Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday Insights

Which is best: Low or high expectations

And, some interesting insights from Penn and Teller
While Penn is the loud and brash one in the act, Teller doesn't speak on the stage at all. It's his thing. He explains why:

Teller: Not speaking is just about the most intimate thing that you can do. You see, you felt that you had to speak. If we just stop, and look at each other, gosh, that gets intimate fast. And that's what I feel when I'm on stage. 

They teamed up, not because they liked each other, but because they needed each other. 

Penn: Teller and I never got along. We never had a cuddly friendship. It was a very cold, calculated relationship where we thought we do better stuff together than we do separately. Turns out, respect lasts longer than affection.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Trying Too Hard With Too Many? II

I had dreaded attending this singles event. My previous experiences had resulted in my twitching in expectant terror. But it wasn't as bad as I had expected. I had decided not to be so self-conscious, less in my own miserable head and more observant of my fellow victims. It was also obvious that the event planners had put a lot of thought and work into it.  

At some point in the evening, after mingling with a multitude of glowing shadchanim, accomplished gals, and clean-cut guys, I realized something: 

Shadchanim are attempting to do the impossible. 

Scenario: An eager singleton calls up a shadchan (as I have done, over and over): "Hi, my name is Chanie Schwartz, I got your name from my friend Shanie Gross. I just e-mailed you my profile."
A pretty brunette. Smart. Average height. Great job.

"Got your info! I'll be thinking of you!" 


How is this shadchan supposed to know what this girl, like so many other girls, is really looking for? Sure, she may say the basic "out-going, middos, makes time for learning," but that is how every guy describes himself, too. They tell us to be "open," so that's us being "open."

I felt lost in this room with 39 other women, and I felt equally lost when introduced to the 40 men. Their names and faces blurred together. Accountant, lawyer, med student, over and over. Is this how guys feel when meeting a crowd of perfectly blown hair and mascara? Can they differentiate between the many charming laughs? The girl who's a therapist, or the other girl who's a therapist? At some point, as the old saw goes, "They all look alike to me."
If I can't tell anyone apart, how can a "shadchan"? 

Baruch Hashem, our world has grown very large. Our communities swell, and our shuls; it is now a common practice, in my siblings' houses of worship, for families to be meshadech with each other. Perhaps that is the best way—keeping the circles smaller and tighter, knowing a few people better, instead of investing in many acquaintances.

Marriages occur in a multitude of ways, but the most common one I hear of are of close family friends setting up the couple. While I have had egregious dates at the introduction by someone close as opposed to far, the better ones are usually from those who know me or my family well. 

And I think we are fooling ourselves if we don't acknowledge that. 

Shadchanim enter this business not realizing the sheer quantity and difficulty of selling people they don't really know. There are a select few who possess inborn, savant-like talents in shidduchim. But most are muddling through the mountains of paper, all with the same credentials and the same smiles.

Singles are also mistrustful; they have had too many bad dates, and are less willing to "just go on a date." "Just going on a date" can be soul-crushing, as lofty expectation sinks into depressing disappointment. It robs one of hope. 

We are over-stressing, over-straining. In the end, hishtadlus can go so far; what happened to bashert? What happened to faith? Heck, what happened to, ugh, romance? Wasn't this supposed to be fun? Now it's a tiresome chore, if not flat-out torture. 

Not to discount the efforts of the professionals, but while there are many non-official "shadchanim," I think there should be more. There are many self-proclaimed "Yenteh"s, less "My son's former roommate would be a good idea for my niece." 

Ma has one shidduch under her belt. Ta has one, too. Not impressive, perhaps, considering the number of matches others can claim. But what if each frum person made a point to think about the unattached in their own circle—no further—and tried every once in a while, if the idea seems feasible, to redt them?

Wouldn't that make a big difference?     

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Trying Too Hard With Too Many? I

As modern dating evolved over the last century, a problem became clear: Dating is often terrible. The hardest part? Meeting someone. It’s worse than a matter of chance: It’s chaos.
What if we could change dating by letting people meet even more people? We could defy the random laws of attraction by matching people to their algorithmically determined ideal mate. But what if it turns out that relying on algorithms doesn’t make dating less chaotic, but more so, in a whole new way? What if, instead of finding our way to a partner, following certain algorithms leads us only further away?
. . . Dating is a numbers game, people say, but the direction it’s taking online and in apps means ever bigger numbers. The number of people you’d never talk to in a million years.
. . . Here’s the problem with bigger numbers and endless possibility: They don’t go well with humans. We don’t have the processing power. Dating is not simply about finding like-minded people, but about limiting your potential set of choices. When we’re making a selection from what sociologists call a bounded set of choices, we can “satisfice” — that is, reach a kind of threshold of satisfaction. Once we find something above that level, great, let’s try it.
When the number of options increases, we become maximizers — unsatisfied with those options, and wanting more . . . When faced with boundless choices, can we ever choose?
Having done a bit of online dating myself, I can’t help but wonder: in a business-driven city, within an achievement-oriented community, are New York’s Jewish singles treating the search for love too much like a job, and ourselves as products to be marketed?
. . . are we simply trying too hard? And could our businesslike, problem-solving approach to finding love be self-defeating?
Because, despite no shortage of matchmakers, dating experts and love coaches, fewer Jewish New Yorkers seem to be settling down . . .
Even some Jewish dating experts think we ought to relax and quit approaching love like a job with a deadline.

If falling deeply in love requires getting to know a person, and that process demands focus on an individual, is it any mystery that, in a place and time when singles perceive romantic choices as limitless, finding love is such a challenge? Does a multitude of options lead us to deeper, more fulfilling relationships?
. . .“You see it at singles events, where even as people speak to each other their heads are like roving radar towers — just scanning constantly, looking for who’s better,” said the rabbi.
New York City Jewish singles seem to agree that, ironically, the abundance of online dating sites, apps and meeting opportunities can make it hard to focus on anyone in particular.
. . .[Joey says,]“Now if I’m on a date, my plan is to enjoy the date and not think about anyone else. Like ordering a dish I like. So part one is, you want to pick your dish and stick with it.
“Part two, enjoy the dish.
“And if she’s a lifelong dish, I won’t order anything else.”
"This Is How We Date Now" by Jamie Varon:
We say romance is dead, because maybe it is, but maybe we just need to reinvent it. Maybe romance in our modern age is putting the phone down long enough to look in each other’s eyes at dinner. Maybe romance is deleting Tinder off your phone after an incredible first date with someone. Maybe romance is still there, we just don’t know what it looks like now.
When we choose—if we commit—we are still one eye wandering at the options. We want the beautiful cut of filet mignon, but we’re too busy eyeing the mediocre buffet, because choice. Because choice. Our choices are killing us. We think choice means something. We think opportunity is good. We think the more chances we have, the better. But, it makes everything watered-down. Never mind actually feeling satisfied, we don’t even understand what satisfaction looks like, sounds like, feels like.
. . . Then, we see these other happy, shiny couples and we compare. We are The Emoji Generation. Choice Culture. The Comparison Generation. Measuring up. Good enough. The best. Never before have we had such an incredible cornucopia of markers for what it looks like to live the Best Life Possible.
. . . We realize that this more we want is a lie. We want phone calls. We want to see a face we love absent of the blue dim of a phone screen. We want slowness. We want simplicity. We want a life that does not need the validation of likes, favorites, comments, upvotes. We may not know yet that we want this, but we do. We want connection, true connection.
"Emerging Stronger," a video by Marc Spear and Yitz Brilliant:
"Intimacy doesn't necessarily grow . . . when you're in a forced, overly pressured kind of setting."—Dr. David Pelcovitz
"We used to go out to have fun, and then if we met the person having fun, that was great. Now everyone's going out to find the bashert, and there's just no more fun left."—Gail Hochman
"Online Dating That Matches as You Do, Not as You Say" by Belinda Luscombe:
Essentially since the dawn of Internet-dating era, we've been engaged in a massive longitudinal study of mate selection. To conduct the experiment, we've opened the partnering floodgates. Finding a consort has gone from choosing between maybe two options presented by your family to finding a suitable person in your neighborhood and social circle to cherry-picking from among the scores of contenders you meet at school or college or work to scrolling through thousands of faces on your phone. In terms of choice, that's like going from eating whatever Mom is serving for dinner to carrying a plate by every restaurant in the world while people dump food onto it.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


B'H, I live near to all my family. I have not had to deal with the pain of separation; I can see and touch my nieces and nephews on a regular basis. Uh, and their parents, too. Yeah, um, right, they're also important. 

If there were 10,000 miles between us, would Skype provide the same experience? Is it the same to kiss a screen, rather than to kiss the actual cheek?
Richard Kearney notices that technology has replaced the tactile sense ("Losing Our Touch"). But it's not so simple. 

In the ancient world, Aristotle favored touch as the most superior sense, while Platonists argued that sight won. The latter position is what has held sway, especially now with our reliance on screens. 
The move toward excarnation is apparent in what is becoming more and more a fleshless society. In medicine, “bedside manner” and hand on pulse has ceded to the anonymous technologies of imaging in diagnosis and treatment. In war, hand-to-hand combat has been replaced by “targeted killing” via remote-controlled drones. If contemporary warfare renders us invulnerable to those who cannot touch us, can we make peace without a hand to shake? (Think of Mandela-de Klerk or Begin-Sadat).
Moreover, certain cyber engineers now envisage implanting transmission codes in brains so that we will not have to move a finger — or come into contact with another human being — to get what we want. The touch screen replaces touch itself. The cosmos shrinks to a private monitor; each viewer a disembodied self unto itself.
Dovid HaMelech was spattered in the blood of his enemies, and yet, he was a soulful poet, whose works are invoked to appeal to the Heavens. Without touch, Kearney says, there is no empathy. We don't feel for others. The flesh is not just flesh. 
. . . soul becomes flesh, where it belongs.  
Babi has dementia. Conversation with her is no longer possible. Luke adamently told Ma to hold her hand, since touch will still get through. 

So Ma did. She sat next to Babi, rather than her usual spot opposite, which would be in her line of vision. She grasped her hand. She squeezed gently.
To her surprise, Babi squeezed back.      

Monday, January 26, 2015

Dressing for Men: Long Johns

On a blustery winter day, the cold wind cuts right through the wool content of pants, biting into the frigid skin beneath. 

Perfect weather for long johns, me thinketh? Yet cotton long johns can be bulky

Enter: silk long underwear!
Silk is a great layering fabric as it keeps one warm in cold weather and cool in hot, and wicks away moisture. If one lives in a climate with more extreme weather patterns it probably won't provide sufficient thermalness, but if dealing with the New York 20 to 30 degrees it is ideal. 

I'm a big fan since it doesn't add weight, doesn't itch, doesn't suffocate, and does a dang good job keeping me cozy (especially since skirts can get drafty). I've purchased pairs for my menfolk who were quite appreciative, if I say so myself. 

The secret is to make sure the garment is actually 100% silk. Some will label their item "silk" or "silkweight," and it is composed mostly from synthetic. Silk is pricier, although I used to find pairs for myself in Daffy's before they (sob) closed for $15. Currently they are available on Amazon, L.L. Bean, and Land's End, just to name a few. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Besides for the, urgle, "shidduch crisis," there is another issue that occupies our too-unoccupied thoughts: the rising divorce rate. There are a number of theories bandied about as to the cause (I believe there must be more than one issue); one of them is that in today's world, with so much available and of shoddy workmanship, it is considered "simpler" to discard than to renew.

A while back I had listened to Rabbi Y.Y. Rubenstein's shiur, "Making the Right Choice or Making the Choice Right," and I recalled it while reading Debby Greene's Modern Love piece, "'We Pledge Allegiance . . . '"

Both the author and her husband had unhappy, unstable childhoods due to their parents' divorces. Therefore, when they wed, the first thing they both decided was "no divorce," simply just to spare their children their own experiences. 

That was the one constant in their lives, no matter how bumpy the ride, no matter how tempting the move. But it even came to a point where they no longer viewed the pledge in such absolute terms, and that was helpful, too.
Approaching my 50s, I know the “no divorce” pledge Josh and I made all those years ago is just one of those rules people make up to give themselves the illusion of control. Though I believe loosening our grip on our pledge saved our marriage, I think the pledge saved it, too. Our pledge gave us a strong foundation before we were ready to go it on our own, and by the time we realized we had outgrown the pledge, it had taken root and grounded us as we found the space to deepen our relationship.
The child in me still wishes there was a secret formula to make a marriage last: perhaps a dose of bringing each other coffee in the morning along with a smidgen of holding hands at the movies and a dollop of passionate nights.
But my more-mature self realizes that after 23 years of marriage, the key for our relationship to grow and thrive is finding a soft place to land between the rules we make and the reality we live.
There is a scene in 1776, when John Adams is in complete despair. It is the day before the vote whether to declare independence, and the entire South has marched out in fury over the clause regarding the abolishment of slavery. Delaware could only be won if a dying delegate is fetched, Pennsylvania looks lost, and the vote must be unanimous. Adams and Franklin have just traded sharp words. 

He summons the image and wisdom of his wife, Abigail, for guidance. 

Abby: Have you forgotten what you used to say to me? I haven't. "Commitment, Abby, commitment. There are only two creatures of value on the face of this earth: those with a commitment, and those who require the commitment of others." Do you remember, John?

With that, Adams hurdles himself back into the fray, and emerges triumphant.
Do we commit today? Or do we merely seek the neverending upgrade?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mind Over Mush

House, "Parents":
A teenage patient who idolizes the father he believes to be dead is admitted. It turns out the boy's illness is a result of a terrible trauma that occurred in his childhood at the hands of his still-living father; he simply didn't remember. When asked by the patient how he got his disease, Dr. Taub couldn't bring himself to tell him.

House: Your heart said he needed to know; your brain knew he's better off without it. Following your heart is easy. Following your brain is tough.

Esther Wein once had a shiur on this. I listened to it more than once, but it still succeeds in blowing my mind. I can't seem to locate it online, but the shiur discussed the various levels of the brain. Her conclusion was that the emotions stem from what is known as the mammalian brain, meaning many four-legged creatures are capable of emotions, such as love, anger, even remorse. 

But only humans have a rational brain, containing intellect and deep thought, and that brain should always keep the mammalian one in check. Emotions must not be allowed to get the upper hand; otherwise, we are no different than animals.

Sure, sometimes our heart "tells" us to do something, like being honest. But what is at stake for that honesty? The Torah does not say it is a mitzvah to hurt someone for the sake of honesty; one, simply, should not hurt others. 

What would this child gain if told the truth? Nothing good. 

I try to quantify the difference between the mammalian and the rational—why do I think it would be best to go with that option? Why do I think I should say that? Sometimes my racing thoughts don't have enough time allotted, and the mammals get me. 

It is a Yiddish expression to call someone who is badly behaved a "chaya" or a "beheima," the only difference being a wild animal of the jungle or a domesticated cow. It's still the same insult: Giving in to one's emotions, ergo one's immediate desires, ergo the yetzer hara.
Moo cow moo.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ask Me Anything

I was not the only one who found Mandy Len Catron's "To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This" intriguing; this piece became so popular that CBS News picked it up.

A psychologist by the name of Arthur Aron composed a list of 36 questions, starting from the innocuous to the prying, all calculated. The last exercise was to look into the other's eyes for four solid minutes. The intention was to see if two strangers would thereby fall in love. The study couple did.
Catron and her date for the evening, a co-worker, decided to give it a shot. And it worked. 

She does not claim that this method is foolproof; to just try it to begin with, both sides have to be open-minded, for starters. Plus, she adds, one cannot discount chemistry. However: 
Most of us think about love as something that happens to us. We fall. We get crushed.
But what I like about this study is how it assumes that love is an action. It assumes that what matters to my partner matters to me because we have at least three things in common, because we have close relationships with our mothers, and because he let me look at him.
I wondered what would come of our interaction. If nothing else, I thought it would make a good story. But I see now that the story isn’t about us; it’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known.
It’s true you can’t choose who loves you, although I’ve spent years hoping otherwise, and you can’t create romantic feelings based on convenience alone. Science tells us biology matters; our pheromones and hormones do a lot of work behind the scenes.
But despite all this, I’ve begun to think love is a more pliable thing than we make it out to be. Arthur Aron’s study taught me that it’s possible — simple, even — to generate trust and intimacy, the feelings love needs to thrive. 
I have always believed myself that love is a choice. There is infatuation, yes, but that is not the same thing as love. 

Love is vulnerability. Friendship is vulnerability. And I have experienced, as Brené Brown would call it, "the vulnerability hangover." 

Connection is about revealing our usually secret thoughts, beliefs, and hopes to another person, who will, in turn, reveal their own secret thoughts, beliefs, and hopes, and both sides will accept each other for what they are. But I made the mistake in childhood in over-sharing, too soon, in the hope of forcing connection. 

I feel the same way about dating; some of those 36 questions I feel are too prying for the first two hours with someone new. Before I puke up my emotional guts, can I at least make sure that you won't laugh at me, or find me weird? Fourth date, maybe fifth?    

I took a gander at the questions; a number of them are unattainable hypotheticals, and I hate hypotheticals, since (a) they can never happen and (b) people think one thing, how they actually act in such a situation is another. I don't find such queries to result in anything edifying.

But looking into the other's eyes for four solid minutes . . . that is the hardest thing of all, I think. That is a strong, frightening test of vulnerability. We would rather do anything other than that. Our relationships are so shallow today, so distracted, as we fear letting others in, ashamed of what's there.
Banksey, "Mobile Lovers"
Don't blink. 

Monday, January 19, 2015


"Are you outdoorsy?"


"Do you cycle?" 

"Um, no." 


"Not really." 

"Rock climb?" 

"Are you serious?" 

"How about jogging?" His tone is almost desperate.

"Not a chance." 


"Nope. Look, I'll be frank: I'm not a fan of sweating." 

He flopped back in his chair, annoyed. 

"I do walk, though," I attempt to reassure him, "back and forth from public transportation." 

He glared at me. "What? Who does that? Don't you drive?" 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Well-Fed Writer

"So, what do you do?" 

I expound on my education and my current employment, but rarely, if ever, say "writer." I have never been published; claiming that title seems a tad premature. My "novel" is more ignored than fussed over. I probably spend more time constructing perfect sentences in my head than actually saving them for posterity.
Additionally, as an early bird, writing doesn't come easily to me past morning, and I work then. Sundays are spent crossing off various tasks that get ignored during the week. Ergo, beyond the blog, I don't do much writing. Since I don't publicize my authorship on this free platform, I will still not announce my identity as "writer."  It feels like I'm cheating.
Bill Hayes' essay "On Not Writing" begins describing his fading away from writing, and his return. He lists what he learned recently, how writing correlates to exercise regimens. The last point was about necessary rest, that over-writing (is there such a phrase?) can cause burnout. 

I must make a wee confession: I placed on myself a standard of, at least, five posts a week. I have kept at it. But recently, for the first time, I found myself resenting that criteria that I enacted. Enter "When Blogging Becomes a Slog" by Steven Kurutz.

Yet, I need to write (even though I make no money in it, unlike the bloggers featured in the above article), and giving myself such a schedule, composed of reasonable post-size pieces, has kept my brain going and growing (I like to think). I don't want to begrudge or quit the practice anytime soon. 

So I shall allow myself the leeway of not posting five posts a week; perhaps I shall begin with four, and already I feel calmer and less pressured. Maybe, one week, if circumstances decree, I shall go down to three. I want to enjoy blogging, not feel coerced into it.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lost in Translation

"I do shidduchim," she says proudly. 

For a brief moment, I experience a naive flutter of expectation. 

"Are you interested in singles events?" she continues eagerly. 

The flutter morphs into the creepy-crawlies. 

"No, not really." 

"Oh, I totally understand. The typical singles events are the worst. No one talks to each other, only one girl or one guy gets mobbed. But this is different: a speed dating event!" she concludes with a dramatic flourish.

Nope, no improvement. So instead of spending an evening fending off unwanted advances (and being ignored by anyone potentially intriguing), now I would be forced to have conversation with those I am trying to avoid. 

"Look, I've done those Shabbos-meal-things—"

She shakes her head in derision. "No, no, those are terrible!"

I blink. Why are they terrible? She didn't let me finish my point, and I wasn't going to say that. I was going to say that in essence, those Shabbos-meal-things aren't much different from speed dating, and it is actually less awkward. Since the whole table interacts, everyone gets a feel for what everyone else is like without shoving two people together at a table and demanding polite chit-chat. 

"How about simply setting up a date?" 

"Well, that's difficult," she says with a defeated shrug. "The guys don't want to go on dates." 

If a guy has any hope of marriage, yet refuses to date, chances are none in your roster is for me. Unless that is the excuse being peddled around nowadays by those who arranged explosive evenings and were then blacklisted?

Do I have to, once again, define what "shadchan" means?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

That Book/Cover Thing

I am not happy about the current age of shidduch-photo requesting. I stopped fighting it, however, from sheer exhaustion, but I believed that it reflects the negative shallowness that seems to have crept over frum dating life.
But an article about Tinder ("Tinder Taps an Age-Old Truth" by Nick Bilton), the photo-based dating app, reports that the data doesn't necessarily reflect pairings based on skin-depth alone.
“Research shows when people are evaluating photos of others, they are trying to access compatibility on not just a physical level, but a social level,” said Jessica Carbino, Tinder’s in-house dating and relationship expert. “They are trying to understand, ‘Do I have things in common with this person?’ ”
. . . She discovered that Tinder users decoded an array of subtle and not-so-subtle traits before deciding which way to swipe. For example, the style of clothing, the pucker of the lips and even the posture, Ms. Carbino said, tell us a lot about their social circle, if they like to party and their level of confidence.
Tinder also conducted studies to try to glean more insight into users’ behaviors. In one survey, women were asked to swipe through a series of photos of handsome male models. In almost every instance, the women swiped to the left, dismissing the men with chiseled faces. When asked why, the women said that the men looked too full of themselves or unkind. “Men with softer jaw lines indicate that they have more compassion,” Ms. Carbino said.
Some frum male profiles actually possess photos; for those that don't, there is sometimes an online presence that can be scrutinized. Much can be gleaned by a picture. 
“There is this idea that attraction stems from a very superficial outlook on people, which is false,” Mr. Rad said. “Everyone is able to pick up thousands of signals in these photos. A photo of a guy at a bar with friends around him sends a very different message than a photo of a guy with a dog on the beach.”
As a female, I sometimes wonder if single guys realize that their photos are being squinted at by eligible women; they don't seem to have tried that hard, or are they perhaps intentionally defiant, daring the world to hold their over-casual, shlumpy demeanor against them?
Then the über-dude, all peace signs and flipped-up collars.
One very telling move: Cropping off the top of their head, removing any sign of a yarmulka. Interesting.

Back to the data: The fairest aren't pursued the most.
Earlier this year Paul W. Eastwick, an assistant professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, and Lucy L. Hunt, a graduate student, published a paper noting that a person’s unique looks are what is most important when trying to find a mate.
“There isn’t a consensus about who is attractive and who isn’t,” Mr. Eastwick said in an interview. “Someone that you think is especially attractive might not be to me. That’s true with photos, too.” Tinder’s data team echoed this, noting that there isn’t a cliquey, high school mentality on the site, where one group of users gets the share of “like” swipes.
I'm still not ecstatic about the prevalence of shidduch photos, but then again, I've never used them to gauge sculptured noses, but to take in the type of image he wants to present. It is quite informative. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Due Diligence

"Oh, I have RoC, it doesn't do anything."
"But do you actually put it on? Every single night?" 


Yes, it is a royal pain in whatever part of the anatomy that you prefer, but if one has the future remotely in their sights, the only way to successfully route wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and other signs of aging is with a skincare routine

The sad but indelible fact of the matter is, our skin won't be bouncing back forever. Without regular application of SPF, damage can accumulate and then rear its ugly head. Simply purchasing a night cream is certainly not enough, nor is applying it sporadically.

Americans aren't a patient people. We want quick and simple, even if that means getting injections that make us look as though we're recovering from an allergic reactions to peanuts.
Five minutes in the morning (SPF) and five minutes at night (wash and cream) can mean a world of difference thirty years down the road.
Don't come crying to me because you wouldn't slap on a little AHA before bed.   

Friday, January 9, 2015

No Yams

"No. No way. I could never, ever do that." 

Ma had been explaining to her the Rambam method, which decrees no fruit after meals. 

"You won't believe the results!" 

"Nada. Niet. NEVER." 

But a few months later, Ma gets a call: "I want you to know," she said, "I'm doing the Rambam diet, the one you told me about." 

When Hashem introduces Himself to Moshe, He says, "I AM that I AM." 

Upon consideration, this description is quite apt. Hashem is One. He is Unchanging. What He was, He is, He will be are all the same. He IS what He IS.

If the most supreme Being describes Himself thusly, then us puny humans cannot claim that same title, bound by time and change as we are.
As yoga claims (and as my aching muscles testify), micro-movements lead to colossal change. Rabbi Akiva, as yet unlearned and unlettered, gazed upon water and stone comprehended his own potential at 40.
Or, to quote Mustafa's admonishment to Simba: "You are more than what you have become." 

Hashem has no unrealized capabilities. Pop-Eye, even after spinach, could become much, much more.    

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Shoe Paradox

"Ow. Ow. Owowowow." 

I had worn these boots all day—flats, yet—and my feet had no reason to complain. But promptly as soon as they were put to work at a 7 pm outing, my toes, heels, soles, etc. began to yelp. 

We are living in the Shoe Dark Ages, I sadly informed Ma as we fruitlessly circled various department stores' shoe floors. Most pumps possess 3+ inch heels, too high for her comfort. Those that do sport reasonable heels are also dated in style: every angle is pointy, with sharpened edges that could double as a murder weapon.
Then, if a magically perfect shoe is rapturously discovered, there is the comfort factor, which, of course, is never truly realized until the shoe has actually hit pavement and is thus rendered unreturnable. 

Joyce Wadler hysterically describes the shoe crisis in "Sound Like a Great Place, but Can We Get There by Shoe?
Your average high heels may feel comfortable in the store, where they put chemicals in the air to deaden pain, but they are not really designed for walking. Compound that problem by shopping for shoes when you are tired, and it’s like those submarine movies where the sailors are running out of oxygen and become delusional.
But the real sadness is that I shall not yet sacrifice form for function. There are the most stunning footwear in my closet marked with my blood, and I do intend to don them again if the situation should arise. Eh, what's a few hours of crippling agony.
Well played, shoe industry. Well played.      

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Snake Oil

"To the girl who wrote in last week about her struggle with shidduchim: Why doesn't she register on a dating website?" 

That seems to be the new go-to response: "Oh, no dates? Well, you're not doing your hishtadlus, duh. You have to go online." 

To clarify, I am not bashing online dating. It can be, for some, a viable option for those sinking in this dating quagmire. But when did it become a magic bullet? 

It's not like there is an overwhelming majority of newlyweds who met online. In terms of online frum success stories, I doubt the percentages are mind-blowing (although I don't have any numbers to prove my disbelief).

When one (such as myself) hits a dating drought, there is usually a sensation of helplessness, that I need to do something more. There are a number of sucky situations in life, one can find oneself in, and a typical knee-jerk reaction would be to seek some form of control.

The whole realm of bashert, by definition, is out of our hands. No matter how much I plot and plan, I cannot meet my one-and-only based on my efforts alone. While once we were admonished to avoid the whole "kochi v'otzem yadi" pride, bitchon is now the enemy of the single.

"Trust in Hashem is very nice and whatever, but you are obviously not doing sufficient hishtadlus."

Is online dating the next necessary step, following basic hygiene, in order to find one's bashert? I would say not. It is an option that can be selected from one's free will and comfort with the whole enterprise, but is it a biblical imperative

I was talking with a survivor, and I mentioned the term "hishtadlus"  in passing.

"What is hishtadlus?" she asked, brows furrowed. 

"Um, like, you do your part, and Hashem does the rest." 

She shrugged. "I've never heard that before." 


If a girl who is besought with frustration and loneliness seeks some sort of support, why can't responders simply be empathetic, instead turning the screw by heightening her own feelings of inadequacy? 

When it comes to empathy, singles tend to go into a separate category. I'll be the first one to say that the trials and tribulations of singlehood are pretty mild, and don't compare to other "crises," but is it so hard to fake sympathetic noises instead of throwing the internet as a cure-all in our faces?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"Drowning in a Birdbath"

Jews don't "suffer a witch to live." The question is, what really is "witchcraft" nowadays: is it dark, mystical forces or simply canny observation, à la Sherlock Holmes?

The tarot card reader, as I read in, uh, "The Tarot Card Reader" by Jessa Crispin, can simply be a storyteller, a means to putting a situation in the right perspective. The best line: 
“It’s like you’re drowning in a birdbath. Stand up, it’s just a birdbath.”  
A means to cope can be found in flipping the viewpoint; telling a story, focusing on all the players, not just on oneself, and the realization that the tale is not yet over—it brings calm. 
Sometimes you think you’re valiantly battling a dragon, but really you’re drowning in a birdbath.
We have more control than we think: We have the control to react in the best way possible. I try to think, when I think matters are difficult—in how long, a day, a week, a month, a year, a decade: Will I even remember this? It will be over. My bowels will have found something else to fret over. Gam zeh ya'avor. 

In crises, the focus is on self-survival. But in order to keep our balance, we must remember other people. By brushing them aside, we allow ourselves to get swallowed by own own agonies. We must take the fuller picture in. 
But then a woman came to me, flush from an affair. She wanted to talk about her new lover and how great it all was. I laid out the cards. The hierophant — a figure of holy wisdom — reversed. The king of swords, crossing the lovers. My client was represented by the grumbling, tyrannical emperor. I could see what the story was, but it wasn’t the happy one she had just told me. “This isn’t about your new lover,” I told her, and I could see her glow fade. “We have to talk about the marriage you are betraying.” It was a difficult, but valuable, conversation.
We, too, can utilize stories to see things anew.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Dressing for Men: Lunch Responsibly

Along my morning commute, I witness many a skullcapped man toting his lunch in a plastic kosher grocery store bag. The bag swings against his legs, banging against his knee, holding his tuna fish sandwich hostage in overly-bright, unprofessional ochre. 

I am a big fan of home lunch. It's fiscally responsible and good for the health. But there should still be some class involved.

If a chap is out in the world, he should have something non-nebby to carry his lunch, or any other items picked up in the course of a day. 

For the casual fellow, a modestly sized sling bag.
For the casual professional, a messenger bag.
For the professional who knows it, a briefcase.
The main criteria is weight. The bag should be light. If it isn't, it's going to end up sitting in the closet rather than keeping one company on the subway. 

Just picture it: Walking briskly into one's place of business, a friendly wave to the secretary, bumping into the boss in the hallway, with a briefcase in hand, as opposed to . . . a crinkly plastic Target bag, damp with gathering condensation.   

Friday, January 2, 2015

Go For Your Own Sake

For most of my life, I was plagued with questions about why I do or don't do certain things, mostly because it wasn't the same as anyone else. 

I didn't like camp, or sleepovers, or floor length denim skirts that prevent movement.  

I liked long words, animals, and history class. 

Every once in a while, someone would ask why I was weird.  

Blessed with a strong ego, I felt no need to change. I just accepted that I was a freak, and left it at that. 

I then attended college after opting out of seminary (my principal wasn't happy, obviously) and spent quite some time (five years) defending that choice as well. Then I find myself explaining my choice of degree, and now my job. 

One day I looked around and noticed: We are free to do what we like. And plenty of people do just that. Then it hit me: We don't have to be the same. 

It's not that I am a single, solitary nutjob; the majority prefer to herd together into indistinguishable mass, but there are others who make their own choices and feel no need to defend themselves.

Rabbi Tvi Hersch Weinreb discussed this. His class was analyzing Avrohom's leaving of Charan.
. . . a fascinating epigram attributed to the mid-19th century Hassidic sage, Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk:

If I am I because you are you,
And you are you because I am I,
Then, I am not I
And you are not you.

But, if I am I because I am I
And you are you because you are you
Then I am I
And you are you.

I cannot be myself if I am merely imitating you. That's just blind conformity. I have to find what is unique in me, what are my God-given gifts and talents, and I must express them. Then, I am I and can achieve my life's mission.

This is not a teaching with which all Jewish leaders would agree. But this was the view of the very creative Rabbi of Kotzk, and he was neither the first nor the last to assert this teaching.
We are supposed to do our own thing. 
. . . Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and this is a quotation drawn from his extensive and erudite commentary on the Five Books of Moses:
"Lech Lecha literally means, ‘Go to yourself.’ Find your own path. Be ready to choose the lonely path which will separate you from your land, your birthplace, your father's home. Be ready to separate yourself from all the connections that you have formed to this point. Lech Lecha, go at it alone. If the ideology of the multitude is not true, be prepared to worship God alone. How would we, the Jewish people, have been able to exist, and how can we possibly continue to exist, had we not inherited from Abraham our father the courage to be in the minority, even in a minority of one?"

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Brilliance of Spacing Out

The Big Bang Theory, "The Einstein Approximation": 

Sheldon is hit by major physicist block. He obsesses, can't sleep, and becomes even more erratic and annoying than usual. He even creeps out at night and breaks into a Funzone, desperate for visual aids. 
Eventually, he concludes that his mistake is in overtaxing his brain; when Einstein was faced with the same frustration, he took a mind-numbing job at the patent office to allow his subconscious to breathe.

Penny, the starving actress who works as a waitress, is quite stunned to discover him in the restaurant, scurrying around as a busboy. And lo, he does achieve his elusive epiphany.
According to Daniel Levitin in "Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain," the television writers weren't making up this phenomenon.
But the insight that led to [harness fire, build the pyramids, discover penicillin and decode the entire human genome] probably came from the daydreaming mode. This brain state, marked by the flow of connections among disparate ideas and thoughts, is responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, when we’re able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable. You might be going for a walk or grocery shopping or doing something that doesn’t require sustained attention and suddenly — boom — the answer to a problem that had been vexing you suddenly appears. This is the mind-wandering mode, making connections among things that we didn’t previously see as connected. 
From personal experience, I know that after spending too much time focusing too much on a problem, the solution suddenly pops into my head at the oddest (and oven most inconvenient) of times. 

However (I cannot ignore an opportunity to throw the smartphone under the bus) constant pings and chirps prevents that thought process. 
Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.
If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day.
Email, too, should be done at designated times. An email that you know is sitting there, unread, may sap attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it, distracting you from what you’re doing. What might be in it? Who’s it from? Is it good news or bad news? It’s better to leave your email program off than to hear that constant ping and know that you’re ignoring messages.
The so-called yet imaginary concept known as "multi-tasking"—it doesn't exist. 
Increasing creativity will happen naturally as we tame the multitasking and immerse ourselves in a single task for sustained periods of, say, 30 to 50 minutes. Several studies have shown that a walk in nature or listening to music can trigger the mind-wandering mode. This acts as a neural reset button, and provides much needed perspective on what you’re doing.
Want to solve problems? Put the phone on "Do Not Disturb" and go fold some laundry.