Friday, January 29, 2016

The Nucleus of the Universe

Rabbi Binny Freedman:

A person may lose faith with G-d because he prayed for something personal, and “it just didn’t happen — G-d wasn’t listening.” When was the last time you heard someone say, “I have been praying for world peace, and it just isn’t happening so I don’t believe in G-d”? If the center of your universe is yourself, there is little room for G-d.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Too Old for This

I like old things
Things that go slow
Antiques and such
So you know what I know
I'm an old soul
That's the way I like to go
I'm thankful for the bumps, yeah
I like to feel the road

These lyrics occurred to me as I read Dominique Browning's "I'm Too Old for This." Browning is in her 60s (I think) and she exquisitely describes all the things she is letting go of, all that she chooses to embrace (I couldn't bear to cut and paste this piece. Read it whole.) 

In my quest for self-discovery, I had realized some time ago I am an "old soul." And there are moments when I think, "I'm too old for this." Too old to be insecure in a crowded room by myself. Too old to care what someone else thinks of me. Too old to think that under the ageless sun, there is such a thing as "new." 

Why must I wait until my 60s to think I'm too old for this?

Confidence, you know you want it all
Believe in yourself
Even after the fall
I wish I knew that one
A long long time

Confidence, you know you want it all
Believe in yourself
Even after the fall
I wish I knew that one
A long long time tell you all how 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Favorite Books: "The Elegance of the Hedgehog"

In all honesty, I usually avoid New York Times' Bestsellers. I found The Da Vinci Code to be rather laughable, never mind the tackiness of Fifty Shades of Gray (I read the former, not bothering with the latter). 

I had heard the name The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but I did not read it until it was heavily recommended by my sister-in-law. I had found the name a tad off-putting, thinking it was about some sort of blithering philosophy, over-bloated with its own importance. However, nearly as soon as I began, I was scrabbling about for spare bookmarks as Muriel Barbery's prose knocked my socks off.
The book, while very, very deep, is not lacking in humor. I suppose that is a talent of the French (or is it anyone non-American?): to transmit thinking concepts while not taking themselves seriously. 

The protagonists are relative loners, content in their own company with their own thoughts. I like characters like that; capable of maintaining fascinating conversation with their ownselves without being narcissistic.,204,203,200_.jpg
By the time I was done, my copy was stuffed chock-full of paper scraps, marking a multitude of fabulous insights.   

My sister-in-law's next bestselling must read: All the Light We Cannot See 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

It Pays to be Nice

One of the fun concepts of Sho-Gun is that the Japanese are inordinately polite. A daimyo could be telling his samurai that he should commit seppuku, but they will be awfully civil about it. No screaming. No name-calling. A lot of "Please" and the honorific of "-san."
"Being nice" is relative. My nice is not your nice. Heck, forget about nice—feigning decency is too much to ask. B'H I don't have this problem, but many suffer in intolerably stressful work environments, Christine Porath reports in "No Time to Be Nice at Work." What I find upsetting is not only is there such bad behavior is supposedly professional environments, but even employees feel that being nice is a sign of idiocy.  
Many are skeptical about the returns of civility. A quarter believe that they will be less leader-like, and nearly 40 percent are afraid that they’ll be taken advantage of if they are nice at work. Nearly half think that it is better to flex one’s muscles to garner power. They are jockeying for position in a competitive workplace and don’t want to put themselves at a disadvantage.
Why is respect — or lack of it — so potent? Charles Horton Cooley’s 1902 notion of the “looking glass self” explains that we use others’ expressions (smiles), behaviors (acknowledging us) and reactions (listening to us or insulting us) to define ourselves. How we believe others see us shapes who we are. We ride a wave of pride or get swallowed in a sea of embarrassment based on brief interactions that signal respect or disrespect. Individuals feel valued and powerful when respected. Civility lifts people. Incivility holds people down. It makes people feel small.
I believe that those who think nice = stupid are insecure. They do not believe they are worthy of being treated nicely, and so feebly attempt to boost their own egos but putting others down. Judgement on you, bro, not on me. 
Incivility often grows out of ignorance, not malice. A surgeon told me that until he received some harsh feedback, he was clueless that so many people thought he was a jerk. He was simply treating residents the way he had been trained.
Ah-ha. Sure. His mother never taught him to be nice? 
Technology distracts us. We’re wired to our smartphones. It’s increasingly challenging to be present and to listen. It’s tempting to fire off texts and emails during meetings; to surf the Internet while on conference calls or in classes; and, for some, to play games rather than tune in. While offering us enormous conveniences, electronic communication also leads to misunderstandings. It’s easy to misread intentions. We can take out our frustrations, hurl insults and take people down a notch from a safe distance.
I hate texting since I feel that without the nuanced delivery of tone and body language, there can be major misunderstandings. At least read texts over before you send them (a nicety my niece found laughable). 

If you're looking at your phone, you aren't looking at anyone else. 
Although in surveys people say they are afraid they will not rise in an organization if they are really friendly and helpful, the civil do succeed. . . What about the jerks who seem to succeed despite being rude and thoughtless? Those people have succeeded despite their incivility, not because of it. . . . Sooner or later, uncivil people sabotage their success — or at least their potential. Payback may come immediately or when they least expect it, and it may be intentional or unconscious.
The impolite win the battle to lose the war. 
Given the enormous cost of incivility, it should not be ignored. We all need to reconsider our behavior. You are always in front of some jury. In every interaction, you have a choice: Do you want to lift people up or hold them down? 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Unsinkable Molly Brown

The Unsinkable Molly Brown is loosely based on the life of Margaret Brown, who was actually known as Maggie to her friends.
Since the movie rides roughshod over Maggie's true life experiences, I'll just stick to the premise of the movie.

It opens on a scene of a small baby babbling away happily in a cradle being washed downstream, giving Molly the title of "unsinkable" even in infancy (that did not happen in real life). 

Even when bullied by her brothers, with her face in the dirt, Molly screeches that she will never, ever give up, never. As the song below attests.

She strikes out on her own, and there are quite a few disturbing scenes of sexist behavior, which Molly casually sloughs off. Eh, it was the '60s (and it takes place at the turn of the century).

Eventually, she ends up in a magnificent house in Denver, shunned by her equally nouveau riche neighbors for her lack of delicacy. But her coarseness charms, oddly enough, the nobility of Europe.

Which leads to the number below.

Her husband, Johnnie, is played by Harve Presnell, but I seem to mix him up with Howard Keel. They both look and sound alike— fabulous booming, manly voices.
Since the plot is in no way accurate, don't use it as an historical reference. Debbie Reynolds exudes insane amounts of energy as she flails across the screen, probably to prove her worth as she was the third choice for the film. 

I adore Debbie Reynolds, until today, and not only because she's Princess Leia's mother.
There's Carrie!
It is not the best musical, in terms of plot or character development or feminism, but it is vibrant, with breath-taking views of Colorado, and enough feverish dancing to keep me watching. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Real Alphas

What exactly is a macho man? Probably the biggest tip-off to me that a man isn't is when he bellows and struts. To me, true machismo is internal, reserved dignity, contained strength. 

Even macho as we think of it in the wild isn't. Carl Safina enlightens the animal lovers in "Tapping Your Inner Wolf," which explains that contrary to popular and mistaken belief, alpha dogs aren't full of posturing bluster. Instead: 
“The main characteristic of an alpha male wolf,” the veteran wolf researcher Rick McIntyre told me as we were watching gray wolves, “is a quiet confidence, quiet self-assurance. You know what you need to do; you know what’s best for your pack. You lead by example. You’re very comfortable with that. You have a calming effect.”
The point is, alpha males are not aggressive. They don’t need to be. “Think of an emotionally secure man, or a great champion. Whatever he needed to prove is already proven,” he said.
For survival purposes, it just makes sense. The tribe that makes it is the one with effective leadership and team skills. The alpha male is top dog because he gets the job done.
McIntyre spent years observing wolves. The one labeled "super wolf" fought his enemies like heck to protect his kin, yet was the most affectionate to the little ones. He even pretended to lose in their wrestling games. 
Strength impresses us. But kindness is what we remember best.
Human males and wolves are oddly similar in their roles, although wolves are more reliable as fathers. Wolf packs, also, are not patriarchal; there are also alpha females in the group who call equal shots.

So alpha males and alpha females work together, as partners. Cool. 

Friday, January 15, 2016


  • The Introvert Song! 

  • I'm so like the below. 

  • The Shidduch Song? 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Be Careful What You Wish For

My bedroom windows face full east. This poses a wee bit of a problem in the spring and summer months, as my eyelids are forced open at approximately 5 a.m., when blaring sun rattles me awake. 

I concocted a means to block the light with a McGyver-esque contraption composed of 3M hooks, tent poles, and blackout curtains I purchased on Amazon. Yet no matter how I drape them, one beam manages to pierce through. 

Feeling quite pushed to the limit after a number of nights of hindered rest, I decided, what the heck. After all, enough morahs insisted you could ask Hashem for anything, even new shoes. 

I blubbered, "Hashem, You know me. If I don't get the right amount of sleep, I'm not very pleasant to be around. If You could be so kind, and help me out, so that I can stay asleep until close to 6, I would be very grateful. Thank you." 

I dozed off, confident my plea was heard. 

I was then coaxed into consciousness by a muffled thump. I slowly ascended to the surface, blinking drowsily. Wow, did I make it until 6? My hand patted about for the clock. 

1:26, the red digits gleamed.


I looked about the room. Something wasn't right. Wait, where did my shades go? 

The 3M hooks had called it quits, and the bright streetlamp shone inwards. 

Look, I soothed myself. Hashem has His ways. Maybe this is the means to recalibrating your internal alarm. You'll see! 

I couldn't fall asleep. I had awoken bright-eyed to seize the day, not muzzily enough to slumber yet again. I read. I did yoga. I did deep-breathing. 

Eventually, almost nearly as soon as I had to get up, I managed to drift off. 

My personal message from this? The Eibishter wacking me upside the head for being a wuss. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Time Warp

"Now slide your body forward from downward dog to plank. Breathe." 

I slide my body forward from downward dog to plank, and breathe. I love doing yoga from a DVD. My schedule, my rules, and I can cheat if I want to. 

Breathe. Mmm. Gettin' me some biceps.


Dang. Who is it? Yeah, I have to answer her back. Finishing stupid plank. Pause DVD. Quickly text back. Play. Alrighty, now into forward fold.


Oh, bite me. I'm in forward fold now, you'll have to wait. But remember, Lea, to text her back. Remember remember remember. Now my whole cleared-mind-meditative thing is shot. Blaaaaaah. Pause. Text. Play.



That's why I hate the phone. Just when I'm enjoying myself, or not even enjoying myself doing yoga, it interrupts me, jarring my groove, man. Not cool. 

Nick Bilton complains about technologies intrusions on vacation in "How to Vacation Like It's 1999." 
The second you land, you check your cellphone and are greeted by a flood of messages. After an hour sitting in your hotel room replying to work emails, you finally go to the beach.
You pull out your iPad to read a book and, oh, look: You have a message on Facebook, not to mention WhatsApp, Snapchat and Twitter.
And because the beach is so beautiful, it’s probably a good idea to take an Instagram. After a hundred attempts to capture the best and most original photo of a beach ever taken, you spend another hour seeing how many “likes” your photo got.
More messages come in. You end up getting stressed about all the work emails you have to respond to back at the hotel.
Luckily, he has remedies, like airplane mode, which allows access to camera and books but no internet. Oh, and those so-called "emergencies" from work? Most of the time they aren't "emergencies"; the office is just calling you because they can.
Bilton concludes: 
But I don’t think people should wait until vacation to unplug.
In recent months, I’ve started deleting some social media apps from my phone on weekends. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are removed entirely on Friday afternoons. On Monday morning, I reinstall everything for the workweek ahead.
If you still can’t stop yourself from logging on and checking in after all this, I have only one piece of advice left. Dunk your devices in water and replace them with an old yellow Sony Discman.
Sounds good to me.     

Monday, January 11, 2016

Thick and Thin

Manhattan Love Story, "It's Complicated": 

After their reservation at a top restaurant gets pushed, Dana and Peter opt for an establishment with a C- health rating. After retiring to his place, Peter fights through symptoms of food poisoning, only to puke on Dana's feet. Despite her horror, she offers to stay to look after him. But a few minutes later, Dana is hurling as well.

The two spend the night panting, sweating, and wheezing side by side. Peter feebly attempts to open the window, but fails. Dana weakly dabs his forehead with a wet cloth of dubious origin. Eventually, they team up to pry the window open. Peter strums on the guitar a ditty on the agony of vomiting, making Dana laugh.

As the horror begins to pass, Peter asks Dana why she stayed after getting hit with his projectile, as most girls would have left. She says she considered it, but she doesn't want to be one of those couples that miss all their chances. 

Peter says they won't, because last night was the most intimate encounter he ever had, that he knows way more about her than before. 

"Me too," she replies.  

I sometimes wonder if we do our carefully manicured dating selves any good by maintaining that Shabbos Face for so long whilst courting. We don't really see each other as fully as we could. One doesn't truly know someone until they share closet space with them, true, but if that mystery within could be revealed just a little bit more . . .   

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Battle of the Bulge: Yeah, It Sucks

Losing the weight wasn't fun and Shonda [Rhimes] admitted that she 'hated it the whole time.'
'Once I decided it wasn't gonna be fun, like, I lowered my expectations. It got kind of easier,' Shonda told Extra.
'I just changed everything I ate - and I hated all of that - and then I hate exercising and I did that, too, and I hated it the whole time.'
When asked if she found something she does like about her healthier lifestyle, Shonda quipped: 'No, I still hate it. I hate every minute of it.'
'I eat everything I want to eat but I try to make it much less and smaller portions,' she said, adding: 'But you change what your palate wants. I'm suddenly craving fish and salad.'
'It's upsetting. It's like, where's my cake?' Shonda said, adding on a positive note: 'I have a lot of extra energy so I feel much better.'
'I realized I could either spend my life going, "I wish I could lose weight," or I could just do it,' Shonda told Entertainment Tonight last week.
Here's the secret of successful weight loss: You will not enjoy yourself. 

Sure, you'll get to a point when you'll feel healthy, light, bouncy, and energetic. But you will still really really want to fall headfirst into a pizza. 

There will be times when you are hungry. But it's not quite lunchtime yet, so you sadly find some sort of household chore to keep busy for the next hour. There will be times when you feel cheated, like how the whole shul pounces on the oozing kokosh by a kiddush while you just longingly watch. There will be times when you think, "To heck with this." 

But you manage to plod along, even after a few transgressions. And all those other benefits—health, lightness, bounciness, and energy—can actually feel worth it. You won't want to eat so much anymore. You won't want to eat that thing anymore. You'll love the fact that you can fit into (nearly) whatever you like.

And you'll have confidence, because you did something difficult, and you succeeded.    

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

I Don't Mean to Be Grim

From my miserable historical-fiction reading, I am exceedingly grateful to be living in this century. This is how stories used to go, by the way: 

Once upon a time, everybody died. 

And I mean everybody. No one was spared. From the moment babies drew breath, they were ticking time bombs. To quote Epictetus, "As you kiss your son good night, whisper to yourself, 'He may be dead in the morning.'" (Got that one from Resilience.) 

Meaning, the idea that infants are matter-of-factly thriving well into adulthood is a gift we should be merrily celebrating. 

Let it be known that I do not wish to be flippant regarding death. Yet we seem to have an unhealthy approach to the matter when those who have lived long, full, spectacular lives are still clung to frantically by their loved ones, their inevitable ends gruesomely extended.
I once heard from a woman the beautiful tale of her father's passing. He refused to go to the hospital or a home; she cared for him under her own roof. He died holding her hand, smiling. 

Deborah Lutz's article says it all: "See Death as a Triumph, Not a Failure." 

The Victorians looked at death differently than we do now. 
The Victorians recognized that death’s presence was woven into the texture of life, giving that life one of its essential meanings.Religion, of course, played a role in this attitude. Evangelical revivals early in the 19th century reinvigorated the tradition of the good death, in which God called believers to him. 
There is even a Talmudic example, perhaps, of "death's presence giving life meaning":
At the wedding feast of Mar the son of Ravina, the sages present turned to Rav Hamnuna Zuti and requested: "Let master sing for us." Most probably to the surprise of those present, who expected a cheery song or jovial ditty, Rav Hamnuna Zuti complied with a mournfully lament: "Woe to us that we are destined to die! Woe to us that we are destined to die!" 
As for "the good death," consider Beth's demise in Little Women. A triumph indeed. 
By the beginning of the 20th century, however, these views of the dead body began to change. Doctors and scientists acquired a deeper understanding of bacteria and disease; death became medicalized. God hadn’t called the individual to him; rather, a malady had overtaken the body. Rather than dying at home, the sick were carted off to hospitals.
In addition, fewer people believed in the afterlife. No longer a triumph, death became a failure — of the physician’s skill, of the patient’s will. It was to be avoided at all costs. The mass death of the Great War, which left so many bodies missing, exploded or rotting on the ground, further undermined the view of the corpse as a meaningful stage of life. Cremation grew in popularity as a way to “cleanse” with fire the last shameful disintegration.
What we have lost is not only a savoring of ephemerality, but also an appreciation of the way that time marks the body. We try too hard to keep the terminally ill alive because we can’t admit to finality. . .
. . . the philosopher Walter Benjamin’s lament in the 1930s about death still rings true. By avoiding the sight of the dying, he felt, one misses the moment when the meaning of a life is completed and illuminated in its ending. The denial of death then leads to the demise of the art of storytelling. He called his contemporaries “dry dwellers of eternity” because they “live in rooms that have never been touched by death.”
We are not immune, us now liberated Jews. We think now the same way—stay alive, no matter the cost. Even though Rebbe's maidservant was praised for ending his suffering.     

Monday, January 4, 2016

Love You . . .

Public displays of affection are not encouraged in the Jewish community. It makes perfect sense; that which is precious and sacred between two people should not be on display.  Not only that, scenes of open affection can be hurtful to those who have none in their lives. I believe that is the actual lawful reason—not to cause pain to others.  

But there are other relationships that involve PDA, such as that between parents and their children. Or grandparents and their descendants. Or in my case, between an aunt and her kinfauna. 

One Shabbos, a beaming Babi marched in with a grandchild, and for the rest of Mussaf I heard wet smooches. Frankly, it made me feel a tad ill. I mistrust the need to blatantly slaver devotion when an audience is present. There's plenty of time available to profess adoration within the comforting walls of one's own home; no need to prove to the world that one loves that which bears one's DNA. 

Take those overheard cellphone conversations. "Love you," may be a crooned sign-off. But really, a "love you" tossed casually doesn't mean much to me.

I once overheard the one-sided tirade over a cell phone from a girl to her grandfather. After becoming breathless with disrespect, she purringly concluded, "Love you." I happen to know my niece opts for "Love you" when she needs a favor.  

Luke was dropping off his daughter at school. Eewok is always up for cuddling and hugs, which we are happy to provide. In the schoolyard, the four-year-old grabbed her father's head and began pecking kisses on his cheeks. He gently told her that this is not the place. She understood. She happily skipped off into the building, feeling no less loved.