Friday, October 21, 2011

I celebrated simkhas toyre (at Occupy Wall Street no less!)

Never Done: I celebrated simkhas toyre (at Occupy Wall Street no less!)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I got a purple pedicure

Never Done: I got a purple pedicure

Abigail noticed that purple and gray are trending, and so I decided that since I'm gray on top, I could be purple on the bottom, and my whole self could be trending too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

I saw Taylor Mac's first workshop of his new 24-hour show, a history of pop music

Never Done: I saw Taylor Mac's first workshop of his new 24-hour show, a history of pop music

The first decade he chose to workshop was the 1970s -- and he was resplendent, of course, in red wig, big shades, a crocheted poncho, and brown leather go-go boots. Next week he's workshopping the 1930s, and after that the Mikado. Eventually this will be a 24-hour show, spanning I don't even know how long.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I got to be at Evan and Cheng's wedding!!!!

Never Done: I got to be at Evan and Cheng's wedding!!!!

Evan is one of the key architects of the marriage equality movement. Cheng has been his partner for 10 years. I adore them both. A LOT.

They decided against marrying in another state, but instead waited until they had won marriage equality here in New York. Never before have these words meant so much to me: "With the powers vested in my by the State of New York, I now pronounce you legally married."

So much fight. So much love.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

From dream to reality -- my first program at the JCC

Never Done: From dream to reality -- my first program at the JCC

My friend Mutamba played a beautiful show at the JCC -- an intercultural (Zimbabwean and Jewish) exploration of temporary shelter, for the holiday of sukes (Sukkot.) It felt wonderful to do a show that I thought up and put together -- and hopefully it's the first of many that make me feel proud.

Afterwards, on a whim, we rode the train to Harlem, because Mutamba had never been. And then we came home and I made a cake he loves at 1 AM -- for him to take home to his son. So tired, so worth it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I went to Occupy Wall Street

Never Done: I went to Occupy Wall Street

I had the day off for Sukes (Sukkot) and so I finally got to go down to Occupy Wall Street. Truly impressive. I was particularly impressed with the gray water system and the General Assembly meeting that operated without electronic amplification -- by a speaker speaking, and then one group of people repeating the statement in loud unison, and then another group farther back into the crowd doing the same, until the word got to the back of the crowd. The meeting was about the proposed cleaning of Zuccotti Park, and how to avoid eviction.

News this morning: the protesters scrubbed the park clean themselves and mobilized thousands of people to come down to support them and protest the eviction, the company who had requested the cleaning withdrew the request, Russell Simmons offered to pay for a cleaning that would not evict the protesters, and it looks like victory for now.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I gave an apple to the Occupy Wall Street subway satellite protester at the 72nd Street subway

Never Done: I gave an apple to the Occupy Wall Street subway satellite protester at the 72nd Street subway

I have not yet been to Zuccotti Park, but I plan to get down there today.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mutamba came to visit!

Never Done: Mutamba came to visit!

(I walked in the morning and moisturized at night. First day after the new year that I did that on a work day.) But more delightfully, Mutamba arrived from Toronto, to spend 4 days with us and do a sukes musical program at the JCC on Friday night. (It's the second one down, and it's ridiculous that there isn't a photo. Here -- here's the Facebook invitation.) If you're in NY, you should come!

Also, we all went to the YIVO for a 25th year anniversary screening of Josh's film, Partisans of Vilna.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A new year, some new daily commitments

Never Done: I made the agonizing decision not to attend my 30th high school reunion so I could go to the wonderful wonderful wedding of very close friends, one of whom is the architect of Marriage Equality

Also, I made the decision that I am not going to write a lot in my blog posts -- sometimes just the title of what I did. Sometimes, if I have time, I'll expand on that.

Also, I decided that this year, I am going to take a walk every morning and moisturize my face every evening. (It's that morning walking time that will use up my extensive blogging time. Hopefully the moisturizing won't take that much time.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

21 hours in Harvard

Never Done: 21 hours in Harvard, in which I 1) spent the night at Sue and Worth's, and 2) played Wise and Otherwise, and 3) met Rascal (the Durrant's new donkey) and 4) met Matt, the new editor of the Harvard Press

Done before: 1) I took a walk with Tetley and Colin on the road I grew up on, and 2) re-visited Erhart's house, and 3) drank Phil's cider, and 4) visited my parents and Claire's dad at the cemetery, and 5) visited the 1.85 acre property I fantasize about owning.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I did one thing a day I have never done before, for a year

Never Done: I did one thing a day I have never done before, for a year

Here is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote on yom kippur:

I am at Popham Beach, which is my favorite beach in the world. An estuary wends its way through the sand over the years has completely re-jiggered the topography of this beach, so that every year it looks -- and actually is -- different here. I just walked all over for an hour (fasting, hungry, a little weak) -- rediscovering and remembering and newly discovering, and I realized the metaphor can be applied to our very selves. From year to year we look similar, we are made of the same components -- same legs, same breasts, same mouths -- we remain essentially the same from year to year, and yet in other ways we are completely changed and unrecognizable.

I also want to note for you all that I started my Never Done practice at that beach a year ago. As the tide comes in at Popham Beach, the estuary fills in. It's important not to get caught on the wrong side of it. Last year, for the first time ever, after going to that beach for 45 years, I got caught on the wrong side -- with the same young person (and his mom and Josh) who came to shul with me for kol nidre. We had to wade across the cold, swift water, up to our chests, getting completely drenched -- but we crossed safely. And that was the moment I noticed that my Never Done practice was going to include some surprises -- that it wasn't going to be all hot air balloon rides and trips to Berlin.

And so it felt perfect to be back at Popham, and to cross the estuary many times, and at the end of the day, to look back at the year, in dry clothes, from the right side of the estuary.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I brought friends to Kol Nidre in Bath, Maine

Never Done: I brought friends to Kol Nidre in Bath, Maine

It was the last day of the Never Done year, and I felt like doing something really big -- Extreme Never Done. But also, it was absolutely gorgeous weather -- the first gorgeous weather of our vacation -- and truly, all I wanted to do was be outside, walk in the woods, sit on the rocks, look at the river. Also, I had to clean the gutters, go to the dump, start the process of closing the house up for the winter. And so, with the benefit of a year's practice and reflection, I decided not to worry about finding an amazing Never Done activity, and to just let the day unfold.

And it did unfold. I felt a little sad that my time here was ending, and I also felt grateful for the time I had, and I also enjoyed the air and the sun and the scent of balsam fir. For the loons on the river, the bald eagle soaring, and leaves just starting to turn.

And as the day unfolded, I was in touch with my friends in Brunswick -- a mom and a 10-year-old -- who have never been to Kol Nidre service. (The boy has never been to shul.) I invited them to join us, and they accepted the invitation, and so at the end of the beautiful day, we met for organic local burgers in Bath, ME for my pre-fast meal (I was the only one of the three fasting. Our friends are not observant, and Josh, having recently been sick, was encouraged not to tax his body in that way.

And then we went to the shul I've been going to for the High Holidays for many years now -- an egalitarian congregation called Beth Israel. The part I want to mention is that it was my first time bringing a young person with me to shul, which I thoroughly enjoyed. He was completely focused, he sang along, he read the transliterated Hebrew, he asked questions -- he was so absorbent! And just at the point that we were coming up to the part that I personally find to be the heart of the service, and I leaned over and whispered that to his mother, he asked me if I could accompany him to the bathroom.

The part I loved about this was that even though it was the heart of the service for me, I was not at all torn about leaving to help him out. In fact, it felt like a perfect request at a perfect moment -- because in this year in which I thought I would have my own child by yom kippur, I welcomed the reminder that I have started to think like a parent, and have started to balance my own desires and focus against those of someone younger. In essence, I took the request as a gift, and not an interruption or a disappointment. And also, it was a reminder that even though I didn't get where I wanted to get -- to actually be a parent by now -- I have laid a lot of groundwork, and will be more ready when it does eventually happen that if it had happened sooner.

What a perfect end to this year.

Friday, October 7, 2011

I went to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Never Done: I went to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

People are always telling me to go to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, but I haven't come up with a good reason to go. It's hard for me to understand why I'd want to go to a controlled natural environment garden when the entire area abounds with public access to uncontrolled natural environments. But when yet another person told me I should go, I decided, in the spirit of the next to last day in my Never Done year, that I should probably go. (There is more to say about this being the next to last day of the year -- I am still trying to figure out how to continue the practice. I am considering continuing doing something new every day and posting what that thing is, but only writing in the blog on occasion. Also, I am considering turning the blog into an interactive portal where other people can post their Never Done activities and thoughts about them.)

So after Josh and I went to Porter Preserve, one of my favorite parcels of Boothbay Regional Land Trust land, where we fell asleep on a rock in the sun, we went over to the Botanical Gardens. We got there about an hour before they closed, and it's a big place with many gardens and woods paths, so the woman who sold us tickets suggested that we go into the children's garden because it is "so magical and fun." I can't say that I expected to love the children's garden, and I was much more interested in the parts that I thought would be more like a curated forest, with native plants in a native environment, only labeled. But nonetheless, we followed her advice and started in the children's garden. It wasn't long before I felt that we were wasting our time, and that the children's garden was "stupid." (Yes, that was my word. Not one I'm particularly proud of, but one that does make Josh laugh.) The part I am proud of is that as soon as I noticed that there was an entire world we could be exploring, we practiced Decisiveness: Once you have made a decision act without hesitation, and we struck out for less manicured pastures (or paths.) But not before seeing some lovely stone work, which turned out to be throughout the entire gardens (even in the stupid children's area.)

We ended up walking all over the garden in the hour we were there -- through the Burpee Kitchen Garden, the Rose and Perennial Garden, the Haney Hillside Garden, over the Huckleberry Cove Trail (my favorite part, following alongside a beautiful rock ledge on one side, and the Sheepscott River on the other side) and to the Vayo Meditation Garden. We climbed back up the hill from the river and found the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses, where I found Hobbit xxx, which I think my mom would have loved, and eventually a stone Reflexology meditation path, which a sign invited me to walk on, barefoot. And so with long johns under my jeans, three sweaters and a wool hat, I took off my shoes, and walked along the spiraling path, and just as I was taking my last steps, a woman called down to tell us that the gates to the gardens were about to close. From stupid to sublime, an hour well-spent.

(I took lots of photos, but they are not uploading correctly. I will try again once I am at a more familiar internet connection.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I missed an entire season of osprey

Never Done: I missed an entire season of ospreys

I have been coming to this house on the mouth of the Damariscotta River in Maine since 1967.  I found ospreys to be so riveting that I wrote my fifth grade science report on the osprey (and boy do I wish I had it here so I could scan the cover, and show you my own colored pencil rendering of an osprey's likeness.) At the time, they were endangered by DDT. People from Maine Audubon used to come out and climb up trees that had nests, to test the eggs for poison. (DDT caused egg shells to become too thin, and they would break when the osprey would roost.) For many years, I was vigilant about observing the young -- elated when I would see their heads pop out of the nest, curious when I would hear their peeps, encouraging when they would start to fledge. And then with time, things got easier for the osprey, and more and more young were born, and slowly they moved off the endangered species list, and eventually they became ubiquitous. A day wouldn't go by when I couldn't spend hours, literally, watching them fish -- or just fly.

I spent many years far away from Maine, but still, I came back to visit, and when I did, the first thing I would do was to look to see where the fish hawks were nesting that year. Since I've been living back on the East Coast, I've been able to come more often to Maine, and as the years have gone on, more and more bald eagles have joined the osprey on this river bank. This year, however, I didn't get to Maine in April, as I planned, and then also not in May, and then not in June or July. And not in August. And by the time I finally got here at the end of September, the ospreys had left already. At first I didn't believe it; it seems early for them to leave -- I have shared this space with them well into October in years past.  But after three days here and no osprey sighting anywhere, I realized they had gone. That same day, I saw my first loon of the season. (They tend to show up just about the time that ospreys head south.)

How strange to miss an entire bird season. It takes an entire day to get here from Brooklyn, so once I started my full-time, non freelance job, it became quite difficult to get up here for even a long weekend. As this year comes to an end, and I examine my relationships over the past year, and I think about what I hope to accomplish and experience in this next year, I am trying to think of a way to get out of NYC more often, without running myself ragged. I also realize that I need to plan some days off when I don't plan to go anywhere, but to do laundry, get my car fixed, and just rest.  Balance. It's all about balance. Because if I don't take time to get my car fixed, then I can't get out of town to hang out with ospreys. But if I only get my car fixed (that's a metaphor -- and also applies to grocery shopping, laundry, and the other mundanities of life) then of course I'm distanced from my spiritual and physical life, and I will never get to see the ospreys.

So as this year draws to a close, and as this next one draws near, I welcome balance into my life. And into yours.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I burned a flag

Never Done: I burned a flag

It wasn't a political act. It was actually a very mundane act. I was cleaning up the house. I made a pile of all the old newspapers we didn't need anymore, and I culled out the shells that people had collected over the season that don't need to sit on a shelf over winter. Once I got going, I cleaned out the other shelves as well, because they are cluttered up with lots of other stuff I wish wasn't there. Stuff like old pieces of paper with Scrabble scores, empty Bubbles bottles, and little paper American flags on sticks.

I burn all my paper waste here, and compost all my vegetable matter, and try to create as little garbage for the landfill as possible, so when it came to dispose of the toy American flags, the natural thing for me to do would be to burn them. I am truly not very sacred about the flag, but this did give me pause. Throwing them into a landfill would be as much a desecration as burning them, so the only patriotic options would be to keep them or give them away. But the more I looked at them, the more they became absurd -- the way, if you look hard enough at a word, say the word bulldozer, it reduces to a pile of letters with questionable meaning. Paper on sticks. Paper on sticks. All I could see was paper on sticks. Maybe, I thought, the ban on flag burning doesn't even apply to paper on sticks, but only to full-sized cloth flags. Maybe it only applies to a public act. Maybe it only applies to an act with political intent to desecrate.

So I looked it up. Yes, it's a flag. It's a flag if it's on T-shirt, it's a flag if it's on boxer shorts, and it's a flag if it's on a tie. If it looks like a flag, it's a flag. And you can not burn it, or desecrate it in other ways. (It can not be used as a handkerchief, it cannot be printed on toilet paper, it's can't be torn up to use as a rag.) Which raises the question: if your flag T-shirt has gotten so old that it's time to retire it, how do you do that? To answer that question, the article I was reading on, directed me to "My flag is old and ready to be retired. What should I do?" 

You're never gonna believe this. Section 8k of the Flag Code states, "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

And so we have it. You cannot burn a flag in displayable condition, but you should burn a flag that is ready to be retired. All that's left is the gray zone in which we get to use our own judgement to determine the condition of the flag.  I placed mine in the fire.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I went inside the old stone church at Ocean Point

Never Done: I went inside the old stone church at Ocean Point

I have been coming to East Boothbay, Maine for 45 years. I have lived and worked here for many months at a stretch, and I have come for a few days at a time. I have walked for miles through woods and climbed for miles over rocks. I thought I knew Ocean Point inside and out, but it turned out I only knew it outside and out. I've walked all over, I've played tennis on the community courts, I've gone swimming to the little island, I've napped on the rocks in the sun, I've gotten soaked by sea spray, I've been there at dawn and I've been there at dusk, but as it turned out, I have never been inside the old stone church.

And then, as Josh and I were walking past it, the door to the church was open. Just like that -- a literal open door inviting us in.  It's a tiny stone chapel with wooden pews and a wooden ... OK, I was just going to call it a bima, which is the word for it in a synagogue, but I guess it's a pulpit. (Is that right? What's the name for the entire area that includes the pulpit? On an elevated platform, with other chairs for people to sit on, and a door to the confession room?) Also, there's an organ in there. The church was built in 1917, and sits literally on the end of the point. If you stand at the front of the church and look out over the congregation, then through the open door you are mere yards away from the Atlantic Ocean. (There are places when New England feels like old England, and this is one of them.)

What's great about this door being open, and my being able to go inside this church, is that just two days earlier, someone told me a story about an ethical dilemma she had in connection to this church and this organ. Her niece is getting married there in late October. It's a small, stone, unheated space, and it is likely to be quite cold. (For comparison's sake, it's 43 degrees here today, in early October.) She wanted to think of a way to warm it up, and so she offered to hire an organist to play music. (Before we dive into her ethical dilemma, can we just pause to admire that her idea of how to warm up a cold stone church was to bring in music? How wonderful is that?) The problem is, her daughter thinks she overstepped by offering to take charge of the music -- that it wasn't her place to take charge of anything.  Especially something as vital as music.

I disagreed, on the theory that the bride could have declined her offer. It's not like our friend bribed her, or threatened to boycott the wedding if she wasn't put in charge of the music. Also, weddings are expensive, and sometimes the brides and/or grooms need some financial help. I myself went through a similar decision process just recently. I learned that some friends getting married were stretched pretty thin financially, and that they were pinching pennies so they could have beer at the wedding. My immediate inclination was to see if I could sponsor the beer. They had already organized a potluck, and other people were helping with flowers and cake and dress. I thought it was a great opportunity to help, but it's not like I was going to make the beer -- like friends were making the cake and dress, or we were all making the food. I took a couple hours to think it over, and then realized that even though it wasn't a creative contribution on my part, it was both heartfelt and opportune. I made the offer, it was accepted, and everyone was happy (and some people were very happy.) Sometimes open doors are literal, and sometimes they are not, but I have found this year that it's generally a good idea to walk through them.

Monday, October 3, 2011

I watched an entire season of television in one day

Never Done: I watched an entire season of television in one day (Is it still television if it's on a computer?)

It was about the rainiest day possible. Pounding, driving, hard core rain didn't cease. All I wanted to do was hunker down and sew or bake or play Scrabble or watch Friday Night Lights, and the beauty of being on vacation is that I got to do three out of four of those things. (I didn't take out my sewing.) I had finished the abbreviated (by the writers' strike) Season Two when I was still in Brooklyn, and so I made a cup of tea and tuned in to Season Three.

First of all, when a season gets abbreviated by a strike, a LOT of story gets dropped off. So Season Three had to do some heavy lifting to quickly fill us in on important plot. I'm not going to do this here, because I don't want to spoil anything, but I will put in my requisite recommendation for the show. (It's all available on Netflix.) In fact, I am not going to write about the show at all, but instead about how much fun it was to finish one episode and immediately turn on another, and to know that there was no place else I was supposed to be, and no reason to go outside and get soaked. I didn't even get hungry for dinner -- just lots of tea, water, and cider and my place on the couch.

At first I wasn't watching with a goal of completing a season. I was just watching. But at the point that I noticed it would be possible -- (and this reminded me of completing the triathlon in under 4 hours -- I didn't have any time goals until I rounded the 4 mile mark and noticed I could do it in under 4 if I tried) -- I decided to go for it. I started to stretch in between episodes, and moved off the couch to the bed for the final two. (Who knew that watching 9 straight hours of TV would require such strategy?)

As I write this, I am thinking about the mides (middot) in order to see if there's anything ethical about my decision to watch all that TV, and what I come up with is: Diligence: Always find something to do. For those of us who are over-scheduled and under-rested, I think that watching 9 hours of really good TV is actually a completely valid -- and maybe even evolved -- reading of the principle of Diligence. I wouldn't want to do it every day, and I don't even feel like doing it again on this vacation, but I'm pretty proud of myself for slowing down enough to achieve that level of being a lump.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I ate ice cream that was frozen in 3 minutes by pouring liquid nitrogen into a tub of cream and strawberries ... at Serena and Brian's wedding

Never Done: I ate ice cream that was frozen in 3 minutes by pouring liquid nitrogen into a tub of cream and strawberries ... at Serena and Brian's wedding

I met Serena when she was twelve years old and I was just twenty four. And now, I just went to her wedding celebration. She got married in the field just a few hundred yards from the house where she was born. There were people (in addition to her parents) at her wedding who were in the room when she was born. There were people at her wedding who she knows much more recently, but who are as deeply embraced by her family and community as those of us who have been there longer. And speaking of being there longer ... I moved away 20 years ago, and I still feel completely embraced in Serena's world. She and I have seen each other in many places. She spent 10 years in San Francisco during many of my 12 years in Portland, so I got to be with her as she came of age, on her own, on the West coast. This has given us a level of continuity that is not always possible in our modern times.

I've been thinking about life cycle a lot lately, and how difficult it is to observe life cycles in the city, and how much I miss that. I don't think it's hard for everyone; I can see that people who are born and raised in the city, and have their family in the city, get to stay connected over entire life cycles -- even over more than one generation. I miss having this connection in my own life; it's one of the things that keeps me yearning for a rural life -- and even a life connected to my own home town, or at least New England where all of my mom's family lives.

And so it was particularly moving to be with Serena (and her whole family and community) to celebrate her marriage to Brian (a Floridian who has been welcomed into the Maine family) on some land I've spent time on (on and off) for 25 years.

And if all that wasn't enough of a meaningful Never Done activity for one day, Serena made it even more new by inviting a high school science teacher to make strawberry ice cream at her wedding -- by pouring cream, vanilla, and strawberry puree into a big plastic tub, pouring liquid nitrogen on top of it, and stirring stirring stirring. It was a wonderful sight -- Serena in her wedding gown, holding down the bucket with giant oven mitts on her hands, with liquid nitrogen fog floating all around her. (Also, the ice cream was delicious.)

Mazl tov to Serena and Brian! I wish you a lifetime of happiness and ice cream.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I played Angry Birds

Never Done: I played Angry Birds

It was the second day of rosh hashone, and Josh and I went to my favorite place on the Sheepscott River to do tashlikh. What was particularly wonderful about being there was that we arrived just as the highest  tide I have ever seen there was turning (yes, it's a river, but it's close enough to the ocean that it's tidal and brackish) and starting to recede. It felt like the metaphorically perfect place to do tashlikh. The tide itself was turning, along with the year, in time to carry away our off-cast transgressions. I did tashlikh using the Mussar mides (middot) -- for each one, I thought about what's still hardest for me, and I cast that away, and then I welcomed in the mides themselves.

Humility: seek wisdom from everybody
Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief
Equanimity: Rise above events that are inconsequential
Truth: Say nothing unless you are 100% sure it is true
Decisiveness: When you have made a decision, act without hesitation
Cleanliness: Let no stain or ugliness on our self/space
Order: All actions and possessions should have a set place and time
Righteousness: What is hateful to you do not do to others
Frugality: Be careful with your money
Diligence: Always find something to do
Silence: Reflect before speaking
Calmness: Words of the wise are stated gently
Separation: Respect in sexual and intimate relationships

And then after a little hike and a little nap in the sun, we went on to Brunswick to a birthday party for a 10-year-old friend. We were the first ones there, and his mom was still upstairs showering, so we went and hung out in his playroom to play. The first thing he showed us was the brand new Tablet he had gotten for his birthday, and the first thing he showed us on the Tablet was Angry Birds. OK, how is it that it hadn't occurred to me that Angry Birds is wildly popular because it is FUN? It's not a fluke. It's not a conspiracy. It's just really fun. (This falls in the category of my discovering that books on the New York Times bestsellers list are really good books, like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.)

For those of you who have never played Angry Birds, you use a slingshot to fling birds at pigs that are trapped in buildings. The pigs have apparently stolen eggs from the birds, but that's not evident at the low levels of the game, where I started out. It's hard to describe why this is fun, or why it's funny, but it is. In fact, as I thought about how to describe it, I realized I don't actually know why it's so successful. So I googled, "Why is Angry Birds so popular?" and came up with this cognitive teardown of that very question. I love the section in this article called Mystery. The author claims that one of the things that makes it popular is the element of Mystery. I quote, and I propose that this element of Mystery is the nexus of spirituality and technology:

You probably do not know how to recognize it, but Angry Birds has it. To add context to this idea, mystery is all around us in the things we find truly compelling. The element or attribute of mystery is present in all great art, advertising, movies, products, and not surprisingly, interactive games. The idea of mystery in a user experience as an attribute for increasing user engagement is embedded in the idea of mystery (conceptual depth). We all experience the impact of mystery when we view a cubist period Picasso, recall the famous Apple 1984 super bowl ad, or listen to Miles Davis.  He is said to have described jazz as playing the spaces between the notes, not the notes themselves. Mystery is present when you pick up an iPad for the first time. Why are the icons spaced out across the screen when they could be clustered much closer together to save space. Why does the default screen saver look like water on the inside of the screen?
Mystery is that second layer of attributes that are present but undefined explicitly, yet somehow created with just enough context to consume mental resources in subtle and compelling ways. At its most basic level, experiencing mystery in what we interact with makes you ask the question, “Why did they do that?”.  What we mean here is, “Why did they do that? – A good thing, not “What were they thinking? – A bad thing.  If you think carefully about the experiences you have in the ebb and flow of life, you realize that the most compelling are those that force you to think long and hard about why a given thing is the way it is. For example, why did Frank Gehry create the Guggenheim Museum Bilboa using the shapes he did? The famous architect could have created any shape concept, but why did he choose those shapes? It’s a mystery – we do not know and probably neither does he. What we do know is that his creation is cited as one of the most important works of contemporary architecture. In the same way that a building can captivate millions of sightseers, the element of mystery (conceptual depth) can help sell a few million copies of a simple interactive game.
Angry Birds is full of these little mysteries. For example, why are tiny bananas suddenly strewn about in some play sequences and not in others? Why do the houses containing pigs shake ever so slightly at the beginning of each game play sequence? Why is the game’s play space showing a cross section of underground rocks and dirt? Why do the birds somersault into the sling shot sometimes and not others? One can spend a lot of time on the Acela processing these little clues, consciously or subconsciously. When users of technology process information in this way, it is very likely that they are more deeply engaged than without these small questions.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I gave an IV infusion, or "I'm a nurse!"

Never Done: I gave an IV infusion, or "I'm a nurse!"

I am very close to someone who, when she was a baby, had a seizure that damaged her brain. She's forty now, and I've known her since before the brain damage. As she moved into her teenaged years, she fell in love with James Taylor (as did the rest of us) and Uno, and loved to spend time with friends and family. She developed a few sentences that she repeated frequently, mostly having to do with things she loved (James Taylor, Uno) and things she wanted to tell us (that she loved James Taylor and was going to play Uno) and also, randomly (but probably not so randomly, since she had to see a lot of doctors and nurses) "I'm a nurse!"

Her sister and I (and our other close friends) heard these phrases so often that they naturally became part of our vocabulary. So the first time I got to give Josh a home infusion of IV antibiotics (which I will get to do for another few weeks) I couldn't resist, as I pushed the air out of the saline syringe, declaring, "I'm a nurse!"

According to my much more medically-trained friends, it's essentially impossible to mess up with the set-up we've been given. Nevertheless, I was nervous the first time I did it. We had detailed instructions on how to set up the IV pole, prime the line, flush the line with saline, administer the drugs, flush the line again with saline, and finally with heparin. There are clamps to open and to close, and connections to clean. I felt that it was important that I do the job seriously while keeping the mood light. That's where, once it was all hooked up and going well, the declaration of "I'm a nurse!" came in.

The truth is, saying "I'm a nurse!" out loud also validated the part of me that really really really likes cleaning things and priming things and clamping things and hooking things up. I became a carpenter because I like doing that stuff, and it turns out that hooking up some antibiotics to a PICC line is similarly satisfying. I'm sure the fact that Josh is truly fine makes it easier -- that this isn't a high-stakes situation. In fact, it's a perfect situation for me to discover that I enjoy this, but also a model for future attitude and approach. Let's say I would at some point encounter a more scary situation. Would I still allow myself to enjoy doing technical stuff that I do, in fact, enjoy? I would argue that allowing ourselves to experience and express enjoyment makes us better tube-attachers and caregivers, and that I hope to remember that if, pu pu pu, I am ever again in a more high-stakes situation.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I answered a question at 10Q

Never Done: I answered a question at 10Q

10Q is an online for self-reflection during rosh hashone and yom kippur. Every day, 10Q sends you a question, and you get to answer it in your own private 10Q space, and then at the end of the 10 days, just as the ark is about to be sealed, just as we and our actions are to be inscribed in the book of life, you get to push a button and send your answers into a locked vault. A year later, 10Q will send them back to you.

I love this. I have been thinking about how to create an online Never Done portal and think I could learn a thing or two from 10Q.

Here's the first day's question: 
Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?
Interesting. Well, there's my Mussar practice. And there's writing this blog. And there's getting a new job. And there's the adoption falling through (so far -- I'm not giving up.) And then there are all the smaller things I wrote about all year long. I rode the Ferris Wheel.  I bought Colgate. Mich moved away. I went to Germany. I introduced two friends and they fell in love. I completed a triathlon. I tried karaoke. I saw Book of Mormon. I started Brooklyn Soup Swap. I painted my fingernails blue. 
Significant experiences happen every day. And yes, I am grateful. And relieved. And resentful. And inspired. And tired. And sad. And hopeful. And jealous. And scared. And unsure of myself. And proud. And surprised. 
But most of all, I am happy I am paying attention. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I played left handed ping pong while wearing glasses

Never Done: I played left handed ping pong while wearing glasses

I almost did two long-standing Never Done activities, but neither worked out. In the morning I didn't go to the hospital. Instead I stayed home to get very focused work done until it was time to move the car. When it was time to move the car, I decided to drive it down to Avenue J in Brooklyn to redeem a Groupon at The Pickle Guys, where I bought enough new pickles and horseradish pickles to last months. Then, I thought to myself, I am so close to Di Fara Pizza and it is never open when I go. This is my chance. I can dash over for a slice, and then bring the car back and get to the hospital. So I drove down Avenue J, and found a parking spot on the street, and walked up to Di Fara, and it was just like a bad dream that repeats again and again and again. Di Fara was closed. It is closed on Monday and Tuesday. This was the third time I'd gone on a Monday or a Tuesday, and the third time I'd been thwarted. You'd think I'd learn.

Once my Never Done appetite was whet for the day, I started thinking of other things I could do, and it occurred to me that since I was spending so much time on the Upper Far East Side, that I should ride the Roosevelt Island Tramway. It would be quick, it would be exciting, and it's something that's been on my list all year long. And I've been in the neighborhood every day for a week. A no-brainer! But the hospital had other plans for me; they were going to let Josh out. So I hunkered down with my laptop and finished up all the work I needed to get done before leaving on vacation, interspersed with conversations with interns, residents, fellows, nurses, and social workers. It did make me laugh to notice that after hope hope hoping that he would get out soon, that a little part of me was disappointed that my tramway ride was getting messed up. Luckily I tucked that little part of myself away pretty quickly (and only brought it out now for all to see.)

When we got home, Josh was antsy. Understandable after a week inside. He has a PICC line in his right arm but other than lifting heavy things or playing tennis with that arm, he's just fine, so I suggested we go to the gym and play a game of left-handed ping pong. He was totally up for it. On the way over, I realized 1) I had not brought my glasses case and that 2) I had never played ping pong with glasses. (I've grown more sensitive to putting my glasses in a case when not using them because only 4 months after getting them, I scratched both lenses and had to have them replaced.) But right away I knew it was an opportunity to do a world-record-style Never Done activity. First time playing left-handed ping pong while wearing glasses. (Josh did me one better, and played me while talking on the cell phone. Sorry the photo is so blurry -- it's an action shot.)

Here's what we discovered about playing lefty. While our shots lacked the blazing power (ha) of our regular right-handed game, the volleys lasted longer than usual, and the game was both fun and focused. I spent my childhood discovering this -- I would bounce things lefty, bounce things while balancing on a giant rolling cardboard tube, juggle things while balancing on a giant rolling cardboard tube, bounce balls on the edge of a raquet instead of the strung face of the raquet, shoot left-handed layups, etc. What happens, of course, when you break out of your comfort zone, is that you have to apply a new level of focus to a normally mundane activity, and it allows you to lift a veil and see all the elements of the activity. I wrote not long ago about approaching life with Beginner's Mind, and on this last day before the start of the new year (leshone toyve everyone!) I want to encourage all of us to try to do this more often -- by choice -- so that when we have to do it by necessity, we already have the strong and flexible Never Done muscles we need.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I watched the season finale of The Big C

Never Done: I watched the season finale of The Big C

I sometimes think about what The Big C would be like if it starred someone other than Laura Linney, who gives a full-body, stage theatrical performance like I've actually never seen on television. She plays a woman with Stage 4 melanoma. She is dying, but she looks quite healthy and seems quite strong. This is one of the things I love about this show -- it shows a character who has something very serious going on, which most people can't see unless they know her very well. From what I understand about what it's like to have cancer -- which is limited, because I myself have never had cancer (but both my parents and some very close friends have) -- this is incredibly important territory to cover.  Do you look better than you feel? Do you feel better than you look? Do you feel like you can do something that a doctor would advise against? That your close friends and family are scared for you to do? What is appropriate for people to say to you if they are scared? What is appropriate for you to say back to them?

This is the heartland territory of The Big C, and also of cancer survivor, journalist, and author Lori Hope's newly re-issued book, Help Me Live -- 20 Things People with Cancer Want You To Know as well as her blog, What Helps, What Hurts, What Heals. These two resources have been invaluable to me as a support person to people with cancer, and also they've been invaluable to me as, well, just a person trying to think well about other people. Because at the heart of what Lori writes and reminds us about again and again, is the fact that to be a good friend is to listen, to be compassionate, to be there and follow through, and to apologize when we mess up. Not rocket science, and yet it is sometimes so hard to do. And just like the early rabbis who wrote about the Mussar practice said, "You aren't going to learn anything new in this book. You already know how to be a good person. You just need practice." (OK, that wasn't really a direct quote -- it was a paraphrase, but a pretty good one, I think.) Like those rabbis, Lori also offers us a practice about how to be a good person, a good friend, a good citizen, a good support person. It's not rocket science. We already know how to do it. It just sometimes takes someone to remind us.

I like getting my reminders from many sources. On the season finale of The Big C, when Cathy -- the main character who has cancer -- tells her husband she wants to run the marathon, he explodes. "I just can't predict your next move! Why is it that everything you do brings you further away from me?" To which she calmly suggests, "Wait for me at the end so I can run towards you." Was it her job to lead him to the right perspective in that moment? Probably not. But did she decide to take it on and extend a loving hand while still going for the exact thing she knew she needed? She did. Our models are out there. It's our job to learn from them.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I found a white leg hair

Never Done: I found a white leg hair

A long one. It's long because the other ones are also long, not because it's a particularly freakishly long white one. The other ones are also long because I am sporadic with my leg hair removal; sometimes I do it, sometimes I don't. I have a couple other randomly positioned white hairs (arm, eyelash, chin) but this is definitely the first one on my leg, and it feels like some new rite of passage. Early on in the writing of this blog, my cousin told me she was surprised by my middle aged tag -- and I was surprised by her surprise. I mean, I know I don't fit the normal model of what a middle aged woman is like, but I am 48, and I have silvery hair, and the whole impetus behind the Never Done year was to make sure my life stayed expansive instead of diminished. But what Leigh told me stuck with me, and literally every time I put the middle aged tag on, I think of her and her perception of me as not so very middle aged. And how that makes me feel good -- like somehow I've beaten the system, or done it right, or stayed young, or stayed current, or lived outside the mainstream norm for so long that I just don't look like most of the other women of my generation.

And then I found a long white hair on my muscular right shin. Part of me feels like it's quirky -- like when I got my white streak in my hair in my early 30s. In fact, I feel that it's actually like my white streak -- a premature, stand-alone statement, in contrast with its surroundings, that stands out and says, "I'm an iconoclast."  But another part of me feels like it's the beginning of a transition I wasn't even thinking about. One, in fact, that I didn't actually anticipate. Is all my body hair is going to turn white? Am I going to get white eyebrows like my uncle has? (I have long ones like he has, but I tame them.)
And it all that happens, then am I still an iconoclast? Or am I just middle aged?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I had a sleepover with a dog

Never Done: I had a sleepover with a dog

I don't think a dog ever spent the night in my house when I was growing up, and I have never lived with a dog in all the years I've been on my own. The few times a friend has brought a dog along on a visit, the dog has stayed outside. Of course I've stayed in many homes with dogs -- but that is completely different from having a dog stay at my place.

Mich came to Brooklyn for the weekend and brought her sweet (and somewhat cowering) pit bull Tsippy with her. At first it was hard for her to find a place to stay because all her close friends have cats. She couldn't stay with me because Josh is allergic to cats and dogs (which is one of the reasons we don't have cats.) but then, as it turned out, Josh isn't home this weekend, so I texted Mich and asked if she wanted to stay with me. She asked -- what about Tsippy? And I wrote back, "When the cat's away ..." to which she promptly responded, "The pit bulls play!"

And so we made a plan, and when I got home Saturday night, they were there waiting for me. Here's the ethical question part. I didn't tell Josh in advance. I didn't want to give him something to worry about. Instead I set it up so that Tsippy wouldn't go anywhere with carpet and wouldn't get on the furniture. When she is gone, I will vacuum a lot, which frankly needs to happen anyway. And maybe this will really sound like justification, but Josh is usually the vacuumer in the family, and so maybe it will all turn out to be an excellent gift for him -- that he will come home to a very vacuumed apartment. Justification? Or ethical decision? When is it better to not say something? When is it better to say something?

In Catholicism, there are many kinds of sins -- two of which are sins of omission and sins of commission. If this is a sin, it is a sin of omission. But I'm not sure it's a sin at all. I know for a fact that Josh would love for me to have some close time with Mich. He would definitely see it as a silver lining to the events of this week. What I am counting on is that what he doesn't know won't hurt him -- and also that once he's back home I'll tell him. Also, I am practicing the mide (middah) of Silence: Reflect before speaking. Which, admittedly, is sort of an easy mide to use to justify not telling someone something. But also, it's true -- I am reflecting before speaking, and really thinking through all the implications of saying something or not, and when is the best time to, and what to say, and why I would say it. Which is something I don't do enough. I tend to blurt things out first, and then regret them later. So for what it's worth, I am holding back this time (only sort of not, of course, since you are reading this) and choosing to be silent, in order to give my sweetie some piece of mind. You know how the Car Talk guys sometimes ask people to check back in with them later, to see how their advice was? I feel like I should check back in with my blog readers later, to let you know if this was a good decision on my part. In the meantime, what do you think?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I didn't go on vacation

Never Done: I didn't go on vacation

I was supposed to leave for vacation after work today but something else came up instead. In a word, but without actually using too many words, instead of vacation mode, I've landed in medical mode -- and spent the day doing my best to make the best of it. Squeezing together on a little bed, side by side by laptop, Josh composing and me giving dramaturgical feedback on a performance I recently saw. Josh looking up at the acoustic ceiling tile and pretending it looks like birch bark. Me breaking out the macarons and Scrabble. (Josh is winning.)

Talk about Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief. Am I disappointed that I am not currently at the Durrant's farm on East Bare Hill Road, and then on my way to Maine? You bet I am. Am I dwelling on it? I am actually not, and the extent to which I am not dwelling on it truly feels like a testament to a year of Mussar practice.

As the year draws to a close, and I am in a mode of assessing my life, and my responsibilities, and my relationships, I am also assessing my relationship to my Mussar practice. While I don't think I practice it as deeply as I hope to, I have been steady for an entire year in this writing practice -- the public, ethical examination of at least one activity I have never done before -- and it's been transformative. Having a public conversation in and of itself has been transformative -- not just for me, but for some of you who have written to tell me the ways this has changed you. One good friend has started learning something new every day, and another is inspired to start her own blog about retirement, aging, and activism.

Would you take the time to comment about the ways this blog and my practice have transformed you? It would be a great gift to me, especially during this week of reflection and changed plans.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Shadow post

Never Done: Shadow post

Sometimes I do something that is too private to blog about. This time it pushed me to think about weighing and balancing priorities -- when something comes up that overshadows the things that previously seemed of utmost priority. The challenge, I think, is to remember that the small things actually still matter -- and in fact matter very much to other people -- even if they have been eclipsed, or diminished, by events in my own life.

So that happened.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I painted my fingernails blue

Never Done: I painted my fingernails blue

Why on earth am I so conservative sometimes? It truly baffles me. I look at a punk with yellow or green or blue or black fingernails, and I completely appreciate the aesthetic. I think about painting my own nails something other than clear or pinkish, and I balk. But this whole summer, whenever I saw a certain shade of light blue nails, I perked up. I like it. I wanted it. And then I didn't do it. I did paint my toenails a fabulous metallic silver, to compliment my silver hair (and to remind me that I rock -- as the only silver-haired triathlete on my team of hundreds) and I loved that. Maybe metallic silver is the gateway color, because I finally examined my resistance to blue enough that I realized it's ridiculous. It's just a color. There is really no reason why one color is any more "appropriate" on a fingernail than any other color. And if I think one is more appropriate, then I don't respect myself and my own leanings towards homogeny. So I chose a blue -- the blue I'd actually love for my glasses frames, because I think it's an excellent compliment to my silver hair -- and I painted it on my fingernails.

I'm a little self-conscious, but not really because they are somehow transgressive, but because I think my fingers look excellent and I like to look at them. Here, maybe you will too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I went in to Apple Bank

Never Done: I went in to Apple Bank

What an interesting experience it is to walk into a bank, not knowing anything about it, considering becoming a customer. I had in fact never done that before. Usually it's either been some big corporate bank that everyone knows is horrible -- like Bank of America or Citibank (where I currently have my accounts) -- or else it's a community bank or a credit union that I knew about because I lived in the neighborhood.

For some time now I've wanted to open an account at a less pernicious bank, but I haven't found anything that works. I don't qualify for any credit union I know of (there's no freelancer's credit union) and there are no community banks in my neighborhood. So when I noticed that I walk past a beautiful Apple Bank building every day, I decided to go in and find out what kind of bank it is.

First of all, it's gorgeous, cavernous, stately, solid, cathedral-like. It is constructed of stone and wrought iron. It feels conservative and safe -- which is, I suppose, exactly what a bank wants to project. I was there late morning, and it was almost empty. I walked all the way across the shiny floor to the other side of the huge room, and spoke with a customer service representative.

Hi, I'm considering opening a new account, and I'd like to know what kind of bank this is.
What kind of account are you interested in opening?
What kinds of accounts do you have?
This is a savings bank. What kind of account are you interested in opening?
(Not completely sure what bank isn't a savings bank.) So you have savings accounts?
We have all kinds of accounts. What a you interested in?
I'm interested in a bank that functions on a local level and supports the community it's based in. Is this a community bank?
This is a private bank.

At this point I realized that 1) I was not going to get the answers I wanted in this conversation, and 2) I barely know anything about banks and banking. I stood up and told her I would do some more research, and at that point she offered me some brochures. Brochures about branches, kinds of accounts, about the bank itself. Perfect, I thought, this will tell me everything I need to know. I thanked the woman and left through the substantial door. As I walked away, I looked at the brochures, and learned ... almost nothing. With the exception of branch locations, the info on the brochures was as opaque as the info from the woman. What I did figure out from that is that if it were a community bank with community-based values, they would say so right on their brochure. I was getting the impression that maybe it's a high-end bank for discreet clients, because they said so little.

When I got back to my office, I Googled Apple Bank to see if I could figure it out. Right off the bat, this picture

reconfirmed my sense that it's a conservative bank for conservative people. And then I went on to read the history of the bank which let me know it used to be a community bank in Harlem but now it's acquired many other banks, and then I read Apple Bank's Wikipedia page which told me that, and here I quote directly from Wikipedia, "In 1985, Apple converted from a mutual savings bank to a stock-issuing public institution, selling 4.6 million shares for a total of $53.5 million. In 1990, a prominent real estate developer and investor Stanley Stahl became the sole stockholder of the bank when he paid about $170 million. In August 1999, Stahl died and the bank is controlled by his estate."

So this isn't my groovy community bank, but I have to admit, I was so seduced by the building's interior that I wanted to look past common sense and likelihood and everything I know about New York real estate (that building was not really going to house a credit union) and pretend that it was the place for me. I pictured myself doing my personal banking on the way from the subway to the office. I pictured my money going to support ... what? ... Central Park Conservancy maybe? But the truth is I knew the truth as soon as I entered, and I didn't need the woman and the pamphlets to basically tell me that if I didn't already know what it was, then it wasn't for me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What I haven't done (I did a YES cartwheel)

Never Done: What I haven't done

In just a couple weeks it will be yom kippur, the day of atonement, the end of the High Holidays, and the end of the Jewish year, and My Never Done year will draw to a close. This month leading up -- the Hebrew month of elul -- is typically a time for reflection, a time for self-accounting, and a time to mend one's relationships to others. (In fact, the mussar class that Alissa Wise taught at the JCC was particularly scheduled during the month of elul, to help people prepare for the high holy days.) While I am certainly in a process of self-accounting in relationship to others, I am also in a process of self-accounting in relationship to my Never Done year; I have started to think about all the things that I had wanted to but won't get to do this year -- and what that means to me.

To jump straight to the point, I spent about 10 seconds feeling regret for what I didn't do this year that I had wanted to, and then shifted very quickly to feeling excited for all the things I still get to do for the rest of my life. Here are just a few of them -- ones I tried to do during this year, some of which I might still accomplish.

Go to the Bronx zoo
Have my birth mark removed
Shoot a gun
Ride a hot air balloon
Live in a place I love in NYC (where I can have a vegetable garden)
Adopt a child
Join an independent NY community bank or credit union
Create an apple mosaic
Get a book deal from my Never Done year

In the meantime, what did I do Monday that I had never done before? I did a YES cartwheel! Actually I did six. So fun! So affirming! So loud! So quick to accomplish! Sometimes you just need to yell YES!

Monday, September 19, 2011

I went to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop

Never Done: I went to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop

Boy, did I want to stay in bed. But boy did I have to get up to get to work for the JCC's 10th anniversary open house. So I dragged myself up and out and to the Upper West Side where I served as the outdoor stage manager all morning until the early afternoon. It went really well, and was even pretty fun to work, but it became funner still (for me) when Karen and Andy showed up and we started hoofing it around town. We started out a few blocks away to Luke's for a lobster roll, and then into Central Park and all the way down to 59th Street, and then southwest to the High Line at 30th Street and 11th Avenue, and then down the High Line (god, I love the High Line) to 14th Street, and then east east east to the East Village, to 7th Street between 2nd and 1st, to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. You see, I gave Karen a Groupon to the BGIC truck well before they opened the shop, and she actually planned her trip, in part, with a trip to the BGIC truck in mind. So when we found out that the truck wasn't out this weekend because the shop was busy, and that the shop wasn't taking the Groupon, do you think we were daunted? Hell no. (You know we weren't, because I already told you we marathoned there from the Upper West Side for her first gay confection.) When we arrived, I told the incredibly friendly guys who were working there that my friends were in from Chicago, and that I'd given them a Groupon, and that the truck isn't out, and would hey consider honoring the Groupon. The guy at the register was on it. "How long are you in town?" "Until 6" I said, which was true. It was 5:15. He asked Karen for the Groupon. He wasted no time; just made it happen. At the same time, he let me know that they'd be accepting the Groupon at the store starting October 1. I liked how clear he was, and how completely he exhibiting Decisiveness: When you have made a decision, act without hesitation, and Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief. Also, he exhibited great ice cream cones -- among us we had a Salty Pimp; vanilla with olive oil, sea salt, and fig sauce; and a new thing involving pretzels and chocolate whose name I can't remember. It was great. It tasted almost as good as the exact same thing tastes coming from the truck. The only thing missing was a Big Gay Bench to sit on (do you think if I make them one I'll get a choinkwich lifetime supply?) but we sat on the Butter Lane cupcake bench instead and thoroughly enjoyed the best soft serve in town. (What is in there? What makes it taste so good?) And then I walked with Karen and Andy back to their hotel, and then took two trains and a shuttle bus home, and then crashed my bones onto the couch and didn't move til the Emmy's were over. (And yes, I was thrilled that Kyle Chandler won for his role as Coach Taylor in Friday Night Lights.) Some days it is completely worth it to drag my bones out of bed. (But now do I have to do it again?)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I officiated a bar mitzve

Never Done: I officiated a bar mitzve

In 2005, I moved to Hoboken for one year that turned into four long years. There were very few bright spots for me in Hoboken; one was the Mile Square Theater, and the other was Josh's old friend Robin and her family. Josh and Robin have known each other for almost 50 years, from the Yiddish secular camp Boiberik. We got close to Robin and Cliff, and their son Jack over our years on the other side of the Hudson, and have stayed close since moving back to Brooklyn. So when they asked us if we would lay officiate Jack's bar mitzve, it didn't come out of the blue, but it was certainly the first time I've been asked. You see, Jack realized, over the course of time he has spent in Hebrew school, that he doesn't believe in God. But Judaism is important to him, and he still wanted a ritual entree into Jewish life. But for many months, he didn't have words for it, and he didn't have a connection to secular Judaism in a way that let him know there was a tradition of exactly this, that he was on a well-trodden path.

In conversations with me and Josh, we were able to give him this context, and it's because of that -- and particularly because Josh himself had a secular bar mitzve, in a restaurant, half a century ago. I talked with Jack about growing up as (and still being) an atheist Jew, and having a rich Jewish life, mostly connected to progressive politics, yiddishkeit, and music and theater. Josh reminded Jack that his own mother came from a rich secular Jewish background. Together, we connected him with a rabbi (Alissa Wise) who deeply respects secularism and helped him craft a ceremony -- and a speech -- that pushed him to identify his ethical and cultural responsibilities and influences. It was because of all this that they asked us to lead the ceremony.

It wasn't always easy. It wasn't always so obvious to people what I had to contribute compared to what Josh had to contribute, and yet I had been invited -- and wanted. I found myself having to practice the mide (middah) of decisiveness. Deciding to be confident. Deciding to know I was wanted. Deciding to speak up and make suggestions. Deciding to dig into my history to articulate to myself and others precisely what I had to offer. Deciding to let go of needing credit for my ideas. Deciding to take responsibility for making Jack's bar mitzve as meaningful as it could possibly be.

In the end I did a lot of behind the scenes work, and also took a front-of-the-room position. I started the ceremony off by welcoming everyone, and talking about how growing up as an atheist Jew who only knew Jews in my own family, I deduced that Jews don't believe in God. In went on to talk about my path to a Jewish secularism that is rooted deeply in community, and inviting Jack to take that same journey. The rest of my job was mostly, with Josh, to weave together the rest of the speakers -- to MC if you will -- until it came to the l'chaim at the end. I think this might be a lot of what it's like to be a rabbi. Lots of behind-the-scenes work, some stage time, lots of setting aside of one's ego, and a lot of pride in and appreciation for everyone else. All in a bar in Hoboken.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I saw Karen in NYC

Never Done: I saw Karen in NYC

I am quite sure this is true. I am almost entirely sure this true. We just finished spending the week practicing the mide (middah) of Truth: Say nothing unless you are 100% sure it is true, and I am not 100% sure this is true, and yet I am saying it because it is 1 AM, and after work I went to the Lower East Side and met Karen and Andy (who I have definitely seen in NYC) for dinner, and I have a big day Saturday, and so I don't have a lot of time to come up with a different Never Done that I did, but uh oh, I just texted Karen to ask her if I have ever seen her before in NYC, and it turns out that not only have I seen her here, but I have seen her here THREE separate times, plus another one in Hoboken. (It's disturbing what a poor memory I have. I am extremely grateful to my friends who remember our collective history.) So guess what my Never Done activity is? I am Interactive Blogging for the first time. Only (and since we are still talking about truth, I feel like I need to say this) as I said, it is 1 AM, and so it is not really Friday's Never Done activity, is it?

OK, I did other things. I put dozens of apples in bags for the upcoming JCC Open House. I didn't feel like I had the time to help, but then I realized that sometimes I'm going to have a huge event and other people are not going to feel like they have time to help, so I made the time to help and what came from it was that I got to know one of my coworkers who I had never spent any time with before. Also, I wore my first Fall outfit of 2011. A funky/pretty wool skirt, a knit top, and my scraped up but cushy leather boots. It felt wonderful to wear Fall clothes when I was outside, but inside I was shvitzing. (The day before I was freezing inside, so go figure.) Many people, when they saw me, commented on how it's Fall now, or how this is the Fall Jenny, or how sad they are that Summer is over, or how much they love my Fall fashion. And now I am going to put on Fall pajamas, and climb into bed, so I can be rested for my big Saturday, in which I am going to co-lead a bar mitzve for the first time. (A secular bar mitzve.) More on that tomorrow...

Friday, September 16, 2011

I organized things neatly

Never Done: I organized things neatly

I don't know how I got so far in life without Things Organized Neatly or Extreme Tidying Up. I also don't know how to capitalize on my foibles. I do know how to make community out of my foibles; I met Andrew -- one of my now closest friends -- at the breakfast seating of a B&B, and I noticed he was alphabetizing the tea bags. Man after my own heart! Five years later, when he and his partner got married, I made them a beautiful decorated wooden box filled with alphabetized tea bags. (I wasn't able to find a tea starting with Q so I made one up: Queer Wedding Blend.)

Anyhow, when I discovered these people who make art out of their hyper-organization, I fell in love all over again. (And sent the links to Andrew.) I also went home to try it. I looked at my shelves to see what did I have, and what might benefit from order, and what could be pretty. Or, put another way:


Thursday, September 15, 2011

I met Alan Morinis and other folks from the Mussar Institute

Never Done: I met Alan Morinis and other folks from the Mussar Institute

I don't think I've ever expended as little energy getting to an event that I would have gone to great lengths to attend. At 7 PM, after a long and at times taxing day at work, I stood up from my desk, left my office, walked down one flight of stairs, and took a seat in the beys midrash. (Beys midrash means, literally, house of learning -- and at the JCC is a lovely room lined with Jewish texts.) I was there for a lecture called, Seeing Your Life as a Soul Journey: An Evening of Mussar with Alan Morinis.

The seat I chose was near the back, but when I got a text message from Dana that she would be coming very late, I moved to a closer row where I could leave her a seat on the aisle. Before the lecture started, suddenly -- right behind me in my new seat -- a woman tripped over someone else's cane, and simultaneously fell down and spilled her water and her plate of fruit. She was OK, and the first thing she wanted to do was clean up. I offered to do that for her, because although she had not badly hurt herself, I remember what it feels like to almost hurt yourself badly, and your heart needs some time to stop racing, and your soul needs a bit of time to realize you're actually OK. (Or, in some cases, that you're not.) So I cleaned up her spilled fruit, and a couple other women did too, and I threw it away, and I got a bunch of napkins to dry off the chair where the water mostly landed. (If this feels like a mundane description, just hang in there -- it's going somewhere.) As I blotted up the water, a woman who was sitting nearby said to me, "We were going to sit there."

OK. Many things went through my head at that moment. I admit, most of them were sarcastic. Instead of saying any of them, I chose Silence: Reflect before speaking, and continued to clean up. Then she said, "There are four of us." It seemed to me that she was complaining about the fact that there was water on a chair she wanted one of her friends to sit on, and that she wanted me to do something about it. I don't think there was any way for her to know I work at the JCC, and in fact I wasn't cleaning up the water as a JCC employee, but as a person thinking about Cleanliness: Let no stain or ugliness on our self/space and taking responsibility for our collective space. So my mind went to a bunch of judgmental places about this passive woman who expects other people to clean up for her, when it occurred to me that I don't actually know what is going on for that woman. Maybe she's wearing a brand new silk dress that would get ruined if she sat on a damp chair. Maybe she hasn't seen the people she's with for years, and it's truly her priority to spend time with them. We really don't know what is going on for others. Then I decided to move the chair instead of mop up the chair, so I picked it up, and I asked the woman to move some other chairs over so I could put this chair a row behind. It was just like one of those games we had as kids -- where you move squares one at a time until you get them in the order you want. Only she couldn't see how to get where we were going, and she was moving chairs in a way that would only shuffle the wet chair among her four friends, and not remove it from her row. Finally I was able to describe to her what she would need to move in order for me to put the chair down, and while this was happening, I suddenly remembered that when I was at the Dan Bern concert, a woman moved her wobbly chair to another table instead of removing it from the hall, and then another woman sat on it and it broke, causing her to fall to the ground. I remember writing that I could imagine myself as the person who just moved the wobbly chair elsewhere instead of completely removing it from the room, and that I was going to heed that lesson and try to take complete (not partial) responsibility for the spaces I use from here on in.

So there I was, holding the chair, having this memory, and noticing that if I put the chair down where I am about to then someone else might get a wet tush. I looked up to see how to remove it completely, when I saw that a man was reaching out his hands to take the chair from me, and I could tell that he saw the big picture, and was going to remove this chair from the line of duty. I handed him the chair, I thanked him, and I sat. (I later found out that this man was Michael, the Executive Director of the Mussar Institute.)

All this, and the lecture hadn't yet started. And more -- I got the woman who had fallen a replacement plate of food, and when I sat down, I thought again -- as I often do -- about what it means to be so deeply predisposed to be in service to others. This was a situation in which I had nothing else to do but sit and wait, and helping her was in no way taking away from a somehow more interesting life activity. But there are certainly times in my life in which I default to service to others when I have not yet taken care of my own basic needs. Since I do have that tendency, and the Mussar practice is deeply about service to others, it's no wonder that I am drawn to it. But the practice also has at its core a thoughtful examination of the balance between the needs of self and others. To borrow a common analogy, if you don't put on your own oxygen mask first, you won't be able to assist others with theirs.

Speaking of which, I actually have to go to work, and can't take the time to write about Alan's actual lecture, beyond to say that it focused on three aspects of the soul -- neshome, nefesh, and ruakh -- and the importance of tending all three aspects. Neshome is the pure, brilliant, clear essence of our humanity. Nefesh is our character traits -- anger, patience, humility, passivity. And ruakh is our spirit. Neshome just is -- it's the part of the soul that cannot be sullied. It's often most evident in a new born, who without language or pressing appointments, is purely human. Nefesh can get out of balance. We can be too angry, too humble, too patient, too impatient. It is the work of a Mussar practice to keep this in balance. Ruakh can also become sick -- if we have too little energy and our spirit is tamped down, we are depressed. If we are over-energetic, and can't calm down enough to focus, our ruakh is also out of whack. The heart of Alan Morinis's lecture was that our Mussar practice is one of seeing our own and other people's neshome, and working to keep our own nefesh and ruakh in balance -- largely by being in service to others.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I went to a lecture about the Golem legend (and I didn't ask a question)

Never Done: I went to a lecture about the Golem legend (and I didn't ask a question)

When I met my writing partner Steve, he was working on a great screenplay -- an urban teenage golem story. A golem is a figure in Jewish mythology -- an animated creature made from clay, that is often used for protection. Also when we met, I was working on a vampire jazz romantic comedy. We were fast friends. First we rewrote my screenplay, and then we rewrote his. Or maybe it was the other way around. In any event, we made each others' work better, and that's why we still write together. (We haven't sold the golem script yet, but we should. It's our best work, and someone should make that movie.)

A couple weeks ago, Josh saw that there was a lecture on the golem legend at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and let us know. We made a plan to meet for dinner first, to do some screenplay business (about which I've been negligent since I started my JCC job.) The lecture turned out to be great. The lecturer, Curt Leviant -- a Jewish studies scholar, novelist, and Yiddish translator -- had a wonderful mastery of his lecture, and especially of his Q and A session. He did a great job of both being the expert and also making us realize how much we already knew, and leading us up to the point at which he knew more than us, so that we would welcome him to step through the door and tell us all about it. I was mostly thinking about what he was talking about, but a little bit I was thinking about how he did this -- and what it might mean, from a mussar point of view, to be a good teacher and to remove ego as much as possible, and to think about the burden of the other -- the other being the people listening to you.

I really started thinking about the burden of the other when we got to the Q & A session. Just the other day I read this NY Times piece about how to ask a good question at a public event. (1. There is no such thing as a two-part question. 2. If you have a genuine sense of curiosity, you're probably on a good track. 3. If you feel a sense of pride in yourself for thinking of your question, it's probably better to let someone else have the mic.) I had a burning sense of curiosity. I had a real question that I wanted to know the answer to. I didn't feel rushed, just curious. Eventually someone passed me the mic. But then all sorts of other people got called on before me, and by the time I could have stood up or spoken up, I decided that even though I was genuinely interested to know what Leviant would say to answer my question, I didn't feel the level of drive I would have needed to muscle my way into the public space. And when I handed the microphone over to someone else, and they used the time to grab attention to themselves, I knew I had made the right decision -- because even though the answer would have been interesting to me, I'm not sure it would have been all that interesting to other people.

There is a mide (middah) of Silence: Reflect before speaking. Maybe I'll write a comment on the NY Times online page of the story on public questions. But, um, I will have to reflect carefully before I do.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I swam before work

Never Done: I swam before work

It is hard to spend two hours commuting and still have time to work out. Even, I admit, with a gym and a pool in the building. Once the day gets going, I have so much to do at work that I find it near impossible to dash down for a swim, even though that is just what I did when I first started. So I set the alarm an hour earlier than usual (5:30 instead of 6:30) and was out the door by 6:40 and on the train by 7, and I should have been at my office by 7:35 and in the pool by 7:45 and at my desk by 8:30 but at 42nd Street, a yelling man got on the train, in my packed subway car. The yelling man yelled, "You can't touch. Me, that's it, that's my right, I gotta go where I'm going, that's it! Don't touch me! Call whoever you gotta call, just don't touch me!" The entire train car tensed up. People started looking at their watches. The woman next to me said, "Just get him off." I couldn't stop thinking about all the iterations of self and other. I felt compassion for him, the other, because it sounded like a cop had grabbed him. I also felt frustration that he was holding up a couple thousand people's commutes (also the others) and in particular, mine (I'm the other too.)

I realized that I was feeling a lot of fear -- fear that he might go off in some extra violent way if he was pushed too hard. Fear that he would be physically removed from the train. I also was afraid that I would be late, and that I'd miss my me time. When he finally got off the train, still yelling but not removed physically, the entire car exhaled a collective sigh of relief. Including me.

There is just much opportunity to not aggravate a situation with wasted grief. I want (need) more sleep, I want to spend more time with Josh, I want time to talk with friends, I want to clean the apartment, I need to reprocess the tomato sauce I made because I forgot to boil the jars in a hot water bath, I want to watch Friday Night Lights and US Open tennis, I want to read my book (whatever is the current book), I want to go shoe shopping with L, I want to spend more time outside, I want (need) to find a new apartment that is big enough to adopt in, I want to adopt (and then we'll see if I have time to get to the pool!), and so much more. I actually thought of all these things when I woke up at 5:30 so that I could get to the pool by 8, but I told myself to be patient and not aggravate the situation by dwelling on everything I was giving up, but rather to focus on what I had chosen. I did not have that awareness a year ago. Thanks to my Mussar practice I now do.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I yarn bombed

Never Done: I yarn bombed

Yarn bombing is a kind of street art graffiti made from yarn -- often knitted or crocheted. It's a beautiful way to transform an urban, suburban, or rural environment -- and it's always a surprise to come across a bike rack or a post or a bench that has been transformed with color and texture. Yarn bombing has been on my Never Done list since the start. It feels like a cold weather activity -- what hard metal lamppost wouldn't want a wool cozy? As the weather start to turn, I started to think about times and places I might want to launch a yarn bomb. And then on the morning of the tenth anniversary of September 11, I realized the time had come.

My thought was that I could transform the day -- and the idea of terrorism -- with this one little act. I decided I wanted to cover something within sight of downtown Manhattan without actually going to downtown Manhattan, so I chose the Brooklyn Promenade. Then I looked through my bags of yarn and realized that all the yarn I have right now is really nice (ie, expensive) yarn -- and I didn't really want to knit up something that nice that was just gonna get A) cut down or B) rained on or C) both. So I looked around a little more -- and something caught my eye. Last khanike, I "won" a very unattractive scarf in an interminable game of dreydl (a khanike gambling game.) My friend A's mother had given it to her, and she had not wanted to throw it away so she brought it as an exchange gift. When I "won" it, I also did not want to throw it away, because it had come from A's mother. So I stuck it on a shelf and waited for the day I'd figure out what to do with it. Today that day came.

I grabbed the scarf, and went outside to wrap it around stuff to see what width object I would want to cover. It would be perfect around something about 3-4 inches in diameter. I then went back inside to find a crochet hook and some yarn, but I discovered instead some bright yellow yarn already cut into 18-inch lengths. (I think this was cross-stitch yarn.) The ugly scarf was knit loosely with chunky yarn, so it was easy to weave these through the knit, about 6 inches apart, so that all I would have to do would be to wrap the scarf around whatever I was going to wrap it around, and tie it on with the yellow yarn.

Josh came with me. As we approached the promenade, he noticed how different an urban landscape looks when you are on a mission. Instead of seeing every dog or car or tree or pothole, we were looking for long interrupted expanses of hard materials about 3-4 inches in diameter. As soon as we actually arrived on the Promenade, I realized that the top slat of a park bench would be perfect. And in fact, when we placed the scarf along its length, it fit absolutely perfectly.

It took only about 5 minutes to tie the scarf on to the bench, and it looked great. In fact, the scarf no longer looked ugly. And so in addition to transforming the space, and the context of terror and attack, and the day -- we also ended up transforming the scarf itself. When we finished, I stepped back and took some photos with downtown Manhattan in the background, and I started to think about bombs. Both my parents were staying in the World Trade Center hotel at the time of the bombing in 1993. (That wasn't clear. They weren't in the building at the time of the bombing -- they were staying at the hotel at the time -- and out during the actual event.) They were impacted to the extent that they had to walk for many hours to get somewhere safe, and they had to leave their car in NYC, because the parking garage was turned into a crime scene, and they had to find another way to get home. And also, this event was one of the many events in my mother's life that convinced her that New York sucks -- a lesson she tried hard to pass along to me, with some success, and yet here I am. But there I was, looking at the empty space where there used to be magnificent buildings, thinking about bombings and other attacks, and looking at the silly, soft, multi-colored bomb I had just dropped. Or wrapped.

And then I thought about the photographs in my father's archives -- of the Able and Baker nuclear bomb tests on the Bikini Islands -- the first bombs he ever saw, and photographed. He used to tell the story that before they went up in the planes where they were going to photograph the bombs from, they were told, "We don't what's going to happen here. We don't know if we will come back from this. Please take a moment and think about your loved ones." And then all those men climbed into their planes, or whatever their stations were, and -- well, served their country. My father said it was terrifying, but also, it was beautiful, from his aerial view.

With yarn in hand, I thought about what is means to intentionally change a landscape -- for worse or for better -- and then I stepped away from the bench, and gave it over to the general public. Within 10 seconds, three young women passed it by, and asked us if had done it. As I said yes, I heard something up above me. It was a man applauding. He had the aerial view.