Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why We Are Lucky

When I was little, I used to get awed by how lucky I was to be born a Jew. I would always hear people commenting how small a percentage Jews are in the world. It made me think, "Wow, what are the odds of being born Jewish? How did I get so lucky?"

It wasn't always clear to me why I felt this was "lucky." I was used to being Jewish. I was used to believing Judaism was the correct religion and that the Torah was true. I was proud of these things. I felt almost superior, knowing that I was part of this chosen nation. I used to wonder how I would feel if I'd been born to a different religion. Would I also think that I was practicing something correct and true? Was I being a snob to feel lucky that I was Jewish, that I wasn't something else?

As I got older and more mature, more attuned to the sophistications, complications, and subtleties of life and religion, I recognized things that I legitimately did feel grateful and lucky for - things that did not only pertain to Judaism.

The most important thing I came to realize was that I had the privelege of a God to turn to. There are so many people out there who are not religious, not of any religion at all, who deny the existence of God entirely. And I wonder, who do these people turn to when there is no one else? Where do these people find true solace? Perhaps they have trained themselves to not need the consolation that faith, that prayer brings. Maybe that works for them. I'm not judging, I'm only curious.

Regardless, I am infinitely grateful to having been born a religious person, a person acutely aware of the presence of God in this world and the fact that He is always there to turn to when there is no one else. God is constant. There is no such concept as God being too busy to listen, or not wanting to hear what you have to say.

I think belief is one of the most precious gifts a person can have, especially in such a high-pressured, fast-paced world where you really do find yourself alone perhaps more than you should. So many who struggle, who go through difficulties, who feel despondant and perhaps also lonely - so many of them are able to find hope in turning to God.

There was a point in high school where I was going through a bit of a rough time. One night a friend said to me, "Daven Ma'ariv and ask Hashem for peace of mind." The fact that I even had that option - the option to turn to God - is incredible. That, alone, is something to be thankful for. I am thankful to be the kind of person who is completely trusting in God, who is perfectly able to turn to Him in times of need and actually feel comforted afterward.

Lucky is a weird word because it's not luck that gives us the gift of prayer, it is God. But that feeling still remains - that feeling of being so fortunate to having been born the person I am. I am
fortunate to have Hashem to turn to, to confide in, to find solace in. And I am proud to be a Jew.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Wish

In the same day - today - , my brother came back from a year and a half in Israel and my best childhood friend left on Aliyah. Round and round and round it goes, this ferris wheel of people coming and going to Israel. Ascending, descending.

It's strange to think that I'm here in America worrying about finals and papers and almost forgetting that Israel's at war. It's scary how easy it is to forget that. Even for me, who has family living there and many close friends, including some currently in the army.

It's so easy to feel helpless when you know there's not much you can do but pray, but still I pray, even as I feel helpless, and I wish only safety and success for Israel and for the Jewish people all over the world.

Something has begun to happen. It's been beginning for a while now, inside Israel, outside of Israel. I don't know what it is or how it will end or where we'll all be when it's over. I don't know what it means now or what it will mean in hindsight. I don't know what will be with this war on terror.

I just know I want everything to be okay with the world. More than okay. I want it to be good.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Problem With Drama

(Note: this post is not about any one specific thing, but rather was inspired by a number of situations, both where I was involved and where I was just an observer. Don't worry Ima, everything is fine.)

The problem with drama is that it's never worth it.

Some people thrive on drama. I know people like that. Every little thing has to be turned into a dramatic production, and if they can't find something to be dramatic over, they go searching for things.

Some people never seem fazed by much. They are always happy, always in a good mood, and always strong enough to let certain unpleasantries bounce right off them. That doesn't mean things don't bother them. But they seem to be very good at not letting those things get in the way of anyone else.

Other people are usually pretty mild-mannered and chilled out, except on occasion. If they feel particularly insulted or hurt, or if they feel some injustice is being done either against them or against someone they care about, they'll get upset. Noticeably upset. But these are not people who like dramatic situations - not like the first kind of people I described. These people usually shy away from drama except when they feel they can't, or ought not to, or are too upset not to, and then without even realizing it's happening until it's too late to respectfully extricate themselves, they find themselves entangled in a situation they never wanted to be in. Sometimes they are strong enough to take a deep breath, back away, and let things fall back into place, taking whatever criticism of their behavior and moving on. Sometimes, though, pride gets in the way and no matter how much they want to, they can't pull back and, instead, just get more and more and more tripped up in their own mess. And because they are unlike group number one, being so entrenched in drama makes them want to throw up, and all they want is to find some way to be untangled and have everything return to normal. The problem with that is that there was usually some real reason for getting involved in the mess in the first place and if that reason is not solved, the person does not feel too much better.

I put myself in this third group.

In some ways, this third group seems the most balanced. Chilled out except when something deserves getting upset over. Right? But - no. Because getting upset should not be that dramatic.

I think the ideal is really the second category. It's good to always remember to treat people with respect, even if you aren't particularly happy with something they might have done. And most of the time, it isn't worth it to get upset with your close friends. Actually, it's almost never worth it.

I really, really, really admire people who always manage to smile and seem like they're in a good mood, even if they're not underneath. Of course we all need our moments when we're honest with ourselves, or with a friend, and let things bother us. And things should bother us. And sometimes if you react badly, it doesn't mean that you were wrong about being upset. What you were wrong about was the way you handled being upset.

I think one of the hardest challenges is learning to swallow your pride. There are many kinds of apologies, but there are two I'm thinking about. One is easy. It's motivated by your hurt pride. It's an apology because you're scared and insecure. You want to be reassured that everything is okay, so you say you're sorry. And you really are sorry, too. It's just that you're not apologizing because you want it all to be over. You're apologizing because you want the other side to make you feel better. And maybe to apologize also. And maybe they should apologize also. But a real apology shouldn't be asking for an apology in return.

That's the other kind of apology I'm thinking about. The kind that is so genuine and sincere, it just wants to be accepted, nothing more.

The other thing I want to say is that I think a lot of this comes with maturity. I see it as a sign of maturity, how much you let other things get to you and how you handle things when they do get to you.

As I get older and more mature, I aspire to reach that second category.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Where Is Chanuka?

The accident at a Chabad Chanuka party in the Five Towns this past week was scary, especially because it was so close to home. An older man lost control of his car on the corner of Franklin Place and Broadway and crashed into Chanuka Wonderland, where a Chanuka party for young kids was taking place.

I apologize for interrupting the more festive posts but I felt this was worth mentioning. However, I am also impressed by the positive attitude people can have while facing difficult situations. From the Newsday article:
Rabbi Heshy Blumstein of Young Israel of Hewlett and his wife, Mimi, visited some of the injured at Winthrop."It was a horrible tragedy," Blumstein said. Still, the fact that there were many survivors means "there are miracles all over," Mimi Blumstein said.

It's true. People were injured (the mother of one of my brother's friends is in the hospital) but, amazingly, no one was killed. That is a miracle.

And we need even more.

Tonight, right after Shabbos, my brother called from Israel and told us that the IAF had dropped bombs over Gaza. My parents turned on the TV and we watched the news for a bit, listening to Ehud Barak defend Israel's decision to the BBC. It's amazing, though, how much we can say and how little the world hears. Anyway, here is the JPost and Arutz Sheva. And, of course, Jameel.

I guess we really can't forget that the miracle of Chanuka is not just the oil, but also winning the war. We are always going to be the few against the many, especially with so much of the world rooting for the other side. We need another miracle of Chanuka, and what better time to pray for one than on Chanuka itself?

Life is full of miracles, even in hard times. This might be a difficult Chanuka, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hold the spirit of Chanuka all the same. It is not only a time to be festive but also a time to remember how much we rely upon the help of God and how we must look to Him in these times. We have had our victories, but we also have much to pray for.

With Chanuka nearing its close, we can't forget that.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Wonderful Apartmentmate(s)

I have a wonderful apartment mate. Her name is D2. This is the story about why she is so wonderful.
(SJ addendum: [deleted] [deleted] [deleted])
(Erachet addendum: Stop interrupting my post, SJ! You're ruining it!)
M.R., SJ, Chana, D2, and I were out in the kitchen talking. D2 was at the kitchen table on her computer. The conversation went like this:
Erachet: So...what's happening tomorrow?
SJ: Um, it's reading week.
Erachet: I know that. I mean, what are people doing?
D2: You want to see what I'm doing tomorrow, Erachet? [She puts her arm around my waist and gently drags me over to her computer] Here, come, I'll show you what I'm doing.
[On the screen, there is a youtube video of a cat being dissected. D2 presses play]
M.R.: Don't look, Erachet! Hide your eyes!
Erachet: Wha--NO WAY, D2 EW EW EW! I am going to the other side of the table!
SJ: Now our apartment's going to smell like formaldehyde again.
Later on in the evening, I was in the middle of working on this very post when D2 suddenly piped up with:
D2: Erachet? When do you think they last lynched people?
Erachet: Er...I don't know?
D2: No, really. If you had to guess.
Erachet: Ummmm, I...really couldn't guess.
D2: Come on, guess.
Erachet: Uh...after the Nuremberg Trials?
[SJ walks into the room]
D2: SJ, when was the last time they hanged people as punishment?
SJ: Well, Sadam Hussein was hanged.
Erachet: Oh, that's right!
D2: Okay, the last time in America.
SJ: Um, don't they just use lethal injection?
D2: But I think I remember people being hanged! I'm going to look it up.
Erachet: Why... are you interested in this?
SJ: D2's planning out her future life of crime!
Erachet: Yeah, but hanging?
D2: Come on, don't you ever get interested in things?!
A little while later:
D2: [Reading off her computer] "Only the states of Washington and New Hampshire still retain hanging as an option." Isn't that crazy?!
Other D2 quotes of the night:
1. So I was telling my friend how in genetics lab we made menorahs out of bacteria, which we did. And my friend said, you know, I really don't like being around giddy people. And I said, I'm not giddy!

[Erachet: Menorahs out of bacteria?! Sounds pretty giddy to me!]

2. Time to metaphorically roast the proverbial duck.

[You're not supposed to get it. There's nothing to get. D2 doesn't get it either. The only way to get it is to understand that it is not supposed to be gotten. Got it? So now you get it. :P]
As you can see, we've got quite a gem of an apartment mate here in Stern. But, in all seriousness, we love her. And if we were actually playing Gamad v'Anak (secret Chanuka buddy) in our apartment and if D2 was my person, this post would certainly serve as a gift to her!* But in any case, now D2 has a post in dedication to her that is completely lishma, and hey, she deserves it!

To SJ, Chana, M.R., and the Apple -I love you guys, too! Chag sameach to my apartment and chag sameach to the entire JBlogosphere.

Now everyone go eat a jelly doughnut!

*But we are not playing Gamad v'Anak, so of course D2 is not my person, nor is she anyone's person.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Out Of Clay? A Chanuka Dissertation That Gets Very Silly Indeed

You all know the song:

Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
I made you out of clay,
And when you're dry and--and--and--
Hey...WAIT A MINUTE.

Made out of clay???

Raise your hand if any of you have ever played with a dreidel made out of clay.

...

Hmm, thought not. In fact, I don't think a dreidel made out of clay would even spin very well. It'd be way too heavy!

According to this site, they did used to use clay to spin cloth. But that is not the sort of spinning we're interested in, is it?

Here, finally, is archeological evidence to support the song we all learned in nursery:
- Clay tops were found in the ancient city of Ur dating from 3500 B.C. (Ur is modern day Muqayyar which lies 187 miles southeast of Baghdad, Iraq)

- Fired clay spun type tops were found from Thebes, Greece dated at 1250 B.C.
Interesting.

However, it appears from that article that the spinning top category the dreidel falls into, the "Twirler," was never made of clay but rather of some sort of fruit or seed with a thorn on the bottom to make it spin. Later versions were made of wood (or plastic). In China, they have tops of this sort made of bamboo. In Japan, the Twirler tops are made of metal.

The clay tops were not Twirlers but Whip Tops. These were not tops one spun with their fingers but rather they were "whipped" into spins using some sort of material (apparently in Europe, they used to use eel skin):
The whip top has mostly kept to the basic cone shape and was made of wood, fired clay and, in some cases, stone. During the 18th century, heavy whip tops of iron were made with the intent of whipping on the ice of ponds and lakes.
Hmmm. Definitely not a dreidel.

This has an interesting history of the dreidel game which is actually based on some old European game and has nothing to do with Chanuka at all. Isn't it always so pleasant to find these things out?

I'm not sure who decided to sing about dreidels made out of clay, but it sounds supiciously to me like a cheap attempt to have something rhyme with "play."

My conclusion: eh, who cares! :D

After that whole boring post, here's something a lot more fun:



...Did I really just write an entire post historically proving the dreidel song wrong? ...Oy.

Sparks

I know someone who is not religious but who has become increasingly more interested in Jewish practices. This woman was aware that Chanuka was approaching but did not know when exactly it was. She wanted to have a Chanuka experience with her two-year-old daughter, so she looked online and accidentally searched for "Chanuka 2009" instead of 2008, so she was told December 11 (I guess Chanuka is December 11 next year, guys!). Horrified and astounded that she had missed it entirely, she quickly gathered her daughter, they lit the menorah together for all eight nights, and her daughter opened every single one of her presents at once. It was sort of like Chanuka on hyper-speed.

Only afterward did she discover that it was not yet, in fact, Chanuka. Not in the year 2008. :)

Relieved, she and her daughter started over on the real date of Chanuka, this time able to do it properly.

This story really, really touched me. The eagerness of this person to involve herself and her daughter in a Jewish practice - and the overall excitement this person has towards Judaism in general - is indicative of a desire to get closer to some sort of heritage and people they are a part of. And that's because, despite all our differences, Jews are a family. We share forefathers and mothers.* I hope, deep down, we all want to be together and share in our religion, even if it doesn't always seem like it. We're all a part of something so much bigger than ourselves, so we should want that.

Anyhow, I am so glad this woman and her daughter did not miss Chanuka after all.

Chag sameach to everyone who reads this blog!

*As an aside, when I was younger, I used to wonder why it wasn't the foremothers and three-fathers. :)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

People Are People

I am discovering that people are the same everywhere. They like to nitpick about each other, but when it comes down to it, they're all the same. This one's not nice, this one's too nice, this one's obnoxious, this one's a pushover, this one's weak-willed, this one's brash...people try to blame these imperfections on some outside influence, but the real truth is, people are people. You can't blame something on the outside for the choices a person makes. Yes, things do influence you, but they don't make you behave in a certain way. That's you. And sometimes people are going to be mean, even if there is no real reason they should be. And sometimes people are going to be nice, when you would never expect them to be. People are surprising that way, but only because you expect them to behave differently. But why should you? You can never assume how a person is going to be. You can never expect. That's just playing up stereotypes.

The more we try to assign reasons for people's behaviors, the more we're forgetting that people are people and they all have the potential to be obnoxious or sweet or giving or selfish, etc. etc. etc. despite any of these expectations. The more we have such expectations, the more we'll be thrown off guard when someone behaves differently from how we expect. That's why it's good to go in with no assumptions. Wait and see. Let the person show you for herself. Let the person make her own name, regardless of anything you might know about her (or him).

People are not so different from one another as they might think.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Birthday, Ima!

This post is for my mom.

It's weird to try and write a post in honor of your mother, because it's suddenly very embarrassing to get all sentimental. And if you're not going to be sentimental, you have to be insightful, but I'm not sure I have anything very insightful to say about mothers. Mothers, as a whole, are a like a girl scout club* with the slogan, "We are always right!" Don't you ever wonder why it is that whenever people talk about mothers, they always ask you things like, "don't you ever wonder why it is that mothers are always right?" Or sometimes they don't even bother asking. They just jump right in to, "I never wanted to admit it at the time, but my mother sure was always right!"

But are mothers always right?

It is possible for someone to be always right?

You were right that one time, weren't you? The one where you were certain, more certain than you've ever been before, more certain than you felt even about the sky being blue and the grass being green, that your mother was...wrong?

Hmmm. Something to ponder.

Well, the least I can do is leave a little anecdote. It'll be better than those corny Hallmark cards, you know? I can't stand those. "A rainbow for you...so all your dreams come true!" "Here's a heart, so we'll never be apart!" "Birthdays are like the Spring...they make me want to sing!"

Gag.

So here we go. Ima, you'll recognize part of this story.

It's approximately midnight in my house and my parents have just gone up to bed. My sister (Trademark, for those just tuning in) tells me we have to go get balloons from the trunk of my dad's car. We decide we don't want to use the front door because it makes too much noise, so we'll use the sliding door from the kitchen instead. That door leads to the backyard and then you have to walk around the side of the house to get to the front where the car is.

My sister opens the door, steps out, and I begin to follow when I hear footsteps in the kitchen. Without looking, I just know it's my mom (I am also incredibly talented at recognizing people's footsteps, just by the way).

"HI IMA!" I exclaim, jumping back into the house. My mother looks startled for a moment and then rather confused.

"Um...where are you going...?"

Oh. Haha. That.

"Well," I say, standing smack in front of the suspiciously open door. "I was...just getting some fresh air. It's really hot in here."

I'm pretty sure my mom didn't buy it. No matter what I said then to cover, it is incredibly unusual for our kitchen door to be wide open in the middle of the night. Still, I attempt to be natural about the whole thing and try to make my story as plausible as possible. I close the door, lock it, and declare I'm going to bed. My mother takes some things out of the freezer to defrost and also says she's going to bed.

"Oh...did you, um, close the door?"

"Yep!"

Too cheerful. Don't be too cheerful! You'll give it away!

"Did you remember to lock it?"

"Yep!"

And we both go upstairs.

About a minute later, I get a phone call from Trademark.

"Open the door, it's FREEZING out here!"

And we, the little elves in the night, then proceed to hang yellow streamers all over the kitchen. It was quite fun!

So, happy birthday, Ima! I hope it all makes sense now.

I know not much of actual substance was said in this post, so I give you:

P.S. Thank you, Ima, for everything and I love you! Also, thanks in advance for not yelling at me for writing this at three in the morning. After all, I want it to be here when you wake up! I know, I'm thoughtful that way. :D

*They even make cookies!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

*Gasp!* A B-O-Y?!

This is not so much a post as it is a question for whoever is reading. What do you all think about the idea of co-ed camps? I grew up going to a co-ed summer camp and never really thought that much about it until recently. I understand about there being a healthy co-ed environment for kids and I also understand all the concerns that go along with something that is co-ed. Of course, every camp is different and there are different levels of co-ed that go on, but in general, I really want to know how people feel about this issue and why (the why is very important). For those that are against co-ed camps entirely, is there such a thing as a Modern Orthodox not co-ed camp? Because the impression kids have is that the single-sex camps tend to be more to the right. There was once an article in the Jewish Star about this (I would link it but I don't think it's online anymore) - about a girl who wanted to go to an all girls' camp but all the camps like that had a very strict dress code requiring her to wear tights in the summer. She wasn't comfortable with that but she had no choice if she didn't want to go somewhere co-ed. So what would one do about a situation like that?

Feel free to either comment or email me. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

These Days And More

Sitting cross-legged on the floor of a narrow, square room reading Henry James out loud,
Occasionally shifting to my knees when I get too uncomfortable,
And then switching back to Indian style when I start to lose feeling in my feet.

Again sitting on the floor, this time of the Borders behind Penn Station,
Safe and snug in the set-back corner of the children's section.
Two of us there, each with a hot mint chocolate drink in one hand,
And an iced one in the other: a welcome mistake.

Sitting once more on a park bench,
Firecracker ices in hand--
The red dripping down the white until we get to the Patriotic bottom
Which gives us Smurf lips
And we stick out our blue tongues at each other like a secret handshake,
A family crescent, a clubhouse password.

Lost in the snow, the wheels of the car sliding slowly over transparent ice,
Then we sneak around the hoity-toity lodge
Pretending, for a few moments, we belong there, too.
Then chased by an overeager, over-hungry squirrel,
The iced wind biting at our faces and pinching our cheeks red.

Ice skating, ice skating, ice skating.
Alone, and then with you, and then alone, and then with you,
Around and around and around.
The rink a ring of people--
Pass by the same ones, yet each time you're different, they're different.
Change without change.
Watch out for the jocks who try to cut you off. They'll trip themselves one day, doing that.
They'll never trip me, though.
Here is one place I never fall.

Warm in there, on the couch, on the rocking chair, tired but don't want to sleep.
Awake, awake, stay awake.
Blink my eyes open - when did they close?
Open, yes, they're open.
And I'm wide awake now - but how?
Was I talking?
Whose line is it anyway?

Those glass elevators go up, up, up
I like to look down and see everything get smaller and smaller.
Dizzying -but a thrill because I can make myself look and still want to continue going up.
Let's ride again!
Up and back down, then back up--
Let's stay up, can't we?

Words on the screen tell us to sing.
Sing?
There are people. People!
They might hear us!
Do we even know the songs?
We laugh and sing and sing and laugh.
I am not me, you are not you, we are not we--
We just are.
Having the time of our lives.

These days and more. These days and more.
These days--
And more.

P.S. The Squeaker - the inspiring tale of a boy and his sneaker.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Games

Games That Are Not Fun

Life should be fun, but other people are not characters in a game. People do not feel the same way you do about things, nor do they see the world through your eyes. In fact, they're probably not over analyzing you quite as much as you imagine they are. It might be nice if they saw your point of view, but don't count on it. You'll never have fun playing that game unless you stop playing. The more natural you allow yourself to feel around other people, the more natural your life will become. Often the game is only in your own mind, anyway. You'll usually discover that you're the only one playing, that other people don't even know your game exists, and that it's actually quite silly to continue on in such a manner. In fact, it wasn't even all that fun to play in the first place, was it?

Games That Are Fun
(In no particular order)

Boggle
Cookies With Letters
Hide-And-Go-Seek Tag
Sports
Scrabble
Mille Bornes
Taboo
Scattergories
Bananagrams
Rummikub
Balderdash
Apples To Apples
Set
Squidge
Mao
Mafia
Capture The Flag
Paintball
Laser Tag
Risk
Stragego
Calvinball

...Lots more that I either haven't played yet or am just not thinking of. Feel free to add to the list.

Let's play those games instead. :)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Calling One Fairy Godmother?

This show is kinda about Shidduchim. In a crazy, zany, satirical kind of way.

The Questing Beast

Have you ever tried to write a post in invisible ink? There's something thrilling about it, let me tell you. I hide behind these white words because I am afraid to speak, and so I speak only to myself. Yet, funny, I also speak to those clever enough to see that there are words here. But on a blog post I suppose it isn't all that difficult to figure out, seeing as there'll be a big white space with nothing to read right away. If I saw that, I'd immediately highlight to see if there was something hidden. So I suppose I mean, I speak to those who care enough to find my words.

And yet aren't all words really hidden? We speak, but are we seen?

And isn't there always a secret desire to be heard, even when one writes in invisible ink?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Singin' In The Rain

Weather appropriate lately, huh?







Enjoy! Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ponderings On A Rainy Day

I sit here by the window and watch the rain drip and slip and slide down the pain, so slick it is as it hits the world below. It's like the world is crying...or is it laughing?

There is nothing I can say, so I'm offering this instead. Often there is more good than just what is obvious. You may hate the rain, but the rain makes the world grow.

Don't gripe. It only fuels a fire too hot to gather round and roast s'mores.

You can cry, but then don't forget that tears come from laughter, too. There's so much bad stuff that happens, why not appreciate all that is good? When you cry, the world cries with you. When you laugh, we can take off our hoods and jump in the puddles.

Life is too serious to be taken too seriously.

Seriously.

Won't anyone jump in the puddles with me?

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Book Of Over-Think

Warning: This post is an inherent contradiction.


Calvin's brought the whole "caring too much about things" thing to an opposite extreme. See, it's not good to over-think a situation, but it's not good not to think at all.

The statement above might sound random to you. That's because I spent way too much time thinking about this post (it's been sitting in the drafts for about a week) and, seeing that there was no way to begin at any sort of beginning, I began in the middle. It's an age-old concept dating back to Homer (or is it Horace? Does it matter?) called in medias res, but if you walk around saying that, people might think you're an intellectual. Now, there's nothing wrong with being an intellectual, per se, but it all depends on how you'd like to come across, and I find that if one is too intellectual and goes around talking about people like Homer and Horace and not getting them all muddled up (not like anyone else'd know the difference) and speaking in Latin - asum thusum - what was I saying, again?

Oh yes. Caring too much. Over-thinking. Theorizing. Thesee-izing (that's coming up with a thesis plus a few to make it plural - or thesi - or thesii - or any neologism thou wishest).

I said something in my Literature and Philosophy class (yes, that is the name of one class, not two, despite the many confusions people have had when I've mentioned it before) which was considered "brilliant" or a "breakthrough" or, if you like, "seeing things our way now." It was this: "When the prejudices of the 'I' get in the way, you're not giving something itself proper attention, you're just giving attention to what you project onto the thing."

The reaction when these words slipped accidentally out of my mouth (although I had written them down on the side of an article beforehand) was that of a cult opening its arms wide and embracing me with an emphatic, "come join our side, soul-that-is-no-longer-wayward!"

And yet, despite my reluctance to join the dark side, I see that it is perhaps not as dark as I would have liked it to be. Because if it truly was that dark, then I'd stand with my hands on my hips in triumph, brandishing my brilliant arguments with pride and always coming out one step above (like on a staircase, which is certainly more prestigious an accomplishment than being one step ahead on a path, which takes much less energy and skill, unless 'twas a rocky path, in which case I shall consent to being one step ahead, although preferrably also above, on a rock, because the higher you are, the more you can see, and the more strategic your position, you know). But since it is not dark at all, but actually quite sensical, I find myself painfully admitting that perhaps I was ***** (for those not used to this game yet, I mean "wrong" but since I'd not like to say it, I won't). According to a philosopher we read in class, and according to the person who wrote about her, "'Something in our soul has a far more violent repugnance for true attention than the flesh has for bodily fatigue.' The repugnance Weil [pronounced 'vay,' not 'whale,' just so you won't sound as stupid saying her name out loud for the first time as I did] has in mind here is the ego's reluctance to engage in scrupulous self-criticism, since such criticism has a tendency to humiliate, to shatter the ego's pride and vanity." So, you know, we don't like to self-criticize because it makes us feel like we're being criticized (gee) and this hurts our ego. Blah blah.

Somehow I'd like to segue into this point:

That one should not approach a situation with a thesis. One should evaluate each situation as its own entity and not try to "figure things out" or "discover anything." People should not be treated as a mystery to be solved, nor should their actions be, nor should any situation one stumbles upon. As a wise person I sometimes come across says, "it is what it is 'cause it is," yeah?

Douglas Adams, in his book Mostly Harmless says, "Anything that happens, happens. Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen. Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again. It doesn't necessarily do it in chronological order, though."

Now, that is odd, because how can all that not happen in chronological order? But perhaps this is not worth philosophizing over because that is not the point at all. The point is that anything that happens, happens, and it happens without being thesis-ized over.

And now, to throw on the cloak of an intellectual, I will say that there is something I cannot understand about Wiggenstien's The Blue Book. He says, "What is the meaning of a word?" Then he explains that to give a word definitions is not necessarily saying what the word means. His example is with a pencil. About a pencil one may say, "this is a pencil" or "this is round" or "this is wood" or "this is one" or "this is hard" and so on and so forth. These are all ways one might define or describe a pencil, but to know what a pencil is is to be able to differentiate it from, for instance, a pen. And to know what to do with it. Etc, etc, etc.

Yet aren't these all intuitive? Don't we understand this concept without having to put it into words and analyze it? What is the real point in this essay? To tell us what we already know?

But yes! Wiggenstien admits in his Philosophical Investigations, "the problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known."

My teacher, to quote: Philosophy is not in the business of discovering something new about the world.

HA!

But then why? Why learn philosophy? How is philosophy not synonymous with "over-thinking?"

This conversation with a friend, according to that friend, "was such a Calvin&Hobbes strip," and so we come full circle:

"Calvin": sometimes I wonder if people spend a lot of their lives wasting time mulling over things that are obvious
"Hobbes": you mean like that? :)
"Calvin": oh shut up

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Fudge-A-Mania

This Shabbos, Fudge and SJ came to my house. It was really a lot of fun (MOST!), but I would just like to point out two conversations on Friday:

Fudge: Wow, this is just like Monsey!
Erachet: What do you mean?
Fudge: There are trees!

Fudge: Wow, this is just like a real house!
Erachet: Um, that's because it is a real house...
Fudge: It just doesn't seem like you can have real houses in a place like New York!

Case in point! :)

(Don't worry Fudge, you're still awesome :P )

Friday, December 5, 2008

Greater Than Me

There is an important piece of grammar that I think basically everyone I know gets wrong. English majors get it wrong, professors get it wrong, TV shows get it wrong, people on the news get it wrong - like I said, most people I know personally or see in the public eye get it wrong.

I admit - especially for an English major - I have a high tolerance for grammatical errors. I don't cringe every time someone messes up. I notice it, but I let it go. I'm chill.

This error gets to me every time, though. Not because it's an error, either, but because it's a conscious error. It's people deliberately making this mistake because they think it's correct. And that bothers me.

Do you remember, growing up, when you used to say things like, "Emily and me are going out to play?"

I'm sure some adult (parent? teacher?) would gently correct you with, "Emily and I."

So you learn, "Emily and I are going out to play."

Great!

And forever after, you are conscious of not making the same error twice. But that eventually translates into...

"Would you like to come play with Emily and I?"

This should be right, shouldn't it? After all, you remember going over and over, "Emily and I, Emily and I, get this right, it's Emily and I."

Wrong!

You see, when I was taking Latin, I learned about two grammatical cases that most people would probably translate as "subject" and "object." They were called "nominative" and "accusative" and they have different endings that I had to memorize, just like in English, really, but we don't think of it that way in English. Now, the nominative word or subject of the sentence is not what the sentence is about, but who or what is doing the action of the sentence. So in the sentence, "Emily and I are going out to play," Emily and I are doing the action. We are the subjects of the sentence. "I" is the nominative version of first person singular (I, me).

However, in the sentence, "Would you like to come play with Emily and me?" the person doing the action is "you." You are coming to play, even though it's a question. If you turn it into a statement, it would be, "You like to come play with Emily and me." Not "Emily and I," but "Emily and me." "Me" is the accusative version of first person singular. "Emily and me" are the objects because the action is being done to them, or with them, or for them, etc.

You might be thinking, "okay, but in normal speech, no one is thinking that carefully about how they structure their sentences." True - but, first of all, you should! The more you try to be grammatically correct, the more naturally it'll come to you, and then you won't have to think about it anymore. But I know, if you don't care, and if no one else seems to care (except crazy grammar freaks), then what's the big deal?

The big deal here is that people constantly make this mistake because they are trying to be grammatically correct and doing it wrong.

Here's an easy way to remember the correct word to use for "I" and "me." Change it to third person.

Naturally, you'd know to say, "She goes out to play" but "I go out to play with her." You wouldn't say, "I go out to play with she," would you?

She, he, I. Him, her, me. That's how it goes.

"Emily and me" can be correct and is correct when used properly.

Remember that!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pre-Chanuka: Rechov Sumsum Edition

Chanuka is one of those chagim which just sort of sneaks up on you when you're no longer learning about it in school. It's only a few weeks away! Today I realized - they should start serving us sufganiot in the caf soon!

These clips bring back such childhood memories. This one always made me hungry:



And this one is just classic:

Toast


For everyone I'm friends with - but especially my apartment mates.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Um...

April Fool's?

Sorry if I had anyone completely fooled. There's no way I'd really last in Med School. :)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Switching Gears

I've done it. I've figured out what I want to do for the rest of my life. I can't believe it took me this long!

I've always liked helping people. Those who know me well can vouch for it. I like to listen, I like to be there for people, I go out of my way to help them and I like doing all that. And ever since I was a little kid, I've had a slight hero-complex (I used to have dreams about single-handedly ending wars - especially WWII, bringing peace to Israel, etc).

So what better path in life than...medical school?

Seriously.

Okay, so I pass out at the sight of blood and I hate needles - but these are fears that can be overcome, right?

Come on, why not? All I have to do is take calculus and a whole bunch of science classes, and that will probably require me to stay extra at Stern, but...so? I've already got horrible handwriting...!

Quasimodo

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why I Love Tristram Shandy

(Excerpted from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne)

(Btw, "Madam" in this chapter is you, the reader)

CHAP. XX

--How could you, Madam, be so inattentive in reading the last chapter? I told you in it, That my mother was not a papist. --Papist! You told me no such thing, Sir. Madam, I beg leave to repeat it over again, That I told you as plain, at least, as words, by direct inference, could tell you such a thing. --Then, Sir, I must have miss'd a page. --No, Madam, --you have not miss'd a word. --Then I was asleep, Sir. --My Pride, Madam, cannot allow you that refuge. --Then, I declare, I know nothing at all about the matter. --That, Madam, is the very fault I lay to your charge; and as punishment for it, I do insist upon it, that you immediately turn back, that is, as soon as you get to the next full stop, and read the whole chapter over again.

I have imposed this penance upon the lady, neither out of wantonness or cruelty, but from the best of motives; and therefore shall make her no apology for it when she returns back: --'Tis to rebuke a vicious taste which has crept into thousands besides herself, --of reading straight forwards, more in quest of the adventures, than of the deep erudition and knowledge which a book of this cast, if read over as it should be, would infallibly impart with them. --The mind should be accustomed to make wise reflections, and draw curious conclusions as it goes along;

[...] --But here comes my fair Lady. Have you read over again the chapter, Madam, as I desired you? --You have: And did you not observe the passage, upon the second reading, which admits the inference? --Not a word like it! Then, Madam, be pleased to ponder well the last line but one of the chapter, where I take upon me to say, "It was necessary I should be born before I was christen'd." Had my mother, Madam, been a Papist, that consequence did not follow.

It is a terrible misfortune for this same book of mine, but more so to the Republick of Letters; --so that my own is quite swallowed up in the consideration of it, --that this self-same vile pruriency for fresh adventure in all things, has got so strongly into our habit and humours, --and so wholly intent are we upon satisfying the impatience of our concupiscence that way, --that nothing but the gross and more carnal parts of a composition will go down: --The subtle hints and sly communications of science fly off, like spirits, upwards; --the heavy moral escapes downwards; and both the one and the other are as much lost to the world, as if they were still left in the bottom of the ink-horn.

I wish the male-reader has not pass'd by many a one, as quaint and curious as this one, in which the female-reader has been detected. I wish it may have its effects; --and that all good people, both male and female, from her example, may be taught to think as well as read.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Happily Ever Now

Sometimes it feels like having been so immersed in fairy tales and happily-ever-after stories when I was younger cramped my ability to accept that life doesn't always end happily-ever-after. Of course, I know it doesn't - I've read plenty of books that haven't ended that way, heard of plenty of people whose lives didn't end up that way, and know plenty of people who have various struggles to overcome. But I always have this strong belief that things will work out for the best in the end. But who says they will? What if they won't? Why should I have such expectations?

And - how do you define "the end?" Do you really want to wait for the end of your life in order to be happy? Is that the only time a person can truly be happy? In "the end?"

The phrase "happily ever after" is so skewed, if you think about it. You're only happy...after. After a trial has ended, after you get just what you want - then you'll be happy.

But you can't live that way. Then you'll never be happy!

Think about it. If you always have this dream of what you want, you're always going to be happy with what you don't yet have (and may never have) and you're never going to learn to be happy with what you do have! It's no use wasting energy feeling happy about things that don't even exist!

But yet - it's so hard to be happy with what you have and not yearn for something more. There's so much to want in this world. There's so much to expect. There's so much good that you hope you deserve.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

How?

How do we deal with evil in the world?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crowded Dream

~A Story~

Dedicated to those who were there.

The girl sat back in her chair, trying to look comfortable - but how can a person be comfortable if her feet won't quite reach the floor? She resisted the urge to tuck them under her and instead entwined her sweaty hands within the slightly-too-long sleeves of her sweater. She twisted and untwisted this mess of brown sleeves and pale hands as an activity to occupy her and somehow keep her grounded. Exceeding the dimensions of the room around her were multitudes of people she didn't know all talking and eating, eating and talking, sitting and standing and going back and forth from kitchen to living room to kitchen to living room. Their loud unfamiliarity only made them seem double, triple, quadruple in amount. It was like living in a dream where people came and went without warning, never seeming to penetrate your own consciousness long enough to leave anything more than fleeting, insubstantial impressions.

She had come with friends, of course, but somehow ended up alone anyway. On occasion, someone she knew would walk by, but when the girl tried desperately to grasp onto that familiarity, it quickly slipped away again, like a hallucination.

And perhaps she was hallucinating. How had she gotten here, anyway? This strange, new place filled with strange, new people. Perhaps it would all melt away with a blink and she'd find herself on the train home.

Home. Where was home? Why wasn't she home now?

And now more people came in. People she was supposed to know.

"Don't you know them?" asked a voice - someone's voice. Someone who knew her, she assumed, but it was so enmeshed in the surround-sound crowd that she might have dreamt it up altogether.

She tried hard to know them.

Blinding colors, neon noises, and then -

"Eat."

Someone shoved a paper plate into her hands, breaking up the twisting and twining of her sweater sleeves.

She couldn't even remember afterward if she ate or not. Eating was part of a world outside her realm of dreamy awareness.

Somehow she ended up in the kitchen. She thought she might have said something, but she couldn't remember what. And there might have been a big bug that someone squashed with a shoe, but she wasn't quite sure if that actually happened or if someone had just talked about it happening sometime before.

Faces, people, chatter, shoes, yelling, laughing, whispers, low voices, loud voices, eating, playing, sitting, standing, walking, spinning, spinning, spinning fun house of color and sound.

And then, like all dreams, it was somehow over without ever having ended.

The concrete reality of the crisp autumn night air splashed her in the face, tugging slightly on her hair and pinching her awake. With relief, she closed the door on the unfamiliar, crowded dream.

The irony of it all is how familiar the unfamiliar thereafter became.
(Thank you HUGELY to Serach and Ezzie for opening up their home to me this past year to the point where it feels like going home , to SJ and Fudge for first bringing me there, and to the Raggedies for just being the Raggedies)

Title Unnamed

I miss writing.








Mostly I miss
Anything that
Goes along with
Good writing and creative
Imagination and, well, just
Everything.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What's The Point, Anyway?

There's so much confusion.

Some people tell me - now is the time to do what you really want, to get the education you want, to try for your dreams. And that those things are not impractical because they do something for me.

Some people tell me - be more practical. Doing what you want is nice, but it's a luxury and you should focus more on being able to get a job and really get somewhere in life.

What's the point of it all? Do I take opportunities as they come, even if they're not the most practical, because carpe diem? Because now is my chance?

Do I do what's most practical because it's what's most practical?

Is my end goal to do what I really want or to do what's most practical? Sometimes they're not mutually exclusive, but what if they could be?

What am I trying for here?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Perfectionist

Even this, even now, I can't write. There is this blockage to everything I once knew how to do. Because suddenly, one day, I came down with a plague - Perfection. And if it's not perfect, then I'm terrible at it. If a single sentence is extraneous, if something doesn't sound right, if the writing is only okay, if it needs to be edited still further and further and further and further and further and further and--

Then I can't. I can't do it. Then I don't want it. And I know nothing can be perfect. I can never make it perfect. So then I don't want it. Even though I do. I really, really do. But I can't stand it not being perfect. I can't stand the way every single tiny ugly imperfection glares at me, scratches at me screeching like sharp nails on a blackboard, makes me cringe and wince with discomfort because it's so very, very wrong.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oasis Of Relaxation

(Inspired by a friend)

I wander lonely as a tree
Amidst the desert vast
Until I find that royal isle
And pause my way at last.

For in that way
Oasis lies
And though it may bring
Sighs and cries,
It's better when my eyes have dried.

Its happiest moments, I declare
Are when we're feeling happy there.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why Slower Is Quicker

When under pressure, people tend to perform activities in a rushed manner. This usually results in sloppy work that needs to be either fixed or completely redone. Or, you know, left alone to be sub-par.

I don't mean one should take his grand old time doing something that shouldn't take long at all. I just mean, if a person were to slow down enough to have time to perform tasks properly, it's actually a lot more efficient. There would be no need to go back and re-adjust what was done. The work would get done in the most efficient yet careful manner.

On a slightly separate note, I had a discussion with a good friend some time ago about how New Yorkers do everything so quickly - as if they always have to "get somewhere."

While this issue can be debated, it definitely is true that walking quickly through life with eyes only on your destination and ignoring all in between is actually less enriching than a walk through life where you take your time to notice things and to think. Walking quickly, you may think you're getting to where you need to be in the most efficient manner, but you're also not allowing yourself to be as much a part of the world. You're kind of just racing through it. And that is a much sloppier, less careful way of living, don't you think?

Do you ever catch yourself getting like this?*

There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself -- not just sometimes, but always.

When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he'd bothered. Nothing really interested him -- least of all the things that should have.

"It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time," he remarked one day as he walked dejectedly home from school. "I can't see the point in learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February." And, since no one bothered to explain otherwise, he regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all.

As he and his unhappy thoughts hurried along (for while he was never anxious to be where he was going, he liked to get there as quickly as possible) it seemed a great wonder that the world, which was so large, could sometimes feel so small and empty.

"And worst of all," he continued sadly, "there's nothing for me to do, nowhere I'd care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing." He punctuated this last thought with such a deep sigh that a house sparrow singing nearby stopped and rushed home to be with his family.

Without stopping or looking up, Milo dashed past the buildings and busy shops that lined the street and in a few minutes reached home -- dashed through the lobby -- hopped onto the elevator -- two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and off again -- opened the apartment door -- rushed into his room -- flopped dejectedly into a chair, and grumbled softly, "Another long afternoon."

*Excerpted from The Phantom Tollbooth

As much as I don't think I have the habit of rushing too quickly through life, ever since that conversation, I do catch myself, at times, hurrying when I don't need to hurry or feeling like I need to be somewhere else when, really, I don't need to be anywhere at all. And each time I feel myself doing it, I take a deep breath and remind myself, "Take your time. You don't need to be anywhere except right here."

Slow down. Relax.

You don't need to be anywhere except right here.

Enjoy being right here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sick Cycle Carousel

Hat tip: Ezzie (kind of, a while ago)



Regardless of what this song is originally about (probably a relationship), it can be about anything anyone is dealing with, from major issues to small ones. Anything that makes you feel like you keep revisiting the same issue over and over and over again. It's important to be able to break out of that cycle, because only then can you actually move forward.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Puzzle's Eclipse

Puzzle’s Eclipse

Immense Indiana Jones boulder,
Giant’s hail crashing down,
Lodging itself in my window,
That rhombus of jigsaw images
Illuminated – once –
Blocked,
That picture, a barely discernable frame.

Blindfolded
My hair a sweaty horse’s tail
Intruding voices stuff the room past capacity
Like an overcrowded elevator stuck between floors.

Hangs a mirror with no reflection,
An impenetrable portal.
And I, unpracticed in the art of dislodging,
Lodge in the corner and dream tea.

A cup without a saucer to catch the spill,
I drink to you, Puzzle’s Eclipse,
And etch these words into that apostrophe.


(If you felt frustrated reading this poem, if you felt there was something there you were just not getting, if you felt a huge mental block towards it - you actually understood it more than you think you did)

Wrong!

Sometimes, no matter what you say, you're always going to be wrong. And it just slaps you again and again and again in the face.

Days like that are not fun.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This Is Me



Except today I go on a quest - to prove how being an English major really IS practical!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You Are What You Read

When I was in eleventh grade, my high school took us on a Jewish History trip. This consisted of going to various different Jewish communities in the New York area and seeing for ourselves what other types of Jews were like. We went to New Square, we went to a Lubavitch school, etc. In one of the places we went, we were told that in their school, they don't read secular books. At all. (This might have been New Square but I don't want to say for sure because I don't actually remember specifically). A lot of the girls in my class, including myself, found it outrageous to censor secular books completely from our library. I couldn't imagine not reading novels just because there were secular ideas, or because a boy and a girl were friends, or anything like that.

One summer, I interviewed at a Literary Agency for a summer internship. They told me at the interview that, if I got in, I'd have to read all different kinds of manuscripts, from adventure to historical fiction to, yes, pornography. Believe it or not, they told me, there is such a thing as good pornography. I wanted to throw up. So when they asked me if I'd be interested working in their children's books department instead, I very readily said yes.

These are two extremes. The first - censoring yourself completely from all secular literature. The second - being asked to read pornography. To me, the answer in those situations are clear. The first - um, no way. The second - um, no way.

But what about everything in between?

Earlier this year in one of my classes, my teacher was complaining about how her freshman class did not want to watch a movie she assigned them because it was inappropriate. She argued that the inappropriate content wasn't there for no reason, it was there as part of the art of the movie. She ended up assigning us the same movie and my first reaction after watching it was, "no wonder the freshman class complained." My second reaction was, "wait a minute, it's art, it's for the sake of art so it's okay." My third reaction was, "what?! Would I really compromise my own standards for the sake of art?! Of course not! That's ridiculous! What is art to me? Not higher than my own religion! Not higher than my own moral standards!"

Yesterday in a different class, my teacher talked about two schools of thought back in the 18th century when it came to literature. One was that literature was supposed to be an emotional experience where you actually get affected by what you read in an emotional way and it becomes a part of you because of it. The other was that literature is supposed to be a bit more removed from a person so they have time to think about it but not feel actual, almost physical, emotional responses (like, for instance, crying. Or being put in a mood all day because of something you've read). My teacher claimed, and I think I agree with her, that you are what you read. What you read does become a part of you. It does affect you. It affects the way you think, the way you feel about things, it gives you experiences that, while they may not have actually happened to you, you've experienced vicariously through the characters in a book.

That's scary.

I know people who love reading trashy books because it makes them feel like they have a boyfriend. Even - look at this comment from my post a few days ago: "I think you're missing the point of reading Twilight and, to a certain degree, a lot of the iffy teenaged girl literatuer out there. The characters are allowed to be flat because the goal is not to create well rounded characters, the goal is to deal in wish fulfillment [...] I think that there is something about modern culture that causes the masses to feel more at home with being the story than being told it. Even if that means a compromise in the characterization and telling of the tale."

I completely agree with this assessment of modern culture - but that doesn't make it okay!

Perhaps the line is different for everyone. Perhaps you can't make a general rule about what should and should not be read or what should and should not be written about. Still, I think it's very important to recognize how what we read affects us. It's not only about reading quality literature (though that's of course part of it), it's also about choosing what we expose our minds, imaginations, and emotions to and what we don't. I'm not trying to sound extreme. I don't even mean this in an extreme way. I'm not advocating for the banning of books. No way. I'm just asking everyone to be smart. Just like you are what you eat, you are what you read. You are what you watch on TV. You're affected by your experiences in life AND in fiction. I, God forbid, do not mean people should not read or write about major issues that happen to be inappropriate or frightening or both. It's important to raise awareness about those issues. Of course. I just mean - well, I already said it. Be smart. Know yourself. Know what you want to expose yourself to. Do you really want to read an explicit description of a rape scene, for example? Where are your lines? It's important to know.

Monday, November 10, 2008

An Ode

To Linksys-John (and to working internet):

Sunday, November 9, 2008

My Candidate Can Beat Up Your Candidate!

Otherwise known as...Why Too Many JBlogospherians Are Too Immature To Engage In Political Discussion.

True, I don't read a TON of blogs, but I do read a few. And in the few that I read, nearly every political discussion deteriorates almost from the start into:

"Right-wing racist extremists!"

"I thought liberals were supposed to be tolerant! I guess they only are if you agree with them, huh?"

"Obama is finally bringing us hope again, you racists!"

"Orthodox Jews are racists!"

"Actually, you're racist because you voted for Obama because he's black!"

"Extremists!"

"Racists!"

You all sound like angry children in a schoolyard. And I want to cover my ears until all the screaming stops and you can all talk like civilized adults. And I'm probably the youngest of all of you. I thought maturity comes with age and experience. I guess not.

If you don't believe me, look at the posts and comments here and here, for example. Those aren't the only places, just the ones I'm highlighting. In fact, the only place I haven't seen this kind of fighting since the election on a widely read blog that discusses politics is on SerandEz. Yeah, there have been arguments, but not like THAT.

So what's with all the name calling and the overly dramatic angry shouting, the over generalizing, the insults? Can't people talk about an adult subject with adult maturity? Can't people have a civilized debate? Can't people argue intelligently? Because all those comments just make you guys look really stupid. On both sides. It's like you don't have a more intelligent response than to shout insults and call people "racist" and "extremist."

Do you all have to pay a visit to the principal's office until you can calm down?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Confessions Of All The Teenage Drama Queens Requested

(Today my dad insisted that I write about something controversial. I'm pretty non-confrontational and I actually have no desire to push anyone's buttons, so I'm going to compromise and, instead, heavily criticize something I know is very popular that I just can't stand. I know that's not the same as being controversial, but that's the best I can offer at this present time)

Just out of curiosity...

What's with all the Twilight hype?

I finally read the book and found it to be poorly written, the plot unoriginal and stupid, the characters pretty flat, and Edward more annoyingly stalkerish than attractive. The romance wasn't even done well. It was irritating, over-the-top, and I didn't believe it for a second.

I just don't get it. Am I the only sane person out there? Is there something I'm just not understanding? Has the quality of literature diminished so far that people actually think this stuff is good?

I'm all for people reading novels they can actually understand as opposed to more difficult literary works - that's fine with me. Not everyone is an English major. But there is still a difference between well-written, well-plotted stories and, well, trash.

I've heard, on numerous occasions, Twilight being called the next Harry Potter. Come on! Even Harry Potter wasn't the best written of novels, but at least it was a good story, had a good plot, and had some really fun characters. Twilight has none of that. I'm sorry. It's too trite. Too cliche. Too obvious. Too dull. I was bored while reading it. I have absolutely no desire to read the other ones in the series. It actually made me nauseous just to read the first one. The overly sappy romance on every single page made me want to just barf.

Is it that our society craves soap operas? Is it that people are so unsatisfied with their own relationships, they live vicariously through characters flat enough that anyone can insert herself in? Is it that people thrive on heavy gossip? Is this why so many teenage girls are obsessed with Gossip Girl? One Tree Hill? The OC? I don't get it. Can't people go and live their own lives instead of spending an eternity wishing they had the thrilling (???) drama of fictional characters? Trust me, there's enough real drama out there. You don't need TV and novels to provide it for you. No, you're not going to fall in love with a vampire, though. Sorry. But so what? Do you want to live in the world? Or do you want to live on TV?

I mean, on the one hand, some of the fun of reading is because things happen in books that don't necessarily happen in life and it's fun to pretend, for a few hours, that they could. But on the other hand, be careful what you let suck you in. It's a mistake to think that just because a character is described as good looking, that he is a good character. Just because a character is "hot" doesn't mean he's complex! Edward is in no way complex. Sorry. Neither is Bella. She's too flat. She has none of the complexities of human beings. She's too perfect. Making her a klutz does not give her realistic character flaws. It's very superficial. It makes no sense that every single boy in her school should be obsessed with her. It makes no sense that she has no sense of self-preservation. It makes no sense that she would not care that Edward has been spying on her every night the entire school year. Where is the tension here???

Our society seems to settle for stories that are way too simplistic if it actually thinks that a human girl falling in love with a hot vampire - and then nothing much happening except their constantly professing their love to each other and saving each other from random things - is a good story.

If you really want to read an exciting vampire thriller/romance, stick with Dracula. Seriously. Not that Dracula is spectacularly written either, but at least it's a much better story!

It actually truly bothers me that so, so, so many girls will become obsessed with a book, or a TV show, or a movie just because the guy is really good looking. Is everyone that shallow?

A HOT GUY DOES NOT A GOOD STORY MAKE.

And if people can no longer tell the difference between something well-written and something trashy, then I mourn for our literary future. I really, really do.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Difficulties

Sometimes it's hard to know who you are. You think you know, or you think you once knew, but there are so many things pulling you in so many different directions, it's hard to keep track of which is the real you and which is the you other people would like you to be and which is the you who you wish you could be and...

You know how there's a difference between who you are and who you wish you were? And you know how it's sometimes hard to block out everyone else's voices so you could finally see yourself and your own values and talents and desires and beliefs without anyone's opinion but your own?

You know how you wish you could change some things about yourself but not everything is so changeable?

You know how you wish you could be the best friend you can be, even if you get some things wrong?

You know how you wish you could be the best person you can be, even if you get some things wrong?

You know how you wish your passions matched your talents?

You know how you hope people understand you and all the good about you, not just what deserves criticism?

In Defense Of My Home And Childhood

"I hate New York."

Over and over and over.

"I hate New York."

I want you all to close your eyes for a minute and just imagine someone, no, several people, no, almost all your closest friends throughout your life saying they hate where you grew up. It starts off as a joke, doesn't it? Oh, yeah, haha, very funny. Maybe it stays a joke. But how long can a joke last before it starts to become a sharp little attack at what made you who you are today? And I'm not looking for a snide remark to that like, "well, if you're an overly materialistic, narrow-minded jap, then why shouldn't I knock what made you into that?" ...Am I those things? Do you really think that's what it means to live in New York? I'm not talking about Brooklyn, I'm not talking about Queens, I'm not talking about New York City, I'm not even talking about the Five Towns. I'm talking about all of us who live in none of those places but who still live in New York and who still get knocked for it (and, by the way, there are also people who do live in those places who do not fall under all the stereotyping going on about them). It is possible to live your entire life in New York and be a reasonable, open-minded, not-on-fast-forward, appreciative of the simpler things in life person with excellent values, a realization that there are others different than you, good manners, a friendly disposition, and practical ideas.

"Do you live on farms where you grew up? Did you spend your free time going cow tipping?"

Sound familiar? If any of you think I'm directing this post at you specifically - I'm not. Amazingly (or maybe it's not such a shocker), nearly all my good friends from out of town complain about the same thing and nearly all of them gripe about how they hate New York. And I have and have had many, many, many friends from out of town. In fact, most of my closest friends in life have not been from New York or have moved out of New York at a young age.

Do any of you not from New York enjoy hearing about the cow tipping over and over? When it's a joke, well, you can laugh along with it. You can even make fun of it amongst yourselves. But is it really funny to you after the hundredth time? Don't you wish people realized that wherever you're from is a normal community?

I'll let you in on a secret.

I grew up in a community not that different from yours.*

I loved my childhood. I was a happy-go-lucky kid with an incredibly loving family and I thrived in quite a close-knit community. When I was younger, nearly everyone went to the local Jewish elementary school. It was close enough to my house to walk. I knew basically every single kid, no matter what age. I may not have spoken to a lot of them, especially the ones a lot older or a lot younger, but I knew who they were. There weren't people in my community I didn't recognize and it was rare that I didn't know another kid's name (again, no matter what age). Back then there was one main shul everyone davened at (now there are a few smaller ones). The Rabbi was, and still is, one of the greatest people I know - I'm talking in terms of gadlus. We as kids all took him for granted because he was the only Rabbi we really knew, but as we got older, went to Israel, things like that, we realized how recognized he was (is) even outside of our quiet community.

On Sundays in the Spring, our shul ran (and still runs) Little League baseball for kids of all ages, with both girls teams and boys teams. I spent many, many Sundays in the local baseball field. When I was younger and first started playing, I was in the outfield. I remember being both extraordinarily bored and swelteringly hot as I stood there with nothing to do (none of the other girls could hit far enough for me to do anything) and the sun beating down on me as I watched the infield through squinted eyes, my hand getting sweaty in my glove. When I got a little older, I was, thankfully, moved to shortstop (where I finally got to do things). I remember going to my brother's games often, too, and thinking that Lawrence was a place in Cedarhurst because their team was called Lawrence Cedarhurst (and they were always so good, too).

In the summers, the Sisterhood has camp-like activities for women who are home (baseball, barbeques, arts and crafts activities, etc.). In fact, my community has lots of activities that create a nice, close community feel. The Purim carnival where all the mothers make their kids promise not to bring home any goldfish, the Simchas Torah kiddush while all the men are getting their aliyas, the women's Simchas Torah tisch on Simchas Torah night (so they don't have to just stand there watching the men dance), Shabbos youth groups, Parent-child learning, the shul Sukkah hop, the shul kiddush-a-thon, the nut roll on both Succos and Pesach (always an exciting event for a kid), tashlich at the duck pond...

Just - everything. The fact that my community, like any community that is small enough, has its quirks that everyone knows about, has its characters that everyone knows about, has that feel that you can just walk down the street and know everyone you pass by and can smile at them and say hello, not just because you're being polite but because you actually know who they are.

In some ways, the community is growing - a lot of young families are moving in and they're not all sending their kids to the local elementary school and not all of the older members of the community know the younger members. But the community tries to stay cohesive and tries to integrate the newer version with the version it used to be as best it can.

On a more personal level, my parents raised me with excellent values - and both of them are born and bred New Yorkers. I learned to put others before myself. I learned to give more than I receive. I learned to always smile, to always greet someone in a friendly way, to always act like a mentch. I learned that wherever I go, I represent my family and I have a responsibility to do so in the most positive way possible. I learned that material things don't matter as much as family, friendship, knowledge, manners. I learned to always treat others with respect, to approach the world with an open mind, and to value the differences another person might have from myself. I learned not to judge too quickly, that midos are more important than money, and that it's highly important to appreciate what we have and to take the time to enjoy the world God has created for us - not to rush through with our heads down.

A classic example of how I was taught values:

This sentence is grammatically incorrect, though is colloquially the way little kids speak:

"Me, Sarah, and Bracha went to the park."

"Sarah, Bracha, and I," my father would say. "Always put yourself last."

There are two lessons there. The first is that, grammatically, it is "I," not "me," and the "I" goes at the end of the list. The other is that it is crucial to recognize the importance of other people and to respect that importance by listing yourself last. Be polite. Don't cut in front of other people. For instance, when you're driving - don't cut someone off. Don't make it impossible for them to get into your lane. When you're handing something out, make sure everyone else has before you take for yourself. Things like that.

Wait, you think. Wait a minute. But...you're from New York! And you have...manners?!

Yes!

Amazing, isn't it? Incredible! Bizarre! Unthinkable!

And guess what?

I'm not the exception to the rule, either!

Isn't that just the most bizarre thing you have ever heard?

Do you want to hear something even more unbelievable?

...I know some pretty jappy people who are not from New York! And who are not even from the tri-state area! I even know jappy people who are from ( gasp) the Midwest! The problem is not only in New York, you know.

Yes, there are issues with New York. There are problems with people who fit the stereotypes you are thinking. And those people are real. They exist. There are way too many of them. I agree.

But we are not all like that. And not all New York communities are as horrible as you think they are. Some of them are just as tame as what you're used to. I can't even tell you how many times I've had an out of town friend come to me for Shabbos and say, somewhat surprised, "Wow, your community is just like mine. This feels exactly like where I live." And why shouldn't it?

Just like you don't like being stereotyped, I don't like being stereotyped. Just like you love where you grew up, I love where I grew up.

But after years and years and years and years and years of having my own friends knock my home, it's starting to hurt.

I know what you mean. I do. I understand completely. I went to a high school in the Five Towns and I felt what you feel when you come to New York and don't like it. My community is not like the Five Towns and I wasn't used to it. And I went through a time where I was completely intimidated by the city. I did not always like the city. I found it dirty. I found it smoky. I found it loud. Even when I was in Israel in the Old City, I mourned the lack of grass. I mourned the fact that there was no autumn. I desperately did not want to go back to New York because I was so done with that whole scene. But I had been thinking of the intense scene from the Five Towns that had left its impression. I had forgotten that there are people even in the Five Towns who don't fit that mold. And that my own community does not fit that mold. And that Stern College is big enough that you don't have to be in that scene at all.

Autumn in my community is so gorgeous. It's got that New England look with multitudes of trees of brilliant reds, oranges, yellows, and every shade in between. We have grass. We have parks. Big parks not that far away! We have a creek! We have a duck pond! We are not all fancy homes. We do not have big buildings. We have plenty of parking. We don't have smoke. We don't have dirt and grime. We don't have much crime. We're a relatively sleepy town. By an out of towner friend of mine, we've been called "quaint." We are heimish. We are warm. We are welcoming.

We are in New York and, you know what? It's still a great place to live. And I'm not at all sorry that I grew up there.

*As far as community life goes. I'm not talking about hashkafa or anything like that.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Tale Of A First-Time Voter

I remember going into a voting booth once with my mother when I was very small, but I don't remember much about it except that I couldn't understand what on earth my mother was doing. So when I went to vote today, I wasn't sure what to expect.

I had to go home last night in order to vote today in my district this morning. The school where the voting was was on the way to the train, so I showed up dragging a suitcase with one hand and clutching the voting card I got in the mail with the other. In the parking lot, a man who lives on my block winked at me, raised a brow, and said, "Running away from home?" I grinned and asked him where the voting was.

When I got inside, two other people from my block (which is a very small block) were there, so we had a nice representation. It turned out I didn't even need the voting card, I just needed to tell them my name and what street I lived on. And then I had to wait.

I watched as other people went into the booths, but still had no idea what the inside would look like. When I was next, an older lady who worked there starting telling me about two policies in my town we were voting for. I think I looked a little confused because I sort of just nodded. She glanced me over and then asked kindly, "Is this your first time voting?"

Yes, I nodded.

"I'll show you what to do."

She came with me into the booth and instructed me to pull this big red lever in order to close the curtain. Then she left, adding I should ask if I needed any help.

And then I was alone.

I stared at the little switches on the board there - I don't even know what it's actually called - and was incredibly confused at why Obama and McCain were listed so many times. I had imagined there to be just two places to vote for President - one for McCain, one for Obama. I didn't know under which line I should vote, so I picked one using an educated guess - but a guess, all the same.

A lot of the other categories I skipped. I had no clue who anyone was, anyway. There were only a few with names I actually recognized.

And then I was done. Like I had been instructed, I pulled the big red lever again and the curtain opened, sort of like in The Wizard of Oz.

The older woman smiled at me.

"So you've voted for the first time - kind of exciting, isn't it?"

I supposed so. I almost shrugged but decided to be kinder and gave her a smile instead.

"Yeah, thanks."

And then I left and went to the train.

And next time, I will no longer be a first-time voter.

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's Gonna Be A Good Day!

I have no classes today! How lucky - especially the morning after Pobody's wedding! I'm very excited because this means I can have time to go ice skating. Yay! I love ice skating. This is generally how I feel right now:



Sometimes it's good to just forget about everything that normally stresses you out, let go, and smile. Enjoy life. It's generally a good thing to have and a good thing to be happy about.

I hope you all have a FANTASTIC day and be sure to share the happiness! And leave happy comments, if you'd like! And if you're not having a good day - don't worry. Tomorrow is another chance! :D

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Strange

It's always slightly strange to go immediately from one group of people in your life to a completely different group of people in your life. The contrast is sometimes so stark, it becomes almost confusing.

It's like this. I know who I am. I know which parts of me come out when around certain people. I am very comfortable with that. Then, when I'm around other people, I become a slightly different person. Does this make sense to any of you? It's like I'm a person from the past, and then I start to get muddled about who I really am now. It feels almost like straddling two worlds. I have one foot in one world and one foot in another and I just have no idea where I really belong anymore. I don't only mean personality-wise, I mean hashkafically, too.

Unless I just create my own world called Erachetland. Uh...come visit, sometime. It's lonely all by myself in there.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Navigating The Balance Beam

Change is complicated.

My first instinct was to write "change is scary," but then I heard a voice in my head saying, "not everything is scary, sheesh!" My second instinct was to write, "change is exciting." Except that's not what I'm feeling at the moment. Change is something in between "scary" and "exciting."

Change is active. You can't ignore change.

Change is undefinable because each person experiences it and deals with it and approaches it differently. So I'm going to stop trying to define change.

Certain things about life you can learn from others. You can watch them, see their mistakes, be careful not to make the same ones. You can talk to them, they can give you advice.

Other things about life you really have to teach yourself.

Some things are expected.

Some things are strange.

Sometimes you can be there for your friends. But I've learned that you can't always protect your friends. Sometimes, all you can do is be someone to talk to, be there for them, comfort them, reason with them, but you can't always actually help them. Sometimes they might hurt each other and there's nothing you can do, or nothing you should do. But just being there for them might be all they need. Sometimes that's one of the most important parts of a friendship: being there. Just being a good friend. Showing you care.

Sometimes you both understand and don't understand something. Then what do you do? People may give advice, but I've also learned, you have to navigate your own way. You have to play the cards that were actually dealt to you, not always look for answers elsewhere, even if others have good advice. You're you and your situations are unique because of that.

And yet, after all these realizations, it's still hard to figure things out.

Losing friends is sad. Even if you make new ones. You can say keep in touch with everyone, but I see how it is all the time. Everyone drifts.

I love all my friends now. I wish I could stay close with them.

Emotions are a tricky thing. The future is a tricky thing. Life is a tricky thing.

Sometimes I wish it was easier...