Thursday, July 28, 2016

Envy

We writers (that's right, I called myself a writer!) are full of it. 

Writers, like academics, claim to be an evolved lot. Presumably well-read, seemingly intellectual, assuredly above all that sort of petty stuff like primal emotions. Who, me, envious? 

Of course. 
 http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/601505/25635699/1415281792380/OHI0153-NaNo-WordcountEnvyClinic-v2-600.jpg?token=4S3yQLNk%2FPASznE7yja21QWbXnQ%3D
My envy can manifest in a number of ways. Sometimes it is admiration/jealousy of a young fellow co-religionist's piece featured in the New York Times; sometimes it is the shock that a sloppily formed book was inexplicably published; sometimes it is the devaluation of one's ability in the presence of perfect, polished, pristine prose.   

"Green-Eyed Verbs" by Sarah Manguso addresses the last form of envy. While Keats was determined to be the best, he—
. . . also wrote, to another of his publishers, “If Poetry comes not as naturally as the Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.” As leaves to a tree. A tree does not leaf out of envy of other trees. It leafs out all by itself, within a system of life and light, matter and time. Writing out of envy will not produce a tree in bloom. It will produce an expression of envy, and envy’s voice is ugly, small, cheap and false.
"Rabbi Elazar HaKappar said: Jealousy, lust and the [pursuit of] honor remove a person from the world." It removes us from this world because it prevents us from enjoying this world, and from utilizing our own talents. 
I can tell that I’m making the wrong type of effort when I start to lament my work isn’t turning out the way I’d wanted it to. . .
Manguso explains that when writers think that, they are trying to copy another's brilliant work. That's not how writing works. 
Writers must labor from a vague feeling, usually some large, old emotion, and in so laboring, come to understand the qualities of that feeling, and the source of it, and the reason they still feel it. That effort is practiced in a place typically insulated from even the idea of publication, and it depends upon a combination of exerting and relaxing one’s will over the writing.
The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway. Those things are beside the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.
Oh, wow. 

She insists that reading is vital, for without reading one cannot truly write (Stephen King says so. I'm sure he's not the only one to believe the same).
My least favorite received idea about writing is that one must find one’s voice, as if it’s there inside you, fully formed and ready to turn on like a player piano. A voice is what emerges from an informed intelligence as it reaches toward accurate perception.
Without exposure, one is not speaking from a place of knowledge (daas). Binah, intuition, is dope, but it needs the partnership of chochma, wisdom, to become knowledge. Wisdom comes from experience and the gathering of information.

All writers will envy other writers, other writing. No one who reads is immune. To write despite it I must implicate myself, to confess to myself, silently or on the page, that I am envious. The result of this admission is humility. And a humble person, faced with the superior product of another, does not try to match it or best it out of spite. A humble person, and only a humble person, is capable of praise, of allowing space in the world for the great work of others, and of working alongside it, trying to match it as an act of honor. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Marriage Ends the Comfort Zone

I've been sitting on this post for a years. I felt like I'm not in position to talk or anything until, well, wedding bells and all that. But why wait? Who knows? Maybe it'll explode into an interesting conversation. 

I like to be comfortable. Who doesn't? But there is the understanding that when in public, one's appearance can have ramifications. Respect, assumptions regarding intelligence, looking responsible enough to handle a mortgage. 

When I leave the house, I am no longer as comfortable as I would be in my jammies. Arriving home, I clamber swiftly, joyfully into 100% cotton tees and pajama pants courtesy of the men's department, since I have a sneaking suspicion the dudes are given softer fabric. 

"Aaaaaaaaaah!" Dinner tastes so much better. 

As a child, I always envisioned what my married life would be like. No, no, not living in a castle with a pony and Prince Charming; my life not changing much, except I would be pottering about an apartment whilst in my hand-me-down (meaning broken-in) sleepwear. 

My logic was that a husband is like a family member like any other. I can hang out in pajamas around my mother, my father, my brothers, my sisters, right? Because they love me as I am, and wouldn't hold it against me if I am comfortable. 

But as I get older, observe the state of marriage in real and television life, it is obvious that my previously childish view of wedded bliss is kinda off. Wedded bliss is not about being comfortable. Bummer. 

In "Working Late and Working It" of the now-long dead Up All Night, Chris, who is the stay-at-home daddy, it getting frustrated when his wife Reagan tosses off her worksuit for stained and stretched maternity wear. He knows that it would be suicide to come out and say it, and his fellow STAHD Reed explains to him that he makes sure to look good for his wife, and she returns the favor. 
http://img2.tvtome.com/i/tve/gl/1400854.jpg
She doesn't get the hint (and he can't breathe in his skin-tight jeans), which eventually leads to a showdown with Reagan storming out of the room. But after a chat with a buddy, she puts on something for dinner that isn't . . . gross. 

I've come across quite a few articles on this topic, from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's observations to an answer to a debate if unconditional love is the enemy of lust. Sarah responded no, sweatpants are. Rebbetzin Palatnick addresses this around the 29 minute mark.
Betty White, one of the funniest women on earth, once said that when she knew her husband was coming home, she swiped on a fresh coat of lipstick. I was unsettled when I first heard that years ago, but on closer consideration . . . 
http://www.todayifoundout.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/white-and-husband.jpg
The love between a man and his wife is not bound in blood, as is the love between a parent and child. The connection between a man and woman cannot be equated; the love is not unconditional, for one thing. Of course it is conditional in how that spouse was chosen in the first place. 

My vision of marriage has now changed. So much for a pajama pal. Yet how can I cook supper freely, if splashing sauces and juices on stain-friendly jammies are no longer an option? I guess I better stock up on some aprons.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Right to Privacy

I sometimes struggle in communicating with those of official American backgrounds. They really can't see my point of view—any more than I can see theirs. I was born on American soil, but there is something to be said for DNA and upbringing. 
 http://www.evileyebeads.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/hamsa-evil-eye-beads.jpg
Take the oft misunderstood ayin hara. My people don't believe that there is an independent entity from the Eibishter that can be fended off with a red string, like mosquitoes by repellent. It is more like an awareness that the bounty we have been given should not be flaunted. Ideally, the awareness of privacy keeps one humble. 

And yet, when I first joined Facebook, I mindlessly succumbed. Cool, I can upload photos! So I did. I didn't really have much thought behind it. I just thought that's what one does on Facebook, sharing pictures of your life and other people share pictures of theirs.

Ah, the horror of dawning comprehension. Disgusted with myself, I vehemently deleted all those photo albums, where I crowed over my new nephew or my pretty shots in Florida (a place I don't even like! It's so hot!). This is against everything I was raised to believe, I realized.

Elisa Albert was sucked in, too. Have baby? Have camera? Have Facebook? Must post! 
Superstitious by nature, it didn’t take me long to feel uneasy — his pure gaze, his private smiles, his perfect vulnerability: Did people I barely knew really deserve to be privy to them? The evil eye scared me off: Don’t parade your blessings wantonly lest you arouse jealously. Intimacy is to be earned, not offered. And anyway, the tropes of life online grew quickly tiresome.
Still, I did what everyone does: I have a blessed child! I am devoted to my blessed child! Won’t you look at my blessed child! Be a part of my life! Come in! Behold! Partake!
Why? Why is it so imperative that bare acquaintances know? Why must they know
Quoth a stranger of her kindergartner naked on the toilet: “Bittersweet! My baby’s last day in diapers!” Quoth a relative alongside a photo of her perfectly coifed daughter: “All For Her. Only Her. Always Her. All Ways Her.” My personal favorite accompanies a photo of a teenage girl: “Stop growing!” (Meaning… Die!?) What is being put on display? Whose is it to put forward?
It occurred to Albert that she should ask her son's permission before posting, and he's not crazy about it now that he knows about it. These kids who's lives have been plastered all over will approach social media quite differently than we do. 
 http://www.youaredefinitelydoingitwrong.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Facebook-Baby-736313.png
The vignette that opens her article is troubling, because it is all too common: 
In a Manhattan cafe, I sit near a mother and her young daughter having tea. The daughter looks out the window. The mother takes pictures of her own shoes on a marvelously tiled floor, and of her daughter, who ignores her assiduously. I watch the mother artfully arrange the daughter’s teacup for a shot. I watch the daughter set her jaw. I watch the mother take a photo of the daughter and her teacup. The light is just so. I watch the mother consider her caption and hashtags and post it. I watch the mother scroll through her newsfeed. I watch the daughter stare out the window.
When people sigh and complain that raising children is so difficult nowadays, I would be more sympathetic once it was established that the phone was relegated to the purse and pocket, not as a constant, flashing, texting, calling interloper of quality time. Take care of your own life. No one else needs to know about it. Enjoy it, instead of constantly recording it. When you have 500 pictures of Booba on her way to camp, you won't be looking at any. 
“It’s not a secret,” my mother used to say about many things, “but it’s private.” I prefer, “Honesty is a virtue, but candor is a vice.”  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Cute of You to Try

"I'm hungry." 

"No you're not. You had a big dinner." 

She subsides for a moment. 

"My feet are dirty. You have to wash them." 

"Dirty feet means you had a fun day. They'll be washed tomorrow when you go to the pool." 

Momentary silence as she thinks frantically, but all she can come up with again is:

"I'm hungry." 

And so we begin again. 

Kids will say anything to push off the inevitable. 

I shoo my sisters' two little girls into bed, swiftly change them into pajamas, and tuck them in. Their eyelids are drooping, their speech slowed, but they still valiantly soldier on. 

"Stay wif me," the smaller one begins to wail, screwing up her face. 

"Why do I need to stay with you?" 

Her features relax in puzzlement as she finds herself unable to answer that question.

"I want you to have a fun day in camp tomorrow," I continue firmly, "and to do that you need to go shloofie, now." 

Little as they are, they hear the logic in that, roll over, and pass out.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Communication is Futile

Amie Barrodale precedes her new collection of stories, “You Are Having a Good Time,” with an epigraph attributed to a Bhutanese lama by the name of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche: “There is no such thing as communication. There are only two things. There is a successful miscommunication, and unsuccessful miscommunication. And when you have unsuccessful miscommunication, you are having a good time.” All of the stories in this stark and cutting collection grapple with our failure to communicate, and investigate not merely the woeful inefficiency of language itself (although that’s bad enough) but also the inherent impossibility of truly understanding another person’s internal state.Nicolas Mancusi

A large percentage of communication is non-verbal (the exact number is up for debate). That's why I find texting exhausting; lacking the quirk of my eyebrow, the twitch of my nose, the flick of my fingers—emojis don't always do the job right—I am positive my message is coming out wrong. 

Not only that, we don't know, even when we think we know, where other people are coming from. How can we communicate successfully when vocabulary means different things to different people, when different experiences excite different reactions, when what is hateful to me is bliss to you? 

We might as well just try to have a good time, then.  

Thursday, July 21, 2016

#Blessed

Kate Bowler is a historian of the American prosperity gospel—"Put simply, the prosperity gospel is the belief that God grants health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith." Ask any Jew, and they will scoff, of course, at such a precept being in Judaic belief. Yet there is a vast disconnect between official doctrine and the desperate flailings of the mind. For I see others, and also am guilty of, believing and acting on such a mindset. 

Chevi Garfinkel says, "Don't confuse bracha with accomplishment." Finding a life partner is a bracha. Having children is a bracha. Being healthy is a bracha. There is nothing one does to achieve that. There are wonderful people out there who are unmarried. There are wonderful people out there who are childless. There are wonderful people out there who are ill. If one believes that bracha comes from earning, the logic that would follow is that others "earned" misfortune as well. 
Blessed is a loaded term because it blurs the distinction between two very different categories: gift and reward. It can be a term of pure gratitude. “Thank you, God. I could not have secured this for myself.” But it can also imply that it was deserved. “Thank you, me. For being the kind of person who gets it right.” It is a perfect word for an American society that says it believes the American dream is based on hard work, not luck.
If Oprah could eliminate a single word, it would be “luck.” “Nothing about my life is lucky,” she argued on her cable show. “Nothing. A lot of grace. A lot of blessings. A lot of divine order. But I don’t believe in luck. For me luck is preparation meeting the moment of opportunity.” This is America, where there are no setbacks, just setups. Tragedies are simply tests of character.
It is the reason a neighbor knocked on our door to tell my husband that everything happens for a reason.
“I’d love to hear it,” my husband said.
“Pardon?” she said, startled.
“I’d love to hear the reason my wife is dying,” he said, in that sweet and sour way he has.
My neighbor wasn’t trying to sell him a spiritual guarantee. But there was a reason she wanted to fill that silence around why some people die young and others grow old and fussy about their lawns. She wanted some kind of order behind this chaos. Because the opposite of #blessed is leaving a husband and a toddler behind, and people can’t quite let themselves say it: “Wow. That’s awful.” There has to be a reason, because without one we are left as helpless and possibly as unlucky as everyone else.
For all the development of empathy, petty thoughts, feeding on fear, still lurk within. My brain, pathetically, has lurched to the blame mode—the very blame mode that I have been subjected to by others—when I hear of others' horrific pain. Because in my selfish, primitive, chimp-mind, I want guarantees: This can't, won't happen to me
One of the most endearing and saddest things about being sick is watching people’s attempts to make sense of your problem. My academic friends did what researchers do and Googled the hell out of it. When did you start noticing pain? What exactly were the symptoms, again? Is it hereditary? I can out-know my cancer using the Mayo Clinic website. Buried in all their concern is the unspoken question: Do I have any control?
I can also hear it in all my hippie friends’ attempts to find the most healing kale salad for me. I can eat my way out of cancer. Or, if I were to follow my prosperity gospel friends’ advice, I can positively declare that it has no power over me and set myself free. 
I struggle with this. It is so easy to say, to write, to nod matter-of-factly, but when in that situation, all that mental prep struts out the door.  
. . . And God is always, for some reason, going around closing doors and opening windows. God is super into that.
The prosperity gospel tries to solve the riddle of human suffering. It is an explanation for the problem of evil. It provides an answer to the question: Why me? What do you hear God saying when it all falls apart?
Well, for me, it feels like He's not talking. But that's because I'm not really listening. 
It offers people a guarantee: Follow these rules, and God will reward you, heal you, restore you. . . The prosperity gospel has taken a religion based on the contemplation of a dying man and stripped it of its call to surrender all. Perhaps worse, it has replaced Christian faith with the most painful forms of certainty. The movement has perfected a rarefied form of America’s addiction to self-rule, which denies much of our humanity: our fragile bodies, our finitude, our need to stare down our deaths (at least once in a while) and be filled with dread and wonder. At some point, we must say to ourselves, I’m going to need to let go.
Being frum is not about being certain. We are certain about a number of things; the existence of God, the validity of His Torah, the laws He gave us to follow. Often there are clear descriptions about divine reward. But remember Acher and that incident with the young boy who died while performing shiluach hakan for his father (two "long life" compensations right there)? Judaism was not decommissioned because of it. Acher is faulted for his inability to comprehend.   
But cancer has also ushered in new ways of being alive. Even when I am this distant from Canadian family and friends, everything feels as if it is painted in bright colors. In my vulnerability, I am seeing my world without the Instagrammed filter of breezy certainties and perfectible moments. I can’t help noticing the brittleness of the walls that keep most people fed, sheltered and whole. I find myself returning to the same thoughts again and again: Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Spanish Eggplant Dip

When it comes to my dinner, I'm an unadventurous Hungarian. Seasonings don't get much better than garlic and paprika for me. 

My sister-in-law's palate is more evolved. She has whipped up Moroccan cigars, kibbeh, and that other dish I only remember the name of because it sounds like "like my jeans"—lachmagine. Luke's family consume them with relish.

I tried. I really tried. But for my stick-in-the-mud sensibilities, cumin smells unalluring and cilantro tastes soapy. 

Before an outing to Colbeh, I thoroughly analyze the offerings, only to go limp in defeat. On my last excursion, a sympathetic waiter batted away my careful research and kindly steered me towards the sea bass—and it was divine. Culturally neutral in every way.

There is one dish there, however, that I unabashedly polish off. I didn't know what it was, though; I was first introduced to it as a player in the dip trio: hummus, baba ghanouj, and mystery delight. 

I was too chicken to ask the server what it was, but with the help of the online menu, I concluded it was Spanish eggplant dip. 

I hybridized a few recipes to my own specifications, and hit a home run on the first attempt. It tastes good even if it gets messed up. I really can't stop eating it. The joy of it is, there's no reason not to.

I initially oven-roasted, but that takes, like, forever. I went with the pan next. Much quicker, easier, and just as nummy. 

Recipe formed with the help of the internet. Thanks, internet! (It is, yes, spiced identically to the lecsó, and yet tastes deliciously different.)
Spanish Eggplant Dip

1 large eggplant, cubed
1-2 red peppers, diced
1 onion, chopped
1 14 oz. can crushed/diced/chopped tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced (no such thing as too much garlic)
1 tablespoon paprika
not quite a teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of hot paprika (depending on preference)*
2-3 shakes red pepper flakes (optional)
spoonful of honey (optional)
splash of apple cider vinegar (optional)

1. Toss eggplant in kosher salt. Leave in a colander for 30-60 minutes. (This will draw out any bitterness and some of the liquid). Then rinse the eggplant, getting rid of all that salt. Drain very well.

2. Saut
é onion in a little oil for 5-7 minutes on medium flame. Stirring occasionally, you know the drill.

3. Add the garlic, paprika—both regular and hot—and/or a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, stirring, for about a minute.

4. Add eggplant and peppers.
Sauté for minimum 5 minutes. I like it to go a little longer.

5. Add the tomatoes (and honey and/or vinegar, if using).

6. Simmer on low to medium flame (tomato sauce can burn very easily), covered and uncovered, until to desired state of melded-ness.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Serendipiter

As we learn in school, a great number of inventions and innovative thought were mistakenly stumbled upon, if not results of actual error. Some were discovered when messing about with something completely unrelated; others weren't even really looking for anything in the first place. 

The definition of "serendipity" is "luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for." (That flies in the face of that romantic film that translated it as something more akin to fate.) Pagan Kennedy's "How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity" explains that serendipity is not something that happens, but rather something that can be achieved.
In 1754, a belle-lettrist named Horace Walpole retreated to a desk in his gaudy castle in Twickenham, in southwest London, and penned a letter. Walpole had been entranced by a Persian fairy tale about three princes from the Isle of Serendip who possess superpowers of observation. In his letter, Walpole suggested that this old tale contained a crucial idea about human genius: “As their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” And he proposed a new word — “serendipity” — to describe this princely talent for detective work. At its birth, serendipity meant a skill rather than a random stroke of good fortune.
Dr. Erdelez agrees with that definition. She sees serendipity as something people do
I'm a firm believer in "Seek, and ye shall find." The saying doesn't go, "Seek, and ye shall find what ye was seeking." Ye shall find—something
 http://image.slidesharecdn.com/reboot90-travel-serendipity-5362/95/reboot90-travel-serendipity-24-728.jpg?cb=1180789243
Being open-minded is, of course, a necessary prerequisite. Sometimes I get stubborn, focusing on only one desirable outcome, and because of that I don't get very far. It's when I'm consciously amenable that I delightfully uncover a new outlook, new method, or a new thingamajig.
Some she called “non-encounterers”; they saw through a tight focus, a kind of chink hole, and they tended to stick to their to-do lists when searching for information rather than wandering off into the margins. Other people were “occasional encounterers,” who stumbled into moments of serendipity now and then. Most interesting were the “super-encounterers,” who reported that happy surprises popped up wherever they looked. . .
You become a super-encounterer, according to Dr. Erdelez, in part because you believe that you are one — it helps to assume that you possess special powers of perception, like an invisible set of antennas, that will lead you to clues.
Doctors and scientists often find the cure or come upon an epiphany while actively researching something completely unrelated. If one is going with the focus, "I am analyzing A for the strict reason of discovering a connection to B," one is cutting out the rest of the alphabet. There is so much out there to know. 

If I flatter myself, I am, at most, an "occasional encounter." What fun I could have if I was a "super-encounterer"!   

Monday, July 18, 2016

Of Nice and Men

"He's nice." 

"Oh my gosh, he is, like, so nice!" 

"He is really nice." 

I had my reasons for not wanting to go out with Piett. He had been redt repeatedly over the years, and every time, every person, used the same adjective: "nice." 

Do I want a nice guy? Duh, yeah. But presumably, if someone is redting someone, shouldn't his niceness be a given? "I know this boy, he's educated, an intellectual, takes his davening and learning seriously, but here's the thing: He's not nice." I don't think any shidduch conversation ever went like that. 

And so it was, when cornered by a determined shadchan, his one-and-only selling point came at me again: "He's sooooo nice." When it was evident that she would not take "no" for an answer (to the point of calling up relatives and asking them to persuade me), I reluctantly acquiesced. 

It became clear, from the first five minutes of phone conversation, that he was not "nice." Not an overt jerk, perhaps, but condescension and light mockery tripped comfortably off his tongue.
  https://janeaustensworld.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/mr-bennet-makes-fun-of-mr-collins.jpg

Do people own the same dictionary as I do? Or is it just a safely vague description?

Friday, July 15, 2016

TGIF

  • Do all singles get the same lines from the well-meaning but off-base? Apparently. YEEEEEES—