Sunday, February 21, 2010

911. Socialite

One of the reasons I haven't written much these past few weeks is, quite simply, social media overload. It had begun to feel like a big anvil hanging over my head. It takes an inordinate amount of time and energy to read all those blogs, Tweets, Facebook status reports, and constant musings of the interesting people on the bulletin board where I've been a member since the beginning of time—not to mention adding some of my own deathless prose to the mix. Oh, and in the middle of it all, earning a living and interacting with people in the actual flesh. (And having time left over to learn to chant some Torah, as well.) But I'm not one of those who can walk away from the noise and become a modified Luddite; it's all much too interesting and, besides, my job depends on knowing about this alternate dimension we now must inhabit.

So I'm trying a different solution: Socialite, a Mac-native (hurrah!) application that consolidates my Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader feeds into on small, elegant interface. (Goodbye, Bloglines; you were great all these years, but Socialite doesn't support you.) I've read warnings about its tendency to crash and hog memory, but so far it's been working just great. I know it doesn't take much time to open a few different sites, but something about having every single word gathered in one place makes the whole experience much less daunting, and faster.

Who knows, maybe I'll change my song after living with Socialite for a few more weeks. But for now—well, I'm here, and and glad to be writing and reading.

910. Dark and swirling

Written in my writing class a few weeks ago:


The day after graduating from college, I got on a plane with 62 other members of the choir and flew to Europe for the very first time. I was in a state of constant amazement, photos in books suddenly concrete, strange food and languages everywhere. I barely slept or ate as we sat on a bus for hours in between singing Bach or football songs in great cathedrals or quaint Italian town squares. But even though we were 22 years old and indomitable, we were still human—and finally, one day, an evil flu crept through the double-decker bus and attacked us one by one. It hit me in Venice, around which I stumbled in a dreamy 102° fog.

Our next stop was Zurich. My desire to photograph every monument and painting in Europe with my little Instamatic camera was quickly fading. One afternoon, burning with fever, I got some communal petty cash from the tour leader, told no one where I was going, and asked around on the street in halting German where I might find a doctor. I was directed to the emergency room of a hospital just a few blocks away. I walked in, filled out some forms, and took a seat in the waiting room.

But just as they got up to me, chaos—a dozen gurneys rolled in covered with bleeding, crying people, until the ER looked, through my fever haze, liked one of the circles of Hell. A plane had crashed; another made an emergency landing. One by one they passed by, as I sat for hours.

Finally it was my turn. By then, just by virtue of sitting still, I was starting to feel much better. I was led into a cubicle, and the doctor began to speak in Swiss-German; I didn't understand a word. Finally he resorted to pantomime. He started pulling off his sweater, pointing to mine.

"Take yourself apart," he said, in halting English. I was suddenly very relieved, and very glad to take myself apart.


(These ten-minute in-class writing exercises are incredibly hard, and invaluable. I hadn't thought about this experience in about 25 years until‚ after a discussion of "bein has'mashot," the in-between places, in the story of Jonah, the teacher gave us a list of writing prompts including the "the dark and swirling world around me.")

909. Cats, jaded

I love Verlyn Klinkenborg. In addition to loving his name, and the very fact that there are people in the world with great names like his, I admire his ability to capture moments and scenes with the precision of a camera and expression of a painting, but in words. I want to write like him. His adventures are completely unlike mine—I'm a city person with no experience of the exotic life among trees or nature—but do know cats very well, and so particularly appreciated this piece:

Behind the House

An excerpt:

"I stand back from the windows, hoping to remain undetected, but at least one of the cats — a gray and white — has found me out. It sits watching me as though it has never seen a writer in its habitat before. Then it walks away, jaded."

908. I'm back, and more minyans

Yes, it's been awhile. I think I exhausted myself in January, between all that blogging and writing for my class (to paraphrase Barbie, writing is hard!), but hope to resume at a saner pace.

There were an awful lot of deaths in my synagogue community these past few weeks, which always seems to happen during the cold winter months. Someone suggested that it's also because people nearing the ends of their lives try to hold on until the new year. I like to believe this is true, and that we can influence our fate, and God's will, in that way. In either case, it means I've been very busy as a volunteer shiva minyan leader. One night I led for a member of my havurah who lost her father after a long illness, an evening of funny, moving stories and the warmth of a room filled with people who knew and loved one another. We were friends, relaxed, and so I could breathe while immersed in the sadness.

Last week, a very different scenario. The apartment was packed, a father, mother, 40 or 50 other shell-shocked, smiling people: the young man, their son, brother, friend, had committed suicide. I knew neither the family nor circumstances and spent the day very nervous about walking into this house of shiva, afraid I'd say the wrong thing or respond inappropriately to a completely unimaginable kind of grief. In an attempt to quantify a wholly incomprehensible situation, I envisioned some kind of black pit of swirling despair. Then I thought about the wise and eloquent words of Gannett Girl following her son's death, as well as how my infinitely sensitive and compassionate rabbis might react, and realized that I needed to say very little, and just be as present as possible.

It was fine. They were people just like the rest of us, broken on the inside but still standing. The son and father wept during the prayers; the mother stood frozen. They shared stories about a caring, smart man with many friends; the mother asked if people could send photos and web pages they knew were out there, but never needed to find before. We sang "Esa Einai," Psalm 121 ("From where does my help come?") at the end; I watched the father close his eyes and sway gently, and was relieved that I correctly judged that music would be bearable.

Afterwards I came home and collapsed into an unconscious sleep, utterly exhausted. I'm in awe of how rabbis and others who provide this kind of support during impossible situations can do it on a regular basis without losing their minds.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

907. Wanted: One Golem

Alas, the original post has been flagged for removal (maybe they found what they were looking for), but hat tip to both Chaviva and Memoirs of a Jewminicana for pointing out this brilliant Craigslist ad:

Looking for Rabbi Versed in DARK TALMUDIC ARTS to create GOLEM. (Astoria, NY)

One Rabbi versed in the Dark Talmudic Arts to create one Golem for household of three. Golem will perform rudimentary household chores such as dishes & sweeping, basic Math Tutoring for our daughter in 3rd grade and basic household security. Golem must be obedient and fairly unobtrusive on our every-day lives.

We will supply all materials needed (clay, twigs, calfskin parchment, etc) needed to create the Golem. All you need to do is use your magical ancient Rabbinic skills to animate said Golem!

Please note! We are looking for a Rabbi to create a Golem: an anthropomorphic being created from intimate matter from Jewish folk-lore, NOT Gollum: a former Hobbit turned into monster and looking for "precious". This is important! We have no interest in living with Gollum. We want a Golem. Please respond, serious inquiry only.

Location: Astoria, NY
it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
Compensation: no pay


I could use one of these, if only to help with the vaccuming. I hate to vacuum.

Monday, February 01, 2010

906. Queens

Two paragraphs from a piece I just wrote for my writing class (not really about chanting or religion, but I hope God is in the details, even the unsavory ones):

... We lived in similar six-story red brick apartment buildings, separated by five blocks of sari stores with incongruously Caucasian mannequins in their windows dressed in flowing crimson and gold silks; 24-karat gold jewelry emporia wedged into the alleyways between discount electronics outlets; and a Halal butcher shop with upside-down goat carcasses and a sign that read: "Fax: 426-MEAT."

... We grew up in the boroughs of the 70s, he in Brooklyn and me just left of Shea Stadium, an era when sunset meant that you had to clasp your purse to your chest and race the block home from the bus stop. Our parents' generation began to retire to Florida, and soon various unsavory types moved in who discovered that the holdouts who couldn't afford to leave were easy marks. By the time I finished high school, I had been relieved of my allowance at the public library, my leather jacket in the elevator of our heavily-alarmed apartment building and, just like my mother, my wallet on the bus. She earned a back eye in the process; all I got was some creepy guy who found my address book, called our home, and threatened to hurt all my friends. I didn't go to school for a few days after that, then shrugged and rejoined life.