Friday, October 24, 2014

Guest Post: Luke is Taking All My Screen Time

Science is (yet) another of Luke/Eilu v'Eilu's interests. You have been warned.

(For those who require clarification, Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and cosmologist, has already claimed that based on his calculations, God does not exist. If I have it right, he states that the field of science was initially created to comprehend God, but now we know better and no longer require that "construct.") 

Mr. Hawking is perhaps the most intelligent individual to grace this universe. He and people like him seek to prove the unprovable. 

But, the ever-changing definitions of the physical realm have absolutely nothing to say regarding that which is purported to exist beyond our finite universe. Our minds and definitions of the phenomena that surrounds us are limited to the current rules that we believe govern our finite physical realm. 

We cannot prove the existence or lack thereof of a supreme being that is beyond physics and beyond time. In a hundred or perhaps a thousand years new ways of thinking will perhaps transcend the limits of our current understanding. 

How can we arrogantly say that we know everything there is to know when every generation new discoveries comes to light and trump our old ones? The discovery of the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall or the Higgs boson clearly test the limits of our understanding.
The irony is that within our finite universe exists a infinite system of numbers that were developed as a direct result of the two groups of digits—that were developed over four billion years simply by chance?—that we use to grasp the physical, and yet our minds somehow think that we can define the things that we can’t grasp, that which exists just beyond those limits that we ourselves conceptualized.
Hey, he said it, not me.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do What You Gotta Do

In this season's The Big Bang Theory, Penny (finally) abandons her dream of becoming a famous Hollywood actress, gets a job as a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company, and can actually pay her bills and live comfortably.
She looks so responsible now!
I found this shift to be interesting. Usually, television will boost the belief that one should follow her dreams, and no matter how many times one fails, one will reach the stars (or something like that). 

Gordon Marino is an occupational counselor, who used to ask his students what they love to do when they seek his guidance. But now he is rethinking that method ("A Life Beyond 'Do What You Love'") and unleashed television memories in my mind's eye. 

Yes, there are people who rocketed to success while clinging to their calling. But there are as many individuals, if not more, who didn't, and elected to put aside the struggle by undertaking pragmatic, stable employment. Does that make them quitters? Does it mean their passionless work is meaningless?

The 1995 episode of The Simpsons "And Maggie Makes Three" flashes back to when there was only Bart and Lisa, and Homer achieves his dreams by leaving the power plant to work for less money in a bowling alley. Life is great. But when Marge becomes pregnant, the bowling alley salary is not enough, and Homer has to beg Mr. Burns for his job back. He's miserable. 

To add a final, devilish touch to his evil overlordness, Mr. Burns hangs up a sign that says, "Don't forget: you're here forever." Homer gives meaning to his misery by plastering every photo of Maggie around his cubicle, even over the sign, so now it reads, "Do it for her."
Yes, you may cry now.

But what if one isn't as selfless as Homer (that doesn't sound right), and one seeks only personal satisfaction. What if that someone can do so much for so many, but decides to reach for the petty-by-comparison dreams instead? 

An episode of House, M.D. called "The Greater Good" deals with just this: the patient is a prominent cancer researcher who opts to become a chef. After her illness she is still a chef—she chose happiness over greatness. 

Marino cites Kant, who operated on the belief (as philosophers did at that time) that one's abilities were gifts from Above, and so one should use their divinely ordained talents for the greater good. But today, God is no longer the first thought; "self-fulfillment" now reigns.
The faith that my likes and dislikes or our sense of meaning alone should decide what I do is part and parcel with the gospel of self-fulfillment. Philosophy has always been right to instruct that we can be as mistaken about our views on happiness as anything else. The same holds for the related notion of self-fulfillment.    
"Self-fulfillment" kinda sounds a lot like the yetzer hara, doesn't it? It's about, in essence, what I want to do, and to heck with anything else. Yeah, that always turns out well.

Marino's father toiled at a job he hated because he wanted to put his children through college and, in turn, have a better life. Some would call that meaning, Marino says, but his father would have seen it as simply doing what had to be done.
Dr. King taught that every life is marked by dimensions of length, breadth and height. Length refers to self-love, breadth to the community and care of others, and height to the transcendent, to something larger than oneself. Most would agree with Dr. King’s prescription that self-fulfillment requires being able to relate yourself to something higher than the self. Traditionally, that something “higher” was code for God, but whatever the transcendent is, it demands obedience and the willingness to submerge and remold our desires . . . Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can. 
"What has to be done" is different than "meaning"; "meaning" is a pleasant perspective, "what has to be done" is an obligatory directive, outside of our own selfish selves. If there is a way to combine what has to be done and what we like to do, that's nice. But in the end, we gotta do what we gotta do.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What To Marry For?

'. . . Jane and Albert were there, just back from Paris.'

'Where they, now?' said Paul with interest. 'And how are they? Happy?'

'Wretched, I believe. Did they expect anything else? What a silly marriage that was, to be sure.'

'Oh dear,' said Paul gloomily, 'it really is rather disillusioning. When one's friends marry for money they are wretched, when they marry for love it is worse. What is the proper thing to marry for, I should like to know?' 

'The trouble is,' said Amabelle . . . 'that people seem to expect happiness in life. I can't imagine why; but they do. They are unhappy before they marry, and they imagine themselves that the reason of their unhappiness will be removed when they are married. When it isn't they blame the other person, which is clearly absurd. I believe that is what generally starts the trouble.' 

'I expect that is quite right,' said Paul, sighing. —Nancy Mitford, Christmas Pudding 

Well, this segment got me nervous. Now I had to analyze my reasons for wanting to marry. 

I'm not a romantic; I harbor no fantasies of teddy bears or flowers or slain dragons. Cross that one out.

Is it because another human being will "complete" me? Well, I feel rather complete. I think maybe the word I'm looking for is "compliment." Like how ties shouldn't match the suit and shirt, but compliment them; a blue suit looks ho-hum with a navy tie, but pops with red. 

I don't wish to marry just because "everyone else" is; "everyone else" chooses to don a number of unflattering trends, so that has never been a reason for me before (thank the Bashefer that the tunic era is drawing to a close). 

A ruminator by nature, my musings began to get a little hysterical.

Those couples that divorced—no one really knows why. Is it something I can avoid? Is it based on my awareness, my making the right choice? Would the state of my marriage function strictly in terms of my motivation, which could doom it from the start? If my will is selfish as opposed to selfless, would that corrupt my so-far nonexistent future relationship? What if my inducements are noble, but his are not?

Deep breaths, deep breaths . . . 

Perhaps one wants to marry simply because we have been crafted to, the same way we were designed to breathe air. By my programming, my circuits have been wired to flash "Helpmeet."

So it's the Eibishter's fault; He molded us gals to want to marry, that's why He didn't bother to give us the commandment to. 

I'll blame Him, then.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


This past Sunday's NY Times Magazine featured "The Beggars of Lakewood," by Mark Oppenheimer, about the concept of schnorring.
Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times
It was actually a very nice article. The whole piece is a pleasant read, but I would like to highlight a couple of points. 

It mentions one of the wealthiest men of Lakewood, Rich Roberts. 
Roberts, who is married with six children, moved to Lakewood seeking a religious community within commuting distance of Philadelphia. But when he got to an Orthodox community, he discovered the downside of living with his coreligionists. “In the secular world,” Roberts told me, the rich live “in estates that are away from the public. They’ll have gates, they’ll have guards. People even buy their own islands.” But because religious Jews don’t drive on the Sabbath, they must live within walking distance of their synagogues, no matter how wealthy they are. Roberts clearly lives well. His large house was decorated in a style you might call South Jersey riche: overstuffed sofas, late-model kitchen, huge dinner table for Sabbath guests, giant exotic aquarium dominating the living room. But it was not in an exclusively rich neighborhood. “I am a well-to-do person,” he said, “but I live in a poverty-stricken area.” 
The non-Jewish or irreligious millionaires seclude themselves from the rest of the rabble, unable to see the difficulties, first-hand, of their fellow human. In order to be empathetic, there must be exposure. Just by having to be able to easily reach a minyan by foot, a financially diverse community is guaranteed. And Roberts is very, very generous, always listening to the stories being told. 

The current Aharon Kotler (Reb Aharon's einikel) was also interviewed. 
I asked Kotler what he thought of the culture of begging. “I think that people of quality want to live in a place that has a flavor of doing chesed,” or kindness, he said. He questioned whether the door-to-door begging was “the most effective way to raise money,” but ultimately he looked on it favorably.
“There’s a certain warmth and trust to it,” Kotler said. “In a big city, in Manhattan, you see indigent people collecting on the street. That doesn’t feel as dignified as this. Here, a person knocks on the door. And tells you their story.
People want to be seen and heard. They want to count. They want to be recognized. Often that can be just as valuable to them as the money they are attempting to raise, that they were looked in the eye and respected. 

BrenĂ© Brown (b'sheim amra) wrote on this. The barista who brews the coffee, your waitress at the restaurant, the fellow who pumps the gas—see them. Hear them. It makes a big difference.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Beauty Blender

It was a joyous day when I decided to commit to Kat Von D Lock-It Tattoo Foundation for Shabbos- and event-wear (as described here).

Since it is heavier in weight than other foundations, application can be a wee tricky. Many advocate the use of the Beauty Blender
While it is cheaper on other websites, I got scared away by a number of reviews that claimed that they were counterfeit, that they fell apart, that the one from Sephora is the best. Those could have been fraudulent complaints, but I prefer not to take any risks. 

The BB, when wet, swells up in size; to use, soak, squeeze, and "bounce" on the foundation. Since I blend two colors for my ideal shade, I apply a pump of both on the back of my hand and use the pointy tip to mix them together. 

I'm quite happy with the finished results; I look practically airbrushed. 

The tricky thing is when cleaning the sponge; I tried to use my liquid Castile soap, but the stains would not budge. No way was I going to spend $16 on a brand-specific cleanser, though.

The internet is brimming with dupes, however; the one that took my fancy is the bar version of Castile soap: Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps All-One Hemp Pure-Castile Soap. I eagerly bought it, only to realize when my delivery plopped on my doorstep that there is a minimum purchase on Vitacost of three bars. Well, I got myself some body wash too, then, I guess. (It may be available in Target and drugstores.)

I took the wet BB to it, and the makeup marks soaped right out. Coooool.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Eewok's Bashert

"Aren't they cute together?" I sigh. 

My niece Eewok, 7, ambles by with my nephew's friend, Jawa, age 9. The two look like an old married couple, comfortable in each other's presence, no need to speak. 

The funny thing is Eewok is quite the talker. She's also the family worrywart, and gives me instructions on how to not break the baby. "Small pieces, you give him," she tells me carefully, "like this."  Her voice can be stridently heard as she hovers over the family, packing up everyone's spare change of clothes and underwear when they go swimming. Even for Luke.  

My nephew is not like her at all. But Jawa is. While the nephew ambles about at a shul kiddush splattered in orange cholent stains, Jawa stands to the side, keeping a watchful eye on the smaller ones that Eewok has herded together.

The two manage to sit next to each other on the couch while watching SpongeBob, with my nephew, the supposed link between the them, on the outskirts.

"Eewok and Jawa are just made for each other," I tell Luke. 

"Oh, they have it all worked out," Luke agreed.
If the NY Times regularly announce the weddings of couples who met in nursery school, there must certainly be hope for these two.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Stjepan Inspiration

Europeans are just so interesting. So often when I hear an interview or read a blurb about 'em, I feel like a dumb, unexposed American. 

I just finished reading “The Book of Ego” by Osho. I was blown away by this book. After reading it, I became aware that people are wearing so many different masks in life and on social media. Very often people are obsessed with what others think of them. It’s like if a flower wants to be a cactus or a palm but it’s not. A flower is a flower and that’s enough. That’s all you have to do is be a flower.
It's sort of like this commercial. Forget about the purring Audi at the end (although it may be difficult to), that's not the point; how many of us live our lives based on a script that we chose to pick up?

Walking is my big passion. I love walking for hours and hours every day. Everywhere I’ve gone, I walked so much, I can say I walked the entire planet. It relaxes me and gives me time and space to think about things. Once I walked 12 hours nonstop in London. I walked the whole Thames; the whole river.
It's not just about the walking; it's the ability to walk alone, for hours, consumed with only one's thoughts. So many refuse to give themselves a moment to think, simply because they don't like what's rattling around in there. 

Now that would be an experiment: How long can any of us walk without any other distractions? 

But anyway, here is the original AC/DC "Thunderstruck": 

And the 2Cellos version:  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Night of the Iguana

How calmly does the olive branch
Observe the sky begin to blanch
Without a cry, without a prayer
With no betrayal of despair

Some time while light obscures the tree
The zenith of its life will be
Gone past forever
And from thence
A second history will commence

A chronicle no longer gold
A bargaining with mist and mold
And finally the broken stem
The plummeting to earth, and then

And intercourse not well designed
For beings of a golden kind
Whose native green must arch above
The earth's obscene corrupting love

And still the ripe fruit and the branch
Observe the sky begin to blanch
Without a cry, without a prayer
With no betrayal of despair

Oh courage! Could you not as well
Select a second place to dwell
Not only in that golden tree
But in the frightened heart of me?

—Tennessee Williams

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Ritual, Ritual, Ritual!"

"You produce a deadly paradox. Government cannot be religious and self-assertive at the same time. Religious experience needs a spontaneity which laws inevitably suppress. And you cannot govern without laws. Your laws eventually must replace morality, replace conscience, replace even the religion by which you think to govern. Sacred ritual must spring from praise and holy yearnings which hammer out a significant morality. Government, on the other hand, is a cultural organism particularly attractive to doubts, questions and contentions. I see the day coming when ceremony must take the place of faith and symbolism replaces morality."—Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah

It took me a few re-reads to comprehend what was being said here, but it corroborates (one of) Luke's pet peeves: "Ritual, ritual, ritual!" he repeatedly fumes. 

The Torah is a Book of Law, the Book of Law. But spirituality, in its essence, cannot be dictated into existence. How often are we guilty of executing a presumably faithful act via the stiff confines of boring regulation? We do it because we have to do it, not because we embrace the heavenly aspect of the task.
I bet tefillin takes on a whole new aspect when you're on the front lines. No rote there.
Then we can come to confuse the obscure and exotic yet not required as exemplary spirituality, like my pet peeve, segulos. You know why they are so popular? Because they are new, shiny, and different then all the other monotonous stuff that's been done already, like davening, Shabbos, and being nice to people. I'm really surprised that no one has brought back animal sacrifice yet; it's just begging to be exploited. Maybe because we're more frightened of PETA? 

Anywho, yes, there is merit even in dully fulfilling commandments, but that's not where our ideal religion lies. Remember the meaning, which is, even if we do or do not know why we are doing it: Hashem asked us to. So it must really, coolly, awesomely, be important. He didn't ask us to accumulate enough simanim to make the dining room table to collapse.   

As I typed this, I had not yet ventured into the bug-infested garage and hauled out the succah and schach; hadn't yet struggled with the extension cord to install the lighting; hadn't yet decorated it. I do it every year, happily, and I hope I continue doing it with the same childish excitement as when Ta and Luke graciously allowed me to "help" when I was 5, lamely dragging an idle bamboo branch.
But the eagerness, to be frank, stems from the fact that it is a once-a-year outing. But do I really know the reason and emphasis? I was surprised how woefully unaware I was while listening to this enlightening shiur by Rabbi Daniel Glatstein. I'm supposed to be executing this for the sake of the mitzvah, not because it's rarely practiced. (Although, I was now reminded that women are pattur from the mitzvah of succah. I like the Chasam Sofer's reasoning better than the fact that women are not bound by mitzvas asei bizman grama.)

There are so many seemingly small actions are just as important as the succah itself, if not more. Can I be the same excited when I prepare the lachter for Shabbos? When Ta asks me to find him the Time magazine? When I step into Shmoneh Esrei on a typical Wednesday morning? These small actions are just as important as the succah itself, if not more. Why shouldn't they warrant the same exhilaration?

There is a difference between halacha, chumra, minhag, and some new thing that was invented last week. They don't all get the same amount of emphasis.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

One vs. All

I had just been introduced to this woman. Literally, three minutes ago. Upon discovering I am yet unattached: "Well, at this point, you have to be willing to compromise on some things."

I may have gone a little ballistic in expounding on the myriad of matters I have been stupidly "compromising on" since I began dating, never mind recently, before Ma hurried me away. 

When people see a certain situation, and I must confess I am no different, we tend to swiftly manufacture a single cause and a single solution (no pun intended). But not every matter stems from the same cause. Take the art of medical diagnosis; what I learned from "House M.D." is that symptoms can be due to a host of illnesses or conditions.
I don't think of myself as a statistic. I think of myself on my own, personal journey, with my own freedom of will (that can be executed to a limited degree as I am surrounded by occurrences outside of my control). 

That is what I considered as I read David Brooks' "Stairway to Wisdom." 
This academic research offers a look at general tendencies within groups. The research helps you to make informed generalizations about how categories of people are behaving. If you use it correctly, you can even make snappy generalizations about classes of people that are fun and useful up to a point.
But this work is insufficient for anyone seeking deep understanding. Unlike minnows, human beings don’t exist just as members of groups. We all know people whose lives are breathtakingly unpredictable . . .
We all slip into the general patterns of psychology and sociology sometimes, but we aren’t captured by them . . .To move the next rung up the ladder of understanding you have to dive into the tangle of individual lives. You have to enter the realm of fiction, biography and journalism. My academic colleagues sometimes disparage journalism, but, when done right, it offers a higher form of knowing than social science research.
By conducting sensitive interviews and by telling a specific story, the best journalism respects the infinite dignity of the individual, and the unique blend of thoughts and feelings that go into that real, breathing life.
I must confess, again, I am guilty of such a simplistic thought process. What was my perspective of the state of "older" singlehood when I was a youthful 21? Shamefully pat and judgmental. (I believe that is known as "karma.") 

This premise of "one size fits all" is even evident as "older" singles marry, then profess to apply their own experiences to the world at large. But then again, your story is not my story

The upside of my position: I like to think I have become more empathetic, as well as more willing to see the individuality, not the generality.