Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Invisibility Cloak

"Is your engagement on OnlySimchas?" she had asked at my l'chaim. 

"No," I responded, "and I don't want it on there." 

She raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "You don't want your engagement on the jumbotron in Times Square?" 


I've never been comfortable in the spotlight. Not even amongst my family. It may go back to a childhood Pesach seder, when I butchered the Yiddish Ma Nishtana and had the whole table, including my Babi, rolling. 

Han, bless his heart, actually listened to me when I said, "I don't do scenes," and gave me the simple, perfect, understated proposal I could have wanted (much to others' disappointment). 

While this may be chalked up to unavoidable genetics, I actually have biblical proof. In Melachim 2 Perek 4, we learn of the story of Elisha and who the meforshim say is the widow of Ovadiah. Her husband had died with debts, and creditors were threatening to take her sons in lieu of payment. 

Elisha asks her what she has in the house, and she says only a small jar of oil. He instructs her to borrow as many empty containers as she can. When she has done so, he says: "Close the door." Then, the miracle occurs, with no witnesses but herself, as the small jar filled the multitude of vessels, enough to sell, repay the debts, and keep her children.
I was once at a shiur when the speaker repeated, "Close the door." Bracha doesn't feel a need for a large studio audience. It has nothing to prove. It's nurtured in quiet, hidden places. 

This is what I thought of when I read, "Are You Really in Love if It's Not on Instagram?" by Krista Burton. 
If you have to keep reminding everyone of how happy you are, something’s not right. Happy people don’t need to announce over and over how happy they are. Happy people just … are. Your friends? They know when you’re in a healthy and loving relationship just by seeing you and knowing you. You don’t need to declare it every time you go online. These constant #relationshipgoals posts doth protest too much.
I have to second that opinion. Why must you announce how happy you are? Who are you trying to convince? Yourself? 

And if you are genuinely happy, then is it the most tactful thing to telegraph your joy to those who aren't? Who may, in turn, become envious? Who will wonder why you are in a blissful relationship while they aren't? 

Because I was on the other side for a long, long time. Every engagement I heard of had two reactions: a small amount of happiness for the couple, and a larger wallop of "Why not me? What am I doing wrong? Am I picky like the harpies say?" 

Everyone gets hysterical about ayin hara. What is it, exactly? The idea is that when one is too much in other people's mouths, it may draw a critical eye upon one. I even heard from Rabbi Glatstein (quoting a source that I cannot recall) that that is why a chosson and kallah go to the cemetery prior to their wedding. 

Solution? Don't put yourself in the mouths in the first place.  

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Whole, Not Merely the Parts

"I don't want to settle," she said, 19 and already frustrated with dating. 

"You shouldn't settle," I agreed. Her mother, anxious that I was giving her daughter detrimental advice, opened her mouth to object. 

I held up my hand. "There is a difference between 'Ugh, I can't stand this and this about him, but I'm tired of dating so I'll just settle' and 'Yes, there is this and this about him, but I don't caaaaaare, because he's great!'" 

The mother nodded. 

The above conversation reminded me of an article I linked eons ago.

 On an episode of Jane the Virgin, "Chapter 74" (SPOILERS) Jane and Rafael are re-exploring the possibility of a relationship. Their first "date," however, goes awry when Jane tries to bring up his reluctance to talk about his adoption, and he emotionally withdraws into a dark funk, asking her not to look at him with her "judgy" face. 

Jane realizes that she is judgy. That's who she is. And Rafael gets dark and withdrawn; that's who he is. When you love someone, you love all of them. Therefore, she proposes, on their next date, he can get as dark as he wants, and she can get as judgy as she wants.
It is said that "opposites attract." But people aren't exactly identical, nor are they perfectly opposite. On the surface, Han and I have a ridiculous amount of things in common. Yet there are plenty of things in which we are opposites.  

When I think of an opposite couple, I think of my grandparents. Zeidy woke up with the rooster; Babi loved her bed. Zeidy was a prude; Babi had a salty tongue. Zeidy was deliberate and precise; Babi was quick and messy. For both, it was a second marriage, as both their spouses (and in Zeidy's case, a daughter) were killed. Yet for all these obvious differences, what I remember when I visited them as a child (Zeidy died when I was 9) was laughter. They had other similarities—both were from the same hometown, both were fiercely devoted to God, and both had a sense of humor. 

One day, when you meet the right one, you won't be in denial about his faults, and he won't think you're free of blemish either. As Voltaire said, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." But you'll be perfect for each other. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

To the Nay-Sayer

"Why did it take you so long to get married?" she asked. 

I'm being accused of being picky after marriage.

"Because my man is only for me," I retorted. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Secular Tznius?

Tznius is a touchy topic. I, personally, heave whenever it comes up in conversation. The point of modesty is that it remains modest—not constantly talked about. I also thought it was something only our world would fuss over. 

That's why I was taken aback to see Honor Jones' "Why Yoga Pants Are Bad for Women," which, of course, was pelted with rotten tomatoes. 
It’s not good manners for women to tell other women how to dress; that’s the job of male fashion photographers. Women who criticize other women for dressing hot are seen as criticizing women themselves — a sad conflation if you think about it, rooted in the idea that who we are is how we look. It’s impossible to have once been a teenage girl and not, at some very deep level, feel that.
But yoga pants make it worse. Seriously, you can’t go into a room of 15 fellow women contorting themselves into ridiculous positions at 7 in the morning without first donning skintight pants? What is it about yoga in particular that seems to require this? Are practitioners really worried that a normal-width pant leg is going to throttle them mid-lotus pose?
We aren’t wearing these workout clothes because they’re cooler or more comfortable. (You think the selling point of Lululemon’s Reveal Tight Precision pants is really the way their moth-eaten design provides a “much-needed dose of airflow”?) We’re wearing them because they’re sexy.
Like I said, there were a lot of tomatoes. Women protested that they aren't wearing tight yoga pants to look attractive, they are wearing them because it's easier to do the poses. (I do yoga at home in baggy pajama pants; I don't like restrictive fabric when exercising or sleeping. But that's my personal preference.),rgb&qlt=80,1&op_sharpen=0&resMode=sharp2&op_usm=0.5,1,3,0&icc=sRGB%20IEC61966-2.1,relative&iccEmbed=1&hei=561&wid=374  
Yet along with the uproar were positive comments. Women who wanted to work out without feeling like they had to look attractive. Women wondering about what is appropriate. Women commenting that yogis wear loose cotton, not skintight spandex. 

Where I live, there are a lot of teenage girls who live in leggings. In my view, leggings have to be worn with something of at least tunic-length, but these youngsters rarely do.  

But if I went walking in some other communities, who had different norms, chances are they would find my attire to be reproachable. I would not tolerate them if they decided to voice their objections.

Tov v'ra, "good" and "bad," are in the eyes of the beholder. I'm not comfortable with yoga pants as a fashion choice. But so what? Who appointed me judge and jury? 

We all have the norms that we feel comfortable with. That's our choice. We have to let others make theirs.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Mundane is Sacred

This is the opposite of escapist reading. Knausgaard plunges you into the material world, not just with his choice of subjects — apples, adders, tin cans, faces — but in the telling. He narrates and philosophizes as he empties the dishwasher, boils macaroni, combs lice from a child’s hair. A whole entry is sparked when a daughter loses a tooth and gives it to him — it’s not her first, and thus has no drama for her anymore. Knausgaard is left holding it and wondering why we stop marveling at loose teeth, why we stop marveling at the world. This becomes the central preoccupation of the book: to restore our sense of awe, to render the world again strange and full of magic, from loose teeth to rubber boots to hardened pieces of chewing gum (“which with their grey color, hemispherical shape and many little indentations resemble shrunken brains”).
Parul Sehgal is reviewing Knausgaard's book "Autumn." I suppose it can become tiresome, after a while, consciously viewing our everyday surroundings with awe. 

Yet as the world spins its wheels as busy, busy, busy—we forget why we are so busy to begin with. We neglect the quality of life we are supposedly seeking. My neighborhood has burst into annual bloom, and most of the blossoms only remain but a few short days. Gazing upon such short-lived beauty soothes the soul. It would be to our benefit to actively seek out all forms of wonder.
In one scene, Knausgaard’s daughter throws up on him on the subway: “The stench filled my nostrils, and vomit was dripping slowly off my jacket, but it was neither disgusting nor uncomfortable, on the contrary I found it refreshing. The reason was simple: I loved her, and the force of that love allows nothing to stand in its way, neither the ugly, nor the unpleasant, nor the disgusting, nor the horrific.” 
We cannot selectively love. A person is composed of many parts, and as we cannot selectively numb emotions within, picking and choosing what aspects we love in another is not possible. When a girl says, "I want to be loved for who I am," she must acknowledge that she also has annoying parts, as does her future significant other. 

Children, especially, like Knausgaard's barfing baby—the love must be unconditional. They are also sources of an ever-flowing vat of wonder. 

Wajahat Ali was preparing for hajj, yet the demands as father of two small children were interfering with his mindset.
I recently complained to my wife about how our kids’ sleep schedule (or lack thereof) was stealing the time I needed to be truly ready for this moment. I immediately felt guilty. It occurred to me that I had to think of these frazzled pretravel days — and all of our days — differently.
After all, what’s the point of saying, “Here I am,” when you’re not present at home? What’s the point of seeing the Kaaba if you can’t appreciate the miracle that is two manic munchkins running around after midnight?
. . . part of me believes I still have a chance to do it right — starting before I leave. That means watching another “Paw Patrol” episode with patience instead of resentment, and bringing renewed energy to being the kind of dad who will return to kids who have actually missed him.
. . . I hope to return to my family in Virginia, see a bag of soiled, affordable diapers in the trash near the doorstep, hear the voices of babies who are gearing up for another all-nighter, and smile, grateful to be home.
The mundane does not interfere with the sacred. The mundane is the sacred.  

Monday, May 14, 2018

How to Stay Sane While Dating: XI

My non-Jewish co-worker (I think she's Baptist?) was opining to me about her dating life. She did not entertain a new partner search for years following her divorce, and having just joined the ranks, she finds the fellows she goes out with are, um, less than desirable. 

I actually found her experiences, well, validating. You see, frum folk sometimes blame issues on Judaism or Jewish society itself. I've heard from more than one crabby single that if she wasn't frum, dating would be a breeze.

But from what I have been hearing, not really. 

"The only guy I can see myself with," Jasmine sighs, "plays games. Like, is he interested in me? I can't tell." 

In (the original) Will & Grace, episode "Cop to It," the two meet up for dinner with their married friends, Rob and Ellen. The latter couple bicker the whole evening, announcing that they want to divorce. 

As Grace pries into their motivations, they eventually confess they want to recapture the youthful jollies of dating. Grace pops that bubble fast. "You want to date? Okay, well, you know, good luck. 'Cause I've been out there for the past two decades, and it takes work to find someone who can stand you. Look, you're getting old, you're not very interesting, and you're both losing your hair. You belong together. If not for love, then for the mere fact that no one else is gonna take you." 

The two reluctantly decide to remain married, and continue to viciously bicker on the way out. 

You see? Relationships are hard all over. What does the secular world have going for it? Only this: It's easy to mingle with eligibles. But there is the same ratio of regrettable interactions.

In some ways we have pros: Dudes know they're dating for marriage—girls don't have to guess as to their motivations. These guys also can't murder and dismember you, as your aunt who went to the bungalow with his sister-in-law's parents would object.

Here's the thing: It's hell everywhere. They also get the low self-esteem that can come from too many bad dates: "You begin to wonder," Jasmine said, "is there something wrong with me?"  

How many of us (elderly) Jewish singles have thought the same thing?  

Yes, the current state of affairs leave much to be desired. As the quote goes, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." That can probably be said for shidduch dating as well. But perhaps it beats the alternative, in some ways.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Overheard on Subway

"I wasn't looking for a relationship. I thought, 'After I finish medical school.' But it happened, and it's great. I'm 19. Do I know if it's going to last? Who knows? But you know what? I'm just going to leave it to God."

Mind you, I edited out the plethora of f-words. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Fake Princesses

There is a scene in The Crown, Episode "Beryl," where Princess Margaret is being photographed for her annual birthday portrait. Muffled beneath gauzy poofery, she smokes incessantly as Cecil Beaton gushingly invokes the glorious fairy tale that shall inspire the lowly. 

Margaret poses, smiling prettily, as the camera flashes; then she slumps backward, her unhappiness visible on every pore of her beautiful face. 

The rest of the show depicts her misery. She did not choose this role, or the facade needed to maintain it; she is trapped in a gilded cage.
The irony is that while we are certainly not all princesses, many of us are stuck in the same false imagery of our own making. Social media has become a platform where only the simplistic "wonderful" is posted, omitting any of the requisite "bad" that we all have in our lives. The result is that the viewer sees only the fairy tale, and believes it. But she is not inspired by it. She is depressed by it. 

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz puts it bluntly: "Don't Let Facebook Make You Miserable."
The pressure to look a certain way on social media can do much more than distort our image of the musicians other people actually listen to. . . None of this behavior is all that new, although the form it takes is. Friends have always showed off to friends. People have always struggled to remind themselves that other people don’t have it as easy as they claim.
Think of the aphorism quoted by members of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” Of course, this advice is difficult to follow. We never see other people’s insides.
"My So-Called (Instagram) Life" by Clara Dollar, explains how relying on her false media self cost her a relationship, and she attempted to use it to get back at him:
And so it went, and I kept at the beautiful box I was crafting for myself. A shoe box covered in stickers and fake jewels. The kind you would make for a pet parakeet you have to bury. I would dream about Joe at night, and in the morning I would post something silvery and eye catching. It was always just tinfoil, though, not truth. And I prayed no one would notice. . . 
A girl who follows me, with whom I’ve spoken only a handful of times, told me it was so “on brand.”
My brand, specifically: funny, carefree, unromantic, a realist.
I’m like the chief executive of my own company, so I’m familiar with my branding, but its success doesn’t thrill me the way it used to. Instead of feeling validated by her comment, I felt deflated. I barely know this girl, and yet she knows me, knows my “brand,” and I am overwhelmed by the desire to tell her that I am fake, that I am heartbroken.
I have Instagram on my phone, but barely look at it. I really should delete it. If any "friends" post something obviously self-serving, I unfollow them from my feed.

For more humorously truthful Facebook postings: Joyce Wadler's "Facebook When You No Longer Care."  

To quote Stephens-Davidowitz: We're all a mess.  

Monday, May 7, 2018

Seek Your Weird

Has it never happened that you went out with a guy, thought it was like the worst date ever, and then a girl you know becomes blissfully engaged to him, much to your shock? It is a great mystery how two people's distinct, unique personalities manage to mesh pleasantly in marriage. If that's not a proof of God, I don't know what is.

An episode of The Mindy Project ("May the Divorce Be With You") had a line that really resonated with me: 

"Look, you're a weird guy . . . But that's what's great about you, and if you can find a weird girl whose weirdness matches up with your weirdness, pffft, I wouldn't let that go."!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2012/11/48/5/192/1922283/NUP_151668_0274/i/Liz-Lemon-Wedding-Pictures-30-Rock.JPG
Liz Lemon's Wedding on 30 Rock. Two weirdos in love.
Spoiler alert: Weird people don't think they're weird. They think they're normal. Normal doesn't exist. It's just averaged-out weirdness.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Sorry, But It's Not Up to You

I was reading a review for Barbara Ehrenreich's new book when this quoted passage caught my interest: 
“Every death can now be understood as suicide,” she writes. “We persist in subjecting anyone who dies at a seemingly untimely age to a kind of bio-moral autopsy: Did she smoke? Drink excessively? Eat too much fat and not enough fiber? Can she, in other words, be blamed for her own death?”
I would like to preface that I am a recovering "blamer" myself. There are those who do not take care of themselves to glaring degrees, and pay the price; but there are others who do not. On the flip side, there are those who treat their bodies like temples but are still stricken with illness; there are those who live to ripe old ages.

In a time when humans were more reliant on nature ("Shakai," as the Avos knew Him), we understood, quite clearly, that we are not in control. As technology advanced—irrigation instead of praying for ideal rainfall (not too much, not too little)—and farming was no longer the means for support, we started to believe, more and more, in our own powers. 

Morahs would snarkily invoke, "Kochi v'otzem yadi," and we would think, "That's not me, of course. I believe in God, and in Him alone. I don't think that it all comes from my efforts." But we do. In work, in dating, in health, in child-rearing, in parking spots. I got it. I did it. 

I'm still being quizzed as to the circumstances of Ma's passing. "But she was so healthy!" they exclaim dazedly. If the one who took care of herself (and did encourage others to do so as well) was felled by illness, what of them? If she can't be blamed, that means they are vulnerable too.

No one likes feeling subject to forces outside of their control. It's terrifying. Yet we aren't responsible for the good in our lives, either. We can't control beneficial situations. We are subject to bracha. We are subject to seeming klala. None are immune, whatever we may think. 

So we each gotta do what we gotta do, and there's only one Entity we must rely on.