The most beautiful word in the English language
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!
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
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.
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
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?
- "You have such nice hair--why do you put gel into it? It looks a little greasy that way."
- "I wish you would wear tighter, more revealing clothing. I'm much more attracted to women who dress that way."
- "My God, pleated jeans and pleated khakis--both--are a terrible idea. You would look much better in flat-front pants."
- "Please wear makeup more often."
- "I much prefer you clean-shaven to scruffy."
- "I love it when you wear your hair down."
- "You'd look cuter in a kipa than a baseball cap."
- "Please don't cut your hair short. I love it long."
- "I wish you would wear high heels without socks/stockings. It's so sexy."
- "I love it when you look relaxed and less preppy. Please stop wearing sweater vests."
- "This is not a religious thing. I am just much more attracted to women who wear skirts than to women who wear pants. It's okay with me if you wear pants, though--I'll try to get over it."
- "I am much more attracted to men who wear white, button-down shirts than to men who wear polo shirts."
- "I am much more attracted to men who wear button-down shirts than to men who wear oversized t-shirts."
- "You would look so hot with blond highlights in your hair."
- "You should wear green more often. It makes your eyes look awesome."
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.
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!
Sukkot in Atlanta wrap-up
I spent the first four days of Sukkot in Atlanta. This was notable for two reasons. One is that I think it is the first time in my life that I have ever flown for pleasure (not work), to a place where I don't have any relatives. I mean, I've stopped in Madrid and Athens on the way to Israel, but since the main object of the exercise was to get to Israel, where I have many relatives. It was nice. It felt very extravagant. I anticipate being able to do this more now that I am no longer going to be flying to Palo Alto several times a year to see my grandma. But, boy, do I miss her and wish I could spend more years of my life going out and seeing her (and hearing her occasional comments about my various "getups") instead of taking these carefree pleasure trips to visit friends!
The second reason that the trip was notable was that I had never been to Georgia before, and was excited about the trip to a new part of the country for me.
The flight down was one of the easiest of my life. Newark was practically empty at 8 am on a Wednesday morning, and the Atlanta airport seemed organized and manageable, if a bit poorly laid-out. People were, indeed, much friendlier than in New York. I was particularly impressed by the person who was standing at the entrance to the MARTA station, helping bewildered tourists use the MARTA Breeze card machines. This, in contradistinction to New York, where there is no one, often even at the "staffed" booths, to help wayward tourists. The only mildly confusing thing about the machine was that there was a fifty-cent charge for the paper card, so it cost $2.00 to buy a $1.50 fare card. It's a nice little incentive for people to reuse their cards, but if they're going to cost fifty-cents, I wish they would make them out of thinner, hardier plastic, or else charge less for the paper cards.
I davened at the Young Israel of Toco Hills, which I found to be a nice, small, warm community. I've been a fan of the sort of projects their rabbi, Rabbi Michael Broyde, works on for awhile, and hearing him speak a few times over the course of Shabbat/Yom Tov did little to dispel that fanhood (fandom?). He was a very clear speaker, who tackled interesting intellectual topics (e.g., whether a Jew can benefit from melacha done by another Jew on Shabbat if the melacha itself was done b'heter, such as cooking food for a very sick person), but also had the distinct unrabbinic ability to laugh at himself (e.g., a joke poking fun at rabbis' empty derashot, based on a verse from Kohelet on the Shabbat chol hamoed Sukkot). Every time I am forced to think (very rarely in shul), I wonder why I don't do it more. Come to think of it, this is also true every time I burst out in uncontrollable laughter.
I spent the long weekend with MUL, DAL, and YYL. (I think DAL's middle initial is A, but I could be wrong.) YYL is just over three years old, and quite delicious. I've known him since before he was born, and he was a sweety pie as an infant, but then went through a few brief periods of being a bit standoff-ish and shy. I never doubted his ultimate affection, but did tire, a bit, of trying to win him over. A few moments stick in my mind:
I always bring him a book. For the past few visits, his parents and nanny have been trying to teach him to wait until I deliver it, and not ask for it as soon as I come in. I didn't give it to him until a few hours after I arrived this time, and he immediately proudly declared, "I didn't ask for it!" It was a proud moment, indeed.
He came over and gave me a spontaneous hug and kiss at least once. There are few things sweeter than a hug from a three year old boy.
He was, within the course of only a few days, a fish, a frog, and a horse. Playing with little kids reminds me of the power of imagination, and how endlessly fun imaginative play is. It also reminds me of being a kid and constructing kitchens out of old Pampers boxes.
We went to Stone Mountain Park, and, among other things, saw a 19th century one-room schoolhouse. He was ecstatic to play the role of teacher! First he taught us how to count until five, and then the letters aleph, bet, gimel, and daled. When asked to teach free-form, he launched into a stern debate about being careful when closing doors and windows, to avoid getting one's fingers stuck in them. I found it interesting that this was what came to his mind when asked to teach. Clearly, the sternly-issued parental safety warnings have sunk in, and this is what he sees as the value that adults (him, in this case) impart to children (me and his imma, in this case). Fascinating. Child development--the actual development of children, not the study of it--is freakin' amazing.
The trip back was less pleasant. I took the MARTA back to the airport, arriving one hour and fifteen minutes before my flight. For some now-forgotten reason, I didn't get into the line to go through security immediately after checking in, but bought and ate some ice cream instead. I guess I got into line about 55 minutes before my flight.
This is the very bad thing about the airport in Atlanta that all of my readers should take to heart: there is one security area for the entire airport, terminals T, A, B, C, D, and E, each with apparently 15-30 gates. This one security area had about five or six open lanes (out of ten or twelve that existed). This includes domestic and international flights. Please keep in mind that Atlanta is Delta's hub, and a rapidly-expanding city in its own right. It took 45 minutes to get through security. (I thus recommend getting into that line at least an hour and a half before your flight, since it can take some time to get to the more distant terminals via train/shuttle and you aren't allowed to board starting 1o minutes before the flight's scheduled departure.) My flight was from terminal B or C, I think. I took the train/shuttle thing from terminal T (where you get out of security) to my terminal and ran to my gate, getting there at 6:43 pm for a 6:47 pm flight. The flight was already "dispatched," and even though the plane was still at the gate, with its door open, we (all of we who got stuck in the interminable security line) were not permitted to board. We were put on standby for the 8:15 pm flight. The guy who was in line right ahead of me got onto that flight as a standby passenger, but I had to wait for the 9:30 pm flight.
I got into Newark at 11:36 pm, got my suitcase quickly (since it came on the 6:47 pm flight, not being stuck in an interminable security line), and hoped to get the 12:06 NJ Transit train back to Manhattan, but, alas, the AirTrain runs on a reduced schedule starting at some hour like 10 pm every night, for daily maintenance. (This makes sense, but wasn't particularly good news for me at 11:45 pm on a Sunday night.) I got the 12:40 am train, and got out of Penn Station after 1 am, at which point I wisely invested in a $25 cab ride home.
I do not know why I have a propensity for remembering all of these random times to the minute, but persist in being unable to remember much more useful things, like words in Aramaic or Spanish, or, occasionally, my own apartment number or phone number. (It does scare me when I can't remember the latter two things. I usually remember them about a second later, but it does make me wonder if I have some undiagnosed neurological problem.)
I was awoken at 3:30 am by the sound of a woman screaming outside my window. A man was yelling, "You bitch!" and probably some other epithets at her and she was wailing/crying/screaming and pleading, "Please stop! Just stop! Please stop!" over and over and over again. I woke up, glanced at the clock, thought about looking out the window to see what was going on, thought about calling the police, but couldn't get it together enough to wake up enough to do either of those things. I closed my eyes, but it kept going on for what felt like about ten minutes. It could have been a lot longer or a lot shorter, since whenever it stopped for even a minute I would drift off to sleep.
This was disturbing on many levels.
- I don't know what he was doing to her (I find it hard to believe that all he was doing was calling her a bitch since she sounded seriously frightened), and really didn't want to know (hence the repeated attempts to sleep through it, none of them terribly successful), but my God. I wouldn't want to be that woman. She was making was a horrible sound and I felt terrible for her. It was the sound of someone less powerful begging for something from someone more powerful. The wailing sound reminded me of a trapped animal. It was a soul-ripping sound. I hope I never have to make such a sound for any reason. Ever.
- What was he doing to her and why wouldn't he stop?
- Why, oh why, didn't I call the police? I mean, what's wrong with me? If that had been me crying/wailing/screaming, I am sure that I would want the police called, at least to diffuse the situation. (I am not naive enough to think that this situation, whatever it was, could actually be solved or helped for longer than half an hour by police intervention.) When I woke up this morning, I justified it to myself by saying that if I had the non-emergency number for the local police precinct, I would have called that. As it was, all I had handy was 9-1-1, and I didn't feel comfortable calling 9-1-1 for what felt like a "domestic dispute" to me. I hate those words--domestic dispute. They let me off the hook, but not in a good way. There is no reason why this kind of thing (by which I mean the escalation of violence to this level) should be any more acceptable between spouses/partners than between strangers. If it had been a woman trying to get a passerby to stop from assaulting her or verbally abusing her (and maybe it was--I have no way of really knowing), would I have been more inclined to "get involved"? What if it had been two women? Two men? My inaction reminded me of Kitty Genovese and frightened me. It's not like I would even have had to get involved in any even moderately dangerous way--all I had to do was pick up the phone to call the police. And I didn't. Really, what's wrong with me?
- Did anyone else call the police? How many people woke up? How many people thought about it?
- I wonder what I would do if this happened again. It's probably more like "when" than if. A few weeks ago, I was walking down the street and coming towards me was a couple that was arguing loudly while pushing a baby carriage down the street. In this case, it seemed that the woman had the upper hand, at least with this particular form of verbal sparring. She said, "You know what you are? You're an ignorant asshole!" and was elaborating on that point and backing it up ("this is how you're ignorant" and "this is how you're an asshole") and he was sort of just taking it. Maybe he called her a bitch, I don't know. In any case, I wasn't going to interfere. I didn't think that anyone was in any physical danger. (I wonder if I would have felt differently if the male half of the couple had the verbal upper hand.) As it was, I just felt a little bit bad for the guy and really, really bad for the kid who was sitting in the baby carriage. Aside from that, all I really felt was overwhelming gratitude that I didn't grow up in a house with parents who called each other "ignorant asshole[s]." These two incidents, only a few weeks apart, lead me to think that I might be witness to more "domestic disputes" in the future, and have to think about the best (and most helpful to the aggrieved party) way to respond. I think I will start by looking up the non-emergency number for the local police precinct.
- How does a woman end up in that situation? How does a man end up in that situation? I mean, what forces propelled these two people to be out in the street at 3:30 am on a Tuesday morning, him calling her a bitch, her begging him to stop doing whatever he was doing, waking up the neighbors? I have been witness to arguments between people in one household, including some that involved, sadly, name calling (more along the lines of "idiot" than "bitch," though), physical violence, and crying. That was horrible enough, but because I was witness to it, I could imagine how it could happen. But this...this was different. How do people get to that point? Was her only option begging him to stop? Could she have walked away? Could he have stopped himself before it got to this point? Could things have gone differently in their lives so that they wouldn't have ended up enacting that scene?
Can I sit with you?
The purpose of the "Can I sit with you?" blog is described here (from the blog itself):
Hey, Kids!So, if you've gotten over the mortification, please go ahead and submit your stories.
Do you remember how the other kids at school made your life hell? Don't you think that story needs to be told? Please?
The goal of Can I Sit With You is to share our schoolyard horror stories not only amongst ourselves, but also with the children who are experiencing this special form of social purgatory right now. We want them to know that even though what they're going through sucks, they're not alone.
(If your school social experience was heavenly, that's okay--we certainly wouldn't mind some success stories.)
Proceeds from Can I Sit With You will go directly to our local, fledgling, underfunded, desperately needed Special Education PTA, SEPTAR. To that end, we're going to compile the best selections from this blog into a book, which we will start selling in mid-November 2007.
I think I may have mentioned this on my blog before, but one of my fondest memories from college was the day I was hanging around in my dorm dining hall, and found myself at a table with friends, all reminiscing about being excluded from various lunch tables in elementary school. I remember marveling at my apparent success in life--here I was, hanging out with my friends at Harvard!--despite the sheer mortification of hearing those girls whisper, as I approached their lunch table, "Shhhh... [ALG] isn't invited to the birthday party."
I hope to post something about my recent trip to Atlanta soon, in my grand tradition of blogging my travels.
(Blogging has been slower recently because my laptop screen is dead and I'm really busy at work. My laptop screen being dead is almost entirely due to my negligence, so I am trying to live without the laptop for at least a little while in the hopes that such inconvenience will remind me to be more careful with the next one. Also, I don't want to lay out the money right now.)