Dead easy costume

October 26th, 2010

Rosie the Riveter:

All you need is a blue button-down shirt, red bandanna, bright red lipstick, black trousers and work shoes. (Don’t ask about the picture of Mao in the background. Long story.) This will be my costume for “The Big Broadcast of 1946” this weekend.

Simchat Torah

September 29th, 2010

IT’S SIMCHAT TORAH, BAYBEEZ!!!!!!

I love Simchat Torah. I love it, I love it, I love it. It is my favorite Jewish holiday. Even last year, when I was too sick to make it to the High Holy Days, go to my in-laws for latkes on Hanukkah, or observe Passover, I still went to Simchat Torah. It took a lot of painkillers to get me through it, but I did it.

I’ve got a question up on Miss Conduct blog about what your personal Simchat Torah would look like. What would you go dancing in the street with?

Of course, just because I like Simchat Torah doesn’t mean I’m good at it. I love communal dancing. But the Jewish-mother cliche of “You could put an eye out doing that”? I’m pretty sure it came from people with my lack of coordination trying to dance with heavy scrolls.

To the tune of “Tradition”:

Who every time will trip over die kinder
Tread upon the rabbi,
Klopf you with a scroll?
And who ev’ry time
When chanting Amidah
Will go at least two times off key?
Miss Conduct! Miss Conduct!
Miss Conduct!

Pictures of me all swirly from last year’s celebration. And my manga shooz.

Ramadan mobarak!

August 11th, 2010

Ramadan mobarak to my Muslim friends and readers. I hope your daytime fasting is easy. I hope I can manage to keep my mouth shut when I see hijabis at my gym — I worry about them, exercising in this heat when they don’t hydrate! (Jewish worriers and Muslimah athletes are a bad combination during Ramadan.)

No column today

July 4th, 2010

… because of the holiday. So I put up my Miss Conduct Monday question a day early, instead.

Happy Independence Day, everyone. I hope you have a great one. Last year I was in the Ozarks with my cousins. I shot a gun for the first time in my life, ate barbecue, drank lemonade surreptitiously spiked with Jack Daniels, and listened when they all pulled out their guitars and harmonized on country and gospel music. This Fourth I’ll be going to a party in Brookline, schmoozing rabbis and editors to get more speaking and writing gigs in synagogues and Jewish publications, nibbling from a gourmet kosher deli platter, and listening to the Boston Pops.

I love the diversity of this country. I love the diversity of my life.

Go USA!

April, fools

April 1st, 2010

How can you do an April Fools’ Day prank when every day, reality surpasses satire? “Vice President Dubs Health Care Reform ‘A Big Fucking Deal.’” “Oscar Winner for Heartwarming Film about Inter-Racial Friendship Dumped for Neo-Nazi Mistress.” “Thousands of American Refuse to Answer ‘Invasive’ Census Questions While Posting Drunken Pictures of Selves on Facebook.” “Rod Blagojevich to Be Contestant on ‘The Apprentice.’”

As they say, you couldn’t make this stuff up. So I’m sympathetic, overall, to people who fall for hoaxes or rumors at first. (No sympathy for those who run to e-mail everyone they know about it without first checking on snopes.com.)

But today, I thought I’d share my favorite with you, and this, I promise, is not made up. I’m not messing with you.

Back in 2000, The Onion — a satirical newspaper parody — published an article entitled “Harry Potter Books Spark Rise In Satanism Among Children.”

Shortly after, Readers’ Digest published an article about J.K. Rowling. Reader response was positive, except for one woman who wrote:

“I am shocked that Reader’s Digest would put someone like J.K. Rowling on the cover without more investigation about what she really believes. Harry Potter is doing much to further the evil in this world through spells and incantations. It saddens me that parents prefer to look the other way when something is ‘popular.’”

This is where it gets awesome, though. Because a few months later, this same woman — Laurie Rice of Athens, Georgia — wrote back to Readers’ Digest with this gem:

I was angered you did not print my entire comments on Harry Potter (“You Said It”, February) and left important points out. I made these comments because I read an article from theonion.com quoting J.K. Rowling. These concerns need to be publicized. She is an admitted Satan worshipper. There has been an increase in 14 million children into the church of Satan as a result of these books.

The editors responded:

We hope you’ll be relieved to learn theonion.com is actually the website for a satirical newspaper, with a readership of five million. The article you read was a spoof — unfortunately passed along as a fact by countless people. Even Christianity Today calls the Harry Potter series “a Book of Virtues with a pre-adolescent funny bone,” containing “wonderful examples of compassion, loyalty, courage, friendship, and self-sacrifice.” — Eds.

I hope you agree with me that the editors’ response was a perfect blend of snark and politesse. Because you know perfectly well that Ms. Rice would not be relieved to learn this. It’s not as though you or I thought that our laptops were being recalled, and then found out that in fact, they weren’t. Ms. Rice wanted to believe that Harry Potter is evil, and I’m sure she was very, very disappointed to have her “evidence” debunked.

What do you think the odds are that she found some brand new “evidence” right quick-like to support that which she wanted to believe anyway?

Happy April! Fool the day!

Happy Passover, part II

March 30th, 2010

Here’s a more serious Passover question for you. Passover celebrates the journey from slavery to freedom, and marks the cost of that journey, as well. (This is why we deny ourselves certain foods during the holiday, and eat matzoh — “the bread of affliction” — instead.)

I posted this on Facebook a day or two ago, and liked the responses I got, so I thought I’d take it public: What have you been freed from in this past year, and what has the price of that freedom been?

I have been freed from my self-imposed pressure to become rich and famous. That joke I used to make about “All I want is my own talk show and my face on a bus”? It wasn’t a joke. I’d still be happy to have those things, but I’ve come to realize that what is valuable about the work I do — doesn’t necessarily depend on how many people I can reach, or on the way American society keeps track of success. I write things I’m proud of, I start conversations that I think help people learn from each other, I get and give some good laughs. That really is enough. The price of that freedom was a little bit of post-publication madness, and giving up certain illusions about myself.

I have been freed from a friendship that had gone very sour, and that was leading me to censor myself in both my private and public life. The price of that freedom has been realizing that not everyone is going to think I’m one of the Good Guys. For some folks, I’m part of the problem, not part of the solution.

What about you? What have you been freed from, and what price have you paid?

Purim!

February 26th, 2010

Purim is this weekend — very early this year, and I am planning, God and gut willing, to enjoy a wonderful party at my synagogue tomorrow night. For those not in the know, Purim celebrates the book of Esther. This is one of my very favorite texts in the Bible. Ancient — and modern — stories are full of warnings about how women’s sexuality, boldness, curiosity turn the natural order of the world upside down. (Think of Eve, Pandora, Psyche and Eros …) In the book of Esther, it takes a woman’s sexuality, boldness, and curiosity to turn a disordered world right again. It reminds me of Sojourner Truth: “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!”

Esther is about coming out of the closet.

Esther is about being fabulous and unashamed.

Esther is about facing the music and dancing.

Esther is also my Hebrew name, and when I converted, I gave this talk at my naming ceremony:

I chose Esther as much for her weaknesses as for her strengths. She is the least heroic of heroines. Esther is not a judge or a warrior or a matriarch: Esther is a girly girl. She is pretty and charming and wants life to be easy. She wants other people to make the hard decisions, to wrestle the scary angels of history and destiny. The traditional role of women is not a burden or a constraint on Esther—rather, it is her greatest temptation. Women can get away with not taking ultimate responsibility for our lives. Women can get by on our charm and good looks. Women can sit in the boat admiring the scenery while the men do the heavy rowing. And this is what Esther wants to do.

And yet, when the dice are thrown, she does take responsibility, and when she does, she takes it all the way. Although Mordechai must convince her to take action, she is not simply his handmaiden or puppet. Independently, she assesses his arguments and is persuaded. Independently, she plans a course of action. Independently, she improvises brilliantly and bravely, with lipstick, dinner-party banter, and a bottle of wine.

I look at Esther and I see a warning about the temptations I face.

I look at Esther and I see an inspiration to take responsibility and improvise.

I look at Esther and I see a woman I would like to have as a friend.

Esther’s story is comic, it is improbable, it does not mention God.* The story of Esther teaches us to take control of our destiny, yet always be ready to accept the unpredictable turns of events. It teaches us to enjoy good times but never assume that they will last. It teaches us that we can do great things in diaspora, but that ultimately Jewish security rests on having our own land. It teaches us that sometimes we need another person to remind us to be a hero, and there is no shame in that. It teaches us that the one who is rescued can become the rescuer, that the student can educate the teacher. It teaches us that we must take responsibility without the luxury of signs and miracles, without a sense of being called. Finally, it teaches the most important ways for a Jew to serve God is not through ostentatious piety, but through fighting idolatry and working for the future of the Jewish people.

All of these things I believe.

For those of you who are interested in further thoughts on Esther, read my sermon here. Reverend Victoria Weinstein of Norwell First Parish Unitarian Church, whom I met through her wonderful and oft-referenced “Beauty Tips for Ministers” blog, graciously invited me to speak to her congregation three years ago. Her explanation of the role of image in the ministry is first, and my thoughts on style, beauty, and the book of Esther are second.

*If you are reading from a Catholic bible, this isn’t the case. Catholic bibles include verses about Mordechai praying that were deemed non-canonical by the compilers of the Hebrew and Protestant bibles. With due respect to the Catholic tradition, I find it very important that God and the concept of direct communication with the Divine are not mentioned in Esther. Sure, it may not have been easy to be Abraham (what with that self-circumcision and all) or Moses, but God was telling them what to do every step of the way. Mordechai and Esther must make very difficult decisions under conditions of uncertainty, believing they know God’s will but without the specific guidance of how to make that will come to pass. Like most of us.

How I spent Valentine’s Day

February 15th, 2010

… the story is here.

New Year’s resolutions

January 15th, 2010

Now that we’re halfway into the month, let’s talk New Year’s resolutions! I asked you all about yours a while back, and never really followed up on that.

I’ve always found the NYE resolution to be an interesting beast. On the one hand, there is something that seems very natural about a season of excess followed by a period of restraint and sacrifice: it’s a pattern you see in too many cultures and religions to ignore. On the other hand, the way so many people do NYE resolutions seems set up to guarantee failure: black-and-white absolutes, with no room for the inevitable backsliding. By the second week in February, you’ve already missed your goal of getting to the gym four times a week, so you just quit entirely.

I was pondering what my own 2010 resolutions and goals should be, and then more or less got handed a new set by my doctors: quit drinking, and change my entire eating pattern. Which was a little more ambitious than anything I was planning to carve out for myself, I tell you what. Here’s what’s helped:

1. Not having a choice.
I’ve never been a fan of the classic AA notion that one must “hit bottom” (is that still a going concern in AA, or have they more or less dropped that idea?) before making a change. Still, there’s something to be said for having one’s doctor say “Yes, there is a real problem, and you can and must stop this problem now.” (Funny, on the other blog we are discussing why people write in to advice columns, and one thing that a number of folks mentioned, that hadn’t really occurred to me, was that the columnist not only provides a reality check, but also a sort of kick in the butt, just as my doctor did for me. Having someone say not only, “Yes, you’re right, there is a problem,” but say “And you need to do something about it now.”)

2. Quick feedback. I think this is something that scuttles a lot of NYE resolutions — people simply don’t see results fast enough, so they get discouraged and quit. I was lucky, because I felt markedly better after only a few days of getting on the right meds and knocking off the booze and spice. But let’s face it, a lot of good habits actually make you feel worse when you start. Sure, going to the gym will give you more energy and a better mood … after a few weeks. Before that, it will make you tired and cranky. So if the behavioral change itself won’t give you immediate, positive feedback, figure out a way to implement some little reward system, so you’ll know you’re getting somewhere.

3. Taking positive action. It’s always easier to do something than to not do something. (As you read the rest of this post, do not think of a white bear. See?) I’ve decided to look at my new diet as a chance to explore new cooking techniques and ingredients, rather than as simply giving up X, Y, and Z. WES alluded to a similar idea:

I think I have stumbled on an epiphany for my new year’s resolutions. In the past those pesky resolutions were things I knew I **should** do even if I didn’t want to do them. However this year I am making my goals shorter and more in tune with what I want to do. And if I finish them before the year is up great, I might do new ones in July!

So rather than my resolution to go on a diet my resolution is to crochet more and learn a new technique. It is a calming activity, allows me to be creative, and while still a sedentary activity it has the added bonus of you really cannot eat/munch while crocheting. And snacking is a big weakness of mine so really it should be a win win.

4. Communication and support. The research on the extent to which social networks affect behavior is impressive and grows more every day. We need our friends to support the kinds of things we do, the kind of person we want to be. It’s been immensely good for me to be able to write about my health issues here, and feel that by doing so, I’ve opened up a forum for other people to share their own experiences. It’s also been good to have a couple of weeks of minimal socializing, so I can get my new habits well under control before having to attend a cocktail party. And Mr. Improbable and I have had a number of conversations about how his life (since I do the cooking) will and won’t change.

Some further thoughts on your comments …

TJ wrote, “I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions (those always seem a little overwhelming), but I (along with my family) make resolutions with a more limited time frame.” I like that; I like that a lot. Make goals for a month or so, not for the entire year. I wonder if that isn’t what people do anyway, really … there’s the New Year’s Eve goals, and then spring cleaning and getting in shape for summer, and then back-to-school season.

Anne with an E wrote, “I resolve to stop waiting until the time is right/we have the dough to throw a huge shindig before inviting people over. Pizza and game night for six is just as fun as a BBQ for thirty (with a lot less cleanup.)” YES! I figured this out about four or five years ago and it was quite a revelation. And with six or eight people, everyone can really get to know each other. (Note for Bostonians — Redbones BBQ delivers, and they are very good. They also have enough good sides that any vegetarians will be taken care of. Highly recommended for informal parties.)

Military Mom wrote:

My first resolution is to stop agreeing to do or help with activities without REALLY stopping to assess if I have time or want to do it. Up until now I’ve volunteered when other people need help and have almost always regretted it afterwards. My second is to try to lower my stress level. This will require the rest of my family to step up and help, but I think they are recognizing my stress is affecting my health…and therefore their lives too…

Good luck with those two, obviously related, resolutions. I’m sure it’s something many, many of us can relate to.

How about the rest of you? How are your resolutions working out?

Merry Christmas

December 24th, 2009

So, here’s the thing about Christmas this year … I’m kind of getting into it. It’s weird to be surrounded by a holiday you don’t celebrate, and that is pretty much impossible to ignore. Dare I say, my own odd fashion, I’ve got a bit of empathetic Christmas spirit this year? When I wish people a Merry Christmas, it’s more than an automatic “How are you?” or “Take care!” — I’m finding myself really hoping that they’ll have one.

And a good bit of that is due to you, my readers.

Christmas when I grew up was a Big Deal, but not a religious deal. As I noted, I was raised in a fundamentalist church in which December 25 was not celebrated as the birth of Jesus, because the Bible didn’t say that’s when he was born. My parents, lapsed Catholics, were fine with that, and put on a spectacular, secular, Santa kind of holiday. The ConductMom in particular is a baker and confectioner of remarkable skill, and every weekend and evening from Thanksgiving on she would be in the kitchen, making a dozen or so of the favorites and trying out another dozen or so experiments: cookies, candies, fruitcakes, and more. The day itself was a celebration of plenitude — or crass consumerism, if you’re one of those types, but there was more to it than that. There were secrets and surprises and stories. And prosperity — we lived modest lives by many standards, but better than most of the world, and better than either of my parents grew up with — is something to celebrate, when that celebration is done with generosity and gratitude.

As I got older, traditions changed: instead of leaving milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, we’d go out for a movie and pizza. Or have guests over for eggnog and cookies, and then break out a bottle of champagne after they left, and each have a glass while we opened one, carefully selected, present. (We weren’t being selfish about the champagne; as I mentioned, we attended a strict church and not everyone drank, and those who didn’t generally preferred not to know about those who did.) As I got to be more interested in clothes than in toys, and inherited my mother’s instincts for a bargain (though never, regrettably, her skill with molten chocolate) another tradition emerged: she’d keep some of the Christmas budget reserved for post-holiday sales, and we’d hit the malls together.

Christmas was good, when I was a kid, and a teenager, and even a young adult. I missed out on the official “reason for the season,” but that doesn’t mean I didn’t find spiritual meaning in it — if anything, I’m a little bit better at finding spiritual meaning when I have to make it up as I go along. Christmas wasn’t about the birth of the savior for us, but about the ongoing condition of being saved — from poverty, from dysfunction, from hunger, from abuse — and about telling the same stories over and over again every year, about making traditions and keeping them flexible enough to accommodate our changing needs, about measured excess, a little bit of going overboard just for the fun of it, as well as to remind us of the more reliable joys of moderation.

It sounds so Jewish when I put it like that.

Away from my family, that magic faded. I wasn’t a child, or a mother, or a Christian, and thus even before I began my conversion process, Christmas had become the typical adult experience, more about logistics (“Okay, we’ll see your family in the morning, and then mine in the afternoon, but I’ve heard our friends will be in town, so let’s try to sneak off early and go to a bar or something with them”) and obligations (“What should I get for Dad this year?”). Travel arrangements and trying to figure out gifts that would fit a grad student’s budget and also pack well.

Still, the first Year without a Santa Claus was a surprising one. I hadn’t converted yet, but I knew I was going to. I was engaged to and living with Mr. Improbable at the time, and flat-out engaged with and living my dissertation. So on December 25, I got up as I had every morning that week, made myself a grilled cheese sandwich and a sliced apple, and started entering data. Around noon or so, Mr. Improbable said, “So, does it feel weird?” “I feel like the most freakin’ dedicated graduate student in the world!” I yelped. I was entering data on Christmas Day, like a little Cinderella of the social sciences!

After that, my feelings about Christmas continued to evolve. The next year I was very militant and angry about it — get your damn hegemonic holiday out of my face, already. By the following year I’d calmed down a bit, and figured, hey, look at all the pretty lights on the trees and free cookies in the office, and no pressure on me to do much of anything. That’s a bit of all right. We started our own tradition, of a movie and Chinese food with a small group of friends, and that’s been something to look forward to.

But this year … I don’t know. It’s changed. Learning from all of you what you love and dread about the holiday. What it means to you. Knowing that I am in the prayers of strangers I may never meet. Knowing the terrible losses some of you are facing this season, and your extraordinary courage to light a candle rather than to curse the darkness. Seeing from my diverse network of Facebook friends the childlike joy a 30-year-old man can take in the prospect of snow on Christmas Eve, the delight of seeing your child in a Christmas pageant, the pride of creating a beautiful home filled with presents and food and good smells to welcome friends and families. The memories of loss and pain, as well as joys, from Christmases past. The stresses. The difficulties of balancing “Jesus Christmas” and “Santa Christmas.” The extraordinary psychological and spiritual work of those who have needed and managed to break from their family of origin and create a new family, and celebrate Christmas within its loving embrace.

And the tiny joy, for me, of sending a cousin of mine a Christmas present — nothing big, just a couple of novels I think would appeal to him, that are obscure enough he might not encounter them on his own for a couple of decades — knowing that it would be a complete surprise, that he wouldn’t feel obligated to get me anything in return, that we hadn’t set up some kind of tradition where we now have to exchange gifts, inspired or not. Just a little token from the heart, with no strings attached.

Christmas isn’t part of my religion. But it’s part of my culture, and part of my past, and this year, I feel ready to own that, with no betrayal at all of who or what I am.

From the depths of my Jewish soul to you, Christian or atheist or Muslim or Jew or pagan:

Merry Christmas. God bless us, each and every one.

Festivus!

December 23rd, 2009

The action today is over on my other blog, where I’m conducting (heh, get it?) an Airing of Grievances, Festivus-style. Go! Kvetch! See you back here in a day or so.

Happy solstice!

December 21st, 2009

Any pagans, Wiccans, pantheists, followers of Native American spirituality in da house? Now’s the time to throw your hands up and delurk. Tell me a little about yourself, what your tradition means to you, maybe toss in a link to a book or blog you like? I am down with the Abrahamic faiths, and I know a little bit about Buddhism and Hinduism, but the nature-based religions are, for the most part, a mystery to me. (I have read Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon, so I know a bit about Wicca.) As someone who was raised Christian and converted to Judaism, the idea of non-text-based religion is a little hard to get my mind around.

If you’re in the broom closet, of course, you can post anonymously. I’m certainly not going to out you. And I’d really like to know who’s out there. I know I’ve got a fair number of Christian, Jewish, and atheist/agnostic/ignostic readers, and a handful of Muslims as well. Who else is out there? I’ll light a candle for you on this longest night if you’ll light one for me.

Bitchin’ Menorah!

December 18th, 2009

I love this blog. I love writing for it, I love the variety of stuff I can post about, I love the comments you all make. I know that not every post is going to hit home to every reader: some of you might not be interested in dogs, or Shakespeare, or Judaism, or television, or fashion. That’s cool. In almost all my posts, I try to make it not just about the ostensible topic, but to include some kind of universal theme about how we live in the world. But I still don’t expect everyone to read everything, or check the comments on posts they aren’t interested in.

Which means that, if a comment thread goes off in a totally different direction, you might just miss something good. Somehow my Monday fashion post got into a discussion of menorahs, when EA Week asked me if I’d seen the Star Trek menorah:

Stmenorah

… which of course I had, and I pointed out the awesome Steampunk Menorah on BoingBoing:

rogerwoodmenorah

… and described it as “one bitchin’ menorah,” and then challenged my friend Molly to write a parody of the Dead Milkmen’s “Bitchin’ Camaro.” Molly, you may recall, is the author of the Pirate’s Prayer, and this was a triple-dog-dare she couldn’t turn down. So here, on the last night of Hanukkah, for all you punk rockers out there, I give you:

BITCHIN’ MENORAH

Bitchin’ Menorah, Bitchin’ Menorah!
Displayed to all the neighbors
Bitchin’ Menorah, Bitchin’ Menorah!
Each night, lightin’ more of the tapers

Got myself a bitchin’ menorah
With candles that light in a flash
I light it with a flamethrower so
I don’t need no freakin’ match

I set the curtains on fire
The first night of Chanukah
I didn’t get in trouble ’cause
I didn’t break halacha [or “Jewish law”, depending on your audience]

Bitchin’ Menorah, Bitchin’ Menorah!
Polished to a high gloss
Bitchin’ Menorah, Bitchin’ Menorah!
Latkes with bourbon sauce

When I take it to shul
They kvetch about it all week
Cause I’ve got a bitchin’ menorah
And mad lighting technique

So you’d better get out of my way
Whether it’s night one or eight
Cause I’ve got a bitchin’ menorah
And a dreidl game that can’t wait

Bitchin’ Menorah, Bitchin’ Menorah!
Givin’ the Gentiles fits!
Bitchin’ Menorah, Bitchin’ Menorah!
I’m drunk on Maneschewitz!

About three times as long as song it was based on, and four times as funny as Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song.” Rock on, Molly!

Hanukkah

December 17th, 2009

I’d mentioned that I had a difficult time finding meaning in Hanukkah. Here‘s an excellent article in Slate that looks at the awkward history behind the holiday, and might explain better to folks — Jewish or not — why a modern person might find some of its messages distasteful, and what meaning we can find in it. I love this paragraph:

Here we find the historical miracle that Hanukkah implicitly celebrates: the capacity to sustain intimate relations with another without totally ceding your own sense of self, the ability to love without permanently merging, to be enchanted by the exquisite beauty of another without losing sight of your own charms. This relational art is ritualized on Hanukkah by the lighting of separate wicks or candles that build daily toward a unison of illumination.

Me on holiday etiquette

December 15th, 2009

I did a brief segment on holiday etiquette dilemmas on New England Cable News this morning:

View it here.

Good interview, but the ConductMom is right. I DO need to brush my hair in the back more!