Friday, November 28, 2014

I Whistle a Happy Tune

It began with the diary of Anna Leonowens, who was governess of Siam's royal children for six years. Her experiences were fictionalized by Margaret Landon in a 1944 novel called Anna and the King of Siam, and The King and I is based on that. 
I watched that movie countless times as a child, but it is only now I find, with the maturity of adulthood, that the role of the king (executed by Yul Brenner) was extremely insulting. Playing upon racist perceptions, the King of Siam was made to appear an overgrown child, clueless of basic diplomacy, who strives to be "scientific," whatever that means (he was also less than handsome in real life). And no, Mongkut did not die of a broken heart from his inability to bridge the old world and the new; he died from malaria.
In actuality, Mongkut is known as "The Father of Science and Technology" in what was formerly Siam, for he brought about many modernizations. He was very educated; he was even an adept astronomer, successfully predicting a solar eclipse. 

The tale of Tuptim is up for some debate; some claim she was burnt, others that she lived to be a content granny in the harem. But she didn't view herself as a slave in Uncle Tom's Cabin. While the film compares the state of slavery in Siam with that in the States, the systems were vastly different; slavery was usually undertaken voluntarily out of economic necessity, and masters were forbidden from mistreating them. Even some scholars note that British servants were not treated as well as Siamese slaves. 

The original Anna was actually born in India, and was one-quarter Indian. She zealously hid that fact and claimed her dark complexion was due to Welsh origins. She was also kind of scary.
Now I have seriously digressed, but my point is that the songs in the film are enchanting, a Rogers and Hammerstein guarantee. The costume design and set is lavish and pleasing to the eye—it always passed the Babi test.

There isn't much available on Youtube . . .

"Getting to Know You":  
Although I did find "Shall We Dance" in Hebrew from the 1999 animated version; that's Ofra Haza: 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Shop Like a Pilgrim

My family doesn't observe Thanksgiving. Considering how Ma makes her chicken soup with turkey legs, we get sufficient gobble-gobble year round. Plus that gratitude thing is in our daily Amidah, so we are happy not to have an excuse not to cook exponentially yet again. 

But, like any red-blooded Hungarian, I have my eye on the holiday sales. No Black Friday for me—I would like to live to see another day—yet I keep a careful eye on possible reductions.
My shopping style has evolved over the years. The whole pastime did not interest me until my late teens, and it took time to calculate what is a valid buy. 

Initially, I made the fatal error that cheap = purchase it. If insanely reduced = MUST purchase it! But what simply resulted was a backlog of unwearable attire that was too soon ushered into the charity thriftstore. 

Every item under consideration now undergoes strict mathematical computations. What purpose does this item serve? Will it be worn enough? Is the fabric and construction of sufficient quality to the price? For how much it costs, is the potential use valid? Does it require alteration? Much or little? Do I have to rehaul my wardrobe to match other items to it?

Like I have said, shopping is a sport, involving speed, stamina, and savvy.

Now, a suggestion from David DeSteno on "How to Defeat the Impulse Buy": Gratitude. 

Aw, shucks. 

Humankind has a tendency to indulge in immediate gratification, and that's how "they" get you. So what to do? Invoke Thanksgiving. 
Of course we can. We all have a proclivity for immediate gratification, but we are also all capable of self-control. The real question is: How do we ensure that we exercise that control?
A natural suggestion is to rely on willpower. But when it comes to holiday shopping, that is likely to fail. Research has shown that willpower tends to be limited. Each successful exercise of it actually increases the likelihood of subsequent failure if temptations come in quick succession (as they do, for instance, in shopping malls).
So rather than trying to override your decision-making impulses, a better strategy might be to try to change them. And recent research suggests that an effective way to do that is by cultivating the emotion of gratitude.
This reminds me of the basic message in "Sur mei'ra v'asei tov," turn from bad and do good. Simply refraining from the bad won't do, one must actively do good. That's how habits can be broken; not by simply sweating out unfulfilled impulses, but by replacing those unhealthy actions with beneficial responses.

Online is usually the place where I mess up, shopping-wise. I surf  a shoe section even though I don't need anything and there is only one pair left of these really gorgeous moccasins and they are on sale too and couldn't I use moccasins? 

I ended up returning those stupid moccasins. Of course I didn't need those moccasins. 
The emotion of gratitude, viewed from a cost-benefit perspective, stresses the long-term value of short-term sacrifice (e.g., If I’m grateful to you for a favor, I’ll work hard to repay it and thereby ensure you’ll help me again in the future). Consequently, my colleagues and I suspected that gratitude might also enhance patience and self-control . . .
What these findings show is that certain emotions can temporarily enhance self-control by decreasing desires for immediate gratification. While feeling happy doesn’t do much to increase patience, feeling grateful does.
Yes, I will make a point to be mindfully thankful as I scroll through Yoox.       

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

If Only—

Modern people have problems dating, you see, because by them men and women casually socialize outside the realm of dating-for-marriage. Sounds good in theory, but there is a downside. It could mean that some are afraid to jeopardize good camaraderie with a date request, so the relationship remains in the friend-zone.

In the case of large communities of chummy singles, there are so many guys and girls congregated in one location that individuals may feel that something "better" is out there, and never focus on one in front of them. 

Yeshivish people have problems dating, you see, because since guys and girls don't socialize at all until they are "of age," they don't know how to interact with the opposite sex. The parents, therefore, do extreme "due diligence," asking all sorts of prying and often ridiculous questions before they are willing to let their child go out, fearing ensnarement of their clueless offspring. 

Okay, so the modern people have problems because the singles interact, the yeshivish people have problems because they don't interact. 

You know what I think is the cause of the "shidduch crisis"? Print media and Youtube. 

Articles are seriously typed, claiming everything would be just fine and dandy if only—

Videos are diligently filmed, claiming everything would be honky dory if only—

Well, you know, my life would be so great if Moshiach were here? Like, now? Then I wouldn't have to put up with this twaddle, amongst other things. As for the rising divorce rate—in all frum spheres—let's just ignore that.

The "fact" is, the many "if only"s hurled to the frazzled public won't happen any time soon. Matters are what they currently are. Maybe in another generation or two, thought processes may evolve into something more ideal, but I doubt they would ever achieve a flawless system.

Everything would be just utopian if it wasn't for this stinking shidduch crisis. It would be as superb as if Moshiach were here . . . oh. 

Golly gee, maybe things aren't meant to be perfect!
The marriage relationship is undergoing a mutation, an x-marriage, if you will. (Hm, maybe that's the wrong term.) We insist, we demand, we shove two unwilling singles together, and demand, "Make it work!" We throw a motley crew of unattached guys and gals into one room, and refuse to let them out until at least one engagement is announced. Then the dating websites are invoked as a panacea.

Stop trying so hard, that's my belief. Even if I pin down every shadchan alive to the ground and order them to take down my contact information, I cannot summon Han onto my doorstep unless the Beshefer sends him to me. 

No ifs about it.    

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kids Today

Millenials don't have a very good rap. Those "sexy-face" selfies (they look more like fish faces to me) don't exactly do much for our image. 

But really, has any adult generation been satisfied with the resulting crop? Ancient texts complain about the disrespect and laziness of their disappointing offspring, never mind Bye Bye Birdie.  And that was made in 1963.

According to Sam Tanenhaus in "The Millenials Are Generation Nice," millenials have had much unpleasantness to deal with, which made them realize the important things in life (and it isn't money). 
What Pew found was not an entitled generation but a complex and introspective one . . . Its members also have weathered many large public traumas: the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, costly (and unresolved) wars, the Great Recession. Add to those the flood of images of Iraq and Katrina (and, for older millennials, Oklahoma City and Columbine) — episodes lived and relived, played and replayed, on TV and computer screens.
It is no surprise, as Pew reported, that the millennial generation is skeptical of institutions — political and religious — and prefers to improvise solutions to the challenges of the moment. 
The current economy no longer guarantees employment, even for the college educated. Therefore, if wealth is elusive, they simply care about it less. 

Millenials are more concerned about the state of the world, more likely to shop with awareness of the environment or ethical production. They aren't focused on their own comfort, but on the needs of the community. They are chock-full of empathy. 

So all we have to do is lose the selfie and we can reclaim our honor.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Vitamin C!

Sailors of yester-year would suffer crippling illnesses due to a lack of vitamin C; all they needed was a shot of lemon juice to return them to duty. Vitamin C (a.k.a. ascorbic acid) is vital to tissue repair; that's why produce-deprived sailors pretty much fell apart.
Homer had to spend the journey with his head in a lemon barrel on a recent episode.
Vitamin C is necessary for collagen, the means by which the body rebuilds itself. Collagen? I know collagen! That's the stuff I need to keep my facial skin plump and wrinkle-free.
Eating foods high in vitamin C is great, but you can up your game with topical products. Apparently, when applied under SPF daily, vitamin C helps prevent hyperpigmentation and further havoc as well as correcting damage.

When I heard that, I went vitamin C shopping! 

The first I bought was an Amazon best-seller, Pure Body Naturals Vitamin C Serum. It's light-weight, sinks in easily with no residue, and my skin does look happier.

I have, however, for backup, another Amazon best-seller, one by OZ Naturals. I like to experiment.
In the mornings, I don't cleanse my face; I swipe it with a cotton round soaked in homemade toner composed of water and apple cider vinegar. Following, I apply the serum all over my face, including my neck and eye area. After allowing it to sink in (it doesn't take long), I then apply my SPF products. 

All sorts of companies have spewed forth SPFs paired with C, like The Body Shop, Ole Henrikson, and Murad, but I prefer the serum option. There are a plethora available on Amazon; I may have to try them all. 

Vitamin C doesn't have to be applied only by day; it is a great nighttime treatment option as well. It can also be used in conjuction with other anti-agers, like retinol and AHA.     

Friday, November 21, 2014

Appearances are REALLY Misleading

There's a British show that PBS plays on a loop called "Keeping Up Appearances." I usually find it too frustrating to regularly watch, but if the plot isn't too infuriating I'll end up sobbing with hilarity on the floor. 
They narrowed the screen for some reason so make do. 

The main character, Hyacinth Bucket (who insists on pronouncing her last name as "Bouquet") is an insecure woman who is desperate to conceal her low-class origins, an obvious social climber who is repeatedly foiled by her own attempts at classiness.

She is so consumed in maintaining the false and inflated image of upper-crustiness, pretending not to be related to her "white trash" sisters Daisy and Rose, and brother-in-law Onslow, that she never comprehends how she repels those that she is trying so hard to impress. She is loathed and avoided, but she has such faith in her false god of upward mobility that she is blissfully unaware of their repulsion. 

Hyacinth's obsession with the projection of her desired construct clouds her discernment how people actually perceive her. 

I think of Hyacinth when I find myself making the mistake of being too much "in my head." I can be so sure of how others see me that I fail to truly see myself. 

I don't want to be a Hyacinth, a sad, endless joke, spending her whole life fussing over meaningless minutiae. If only she could accept herself.    

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Me, Me, Me?

It didn't really occur to me until David Brooks suggested it: Am I "Introspective or Narcissistic?"
The question is: How do you succeed in being introspective without being self-absorbed?
In order to avoid complacency and stagnation, one must contemplate. Mull. Ponder. Self-dissection must be practiced as a regular habit. 

But that would mean, wouldn't it, hours spent on "Did I say the right thing?" "What did they think of me?" "Does my outfit portray the sufficient level of practicality yet style that adequately reflects my personality?"

I think I'm doing it wrong. 
At the same time, your self-worth and identity are at stake in every judgment you make about yourself.
This combination of unfathomability and “at stakeness” is a perfect breeding ground for self-deception, rationalization and motivated reasoning.
When people examine themselves from too close, they often end up ruminating or oversimplifying. 
Great. I am doing it wrong.
Oversimplifiers don’t really understand themselves, so they just invent an explanation to describe their own desires. People make checklists of what they want in a spouse and then usually marry a person who is nothing like their abstract criteria. 
AAAAH! Well, that explains a lot. 

Brooks presents three means to healthy introspection:

1) Give yourself time following something upsetting before facing it. When one is in it, one can forget that the world does not rotate around one. With space, there is perspective in the grand scheme of things.

2) Talk to yourself like a crazy person. Apparently, viewing oneself as "you" instead of "me" gave the sort of distance necessary to prevent narcissism and healthy advice giving. Yes, healthy advice from yourself.

3) Life is long. It really is. When seeing an incident in terms of the hefty span of human existence, eh, it's not so important. Don't fuss over every little thing, sheesh. 

Okay, recovering ruminator at work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Better With You

The Big Bang Theory: "Murder Mystery Dinner"

Raj's passion for quirky games results in a murder mystery that involves "going to the future." He gives all the players cards with their future history; Penny is a successful actress living in London, Leonard is a professor in Stanford. They drifted apart as their careers took off, Raj explains. 

An argument ensues where Penny assumes Leonard will move with her wherever her acting takes her, and Leonard insisting that when it comes to tenure, there isn't necessarily options in locale. Eventually Penny gives up.

Penny: In 20 years, who knows what’ll happen with any of us?

Stuart: I think you and Leonard will be together.

Penny: You do?

Stuart: Yeah. I think you’re the best couple I know.

Leonard: Aw.

Penny: That’s so sweet.

Bernadette (married to Howard): What the hell?

Amy (girlfriend of Sheldon): Excuse me?

Penny: Ah-da-da-da-da, let the man talk. So, why do you think that?

Stuart: Uh, well, I feel like you guys make each other better. Penny brought Leonard out of his shell. And it seems like Leonard makes Penny think more deeply about the world. I don’t know. Together, you two kind of make one awesome person.

The best marriages I have seen operate along those lines. Additionally, when it comes to what is really, really important to the other, the spouse is willing to compromise for their peace of mind. They bring out the best in each other.

Then there are those relationships that bring out the worst in people.

It takes two to tango; I like to think that it takes two that are aware, and make conscious choices instead of drifting along without thought.   

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lay the Foundation

Since, as Jews, our whole existence is centered on progress, I heartily consumed David Brooks' eloquent observations in "The Structures of Growth."

If, as Jews, our emphasis is about becoming better, why is so much of our lives focused on the uninspiring routine? We wake up with a system, we go to bed with a system, we daven the same way every day, and the majority of our blessings are recited on the mundane, not the grand. 
In other domains, growth is exponential. In these activities, you have to work for weeks or even years at mastering the fundamentals, and you barely see any return. But then, after you have put in your 10,000 hours of effort, suddenly you develop a natural ease and your progress multiplies quickly.
Mastering an academic discipline is an exponential domain. You have to learn the basics over years of graduate school before you internalize the structures of the field and can begin to play creatively with the concepts . . .
Many people quit exponential activities in the early phases. You’ve got to be bullheaded to work hard while getting no glory. But then when you are in the later fast-progress stage, you’ve got to be open-minded to turn your hard-earned skill into poetry.
As Brooks writes, the first step to growth is hammering out the basics to perfection. Through discipline in conquering the day-to-day, we can then transcend to higher levels. 

That is why, I suppose, I am leery when someone who can't make it to shul on time insists that spiritual and mental excellence can be achieved outside the seemingly "boring" aspects of our religion. 

All those great rabbanim, the ones that we fervently invoke and admire: Did any of them, ever, sleep in? Did any of them, ever, miss davening? Did any of them, ever, not make a bracha? Did any of them, ever, speak without thinking? Did any of them, ever, ignore the "little" things?

So how can we expect to become great without conquering those "minutiae" first?
This way of thinking also makes it clear that skill acquisition is a deeply moral activity. You don’t only need knowledge about what to do; you have to train yourself to defeat your natural desires. In the fast-growth phase of a logarithmic activity, you have to fight the urge to self-celebrate and relax. In the later phase, when everyone is singing your praises, you have to fight self-satisfaction.
There are many processes to improvement, as Brooks shows. But none involve ignoring the fundamentals and still grasping achievement.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Homeward Bound

"Why do you live at home?" my date suddenly asked, abruptly changing the topic. 

I blink. He obviously does not know my bank account balance.

And he says this right after telling me the headaches his deadbeat roommate gives him. 

I have been attacked by people for not relocating to the various Singlevilles that dot this grand city, or have been begged never to do it. Once, a woman asked me why I don't live there, and her husband quickly invoked, "Heaven forfend!" 

I'm not exactly sure why I have to explain myself. It seems rather obvious to me. 

"Why do you still live at home?" my boss snorted. 

"I'm hoarding my money." 

"For what?" he scoffed. 

"To buy a house, Jack." 

Well, that shut him up.
There are other perks, I must admit. Most nights I am greeted by savory aromas traveling down the driveway (did I mention my mother is a fantastic cook?) and I don't have to worry about bills. I'm also not the type to deal with like-aged roommates; I would probably end up the naive idiot who is hoodwinked into taking care of all the unpleasant things that apartment renting involve. Then there is my sacrosanct bedtime which few are respectful of, and the fact that as the lone cheese I have a private bathroom. My parents and I get along great (apparently, that is not a cool thing to say nowadays, but I never went for trends) and we share the same television interests.
Did I mention I'm hoarding my money?

There was a woman written up in the NY Times right after the economy went kablooey; while all of her friends were getting mortgages or subsisting on credit, she lived with her mother, a choice which most of the world scoffed at. Now, while they are getting foreclosed upon, she has money (not "Monopoly" paper) to buy her own home, outright. 

Not everyone can live at home, true. But I can. So I will, pal. Without apologizing for it.