Thursday, January 26, 2012

Discomfort

I’ve always found deadlines and boundaries difficult to manage. I work best on my own time, in my own secluded corners, within the system I set for myself. When someone comes along and places boundaries upon me, whether they are in the form of due dates or rules or social systems, I have a tendency to crumble.

I know I’m not alone in my deterioration. It’s difficult to be a human being when the walls are pressing you into a tiny enclosed space and you can barely breathe.

Mayhaps what I’m really talking about here is community expectations. That is, if you can call the Orthodox spectrum a community at all.

Let’s face it: the unspoken deadlines for marriage are downright traumatizing for most young people. You can’t place a deadline on meeting the right person. Then again, the right wing isn’t so into the concept of falling in love. They seem to desire conformity over everything else. I shudder at this thought.

Certain segments of the New York Jewish community take great pride in placing restriction upon restriction on its people. For some, rigidity works for them. They have a set schedule and don’t need to use their brains to decide what they’re going to do with their days. Furthermore, it allows them a certain speshul corner of civilization from which they point and proclaim themselves holier than thou.

I’m struggling with the notion of absolute truth. How can anyone be so narcissistic that they decree their Ultimate Correctness over everything? One might consider this the ultimate boundary. And quite frankly, that makes me rather uncomfortable.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Few, The Proud, The Jews

You know you’re in trouble when the first thing you read on a blog is a disclaimer, but that is the situation you all find yourselves in now. I am still recovering from a crazy wedding weekend (Mazal Tov Josh and Jenny!!) and it turns out I might have torn the meniscus in my right knee, so aside from the charley horse from dancing and the headache from lack of sleep/dehydration, I now have piercing knee pain thrown into what has become a very physically uncomfortable situation for me. As such, I am unfocused and tired and am only awake now to write this, because we all know that I’ll never start writing a post with more than three hours to spare. There are exceptions to this well documented fact, but tonight is not one of them. As such, while I have a nice thought to share and a reasonably good idea of how I want to present it, I cannot be held accountable for length or philosophical value; I imagine, given my physical state, that it will be shorter and less involved than I normally go. To some that’s probably a good thing, but then again, I’ve never exactly been able to write short and simple so we’ll see how this goes.

I find that wisdom can come from weird places if you keep your ears open and listen for it. I’m not quite sure who says that, but I’m sure it’s one of those “they say” things; it sounds too cliché not to be one. However, clichés become clichés because they’re cheesy and overstated, and while I can’t condone the cheesiness, they’re overstated because they tend to be true. Such is the case with the above, and, since I generally try to keep my ears open to good advice, I now have a nice thought to share with you all, brought to you by my barber, Alex.

Alex and I tend to lengthen my average haircut time by about 10 minutes because we schmooze a lot while I’m in the chair, but it’s okay because the conversations are enjoyable and he’s a pretty intelligent guy so he usually has some cool things to say, such as the one I’m about to share with you. It was this past Friday when, as I was getting cleaned up for the aforementioned wedding, he told me a story about a 10-day cruise he had just returned from. He had originally thought he and his family were the only Jews on the boat holding 200 plus crew, so it surprised him when on Friday afternoon a man came up to him and told him that Shabbat dinner would be on the lower deck at 7 PM. When he got there, everything was set up in a picturesque Shabbat fashion, save for the fact that the husbands and wives were running around with cameras taking pictures with their friends. Alex wasn’t bothered by the blatant breach of halacha though, because he was reminded of something a friend once told him: “To me, Judaism is like the US Armed Forces. What I mean is like this: you have the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, the Army, and so on, and each division has a job that it’s supposed to do. You wouldn’t tell an air force pilot to drive a submarine, because that’s not his job, he’s not in the Navy! In that same way, Judaism has its divisions and we each do our own part. A Conservative guy shouldn’t be Orthodox and a Chassid shouldn’t be Reform. They should be what they are meant to be and bring Moshiach in their own way.”

The gaping hole in the halachic validity of that statement notwithstanding, I think that’s a beautiful thought. It speaks of an idea that we sorely need to learn in this modern era, one that, strangely enough, comes straight out of the Torah, boiled down to three words here for your convenience: Judge Everyone Favorably. It’s something that I’ve preached about endlessly on this blog and try to apply to my life daily, and while I tend to attack the issue from my own perspective, it’s important to notice that it works on two levels. Yes, it’s a terrible thing to turn away someone less religious than you simply because he is less religious than you, I've ranted about that ad nauseam. However on the other end of the spectrum, one that I am loathe to address given what’s been going on in Beit Shemesh and Meah Shearim these days but is valid nonetheless, it is also important not to globally pan the ultra-Orthodox community. Are the zealots who commit crimes against Jewish and secular law correct in their actions? Of course not! That doesn’t mean the entire Chareidi community is filled with similar nutcases though. So on both levels, it is so important not to judge, because remember, we’re all one family in the end, and a small one at that, so it’s important to stick together.


Song of the Day: Prism and Gate – Scar Symmetry

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Missing Piece

It’s official. I’ve given in and will now be discussing the most New York Jew of all subjects: dating. But be aware, I will not be ranting the way I probably should. Instead, I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about one of my favorite books of all time: The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein.

That may not be the most on topic of blogpost choices, but the author was Jewish and so however contrived, it fits. Let’s get at it.

I grew up reading The Missing Piece, and I’ve loved it the whole way. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you do so now, or at the very least, watch this video. 


But if you have, you probably know why I love it so. Anyway, a few weeks ago, my students were learning lessons about friendship and poetry, so my teacher-boss taught them The Missing Piece (which I was horrified to see not a single one of them knew about) and had them write what they thought the lesson of the story was.





She told them it was to make friends with all sorts, not just those who seem to fit us perfectly. Not exactly what I think of when I read The Missing Piece. I pointed this out to teacher-boss, to which she asked what I thought the moral of the story was.

After some thought, I answered, “Sometimes wanting is better than having.”

The truth is, I see many morals to this story, but I had chosen to share the most simplistic one, the one kids could understand too. It’s the one I saw in the story as a kid, but not the one I see from the perspective of a newly-grown-up New Yorker looking for her purpose in life.

For me, The Missing Piece is, very simply, about love. Or rather, about the seemingly never-ending search for the “ideal” love. I feel that, especially in our Jewish society, we (especially girls) grow up thinking that we will not be complete until we find a husband, our “Missing Piece” as it were. The feminist in me rages against this notion, but the very strong family-centric Jewish momma-wannabe in me sees its point. G-d help me.

(It’s reluctant to admit it, though.)

The Missing Piece fits perfectly into this viewpoint. While my students read the words out loud, I found myself thinking back on my own past relationships (of which there haven’t been many, but just enough to be frustrating). About the instances where “one was a little too sharp,” or “one held too tightly, and broke,” or “one didn’t hold tightly enough and got lost,” or even the one that “wasn’t anyone’s piece, but its own.” Lord, haven’t we all had those? The one that wouldn’t stop fighting? The one that was too clingy? The one that couldn’t wait to get away? It brings a pain to my chest just thinking about it. Such a simple story, and yet such a deep and relatable message. 

And true, there are those people (you know, the types who just object for the sake of objecting?) who dislike the story and its message, claiming that it's in some way encouraging a lack of commitment. 


But I say forget those guys. This book rocks and you know it. 


Shut it, McHipster. I'm talking.

As much as I love The Missing Piece, the truth is I relate even more to its sequel (that link is the entire book online, so if you haven't read it, do so now), told from the point of view of the piece itself. For some reason I feel like this one takes on, despite its total lack of gender, a more female flavor to it. I know I definitely relate to the piece’s frustration as it recalls “the one that fit, but couldn’t roll” or “the one that didn’t know a thing about fitting”. 



“It tried being flashy, but that frightened away the shy ones,” or “One put it on a pedestal and left it there.” Wow. Every girl has had those. Although I must mention that I've heard some equally bad relationship stories from guys.


*Shudder*... crazy people...

Anyway, rereading The Missing Piece Meets The Big O now after a long time away, I find once again that a children's book has managed to make me think more than a huge tome of philosophy dissertations.


Oh, Shel Silverstein, if you didn’t know everything, this sure makes it look like you did. That whole thing about getting to know and like yourself before you can expect anyone else to? That's pretty much my problem and the problem of so many others summed up by a series of line drawings starring Pacman. That's pretty freaking awesome. 

So what's my point in all this, other than to encourage people to pick up their childhood classics for a reread? Well, mostly to remind others (and myself) that the search may stink, but the likelihood is that it won't go on forever, and until we find what we're looking for, it's best to enjoy the ride. I know that's not easy. Heck, I despair over the search as often as anyone. 

And I could complain about the Shidduch system, or specific bad dates, or over the guy vs. girl expectations, but I won't. At least not here. This is a post about the more cosmic part of singleness. That of being alone. That maybe, for now (and hopefully it IS only for now), the alone-ness might be good for us. We may have to stop and talk to a worm, or smell a flower, or just enjoy our youth with our friends before we can find our missing piece. And during those moments when we feel like we can't take the search for one more day, well... that's why we've got friends in the first place.



...And to stay friends with us even when we get all couple-y and married and stuff. Let's not forget that.

And despite my skepticism when it comes to "everything working out in the end" and there being some perfect Beshert for everyone, I do comfort myself with the thought that perhaps our missing pieces really are out there, not so far away, just waiting for us to turn around and notice them.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Crash

I’ve got no witty anecdotes, no stories that effortlessly connect to one of the religious/cultural themes of this blog, no nothing. I’m suffering from a bad case of burn out, which I believe began about a year ago. In the past few months, I completely crashed, explaining my absence from the blogosphere (the details of this extreme collision will remain off the record of this blog because it isn’t completely anonymous). I wasn’t able to deal with much of anything besides for class and homework, and even then, I probably should have taken a semester off. I haven’t even checked my grades yet.

Burn out could not have arrived at a worse time – I’m being offered a shot at writing on a professional platform and I need to be in tip-top shape or I’ll lose the shot. Judging from my Microsoft Word archives, I haven’t produced anything of the quality I need to be producing now in over a year, pre-Arbitribe. What happened? People don’t just lose their abilities, do they? On top of this writer’s block, I’m musically blocked as well. My brain goes all fuzzy when I try to be creative, but I realize this isn’t sudden. I was in denial throughout the gradual build-up of the blockage.

I suppose I haven’t been taking the best care of myself, but then again, what college student can get eight hours of sleep every night and have time to regularly hit the gym and get those endorphins flitting about? But the body and mind are connected, of course, and if you starve one, the other suffers as well. Case in point: moi. I wrote over 150 pages this past semester, which took its toll on me. It’s true what they say, the body is a temple and if you keep it in good health, the mind will be kept clear.

A combination of academic stresses plus my own anxiety about life in general sent me spiraling down, down, down. I let go of taking care of my physical self, and damaged my soul. Now, I’ve really got no place to go but up.

I suppose I’ll be documenting my journey back to life here.

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