Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday Brooks

We have three articles by David Brooks:
1) "Three Views of Marriage." There are three predominant lenses nowadays for how marriage should be viewed:

    a) psychological. Searching for someone who scores high in pleasant character traits, and not choosing to overlook problematic middos. Not focusing on factors that are unimportant or short-lived issues. This viewpoint believes no one really changes.

    b) romantic. Love. Looooooove. If a couple initially has it, then they will be inseparable come the hard stuff. Love will keep us together, love is all you need, cue any song from anytime.

    c) moral. Marriage ain't just about this man and this woman, but about something even bigger than them. (This is where we come in.) A good marriage here is for the improvement of oneself, not the significant other. None of us are perfect, and with a "helpmeet," one can (hopefully) become one's best self.  

This last perspective has the faith that we can become better people by wanting to put the other first. I do think that requires the trait of "willing to improve," which will loop us around back to factor (a). 

Brooks is the fan of the last one, obviously. 

2) "The Power of Altruism." Are humans selfish or selfless? Pessimists prefer the former, optimists the latter. Fascinatingly, if one expects people to behave selfishly, then they will: The Economic vs. Moral lens. 
Samuel Bowles provides a slew of examples in his book “The Moral Economy.” For example, six day care centers in Haifa, Israel, imposed a fine on parents who were late in picking up their kids at the end of the day. The share of parents who arrived late doubled. Before the fine, picking up their kids on time was an act of being considerate to the teachers. But after the fine, showing up to pick up their kids became an economic transaction. They felt less compunction to be kind.
Once money is on the table, courtesy goes out the window. "I thought I was being nice. But if you are going to make it about money, well, then, fine." I like helping out my siblings with babysitting (usually) because I like being helpful. Yet when one insulted me by proffering some cash, I frostily responded, "That's not my hourly rate." 

3) "Making Modern Toughness." Doesn't everyone seem more fragile nowadays? Instead of raising hardy children to deal with blazing sun and furious winds and pounding rains, kids are being fussed over and shielded in hothouses from all elements. 

Yet hardiness often resulted in toting "20-ton shields" (BrenĂ© term), where soft, fuzzy emotions were walled off. 
Perhaps it’s time to rethink toughness or at least detach it from hardness. Being emotionally resilient is not some defensive posture. It’s not having some armor surrounding you so that nothing can hurt you.
The people we admire for being resilient are not hard; they are ardent. They have a fervent commitment to some cause, some ideal or some relationship. That higher yearning enables them to withstand setbacks, pain and betrayal. . . 
People are much stronger than they think they are when in pursuit of their telos, their purpose for living. As Nietzsche put it, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
On a connective note, lend an ear to this shiur by Esther Wein

When we find a cause, then slights and setbacks loose their sting; we can be strong and sensitive.   

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

'Cause I'm Happy

I was driving home along sleepy beach streets, where cars can tootle along without obnoxious honking. I had frolicked in the surf, one of my favorite activities, when the sun low and meek, as opposed to strong and obnoxious. 

Now, darkness had fallen; the streetlamps cast a dreamy glow. The fishy, salty smell of the sea gently blew in the open car windows. Poking randomly at the media center while keeping my eyes on the road, I prodded awake the classical music station. The opening clarinet of "Rhapsody in Blue" blared. 

So apropos. 

I raised the volume, figuring fellow drivers couldn't find delicate piano work offensive. 

A day well seized, I thought. 

And there it was: Peace. Contentment. Wholeness. 


These moments have a logic of their own. They cannot be predicted, nor willed into being. They are sporadic, formula-less, and precious.

They do not last, of course. But providing one is open to them, the memories can be collected, like shells on the shore.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What a Nice Comedian

I like to think of myself as a funny person. I revel in humor. I strive to crack a rib laughing. My favorite character in Law & Order is Detective Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach), who always had a quip when leaving the crime scene. Yeah, I know there's a body, but one can still be tasteful.

But I don't like meanness. Mocking someone is not humor. Because I believe humor = poking fun at oneself, those lacking a funnybone think I'm being serious and scootch nervously away. Amy Schumer understands: Either you got it or you don't.

A new crop of comedians are foregoing the kvetching and snarkiness ("Try Some Sweet-Tempered Stand-Up"). 
Comedy clubs have long been packed with head-shakers airing grievances and heatedly picking apart nonsense. But Ms. Long is part of a new breed of young performers more likely to begin a joke with affection than annoyance and to end with ridiculousness, not ridicule. This sunnier stand-up is in part a function of the times, when social media keeps count of likes and favorites, and late-night television is a chummy safe space for celebrities. But the hopefulness is also a refreshing artistic change of pace, a backlash against generations of smug finger-pointing and knowing raised eyebrows.

I recently enjoyed a badchan's performance and—yup—he was making choizik of himself non-stop. The beauty of such a method is that if one sporadically points fun at others, it is okay, because he has already raked himself over the coals.


Mr. Gondelman is pushing back on the caricature of the millennial generation as coddled narcissists — besides defending participation trophies, he also stands up for selfies — while lampooning those who suggest that the problem with the way we raise kids is an abundance of sensitivity and generosity. He’s killing, with kindness.
Mocking oneself also means that one is more likely to heard without resistance later on if deeper subjects are raised. Very crafty indeed.

Monday, September 19, 2016


I've fallen hard for the goats.
They really do.
There has always been chatter about how goat milk is easier on the human system than cow milk. Some with lactose-intolerance are able to tolerate it well. While I, blessed be the Lord, do not suffer from a lack of lactase enzyme and a lover of all things dairy, have become enamored of kecske products.

Meyenberg has an army of goat products, some available in Trader Joe's stores, like regular milk and butter (I'm still hunting down the latter). Yet for convenient use, whether it be for office, traveling, or simply home, there is Powdered Whole Milk (there is also Non Fat, but fat is back and I'm not going skim again. Lost twenty years of my life because of Ta's insistence on it being "healthier" when I was a kid).
Parents with babies who can't tolerate standard baby formula use this to make a homemade alternative. While not nursing a sensitive bochie, I use it in hot cocoa. For those who like their hot beverages hot, it won't lower the temp like cold milk does. 

Another delightful eiz related offering is Tera's Goat Whey. I don't get enough protein (I'm a carb lover) and I usually stir a scoopful or two of this into my daily lunch soup, basking in milchig yumminess. It doesn't have any added junk like some other protein powders. (There is also a sweetened vanilla version which seems pretty good, but I haven't tried it.)    

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Can't Fix Sunsets

When it comes to childraising, look no further than Oprah-find Dr. Shefaly Tsabary.
She is all about boundaries and consequences, but with acceptance and celebration of a child's unique nature. On one program, a rather sweet mother was complaining that one child is very happy-go-lucky, while the other is serious. She wants the former to knuckle down and the latter to lighten up. It would be ideal if she could fuse the two of them together, she says wistfully. 

Dr. Tsabary provides a mashal: When gazing upon a magnificent sunset, do we say, "Well, why isn't it like last night's sunset? It's missing pink. It needs more pink over there. And a dash of orange."
Ah, no. We just gaze upon a magnificent sunset. That's all we do. "We don't mess with nature because we know we can't." It's outside of our control and purview. So to with children's inherent natures. For instance, extrovert parents are flummoxed by and attempt to change their introvert offspring, or vice versa.

Often parents drag their own personal baggage into their children's lives. I heard this line once, but can't get it right, that if a parent gives their child everything they didn't have, they won't be giving their children what they did have.  

Judy Batalion ("Should I Make My Daughter Clean Her Room?") grew up with a hoarder mother. Once she could live independently, she made her environment as extremely minimalist as possible. Her husband grew up the same way, and is happy with their stark home. 

Her children, however, are not growing up with hoarding parents. They are being raised by the other extreme. 

Batalion gathered opinions from friends and professionals as the best way to go, and received a jumble bag of responses and advice. One of them was:
Tamar Gordon, a psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders, thought people could be too hung up on cleaning. “What’s important for children is structure,” she said, “not necessarily the same thing as a clean room.” She explained that some kids are naturally neat, freaking out over a spot of paint on their hand, while others barely notice their visual environment. The parents’ job is to assess their child, and teach the opposite: Sticklers needed to learn flexibility, messy kids, regimen.
R2 was a neat freak from birth. I kid you not. Before he could even support his bobble head on his scrawny neck, he could be fascinated by a dust speck—yes, a dust speck—for 15 solid minutes. His idea of entertainment is sweeping the floor. When left in my care, I try to get him to be a little mellower about cleanliness.

As to the other messier ones (R2 is a rare exception), they need clear instructions. "Pack away five things," I tell them, and instead of procrastinating and claiming they will do it later when we both know they won't, they gleefully pounce on the mess, usually picking up more than the required five.   

I haven't even yet read her books, but Dr. Tsabary made me realize the importance of consciousness when interacting with rugrats. Also to embrace and enjoy them as they are.
It's really not a contradiction. 
Making Zelda clean her room might satisfy my organizational needs, but it probably wouldn’t make her a superior person. O.K., I admit that when Zelda dumped a box of musical instruments onto her glitter-strewn floor that evening, I panicked. But as she danced around, banging her drum, I let it go and joined in, saving my energies for the battle of bedtime.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Query Unresponsive

"So what are you looking for?" 

"________, ________, and ________." 

"Well, that's ridiculous. Those factors don't matter at all in a marriage. Take me and my husband—" 

Why do they ask the question if they are not interested in the answer?  Why didn't you start the conversation by telling me what I want? It would have saved so much time.

Couples connect for the quirkiest of reasons. I often can't comprehend the attraction, but hey, I'm not one to quibble with what succeeded with others. That's cool. That's how they married. That's for them.

But hello? Over here. Hey. How ya doin'. Nice weather, no? Here's the thing: 

I'm. Not. YOU.  

Your priorities in a life partner are, no offense, not mine. That does not make me ridiculous. 

If the next half hour will contain remonstrances of my unreasonableness along with name suggestions of guys who don't remotely fit my rather vague criteria, I really could be doing something else right now that involves pajamas.   

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hibernation Rocks

"Are you sick?" Thing 1 asked me the other day. 

"No. Why do you ask?" 

"Because you're in pajamas." 

"What is the point of Sundays if I am not free to spend it in pajamas?" 

Not only am I an introvert, I'm an early bird. I am—for the most part—content to potter about the house, and I manage to tick off most of my "to-dos" by 8:30 am. 

Molly Young opines ("Is Staying in the New Going Out?") how binge-watching and ordering in are now the usual "plans" for city dwellers. It's the ultimate way of staying safe—modest, guaranteed contentment, the middle path—as opposed to the extremes that "going out" harbor —
The upside is huge: You could have a life-altering adventure, meet your soul mate, find your new best friend. The potential downside is equally monumental. You could run into an ex, lose your wallet, suffer a grope, be rejected. The scope of experience at a party or a bar is, as the hedge funders might put it, high beta. We do it for the possibility of encountering the spectacular. This rarely happens. 
There are opportunity costs associated with chronic staying in, too. A year’s worth of weekends spent at home is a bit like never moving out of your parents’ house: At some point you have to leave the nest. Leaving the nest, even just to get outside, is how we grow, challenge ourselves and discover things that have not been tailored to our relevant interests by an algorithm. 
But I think of it along these lines: With the invention of Netflix and non-interactive means of ordering food, introverts have stumbled upon socially-acceptable heaven. Out of the closet we come—one-third to one-half of the population—forgoing the stress that outings usually exacerbate. It's not that technology has hypnotized the socially outgoing into abandoning their preferences, but rather it has provided the means for the introverts to morph into official homebodies.
The extroverts, I guarantee you, are not being wooed by online streaming and cereal. They're still leaving the house and doing . . . stuff. Very possibly "living" more than my kind do, but that is a chance we are willing to take. 
So yes, we know what we’re losing when we hibernate. For proof, observe that nesting remains indefensible as an excuse; if someone invites you out, you can’t refuse by telling them that you’ve got “plans to stay in,” because a plan to stay in still counts as no plan at all. We burrow with a slight wince, in a blanket of mild contrition. But, oh, what a cozy blanket. 
No contrition here. 

Monday, September 12, 2016


"Look at that moon!" I pointed out to Eewok. Dangling low in the sky was a large, bright, cream-colored orb, its grinning face distinct. Gorgeous
It made me think of a romantic tale (I had heard it go slightly differently), and thought to entertain the 10-year-old.

"There was a story about a rabbi called the Bach," I began. "His best talmid was called the Taz. Once they were learning, and they couldn't remember a source. The Bach's daughter knew it, though. The Bach said, 'Ah, she shines like the moon.' Then the Taz said—" 

"The moon doesn't shine," Eewok interrupted. "It reflects." 

"Yes, baby, I know, but—" 

"It doesn't have its own light, so it doesn't shine." 

"Yes, booba, I'm aware of that—"

"Because the moon isn't like the sun—" 

"YES! Sweetness, I was trying to tell you a nice story, but never mind."   

"No, no, I want to hear." 
Well, the second telling didn't come out so magical. 

Was I such a know-it-all at her age?