Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tedious Opinion

"Ah, a brilliant work of fiction!" I tried Salman Rushdie. I don't get him. 

Perhaps it is my lazy nature, but there aren't many hyped or classic works that I've reluctantly slogged through. Although I'm not exactly advertising my regency romance stage in high school. I do not consider never having read Wuthering Heights to be a proud lack of achievement.
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I have definitely fallen prey to an author's reputation. How can I not? It's amazing how attractive a sale item becomes once I know the hauteur of the designer. Is a book any different? 

Zoë Heller explains how her school training for revering the literary greats left her unprepared to critique any sort of non-officially "sacred" writing. 

As are many of us, it would seem. Eventually, she became less admiring and more discerning about the big-kahuna authors. Heller concludes: 
It’s possible, of course, to get a little drunk on the pleasures of having unfashionable views. Contrarianism is a species of vanity and just as much of a bore, in its way, as unquestioning obeisance to prevailing opinion. (Every now and then, I have to check myself and ask, Do I really not rate Elena Ferrante, or do I just enjoy upsetting her cultish fans?) Still, it is better, by and large, to be a conceited skeptic than to spend one’s life sitting meekly on the critical bandwagon.
I couldn't get through the first Ferrante book. (Can I admit that?) But I don't think that questioning everything is any better than questioning nothing. Too often the former merely the same default reaction as the latter, not necessarily based on anything. 

In any case, opinion about current works will mean little a century from now: 
  
Predicting the next great American novel: 

When we think about the future, we envision a version of the present: that the TV shows, movies and singers who matter most today will be the ones remembered in100 years. History says otherwise, Chuck Klosterman argues in But What if We're Wrong? Thinking About the Present as if It Were in the Past. The works that endure, he says, are the ones that suture societies find meaningful, whether they are valued in their day or not. Herman Melville's Moby Dick was scorned when it came out, and Franz Kafka was dead before The Trial saw print. So which of today's writers will be remembered in 2116? Probably not Philip Roth or Jonathan Franzen, Klosterman says, but someone writing in obscurity (perhaps on the deep web), representing an ultra-marginalized group and covering subjects that can be completely reinterpreted by future readers. "The most amazing writer of this generation," he writes, "is someone you've never heard of."—Sarah Begley, TIME

Hey, that means any of us could be famous! As long as one doesn't mind being long dead and not seeing a penny from it. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

I Can't Win

As an one-on-one chatterer, I often come to a point when I think I'm talking too much about myself. It's not that I'm not curious about this person I have just met, but one does not really know what topic could be potentially problematic. There have been too many times when I inquired about something I thought to be completely innocuous, only to have unintentionally harried at the other's sore spot. 

Therefore, I expound about my experiences, opinions, and beliefs, hoping the other will chime in with her own experiences, opinions, and beliefs. 

But there are times, when the other side remains unresponsive, I often rebuke myself. Query her! Show interest in her interests. Yet there I go, telling her all about my favorite breakfast and my idea of a good book and my thoughts on classical fashion.

Until a date, when I realized, quite proudly, that I was being properly inquisitive, without even trying! Family history, work, hobbies—I covered them all. Good girl! I trilled inside. You're being considerate for once. Totally not coming off as self-absorbed.

"You ask too many questions," he replied tiredly at one point.

Oh.

Humph. Go be nice.     

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Beinonim

Frank Bruni, "The Clintons' Secret Language"
I’m less and less interested in guessing, because I’m more and more aware of how compartmentalized people are, of how flawed and fruitless it is to extrapolate from one chamber of their lives to another. The stingiest spouse and parent can be the greatest boss, and vice versa. Someone who’s selfless and principled in one context is sometimes the opposite in another, as if there’s only so much goodness to go around.
And no chamber resists exploration and explanation like that of a marriage or comparable relationship.
We’re certain that we have it figured out — who musters the most patience, who makes the greatest sacrifices, who’s pure, who’s sullied — until it falls apart. Then we gape at the pieces, because none are recognizable.
We’re certain that social climbing or religious devotion is a couple’s glue, when what matters more is the secret language of goofy endearments that they speak. Or the unremarkable daily rituals that they’ve grown to relish. Or the tempo of his speech. Or the timbre of her laugh.
And when we come to our sweeping conclusions, we’re not perceiving but projecting, and we’re using couples to cling to our idealism or validate our cynicism. It’s a foolish game under any circumstances.
Humans are multi-faceted. Children utilize the simple categories of "good" and "bad" to view others. Adults should be more . . . well, adult about people. That's why it is a shock to me when I hear those who can qualify for social security using terms like "rasha merusha" about the next-door neighbor. 
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There are times when I—and I admit this shamefully—will succumb and beredt A to B. When B responds, "That doesn't mean she's a bad person!," I get irritated. I didn't say she was. This one aspect of A is giving me grief; that doesn't mean I believe her to be on equal footing with Stalin. 

I have made judgements about others because of past bad experiences, or because of my own insecurities, or my own prejudices—as Rivka Silver beautifully describes. Yet people are delightfully complex.

One Yom Kippur, a speaker explained how the strength of the kehilla is formed by the variety of middos we each contribute. One is awesome with tzedaka; one rocks in shmiras halashon; one is da bomb in kavana; one is the bee's knees in kibud av v'eim. 

He didn't trod down this path, but this is my own continuation: Do none of these people have other, less stellar quirks? Of course not. One can be speak without thought; one is prone to impatience and anger; one repeatedly misses davening; one has cheated on his taxes. 

Where I excel, others struggle. Where I am weak, others bloom. Most of us try to become better. Progress may be faster for her, slower for him. We are all just freakin' human. Remember that, PL. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

I Want

As soon as Eewok walked through the door, I could tell that she hadn't slept enough the night before. When she hasn't rested sufficiently, Eewok, usually a total mammelah, becomes hair-raisingly self-involved and stubborn. 

"I want you to play cards with me," she demanded. 

I don't negotiate with terrorists. Since she didn't ask properly: "We'll see. Soon." 

"But I want you to play cards!" 

"What is this 'want'? What about what I want? You don't care that I want to read the paper. We don't talk like that."

The afternoon continued, with little progress. "I want." "I want." "I want." Rarely had I heard her use such language. 

Until the dam broke. She had wanted to go to shul with Luke and he remained firmly implacable. Eewok dissolved into tears. "But I want to!" she wailed, refusing to budge. 

"What is this 'want'?" I repeated in exasperation. "You want to be a big girl? Fine. Here it is: You don't get to do what you want." 

"You do!" she bawled. "Adults get to do what they want!" 

"What? That's what you think? Baby, being a grown-up doesn't mean you get to do what you want. Being a grown-up means you don't get to do what you want."

Large tears dripped down her reddened cheeks. She glared at me defiantly. I could almost hear her think, "Liar." 

Classic middle child. She is quite sure there is a conspiracy against her, plotting to keep her miserable and out of the fun. 

Wait till she finds out the truth. I never wanted to be an adult. Because I knew it's awesome to be young, under someone else's care, with no major responsibilities. Why the heck would I want to be an adult? Rochel Spagenthal gets it to. 

But it does have its upside, as she notes. Although "wanting" has little to do with it.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Seeking: Friend

In response to a piece regarding a gay man and female best friend, there was a letter that I liked: 
There's an obsession with romance in our culture. But what we don't talk about in this context is friendship. I don't mean friendship as a substitute for romance. I mean friendship as a component of romance. The most successful couples I know are friends first and foremost. You have to be in order for a relationship to last. There has to be mutual pleasure in each other's company. There has to be laughter and reliability and respect. There has to be recognition of individuality and of connection. There has to be acceptance of flaws and celebration of strengths. But when you start talking this way, people get upset, as if you're trying to deny them their fantasies or get them to "settle" for someone lesser than "the one" who is surely out there somewhere. Friendship doesn't preclude desire. It doesn't preclude passion. It can encompass those things while being bigger and deeper. Friendship is less selfish, more forgiving, and ultimately more substantial. I think a lot of couples who divorce were never friends to begin with (yes, there are certainly counterexamples). They didn't base their relationships on love of each other as people but rather as projected images. Life is hard and I'd much rather get through it with a loving friend than with a friendly lover.—JMOLKA
The article was about deep friendship that could never be romantic. Eric believed that as a gay man, his best and closest relationship should be with a romantic partner, but eventually concluded, after harshly judging gay men living with their female best friends, that love and affection is love and affection—and there is nothing shameful in that. He became his female best friend's flatmate.

I'm not a romantic. I do not fantasize about dreamy proposals with a piping sound track while wearing painful yet gorgeous shoes. Perhaps I am a romantic—if romance means spending time with someone—with conversation or without—who sees me, my values, my priorities, my strengths, my weaknesses, and I see him, as he is. (I wouldn't look gross, mind, but I don't need to have my hair blown to a crisp.)

I fantasize about friendship, the Biblical "reyah," the ideal relationship when two people accept each other, and everything that goes with it.
I have been on dates when it is obvious the suitor is not interested in "seeing" me. Rather, he projects on to me what he has decided I am, what he has decided what I want to hear, what he has decided that I want in life. He doesn't want to see me. Goodbye. I'm in the market for a friend. 
Many things are relative. I read this great line in a book review in TIME: "Her love is passionate but shallow." Passion, for me, seems like a lot of work. Ah, quiet contentment, what could get any better for one who strives to be sedentary? Is passionately shallow love meaningful? Not to me. But that's just me.

In Belva Plain's Evergreen, a female character has a crisis when she discovers that her fierce attachment to her husband is not echoed on his end with equal vehemence. He loves her, yes, but not with the storybook passion that she longs for. He says to her at that there is no set definition for "love"; it's an individual sensation. He loves her, dearly and truly. Just differently.

I have heard it said, in many a rom-com, that "I think we're really good friends, but . . ." 
Hey, you had me at "good friend"!  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

My Purpose?

I had believed that my purpose is to find my spiritual partner and have children to teach them the ways of the Force—uh, sorry, Judaism. 

So my prayers have been somewhat petulant lately. "Hey, Eibishter? What up. 'Memba me? You know how You have in Sh'ma, 'V'shinantam l'vanecha'? So, um, could You, like, send me the means to have those vanecha? Why else was I put on this earth, complete with early childhood training—didn't You see how dope I was with my nephew's tantrum, not appeasing him and all? Could You help a girl out by sending her her zivug, like, yesterday?" 

I had been getting more and more frustrated, whining self-pityingly at the Lord for His seeming lack of comprehension. "Seriously, Dude, how are You not understanding this? I'm trying to serve You and honor You by raising a next generation in Your Name, but I'm being set up with Jar-Jars!" 

In a sulk, I listened to an endless stream of Rabbi Daniel Glatstein shiurim. In one shiur, he mentioned that a Jew is not required to become a doctor because he might save a life in the future; a Jew only has to concern herself with the situation at hand, before her.

It cannot be my purpose is restricted to that which I cannot control, I comprehended. A Jew must focus on the situation at hand. Ergo, there is purpose in how I live now

As I heard from Esther Wein, a Jew's purpose is to give honor to the Eibishter. That can be done in a multitude of ways, and according to my simple understanding, that would be doing mitzvos—both bein adam l'Makom and bein adam l'chaveiro—with as much diligence as I can. 

Honoring my parents; davening with focused kavana; watching my speech; saying brachos with more care.  

In another shiur of Esther Wein's, she quotes from Sefer Yishayahu (Perek 56). Hashem is addressing the childless and geirim of millennia ago. 
Happy is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that holdeth fast by it: that keepeth the Sabbath from profaning it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the alien, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying: 'The LORD will surely separate me from His people'; neither let the eunuch say: 'Behold, I am a dry tree.' For thus saith the LORD concerning the eunuchs that keep My Sabbaths, and choose the things that please Me, and hold fast by My covenant: Even unto them will I give in My house and within My walls a monument and a memorial better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting memorial, that shall not be cut off. Also the aliens, that join themselves to the LORD, to minister unto Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from profaning it, and holdeth fast by My covenant.
Shabbos. Do I really have the right perspective of Shabbos? We're told it's major, but it has been watered down to a "recharging from high tech life" sort of day. There are so many halachos I'm ignorant of, actions I refrain from doing that are actually permissible, as well as erroneously transgressing Shabbos from ignorance. 
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I did some browsing and came across a series on Shabbos by Rabbi Efraim Stauber. They are helping me rethink it completely. 

I have heard singles say they are frustrated because they don't seem to have a role in a couple-focused community. What if we make Shabbos our thing? Not necessarily in terms of meals—Shabbos is not about cholent—but in terms of keeping it better? Not looking at it as a day of restriction, but as a day of love between us and the great big Papa in the sky? 
 
I have been ignoring the much that is within my purview.    

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Do No Harm

I am fascinated by history. If one analyzes a situation with the long view, one can see patterns. 
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Like the pendulum swing. Society accepts one extreme, and then rebound to the other; eventually, it slows and settles into the center.


The past fifty years or so, science did away with nature. Butter was shunned for margarine. Dairy was fiercely de-fatted (I want my childhood years, sentenced to skim milk, back). Every minor complaint can be "fixed" with medication or surgery. 

Butter is back. Fatty dairy is back (I'm making up for lost time). As for being "fixed"? 

A few years ago I was seized by a violent sinus infection. I inched into an ENT's office, tears in eyes. He scribbled up, along with antibiotics, a prescription for Vicodin. 

"Um, that's okay," I demurred. "I watch House." 

He looked at me in scorn. "Why should you suffer if you don't have to?" 

I gingerly picked up the prescription. I did not use it. 

Doctors happy-pen method with opiods have led to addictions and overdoses, and now they are considerably cutting back; sufferers will have to suffer.

In general, the policy for vigilant medicine and treatment is easing off. The required annual checkup is off. Screenings and tests that were once necessary are now under the "Weeeell . . ." category. Even treatments for certain conditions or illnesses are found to be not as vital as once thought.

"Are Good Doctors Bad for Your Health?" by Ezekiel Emanuel highlights the current quo: 
One of the more surprising — and genuinely scary — research papers published recently appeared in JAMA Internal Medicine. It examined 10 years of data involving tens of thousands of hospital admissions. It found that patients with acute, life-threatening cardiac conditions did better when the senior cardiologists were out of town. And this was at the best hospitals in the United States, our academic teaching hospitals. As the article concludes, high-risk patients with heart failure and cardiac arrest, hospitalized in teaching hospitals, had lower 30-day mortality when cardiologists were away from the hospital attending national cardiology meetings. And the differences were not trivial — mortality decreased by about a third for some patients when those top doctors were away.
Truly shocking and counterintuitive: Not having the country’s famous senior heart doctors caring for you might increase your chance of surviving a cardiac arrest.
He cites an Israeli study: 
This is not the only recent finding that suggests that more care can produce worse health outcomes. A study from Israel of elderly patients with multiple health problems but still living in the community tried discontinuing medicines to see if patients got better. Not unusual for these types of elderly patients, on average, they were taking more than seven medications.
In a systematic, data-driven fashion, the researchers discontinued almost five drugs per patient for more than 90 percent of the patients. In only 2 percent of cases did the drugs have to be restarted. No patients had serious side effects and no patients died from stopping the drugs. Instead, almost all of the patients reported improvements in health, not to mention the saving of drug money.
And people wonder why I'm afraid of doctors
Despite often repeating the mantra “First, do no harm,” doctors have difficulty with doing less — even nothing. We find it hard to refrain from trying another drug, blood test, imaging study or surgery.
We forget the body's capacity for healing. It doesn't always always need help. But today, with so much within human control, we forget that we don't always have all the solutions. 
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People say there is a "shidduch crisis." Which means, it has to be fixed! But what if we can't? Has any sort of new initiatives actually changed the marriage rates? If anything, it seems as though divorce—"marriage mortality"—is on the rise. 

A new book (Hoping to Help) analyzes the effectiveness of volunteers nobly assisting in third-world countries. It's not always wonderful. 
Students may take advantage of the circumstances to attempt tasks well beyond their expertise. Seasoned professionals may cling to standards of practice that are irrelevant or impossible to sustain in poor countries. Unskilled volunteers who do not speak the language may monopolize local personnel with their interpreting needs without providing much of value in return.
So who did I think of? 

Shadchanim.

It really is unpleasant trying to politely fend off the misplaced fervor of a bullying matchmaker who barely knows you yet insists you "must" go out with someone. Yes, they say they are "trying to help," but how is this helpful? Congratulations: My bowels clench every time I receive an e-mail or phone call from someone chirpily claiming to be a "shadchan."
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Do no harm. Like Chevi says.    

Friday, June 10, 2016

TGIF

  • Loved the title of an article about celebrity privacy: "Keeping mum in the age of blab." I should stitch that on a throw pillow; and