Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Battle of the Bulge: The Whispers

I have found it extremely unfair that one's body does not take into consideration all the calories that one was tempted to consume, but didn't. Emerging on the other side of a valiant struggle does not result in less bonus ounces as a reward for my victory. 


"Thank you so much," I said reluctantly. The beaming client had graciously bestowed upon me a box of chocolate-covered pretzels, and had also related with delight about the weight gain they had caused her.
Gee. How . . . nice of her. 

I unhappily toted the gift bag home. On the way, the bag began to talk. 

"So, long day, huh?" 

"Well, no worse than most." 

"Yeah, yeah . . . have a little touch of a headache, don'tcha?"

"A slight twinge. Probably bad air today." 

"Yup, yup . . . you know what could help? A pretzel." 

"You think?" 

"Sure! You just need one pretzel for a boost. One teeny-tiny, eeny-weeny, pretzel. A dash of salt and sugar to knock that headache away." 

I considered the bag's proposal. 

"I dunno . . . I don't think I'll stop after one." 

"Why not? You're pretty disciplined." 

"Not that disciplined. Besides, once I open you, there'll be pressure to finish you up before you go stale. I would rather wait, have supper. Some pan-fried vegetables. Then I won't want you anymore. No offense." 

"None taken," the bag icily replies. "But don't you feel like just one bite of chocolate-covered pretzel?" 

"Don't get me wrong, I'm sure you're delicious, it's just that I can't afford to open you up. It'll unleash the Dark Side, I know it." 

"Did you just call me Sith?" 

"Um, I think I did." 

"I thought we had a closer relationship than that."

"We just met this morning. Get over yourself." 

The bag and I argued and bickered until I reach the sanctuary of home, where I shoved the box into the pantry, cutting off its entreaties. I then headed to the stove where my roasted vegetables awaited (thanks, Ma) and ate a responsible meal without lingering self-loathing and aftertaste of my succumbing to temptation. 

I won't lose any bonus ounces for resisting, but I still feel like a champion.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dating Guys vs. Dating Gals

Men and women view the maelstrom of dating through different eyes, I believe. Having spent years observing the reactions of both sexes, I can say they do approach the whole sensitive topic from different perspectives.
So claims Daniel Jones, longtime editor of the "Modern Love" column ("How We Write About Love"). When one has read multitudes of submissions, one can get a jist.  
Women and men may feel love similarly, but they write about it differently.
A lot of men’s stories seem tinged by regret and nostalgia. They wish previous relationships hadn’t ended or romantic opportunities hadn’t slipped away. They lament not having been more emotionally open with lovers, wives, parents and children.
Women are more inclined to write with restlessness. They want to figure love out. Many keep mental lists of their expectations, detailing the characteristics of their hoped-for partner with alarming specificity and then evaluating how a new romantic interest does or doesn’t match that type.
They write something like, “I always pictured myself with someone taller, a guy with cropped brown hair and wire-rim glasses who wears khakis or jeans, the kind of person who would bring me tea in bed and read the Sunday paper with me on the couch.”
Men almost never describe the characteristics of their ideal partner in this way. Even if they have a specific picture in mind, few will put that vision to paper. I wonder if they’re embarrassed to.
. . . A woman is more likely to believe her romantic ideal awaits somewhere in the future, where her long-held fantasy becomes a flesh-and-blood reality.
A man’s romantic ideal typically exists somewhere in the past in the form of an actual person he loved but let go of, or who got away. And he keeps going back to her in his mind, and probably also on Facebook and Instagram, thinking, “What if?”
So women tend to be optimistic dreamers, looking forward as they mentally construct the perfect man, while men—with a distinct lack of imagination—opine over a known lost love.

Monday, July 27, 2015

I Understand

There is something wrong with me, I realized. 

I was reading David Mitchell's Ghostwritten (not really crazy about it, absorbing but not enjoyable), which opens with the narrative (spoiler alert!) of a cult-follower planning terrorism. He is looking into the faces of his victims and feels only exultation, not contrition. 

But I let it go. 

Why? Well, there is a back story. Unhappy kid, bullied, no one understands him, then a larger-than-life figure gives him all the attention and respect he has been craving his entire existence, and he imprints. 

It's understandable how he became a monster. His family, his classmates, the world, failed him.
"To understand everything is to forgive everything," Frederick Forsyth wrote in The Phantom of Manhattan. Books and movies—good ones, at least—delve into the story of a character, through and through. People have reasons for what they do. While the action may be horrible, the perpetrator's motivations came from somewhere, however misguided and warped he may be. 

When I comprehended this, I knew now how to achieve actual dan l'kaf zechus: Pretend the other is a book character. Consider the back story. Low self-esteem? Lack of childhood socialization? Currently dealing with a soul-crushing situation?
It doesn't excuse what she said or did to me, but it does humanize her, as opposed to she-devil-who-made-me-feel-like-crap.      

Friday, July 24, 2015

Erev Tisha B'Av

The curse of God is our selfishness. Every Jew is only out for himself. "I, I, I." We won't return home, the Diaspora will not end until we accept that we are a people, and act upon it. Star of Peace, Jan de Hartog

Thursday, July 23, 2015

In Deed

You know when a friend is really a friend? 

When you really, really need help, and they appear, ready for action.
"How to Be a Friend in Deed" by Bruce Feiler peels away the cop-outs that many (including me) avail of when it comes to potentially uncomfortable situations where friends are floundering. 

Tweeting "The sun will come out tomorrow" is not exactly useful. Texting "Hugs!" is bare comfort. Leaving messages "Tell me if you need anything" puts the onus on the receiver as opposed to the giver. 

The same way parenting can't be executed through a screen, so to with active friendship; proximity is required, hands at the ready.
If there is a common theme, it’s that while technology does offer support, many still crave the real thing. Crisis is a test of friendship, and success, in this case, is measured in intimacy.
Sometimes the needy friend just wants to escape reality with a night out talking about shoes. And whatever you do, don't Pollyanna them. That's not fair. You can Pollyanna yourself as much as you like, but barfing all those rays of light on someone else is the easy way out. 
“A friend of mine did the best thing,” he said. “Rather than say everything would be O.K., he said quite simply: ‘I will like you if I’m the last person to do so. There’s nothing you can do to put me off you. You’re stuck with me for life. You may hate yourself, and the world may, too; but I won’t follow suit.’ ”
Mr. de Botton said he found the gesture comforting: “Friends should entertain the darkest scenarios and show you that these would, nevertheless, be survivable.” Instead of placating with false optimism, he said, “I need grim, grim realism, combined with stoic fortitude — colored by a touch of gallows humor.”
Sharing knowledge of the darkness is way more comforting, as well as stories of one's own struggles. 
“When someone is vulnerable with you, it seems only polite to be at least a little bit vulnerable back,” she said. “If someone says, ‘Sometimes I regret every one of my life choices,’ don’t just stand there nodding smugly. Volunteer your own regrets. Everyone has them. And if you don’t, I’d say it’s a wonder you have any friends.”  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Now, Voyager"

The sage advice of Philip Galanes, as a seeker of his advice concludes the request with: 
Obviously, I want nothing more to do with him, but I absolutely need to let him know that his behavior was despicable. What would be the best way to do this?
. . . what good can possibly come from further engagement with this fool, other than giving him the pleasure of knowing that he got under your skin? You are not his teacher. (Or at least I hope you aren’t. That would open a different can of worms.) Do not write to him again, and do not reply to future texts. Only rarely is it worthwhile to circle back to crime scenes (other than for Mark Harmon on “NCIS”) or soured romances. Keep bad boyfriends in your rearview mirror.
Do dates of the past have such a grip upon the ruminations of all, or is it just me? I wonder at times if the ponderings of both the pleasant and unpleasant experiences of my dating decade are similarly harmful. 

It has certainly been an education. My innocent, wide-eyed, gee-whiz view of the world has certainly morphed, thanks to dating. There have been outings which left me energized, others traumatized. There were conversations where I was the epitome of wit and a master of the riposte, while others I was the essence of verbal clumsiness. Looking back, there were many interactions over which I alternatively crow and cringe.
But I don't want to bring a Millenium Falcon's load in baggage with each new opportunity. After all, this new someone can't help it if there was a Boba Fett or Greedo that got to my spleen before he did. I would hope he doesn't hold his dating past against me. 

The untold want, by life and land ne'er granted,
Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.
                                 —Walt Whitman
So I should look forward . . . after judiciously selecting top moments from the last ten years on how to keep conversation light and pleasant. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Vengeance is His!

Established: I am a chicken. I hate fights. I hate scenes. I hate blubbering "You really hurt me!" 

But I am a chicken with a flourishing fantasy life. Often when I brush my teeth I narrow my eyes at the mirror and mentally tell off my nemesis with the coolest of remarks, the sharpest of ripostes, whilst maintaining my dignity and emotions. 

Yeah, right. 

"Oh, let it go," I have been told, and I tell myself. Yes, that would be the best way. But a quick question: You have no grudges? None? Against no one? In the entirety of your life? And you have siblings?
Vengeance is a tricky business. It's best served cold since hot emotions tends to blunder the planning process, but serving it at all rarely leads to further satisfaction. 

So Kate Murphy reports in "The Futility of Vengeance."  Most like to think they are above such petty and primordial urges . . .  
“What’s interesting is when we ask people to tell us about a time they got revenge, they can’t recall” — they say “they’d never do that,” said Thomas M. Tripp, a professor of management at Washington State University, Vancouver, who studies revenge in the workplace. “But then you ask them to tell about a time they got even and they have no problem gleefully telling you about the guy who got his just deserts.”
Once, by a Shabbos meal, one of the guests launched into a long story about how she had been wronged and shamed before an audience by a callous woman. "But," she concluded with relish, "her daughter's marriage fell apart soon after. She got it back!" 

Needless to say, the rest of the table was squirming. My family was shocked on another level, because this supposed "victim" did the same thing to my mother as her wrong-doer did to her. Luckily, Ma didn't contemplate such a gruesome punishment as she did.

I am happy to report that my childhood bully doesn't dwell in my thoughts—much. 
Moreover, anything that shatters one’s sense of reality and safety tends to produce a powerful reaction. This is why so many like Mr. Kurzweil have not forgotten childhood bullies who most likely personify their introduction to cruelty.
I did manage to deliver, once, the perfect rejoinder. She had been mocking me for taking up a volunteer class project (which was ultimately never completed) and I managed to stay calm while my mind churned for the best reaction. Then, it came to me. I casually asked her why does she care what I do in my spare time. She quietly went away. That memory of banishing my tormentor with a few carefully chosen words buoys me still as the day I freed myself from her hold.  
But the thing is, when people take it upon themselves to exact revenge, not only does it fail to prevent future harm but it also ultimately doesn’t make the avenger feel any better. While they may experience an initial intoxicating rush, research indicates that upon reflection, people feel far less satisfied after they take revenge than they imagined.
Rather than inflicting suffering, it turns out that what victims really want is remorse from the person who wronged them, along with a heartfelt apology, which includes a promise to reform and rectify the situation as much as possible. Ironically, such reconciliation is far less likely after a vengeful act. If anything, vengeance escalates the conflict, leading to an increasingly malicious game of tit for tat.
Personally, I avoid apologies. I don't want remorse. I just wanted to be left alone.

As the second paragraph points out, once vengeance has been enacted, it never ends. We go from "He stole my pen" to "He stole my house" to both sides being dead. Ever seen the movie Big Country? (Spoilers!) Two men, sworn enemies, drag their own families into their feud until their sons stand up to them and tell them to end it, betwixt them two alone. They shoot each other. Kinda pointless.,%20The_04.jpg
Interestingly, people who are the least likely to seek vengeance tend to believe those who wronged them will ultimately get their comeuppance — in this or the afterlife. They let some higher power or fate be the final arbiter or avenger, as it were.  
I learned in school that in the times of the Bais HaMikdosh, if someone was accused of a crime, then he is released if there is insufficient evidence. But if new evidence comes to light, however, he would not be taken back into custody, because Hashem will take care of him. Sweet vindication! Hey, He'll mete justice upon the evildoer! I'll go make a cake instead.
In the 9 Days, I'll try more than ever to let things go. Since vengeance is futile anyway.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Are You Listening?

I've been watching Arranged, a reality show about three arranged-marriage couples: Roma (the only really legit pair), Southern Christians, and Indian. 

The Indian duet, Ragini and Veeral, are not quite typical for their background—they lived together before marrying. I don't know if it's how they spliced the drama for maximum effect, but as soon as they officially wed, they start fighting. (I would think they would have worked out those issues by now, don't you?)
Ragini, definitely a Type-A personality, suggests they see a therapist; the laid-back Veeral is at first horrified, but then agrees. 

In their first session, the therapist suggests an exercise where one speaks, and the other repeats back exactly what the other says. "When you ________, it makes me feel ________," for example. 

Ragini goes first, and Veeral successfully echoes her statements and sentiments. But when Ragini is supposed to be repeating Veeral's words, the therapist interjects, "That's not what he said." 


The therapist interprets Ragini's inability to simply repeat after Veeral that her anxiety and need to control stems from her "wounded inner child"; when young, her emotional needs weren't met, which can manifest in a more self-centered adult who is focused on their own wants and desires. When Veeral speaks, she projects what she thinks he is saying and means, not even contemplating his actual feelings. It's all about her viewpoint. 

I thought this was awesome, firstly because Ragini was so sure she was right about everything. Secondly, because that is just so so so true. How often do we do that in our own relationships? Family, spouses, friends?

Although, how long does "wounded inner child" fly as an excuse? 

I have read the letters some gals write in to "Dear Abby": We've been dating for a while, but he says that he doesn't think it's a good fit and doesn't want to marry me. What can I do to get him over his commitment problems? 

It's up to the professional to inform her: Sweetie, did you even hear him? He's just not that into you. Move on. 

We often don't want to hear what clashes with our desires. But then we complain backward about how we were taken in. Stop banging on the closed door. Find another one. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

No Money Tree, Kids

Once upon a time, money was not spoken about. It was considered crass, impolite, indiscreet. But then again, many topics were considered verboten, which have all since been busted wide in this secret-free and loud era. 

As for myself, in my childhood, money was really not spoken about. I was thrifty by nature; Babi would send me a check on my birthday, which was immediately deposited into the bank account Ta created at my birth, where it earned interest at a rate that no longer exists. If I wanted anything, I would bring my petition to the high potentate (Ma), where my request would be accepted or denied. Life was pleasantly simple. 

Today, with so many once-untouchable matters being openly discussed, that would make the kinfauna's approach to cash quite different from my kiddie view. Shopping with my 13-year-old niece, I bought her a pair of shoes for her birthday. She fretted that they cost too much (they didn't), not realizing that she doesn't give a second thought to other, more costly expenses. 

When times are good, then the after-effects of money is not a conversation. When times are bad, such as a Recession, then there comes a need to address the sensitive subject of spoiled children.

Ron Lieber wrote The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money. He also has article with some of the book's information, "Why You Should Tell Your Children How Much You Make." There is an interview with the author here.
That idea made my breath catch. Tell younglings about their parents' salaries? Unheard of! Absurd! As I continued reading, I managed to grudgingly put aside my biases, finding myself swayed by Lieber's anecdotal arguments. 

While I do think that there are people out there who are stupid about money no matter how much education they receive in that area, most of us are simply tossed into the world of bills and budget without any prep work. Our schools should certainly have required courses in the realities of money before these teenagers make any life-altering decisions.

In my observations, I see that many make the fatal error of thinking that being a "loving parent" means showering offspring with expensive toys, snacks, and clothing. Yet as those children age, they will have been carefully taught that only things have value, as opposed to actual values. 
What rugrats actually crave is quality time with their parents. Give a kid an iPad, and he'll be initially thrilled, but not when his father retreats into his own tablet and shuts him out.

I grew up with toys (I adored Barbies) and I was in no way deprived. Yet each were purchased with tactical care, not mindlessly. There were many "no"s before we got to the "yes"s, and still Babi thought Ma was wasting money. If I make the stupendous mistake of shopping with the youngest of kinfauna, I get many admiring smiles from bystanders as I repeat, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no." But the kiddies aren't resentful. They pout for a few minutes, and most of the time they forget what took their fancy. They do a bigger dance at the idea of me going hoarse reading them books. Like The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies.,204,203,200_.jpg     

Monday, July 13, 2015

It's Contagious

Laden with my burdens, I awaited the turn of the traffic light in my favor. I felt quite accomplished, having come upon a treasure trove of late-in-season oranges, Ta's favorite. I was in a rather good mood, light and cheerful. 

The light flicked to red, and I began to cross, my multitude of bags swinging. As is a common hazard, cars attempted to make a left turn into my way. 

Usually, if an obnoxious driver inches his way into my path, I snap my head around and glare into his eyes. With that I-can-see-you-you-scumbag look, he backs off, sheepishly. 

A front bumper began to creep up dangerously. I snapped my head around and glared into the driver's eyes. But instead of braking, he continued forward. I kept walking. He kept gliding. I decided that this is not worth losing my life over, and halted, staring at disbelief at the unchivalrous cad, who zoomed away with attidude-y disdain.

When I reached the curb, I was blind with rage. 

What a jerk! Who does he think he is, the jackass, nearly running me over? What would he save, three seconds if he just let me pass? Yield to freakin' pedestrians, you S.O.B.! 

I was angry because he had made me feel like a nothing. Shoving his car into me was an announcement of how little I am worth. I fumed as I stomped along. 

I did not see her until she was almost past—an unknown woman, walking towards me. But she was smiling at me. 

Yet I was so upset with being so snidely ignored that I didn't notice her until after she had gone. With that lost opportunity, I continued to ruminate.

1. It is so easy to spread a bad mood. Ten seconds ago I was on top of the world; five seconds later I was furious. 

2. It is so easy to spread a good mood. Five seconds later, because an unknown woman smiled at me, I was back on top of the world again. 

3. Bad moods make one retreat into one's own mind; good moods mean we see others and care about them.

Do the responsible thing. Yield to pedestrians, and smile at strangers.    

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Better Out Than In

Conflict-avoiders, such as myself, tend to have . . . embattled kishkes. Since we keep our frustrated emotions on the inside, the physical insides, in turn, get pretty aggravated. Like I say, "My ulcer is in the mail."

I am sometimes jealous of volatile personalities. The get upset, they get it out, and they move on. Their collateral damage, however, is other people. That will always be unacceptable.

Oddly, I can also be a crybaby. I went to my eye doctor once, complaining that contacts dry out my eyes. He decided to attach irritating tags to my tear ducts to ensure that they were outputting sufficient moisture. "There is nothing wrong with my tears," I said dryly. Being a doctor, he didn't believe me until he saw the geysers spewing down my face, and hurriedly ended the experiment.
For years I saw my biblical-Leah tendencies to be a weakness, and if any water began to well beneath the surface, I would fight with every fiber of will and shame to suppress the rising tide. Until I heard/read Brené Brown

For the sake of my internal and mental health, I have to get some things out. "Getting Grief Right" by Patrick O'Malley reminded me on the importance of acknowledging our emotions and processing them appropriately. 

The laws of shiva forces the bereaved to face the loss, to wallow in it, to speak about it; after a week, they take a morning walk and face the future. 

Mary, the mother in the article who lost her baby, never grieved. In turn, she hopped from therapist to therapist to have her "depression" treated. Dr. O'Malley coaxed her into sharing the story of her daughter's death, which opened up the locked box of repressed pain. 
“What is wrong with me?” she asked as she cried. “It has been almost seven months.”
Very gently, using simple, nonclinical words, I suggested to Mary that there was nothing wrong with her. She was not depressed or stuck or wrong. She was just very sad, consumed by sorrow, but not because she was grieving incorrectly. The depth of her sadness was simply a measure of the love she had for her daughter.
A transformation occurred when she heard this. She continued to weep but the muscles in her face relaxed. I watched as months of pent-up emotions were released. She had spent most of her energy trying to figure out why she was behind in her grieving. She had buried her feelings and vowed to be strong because that’s how a person was supposed to be.
Now, in my office, stages, self-diagnoses and societal expectations didn’t matter. She was free to surrender to her sorrow. As she did, the deep bond with her little girl was rekindled. Her loss was now part of her story, one to claim and cherish, not a painful event to try to put in the past.
In an episode of M*A*S*H ("Bless You, Hawkeye"), Hawkeye begins to sneeze uncontrollably and endlessly after a wounded soldier is brought in stinking from percolating in stagnant water. They do a full medical workup on him, with no diagnosis. 
They call in Dr. Sidney Freedman, the army psychologist. Delving into childhood memories, Hawkeye is dewy-eyed in fond thoughts of his older cousin Billy, whom he adored like a big brother.

Hawkeye, with reverence, tells over a story about how he and Billy, as kids, went fishing, and Hawkeye fell out of the boat. "Billy saved my life." 

Hawkeye: When I woke up, I smelled like a wet burlap sack. Thank God for Billy. Oh, I'd be dead if Billy hadn't helped me into the water.
Freedman: He helped you into the water? 
Hawkeye: No, he helped me out of the water. 
Freedman: So what do you think it meant when you said Billy helped you into the water? 
Hawkeye: I didn't mean anything. Billy didn't help me into the water.
Freedman: Well, how'd you get into the water? 

It turns out that Billy, his idol, his beloved, had pushed Hawkeye. The horror of that betrayal was too much for his 6-year-old mind to take. 

Hawkeye: He pushed me! [Sobbing] Why did he do that? I loved him! I loved him! I hated him! Why did he push me? I got I got back in the boat. He said to me, "You're so clumsy. If it wasn't for me, you'd be dead." And I thanked him. He pushed me in the water and I hated him so much for that. And all I could do was thank him.
Freedman: Why couldn't you say you hated him?
Hawkeye: I couldn't. I couldn't say that.
Freedman: Why? 
Hawkeye: I couldn't. I couldn't even think it. I loved him.
Freedman: So you altered the event. He didn't push you in. He only pulled you out. And with that little piece of reality safely tucked away so was your conflict.

Frankly, I'd rather not crack up at inopportune moments on some future date because I didn't process thoughts and emotions properly. I'd to prefer to put the ghosts to rest in a timely, less ticking-time-bomb-like fashion. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Happily Ever Not

In a short period of time, I was informed of four divorces. I knew or knew of each of the ex-wives; all are capable, lovely, and fabulous. Additionally, all were closer to 30 than to 20 when they wed.

I have nursed this fantasy that when a woman remains single for longer than most (such as myself), she does so from a place of security and knowledge. Security that she will not allow busha or worry to push her into a bad choice, and knowledge of herself and what she really needs in a spouse. 

That's why I truly rejoiced with these women when I heard of their engagements; they must have found their one-and-only! An older single cannot help but to learn while questing. Over time, and with experience, she begins to understand herself as well; what she can tolerate, what she prioritizes. 

But these four, all confident, charming, and fantastic, were taken in. Their husbands were not the princes I expected them to marry, not fit to buff their shoes. What it must feel like when one waits and waits and waits, then exults that her searching days are over, only to be shoved through the revolving door to start again, broken-hearted? 

I don't know what went wrong. I don't know if it could have been avoided. Yet I have now this fear of becoming . . . tired, compromising from sheer exhaustion. It's not that I despair; I don't. Yet I just want to be done. Like being stuck in traffic on an endless highway, the outlet mall a distant speck in the distance. 

Was that it? Did they just want it to be over? Were they being pressured by nervous family? Were the "Penina"s of their circle being callous with stories of their husbands and children? Was the emotional roller coaster of shidduch date, effort, then disappointment too much? 

Did they just throw in the towel? 

Maybe that is why I am more adamant than ever when an undesirable is suggested. I say no, remaining firm in my no, because I know myself. I could give in even when I know I shouldn't, even when my gut screams no freakin' way! I don't want to be tempted to make a wrong yet simple move for the wrong reasons. 

I don't want to marry just because I'm weary. That's not why I got into this stupid dating game to begin with. When I was younger, it was because that's what everyone does; now, I really want to find a partner in life. A partner. Someone who sees me, and I see him. 

Not through a fog of fatigue, but with the clarity of choice.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Of Germs and Jews

Microbiomes are hot stuff, and I, too, am pyched about it. Bacteria keeps us functioning! Put down that antibiotic! Play in the dirt!
As most trends, it's starting to get a little too hysterical, cautions Ed Yong ("There Is No 'Healthy' Microbiome"), as some believe that the Western gut needs reinforcements from authentic hunter-gatherer tribes. 
This reasoning is faulty. It romanticizes our relationships with our microbes, painting them as happy partnerships that were better off in the good old days. It also invokes an increasingly common trope: that there is a “normal” or “healthy” microbiome that one should aim for. There is not. The microbiome is complex, varied, ever changing and context-dependent — qualities that are the enemies of easy categorization.
Yong argues that if one is healthy, one's microbiome doesn't require backup. It has simply adapted to that specific individual's ideal. Microbiomes don't remain static, even in the healthy; they change, even on a daily basis, maintaining the balance necessary for steady robustness.
Whereas those hunter-gatherers have their own suitable microbiome, catered to their own environment. If a Westerner does not share their lifestyle, usurping their bacteria won't do him any good.  Maybe even harm.
The microbiome is the sum of our experiences throughout our lives: the genes we inherited, the drugs we took, the food we ate, the hands we shook. It is unlikely to yield one-size-fits-all solutions to modern maladies.
We cling to the desire for simple panaceas that will bestow good health with minimal effort. But biology is rarely that charitable. So we need to learn how tweaking our diets, lifestyles and environments can nudge and shape the ecosystems in our bodies. And we need ways of regularly monitoring a person’s microbiome to understand how its members flicker over time, and whether certain communities are more steadfast than others.
Our microbes are truly part of us, and just as we are vast in our variety, so, too, are they. We must embrace this complexity if we hope to benefit from it.
This concept is applicable in many other arenas. Even when it comes to Jewish hashkafa. 

We are all born into homes, each of which holds its own practices and perspectives. For a long while, we think this is the only way to live, and this is the only way that's right. 

Yet we grow, and meet different people who have their own practices and perspectives, also within the same Jewish realm. And yet, despite the fact that many have been raised FFB, a number launch across a vast divide and vehemently adopt another lifestyle. 

This article helps me to better express my perplexity with such a situation. 

Our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents evolved as Jews from their own experiences. They bent in certain areas in order not to break. They emerged frum, these practices and perspectives fused to their very DNA, organic, comfortable in their own truth. 

No Jewish frum lifestyle is "better" or "worse" than another. Scorning one's own heritage to don a borrowed culture says otherwise. Heightening stringency in halacha is not the same thing as defecting to another community. 

The transfer is rarely fluid. For a long time, perhaps forever, the newly transplanted never feel completely at home, totally accepted. Because this isn't where one is supposed to be.

We're all one. The Diaspora scattered us, and we return not quite the same, but no less valid. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Be Honest

Say Yes to the Dress is seemingly harmless entertainment. Glossy-eyed brides-to-be troop in with their posses, searching for the "One," after finally pinpointing the other "One."
This is "reality" television, so they always manage to put a pleasant spin on interactions, but if one watches them carefully enough, it becomes obvious that the entourages are not as generous as they claim. Sisters, friends, even mothers—all are capable of sabotage. 

"I-I love it!" the bride stammers in delight after she is zipped and clipped into a gown. Ecstatic, she sails out to the main room where her people await. She poses in front of the mirror, exuding sheer and utter bliss, slowly twirling around, face shining in hope. 

Noses curl. Mouths contort. Thumbs get jabbed downward. 

Her smile crumples. Her shoulders slump. 

She returns dispirited to the dressing room, listlessly climbing into the next possibility. 

Sure, sometimes the peanut gallery gets it right. But that's not always the point. 

Many women don't have the best of self-esteems. When they face derision instead of support, they are visibly shaken—they aren't sure they are even capable of deciding what sort of gown style they themselves like. They want her to look her best, but if she has no confidence, even a $30,000 gown (yes, it actually does exist) won't make her look beautiful. 

Some, comfortingly, successfully shoot down the haters. In a re-run, a bride requires a last-minute dress. She has a low budget, no time to order a gown in advance, she's not a sample size, and her height means extra length in required: her options are not many. 

The second gown she dons she adores, as does most of her crew. Except for her "best" friend. Her mouth purses into a moue of distaste. The bride stares at her in shock. 

"I'm just being honest," the friend invokes defensively.

"Fake it," the bride snaps. "Why don't you like it?"

The friend shrugs. 

"That's it?" The bride mocks the so-called-friend's unhelpful shrug. "That doesn't tell me anything!" 

"I don't like the back," the friend feebly and weakly claims. 

The bride rolls her eyes and returns back to the mirror, nodding firmly to herself. With a joyous flourish, she says "yes" to the dress. The closing credits show her looking gorgeous by her wedding in this rushed, miraculous find. 

But that is a rare happening. Too many brides wilt under "dear" ones' disapproval. 

"Being honest" is under woeful mistranslation today. Apparently, it means, "That dress doesn't suit you. I'm just being honest." 

Oh, are you? Let's be honest. Are you, "BFF," maybe a wee bit jealous about your friend getting married? Be. Honest.
"Honesty" doesn't mean hurting people without suffering the consequences of remorse. "Being honest" means sharing with others something true about oneself. That's what vulnerability means; sharing something deep and meaningful with another to create connection.

Let's try this again: 

"You know, Kathy, seeing you there, looking gorgeous in that dress . . . it's hitting me. You're getting married. It's kind of hard for me, you moving on, settling down with Gary. I hope one day I can be as happy as you. And look just as stunning in a wedding dress."    

Friday, July 3, 2015

Thursday, July 2, 2015

What It Means to Me

Midtown, morning rush hour, icy winter day in New York: I took the last empty seat across from a young woman on the B train.
She was bundled against the cold in a floor-length down coat. A hat covered her forehead. A scarf was pulled over her nose. On his way out at 59th Street, a man lifted his chin in her direction. “You have pretty eyes,” he said.
The doors closed. The young woman locked eyes with me. I can’t guarantee that we were on the same wavelength, but I believe we were coregistering the lunacy of catcalling someone whose physical presence was entirely obscured. The woman went back to her book and I to mine. Being a woman is universally odd.
For many, bad weather offers a reprieve from the public gaze. Instead of being men, women and children, we are lumps of different sizes. When I zip into my insulated tube of outerwear on a 14-degree day, I am an ageless, sexless, shapeless agent in single-minded pursuit of a dry commute to work.
The above is from a witty review by Molly Young of a newly opened lingerie boutique. This introductory passage jumped out at me because it confirms that which I believed: Men will ogle anything

Despite the fact that this woman was "ageless, sexless, shapeless" whilst buried beneath her winter layers, a male was still able to desperately winkle out an attractive feature for him to comment on.  

I firmly believe that what is perceived as "tznius" is a corruption from the original meaning. When "hatzneya leches im Hashem" was intoned (in Micha, the haftora this Shabbos) the intended audience was not specifically women. Nor, do I doubt, was it meant regarding arbitrary hemline criteria.
A few years ago Just Call Me Chaviva launched "The Tzniut Project," in which Jewish women of various hashkafos gathered to discuss what tznius means to them. Here's a sampling of responses from different contributors to her series when asked the question, "I say modesty or tzniut … what does that mean to you?": 

A) On a deeper level, the concept of tznius comes from the pasuk in Micha (6:8), which says, "hatznea leches im Hashem Elokecha" — walk modestly with Hashem your God. This is often taken out of context, though — the whole pasuk actually says, "You have been told what's good, what Hashem demands of you — asos mishpat (do justice), v'ahavas chesed (and love kindness), v'hatznea leches im Hashem Elokecha (and walk modestly with Hashem your God)." 

Tznius isn't just an outfit — it's a midah, like justice or chesed. To me, tznius means striving to be the kind of person who walks with Hashem, and the clothes I wear are just one part of that — it's also about being humble, speaking in a refined way, being sensitive to my own privacy and the privacy of others, and knowing the appropriate time and place for everything. It's about protecting my dignity as a daughter of the highest King.

B) Tzniut tends to be most commonly translated about modesty in reference to clothing. I think defining it down on this level does an injustice to tzniut and people who uphold the ideal of modesty. Personally, I believe that the most important component of tzniut is how we carry ourselves, not how we dress ourselves. Holding your head high with confidence, without boasting. Being a good person and friend, without advertising that you feel you are such. Lending a hand when needed, without making a big show about how helpful you are. That is the inner-modesty which is so much more valuable in today’s society. While how we dress should reflect the person we are on the inside, should a woman’s skirt length be more important than living a modest life?

C) Tzniut is more than just covering your body parts. I practice tzniut in my everyday actions and words. A quote that really helps me remember my tznius values is: “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” Long story short, I feel that if I keep my thoughts modest, my character and destiny will keep modest. Modest actions and words to me mean following The Golden Rule, remembering “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” and realizing how lucky I am to have everything that I do, and taking none of it for granted.

D) Refined character clothed accordingly. Honoring Hakadosh Baruch Hu by using proper speech and carrying myself as one who takes his laws seriously.
Because externals are so easy to judge, we make the mistake that means that it is okay to judge. We are supposed to be inspiring and tolerant by example, not wagging admonishing fingers (when has that ever worked, like, ever?) To judge others is merely an expression of personal insecurities, not true self-righteousness. A righteous person doesn't wag fingers.

As we embark upon the terrorizing Three Weeks, let's try to take the judgmentalism out of our interactions.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


I was squinting at the eye pencil display in Sephora when she sidled up to me. 

Close to 60, her graying hair pulled back in a neat low ponytail, she appeared to be Hispanic. She introduced herself as of being of an American Indian tribe, rattling off her lineage. 

"I can see that you are a young woman, but you have an old soul." 

I was stunned. 

"Your colors are red, green, and gold." 

My jaw gaped. 

Score one for the first, slam-dunk on the second. I'm such a boring plodder that people who are thirty years my senior think I should have more fun. My favorite colors are red and green—I had actually been wearing red shoes—but no sign of green at all. Plus I love yellow gold; I think it is a much more flattering compliment to the bilious undertones of my skin, as opposed to silver shades. 

Satisfied that her darts hit their target, she continued: "Have you ever had a psychic reading?"

Ah. "Thank you, but my religion doesn't allow it," I replied as politely as I could. 

"I respect that," she said, then vanished. Probably to find a new mark. 

Familiarity with Sherlock Holmes and the basic method of con-men, I know that it is possible for some to observe someone and make correct conclusions, Ouija board aside.

But I still wonder . . .