to show for 2006 and 2007.

Yet, if I had my druthers, I think I would prefer more years like 2005, when I learned through positive experiences rather than negative ones. In 2005, I finally got up off my tush and took one grad school class. The class was okay, but it didn't really bring me any closer to figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, but the "getting up off my tush" part was a good move. Then I got up off my tush and went to Brazil, alone, for almost two weeks. It was an amazing, life-altering experience. It was exactly what I needed to learn that it was time to find a new job. I applied for jobs that came my way and sounded interesting, and ended up landing a job, in the late summer of 2005, that I still have and that has been wonderful for me on many levels. I have learned a lot at this job, about both my strengths and my many considerable weaknesses.

2006 and 2007 also taught me, as I wrote in December 2006:
The second thing I learned, which I sort of already knew (but it was good to be reminded), is that family is an amazing thing. These people, some distantly related, will come and be there with and for you when you need people to be there the most. The caring, compassion, and warmth exhibited by all of my relatives over the past few days was incredible. Just the act of showing up--of being another warm body on a cold day at the cemetery, staring at the gravestone that marks a tragically short life--is sort of incredible. I feel so lucky to have these people in my universe, these first cousins twice removed and second cousins once removed.
Like every family, my family is completely-off-its-rocker crazy, but unlike every family, an outsider observed that we're really there for each other. Even when you don't necessarily want them to be there, they're there. Even when they don't offer you what you need the most, they're there. Physically or through the phone or e-mail. With advice or physical things you don't need. In a rather in-your-face way. It's not something to take for granted, and, too often, I do.

Elder (and wiser) friends advise me that things calm down once you hit 30. That there is less turmoil; less aimless wandering through the grocery store of life, wondering what to pick to satisfy all those human needs and wants. Is that true? What if you hit 30 and you still don't know what you want to do "when you grow up," and you're still single and searching, and you know that you want to have kids and the pressure to have them before it's too late starts to mount? Does that sound calm to you?

Wishing all of my readers a happy, healthy, and, please God, less-kicked-in-the-pants 2008!



Reading Rainbow and other TV shows you may miss from your childhood in the 1980s!

Do you remember Reading Rainbow? Do you remember that lovely intro song? Well, now you can relive at least one of your childhood memories and watch it here. It's cool to see something you haven't seen in fifteen or twenty years. (Apparently, Reading Rainbow ran from 1983-2005. I had no idea they produced new ones until two years ago.) It looks just like I remember it, and I remember what a great show it was. Ah, books!

I don't think that this show made me enjoy reading any more than I would have otherwise, though, in respect to my earlier post about why some people become avid readers and others don't. My brother watched the show with me and he never became an avid reader by any definition. Both of my sisters are avid readers like I am. That breakdown might suggest that it is a gender thing, but my father read a lot, as did both of my grandfathers.

While you're at it, here is the intro to 3-2-1 Contact (why does Wikipedia call it a "reality" show, though?), although the part I remember starts from the middle of this video. Here are some snippets from the actual show. I haven't had time to watch them, because I've been engrossed in Square One TV. See below.

Here is the intro to Square One, although it was nothing special in my memory and my memory was apparently correct. Much more enticingly, there are many little snippets of Square One TV on YouTube. I think I spent a whole afternoon watching them once. So, go have fun! I remember many of the songs fondly.

This is one of my favorites from Square One, but I think it's more my favorite now than it was when I was a kid. It has taken on new meaning since 1990! (Also, the '80s-ness of it just kills me.)

"Magic Number Nine" and "Tesselations" were two of my favorites as a kid. Come on, admit it, you like songs about math, too!

(Parenthetical tangent: Note that I don't discriminate. I also like songs about reading. For example, I am quite fond of Tom Lehrer's songs "Silent E" and "L-Y." Especially "L-Y." That's a great song. You may remember them from The Electric Company, but I am just six months or a year too young to remember it. It stopped airing in reruns in 1985, when I was 5 and 6 years old. I remember a lot of things from when I was five and six (the Challenger disaster, the summit meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev), but not this show. I am also about six months too young to remember when Snuffleupagus went from being imaginary to being real. This also happened when I was six, but I guess I always remembered him as being real because I kept watching the show for awhile after that. (I watched nothing but public television until I was 9, and because I had younger siblings, I probably watched Sesame Street and Mister Rogers for longer than some peers.) Classmates who were born six months before me definitely remembered him being imaginary. It's funny to think of what I remember and what I don't remember from when I was between the ages of, say, 4 and 7. After I was 7, I think I remembered a lot more.)

Good Lord, you can also watch Mathman all over again! I loved those! Maybe even more than the music videos, with the notable exceptions of "Magic Number Nine" and "Tesselations." Without further ado, some Mathman (much more available on YouTube):
  1. Numbers < .5
  2. Two More Than a Multiple of Five
  3. Decimals Greater Than One
Likewise, I don't think that all that watching of Square One made me like math any more than I would have otherwise. For years, I was both afraid of and hated math even though, based on things I've learned about myself since I stopped studying math formally (about halfway through 12th grade) would indicate that I probably have some natural aptitude for math.

It would be a tautology to say that I never liked math because of my fear and hatred, but I think it's safe to say that if I had not been afraid of and hated math, then I might have gotten good at it and thus learned to like it. Between sixth grade and twelfth grade I moved, more or less against my will, from the lowest math group into AP Calculus, but math was never a happy subject for me, unlike, say, English, history, Talmud, biology, or art appreciation. I learned some statistics from a book and thus managed to place out of the math requirement in college, but another placement test I took my freshman year indicated that if I were to take math in college, I would have to take remedial algebra, i.e., relearn whatever it was I learned (or didn't learn) in 9th and 11th grades. (I think 10th grade was geometry, which I aced and also sort of enjoyed. Proofs! Yay! What fun!) Numbers still fluster and scare me to some extent, and I wish they didn't. The real question is: Why was I afraid of numbers when I was as young as 6? I think I know the answer, but I'll save that for another post.

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Too bad not to share.

Courtesy of Jewschool, and please go read the comments there, because they're interesting.

Also, since I'm mentioning Jewschool, I've just posted my first little post there on behalf of LimmudNY 2008. You should go. It's fun. (You may or may not remember what I wrote on this blog about LimmudNY 2007. It was posted to Jewschool last year by ShamirPower, but I posted this directly.)

(I will admit right now that I've always been a little bit jealous of/intimidated by the Jewschool people, whom I am totally not as hipsterish or cool or interesting or artsy or post-denominational as, even though I'm friends with some of them. But I'll admit this in very little letters. Because I'm not really sure I want to admit this in public. I mean, do I even come close to having what it takes to post there even under the guise of LimmudNY, the very mention of which makes me feel terribly guilty, as I had intended to volunteer for them in a marketing capacity, but the months of July through December somehow entirely slipped me by? End self-pitying/guilty rant.)

Back to bad Jewish pop culture! This is much more fun!

Courtesy of Jewlicious.

Does posting about the next bad Adam Sandler movie raise my coolness factor? What if I have nothing to say about it except that I can't stand his so not Israeli accent and that it looks like all the other stupid, not-funny-to-me movies that Adam Sandler specializes in, with a few notable exceptions to the rule? Gimme a romantic, English-accented, vaguely-nineteenth-century flick over this any day. I think my coolness factor just dropped, actually, with that last comment.

Carry on, then!

(There are no appropriate labels for this because I so rarely write about pop culture at all, never mind bad Jewish pop culture.)


Of Little Germans, Lanky Hip-Hop Afficianados, and Marriage Proposals

I was walking by one of the many "holiday craft fairs" that dot the city at this time of year, and passed a booth that was selling various pastries and hot drinks. Correction. They were selling German pastries and German hot drinks. Underneath the name of the seller, was the logo: "There's a little German in everyone."

I almost spit out my coffee as the image of a small SS officer perched on my kidneys appeared in my mind. Do you think that's a good tag line for New York City? Multi-racial, multi-cultural, very Jewish New York City? Is that line helping them sell more treats? I don't know about you, but I don't think there's a little German in me! Now I'm picturing a tiny little Nazi perched on my diaphragm and I am not amused. (Okay, maybe I'm a tiny bit amused. But I am not happy. I want that little German out of me, pronto!) Am I missing something here? Am I being unnecessarily harsh or absurdly racist? Was my surprise off-base?

Regarding hip-hop, I was sitting on the A train, probably drinking my Starbucks coffee, certainly learning Mishlei [Proverbs] for Judy Tenzer, z"l's shloshim Tanach siyum, and a handsome young man came traipsing down the aisle, hawking his hip-hop CD. He stopped in front of each straphanger and asked, "Do you listen to hip-hop?" If she said, "Yes," he launched into his very short shpiel. He stopped in front of me, eyeing mostly my book, I think, and said, "You don't listen to hip-hop, do you?" That was a leading question if I ever heard one. I confirmed his suspicions and went back to my learning.

Another story: I was walking to work, through Central Park, and I walked over one of the many picturesque bridges in the park. I saw a woman standing with her hands covering her face, saying "Ohmigod, ohmigod...." I stopped and took a closer look. I don't often intercede on behalf of strangers, but am more likely to do so for women, and if she looked like she was crying, I would have asked her if she was okay. A closer look revealed, opposite her, a young man down on one knee with a sparkly diamond ring sitting an open black velvet ring box. He was proposing! And she was surprised! I don't think I've written about my feelings about diamond engagement rings here before, and it should probably be a separate post. All I'll say here is that I didn't realize until that moment how little I want to be proposed to in this way: in public, with an already-purchased-but-never-before-seen-diamond ring. I haven't thought about it all that much, because it's never (yet) been a live question for me, but I am glad I saw a stereotypically romantic proposal unfold before my eyes and realized how little I want to be proposed to in that way.



The Happiness Gender Gap, or, On Dusty Floors

Here I am, discussing happiness again. Do you think speaking of happiness serves as a protective measure against the doldrums of winter? Is this a positive way to handle the fact that I got hailed on, then rained on, then snowed on, then hailed on--all within a few hours, this morning?

Nice try, but this New York Times article ("He’s Happier, She’s Less So"), from late September, made me sad, not happy. It's about the "growing happiness gap between men and women."

I quote:

Mr. Krueger, analyzing time-use studies over the last four decades, has found an even starker pattern. Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.

Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work — and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes.

[snip] What has changed — and what seems to be the most likely explanation for the happiness trends — is that women now have a much longer to-do list than they once did (including helping their aging parents). They can’t possibly get it all done, and many end up feeling as if they are somehow falling short.

Mr. Krueger’s data, for instance, shows that the average time devoted to dusting has fallen significantly in recent decades. There haven’t been any dust-related technological breakthroughs, so houses are probably just dirtier than they used to be. I imagine that the new American dustiness affects women’s happiness more than men’s.

Yes, I do think that dusty floors and shmutzy counter-tops affect my happiness more than they affect that of my male peers. The level of cleanliness and lack of clutter that I would need, in my apartment, to really be happy with it/my life, is basically unattainable without, say, cleaning a little bit every day. I am currently not willing to do that, even though doing that might increase my happiness. It would also decrease the amount of time that I could devote to eating dinner, blogging, or reading the paper. It's a tough balance.

[snip] A big reason that women reported being happier three decades ago — despite far more discrimination — is probably that they had narrower ambitions, Ms. Stevenson says. Many compared themselves only to other women, rather than to men as well. This doesn’t mean they were better off back then.

But it does show just how incomplete the gender revolution has been. Although women have flooded into the work force, American society hasn’t fully come to grips with the change. The United States still doesn’t have universal preschool, and, in contrast to other industrialized countries, there is no guaranteed paid leave for new parents.

This brief article is but one in a very, very long line of newspaper and magazine articles that reiterates the idea that "No, women really can't have it all."

I have become more and more convinced that this is true. I don't think that this makes me a post-feminist or a non-feminist, or is a backlash against the "women can have it all" ethos of the second wave feminists. It's more of a statement of reality than of idealism, to me.

I think I first started feeling this way when I was 18 and spending a year studying in Israel, comparing my experiences in yeshiva to those of my male peers. Expectations of and by women in terms of Jewish learning and so many other things are different than expectations of and by men, and these differences, as far as I can tell, are almost exclusively to women's disadvantage.

Perhaps I will write more on this at another time.

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Jack's Shack linked to me! I am famous! I never aspired to be part of the self-defined "Jewish blogosphere" of which Jack's Shack is so much a part, but when someone in that world notices little old me, it does make me happy. So, thank you!

There was a typo in my name blog title, but, as someone pointed out to me, that's what you get for picking two Portuguese words as the name of your blog. (Just to clarify, my name is ALG and my blog's name is Abacaxi Mamao.)



Reflections on Chanukah: "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning."

I am half-sitting on my bed, watching the candles, un-ergonomically typing with the laptop on my lap. It's worth it, though, to be able to hang out with the glowing candles. Last night was the first night that I lit at a reasonable hour (5:45 pm) and therefore had the time and stamina to sing Maoz Tzur [Rock of Ages] and then just watch the candles and try to think about what Chanukah was doing to/for me, and I for it, this year. I repeated this tonight by lighting at 6:25 pm, after davening Maariv [the evening service], which furthered my reflective mood.

Chanukah is so much nicer when you light before 10 pm. I hate how many nights I've lit at 10 or 11 pm and then struggled to stay awake until the candles burned out, since I refuse to sleep in a room with any candles burning. It is unfortunate that I've lit alone, and so late, the first three nights this year. On Friday afternoon, there was a very hurried dash from Chanukah candles to Shabbat candles to a run, with food, to get into the eruv before shkiya. Working on the logistics of lighting is something I should be more attentive to in the future, since I can tell what a difference an earlier and less hurried lighting makes.

Aside from that, though, I am sad that Chanukah is so firmly associated with loss in my mind these days. It's not enough that I associate the loss of my friend Shira with Chanukah, and also the time I spent with my grandfather before he died, but now I also associate my deceased grandmother with Chanukah? Eight nights in a row is too many to dwell on death, absent shiva/shloshim, when it is natural to dwell on death for so long. It's also too much sadness for one holiday. By Shabbat, I couldn't stand it anymore!

So last night, watching the candles struggle valiantly to stay lit between the frigid cold of the glass window and the hot air wafting out of the clanking radiator underneath, I thought about lighting candles at the darkest time of the year and how Chanukah could stop being solely about sadness and loss for me.

I thought about the miracle of Chanukah being not that we won some short-lived military victory against the Seleucids, or that the oil lasted eight days instead of one, but that we bother to light candles during this dark, depressing time of year at all, rather than huddling under the covers and waiting for the sunlight to return.

I thought about this idea a lot in the years following Shira's death, when I tried to wrap my mind around the idea of celebrating anything on anyone's yahrzeit. Lighting candles? Singing hallel? Whatever for? It seems impossible, but, lo and behold!, through the intervention of time, fading memory, and increased focus on the gifts we received from a person during her lifetime, we somehow live to celebrate again.

In my more classically frum days, I would have dismissed the idea of comparing Chanukah to any other religion or culture's practice of lighting candles around the winter solstice as ecumenical nonsense. But you know what? Like so many other things that I was sure of when I was eighteen, it turns out that I was wrong. It's not that Chanukah isn't about the military victory and magic oil, but that is not all its about. One of the things that I love about Judaism is the way that it incorporates earlier practices into theologically meaningful holidays. The idea of lighting candles for eight days during the darkest time of the year precedes Chanukah according to the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Avodah Zarah:
ת"ר לפי שראה אדם הראשון יום שמתמעט והולך אמר אוי לי שמא בשביל שסרחתי עולם חשוך בעדי וחוזר לתוהו ובוהו וזו היא מיתה שנקנסה עלי מן השמים עמד וישב ח' ימים בתענית [ובתפלה] כיון שראה תקופת טבת וראה יום שמאריך והולך אמר מנהגו של עולם הוא הלך ועשה שמונה ימים טובים

“Our rabbis taught that when Adam saw the days becoming shorter, he said: 'Woe is to me, because I have sinned and the world is returning to chaos.' He prayed and fasted until the winter equinox when he noticed the days becoming longer. 'This is the way of the world,' he said, and he established an eight day festival.' (Tractate Avoda Zara, 8a)
I don't know about you, but I've had days during the darkness of December where I've certainly thought, "Woe is to me...the world is returning to chaos." Whether I attribute this to my own sins or some more modern variation thereof is a separate matter entirely. But, my God! I don't think you have to have full-fledged Seasonal Affective Disorder to fear the clutching darkness of winter!

Aside from the candles to brighten our path, we have another aid on which to lean. And that is God, the God who is "yotzer or u'voreh choshech," who "creates light and creates darkness." This bracha, or blessing, from Shacharit [the morning service], is one of my all-time favorite blessings. We Jews don't believe in a God who is all lightness. We believe in a God who creates darkness, also. We don't understand the darkness a lot of the time, but we believe that it comes from God. Hand-in-hand with this belief comes the faith that, as the morning follows the night, spiritual and emotional light inevitably follow dark. The world is a mean, nasty place sometimes. Some nights, some Decembers of the soul, seem interminable. But they are not. Dawn will approach, and whether we try to hasten its approach by lighting candles or by sitting in front of a light box (10,000 lux for about fifteen minutes a day is the recommended dose) or not, it will come.

Despite our worst fears, God will not return the world to chaos. That is the covenant that God made with Noah and all of humanity after the flood. This is the miracle of Chanukah to me, right now--that we have faith in "yotzer or u'voreh choshech," that we light candles in the darkness, that we combine our faith in God's hand in our lives with our own efforts at hastening the arrival of the dawn.

Tonight, after reciting Maariv and before lighting candles, I recited the 30th Psalm, as is customary during Chanukah, because of the connection between the Maccabean rededication of the Temple and the original dedication of the Temple. The verses that particularly speak to the idea of a God that creates light and darkness, and a God who promises not to let us languish in the pit forever although he makes no promises against us falling into that dark space in the first place, are highlighted below.
א מִזְמוֹר: שִׁיר-חֲנֻכַּת הַבַּיִת לְדָוִד. 1 A Psalm; a Song at the Dedication of the House; of David.
ב אֲרוֹמִמְךָ יְהוָה, כִּי דִלִּיתָנִי; וְלֹא-שִׂמַּחְתָּ אֹיְבַי לִי. 2 I will extol thee, O LORD, for Thou hast raised me up, and hast not suffered mine enemies to rejoice over me.
ג יְהוָה אֱלֹהָי-- שִׁוַּעְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ, וַתִּרְפָּאֵנִי. 3 O LORD my God, I cried unto Thee, and Thou didst heal me;
ד יְהוָה--הֶעֱלִיתָ מִן-שְׁאוֹל נַפְשִׁי; חִיִּיתַנִי, מיורדי- (מִיָּרְדִי-) בוֹר. 4 O LORD, Thou broughtest up my soul from the nether-world; Thou didst keep me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.
ה זַמְּרוּ לַיהוָה חֲסִידָיו; וְהוֹדוּ, לְזֵכֶר קָדְשׁוֹ. 5 Sing praise unto the LORD, O ye His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name.
ו כִּי רֶגַע, בְּאַפּוֹ-- חַיִּים בִּרְצוֹנוֹ:
בָּעֶרֶב, יָלִין בֶּכִי; וְלַבֹּקֶר רִנָּה.
6 For His anger is but for a moment, His favour is for a life-time; {N} weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.
ז וַאֲנִי, אָמַרְתִּי בְשַׁלְוִי-- בַּל-אֶמּוֹט לְעוֹלָם. 7 Now I had said in my security: 'I shall never be moved.'
ח יְהוָה-- בִּרְצוֹנְךָ, הֶעֱמַדְתָּה לְהַרְרִי-עֹז:
הִסְתַּרְתָּ פָנֶיךָ; הָיִיתִי נִבְהָל.
8 Thou hadst established, O LORD, in Thy favour my mountain as a stronghold-- {N} Thou didst hide Thy face; I was affrighted.
ט אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה אֶקְרָא; וְאֶל-אֲדֹנָי, אֶתְחַנָּן. 9 Unto Thee, O LORD, did I call, and unto the LORD I made supplication:
י מַה-בֶּצַע בְּדָמִי, בְּרִדְתִּי אֶל-שָׁחַת:
הֲיוֹדְךָ עָפָר; הֲיַגִּיד אֲמִתֶּךָ.
10 'What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? {N} Shall the dust praise Thee? shall it declare Thy truth?
יא שְׁמַע-יְהוָה וְחָנֵּנִי; יְהוָה, הֱיֵה-עֹזֵר לִי. 11 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious unto me; LORD, be Thou my helper.'
יב הָפַכְתָּ מִסְפְּדִי, לְמָחוֹל לִי: פִּתַּחְתָּ שַׂקִּי; וַתְּאַזְּרֵנִי שִׂמְחָה. 12 Thou didst turn for me my mourning into dancing; Thou didst loose my sackcloth, and gird me with gladness;
יג לְמַעַן, יְזַמֶּרְךָ כָבוֹד-- וְלֹא יִדֹּם:
יְהוָה אֱלֹהַי, לְעוֹלָם אוֹדֶךָּ.
13 So that my glory may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent; {N} O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever.

God does hide his face. We do become frightened as Adam did when the days seemed about to shrink into oblivion. But God eventually turns our mourning into dancing. God promises us that nothing that is bad will be bad forever. Redemption will come. We will be girded with gladness one day, and live to praise God again.

It sometimes seems like folly to praise the God who brings darkness, the God who causes the days to shorten, the God who takes away the dawn of friends, family, and life itself, and who causes us to gird ourselves with sackcloth in the beginning. I choose to believe, instead, that such praise of God is part of the miracle of faith, of recovery, and of the dawn that follows the darkness.

[And now the candles are all burned down, and I have a Chanukah party to attend.]

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Why do you read?

I'm just catching up on the Sunday New York Times from two weeks ago, and I read this article ("A Good Mystery: Why We Read") from Week in Review.

Why am I reading the New York Times from two weeks ago? In my last apartment, we all split daily delivery of the New York Times, which came to our door (very cheaply--my New York City public school teacher roommate got the $15/month rate), and I managed to read parts of the Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday papers on most weeks. Now that I don't get it delivered, and only buy it when I really, actively, want to read it, I find that every other Sunday New York Times is about all I have time for. One week to read the magazine; another week to read the other sections that I'm most interested in. What's the difference? I spend more time commuting to and from work, I donated to the UJA-Federation and started getting the Jewish Week, which I read parts of most weeks, and I'm reading more fiction, I think. Of those three factors, the only one I'm really enjoying is reading more fiction. I really miss reading the Science Times and every other Sunday paper, but I almost never remember to buy the newspaper on Tuesday and I feel silly buying a new Sunday paper when I haven't even finished the last one. The obvious solution would be to read online, but I don't like reading entire sections of the paper online.

So, back to books, the topic of the aforelinked article. Why do some people become "enduring readers," as the article calls them? What made me become an enduring reader?

Apparently, although my parents are also big readers, that is not enough. I do think that, in my case, everyone reading on Shabbat evenings and afternoons made me want to read books. I distinctly remember the first book that I read on my own (Pat the Bunny, or perhaps the later Pat the Cat), and the context in which I read it: Everyone else is my family was reading, nobody wanted to play with me, and I wanted to be reading like they were. So I did. Huzzah! I wonder if, isolated from economic and educational status and other things that affect reading, people who observe Shabbat in the traditional way read more than people who don't. I'm fairly sure that people who observe Shabbat in the traditional way play a lot more board games than people who don't. I grew up playing board games (Candyland, Aggravation, Rack-O, Life, Monopoly) every Shabbat, and, even now, when spending Shabbat and holidays with my family, we often crack open a deck of cards or Rummikub. How many Americans do that?

Back to reading. I don't remember it taking very long for me to move from picture books to Cam Jansen, Encyclopedia Brown, Ramona Quimby, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, books by Robert Newton Peck, Paula Danziger, Lois Lowry, and Judy Blume and many, many more). I also read "lesser" literature such as Sweet Valley Twins and The Babysitters' Club. (I think that's a fine thing. It didn't corrupt my brain. I still enjoy reading what most literary types consider "junk," and I often avoid reading what others consider "good literature." I do feel a little bit overly defensive about this, though.)

The article suggests that for some, one book read in childhood triggers a love of reading, but I don't think that was the case for me. I don't remember ever not loving reading. I always loved escaping into other worlds, real worlds not my own, through reading. I went through a phase, or maybe two separate phases, when all I wanted to read were biographies and auto-biographies. There was a whole wall in the children's section of the local public library devoted to a series of easy biographies for kids. Most of them were of people like George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Hellen Keller, George Washington Carver, and Martha Washington. I guess you could call them iconic Americans.

One thing that the article said struck a chord: "But what makes that one book a trigger for continuous reading? For some, it’s the discovery that a book’s character is like you, or thinks and feels like you."

I think part of what I always loved about reading was that I almost always identified, in some way, with the book's character. I'm not sure right now how I would have identified with George or Martha Washington, but I think that, to some degree, these children's biographies were written to promote identification between the reader and the subject. Perhaps part of the joy of reading is that it enables me to identify with a character who is wholly unlike me in every way. And yet, still, I get to inhabit her world for a little bit, feel her feelings, let her people become my people. All without leaving the comfort of my own home (or subway car, as the case may be)!

Yes, I think that's it. I think that also explains why I sometimes feel very sad when I finish a good book. It's like being booted out of a place that temporarily became my life. Television and movies don't do that to me in the same way.

Anyway, go and read the article. It's a good read!




I haven't had time to read this article from this past Tuesday's Science Times ("Unhappy? Self-Critical? Maybe You’re Just a Perfectionist") yet, but I want to. That has to count for something, right?

I may have thoughts to share after I read it. I just wanted to post it here for now as a placeholder. If I don't post this publicly, I will probably forget about it for months and months, as so often happens to very short draft posts.

Carry on.




This is not the holiday for remembering (that would be Rosh Hashanah, Tisha B'Av, and Yom HaShoah), but I remember anyway, every Chanukah.

Tonight is Shira's seventh yahrzeit. You can read more about her here and here. I don't have anything to say about her yahrtzeit at the moment. If I think of something, I will post it when I do. Suffice it to say that I remember her and wish she were here with me.

This is also my first Chanukah without the presence of my maternal grandmother, a"h. Since my grandfather, a"h, passed away in February 2004, my aunt, sister, and I have taken turns lighting Chanukah candles with my grandmother, via phone.

It's been an important part of my Chanukah over the past three years. I have had many Jewish roommates over the years, but we don't have the same schedules or light together, so most nights, I light alone, in my room, whenever I get home (late), and I struggle to stay awake until they burn down, to minimize the fire hazard. I think it's safe to say that I miss celebrating Chanukah with my family. I'm sure that my grandmother loved lighting with us via phone, but I also loved it, since it gave me someone to light with. My aunt divvied up the nights. Because of my late schedule, I could sometimes arrange to be lighting at the same time as my grandmother, three time zones West. Other times, I would light earlier and just repeat the brachot, HaNeirot Halalu, and Maoz Tzur with my grandmother later. Once, I "lit" with my grandmother in the lobby of an apartment building, on my way to a Chanukah party. I never did it from the street, because the background noise of a Manhattan street would make it impossible. So, I am sad. This year, I will be lighting alone, without my grandmother.

Something else recently reminded me of my grandmother. I saw someone pushing an elderly man down the sidewalk in a wheelchair. Based on their age difference and their mannerism, they seemed to be a grandson and grandfather. I realized, with a pang, that I would never push my grandmother in her wheelchair again. There is something so...gratifying, I guess, about doing something for someone who has done so much for you. Someone who took care of you when you were small, who cooked for you and pushed you in a baby carriage. At some point, they need you to do those things for them. And you do them willingly, happily, and with gratitude that you can finally repay some of their kindness in some small way. Also, there was something nice about the challenge of trying to minimize bumps and push the wheelchair straight even when the road was slanted. (I pushed her to and/or from seders a few times, and we usually went in the bike lane, since it was a lot less bumpy than the sidewalk. And it was late at night, on a weeknight, in a suburb. The streets were empty.)

I went to the doctor today, and, in the waiting room, I observed an elderly gentleman, who I overheard was a year younger than my grandfather would have been, had he not died in 2004. He was wearing jeans and a fleece jacket. Something about the way they loosely hung on him reminded me of my grandfather's overalls. He also had a sort of Midwestern twang. I spent a lot of time with my grandfather in December 2003, when he was sick and knew he was dying. I brought him beeswax candles, because he had once told me that he liked the smell, but cancer had already robbed him of his sense of smell by then.

My maternal grandparents used to come visit us twice a year: December vacation and Pesach. December vacation started on December 26 at my Jewish day school, and it sometimes overlapped with Chanukah. These visits continued until my grandmother, who had MS, could no longer make the cross-country flight. I never stopped associating my grandparents with Chanukah, snow, and buying Christmas chocolates and cookies on sale on December 26. In college, I used to visit my grandparents in California over my winter break, which also sometimes coincided with Chanukah. I would come with my own battered tin chanukiah, and set up shop in front of their kitchen window. The candles reflected in the plate glass (which once broke because it got too hot from the candles), and beyond them, I could see their neighbors' window. The Satos. I learned to ride a bike in their driveway and my grandparents' driveway, which abutted each other.

Sigh... Happy Chanukah!

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Money, happiness, and random rays bursting through the clouds

I believe that money can't buy happiness ("All They Are Saying Is Give Happiness a Chance," NYT, Nov. 12, 2007), but I also think that some of the things that do lend themselves to happiness--free time, time to spend with family and friends, less stress--are difficult to come by if you are working two jobs or many, many hours at one job to make enough money to feed, clothe, and house you and your dependents. This just means that you need a certain degree of financial stability to have happiness. Once you have that financial stability, I would tend to agree that more money won't make you happier. I have never been of the opinion that having a lot of money would make me happier, since the things that bring me the most pleasure are almost never expensive.

The way that little things affect our happiness was very interesting to me--finding a dime on a photocopy machine? That would make me happy! So do things like helping random strangers (or being helped by them--when someone points out that I've dropped something, for example), taking a walk on a nice day, seeing a funny movie, having a really great discussion with a friend, having the time and being in the right mind frame to appreciate live music (it's not enough to hear it when I'm rushed or stressed out or worried about the expense). Sometimes I am surprised by how much the little things make a difference.

Conversely, it doesn't take much to make a bad day. Usually, the kinds of things that make my day bad are interactions I have with other people I know or frustrations with my own inability to be the person I want to be--things that are rather expected and seem kind of mundane--while the kinds of things that make my day good seem more random, like seeing something startingly beautiful in Central Park or helping random strangers or being helped by random strangers. I'm not sure what, exactly, this says about me.

I often think of how I should find a way to integrate more of the happiness-creating things into my life. I don't think it would be that hard, but it does take some focus, planning, and intentionality, whereas my modus operandi seems to be more along the lines of frenzied flying by the seat of my pants. Some part of me thinks that moments planned to promote happiness would be less satisfying than random rays of happiness bursting through the clouds of work and stress and errands and housekeeping. (Interminable! Will I ever get used to the idea that to keep myself fed and clothed and satisfied I will need to shop and launder and sweep, week after week after week forever? I would very much like for these things to take care of themselves. I suppose that is where having more money would come into play and possibly make me happier.)

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Kirtle and Kittel?

Kirtle apparently means "tunic." Is it related to "kittel"? Merriam-Webster online tells me that it comes from the Old English cyrtel. I don't know where kittel comes from, or how one would spell it in English (or any other language), but it sounds vaguely Yiddishy to me, so maybe they are related. (It sounds Yiddishy to me mostly because I think that root would mean something like "kill" or possibly something as specific as "chop off the head" in Hebrew. KTL? I think it just means kill but I always associate that root with chopping off of heads.)

What? Have I been spending time at Freerice.com? Why would you think that?

I am at about 47 now, but only recently so. (I could easily slip back to 46 or 44.) That's only because I've been going much more slowly and carefully, though. A friend of mine broke through to 49, which is quite impressive.



Don't click here if you have work to finish.

Well, not there, exactly, but here, on freerice.com. It works on the same principle as those sites that promise to cure breast cancer, etc. (Do you remember those? I think from the late 1990s?) You click, they charge advertisers per page view (and more per click-through), and the proceeds, minus overhead, buy rice for poor people.

But that's not what's fun about it. No. What's fun about it is that you get to test your vocabulary skills. You get harder words in response to correct answers and easier words in response to incorrect answers. Sort of like the new, computer-based GRE. (Or so I hear. I've never taken it.) You also get a score between 1 and 50. Apparently it's very, very difficult to get above a 48. The difficulty of words is constantly revised depending on how many people define them correctly.

If you like big words, and like trying to figure out what words mean based on their presumptive roots, and are highly competitive--like I am--then this can keep you busy for hours on end. Not that I've spent hours on it today. Not at all. There is no time limit, so you can go back to it as time allows. You feel sort of noble for using your down time at work to improve your vocabulary and help feed the poor.

I got as high as 44, but am now hovering around 40. I definitely used some sort of intelligent guessing on many of the words, mostly based on some clearly related word that I was more familiar with. I am constantly surprised by how many strange words I've picked up over the year from reading old English translations of Tanach [the Bible]. Most of these words I know from reading. God only knows where I learned was a cuspidor was, but I somehow do. (Little House on the Prairie, perhaps? I think that's how I knew what eider was.) I got ambuscade right only because I guessed that it was related to the word "ambush." You can't be too picky, though. Does periphrasis really mean "circumlocution"? I chose circumlocution because periphrasis sounds too much like peripatetic to not mean something like "walking around," which I only know from History 10a in college, when we had to read some Aristotle. A "bodega" is most certainly not a "wineshop," but that was clearly the correct choice. [Ha! I just looked it up, and it is a wineshop! It's just that everyone I know uses it like the third definition here, like the American equivalent of the Israeli makolet. People also call such stores "delis" here in New York, which threw me at first.]

The definitions from which you get to choose are quite expansive/blurry, so you have just pick the best and go with it, even if you know that they aren't exactly the same thing. This also helps me get things right that I otherwise would not. You don't have to use the words in a sentence, for example, which would be much more difficult.

Another thing I noticed, which I also noticed when I took the SAT, is that I tend to have a very immediate feeling that a word is either a "good word" or a "bad word." I have a sense that a word expresses something negative or something positive much more often than I can correctly define it, and also much more quickly than I can define it, even for words with which I am pretty familiar.

I think I can raise my score a few points if I slow down rather than clicking through quickly. I was trained to take standardized tests as quickly as possible and then go back to work on the hard parts, so it's hard for me to take the time to stop and think when I'm not immediately sure. Also, I'm used to trying to outsmart the test-makers, so if something seems too obvious to be the right answer, I choose something else. Sometimes test-makers aren't trying to trick test-takers, and sometimes they are.

I've given away 1560 grains of rice so far.

Ahem...and now, back to work!

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A cause I could get behind: Staying in bed longer during the winter to conserve energy.

Here ("The Big Sleep," NYT, 11/25/07). It's hard to imagine an economy where you could basically work really hard for five months to produce everything you would need except salt and iron, and then spend the other seven months of the year sleeping and playing cards. Even vacation doesn't feel so much like vacation these days, since it becomes so busy with errands and home improvement projects.

But to accept the life described in this op-ed, you'd have to accept a life with five months of working much, much harder than I ever have, and seven months of monotony. Also, in general, a life with a much narrower range of experiences. I'm thinking in terms of food--you would eat just what you grew or your neighbors grew, travel (no money economy = no travel, I think), and leisure (no taking out books from the public library). These are all things that I take for granted and would be very sad without, even if it meant that I could spend seven months of the year sleeping.

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This made me very sad, as well as somewhat infuriated.

I can't believe that a parent would conspire to create a fake teenage boy on MySpace to spy on a 13-year-old neighborhood girl to see what the girl was saying about her child, and then withdraw the affection of the teenage boy. It's sick. Just sick. And cruel.

In pre-MySpace days, when I was seventeen, a boy I had met in real life suddenly withdrew his affection towards me, and I remember how traumatic it was. I remember feeling both worthless for not managing to hang onto his affection and intensely foolish for having believed in it in the first place. I would not want to relive those days for anything. I only got through them by writing bad poetry and filling pages of my journal. I only draw the comparison to underline my feelings that any adult who purposely puts an adolescent girl through this kind of hell is in a class with the worst kind of human being.

Update: Here is New York Times ("A Hoax Turned Fatal Draws Anger but No Charges") coverage of the story from November 28. And here is a November 29 post on Judith Warner's blog about the same tragic incident.

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Would you...?

Pay $999 for a complete record of your DNA that would show, among other things, your genetic ancestry and statistical likelihood of getting certain genetic diseases? Would you pay $50 for this information? Regardless of the price, would you even want it?

According to Googling Google, that option will be available starting tomorrow, from Anne Wojcicki, founder of 23andme and the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

I won't say it's not tempting, but I don't think I would do it, even if it cost $50 (a not-trivial but affordable sum for me, unlike $999, which is both not-trivial and not affordable). I think it would probably cause more unnecessary worry than potential benefits. If I'm going to die from some dread genetic disease before I accomplish what I want to accomplish in life, I don't think I want to know that ahead of time. People tend to anticipate that things will be worse than they are when they actually experiencing those things. If I make it to the age of 80 or 90 in good health, I might do it then. (Although that might reveal things about my children's genetics that I wouldn't want to know.) That would be, in, oh, 2059-2069, by which point, I imagine this sort of thing would be much cheaper.


Nerdy men

Esther posted something about this letter at JDatersAnonymous already, but I just had to add: Nerds are hot. I may elaborate on why nerds (and their cousins, dorks and geeks) are attractive at some future time, but those three words should suffice for now. Some nerds, of course, are socially or emotionally inept, and that is not attractive, but for the ones who are not, hotness abounds.

P.S. While I am writing a silly post--silly because of course I would date someone who wasn't nerdy! I mean, I'm superficial but not that superficial--I want to add that I saw Larry King on the street a few months ago and Dustin Hoffman on the street last Sunday. Hoffman was, by far, the cooler of the two. I saw King walking in his poor posture kind of way, with a Ralph Lauren shopping bag, and instantly realized who it was. But Dustin Hoffman was wearing a navy jumpsuit--the kind maintenance men and plumbers wear--and signing autographs. My first thought was, "Why are all these people waiting for this old dude to sign something?" I mean, he could have been signing off work orders. A second later, I realized, "Hey, that's not just some old dude--that's Dustin Hoffman!" I think he looked older than I expected him to look because I last saw him in "Rain Man" (on DVD). (This has nothing at all to do with the hotness of nerdy men. It only belongs here in this post because famous-people-sightings, like the attractiveness of any particular kind of man, are not the sort of thing I normally devote blog real estate to.)

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Deadly amusement

This looks like it should be an article from The Onion, but it isn't. I feel like I shouldn't laugh because, after all, a cat is dead, but the image of cat lovers and bird lovers sitting across the room from each other at the trial is giggle-inducing.

Who do I side with? Both, in a way. I sympathize with bird lovers who don't want cats eating (or killing for amusement) birds, and I sympathize with cat lovers who don't want feral (or non-feral) cats shot. The solution? Adopt feral cats as pets, spay/neuter them, and keep them as indoor cats. The cat lovers and bird lovers should both find that satisfactory.



Chodesh Kislev tov! !חדש כִסְלֵו טוב

Tonight is the third night of the Hebrew month of Kislev (
כִסְלֵו), and this is part 3 of an occasional series. It's shorter than some of the others, because, well, I didn't have as much material. Feel free to add to it in the comments!


Biblical names
According to the Sefer Yetzirah, the following correspond to the month of Kislev:

Today is also the day that some people observe Veterans' Day. Thank you to all of the veterans of the armed forces who sacrifice so much in their service to this country.

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"Extra Weight May Have Health Benefits"

You heard it here first (or second or third), folks. Here is another article about the same study. And finally, here it is in the New York Times. On my screen, it came up right under an ad decrying the "hidden carbs" that lurk in apples and ketchup.

I don't have much philosophizing to do on this topic at the moment. I do really like the way that the New York Times article ends:
“If you are in the pink and feeling well and getting a good amount of exercise and if your doctor is very happy with your lab values and other test results, then I am not sure there is any urgency to change your weight.”
Hear, hear! As someone who, except for a few chronic conditions (unrelated to my weight), and not at the moment because I haven't been exercising at all or eating well (at all) due to a combination of one or more of those chronic conditions and maybe some general laziness as well, has excellent lab values despite having a too-high BMI, I salute this sentiment. And I really, really want to get one of these chronic conditions under control so that I can start exercising again and eating better. (I generally only eat from the far ends of the food spectrum: 100% junk and a lot of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Well, lately I've been neglecting the whole grains/fruits/vegetables end of the spectrum a bit.)

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Hope and other positive things

Today seemed as good a day as any to go through some of my drafted posts and pluck out the nice short links to share with y'all. These, in reverse chronological order, are from today to, um, November 2005. Yeah, that's right. I am that person who never throws anything out, including drafted blog posts from two years ago.
After what I wrote yesterday, I feel sort of bad writing this boring post, but the irrepressible urge I feel to get rid of some of those 100 drafts is currently overriding my desire to only post original, substantive, well-thought-out posts.



Incessant barking

This is not some sort of self-deprecating comment about my own blog.

I just thought this was funny, especially in light of NaBloPoMo, wherein people post daily in November. In my experience, the quality of posting does not go up or remain static when people post daily. It goes down; the relationship between quality and quantity is inverse. If you want to create a daily writing exercise, do it in your own time. Don't clutter up my RSS feed. NaBloPoMo makes me take more people off of my blog reading list than anything else.

The exception to this inverse relationship rule is for truly wonderful writers, where the quality of their posts remains fairly uniform and I am delighted to have more of their writing to read. But for the average-quality blog writer, who has mostly okay posts with a few brilliant flashes of insight every once in awhile that keep me coming back, daily posting does not endear them to me.

In my ideal world, people would only post when they had something interesting to say or something controversial to discuss, and their posts would be clear, articulate, and literate. Sometimes even short! I realize that by posting today (and most other days that I post), I am negating my own ideal vision, although I do think that this blog has headed more in that direction as time goes on--better and less frequent writing. (I used to clutter it up with more irrelevant stuff.) Oh, well. Continue on...

P.S. What sort of bug would bite me twice on the inside of my elbow in November?! I've been wearing long sleeves--how did it even get to me?



The most beautiful word in the English language

What's yours?

Here are some other people's. [Hat tip to Sarah.]

I don't know what the most beautiful word in the English language is. I guess I don't tend to think of words in terms of their beauty.

I am partial to the word "shibboleth," because its meaning derives from a Biblical story, which is almost the coolest thing ever. (Almost, but not quite.) I'm also generally a fan of onomatopoeiaic words.

Hiss! Splish splash! Zip. Crunch! Bleat. Slurp! Burp. Screech! Sizzle. Crack! Boom! Crash! Slash. Roar! Bang! Meow. Oink!

You get the point. Every once in awhile, I think of an onomatopoeia that I hadn't thought of as an onomatopoeia before, and that makes me happy. What's your favorite onomatopoeia?

Another word-related activity that I enjoy? Thinking of retronyms. World War I, for example, or manual typewriter. My latest fave is "men's shiur."1 What's your favorite retronym? Can you think of one that doesn't contain an adjective?

I believe that that's enough word play for today.

1. I rarely hear anyone refer to one, though I hear "women's shiur" more in Washington Heights than I expected to. I guess this is because most shiurim are either clearly for men only, or, in the contexts that I am used to, for both men and women. Drisha is the only place I've been in awhile where everything is understood to be women only unless "men are welcome" is noted in the catalog. (Is that what it says? Or is it the more polite "Open to both men and women"?)
I went to the Bridge Shul once for mincha on Shabbat and was the only woman there, and I left rather than attend the de-factor "men's shiur," taking place in the very man-centric ezrat gvarim. (Is that a retronym? I've never heard anyone call it that, but that's how I refer to this space.) It had been awhile since I'd been the only woman at shul for services, and I had forgotten how rotten it feels. (I've been the only woman at late weekday shacharit at OZ back when I was going semi-regularly, but I expect that, whereas I don't expect it at Shabbat mincha. Somehow, expecting it makes it more tolerable. Also, once I went a few times, I think people expected to see me there, which also somehow made it more tolerable.)



Go, Red Sox!

I have been a pathetic excuse for a Red Sox fan this season, because I'm only interested in baseball when the team I like is doing well. I wasn't following that closely, but it seemed to me that they weren't doing so well when I was following. Also, I haven't been getting the daily paper since August 1, so anything that happened in the world after August 1 is pretty much off my radar. Did they start doing better after August 1? What did I miss between August 1 and October 21? Suddenly, my team is in the World Series, and I had almost no idea that was even a possibility! ("Almost" because I heard that they were in the American League playoffs, but that they were down 3-1 out of 7 games, so I really didn't think that the World Series was a possibility, and I was all set to congratulate myself on having missed out on the pain of watching my team lose, yet again. That's a trope ingrained in my soul from childhood that we may need to let go of, though.)

Now I just have to decide if I would rather watch baseball games or see Israeli films at the 22nd Annual Israel Film Festival, which somehow started on Tuesday without my noticing. Sort of like the Red Sox made it to the World Series without my noticing. Oh, well. I guess I've been busy with other things.


Writing about writing

From Monday's New York Times: "Politeness and Authority at a Hilltop College in Minnesota"

Whenever I write and hit "publish post" on an intensely personal post, as I did yesterday, I question the wisdom of what I do here. It makes me want to run away and hide, a little bit, sometimes. It sort of makes me feel naked, even though I sit here, covered collar-bone to toe.

I think that this was the first thing I posted that made me feel that way. This and this and this and this and this also made me feel that way, more or less. These are also, not coincidentally, among my favorite posts, whether people respond favorably or not. But, like the young women in the article, sometimes I wonder, "Who will love [me] if [I'm] like that?" and "Who am I to write about all of my secret worries, fears, and problems on the Internet?" and "Who cares?" and "Will someone I want to date read this and run 1000 miles away?" And then there are all the things that I really want to write about, but don't, because of those questions. Things that I know would make posts as good as these or better, things that I know people would relate to, but things that touch such an inner part of me that I almost never write or speak of them at all.

At what point am I going to realize that anyone who dates me seriously is going to find out about all of this stuff, and if that isn't part of he loves about me, he isn't for me, anyway? At what point am I going to accept that writing about what matters to me--to the inside of me--is what makes me happier than almost anything else in the world, and that what other people think of me should pale in comparison to that which makes me happier than almost anything else in the world? ("Almost" because, gosh darn it, it's hard to top a hug from a three-year-old--or anyone--or really fine chocolate, or an interesting sugya in Gemara.)

I love to write. I don't ever remember not loving to write, since I first became adept enough to fill notebooks up on my own when I was seven. Somehow, writing makes me feel more me. I read someone something I had written in my (private) journal the other day, because it was something I had to express, and I knew, with full certainty, that there was no way it would come out of my mouth better than it had come out on paper, as a first draft, while riding the subway to work in the morning.

I don't know why words and thoughts and feelings come out differently, and so much better, on paper than in speech. Maybe it's because I've had much more practice writing than speaking, in many ways. I mean, I've had a journal since I was nine, and done a lot of other writing as well (both for school and pleasure), and so much of our talking life is taken up by the mundane details of work and eating and "What shall we do?" and "Is the washing machine fixed?" and not the details of what makes us keep going and doing this stuff, day after day after day, and what stops us in our tracks on some days.

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This is a bit more stream-of-consciousness than I usually am. I hope you'll get the gist, anyway. It's something that I've been thinking about for a long time, but it only coalesced into bloggable form recently.

If you've dated me (or are dating me), and think anything in here is about you, it probably isn't. Or it probably isn't only about you. Or maybe it is really just about you, but we dated awhile ago and I'm pretty sure you don't read this blog. I've tried to provide multiple examples here, some of which are real and some of which are made up, and hope I haven't mortally offended anyone. If I have (especially if you are dating me now), please let me know! (Um, and if you are dating me now, I think you're pretty darn cute the way you are. Just sayin'. Anything more would go against my iron-clad rule against blogging about current, personal stuff involving other people in my life who might potentially mind, without their permission.)

Okay, enough caveats.

* * * * *

Popular wisdom declares that it's not a good idea to ask the person you're dating (or married to) to change. First of all, it's unlikely to work. (Anyone whose parents have been having the same arguments about balancing checkbooks, being on time, not recycling the newspaper before the other person is done reading it, etc., for 30+ years know this empirically.) Second of all, if you're asking someone to change, then maybe s/he isn't the person for you.

In my not-very-vast dating experience, these issues--changing, not changing--have come up the most around issues of personal appearance. I have been asked to change certain things about the way that I dress or do my hair. I almost never ask a guy to change the way that he dresses, even if I would be more attracted to him if he did. I just don't feel comfortable.

I don't know if I've mentioned this here before, but about two years ago, I was talking to a married-for-30-years Israeli-American woman about the trials and tribulations of dating in New York City. I told her that I tried to dress decently most of the time (no stains or holes), but that I'm never going to care all that much about clothing or what's "in," and that I don't particularly like wearing makeup (when I do for a first date, which I inevitably do, I think of it as "tarting myself up"--no makeup on the second date so as not to falsely attract men who need women to be made up to be attractive), and that I want (possibly need?) to wear pants but want to marry someone frum. She suggested that it was worthwhile for me to change in order to ensure my marriageability. She said, "Is it such a big deal to go shopping, wear makeup, and just wear skirts for awhile?"

In retrospect, I think it is, at least the wearing makeup and only skirts parts. (I freely admit that I should learn to be better at clothing shopping and clothing wearing, but also that if, when I die, the worst thing people have to say about me is, "She wasn't so good at clothing shopping and sometimes her shirts were wrinkled," I will be a blessed woman, indeed.)

For me, the idea that I would be marriageable if I did those things and not marriageable if I didn't, is reason enough to stay single. Maybe at some point, I will get an extra dose of fashion sense, start liking wearing makeup more than 2x/month (max), and wear skirts more. But it has to be because I want to, not because I want some guy to fall in love with me. I don't want to end up with someone around whom I can never wear sweat pants or be shleppy. (I did date someone once who said that seeing me in sweatpants--ever--would be a major, and possibly permanent, turn-off. I was like, "Even to sleep?" and he said that one could sleep in nicer things than sweatpants. Sure, but why would one want to? It was a good thing that that ended.)

While I sometimes really feel like looking nice even if it makes me slightly uncomfortable, overall, I place a premium on being comfortable. It doesn't seem fair to me that I should have to put on makeup just because some guy likes it, if it's going to make me uncomfortable. Likewise, I sometimes wish guys I went out with wouldn't show up on the first date wearing a raggedy, stretched-out-at-the-neck t-shirt, but I don't think I can say anything about it. If that's what makes them happy, who I am to ask someone to please start wearing shirts with collars?

Short of asking someone to change outright, can we state personal preferences in the hopes that the person we are dating will like us enough to make the changes for us? I think this most often takes the form of, "I like you better when you..." or "I like it better when..." There are better and worse ways to frame these kinds of statements, obviously. Or can we make observations about a person's state, and suggest that they might be happier if they did x, y, and z, if x, y, and z also happen to be our personal preferences?

I have difficulty knowing which of the following statements are reasonable and which are "dump that chump or chick"-worthy. Anyone have thoughts? Should everyone just keep their mouth shut about these things, or is it okay to state preferences and either expect or not expect the other party to heed them?
Obviously, some of them are stated in more polite or less polite ways, but that mostly speaks to how likely they are to be heeded, not whether it is appropriate to express the ideas behind them, period.

I tend towards the "praise the behavior you like rather than punishing the behavior you don't" school of thought in general, and I guess I try to apply that to this issue as well. I respond much better to praise than to disparagement, and I figure that other people must, as well. But, really, I think that the method of delivery is separable from whether the thought out to be shared or kept secret. Is it just my imagination or my particular idiosyncrasy, or are men better at making these kinds of statements?

Back to the issue at hand: What's fair to ask or say? Given that I try to dress better than usual when I think it might make a difference to someone else (employer, colleague, client, date), can I ask/suggest/hint that a guy dress nicer for me the way I try to for him? Does doing so make me some sort of superficial ditz? What if he's already dressing nicer and I unintentionally insult him?

And how much is it about the asker vs. the askee? "I am much more attracted to you when you wear makeup" sounds pretty innocuous unless you phrase it as, "I need women to wear makeup to be attractive to me." Thinking about it this way makes it seem like "You change or I leave," which I don't think is always the case. But maybe it is. When someone told me that I wasn't pretty enough for him and that he was embarrassed to introduce me to his friends because of this (after months of dating; I'm sure he has his own version of what he said), I was, thank the very good Lord, at a point in my life where I realized that wasn't about me at all, but about his (sadly mistaken) perception of beauty.

But that's what this is all about, isn't it? Our differing perceptions of beauty and attractiveness? That's part of what makes me hesitant to share these thoughts sometimes. Our perceptions of physical attractiveness sometimes seem so arbitrary to me. And if they aren't arbitrary, then they seem like they're lifted straight out of the advertisements that assault us daily. Maybe his hair really does look good with gel in it, or maybe he really does look good in pleated pants, and I just don't see it because I expect something else or because I randomly, arbitrarily, find that look distasteful. And, if that's the case, I should change rather than he.

* * * * *

What does this difficulty/impossibility of asking someone else to make small changes say about all of the much bigger differences between any couple? I mean, bigger issues are going to come up than heel height, shirt collars, and makeup, and I think it's inevitable that there are going to be a lot of disagreements about those bigger issues. The more married couples I know, the less I find that spouses are at all similar to each other. Yet, in my experience, most of these unions work. How?

I was talking to my paternal grandmother over a year ago about what kinds of differences with a spouse are okay and which are too vast to overcome, and if one should bail if a relationships feels like hard work. She claimed that she and my grandfather mostly agreed on things, and that things were different when everyone married someone from roughly their neighborhood/background/socioeconomic situation. My father remembers them disagreeing more than my grandmother does, so some rose-colored-glasses-wearing may be going on here. Another interesting thing: She and my great-aunt were married to two brothers, who have both since passed away. She claimed that marriage is easy and is not really hard work, and my great-aunt claimed that marriage is very hard work, indeed. I am inclined to agree with my great-aunt, who also dispensed some fascinating wisdom about her married life. She said that she and my great-uncle spent six months discussing long-term relationships, marriage, whether they were suited for each other, how each of them was and how they would work together, before deciding to get married. Over the ensuing decades, they found out that nothing that each had said about him/herself was really true (because they didn't know themselves well enough, not because any deceit was going on), but that their marriage was great anyway--just not as they had predicted. Which goes to show that no matter how much you talk, you are unlikely to predict how you will be in ten or twenty years, or how you will be with a spouse, and I guess you just hope that it works out anyway. I dunno. That's sort of what I'm asking here.

The more I think about two distinct, adult individuals building a common life together, the more outlandish the whole enterprise seems. Obviously, both sides need to make compromises for it to work, but what kinds of compromises? What compromises are reasonable? Which are unnecessary? How does anyone ever end up having kids and not destroying them with the inherent contradictions and differences between the parents?

And will you please put on a clean shirt? Thanks!

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