Thursday, December 31, 2009

December Thirty-First, Two Thousand And Nine

December 31, 2009. A day that will live in...disappointment. And, hopefully, growth.

I remember the day I turned ten. My whole life prior, I told people I was a single digit years old. That magical single digit. I was one, I was two, I was three, four, five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Those years where only the children belong. I only had that for nine years. Then I left it behind forever. I turned ten. I joined the ranks of the double-digits. For most of the rest of my life, I would be double-digits years old.

Ten.

Ten is the beginning of a new kind of growth. You're still an innocent, carefree little kid...except then you become eleven. You are a preteen. You have preteen angst, even as you turn twelve, and then at thirteen you leave even that behind and turn into a teenager. Fourteen and you're in high school. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. College.

The new millennium is about to turn ten. And where am I?

Two summers ago, I started working on a project. A piece of writing. It was just a little piece of writing then. I didn't even think it would mean anything more than an email venting my frustration in the form of a two paragraph story.

But this piece of writing grew. For a year and a half, I have written - and not written - around that first email. I'd spend many, many days - weeks - not writing anything at all. And then inspiration would strike and I'd churn out another little writing episode. That's all it was. A collection of writing episodes.

But by the end of this year - by the end of December 31, 2009, I'm supposed to have a first draft of a novel. And I don't. Not even close.

So I'm sorry to anyone who was expecting me to have completed that draft. And I'm sorry to myself, because it's myself who I've let down the most.

I really dislike being disappointing. And I'm sad that I have to end the year feeling like I did not accomplish what I should have accomplished.

One thing I learned through months of experience now is that it is extremely difficult to write creatively when you are not inspired to. And that is what being a writer is all about - writing under all conditions: when people are around, when people are not around, when it's too loud, when it's too quiet, when it's too hot, too cold, when you're exhausted, or when you really want to get out and do something. Being a writer is not writing whenever the fancy takes hold of you. It's writing even when you don't feel like it - because you have to. You have to for you and you have to for your story. And I desperately want to be that kind of writer. A real one. One who is primarily writing, not occasionally writing. It's a lot harder than I thought.

I don't want to give up. I can't give up. I'll never forgive myself if I do. So I hope that no one loses faith in me, even if I am disappointing right now. It's about to be 2010. A new year for writing. If I've learned anything, it's that you can't be a writer based on talent alone. I don't have a natural skill for perseverance, but I sure am going to try and develop one.

And one thing that redeems this post is that it is part of my novel, too. And it's 637 words.

Here's to a new year of writing, and of reaching any goal just within your grasp. I hope you all accomplish everything you set out to do, and remember, even if you fail, a new fight starts tomorrow. Make it count.

-----

My ical alarm just went off. A little message popped up on my screen saying, “300 pages of novel due.” I wish so badly that I was there. I’m so sorry that I’m not. So disappointed.

But…I am closer every day to finishing this ever-growing piece of writing. And I am at least a hundred pages closer to having a real novel than I’ve ever been in my entire life. That’s not nothing. I hope my book continues to grow and develop as it should, and at a more regular, steady pace.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Perspective

Everything we feel is born out of the perspective we come from. There is some truth in what everyone feels - even if different people feel contradictory things.

When I was in high school, Stern was seen as the "frum" college choice. When I was in Stern, I met people who came from the opposite end - they came from worlds where Stern (and YU) was seen as a more "modern" college choice. The same Stern and YU.

In certain circles, I hear people complain about YU and how it's growing so much to the right. In other circles, people are afraid of YU shifting too much to the left.

So which is it?

YU (and the CJF) has many different kinds of events: the seforim sale, Torah Tours, etc. Sometimes, YU has events that are more questionable or more "to the left." The Gay Panel was one of those events. Here are my thoughts on the gay panel event.

1. I believe that we have an obligation to be sympathetic to the plights of any of our Jewish brethren. Jewish homosexuals have a particularly difficult struggle in that they can never really get married and have children.

1a. Getting married and having children is only one major aspect of living a Jewish life. Devoting one's self to Torah and to the community can be another. There is more than one way to find meaning in life, and there is more than one way to have a fulfilling Jewish future. That said, I am completely sympathetic to the pain of knowing you will never marry and raise a family.

2. As harsh as this sounds, there is nothing the public Jewish community can do to help homosexuals. All we can do is feel sympathy. We cannot decide to make something halachikly okay when it is clearly not. We cannot turn a blind eye to any halachik transgressions because we feel bad. As R' Twersky said, there is such a thing as having too much sympathy. The more sympathetic a person is, the more that person wants to lessen someone else's pain, and then the more that person might allow certain things to slide that should not. Our sympathy has to remain only in the "feeling sensitive" category, not "feeling so bad that we'll do anything to lessen the other person's pain." We just can't make things okay that are not okay, no matter how badly we feel.

2a. Therefore, a public event like the panel serves a confusing purpose. It brought about some good - I have heard a bunch of people say that they used to not have any feelings towards the homosexual issue and now they feel sympathetic, which is a valuable outcome (if it is a healthy amount of sympathy). It also has the potential to bring about harm - someone might feel that YU is condoning homosexuality, that YU students support homosexuality, and/or that this is just one step forward down a tricky road of possible serious halachik transgressions. Do we really think the subject of homosexuality at YU will remain in the area of just discussing how difficult it is for Orthodox homosexuals? Or is this only the beginning towards a questionable future? I don't know. I don't think anyone can know. It remains to be seen. Am I offended by the event? No. Am I angry it occurred? I wasn't. After reading the notes of R' Reiss's speech, however, I feel his deep sadness that something like arayos needs to be discussed in this manner at YU - a makom Torah. I do find it upsetting that we should need a reminder that such a thing is not allowed. But I also believe that not all the panelists, and certainly not the people who organized the event, or R' Blau, or those who attended the event, ever intended to give off the impression that acting on homosexuality was acceptable. Such a perception grew out of the reactions of those against the panel. Now that this perception exists, however, YU and the Orthodox world must combat the idea that an Orthodox institution could ever condone such a thing, and we all must remind ourselves that no matter how sympathetic we feel, we can never be supportive of actual homosexual behavior.

3. Homosexuality is a private, personal issue. A person dealing with homosexuality 100% should receive guidance and inspiration on how to continue to lead a frum Orthodox life while grappling with this struggle, but that person should be turning to rabbonim, friends, and family for this guidance and support.

Saying homosexuality is a private issue is not the same as sweeping it under the rug. When something is accused of being "swept under the rug," it is when there is something that ought to be exposed and is not. This goes for abuse, molestation, etc. When it comes to homosexuality, there is nothing to expose that is being hidden away. There is no evil we as a community ought to bring out into the open in order to deal with and protect people from. Homosexuality is a personal issue. It involves the person and the people in that person's personal life. Such an intense struggle is something sensitive that ought to be treated as such, not by airing it out for the whole community to hear but by dealing with it discreetly and respectfully. That is also the most productive way to deal with it: the way a person will actually receive the most help and guidance.

4. There has been a lot of outcry about the direction Orthodoxy is headed. Some say it's heading too much to the left, some say too much to the right. I say this: Throughout Jewish history, we as a religious entity have had to deal with various difficult issues. We have survived and survived and survived. And we will survive this, too. Orthodoxy will not disappear and it will not turn into something unrecognizable. Things change all the time, but our core values are always the same. The Torah is truth and that is what guides us. As long as the Torah and halacha is still the focus of how we live our lives, we will be okay. The thing we have to watch out for, which is something that R' Twersky mentioned briefly, is being true to what halachos really are, not reinventing them to make things okay that are not actually okay just because we would like them to be okay.

And that's another thing. We are not entitled to anything we feel like we ought to have. As Orthodox Jews, we should know better than to think that way. This extends far beyond the issue of homosexuality. You know the slogan of Hebrew National - "We answer to a higher authority?" Well, they might not, but we do. We can't forget that there is a higher purpose in life than getting everything we want. As a nation that is kadosh, we have been given specific guidelines for how to live a life of kedusha. We are so lucky that most of us grow up aware we have meaning and a purpose in life. So many people in this world don't have that. We do. We should cherish that and try to live the way we are supposed to.

5. I don't think YU is a bad place. YU is a very good place trying to figure out how to deal with its wide array of students. Perhaps a lot of what they do is for money and image. But I really do think there's this understanding that YU students are a major part of the Orthodox future - certainly the Modern Orthodox future - and the institution tries to cater to the different kinds of students there are. Maybe that is part of the problem. Maybe YU as an institution ought to do some self-reflection and philosophizing, coming up with a real hashkafa that it stands by. If something does not abide by that hashkafa, then YU should not stand behind that thing. Then there will be no, or less, confusion, and YU will not find itself in quite as many situations as this. The argument against that is that YU wants to keep its diverse university face, as well. But I do think lines need to be drawn anyway, while still leaving room for productive intellectual discourse.

I'm just one Stern alum and these are my thoughts.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hiatus

From a website, reiterating the words of a close friend:

Sinclair Lewis was invited to talk to some students about the writer’s craft. He stood at the head of the class and asked, “How many of you here are really serious about being writers?” A sea of hands shot up. Lewis then asked, “Well, why aren't you all home writing?” And with that he walked out of the room.

Goodbye for now!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Past Life

I've always felt it was stupid to judge people based on where they went to school or similar things of the past. You never know what that person was like then, what the person is like now, etc. I know I don't like being seen in certain ways just because I've gone certain places in my past. I'm nothing like what one would associate with the places I've been.

And yet I find myself doing it to others. I find that I have a particular aversion to dating people who have been certain places because I don't want to go back there myself. I've moved forward from those places and I want to continue moving forward and away, not back.

I feel terrible for doing what I would hate for someone to do to me. So why am I doing it? It's instinct almost. I know in my head that this is not something I agree with, but emotionally I am saying, "No, no, no, I don't want that!"

For the first time, I have really begun to feel comfortable with where I am religiously and I want someone who will help pull me further along this path, not bring me back to where I once was. So maybe that is why I am so wary of certain things about people. I don't know.

Does this justify it? I know it doesn't. But I wish I could somehow get it through to people that I'm not looking for what they think I'm looking for. Unless I'm just being completely thick about the whole thing.

I guess being so quiet and introverted really does not allow people to see who I am, what I believe, and what kind of person I've become. I just do it to myself - all the misunderstanding people have. And then I go and misunderstand other people. Or do I? I don't know. I don't think I do, except I must, because I know people don't know me, so that must mean that when I think I know something about someone, I really don't know them either. Especially if I've never met them.

Oh bother. Why do I have to form opinions?