mardi, mai 31, 2005

only with cancer

only with cancer... do we call a wig, a cranial prosthesis...

I recommend highly the use of laughter as a way to cure terminal seriousness... which may very well be my personal projection of what is wrong with me onto the world.. at any rat. I recommend to myself therefore that I go to

by the way, only in a hospital... can you be famous for --having great veins. the website of the Carolina Health and Humor Association

I remember as a kid that my favorite thing was to read the humor sections of Reader's Digest magazones. I LOVED those pages. I think it would be awesome if someone would compile all the humor things from their magazines into a book. It's just an awesomely good thing to laugh.

lundi, mai 30, 2005

another death, to cancer again, Don Albury died May 22, 2005

Don Albury gave me one of my first jobs as an adult. Working for him, I learned about media and became a projectionist of 35mm film. He was really incredibly nice. I had no call to be working a media services job, really. I totally wanted to be working a library shift anyway, where I could study at the same time, but it seemed okay, after all I'd get to watch movies at the same time, right? Oh, I was scared of the horror films and always seemed to get those classes or the art classes(!) as my jobs, and so I barely could watch the films that I was working on. I did finally get the hang of it and became a regular projectionist for the art classes. Don was remarkably forgiving... like the time I was the projectionist for the Hitchcock Film Festival at the Theater/Art building and it was one of my first solo gigs... I made such a mess of things the first night, I think the students were going to rip me up in shreds. Heck, I think Roeg Sutherland was in that class, back when we were still friends. This was back when Vicky would hang out with me in the booth with dinner from Tiger Noodles/YY Doodles. Good memories...

It makes me wonder, so many people at Princeton who touched my life have died of cancer over the past few years
Dave Wilkinson
Carrie Wilson Gordon
Marianne Waterbury (I remember her, too.)
Don Albury

and more people too that I don't recall so strongly... sigh. Cancer. If I seriously thought I could find a cure for it, I'd go into that area and work on it... but I can't think of any advantage we might have over cancer.

I think often that cancer is of such high occurrence in our population... I really wonder if we could say cancer becomes after a point a natural cause of death.

Congratulations, Princeton grads.. tomorrow is your big day. I wish you the best.

continuing the theme of anger

Anger finds its way into our lives in the oddest manners. (With the oddest manners in fact, people who say please and thank you, sometimes have the meanest, angriest edge to their politeness...) As I continue to study anger, I see where anger makes some people "love" or more what happens is that the person retreats to some level of insecurity to compensate for the anger. If it isn't okay to be angry -say at a situation- or at a person then one's anger must find another a handful of cases, I've seen, that anger finds its way out in self-image. We make a quiet internal --I suspect subconscious-- statement to ourselves that since this thing that we are angry about didn't work out the way we wanted/asked/suspected (shoresh for those who get the reference: mem-tzadi-yud) it to, that there is something not to like or to be upset over within ourselves. I believe that this negative energy turns inwards to us and we let it eat away at our own self-esteem and it creates insecurities.

When we are insecure, we seek all manner of things to appease our fears. common means of fixing our fears: we try to look good, dress better, in such a way that we feel better about ourselves, we seek relationships which pad our sense of how likable we are, we throw ourselves into our work and use our work as a means to shore up our fears about ourselves. At least, we think, if I am productive, or I am hard-working, or I accomplish X, than I am worth something. There is a famous desiderata about our deserving to be on this earth just as much as the trees, fishes, birds, etc. I think about it from time to time and recall how comforting it has been to countless folk. Why? Because so many of us, if not all of us, need some reassurance about our deserving our spot in the world. Sometimes we ask ourselves ... Are we worth our weight in salt? in gold?

What kind of question is that?

Anger finds its way into so much of what we do and who we are. We don't even have to be aware of where the anger is from, but its insidious presence comes sneaking into our lives nonetheless. If we rein in the desire to express our anger, it comes out another way. If we allow it to expel in non-productive ways we can cause grief and bitterness as I briefly mentioned in a prior post beginning with the Kipling quote from Michael. It is beyond all things possible that we should never experience anger, but perhaps "GI Joe" was right in saying that "knowing is half the battle." It is well worth it to us, if we are able to feel, step back, assess, and then act. This does, I believe, include unpacking all the pipeces of where anger is and what it does.

dimanche, mai 29, 2005

might be

I might be a liberal pretending to be a conservative... or I might be a conservative pretending to be a liberal.. I'm not entirely sure.

One thing I know.. I hate how easily we can influence a congressional leader's vote with money.. i totally understand why and how.. but sometimes I wonder how these people wke up in the mornings, look themselves int he mirror and say, I like me. Maybe they don't.

I guess, ideally, I'd like to be a hermit on a mountaintop living by a freshwater creek. (does that mean I shouldn't get married.. no minyan for the husband...? heh, heh)

mercredi, mai 25, 2005

a quote to comment on, not so nice and maybe not so accurate after all

By what right has the dog come to be regarded as a "noble" animal? The more brutal and cruel and unjust you are to him the more your fawning and adoring slave he becomes; whereas, if you shamefully misuse a cat once she will always maintain a dignified reserve toward you afterward--you will never get her full confidence again.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

jeudi, mai 19, 2005

ik mis jou

Dave Wilkinson,
my mentor,
my teacher.

I wish you were still alive today. I wish you would have lived to see me graduate. I wish you would have lived to cheer me on. I wish you would still be able to answer all my physics questions. You had so much patience. You had so much hope. I miss you so much. I miss having someone who believed in me so much and was so wise.

My world is richer for your having been in it and lesser for your being gone now.

You were amazing to me.

vendredi, mai 13, 2005

classic from my friend Joshua

So my friend Joshua noted that for the longest time, I didn't care about getting married - or at least I knew I didn't care about going the standard route. I wanted people to prove themselves to me to show that they were worthy.

a possible ketubah-arranging conversation...
Me: I'm interesting and only somewhat expensive to pay for maintenance and upkeep -kind of like a couple of gerbils, and not nearly as bad as say a horse or an orca.
Joshua: well since I have a pool already...the orca wouldn't be so bad
Me: i mean maintaining an orca is a lot more expensive
Joshua: and w/a horse, I could also do water polo!
me: yeah, but think of the food and the vet bills
Joshua: ah, hm - well, you would cost me more than say, sea monkeys
me: what's a sea monkey?
Joshua: I think we need to look at you economically. the maintainance is high and expensive, but the cost/reward thing works out well too, bec you have so much to offer people.
1. smart 2. happy 3. affectionate and nice 4. cute and pretty 5. absurdly good cook 6. snazzy dresser 7. good hygene 8. toenails 9. usually you're a very bright person (emotion wise)
me: Wait --my selling points include that i have toenails?!?! oy.
Joshua: :-) well if you didn' t that would be bad. I mean can you imagine buying a wife w/no toenails??? I mean that's gotta be a discount right there ---hmm... no toenails - 20% off

heh, so anyway, this was a really funny conversation that I felt like sharing with the world. ;) I mean, who knew that toenails were 20% of one's worth?

transition states -moving from potential to kinetic in spirit

sefira -a time of mourning for Jews... I actually, probably in some strange way, enjoy sefira because it is such a period of enforced mourning.. a period of enforced and daily reminders of what we are missing and lacking in our lives. I like seeing the guys running around unshaven and scruffy, because seeing them, I recall even more what there is still to do and to be done -working on oneself and working for the nation. That I don't like bearded and scruffy men, is part of that reminder, but more a nudge that this set of fifty days is particularly a time when I look inward to my soul and take an accounting. There is a lot to life that I don't like, but that exists and it is part f my internal self-training to accept and adpat to that which I do not like. Each day of this spiritual "mourning" is counted in the omer count -which is something I love, too, because it is a daily and conscious reminder... each day has an association with a sefira along a kabbalistic tenor- the name of that day's sefira is a reminder of that aspect of self which requires work and is a highlight of who we wish to become and what we wish the world to become. I am always amazed at the general human population and its ability to adapt, think, change and ultimately evolve -fulfilling potential that is there.

I like to look at the world around me and see the chemistry and physics that is evident on a physical, metaphysical, and transcendent level. One of my great favorites was a discussion I had once with a chemical physics theoretician about quantum mechanics and Gd. To me, it seemed that QM is a great model for Gd. You try to pin it down -- and there's the Heisenberg uncertainty principle... but mortal intellectuals believe so much in QM and in relativity... scientists believe what they believe, without being able to pin down a single electron in it's spot, momentum, and spin. Whoever said scientists were a faithless lot? Hah! The faith is just for different aspects of our lives.

Some people believe in their gut feelings. Some people believe in their intuition, Some people believe only in their logic. Some people believe only in their rational faculties. Some people believe only in the tangibles of life. Some people believe only in those things that they have heard for years. When I look at this conglomeration of people, I think that without each other to push and pull against, they would not believe what they believe so strongly and thus would not do what they do to make the world go around. It is when this mixture of people are around to push each other that we find ourselves challenged to be more and to grow to our best. A molecule sitting on the edge of a step fault on some surface, finds itself, struggling with what to do next. A mere vibration -a mere thought perhaps- causes it to move on way or another and influences the rest of its trajectory. Like the molecules, we people need the vastness of the world around us. We need the variety of life to alter us and to keep us moving along our paths, wherever and however we would go. We are so deeply a part of the tapestry of life that we don't even see how each step opens a new potential energy surface around us to be explored and each moment is a step with choices which will alter the landscape for us, sitting in our minds... looking all around.

I hope that everyone finds growth and great depth in this year's sefira and finds time to internally search themselves for what is still to come and what one does to grow and self-strengthen. Ultimately, may our efforts build Am Yisrael and bring us all bimheirah b'yameinu la'aretz vil'geulah.

mardi, mai 10, 2005

an amazing letter that captures so precisely what I have thought much myself...

I just read this letter and found that it highlights a particular and very special concept I feel so strongly in my own life -the balance of kodesh and l'chol. How much better these very special persons (individuals and not groupwise people) phrased it than I could!

Dear friends,
We could not imagine a more meaningful s'udat preida than the siyum you collectively made yesterday. With all the pressures of the university, it's very impressive that you all have the motivation not onlyto sustain a vibrant Jewish community here in college, but also to study Torah. It's particularly touching that you would make a siyum for us. For us, integrating the diverse methods of intellectual inquiry and the vast wisdom of humanity at large into the overarching moral framework of the Torah represents one of the supreme challenges of Jewish life. Academic studies tend to be all-consuming. For the most altruistic reasons, one can decide that one's personal duty as a Jew is to specialize in a certain academic pursuit or a profession. It often seems impossibleto study Torah seriously and simultaneously realize one's full potential in another discipline. On the other hand, many people believe that only by total devotion to Torah study, to exclusion of everything else, can one realize one's full potential as a Jew. Nevertheless, we believe that if one simultaneously strives to understand deeply the truths of both Torah and secular wisdom, with all their inherent conflicts, the two strengthen each other. Ultimately, this mutual strengthening may surpass the advantages of focusing on either byitself. In pursuit of this overarching goal in particular, as well all other endeavors, we wish you all the best.
Kol Tuv,

Indeed so often I have seen people choose one thing over the other --stepping back and refusing to be courageous in the face of the conflict or suffering that occurs in one's attempt to try to balance everything. I am proudest when I witness humankind's courage and ability to perservere. When I see people step up to the plate and bat under duress. It matters little to not at all if you get the ball anywhere to me. What matters most is if you step up and bat.

lundi, mai 09, 2005

a lovely new description of me from someone else...

one person wrote and I quote him, in describing me that I have...
" an internal belief and commitment [to Judaism] that's as much existential as it is ontological."

Interesting. I wonder what everyone says about me sometimes.

I mean, I think, I prefer to continue to mosey about in my own way without encountering other people's opinions since judgment and opinions rendered about me make me uncomfortable, but I do find it fascinating every once in a while when someone writes or says something describing me to me.

By the way, I read this quote maybe six years ago, really liked it then, and only recently learned from whence it came. "I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back." -Oriah Mountain Dreamer. Click on the "1 comment" thing below to read the passage from whose context it was plucked. I'm amazed at the truth within in. I'm not looking for people who can feel what I feel exactly or to the same intensity. I'm merely looking for people who can stand out on the edges while I look at this internal fire -my spirit, my heart and hopes, my feelings, my inner turmoil- and who neither need to push me in nor pull me away. I want to find people who will walk with me on this journey we call life.

dimanche, mai 08, 2005

A question of minyan-rising or not

A question of minyan-rising or not

One man asked me one morning (not so recently) when we were unable to make a minyan for shacharis, why did I think others chose not to get up early in the morning to come to shul to daven. The flippant answer was, because they have so much to do and cannot wake up that early for whatever reason. Exercising my dan l’chaf zechut muscles, I thought, perhaps someone has to work multiple jobs to support an ailing family member –say, a mother in a nursing home--, plus his multiple children and wife. Perhaps, I continued, another widowed man might be struggling to single-parent his child –or also devastating, his wife may be seriously ill and in need of nursing care in addition to his care of the child. Another man may have such financial burdens totally unrelated to family cares that he has to work longer hours or perhaps he struggles with debt or, chas v’shalom, perhaps that man struggles with a mental illness and simply cannot get out of bed each day. There are so many reasons I could go on imagining reasons for quite a while. I let the query drop out of mind until recently when I was reading the monograph by Rabbi Shalom Carmy entitled “Forgive Us, Father-in-Law, For We Know Not What to think, Letter To A Philosophical Dropout From Orthodoxy.” The ideas below are inspired by what Rabbi Carmy wrote, though not the actual gist of his essay.

Is one’s attendance at minyan directly linked to the strength of one’s belief in Gd and Torah? That belief sets the point in the spectrum of religious observance with which one identifies. Perhaps one's position in that topographical map delineates how one behaves with respect to minyan? One man in my general acquaintance asserted his opinion that once a man commits to the sacrifice that an orthodox lifestyle requires, it would follow naturally that this man should then participate in those communal ritual observances and that he should be thorough in his observance of halacha. His claim, I believe, was that once one has chosen this way of life to be half-hearted or non-committal would be inconsistent with the act of choosing. I then considered this more deeply. Are our minyan-members who are communing with their pillows and mattresses at the appointed time for shacharis primarily those among us who did not choose their religious level of observance? In other words, are they those who are frum out of habit, because they were raised thus, or for tradition’s sake? Now, I ask you this in a rhetorical manner and certainly with no intention at all to set anyone to assessing the religious education or background of those absentee members of our congregations. I really do not wish for more dissension among our holy congregation and the idea of setting one person against another among klal Yisrael disturbs me greatly.

Indulge me then in this gedankenschrift or thought experiment without imposing its content on your fellow Jew please. There is an idea that we teach sometimes that a human who chooses to be orthodox might and should behave lishma -for the sake of Heaven- as I teach it, or in more descriptive terms to borrow Rabbi Carmy’s phraseology “in which a person forgets himself in devotion to Gd, without consideration for selfish consequences” has driven scores of my former students to frustration in their lack of understanding. “Why?” their beleaguered faces would clearly ask, though none of them really ever offered that question themselves to me directly. I have found in my experience that most of the Jews who seem to understand this are ba’alei tshuva who have made great personal sacrifices to become religious and/or who have seen what a secular life is like and come back from that saying they want something deeper and more spiritual.

One man I know who is a regular at minyan has suggested bribing people with breakfast –be it hot apple cider, donuts, or cereal—he seems fairly sure that this might drag some people out of their beds to shul. I for one am not so sure that this would help. Of course, another minyan man, from the shul upon hearing this offered to make scrambled eggs one morning a week to ensure the minyan. Somehow this idea didn’t take and we never managed to bribe people to minyan. I wanted to think more about this, especially since at one point in my career as a graduate student I had quite a number of months of very late nights in my laboratory and could sympathize with those who remained abed. I found that it was utterly devastating and painful to even contemplate lifting my eyelids at 6-something in the morning by the second week of this horrendous schedule where I worked until about 3 or 4am. I was and have been quite sympathetic to the plight of these lax minyan men. After all, Chazal teach us that to wake a man is to steal sleep/energy from him. Those months I absolutely felt a keen sense of understanding for the crime of stealing sleep. (Mind you, that word isn’t “sheep” but sleep.)

One very revered friend of mine, who now resides in Jerusalem, taught me in college that as a committed Jew, he fashioned everything in his life around, his religious practice. Raised orthodox, he certainly was not a model of the possible (and not so probable) B.T. zealot phenomenon. In fact, he was so staunch in his belief that he actually altered his major from one field to another so that he could be at davening at the appropriate times and made sure never to have a class that conflicted with minyan. His dedication, however, is rare to be seen.

My only resort after this was to think to myself that the root of minyan absence then is indeed our fascination with rational thinking. We, as humans participant in modern society, would love to be able to have justification in this modern society for all of our behaviors. Some of us, as Jews, would like also to extend that to Gd. If only we had rational explanation (for our society that demands rational explanations of everything! Science and Knowledge indeed rule!) If we could but put Gd into a mental box and caging up our deity with a label and bounds that are testable or provable, we might feel better about the strange rituals and laws that govern (or are supposed to govern) our lives. No such thing really exists though.

Just as I could not prove to you the existence of a sixth dimension nor that particles in a box “know” about each other, no more so could I prove to you that Gd exists. I simply approach belief on this leap of faith or some visceral gut feeling… and such an emotional -!- approach to life seems illogical and irrational. How could we, modern mankind, stand shameless in our irrationality?!

Ah, emotion! Men dare blame women for their emotionality and irrationality, yet no lesser men of logic and rational science than Blaise Pascal, Sir Issac Newton, among many many scores of others, took that leap of faith and believed in Gd. Rabbi Carmy noted in his essay, that Pascal even wrote about a “logic of the heart,” which is rooted in intuition and emotional intelligence regarding human relationships. I adored even, Rabbi Carmy’s assertion that the claim that “the only way to truth makes sense if Gd is a rationalist who has ordained the privileged standing of reason, but is false if Gd is a personal being.” (Ask me for an essay on women and why ten men are required for a minyan for more laughs on this subject.) In a society, where many men pride themselves for their logic and rationality, perhaps a bit of that emotional self is not cultivated. The emotional self connects a man to another man –men in communion, and ultimately in community, may find themselves dedicated to –nay! introduced even to-- a world where their egos and the power of their minds alone do not reign supreme. This is a step towards developing that sense of how the communal mitzvah of minyan is a responsibility borne by each individual as a part of the whole.

Communal activities are so important to us Jews. Why else would we be bound to have seven men who ate together to recite the birkat hamazon in a certain format that allows us to invoke a Divine Name? As opposed to the requirement of six men for a similar privilege in shul? (more on this elsewhere)

Rabbi Carmy continues with the comment that “proponents of traditional religion, like me, are consciously or tacitly committed to the ultimate value of personal relations…” and here is where I would stand up and insert a thought tangential to Carmy’s assertions, but important to the idea of what is missing from our minyan complaints. Do we turn people away from our minyanim for lack of personal relationships? Is it rather our lack of creating the atmosphere for that nexus with Gd that keeps a man bound to his bedsheets in the morning?

I remember one year when I was involved with a particular exercise program in college. I would wake at an hour I considered ungodly then, 5am, to go train for this program. One spectre that dragged me out of bed then was that I knew one of my dear friends was waiting for me and the other was the thought of how much I wanted to succeed in this program and effort. Are both applicable here with our minyan men concerns?

Perhaps if we are friends with our fellows –fulfilling at our utmost ability the mitzvah of ahavat Yisrael—and correcting the cheit of sinat chinam, the sin of baseless hatred, we might turn the tide of our ever-dwindling minyan? Also perhaps though if we could maintain that, after a while, might our comrades come to desire their own success in the effort of recreating a personal connection with Gd? (Rav Yehuda Amital, shlita, has a very nice shiur on how to speak with those who have lost their faith --check the VBM website). Perhaps while one man may see his attendance at minyan as the simple fulfillment of his sacrifice to be orthodox, and another man may see it as his personal dedication to avodat Hashem, still among us may be men who require that introduction from the heart … and then again there are many many more people who have much more complex problems than what I describe and for all I know, my brain could be overheating and I could be totally blowing hot air and sewage out there... one should really not blog while tired... but by all means, please leave me comments, because I seek to grow from this discourse and not to preach.
First draft 5/8/05