Sunday, October 31, 2004
My coworkers have come to accept my inability to work without music. This is not to say they enjoy or even understand most of my eclectic musical choices. For instance, one day I will be on a Beatles jag, and on another Miles Davis and Coleman Hawkins might be the featured artists. I don't play anything particularly often... or loud... but my small desktop speakers are seldom idle.
My iPod, which plays through my office radio, has almost 500 CDs on it, and there is almost no era or genre that lacks representation. Gregorian chant and Bluegrass, Zydeco and Fusion, Show tunes and Reggae, Classical and R&B (to name but a few) all make frequent appearances. I think Rap is probably the least represented genre in my collection... but it's there.
A few minutes ago I was listening to a recording of Gilbert & Sullivan's light opera 'The Mikado' when my boss's boss walked in. I instinctively muted the volume so we could talk, but he indicated that he had come in to find out what I was listening to.
Now, I would be hard pressed to explain the social and political nuances of this 19th century English spoof of Japanese culture in my mother tongue, so you can imagine how the explanation went in Hebrew.
No... much worse than that.
Imagine getting up in front of an audience and beginning your prepared remarks with a favorite joke... only somehow the joke gets away from you and the punchline ends up orphaned due to some forgotten detail. The audience shifts uncomfortably in their seats as the flop-sweat drips down your back,... and you momentarily debate trying to explain the joke, only to realize that further explanation would only make matters worse.
Well, it wasn't quite that bad, but I can safely say that this particular Israeli executive didn't run to his office computer in order to peruse the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company's selection of original recordings. Suffice it to say he now thinks my taste in music and humor are both a little odd.
For those of you who were keeping track, today's little dust-up involved the clash of Israeli, American, English and Japanese cultures!
I'm thinking that has to be some kind of record, no?!
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Before you Red Sox haters click away, the title of this post does not refer to last night’s World Series victory.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m deliriously happy that the curse has finally been reversed. And I’m doubly glad that the post-season victories came against two of the old, ‘classic’ baseball clubs… teams with well-established baseball traditions and fanatically loyal fans. It made the long-overdue win seem that much more ‘right’… legitimate, even.
However, I’m using the term ‘Fall Classic’ here in reference to Halloween.
I know I’m probably going to get a bunch of comments from religious folks who consider Halloween at best a secular holiday, and at worst, a ‘pagen’ rite.
Personally, I grew up trick-or-treating, and loved every minute of it. My costumes were usually rather last minute affairs (except for the robot and mummy costumes my parents made for me in 2nd and 3rd grade), but the nippy fall air and elaborately decorated neighborhood houses made the whole affair magical.
OK, the candy was pretty cool, too.
But by the time I started Jr. high School, something about Halloween had started to change… and not for the better. It wasn’t just my becoming more sophisticated / jaded (although I’m sure that was responsible for part of the change). I started to notice that many of the social ills of the ‘real world’ were starting to encroach on Halloween’s good clean fun.
More and more parents accompanied their children on the trick-or-treat rounds, and nearly every parent insisted on carefully inspecting the candy bag at the end of the night to make sure nothing had been tampered with. Today, this kind of thing is a given, but for people who grew up in a more innocent age, it is truly sad to see the extent to which kids have lost their autonomy.
Now, strictly speaking, Halloween is not enshrined in the pantheon of Jewish holidays. But most non-orthodox Jews I know in the U.S. have fully incorporated it into their internal calendar between Sukkot and Thanksgiving. The more orthodox crowd tends to largely ignore Halloween, and is sometimes openly antagonistic to it (those are the folks who turn off the porch light and pretend not to be home!).
Even though my departure from my parent’s house coincided with my drift towards the more orthodox end of the religious spectrum, I never lost my fondness for Halloween. Wherever I was living, I always made sure to have candy in the house on the 31st to give out to the neighborhood ghosts and witches.
However, once our kids came along, I had to finally confront the conflict between belief and practice. I was torn, because I really didn’t want to keep my kids from doing something I remembered with such fondness. But, at the same time, Zahava and I were taking great pains to indoctrinate them with the value of a different set of holidays… many of which had been ignored or glossed over in my own upbringing.
It turns out that the solution sort of presented itself. You see, long before our kids were even aware of Halloween, they were already deeply smitten with the holiday of Purim (Judaism’s springtime costume holiday). Unlike Halloween, which was a taking holiday, Purim entails going to the houses of one’s friends and neighbors and giving baskets of food and candy. So by the time Ari and Gili learned about Halloween, there was less allure to dressing up and asking for treats. On the contrary, both kids were quite content with being able to answer the door and give out candy to the kids (always with an adult) who rang the bell. It didn’t hurt that part of giving out the candy included extensive ‘product testing’ to make sure that we weren’t giving out sub-standard treats!
Now that we live in Israel, the distance has muted Halloween’s siren song. In fact, without the associated store decorations, I’d be floored if either of the big kids were even aware of its approach.
And part of me… the part that clearly remembers cheeks and ears tingling from the late October night air as I ran from house to house filling my pillowcase… is sad that my children will grow up blissfully unaware of this special bit of Americana.
I’m wondering though… based on the trend I detected 30+ years ago towards Halloween’s loss of innocence… does this 'Fall Classic' even exist anymore as I knew it ?
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
You go girl!
Awhile back, I mentioned in passing (ok, maybe I gushed a little bit) that my lovely and talented wife had transcended her role as a graphic designer, and had landed a university-level gig teaching the tools and methods of her trade to a class of eager graphic design students.
Zahava cut her design teeth during that innocent period just before computers took the graphic design industry by storm. No sooner had she learned the ‘black arts’ of hand drawing and paste-up than the first design programs placed many of the ‘exotic’ skills of her trade into the hands of amateurs who had not paid their dues.
A brief struggle ensued between the Luddites who resisted computerization and the progressives who saw this as an entirely new design tool with infinite possibilities. Luckily Zahava was among the trained artists who embraced the new technology. Rather than making her knowledge obsolete, each new generation of design software took her skills and talent to ever-higher levels.
However, along with previously unheard of conceptual and execution possibilities came the pretenders. Just as the advances in ski equipment have allowed even the most untalented skiers to ‘shoosh’ and ‘carve’ their way down even the expert trails, the plethora of low cost desktop publishing and graphics programs heralded an era where nearly everyone with access to a computer began calling themselves Graphic Designers.
Despite the fact that most of these newly minted ‘designers’ had no foundation in concept, color or composition from which to launch their careers, a sizable portion of the marketplace eagerly embraced their bargain-basement prices.
Over the years, Zahava has been fortunate to have always worked for high-end design firms and clients in the upper echelons of ‘the corporate world'. For the most part, this helped insulate her from the cannibalization that was taking place in the parts of the industry closer to ‘the street’. However, when our kids got old enough to need a parent home before and after school, Zahava made the sacrifice and launched her freelance career.
I have listened quietly as Zahava has struggled to educate her freelance clients in the basics of good design principles. Sometimes she’s been successful, and other times the job has been lost to a brother-in-law with ‘PageMaker’ on his new home computer. The most frustrating thing for her has been that many of the clients couldn’t tell the difference.
Another phenomenon that Zahava discovered was that many young religious Jewish women were going into the graphic design field. On the one hand, this was wonderful, as Zahava had first hand knowledge of how the profession lent itself to people with family responsibilities. Unfortunately, most of them (even the very talented amateurs), were eschewing formal art training because it entailed exposure to Christian culture, co-educational classroom environments, and nudity (not theirs, of course)... basic elements that are part of nearly any organized art program.
The teaching position that Zahava landed is an opportunity to right a multitude of wrongs. It is part of a very ambitious design curriculum for religious design students who are spending their junior year of college in Israel.
The subject she has been assigned could not have been a better fit: Typography. In order to understand the perfection of this fit, you need to come with us some time to the movies. Zahava’s idea of a ‘movie trifecta’ is:
1. Authentic period costumes
2. Tears running down her cheeks
3. Being able to shout the name of the font the instant the credits start to roll
Seriously, she knows the name of more fonts (not to mention their history and creator) than I know…um… well, I don’t know anything quite as thouroughly as she knows typography!
So, why this… and why now?
Because today is Zahava’s first day teaching and she left the house this morning with a bad case of self-doubt and jitters. I, for one, am quite sure she will blow these students away and infect them with the passion she has for the subject and the profession.
To say I am proud of her doesn't begin to describe my feelings!
Monday, October 25, 2004
OK people... I tried.
A few days ago I revealed my deepest darkest secret. Sure, I hid it among a bunch of other stuff, but I basically stood up in front of everyone I even remotely know and said:
"Hi, I'm David... and I'm overweight."
I'm a little fuzzy on how these meetings are supposed to work, but aren't you all supposed to say (in unison):
Isn't that the clarion call indicating that the healing can officially begin?
I gently indicated that if anyone wanted to join me in my diet... to become a 'diet buddy'... I would welcome the company (isn't that, in fact, what misery loves?).
Well, one of two things is likely behind the resounding silence with which my cry for help was met:
1. You are so exceedingly buff that you regard fatties like me with a kind of polite pity ("Shhh...now sweety, don't stare or point at the nice man ... he can't help the way he looks.").
2. You too are 'husky' but can't go on a diet right now because you are loathe to start a diet/exercise regimen without first consulting with your doctor (and he's on vacation).
I can take a hint, people... it's OK. You see, I have a plan... Plan 'B' as it turns out.
Plan 'B' comes back to the guiding principal behind everything from successful step programs to good government:
Alcoholics and drug addicts don't reveal their problems to everyone they know (not to mention rooms full of strangers) as part of some elaborate self-flagellation! No, my understanding is that they do this to acknowledge the problem, allowing everyone to see where the potential problems lay, and to make sure problematic behavior can't be obscured from view.
We don't elect public officials in the expectations that they will turn out to be crooks, but we demand a great deal of transparency in all their dealings because experience has shown us that opacity tends to encourage otherwise good people to put their hands in the proverbial cookie jar.
Dieting is no different.
My exhaustive research has revealed that there are roughly twice the number of diets as there are human beings in the world. And, every single one of those diets could potentially be successful. So why don't all the people on diets lose weight (and keep it off)?
The answer: A profound lack of transparency
So what exactly does that word, 'transparency' mean?
The dry definition is:
Evolving global standard... requiring open processes according to general rules subject to monitoring; regarded as basis of accountability, diminishing corruption.*
But the key words are 'open', 'monitoring', and 'accountability'
We can all make deals with ourselves... with our spouses... with our friends. We do our exercises and stick to our diets when everyone is watching... But somehow when the [chocolate] chips are down, 2:00AM finds us awash in the harsh light of the freezer, eating Ben & Jerry's right out of the carton with an oversized soup spoon!
Drug and alcohol programs are built around trust... but they also incorporate testing and progress reports to ensure complete transparency.
I have decided that the only way to ensure I stick to my diet and exercise plan is to adapt a completely transparent approach. To do this I'll be placing the only statistics that matter at the end of every post. Don't worry... I'm not turning treppenwitz into a diet blog. If the info in the little box doesn't interest you, don't look. But this way, it won't matter what 'deals' I make regarding diet and exercise... the only important information will be in plain sight for all to see.
Wish me luck... from now on, Plan 'B' boils down to the info in this little box.
Saturday, October 23, 2004
Heaven in a pot
During the week, it's an even bet who will prepare any particular meal, or what that meal might turn out to be. But Shabbat in our house is fairly predictable from a culinary point of view. Zahava is generally in charge of the side dishes (kugels, salads, etc.), chulent (a special stew that is put up Friday afternoon and served with Saturday lunch) and dessert(s), while I usually am in charge of the main courses (chicken, roasts, ribs, etc.).
Of course, Zahava and I occasionally ‘mix things up’ and try new recipes (OK, Zahava more than I), but we generally stick to time-tested dishes that we know will come out well, and that everybody loves.
This past Friday night, though, Zahava broke with tradition (ours at least) and prepared the entire dinner… in one pot.
That’s right, in honor of the Boston Red Sox victory in the American League Championship Series she made the ultimate sacrifice and made me my favorite meal… a gesture made even more magnanimous because it is something she absolutely loathes:
Basically, this is a big ol’ hunk of corned beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, onions and seasoning, all boiled up in a big pot of water until soft and yummy!
In 13 years of marriage, Zahava has made this meal for me less than 10 times… now that I think about it, maybe less than 5. It is a testament to her love for me that she has made it at all since she hates everything (the texture, color, and taste) about this lowbrow repast… but for me, there is no more comforting meal.
Forget the Yankees… forget the curse… forget every other reason one might have for being happy about the Red Sox victory… the real reason for celebration landed on the dinner table Friday night!!!
I know I’m probably pushing my luck, but maybe if the Red Sox win the World Series I’ll get lucky next Friday night, too!
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Start spreadin' the news...
That sound you hear... listen closely, there it is again!
That's the sound of 55,000+ Yankee fans shutting up and going home for the winter. It is also the sound of millions of TV remotes being thrown in disgust at millions of TVs.
Enjoy the silence while it lasts... Yankee fans are almost never at a loss for words.
First a little advice to those who took the subway ride of shame this morning: That annoying Frank Sinatra song you guys use to chase opposing fans out of Yankee stadium after a home team win (whose opening words make up the title of today's post)? Not so funny when the news being spread is of your overpaid collection of boors being sent to the showers without any Champagne, is it?
And a little advice to those of you who may still be sitting stunned in your Barcaloungers: Don't throw that remote too hard... you'll need it to watch a baseball team that has heart, soul and class play in the world series... on TV.
I have never begrudged the Yankees or their fans the spotlight or the glory. However, I have gotten more than a little tired of their poor sportsmanship and boorish bragging. I mean, with a virtually limitless payroll, a team had better field one of the most talented group of players every spring! Otherwise you're just throwing good money after bad!!!
It's a shame, really. The Yankees have taken one of the greatest rivalries in sports (OK, maybe second to the Australian/English Cricket struggle over The Ashes) and turned it into something without honor... a contest without respect.
Where did they learn to be such bad winners? I cringe when I see children of Yankee fans emulating their parent's bleacher behavior off the field. I would think with all those World Series trophies you would have had ample opportunity to practice being gracious!
I won't say it isn't sweet to prevail against an arch rival... I only wish the rival were somehow more worthy.
Anyway, on to the World Series... Go BoSox!
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Israeli Phone Etiquette
The title of today’s post makes a bold assumption; it assumes that there exists some sort of established etiquette for speaking on the phone here. If there is, in fact such established etiquette, I have yet to encounter it.
Take, for instance, the following typical exchange:
[another long pause]
Me: “Can I help you? You called me. Surely you had some idea of what you wanted to say when you dialed my number!!!”
Caller: [as though 30 seconds hasn’t elapsed since I answered the phone] “Yes, I’m calling to speak with David, this is…”
Just so we’re clear, this is not something that happened once or twice. This is what happens every single time I answer the phone! I’ve listened to other people’s phone conversations and with the exception of my sarcastic remark about who called whom, this is exactly how the entire country begins a phone conversation!!!
The first few times I was on the receiving end of one of these calls, I thought perhaps the person had forgotten who they were calling. I mean, it’s happened to me on occasion that my mind wandered while the phone was ringing and when the person answered I had no idea who they were or why I was trying to reach them. But that’s not the case here… everyone begins their phone conversations like two painfully shy teenagers meeting at a school dance!
The crazy part is that Israelis are wonderful conversationalists. I can’t ever recall seeing or hearing of an Israeli who lacked for something to say. The Hebrew language’s relative paucity of words is more than balanced by the generous use of inflection, accent, tonal range and volume.
Israelis can go gesture-for-gesture with any of the great ‘talking cultures’ of the Mediterranean (Greek, Italian, French, etc). By this I mean that Israelis are extremely animated talkers, sometimes to the point of becoming oblivious to the scene (or accident) they are causing during an emotional tête-à-tête.
So what happens at the start of a phone call that makes them momentarily mute?
The end of the phone call has the opposite problem. Israelis seem to have never adopted the standard formulas for ending a phone conversation cleanly. People here don’t say:
Caller one: “Thanks for the recipe, I’ll look forward to seeing you this weekend.”
Caller two: “My pleasure, Bye.
No, instead conversations are allowed to loiter and circle the airport until the ‘plane’ is completely out of fuel.
For illustration purposes:
[at the tail end of a long phone conversation]
Me: “Well, I’m really glad you called.”
Other person: “Good…”
Me: “Great, so I guess…”
OP: “Ok, so…”
Me: “Alright then…”
Me: [sitting in confused silence because the conversation is inexplicably still going on… it simply refuses to die a quiet death!]
Me: “Ireallyhavetogonownicetalkingtoyoubye” [click]
If I hadn’t finally given the caller the verbal equivalent of the bum’s rush, the conversation would likely have gone on for another two or three minutes! No exaggeration! It makes me tired just thinking about it!
Again, I have listened in on other people’s conversations (it’s really not hard to do in such a vocal culture) and virtually everyone has this stammering, meandering wind-down to their conversations in place of the familiar (to me) formulaic; ‘set up’… ‘acknowledgement of set up’… and ‘mutual disconnect’.
Now, granted I’ve been living here in Israel less than a year-and-a-half…. so there are still quite a few cultural nuances that bump up against my ‘old country habits’. I’m sure if I was in Japan and I had to listen to people answering the phone with a brisk, “Mushy Mushy!”, it would take me at least this long to become comfortable with the change.
But if there is anyone out there who can shed a little light on how the concept of a clean start and finish to a phone conversation turned out to be such a difficult thing for Israelis to master, I would be much obliged.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Mixed Bag of Stuff
There are a few small thoughts I’ve been wanting to share… none warranting a post of its own… but each important in its own small way. With your permission I’ll address them all here today… so skim the titles and feel free to read only the topics that interest you:
Far Flung Fans (say that 3 times fast!)
I feel a bit self-important calling any of my readers ‘fans’. I mean, for all I know, many of you may come here in order to poke fun, or perhaps to learn what not to do in your own journals/blogs. This wouldn’t be the first time someone regarded me as a cautionary tale!
That having been said, I have noticed a significant increase in traffic from Germany. Now I’ll admit that when I first started treppenwitz, I didn’t anticipate a large readership. But even more so, I didn’t dream of a large non-English speaking readership!
I am in awe of anyone who can regularly slog through my ramblings… but to do so when English is not one’s mother tongue is amazing! I sometimes see links from Lila’s blog in my referrer logs. This might explain some of the traffic. But every day the German audience seems to grow… even without referrals!
All I can say is Willkommen!
Whatever it is that brings you here, day after day, I hope I can keep doing it. Feel free to say hello… even in German. I have a few friends (not to mention a nifty online translating tool) who I’m sure will help me with the translation.
I’m back on a strict diet.
I’ll wait while the laughter subsides from my wife’s side of the office.
This really is nobody’s business but my own, but I feel like I need to start treating my unhealthy eating habits the way an alcoholic treats his/her drinking problem: It’s a sickness, and the more people know I’m sick, the more likely I am not to keep doing unhealthy things to myself!
In my case the problem isn’t food in general… but rather Carbohydrates.
I am addicted to pasta and bread and cake and chocolate and candy and potato kugel and donuts and brownies and challah and oh-my-goodness please chain me to my desk so this list doesn’t lead me straight to the corner store!
Several years ago I realized that my weight issues were tied to this one food group. On my doctor’s advice (and under his supervision) I went on the Atkins Diet and started a reasonable exercise program. Within 6 months I had lost almost 50 pounds (bringing me to my ideal weight)… my cholesterol had dropped dramatically (it was never really high)… and I promised myself I would never allow myself to become a slave to carbs again.
Again, we’ll wait a moment while Zahava composes herself…
The misunderstood thing about the Atkins Diet is that it isn’t about completely eliminating carbs from one’s diet (well, it is in the first stage, but not after that), but rather finding the delicate balance at which you are eating just enough carbs to avoid gaining or losing any weight. This balancing point is different for everyone, and requires first losing the weight, and then slowly reintroducing small amounts of carbohydrates into the diet until you notice that weight loss has stopped. But once that happens, you have to also figure out when to stop adding carbs before weight gain begins again. This is tricky to do, and requires a level of honesty with oneself that I apparently lack.
Ideally, once you reach this delicate equilibrium, you are allowed to occasionally splurge on birthday cake or a celebratory milkshake, and then compensate with a comparable reduction in carb intake the following day. But for some reason, every time I had ‘blown’ my diet for a particular day, the carb train just kept chugging along past the station! To use a crude analogy… each time it happened I was like a recently deflowered virgin who thinks, “what the heck… now that I’ve given in I may as well make up for lost time and become the neighborhood slut”.
So now I am back on the diet, and back on an exercise routine (more about that below). But in addition, I am telling my family… my coworkers… my friends… my regular hitchhikers… and now YOU:
I AM ON A DIET SO DON”T JUST SIT THERE IF YOU SEE ME DOING SOMETHING UNHEALTHY TO MYSELF!!!
[anyone out there who wants to become a ‘diet buddy’ with me is welcome to send me a note]
As I mentioned in the previous topic, I needed to combine my improved eating habits with an increase in physical activity. I used to do a lot of indoor wall climbing, walking and Tai Chi. There is an indoor climbing wall near my office in Beer Sheva, but it is temporarily closed for renovations… so that will have to wait. I have started walking again after work (one lap around the grounds of my office = 1 km, so I can set tangible goals), and I have just found a Tai Chi class that I really like.
The Tai Chi form that I used to practice was the Ch’uan long form, and this new class is using the Yang short form. This means I really have to start learning from scratch. However, the teacher has the one quality that makes the setback worthwhile: He teaches only the form… not any sort of eastern philosophy/religion. I already have a philosophy/religion (Judaism, in case you just tuned in) and I’m not shopping for a new one. I just want someone to teach me how to do the form correctly, and I trust that the ‘Chi’ will be smart enough to go where it needs to go once I become proficient.
Good Readin’ List
I’ve added a couple of new names to the list of places I frequent. If you feel like you have a little extra time on your hands, please consider checking out some of these talented (and fascinating) writers. You’re all (presumably) grownups… so go, or don’t go as you see fit.
A few people have mentioned that my archives are a bit cumbersome to navigate, so I have added a Google search for my site. You'll find it up there just under the ‘SOUL’ button. If there is anything in particular you want to find here at treppenwitz, just type a kew word into the window, and if I’ve ever mentioned it, you’ll find it right away!
Photo Meme Update
I have taken about half of the pictures that you requested already. You can feel free to continue making requests because I have a feeling I’ll probably have to serialize the pictures. By this, I mean that I will post the pictures over the course of a few weeks… each posting will be the response to one person’s ‘three wishes’.
I am positively swimming in invites, so if you or anyone you know is in need of a GeeMale account, please feel free to send me a note.
[yes Virginia, I know I misspelled the name of the product… I don’t want the search engines to bring the bottom feeders here like they did the last time!]
Monday, October 18, 2004
While we were in the U.S. this past August, I spent quite a bit of time browsing bookshops. The English language book selection isn’t terrible in big Israeli cities like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem… but there is something about wandering into a really well stocked bookstore with no plan other than to skim titles that I have not been able to replicate here.
While I was paying for a few books in a store out on Cape Cod, I found an interesting box of magnetic words next to the cash register. Truth be told, I had been looking for these words since we arrived in the states, but had sort of given up by the time they found me.
For the uninitiated, I’m talking about Magnetic Poetry. The basic box comes with what seems like two gazillion words. There are additional sets one can buy that have specialty words, but at the time the one box seemed quite adequate.
When we got back home, I completely forgot about the box of magnetic words… and it languished under a pile of things that had somehow never been properly put away (shocking, I know).
As I was straightening up before this past Shabbat, I rediscovered the box of words, and (much to Zahava’s chagrin) I abandoned my chores to immediately place all two gazillion of them on our front door. Stop looking so smug... like you've never gotten sidetracked!!!
My initial inclination was to organize the words by parts-of-speech (nouns with nouns, prepositions with prepositions, etc.), but decided that part of the fun would be the randomness of the arrangement.
It wasn’t until all the words (including a few prefixes and suffixes) were on the door that a few interesting things became obvious:
First of all... it turns out that there were way less than two gazillion words… probably closer to 150-200.
Also, I noticed that this random collection of words was eerily similar in size and make-up to the limited collection of words in my Hebrew vocabulary (ok, maybe I have more than a 200 word vocabulary... but some days it feels that way!).
So, what’s the first thing I did once all the words were up on the door?
That’s right, I figured I’d take a couple of seconds and ‘throw out’ the first ceremonial sentence… maybe even leave a witty poem!
Heh, yeah right.
You see there were other lurking similarities to my Hebrew vocabulary... meaning that searching around for exactly the right word was an exercise in futility. Humorous sentences were considered and discarded because I was missing essential words. As a thought would take shape, I would have to change direction/intent based on the words I could find. Fifteen minutes later I actually had my first sentence, but it bore no relation to where I'd been heading when I had started out.
This too was very much like what happens when I try to express myself in Hebrew. The words are there (at least a modest collection of them) but nearly every cogent thought is hijacked by not having ready access to the right words.
Like most immigrants, my conversations are slow, plodding affairs with lots of hand gestures and facial expressions filling in for perfect grammar. They bring to mind the image of a careless person crossing a stream on stepping-stones who hasn’t picked out the route all the way to the other bank. Most of the time I am able to get to the other side (meaning that I almost always manage to finish my thoughts/sentences), but occasionally I still find myself stranded mid-stream.
Just so you don't think I'm complaining...it’s really amazing how many more 'stones' there are in the stream today than there were a year ago! The progress is glacial, though.
Since putting up the magnetic words, several new sentences have sprung to life. A few are Zahava’s doing, and one or two belong to Ari and/or Gili. I haven’t asked, but judging by the Asian syntax and ersatz proverb nature of the sentences, I would say that others have encountered the same challenges that I found. Maybe I’ll have to order one of the additional sets of magnetic words and surreptitiously add them slowly to the mix. I wonder if anyone will notice?
Once we become more familiar with what words are available to us, I’m sure the ‘poetry’ will flow more freely. But in the mean time, it’s kind of neat to have stumbled upon such a tidy little parallel to my ongoing language issues.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Jamming on the brakes
I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect most of the people who drop by here each day do so in order to vicariously experience some of the stuff that I see in my daily Israeli life. The caveat, of course is that by ‘experience’ I believe most of you want to catch a brief, sterile glimpse of the world through my eyes… and perhaps a get ‘few’ words of commentary for context… and then be on your merry way.
Nice and neat.
I sincerely doubt that many of you are interested in what goes on behind my eyes… the inconsistency, the self-doubt, the struggle to keep all the balls in the air. After all, these are problems that we all face, regardless of nationality, race, gender, creed, etc.
For that reason, I’m giving you a chance, here and now, to run away and spend some quality time with the folks at Doonesbury or Dilbert, and leave me here wiping messy cry-snot off the front of my shirt.
Still here? Don’t say I didn’t give you a chance!
Here’s my problem: I’m a parent. I won’t try to modify that with meaningless words like ‘good’ or ‘bad’, because I think everyone with kids believes deep down that they are ‘good parents’. However, the world is full of f*cked-up kids who grow up to be card-carrying sociopaths, so clearly a few of us are mistaken.
The past 18 hours has been very hard going for me because my two big kids decided to cross a number of red lines all at once (or at least I became aware of said line-crossing all at once). They really are basically good kids, but when nobody is looking, they can be vicious to one another! In this case, I found out that there has been a fairly constant give-and-take of verbal abuse, pinching, punching, and sin-of-sins: punching private parts!
When Zahava brought this to my attention last night, all my circuit breakers blew... I completely lost my mind!
The glands where the fight-or-flight/ papa-bear adrenaline is stored... you know, the stuff that is normally reserved for when someone threatens your kid... suddenly dumped a double dose into my system because it turns out that my kids have been knocking the crap out of each other!!!
I was angry because I hadn’t noticed this side of them before. I was angry because the ongoing conflict had hurt them both. But most of all I was angry because it seemed to be a horrible replay of the way my older sister and I used to carry on!
The old fury that I used to feel when my sister would smack me around was only surpassed by the blood-behind-the-eyes rage I used to experience when my parents seemed to invariably catch me retaliating. All that old anger and helplessness came rushing back as I confronted my two little combatants, and I allowed the wave of emotions to completely carry me away.
I took away prized possessions. I revoked hard earned privileges. I impounded allowances and repossessed bicycles. In a fit of spitefulness I grappled for the most cutting punishments I could think of, and then surpassed them in meanness.
When the smoke had cleared my wife stood looking at me as thought I’d lost my mind (I had), and my children stood stranded in a vast, trackless desert of punishment, with no hope of redemption.
One of the familial diseases that I inherited (and have left largely untreated) is the inability to transition smoothly from anger to rapprochement. After minor altercations a mumbled apology is sometimes possible. But more often than not, the page is simply turned and an unspoken (one-sided) bargain is struck to never reread (or relive) the previous chapter.
My dreams last night were filled with visions of visiting my children in prison, and caseworkers calmly explaining to me how I had set them on the road to the cellblock with my senseless cruelty. The worst part of the dream was that my children’s words from behind the thick iron bars were the very ones they had said through their tears in the living room:
“We’re sorry Abba [the Hebrew word for ‘father’], we know we were wrong… and we know that you are only punishing us so that we will grow up to be better people.”
In my dream, the words are a knife that turns horribly in my heart, just as it had in our living room. The endless dream-world jail sentence that had resulted from my failure as a parent was such a heavy burden that I couldn’t breath from it’s weight!
By 5:00AM when the dream finally tossed me out into the twisted grip of my sweat-soaked sheets, I was hopelessly ashamed of my behavior. I stumbled into the office that sits off of our bedroom and tried to immerse myself in other people’s thoughts... but a snippet of conversation that Beth had recounted on her blog kicked the legs out from under my already wobbly psyche:
“Watching the local news in Dallas, I heard that a 12 year old girl had shot and killed her mother, allegedly for grounding her.
A couple of days later while on the road home I asked [my partner]:
If you raise a child who at the age of 12 will shoot you for grounding them – do you deserve to be shot?”
On the best of days I don’t believe in coincidences! That bullet found its mark, and I couldn’t manage more than a few words throughout the rest of my morning preparations.
As I wordlessly ushered the kids through their morning routine, yesterday’s words echoed noiselessly around the living room and kitchen, scolding me more than them. The pale swatches on their skinny wrists screamed muted accusations at me over the watches I had taken away in my fit of anger, and the bicycles that I passed on my way to the car scolded me for having senselessly removed their beloved riders.
The last thing Ariella asked me before I got in the car was if she would ever be able to earn back some of the things I had taken from her. I was so ashamed of myself that I couldn’t even answer her… and then spent the entire drive to work sick with the realization that she must have taken my silence for a resounding ‘no’. What the hell is wrong with me???
I had a sleeping group of soldiers and schoolgirls in the car with me for my ride to work, so my mind had silent, unfettered access to the torture tools… and it made productive use of the hour spent driving in silence.
By the time I reached work, I barely had time to lock myself in my office before the kind of suffocating, hiccupping cry that I haven’t had since I was a kid crashed over me in wave after relentless wave.
Zahava’s telepathy must have been turned on (when isn’t it?) because she telephoned just as I was using my shirttail to try and make my face presentable. She asked me a bunch of questions that could be answered monosyllabically, and then mercifully let me off the phone. She knew… she had to have known.
Zahava and I have different parenting approaches, both of which I tend to think of in automotive terms.
I tend to let the kids coast downhill, and apply the brakes hard only when I see them straying onto the shoulder or going into a turn too fast. Zahava is a more cautious driver (parent) by nature and seems to prefer to pump the brakes more frequently… taking comfort in the reassuring illusion of control that constantly testing the brakes gives her.
Both methods have their good and bad points. I’m of the opinion that overusing the brakes wears them down, reducing their effectiveness and making it difficult to become comfortable with the natural handling characteristics of the car (kids). Zahava seems to feel that if you wait until an emergency to jam on the brakes, you end up splashing hot coffee all over the windshield and losing control of the vehicle (situation).
Last night I really jammed on the brakes… an old fashioned, Dukes of Hazard power slide… and caused a hell of an accident. I’m starting to think that there might be some compromise between our braking (parenting) styles… but that the optimal method probably lies closer to Zahava's way of doing things than mine.
If only children were cars and came with an owner’s manual!
I still have no idea what I’m going to say to everyone when I get home.
[Note to self: Leave an extra clean shirt in the office]
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
There are all kinds of fun and fascinating memes floating around the blogosphere. You know... the quizzes, lists, surveys and such. You may also have noticed that I don't normally indulge in them here at treppenwitz.
It's not that I don't find them interesting... nothing could be further from the truth. I find them to be great fun, not to mention a fantastic way to pass time while on a conference call. However, I prefer to use my journal space to share things that have some kind of a connection to me or my ideas... not stuff that I've had no hand in creating.
I realize this may sound a little selfish, or even snobby, but I have too much of my own content that I never get around to publishing... why would I post something to which I have no connection or stake?
I guess all I really needed to do was ask that question because as soon as I did, a more personalized meme arrived (hat tip to Chuck and Red Sugar, among others) that offers an opportunity for the readers here at treppenwitz to take an active hand in some of treppenwitz's content... a loose collaboration of sorts.
Without further ado, I give you... The Photo Meme (or as I like to call it, 'the picture-in-picture meme', because it is an opportunity to see small glimpses within the larger picture).
Here's how it works:
Leave me a comment listing three things you'd like me to photograph and post. They can be things in my house... views from my window... a spot in my neighborhood or along my commute... things I've mentioned in previous posts... basically (within reason) any person place or thing to which I have access.
You get the idea. I'm over here and you lot (like the way I did that Beth?) are spread out around the world... so what kind of images will give you a better understanding of my world?
Needless to say (um, or maybe there is a need since I'm gonna say it anyway), I reserve all editorial rights and make no apology for taking artistic license.
Monday, October 11, 2004
Friendship through the looking glass
I sometimes get sidelong glances from people when I mention that I keep an online journal. Those glances turn to incredulous stares when I add that I regularly follow a couple of dozen journals/blogs belonging to complete strangers.
In my mind, this all seems quite normal.
But for people not caught up in this ‘wonderland’ of blogs, it must seem a little creepy.
For instance, the benevolent contempt in which I’ve always held people with an over-active interest in Dungeons & Dragons or Star Trek memorabilia is now precisely how many of my non-blogger friends view me.
Pay attention Alanis… that’s irony!
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not some housebound agoraphobe (to borrow one of my favorite Imus phrases) who is incapable of real intimacy. Zahava and I have several overlapping circles of friends with whom we regularly socialize. But there is something liberating about cautiously cultivating and maintaining the acquaintance of people through the ‘wonderland looking glass’ called the Internet.
I have never met most of the bloggers/journalers I read each day (and likely never will). They live around the world, and my ‘relationship’ with them covers the entire gambit from them not being aware that I even read them… to cordial, almost intimate ongoing comments on each other’s sites. Some I would like as best friends… others I find instructive, but we share few values in common.
The same can be said about those who read treppenwitz. There are literally hundreds of people from near and far who stop by almost every day to read (I honestly can’t fathom why…). Most do so without ever saying hello… and others have become welcome participants in my journaling experience… dare I say even friends?!
Thanks to the recent Anglo-Israeli Blogmeet, I was able to make the acquaintance of some of the ‘local’ online personalities. That meeting scratched an important ‘itch’ that many people in this odd world feel from time-to-time.
On our vacation to the states I met up with another journaler I read. She and I went to high school together but had never met. Again one evening together added a special new layer to the fondness I already had for her, and the intimacy I felt with her ‘story’.
But are these people really my friends? Can one make that leap? Is it even healthy to try?
Like nearly everything under the sun… there is no single right answer to that question.
People have found love on the Internet… so by my way of thinking it should come as no surprise that occasionally, a real friendship can take shape.
This past weekend, a journaler who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a couple of times, came to us for Shabbat. I was a little worried since this was the first time we’d actually had someone from the ‘online world’ spend an extended period of time in our home. We wondered if the charming, well-spoken façade would crumble after a few brief minutes… only to be replaced by 25+ hours of raving lunatic?
It turned out that Noa is as bright and animated as she seems in her journal, and she knows about a gazillion of the same people that we do, both here and in the U.S. We read many of the same blogs/journals (no big surprise there), and we even share a love of dogs (she brought her little Sharona to play with Jordan).
I was especially pleased to see that Noa and Zahava talked effortlessly for hours about countless topics that at turns fascinated me and made me want to run screaming from the room. I probably shouldn’t be surprised that they clicked, though. After all, I’ve seen Zahava emerge from public restrooms with new friends in tow… a concept so alien to men that after 13 years of marriage I still can’t completely come to terms with the idea!
So, despite the admitted oddness of the whole blogger world… I am happy to report that it is possible to create friendships ‘through the looking glass’, and happier still to find that it is possible to translate those friendships into the flesh & blood variety without too much weirdness.
That’s a good thing (as ‘Martha’ was fond of saying), because there are still a few other people out there in ‘wonderland’ that I would love to get to know.
Friday, October 08, 2004
I won’t say much about the carnage in Sinai… mostly because there isn’t much that I can say that won’t have already been said.
In the days to come, there will be countless voices shouting to be heard:
There will be the gnomes from the intelligence community saying ‘I told you so’, and wondering out loud why people don’t listen. There have been clear statements for weeks, warning Israelis that something nasty was brewing in the Egyptian resorts of Sinai. The unspoken question of ‘what about the countless warnings that (for whatever reason) don’t portent an attack?’ is wisely left unanswered.
There will be right and left wing statements pointing out how this attack perfectly illustrates the validity of their respective views. The two sides will be largely unaware of each other’s statements because that is the nature of people who are absolutely sure of their position.
There will be the inevitable embarrassing religious pronouncements from Bnei Brak stating that the victims invited this tragedy upon themselves by vacationing instead of observing the holidays. Like the political extremists I mentioned a moment ago, these arrogant holy men can’t fathom another point-of-view… just as they can’t imagine that their knowledge of G-d’s agenda might be somewhat imperfect (except in hindsight).
There will be finger pointing and exhaustive analysis by the news community… and that is their job. But they will also bring us the sounds and images of dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of funerals… followed by the ghastly hospital stories from the maimed and traumatized people who survived. And this too is their job.
When all is said… and each of the groups I’ve mentioned above will have their say… The country will have to go back to living as normal a life as possible under the circumstances.
To do otherwise would be unthinkable, if not unspeakable.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
Fall is officially here!
Once I graduated from university (and swore off any further classroom-based foolishness), I no longer had the academic school year to help me mark the start of each new season. Of course, once any one of the seasons is solidly underway I can usually identify them by their hallmarks:
Winter = Cold / Snow
Spring = Warmer / Stuff growing
Summer = Hot / Sweating like Patrick Ewing at the foul line
Fall = Cooler / My Red Sox taking their annual swan dive
But the very start of each season… that subtle segue… seems to always slip by unnoticed.
Until now, that is.
I now have the perfect way to tell that Fall has officially arrived:
© A gift from Israel
Yes folks, I just came from the grocery store and am happy to report my first Krembo sighting of the season!
What’s was that? That sound was the entirety of my non-Israeli readership clicking away en masse. Well, for the benefit of the one or two who stuck around, let me explain about Krembo.
Krembo is an Israeli confection that shows up in its colorful foil wrapping to mark the official beginning of Fall. It consists of a thin round sweet biscuit, topped by about two inches of vanilla (or one of a few other flavored) cream/ egg foam, all covered by a thin layer of chocolate.
There is nothing exactly like it in the U.S., but to give you a sense of the texture, it is something like a tall Ding Dong with extra cream and no cake filling… or perhaps something like a Scooter Pie (you southerners will remember it as a Moon Pie) without the top biscuit (I know I just dated myself). Neither of these is particularly accurate… but it give you a nudge in the right direction.
One could ask the obvious question (as I once did):
‘If they’re so good, why aren’t they available year round?'
The answer is very simple, and really very nice.
This all harks back to the socialist leanings of Israel’s founding generation. It seems that Krembo was developed (I won’t say invented because it is a shameless rip-off of similar treats found in Northern Europe and parts of Scandinavia) as a way to keep the idle ice cream factory workers busy during the cold months when ice cream consumption takes a nose dive.
You see, when you or I walk down the frozen food aisle and look at our ice cream choices, we look at brands… we look at packaging… we look at prices… but we never think about the real live people who work in the ice cream factories.
And for pure supply & demand capitalists that’s just as it should be.
When it is hot out, we want to be able to find every flavor of every ice cream available at any hour of the sweltering day or night. During the winter, we still like knowing it’s there, but it takes a significant hormonal imbalance or a pretty bad break-up to get you to put your dry, cracked hands into the freezer case.
To the early Israel socialist mindset, the waxing and waning desires of the customers were important… but no more important than the fiscal needs of the workers in the ice cream factories. And so they developed a confection that could utilize many (if not most) of the winter-idle ice cream factory lines, as well as the idle ice cream factory workers!
This was an incredible win-win situation, the likes of which Israel’s labor establishment has never come close to repeating! No threats of strikes… no finger pointing… no demonstrations. When I spotted that first Krembo this evening, it gave me renewed hope that occasionally, the Israeli system can come up with an elegant, subtle and even tasty solution to a very real labor problem.
And just in case you were wondering, even though it wasn’t on the shopping list that Zahava gave me, I bought six mocha flavored Krembos for Ariella and Gilad.
If anyone wants to chime in with their favorite Krembo story, or their views on the proper way to eat a Krembo… I’m all ears.
Sunday, October 03, 2004
Questioning the ‘National Geographic' Worldview
I have a lot of opinions and theories about why people think and act the way they do… but mostly I keep them to myself. It’s not that I worry that I might be wrong, but rather that in most cases being right isn’t all that important. After all, we’re talking about private opinions here… the sort of half-formed petty prejudices of which we all seem to have a surplus.
But sometimes I start to really examine one of these opinions, and because these examinations touch upon a previously ‘untouchable’ subject… some ‘sacred cow’… they demand some kind of outside validation (or repudiation). The problem is that it is very dangerous these days to take a casual stroll up to anyone’s sacred cow. The border of PoliticalCorrectLand, is a dangerous frontier, and the guards in the watchtowers have orders to ‘shoot to kill’ (or at least to silence).
What I’m about to discuss here is just that; an incomplete opinion on a sensitive subject… one that I am not yet sure I completely embrace.
I’m using my journal to ‘think out loud’ here for a few reasons. First, although my community and immediate circle of friends are fairly diverse, I don’t think that I would be able to find a wide enough range of opinions to honestly examine the issue from all sides.
Next, when one discusses things out loud… face-to-face, there is unspoken pressure to respond immediately, from instinct or conditioning… and that is exactly the kind of feedback I want to avoid. I want you to think about this for hours… or even days… and then respond.
And lastly, I trust the majority of people who come here to tell me honestly what they think, without vitriol… without staking out ‘turf’, and without intellectual dishonesty.
[Whew! How was that for a preamble?!]
This ‘opinion’ of mine stems from my attempts to understand how the rest of the world can consistently and almost willfully ‘not get’ the basic facts surrounding the Arab-Muslim/Israeli conflict. In today’s media-rich environment, the question of ‘How can something that is so clear to me in terms of cause and effect… right and wrong… be completely lost on intelligent people everywhere?’ demands an explanation other than ‘lack of information’.
When we read the word ‘worldview’, or use it in a conversation, I don’t think we give enough thought to what it actually means. To my way of thinking, one’s worldview is how one sees him/herself relative to the rest of the world. To help facilitate this, we have a broad spectrum of handy terms to describe the world’s many societies:
Third World (Are there actually any ‘Second World’ nations???)
I think it is safe to say that people sitting at, or near, the top of this list coined all of these terms. We rationalize that the judgmental relativism inherent in such a list is acceptable because we are engaging in something akin to scientific classification. In our scientific approach, an amphibian is no more responsible for its place on the food chain than a developing sub-Saharan society is for its being relegated to ‘Third World’ classification. The only difference is that the various human societies of the world can move up the food chain, so to speak, and are encouraged to do so.
But are they really?
I grew up reading National Geographic. Like many people my age, I never questioned the raison d’etre, or the goals of the National Geographic Society… I just enjoyed the magazine, and spent many a pleasant afternoon traveling to distant lands and experiencing the exotic cultures that existed between the familiar yellow-trimmed covers. Much of what I know about Asia, Africa and South America, and the people who inhabited these distant lands, comes from this venerable source.
But now that I look back, I have to wonder what the underlying messages were that I received from this magazine. In the post-colonial era, where Europeans and Americans began to recognize the inherent moral dangers in exploration and exploitation of the less developed world, The National Geographic magazine was (and continues to be) a loud voice of reason that states over and over:
“There is value in these less developed societies. There is honor and nobility on these untouched portions of the world. These strange and beautiful cultures that are so different from ours are part of a fragile world ‘ecosystem’, and we tamper with them at our peril!”
After the headlong rush of 17th/18th/19th century exploration and colonization (read: land-grabbing), this kind of responsible reaction was not only refreshing, but one could argue it was essential in order for the industrialized (read: civilized) societies of the world to assuage their collective guilt over the irreparable damage they had already done.
Here is where my opinion comes in.
I can’t help thinking that somewhere along the way, the industrialized west began to see itself as having all the valuable technology, but nothing of cultural value. Our steady diet of National Geographic-type images of exotic costumes, ‘primitive’ living conditions, inscrutable religions and philosophies, and dramatically different physical appearance, have somehow managed to brainwash us into believing that wherever a western-style industrialized nation comes into conflict with a more traditional society (especially one with exotic costumes, relatively primitive living conditions, and an unfathomable language/religion/culture), the western-style industrialized nation must be in the wrong.
Every lesson we learned from 17th/18th/19th century colonialism screams to us that if the western world bumps up against an older, ‘more traditional’ society, it is their culture that must be respected, and ours that must refrain from giving further offense.
What other explanation can one find for the European and American inability (or unwillingness) to see the basic facts on the ground here in the Middle East? If the Arab/Muslim world has come to realize that they are the proverbial 'guy in glasses' who can take a swing at anyone with impunity (because it would be against the rules to hit a guy with glasses), that puts Israel (oh, and the rest of the western world) in an impossible position!
Viewed through this lens, the punch line about “Never getting involved in a land war in Asia” becomes a very serious cautionary message about the impossible moral position of taking on a culture that wears exotic costumes, lives in ‘primitive’ villages and whose culture is beyond our western ability to comprehend. Anyone who seeks to wage war against ‘noble savages’ is wrong. Full Stop!
What I want to know from you, dear readers, is if you think there might be some merit to the direction my mind has taken me? Is the sacrosanct nature of Arab/Muslim society such that any western/industrialized nation that comes into conflict with them must be immediately be made to wear the black cowboy hat? And if so, is there no boundary or moral code that such ‘noble savages’ can transgress that will allow the ‘collective cultural guilt’ of the First World to be temporarily set aside?
What say you?