Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Helping Those Who Help Themselves

I like being helpful, to be "a useful engine indeed," to quote from Thomas the Tank Engine. But there are times when my help isn't wanted. And there are times when I don't want the help being offered. In those situations, the question is what is the motivation of the pushy helper. 

Jean Thompson reflects on her motivations in attempting to assist a homeless man in "His Sign Said 'Please Help.' So I Tried." Yes, he asked for help, but he didn't mean the help that she was eager to provide. 
So I called county clerks, and Social Security offices, and put things in the mail, and in general acted like the softheaded, interfering boob I was, getting high off my own compassion. The more involved I got, the more I doubted my motives, the more I lost the certainty I was doing any real good. I told myself you help whom you can when you can, and that Jesus never said to love the poor as long as they didn’t make bad lifestyle choices. I nagged and coaxed.
Help can only succeed if it is accepted. I have come to a point where I realize that my help only has value if it is valued by the receiver; otherwise, there is no point. What am I hoping to achieve? Truly assisting another? Or "getting high off my own compassion"? 


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Laws of Creativity

I know all the lyrics to the extended theme song of "Pinky and the Brain." 

. . . This twilight campaign, 
Is easy to explain: 
To prove their mousey worth, 
They'll overthrow the Earth, 
The Pinky, 
The Pinky and the Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain BRAIN!

And I didn't even google them beforehand.

For us elderly people, "Animaniacs" was our childhood, chock-full of fabulous segments: "Katie Ka-Boom," "Buttons and Mindy," "Slappy Squirrel," and, of course, "Pinky and the Brain." Then P&B got a show in their own right. 
Consider my delight that it got a "Letter of Recommendation," by Jonah Weiner. Brilliantly, he connects the show's predictable format to a concept I found inherently Jewish. 

To explain: P&B, for those who know, has the same setup, episode after episode: 

1) "Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?" 
2) Elaborate, insane scheme goes awry; 
3) "What we do every night, Pinky: Try to take over the world!" 

And yet, as Weiner elaborates, there is genius insanity in-between, despite abiding to a limited frame. Pinky's befuddled responses to pondering were so hysterical I would be in stitches ("I think so, Brain, but me and Pippi Longstocking—I mean, what would the children look like?") Brain's elaborate plots were so complex and calculated to exploit mundane human weaknesses that you wondered if the writers were high. 

Weiner is saying that constraint allows for wacky creativity. And is that not the Jews? 

We have waaaaay more rules and regulations, yet a multitude of sects flourish with individuality, never mind the individuals within the individuality. Then there are those who do their own Judaic thang without an identifying sect. If anything, a life free of restriction results in the boringly repetitive. Hedonism is same-old, same-old. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Comfy Beauties

In my teenage youth, I loathed makeup. I found it false, and worse, an effort

Yet here I stand before the bathroom mirror, 90 minutes before a date or wedding, applying and dabbing and penciling with gleeful care. I feel fabulous. I love it. I no longer think of paint as "false," nor do I consider it work.

I also love my cleansers, creams, serums, oils, shampoos, conditioners, Dead Sea face masks . . . the list goes on.
Via theodysseyonline
Ta always claimed there was a Gemara or something that said fathers must provide their eligible daughters with cosmetics and skincare, so halachically, a little chein and yofi (also known as sheker and hevel in Eishes Chayil) is fine. 

Now there is a "No Makeup Movement." Alicia Keyes no longer wears any. True, but she has plenty of product to treat her skin and style her hair. Where is the line when it comes to "natural" beauty? 
Haley Mlotek considers this in "To Wear Makeup or Not to Wear Makeup?"  She claims, "The question is surprisingly fraught, but the answer is simple": 
. . . comfort is the root of confidence, and not the other way around. This is true whether a person is wearing makeup or not.
And (don't be surprised to hear this) I believe that to be true. If a gal walks into a room without "enhancement," she'll bowl everyone over with her ear-to-ear grin. She could be followed by an exquisitely crafted Face who refuses to make eye contact or smile, and people will nervously edge away from her. 

I'm comfortable in my Face. Other women aren't, so it won't give them that boost of attractive confidence that I experience. Thankfully, we are not all the same. 

Although, would you be willing to try a touch of mascara? It's a miracle-worker.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Who's Watching You?

"You really can tell a person's character from up here, you know?" 

My shulmate nodded, smiling knowingly. Us womenfolk have a distinct advantage from our upstairs perch. The poor gentlemen are under observation, like amoeba beneath a microscope. One can tell who is serious, who is focused, who is dignified . . . and who isn't. 
Then it hit me. "What does the Eibishter see," I asked, "when He looks down at us?" 

Oh snap. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Healthy Homemaker?

Those that know me also know I am not crazy about the word "exercise." It sounds so official. It seems synonymous with "gym membership." It sounds disagreeably sweaty. 

In recent years, it had come to equal "skinny," but that is not true. It is, however, one with "health." In the Blue Zones, the advanced aged spend hours moving, but in the process of everyday chores. 

I have discovered—to my shock—that I am a cheerful domestic. I like pottering about the house, setting it to rights, doing loads of laundry (although my ironing needs improvement), windexing, chopping vegetables, etc. That's movement, right? Maybe not involving a spinning class, but I'll take it.  
Aaron Carroll reported last year (I've been sitting on this for a year!?) that while exercise does not help with body weight, it is the cure for everything else ("Closest Thing to a Wonder Drug"). 
I have not been alone in thinking that physical activity to improve health should be hard. When I hear friends talk about exercising, they discuss running marathons, participating in CrossFit classes or sacrificing themselves on the altar of SoulCycle. That misses the point, unfortunately. All of these are much more than you need to do to get the benefits I’ve described.
The recommendations for exercise are 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity for adults, or about 30 minutes each weekday.
Moderate intensity is probably much less than you think. Walking briskly, at 3 to 4 miles per hour or so, qualifies. So does bicycling slower than 10 miles an hour. Anything that gets your heart rate somewhere between 110 and 140 beats per minute is enough. Even vacuuming, mowing the lawn or walking your dog might qualify.
Vacuuming counts! Yes

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Yes, I Do Live

Golly, how I have missed you. 

I know it is not fair of me, but I shan't enlighten my audience just yet about the current state of things. It has been a hectic time in my life—"the best of times, the worst of times"—and I shall remain shtum for a while longer. 

Yet oh, the sweet joy of typing! I cannot abandon it. So I shall move on to other topics. 

Today's discussion: Cultural identity. 
Via pucker mob
Mark Oppenheimer brings up a  point I didn't notice before: There is a delicate difference between "Jew" and "Jewish"—the former is used hesitantly, the latter preferred ("Reclaiming 'Jew'"). 

But do us frummies have any qualms identifying as "a Jew," as opposed to "Jewish"? In my own case, I flatly informed someone just the other week that "I'm a religious Jew." It may be more of an issue for the secular ones of our flock. 

Yes, so we are Jews, one big happy family, etc. etc. Under that umbrella, however, due to the myriad years wandering this inhospitable Earth, we have been transplanted into a variety of countries with their own ethnicities and cultures which became absorbed into our bloodstream. 

How can it be that my nephew is a stereotypical Hungarian in infancy? It latched onto the genes, people. 

J. Courtney Sullivan worries in "Kiss Me, I'm Pretty Sure I'm Irish" that despite her firm Irish upbringing, DNA testing may show that she is not so. 
Being Irish is something I have in common with my relatives, even when distance and politics divide us. Last summer, on a beach vacation, five of us simultaneously pulled out tubes of S.P.F. 50. “We’re Irish,” someone said by way of explanation. The same reason is given for why we rarely hug or talk about our feelings.
Sounds like my crew. Except we say, "We're Hungarian." 

Am I 100% Hungarian? Of course not. That's the joy of it, though; as a Jew, I know I'm not 100% anything, except (hopefully, ancestry could have become muddled over millennia of scurrying) Jewish.
Whatever the results, I’ll still know by heart all those childhood jigs and reels that are responsible for my good posture and complete inability to dance like a normal person. I’ll still sunburn easily. I’ll still come from a large, Irish Catholic family, even if we’re a little less Irish than we thought.
So I shall swoon at the sight of aesthetic beauty, take pride in interior decorating and personal fashion, moan over nukedli paprikash, and whatever else that comes along with being Hungarian. And if I'm not? No worries. The Jews will still keep me.