Thursday, February 17, 2011

In the Fence of Food

a) A salad a day keeps the IBS away!

b) It says something about the way we civilize our eating when you use your teeth as a knife to chop vegetables for a salad.

c) Wild factoid: salad comes from the Latin for salt, because briny vegetables were the dish of the Roman day.

d) Fun term: salad days. That is to say, days of being green. In other words, that period of inexperienced youth.

e) My salad days are my salad days!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Get Back, JoJo

So. I've moved. I found what I imagined would be a sanctuary for day-dreaming and dream-blogging. That is to say, a room with a desk and lamps for mood lighting and a window that faces the East, so I can wake up buried in light and watch the sunset reflected in the orange bark of the neighbor's trees. But I didn't imagine that I'd be living one cubicle-thin wall away from a Chinese fellow, who talks at the volume that they tend to (is that racist?) and clears the phlegm from his throat as a half-hour gong. Or that once I had the internet I would spend hours in (on) my eternal sanctuary of life-procrastination.

It's should be little wonder then that yesterday I purchased The Now Habit to try to address what the author calls "a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision". And it was fitting that as I waited in line these thoughts streamed through my mind: "I don't need this. I know the problems. I know the solutions. I just have to start putting them into action". What was the anxiety I almost postponed there? The embarrassment I imagined I would feel when I set that book on the counter in front of the cashier. I bought it. And on the walk home I told myself something like, "The mind works in patterns. You have the wrong ones in your head. That if you delay long enough, problems will go away. That there's always more time and money to pour into this B.A. And on. Reading. (And then I corrected myself). Studying this book will help built new, better patterns in your mind, so that you can get to doing what matters".

There's a lot of things to say. I'm going to try to get to some. For now, this: it's interesting how each life becomes it's own narrative, with motifs and recurrent images and such. My name is Jamie. That name has a flavor of childhood in it. My face is young. And I have trouble, to say the least, leading an adult, independent life. None of this is self-pity. It's just a funny story. And as with all life-stories, we seek some sort of redemption. We try to make the story turn out well. A dramatic, cathartic reversal. So, here we go. Every day.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Wonderland Walking

Some fiction? :

  I cannot ignore the bee. I can only live in the knowledge and pride that I no longer have to fear it. And it's living too, in its own pride, against the winter. Maybe it makes its home within ours, having babies and making nests in the corners of the attic, against the warm wood. Our home is not only our own. And I wont fear that either. And I am proud-- though I did not build this house, I did not abandon it. I let it be a home for all life. 

(End of "Some fiction?")


  Cold is a sensation, yes. But it's largely the mind that becomes anxious or pained it it. Only the mind decides to stop breathing deeply and shrug the shoulders tensely and clench the teeth. For whatever strange reason, I suppose it could be fear (plug in evolutionary vestige here), the mind will automatically go into defense mode against the cold. But, it doesn't do a very good job of it, left to its own instinctive devices. The better defense and better way to release that tension is to breathe in a nice, deep glob of that sharp air, unshrug those shoulders, feel the cold tingle on your skin or body through your clothing and know that you're not being hurt by the cold, the only discomfort is the instinctive belief that you are being or could be hurt. And then appreciate the uniqueness of that cold stuff-- like nothing else! Speculate about what crazy biological or chemical reactions might be going on in your skin and blood. What a treat.

And another moment of play: 

  I was looking for the washer and drier in my building, building 2, so I opened a random hallway closet. It contained a computer (note: the closet was under a set of stairs, no one could fit in it, and the computer was on and beeping, and has been since I've been here. Mysteries.) and a vacuum cleaner. Obviously, the washer and drier weren't here, so I went over to building 1, which seems to be the center for things you need-- gym, computers, ping pong table. Someone there said what I sought was in building 3. As I make my way, Aaron comes out of building 3 and says, "Hey, have you seen a vacuum cleaner?" So, I says, "Yeah, it's in that closet [in building 2]." And I thought, well, the universe and I just played a very pleasant game. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Here's Something

Ron Artest is stupendous! Check this out. You have to admire someone who uses his position of unbelievable privilege to give to others. And he does it loudly, in public, and with no cynicism. He doesn't give because his agent tells him to, because it improves his public image. From where I stand, it looks like he's a person who feels extremely blessed to be in the position he is, and who, out of that feeling, wants to become a funnel for blessing to others.

A side note: I'm looking at definitions for blessing and the one most accurate to what I'm talking about seems to be "a beneficial thing for which one is grateful; something that brings well-being". I would only add a sense that comes from the Hebrew word bracha that this feeling of gratitude is not just one of pleasantness but of abundant love. That is, the beneficial thing feels like it has come from a source overflowing with love; it was not given because you deserved it or in order to be repaid, but simply out of unconditional love. And all that love overflows inside of you. It seems the only thing you can do is let it fill your heart and then try to let it spill over to others.

This is what the 100 blessings Jews say every day are all about. Feeling and filling themselves with the abundant, unconditional love that God makes manifest in say, a cup of coffee or the ability to stand up straight, and then letting that good stuff overflow to others.

And yes, you don't have to be a God or a Jew to do it, but you do have to follow Ron Artest's lead and count your blessings.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bend in the Undergrowth

Here's another two that tear me: experiencing life as it is and experiencing life as it is presented to be. What I mean by the latter will clarify the former-- that is, so much of the way we think about life is shaped by the various forms of mediation that we use to give us a picture of that elusive "it". For instance, if I had never read a newspaper, watched television or movies, or listened to the radio, would I be as scared as I am every time I see a black guy with a gangster gait walking toward me?

I don't imagine that there ever was a time without some such mediation. Humans tells stories to make sense of the world, they must make patterns, unity-- everything must have its place. The old cliche about gods and lightning might fit nicely here. But it seems there are still ways of getting to the bottom of things, or better, to the essence of things. That's the idea behind phenomenology: the question, "what is being?" And, as Heidegger notices, it seems the ancients had better, or at least clearer day-to-day experiential answers to that question. They couldn't hide themselves from the frailty of their bodies or their immanent mortality or their dependence on the sun and rain and lightning. We moderns ignore these realities or are oblivious to them, because we can control them. Wasn't there a story some years back about the Chinese creating rain clouds?

And the modern answers to the question of being are just as, if not more fantastical than those of the old myths. Everything I do and experience is the product of selfish genes. I looked around at my English class today and tried to imagine each person as a big conglomerate of microscopic worker ants chaotically carrying out the agenda of life. But the professor's shallow mutterings about Frederick Douglass's depiction of a world turned upside-down distracted me. Suffice it to say, genes are certainly less experiential than soul.

And, for whatever reason, I want to live less unmediated-- more existentially. Hence, Judaism. My return to the ancients, my attempt to get to the essence of things, to become sensitive to life's wonders-- intelligence comes as a gift from nowhere, the heart just keeps pumping, the eyes have built-in focus adjustment, and on.

Of course, with Judaism comes all of its radical mediation. The world through the lens of the Torah quickly becomes an illusion, a means to an end, a platform for rote ritual rather than a realm where flesh and spirit might actually meet. But, at their core, these stories have more existence to them: you face God through the bugbites you get while sleeping in a booth with a thatched roof; you experience the eternal by wrapping cow skin painted black on your arm, and you bend your achy knees and bow and feel the vertebrae of your spine against your shirt, and recognize that you can stand upright and you have a mind and a heart that's still not plugged in anywhere and that those things are absurd-- and then you've stood before your Creator.

In A Yellow Wood

Two equally absurd ideas:

First, the universe has always existed. Or, to be more accurate, matter-- in all its stunning and largely incomprehensible complexity-- has always existed, and over time, has morphed and moved toward consciousness. Matter is not just complex, it's clearly intelligent. It wants to accomplish things. Also, perhaps, universes leak and create other universes in massive Big Bang events. And the force still propelling stuff through space and/or expanding space itself can be discerned by "human" matter living in some random corner, observing the different chemical shifts of distant stars. Or something like that. In simpler, though less revealing, terms: it's absurd to think that this very specific something came from nothing.

Second, all of this stunning something was created by an infinite all-powerful being, because-- get this!-- He is all-loving and wants to shower us with His kindness. I often phrase it or experience it this way: what's outside of everything? Love. I picture it as a dark, empty circle surrounded by a caressing light. It's just too fortunate to be real.

Forget all of the terrible suffering caused by shifting tectonic plates or wild weather systems, the best way to believe in God is to realize you're alive because blood is consistently coursing through your veins and to your brain-- and you're not plugged in anywhere! And set aside the silliness of things like angels and demons and giants walking the earth, the most absurd proposition made by religion is that behind everything you've ever experienced there's a voice saying, "that's because I love you". Both absurd.

But, what can I say, I want to believe in that infinite love. I've lived with that voice and only then have I been my best self. And this matter-- always and absurdly capable of hope-- feels like a gift.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Something Sacred

There's something so pure about opening a book written almost eighty years ago by my great-grand-uncle and finding the following on the first page: "Dedicated to the memory of my revered father, Benjamin Sarachek". Benjamin Sarachek is my great-great grandfather on my mother's side who came to America from Russia at the turn of the last century. And his son wanted the world to know that this work was in part a testament to the connection they shared. And he probably never imagined that his great-grand-nephew would find this book in the library at Northwestern University and feel included in that same familial bond, but there it is, nevertheless. 

What is most powerful is that he dedicated the book to the memory of his father, and that I now stand as one of the few living carriers-- if not the only carrier-- of that memory. It is only because these two are my family that that memory stays alive. And in truth, I have very little I can do in the way of keeping Benjamin Sarachek's memory alive. All I can do is appreciate that he was revered by his son and bear witness to the fact that it is the love of family-- and the ability to widen that notion of family while keeping its intensity-- that always brings light into the world. 

And I can also recognize that Joseph, my great-grand-uncle considered his contributions to the world of Jewish thought to be in some way a perpetuation of his father's legacy. And that legacy, which represents an ancient and ongoing familial chain, and which was lost for two generations, is now restored and carried on through my Jewish observance. Maybe this is the ape in me, articulating the inner impulse to protect and preference my seed, but that is just too empty to believe. I'm carrying on a pure legacy-- of love and redemption, of true social justice and heroic self-overcoming and I cannot abandon this eternal task.