Thursday, September 04, 2014

980. #BlogElul 7: Be

(Just a little behind.)

When I think of "be," what first comes to mind is the question that travelled with me throughout childhood:

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

I considered many possibilities over the years. In first grade I became fascinated with bugs--excuse me, insects, with six legs and a proper thorax. My mother didn't appreciate the ant farm on our fire escape, but I managed to keep it going until they succumbed to the New York City winter. Uglier species were soon displaced by butterflies; I became Monarch-crazed and saved up for and practically memorized Lutz's Field Book, even though scant few pretty flying things ever appeared in Flushing. 

Then I started wearing glasses and, no pun intended, focused my scientific interests on myself. In 3rd grade I fashioned a clay and hand-painted model of an eye, compete with veins, and planned a career in ophthalmology. That lasted until I began to read the comics in the Long Island Press, and instead chose a future as the next Charles Schultz. I drew Snoopy all over my notebooks (the human characters didn't interest me at all). This direction kind of stuck, and by high school comics had turned into drawing and painting, and then in college more painting and graphic design, which is where I remain today (with a side order of painting, digital version).

But that answers only part of the question of what I ended up being. Some of me is an artist. Another big part is a singer (i.e. "alto artist"). Filling the gaps in between is a writer, friend, aunt, caretaker of cats, and person still trying to figure out what to do next, and if I am, in fact, grown up. I hope the coming Yamim Nora'im will help me answer some part of those questions.

Monday, September 01, 2014

979. #BlogElul 6: Search

"... Rebbe Nachman teaches: 'At times, when people are joyful and dance, they will seize one who sits apart in his sorrow. They drag him into their dancing round and compel him to be happy with them. This is also what happens in the heart of a person who is joyful. Sadness and sorrow withdraw on the sidelines, but it is reckoned as a special virtue to round them up boldly and to bring sadness along into joy, so that all the power of sorrow be changed to joy.' (Likutei Mohoran II 23)

Rebbe Nachman knew that for most people, most of the time, joy is an effort and a choice. Sorrow is always available, and we can transform it or let it govern us. There is nobody who does not know sorrow, and yet still Rebbe Nachman said, 'it is a great mitzvah to be happy always.' ..."
—Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek, 

There's a lot of joy in my life, although usually not the woo hoo, let's run around with a bunch of balloons! kind. It's more often the quieter type: moments of love and friendship, small hurdles overcome, the light through leaves of a tree in the park in the morning, colors and textures of paint, a purring cat, a song, a prayer. Like the miracle of the air that surrounds us, these instances of joy can be so closely woven into the background that that they seem to disappear. But they're just waiting for me search for and notice them, and then grab on and dance.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

978. Attempting to #BlogElul. 5: Know.

Every year at this time I try to prepare for the month ahead. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. So jumping into the fray this time around, belatedly, with a few sentences:

What I know:

That art has taken the place of writing for me this year, which is just fine.
That I still, maybe, feel the need to write, so here I am again.
That I work too hard, and so it's really OK when I procrastinate. A little.
That I'm learning how to stand up for myself.
That I'm learning about the kinds of people with whom I need to surround myself.
That I'm blessed for having so many of those people in my life right now.
That I'm really, really lucky.
That living, especially in New York City, is a long, roiling, wavy line.
That if you examine that line closely, it still does contain small, smooth moments of tranquility.
That I'm learning to discover more of those moments.
That I'm learning.

Friday, January 24, 2014

977. Glow

A lovely essay by the Coffee Shop Rabbi--please read the whole thing:

"Chanting My Way into Torah"

Then I begin to notice how the melody comments upon the text: emphasize this word, that phrase.  Make a sort of soprano hiccup (geresh!) on one little preposition.  Gradually the text warms up, or I warm up to it. The little incense table begins to take shape, and glow.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

976. Presence

Thanks to a link in this op-ed by David Brooks, "The Art of Presence," I found this interesting piece about how to respond and react when someone you know experiences a trauma:

A New Normal: Ten Things I've Learned About Trauma

The author, Catherine Woodiwiss, is recovering from a serious accident. She writes, among other wise words:

2.  Presence is always better than distance.
There is a curious illusion that in times of crisis people “need space.” I don’t know where this assumption originated, but in my experience it is almost always false. Trauma is a disfiguring, lonely time even when surrounded in love; to suffer through trauma alone is unbearable. Do not assume others are reaching out, showing up, or covering all the bases.
It is a much lighter burden to say, “Thanks for your love, but please go away,” than to say, “I was hurting and no one cared for me.” If someone says they need space, respect that. Otherwise, err on the side of presence.

I've learned this past year that some people seem to prefer the "unbearable," suffering alone, to its alternative: allowing others in at a time when you're most vulnerable. Allowing them to see you at your worse and weakest, and trusting that they'll love you no matter what. But if you don't love yourself, then it's very hard to accept that others do. Pushing them away becomes a survival tactic to help maintain the status quo—but  ignores the fact that in times of trauma, the old status quo generally flies out the window.

I don't know what Judaism says about this, but I keep coming back to Pirkei Avot: "Find yourself a teacher." In my experience, when I've been at my weakest it's helped immeasurably to imagine everyone around me, from the guy who sells me coffee in the morning, to my clients, to my friends and rabbis, as a teacher, and remember that at my emptiest I can't possibly have any idea of what they might offer to fill that space. So I try to let them in.

975. Expansion

"Spread over us your shelter of peace," we ask God every Friday night in the Hashkivenu prayer. We can interpret this to mean that peace requires expansion, observed the rabbi at services this week, since God needs to create something wide for the shelter to be able to cover us.

But what if only God expands in this scenario? What if we remain closed--will peace reach those places within us that stay hidden? The question made me think of the times I've walked down the street with a friend and it started to rain. If my friend has an umbrella and I don't, then I'll try to squeeze under hers. Invariably I'll wrap my arms around myself in an attempt to become as small as possible, but that usually backfires; it creates an awkward, uneven gait, and I end up bumping into shoulders and elbows and getting soaked. The only way I can stay dry is to relax and synchronize my steps with the shelter-bearer.

I think that's the big problem with achieving peace--we're afraid that expansion will reveal those parts of us we don't want to see. It's one thing to pray that God, or the other country or person, will become wide and open to reveal new shelters and pathways. It's not so easy to reciprocate, however.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

974. Happy 2014, and here I am again

It sure has been a long time, well over a year. I'm still here, and doing fine. I've been very busy with a new business on top of my old business; both are fun and complicated, and take up too much time. Not a whole lot of creative juice has been left over for writing, though, which has been OK; the new stuff has mostly filled that need, and more.

But I'm still trying to make sense of one of those bullet points from way back at the end of '12:

  • ended a long friendship that had become toxic; as sad as a death, and I will be mourning this loss for a long time

Mostly, in my experience, time really does heal all wounds, but not always. Sometimes time creates scars weaker and far uglier than the original thin skin. It's taken me over a year to understand that there will be no closure to this particular pain and I need to learn to live with it, move past it, and change its story into one of comfort and compassion. I need to stop imagining that the clock will magically turn back and all will be well. I've tried to heal in many different ways; maybe reviving this blog and watching myself think in public, so to speak, will help.

Aside from all that: yes, I continue to chant and sing! And I'm still thinking about how the meaning of all those words and notes (and, in my art, their shapes and colors) fits into the larger story of Torah and life. Maybe I'll write about that, or maybe not. Either way, I hope to again be able to make time and space to write something, anything, every once in awhile.