Monday, August 29, 2016

Dressing for Men: The Barber

Waiting for my turn in the salon chair, my eyes wandered over to the in-house master of hair as he snipped a teenage boy's hair with scissors. His technique was carefully observed by a new employee. 
When the kid thanked him for the great haircut, his barber went on a rant. The electric hair clipper is the most horrible invention, he stormed. All heads are created different, and to take a one-size-fits-all machine to hair is an absolute travesty. 
I wholeheartedly agree. 

My sister-in-law took my nephew to a so-called barber, then was frozen in shock as electric clippers tore through his mane in record time. He looked like trailer trash. His hair rebounded, but I'm certainly still traumatized. 

Dudes: Find thyself a barber, and not one formerly from the army. Your hair should be cut with scissors, not with a machine.  

Friday, August 26, 2016

As We Are

The word "empowerment" has become the rallying cry of mainstream feminism, with virtually any act performed enthusiastically by a woman—from washing her hair to posting her bikini photos—now designated as "empowering." But while everyone from Unilever to the Republican Party has embraced the background noise of "empowerment," this frenzy has done almost nothing to change our society's structures or understanding of authority. 

Women are still drastically underrepresented anywhere that genuine power resides in the U.S., especially in business and politics . . .  By advising women to fight this sexist norm through empowerment—the feeling of inner potency, not the material gain in status—the feminist movement has started to sound like a branch of the self-help industry. Lean in! Adopt power positions! Negotiate a raise! Walk tall! Stop apologizing! Think positive! Be assertive! The message is clear: If you want to feel empowered, you need to be improved. 

If we buy into this story—in which feminism is a feel-good anthem and women are to blame for their own oppression—the genuinely powerful woman will remain an exception . . . 
—Ruth Whippman, TIME magazine (Whippman is the author of America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, out Oct. 4)

As a non-confrontationalist, this was nice to read.   

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"I Contain Multitudes"

There's this line from a Thanksgiving episode of Will & Grace that I adore. Will is frantically cooking the feast for his boyfriend's family, and in the rush an important plate drops.
WILL: Aah!
WILL: Oh. I'm gonna throw 'em out and start again.
VINCE: Don't worry about it. This is Queens. "Three second rule" is like a "three day rule."
I have yet to hear that Queens residents have a higher rate of dying from weird infections than any other place.

A client proudly brought me a brimming bottle of hand sanitizer. I politely thanked him, and have never used it. Nor has anyone else in the office, for that matter.
I can't annihilate germs. They're our friends! 

I was awed by this fascinating book review of I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
According to the latest estimates, about half of your cells are not human — enough to make you wonder what you mean by “you.” Your human cells come from a single fertilized egg with DNA from your mother and father. Microbes began mingling with those human cells even before your first breath, the first kiss from your mother, your first taste of milk. And your human cells could not have built a healthy body without intimate help from all those trillions of immigrant microbes — your other half.
“I am large, I contain multitudes,” Walt Whitman declares in “Leaves of Grass,” in his great poem “Song of Myself.” But what is “self”? According to conventional wisdom, your immune system is supposed to protect you by detecting and rejecting anything in your body that is not “self.” And yet your very immune system is partly built and even partly run by microbes. “Even when we are alone, we are never alone,” Ed Yong writes in his excellent and vivid introduction to our microbiota, or microbiome, the all-enveloping realm of our microbes. “When we eat, so do they. When we travel, they come along. When we die, they consume us.”
Humans swung from ignorant, murderous lack of hygiene to the other extreme, napalming anything that intimated "germs." Hand washing and sterilization has saved many, many lives, and has prevented illnesses from spreading. But as hand washing was overcome by "antibacterial," the results also include superbugs, over-active and harmful immune systems, and compromised intestines that hungered for thriving gut bacteria. 

No extreme is a good extreme. For the Rambam, there was only one exception. 

Tal Abbady's "Less Disinfectant, More Rioja" describes how fear of germs almost cost her the last precious moments of her mother's life. After surgery, her mother contracted a fungal infection in the hospital, which proved fatal.
The next day I came into my mother’s hospital room and sat down, but couldn’t bring myself to touch her. I was suddenly afraid I would catch her state. This lasted about an hour. Then, in that extremity of living — in the last room she would inhabit, with its antiseptic surfaces and green lighting — my mother took over, as she usually did, with a graceful force of will. She looked at me. I put my hands on her hands, on the corporeality of her dying, and my small, cold fear broke apart.
At the moment of her death a few days later, I was broken and weightless at once, large and unafraid. This was her gift . . .
In Spain, where Abbady has lived, there is no "germ" conversation. From my dubious online research, Spain has the highest life expectancy for women in Europe.

We do so many things by route, even when disproved by new information. Chances are, the beliefs we have as the source of our demises are false. I'm saying this as someone who always thinks she's dying. 

We're doing okay now, B'H. Our children survive infancy. No one dies anymore from a "chill." But germs are a part of us. My destroying them indiscriminately, we also destroy our vitality—physically and mentally. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Inside Out

The first word that popped into my head when I first met her was "persimmon." The second was "hag." 

Her face was tight with tension, lips pursed, eyes narrow. Those sort of squinting expressions mar the skin with a multitude of lines—and she isn't even so old. 

I then heard the happy news of her engagement, and when I entered the vort I heard murmurings: "Isn't the kallah beautiful?" 

Who, lemon-mouth? Nah. 

But she was. 

Her joy suffused her very being, smoothing skin, widening her mouth into a blissful smile, casting a twinkle to her eyes. Same makeup, same clothing, but a whole new person revealed. Ah, there you are! Pleased to meet you.
Shortly beforehand, I was dancing by a wedding when I spied a magnificent Face across the way. Her makeup! That eyeshadow! That lipstick! That skin! STUNNING!

But her expression was blank. Eyes dead, mouth not quite frowning, but far from smiling. I was gazing at a Venetian mask, half-heartedly shuffling across the floor beneath her fabulously cut wig.

I don't know what could have been holding her back. Insecurity, sadness, maybe she was an adroid.
Yet it was a shame. For if she allowed herself some confidence, if not happiness, she would have been the fairest of them all.      

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I'm Not That Special

Before I begin, I would like to inform the public that Wen hair products have possible hair loss side effects; a frum little girl was one of the victims. Find thyself alternative means for co-washing.

"My father would like me to settle and just get married," I said somewhat jokingly.

Her wrinkled face crinkled all the more. I know she has two single granddaughters my age. "Sure, you can settle," she said quite seriously, "but you pay for it down the line. You are spending the rest of your life with this person." 
 Dating, Friday, and Hungry: Dating in your 30's is like
 shopping in the clearance aisle of Albertsons
 Half the cans on the wrong shelf
 Everything is are dented.
 There is a case of Spam that has
 been marked down several times
 but nobody wants it.
 You call it sad, call it Friday night.
 I know what you are thinking ladies,
 I look like a dented can of Spam.
 Matin Comedy
 But I am here to tell you,
 sometimes you will get so hungry
 f lmatincomedy
 you'll eat anything
Dating in your 30's is like shopping in the clearance aisle of Albertsons
I was pleasantly surprised. My usual interactions with the senior generation on this topic go the way of the picky. "In my day . . ." "The problem with this generation . . ."   

I'll take sweet vindication wherever I can find it. 

Frustration with spouse-seeking often makes me feel like an isolated freak; that's why it's perversely delightful to read stories and realize, "Oh. I'm not that special." 

Like "The Entire Netflix History of Us" by Tonya Malinowski, whose emotional reactions sound nearly identical to my own experience.
Our conversation was brief, or so it seemed. I had no concept of time.
I refrained from asking him why and therefore seeming desperate, a perception of collectedness that came at the expense of my gaining any real answers . . .
What I did manage to gather made me realize that as I had been floating along on a river of bliss, he had been mentally cataloging evidence of my flaws. . . 
I worried that I may never again feel as completely safe and at ease as I did making funny voices for a French bulldog with him by my side, but you can’t control how someone else feels. Better, in the end, to focus on those few things you can control.
Sarah Moses shares her dating hijinks with quirky characters in "Single Woman Seeking Manwich." How many times has my date done or said something rather odd and yet gives me the "she's crazy" look? 
Some say the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over and expecting a different outcome. While dating does make me feel crazy at times, I keep at it in hopes that one day the outcome will be different.
At the same time, I also try hard to accept that it may never happen for me. I tell myself that I don’t need a partner to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Then one morning, I’m on the Q train, across from a cute couple who look hipsterish in a nonannoying, unironic way.
I imagine that he is in a band and that she does something cool and creative. He says something funny to her, and she laughs, then puts her head on his shoulder. When they get up to leave, he holds her hand and they just look so stinking happy.
I want to cry, feeling creepy for staring at these strangers and also envious that they seem to have what I want. I get off the train at Union Square and give myself a little pep talk on the walk to my office. I won’t give up on dating, at least not now.
"Putting Love to the Stress Test" by Jasmin Jaksic relates her finding someone (when she wasn't even looking) who was practically her twin in preferences and personality. 
Our ridiculous lack of differences worried me. My idea of a successful relationship had been that of a Venn diagram with a healthy intersection, not two mostly overlapping circles, and that the best match was one in which you complemented, not replicated, each other. Perhaps I was missing something.
If I share a surprising amount of likes and dislikes with a candidate, I, too, get nervous, recalling that the Chasam Sofer said couples should balance the other's extremes.  

But then I remember there are all sorts of marriages, and probably my main rabbi was trying to mellow an irritated husband. After all, not everyone is made up of extremes. Some of us make a point to prance in the middle. 

Ah, the balm of stories. No wonder I love reading.  

Monday, August 22, 2016


Beware, unsuspecting audience: I am now on a sprouting kick. 

Since I am rather impressionable, the internet doesn't have to say much to get me to think I have been eating my grains and beans wrong all these years. 

Supposedly sprouting reduces starches and makes the nutrients easier for the body to absorb. If you've got cheesecloth (a necessity for those who cook chicken soup), then you can sprout.

I sprouted mung beans, then cooked them. The taste was much sweeter and pleasant than when un-sprouted, and they were pretty good then too.
Not all grains or legumes sprout—like standard barley and millet (the latter I learned myself). But quinoa does, quite quickly, actually.

There is a basic system to sprouting. 

1) Initial soak. 
2) Rinse and drain two times daily. 
3) Sprouting times vary. 

Quinoa requires only 30 minutes to 2 hours of initial soaking, while dried beans and grains (like wheat berries) need an overnight drench. 

Any container will do. Place desired seeds, grains, or legumes into a jar or tupperware or glass. Cover with cheesecloth (there are sprouting lids available that I may purchase) and secure in place with rubber band (or if using a ball jar, can use the ring top). Pour water through the cheesecloth for the initial soak. 

The next morning (8 hours or so later) pour off the water, rinse again through the cheesecloth, then invert the jar so the liquid can drain off. Takes less than a minute.
Via kaletothequeen
Come back 12 hours later or so and repeat. Rinse, drain, invert. 

I've also made alfalfa sprouts for Ma, despite my scar-worthy childhood memory of a beautiful, innocent, whole-wheat egg salad sandwich contaminated by those sprouts. To this day she insists that topping my sandwich with sprouts was the greatest expression of love. I had spent a half-hour picking out every single sprout. 

These are expressly for her.

Friday, August 19, 2016


"Ye do not seem very upset at the loss of your boat, Captain Poldark." 
"I am becoming philosophical," Ross said. "As one nears thirty I think it is a state of mind to be sought after. It is a protection, because one becomes more conscious of loss—loss of time, of dignity, of one's first ideals. I'm not happy to lose a good boat, but sighing will not bring it back any more than yesterday's youth."
—Demelza, by Winston Graham

One Day

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Time is Now

I once read that there is no official psychological term known as "closure." I found that very gratifying, indeed. 

"Closure" is a term we use instead of "curiosity." 

"Don't you need closure?" Chava asks. "Ask Sarah why she stopped answering her texts!" 

It's more like Chava's curious.

"Closure" is one of those cultural go-to terms, like "romance" and "gluten-free."
Books and movies promulgate its necessity. Cantankerous, deathbed-ridden parents realize their hurtful errors in raising their children, confess their sins and affirm their love to teary-eyed offspring, then slip from this world with a casual "I'm so tired."

Real life . . . oh, real life. 

Katie Roiphe in "Dying, With Nothing Left to Say" begins how her father's sudden death robbed her of one reassurance she wished to have given him before he went. 
. . . I realized that while nearly everyone has a fantasy of a “last conversation” with someone they love, very few people actually have it. It is the fantasy of resolving all conflicts, of emotional catharsis, that rarely ever comes to pass, because the habits of reticence or resentment that were there the whole time are still there, because the proximity of death does not transform personalities, or compel us to cut through to the heart of things, however much we want it to.
People are people, even when the end is nigh. Roiphe had wanted to ask her father more about his youth, but he never had been a chatty man. My paternal grandmother never opened up about her time in the camps, and would it have been fair to her to demand painful information when she craved peace?
Even the writers I was researching — people who lived in structure, plots, words — mostly did not find their way to conversations that offered a satisfying ending. They left things messy, unresolved, dangling.
The bedspread of life is not known for neat, military corners. Life is more like the impossible-to-fold fitted sheet. 

Two letters, in response to this article, stuck with me: 
In 2005, I picked up my mother-in-law, Mary, from the airport as she returned from vacation. I brought her to my home for some soup and then helped her load her car for her half-hour drive home. As she was stepping into her car, she turned and said, “Johnny, I tell all my friends that you are perfect.”
An hour later, my wife and I were called to the emergency room, where we found that Mary had died in a car accident.
While knowing that I am hardly perfect, I have treasured Mary’s last words ever since. Katie Roiphe suggests in her article that, with the approach of death, we anticipate the opening of a “new, honest, generous space” in which “there is a directness, an expansiveness” that can be filled with meaningful last words.
Mary showed that we can create and fill such a space with special words on any day, without knowing whether or not death is at hand.
Schenectady, N.Y.
We have heard it often enough: Live every day as though it is your last. Kind speech does not have to be reserved for meaningful moments. It should be an everyday habit. 
While Katie Roiphe writes about people in the last hours of life, the uncomfortable reality is that we are all dying.
I am a health psychologist who studies people at the end of life. I became a bereaved daughter when I was 25 years old. These experiences taught me that the trick to “having something to say,” or those deep and meaningful conversations, come to people who are able to face their own mortality well before they are on their deathbeds.
Dying, like giving birth, is a biological event. Giving birth does not instantly turn women into excellent mothers any more than dying turns one into a wise Buddha.
If we want to have a good death, we need to invest in a good life. Look death in the eye every day, and remember that time is finite, that our loved ones will not always be here, and that the time to talk is right now.
Tel Aviv
The writer is an assistant professor and head of the gerontology and sociology of health program at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Teach Me to Trust Again

"Since _____ may be an issue, I wanted to run it by you first," she said. 

"Uh-huh." My gut is not happy. "Okay, um, let me look into it and I'll get back to you." 

Out comes the tablet, my parents looking on in delight. Flick, flick, flick. "She said that he didn't go to movies and went to learn in Israel in his 20s, so he's probably not on Facebook . . ." 

My searches are coming up blank, even though his occupation should have given me something. As a last-ditch effort, I punch his name into Facebook. Ah! There he is. Ouch. Wait, lady, you call that yeshivish? Ew, that picture is gross! There are privacy settings for a reason, dude! 

"Check this out." I brandish the screen before the folks' shocked faces. 

"Well, that's a no, then." 

I politely wait a second day, pretending to be researching thoroughly. Then I call. "I'm looking for someone more . . . serious." 

"How did you find out so fast?" she says. 

Huh. Not an effusive "What do you mean, of course he's a serious boy!" She actually said, "How did you find out so fast?


"Oh. I hope you aren't offended." 

Well. Not even a faked "I don't see how one date can hurt." She took the effort to call me up with a suggestion that she knew was problematic.

That's it, people. I'm not believing nobody no mo.