Friday, December 9, 2016


"To Nourish Love, Feed the Birds"—to get out of a rut, sometimes one needs a new hobby to see things anew;
"How the 'Dining Dead' Got Talking Again"—if a chatty Kathy, don't let screens get in the way;

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Getting to Know You

I once was helping a woman (a Hungarian survivor) with her memoir. Well, what happened was, she wasn't happy with how it was coming out with the writer she had hired, and had called me in to give it a once over. 

I had an advantage simply because I was told plenty of stories of what life was like in Europe prewar, so I made notes when I read passages in the original manuscript that didn't compute. Then I was sent to face the ire of the author. 

"But that's not what happened!" she snapped at Mrs. P., after I tentatively suggested my corrections on discrepancies.

"No, no," Mrs. P. sheepishly demurred. "Um, actually, that's how it did." 

Has it ever happened that practical strangers come up to you and state things about you that aren't true? I have had one or two commenters do that, because they use my blog—the content of which I select to release to the public—as the basis for their conclusions. I am more than my blog, people. 

Readers can confuse memoirs with total reveals; Dani Shapiro's "Pretend You Don't Know Me" gently reminds us otherwise. A book (or an article, or a blog post) is not the same as verbally sharing memories or thoughts. Assuming that a memoir (or blog) contains all intimate information there is to know is a fallacy. 

I often pretend I don't know someone. If on a date, I wouldn't cut off his story of his trip to Iceland because not only would that mean confessing to cyber stalking, but that would be preventing my getting to know who he is. I know part of the story, not all, and I would really like to hear all the bits and pieces.   

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"Crossing Delancey"

I was very young when I first saw Crossing Delancey*. All I remembered as a kid was the closing scene, and that I was in love with Peter Riegert (I was heartbroken when he played a mistress-murdering attorney on Law & Order).
It was on recently, and figured I should throw it out there as a Shidduch Flick recommendation (Like Fill the Void, Arranged, and I guess Fiddler). 

I shopped around for others' takes; different reviewers walked away with different thoughts. What I concluded was "He's right. She's also right." 

Anywho, it's just a movie. One can see it as an admonishment to settle; others will see that it doesn't work to fight against your past; others will simply wait for Bubbie to talk. Her Yinglish is delicious. Those priceless Yiddish actors of once-upon-a-time are now extinct. 

The character of Izzy, the "older" single Jewish woman with Lower East Side roots who revels in her "classy" work involving pretentious literature (which the movie regularly lampoons), is infuriating in her wishy-washyness. Her one major plus is her devotion to her grandmother; she spends a lot of time with her. A lot of time. Like, the best granddaughter ever. They shop together, walk together, cook together. She even lovingly massages out the ravages of her Bubbie's arthritis. 

Since CD doesn't rush, one can see how Izzy's prejudices slowly unravel. For all her aspirations, she's not very secure, unlike Sam, her shidduch date. While she unfairly labels him as low-brow, he exudes cool confidence, knowledge, and kindness. He's even vulnerable with her, not fearing potential rejection (a Brené role model!) He knows who he is; she thinks she knows who she is (but doesn't). 

So I can't understand what it is about Izzy that draws Sam to her despite her repeated rebuffs. A man in possession of such self-worth wouldn't (at least shouldn't) take this.

The problem for me is, the moral of the story is to expand one's vision beyond the narrow (the title is from Sam's mashal of an anecdote). In other words, giving something a chance against one's personal judgement—which is what every single shadchan says to sell their idea. Yet I can't go out with all off-base suggestions, or else I'd go mad

Although, if someone insisted that they knew, for sure, that he was a mensch . . .

*While rated a decorous PG, there are scenes which are not for children or the prudish. It could very well receive the UA (un-aidel) rating established by Bad4.    

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

It's Okay to be Happy

"I'm just so tired from the l'chayim," she sighed. "and this hall for the vort is so expensive. Finding dresses for it was such a hassle. The place we wanted for the wedding is all booked up; we have to use another one, which I don't like. . ." 

I felt like reminding her: Your daughter is engaged. Doesn't that qualify as a happy occasion? Does this come off as "happy" to you?

Humblebrag may apply here, but then I had second thoughts coming across an article in Glamour (don't judge me, the subscription was free with a Sephora purchase): "My Dirty Little Secret: For Once, Actually I'm Happy" by Abigail Libers. Her opening: 
"So how are you?!” a friend asked me at brunch recently. I hadn’t seen her in a while and thought for a moment. “Great!” I replied. “Things have been going really well for me.”
Even I was surprised by my response; it’s rare that I don’t have a complaint at the ready. Apparently my friend was taken aback too. “Really?” she asked. “That’s awesome. I’m happy for you.” And there was an awkward pause. In the silence I realized I had violated an un­­spoken code. The answer to “How are you?” is supposed to be “I’m so busy and stressed!” And indeed, when I asked what was new with her, she stuck to the script, rattling off complaints: annoyed with her mom, drowning at work.
Contemporary culture perversely equates "importance" with being stressed and busy. Takka, humblebrag is the usual response to "How are you?" (another reason why I don't ask). Yet the state of happiness can also tag along ubiquitous guilt for the ride, as Libers experienced. 

Not only is there guilt that I have joy while she does not, there is also fear: Happiness is usually so elusive that when it comes, there is anxiety that it was a mirage, it will be taken away, it is too good to be true. You know what? This is what I have decided: So what? 

Happiness doesn't last, this we know. Then just enjoy it while you got it. I heard this idea from Charlie Harary—and he was quoting someone else—that we should live life like kids at suppertime. They negotiate with Ma for how much chicken and vegetables they have to consume before they get dessert. When they get the dessert, they revel in it. Tomorrow will be another tedious healthy meal, but tonight, let's live it up.
Got happy? Don't overthink it. Wallow in it, inhale it, savor it. It doesn't have to be rubbed in anyone else's face, mind, but park the guilt and worry at the door.     

Monday, December 5, 2016

Favorite Authoress: Liane Moriarty

When it comes to genre, I rarely stray from historical fiction. There are a few exceptions, like specific sci-fi or fantasy or mystery-involving-horseracing authors, but gripping must be that which is contemporary. 

TooYoungToTeach introduced me to Liane Moriarty's work with What Alice Forgot. After I woozily, dreamily, joyfully savored it, she mentioned Three Wishes, which I checked out and gobbled up. Following that, I decided to go chronological with The Last Anniversary, The Hypnotist's Love Story, and The Husband's Secret
You know when an author is reliably awesome when you can't wait to go to bed just so you can read. 

Moriarty is Australian, and her books take place there. Somehow, the conversation there is more . . .  real, I guess. I usually prefer historical fiction because back then no one had time for self-made problems, and most modern-day stories seem contrived regarding difficulty. Moriarty cannily grasps in simple, unaffected language, valid millenial drama. 

Perhaps because she might gather her material from her own personal experiences, there are a number of repetitive themes: infertility, marriages in crisis, old love rekindling, the sadness of singlehood. I find that I can't read her absorbing books back-to-back because there will always be an echo to a previous novel, and sometimes I get irritated. But then I apologize to Liane in my head.

Three Wishes: Adult triplets Lyn, Cat, and Gemma have turned 33, and what an eventful year it will be. For all their closeness, and accepted "roles," there is still more to them than the others know.

What Alice Forgot: Alice wakes up to find herself a decade older—amnesia after a head injury. To her shock, she finds herself vastly different, even unlikeable. Can she be saved?   

The Hypnotist's Love Story: Eileen, a hypnotist, has finally found the man of her dreams. The problem is that he's being stalked by his ex. Eileen—and the reader will too—feels for her. 

The Husband's Secret: Very, very dark. A modern Pandora's box alter the lives of three women—and their families.

The Last Anniversary: On a family-owned island marked by sinister mystery, a love-seeking newcomer arrives, entangling herself in the various lives that live there.    

Thursday, December 1, 2016


I was rolling as I watched the black-ish episode, "God." The scene where Dre struggles to concentrate while praying was so, pathetically, true

Following those rare moments of rapt kavana, I feel like high-fiving myself—good job! You stayed on message, girl!—only to flunk all over again the next day, as I suddenly recall what face creams I should reorder during Baruch She'amar. Girl, you suck. 

It is a work in progress. According to the method of meditation, instead of beating up oneself if thoughts drift, merely draw it back into the center, and move on. Not a bad idea if self-flagellation poisons the rest of prayers. 

Every week, the NY Times Magazine recommends a poem. Matthew Zapruder submitted this: 

Yehoshua November integrates his Orthodox Judaism with the everyday, through poems of radical clarity. Throughout his work, he shows that religious faith can be compatible with a poetry of deep, uncertain feeling. Poem selected by Matthew Zapruder.
Credit Illustration by R. O. Blechman


Before the Silent Prayer,
some slip the hood of their prayer shawls
over their heads,
so that even among many worshipers
they are alone with God.

Primo Levi wrote about the sadness of
“a cart horse, shut between two shafts
and unable even to look sideways ... ”

Let me be like those pious ones
or that horse,
so that, even amidst a crowd,
no other crosses the threshold
of my dreaming.

During davening, the avodah, we are supposed to stick to one message: "Know before whom you stand." To be a blinkered horse, indeed.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Yom Shabbos Menucha

"Yehoshua, get up off the floor! If you can't sit nicely at the table, go to bed. Mendy, put down that book! It's a long enough night, and you won't have anything to read later. Miri, leave your sister alone! Raizy, why did you take so much chicken if you knew you couldn't eat it all? No, Baruch, you can't have anymore grape juice. Shua, off the floor!" 

Well, I did volunteer for the task. With their parents out for Friday night, I was presiding over chaos. In under five minutes, the prettily set table had morphed into a mess of purple splatters and soggy napkins. I'm sure my hair was standing on end, with a few bits of shnitzel stuck in there.

As the youngest, my memories of Shabbos meals were tame; all of us sitting properly around the dining room table. Yet Ma tells me that before my time, she would tell Babi, "Ma, it's a three-ring circus." 

We sing bensching together (with Mendy barely mumbling along, much to my displeasure). With an hour until bedtime, I whipped out the stack of Berenstain Bears I had brought with me. 

The hysteria immediately vanished into peace. Each (even the 12-year-old) eagerly selected one. I read out loud, surrounded by cuddling children all sighing contentedly. This was the scene more apropos to the serenity of Shabbos.
After tucking the smaller ones into bed, I played cards with the older ones. I lost "I Doubt You" ungracefully. I thought I had a better poker face. 

The night closed pleasantly, despite the mad opening. 

We are creatures of habit and minhag. Shabbos meals are supposed to be calm and enjoyable. Yet when kids are too young to handle the expectations of the dining room table, maybe the method needs a little tweaking. 

If a formal dinner will devolve into (1) shouting matches of "But I wanna sit next to Abba!"; (2) Grabbing for the kois until it inevitably spills; (3) food battles; (4) really, really unnecessary stress, let's take the munchkins out of it until they are of an age of self-control and interest. 

They can be fed earlier, left to play or put to sleep (depending on the season), while Mom and Pop revel in a romantic dinner for two by candlelight.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ride the Pendulum

Unlike a number of my high school classmates, I never went through a "dark" phase. I've always preferred metaphorical sunshine and roses—why can't we talk about something more pleasant?
Some gals noted that, depending on the English teacher, all they had to do was spin the most miserable yarn possible to score a good grade. Apparently, while lacking black lipstick, there are educators who should be classified as goth. 

In response to the question "Which subjects are underrepresented in contemporary fiction?", Ayana Mathis replies: Joy. 

Authors do err, she says, in believing that the only true and real expression of the human experience is Dickensian (I avoid his work, even film adaptations, like the plague). Life is composed not of one extreme, but of both, and everything in between. Queen Elizabeth II said, "Grief is the price we pay for love"—one cannot grieve unless one has known love.

Mathis quotes Thomas Aquinas: "Joy and sorrow proceed from love, but in contrary ways." Same premise. 
Joy, it must be remembered, is nothing like happiness, its milquetoast cousin. It is instead a vivid and extreme state of being, often arrived at in the aftermath of great pain. 
I'm gonna Brené you—again: Many attempt to numb pain (with alcohol, drugs, food), without realizing that it is impossible to selectively numb emotion. If you numb the sadness, you will also numb the joy. You can't have one without the other.

A date once asked, "Are you a Buddhist?" because of my interest in yoga and Eastern medicine. I responded: "No. Buddhists believe life is all about suffering; I don't." (Okay okay, don't get technical with me, I know Buddhism doesn't quite work like that, but "suffering" is its go-to word.) 

I don't ignore the sadness, yet I do not find anything noble in unnecessarily wallowing in it. If it comes my way, and cannot be avoided, I shall acknowledge it to the best of my ability. Because unless I learn how to sit in discomfort, only then can I savor moments of bliss.   

Monday, November 28, 2016

Paper Dolls

"Send out your information onto this shidduch e-mail list!" 

"Um, okay." 

What followed was two weeks of bizarre e-mail exchanges and phone calls. The first rang that she doesn't know me, right, so why don't I come over and scroll through her database? 

But if she doesn't know the guys either, what would be the point? 

The next called that she has just the idea for me, but I happened to know who he was and thought not. Then she carelessly suggested his friend, whom his pal spoke highly of. It's his friend. I don't think his required positive feedback means all that much. 

Then two more calls with ideas that went against exactly what I expressed in my information. We are not acquainted beyond what I stipulated in my profile. So why is your first move to recommend guys who don't even remotely fall within my criteria? 

I began to dread unknown numbers chiming on my cell. Because I hate, hate, having to explain to someone who thinks she's being nice and considerate that her idea is so catastrophic I'm considering going off the grid. 

I'm just curious how many of these women met their husbands by shidduch date. Because they have no idea how the "shidduch system" works. There are very few who can have the happy talent of matching paper with paper. I think they are the stuff of legend, as opposed to reality. 

If you want to make a shidduch, may I suggest keeping things closer to home? Singles in your extended family, in your shul, your children's friends, friends' children, etc. Why outsource complete strangers from backgrounds you don't understand, fruitlessly stapling together random ideas?

*Ping* An e-mail inviting me to come over and scroll through a database. Sigh. Please inform me if there is a single possibility, not a multitude.