Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Post Written in an Hour

I do not know how all of you have been spending the chagim but I have been spending my time reading Shogun for what has got to be the 10th time or so. Reading Shogun is something I do every few years. At certain intervals inexplicable forces—the moon or hormones or space aliens controlling my mind from the mother ship—compel me to take the book off the bookshelf and to spend several weeks flipping back and forth and reading random sections, which is what passes for reading in my world. Finally, the mood or hormones subside (or the space aliens get bored and move back to controlling the US presidential candidates) and I can put it away again.

Reading this book raises the eternal question: if I had to eat sushi all the time, like they do in the book, would I get sick of it? That is a frightening question (sick of sushi???), and one I would love to ask of a Japanese. Unfortunately, I do not know any actual Japanese and in particular, I do not know any actual Japanese who were alive during the 16th century, which is when the story takes place. So I am pretty much shit-out-of-luck. As of two months ago, I do know one Bosnian, though from the current century. I met her when she came to my house with her fiancée for a Shabbat dinner. Unfortunately, she was not able to clear up my question about the sushi. This is not to say that she taught me nothing. From her, I learned two important bits of Bosnian culture: 1) Bosnians are carnivores and 2) Bosnians consider the act of trying to use crumbled up veggie burgers in place of meat in a recipe as twisted and bizarre. In the future, I will not try to feed dairy Mexican food to a Bosnian, a suggestion I would recommend that you take to heart as well.

Yes, yes, yes…I realize that the Bosnian is completely unrelated to this post. But I just felt like sharing so that you would not decide that I was close-minded and provincial. No, I do not know any Japanese, but I do know a Bosnian.

So back to the subject, apart from eating sushi all the time, from this book I have learned that the Japanese use the phrase "so sorry" every third word or so and have an incredible death wish. Every time you turn a page, someone is asking for permission to commit suicide. This reminds me distinctly of the Spanish literature I read in college, in which extremely pious Catholic authors put out such zingers such as "I am dying because I am not dying". Based on said literary excursions, I have concluded that the key difference between the Spaniards and the Japanese apart from that 1) I know an actual Spaniard and that 2) the Spaniards may have better food (I mean, I like sushi, but every meal?), is that the Japanese are a lot more proactive in achieving their goals. The Spaniards are mooning about, writing flowery poems and waiting for G-d to take them away (rather like Calgon, but fatal). The Japanese, on the other hand, are proactive. They are sharpening their swords, and asking their liege lords for permission to commit seppuku at every opportunity. With that level of go-getting-ness, it comes as no surprise to me that modern Japan has become an economic powerhouse and modern Spain has been invaded by British retirees, rather like Raanana and Jerusalem. Unlike Israel however—and this is something I have picked up on from the actual Spaniard—Spain has much better fashion sense than we do here. Not that this is saying much.

I suppose that I could read some actual reference books or websites on Spain or Japan and I will, just as soon as the mother ship commands it. Right now I think they are really busy with the election.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Post that Took Me Five Hours (or More) to Write

By means of means of three completely unrelated conversations with three completely unrelated friends, I recently learned that the general assumption is that I just whip my blog posts out. They were shocked to learn that it takes me hours and hours to draft a post, and that several of my last posts each required four hours or so to write. "It took you HOW long to write THAT? Why does it take that long?"

I was not sure whether to be offended or amused. Nonetheless, I answered the question. I slave over my posts. First I have an idea. In marked contrast to my friends who (by their own admissions) spill their ideas onto the page, paragraph after paragraph, without rewriting, and then post the finished results. I squeeze my posts out in bits and pieces. I can spend G-d-knows-how-many-hours jumping around a piece, writing and rewriting and rewriting some more. For example, I can be sitting there, just minding my own business and writing Paragraph Two when suddenly a great idea for a line will barge into my brain and I would put it into Paragraph Two, but I realize that Great Idea belongs in Paragraph Four or Five or in a paragraph all of its own. So I take a leave from Paragraph Two to get Great Idea sorted. Or…while in the middle of Paragraph Three I will jump back to Paragraph One to make some changes. I mean, I thought Paragraph One was okay, but it is not really 'going' with Paragraph Three and I like Paragraph Three's tone more than Paragraph One's. Or…while reviewing my article for the trillionth time, I realize that I do not want my message to be x; I want it to be y and that a comprehensive rewrite is required.

Really, with all of the balagan, it is a miracle that anything gets posted at all.

My friends offered a solution: stop editing! This is not high school. No one is grading you! Why do the boring stuff? Blogging is your hobby. Who is to tell you that you cannot stick to those parts of writing you enjoy?

Exactly. I enjoy editing.

Yes, the initial creative process during which I just dump a lump of words onto a page and pound them into a general shape is fun. But to me, the heart of writing, the part that I love, is the editing process during which I mold and smooth and view the piece from the various angles to ensure the result is pleasing and effective. Is the flow of words smooth? Are the rhythm and tone consistent throughout the piece? I check to see if I have repeated words, phrases or sentence structure. Where I have done so as a rhetorical device, I ask myself if the repetition contributes anything. Where it does not— where it represents laziness or carelessness— I weed it out. I check my spelling and (sometimes) my grammar.

Even more critical than style is content. I am writing for a reason. I ask myself if I am conveying the message I want to convey. Is my point clear? Do I have a point? Do I want a point? Sometimes I like to write about nothing. Alternatively, perhaps I have too many points and each distracts from the other? Assuming that there is a point to get to, is the path clear? Have I left too many random, lumpy bits of opinion, exaggeration, humor or other literary debris lying around that people might trip over while en route? For whom are the path and the point intended? Who is my audience? Is my goal to preach to the choir or to the unbelievers? Are the form of the message and its audience well-matched? I read and re-read and think and analyze and rip apart and glue together paragraphs and I do this for hours and hours and hours.

And I like it.

My friends do not understand me, but truthfully, I do not understand them. Why would you choose a hobby that involves you doing something that you hate to do or even that you like to do, but not that much? Why write if you do not enjoy writing? Life is short and very, very busy; why waste your precious free time on things you cannot be passionate about? In my world, even if I never finish the piece, an hour spent writing something is never wasted; the process is as important and as enjoyable as the destination. Furthermore, if you have something to say, something that is important enough for you to say publicly, it seems reasonable to me that you would take the time to make sure that you are actually saying it. If not, why bother?

If not, why are you writing?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dancing at the Dancing Camel

About a month ago, as I was comparing my fundraising numbers with the amount I had to raise, and panicking, I had a brainstorm. Do a party at a bar! People seem to love bars. Fantastic! Everyone will come! Oh. But wait. How do I (read "Alyn") make money out of this?

Which is where brainstorm number two comes in: the Dancing Camel, Israel's one and only microbrewery and source of fine kosher beers.

The Dancing Camel is owned by David Cohen. David Cohen is a good friend of one of my friends. Is that really a strong enough connection for me to ask him to basically let me take over his brewery for the night and throw a fundraising party for Alyn?

Are you joking? This is Israel! Of course it is! Honestly, if the man had been the third cousin, three times removed, of my cleaner's ex-husband's ex-mistress, THAT would have been a close enough connection. (Just to drive home exactly how tenuous such a connection would be, I should point out here that my cleaner is a man). As such, with perfect confidence, I left a message on David's cell phone. How would you like some free publicity? All you have to do is: open your brewery on a night you are not normally open, bring in a full complement of employees to run the place, let my friend Kayla take over your CD player, rearrange everything so that we can dance and (last but not least) hope and pray that I can rustle up enough thirsty dancers who will buy enough beer to actually pay for the electricity, the waitresses, the guy at the door, the cleaner the next morning etc. Oh, and one more thing...you have to let me charge
a 10 NIS cover charge at the door for Alyn. Really! It is a win-win situation!

He went for it. No, I cannot believe it either. To make sure that this does not bankrupt him I offered to help waitress. (Because I might want to do another party next year, and honestly, I do not know that many people that own bars. Gotta keep him lively). He was grateful for my offer, though he did say something about my being required to wear a french maid costume and dance on the bar as part of my terms of employment. He was, of course, joking. I hope. Of course he was joking! He is religious! The brewery and the beer are kosher! Haha! What a comical guy!

(Batya--this would NOT be the time for you to chime in with any comments about the vast number of children in the average religious family and where they come from.)

Without further ado, I invite you all to please join me in sending the holidays out on their merry way with style with danceable music, fun people and some great beer.

Where: Dancing Camel Brewery, HaTaasia 12 (right on the corner of HaTa'asia and Rehov HaMasger), Tel Aviv
When: Saturday October 18, 2008 9PM to whenever David kicks us out.
Cover charge: NIS 10 (for Alyn)

Come with cash (no credit cards accepted) and ready to have a good time.

Hope to see you there!

For more info on the Dancing Camel, check here and here.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Back to the Swamp

I really should have anticipated this, shouldn't I have. I thought everyone was going to be asking about Resolution Number Five, and instead the eyes are on Resolution Number One. "Why do you want to move to Jerusalem?"

Honestly, that is a really good question. I have been asking myself that question a lot. Apart from the suffocating, hideously sky-high rents, the smog and the months of July and August, Tel Aviv is fantastic. Of course, everyone knows about the beach, the wealth of cultural events and that the city is conveniently located smack-dab in the middle of Israel's strongest job market. But there is more to like about Tel Aviv. By Israeli standards (which are, admittedly, not all that high), much of the city is reasonably clean, reasonably well run and offers a good system of public transportation. Even the smog is scheduled to improve; the number of sidewalks which have been widened to include a bike-path increases on what appears to be a daily basis. Best of all, I am not peppered with emails advertising events designed to help me to fix whatever is wrong with me so that I too will be worthy of a beschert. In fact, if the truth be told, not only is no one concerned with my marital status, no one is particularly concerned with me at all. I can wear whatever I want, eat whatever I want and do whatever I want and nobody cares or even notices. There is something very nice about this feeling of anonymity. As for the rents, I easily find something more affordable in Ramat Gan while still enjoying many of the benefits that Tel Aviv offers.

So why on earth would I want to leave all that for Jerusalem? I do not even like Jerusalem! How do I not love thee Jerusalem? Let me count the ways.

  1. The hideously sky-high rents
  2. The months of December, January and February.
  3. The nickname "the swamp" is appropriate, but should probably be applied to the entire damn city and not just Katamon.
  4. The incredibly shrinking Jerusalem secular community combined with the growing percentage of Jerusalem residents that appear to think that using the Taliban as a role-model in the area of community building is a good idea.
  5. Unless one is interested in working as a waitress or as a clerk at a store selling overpriced Judaica (both of which target the rich retiree/ rich foreign resident population so eagerly courted by City Planners), the job market is crap.
  6. The powers that are in charge of public transportation, namely Egged and whomever is in charge of the light rail, seem to be blissfully unaware that their mission is to help people get from A to B. (Light Rail Official Motto: "Serving Jerusalem from 2008 2009 2010, someday before the Moshiach comes…we hope. And until then, just ripping up the roads and making you all fucking miserable! Baruch HaShem!").
  7. The ever-present expectation that of course you are shomer Shabbat, of course you love two-hour long, Carlebach-style Kabbalat Shabbat services and of course you would be wildly interested in such fascinating courses as "You and Spirituality", "Spirituality and You", "Getting to Know the Torah through Vile Touchy-Feely Expressive Dance Classes" and "Create Your Own Interpretive Midrashes that Read Like Really Bad Romance Novels, Just Without the Sex".
  8. The insane, all-consuming obsession with getting married. Because you are nothing, NOTHING! unless you get married. And have children. Because YOU HAVE NOT LIVED until you have children.

(I would mention Jerusalem's alarmingly high percentage of right-wing lunatics but the truth is that this is met by Tel Aviv's alarmingly high percentage of left-wing lunatics. The only way I am going to find people who are normal politically is if I move to Haifa. Which is not currently on my list of Things To Do.)

Anyway, so right… why the hell AM I moving back to Jerusalem?

It is because I am getting old. Well, not old. But I am settled. At least I want to be settled. Some people are baby-hungry. I am not. If I have children it will be nice, but it will not be an all-consuming tragedy in my life if I remain childless. What I am horribly, ravenously, family-hungry. I want a place to belong to. I want the weight of people pinning me down—at least a little.

The yearning really started to hit right before Pesach. I flirted with the idea of moving back to the States to be near my family. "You can watch your niece and nephew grow. You can spend more time with your parents" I thought to myself. I soon discarded that idea. Who am I kidding? Even when I lived in the States, and even when I lived a 30 minute drive from my brother, I saw my parents once or twice a year and my sister and brother once a year or less. Now that I am here I speak to them and to my parents every few months. We simply do not miss each other all that much. Besides, I like Israel and the very thought of moving back to the States literally gave me nightmares in which I had moved back to the States and was depressed and homesick. Israel is home. The US is not.

But as things are now, Tel Aviv may not be my home in Israel. The perfect freedom of anonymity and the binding ties of family are mutually exclusive. And that is where Jerusalem comes in. Jerusalem, for all of its faults, is where most of my closest friends are. I can go several months without speaking to my sister (and she probably go much longer without speaking to me) but when it comes to my friends in Jerusalem I cannot go a week without speaking with them. As my sister quipped, my close friends in Jerusalem are "siblings like siblings are supposed to be. It is as if you had siblings!" My real niece and nephew are far away, but my ersatz siblings in Jerusalem have plenty of kids for me to be an auntie to.

That is only a partial explanation, as I also have close friends in Tel Aviv whom I will miss once I move. Shockingly (and to my friends and I this is absolutely shocking) I find that I miss the community. For all of its faults, its foibles and its ability to be incredibly obtuse and irritating, I miss the feeling of belonging somewhere.

I went back and forth on this idea for quite a while. To move or not to move. Then, two things happened to help me decide to go with it. First, I got a job in Lod, making a move to Jerusalem that much less hideously impractical. Second, I received a dose of common sense from my friend Ellie. "I don't see what the big deal is. Try it for a year. If you don't like it, you can move back. It is inconvenience and it is money but it is not as though you are making an irreversible decision". She is right. Why not try?