Monthly Archives: November 2011

Profiles in Personality

Every year I teach, somehow, Don Marquis poem “Takes Talent” comes up, and I end up reciting it to the delight of my students, who aren’t from the era of memorizing your favorite poems, or prose (they’re not even from the days of memorizing the preamble to the Declaration of Independence or Gettysburg address).  Sometimes I tell them how I first read this poem when I was in 8th grade, and have been quoting it ever since, sometimes I tell them I recited on a bad date and the guy conceded that he was of the first kind described in the poem. Sometimes I tell them it was written on the wall of bedroom (when I was single), and sometimes, I just tell them about Archie the cockroach who Marquis wrote under the guise of, skipping my personal connection. The poem is a follows, for those of you (most of you, I’m assuming) who are not familiar with it.

 Takes Talent
by Don Marquis

there are two
kinds of human
beings in the world
so my observation
has told me
namely and to wit
as follows
those who
even though they
were to reveal
the secret of the universe
to you would fail
to impress you
with any sense
of the importance
of the news
and secondly
those who could
communicate to you
that they had
just purchased
ten cents worth
of paper napkins
and make you
thrill and vibrate
with the intelligence

Every time without fail, I always end up thinking about two friends of mine, sisters, who, while I wouldn’t totally confine them to the paper napkin variety, as they do possess a mass quantity of intelligence to balance them out, however on day to day interactions, there is always something of dramatic interest to relate. There’s no such thing as an average day, or just a conversation, when walking away from any interaction there’s always something to say and comment on. And sometimes I walk away questioning myself, and my interpretations in life, who is right? Am I an unobservant, middle-road, never too extreme kind of person? I don’t think so, with most things, but relative to them, I’m a stick in the mud.

One time, after an interaction with the princpal she turns to me,“Hello, she was furious with us, did you see her eyebrows?” Eyes wide, her eyebrows perked up, and mouth open in intense question. Ummm…well, I think, she wasn’t happy with us, but she didn’t seem too upset, yes, she sugarcoated some words, but the situation is workable, as for her eyesbrows, I dunno, she pencils them in, they’re always extreme.

Telling over one story from our road-trip, “Hello, it was miserable, we’re sitting there, on the side of the road, cars just flying by, too fast for us to wave forlornly at them, and them, and then it hit us, like DING, call AAA. It must have been at least an hour, maybe longer, when AAA showed up, but then in like seconds we were up an’ running. But seriously, until they came – despair!”

Yeeeeaaah, I was there. We were singing every children’s song we knew, and having  a blast, eating all the mike and ikes, and then AAA showed up, and we were on the way. Ye, we might’ve flipped for a moment when the car broke down, and we weren’t sure what to do,  but it was a minute, really. Calling AAA is common sense, not genius, why are you exclaiming, “ooh, that’s so smart” when she tells you we called them?

And then there was the time one of them got me a job giving private swimming lessons. I’m very capable of doing it, and I did a good job, but I wasn’t looking for the job, she just happen to meet someone by a pool we were swimming by who commented she was looking for someone to teach her 4 year old swimming basics. I swam by, doing my umpteenth lap, and heard my name being called, and then as if I wasn’t there, she went on singing my praises – I was a lifeguard for years, taught tons of kids, my whole family is major swimmers, and on and on. All of it was true, but I would have never phrased it that way.  She also kept using words like, amazing, and the best, and bashert that we had met up today, which I wasn’t comfortable with. Yes, I’m good, I’m skilled, but really, the best, I don’t think so. Amazing? What does that word mean anyway in this context.  But the woman was sold, and I had a side summer job. I’m not complaining, but but—

The other night I was working with one of them on a project – changing the lyrics of a musical to fit a play we are working on. I think we did a good job in keeping the core of what made the song great in the first place, not perfect, there  are a few rough spots, and I don’t like all the transitions, but overall, really good, and I’m not embarrassed take credit for it. She though, was ecstatic, “It’s beautiful,” she tells me, “You’re so good at this,” “That line is brilliant, I don’t know how we did it”, and“Oh my gosh, I’m so excited about this!” I really think we may win a Tony now.

I feel like they’re living on a different plane of existence, even if we are experiencing the same thing, the way we interpret them and relate them, the dichotomy, is the clichéd night and day. To them a day is never a day, there’s always something fabulous, stupendous, horrendous or dreadful. You will talk to them, and you won’t think they’re drama queens, they’re not, they just know how to talk. And you will listen, and wish you had been there with them, or done when they did when x,y and z happened.

Am I missing something?

I ask my student’s if they could choose only one of the personalities presented in the poem, no in between balance, which would they choose? Most couldn’t decide if they wanted the intelligence, but no one caring to hear a word they said, or to talk total fluff and have everyone’s neck craned forward to hear your next utterance? I try pressing them for a definitive answer, but then they ask me for my choice, and I can’t decide either.

Good thing mutually exclusive things don’t come along that often, and that there is balance to most things in life…but still…if I had to choose… Is it really about how you talk, or how you experience life, which affects which?… If I had to choose…


Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Teaching


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Vindication at a Cost

I’m not really the official devar Torah kind of person, y’know, the open a Chumash, read a posuk, explain it, ask a question, answer the question according to some gadol and add my own thoughts to it. I’m more the paraphrase kind of person, focusing more on my interpretation of things and the point gained from it.

On Shabbos though, my husband said over a devar Torah, that really made me feel vindicated in a front I’ve been talking about for a while. I had a bunch of students over later in the evening for an Oneg Shabbos, and I thought this devar Torah would give them some clarity on a subject, and also substantiate some things I had said previously in some discussions.

So, I have terrible kriah, hence my usual paraphrasing. In high school, I mastered the art of mumbling when called upon to read anything inside and scraped though, barely. I thought this devar Torah though, was worth my efforts. I practiced reading one pasuk aloud, at least 6 times, till I was comfortable with the words, the nekudos, and everything. Anyone who knows me and kriah, understands how difficult this is for me, potentially setting myself up for major busha when I wouldn’t be able to vocalize a simple pasuk in Chumish.

It all went down famously, I didn’t stumble over the words (well, not that badly) and they girls really “chapped hana’ah” from it (Wow, real yeshivish there, I actually couldn’t think of a better phrase to articulate that thought) And here it is for you, hope you appreciate it as much as I did.

In this past parsha, Parshas Chayei Sarah, perek chaf dalef, posuk tes zayin, this is when Eliezer first sees Rivka, it says (and I’m just going to translate here because typing in Hebrew is too big a pain)

And the girl was very beautiful, no other man knew her, she went down to the spring, filled her jug, and rose.

The Nitziv says that Eliezer saw three qualities in Rivka from this posuk. First, she was beautiful. Second, none of the other shepards there knew her, therefore this must be her first time here, and therefore she must come from a respectable family that she didn’t have to do this until now. And third, she was a tzanuah.

The same way Boaz knew Rus was a tzanuah from the way she lowered herself to the wheat instead of conveniently bending over to select it, so too, Rivka lowered herself to the stream to fill up her jug, then rose, instead of bending over like everyone else.

This is where the Nitziv ends, and my husband’s commentary begins. He focused on the first and third qualities. First, Rivka was beautiful. And second , she was a tzanuah, how did he know she was a tzanuah, by her actions, not by her dress. Beauty and Tznius are not mutually exclusive, a woman can be both.

It just seems in Lakewood, there’s such a focus on tznius, which is beautiful in theory, I feel though that they miss the mark. They keep focusing of the physical aspect, like skirts lengths, and now sheitel lengths, like tznius is just about not tempting yourneighbors husband. They make it seem as though any fashion trend is sacrilege, and you cannot be a beautiful woman without sacrificing modesty ideals.

I’ve been telling my students (no idea why, I teach English, not Hashkafa, they just keep bringing it up to me) that it’s your actions and how you think that are the foundations on modesty, and then the outside will eventually reflect. Working on the physical first may possibly be a “mitoch shelo lishma ba lishma” approach, but it’s definitely not a front door appeal.

So maybe Lakewood thinks that it has the actions, and inside thoughts of people worked out, that’s why they can focus on just externals, but I look around every day in my really frum complex, and I’m disappointed.

It is not tznius for women to be yelling across the complex for their children to come home for supper, and no they can’t have two more minutes, and no they can’t eat outside.

It’s not tznius for tween age girls to sit on front stoops, their legs propped up by the steps, exposing themselves to the world.

It is not tznius for women (and men) to blatantly watch the interactions between me and my husband while he’s leaving. (I’m talking about just conversation, and we’re not talking loud, they’re just watching us)

They missed the boat. Not like, oh shucks it sailed two minutes ago, more like purposefully taking a different boat in the opposite direction. And my students are confused. They want to be good, and frum, and tznius. And they are. But they look at what the community holds up as ideals, and their rightfully conflicted. They don’t want to look like that, and they’re not sure why they should want to, they just know they should, because that’s what all the adults in their life are telling them.

I’m not in any way saying that there is something wrong with a woman being very careful how she dresses. And there is a beauty to yeshivish (or whatever you want to call it) dress. However, the way it’s being taught, and hammered into our youths’ minds is hurting them, confusing them, conflicting them, and ultimately may hurt a lot of them.

I think I may have digressed a bit, but no wonder why people keep asking me how much longer I’m gonna last in Lakewood.


Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Jewish


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An Apology of Sorts

I used to read all blogs, anything Jewish related. I thought the blogosphere was fascinating, individuals with ideas a place to air them. It was like the largest most awesome underground newspaper. But then everyone and his mother-in-law had a blog, and they started getting stupid and very repetitive.

There are still plenty of blogs that I read, ones that have quality writing, and original thought.  I was looking through my Google reader list trying to figure out if there was a common thread between these blogs. I was able to divide them into two groups. There were the informational, yet subjective ones that are written in a more professional authoritative tone. I think I like that they aren’t just saying what they thinking, but supporting their statements with information, facts and statistics, feeds the random knowledge junkie in me.

And then there are the personal bogs. The ones who the blogger writes about his/her life, experiences, thoughts, epiphanies, growth, lamentation and all things human. I read them and wonder why my blog is so deficient , why is my blog lacking the honesty, the bare-it-all, the truth of human existence. Why is my blog only skin deep, wanting real depth?

I realized after a moment’s thought that it’s because they’re anonymous, and I’m not. Well, not all of you know who I am, but there are plenty of you out there who know me well, and this blog’s existence. I therefore don’t feel comfortable writing what I’m really thinking and experiencing. I’m afraid of being judged, ridiculed, misunderstood. I have to stand by what I write. There’s a responsibility, and ownership. I can’t just stand up on a soapbox, preach, and then shrink off into anonymous obscurity. I have to answer people. And most of the time, it’s just not worth saying anything.

There’s also the privacy factor. I can’t write about certain things in my life, because I would be violating people’s privacy. Other people would in a moment know who I was talking about, and either get the scoop from the blog, or call me for more details. I can’t do that to the people in my life, no matter how interesting (euphamism) they make my life sometimes.

So I’m sorry that you’re getting a very watered down version of me, but that’s how it has to be, unless I finally don’t care about what people think about me, or people stop questioning everything I write. Hope you stick around anyway, while I try finding something neutral to write about.


Posted by on November 20, 2011 in The Sporadic Side, Writing


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Another Reason to Diet

Rooster in grass.

Image via Wikipedia

I hate tree hugger sand the ASPCA. I believe that the world is in the dominion of men and that we are a superior being than other mammals – or any other creature for that matter. With our intelligent reasoning (not just instinct) and our ability to communicate thoughts, emotions, and creative ideas, there’s an obvious difference between the intelligent make-up of man versus other animals.

That being said, I think I’m going all organic, natural, and possibly never eat protein again. After watching Food, Inc, a documentary on the Business of Food in this country, I’m quite horrified. Yes, I was aware of a lot of the issues it raised about corn, high fructose corn syrup, subsidies, fast food, unsanitary conditions in the meat industry, but, as the cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Seeing cute peeping chicken (and I hate animals), shut away in the dark, some of them keeling over dead, their bodies unable to sustain its tremendous growth spurt due to the hormones in their feed. Many chickens just being able to plod for 2-3 steps, their bones, unable to support their weight, was a bit disturbing. And then there was a gimpy cow being pushed along the line to slaughter, ragged on because it was moving too slow, and then a stubborn cow, who refused to move, being practically mowed down and prodded along with one of those tractors with pitchforks at the end, meant to maneuver pallets of products.

So maybe a melted on the a bit on the cruelty thing, but then the insanitariness, G-d save us! Putting a face to the e-coli break outs was horrifying. I cried, maybe because I’m a mother, and it was a little 2 year old that died, and my son’s just a bit over one, and it’s scary, and there’s not that much preventative regulation, more like a reaction when there’s a problem. And that’s a BIG problem.

Part of me feels a bit safer, because I eat kosher meat and chicken, and the market is a much smaller scale. But really, who am I kidding, yes, I may be marginally safer than the mass population, but marginally safer is not safe.

And what is this junk that I’m putting into my body, all this corn. I mean , I love it fresh, but then I wonder now if I even know the real taste of fresh corn. All this corn junk, and the subsidizing that goes on (I’ve been railing against subsidies for years, so this part was right up my alley).

I’m just ranting a bit here, without that much substance, sort of working on the assumption that you already know what I’m talking about (and possibly watched the documentary too) – which is writing mistake 101. But I’m really disturbed.

Also, when I watched it, I tried to be objective, see the other side, as a business, as a profit, as capitalism. And you know what, while I understand capitalism, and supply and demand, that should not come at the consumers safeties expense, other expenses of the consumer, yes, safety, no.

When I chose to watch this, like I said, I knew a lot of what it was going to tell me, and I really didn’t want to watch it, because I didn’t want to change anything about my life (but there were no other interesting documentaries to watch – or that there were proper free links to online). Now I’m in turmoil, I did this to myself, but never mind. It’s an interesting watch, may get you up in arms about a few things (If you’re a Rubashkin supporter, you may get very upset about the injustice of his raid, based on the information about illegal workers working for Smithfield) maybe think for a few minutes, and maybe maybe even do something about it.

Below are links to the film, and some issues that it raises.

Film: Food, Inc

Kevin’s Law – Congress

Kevin’s Law – Background

 Monsanto – Agricultural Company Response to Film


Posted by on November 8, 2011 in Food


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NaNoWriMo Woes

I don’t know why I thought I could do it. I couldn’t even manage to blog once a week for a year, and there I was signing up NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, write a 50,000 word novel during the duration of November, about 1,700 words daily). It just seemed like a good idea to just get it all out. Have that push, that makes you actually do something.

So I wrote a basic outline of chapters, and that’s it. Figured the rest would come. No character planning, development of conflict on a deeper level, or solid sequence of events. Just making it all up as I’d go along, I’m pretty good at winging things.

The first day went well, and I wrote over 1,800 words. The second day, I only remembered at 11:30 that my word count was looking a bit low for the day, and so I wrote about 550. Then I got stuck, because I realized, I hated the very distant and detached narrator I had chosen to voice my story. And I stopped.

Then, tonight I reread what I wrote, it’s not so bad. Maybe I should continue, but I have a lot to make up. Then again one thing I really enjoyed about the writing so far, was just doing it, no second guessing. On NaNoWriMo website, they stress that it’s not about writing the next Anna Karenina, it’s about stopping your inner critic, that says you just wrote a load of _____, and just finish it. The revision and editing come later. And I found reminding myself of that purpose really helped me move forward – in those two days of course.

What to do now? Say wait till next year. Try to catch up and inevitably fail because, well, I have a lot more to do than make sure I sit down every day and write 1,700 words. Or say “Tooyoungtoteach, it was a wonderful go, but this is not your thing.”

(On the site they recommend the participants to tell everyone they know that they plan on making a go for it, as a source of motivation not to embarrass yourself when people start asking how it’s going…I think I’m a bit too late for that though.)





Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Humor, Writing


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