Tuesday, May 29, 2007

496. Hello again...

So I seem to be taking an unplanned blogging break (my first since beginning "on chanting" over two years ago). All is well... just that my brain seems to be full, for the moment. I'll be back in a few days, if that many (honestly). I know I have a handful of loyal readers out there; please don't leave!

Friday, May 18, 2007

495. Later

Clearly I need to finish thought no. 494, which is in danger of turning into the most long, drawn-out thought in the history of blog posts. But before I do so, I'm heading off in a few hours (after I run about 5,000 errands) to a meditation retreat with my synagogue. Perhaps a few days of quiet will re-set the working/organizing/stress-managing part of my brain. Have a peaceful and sweet Shabbat Shalom, and see you all later.

Monday, May 14, 2007

494. Order, part 2

(Continued from here.)

But order for order's sake is rarely celebrated in popular culture, which characterizes individuality as inspired, excessive unpredictable, random--messy. Organization and neatness, on the other hand, are necessary evils to increase productivity, not creativity. Stereotypes equate brilliance with disarray: the writer composing her magnum opus in a room filled with crumpled paper and overflowing wastebaskets, the unshowered genius in paint-stained clothes. Yet the first and ultimate act of creativity turned chaos into symmetrical halves of up and down, light and dark. Other cultures (Japan, for example) value this kind of neat brilliance so much more than ours, where sparse, uncluttered design is often seen as haughty, unemotional, elite.

At services on Shabbat morning, the rabbi spoke of the negative connotation in our American society of the idea of "being commanded." We do respect our lawful society--when we agree with it. We fulfill our responsibilities and citizens and volunteer to make the world a better place--when we want to. But doing good because we have to, because our tradition orders us, suggests the imposition of rules and order when we would prefer to think for ourselves. Free will is incompatible with coloring inside the lines.

(To be continued.)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

493. Order, part 1

I spent Friday making months and months of schedules for an ongoing client project. I grumbled--I'm a designer! I should be doing something creative!--but was also secretly very satisfied with myself. (Well, not so secretly now that I've admitted it to the whole blog-reading world.) I like order and organization. I don't mind chaos, either, which can be fun and freeing, but everything has its season. During services this Friday, as we welcomed the evening and its ongoing, rolling waves of light into darkness, I imagined God as the very first professional organizer (making it the world's REALLY oldest profession), as He noted the messy state of tohu vavohu ("without form") and chose to divide the void into neat pieces of light, darkness, sky, and earth. Much later in the story (this past week's parasha, for example), we're treated to His obsession with the fruits of order and justice. If God had a sock drawer, it would be in better shape than Martha Stewart's.

(Continued here.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

492. Still here!

In case anyone was wondering...I'm still here, still trying to dig out from a backlog of work. My brain was a little too full this week; working on clearing out some space in which to think about writing, singing, etc. Please stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

491. Beginner Bet

I'm now in the second semester of Basic Conversational Hebrew (aka Beginner Bet), which continues to be a blast. We're going very slowly, but I have no deadline; it's nice to learn in a leisurely way. I can now tell people where I'm from and that I like orange juice and ice cream, certainly more useful than being able to discuss bulls of pleasant odor. Last semester's class, somewhat of a revolving door, consisted at various times of a guy who needed to learn Hebrew so he could move to Tel Aviv with his Israeli finacé, a Russian-American woman who came here as a refusenik in the 70s, and a Hebrew School teacher who didn't speak a word of Hebrew. (This one took me by surprise.) The apparently terrified Chinese-American father of six fluently Hebrew daughters lasted just one week. There are only three of us this time around: myself, the refusenik, and an earnest young woman who describes herself as a colonic irrigation therapist who once attended an ulpan in Israel, and who knows lots of profane slang. Our teacher is still Yossi, who spends his days in front of a class of 5th graders and finds us quite amusing. He speaks with a Yemeni accent that I could barely understand at first, but is rapidly growing on me. Whereas the cantor at my synagogue once noted that I don't articulate the "ch" sound enough when I sing, Yossi has no "ch" sound at all. To each his own.

The past two weeks of classes have been challenging, since my mouth is still in pain and it hurts to laugh. Last night we took turns reading colloquial phrases (in script, so not easy to decipher) above weird little line drawings in our textbook. The scene: a cross-section of Israeli characters stare at a punk-attired teen. The guy with the long beard says "Meshugah!" (crazy). The rotund older woman wonders if it's a boy or a girl. And the cute young guy exclaims, "Mashu, mashu (slang for "cool!")!"

"Mashiach, mashiach," read the colonic irrigation therapist. "So this girl must be the Messiah, right?"

My face was in agony for the rest of the evening, but it was worth it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

490. By myself

And after a toothache comes... many days of overtime to finish piles of work that took a back seat. I'm finally (almost) caught up.

I celebrated my emancipation from pain by leading the meditation service last Friday--by myself, more or less. (A friend sat next to me and sang two prayers. But I did everything else.) The usual custom at my synagogue is two leaders at each service, a brilliant idea: the experience becomes a collaboration rather than a performance, and each person gets to relax and pray a little while the other takes charge. But there's only one leader for some of the smaller services, or when not a single rabbi (out of five) is available. This was one of those rare occasions, and the first time I was that sole person.

The rabbi's assistant had emailed me a month ago asking if I could lead. I readily agreed, not realizing until later that he left out two key words: "by yourself." I thought the rabbi was a little nuts, but kept it to myself. Initially I planned to split the duties with my friend, but decided I'd take on the challenge as intended and pretend to show as much confidence in myself as everyone else seemed to have. I found my theme, all those things on earth and in life that persist and continue, in Netzah Shebenetzah, "endurance within endurance," the 25th night of counting the Omer. I chose appropriate lines from the service (Psalm 96: "God has steadied the world; it stands firm") and figured out what niggunim would best fit those lines. It was a great and weird sensation to decide (within limits) exactly what I wanted to do. Enormously paranoid, I wrote out a script complete with the number of minutes we'd sit in silence after each prayer and exactly when I had to say "you may be seated," and practiced until I could do it with my eyes closed.

Which I did, since I wanted this experience to be as calm for myself as (I hoped) for everyone else who didn't have to worry about announcing page numbers. I really needed a peaceful Shabbat at the end of my crappy week, a reminder that dental woes were never as enduring as the mountains or seas. Our little group sat in an empty Sanctuary bathed in as much silence as was possible on a busy Manhattan street, listening to each other's breaths, hearing our minds slow down. My prayer was astonishment and praise to God for taking me to this wonderful, unplanned place in life. (And gratitude for creating Alexander Fleming and his successors. Next Shabbat I plan to give additional thanks for the ability to bite into a bagel. Not quite there yet, but I have no doubt He'll come through.)